Author's Note: Mash up of the Warcraft movie and the book "The Last Guardian". I messed with ages and other things - Varian is around seven, Khadgar is 17 (his age from the book) and he spent time as Medivh's apprentice. He was not aged by his fight with the Guardian. Basically, Anduin/Taria/Khadgar/Varian one big happy family full of feels.
IN RESTLESS DREAMS I WALKED ALONE
Dusk fell at the old castle of Karazhan. The cold gray stones turned a rosy red as the sun sank beneath the horizon, reflecting the sunset until the sky had grown dark and distant. Inside the walls, ghosts lingered, half seen at the edge of vision, glimpses into unreality. Shards of memories moved over the mess of books in the library, the overturned tables and broken glass vases. Upstairs in the ruined chamber, mirages danced among the rubble of a broken golem. Voices spoke in timbres beyond hearing, their words falling into silence and time.
The young mage Khadgar heard and saw none of this. He was down in the crypts, sitting before the entombed remains of his master, eyes vacant, thoughts elsewhere. He had never been so tired in life but the dark circles under his eyes were proof that sleep was elusive. In truth, he knew he would get no rest while he remained in Karazhan. The past was a living thing in Medivh's castle and Khadgar's recent past was anything but peaceful. Everytime he closed his eyes he saw his master's death, felt his horror at the knowledge that the man he'd looked up to had long since been lost to the fel. Had any of Khadgar's interactions with the Guardian been real? At times Medivh had seemed amused by him, perhaps even fond. Had it all been the machinations of a demon? Had any of Medivh's feelings and words been real?
Khadgar would never know. He knew this in his head but his heart was another matter. He felt...empty, a bit lost. The Kirin Tor had sent him to be the great magus' apprentice, but with the master dead where did that leave him? He was alone in the castle as he had never been before, the tomb of his life an empty hollow space in his chest.
He had felt desperately weak after the fight with Medivh but his powers were slowly returning. Soon he must rise and check on the castle's magical shields, put right what had been rent asunder. With Medivh gone, he had to make sure that no one would be able to access the vast knowledge and power that Karazhan contained. It had to be protected, even from the Kirin Tor. Medivh would have wanted it that way.
But not yet. He did not have to rise just yet. There was still time to sit and lose himself in the grief and guilt that tightened his throat and pained his heart.
Still time enough for that.
The morning of the king's funeral, Khadgar teleported to Stormwind Keep. His sudden appearance in the hallway leading up to the throne room startled a few guards but he had become a familiar sight over the last few weeks and only endured a little grumbling before being taken to see Anduin.
Lothar and Taria were in the throne room, surrounded by advisors and other military officers giving last minute advice and sympathy. Lothar nodded when he noticed him, still in conversation with a man in robes to his left. The queen, however, left her circle to come over and embrace him gently, to his high embarrassment.
"Khadgar, I'm glad you're here. We have not seen you these last fews days. I was getting worried."
"I...I was seeing to some safety measures at the castle," he replied, thrown off by the fondness in her voice. It was not often people worried over him. He had thought no one would note or miss his absence and hadn't thought to explain himself. "I wanted to make sure the place was protected and stable."
"And is it?"
He thought of the ghosts that lingered in the halls, the visions that could drop in at a moment's notice. "As much as I could make it, at any rate," he answered. That a Guardian would have been able to do more was left unsaid.
Taria seemed to have heard it anyway though. "I'm sure you did all you could," she said firmly.
She was soon called away again and Khadgar stood on the dais with the royal family, overlooking the crown of Stormwind's citizens as they mourned their king and greeted their new Regent. It was a day filled with tradition and fanfare but with a solemnity that was appropriate for what they had lost. By the end of the day, he felt wrung out and exhausted from the weight of conversation and everyone's sorrow. He took a moment to escape to the garden for a breath of air and sat down on one of the stone benches, his bones aching. Some of the spells he'd laid over and within Karazhan had been on the edge of his knowledge and had required much of his already depleted energy. He felt a little like someone had beat him with a piece of lumber though there wasn't a mark anywhere on him.
"Who are you?"
