When Jaina's there the spirits only whisper to him before he opens the door, and it's those times that he's thankful that he has one in the first place. It's the one small privilege of the Warchief, rather than the simple cured hide stretched over the frame that he could push away and tack with cloth so that the dust doesn't get in, because here dust gets in every damn where and you're shaking half the Barrens out your clothes before you sleep at night. One hand hovers over the yellowing ivory inlay on the wood (yet more vanity: Orgrim would have laughed at him), as every ancestor whispers She, and the back of his tongue catches that hauntingly familiar ashes-and-appleblossom taste that comes as inevitably as winter. Maybe it's the reek of her magic. Maybe it's just Jaina herself, there as sure as blood seeps from a wound, sitting in the cold carved stone arch of his window in the dark. Inevitable. Sure.
Thrall shuts the door behind him and hefts the block of wood that acts as deadbolt, so it'll stay shut; and then, as afterthought, pulls the thick linen covering down. He hardly ever uses it, never mind his new kingdom's celestial armload of sand that the wind carries, but it'll do nicely to muffle their voices. It's then - and only then - that he turns around, inclines his head, and watches her take her hood down away from that primly braided wealth of buttery hair. "Close the curtain, Miss Proudmoore. Just unpin the hanging - there. It's dark, but you never know who is watching."
"I didn't take it down before." Jaina stands, going on tiptoe, all arches - which is something in itself; she is not a short human - so that the cloth can come tumbling down, plunging them into the last of the darkness as he lights the fat-and-rag braziers. She watches him, thrown into sharp relief by the small flames, careful and measured in his steps as he circles the room for light. "I didn't think that I should alert anyone that someone was in your rooms."
Room. The massive orc chieftain has sparse tastes; the wide stone expanse of his chamber would barely outdo the most ascetic of Horde shamans' for majesty. Just a pile of yesterday's clothes, and a heap of furs on a frame that make his bed, and a little scratched wooden table with a ceramic jug and a breadloaf: the tapestries on the walls are the most decorative things there, almost out of place. They're Tauren-make, and she's pored over them while she was waiting. Hundreds of tiny horned figures run rampant through the linen - thread spears, hair centaurs - stiffly posed and geometrically inclined on ancient fibers: Cairne has probably given them to him. Other than them, the room looks as though nobody lives in it, or bothers to make it personal, or really do much other than change and sleep.
(Or even sleep. It was something of a legend, back in the campaign, to catch the son of Durotan sleeping. Jaina knows that he ran on pure adrenaline, unstopping, unceasing, a force of nature when her eyes were burning and she was faltering over the latest plan of their assaults on the Scourge and, most of all, dying for a cup of hot sugary tea. The closest it counted to finding him asleep was when he'd been briefly knocked unconscious by a demon assault, half a minute at most, just the once; disconcerting, to say the least.)
"I don't worry about you not being discreet." The taper from the braziers is flung into the flames. When he turns to look at her, her eyes still hovering on his laundry for the wont of somewhere better to look, he clears his throat. "I apologise for the mess, Miss Proudmoore. You haven't found me exactly houseproud."
"No! No, honestly." (The awkwardness always lies openly between them, in the early moments when they remember too hotly who they are, like thick oilcloth: everpresent, heady, the taking off of heavy crowns marked Warchief Thrall of the Horde and Lady Jaina Proudmoore of Theramore. They have been meeting in secret for months so that Jaina's cabinet and the Earthen Ring don't fall down and expire, but the first distance is a dull grinding constant - lessening only after weeks of Thrall being stoic, and tongue-tied, and the first time she said: My father's death was his fault and mine, and your hands are spotless.) "It's a - a relief. As much as the Alliance would eat up the news that, in the end, you're just a messy bachelor, I'll keep this one to myself."
