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There were days you weren't supposed to leave your bed. Aramina just wished she had known it before now. There had been nothing else in the day that had suggested she would be suffering from any sort of discomfort as she sat at the corner table in one of her favorite inns in Tar Valon. Nothing suggested that after a month of evading the Warder Yards, of completing her daily work outs on the Green's practice field, that she would find herself staring at the man she had been consciously avoiding. Or that he would have some unknown woman on his arm as he walked in the door.


Aramina kept her facade firmly in place. She was here visiting with one of her first Eyes and Ears, a woman who ran a rowdy inn and had her hand on the pulse of the city's common denominators. She couldn't afford to get upset and blow off the woman sitting with her in order to charge across the room, no matter how her heart was pounding. Instead, she ignored his presence completely. She talked to Mary, grateful that as Aran took a sear across the room he hadn't noticed her yet. It was a small blessing but a good one. Another blessing was that she was almost done with this meeting anyway. A few more minutes and she would be free to leave.


In the end, a few more minutes were all she could take. She couldn't help her roaming eyes as they settled on Aran again. This time the trollop that had been on his arm moments earlier was sitting firmly in his lap, her head bent low to whisper something in his ear. And Aramina recognized the gaze he gave her, the heat and hunger of it. She felt sick.


Mary noticed something, but she couldn't see anything that would upset the Aes Sedai, nothing that hadn't happened a hunderd times before when she's been there. Aramina had simply excused herself, saying she needed to see to some things back in the Tower.


She had almost made it to the door unnoticed when she looked back one last time. The woman was still wrapped around Aran tightly, but as Aramina watched, he looked up and their eyes met. Tears stung, but she refused to let them fall like this. She felt like she'd been kicked in the stomach. Instead of letting him see anything else of her reaction, Aramina turned and walked out the door into the cool of the Tar Valon night.



The next morning she debated staying in bed. It wasn't her bed, but that wasn't the reason why she hadn't slept well. She had dreamed of Aran and each time she woke in panic. It was too early to think about it, she thought as she looked at the sun streaming through the window of the room she had taken last night. The barkeep had been surprised to see her there and had offered her the best of everything. She had only asked for him to leave her alone to her room.


Lonliness was suffocating her today, it's normal gentle hug had became constricting and painful. Light, she didn't want to think about it. She didn't want to think about the sick feeling in her stomach when she had seen Aran across the bar.


This was all a mess. She needed to get this man out of her head. She didn't have time for games, but she couldn't seem to stop herself when he was near. And last night she had run from him, to the one place she hoped he would never think to look for her. The Stone Wall Inn. Not that he would of course. He was probably still wrapped around the hussy woman.


Shaking her head Aramina looked up at the ceiling. It didn't help to know she was sleeping under the same roof where he had saved her life. The pain in her heart eased a little as something else started to creep in. Anger. Rage really, that he had been able to push her aside so easily. He hadn't even bothered to walk out the door looking for her last night after she had left.


Tears fell down her cheek as she realized something. He'd made her look the fool. Aran was a man of experience and while Aramina had travelled the world, in this realm she was just a novice. He knew it, had to know it. So he put her on his arm and paraded her around the barracks and his old stomping grounds to show off the pretty Aes Sedai he'd managed to ensnare this time.


She took a deep breath. It simply couldn't be stood for. Moving to the desk, she wrote a note and sent for the serving girl to make sure the note was delivered quickly. It was a request for Aran to meet her at the Inn at full dark. She needed privacy to say the things she wanted to say to him and the Tower or the Yards were not the place for it. This would do nicely, she thought she she lay back down, trying to catch a little sleep now that her heart wasn't aching so bad.



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Climbing up the stairs, Aran was curious as to why Ara had wanted to meet him at the Stone Wall Inn of all places. It was a fair walk, it would've been much easier to meet at the gatehouse as they had before. Was she meeting another contact here? But then why hadn't she had him accompany her? Then again, she had not wanted him with her to meet all her contacts, the night before he'd seen her briefly as she left one of the inns he had ended up in that night.


