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The Measure of the World

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Whatever crack in the Horde’s armor Saurfang had tried to widen snapped shut along with his eyes when he hit the ground. When Sylvanas’ arrow struck through him. Cold. Clean. A proper ranger’s shot. She’d danced around him enough to show the Horde and the Alliance, assembled before Orgrimmar, that she was not to be trifled with. That she would not back down.

She glowered at her own soldiers. What had the traitors among them been thinking? That the Alliance wouldn’t march here as soon as they had the Azerite weaponry to do so? So many of them had been there as they’d fought their way up Darkshore and blockaded Teldrassil, cutting off Azerite shipments from Kalimdor. They’d seen the kaldorei turn to increasingly desperate magics to throw off the blockade, they’d fought house to house and bough to bough trying to take the city intact. Had they forgotten Malfurion chaining himself to Teldrassil’s soul, the magical storm that crackled up and down the tree from roots to crown, the thorns that rose from Teldrassil's nearly infinite roots and impaled their comrades in place?

They called it the War of the Thorns for a reason. She’d seen those killing thorns sprouting on the Darkshore herself as the world-tree’s soul raged under the archdruid’s guidance. She’d known those thorns would soon skewer every Horde soldier standing on land north of the Barrens. She’d made a terrible mistake, not accounting for Malfurion’s willingness to bend Teldrassil’s own soul to violence. She'd overestimated his pacifism. So what choices had remained but to burn the tree before its might could destroy the Horde?

Did Saurfang’s rebels believe the siege of Lordaeron was some spontaneous burst of revenge, and not a long-drawn plot steered by Genn Greymane and fuelled by noble and merchant refugees from Lordaeron, eager to steal land back from their very own undead families?

And yet Saurfang had spoken of the persecution the Horde would face for this act, and Baine Bloodhoof had called the death of Teldrassil a crime beyond the pale, and between them they’d apparently swayed enough. Enough that this challenge had caused Horde ranks to freeze before the gates of Orgrimmar, when they needed to be crushing the Alliance flat.

Sylvanas had made mistakes in her opening salvo. She was paying for it in lost time and in blood, and the cost of it spilled endlessly from within her, like she was being drained and was flailing to stop it. The real threat was right there! Right beside their own ranks, shielded by lies of mercy, waiting for an excuse to slaughter them all. They had to face it.

“It is done. ” Her eyes swept the forces arrayed before her. Go’el, the young fool, stared at his fallen champion and his axe scattered on the ground. “Soldiers of the Horde! I stand victorious. I will always stand victorious. Unchallenged. Raise your arms with me, now, and let us repel -”

A voice reached out from the crowd, one she couldn’t place. Sylvanas spun, looking for the source, but the commotion among the Horde soldiers was subdued. Who dared -

“Me!” The voice was coming from the wrong side. “Me! ” Sylvanas turned. To the Alliance side.

A woman broke from the ranks, robes beating away the harsh Durotar sun with the white of glaciers and the roiling blues of the deep sea. And a faint glimmer of mana. It took a moment for Sylvanas to even place her.

I challenge you, you bloody-minded tyrant!”

Jaina Proudmoore. The Lord Admiral of Kul Tiras. The Alliance’s tame, leashed little superweapon. The only person who could smash Sylvanas’ defenses, as she’d so aptly demonstrated at Lordaeron.

Fury and panic spiked through her chest. Was this an assassination? She couldn’t face Jaina Proudmoore in single combat - only an idiot would even attempt it. “You are not Horde!” She smirked, letting her banshee’s voice carry across the field like a stormy wind, determined not to be the idiot. This was a woman who had, again and again, been wronged by those close to her - and yet, again and again, she’d stayed her hand. Been leashed by the pleading words of men whimpering for peace. She was always on a knife’s edge, so close to joining Sylvanas in the ranks of Azeroth’s mass-murderers; her ferocious assault on Dazar'alor was a testament to how ruthless she could be, and the Purge of Dalaran earned her even the ire of some of the Alliance. But she'd never quite slipped the way Sylvanas had - and for today, Sylvanas had to keep it that way. “You have no right to mak’gora.”

“I’m not invoking the right to mak’gora!”

The blue gemstone at the head of Jaina’s staff began to glow with iridescent flame, and Sylvanas tensed. Would the Alliance really risk a bold-faced assassination in plain view of her troops? A summary execution by a foreign state? Her hands flexed on her bow. “Then by what right do you challenge me?”

Jaina’s braid of silver hair with its brilliant streak of gold whipped behind her like a lion’s mane, though she wore the glory of a mane better than any male lion ever could. There was a memory of a smile in her tight grimace. “By no rights, Sylvanas Windrunner! I’m sick of this. End this madness immediately, or stop me if you can.

That, Sylvanas wanted to point out, would not hold up in a court of law. 

But where were the courts when a blizzard to rival Northrend’s worst descended upon the fields before Orgrimmar? Where was the ritual courtesy of duels as Sylvanas melted into banshee smoke, buffeted by arctic winds, and dove for the mage with all her will? The archmage Lord Admiral did not abide by laws when she brought the fight to Sylvanas. She was a law unto her own. Sylvanas could not break her, so she had to try to make her bend.

Arrows of shadow from a dozen bows in a dozen smoky arms crisscrossed the white of a storm and failed to find a mark. Air froze to ice in the middle of her incorporeal form, flashes of dry frozen agony, and Sylvanas dropped to the ground as one, her corpse remembering the chill of winters long gone as she spun around looking for her opponent. A flash of gold teased memories of instinct from her flesh, which locked into a parry with Jaina’s staff before Sylvanas could calculate or plot or do more than react.

She was a Queen, a Dark Ranger-General, a Warchief.

But Jaina Proudmoore could move oceans.

“I thought you were better than Garrosh!” As Jaina shouted at her, a burst of force threw Sylvanas away and she tumbled and melted into shadow again, slipping from ice back onto the dry sands of Durotar beyond the veil of fog.

Sylvanas snarled; the comparison was foolish and myopic and rankled her. “I tried to stop that reckless welp.”

Jaina emerged from the storm with ice in her eyes. “Yet now you drag the Horde to its doom just the same!

The ice shattered into the ground where Sylvanas had been before it could melt in the heat. She bolted sideways, dark arrows scattering to the wind like crows only to sharpen mid-flight and find their way back down. The Alliance was constantly hounding the Horde to the edge of death - and Sylvanas alone knew exactly what was waiting for them, who was waiting for her and the Forsaken, beyond that deathly edge. How dare Jaina blame Sylvanas for fighting back? “If you care about death and doom, withdraw your troops, Proudmoore! It is they who will bring bloodshed!”

“I am sick -” Fire danced around the archmage, “Of every other Warchief becoming another petty tyrant! Your Horde devours itself and all the world around it! It must burn! ” The flames devoured Sylvanas’ arrows with screeches of ash and hissing smoke and turned on Sylvanas like a predator in a thousand parts.

A rough voice rumbled across the air. “Jaina!” Sylvanas glanced to the side and spotted Go’el, still the fool, approaching. “Jaina wait, we need to be careful, she won by -”

“Don’t talk to me about honor, Thrall! ” She spat his slave name with a vehemence that impressed even Sylvanas, then undercut that impression by lunging straight at the Warchief with about as much grace as a battleship.

That gave Sylvanas only just enough time to hook her bow and reach for her blades. She smiled when she realized Jaina’s enraged miscalculation - hand-to-hand-combat was not a mage’s specialty. With her left blade she locked the staff at an angle, and jammed forward with the right - only for it to bounce off Proudmoore’s robe with a flash of light. Of course she had defenses. But she'd opened herself up with words, and those, Sylvanas could use. She roared back so the assembled soldiers could hear clearly. “Burn the Horde? And they call me an arsonist!”

“The Horde is an idea, Sylvanas, and a bad one.” A blink, and Jaina was no longer there, speaking from behind her instead. “Teldrassil - Theramore - were people.”

“I advised against bombing Theramore!” She had. She had, and Jaina had no reason to know it, but it was true and Sylvanas would not have false crimes pinned on her like this. “And the Forsaken are people.” She spun away, dodging a blast of flame and unhooking her bow. “The Horde defends us, while you see us as a plague!”

“You made yourself a plague, Sylvanas! Why?” A creaking somewhere above was all the warning Sylvanas had before ice shards struck her on the head, knocking her flat. Her fist was still closed around her bow, so she loosed the arrow she had in her other hand, but Jaina simply glowered at it and it exploded into flame. “We fought in the Halls of Reflection. Together. ” Arcane light seared at Sylvanas like fire, and she dodged behind a slab of ice. “We both tried to unseat Garrosh!” Sylvanas fired again, ghost arrows that were dark rage and spirit and nothing else, but they vaporized when they got near the raw, boiling mana that surrounded Jaina like a solar flare. “We fought together on the Broken Shore, Sylvanas! At first! Even if your half-rotted brain made you run away like a coward! Stop this insanity now!

Sylvanas' rage billowed out in smoke and shadow, and she rose across the icy ground towards the archmage. “Ran away? I looked to my people! You abandoned our entire world during the Legion’s invasion! You raged against us and then you fled! Who was the coward, while I have guarded the Forsaken against the slavery of death, while I fought to salvage a future for my people! You -”

Flames caught her and buffeted her to the side, and she struck the ground with the nearest she could feel to pain smarting in her all-too-physical shoulders. She turned to Jaina and shouted, even as she mentally started readying herself to call her Val’kyr if necessary.

“And all this power, you could have used to defend us! To balance the scales against war! Instead you wait to turn it against me!”

“Because you are making war, Sylvanas!” Jaina’s face was a ruin of red and rage. “Where's the Ranger-General? Where is the woman who understood service? Who understood honor?”

How dare she? Sylvanas shrieked with all a banshee’s fury, and the ground trembled and the soldiers in the front ranks stumbled and cried in pain. Proudmoore wanted to pick at that wound, did she? “You killed her, Proudmoore, when your pathetic weakness for Arthas let him loose on my home!

Jaina held fast, glowing with chromatic fires of raw mana, and winter had no words for the cold that came calling. “Yes, I was weak! I watched Stratholme burn, Sylvanas! I watched him do it and I've lived with that for years, so I will not let you become another him!

She loosed an arrow straight for Jaina’s heart, and another, and they struck with staggering force yet pierced nothing at all. “I am nothing like Arthas!

“Your crimes would make him proud.

The nerve of it dug into Sylvanas and shredded any sense of restraint she’d been able to exercise. Nobody deserved to speak to her like this. Sylvanas tackled Proudmoore before the archmage could possibly have realized what hit her, bared her fangs, lunged for the soft, pale skin of her throat -

And was suddenly, incredibly, cold.

 


 

Jaina was furious. Once again the Horde was descending into chaos, under the strain of another delusional leader, and Baine and Andiun had the nerve to be talking down to her?

“It was an honorable thing, what Saurfang did. Sylvanas was gloating and toying with him disrespectfully; she used her magic to kill him; she ignored all our concerns, again and again. Saurfang's honor could have tipped the scales.” Baine looked at her closely, his bovine eyes unblinking. “But my warriors now speak of assassination by the Alliance. They speak of coming under the heel of a foreign boot. Not all of them know friendship of your kind the way I do.”

“Don’t you talk to me like that, Baine.” Jaina raised a finger directly at his face. “I’ve given the Horde enough chances. You are incapable of producing a stable government. All you do is raise armies that get plopped into the lap of whatever random warlord happens to be near the last one who died.”

His nostrils flared. “Jaina, I understand your anger, but you dishonor Vol’jin’s memory -”

“Baine, please.” Anduin sighed heavily, resting a small human hand on his tauren friend’s arm. The weight of rule was quickly making itself visible under his eyes and in the sag of his shoulders. Not on the battlefield, no; but certainly here, on an orcish farmstead not so close to Orgrimmar that its leaderless and confused guards would panic at letting the Alliance inside, not so far that they would panic at their incapacitated Warchief being too far away. “Jaina - I know what you did comes from a good place.” He reached for her shoulder. “An unjustly hurt place. But to assassinate someone like Sylvanas in public, as a foreign warleader, would only make her a martyr -”

“I never meant to kill her.” She crossed her arms and shrugged his hand off. That was true, insofar as she hadn’t really thought at all about whether or not to kill Sylvanas. “I meant to remove her from power.” She rounded on Baine. “Is that not exactly what you’d hoped for? You, Saurfang, Go’el -”

“My hopes were to rouse the Horde against her. To unite our people .” He huffed a hot, humid breath in her direction. “Instead, a foreign adversary has decapitated us.”

“I’ve fought for the Horde too, you’ll recall!” She turned to Go’el, who was sitting, staring at his useless axe Dra’gora, on the side of the crowded room. The rest of those present, Alliance and Horde, watched the exchange in varying qualities of silence. “Or did Go’el and your father neglect to pass down that part of history? And the manner in which I was repaid?”

Go’el said nothing. Good . He had nothing to say.

“Well said, Lord Admiral.” It was Greymane, standing from his seat, as stiff and proper as his worgen form could manage. “This is a perfect opportunity to dissolve the Horde. Too long have they sheltered abominations not meant for this world.”

“Who are you to declare who belongs to this world?” The mag’har warlord Geya’rah strode forward, unafraid of the worgen, literally pointing her axe at him. “Will you also tell my people where we should settle, aliens that we are? Will you reclaim Silverpine for yourselves, without the Horde to protect the homes of the Forsaken?”

“The Forsaken are dead!” He advanced on the mag’har, flinging spittle. “They have no homes, only tombs! Those who cooperate and yield, who choose peace, can be spared -”

“Cease your bickering!” That elven lilt came from Lor'themar, and he pointed angrily at both of them. “We have yet to speak of the Warchief, for all the useless words that have already been spilled. Lord Admiral Proudmoore, I am grateful for this momentary ceasefire, but you cannot keep our Warchief suspended in ice forever or we will need to consider her a hostage.”

Jaina rounded on the old elf. “I most certainly can! Don’t you think your loyalties to her are at an end, Lor'themar? Don’t you think it’s time you did something good for your people for once?”

The implication did not pass him by, but he only narrowed his eyes. “For all her flaws, I know this Warchief. She fights for her people, even if she is clouded by rage. Even if her strategies leave much to be desired. You must remember, Proudmoore, that the common people also know much of rage and little of strategy. You must release her, or there will be baying for more blood.”

“I will do no such thing until we have established terms to prevent another outbreak of war.”

“Terms?” Nathanos Blightcaller strode towards her, as though to intimidate her. “This is a hostage situation, it seems. Guards -”

Why anyone had allowed Nathanos Blightcaller into the room was beyond her. Jaina gritted her teeth and, with a burst of magical force, flung him bodily from the building. The satisfying thunk of an undead corpse in the dust and rubble outside was followed by a few loud curses, and she turned to face Lilian Voss, the only remaining Forsaken in the farmstead. “Yes, your queen is a hostage. I’ll gladly release her once we’ve negotiated a truce and the dissolution of this wretched project you call a Horde.”

Voss was less a fool than Blightcaller, and simply raised a barren brow. “There is no chain of command among the Forsaken. Sylvanas had no heir, you’ll be surprised to hear.”

“I don’t care. This is -”

“Jaina!” Anduin’s forcefulness surprised her as he stepped in front of her. “I understand where you are coming from -” He did not . “But this is not the time to attempt to dissolve a foreign nation. There’s an Old God seeping into the mortal realm. We cannot afford to continue a war against the Horde if there’s even a chance at peace; and we cannot afford war without the Horde.”

“Especially not without the Forsaken.”

Jaina turned to the new voice, familiarly silky and elven in its tones. Alleria Windrunner strode forwards, to the great block of ice that held her sister frozen in a moment of outrage. Alleria's mossy green eyes seemed carefully restrained as she gazed, and her voice was flat. Jaina wondered if she was feeling soft for her sister, and trying to hide it; she had expressed doubts about this course of action as recently as last night, on the eve of battle. “The Void despises them. The Void wants nothing more than for me to tear my sister’s head from her shoulders, to wipe the Forsaken off the face of Azeroth. Her people are a threat to the Old Gods.”

“And why is that?” Rokhan, of the Darkspear, had his arms crossed in evident distrust of a quel’dorei, and in particular this elf who had made a name for herself killing trolls long ago. “What secrets does the Void tell ye?”

“Creatures of the Void have no Light within them. And it is only Light that provides any protection against Death.” Alleria’s green eyes narrowed, and Jaina wondered if the Void told her that, or if she’d figured it out herself. “Tell me, are your loa not versed in the ways of the world? Must you learn this from an elf?”

Greymane advanced on the eldest Windrunner, who stood her ground. “Alleria, we cannot simply let Sylvanas run loose across the face of Azeroth and hope she smites our common enemy.”

“We cannot let her run loose at all!” Shandris Feathermoon slammed the base of her war glaive on the earthen floor. “The Horde has received enough mercy, enough chances to sort this out themselves. Our home tree burned . It is time for -”

Alleria’s void form suddenly grasped the glaive. “Stay your hand, noble General.”

Fools!

Even Jaina was surprised to hear Go’el shout so forcefully, interrupting the chaotic swirl of voices that was threatening to make her explode with frustration. The room paused, and turned to him. He stood, his head hanging, his axe leaning against the wall.

“Jaina is right. The Horde - as it was - has failed too much. Garrosh was a failure.” He met Jaina’s eyes with sadness and regret, and for all that pained her, it would never be enough. “Sylvanas was a failure. And we have had many smaller failures besides.” He stepped forward, towards the center of the room. “I brought my people to Kalimdor not to recreate the Horde as it once was, but to give them a home. Our world was destroyed. In the east we were persecuted. Here…” He laid a hand on Baine’s arm. “We found a new home. One we have defended, poorly or bravely, with the help of many new friends. That is something that I will not see sacrificed on the altar of any Warchief.”

“So you will return yourself, to repeat the same mistakes you’ve made before?” Shandris’ voice dripped with anger, and Go’el shook his head.

“No. Here is my proposal.” He took a deep breath, his great orcish chest rising in trepidation. “No more Warchiefs of the Horde. No High King. No one leader.” He gestured to Jaina. “A Council, instead, as rules the city of Dalaran. Let all the peoples of the Horde be united on equal footing. With voices to speak for each, and no one tyrant to lead us. We may make new mistakes, but we cannot afford to keep repeating the mistakes of the past. We cannot place our power in the hands of one ruler any longer.”

Jaina had not expected this from him, and the anger in her glanced off this idea somewhat. The Horde enabled petty despots, but... what if there were was no more despot to enable? She glanced around the room, to the faces of the Horde especially. The Horde was young, its races diverse, its peoples scattered. Was a Warchief a unifying force who kept them in check, or a coercive tyrant who drove them to war? She had opinions.

“I bid the members of the Alliance to stay silent, if you respect our sovereignty.” Go'el sighed deeply, looking around the room. “Friends of the Horde. Comrades in arms. What say you?”

Jaina’s heart swelled with stupid, stupid hope, and she tried to tamp it down. It was Go’el’s idea, so there was a good chance it would fail in ways specifically designed to stab that very heart. But it was… different. It was a breaking of the rules. Of old ways which had proven themselves time and again to be failures. And people didn’t seem inclined to listen to her directly, right now, so this might be the best she could get.

“I will support Go’el’s proposal.” Baine was first. “We will form a Council. And we will pledge our people to tracking down the entrance to the Old God’s realm and defeating him.” He tapped his staff against the ground, once, and retired from the center.

And the others followed. Geya’rah, willing to pledge her people to a fellow orc’s vision. Rokhan, Go’el’s old friend. Lor'themar’s look was calculated, and he glanced, long and slow, at Sylvanas’s frozen figure before making his subtle nod. “I believe the First Arcanist would agree as well.”

Lilian Voss hissed. “The Dark Lady was Warchief, but she is also Queen of the Forsaken, unless you pried that signet ring off her. She fought for us, even within the Horde.” She pointed a finger at Jaina. “I hate to say it, but my people will not be cooperative if you kill their Queen, archmage.”

“I’m not going to kill her.”

“What, then?” Voss crossed her arms. “If it needs to be said - I think a Council is an improvement, and since you kicked Nathanos out I’ll accept whatever responsibility my voice carries. But what do we do with her?”

Jaina looked at Sylvanas. What to do with her, indeed? The painful, wounded rage was clear on the banshee’s face in the magical ice, frozen in a moment of being placed on a level with Arthas Menethil, her personal monster. Their personal monster. Jaina sighed; it was a sad disgrace that Sylvanas had fallen so far. Was it Frostmourne that had forever twisted her? Or was this something else? “She can’t be allowed to roam free, or undermine the Council.”

“She can be contained.” Alleria’s look was calculating, but from where she stood Jaina was perhaps the only one in the room who could see the sadness touch her brow. “She has already been defeated.”

Kill her! ” Shandris was striding forth again; it didn’t escape Jaina that she was here in the stead of the kaldorei’s highest leaders, who had retreated to lick their wounds after reclaiming Darkshore. Shandris radiated discomfort at being here alone. “She killed Teldrassil, and nearly slew Malfurion! Must it even be asked? In her monstrous deeds she remains Arthas’ lapdog, despite any claim to the contrary.”

Jaina almost swung her staff at the elf. Shandris might be old as dead rocks, but she did not know Arthas. She did not know the horrors he had inflicted on their homes, their hearts. And she did not know how important it had been during the Third War and the aftermath, that the Forsaken had rebelled against the Lich King. “Do not grant that broken little man any more credit than he -”

Alleria cut her off, snapping her head towards the kaldorei. “This monster, general, is not all Sylvanas can be. She was a ranger for centuries before she fell; she is a tactician, a strategist, and has always fought for whoever she sees as her people. She has been blinded and driven mad by pain, but -”

“The monster is all that remains of your sister! Nothing more! If the Ranger-General ever had an ounce of honor, there’s no proof left of it now. She’s too powerful to accept justice and too evil to deserve it. The Ranger-General is dead.”

You killed her, Proudmoore.

Jaina’s grip on her staff tightened as the arguments grew louder. For years she’d fought to protect Azeroth from her foundational, original sin. For years she’d tried to hold together a world that was thrashing and cutting itself on the shattered splinters Frostmourne had left in history. And for years she’d failed, again and again.

Failed as a stateswoman. Failed as an archmage of Dalaran. Failed, even, as a lone warmage tearing her way across Azeroth as the planet oozed demons. For all the demon blood she had spilled, had she really made anything better? Had she really saved anyone? Or had she simply visited the violent quiet of destruction onto a world that screamed for help but that she was unable to heal?

And here she was, again, being accused of trying to assassinate a head of state and usurp a foreign government. She wanted to end a war. Why did nothing she did ever have the desired effect?

Jaina was not without power. She had plenty of all that. But every time she tried to apply it to anything more - to build anything new - everything collapsed. Even now, nominally Lord Admiral of Kul Tiras, where was she? Running off to do battle, to duel foreign heads of state. She was not rebuilding her nation.

Perhaps that was all she would ever be. A force of violence. A weapon. Perhaps she needed to shed the idea that she could build a future, and instead accept that she would spend the rest of her life atoning for her past. Her mistakes had numerous consequences, and Sylvanas Windrunner was one of the most dire.

“I can contain her.”

The voices were still bickering. Alleria glanced at her; she’d heard. But the rest of them were not listening. She slammed her staff against the ground and shouted.

I can contain her!

That worked. An awkward silence fell on the conclave, and she turned to face them.

“I defeated her easily. There are known rituals for binding the undead. I have done far more than contain a simple banshee, in my time.” Jaina straightened her shoulders, adjusting the shoulder piece of her battle robes. “I can establish a prison, a base, whatever you want to call it, and contain her. She can remain the Queen of the Forsaken, at least in name, to appease her people. She can wander around the confines of wherever we keep her. If this… Horde Council wills it, she may even meet with advisors. But Sylvanas will be chained, and watched, and she does not have the power to escape me.

Rokhan regarded her curiously, stroking his chin. “Bindings fail after time. Especially around a creature with such power. Ye cannot simply drop her in a cell and leave.”

“And she will plot her escape.” Genn’s teeth looked sharp, and too dry for their own liking. “Jaina, you must put aside your soft heart -”

Her anger flared again. “This isn’t softness , Genn, this is pragmatism. They’re right. We can’t just execute heads of state whenever we feel like it.” More to the point - she was tired of being told her judgement was impaired, when it seemed clearer than anyone else’s here. Jaina looked down at her staff, wondering if she could go through with this. But how many other things had she gone through with, only to see them end in failure? This, in comparison, was… simple. This was a patter of pure might. She knew she could do this. “I will act as her jailor. I will maintain the wards. I will observe her with all the magical tools at my disposal to ensure she does not find a way to slip out. I can carry out my duties as Lord Admiral from afar, using portals when I must, but I will keep vigil.”

“We should kill her. It must be done, if we are to know peace. Stand aside, and let me do this.”

She looked directly at Shandris. She knew the kaldorei were deeply wounded by the loss of their home, but the words echoed oddly in her mind, from this moment back in time to many others, and they grated. “Everybody is always killing each other in the name of peace, Shandris. If the Horde will give us peace for her life, maybe we should try this instead. Unless you don’t trust my vigil.”

Genn Greymane grumbled at her. “Vigils can always be broken, Jaina.”

“I doubt anyone will be breaking her out any time soon, Genn.”

Shandris scowled, and thought for a moment. When she spoke, it was with a tired exhaling of breath. “Compared to Sylvanas, Illidan is a kind and gentle soul, not to mention a stronger one. Nobody could love a beast like Sylvanas enough to want to free her, except her misbegotten servants who have no power of their own, and she serves no one's purpose."

“We should remind Malfurion of that when he wakes.” Alleria’s venom practicalled hissed in the air, and it surprised Jaina. It was true; the eldest Windrunner had only reluctantly agreed to advance on Orgrimmar, and now it seemed she was ready to press in this new direction as eagerly as anyone. But she veered on too eager; Jaina could tell Shandris was close to snapping.

But after a tense moment, Shandris exhaled. "Your disrespect is unbecoming, ren'dorei. But I do not doubt the Lord Admiral Proudmoore's magical prowess. If Sylvanas is permanently - permanently - imprisoned, I supposed it will have to suffice for now. I still have people with a future to look to, and we still face many foes."

Jaina thunked her staff against the ground to cover her sigh of relief. “Good. So this is my proposal. We can negotiate the details. I assume the Forsaken will want assurances of her safety.” She inclined her head towards Lilian. “I will need to prepare restraints, and we’ll need to settle on a safehouse to keep her in. But it can be done, and if this is the quickest way to turn our the damned Horde's attention to the real threat then it must be done.”

There were murmurs, as Horde and Alliance both coalesced into their own sides of the room. Anduin found her quickly, a look of sadness written upon his young face. “Jaina - you’re talking about a… an indefinite commitment.”

Was she? She looked at Sylvanas again, frozen in the ice, her pallid hair caught in a vicious rangle around her face. Her eyes still glowed with the red of flames caught in crystal. Cut off from her power and her allies and her freedom, how long would Sylvanas continue to be a serious thread? How intransigent would she be? Would she even be needed alive for so long?

And if she was… worse fates had been visited upon Azeroth’s fallen in the past. Worse sentences had been carried out. If Jaina was destined to lose everything she ever built, then damn the fates, she would stop building, and hold the levees against the floodwaters she’d unleashed so long ago. She was not alone; Illidan had been held for thousands of years, after all. Other women had walked this path before.

Nothing was permanent. But some things did last a lifetime.

“This too will pass, Anduin.” Jaina crossed her arms, trying to contain her own unease within herself. “One way or another. I know what I am proposing.”

“Unless something changes, it could be your life.” He sighed, staring at the frozen Banshee. “You deserve a life, Jaina. Just think about this for -”

“I could have stopped him.” She bunched her shoulders, glowering at him. “Since then, everything that's sprung from my life has turned to ash, again and again. This is the life I’ve made for myself, Anduin. This is my responsibility.” She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “I’ve run from it long enough. I’m facing it. I know what’s in my own soul.”

He looked like he was going to protest, but that assertion was one he would not contest. In the end, he turned away. How could he protest? This was what he’d wanted. This was what they’d all wanted. Alleria got her sister; the Warchief was gone; the Horde races rose in their own power; the war ended; the Forsaken would fight for Azeroth.

She turned to face Sylvanas again, wondering if the banshee could hear. If she could see Jaina’s eyes, looking into the fiery embers of her own, her gaze tracing the lines of hatred around Sylvanas' cheeks and jaws. Wondering if she could see the guilt and shame and frustration Jaina felt, and the sadness of knowing that, once upon a time, that snarling face had been beautiful and rosy and full of life and honor. The despair at knowing why that had all come to an end.

This is what everyone wanted, except for Sylvanas Windrunner and Jaina Proudmoore.

 


 

It was a cold so deep it seemed to freeze time itself.

So it was a shock when, all of a sudden, Sylvanas existed again.

She writhed, disoriented, looking for her opponent -

And something tugged at her wrists. Shackles? Did they think to shackle -

She attempted to turn to her banshee form once again, vanishing into the mist to gain her bearings, but she could not. It was like her soul, her rage, was being pressed in on all sides by something mighty and terrible. Like she was drowning in an emptiness of power.

She went still. Focused. Assessed her situation.

She was not in front of Orgrimmar anymore; she had been moved. The light in the sky out the window was not the same; time had passed. She was in what looked like a filthy, overcrowded orcish farmstead. There were boots on the ground in front of her - so many people. As her senses returned to her, she began to match names to faces, and her sense of shock would have drawn breath from her corpse if it were capable of it.

Alleria?

Beside her sister stood Jaina Proudmoore. Very well; clearly the Alliance had captured her.

But no - because behind them stood Lilian Voss, Geya’rah - her allies . Complicit in whatever was happening. Lor'themar, Baine Bloodhoof, Go’el… What was going on here? Where was Nathanos? Sylvanas strained against her shackles, physically this time, her muscles bulging; but they had bound her wrists and ankles neatly, forcing her to her knees.

She had won the mak’gora.

Yet still she had been defeated. Still she had underestimated the scale of the power the Alliance would apply to thwart her. Just like at Teldrassil. Every time she struck out to end a threat, even worse things fell upon her.

“What is the meaning of this?” Her eyes went to Alleria; with her Horde companions clearly colluding with the Alliance, she fell back on the only bonds left, her frayed bonds of sisterhood. Nobody else would have tolerated the continued existence of the Banshee Queen. She was shocked she was even awake. “Sister?”

For all that she felt the magical restraints against her, for all that she did not sense any poisons or lethal wards, she knew the executioner’s axe was only a hair’s width away. Why in shadow and sunlight had they let her live so long? Whatever live meant, for her.

“Things have changed, Sylvanas.” Alleria looked at her with a sadness that, Sylvanas thought, she masked well from her peers. But a sister knew. “You are no longer Warchief.”

“There is no more Warchief.” Greymane . Far too enthused by whatever drivel he was talking about.

“I have not resigned my post. Are you training the dog in politics, Anduin?”

“Insolent -”

She grinned at the Gilnean king as wickedly as she could manage. “Woof.”

Anduin groaned. “Sylvanas, for just a moment, please -”

Alleria raised a sharp hand. “Let me speak to my sister.” She took a step closer, and Sylvanas reflected on how long it seemed since she’d last met those eyes, in the tattered ruins of Windrunner Spire. “You went too far, sister. You’ve been stopped. The Horde is no longer your plaything.”

Plaything? Did she think this war was an indulgence? Did she not trust that Sylvanas had good reason, well-founded fears? She searched her sister’s eyes, and she saw it clear as day. Not only sadness, but disappointment. She knew the look of disappointment in her elder sister’s face, and it shocked her. She knew that look, but it was not Alleria's - it was their mother Lireesa's sad, bitter disappointment, echoed in Alleria's face. Sylvanas had never seen that look in Alleria's eyes before; indeed, Alleria had in the distant past conforted her after such a look had fallen on her. To see that now, from Alleria's own eyes... Sylvanas couldn't help but feel that she had done something horribly wrong. Alleria had always been there for her, before. Had always made sure that even the bad things were... better.

Carefully trying to calm her voice, she spoke quietly. “Will it be you, then?” Why would the Alliance wake Sylvanas up, if not to delight in the look on her face while she was executed? She did not expect mercy. Her voice faltered, despite herself. “Will it be you, sister?”

She hoped it would be. She shuddered to think of it, shuddered to think of the darkness and the dread powers that awaited her on the other side of death. Struggled not to remember the words that had found her, the demands she'd fled from. But if she had to choose... Yes. She would choose Alleria.

She saw the flicker of grief in her sister’s eyes as Alleria knelt before her, and that familiarity banished the thought of their mother. “I would not see you die a second time, Sylvanas. And you still command the loyalty of the Forsaken, among others. You will… live.” She left a breath of silence, and Sylvanas knew there was more. “As a prisoner. Of sorts.”

“A prisoner.” She glanced at the other members of the Alliance scattered around her. Were they so foolish? “The Warchief cannot -”

“It is as Greymane said, Dark Lady.” Voss spoke up. “We drafted the papers this morning. The office of Warchief has been abolished. The Horde’s leaders have agreed to form a Council instead. Nominally , you may sit on it as Queen of the Forsaken. You may keep your signet ring and your advisors. But you shall be one voice among many. Nothing more.”

A Council. Fools. The Horde would descend into impotent bickering by year’s end. But she could solve that, still, if she only managed to escape her shackles. “Where is my prison, then? Am I to rot out my days in the bowels of Stormwind?”

Two heavy brown boots stepped forward, amidst a swish of ice and sea. “I am your prison, Sylvanas.”

Her eyes crawled up the height of the woman who would hold her. Jaina Proudmoore.

Again, Sylvanas turned her attention to the archmage, trying to bore into her soul. The Alliance’s most dangerous weapon, used to lock up the Horde’s most dangerous criminal. What did she know about Proudmoore? Not enough. She was wounded, by some of the same men who’d wounded Sylvanas. She was absurdly powerful. She had defeated Sylvanas twice before at least.

Why was she doing this? She was guilty, Sylvanas decided - she had done this to Sylvanas, after all. Of course she was guilty. But… did she see that? Did she admit it? She searched Jaina’s eyes, and found their glacial depths too unfamiliar to read.

Some small part of Sylvanas, foolish and ignorant, had thought she could write Proudmoore off as an independent agent, given up on the seemingly endless war between the Horde and the Alliance after her rejection from Dalaran. But here she was, her boot firmly stepping on Sylvanas’ neck. Sylvanas growled. “You are a weapon, Proudmoore, not a dungeon. I expect you will bundle me away to Boralus and incinerate me in a furnace, like a witch from a Kul Tiran fairytales?”

“We will spare your life, fool.” Jaina crossed her arms, and for all that she was a smaller woman than Sylvanas, she made an imposing figure.

Sylvanas’ lip curled, and for a moment she locked eyes with Jaina. But what was there to say to that? After the moment passed, the Lord Admiral amended her declaration, with a modicum of modesty.

“Whatever is left of it. If you want to avoid an execution, you’ll play along.”

Sylvanas shook the chains. “And cripple me with runes of power -”

“No.” Proudmoore met her eyes. “Those, at least, will be removed, though you’ll be stuck in a rather small space for the foreseeable future.”

They had thought of something even worse. “And depose me -”

Jaina groaned. “Did you not hear Voss? The Forsaken, enough of them, worship you as their Queen. We can’t afford to send them into disarray. You bloody fool .”

Sylvanas felt coils of death constricting around her neck. She always felt them. She was no stranger to this. Her banshee form was constricted - she knew that already. Her powers? Inaccessible, or at least out of reach. “End it, then. Cease this torment. I know the Alliance is full of liars and I know you, Jaina, are a destroyer.”

“She’s hopeless.” Anduin regarded her with… pity? No, that was contempt. He glanced between Alleria and Jaina. “Lord Admiral Proudmoore - Lady Windrunner -”

“No.” Proudmoore averted her eyes, and Sylvanas thought she saw within the archmage a monstrous sort of pain. “Lilian and Alleria are right.”

Sylvanas searched the room, still coming into her full faculties again, wondering how Lilian and Alleria could agree on anything. “Voss - you would take orders from Alliance -”

My Lady. ” Never, Sylvanas was certain, had the words been uttered with less respect, and ragged loll of a torn part of her lip only made it worse. “I know what the Forsaken are to you . But I also know what you are to them.” The undead woman’s bleached-out hair clung awkwardly to her unrotten skin. “For all that I may wish they would follow another, you have fought for us since your rebirth. Enough of us believe that you fight for some form of… respect. Or dignity. That matters.”

Sylvanas growled. “So I am to rot away in some damp pit in Boralus, with the Lord Admiral holding the keys.”

Jaina coughed. “Actually, we decided on Orgrimmar.”

Sylvanas stopped. Interesting. Very interesting. That could be to her advantage - but she could not pause to let that realization show. “We? Decided when?

“We -” Jaina gestured at the room. “Were up all night. It’s been a day, Sylvanas.”

Sylvanas looked at her more closely, and saw the redness and exhaustion in her mortal eyes. That, perhaps, she could believe. “An entire day? Frozen like a puppet. And now you would -”

“- and we have come to terms.” Alleria was firm, her voice commanding and familiar, reaching deep into memories Sylvanas still held close, memories of girlhood. Those memories, those instincts, silenced her and rooted her to the spot. “N’zoth is loose, in case you don’t remember the debacle at Nazjatar. We cannot afford any more wasted time on petty conflicts. We need your Forsaken, sister. We need an army immune to the maddening whispers, an army whose death magic is inimical to the Lightless creatures of the Old Gods. That means we need you.” She shook her head. “In name, at the very least.”

“In name -?”

“You have a chance. A choice. Don’t waste it, Sylvanas.”

Again, Proudmoore. Sylvanas eyed the archmage closely. What was she doing here, even? Shouldn’t she be sitting in Kul Tiras, managing her country? Proudmoore had never quite managed to rule, but she had held office. And now she was planning on managing a prison in Orgrimmar. It made no sense - which meant it would be a weakness she could exploit. She should not call attention to it yet. “And what might that generous, luxurious choice be?” She sharpened her tongue against her fangs. “Lord Admiral?”

“Your cooperation would greatly encourage the Forsaken.” Proudmoore stared at her evenly, her eyes unyielding as glaciers. “In the war effort. If you were to cooperate -”

“With the Alliance?”

“With the Horde Council.” Jaina’s look hardened. “Politically. And with me… logistically.”

Sylvanas had lost so much. Chained up, her powers blotted by magic, her loyalties… compromised by the weight of political expectations. Things had been decided, on her behalf, and she was not enjoying it. “May I choose the color of my chains then? If someone does not speak plainly soon -”

It was Geya’rah. The orc, the brute, the ever most direct. “You can live under house arrest. Proudmoore will keep vigil over you. If you refuse arrest, they will kill you here. Alliance and the Horde traitors both.”

“A hostage.” Sylvanas knew how most hostages ended their lives. She was no fool, and did not plan to join those ranks. “In Orgrimmar.”

“We of the Horde,” Geya’rah tried to puff herself up, and given her size, it worked rather well. “Will not stand for one of ours to be taken and imprisoned by the Alliance on whatever terms they demand. We will not yield our sovereignty so easily.”

“Proudmoore - what are you even doing here?” She sneered. The woman had abandoned her precious Alliance, her Kirin Tor, everything. That she had taken on the mantle of Lord Admiral had been a surprise to everyone. Maybe she should poke at this problem, if only to negotiate something better than house arrest from them. “Why do you speak for the Alliance, in the place of its Whelp-Elect -”

“I speak for me. ” Jaina glared at her intently. “Because it’s my life on the line. You are my mistake, as you so succinctly put it during our conversation earlier. I will contain you, Sylvanas Windrunner. You have proven yourself a liability to the Horde and - and to Azeroth. But we need you, even if only as a figurehead. Tides, I’ve had enough of fighting lost causes. But you, I can bring to heel.”

“You?” She realized, with a sense of the blindingly obvious, that these bindings must be the archmage’s doing. Thus far none on Azeroth had found the ways, the circuits of power, to truly contain her. Arthas’ wounds had left her with hard, gnarled scars, but they had also left her soul with more shadow and rage than any other undead. But Proudmoore had spent time recently, well, not on Azeroth . In these shackles she almost felt mortal once more. Was that, perhaps, the sharp signature of Proudmoore’s mind? “Try as you may to bind me into a jar or a ring or a lantern -”

“We will do this civilly.” Jaina’s words countenanced no objection, no retort. Sylvanas wanted to scream, for want of a gap in the words to express herself. “For the sake of the… Forsaken.” She snapped her finger up. “That was not a joke.”

She sneered. “Don’t worry, Proudmoore. You’re not funny.”

Jaina’s pink cheek twitched, and the archmage clenched her fists. “I’m not here to make you smile, Sylvanas. We -”

“That will never happen -”

“- will be spending a great deal of time -”

“Have you not already?”

Together.

“A great deal -” Sylvanas was out of her element, here. With dozens of Azeroth’s leaders clustered around her, as she awoke from some period of unconsciousness after the mak’gora, she had clearly missed… something. “She said I would be under house arrest. I presume you will somehow magically encase my house and leave me alone inside, without allies.”

“Sylvanas Windrunner.” Jaina stared at her with all the fury of the coldest blizzards of Northrend. “You will live, insofar as you can, to coordinate the Forsaken in our efforts against N’Zoth. But you won't be alone. I will watch you, day and night, to ensure you do not plot an escape. I will manage your appointments with your advisors and agents. I will check the warding of the safehouse daily. I will control the layout of your prison, the rhythms of your day. I will watch you more closely than you have ever been watched, and I will not let you forget that I am there.” She approached, bringing her face far closer to Sylvanas’ than any mortal should dare. “I will hold you in the palm of my hand like a frozen little rose, Sylvanas. If I tighten my grip, you will only feel it for a moment before you become nothing. I am not afraid of you. One way or another, you will learn just how true that is.”

Sylvanas stared at the woman. Tired, angry, the sliver of golden blonde hair curling from her head, frazzled and loosening from her braid. Lines under her eyes, and a tension of the jaw that would have made a more compassionate soul worry for the integrity of her teeth. Icy blue fury and golden fire. Her steady voice fell on Sylvanas’ ears and crawled down her flesh like ropes tightening against her skin. She would not allow herself to be put down like this. “My dear, it almost sounds like you’re proposing.”

Jaina’s face flared bright red; there, finally, a gratifying show of weakness. “Do not mock me, Sylvanas. You will have a great deal of time to regret it.”

If this was the face of her warden, Sylvanas vowed to drive it as red with madness as possible. “Will you mock yourself, then? One of us will need to entertain me.”

“You can entertain yourself.

She clenched her teeth. She was trapped; literally, magically. They would kill her if she refused. But this would not be forever - nothing was. Something would happen, some opportunity would present itself, some flaw would become apparent. At the very worst, humans died rather quickly. She still had allies; Nathanos was likely somewhere, too slippery to kill. Geya’rah and Gallywix could perhaps be won back. Voss’ hold on the Forsaken was tenuous. Alleria…

She still had a sister. At least one that had not yet betrayed her.

But she could contemplate plans later. “This is no choice. You insult me by calling it that.”

Jaina knelt down in front of her, meeting her at eye level. The closer she was, the more exhausted Jaina looked. Sylvanas could feel the tired heat radiating from her, could smell the peculiar sweat of someone running on adrenaline, could see uneven patches of dry skin, could see a slight tremble in her left shoulder. Tired? Injured? Strained? Who knew what weaknesses Jaina tried to hide. “You’ve left me no choice, Sylvanas. It never had to be this way.”

She growled. “Indeed. You could have stopped Arthas.”

“And you could have stopped Garrosh!” The Lord Admiral’s eyes were frigid and her boot stamped angrily on the dirt as she took a single step forward. “I guess we’ll both have to live with that.”

Sylvanas moved, slightly, but the pressure of her shackles reminded her to stay still.

She bared her teeth. Proudmoore understood nothing. She didn’t know what Sylvanas had done, and didn’t care. All she saw was a wild beast to be brought to heel; Sylvanas knew that, because it was all that anyone who was not Forsaken saw. Proudmoore cared nothing for the Forsaken, for the injustices they had faced - injustices that were ripples of that old mistake at Stratholme. Jaina could have saved the world by boiling off Arthas’ face, and yet here they all were. And something far worse awaited the Forsaken if they were slain, and Sylvanas was both blessed and cursed to be the only one to have seen the proof of it. She held the archmage’s gaze for another breath or two, just to see. Just to test.

“Very well. I will be your hostage.” She narrowed her eyes, hoping their red glower made the mortal at least a little uncomfortable. “Your frozen rose. Beware of frostbite.”

Jaina let out a long breath. “I’ll be fine. Try not to - melt.”

The flicker of awkwardness, of hesitation, flashed on Jaina's face like prey darting through the underbrush. Sylvanas saw it and smiled her most wicked grin - if only to stop herself from screaming.

Chapter Text

Ink on paper was a shockingly powerful thing. Nothing more real than that, and the world changed.

Orgrimmar had been on the brink of a siege, and now both armies were slowly lowering their guard, dismantling their fortifications, stilling the churn of their minds. The tense heat of crisis was abating, and the bright clarity of the need to act was giving way to a more shadowy and indistinct sense of the full scope of what Jaina had done, and what might come next. 

She stood on the rooftop of one of Orgrimmar’s spires, watching the far-off billowing of Kul Tiran sails off the coast of Durotar, mere fish-scales of colour at this distance that still yielded their identities to her knowing gaze. The weight of the Lord Admiralty perched on her shoulders and whispered unease into her ears; she still wasn’t among her people. But she had been travelling and fighting for weeks now. This would at least provide her stability. At the very least, a more reliable supply of ink and parchment, and a fixed postal address.

Genn had tried to talk her out of it, even as the ink was drying; he didn’t understand why she would volunteer for this, though at least he trusted her ability. Anduin, for all his youth… Well, he didn’t understand, either. But he accepted her choice as well as her abilities, and that was heartening, in its own small way. Now she was waiting to speak to yet someone else, and she wondered what he’d have to say about all this, in the privacy of this rooftop.

But she would not be dissuaded. She had tried a great many crowns on her head, from student to archmage, friend to lover, general to politician. None had sat easily on her brow, not for long. Everytime she tried to build something up, to do good, to set people on a better path… Something went awry. Some outside force trampled everything, and she felt unable to stop it. So maybe she ought to focus her considerable strength containing those outside forces, instead. Let others do the building; let her be the bulwark.

Over the years, the decades, a creeping suspicion had started to nestle itself in the left side of her chest, in the silence between the beats. What was the common denominator of her failures? She had been there, every time. Ultimately powerless to guide people, armies, nations to less violent paths. That was a simplistic view of her own life, she knew, but it gnawed at her all the same, like a base, wormy little parasite barely complex enough for organs or nerves and yet still able to thrive in the flesh of a creature that could rule nations and bend magic to her will.

She could not stop history. She seemed unable to win over the hearts and minds of others, no matter how right she knew she was. Arthas, her father, the Kirin Tor, Go’el, the Horde, her people, even her own mother in some ways. Even Sylvanas - she could kill Sylvanas easily, but all the spells and wards in the world would not bend her will . And she dreaded the thought of trying to talk Sylvanas out of her ways; she would get nowhere, just as she’d gotten nowhere with so many others. The only way to bend Sylvanas’ will would be to do unto her once more the same crime Arthas been allowed to commit, and that was repugnant beyond thought. The best they could do was wield the combined concerns and legal and magical weight of both Horde and Alliance, to keep her in check.

The only time things had been different was during the war with the Burning Legion, and what had been different then? Jaina had been alone, and she had been fighting to destroy. Alone she had been a warrior, a gladiator in an arena of worlds, and her strength was decisive.

She thumbed the anchor pendant around her neck, and hummed the song she sometimes heard in Boralus, when people didn’t know she was listening. Or didn’t care.

Beware, beware the Daughter of the Sea.

That song murmured in the depths between heartbeats. They weren’t wrong, were they? She didn’t feel like a leader, like a ruler, like an icon. She had struggled with those all too many times. Her mother Katherine, she suspected, had only yielded the Lord Admiralty out of shame of her own mistakes - which were themselves very real, so there should be nothing illegitimate about it. But Jaina worried, even now, that she could not properly shoulder that burden.

But a weapon, a shield, a bulwark - that, Jaina knew she could be. She could be the weapon at Sylvanas Windrunner’s throat, if that was what it took to get the banshee to behave sensibly.

She prayed she could be that, if nothing else, though she worried there was little left in the world that was inclined to answer her prayers. Except her own self. Perhaps she shouldn’t pray anymore at all; the burden of it on her own shoulders would only grow.

“Jaina.”

And now those shoulders tensed, even as the familiar voice snapped her from her brooding. “Go’el.” She did not turn to look at him, but returned her pendant to its place. She knew, by the quiet exhaustion in his orcish eyes whenever someone misspoke, that he wanted to put Thrall behind him. She had disrespected that, before the gates, in a fit of rage. She hoped it was a small thing, but she couldn’t insist that it was. All she knew was that he hadn’t brought it up. “Saved your people from the Alliance yet again.”

He grunted wordlessly, walking up to the edge of the rooftop terrace, his great green bulk unnervingly quiet on the wooden boards. They both knew nobody was saved, not yet. “You’re no kaldorei warden, Jaina. What are you thinking?”

She glanced at him, and he did her the courtesy of not glancing back. Go’el was not one for rhetorical questions - and his tone suggested it was not that. It was a real question. But how much of an explanation did she owe him? He, too, had failed again and again to hold back the tides of war. “This isn’t an Illidan situation. She’s under house arrest. She’ll have her advisors, her executive power, she can wander around the little house all she wants. She just won’t be able to traipse around the world killing and plotting.”

He nodded. “And you’re glad to be the one enforcing her arrest?”

“No, but I’m tired of fighting losing battles. This is one I can win. If it comes to that.”

He glanced sideways at her. “If.

“Hm. I suppose we are talking about the Banshee Queen. Maybe it’s a when.” She was under no illusions that this would be a happy, peaceful vigil. She expected resistance, even though she and Sylvanas both knew who was the more powerful between them. She leaned on the guardrail, looking back at the ships on the sea.

He huffed, but still spoke quietly. “I’d have thought so. But Alleria believes there’s something there worth keeping. Beyond a figurehead.”

“She would. She’s not soft like Vereesa, but she’s still a Windrunner.” Jaina thought of her friend Vereesa, ensconced somewhere in Dalaran once more with her sons. Of the exhaustion and unwept tears after she’d learned what had been decided in that impromptu conclave.

Go’el nodded, scratching at the wooden guardrail. “Maybe that means she’s in denial. Or maybe it means she knows Sylvanas better than we do. They're old, those elves.” He stopped scratching. “She told us the Void wants Sylvanas dead, that it fears her. I’m tempted to align myself against the Void, where I can.”

She turned from the sea to the city, exhaling. “Sometimes, Go’el, the enemy of your enemy isn’t actually your friend.”

He grunted, a modest grin finding his features. “No. So you think this will go on forever?” His own beady eyes looked further, out upon Durotar. His home. One of them. “The treaties only say it’s indefinite. That doesn't have to be forever. Do you have a plan? A goal? It doesn't have to be your whole life.”

She scowled, bristling at his belated concern, turning properly to face him. “And? We must all do difficult things with our lives, Go’el. I doubt you’re thrilled at being back in Orgrimmar.”

“You’re not wrong.” His massive brow furrowed, and he stared out across the city he’d founded. “Aggra will stay in Nagrand with Durak and Rezhe. Away from this madness. I’m glad for the portal, but it will be a burden to be apart from them.”

She’d been thinking of his repeated failures to lead the Horde; his shame at the mistakes he’d made. But of course, his life was more than struggles with power now. Her scowl faded; he was, at times, too soft a soul for the world they lived in. She wondered if he’d hoped for a family, even back then. “That isn't the life for me. One less compromise to worry about. I’m a Lord Admiral and a warden now.”

“That's too much for one person, Jaina.” But he said the words with acceptance, as though knowing who she was. She was too tired to point out that she knew who she was best of all, and she thought she could manage. “This vigil you’ve set for yourself would kill dreams of all kinds in some people. A sad sacrifice to lay on the altar of one’s people.” He was tugging at one of the black braids of his beard; she recognized the unease in it. “Sometimes it must be done. But there is no shame in mourning it, in feeling pain. And pain is a hard thing to carry alone.”

“I was never going to marry and raise children on a farmstead. You of all people know that.” Her fingers twitched, counting the lovers, the men with whom things had gone wrong, each in their own damnable way. Though none more damnable than the very first. “Is there a specific reason you wanted to talk to me? Poor Sylvanas is waiting to be let out of her shackles.”

