Always and Never

BY : CharonsPole
Category: S through Z > Wheel of Time Series
Dragon prints: 6023
Disclaimer: I do not own the Wheel of Time series, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Rand stared out at the Shienaran night through the narrow window of Nynaeve’s bedchamber, seeing little. Even if it had been a clear, sunny day he would have seen little; his thoughts were turned inwards, heavy with dark and certain ends.

The dim light of a single lamp suffused the room. Nynaeve, clad in her usual sensible brown clothes, sat knitting in a rocking chair on the other side of the lone bed, its covers still in place. Her face was calm, and she seemed aware of nothing except her knitting as she rocked gently. The steady click-click of her knitting needles was the only sound. The rug silenced the rocking chair.

There had been nights of late when he had wished for a carpet on the cold stone floor of his room, but in Shienar men’s rooms were always bare and stark. The walls here had two tapestries, mountain scenes with waterfalls, and flower-embroidered curtains alongside the arrowslits. Cut flowers, white morningstars, stood in a flat, round vase on the table by the bed, and more nodded in glazed white sconces on the walls. A tall mirror stood in a corner, near the large wood and canvas screen intended, he knew, for changing behind. Another mirror hung over the washstand, with its blue-striped pitcher and bowl. He wondered why Nynaeve needed two mirrors; there was none in his room, and he did not miss it. There was only one lamp lit, but four more stood around the room, which was nearly as large as the one he shared with Mat and Perrin. Nynaeve had it alone.

“The women’s apartments are much nicer than the men’s,” he said. “Thank you for inviting me in. Though I’m still not sure it’s the proper thing to do.”

Nynaeve lowered her knitting and gave him an amused smile. She was a pretty woman, and only a few years older than he, but being Wisdom added fifty years of authority. “The Light help me, Rand, you are becoming more Shienaran every day. Invited into the women’s apartments, indeed.” She sniffed. “Any day now, you’ll start talking about your honour, and asking peace to favour your sword.” He coloured, and hoped she did not notice in the dim light. She eyed his sword, its hilt sticking out of the long bundle beside him on the floor. He knew she did not approve of the sword, of any sword, but she said nothing about it for once.

He could think of far worse things to be than Shienaran. A male channeler first among them. Scowling, he straightened the leather jerkin she had found for him and twisted around so he could lean back against the wall.

“I don’t suppose you know any herbs that would remove the ability to channel without killing the person?”

Nynaeve made an angry sound when she dropped a stitch. “I don’t know why I am even trying tonight. I can’t keep track of my stitches for some reason.” She let the knitting fall onto her lap and her sternly kind eyes to him. “Do you think if I knew a solution to that problem I’d be keeping it to myself?”

Rand rubbed his forehead. “No. No, of course not. You’d never let anyone be hurt if you could stop it. I just ...” He sighed. “It doesn’t matter. Never mind me.”

For a moment Nynaeve was silent. She fussed with her skeins of yarn. Finally she said, “You mustn’t give up, Rand. Just because there is no cure known right now doesn’t mean there is no cure at all.” She scowled at the floor and muttered, as if to herself. “There has to be. I won’t lose another one.”

He nodded slowly. But would I be the one lost, or the one that caused the loss? “It’s more the risk I pose to others that concerns me. I’d rather take care of the problem while I can still think rationally enough to realise there is a problem.” He pursed his lips and raised his hands wardingly. “Rationally enough by men’s standards, before you say anything.”

Nynaeve sniffed, though it was a half-hearted thing. “You’re not so bad when it comes to that. You’re at least half-sensible. Perhaps even two thirds on a good day.”

That brought a short, wry laugh from him.

“You just need some rest. You’ve been worrying yourself near to death this past month. Don’t think I haven’t noticed how hard you push yourself when training with that fool sword. Prancing around with Lan, or Ingtar, or whoever isn’t busy, until you’re ready to collapse from exhaustion. That’s no way to deal with your worries. Get yourself a good’s night sleep, and we’ll discuss your troubles in the morning.” Nynaeve frowned at him. “You can use the bed until I get back from the feast, but after that it’s the floor for you. Got it?”