Khadgar pulled himself from his thoughts to find a boy standing in front him, unruly dark hair in his eyes and a stern expression on his young face as if he had found Khadgar trespassing. Varian, his mind supplied. The prince of Stormwind, whose father they mourned that day. At once, Khadgar felt a little humbled. He had lost his master but Varian had lost his father, a much deeper wound, he thought. It was hard to know for sure, he couldn't really remember his own father.
"My name is Khadgar."
"What are you doing out here?" the boy asked, seating himself next to him on the bench. "Everyone else is inside."
Khadgar thought for a moment but went with the honest truth. "I know, I just needed a moment away from the crowd." He tilted his head at the prince. "Same with you?"
Varian nodded, scrunching his nose up in childish distaste. "Yeah, everyone is loud and annoying and mother says I can't have any more cake even though I'm really, really hungry." The grumpy look on the boy's face made Khadgar laugh softly. With a delicate twist of his wrist, Khadgar summoned a cookie from thin air and handed it to the prince, whose eyes had grown wide, an excited smile curling his lips.
"Don't tell your mother," Khadgar told him, only half joking. He rather liked the queen and didn't particularly relish the thought of explaining to her why the future king of Stormwind had a sugar high. Varian nodded agreeably as he took a bite of his treat.
"You must be a mage. Mages can make things appear like that," Varian said knowingly. He was getting chocolate on his face. "What else can you do?"
Khadgar smiled. "Well…" He tilted his head and lifted his hand, palm up. A small, glowing ball of arcane energy formed above his hand before whirling away, darting across the room in great sweeps and aerial acrobatics that made Varian laugh out loud as he watched, transfixed.
"What is it?" he asked, eyes bright.
"It's a familiar. It protects me a little, sometimes," he amended, casting a sideways glance at the pirouetting orb. It did a midair somersault and dashed away again like the fickle thing it was.
"Neat," Varian pronounced, swallowing the last bit of cookie. "Can I keep it? I want to use it to fight the orcs." His voice lowered and he looked away for a moment. "They killed my dad, you know."
"I know," Khadgar replied, feeling that great swell of grief and guilt rise up in his chest again. He shouldn't have stayed with Medivh, he should have gone with Lothar to the battlefield, maybe he could have—
He looked up brokenly to find Lothar standing in the archway leading back to the throne room. He was leaning against the side of it, arms crossed over his armored chest, and had obviously been watching for awhile. Another soldier stood a few feet away, one of the prince's guards no doubt.
Lothar arched a brow at him when he saw his look, nodding his head towards Varian. Khadgar looked down again at the young prince.
"It's not the best at fighting but... " He mentally called the familiar over and watched it float over the prince's cupped hands. "I think it can stay here awhile, if you'll look after it?"
Varian nodded immediately and then sprang off the bench with all the sudden energy of a young child. He bolted from the garden, streaking past his uncle with a "I've gotta go show mother!" as he went by. The arcane familiar bounced after him.
Khadgar leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees as Anduin Lothar made his way over, a somewhat amused look on his face.
"I'll have to remember how entertaining you are when we next need a nanny."
Khadgar snorted. "It was nothing. Little more than a trick." He really hoped Lothar hadn't seen the conjured cookie.
The Lord Commander made a sound of disagreement in his throat, looking down at the mage. He made no move to sit on the bench beside him. "Tricks aren't giving you those circles under your eyes," Lothar said, blue eyes gauging him. Khadgar looked up, a self-deprecating smile on his face.
"Nor yours, either."
In truth, Khadgar thought Lothar looked worse than all of them, and with reason. He'd fought Medivh and Blackhand, watched his son die, and taken his king's murdered body from the battlefield. He'd lost family, friend and lord in the space of days. Had any man lost more than he? And now the burden of a kingdom fell on his shoulders.
"The orcs are coming," Khadgar said solemnly, holding his friend's gaze.
The answer was soft, in that strange way that Lothar had sometimes. "I know." Then Lothar's gauntleted fingers reached out and ruffled Khadgar's hair as if the moment were not dire. Or maybe it was just that every moment was, anymore. "Get some rest, bookworm. You're going to need it."