He chuckled, but it was a slow and resigned thing. “I’ve been thinking about what we’re doing. What we’re trying to do. One problem with our rebellion against Sylvanas was that, for better or worse, she did fight for those she saw as loyal. The worse part is what drove some of us away, but it didn't move everyone. Now that she’s not in any position to be razing cities or plotting assassinations anymore, I've been wondering what she can do, with the skills and loyalties she’s accrued. She was too powerful to listen to us before, much as we tried. But if she can cooperate with us now, not sabotage us at every turn, she might actually prove valuable.”

And here it was. Another classic, foolish Go’el mistake. It rankled even more that someone else might call it a classic Jaina mistake instead. She dug her fingers into her tightly bound hair and groaned. “You want me to, what, coax her back onto the path of righteousness? Seriously, Go’el.”

“I doubt she’ll get that far. But you’ll be closer to her than anyone has been for a long time. You’ll be a big part of her world, the world she’ll draw her decisions from.” He leaned against the railing, and Jaina winced; but the strong timber and bone of Orgrimmar was built to support the bulk of his people. “Maybe you can build a world that helps her see better choices. And maybe this won’t have to last a lifetime. I don't have answers, but -”

Jaina reached for the pendant again, looking away. She clenched the little anchor tightly in her fist. “Go’el. When you yield, when you give people leeway, people die. You, quite specifically.” She looked out to the sea. “And me, yes. Doesn’t that bother you? Doesn’t knowing that if you just fought harder, didn’t give them chances -”

“It does bother me!" And, to his credit, he sounded ashamed. "But sometimes it’s worth it. Sometimes they repay you more than you could ever have expected.”

She waited for more, waited to see which particular villain he was thinking of; she had a few ideas. But more was not forthcoming. She scowled in frustration. “I’m not here for a journey of spiritual healing. My mistakes have added up to thousands of deaths and I’m trying to make it right. I can do this. This one good thing.”

“You can’t unmake past wrongs, Jaina.”

“But you can stop future ones.”

“You can.” He nodded. “If your spirit is ready.”

She tightened her grip on the railings. “Are you calling my spirit weak?”

He withdrew from the railing rather quickly, standing straight, and there was that quiet sadness in his eyes. “You have so much inner strength. But you have to care for spirits, or they will dissipate, or grow sour. I know you’re angry about a great many things, and that you carry a lot of weight on your shoulders. Who is caring for your spirit?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Not you, Go’el.”

“Hm. No.” He grunted again, apology finding his dark beady eyes. “I failed in that.”

She sighed. Did she want to spend her entire life watching a small box that contained Sylvanas? Of course not. But there were practical realities to consider, and there was the small fact that she needed to do something important, something good, that wasn’t going to blow up in her face. She wanted to be a net positive - even if she did that by hiding away a net negative. Go’el’s musings about other futures didn’t feel helpful.

“Go back to Aggra. I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need you for this.” More than that, Jaina needed nobody, she needed isolation. She needed to be a gladiator, alone in the ring, with a problem . Anyone at her shoulder was a risk, and was at risk. And to be alone without a problem to solve, a demon to slay… that would be robbing justice from every soul she’d failed. She had debts to the world to repay. She was learning to best use her talents and avoid her weaknesses. That was all. She could let others try to solve the greater problems of their age. “You have better things to do. You made mistakes as Warchief, Go’el, but this Council… It’s a better idea than staying the course, at least. We can both try to do what’s needed of us. But I think I’m at my best alone.”

He sighed slowly, but with a curl of his tusked grin. “And yet look at you now. You may never be alone again.”

She almost growled at him, but he was already turning to leave. This old friend was a snarl of memories in her mind even as he persisted to inflict new ones upon her, and they dragged as he left. She wished things had been simpler between them, without bloodshed and war. She wished her father had relented, in the face of the terrible march of justice; that he’d never set to pillaging innocents in the first place. She wished Go’el had been wise enough to know that death would not end death. She wished they’d all found a better way.

Of course, she wished bloodshed and war had never touched her life at all. Her life, his, the lost Ranger-General’s. What a miserable, wounded world Azeroth was.

She left, too. She was tired; she’d been awake all night, keeping her mind abuzz with potions as she went, trying to catch up on critical correspondence from Boralus before she spent the daylight hours warding the safehouse. Now that she wasn’t actively on campaign, she could actually return to political duties. But today was the day Sylvanas’ house arrest began, and according to one of the many contracts and treaties she’d signed, in clauses the Horde had insisted on, she had one more legal duty to fulfil to her new ward before midnight.

The safehouse had been chosen hastily, so they could get on with the war effort against N’Zoth without delay. It was a fairly spacious house on a promontory in the center of the city, near one of the jagged cliffs overlooking the Valley of Honor; from the other side, a bit further, she could see the Valley of Wisdom. She had been at the house all morning and into the afternoon, applying layers upon layers of wards to contain Sylvanas within, so it was with the ease of familiarity that she simply teleported straight to it. Red-eyed dark rangers watched her as soon as she was there, their gazes burning with contempt, their deep black cloaks like twists of night around their silhouettes. Their protection of their mistress’ safehouse was one of many compromises that had been reached; there were, after all, still Hordelings who wanted Sylvanas dead. And not a few who might want Jaina dead, too. It was hard to forget that just days ago she’d publicly threatened to rip apart the entire Horde.

First she checked the foundations of the building, carefully reading all the wards she had set in place. A complicated spell, imbued with a distressing amount of power, and one that would probably crack and explode if anyone tried to modify it. It was more than enough to hold the banshee for now, and she would work the runes and sigils and wards over time to ensure they remained sharp. They would hold, at least. And if they didn’t, there were other failsafes.

Jaina was not fully satisfied, not with the warding nor with anything else about this situation, but there was nothing more she could do. With a sigh, she circled back to the entry, shrugging off the glare of the nearest dark ranger on duty, pushing aside the rough wooden door and stepping into Sylvanas’ prison.

Their prison.

That thought made her shiver.

Sylvanas was exactly where and how Jaina had left her a few hours earlier, still shackled and bound with runes. Her piercing red eyes immediately locked onto Jaina when she entered, purple lips parting to reveal sharp fangs that Jaina could only imagine hungered very specifically for her blood. Sylvanas twitched, slightly, but the bindings held her in place without difficulty.

Seeing just how humbled the banshee had become, Jaina cracked a smile, and somehow this made Sylvanas’ scowl deepen. “Do I amuse you, archmage?”

“Not at all.” Jaina let her smile fade, shaking her head, and setting her staff aside. “I’m just realizing that I chained you up in the living room. That’s all.”

Slyvanas’ eyes could have cut glass. “You are not funny, Jaina Proudmoore.”

She didn’t expect to entertain Sylvanas. But what had Go’el said - who was caring for her? Well, maybe mocking the banshee every so often was a form of self-care. Maybe that would nurture her spirit , or whatever Go’el wanted her to do. “I’ll keep my own counsel on that.” She sighed, and approached Sylvanas, crouching down before her. The woman’s presence unnerved her base animal brain more than she cared to admit; the power, the violence, the rage. It was all there on the surface, and Jaina had to get very close.

But the archmage in her wasn’t afraid. For all the violence Sylvanas put on display, Jaina knew she could crush her if she had to. Besides, this was all in the contract.

“Sylvanas, I’m more than happy to lock myself in my office and never see you again aside from the most minimal meetings necessary. I think you’re a cunning enough woman to figure out that if you don’t want your situation to get any worse, we should try not to get into fights.” Office was a generous word for Jaina’s new study, but she’d inquired, and an expansion of the suite was possible. “I have one more duty to you tonight, as per the contract. Play nice.”

Sylvanas’ ridiculously thick eyebrows raised a notch. “Oh yes. How could I forget.”

“I’m sure you can’t wait, but let me be clear -”

“I’m thrilled.” The elf practically hissed, and her voice lowered enough that Jaina had to stop herself from leaning closer to hear. It was a cheap trick. “The horror on your face will be delicious.”

She rolled her eyes, wondered if the banshee could even hear what she was saying. “I don’t intend to be made a meal of, Sylvanas.”

“Oh? And you’re the one who will decide that, are you?”

“Yes.” Jaina stared into those red embers, and reminded herself that the deepest cold could extinguish any fire. “Lash out if you want. See what happens.”

“Why, my dear, that would never cross my mind.”

So patently untrue it could hardly even be called a lie. She leaned forward, uncomfortably close. Close enough to feel the distinct lack of any body warmth from Sylvanas. She wished she could just leave the damned woman chained up forever, but apparently that was undignified. “Just stay still. Think of the Forsaken, if not your own good.”

“Do it, you little -”

She leaned forward and, with a quick grip and a drain of magic, safely broke the shackles that held Sylvanas Windrunner in place. She stopped herself from rushing backwards, as all the animal instincts in her body screamed to do with those fangs so close to her neck. Instead, she took slow, measured steps away, watching carefully.

They stared at each other for a few long moments, warden and ward. Sylvanas did not look angrier than she had a moment ago; if anything, that look had eased slightly, as she gentle flexed her wrists. Good. Jaina swallowed, and hated this already. “You have freedom to move wherever you want within this house, but you may not open closed doors - they’re all warded. The doors and windows and rooftop hatch won’t let you outside at all. As agreed, I’ve unbound you, and I won’t shackle you again. Tomorrow I’ll arrange for furniture to be brought, and we’ll set up a schedule for you to start meeting with your advisors. Do you underst-”

“Yes, yes.” Sylvanas straightened herself, rolling her shoulders and flexing her arms. Maybe she was trying to be intimidating, but all it did was remind Jaina that the woman had been a strong, formidable archer in life. And archers were no match for archmages. “Oh but it’s good to be… free .” Sylvanas almost spat the word. “You do know how to treat a lady.”

“Remember what I told you about the wards.” Jaina tapped her sternum, right above the pendant. “If I die, the house explodes in a blast of Light magic, and you’ll be vaporized. If I don’t renew the wards on a regular basis, again, they will decay and explode. You’ll be vaporized. If -”

“I remember what you said, Proudmoore. A dozen or so ways I will be incinerated by the holy Light if my house arrest is thwarted. Now if you’ll excuse me, I intend to use the vast freedom you’ve so generously bestowed upon me to discover just how far in this hovel I can get from you.”

Tides, but this woman was awful. What was Go’el thinking, giving Alleria any credit for her sisterly delusions about Sylvanas’ hidden soul? Jaina turned to leave. “I’ll save you the trouble.”

She almost didn’t hear Sylvanas muttered reply. “Save? You made all my troubles, Proudmoore.”

She froze, her back rigid. “What, Sylvanas?” She turned to look at the elf, but she didn’t see the sneer of contempt she’d expected. She saw something more… raw. Less like petty rage, and more like…

She didn’t want to see that. Not in Sylvanas’ face. She turned away, storming down the hall, and slammed herself into one of the bedrooms. She didn’t know which one. Breathing hard. 

What had she done? She’d chained herself to a monster, a liar, a manipulator, a deceiver of the highest order. And then she’d let Go’el talk to her about futures, and cooperation, and other idiocy he’d mislead her with before. She couldn’t forget who this was. She couldn’t just look at the woman’s face like that and allow herself to imagine it held pain. Grief.

All my troubles.

Jaina knew full well the names of those troubles. Arthas. Quel’Thalas. Torment, suffering, undeath, the shattering of family, the loss of dignity in the eyes of the world. And, of course… this little safehouse. This house arrest. This, too, was of Jaina’s making.

This world Sylvanas was living in now was Jaina’s doing. Just as Go’el had said. And what kind of world was she making?

Her hands shaking, Jaina went over to the bed. Sparse, impersonal, possibly not even hers, useless. She couldn’t remember if they’d sorted out rooms, storage, any of the normal things of a household. Why would they have? This was not a nice domestic arrangement, it was house arrest. She didn’t even know what an undead ranger would rest in - some kind of spiked iron maiden, Jaina hoped. Did the woman even sleep?

She’d warded all the doors in the house; only living hands could open them. She would not be caught unawares. She did not doubt the efficacy of her magic, the same magic that had held Sylvanas for days already. She was the most powerful mortal mage of Azeroth; her work was, if not flawless, more than sufficient. She could sleep in peace, in theory.

In practice…

Well, peaceful sleep was mostly theory even at the best of times. There were other ways. Tonight, it was the most understandable thing in the world to cheat the body a little, to force what she knew to be necessary. Most mages had done this a handful of times, in dire circumstances, when there was no other choice. The archmages frowned on it, calling it unwise, but it was not forbidden.

Quel’thalas was not my doing. That was Arthas.

Who I didn’t stop.

She undressed, hands still shaking. She’d find a nightgown later. She lay down under the rough woolen blanket of the bed, pulling it over shoulders as if it could ward off the thoughts.

Who I didn’t stop from making his own awful, awful choices.

Which put Sylvanas on this dark path, despite her best efforts.

A path she could have stepped away from at any time.

She knew her mind was racing. She knew it would keep racing. So tonight - and not for the first time, and not for the fiftieth, no, more than that - Jaina flicked her wrist and cast a sleeping spell on herself. She was instantly, blissfully, gone.

 


 

Testing the wards, both to the outside world and to the room where Proudmoore was sleeping, quickly confirmed to Sylvanas that she was indeed trapped. She should not be surprised; Proudmoore was no amateur. It was a relief not to be shackled any longer, not to have her abilities constrained. But relief was not the same as freedom, and true freedom, if it ever came, would come at a much steeper price than some haphazard prodding at mystic wards.

She was stuck here, and was more acutely aware than ever that, if she traced back the twisted skeins of all her own pains and mistakes, the woman she was stuck with appeared again and again. Not as a direct enemy - not consistently, indeed even as an ally at times - but always there. And now, as though that had all been prelude, she was here, and there was no more avoiding each other.

Sylvanas tried to focus on the environment, not the person. But whoever the safehouse had belonged to before Proudmoore barged in and commandeered it like a surly pirate - a briefly amusing image flickered through her mind, a petty little indulgence - had left no traces of their life. The bare walls were mostly stone on the first level, changing to wood on the second; the floor was equally uninspired; great bones and timber struts supported the walls and second floor and roof at key points. The whole thing was laced through with a cage of mana she did not know how to bend. She toyed with the idea of bringing down the building from the inside, but her one attempt to break a piece of wood was soundly resisted with unnatural resilience and a shimmer of magic.

She could see her dark rangers patrolling just outside the windows, as agreed. That heartened her slightly; she didn’t want some Saurfang loyalist breaking in and dying in a futile attempt to assassinate her. Or, for that matter, actually assassinating Proudmoore, which would result in Sylvanas being vaporized by the detonation of the wards. But she could not hear her rangers speak, and so was reduced to using only the rangers’ military sign language, which was highly specialized and not especially suited to political dealings. They reported that all was well. They reported they were, in turn, being watched. Nothing unexpected.

Delaryn Summermoon stood outside and gave her a quick flurry of signs. Hold fast, more or less. In the field, the particular phrase was used when you didn’t know whether help was on the way, but you hoped that it was. It was an encouragement that one was not alone or forgotten. She took some small comfort in that, but it was not much.

So Sylvanas did what she had trained to do, long ago, when the situation was unclear and her options seemed limited. She sat down, in a dark corner of the house, and closed her eyes, and began to try to pick through her own thoughts. To cement her understanding of her situation, of the stakes. Without her guiding hand, there was no guarantee the Horde would continue to reliably defend the Forsaken against their many foes, and she could not rest as long as her people were not secure. This was not the worst prison she had endured, but that did not mean she was ready to embrace it.

She had no idea how Proudmoore slept, but she was starting to realize what that mortal foible meant - a third of her days, give or take, would be free of human interference. But also free of opportunities to pry at that human’s brain. She turned Jaina Proudmoore over in her mind, again and again, trying to piece together a sense of what she could do to extract more leeway from her captor in the time she had.

But she only knew so much, and it was not actually so much as she would like. And the long hours of the night also revealed to her that she was running the risk of contending with a problem she had not faced in decades. She made a mental note to demand her little archmage captor provide her with some trinket enchanted against boredom. She was going to need it.

And what of the other players in this game? The thing that truly made her understand that she was no longer Warchief was not the paper she had signed declaring it so; such things could always be walked back, torn up. The bitter truth of her demotion was in how many of the Horde’s own cooperated with the Alliance’s wishes. For all their cawing about sovereignty, they were no longer behind her. They argued to spare her life, perhaps for self-serving reasons, but they would not bow to her leadership.

At least they had not agreed to her death. Aside from Alleria - and Proudmoore’s unexpected insistence on becoming her warden - Sylvanas was quite certain the entire Alliance would have rather she be killed. In that, the Horde had granted her a mercy; she was not out of the game yet. And her mind, her most valuable and treasured possession, remained her own. But what, exactly, was she supposed to do with it? She’d been promised meetings with her advisors, but none had been arranged yet. She’d been promised office furnishings, that she may write and correspond, but there was no furniture in the entire place except the beds. She was stuck here while Proudmoore slept, in an alien and unfamiliar place, and it galled her.

She rose and began to prowl through the space again, trying to reframe it in her mind. This was not just a prison; it could be an arena, too. It could even be a lair, if she found she was actually able to do reasonable work from here, despite her limitations. She tried to focus on those possibilities; what would that mean? How could she claim some of this for herself?

She did not hoard most of the baubles and trinkets that textured a living home. But she did have a single trunk of belongings, collected and brought from the former Warchief’s quarters after being hastily searched. It contained arms and armor that would be useless against Proudmoore in any kind of fight, and had been emptied of any useful magical items, like her hearthstone. However, it did contain a few other things.

Unfortunately, the trunk lay specifically in the bedroom Proudmoore had stumbled into and locked herself in. Convenient, for her new warden. She tried that door again, but of course it stayed shut, and she growled in frustration.

Turning around, she saw the other bedroom door down the hall and paused. It was ajar, not shut. She’d thought she’d claimed this one room, leaving the other one for Proudmoore. She hadn’t even considered looking in there yet - she’d assumed it would be shut, and that she was being actively denied any room to stay in. Apparently not.

Sylvanas stalked in, pushing the door aside - and suddenly felt a rush of intrigue. She might just get the last laugh after all. Not only because she was old as sin and intended to endure just as long, but because Jaina had made at least one tactical error. What happens to a predator in an enclosed, bare space, with only a single object to draw its attention? A sabercat in an empty pen with a sack and nothing else would not randomly paw at grass or rub bare walls. It would tear the damned sack to shreds.

And Sylvanas had finally found something - one thing - in the whole damned house: a small travelling pack of things that almost certainly belonged to Proudmoore.

Her captor, her warden, her… problem. That thought troubled her further, and she stayed her hand. In the heat of battle, Proudmoore could have killed her. Why hadn’t she? In the negotiations afterwards, Proudmoore could have held her tongue and let Feathermoon and Greymane carry the day. Why, instead, volunteer to guard her like this? It was a puzzle, and Sylvanas was missing pieces. She needed to start digging, if she was to make sense of it.

She sat down, quietly, and began to unpack the archmage’s travel pack. To contemplate the tools and priorities of a Lord Admiral.

Potions - health, mana, and more stamina potions than she’d expected. Curious - Jaina was not what Sylvanas thought of as an athlete. She filed away the oddity, deciding that the woman might hold secrets and mysteries; things Sylvanas could fall prey to if she was not careful, and things she could exploit if she was. The weak point in her situation, after all, was Jaina Proudmoore herself; a person was almost always the weakest point in any security system. Somehow, Sylvanas had to get her hooks into her.

Tomes. Mostly human languages, but one in Thalassian. Sylvanas raised an eyebrow in surprise; was Proudmoore fluent in her native tongue? The possibility was worth considering, if she had cause to speak it aloud. That was good to know. Jaina’s personal spellbook was here, too. This Sylvanas wanted to peruse, but the book would not open for her hands. Little surprise there - most mages warded their spellbooks well.

The other tomes opened readily, so Sylvanas spent a great deal of the night reading spells. She was no mage and was unfamiliar with the conventions and designs, but she knew enough that the tomes could give her a sense of what Jaina might be capable of, what she was inclined to, what kind of threat she posed. Not as many frost spells as she expected - but perhaps Proudmoore didn’t need the books for those. More enchanting and illusion and affliction spells than she’d thought, everything from blinding and sleeping and silencing spells to a chapter on conjuring animated animal illusions.

She had not finished - she couldn’t read an entire spellbook at all, really, let alone three in one night - when she sensed dawn creaking its way into the sky. If she was to make the most of this tactical error, if there was anything useful she could learn that she would want to keep in reserve, she needed Proudmoore to not realize she was snooping. So she set the spellbooks aside and took a quick inventory of the remaining items in the pack.

She found a handful of magical talismans; it was easy enough to test sense properties as she slipped one, then another, then a third around her neck. Nothing remarkable; elemental protection enchantments, mostly. Maps of Durotar, Orgrimmar, eastern Kalimdor. A magic wand, one Sylvanas was not apt at forcing any sort of magic through. Spare, blank parchment in a folder, along with quills and ink - black ink, mostly, but also violet. Curious.

Nothing else. Sylvanas sat quietly on the floor, feeling dissatisfied. Something was missing, here. She’d expected to find things that were… personal. Political. Vulnerable. Weak. Instead she’d simply found the tools of a mage out on a short business trip. A mage whose business was destruction, perhaps, but nonetheless.

That was entirely unsurprising, but still Sylvanas sat with that disappointment for a moment longer, wondering at it. What things had she expected, exactly? Personal heirlooms? Something to mock, to hold hostage? A private journal? She ran her fingers over her own signet ring and grimaced; had she expected the signet ring of the Lord Admiralty of Kul Tiras?

She remembered what she had in her own trunk, locked away with the archmage in the other bedroom, and scowled. She was at a disadvantage. She ran her hands over a frost protection talisman; did Proudmoore even need these things? She’d wanted to keep her snooping a secret, but there was nothing interesting to rummage for , no deeply useful information to play games with, so her mind started to turn. Maybe she ought to test Proudmoore, see just how much she paid attention to her belongings. Maybe she needed to send a message. She slipped one of the talismans around her neck, one enchanted with a frost protection charm. It wouldn’t hurt to have protection against Proudmoore’s signature element.

Perhaps she’d also expected proof of Jaina’s inevitable betrayal. Yes - now that she thought of it, that was concerning. The question of why Proudmoore hadn’t killed her outright, why she’d volunteered for this, might have an easy answer; it was politically inconvenient to kill Sylvanas now, when they needed the Forsaken as cannon fodder against N’Zoth, but afterwards? The Alliance would want her dead as soon as possible, and as her warden Proudmoore would be well-placed to become her executioner. After all, nothing lasted forever. One day this would come apart - the only questions were when and how. Sylvanas wanted it to be on her terms, not Proudmoore’s.

So she needed to find out Proudmoore’s terms, to stay one step ahead of them.

She packed away the belongings, placed the bag as best she could the way she’d found it, and strode back into the… lounge . She wasn’t going to call it a living room. She couldn’t stand to see the woman smile at a base joke like that, cheeks dimpling, lips curving, as if this were all fine. She did not want to see her warden satisfied even with her own jokes, and resolved to do everything in her power to make sure Proudmoore remained, in fact, the least satisfied woman of all of Azeroth. She couldn’t allow her subjugation to the archmage to stabilize, to become comfortable. She had to strain against it until it broke.

She was ready, though. She was a huntress, hunting a weakness of mind if not a beast of flesh, and once more she mentally ran through all the things she knew about her quarry - all the history, the weaknesses, the failures. Proudmoore was not wrong - they had fought together, in Northrend and on the Broken Isles. They’d both tried to undermine Garrosh, and if she had only done so more decisively, Sylvanas might have unwittingly saved Theramore. Their shared monsters set them both on the path that led here. And hadn’t she heard of that promising young human mage of Dalaran, all those years ago, before the fall of Quel’Thalas? She believed she had. 

Silently, obsessively, she tried to piece together an image of this peer she’d ignored for far too long, to her own disaster. She was ready for Proudmoore to wake up, to probe and test her, to fill in the gaps of this image. Sylvanas could not defeat her in battle, but she knew she had the stronger will and was willing to bet she was cunning enough. She was ready to start the day with a bang, unrelenting in her pursuit, exhausting the woman until she yielded and broke and spilled her secrets.

She waited.

And waited.

The sun lazily plodded across the sky over Orgrimmar, occasionally winking at her through the orcish windows like some kind of cartoon-faced piece of gaudy golden trash, and finally she’d had enough and made for the bedroom. Jaina had warded the doors, or so she’d said - perhaps it was time to truly test -

The door was open. Sylvanas paused. It was slightly ajar, like it had been shunted just open enough to not be closed and then left that way.

She left it and paced up and down the house, three times, looking for the archmage. Nothing. She tried to leave, but of course magical barriers bounced her back every time she tried to open the door, jump out a window, or even transform into her smokey banshee form and leave through the chimney. She signed to her rangers outside, but they’d not seen anybody come or go, which meant a portal or a teleportation spell. She hadn’t been paying attention - normally a spell like that would have left a light, tangible tingling in her senses. Her scowl deepened.

Finally, she returned to the bedroom. An impression remained in the unmade blankets; Proudmoore had slept, then. Sylvanas knelt by the bed; the stench of the living lingered, and Jaina’s particular stench was... cool and salty, like the sea. Hm. Sylvanas scowled and smelled again, hoping for something a little more insulting, but all she could smell was an earthy scent washed in fresh sea spray.

Well, she’d find other ways to insult the woman, to fray the edges of her mind. She intended for this to be the last night of sound sleep Jaina Proudmoore found in a long while.

The trunk in the corner of the room, the one containing Sylvanas’ personal belongings, was still closed. She didn’t fool herself; no doubt Jaina had been through it all, magicking the lock open somehow. The wards yielded to her own touch, but would they not also yield to an archmage’s? Magic was fickle that way.

Still, Sylvanas cracked it open and poured through what she had, making sure nothing had been stolen or damaged. She felt a wash of panic as she realized anew just how much at a disadvantage she was. The wrongheadedness of Jaina’s accusations that she cared about nothing was profound. Jaina’s pack was barren of anything personal, while Sylvanas had things in here that mattered. The amulet, the blue one at least; the seal; the flute.

She grasped the flute, the array of different-length tubes carved of a beautiful golden wood long ago hewn from Quel’Thalas, damning herself for keeping it here where Jaina might have found it. Might understand it. Might use that knowledge against her. It had been a foolish hope, one even her Val'kyr had confirmed they could not fulfil. She should have returned it to the Spire, when she’d last visited, and yet… She put it back.

She buried these things under armor and weapons, the tools and the trappings of ranger and queen. Jaina had seen them; she had no doubt of that. Perhaps that was why she was gone - she understood that these items must mean something, but she didn’t know what. So she was off, perhaps to conspire with Vereesa to rob the grave of Sylvanas’ past for secrets.

After a moment of contemplation, Sylvanas resolved that this was, in fact, a little hunt of its own. Two beasts, both hunters and both prey. She excelled at winning those hunts, in the long run. She had simply been incautious in the fields before Orgrimmar. Caught in unawares by a foe she could not fight head on. Never again. She had guile.

A magical tug yanked at her soul, a thrum sounded in the living room - lounge , and suddenly there were voices. Voices that were not Jaina’s. Assassins, already? She snapped the trunk shut and melted into shadow, coursing through the door and into the hall, shrieking in rage at -

Two bewildered, oafish-looking Kul Tirans carrying a gigantic shelf. A quick, insistent blast of magical energy snapped Sylvanas backwards and pinned her briefly to the back of the hall.

“Yes, yes, you’re terrifying, Sylvanas.” Jaina peeked around from behind the strangers, sounding utterly bored as she gently leaned on her staff with an infuriatingly patronizing look. “Don’t worry, men. The queen is simply indisposed.” She narrowed her eyes. “Emotionally.”

Sylvanas was quickly back on her feet, corporeal again, and found herself scowling at the terrified porters. “What is the meaning of this?”

Proudmoore strode forwards, tapping the shelf. “It’s a shelf, Sylvanas. The meaning is that you put books on it.” Jaina squeezed past the men, speaking to them from the corner of her mouth. “I’m sorry, sirs. Leave it here, go get the rest. I’ll handle this.” They did not need to be told twice, and bolted as soon as the shelf was settled against the wall.

Sylvanas flashed her worst sneer. “Nesting, are we?”

“I don’t know what you expected.” Jaina strode up to her until their height difference grew too intimidating for her. Or at least Sylvanas hoped that was why she stopped. “You may be under house arrest, but this isn’t a dungeon. We’re still political figures with work and responsibilities. I need an office and supplies for my continued duties as Lord Admiral. You need an office, too, by the way, and I’ve spoken to Voss about procuring something for you to work with that’s more your…” She gestured vaguely at Sylvanas’ clothes. “Style. And I need to live here, because I’m scrying on you, remember? I only stepped out to arrange for the furniture and other effects. So yes, I will be nesting. Do you have a problem with that?”

She advanced on Proudmoore, towering a full head above her. “I have a problem with you rifling through my things!

Jaina frowned, blinking twice. “What things?”

“Don’t pretend foolishness -”

Proudmoore’s eyebrows rose. “I would never pretend foolishness. I always took pride in my academic achievements.”

She wanted to scream in the woman’s face. “You locked yourself in my room, with my things. I know what you’re doing, Proudmoore.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. We didn’t discuss who gets what room. Do you even need a bedroom? A bed?”

“I ordered my things put in the room I claimed for myself.” She gave Proudmoore her worst snarl. In reality, she’d still been shackled to the wall at the time, and she’d ordered her things put in whatever room the undead porters found first, without even knowing which one it was. She’d deduced that when it was too late. “Was respect of private property not on your academic curriculum, archmage?”

“Actually, no, it was not.” Jaina crossed her blue-robed arms across her chest. “I’ll pass your pedagogical advice along to the Kirin Tor. A few of them could use a lesson or two in that.”

Sylvanas was walking herself into these barbs like an unseasoned ranger. She had to keep it together. “Insolent!” Well, that was one way to keep it together, perhaps. “If you -”

Jaina turned and walked back to the bedroom. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. The bedroom was empty -” She stepped inside, and paused, and though Sylvanas only saw part of her face, she had to admit that the archmage made an admirable show of being surprised when caught in her lies. Then Jaina shot her a look and sighed, and stepped further into the room.

“I swear I didn’t even notice this thing. Look, I can’t even open it.” Sylvanas raced after her, only to find Jaina kneeling and helplessly yanking at the trunk's lid like an imbecile. She threw her hands down, shoulders slumped in what looked like exhaustion. “I assume it’s warded so that only the blackest, deadest hearts of Azeroth can open it?”

Sylvanas did her best to loom as she took a step forward. “So you’ll understand my concern at you being alone in a room with it.”

“Oh dear, my feelings.” Jaina stood and snapped at her, her eyes bloodshot and her hair frazzled. She rather looked like she hadn’t slept at all, actually. Had she been bored, earlier, or exhausted? “You’re a liar and a - a broken person, Sylvanas. Don’t pretend to be vulnerable with me. We both know there’s nothing vulnerable about you anymore, no matter what Alleria thinks. I’m not looking for leverage, because to have leverage on someone they have to care about things, and you don’t. All I need is overwhelming force, and I have that, so don’t start some kind of fight because you think I rummaged through your - your -” Jaina stared at the trunk. “What does a Banshee Queen carry around? Severed fingers? Wine bottles of human blood?”

“That,” Sylvanas said, stepping so close that Jaina’s mouth was practically on her sternum. “Would be a waste of fine elven glassware.”

You are waste of fine - of elven -” Jaina stammered as she spoke, looking increasingly befuddled as she tried to hold her ground but obviously found craning her neck up uncomfortable. “Wares!”

Interesting. So the little archmage was easily flustered, was she? That was a good thing to know, at least. That was something Sylvanas could use, something she could pry at.

Not that she wouldn’t prefer intimidation. Sylvanas crossed her arms, the motion bringing her forearms so close to Jaina’s face she could feel the human’s warm breaths. Nobody stood this close to the Banshee Queen without feeling destabilized. Humbled. Terrified .

At the very least, Jaina seemed slightly more addled. It was a start.

The portal in the living lounge thrummed again, and a Kul Tiran voice called out. “M’lady, where would you like the telescope?”

Jaina rolled her eyes and turned to shout out the room. “In the - uh - just put it on the roof terrace for now, I’ll set it up later.”

“Yes m’lady.”

Jaina glared back up at her. “And you .”

“Putting me on the roof as well?” Sylvanas narrowed her eyes. “I’m not allowed up there. I checked. You’ll have to deal with me here.”

“You’re -” Jaina blinked, as though realizing something for the first time. “You’re not allowed up there.” The portal thrummed again. “No, you aren’t.”

Another peasant voice. “M’lady, a reading chair - where -”

“The roof!” Jaina shouted, hanging out the bedroom doorway. “Put it on the roof!” She stormed out, and Sylvanas watched her go.

What game was Jaina playing? Was this supposed to destabilize her? It concerned Sylvanas that she hadn’t seen through the ruse yet. Jaina was playing the tired and bewildered fool, she thought, but what was the truth beneath it? There was no way she was truly that frazzled, that on edge. Had she fundamentally underestimated the woman’s cunning? It seemed too obvious.

A dull coldness settled in her mind, wrapped in the thought that, maybe, if she was this slow to see through Jaina’s schemes, she was no longer able to protect the Forsaken as they deserved. She could not tolerate that thought. She had to figure out what Jaina was plotting.

Proudmoore’s voice echoed from the living lounge room. “Yes, I know what I said. Put the toiletries on the roof.”

She clenched her jaw. Proudmoore was clearly up to something. Luckily, in order to keep her eyes on Sylvanas, Jaina had to remain here. So Sylvanas, too, could keep her eyes on Jaina. She knew there was treacherousness in that human brain. She knew it held plans for the eradication of the Forsaken, for Sylvanas’ own death. That was a favorite fantasy of the Alliance, and Proudmoore was nothing if not an Alliance lackey. If she could only figure out -

“M’lady, the herb planters.” A new voice. How many porters were there? “I suppose we’ll take these up to the roof -”

“No use,” another man shouted. “Roof terrace’s full.”

“But - uh, m’lady, the herbs - the sunlight -”

Proudmoore’s groan of exasperation from the hall was oddly satisfying, and Sylvanas’ ears perked up. Perhaps she wasn’t acting. Perhaps Proudmoore had bumbled into a simple logistical problem head-first. Sylvanas took note. That was promising, if it proved to be a pattern with her.

Sylvanas leaned against the wall of her bedroom, alone, and felt a wicked grid spreading over her face, silently vowing to draw as many such noises from the woman as she could.

Chapter Text

Jaina was bone-tired. It had taken a week or so to settle the house to her liking, though a few of the rooms she left to Sylvanas’ discretion. The trembling uncertainty and frustration that had started this situation had also eased into something more predictable and low-grade. She meant it when she said this wasn’t a dungeon; Sylvanas’ penchant for murder needed to be contained, but she also needed some leeway to function like a person, however much of a person as she still was. Jaina allowed her to make requests of her own people too, which seemed to help keep the peace, or at least the quiet. Sylvanas had yet to make any serious attempts to escape or start a fight. It was mostly Voss or one of the dark ranger-captains who handled her requests, and Jaina thought Voss was quickly getting used to being Sylvanas’ representative on the Council.

For the most part Sylvanas avoided Jaina herself, except when she was suddenly demanding some meeting be set up, or for the occasional sneering attempt to mock her somehow as they crossed one another in the halls. Avoidance was surely for the best. Jaina could retreat to her study, lock the door, and either spy on Sylvanas through magical means or tend to the constant, demanding stream of paperwork that poured to her via couriers. The task of running Kul Tiras from afar was not an easy one, and the constant influx of letters and treaties and bills that crossed her desk kept her awake well into each night.

Right now Jaina sat on the roof, in a chair nestled awkwardly between long herb planters bursting with alchemical herbs - which, it turned out, did need the sunlight more than her toiletries. It wasn’t a massive rooftop terrace, and her hopes for turning it into a sanctuary from Sylvanas had been somewhat dashed by pragmatism, but at least there was room for the planters, a chair, a small table, and a lovely little deck parasol she’d had brought from Dalaran at the last minute. She couldn’t live up here, but she could relax with a book and a drink, and watch the sun go down over Orgrimmar. True, the dark rangers around the house occasionally shot her nasty looks and made rude-seeming hand gestures she was not quite familiar with, but if they shot anything worse they’d discover another magical barrier around the terrace. And there was a nice breeze up here. There were worse ways to spend her time.

She sipped the dregs of her stamina potion. It would be a bad idea to take too much at once, but sleeping spells were not the most restful way to go, and there had been so much to do lately, skipping between Boralus and Dalaran and Orgrimmar when she wasn’t at her desk, that she simply hadn’t had time to lie around waiting for sleep to find her. It always took far too long to actually get to sleep. She just needed to get through this wretched week. She had a few potions left in her stores, but that would be it - once she was done with those, she would lay off.

If she really needed more, she had all these herbs, after all. But no - a few more days and things would settle down. Surely.

The buzz of the potion slowly filled her veins, giving her a little boost, a little more pep, and she stood and stretched. She’s seen Voss leave an hour or so earlier, settling whatever Forsaken business needed tending to for today. Slyvanas had asked for meetings with Nathanos yet again, and Jaina had flatly refused. She was happy to let Sylvanas meet with anyone else, even military commanders, but she had discretion over who was allowed in the safehouse and that rabid ghoul of a man was a thorn in everyone’s side, a notoriously slippery and conniving operator, a loose agent without clear accountability in the Forsaken hierarchy, and a shark for Alliance blood. She was inclined to package him up and send him to Tyrande as a present, an idea only thwarted by the fact that Tyrande was being rather difficult to reach, and Shandris was tight-lipped about her whereabouts. Jaina hoped the priestess was grieving the tremendous loss together with Malfurion, for both their sakes. At the very least, for now, Jaina would keep Nathanos and his bloodthirsty tongue away from Sylvanas for as long as she legally could. She saw no reason he couldn’t send letters, or report to Grand Executor Mortuus or Councillor Voss or someone else.

She did need to get back to her paperwork eventually, though, so she crept down the stairs into the house, and then remembered it was her house, too. She did not need to creep. So she... strode. As best she could. The bedroom was empty - the one Sylvanas had childishly laid a claim on without telling her was in fact Sylvanas’ now, and Jaina’s own effects were down the hall in the other one. Why Sylvanas thought Jaina would go rooting around in her trunk was beyond her. The thought had absolutely never occurred to her. Jaina hadn’t even noticed that Sylvanas had a chest until that moment in the bedroom.

Of course now she was thinking about it, yes. Cautiously, she peeked into Sylvanas’ empty room, but the dark wooden trunk remained where it had been. She could probably break in, but Sylvanas was never far, and now that ownership of the respective rooms was clear she couldn’t lock herself in again without rousing suspicion.

She wondered, briefly, if there was anything in there that she ought to know about. The Horde and Alliance had examined everything they were bringing into the house - even Jaina’s furniture, all of it jointly inspected by Kul Tiran and Zandalari agents before being carried through the portal - and so nothing in there could be truly dangerous to her. Weapons meant little; they’d deprived Sylvanas of any exotic or magical tools, and all her clothes were warded to deflect mundane blades and arrows, so as long as she was wearing clothes or had a closed door between her and Sylvanas, she’d be safe. She expected at least one of those to be true at all times.

But Sylvanas had been positively furious that first night at the thought of Jaina snooping through her things. Why?

She’d accused Sylvanas of not caring for anything at all, of having no vulnerabilities. That seemed fairly easy to conclude, on the face of things, but Jaina knew she’d also been tired and irritated and cranky. She had seen the look of frustrated pain on Sylvanas’ face, though, when she’d accused Jaina of being the source of all her woes. And Sylvanas had been very sensitive about those belongings. Was there maybe something more to this?

Probably not. Most likely Sylvanas only wanted to assert her territory. And Jaina did have ways of spying on Sylvanas besides crude snooping. But after a week of letting it simmer in her mind and trying to ignore it, she found she was still curious.

“Thinking about snooping through my things?”

She jumped and turned to look at Sylvanas, who looked to have come from her own office, which was in another part of the house about as far from Jaina’s as possible. “Absolutely not. You brought it up in the first place anyway.”

Sylvanas’ arms crossed as she stood in the middle of the hallway, taking up as much space as she could. Another little dominance play, one that tended to happen every so often. “I know curiosity when I see it.”

Jaina stepped towards her, unafraid and needing Sylvanas to know that. Sylvanas quirked an eyebrow, though her lips retained their usual scowl. For a corpse, she was surprisingly lively - the skin on her arms tensed with muscle as Jaina stepped closer, her -

Jaina froze. Something glinted there. “You’re wearing my frost protection talisman.”

Sylvanas also froze. So much for the talisman. With a wash of shock, Jaina realized that it had been a week and she hadn’t even unpacked her travel bag yet, the one where she kept those trinkets. When had Sylvanas stolen this? How long had she been walking around with it before Jaina noticed? For the briefest moment, she thought Sylvanas looked… confused? But then the façade dropped. “I think it suits me. Don’t you?”

So. Sylvanas didn’t have anything private she was worried about at all - she was snooping through Jaina’s things, and was trying to cover it up. Predictable. Jaina stepped forward and snatched the talisman as it hung around the banshee’s neck, wishing her fingers hadn’t brushed against Sylvanas’ cold skin like that. “Nothing suits you -”

Sylvanas’ hand snapped to her wrist and grabbed it, exerting a shocking amount of pressure. Jaina immediately let magic bubble to the surface of her soul, ready to pour it out in an uncontrolled torrent if Sylvanas did anything further, and she could tell from the tingling in her face and from the flicker of Sylvanas’ gaze that her own irises must be aglow with the iridescence of mana, a warning to anyone watching not to fuck with an angry mage. They stared into each other’s eyes for a moment before Sylvanas spoke. “Bold, Proudmoore, but I’ll keep my bodice on.”

Sylvanas was trying to unsettle her, to fluster her. Jaina resolved not to be unsettled. “Hold your tongue, banshee. I’m just taking what’s mine. Let go.”

“And what? You’ll lift it off me? You’re too short for that maneuver.” A dark smirk crossed that face. “And don’t tell me I’m too tall, your humour has its limits.”

“Just let me take it back.”

“Proudmoore.” Sylvanas’ face hardened. “You don’t need to command me. I don’t want it. Let go and I’ll gladly be rid of it.”

“Then why do you have it?”

She simply glowered at Jaina for a few long moments, before finally curving her lips in the wry grin Jaina had seen her wear before. “I was simply testing your alertness, and you’ve failed. Now let go. I long to never see or think of it again.”

“So you can what, throw it at my face?” She yanked the talisman downward, which brought Sylvanas’ face even closer to hers, which was a terrible idea, why had she done that. “You're asking for a modicum of trust, which I think is in short supply in this house if you’ve been rifling through my things. Just let go of my wrist and let me take it.”

“I’ve done nothing you have not.” No breath. Tides but it was strange to have a woman speaking this close to her face, and feel no breath at all from her mouth. No breath and far too many fangs.

“You literally have, you paranoid -” Jaina grit her teeth and let go of the talisman. The instant she did, Sylvanas’ hand left her wrist, and her skin smarted from the sudden absence of pressure. That was a genuine surprise; she'd expected some kind of toying, some extra level of power play. “Fine. Here. Keep the frost talisman. Consider it a diplomatic gift. I know fire spells, too, remember?” She turned away. “Of course you remember, you probably broke into my spellbook somehow too. Did you find everything you dreamed of finding in my travel pack? Should I give you my diary?”

Amusement melted into Sylvanas’ voice, which followed right behind her. “Oh yes, that would be fascinating.”

“Well you’re more the fool!” She stormed into her bedroom. “I don’t keep one!” She snatched a piece of paper from the night table, crumpled it into a ball, and returned to the door to throw it at a briefly bewildered Sylvanas. “Here, have a grocery list instead.”

"Is this what you dream of in the privacy of your soul? Cactus apple jam, smoked mackerel, mud snapper jerky, Mulgore spook - spike - honestly, your handwriting -"

"Spice bread!" She turned around in her room and tried to breathe. She was being childish, but she was tired, so tired, and the stress of dealing with Sylvanas suddenly was too much to handle gracefully. And why should she act with grace? Sylvanas did not deserve grace.

The very sight of Jaina’s travelling kit near the foot of her bed soured her now. How had she forgotten about that? She’d thought of it a few times, and each time told herself she’d do it later. Well - it was later, now. She made for it and dumped the contents onto her bed, and started sorting through them -

A thump on the blanket caught her attention, and she stopped. The frost protection talisman had landed there, making a gentle indentation in the blanket right next to the things that had spilled from the pack. Jaina turned around to see Sylvanas leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, looking at her with an expression halfway between murderous and smug.

Jaina took the talisman and looked at it. She’d said Sylvanas could have it; what was the point of throwing it back? Was it a ploy to make her think Sylvanas was growing compliant? Some twisted, misguided way to seem generous, in the hopes that Jaina would lower her guard?

She wondered what Sylvanas would do if she lowered her guard. Nothing good, surely. If she actually lowered her guard, perhaps Sylvanas might be able to lie to her, to mislead her, to manipulate her somehow.

But if she didn’t lower her guard, and yet pretended to do so - while remaining aware and alert and cautious - perhaps Sylvanas would overplay her hand. Reveal her approach. Take a risk. And Jaina would be able to catch her in the act and put an end to whatever she was plotting. And if Sylvanas wasn’t actually plotting anything, well, maybe it would be less exhausting to pretend to have lowered her guard. Who knew.

She glanced at the talisman and back at Sylvanas, and tried to sound relieved, though she thought she only managed tired. “Thank you, Sylvanas.”

There was an exceptionally long pause, almost long enough for her to turn around, but she was worried she wouldn’t be able to keep up the act and would scowl or grimace. Then the banshee… walked off.

She glanced out the door, but Sylvanas wasn’t peering at her from the edge of the hall, either. She was back in her room. Jaina, for an absolutely mind-bending lack of reason, almost followed her, wanting to ask her… what? Wanting something from her. Something she couldn’t name.

Well, if she couldn’t name it, she damned well wasn’t going to get it. She retreated to her room again, stashing the empty stamina potion vial with the dozen other empty ones crowded on a lower shelf. Placing everything carefully away, she checked to make sure nothing was missing from her travelling kit - and to her surprise Sylvanas had not stolen or damaged anything else in there. Even though she’d clearly rifled through the thing.

Jaina sat on her bed, looking at the frost talisman. Why this one? What did it mean? Jaina knew her affinity for the element of water, and by extension ice, was well-known; was Sylvanas planning a fight? But if so, surely she wouldn’t have worn it so openly. Was it merely to goad her? She must have had this for a while - Jaina was diligent about shutting her door, or at least thought she was.

She put the talisman away with her other magical trinkets in a lockbox, trying not to think of it. And failing.

Why give it back? Jaina could replace a talisman; surely Sylvanas knew that. Surely there would be some satisfaction in denying Jaina even a small trinket like this. Why not at least throw it at her directly, with a little spite? Surely a ranger could aim for the head. It had to be a ploy - wasn’t that how Sylvanas thought? Plots and schemes and conspiracies all the way down?

And she’d left without a word, which was more polite than she usually was. Maybe if Jaina didn’t take the bait Sylvanas kept strewing out in front of her, their conflicts would be less acute. Or maybe Sylvanas would let down her own guard more, enough that she started to underestimate Jaina. Her head was spinning. Was this how wardens operated? She would have to reach out to some of the kaldorei wardens and ask. Perhaps Maiev Shadowsong would have advice for her on the psychology of it.

Jaina was not worried about being fooled by Sylvanas; but she was worried about making mistakes of her own. Of fooling herself, perhaps. She was reading too much into the return of a simple talisman. Jaina thought, vaguely, that she might even be obsessing a little. She didn’t know what else she was supposed to do, though. She only knew that she had to keep Sylvanas in check, keep her under control, and not get killed. Fundamentally, that meant she had to focus her energy on understanding the woman and anticipating her moves.

Unfortunately she had precious little energy left, and the stamina potion’s last dregs were already wearing off, her eyelids growing heavier. So she made one more round of her room, making sure her things were in order, closing the door so the wards would hold it, then changed into her nightgown and dismissed the candle’s flames with a wave of her hand and tried to sleep.

She was very tired. She probably didn’t need the spell tonight.

She closed her eyes and turned away from the door, willing herself to sleep.

Sleep didn’t come, though. She remembered the breeze of Boralus when she last left through a portal today, the smell of the sea; the sea by Orgrimmar was different, less fresh, less frothy, even though it was still sea in its own way. As was the sea around Theramore; as were all the seas she’d stood on the shores of across Azeroth.

She was used to moving around, to finding home wherever she made it. She had built a city at Theramore, the first human city on the entire continent. That it had fallen was Garrosh’s sin, and by extension Sylvanas’. Not hers. If she could build a city on a hostile continent, she could damn well make a home of a house with a petty, angry, dangerous, very tall elf in it.

She tossed back and forth, but sleep did not come.

She’d been so damned tired. Why wasn’t she sleeping? She needed rest if she was to deal with Sylvanas. If she didn’t sleep, she’d be less careful, less alert.

But first - first, she reflected on what she’d noticed about the Queen of the Forsaken today. It wouldn’t do to forget any details. She was, after all, the main danger of Jaina’s current occupation. People always were the main danger. She had to pay attention. She tried, in her mind, to inventory the things they’d said to each other, the looks, the items Sylvanas had paid attention to. Searching for patterns, for tells.

Was she thinking of ways to assassinate Jaina? That would be suicide. To break free? Was she looking to exploit her vulnerabilities, blackmail her, lull her into a false sense of security?

Back and forth, on and on, Jaina’s mind raged a battle between the parts of her that knew she should sleep; the parts of her that knew the weight of Kul Tiran legislation that needed to be perused tomorrow morning; and the parts of her that kept thinking about how to handle Sylvanas. Until eventually, she realized she was making no progress.

So she lay there, and did her best to quiet her mind.

And sleep still did not come. What did come was the image of Sylvanas saying I’m sorry for stealing your talisman, along with a wildly petty frustration that that had not happened. That it seemed utterly impossible in the first place.

So she scowled in the dark and cast the sleeping spell. Again.

 


 

Sylvanas was still stewing over the embarrassing talisman incident from yesterday. Embarrassing and shameful for Proudmoore, because after three days of Sylvanas wearing the thing blatantly around her neck, the vaunted archmage had still failed to notice her own possession had been stolen. She ought to have explained the entire story to Proudmoore right then, just to see her go pink with embarrassment.

Except that it was also embarrassing for Sylvanas, because after those three days she’d given up on Proudmoore ever noticing at all, and sometime after that she herself had utterly forgotten the damned thing was on her. She didn’t sleep, had no need to change clothes often since she didn’t sweat, and so had no reason to notice it amidst the stress of learning how to manage a nation through letters and intermediaries. When Proudmoore had finally spotted it and called it out, Sylvanas had been genuinely confused for a moment. She’d meant for it to become a point of conflict, something to make Jaina feel insecure or make her lash out unwisely. Instead it had just been… awkward.

“My Lady? I really think you should reconsider. We need to signal cooperation -”

Lilian Voss’ voice snapped her back to the present moment, and she scowled. She tried to stop thinking about Proudmoore, and focus on the real problem at hand - logistics.

“Why, exactly, should we authorize deathguard deployments to various titan sites which all just so happen to be very far from Orgrimmar?” Sylvanas crossed her arms, staring across her desk at the Councillor.

It galled her to have to work with an insubordinate like Voss, but such were the terms she’d been forced to agree to. Some number of the Forsaken did not appreciate the lengths to which Sylvanas had gone to safeguard them, and preferred the more cautious alternative Voss seemed to offer. She was bitter about that, but she understood why; they had not had the dark revelation she had had at Icecrown, and she had no good way to share it with them in a way that would not make her seem like a raving prophet. She would not blame her own Forsaken for trying to find a way to survive as best they understood how. So if working with Voss could unite her people in the face of this… severe setback, she would find a way to work with her.

If only Voss would do the same. “Because we’ve been asked to by the rest of the Council?”

Sylvanas shook her head. “This feels like a ploy to scatter our forces. We’ve no indication these sites specifically suffer from the Void gibbers, that our troops are actually needed.”

“The Void gibbers.” Voss rolled her eyes, but she did smile. “I’ll pass that phrase along to the apothecaries, they’ll be delighted at a better term than madness-inducing whispers of the Old Gods. For a start, the deployments would signal -”

“We don’t need to signal cooperation, we need to defend our holdings! Or have you forgotten that Lordaeron is now vulnerable to capture by the Alliance?”

