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The Wolf's Rose

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Disclaimer: Arthas Menethil, Varian Wrynn, Tiffin Ellerian and all recognisable characters belong to Blizzard Entertainment. The character of Valerica Glenmore is my own creation and is not to be shared, sold or copied without my express permission.

Another day finished. Valerica Glenmore exhaled slowly as she finally locked the front door to the shop and leant her back against it, smiling weakly at her equally exhausted brother. “Still not regretting sodding off somewhere?” Lucian swept his dirty blonde hair back, running the palm of the same hand down his face and putting the gloves he was holding on the anvil he was standing behind.

“Not a bit, if anything it’s nice to actually have some work for once, especially when we’re finally getting some profit out of it.” He finished tying the last purse of the day and threw it in the large safe under the counter, making sure it was secure before scribbling something in the ledger that so far this year had been remarkably empty.

“We might be able to afford to pay our suppliers this month.” Valerica, or Val as she preferred to be called, patted his shoulder as she shambled past him. “Here’s hoping. Tea?” Lucian looked gratefully at her. “Please.” She could hear him flipping the pages that told them how little they had as she trudged up the stairs, fishing out the battered kettle and filling it with water from the basin on the dinner table.

“You got another letter this morning. It’s on the side.” Val was trying not to look at it, hooking the kettle on the fire and using her late father’s lighter to set the few logs on the hearth aflame. “I’ll read it later.” She could hear his sigh even from another floor. “You said that about the last three and all of them are still sealed.” She came to the top of the stairs to save her throat, giving him a dirty look.

“What I read is my own business brother. He knows I’m busy.” Lucian shook his head, hanging the last of his tools up and coming up with her. “And so is he Little Bird, yet he finds time to write to you. Give him a break for the love of the Light.” Val’s hands were shaking and she hated that they were. “I’ll read it later. Now leave it.”

Before she could figure out what he was doing, Lucian snatched up the letter and broke the blue seal of Stormwind’s monarchy, unfolding it and clearing his throat, holding his arm up when she tried to snatch it back.

“Val, I’m well aware that you’re ignoring me, and I know why, but that’s not stopping me from writing to you. If you would just get off of your high horse and let me explain, you’d know that I had nothing to do with this damn betrothal. Please, just one drink or meal for me to plead my case. Always yours, Varian.”

He put his palm on the crown of her head to push her back, looking disapprovingly at his little sister. “Val, he sounds desperate now. Please just go and see him.” She straightened, folding her arms. “Why? There’s absolutely no reason for me to!” Lucian looked up to the ceiling and pleaded with the Light for strength.

“Little sister, don’t throw nineteen years of friendship for something so stupid!” She took the kettle from the fire once it started whistling, slamming it on the table. “Stupid?! He lied to me Luce, strung me along for five years and then dropped this fucking bomb on me. No, he ruined this, not me. If he’s that desperate to come and see me, he can do it whenever he wants.”

Before he could even begin to protest she stomped down the stairs, opened the safe and dug a few coins from one of the purses in there, taking her blue wool cloak and slamming the door behind her.

It was such a pain in the arse having the prince as a best friend, and this proved it. She knew it was a stupid, terrible idea to let it go further, but she had been young, naive, and in love, it wasn’t her fault. She had grown up with Varian, it had been inevitable since their fathers had been friends, it made sense that she would end up falling for the handsome, charming, cocky loveable idiot that she knew since she was practically born.

What didn’t make sense was that he had let her fall for him so hard and whisper honeyed words in her ear about how much he loved her back, how they would be together…hells, they were fucking engaged at one point, but all that had disappeared in a puff of painful, burning smoke when King Llane, a man she had called Uncle throughout her childhood, had announced Varian’s betrothal to Tiffin Ellerian, the blonde haired, blue eyed perfect little princess who had smiled at her as her world fell apart.

That had been two years ago, and she had done all she could to avoid Varian since then, ignoring every letter, messenger, gift and invitation since then, and she prided herself on it in a strange way. She couldn’t face him, her stubborn nature wouldn’t let her, even though she missed him terribly. In the back of her mind she knew he probably didn’t have a hand in the match between him and the noblewoman, but it still hurt being reminded of how deluded she was to have thought everything would be hunky dory and they would get married, have an army of children and live happily ever after.

The Nag’s Head was full already and it was barely seven, but she was perfectly content with it. She pushed herself up onto a bar stool and took her hood down, grinning at Allison the innkeeper, folding her arms and resting them on the chipped oak.

