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Coat Made of My Leather

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I have sharp teeth inside my mouth,

inside my dark red lips,

And lacquer slickly hides the claws

In my red fingertips.

So I conceal my armoury.

Yours is all on view.

You think you are possessing me -

But I've got my teeth in you.

- Angela Carter, Unicorn

 


 

She has, in her entire life, been refused exactly twice, and both by the same woman.

Liandrin stomps through the marble corridors, teeth clamped so tightly her jaw aches with muted fury. She slams her bedroom door as she passes through the stuffy Red Quarters— uncaring of the questioning, disapproving glances she garners in her wake— moving so quickly the tasseled curtains sway behind her. They would gossip about her regardless of what she did, too tempting a treat to ignore: powerful and away from the Tower so long, returning with a stilled False Dragon from Ghealdan and without too many Sisters and Warders.

And, worst of all, having gained one Moiraine Damodred.

None of Liandrin's prying, sneering sisters could let that rest, least of all Liandrin herself. It is a scab at which she keeps picking, reopening it just to bleed again, a cycle ever-repeating. The second refusal so akin to the first, a battle she cannot win. Her sparse bedroom is pitched in darkness except for the pale moonlight in her arched window. It's comfortable here at the Tower, familiar and safe, not a crowded tent on the road, or a palette in some dank alleyway of Tarabon.

Liandrin hangs her head and exhales hard, at last alone.

"Took you ages," lilts a silky voice.

Liandrin freezes, wiry frame locked tight. Blinking in the sparse slants of moonlight, she grasps a weave of air, a vicious whip forming in her hand.

There is a woman on her bed, reclining casually against the plush crimson pillows, bare feet crossed at the ankles. A distinct look of boredom paints her features, fresh amusement just beginning to tug at full lips. Her hair is long and black, woven with small, golden bells in the Arafellin fashion. Except for the bright green of her skirt and stole, she looks so effortlessly comfortable against the red bedspread that the room could be her own.

Liandrin's face darkens. She drops her weave. Alanna Mosvani is always where she does not belong: a stray cat slinking into tents and bedrooms for scraps of food or information or entertainment, too powerful and curious for her own good.

"I didn't mean to take you completely by surprise," Alanna says. "I thought for certain you'd feel me in here. We're practically bonded."

Liandrin sneers. The Red Quarters are across the Tower from the Greens entirely by design. Alanna shouldn't be anywhere near this area, let alone sprawled in Liandrin's bedroom.

"Who let you in?"

"Katerine," Alanna smirks. "I told her I wanted to see you alone, and she had no issue pointing out your room. Your other Sisters weren't so accommodating."

Katerine Alruddin, that rancid bitch, she thinks. 

With a scoff Liandrin takes a seat at her vanity, contemplating how best to simultaneously eradicate Katerine and Alanna from the Pattern in one fell swoop. With a flick of her wrist she lights a sconce and several candles that line her room, watching in the mirror as Alanna's amused face glows with orange light. Brown eyes unflinchingly return her gaze.

"What do you want?" Liandrin asks, untying her boots.

She doesn't have the patience for this nonsense, especially not from one of Moiraine's little friends. Pillow-friends too, she imagines, yanking hard on her laces. She sets her boots neatly beside her chair before removing her jewelry, dropping everything but her Great Serpent ring into a glass dish.

"Oh, many things," Alanna vaguely replies. "I heard you were already yelling at the Novices. Not a wise recruitment method."

Stiff as a board, Liandrin sits up and pulls roughly at the hair tie that holds her braid, knotting it more tightly. She bites, "Get out."

She has no time to waste on being insulted in the privacy of her own room by the same Green that tormented her for months on the road, constantly prodding her or giggling behind her hand to one of her Warders and the other Greens. Full of jokes to which Liandrin would never be privy, undoubtedly at her expense. Bitterness wells in her stomach. She finally has a real bed at her disposal and it's being wasted— not with sex or slumber to drown her slew of embarrassments— but with Alanna Mosvani and her arrogant, taunting face. Liandrin's return home has left her wanting in many regards.

Alanna hums a disappointed note, fabric rustling as she slides off of the bed at last. She silently pads across the rich rugs, umber eyes pointedly fixed on Liandrin's reflection.

"Are you sure? I felt very close to you in Ghealdan."

Liandrin freezes, still clenching a fistful of her hair. Cold with sudden suspicion, she blanks her face into an emotionless and inscrutable expression.

Alanna has never spoken an earnest word in her life, let alone to Liandrin. And expressing the sort of sentiment that could be leveraged against her must be a feint from some angle Liandrin cannot predict. The abrupt confession a trick, a twisting of language to make her point, to glean information from Liandrin under the guise of flattery and sympathy. Liandrin knows these ruses; she's used them with great success against other women in the Tower, undone by her tongue in more ways than one.

Alanna draws closer, green skirts minty pale in the moonlight. She stands behind Liandrin's chair, fingers grazing the loose strands of her hair. She slides the braid out of Liandrin's hands and into her own, gently removing the hair tie.

"Didn't it bother you, feeling what I felt? What I wanted?" she asks. She rakes her fingers through the wavy blonde, loosely combing it out over Liandrin's back.

Her heart races in her chest at this unexpected touch, but Liandrin doesn't outwardly respond to it. She isn't unfamiliar with pleasures of the flesh. She isn't some Novice desperate for a pillow-friend, melting into a puddle when a girl plays with her hair.