Rand smiled wanly. “Of course.” He had tried to kiss Nynaeve once, years ago. She had turned him down gently. Well, gently for her. She’d only smacked his face the once, and hadn’t brought the Women’s Circle down on him for his lewdness. He had no delusions about why she had brought him here. A pallet on the floor would do just fine. But what was that about a feast? “Where exactly are you going?”

“There’s to be a welcome feast for the Amyrlin tonight. I imagine it will stretch into the small hours so you needn’t wait up. I’m expected there. Even if Moiraine had not said I should go, I would never let her think I was ...” He eyes lit up fiercely for a moment, and he knew what she meant. Nynaeve would never let anyone think she was afraid, even if she was. Certainly not Moiraine, and especially not Lan. He hoped she did not know he was aware of her feelings for the Warder. The man had been a fool to reject her advances so far as Rand was concerned, though he was hardly going to say anything about it; to either of them.

“Well, I hope you enjoy yourself,” he said.

“Speaking of the feast, I need to be getting ready.” Her eyes darted to the changing screen and she scowled slightly.

Rand shifted his feet, suddenly embarrassed. “I should be going ...”

She shook her head. “Don’t be a complete woolhead Rand. What would be the point of my having snuck you in here if you were just going to go wandering the women’s apartments in full view of all those Aes Sedai?”

She pointed to the window. “Go ... count the stars or something.” Then she pointed at him. “And keep your back turned!” she barked.

“Of course,” he said placatingly. He returned to the window and leaned against the wall, looking out. Behind him he heard Nynaeve repositioning the screen and the mirrors, then the sound of garments being shed.

From time to time the soft rustlings ceased and he saw, out of the farthest corner of his eye, a dark head poking above the screen to frown his way. As if she did not trust him not to try and steal a peek at her body. That was a little offensive to be honest. Not that Rand wouldn’t very much like to see Nynaeve naked, she was a very attractive woman, but he would never steal what she did not want to give.

“I’m done,” she announced at last. He turned to find her eyeing him appraisingly. She gave a small nod of what he took for approval.

Pleasing as that was, it could not distract him from the sight before him. Nynaeve wore a dress of pale blue silk, embroidered in snowdrop blossoms around the neck and down the sleeves. Each blossom centred on a small pearl, and her belt was tooled in silver, with a silver buckle set with pearls. He had never seen her in anything like that. Even feastday clothes back home might not match it.

After a moment her gaze softened as it fell on the sleeve of her dress. “The Lady Amalisa gave me this,” she said so softly he wondered if she was speaking to herself. She stroked the silk with her fingers, outlining the embroidered flowers, smiling, lost in thought.

“It’s very pretty on you, Nynaeve. You look beautiful tonight.” He winced as soon as he said it. Any Wisdom was touchy about her authority, but Nynaeve was touchier than most. The Women’s Circle back home had always looked over her shoulder because she was young, and maybe because she was pretty, and her fights with the Mayor and the Village Council had been the stuff of stories.

She jerked her hand away from the embroidery and glared at him, brows lowering. “Make up the pallet before you go to bed. You’ll not want to be doing it in the dead of night. I have to go. Don’t do anything foolish, or dramatic, while I’m gone.” She was out the door before he could frame a response, closing it firmly behind herself.

The room, for all its finery, seemed suddenly quite empty.

Rand sighed and unlaced his jerkin. Nynaeve had been right about one thing. He was very tired. A good night’s sleep might be just what he needed to sort out his feelings about what he had become.

The farmhouse door shook under furious blows from outside; the heavy bar across the door jumped in its brackets. Beyond the window next to the door moved the heavy-muzzled silhouette of a Trolloc. There were windows everywhere, and more shadowy shapes outside. Not shadowy enough, though. Rand could still make them out.

The windows, he thought desperately. He backed away from the door, clutching his sword before him in both hands. Even if the door holds, they can break in the windows. Why aren’t they trying the windows?

With a deafening metallic screech, one of the brackets pulled partly away from the doorframe, hanging loose on nails ripped a finger’s width out of the wood. The bar quivered from another blow, and the nails squealed again.

