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Only Expectation Has Value As Currency

Chapter Text

“Okay so,” Anduin’s brow furrowed as he adjusted his leg, sitting on the curb of the sidewalk. “Promise me you won’t freak out.” He cringed when he heard an audible anxious huff come from the other side of the line. He knew that his dad was on his way to the school already, and he was just sitting there with his bruised and bleeding legs, paired with scuffed knees and dust generally everywhere on him. 

His practice had ended at a later time than usual due to the championship only being about three weeks away, so it was nearing seven-thirty and the sun was beginning to fall under the horizon. Dad used his longer practices as an excuse to stay a bit later in the office rather than leaving around four as he usually did. 

“Why would I freak out?” A concerned reply finally came through. Anduin could hear a bit of wind before it cut out. He must have closed the window or something. He sighed and leaned backward on his bag, the biology textbook he’d taken out just before deciding to call his dad leaning against his partly-covered thigh. 

“I just got a little beat up during practice today, that’s all.” 

“How bad?” Was the immediate reply, and Anduin felt a small smile creep across his face. 

“Well, we ran so late that our athletic trainer wasn’t at the school, so her office was locked and we couldn’t get at any of the meds in her office. Usually, she would leave Coach a key, but I guess she’s been forgetting lately,” he thought back and gnawed distractedly on his lip, “I think Allison said she got engaged, and that’s why she’s been so distracted lately.” Allison had said that to him while trying to find something to patch his knee with. She was one of the school’s health teachers. She had to stay late to grade papers, saying she could never get it done at home because of her three sons. 

“Are you bleeding?” He asked as a slight shift in volume increased as he tilted the phone.

“Only a little,” He rubbed his finger across the scrape, smearing the tiny specks of blood across his skin, fading to an orange color against his knee. “It just hurts a lot, and I don’t think I can hold myself up,” He frowned as a heavy sigh came over the line and looked up, past the school’s baseball field toward the road. “I’m sitting right across the baseball field, by the way.”

“I’m coming up to the turn in now. See you in a second.” 

He hung up before Anduin could respond, and his shoulders slumped as he stared down at the ended call screen with the silly contact photo Anduin took last summer on his derailed trip in southeast Asia. 

He saw the shiny headlights of his dad’s old, ancient Ford F-150. A twenty-seventeen model. Thirty years, practically a relic. It’s not like they were struggling for money, and Anduin knew he was eyeing the thirty-nine Silverado. He was just sentimental with it because it was Grandpa’s truck, and Anduin liked it- he did, but… he didn’t want to think about breaking down on the highway thirty minutes before a game. Again. 

The crunch of gravel over the pavement and the squeaky brake-pads brought the truck to a halt. He heard the click of the shift put it into park, and Dad practically stumbled out of the car. He left the drivers door open, hearing the high pitched ding ding ding ring out annoyingly. 

“This looks… not very pretty, kiddo.” His breath was shakier than it was over the phone. 

“You promised me you wouldn’t freak out.” Anduin stressed, hissing as Dad poked and prodded at his abused legs. 

“I’m not freaking out, I’m just concerned,” He said defensively. Dad moved down his leg with feather-light touches, skimming swollen bruises and a few gym-floor burns that his guards couldn’t protect. The knee-guards were stuffed in the back of his bag, a little bloodied. “What’s wrong with your ankle?” Anduin sucked in a breath as he tugged back his sock a little, and grimaced. 

“I think I twisted it.” 

“We have an hour and fifteen-minute ride home. Do you want to stop at the clinic?” 

“I… I don’t know, I’d rather go home.” Dad sighed and reached behind Anduin to pluck his schoolbag up and shove his textbook back in there, putting it just below the lip of the curb. 

“I have some acetaminophen in the car, I’ll give you some.” He rolled back his sleeves and knelt close beside Anduin, brushing his hair back and looking for any other injuries. 

“There’s some in my bag, remember? We filled out a whole form for the nurse to take just so I could take pain meds at school.” He leaned into his dad’s hand and turned his nose into his palm when he thumbed a light bruise across his cheek. 

“Save those for school. This is just for now, okay?” Anduin nodded in reply and winced when his strong arms slid under the crook of his knees and his slim shoulders. Anduin leaned over the open the passengers' side door, and he was put down quite hastily. He winced as he jostled his injuries and closed the door just as Dad put his bag in the back, but handed him his near-empty water bottle. 