Still, she remembers how Alanna felt through the shared weave that shielded Logain Ablar, her power weaker than Liandrin's but impressive nonetheless. Her energy had a distinct playfulness to it, hungry and bold, completely unlike Liandrin's guillotine sharpness or Kerene's bland, blanketing seriousness. They sat alone together for hours like that, the only three strong enough to hold him when paired off, muttering to each other in that lonely, dark cave as the One Power breathed and twisted around them. Alanna caught her eye often— fidgeting as she did in the next chair over, intentionally vexing with her constant movement and stretching— but made a point of relentlessly mocking Liandrin any time she lost focus. She could feel the laughter coursing through the weave between them.

"Like what you see?" Alanna asked her once, arms stretched indolently overhead.

"I'd like it more if you pulled your weight," she strangled out, as venomous as she could manage.

A thumb brushes against the base of Liandrin's neck, warm and feather-soft. Alanna murmurs, "You must have known. But you never once tried a thing and then, after everything we shared, you couldn't even spare me a passing glance on the road home. Not with her around."

Liandrin wills herself to be still, choking down a snarl. Instead she raises her eyes and bares her teeth in a smile, ready to punish her for such blatant sentimentality and weakness.

"Are you jealous, Alanna Sedai?"

"Only a little," she admits, tucking a stray blonde hair behind Liandrin's ear. "I love attention. I wanted yours."

Liandrin swallows, disappointed in her total lack of retort to this confession. Sworn as she is to the Three Oaths, Alanna cannot lie— unless there is an important piece of information that Liandrin does not yet have— and she apparently feels no need to conceal her intentions. It's unfathomable, this directness. Spiteful heat unfurls in her stomach, a discomfort completely outside of Alanna and her pointed flirtations, or the fingernails grazing Liandrin's scalp in a rhythmic repetition. It feels dangerously good, a delicate massage in all the places her skin is sore from hair pulled too tightly. Alanna works her tender head, long eyelashes gazing down at her charge with calm satisfaction. Under different circumstances, the moment would have been terribly relaxing for her.

Liandrin's lip twitches, furious with her body's betrayal. Moiraine had barely moved when she touched her. And this is only Alanna, who means nothing, who takes lovers like she breathes.

"I don't blame you," Alanna continues, hands squeezing the taut muscles along the column of Liandrin's spine. "She's so distracting and mysterious. I was in her bedroom today too. Did you know that? We were so close as novices, she and I—"

"Get out of my room."

"She's so difficult to decipher but such a fun enigma. An easy woman to follow. She's so powerful, isn't she?"

"She is not the only one stronger than you," Liandrin snaps. How grating to have this conversation at all when Moiraine outstrips them both.

"I know it," Alanna says, eyes alight. "It feels so good to taste it. Have you tasted hers?"

The tension coils back around Liandrin's ribs, disgusted by this crude display and her physical response to it. Alanna continues kneading her muscles, excessive and unafraid, a gourmand of any pleasure she can find. A lustful, base glutton. A beast with no collar and a mouthful of blood.

Liandrin recenters herself, clinging to the stability of her contempt. She doesn't take the bait, but answers the question with one of her own. "If you're so enamored with Moiraine, why don't you go back to her room?"

With a thoughtful noise, Alanna says, "Unlike some, I know when a ship has sailed."

Heat blooms across Liandrin's cheeks. Alanna's perennial mocking gnaws at her stomach like a dog with a bone, and Liandrin counts herself a fool for letting this conversation last as long as it has. The simmering heat bubbles into a roiling mess of tension, amplified by the hands on her body and the betrayal of whatever bizarre and limited understanding she thought they shared in Ghealdan. An ugly urge to use her talent to compel Alanna away surfaces in her, but for all her malice and shame that would be foolish, impetuous, and unclever. All the things Liandrin hates.

So she seethes, "Get out."

The hand on Liandrin's shoulder blade returns to the base of her neck, smooth and unforgiving. Alanna gazes at her prickly expression with maddening curiosity, as if she catalogues all her idiosyncrasies and depths, discerning their flavor on her tongue.

"There are other ways to cross the sea, Liandrin," she gently tugs a fistful of blonde hair. "Think about it."

Liandrin's head tilts backwards, pale throat exposed to the mirror. She doesn't balk— she's too stubborn and proud to collapse, even when her body yearns for it— but lashes out instead with frantic hostility. "We both shared the shield with Kerene Sedai. Did you try this pathetic little stunt on her too?"

"No," Alanna's dark brow furrows. "We slept together long before we shared a weave." She releases her grip, fingers tapping down Liandrin's shoulders like rainfall. "She was just lovely. Incredibly attentive."

Infuriated, Liandrin glowers. Like all Greens, Alanna is blunt to the point of gracelessness. Perhaps not all, Liandrin amends. Cadsuane Melaidhrin is a legend and Seonid Traighan is clever enough to be dangerous. But they are the exceptions to the rule, and their Sisters lack nuance, most certainly Alanna.

With ice in her voice Liandrin dismisses her, "Of course. You'll take anything into your bed. How many toys do you have now? Seven? Eight?"

"Only Maksim and Ihvon, the same two I've had. You must be confusing me with one of the other Greens. I'd be insulted if it wasn't so precious."

