A/N: Okay, so, it was supposed to be a one-shot, but they just wouldn't leave me alone. They've officially become my favourite headcanon couple. Also, the ending went a bit AU here, again unintended, it just... happened. I'm not sure how I did with the Tam PoVs, but I did enjoy his chat with Ihvon. Now, if anyone knows a good pic of Ihvon anywhere (probably not; he can't be a popular object for artists, being such a minor character) I'd appreciate it; he's stuck looking like a mix between Robin Hood and Tuomas Holopainen, in my head...
Alanna wove the weaves of Healing – Water, Spirit, Air, just so – and the man before him gasped, convulsed and fell still. She didn't need to Delve him again to know that he would live – in fact she had not only fixed the broken bones of his thigh and the beginning of an infection, but also the lesser cuts and bruises all over his body. That's how Healing worked; she couldn't pick to just heal the life-threatening wounds on any individual. There wouldn't even be a scar on his plain but pleasant enough face. She nodded at the woman hovering silently nearby – his wife? She glanced at her and assessed her age again; more likely a daughter – and said, "He'll be hungry when he wakes up. Make sure he's got enough to eat and he'll be fine."
The woman nodded and stammered thanks, but Alanna was already moving on to the next wounded. The battle against Trollocs had been taxing, but now that the Manetheren Waygate had been dealt with, there wouldn't be any more of them coming. That gave people hope and strength, both of which they would need badly in the following days and weeks and months of rebuilding not only their farms but their very lives. And the rebuilding started here: Healing the wounded.
A hollow-eyed woman with grey in her hair was sitting next to the young man, only a boy really, that was Alanna's next target. The boy was missing two fingers on his left hand; no amount of Healing could bring those back, but she could make sure that the bones of his crushed arm healed right, and that no infection took root. She offered what she hoped was a comforting smile to the woman before moving on again. There was a lot to be done still...
She moved on to the next patient, and the next, and the one after that. She lost track of time, and then it was all she could do to keep holding on to the Source, there was no room in her mind for anything else. She finished the weaves on a balding man with a fractured skull, then drew a deep breath to gather her strength and stood up again. The room spun around her and she raised a hand to her temple. She had no time to be feeling dizzy, there were still people who needed her Healing. She had to-
The thought was cut short when she turned to move to the next patient and found her way blocked. Tam al'Thor looked like he had been standing behind her for a while, the expression on his ruggedly handsome face one of patience and concern. "Aes Sedai," he said, as casually as one might comment on the weather.
"Master al'Thor," Alanna replied. "I'm glad to see you're in better shape than the people I've been spending most of my evening with, but if you'll excuse me, there's a lot of work still to do and I need to-"
"Indeed, Aes Sedai," the man cut in deftly, "there's a lot of work to do in the morning. You need to get some sleep, we can't have you collapsing on us."
Alanna opened her mouth – to protest or to agree? She wasn't suddenly too sure – but changed her mind and said instead, "Have you been talking to Ihvon?"
Al'Thor shrugged. "Funny you should mention your Gaidin. He asked me to talk to you... or maybe told me to, but I'm trying to be courteous here. I've no idea why he thinks I might succeed where he failed, but the impression I got is that unless I manage to talk you into getting some rest, he's going to drag you to your room by force and lock you there."
"He would dare!" Alanna gasped indignantly, shooting a glare in the direction where the bond told her the Warder was. The bond carried back a stab of frustration and anger and concern bordering on fear. Then something al'Thor had said finally registered... "Wait. What do you mean, he failed?"
The farmer before her frowned. "You don't..?" Alanna shook her head sharply; she wouldn't be asking if she knew what he was talking about! The motion set off a headache that she had until now managed to mute. She closed her eyes briefly, but quickly resumed her glare at the buffoon of a man who couldn't answer a simple question! Al'Thor's frown deepened but he seemed to take the hint and continued, "He's been trying to talk to you several times in the past hours. You forbade him to even mention sleep again. That's when he came to me."
Several times? Forbade him to..? The implications sunk in and the sudden confusion made her defences crumble and all the exhaustion she had been holding at bay by sheer force of will crashed home. She sagged and would have fallen if not for al'Thor, who picked her up, gently, as if she weighed nothing.
