The quiet ticking of a clock is the only sound that fills the once popular restaurant. When it had opened, Theramore had been the talk of the town, packed every night with reservations booked months in advance. Now, three years on, it was hanging on by a thread. All of the staff let go when the money stopped flowing and the doors barred to any clients.
A loud thud on the heavy wooden front door startled awake the only occupant, Theramores owner, Jaina Proudmoore. She sat up slowly, groaning at the pain in her back and pushing her long blonde hair out of her eyes. Scattered across the table were various bills and forms. With a heavy sigh, she began to collect them. “What's the point of having a restaurant with an apartment on top of it, if I’m not even going to sleep in it?” She bemoaned quietly. A more cynical part of her mind asked what the point of owning a restaurant with no customers was but she managed to drown that voice out.
The thud came again and Jaina turned her gaze to the door. She frowned as she stood and walked over to it. “We’re closed,” she spoke loudly to be heard through the wood as she unlocked the small series of locks, “and I’m in no mood to talk to any bill collectors today.”
“What about old friends?” came a cheery voice as the door opened. Outside stood a short, round man. A full beard boarded his face and his black hair was pulled up into a bun. A mirthful smile caused her eyes to crinkle.
“Chen!” Jaina cried, throwing herself at him in a hug that he was clearly expecting as he slipped a foot back to steady himself. “It’s been way too long! When did you get back?” She asked, stepping back, holding the door open for him to enter.
“Too long indeed, Jaina.” Chen agreed, looking a little guilty, “I’ve been back a few months now, but I’ve been to busy getting the new brewery up and running to contact anyone.” He looked around, still smiling, though it did falter, just a little. “I brought some of my newest brew along with me if you wanted to try it.” He held up the bag he was carrying, “I call it ‘Fresh Start’.”
Jaina chuckled lightly as she hurried to clear off the table she had been sleeping at. “A bit early in the day to start drinking, isn't it, Chen?” she cocked a brow at him and he raised a large hand to his chest, looking deeply offended.
“Too early to be drinking?” He gasped, “how could you say such a thing!” He laughed, the sound filling a gap in Jainas heart that she hadn't even realized was there. “It’s never too early to share a drink with an old friend.” Chen set the bag on the table and pulled out Jainas chair for her. He searched her face, taking note of the bags that had begun to form under her eyes and how her smile didn't quite reach them. He nodded, “but, I believe some tea will suit us just fine.” He wandered off the server station, thankful that the placement of things hadn't changed and set about his task.
“I haven't seen you around since Theramore's grand opening,” Jaina commented, tracing the grain of the tables wood with a finger, “where have you been?”
Chen sprinkled the tea leaves into a small pot before adding the heated water. “Back to Pandaria,” he replied, “I was needed back at the brewery. Had to make sure my niece was ready to take over for me before I moved on again.”
“You never did like staying in one place,” Jaina mused, “not like the rest of us. Putting down roots and staying still.”
He nodded, “yes, I’m more like a spider plant. I wander and spread.” he made a soft humming sound as he retrieved two cups and brought the pot over to the table, “but I believe this time I’ll stick around. I’m getting to be too old to be a wandering spirit.” Chen poured the tea, first Jainas then his own, before taking his seat. “What of the others? Where has the rest of our little commune wandered to?”
Jaina smiled as she thought back to her old Dalaran College dormmates. Though Chen had only drifted through, not actually attending, they had counted him as one of them. “They’re spread out pretty far and wide too. Though they usually come back to Lordaeron for the holidays when they can.” She gave Chen a pointed look, taking a sip of her tea. She leaned back in her chair and thought. “Vee got married and moved to Dalaran, she has children now.” She laughed at Chen's scandalized look, “I know, I wouldn't believe it either if I hadn't have been her maid of honour. Rexxar moved west, he's running a hunting reserve now. Rokhan is in politics now, of all thing,” Jaina scoffed lightly, “traveled to Zandalar to help bring more right for Troll in the north.” She paused, thinking, “Oh! Even Thrall got married!”
At this statement, Chen looked pointedly at Jainas hand, causing her to blush into her tea.
“Not me,” she muttered, “It wasn't going to work out.” she shrugged, “But Aggra, that's her name, she's perfect for him. I’m happy for them both, truly.”