He settled into the driver's seat and dug in the middle console for a small bottle with a red label that read ‘acetaminophen’. 

“When did you last eat?” 

“Um… I had that protein bar Wyll packed for me after practice.” Seconds later he dropped the two pills into his hand and Anduin swallowed them quickly after. The thrum of the engine was soothing to his ears as he leaned over to turn up the volume on the radio, slipping his eyes shut as he leaned back in his seat and decided to nap the hour drive away.

Chapter Text

“...kiddo, it’s time to get up.” Varian’s shoulders slumped at the pained teen cringed at his efforts to wake him up. He was curled up in his seat, faced away from the open door from the chilled breeze- still only being in a quarter-sleeve and shorts. His legs looked paler than they were before compared to the blood that skimmed his knees and shins, the bruises that marred his arms and legs- even his face. 

I need to have a talk with Coach Anton about all the roughhousing. I can’t imagine the state those other boys are in. He decided grimly as he maneuvered his arms to pick Anduin up again, kicking the passenger door shut and making a mental note to go back for his school bag. Anduin hadn’t mentioned homework, but, he was sure that he had some with the advanced placement classes he was taking that required daily work at home. 

Anduin groaned as he set him down on the couch, reaching down to carefully slip off his shoes, mindful of his swollen ankle. He tugged off his socks as well and grimaced at the imprinted lines emphasizing the black and blue bruise surrounding the protruding bone of his ankle. 

“Master Wrynn?” Varian jumped and scrambled not to drop Anduin’s shoes and socks on the couch. “What happened?”

“Rough day at practice,” he said sorely, kneeling by Anduin’s side when he whimpered and tried to roll over on his side. 

“I shall fetch an ice pack and a few towels. Do you suppose three should suffice?” Varian blinked for a moment and then glanced down at the bruises. Seeing only three major ones, he nodded. 

“The bruise cream, too.” He added, standing up and heading back to the foyer to put Anduin’s sneakers down and slip his own dress shoes off. For a moment, he marveled at how much smaller his son’s feet were compared to his, but brushed it off when he noticed he still had his socks in-hand and threw them into the hamper in the bathroom just off of the foyer. 

Varian took a moment to hang his jacket up on the coat rack and unbutton the first few buttons of his shirt and his sleeve cuffs, rolling them up to the elbow. He walked back into the living room and found Anduin sitting up, rubbing at his eyes and staring down at his legs. He could hear Wyll rummaging around in the kitchen for the felt-covered ice packs in the freezer. They always had about three or four on hand, one- since Anduin did sports, and two- since Varian sometimes found trouble when he shouldn’t have. 

Varian sat where Anduin wasn’t laying and eased the boy’s head down onto his thigh, brushing his bangs back from his forehead as his glazed eyes peered up at him. 

“Where’s my backpack?” 

Shoot! I left it in the car. 

“I’ll bring it in later,” Varian mumbled, rubbing his thumb in circles over his forehead. “You have homework?” 

“Mmh,” Anduin replied lazily, “I’ll get it done just fine this weekend.” 

Just then, Wyll came back in with three small felt packs and a couple of cloths, and a small container of what Varian would guess was the bruise cream. Wyll handed it over to him as he laid out the towels over each bruise and then placed the packs, patting his youngest charge’s leg softly.

“I took the liberty of preparing dinner just before you returned home. I’m glad you remembered to call me this morning after your practice schedule changed.” He raised his grey eyebrows at Anduin and the boy hummed softly, leaning into Varian’s hand again as he rubbed the cream into the rather large discoloration on his cheek. 

“You guys pamper me.” Anduin whined, pouting as Varian pressed a kiss to his forehead. 

“I’m your father, it’s my job.” His voice bounced with mirth as the boy pouted again and reached up sluggishly to pet his hair, nearly missing poking his father in the eye. 

“What’s for dinner, then?” Anduin changed the topic when Varian took his hands and held them up, playing with them mindlessly as he too wondered what Wyll had managed to cook up. 

“Buckwheat stir fry, young sir.” The teen perked up and grinned. 

“You haven’t made that in so long.” Anduin’s exhausted eyes seemed to sparkle at the thought of food. 

“I figured it would raise your spirits, young sir, considering how much you seemed to like it the first time. With the championships coming up quickly, I thought to whip up a few older recipes as well.” Wyll chuckled as the boy smiled. 