He's so big that he blocks out half the light as he moves towards her, bone cup in his hands, passed to her in silent offering: cool sweet desert-water, fresh and cold as ice. (The portals always leave her as dry as salt. She greedily gulps half of it down, spilling a little down her cheeks in eagerness, parched with magic.) Jaina cups it in her hands - too big, she always feels like a child - to sit demurely on the end of Thrall's bed, like she always does, wiping the drops off her cheeks as he unbuckles Orgrim's black-lacquer armour from his huge frame. There's something of a grunt as he shifts out of the mail, cradling the loose pieces as if they're precious infants, shedding off dusty metal like a snake with new skin. "I'm sure the information would thrill them."
"Maybe it would take their minds off Southshore. I'll also mention that I've counted all of two changes of clothes."
"I'm more spiritual this way, Miss Proudmoore."
"The laces on your blue shirt were falling to pieces."
Upon second glance, his shirts are not on the floor where he'd left them; totally confounded, Thrall turns a disbelieving eye to the bed, where the offending pieces of clothing have been neatly folded and the leather thong that ties his shirt replaced. The leather shows signs of quick and neat repair, and the familiar - comfortable - rips once adoring his things has been zombie-sewn with black stitches. The archmage's expression is so guilty she might have marinaded in it. "You've been sewing my shirts?"
"I had to do something while I waited for you. It doesn't take long to sew a seam. Or darn the holes you rip in your vests." Jaina's distinctly mulish. "I didn't touch your trousers and I had a needle and thread on me anyway. Don't you dare say anything, Warchief."
"You have been darning my clothing."
"I couldn't help it. The tears were looking at me. I thought it was an appropriate opening to our fortnightly political discussions. Are you snickering?"
Thrall forgets about the incursions in Dustwallow Marsh; he forgets about Tarren Mill, he forgets about the Blackrocks, he forgets about the night elves expanding into the southwest, and he throws his head back and roars with uncharacteristic laughter. The ice which has swiftly been melting in the wake of Jaina's misplaced femininity dissolves between them as if it has been salted, and the leader of the humans grins rather sheepishly at the orc as she sets her cup by her boots. Thrall, who smiles so seldom that every twitch of his mouth is cherished and hard-won territory, has a deep husky laugh she wishes she could bottle and keep in her bureau drawer like lavender. "If you're done, Warchief, I'll be glad to wallow in my shame in peace."
"It's good to see you, Miss Proudmoore." The laughter has subsided, but the quiet warmth in his voice is real. The last of Doomhammer's armour - complete with the hammer itself - is laid to reverent rest on the ground, and Thrall runs one hand through his dark hair as if testing new weightlessness. Even without armour, he is still terrifying, a full head taller than any orc Jaina had ever seen: thick-hewn green muscles and countless scars. He is not beautiful. He will never be beautiful. But she's learning to like verdegris. "It's just very... how do I put this... domestic?"
"So surprising? Before I took to magic, the women in my father's household thought I might turn out to be a lady."
"But you did turn out to be a lady, Miss Proudmoore."
"Not on the back of my sewing skills, believe me."
Eventually he sits, folding himself in a faintly awkward sprawl with his fingers momentarily clasped in the old meditation-prayer that the Horde mystics sometimes revert to: all those bunched-up muscles look exquisitely ungainly, clumsy, a body not quite meant for sitting. Or, hell, doing anything that requires inaction. Thrall has never been an object at rest to her, and even in repose looks as though at any moment he will pull himself up and stalk around the room like a wild animal. Jaina knows by now that it's not her. They want too little to test each other to be at unease - even after the first time they'd met, when there had practically been sparks coming off Jaina in her cold-nerved willingness to destroy both Cairne and Thrall as quickly as she could for plain-tasting survival. Eking out their existence here has had to turn her ruthless. Even so, it was almost easier in the beginning, when it was a matter of who was alive at the end of each day and how much food they needed as they trekked across the unforgiving plains of Mulgore, when she could take the route of desperation and blow up anything that stood in the expedition's way. Settlement has brought its own host of problems, none of which can be taken out with a well-timed blizzard: dissatisfaction, and things that seemed reasonable when they were at their wits' end less reasonable when they stopped to look at it, and the dirty word of politics.
