She came into his chambers alone, in the deepest watch of his first night back in Orgrimmar after the battle to re-take the Undercity had been won. The portal opened in a shimmer of power and she all but stumbled through it into the banked firelight of his room. Something clattered on the floor and she barked her slippered toes against it, murmuring something sharp and profane under her breath as she bent awkwardly down to rub at them.
He was already sitting upright in his bed, furs bunched around his waist. The only light in the room was from the banked hearth. Her hair glittered gold even by that dull red light and he could only stare at her. Shocked. Disbelieving.
She straightened up at the sound of his voice, then swayed toward the foot of his bed. She stood there a moment, hands braced on her hips, squinting and frowning at him in the dim light. He smelled something thick in the air around her: the scent of sweet alcohol.
"Oh good... you're alone." She snorted softly, chuckling to herself as she waved a hand carelessly in the air by her face. "Of course you're alone! So am I."
"Jaina, why have you come here? Is something wrong?" Thrall asked, his voice low. Not wanting to alert the guards who patrolled the hallway beyond to her presence. Not unless she brought news that required he do so, of course.
But, "I teleported myself here," she said with all the grave intensity of the profoundly drunk disabusing him of any official urgency to her presence. Which made his mind spin momentarily down dangerous paths. "I'm a mage, you know." She nodded once, disheveled hair falling over her eyes for a moment. She pushed it back impatiently. Looking rumpled and uncharacteristically open. Nothing like the composed and focused leader he was used to at all.
"That I know well, Jaina Proudmoore," he said quietly as he slid carefully from beneath his furs. Glad that many experiences of urgent night-wakings had trained him to sleep clad in short pants, at least, to preserve his dignity. Less glad that something had drawn her to him in this way only when she was incapacitated by drink. "But why have you come here tonight?"
"To talk sense, of course!" she said sharply, eyes flashing as she glared at him. "Oooh! You'd think the hard-headed fool would listen after all I did to get him back on his throne, but nooooo, I'm just a mage. A woman who messes with magic. Which is just too much for a thick-headed warrior-type like him to take, I guess."
She peered at him as he moved closer to her, blinking at his broad bare chest several times before moving her blurred gaze up to his face. "Hey. You're a warrior type too. Why do you listen to sense?"
"Not only, my friend," he said. "The way of the shaman is that of both healer and warrior."
He dared reach out a hand to steady her as she tilted her head back to keep his gaze and swayed dangerously on her feet. Her shoulder was tiny and fragile beneath his touch. Warm beneath mageweave and runecloth. She frowned at him. "Healer. Huh. Never quite took to that kind of magic..." She lowered her head suddenly, shaking it fiercely. "But that doesn't mean I don't respect those who do! Damn him!" She lifted a fist and shook it at the corner of the room. Thrall glanced over there but saw nothing., then realized she must be cursing the memory of King Wrynn in her mind. He wondered, not for the first time, what Wrynn had said to her after she so abruptly removed the King and his soldiers from the Undercity a week ago. That she was obviously unharmed and unconstrained was to his great relief.
"We have too many mutual enemies to be fighting now," she went on. "Or ever! It's so stupid! And a waste. Such a waste of talent and strength when there are so many out there who suffer on both sides...so many... dead... and undead..."
Her expression crumpled and she looked perilously close to tears. But she shook her head violently again and staggered forward at the motion; only his arm gathering her swiftly to his side kept her from falling. Her hands struck his chest, caught and held, her slim body now supported by his own. Her head fell forward and pressed against his arm. He could feel her ribs rising and falling quickly with sharply drawn breaths beneath his encircling hold.
He had told himself not to feel anything once he realized she was drunk. Could not let hidden feelings influence his interpretation of this unexpected visit. But now she was in his arms. Pressed against his body. And he could not slow the racing of his heart, the quickening of his breath, or quell the stiffening of his loins -- he could only hope her senses were too alcohol-dulled to take note of his lack of discretion.
Silence reigned between them, broken only by low sounds that might have been sobs. Or her efforts to hold back the unease of a drink-abused stomach. Either would be fitting, he supposed bleakly, lost in his own inner conflict.
But then her hands slowly flattened on his chest. Long, spell-clever fingers smoothed carefully over his bare skin, tentatively shaping the hard muscle beneath. The impact of her seemingly casual touch made him quiver slightly. And when she spoke it was also against his skin, her breath warm on his arm, her lips soft and fluttering with each word. "Ah... Thrall... you are whole and well. After that awful battle... I'm so glad..."
"Jaina," he murmured toward her bent head, his heart aching, his throat tight with longing, "you should return to Theramore. Before you are missed."
"...I thought I would not make it in time... I thought.... the King's rage... I thought..." Her words slowed. Slurred more. Her body slackened against his. Forcing him to hold her close. Closer. Her hands slid down his chest to his waist. Clung there as she leaned her whole body into him.
"Jaina." Her name nearly a groan, he breathed deeply of her scent. His heart thundered. His body grew tense.
"Thought... lose... another... heart..."
Then she went limp in his arms as the drink finally consumed the last of her sense, sending her into darkness. Head lolling, body slack. He swept her up high in his arms before she could even start to fall, cradling her against his chest tenderly, his face buried against her hair.
Long minutes passed that way in silence, measured only by the thundering of his heart beneath her insensate head. He quickly lost count of the beats, of his own ragged breaths. His mind gone blank of thought and focus save for the way she felt as she lay, so fragile and precious, in his arms.