“I’m starving, can we eat now?” He asked petulantly, squeezing Varian’s hands. He huffed a laugh through his nose and nodded. 

“Yes-don’t- get up!” He held Anduin down gently when he tried to sit up, and he threw his hands out in front of him to somewhat get Varian’s overbearing presence to calm down. 

“I was just gonna sit!” Anduin exclaimed, “I wasn’t gonna stand. Do you think I’m crazy?” He gestured to his beat-up legs and glared at him. Varian faltered and dropped his arms, embracing his son for a short time instead as Wyll went to fetch their plates. 

“Sorry, but you are.” He chuckled and kissed his hair, letting go and leaning against the couch with his arm draped around the back. 

“You’re rude,” Anduin stuck his tongue out at him and pressed his weight into Varian’s side, beaming when Wyll handed them their plates from over the couch. “Thank you! Are you going to eat with us, Wyll? Please?” He stuck out his bottom lip, and Varian swore he could see a twitch in the old butler’s brow as he fought to keep his resolve. 

“I suppose every once and a while won’t hurt, won’t it?” He said quietly, returning to the kitchens to retrieve his own plate. Varian could see the slight smile from under the fine-trimmed mustache as he turned, and dug into his food just as Anduin switched the TV on, the channel set to the news. 

“Ah, yes, as we eat quinoa and peppers we shall watch brutes bash heads,” Wyll snorted distastefully at the channel, settling into the armchair beside the sofa. Anduin was fighting back laughter while he stuffed his face and Varian was trying to get lost in the football game currently streaming. Varian caught the sparkle in the old man’s eye as he sent him a knowing look, “My most favorite form of entertainment.”

Chapter Text

“Wyll? Is something wrong?” Anduin held the phone to his ear with his shoulder with a frown as he shoved his textbook back into his bag, buttoning the clasp of the pocket shut and swinging the strap over his shoulder. He found it strange that Wyll was calling him at such an abrupt time, one class before they were released for lunch. He eyed the clock, seeing that it was only ten fifty-six. 

“Nothing is wrong, but Master Wrynn just called me beforehand to inform me that he was going to be staying at the office very late. I will pick you up this afternoon.” Wyll’s voice was calm, soothing the anxious question that had appeared in his mind the minute he saw his contact buzz on his phone. 

“Oh?” He flashed a quick smile and a nod to his teacher as the students filed out of the class, pressing the phone closer as he weaved through throngs of people in the direction of his next class. Anduin took a sharp turn into an empty stairwell, only a few people walking down the stairs. He tugged his strap closer as he sent a conflicted look to the door. 

“Is there something wrong, Anduin?” Wyll inquired, using his given name. Anduin’s gaze flickered out of the thick glass of the doors and sighed. He knows something is wrong. With me.

“This isn’t the first time he’s done this.” Anduin mumbled, wrapping an arm around himself as he eyed a clock just outside the archway of the stairwell. 

“Pardon, young sir?” Anduin bit his lower lip, gnawing at dead skin. “You know he sometimes has to stay late. He always comes home.” It depends on what time he decides he’s sober enough to drive. Anduin bit back the harsh reply and squeezed his eyes shut. 

“I just- nevermind. I’ll see you soon. Thank you for calling me.” He said hurriedly, feeling the suffocating feeling rise in his chest. 

“Have a good rest of your day, Master Anduin.”

“You too.” He breathed, hanging up mere seconds after he uttered the words. Anduin stood there for a minute, phone clenched in his hands and staring down at the lock screen. 

It was a picture that Anduin took of his father. They went canoeing two summers ago and he managed to transfer the photo from his camera to his phone, so he kept it. He was smiling and happy, and Anduin was always happy when he saw his father in a good mood. 

He clutched his phone to his chest, took another deep breath, shoved his phone in his back pocket and hurried off to his next class. 

For the entire class, Anduin couldn’t keep the nervous feeling from grasping at his chest. For fifty-five minutes straight he was holding off the beginnings of a panic attack, overthinking every single possibility of his father not coming home, getting into an accident, kidnapped, murdered. 

He knew that it was always a highly possible chance that whenever his father said he’d be working “late”, it meant that he intended to work late, and then go drinking right after. Usually alone. He never lingered in bars for too long, according to some information he demanded from Valeera. 