(They cannot destroy each other easily in a physical one-to-one. They have an enduring peace clause of assured mutual destruction. In the court of the Alliance and the Horde, though, their situation is so precarious they can tear huge gouges out of each other with a word.)
When Thrall looks up at her, after long moments of silence, his eyes are black in the darkness. "The fiction of our ceasefire doesn't endure."
"Did we expect it to?" Even the words legal fiction are starting to become paper-thin. Trade between Theramore and Orgrimmar is just about non-existent. They've exchanged food for resources a few months back when things were getting short and her ministers could swallow it: they're fine with bleeding the Horde dry as much as they damn well can if there's strife, but the moment things are set to rights they're quicker to roast their Lady Proudmoore over the embarrassing fact that they could get trade from Thrall in the first place, as if it leaves their throats exposed. "I have a beachhead in your territory, Thrall, I'm surprised there's been less mustered force."
"The dragons in the marsh." He sounds so bitterly tired. Resentful. Frustrated. "Deathwing's spawn keeps it from being profitable. Which doesn't mean that we don't send our people out to kill themselves in droves in suicide missions trying to wear them down. The moment - to the second - that they're gone, you humans will be the next target."
"Do you think I don't know that, Thrall? You're in the line of fire, too, and you know it. You're our scapegoat for half a dozen things in my cabinet." Including Varian Wrynn, but he doesn't have to know that: she doesn't want to ask, she doesn't want to know, she doesn't want to have to face the fact that the Horde have maybe captured Stormwind's king and now they are left with furious human chesspieces. Checkmate only ever means all-out war. "The Scourge are right in front of us, but we're jostling each other's elbows in our back gardens. The dragons aren't my last line of defence."
"So what the hell do I do when Onyxia and her brood are taken out, and there's no damn good reason to not march on Theramore Isle?" He doesn't sound angry. Just dull and exhausted, and as if he knows the answer already. (She knows he does. They have gone over this long, long before. They go over it every time they see each other: because it is almost comfort, because it hasn't happened yet.)
"You say yes," she says. "And I'll make it obvious that it's not worth your while."
"And then I have your people's blood on my hands."
"And then you have my people's blood on your hands."
"Yes. And then we hate each other."
"No," he says. "Then we hate ourselves."
The air is too close. Jaina pushes her cloak away, off her shoulders, bare-armed in the terribly profound darkness barely pierced by the firelights, and looks at her wrists: her fingers are stained with ink nowadays, from signing too many things, scribemarks rather than warrior ones. There's some abrasions that never go away. The scars underneath her clothes from the fighting on Mount Hyjal will never fade, never heal, and she holds them hotly to herself like lovers. They are hers: the time of Once I Was A Leader, And Not A Politician. "It's odd, you know," she says. "I've had to become someone that I don't like very much, some days. They call me Ice Lady into their shirtsleeves. I don't mind that. I don't care. It's just that no matter how hard I am, how cold or stern or cruel, I can't fix the rifts. No matter how hard I respect you or admire you."
Long stillness, and then: "Do they really call you Ice Lady?"
"No," she says honestly. "They call me Ice Bitch."
This time, the stillness is slightly gentler, as if the corner of his mouth is twitching again in what usually passes for his smile. And then - extraordinarily tentatively, hesitant - he reaches out for her, until she reaches out for him, until her hand is resting on the back of his in stark whiteness. (She cannot turn away. He is so much there that it is nearly terrifying to reach out and be reminded of the pulse that beats beneath his dark skin.) "Miss Proudmoore, no matter what happens, it comforts me to know that I have had the honour of having been your friend. Even if all my people were dreading the day that this would come crumbling down around our ears, and even if I was dreading with them, it still kills me with regret."
"For?" Their hands are still there, locked in place.
"I thought," he says, "I thought, for five minutes whole in time, that maybe our people could build a land here as one. Fighting the Scourge. I know it was a fool's pipe dream, but the new fighting is leaving ash in my mouth. I never thought that it would turn to unending dogfights, or what amounts to damn near murder every day in the Hillsbrad - damn it, Jaina, he said that if we were going to survive we had to band together. How could I let it fall away so lightly? We believed in it, once. Just once. But that was enough."
