Chapter 1: What A Wonderful World
“I am. What have you and our little one been up to in my absence?”
Her voice was almost deeper than his. Low in a way that caused it to naturally carry without her even having to raise it. She’d always been a great commander. And - much to her chagrin - she was an even better Ranger-General.
“The usual.” He responded as he walked away from their stove - leaving the spoon still stirring the stew he’d been working on in his absence as he made his way across the room to her. “Studies. Language...calligraphy...I didn’t manage to keep her away from a bow while you were gone, but we’re working on that.”
They shared a soft smile at his teasing before Lireesa bent towards him and rested her forehead against his. “I have missed your wit, Aravath.” She murmured quietly, lifting a gloved hand to stroke over his long, golden blonde hair.
“And I’ve missed bothering you with it. Now go sit while I finish dinner. We’ve plenty of time to catch up later.”
The Ranger-General let out a greatful sigh and pulled away to move towards the sofa situated in front of the fireplace that was blazing with flames of brilliant colors that gave off no heat. It was too warm for that right now...but Aravath had always known she loved fires.
The sound of light feet on the stairs made one of her ears twitch and the golden leaf that adorned it swung faintly but she didn’t turn her head. Sylvanas had taken to learning how to sneak and she was young enough that a little pretending wouldn’t hurt.
She played along even as she knew every movement her youngest daughter made - all the way up until she leaped onto the back of the substantial piece of furniture and wrapped her arms around her neck. It was then that Lireesa grabbed her tightly in her arms for a moment as she struggled to escape, laughing all the while until the General finally let her go. She took a few steps back and tried to school her expression into some semblance of formality. It looked ridiculous and Lireesa could tell she’d been schooled in more courtly graces in her absence. But she let her try.
And then she smiled softly as her youngest daughter climbed into her lap once she beckoned her near. She'd, herself, been gone for over two weeks and Alleria still hadn't made it back. But it seemed Sylvanas’s sole focus was on her mother. And that was just fine. Because Lireesa’s only concern in that moment was her. She pulled her closer and kissed the top of her head as Aravath continued his work behind them on their dinner.
“Mama?” Sylvanas’s youthful face turned up to her mother’s scarred one and the gently measuring gaze that was leveled at her. “Yes, my love?” Lireesa always took Sylvanas’s questions seriously.
“How come Rangers are always ladies? If boys were Rangers I would get to see you more often.”
Lireesa’s expression grew more serious as Sylvanas reached up to toy with some of the silver strands of hair that rested so starkly against the sleek, black mane that was pulled away from the sharp angles of the Ranger-General’s face. But a smile played around the corners of her lips that caused the lines beside her eyes to show more clearly.
She lifted her daughter to stand between her legs on the sofa so they were eye to eye and held her up by her sides. “There are just some things ladies are more adept at than...boys. We are smaller. Faster. And just as strong - even stronger, in some cases. More suited to this life. Does that make sense to you?”
Sylvanas looked over her mother’s shoulder as she reached out to toy with the black feathers adorning her spaulder in the direction of her father who was smirking but silent. He felt her thoughtful gaze on him and looked over his shoulder at her with a wink.
She giggled softly at her father’s silliness and then turned her attention back to the steely, glowing grey gaze of her mother that had always held nothing but adoration when it fell on her. “Will I be one, someday? And then I could go with you and Sister when you have to leave…”
Lireesa’s eyes glinted with pride as she reached up to run her hands through the pale blonde of her daughter’s hair before cradling cheeks that still held the softness of childhood in them. “Oh, Sylvanas. You will be the very best of us. I promise you.”
“The best?” Sylvanas asked incredulously. There was an impressive amount of disbelief in her tone for someone so young.
“Mama, that’s silly. You’re the best. That’s why you’re the most important one.” Her hands came up to touch the dark, padded gauntlets still covering her mother’s hands and forearms as she continued looking at her - waiting for her to agree. But, to her surprise, she didn’t.
“Not the most important.” Lireesa corrected gently as she lowered her daughter to sit on one of her legs. “Every Ranger is just as important as I am. Every single one. You must remember that...it’s very important. One Ranger could mean the loss of a battle. Or a Kingdom.”
Sylvanas leaned into her mother and rested her head against the softness of the feathers that covered one of her pauldrons. She thought hard about that answer. She didn’t like to be wrong...but when she was, she liked to try to understand why.
“But if you weren’t there, who would tell them what to do?”
Lireesa found herself caught off guard by the level of insight that question hid beneath it and she couldn’t help but chuckle quietly as she reached for one of her daughter’s hands and held it in the palm of her own. “Very good, Sylvanas. Yes. Leaders are important...in different ways. Not more. Just different. It’ll be easier to understand when you’re older. I promise you.”
Aravath, noticing the slight fatigue in his wife’s voice, called out for Sylvanas to help him finish up.
“Your mother needs to get out of that armor, anyway, Lady Moon.” He explained to her as she padded across the room to him. “She’s been in it for far too long.”
Lireesa, recognizing her cue, stood and began to make her way up the spiraling stairs to their bedchambers to rack her armor and finally put on something more comfortable.
Their dinner was subdued but comfortable. Mostly filled with Sylvanas catching her mother up on everything she’d learned while she’d been gone. Their home was filled with welcomed chatter and the smell of fresh baked bread and stew and warmth. More warmth than Lireesa would have ever expected so very long ago before any of this had happened. And on nights like these, she still appreciated it. She couldn’t help but appreciate it, really.
And so, when Aravath offered to take Sylvanas to bed Lireesa declined and instead hoisted the sleepy girl up against her hip - now clad in soft, dark linen nightclothes that were no longer a danger to her.
“Will Alleria be home soon, too?” Her voice was barely audible as she pressed her face against her mother’s shoulder as they rounded the corner into her bedroom.
“She’s due back any day now. Have you missed her, my love?” Lireesa asked as she lowered her into bed and covered her snugly before kneeling at her bedside and looking her over. She was growing so fast. She was so smart. So quick-witted. So incredibly good.
“I always miss her. Like I miss you. I can’t wait ‘til I’m old enough to-”
“Shh. Hush now, Lady Moon.” Lireesa murmured - her low voice turning into something gentle and soothing as easily as it shouted orders across a battlefield. “No need to rush. There will always be battles for you to be the hero of. And when that day comes I will be the proudest mother on Azeroth. But that won’t be any different.”
“What’s that mean? Any different from what?” Sylvanas’s drowsy response brought with it her mother’s gentle fingertips in her hair - soothing her into sleep even as she spoke.
“I am already the proudest mother on Azeroth. You needn’t ever lift another bow for that to be true.”
“Thank you, Mama. Can Velonara come over tomorrow?” Her heavy eyelids seemed to manage to open more as she waited for that response in particular and Lireesa nodded.
“As though she hasn’t been here every day of my absence. Of course, she can. Now rest.”
Lireesa kissed her daughter’s forehead gently as her breathing began to even out. But she stayed for quite a while - just stroking along her scalp and watching over her until she heard Aravath in the doorway behind her.
“A lovely image.” He murmured quietly, and his stance made her wonder how long he’d been standing there while she’d been so enthralled. “But either you’re slipping in your old age or you need to sleep.”
If Sylvanas hadn’t been sleeping so near to her she’d have scoffed audibly but she settled for standing and leaving her bedroom with the mage that had been waiting for her for gods only knew how long.
“I was only half kidding, you know.” Aravath continued his earlier teasing as he shut their door behind them and turned to look at his wife worriedly. “You were supposed to have retired decades ago, I...Lireesa I worry about you.”
The Ranger-General sighed quietly and reached for his hand to lead him to bed before she sat him down on the edge of it and looked down into his eyes.
The years had been so very kind to her. He thought that every time he looked at her. The silver dusting her raven-black hair...the soft lines at the corners of her eyes and the small, delicate scar that split one of her eyebrows all only added to how otherworldly she truly was. She had been his best friend and he hers for so long the thought of losing her was unbearable.
“I know. I know you do, Aravath.” She responded as she reached up to cradle his cheek. “But Alleria doesn’t want this life. Have patience. Have faith. Aside from a skirmish here and there,
there is more peace in our forests now than ever there has been. All will be well in the end.”
He sighed. Clearly not satisfied - but willing to relent for the time being. “Were you wounded? Are you sore anywhere?” He asked as he reached for her hand and held it in his own before kissing her palm.
The deep laugh he received in response did little to assuage his concerns. But he found it lovely nonetheless.
“I am sore everywhere. A good nights rest and a long, hot bath tomorrow will do me wonders, I think.”
He was thankful, at least, that she’d finally admitted that much to him and he pushed the covers back a bit - slipping under them and waiting for her to join him before he pulled them around her as well.
“And perhaps a visit to Silvermoon, hm?” He continued with a faintly playful smile on his face as she heaved a relieved sigh the moment her face pressed into the silk pillowcase beneath her head when she turned onto her stomach and felt Aravath’s hand stroking along her back over the sheets.
“In a few days. Alleria can probably be convinced to take her sister hunting. I’m sure you could use a visit of your own after watching her for two weeks straight.”
“I could, yes. But I’m certain I’m not the only one that’s been missing you.”
Lireesa turned her attention to him at that - her eyes already half shut and her expression nothing if not content.
“I’m sure she has missed me, yes.” She responded in a faint murmur as he dimmed the magelights that had been illuminating the room until a comfortable level of darkness blanketed them. “But we all have our responsibilities. I’m not the only one by any measure. And, besides, I’ve missed you and Sylvanas terribly. It isn’t often Alleria’s leave coincides with mine. It will be lovely for all of us to be together under the same roof for a while.”
“And that’s true enough.” He responded quietly, slowly lowering his own head down from the hand it had been propped on. “I’m glad you’re home, Lireesa.” His free arm shifted so the hand not stroking her back rested between them and smiled as he found Lireesa’s fingers twining with his own.
“I’m glad to be home. I really am.”
There was a time in her past when she never could have imagined uttering those words - much less actually meaning them. But, gods, she meant them, now.
And even as tired as her husband was after two weeks of chasing Sylvanas around the spires and the forests - something he would never get used to and something he would swear had almost killed him during Alleria’s childhood - he managed to stay awake while she drifted off. If only to make sure she would wake well rested. And perhaps to spend a few more moments appreciating having her home.
"What A Wonderful World"
I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, "How do you do?"
They're really saying
"I love you"
I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They'll learn much more
Than I'll never know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Chapter 2: Count On Me
But judging by the distressed noise that came from the bottom of the staircase - her husband felt rather differently.
“Alleria, please! Your boots...leave them at the door. That’s all I ask.” He sounded exasperated, yes, but as he jogged over to her and helped her off with them it was clear by the look of relief on his face that he’d missed her and that he’d been worrying - even if she did seem to delight in making a mess of their home from time to time.
“Where is Lady Moon?” She asked almost immediately as Aravath carried her boots over to the door to sit them on the nearby mat next to her mother’s.
“Sleeping. It’s late, you know. I’d have expected you back hours ago.” Lireesa responded as she finally sat her book to the side and looked up at her eldest daughter.
“The amount of reports I had to relay before my leave was...undesirable.” The last word was more of a grumble than anything as she continued her journey and plopped down along the sofa rather unceremoniously.
“A complaint I understand all too well. And how is my Captain?” She continued as Aravath began magicking away the boot prints she’d left all over their floors.
“Tired, honestly. And ready for some reprieve. How was your circuit, mother?” She leaned her head over the arm of the couch and looked at the older woman upside-down as she tossed one of her legs over the back of the couch. She’d always been comfortable in the strangest positions. And Lireesa had always found it endearing.
The Ranger-General pushed herself up from the comfort of her chair, then, and lifted Alleria’s head with a hand at the back of it so she could press a kiss to her forehead. “There is reprieve aplenty here, my dear. You’ll have all the rest you desire before and after you take Sylvanas hunting. Now let me go find you something to eat while your father frets over your mess. I'm sure you're starving.”
“Take...take her hunting? When did I agree to-”
“Hush, now. Only for a night.” Lireesa chided as she saw Alleria lift her head so she could watch her mother over the back of the couch. She sighed quietly and laid back down - resigned to her fate.
“And you'll be taking Velonara, too. Her mother is still in-field and has been for over a month. It will do the child good to be around the two of you.” Lireesa used a very no-nonsense tone and there was no question as to whether or not this was optional. But that didn't stop Alleria.
“Anar’alah, Mother. Not one child, but two?” She groaned as she looked back over at Lireesa then plopped back down along the couch again rather dramatically.
Lireesa chuckled quietly as she made her way back over to her daughter and leaned over the back of the couch to place a cloth filled with small slices of bread and cured meats on her stomach. “Yes, Alleria. Two. And you know very well they will be all too well-behaved on their trip with a Farstrider Captain.”
“Mmh. True enough.” She relented before starting in on her impromptu dinner. “I take it you'll be visiting Auntie Elle, then?”
Lireesa smirked and settled herself back down in her chair before retrieving her book. “I will, yes. Thank you, very much, my most observant daughter.”
“I suppose at least there will be something delicious to come back to, then.” She continued as she ate - not paying much mind to her father as he ushered her feet off the sofa so he could find space at the end of it to sit down.
“I am rather fond of her baking, as well, Lireesa. I do hope Alleria is correct.” He winked at her as she lifted her gaze to meet his.
“Are there not always treats when I come back from Silvermoon? You are as bad as your daughter, Aravath.” Her complaint was half-hearted at best as she tried to find the place she'd left off at in her reading.
“And you, Father? I don’t suppose you’ll be hanging around the spires by yourself, hm?” She asked as she looked down at him and lifted her legs so they rested across his lap. He leaned back to give her room and rested a hand over them followed by a gentle pat.
“I don’t suppose I will. Did you take leave just to air your mother and I’s business to no one in particular, or did you also need the rest and relaxation?” He lifted a brow as he looked at her - feigning a rather serious expression that almost caused Lireesa to snort when she glanced up and saw it.
“That is my rest and relaxation, Father.” She responded as she popped the last of her dinner into her mouth and got up rather abruptly to head towards the kitchen.
“You might find it more relaxing to actually go to bed after a hard day’s riding, you know? I merely speak from experience. You’re not as young as you used to be.” Lireesa stood, then, to join Aravath on the couch as she gave up on reading for the evening.
Alleria turned sharply and clutched at her chest, looking positively stricken. “Mother! Please! I am in my prime!” She tossed the cloth that had been given to her with her food onto the counter and laughed at her own wittiness as she made her way towards the stairs. As much as she loved giving her parents a hard time they really were right. She was actually tired.
Once she was out of sight - though they both knew she was never really out of earshot - Lireesa looked over at her husband and reached out to tuck some of his hair behind his ear. “Your daughter is going to drive me mad one of these days, you know that?” She asked softly as he looked over at her.
“She truly missed her calling as a bard or an actor, I think.”
“I don’t think she has the voice for that, unfortunately.” Lireesa spoke just loudly enough for her daughter to hear from her bedroom and snorted at the quiet choking noise she got in response. She’d have likely protested more loudly were her bedroom not adjacent to her little sister’s.
They both responded immediately and their effort was quite admirable. In fact - even after a solid mile Sylvanas had never faltered. She rarely even had to examine any signs for longer than a moment or two. And to see a girl as young as Velonara on such high alert - so keen not only to do as she'd been asked but to do it for her friend, was heartening. They were both treating this hunt very seriously.
Eventually, though, as the tracks became fresher - Alleria moved back to the lead. She was thankful they were old enough that they’d long ago learned how to be nearly silent in the forests because they were far enough out that they genuinely needed a kill in order to eat that night.
When they finally came upon the clearing the stag they’d been stalking had come to rest in her shot was true and she was certain the animal wouldn’t suffer the moment she loosed her arrow from her bow. “Well, now.” She remarked wryly as she stood from the bushes she’d been crouched behind and looked down at the girls still on either side of herself. “We won’t go hungry tonight. How does that sound?”
Sylvanas was beaming with pride at her older sister and they shared the tasks required to dress the animal and dispose of any remains in a way that would only benefit the forests instead of harming them. “Do you know why it’s important that we do this?” Alleria asked as she tossed the remainder of the innards that weren’t useable into the stream the animal had been drinking from.
“To feed the fish?” Velonara asked as she watched some of the pieces get snatched beneath the surface of the water.
“Close enough.” Alleria responded as she adjusted the heavy burden of meat and hide against her shoulder into a more comfortable position.
As they walked back Velonara hung back slightly - waiting for her friend to notice and fall behind as well. Alleria allowed it, despite the fact that she noticed the change of pace without even having to look.
“What was the right answer?” Velonara asked in a whisper as Sylvanas glanced from her sister’s back to her friend’s inquiring face.
“We do it to give back what we have to take.” She responded just as quietly. “That’s what mom always taught me.”
“Oh…” Velonara pondered that idea for a moment before she decided it made quite a great deal of sense and they quickened their strides to catch up with Alleria.
By the time they were settled back at camp and Alleria had constructed a device to smoke what they wouldn’t eat that night the sun had long since set. And while she was quiet about her tasks she enjoyed listening to the soft chatter of her little sister and Velonara. But she was distracted by her horse snuffling and stomping quietly at the edge of camp.
“Come here, you two.” She feigned a groan as she stood - raising the loin currently roasting on a spit over the coals she’d banked to the side so it wouldn’t burn as she picked them both up and carried them towards the impatient horse currently pointing his ears at them.
“He can’t see as well as you two can at night. Take him down to the stream so he can drink one more time before bed. By the time you’re back we should be ready to eat. Feel free to bring me back some berries if you spot any.”
She situated the two young girls on the back of the large animal - not worried about a saddle. She wasn’t sure about Velonara’s riding abilities - but she was sure enough about her sister’s that she knew the girl wouldn’t be allowed to fall.
Alleria watched with a warm smile as Sylvanas guided the horse down and away from camp with simple, quiet noises and slight shifts of her legs against his sides before returning to her cooking.
Velonara looked around them as both their ears shifted naturally in the direction of any nearby sounds - but neither of them was nervous. They both knew these forests well and the stream wasn’t terribly far away. Eventually, they grew comfortable enough for quiet conversation as Alleria’s horse dipped his head and began to drink his fill.
“What?” She asked as she turned her head to glance over her shoulder at the girl sitting behind her.
“Do you think we’ll always be friends?” She asked - her voice getting a touch quieter.
Sylvanas smiled softly and turned her attention back to the way the moonlight glinted off the little waves the horse they rode created as he drank.
“I know we’ll always be friends.” She responded - her tone so certain and her smile so contagious it settled Velonara’s sudden worries for the time being. At least until they began riding back to camp.
“How are you so sure?”
“I just am. You’ve always been my best friend...I don’t want you to ever not be.” She responded as she kept her eyes focused on the path ahead of them more for the horse’s safety than for their own.
“I don’t ever want to not be, either.” Velonara mumbled as she leaned back and rested her hands behind her comfortably.
“You don’t ever have to not be. So don’t worry about it.” Sylvanas’s reply was short and simple as the glow of their fire came into view and she slipped from the horses back - reaching up to help Velonara down. It was a rather long way and it was just always something she’d done instinctively with the younger girl.
“No berries?” Alleria asked as her mouth fell agape and she made quite a show of her disappointment as the girls moved to sit next to her on the blanket she’ laid near the fire and reclined back on nonchalantly.
Sylvanas laughed quietly and reached into the little pouch she wore at her hip - producing a handful of them that Velonara hadn’t even noticed her snatch on their way back.
“That’s my girl. Now sit, get comfortable. It’s dinner time.”
Alleria found herself incredibly glad her mother had volunteered her for this trip as Velonara and Sylvanas ate from the same plate and she bit pieces off of what meat was still left on the spit she’d been cooking on.
“Still hungry?” She asked when they’d all finished and she’d moved over to the smoking rack to turn the thin strips that were still curing. Sylvanas looked at Velonara who seemed too shy, suddenly, to answer and she nodded at her sister despite the fact that she was quite full.
When she was handed a strip of meat that was adequately done she tore off the larger piece for Velonara and nibbled on her own portion while Alleria finished shifting the rack so their prize could continue curing through the night as they slept.
“Alright. Get comfortable.” Alleria ordered quietly as she glanced over at them when she noticed how quiet they’d suddenly gotten - exhausted and full bellies, both.
She helped them under the pack blanket she’d placed atop the bedroll she’d spread for them to share and watched as they pressed close to one another. Her eyes met Sylvanas’s as she looked over Velonara at her and she reached over to stroke gently through her hair, gently picking a leaf out of the pale strands that she must have picked up on their short ride earlier.
“A story?” She asked softly, pulling her own bedroll nearer than she’d initially placed it.
“Yes, please.” Sylvanas whispered in response as Velonara turned slowly so she could see Alleria, as well. They both propped themselves up ever so slightly as though they would miss something if they couldn’t see properly.
“A long time ago - when our people first came to this land - there were no Elf Gates. No Silvermoon. We had to fight for all of that. Even when we got it - we had to keep on fighting. And there was no fiercer warrior than your great-grandfather, Lady Moon. Talanas Windrunner.”
Sylvanas smiled. This was her favorite story. And Alleria knew that.
“He fought so fiercely and so bravely that he helped to secure our peoples' freedom and our peace for generations to come. And he became the first Ranger-General of Silvermoon. But that wasn’t all, was it?”
Sylvanas shook her head as her smile spread into a grin for a moment before it faded - so enraptured she was by this tale she’d heard a hundred times over.
But to Velonara - the fine details of the legend were all new. And her face was full of wonderment.
“They saw fit to reward him with a powerful weapon. A bow with a frame crafted from the Mother Tree, herself. Bathed in the waters of the Sunwell upon its completion. A bow more powerful than any other on Azeroth. And Talanas repaid them for this gift tenfold. He drove the trolls so far back that Eversong became ours. And Thas’dorah...Valor of the Forest, has been borne by every Ranger-General thereafter. And so it shall be, always. Our Great-Grandfather. Our Grandfather. Mother. So long as the bow is in the hands of a Windrunner General our lands will be protected and our foes will continue to fear the very sight of it.”
“And then you?” Sylvanas asked quietly as her brows furrowed.
Alleria chuckled quietly at that. “Oh, no, Lady Moon. I think not. But that is a discussion for another time. You are both half asleep, as it is. Rest.”
As much as Sylvanas wanted to question that - as much as the curiosity was eating away at her - sleep was winning out. But her dreams were full of this tale and many others that she asked to hear so often.
Alleria watched over them as they slept - only dozing now and again next to them, but never allowing herself to fully drift off. It was easy enough after centuries of doing the same for the various units she’d commanded. And she was content. Content to be surrounded by the sounds of the forest and the quiet set of breaths over her shoulder as the flames cast shadows and warmth across her face.
"Count On Me"
If you ever find yourself stuck in the middle of the sea
I'll sail the world to find you
If you ever find yourself lost in the dark and you can't see
I'll be the light to guide you
We find out what we're made of
When we are called to help our friends in need
You can count on me
Like 1, 2, 3
I'll be there
And I know when I need it
I can count on you
Like 4, 3, 2
You'll be there
'Cause that's what friends are supposed to do
If you're tossin' and you're turnin'
And you just can't fall asleep
I'll sing a song beside you
And if you ever forget how much you really mean to me
Every day I will remind you
We find out what we're made of
When we are called to help our friends in need
You'll always have my shoulder when you cry
I'll never let go, never say goodbye
You can count on me 'cause I can count on you
Chapter 3: Shrike
The florist couldn’t have known how wrong she was. She couldn’t have known - as Lireesa tipped the stable-boy to board her horse for the night and headed towards a bakery in a currently quiet sector of the city - that the one who had caught her eye was just a baker. Just a woman. An unremarkable woman with brown hair and soft curves whose apron was always dusted with flour. Whose smile had always been warm for her. Who had never stumbled over her words in the presence of the Ranger-General. And who had always had room for her in the warmth of her arms and her bed. Unremarkable, indeed. To most. But so incredibly special and irreplaceable to Lireesa. Every curve and every light-colored scar from her ovens long since memorized by her fingertips and lips. A woman she had loved for so many years she could scarcely remember a time when she did not.