Her hands slide to Liandrin's chest, fingers splayed, thumbs caressing her collarbones through the thick, embroidered fabric of her red bodice. Alanna gives a coy smile in the mirror, intentions unmistakably seductive.

"Two too many," Liandrin breaks her gaze, lip curled. Her own face is stark and cold beneath Alanna's buoyant, flippant heat. "Interlacing yourself so desperately is a hopeless game."

Alanna's breasts press into Liandrin's back as she leans over her shoulder, breath ghosting across Liandrin's cheekbone. There's a hint of sweetness to her exhales, a sugary flavor Liandrin can't place.

The tip of her nose brushes the shell of Liandrin's ear. Alanna's voice is low and smooth as a river stone when she asks, "Does Moiraine know you feel that way?"

Angry fists ball in Liandrin's lap, shaking with a frigid fury that is entirely out of her control. She wants to tear at Alanna's hair, to pin her to the bed and choke her the shade of Moiraine's shawl.

"Out," she hisses.

"Oh, Liandrin. Other ships," Alanna laughs breathlessly, ever-mocking. Her lips peel back to bare her incisors, glittering bone white in the mirror. "I tried to be good to you— friendly even— and you never responded well to that."

Then she slants forward and kisses Liandrin on the cheek, demure and sickly sweet like a lover would. Liandrin tenses at this addictive heat struggling to the surface of her mind, torn between scorn and desire, and equally mistrustful of both. Alanna kisses her jaw, and the soft skin behind her ear. Her lips travel down the pulsing jugular of Liandrin's throat, languidly exploring the lines of her.

She remembers it too, the night they sat alone.

It was a cold night in Ghealdan, just after they first captured Ablar, in which Kerene and three others had taken his shield. They'd not yet coordinated their rotation for his watch, still testing the waters to determine how many Sisters were truly required to hold him, and in what combinations. Liandrin chewed the inside of her cheeks, staring blankly at the thick forest ahead of her, leaves painted navy in the moonlight. It irked her profoundly that it took so many Aes Sedai to contain him when he was just a man, just one man. She could not even hold him alone, a new predicament in itself and an insult to her strength. Stilling him was the safer option.

Her stomach rumbled its hunger, but she ignored it with well-practiced focus. They had tack and travel-ready foodstuff in storage, already packed away for the evening. She'd rather go hungry tonight than be caught rooting through the trunks of food like an urchin in a trash heap, seeking out rotten fruit for her father to sell on his ramshackle cart. All she wanted was the heat of a fire for a few minutes before retiring to her tent and the sad, thin sleeping roll that served as her bed. Shielding Ablar all day had exhausted her more than she was willing to admit.

Everything in the wilds prickled at the back of her neck: she felt unprotected here, too far from the Tower, a lonely woman without her armor or the rest of the Red Sisters to watch her back. She'd long been on the road, sore from horseback and more gruesome, frequent fights than she anticipated. The anxiety of her travels past and future weighed heavily upon her, a fatigue greater than loneliness or starvation could manage. She envisioned the dead when she spent too long in thought. She remembered the brisk, early autumn and the village they didn't save. How they rode in a day too late, and the scavenger birds had already found the corpses all crushed beneath their homes, leveled by madness and corrupted power. She remembered the boy who spilled his own insides with a dagger rather than be taken by the Aes Sedai or the whispers in his head, and the way his mother wordlessly shrieked, kneeling in his viscera.

A crack rang out through the night and Liandrin jumped, ripped from her reverie.

The sound of more broken branches followed, too noisy to be a real threat, until at last Alanna emerged from the woods, casually stringing up some small animal she caught. She stood against the tree line in her grey riding dress, belt and skirt slashed with her customary green, sleeves rolled to her elbows. She gripped a small, simple hunting knife in her hand, skinning the hare she'd shot herself with one of her Warder's bows. There were no bells in her unkempt hair then— their entourage moved too quickly and worked too hard to have the time to tie them in— but the ruddy gore dripping down her palms as she toiled caught in the firelight, rich and ornamental. It glistened finely enough to make a suitable replacement for her jewelry.

The knife sliced through joints and ligaments easily, and Alanna tilted her head this way and that to carefully cut around the muscle. It seemed a waste of time to do all this by hand. But then, as Liandrin sat watching her, she prodded at the fire she chose to light without a weave. The way she did as a child in the shanty she called home: with flint, a blade, and kindling alone.

"Do you like rabbit with or without the silver skin?" Alanna called suddenly, and without turning. She peeled away the creamy hide in one quick rip.

The smoothness of her voice startled Liandrin, though her only response was a brief glance around the camp to see if Alanna addressed someone else. They were alone, somehow, the others on guard duty or asleep. It struck her then that they'd never spoken without someone else looming close at hand, Kerene or a Red or one of Alanna's men.

Liandrin shifted atop the fallen log on which she sat, stick in hand. The silvery tendons were a pain to remove, generally too time-consuming to butcher when it remained safe enough to consume them directly, but Alanna might return to ignoring her in peace if Liandrin made her struggle through an unpleasant interaction. Socializing with a Green was always her last resort— excepting a Blue, though they were few and far between— particularly the one who spent all day surrounded by the most obnoxious admirers and cohorts known to womankind.

"I'm not fond of rabbit."

"That's not what I asked," Alanna chuckled.

Liandrin frowned, perturbed by her indifference, then said, "Without."

