Author: I don't...well...the only things I can really say is, "bring it!"

Warnings: Slash. Yes...yes, you read that right. Violence, language, politics.

Disclaimer: I am a poor graduate student. If I owned World of Warcraft and all things affiliated, I would not be one.

Chapter 1

Varian wasn't stupid. He might not be brilliant or tactical or any of those things that people seemed to prize, but he wasn't a complete idiot. He was a man of action, of doing, and was not content to be sitting around playing nice with his enemies under the pretense of peace.

He saw things that people thought he was blind to—like Jaina's odd relationship with Thrall, and how it had gone far beyond 'just friends', but let them continue to think he oblivious. He already thought Jaina slightly crazy, lost in her books as she was, and her intimacy with the Warchief just soundly confirmed that fact—he considered her a lost cause, no matter how much he had desired her in the past.

He had learned many things in the gladiatorial ring, and was surprised just how often he had to put them into use in court. In a way, he thought that the savagery of the gladiatorial rings was somehow less ferocious than the political maneuvering and backstabbing he encountered amongst the nobles. When he had fought, it had been purer, more straightforward, and almost cathartic. Sometimes he wanted to go back to that life of struggling to survive by strength and wits, instead of all the words and hidden agendas he was dealing with now that he was the King of Stormwind. Well, now that he was a complete person and the King. Varian had always been the King, but with Lo'Gosh in the mix now...well, he was a different man, and Lo'Gosh was dealing with some very jarring changes.

Being the King of Stormwind also meant that he was thrown, time and again, into contact with the races he despised, which drove him up a wall. He wanted to do nothing more than raze Orgirmmar, claim the Warchief's head, and retire to a life of glory.

Unfortunately, it seemed as if some Power out there somewhere seemed intent on making his life miserable by keeping his existence entwined with the orcs in such a manner that he couldn't just kill them all and have it done with. He'd even settle for shoving them all back through the Dark Portal and slamming it shut behind them. Just to have them gone.

So he found himself—again—on the Argent Tournament grounds, watching critically to find the best fighters amongst the heroes of the Alliance, the Horde races and its leaders so damn close and he couldn't even—

"Varian."

He gritted his teeth at the subtle reproach in Jaina's voice. The woman had learned to read him far too well—if he didn't like her and if she wasn't important to him and the Alliance, he wouldn't set foot near her. "Yes?" he half-growled.

The tone that would make other people take two steps back merely made the Lady roll her eyes. "May I remind you that this is neutral ground? A sanctuary?"

"And need I remind you that this is a pointless exercise in frivolity?" Varian replied.

She frowned, but said nothing.

"We are right at the Lich King's doorstep!" Varian spat. "And yet, here we are, letting him see what champions we have at our call!"

"Do you think it might be motivation?" Jaina posed, although there was the slightest dryness to her voice that told him she thought it equally ill-advised.

Idealists, he sneered inwardly. They see nothing but their shining goal, not the realities and necessities and—

"My Lord?"

Varian scowled at the ground before he turned to face the Argent Crusade peon that stood at a respectful distance from him. "What?"

"Your presence is requested," the young man told him and the frown Varian turned on him earned the Alliance leader nothing more than a slight tremor in the peon's posture.

"Well, then," the King of Stormwind said and took a few steps in the direction the squire had obviously come from, the young soldier catching up with him quickly. It was better to get whatever stupidity he would be encountering over with.

"What do they want from me now?" he half-asked, half-demanded.

He was, perhaps, more terse with the soldier than he should have been, but he had been sleeping poorly of late, memories of a childhood with Arthas and the presence of the Horde driving him to distraction.

He heard gruff laughter and orcish voices drift to him from another part of the complex and his hands tightened into fists. Their proximity was intolerable. How could he think clearly with them so near at hand? They were his enemies—the ones who had razed Stormwind to the ground and deprived him of his father and mentor, had thrown him into gladiatorial rings time and again just for their amusement, had harbored the evil that killed Bolvar...they needed to be eliminated, but no-one would let him do what needed to be done!

"My Lord?"