Lireesa watched from the shadows across the cobbled road as Elenia busied herself - turning the ‘Open’ sign hanging in her bakery’s storefront windows around and moving around briskly to straighten so she could get a few hours rest before she woke with the dawn to bake for the coming day. But not this particular coming day. No - this particular coming day she would have her young helper serve a rather limited selection of bread that had already risen and was ready for breaking. Perhaps a few sweets that hadn’t sold out before she’d closed. No. She would be in bed in Lireesa’s arms for these visits were all too rare and precious for both of them to be squandered.
She walked so lightly and Elenia was so preoccupied she didn’t hear her approach - yet still, she just stood in the doorway, leaned against the curved frame of it watching her bustle around with a damp cloth as she held the bouquet in front of herself. But finally - Elenia’s eyes caught sight of something strange over her shoulder and she paused, leaving her cloth unattended on the table she’d been wiping down as she turned. Perhaps her breath caught in her throat as her eyes found the ice-blue of Lireesa’s, framed so starkly by the black of her hair and the armor that almost blended into the shade of the doorway, protected - as it were - from the glow of the enchanted street lamps outside. Perhaps her heart skipped a beat as lips she knew to be softer than velvet curved into a gentle smile that so few people had ever seen.
“Closing up shop already, Lady Elenia?” Lireesa asked in a low murmur as she righted herself and reached to shut the door of the bakery. She didn’t need to look to slide the locking latch into place. “Might you be able to accommodate one more customer this evening?” Her eyes followed Elenia as she made her way over to her, untying her apron as she walked and leaving it on a nearby chair so as not to sully her armor - not that Lireesa had ever minded that. It was just something the woman had always insisted upon.
“That depends, Lady Duskheart.” She responded softly - her use of Lireesa’s first-given name bringing a faint smile to the woman’s lips. She was content to play this game with her lover. It had always amused them both. And it served to diffuse their ever-present longing for one-another - a longing that only grew worse the more they were apart. And it had been a long while this time.
She moved closer until the flowers were the only thing keeping them apart and her eyes fell from Lireesa’s to the delicate red petals of the roses she held. She reached up and brushed her fingertips across some of them before reaching for the clasp of the other woman’s heavy cloak and unhooking it with practiced ease. She reached behind Lireesa and hung it on the coat rack near the door before speaking again - knowing the General was waiting for her to continue. “What, exactly, have you come looking for? As you can see - I’ve already cleaned up for the night.”
Lireesa stood still for Elenia as the garment was removed - and with it, the black-feathered pauldrons that had been settled over shoulders that were now bared. Broad and strong beneath her lover’s fingertips as she reached for a rather nasty scar on the right one and traced the lines of it slowly.
The Ranger-General’s eyes flicked to the gentle touch before she bowed her head ever so slightly and pressed a kiss to the baker’s cheek. “I’ve come looking for the same thing I’ve come looking for for years.” She whispered against the already slightly flushed skin her lips brushed against. She could feel the warmth against her mouth and it nearly caused her eyes to slip shut. And it might have - were she not so interested in Elenia’s response. “For the piece of my heart that I have been missing.”
That drew a rather sharp exhale from her and she took the flowers from Lireesa - setting them to the side before she reached for her and drew her into her arms firmly. Within the span of a heartbeat, her face was pressed against the crook of her General’s neck and the other woman’s arms were holding her so tightly it was almost painful. “I love you.” She breathed against the dark curtain of hair that kept her lips from touching Lireesa’s neck. “I missed you. So much.”
“And I, you, Elle. On both accounts. Always.” Lireesa murmured - the low velvet of her voice caressing Elenia’s ear as one of her hands came up to cradle the back of her head. She pulled back a moment later and lifted the other woman’s chin and Elenia’s eyelids fluttered faintly at the feeling of the supple leather against her skin. It was a familiar feeling. But she missed the roughness of her beloved’s fingertips.
That longing was dulled, however, as she was guided into a kiss. Their first kiss was always so soft. So slow. As though it were meant to reassure Elenia there was softness yet left in her. That it belonged to her. That she belonged to her.
And she melted into it. Gave herself over to it completely. Lireesa made it easy to do that. She always had.
With the softest touch down the front of her throat - along her ears - the sides of her neck. All while she slowly, carefully worked up to using her lips to part Elenia’s and find the tip of her tongue with her own. Just a touch. A touch that ended with a gentle graze of her upper lip before they were simply embracing again. “Have you thought of me?” Lireesa asked in a whisper. She knew the answer. She always did. And yet she always wanted to hear it.
“Every day, Lireesa. Every day that I wake and you aren’t safe in my arms. And every night that I don’t fall asleep to the sound of your breathing.”
Elenia felt the slow exhale this drew from her lover. The gradual relaxing of muscles beneath her hands that were always a little too tense.
“Have you eaten?” She asked softly as she turned her head and brushed her lips against her General’s sharp jaw.
“I would never come to you unfed. Lest you worry yourself into an early grave.” She pulled back, finally - just enough that her lover could move if she wished. But she didn’t. She simply reached out and ran her hand down her lover’s cool, thick armor from the center of her chest to the buckle of her sword belt.
“Then come to bed.”
Lireesa took a step forward and Elenia’s fingertips hooked into her belt, tugging it gently until they were pressed together once more.
“You were cleaning. I can help you.” She murmured as she took in the soft glow of her lover’s eyes. Not quite blue. Not quite green. And her scent. Raw flour and bread and the faintest hints of lavender.
“It can wait. Believe me. When do you need to leave?” Elenia reached up and rested her hand along Lireesa’s cheek - running the tip of her thumb along the dark, delicate brow that had been split in the middle. She could still remember when her lover had turned up with that scar. How she’d fretted over the bandage and how still Lireesa had been for her that night when she’d cleaned it and changed her dressing. So long ago.
“Not until tomorrow evening. You still have an apprentice, don’t you? I had hoped-”
“She can handle things tomorrow. Now, please. Come upstairs with me.”
She walked behind Elenia up the narrow staircase - a hand rested along her lower back as she ducked her head to avoid the floor hitting her before they surfaced in the baker’s spacious, warm loft.
“Now. Let me see you. It’s been too long.” Elenia’s voice was always so gentle. And never was it more gentle than in moments like these. When she worked every familiar buckle lose - every lace. She didn’t struggle with the weight of the scaled cuirass when she removed it. Years of kneading and lifting had seen to that. She leaned the beautiful piece of armor against the back of the armchair near the door and then rid her of the high-collared, sleeveless undershirt that did most of the job of protecting her skin from it.
Her fingertips traced lines of muscle so hard and defined it used to cause her worry. There was scarcely an inch of her lover’s body that wasn’t sculpted into usefulness. She was a walking weapon and she always had been. But not here. Not with her. And as her fingertips found the bindings that kept her breasts pressed against her chest Lireesa lifted a hand to stroke along her arm while she worked - lightly enough that she wouldn’t hamper her efforts. But enough that Elenia could finally feel the callouses on her fingertips and her palm.
Elenia discarded the soft linen wrappings and stroked slowly up the front of Lireesa’s body - finding the imprints the bindings had left in her chest before she lowered her head and instead found them with her lips.
Lireesa’s own lips parted as she sighed softly and bowed her head, reaching for the tie that held Elenia’s hair in its usual loose, messy bun and pulling it free gently so that waves of the warmest chestnut hair she’d ever seen fell against cloth of the simple white shirt she wore.
“You look like you’ve been in the field for months.” Elenia murmured as she stroked along the faint bruising that always came with the wearing of heavy armor for days on end.
“You always say that.” Lireesa husked in response as she reached for her own sword belt and unbuckled it - gathering it along with her sheathed blade in her hand to settle it across the arms of the chair the rest of her armor was already situated in.
“Mm. And you’d think sometime after the first fifty years or so you might have started putting a little more meat on your bones. Yet, here we are.”
But it was difficult to maintain her slightly teasing playfulness as Lireesa looked at her with a faint smile - dressed only in black leather lace-front breeches and boots to match with the cuts of muscle over her hips trailing into her low-slung waistband.
Lireesa continued watching as a flush rose from Elenia’s cheeks to her ears and spread along what little of her chest was exposed. “Did you bring me up here to scold me, Elle?” She asked quietly, stepping towards her and leaning down to kiss the corner of her mouth as she slowly started guiding her back towards the large bed on the other side of the room. It had been a gift. One that Lireesa had actually insisted Elenia take. She could be a restless sleeper sometimes. It served both of them well. And it especially served them well as Lireesa lifted Elenia up against herself easily and moved onto it on her knees to lay her down against the pillows slowly.
As her head met the softness of them, Elenia stroked along flexed shoulders and up to give her hair a faint tug as she smiled softly - her eyes lidded heavily and her breaths coming to her more quickly than usual. “Lireesa…” She breathed as the woman allowed her weight to settle against the comfortable softness of her body.
“Yes, my love?” Lireesa murmured as she turned her head towards the gentle caress given to her ear as Elenia tucked her hair behind it slowly.
“You just feel so good.” She whispered, watching as Lireesa’s expression softened even more. “And I’m just so glad to have you with me.”
“I’m very glad to be here.” Lireesa rested her hand gently along the front of Elenia’s throat towards her shirt, unlacing it gradually before she slipped her hand down and pulled it from the front of her leggings slowly. “And you feel indescribable.” She continued as she stroked slowly up her stomach - pulling her shirt up along with her touch and leaning down to kiss just beneath her navel.
For the next moments, all Elenia could do was lay there as Lireesa found every inch of skin she exposed for herself with her mouth. She occasionally managed a coaxing touch here and there - but when Lireesa was determined to take her time - that was exactly what she was going to do. And gods, did she. Elenia was half mad with want by the time she felt her leggings being slipped down her legs. And the warmth of Lireesa’s breath against her as she brushed her nose between her legs and pressed her lips to the soft mound of flesh she found came before they were even all the way off.
The way she went about it - when she finally did - drew long, languid moans from her as her thighs were guided apart by the lightest, most tender touches. Another reminder. She could be soft. Gentle. Loving. She was reminded by the way Lireesa exposed her with a hand resting on her lower stomach and her thumb just above where she so desperately needed her touch. Once she’d done that - she felt lips part against herself and the searing heat of the flat of Lireesa’s tongue stroked through her wetness slowly - gathering it and tasting of her. Savoring her.
And when at long last she gave her what she needed it was Lireesa that groaned the lowest - the loudest. A mixture of passion and possessiveness as she drank of her lover’s pleasure with slow sucking and rhythmic movements of her jaw.
When Elenia came she nothing short of quaked against the bed as she cried out hoarsely. This was the only time her voice had ever raised with Lireesa. In bed. With passion and hunger and want. Never in anger - in all their years.
Lireesa found herself dragged up Elenia’s body in short order and her glistening lips hovered over her lover’s as she pressed her hips down against the other woman’s and panted quietly.
“Enough, Lireesa.” She murmured - still slightly dazed. “You know I want what you do. Please. Stop keeping yourself from me.” The last words were gasped against lips and she savored the taste of herself that she found even as she felt the stretch of fingers inside her.
Her nails found flexing muscles and damp skin - sliding across it and digging in deeper with every movement.
“Harder.” She whimpered against Lireesa’s ear. “Let it out. I want it. I want you.”
And then there were no more words from either of them. Just the sound of Lireesa’s powerful efforts and her own appreciative, breathless moans and gasps. It might have been difficult to tell where one of them began and the other ended - they melded together and moved as one - as they always had. And somehow Elenia found space between them to press her hand into the front of Lireesa’s pants only to find her dripping and so sensitive she lost her rhythm for a moment when she first touched her.
The slight stumble caused her to press a smile against Lireesa’s cheek as the Ranger-General chuckled breathlessly and kissed the side of her mouth. But soon enough they were working as one to bring each other to their peaks. When they did - they collapsed as one, their arms pinned between them and their breathing labored and ragged.
But Elenia could feel the soft movements Lireesa still made against her. She was glad for her apprentice. And even more glad as moments turned into hours of languid touching and lovemaking. Sometimes rough - sometimes slow and meandering.
It was nearly sunrise when Lireesa finally pulled away fully. And for the first time since they’d begun, they weren’t touching. Elenia was exhausted. Utterly spent and aching in the most welcome of ways. She barely managed to focus her vision enough to look over at her lover as she turned onto her stomach and gasped into the pillows. In the soft candlelight, she watched as sweat glistened over the twitching muscles of her arms and her back each time her body heaved for air.
She gave her time to cool off - time to compose herself. She’d always liked watching her. And she didn’t have to wait long before she was near again. Draped over her in the way she’d always been so fond of - her cheek against the soft comfort of her chest and Elenia’s hand stroking slowly through her hair.
“Rest a while.” Elenia murmured as she managed to tilt her head down enough to kiss her lover’s temple. “We aren’t as young as we once were.” Her voice trembled when she spoke as did her fingertips in Lireesa’s hair. “Are you thirsty?”
She felt a faint nod against her chest and glanced toward her end table and thanked whatever gods were listening for the glass of water she’d left there for herself the previous morning.
They had to help one-another sit up and they leaned into each other as they both shared the glass until it was gone.
They nearly fell asleep that way but Elenia caught the glass as it almost slipped from Lireesa’s hand and placed it back where it had been before they both fell into the down-feather grace of the mussed pillows and blankets beneath them.
“Once we’ve slept…” Elenia returned the sleepy kiss as it was given to her before she continued. “We’ll get washed up and catch up, hm?”
“Mhm. Once we’ve slept.” Lireesa whispered, turning onto her side and pulling Elenia against her body - stroking down her side and along the back of her thigh to guide it up and over her hip.
Elenia drifted off to the sound of Lireesa’s breathing with one of her hands grasped in the Ranger-General’s between them - any other thoughts too muddled for her to give voice to. They didn’t matter. Lireesa was here. And she would wake with her in her arms.
I couldn't utter my love when it counted
Ah, but I'm singing like a bird, 'bout it now
I couldn't whisper when you needed it shouted
Ah, but I'm singing like a bird, 'bout it now
Bites on above
But never would form
Like a cry at the final breath that is drawn
Remember me love, when I'm reborn
As the shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn
And I had no idea on what ground I was found in
All of that goodness is goin' with you now
Then when I met you my virtues uncounted
All of my goodness is goin' with you now
Driving alone, following your form
Hung like the pelt of some prey you had worn
Remember me love, when I'm reborn
As a shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn
I fled to the city with so much discounted
Ah, but I'm flying like a bird to you now
Back to the hedgerows where bodies are mounted
Ah, but I'm flying like a bird to you now
I was hatched by your warmth
And I was transformed
But you're grounded and giving
And darkening scorn
Remember me love, when I'm reborn
As a shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn
Chapter 4: I Swear This Time I Mean It
She saw to her next order of business quickly. Locating the black silk robe her lover kept here for her - only to find it hanging near the door she'd just walked in through already waiting for her. Though she knew she hadn’t been meant to find it this early. She slid the fine garment on and tied it as she listened to the quiet voices downstairs. She could hear them even up here now that she was awake.
She’d always adored the tones Elenia used with her various apprentices over the years. She was so calm - so measured. Even after the gravest mistakes - an entire tray of burnt breads or sweets - an oven fire here and there - Elenia never so much as raised her voice. Truly, she was one of the steadiest people Lireesa had ever known. And it was one of the countless reasons she loved her so. And certainly one of the reasons she couldn’t help but venture towards the door that led to the stairs and down into the bakery itself.
There wasn’t a single creaky spot in the stairs that she hadn’t long since memorized and she was utterly silent in her descent. So much so that she was able to find a seat halfway down with a rather nice view of the work station Elenia was standing next to her young apprentice at.
“Mhm. Just like that. Right-hand strand across to the left. Left-hand strand across to the right. Watch.” Elenia’s nimble, strong fingers manipulated the offshoots of dough easily - working slowly so that the young woman next to her could follow her motions. “This one into the middle. And to replace it we push this one out. Never leave a pocket between the strands. You don’t want any air pockets along the bottom - and you want your braid tight and even all along the length. You see - as I continue the pattern there’s a defined line down the middle. It’s perfectly symmetrical. Finish this one up for me. Let me see.”
Elenia took a step back and wiped her flour-covered hands along the front of her apron as she watched carefully - a pleased smile slowly gracing her features as the apprentice finished braiding the loaf without so much as a backward glance. “Perfect, Velendra. You’ll surpass me, soon and then whatever shall I do with myself?”
The young woman couldn’t help but laugh at that. Elenia was well known in Silvermoon. Anyone who was anyone came to her for everything from a simple loaf to the finest cakes for the most royal of occasions.
“Set it aside. Let it rest and then we’ll get it into the oven. How are the saffron and sage buns looking?” She asked as she made her way over to one of the nearby proofing drawers located beneath the ovens. Even without them baking Lireesa could smell them from where she sat and it made her eyes shut for a moment before they opened again.
“Very good. Give them perhaps another quarter hour and then get them going, as well. That should be enough for the day. And can you tell me why we add the spices before we proof them?”
“Yes, Lady Elenia. And we add the spices first so their flavor will impart before they even bake. Will you be going back upstairs, now?” The young woman glanced over her shoulder towards them and froze as her eyes fell on the casually sprawled Ranger-General. She was quite a striking sight. So out of place against the simple brown wood she rested against. Not to mention the contrast of her robe and hair against her skin. It wasn’t often anyone saw her with her hair down...in a robe. With most of her well-muscled legs exposed and a faintly amused smirk on her face. No, it wasn’t often anyone saw her like that, at all.
“I...Forgive me, Ranger-General.” She stammered as she bowed her head and turned to hide the flush that rose in her face and along her ears.
Elenia simple chuckled softly and turned her attention to her lover. “Have you been there long, my love? I wish you wouldn’t do this to all my apprentices. It takes them long enough as it is to get used to the fact that I entertain such important company. And then you assault them with that look. It’s almost as though you enjoy the attention.”
“Enjoy attention?” Lireesa asked - her already low voice an almost sultry purr as she stood reluctantly now that she’d been found out. Her eyes were half-lidded as she turned her full attention to Elenia. “Me? To be accused of such a thing...I’m positively affronted.”
“You’re positively distracting, is what you are. Go upstairs. Rest. I’ll join you soon and then we’ll rest some more.”
“As you wish.” She murmured in response before disappearing the way she’d come - and just as silently.
Elenia turned to look at Velendra - her expression soft and sympathetic with a hint of a smile as the girl chanced a look in her direction. “Lady Elenia I didn’t mean to-”
“To stare? Child, please. I’ve known her longer than you’ve been alive and I still catch myself staring quite often.” She reached out to stroke over the young woman’s shoulder and nodded towards the loaf they’d finished braiding. “Go ahead and get that panned and ready to bake. And I’ll go upstairs once I’ve finished making her breakfast.”
“Is that why you came down? I’m sorry if I distracted you...I can handle things down here, you know? Really. And I can run a couple of hand pies upstairs to you later so you won’t have to come down again.” Velendra spoke even as she moved the heavy loaf onto a baking tray on the parchment it had been resting on - her hands steady and careful so as not to ruin the rather intricate work they’d done.
“It’s no bother, Velendra. None at all. Now - we had some brioche left from yesterday, didn’t we?”
“Yes, I think so. On the middle rack to the right of ovens.”
Elenia retrieved the loaf she’d been asking after and felt of its firmness before moving towards the oven with a flat top meant for cooking over the heat that was already used to bake with. With a rather tedious amount of care, she cut two thick slices from the loaf and set them aside to allow them to get a touch dryer before she started work on the custard the pieces would soak in.
She worked quickly and easily - unbothered by the other woman working around her. Neither of them got in one another’s way. The girl had learned long ago how to move around her in a way that wouldn’t bother either of them and they worked in comfortable silence.
Eventually, Elenia had a thick, creamy custard spiked with elderberry rum - a compliment to the berries already reducing on the top of the stove sprinkled with a healthy dose of fine crystals of sugar to temper the slight tang of them.
When she was satisfied with the custard she scooped some of the creamed cheese they’d been using for a new kind of roll and whipped a small amount of honey into it - just enough to sweeten it and soften it enough before she sliced into the sides of each piece of bread and stuffed the mixture into them carefully. With that done she set them both into the dish of custard to soak as she located an aged, blackened iron pan and sat it on the stove to begin heating.
“That smells wonderful. She’s a lucky woman.”
Elenia looked up at her apprentice as she flipped the slices and chuckled. “I’m rather lucky, myself, child. She deserves a good meal. She does much for our people. And much for me.”
By the time she finished she had produced a beautiful plate. The slices had been cut so the honeyed cream cheese was visible and the crust she’d formed was golden and crisp against the almost pudding-like consistency of the custard-soaked bread. A healthy portion of berry reduction and a sprinkling of fine icing sugar topped her creation off and she pulled two mugs down from a nearby cabinet, filling them both with a particular dry cider that Lireesa had always been most fond of when she ate sweet things.
With everything situated on a tray she nodded at her apprentice before retreating back upstairs to find Lireesa waiting for her - propped up with her shoulders against the headboard. The sleepy, adoring gaze she received as she nudged the door shut again with her hip was more than enough reward for her early-morning labors. But the rewards didn’t stop with a look.
Lireesa took the tray from her carefully as she approached the bed and sat it to the side before reaching for her and guiding her down into a slow, tender kiss that warmed every fiber of her being. “Thank you.” Lireesa whispered against her lips as Elenia traced the line of her jaw before recieving another kiss. “Thank you for everything.”
“Mm...you haven’t even tasted it yet. It could be terrible for all you know.” Elenia feigned her protest into yet another slow, languid meeting of lips before she was drawn onto Lireesa’s lap.
They shared their breakfast quietly and the Ranger-General did little to hide how much she enjoyed her lover’s level of skill in this area. She didn’t fancy the kinds of gatherings that warranted this level of cooking so this was one of the few times she indulged herself in it. And she fed Elenia a bite here and there as well. But the favor was only returned each time until both slices were gone and she could set the plate aside on the table next to the bed.
“You already know that was wonderful, Elle.” Lireesa murmured sleepily before finishing off her cider and allowing Elenia to place both their cups near the cleaned plate they’d already finished with.
“I’m so very glad.” The baker murmured in response before reaching for the tie of her robe and helping her slip out of it. “But I wish you hadn’t let me get flour all over you. You do that far too often.”
Lireesa chuckled but it was soft - a low, quiet sound in her chest and the back of her throat that was so warm to Elenia it almost hurt. But in the most exquisite of ways.
“I don’t mind having flour on me. You’ve always known that.” She husked softly as she helped Elenia remove the clothes she’d hastily donned that morning. Once they were both comfortable again - their warm bodies pressed together beneath the sheets - they turned naturally to face one-another and Elenia found her hands combing through hair she’d always had a difficult time keeping them out of.
“How are things out there, Lireesa? Really? How are the kids?”
“Things are quiet, my love.” She murmured soothingly though her eyelids fluttered faintly as fingertips traced along her scalp slowly. “And they’re doing so well. Alleria just got back from the field. She’s an extraordinary Ranger. But we’ve all known that for a long while, now. And Sylvanas...gods, Sylvanas. She’s so smart. She’s so incredibly smart. I should think within the next couple of years I’ll take her on a trip to the bakery. She’ll understand. She understands things so easily. And you should hear the questions she asks, I...I think she’s the one. I think she’ll make a fine General. And I think she wants it. I know she does.” She let a certain measure of hope shine through with Elenia that she guarded from her husband. He worried enough as it was. He didn’t need to know how relieved Lireesa was to have finally produced an heir able and willing to bear the weight she’d carried for so long.
“That is so good to hear.” Elenia searched those silvery, softly glowing eyes and touched along the lines beside them and down along the side of her neck towards her shoulder. She grazed the mark she’d left there the night before kneading the hard muscle beside it. “And you, beloved? How are you?”
Lireesa was quiet for a moment - thinking about the question and its implications. Not in order to hide anything from Elenia. Never to hide anything from her. Just to get used to the fact that she didn’t need to again. Every time.