Chen nodded, finishing his cup. “And no lucky man in your life?” when she shook her head he grinned, “or woman?” he laughed loudly, hand slamming down on the table when choked on her tea, “you are too uptight, Jaina! But I will take that as a no and leave it be.”
They settled into a comfortable silence, just enjoying each others company.
Finally, Chen had to ask. “Jaina, what happened here? You used to be so busy, and now,” he let his words hang over them.
Jaina sets her cup aside, staring down at the table, anger and sorrow rage through her mind. “Gallywix,” she ground out, her fists clenching. “That green little bast-” she stopped herself, taking a deep breath. “He's been opening his chains around the city. Pulled away most of my customers after my chef abandoned me.” She buried her hands in her, “at this rate, I’m going to have to shut down for good. I’ll have to sell and I’ll have no home and-” she jumped when she felt a pair of firm hands squeeze her shoulders, she hadn't even heard Chen get up.
“Calm yourself, Jaina,” he spoke sagely, “there is no sense getting yourself all worked up over what might happen when nothing is ever set in stone.” He removed his hands and ruffled her hair, making her feel very much like a child. “You are the cleverest person I know, Jaina. You’ll think of something, and if not, then we will just have to think of something together.” He beamed down at her as he headed for the door, “you lack something that very few young people do nowadays. The ability to give up. The Jaina Proudmoore I met all those years ago in Dalaran, she would fight and plan until she had exhausted all possible options, and then she would reach for the impossible.” Chen opened the door, looking back over his shoulder at Jaina, “I’ll be in touch. I really will this time.”
With that said, he left, leaving Jaina to her brooding.
*** *** *** ***
Stormstout Brewery stood out like a sore thumb with the harsh stone building of Lordaeron behind it. The architecture was clearly of Pandaran design, and even the surrounding property had small elements of the brewmasters heritage around it.
Standing next to her car, arms crossed over her chest, Sylvanas Windrunner couldn’t help but grin, “sentimental old fool,” she mused. Her high boots crunched loudly on the gravel driveway as she made her way to the entrance. Once inside, the strong smell of the many different brews washed over her comfortingly. Removing her sunglasses, Sylvanas cast her icy blue gaze about, taking in the storefront.
“I thought I felt a change in the wind,” came Chen’s voice as he walked out of the back, wiping his hands on a towel, “seemed to be picking up.” He beamed at her.
Sylvanas smirked, one of her fangs poking out over her lip, “hilarious as it was the first time, Stormstout,” she quipped.
He laughed loudly, the sound reverberating slightly around the room, causing Sylvanas’ long ears to twitch slightly. “I see you still haven’t learned how to properly lighten up.” Chen reached out a large hand and gripped the elves forearm as she did the same, a familiar greeting. He let go and motioned for Sylvanas to follow him into the back. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“Can’t an old friend just want to say hello?” she responded simply as she was lead past the brewery doors and into a living area.
“Most of them, yes, but you?” Chen grinned, “you never just pop in for a chat, even when invited,” he motioned for her to sit on a small couch before plopping down next to her. “I didn’t even know you were back in town.”
Sylvanas sighed heavy and leaned back against the cushions, “no one does,” she shrugged, “I just got back. Haven’t even been to my apartment yet, not even sure if I’ll stay this time.”
“And here I thought it would be me who would be recaptured by wanderlust.” Chen leaned back as well, “tell me, where have your travels taken you this time?”
“Suramar,” Sylvanas replied, rather boastfully. Until recently, Suramar had been a hermit country, even on its own continent. But it's new leader had ended its isolation, allowing the rest of the world to enter, other Elves most of all. “I managed to collect some things for you while I was there, perhaps you could use them in a new brew?”
“Your kindness knows no bounds, Sylvanas.” He stood and collected a few bottles off beer, handing one off to Sylvanas, “‘Fresh Start’, it's going to sell very well, I’m sure of it.”
She twisted off the cap and took a sniff, chuckling, “Mint? I never thought you to be the literal type.” The beer went down smooth, nice and light, and yes, very fresh.
They sat in comfortable silence enjoying their drinks. “Really, Sylvanas,” Chen finally spoke up, “what brings you back home?”
Sylvanas scoffed, “Home. I haven't had a home in ages. Only a place to rest my head and pile away my trinkets.” She leaned forward, swirling her beer around the bottle. “Not since I was a kid back in,” She grit her teeth.
“Quel’Thalas,” Chen finished for her, sighing as she rushed to stand up from the couch to pace around the room.