Varian hadn't realized that he had stopped walking, his gaze and body turned in the direction of the vulgar Orcish voices. He reluctantly fought down his knee-jerk impulse to find the members of the Horde and drive them away, grunted a semi-apology, and gestured for the young man to lead on as he followed just a step behind.

What had made him stop wasn't the variety of voices speaking Orcish, it was one in particular, one that made his blood boil, that had halted him in his tracks.

Garrosh, he thought darkly. Somehow, the brown-skinned monster had worked his way under Varian's skin, and even the smallest glance sent Varian seething. It was a visceral reaction, one that went far beyond his usual disdain and hatred for the orcs. It was mildly unsettling, but didn't matter. One day, he would attend to the Horde and settle things for good—hopefully sooner rather than later—and Garrosh would be the first one to go.

He didn't bother making idle chit-chat with the young man leading him—what was the point? He wouldn't say anything interesting—Varian had found that idealists were poor conversation if you got them going on their current crusade, but they unfortunately spoke of little else. He preferred the silence anyway, as it let him pay attention to things that he would otherwise miss.

Around him, champions of various races, genders, and classes gathered to prove themselves in combat against other members of their own faction as well as those of the opposite.

At least they got that much right, Varian thought. If they had kept it just within each particular faction, it would have been disastrous. One has to know one's enemy to fight them.

While the manner in which they combatted each other was baffling to the man—when would they ever use what they were doing in a real fight?—it was nonetheless mildly acceptable, especially since it gave at least a glimmer of where the enemy's strengths and weaknesses lie. If only it weren't right underneath the Lich King's nose, he wouldn't mind it all that much.

They reached their destination quickly enough and Varian didn't bother to smother a growl of exasperation. He was tired of being diplomatic, and they had come to a chamber where he would have to be—it was where the Argent Crusade held their tactical meetings. Sometimes they even included the faction leaders, so that they weren't entirely in the dark about the happenings with the Lich King, as they and the Knights of the Ebon Blade were the ones who ran the offensive in Icecrown.

The thought of the Knights made him sigh inwardly—sure, Tirion vouched for them, and he trusted the man's judgment, but they were still Scourge. Their methods were unorthodox and disgusting, lacking all emotion and remorse. He rated them higher than the Horde only because of Tirion's seal of approval. Otherwise, he would have never let them back into the Alliance.

As he entered the command center, he was both relieved and annoyed that Horde representatives weren't in attendance. Perhaps it was for the best, though—nothing would get done if he and Garrosh were a hair's-breadth away from killing each other.

Although it would certainly make the meeting more interesting.

Sitting through the usual pointless tactical meeting bored Varian, and as he had no real way of distracting himself during the proceedings, he settled for scowling and looking imposing enough that people wouldn't bother to ask his opinion—everyone knew it, anyway. He would let others do the planning and, once their plans were in action, he'd pick up the pieces that had resulted from their plan's failure and actually lead. Varian was very good at thinking on his feet. It was the long-term and possibilities that he left to Jaina and her ilk.

Varian watched the dance of tiny figures on the map with displeasure, hating how his men were dehumanized to become nothing more than pawns on a board to be moved around at command. Oh, he did demanded their obedience to his judgment, but it grated against him in some way to see them as nothing more than shapes.

"...Wrynn?"

Varian snapped out of his brooding at the direct address of himself and he looked at the speaker—one of the people from the Argent Crusade.

"Yes?" he replied gruffly. He wanted to get out of this stuffy room full of equally stuffy people.
"I was asking if you would be interested in participating in one of our tournaments."

That caught the king's attention. "Oh?" he asked, the woman now having his full attention.

The crusader nodded slightly. "Members of both the Horde and the Alliance would be participating. We figured it would be worthwhile to open it to the leaders as well."

Varian smiled slowly, the gesture almost wolfish. "I will play your game."

The crusader nodded. "Very well, then. The tournament begins tomorrow."

"Who else is participating?"

The crusader smiled faintly. "You will not know until you are in the match."

That intrigued Varian. It was annoying, as he couldn't prepare, but it was the lack of that capability that made it exciting. His life had been too boring of late, he hadn't had any challenges.

We have more than enough challenges at home.

Not this kind of challenge. We've missed it—we are called to defend our people with our arms, not pussy-foot around the Horde creatures in hopes of 'peace'.