She expected a gripe about extra labor after a taxing day, or some slander about persnickety Reds who could do their own hunting from now on. But Alanna easily replied, "Me too."

After a few moments of dexterous butchering, she unstrung the rabbit from the rope and carried it toward the fire and Liandrin. Without preamble, she said, "We need to do something about this schedule. The others have already eaten, so we are stuck with rabbit and will continue to be stuck with rabbit whether we like it or not." She reached a bloody hand over the fire, gesturing for Liandrin's stick. Liandrin handed it over, maintaining her distance with a sneer of distaste. Alanna blithely continued, "Unless you'd rather go hunting with me. This one took a bit to find but I'm sure together we could track down a doe or boar or something more exciting."

Liandrin nearly replied, I'm not hungry, but that wasn't a safe truth to express, not when Alanna's own stomach rumbled its discontent as she shoved the rabbit onto its new spit, defiling her stick. Liandrin settled on, "It's a bit late for that."

Alanna glanced up at the night sky overhead, clear with countless stars, guessing the hour herself. "So it is. Never too late for dinner though."

She deftly arranged more sticks over the fire, digging them into the dirt as she placed the spit on the makeshift stand. Rising to wash her bloody hands and blade, Alanna said, "Turn that for me, if you would."

Liandrin scowled unhappily but obeyed, twisting the stick and avoiding the bloodstains as best she could. When Alanna returned, hands clean, Liandrin muttered, "It would cook faster if you set it closer to the fire."

She didn't know why she bothered offering advice when she had neither the expectation of actually sharing this meal, nor any particular affinity for Alanna's enjoyment of it. She crossed her arms into her chest, hunching over them for warmth. The Tower-provided traveling cloak was heavy and well-made, but Ghealdan's frigid night air was relentless.

"But dryer," Alanna said, prodding at the crisping meat. She took salt, pepper, and a sprig of rosemary from her pack, sprinkling it on the rabbit as it spun. "I'm afraid I prefer my food a bit more... moist."

Liandrin blinked at her, too tired to read into her salacious commentary, intended or not. No, she mentally amends: that was certainly intended. Alanna was notorious for her haphazard flirtations. Liandrin's solitude at the fire had been dashed to pieces by Alanna's interruption, and watching her devour a whole rabbit with her bare hands did not appeal to her sensitivities. Too exhausted to be properly annoyed by her, she said, "Good night, Alanna Sedai."

"Wait," Alanna stopped her. "I said I'd share, you know. We Greens are so good at that. But dinner's not quite ready. And I happen to know that neither one of us has eaten since breakfast."

Liandrin's restraint failed her at this undeniable fact and, though pride prickled in the back of her mind— you do not take handouts, it spat— she succumbed, sitting back down on the log. Alanna hummed and rolled the spit, cooking the rabbit slowly and evenly, plainly practiced at this sort of outdoorsmanship. Mercifully, she did not torture Liandrin with more small talk as she worked. Instead of digging through the supply tent for plates, Alanna puttered around the camp for a choice tree to trim, then sliced the meat on a platter of flat oak bark.

With a satisfied groan she sat beside Liandrin on the log, pressing into the length of her body, inappropriately close. Dark eyes bored into her as Alanna held the tray of succulent meat between their laps. "First choice to my dinner guest."

Liandrin said nothing, picking at the rabbit with her fingertips and ignoring the warmth of her right side. The earthy flavor of the meat struck her at once, rich and tender despite its leanness, and the hunger she worked so hard to suppress flared at once to life. She swallowed, frowning, but reached for another slice.

"Good?" asked Alanna.

Liandrin nodded, conceding that much. It mattered very little to compliment her food.

"Good!" Alanna smiled, obnoxiously chipper. She reached for her own bite, shoulders turned in toward Liandrin, knees bumping against her own.

In relative silence— broken only by Alanna's happy exclamations about good food— they finished the entire rabbit, tossing the bones into the fire as they went. Though she refused to show it, Liandrin felt a permeating sleepiness suffuse her body, the only possible outcome of being full and warm and utterly exhausted.

"Tastes better after you put in a little work, don't you think?" Alanna asked, flinging a leg bone into the flames.

Liandrin shifted the bark plate into Alanna's lap and rose from the log, unpleasantly chilled again without her proximity. She ignored the urge to sit back down.

"It was well-cooked," she blandly admitted, smoothing the wrinkles from her skirts. "Thank you for dinner. Good night, Alanna Sedai."

"Sleep well, Liandrin," Alanna said, dropping the honorific with an air of cavalier familiarity. "Dream of something sweet."

Liandrin scoffed, and did not grace her with any additional reply. But that night she slept deeply in her threadbare bedroll, as sated and relaxed as she had felt in months.

"Tell me to stop and I'll stop," Alanna whispers, bold gaze still fixed on Liandrin's in the mirror. She kisses her throat, teeth grazing her skin, a cat watching a mouse.

But for a long, shaky inhale, Liandrin remains silent. She lost this battle of attrition the moment she allowed herself to be touched. Alanna smiles against her again, canines pressing into her neck. Her fingers sink lower, arms draped around Liandrin's shoulders, unbuttoning the front of her bodice. She peels the top of the tight dress away from her, sliding it down her arms and humming her appreciation at the sheer underclothes beneath.