“I’ve been better.” She finally whispered, tilting her head to the side with a faint grown as Elenia found a knot that had been bothering her for days and began working it out of her. “I don’t have the stamina I used to. Every now and again I find night watches difficult. Old wounds have started giving me fits…”
“You’ve been fighting for so long.” Elenia’s voice was so soft it was almost inaudible and it caused one of Lireesa’s ears to shift faintly - the leaf dangling from it making a soft noise as it brushed against the ridge of the underside of it. “Longer than anyone under your command. Longer than any other General. When she is ready - let her take it from you. Please. So that there may be something left of you that Quel’Thalas hasn’t already taken.”
“You know that I will. You know that I’m ready.” Lireesa opened her eyes so that Elenia could see them but only barely. She was exhausted. And even as breathtaking as she was that was plain enough to see. In the slight darkness beneath her eyes and the shallowness of her breathing.
Elenia pressed closer to her until they were a tangle of limbs and the larger woman’s head rested just beneath her own so she could find her hair with her fingers again. “That’s all I ask.” Her lips brushed Lireesa’s hair as she spoke before she kissed the top of her head. “That you keep letting me love you and that you keep coming back to me. That’s all I’ve always asked. And all I ever will.”
“The loving part is easy.” Lireesa’s response was slightly muffled but she didn’t move to be more easily heard. After so many years Elenia could understand her regardless. “You love me so well. And I love you with my all. That will never change.
“Shh, Lireesa. Rest. Please. No more waking up until we’ve both gotten enough sleep.”
It would have been impossible to disobey that gentle order even if she’d wanted to. She was already half gone when the words met her ears. And then came the soft, gentle humming that had soothed her to sleep countless times before. It was no different this time. And Elenia clung to consciousness as long as she could to listen to her quiet breaths as she sang for her without words.
And sleep, she did. So very deeply - cradled in an embrace of warmth, softness, and love that was so unique to Elenia. So familiar and so needed and so very perfect. There had been a great span of time before Aravath and her children and her baker that she’d have scoffed at the very idea of needing any of this. But that time had long since passed. She was a hardened warrior. An efficient, ruthless killer.
But she loved her family. And this woman was just an extension of that. Another reason to keep fighting - to keep protecting the lands and the peoples she had served for so long. And she would continue doing that for as long as she needed to.
The comfort that waited for her at home and in this little bakery in Silvermoon gave her all the strength that age and weariness were slowly taking from her. And she would go back into the field renewed as she always did. Renewed and ready to do what needed to be done.
"I Swear This Time I Mean It"
Oh Florida, please be still tonight
Don't disturb this love of mine
Look how she's so serene
You've gotta help me out
And count the stars to form in lines
And find the words we'll sing in time
I want to keep her dreaming
It's my one wish, I won't forget this
I'm outdated, overrated
Morning seems so far away
So I'll sing a melody
And hope to God she's listening
Sleeping softly while I sing
And I'll be your memories
Your lullaby for all the times
Hoping that my voice could get it right
If luck is on my side tonight
My clumsy tongue will make it right
And wrists that touch
It isn't much, but it's enough
To form imaginary lines
Forget your scars, we'll forget mine
The hours change so fast
Oh God, please make this last
You could crush me
Please don't crush me
'Cause baby I'm a dreamer for sure
And I won't let you down
I swear this time I mean it
And I'll sing a melody
And hope to God she's listening
Sleeping softly while I sing
And I'll be your memories
Your lullaby for all the times
Hoping that my voice could get it right
Chapter 5: Lost
“If you don’t find me in an hour I’ll find you. But I’ve no doubt you’ll succeed. Do you have everything you need?” Lireesa was dressed lightly today. All dark, ruddy leathers with a simple hunting knife on her belt and an even simpler bow slung across her back. Her hair was pulled back and her face was marked with coal to break up the lines of it lest Sylvanas spot her in a way that might constitute ‘cheating’. She wanted her to be able to track. But not just track. She wanted her to surpass even herself. In all things.
And the quicker they started the more confident she could be that her youngest daughter would excel at not only being a ranger - but at being the best of them. And as she watched Sylvanas check herself over - the various ties of her light leather clothing and the fit of her boots along with the short sword she was carrying, and even the count of arrows in her quiver - she knew that was becoming more and more likely every day.
Lireesa smiled warmly and moved to kneel in front of her. Sylvanas was almost taller than her when she did this, now, but not quite. And she re-checked everything that had already been looked over before pulling a ball of cotton from the pouch on her belt. “You certainly are. Very good. Now - you know how I’ve taught you to keep time when you can neither see nor hear? Do that now. Twenty minutes. In twenty minutes you will come find me.”
Sylvanas nodded her understanding and Lireesa carefully pressed cotton into her ears before producing a strip of cloth and tying it firmly around her eyes. She knew Sylvanas would still be able to hear through it - but not enough to have an absolute idea of where she was going. Certainly not with how quiet Lireesa was able to be.
With a light kiss to her forehead and a squeeze of her shoulder, Lireesa was off - and scarcely a leaf was disturbed by her swift, deft feet as she moved into the trees.
All the times before she’d been careful to leave just enough of a trace of her passing for Sylvanas to follow her with relative ease. But not this time. This time she traversed the none too familiar paths and streams she’d brought them to as though she were hiding herself from the fiercest of enemies.
She crossed streams. She backtracked. She took the trees for a time. The Ranger-General didn’t stop moving until she needed a moment to breathe.
It had been nearly two hours, she smelled rain coming - and their light was quickly running out.
Finally, she decided to stop. To wait. Blended in with the roots and bark of the ancient tree she’d come to nestle against. It was time, now, to listen. To the creatures and how they responded as well as to the forest itself. She would know when Sylvanas was coming. She just wasn’t sure how long it would take her. She wasn’t even sure she, herself, could have followed the trail she’d made.
Now and then she would kneel and touch the edge of a suspicious looking track. Her mother hadn’t left many - and usually, the intentional ones were some sort of trick. This one was no different. She recognized the depth of it in the heel that would suggest she might have pushed herself the opposite way of the direction it was actually pointing.
She guessed right. After a few moments, she found a fresh scrape on a tree trunk that might suggest it had been recently climbed. She followed that, as well - up into the branches.
Lireesa was easier to track this way if you somehow managed to follow her this high. Tiny, inconspicuous broken branches and marks from boot-heels on delicate paperbark. Sylvanas was breathing heavily by the time the upper trail ended and she dropped down from a low hanging branch - wilted and sputtering and kneeling for a moment to gather herself. But she didn’t allow herself to sink down into the wet moss as uncomfortably cool droplets of water punished ears left exposed by the slits in the hood of her cloak.
She pushed herself up more quickly than, perhaps, even a seasoned warrior might have. And once her face was wiped down for what felt like the hundredth time that evening she pressed on. In the darkness, her sharp, glowing eyes caught sight of lynx here and there as well as a shape or two in the shadows she didn’t recognize. But she had her bow at the ready - held down beside her leg and half-drawn as she looked around warily when she found herself in a clearing.
Her hair hung half out of her hood - damp with sweat and rain and slightly wavy as a result - and her ears shifted and pivoted faintly in response to each and every sound.
More deer. More lynx. A rabbit here and there. But no sign of her mother.
She swallowed thickly against the concern that had begun to rise in the back of her throat. She hadn’t expected to make camp tonight but she knew it was becoming almost inevitable the later it got. She was freezing and exhausted and every muscle in her body screamed at her in protest at the thought of continuing.
“Come on.” She whispered to herself - shocked at how raspy her own voice was. “Come on, you’ve got this. Let’s go.”
She winced as a fresh drop of rain salted with the dampness in her hair slipped into her eyes and cleared them with another swipe of the back of her head as she nearly stumbled. And when she did she noticed another disturbance of leaves that drew her attention.
This wasn’t her mother’s boot print. It was too large...it was...she’d never seen anything like it. Half of it was missing, true enough, but…
The worry that suddenly rose within her like the swell of a wave drove her into a sudden burst of movement. But the worry wasn’t for herself. Even as capable as Lireesa was - she was still her mother. And she was still alone. And the track was heading away from where she’d deduced Lireesa had gone.
The next time she burst into the openness of a clearing there were cuts in her leathers from her hasty passage through a thicket she hadn’t taken the time to navigate around and a few of them were darkened with a small amount of blood.
Lireesa felt her heart twinge at the sight of her daughter. She’d been sitting so long she’d gone stiff and she’d pushed any worry she felt down so stubbornly it returned with renewed vigor at the way she shivered and how soaked she was from head to toe. The cuts weren’t so bad. She’d come home with worse plenty of times. But the panic in her eyes and the way she held her bow at the ready was a new side of her. It was a welcome sight...one that spoke of promise for what she would someday become - but as a mother, it was difficult to stay put when all she wanted to do was run to her.
Sylvanas’s brow furrowed as she peered into the darkness and listened harder than she ever had in her life. She moved slowly and carefully but her steps still disturbed a rabbit who had hidden in the thick grass she was moving through and her head snapped in its direction as she heard it veer off its path of escape and watched the damp earth its powerful sideways leap kicked up fall back down where it had come from.
Something had scared it. Something it hadn’t seen until it was almost too close to avoid it.
There was no fear in her eyes as she began moving towards where the maneuver had occurred and Lireesa waited with bated breath as she drew nearer and nearer until she realized the strange-looking tree trunk was actually broken by the lines of her mother.
For just an instant the thoughts of the strange track she’d found fled her mind as she released the tension on her bow and ran forward only to find herself swept up into Lireesa’s arms and drawn tightly against her chest.
“My girl, my girl, look at you. Look at you.” Lireesa breathed as Sylvanas clung to her and she pressed kisses to her face and her hood before pulling it back to check her for injuries wherever she currently could. “You’ve done so, so well, Sylvanas. I’m so very proud of you. Are you alright?”
Her daughter merely nodded as she grasped handfuls of her mother’s tunic in her hands, pressing her face against her shoulder and then gradually pulling away to slip back to the ground she’d come from. “I’m sorry it took so long...I...I tried so hard. It was so difficult this time, and-”
“Nonsense.” Lireesa cut her off almost immediately as she pulled at the strap of the bag that was swung across her back beneath her quiver and opened it, producing a waterproof, oiled cloak and reaching for the clasp holding Sylvanas’s heavy, wet one across her chest. That had been on purpose, too. It had all been. From the weather she’d been tracking to how heavy her clothing had gotten in the rain and the fact that they were just past the edge of the spells that kept their home warmer than the surrounding areas.
Softness now would do little for her when she was older. At best she would be useless to their military - and that would’ve been fine with her, too, if she was being honest. But the death that would almost certainly result from weakness in her youth? That was the worst that could come of it. And that was what she wanted to avoid at all costs.
“There are fully trained rangers that wouldn’t have found me. Officers that might not have found me until morning...you are brilliant. You are so good, child. I am proud to call you my daughter. Do you understand?”
She rubbed her hands along Sylvanas’s arms over the dry warmth of the cloak she’d replaced the girl’s discarded one with and looked into her eyes until she received a faint smile and a nod in response. “Good. Now let’s get you home. Let’s get you fed and dry and warm, hm?”
Lireesa went silent as a rush of concern flooded Sylvanas’s youthful features - though they were slimmer now. More defined. She would have a sharp jawline...high cheekbones. Just like her. She would be beautiful some day. She would command attention just by walking into a room. And that was good. That was good for a General. But that was also the least of Lireesa’s concerns right now.
“I saw a track. Not too far back. It was...it was at least twice the size of yours, or even dad’s. And I only saw one...I think because of the rain.”
“Okay. Was it familiar to you? Was it one that you’ve learned?”
“The front ball was missing. It was only the back half and I’m not sure...all I know is that it was humanoid.”
Lireesa stood slowly and rested a hand along the back of her daughter’s head, stroking it through her hood as she peered into the forest where she’d come from. “Can you take me to it? I’m afraid whatever it is is between us and home and it would be best if I found it before it finds us.”
Sylvanas looked up at her mother and the grave expression on her face. Something in her had changed. Perhaps anyone other than Sylvanas might have found the shift slightly worrying - especially taking into account the way the charcoal on her face had begun to run down along her cheeks and darken more of her skin. It only made the iciness of her eyes all the more piercing.
But Sylvanas only felt safer, even, than she had before. “I remember where it was.”
“Then let’s go. Stay close to me. And listen well.”
They made quite the pair as they moved almost as one - Lireesa finding each of Sylvanas’s light boot prints with her own steps to keep their tracks as one instead of two. She had always kept her enemies as unaware as possible. And even if she wasn’t yet sure this was an enemy it was only natural, now. Something that could never be undone - so deeply was this behavior ingrained in her.
It didn’t take long for them to find the track now that Sylvanas had a specific location to search for and Lireesa’s eyes only met it for a moment before they flashed almost dangerously and she reached to her back for her bow.
“Head towards home.” She whispered. “No more than two paces away from me at any given time. And stay beneath my arrows if I have to shoot them. Fully on the ground if possible. Understood?”
She’d just had a contingent scout this area two days prior so she highly doubted it was more than one or two encroachers at best but even one threat was enough. Especially taking into consideration her daughter was with her.
They walked in utter silence - Sylvanas with her short sword drawn so as not to take up space that her mother might sorely need with her own bow were she to find herself needing to loose a shot.
While Sylvanas got slightly less wary after a while, Lireesa never seemed to change. She’d never seen her mother behave so...intensely before. She was like a panther. In nearly every way. From the glint of her eyes glowing in the darkness against her coal-masked face to the way she could see her muscles bunching against the wet, clinging confines of her leathers.
Lireesa was thankful she’d had the foresight to start teaching Sylvanas hand signals years prior - she was as well-versed in them now as any Ranger was - and they were useful. Terrifyingly so - as Lireesa spotted more of the same tracks on their path and began hearing noises that weren’t natural for this area, nor this time of night.
It was the snap of a twig that drew the sharpest signal from her and Sylvanas went stock still as Lireesa’s ears shifted. Behind them. Directly behind them.
The next signal was simple. Don’t move. Don’t get down. Don’t run. Don’t turn. Do. Not. Move. But all in one quick flick of her fingers as they moved to the nock of her arrow, ready to be drawn and deadly in the span of half a breath.
“Well, well, well. What we be havin’ here? The two a’ ya be far from Elf lands, doncha think? And so late, too.” The accent was heavy and distinctive. But Lireesa had been expecting it. She’d been listening to them following them for quite some time, now. Two. Perhaps three. But no more.
“Far from Elf lands?” She asked cooly as she turned her head a bit more when she could feel one of the trolls approach. “These are my forests, Troll. It is you who is far from home. I would give you the opportunity to return to where you belong. This is the only such opportunity you will be presented with.”
They didn’t recognize her. Thas’dorah was back home. With her regalia. With everything that made her the feared Ranger-General of Quel’thalas. And that was their first mistake.
Their second came quickly.
“We only be curious. Ain’t often we see one o’ your...runts out dis way. Maybe we just wanna play.”
She didn’t even have to look. She loosed the arrow the instant she turned and counted two more that weren’t currently clutching arrow shafts as they fell to their knees.
“Get down. Now.” She whispered sharply as Sylvanas pressed closer to her. “Between my feet.”
She obeyed wordlessly and instantly, clutching her sword in her hand as she dropped to her knees and crawled between the shoulder-width spread of her mother’s legs to lay on her belly with her arms tucked carefully out of her way.
“She be your daughter, den, Old Woman? Fine pet she’d be, too.” There was a sneer, then, as the troll shifted into a more threatening stance, the polearm he wielded mere feet from Lireesa’s face. “I was pretty fond of dat one you just killed. Might only be fair for you to pay in a pound o’ flesh of your own.”
The third troll hung back - his eyes narrowed as he seemed to be working at a problem in his mind. That had been a damn good shot. And there wasn’t any way she’d aimed before she’d loosed. She’d shot by sound.
“Maybe we should be goin’, den.” He finally spoke lowly to his slightly scrappier counterpart who merely spat on the ground in a show of disdain for the idea of running from a child and an old woman.
“That offer no longer stands.” Lireesa muttered darkly as she reached for another arrow. The nearest troll rushed her before she got it to her bow but he only made it a step or two further once she’d drawn before he fell, just as pinioned and just as dead as the first.
The third knew better than to try and run once that move had been made and he was so close Lireesa could do little aside from meet him in his charge. She stepped over Sylvanas, leaving her on the ground to push herself up and back away frantically - her heels kicking up dirt and moss as she did so.
The struggle was terrifying to watch. Her mother was so incredibly small compared to the troll she was grappling with. He managed to use his weight to get her to the ground and Sylvanas thought of rushing to help her mother in a moment of panic.
And yet, somehow...it became clear very quickly that she was much stronger. Much faster. And before he knew what was happening Lireesa had pulled him to his feet and was behind him with her knife to his throat. Her teeth were bared as he reached up to grip at her hand that was tangled in the shock of hair that stood atop his head.
“Don’t.” He gasped out as the blade first began to nick the front of his neck. “I’ll be leavin’. You’ll never be seein’ my face again. Ya have my word.”
“Your word means little to me.” She hissed against his ear.
“Sylvanas - go. Now. I’ll find you.”
Her eyes flashed to her daughter as her thighs tensed to lock her feet more firmly against the ground when the troll began to struggle again. But he didn’t get away. She wouldn’t allow that. Not now.
And she watched as her daughter shook her head and stood. She was shaken. Scared. But she wasn’t leaving.
“You…you be da General, den?” He asked as his eyes glazed over slightly in resignation.
He received no response.
And Sylvanas simply watched in silence as her mother’s blade ended the troll’s lift swiftly - carving a deep rivet across his neck before she let his large, unwieldy body slide to the ground in front of her.
She nearly went to her knees with him. She’d been at it all day and that, coupled with how stiff she’d gotten in the cool damp of the clearing hadn’t done much for her at all. Nor did the slight pull she felt in her hamstring from a rather sharp tug he’d given her in his attempts to regain the upper hand. She wiped her blade on her cloak as he bled out before she sheathed it and retrieved her bow, still breathing heavily with her lips parted as Sylvanas continued to stand a few paces away from her with a mixture of pride and nausea on her face. “You didn’t need to see that.” Lireesa husked as she made her way over to her and lowered herself to one knee with a thinly veiled wince.
She reached for her daughter’s shoulders and stroked her thumbs over them before moving her hands to cradle her face.
“I felt like I did.” She whispered meekly in response.
“Are you hurt?” Lireesa asked, then - her voice gentling slightly for her daughter’s sake even as her pulse still hammered in her ears.
“No. No, I’m okay. But you’re hurt.” Her voice finally cracked, then. And tears began to sting her eyes as she reached for her mother, wiping at the dirt and grime that had been scrubbed into a light scrape on her cheek before she collapsed against her.
Lireesa caught her. Of course, she did. And she enveloped her in her arms and stroked along her back and through her hair inside her hood as she shushed her gently in her ear. “It’s okay.” She whispered when Sylvanas seemed to have finally cried herself out with a mixture of genuine relief and exhaustion. “It’s okay to cry. You were calm when it mattered. That’s what counts. Never forget that. Never ignore this side of yourself when it isn’t absolutely necessary.”
Sylvanas nodded weakly into the crook of her neck and she stood, ignoring the soreness in her leg as Sylvanas wrapped her own around her hips and looped her arms around her neck.
She traversed a great many miles that night carrying her daughter against herself. And at some point she knew by the limpness in her body that she’d fallen into a fitful sleep - stirring against her every so often. But Lireesa only held her closer each time. And when they finally made it back to the spires Aravath was waiting for them in the doorway. He’d been up all night.
His smile faded quickly at the sight of his wife - his eyes shifting from the scrape on her cheek to the tears in the knees of breeches that weren’t suited for combat. And the way she limped slightly as she walked.
The little cuts in Sylvanas’s clothes didn’t so much worry him. He recognized they were from briars...but there was no reason for Lireesa to look the way she did.
“Stop fretting. Draw her a bath. I don’t need her getting sick and she needs to be warm and clean and in bed in short order.”
“Of course.” He murmured in response as he shut the door behind him and cast one last worried glance at his wife before rushing up their stairs. It was quick work with his magic in use and now was certainly a time to use it if ever there was one.
“I’ve got her.” She responded almost sharply as she cut her eyes at him outside their bathroom. The shift in her tone caused Sylvanas to stir in her arms and her expression shifted from agitation to regret.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to speak to you like that, Aravath. But I need you to let me be with her. I need you to understand.” She shifted her daughter’s weight against her and hid her own discomfort from him carefully as she moved into the bathing room and roused her as she began to get her ruined clothes off of her.
“Don’t apologize. But do tell me what’s happened when you’re able. Shall I make sure you both have something ready to eat when you’re done with your bath, or…”
Sometimes he felt out of place. Sometimes he felt like he didn’t know the correct things to do or to say.
But Lireesa smiled at him softly and it reassured him almost immediately. “That sounds perfect, Vath. She’ll likely eat hers in the morning - but I wouldn’t mind a bite while I catch you up. In bed, if you can handle the idea of me eating in bed.”
The relief in his eyes was evident and he returned her smile before heading downstairs as Lireesa helped Sylvanas into the tub and got moved to the washbasin nearby to clean herself as she bathed.
She paused in her task, though, at a quiet, apprehensive “Mom” from behind her.
“Mm, yes, my darling girl?” She responded as she looked over at her - smiling to see her hanging over the edge of the tub looking well and truly ready for bed.
“Did I do alright?”
Lireesa tossed her soiled rag onto the edge of the basin and reached for her nearby robe before heading for the tub to help her daughter out of it and wrap her in a thick, magically warmed towel. “You did better than alright. You were perfect. I couldn’t have asked for you to handle yourself in a different way. You are so grown up, Sylvanas. Do you know that?’
“Mm, I guess so. Night, Mom.” She spoke through a yawn and began heading towards her bedroom without even bothering to dry herself. Lireesa followed the wet trail of footprints she left behind and watched her shed her towel and climb into her bed before moving to sit on the edge of it.
She reached out and carefully combed her wet hair from her face as her tired, heavy-lidded eyes looked at her.
“Do you want to talk about it tonight? Do you have any questions?”
“No...I...well. Well, I guess I...why didn’t you let him go?”
Lireesa cradled Sylvanas’s cheek. She was glad she was questioning her. She was always glad when her daughter had questions.
“Sometimes mercy isn’t something we can afford to give. Perhaps I didn’t need him returning to his people telling them about my daughter. Perhaps we can’t afford to let any of them go once they pass our borders or more and more and more of them will come. Does that make sense?”
Sylvanas nodded and reached for her mother’s hand on her face, holding it for a moment before she heaved a sigh and turned onto her stomach, pulling her pillow close and burying her face in it.
Lireesa stroked her back for a moment before leaning down to kiss her cheek and then slipping quietly from her room to let her rest. But she found her eyes on her daughter’s small form beneath her covers as she shut the door slowly. So much of her heart was in that bed with that child. So very much of the good in her. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
When everything was broken
The Devil hit his second stride
But you remember what I told ya
Someday I'll need your spine to hide behind
For fear of moments stolen
I don't wanna say goodnight
But I'll still see you in the morning
Still know your heart and still know both your eyes
I could've told you 'bout the long nights
How no one loves the birds that don't rise
So you can tell the heroes go hide
My sense of wonder's just a little tired
If only you could see yourself in my eyes
You'd see you shine, you shine
And I know you'd never leave me behind
But I am lost this time
Are we destined to burn, or will we last the night?
I will hold you til I hold you right
If only you could see yourself in my eyes
You'd see you shine, you shine
So we'll run into the open
Keep your hand inside of mine
And then when everything is over
I hope to think of this as better times
The sky got red and swollen
I guess I never see the signs
There can't be songs for every soldier
It can't be solace every time you cry
I could've told you 'bout the long nights
How no one loves the birds that don't rise
So you can tell the heroes go hide
My sense of wonder's just a little tired
If only you could see yourself in my eyes
You'd see you shine, you shine
And I know you'd never leave me behind
But I am lost this time
Are we destined to burn, or will we last the night?