A fresh brush of magic again warned him. He lifted his head to face it as yet another portal began to open within his room. Turned his body to shield the woman in his arms in case this trespasser offered danger.
"So. I was right." The second visitor to his rooms took a step toward him, into the light, staff in hand.
It was an older woman, human, tall and spare and haughty of expression, clad in a gray dress and cloak of human mourning, her hair bound back under the plain hood. A woman whose thin lips pursed in disapproval after catching sight of him standing half-clothed with a silent Jaina cradled in his arms.
"Hm. This means you must surely be the troublesome young Thrall," the woman said, her voice sharp with echoes of command, her dark eyes flat and cold as she lifted her chin to catch his gaze.
"I am Thrall, Warchief of the Horde," he acknowledged quietly. "And who are you to enter my halls unbidden?"
"Her keeper, lately." The old woman sighed, leaning forward on her staff and jerking her head toward Jaina. "Charged with showing her sense. It's a task never to be finished, one might think." The woman gestured to him sharply, her gaze cool. "Best you give her over now and I'll take her back home, boy."
"She needs no keeper," Thrall said gravely, making no move.
"No keeper?" The old woman shook her head, a frown on her face as she looked at the golden head pillowed on his arm, the hand curled over his heart. "Then what is she doing tempting that equally impetuous brat of a King to brand her traitor to her own race, hm? It certainly wasn't for anyone else's sake she stopped you all cold in the bowels of poor broken Lordaeron, now was it?"
"Who are you?" Thrall demanded, frowning fiercely now. For there were few mages strong enough to bend the powerful wards that forced the destination of portal-magic channeled within Orgrimmar toward the Valley of Spirits to other locations, such as within his own chambers. Jaina was one. But this woman had just done the same.
"Oh, just an old relic who should have been left to languish in the history books," she said with a wry twist of her lips. "But this one dragged me out of those pages, kicking and screaming, to stand by her side." All humor faded from her expression again and she glared at him. "Said she needed a new seneschal... ha! Meddling child bringing all those beasts into my valley... come to think of it... that was at your behest, too, wasn't it? I must say, you truly are a troublesome boy, aren't you?"
Aegwynn was her name, he remembered suddenly. The former Guardian of Tirisfal, now fallen. A woman hundreds of years old. The mother of the Oracle Medivh who had helped them deny and defeat Archimonde. Jaina had told him about her after the incident with the Burning Blade had nearly brought their people to open war again.
He inclined his head to her once, slowly and deliberately, gaze never leaving hers, in respect for who she had been, who she still was to Jaina. But her own glare only sharpened at the gesture.
"Enough of that nonsense, boy," she said impatiently, knocking the butt of her staff once on the floor with a sharp rap. "Just hand over that silly little girl so I can take her back home and keep the fools in Theramore from panicking and doing something stupid – like sending word East." The woman's look grew hard as she watched him closely. "She's hardly slept at all since then, you know, waiting to hear that you were safe back in Kalimdor again."
Thrall looked down at Jaina's slack face in surprise. Noting now how her lashes lay in golden arcs over dark circles that had bloomed beneath her eyes. The crease between her brows seemed deeper too. As if she had frowned far too often of late.
He straightened up, squaring his shoulders beneath the former Guardian's sharp gaze. "There are few who understand the courage it takes to not fight when a battle that can have no true winner is thrust upon one. For showing me that courage, I am in her debt."
The old woman stared at him thoughtfully for a long minute, her expression softening slightly after a while. She sighed deeply.
"What I should say to you is... give it up. Abandon your dreams of peace, of unity, young Warchief." And the look in her eye let him know she had more than guessed his heart. "That the hatreds are too close, the anger too high for both your peoples. But... that is the advice of one who has done far worse than love at the wrong time. For I did not love at all, until far too late. And perhaps... that was my ultimate failing. My weakness."
"In the end, even he was redeemed, lady," Thrall said quietly. And watched the pain in her face twist deeper for a moment before it faded.
"Ah, but only at the end. And only after much suffering was endured by many who did not deserve to suffer so," she said, her gaze darkening. "Are you prepared to walk a similar path? To give up what you have worked so hard to gain?"
He frowned. "I walk my own path, lady. I will not dishonor my own people." He looked down at Jaina's weary face. "Nor will I dishonor hers. Only they can make that choice. But I will not allow her to be harmed – either by her people or my own."
"Then you are a stubborn, idealistic fool, young Warchief," Aegwynn said harshly, her now averted eyes suspiciously bright, and held out her arms. "Give me the girl before your foolishness infects me as well. We must be away."
He made no move to pass over his burden. "No. I will bring her. Lead on."
"Tch! Reckless too? Very well then," the old woman all but spat before spinning on her heel to stalk through the portal that still shimmered open behind her. He followed without hesitation. Not pausing to pick up armor or weapon even though he walked into an armed city actively hostile to his presence.
The room on the other side of the portal was smaller than he expected, the walls of it rounded and close due to its location near the top of Theramore Keep. There were only two windows, but even shut tight against the winter winds cold drafts of air from the marshlands beyond still snaked across the room. To combat the chill, the floor was covered with thick rugs. But their patterns could barely be seen beneath stacks of books. It smelled of ink and wax, cold and magic. A glass-shielded lantern glowed on the corner of a paper-strewn desk, a brace of mage-light candles on the mantle. A large bottle of Cenarion Spirits lay beside a crystal goblet on the white fur set before the small, banked hearth, only dregs of the powerful liquor remaining in each.