It's one of those rare, beautiful times that he calls her Jaina. It feels too intimate, too close, and her fingertips are digging into the back of his hand like she's claiming new territory. He probably barely notices; Thrall in the passion of his own hate, in anything that penetrates his rock-hard self-control, consumes him. "Don't. It was always going to happen. You and I knew it was always going to happen. It was going to happen without Tidefury Cove, without - without everything. It was always going to crash and burn. You can't make a new kingdom out of two people." As if she's trying to comfort him, when she's ranted and raged inside her head constantly about the same thing. It was their one shared naïveté. "The dwarves still loathe the trolls. The gnomes still loathe the trolls. You can't throw a rock in Stormwind or Ironforge without hitting someone who has the same old horror story about how orcs killed someone they loved. My people won't forget."
"My people will never forget the internment camps." His hands are around hers, now, the fingers threading like her stitches on his shirts: too big, only serviceable, never elegant. Strangely compelling. Jaina, who stands at nearly six foot, always feels unutterably breakable in comparison of his body to hers. "Out ancestors will never forget the internment camps. I will never forget the internment camps."
"But you still moved on."
"Yes. But my people can't. I can accept that, the past is not - not a dead thing. And not all humans are you. I can accept that, too."
Hypocrite. Hypocrite, hypocrite. Never mind that, especially now, all her subconscious can do is scream you never endured this peace treaty because you're so angelic, or sweet or good as idealistic as you'd like to be: you endured it because of him. "I beg you, Thrall, if there comes the day when I'm not in power, don't stay your hand for me."
"Do you suspect there'll be a coup?"
"Not as long as I live."
Never mind the unspoken: I am not immortal. Her other hand comes up to grasp his doubly, as if in prayer or promise, a wry smile curving her lips to add: "Which just means that with a change of government, I'll be dead or worse."
"Survive, then, if you love your people. If you were killed, do you really think I'd suffer that revolution to live, Miss Proudmoore?"
She has to smile. Thrall is so gentle with her that it's very nearly sweet when he grips her hands (well, almost not sweet - the pressure reminds her exquisitely that he can break her fingers without a thought) and grits his molars and glares. "No." (She hasn't thought of that one, either; what an interesting political gambit. The promise of a Horde movement against Theramore if she is killed under mysterious circumstances would stay any ambitious minister's hand, as long as he wasn't a total idiot who thought that a front line against the island could be sustained by the onslaught Thrall would send. Jaina files that particular thought away for a rainy day.) "No, you're far too honourable. I won't be weak. I won't be docile. The last thing I want to see is that Mok'Nathal on my doorstep again."
"You won't." It looks as though he's had a massive inner wince, and she regrets saying it, even lightheartedly. "The next time, I won't leave my dirty work to Rexxar. It was a coward's trick to try to keep my hands clean that way. No chieftain should ever lead his people in a battle he wouldn't fight with his own two hands."
"It's not like you to whip yourself, Thrall. Stop it."
Dismissive; and then, reckless, falling without flight, she raises his hand to just brush once her lips over his knuckles. Somewhere in the back of her mind - where she is low in intelligence, she thinks - it was intended to be sisterlike; the expression on Thrall's face when she drops his hand indicates that she's failed abominably in that region. There has always been a peculiar kind of electricity between them. Connection. Maybe the recognition of a kindred soul. He'd probably say that their spirits had touched, maybe - it feels nearly spiritual, and Jaina's never been, never - but one single butterfly brush between them, still and forever. They stare at each other like idiots until Jaina coughs, faintly desperate, and rises to her feet: he rises with her.
"I came to give you some reports," she says, turning (with not a little thankfulness, away from his face: hating herself) to rifle through the pockets in her thick cloak for a folded-up sheaf of paper. The reports are curled wrapper-like around a heavier object, roughly-bound, so that when Jaina places the pile in Thrall's hands he peels off the scribbled scout write-ups to reveal a book. She doesn't wait for him to see the title, voice a little rushed. "It's on the naval warfare in the Second War. I loved it when I was younger. It's not too biased, either, so I thought you'd enjoy the perspective. It's an interesting effort in scholarship."