I will hold you til I hold you right
If only you could see yourself in my eyes
You'd see you shine, you shine
I was lost 'til I found you
Now these songs will hold and hide your name
All at once was all about you
Since that night the moon has never seemed the same
If only you could see yourself in my eyes
You'd see you shine, you shine
I know you'd never leave me behind
But I am lost this time
What if the love you deserve is love you never find?
I've learned in love and death we don't decide
If only you could see yourself in my eyes
You'd see you shine, you shine
Chapter 6: Timshel
Lireesa watched Sylvanas become a young woman that she was both proud of and scared for. She couldn’t help it. The way she carried herself even at barely eighteen years of age was more stately and graceful than many mature elves she knew. She carried herself like a warrior. Like a leader.
That was, in public. But - right now - she was sprawled along their couch asleep in a way that could only remind her of Alleria. She was tired. Lireesa knew that all too well. She’d been putting her through her paces every day for the entirety of her two weeks of leave and what parts of her daughter weren’t bruised or scraped were otherwise extremely sore.
But she was glad to see her look, at least somewhat, like the teen she actually was. All lanky legs and arm - almost sinewy in her build. And her platinum hair had a faint wave to it that she had only just begun to learn how to tame.
She’d been asleep all day, actually. But that was only because Lireesa had just kept her awake for two. And both her and Aravath had done their best to stay quiet - though she wasn’t entirely sure Sylvanas wouldn’t have slept through a pride of lynx ransacking their living room.
Aravath reached out and brushed her arm lightly as she watched her daughter and she slowly averted her attention to him - her tired, icy eyes regarding him warmly, somehow.
“Dinner. You should wake her. Did you let her eat while you were out?” He asked in a volume that wouldn’t have disturbed even the lightest of sleepers. He’d learned to be quiet over his years with Lireesa or she’d have never gotten any sleep.
“I did not.” She responded just as softly. “Nor did I allow myself to.”
His brow furrowed slightly in immediate concern and his expression was nothing short of admonishing.
“Lireesa, you’ve already been up for going on three days and now you’re-”
“I will go without if my child is to go without. You know this, Aravath. But...yes. I’ll wake her.”
Even she could admit when she’d had enough. And gods, had she. She was fading fast. Every bone and joint in her body ached and her stomach panged with hunger. Though those things were much less obvious than the darkness beneath her eyes.
She reached out to him, then, and took his hand in her own for a moment - squeezing it gently before she moved to kneel against the front of the sofa near where Sylvanas’s head rested on the arm of it.
She reached out and began stroking slowly through her hair - which she had taken care of meticulously before wandering downstairs and passing out as she had. Gradually, she began to stir. First with a quiet groan - then with a fluttering of eyelashes that revealed a glow that was bluer than her own, yet still more grey than most of their kind.
“Sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” She whispered - her voice slightly hoarse as she moved to sit up only to find Lireesa holding her down with a gentle grasp on her shoulder. “I meant for you to.” Came her whispered response followed by a soft, warm smile followed with a firm kiss to her forehead.
“Your father has dinner ready. Are you hungry?” She asked as she pulled away, watching Sylvanas nod while attempting to keep her eyes open.
“Stay here, then, and I’ll bring it to you.”
“No need.” Aravath’s voice was firm as he leaned over the back of the couch and sat a tray on its little legs across Sylvanas’s lap. “Enough for both of you. So...please. Both of you eat. Before I worry myself to death. And I’ll clean up. All I want the two of you doing for the rest of the night is eating and sleeping.”
Lireesa looked grateful. She was. And her and Sylvanas shared their quiet, subdued meal with Lireesa seated on a cushion Aravath brought her. She refused to listen to the complaining in her knees. But her husband had long ago learned to tell when she wasn’t comfortable.
He was just about to help them both up from their spots as they looked like they were ready to pass out when the thundering of hooves through the forest towards their home caused both Lireesa and Sylvanas’s attention to snap towards the door. They both scrambled to their feet and Lireesa went for her bow immediately before throwing the door open just in time to see a runner skid to a halt - the hooves of her horse kicking up dirt and grass so far they nearly hit the outside walls. She was riding double with a nearly unconscious front passenger.
“Alleria.” Sylvanas gasped as the Ranger lowered herself to the ground. Before her feet had even touched it Lireesa was beside her. Sylvanas didn’t even know her mother could still move so fast and she sprinted to keep up - her ears drooping faintly as the harsh, militant tone of her mother’s voice shocked her at first. Especially considering everything that was going on - and how half-asleep she still was.
“How many were there?”
“Seventeen, including the leader, Ranger-General.”
“How many Striders did she lose?”
“Two. Only her and her Second survived the attack. They were camped for the night. It was an ambush.”
Lireesa bristled visibly at the quick explanation. As she helped the ranger pull her daughter from where she slumped from the saddle.
Her leather midplate was missing and in its place was a darkly soaked bandage and when she was moved into Lireesa’s arms she groaned quietly as her head rolled to the side - though something in her shifted as her dazed eyes landed on her sister who waited nervously only a few feet away. She seemed to withdraw, almost. To force the pain she was feeling down more deeply than she already had been. She even managed a smile.
But that didn’t stop the sting of the scent blood in her nose and knowing it belonged to her big sister made it that much worse.
“And how many of them remain?” Lireesa nearly spat the word as she turned towards the spires and looked down at Alleria, studying her carefully as Aravath watched from the doorway looking more defeated than ever Sylvanas had ever seen him.
“None, General. She took out the last of them even with a spear-tip still buried in her gut.”
Sylvanas almost felt her knees give out. But she forced them to obey her. She forced her feet forward - one in front of the other. Again and again.
This time, no one cared about the sofa as blood began to soak into it and Aravath nothing short of tore a portal to Silvermoon open - bristling, suddenly, with a power that one might not suspect just by looking at him.
Sylvanas just stood helplessly to the side as Lireesa lowered her sister’s head slowly and her escort ran for a cloth from the kitchen, dampening it with cool water from the tap and placing it into Lireesa’s already outstretched hand.
“Look at me, Alleria.” Lireesa ordered firmly as she stroked her hair from her eyes - matted though it was with blood and sweat. At least most of this blood wasn’t her own. “Alleria Windrunner. Look. At. Me.”
Lireesa grabbed onto her chin and forced her head up as the cloth stilled on her forehead. Finally, her eyes opened. And Lireesa released a trembling breath.
“Don’t stop looking until I tell you to. Understood?”
“Yes, Ranger-General.” Alleria rasped before she winced as she tried to adjust herself on the couch.
They didn’t have to wait long before Aravath came thundering back into the room with a snap of magic that even Sylvanas had felt. With two very disgruntled looking healers in tow - one of them still in her dressing gown.
But when they saw who the patient was, they understood immediately - and rushed to her side.
Lireesa wanted to cling to her. She wanted to tell her not to call her that. Tell her to call her mom. To let her hold her. To never go back out there again.
But she moved away so easily and so quickly those thoughts...those doubts...were more than well hidden.
“Lireesa...Sylvanas needs to go upstairs.” Aravath whispered to her sharply as he suddenly realized she was still in the room, despite the fact that she was making herself as small and out of the way as she could.
“No.” Lireesa responded evenly, not even looking at her - her eyes trained on her daughter as the healers began cutting the ruined bandage away. “She needs to see.”
It took almost everything Lireesa had to stand by that decision as the linen was pulled away to reveal the visible tip of the splintered spear.
Sweat glistened across Alleria’s brow as she gritted her teeth and yet, somehow, she held herself still through it all. And Sylvanas watched everything with all the color drained from her face from the moment they pulled the object from her to the moment her tense, shaking body finally collapsed into the couch in exhaustion when the healing was, for the most part, done.
“You can go upstairs, now, Sylvanas.” Lireesa murmured quietly as she turned her head slightly in her youngest daughter’s direction but still didn’t look at her.
“I want to stay with Alleria.” She whispered in response - fearful of being denied, yet equally fearful of staying. It’s just that the parts that wanted to be there for her were stronger than the parts that wanted to run ever would be. That would shift some day. Shift into a broader, all-encompassing sense of duty.
But for right now, it was reserved for her family. And Lireesa nodded simply, finding a nearby discarded cloth and wiping her hands free from her daughter’s blood as the healers worked on getting her cleaned up. She held out a hand towards Sylvanas then and her daughter responded immediately, moving to her mother’s side and pressing close to her for a moment.
They were the same height, now. Sylvanas might even be slightly taller than her someday. But for now - she wasn’t too tall to find comfort in the way her mother’s strong arm wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her into her chest. Nor was she too old to bury her face against her for a moment and accept the kiss to the top of her head.
But, eventually, she pulled away when she heard more movement than she had been from behind her. And the moment the healers were done she moved to sit on the edge of the couch, finding Alleria’s hand with both of her own trembling ones and pulling it into her lap only to find it removed - raising to stroke gently along the tear stains on her face she hadn’t even been aware of.
“So brave, Lady Moon. You’re getting so big.” Alleria’s voice was a strained whisper - but there was softness again in her eyes and a slight smile at the corners of her lips. All her attention was on Sylvanas as she held Alleria’s hand against her own cheek for a moment then lowered it down to rest when she noticed her older sister’s touch weakening.
“I’m okay, Sylvanas.” Alleria whispered - albeit breathlessly - as her sister reached for her roughly cleaned hair and touched over it carefully.
“Are you going to stay home a while?” She asked softly in response, feeling the crushing weight on her chest lift slightly at the nod she got in return.
Lireesa stood back when Aravath began cleaning - her eyes focused on her daughters as Alleria managed to find the strength to make room for Sylvanas while she moved inch by careful inch to lay on her side on the sofa with her until they were comfortably nestled together.
Only when both their eyes had slipped shut did she allow herself to move to her arm chair and sink down in it. She vaguely remembered Aravath kissing her goodnight and retreating up the stairs - but her watchful gaze stayed on her children until she could no longer cling to consciousness.
The following days found them with many visitors. Mostly from the village - along with a dribble of rangers here and there as they took turns in from the field to check on the injured Captain and her family.
The healing had helped but drained her and the deep muscle damage hadn’t all been done away with so she found herself couch-bound on an infuriatingly constant basis.
It was almost a blur to all of them. Not least of all to Lireesa. She spent her days pouring over reports - obsessed with the idea she should have known of the danger to her daughter’s unit. But no matter how she tried she couldn’t find a way to blame herself. Not tactically, anyway. But as a mother - oh, as a mother - there was plenty of blame to weigh herself down with.
And watching Sylvanas dote on her big sister as the woman regaled her with tales of glorious battle - distracting her from the reality of it all.
And Lireesa knew she would have to crush that. She knew it was her responsibility to bring Sylvanas back down to reality eventually. To make her realize what she’d seen that night that Alleria had been pulled, half-dead from the back of a horse that was not her own was the very least of the terrible things she would see if she continued down the path she was on.
She wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t eating. No more than was necessary to keep her on her feet when she needed to be. Which she had convinced herself was constantly. And no amount of urging from Aravath would pull her from the things she felt were her duty as both a General and a mother.
And that’s why he’d found himself walking towards the closing bakery he’d never before visited - but knew the location of well. They’d seen each other before, of course. Here and there. But he’d never felt he needed anything from her. That had all changed this time - and he looked apologetic as worry flashed across Elle’s features as he knocked quietly on the frame of the door he was standing in.
“No, no. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He rushed into the bakery in response to the way her knuckles whitened as she gripped the broom she was holding so tightly the wood nearly splintered in her hands. He held his hands up as he levelled his tired gaze at her. “It’s Alleria. She was injured.”
Elenia forced a breath past the lump in her throat as she felt her heart hammering in her ears and a shudder wracked her body. But she managed a nod. “You..you scared me.” She whispered, leaning the broom against a nearby table as some, but not all, of the concern bled from her features.
“That wasn’t my intention. I would have written you if I didn’t think it was urgent. Or I would have sent a messenger. But...Lireesa is…”
He looked awkward, suddenly. Almost wilted.
“I don’t mean to intrude. You know that. I’m just worried.”
“But not about Alleria?” Elle asked carefully - her tone measured to keep the intensity of her worry from showing.
“Alleria will be fine. Just…”
He went quiet again - conflicted.
“Will you make me a portal to the village?” She asked quietly as she moved towards the counter and behind it, reaching for a tray of cookies that were cooling on it for the next morning’s rush.
He let out a sigh of relief - thankful to not have to explain further. “Yes. Of course.”
As soon as she was ready he did as she’d asked, returning the faint smile she gave him and then porting himself back to the spire.
Whether it was the length of time between his return and Elenia arriving at their front door or the general daze Lireesa had been existing in when not concerning herself with her daughters - which was rarely - she didn’t connect the dots. And Aravath wasn’t sure if that made him feel more or less guilty.
But the change in her eased the feeling as he opened the door and stepped back to allow the baker in.
“Aunty Elle!” Alleria greeted in a rather obnoxiously loud tone that resulted in a fit of coughing.
“That serves you right, Alleria.Be polite and stop yelling at our guests, please.” Lireesa commented off-handedly as she stood and watched Elenia carry the cloth-wrapped bundle of treats over to the couch where Sylvanas had been braiding her older sister’s hair, though she’d stopped and all her attention had shifted to Elle.
“Sorry.” She responded with a raise of her brow and a quiet chuckle once her coughing had died down before she shifted from where she sat and reached for the gift that was handed to her. Her eyes lit up as she opened it and grinned from ear to ear. These had always been her favorite. Some might think them plain based upon appearances - but she knew better.
Some might pass them by for other, more flashy baked goods. They might miss the way the granules of expensive sugar glinted across the crackling brown surface or the way they pulled ever so slightly when you broke them in half - instead of crumbling.
But not Alleria.
And she’d never been joking when she mentioned treats when her mother went to Silvermoon. Not for centuries. And ‘treats’ never meant anything other than this. Chocolate sugar cookies.
So good the discomfort she was still dealing with was pushed immediately into the back of her mind as she split one and handed half to Sylvanas before popping the entire other half in her mouth. The confection gave like cake beneath her teeth and it was still warm gods, she had never had them still warm
“I take it they’re still your favorite?” Elle asked quietly after watching them eat the first three together without saying a word.
Alleria actually looked embarrassed for a moment as she nodded before placing the bundle in Sylvanas’s lap and pushing herself to her feet, opening her arms to offer a hug.
“Now, now. Sit down before your mother kills me.” Elenia admonished with a quiet laugh as she hugged her and helped her back down at the same time.
“And Sylvanas...you’re getting so tall. You’d better slow down before you get taller than your mother. Her Napoleon complex is bad enough as it is.”
Elenia smiled softly as Sylvanas seemed unable to help but laugh at the gentle poke in her mother’s direction. Lireesa was torn between enjoying the sound and wondering how long it had been since she’d heard it. She couldn’t remember…
“Well, I’d better be going. I have quite a bit of work to get to yet this evening. Alleria - perhaps another batch of cookies will be in order before you head back into the field, should you keep me posted on your condition.”
Alleria nodded and reached over for another cookie - wilting slightly as Sylvanas made to pull them away before she produced one for her and returned them to her lap instead so she could continue braiding her hair.
She’d never been one for sweets but Elenia’s baking had always been so good she couldn’t much help but enjoy it when the opportunity presented itself.
The whole time, Lireesa’s attention was split between her daughters and Elle. She looked conflicted - if only to Aravath. And to Elle, for that matter. But relieved, suddenly, as Aravath spoke.
“You should walk her back to the village, Lireesa. These two will be more than occupied for the foreseeable future.”
Elenia finally allowed herself to turn to look fully at Lireesa, then, and it became apparent why Aravath had become so concerned he’d come looking for her.
She’d been taking care of herself appearance-wise. Of course. Her black hair shone in its silkiness in such a way that it was difficult to tell whether the silver in it was signs of age or simply light reflecting off the raven-black strands that it mingled with. She was dressed simply. For her, anyway. In tight black leggings and boots just as dark that looked like they might have been velvet. The deep hunter green of her shirt coupled with the dark hair that hung free down over her shoulders against her chest only brought out the sharpness of her cold as steel eyes. But even all that couldn’t hide the bags beneath them - or the way the smile lines beside them were more pronounced. Nor could it hide the faint wilt to her heavily adorned ears.
And even still she looked like she belonged at some sort of court function while Elle was still in the simple outfit she’d been wearing to work in - although she’d managed to remove a majority of the flour dust from herself on her walk to the spires from the village. Her chestnut hair was pulled up into a hasty bun that she hadn’t bothered to try and fix.
But neither of them really cared about any of that. Least of all Elenia, who was silently hoping Lireesa would acquiesce.
And she did - with a faint nod and a lingering glance at Alleria who simply narrowed her eyes faintly and glanced towards the door before looking back at her mother as though she were silently chiding a small child.
Lireesa sighed quietly and made her way towards the door, holding it open for Elenia and shutting it behind them once they were both outside.
They walked in silence for a while - Lireesa keeping her distance somewhat but gradually drifting closer. And Elle seemed to have all the patience and understanding for her in the world. Just like she always had. Until, finally, she felt a strong shoulder bump her own and she reached out to stroke along the small of her back as the sounds of the night along the mage-lit road provided enough cover to hide their deafening silence.
It was Elle that finally broke it.
“Whats on your mind, beloved?” She asked quietly as she glanced over at the older woman. She could have guessed. She already had. But that wouldn’t help Lireesa. Not at all.
The Ranger-General shook her head faintly and Elle dropped her hand from its place against the curve of her back to take her calloused hand in her own firmly.
They walked on. A meandering pace that she knew all too well didn’t come at all naturally for Lireesa. She knew this dance. She had danced it before. She would dance it again. It was a dance that Lireesa alone could lead. And one that Elle alone could follow.
“I wonder sometimes if I am doing the right thing.”
The first step. Something akin to the bow before asking for a lady’s hand along the edge of the floor.
“I know you do, Lireesa.”
The lady accepts. Of course she does. She always does.
“The past few days...I don’t know. The past few days I’ve become absolutely sure that I am not. That I’ve...I’ve only done what is right for my people. And not for my children.”
The first step. Careful. Measured. Practiced. ...Vulnerable. Like a hand pulling her closer for what would come next as the music of the glowbugs singing in the trees around them lifted.
“Alleria has been old enough to make that decision longer than some people I know have been alive. And has she changed her mind, my love? Has she shown a moment of doubt?”
A dip. Bold. Treacherous. But with the strength behind it to pull Lireesa back should she lose her balance. Should she try to step away.
Lireesa’s voice was choked. Just so. Just enough. A stumble followed by a thick swallow as she tried to remember the steps. The steps that would take her away from admitting this to Elle. To herself. But she couldn’t. And she stopped - her leading foot scuffing audibly in the leaves as she continued staring ahead of them along the road.
“But Sylvanas.” Elle whispered as she released her hand - stroking slowly, carefully up the length of her arm before she grasped her shoulder and slowly turned the older woman to face her.
“She didn’t ask for this.” Lireesa whispered as she looked over Elenia’s shoulder into the darkness of the forest behind her.
“No one asks for any of this.” Elle responded - her tone as gentle as her hands were as she reached up and stroked through her hair, guiding it from her face before she traced the sharp lines of it slowly. “Ask her. Ask her if she wants it. ..You already know what her answer will be.”
Lireesa finally looked into her eyes, then. And Elenia’s heart nearly shattered at what she found there. Such crippling doubt. Such guilt. Heavy and dark like a blanket of soot after a fire.
“Lireesa…” She breathed the name like a prayer and pulled the seasoned warrior into her arms like she was a lost lamb.
Lireesa let her. And a shiver wracked her as she buried her face against the side of her neck - desperately seeking a place to hide. If only for a moment. Shelter. No matter how small. No matter how brief.
“Go to her tonight. Or in the morning. But soon. Away from Alleria. Away from the pressure. Talk to her like the woman she is becoming. It will be her decision in the end, Lireesa. Allow her to start making it, now. With the memory of this fresh in her mind. My love, you can’t break right now. I’m sorry but you can’t. You can’t let this clip your wings. You’ve far yet to fly. If you still need to shatter when there is time - fly to me and shatter in my arms. I will hold your pieces together. I will pick them up. I will put you back together.”
As she spoke one of her arms slipped around Lireesa’s waist and her free hand had come up to cradle the back of her head, gripping her hair tightly to hold her that much closer. As though she were trying to push her own fortitude into her through touch alone.
“I love you.” Lireesa whispered - her voice shaking dangerously as her lips moved against the side of Elenia’s neck.
“And I, you.” She responded almost fiercely and used her grip on her hair to pull her up - to look her in her eyes before she leaned down slightly to brush their lips together in the lightest kiss. “For all of my days. With all of my heart. And you are a wonderful mother. Stop doubting that. Just look at them and see how good you are. It is like you took all the best parts of the woman I’ve known for so long and sculpted them from there. And yet you give them the freedom to become something different. Something unique. But just as beautiful. And they are...they have.”
Lireesa drew in a slow, steady breath and nodded before pressing closer to Elle and breathing against her hair for a moment with her eyes shut. She listened to her heartbeat - used it as a gauge to steady her own. To find her center. To breathe.
“I’ll see you soon.” She whispered after what felt like days of just standing in her arms. Or just seconds. It was never enough. Not when she felt like this. But it had to be.
“As soon as you wish, Lireesa. My arms are always open. And I will always be yours to find.”
“We aren’t training today. You’re taking a break to be with your sister. This is just a walk.” Lireesa responded simply - but firmly enough to cut her daughter off.
“Oh…” Sylvanas murmured as her brows furrowed and she looked down at the grass of the courtyard as it passed beneath their feet and the ear nearest her mother twitched faintly. “About what?”
“About Alleria. About you. About everything.”
Sylvanas remained quiet - waiting for her mother to explain as she felt nervousness begin nibbling at the edge of her thoughts, a faint prickling at the base of her skull. Had she done something wrong?
“Let’s sit a while.” Lireesa gestured towards a spot along the edge of the path they’d been walking and lowered herself with her daughter, albeit a bit more slowly.
“I know you think you want to be a Ranger. I know you think you have no choice.” She started after measuring what she was about to say carefully once they were settled. “But after this - after seeing her the way you did - how could you? How could you still want that for yourself? Think carefully before you answer me, Sylvanas. And know that you absolutely have a choice.”
She did. She thought. She thought until she could think no longer and still her answer was the same as it had been when she’d started. “I just do. I just...I just do.”
“That isn’t enough.” Lireesa replied instantly, looking at her daughter carefully - measuring her every reaction. And this time that reaction came in the form of a sharp exhale through her nostrils and a lifting of her ears. Agitation. Good. Perhaps she would finally admit to both of them that it wasn’t for her.
“Would you prefer I...I wrote prose about it, Mother?” She asked suddenly - her sharp eyes shifting to meet Lireesa’s with an evenness that people would one day find disconcerting. But Lireesa just found it curious. And, so, she listened.
“Do you want me to...to write a ballad about how I need to feel the grass fly beneath my feet - how I need to feel the branches beneath my boots as I climb - as I run? Do you want me to sing to the world about how I’m not mad at Alleria for not wanting to be what you are because I want to be what you are? Because someone has to protect our home, Mother. Someone has got to do it. And it might as well be someone who actually fucking wants to. And do I want to be intimately acquainted with a spear? No! What idiot would want to be intimately acquainted with a spear?! Or any other sharp-ended object, for that matter? I imagine one doesn’t exactly accept that until it’s actually in you. I mean...do you find yourself dreaming of the next time you can a sword to the leg? That’s not want or need - that’s stupidity. And I know you don’t. There is a difference between duty and self-hatred. I’m not a baby. I’m not whatever the hell you think I am. You haven’t forced me to do or be anything. No one has. But I feel it, Mother. I feel it calling to me when I’m not out there. You can’t expect me to ignore that. You can’t expect me to be happily cloistered away for the rest of my life because of your own misplaced guilt.”
