Chapter 1 of "Moonlit Walks"

By Chani

To Morgan, ask and you shall receive. ;-)

Setting: Set in "The Shadow Rising". From Chapter 9, "Decisions": "...Nynaeve, seeming to feel the rush of time as keenly as Egwene, gave her free moments over to moonlit walks on the battlements with Lan and to preparing foods the Warder liked with her own hands, not to mention curses that sometimes drove the cooks from the kitchen; Nynaeve did not know very much about cooking."

Description: We got to see the results of their romantic, moonlit walks (i.e., him kissing her senseless in front of Elayne and Egwene), but we didn't get to see the buildup. I felt cheated, so I came up with this.

A/N: This story will take place over the course of seven days. I'm not certain how long they were all at the Stone of Tear, but I assume it had to be at least a few days. Otherwise, how would Nynaeve have had time to have moonlit walks and cook for Lan, as well as interrogate Amico and Joiya?

Nynaeve rushed through the deserted halls of the Stone, desperate to get outside. She needed fresh air, but more than that, she needed to get away from Egwene and Elayne. There was nothing in particular they had done to annoy her; she was simply in need of her own space. Granted, they had only been there for one night, but every now and then, she needed to be alone. Usually when she had that man on her mind…or, like tonight, when she started thinking about what she walked away from when she walked through that archway in Tar Valon. "I should have stayed there," she muttered to herself, just as she rounded a corner and ran into what felt like a stone wall.

She staggered backwards, and had it not been for the two strong hands that gripped her shoulders firmly, she had no doubt she would have landed quite unceremoniously on her backside. Her brain rattled in her head from the impact, but not enough to dull her senses. As soon as she felt those big, strong hands on her, she knew the stone wall she ran into was actually Lan.

"Are you all right, Nynaeve?" His concerned tone made her want to cry. Or kick him; she was not really sure which she wanted to do more at the moment. "You were practically running. It must have hurt."

It was apparently too much to ask that he was affected by the collision. She held her chin high, but refused to look at his face. "I'm fine." Why did he not remove his hands from her shoulders? "I'm in a bit of a hurry, though." Trying to shake his grasp was pointless. Light, but he's strong!

"At this hour?" he asked. "Where are you going?"

The nosy man was doing his best to move his face into her field of vision, and avoiding looking at him took too much of an effort, so she stared at his chin. He has such a strong chin. That thought made her lips curl into an ill-tempered frown…she did not need to be thinking about such things right now! "Not that it's any of your business, Lan Mandragoran, but I'm going for a walk. Alone." There, that would put him in his place!

"Outside?" Her curt nod seemed to agitate him. "No, you aren't." He was still trying to catch her gaze with his, and she was making herself dizzy trying to avoid it. "I will go with you."

"What?" Anger swelled in her, and though she finally looked into his eyes, she quickly looked away. She missed him so much it hurt. All she wanted to do was throw herself in his arms and—but she could not. "Why? So you can protect me? Or so you can remind me that you don't want me? Just leave me—"

"Neither!" His voice echoed through the hall, and the few people milling about rushed to get away from him. "And I never said…" His eyes drifted to her neck and he trailed off. She knew what had caught his eye, and he proved her right a moment later when he released her shoulders so he could slip two fingers under the cord around her neck. His rough fingers slid across her collarbone to lift the other side of the cord. The simple touch caused her to inhale sharply. She should have stopped him, she knew. Instead, she stood there while he tugged his ring free from where it was nestled between her breasts.

His eyes widened slightly and he gripped the ring between a thumb and forefinger. His thumb stroked the ring twice before his gaze drifted back to hers. He looked sad. Conflicted. In the span of a few moments, one emotion faded to another, until it seemed he had experienced every emotion known to man. It was determination, however, that settled on his face. "If you wish it, I will say nothing, but I am going with you. It is late, and this place is not safe."