“Same as usual Val?” She nodded, knowing there was no point telling her. Soon a glass of imported rum from Stranglethorn Vale was in front of her and she couldn’t be happier about it.

“No Lucian tonight?” She shook her head, realized she would need to apologize to her brother for her swift exit later. “He’s shutting up.” She really didn’t feel like holding a conversation right now, but apparently her counterpart didn’t pick up the hint. “What a shame, Ruby was looking forward to seeing him.” Val wished her brother had never started courting the innkeeper’s daughter, it only reminded her of her own pathetic loneliness. “Yes, real shame.”

“Everything alright?” Val sighed, not quite believing that she had been reduced to spending her last few coins on a rum and unloading to a bloody barmaid like the depressed dockers in the corner. “Someone I don’t want to see keeps trying to get in contact.” Allison’s red eyebrow rose and she skilfully served the man next to Val whilst never taking her eyes off the girl. “Would that someone be a prince by any chance?” Val hated how her relationship with Varian was still ingrained in peoples minds. “I’ll take it that’s a yes?” Val glared at her even though she did nothing wrong.

“Why does it matter?” Allison clucked her tongue, putting a hand on her hip. “Because Prince Arthas is in Stormwind.” Val’s face dropped, realizing what that meant. Since they were of age, and Varian had gotten there earlier since he was three years older than Val, Varian had made it routine to go to the tavern every night whenever the Prince of Lordaeron came to visit, meaning he’d be coming through that door any minute now.

And as if the Light had really decided to fuck with her, she heard his laugh after the swoosh of the door opening, pulling her hood up and trying to hide her face as his booming baritone flew across the room. “Allison! Two ales as soon as you’re able!” Just hearing it sent a shiver up her spine and she felt her resolve crumbling.

“How long has it been since you’ve seen him?” Allison’s whisper only made her angrier. “Two years, not that it’s any of your damn business.” That wasn’t entirely true of course; she had ‘seen’ him on the streets almost every day, At every national holiday and palace events that she and Lucian had been invited to by Queen Taria (who she learned was totally against the betrothal in the first place), but she had taken every road not to speak to him on those occasions, so it was practically like they hadn’t seen each other.

She needed to leave before she did something she’d regret. She downed the rest of her rum, turning on the stool to get off of it, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her. “No, we’re staying, and you’re talking to him before the sun comes up.” She never wanted to bludgeon her brother before, but now was a very tempting moment that presented itself. “When the hells did you get here?” Lucian swivelled her back around, sitting down himself and ordering them both another drink.

“If you honestly thought I’d let you walk out in a huff and not come after you, then I’m obviously the worst brother in the world.” She looked nervously at him, realizing he had no sort of hood on. “He’s going to see you.” Lucian yanked hers back, swiftly undoing the clasp and taking the whole cloak off, exposing her identity to everybody. “Good, I want him to, because then-” he picked a grape from the small bowl that was lying near them. “-he’ll see you.” If looks could kill, Lucian’s head would’ve exploded, and yet that smug grin was still on his slightly grimy face.

“Be honest Little Bird, don’t you want to speak to him?” She grimaced, keeping her head down in an attempt to make her hair cover her face. “Shut up.” Lucian snorted, taking a generous gulp of his drink. “So that’s a yes then?” Val put her head in her hands, not knowing what to say if she were being totally truthful with herself.

“Yes and no. I can’t- I don’t want to tempt myself. He’s not mine anymore.” Lucian patted her leg, making her suddenly remember that she was still in the tunic and breeches she’d worn all day, putting ‘looking homeless’ at the bottom of an ever growing list of why she didn’t want Varian noticing her.

She could still hear him laughing, clearly a touch inebriated already from the boisterous volume of his voice, and felt her nails cutting into her palms. “Please don’t make me do this.” Lucian gave her a strained smile, not having the energy to deal with this shit anymore. For two years he had tried to keep a roof over their heads, the business afloat, and listen to his sister’s personal problems all the while grieving for a Father that hadn’t even bothered to tell him he was sick before he died, it was weighing heavily on the twenty five year old’s shoulders.

“Val, I’m not making you do anything. I’m just helping you make the decision. Go, talk to him.” Val could feel her breath catching. “I can’t.” Lucian exhaled through his nose, knowing she would forgive him for this eventually. “Fine, then we do this my way.” She watched him stand up. “Luce, what are you-”

“VARIAN! Over here mate!” She felt her face flush and her insides freeze as the prince stood up, waving a hand at Lucian, who looked so smug that it only made her want to kill him more. He was coming over, this was a disaster. Val did the only thing she could think of and stood, yanking her cloak from her brother’s stool and fleeing like a coward, hearing him shout after her already.