The empty bottle explained her condition then. And would justify the aching head she would doubtless suffer tomorrow as well, he thought ruefully. He looked further, to where Aegwynn waited beside a silk-draped bed. Heavy curtains hung around the bed could be drawn close to block the drafts, he noted. Often a necessary feature in buildings made by rough human construction. He remembered those drafts well. Why the humans refused to let the master stonemasons of their allies the dwarves build their keeps still puzzled him. But given his knowledge of general human mistrust, it did not often puzzle him for long.
He picked his way across the room, taking great care not to disturb any of the stacks of books along the way with his girth. Then he laid his burden gently down upon her own bed, releasing her reluctantly. He brushed a lock of hair from her face and murmured a small spell of cleansing over her to ease some of her coming discomfort. But backed quickly away as she shifted in her sleep, giving a little sigh, her hand reaching aimlessly toward him only to fall down again, limp and heavy, when frustrated in its search.
"She may not remember her visit to you, come morning," Aegwynn warned, moving to Jaina's side and drawing a blanket over her still-clothed form.
"That could likely be," Thrall said gravely, watching Jaina's sleeping face until it smoothed out into deeper rest. "But I will."
"I'm amazed she could cast a portal spell at all in her condition. Hm. It must be a well-known spell to her, the one that leads her to you." The old woman shot him a look over her shoulder, dark and needlessly speculative, he thought. He understood the implications well enough.
Instead of answering he gave her a short bow, then turned back to the portal. Stepped through it before the promise of Jaina's soft sighs and reaching hand could melt his will to nothing.
His own chamber seemed close and stifling by comparison. He felt the portal close behind him with a soft pop of displaced air, a release of magical tension.
Only then did he spot Jaina's staff where it lay, discarded and forgotten, on the floor by his feet.
She woke the next morning with an oath on her lips and a shaking hand clapped over her burning, aching eyes.
"Oh by the Light, douse that light!" she moaned, rolling away from the brightness that stabbed into her brain like the arcane shards of a shattered spell.
"Hm. Since 'tis the light of the Sun itself, that might be – not only difficult –, but unwise, my child," a familiar and definitely amused voice said. Aegwynn. Of course. But why had she expected far deeper tones for a moment? She frowned into the pillow she'd shoved her face into for protection, confused.
Ohh! But her head hurt. And her stomach felt quite unsettled as well. It was definitely threatening to rebel if she moved with such unwise speed again. Why had she opened that bottle again?
"Go away," she said into the protective mass as the very memory of last night's over-indulgence threatened to overcome her self-control. "Just... urgh... leave me to die in peace."
"Would that I could leave you to stew in your own spirits-induced anguish, silly child," Aegwynn said, moving about briskly in the room beyond. "But duty calls. There are messengers without, requesting your attention."
She bit her lip in dismay, the gesture safely shown only to the pillow. "Messengers?" she ventured weakly, not able to remember, through the pounding in her brain, if any had been expected today.
"From the East, they seem," Aegwynn said. "Fresh off the latest ship and anxious for an interview with the Lady of Theramore." The words made Jaina stiffen and bite back a surge of bile.
Someone, Aegwynn, most likely, had removed her robe and other magical armors last night after her senses had betrayed her. She shifted in her nightdress, feeling mildly bereft to not have their sustaining enchantments to help ease her distress now. Though shouldn't she be suffering even more from the effects of the wine? A vague memory of whimpering like a child denied a treat while shaking an empty bottle for every last drop above her glass crept into her aching mind.
Had she really drunk an entire bottle of rare Cenarion brew herself? Just what had she been celebrating again anyway? Oh yes, his return... she blushed into the concealing pillow as some of her more wayward thoughts from the previous night came back to her with sudden, searing intensity. Hard flesh. Heat. Strength. A gentleness that was still strong as stone. Her fingertips tingled almost as if they remembered touching something...
She forced down those odd thoughts firmly. Blanking them out by focusing on the ache in her head, the unease in her stomach. At least, she comforted herself, she'd been alone in her own chambers, with no one to witness her uncharacteristic lapse of contr... dignity.
But how had she ended up disrobed and safely tucked into her own bed? Aegwynn had been away from the Keep on private business last night (thus the lone indulgence). But she didn't think she'd had that kind of control left to her. Not after the way she'd tripped on the smooth stone floor at her first step.
Something flared in her hazy mind then, a niggling feeling of uncertainty. Had she stayed only in her own rooms last night?
What if, her aching mind conjured nastily, she had wandered the halls of her own Keep, sloshed to the gills? Babbling who knew what inainities and petty secrets? She well knew, after all, that she could be rather more talkative than normal when drunk. Or so certain people had told her, long ago. Her face burned harder with a precursor of shame. The oh-so-formal and disapproving Commander Samaul of the Guard would have something to say to her about that if it was so, she was sure. She sighed into the pillow again.
Though how Aegwynn had carried her across the room and put her to bed, sodden mess that she doubtless had been, would have to remain a mystery. Maybe she'd just teleported her there.
She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder, a soft brush over her throbbing head, both gestures at odds with the harsh tone taken with her so far by her companion.
"I have something hot here for you to drink, child – 'twill make the coming day easier to bear."
"Please tell me it's poison," she said with a moan tacked on the end as she struggled to sit up. But once upright, her head throbbed far less than she thought it should. It ached, to be sure, but not in the dire, life-ending way she had expected based on youthful experience. She still dared not risk opening her eyes. The light was still too much.