“I’m telling you, we’ve had no reports of military activity in or near Silverpine or Hillsbrad. Our borders appear to be secure.”

“According to whose intelligence?”

Voss slammed gnarled fists on the table. “The Horde’s intelligence!”

Sylvanas gestured all around them, at the city beyond the walls. “The Horde who betrayed us and demoted me into quiescence.”

“Oh, are you quiescent now?” Voss perked up. “Good, I’m glad to hear you’ve decided to stop fussing, my Lady. What intelligence would you trust?”

“Nathanos’ intelligence network, for one.”

Lilian crossed her arms. “Then tell him to report to me. He’s been gleefully uncooperative without your seal of approval, so what do you expect me to do but rely on shared Horde intelligence?”

In truth, Sylvanas wanted direct reports from Nathanos. But she also needed Voss to understand the severity of the threat they faced; Nathanos may be able to convince her, with access to the right reports. “Since my captor believes him too conniving and deceitful to allow into the house, I suppose I shall need to draft him a letter.”

“By all means. And if his scouts also haven’t detected any threats to Horde territory?”

Sylvanas was already grabbing parchment and quill. “They will. You will see.”

“I’m sorry, I must have misheard.” Voss jutted her chin out. “Because it sounds like you just said you’re just going to keep looking until you find something that tells you what you’ve already decided you want to hear. Is that how our intelligence is usually run, Dark Lady? I am admittedly new to the business of statecraft, but I have questions.”

Sylvanas snapped the quill in her fingers, spilling ink over the parchment. This was why she couldn’t handle Voss - the woman had no sense of the true depth of the threats they faced. “Do you honestly believe our enemies would not attempt to hide things from us?”

“Of course they will, but what are they hiding? Not every scheme a schemer would hide is real just because you can’t find evidence of it.” Her Councillor flailed a rotted hand in anger. “I’ve worked the shadows enough to know that people can only have so many plots going at once. I read the intelligence to try to decide which plots are real. Or I would, if your man would speak to me. I’ll even bring his reports to you so you can double-check them yourself.”

Sylvanas glanced at the signet ring on her right hand, the ring of office of the Queen of the Forsaken. Voss perhaps didn’t know that their reports would appear as blank pages to anyone not wearing one of two rings enchanted with a special cypher; the other was in Nathanos’ possession. Training spies to write words they couldn’t see with magically invisible ink was a bit of a challenge, admittedly, but it made things more secure. The occasional failures, when not obscuring important information, were entertaining as well.

“If it will put an end to your stubborn complaining, Councillor, I will write to him.” She yanked out another quill and another piece of parchment, wrote out a missive to Nathanos, folded it up, and stamped it shut with the seal on her signet ring in a daub of violet wax. “Take this to him.”

“Thank you, Dark Lady.”

The words were not warm or grateful, but they also sounded at least non-hostile this time. They reminded Sylvanas of the way Jaina had thanked her, with an astonishing lack of venom, when she’d returned the talisman. Why was her mind back there again? It was an irritating end to their little game. Expecting hostility and encountering… whatever that was, was off putting. A clever stratagem, perhaps, on Proudmoore’s part. “Don’t thank me, Lilian. Do your job. Protect the Forsaken.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do.” The woman nodded gravely. “Now about those deployments - regardless of whether or not we know the sites have Void gibbers, the Council is voting today. I want to vote yes. But if you insist we should be a stick in the mud -”

She loathed that her queenship had been reduced to this. Having an unreliable, petulant creature like Voss be one of her few tenuous connections to the outside world was worse by far than simply sharing a house with Proudmoore. Proudmoore might be terrifying in battle, but in the domestic sphere she was awkward and haphazard and avoided Sylvanas as much as Sylvanas avoided her. She was almost tolerable, if not for the fact that she couldn’t be trusted, which was less a property of Jaina Proudmoore than it was a baseline fact about most things in the universe.

But for now Voss was Sylvanas’ best option. Yes, Sylvanas could dismiss her, legally. But other Horde Councillors had expressed that they wanted Voss to hold this post, as figure they at least halfway trusted, and Sylvanas knew she would antagonize them if she threw the woman out right away. So she would work with her to try and get better access to the intelligence she was missing. At least for the time being.

She had written missives in secret ink to Nathanos already, asking him to investigate possible avenues of escape. As far as Sylvanas knew, and as far as the treaties suggested, Proudmoore was not allowed to spy on her written correspondence. But Nathanos had only replied with the barest of acknowledgements. He’d had little time to investigate the situation yet, of course, but that relative silence still inclined her to explore these other, less appealing options.

So she argued with Voss, back and forth, until finally she relented and accepted deathguard redeployments that were wildly unwise, under the condition that Voss negotiate with Geya’rah about sending a deployment of mag’har to Lordaeron to patrol the borders. Geya’rah had mixed feelings about her people settling directly in Orgrimmar; she and some of her elders had concerns about being assimilated into green orc culture, what with the mag'har being so much fewer in number. Perhaps the warlord would take a liking to Hillsbrad or Alterac, and choose to move in and establish their own enclave. There was room to spare in those lands, still lingering in depopulation and devastation after several wars. And if she did, at least Horde territory would grow. Sylvanas didn’t explain that to Voss, though; she simply phrased things a certain way, and hoped the thought would occur to one of them.

When Voss finally left, Sylvanas had nothing to do but stare at a stack of correspondence and paperwork. Looks could kill, if you were the right kind of beast, and Sylvanas’ eyes glowered at the deathly dull work as angrily as she could, but unfortunately paperwork did not have enough eyes to notice it was being stared to death. So she snatched the top file and started working.

This was not the part of being queen she enjoyed.

In truth, there was little she’d enjoyed, these last few years. At all.

Tearing her foes apart, yes; that was satisfying in a way. But only in the way lancing a boil was satisfying - because it signaled the abrupt, violent, often juicy end of something annoying. The quiet calm of night after a great victory - that she enjoyed, though it had been a long time since her victories were so decisive that she could feel safe revelling in them.

She would greatly enjoy setting fire to this paperwork. That would be delightful. She imagined the flickering of flames boiling away all this useless prattle in letters from Lor'themar and Baine and the far too young Queen Talanji of Zandalar. She dreamed of the fire catching on the dark wooden desk in the Forsaken style that Voss had sent her as a housewarming gift. She could practically smell the flames spreading through the house, burning the entire damned thing down, leaving her standing in the ashes, glorious and free.

Of course with her luck that would cause the house to explode, vaporizing her. Jaina was annoyingly fond of the word vaporize, when it came to Sylvanas.

She got halfway through a letter from Talanji inquiring whether she would speak to the shadow priestess Aelthalyste about sending Forsaken priests to exchange knowledge about the Void with her own priesthood of Bwonsamdi. It was written with the insecure pomp of any young monarch, and that grated. As far as Sylvanas knew, Void and Death were rather different things despite what mortals might find similar about them, much like Light and Life were not necessarily joined at the hip either. The letter seemed misguided. But she was no theologian, was not inclined to entertain theologians, and the honorifics in Talanji’s letter tired her enough that she gave up and put the letter down rather than write a refusal. It would be easier just to forward the thing to Aelthalyste without comment.

Watching her foes squirm and sputter in anger when she slipped a verbal blade under their skin, prodded at their heart’s weakest points... she did enjoy that. How delightful it was to see Genn Greymane's conniptions when confronted with his base canine nature. There was precious little of that these days, of course, but she was not without options for entertainment. She left her office and set out in search of Proudmoore, hoping she wasn’t gone on some portal journey to a distant city. Which would obviously be a good thing, because Sylvanas would have peace and quiet in the house without Proudmoore around, and yes, that was good. But right this very moment, she rather wanted a verbal sparring match, one that would set a better tone than yesterday’s.

Proudmoore’s office door was shut, and Sylvanas almost knocked, or shouted out. Only a moment of self-awareness saved her from announcing herself and demanding an audience. She did not want to seem keen. That would be too much acting, even for the purposes of confusing the Lord Admiral.

A smile found her lips as she realized the door opened inward. That meant she could simply stand here in the hall, right in front of it. And when Jaina opened it, unawares -

Well, Proudmoore was too young and hale to be dying of heart attacks. And all the better, because if she did, Sylvanas would be vaporized, and she didn’t want to give Proudmoore the no doubt profound satisfaction of a final moment watching Sylvanas turn to howling dust.

So she stood just behind the door, waiting to play her little prank that would earn her nothing more than a single mortal heartbeat or three of delight, and then set her on the right footing for taking Proudmoore down a peg or two. This could be a long vigil, so she carefully began practising some of the mind-focusing exercises she’d learned, centuries ago, as a ranger. Simple visualizations, mental habits, things to keep her sharp and aware and alert on long, boring watches.

Alert enough that the sound of the doorknob turning still gave her enough time to flash a toothy grin and stare exactly where she knew Jaina’s face would be behind the door. The thought of scaring the woman senseless was giddying already.

Jaina opened the door and stared at her with absolutely no facial expression at all. “What do you want.”

Proudmoore had expected her here. Cold anger doused her glee immediately. Somehow the archmage had known. Of course, Sylvanas knew she was being spied on, but - “I see. Clearly you are spying on me, Proudmoore.”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “How astute.”

“Should I not also spy on you?”

“By looming threateningly behind my office door?” Jaina opened the door further, oddly, and walked back inside. She spoke without facing Sylvanas. “How long were you out there?”

“I just arrived.” She peered inside. Curious. Was this an invitation?

Jaina sat at her desk, which was strewn with stacks of paper, and glared at her. “I mean how long were you out there before three minutes ago, which is when I first looked through a scrying spell and saw you standing with your face an inch from the door.”

Sylvanas gnashed her teeth. She did not appreciate being made a fool of, and took a heavy step into the office. “I’m glad whatever I interrupted only took three minutes to complete before you were able to come see me. I would hate to bother.” The words didn’t quite sound right, but they were all she had as she tried to reorient herself.

“I didn’t complete anything.” Jaina flicked her hand at the paperwork as though it were a swarm of insects. “I would love to just set all this paperwork on fire. Have a nice little pyre right on my desk." She wiggled her fingers in a fwooshing motion above the papers. "I’ve been reading a proposal for a tariff on shipbuilding supplies. Problem is, much as I enjoy being on a the deck of a ship and firing a good cannon broadside, the economics of shipbuilding are not where my interest or experiences lie.”

The irony did not pass Sylvanas by, but she did not comment on it. She would not find common ground with an Alliance lapdog. But she did step further into the office; she’d never actually been inside. Any information could be useful. Unexpected book titles, magical items, the location of potion stashes… “Perhaps we should trade, Proudmoore. I would be happy to know your state secrets.”

Jaina gaped at her, then widened her eyes oddly. “Alright, then. Come here. Sit down, Your Majesty, and let me read to you -” She picked up a piece of paper. “Lord Stormsong’s seven arguments - seven - in favour of raising the tariffs on shipwright’s glue from 5% to 13%, in the interest of protecting the gluemaster of Brennadam from competition from inferior foreign product. Quote, for the glory of the Tides and the nation of Kul Tiras.” Jaina slammed the paper back down. “Are you trembling with glee at these state secrets, Sylvanas?”

“Hardly. I can see why you resorted to spying on me to distract yourself.” She scoffed, standing but letting her eyes stray across the shelves. Nothing suspicious yet. She started pulling books out at random, looking at the covers. More novels than she’d expected, perhaps. One surprising volume of poetry. “You should have Lord Stormsong executed. Maybe by one of those cannon broadsides you love so much.”

“Sylvanas no.” Jaina glowered at her, but the exasperation in her eyes made the look entertainingly unconvincing. “That’s not how I run my country.”

“Amateur.” Sylvanas smirked back at the bookshelf, setting the book in her hand back, not really seeing. “Lor'themar wasted three pages explaining to me why Grand Magister Rommath was requesting that the Forsaken divert two cargo ship’s worth of embersilk from northern Tirisfal to Quel’Thalas. They were originally bound for Undercity but fell into uncertainty after you arrived on your little boat and gave my city a good broadside. In the end it seemed the answer was, in fact, that Rommath had had a spat with the Magisters’ tailor, had hired a new one, and was now intent on having the new tailor craft an entire set of ceremonial gowns for the high magisters in a new style specifically designed to snub the tailor who’d fallen out of favor.”

Jaina snorted something like a chuckle, and Sylvanas almost found herself grinning; yes, Rommath was a fool. But she cut her grin short as she looked at her captor. Luckily Jaina wasn’t even looking back at her, instead staring out the window as she spoke. “Awful. Will you send them the cargo?”

“I will need to talk to Lilian Voss again to verify our own tailors’ needs before anything can be arranged, if I should decide to indulge them in their stupidity, thank you very much.” Sylvanas tried to read her warden’s face, seeing the tired lines below her eyes, the slight matt of sweat on her brow, the pink tinge of her face - her chair was, Sylvanas realized, was directly in the path of the afternoon sun. Why didn’t Jaina just move it? “Which means enduring her contempt and disrespect at every turn. Signal cooperation. I’ve asked her to confer with Geya’rah on a matter of border patrols, and even as she agreed she rolled her eyes at me enough that I felt inclined to remove them and screw them back in properly. I have a scrying ring to watch her Council meetings, but I never know beforehand if she’s going to argue my will with any conviction. It’s like trying to hunt with a bow that doesn’t trust you.”

Proudmoore groaned, for what reason Sylvanas could not say, and grabbed another piece of paper, staring at it. “My mother writes back to almost every missive I send with suggestions. Would I perhaps first consider the ramifications before refusing to endorse House Ashvane’s most obvious heir? Have I not given thought to the legal consequences of tightening central control over the port authorities at Bridgeport? As if I hadn’t spent four paragraphs on the damned subject right above her annotation! And it wastes another day every time, getting her to actually go along with things.”

Sylvanas grimaced. Her own mother, on her average days, had not been that different. She would never forget the time she and Lireesa spent three days arguing about whether it was permissible for Sylvanas, as a young ranger-captain, to give a ranger under her command temporary leave of absence to mourn her family’s dead dragonhawk. She still didn’t understand why her mother insisted the ranger be forced to remain on duty. It had been peacetime. “It is a curse, to be a ruler among stubborn fools.”

She hadn’t meant it to sound that way - resigned, frustrated, agreeing. Before she could think of a way to throw more hostile words at Jaina’s face, the Lord Admiral eyed her oddly and huffed. “At times. The things we do for our people, I suppose.”

Sylvanas realized very suddenly that she was being entrapped. A dart of panic found her; she didn’t want false sympathy or camaraderie. That would only blind her to deception. She scrambled for words. “Very difficult things, at times. Terrible things that nevertheless must be done.” She glared, daring Proudmoore to make yet another comment about Teldrassil, to reveal just how shallow a ruse this was. She knew it was coming, could see it in Jaina’s face. Something in her cheek was twitching, like the ghost of a smile, a sure sign that she was formulating slander against Sylvanas.

Jaina leaned forward onto her desk. “Were you bored with your paperwork downstairs, Sylvanas?”

It was slander. Sylvanas wanted to lay hands on that soft mortal throat. This was far worse than another jab at Teldrassil. “I did not seek you out because I was bored.

“You just came and stood behind my door, doing nothing, for several minutes, because it was an important matter of state.”

“It is!” She jabbed a finger towards Proudmoore’s smug face. “I am no mere prisoner. It's a matter of dignity. I cannot allow you to forget who you are dealing with.”

Jaina widened her eyes and leaned back. “Wait - wait, Sylvanas Windrunner, is that you?”

“You insolent cur -”

“I could have sworn you were Alleria." She pretended to squint. "But no, you’re - you’re too rugged, you're missing that classical elven beauty thing she has going on.” Proudmoore sighed, as though disappointed. "And not Vereesa, either, you -"

Sylvanas was torn at wanting to bite back at the insult without somehow insulting Alleria in turn. A maneuver she had not been ready to make, and the thought of her sisters made her ability to bite back even weaker. “Do not bring my sisters into this.”

Jaina nodded with a slow blink. “Of course. One should not speak flippantly of those who are in ill health.”

What? Something seized in Sylvanas’ heart, for just a moment. What was she talking about? Had she missed some news? “Is one of them ill?”

Jaina paused, looking straight at her. Her face took on a pall of sadness, and for a moment, a horrible moment, Sylvanas was certain something had happened.

“Oh, Sylvanas. Didn’t you hear? Alleria has a bad case of the Void gibbers.

Defeated, routed, Sylvanas stormed out of the office.

Chapter Text

The incident with the Void gibbers - a name Jaina found rather catchy - proved remarkably enduring in her memory over the next few days, more so than most of her work. She’d thought up that line not long after Sylvanas had used the term while she was scrying on the meeting, and had been waiting for an excuse to use it; seeing it land had been an absurd little thrill. Paperwork blended together, but well-placed jabs in a verbal sparring match with Sylvanas were oddly invigorating.

For better or worse though, Sylvanas seemed almost cowed, unwilling to open another salvo. Not that she wasn’t sniping at Jaina whenever they crossed paths, or scowling at her when they discussed the business of Sylvanas’ meeting schedule, but they hadn’t had quite the same sort of talk in a while. Halfway through a stern, lengthy explanation from her mother about why, precisely, Jaina ought to tolerate the Ashvane’s eldest son being confirmed as heir despite his outspoken resentment against House Proudmoore, she caught herself wondering if she should go downstairs for another round. She could understand why Sylvanas needled her, tried to fluster her. There was satisfaction in seeing someone’s cool break.

Very quickly, Jaina felt uneasy at that thought and tried to shut it down, worried that in the struggle of isolation in this house arrest she might become a sadist, picking fights to sate her need for stimulation. Would she really twist so soon, after less than a month? Never. She would not resort to torment to entertain herself.

But boredom was an issue, and as Baine liked to say, sometimes it was important to let the mind wander so that it may relearn the way back onto its true path. Or something to that effect. And surely it would do Sylvanas some good to remember that Jaina was, in fact, in charge around here. After all, that was what Sylvanas tried to do with her little stunts, wasn’t it? Angle for dominance?

So she marked the letter at the spot she’d read to, briefly checked her scrying gems to make sure Sylvanas was in fact in her office - the banshee queen seemed to be stabbing at a piece of paper with a quill, for reasons known only to herself - and went to fetch herself a mug of black tea in the kitchen. Once she had that, she casually walked over to Sylvanas’ office.

The queen’s surprise was audible in the rapid snap of the quill down to the table. “Proudmoore. Imagine seeing you here. It’s been so long I’d almost forgotten I was living in a prison entirely of your construction.”

“You glowered at me from down the hall the minute I left my bedroom this morning.” Jaina sipped her tea, watching for a response. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to say yet, but Sylvanas had a way of quickly escalating things on her own.

“And I have not seen you since.” Sylvanas picked up her quill and held it as though she hadn’t been stabbing things with it, and contemplated it without meeting Jaina’s eyes. “If you’ve come to trade barbs, don’t. I am growing wise to your wiles, Lord Admiral.”

The word tickled at her. “My wiles.” Jaina didn’t know how to intone that, so she did not.

Those red eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Perhaps you wish me to lose my temper, to justify worsening the conditions of my incarceration. Perhaps you’re bored and dissatisfied with your role as Lord Admiral, and have come to poke at me for amusement.” That stung, and Jaina averted her gaze, wishing she wasn't so obvious. Perhaps she didn’t quite have the upper hand here. “I have a nation to command. My people must be safeguarded. I have no time for you.” Sylvanas gestured at her paperwork. Jaina was not convinced the queen was actually busy, having seen what Sylvanas was doing mere moments ago, but decided not to directly antagonize her on that.

“I’m not here to harass you. I was just thinking - how was Rommath’s cloth problem resolved, in the end?”

Sylvanas’ face tightened. “Rommath is the problem. But he has been silenced.”

Jaina’s eyebrows shot up at the tone. “You make it sound like you murdered him.”

“Quelled, then.”

She swallowed more tea, shaking her head. “That's not better.”

Sylvanas’ eyes smouldered. “Have you simply come to parade your insolence around, Proudmoore?”

“I think you mean my wiles,” Jaina replied with a smirk. It was such an odd term to say, and Sylvanas hadn’t offered her much better yet.

Sylvanas seemed to restrain herself, rather mightily. Jaina thought she saw a bicep bulge with the effort it seemed to take. But when she spoke, her voice was its usual silken smooth. “I was right, wasn't I? Are you bored tending to your affairs of state, Lord Admiral?”

She opened her mouth to deny it, but that was more reflex than anything. It was an easy script. She wondered what would happen if she threw the script out, and actually told the truth. It was an unflattering truth, an unpleasant one, but it might keep Sylvanas on her toes. And it might surprise her. How hard would she bite, if given the chance? “Yes, actually.”

Sylvanas leaned back, considering her. “Your entertainment is not provided for under the treaties we signed.”

“No.” She sipped the tea, enjoying the slight bitterness of it. “I suppose we have to entertain ourselves.”

She kept watching, wondering what Sylvanas would say, and the woman’s very long eyebrows twitched slightly. After a moment, she spoke. “Quite. I can have your mother assassinated.”

She’d almost taken another sip of tea, and spat out a gust of air that sprayed tea up and out the cup back into her face. “What?

“I’m sure that will relieve you of your boredom. It would certainly ease mine.” Sylvanas lazily twirled the quill in her hand. “Besides, I would be doing you a favour. It seems she is a roadblock to your efforts at statecraft at every turn. She strikes me as a woman who was not truly ready to yield power, disrespectful of your office.”

“You -” Jaina rubbed her face dry. “Let’s clarify, first, that there shall be no assassinations.”

“Oh yes, of course.” Sylvanas winked at her, one emberglow eye flickering out for a moment.

Jaina’s resolve hardened. Winking? Too cheeky by far. “I’m serious.”

“Lord Admiral, I am well aware there are listening spells everywhere. My words are as good as public knowledge. I cannot lie in such a forum. No assassinations.” Wink.

It was not possible - simply not possible - that Sylvanas would so brazenly do what she was doing if she genuinely meant to harm Katherine. Jaina tried to steady herself with that thought, but what was she supposed to do instead? She stared at Sylvanas, trying to find a way out of this, desperately not wanting to be winked at again.

Then she remembered a few things Sylvanas had hinted at, had avoided talking about. Perhaps this was an opportunity to expand on some of the odd commonality they’d found yesterday. Suddenly, curiosity seized her. “Actually, on the subject of my mother, I should ask you for, um, advice. Of the non-murderous sort.”

That caught Sylvanas’ attention. Her head tilted slightly, as though she’d misheard. “Excuse me? Advice?”

Yes, Jaina, excuse her? She fumbled with the vaguest of thoughts. “You - you succeeded your mother as Ranger-General of Silvermoon. I was curious about - well - there are some difficulties with that sort of succession, I'm learning.”

A very strange expression came down on Sylvanas’ face, and for a moment she seemed oddly… tired. But her face closed quite soon, all expression vanishing and she shook her head. “I did succeed Lireesa Windrunner in her post, yes.”

What an odd way to refer to one’s mother. “Did she ever. Afterwards. I mean.” Yes, Jaina, what do you mean? “What was that like?”

Sylvanas, to her credit, looked utterly baffled. She blinked, for a few moments - probably on purpose, given her undeath. “Well, I succeeded her after she was killed during the Second War. So it was like nothing.”

Brilliant. Jaina felt like a tactical mastermind had punched her in the stomach and laughed at her. Shame spiked through her chest. “Oh Tides damn it, Sylvanas, I’m - I -” She stopped herself. Apologizing to the Banshee Queen? She clenched her teeth to stop from misguidedly expressing any more sympathy, but the words hovered just behind her lips.

Sylvanas, though, simply continued to look at her as though she’d run in with a chicken on her head. “She died in battle. It was an honor to succeed her. An honor only slightly diminished by the fact that I was her backup choice, after Alleria rejected the post and our mother repeatedly tried to win her back with flattery about Alleria being the best candidate. She later made clear to me that I was not allowed to refuse. Not that I was stubborn about it.” Sylvanas crossed her arms, frowning into the distance. “Are you trying to understand whether it would be easier to rule Kul Tiras if your mother were dead?”

Jaina’s head was spinning. “What? No!

“Because the offer stands -”

“Absolutely not.”

Sylvanas did nothing for a moment. Then she winked, with a flash of glee, and Jaina turned and left. Apparently today was not her day.

Tides, what was that about? Clearly the subject of Lireesa Windrunner was one Jaina should not approach - so much for any hope of relating to the banshee. Was this just a microcosm of many days to come? Long bouts of avoidance punctured by awkward attempts to gain the verbal upper hand? She’d won the last round, but this had not gone in her favour at all, considering how far she'd managed to put her foot into her mouth.

She struggled with that more than she expected. Sylvanas was not deserving of pity and concern, after all she’d done. But Sylvanas had been a living woman when she’d lost her mother - that grief, assuming there was grief, was real. Or had been. It did sound like Sylvanas’ relationship to Lireesa had been difficult, but surely it was not so dire that Sylvanas was happy and cheerful about her mother’s death. She didn’t know how Sylvanas felt about it now, but there was a chance Jaina had accidentally stabbed something more tender than she’d intended.

Not that Sylvanas had any tender parts. Surely. Surely? But it might at least be tactically unwise, Jaina reflected, to leave her simmering in anger.

So, after standing in the hall for a few moments with tea that was only lukewarm at this point, she returned to the office. Sylvanas snapped her head up, though nothing on the desk had moved, and even her large hands were just where they’d been before. “Back for more?”

“Sylvanas.” She stared at the undead woman. “I want to apologize for bringing up your mother. It was thoughtless, I lost my train of - um, thought. I should have known how you arrived at your station in the first place; that must be fairly well-known political history to anyone who’s bothered to ask. And I’m sure you loved each other, even if it was difficult. I didn't mean to pick at your personal scars.”

Sylvanas seemed to watch her, for a long quiet moment, her face unreadable and oddly slack. Then an expression returned to it, an angry one, like a shark emerging from murky water, and she replied in a low and growling voice. “Get out, Proudmoore.”

She frowned. “Excuse me? I just apologized -”

“I am not interested in false niceties or indulging your own self-image as a generous person. Get out of my office.

“You’re impossible!” Jaina did as ordered though, cheeks hot, wildly unsure of how she’d made things worse. She’d simply tried, for once, to be nice. And this was what she got? A nasty, paranoid rebuttal? Of course - she shouldn’t be surprised. Nobody ever took her seriously unless she was threatening to kill them. Trying to be nice to people never paid off.

It was the same damned thing, she realized. A younger, more foolish Jaina Proudmoore, always trying to be nice. Always trying to be conciliatory. And inevitably the Horde would roll over her somehow or throw her kindness back in her face, and Go’el or the Kirin Tor or the Alliance would wring its hands and say how sad things were but could Jaina please not start killing people? And time and again, the only thing that proved to work was might.

Fuming, she found her way back to her office and slammed the mug of tea onto the table. The drawers rattled, including the secret compartment where she kept her scrying gems. After a moment of stewing without really thinking of anything at all, she decided she might as well see what Sylvanas was doing, try to figure out whether she was about to go on a rampage. A part of her hoped that wasn’t the case, but right now her magic felt terribly close at hand.

She popped open the secret drawer, invisible unless she touched it, and found the tray of small slots filled with scrying gems, one for each room in the house. Carefully touching each one gave her eyes and ears into those heavily warded places. Sylvanas had vacated her office, so she was not surprised to find the banshee back in her bedroom; she rarely went anywhere else.

Sylvanas had left the door ajar, and after a moment of pause Jaina remembered that, of course, her own wards made it so that Sylvanas could never close her own door without locking herself in.

Jaina felt another odd pang of guilt. A woman ought to be able to shut her own bedroom door, if nothing else. Being unable to do that must be infuriating. She suddenly felt inclined to undo those specific wards, now that she thought of it; but she was also still angry that Sylvanas had thrown her out like that. Why should she do anything for this spiteful creature?

Sylvanas was kneeling on the floor, carefully sorting through the few objects she had in her trunk. At first, Jaina thought she was choosing weapons, and her heart seized in fear that they were about to fight. But the objects Sylvanas drew out… Turning the scrying gem in her hand let Jaina see the room from different angles, and she adjusted it until she could tell what exactly the arrested queen was doing.

Sylvanas wasn’t doing anything more with the equipment than setting it aside, she realized. The banshee was looking for something, and three objects seemed to draw her attention, objects that she handled more slowly and delicately.

Oh. Oh. Jaina’s brain lit up; she knew that body language. Knew what it meant, to close one’s eyes while handling something slowly. She knew what it was like, to hold objects of personal significance. Had she hurt Sylvanas’ feelings?

Jaina grabbed a scrap of paper and a quill, and quickly scribbled down what she was seeing. 

Necklace. Blue. Sapphire?

Flute? Pipes? Music?

Little white block. Whetstone? Seal?

She paused, looking at the parchment, then scribbled a fourth line.

Nix wards on S door?

After forgetting her traveling pack for a week, she’d picked back up her old habit of writing memos to herself to stop overlooking small things, and she didn’t want to forget these little hints. Lack of sleep might be catching up with her again, but there was something here that bore investigating. She couldn’t forget it.

It was this last item, the little white block, that Sylvanas seemed fixated on. What was it? Whatever it was, it didn’t seem magical, not according to Jaina’s scrying spells. It was just a little piece of carved stone, or maybe ivory or bone, the details of which she couldn’t make out. Sylvanas turned it slowly in her hands, then clenched it tightly in her fist, both hands resting against her knees, her eyes closed. She went quite still, for a long while.

What an… interesting reaction.

What could these things be? Were they related to her mother? Heirlooms of some kind? But clearly Jaina knew too little about the early days of the Windrunner family, and especially Sylvanas, to make any further headway on that line of thought. She hadn’t even known that Sylvanas had succeeded her mother on her death, nor that Alleria’s rejection of the post had been fraught. She could have put two and two together - she knew Lireesa was dead, she knew Sylvanas had succeeded her - but perhaps her own situation had clouded her, made her assume there was a deliberate hand-off. Not so.

She thought of asking Alleria. But while she liked the eldest Windrunner well enough, they weren’t all that close. Vereesa, though… It had been a while since she’d spoken to Vereesa; since before Orgrimmar, in fact. Long enough that she was starting to feel guilty for ignoring a friend. Jaina often had business in Dalaran, or if she didn’t she could make some. She resolved to pay her friend a visit, and make some inquiries about family history.

She felt an odd thrill, watching Sylvanas simply stare at the little block before carefully putting the objects away. She had provoked something - not entertainment, but something useful.

And yet, at the same time, that rush of guilt returned even stronger, prickling unpleasantly along her forehead and her nape. She’d just needled a woman over her mother’s death, accidentally or not, and had immediately run off to spy on her moment of vulnerability.  Jaina dropped the gem as though it were hot. Tides, who was she becoming?

Then she scowled at herself. She was a jailor, a warden. She was not supposed to afford her prisoner privacy. Certainly not Sylvanas Windrunner. She could be as curious as she wanted.

Curious?

In a frustrating, unpleasant stew of emotions directed as much at herself as at Sylvanas, she stuffed the list of notes into her robe pockets and started furiously sorting correspondence on her desk. She had a great deal of business to attend to, and she’d wasted precious time and energy on a bored excursion to her enemy’s lair. She would talk to Vereesa about this, and shouldn’t think about it until then. It was a mistake, she realized, that she hadn’t looked into Sylvanas' psychology and history at all before this. All this was was a reminder to be more diligent, and that Sylvanas, no matter how amusing she might be in moments of foolishness, was not a jester running around the house for her own entertainment.

After a time Jaina’s mind ceased plucking at those threads, especially once she’d finished reading the latest letter from her own mother. Katherine had given her a whole new set of things to be frustrated about regarding the Ashvane heir situation. She threw the letter aside to deal with later in the evening, and moved on to a series of naval demarcation disputes between Kul Tiras and Zandalar that were more coldly mathematical and topological in nature.

By the time she returned to her mother’s letter, it was approaching midnight. A candle had burnt out, and Jaina was trying not to reach for a stamina potion as she replied, though she could tell the difficulty of putting down her thoughts was not entirely the fault of how vexing Katherine Proudmoore could be.

She looked outside, at the dimming lights of Orgrimmar, and saw a light in a distant house flicker out. Most were already dark. A few more minutes, and another one went. It looked almost inviting, a promise of rest.

She scowled. She had to finish this letter; just this one. So she scribbled and scrawled her way through a response of the elder Proudmoore’s complaints, and signed off.

And paused.

And heaved a tired sigh. Underneath her signature, she added a few extra words. 

Mother, despite our disagreements, I sincerely appreciate your insight and your help. With love, Jaina.

 


 

Sylvanas was not a mage, but she was a creature of magic, her soul bonded magically and imperfectly with her mortal remains. And hers was a particularly strong sort of bond. So she sensed it, when a magical spell went off in the confines of the house around midnight, long after Proudmoore had retired to her room.

This was not an unusual occurrence. Sylvanas had quickly learned the archmage was prone to using magic for all sorts of small things. She paused, waiting for consequences, but nothing happened. It had to have been Proudmoore, or one of her artifacts. It bothered Sylvanas not knowing what the archmage was up to, but so often she hid her spells from view and nothing seemed to come of it, so it was likely something uninteresting and mundane.

Sylvanas was particularly inclined to pursue this now, though. She felt she had grieved her mother and moved on; elves, long-lived as they were, were experienced with grief, at least in certain contexts where death was expected. And her relationship to Lireesa had always been… difficult.

How else could you describe a relationship with a strict, demanding mother who ushered all her daughters into the military, that they might follow in her footsteps? Who, when her eldest refused the mantle she’d been groomed for, desperately and forcefully thrust that mantle upon her second daughter in a bid to maintain some control over the unravelling of her careful dynastic plans? How else could you describe a relationship to a mother who had, in her harsh rule over Windrunner Spire, united her daughters in a mutual pact of self-defense and self-parenting? Who had inadvertently thrust Alleria into an auxiliary maternal role for Sylvanas and Vereesa?

Not that Lireesa was an entirely cruel woman, no. Not that their years weren’t laced with unexpected moments of joy or comfort; not that she hadn’t stood by her daughters when pain came from outside the family; not that she hadn’t loved Lirath, loved him so much she always deferred his admission to any military training, even if he wanted to follow his sisters. She’d been complicated. That was all.

Sylvanas had long moved on from that complicated relationship. Or at least had stopped thinking about it. Or at least tried to stop thinking about it whenever she did remember something about it. Or focused on other things so she didn’t get a chance to think about it. At any rate, she was not at peace with the memories, but they no longer dogged her as actively as they once had. She could sustain a few insults and jabs on those old scars.

But Jaina’s apology… that, she had not been prepared for.

That had hooked and torn something inside her. It suggested that her old pain mattered, was worth concern and care. To someone else. Which was impossible, which went against everything she knew to be true about how the world thought of her. And the reminder of that very impossibility was deeply cruel, and now she felt raw.

Quiet as a sabrecat, removing her boots to walk silently on bare feet, Sylvanas snuck through her house. Her house. She shouldn’t be sneaking.

And yet here she was, following the faint, dwindling sense of magic. The house was full of the stuff, and she usually paid it little mind unless she needed to, but she could sense it in the vaguest way if she cared to pay attention. Something to do with her soul being magically attached to her body, rather than naturally, a lich had once told her. Either way, it led her all the way to Proudmoore’s bedroom door, which would likely be the end of the fruitless hunt.

Except that to her surprise, the door hadn’t been shut. It would be simple for her to push it open and enter, yet there was no glow of light in the room. She peered inside, trying to sense a trap, mundane or magical. All she sensed, though, were the faint echo of a simple spell.

She could have ignored it, as she had many times before, but she was intent on striking back at Proudmoore and banishing from her head the idea that Sylvanas was a soft wounded creature that needed gentleness. The fact that the room was accessible was too unusual to resist. She didn’t trust this. Something was going on here. Some scheme to control her? She had to know.

If the archmage had cast a spell, surely she was awake?

Very well then - there was no use being sneaky. She stood up to her full height, pushed open the door in as dramatic a way as she could, and declared, “What magical nonsense are you up to now, Proudmoore?”

She waited.

Silence.

She frowned. Proudmoore was there, in the bed. Sylvanas did not need much light to see that. But she was… sleeping?

“Proudmoore?”

Nothing. She stepped closer, her concern deepening. Was this an illusion, perhaps? Something to trick Sylvanas into believing Jaina was sleeping here peacefully, while she was, in fact… off slaughtering Forsaken? Plotting further emotional manipulation with Vereesa?

She knelt beside the illusion. That seemed most likely. An illusion, skillfully cast to replace the archmage just as she disappeared. If anyone could make an illusion that could fool Sylvanas, surely it was Jaina Proudmoore herself. She waved her hand through the illusion -

The side of her palm struck Jaina solidly in the face, and Sylvanas was so shocked she recoiled. She had absolutely not expected the woman to really be there.

Belore, what was going on?

“That - that didn’t wake you up?” She spoke in a completely normal volume, right in front of Jaina’s face. “What -”

She prodded Jaina’s forehead. Nothing. She lifted an entire arm in the air. Nothing. Was she dead? For a moment Sylvanas panicked - because if she was dead, the wards would self-destruct, and Sylvanas would be, as Jaina delighted in saying, vaporized, her body and form so scattered there would be nothing to attach a soul back to. But no, Proudmoore was breathing just fine. She looked, for all the world, like she was sleeping.

So how had she cast a spell, if she was asleep? Unless -

Sylvanas’ eyes strayed to the empty potion vials in a holder on the shelf. Clearly marked - stamina potions.

Why would a mage use stamina potions… unless she was very tired?

Why would a mage be tired, unless she couldn’t sleep properly?

Why would a mage cast an incapacitating sleeping spell on herself, unless even staying up late into the night ruling a distant island nation was not enough to tire her into exhaustion? Unless she couldn’t sleep by any other means?

Jaina Proudmoore was giving herself insomnia somehow, and this was how she managed it. By using stamina potions during the day, and at night, a spell mages normally used to disable enemies in combat.

This was it. This was her chance.

Without even thinking, Sylvanas rushed back to her room and flung open her trunk. No daggers, no. No arrows. No weapons, no violence, at least not yet.

She drew out a casing of spare bowstrings and moved back to Jaina’s room faster than she could think. She knelt down by the bed and pulled one of the bowstrings out, and reached for one of Proudmoore’s hands. It would be a simple thing to do - tie her hands together, tie her feet together, gag her, and then wait for the sleep spell to wear off.

What would she do after that? Who knew. But she would suddenly have leverage. She would finally have the power to do… something. A power this woman was denying her.

Was this not a perfect moment, a glorious lapse in her enemy’s judgement?

She knelt there, loose bowstring in one hand, her other resting on the skin of Jaina’s wrist.

This revelation, this vulnerability, should be cause for glee. She ought to feel elated - a weakness, exposed! This was better than anything she’d found in Proudmoore’s travelling kit, or through her probing remarks. She couldn’t kill the woman in her sleep without being vaporized by the wards, no, but surely she could use this somehow. Sleep-addled mortals were notoriously prone to errors in judgement, and this was a serious one.

This should be a triumph.

Instead, she remembered the boredom she’d professed had brought her into Sylvanas’ office; she remembered that apology, the look on Jaina’s face as she'd made it, and Sylvanas felt a rotten, desiccated sort of pity instead.

She looked down at this sleeping woman, and found her almost peaceful. Her hand wrapped around Jaina’s wrist, and it was soft and mortal and would bruise and even bleed under the tight coil of bowstring Sylvanas should be tying around it. Her face was tired, vulnerable, slack; it would twist into ugly rage and pain when she woke up. Here she lay, at Sylvanas’ disposal, because she was stubbornly forcing herself to do her duties as Lord Admiral and as warden, even when every ounce of her flesh refused to cooperate. She was fighting hard, and it had led her to foolish mistakes.

Why couldn’t Jaina sleep? How consistent was it? How long could she keep magically waking herself up and putting herself to sleep before deeper exhaustion caught up with her?

Sylvanas realized, after a long moment, that she was staring too intently and too closely at the sleeping human’s face. That her grip around Jaina’s wrist had softened. That she didn’t want to wrap bowstring around limbs or throat.

She dropped the string in her hand to the ground and backed away. What was she thinking? This was it. This was her chance.

Unless… Unless Proudmoore continued making such mistakes. What if she woke up, saw that her door was open and that nothing had happened, and started to trust Sylvanas more? That could be useful. What if she did it again, or worse? Sylvanas could exploit this in the future, instead.

She wasn’t even sure what she would do, was she? How did she know Jaina wouldn’t somehow vaporize her, scattering her body and her soul to dust in a blinding storm of holy Light that would purge undeath itself from her corpse and prevent even the Val’kyr from fixing her?

These were all good reasons not to do anything. Very good reasons.

She thought of tightening the bowstring around Jaina’s wrists until they bruised, and the confused, shocked distress on Jaina’s face if she woke up that way, and she felt ill.

She retreated from the room, brought her case of bowstrings back to her trunk, stashed everything away. Grazed a finger against the pale white seal of the Ranger-General of Silvermoon.

Well. Perhaps there were other, more productive, less hostile nocturnal adventures she could get up to. Slowly, as though a creak in the wood might awaken some demon inside her own mind, she crept back into Jaina’s room once more.

She lit a candle, this time, and looked around. So many things she could do here, but one thing that stood out was Jaina’s prodigious bookshelf, set up on the wall across from the foot of the bed. Sylvanas went for these, and started perusing, trying to calm her nerves by focusing on the words. Most of the tomes were historical and magical in nature; none of the spines revealed anything that might hint at Jaina’s condition, or at whatever schemes she was surely concocting to get her hooks deeper into Sylvanas. Clearly Jaina had hidden her first-edition copy of Manual of Weaponized Apologies well.

Sylvanas’s fingers grazed the spine of a slim book and pulled it out; it was a novel of some kind, titled The Princess of the Rosebed, and embossed on the cover was a silvery image of a fair maiden in a rosebed, looking wistful, as though the title weren’t clear enough. Curious. Part of her wanted to skim it, but the last time she’d read a novel she’d been… well, young enough that she didn’t remember it. And it would be tactically useless to read something that surely only held sentimental value. Instead, she picked up a Kirin Tor tome on rituals of binding, labelled as for use against dark creatures. A very reasonable choice.

She sat down in the chair, a few strides from Jaina’s sleeping form, and glanced at the archmage. Still senseless. So foolish. So weak. So… it galled her, somehow. She shook her head and started to browse the tome. She ought to know what her opponent knew of her, what skills she might try to deploy. Tactics, Sylvanas.

Partway through skimming a chapter on demonology - useless, truly - she began to wonder if this was an act, too. Jaina Proudmoore, hero of the Alliance, would not forget to lock her bedroom door. What if she was trying to make Syvlanas feel at ease? What if she was trying to pretend that she was vulnerable, trying to encourage Sylvanas to dull her senses? What if this was actually a test - to see how domesticated Sylvanas had truly become?

The apology could play into that, give Sylvanas a false sense of the woman’s softness, even though Proudmoore had proven herself extremely deadly.

Sylvanas’ eyes darted to the shelf. What if all the books on this shelf were fake? Filled with misleading lies designed to trick Sylvanas into false understandings of the magic that bound her? She stroked the paper, but who could say how realistic a true archmage’s illusions might be?

There was no way to know, was there? Absolutely no way to be certain. Perhaps the bowstring was the only thing that might save her, right now. Or perhaps that, too, was accounted for in the plot. How to escape a plot she couldn’t truly fathom? She could pretend to be fooled, do the expected thing while thinking unexpected thoughts, and watch Proudmoore play her hand too early. See what trap she would try to spring, when she finally thought Sylvanas had grown soft enough.

As if Sylvanas Windrunner, Queen of the Forsaken, would ever grow soft in the presence of Jaina Proudmoore.

She shook her head, and after a moment kept reading. It might also not be an illusion. Jaina would not be the only one unable to sleep properly, after all. And the exhausting demands of leadership… they had discussed these. Sylvanas understood how that might wear on a mortal body.

Or was that understanding the very thing Proudmoore was preying on?

It was about halfway through the book that the section on the binding of the undead began, and this was where Sylvanas truly tried to focus, tried to shove aside the fears eating at her brain. The rituals here were not all familiar to her, compiled from many of Azeroth’s cultures as they were, but as they read through them one by one, she did not find any that felt particularly threatening. Some of the Vrykul rituals intrigued her more, for obvious reasons, but -

“Sylvanas?”

She did not jolt or jump, but she did look up.

The window revealed a sky beginning to blush with dawn - she’d been skimming the book a long time, longer than she thought. Or her thoughts had spiralled, unnoticed. Or Proudmoore had put herself to sleep later than she’d realized. Either way, Proudmoore was sitting up in the bed right now, dishevelled, wearing a remarkably thin nightgown and an utterly shocked expression. 

Well. This was not what she had intended.

“You broke the wards.”

Sylvanas frowned. “You left the door open, you half-wit.” She cursed herself silently - she should have said she had broken the wards. Should be keeping her warden on guard.

Jaina blinked. “I wouldn’t do that.”

She raised her eyebrow. The truth, too, should put Jaina on her guard. “Proudmoore, do you have no confidence in your own work? Your wards can hold me unless the doors are open. Is that not true?”

Doubt seemed to cross the human’s pale face, and she rubbed her bleary eyes. “I… did I leave it open?”

Sylvanas calmly put the book on the side table, stood, walked to the door, and closed it. Then she turned to make direct eye contact with Jaina and yanked meekly at the handle, just the way Jaina had with her own trunk of valuables. “Look. I can’t open it. I assume it’s warded so that only the blackest, deadest heart -”

“All right, Sylvanas.” Proudmoore scowled and looked away, pulling the blanket closer, and Sylvanas genuinely tried to open the door. And could not, obviously. Oh. She tried not to let it show in her body language as Jaina spoke. “What were you doing in here, besides borrowing my books?”

She turned back to face Proudmoore’s bed. “Truthfully?”

“No, banshee, lie to me.”

Sylvanas responded without thinking. “Watching your hideous face as you slept, wondering how to ensure I never saw it again.”

Jaina looked at her warily. “I told you to lie.”

Sylvanas said nothing, watching. She trusted her own instincts. Even if, sometimes, she didn’t know what in Belore’s name they were doing. After a quiet moment, Jaina groaned, and she relented. “I sensed a spell. I came to see what nefarious schemes you were up to.” She didn’t need to mention the bowstring. She pointed at the rack of empty stamina potions. “You cannot sleep, can you?”

Jaina’s eyes were creased and reddish in the dim light, and she rubbed them as though reminded of how tired she was. “Clearly I sleep fine.”

“Unaided?”

“Not always.” In the haze of waking, a state Sylvanas remembered only in theory, Jaina looked away as though Sylvanas had chastised her. After a moment though Jaina turned to face her on the bed, her nightgown billowing a bit as she crossed her legs. The flutter of fabric caught her attention; a flash of pale skin made her immediately look away, up to Proudmoore’s face. Focus. “Are you going to gloat, Sylvanas?”

She grit her teeth. She was going to pretend she was fooled by this obviously staged vulnerability, wasn’t she? Let Proudmoore’s plans unfurl, ready to be nipped away whenever Sylvanas chose. “No. I have not slept in years. At most - well, not sleep.”

Jaina frowned. “At most what?”

She pressed her lips together. She didn’t need to play the role this well. “Meditation. In a sense. Quieting my thoughts. If I… lock my mind down, hone it on the edge of certain simple thoughts, it can rest. Even if my body does not need it.”

“Oh.” Jaina’s eyes narrowed, in drowsy suspicion. “Are you… relating to me?”

“Absolutely not.” Sylvanas crossed her arms. “We are nothing alike.”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “No, we’re certainly not monarchs who inherited positions of power from our overly strict mothers and watched our cities burn at the hands of cruel and petty men, who know we’re each responsible for the other’s monster, and who are now struggling to lead nations through the medium of paper while living in a house with someone we can’t trust.”

Sylvanas felt a sudden, pressing urge to escape this room and this archmage’s gaze, and she reached for the door. “Yes, and we both set fire to Teldrassil, did we? Don’t mistake me for a soft fool you can manipulate with pretended empathy, Proudmoore. I am not queen for no reason.”

Sylvanas yanked on the doorknob, and the wards held, and the doorknob clacked slightly. She froze, absolute and utter fury crawling up her spine.

Jaina simply stared at her. “You’re stuck in here, aren’t you.”

“I am not stuck- ”

“Oh you prideful dimwit -” Jaina stormed out of bed, shivering in her nightgown even as she reached for the door and swung it open. “Get out!”

Sylvanas stamped her foot and squared her shoulders. “You will not order me around in my house!”

Jaina’s eyes boggled, and her voice sang despair. “Are you insisting on staying in my bedroom now? You were just trying to leave!”

The gall of this woman, throwing her words back at her like that. Sylvanas’ mind raced, knowing only that she did not want to be told what to do by this human, all other thoughts blotted out by that need. “I’ve yielded enough. You will watch your tone around me -”

Jaina groaned loudly and tugged at her own hair as she walked to the reading chair, and Sylvanas felt a momentary flash of satisfaction and the sound, until Jaina started talking again. “What do you want.”

“Freedom for the Forsaken.”

“Granted, at the cost of your own. I mean what do you want from me? Right now? Why are you not letting me just wake up in peace?”

She crossed her arms. She didn’t actually want anything, but she was loath to be chased away with words. “I want to know what you’re planning.”

“Sylvanas, I knock myself to sleep at night with combat spells to get a bare minimum of rest, and I drink stamina potions to make up the difference.” She was so… odd, this morning. Tired, but in a less aggressive way. It almost gave Sylvanas pause as Jaina rubbed her eyes again. “What I’m planning to do is survive long enough to keep you in check and un-vaporized, which I would think was in your interest. Just… can we work together on this?”

Sylvanas didn’t know what to do with this. Everything she learned and saw about Jaina made it harder to understand what, exactly, the archmage was up to.

But she had to be up to something. Everybody was. Nobody wanted to suffer the Forsaken to live.

Jaina looked at the book Sylvanas had placed on the end table. She’d placed it open, face down, so Jaina knew exactly what she’d been reading. A foolish mistake. The archmage simply looked at her and sighed again. “Don’t you want this to work, Sylvanas?”

“I don’t want to be imprisoned.”

“No, I mean… this scheme. You agreed to this, to save the Forsaken from a Horde civil war, to defeat the Old God - hell, to spare your own unlife. You know what the alternative was. Don’t you care?”

Her back tensed. She would not lie about this - not even for the sake of throwing off her opponent. “Yes. I want the Forsaken to be safe from destruction.” And from the thing that awaits us, after that.

“Then why are you so…”

As she trailed off, Sylvanas supplied the simple, obvious truth. “Because I know nobody else wants us. At all.” Jaina looked at her, quietly, for a long time. Breathing. After the first few breaths, the sound rasping into Sylvanas’ ears, tickling at the skin of her, she squared her shoulders and met Jaina’s eyes. “You see? You haven’t denied it.”

“I have no desire to kill your people, Sylvanas. You can have peace.”

“But you don’t want us to exist.”

Jaina looked uncomfortable, and shifted in her seat. “I’d never thought of it in those terms. You exist. It’s just been a question of whether we work together or apart. And for a time, we did work together. I was…” She frowned. “I was happy that you fought with us at Icecrown, Sylvanas. It made me think that, maybe, Arthas’ crimes could be… I don’t know. Not washed away. Healed?”

Healed. She’d thought the Forsaken could be healed. “The Val'kyr managed some of that. For those whose corpses were still intact.”

“I don’t just mean your bodies, I mean your souls.” Jaina was looking at her very seriously, as though she had the slightest idea what a soul was, as though she’d ever had it torn from her body and flayed. “That he hadn’t corrupted you. Not irreversibly. That you’d kept hold of your honor, or grief, or… something more than hate.”

The thought stirred pain in Sylvanas. As it was probably meant to. She quickly narrowed her eyes, tensed up, refusing to be hurt. “Whatever you may have thought, we remain an abomination in the eyes of almost every people of this world. The living would rejoice to see Tirisfal scoured clean and resettled.” Sylvanas averted her gaze, looking at the rows and rows of books chronicling Azeroth’s magical histories. There would be little mercy in those pages. “We are not even a people to you, a people with homes and hopes. I do not believe you wouldn’t be happiest if there were no Forsaken, Proudmoore. Setting aside our convenient resilience to the Old God’s will.”

Jaina slowly rose, though she simply stood in front of the chair in her pale blue gown, rubbing her arms. “I would be happiest if you were… alive, Sylvanas. I visited Kael’thas in Silvermoon, once. I remember you on parade, I remember seeing you in a place of honor. It was just some banquet, but still, I could tell you were… I don’t know. Seeing you this way - knowing what I let happen -”

Sylvanas didn’t want to hear another word. She saw echoes of girlish pleading on that face. She knew exactly what seeing Sylvanas this way reminded Proudmoore of. She turned and left the room. Stormed down the hall. Slammed her own bedroom door shut. Fumed.