Sylvanas didn’t know when it had happened - but she was standing. Standing in front of her still seated mother with her fists clenched and her ears pinned further back than might have been possible any other time. Her face was flushed - her jaw was clenched so tightly it was almost painful. And then she realized the gravity of everything she’d said and she wilted immediately as tears burned in her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She whispered, taking a step back as she lowered her gaze to the ground and brought her own trembling hands up to run over her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to...Mom…”
Where she had expected to find reproach or anger she found, instead, the warmth of arms pulling her close. Holding her tight and rocking her slightly where they stood. “Shh. I understand, Sylvanas. I understand. I’m the one who should be sorry. And I am. Forgive me. Forgive me for not considering your feelings. For not listening. If this is what you want - I will only ever support you. I will only ever help you in every capacity in which I am capable. You have my word, my darling. I swear it.”
“Promise?” Sylvanas asked in an apprehensive murmur - muffled against her mother’s chest as she brought her arms up to fold between them.
“I promise, Sylvanas. On everything that I am and everything that I stand for. I will never question you about this again. Only know that you need never be anything but honest with me. And promise me, in return, that you will be.”
“I promise, too.”
“Good.” Lireesa breathed, slowly pulling back from her and holding her at arms length to look at her. “That fire in you…” She trailed off, cupping her daughter’s still too-warm cheek in her hand before she fixed a few strands of her hair that had fallen out of place. “Is one of the things I am the most proud of. Never let it go out. Not for anyone. Not for anything.”
“I’ll try.” Sylvanas responded quietly before tentatively moving closer for another hug - a hug which her mother returned all too gladly.
Mumford & Sons
Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance
But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand
And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars
But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand
But I will tell the night
And whisper, "Lose your sight"
But I can't move the mountains for you
Chapter 7: Sunnyland
But as much as her mother and father reassured her - she never felt like it was enough. She was always striving for more. Always working towards something she didn’t even fully understand yet.
And that’s what she was doing when her mother came looking for her that afternoon. Pouring over a Common language book murmuring the words to herself at her desk with some of her hair in her eyes and her fingertips tracing over the words on the page.
“Sylvanas.” Lireesa leaned against the door frame as her eyes swept over her daughter hunched over her work where she’d been for hours.
“Velonara is downstairs. She’s brought an extra fishing pole for you.”
Sylvanas straightened herself in her chair and rubbed her eyes with a soft groan. “Mother, I need to finish this. The tutor will be here tomorrow to quiz me and there are a few words I’m unsure of.”
Lireesa sighed quietly and made her way over to her desk, glancing down at the words she’d been practicing and fixing her hair as she did so. “Which ones?”
Sylvanas looked back down at the text and shrugged softly. “These two.” She pointed them out on the page and Lireesa followed her fingertip with her eyes.
“Accommodate.” Lireesa said it slowly at first and then repeated it again at the appropriate speed. “It’s...a difficult one. A lot of hard sounds. I know. Their language is rather cumbersome. It’s when...it’s when you make compromises in one thing to fit another thing within it. When you make allowances for something you weren’t, perhaps, prepared for. Does that make sense?”
Sylvanas nodded faintly and said the word with more ease this time. It was easier when she understood what they meant - when she could better relate them to their own language.
“And this one is ‘Liaison’. Which has more than one meaning, really. Many of these words have more than one meaning. In this instance - it can be either a specific person or describe a type of relationship. For instance, ‘Your liaison will be waiting at the bridge with the information you requested.’ Or - ‘I have been involved in an inappropriate liaison with an inferior.’”
“What would constitute an inappropriate liaison with an inferior?” Sylvanas asked softly as Lireesa found her bookmark and placed it in the center of the page before closing it for her.
“It isn’t something our kind worries about. For them, they seem to be unable to handle any sort of physical or emotional relationship where there can be any sort of power play without it becoming distracting or inappropriate.”
Sylvanas couldn’t help but laugh softly in response to that. Even as young as she was she knew humans were prudish. She’d seen the ones from Lordaeron before and they seemed so stuffy. So uptight.
“Now, go fish with your friend. She’s been missing you, you know. You needn’t spend so much of your time on these things. It isn’t required of you.”
Sylvanas stood from the chair she’d been folded in for hours and stretched out her limbs before wrapping her arms around her mother in a quick hug. “I require it of myself.” She responded before pulling away and heading downstairs.
“I’ll be back by dark!” She shouted up the spiraling staircase as Velonara positively beamed when she saw her.
“You don’t need to be!” Lireesa shouted back with a tinge of warning in her voice as she made her way down, herself. She stood next to Aravath as the two girls headed out the door for the nearby beach.
“Do you think this will help?” Aravath asked worriedly as Lireesa turned to make her way towards the kitchen. She paused and turned her attention to her husband with a somber expression on her face.
“I hope it will. But you can’t force these things. You know that. But if I had to guess - I would say yes. I certainly hope so.”
Velonara was the first to speak as they strolled next to each other. Sylvanas had taken the poles from her so she could go through the little pouch at her waist and pull out the lures they would need soon.
“I’ve been really focused...I’m sorry. It’s just...I feel like it’s so important for me to be ready that I don’t know what else to do.”
Velonara looked over at her thoughtfully as the ground beneath their bare feet became soft and sandy - warmed beneath the sun all day and pleasant to walk upon. “I just miss you, that’s all. What are you trying to be ready for, anyway?”
Sylvanas looked like she was thinking about her answer, which was unusual. She was normally so quick-witted that it was strange to see her struggling with a question.
“I don’t know.” She admitted softly as they finally found themselves in front of the waves that lapped gently at the shores behind the spires. “I don’t really know. It just feels important. Pressing, somehow. And I know I have very little time left before Mother inducts me into training. Or at least I hope so...it’s like an itch, or something. That I can’t seem to scratch.”
Velonara nodded as she cast her lure out into the rolling waters and then moved to sit down in the sand. Sylvanas joined her soon thereafter.
“I know that feeling. The itch, anyway. I feel it, too. I used to be so upset when mother would go into the field...even though it meant I got to stay with my cousins or with you. But now, when she leaves, I just wish it were me going out there instead. I hate being cooped up and I especially hate being in Silvermoon. Thankfully, I don’t have to go there much. I’m sure you do, though.”
“Mm...I do. And I definitely don’t enjoy it. I don’t know how Mother deals with all the bullshit and the politics. I know I’ll have to learn someday. But I dread it.”
“Is that really the only thing you dread? Not the responsibility or the danger or anything else? Just the politics?” Velonara looked over at her with her brows furrowed - the almost greenish hue behind the glow of her eyes was something Sylvanas had only recently found herself noticing. It was so unusual. Not unheard of. Just unusual. Special. And she allowed herself a moment to appreciate it as she returned the look.
“I think so. I mean, I know it’ll be dangerous. I get that. But I want that part of it, too. I want to face that so others don’t have to. Isn’t that how you feel about it? You’ve wanted to be a ranger all our lives, too.”
“I mean, yeah. I definitely feel that way...I think I just feel a little differently than you. I want to be a ranger, sure. Maybe an officer some day. And I want to be good at it. But you...when you talk about it, you’re talking about something different than I am. You’re talking about leading troops to battle and protecting a kingdom.”
She felt inadequate, suddenly. She’d never felt like this with Sylvanas before. Even as well-known as her family was and as important as they were. Sylvanas had never made her feel this way. And she hadn’t done it now. Velonara had done it to herself just by talking to her. By letting the truth settle over herself like a thick blanket.
“Just because what I’m meant to do is different than what you’re meant to do doesn’t mean anything, Vel. One well-placed arrow shot can do as much as an entire unit of Rangers if you choose your target wisely. Besides, I won’t have to worry about all those other things for a long, long time.”
Velonara nodded and leaned back onto one of her elbows as she watched her cork bob amongst the waves. “Then why are you rushing?”
Sylvanas didn’t know what to say to that. But it struck her. It really did.
“Maybe we should do this more often.” She finally murmured as a breeze caught her hair and her eyelids fluttered against the warm comfort of it. “I miss you, too.”
Velonara moved closer to her then and leaned her head against her shoulder as she settled the handle of her fishing pole in her lap - just barely touching the reel with her fingertips so she could feel if she got a bite.
It felt strange, suddenly, to have her so close. She felt protective, almost as she looked down at her face - at how her expression had settled into something content in response to their proximity - and she tentatively wrapped her free arm around her.
They nearly jumped out of their skin at the sound of sand being scattered in the wake of light footsteps behind them.
“Don’t move on my account.” Lireesa’s low voice was tinged with amusement as she walked behind them and leaned over to place a bundle in Velonara’s lap. “Some food since the two of you rarely actually catch anything out here.” She bent down and placed a kiss atop her daughters head before standing. “Or have you even been paying attention to your lines?”
Velonara got up almost embarrassedly then, and Sylvanas shifted so she was once more keeping her hands to herself.
“I’m not opposed to the two of you paying more attention to each other than to the fish, you know. We’ve plenty of food at home and precious little of you focusing on yourself and what makes you happy.” She nudged Sylvanas with the tip of her boot. “And if this makes you happy…”
Lireesa chuckled and lifted her hands in defeat. “Alright, I’ll mind my business. But do make sure the two of you eat. I slaved over that bread and cured meat for minutes for you.” Sylvanas was blushing as her mother headed back for the spires and Velonara was staring down at the cloth-wrapped bundle in her lap. “Sorry.” She whispered, clearing her throat and sitting her pole to the side to start untying the food that had been brought to them.
Sylvanas reached for one of her hands, then, and took it in her own and Velonara lifted her eyes in surprise.
“Don’t be sorry. I like being close to you.”
They didn’t eat for a little while. They mostly took turns looking at the way their hands looked twined together the way that were - and Velonara dared a slight movement of her thumb over Sylvanas’s now and then. They’d spent years being close. Sleeping curled up together when they went camping - hugging - any number of things. And neither of them, for the life of themselves, could figure out why it was suddenly different.
Eventually, though, they did eat. And in the middle of their meal Velonara suddenly got the bite she hadn’t expected to come. At least she had the forethought to pass their bundle of treats to Sylvanas before she stood and set the hook with a powerful backward tug.
Sylvanas tied up the rest of their meal and stood as quickly as she could, hurrying to where they’d left their net a few feet away She could already tell by the way Velonara was struggling it was a big one. That she would need help once it got to shallower waters and started thrashing. She’d been right. She could hear Velonara grunting with effort from a few yards behind her as she focused her sharp eyes on where the other girl’s line went underwater until finally, the shadow of the fish she’d hooked came into view.
Sylvanas wasn’t sure what possessed her to dive in after it, net in hand - but she did. And Velonara nearly panicked when she didn’t come up right away. She flung her rod down and called out her friends name as she broke out in a run in the direction she’d disappeared in. And just as she reached the edge of the water Sylvanas burst through the surface of it, sputtering and drenched and dragging the netted fish along the wet sand as she walked towards her friend.
“Sylvanas…” Velonara looked at the state of her - her likely ruined leathers and the little bits of seaweed trapped in her dripping hair. And she smiled.
“What?” Sylvanas demanded. “I didn’t want it to get away.”
“Oh, is that it?” Velonara asked as she grinned from ear to ear. “You look like a drowned rat.”
“...Thanks.” Sylvanas responded dryly as she put the net down and knelt beside it to unhook the fish and look it over.
“No, I mean...it’s…” Velonara hesitated and chose, instead, to get down in the sand with her and help.
“It’s what?” Sylvanas asked - suddenly a lot more focused on the fact that she wanted to know what it was Velonara was thinking than she was on the fact that her clothes were terribly uncomfortable when they were drenched with sea water.
“Cute. You’re a cute drowned rat.” She pulled the knife from her belt, then, and ended the fish’s discomfort quickly before she brought it closer to the water to begin cleaning it - allowing the discards to float out into the sea when the waves caught them.
Sylvanas stayed where she was for a moment - too stunned to do anything else. A cute drowned rat? She supposed that was better than an ugly one.
Between the two of them they managed to finish their tasks and bundle the fish up to be carried and neither of them noticed the sun had begun to set while they’d been about their work. Sylvanas was the first to look over her shoulder at it and it gave her pause.
“What is it?” Velonara asked as she noticed Sylvanas’s hands going still on the knot she’d been tying.
“It’s beautiful. I never really have the time to pay much attention to it.” She murmured distractedly, looking, for all intents and purposes, far too embarrassed for someone whose only offense had been getting caught watching a sunset.
“You’re allowed to, you know.” Velonara’s voice was softer than usual and she reached for Sylvanas’s hand - removing it from their catch and holding it in her own. “You’re allowed to appreciate things. I’ll watch it with you, if you want. The fish will be fine until dark.”
Sylvanas nodded absently and Velonara didn’t mind her wet clothes one bit as they sat next to each other in the sand once again. Her head was on the other girl’s shoulder again and Sylvanas’s arms had wrapped around her own. More sure this time. More relaxed. And eventually, as the pinks and oranges cast a myriad of colors over them, Sylvanas leaned her head against her friend’s.
“You said that we can do this again, right?” Sylvanas asked so softly Velonara couldn’t help but wonder if she was scared anything louder might scare the peace of this moment away.
“As much as you want. Whenever you have time.” Velonara reassured her immediately.
“Maybe once a week, then? If you...if that’s not too much.”
“There’s no such thing as too much.”
Velonara’s heart hammered in her chest harder and harder the more daring she grew. And it threatened to leave her body entirely when Sylvanas turned her head to kiss the top of her own before getting comfortable again. “Every week, then.”
Lireesa turned her head slightly towards Aravath as she heard him approach on the balcony of their bedroom but her eyes stayed focused on the two shapes on the beach in the distance that were so close they had almost become one.
“You’ve always had sharper eyes than me, beloved.” He said quietly as he placed his hand atop hers where it rested on the railing. “I’ll surely die of suspense.”
“They’re watching the sunset.” She explained absently - smiling warmly at her own explanation.
As inconsequential as that might have seen - to the two of them it was monumental. Sylvanas rarely did things that weren’t part of a task - that didn’t have a reason. Even fishing had a reason.
But watching the sunset with someone? Just enjoying the comfort of their presence? Well, Lireesa supposed there was a reason for it. And she was glad Sylvanas had suddenly happened upon that reason - even if her daughter didn’t understand it. Even if she didn’t know what the reason was.
She wanted so badly for her to be happy. For her to find something soft in this life that would surely be one as hard as they came. She thought and spoke often about the life of a ranger. But rarely did she discuss these moments of reprieve. These moments they created as little safe havens - memories to retreat to in their minds at night when the sounds of war still rang in their ears and kept them awake.
Lireesa yearned for Sylvanas to make these memories.
And this was a wonderful start.
You were so cynical the last time that I saw you
And I thought, that's what a real grown up looks like
You were happy once but that was such a long time ago now
Gravity took something from your life
And I thought back to the years that we played baseball
How I tried but I struck out so many times
But then once I hit the ball and it sailed over the fence
Yeah, I felt my gut all filled up with pride
So take me back to Sunnyland
So I can find the light again
So take me back to Sunnyland
So I can find the light again
And I dreamt about an abandoned hospital
And I met up with my friends to go inside
Well I left something important back in Sunnyland
And it's something that I know I'll never find
So take me back to Sunnyland
So I can find the light again
So take me back to Sunnyland
So I can find the light again
Can you tell me how long now until winter is done
Wake me up when it's over and spring has begun
Give me all of your bad days, it'll be over soon
Just as long as I have you
Chapter 8: Kiss The Girl
But that didn’t make it all any less confusing. She vividly remembered a time when they could hold hands or lay with one another and it just felt normal. Easy. And it was no longer that way. She caught herself looking at Velonara more often than she used to. And sometimes she caught her looking back.
Now, when they touched it felt almost forbidden. Just something about the way her heart raced and her cheeks flushed that she couldn’t wrap her mind around. She knew, of course. They both knew, deep down. That this was more than a friendship - or at least that they both wanted it to be. It was bridging that gap that was the problem. It wasn’t as though anyone was stopping them...or even that it was frowned upon. Many other girls their age had already had flings with their peers. Or were even still continuing them into something more long-lived.
But Sylvanas was always pre-occupied with her would-be duties. And Velonara just didn’t have eyes for anyone but her.
And so, of course, it was much different this time when they burst through the foliage that concealed a freshwater spring they had visited upon many an occasion. Where normally they might have discarded their clothes as they ran towards it - now they skidded to a stop next to each other as leaves still fluttered to the ground.
Sylvanas’s eyes lifted towards Velonara and fell before they met hers, her hands hovering along her shirt that had come half-untucked from her breeches.
“I won’t look, Sylvanas.” Velonara reassured softly, her brows furrowed faintly in concern. She’d never really seen her like this. So unsure. Normally she was the surest person she’d ever known…
“You can look.” Sylvanas’s answer came quickly. A little too quickly, she realized. And her ears shifted downward slightly. “You don’t have to, though.”
“Is it alright if I want to?” She asked softly in response, reaching out to touch along Sylvanas’s hand before she pulled it away again.
Sylvanas swallowed and nodded before she finally pulled her shirt over her head and began untying her brown doeskin breeches. By the time she was out of them along with her boots, Velonara was standing in front of her wearing just as little as she was. She’d been so nervous she hadn’t even noticed her undressing. But she was...oh...she was beautiful.
She held her leggings in her hands and glanced quickly down her body as her ears shifted upward from where they’d fallen and the blush that had been creeping up her cheeks spread with a vengeance.
As shaken as Velonara was by the changes in Sylvanas since the last time they’d seen each other like this - as much as her eyes lingered on lean muscle and new, soft curves - it was the perk of her ears that did her in. That made her know unequivocally she wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
When Sylvanas noticed where Velonara was looking she reached up and smoothed her hair away from her own face - pressing her ears down to no avail before she cast her gaze towards the ground with a quiet huff.
“Do you want to swim?” Velonara asked gently, reaching out and taking her friend’s hand in her own to pull her a few steps towards the water.
Sylvanas was glad for the reprieve. She didn’t know how much longer she could take standing there like that - trying her best not to look at her and failing miserably.
Once they were in the water the mood shifted into something lighter. Before too long they were slipping through the water - chasing each other through it and splashing. The woodland creatures had long since departed because of the racket save the birds who were watching curiously from the branches above.
They swam until they were exhausted and Sylvanas barely made it to the edge to pull herself up with arms that burned with overexertion. She wrung her hair out and movement caught her attention from the corner of her eye.
She hadn’t noticed the way Velonara had watched her from where she floated in the middle of the pool - so she’d missed how her eyes lingered and the deep breath she took before she decided to move closer. Before she knew it, Velonara had found a ledge to rest on in the water beneath where she sat and leaned back between her legs with her eyes shut and her head in her lap and her arms draped over her knees.
Sylvanas had never heard her own heartbeat before. But she heard it now. Hammering away in her ears as Velonara’s fingertips touched lightly along her calves. Her mouth had never been this dry. And her fingertips had never tingled before, either.
She slipped her hand beneath Velonara’s head - stroking her thumb over golden hair so wet it was almost brown and leaning down over her. She barely felt the gentle grasp against her knee as her eyes flicked down towards her lips and up into eyes that had opened - but only just. She hesitated for a moment - a trembling breath leaving her in the space between them as Velonara lifted her hand to touch along her chest before it slid higher - just barely circling to the back of her neck to apply the gentlest of pressure.
It hadn’t been what Velonara was expecting. Sylvanas almost cradled the fullness of her lower lip between her own at first. And the warmth of it was all-consuming before a soft sound met her ears. The sound of Sylvanas’s lips parting from her own only to find them again - both of them this time - and when Velonara’s jaw tilted slightly - making the exchange that much firmer, more real, a sharp breath left her nose as her eyes shut.
They stayed shut for a moment even when Velonara pulled back and moved to kneel between her legs. Sylvanas’s short, quick breaths caused her to pull her into her arms. She didn’t know if it was the nerves or...or what she was feeling right then, too, but all she knew to do was let her know it was okay. And she did that by holding her as tightly as she could until she finally felt Sylvanas’s strong, lean arms slide around her back.
It had been an admission. Without words, of course. But it had been enough. It made it okay. It made what they were experiencing real and accepted and they were both relieved, if slightly on edge.
It was Velonara who pulled back first - but only when it felt like Sylvanas was calmer.
“Your mom was making us dinner, right?” She asked softly, finding herself drawn back to her as Sylvanas leaned towards her at the same time. This time she smiled into the kiss - into the light, silky feeling of lips against her own. Lips she had wanted to feel for months now. Lips she’d dreamt about kissing more times than she would ever admit. She’d always known it would be worth the wait. All the times she’d seen her friends sneak off into the forest while Sylvanas was cooped up studying or in the Windrunner courtyard sparring with her tutors or her mother and sister. All the times she’d caught the other girl glancing at her and looking away in an attempt to not get caught.
She’d always known Sylvanas would be worth the wait. And she’d been so right.
They helped each other dress in the clearing surrounding the pool - laughing quietly at how difficult it was to get leather up wet legs and almost stumbling a time or two. They walked back to the spires languidly hand-in-hand and just before they made it to the door Velonara gave Sylvanas’s a gentle tug, catching her when she fell slightly off balance and meeting her lips with her own one more time. She still didn’t have all the grace she would one day have. But neither of them knew that, then. And neither of them cared.
“I’m sorry it took me so long.” Sylvanas whispered only to be rewarded with a stroke of Velonara’s hand along the side of her neck.
“It took as long as you needed.” She murmured as she bumped their foreheads together gently and kept them together.
Sylvanas turned to face her, then, using a hand on either side of her face to tilt her head up gently. She brushed her lips against the side of her mouth and then pressed them against her cheek. “You always wait for me.”
“And that isn’t going to change.”
“When you girls are finished out here I have something to discuss with you. After dinner. Which is also ready, by the way. But no rush.”
The color drained from Sylvanas’s face as she turned sharply to face her mother - who she hadn’t heard open the door. And who had been watching them for who knew how long.
Lireesa only wrinkled her nose and chuckled softly as she retreated inside.
“I’m sorry.” Velonara murmured - her cheeks burning and her tone a mixture of embarrassment and genuine apology.
“No, don’t...don’t be sorry.” Sylvanas responded quietly. “It doesn’t have to be a secret. This. It doesn’t have to be if you don’t want it to be.”
Velonara looked faintly shocked as her gaze leveled on the other girl and Sylvanas only reached for her hand - giving it a reassuring squeeze. “But if you want it to be, I understand.”
“No...no, I don’t. At all. I didn’t think you would...I don’t know what I thought.” She was stammering. She knew she sounded ridiculous. She thought perhaps it would be best if she just stopped talking for a while.
That was - until she found herself hugged against Sylvanas so closely there was no room left between them for doubt. “I don’t care who sees us, Vel. I’ll never care who sees us.”
Velonara released a breath that shook on its way out and nodded before resting her head against her shoulder for a moment before they finally managed to part long enough to make it inside.
Lireesa blessedly failed to mention what she’d seen over dinner and while she saw the way they touched hands beneath the table every so often she didn’t mention that either. She only smiled more often than she had been as of late. She only spoke with more animation. She only looked less tired, less worried.
That was - until dinner was over - and a certain measure of seriousness came over her while Aravath began clearing the table.
And Sylvanas remembered she’d wanted to talk to them. So she decided to beat her to it.
“If it’s about...if it’s about what happened outside, I won’t let it interfere with my work. But I...I won’t stop, either. I hope that isn’t what you wanted to talk to us about. Because I won’t.”
Velonara looked stricken. Sometimes - Lireesa was just her best friend’s mom. But sometimes she was the Ranger-General. Steely and cold and dark in a way very few of their kind were. And here she was - her daughter’s greatest distraction.
But the look on the woman’s face softened immediately and she reached out to place her hand atop her daughter’s clenched fist on the table. “At ease, Sylvanas.” She teased gently. “This? Between the two of you? Is wonderful. And I wish you all the tidings in the world. I hope that it lasts for all of your days and that if it doesn’t the memories you make with one another will be some of the best - most treasured places in your hearts. Believe me - I don’t want you to stop.”
The straight, hard lines Sylvanas’s shoulders had become returned to the gentle, easy slopes they usually were and she leaned back in her chair as Velonara reached for her hand beneath the table again and she took it in her own immediately.