Instead of teleporting, Khadgar requested a gryphon for the flight back to Karazhan that evening. Lothar agreed and sent word to the flight master but he looked suspiciously uncertain, as if Khadgar taking normal methods of transport was the equivalent of him outright admitting he was dying.
"I re-did some of M… the master's shields around the castle," Khadgar explained. "To make it safe. Well," he amended, "safer, anyway. I'll recover."
Anduin nodded, watching him. "You could stay here tonight if you like," he said lightly, as if it were no matter. "I can send guards to collect whatever it is you need from Karazhan."
"Some of the spells…." Khadgar shook his head. "It's better I go. I'll close everything up and be back at first light." It wasn't certain when the orcs would make their move on Stormwind but it would be soon and Lothar would need his power to combat the fel magic of the orcs. He would collect his things and some necessary books and artifacts from Karazhan and return, leaving only his wards to watch over the old castle in his absence.
Lothar said nothing for a long moment but then reached out and clasped Khadgar's shoulder and squeezed once, his expression serious. "Look after yourself, spellchucker." Then he turned and departed, two guards trailing after him, leaving Khadgar to face an impatient flight master and an energetic gryphon on his own.
That night, Khadgar dreamed. He dreamt that he went back to Stormwind the next morning and the keep was destroyed, bare rubble where it had stood and the city was on fire, burning, burning. He ran down its streets, searching for someone, anyone, but everyone was dead except the orc. He stood at the end of the street, wreathed in black smoke, bodies before him, and his eyes burned a ominous green. His voice was the rumbling of a landslide.
"I've found you," he said. And Khadgar realized that the burnt corpses at Gul'dan's feet were those he was starting to know best - Taria, Varian, Lothar, even Garona. All of them gone. He was finally, utterly, alone.
Next to him, a shade with his master's voice said, "You should have stopped him, Young Trust."
Khadgar looked down to see felfire in his veins, a bright flaring green that raced underneath his skin. He felt his eyes change color and knew at once that he had done this.
He had done this.
His scream echoed through the empty streets of Stormwind until at last he woke, jerking into full wakefulness from his half slouch against one of the tables in Karazhan's library. He looked around, heart pounding, looking for he knew not what to find the room empty, in as much disarray as it had been before he'd gone to sleep. Already the dream was fading but the terror it had invoked still felt real. He had to get back to Stormwind. He had to be there if and when Gul'dan came.
He had to make sure no one else died.
After packing a few books and his personal items in a shoulder pack, he checked the spells inlaid into Karazhan's walls and foundation and found them still strong, as strong as he could make them. A high Kirin Tor mage might have been able to do better, do more, but Medivh would not have wanted them there and truthfully, Khadgar would not have trusted them with the task. He could not have trusted them to do what must be done without thinking of their own political or personal gain and he would not allow the castle to be sacked of its secrets. His master was dead but it was still Khadgar's job to see that his things were not disturbed except in utmost need.
And perhaps he would return one day, when all threats had past.
"Goodbye, Master," he called quietly to the empty halls and then teleported to Stormwind Keep where he promptly face-planted into the lush grass of the castle garden, his head aching as if to burst. His body hurt everywhere and his magic seemed far away, too far to grasp. Confusion set in and his groggy mind struggled. What had happened? Had someone set up wards to restrict teleporting? They should have done that long ago but honestly, someone should have told him first….
Someone was calling his name but the young mage couldn't figure out words. His mind was spiraling towards unconsciousness and he went, too weak to resist its call.
Voices pulled him from the warm, comforting darkness.
"...in the garden. He's not… sense. I think he's exhausted. Should we…?"
Another voice, this was stronger, battle worn.
"...nothing about mages. The boy's just... some rest. I'll… "
He floated back into the black, too weary to continue listening, content knowing that he was not alone.
When he did finally wake, he was in one of Stormwind's guest beds and it was night outside, the stars twinkling through the glass of his window. Next to his bed sat the queen.
"Your grace," he croaked, struggling to sit upright. He winced at the sound of his voice and the slowness of his body to respond. Taria rose quickly from where she had been reading, putting her book aside to stop his embarrassing struggles with the bedsheets. She smoothed them over his arms and pushed him to lie back again gently, a relieved smile on her face.