She was halfway across the Trade District when he grabbed her arm and yanked her back. “Val please, no more running from me! I just want to talk!” She kept looking down so Varian grabbed her chin and forcefully lifted her head. “Val…I’m sorry. How many fucking times do I have to say I’m sorry?” She wrenched her arm away and stepped back, taking a deep breath. “Varian, I’m not going over this again.” Varian was already absurdly tall even though he was only twenty two, and he towered over her small frame enough that he had to look down to meet her eye.

“Then don’t, just shut it and listen to me for once in your damn life. Val, I swear on the Light above, the pantheon, the old gods, hells, even on my Mother’s fucking grave…I knew nothing about the betrothal. I honestly thought I was free from all of that, otherwise I would never have-” “Strung me along? Played me for a fool?” He narrowed his eyes.

“-Let myself fall for you so hard is what I was going to say.” Val was too tired for this. All she had wanted was a quiet drink, yet here she was standing in the cold December air probably about to argue with a man she would happily admit to a priest alone that she still loved more than anything.

“Please believe me. I’ve spent the past two years trying to get it annulled but the Ellerians aren’t budging.” Her eyebrow rose and he knew exactly what she was about to say. “You’re a prince, Varian, you can just tell them no.” Varian’s laugh held no humour. “That’s what I thought too, but apparently contracts are binding, no matter who you are.” He sighed, looking at his boots.

“They performed the binding oath, her father and mine, so it’s unbreakable.” Val knew what that meant, it meant that magic had been used to seal the contract that meant on their Eighteenth birthdays Varian and Tiffin would be wed, it had only been how much Varian had protested that managed to put it off this long. “Then I suppose there’s nothing we can do.” Varian’s face was sullen.

“We can still be friends.” Val didn’t look so sure. “Can we? Five years of romance is hard to just forget Varian.” Varian gave her a small smile, the damn charming one that made her turn into a puddle every single time. “Who said we had to forget? We had the best time of our lives, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” His palm felt warm on her bare arm as it ran along it. “Betrothal doesn’t equal love. I’m only her husband by title, nothing more. And the minute she gets that ring on my finger, I can get it annulled and maybe you can tolerate my company again.”

She laughed against her will, smiling more when his joined it. “Damn it all Varian…two years and you still sound so bloody cocky.” Varian held her hand and it took everything in her to resist wrenching it away. “That was far too long by the way you bitch.” Val could feel every fibre telling her to tell him to fuck himself leave her head and she sighed loudly. “We can’t do ‘just friends’ Varian., not after everything...”

She could feel her blush creeping along her cheeks. “Everything we did.” Varian laughed heartily, probably not realizing what he was saying before he did it. “Friends can fuck Val, that’s not a problem.” She hadn’t laughed so hard in months, actually bending over after about a minute, letting him lean against the wall of the bridge they were standing on, caught in the grips of his own glee.

And just like that, all the hurt, tension, and feelings of betrayal dissipated.

Varian straightened, wiping his eyes and exhaling slowly, waiting for Val to gain some composure. He opened his arms and she couldn’t helped but accept his embrace. “Aw hells, I’ve missed you Val.” She patted his back, smiling for the first time in a long while. Very rarely had the two of them carried an argument on past a day, so to go two years without a conversation was actually quite impressive. T

They knew now they’d had it out that all was forgotten, as was the norm when they had a grievance towards one another. “I missed you too Varian. Don’t ever fuck me over like that again.” His sigh was for dramatic effect this time, she could tell as he pulled away, wrapping her cloak around her.

“You do believe that I love you and only you, right?” Val nodded despite everything. “It was the reason I stayed away. I thought maybe not being up your arse would help with the situation.” Varian snorted, putting his hands on his hips. “Yes well, it didn’t, so congratulations.” She punched his gut and as usual he feigned agony, bending over and groaning loudly.

“oh get up you baby.” Before she knew what was happening Varian had her in a headlock, tousling her hair with a fist. “Who are you calling a baby?!” A few seconds of playful fighting later and they were acting as if the past two years hadn’t happened, which was the way they always did things.

Varian put his hands on her shoulders, looking thoughtfully at her, a little too intently for Val’s liking. “ You know, everyone knows I don’t want this marriage.” She cringed as he said it, knowing where this was going. “Varian…” He held both hands up. “No! Hear me out! Everyone knows that I don’t want this marriage and that we ar-” He noticed her look. “-were a couple. So, can we just pick up where we left off? Just without the love making.” Val gave him a smirk.