There was wry chuckle from the other woman as she helped Jaina find the cup with both hands. "You're not getting out of this that easily, girl." The cup was warm beneath her fingers. And the mixture smelled of clean herbs and spring. She held it cradled beneath her nose a moment, inhaling the steam, and sighing as even that much exposure brought her spinning brain a touch of relief.
"You're a life-saver," she breathed before taking a first tentative sip. "Thank you." When, after a moment, it became clear that her angry stomach had accepted the offering, she downed more of it in quick sips. When she was nearly done with the tea, Aegwynn finally spoke again.
"I had nothing to do with that healing brew," her seneschal and mentor said, and something in her tone made Jaina open her eyes a wary crack despite the threat of sunlight, knowing that whatever came next could not be good. "Your tame Warchief sent it over for you from his city via special messenger at first light. With this."
Her magestaff fell across her lap with a solid thunk. She winced and blinked down at it in sudden shock.
"I did not," she whispered in sudden terror, eyes gone wide with a rush of embarrassment. "Tell me I did not. Please." She wrenched her stunned gaze up to Aegwynn's. The other woman was watching her impassively, her hands tucked in the sleeves of her robe as she stood stiffly beside the bed.
"Oh you most certainly did, girl," the old mage said, shaking her head at her slightly, her lips drawn down in a tight frown. "Right into his personal chambers."
Jaina held the teacup in one trembling hand, freeing up the other to cover her horrified gasp as she stared at nothing. Imagining nothing but disaster from her drunken actions.
"Was he... is he angry with me?"
"Would he have sent you a special tissane to ease your discomfort and the staff you left behind by his own spirit-wolf if so? What kind of mush is in your head, girl?" Aegwynn snorted in disgust then, drawing Jaina's dismayed gaze again. The old woman leaned forward, arms now folded over her chest and glared directly into Jaina's eyes. "As I told him last night, I am not one to play 'did-he' 'did-she' for two silly love-struck fools. If you suddenly doubt rational thought, go ask him yourself, girl."
Jaina actually felt the blood drain from her face. Staring up at her friend, she felt light-headed and a little faint. "W-what?" she breathed.
Aegwynn took some mercy on her then, shoving the incriminating magestaff aside and settling herself on the bed beside Jaina's knees. She even took the teacup out of her hand before she spilled the dregs all over herself, setting it somewhere safely on the book-crowded bedside table.
"My Lady Proudmoore, I doubt there is a self-aware soul alive who stands in a room that contains the pair of you who cannot tell the truth of how you feel about each other within moments." The old mage gave a sharp laugh and rolled her eyes. "Except for the two of you, of course. Blind idiots."
The blood refused to return to her face, -- or her head –, making her dizzy. Her ears rang lightly. She gasped for air as if she'd been underwater. Aegwynn's gaze softened to something like pity as she felt compelled to stammer out a nearly incoherent denial. "But... but he is... and I am... and our people... it's... it's impossible."
Aegwynn sighed in exasperation. "How does that matter to your hearts, child?"
Jaina stared at the other woman for a long moment, too stunned to speak, her thoughts a pained, chaotic whirl of shame and hope and anguish and dismay. Then she burst into tears. Great sobs surged through her. Helpless and deep. Wracking her whole body.
She covered her face with her hands, not wanting her friend and senechal to see her, as ruler or mage, so undone by emotion. That drink and exhaustion and doubt, – and yes, fear for his life –, had made her weak, had worn down her control to nothing. Slim arms came around her shoulders, drew her awkwardly against the other woman's side. A hand patted clumsily at the back of her head as she sobbed.
It took quite a while before she was empty of tears. "It's hopeless, Aegwynn," she breathed into the other woman's shoulder once the storm passed, her body trembling, her throat raw.
Aegwynn tightened her hold on her slightly, her voice uncharacteristically soft as she answered her.
"Yes, child. It is."
The folded letter appeared on his desk just after he sat down to read the latest dispatches from Warsong Gulch that had come with the midday courier. It arrived in a tiny flare of arcane energy, falling the final few inches through the air to land beside his right hand with a small plop.
His name and title was written on the front of the thick vellum.
He picked it up with odd reluctance, heart lurching in his chest, and broke the plain seal on the back with his thumb. Unfolding it, he quickly read the message inside.
It was a short, stiff apology for violating the sanctity of his realm. Followed by a brief, equally formal, assurance that it would not happen again. Signed only with a title.
He stared at the lifeless words written in that familiar hand and a touch of sickness hit his gut. Before last night when she had come to him drunk, her letters had been a bright point in his day. Full of challenging ideas. Lively discussions. Non-critical local tidbits. Magical theory. But now, because of one small indiscretion, was there to be only this mocking formality between them? After a moment more of sharp thought, something else, -- anger, determination, yearning – began to burn in his gut instead.
He reached for his pen.
The note came by dire-falcon, as usual. However, rather than waiting in her chamber for her to discover it later, this time the bird flew straight into her audience hall where she was meeting with the two newest representatives from Stormwind. It backwinged before her, hovering a moment until all eyes had turned to the great bird in shock or curiosity, and gave a single imperious squawk. Then it dropped the hide scroll it carried – tied blatantly with the red and black cord of Orgrimmar, the heavy red seal carrying a well-known snarling wolf's head design – into her lap before flying away.
How dare he! Her cheeks threatened to burn before she mastered herself. But with her expression carefully neutral, she picked the scroll up and set it on the small table beside her chair without another look.
"Now, what was that about increasing security in Menethil Harbor?" she asked the gaping emissaries, her own gaze cold. Neither man dared venture a comment on the unusual incident after one look at her icy expression. Though for the rest of the meeting, she could see the wild speculation rampant in their eyes.