"I heard you've never fucked a Green," she murmurs. Alanna's hands drag up the bone-white silk, fingers climbing the ladder of her ribcage. Her thumbs return to the taut muscles of Liandrin's shoulders, massaging their sloping lines outward with measured slowness, no thick fabric to stand between them.

Perplexed and distracted, Liandrin opens and closes her mouth.

"I asked my Sisters, and then I asked yours," Alanna answers. Her pinkies slip beneath the straps of Liandrin's ivory camisole. The soft skin above her breasts tingles with her touch, but she remains motionless.

"Katerine was happy to tell me a number of things. It seems Reds and Greens can get along under the right circumstances."

She hisses, "Why are you here?"

"To fuck you, Liandrin," she breathes, apparently aghast at the need to explain. "It doesn't have to be complicated. I would be honored for you to be my first Red. I want the full stole."

Liandrin tsks at the crude euphemism for bedding every Ajah. She swallows thickly, galled by how effectively her tension unwinds beneath Alanna's hands. Annoyed, too, that she considers how she only lacks the Green in her own repertoire. It's a harder feat to manage for a Red than anyone else, given how the Greens and Blues tend to elude them. A part of Liandrin wishes the Blues had eluded her more.

"Your first Red," Liandrin flatly repeats.

"I don't like to limit myself. But we could each have a full stole then. What an achievement."

Liandrin shifts in the chair, skin tingling, surprised that Alanna has somehow garnered this information about her. The woman is too nosy for her own good, too full of knowledge she shouldn't have.

"Shouldn't you be mourning with your boyfriends?"

"The boys will take care of Stepin." Alanna's hands sink low beneath the sheer fabric, thumbs rolling across Liandrin's breasts, lingering on her nipples. "We all mourn in different ways."

The stakes shift and Liandrin drowns in the full, divine frustration of her arousal, choking on competing emotions and the pent-up resentment that exists entirely outside of Alanna. But her heady, woody perfume and lotion-soft fingertips play with Liandrin's body and thoughts, and she finally allows herself to feel nothing but deep, roasting pleasure.

Liandrin rises from the chair in a burst of movement, its wooden legs screeching across the marble floor. This submissive arrangement will not do for her reputation, no matter how enjoyable. She wheels ferociously on Alanna, who merely stares up at her lips, eyes hooded.

Liandrin closes the gap between them, pulling her by the hips until they're flush. She is not ravished so easily. Not anymore. She rakes a hand up Alanna's spine, fingers twisting in the loose, soft hair at the nape of her neck, and she pulls it. Not hard enough to hurt her, but enough to force back her head the way she forced back Liandrin's.

Unsmiling, Liandrin kisses her hard. What she receives in return is a soft thing, lips parting slowly for a tongue to wet her lips. No teeth, no harshness. Only a mouth that tastes faintly of persimmons.

Alanna breathes into her, "You've given me so much lately, Liandrin. A taste of your strength."

Liandrin says nothing, heart pounding behind her sternum like a war drum. This softness and praise must be a trick. She refocuses on Alanna's eyes, dark and burning like a candle's wick. Long lashes lower as she stares down at Liandrin's pale skin. She loosens the brown belt that holds her red skirts, slipping everything away until she stands in only underclothes.

"You stilled him. After what he did to Kerene, there could be no greater gift to me." 

Alanna rises onto her toes, pressing their lips together gently. Liandrin's mouth opens to deepen the kiss, finally caving, black hair slipping from her grip. Alanna reaches up to cup her cheek, loving and doting. It's too unfamiliar to Liandrin— too unlike Alanna and her simpering innuendo— a rug yanked from beneath her feet, haughty eyes waiting to ridicule her when she falls.

She lashes out, grasping Alanna's wrist. Liandrin pulls it up to eye level, gaze hard, and walks her backwards to the bed. Alanna's knees hit the edge and she languidly lowers herself to the comforter, full lips sucked between her teeth. She's shorter than Liandrin but physically stronger, and is clearly allowing herself to be pushed around. Even her compliance is infuriating.

"Strip," Liandrin rasps.

Alanna's lips quirk in response— Liandrin expects a make me or something equally petulant to slip from her toysome mouth— but her calloused hands behave.

"Oh, Liandrin," she sighs, unbuttoning the row of golden chains that drape across her bodice. "Did you think I would fight you for control? You can have it."

The slowness of Alanna's words and motions surprises her, like sinking into a warm bath— a measured, savored thing. There is none of the crashing together of lips or desperate pawing she anticipated from someone like Alanna. Instead Liandrin sees a contradiction in her: a gentleness to balance the brutal finality of her war-weaving, hands honed like blades through flesh, deadly as the Battle Ajah should be, and equally anxious for death or victory, whichever comes first.

Standing only long enough to undress, Alanna unbuckles her leather belt and it drops heavily to the floor beside her boots. Summoning a weave of air behind her back, she unzips her forest green dress in one slow drag from her neck to the dip of her back. It falls away in a heap and she steps out of her skirts, leaving her voluptuous body almost entirely bare. She wears a matching set of lacy underwear, bright against her tan, smooth skin, its shade the vibrant red of Liandrin's Ajah.

Alanna grins, entirely unashamed at this little secret, and Liandrin cannot help the huff of amusement that leaves her pursed lips. The audacity of this woman, she thinks.