How dare she dig up Sylvanas’ life like a common graverobber. How -

She stopped herself. She was losing. Proudmoore had gotten under her skin, exactly the way Sylvanas shouldn’t have allowed her to.

Very well. Regroup. Reorient. Reorganize.

She knelt quietly, in her room, and reached back, far back, for the exercises she learned so long ago to calm her mind. Visualization. Thoughtfulness. Remembering the motions, the sensations, of maintaining her weapons, stitching her clothes, digging and setting up camp.

Slowly, quietly, she knit together her armor, honed her edges, sharpened her eyes. She would be ready to face another day. She had another meeting with Voss, a discussion with Geya’rah in person to follow up on the Lordaeron border and to sound out the mood on this Horde Council, and she needed to speak to dark ranger-captain Delaryn Summermoon, if only to hear through her whether there was more word from Nathanos and his spy network. She had work to do, and she would do it with poise and triumph.

She stood, made to leave the room -

And the wards held the door firmly shut.

Proudmoore!

After a moment, a quiet voice came from the other side of the door. “Are you stuck?”

Sylvanas closed her eyes and swallowed her pride. “Yes.”

The door creaked open, and Jaina was standing there.

Holding the loose bowstring in her hand.

The one she hadn’t put back in the box. The one she had dropped to the ground. The one she hadn’t used, she hadn’t used it, why did Jaina have that look on her face if she hadn’t used it -

“What is this?” Jaina hefted it. “Some kind of threat?”

She yearned, for a moment, to deny the accusation. Because that wasn’t true - it was slander, it was an insult to her character, it was a base judgement of the Sylvanas Jaina thought she knew. As though she had done it with calculated malice and evil. As though she did everything with calculated malice and evil.

But she yearned to embrace the accusation, too. Because that was a story that made sense, it was a story that did not expose her moment of stupid indecision, it was a game they both new how to play. And if the world thought her a calculating monster, was that not permission, in a way, to be exactly that?

“It is.” She struggled mightily. “A little demonstration. Of what I am.”

Proudmoore stared at her, long and hard, no longer drowsy or hazy in half-sleep. “I assume you could have tied me up somehow. Hoisted me to the rafters and let me hang there, alive but unable to do anything. Something like that?”

“I suppose that would be one way to do it.”

“Gambled that I would break under torment before I allowed myself to die. Gambled that you wouldn’t get vaporized by the Light to the point where your body couldn’t possibly be reclaimed.”

It almost felt like more of a gamble that she hadn’t done such a thing. But what was she gambling on, if that were the case? “A survivor must sometimes take risks.”

“Hm.” Jaina handed the bowstring to Sylvanas. Then, absurdly, she extended her two hands in front of her. “Tie my wrists.”

Sylvanas blinked. This was absurd. “What?”

“Tie my wrists. Like you were thinking of doing.” Jaina raised an eyebrow. “Come on. We’ve got a day to get on with, after this.”

What kind of ploy was this? After a moment of staring, Sylvana decided that curiosity would win the day. There was no other way to understand the bizarre demand. Slowly, she wound a length of the string around Jaina’s wrists and bound it together, then started wrapping more of the string around the wrists.

Jaina was watching intently. “My hands.” She clapped her hands together, palms pressed against one another. “I could shoot a fireball out of my palms, even with my wrists bound.” Of course she could. Sylvanas hesitated, suddenly realizing she hadn’t quite thought of this. “Tie my hands together too. Loop between the fingers if you have to.”

Gingerly, she did this, trying to weave the string between Jaina’s fingers, lacing them together and pressing her palms against one another as she did. Inevitably, this meant touching her skin, feeling her living warmth, and the memory of how she’d felt when she’d imagined bruising Jaina’s wrists flooded her again and she loathed every moment of this, every touch, because somehow - somehow - Jaina was making Sylvanas tie her up and was, in that very process, showing Sylvanas just how far she had fallen.

She finished off the string with a knot, as good an attempt as she could make to keep a mage’s hands sealed and clasped shut. Jaina made a gentle humming sound as she tried to pry her hands apart and failed. Then she nodded, and stepped back, and met Sylvanas’ eyes.

With a sudden flare of magic, her hands simply caught fire. It was an uncontrolled burn that seemed to bleed out from between her palms, but the effect was almost immediate. The bowstring burnt and curled in ash and fell from Jaina’s hands in seconds. She shook her free hands briefly, little ember-glowing bits of ash flicking to the floor, all the while keeping her eyes on Sylvanas’ face.

Sylvanas stared. Belore, but she hadn’t thought of that, why hadn’t she thought of that? How often had she held mages hostage - well, not that often, not directly, usually someone else did it on her orders - but surely that should have been obvious? Surely -

Jaina took a sharp intake of breath. “You didn’t know.”

Sylvanas paused and looked at her. “What?”

“Your face, Sylvanas.” Jaina pointed at her. “You thought that would actually work. You wouldn’t have just left a message if you thought you could actually win.” She cocked her head to the side, her golden eyebrows furrowing beneath her gold-streaked silver mess of bedhead hair. Her voice curled slowly, creaking like massive, steady timber around this question. “So you weren’t sending a message. You thought you had me. But you still didn’t do it. Why?”

Sylvanas stared back at her, increasingly uncomfortable, as she tried to think of a way out of this. A way to say something that was convincing. A way to say something that didn’t reveal anything dangerous. Why, indeed?

Well, was she pretending to become compliant? To be domesticated? She was pretending to be weak so that Jaina would not suspect she was still calculating and hard and sharp on the inside. Surely she couldn’t say that, then. She had to say something else. Something that was a lie, but that Jaina would think was a truth. Something that appealed to the fault lines of Jaina’s mind.

She steeled herself for what should have been an easy lie to tell. “I pitied your sleep troubles. How your duties crush you. It seemed a cruel thing to do.”

Jaina simply stared at her for a long quiet moment, before rubbing one hand absently against her other wrist. She sighed.

“Okay. Well. I’ll order you some new bowstrings.”

Her warden left her, then, and all should have been well, because Sylvanas was still ahead, her sharp fangs and daggers were still concealed, because she’d hidden her true stratagem from the archmage’s prying gaze behind an absurd, ridiculous lie.

Hadn’t she?

Chapter Text

At first, after the incident with the bowstring, Jaina had been nervous that consequences would reveal themselves, that Sylvanas would prove to be, in fact, plotting. But as days and nights came and went, Sylvanas only proved oddly merciful. She did not mention it again, did not appear to make any threats, nothing of the sort. Not even any bad jokes.

And now Sylvanas was the one person who actually knew about Jaina’s sleeping problem. Person; yes, that seemed appropriate. Sylvanas knew, and reasons that did not appear malicious, she had decided not to jam her claws into the issue and use it as leverage. What a strange, unexpected thing.

Nobody would believe Jaina if she told them, either. Jaina was almost certain of that. She imagined they would dream up some kind of plot - just like Sylvanas would . But she’d seen the look on the elf’s face, and she felt confident that it was a genuine mercy of some kind. That Sylvanas had pitied her, or in some way felt bad for her, and decided to stay her hand. She worried that was foolish, but she struggled to hold on to cynicism at this point.

Had she not seen Sylvanas’ reaction when they’d spoken about Lireesa Windrunner? There was something raw there, something personal. Had she not seen the way Sylvanas retreated to her personal belongings, almost ritualistically? I pitied your sleep troubles. How your duties crush you. Had she not seen the ways Sylvanas was crushed by her own duties? There was something in Sylvanas that was wounded, or afraid, or maybe even alone.

And whatever it was, that part of her had held back as stood over Jaina’s sleeping form with a bowstring in her hand. Something had stopped her, something that was willing to give Jaina a chance at… Kindness? Respect? Mercy? Could she reach that part of Sylvanas again - intentionally, somehow?

She wasn’t sure how. Once, as Jaina was going to bed, she caught Sylvanas watching her before she shut the door. That ought to have been an unnerving experience, but the look on the banshee queen’s face was oddly… subdued. Not hostile. Was she thinking about Jaina’s insomnia even then? Was she pitying her?

Strange as it was to admit, Jaina felt something of a relief that somebody knew what she was going through. Go’el reminded her every so often to take care of herself, but she preferred he not pry too closely at her struggles. She certainly couldn’t talk to her mother about this, who would no doubt tut and fuss about it and only make it worse. She didn’t talk about it to anyone else; why should she? She had a lot to do, and she was managing.

It wasn’t even a problem, Jaina tried to remind herself. Everybody slept poorly sometimes; and unlike some people, Jaina Proudmoore had a great deal of work to attend to. Kul Tiras wouldn’t run itself. She was maintaining correspondence with mages and shamans and practitioners from around Azeroth; the world was compiling intelligence and lore on the dark city of Ny’alotha, as they attempted to find the gate to N’Zoth’s realm. She was corresponding with Alliance leadership, briefing them on her status. She was fuming over a brief letter from her mother, demanding they speak in person about the Ashvane situation. She had a great deal to do, and sleep cut into that work.

A letter from Vereesa was also among her pile today, though, and caught her eye - or perhaps thoughts of Sylvanas made her ignore the other letters, until one showed up with the name Windrunner on it. It started with a short summary of the Silver Enclave’s efforts to redeploy for the coming battles, but it quickly veered personal after that, and Jaina’s heart warmed a little as she read Vereesa’s slightly loopy handwriting.

Now regarding my sister: I hope she is not treating you horribly, but I can only imagine how difficult this has been for you. Despite everything, I know your heart resents the coldness the world demands of us, and which no doubt frosts my sister’s every word to you. I want to give whatever I can to warm your spirits in this wretched task. I feel responsible for all this, in a small way. My sister can be a difficult woman. How much of that was sown in our youth together? How much of that was tended to by my own mistakes, in these last dark years? Not the bulk of it, but not nothing. And now my friend is paying for it. I wish I could help.

Please come visit me in Dalaran. You are always welcome in my home, and I wish to see you and know with my own eyes and ears that you are well! I have missed your friendship of late. If there is anything at all I can do, let me know right away. If there is nothing I can do, come and help me finish a bottle of wine or a case of tea leaves, and I’m sure I’ll think of something. I can have Arator watch the boys, if you’d like a more quiet afternoon.

With love & friendship,

Vereesa

P.S. I was referring to Sylvanas. Admittedly, some of what I said might apply to Alleria as well, but that seems less relevant. Unless you’ve imprisoned them both? Do tell!

Jaina snickered and set the letter aside for a moment. What could possibly have crossed Vereesa’s mind to suggest that Sylvanas had been anything other than completely unbearable? Perhaps that was a performance of a sister’s hope, nothing more.

But Sylvanas could have been so much worse, considering their circumstances. And she was clearly tempted to be, at times - the bowstring wouldn’t have ended up in her room otherwise. But lately her insults were petty and mild, and she did not respond to everything Jaina did with immediate hostility. It was a small improvement, and with some of what they’d spoken of lately, Jaina was beginning to think there was more to be uncovered down this road.

What Sylvanas said about the Forsaken… Nobody wants us.

Jaina had thought about that, too. It was a strange thing to say, tactically. If Sylvanas didn’t really believe that, if it was a ploy as Genn or Baine might suggest, what would such a lie gain her? Pity? Sylvanas did not strike Jaina as enjoying pity, even for tactical purposes; Sylvanas may be manipulative, but she was not one for appearing weak. If anything, her lies tended towards bluster and performances of strength and power and intimidation. Jaina didn’t think Sylvanas really understood the potential value of being seen as weak.

But if she really did believe she was fundamentally unwanted… it might explain a great deal. If it was true, it might be a genuine, sincere glimpse into why the woman did what she did. If Sylvanas truly believed in whatever heart she still had that the peoples of Azeroth wanted to see her people extinct, wouldn’t she be looking for a plot under every corner of every rug? Would she not see this all as part of a larger, quieter ruse to isolate and dispose of her?

Of course, she was wrong. Nobody wanted the Forsaken destroyed outright.

Well, except Tyrande, and the kaldorei more generally, after what had happened at Teldrassil.

And Genn, of course, along with most of Gilneas; they would only tolerate the Forsaken insofar as the Forsaken were willing to abandon their claims of ownership in Lordaeron, which few were willing to do.

Disciples of the divine Light across many disciplines generally did not like the undead, and were uneasy with the Forsaken as a result.

Druids certainly didn’t like undeath either. Nor shamans, for that matter. Maybe they were not inclined to extermination, but they would at least rather the Forsaken quietly fade away.

She’d heard grumblings that many orcs and trolls of Orgrimmar certainly didn’t want the Forsaken here , even if the idea of them was not an issue. Couldn’t they move somewhere else? Back to Lordaeron? And they were, but the refugee’s return would be many months away, if not years.

Which brought to mind the living refugees from the fall of Lordaeron during the Third War. Many of them still dreamed of cleansing that place and returning, and pushed hard for the Alliance to reclaim it at every turn. What, exactly, were the Forsaken who lived there now supposed to do? At the very least they would be displaced.

Not to mention N’Zoth, who obviously wanted the Forsaken properly dead.

She blanched at the thought that so much of the Alliance, and even the Horde, might be in agreement with an Old God on this.

Was Sylvanas right?

Jaina shook her head violently at the thought. Of course not. There might be grains of truth to her paranoia, but from those grains Sylvanas built conspiratorial castles of sand. Possible motivation did not mean certain guilt, far from it. If only Sylvanas could see that.

Or… maybe she could. Why else would she think she had the drop on Jaina, and decide not to attack? Was it the weakness itself that Sylvanas believed, more than anything Jaina could say? She might not understand the power of being seen as weak, but perhaps that power worked on Sylvanas herself even so.

As she mulled over Vereesa’s letter, Jaina took a break from her correspondence to spy on her charge, because clearly she was getting nothing else done with her brain at this point. She checked the schedule first, though. She wanted to know that Sylvanas was actually in a work meeting, and not… weeping over her dead mother, or Tides knew what else she did when Jaina wasn’t looking. Jaina was growing increasingly uneasy about spying on the more private moments, which seemed a ridiculous feeling - but did she really need to spy when there weren’t politics afoot?

Luckily Sylvanas was scheduled for a pre-approved standing meeting with Lilian Voss. She was the queen’s most common visitor under house arrest, but there were others often enough. It was work, Jaina knew, maintaining one’s rule even if it was diminished. Work that was necessary in order to maintain their bargain with the Horde, and particularly with the Forsaken: your Queen, who has fought for you like nobody else would, will be spared and will continue to speak for you. Work that weighed on said queen, to some extent or another.

Jaina closed her fist on the scrying gem tied to the office, curious to know what kind of work her captive was conducting now. Knowing that Sylvanas could apparently detect magic to some degree had gotten her in the habit of obfuscating her activity by using decoy spells; she quickly opened a portal to a hillside near Boralus, waited a few breaths, and closed it again. Whether Sylvanas would know exactly what it was, she couldn’t say, but she’d rather the banshee think she was gone.

The scrying wards whispered echoes into her mind as she focused on the gem.

“My Lady, they’re doing exactly what they promised. There have been no retaliations, aside from a few drunken brawls.” Voss’ guttural voice was remarkably calm and patient, though it wasn’t a patience of great depth, Jaina could tell.

Sylvanas, by contrast, was sharp and sly. “Drunken brawls? Was there a pattern to them?”

“Not that we could tell.”

“Investigate the others involved. They could be agents fomenting ill will against the Forsaken. We can’t have -”

“We do not have the Horde’s spies at our disposal anymore, not beyond the reports that are given to me.”

“But we have the Forsaken’s. Has Blightcaller continued to be uncooperative?”

“He has been more diligent in forwarding me a minimum of his reports. We may have Blightcaller’s menagerie of walking corpses, but there are limits to what reconnaissance and social deception a walking corpse can pull off.”   A creak of a chair. “We have no reason to believe they mean us any further harm, now that your escalations of violence have ended.”

Jaina winced, knowing full well how Sylvanas would respond to that. And yes. “You dare - I have been defending us, drawing out our enemies -”

“You’ve not been drawing them out, Dark Lady, you’ve been making them. I am your voice and eyes and ears among the Horde. Should I not then tell you how we, in turn, are seen? Or should I tell you nothing I have learned?”

“We are under threat, Voss. No place has been made for us in this world but the one we’ve made ourselves. We may be useful - temporarily - because the Old God’s creatures fear Death, but what will happen after that?” Jaina felt, once again the echo of Sylvanas’ earlier words, her frustration. Her paranoia, her fear. She leaned forward on her desk.

“That depends, my Lady, on how we account for ourselves in the meantime.”

A gentle pound of fists on the table. “You think anything we do could convince Greymane to suffer us to exist? Let alone Whisperwind. The fact that she has vanished concerns me deeply, and should concern you as well. We have no idea where a strike could come from.”

“Very well, my Lady. If you’re concerned about a plot, we can add deathstalkers to the retinue at your house. Observe Proudmoore more directly, through mundane and magical means. She does it to you, she ought to expect it in turn. We could even make her sign an agreement.”

Sylvanas paused. “Why? Do you suspect something of her?”

Jaina frowned, and Voss seemed equally confused. “Why not? She’s closer to you than any other Alliance agent.”

“She -” Sylvanas stopped again, and Jaina moved to the edge of her seat, listening. It sounded like the banshee was composing her words. “I do not have reason to believe Jaina is a threat at this time.”

Jaina’s brows furrowed even more. Sylvanas didn’t think she was orchestrating a plot? Voss seemed to reach the same conclusion. “My Lady, it almost sounds like you trust her. What, exactly, has prompted this change of heart?”

Jaina realized then, with a lurch, that Sylvanas had called her Jaina . She never did that to her face. Her mind started racing, but Sylvanas stopped it cold in its tracks. “She is more compromised than she appears.”

Jaina scowled. Oh, of course. It wasn’t a change of heart at all. The banshee was just going to start telling everyone about how Lord Admiral Proudmoore stumbled through each day in an insomniac haze. Wonderful.

“Compromised?”

Sylvanas shifted on her seat, and the chair creaked slightly. “You do not need the details, Voss. I am inclined to believe she is not in a position to plot, not in any dangerous sense. Remember, I am also closer to her than any of our agents at this point. She is fallible and limited in her own ways.”

Jaina wondered whether it would be worse for Sylvanas to point gleefully at her insomnia in explicit terms, or simply imply her stupidity by omission. Jaina was plenty capable of plotting! She grit her teeth as Voss measured her words carefully. “Fallible enough for you to escape?”

“No, she’s too good a mage for that.” Sylvanas chewed those last words out with audible effort, and Jaina snorted in amusement. Clearly the queen had complicated feelings about this. “I am worried about larger, organized political threats. Keep an ear out for the kaldorei, Voss. I am concerned by the disappearance of the Army of the Black Moon. And pay attention to the weaker Horde leaders as well, for good measure.”

“Hm.” After a moment, Voss seemed content to move on with the conversation. “Speaking of Go’el, the orc has expressed that he wishes to meet you both in the near future.”

Sylvanas smirked, and Jaina wondered if it was the first time Voss had gotten that reaction out of the queen. “What for?”

Jaina wondered this as well - what for indeed? She hadn’t heard of this. Sylvanas paused. “I cannot possibly imagine, my Lady. He’s been poking his nose around Council asking what people think about the future of your situation. Perhaps he wishes to discuss with you two the principles of building a happy family life under one roof.”

Sylvanas’ palms came down on her desk. “If you are quite done with actual matters of concern, Councillor Voss, you may go.”

“As you wish, my Queen. Please give my regards to she who is your closest companion these days."

“Out!”

Jaina placed the gem back where she’d got it. She smiled at Lilian’s barbs, even if they were not for her benefit. Closest, perhaps. Companion? Ludicrous. But the thought that Sylvanas didn’t think her to be a threat was… it wasn’t exactly nice, if it was the result of a judgement on her insomnia, but there was something satisfying about it nonetheless. Some little give, some concession, that seemed to come from the same hidden thoughts that had stayed Sylvanas’ hand during Jaina’s accidental moment of vulnerability. She took a few moments to breathe, then thought.

Sylvanas did not overtly suspect Jaina of anything - or, if she did, she also suspected Jaina of eavesdropping and was putting up a false front. Hard to say which, but Jaina was not as inclined as she once was to think that Sylvanas was conniving. It was possible, yes… but it was no longer the only possibility. Maybe she genuinely didn’t think Jaina was a threat. Which would be miraculous, because it was true, and Sylvanas seemed to have a hard time with the truth.

Maybe truth wasn’t so easy for Jaina, either.

She shook her head, trying to imagine what Sylvanas was actually thinking, not just what she performed. Sylvanas suspected someone was trying to eliminate the Forsaken, or plot their demise, or… something. She seemed unclear herself on what the plot was. Why, exactly? Surely not due to a few drunken brawls. The Forsaken were not short on enemies, but Lilian was right; many of those were enemies that Sylvanas herself had made for them. Had she done so, as she saw it, because she was fishing for hidden enemies? And so what if she had? She had restarted a war between the Horde and the Alliance. Paranoia could not excuse or justify that; but it might explain it.

If Jaina bought into this line of thought, it might be that Sylvanas saw the Alliance as a whole as one great tool in the service of those who would destroy the Forsaken. Lordaeron refugees and the Gilneans would have been her prime suspects before the War of the Thorns. If that were the case, hitting the Alliance with a critical opening volley made some sense, if she thought she could overpower them then and there. Was the former Ranger-General overzealously heeding the old military wisdom that the best defense was a good offense, letting paranoia get the better of her?

That was one possibility.

Another was that Sylvanas was simply evil and mad with power, a cackling storybook villain who enjoyed inflicting death and pain for its own sake. That idea didn’t sit easily with Jaina, not anymore, but it was a loud and familiar idea nonetheless.

But if that wasn’t true - if Sylvanas was actually being defensive, trying to protect something in terribly misguided ways - there might be value in showing her there was no threat here. Deliberately. In trying to make her feel more at ease. How could she do that? What options were available to her, without letting Sylvanas out of the house?

Well… she wasn’t inviting Sylvanas into her bedroom, that much was certain. But perhaps there were other ways to seem less threatening. To be more vulnerable. Perhaps that would put Sylvanas in a mind to talk to her more openly. She’d been surprisingly open the morning Jaina had woken up with her in the room, compared to previous interactions.

And if trying to walk that path actually yielded results, maybe Jaina could take that as a sign that the cackling-villain theory wasn’t quite right. Maybe it would give her insight into the banshee queen’s mind, more than she’d already gleaned.

Her thoughts returned to Vereesa’s letter, and to the artifacts she’d witnessed Sylvanas handling. Those, too, were insight - but insight she was not able to interpret. If anyone could help her with that, surely it would be one of Sylvanas’ sisters? She put the letter on the top of her stack; yes, she would take up Vereesa’s offer, see her old friend, and gather some intelligence on Sylvanas while she was at  it.

Thinking of tea with Vereesa reminded her that it was late afternoon, which reminded her that she was hungry. She hadn’t eaten since… breakfast? Heading to the kitchen might mean exposing herself to Sylvanas; Jaina had felt oddly uncomfortable doing that so far, during meals, and had avoided eating in front of her. Perhaps that would be exactly what was needed, though - a show of vulnerability, even if it was only something as tiny as hunger. A mortal need, not unlike sleep.

Besides, she couldn’t just hide in her room eating conjured pastries and charcuterie all day. That was a retirement plan, not a way to solve problems.

So after carefully putting away the scrying gems and locking away the compartment’s wards, so that it looked once more like flat, unbroken teak instead of an entire drawer, Jaina stood up and went to go get herself dinner.

 


 

A creak on the stairs alerted Sylvanas to Proudmoore’s arrival on the ground floor. She scowled. She hated not being able to close her own door - even as a child she’d mostly been allowed to close her own bedroom door - but at least it let sound carry more clearly from the rest of the house. She had almost gone and dug up her keepsakes again, a foolish habit she was falling into more and more often whenever things weren’t going her way. Voss had left her with the thought of family, and after recent conversations that topic seemed raw. She removed her hands from the trunk’s lid, so that at least she wouldn’t have anything in hand for Proudmoore to exploit.

It wasn’t as though she actually slept in her bedroom. It wasn’t as though this felt like home . Even the Undercity hadn’t felt like home, and that was before, in a moment of panicked fear that the Alliance were on the brink of beginning their genocide of the Forsaken in earnest, she’d paraded herself around the throne room and unleashed the Blight to try to buy her people time to escape slaughter. It was no home at all, now, even though she’d left quite a few personal effects there in its lethal murk. But as she stepped away from her trunk, she felt the urge to delineate and protect this space, despite the bare walls and the unused bed. It was all she had. So she steeled herself, in case the archmage decided to poke her nose in here.

But Proudmoore did not come to gloat or harass her. It simply didn't seem to be the woman’s style, no matter how much Sylvanas expected it; at most, she foisted on Sylvanas a few fairly mild provocations that seemed more aimed at entertaining Proudmoore herself, or misguided attempts to find common ground. She did not descend on Sylvanas with strictures and accusations either. It would be easy for her to do, after what had happened with the bowstrings; but all that had happened was that Jaina had, as promised, procured her a rather fine set of new bowstrings. Which Sylvanas was not going to use, because she wasn’t shooting anything these days. But it was still a gesture. Sylvanas had spoken true to Voss; something about the idea of Jaina as a scheming manipulator just wasn’t adding up. Other theories were starting to seem more likely, and that made her… curious.

Between her curiosity and her sudden urge to make sure Proudmoore did not invade her dominion over this tiny speck of house, she decided to seek the woman out preemptively, before she showed up here. She found the human in the kitchen, of all places. Slicing bread. 

Obviously Jaina must eat, but Sylvanas had yet to see it happen aside from tea, which she assumed was an emotional affectation and not actual nourishment. The sight seemed strange, even though it was patently anything but. It felt like a calculated move, but to what end? She let her mouth run, which usually served her well enough. “Have you decided to mock my inability to taste the food of the living?” Usually.

Proudmoore, admirably, didn’t startle; she simply sighed and turned around, waving the serrated knife around like a scholar’s pointing aide. “Not everything is about you, Syvlanas. I’m hungry.”

Proudmoore was right, of course. But Sylvanas found she enjoyed the exasperation in her tone. Perhaps this would be a good little sparring match; the thought of it already put her more at ease. This was a dance she knew. “A likely story.”

Jaina narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “Yes? Yes it is likely. It’s been a long day!” She turned back to her bread. “I’ve been reading and writing for hours. My fingers are cramped, I’m tired, and yes, believe it or not, I’m hungry. Anduin writes very long letters. He needs to learn to be concise.”

Or perhaps that was not the evening's dance. She felt a little thrown off guard at having Jaina list a series of complaints to her like that. Since when was she her warden’s confidante? “I have suggestions for solving your Anduin letters problem.”

“How many of them don’t involve murder?”

Sylvanas grinned, being sure to show fangs. “You think so ill of me, Proudmoore. I was simply going to suggest hiring an assistant.”

Jaina set aside the knife and actually looked at Sylvanas, for a moment, as though trying to decide something. “That’s actually not an awful idea. I could probably use help.” She quirked her lip. “I knew there was more to you than murder.”

Sylvanas didn’t know what to do with that. Did Jaina believe it? She watched puzzled as the archmage dug through the cupboards. It sounded sincere. But it was not the kind of thing people said to Sylvanas. Perhaps that was the point - to unsettle her, to mock her. She wouldn’t allow it, and decided to press her advantage. “No need to flatter. I know I am just another monster to you.”

“I’m not so sure you are.” Jaina finished spreading a fruit preserve on the bread, and took a bite, crossing her other arm across her chest and leaning against the counter to watch Sylvanas. A bit of the jam stuck to her face, and by its deep red Sylvanas guessed it was cherry. “I’m not sure what to think anymore.”

Sylvanas’ back straightened. Again, Jaina sounded sincere, which made this all the worse. What was her angle? “Spare me the sympathy. I won’t let you slip past my guard, Proudmoore.”

“So you are on guard, then. I suppose that's understandable.” She finished chewing a bite of bread, apparently not noticing the jam. “What if I want to help?”

“Help?” Sylvanas could hardly believe it, the word ringing in her head like it had been struck on a gong right beside her ears. “ Help? After you place me under arrest in a tiny house, abolish my seat of power, cut me off from my people -” Sylvanas slammed the bottom of her fist into the doorframe, and Jaina seemed to steel herself. “You would never help me. You took away almost everything I am.”

“I’m sorry Sylvanas, are you just a long list of political offices, military ranks, and war crimes?” Jaina’s cool blue eyes narrowed. “I’m trying to talk to you like a person. I know you’re not a fool, and that you understand the difficult situation you put everyone in. And -” She seemed to bite her tongue for a moment, lips uncertain, still not noticing the jam stuck there. “And I know you did what you did because you were trying to protect your people. You did. I believe - that.”

Sylvanas was briefly frozen by those words. Nobody - not even anyone among the Forsaken - had said that out loud in quite that way. As an interpretation of what she’d done. Did Jaina actually… believe her? It sounded as though she didn’t think Sylvanas had been right , but it also sounded as though she thought Sylvanas was sincere . And it sounded like it was difficult for Jaina to admit that, even to herself.

She shook her head. She was doing it. She was letting Jaina get under her skin. She wanted to attack this irritating, bread-munching little human. She was being manipulated by a woman with a smear of cherry jam on the left side of her mouth. This was beneath her dignity. “I did. Because I understood that the Alliance can never be trusted -”

“You let me sleep.”

She froze. She had done that, yes. And Jaina hadn’t mentioned it at all, not until now. “Yes. I am not a monster.”

“You’re not one to pass up an opportunity either, Sylvanas. If you seriously thought I was a threat, you wouldn’t have passed up the chance.” Jaina’s hand was trembling slightly. “You saw that I was just tired and struggling. And you were right! This is hard, and there's so much to do, and I'm just - it’s -” For an absurd moment, Sylvanas thought Jaina was going to cry, that the red in her eyes wasn’t just exhaustion but a deeper pain, and the thought paralyzed her with something extremely uncomfortable. What in all the hells would she do if that happened? Then Jaina took a deep breath and saved her from that particular fate. “Look. Can you help me? And I’ll help you? Can we make an - I don’t know - a trade?”

Help her? What? Sylvanas felt bewildered, unprepared for whatever this was. Jaina was clearly struggling, yes. Why should she want Sylvanas’ help, of all people? “What exactly do you want from me?”

“I think my life would be easier if we… got along better. So. What do you want?” Jaina gestured at Sylvanas with the slice of bread. “Setting aside the international treaties that bind us. I’m not letting you out of the house. But you are, in fact, a ruler who cares for her people, aren’t you? And I understand the difficulties of ruling from afar like this. I do. It’s not easy for me; I may have to sleep, but I’m also allowed to leave, and most people aren’t out to get me. It must be bad for you, too. So ask me for something you need. Tell me what you want, I’ll do what I can, and maybe we can make this a bit better for both of us.”

Sylvanas crossed her arms. She feared Proudmoore would deny her everything when push came to shove, no matter how reasonable she wanted to seem, but there was no point in holding back, was there? And the weariness in Jaina’s voice was convincing, somehow. “I want a thorough investigation of the brawls instigated against Forsaken refugees in Orgrimmar.”

“Done.”

She blinked. “What? Proudmoore, you’re an Alliance lackey. Orgrimmar's authorities -”

“Report to Go’el, now that he is the orc Councillor.” Jaina’s face turned slightly bitter, as though cherry were not to her taste when it clearly was. “My old friend. I’ll have a chat with him.”

Sylvanas hummed, sensing a little more behind the words. Very well, though. It was a minor concession, one Sylvanas could not even control. “And the reports should come to me. And I want Forsaken involved.”

“That goes without saying. I’ll get Go’el to speak to your captain Delaryn, too.” Not Voss. A curious choice. Another bite of jammy bread, more sustained eye contact. What was going on in that little human head? “I know you don’t like Voss.” Oh; she would know that, wouldn’t she. “What else do you want?”

Her mind raced to some of the day’s work. “I want to see military reports on the triangulation of the gate to Ny’alotha.”

“Are you not already getting those?” Jaina frowned and shrugged at her. “That would be frustrating. Done, of course. I’ll append a note to my letter to Anduin that he should send you copies. We’re supposed to have an intelligence sharing agreement. What else?”

More? Her mind kept racing. “I want a regular, standing meeting with Delaryn, instead of having to beg each time I want to speak to the dark ranger-captain overseeing the house watch. I see them just outside the house on patrol and it infuriates me that -”

“Done. Entirely reasonable. You already have one with Voss, after all. What else?”

Proudmoore was toying with her now, pretending magnanimity. Sylvanas would not be made to seem the fool here for not asking; but she would find something Jaina would refuse her. It would be simple. “There are records from the Windrunner estate being held in Dalaran. I would like copies. Of all of them.”

Jaina stared at her, and Sylvanas felt a flicker of triumph. So this was personal, then. Jaina would refuse a personal request, because despite what she proclaimed, Sylvanas existed only to be a figurehead -

“Done. I think.” Her blonde eyebrows furrowed behind a loose lock of white hair. “I’ve had tea with the master archivist of Dalaran several times. It should be possible. I just don’t know how long it will take.”

She clenched her teeth. She didn’t even know what she would do with the records. Burn them, probably.

Jaina kept looking at her. “Anything else?”

Sylvanas stared right back for a long, quiet moment. “I want to speak to Nathanos Blightcaller.”

That made Jaina truly pause. Sylvanas was under no illusions about Nathanos - he was as rabid a dog as Greymane, but he was useful to her and, by extension to her people. Rabid loyalty was a useful thing; she had mentioned to him, and nobody else, the darkness she’d encountered after leaping from Icecrown. He was the only one she could trust not to spread rumours or disbelieve her or demand more information or run off and make his own plans about it. He was also the master of Sylvanas’ spy network, which would finally give her access to the Forsaken intelligence that Voss had been so dismissive of. Intelligence and agents. They could get things done at a reasonable pace, if they could actually have conversations, rather than spending days waiting for messages to pass between intermediaries.

Jaina reached for the knife and sighed. “I will arrange meetings on an as-requested basis.” She dipped it into the preserve and spread some on another slice, as though mocking Sylvanas. “I understand you need your resources. You should understand that a man who has had a hand in assassinating and blackmailing and thieving to such a degree, who’s known for turning people around in their heads, won’t be allowed to come and go as he pleases. And I’m going to remind you that you could be under observation at any time. But I’ll give you one meeting. We'll see how it goes.”

Damnable woman. That concession was more than she'd expected, and should have made her feel better, but instead it only made her feel like she was failing to understand what Jaina was doing. Like Jaina was catching her in some kind of honey-trap. Why offer her so much? Why ask? Why pretend to care? She didn’t actually care about Sylvanas the person, the woman behind the titles and offices and so-called crimes. She couldn’t. Nobody did, except maybe Alleria. And even if Jaina did, she couldn’t truly give Sylvanas everything she wanted.

“Is there anything else you want, Sylvanas?” Jaina’s initial hard determination had softened into something else, as if she wanted to offer something more than pure logistical boons. As if. “I can help.”

Sylvanas steamed away quietly for a moment or two scowling. She wanted a great many things, but so many of them had been taken long ago. She would never get them again, no matter who was offering. “I want to enjoy the taste of Thalassian suncrown pastries again.”

Something slowly widened in Jaina’s eyes, and for a moment Sylvanas gazed at it. And for that moment, that horrible moment, she felt like she was seeing mirrors in the black of Jaina’s eyes, framed in blues of glaciers and meltwater; like she was seeing how herself was seen. And it was unbearable to look at.

Sylvanas turned and fled. She didn’t need to hear it. She returned to her room and slammed the door shut -

Like a bloody fool.

She wanted to scream, but she held her tongue. This was torture. Her house - really, this was just a prison, shape be damned. She’d had enough pity for one night; she would pound on the door to be let out later. She leaned against the windowsill, looking out across the Valley of Honour below without seeing it, pressing her eyes shut and wondering just how badly she was doing right now. She squeezed the wood of the windowsill in her hands, the resistance slightly distracting her mind. She didn’t know how to deal with any of this - this was not territory a ranger or a queen was made to navigate. It was bewildering and disrupting.

People didn’t look at Sylvanas that way.

Pastries. Belore, what had she been thinking? Nothing, apparently.

Perhaps she would find surer footing once her mind stopped grasping at straws and finally uncovered whatever the current threat actually was. Nathanos could help illuminate the state of the plots happening outside the house. Perhaps that concession would soothe her mind, in the end. She scratched idly at the wooden window frame, wondering if she should pull out a dagger and start carving at it. She looked forward to that meeting, if only to quell her sense of treading water. Perhaps the investigations would turn something up. Perhaps… things would change. They had to. Nothing lasted forever.

A knock at the door. She ignored it; she didn’t want to talk to Proudmoore or even look at her.

Impetuously, the door opened anyway, and Jaina’s voice rippled into the space along with it. “Sylvanas. I was thinking, earlier, that I should really remove the wards on this particular door.”

Yes.” Sylvanas hated how gratified she sounded at such a pittance, and remained facing the window so Jaina couldn’t see it on her face. “That is, indeed, another thing I want.”

The archmage didn’t respond, but there was a rustling of robes, and Sylvanas risked a peek. Jaina was on her knees, fiddling with lines of blue power that were suddenly aglow and visible under her touch. They flickered one by one into shimmering dust, and vanished as she broke the wards. Sylvanas was surprised, but tried to remind herself that it was a small enough courtesy, the least Jaina could do. It was no sacrifice on Jaina’s part. It was pure appeasement.

Jaina stood straight and nodded at her, remaining near the door. “I know it’s the least I could do. I’m… sorry I didn’t think of it sooner.”

She looked embarrassed, and the words arrived in Sylvanas’ mouth before she quite knew they were coming. “Thank you.” She twitched.

Jaina’s lip quirked, at exactly the spot where the deep red jam was still sticking, Belore, was she totally unaware? “You’re welcome. Everyone deserves to be able to shut their own door. I mean - everyone deserves -” She seemed to grow flustered, for the obvious reason of the very unpleasant territory she was stumbling into, and Sylvanas watched her bumble. “Well, you deserve this and I can give it to you, so.”

Again with that sincerity. She hated it. She didn’t know what to do with it. Why couldn't Jaina just insult her like a normal person? How did you lock horns with someone who was being helpful and apologetic? “You’re too cloying, archmage. I don’t trust it.”

Jaina’s face hardened, and she shook her head. “Well you wouldn’t trust me if I were harsher to you either, would you?”

“No.” Sylvanas bared her teeth, partly at Jaina and partly at the spectre of fear being invoked. “I would not.”

“Then I don’t think the issue is with me, Sylvanas.”

And she left Sylvanas alone with that thought, returning to the kitchen.

This was a new kind of battle, one Sylvanas did not feel equipped to fight. She didn’t understand the stakes, or the motivations. She wasn’t even sure what it would mean to win. It was clever, assigning a strange creature like Jaina to oversee her house arrest. She was not an easy read. Her motivations were opaque.

The thought that she genuinely wanted to help was… well, it fit what seemed to be happening in this moment. In this house. But it was so patently absurd, so obviously wrong.

Although… What had Voss said to her? Are you going to keep looking until you find something that confirms what you’ve already decided must be true?  Something like that. Was she doing that, now? Deciding what must be true or false, and evaluating the evidence in that light?

Sylvanas didn’t know what to do with that thought, but she padded after Jaina back to the kitchen. Jaina turned to look at Sylvanas, again, and the Banshee Queen froze without anything coherent to say, without any arrows in her quiver. She wanted… something. But she didn’t know what, didn’t have the words. After a moment of taut silence, she managed to get something out.

“You’ve had jam on your face since you started eating.”

Jaina blinked and rubbed her mouth, on the wrong side.

Sylvanas gestured. “No, the - the other side.”

Jaina got it and seemed to redden, and after a moment of what Sylvanas could only interpret as panic, she rubbed a nib of bread against her sticky hand and then ate it. “This whole conversation, huh?” She spoke awkwardly around the morsel.

Sylvanas raised both eyebrows. “More or less, yes.”

Jaina swallowed and grimaced, looking away. “Thank you.” She sighed. “More proof that I’m a clever scheming agent pretending to look like a fool, I imagine?”

“No. Nor an actual fool, really. I -” The next words stabbed her in the throat on the way out, but Jaina was watching now, waiting for that last sentence, and damn her for even starting it. “I simply should have mentioned it sooner.”

And she stiffened, because saying that felt strangely painful and disorienting, and she turned to leave the kitchen again before Jaina could recover enough to say anything about it. Closed the bedroom door. And, tentatively, opened it.

It did open.

She slammed it shut again. Pointedly.

Chapter Text

The sea and the Sound around Boralus were familiar, but in a distant way that forced Jaina to truly feel just how long she had been away. Known to her, intimately tied to her childhood, but far removed from the life she had grown into.

Would that she were here under better circumstances. But she was still the Lord Admiral, and she’d become increasingly tangled in an argument that her mother was now determined to solve in person. So instead of enjoying fried fish from portside merchants or watching ships come to life in drydock, she played the part of Proudmoore, walking the walls of Proudmoore Keep with Katherine Proudmoore who, despite yielding her Lord Admiralty, remained the matriarch of House Proudmoore. Jaina listened, trying not to interrupt, to the tale of why exactly Katherine had done the exact opposite of what her Lord Admiral had requested.

“So you see, it isn’t that simple. The boy is the legal heir by their own laws, Jaina. A request for recognition in the eyes of the Lord Admiralty is a formality. You can’t simply deny him rule over House Ashvane, certainly not over words. You would be overturning centuries of practice.”

“Mother.” Jaina tried to measure her words, but was having a difficult time, clenching her fists for the sake of her sanity. “It is a formality, but it is also the law. The Lord Admiral has the right to refuse.”

“Of course you do, legally.” Katherine turned to her, her hands firmly clasped behind her back, her grey hairs severely bound and pinned back towards the back of her skull. “Nothing I have done changes that.”

“You officially recognized him in your capacity as head of House Proudmoore.

“Which is not the same as the Lord Admiralty.” Her mother smirked fractionally. “Legally.”

“It may as well be, according to centuries of practice! You're undermining me; if I go against you now, I cause a public rift.”

Her mother sighed deeply, looking out over Tiragarde Sound. “Jaina. Why are you so concerned about forcing this? I believe I’ve made clear that he is no threat. His family’s fortunes have been diminished dramatically, and he is inexperienced and has not cultivated a strong network. Do you not think I can handle an impoverished, isolated Ashvane whelp?”

Why was she so concerned? Jaina revisited the letters in her head. The start of this conversation had been a simple remark from her mother, and an equally simple remark from Jaina. The new heir for House Ashvane seeks your blessing, Katherine had said. I must decline, and request they find someone who hasn’t publicly slandered my family, Jaina had replied.

Six or seven letters later, increasingly angry - despite an overture of daughterly affection - and here they stood.

“Mother. I am trying to ensure a lasting peace for our people, and the Ashvanes nearly ruined us and have shown little remorse or contrition.”

Katherine’s face twitched. “I want peace as well. Do you know the mood of the people, now? Do you know how recovery efforts are going, how badly they want to move on from these last months' trials? I do not mean whether you've read reports. I mean do you know.

Jaina gritted her teeth. “I can’t be everywhere at once. But I know danger when I see it; I’ve dealt with plenty of bad people over the years. He may not be a threat now, but in a few decades a great deal can change.”

“And in a few decades I may not be here anymore, and you will still be bound to a prison warding Sylvanas Windrunner.”

The tone in her mother’s voice stopped her, and Jaina turned to face her fully. “Excuse me?”

Katherine blinked. “Is that not what the treaty said? That she is to be bound and watched indefinitely? I saw no end specified in any of the legal documents.”

“Is that what this is about?" She tried not to think of the first part of that statement. She knew her mother was nor immortal. But to think of it now, when she still seemed so obviously stubbornly alive... "You don’t trust me with my office - the office you gave me - because I’m far away?”

“It isn’t about trust, Jaina. You are clearly a competent woman, with valuable perspectives. This is about the basic logistics of rulership.” Her mother’s voice was stern, but there was a pleading crease to her aging brow, and she looked out to the Sound with a hint of sadness.

“Mother, you yielded -”

“I thought you’d come home.” Katherine shook her head. “I thought you’d been too afraid to come home. I thought that, after what happened in Thros, perhaps a fear that had kept you away from your people might be eased. Or at least controlled. I thought perhaps we could finally mend things - and to give someone responsibility often forces them to rise to the occasion. Which I know you are capable of, Jaina. But you left once more to save the world. A Lord Admiral’s place is on the seas and in the Sound, not fighting wars across the globe with foreign forces. Traditionally, if not by law.”

She searched her mother’s eyes, looking for the slight, the suspicion, the betrayal she’d been greeted with when she first returned after so many years away. But she found instead motherly consternation, frustration, and exasperation. And worry. “You think I can’t do all of this.”

“You are a hero, Jaina.” Katherine seized her arms. “I know you are, and I know, despite what others may say, that the faults of other governments you've led have largely not been your own. This is not about your integrity as a person or a ruler. This is about the fact that one person can only do so much. Can you rule Kul Tiras and prosecute wars across Azeroth and stand vigil over Sylvanas Windrunner? You are one woman.”

“I’m managing fine -”

“Jaina.” Katherine sighed, and started fishing for something in the inner pocket of her jacket. “Tell me what this is.”

Her mother handed her an envelope. The seal was the Lord Admiral’s, her own, and it was broken. She frowned, and fished out the paper, unfolding it to read an annotated letter. “This is the letter you sent me three days ago.” Jaina frowned. “Where did you get this? Why is it in an envelope with my seal on it?”

Her mother raised a stiff white eyebrow. “I don’t know. You sent it back to me like that.” She traced a finger over the marks Jaina had made in the margins. A few of them were angry scribbles, first draft thoughts on how to refute or deny some of the suggestions her mother had made.

Jaina paled with embarrassment, all of a sudden, realizing what must have happened. “I - clearly I made a mistake.”

“Yes. That is obvious.” Katherine fished the letter from her hands. “You mailed me my own letter back, instead of your reply. Which I assume you were composing, given the copious commentary you wrote for yourself in the margins. I will admit, at first I thought you’d become too angry to respond properly, but there’s too much sketching and rephrasing here for it to be meant for anyone’s eyes but your own.”

Jaina leaned against the balustrade, looking out upon the Sound. Clenching her fists. How could she have done something so foolish? She’d sent this two days ago, and had received a very curt invitation to speak in person in response. Now she understood why. “Tides. That’s embarrassing.”

“Embarrassment serves no one. It may be quite human, depending on your circumstances.” Her mother leaned next to her on the stonework. “Have you been sleeping well? Drinking?”

“What? Not drinking. I get enough sleep.”

Her mother shook her head, and heaved a slow sigh. “If your parents are anything to go by, the problem is either in your cups or your bed. Or both.”

That self-deprecation was oddly flattering, though not in the most pleasant way. Jaina sighed, glad she only had half her parents’ apparent weaknesses. She wondered which of them had struggled with which - or whether it had been both. “I suppose it’s sleep. I must have put that envelope together well after midnight. And you know me, I wake at dawn.”

Katherine’s voice was quiet, and she was looking at her thoughtfully. “Why not rest earlier?”

“Because there’s so much -

Her mother smirked slightly. “As I’ve been saying.”

She didn’t miss the implication. And she had thought similar things herself, after all - how well had her rule of Theramore gone? Her rule of Dalaran? And here she was, trying her hand at statecraft again, and still she was splitting her attention between this and so many other things. So many… larger things. For all that she felt horrible thinking it, and would not say it out loud.

Her mother went on. “Take a rest, Jaina. No endless labour does not benefit from a pause. I will handle things on your behalf for a week. Then you can -”

Jaina spoke before she could think about the offer enough to accept it. “What if the mistake is Sylvanas? Not Kul Tiras?”

Katherine leaned back against the balustrade. “Somebody needs to lock her up, if not kill her. It is not what I would have chosen for you, you did choose it yourself, knowing what else you already had on your shoulders. I've seen enough of the woman you've become to know that holding Azeroth together in a time of crisis... something of it appeals to you, Jaina. You have always been a daughter of the world. I saw it in you before you’d ever left Kul Tiras. The way you buried your nose in books of history and learning, the way you asked questions.” She sighed, gesturing behind them, to the open sea beyond the walls of Boralus. “The way you looked at the sea, Jaina. You loved it, as you should, but you looked on it differently. Not like a stage for you to perform on, but as a thing to be crossed. I suggest, rather than ask me, you think deeply about why you've chosen the paths you have.”

Jaina thought back to her childhood, as much as she could, and tried to remember looking upon the sea that way. She remembered, yes, wondering what was across it. Wondering what those places and peoples were like. Wondering how to reach them. And the excitement of finally being sent out to learn the answers to those questions.

“It pains me to think that this might not be for you; yet another mistake I have made. And I wish it were not so.” Katherine looked down at the water. “Perhaps that is why I offered you the Lord Admiralty. A vain hope that you’d travelled enough, sown your oats -”

Mother! ” She blanched, but Katherine seemed unfazed, picking at the cuffs of her jacket.

“But you left almost as soon as you arrived. I don’t believe the world is done with you, Jaina, and I don’t believe you are done with it, either.”

She rested her elbows back against the railing. “So, what then? Do you want to be Lord Admiral again? Or Tandred? Is that where this is going?”

Katherine huffed. “Jaina, you are the Lord Admiral. That means you should do what you hope is best for Kul Tiras. That is what guided me, when I stepped down and passed the position to you. And I hope that is what guided you when you accepted it. I am not flawless, that much is clear; perhaps I misunderstand the best way to rule. Perhaps a more hands-off, distant approach allows the nation to thrive more freely on its own. Perhaps being in the thick of international affairs will give you valuable perspectives I shall always lack. I am telling you what I see, and I hope that is worth something. But the good of Kul Tiras must always be your guiding question.”

What was best for Kul Tiras? She had a duty to the office of Lord Admiral. People expected things from her, looked up to her. And she had experiences other Lord Admirals had not had. This was a chance for things to go right.

But it was also a chance for things to go badly wrong.

“I need to think carefully about how I’m handling the office,” she finally said. This was a difficult set of problems, but there must be a way forward. Her mother had put faith in her, after all; if Katherine had known exactly how to rule, she wouldn't have yielded the post. “I may need to rethink how I am spending my time, if I want to be a proper Lord Admiral.”

Katherine nodded. “There is no hurry. Shall I handle correspondence? For a week?”

The thought of suddenly being plunged into ignorange made her wince. Would she ever catch up, after that? “Handle it, but send me reports.”

Her mother narrowed her eyes. “That is extra paperwork for me, dear daughter.”

“I need some kind of mooring to the outside world, mother." She tried to smile, despite how tired she was feeling. "You’re not the one keeping a lonely vigil over Sylvanas Windrunner.”

The head of House Proudmoore huffed again, standing up from the balustrade, but a little wryness found her lips. “I suppose I am not.”

It was a great deal to think about, and the thoughts followed Jaina throughout the rest of her visit, as she embraced her mother goodbye, as she stepped through the portal back to Orgrimmar. She appeared in her office, its door still properly closed, and took off her heavy navy blue cloak in the suddenly warmer weather. The emblem of House Proudmoore stared up at her, from where it was embroidered on the back of the cloak.

She wasn’t sure what to do, but she didn’t know how long she could keep this up. How long she could go without breaking. She could move oceans; couldn’t she keep up a string of correspondences without mailing the wrong letter? It wasn't a ruler's job to tend to minutae. Couldn’t she make good high-level decisions, informed by history and smart advisors?

Surely she could do that.

But it was proving increasingly difficult. And there was some truth to what her mother had said, about the sea. Azeroth was home for Jaina. Kul Tiras was a dear and very familial part of that, her life's cradle; it held a special place in her heart. She wanted to protect it from the ravages of war, from its own politicking, from the echoes of mistakes she herself had made. And she was a bulwark unlike any other. But it was still only one part of a world she'd woven her life through.

She could only be in so many places at once, and Kul Tiras’s marks on her heart were not the only ones that had been made.

She sighed and left her office to return her cloak to her bedroom, carefully folding it and storing it away for next time. She hadn’t shut the door behind her, so of course a deep, rolling voice suddenly interrupted her thoughts.

“How goes the miserable island nation of Kul Tiras? Besides the stench of seaweed and fish that wafted in with you.”

Jaina might once have been offended, or angry, or hostile. But Sylvanas’ ribbing had become… familiar, in its own way. How was your day, Jaina? Not that I care, I’m just asking. She very nearly caught herself smiling. “So predictable, Sylvanas.”