When she reached for the ring, her hand brushed his and tingled from the contact. The urge to grasp his hand, to hold onto him for dear life, was stronger than her need to breathe, but instead of giving in to that desire, she took the ring out of his hand so she could put it back where it belonged. Lan watched her intently as she did it; the shaky breath he took made the corners of her lips turn up slightly. He looked as if he envied the ring. Perhaps all was not lost after all. Perhaps she had simply been handling him wrong.

"You may escort me, if you wish." Yes, she had handled him wrong, that was the problem. It had to be. Lan is intelligent, but he's still a man. She smiled warmly up at him. "Though, if my walking alone at night bothers you so much, you may as well accompany me every night, so long as we both are here."

His mouth twisted in wry amusement, though he had the decency to try to hide it. "This is something you intend to do every night?" Her nod clearly amused him even more. "Then I will escort you." Turning, he held his arm out to her.

They had only taken a few steps when she stopped and turned slightly toward him. "Lan? I do not wish you to remain silent during our walks." She paused, for effect more than any other reason. "But there is one subject I want you to promise not to bring up." She knew she needn't explain it further, and if he had a lick of sense, he would heed her warning. If he dared to start listing the reasons they could not be together, she was not entirely certain she could control her temper.

"I know what subject you are referring to," he told her dryly. "And I will promise what you want…if you promise not to take one of these nighttime strolls without me." She agreed without hesitation, and when she saw the slight smile it brought to Lan's lips, she smiled back.

When they first began their walk, they remained silent. It was a comfortable silence, though, somehow both intimate and soothing. The battlements were truly beautiful, especially at night. The light from the moon lit their path as they wandered off into a more secluded area of fortress. After a short while, Lan began telling her what he knew of the Stone of Tear, as well as the city itself. He stopped, leaning against a tree and somehow her hand found its way into his. Warmth flooded her, spreading up her arm through her body. That such simple contact could have such a strong effect on her was disturbing. Yet, at that moment, she did not care.

They continued their walk and the discussion shifted to more personal things. Favorite colors, favorite foods…anything she could possibly learn about him, while keeping the mood light, she did. For the first time since she had met him, he actually seemed relaxed. And he smiled more than she had ever believed possible. His deep blue eyes, normally so cold and emotionless, seemed to show a spark of life. Warmth. She could have basked in that warmth forever.

She was so focused on him that she lost track of time. It wasn't until they neared her doorway that she realized they were back inside and their walk was over. That fact saddened her, though she made an effort not to show it.

When they stopped in front of her door, Lan took both of her hands into his and met her gaze. "You should have stayed where?" he asked softly,

Nynaeve stared at him blankly. "What?"

"When you ran into me, I heard you saying you should have stayed there." His expression grew serious, but the tender look in his eyes was enough to make her weak in the knees. "Where is there? The Two Rivers?"

She pulled one of her hands free from his to give her braid a hard tug. This was not something she could discuss with him! "No. Not there. It was…" Her gaze dropped momentarily. "It wasn't real."

"Nynaeve…" His concern was more intense than before. "What…?"

Looking back into his eyes, she smiled, even if it was a bit half-hearted. "It doesn't matter." Really, it didn't. The life she had in the arch was an illusion—the thing she desired most, but still an illusion. But this—what she had with the man standing in front of her—was real. Often painful, but real. She could touch him, hold him, and know it was not only a dream. Better to fight for something real than be given something that might not be what it appeared.

Lan nodded, and for a moment, she thought he meant to kiss her, but instead he asked, "Same time tomorrow?"

"A little earlier, I think." Her heart raced in her chest. Being this close to him, looking into those blue eyes…almost made her forget about her new way of handling him. She had to be stern, and not give him any chance to argue. That was the only way to deal with him.

"Earlier, then. I will come for you." With an soft smile that made her heart skip a beat, he gave her hand a squeeze before releasing it. "Good night, Nynaeve."

"Good night, Lan," she told him, her voice barely above a whisper. He did not walk away until she opened the door, but even then she noticed him looking back at her. With a small sigh, she went inside, sharing one last glance with him.

As far as she was concerned, tomorrow could not come soon enough.