“We have to stop them!” Rand shouted. Only we can’t. We can’t stop them. He looked around for a way to run, but there was only the one door. The room was a box. Only one door, and so many windows. “We have to do something. Something!”

“It’s too late,” Mat said. “Don’t you understand?” His grin looked odd on a bloodless pale face and the hilt of a dagger stood out from his chest, the ruby that capped it blazing as if it held fire. The gem had more life than his face. “It’s too late for us to change anything.”

“I’ve finally gotten rid of them,” Perrin said, laughing. Blood streamed down his face like a flood of tears from his empty sockets. He held out red hands, trying to make Rand look at what he held. “I’m free, now. It’s over.”

“It’s never over, al’Thor,” Padan Fain crooned, capering in the middle of the floor. “The battle’s never done. You can’t hide, not from me, and not from them. You thought it was over, did you not? But the battle’s never done, al’Thor. They are coming for me, and they’re coming for you, and the war goes on. Whether you live or die, it’s never over for you. Never.” Suddenly he began to chant.

“Soon comes the day all shall be free.

Even you, and even me.

Soon comes the day all shall die.

Surely you, but never I.”

A crooked grin twisting his mouth, he chuckled deep in his throat. “Mordeth knows more than all of you. Mordeth knows.”

The door exploded in splinters, and Rand ducked away from the flying shards of wood. Two red-clad Aes Sedai stepped through, bowing their master in. A mask the colour of dried blood covered Ba’alzamon’s face, but Rand could see the bottomless darkness of his eyes through the eyeslits.

“It is not yet done between us, al’Thor,” Ba’alzamon said, and he and Fain spoke together as one, “For you, the battle is never done.”

With a strangled gasp Rand jerked awake. The warm weight of the blankets held him down. It seemed he could still hear Fain’s voice, as sharp as if the Darkfriend peddler were standing beside him. It’s never over. The battle’s never done.

He shivered and hugged himself. The blankets mumbled something in response.

Rand drew a deep breath and blinked himself awake.

There was a woman in the bed with him. She smelled faintly of perfume and wine. She had her arms around his shoulders and her head rested on his naked chest. She breathed deeply, as though sound asleep. He held himself very still and ran his eyes across the darkened bedchamber.

The faint slivers of moonlight revealed little. But one thing stood out. The pearls of Nynaeve’s fine new dress glowed ghostly-white; it was draped carefully over the large changing screen. She must have arrived back while he slept. But why hadn’t she awoken him?

She was snoring softly as she pressed against his side. His heart was beating fast. Cautiously he moved his hand across her shoulder, feeling the fine linen of her nightshift. She had come back from the feast, changed for bed ... and then decided not to wake him up as agreed. Instead she had climbed in the bed with him ... and then what? Put her arms around him and cuddled against his chest? It didn’t seem likely. Fallen asleep, tossed and turned, and then been instinctively drawn to his warmth? Perhaps.

Regrardless of why, it felt good to be held like that. Warm and comforting. With all that had happened in recent months it might have felt good to be held by anyone, but especially so to be held by Nynaeve. Cautiously he tightened his arm around her shoulders, and then dared to rest his cheek upon her head.

With a snort, Nynaeve’s snores came to an end. She stiffened in his embrace and he fancied she looked around in confusion much as he had. His heart was beating so fast he was afraid she could hear it.

After a time she whispered, “Rand. I know you’re awake, I can hear your ... How did I come to be like this?”

He kept his tone as quiet as hers. “I didn’t do anything, I swear. When I woke up you were just there.”

“Oh,” she said in a small voice. She sighed and rested her cheek against his chest.

That she did not immediately pull away emboldened him to tighten his embrace. Her warmth seemed to melt the cold knot that had grown inside him since learning what he was.

“That’s nice,” she whispered, sounding surprised for some reason. “But we shouldn’t be touching like this. I’m the Wisdom. I’m not supposed to ... no-one is allowed to ... to touch ...” He felt her muscles tighten, her hands bunch into fists. It was such a waste. She was so beautiful, so passionate, so full of love. What could possibly be wrong about it?