Tam al'Thor carried the Aes Sedai upstairs to her room in the Winespring Inn. He half expected Ihvon to swoop over and take charge of his Aes Sedai now that she was no longer arguing, but the dark Warder simply gave Tam a measuring stare and a nod that might have been approving or grateful, or then again not. It was often difficult to tell, with those stone-faced men. Tam laid Alanna down on her bed and was about to leave, when she suddenly lifted her hand and grabbed a hold of his sleeve. He froze. "What is it?"
She looked up at him, her dark eyes wide. "Don't go," she said, as if uncertain herself whether she was demanding or pleading. "Please," she added. "Don't leave me alone."
"What-?" Tam began, but the look in the woman's eyes seemed to resist questioning. Eventually he decided that getting her to sleep was his number one priority, and if staying for a while would achieve that, it would be worth staying away from his own duties for a while longer. He sighed. "Very well," he said. "I'm not going anywhere. Sleep, now."
It didn't take long for the Aes Sedai to fall asleep. Once he was sure she wasn't about to wake up any time soon, Tam crept out of the room and went back downstairs. He immediately spotted Ihvon at a table by the fireplace. The Warder was smoking a pipe and had a mug of ale before him, apparently untouched. He looked up when Tam approached, but said nothing.
Tam took a seat opposite the Warder and for a brief moment the two men shared an almost companionable silence. But eventually Tam figured that there was something they needed to talk about. "She's sleeping," he said, mainly to open the conversation somehow.
"I know," the Warder replied. Another moment of silence. Then, "Thank you."
Tam nodded. "She... didn't want me to leave."
The Warder tilted his head. "Then why did you?"
Tam blinked; he wasn't sure what kind of reaction he had expected, but it was not this. "In a small village like this..." he began cautiously, then couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence, to say aloud that everyone would think he had slept with her, rather than on the floor merely in the same room. Ihvon seemed to catch the meaning regardless; the Warder seemed amused, of all things! Tam cleared his throat and tried another approach. "Besides, I figured you might want to take over. Being her Warder and all."
"Oh, I doubt she'd appreciate finding me there when she wakes up," Ihvon said. He actually smiled at Tam's puzzled expression. There was distinct fondness in his voice when he continued. "She has a temper, Alanna does..." Then his voice changed, and his eyes fixed sharply on Tam. "She's also a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions. I am her Warder, not her husband or father, Light forbid. Whatever you do or don't do with her is between you and her." Then his manner relaxed again, as far as a Warder ever really relaxed. "She likes you. I think she might even bond you, if you let her. I can't say that I'd mind; she'll be a handful to look after by myself."
The conversation was clearly at an end. Tam stood to leave. After a moment's indecision, torn between Alanna and his duties to the village's defence, he made up his mind and headed back up the stairs. The lads knew what they were doing by now, and if there was any trouble, the whole village would be woken instantly. He entered Alanna's room and stood at the door for a while, watching her still form in the faint lamplight that streamed from the corridor behind him. Then he closed the door behind him, took off his boots and settled down to sleep wrapped in his cloak on the floor.
Alanna wasn't sure how long she had slept, but judging from the slowly lightening greyness outside the window it must be close to dawn. She felt somewhat refreshed; she could easily have gone back to sleep and probably slept for most of the day if given the chance, but she was functional again. That would have to do. She had no time to be lazying about like a lady in her mansion.
She sat up and discovered that she was still wearing the dress from the previous day. And that there was a man sleeping on the floor next to her bed. The bond told her it was not Ihvon – the Warder was further away and awake and alert – and once her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she could make out Tam al'Thor's features. He was also fully dressed, using his cloak as blanket and nothing but the carpet for mattress. What precisely had happened last night?
While she was watching the farmer, frowning slightly, he suddenly opened his eyes. There was no sense of disorientation about him; he knew exactly where he was as soon as he woke, a soldier's trait. Or a Warder's. His eyes found her and he sat up. "Good morning, Aes Sedai."
