Anduin relishes the time he gets to spend with his citizens. Long hours spent in sweating over troop movements and tiptoeing words around with delegates leaves him exhausted more days than not. It’s an essential aspect of his duties and he knows it, so he doesn’t dare complain. But still, he much prefers the time he gets in the throne room of Stormwind Keep, offering his aid as directly as possible. Sometimes literally.
“Alright, that should be good as new now. How does it feel?”
The woman rotates her shoulder carefully, still warm with the holy energy that glows on Anduin’s hands.
“Oh, perfect! Thank you so much, King Wrynn.”
Anduin flinches at the title but doesn’t bother correcting her. Or asking why she’d choose to seek him out for medical attention rather than any number of more readily available healers. In truth, he enjoys the chance to put his training to use. He doesn’t get the chance to make rounds in infirmaries the way he had growing up, and he finds he misses it dearly. Another sacrifice that must be made.
The woman goes off with a new spring in her step and Anduin sighs happily. It’s so rare he gets to truly fix anything. His musing is cut short by another person approaching him.
Anduin has personally welcomed a great number of Pandaren to join the Alliance, but he doesn’t recognize her as one of theirs. She has black and white fur, a red dress, and a familiar air about her. However difficult it is to place her, Anduin gets the feeling that she certainly knows him. How terribly awkward.
“Good afternoon, how can I be of service, Ms…?”
She tilts her head shrewdly. “Ah, you are very busy now, I suppose you don’t remember me, hm?”
“Or perhaps I met a different boy. You are much changed from runaway little prince. Done running away from home now, yes?”
The memory clicks in his mind, and he’s suddenly taken back to years ago, traveling freely across Pandaria, searching for answers to questions he barely knew how to ask. A kind woman who had pointed him in the right direction.
She smiles at Anduin’s sudden exuberance. “It is good to see you doing well, Anduin.”
“And, you, of course! How is everything? The farm, the brewery, what can I do for you? Surely you haven’t come all this way for a social visit.”
Mei taps a claw against her chin. “It is hard to say exactly. Not quite a social visit. There is something of a problem, and I am told you may be able to help.”
Anduin nods quickly. “Yes, I would be happy to help in any way I can.”
“Your friend, he has been, hm. He makes his home in our land once more, but he returns soaked in despair. Some worry he may invite Sha back into our midst.” She says the last sentence with a glint of amusement in her eyes. “I am not so sure of this, but believe something should be done either way.”
Anduin frowns. “My friend…?”
“The little dragon, he is your friend, yes?”
Anduin’s chest jolts, his heart kicked into such a high gear that he can hear the blood rushing in his ears. “Wr– The Black Prince?”
Mei chuckles. “Ah yes, the two little princes, trekking through Pandaria, sticking their noses everywhere they can. You remember me, you must remember him?”
Anduin struggles to keep the emotions the question evokes off his face. He has not so much forgotten Wrathion as tried very hard not to think of him and failed very badly. Anduin is given to understand this is a typical reaction to a lost love, though his losing of Wrathion was quite a bit more dramatic than most.
“Mei, I’m afraid I haven’t spoken with the Black Prince in some time. I’m not sure how much help I could be in stopping him from… whatever you say he’s doing.”
Mei crosses her arms. “Drinking, mostly.”
Anduin wrinkles his nose. Wrathion had not had much love for Pandaren brew to his recollection. “Many people enjoy your drinks, is he causing such a problem in doing so?”
“Enjoying drink in celebration is no problem at all. Drinking in sadness is a much different issue.”
Anduin can barely wrap his head around the idea. In what few times he had allowed himself to think on Wrathion’s wellbeing, the speculation included schemes, plots, rebuilding his army of spies and generally bending things to his will. Normal Wrathion things. Anduin cannot imagine him forlorn in the slightest, let only on some sort of drinking binge.
“And you’re sure this is… the true Black Prince?”
“I know of no other of your dragons who would frequent our land. He is quite a distinctive character.” Mei gives a small grin, amused. “To see a dragon guzzle ale is quite the peculiar sight. Cloud serpents have never been fond of the stuff.”
“I… forgive me, Mei, but I’m not sure what I can do for you.” Wrathion had never heeded his words at the best of times. “I suppose I could… send someone?” Anduin thinks on who could possibly complete such a task discreetly. He discounts anyone of Stormwind’s army before he realizes he’s already been planning to cover for Wrathion. Wrathion, wanted criminal of the Alliance, of which he is now the king. How foolish of him. Anduin grits his teeth. It doesn’t do for him to think on the dragon’s motivations or perceived woes. Mei has merely given him valuable information on the location of someone who has committed a crime against Azeroth and her people.