She turned to face her housemate, who was wearing yet another set of black trousers and a black bodice over, yes, a black shirt, though there was some purple in there in a few places. Jaina wondered for the first time if she only had the one set of clothes. Sylvanas’ bluish face was skewed in curiosity. “Kul Tiras, or me?”

“Both, actually.” Jaina simply walked for the door, without flinching, and at the last possible second Sylvanas yielded and stepped aside with a barely audible growl. Jaina met her eyes briefly before heading for the kitchen. “I don’t know how you do it, Sylvanas. Manage a whole nation from the confines of an office.”

“It is exceedingly difficult,” came the hiss from behind her as she walked to the kitchen, “And I would very much prefer a different approach.”

“Believe it or not, I sympathize.”

It was a risky thing to say; Sylvanas seemed to loathe sympathy. But she was mellowing, Jaina thought, and she hoped they’d get to a point where they could actually talk like normal people.

And, lo and behold, as she rummaged in the breadbox, Sylvanas responded with something other than spite and scorn. “I also do not have to sleep, you will recall.”

She frowned. Sylvanas rarely brought up her sleep schedule. But it was true; Sylvanas didn’t have that concern. Jaina’s living form had many benefits and advantages - the bread she was fetching reminded her of the pastries Sylvanas had invoked, seemingly at random, and Jaina tried not to think too hard about just what that meant - but sleep was not one of them. “I suppose that gives you more time. Do you stay up all night politicking?”

“Not every night. Only when it is called for. It is a better time for paperwork.”

She seized a bread roll and turned around to face Sylvanas. The Queen of the Forsaken was looking rather thoughtful, almost. Not without hostility, but then again perhaps that was just her face. Something to ask Vereesa. “I wish I didn’t have to sleep.”

Sylvanas stiffened, slightly, and when a moment of silence passed Jaina reached for a jar of fish spread, a paste made from the salmon that spawned in Azshara, and started tearing off pieces of the bread whole and spearing it through the spread. She was careful to avoid putting too much on, so it wouldn’t smear on her face. She hoped.

A thought occurred to her, and she tried not to smirk. “How was your day, Sylvanas? You look dead.”

She half expected a flash of anger - and that was there, truth be told. But Sylvanas’ lip also curled up. “You are not funny, Proudmoore.”

“I’ll make you laugh yet, Sylvanas.”

“And why would you want to do that?”

She frowned as she chewed on the rich salmon paste and crusty bread. “I don’t know. Just to see if I can. Just to see if you can.”

Sylvanas watched her closely. Oddly closely. “You have not revoked my standing meeting with Delaryn, tomorrow.”

“Why would I?” She finished chewing, and furrowed her brow. “Sylvanas, have you murdered someone again? We’ve talked about this.”

Sylvanas glanced away. “I have done no such thing. I merely expected you to be difficult.”

“And I expected you to be paranoid. I see my faith in you is well placed.”

Again, that odd silence. What had gotten into Sylvanas today? Did she have any strange meetings? She’d met with Voss again, nothing else on the schedule. But she wasn’t yelling or stamping her feet or baring her fangs; she was just watching, warily. “You have no faith in me.”

“Some small amount.” Jaina turned around pointedly, for more bread. “I turn my back to you, don’t I?”

A whisper of air behind her barely announced Sylvanas’ very quick, very sudden advance. In a moment the banshee was standing right behind Jaina, so close that she felt a brush of clothing against her robes.  “Perhaps that is a mistake.” The voice that poured into her left ear from so terribly close felt like good coffee; dark and bitter and rich.The only thing wrong with it was that it didn’t also spill warm breath and heat down the bare skin of her neck.

But a shiver did go down her spine nonetheless. Presumably that was some primitive part of her brain being afraid. Jaina didn’t think she was afraid, but it was an understandable reaction. She trembled slightly, but she also smiled. Even like this, a flick of her hand could freeze Sylvanas in place. “Doesn’t feel like one.”

She didn’t turn around to watch Sylvanas leave, but after a moment of looming threat - or confused hesitation, equally likely - she heard quiet footsteps head out the kitchen. Jaina’s hands had frozen halfway through tearing a bread roll, and after a moment she steadied her breathing and got back to it.

A little racing heartbeat was normal, when someone spoke quietly into your ear like that. Perfectly understandable.

 


 

Sylvanas had had irregular meetings with dark ranger-captain Delaryn Summermoon before, as the captain assigned to managing the safehouse watch. But being able to get regular reports on the security of Orgrimmar now, without asking Jaina every time, felt like a boon to her sanity. The dark rangers were a small force, but an elite one; between their security and their investigations into the brawls and petty street violence directed at Forsaken refugees, they dealt with some of Sylvanas' most immediate concerns.

Voss was not especially trustworthy, but when Delaryn told her there was no clear pattern to the attacks, no connections, no obvious reason to suspect they were organized… Sylvanas began to believe it. She was not fool enough to be convinced - a ranger could be mistaken or tricked, after all. But Sylvanas could be swayed.

A part of her mistrusted this leniency on Jaina’s part, but she did not believe Delaryn was being interfered with. They all knew Jaina was listening in on some of Sylvanas’ conversations, or at least might be, but part of the agreement was that written documentation would not be examined, and so Sylvanas had the benefit of reports that were rather more comprehensive than what her advisors said out loud. And even those reports did not confirm any looming conspiracies. Which she imagined meant their enemies were biding their time, waiting for an opportune moment to unveil their strike. Either way, it was… soothing. A reprieve was not the same as safety, but it was better than an active threat.

She remembered the litany of demands she had made of Proudmoore, and the fairly straightforward agreement she’d received on most of them. Except the last, foolish jab about pastries. For that one, she also remembered the face Jaina had made. She’d thought it was something like sympathy, and it was a horrible act for Proudmoore to put on; they both knew it couldn’t possibly be that.

But Proudmoore did express some kind of solidarity, when they shared their woes of remote leadership. Sylvanas had thought that a clever manipulation the first time, but her mind was, tentatively, rearranging the pieces into another configuration. Proudmoore was known to be soft, more so in her youth than now. It had repeatedly led her to tolerate the Horde far more than Sylvanas would have, had their roles been reversed. And Jaina was under great stress, it seemed, from the dual duty of ruling Kul Tiras and keeping vigil over Sylvanas. She was trapped here most of the time - rather alone, aside from Sylvanas. She understood some of the ways in which Sylvanas was in a very similar position.

And she’d even suggested, after her return from Boralus, that she felt some kind of ease around Sylvanas, that she did not suspect her of every possible evil. Of course Proudmoore could defeat Sylvanas in any kind of direct fight, so it was easy for her not to fear, but she could have spent all her time anticipating such a fight nonetheless, and yet didn’t seem to be. They’d shared an almost pleasant conversation, and even Sylvanas’ attempt to throw her off and put her on the back foot with a base threat had utterly failed to move her. It was puzzling.

The thought that Jaina Proudmoore cared, even a mote, about an enemy who happened to be in a somewhat relatable situation grated on Sylvanas like nails on the inside of a coffin. Like a thing trying to escape the confines of death. It felt very strange. She doubted the woman wanted to see her as a comrade, but perhaps there was some basic, cordial respect that could be found there. It would make this situation less unpleasant, as Jaina had said, and Sylvanas was equally irritated by always having her hackles up at home. Not that this was actually a home, certainly not.

It was something to consider later. For now, she focused on her meeting with Delaryn as they went over deployment of the dark rangers across Azeroth, balancing Delaryn's sharp mind for tactics with her typical ranger absurdity on all matters that were anything less than completely serious. Luckily, military deployments were serious. Small detachments of rangers scoured Lordaeron as silent patrols, laising with the newer mag'har arrivals; a great number moved in and around Orgrimmar; a few were on various intelligence-gathering missions. The rangers were in a holding pattern, for now, on the lookout for plots and threats. None of which had yet materialized.

In time. All things changed.

Such as when they both heard the creek of a box from down the hall.

Sylvanas paid it no mind. She’d gotten used to Jaina sneaking into the kitchen when she thought Sylvanas wasn’t paying attention. The woman was hungrier than she let on, Sylvanas suspected, too distracted by work to eat properly. She realized she could exploit this in a number of ways, but felt disinclined to. Let the woman enjoy some pastries; not everyone could anymore.

Delaryn, however, snapped her eyes to attention. “Is that Proudmoore?”

“That is she.” Sylvanas shook her head. “No doubt eating some kind of bread.”

Delaryn’s eyes narrowed. “Devious. Is she listening?”

Sylvanas wasn’t actually sure how the scrying functioned, but she was fairly certain it didn’t function from the kitchen. “Humans can’t hear this far. I would be more concerned if she were in her quarters or her office. Lower your voice, if you must. Now, you mentioned coordination with the deathstalkers.”

Delaryn seemed disturbed, and Sylvanas tried to puzzle through that as their conversation continued. It had not occurred to her that her dark rangers might perceive a threat from Proudmoore, not any more than had already been written into treaty. Voss had suggested the archmage was a threat as well, apparently on principle, but she wondered for a brief moment if they were aware of some plot they hadn’t been able to inform her of.

Quietly, she snatched a piece of paper and wrote out a question. Is there something you know about Proudmoore that I don’t? She raised an eyebrow as she passed it to Delaryn, but the kaldorei Forsaken shook her head and started scribbling in return.

We have observed her challenging you.

Challenging? Observed? Sylvanas glanced around - ah, the windows. Of course they would peer inside. But what challenging, exactly? Their little verbal sparring matches? Sylvanas almost wanted to assure her it was nothing to be concerned about, but it was her rangers’ job to be concerned. She couldn’t allow herself not to take their concerns seriously, not as their general. She scribbled out more. What have you seen to suggest danger?

Tension. Glaring. Flagrant disrespect. Lack of bowing. Lack of cowering.

Sylvanas almost smirked while writing out her response. Not everything should be a constant war, she wished she could say. But of course the rangers would see her, first and foremost, as a target for enemies. Not as a person, trapped with another person in awkwardness. What do you expect from us in this situation?

I expect my Lady to be flaying the human's soul.

If I do that I will be vaporized. She underlined the last word. Twice.

Delaryn started scribbling a response when suddenly the floor creaked behind her, and Jaina’s voice entered the room. “I thought you had a meeting with -” She froze when she saw Delaryn, who rounded on her with a snarl. Sylvanas glared as well; Jaina never interrupted her meetings. What did she want? “Oh. It was quiet, I didn’t think there was anyone here. My apologies, ranger-captain Summermoon.”

Delaryn barred her shoulders. Sylvanas wasn’t sure what to make of that, and placed her hand over the paper to hide it. “We were simply speaking in ranger sign, Proudmoore. Don’t be concerned, we aren’t plotting your doom.”

“Ranger sign?” Jaina made signs with her hand that were in fact not signs at all, but the gestural equivalent of gibberish. It looked ridiculous. Perhaps she was trying to be illustrative. “What for?”

Delaryn grimaced. “To hide from prying ears. Are those clumsy twitching fingers your attempt at ranger sign? Your lack of dexterity must make for sad lonely nights, Proudmoore.”

Jaina reddened and Sylvanas almost burst into laughter at suddenly hearing a ranger’s foul mouth turned on her captor. Jaina clearly had expected nothing of the sort. But Sylvanas stopped herself at the last moment, before her wide grin turned into an actual cackle; a cordial relationship between her and Proudmoore, if it were at all possible, required, well, cordiality. Delaryn likely didn’t understand that, so Sylvanas strained to speak as though she weren’t amused. “Lady Proudmoore to you. You are but a captain.”

Delaryn stiffened, staring through Sylvanas with rather more surprise than when she was usually chastened. Jaina gave an odd little gasp of breath and almost smirked, which irked Sylvanas as well, so she didn’t take the reprimand any further.

“We were simply discussing the disposition of the dark rangers. Their stations around the house. Plots you may have to undermine me, Proudmoore.” She raised an eyebrow at Jaina. “The captain believes you challenge me.”

“Challenge you? I should hope so.” Jaina blinked a few times, as if to clear her head, leaned her back slightly against the door, offering a lazy shrug with one shoulder. “Somebody needs to do it.”

Insolent, as usual. Maybe she could use the ranger’s foul mouth after all. “Captain, would you cite an example of your concerns?”

Delaryn’s voice was strained as she spoke. “My Lady, Ranger Yelena observed the human in the kitchen, eating with her mouth open while speaking to you. It is deeply disrespectful. Really, it ought to be a crime. A war crime, since we’re technically at war with the Old Gods, so it happened during a war.”

Jaina’s eyes widened, perhaps not realizing that she, too, was being observed at times. But Sylvanas caught on something else in the ranger’s words, and narrowed her eyes. “Quite, yes. But as I said, it is disrespectful of you to call her anything but Lady Proudmoore. I just told you this. Are you ignoring my command?”

“I - my apologies, Dark Lady. The human Lady Proudmoore.”

Sylvanas recognized the sly tone; she had been a ranger herself. She knew the stings and barbs they liked to jab at anyone outside their ranks, and the extent to which commanders sometimes tolerated it - or even encouraged it. She would need to draw a firm line. “We can all see her race just by looking at her. That is an unnecessary detail.”

“Oh! I believe I understand now, Dark Lady.” Delaryn’s eyes flickered to Sylvanas again, briefly, and she caught the edge of an impish smile. “It’s unnecessary to point out things that are obvious. Lady Proudmoore, then.”

Jaina seemed to balk slightly, but Sylvanas was no longer in the mood for ranger backtalk, even of the verbal sort. Delaryn probably thought she and Sylvanas were jointly finding ways to offend Jaina, but in truth Slyvanas increasingly felt a desire to have the ranger simply obey her command. She didn’t want any more hostility with Jaina than was necessary to infuse her day to day. “Your sense of humour is cutting as ever, Delaryn.”

She inclined her head with a smile. “Thank you, Dark Lady.”

“So why do you call me Dark Lady? Is my Ladyship not obvious enough for you?”

Delaryn froze, and from the corner of her eye, Sylvanas saw Jaina’s eyes widened, and she seemed to suppress a smile. “My Lady. Clearly I am a fool better suited to shooting arrows than speaking. This is why you are the Dark-Ranger General, and not I.”

Sylvanas allowed herself a grin. “Captain, you simply ventured too far into the bush. And you do not know this territory.” She gestured lazily between herself and Jaina, who seemed to take offence at being referred to as part of a territory. “A novice ranger mistake. Do you have any other concerns from the dark rangers to report, while you are here? Speak plainly.”

Delaryn nodded enthusiastically. “That the Lady Proudmoore might slay you if you are caught unawares. That her style of dress is bulky and uncouth. Speaking on behalf of the ranger corps, we also do not like her face.”

Jaina furrowed her eyebrows in irritation. “I’m right here.”

“Yes,” Delaryn gestured at herself. “And I am sitting in a chair.”

Jaina flashed Sylvanas a look. “Sylvanas, your rangers have an incredible grasp of the concept of space.”

“They are trained from birth to know that things are, in fact, where they are.” Sylvanas leaned back. “It’s an impressive trick. Takes years to master. Beyond the skill of most humans.”

Jaina crossed her arms. “Luckily I am not most humans.”

Delaryn was scowling, staring off into an unclear distance, seeming both puzzled and annoyed. Sylvanas decided she was wasting the ranger’s time; they hadn’t finished their briefing, but she rather found she didn’t want to at this point. “Dark Ranger-Captain Delaryn Summermoon, I believe my warden is developing a case of the running mouth. It might well go on for hours. You may be dismissed, unless you have any more pressing concerns.”

“No, Dark Lady.” Delaryn stood, and gave Sylvanas a testy look. Rangers enjoyed their testy looks; she had thrown a great many in her day, too. “That is all, my Queen.”

Slightly impetuous. Enough that Sylvanas stood and held out her right hand, an invitation for Delaryn to kiss the signet ring of office on her hand. To her credit, the ranger did not hesitate, and then turned to leave. A little extra reminder of whose authority she reported to would do her some good. “Captain, take your leave of my warden as well.”

Delaryn stiffened, then nodded and turned to Jaina as she stood in the doorway next to her. “Lady of Theramore.”

A spark of pain crossed Jaina’s face. Before she could think about it at all, Sylvanas surged forward in a sudden burst of black shadow and mist, nearly knocking Delaryn off her feet when she materialized in front of the ranger and took a single step forward to force Delaryn back away from Jaina’s face. “Apologize. Immediately.”

“L-Lady Proudmoore! I apologize!”

Sylvanas moved forward, her sheer presence forcing Delaryn backwards another step. She imagined the things that went through a surly ranger’s mind. Imagined what it might have meant, if someone had called her the Lady of Quel’Thalas in that very particular tone. “And do not speak of Theramore in her presence again. Neither you nor any other ranger. Report to your station and do your duty and keep your insolence amongst yourselves. You are dismissed.”

She watched the captain flee out the door. Rangers. Among the world’s best fighters, and absolutely insubordinate mongrels down to the last woman. She would know. It was exhausting to lead them; their independence and their camaraderie made them strong, but as their leader, she had to keep her distance from them. She could never, sadly, be as comfortable with them as they were amongst themselves. And she had to contain their absurd whims, lest it spill over into the wider world like this.

She turned to Jaina, overcoming a brief moment of hesitation. The damage was… not what she had expected. Jaina was simply gawking at her. Her face was slack, as though she’d lost control of its expressions entirely. Her icy blue eyes were wide with what Sylvanas could only assume was surprise. Perhaps a chance at cordiality was not fully lost.

“My ranger reflects poorly on me.” She stiffened, trying to meet Jaina’s eyes, and the words poured from her in almost nonsense. “I was in the room when Garrosh discussed his plans for Theramore. I argued against him, but I could have done more. I despise what happened. The crime is his alone, but I signed a smaller failure into its margins. If she roused in you any guilt at all, lay it to rest.”

Jaina simply drew her hands closer to her stomach, for a long moment, and said nothing at all, staring into Sylvanas' gaze. She did not look angry anymore, and in any case Sylvanas was not one to avert her gaze first, so she stared back. Jaina looked… Sylvanas could not say. Unreadable. Unfathomable. Deeply confused. Perhaps this was good - this was what Jaina usually did to her, wasn’t it? Sylvanas often felt strangely addled around Jaina, so it was only right she did the same in turn. Destabilize her opponent by saying things that were - well -

What in Belore’s name had she been thinking? She hadn't claimed responsibility for Theramore - that was Garrosh's idiocy alone, not her fault in the least - but she'd admitted that, yes, she might have stopped it and didn't. What for? What did that gain anyone? It only made her seem like an idiot. Discomfort and rawness burned down Sylvanas’ spine. This was too much. Rebuking the ranger was more than enough. She shouldn’t have said anything. The discomfort soon grew too great, and she stepped back.

That seemed to startle Jaina a little, and she finally broke eye contact and spoke, tucking a stray strand of white hair behind her ear. “She doesn’t need to call me Lady anything if she doesn’t want to.”

“She should, precisely because she does not want to. I find rangers sometimes need to be reminded of their station.” She could grin at that thought, at least. She’d had enough reminding when she served under her mother; she’d come to understand that part of the cycle.

“Thank you, then.” Jaina’s lip curled up slightly, and her tone brightened a little. “Will you also be calling me Lady from now on?”

The question immediately set Sylvanas on a sharp edge. Her rangers were one thing; this was as much for them as for Proudmoore. But she would not be bent. “Absolutely not, you mangy sea dog.”

“Good!” Jaina blinked, and faked a bright smile shockingly well. “I would hate to make you uncomfortable with formality, you -” She searched a few moments too long. She was no poet. “You surly crypt wench.”

Sylvanas had to exercise a good deal of her well-vaunted restraint not to laugh at that one. A bad enough joke it died in the air and came back Forsaken, which was to say one of the better kinds. Jaina smirked, searching Sylvanas’ face eagerly for some sign of victory, and Sylvanas endeavoured to give her nothing. “Then if you are quite finished interrupting my important meetings, I believe we are done here.”

“Yes. Done. Except for the small matter of your indefinite captivity.”

“As you say,” Sylvanas inclined her head. “A small matter.”

She thought she saw Jaina start to smile as she turned her head and left, calling back to Sylvanas from the hall. “Enjoy your paperwork! I know it’s delightful. Your favourite thing to do in this little house.”

That, of course, was wildly untrue. But Lady Proudmoore knew that well enough from her own experience.

Chapter Text

Jaina had too complicated a relationship with Dalaran to still call it home, unlike Kul Tiras. It had been home for a long time, in a sense, but she’d always known she would move on when her training was done. Even her tenure as one of the Kirin Tor had not felt like a settling down, not truly. And now… She was welcome here, technically, and warmly by some. But she was also looked upon with apprehension and fear by others. The things she had done during the Purge of Dalaran were done. She had been in a fit of rage, and rightfully so after another betrayal by the Horde. She knew what she wished she had done, in the name of justice, but the reality of it was more difficult to recall.

Privately, they told her she’d killed people. She didn’t remember killing people, but people were dead one way or another. And she didn’t remember much of that day at all, except the rage and the screaming. She’d been blinded, aflame. She’d done what had seemed right, in the midst of the pain, and she would probably do it again.

Perhaps that was one reason she clung to the Lord Admiralty, she thought. Not another Dalaran. Not another exit in turmoil and enmity. But leadership was taxing; she was having enough trouble maintaining control of a single house, not to mention the entire island nation she was supposed to be running from her office as well.

Luckily, not everyone here bore her ill will, particularly in the Greyfang Enclave. Vereesa Windrunner’s genuine look of joy when she found Jaina at the door had heartened her. Alleria’s son Arator had greeted her pleasantly as he took his young cousins to go carouse around the district to let the women have a little peace, and the boys piped quick greetings to her - Auntie Jaina, as though she were family - as they left. She already felt soothed and relaxed as she sat down on the balcony with Vereesa, exchanging news and pleasantries over a pot of delicately floral elven tea.

“I’m so glad you’re alright.” Vereesa smiled at her again. “You do look exhausted, but I expected that, given who you’re dealing with. I can’t believe you’re still running things as the Lord Admiral at the same time!” She shook her head, as though Jaina were some incomprehensible magical sprite. “Your strength is a blessing, Jaina.”

Strength was not what her mother would call it. She avoided the praise as well. “Sylvanas might surprise you, Vereesa. She’s been tolerable, even on a personal level.” Tolerable was a modest way to frame it, considering how she’d come to Jaina’s defense the other day. If she hadn’t known Sylvanas’ sordid past, and if Sylvanas hadn’t let that first lewd joke slide almost unchallenged, Jaina might almost have said she was gallant. And when was the last time someone had been gallant to Jaina? “She is… I don’t know how to read her. But she isn’t purely bloodthirsty like I thought.”

Vereesa’s smile dropped, and her brows furrowed slightly. “Jaina, you… you remember Teldrassil, don’t you? The Blight at Lordaeron? The way she abandoned us on the Broken Shore?”

“Of course.” She sipped the tea, looking out across the crystal spires. How could she forget, when she’d banished some of the Blight herself? When she’d walked among kaldorei refugees? When the first debacle of the war against the Burning Legion had sent her into a bloodthirsty craze of demon-slaying? “But she has… there’s something there, Vereesa. I don’t think she did it all just for the sake of causing more pain. Alleria vouched for her, that night after the mak’gora. I almost feel like I’m starting to see why.”

Vereesa’s eyes went somewhere distant for a moment, her face slackening. Jaina envied how fresh and energetic the elf still looked, even with that strange expression; she knew the sleepless nights were catching up with her. “Alleria worries she is not so different from Sylvanas herself, with the Void seeping through her soul. Where would she be, if her people were more persecuted? If she were overwhelmed in battle? She fears it is only fortune that has protected her from a similar fall. Jaina, I worry she vouched for Sylvanas because she wanted to feel there was still a way back from the edge of that darkness for herself. As much for herself as for Sylvanas.”

Jaina watched her face as she spoke, and as Vereesa finished, she sipped her tea. That did cast Alleria’s words in a rather different light, didn’t it? Did Vereesa have the right of it? None of the three sisters could possibly regard the entire situation with entirely sober minds, but this was worth considering. “You don’t think she trusted Sylvanas? At least a little?”

Vereesa didn’t deny it, but she did sip her own tea slowly, looking out over Dalaran, before answering. “Alleria and I went to meet her, once. Not long ago, before the latest war.”

Jaina watched Vereesa intently, saw the sadness and confusion in her face. She didn’t know about this. “What happened?”

“We… argued. We slew mindless undead together, clearing the path to our childhood home. Windrunner Spire, it's part of the the blighted Ghostlands now. We… played a game. Tell me, Jaina.” Vereesa’s eyes suddenly seemed so much keener. “Does it bother Sylvanas that she is no longer Warchief of the Horde?”

Jaina frowned at the question. She’d never asked Sylvanas so specifically, so she could only infer. In fact, she’d barely thought about it lately. “I think it bothers her more that she’s locked in a house. The Forsaken are her primary concern now.”

Vereesa went very still. “You do not think she was proud to be Warchief? That she has been shamed, now that the Horde are starting a Council to run their affairs?”

“Proud to be Warchief?” Jaina shook her head, puzzled. “I honestly don’t think she’s mentioned it much at all, except in that she’s been disempowered. She seems more concerned about imaginary plots against her people and herself.” Jaina sighed, thinking of the strange absence of intelligence on kaldorei operations of late. “I hope imaginary, in any case. You know, Vereesa, I think the Horde was maybe just a shield she could raise in defense of the Forsaken.”

“I see.” Vereesa averted her eyes, looking back out onto the city. It was a strange thing to ask, and Jaina knew there must be something behind it. She began to play with a silver lock of hair.

“What’s wrong?”

“My sisters and I, we had a game of truths and lies. One of the things she said was that she was proud of being Warchief. I wanted to know if that was a truth, or the lie.”

Jaina knew these games well enough. “And what were the other things she said?”

“That she sometimes wished she were alive. And that she…” Vereesa shook her head, silver locks straying into the breeze. “She claimed she would never betray her sisters.”

Jaina sipped her tea quietly, for a long moment. It seemed cruel to leave those questions hanging in the air, especially the last one, so Jaina spoke. “We were having a… friendly argument, once.” The elf’s eyes turned to her in puzzlement, presumably at the idea of Sylvanas being friendly. “She said she wanted to be able to enjoy the taste of Thalassian suncrown pastries again.”

Vereesa sniffed, slightly, and laughed. “Oh. Oh she did love those. Back - before.”

“What are they?”

Vereesa pinched her fingers into a circular shape. “Delicate little honey pastries. I’ll get you some later.” Vereesa gestured down at the city streets. “In fact, the same family who once catered Windrunner Spire now works in Dalaran; the original baker’s son survived the war. You’ll see! They’re quite a treat. Arator loves them.”

Vereesa’s mind seemed to linger on that for a moment before she sighed again, her heart heaving, and Jaina took note for perhaps the first time of the ways the two sisters were alike in nose and eyes and cheeks. She’d never looked very closely at Sylvanas before this house arrest, but now that she had gotten several rather close looks, she saw it. Vereesa’s face was rounder, less drawn and sharp, but many of the details were echoes.

“I still can't know if she would betray her sisters.” Vereesa shook her head. “Just listen to me, Jaina - my mind is clouded on the subject of Sylvanas. Why would she not simply tell three lies? Or whatever else she wanted us to hear? A woman who would burn a world tree is someone I should not trust to have even the most basic sisterly respect.” She seemed to fume, though, and Jaina could tell that should not was perhaps not the same as do not.

“What about a woman who burned Dalaran?” Jaina looked out across to where she knew Windrunner’s Sanctuary rested - a sad irony, that the only Windrunner in Dalaran would never willingly set foot there.

Vereesa leaned forward, looking at her seriously and gently patting her forearm. “Don’t be foolish, Jaina. You suspected a plot, and nobody listened, and then you were proven horribly right. It wasn't the same at all.” Jaina pressed her lips together, quietly, and drank her tea. For a while they were silent, before Vereesa breathed deeply and tried for a smile again. “But those wars are over. And you seem to be managing well, even though you’re being oddly lenient with my sister. How long will you be in Dalaran?”

“Oh - well, I’ve put in a request for some copies from the archivist, so I’ll need to pick those up. I wanted to… well, I should meet with Archmage Modera.” She sighed. “I have business to settle with her.”

“I hope you don’t mean to kill the archmage.”

For a moment she almost worried Vereesa was serious, but spotted the glint in her eye before answering. “No, no, just… The war is over, as you said. And as Lord Admiral, I can’t just let poor relations with the Kirin Tor fester. And speaking of Kul Tiras, the tidesages have some inquiries to the archives here I need to pass along. I want to speak to a runemaster about some possible ways of expanding Sylvanas’ containment. I need to buy supplies - you would not believe the state of Orgimmar’s mystical markets, Vereesa, I can hardly find a single Talandra’s rose there. I need seeds for my planters. And I borrowed some tomes from the library, and I caught Sylvanas snooping once -”

Vereesa tilted her head. “Snooping in your mage tomes?”

“Yes.” She hesitated at Vereesa’s apparent concern. Nothing had come of it, but she was inclined to play it safe. She felt, at times, dangerously close to forgetting Sylvanas was a threat. “Does she have any magical training?”

“None that I’m aware of. But I find that concerning. What do you suppose she wanted?”

“I found her reading a chapter on undead binding rituals.”

Vereesa nodded. “I would do the same in her position, I suppose. For what little good it would do me. So you’re returning the ones she may have gleaned insight from?”

“Yes. Oh, and I need to - much as I hate to, I need to speak to Aethas as well.” She leaned back and sighed, thinking of the leader of the Horde’s faction in Dalaran, Aethas Sunreaver. “Bad blood will only fester, and I don’t want Nathanos’ agents finding any leverage against me in Dalaran, even through indirect means. Sylvanas hasn’t tried to escape, and she's been getting better with me, but she’s got a meeting with Nathanos today and who knows -”

“What?” Vereesa’s voice rose in alarm. “Nathanos? Jaina, you can’t be serious. You’re allowing this?”

She shifted uneasily; she didn’t like it. But she’d wanted to get Sylvanas to trust her, and revoking that meeting now would undo all the work they’d done so far. “I cut her off from him for a while, but yes, I agreed to let them meet once. As a gesture, to smooth things over.”

“I hope you’re being careful.”

In some ways she was; Go'el had offered mystical and brute force security for the meeting, and she'd gladly taken it up. She didn't want to spend a moment with Nathanos, but having extra eyes and attention on the man would ease her mind. She'd also forced Nathanos to agree to a full body search before he was even allowed in, to ensure he didn't bring Sylvanas anything dangerous.

But in other ways, she was not being as careful as she could. She’d made a point this morning of reminding Sylvanas that she could be observed at any time, but she was not actually going to watch the meeting. She knew they would be especially paranoid and cautious about what they said, and suspected the meeting would be oblique and obfuscated at best. She suspected her best bet was to very carefully watch Sylvanas in the days that followed, when her guard was down; not during the meeting itself. Or so she hoped.

Vereesa sipped her tea. “It sounds like you’ll be here a few days then, a week even, to get all that done.”

“What?” Jaina gasped. How much leisure time did Vereesa think she took for herself? “No, no. I’m returning tonight.”

Vereesa’s eyes widened. “Tonight?”

“Probably after sundown, but I’m doing it all today. The archivist’s got animated quills on the copying. Those don’t go home in the evening, so I can pick up the copies after dark.”

“I don’t know how you do it, Jaina.” Vereesa shook her head. “Even without the boys, I can’t imagine getting so much done between two night’s sleep.”

Jaina’s own tea warmed her veins a little, but did her admittedly less good than sleep might. “I manage.”

“How do you manage Kul Tiras as well?”

She winced. “It is not without its challenges.”

The elf eyed her closely. “Well I suppose I won’t have you much longer then, will I?” Vereesa’s brow creased in sadness. “I hope you’ll visit again, with a little more time to talk. Maybe pencil it in properly into your schedule this time.”

She blushed slightly. “Gladly.” She reached out and placed her hand over Vereesa’s. “Once things are settled and calmer, in Orgrimmar. I’ll even make a note right now, watch me.” She withdrew a used scrap of parchment, which made Vereesa grin, and marked it down - Visit Vereesa. Social! Calendar! “I promise I’ll come visit you, and the boys too. And Arator, of course, if he’s still in town.”

“He is on leave at the moment, but I expect he will be sent to the front soon, to prepare for when we breach Ny’alotha.” Vereesa was nodding, but she’d gone a little stiff, and Jaina recognized the posture of someone trying to be brave. She knew the situation with Arator was complicated; he was not Vereesa’s son, but she had raised her nephew from infancy and had been as good as a mother to him… until his actual mother Alleria reappeared from beyond the sky. Jaina assumed the young man’s feelings were complicated now, and that complication no doubt touched Vereesa as well.

“He’ll be in good hands, Vereesa. Two-thirds of Azeroth’s finest - and its most feral, I imagine - are probably going to be fighting on the front lines with him.”

“Yes.” She smiled stiffly, and closed her eyes. “His mother will be there with him.”

Jaina didn’t know what to say to that, or to the discomfort that so obviously underlay it. She fiddled with the scrap of paper she’d written on for a moment, staring at it for some time before she properly saw it once more. On its other side it had a list of four items - no, three items that Sylvanas had, and a reminder to undo the wards. She crossed that reminder off with her quill, and flicked her gaze up to Vereesa.

Vereesa looked at her, and her smile softened and grew more tired. All of a sudden, and yet still with enviable grace, she stood up. “Well, I imagine you have a lot to do. Before I send you off, let’s find those suncrown pastries, shall we?”

“Of course.” Jaina realised she had a third of her teacup left after she stood, and chugged it, to Vereesa’s bewilderment.

“It isn’t grog, Jaina!” She chastised, but her voice grew brighter, bubbling with scandal and delight as her smile touched her eyes. “Though it may give you a little more energy. Always so eager to get to the next thing?”

“I wouldn’t want to waste time.” Jaina glanced again at the list of mysterious items in Sylvanas’ trunk, then tucked it away.

“You barely tasted the tea, I’ll wager.” Vereesa grinned, her voice a light and summery sound now that they were on lighter ground. “Treat the pastries with a little more languor, please. They’re rather expensive.”

“I’ll do my best.” She followed off the balcony as they headed down the interior of the spire. “I guess it would be rude to bring some for Sylvanas.”

Veressa barked an uncharacteristically harsh laugh. “It would be delightful! Do it, please, and have an artist at hand to sketch her likeness.”

Jaina chuckled. “I'd pity the artist as much as I’d pity Sylvanas.”

Vereesa looked at her as they walked, her voice growing softer again. “You pity her?”

Jaina knew the answer should be no. The woman was a killer beyond the pale. But… “Sometimes. Actually, Vereesa - can I ask you something else about her? Just this, then I’ll drop it.”

“Of course.” Vereesa shook her head, her mirth gone. “She is my sister after all.”

“I - well, I’ve been keeping an eye on her.” She felt oddly guilty saying it aloud, as if the fact of Sylvanas' surveillance wasn't something people not only took for granted but insisted upon. “And I noticed a few trinkets she keeps that I don’t understand, alongside killing blades and armored brassieres and whatever you’d expect. I’m wondering if these are personal.” She fished the scrap of paper from her pocket and handed it to Vereesa, and the elf’s eyes skimmed over it intently. Then the youngest Windrunner sister froze, utterly still. Jaina felt her throat tighten. “Vereesa?”

“The - well.” Vereesa shook her head. “Well. The white block might be the Ranger-General of Silvermoon’s official seal. I remember that. It was our mother Lireesa’s before it passed to Sylvanas. I had a similar one made for myself, for the Silver Covenant, and I believe they had to make a new one for Halduron Brightwing when he was appointed because the old one had been lost during the Scourge invasion. I wonder if she recovered it, or if it was with her when... Was it the size of a seal? About the length of a thumb and a bit wider?”

“That sounds about right.” Curious. A memory of her former office, from her time as… The Lady of Silvermoon. A memory of their mother. Jaina knew that was a difficult subject, at least for Sylvanas; she wondered what Vereesa would say about the matter.

Vereesa shook her head, and her voice dropped a little. “The flute… I didn’t know she had it. But I know what it must be, considering what else is on this… list. Sylvanas never cared much for playing music, but Lirath did. He had one in particular he loved a great deal. She must have recovered it from the Spire.”

Jaina wracked her brain, briefly, before remembering. Lirath Windrunner, a boy she’d never met, had been the youngest of the Windrunner siblings. He’d died long ago, during the Second War - the same war that had claimed their mother. “So it’s… sentimental. Things from your family.”

Vereesa nodded, but her eyes were still glued to the paper. “The necklace… Jaina, are you sure she didn’t see you with these?” Vereesa lowered her hand, squinting at her now. “That she isn’t trying to fool you somehow?”

“I’m sure.” Jaina felt uneasy saying that, though. She wasn’t really, was she? No matter how certain she felt. “Well, I’m not absolutely, utterly certain. She knows I’m only scrying on her some of the time.” Vereesa looked troubled. “Vereesa, what is it?”

Vereesa looked at Jaina for a long moment before sighing. She turned away to walk further into the home, quite smoothly, and paused for just a moment. “Come here. I’ll show you something.”

Jaina frowned as she followed Vereesa into her bedroom. She’d never actually set foot inside, but she knew that a long time ago, this had been Vereesa and Rhonin’s bedroom. Theramore had changed that, too. She wondered if that thought occurred to her friend as she led Jaina into the room and started rummaging through her drawers.

After a moment she removed a very small jewelry box and popped it open, and withdrew a warm-colored necklace, dangling it from her fingers and turning to show it to Jaina. “Did it look like this?”

The necklace Vereesa held had a ruby-red stone inside its golden frame, but otherwise… Jaina felt herself breathe a little gasp, as her mind started to piece things together. “Blue, but otherwise exactly. A family heirloom, I guess?” She could see where this was going. “Alleria?”

“Hers is green. We all threw our necklaces down at Windrunner Spire, when the three of us met. After we… argued. I left mine too. But…” Vereesa sat down on the bed, looking at the necklace, and Jaina tentatively sat down on the silks next to her. “Well I obviously went back. Before I did I asked -”

She trembled, and Jaina could tell something was difficult about this, and rested an arm on Vereesa’s shoulder. “It’s alright, if it’s too -”

“No, no. I asked Alleria if she wanted me to get hers.” Vereesa’s voice sounded constricted. “Alleria said - she said no. Said I was being a sentimental fool. She told me to leave it, to stop picking at our wounds, but I… took mine back anyway. I left the others. I thought… I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Jaina squeezed her shoulder. “It’s okay. Not everything is best said in words.”

She shook her head, as though she were trying to do so anyway. “Maybe I couldn’t bear to carry the weight of them all. Maybe I felt like I couldn't give up on them yet again, like I did before. I don't know. But I could carry my own memories. I didn’t want to… forget, or… pretend, or something.” A strange look passed over Vereesa’s face. “Jaina, I don’t know if I know my own sisters anymore. But I remember, I want to remember -”

Vereesa’s eyes were pressed firmly shut, and she seemed to tremble, and Jaina realized she was in pain. She reached out and embraced her friend more fully, and as Vereesa quietly sobbed, Jaina found herself wondering whether Sylvanas herself was still capable of tears.

 


 

I am investigating potential solutions to the imprisonment. After the War of the Thorns, per my Queen’s directive to find unexpected assets in the war against the Alliance, I made contact with a new ally who may prove useful. They required assurances I have not yet provided, but I am initiating the process.

I have also been gathering more mundane intelligence on Proudmoore and her measures of control, to try to anticipate her next move. I am recovering certain assets taken from us by the Alliance. In addition, I am running counterintelligence operations to confuse Alliance knowledge of your activities and situation. In this and more, rest assured I operate in loyal secrecy.

Given this dishonorable captivity, I thought it best to omit details. All is being observed, and I was ignominiously searched before my admission to the house. I will not invite Proudmoore to pin any schemes on my Queen while she exerts such control over the situation. Allow me to take on this burden. I will not fail.

Nathanos’ hard smile was familiar to Sylvanas, and would normally have been comforting so. It was the smile he had when he had plans in motion, when he felt he was on the offensive; it usually meant things were going well for them, or at least were about to go poorly for their enemies.

But after the initial start of their meeting, after passing her a folder of files and reports he’d brought for her eyes only, he had handed her this letter. It was written in the enchanted ink keyed to her signet ring and his spymaster’s ring; words only they could see, a safer form still of the note-sharing she’d practiced with Delaryn. And this message, though short and meant to be reassuring, filled her with questions. A new ally - one he’d contacted independently, months ago? Counterintelligence against the Alliance? What assets was he recovering?

Nathanos had been running intelligence on Proudmoore, and saw her as a threat?

She had long allowed Nathanos an unusually long leash. He had technically been a ranger once, but now sat well outside that hierarchy, and that latitude made him all the more useful. She gave him this leeway because of how thoroughly he’d proven himself to be dedicated to her interests, and that sometimes meant he started plots before she was even aware of them. Normally, this was a good thing. It let her focus on the bigger picture, secure in the knowledge that at least one person could be trusted to act without failing her, a force of chaos on her side.

And she was still secure in that knowledge. Whatever Nathanos was preparing was to her benefit, as he saw it. But something unsettled her about the obliqueness of this meeting, and she found herself wishing Proudmoore were here in person to answer his accusations. Instead, Jaina was either hiding in her rooms scrying on them, or she was gone - there had been several portal-sized pulses of magic earlier in the morning, so it was hard to tell.

Jaina hadn’t even let Nathanos in herself - that had been the job of no less than four enormous orcs, a warlock and a shaman among them, who even now stood visibly outside the safehouse. The warlock was openly watching them through a window, his eyes glinting with blacks and violets. She took some small comfort in the fact that they were at least unheard through the wards. Go’el had apparently sent them as extra security that Jaina had been only too happy to accept.

She tried to set aside the question of Proudmoore’s trustworthiness for now. Clearly she and Nathanos were not trusted right now, and it was foolish to trust someone from the Alliance in any case, wasn’t it? She shouldn’t be surprised Nathanos was investigating the woman. Delaryn and Voss had also expressed skepticism of her. There were other questions they could tackle immediately.

“A new ally?” She raised her eyebrows. “Who is this?”

He pointed up to the ceiling as though Jaina herself had her ear glued to the next floor up, and Sylvanas briefly suppressed a smirk at the mental image of Jaina crawling around on the floorboards. “Yes - an old friend of my Queen’s, I believe. One who keeps to themselves. I believe they will be useful in our efforts to come.”

Sylvanas only frowned more at his words. She had no friends; she hadn’t had true friends in a very long time. Rulership, she found, rather precluded friendship. False friends who sought a ruler’s power were common and nearly impossible to distinguish until it was too late. True friends could too easily be pressured and coerced by a ruler’s power - and how could a ruler not, at every given moment, exert some power? And most mundane but damning of all, the demands of rule permeated life and drained a great deal of energy; it was not easy, in those circumstances, to forge any kind of stable bond. This all was true of friendships and even truer of anything more intimate, and was even true of family to some degree. She’d learned these lessons as Ranger-General of Silvermoon, and they had only become more acutely relevant in her tenure as Queen of the Forsaken.

So who was Nathanos referring to? He was unwilling to talk, so why hadn’t he mentioned this in his reports? Was this explained somewhere in this folder? “I’m sure you are correct, Champion. I look forward to hearing more about this new ally in your future reports. Proudmoore is not allowed to touch my documents, and after a time we seal them away in Horde vaults in any case, not to mention our other tools.” She glanced pointedly at her signet ring, both a reminder of her rank and the tool that let her read these enchanted reports. “Security should not be a reason to keep me blinded.”

“Indeed it should not, my Queen.” He was scribbling more enchanted ink onto a sheet of paper, and though he wrote fast, he wrote a great deal too. When she took it from him with her ringed hand, the words revealed themselves. This ally’s support is a matter of some magnitude, one that would surely influence any decisions and expectations. My secrecy has been a cloak of darkness to carry my Queen stealthily through the night. Proudmoore appears naïve and soft, which I believe is a ploy, but she has demonstrated brutality and cunning all too clearly. If she were to detect the slightest hint that my Queen knows of any plot, even the shadow of some knowledge in the shape of things unsaid, she could press beyond her legal limits and attempt to break our intelligence veil entirely.

Sylvanas tensed again, unreasonably, at the suggestion that Jaina was plotting. Dissimulating. Lying to her. She’d begun to feel quite the opposite - and she lived with Jaina! Didn’t that mean something? She took her own quill and wrote back, with more confidence than she felt. Proudmoore does little plotting. I’ve been observing her very closely.

At this, Nathanos’ eyes widened slightly. He smiled, the shape creeping up into the edges of his ashen beard, and he began to scratch out words of his own even as he spoke. “My Queen is wise indeed.” His words elaborated. Wise not to trust Proudmoore. Very clever to turn the tables on one’s captor. How has my Queen managed this?

Sylvanas stared blankly at the paper, wondering how to answer that question. She’d stumbled accidentally onto Jaina while in a magically induced sleep. She’d had conversations with the woman. There was nothing revolutionary about it. She’d simply… gotten a sense.

But as she thought about it, she realized with a disquieting feeling that that sense was actually not an intentional strategy, not in the way Nathanos meant. Still, she took the quill and ink. I have been observing and testing her indirectly, not to mention interrogating her. It is a nuanced process, not easily summarized. Despite many angles of approach, I have not observed anything untoward.

He nodded thoughtfully for a moment before scribbling a response. It was clever of them to choose Proudmoore for this. Her reputation as naïve and honorable makes her difficult to scrutinize under other lights. But we the Forsaken know how little regard the word holds for us. Even Lilian Voss, the dissident, recognizes her as an Alliance agent first and foremost. I am very relieved that my Queen also remains vigilant in the face of Proudmoore’s false pretenses.

Sylvanas’s hackles rose. Since when did Nathanos and Lilian agree about anything? But if they agreed about this… Still, something didn’t add up. I was told she volunteered for this vigil. Not that she was chosen.

I was told the same. His reply was written quickly, pointedly. But I was not present when the decision was made, and my Queen was not conscious. Who do we trust, among those present? Voss was present, but she also benefited greatly in station and power from this debacle. No other Forsaken were involved.

Which was all very true. When she’d been removed from the ice, the key points had already been decided. Alleria had been there, yes, but they hadn’t spoken privately. And would Alleria not have indulged in a small lie? Alleria had still vouched for her; perhaps she’d simply seen no reason to point out a procedural triviality.

But Jaina herself had said she’d volunteered, multiple times, directly or indirectly. Sylvanas had started to believe that she was, in fact, telling the truth about things in general. They were coming to some sort of understanding… weren’t they? Hadn’t Jaina said it would be easier for her, too, if they were not hostile to one another? Surely that would preclude maintaining bald-faced lies.

Besides, If she were truly plotting things, wouldn’t Sylvanas have seen signs? Of course, perhaps she was looking for the wrong kinds of signs. Or looking in the wrong places. Or Jaina had specifically been chosen because she could play the role of affable, exhausted, naïve mage as a perfect cover.

Which was ridiculous. Sylvanas knew Jaina was not naïve; she was far too clever for that. Which perhaps meant that there was more to her than the superficial friendliness and straightforwardness she presented, wasn’t there? After all - queens did not actually have friends. Not uncalculated ones.

She clenched her teeth at the uncertainty swirling in her head, a dull ache forming in her chest. What did it actually matter, who had decided Jaina should end up here? She remembered something Voss had said, rather bitterly. She tried to steel herself, tried not to spiral away into visions of betrayal. “Your point is taken. That being said, Champion, I can only operate with information that is actually available to me. If the broader situation is as you describe, I need proof. Real proof, not only the worst speculation imaginable.” She leaned back in her seat, and tried to offer him an encouraging smile. He liked that. It would make him work harder. “I trust you to find this proof for me.” She pointedly placed a hand on the folder of reports he’d brought for her, which normally should have come to her through a courier. “And I trust you to provide me with more comprehensive reports and briefings from now on, with or without in-person meetings.”

He smiled back, and bowed slowly at the shoulder. “I am honored by this trust, which I know to be a rare and thoughtful gift. It shall be as my Queen commands.” He stopped at the bottom of his bow and started writing. We shall investigate Proudmoore herself more directly, trail her whenever she leaves the house. We will find the truth of her motives, my Queen, and freedom shall find us once more in turn.

Sylvanas wondered just how thoughtful her own trust was, if she’d considered giving it to Jaina. Hadn’t she agonized over it long enough, though? Wasn’t that thoughtfulness? But how thoughtful was it, to trust an enemy agent who held one captive?

Her mind felt tumultuous now. She did not feel like she was finally gaining access to her intelligence network again - or she did, and she felt like it was reminding her of how isolated and easily manipulated she’d become. How blind she’d been. She was only thankful that at least Nathanos seemed to actively be investigating the problems they were facing, and that he was uncompromised, unyielding in his devotion to the Forsaken above all else.

It was probably best not to say too much out loud, so she nodded slowly. “See that it is done, Champion, and keep me apprised of your progress. If there is nothing else to share at the moment, you are dismissed.”

“It will be done. The folder contains more details on our broader intelligence activities.” He patted the folder he’d also brought her, then stood and bowed deeply in the elven style he’d been trained in, during his life in Quel’Thalas. Then he seemed to hesitate for a moment, and she realized he meant to show his respects. She presented the signet ring on her hand, which he kissed rather more languidly than Delaryn did.

He was out the door soon, roughly escorted away by the orcs, and she did not feel soothed the way she’d expected to after this meeting. She did not feel like she’d finally been reunited with her resources, her people, her eyes and ears in the world. Sylvanas felt most of all reminded that the newfound peace she was starting to feel within the confines of this home could easily be an enormous fraud, and that she was a captive in enemy territory with no idea what was going on or whose word to trust.

At least Nathanos was working on a way out, apparently. At least she had not been abandoned by her own people. She might be freed, somehow, by the labors of people she did trust.

But even that thought didn’t assuage her discomfort in any way. If anything, it compounded it. If escape were possible, it would immediately trigger conflict. And what exactly would be the point? If she were liberated, the Forsaken would still be sworn members of the Horde, and the Council would not be happy to let her sit with them if she broke their own law. So would she flee into hiding? She would do no good there. Would she wrench the Forsaken away from the Horde? That seemed absurd - they were deeply enmeshed, and the Horde provided a bulwark against the predations of the righteous fools nestled within the Alliance.

What would Jaina think, if Sylvanas was broken free? It felt impossible to tell what she was thinking at any time, but it did seem she’d been growing more at ease in Sylvanas’ presence. She had suggested, a few times, that she thought Sylvanas was something other than a monster. That they had some small kinship, something that might become respect. If Sylvanas broke free… all that would be shattered, wouldn’t it?

Well… it wouldn't matter if it was shattered, if Sylvanas never really believed it. If she continued to play this game, this story of cordiality, while holding in her hear a quiet, patient certainty of betrayal. Betrayal could not hurt her, if she awaited it with intent.

She decided to go try to confront Jaina now, to set at least some questions to rest. She had no idea what she’d say to the woman, but anything was better than silence. Unfortunately, as she paced the house, she noticed two things. First, Proudmoore was nowhere to be found - so she had perhaps vanished earlier in the morning, or during the meeting. This was annoying, particularly now that Sylvanas wanted to talk to her.

Second, most of the doors in the house were slightly ajar. This felt unusual. Sylvanas didn’t usually check, but she had a general sense that most of the doors for rooms she hadn’t claimed for her own use tended to stay shut. All of them were ajar except Jaina’s bedroom and office, however. This wasn’t especially useful - what was she supposed to do with a pantry full of food she couldn’t taste, or a lavatory with a bathtub she didn’t need, or a random storage room full of jars of unidentified herbs?

Jaina had told her previously that if she wanted to make use of any room not already put to some purpose, she was welcome to. Sylvanas distrusted the idea that anyone would welcome her to do anything, but the doors seemed deliberate. It meant Jaina was giving her unsupervised access to more of the house, which meant… she trusted Sylvanas? Or wanted to seem like she did.

Sylvanas could act as though Jaina trusted her, even if she clung to the protective reminder that it could all be a lie. She could do both. She was a cunning woman.

She decided to make good on this apparent offer, to try to calm her nerves. One room close to the entry and the lounge seemed to be an armory. It was bare aside from a few roughly person-shaped dummies and a wide array of hooks on the walls, but now that she thought about it, this barren room actually did say something about the people who had once lived here. There must have been two fighters living in this place. Two warriors, perhaps, who stored their armor side-by-side, maybe even went to battle together.