"I suppose it is," she replied. "Morning, I mean," she added when the man seemed confused. Silence fell. "I'm sorry you had to sleep on the floor because of me," she finally said.
"It's fine," he assured her. "I'm used to it." Another moment of silence. Then, "Should go get breakfast." He stood up and took a step towards the door.
"It's early yet," Alanna protested. "Stay for a while longer. Talk to me." She tried to make it a request rather than a demand, but wasn't entirely sure she succeeded; she was not used to talking to men that way. Tam hesitated, hand on the door handle. Alanna tilted her head. "What are you afraid of?"
The big man finally turned his back to the door and looked at her. "Afraid?" he repeated, his voice blank. "I don't know what you want of me, woman, and I'm not too sure that you know it yourself. I'd rather you sorted yourself out before..." He trailed off, colouring slightly, but met Alanna's gaze steadily.
"Oh," she said. "You think I'm after a... distraction, something trivial to pass the time..." she mused aloud. He neither confirmed nor denied it, but his eyes took on a stony look. She shook her head. "Tam al'Thor, I'll have you know I'm no blushing maiden with your Two Rivers sensibilities. But neither am I Myrelle."
A blank stare. "Myrelle?"
Alanna sighed, mostly annoyed at herself. Of course he wouldn't know who Myrelle was. "I mean, I'm not one to jump into any available bed just because I'm bored or lonely."
She watched him processing the information for a moment. "What do you want of me, then?" he asked after a while. "What is it that you expect?"
Well, this was something she could answer. "I expect nothing," she replied. "But I was... hoping for... a level of companionship. And I don't deny that I find you attractive on several levels." I want to bed you and bond you, in no particular order. "I cannot make any promises of commitment, there are things going on in the world bigger than either of us and the Last Battle will not wait until a more convenient time. But... I was hoping..."
The silence seemed to stretch on forever. Then, when Alanna had already given up hope, he nodded slowly. And stepped away from the door. Alanna stood up, and she wasn't sure which of them crossed the small space between them but suddenly she was in his arms, his lips on hers, and for a few frantic moments the world outside ceased to exist. Then he broke away, as if embarrassed by the unrestrained display of passion.
"Tam?" Alanna asked, trying to conceal her impatience. He didn't reply, but the sudden uncertainty in his eyes tore at her heart. "What are you afraid of?" she asked again.
He looked away and let go of her. After a moment he sat heavily on the edge of her bed, hands on his knees. "My wife died almost twenty years ago," he said quietly. "It is a long time..."
Alanna sighed and sat next to him. "It's all right," she said. "You don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with." She moved closer and gently caressed his face, ran a finger down the line of his jaw. "Will you trust me?"
Tam actually chuckled. "Trust me, said the Aes Sedai," he muttered, as if quoting something. But his voice held no malice. "I trust you, Alanna."
"Thank you," she whispered. She kissed him again, this time with no haste, letting herself savour every precious second. Slowly she let her hands travel along Tam's body, undoing his shirt and belt buckle. After a moment's hesitation she felt his hands at her back, fumbling at the tiny buttons of her dress. She smiled. He was getting more confident by the moment and soon she was divested off her dress, and she was having to exercise considerable restraint to not damage his remaining clothes in trying to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
Later Tam lay still on the bed, Alanna snuggled half on top of him, her head resting on his chest. She had fallen asleep afterwards; Tam supposed that the night's sleep hadn't been enough after the frankly insane amount of work she had done the previous day. He mentally scolded both himself and Ihvon for letting her carry on as long as she had.
He stroked her hair gently. One of the braids had come undone and she looked something of a mess. A very beautiful mess, though. A part of him wanted to drift off back to sleep, too, but he knew he should be getting up and dressed. Light! Everyone must be wondering where he was. Well, except Ihvon. He wondered how much the Warder would have told anyone else. Then again, everyone would be awake by now anyway and he would be seen coming out of Alanna's room... People would talk; they did little else.
But he didn't want to move. He didn't want to wake her up. And that decided it. He could stay for a few moments longer...
No sooner had he thought that than she opened her eyes, frowning. "You shouldn't have let me sleep again," she mumbled. "There's a lot to do..."