“What happened to ‘friends can fuck’?” Varian’s laugh made people start to look over, alerting Val to the fact that this looked incredibly suspicious. “So what, are you saying you want me to fuck you again?” Val glowered at him. “Varian.” He sputtered again. “Alright, alright, I’ll stop saying things like that, I promise. Only if you promise to stop ignoring my letters and attempts at apologising.” His grin returned.

“Not many men would do that Val, you should be more appreciative.” Her eyebrow rose. “You know, considering you’re trying to convince me not to go home and live my life, you’re doing a piss poor job.” His arm went around her shoulders and it took everything in her not to lean against him. “Then let me make up for it by getting you a drink.” Val was instantly anxious again.

“Varian, what if someone sees you with me?” Varian gave her an encouraging grin. “Then all they’ll see is a prince with his best friend just having fun. Nothing untoward, nothing seedy, I promise.” She matched his smile. “Good, because I absolutely refuse to become your supposed ‘mistress’ Varian. We're friends now, nothing more.” Varian put a hand on his heart.

“On my honour, I won’t do anything remotely romantic with you unless you ask me to.” The corner of his mouth twitched and she braced herself for something highly inappropriate. “Though that doesn’t mean I don’t think of you other times…” She elbowed him in the gut, happy to finally drop the stupid façade of anger she had been putting on for two years. “Still an immature bastard then? I would’ve thought that would be the first thing Tiffin changed.”

Varian shrugged, opening the door back up for her. “In truth Sweetheart, I’ve barely seen her. I keep myself as busy as I can most days and demanded she have her own chambers, so really I don’t have to put up with her except at meals.” He noticed her grimace. “What?” She waved over to Arthas, who looked relieved to see that they hadn’t killed each other. “You can’t call me Sweetheart anymore Varian.”

She didn’t want to see the disappointment on his face at the fact but it was far too evident. “Oh, right. Sorry, it’s a hard habit to break.” She gave him a smile to let him know she didn’t care that much. “It’s fine. We’ll adjust eventually.” Arthas stood, kissing the back of Val’s hand after taking it. “It’s about damn time you joined us again Val. How are you?”

Varian was impressed that three ales were already sitting on the table, it was almost as if Arthas knew they’d be coming back together. He slid along the booth so Val could have the end, taking a long swig as he tried not to notice how damn pretty she was, even with the muck of a hard day’s work on her face.

It would be so hard to resist her now that he was regretting their little bargain already. For five years they had been lovers, not friends, and to just…erase that and go back to how they were before love was a factor would be the hardest battle of his life. Normally on nights like this, he would’ve gone to the shop an hour before the time they had all agreed to meet, intent on spending alone time with her and enjoying every second of her sweet kisses that always tasted like the honeyed tea she had throughout the day, her freshly washed sun kissed skin under his fingertips…damn it, he was getting carried away already, he could feel it. He was glad they’d finally sat down so maybe she couldn’t see just how crazy she made him.

These past two years had been agonising for all involved, but so much more for the prince, who had so many things change in them that it nearly killed him. He was barely over losing his mother, a woman he had cherished as if she were a deity to him, and then he had to contend with the woman he loved telling him she never wanted to see him again and that he’d broken her heart…that had been the hardest blow.

He had made a vow long ago to never hurt Val, and that’s exactly what he had done. He understood her assumption that he knew about the betrothal, but the truth was very much the opposite, for he had been as shocked and angry as she had been that night.

The days that followed were full of nothing but screaming matches with his father, telling Tiffin she wasn’t wanted in the bluntest way possible, and trying every channel to get Val to at least speak to him.

He had lost count of how many letters he had Wyll deliver in that time, begging her to give him a slim chance of reprieve, to let him explain, but she was as stubborn as he was, he knew this already, so hadn’t been that surprised when no reply fell into his lap. So having her sit with him tonight was a blessing he wouldn’t squander.

“Varian? Are you with us?” The Prince of Stormwind snapped from his lamenting and blinked dumbly a few times. “Eh? Yes, Sorry, what were we saying?” Arthas couldn’t help but laugh at the same time Val did. “Light Varian, you must’ve been a million miles away.” Varian gave him a grin, leaning back in his seat and putting his arm over the back, unintentionally making it look as if he was putting it around Val. “If it means I don’t have to listen to your incessant preaching, I’d go even farther.” He jabbed a thumb a the blonde, looking at Val and trying not to dwell on how much he’d missed those damn eyes of hers.