It was just a few months after his fifteenth birthday the last time he did it. He was eleven when he first started. He’d done it every three or four months since then, and Anduin took to staying up to wait for him, whether it be with or without Wyll’s knowledge. 

He hates it when I stay up on school nights but… it’s not my fault. He huffed, frantically copying the notes that had suddenly appeared on the board when he looked up at it again. 

Thankfully the class had wrapped up quickly, and he met up with a small group of friends to go out for lunch. 

“Are you okay?” Halen asked, lightly punching his arm. Anduin peered up at the sophomore and shrugged, giving him a small smile.

“I’m fine. Just thinkin’ about stuff.” 

“Better not be about that true crime stuff you always watch late at night. How many times do I have to tell you not to think about that kind of stuff in depth?” Anduin laughed and shoved him playfully with his elbow. 

“No it’s not about that- but my dad and I were watching this super interesting episode of this old show Cold Case Files yesterday…” 

The remainder of lunch managed to distract him, but throughout the rest of the day, the bothered feeling struck him again in the middle of his last class, English. He found his teachers, specifically Mr. Farner, pulling him aside after class and asking him what was wrong. He used his neutral response, but Mr. Farner reassured him that if Anduin needed to talk to someone, he was always up for a chat. 

Anduin told him that he appreciated it, but said that he was fine and he was just thinking, and then Mr. Farner told him that he wanted his old bright student back by Monday at least. Anduin promised him he’d try with a little laugh. 

Anduin hated that he was distracted. He hated that he didn’t perform as well in class or in practice. He hated the looks from his other teammates and how they were concerned for him. He hated the way Coach Anton gently scolded him with a hand on his shoulder asking him- like everyone else that day- if anything was wrong, that if Anduin needed to he was there to talk. 

Anduin told him what he told everyone else that had asked- he was fine. 

He didn’t even bother slipping off his elbow or knee guards when Wyll pulled into the pickup zone, just throwing his duffle and school bag into the back seat and dropping into the passenger’s side with a sharp click of the seatbelt. He huffed, thoroughly exhausted, hungered, and annoyed. Anduin sunk down and folded his arms, scowling at the road through the windshield. 

He could feel Wyll’s stare into the side of his head, and he reached over to brush Anduin’s sweaty bangs back from his face. 

“This has been bothering you the whole day?” He asked, setting his hand on the gearshift and pulling off of the side to let the other parents pick up their kids. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have called out.” He said it quietly enough for Anduin to hear in the silence and took another breath.  

“No, I’m glad you told me. I’m sorry, I’m just worried.” 

“I know you are.” Wyll murmured softly as Anduin curled up against the window and watched the town fly by. 

Varian stared down at the thick files of reports that had been delivered to his desk early that morning, and heaved a weighted sigh. He buried his face in his hands and tugged at his hair, his mouth dry and itching for the taste of something smooth and bitter. 

He settled for the cup of straight black coffee sitting on the corner of his desk and grimaced at the taste. 

Varian hated black coffee. 

He felt his hands twitch as he set the mug down and flipped open the folder with more force than necessary, his leg bouncing with the constant thirst cramping his stomach. The reports were straightforward- the same thing he saw every month from each branch in the building. There were four branches connected to the main headquarters of the Alliance. The labs, shared with the engineers, were stationed on the first six levels connected to the ground floor. Seventh Legion’s offices were from the seventh level to the ninth. Shaw’s men had their space on the tenth and eleventh floors, and his business council shared the last two with him. 

He liked the view he had from his office. Seeing the city, beautiful year-round. Anduin enjoyed it as well, with the number of times he’d ended up visiting. He enjoyed the labs the most, and Gelbin visited often to take advantage of the technological advances they had compared to the offices in Ironforge. Though he did often work with aircrafts more than he’d liked, Gelbin was happy to do any kind of technical work with his own engineers accompanying him. 

The only thing that bothered Varian about it was when the fire alarms went off. The last time that happened was when he tried to ‘upgrade’ one of the breakroom’s toasters. Varian apologized profusely to the firemen that had arrived instantly, and scolded the gnome for tampering with electricals that were not approved to be tampered with. 

He hadn’t even thought to bring it to one of the labs- just tried to fix it up in the breakroom. The labs had specific types of fire alarms that didn’t firsthand call the fire department, and unlocked the glass vaults that held the extinguishers which were always nearby. If the lab fires got too far out of hand, there was a button- covered with a seal that read ‘fire dept.’ right next to the doors inside each lab. 