“Yes, actually, I will send someone to apprehend him at once, Mei. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
Mei takes in his change in demeanor with an unimpressed look. “I do not know how far a champion of yours will get, young king. But of course, you are welcome.”
They say their goodbyes and Anduin makes a note to offer the job to the next capable citizen that comes through, or, failing that, to the SI-7, and resolutely puts any further contemplation of the issue out of his head.
What follows is a series of the Alliance’s finest mages, rogues, and adventurers turning up on Stormwind Keep’s doorstep with only apologies, arrow wounds, and the occasional scorch mark to show for their work. Very few of them, it seems, even manage to get past the front door.
“Two guards, you say?” Anduin questions in a monotone. It’s the same story every time.
“Yes, and one was even human! Some sort of traitor if you ask me.” The night elf sniffs primly. She nurses a wound on her right arm that had looked much more fearsome in her cat form.
Anduin sighs. “Well, don’t worry yourself over this further. I’ll make another plan. If you couldn’t get past them alone I expect we’ll need much more manpower.” Anduin is mostly trying to spare her feelings. The night elf nods and turns in on heel, transforming again before Anduin can even offer first aid.
He sighs again. Mei was right, of course. He taps his journal with one finger, opened to today’s schedule. Time booked for negotiations with the farmer’s union had been recently cleared, tensions eased by a sudden break in a difficult drought. Anduin has yet to fill the time, for reasons he has been entirely unwilling to admit to himself. Perhaps he can just… walk down to the mage district. See how available a portal to Pandaria would be.
It seems no sooner does he consider such an option than he finds himself in the land, followed by two guards pulled on incredibly short notice.
After a week of sending people out after him, Wrathion’s trail is easy to follow, almost as though he’s putting no care into concealing his location. Anduin gets the impression he could ask any Pandaren on the street for his whereabouts and get an accurate answer.
He is not at the Tavern in the Mists. Anduin feels relieved at that for some reason.
He is, however, at a tavern. His two most familiar guards flank the door, and appraise him with bland looks as he approaches. Their weapons are available but not actively drawn. It may have been hard for some to believe these are the women who have been soundly beating every champion of the Alliance into the dirt. But then, Anduin knows them better than that.
“King Wrynn.” Right states.
Anduin blinks. He hasn’t brought any means of apprehending Wrathion. He wonders how it slipped his mind. “I’d just like to see him, I suppose.” He can assess the situation, return at a later date. “Talk to him?”
The two Blacktalon exchange an inscrutable look.
“Guards stay outside.”
Anduin waves down his guards’ protests. “That’s fine. I’ll just be a moment. I'll call if I need anything.”
The interior of the tavern is dim in the late afternoon, entirely cleared of patrons, likely due to the menace of the rogues at the door. The barkeep, an older Pandaren man, raises his eyebrows in surprise at Anduin’s arrival.
“Welcome. Can I get you something?” His voice is somewhat strained.
“No, thank you, I’m fine.” He nods with relief before hurrying off into the back.
At Anduin’s voice, the single other living soul in the bar has shot upright in his seat, the movement making him visible where he had previously been doing an excellent job of blending into the shadows.
Wrathion looks different. Anduin isn’t sure what he had expected. Maybe for the dragon to have stayed perfectly the same, frozen in time in the way so many other magical creatures seem to do. But he’s older, in a subtle way, thinner and more defined, eyes weary and sharp. But they still glow that brilliantly, and Anduin still feels it take his breath away.
“Anduin Wrynn.” Wrathion drawls the name, as though it’s some kind of grand joke. “You know, I wondered what the endgame would be, of so many of the Alliance’s little pawns showing up on my doorstep. But who would think their dear king had the time for me?”
Wrathion takes a swig from his tankard.
“Well? Are you here to take me off to prison? Stormwind’s stockades? Or maybe Violet Hold, wouldn’t that be an honor!”
Anduin frowns. “As I told your guards, I’m here to talk.”
Wrathion snorts. “Some guards they are.” His eyes flicker over Anduin. “You don’t look roughed up at all. What, did they just let you in?”
Anduin nods, brow furrowed.
“Pff. Well, I suppose they aren’t even my guards anymore. They should have just gone by now. The rest were happy to.” Wrathion trails off before he turns away, breaking eye contact.