This is true, but remember what happened last time when we focused solely on protecting our people through our prowess with our blade?

The reminder of Onyxia and her machinations made him furious.

Still.

Yes, it will still be good.

Varian found himself able to get through the rest of the meeting without pointing out how stupid the crusade was being at having the tournament ground set up in the Lich King's backyard. Especially once he remembered that both Horde and Alliance leaders could participate—which meant that Garrosh would most likely be participating as well.

He had best not lose to anyone.

He will not. Not until he faces us.

The thought made Varian oddly excited.

"You're really looking forward to this, aren't you?" Jaina murmured quietly to him.

Varian blinked and looked at Jaina before giving her a fierce grin that made her sigh.

"Men," she grumbled. "A blind tournament sounds interesting, though."

"Blind tournament?"

"What you've entered yourself into. The participants can't watch other's bouts, standings aren't announced, you're not told who you'll be facing next. It's inevitable that all the participants will learn who each other are, but that's the extent of it—well, that's supposed to be the extent of it."

It was intriguing and made Varian's hands itch. Tomorrow couldn't come soon enough.

Until then, however, he had to deal with politicking and being all kingly, and so reluctantly settled back into his duties, mind never quite on what was happening, and more on what the next day would bring.

The day was bitterly cold and gray, the clouds low and heavy, but Varian didn't mind it in the slightest. He had fought in some of the worst conditions imaginable—surely this would be no different. In fact, he relished how his weapons stung against his hands as he sought to warm himself up, as it wasn't something he was entirely familiar with—which made it thrilling. He knew that he wouldn't be using his sword, it being a tournament and all, not a gladiatorial match, but it was the best way he knew to loosen himself up.

His blood was already running hot at the prospect of a good fight, and it was true that none of the participants knew who each other were. They were being kept somewhere separate that the crusade had managed to construct that kept them all apart and unable to overhear anyone else. It was an interesting feat of magic that he was sure Jaina was very interested in—if she wasn't occupied with the Warchief.

It also made him feel slightly like a horse or some kind of wild animal, which was grating. He fought that emotion down with the knowledge that, eventually, he'd face off with Garrosh—because Garrosh would not lose.

Not until him.

A peon of the Crusade entered where Varian was relaxing and gave him a small bow. "Your match, my lord."

Finally.

"Lead on," Varian said, the squire obviously surprised by the good humor in Varian's voice.

Varian was lead out into the courtyard, and the peon turned to him and gave him a stern look.

"There will be no deaths today."

It was an annoying restriction, but Varian understood its necessity. "I know." It would be hard to kill anyone using a blunt pole, but Varian figured that he could find a way to do it. Not that he would. He had given his word afterall.

Just as Varian was about to hand over his sword, the peon said, "There's no need, my Lord."

Varian's eyebrows snapped up. "What?"

"There will be no jousting in this tournament."

Exhilaration ran through Varian at the announcement. "Then it is a fight?"

"Yes."

If Varian were a lesser man, he would have cheered, but since he had an image to maintain, he had to constrain himself to a savage grin. "Well, then," he half-purred, "let's get this started."

He walked out into the ring and gave the gnome that was waiting a rather wary look. Gnomes were hard for him to hit, and ferocious little creatures, but he knew that if he did manage to get in a hit that the match would be over. He supposed that it would be a good warm-up.

It was, indeed, quite the warm-up. The gnome obviously was skilled in taking down opponents much larger than herself, and was alarmingly fast. He was distantly amused to find that she was using her height to her advantage, striking at places on his lower legs that would cripple him if she got in a valid hit. He had to keep moving to prevent her from getting in a solid hit, getting in quite the workout, having to watch her as well as her blade. He figured that was how she tired out her opponents before cutting them down, but Varian hadn't survived for so long to not gain a few skills against those much shorter than he.

He ended up winning not through his sword at all, but through a rather lucky kick that sent the small female careening across the ring, to tumble across the ground once she landed, obviously stunned. The match was called when she couldn't get up again, and Varian emerged victorious to a cheering crowd of spectators. Their presence was both a thrill and an anxiety—they felt strongly for him, and that gave him energy, but he also had enough bad memories associated with crowds that he was shamefully glad to be lead away.