“No, I wanted to talk to you about the fact that as of next week you will both be starting your official training. I’ve taken the liberty of speaking with your mother, Velonara. She agrees it would be good to have you in the same group. You are both young, yet. The training will be one week a month for quite some time. And then two. Then three. And then you both are more than aware of what happens next.”
“We’ll be Rangers.” Sylvanas murmured - trying to temper the emotion in her voice. Sheer excitement. Joy. She very nearly vibrated in place with it - her eyes wide and her grip on Velonara’s hand tightening.
And Velonara was very nearly just as excited. In fact, she scooted slightly closer to Sylvanas - so close she was almost sitting on both their chairs at once.
Lireesa laughed quietly and glanced up at Aravath as he sat a pie down in the center of the table. “Eventually, yes. It takes many, many, many years. Boysenberry. From Silvermoon with congratulations from Aunty Elle.”
Velonara had never seen a pie like it. The latticework was flawless and the sugar crystalized over the intricately woven, golden pastry sparkled in the light of the room. There wasn’t a leak anywhere despite the spaces that revealed the glistening filling beneath.
“Who is...who is Aunty Elle?” Velonara asked quietly as Aravath began cutting them each slices with mischief glinting in his eyes and in his smile.
“My mom’s other Person.” Sylvanas explained easily - sitting the plate her father handed her in front of Velonara instead before he sighed fondly and replaced it with another one.
“Person?” She asked in faint confusion as her eyes narrowed slightly at Sylvanas.
“Like Dad. Like they love each other. Her Person.”
Velonara watched as Aravath leaned down and pressed a kiss to Lireesa’s hair - smiling as he was rewarded with a gentle pat on his arm before he sat down in front of his own slice of pie and began eating it immediately. He knew better than to avoid good baking when he saw it. And he also knew how quickly it would be gone.
Lireesa shot a wink at her and Velonara grinned.
So she felt how they felt about women. How they felt about each other. Lireesa felt that about someone, too.
It was a relief. And she couldn’t help but wonder why Sylvanas had been so reserved taking that into consideration. But then Sylvanas wasn’t like other people. She never had been. And it was one of the things that she loved most about her. She was just so different...so special. She was certain that would never change.
She had no idea how right she was.
No, for now - they just enjoyed their pie. Enjoyed the feeling of their fingers twining together comfortably again like they used to. Only different, now. More. So much more.
“I’ve left some books in your room, Sylvanas. On your bed. That the two of you might find interesting.”
Lireesa patted the back of her leg as she walked past once they were done with their dessert.
“Don’t mention it, dear.”
When they were far enough up the stairs not to hear or see, Aravath cut his eyes at his wife from where he sat. “What kind of books did you leave in her room, Lireesa?”
“Helpful ones.” She responded simply with an unconcerned shrug as she heard the door to Sylvanas’s bedroom open followed by a rather poignant pause from two sets of feet.
"Kiss The Girl"
Samuel E. Wright
There you see her
Sitting there across the way
She don't got a lot to say
But there's something about her
And you don't know why
But you're dying to try
You wanna kiss the girl.
Yes, you want her
Look at her, you know you do
It's possible she wants you too
There's one way to ask her
It don't take a word, not a single word
Go on and kiss the girl (kiss the girl)
My oh my
Looks like the boy's too shy
Ain't gonna kiss the girl
Ain't that sad
it's such a shame
Too bad, you're gonna miss the girl
go on and kiss the girl (kiss the girl)
Nows your moment
Floating in a blue lagoon
Boy, you better do it soon
No time will be better
She don't say a word
And she wont say a word
Until you kiss the girl (kiss the girl)
Don't be scared
You better be prepared
Go on and kiss the girl
Don't stop now
Don't try to hide it how
You wanna kiss the girl
Go on and kiss the girl
(kiss the girl)
(kiss the girl, kiss the girl)
Go on and kiss the girl
Go on and kiss the girl
Chapter 9: Answer
Lireesa knew she could be whatever she needed to be with Elle. She’d known that for so very many years, now. But as she lingered outside the bakery out of view of the windows she couldn’t help but doubt herself. That was all she’d been doing lately. Since the moment she’d offered to enroll her daughter in formal training she could do little else but regret. Regardless of what Sylvanas said - she knew she’d influenced her. She knew the image she painted for those around her - the heroic, stalwart persona and presence. That was almost all anyone knew. She even hid these fears from Aravath. He had enough of his own. More than enough.
But she just couldn’t hold it all in any longer. So she’d found herself here. Between the bakery and the adjacent building with her hood pulled up over her head. She almost never wore her hood up. But there was something about this night. She didn’t want anyone to see her. She didn’t want anyone to see the cracks that had begun to form in her visage.
She heard rustling behind herself and turned. She almost felt her heart skip a beat as Elle tossed the rest of the day’s trash where it would be collected the next morning behind the shop and turned towards her. Her brow furrowed as she tried to discern the shape in the shadows for a moment before the silvery light of Lireesa’s eyes made it all too obvious who was there.
Elle hadn’t seen her like this very often. She didn’t speak as she made her way over to her and reached for her hood - pulling it away from her face until her ears slipped from the slits in it and stroking her cheeks with her thumb. “Come inside.” She murmured, bending to kiss her forehead.
“I apologize for not informing you of my visit, I…” Her voice was already cracking. She’d already fallen silent again.
Elle just shook her head softly. “Shh...none of that. I’m so very glad you’re here. But let’s get you inside.”
Lireesa allowed herself to be led into the bakery through the back door and once they were in better light Elenia looked her over more carefully - tracing the darkness beneath her eyes worriedly before she unclasped her cloak and hung it on one of the hooks near the door. She let her fingertips brush along the dark feathers that adorned it as she let it go. The feathers had been a new addition since she’d donned the mantle of Ranger-General. Sometimes Elenia wondered if they were as much to remind herself of times passed as they were for aesthetics. A time when she’d been free.
Lireesa’s voice was so low and gentle and Elenia had always found it soothing even after a long, difficult ride that had begun before the sun was even out that morning.
“I am. How long until we reach Silvermoon?” She brushed her nose along the nape of Lireesa’s neck and breathed in the scent of her hair. She’d only just met the mercenary a month earlier yet it felt like they’d known one another all their lives.
“Mm, soon. Within the hour.” She leaned back in the saddle against Elenia as she spoke and chuckled softly when she felt the other woman rest her chin on her shoulder so she could watch the path in front of them.
“Do you appreciate the view?” She asked with a faint smirk on her lips as one of Elenias hands came to rest against the top of her thigh.
“It’s better than the back of your head. But here’s hoping when we get to Silvermoon I can see the front of you.”
“Bold.” Lireesa husked as she turned her head to press a quick kiss to Elenia’s cheek - using the other woman’s now steady, and hard-earned, seat in the saddle to help herself balance before she turned her attention back to the road. “As though you haven’t already seen enough of the front of me.”
Elenia couldn’t help but laugh at that. She’d seen quite a bit, yes. Lireesa made a bit of a habit lately of leaving her clothing outside their tent to dry and making her way into their tent utterly naked despite having changes of clothes in her saddlebags. But Elenia certainly didn’t mind.
They both fell into an easy silence as the road and an odd sight caught Elenia’s attention along the hedgerows near the edge of the road. She couldn’t recall ever having seen such a thing. Little bodies on thorns here and there as though they’d been hung. Just mice and voles and other various creatures. “Lireesa...what in the world is that?”
She reached around the older woman to gesture towards another stand of thorned bushes containing the strange sight and the mercenary’s gaze followed to where her finger pointed. “Ah.” Her response was simple and he sat up in her saddle - her head turning slowly as her sharp eyes scanned the treetops spanning the width of the road until they finally seemed to land on something. “Do you see her? She’s small.” But Elle had gotten good at following Lireesa’s eyes - at seeing what she was seeing. They’d been in situations that were much more precarious than this and it had been an absolutely necessary skill to develop.
“Mhm. The little bird.” She rested her chin back on Lireesa’s shoulder as she looked up at it and it turned its attention toward her in a strangely intelligent display.
“A shrike. A carnivore. She hunts by impaling her prey on thorns and sharp branches. These are her hunting grounds.”
As long as she’d been around, Elenia had never heard of a shrike. But then - she’d been a village baker for most of her life. Buried in her work and in her little community until she’d lost it all. Until Lireesa found her.
When the bird flicked its head in the other direction she noticed the mask-like stripe of feathers across her eyes and slid her arms around Lireesa’s middle. “She wears the same warpaint as you.” She murmured, resting her cheek on the back of her shoulder as the older woman smiled.
“I suppose she does.”
“What do you need, Lireesa? Do you need to eat? Do you need to rest?” She asked when she turned back to face her and reached to stroke along her arm.
“I need you.” She responded quietly, leaning into the other woman as she moved closer and half melting into her embrace as it was offered to her in the form of arms that were strong from years of work.
“I’m right here.” She reassured quietly - though the words caught slightly in her throat as Lireesa nudged gently at her jaw with her nose and sought the side of her neck with her lips. “When did you last eat? When did you last sleep?” She continued as Lireesa’s hands ran along her sides and around to her back.
“Please don’t.” Lireesa breathed against the corner of her jaw - allowing the tips of her fangs to graze it just barely.
“This isn’t why you came here tonight, Lireesa.” Elle whispered in response, but her arms never loosened. Her thumbs never stopped their gentle stroking against her back. “And I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s on your mind. You know you’re safe here. You know that. And you know that I love you. That I always will. Please don’t be scared. Not here. Not with me.”
Lireesa swallowed repeatedly as Elenia spoke and her head slowly lowered against her shoulder as she shuddered and shook her head. But it was too late. The walls were gone already. And Elle held her close as the first hot, wet tears met her shoulder.
“You’re okay.” Elle brought a hand up to cradle the back of Lireesa’s head and she could almost feel the effort she was putting into reining herself back in. But for a while, she couldn’t. There weren’t sobs, really. There rarely were. Just the occasional tear and the feeling of her burying her face against her neck as her hands grasped the soft material of her shirt.
She didn’t speak again until Lireesa calmed somewhat. Only then did she finally pull back and bring the cleanest edge of her apron up to wipe her face - careful around her eyes as she cleaned up the liner she always wore around them. Even now, when she was so on edge. So close to breaking down completely. Maybe especially at times like these. Elenia would never understand how she kept it up. All of it, really. But what she could do was be here for her. To care for her when she would finally allow someone to.
“Dinner first.” Her voice was quiet but firm and Lireesa once again let herself be led - this time towards the kitchen of the bakery until she was half lifted into a stool near the large wooden island in the center. “Look at me.”
Lireesa responded immediately - her eyes snapping up to meet Elenia’s with none of the usual mask in front of them. It wasn’t often Elenia issued orders. And when she did - Lireesa tended to listen. Especially when, deep down, she knew she needed to. “Stay with me a few days. I know you can afford to. Rest. Recover.” Her eyes fluttered at the kiss that was brushed against the corner of her mouth. She didn’t have an argument. Aravath would be glad for it. He’d been worrying himself sick over her. Sylvanas was gone on her first week of training - with one of the unit captains, as was tradition. And she wouldn’t break it. The last thing her daughter needed was special treatment. And Alleria was in the field. There was no reason for her to say no. And she didn’t want to.
“I’ll stay. I’ll stay for a few nights if you’ll have me. At least three.” She murmured as Elenia moved her lips to her cheek and kissed it lightly.
“I would have you every night you can spare for the rest of my life. Now let me find you something to eat. I know you’re starving. Even if you don’t feel it right now.”
“Wait.” Lireesa breathed - reaching for her wrist and pulling her close again when she began to move away. The older woman reached up and cradled the sides of her neck in her hands, caressing the line of her jaw with her thumbs as she pulled her down so their foreheads rested together. “You are so good to me, Elenia.” Her voice was quiet - subdued as the other woman began stroking the tips of her fingers through dark locks of hair that were pulled back away from her face - careful not to tangle the strands that hung loose framed the sides of it.
“How could I not be?” She asked just as softly in response - lifting her head slowly and pressing a kiss to the top of Lireesa’s. “I’ll be just over there. I’ll find you some dinner and then finish up down here and we can go upstairs.”
“Can I have a kiss?” Lireesa’s response came with a weak smile and Elenia brushed her thumb across her lips before leaning down and pressing her own against them. Some might not think deeply enough about Elenia to wonder if she was good at certain things. Most might not view her that way at all. But there was enough softness in her kiss and in her lips to get lost in for hours. For a lifetime. And Lireesa had been guilty of getting lost in her more times than she could count. The way the younger woman touched her - coaxed things from her she sometimes didn’t know were still there...the softness of her body and the warmth of her... Her eyes shut as Elenia’s lips parted from her own in a lingering fashion. “No more until you’ve eaten.” She murmured as she caressed her cheek - though she had a hard time walking away, herself. Even to care for her. Even just across the kitchen. She always did.
And her eyes wandered over to Lireesa for a moment as she opened one of the cupboards only to find her laying her head against her arms on the island. Sleep, then. She needed to sleep when they were done. She reached up and unhooked the leg of cured ham she’d been going after and carried it over to the island as Lireesa lifted her head and smiled. Such an expensive piece of meat and the older woman knew Elenia didn’t sell it. She knew she kept it around for her.
“Something light, then?” The baker asked quietly as she retrieved a freshly sharpened knife from one of the drawers beneath the counter and used the edge of it to peel off the layer of fat that had been protecting the most recent cuts she’d made on it. “Perhaps some wine?”
“You spoil me. Again. Do you have any tomatoes?” She leaned in as the first sliver was offered to her on the dull edge of the knife and took it gingerly with her teeth - sighing quietly as the marbling within the meat began melting almost as soon as she had it in her mouth.
“What do you take me for, Lireesa?” Elenia chided gently as she leaned down to begin making quicker slices with an ease that sometimes even Lireesa marvelled at. “To insinuate I don’t know this needs something acidic with it…” But even as she feigned an incredibly haughty tone, she smiled in a way that Lireesa found infectious.
“My apologies, Lady Elenia. However can I make it up to you?” She leaned over the counter, then and reached for another sliver of ham that Elenia pretended to pay no mind to.
“By eating. By talking to me once you have - and then by going to sleep in my arms.” She responded as though it were the most obvious solution in the world.
“Mm. A concession I might be willing to make.”
Elenia flashed a rather gentle look at her as she lifted the ham and moved towards the cupboard to hang it back up once she covered the freshly cut strip of meat on top of it with a fresh layer of fat to keep it from airing out. She returned to the counter with a handful of small tomatoes and left them before reaching beneath it for a tray of long, thin loaves that had only recently come out of the oven. She sliced enough pieces for them both and then made quick work of the tomatoes as Lireesa watched her quietly - captivated by what she was doing. Every move she made was so sure and so effortless. These were some of the little things she loved about her. Little, intangible things that had always caught her off-guard. She was, perhaps, the only person alive who could do that. Catch her unawares.
Her selection of olive oil was almost as interesting as her cutting had been. She seemed to pour over the various bottles lining the ridged backsplash over the huge ovens before finally selecting one. “This one I just got from a travelling trader.” She explained, drizzling some over the small heel of bread she’d left laying on the counter and passing it over to Lireesa. “Do you like it?”
Lireesa brought it to her nose and the light, fruity scent of the oil mixed with the warm, nutty smell of the freshly sliced bread. If Elenia was trying to distract her - she didn’t really mind. Especially when she took a bite and sighed quietly. “You knew I would like it.” She responded simply, finishing it off and draping one of her arms along the edge of the island.
“Perhaps that’s why I chose it.”
The smells she’d always found so comforting washed over her anew as freshly-drizzled bread slices made its way onto the searing hot top of the oven until they were crisp and the oil had tinged the bread a deep, honey-yellow behind the crust - a crust that was quickly topped with tomato slices so thin you could see through them as soon as she carried them back over to Lireesa - in her bare hands, no less. But that had never bothered Elenia. Not even more severe burns seemed to bother her.
Lireesa could understand that. She had quite a few rather dreadful scars that she could no longer even remember the story behind. They just all seemed rather insignificant now. What was significant was the time they had together. And when she wasn’t capable of making the most of it - Elenia had no qualms doing it for her.
The wine she already had sitting on the edge of the counter was an often-made choice for both of them. A deep, rich red with a gentle bite at the very end. Another tool to cut through the fat and the rich saltiness of the ham and the oil that had been used to crisp the bread - which only made the very next bite taste just as good as the first.
It was one of the best dinners she’d had in a long time, even if she knew Elenia might have liked to make them a more substantial meal. It was about all she could handle right then. She ate in silence, her eyelids already drooping as she got halfway through her second glass of wine and she scarcely noticed as Elle finished cleaning up and slowly moved to stand behind her. That was, until a gentle arm across the front of her shoulders guided her to lean back.
“I have a few loaves to knead and pan for proofing. It shouldn’t take me more than a quarter of an hour. Will you make it, or would you like me to help you to bed?”
The younger woman spoke quietly against the sensitive skin just behind her ear and Lireesa lifted a hand to wrap around her forearm, squeezing it and then stroking it in lazy, light touches. “I would rather be down here with you, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course. Why don’t you come stand with me? I’ll never forgive myself if you pass out on that stool and fall off it.” Elenia winked at her and smiled as she turned away to retrieve a few bowls of dough from the back counter. She unwrapped each of them as Lireesa stood slowly amd moved behind her - pressing close to her and nipping her ear gently.
“I’ve too much grace and catlike reflexes to fall off of something. Please.”
“You’re also wildly distracting. Take the towels off those two bowls, there. You’re going to help me so we can get to bed.”
Lireesa froze for a moment - pulling away from her to find a spot beside her at the counter as she looked down at the bowls and peeled the towels back carefully. “I don’t ...think I’m qualified for this, if I’m being entirely honest.”
A laugh caught in the back of Elenia’s throat as she scooped the first puffed ball of dough from its resting place and scattered flour in front of both herself and Lireesa. “To knead dough? Please, beloved. Try your best. I’m sure it will all work out in the end.”
More distractions. More expertly crafted moments on Elenia’s part that drew her from despair and into something normal. An escape. The baker kept an eye on Lireesa - an eye Lireesa wasn’t paying much attention to as she narrowed her eyes and studied the other woman’s hands for a while as they worked. She gathered some of the flour on her own and then began working at the dough. She did decently at first. But she didn’t think to add more flour as it began sticking to the countertop - she simply kneaded harder. As though that were a plausible solution.
Elenia paused in her own work as a soft smile crossed her lips when she next glanced over at the slightly agitated, hyper-focused expression on Lireesa’s face and the little pieces of dough scattered around the bigger piece that was currently tearing slightly under her attention. When she reached over to still the older woman’s hands Lireesa lifted her eyes to her slowly as her ears wilted somewhat. “It was…”
“Here.” She half-cooed as she sprinkled more flour over everything. “Gently. It’s bread. It doesn’t respond well to being beaten into submission. I know you can be gentle…” The lilt to her voice in that last comment coupled with the playful bump of the younger woman’s hip against her own caused her to relax again. To be less focused on getting it perfect and start mimicking Elenia’s own movements.
Before she knew it - all the bowls were empty and the pans were filled with what would soon become loaves and Lireesa wandered towards the sink after Elenia after trying her best to rid herself of the flour she’d nothing short of gotten covered with.
“What a precious Ranger-General.” Elenia remarked idly as she lifted a brow and looked over at her - bringing a damp hand up to wipe a smudge of flour from the sharpness of her jaw.
“Precious, indeed.” Lireesa grumbled softly as she leaned against the sink when Elenia reached to turn it off.
“Velandra will be here soon. She can take it from here. Let’s go get you cleaned up, hm?” She wiped her hands on her apron as she moved to stand in front of the other woman and find her lips with her own. When they finally managed to part and make their way towards Elenia’s chambers Velandra had already been making quite a bit of noise in the front half of the bakery to announce her presence. She knew Elenia didn’t leave flour footprints on the floor. She also knew these footprints were too small to belong to her, anyway.
Elenia washed herself off rather quickly as she filled the tub with steaming water for Lireesa - tugging on a robe and moving over to her as she began to slump on a chair in the corner of the room. “Let me get you out of these. I’ll have them washed tomorrow.”
She received an almost unintelligible murmur in response and, with a bit of effort, had her clothes discarded in a pile on the floor. She stroked along familiar scars that marred her lover’s slender, muscular back as she helped her down into the water and smiled faintly at the appreciative groan that came from her as she relaxed into it.
It was easy to coax words from her now, as she washed her. But she started as small as she always did - asking about Alleria first, then easing her way around to Sylvanas as she allowed a stream of water to run down the center of her chest from the cloth and brushed the bridge of her nose through her hair.
“You already know how I feel. I don’t know how to feel any other way. I feel like...I don’t mean to sound so dramatic, but I feel like I’ve given her a death sentence. It may not be this year. This decade. This century...but our peace was hard won. And no peace lasts forever.”
“Truer words were never spoken, Lady Duskheart.” Elenia’s voice was calm and steady - a soothing undercurrent to the gentle stroking of cloth and scented soaps against her skin. “But eventually, we all leave this place. And those that go in a way that they have chosen, perhaps, go more willingly - more contentedly - than most. And this is the life she has chosen for herself. Not one you have forced upon her. She had more choice than you did.” As if to soften the blow that statement might have come as she stilled her hand at the base of Lireesa’s throat and ran the side of her thumb along the front of it softly.
The older woman’s hand moved to cover her own firmly, then, and some of the tension she carried in her body seemed to ease - much to Elenia’s relief. “You give yourself so little credit, Lireesa.” She whispered, reaching down to allow the water to start draining from the tub. “You have carried your burdens for longer than most could ever imagine. You needn’t burden yourself further with misplaced guilt. Enjoy that your daughters have found purpose in this life. Accept the feeling of pride you find yourself pushing down more often than not. You have done such wonderful, beautiful things. And I am so very proud of you. Even if you can’t be proud of yourself, right now. I’ll be here until you can. And every day thereafter.”
Lireesa was quiet for a while - listening to the water drain as Elenia moved her hand to thread her fingers through silver-streaked hair. Once the water was all gone she helped her up and got her dry before making her way towards the bedroom with her - their hands never leaving one-another’s body’s. Just a gentle, reaffirming touch here and there until Elenia slipped her robe off and made her way under the covers with Lireesa. They laid on their sides facing each other - Elenia tracing the lines of Lireesa’s face as The other woman cradled hers in her palm - her eyes only half-open now. She was so tired. So very ready to give in. To give in to all of it.
“I know that you’re right.” She finally responded quietly. “But I’m worried. I’m so worried for her.”
“She is your daughter, Lireesa. That’s only you being a mother. That’s only you loving her.”
Finally, as she drifted off, she allowed herself to take comfort in those words. And in the feeling of Elenia pulling her more strongly into her arms.
I will be the answer
At the end of the line
I will be there for you
While you take the time
In the burning of uncertainty
I will be your solid ground
I will hold the balance
If you can't look down
If it takes my whole life
I won't break, I won't bend
It will all be worth it
Worth it in the end
Cause I can only tell you what I know
That I need you in my life
When the stars have all gone out
You'll still be burning so bright
Cast me gently
For the night has been unkind
Take me to a
Place so holy
That I can wash this from my mind
The memory of choosing not to fight
If it takes my whole life
I won't break, I won't bend
It will all be worth it
Worth it in the end
'Cause I can only tell you what I know
That I need you in my life
When the stars have all burned out
You'll still be burning so bright
Cast me gently
For the night has been unkind
Bonus content: I drew Lireesa...?
Chapter 10: Wild Love
“With due respect, I am only as fast as the slowest Ranger in my unit, Captain. It would do me no good to lose them behind me and have to turn back for them.” This gave the Captain pause and she tilted her head as she looked into the eyes of the girl who was the most promising of any group she’d ever worked with.
“See that they become faster then, recruit. See that they do not slow you down.” Her voice retained the same harshness of edge - of stern, disconnected authority. But there was a faintly impressed smile playing about her lips.
“Of course, Captain.”