But, the only way to find out was to ask. Having been told which room she was in, he simply reached for the handle and let himself in. Turning, he closed the door as he spoke. "So, what is the plan for tonight? Another of your Eyes and Ears." Fiddling with his coat, he began easing himself out of it as he turned to her.


Aramina had felt the ward as it was crossed and took a deep breath. She looked up from the small writing desk in the room as Aran came in the door, not bothering to look at her yet. She shook her head slighty, the loose curls framing her face heavily tonight. She hadn't bothered with her braids today, choosing instead to keep to her room and relax as much as she could.


"No, no eyes and ears tonight." She said in a cold voice.


Wincing, Aran recognised that coldness all too well, her eyes confirming what he heard. Clearly she was unhappy about something, and it most likely involved him. Dropping his coat on the closest bedpost, he started working on his boots. If he was going to get a shouting at he was going to get a lie down while he was at it. "Well, its clear you want to talk then. Whats wrong?"


It was rather appaling that he was going to sit there and take his boots off. For some reason wanted him ready to run for the door. But that wasn't Aran's style really. No, that was what Aramina had done the night before. "It seems like you've been able to keep yourself busy lately." She said without explaining further.


"Uh, yes?" Freeing his other boot, he laid himself down on the bed, slipping his hands behind his head as he looked over at her.


Somehow against all hope, her facade was holding. No matter that she wanted to rail against him, to throttle the life out of him, her face showed nothing of it and her voice held true. "Of course, we both know your love of your vices. I shouldn't have been so surprised to find you last night, enthralled by so many of them at once."


Oh, she can't be serious... There were two ways he could deal with this that came to mind. One was to confront her straight away, but instead he chose to let her spend her anger. "What of it?"


What of it? That was how much he thought of her. That was the answer she had been afraid to hear from him. She closed her eyes and felt her facade melting away as tears formed. Blood and bloody ashes, she was not going to cry in front of him! "What of it? If you were going to just use me and parade me around in front of your little friends you could have at least told me that's what you were looking for. You could have had the decency to say something when you knew this meant something to me!"


"You're putting this on me again?" Irritation was beginning to stir already, it was amazing how ready women were to put blame on the man. Well, men could be just as quick, but that wasn't what came to mind right now. "I did not parade you before my friends, I introduced you to new people, so you might know something more than your sisters and eyes and ears, because I consider you a friend."


It was time to take a jab now, throw it back on her. "For someone who has been so quick to accuse, why have you been avoiding me? Its been about a month, and you haven't said a word to me during that time. Last night you even saw your Eyes and Ears without me there to have your back. Tell me, why is that?"


"Because I don't need you Aran!" She shouted. "I don't need to have you check my comings and goings and I don't need you to have my back! What I need is to get you out of my head and I can't do it!"


The angry words were out of her mouth before she could take them back, just as the tears that fell down her cheeks. "I didn't say a word to you because I needed space and time to get this... thing under control."


Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Aran got to his feet and walked over to her until he was close enough to kneel down beside her. Laying a hand on her arm in support as he spoke. "Remember what I taught you that first day you came down and railed at me? Sometimes when you fight something, you just give it strength. Like now. Instead of trying to shunt me out every time, talk to me."


"Talk to you?" Aramina asked, looking at his hand on her arm. "I can't figure out if I want to knock you across the room or kiss you senseless! What do you want me to say Aran? That in the last months' time while I avoided the Yards you didn't exactly come looking for me did you?" She stood up then, pulling away from him. Her arms came up around her waist as she put more distance between them. "And when I left last night you didn't either. That tells me all I need to know, doesn't it? Thanks for the fun, but you've found other pretties to play with."


Standing, Aran took a step closer to Aramina, he didn't plan on letting her get too much distance, it would make it too easier for her to push it all aside. "I don't chase you because you're a Sitter! You're busy! You have your position in the Tower to worry over and I doubt very much that having me around so openly would help you. I let you come to see me when you're ready, every single time you've been the one to approach me because I don't want to push you."


"And now I'm meant to have just waited? Hoped that you would deign to give me your time when it suited you? If you hadn't seen me last night would you have asked me to meet you now? Am I simply a toy of yours? To wait upon your whim? That is not who I am, and I would hope that is not how you thought of me."