"Easy, easy," she murmured. "You have to rest a bit more, Khadgar. You're worn out." Her dark eyes peered at him. "Do you remember how you got here?"
"I…," he swallowed. "I teleported…"
The queen nodded. "You collapsed in the garden. I suspect you used the last of your strength to get here. Why didn't you tell anyone you needed help?"
"I…" For a moment, he honestly had no answer. Why didn't he? He knew he'd been running himself a bit ragged tying up all of Medivh's loose ends and traveling back and forth from Stormwind. He'd still been recovering from fighting Medivh and lack of sleep hadn't helped. But why hadn't he said anything? There was only one answer and he was hesitant to give it as it was no reflection of the queen or anyone else besides himself. "I just didn't think… I'm not used to… someone caring."
He barely remembered his parents and the Kirin Tor were not known for their loving affections. He'd had friends of course and Medivh had been a mentor to him but there had never been an adult figure in his life who… who loved him, who cared for him as a parent for a child.
Taria was watching him with those great dark eyes and he was horrified to find tears in them. He scrambled for words. "My lady, please, I meant no offense, I only—"
She cut him off by taking his hand and holding it in both of hers. Her grip was firm but not harsh. He saw some of her brother in her at that moment. "Did you know? Varian showed me that little ball of light you gave him. He hadn't smiled in days until…" She choked and cleared her throat. "Lothar told me what you two went through at the tower and some of what you told him about your parents." She squeezed his hand. "I just want you to know that you have a place here. Never forget that."
Overwhelmed by the queen's words, Khadgar almost couldn't find his voice. Reeling, he settled for something simple lest he burst into tears.
"Thank you, my lady."
Taria smiled and patted his hand and he wanted to tell her that he was alright, she didn't have to stay with him, that surely she had others things to do, but she just settled back in her chair, as serene as a deep well.
"Now go back to sleep," she ordered fondly. "Your queen commands it."
He smiled in return and gratefully did as he was bid.
The next morning Lothar found him in the Keep's library. Khadgar looked up when he heard the door open and smiled when he saw his friend, an expression that quickly died when he noticed the thunderous look on Lothar's face.
"What," Lothar snapped out, "are you doing here?"
"I...I wanted to look at some of the books on strategy. I didn't think anyone would mind…" He trailed off, a little confused as Lothar's irritation turned to the pained grimace of the long suffering.
"Of course, the library." Lothar sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as if Khadgar was giving him a headache which, really, that was a bit over dramatic. "Young bookworms should be in bed recovering their strength. Or don't you remember your fainting spell in the garden?"
"I did not faint," Khadgar said indignantly. "I just… hadn't been getting much sleep. I feel better. I really do."
Lothar took a long deep breath and let it out and for a brief, ever so brief, moment, Khadgar saw fear quickly masked in his eyes. It startled him. Even in Medivh's tower, Khadgar had not seen fear from Lothar. He had seen it only on the battlefield when Lothar had been faced with watching his own son die. Did he fear for Khadgar? The thought was almost too ridiculous to contemplate. He and Lothar had not known each other that long and Lothar had always seemed to see him as somewhat of an errant puppy. Still, there had been that moment in the tower, when Lothar had checked his eyes and ruffled his hair, his gruff voice fond.
I'm proud of you.
Had Lothar gone to the guest room to find Khadgar missing and thought something had happened to him?
"I'm sorry," Khadgar added, truly regretful. "I didn't mean to worry anyone."
Lothar nodded after a moment and finally sat down next to him, knocking his shoulder purposefully against Khadgar's and causing the young mage to grin despite himself.
"Alright then, tell me what you've found in these books that's so interesting."
Varian came to see him in the library long after Lothar had had to return to his duties. The orcs had pushed into Elwynn Forest and the general feeling was that they would make for Stormwind that night or the following night. The Lord Commander was in high demand as the city readied to defend itself. Khadgar had protested that he could help but Lothar had told him to rest while he could, that his powers would be most needed when the attack began.