And without waiting for the woman to give the order she turned to face the other six in her training unit - watching as they dragged themselves to their feet. Her wandering gaze halted on Velonara for a moment - who was doing better than any of the rest of them save herself - and then moved on. “You heard the captain. Again. Faster this time.”
Despite her utter lack of any real authority - there was just something about her tone that warranted listening to. The sharp conciseness of it and the volume she seemed to be able to produce effortlessly just weren’t something to be argued with.
Once again - Sylvanas ran behind them instead of in front of them. She watched their footing as they followed the trail that had been littered with tracks for them to scout and shouted corrections when they needed to be made. Her distracted focus cost her a few light scratches along her cheeks from branches she didn’t see coming but she was unphased. Even when the underbrush got thicker and they had to take to the trees for a time - her attention remained on the other young women she’d come to know so well recently.
She knew Anya’s jump had been miscalculated before she’d even landed. The pained grunt she released when she did only confirmed this and Sylvanas lept down quickly to her side as she rolled onto her back with a grimace and reached for her ankle.
The other recruits skidded to a halt and Velonara jogged over to them - panting for breath with concern-laden features.
“It isn’t broken.” Sylvanas stated. “I would have heard it when she landed. Let’s get this boot off. Velonara, continue the run. I’ll catch up.”
Velonara nodded simply and sprinted towards the edge of the clearing - grasping the arm of a distracted Ranger Recruit to tug her along by her side until they’d all broken out into a run again.
“You must always look twice before you jump.” Sylvanas murmured as she began pulling her boot from her foot in one gentle, careful motion so it wouldn’t become stuck when the sprain began to swell.
“I’m sorry. I know you just got a dressing down and...I just tend to ruin things, that’s all.” Sylvanas looked up at her as she undid her belt only to place the boot beneath it and buckle it again so it wouldn’t get lost.
“Don’t apologize. These things happen. But we’re finishing this run.”
Anya’s eyes went wide with fear, suddenly. There was no way she could run with these white-hot daggers lancing her ankle into her foot. She was so shocked she couldn’t even give voice to her concerns.
But what shocked her more was Sylvanas pushing one of her legs aside and moving to sit between them facing away from her. “Arms around my neck. Legs around my waist.”
The other young woman obeyed wordlessly and as soon as she had a firm hold Sylvanas began to lean forward with her weight on her back, forcing first one knee beneath their combined mass then the other until she was standing. Anya was larger than her and she didn’t have the strength yet that she might someday have. But she had enough for this.
She walked for a few steps. Just to get their balance right. To make necessary adjustments. And then she resumed largely the same length of stride she’d been taking earlier - albeit more hunched in order to keep Anya on her back. She never quite caught up. But she did see the light at the edge of the camp clearing soon enough and she could already hear the Captain’s voice.
“We are missing two. Wasn’t one of you just mentioning the slowest Ranger in her unit? And is she not one of them that is missing?” Everyone knew who she was, of course. But right now - she was just another Recruit. One to be shaped and molded until she became the thing that would keep both herself and those she would defend alive.
But right then, as she emerged into the clearing and her labored strides became slow shuffles and finally stopped, there was little doubt as to who she was. She was shaking as she lowered herself to one knee and allowed Anya to slide from her back onto the softness of the ground. Her vision was spinning. Her lungs and every muscle in her body were on fire.
“Enough for today.” The Captain announced - already on her way over to the pair as Sylvanas struggled and failed to get herself standing and at attention.
“At ease.” The aging High Elf glanced over at her own tent, shared by her lover who had been out all night creating trails for the recruits to follow. “Kalira!”
The woman had already woken in response to both the commotion and the shift in energy in their camp and she emerged - squinting at the brightness of the daylight as she made her way to Loralen’s side.
“This one. Get her to her tent and check her ankle, please, my love. The rest of you - go get washed up for dinner and straighten camp when you’ve finished.”
She had noticed how Velonara hovered near Sylvanas as she held herself up off the ground on arms that shook and her sides heaved beneath her tunic with each breath she took. She noticed that even in the presence of her own authority - even with the tone she’d used to give those orders - the young woman seemed reluctant to obey, though the others - glad for the reprieve - already had.
“Is this where your loyalty lies, then?” Lorelan’s voice was quiet enough that only the three of them could hear it after Kalira helped Anya to her feet and further into her camp.
“Captain, forgive me. I…”
“Help her to the stream. Be sure she doesn’t get cool too quickly. Check her for strains and be easy with her tonight.”
“Be easy with...oh.” Velonara looked away quickly as a blush darkened her cheeks and one of her feet shuffled in the groundcover below.
Velonara had felt that was a dismissal. And perhaps for her it had been. But the older woman knelt in front of Sylvanas slowly and reached down to lift her chin - her narrowed blue eyes burning into the glowing grey of her’s. “That is something your mother would have done.” Lorelan said - all the edge gone from her voice as she grasped Sylvanas’s forearm with her free hand to help her up. “And it was the right thing to do. Perhaps if you continue making me look good I’ll be retired into a training role. Off with you. Before Velonara has a litter of worry-kittens.”
As soon as they were dismissed, Velonara had an arm around Sylvanas’s waist, supporting her the whole way to the stream - purposely taking her to the opposite end of it than the others normally bathed at. By the time they got there Sylvanas’s breathing had returned to normal but she was slumping slightly against her. She cared little for her own clothes - stepping into the waist-high water as she helped Sylvanas sit on the bank and reached to cradle her face. “Why did you do that? You didn’t have to do that.” She murmured softly as she stroked across the still flushed skin of her cheeks before guiding the hair that was plastered to her face away from it and pulling the hood of her cloak back until it slipped from her ears.
“I did. I did have to.”
Velonara’s brow furrowed as she unclasped the cloak altogether and allowed it to fall to the ground behind Sylvanas - her hands stroking down her arms and her legs, kneading the muscles of her calves and thighs to check for any tightness or swelling. “We are only training…” She murmured absently as she pulled Sylvanas’s damp tunic from her body and laid it atop her cloak.
“That could happen again. It could happen when we aren’t training. All of this could happen when we aren’t training, Vel. And we all have to be ready for that. Especially me.”
“What good will you do anyone if you kill yourself just trying to graduate?” She responded quietly - an almost beseeching tone slipping into her voice as Sylvanas grasped her shoulders once her boots were removed to make it easier for Velonara to peel her leggings from her.
“I won’t. I promise.” There was an apology just at the edge of her words as she sank down into the cool water and a shuddering breath escaped her - her eyes slipping shut. She just allowed the water to flow over her too-hot skin as Velonara undressed herself as well and the coolness of it against her back was replaced by the other woman’s warmth as she slid between her back and the edge she’d been resting against.
A quiet, appreciative groan escaped Sylvanas’s lips as Velonara began kneading the muscles of her shoulders after shifting her hair over the front of her shoulder and out of the way. She might have drifted off if her curiosity hadn’t begun to get the better of her.
“What did the Captain mean...be easy with me?” She asked quietly.
“She thinks we’re sleeping together.” Velonara responded as she found a knot just to the side of her shoulder blade and began working at it slowly with her thumbs. “Everyone does.”
“Does that bother you?” Sylvanas asked worriedly as she turned her head so she could just barely see her from the corner of her eye.
Velonara smiled faintly as she moved to the next knot to give it similar attention - leaning forward to kiss the place where the last one had been. “It does not. Though their accuracy leaves something to be desired.”
Sylvanas fell quiet for a time, then, before she turned slowly in the water to look at her - sitting sideways between her legs with one of her hands running slowly along her thigh. “Do you...do you want to go have dinner and…”
The pause felt as heavy as it was and Velonara’s hand kept trailing lazily along Sylvanas’s back even though her breath caught in her throat. Something about the way Sylvanas looked right then caught her off-guard. She was so unsure. So unlike her usual self. It was something she and very few others ever got to see.
“We can just eat and sleep like always, Sylvanas.” She responded - her voice lacking any real strength or volume. “You know I don’t care. You know all I want is you. To be near you. No matter what happens, as long as we’re together - the rest can…”
Her words trailed into nothing as Sylvanas’s gaze shifted from her eyes to her lips then further down only to be followed physically. Velonara tilted her head to the side as Sylvanas pressed close to her and released a shaky breath against her neck.
They’d done little more than kiss over the months since their fishing trip. And their kisses always left them both aching. Wanting more but not reaching for it.
This seemed so different. Sylvanas had never touched her quite like this before. But suddenly there was a hand along one side of her neck and teeth grazing her skin apprehensively in a way that produced a slightly choked nose in the back of her throat - one that caused Sylvanas to pause immediately.
“Was that...do you not...do you not like it when I use my teeth?” She asked quietly, only to find Velonara’s hand coming up to rest against the back of her neck to keep her close.
“I like it very much when you use your teeth.” She whispered in response. “But you can stop if you like.”
She didn’t want to stop anymore. They helped each other out of the strem and fell against its bank - facing one another on their sides until Velonara propped herself up on one arm and leaned over, first brushing her lips with a light kiss and then finding her neck in turn, parting her lips against it to suck over the skin, though she was careful not to leave more than faintly reddening skin behind. A mark that would be gone again by the time they reached camp. A mark that was found shortly thereafter by her own teeth - delivering a gentle pinch that drew a sharp gasp in its wake. “See?” She asked quietly.
And Sylvanas definitely saw. Neither of them were sure if they were trembling so badly because of nerves or something else, but Velonara moved lower regardless as she traced the slowest, lightest circles along the front of Sylvanas’s softly toned stomach. There were no more teeth for now, though. Just Sylvanas’s breaths catching in her throat as Velonara’s lips found her chest - just the very start of the swell of her breasts.
“Do you know how beautiful you are like this?” Velonara asked as the redness in her face spread along the length of her ears as she lifted her eyes when her hand paused on Sylvanas’s hip.
Only to find her eyelids fluttering slightly but not opening and to receive an unintelligible murmur in response. The sun washing over their drying bodies and the softness of the moss beneath her coupled with Velonara’s feather-light touches had been too much for her exhausted body.
But it wasn’t frustration she felt. Just more of the same adoration for her that Velonara was already brimming with. She looked wild and free in that moment. Breathtaking. Her long, wet waves of platinum hair contrasting starkly with the dark green she rested upon - the errant freckle on her golden skin here and there and even the fading bruises from training accidents. And especially the scars on her knees on her otherwise flawless form from their playing together as children. She was so perfect. And Velonara was loathe to wake her - but she had no choice. They both needed to eat after the day they’d had. And they needed to be clothed and back at camp for that to happen.
She woke her gently, though. With kisses along her face and over the lids of her eyes as she trailed her fingertips along her thigh until a quiet groan let her know her efforts were working.
“You fell asleep on me.” She whispered as she bumped their foreheads together before helping her sit up.
“Vel, I didn’t mean...I’m sorry…” Sylvanas looked almost embarrassed but she chased the expression away with a kiss. “Another time, my beautiful one. Let’s get some food and some real rest in you for now.”
Sylvanas might have argued if Velonara wasn’t so right but her whole body ached, now. For rest and for stillness and even pulling her clothes back on caused twinges of pain she’d never experienced before. They twined their fingers together now and then as they walked back towards camp but Velonara stopped them both with a gentle pull on Sylvanas’s wrist that caused her to turn and face her.
“I was so proud of you earlier.” She murmured as she reached up to stroke up her chest and then kneaded her shoulder for a moment. “I’ve never been so proud of anything in my life.”
It was so intimate. So personal. Almost more so than their earlier moment had been. And it left Sylvanas speechless. All she could do was tilt her head slightly and lean in to kiss her - just a soft, lingering, shallow thing as held onto Velonara’s hip and stroked her waist with her thumb.
Velonara returned the kiss and her hand shifted from her shoulder - trailing beneath her arm around her back and clutching her cloak as she pulled her into a firm hug.
“Food and the rest.” She whispered - smiling as Sylvanas nodded and rested her chin on her shoulder for a moment.
“Alright. But only if we cuddle.”
Velonara’s faint smile turned into one she could no longer control as she pulled away and walked the rest of the way into the clearing by her side towards the large pot over the central campfire that smelled, to her, like stew. Rabbit. Venison, perhaps. All she knew was she was starving and that meant Sylvanas was undoubtedly wasting away.
“We cuddle every night we’re together, Sylvanas. What makes you think that would change now?” She asked as they were each passed a simple wooden bowl so they could ladle their own portions. Their special treat for the evening were torn-off hunks of rather fresh smelling bread. It was rare they got that out here and they were both thankful.
“Sometimes I just need to make sure, that’s all.” Sylvanas responded through the bite of bread she hadn’t managed to wait to begin eating until they got to their tent.
“Always ask if you aren’t sure, then. No matter what it is that you aren’t sure about.”
Sylvanas nodded faintly and held their tent open so Velonara could get in and they ate in sleepy, sated silence as the noise around camp gradually began to die down with the setting of the sun. She was sure night operations would be suspended taking into account Anya’s injury and she was right. They would be allowed a full night and it was something she desperately needed. But the worry nagging in her mind as they placed their cleaned bowls outside the tent to be washed in the morning wouldn't let her rest. Even as they became nothing more than a bundle of legs and arms and her face was pressed into the crook of Velonara’s neck so she could fully enjoy the trailing of fingertips along her back.
“You said I could ask if I wasn’t sure.” She murmured against the other girl’s shoulder - allowing her lips to brush her skin as Velonara only tightened her hold on her.
“Are you getting tired of waiting for me? Are you going to get tired of it? I know I’m different. Believe me, I know. I know I’m not like the others...and that you haven’t had with me what most of them have had. I’m ready. Believe me, I am. I’m just so tired, and...I just want to be good for you. When we…” She trailed off and pursed her lips in frustration at herself and Velonara curled her head down to kiss her cheek firmly.
“If you weren’t ready for a hundred years I would still be right here. I don’t care if it’s because you’re tired or not ready or you just have a headache. I don’t care if its because your breakfast was burned. Or if you have no reason at all because you don’t owe me one. Nor do you owe me an explanation. And don’t worry about being good for me. We’re both new to this. We’ll figure it out as we go, just like we have been.” She pulled back so she could look into Sylvanas’s eyes and the sincerity in her own was more than plain to see. “You’ll be perfect. You always are. No matter what. And I’ll do my best to be good for you, too. But, Sylvanas, we’re just good together. And the rest will come with time. Do you believe me?”
Sylvanas nodded faintly - regarding her with a strange look in her eyes. A lingering one that felt like it pierced her very soul. A look of realization and of shock and acceptance all at once.
“Sylvanas...what is that look? Are you okay?”
“I think I love you.” She responded almost too quickly - her pulse hammering in her ears. “I...I think I’m in love with you.”
Velonara released a shaky breath of relief and shook her head. “Silly Elf.” She breathed - tracing along her delicate brow and then running the backs of her fingers down her cheek as her eyes began to shut slowly, despite how she fought against it. “I’m in love with you, too, of course. And I’m sure I’ll still be in love with you in the morning. After you’ve slept.”
Sylvanas could only respond with a faint crinkle of her nose as the flush in her face began to subside and sleep took its hold - having been held at bay for far too long.
Velonara wasn’t far behind - though the racing of her heart threatened to keep her up along with the racing of her thoughts.
Sylvanas loved her.
She was in love with her.
Don't know what to say to you now
Standing right in front of you
Don't know how to fade in and out
Don't know how to play it cool
Lose a little guard, let it down
We don't have to think it through
We've got to let go
I wanna give you wild love
The kind that never slows down
I wanna take you high up
Let our hearts be the only sound
I wanna go where the lights burn low and you're only mine
I wanna give you wild love
Tried to call you to feel you close
From a runway in Tokyo
Let's leave the atmosphere, disappear
There's always something left to lose
But I wanna give you wild love
The kind that never slows down
I wanna take you high up
Let our hearts be the only sound
I wanna go where the lights burn low and you're only mine
I wanna give you wild love
I wanna give you wild love
(Love, love, love)
(Love, love, love)
I wanna give you wild love
(Love, love, love)
I wanna give you wild love
(Love, love, love)
Let's be reckless, unaffected
Running out until we're breathless
Let's be hopeful, don't get broken
Let's stay caught up in the moment
It wasn’t that Velonara wasn’t grateful for the time they did get together. It was just that she wanted more of it and it had been extremely difficult that night sitting in their tent waiting for the other sounds around camp to die off. Sylvanas almost always took first watch on their night exercises to give the rest of them a chance to rest before any drills began and Velonara knew it was wearing on her. She could see it in the darkness under her eyes and hear it in the groans that came every time she half-stumbled into their tent to find the warmth of her arms to sleep in once her watch was over.
She wasn’t going to let her go it alone tonight, though. Even if it meant sneaking past far too many highly sensitive sets of ears to get to her. That didn’t mean her heart wasn’t hammering with every step she took, though - her eyes focused on the treeline Sylvanas was in in the distance and her ears twitching in response to each and every sound. Even the bugs skittering through the grass away from her silent footfalls.
Velonara froze at the sound of cloth rustling and dropped low to the ground - her eyes darting to the side only to catch sight of a tent flap closing instead of opening far enough on the other side of camp that they couldn’t possibly have seen her.
“Loralen.” The captain’s eyes fluttered slightly and she held her arms open instinctually, assuming Kalira just wanted to lay back down with her. And she did. She moved onto their shared bed roll and found her lover’s hand stroking the back of her head as she yawned. “Mm?”
“I just saw Velonara heading for the edge of camp. My guess is she’s going to see the Windrunner girl. She’s got first watch tonight.”
Kalira’s lips quirked as Loralen’s chest rose and fell with near-silent, sleepy laughter. “Why don’t you take the night off, my love? Give them a break, and yourself as well.” She finally responded - opening her eyes just enough to see the younger ranger. She ran her hand down to cradle the side of her face and urged her closer with the arm she was wrapping around the small of her back. “You know how terribly I miss sleeping with you when we’re training recruits. I find myself lamenting your excellent night vision more often than I should.”
“You’re the Captain.” Kalira whispered in reply as she began to relax into her.
“I am. And you’ve done wonderfully with them this week. They can certainly have one night of reprieve after you’ve put them so thoroughly through their paces. My little creature of the night…”
“Mmm, creature of the night, indeed. I’ll be more than glad to return to my normal duties once this is over.”
Loralen murmured her agreement as Kalira settled her head against her chest. “And perhaps a few others you’ve been putting on the back burner as of late.”
“You know very well I’m worth the wait, Lor.” Kalira breathed - already lulled into a near sleep-like state by the continual stroking of her hair.
“Oh, that I do.”
She studied the trunk for a moment - gauging the best hand holds and footholds before she gathered herself and leaped upward - holding a majority of her weight by a single knot in the wood for a moment as she thought about her next move and then made it. All the way into the center bowl of the tree - where she expected her to be. Only...she wasn’t there.
As she slipped down into the bowl in confusion and moved to stand her brow furrowed as she noticed the slightly slumped looking shadow straddling one of the upper limbs. She hadn’t heard her? Seen her? That couldn’t be. Sylvanas had the sharpest ears of any of them and by far the sharpest eyes.
She moved towards her quickly, now - pushing branches aside in her haste and hissing to try and get her attention.
It wasn’t until the branch beneath Sylvanas shifted beneath Velonara’s added weight that she woke with a start - scrambling to turn and face whatever was coming for her but only succeeding in slipping sideways with an alarmed grunt. Gods, this was going to hurt.
In fact, she was still thinking about it even as she hung over the distant ground with Velonara’s fingertips digging into her wrist - still so dazed with sleep and shock.
“Up, Sylvanas. I can’t hold you forever.”
Realization suddenly dawned on her and as she felt Velonara gathering her strength to pull she swung herself up and grabbed hold of the branch until she could finally swing a leg back over it. Her ears were wilted and she was panting softly as her scalp prickled with nerves still fragile from her near-fall and Velonara scooted closer to her on the branch to lift her chin. “Stop.” She murmured quietly. “Stop doing this to yourself. What if that hadn’t been me?”
“I was just resting my eyes.” Sylvanas whispered in response - though she refused to lift her gaze to meet Velonara’s.
“I’m staying with you until your watch is over.”
That got her attention. And quickly. “You can’t do that. You’re going to get the dressing down of the century. We take turns. That’s just how it goes.”
“That isn’t how it goes tonight. How it goes tonight is - you sleep while I make sure a lynx doesn’t eat you and you don’t fall to your death, or both.”
Sylvanas still seemed reluctant. So infuriatingly reluctant to share even a portion of her burden. And with her, of all people. But she seemed just as reluctant to pull her away or to outright send her back to camp.
“Come on.” Velonara murmured - leaning in slowly and kissing the fullness of her lower lip. She began to move backwards gradually, shifting herself up onto her feet with her knees bent for balance and holding a hand out to the young woman that had once been her childhood friend. Who was still her best friend. Her best friend and so much infinitely more. She was careful not to pull to hard once her offered hand was taken, though she wasn’t sure why. Sylvanas had the best footing of any of them and she walked along the branch in the darkness like it was nothing less than a cobbled pathway illuminated perfectly by magelight. They slid into the bowl together - the soft scrape of leather against rain-smoothed wood the only sound they made on their way down.
“Will you sit with me?” Velonara asked softly. Sylvanas nodded softly and moved towards her. But there was still reluctance. Reluctance to shirk her duties. To rest when she should have been watching. Especially if Velonara was going to have to compensate for her.
“We don’t have to sleep if you don’t want to.” She offered carefully - not entirely sure what she meant. Just that...she meant it.
Velonara had a feeling that once they were comfortable - that’s exactly what Sylvanas was going to do. But as she nestled into the curve of the bowl of the tree and Sylvanas leaned back against her and she brushed a kiss against the side of her neck she realized she might have been wrong in her assumption. There was something about the slight tilt of her head that told her otherwise. “What is it?” Velonara asked quietly, lifting a hand to gradually pull Sylvanas’s cloak away from her head so she could see more of her.
“Nothing.” Came a hurried, whispered response, though Velonara’s eyes darted down in time to catch Sylvanas drawing one of her legs up as she adjusted her seat slightly. Almost like she was nervous.
She was nervous. She was nervous about all of this. She was nervous to ask her not to stop - nervous about how deeply she’d felt such a light touch of lips to skin. In fact, she’d been on edge for weeks, now. Ever since their afternoon at the stream. Velonara couldn’t even lay too close to her at night without her body reacting in a way she couldn’t seem to control. And so, she would just lay there. Uncomfortably. All night. And she would wake in the morning still uncomfortable. Often flushed and flustered if Velonara was as tangled with her as she usually was.
And now after all this time, they were finally alone. The last thing on her mind was sleep.
“Are you going to rest?” Velonara’s voice was a gentle murmur next to her ear and Sylvanas found herself swallowing thickly.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to. But it’s fine.”
Velonara had never really heard the tone she was using. She sounded so stifled. So closed off. And it had Velonara second guessing everything in that moment.
“Would you rather I leave? Am I too close?” She asked with a shadow of doubt edging its way into her voice. “Sylvanas...I...I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. That has never been my intention. But I just thought…”
She cleared her throat and as she moved she found herself suddenly pushed back again - Sylvanas’s strong shoulders pinning her into the side of their haven. It was one of the first times she’d felt her strength, herself. But she also felt a faint tremor wrack her body. She’d been just about to press her for an answer, again when Sylvanas finally spoke. “Can...I...I don’t know how to ask. I don’t know what to say.”
Velonara’s expression relaxed somewhat as she found one of Sylvanas’s hands with her own and twined their fingers together. “You can show me, you know.” She murmured gently, slowly releasing her hand and resting her own atop her thigh, just barely trailing her thumb along the inner seam of her leggings. “You can show me where you want me to touch you if you can’t tell me right now.”
Those words fell over Sylvanas and brought with them more relief than she’d ever felt. Then Velonara wanted this, too. Maybe, judging by the way her fingertips dug into her thigh slightly through the doeskin of her pants, it was possible that she might even want it as badly as she did. That she just needed to know it was okay.