When she could finally dismiss Varian's men without seeming too eager to do so, Jaina snatched up the scroll and her cloak and ducked out onto the chilly, but private, balcony of her audience hall. She broke the seal with shaking fingers, her anger from earlier returning in full force. He knew how delicately matters were poised between Theramore and Stormwind. Such displays only fed fuel to the fire of her situation. Especially after what had happened in the Undercity.
There were only four words written within in his cramped, spiked hand.
"Meet with me. Now."
She crumpled the scroll in her hand, lifted her head to glare to the north, toward his distant city. Then she stormed inside the room, grabbed her staff, focused her mind and cast a spell.
He was already waiting, standing on top of the wind-chilled rock where they sometimes met, a thick red cloak about his shoulders. His private zeppelin was nowhere to be seen because he had not used it. Instead he had ridden to this mesa as soon as he sent the note, and climbed the sheer rock to the top himself. A bulky bag lay at his feet. The Doomhammer leaned against it, near to hand.
She finally appeared in a bright flash of magic, too annoyed to bother with finesse.
"That was completely uncalled for," she said as soon as she saw him, her eyes flashing. She stalked toward him, her back stiff with righteous outrage, her honey-gold hair streaming behind her in the wind with her bright blue cloak. His scroll was still clutched in her free hand, he saw, and his heart began to pound hard in his chest.
As she came up to him, -- right up to him, he noted, showing no fear or hesitation at all – she waved the scroll under his nose.
"I was meeting with Stormwind, Thrall. And your bird screeched at me! Screeched! I'm only grateful it didn't crap on their heads!"
"No you aren't," he said, holding back a wolfish smile with some difficulty. "It would have made negotiations so much easier, with their goals so clearly displayed for once."
She stared at him blankly for a moment before bursting out in laughter. Only once. Short and disbelieving. Then she went somber again, her gaze grim.
"Please. I can't have that, Thrall," she said, staring up at him from well within his arm's reach.
Every time before, when she had stepped so boldly near, he had stopped himself from touching her. From laying a hand on her shoulder. Or against her back on that fragile triangle of skin her robes exposed. Or from taking up her hand. But she had come to him when he asked. Without hesitation. Even though she was angry with him. But now there had been last night. Her still unexplained visit. Her confusing words. And so this time he did not stop himself.
He lifted his hand slowly, giving her ample time to see it move and to react if she chose. But she stood her ground, eyes blazing, chin lifted. And when he set his hand against her back, and drew her close against his body, she only sighed and stepped into his hold, sliding her arms around his waist beneath his cloak. The staff he had returned to her pressed hard against his spine, bristling with her arcane magics.
"Where is your armor?" she said into his chest, her breath warming him through the plain hide vest he wore.
"At our feet," he said, voice low. Her staff clattered to the ground beside them. "Mine too," she said and reached up. Winding her hands in his braids, she pulled his face down to hers, pressing her forehead against his as a shudder wracked her body.
"We can't do this," she whispered, and her eyes slid closed. She made no move to release him.
"No, we can't," he agreed, wrapping his other arm around her. Enveloping her completely in his hold, within the shelter of his cloak. They stood that way for some time. Simply breathing with each other. As he held her, his heart pounded more heavily in his chest than normal, his blood warmed, and his senses focused wholly upon her. Her breathing grew more ragged too and her hands began to clench and unclench in his hair.
"On Hyjal, it was the thought of you, waiting to take over for me when I fell, that kept me going," she said. He drew in a sharp breath, but forced himself to stay silent. To listen closely to her words as the spirits urged him to. "I had to destroy as many of the demons as I could… and give you the very best chance I could to survive." Her eyes opened and her clear gaze pierced his, sharper than a dagger-strike. "It didn't really matter if I lived to the end anymore; you'd shown me that the world matters more than either of us. More than any petty dispute or nurtured slight. And that all of us; orc, human, elf, tauren, dwarf, gnome, troll, draenei, goblin, ogre, dragon, must fight as one to save it. For we are of this world, or of a world just like it, and not of the envious, devouring chaos that would see us fall for that simple fact."
She lowered her hands to his chest, laying one directly over his thundering heart.
"I have loved you with all my heart and soul since that moment; as I will always love you, Thrall, son of Durotan."
She closed her eyes then, but he'd already read the anguish in them. "But we can never be together. Not in this life. Not as it is."
"No, we can't," he said again, his own voice roughend by the edge of regret.
Her voice shook a little as she spoke, shudders rolling through her, as if she fought herself. "Choose a wife, Warchief. Raise many fine children with her. I will stand bless-mother to them all."
"No," he said, shaking his head. "I will not. I cannot take a mate without a whole heart. The heart you already have, Jaina Proudmoore."
She began to cry then, her face against his chest, her hands gripping him. With care he turned them, found one of the few large rocks atop the mesa and lowered them both beside it, cradling her across his lap when he sat. Even as her tears eased, she burrowed against him, clinging tight, as if afraid he would disappear from her grasp.
"In the forests of Ashenvale," he said when she had been silent for a time, his words stirring the bright hair tucked beneath his chin, "I finally found a strength and a will and a bravery in a female that, at times, surpassed my own. Any one of which made her more than worthy to be my mate. The fact that she was human mattered not to my heart or my spirit. Nor does it matter to the rest of me." He sighed. "But too well do I know that I do not belong to myself alone; I also belong to fate and the future of my people. And to the future of yours."