“Arthas still reckons he’s going to end up a priest, can you imagine it? Our dear Arthas, wearing a dress for the rest of his days?” Arthas’ jaw tightened, putting both palms flat on the table. “It’s a robe Varian, it’s not unheard of. I’m sorry we don’t all want to be warriors when there’s no need for them.”

Val snorted at that one, finally managing to to keep glancing at the patrons who were all probably thinking the same thing, that she and Varian were back together. “You’re joking aren’t you? The few warriors we get are the ones putting bread on my table, I’d be fucked if they disappeared.” Varian’s brows snapped down in concerned.

“Are you still not making alot?” Val shrugged, quickly looking around for her brother and finding him with Ruby, clearly occupied for the night. “We’re making more than we were, which is a good thing I suppose. But it’s still not ‘alot’ per se. We still have a few debts to pay.” Varian’s fist curled as he glared at her. “Why the flying hells didn’t you tell me, I could’ve helped you!” She waved a irritated hand of dismissal. “Because not only is it my problem, not yours, I wasn’t speaking to you Varian.” His grimace only made Arthas laugh harder.

“Alright, point taken. But at least let me pay your debts off now we’re speaking again?” She patted his arm and he instinctively tensed it so he didn’t end up grabbing her with it. “That’s very sweet of you, but no, we’ll manage thank you.” Her tone told him that was the end of the conversation and he knew her well enough not to pry further, no matter how much he wanted to somehow project from his own body so he could beat the crap out of himself for not being more assertive with making her talk to him.

“So Arthas, how are you and Jaina doing, is she still in Dalaran?” Arthas wiped some foam from his top lip, putting his tankard down. “Aye, she is, and we’re both well thank you. She’s coming here next week for New Year.” Varian’s face lit up and he nudged Val. “Spend it with us! Please!” Val patted his shoulder, trying not to smile so much at how excited he was getting at the mere prospect. They had missed Winter Veil, it had been two days ago, and she had made a point to travel to Deadstone, a small town in Booty Bay where her family lived, and spent it there so she didn’t have to see Varian.

They did live in Stormwind at one point, but poverty had pushed her Grand-da Tobias, a veteran of the Stormwind Navy, over the edge, making the patriarch take drastic measures to feed his family…piracy. He fought to buy his own ship and hire a crew consisting of criminals that worked for practically nothing, stealing what they could and selling it on the black markets of Booty Bay for ludicrous prices, enough so that he had enough to build a house big enough to room everybody and move there.

The citizens made him the unofficial ‘leader’ after he used the rest to renovate the town and make it semi habitable, so the Glenmores never went back to Stormwind until Llane collared Lokir, her Father, in Westfall and made him stay in Stormwind with his pregnant wife and son.

The rest of the family had stayed in Deadstone since they were settled there, and Val had stayed in Stormwind all of her life, going south for holidays mostly. She had planned to go there for New Year as well, but seeing the pleading look in Varian’s royal blue eyes made her reconsider. “You mean at the Keep?” Varian’s face fell by the slightest margin.

“Well, yes. But I swear, Tiffin won’t bother you.” Val gave him a tiny smile. “That’s not what I’m worried about. Varian, I gave you all my dresses back when we separated…Unless you want me to turn up in a shirt and breeches, I’ve got fuck all to wear.” Arthas shrugged as if it were nothing.

“It’s a masquerade anyway, just say you’re pretending to be a boy.” Val laughed but still shook her head. “No thank you, I’d rather just blend in so no one will notice me.” Varian chewed his bottom lip. “I still have your dresses if you want to come and choose one…” Val felt a small sting in her chest. “Y-you kept them?” Varian nodded, looking uncharacteristically coy.

“I kept everything of yours. You really thought I’d get rid of any of it?” Val looked at Arthas, who nodded in confirmation. “He speaks the truth Val, it’s all in his closet. You can’t move for toffee in there.” Val couldn’t help the lump in her throat.

“Then maybe there’s one that doesn’t smell atrocious that I can come and pick up in the next couple of days.” Varian looked as if he was about to launch from his seat. “Of course! You can stay for lunch and we’ll spend the day going through your things since I’m sure there’s things in there that you want back, and I’ll hand deliver them to the shop and it’ll be like-” He noticed her look and cleared his throat. “Sorry.” Val cupped his cheek, rather enjoying the smile of contentment it brought to his bright and youthful face.

“One step at a time eh? I’ll arrange a day with you for me to come.” He still seemed pleased with that. “Jaina will be pleased, I think she hates those parties as much as we do, so some ‘normal’ company will be very much appreciated.” Varian immaturely snickered. “The words ‘Val’ and ‘normal’ don’t compliment each other brother.” Val haughtily folded her arms and huffed. “You really want me to just punch you in the face, don’t you Varian?” Varian cockily grinned at her.