The next time he emerged, he found himself facing a troll, which made his heart race and his face pull into a savage grin.

Not an orc, but better than another Alliance race.

Trolls were savage creatures, some of the most ferocious fighters he had ever come across—and therefore, worth his time and skill. The male before him was a tribute to his race, cunning and ruthless in his attacks. The male's rather gangly physique gave him a reach advantage over Varian, but that should have also left more openings for Varian to exploit. It both amused and annoyed the king that the troll obviously knew how to handle himself against a human opponent, but he figured that the fun would be lost if things were too easy.

Varian ducked under a strike and came up with quickly, seeing a minuscule opening. His sword quickly flashed up and came with the flat-side onto the troll's wrist. Varian heard a satisfying snap, and the troll's weapon dropped from a hand that was no longer able to support the weight of the blade.

It took all of Varian's self-control to not follow the disarm with a mortal wound, but the peon crying out the end of the match made the decision easier.

He got a rather nasty look from a healer, but ignored it as he was lead off the field, giving the spectators a lazy, confident wave.

One of the first things he had learned in the ring was to never show weakness.

He next found himself facing a female Draenei, her calm, softly glowing eyes meeting his. She gave him a cocky half-smile and nodded before the match began in earnest.

Varian had learned to respect the good-twins of the Eredar, their unwavering strength an asset to the Alliance. Now he had a glimpse into what exactly that strength meant. The rather delicate-looking female wielded her polearm with a deftness that said that its weight was easily borne by her. She wasn't as fast as the gnome or as cunning as the troll, but provided her own challenge from the reach of her weapon and her unfamiliar technique. In the end, her alien physique was her undoing, as Varian managed to hit a spot that would have been merely an annoyance on a typical Azerothian race, but which made her crumple with a whimper of pain.

He made a mental note as he was lead away from the ring, figuring that it was a good thing to know, just in case he ever got on the bad side of one of the good Eredar.

A male Tauren was his next opponent, and he didn't bother to hide the smirk that formed on his face. Lo'Gosh had a healthy respect for Tauren, but that didn't mean that he wouldn't use every trick he had to win. The battles were getting markedly harder each time he faced an opponent, and the heavy blows coming from his opponent made his entire body vibrate. Varian grit his teeth as a strike from the Tauren sent him staggering backwards, needing to recover quickly to prevent the creature from following up the advantage. He ducked and swerved under the powerful motions, dancing around the bovine-looking biped, knowing that should a hit actually land that it would daze him and end the match in his embarrassment. However, Varian was faster, which was what eventually landed him his victory, a series of three lightning-fast strikes bringing him success against the large male.

A female troll was his next opponent, and Varian was immediately wary after her cackling, gleeful laugh greeted him. The show of confidence was either hiding a weakness or declaring her casual disdain for him. One was good—the other, not so much.

As soon as the ring was cleared, the match began.

Varian enjoyed every moment of it.

The female fought using just-barely legal techniques that forced Varian to pull out some rather dirty tricks of his own. The king was distantly surprised that no-one called the match based on all the rules they bent to almost-breaking, but wasn't about to complain. It took him using a particularly nasty trick to pull out a victory, and the female was obviously pleasantly startled when she found herself at Varian's mercy. She gave him a rather feral grin and said something in Troll as she was lead off the field, Varian turning away from her, but not before he caught the rude gesture she turned his way out of the corner of his eye.

He was getting mildly annoyed at the thought that Garrosh may have lost to someone other than he, considering how much time and how many matches he had worked his way through. He was brooding, scowling at the ground when the peon entered once more.

"My Lord?'

Varian looked up and stood. "Another match?" he inquired, much less enthusiastic then when he had started.

The peon nodded and lead him back into the ring.

Varian exited to see the orc he had been waiting for staring back at him.

"Yessss," he hissed quietly, earning a wary look from the peon that was leaving the field.

The match started once it was just he and Garrosh in the ring, neither of them bothering to pay attention to whatever anyone else was saying. Varian had been itching to get to the orc. Too many times had others come between he and Garrosh, and this time—although with regrettable supervision—he could finally put the monster in his place.