But the reports were of statistics updates, advancements, reports on the wellbeing of the branch itself. Progress in skirmishes that the private army engaged with, territory upholds. Things Varian had read countless times and hardly saw a drastic change in. The exception being the dreadful request of a new campaign, direct threats from other figures that decided to pick a fight with his people. Sometimes requests from SI:7 or the Legion came through the police- asking for assistance on investigations/firefights. Hired a certain group of people for the right price, investigators, maybe just an extra body on the force for a short time. 

He swallowed thickly, tapping his shoe against the polished wooden floors, an echoed sound reverberating through the room. 

Before he knew it he had his phone in hand, up to his ear, Wyll’s number already pressed and ringing. 

“What an odd time to call, Master Wrynn. Is there something amiss?” Varian gulped and ran a hand through his hair again. He wanted to say everything but found no words to explain why he was so thirsty, why he was so anxious and upset. 

“Ah, no, Wyll. Everything’s fine it’s just… well, I’m gonna stay late at the office. Really late. Can you pick Anduin up today?  There was a silence on the other side of the line, and his foot began to tap again. He hadn’t even realized he’d stopped. 

“... Of course I can, sir. How late are you going to be?” Varian’s heart sank. He’s going to tell Anduin. Why else would he ask? 

“Probably around midnight, maybe later. I’m not sure. Shaw needs some help with planning tactical marks, we’re trying to recoup our efforts with the refugees in Syria. I’ve also got a bunch of reports to read through, so that would take up most of my time.” It wasn’t exactly a lie, but Shaw hadn’t asked for help. Varian wasn’t planning on inserting himself either, he trusted the man to do his job and do it well. 

“Can you not bring those reports home, sir?” Wyll pressed, and Varian found himself growing slightly irritated. 

“I’d just rather leave work at work,” he huffed, “just…” Varian’s voice grew soft, “make sure Anduin is in bed before eleven tonight. He has a late practice tomorrow.” He reminded himself more than Wyll- knowing if he was going to go out later to get drunk to kill the cramping in his gut and the nausea in his throat- he wouldn’t want to have Wyll or himself drive all the way out to pick him up if he forgot. 

“Of course, sir.” 

“Thank you.” The call ended quickly, without a goodbye from either voice, Varian returned to frustratedly reading the reports over, the only thing looking good for him later was the drinks he would have. 

But Anduin… he would be a mess. He wouldn’t go to bed, not until Varian was home. Anduin had increased anxiety and paranoia whenever Varian wasn’t around for long periods of time- something he learned from both his butler and the boy himself. He guessed that Anduin would end up calling him at some point in the night, tired and upset, begging him to come home. 

He remembered just a year ago, he went out and passed out, woke up to at least seven voicemails. Half of them his voice was hoarse- that was the winter before the incident. 

Varian let out a guilty groan and laid his head on the counter. 

He was going to regret every drink he bought that night. 

Anduin curled up on the couch with Reverence smooshed into his side, his head resting on his stomach as he dozed away. He was typing on his laptop with one hand, working on an essay he had due at the end of the week, and petting the top of his dog’s head with the other. 

Reverence was a large dog, a white german shepherd but his genes somehow genetically mutated to make him larger than the average shepherd. He was very fluffy and as most big dogs were, a gentle giant. Dad had gifted Reverence to him as a puppy on his thirteenth birthday, and over the three years he’d had him, they formed a close bond. 

Anduin eyed the digital clock on his laptop and sighed, shutting it gently and setting it back in his bag, sitting open on the ground beside his school bag. 

It’s nearly eleven. It’s pitch black, and he’s still not home. 

Anduin reached mindlessly for his phone and turned it on. He had plenty of messages and notifications to sift through, but he unlocked it and hesitated to press the ‘call’ button over his father’s contact. He gnawed on his bitten lips and shut his phone off as Wyll appeared through the doorway. 

“... Master Anduin…” he said quietly, grabbing his attention from his phone. He had a soft look on his face, and Anduin felt his heart sink. 

“Please don’t.” His hand ceased petting Reverence, and the dog’s eyes flickered open tiredly. 

“I’m sorry, but you must go to bed. A healthy child gets good sleep.” Wyll instructed, gesturing vaguely to the ceiling. Anduin slowly began to sit up, stroking Reverence’s fluffy forehead a few times before slipping off of the couch and standing on numb legs. He noted, disgustedly, that he was still in the uniform he practiced in. 