“Oh please, you wouldn’t leave a scratch on me.” She hated agreeing with him during a ‘tiff’, but he was right. She knew he had started training harder in the past couple of years but the difference in him was phenomenal. He was never skinny, but there was probably double the amount of muscle on his arms, neck and chest than she remembered, and it was making the task of not touching him unbearable.

“You never know, I’m a dab hand with a hammer Varian, I could probably get that nose of yours.” Arthas blew bubbles into his ale with his laughter. “Please do, there’s only so much of the snoring I can handle.” Varian’s jaw tightened and Val knew why. He had broken his nose a few years ago taking care of ‘monsters’ that had been sighted in the Black Morass, and a stray club had smashed him straight in the face, denting the organ to the point where even the healers had given up and told him it would be slightly wonky for the rest of his life unless he went regularly for healings, which of course, being the stubborn fool he was, never happened.

You could barely see it, but Val had learned very quickly when he had slept over from then on that you could certainly hear it. She remembered the first time he had ever snored, and nowadays she laughed about it, but at the time it had been slightly terrifying; they had settled down for the night, spooning like they always did, and just as Val was drifting off she had been startled by a noise that didn’t sound worlds away from a pig being squeezed.

It penetrated her skull and she’d woken up instantly, sitting up and looking around for the noise, only to realize it was coming from Varian’s open mouth. Safe to say she had slept with a pillow over her head the next night, since it never ceased all the time Varian was asleep. He was highly conscious about it after she told him it was happening, so Arthas’ comment clearly irked him.

“Been sleeping in Varian’s bed alot Arthas?” Varian's grumbles ceased and were taken over by a laugh as the blonde looked impressed. “Alright, I suppose I walked right into that one.” Varian put a palm on the table, lightly slapping the rickety wood. “I’ve missed this. It was awful, coming here and worrying whether I was going to see you or not.” Val pushed her empty tankard forward, drumming her fingers. “Yes well, don’t get used to it, I can’t afford to drink every week.” She gave him a wry smile.

“I can’t stay long either.” Arthas looked sympathetic. “Early start?” Val nodded, chipping some dry wood-stain from her palm with her thumbnail. “Six sharp, I have to go down to Goldshire and get some hinges we ordered from the smithy there.” Varian was trying his best not to look to eager but he knew he was failing. “I can come with you if you like, I’ve got nothing on.” She shook her head again, not quite ready to be alone with him yet. “No, I won’t be there long…” She couldn’t believe she was saying this yet here she was.

“But maybe we can do lunch afterwards?” She figured having a meal in the royal dining room with servants and the like around them would make it less tempting to jump him and let him do what she had been wanting him to for the past two years. Arthas had to snicker since Varian looked as if his head were about to explode. “Y-yes, of course, I’ll arrange it! Anything in particular you want?” Val’s eyebrow cocked.

“Really? You had to ask me that?” Varian chuckled, trying to control his nerves…why was he acting like this?! He supposed he was trying to win her back in a way, so it would stand to reason that his nerves were starting to get the better of him. It had been so long he had almost forgotten what fun wooing her was…but then he remembered their deal and withered a little, since it meant he had to remember what being friends with her was, and that was even longer than he had to recollect, so it was hard.

“No, I suppose I didn’t. Bessie’s steak pie?” Val was practically salivating just thinking about it. “Of fucking course Bessie’s steak pie! She’s like a sorcerer but for pie!” Though Val looked guilty as soon as she said it. “Bess isn’t angry that I haven’t been to the Keep, is she?” Varian didn’t miss a beat before saying no. “If anything she’s furious with me. She was under the same impression you were, that I knew all along what was going to happen.” Arthas looked absolutely full of glee as her put his chin on his palm.

“I never knew a dishcloth to be used as such a prolific weapon before, it was rather enlightening.” Val snorted at Varian’s dirty look. “She didn’t slap you with it?” Varian gave her a pointed look. “You expected her to do any less? I swear, she’s the only woman in Stormwind that can get away with assaulting the Prince.” Val played with the ends of her hair now she’d taken it out of it’s tie, staring at the table. “I’m really not looking forward to seeing Uncle Llane.” Varian huffed, and judging by the look Arthas was giving him, he knew what he was about to say.

“You probably won’t, he’s barely seen nowadays.” Val couldn’t help her look of concern. “How so?” Varian leant forward at the same time Arthas did. “Technically we’re not supposed to be discussing this.” Arthas glared at him. “There’s no technically about it. It wasn’t supposed to leave the Keep Varian.” He got a swift middle finger as a response.