Reclining again on the bed, Alanna resembles a courtesan or a sacrifice or a queen. The analogy twists in Liandrin's mind as the candles and moonlight paint her flesh in cantaloupe and powder, reflecting on the gaudy golden earrings and bells that halo her face. A second, bitter thought rises and she presses it below the surface with a grimace: a single piece of Alanna's jewelry could have fed Liandrin's family for a year in Tarabon.

"Don't like them?" Alanna asks. She hooks her finger beneath the cup of her red bra, idly fondling her breast. "Why don't you take them off?"

Liandrin sets her mouth in a resolute line. Her voice is severe and rasping when she says, "I told you to strip."

With a pout Alanna complies, first unhooking her bra with a slow arch of her back, then sliding out of her underwear. She does not break Liandrin's gaze, perfectly comfortable to be examined with cool detachment. Even lying on her back, nude and willing, Alanna looks like a trap, an irresistible and deadly thing. She hides nothing. Not the perfect roundness of her breasts or the confident, mutual desire that darkens her face and entices Liandrin to come closer without saying a word, drowning her better judgment with a desperate need to worship Alanna instead.

Alanna's hand drifts between her own legs, watching with lascivious interest as Liandrin's jaw clenches in response.

"No," instructs Liandrin. "You are not to touch anything."

Alanna raises her eyebrows, but slowly drapes her arms on the pillows overhead, gripping one wrist in her hand. Her eyes twinkle with amusement, but her breasts rise and fall more rapidly, breathing hard as she waits.

Spending a satisfying moment lost in the sight of her submission, Liandrin climbs onto the bed between Alanna's legs. She loops her hands behind her knees, pulling her nude form into her lap, onyx hair jingling as she's dragged down the bed. Her arms remain stretched overhead, free hand fiddling with the edges of Liandrin's pillowcase. She laughs breathlessly, chewing at her lips, but says nothing.

Her hips roll lightly— a minor shift to push closer to Liandrin's hands— but she drags her fingers away each time Alanna urges herself nearer. She rubs lines up her smooth inner thighs and across her hardened nipples, painstakingly careful not to touch her where she wants it most. This obscene denial stretches for ages, until at last Alanna's body betrays her and she shivers with want. She smiles sheepishly at herself, eyes closed, but even that expression lacks shame, entirely awash in delight at being refused so unyieldingly.

Liandrin tilts her head. She could hurt her easily like this, helpless and vulnerable and raw. With a small flicker of surprise, Liandrin decides she would rather simply make her come hard enough to think about it later. She wants to make Alanna dream of her fingers and tongue, to make her crave so deeply she would do anything to get into her bed, spill any secrets for another chance to be touched.

The back of her hand at last brushes wet heat and they both gasp, Alanna at the contact and Liandrin at how profoundly drenched she already is.

She sheds her camisole at once and leans forward, the warm expanse of her bare midriff pressing into the slickness between Alanna's legs, and takes her jaw into one hand, fingers spread like a clawing creature. She slides her middle finger into Alanna's mouth, pulling down her lip. Alanna wastes no time sucking it across her tongue, grinding hard for friction against Liandrin's stomach.

Liandrin sits back on her knees, removing herself entirely, and Alanna heaves a whimper, eyes fever-bright with want. The sight of her desperation intoxicates Liandrin, makes her want to sob or bite or fuck, so she settles on the latter with an unrestrained moan. She slides her spit-slicked finger into Alanna, slow and deep.

Alanna gasps with pleasure, writhing and soaked. Liandrin licks her lips, controlling the overwhelm of her own lust to work her slowly, watching how she responds to being covered by her palm, savoring how Alanna grinds against the heel of her hand. Liandrin leans forward, pushing further into her, left hand exploring full breasts. She forces her tongue into Alanna's mouth, hard and fast, and Alanna whimpers lewdly at the fullness and parting of it, body pinned to the bed. The cold gold of Liandrin's Great Serpent ring brushes her nipple, and her breath catches and grows erratic, matching the rhythm of the finger inside her.

Too easy, she thinks.

Liandrin pulls her hand away, lips hovering spitefully over Alanna's. But Alanna merely smiles up at her, eyelashes lowered, eyes smoldering dark. Liandrin does it again, twice more— rushing her forward into release before withdrawing— but the third time Alanna simply laughs, a breathless, silvery giggle floats out from where her teeth bite her lip, delighted at being made to wait.

With a hiss of air between her teeth, Liandrin pushes back into her with two fingers— up to her knuckles with tight, dripping warmth— and Alanna moans into her mouth, rocking against her again. She moves below her, utterly enraptured, and Liandrin cannot help that the flush that burns her cheeks is not solely from exertion. The keening noise Alanna makes is sultry: all honesty and impulse and feral ache, and Liandrin grits her teeth at it, too affected to maintain her distance. Liandrin bites her swollen lip as they kiss, but Alanna cries out at that too, disobedient fingers wrapping through blonde hair as she presses their foreheads together.

She should stop, she knows. She should draw out the torment of denial, maintain her control over the body in her bed. But Alanna's eyes are closed and her mouth is open, and she bucks so prettily beneath her hand that Liandrin needs to know how it feels to loosen the knots of her body; she needs to draw out her name in the space between their lips because she is consumed with burning heat and the knowledge that she did this to her.

"Liandrin," Alanna gasps, her voice in tatters, lost in a moan.