Anduin clenched his phone in his hand and turned to Wyll. 

“Can… can I call him?” 

“After you change and are under the covers.” Wyll said, making a ‘come here’ gesture. Anduin nodded and picked up his bag, hearing Reverence’s claws tap across the floor to follow him through the house and up the stairs. 

He closed the door to his room and hung his bag up on the peg right next to the door, then switched on the lights, a low purple illuminating the room. I’m so glad I don’t have those bright LED lights anymore… he sighed, hearing Reverence hop up onto his bed and his tail thump against the comforter. He looked back for a moment and smiled. 

He quickly changed into his pajamas and rolled under the blankets, holding them up for Reverence to crawl under and throw a leg over his furry side, holding his phone out in front of him again with his father’s contact still open. 

Will he even answer? Anduin fretted anxiously, burying his nose into Reverence’s forehead as he scratched his cheek. His brows furrowed and he shook his head. Screw it. He tapped call and then put the phone beside his face, leaning it against the pillow and pressing speaker. The ringing was a bit distorted for how loud his volume was, and he toned it down a few notches to give the dog’s ears a rest. 

After several rings, the sudden static of the call connecting raised his spirits slightly. 

“...Dad?” He asked, hearing the faint noise of music and voices before it was suddenly cut off, and he heard a ‘whoosh’ as if he were shivering. 

“Hi, kiddo. Are you getting ready for bed?” His voice sounded sluggish, his words slightly slurred. Anduin’s heartbeat spiked a little, and he felt the clogged feeling in the base of his throat rise again. 

“I am. Where are you?” 

“Heading home. I’ll be there soon, okay?” Anduin felt his eyes begin to water and he sniffed, rubbing frustratedly at his cheeks. 

“Okay… drive safe. I love you.” 

A pause. Anduin held his shaking breaths. 

“I love you too.” 

The call ended. 

Later, just as he was drifting off to sleep the smell of alcohol under poorly applied cologne invaded his half-asleep senses. He felt a feather-light kiss pressed to his forehead and a brush of calloused fingers through his hair before comfortably drifting off into darkness. 

He heard only one thing despite the slow, trudging footsteps. 

“I’m sorry, Anduin.” 

Chapter Text

Anduin sat forward in the sun chaise, feeling the chill run along his bare legs. Goosebumps pebbled the scarred, pale skin that was partly illuminated under the gaze of the moon. He watched the shadow-swallowed trees wave under the faint breeze, the stars popping in and out of view as they swayed. Back and forth, side to side. The whistle of the wind deterred him from falling through the rabbit hole of depth and depravity, and he felt himself growing forlorn as the cold side of the anklet brushed against his foot. 

Anduin wore it at home, or when he was dressing down, whenever he wasn’t wearing sneakers or boots- which was usually in the summer. But other than that he never took it off. He washed it with care when it got dirty, frowning at every chip in the paint and every dulled shine that would force him to remember whenever he reached for the clasp of the anklet.

The memory made him smile, bitter and soft, and the thought of it brought him back to a warm, blazingly sunny day…

“You know, you’ll never amount to anything with an attitude like that.” 

“Can’t you let me have my whims?” 

Anduin grinned. “Never.” 

It was so warm out the two were clad in shorts and tank tops, deciding to go barefoot and lay under the shade of a giant old willow, avoiding the glare of the sun and looking to the clouds above. 

“Since when did you think that sending your Blacktalon into a dangerous, well-secured expedition was a good idea anyway?” Anduin asked, turning onto his side once the grass began to stick to the bare part of his back and arms. He looked over at Wrathion tiredly and the dragon mirrored his sudden change in position. 

“A probable cause.” He said, scooting closer to the teen and wrapping an arm around his back. Anduin, slightly annoyed with both the deflection and the shared heat considering Wrathion was, well, a dragon , turned his gaze to the ground. He watched as two tiny ants teamed a rather large breadcrumb on their back. 

One was walking faster than the other, the latter seeming to have a painful gait. He squinted at the vague similarity and watched them crawl out of sight into the forest of grass blades. 

“Hey.” Wrathion caught his attention suddenly, poking his nose into his cheek and pressing his lips there soon after. Anduin hummed softly and raised his arms up to wrap around him, throwing his aching, sweaty leg over his equally sweaty thigh and heaving a sigh. A clammy palm rested just above his knee and kissed his forehead. 