He had an inkling that the prince was also feeling a little underfoot and displaced. He hopped up onto the bench next to him, the glowing familiar twirling in his wake. It was looking a bit dim as it ran out of power and Khadgar took a moment to re-strengthen it, noting with relief that it did not stretch his energy to do so.
"Hello," Khadgar greeted the boy warmly.
"Hello," the prince echoed back. He looked a bit listless, or maybe out of sorts. "Mother said you were here. She said you'd been sick."
"I'm getting better," Khadgar promised. Varian nodded.
"That's good." He looked away then, sitting silently and the mage ventured a question.
"Are you worried about something?"
Varian's gaze swung back to him and he blurted out, "I don't want to leave my father." Khadgar froze.
The boy nodded. "We buried him out there but my uncle says we may have to leave the city and go across the sea." He looked down, clenching small fists into the fabric of his pant leg. "I don't want to leave."
Now he understood. Lothar had mentioned it to him as well, that it was very possible they did not have the force to hold the city and, if it came to it, that the survivors would need to retreat to the harbor and board the ships waiting there to make for Lordaeron.
Khadgar cleared his throat. "I've been reading about some of your father's battles, some of your grandfather's as well, actually." He pulled over a tome and opened it so that Varian could see the elegant inked words. The prince scooted closer to him to get a better look. "They were brave men, your ancestors. Would you like to hear about them?"
Varian nodded, eyes alight, and Khadgar read to him in what little time remained to them there in Stormwind, the ancient handwriting illuminated by the dizzying antics of one tiny globe of magic light.
When Queen Taria learned that her son had escaped from his caretakers, she wasn't too worried. The young prince was headstrong and often was found later in the strangest of places. That day, however, was not like others and with preparations for Stormwind's defense underway, she had little time for his antics. She sent servants to search for him and when one of her maids reported back that they had found him in the library, she went to see for herself. Varian rarely visited the library, she suspected it was too boring for him, so she was surprised to find him sleeping away on the shoulder of one young mage of the Kirin Tor. The sight stopped her in her tracks and she shooed out the maid, wanting this one moment for herself.
She stood and watched them for a long moment, her throat tight and her broken heart full. The two boys - and she truly through of Khagar as still a boy, no matter what her brother might say - were sleeping on one of the benches pushed up against the wall. The mage was sleeping sitting up, his head tipped back against the wall, snoring lightly. He still seemed a bit pale to her but the fact that he was resting lessened her worry.
Varian was snoozing against the mage's side, all but tipped over, legs akimbo over the bench. Khadgar's arm was loose over her son's shoulder and open books lay before them. They'd been reading together, she surmised, and fallen asleep. As a toddler, Varian had liked to have stories read to him before sleeping. Maybe he still did, she thought wistfully, and now felt too old to ask for it.
Khadgar's little glowing magic ball was doing loops in the air near them, apparently entertaining itself, and the scene made her smile. It was a little bit of peace in the middle of what she was sure would soon be a war zone. She wanted to cherish it and hold on to it in the nights ahead. She understood that her brother planned to take Khadgar into battle and she doubted she could have stopped the mage from wanting to go, but she wanted to remember him like this. Still young and, for this moment, unburdened in sleep.
The library door swung open behind her and she turned silently, motioning for her brother to be quiet as he came up next to her. She could tell he had news for her but he, too, paused at the sight of the two boys and she saw all at once what she'd been afraid to see in his face.
I should remind him, she thought to herself. He's not Callan.
But how could she say such a thing? The mage was becoming something of a second son to her brother, something not easily done to a heart as bruised as his. If Khadgar had managed to worm his way into Anduin's heart then he had more than earned his place there. She was exceedingly fond of the boy herself and had meant every word she'd said to him earlier, but she also worried about her brother. If something happened to this child, this young man, what would that do to Anduin's fragile heart?
"We're never getting rid of him, are we."
She glanced at her brother, noting the small, exasperated smile on his face.
"You'd be bored without someone to pick on," she answered, elbowing him in the side. He grunted at her literal jab at him but made no move to refute her claim. She knew him too well.
Still, as a mother, she couldn't help herself. "You'll look after him out there, won't you?" She let some of her apprehension show so he wouldn't be angered by her question. "I know his magic is powerful but…" She looked back at the children. "He's just… He's been on his own for so long. I want him to know that he doesn't have to be alone anymore." She paused, giving voice to a hopeless wish. "I just want everyone safe."