So he took her gently by the braid and brought her to face him. In the dark and quiet night he could not see her lovely face, but he recalled it intimately from all the years he had watched her from afar. Her breath was warm upon his lips; he smelt the wine there. And then he tasted it, tasted her. Divine.

This time, this time she did not push him away. No squawk of outrage met his advance. No hard hand cracked across his face. Nynaeve’s soft lips were pliant beneath his. And soon, blessedly soon, she was kissing him back, kissing him with a surprising hunger. Her arms came around his neck and her fingers tangled in his hair.

He had been stiffening ever since realising who was in the bed with him, now he was hard as stone and aching with need for her. He rubbed himself instinctively against her thigh as they kissed. A little gasp met his movement. More followed, each hastily suppressed, as he cupped the sides of her face, trailed a hand down the side of her neck and over her shoulder.

The gasp she let out when he took her breast in his hand was much louder, and when he squeezed it gently her legs parted beneath him as though of their own accord. Nynaeve broke their kiss and tossed her head against the pillow in wordless denial, but her hands clutched him to her still and beneath the soft fabric of her shift he could feel her hard nipple pressing upwards, seeking freedom.

He granted it, taking hold of the hem of her shift and pulling it up over her head. For all her protests, Nynaeve shifted on the bed to allow him to rid her of the hampering cloth.

Her hands went to her chest after, and even in the pitch darkness he could tell she was covering her breasts, hiding them even from his blindness. It was oddly sweet. He did not attempt to pry loose her grip, but turned his attention back to her warm, soft lips.

He unlaced his shorts and struggled out of them. He had help to do so, for one of Nynaeve’s hands came free of her breast to push his underwear down over his bottom. Her hand remain there, clutching the soft-hard flesh of his buttocks as he kicked his way free of the shorts.

Their breathing was hard and fast now. He touched the inside of her thigh and kneaded his way upwards. As he got closer to her most intimate place he fancied he could feel the heat of her arousal against his knuckles. Her soft gasps returned, and when he dared to touch her furry sex and slip a finger inside she cried aloud, “Light, yes!”

Nynaeve pressed her face to his shoulder to muffle her cries. Even if her words had not urged him on, the sheer sopping wetness of her would have been enough to tell him she wanted this as badly as he did.

He positioned himself above her spread legs and wrapped her in his arms, savouring the silky-smooth feel of her skin on his. His hardness found her softness without the need of guiding hands. He pressed forward slowly, gasping in awe as he did so. Rand slid into Nynaeve and discovered in her the home he had feared lost to him forever. He sighed out her name as he entered, warmth and pleasure washing away all his fears and self-loathing.

A slight obstruction broke before him and Nynaeve’s arms tightened across his waist and shoulders. She muffled a whimper against him as he slid farther into her until at last his full length was cradled in her wondrous heat. She clutched him tightly and, he dared to dream, welcomingly.

He rode her slowly, crushing the foolish instinct to go faster, savouring every moment of their lovemaking. Nynaeve let him lead, legs spread wide, arms wrapped around him and face pressed to his shoulder, she seemed focused on ensuring no-one in the adjacent rooms heard her make a sound.

But Rand could hear. Much as she tried to hide them, her gasps of pleasure spurred him on. Her heart beat against his; he could feel it thundering through the deliciously soft breasts that pressed against his chest. Her hands explored his body excitedly in the concealing darkness.

He explored her too. Her breasts were full, her waist slender, her hips curved pleasantly. And her bottom, when he reached around to grab it with both hands, was soft and pert.

And sensitive too, for it was that act that caused her to dig her nails into his flesh and convulse against him.

“Oh. Oh. Oh, Light,” gasped Nynaeve as she wrapped her legs around his waist and held him to her. She arched her back and tossed back her head as she gripped his manhood tight inside.