“There...there isn’t just one place I want you to touch me.” Sylvanas responded as a blush blazed its way across her features and along her ears. “And I don’t just want you to touch me. I really, really want to touch you, too. And I can’t even...I can’t even sleep, sometimes. I feel like I’ll burn up if I spend another second pressed against you, yet moving to the other side of the tent feels like it would kill me. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t even know if it’s okay for me to be thinking these things so often but I’ve tried and I can’t help it. It’s like...it’s like I can’t even hold your hand, anymore, without this feeling.”
“That’s how you talk about it.” Velonara murmured against her shoulder as she slid her arms around her middle to hug her back into herself. “That was a wonderful start. Can I ask you a question?”
Sylvanas’s frazzled nerves were eased by Velonara’s careful reassurances and she slowly relaxed against her again, though Velonara could feel how warm her skin was when her ear rested against the side of her neck. She waited for the faint nod that eventually came in response and stroked along her stomach for a moment before once again reaching for one of her hands as she kissed behind her ear - drawing a sudden gasp from her. “When you feel this way when I’m not there do you ever take care of yourself?”
“Yes.” The answer came without hesitation and it had a rasp to it that Velonara had never heard before. If she hadn’t already been about to shake out of her clothing she certainly was now.
“Show me how you do that.”
Sylvanas’s thoughts were racing so quickly she couldn’t even hope to catch up to them as Velonara traced the lines of her hand with her fingertips and pressed feather-light kisses to the corner of her jaw. She was suddenly hyper-aware of their surroundings. She could hear - in fine detail - the chirping of the cicadas in the canopies with them. Even the rustling in the groundcover far below.
She found the unlacing of her leggins difficult, suddenly, and the fact that her eyes were shut didn’t help matters. But Velonara just kept stroking along her wrists and her arms as she cradled her in blessed, patient warmth. Velonara’s hand followed hers as she slipped it between her own legs - each fingertip resting ever so lightly against her knuckles.
“Don’t worry. Please. I just want to know what you like. I promise it doesn’t matter what that is.”
Her arm tightened around the slightly smaller woman as she felt her shoulders rise sharply against her chest when she first touched herself in slow, almost teasing circles.
Sylvanas couldn’t remember having been this wet any time she’d been alone. Nor could she remember being this sensitive. Her motions were hesitant at first. And Valonara guessed that they were and began running her free hand slowly along her inner thigh - causing Sylvanas to spread it for more of the attention as she reached for Velonara’s knee and grabbed onto it firmly, eventually dragging the cloth already stretched across it into her fist as her breath caught in her throat.
Velonara’s breathing was quicker, now, and more labored even than Sylvanas’s as the other recruit’s head fell back against her shoulder. She took the opportunity to turn her own and kiss her - and instead of their usual slow, shallow kisses - Sylvanas seemed like she was starving for the contact. She pushed into the kiss as her rubbing became more purposeful and Velonara moved her hand out of the way, kneading both her thighs through her leggings as Sylvanas’s tongue explored her mouth and their teeth met now and then in a way that might have been jarring were they not so consumed by each other.
Until Sylvanas’s head rolled slightly and and her eyes snapped open and then shut more tightly than before - her slightly swollen lips parted as her rasping breaths turned into whimpers just before they left her. Every time. A dozen soft, quiet, unhinged noises and Velonara kissing her cheek and her neck and anywhere at all that she could reach.
“Don’t stop.” She whispered breathlessly - hazarding a glance at the sight of Sylvanas’s forearm flexing with her efforts when the wet sounds that Sylvanas was too far gone to be embarrassed by became something she could no longer avoid. She slid her hands lower so they were nearly touching between her legs and she eventually trailed her fingertips up the center seam of her pants, pressing firmly below where her hand was still moving. She was surprised when Sylvanas’s hips rolled softly in response and at the whimper that came louder than the others.
But she couldn’t for the life of her understand why she hadn’t listened as her hand stilled to a halt when she’d felt so certain she was close.
She tore her eyes away and settled them on Sylvanas’s face and their eyes met for the first time. She hadn’t ever seen Sylvanas so flushed or so out of it but when she felt slick fingers on top of her own, pulling gently, she understood. For the first time - she stroked down through soft, fine curls of hair with Sylvanas’s hand wrapped around her wrist as her stomach nearly danced with frantic breaths beneath her arm.
She was so soft. Like silk against her fingers. Like velvet. And hotter than anything she’d ever felt. She slid her fingertips past her clit and carefully traced around her as she nuzzled into the side of her face and their breaths began to match in their heavy desperation. “Is this okay?” She asked quietly. “Is this what you want?”
Sylvanas’s response came with a tug on her wrist and a trembling hand sliding into her own pants to cover Velonara’s and press against the finger that was teasing at her.
And then her breathing stopped. Caught in her throat as Velonara slowly pressed into her with all the care in the world despite how difficult she found it to control her movements right then. But control them she did. In long, even movements within the tightness surrounding the length of her finger as Sylvanas clutched at her arm and dug her heels into the bed of leaves in the center of the tree- pushing back against her with such force it might have stopped her from moving were she not so intent on continuing. If she had the words she might have soothed her. If she had the voice she might have encouraged her.
She had neither. Not when that first moan met her ears. It was low and velvety and more than she had ever imagined. And she’d imagined it plenty.
Sylvanas didn’t know which way was up. Her thighs were trembling and tensing against the gentle stretching sensation. The full feeling that came every time she thought it would never return. The heat that had coiled in the pit of her stomach became an ember. A glowering warmth that slowly spread to her limbs bringing tremors and jerks along with it. Until it was a blaze. Until she arched away from Velonara and pressed against the heel of her palm and her feet slid through the leaves and the moss and the only thing that caught her was Velonara shifting beneath her - pulling her down to lay against her as her finger withdrew and her hand stayed pressed over her.
Her grip on Velonara’s arm was vice-like. Her nails bit into her skin and left welting crescents in their wake as she drew her knees back up and bucked once more.
Velonara’s voice was far away. Somewhere beyond the overwhelming sensation wracking her body unlike anything she’d ever experienced.
“Breathe, Syl. I’ve got you.”
She gasped. And the world came rushing back to her in a flash of shadow and starlight filtering through golden leaves and quick, breathless pants against her hair.
“I’m sorry.” She gasped quickly, scrambling to relieve Velonara of her weight as she turned around to face her. Oh, she struggled. Every movement was nearly impossible to coordinate and she wound up laying against her again - only the right way this time - and their mouths crashed together amidst Velonara’s dismissal of her apology.
Velonara had always been less restrained than her. Always a little wilder. Freer. And that remained true, now. When Sylvanas reached for her belt she was already scrambling to unbuckle it between them and her earnestness brought with it Sylvanas’s desperate need to please her in return. Not that it wasn’t already there. Just that it was now all-consuming.
Velonara was somehow, if physical evidence were to be taken into account, even more aroused than she was. And her fingertips slipped around for a moment in the darkness as a result before she looked down to better see what she was doing. She needn’t have. The moment she got where she needed to be Velonara went stock-still beneath her. “There. There, Syl. Please. I can’t...gods, I can’t wait any longer…please.”
Sylvanas had no intention, now, of making her wait. And Velonara had no intention of holding back. She came quickly and almost violently - lifting her legs on either side of Sylvanas’s slender hips and crossing them at the ankle behind her as her hands shot up to grasp handfuls of the other woman’s hair. “Can...can I...again…” Her fingers had slowed but not stopped as Velonara tried her best to drag the hair from her eyes so she could see her when she nodded at her.
A soft chorus of ‘yes’s met Sylvanas’s lips and were lost in their breathy, wet kiss as she redoubled her efforts - easing off when Velonara hissed against her mouth and jerked her hips until she found a way to touch her that had her relaxing beneath her instead of tensing.
By the time she came again they were covered in more leaves than clothing and even the thinnest sheet of parchment couldn’t have fit between them. They were on their sides - Sylvanas between Velonara’s legs with her head pressed to her chest so she could hear the way her heart hammered against it and their arms around each other so tightly neither of them could seem to drag a full enough breath into their lungs.
“I told you…” Velonara finally managed to whisper as she grasped Sylvanas’s ear gently in her palm before releasing it. “I told you you were going to be perfect.”
Sylvanas murmured against her chest as she nuzzled deeper into it. “So were you.”
Eventually, though, their grasp on things that were necessary like breathing returned to a more functional level and Velonara began gently picking leaves from Sylvanas’s hair - leaving it gleaming once again how it always did in the light of the moon.
Sylvanas had read those books a hundred times. Studied them like she had her languages. Studied them all the more intently the stronger her feelings for Velonara had grown. Only to discover this was nothing like a book. This wasn’t a verb to conjugate or a strange puzzle of grammar to translate into something more easy to understand.
It was more like a poem. And the soft lines of Velonara’s stomach shifting beneath her fingertips as she traced them beneath her shirt were the unwritten words between the verses. Her smile spreading into their kisses to be felt but not seen was like a clever, well-hidden double entendre that might not hit you right away but was all the sweeter for it when it did.
All the books and tutoring and training in the world couldn’t have prepared her for this type of exhaustion. The type of exhaustion that was cushioned by satiation and the utter adoration that Velonara poured into her with her lips and her fingertips and her barely audible whispers of love.
Yes. This was more like a poem.
One they were writing together.
The Oh Hellos
Climbing trees like we did when we were children
Scaling walls; the walls that took us years to build
Climbing trees; haven't much since we were children
Shaking limbs tend to end up bent and broken
Safe inside the walls we built, we found ourselves a home
Higher branches, harder fall
Hesitation stops us all
Oh, you'll never know
Climbing trees; haven't much since we were children
Shaking limbs tend to end up bent and broken
But heartache pales in comparison to love
Shout out to Redisaid for this hecking perfect song suggestion?
Chapter 12: The Times They Are A-Changin'
“How are my little monsters? Have you been good for Mom and Dad?” She asked as she stopped spinning and hugged them both close. “Huh, Little Moon? And you, my little music box?” She looked at Vereesa and Lirath in turn as she knelt to place them on the floor to truly see them, instead of the blurs they’d been as they’d run for her.
“We’ve been good!” Lirath reassured her with a grin, still holding onto one of his sister’s pauldrons lightly. Green. Not the blue of a true Ranger. Not quite yet. Though she certainly looked the part. Everything about her screamed easy, irreproachable authority. The kind you didn’t have to work for. The kind you were born with.
They had all grown, really. Not just the two new additions. Velonara - tall, sturdy, and lean. And Sylvanas…
Velonara’s eyes held only warmth and pride for her young lover as she watched the woman interact with her siblings. No elf was more beautiful than her. She would bet her life on that. She’d stayed small...but she’d gotten so strong. Velonara knew the curve of every muscle that lay beneath that armor intimately. No, Sylvanas was no longer the gangly teen she had been. She was all fierceness, fire, passion, and strength.
Vereesa held up a hand in protest, suddenly. “Actually, Lirath hasn’t been really good. Yesterday, during dinner-“
Sylvanas cast a conspiratorial glance at her mother from over their heads and then turned her attention back to Vereesa. “Now, Little Moon.” She said - a touch of quiet reproach in her voice. “Before you tell, you must remember to ask yourself some very important things. Did your brother hurt you purposefully? Did he do something that an apology couldn’t fix?”
Vereesa looked disgruntled as she thought those questions over in her mind and then shook her head rather sheepishly. “Good. Always remember how important the two of you are to each other. How important our family is. Talk. Talking is the most useful tool. If someone upsets you - tell them why they were wrong for having done so. That is the quickest way to the root of the problem. It forces you both to think. To take a breath. To resolve whatever ill has come between you.”
To soothe the slight sting her lecture might have caused, she pulled them both against her chest and kissed the tops of their heads. “Run along upstairs, then. It smells like Father has something delicious cooking in there. There’ll be no eating with dirty hands on my account.”
They both darted off at her request - as eager to please her as they always were, and she stood - finally removing her heavy pack from her shoulder and handing it over to her father as both her parents approached.
“Velonara, Sylvanas.” Lireesa greeted - the warmth in her voice matching the warmth in her smile as she held out her arms for both of them and hugged them close. “It’s so good to have you home.”
Lireesa pulled back and let Aravath get a hug of his own before she looked Sylvanas over more carefully. “Why don’t the two of you go upstairs? Take a nice bath - I know you haven’t had one in a while.”
“Three weeks.” Sylvanas agreed quietly. “And there’ve been plenty of sprains and bruises in between then and now.”
“I’ll bring your dinner upstairs. The children can wait until tomorrow for your vainglorious tales.” Lireesa reached for Velonara’s bag, then, and shouldered it easily.
“Are you certain they won’t perish?” Sylvanas asked - sounding genuinely worried despite the smile on her face that said otherwise.
Lireesa chuckled low in her throat and she and Aravath led the way for the room Sylvanas so often shared with Velonara, now, on their leaves from training. Once their bags were deposited inside, Sylvanas moved rather stiffly to the edge of the bed - all her swagger melting away from her weary body.
“I don’t know why you still push yourself the way you do, after all these years.” Velonara murmured quietly as she approached her, leaning over her back to begin unbuckling the light leather armor she wore until most of it was discarded on the bed and she felt the other woman’s arms wrap around her back.
“It’ll get easier.” Sylvanas murmured against her stomach before heaving a sigh that sent the hair that had been hanging in her face flying upward.
“You’ve been saying that for as long as you’ve been doing it.” Velonara responded - her tone both chiding and gentle. “Since we were kids.”
“I haven’t been a kid in a long time, Vel.” Sylvanas looked up at her, then, and Velonara cradled her face in her hands as her brow furrowed. No one knew that better than her. No one had seen childhood slip from Sylvanas Windrunner’s shoulders more closely than Velonara...only to replaced by immeasurable burden. Most of it self inflicted. Oh, she knew. All too well.
“Do you want to take a bath or just rest?” Velonara asked as she stroked through Sylvanas’s hair once she lowered the hood of her cloak. “You deserve either. Both, preferably, if I’m sleeping with you tonight.”
Sylvanas smiled, then, and Velonara brushed the quirked corner of her lips with her thumb.
“Are you saying I smell?” Sylvanas asked as she leaned back onto her elbows on the bed and looked up at Velonara - a bit of mischief glinting in her tired eyes.
Velonara leaned over her slowly and kissed her chin before resting her full weight on her - letting out a sigh of her own as she did so. “Like sunlight and meadows, Sylvanas. Always.”
“Ah, the sweetest lies.” Sylvanas whispered as she wrapped her arms around Velonara easily as her eyes slipped shut. Just for a moment. Just…
“My darling girl.”
Sylvanas’s eyes snapped open and, for a moment, she had no idea where she was. She knew Velonara was pressed against her side. She knew it was dark. And then she turned her head and saw her mother leaning over her and it all came back to her. They were home. They were resting.
“I’ve drawn the two of you a bath. Your dinner is on your end table. Go to sleep after you’ve eaten. Both of you.”
Velonara murmured her agreement but only pressed closer to Sylvanas, who groaned quietly and helped them both up. “C’mon. Mom made a bath.” Her voice was slightly raspy and muddled, buy Velonara murmured her agreement and Lireesa watched them help one another towards the bathing room with a soft smile on her face.
“Were they sleeping?”
Lireesa turned to look at Aravath with a quiet chuckle, making her way towards him and shutting the door behind them once they made it to the hallway. “They’ll be sleeping again, soon. I’m exhausted, myself.” Lireesa responded as the headed for their own bedroom.
“You’ll tell her tomorrow, then?” Aravath asked as he helped her out of her robe and placed it on the chair next to their bed.
“I’ll tell them both, yes. Perhaps a good rest will work out some of these nerves.”
Velonara shook her head and kissed her temple gently as she just continued removing her clothing for her. By the time Sylvanas was sitting on the edge of the tub - she was at least awake enough to help Velonara with hers. That was fortunate - she wasn’t that much better off than Sylvanas was. Little more than concern was driving her forward at this point.
They steadied one-another as they lowered themselves into the tub. It took both their remaining energy to get each other washed after many fumbled attempts and near-nods. Finally, though, Sylvanas lay back against Velonara - her head against her shoulder and Velonara’s lips against her cheek, trailing upwards towards her ear. “You’re so sleepy.” Velonara whispered against it, stroking along her arms and smiling at the faint murmur she got in response.
“You need to eat. We both do. C’mon.” Velonara urged as she pushed herself up - surprised as Sylvanas seemed to suddenly become just a touch more alert in response to the promise of food. They each dried off quickly and made their way back into the bedroom and Velonara was the first to lift the cloth covering the plate Lireesa had left for them. She smiled softly as she felt Sylvanas’s presence near her back before she found herself wrapped in a blanket.
“Look.” Velonara whispered as she lifted the plate and turned to look at Sylvanas - whose eyes seemed unwilling to leave her, despite the dish of treasures she was holding. Delicately crusted meat pies - one for each of them, which had always been Sylvanas’s favorite, and a few crystalized berries - gliting gently in the candlelight Lireesa had left burning for them.
“Mhm.” Sylvanas murmured, though she still hadn’t looked at the food. Instead, she tilted her head and pressed their lips together with such delicate care Velonara had a difficult time opening her eyes once she pulled back.
“What was that for?” She asked as Sylvanas finally took the plate from her and moved to sit on the bed - leaning over it to find a blanket to wrap around herself, as well, as Velonara moved to get situated next to her.
“I just love you. Nothing special. My parents don’t make these, you know. I wonder what the special occasion is.”
“That’s very special, actually. And I love you, as well. But you know that.” Velonara leaned in for the bite Sylvanas offered her and murmured her appreciation before she began feeding herself. There was scarcely a crumb left on the plate once they’d finished.
Velonara moved to place the plate on the end table and felt a gentle tug on her arm once she had - a tug she responded to by laying backwards, suddenly, with her head on Sylvanas’s stomach.
“Gonna sleep like that?” Sylvanas asked as she looked down at her from where her head was propped on the pillows.
“I imagine not. How would you prefer I slept?” Velonara reached up, then, and drew soft, invisible lines along Sylvanas’s neck as she awaited her answer.
“I never gave it much thought. I suppose I like holding you. Quite a lot, actually.”
Sylvanas’s eyes followed Velonara as she shifted to lay on her side and pressed back against her until Sylvanas was chuckling quietly and turning so she could wrap an arm around her.
“I’m glad we have a break. I’m glad I get to spend it with you.” Sylvanas whispered as she nuzzled into Velonara’s freshly washed hair - unbothered by the dampness of it. She just liked the smell. The comfort of it.
She didn’t even hear Velonara’s response before she was drifted off. In fact, she didn’t hear anything at all until the sound of rustling sheets and the feeling of sunlight on her face woke her.
“Good morning, sleepy.” Velonara murmured as she leaned over her and pressed a kiss to Sylvanas’s face.
“Mm...you’re already dressed. Why’d you let me sleep so long?” Sylvanas asked as she stretched and rolled over onto her back with a heavy sigh.
“You needed it. I only woke you up because your mother is downstairs waiting for us.”
Sylvanas’s eyes opened, then. “Waiting for us, why?” She asked as she pushed herself up and noticed the clothing Velonara had already laid out for her.
“I’m not sure, Syl. Get dressed - I don’t think you’re dressed appropriately for a talk right now. Hopefully it isn’t about sex. She’s about ten years too late for that.”
“It’s definitely not about sex. She’s covered that.”
They both laughed despite the strange feeling that had suddenly settled over them both. No, it certainly wasn’t about that. But...what was it about, then?
Velonara could sense Sylvanas’s edge of uneasiness as they descended the stairs and she stroked down her back before they rounded the curve at the bottom of the stairwell that led into the living space.
Aravath was nowhere to be seen - and Sylvanas looked around in confusion. The kids were gone, too.
“Your father took them for a walk. Come. Sit. Both of you.” Lireesa was standing by the sofa - dressed all in dark leathers with her hair pulled back. A slightly less casual look than she might normally have worn around the house. A look that didn’t help Sylvanas’s mood in the slightest.
They both obeyed. It hadn’t really been a request.
Lireesa smiled softly as she sat on the table in front of the couch and looked at both of them - not missing the way Velonara reached for her daughter’s hand - and certainly not missing how it seemed to comfort her.
“Look at the two of you.” Lireesa began, clasping her hands between her knees as she rested her arms against her legs and leaned forward slightly. “You’ve done so well. Both of you.”
“Thank you, Ranger-General.” Velonara responded softly, glancing over at Sylvanas and the way her brow furrowed slightly.
“Mother...what’s happened?” Sylvanas asked quietly - trying to keep her voice as steady as she could. Velonara gave her hand a gentle squeeze and moved closer to her.
“Ten years ago today, you both started out on a path that would one day lead you to serve your people selflessly and without hesitation. You never looked back. And I’ve never...ever...been more proud.” Lireesa reached out, then, and cradled Sylvanas’s cheek as the skin there darkened faintly under the rising flush threatening to spread, now, to her ears.
“You aren’t on leave from training.” She continued as she lowered her hand and looked, then, to Velonara - who was gazing back at her intently. “Your training is over. In two weeks’ time I will call you to take up the mantle of Ranger and all the responsibilities that come with it. You will answer this call at the Enclave. When next you leave the Enclave - it will be as members of Silvermoon’s farthest reaching...and most dangerous hand. From that moment on, our people and their well-being will be of unrivalled importance to you. This...is your last chance to decide you would prefer to tread another path.” Lireesa’s voice was, then, might have been more at home in a war room than a living room. But this was no less important to her. No less crucial.
“I will never change my mind.” Sylvanas responded - her voice quiet, yet steely in its resolve.
“Nor will I, Ranger-General.” Velonara echoed, though her hand trembled faintly in Sylvanas’s - who only held onto her that much tighter.
“Very well.” Lireesa stood, then, and pulled them both to their feet with a suddenness neither had expected. Pulled them into a hug so tight they weren’t sure they would survive it. When she finally pulled back - there was no small amount of pride in her icy eyes. No small amount of love. “Promise me you will enjoy the next to weeks to their fullest. Promise me you will enjoy each other.”
Sylvanas looked from her mother to Velonara and back again. “We will. I promise.”
Velonara nodded in turn and Lireesa sighed quietly before she nodded and made her way towards the kitchen. “Elenia made sure I left Silvermoon with plenty of those pies you like. There are more warming in the stove for your lunch. After that - you’ll be free from my doting. You are grown women, after all.”
As talented as Lireesa was at masking her emotion, Sylvanas was too perceptive to miss the slight catch in her mother’s voice. She wandered into the kitchen almost forlornly to where her mother was leaning against the counter and watched her wipe the tears that had begun to streak her cheeks hurriedly and replace them with a smile. “Don’t fret over me, Sylvanas.” She whispered as she reached out and picked a piece of fletching feather from her daughter’s shirt. “Let me fret over you, instead. Just once or twice more.”
Velonara watched them together - her expression soft and subdued as Sylvanas nodded and gave her mother another softer, lingering hug.
A decade made two weeks sound so painfully close. A lifetime of service made it sound even closer.
But the look in Sylvanas’s eyes when she finally let go of her mother and looked over at her - that beckoning, searching look in the soft, glowing blue-grey of them...she would let that matter most for now.
Not a terribly long time. But long enough for Velonara to re-remember a hundred, hundred things about Sylvanas that she hadn’t even come close to forgetting.
That she never would.
The curve of her smile when she woke her by kissing her. A smile that came before her eyes even opened.
How wild her hair could be when it was still dripping with salt water from the waves behind the spires. How that salt tasted on her skin.
How much they loved one another...and how much they always would.
“Hungry?” Sylvanas asked her as Lireesa patted her shoulder on her way past and headed for the stairs.
Velonara smiled and nodded as she walked into the kitchen. Before she made to reach for door of the oven, however, she pulled Sylvanas into a sudden rough, quick kiss and then leaned back, still holding the sides of her shocked face firmly in her hands.
“Have I ever told you how the way you look at me makes me feel?” Velonara asked as Sylvanas’s expression softened and she reached out to stroke across the other woman’s chest.
“Tell me again.”
"The Times They Are A-Changin'"
Bob Dylan (Cover by Tracy Chapman)
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'