“There’s been attacks at Westfall, Redridge and Brightwood. Devastating ones, with more casualties than I care to think about again.” Val’s brows snapped down and she looked between the two princes. “Attacks? By who, bandits?” Arthas suddenly looked rather exasperated. “We wish it were that simple. No, we’ve been going over the reports all afternoon, and they all point to the same race that came here a few years ago.” To explain further, Varian pointed to his nose.

“The one that did that.” Val suddenly felt rather sober. “They’ve come back?” Arthas gravely nodded. “As far as we can tell. We don’t know exactly where they’re coming from but there’s more of them this time, they were first sighted about a year ago.” Varian took the last swig of his ale, looking glum in an instant.

“My father’s sent men to the one camp we know of to speak to them and see if we can’t just negotiate peace…it didn’t end well.” He ran a large hand down his face, looking strangely older. “He seems convinced that a defector is the answer to what we can do. A halfling called Garona has been giving him counsel on the matter.”Val tried her best to keep up.

“So what is he doing about them?” That’s when Varian just looked angry. “He’s sending out small forces to keep them at bay and has asked Medivh for help. Other than that, not a damn thing.” Arthas looked disapprovingly at him.

“That’s not entirely true. Sir Lothar has managed to thin their numbers considerably.” Varian leant to her ear, clearly not wanting anyone else to hear him. “There are ‘talks’ that they’re making their way here.” Val started, turning quickly enough to almost kiss him and only just managing to not do it. “Do we know this for sure?” Varian shook his head.

“No, it’s all hearsay right now. This ‘Garona’ believes that they’ll go for the smaller villages first, so we’ve sent detachments to Goldshire and Moonbrook…that’s really all we can do for now. But expect more work in the coming days; there’s a recruitment rally in two days time for the army. I can easily get you and Lucian the contract for their weapons.” Val wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

“Sounds serious if the army is being brought in…” Varian put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “It’s just a precaution. They’d be fools to try and invade Stormwind, It’d be suicide for the lot of them.” Arthas chuckled after a few seconds of silence. “Well, what a happy occasion this turned into.”

Varian clearly thought the same thing, so he stood, letting Val get up to let him out. “Then I’ll remedy that with a few more drinks. Ale again brother? Or will you dare to venture for something stronger?” Arthas narrowed his eyes at him, passing his empty tankard to the brunette. “I don’t like most alcohol Varian, you’ve known this for years. Just shut up and get me an ale.” Varian put Val’s hair behind her ear, momentarily forgetting what they’d just discussed.

“Rum?” She gave him a grin, trying not to enjoy the small gesture or the warmth of his palm, but it was proving difficult. “If you could. Want the money?” Varian ruffled her hair in mock anger. “Don’t even try it Missy. I’ll be two minutes, don’t miss me too much.” Once he was gone, Arthas gave Val an encouraging smile. “Well, I’ll give you two this; I thought you’d be all over each other by now.” Val sputtered, picking her nails even though she knew it was a bad habit.

“In all fairness, I didn’t even think I’d be speaking to him tonight, so I’m just as astounded as you are.” Arthas tightened the low ponytail his long blonde hair was in. “I’m glad you gave him a chance. Others would find it slightly amusing how quickly you two patched things up.” Val seemed to agree with him. “Did you really expect us not to? We’ve never done long arguments Arthas, and if I’m honest…I always knew he had nothing to do with it. I was just blaming him because I can’t punch a king.” Arthas chuckled, linking his fingers.

“It’s a shame, since Tiffin’s actually quite nice when she’s not pretending to love Varian.” Val nodded in confident agreement this time. “I know that, we got on well before this whole debacle. I just hope she doesn’t think I’m trying to ruin everything.” Arthas shook his head this time, still looking confident. “I doubt she will. She doesn’t want this betrothal as much as Varian does; if anything she’ll probably appreciate how happier Varian will be.”

“Varian will be what?” This time Val shuffled up so Varian could sit down and pass them their drinks, looking between them for an answer. “We’re just saying that you two not being at each others throats will benefit everybody, even Tiffin.” Varian took a long swig of his beer, choosing the Dwarven beverage this time over his usual ale.

“Tiffin doesn’t matter.” Val nudged him, grimacing at him. “Varian, I can bet every little copper I have that she didn’t want this as much as you.” Varian clucked his tongue angrily. “I can’t believe I’m being shackled to that cow. I wish there was a way to break the oath.” Arthas gave him an uneasy look.