Alanna chokes out Liandrin's name, again and again, with a rising desperation that pours from her lips until at last she screams it, back arched in ecstasy. Liandrin clamps down on her mouth, hardly silencing her— she didn't ward her room; she should have warded her damned room— but doesn't stop fucking her until she feels her release, body slack and shivering. Alanna holds her close, wet mouth whimpering into her palm even as they embrace. Messily, she kisses Liandrin's callouses and her knuckles and the band of her golden ring.

Disentangling herself at once, Liandrin sits back on her knees. She returns to her position lording over her, watching impassively. Alanna pants and smiles, swollen lips barely parted as she stares back. She rises too, lounging on her elbows, and takes Liandrin's right hand, glistening wet, into her own. Slowly, she pulls her fingers back to dark red lips.

Liandrin chews the inside of her cheek. She could throw her out now, never let Alanna complete her stole, hold it over her head forever how desperately she needed Liandrin's touch. But she watches as Alanna licks her fingers clean, and the unfurling heat that aches low in her stomach warns her she's not that strong.

"I liked that a lot," Alanna murmurs, kissing Liandrin's fingertips. She doesn't release Liandrin's hand, but intertwines their fingers. "I like being taken. I like taking. I like everything."

Without warning Alanna pulls Liandrin's arm across her body, forcing her to twist, to turn her back and fall against Alanna's breasts so she sits in her lap, not at all the position she hoped to maintain.

"What do you like, Liandrin?" she whispers.

A warm hand glides across her breasts, gently rolling a nipple as another trails teasingly down her stomach, toying with the band of her underwear. Alanna kisses her shoulder, sinking lower into the bed and pulling Liandrin down too, until her full weight rests atop her. Protesting this sudden role reversal, Liandrin twists an arm around Alanna's shoulders and kisses her roughly.

Alanna pulls back with a wet pop and a smile, and breathes, "Oh, I see."

Suddenly her calves hook over Liandrin's knees, spreading wide her legs. Liandrin balks at being pinned, but Alanna captures her mouth again, more softly this time, distracting and cocky. Fingers play against Liandrin, teasing through the damp fabric— she is embarrassingly aroused already, so lascivious was Alanna's display— and the internal conflict of wanting to run and wanting to relax sends a shiver down her spine.

"You feel so good," Alanna hums, fingers slowly circling.

Liandrin winces and prays Alanna is of the Black Ajah, that all her oaths are broken because this earnestness makes her melt into a puddle of weakness and vulnerability. The praise sears her and the pleasure deepens the wound of it, and— except for the few real, repeated lovers she's ever had— casual flings don't drive her mad with lust after the prize has been won. She's already had Alanna; she shouldn't need more. But Alanna touches her like she knows her, like she's done this before or she's dreamed of it enough times to make it real.

Alanna sighs into her ear, pushing the cotton aside and plunging gently into her. Liandrin strains against her body but cannot pull herself away. She's panting, burning and ragged, and knows it's happening too fast. That Alanna will finish her too soon, or pull her fingers away and make her suffer, and she can't decide what's worse. She can barely think over the rush of her pulse in her ears, and the mindless compliments Alanna is whispering over and over again.

She kisses her to shut her up— to stop herself from begging— and even that fails her when Alanna's tongue finds her own, circling and wet. Liandrin refuses to beg. She won't; she can't. But she shakes and dances at an edge so steep the fall will surely kill her, and whimpers, "Alanna—"

Then she falls apart. Her body tenses and unwinds, and she cries out at the intensity of it, white-hot stars behind her eyelids. She buries her face in Alanna's shoulder, squeezing her too-tightly, like she needs her to stay rooted in place, wrapped up by her in every possible way, lest she die or melt or be erased body and soul from the Pattern. Tears prickle her eyes and she blinks them back harshly, heaving into Alanna's warm neck.

Alanna's legs soften, releasing her slowly, but she maintains their embrace, holding Liandrin in her arms. She squeezes her shoulder once, nose nuzzling her flushed cheek.

She murmurs, "Good?"

Liandrin exhales, nerves alight and frayed. She nods once, reluctantly, chagrined to have answered at all.

"Good," Alanna croons.

Without warning Alanna slides out from beneath her and Liandrin sinks to the sheets, sweat-damp and smelling of sex and her musky perfume. Alanna flips onto her stomach at the end of the bed. She pries open Liandrin's damp thighs, pulls away her ruined underwear, and buries her head between her legs.

It's like an electric shock, the flat of her tongue against her center. Liandrin chokes a moan, twitching hands pressing into her headboard, and reflexively clamps her thighs around Alanna's head. But she doesn't stop, eyes bright with intention and lust, spurred on by the reaction to her touch and the challenge of making her come again. Liandrin has no time to recover— no space to grow anxious and introspective about what they were doing and what this would mean for the power struggle between them— enraptured by the velvet of her tongue, and the finger that slides into her again, slow and steady.

She shouldn't come again so easily, stupefied and overwhelmed, twice in quick succession after barely being touched first. It normally takes her more time, more effort, more teasing, so much more of everything, but the thoughts drift away from her like campfire smoke. Alanna's pupils are wide in the dim light, fixed on the shadows of Liandrin's face, entranced and erotic.

It's too much, too intense, too sincere. Liandrin convulses, whimpering, "Fuck!"