“What?” Anduin muttered, irritated. He just wanted silence, his leg was killing him- it wouldn’t stop aching. It was terrible, and he couldn’t take more than eight painkillers a day. He was bordering on six and a half, and he had been feeling sick since mid-morning. 

“Would you like to go down to the lake?” 

Tong’s little cottage was built just a dozen acres away from Songhua Lake, on the outskirts of Jilin City. Wrathion had been using his cottage, conveniently a hidden, secure location, to operate his Blacktalons out of. 

For what reason? It was unknown to him. 

Wrathion didn’t tell him anything. 

Anduin hated it. 

He heaved another sigh and nuzzled their noses, pressing a kiss to his lips. Wrathion responded in earnest and dragged his claws gently down his leg, leaving the shorter teen shivering. Anduin’s hand slid into his curly hair and massaged his scalp, secretly glad that he’d gone without the turban and letting his dark hair flow. It was rare to see, he was left wondering for weeks what Wrathion would look like without a turban.

He enjoyed the sight even more than usual when it was revealed to him. 

Wrathion pecked his lips and pulled away, waiting for an answer. 

“My leg has been hurting a lot today, Wrathi,” he sighed, “I’m not really sure.” 

“I can carry you on my back.” He offered, pulling Anduin into a hug. 

“It’s almost a forty-minute walk! You can’t carry me that long,” He huffed, burying his head into his shoulder. Wrathion went to sit up and pulled the shorter boy along with him. He pouted when Anduin went to stumble away from him, hardly able to bend his knees to pick up his crutch with a pained groan. He turned to Wrathion with a savvy smile and tucked the crutch under his arm. “I’ll use you as a pack mule for an absolute last resort.” He reached forward and pinched his cheek teasingly, pressing a kiss to his lips as he passed by him. 

“I’m so moved by your attempts to honor my dignity.” 

“Only your dignity, at least, to keep your people respecting you. If they saw their grand and majestic leader being ridden like a horse- I’m sure they’d lose all faith!” He put the back of his hand to his forehead dramatically and fell back into Wrathion’s chest, hearing his rumbling laughs as he reached up to pat his cheek softly. 

“Let’s go, vous douce petite coquine.” He said smoothly, palming the small of his back.

“I’m a ‘rascal’ now?” Anduin snorted, “yesterday I was une allumeuse.” He over-exaggerated his pronunciation and barked a laugh as they began stumbling down the trails, slipping his arm into the crook of Wrathion’s elbow for a bit more support than just his crutch. 

“You still are,” he said, pulling the other teen closer to him while Anduin grinned, forgetting his pain for the time being. 

In no time they’d arrived at one shallow bank of the lake, and Anduin went to rest by the shore. Summer in China was a beautiful time of year, flowers and trees in full bloom and spraying the sweet smell of nectar across the valleys. Songhua Lake was serene, the gentle sound of its waves lapping at the sand bringing him to a state of mind that could be called peace. 

Wrathion settled behind him and pulled him close, resting his chin on his shoulder as they gazed out at the bright, clear waters. Anduin could feel the scraggles of his goatee tickle his shoulder and rested his head against Wrathion’s, laughing softly. The breeze began to pick up and the two sighed in relief as the cool winds brushed against hot, sweaty skin. 

Anduin didn’t mind being close to Wrathion, but he was a dragon, and his internal temperatures were almost as hot as the humidity in the Great Forge. He felt as if he were sweltering in dehydration, but enjoyed being close to the other too much to complain. 

“Why did you want to come out here anyway?” Anduin asked, eyes fluttering shut as his arms tightened around his waist. 

“I thought maybe we could cool off,” he murmured, pecking just below his ear. “Take a dip in the lake.” 

“If you push me in and get my clothes wet I’ll never forgive you.” Anduin said seriously, resting his temple against Wrathion’s as their gazes met. An irritatingly beautiful red assaulting his eyes as if he was looking into the sun, spots of red clouding his vision as he shut them and sighed. 

“I would never, dearest.”

“Shut up, you would.” 

Wrathion’s eyes shifted. “Okay I would but that’s not the point. I wouldn’t do it to you. At least, not right now.” With the dragon’s help, Anduin was shakily standing and holding tight to his arm as his knee trembled under his weight without the crutch. The water, however, was heavenly. 