He silenced her with a finger on her lips. "You needed it," he said. "In fact you still do. Anything I can do to make you stay in bed after I leave?" He meant the last part as a joke, and was more than shocked when she replied. And more so when the content of what she actually said sunk in.
"You could become my Warder." She watched him with a curious mixture of calculation and cautious hopefulness. "You're practically fulfilling the role already..." she added when he didn't say anything.
"You do realise that I'm needed here, in Emond's Field," he finally said. "I know you and Verin are planning on leaving soon, now that the Trollocs are dealt with. I cannot go with you. Perrin needs me here, these villagers are my people..." He fell silent. He didn't want to say no, but he just couldn't leave.
Slowly, she nodded. "I understand," she said. "But that's not necessarily an obstacle. I don't much enjoy being separated from my Warders, but sometimes Aes Sedai need to send their Warders on missions on their own, even far away; it happens. At least I'd know you're alive and well. And... if it matters... you'd know the same about me." A pause. Tam didn't answer. She went on, "Besides, Perrin will not need you forever. He has a very capable wife guiding him in the ways of leadership, and Master al'Vere and the Village Council to deal with general administrational things... I will not ask you to leave while you feel that you're needed here. But when you can... you'll find me."
Tam was silent for a long time. He wanted to accept, hell, he wanted to just go with her when she left, but of course nothing was ever that simple. She did have a point, though, when she said that he'd know she was alive and where to find her. That, and the knowledge that she was right about Perrin not needing him forever, finally made up his mind. "Very well," he breathed. "Do it."
A look of concentration settled upon her face, and without realising it he held her closer. And then... there was a presence at the back of his mind. He could feel her; the warmth of her emotions as she watched him, mingled with amusement for some reason, and sadness at the same time, but mostly there was just that warmth like sunshine from cloudless sky, and fierce pride, and passion, and determination, all the things that made up Alanna Mosvani of the Green Ajah. "Tam Gaidin," she said, as if tasting the words.
He smiled. "At your service, my Aes Sedai." Then he frowned. "Speaking of which, it must be late already. I need to go. You, don't even think about getting up. I'll have someone bring you breakfast, or lunch if it's that late already." He certainly hoped not; it was difficult to tell by the amount of light as the sky was cloudy.
He dressed hurriedly and strode out of the inn, pretending not to notice Verin's curious look as he passed her in the corridor. He marched out to the village green and found Ihvon instructing a group of young men in the use of sword. Tomas, Verin's greying Warder, was standing to one side, watching. He spotted Tam and grinned, making a comment that Tam couldn't hear, but which earned puzzled looks from the young men and a dark glare from Ihvon. Tam reached the group, and Ihvon gestured at the youngsters to carry on with the exercise.
"She could have masked the bond," Ihvon said after a while, in a carefully neutral tone. Tomas looked like he was having trouble keeping a straight face.
Tam didn't instantly realise what he was talking about – the terminology connected with being a Warder was still new to him and he had to guess from the context what precisely 'masking the bond' meant – but when he did... Oh. "She didn't, did she..." he muttered.
Tomas was now grinning openly. "Ihvon here has had an interesting morning, Master al'Thor," he said, chuckling. Then he grew serious again. "So... You'll be coming with us when we leave?"
Tam blinked. Did the bond actually show? He did feel different, and not just because of the presence that was Alanna nested at the back of his mind, but also physically. But he wasn't aware that he looked any different. Maybe other Warders could sense that kind of things? "No," he replied. "I'm still needed here. Alanna agreed. I'll follow... as soon as I can."
Ihvon nodded. "Try to make it sooner rather than later, will you," he said. "I'm not looking forward to getting her through Tarmon Gai'don by myself."
Tam gave the man a level stare. "I'll be there."
After that it wasn't many days until Alanna and Verin announced that they would be leaving for Tar Valon, with a dozen girls that could be trained to become Aes Sedai. Tam watched them go with a heavy heart, but on the other hand with steely determination. He wouldn't abandon his village, but eventually, soon enough, he would be able to leave and follow his Aes Sedai.