More tears were coming from her, but Aran ploughed on, more needed to be said as he took another step closer. "I'm not your husband, you're not my wife. We're friendly when you aren't mad at me, and we take the moments we can, and thats the best that can be hoped for out of this. You know full well that there can't be anymore than that. And you complicate things worse because instead of being grateful for the moments we have, you want to curse me for them and crawl back in your shell. Nevermind that you've smiled more around me since whatever made you so closed off. Am I right?"


His words cut deep for their honesty. She had nothing to give him but a moment's time. She would never give up her pursuits within the Tower for something so small as a single life, but light, it would have been nice to imagine for a moment, wouldn't it? "Yes, I've smiled. More than I ever have if you want to know the truth. Probably more than I did as a child, but the cost for that has always been more than I was willing to pay. Do you understand that? I will always walk back into my closed off shell because my life is the Tower. Everytime you see through that, everytime you make me wonder if I made the right choice..." Her voice broke and she turned around to look at him.


"I didn't think you were waiting for me Aran. But you confuse me. You confuse my world and make me question who I am. I needed time to sort that out. When I saw you last night, I realized that it wasn't working. Not seeing you just made it worse for me, but you had already moved on."


Feeling it was safe enough now that the worst of her anger was spent, Aran took her hands in his own as he looked up into her eyes. "Your life in the Tower doesn't have to be a shell. Thats why you keep wondering if you made the right choice. You don't need to always be the face you put on, you can have both."


"Your feelings are like... a sword, or a muscle. If you don't use it, you never get better, you never grow. If you use your feelings, sure you will hurt yourself at first, and you'll look a bit of a fool. Give it time though, and you'll have some mastery over it."


"And I have not moved on, I considered you a friend before and I still do. Even if you have a tendency to jump down my throat first and talk afterwards." The last was said with a bit of levity as he reached up and used a thumb to brush away her tears as best he could. "And if you think you can wriggle out of people caring about you that easily, you're going to be sorely disappointed."


The touch of his hand sent a shiver down her spine. Before she could stop herself she leaned in slightly to his hand. Closing her eyes she took a deep breath. "I can't think when you touch me." She said quietly. "I don't... let people that close. I don't allow casual physical contact." She wasn't even sure why she was saying it, except that she wanted him to understand why she was acting like such an idiot all the time with him.


"Its little wonder then, a starving man hungers for food, and you crave that which you try and push away. No one can truly stand alone. If you can accept that, then perhaps you can begin to trust yourself more." As he spoke, Aran let his thumb caress her cheek. Sometimes the simplest things were the best to calm someone down. Light but he'd only known a few women to become so overwrought over their own feelings so.


"No one can stand alone, but we try sometimes." She opened her eyes and look at him . "For one hundred years I've stood alone. Why do you get to break through when no one else did?"


Aran smiled. "Because you reached out." As profound as that was, Aran had something else to add naturally. "I'm also ridiculously pretty, no?" A bit of humour never hurt.


And there it was, perhaps the real reason he had been able to break through to her. He left her gaping and unsure of herself, never knowing what he would do or say next. From the moment she had touched his arm and he had called her Princess, he had fascinated her. A smile touched her lips then. "Yes, ridiculously so." She agreed. She looked at him more serious again. "Thank you. For coming all this way and for talking to me."


Laughing, Aran took his hand from her face and poked her chest. "Friends do that, you'd best get used to it. Speaking of which, I'm calling another favour. You come around the barracks once in awhile to my company's commonroom, even if I'm not there. Get to know some people, I'm going to get you smiling if its the death of me."


She smiled for a moment at his words but shook her head. "Don't joke about death Aran. It comes for us all too soon." She said in a quiet voice.


"Thats rather morbid." Grinning, Aran continued. "If one doesn't joke, the only alternative is to cry. But you're right, time is precious and we should take the moments that we can, where we can." Reaching up to her face once more, he pulled her down to him.




Tower Guard


Aramina sur Dulciena

Sitter of the Green Ajah

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