"I know," her brother said quietly, surprising her. He turned his head to meet her eyes. "I swear to you, we'll come back."
She smiled shakily and leaned forward to rest her forehead against his.
"See that you do."
The orcs attacked at nightfall. They came from the dark with torches and the sheer overwhelming numbers of them set Khadgar's nerves on edge. He was currently standing on the ramparts of the Keep, watching Lothar's men fight orcs in the street as they pressed inexorably closer and closer. When a group came too near, he sent arcane blasts spiraling out into the twilight, followed by a barrage of arcane shots like arrows. Then, remembering Lothar's advice that he stay mobile, he would blink to a different position and do it all over again, blasting the front line of the orcs as they moved inwards towards the keep. Behind them, houses burned and acrid smoke rose from the glowing remains.
And then there was the warlock. Gul'dan was out there somewhere. He could see the flash of felfire at times and the screams of his victims. Gul'dan would be coming for him. He would know of Khadgar's existence by now with the light show the mage was putting on and it would make sense for him to take out the magical threat to his troops. So when green fire took out a window next to him on the battlements, Khadgar ducked and blinked away to the front lines, close to where Lothar was directing the movements of his men.
The moment he was standing still, a hail of green fire sped towards his location and he realized that Gul'dan could see him somehow. The warlock had followed his movements across the battlefield, Speaking the words, Khadgar lifted a hand and let a shield fall over himself and the squad of men, including Lothar, behind him. The felfire impacted hard enough to rock Khadgar back on his feet and he panted as the shield dissolved, it's power used up. The men cheered but a sickly green glow lit the sky again as a fel comet the size of a boulder streaked down from the sky, aiming right for him.
He heard Lothar yell out a warning and for a second, Khadgar froze. He couldn't manage another full shield and his personal shields would only protect himself, not the men standing next to him. Not Lothar.
He raised a fist and fired an arcane blast at the comet. The two magic spells collided in midair and the comet burst apart, raining felfire on the nearby rooftops but somehow not hitting any of the men nearby. Khadgar breathed out raggedly. He wasn't sure how many more shots like that he could take.
Lothar must have realized the same thing for his men began to make a retreat. Khadgar's heart tore bit by bit with every step they gave up to the orcs, to Gul'dan. No matter how many explosions or fires or ice lances he sent at them, there were always more to take their place, and with each spell he grew weaker and weaker. When they had finally fallen back to the Keep, Lothar turned to catch his gaze across the fiery courtyard.
"Get them out."
It had been part of their plan for Khadgar to teleport the royal family to one of the waiting ships if the battle turned. He nodded and blinked into the Keep, finding Taria and Varian and their guards safely barricaded in the throne room. He had inscribed a teleportation circle there earlier and he used it now to transport the entirety of the group to the harbor.
The moment they made the docks, Khadgar's knees hit the pier, light-headed and out of breath. A guard grabbed his arm and Taria took his other, helping him back to his feet. The queen's face was drawn, the burning city reflected in her dark eyes.
"Lothar, is he…?"
"He's alright," he assured her, trying to keep his head from swimming. "I'll get him."
Before she could raise a protest, as he knew she would, he teleported back to the front of the Keep, almost staggering down a flight of steps when he appeared. Stormwind guards moved past him, heading towards the harbor, flanked by orcs and the green fire that followed.
The commander turned at the sound of his voice and Khadgar marked his position, near the last line retreating. The mage hurried forward. With effort, he thought he might still be able to teleport Lothar and the last group of his mind from the field. If he could just—
A sudden shout made Khadgar stop in his tracks, surprised.
It was Lothar, a mailed hand flung out in his direction. It was strange, Lothar never used his name…
The green spell hit him from the side, only this was no comet, no ball of felfire. It was a single, shining thread pulled from Khadgar's very being and back into the waiting hands of Gul'dan. The orc warlock stood just across the courtyard, watching him as Khadgar felt life itself drain out of him. He went down on one knee and flung out a hand, weaving together a spell out of desperation. He couldn't teleport, he couldn't blink, but he could, perhaps, do this.