She wondered, idly, if Jaina would be interested in her own collection of arms and armor. Perhaps that would spark a little friendly conversation, or… she shook her head, trying to remind herself that she did not have friends, and that she didn’t even know if she knew Jaina as much as she thought she did. She certainly shouldn’t be friendly with a woman whose motives she barely understood, who several of her loyal agents found suspicious.

But at the very least it might prove intimidating, and she needed something to do that required her hands. Paperwork would not be enough; she could request whittling supplies from Delaryn, perhaps, but in the meantime this would do. She returned to her room and began to sort through her equipment. She brought weapons and armor to the armory, doing her very best to ensure the space was at least a little unsettling to walk into for its sheer display of killing tools, and that the most vicious-looking full set was visible from the hallway.

She tried not to obsess over her renewed suspicion of Jaina, but it was difficult not to. Jaina claimed to have some faith in Sylvanas, but Nathanos astutely reminded her that she didn't even understand exactly why it was Proudmoore who was watching her, when the obvious choice would have been a kaldorei warden. There must be a reason the Alliance had agreed to have their best archmage and their Lord Admiral do this, and not anyone more expendable. She wondered, idly, whether the issue of the Lord Admiralty was perhaps not so puzzling after all. If they expected to kill her after N'Zoth was defeated, the Lord Admiral could return to Kul Tiras and rule properly.

But Jaina could have killed Sylvanas in the mak'gora and spared herself the sleepless nights. And there were far more things she could have done since, could be doing, that she hadn’t. She didn’t need to invite Sylvanas to make more requests of her, or, Belore, to try to make Sylvanas laugh. They were coming to a place where they at least respected one another, weren’t they? Didn’t that mean something? Or was this, too, doomed to pain? The thought of that pain, foolish and needless, only strengthened her desire to treat this as theatre rather than reality.

She fussed with her things in the armory, her mind sawing back and forth on a nameless discomfort. As she found a place to hang her bow, the thought of Jaina’s mage staff and cloak and battle robes hanging alongside her weapons and armor briefly crossed her mind, and she huffed and scowled and tried to push the thought from her mind. Let the armory be her space, and serve as a reminder to Jaina - and to herself - that she, too, was dangerous.

She was still restlessly adjusting her things late at night, trying to understand why the thought of escape did not fill her with delight, when a sudden whoosh of magical energy finally announced Jaina’s return.

Sylvanas almost burst into mist to rush over, and was only saved by a hot flash of annoyance at how eagerly her instincts responded to the person keeping her under arrest, the person her servants were all warning her about. She could not be  eager to see Proudmoore. She had questions to ask, trustworthiness to test. She had purpose. She was not eager.

Calm and collected as she could manage, she strode over to Jaina’s bedroom, only to find it still locked. She almost knocked. Restrained herself. No, she would wait a few moments to let the woman settle in. Or at least so that she wouldn’t seem overly keen. She would not give Jaina the chance to flash a dimpled smirk and ask infuriating questions like Did you miss me?

Although it was rude of the archmage, Sylvanas decided, not to have told her that she was going somewhere. If they wanted to have some amount of mutual respect, ought that not be included? But no, she would not knock. “Proudmoore!”

After a moment, the door opened. Sylvanas had been prepared for some kind of argument, for a haughty or cheeky look of defiance. Instead, Jaina looked awful. Her golden and white hairs were sticking out in frazzles from her thick braid, her eyes were heavy-hooded and crinkled around the edges, slightly bloodshot. She had the smell of someone who’d been busy all day and too much of the evening. It was just past midnight.

Yet somehow, despite all that, Jaina still summoned an alert kind of ice into those blue eyes. Or drank the alertness from a vial, perhaps. “What’s the matter, Sylvanas, are you stuck outside my room?”

She suddenly felt deflated. This was not someone who was looking to confront her. Once again, Jaina had foolishly overextended herself and was probably half-addled. And what for? “Where have you been? I expect to be kept aware of your comings and goings to and from our house.”

“Our house?” Proudmoore’s composure broke, and she grinned and yawned, turning away. “I guess it’s our house. I went to Dalaran. I got your copies. The records.”

“You -” Sylvanas entirely forgotten about the frivolous request. The Windrunner estate records. “What? In a day?”

“Well, it took almost more than a day. I went to the archivist first thing at dawn, and the enchanted quills only just set down five or ten minutes ago.” Jaina was inspecting some jar of herbs from her pack. “I had to stay in Dalaran until they were done.” She glanced at Sylvanas, gesturing towards her night table. “Come on and get them, I don’t feel like carrying them into your office.”

Jaina’s snowy, gold-shot braid sagged behind her head with as much exhaustion as the rest of her. Sylvanas slid into the room and, sure enough, the table was piled with several cheaply-bound stacks of paper. She ran her fingers over them, looking at the title on the first one. Deed records of the Windrunner Estate. She peeked at the next one. Mathramar & Son’s Insurance Coverage & Claims History. The next, Miscellaneous Receipts and Invoices Addressed to Lireesa Windrunner, made her grimace bitterly. There were several more, starting with Academic Reports - Alleria Windrunner, and Sylvanas did not know what she would do with any of these. But she would not burn them, not these ones.

She felt a strange sense of… damn it. It was gratitude, wasn’t it? Forcibly wrenched from her. These were clearly personal effects, of no value whatsoever, and Proudmoore had gotten them all for her. Had wasted a good night's rest for her. Either because she wanted Sylvanas to think she cared, which was entirely logical, or because she actually cared, which was impossible… and a tempting thought. But impossible to believe. But she could pretend along with it, at least, could she not?

Jaina glanced at her. “Old family business, I guess?” She was sorting through other boxes and things she’d brought from Dalaran, as though it couldn’t wait until tomorrow. “I won’t ask why you need them. I hope they’re helpful, though.”

Sylvanas couldn’t avoid hearing the tone of concern in her voice. She looked directly at Jaina’s face again, tracing the lines by her eyes, the puffy redness of tired, unrested human skin. She couldn’t look at that face and not see a woman who’d just stayed up far too late, on Sylvanas’ account, for a purely frivolous favor. And this was the woman Sylvanas’ servants thought was plotting behind her back? This was the great threat to her security?

Sylvanas started gathering the paperwork. She felt so foolish, now. She’d been simmering away for hours, alone, without anything to do but worry; was she in any more lucid state than an exhausted and overworked Jaina Proudmoore?

She let her voice soften. “There was no need to stay in Dalaran all night. You could have come home and retrieved them tomorrow.”

Jaina’s eyes softened a little too. “I just wanted to get you your things sooner. I - I figured since it was a family thing, it must be important. I know family is important to you.”

Sylvanas tensed, wondering what that meant. Perhaps Jaina had been attentive when Sylvanas had spoken to Alleria outside of Orgrimmar. She averted her gaze. “You could have rested here instead.”

Jaina smiled, turning away to unpack her things. She spoke again as she inspected a vial of something. “You're sweet, worrying about me like that. Or did you miss me?”

“Absolutely not.” Sylvanas slammed the copies back onto the desk, shame flooding her face. Had she made herself seem foolish somehow? “I would never miss you. Not unless I died and went to some infernal hell and found you weren’t there. Because I expect you to already be in hell when I finally cross over.”

Jaina looked at her oddly, and was very quiet for a moment, as Sylvanas began to see the way in which her words did not convey a death threat in quite the way she had meant. She truly wasn't in a lucid state. Why was it so hard to threaten this woman properly? Jaina actually chuckled, in fact. “Um, well, let’s both try not to end up in hell. How about that?”

Sylvanas stopped fussing at the documents, staring through them instead. She knew something of the afterlife, more than she wanted to let on. There was no escaping some kind of hell, not for her. Not for the Forsaken. It was that grim fact that had driven the Val’kyr to swear themselves to her in the first place, as their only way to bargain themselves away from a hell so dark they refused to even describe it.

Of course, she couldn’t tell Jaina that. Apart from her Val’kyr, she’d told nobody except Nathanos, and even then only because he was absolutely rabid in his devotion. She’d carefully, obliquely floated some of her thoughts to others - apothecaries, priests, mages, rangers - and their reactions had all suggested to her that they were not in a position to receive her crazed near-death experience as anything more than a passing madness.

Perhaps she'd been worrying about that too this evening, at the back of her mind. As the ultimate, final consequence if she were to allow Jaina to betray her too severely. Or perhaps she'd simply developed a case of the running mouth.

Jaina cleared her throat, clearly trying to change the subject. “Anyway, Sylvanas, I had tea with Vereesa.”

She looked up sharply. Jaina’s blond brows knotted in worry, and rightfully so - Vereesa’s name teetered Sylvanas on the edge of an entirely different pit of misery, and the thought of what her sister might have told Jaina about her filled her with panic.

Vereesa was not always the sister Sylvanas wished she was, but they were still sisters. That Vereesa had so rejected her overtures was, to Sylvanas’ mind, as good an indication as any that the world made no welcome for the Forsaken. If undeath was enough to break the love of even one Windrunner sister, how could living strangers tolerate an entire undead race? How could someone like Jaina pretend to care for her?

She tried to collect herself, to respond reasonably to Jaina’s apparently well-meaning attempt at conversation, to set aside the morass of unhappy thoughts this was all dredging up. She'd apparently lost the ability to speak for far too long, and needed to correct that. “I see. I’m sure she pitied your predicament greatly.”

“I think she misses you.” Jaina had set down her other things, and took a step forward. “Sylvanas, I know family can be difficult. If… I know you don’t want to be friends with me, but if you don’t have anyone else to talk to about your family, you can talk to me. I promise I won’t… mock you, or whatever you’re afraid of.”

Sylvanas wasn’t afraid of mockery. She’d been mocked and jeered and accused and hated for years now. She wasn’t afraid. She was fearless. And she certainly didn’t want friends; that was not in the quiver for her, as a ruler.

It was simply that there was an ugly, hideous pain to be felt in believing someone cared, and then being proven wrong. She'd been taught that pain enough, by Vereesa herself among others. She had no need to subject herself to that pain again. That was truth, not fear.

“Be quiet, Lord Admiral.” She spoke quietly as she glanced at Jaina. “You’re dangerously tired, if you think we can simply chat about family troubles. Get some real sleep. I will handle these.” She hefted the pile of records and left the room without another word.

“I’m not tired.” It was a bald-faced lie; perhaps more a lie to Jaina herself than to Sylvanas. But the archmage stamped after her through the halls.

Sylvanas briefly considered throwing the entire stack of records in her face as she went. Jaina couldn’t understand this even if she wanted to. And why should Sylvanas think she wanted to in the first place? Even if she felt it. She shouldn't think it.

Vereesa didn’t miss Sylvanas. She missed the memory of Sylvanas, of when she’d been alive. She missed the carefree sisterhood they’d all shared before the Second War - long nights chatting on beds, afternoons sparring and hunting, mornings and evenings feasting. She missed her elder sisters’ constant care and attention. She missed an idyllic life that, to an extent she probably didn’t realize, was possible only because Alleria and Sylvanas had long borne the brunt of their mother’s discipline, purposefully trying to shield their sister from it. Vereesa didn’t miss the Sylvanas of today; despite her attempted apologies, she’d rejected that Sylvanas outright twice now.

Of course Sylvanas missed that version of herself as well. That entire life, a life that did not need to be full of suspicion and pain. So much life spilled onto blighted grass and jagged edges of frigid steel. But that version of her was gone, long gone; only the Sylvanas of today remained. And that would not be enough for her sisters, especially not Vereesa. At least Alleria understood darkness, and knew that Sylvanas could still be useful.

She’d made it into the office when Jaina spoke from the doorway. “Well, did your meetings go alright?”

Jaina’s words jolted her thoughts to another track to Nathanos’ words and implications, still fresh in her mind. “I’m sure you were scrying on us and know exactly how they went.” She set the copies down on her desk as forcefully as she could manage.

“Actually, I don’t -” Jaina stopped, and rubbed her eyes, then looked at her with some exasperation. “Sylvanas, of course you’re under observation. But I can’t actually observe you if I’m not here. It only works inside the house." Her face loosened a little, into a tentative smile. "You’re free to plot my death when I’m not around. I'm sure you love doing that.”

Strangely, she did not. But it was ridiculous to think Jaina would let Sylvanas have so much insight into the conditions of her confinement - and that Jaina would be so lax. What would it serve? “You’d never leave, if that were the case.”

“You’d think, right?” Jaina leaned against the doorway. “But I realized something, last time I was listening in on a meeting with Delaryn. What’s the point of spying on you, if you assume I’m spying? You talk around things in code, or you scribble things on paper like a schoolgirl where I can’t see it. I’m not saying I’ve stopped spying on you, but listening in on meetings is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s basically the worst time to spy.”

That was… rather insightful, Sylvanas realized. Jaina was more intelligent than some brute simply doing the obvious thing. Of course she was - the woman was far more intelligent than Sylvanas sometimes gave her credit for. Though her words did suggest something else, something that made Sylvanas narrow her eyes. “When is the best time to spy, then?”

Jaina averted her eyes, tugging slightly at the middle of her robes with one hand. “When you aren’t thinking about how you’re being spied on, of course.” She sighed, but spoke on before Sylvanas could ask what, exactly, Jaina had heard or seen in those moments. “You know, when you're secretly sitting by the window with an esel painting Orgrimmar landscapes." Sylvanas raised her eyebrows. She absolutely did not do that. "Or maybe never. Maybe the best thing to do is actually pay attention to you and talk to you, rather than constantly try to guess what you’re thinking based on inconsistent evidence.”

It didn’t escape Sylvanas that this was her approach to Jaina as well, these days. But it also occurred to her that an intelligent woman might have other reasons for telling her this. “Are you telling me this so that I will grow lax, assume you aren’t spying anymore, slip up? Make your job easier?”

Jaina pressed her hands to her face. “Sylvanas, I’m tired. I’m just trying to talk, I'm not in the mood for your paranoia. Can’t you just trust me? That I’m not your enemy?”

Couldn’t she just. Wouldn’t that be nice. She’d seen nothing to suggest that the archmage was her enemy. On the contrary, Jaina seemed to be struggling with this almost as much as Sylvanas herself was. And for all that she shouldn't trust an Alliance operative, something in Sylvanas did want to believe that Jaina meant her no harm. That made it easy to pretend, to perform theatre around the kernel of her that still expected betrayal.

“I trust that you are interested in peace under this roof, and a certain measure of… respect.” The uncertainty continued to gnaw at her, though. “I wish to believe you are not my enemy. But you must understand why that is a difficult thing to do.”

Jaina let her hands fall to her lap, and shook her head. “Of course it’s difficult. You’re right. It’s difficult for me, too, to think that…”

Her words trailed off, though, and she seemed to stare into the distance. Sylvanas wondered if she might simply fall asleep and keel over. “That what?”

Jaina looked at her. “That you’re someone who's in pain, who’s afraid. Someone who loves your sisters, and cares for your people, and had complicated feelings about your mother. And someone who -” She frowned. “Well, who has regular, non-violent feelings about ordinary things.”

How tempting it was, to see this as an act. How tempting it was, to see it as genuine. Both forces tore at Sylvanas, from both directions, and she did not know which way to lean. “I would ask you something.”

Jaina nodded warily. “Sure.”

Sylvanas tried to keep her tone as neutral as she could. “Who suggested you should be the one to watch me?”

Jaina shrugged as she answered. “I did. A kaldorei warden probably would have killed you, and that would piss off the Horde. And I’m qualified. Overqualified, maybe, but I trust myself to do it.”

It didn’t seem rehearsed. Sylvanas saw no signs of deceit. She wanted to trust that instinct; she wanted to trust the evidence in front of her, the proof in the flesh of Jaina’s face, the shapes of her brow and cheeks. She wanted that to mean more than the endless parade of what-ifs coursing through the back of her brain.

“I mean that, by the way.” Jaina glanced at her more directly. “I don’t want the kaldorei or anyone else plotting against you. That would undermine… so much. Not just the fight against N'Zoth. I hope your fears of people plotting against you are wrong - I'm not telling you you're wrong to be afraid, but I hope people aren't as bad as you think.”

Sylvanas wasn’t sure what to say to that. It didn’t sound like something that could possibly be genuine, but all the evidence written in Jaina’s tired face suggested it was. Who in the world hoped their enemy’s troubles would be eased, though?

After a moment of silence, Jaina sighed. “Anyway, you were right. I’m tired. I hope the Windrunner archives have something for you.”

Sylvanas had nothing to do with the documents. As Jaina left she followed at a distance, not wanting to leave her the last word but also unsure of what to say, which seemed to be a running problem. She yearned to be able to say I trust you in earnest, yearned for the peace that actual trust would bring her house and her soul - but she couldn't, because if she did Jaina would have a hook in her very soul, and how long would it be until that hook was ripped out?

Luckily, the archmage stopped and briefly stared into the armory. Her eyes tracked across Sylvanas’ weapons and armor, useless against Jaina's enchanted clothes but a reminder nonetheless of what Sylvanas was. Jaina turned and looked her up and down for a moment. “What’s this?”

She blinked. “It was obviously an armory. You weren’t using it. So I am, now.”

Jaina seemed to grin slightly, and Sylvanas found it oddly satisfying to see her walk into the room with a look of curiosity. She followed inside, and watched as her warden gazed around the armor, her hands resting on her hips. “So you wanted to put on a little threat display.”

The words, slightly patronizing, made Sylvanas bristle, and suddenly made her regret this entire endeavour even as Jaina approached the central piece of armor. “I am a threat, in my own way.”

Jaina nodded, as if out of politeness. She paused slightly as she looked at one of the daggers. Sylvanas couldn’t see her face clearly from behind, but wondered if perhaps the archmage had a fascination with knives or bladed weapons. Her eyes fell on the softness of Jaina's hands, delicate, clearly unused to brute weaponry. She remembered holding Jaina's wrists, the time she'd almost tied the woman up with bowstring. Remembered what she'd felt. People held odd thoughts in their minds, sometimes; thoughts at odds with the people they pretended to be.

When Jaina spoke, reaching out to touch one of the pieces of armor, Sylvanas could hear her smiling. “You seem more threatening to people who insult me than you are to me.”

Not that she hadn’t tried several times. But the memory of how she’d acted towards Delaryn - entirely reasonable, she’d thought at the time - suddenly seemed cast in a different light. She’d been showing the ranger her place, trying to foster peace in the house, not - not protecting Jaina, that was absurd. The thought shot her through with something shameful, and the quiet satisfaction in Jaina’s voice made her feel even more raw, and she resolved to drive the feelings out.

Jaina was tired tonight; the weapons were right in front of her. Maybe she was impressionable. Sylvanas tried the same trick as last time, quickly stepping up behind Jaina to hiss straight into her ear. “Do not assume you are safe with me.

Jaina tensed and froze, and for a moment Sylvanas thought the effect would be disappointingly the same, that Jaina would just ignore her. But instead the archmage suddenly shuddered, jerked around, and backed up a step - just like someone who’d been intimidated. Her face struggled obviously for composure, eyes widening. “Stop!”

After a split second of surprise, Sylvanas smiled, satisfaction curling in her gut. Finally, some real respect. She took a step forward. “Stop? This is my house -”

“I -” Jaina was stammering, and took another step back, pressing herself against the armory wall. As though she were actually afraid of Sylvanas. Yes - good. This was how things should be. Jaina glanced at the daggers on the wall, for a flicker of a moment. “I know you’re dangerous. Back off!”

Had the weapons on the wall really inspired this? Had Jaina’s exhaustion finally caught up with her? Either way, Sylvanas grinned at this unexpected display of weakness, and took another step closer, so they were well within arm’s reach of each other. “I don’t take orders from you.”

Jaina's voice trembled. “Don’t come any closer.”

She stepped closer, close enough that her face towered above Jaina’s. Jaina was looking up, breathing heavily. Sylvanas saw the gentle beating of blood under the soft skin of her neck, saw the heavy fall and rise of her breathing. Jaina watched Sylvaanas’ eyes as they lingered at her throat. “Or you’ll what, Proudmoore?”

“Just let me go.” Jaina seemed to shrink, though her eyes remained oddly locked on Sylvanas’. Maybe she was delusional in her exhaustion. “We don’t have to do this.”

She leaned closer, enough to feel the heat radiating from Jaina’s face. “Not if you surrender.”

Jaina’s face reddened, presumably with rage. “I can’t - Sylvanas, I’m too tired, you’re too strong - I can’t fight you off right now. Please.” Her voice lowered enough that Sylvanas felt herself drawn further down towards Jaina. “Please.”

This begging was delicious, though surprisingly abrupt. Perhaps Jaina’s insomnia was a weakness worth probing further. Perhaps Sylvanas had more power than she thought. So much for Nathanos thinking Jaina was a threat. She let her eyes roam over Jaina’s face, over the red blush of colour tinting some of her features, and felt she could get very well used to Jaina like this, overwhelmed and on the back foot. Pliable, even. To what might Sylvanas ply her? “Every moment you live you do so merely on my allowance, Proudmoore. Do not forget it.”

“How could I.” After a moment of staring far too directly into Sylvanas’ eyes, Jaina’s face shifted somewhat closer to a hard smile, her eyebrows settling, her voice rising again.

She reached up and patted Sylvanas on the cheek.

“There. You sure are a big fierce banshee.” Jaina grinned impishly. “Feeling better?”

Sylvanas snapped, her hands lunging for the archmage, but something happened and a blink of light blinded her as she careened straight into the armory wall, awkwardly knocking her fingers against the stonework. She spun around to find Jaina standing in the doorway, staring at her with an utterly despicable smirk.

Sylvanas had never before so intensely desired to fling herself at another person in mindless bestial frenzy. But Jaina could beat her in a fight. But Sylvanas didn’t care, she wanted, she needed to get her hands on -

“I’m going to sleep.” Jaina’s smirk widened, and with another magical blip she was gone. Sylvanas reached the hallway just as the warded door to Jaina’s bedroom slammed shut.

Leaving Sylvanas alone in the armory, every muscle in her body taut, every nerve in her flesh incredibly frustrated.

Chapter Text

Jaina woke up with a headache; sometimes the sleep spell did that. Another thing the sleep spell did, sometimes, was wake her up in almost exactly the same state of mind she’d been in when she used it on herself. Which meant she woke up with a pleasant tingling in her chest and her limbs, a squirming feeling in her core, and the memory of Sylvanas’ sharp canines running across her purple lips front and center in her brain.

This was why she’d used the damned sleeping spell, this time. She tossed in the bed and groaned. She hadn’t been able to get to sleep after her little provocation last night - or maybe she might have, if she’d resorted to other non-magical means, which were completely inappropriate to the situation and absolutely out of the question because this was Sylvanas Windrunner and, no, that was unacceptable, and really ought to be unthinkable. Though apparently it wasn’t.

She tried to replay the whole evening in her brain again, to make it make some other kind of sense. She’d just seen the look on Sylvanas’ face after she’d spotted the redecoration of the armory, that look of, Jaina has seen it, what is she going to say? It had been a keen sort of look, and Jaina had felt indulgent, and curious.

What did Sylvanas want from her? Had she been trying to intimidate Jaina with an array of gaudy, ridiculous weapons and absurdly revealing armor barely worth the designation? Had she been trying to assert power, or ownership over the house? Maybe she had. Jaina had wanted to deflate that a little, reminding her of her gallant defense against Delaryn’s insult, and of course Sylvanas hated being recognized as anything more than a violent snake so she’d come in and tried to scare Jaina again.

Or pretended to try to scare her, maybe.

Because she hadn’t touched Jaina at all, and her voice had been like dark honey to Jaina’s soul as it slipped into her ear, and Jaina had felt an unexpected warmth towards her. As she’d scrambled to think of how to respond, scrambled to think of anything other than lean back into her, she’d decided to play along, be the scared damsel Sylvanas was performing for, just for a few moments. For the sake of pulling the rug out from under the prideful elf’s feet, but also to break a tension within herself she otherwise didn’t know what to do with. It worked. The look on Sylvanas’ face had been pure gold, and Jaina had at first laughed herself into bed.

She smiled into her pillow even now. Sylvanas said she wasn’t funny, but Jaina knew she was funny, sometimes. She made herself laugh, after all. Wasn’t that what counted most?

And Sylvanas had enjoyed it too, at least until the reveal. She’d clearly relished Jaina’s sudden show of confusion and vulnerability. Gone was the frustrated, tense, bewildered lashing out of a woman unsure of her situation, stuck for weeks with an enemy constricting her every move. She was suddenly a predator again, and had slipped into that role with liquid grace, slowly advancing on her, smiling, almost licking her lips. Sylvanas had exuded such sudden rightness, such alignment with how the world should be that for a moment Jaina had felt a relief, almost pride, like she’d finally found a way to help Sylvanas feel like herself again.

For a moment, Jaina had enjoyed the performance as much as the ploy.

She tossed and turned in bed.

No, that was ridiculous. She hadn’t enjoyed Sylvanas threatening her, getting so close to her; hadn’t enjoyed having such a tall elf with such muscle-corded arms closing in on her; hadn’t felt excited, somehow, by the absurdly certain feeling she had that Sylvanas wouldn’t actually hurt her no matter how close she got; hadn’t wanted to see what would happen if Sylvanas actually reached out and touched her -

No! No. No, no, no.

She groaned and buried her face in her pillow. She was clearly still exhausted. She hadn’t slept well enough. Her mother was right - Sylvanas was right - she couldn’t do this all. She was simply falling apart.

Clearly talking with Vereesa had only confused her further. She was allowing herself to think of Sylvanas as a poor, sad woman who needed… attention. She was forgetting who she was dealing with. Vereesa was probably not the best person to talk to about this - of course she still hoped, even if she didn’t admit it, that her sister could be redeemed, that her crimes could be explained away as desperate and misguided attempts to do the right thing.

But Sylvanas was unforgivable.

Jaina had to remember that.

She tried to get back to sleep - it was clearly not quite dawn yet - but after tossing and turning, she finally decided it wasn’t going to happen. She sat up in bed, groggily rubbing at her eyes and yawning, and spotted her things from Dalaran, still half-unpacked, on the nightstand. Among them was the box of suncrown pastries; she’d had one yesterday and given another to Vereesa, so there were two left. She scooted over on the bed and took one, quietly eating it for breakfast. It would have to do for now; she wasn’t ready to brave the kitchen.

She closed her eyes and thought of the taste, trying to be mindful of the experience, to shift her mind from her concerns and doubts to this simple, real treat. Languor, Vereesa had commanded.

The honey was bright, but there was more to it than that; delicate fruit flavours that reminded her of sunshine and summer. Sharp, rigid flakes of impossibly thin pastry dough that teased her mouth into believing they were sharp as knives, until they yielded to her lips and tongue. A rich, buttery pillow that cushioned her tongue and invited her to slowness and languid pleasure as drops of honey slipped across the insides of her mouth. She swallowed, and breathed, and it was good.

These were damned good pastries.

She could see why Sylvanas might miss them. In a moment of hazy-brained, early-morning stupidity, Jaina felt sad for Sylvanas, that she would never be able to enjoy one like this. It hurt her a little.

After a moment of quiet, she realized that, if anything, was a sign she needed to really wake up and gather her Tides-drowned wits. She had things to do today. She needed to sort through new tomes on dealing with creatures of darkness and Void, and read up on binding practices and wards. She ought to brew some more stamina and rejuvenation potions. She had a letter to write to an eccentric old archmage about the question of the Focusing Iris’ attunement structure; not very strategically useful, but it would be a good distraction from more serious work. She seemed to be getting correspondence from someone almost every day, including from younger mages seeking advice - and if she could not be on the front, she would at least share what little wisdom she had with fellow practitioners.

And the banshee had meetings she wanted to spy on, too.

This time she stayed home. She hesitated for a moment longer before emerging, but Sylvanas was nowhere to be seen. Her bedroom door was closed, and Jaina knew the house wards had not been broken, so she must be in there. Ignoring the arrested queen, she went straight to her office with the remaining pastry in its box and set to work.

Letters had indeed arrived, including one from Go’el for the sake of scheduling a joint meeting with both Jaina and Sylvanas together, to talk about the future of their situation. She still wasn’t sure what future he was imagining, but the thought of it sent her brain down paths better not walked, so she quickly turned her attention to other letters. After a time she took a break to prepare more potions. Sylvanas had another meeting with Delaryn, who delivered her a box of small, mundane wooden blocks for reasons Jaina couldn’t fathom, but which were not the subject of any real discussion. Jaina listened in very closely to the conversation, trying to detect any hint of whether Sylvanas was out of sorts from last night, or whether there were any echoes of Delaryn’s insult and Sylvanas’... defense of her honor.

An absurd thought. She almost ate the pastry while she listened, but decided to hold off so she could savour it again.

Sylvanas showed no signs of being flummoxed after their encounter last night, and made no mention of Delaryn’s clash with Jaina either. They briefly spoke about Nathanos, and Delaryn seemed rather open and curt about the fact that he spoke to her rarely and shared no plans with her. Apart from that, the discussion was routine and boring; Sylvanas wanted to know what the dark rangers were seeing, what their morale was like, how they were being treated by the Orgrimmar guard. Sylvanas’ concern for her rangers stirred more memories in Jaina; here was someone who had burned a world tree in order to stop the flow of Azerite to the Alliance. An entire city, obliterated, because of a fear of Alliance warmongering that had not even manifested. And she was asking whether her rangers were in good spirits, whether they needed more leave.

Love of kin was all too easy to transform into hatred of outsiders, Jaina reflected. Might it be that Sylvanas was a case study in just how terribly poisoned such a love, if it might be called that, could become? It probably merited an entirely different word.

The meeting ended, and Sylvanas retreated to her room. Curious, Jaina continued spying with the gems, but Sylvanas simply settled into a sort of meditative pose, on her knees, and… did nothing. Perhaps she was in fact meditating, as she sometimes claimed.

Jaina realized, then, that they hadn’t even spoken today yet. She felt she ought to, but also felt a bit discomforted after the moment last night. What if she’d pushed too far, and perhaps gotten more of a rise than she’d bargained for? What if Sylvanas was actually angry with her? She worried what that would do to her brain - and her heart, and so on - if she carried her stupid, giddy memory of the event into a conversation and was met with an angry and vengeful Sylvanas instead.

She’d speak to her in the afternoon, after some more time to cool off. Go’el kept telling her to rest and look after herself, didn’t he? Well, she was going to take a lunch break. She made her way up to the roof, with the last suncrown pastry and a book with some parchment and paper.

Lunch break meant she was going to copy some new wards out from a Thalassian tome; not strictly necessary, but still useful. It wouldn’t do to waste her time doing something completely unproductive, but wards were easy enough and even a little fun, so she could relax while not feeling guilty about wasting time. There was too much weight on her shoulders for her to just… sit around. Perish the thought.

After working through the Thalassian notes on a few of the wards - her written Thalassian was solid, her spoken less so - she did lay down her quill and sat quietly for a moment. Perhaps a real break would be fine, if it was short. She decided to lean back and have a bite to eat, savouring the last pastry. Languor. She could try for languor.

Sylvanas had been mocking her, or testing her, when she’d brought up the subject of pastries. It would have been rude to even offer her any of them - everything Jaina knew suggested that the undead could no longer taste… anything? Certain things, at least. Clearly whatever the difficulty with their tongues, it was enough that Sylvanas couldn’t enjoy the suncrowns anymore, which was a damned shame.

But a thought occurred to Jaina. To one side of their house was the Valley of Honour, but on the other side was the Valley of Wisdom, and she heard drum beats from some of the Tauren longhouses there. Something about the sound made her mind wander a little, and the idea struck her unawares. Sylvanas had suggested this to make a point about the unhappy nature of her undeath; Jaina didn’t have to simply let that point stand unchallenged.

It was a terrible idea. She would regret it.

But it was there, and it rattled around inside her head and tickled at her fingers until she gave in, grabbed a piece of blank parchment, and started scribbling.

No, that was terrible. She crossed out a line.

Better, somewhat. But this - now she’d broken the rhyme. Crossed out a word.

More lines. She could switch those two around. Wait, why had she put a comma there?

Before she realized it, the sun was descending from its high-noon seat towards the Barrens, and she had… something. But she realized she’d wasted a great deal of time, and awkwardly stuffed the parchment away. She picked up the empty pastry box and, after hesitating for a moment, tore off the part of the box around the baker’s crest. The rest she could throw away.

As she pocketed the crest, her fingers found another piece of scrap she’d forgotten about, with crossed out and circled items, and one of them said Talk to S. When had she even written that?

She made her way downstairs, aware that Sylvanas had no more meetings scheduled for today, her eyes too firmly fixed on the ground. And almost ran straight into Sylvanas herself.

“Good morning, Proudmoore.”

Jaina stammered. “I’m - I had a lot to do today. I wanted to get started right away.”

“Yes.” Sylvanas glanced at the torn box of pastries. “Clearly you had important work. Goblin maple cakes?”

Without the crest, the box had no real identifying details. “Um - no, just some pastries from Dalaran.”

Sylvanas raised an eyebrow. “You have appetites.”

“Sometimes.” She shot Sylvanas a look as her mind processed the twist of Sylvanas’ tongue. “Wait, what?”

“Just a jest. Go’el has reached out to me. He says he is working to schedule a meeting with you?”

Her mind spun a little at the change in direction. Sylvanas was seeming so… polite. Compared to what she’d expected. “Yes. Yes, I wrote back to him. I think next week we should have time, if that works for you?”

“My schedule is… sparse.” Sylvanas grimaced. “And on your desk.”

“Right, well. There’s a lot going on. Trying to get Kul Tiras to coordinate with the Zandalari on faster ship passage from the Eastern Kingdoms while the void elves try to track Old God whispers in Uldum is a nightmare.” She frowned. “You - you know all this, right?”

“I am aware, thanks to the additional briefings you’ve secured for me.” The stillness, the way Sylvanas’ chest didn’t rise or fall with breath, was a little unnerving. Jaina stood awkwardly trapped in the stairwell, wondering where this was going. “Lady Proudmoore, I wanted to thank you again. For providing me with the copies of the Windrunner records.”

Jaina glanced up at Sylvanas’ eyes - where she should have been looking all along - and tried to read that undead face. “You asked for them.” Wait. Lady Proudmoore?

“It was a frivolity. I wanted to irritate you. I did not think you would actually do it.”

Tides, what new angle was this? “Well, I - I meant what I said. I want you to feel… better about this.” She tried to raise her chin, but meeting this elf at eye level was hopeless, even though she was one step up the stairs. “As much as you can, considering. You fight hard for your people, Sylvanas. Too hard, which is why all this is necessary. But that impulse is…” She waved her hand, unsure of how to finish the sentence.

“It is a foolish impulse you share, yes.” There it was - the familiar sharpness on the edge of that smile. Except it didn’t quite land the way Jaina was used to; there was self-deprecation within it, too. Sylvanas simply looked at her, blocking the hallway, not moving. What else did she want? “I appreciate your effort, even if the request was something of a trap on my part. This appears to be another thing we have in common. Evidently you were testing me as well, last night in the armory, and I fell into your own trap. You seemed very amused. I can appreciate the value of a clever ambush.”

“I - what? No, I - it wasn’t a test, I was just… tired. And having a bit of fun.” She sighed, smiling despite herself. “Still not funny, I suppose?”

Sylvanas’ eyebrow climbed precipitously high. “You enjoyed that interaction?”

“No, no, I mean, it was fine, I’m not -”

Those ember-like eyes narrowed. “My threatening you was fine?

“Well it could have been a bit more dramatic, you know.” Jaina’s mouth ran far ahead of her brain, and she found herself reaching for the braid of her hair. “A villainous monologue? More bared teeth? A little flash of shadow, maybe breathing in my face. Or other, you know, evil things you could have done.”

Sylvanas took a step closer, still a bit taller than her despite the stair. She grabbed Jaina’s chin, yanked her face up towards those smouldering red eyes, those razor-sharp canines peeking from behind deathly purple lips, the utter breathless stillness of undeath, her fingers soft and firm against Jaina’s jaw. Her voice skimmed her tongue and lips on its way to Jaina’s ear like liquid velvet. “Like this?

“Yes.” Jaina found herself whispering. “Yes. Just like that.”

There was a frozen, awful moment between them that made Jaina feel like she was ice about to crack. Something happened to the set of Sylvanas’ brow, the muscles around her cheeks, the gentle pulse of a blood red iris only visible from so very, very close. For a brief moment, so brief Jaina thought she imagined it, Sylvanas’ hand loosened its hold, and one finger gently brushed against her cheek, and the elf’s face took on a look of… sadness? Then her hand was suddenly gone and Sylvanas had withdrawn and was stepping back. “I suppose I can endeavour to be more evil to you, Proudmoore.” And she turned, and left Jaina alone.

Jaina, whose heart was pounding the inside of her chest like a bedframe -

No. No!

Her feet carried her to her office and she slammed the door shut, safe from Sylvanas’ predations, at least in the flesh. In her mind she remained thoroughly in the woman’s grip.

She was exhausted. This was disgraceful. She was barely settling into her role as warden to the most dangerous woman of Azeroth, and already she was making her fatal mistake. Not these specific, heated little feelings - that mistake was less common for her, thankfully - but the deeper mistake of trust, of false insight. Arthas, Go’el, her father, maybe even her mother… The mistake of thinking she knew them, that she could trust them to operate on reasonable, relatable principles. These people did not act in her best interests, no matter what they claimed, no matter how noble their intentions, no matter even whether they themselves thought they were acting in Jaina’s interests.

Jaina could see into their hearts, she lied to herself; she could know they meant well, that with the right words they would see reason. They would be transformed. They would join hands with her and find peace and set the world right.

And they never. Ever. Did.

And yet here she was, her vision of Sylvanas slowly transforming from murderous banshee to… to a profoundly lonely, deeply hurt woman who yearned for closeness she’d long lost, who wanted the best for her people, and who was too wounded by violence and injuries, real and promised, to see how to achieve any of that.

Someone Jaina could reach out to. Someone Jaina could let into her heart.

Madness. Absolute madness.

And it wasn’t only her judgement of Sylvanas that was failing either, she realized. Her mother had continued to handle most of the correspondence at Proudmoore Keep - Jaina read the reports, and offered advice, but the tables had been turning, and lately she felt she was the one suggesting things, rather than commanding. And still that was too much. Still she was awake late into the night, puzzling over the tax implications of fishing quotas, barely visiting the nation she was supposed to be ruling. She’d sent her mother a letter with a paragraph she’d simply forgotten to finish writing halfway through, the other day. She was barely managing to keep up appearances.

She was falling apart, she realized. Her sanity was crumbling at the strain of all this. She tried to gather herself, setting down her things on her desk, setting down her parchment and the pastry box and -

She paused, and looked at what she’d produced over her afternoon-long lunch break.

She hadn’t been thinking. She’d just been feeling. Just like she was now, feeling that, if she just said the right words, suddenly Sylvanas would unfold for her like a secret coded message in a hidden letter, revealing the rules and laws of her mind, showing Jaina the way to maintain this tenuous peace, the road to a world where Sylvanas could be let free without turning to genocide. To a world where Jaina could… not be a warden anymore.

No matter how much she thought about it, no matter what the base currents of her body suggested, the cold hard facts she knew suggested that would never happen. And nobody else was suited to watch over Sylvanas - in fact, the thought of anyone else doing it made Jaina feel… well, very unhappy. Which meant… which meant the Lord Admiralty would have to yield. It was horrible, but she would need to withdraw herself from that role before the fates did it for her. As they so often did.

She almost, almost, burned the parchment too. Because it was foolish and bad and doomed. But her instincts screamed in protest at sacrificing two futures in one night. It was painful to even think about.

So much pain over such stupid, silly words.

What harm could it do?

She might even learn something.

Before she could think clearly again, knowing that if she did she would burn the thing, she stuffed the parchment and the pastry chef’s crest in an envelope and quietly made her way down to Sylvanas’ room. The door was shut. She crouched and laid the envelope by the threshold. Then she turned and retreated to her study, immediately afire with the sense that she’d done something foolish, given Sylvanas free reign to mock her, to rage at her.

Good.

She hardened her face as she shut the door behind her. Good. Let Sylvanas attack her, try to hurt her, be genuinely mean to her. It would remind Jaina of just who she was dealing with. Let the banshee exploit some moment of folly for her own entertainment. The growing sense of politeness, of grudging respect, of playfulness - mangy sea dog? - was too much. The things it was stirring in Jaina’s chest were treacherous.

If Sylvanas hurt Jaina, it would be so much easier to treat her like the criminal she was.

 


 

Sylvanas felt frazzled. Whatever she’d expected from being locked in a house with Jaina Proudmoore, it was not this.

She’d expected to hate the woman. Granted, she had at first, on principle. But Jaina did little to worsen the situation, beyond what the combined leadership of Horde and Alliance had already commanded through contract and treaty. Yes, they traded barbs, but even those were modest at best, and driven by boredom and frustration at worst. Jaina was simply here to do her job, and she seemed to amuse herself on occasion at Sylvanas’ expense, but it didn’t truly feel hostile.

Sylvanas had expected the slaughter of the Forsaken to begin shortly after her capture. Yes, that could start any moment, and she did not doubt the day would come she would need to fight for their lives again. But for now, despite weeks passing by, despite access to her agents increasingly permitted, everything seemed… quiet.

She’d expected to gnash her teeth and fight to get out. Instead, she was suffering a much stranger fate - boredom.

She’d expected to relish every moment Jaina was out of her sight. Instead, for a few moments last night, she’d been so close to Jaina’s face she’d seen nothing else in the world, and yet… And this very afternoon, with her finger gently trailing across the soft skin of Jaina’s jaw before she could realize what she was doing and yank it away, she’d felt… 

After a long, long time trying to calm her mind, hone her thoughts, focus, focus, she finally opened the door again. She needed to return to her office, to continue pouring through the useless intelligence briefings Nathanos had left her. Not entirely useless, admittedly, but they’d done disappointingly little so far to elucidate his words or claims, or to explain why all the Forsaken seemed to think Jaina was plotting against her. And she desperately wanted an answer about that.

A lesser ranger would have slipped on the unexpected object her foot landed on, and for a split second Sylvanas was certain Jaina had set a trap meant to kill her the next time she opened the door. It was a wildly absurd thought, she realized, as she saw the envelope on the floor. That kind of random violence was inconsistent with everything she had learned about Jaina in their captivity.

A letter? Well, this was inconsistent too. But less so.

She opened it, and found a torn piece of thick boxing board, with a familiar crest on it. The sight of it struck her with an odd grief, strangely more painful for how mundane it was. Oh - so Proudmoore had remembered her outburst about pastries, and had told Vereesa. Wonderful.

“Oh good. One final - taunt.”

Her eyes fell on the parchment that accompanied it. She read it once.

Then she just… stared at it.

At a complete loss. Her brain produced not a single thought.

She shook her head. This was ridiculous. She read it again.

 

Sugar and fruit, honey and dough

For palates fine, there’s more to know

 

Secrets blooms of citrus whisper

Hot summer days and sunset lights

Honey like the Sunwell’s shimmer

Brings magic to the darkest nights

 

Blades of flour, so soft on the tongue

Rangers on leaves like silken beds

Bright memories no dark can blot

Of crowns of sun on Sun-blessed heads

 

It was… she was not ready to parse this.

She read it again.

It was not the height of Thalassian poetry.

She read it again, holding the paper in both hands this time.

Her hands did not tremble. Her breath did not shudder. She was undead.

Why? Why this? It took time to compose something like this. It took… care. Even for a bad one. It took inspiration. It took humour. It took thoughtfulness. It took a small measure of delight. It took the willingness to try to see things from someone else’s eyes. It took a thousand things nobody could possibly want to spare for someone they only saw as a murderous banshee queen.

Sylvanas walked straight for Jaina’s room. It was well past midnight, so the woman ought to be asleep, but no doubt she was burning candles at both ends yet again. This time she would knock -

Or, no. Because the door was already ajar. There was indeed candlelight inside, alongside the gentle scratching of a quill on parchment. And the door was ajar, and generally, with one notable exception, doors only ended up that way if Jaina was willing to let Sylvanas in.

Sylvanas pushed the door open and stepped inside. Jaina looked up from her side table, a weary, bleary look in her eyes. She was still wearing her robes, though they hung looser and more lopsided around the collar, and Sylvanas tried not to look at the pale skin and muscle that flowed from neck to shoulder.

Jaina should not be awake at this hour, and she seemed to know it, wincing almost guiltily. “I forgot about this one last letter. A mage was inquiring about the Focusing Iris and how it attunes to the primal forces, and theories about changing its attunement. Not very important, but I just wanted to write a reply so I can send it off first thing -”

Sylvanas wanted nothing less than to think about anything beyond the bounds of this room, and simply kept walking into the room until she reached Jaina’s bed. There was nowhere else to sit, and she felt a need to sit. She looked at the parchment again in her hand, holding it up.

“What is this?”

She ought to be reading Jaina’s face, trying to discern what she was thinking. But she couldn’t. There were possibilities there she did not want to see.

Jaina set down the quill quietly. “Is that the poem? It was just… You said you wanted to enjoy the - well, I know I can’t change undeath, but maybe I could give you something to - I don’t know, I assume you’ll laugh at me over it. At the very least.”

Her eyes strayed randomly across the lines of the poem. “It isn’t funny.”

“Oh.” A pause. Look at her face, Sylvanas. “Well, I’m sorry I failed you on that request.”

Jaina sounded genuinely disappointed, and that drew something from Sylvanas. “I didn’t say I didn’t enjoy it.”

They were both quiet a moment, before Jaina simply said, “Oh.”

“What is this?” She asked again, because it wasn’t just words on paper, but her mind refused to find the contours of its meaning. “Are you trying to mock me, my undeath?”

“What?” Jaina’s voice sharpened. “Sylvanas, no -”

“Are you trying to ingratiate yourself with me? To distract me from some scheme?”

“No, I’m not -”

“Is this some kind of bait?” Sylvanas raised her own voice. “Are you trying to draw out something you think remains of the Ranger-General of Silvermoon?”

The chair moved. “Sylvanas -”

She was running out of ideas. She was running out of excuses. “It’s a spell. It’s a curse. You’ve spelled out a curse somewhere here in your fidgety little handwriting.”

Jaina sat down on the bed next to her. Awfully close. Awful because of how real it seemed, and how real it could not be. “It’s not magic, Sylvanas. It’s just a bad poem.”

Sylvanas finally looked up at her, wondering what she was supposed to say. Looked at the soft candlelight on Jaina’s face, at the concern - yes, Belore, it was concern on her face. It had to be. She was not looking upon Sylvanas as a caged animal, as a prisoner of state, as a rival leader or -

How was Sylvanas supposed to protect herself against this? For so many weeks she’d been around this woman, and she’d understood nothing. She couldn’t fit the pieces together. Or, she could, and there was only one way to do it, and it was impossible. Impossible. How she was supposed to resist. If this kept going, Jaina would have hooks - no. Jaina already had hooks in her. This was simply the latest, the largest - and with every hook, the pain would be worse if they suddenly all ripped out.

She couldn’t… she couldn’t anything. It had to stop. Sylvanas didn’t know how many more hooks she could bear. “I surrender.”

Jaina frowned. “What?”

“I give up. I can’t - I don’t know what game you’re playing. I can’t figure it out. You’ve won, Jaina.” She waved the parchment and the torn piece of pastry box in her hand, and hung her head. She was out of ideas, and her poise was crumbling. She didn’t know what else to do. “You can stop now. Start your attack and I will fight, or make your demands and I will comply, or whatever it is, just - just -”

Jaina was searching her face, her brows knitted together. “What are you talking about?”

She looked into those icy blue eyes and wondered. Wondered. Was Jaina this good at whatever game she was playing? Or was she… “It hurts too much. Taunting me with your gestures. Holding an arrow to my throat with your bow this taut. And now this.” She stared at the paper again, like a death warrant. “This incantation. It is not for nothing they call you the greatest sorceress of our age.”

Jaina reached for the paper, but Sylvanas did not let go, tightening her grip, and their hands rested against one another. “It’s not magic, Sylvanas. It’s just a poem about pastries! Probably not even the best poem about pastries!”

Sylvanas missed the satisfaction of being able to draw a deep breath. She curled in pain around the memory of being able to tremble. She longed for a longing that did not ache with fear. “No, certainly not the best.” She didn’t even know if that was true. A thousand years of Thalassian poetry meant little tonight. She looked at the woman who was supposedly her enemy, and found she simply couldn’t see it anymore, not at all. The world as she’d known it had been peeled away, revealing… “But it is the only one written for me. You wrote me a poem, Jaina. That is magic.”

Jaina’s hand slipped from the parchment fully onto her own, and Sylvanas felt like she’d been speared through. She was dead. She was dead, and this was what it meant to die - to suddenly felt more life than ever before, one last time, knowing that all the promises and futures the world once held for you was draining away, was lies. And the pain of it.

“And it is a magic I have no defenses against. So just… get it over with. You’ve won. I’m cornered. Spring your trap. I am ready.”

“Sylvanas.”

The tremble in her voice. Sylvanas stared at her. She couldn’t take this anymore. She couldn’t hold her shield up any longer, because she was going to explode. “Stop. Stop it! I can’t take it. You’re tricking me, you’re going to betray me, but I can’t see how, and I’m losing the will to - I can’t stand it anymore -”

“I’m not going to betray you! I’m -”

“I’m finished.” She threw the paper down. “I’m done! Do you hear me?” She was shouting. “I’m beaten!” She stood and wrenched the signet ring of the Queen from her right hand and flung it against the wall with a dull thunk. “I’m outmatched.” She spun and knelt before Jaina and bowed her head. Jaina’s feet were just in her line of sight on the floor. The thought of all this turning against her, of one day having to pick up the broken pieces of all the things Jaina was making her feel and throw them away in despair, tore at her chest like a harsh wind. “Get it over with. Stop dangling this - this - in front of me. Do it. Finish me.”

Sylvanas.” The word slipped from Jaina’s mouth like a breeze across the soft grasses of Sunstrider Isle, and Sylvanas wanted to wail at what was being done to her soul. It couldn’t be real. It had to be a lie. But she wanted it to be real, wanted it so much she was finally blind to whatever was true, and in that want she knew she was opening herself to a universe of pain and she wanted to cry out. She glared at Jaina and grabbed the woman’s hand and put it on her throat.

I am yours! ” She squeezed her hand, and Jaina’s within it, around a throat that had not breathed in years. “End me!

Jaina staggered forward off the bed, suddenly very close, and her face was a tangle of exhaustion and shock and something angrier than grief but sadder than rage. She pried her hands away from Sylvanas but did not let go, grabbing her by the shoulders instead, and just… staring.

As if she cared.

As if any of this were real.

One hand left Sylvanas’ shoulder, and Jaina awkwardly twisted the anchor pendant so it fell down the back of her neck instead of down her front. Then she roughly pushed Sylvanas down until she was sitting, and gripped her head and pulled her in, nestling Sylvanas’ ear against the warm, living beating of her heart. She whispered. “Sylvanas.

Jaina was trembling. Sylvanas didn’t understand. She heard the heartbeat in her ear and felt the soft warmth of skin against her face. She was being torn apart. How unfair, how monstrously unfair, that all of this would be ripped away from her. Everything always was. Nothing lasted forever. Not even the gentle beating against her ear.

“Let me hold you.” Jaina stroked her hair with one hand, and squeezed her other arm around Sylvanas’ shoulders. “If - if you can cry. You’re allowed.”

She was not allowed. She was not.

But it turned out she could.

Black tears stained Jaina’s chest, and Sylvanas lost her mind in a brackish flow of sobs.

For long, still moments, Jaina did nothing. She said nothing when Sylvanas finally drew back, staring over Jaina’s shoulder at the wall. Jaina just watched, swaying slightly, her own eyes red and wet. As though she felt something, too.

“I have a secret.” She reached out to tuck away a lock of Sylvanas’ hair. “Want to hear it?”

She stared dumbly at the woman. This was when the axe would fall, wasn’t it.

But no, Jaina just smiled and broke her again. “I kind of like you.”

Sylvanas buried her face against Jaina’s shoulder and tried not to scream. Warm, mortal hands wrapped around her back and neck and pressed her close.

“Another secret, Sylvanas. I am fucking exhausted.”

She withdrew and stood, doused with cold. Finally, an ounce of reality. Her mind blank, she tried to compose herself. She would survive the night, only to be tormented again. This, truly, was hell. “Very well. I’ll leave you -”

“No, no.” Jaina stood with her, still touching her. “Stay. At least while I fall asleep. Please.”

She simply stared at the archmage. None of this made sense. All the wishes and dreams and memories of life were being paraded in front of her again, when she was already damned and robbed. Stay, as though they could simply lie down on the bed together and talk about their pain? As though Jaina were a sister who did not want to go alone into a distressing sleep? As though she felt comfortable around Sylvanas? “Why?”