It felt good to be fighting Hellscream. He delighted in the challenge the orc gave him—it made his blood sing, gave him a glorious rush of energy and power and made him feel alive.

Although...it was a little odd, how each ringing sword stroke made his heart beat a little faster, that he could appreciate how the creature fought, that each time they got just a tad too close, little thrills tremored through him and spurred him on. He tried to dismiss it as he had found a worthy opponent, but, after all the previous fights, all the easy victories, that he was drawing this one out, and how it felt different...

What's making it different? He wondered as he parried a strike from the mud-skinned orc. Every fight he had engaged in with other orcs—even with Thrall—hadn't felt as...exhilarating...as the one he was participating in.

His repose was blocked and the fight continued, a slow, deadly dance of skill and hate. Varian's heavy breaths formed fog before his face, a wolfish grin on his lips. The chill of his armor against his face, the heavy blows that he felt to his bones, the equal intensity he met in his opponent filled Varian with a savage glee, a kind of which he hadn't felt in quite some time.

It was a wonderful feeling, but there was something beneath it, something darker and hotter that Varian couldn't quite name and was unsure that he wanted to.

It was only once he was body-to-body with the orc, their weapons locked together in a fight to prove whose strength was superior that the full force and implication of the deeper emotion hit him.

Some kind of look must have passed on his face, for Garrosh grinned.

"Afraid of me, worm?" the orc taunted.

Too many emotions for Varian to even attempt naming went flooding through him, and he replied in a voice that was dripping with equal parts loathing and rage: "Afraid of you? Never."

He disengaged the orc, kicking him back, just barely ducking under the blade of his opponent's weapon.

He hated what had overwhelmed him, and turned that hate on Garrosh, made it useful. The ferocity of his attacks seemed to catch the orc off-guard, and the aberration appeared to struggle to keep up.

It's wrong, he thought as he struck again and again, forcing Garrosh on the defensive. The orc recovered from his initial surprise and the battle became all the more heated, every blow forcing more energy and rage into Varian, powered his attacks and made whatever hits Garrosh got in seem insignificant.

In the end, however, Varian and Garrosh thought too much alike, and the fight ended in a tie as each embedded the other in the opposite wall from the force of their attacks.

Once Varian had recovered from seeing stars, he pushed the healers who attempted to tend to him away, picked up his sword, glared across the ring at the orc who was regarding him with equal bile, then stalked out. He didn't care if he ended up forfeiting the match, he was done with being in the monster's presence and far too angry to force himself civil for further matches, if there were going to be any.

We're insane! He berated himself.

He was glad no-one stopped him as he stalked to the noble's quarter, where he was temporarily housed.

He is one of only three people who have the abilities to defeat us.

Arthas doesn't count.

Then two.

This is not a good situation no matter what!

Varian shook himself and forced himself to place his sword gently away.

This will pass.

It will have to. We can't afford it, as a king, man, or father.

Varian rubbed his temples carefully with his armored fingers. Maybe we just need to get away from Northrend. Away from them.

We do have more than enough to tend to at home. The Defias, the strain of the war on our people, Twilight's Hammer...

Varian grimaced. But there's the Lich King.

There is Arthas.

Varian scowled and took off his gloves. Traitor.

"Varian?"

Varian turned to face the woman who stood in the entryway, a frown marring her pretty face. "What?" he growled.

"What happened?"

"What inevitably will happen when I fight one of those things."

"Varian, they're not—"

"We're not going to do this again. I hate them as much as you seem to be...fascinated...by them."

The way he said 'fascinated' made Jaina's eyes narrow.

"Because the match was a tie, they're thinking of having a rematch," Jaina said carefully.

"No," Varian answered flatly, finality in his voice.

"It's not like you to back down from a fight."

"I would find a way to kill him, ensorceled weapons or no."

Jaina gave him a wary, considering look. "You would, wouldn't you?" she sighed.

Varian could feel the rage and energy slowly draining out of him, he looking at his sword, fighting to keep himself from picking it up, finding Garrosh, and ending him and the problems he engendered once and for all.

However, the issues that action would generate were ones that were a little too much for Varian to handle with all the other concerns he had to deal with.

We wouldn't regret it, though.