Rand kissed her cheek, her brows, the side of her neck. The realisation that Nynaeve, the wondrous, frustrating, brave, loud, kind, bossy Nynaeve had just come, impaled upon his manhood, drove him over the edge. He wrapped her in his arms and squeezed her tight to his chest, thrusting into her hard and fast now, needing her. This, this was worth living for, whatever the horrors that might await a man like him. If only they could stay together like this forever nothing else would matter.

Nynaeve made sounds of surprise when he sped up, but before long she had her arms around his shoulders and was kissing his face in the dark.

He moaned aloud with the sheer joy of it and Nynaeve pressed her hand over his mouth, silencing him.

The pressure inside him built fast. He was moaning against her hand with each new thrust as his body demanded release. When at last it came he buried himself inside Nynaeve’s glorious heat and flooded her with his seed.

Wave after wave of pleasure coursed through him, draining him of all strength. He lowered himself to the bed on shaking arms, resting his head on her shoulder and trembling. “Nynaeve ...” he whispered softly.

She stroked his hair and cooed under her breath as though he was a little child. “There you are. It’s alright. It will be alright. I’ll keep you safe.”

He took her breast in his hand and kneaded it lightly, fascinated by its softness.

Rand did not remember falling asleep once more. When he awoke he found himself hugging Nynaeve from behind. He felt her start just as he had from the cacophony as bells crashed out ringing all over the keep.

He sat up in bed. “That’s an alarm! They’re searching ...”

Nynaeve shook her head uneasily. “No, I don’t think so. If they are searching for you, all the bells do is warn you. No, if it’s an alarm, it is not for you.”

“Then what?” He bounded naked from her bed and hurried to the nearest arrowslit.

Outside, lights darted through the night-cloaked keep like fireflies, lamps and torches dashing here and there. Some went to the outer walls and towers, but most of those that he could see milled through the garden below and the one courtyard he could just glimpse part of. Whatever had caused the alarm was inside the keep. The bells fell silent, unmasking the shouts of men, but he could not make out what they were calling.

If it isn’t for me ... could Far Dara be under attack?

“What is happening out there?” Nynaeve turned from looking through another arrowslit and he beheld her naked body for the first time. Moonlight bathed her in stark blacks and whites, her rounded breasts, the curves of her waist, her slender legs, the dark triangle at the juncture of her thighs. She was beautiful.

He stirred again at the sight of her. She noticed, for her gaze slid down his torso to his waist and she gasped, covering herself as best she could with her hands. She turned her face away, the moonlight cast her blush in a darker shade than red. He wanted nothing in life so much in that moment than to take her in his arms and carry her back to the bed, to make sweet love to her over and over until the dawn came to part them.

But the sound of steel on steel called to him from within the keep.

Taking a deep breath, he pulled his stare from her body and turned to snatch his breeches from the floor. He yanked them on, not bothering with underwear, and leaned against the cold stone wall to pull on his boots. “I have to go,” he said tensely. “Mat and Perrin and Loial could be out there, mixed up in whatever’s causing those alarms.”

He crossed the room in quick strides and snatched his sword and bow free of the bundle. He hung a quiver from the back of his swordbelt and buckled it about his waist. There was no time to bother with a coat, and the wool likely wouldn’t do much to stop a blade or arrow anyway.

Nynaeve caught him at the door, grabbing his arm. She was not as tall as his shoulder, but she held on like iron. “Don’t be a goat-brained fool, Rand,” she said in a voice that was higher than any he’d ever heard from her. “Even if this doesn’t have anything to do with you, these are the women’s apartments. There will be Aes Sedai out there in the halls, likely as not. The others will be all right. There are hundreds of Shienaran soldiers in this keep, and a dozen Aes Sedai with their Warders.”

“I can’t risk it. What if something happened to them while I just sat here, with my sword gathering rust in the corner?” In the dark it was hard to see her face, but he found her shoulders with his arm and her lips with his. He kissed her hard. It was over far too soon.

“I love you,” Rand said from the doorway. “I always have and I always will.”

Nynaeve did not respond, save to draw in a long deep breath. He waited in the silence for four agonising heartbeats. Then he jerked open the door and dashed out into the fray. Behind him he thought he heard the Wisdom let out a low sob.

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