“I’m used to this feeling, Chen. Being out of place, with nowhere to go.” She bemoaned, “but I at least had a purpose, something I could find at least some joy in. Not anymore.”
That shocked Chen, his eyes widened, “cooking has lost its joy?”
Her answer was to chug back the rest of her beer, placing the empty bottle heavily on a table before the urge to hurl it across the room overcame her, “I’m burnt out, Chen.”
“Another thing to chalk up to Nomi?” Chen joked, trying to ease the sudden tension.
Despite herself, Sylvanas laughed. “No, this is the one burn that isn’t Nomi’s fault. I just feel I am without purpose,” her ears drooped slightly, “not even Undercity needs me brooding around anymore.”
“Without purpose?” Chen tilted his head up, a plan forming in his mind, “I think I may be able to help you there.” He smiled widely when Sylvanas looked at him with interest, “a friend of mine owns a restaurant. She’s fallen on some pretty hard times, I think you might be just the sort of person she needs.” He stood and bared his teeth when Sylvanas looked about to argue with him. “This is a chance to do something good, Sylvanas. Instead of rushing off to open someplace new, stay awhile and help someone else flourish for once.” When her only response was to bare her own fangs Chen nodded, relaxing, “I’ll set up a meeting. Try not to be too horrid to her.”
Sylvanas stuck he nose up, holding her hand out for another beer, “I refuse to make any promises I can’t keep.”
*** *** *** ***
The next day saw Jaina sitting back in Theramore's dining room, only with decidedly much worse company. The Elf sitting across from her was not at all who she had been expecting when Chen had called to tell her about a friend of his. “So, Sylvanas was it. You really think you can help me?”
Sylvanas tore her eyes away from the ornate anchor she had been examining to level her cold gaze on Jaina, smirked when the other woman flinched slightly. “Perhaps. The idea is intriguing,” she waved her hand flippantly, “if I were to agree to assist you in saving your little diner,” she ignored the way Jaina bristled at that, “I have a few demands.”
“Demands? This is my restaurant! Who are you to make demands?” Jaina groundout.
“The only person willing to even try and help you,” came to simple reply before she carried on. “They are very simple demands, reasonable even.” Sylvanas stood, walking around the table with her hands behind her back. “You can do as you wish with the front of house, I’m sure you're more familiar with it, but the kitchen is to be my domain. I choose who stays and who goes and you are not to interfere. I will not change any menu items or recipes without your consent but you will at the very least hear out my suggestions.” She stopped walking when she was behind Jaina.
Sylvanas grinned, fangs gleaming, ears perking up slightly, “yes, one final little thing,” she leaned over Jainas shoulder, reaching a hand out to trail her finger across the name on the menu that sat in front of Jaina, “I will be given a share in the restaurant as payment. Ten percent should do-”
“NO!” Jaina shouted. Sylvanas barely had time to move as Jaina leaped to her feet, sending her chair crashing to the ground. “Theramore is MY establishment! I will not simply hand a piece of that away to some random Elf!”
Sylvanas looked down at Jaina, unfazed, “if I am to help you, I need a reason to care about this place,” she shrugged, “having a share in it is the easiest way to accomplish that.”
“Get out,” Jaina barely managed to keep her voice steady as she pointed to the door, “Get the hell out!”
“As you wish, Miss Proudmoore,” Sylvanas reached into the pocket of her leather jacket, pulling out a business card and placing it on the table next to the stack of bills, “in case you should change your mind.” With that, Sylvanas left, leaving Jaina to sink to the floor, exhausted.
Jaina wasn't sure how long she sat on the floor. She had spread the bills out around her so as to be able to see just how much trouble she was in. The amount of money she was losing every day was staggering. If this kept going, she would have to choice but to sell the building and lose both her pride and her home in one fell swoop. There was no way for Jaina to win, not without losing first. She fisted a hand in her hair tightly as she punched the number in her phone and waited.
“I wasn't expecting you to call so quickly, Miss Proudmoore,” Sylvanas’ voice was almost mirthful on the other end of the line and it caused Jainas heart to ache.
“You have a deal,” she breathed.
It was all Sylvanas needed to hear, “smart girl. You draw up the contract and get back to me. I look forward to working with you.”
Jaina wished to the gods that the feeling was mutual as she tossed her phone aside, burying her face in her knees. This deal had better be worth it.