“Because -” Jaina bit her lip, and let go. “Sylvanas. I don’t know your pain, but I know pain. I don’t think anything I say will calm your worry. But I think if you’re alone, it will get worse.” She sat down on the bed. “And if you leave, I think I’ll hurt too. I don’t want you to leave.” She moved further onto the bed, against the wall. “Please.”

Sylvanas looked at the bed. She had barely even touched her own yet. “I don’t sleep.”

“I can sympathize.” Jaina’s brow arched. “Will you be bored?”

“No - no.”

“Then just go pick up your silly queen’s ring and come lie down.”

Just… lie down. Quietly stare at the ceiling alongside her, as though Jaina were Vereesa or Alleria and all the world were not on fire.

She did as her warden commanded, putting her signet ring back on her finger and awkwardly lying in the bed slightly too small for two to lie at a respectful distance. Jaina pulled the cover over them. Sylvanas hadn’t been under a blanket in… years? She felt like a green huntress, trapped on a brand new continent in a whole new climate. “You shouldn’t use the sleep spell.”

Jaina stiffened slightly. “I’m very tired. I slept badly last night. I might not need it.”

She whispered. “You shouldn’t be incapacitated around me.”

Jaina raised an eyebrow, taunting. “What, exactly, would you do?”

Sylvanas tried to be threatening. “I could do anything.” She didn’t sound it.

Jaina quietly shuffled closer, and pulled on her - after a moment, Sylvanas realized she was trying to pull her in from the very edge of the bed. They settled on the same pillow, Jaina’s drowsy, closed eyes painfully near her own. Jaina’s hand rested on hers, and squeezed. “If you have to kill me, make it painless.”

It was as if she had a heart once more, and someone had skewered it with lightning. “I wouldn't kill you, Jaina. Even setting aside that I don’t want to be vaporized.”

Jaina smirked a little, and pressed closer. “Hold me, then? It's been a while, for me. Might be nice.”

She put an arm over Jaina’s shoulder, held her, and held onto this strange moment she feared was doomed to end.

Chapter Text

Sylvanas was still there when Jaina woke up.

She hadn’t expected that. The Sylvanas-being-there part. If she was honest, the waking-up part was a bit of a surprise, too.

Those same red eyes were watching her, but they’d taken on a hazy, dawn-soaked morning look, as though even the Banshee Queen were slowly stirring from some kind of rest. Jaina didn’t know what to say to this monstrous woman who was so, so broken. She felt like a glass had cracked in her hands, and if she moved even a little, pieces would start to fall away.

Vereesa’s mind was wrong, but maybe Vereesa’s heart was right.

How could she lie here, thinking this, about a warlord? Sylvanas was not exactly contrite, and Jaina doubted there was much forgiveness out there for her. Deaths could not be undone. She thought of healing, and the thought of it seemed to summon visions of angry friends, angry kaldorei, damning Jaina for hoping for such a thing. Who was Jaina to decide that Sylvanas deserved kindness, or healing, when it wasn’t her people Sylvanas had slaughtered?

But Jaina couldn’t shake the feeling that some future might hold a Sylvanas Windrunner who was more whole, less violent, than the one that lay before her today; better than the one who’d murdered Saurfang before the city gates. It felt terrifyingly unlikely, something at the end of a long tightrope walk, but she felt like she could see it, and she almost wept to think that future might never come to pass.

Instead of weeping, she tried to summon up some courage and levity, and whispered. “Good morning, Ranger-General. What are your marching orders?”

For a moment she worried she’d miscalculated, the stillness in Sylvanas’ face halfway between fearful and heartbreaking. But then those purple lips curled into a smile. Not a wicked smile, not a cunning smile, not a wolfish smile - a perfectly average, slightly lazy smile. “One hundred push-ups.”

Jaina snorted, raising her voice. “Ranger-General, I’ve decided to quit my ranger training.”

“We’re in troll country.” Sylvanas raised an eyebrow. “You quit now, you die.”

“Oh no, you’re right.” She rolled onto her back, pressing the back of her hand against her forehead as she stretched, her voice lilting in histrionics. “I should have listened to my noble Ranger-General. I’ve been struck by an arrow. I’m grievously wounded.”

Sylvanas raised her eyebrows. “I shall avenge your tragic death, ranger Jaina.”

Jaina narrowed her eyes, letting her tone fall flat again. “What, don’t you know first aid? I’m just going to die out here?”

“I’m not -” Sylvanas smirked. “Very well, ranger Jaina. You will be nursed back to health by the very best.”

“Then you will avenge my tragic yet nonfatal wounding?”

Sylvanas laid a hand on hers. “Yes. Brutally.”

“I am honored, and slightly frightened.” She tried to ignore the tingling in her thighs when Sylvanas touched her, which definitely wasn’t fear. That was an entirely different problem for her sleep-addled, overworked brain. Sylvanas needed a friend right now, not… well, Jaina didn’t know what any Forsaken really needed in that regard. And that was setting aside the question of Jaina’s apparent desires, which… were certainly possible and not unprecedented, but filled her with even more bafflement and guilt than the thought of wanting Sylvanas to be healed. In any case, Sylvanas had nearly vaporized herself just reading a poem; this was clearly a delicate situation.

“I am honored by your service.” Sylvanas’ voice was like a liqueur, potent and sweet and silky, and Jaina felt her mouth drop open slightly in response, for reasons beyond her ken. Jaina tried not to smack her new bedmate in the face with her arm as she rolled from her back onto her side again, to face her more comfortably.

“Were you bored overnight?”

“No. You struck me three times while tossing in your sleep. You kept me on my toes.”

Jaina cringed. So much for being careful. “Tides, I’m sorry - I didn't realize I tossed like that.”

Sylvanas simply smiled, though, and Jaina felt a rush of relief, irrational though it was, that Sylvanas didn’t interpret this as secret loathing. “You sleep rarely enough as it is. Why do you sleep poorly as well?” Sylvanas’ eyes were questioning, and Jaina felt surprised that they didn’t seem suspicious, or prying. Just curious. She seemed to genuinely care, and that flustered Jaina slightly.

“I don’t know. I just don’t. It isn’t nightmares; I haven’t remembered a single dream in months. Thankfully.” She sighed. This was not a conversation she ever expected to have, not with this person.

“Did you have dreams of… war?”

She could tell war in general terms wasn't precisely what Sylvanas was thinking of, and felt a pang of gratitude that she hadn't named anything specific. She didn’t remember any details from her older dreams, but the general themes were persistent. “Not exactly, just… things going terribly wrong, and me trying to fix them, and always being unable to.”

Sylvanas nodded, and was silent for a moment that Jaina suspected was genuine thoughtfulness. “It is good you don’t remember such dreams anymore, then. I’m rather glad I don’t dream - I suspect they would hold nothing but suspicion and persecution and plots. I have enough of those in life.”

Or, at the very least, Sylvanas thought she had plenty of those. And if she was going to... scar over, or grow, or whatever she might do, she needed her wounds to be left alone, didn’t she? “Sylvanas?”

“Mm?”

She took her hand out from under Sylvanas’ and placed it back on top. “I would like to conspire with you.”

The red glow in her eyes seemed to shift. “Oh?”

“I don’t believe anyone is actively plotting to harm you or the Forsaken. But I know -” She could see the hardening of the elf’s features. “I know that you have good reasons to suspect otherwise. I know you have good reason not to trust the Alliance, or even other members of the Horde. I know you have enemies. And frankly I’m also worried about not knowing what the Army of the Black Moon is up to. So… how about we work together to try to figure out what, if anything, they’re doing?”

“Why?” Sylvanas pulled her hand away, and Jaina cursed herself. Like a fool, she’d startled her.

“Vereesa told me about your visit to Windrunner Spire.” She reached out cautiously for Sylvanas’ hand again, and Sylvanas didn’t retreat again. “I know you still love your sisters. And I think, even if they’re hurt, they love you too, and they still have hopes for you, that you might… I don’t know. Change. Heal. Something. You can’t be the way you once were, but maybe you can be in a new way.” Maybe framing things in terms of her sisters would make Sylvanas more likely to believe her, since Sylvanas already clearly nursed some affection there, and it was the only reliable way Jaina knew to get at the softer center the woman tried to hide away that didn't make Jaina feel selfish or greedy or... wanting. Which was probably not the way to do this. “I’d like to meet the Sylvanas your sisters are still hoping to find, if you can find her within yourself.”

Sylvanas’ brow slackened, and she seemed distressed again, so Jaina squeezed her hand.

“Sorry, I don’t mean that I want you to - I just mean, I think there’s more to you than what people say.” She shifted on the pillow, wondering what kind of spike trap she was walking over. “I didn’t know you could cry.”

Sylvanas’ eyes opened again, searching hers for a long moment. “Neither did I.”

Jaina looked at the confusion in those eyes, the dark markings underneath them. What had happened to this woman? She knew, of course. She knew exactly what had happened to this beautiful woman, exactly who had taken her and hurt her and turned her into a queen of monsters. She knew, because she’d seen him on the start of that very path herself.

I can’t watch you do this, Arthas, she’d said.

And yet here she was, watching the shape of him torture Sylvanas from twice beyond the grave, watching wounds he’d carved swell with unending torment. How blinding was the pain of it, that Sylvanas had stumbled down this dark path? Would this have happened if she’d died a quick, clean, sudden death? If Arthas had not turned to sadism?

Jaina was not responsible for Arthas’ crimes, she knew she was not. But she could have stopped him, couldn’t she have? If she’d known - which she hadn’t, not the full extent of it. She’d only seen the beginning, the first blush of evil, and that alone had been enough to send her running. She'd known that much.

I can’t support you in this, was what she’d meant. You're going to lose me if you do this. Apparently, she had been a small cost for him to pay.

Her own eyes were wet, and she sniffled and buried her face in the pillow. Sylvanas’ hand found her cheek. “What is wrong? Your crying hurts me.”

“It’s not -” She sniffled, wondering what exactly Sylvanas meant by such an odd phrase. “It’s not my crying that hurt you, Sylvanas. Why can’t I sleep? Maybe I’ve been chasing all these consequences, all these ripples, for so many years, and there are so many, and I can never seem to stamp out all the ways he -”

“No.” Sylvanas gently - firmly - wrenched her head up so they were face to face. “You are right; it is not the crying. It is also not you at all. He failed you. He failed his people and his world and everyone who loved him. You are not guilty. He is guilty of his sins; as I told Delaryn that Garrosh is guilty of Theramore. It doesn’t matter how much we failed to stop them. We. You are not alone.”

That… she was not wrong. Sylvanas had tried to destroy him, at the gates of Quel’Thalas. But Jaina felt a gulf between a former lover turning away from a powerful man going mad, and a noble general dying in defense of her people. “I hate what he did to you.”

Sylvanas closed her eyes. She had to hate it even more. But she said nothing, only drawing Jaina in closer. “Let us conspire.” She stroked the back of her head, and Jaina realized her thick braid was still mostly intact. No wonder she’d been tossing in her sleep; resting on that thing was nearly impossible. “I have a proposal.”

A proposal. Jaina’s mind drifted slightly along other meanings of the word, and she smirked wryly at the thought as she muttered into Sylvanas’ neck. “Our first plot?”

“Among those who would wish us ill, I also worry most about the kaldorei.” Jaina stilled. Sylvanas rarely spoke at length about Teldrassil, if it wasn’t to repeatedly insist she thought she’d done what she had to. “I made mistakes, committed too much to the blockade. I did not expect the tree’s own soul to rise in its defense, and with its magic Malfurion would have speared to death every Horde soldier north of the Barrens with thorns. What I had to do to salvage the situation… They will never forgive me the results.”

“No.” The memory of the ashen, smoking hulk of Teldrassil struck her cold and sober. “No. They will not.”

Sylvanas seemed, in silence, to acknowledge that Jaina might not either. “And I cannot expect them to. It may be as you say - there may be no plot. But if there is one, that is where I would look first, and I am not convinced there isn't one.”

Something hitched in Jaina’s throat. Am I… am I going to spy on the Alliance? She looked into Sylvanas’ eyes, expecting to see the sharp eyes of a master huntress. Instead, she saw… fear. Raw pain.

And a tiny, tiny curve of hope on her cheek. She wanted to be convinced, and Jaina wanted to convince her. How to do that?

Yes. Maybe I am. “I’ll start looking. I’ll make some inquiries. And I’ll share whatever I can find.”

Sylvanas nodded, and closed her eyes again. “I know you are loathe to do this, but I would request another meeting with Nathanos. He knows more than he is telling me, and he fears your scrying. If I can convince him that you are in fact not actively listening to us, he may be forthcoming with information that would be useful.”

Uncertainty curled in Jaina’s gut. She understood at least why Sylvanas would ask this. If they were going to try to get to the bottom of this and set her mind at ease, Sylvanas would want more information from sources she trusted, wouldn’t she? And in seriousness, if Jaina actually wanted to get to the bottom of whatever Tyrande was doing, would she really turn down Horde intelligence, even from someone as vile as Blightcaller? Not if it was well vetted, at least.

But the last time Nathanos had visited, she’d returned to find Sylvanas somewhat more agitated than usual. It hadn’t been disastrous - in fact, by the end of that very evening, they’d gotten along quite well. It did worry her a little, though. But at the same time… this was new. This was special, wasn’t it? Sylvanas seemed to trust her now. They'd moved past that suspicion. Sylvanas was on a different path now - whatever intelligence she may get from Nathanos, she would read it differently.

Jaina thought about it for a moment, and finally nodded. “Very well. I can get Go’el’s security detail again, but they’ll stay outside.” She affected as imperious a tone as she could, lying dishevelled in bed in her evening dress - at least it wasn’t her thin, sparse nightgown. That thought made her shiver. “I require a favor in exchange.”

“A favor?” Sylvanas’ brows went up, but she clearly noticed the shift in tone, and was not displeased that Jaina had accepted her request. “What does my lady require?”

My lady. Jaina set aside the tingling those words set down her spine, trying to focus on making her gamble sound confident and deliberate. “I require that you return Alleria’s necklace to her.”

Sylvanas looked like she’d been skewered, and went very still. Jaina hadn’t even been sure whether she had the necklace; it had been a guess, based on the information Vereesa had given her, and based on what she was learning of the middle Windrunner’s heart. Sylvanas would not want to leave Alleria’s necklace lying there alone - not with the way she spoke of her elder sister, of her sisters in general. The look on her face now was enough to confirm Jaina was right; Sylvanas was caught fully unawares. “How did you know I had it?”

Jaina felt that same stupid rush of guilt, at spying on Sylvanas in her private moments. It was her job, wasn't it? But it was not kind, it was not compassionate. She quickly tried to cover it up. “I didn’t. How did you get the necklaces back?”

Sylvanas looked away, frowning. “My sisters and I met at Windrunner Spire, not that long before the war. We cleared the mindless undead from the place and then we had an argument and left the necklaces. I assigned a pair of dark rangers to watch over the Spire in secret. It is our home, after all, and… I did not want it to be further ruined, or infested once more.” Her eyes drifted over Jaina’s shoulders. “A few days later, they reported to me that they’d seen Vereesa return to the spire alone.” She closed her eyes. “Vereesa spoke to me before we all left. She seemed to have regrets about our… troubles. I went to see if she’d done anything, left any trace. I found my necklace and Alleria’s, tucked away together, but hers was gone.” Sylvanas opened her eyes again. “My Little Moon is sentimental.”

Little Moon. It sounded like a nickname, and Jaina wondered, absurdly curious, what her sisters called Sylvanas in private. “And Alleria?”

“She is not sentimental. She is practical. Or at least her sentimentality is more focused and purposeful.” There was a hint of admiration on Sylvanas’ face, one tinged with sadness, and Jaina felt absurdly warm at the idea that she was perhaps seeing the echoes of a girl idolizing her big sister. “She is… a darker sort of creature, in a sense. Like me, if less murderous. Were the ren’dorei treated as the Forsaken are, I believe Azeroth would have cause to fear her.”

It startled Jaina a bit, to hear Sylvanas say almost the exact same thing Vereesa had said. And it saddened her a little, too, to know that Sylvanas thought of herself as a monster. Unless she was simply saying so because she knew others believed it - but how long could a person do that, without coming to believe it themselves? “So you kept both necklaces.”

“I am undead. I cling to the remains of the past.”

She smiled, wanting to break the melancholy a little. “That’s not undeath, Sylvanas. That’s just being over thirty. You're fine.” Sylvanas almost chuckled at the silly joke. She saw it. She would yet make the woman laugh. “Alleria vouched for you, before we woke you. I think she believes in you. Or she wants to, at least.”

The middle sister said nothing, looking into Jaina’s soul as though digging for hidden truths.

“She said you and your Forsaken were our best chance against the Old God. And that if you were killed, they would fracture at the moment we needed them most.” Jaina remembered what Vereesa had said, and wondered to what extent that was true. “But I felt like she was also arguing for you. You can tell these things.”

Sylvanas turned a bit to look at the ceiling. “She is, as I said, a leader and a pragmatist. It is no proof of sisterly love.”

She wondered, privately, what Sylvanas would consider proof. If such a thing even needed to be proven at all. “Maybe not. Give her back the necklace and we’ll see.”

“I don’t have it with me.” Sylvanas glanced at her. “I had it in a lockbox in my quarters in the Undercity. I didn’t keep it on my person, not like mine. It was… too much of a reminder. I’d hoped that one day…”

Jaina cringed at the thought of the Undercity, still coiling with lethal Blight. “Oh no.”

Sylvanas nodded slowly. “If you truly want me to do this, you’ll need to go get it yourself. It may be easier to let it rest until the Blight clears.”

“No, no - I’ll get it.” She sat up in bed, already feeling tense, recalling the battle at Lordaeron. “I’ll get it. Sylvanas, that Blight -”

Sylvanas’ voice hardened. “I was a feather’s breadth from falling to genocide. I did what I had to.” Jaina looked at her, intently, until something within Sylvanas relented. “What I believed I had to.”

She stopped herself, and patted Sylvanas’ hand. Genocide. How broken her vision of the world was. The Alliance would not have exterminated the Forsaken in their own home… would they have? Jaina tried to remember not to be too harsh - she wasn't trying to fight Sylvanas into submission. She was trying to show her care, difficult as that was. Much as Jaina sometimes feared to do it. “I know. Don’t worry, I’ll get it.”

She started climbing over Sylvanas to get out of bed, who tensed up. “You know, you could simply ask me to move.”

Jaina blushed. “I didn’t want to force you out of bed.”

“You are the only reason I'm in this bed to begin with.”

Jaina heard that two ways, and blushed further at one of them, terribly inappropriately. Luckily she was looking away, even as Sylvanas stood behind her. “Give me a moment to get dressed, please.”

“This is you undressed?” Sylvanas rose after her, and tugged at the shoulder of her woolen evening dress. “Scandalous.”

Just you wait, she almost said. She managed to tense up and clamp her mouth shut before the words left her lips, thank the Tides, but suddenly found herself unable to think of anything else to say in response. “I don’t -” She spun around and accidentally elbowed Sylvanas in the gut. “Sorry!”

Sylvanas had staggered back slightly, and there was an oddly wounded look that flashed across her face. Jaina wondered if that had actually hurt, but Sylvanas quickly papered over whatever thought had struck her and regained her slightly amused cool. “No apologies. I was too close.”

What was she supposed to say to these kinds of things? The whiplash was disorienting. At a loss for words, she went for the dresser instead. “I wasn't thinking about my space.”

“You should.” Sylvanas extended her arms wide, and Jaina glanced. Strong archer’s arms. They'd been wrapped around her, last night, even if in tears. “This is your room, is it not? Your house, in effect?” And she let them fall again. “I am an intruder here. In the interest of peace, I shall retreat while you change.”

Sylvanas walked for the door, but she to hesitate for a brief moment, and an absolutely ludicrous impulse shot through Jaina’s brain. You can stay if you want. Which she could not, absolutely not, Jaina felt like she would die if Sylvanas did that, and besides, she was still a warden, wasn't she? And Sylvanas was still a prisoner? But despite all that, she felt a little desire to keep Sylvanas around. She quashed it, sucked air through her teeth, and barely managed to speak something more reasonable. “I'll be off as soon as I'm ready.”

Sylvanas seemed at a loss, briefly, and then nodded, and smiled. It was a softer smile, not as playful or dramatic, and Jaina wanted to just stare at it. “Yes. We shouldn’t keep Alleria waiting.” Then Sylvanas took her smile with her out of the room and, rather gently, shut the door, leaving Jaina feeling oddly bereft.

Was it a bad idea to bring Sylvanas’ sister into this? Was she going to keep having stupid impulses to flirt with the undead warlord she was supposed to be keeping under house arrest? Would that undead warlord ever flirt back if Jaina did, and if so, how would she avoid spontaneously combusting on the spot?

After a moment of just standing there alone in her room and thinking about that, though, Jaina realized the anxiety of it, while not entirely pleasant, felt warm and a little giddy. It was not the anxiety of fear or bad things; it was… anticipation, and the nervous uncertainty of how to turn anticipation into reality.

It was a silly byproduct of her silly body having silly feelings, in other words. But it was rather strong, and rather pleasant, now that she thought of what might have happened if she had said what she'd been thinking. Of course, this was just her imagination - in reality it surely would have been embarassing at best and confrontational at worst. But what if... A tingling warmth was dancing across her skin and through her flesh in all sorts of places, and Jaina was almost trembling again. What a maddening, absolutely maddening woman was this Sylvanas. Jaina wasn’t feeling like herself. She was feeling… absolutely silly. She needed to focus.

She undressed and noticed, again, the tingling warmth between her thighs, and the tension in her abdomen, and the flush of her cheeks. The unusual moisture of that last garment she’d removed.

She glanced at the bed. Back at the door. It was well shut.

Deep breaths. Steady heartbeat. She needed to focus.

Surely she could focus better if she just dealt with this damnable itch.

She threw herself back under the bed covers. Lordaeron could wait a few more minutes.

 


 

Sylvanas' nerves were all on edge as she feared the worst. She felt as though someone had offered her a suncrown pastry and she’d taken the bait without thinking. Starved and hungry, she’d sunk her teeth in and crushed it against her palate with her tongue and licked her fingers clean.

And now she was waiting to see if some secret poison would kick in.

Jaina was offering her something she had not properly had since her death - a kind of care that was genuine instead of utilitarian, attentive instead of coercive. A care that had perhaps been inspired by a sisterly love that still seemed to linger in Vereesa and Alleria.

It did seem to be a sisterly kind of care Jaina was hinting at, she thought ruefully, and perhaps that was a small bit of poison. Jaina invoked the other Windrunners rather more than Sylvanas had expected, and had quite clearly demurred and deflected Sylvanas’ cautious attempt at flirtation in the bedroom. She’d seemed shocked, even, that Sylvanas would even obliquely reference the idea of her in a state of undress. And then she’d elbowed Sylvanas in the stomach after Sylvanas pulled at her dress, which was probably an accident. Probably. Either way, it seemed clear Jaina wanted to place some limits on just how intimate Sylvanas’ thoughts should dare become, and if this was indeed a real overture of friendship Sylvanas was not willing to risk jeopardizing that rare gift just because her eyes occasionally caught on some of the woman’s curves, or because she thrilled a little the sound and sensation of Jaina's breathing when it was so close to her face.

Even with that line in the sand, there was more promise here than Sylvanas knew what to do with. It had been long since she’d felt the care of a comrade, a friend, even a sister. In trying to remember how to feel that feeling again, her mind returned to late nights with Alleria and Vereesa, lying in an oversized bed, chatting and telling stories and playing word games. She remembered the embrace of fellow rangers in moments of grief, of triumph. She remembered the closeness of people who were not just allies, but who loved.

That was something the living Sylvanas had known, though it had been harder to find as the Ranger-General, with the complications of rank, the uncertainties about sincerity and free will that crept in with every step one took towards power. But she had known it even then, still - until death. After that, those memories had been soured by loss and rage, and by the slow realization, an observation based entirely in fact, that she was now a thing nobody would extend kindness and care to anymore. To a corpse, a banshee, a tyrant? And a queen and a general on top of that. She was too many things people did not love, truly and sincerely.

And so she feared the poison. But Jaina had baited her traps well, and Sylvanas had fallen into a kind of comfort with their situation that was almost soft enough to be more. It pained her, to see her own heart believing something that could not be true. She was a fool. Perhaps this was her final foolishness.

I’m yours. End me.

By Belore, had she really said that? To Jaina Proudmoore? Apparently she had. And she had meant it - she could not continue to defend herself against this gold-and-silver-haired tangle of sincerity and bad jokes. A part of her that had lain hidden under scars and armour had been coaxed out and exposed. If it were wounded once again, it might destroy her entirely, in a way far stranger than a blade or a burst of Light. She was on the back foot, now, either growing into something new, or losing terribly without even knowing it.

But Jaina had not ended her.

Or perhaps she had, in a far more subtle way.

Sylvanas hoped - she should not, but she hoped that Jaina was sincere about helping her. About investigating the enemies she’d accrued over the years. She might rest easier if they could fill in the gaps about Tyrande’s mysterious absence. Tyrande had had revenge, after all, with the fall of the Undercity; a city for a city. But she had also abandoned her people at Teldrassil, to save Malfurion as he was wracked in pain from the burning of the tree his soul had been communing with. That guilt, Sylvanas knew, would hound the Night Warrior forever. And who was easiest to blame for that guilt, if not Sylvanas?

And so that brought her to the day’s work, the least terrifying thing she would do today, between waking up in Jaina’s bed and possibly speaking to her sister Alleria before nightfall. Jaina had sent for Nathanos again, by way of Go’el’s team of absurdly burly and gruff guards. She had pointedly told Sylvanas that Blightcaller could check all the windows if he wanted to be sure she was gone. Then she’d left - headed off through a portal to Lordaeron, with one of the dark rangers as proof that she was allowed to be roaming around Horde territory. Sylvanas had made clear to Velonara that if anything should happen to Jaina that harmed or upset her unduly, there would be hell to pay. Velonara had seemed unusually stiff in her acknowledgements of her orders, but Sylvanas knew she would do as commanded.

This meant she was alone again while she waited in her office for Nathanos. And strangely, she felt both more and less lonely than she had in a long time. Because Jaina wasn’t here anymore; and because Jaina would come back. Though she didn’t know if she could trust that feeling, she could at the very least lean on it, let it bolster her spirits while it lasted.

Nathanos appeared before long, and actually did take up the offer of scouring the outside of the house, staring in windows and walking through what parts of the house Jaina had left accessible - for he, too, had undead hands that could not open doors. She followed him wordlessly, hands clasped behind her back, until they finally returned to her office and sat down.

When he sat down he began to unpack more reports, each one marked with a codename she knew. These were new - perhaps he had not wanted to bring them yesterday, with Jaina listening in.

He looked at her, calculating. “My Queen, how is it that Proudmoore so willingly left the prison?”

Sylvanas found the word prison slightly jarring, now - though much less so than the thought of explaining to him in any detail what had transpired last night and this morning. Sylvanas knew Nathanos well enough to know that he would be distracted by those details - if anyone were to be lounging with his Queen, he surely thought it ought to be him. He was most useful if his perception of her as Queen remained professional and noble and unattainable, unmarked by the nuances and tangles of life.

“I have presented her with a pathway that makes me more tolerable for her to watch.” This much was very true. She felt uneasy dissimulating with him, but tried to tell herself she was simply sticking to the relevant information. “In doing so I have convinced her that it is in her interests to assist me in investigating Alliance activities. She has agreed to provide us with more lenience for meetings, and with information from her own Alliance sources.”

He raised an eyebrow and quirked his lip into a smile, and seemed to think for a moment. “My Queen is very cunning. By charting the gaps between the lies Proudmoore will try to feed us, we may come closer to knowing the shape of the truth.”

That thought had not occurred to her at all. Perhaps it should have, previously, but not now that she and Jaina had an understanding. Jaina wouldn’t feed her lies or half-truths to manipulate her. She didn’t want to believe that, and tried to press on.

“Yes. Are these new reports the ones that you were unwilling to discuss previously?” She started leafing through the folder. “What can you tell me about this new ally you’ve spoken of? Or these assets you recovered from the Alliance?”

“Ah.” His smile widened. “My Queen should not trouble herself. These concerns are nothing loyal servants cannot manage. I shall share more when we have the means to truly speak safely. The folder does, however, contain some information on the operations of the Army of the Black Moon, as requested.”

She frowned, remembering what Jaina had told her about being unable to spy when she wasn’t actually in the house. “She is away, Champion; we can speak safely. Her surveillance is limited if she is not around to listen.”

“Is that certain?” He peered at her. “Proudmoore is still Alliance, after all. She could tell us whatever is to her advantage. She is still among the living, still among those who would retake Lordaeron from us. We are monsters to them, nothing more. And her allies…” He shook his head. “Very well, here is something I can risk. I have heard from my agents that she was seen speaking with both Aethas Sunreaver and Vereesa Windrunner in Dalaran, only a few days ago.”

Vereesa she knew about. But Sunreaver? Sylvanas paused, unsure of what to make of that, or why Jaina hadn’t told her. They had an understanding, didn’t they? “What of it, though? Aethas is loyal to the Horde.”

“He is loyal to the living of Quel’Thalas, who did not stand so staunchly at my Queen’s side after the War of the Thorns. And he is loyal to Dalaran; I recall how hard he fought to rejoin that city. Proudmoore went between Vereesa Windrunner, Aethas Sunreaver, and Archmage Modera on that same day - three of the city’s leaders. My agents believe she is trying to mend the internal fractures of Dalaran. We, however, benefit when the city is divided, when the Sunreavers are reminded of their allegiance to us by the hostility of the Silver Covenant and the wariness of the Kirin Tor. If Sunreaver’s faction were to be subsumed into the city as a whole, we may lose our foothold there, and our ability to defend ourselves against the mages should the need arise.”

Sylvanas considered the words and the strategy implied, which was one she'd endorsed for a long time now. But Jaina, trying to reach out to Aethas Sunreaver? Trying to reach some accord between Aethas, Vereesa, and Modera? That seemed unlikely. Jaina was perhaps soft-hearted, but she’d been murderously furious at what had happened with the Divine Bell. She’d killed Sunreaver acolytes. There was no easy way to bridge such gaps once more, or if there was, Sylvanas didn’t know how it was done. If dropping a bomb on Theramore had been Sylvanas’ idea… things would be going very differently in this house, even if the deaths were the same. “Perhaps. But her visit to my sister was a personal matter, I believe.”

Nathanos paused for a moment. “I am inclined to wonder what Proudmoore might be omitting from her accounts. Surely she has not fully recounted all her conversations. Are there gaps in what she has said? Questions she has avoided? Things she seems to know without cause?”

Sylvanas’ frown deepened. There was one thing. Jaina had never explained how, exactly, she knew about the Windrunner necklaces this morning. She’d implied that Vereesa had reclaimed her own necklace - presumably, that had come up during their conversation, and Sylvanas had assumed Vereesa had raised the issue. But Jaina had never been clear about that. And she’d seemed very certain that Sylvanas still had her own necklace, as well as Alleria’s. Even Vereesa couldn’t know that - she’d gone and gotten her own necklace first, and left the other two.

Sylvanas thought on it. She had asked, Jaina, hadn’t she? But Jaina had not fully answered that question, only responded with a quick I didn't before barreling on with a question of her own. Sylvanas hadn’t pressed the issue. In the moment, in the soft confusion of that conversation, she’d been completely disarmed of her wits and had let Jaina simply not answer. Avoid it.

What did it matter, though? It was just a necklace. A personal necklace, well-hidden, which meant Jaina had gone to some lengths to obtain information about it. She glanced at Nathanos; his face tightened, and he gave a quiet grunt and nod. “I see my Queen has indeed been watchful. All is not as it seems.”

Her fragile hope - what a foolish feeling - was already straining under this thought. What wasn’t Jaina telling her? Why was Jaina off meeting with Aethas Sunreaver? She wanted to trust Jaina, but on what basis could she extend that trust, when such uncertainties remained? “And I shall remain watchful, and alert for any proof of betrayal.”

He nodded politely. "And what of proof of her professed cooperation?"

She tensed. What proof did she have of that - proof that wasn't written in her expression, in her voice, in the lines of her poetry? "I will remain watchful for that, too. Tell me, Champion, if you do not feel this is a safe venue to discuss more delicate topics, do you have anything else to report?"

“Since yesterday, I have accumulated little new information, beyond profiding these additional report, as requested. There has been little movement as of yet. Most of our spies tell me the Alliance’s primary concern is in triangulating the source of the rift between Azeroth and the realm of N’Zoth. This supposed city Ny’alotha. The Horde cooperates with them, as expected. There are tensions among their races, especially between the wider Alliance and the worgen and kaldorei, who loudly declare the Horde cannot be trusted. But that will surprise no one.”

“No.” She was feeling tense. She was feeling her disconnection, her powerlessness, all over again. “What of the Night Warrior and her forces?”

“She has been glimpsed, rarely and only in secret, in Stormwind. Some movements in Kalimdor have been spotted by scouts - the details are in these files. But we still know so little.”

Stormwind? Jaina had suggested that she hadn’t known anything about the Black Moon - surely if Tyrande were running around Stormwind, Jaina would know about it?

Of course… Jaina hadn’t exactly said that she didn’t know where Tyrande was, had she? She’d said she didn’t know what the Army of the Black Moon was up to. Those were different things. She might well have spoken to Tyrande, and still not be outright lying, for all Sylvanas knew.

But she wasn’t. This was foolish. Jaina seemed trustworthy. She had no proof of Jaina hiding things from her... or proof that she wasn't. Feeling angry, she snapped the folder shut. “Very well. If that is all, it seems I have more reports to read to try to make sense of this. Is there anything more?”

Nathanos looked at her closely again, as if trying to read her. “If there is anything more I can do to demonstrate my undying loyalty, my Queen need only ask.”

She did think about it for just a moment, but nothing more came to her, and she did not feel well disposed to have a thoughtful discussion. So Nathanos was dismissed, with a bow and a kiss of her ring, and she was once more alone to stew with her thoughts. She opened the folder of reports and tried to read the ones earmarked as relevant to the Black Moon’s activities, but found her eyes skimming only just enough to see that there was nothing truly meaty here, aside from a few scout sightings.

She could ask Jaina what she’d wanted from Aethas Sunreaver. Of course she could, and she would. She could ask what Jaina had talked about with Vereesa, too. What she knew about Tyrande. And to such questions Jaina would say something . Something disarming, no doubt, because Jaina was always disarming Sylvanas.

But would it be true?

It had to be. Everything that had happened this morning - yesterday - this was not the work of someone who was simply manipulating her. She’d decided that. She’d decided it was worth believing, or at least, not worth fighting anymore.

So if they trusted each other, if they were working together… surely she could ask these questions. Surely it would do no harm. And Jaina would tell her the truth, if Sylvanas asked. And if she didn’t ask… Well, truths unasked for often tended to go unsaid. That was simply the way of things, wasn’t it? For some people more than others.

Why did she feel worse than she had before? She’d woken up this morning feeling… not confident, no, far from it. But renewed, somehow. Where had that gone? She stewed, simmered, increasingly dark in her thoughts, still sitting in her office chair, until she felt the nearby flare of a portal. Shortly thereafter, as Velonara walked off past the window, the front door opened and Sylvanas heard Jaina’s voice call out through the house.

“It’s a mess over there, Sylvanas. I’ve seen worse, but not by much.” The voice drew nearer. “Accidentally melted part of my cloak. But I got it!” She was somewhere around the bedrooms, but after a pause she continued and drew closer. “Sylvanas? I grabbed some other things from your quarters too. I didn’t know what you’d want.” She peeked around the office door with - with a smile. “You can send me back if you like, now that the path is clear, and I’ll -”

Halfway into the office, she paused, her smile faltering.

“Sylvanas?”

It couldn’t hurt to ask. So she could just ask. She tried to control her voice. “How did you know I still had my Windrunner necklace?”

Jaina stiffened, as though sensing Sylvanas’ turmoil. “I - I - you know I have means to observe what happens in this house.”

She shot Jaina a look. Again - not an actual answer. An evasion. Why was Jaina evading? That wasn’t what trustworthy people did. “Did you rifle through my trunk?”

Jaina blanched. “Absolutely not. I wouldn’t.”

“So, what?” Sylvanas crossed her arms. She thought it was a simple question, but Jaina still hadn’t answered, and her nerves were crawling under her skin. “Explain, please.”

Jaina slowly placed the lockbox - unopened - on Sylvanas’ desk. “My scrying spells aren’t just for listening, Sylvanas. I saw you kneeling over your trunk, sorting through your things. How else was I -” She seemed to bite back her instinct to defend herself, though, and instead her icy blue eyes seemed to search Sylvanas’ face.

That could explain how she knew the necklace existed, but not what it was. “How did you know my necklace was a Windrunner family heirloom?”

Jaina sat down, in the very same chair that had seated Nathanos some hours before. “I didn’t know at first. I asked Vereesa -” She swallowed, and her voice took on a monotone that felt forced and strained. “I saw you handling certain items with… extra care. I made a list of them, because they seemed important. I told Vereesa what I saw, and asked what they might be. I didn’t know how personal they were. I suspected, but -”

“Items? Plural?” What else had she told Vereesa? “What items?”

Jaina pursed her lips and exhaled through her nostrils. Her jaw seemed to tremble a little. “The Ranger-General’s seal. Your brother Lirath’s flute. Your necklace, obviously.”

She closed her eyes. So now Vereesa knew what keepsakes Sylvanas had squirrelled away. And if Vereesa knew… She could tell anyone, and they would know she held onto these things, that she cared, and somehow - she didn’t know how, but somehow, somebody might find a way to use this against her. Would Vereesa keep her secrets? Or would she balk and use them as she saw fit?

“How did you know I had Alleria’s necklace?”

“Because I knew Vereesa didn’t have it, and I know -” Jaina’s lip trembled as she corrected herself. “I felt like I knew you enough to guess. It was just a guess. That’s it.”

Just a guess. These things happened. Sylvanas had had plenty of good guesses, in her years. But her skin seethed with tension, and she did not feel the kind of calm certainty trust was supposed to feel like. Especially not when she saw the look Jaina was giving her. “What else aren’t you telling me?”

“Sylvanas, what -” Jaina’s eyes frantically searched around as her voice cracked, but then they fell on the folder, the one Nathanos had given her. The one she’d barely even touched. “Tides damn that man, what did he tell you this time?”

Sylvanas tensed. Nathanos? She was blaming him? Yes, true, his words had unsettled her - but they’d unsettled her by tracing the shape of the things Sylvanas truly did not know. How was that his fault? What might he have told her, that could get Jaina so angry? What was she worried he'd said?

Jaina was trying to drive a wedge between Sylvanas and Nathanos, she realized. And her rangers. She’d somehow gotten Sylvanas to chastize Delaryn for her, and had even teased her about it afterwards; and she'd seen how strangely Velonara had looked at her, when ordered to protect Jaina. When had Sylvanas ever forced her own rangers to defer to an outsider? Her eyes widened. Just as she was trying to divide the Horde from its resources in Dalaran. “He informed me that you were paying visits to Dalaran’s leading figures. Even Aethas Sunreaver. Is that not true?” She searched that pinkening face for a reaction. “Why would you want to speak to Aethas, who you yourself violently expelled from Dalaran?”

“Because.” Jaina was almost speaking through gritted teeth. “The Horde and the Alliance are at peace. Tenuously. I played a part in the hostilities. I wanted to play a part in mending them. Aethas betrayed Dalaran, but the Council vouched for him. I can’t change that. The least I can do is accord the Council my trust. I don’t want him stabbing me in the back if the opportunity arises.”

“Trust. Yes.” What about Tyrande waltzing around Stormwind? "He also said -"

“Sylvanas, what happened?” There was a pleading in that eye, one Syvlanas now worried about. Was it sincere, or was she deflecting? She’d seemed so sincere - everything she said had been too much, had seemed too weighty to be lies. But the gaps, the things that went unsaid, continued to trouble Sylvanas. If Jaina were sincere, surely she could assuage that fear? She just had to explain what was going on, paint a target on the thing that was stalking the edges of Sylvanas’ awareness. “This morning we were - we were -”

Sylvanas hissed with frustration at not knowing. “I’d forgotten the world we live in. I was weak.”

“You are never weak.” Jaina’s pleading cracked a little more, and the ice in her eyes seemed to as well. “You’re the opposite of weak.”

Sylvanas felt a flush of hot prickling across her face, an embarrassed roil through her skin. She was interrogating Jaina, she couldn’t accept flattery, that undermined her. “Flattery is unbecoming of you -”

Jaina stood with a start and awkwardly shoved the lockbox towards her. It slid across the desk and landed in her lap. “I thought - you - I - Sylvanas! ” Her face red with rage, Jaina slammed a hand on the table. “I thought you trusted me!”

She had. Hadn’t she? She’d trusted Jaina, but it turned out there were things Jaina hadn’t said, things Jaina had dodged or avoided saying, things she only admitted to when confronted - and Sylvanas still didn’t understand why. “Jaina, I need proof! I need to know… The silent things between us, behind us, before us. Why were you hiding this from me?”

“I wasn’t hiding things, Sylvanas, it just didn’t come up!”

Sylvanas wanted that to be true. Wanted everything to be as simple as it had seemed last night, when she was at the edge of reason, when she’d simply fallen apart. What reason had Jaina given her to suspect anything?

What halfway decent traitor would give a reason, though? Jaina might could easily be a superb actress. Although even she had limits to how much of Sylvanas’ personhood she would embrace. How could she ever expect Jaina to look at her, a walking corpse who had murdered thousands, and see anything but a monster to be contained in the most effective way possible?

Or perhaps… She looked at the lockbox, still sitting closed between them, extracted from the Undercity at great expense of time and magical effort. Jaina was an Alliance agent, regardless of what personal vulnerabilities she’d shown. Alleria was also an Alliance agent. But they had something more than that - they were still sisters. Were they not? Did that count for nothing anymore? Were there bonds that could transcend politics?

Perhaps Sylvanas was wrong, and was an entirely different kind of monster herself.

“I was simply asking -”

Jaina cut her off. “You weren't simply anything, you don’t trust me! After everything - after -”

She trembled at the sight of the anger in Jaina’s face, and it pained her and enraged her in turn. Trust meant she didn't have to worry about whether someone was on her side, so why was she still worried? She'd wanted to trust Jaina, so why had that failed? Didn't Jaina understand how hard it was to know?

She stiffened. She had made a promise to Jaina - perhaps she could still be assuaged. Slowly, carefully, she stood and pushed the lockbox back across the table. “I will return Alleria’s necklace when she next visits.”

Jaina stared at her, tear-streaked and furious. “Oh, you will, will you?”

She tried to maintain her composure. Look, I'm trustworthy, can't you be trustworthy too? “Yes, as I promised -”

“Fine.” Jaina slammed her hands down onto the lockbox, and shoved it back across the table at her. “Fine! I’ll drag Alleria over here right now so she can deal with you.”

Right now? Deal with? “Proudmoore -” She cursed herself. “Jaina -

“Quiet! Quiet, you!” Jaina reached for her staff, still leaning against the doorframe, and for a moment Sylvanas wondered if she’d even more badly misunderstood the situation. “You - you -” Jaina clenched her jaw, her braid half undone, her staff twisting in her hands. “Argh!”

With a wave and a thought, a portal suddenly popped open next to her, and before Sylvanas could say anything Jaina was gone and the portal slammed shut in her face. All that remained was a whiff of the sea.

Superb actress did not seem like a likely possibility, in that moment. As soon as Jaina was gone, and the solitude closed in around Sylvanas and she was left only with the memory of anguish in Jaina’s face, Sylvanas began to feel like a terrible fool. But she didn't know what else to do. She didn't know how to banish the doubt, the shadows, the fear of letting Jaina be so close without knowing, with absolute certainty, that she was safe.

Chapter Text

Jaina stumbled out onto the deck of a ship. She almost cried at the taste of salty air on her tongue, before realizing that might actually just be the salt of tears already finding the corners of her lips.

Why was she crying over Sylvanas city-burning Windrunner?

“What the bloody -” A man near her audibly caught himself. “Is that - Lord Admiral Proudmoore?”

The title jolted some semblance of calm into her. Jaina tried to collect herself, straightening her shoulders and turning to find a Kul Tiran sailor staring wide-eyed at her. Tried to sound like the person he thought she was. “Yes. Yes, that’s me.”

“Lord Admiral!” He saluted, and she saluted back reflexively. She’d known there were several familiar ships in the southern Kalimdor fleet scrying for Ny’alotha, and this must be one of them, but she hadn’t been thinking clearly as she cast the portal - only clearly enough to sense some familiarity here, a place she’d stood before. Surely this would be close enough to Alleria’s vessel. Two other sailors stopped nearby to gawk. “I - to what do we owe -”

She kept her voice as steady as she could. “Alleria Windrunner. Where is she.”

The sailor’s face went from bewildered to thoughtful; with a clear request, he suddenly knew how to act. “Lord Admiral, I believe she’s two ships down formation. We shall bring you Captain Proudmoore right away.” He gestured at the other men, who bolted off across the deck. “He will be able to confirm the positioning and bring the ship within range.”

Captain Proudmoore? Her heart jumped. “Sailor - is this the Lionheart?

“Aye, Lord Admiral.” He smiled quizzically, as though surprised she didn’t know that. A strange sense of relief found her - she understood how she’d ended up here, then. She’d been on the Lionheart before, had even seen it blessed by the Tidesages themselves. It had been a gift from Kul Tiras to the young king of Stormwind, upon their rejoining of the Alliance. Most importantly, it was now captained by her younger brother Tandred, whose voice somehow already boomed across the deck at her.

“Ahoy, Lass Admiral!” He was grinning wildly as he marched across the deck, his blond hair and beard battered by the wind. The sight of him filled her with both relief and a strange dread; she felt like a raw, dishevelled mess and didn’t want to be seen this way by someone she nevertheless wished she was closer to. “What are you doing on my ship?”

She sniffed at his silly greeting, trying to contain herself and smile, wishing she didn’t have to. “Anduin’s ship, isn’t it, Tandred?”

“Which he graciously assigned to the effort -” Tandred’s brow furrowed as he approached, as his eyes really took in her face, and she could tell he was suddenly struggling with whether to reach out for her. “Jaina, are you alright?” His voice lowered. “What did she do to you?”

So many things. “It’s stress, Tandred. She hasn’t done anything specific.” She hoped the lie didn’t show through, but she felt an urge to keep this private. She was aware of the sailors' eyes on them, and their ears no doubt. She wondered how emotional of a captain her brother was prepared to be in public. “I’m sorry, Tandred, but I need to speak to Alleria Windrunner rather urgently. The sooner I can get her, the sooner this can be resolved. I wish I could stay longer, but...”

Tandred’s face settled resolutely after a moment, his blonde beard twitching as he seemed to chew the words. “Windrunner. That’ll be the New Moon. She’s not far - we’ll haul on over and get their deck within sight.” She was relieved he understood she could simply blink, if she directly saw the deck - a gangplank would be silly and a boat would take far too long. He turned to bark orders at the nearby sailors, and they were suddenly scrambling to signal the other ships to bring themselves within range of the void elf vessel. Turning back to her, she found sadness in her brother’s brow. “If you must be quick, then you must be quick. But if there’s anything I can do, Jaina, please let me help.”

“Thank you, Tandred.” She sighed, trying to get her bearings, looking out to the sea for the deep indigo of the ren’dorei sails. She settled a hand on his shoulder, still a little uneasy with this. Years of childhood and youth had been lost between them, after she’d left Kul Tiras. “Wait with me, at least. Tell me how the scrying mission has been so far.”

She would not tell him about Sylvanas, but he quickly grew content to talk on his own about the voyage and its occasional interruptions by pirates and frenzied murlocs, and she tried to let the distraction ease her nerves a little as the New Moon slowly pulled up next to them. But she couldn’t help falling into memory nonetheless, so raw was the nerve Sylvanas had exposed.

Or rather, Nathanos. That vile wretch had done this twice now, and she was all the more foolish for allowing it.

She had been so - hopeful. So sure. For weeks as she struggled to hold the disparate pieces of her life together, the tension between her and Sylvanas had become a familiar, distracting, even comforting glue that strung the days together. She’d felt something change in Sylvanas, too, but now all that progress… was it lost? Or was it hidden away?

Why? It was so obvious Jaina was trying to be here for her. It was so obviously the right thing to do, to just… stop fighting. Why couldn’t Sylvanas see that? Jaina felt a sudden urge to shout at her. You don’t have to do this! The shout echoed from memory, and struck her below the collarbone, as she leaned on the ship’s railing. It wasn’t the same.

She remembered how she’d been feeling this morning before leaving for Lordaeron, and her rage and guilt intensified. Or was it? Had she done the same Tides-damned thing she always did, opening herself up only to be stabbed through the heart? Had she made a terrible mistake? Many? How many times did she let herself care about someone who was irredeemable, who refused until their dying breath to turn away from the dark path? Lover, friend, family, peer - it didn't seem to matter. It was always so obvious that they were wrong, but they persisted in being wrong, they kept going regardless of what she said -

How many times did she have to scream at these people she'd tied her heart to, uselessly, because they never listened? How many times did she have to watch them die? You don’t have to do this! You don’t have to fight! Father, please, listen to me -

A tap at her shoulder pulled her back to herself. Tandred was watching her with concern. When had he stopped talking? When had she stopped paying attention?

“Jaina. You’re not alright.”

She took a deep breath, and hung her head. Old memories dug at her heart and coiled beneath her skin. “I’m not, Tandred. Not right now. But Alleria can help, I think.”

She turned her gaze away from him and out onto the real world, and was greeted with the sight of the New Moon, sleeked in silver trim, elegant and breezy in form in a way the mighty Kul Tiran-built vessel below her was not. Alleria Windrunner herself was standing on the deck, watching her, and Jaina had a clear view she could use to blink across.

Tandred nodded, looking unhappy, and glanced across at the other ship as well. “As you say, sister. I think you’ve got a clear shot at the deck.” He rested a hand heavily on her shoulder, and squeezed. “But come say goodbye before you leave.”

She promised she would, and risked a modest embrace which he returned firmly. Tides, but it was strange, and good, to have family again. If only she had time for them. If only she made more time for them. Instead, still on edge, still trying to fight off the suddenly looming idea that some day, someone would ask her to stand aside while Sylvanas was - dealt with - because she just stubbornly wouldn’t listen to Jaina -

She sucked in a deep breath, calming herself as best she could, and magically blinked across the short gap to a clear patch of the other ship’s deck. Alleria was already turning towards her once she arrived, a curious look carefully sculpted into her fine features. She did not greet Jaina with the warmth that Vereesa had, but Jaina didn’t know if she could have handled that without screaming and crying in frustration.

“Jaina. An unexpected surprise, but a pleasant one.” Alleria’s smile seemed a little strained. “The Void is loud in these parts, so I can assure you we are triangulating as best we can. Southern Kalimdor is seeming increasingly suspect. If you wish to speak to the arcanist -”

“Alleria.” She forced a brave face, wondering how much distress the elf could see in her features. Alleria looked… so much more like Sylvanas than Jaina remembered. Or perhaps Sylvanas’ face had, in all its details, become ever more brightly pressed into the clay of her mind, and she couldn’t help but see it here just as she had with Vereesa. She tensed up, despite trying to keep calm. “I’m confident in your mission. I’m here about something personal.”

“Personal?” Alleria’s brow tightened, and she crossed her arms. “My sister.”

“Yes. Well, both of them, in a way.”

Alleria’s eyes widened. “What has Sylvanas done to Vereesa?”

“What? No, nothing.” She glanced around the deck at the ren'dorei sailors, who couldn’t help but watch and listen. “Can we speak in private?”

Alleria pursed her lips and nodded, and led Jaina to her private quarters aboard the ship. It was sparsely appointed, not especially like a home. Which it wasn’t, Jaina reminded herself. Alleria was not a woman of the sea.

“Sit, please. Biscuits?” A wry quirk formed on Alleria’s lips as she opened a box and laid it on the desk. “Sea biscuits are sadly all I have. They don’t compare to what you can get in Silvermoon, but -”

Jaina snatched one and stuffed it in her mouth.

Alleria raised an eyebrow. “But they will do, in a pinch. Which you appear to find yourself in.”

“Thank you.” Her words sounded just intelligible enough around the biscuit, but she felt embarrassed. About a great many things. “Sorry. I just - it’s been a bad day. Mostly.”

Alleria sighed. “Sylvanas is the last Windrunner sister I would suggest you share a house with. I imagine all the days are bad.”