They both were silent for a long time then. Simply sitting together. She lay still against him, one hand curling up over his shoulder, while the other lay across his chest beneath her chin. She was small and warm and solid in his arms. It was something he thought he could very well get used to, the feel of Jaina lying against him like this. "I like this," she said, echoing his thoughts. "But why are you not wearing your armor?"
He laughed now softly. At himself. And gave her the whole truth. "Because I had hoped we might lie together, Jaina."
"Out here?" she said with a low snort as she pressed closer to his chest. "It's cold up here. And windy."
He grinned, pleased and relieved that she'd not been offended by that presumption of his, and silently called some of the elements to him, asking their assistance. Air and fire and earth eagerly answered his call. The breeze fell away completely, circling around the mesa rather than pouring across its top. Beneath them, from the very stones they sat on, a faint warmth began to emanate. He could hear the grumbling of the fire and earth elementals below as they worked reluctantly together only at his behest.
"Hm," she said, lifting her head after a few minutes and looking around curiously before fixing him with a raised-brow stare. "You've done something."
"I have," he acknowledged freely.
She pursed her lips, clearly amused now as she sat upright, pushing herself away from his chest but not trying to leave the circle of his arms. "It's definitely getting warmer now. And the air is calm."
Intrigued and delighted, he watched the line of her shoulders as well as her face. He had learned long ago that he could divine far more of a human's true intent by the set of their shoulders and head than by their sometimes confusing expressions. She was relaxed and curious. Not tense or drawn at all. And there was something looser, more flowing in the way she sat, her head tilted to the side as she watched him, a tiny smile curving her lips.
He knew, from growing up among humans, that their ways between man and woman were vastly different than most other races. For some reason, humans valued the innocence of females far beyond useful ages. And human men were accustomed to demanding of their women when they wished to mate. Sometimes whether the female wished to or not. Which could lead to much anguish and pain, as he had witnessed far too often.
But for orcs, and indeed all the races of the Horde, it was the females who, by custom, had the right and expectation to choose who and when. Night elves practiced this as well, he knew. With dwarves and gnomes he was not certain, though he suspected it was less so.
And so, he would never ask her to be with him. But she was more than clever enough to figure that out for herself.
"You're not going to make this easy for me, are you?" she said, glaring at him. One of his hands lay beneath her cloak against the small of her back, his thumb on the bare patch of flesh her mage's robes revealed there. Though he wanted to, he didn't stroke it. "But then you never have offered the easy path, curse you."
"I will choose no mate," he said, watching her closely. She was not truly angry. And her warm skin under his thumb was as soft as the runecloth she wore. "But I did not say that I would be always alone."
She stiffened then, her gaze going icy, her hands rising to close around his braids again on either side of his chest as she glared into his eyes. "I thought I could be big enough to not mind hearing you say something like that. But I really don't think I like it at all."
"Jaina," he said quietly, her name a gentle rumble. "There is no other for me but you."
"Oh," she said, eyes going wide, her growing ire instantly diverted into something startled and pleased as she laughed at herself. "Damn. I'm so slow sometimes."
"Never," he said, lips curling in an answering smile. "I'm always racing to keep pace with you, woman."
"So..." And she tilted her head mischeviously, her small white teeth gripping her lower lip as she ran her gaze over his face consideringly. "That means you're at my call?"
He laughed, low and deep and delighted. "As always, Miss Proudmoore."
She lifted herself up on her knees in his lap, the abrupt motion prompting him to slide his hands down her back to her hips to brace her. She leaned closer to his face, her gleaming gaze fixed on his.
"You were the one who put me to bed last night, weren't you?" she said.
"Yes." He kept his expression carefully neutral.
"Did you undress me too?"
He shook his head slowly once. "Your seneschal did that."
She smiled then, slow and sleek and suddenly wicked. "Next time, make sure you do it."
The thought of lying in the shadowy warmth of that wide, soft bed with her amid those precarious stacks of books made his blood surge. He slid one hand from her hip up her back, cupping her shoulderblades even as she leaned in to press her small mouth to his own. That gesture was all he needed. He pressed her close, devouring her mouth with his. Careful of both his fangs and his tusks as she moaned in response, her mouth opening wide for his tongue. She groaned and quivered in his arms, her whole body trembling.
He abruptly shifted her up in his hold, kissing his way down her throat as she gasped for breath. Eagerly tasting her skin. Hungrily breathing in her sharp, magic-soaked scent. Her hand clashed with his as they both reached for the clasp that held her magical spaulders on. She found it first, more familiar with its lay. The armor tumbled to the ground behind her, taking her cloak with it, baring her pale shoulders to his seeking mouth. Her hand had dropped to the sides of her robe and she worked those fastenings free.
"Why... does it take... so long... for the good things... to happen?" she said, words broken by gasps as she wriggled her shoulders out of the bulk of her robe, exposing more skin to his eagerly plundering mouth, his gently stroking hands.
"So they can be all the sweeter when they do," he said against the high swell of a breast, still constrained by the narrow bodice of her robe. Both his hands spanned the curve of her back, bracing her securely as he lifted her high enough for his tongue to sweep across the always-exposed, always-tantalizing dip of her bellybutton, and below it, over the womanly curve of her lower belly. Her hands gripped his hair, a strangled whimper coming from her throat at that bold caress.
Her knees were spread enough to brace her on his own thighs, her white skirts tangled between them. Her hands dropped from his hair down to his shoulders, pushing at his cloak until it fell away. Then her hands gripped the thick bulge of his arms hard before stroking and gliding with eagerness over every curve of muscle and sinew.