"What makes you hate him so much?" Jaina asked, curious.

"I hate all his kind," Varian answered dryly.

"But him more than others."

"Does it matter?" Varian snapped. "He is exactly like all the orcs that tormented me. Every time I even think about him I want to strangle him."

"But not Thrall?"

Varian looked at the mage incredulously. "I'd kill him, too. You saw what he allowed to develop under his very nose—anyone who will allow demons and Scourge to run rampant is insane and needs to be put down before the insane catches."

Jaina frowned deeply. "Then what are you, for allowing the Knights of the Ebon Blade?"

Varian sighed, the last vestiges of energy fading from his limbs. "Tirion Fordring is a great man. I trust his judgment. If there hadn't been a hint of him hanging around Thassarian and he hadn't contained a letter from the paladin, he and his kind would never have been let back into the Alliance."

Varian paused, then said, "I'm returning to Stormwind."

"What? So suddenly?"

"My people need me, Jaina. The war has put a strain on Stormwind's resources, and I don't have soldiers to spare for Westfall or Duskwood, both which are places badly in need of Stormwind's presence."

"Ending the war with the Lich King would be the fastest way to send the heroes back home where they could be of use."

"I am achieving nothing by watching over the tournaments. I have capable commanders here that represent Stormwind's interests who can contact me at a moment's notice. Duskwood, Redridge, Westfall, Elwynn...Stormwind territories need my intervention. The Defias run rampant in Elwynn and Westfall, orcs have taken up residence in Redridge, worgen and dark creatures have made their homes in Duskwood..."

Varian rubbed his eyes in exasperation. "I want to take down Arthas. Very, very badly. But I cannot do that if I don't have support from my people. I need money to make an army, to build ships and outfit and employ soldiers, and that requires that I tax my people. I fear the taxes may have become too much recently, and if I try to drain the nobles any more than I already am, I'll have a revolution on my hands—from either the common folk or the nobles. Perhaps even both. A state in turmoil is ripe for invasion."

It was times like these that he really missed Bolvar, for the man had helped run his country in his absence—even if Onyxia had been calling most of the shots, which was a whole other issue. To have a black dragon in his very court!

Jaina was looking at him thoughtfully. "Sometimes you do behave like a king. I often forget that you are until you pull something like this."

Varian scowled.

It's true—Lo'Gosh isn't a King, but Varian is. Lo'Gosh needs to learn to let Varian take control sometimes.

"Jaina. Are you done bothering me?" the reminder of what he had waiting for him at home as well as the previous battle with Garrosh had left him with a massive headache and a strong desire to lie down until he had recovered his composure and energy. Or could at least put up a convincing facade for the others in the Tournament grounds.

He was badass, but he was also mortal.

The mage tilted her head to the side in thought, a small frown marring her features. "Who do you want to take back with you?"

Varian sat down, using the action to smother a sigh. "No-one."

Jaina frowned. "That's a little dangerous."

"Considering how well I was kept safe when I was with a full contingent of protectors, I can't see how it's any more dangerous," Varian replied dryly.

Jaina winced at the reminder, then sighed. "But, Varian, the Alliance needs you. You can't do something so unsafe."

Varian shook his head sharply. "Even though I say no-one, soldiers and others need to return to the mainland as well. I will not be without people around me. And anyway, some of the adventurers might be more adept at keeping me safe than those who were trained for that purpose."

A wry smile flitted across Jaina's face. "I hate it, but you might be right."

Varian interlaced his fingers and placed his chin atop them, looking at Jaina critically. "I plan on heading out tomorrow."

"I'll get things in order here." She paused and her eyes narrowed. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"I'm fine," Varian answered, perhaps a little more sharply than needed.

Jaina's thumb ran lightly, pensively, over a rune on her mage's staff. "If you say so. Just..."

"Trust me, if anything goes wrong, you will probably be the first to know," Varian reassured, although the dry note to his voice made it seem less so.

Jaina nodded slowly before she left, and her absence allowed Varian to let out a long, quiet sigh.

Our life will never be easy, will it?

Probably.

Varian shook his head and forcefully shoved any memories of the fight that happened to float into his head far into the recesses of his mind, not wanting to contemplate what the emotions they evoked meant.