“Varian, betrothals have been part of noble life since the beginning of time. There’s ways of coping with them that don’t involve killing each other.” Varian pounded a fist on the table. “I have to sleep with the bitch Arty! How the hells can I cope with that?” Val hated talking about this subject but it needed to be addressed. “Only until she squeezes out an heir Varian! Then you’ll never have to touch her again. It’s all about duty.” Arthas couldn’t help his grin.

“Just shut your eyes and think of Stormwind.” He ducked to avoid Varian’s swat, making Val laugh even thought the subject should've hurt. And it did, she wouldn’t deny it, but she wouldn’t be staying true to their deal to treat each other as friends from now on, and she really wanted to stick to it. “She’s only your wife in title Varian, you said that yourself. If you really wanted to, you wouldn’t have to even see her during the day.” Arthas made a noise of agreement.

“But since she’s actually a nice person and not an evil witch, maybe you two can have a nice, civil discussion about the situation and merely be ‘married friends’?” Varian sighed into his tankard, knowing they were both right. “I suppose I do have to spend my life with her….it would be easier to do if we got on.” Val patted his arm, giving him a pained smile.

“See, that’s the attitude. You don’t even have to kiss her if you don’t want to. Just make an heir then Bob’s your Uncle.” Varian gave her a smirk. “You make it sound so bloody easy.” Arthas shrugged as if it were nothing. “We’re here to make it easy.” Val looked thoughtful. “Maybe we can have lunch alone tomorrow, but arrange one with her in the next couple of days so we can air everything out.” Varian actually looked like he was up for it.

“If she feels like we keep her in the loop and tell her outright that we’re not a couple anymore she’ll probably work better with us.” Arthas raised his tankard, happy that he wouldn’t be spending tonight with a miserable Varian. “To all of us being friends again, and helping Varian cope with marriage.” Val was reluctant to toast to that, but did it anyway, not wanting to send mixed messages to the Prince of Stormwind. “To being friends.”

It was far later than she hoped it would be by the time Arthas called it a night on Varian’s behalf, since the Prince of Stormwind was in no fit state to make decisions for himself. Val was only slightly drunk since she was well aware that she had a full day of banging metal against metal ahead of her tomorrow, but Varian had downed tankard after tankard like it was the last thing he’d ever do. Arthas pulled the knitted muffler he was wearing down so he could speak as they all stood outside the tavern, embracing Val quickly and stepping back, concious of both time and how damn cold it was.

“It was wonderful seeing you Val. I regret that It didn’t happen sooner.” Val gave him a smile, wrapping her cloak around her, not enjoying seeing her breath in physical form. “Well, I think we can all admit that was my fault. But we’ll definitely make it a more regular thing.” Arthas kissed her cheek, beckoning Varian, who was leaning against the wall for the sake of holding himself up, to come with him, but to only a margin of his surprise, Varian shook his head.

“I’m going to walk Val home.” Val had to laugh as he shambled over, pushing him back up as he swayed forward. “You can barely walk yourself Varian. Go on, I’ll be over tomorrow for our lunch.” His hug threatened to crack her ribs and she patted his back, letting him pull away in his own time and trying not to swoon at the sandalwood and orange scent that she had become quite accustomed to over the years from the oil he used in his hair to keep it neat.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?” She cupped his cheek, patting it gently. “I’ve done it a million times, it’s only down the road, I’ll be fine Varian. You go sleep this off.” He kissed her cheek, much like Arthas had, but it meant alot more this time. His lips were still rough like she remembered, and it made her knees a little bit weak even though it was considered a friendly gesture.

“I’m glad you don’t hate me anymore Val.” Val didn’t know who was laughing more, she or Arthas. “I am too Varian. Night you two.” She finally broke away from them, not being able to help laughing even more at Varian’s drunken rants as she made her way over to The Gilded Rose. “Light I fucking love that girl Arty! She’s great, ain’t she?! Even when she couldn’t stand me, I loved her!”

She would never say it out loud now lest it just make things more complicated, but the more she thought about it as she put her key in the door and opened it to the silence of the shop, she didn’t hate him quite as much as he had supposedly thought she did. Sure, she was devastated that their relationship had to end and truly thought that he’d lied to her, so she was hurt…but she could never hate him.

One flash of his smile, the rich baritone of his voice, the warmth of his skin, it all added up to an admission that she made to herself and only herself as she poked her head into her brother’s room to find him snoring, venturing over to hers, pulling her boots off, stripping down and curling up under the covers she’d had since she could remember, thinking about the strange turn her night had taken and absolutely loving it.