She matched him touch for touch. Move for move. As he had known she would. No hesitation. No coyness. Only Jaina, bold and forthright as always.
His leather pants were scarce enough to hold him back any longer, so tight had they grown over his swollen cock. He lifted his head, looking up into her face. Her eyes were closed, her lips parted and glistening, her head tilted back, but when he shifted she opened her eyes to look down at him, lids heavy, her gaze hazy and warm.
His heart lurched in his chest, blood flowing wild in his veins.
In an instant he had stood, sweeping her into the secure crook of one arm. She gasped, laughed and threw her arms around his neck, burying her face near the arc of his ear. She mouthed at the ring there, tangling her tongue around it in a most distracting way as he bent over and spread first his cloak, then hers over a sudden upwelling of warm sand through the smooth rock of the mesa top. He silently thanked the spirit of earth for its aid even as he settled them both down on the makeshift bed.
He laid her back, against his arm, her head near his shoulder, he on his side, looming over her. She wriggled herself closer and turned to face him, hands eager on him. Even as he fumbled his hand beneath the spill of her skirts to smooth a broad palm up her leg, she was tugging the loops that held his vest closed apart. When it was done, her hands spread flat across his skin, her breath hissing in between her teeth as she found the edge of the great scar Mannoroth had given him. She leaned forward, pressed her mouth to it, lips moving in a silent blessing. But she didn't linger further over old wounds, instead scratching her nails across his hide, then smoothing it after with the pads of her fingers, the action making him shiver and ache for her touch the more.
With a low growl, he closed his hand around the nearly bare curve of her ass, cupping it, and drawing her closer to him. Hip to hip, she could have no illusions remaining about his interest, or his intent. But she only arched up into him, her hands gripping his ribs to hold herself in place, her thighs trembling.
Her lips kissed across his chest, her head just beneath his beard. "Don't you think those pants of yours should go?"
"And yours as well, my lady," he said, tracing the edge of her tiny underpants with a teasing fingertip.
"I'm sure they're pretty fragile," she said, and he laughed, slow and pleased, and snapped the thin silk with a twist of two fingers. She gasped, rolling her hips forward again even as he pulled the scraps away, baring her completely.
It was only a brief hestiation, a short pause while he savored the moment before touching her more intimately, but he took it. Breathing in her scent. Memorizing the feel of her in his arms. The ragged hiss of her breath. The flex of her hands on his skin. The impatient shift of her legs against his.
Then he slid his fingers down around her ass and between her thighs from behind, finding the slick, full warmth of her almost immediately and sinking one finger part way inside.
She groaned into his chest, her fingernails digging into his skin sharply. Then her back arched, moving her heat against his touch, and she rolled her head back, her eyes fluttering open to find him already watching her, eagerly drinking in her reaction.
She smiled at him, reaching up to trace his lips, her fingers lingering on a tusk, curling around it and tugging gently. He bowed lower, mouth curving, even as he sank his finger even deeper into her. She moaned, shuddering, and tugged harder. Her mouth found his again, hot and desperate and open. She kissed him, making small noises, little gasps and squeaks as he explored her. She was slick and wet and warm, the sound of it like warsong in his ears, firing his blood. A bent knuckle rubbing across her mound had her breaking away, moaning and shifting against him.
"No more play; I can't bear it," she whispered hoarsely. "I've waited too long for you."
"As you wish," he said, his own voice hoarse. Removing his hand he lowered her to the ground beside him, shifting to reach his belt and his pants, trying to ignore how slick his finger was on the metal of the buckle. Her scent so thick and pure in the air between them that it almost made him dizzy. She lay where he had put her, skirts about her hips, robe wide, her breasts swelling high above her still-closed bodice. Her hands clenching and unclenching, maybe unconsciously, into fists as she watched him, teeth on her lower lip again.
He kicked his boots off, then fumbled first the belt open, and then the laces beneath. He'd never felt so clumsy before in his life. Yet finally his cock sprang free to the sound of her gasp, even as he struggled to get the snug leather off below his knees with any grace. He gave up at the intent look in her eyes, her already reaching hand, and rolled onto his back to wriggle free of them, heedless of dignity.
He turned back and she caught him in her small hand and he felt almost as if his heart might stop. Breathing heavily he held himself up by one elbow, knees bent, and watched her handle him. Wonderingly. Slowly.
"No more delay," she demanded, shifting herself beneath him, mouth open, chest heaving with the urgency of her breaths. He shook his head, catching her up against himself and laying them facing, side by side again, stroking the hair back from her face when she made a sound of protest.
"Hush, let me."
She whimpered her need. He caught her upper thigh and pulled her close, lifting her knee above his leg, arching his hips toward her. She was open wide to him, slick and ready. He found her opening with the aid of her guiding hand, sliding against her for a moment as he found her hazy gaze with his, and then her mouth with his own. Swallowed down her greedy cries as he surged into her in tiny thrusts, filling her slowly, keenly aware of both his girth and her slender width.
Waiting, once seated, for her to shudder into life and move against him. They were lost in each other then. Reduced to quick, shared breaths. Trembling hands on heated flesh. Slick motion guiding the glide and thrust, the rhythm older than time. Arching, shuddering. Her head tipping back to let out a gasping cry as his mouth moved over her neck, her shoulder, her breast. Her hands on his skin. Gripping. Soothing. Clenching. Seeking.