"Thank you, Miss Proudmoore." She recognizes the faintly starry expression to him, the way one finger traces down the spine of the heavy bindings, pure and unabashed desire. Thrall has a warrior's soul - but at least part of it is on time-share with a love of study. It's appalling. The scholar in her is so wildly in love with the scholar in him that the act of giving him a book amounts to what she thinks is even more pleasure on her part, like a giggling schoolgirl. The book was her father's. This was a cleansing ritual. Daelin Proudmoore would be, suffice to say, furious. "I appreciate this more than I can say. The tactics of that war were fascinating, to say the least. Grom was always thankful that we didn't have to cut up our journey in this land looking for oil."
"He wasn't the only one. I think that would have driven me insane. You'll have to tell me what you think of it next time." With the quiet undertone: there will be a next time. "Especially the dissertation on the fight against the juggernauts in Alliance fleet movements, anyway. I'd - I'd better go. We both need our sleep."
When he speaks, it is quiet - he raises his voice seldom with her - but brooks no argument whatsoever. "Jaina, if you ever need to get asylum, come to Orgrimmar. It's not open for debate. You know you will be safest here, and damn what anyone else thinks. My people will remember what you've done for them." (His people and Cairne's people, anyway. Vol'jin probably doesn't give a damn, and Sylvanas probably wants Jaina's head on a plate.)
There's a rather luminous, deceptively bittersweet smile. She has small teeth. She has small everything. Orcs are hard-pressed to find anything about human women desirable or pretty - in fact, they all look alike to a great many of them: walking snappable wishbones with too much hair and stunted little squashed airholes for mouths - but Thrall has the disadvantage of being raised by the wolves, and when he sees her smile, he used to see Terentha. Now he just sees Jaina. "Thrall, somewhere out there, humans and orcs and dwarves and trolls and gnomes and - hell, maybe even the undead - will pick up arms and fight together against the Scourge. You laid the seed."
"And you provided the soil, Miss Proudmoore."
The archmage has to go up on tiptoe and stretch every vertebrae in her back in order to lay (what she hopes is) a perfunctory kiss against the side of his face. (It's hard to kiss Thrall anywhere else, considering the tusks.) When Jaina goes to the window - window by habit, because her hands are already lit with the slow foxfire of her Portal and all the worse off for nobody to help her open it, but at least the strain takes her mind off - she clears her throat, and smiles again, just a little shy. "Throm ka, Warchief."
Her accent is appalling. He does not smile, does not laugh, but just watches her gravely as she braids the aether with her hands and crisscrosses her fair brow in concentration. "Goodbye, Lady Proudmoore."
She leaves nothing more than the acrid scent of ozone and his fixed shirts. Thrall unpins the cloth from the door and unpins the cloth from the windows, and opens the latch, and lets in the night of his city: Orgrimmar is still distantly full of saws on wood, nails, the noises of construction. His new homeland isn't quite finished yet. The sawdust newness of it is oddly comforting, even the noise in the night as somebody somewhere works too much overtime. (There are no lazy peons in this Horde, he thinks, maybe a little innocently.) The book is carefully laid to rest on his bed as he walks to the water-jug and pours some in his cupped fingers: the shaman washes his hands and face, shaking his head to get the drops off, scrubbing her from his skin. It is never out of repugnance. The water is simple necessity. If he doesn't wash himself clean, he'll keep searching for her; two fingers on his skin without thinking about it, searching absently for her mouth, retracing her over and over like a caress hours and hours after the kiss has cooled. So it has to go. Thrall is nothing if not practical. Besides, well, cold water's good for an overheated brain.
When Jaina Proudmoore is there the spirits only whisper the moments before, in warning, one last suppressed hush. When Jaina's gone, they say nothing - or maybe all he can listen to is the last dying footfall of her, over and over again, as if she is still there.