She moans, covering her mouth with both palms, body effused with heat and pleasure. It courses through her frame, twisting and powerful like the weaves they once shared, overflowing her senses with the solace of fullness only a starving thing can truly know. Alanna grips her legs hard, her face still buried, until she pulls from Liandrin the last buck and twitch of her orgasm. When at last she moves her mouth, lips open and glistening, she kisses the inside of her thighs, trailing down to her knees. She lets Liandrin close her legs then, sitting on her knees beside her, palm resting delicately on one pointed hipbone.

Catching her breath, Liandrin stares at the high ceiling. Her whole body is limp with pleasure, her limbs suffused with a complacent sense of relaxation she hasn't known in years. She sighs, "You bitch."

"I see you've recovered," Alanna smugly replies. Without waiting for a retort, she pushes down Liandrin's shoulder and crawls atop her, thighs straddling her face in a delicious, indecent exhibition. "Eat," she commands her, eyes glittering.

Liandrin doesn't need to be told, but doesn't have the focus or energy to argue. She holds Alanna's intrigued gaze with a daring, determined expression of her own. Her tongue darts out, lapping at her hungrily, nails digging into Alanna's ass as she pulls her down closer. Alanna's legs are already quivering, still a mess from her first orgasm, and she doesn't try to hide it. Liandrin moans into her, smothered but unwilling to pause for air. Not when Alanna's white-knuckling the headboard, mouth open in a raunchy gasp. She grinds hard onto her face, exquisitely shameless as her hips roll and cant.

Liandrin's hands grip her thighs, pulling her down and deeper as she pushes up into her, and at last Alanna gasps, "Fuck!"

She shudders once, twice, and finishes with an unexpectedly soft mewling sound, a large departure from the half-scream before. Dark eyebrows knit together and her face falls slack as Liandrin follows her orgasm down, pace slowing to suit her erratic breathing. Alanna peels one hand away from the headboard, covering her own mouth for a moment before her palm trails down her neck and between her breasts, gently resting on Liandrin's forehead. She brushes aside a strand of sweat- slicked blonde hair, but makes no effort to move from her throne.

In protest Liandrin kisses her again— lips, nose, and chin drenched, eyes still hooded at the sight of tangerine candlelight catching on Alanna's skin— and she shivers, too sensitive to contain it. Lifting her shoulders, Liandrin rolls her to the side, hands guiding her legs away from where they bracket her face. Alanna flops languidly onto the sheets with a throaty chuckle.

With a satisfied moan, Alanna tugs at Liandrin's left hand where it still rests on her leg, pulling it over her naked body like a blanket. Liandrin complies, rolling atop her with a frown, though her own body prickled with goosebumps the moment Alanna's comfortable weight peeled away from her skin. Alanna presses up into her breasts and kisses her deeply, undoubtedly tasting herself, hands roaming her arms and shoulders in another gentle massage, purely of her own volition. There's no heat to her movements, just the contact of her nails following the trail of Liandrin's spine, or her thumb tracing the ridge of a cheekbone.

Liandrin tenses. This isn't familiar to her: lying in bed, kissing for the fun of it, purposeless and aimless, as if Alanna maps her body simply because she enjoys the act of exploration.

Alanna pulls back, licking swollen lips. "You're fun."

The words slip out of Liandrin before she can choke them off, "That's not how others typically describe me."

Alanna gives a husky laugh and Liandrin feels her amusement resonate in her own lungs. The pad of her pinky finger follows Liandrin's bicep, tickling the soft skin in the crook of her elbow. "And self-deprecating too. What a nice surprise." Alanna kisses her again, this time with an air of finality, and says, "I should be going."

For a moment Liandrin's stomach sinks, but she quashes the sensation before any sign of it can mar her face. She quickly replies, "Yes, you should."

Alanna tilts back her head until their noses brush and Liandrin thinks she's going to kiss her again. Instead, she smirks, "You have to let me up first."

With a scornful huff, Liandrin rolls her eyes and her body. She shoves herself upright, shoulders and head pressed into the cold oak headboard. Alanna stretches beside her once, a cat waking from a nap, before she rises from the bed to languorously re-dress. She ties her loose hair into a low ponytail, bells jingling, and drapes it over her shoulder. Glancing over the field of gold and obsidian, she smiles, "Now we match. Congratulations on your stole."

Liandrin allows herself a small quirk of her lips. "And to you."

Clothed again, Alanna pauses at the door and drinks her in slowly, perusing the lines of Liandrin as her fingers play at the doorknob. She hums her appraisal, obviously pleased, and says, "Sleep well—"

"Get out," Liandrin lazily cuts her off.

"Say, 'I want you to get out.'"

Liandrin could speak the words, untrue as they are, but the risk is too high, the lie too noticeable after she writhed so wantonly beneath her hands.

"Mm, always so cruel. Haven't I proven it's worth your time to be sweet?" Alanna doesn't wait for an answer. She opens the door to the Red Quarters and projects in her cheekiest tone, "You're so welcome, Liandrin Sedai. Any time you need counsel."

Liandrin bites the inside of her cheek, relaxation swallowed by annoyance and a furious heat. She slouches more deeply into her pillows, sex-tangled hair dragging against the headboard.

Just before she leaves Alanna surveys her again, tickled by Liandrin's aggravation. "Sleep well, Liandrin," she says, her tone low enough that no eavesdroppers would make out her words. "Dream of something sweet."

Her teeth gleam sharp in the candlelight, sated and victorious, and the door between them closes.