Holding her ass again cupped in his hand, bracing her easily against him, feeling her muscles clench and relax against his palm as she worked with him, on him, over him. Driving herself, driving him, higher. The both of them spiraling up inevitably together. Until she was trembling and arching as if struck by lightning, quivering about him, her mouth gone wide, eyes unseeing, his name only half-spoken.
He let her relax for a moment, take a few gasping breaths, then he drove her up again, relentless in his own greed. Eager to see her eyes go blind, feel her hands clench on him, listen to the ragged sobs as she thrashed and arched against him. Wilder now, bending over her. Bracing himself above her with one hand all while filling her deep, deeper, with far more confidence now that she was open to him.
She cried out again, thighs tight about his, her back arching as she ground herself into him. He held himself still, savoring the ripple and play of her body about his again. Then he finally let himself succumb. Spilling into her with a roar, his mouth finding her throat, his tusks tangling in her hair.
Afterwards he lay beside her, eyes half open, sleepy gaze upon her flushed, relaxed face as she slowly regained her breath, her head pillowed on his arm. One slim hand was again wound in his braid, anchoring him close to her. She whispered his name and he answered her, bending down to tenderly kiss her forehead.
The words came without bidding. "No other save you, my lady. For the rest of my life." The vow spun between them on the gentle breeze, whipped away into the clouds above and sank into the warm sands beneath them. The elements heard and witnessed, while the warning voices of the spirits faded away to less than a sigh on the wind.
Unsmiling, she had watched him dress himself again in the black and gold armor of Orgrim Doomhammer. Had watched him take up the mantle of Warchief that went with it as if it were just that, a cloak he wore over his own self.
He had seen her set to rights first; helping her straighten her own robes, and find her scattered clothing with grave courtesy. He'd used water and air and fire to clean and dry her stained cloak, so that nothing outside would betray their tryst to others. She had smoothed her hair herself while he sat behind her, his hands on his own knees bracketing her as she went about the homey task, a small, content smile on his face as he watched her.
But now he is Warchief of the Horde and she is the Lady of Theramore once more. Uneasy allies in this land that resents them both. And they must part. She knows she can delay no longer, for she has left no word of her departure from Theramore and someone will doubtless be seeking her soon.
Aegwynn will know, she knows, the moment she lays eyes on her. But Aegwynn will keep her own council. In public, at least.
He comes to her side and takes up her hand and her heart leaps in her chest. He brings it to his mouth, turning it at the last instant to press a gentle kiss to the pulse throbbing so desperately in her wrist. Her breath goes short again despite her best efforts to control it.
"Until we meet again, my lady," he says, bowing low to her, even adding a courtly sweep to it at the end. And tears spring into her eyes because he should bow to no one, least of all her, and she is stepping away without saying a word of goodbye, unable to force anything past frozen lips.
She clutches her staff tight in both hands, knuckles white on the enchanted wood. He sees the brightness of her eyes but says nothing, lips only rising in a faint smile that does nothing to lighten his now somber gaze.
She mouths the words to him that she can never say aloud again. Reads his own silent reply on his lips, her breath catching hard in her throat.
Somehow she manages to cast the teleport spell through the lump in her throat, and it takes her far away from him in an instant.
She appears within her own room. The hearth is cold and her mage-lights unlit. The curtains, at least, have been thrown wide, letting in the last of the day's sun through the diamond-shaped panes. She drops her staff to the floor, unheeding of the dull sounds it makes as it bounces on the thick carpet, or the unsteady wavering of a jostled stack of books.
This room has been her sanctuary for years now. But it is empty. Lonely. As it has always been. As it will always be. She buries her face in her hands, a sob in her throat. But the tears do not come.
It is well past dark before Snowsong carries him through the gates of Orgrimmar. City guards snap to sharp attention as the great white wolf lopes past them with her silent rider.
"The Warchief has returned!" The cry spreads through the Valley of Strength, follows him as he slows Snowsong to an easy trot that still carries them swiftly through the turns of the Drag. Even in that dim place, her fur shines, drawing all eyes to them both.
He takes her to her fine kennel outside Grommash Hold. Removes her armor and saddle and spends some time checking her pads for cracks and picking burrs from her fur, speaking to her in the language of wolves. She is pleased and grateful for the attention, even losing enough of her stately dignity to roll over and present him her belly to rub. As he does so, he is shamed to realize he has been neglecting their bond lately. Due to the pressures of duty, of course, but neglect it still is.
"Forgive me," he says to her, and she licks his face, butting her snout against his shoulder as he scratches her silky ears.
She finally settles down with a whole longneck haunch to gnaw on, well pleased with herself and him. He leaves the kennel only to find Eitrigg waiting for him just outside the great Hold. The old orc's gaze is steady and open, making no judgements of him, though he knows he has been waiting patiently for his Warchief's decision for several days now. Varok Saurfang has taken up his post at Warsong Hold in Northrend again, despite his grief over the son he had been only so recently re-united with. Saurfang still willing to do all he can to cool some of Garrosh's blind war hunger. Eitrigg is the last of his orcish councilors who he feels he can trust with anything close to his heart.
"If you hear the call to Fordring's side so strongly, then go to him with my blessing," Thrall says, clapping a hand on the old orc's shoulder. "Be my eyes in this Argent Crusade, old friend. Tell me how they fare, what they face."
Eitrigg bows, clearly relieved, but his wise gaze lingers on Thrall. "Is all well, Warchief?" he asks, frowning slightly.
"As well as it was yesterday, Eitrigg," Thrall says with a wry smile to hide the ache of fierce longing in his heart, and leads the way inside, toward the great stone throne where he must sit once again. Alone.