A portal appeared five feet away and Khadgar shouted hoarsely at the men remaining. "Go! Go through the portal! To the docks!"
Thankfully accustomed to his powers, they obeyed without question, disappearing through the gateway. Lothar was charging towards him, completely avoiding the glowing portal, but Khadgar was slowly losing consciousness, the sick green spell connecting him to Gul'dan killing him little by little. Then he felt arms gather him up like a baby, there was a cold rush as he passed through the portal, and then he was on the docks, carried against Lothar's armored chest. The portal snapped closed behind them, cutting off Gul'dan's spell.
They laid him down right there on the docks, heedless of the danger. Lothar was shouting orders and Taria was kneeling by his shoulder, running her fingers through his hair and holding his hand so tightly he could feel it even as far gone as he was.
Taria turned, saying something to her brother in a panicked almost-shout. He thought it might have been "He's too cold" but that didn't really make sense in his addled mind. Then Lothar was there again and he must have taken off his gauntlets because his bare hands were pressed against the sides of Khadgar's head as if holding him steady, holding him there.
And he spoke, and this time the words were clear.
"You're not leaving us, bookworm," he said firmly, a desperate firmness that made tears spring to Khadgar's eyes. "There are still far too many books for you to read. Do you hear me?" He shook Khadgar a little, his grip tight. "Stay with us, kid. Stay with me."
He opened his mouth to say that he would, he would, but Light filled him and he screamed instead at the sudden rush of power through his worn and drained body. It spread through him, from his toes to the very ends of his hair and his body convulsed, arching up off the ground with the power of it. Hands held him, fingers stroked his skin soothingly, and when the avalanche of healing was over, he lay gasping for air on the docks like a man saved from drowning.
A priest stood over him, saying something to Lothar but all Khadgar could really see was their worried, anxious faces.
"I'm still here," he managed, chest heaving. Taria's face broke out into a teary smile and Lothar bowed his head as if some sort of weight had been lifted from him, as if he had just dodged a major blow. They bundled him up and onto the ship with the help from the priest, Lothar once again shouting orders to his men to get underway. A horn blew somewhere signalling the true retreat, their deseration of Stormwind as it burned behind them.
Sitting on the deck of the ship, Khadgar watched the great city shrink into the horizon until it was gone from sight, but not from thought.
"We'll return, won't we?" he asked Lothar later, when the night was deepest and they were all heartsick and weary. Most everyone was asleep but the night crew and he and Lothar were still on deck. Khadgar sat near the railing wrapped in a blanket Taria had forced on him. Lothar was sitting on the railing itself next to him. The sea was gentle that night as if to rock their weary souls to sleep. Khadgar, full of healing and regeneration, was unable to close his eyes and he had a suspicion that Lothar was afraid to sleep. Afraid that if he did, someone he loved would once again be gone. A rush of warmth filled him at the knowledge that he was included in the small group of people that Lothar cared for. He hadn't quite believed it before, but he did now. The devastating relief on Lothar's face at finding him still alive had been enough to prove it.
"We'll go back," Lothar murmured, "Yes, spellchucker, we'll go back. Stormwind will rise again."
There was quiet again a long moment and then Khadgar spoke hesitantly into the dark.
"Until then, can I stay with you?"
It was one thing for Taria to offer him a place in Stormwind, but with the city gone and the royal family and citizens displaced, life had gotten infinitely harder for Anduin and his sister. He would understand if—
A hand hit him upside the back of the head.
"Ow!" he yelped, rubbing the back of his head and turning to glare at Lothar, "You—"
Lothar's hand descended again but this time his fingers ruffled Khadgar's dark hair gently. Despite the harrowing, horrible night, there was an affectionate smile on the Lord Commander's face.
"You wouldn't last a day out there on your own, mage."
Khadgar should be disgruntled by that, but instead he took it for what it was.
I'm proud of you.
He sighed in weary contentment and closed his eyes. Maybe he would sleep a little afterall.
There was still time for that, right? And this time, in his dreams, he knew he wouldn't be alone anymore.
Still time enough for that.