He felt a strong hand palm his back to lean forward on the other slightly, stopping once they were knee-high in the gentle, cool waves. 

“Too cold?” Wrathion asked, chuckling as Anduin leaned his chin on his shoulder and leaned against him fully, trusting his closest friend with his waning strength.

“No, it’s perfect,” Anduin sighed, wrapping his arm tight around his back. “Glad I didn’t wear shoes, didn’t wanna have to carry anything back.” 

“I would have carried them.” Wrathion mumbled, tightening his hold as a particularly strong wave brushed up to their thighs. He pulled his head back and smiled down at Anduin, who was also grinning. 

“I know you would have,” his nose wrinkled slightly, something Wrathion noticed when he smiled. He hummed and pressed another kiss to his forehead. “All the more reason not to bring them. Didn’t wanna have to make you carry my gross shoes.” 

Wrathion reached down and felt his pocket, reaching inside before grasping whatever object he had been looking for in his hand. 

“Speaking of shoes, I’ve just remembered- I had a gift for you!” He was grinning again, tugging Anduin over to a rock peeking out of the water. It had a flat top, so he pushed him up to sit on it. 

“A gift? You didn’t need to get me anythin-”

“Hush, I did. I wanted to. Let me give you things, okay?” Anduin smiled softly and reached forward, tapping his forehead with a wet finger. Wrathion recoiled away from him and clutched his fist with the ‘prized gift’ away from him as if Anduin was attempting to steal it. 

“I’ll give you something. I’ll get a gift so great you’ll have to name me the number one gift-giver.” He proclaimed, leaning back on his hands and kicking up water at Wrathion with his good leg. 

“You’ll never take my number one gift-giver spot. Ever.” He threatened, splashing him back. Anduin yelped and retaliated, and before they knew it they were in a short-lived splash war. 

He fell backward onto the rock and shielded himself from the onslaught, coughing as all of their yelling and laughing had him accidentally inhaling water. He threw his arms up to prevent the water from soaking him any further, and he felt a warm grasp around the ankle of his good leg. 

Anduin lifted himself up onto his elbows and poked the soaked cloth of Wrathion’s tank top right in his ribs. He flinched and grabbed that leg too.

“Okay, okay, I’m done. Sit up! I almost dropped this, it was expensive, you know.” He leans back on his hands again and taps the side of Wrathion’s legs with his feet under the water. The dragon huffs and gently grabs his bad leg, lifting his foot up. He uncurled his fist, and Anduin leaned forward to take a better look at it. 

He reached forward and ran his fingers along the beautiful looking pieces of jewelry. One string of blue beads, another gold plated and the final a dark red string with a red painted turtle carved from some sort of stone or ceramic type material. It was round and realistically carved, and he found himself petting it unconsciously. 

“Do…” Wrathion started, rubbing the back of his neck and peering up at Anduin sheepishly, “do you like them?” 

Anduin seemed to snap out of his trance and surged forward to kiss him, beaming. He nearly dropped the jewelry, clenching it tightly in his fist again as he returned the kiss almost instinctively. Anduin moved away and pulled him into a hug, sweet laughter bubbling in his chest. He returned the hug and hid a smile against Anduin’s shoulder, happy that he liked his gift. 

“I love them, Wrathi. Thank you so much.” He was absolutely overjoyed, and it made his heart skip beats. He couldn’t resist the urge to lean forward and kiss him again and again, feeling his hands frame his face and his smile against his lips. 

“Would you like me to put them on?” 

“Yes of course!” He said quickly, holding his wrist out. Wrathion chortled softly and pushed it down. 

“They aren’t bracelets, they’re for your feet. Or- your ankle, more specifically. Anklets, I think they’re called.” He reached down and picked up his injured foot again, carefully clasping each bracelet in a specific order around his food. He was still a little too thin for his liking, knowing that Anduin could be eating much more to get healthier was something he pushed every day- so the anklets hung off him, but didn’t seem to stretch around his foot. Fortunately, that meant if he walked, they wouldn’t fall off. 

“I’ve never had one before- but… I’ll wear them every day. I promise.” Anduin scooted off the rock back into the water and kissed him again, noticing that they were in a deeper part of the water as it reached mid-thigh. Wrathion’s hands enclosed around his waist and he smiled, pressing their foreheads together. 

“That would make me a very happy man indeed.”