Anduin has absolutely no idea what to make of this strange dragon wearing his former love’s face. He has seen Wrathion elated and furious, smug and sulking. He has never seen or even imagined this, as Mei had aptly put it, despairing. Without hope.
“Wrathion… what happened?”
Wrathion huffs a laugh again, but the sound is hollow, lacking mirth. “You were there, dear prince , don’t you remember? Or did I hit you harder than I thought?”
“That’s not what I mean.”
Wrathion sighs, frustrated. “Well, it’s what I mean. That’s what happened.”
He drinks again, and Anduin feels a pang of concern.
“Stop that. You’re not making sense and it won’t help.”
Wrathion rolls his eyes. “You’re not my king, Wrynn.”
“I’m not asking as a king.”
“What are you asking as then, hm?”
Wrathion’s red eyes bore into Anduin’s, challenging him. It feels better, more like things should be.
Anduin doesn’t respond.
“You want the whole grisly story? It isn’t very interesting, I must admit. Or, perhaps it would make a fine cautionary tale. Something to tuck your children in with. How a silly little dragon prince had a silly little dream, put his faith in the wrong people, and ruined his life.” He laughs that joyless laugh again. “But you must realize all that too, yes? You could be the first in line to come here with an I told you so . You could lead the parade of people I wronged, of apologies I haven’t given for forgiveness I don’t deserve.” He pushes his mug away and slumps onto the table, forehead pressed into the wood with his turban drooping down. “I deserve to be left to rot. Here or in a cell. Your choice, I suppose.”
Anduin steps forward gingerly. When Wrathion doesn’t seem to respond to the movement, Anduin sits beside him, carefully keeping his hands in his own lap.
“There isn’t anything you’ve done that can’t be redeemed.”
Wrathion growls, an ancient, feral sound that stands Anduin’s hair on end. He whips up and around to face Anduin, eyes burning.
“Of course you would say that. Have you ever been out of anyone’s favor for more than a moment in your life? Has your precious Light ever even hesitated to answer your every prayer?”
“Wrathion, if you really are sorry, I think–“
“I’ve been sorry the moment I stepped foot off of Azeroth, Anduin, and it has meant nothing. Nothing to her.” He turns away again, shrinking into himself.
Anduin begins to feel understanding trickle through his mind. “Wrathion. Azeroth has been saved.”
“Azeroth has been doomed, and I may as well have wielded the great blade myself.”
“That isn’t true.”
“Tell me, Anduin.” Wrathion’s voice is small, fragile. “What would you think, if, after living your whole life for your Light, doing everything you could for it,” He halts, sucks in a sharp breath. “you made a mistake. And then. You never felt your Light again. How great a crime must you have committed? To lose your life’s purpose? The only thing you had always known to care for you?”
“Wrathion…” Anduin feels entirely at a loss.
“She doesn’t want me anymore. What use is a black dragon, without Azeroth to serve?”
Anduin shakes his head. “There’s still an Azeroth to fight for!”
Wrathion continues as if he hadn’t heard. “As the blade rent Silithus, I thought, selfishly, that perhaps this would be the time. That I could be of use to her, now, as she lies bleeding out.” He sniffs and paws at his face. Anduin has never seen Wrathion cry. “Azeroth dies beneath my feet and there is nothing I can do. Nothing she wants me to do.”
Anduin takes Wrathion’s hands away from his face and holds them. Wrathion watches their hands but makes no move to break his grasp.
“Azeroth can still be saved, Wrathion. Just because you can’t feel her doesn’t mean she is beyond your help.”
“You don’t know–“
“What alternative is there!? We do nothing and the world sunders below us? You wait here to die?”
Wrathion’s silence says too many things. Anduin’s heart cries out. He once loved this creature with all he could. He thinks now he may have never stopped. “You trusted me, once.” Wrathion's gaze darts up. “Can you trust me again?”
Wrathion shakes his head minutely, voice choked. “How could you trust me?”
“Because, I know there is still good you can do for this world.” Wrathion seems to waver as he searches Anduin's face. It may just be wishful thinking, but he seems hopeful, for the moment. “Come back to Stormwind. For Azeroth. Or,” Anduin hesitates. “Or for me.”
Wrathion ducks his head, looking down at their joined hands again. After a long moment, he turns them, interlacing his fingers with Anduin’s own. “You’re quite the king now, aren’t you?” His voice is faint, but no longer trembling. “However will I get used to calling you that?”
Anduin chuckles. “With practice, perhaps?”
Wrathion nods, slowly. “Yes. Perhaps.”