She tried not to debate that, finishing one of the biscuits before moving on with a sigh. Breathe. It was alright. Alleria was making a bit of a joke; this was part of a normal conversation. She rambled one out in response. “I think Vereesa’s still not over Rhonin and you seem quite content with Turalyon, so Sylvanas was my only option if I wanted to get into the family.”

Jaina’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head as she heard herself, but Alleria’s eyebrows merely shot up as she cracked a smile. “I’m glad she hasn’t killed your spirit, at least.” She sighed, shaking her head and taking a biscuit without eating it yet. “Turalyon is a good man, yes. He is good to Arator.” But she did not say more, neither about her son nor his father, which felt rather ominous. Jaina resolved to avoid that topic for the moment, but thankfully Alleria wasn't silent for long. “What has Sylvanas done, then?”

“I…” Where to start?

Alleria, the more I talk to your sister, the more I pity her, the more her violence seems to just be the jagged edges of the pieces she’s been broken into by others. She’s been opening up to me. I want to trust her, and I almost got her to trust me until she completely lost it again and I don't know why. She cried in my arms last night. Also, I got myself off thinking about her this morning. Help!

She groaned, unable to say any of it.

“That bad?” Alleria was watching her closely, finally crumbling off small bites of the biscuit. “This seems complicated. If she’d simply killed someone I imagine you would have said so by now.”

“She hasn’t killed anyone. Recently. Okay. One thing at a time.” Deep breaths. She looked Alleria in the eye, briefly taken aback again by the looks she shared with her two sisters. Alleria was the most classical elven beauty of the three, in the way of a statue of fine artistry, but there was still no mistaking the shape around her eyes, the tip of the nose, the set of her chin. Windrunner. “Vereesa went back to Windrunner Spire to get her necklace. And after that, Sylvanas grabbed her own as well… and yours.”

Alleria didn’t respond, staying silent for a long time. She chewed on a piece of biscuit. Jaina watched her, wondering what was happening in her head, until Alleria suddenly exhaled. “Jaina, might you imagine what it was like, being the eldest Windrunner? Sylvanas and Vereesa are quite unlike one another, in many ways. But they both have a flair for… dramatics.” She looked away. “I threw away my necklace because I realized we had all changed too much. We were carrying a past that was no longer in charge of our future, and we needed to move forward recognizing what we are now, not what we were. I fear Sylvanas is too violent and unpredictable to be bound by our past as sisters, though she fights fiercely for her people and always will."

Alleria sighed, glancing out the port window onto the sea.

"And Vereesa is… A loving, but overly heartfelt girl who clings to a childhood we can never recreate. A childhood during which Sylvanas and I shielded her from the worst of our family’s… burdens. She is wonderful to Arator, and I am forever grateful for that. And she does fight, when it is called for. But her disposition seems to be to tend to her family and her people first. She tends to them well, but she does not embrace the hardships of struggling and sacrificing for one's people as I do. The… darkness of purpose.” Alleria’s eyes slipped into the middle distance, as though she were looking upon memories. Or futures. “I do not mean to say she is wrong - in many ways, this makes her more than I could ever be. It also means she sees me as a monster, as though I were no different to Sylvanas.”

Yet another Windrunner, yet a different perspective on the matter. Jaina decided it might not be helpful to try to relate what Vereesa had said at this point - she was a stranger to this sisterhood, and she did not feel remotely equipped to try to tie them all back together with a neat bow - but she felt oddly compelled to defend Sylvanas. Which felt absurd, given how Sylvanas had just treated her. “You just said you and Sylvanas both fight for your people. And know a certain darkness.”

“Yes. And her weapons in her fight are genocide and death.” The words were strong, but Alleria’s tone did not sound like a rebuke. “She is contained now, which buys her Forsaken some measure of safety and stability. And we all need that, for the Forsaken may help turn the tide against the Old God. And yes, as my sister, it would grieve me for her to be killed. But that does not mean I will be inviting her to a chat over tea tonight, even if she has gone and gathered my necklace.”

“Well.” Jaina felt increasingly awkward. “Well, I invited you to tea with her, so that will be a problem.”

“You - what?” Alleria blinked at her. “Excuse me?”

“Okay, no actual tea. But I asked her to give you the necklace back. She agreed.” Jaina crossed her arms, expecting another rebuff, but it did not come. Alleria looked at the floor, and hummed thoughtfully for a moment.

“Peculiar. How did this come about?”

“She - we - well.” There were things that probably should not be shared. “We were talking about… building trust. And I wanted her to reach out to her sisters. Starting with you, because the necklace was, well, convenient.”

Alleria raised an eyebrow, but her voice was quiet. “Building trust? With Sylvanas?”

“I think she -” Jaina’s voice broke, and she gathered herself. “She’s vulnerable, Alleria. Not like I expected. I think she's actually quite afraid.”

Alleria simply stared at her. “She would be afraid, wouldn’t she? She’s locked in a house, disempowered, under constant watch. Her people are widely hated. She’s been defeated in battle. Righteous anger can make some people unwilling to concede that people like Sylvanas have vulnerable, painful emotions such as fear or doubt, that they suffer, that they have any feelings at all beyond psychopathic rage. But rarely is that true. Of course she is afraid. Why shouldn’t she be?”

The words hit Jaina like a series of blows. Why shouldn’t Sylvanas be afraid? “Because -” Because I don’t want her to be afraid? That was absurd. Because I, her vanquisher and her warden, have been nice to her? She cringed at the arrogance of the thought. Because I know what’s best and she should just listen to me? She took a deep breath, and tried to set her anger aside. “Well, despite that, I think she wants to trust me. She’s been… more open, at times. Vulnerable. She’s been very - very - I don’t know, Alleria, I just feel like she’s reaching for me.”

Alleria finished chewing her biscuit, leaning on the table and peering closely with her mossy eyes. Jaina felt irrationally afraid her own thoughts were written on her face. “And you don’t believe it’s an act?”

“No. It was too real. She - she wept in my arms.” Jaina rubbed her biceps, as though still feeling their embrace. “I didn’t know she could weep at all.”

Alleria simply watched her with wide eyes, for a long moment, before continuing. Her voice was softer again, and Jaina thought she saw something sad there. “I see. You arrived on my ship with freshly dried tears of your own.”

Nathanos.” The volume of her own voice surprised her, and she eased it down. “Sylvanas and I had spent the night - not like that -” Alleria’s eyebrows practically rocketed into her hairline. “But just together, and everything was… nice. Sylvanas was kind, Alleria. She was soft. And then I left to get the necklace, and she had a meeting with Nathanos, and when I got back she was cold and suspicious and she wouldn’t listen -”

Alleria reached out and placed a hand on hers. It was not the soft, compassionate grip Vereesa would have used; it was firm and strong, as if to say keep it together, Jaina. So she tried to keep it together. “I am… surprised.” Alleria’s words were slow, measured. “I can see how affected you are, so I do not doubt your experience. But Sylvanas was never someone who was easy to get close to, even in life. She had Vereesa and I, and Lirath, but there were few others once she ascended the ranks far enough. I believe the last time she had a lover, she broke the poor woman’s heart when she chose her duties as Ranger-General over the city life. Sylvanas has a strong sense of… purpose. Into which people either fit, or they do not.”

Jaina nodded. That tracked, in some ways, though she wondered what Sylvanas’ purpose was now. She refrained from asking about this long-lost lover; no good lay down that path. But she did note that said lover was a woman.

Alleria sighed. “But she is like Vereesa in more ways than I. She had a soft heart, at times, though she railed against it. Sometimes she struggled to maintain that distance. Sometimes… sometimes she did bear her heart, rather messily, as she feared to do it in the first place. If undeath does not truly destroy the person one once was… I was unsure whether any of that survives, given what she has done.” Alleria let go of Jaina’s hand. “But I believe, looking upon you, that you have found something like that in her.”

“I - I thought so, at least.”

“You may not be wrong.” Alleria sighed, looking at a spark of Void crossing her skin; she did that on purpose, Jaina was almost certain. “It is not easy to remain exposed, especially when one fears being unwanted or hated. Vulnerability is not like opening a door, Jaina. The effort is constant, though it eases with practice. And Sylvanas has carried the weight of a terrible darkness for a long time, and it can be… difficult to believe, that our hearts can still inspire warmth in others, after the dark and cold powers of the world have nestled in our chests. She may struggle in more ways that you can know.”

Jaina could only hope that Alleria was speaking true. She did not want to fight with Sylvanas. She didn’t want to fight at all. She was tired of fighting, of losing, of being a weapon of mass destruction that could never actually shift the heart of the matter. She was tired of coldly ruling Kul Tiras from afar, not actually living its world, feeling its pulse. She was tired of bearing her heart and soul to people she cared for, only to watch them ruin themselves and end their lives because they couldn’t bring themselves to change.

She… she wanted to move someone, and to be moved. Not just to move things, ships and ice bolts and bodies; she wanted to at last move someone’s heart. Beating or not.

“Will you come speak with her? I think she - I think she still loves you, Alleria.”

Alleria looked at her, and there was a twitch, a motion of her head, that hitched on the word love. Her voice was delicate and quiet. “Yes. I very much wish to see what you have seen.”

Jaina wasn’t sure Alleria really wanted to see everything Jaina had seen - Jaina’s eyes had strayed in ways that a sister’s surely would not want to - but she said nothing. “I can make a portal?”

“Now?” Alleria straightened, her voice rising again. “You meant - you mean now.”

“Well.” Jaina blushed. “No, if you want to wait - that’s fine. I should take a moment to say goodbye to my brother. We can -”

“No, I am available. The triangulation is mostly a matter for the arcanist aboard the ship.” Alleria glanced towards the door. “Give me a moment to inform the captain and the arcanist. But do go bid your brother farewell in the meantime. He’s been a good captain, for what little I’ve worked with him. I can spare a short time for this.” She looked back at Jaina as she stood. “For you, Jaina, and the pain you seem to feel in what is clearly a noble heart. I am intrigued, but I must decide on my own how much of my concern Sylvanas is worth.”

“Thank you.” Jaina embraced her, without really considering whether it was a good idea to do so. The eldest Windrunner awkwardly hugged her back, her voice full of puzzlement.

“What has she done to you, Jaina?”

 


 

Part of Sylvanas wanted to throw herself at Jaina’s mercy when she returned. Repeat the entire scene. Bare her throat. Press a blade to her heart. Free herself of the horrible need to decide, to be certain of something in an uncertain world. End me, Jaina.

Another part of her wanted to never speak to Jaina again, to request more and more meetings with her agents, to begin plotting an escape in earnest. Nathanos had some leads, didn’t he? That part of her wanted to hurt Jaina before Jaina could hurt her. It was safer that way.

She teetered on the edge of both of these warring inclinations, unsure of which way she would fall, when a portal opened in her office and Jaina stepped through - followed, immediately, by Alleria, whose mossy green eyes speared her in place.

Destroy me utterly, Jaina, but please not while my big sister is watching.

Jaina’s face was as composed as she seemed able to manage, though a twitch in her jaw and a redness to her eyes hinted at distress unresolved. “I’ll leave you to catch up.” Her voice was subdued. “I - I’ll afford you some privacy. No more spying. I’ll wait outside.”

And with that, she turned and left, and after a moment the front door of the house opened and closed. Alleria watched her go, as well, and soon they both saw Jaina walking out along the upper tier of Orgrimmar, standing awkwardly at some distance from the house. Sylvanas wondered, in a flash, if Jaina hadn’t actually thought through what she would do out there.

But then her sister turned back towards her, giving her an appraising look, and Sylvanas was fully present. She had not seen Alleria since the aftermath of the mak’gora, and that had been a confusing, wrathful time when she’d not been able to take in her sister’s presence. The last time before that had been at Windrunner Spire, but that had been… different. Sylvanas had had the armor of the Horde around her soul, and its strength in her stride as she made her way into a dangerous future.

Now she was undone, broken, and she felt as though the sight of family had found a deeper place to strike her. Time had done nothing to dim the sunny splendour of Alleria’s face, though the Void did leave its shadows.

Alleria nodded very slightly. “Lady Moon.” It almost sounded like a question.

Sylvanas tipped her head, instinctively responding to the nickname. “You are still Lady Sun to me, sister.” She glanced at the lockbox on her desk, and gently opened it as she sat down. “I assume Jaina has told you why she wanted you here.”

“More than you likely know.” Alleria sat slowly, stiff, across the desk from her. At first she continued to watch Sylvanas, but eventually she did look at the necklace, and when she did her breath caught a little at the sight. She reached for it after glancing at Sylvanas again. Sylvanas wore her own necklace, in plain sight. She was ready for this. Or she’d tried to be.

Alleria noticed and nodded, trailing the golden chain in her hands. “You and Vereesa. My little moons. Did you know, Sylvanas, that in the common human tongue the word for lunacy derives from an old word for moon?”

Sylvanas’ lip quirked. Alleria, ever so. “I did not. Did you learn this from Turalyon?”

“No. I doubt he knows even now.” Alleria smiled and shook her head. “Why did you take mine?”

“Because I knew you wouldn’t.” Sylvanas leaned away. Wishing she didn’t have to. Wishing she could just be… a sister.

Alleria’s eyes did not leave the gem. “How does it sit with you, Sylvanas, that you are no longer Warchief of the Horde?”

After merely a moment, Sylvanas knew what she was really being asked, and she responded with a certainty that felt true and desperately needy. “I do not miss it. If the Council does what it promises, the Forsaken will be protected. That is what matters. I only hope they do not fail us.”

“You are not wounded, or shamed, to have the title stripped of you?” Alleria peered at her more directly now. “To bring such dishonor upon it that the office itself was abolished?”

Sylvanas clenched her jaw, not letting her pride undermine the deeper feelings in question. “No. I did what I had to. So did they.”

Alleria nodded. She seemed… satisfied. Only now did she close her hand around the necklace. “I miss you, sister.”

Sylvanas edged forward, slightly. “I miss…” I missed you. I missed you for decades while you were on Draenor. I missed you while we grieved our mother. I missed you while we grieved Lirath. “I miss our entire life, Alleria.”

“We’ve established that, through your other truth and lie.” There was a slight, minute smile on Alleria’s lips; Alleria’s smiles were so often hidden in plain sight. But a sister would recognize them, and would also recognize when it vanished. “But you have more to say.”

If she could have taken deep breaths, she would have. “You were gone a very long time, Alleria.”

Alleria’s hand closed around the necklace, and her lips tightened. “I did what I had to. For you, for Vereesa, for Arator, for… I am… It was a difficult decision. I am still doing what I have to do.”

For all that Sylvanas wanted to say something to that, she felt soothed somehow, to hear her own words in her sister’s mouth. I did what I had to do. They had not done the same things, they had not faced the same evils, they had not ended the same lives. But there was an understanding there, she thought. She was seen. “I understand. I do.”

Alleria nodded, and she did breathe out, and it seemed to ease her soul ever so slightly. “I know your face. Your voice.”

Sylvanas wasn’t sure what to say to that. Of course Alleria knew her. Alleria had known her since she was born. But she sensed, from the trailing tone, that this was part of some larger logic, and so she waited for Alleria to continue.

“This is not the voice you used when we met at Windrunner Spire. This is something else. So, Sylvanas." She gestured with the emerald necklace in her hand. "By taking this necklace back, I am giving you something.”

Sylvanas furrowed her brow, unsure of what her sister meant, and Alleria took the silence as a question.

“I would like to give you trust. Do you understand what that means?”

Sylvanas sensed that she did not, but that would not stop her from trying to read Alleria’s mind. “You know I am not the monster they say.”

“No.” Alleria shook her head, disappointed. Just like she had, years ago, whenever Sylvanas or Vereesa had misunderstood something. Sylvanas’ flush of embarrassment was old and instinctive, rising from a place she’d long thought covered over with the strength and weight of rulership. She tried to steel herself, tried to straighten her spine with the confidence of rule, but that confidence had frayed and she was sure Alleria caught the effect the words had. “You have done monstrous things, Sylvanas. That is not about what they say. That is truth.” Alleria leaned forward, and Sylvanas shrank from the admonishment. Alleria should have been the Ranger-General of Silvermoon. She had the bearing, the weight, the gravitas. The confidence. Confidence enough, it turned out, to refuse that very mantle. “But the future need not repeat the past. So I am giving you trust. I am giving you a way to hurt me. A way to betray your sisters.”

That was a very strange way to think about trust, and Sylvanas tried to make sense of it. “Why?”

“I am exploring an idea with you.” Alleria was looking at her with more patience than Sylvanas expected. “I do believe that, given the chance, you would not betray your sisters. And I believe that by giving you the power to do so - even something so simple as this symbolic gesture - you will have to confront that truth in yourself, and face the full weight of your own heart. Betraying us has been an abstract question until recently, has it not? We have all been estranged. But it ought to be concrete. I wish for our family to be close, Sylvanas, close enough that we actually can hurt one another. If I am right, by holding my trust, you are forced to find and nurture within yourself the sister I pray is still there. Because the alternative is that you will disappoint me.” Alleria smiled, very lightly. “And that you will make Vereesa cry. And I know you, Sylvanas. You abhor both of those things.” Her smile cracked, ever so slightly losing its encouraging curve. “Just as I abhor letting my family come to harm. Perhaps to my own doom.”

Sylvanas looked at her sister, quietly, for a long moment. Wondering. Alleria looked at her, steading her lips again and finding some serenity for her face, as though she were so much older and had so much time to wait. How many years had Alleria spent, fighting the Burning Legion, peeled away from time itself?

“You cannot prove definitely that your trust will not be misplaced, Sylvanas. I can never know you won’t falter in some way. There are always infinitely more dark futures to fear than there are safe truths we can know.” A weariness settled into Alleria’s eyes. “We are capable of so much deceit, and we can imagine that deceit in others all too well. Consider this idea; consider that in trusting you, I demand of you that you care more about me. More deliberately. More consciously. Consider that you might do the same with others, if you trust them. Perhaps trust can be a beginning, rather than an end.” She gently took the golden chain of her necklace, unlatched it, and bound it behind her neck again, the emerald gemstone settling into place once more. “You will hurt me if you betray my trust, but I believe you will also hurt yourself in the process. I wish for you to understand what that means. I wish for you to reject pain, and to care instead.”

Sylvanas was capable of crying. She knew that now. So she held firm, carefully considering her words. “Years in the beyond have made you thoughtful, sister.”

“Unlike you.” Alleria suddenly leaned forward, resting her elbows on the desk. She looked no more angry than a sharp, polished arrowhead. “My dear lunatic sister, what have you done to Jaina Proudmoore?

“Done?” Sylvanas went rigid. What had Jaina told Alleria? “Sister, I -”

“Quiet, you fool.” She lowered her voice. “You...” Something in her eye twitched suddenly, and Alleria took a moment to collect herself. Perhaps she was angry. “Sylvanas. The Void whispers to me. In waking and in dreams. Constantly telling me that everyone around me is untrustworthy. That people must die. That I must strike first. That everyone is scheming.” She leaned back, her shoulders tense. “The Void is particularly concerned with you.”

“The will of the Forsaken is strong.” Sylvanas wondered for a splinter of a moment if she was speaking to Alleria, or to the Void gibbers. “Great powers dislike strong wills.”

Alleria crossed her arms. “And yet apparently my will is stronger, because while I’ve resisted the Void’s pull for years beyond your ken, you struggle with delusions that Jaina Proudmoore is not to be trusted. Jaina is many things, not all of them flattering, but a liar and a deceiver she is not. Much as it gives me hope that you went and scrounged our family heirlooms, and that you’ve somehow convinced Jaina to care enough about you that you've brought her to tears, it gives me a great deal of dread that you continue to wall yourself off like this.”

Sylvanas hesitated, the strength draining from her voice. “She is an Alliance agent -”

“As am I, you meat-headed fool.” Alleria was angry with her. About Jaina? Not about anything Sylvanas had done to her sisters. How close had Jaina become to the other Windrunners, over the long years of the Alliance? But no - Alleria had been gone for decades. It couldn’t be that. Yet still she ploughed on. “Some bonds transcend politics. Some bonds can shape politics. Jaina came to me in tears, Sylvanas, for all that she tried to hide it.” Alleria leaned closer, and darkness danced in her eyes. “She gave you something that was difficult to give and you hurt her with it. Do you understand?”

She did. It was horrible to admit that she understood what Alleria was saying. “Some part of me still can’t believe she means… any of it. I am a problem to be solved, for the Alliance, not…”

Alleria raised her eyebrows, and she seemed to calm a little. “I won’t ask what it is. And I do understand why you might mistrust even Jaina. I truly do. She holds more power over you than she knows what to do with, and your power has been waning as the weeks go by. I know how frightening that must be for you, Sylvanas.”

Alleria was still leaning on the table, but despite being within range, it shocked Sylvanas when her sister laid a warm palm over her hand. She flinched at the contact, but didn’t withdraw, and after a moment Alleria squeezed her hand gently.

“But I am telling you she is trustworthy.” Alleria’s eyes pleaded with her. “I sit here as the girl who taught you to string a bow when you were a child, as one of the only people in that ramshackle farm outside these city gates who argued for your life. I am telling you that I trust Jaina with you. With my little sister.” The grip on her hand did not leave, and Sylvanas felt transfixed. “Now you stand between two different chains of trust and loyalty. Tell me this, Sylvanas - who would you sooner trust? Me, or Nathanos Blightcaller?”

Sylvanas trembled. The answer should be obvious to any Windrunner. But she couldn’t help but hear an Alliance agent trying to wedge doubt between Sylvanas and her most loyal champion. “Nathanos has his uses.”

“His uses are in spycraft and murder, from what I understand, and so he will see every uncertainty as a situation to be murdered into quiescence.”

Sylvanas’ jaw tightened. “He is undyingly loyal -”

Alleria’s eyes deepened. “Sylvanas, he may well be as loyal and honest as an undead horse and he can still be wrong. He can still be broken in his own ways.” Her nostrils flared. “Be simple with me. Do you trust him more than you trust me?”

No.” She averted her eyes at her elder sister’s rebuke. She felt like a fool, to have fallen so low, to be dressed down like this. She might still cling to power, to office, but old embarrassments she had not felt in decades suddenly crawled up and down her spine as though Alleria’s mere presence had snapped her decades into the past. Nathanos was loyal to her will, she had no doubt of that but who would try to change Sylvanas’ will itself, in the interest of protecting her? Who would try to move her heart, because they wanted it to heal? She watched Alleria and wondered, hoped, that she was not wrong about this. “But why are you so intent that I should get along with Jaina?

Alleria finally let go of her hand, and Sylvanas missed the pressure almost immediately. “Because this -” Alleria grabbed her necklace and dangled its emerald glint in her fingers before Sylvanas’ face. “This has limits. Love between sisters is well and good, but if you are to be anything other than a mass murderer who must be caged for eternity, it will be because you’ve learned to extend your trust and care to people who are not either half-rotting or blessed with the name Windrunner. Whatever you have done to make Jaina so distressed gives me…” Alleria grimaced, and tucked away the necklace. “Hope. In some small measure. Because it means she has found something in you that inspires care. I wish to see more of it.”

Something other than a mass murder who must be caged.

Did… did Alleria think Sylvanas could simply be let go? Sylvanas’ heart rushed with the confidence that implied. Her sister would look out for her like this, wouldn’t she - push her, chastise her, redirect her, if it was the best way to help her in the long run. Alleria had always done this. She’d never allowed her sisters to persist in sabotaging themselves, at least not as she interpreted it; but she’d never led Sylvanas astray either.

The thought of freedom struck her as absurd, deceptive, naïve at best and manipulative at worst. But Alleria was her eldest sister, and had argued for her to be spared and granted this chance - and she had won that argument. If Alleria looked upon her with favor, might she be inclined to argue for Sylvanas again, even to the Alliance?

Sylvanas nodded slowly, and let herself find Alleria’s eyes again. Feeling herself smile. “You mean you wish to see more of Jaina crying?”

Alleria chuckled at that. “No, Void preserve. You know what I mean better than I do. I was not there last night, after all.” Alleria raised a single blonde eyebrow.

Sylvanas almost died at the look on her sister’s face, and at the memory she was alluding to. “Alleria… She is living. She sees me as a corpse. And she knows me as a tyrant.” She thought of Jaina’s shock when Sylvanas poked at her dress. “I joked about it once and she threw me out. She would never look at me that way.”

Alleria’s smirk widened. “Jaina made quite clear that nothing untoward occurred with my little sister, yes. I am reassured she has not taken advantage. But you shared something.”

Sylvanas wilted further under the thought. “Yes. Something. She is… a warm person. Or seems to be.” She shook her head. What had Alleria just told her? “She is. She is and I fear to trust it, but she is warm.”

“The living tend to be that way.” Alleria simply seemed increasingly amused, now.

“Yes, well.” Sylvannas glanced out the window, but Jaina was nowhere to be seen. She shouldn’t say these things, but decades and decades of old sisterhood had worn deeper grooves in her than even the last terrible few years could flatten out. “I believe your advice is good, Alleria, though I may struggle with it. I will… endeavour to be friends with Jaina.”

Alleria’s voice was utterly flat. “Friends.”

She cringed at the word. “Perhaps that is too much. I should -”

“Friends. Too much.” Alleria’s tone remained remarkably flat, and Sylvanas felt couldn’t read her at all. This was obviously a difficult situation. There was nothing simple about starting a friendship like this.

She was a queen and a warlord; she had to be very careful what she asked of those around her. Further complicating that, Jaina was a warden and Sylvanas was her prisoner; to ask for friendship would be to ask for the roles they were bound to to be dissolved. Further complicating that was undeath, mystic pain, things that haunted her more than the typical pains of a mortal soul.

But some bonds did transcend politics. Sylvanas knew - could tell, in this very conversation - that to Alleria she would always be something of a child. And that meant, refreshingly, she could ask Alleria anything. She hoped.

“Alleria, you have… changed. Do you ever feel that you have changed beyond your ability to - to be with people?”

This did faze her sister. Alleria leaned forward on the desk, and her shoulders sank with the weight of years shredded across the Void. “I do, Sylvanas. Every day. In some ways I have been so changed. I was supposed to be a mother, and a -" She almost winced, Sylvanas read it in the twitch of her brow; but she breathed deeply for a moment before speaking. "Did you know that should Turalyon’s bare skin and mine ever touch, we are burned as the Void and the Light within us destroy each other?”

Sylvanas realized immediately what that meant. She stiffened, for a moment, before settling on the simplest words. “Alleria. I am so sorry.”

Alleria reached out halfway, and gently, firmly, Sylvanas grasped her hand in turn. Their eyes did not meet, and for a long moment Sylvanas felt overwhelmed to be holding her sister’s hand in silent companionship. Not in insistence, not in pleading, just in… togetherness. She was glad when Alleria spoke; she wasn’t sure she could have managed it.

“Many things could be said about what kind of person you are, Sylvanas. But you are enough. Living or not, you are enough to partake in the rituals of life.” She looked up. “You are not alone in your doubts, Lady Moon. I am with you. And I will remain with you, come what may. Even if we argue and fight. When next you worry that you are simply what is left of a person after all you have been through, that you do not fit into the lives or hearts of others, think of me.”

Belore, but it felt good to talk like this. “Thank you.” She squeezed her sister’s hand.

Alleria placed her other hand on hers, and they held them together for a moment before she spoke. “Of course.” She sighed softly. “Jaina spirited me away from my fleet during a mission, you know. I have my suspicions that the gate to the Black Empire may be in Uldum, or Silithus.” She looked sadly at Sylvanas. “I should return, for now.”

“Yes. I understand. I must… I must make amends with Jaina.” She shook her head, wondering how to do that. “She wanted to help me understand the Forsaken, the threats we face -” 

“Sylvanas. Allow me to make you a promise.” Alleria watched her closely. “I know you fear for the Forsaken, and how they will serve in the war against N’Zoth. I promise you I will not let them be spent like arrows in a quiver. It would dishonor the sacrifice you have made of your power, and the pain you have been through for them. And it would be foolish, even strategically - as you continue to tell us, the Forsaken are only dwindling in number. I will do what I can to look out for your people, to ensure the Alliance does not abuse them.” With that, she let go of Sylvanas’ hand. “You need not fight alone, sister.”

Sylvanas didn’t know what to say. A part of her didn’t want to believe it, wanted to distrust yet another impossible promise. But this - unlike what she had with Jaina, unlike even what she had with Nathanos, this cut to the very core of her, to the very roots of her soul. Alleria would not say such a thing dishonestly. Alleria cared. She always had.

She struggled terribly not to weep. She wasn’t even sure why she bothered struggling, but she felt she had to maintain some kind of decorum, some kind of bravery. “Yes. Thank you.” She made to stand. “I can only do so much.”

“As can I. But I will heed your concerns.” They stood together, Alleria breathing evenly but heavily, Sylvanas not at all. “Heed mine. Please.”

“Yes.” She crossed around the desk and stopped, awkwardly. She wasn’t sure what to do, what to say. “I hope - I hope we can meet again, someday.”

Someday? ” Alleria quirked her lip, and a little tension fled Sylvanas’ limbs at the mocking tone. “The world does not trust you to leave this house, but I can visit whenever I want, as can Vereesa. Though perhaps I should refrain from sneaking in through a Void rift and surprising you two unawares. Simply send Jaina out at lunch and she can portal me back here well before dinner.” And her eyebrows went up. “I doubt she would deny you.”

Sylvanas nodded absently, but their youngest sister’s name twisted something in her gut. “Have you spoken much with her? Vereesa, I mean.”

Alleria averted her gaze at that. “Not at all since Orgrimmar. We had a disagreement about… a few matters, including you. She does not understand the horrors that made me what I am, or why I…” She looked briefly pained. “She does not understand why I am not who she hoped I would be when I returned. She does not understand what the darkness has done to me. To us.”

She wondered, privately, what horrors Vereesa had been willing to argue with Alleria over. Alleria had not burned Teldrassil; even her ill-fated visit to the Sunwell, which had been attacked by the Void, had not caused irreparable damage. But she could imagine the generalities all too well, at least. “No, she does not.”

Alleria reached for her, tentatively touching her shoulder. “Someday, perhaps. Now I must go find your warden.” She smirked. “Or your friend, if you prefer.”

“I’ll let her decide that.”

Alleria stared at her, both eyebrows high, as though something were quietly very funny. Sylvanas knew that look, but she could not trace its cause. To expect friendship, as a walking corpse with a history of violence, was already a great deal, was it not? Alleria simply shook her head, though and stepped away. “Be well, Sylvanas.”

Sylvanas felt a sudden, desperate urge to hug her sister the way she’d hugged Jaina the night before. But surely - surely, in a moment like this, if Alleria were ready for it, she would have done so. She was still cautious - she was still waiting for Sylvanas to nurture the safer sister within herself, or however she meant it. So Sylvanas held back and nodded stiffly. “Alleria. Safe travels.”

Alleria inclined her head, jostling the emerald necklace very slightly, and turned to leave. Sylvanas watched her go, mulling over what her sister had said about trust, and giving it, and hurting it.

She had hurt Jaina, after Jaina had given her trust. She’d hurt Jaina by not trusting her. 

Suspicion had seemed a reasonable position, without solid proof. But if trusting Jaina invited Jaina to care for her, and actually inclined Jaina to help her… Alleria seemed convinced of it. And there was a little proof of that, wasn’t there? If Jaina’s overtures so far had come from anything, had they not come from those very moments in which Sylvanas was not defending herself against the archmage? In which she was being exposed, vulnerable - at Jaina’s mercy? Perhaps Alleria was right.

Nathanos… was not Alleria. He had his uses, and he had his limits. Jaina’s soul, perhaps, was beyond those limits.

Sylvanas remembered being young - so very young - young enough that Alleria had looked after her and Vereesa, had shepherded them as they played along the spire, had taught them to string and fire a bow and skin a hare. Had taught them to bake cakes and breads. Had taught them how to stand still at attention when their mother was giving a speech, or hosting a ball, or entering the room, or yelling at them in a rage. She remembered Alleria’s firm yet gentle hand on her shoulder, through all of that.

What a wretched Windrunner she would be, if she could not trust her eldest sister. If that day ever came, she would know she was truly dead.

Chapter Text

Jaina stepped back into Orgrimmar in the evening, her every nerve on edge. She’d delayed coming back long enough. After returning Alleria to her ship, she'd taken the opportunity to spend a little more time with Tandred; laughed at a few of his cautiously bawdy jokes, shared a few sips of terrible yet terribly familiar grog. She’d also spent time speaking to arcanists and mages on the fleet, trying to get a sense of the hunt for N’Zoth’s Black Empire. She was not directly involved, and a great many talented people seemed to have the situation under control, but she could not help but want to know what was happening in the wider world.

All of it helped clear her mind a little, helped steady her for what - perhaps absurdly, considering the stakes of a war against an Old God - felt like the real worry in her heart.

Alleria had not said much about her conversation with Sylvanas, but the necklace around her neck said a great deal. Her few encouraging words had said more. Sylvanas is afraid. She is a fool. But she truly wants to trust you.

Sylvanas wanted to trust her. But she was struggling to, still, because something was wrong. And many things were wrong, or uncomfortable, or difficult, and Jaina realized she hadn't really thought of it at all. They'd had a breakthrough and she'd simply thought that was it, Sylvanas was good now, and she'd forgotten how difficult it could be to continue trusting even if you wanted to.

Alleria's words to her had continue to sink in while she stood around outside the safehouse, waiting out their conversation. Why wouldn't she be afraid? Sylvanas had every reason to be uncomfortable in this situation. Yes, she was probably absurdly paranoid, but even a non-paranoid person would have plenty of reasons to be wary. Jaina cringed now, to think that she thought she'd somehow broken down Sylvanas' irrational barriers and solved the whole trust problem, when reality was much more thorny, and those thorns could not be trimmed away with a poem and some crying.

This left Jaina in an uncomfortable tangle of hope and guilt and wariness and anticipation as she portaled back into the small house. She immediately spotted dark rangers lurking outside the windows. Did they know about their spat? The damned rangers watched them, she knew that much; she would not be surprised if they’d seen something. The two shapes outside the living room window - Velonara, who’d accompanied her silently and judgingly through Lordaeron, as well as dark ranger-captain Delaryn - suddenly looked up at her as though they'd been conspiring, and that did not reassure her. Delaryn stuck her tongue out. Jaina tried to ignore it as she turned her attention to finding Sylvanas.

The house should be soundproof, at least, so they could talk freely. After a moment of searching, she spotted a warm light glowing at the end of one of the hallways. The kitchen? Jaina raised her voice. “Sylvanas?”

As she stepped into the hall, Sylvanas’ voice found her ears. “In the kitchen.”

She’s a corpse. She doesn’t eat. Increasingly puzzled, Jaina tried not to rush down the hall. What was going on?

What she found in the kitchen was Sylvanas, sitting at a table in front of a platter of all too much bread, each slice absolutely heaping with far too much fruit jam, cheese, and cured meat. Sylvanas was staring at her with the blank gaze of a rabbit looking down a nocked arrow, but judging by what was in her hands she'd been… whittling a piece of wood with a dagger.

Jaina was so thrown off she couldn’t help herself. “What? What is this?”

Sylvanas blinked, and her face suddenly had the strange look of a patchwork damn close to bursting. “Please, Jaina, sit.”

She stared. “Sylvanas - is this dinner?”

Sylvanas glanced at the feast, which was probably fit for four people of her appetite. “It will be if you eat it, I suppose. I sent Delaryn to fetch it. I wasn’t sure -”

Jaina sat down quickly. A sudden, neglected hunger glued her to the chair more surely than gravity. “I haven’t eaten all day.” Her hand darted for one of the slices, which had more meat on it than there was bread to support it. “This looks… indulgent.” She couldn’t help but feel a little flustered. She hadn't expected to be heaped with food - she’d expected a stiff apology or, maybe, an explosive confession of guilt and sorrow and tears. “Why did you get me dinner?”

“I wanted to speak with you.” Sylvanas watched her take her first bites, and suddenly furrowed her brow, combing her mane of silver hair back behind her long, tapered ears with her fingers. “Clearly I didn’t think this through. You have food in your mouth now, you can't talk.”

Jaina snorted at the gently perplexed look on Sylvanas' face. It was… endearing. Almost? No, definitely. “Talk,” she said around a bite. Sylvanas hadn't insisted that it wasn't an apology, yet, which was almost as good as confirming that it was. “I’ll listen.”

Sylvanas simply watched her, quiet and still, for several seconds. Jaina desperately wished she would breathe, but at least she eventually spoke. “I hurt you, Jaina. Earlier today. You did not deserve that, and the knowledge of that hurt pains me.” Sylvanas was frowning, as though she were pulling words out of a bag and trying to slot them together into sentences. “It’s like I’ve stubbed my toe.” Alright, she probably was.

Tides. Jaina suppressed a snort. That was… one way to think of it, certainly. “That sounds, um, mild.”

Sylvanas grimaced. “What I mean is that I have self-inflicted my own suffering by hurting you. Because your pain feels like my own -”

“- as if I were your toe -”

“- and I was neglecting to be careful with your trust -”

“- which toe, exactly, Sylvanas?”

Suddenly Sylvanas’ elbows were on the table and her head was in her hands. “Jaina I am attempting to apologize.”

The frustration in Sylvanas' voice sent a pang of shame across Jaina’s cheeks as she realized she’d been completely derailing Sylvanas’ already difficult train of thought. Jaina was being playful, because she was nervous and wanted this to be okay. Even though she wanted Sylvanas to be contrite, she was thinking of her own apology already, and she also didn’t think she could bear to see the woman cry.

She feared Sylvanas' last gush of vulnerability had completely blinded her assessment of their situation. She’d thought Sylvanas had suddenly trusted her, she’d thought Nathanos wouldn’t have any influence anymore, she’d thought there was some deep link opened up between them and she’d blithely ignored the complexities of the situation. She needed to be more careful about this, more thoughtful and she couldn’t be careful if Sylvanas was suddenly, achingly vulnerable in her arms like that, if her brain melted into that warm fuzzy mire of wanting to hold and help and protect and - other things. Or she could be, but she would have to try very, very hard, and she was tired and she was never good at rational thought when she was tired, and, Tides.

She nodded, knowing that being silly wasn’t helping Sylvanas actually say what she needed to say. If anything, it might antagonize her, and not unreasonably. She bit her lip, deciding to try to leave space for Sylvanas to get it out. “I’m sorry. I’m just… jittery. My own nerves, too. I'll listen.”

Sylvanas glanced at her briefly before looking away again. “Alleria explained how I was a fool. She… has always been the wisest of us.”

Jaina quietly chewed on the rest of her piece of bread. Sylvanas wasn’t looking at her, so she probably couldn’t see her flushing cheeks. This did feel more like the Sylvanas she’d met last night, and this morning; it was a miracle, what talking to Alleria could to, it seemed. Would this Sylvanas stick around, this time? Jaina finished her mouthful and reached out to touch Sylvanas’ shoulder, tentative, waiting for a reaction. It was her turn. “You did hurt me. But I know it's hard for you, when you're under my watch like this. I want you to trust me, Sylvanas, but I know the circumstances -”

Sylvanas' other hand moved to the shoulder Jaina was touching, and laid cool on Jaina's fingers. "Despite our circumstances, I would like - no. I trust you." The words sounded like they'd been pried out with a crowbar. "I. Please do not hurt me."

Jaina tensed and almost wanted to scream and Tides what had Alleria said to her? Yet again she felt like she was holding cracked glass, except now it had a face and it was sad and she would kill anyone who tried to break it but she couldn't say that, no, that was too much, so instead she went for something mild and simple and innocuous like, "There's nothing I want to do less."

Sylvanas' silver hair shifted like curtains as she seemed to struggle with something going on inside her. But she didn't say anything, and that forced Jaina to hear her own words again, and Tides, she'd said that, and Sylvanas' hair threatened to obscure her face and Jaina had to resist the urge to brush them aside with her fingers, and she could feel the movement in her hand and her arm and if she didn’t stop herself she was going to say something incredibly stupid -

“But you ordered too much food!”

Sylvanas jolted, her own words racing out in a panic. “I never know how much you eat!”

“Not this much!” Jaina almost squealed and barely managed to turn it into a laugh instead, and their hands flew apart like startled doves. “I can’t eat all this! I’m sorry. But thank you. I’ll have a few now, and… we’ll think of something.” She gestured at the stove, flailing her hand. “Worst comes to worst I’ll throw it in a pot and make bread and cheese soup.”

“What? That sounds vile.” Sylvanas was smiling, though it seemed a bit nervous, and she was speaking too quickly. “What I wouldn’t give to taste it.”

Tides, this was probably rude, but Jaina needed to say something because her heart was still protesting against the confines of her ribs. “What do you taste? If I may ask?”

The banshee’s long eyebrows scrunched up again, and after a moment she gingerly dipped her finger in some jam and brought it to her tongue. Her sense of focus being on something other than Jaina seemed to drain half the tension from the room already, and Jaina breathed easier. “Bitterness. Sourness.” Sylvanas reached for a tiny piece of cheese, and repeated the gesture. “Salt. Pungency.” A piece of sausage. “Meat. Blood.”

Jaina smiled nervously. “You are naming actual flavours.”

“I don’t taste sweetness. Or richness.” Sylvanas shook her head, still avoiding eye contact, and her face slackened. “Honey and butter. Cakes and - pastries. What I do taste has no… Meaning. I simply know it, I do not feel it. Or enjoy it. It's just there.”

Jaina started on a cherry jam slice, trying to relish those very flavours - the sweetness, at least. Trying to breathe. Though doing that at the same time as swallowing probably wasn’t a good idea. “I can write you more poems.”

“No, please.” Sylvanas sounded oddly pleading and strangled, and though her purple lips were quirked Jaina couldn’t tell if she was joking. “I couldn’t bear it.”

She grinned and ate quietly and tried to calm down. As she did, Sylvanas shifted awkwardly in her seat, and after a moment reached for the knife and lump of wood she’d set down on the table. The knife briefly scared Jaina, but it wasn’t as though she’d never seen someone whittle before. Quite the opposite, she suddenly realized. “You whittle?”

“Of course.” Sylvanas started carving at the wood. “It’s a way to occupy the mind during long, dull periods on campaign.”

“What are you whittling?”

“I don’t know yet.” She glanced up at Jaina. “We've said our apologies. And you're hungry. You should eat your fill. I can wait.”

She wasn't sure if she'd properly made her apologies, but she was hungry. At first it felt strange to eat charcuterie while Sylvanas Windrunner, Queen of the Forsaken, whittled a piece of wood across the table from her. After the things they’d just said, after how terribly close Sylvanas' rawness had come to making Jaina absolutely break down and lose her wits. Perhaps she had lost a few.

But by the third piece of bread, the scraping, chipping sound of wood already felt normal, and by the time Jaina felt full, after six - maybe a little more than full - she was simply watching Sylvanas work on whatever it was and she felt… Comfortable. At ease. Eventually she pulled herself away from the table to seal up the rest of the food, so it would hopefully keep until morning.

She’d had a dumb moment thinking about this parallel on Tandred’s ship. How strange it was to see that thought echoed in Sylvanas right now. “My father used to whittle things for me, you know. As gifts.”

Sylvanas paused. She hefted the wood. “Daelin Proudmoore.” That seemed to be all she had to say about Jaina’s father. Come to think of it, Sylvanas probably hadn't known him much. Jaina wondered how much Sylvanas knew about how her father had… Led himself to ruin. If Sylvanas did know more, she didn't comment on it. “I hadn’t thought of what to do with this, when I’m done.”

Jaina felt a surge of embarrassment. “I didn’t mean I expect whittled gifts! I just meant - I understand, in a way. It’s familiar.” She cringed, and lowered her voice. “I just like seeing you like this.”

She did prefer to see her paranoid mass-murderers whittling, instead of pushing themselves into ruin. She tried not to think about that connection too hard right now.

Sylvanas paused and stood, avoiding Jaina's gaze and tucking away the knife. She poked at the bits of wood on the ground with her feet. “I’ve made a mess, I’ll sort -”

Jaina flicked her fingers, and the splinters whirled up in a small vortex of magic and landed neatly into a waste bin.

“Oh.” Sylvanas smiled up at her. “Very useful, little mage. I should make a mess of things more often.”

Something caught in Jaina’s belly. Me. Me. She pushed the absurd thought aside; this was the kind of ridiculous thing that happened when Sylvanas said things like Please don’t hurt me, which was absurd and did not follow logically at all and was definitely not good for her sound judgement. “Don’t push your luck. I have plenty to do that isn’t cleaning up after a banshee queen.” She sighed, knowing at least one way to avoid the risk of being ridiculous any longer. “Speaking of which - I need to go tend to a few things in my office. I appreciate you getting dinner for me, it was - that was thoughtful. And nice. Thank you.” Her cheeks were burning. She had to get away immediately. “I’ll be in my study -”

Sylvanas looked at her with an odd expression, almost like concern. “The sun has set. Surely your mother’s and Anduin’s scribbles can wait.”

“Is there anything more important I should do?” Jaina crossed her arms, as though to hide away the part of her hoping for something more. She didn’t know what she wanted - not that, absolutely not - but if Sylvanas wanted to just stay with her… but no. She wanted space to cool down, to adjust herself to things being non-hostile. “In case you’ve forgotten, there’s a whole world out there, and I’m still a Lord Admiral for now, in addition to being your -” The words caught in her mouth, and she bit them off. "Well."

“Yes. I have not forgotten. If you -” Sylvanas paused, and her eyes narrowed. “Lord Admiral for now?

Jaina’s eyes widened. She had slipped, and suddenly this was a chance for Sylvanas to make some very awkward comments.

Or not. Sylvanas thinned her lips. “My apologies. Your station is none of my -”

“No, no, it’s just… I’ve been thinking about what is best for Kul Tiras.” Jaina glanced away. Should she tell Sylvanas? Would Sylvanas the queen use this somehow, or would Sylvanas the woman be sympathetic? Or both? It didn’t matter - if she went through with it, it might never matter. “It may not be best for their Lord Admiral to be galavanting across Azeroth fighting wars, or locked up in a prison on another continent.”

Sylvanas spoke slowly. “You wish to return to Boralus.”

The thought of physically doing that unexpectedly filled her with dread. “I… I don’t think I’m cut out for statecraft.” She winced, and uncrossed her arms, letting her hands fall until they clasped each other. She feared what would happen if a bomb fell on Boralus, if a sect of enemies betrayed her people, if - “It’s just never ended well. So if I end it now, before -”

Suddenly her hands were gathered up in Sylvanas’ cold, firm palms, and that silenced Jaina with surprise and tension for the time it took Sylvanas to work through a twitch in her jaw, a hesitation. “Azeroth is a miserable place, full of war and destruction. You have led three different nations, Lady Proudmoore, each for months and years before a sudden spate of violence. It was others who undid your efforts, not you. Sometimes we cannot stop our enemies, no matter how many good decisions we make.”

She was doing it again. Warmth pulled at Jaina’s chest and she felt some of the tension of those thoughts drain from her, but she had to avert her eyes. She wasn’t sure what it was, but something felt too taut, too tense, in these moments when it felt like their souls were peering at each other. She glanced down, her eyes falling to their clasped hands. Jaina was trying to make good decisions; but here was someone who was trying very hard to care and who was hurting, somehow, in ways she didn’t know how to fix. In ways Jaina might even be causing. And yet here she was getting giddy at the feeling of Sylvanas’ skin against hers and she was terrible for it. “I’m not - I can’t stop thinking about what I could have done differently.”

“Many things, I’m sure.” Sylvanas’ eyes warmed the sight of her face, somehow. “Jaina, do not forget what Garrosh could have done differently. What Aethas Sunreaver could have done differently.” Her eyes twitched. “What Arthas could have done differently.” She squeezed Jaina’s hands. “Even what I could have done differently. You are so eager to remind me there were other paths to take.”

Jaina looked up at the elf, eyes watery, and shook her head. Other paths. There were other paths. “Maybe I can’t handle the pain no matter whose fault it is. Maybe I can’t survive it again. Or maybe I can, and I’ll just be more and more broken each time, always trying and failing to do the same thing again and again. I think I have to stop, I’m getting too broken, I can’t…”

She didn’t know how to finish that, and looked away, and after a moment Sylvanas glanced at their hands and let go. Jaina’s hands stung at the suddenly empty air. “You are not broken. The decision is yours, and you will make it well.”

Jaina shook her head, not willing to meet Sylvanas’ gaze. “What would you have me do?”

Sylvanas searched her eyes, and Jaina’s mind traced all the things she might say. Instead, she said, “Rest.”

Jaina scowled, because she needed to do something. She was starting to understand that. And rest wasn’t it. “You sound like Go’el.”

Sylvanas quirked her lip. “A soft-hearted, well-loved leader of his people. For all his many flaws.”

“I take it back. But I appreciate your… concern.” Concern Jaina was starting to worry she wouldn't deserve if she kept up like this. “I really do have to go to my office, though.”

Sylvanas nodded curtly, her face closing slightly once more. “Very well. I will leave you to it.” And she did, sliding out of the kitchen like a ghost, returning from this strangely private moment to her politically managed house arrest and isolation, and Jaina felt a curl of something ugly in her chest and shouted.

"Sylvanas! Wait." Sylvanas froze and looked at her. "Come with me."

Jaina didn’t want to stand there looking back, so she quickly made her way up to her office, and Sylvanas followed. In her office she rested her hands on the polished teak of her desk, for a moment, thinking about this. It felt like the right thing to do. Or… not doing it felt like a wrong thing to do.

Jaina popped open the secret compartment that held her scrying gems, and hefted out the small tray they were sorted into, matching the layout of the two floors of the house. She gestured at Sylvanas. “Come here.”

Sylvanas stepped closer, standing beside her now, and Jaina moved aside a heavy tome of Kul Tiran legal history she’d been consulting yesterday. She plucked out one of the scrying gems, and its power seeped into her hands and let her see, and hear, the inside of Sylvanas’ bedroom. Even as she did so, Sylvanas’ curiosity apparently got the better of her.

“What are these?”

Jaina took a deep breath, and reached over to stuff the scrying gem in Sylvanas’ hand, the brief touch of skin feeling far too electric. It should work for anybody; and sure enough, after a moment, Sylvanas spoke.

“Ah.”

“This is how I saw you with your… your private items.” The memory, which at the time had been a moment of fascination and curiosity, now felt rather sour. She didn’t like that she’d done that. That she’d been doing it for weeks. She grabbed another gem, the one for Sylvanas’ office, and traded it out for the bedroom scrying gem. Sylvanas seemed to close her eyes for a moment.

“I see you can… turn it a little in your palm. See a number of angles.” She kept rolling the gem in her hands as Jaina’s heart raced a little. “You can’t get close enough to read anything, though. Interesting.”

“Yeah. Like we said, no reading. You could hear, though, if someone were talking down there.” Jaina was picking the gems out of their box and arranging them on the desk, in no particular order. Her hands shook a little, and she steadied them as she reached for the one in Sylvanas’ hand. “I wanted you to understand how it works.”

Sylvanas nodded slowly, looking at the box they’d been in. “Ah. The layout of the house.” She gestured, her fingers tracing the space above the compartments of the box. “The rooms - your office, and your bedroom. They were empty. You can’t scry in those rooms?”

Jaina blinked. “No, that’s right.”

“And you truly can’t see me when you’re gone.” Sylvanas looked at her slowly, and Jaina soon averted her eyes, because Sylvanas seemed cautious, wary, and Jaina knew she was the thing Sylvanas feared and hated it. “That does help me understand my constraints, I suppose.”

“It’s not that, exactly.” Jaina fiddled with the scrying gems some more before leaving them alone on the smooth teak desk. “I just wanted you to understand how it works so that -” She swallowed. “So that this makes sense.”

Jaina picked up the tome of Kul Tiran legal history and lifted it and brought it slamming down onto the gems with a cracking smash that spat dust in five directions and sent shards of crystal and sparks of mana and entire gems flying across the room. Sylvanas nearly jumped backwards. The damn book was heavy, but Jaina’s mind was completely in the swing of it, and she raised it and smashed it down again and again until all the gems on the table had been pounded into glittering dust or broken little shards.

She spied two whole gems that had fallen onto the floor and flung the book down onto the ground, cracking them both, and when she crunched one of the larger fragments under her boot Sylvanas took a second step back, and Jaina didn’t look at her face, because there was another one that had shot off under her chair, so she got down in her knees and fished it out and crushed it under her heel. She circled the desk, keeping her eyes firmly on the floor, until she was satisfied that - no, there was one more, she picked it up and hurled it against the ground and it didn’t break, so she picked it up and hurled it against the furthest wall instead and that did it, it spattered like fairy dust with a little flash of mana.

And it was done.

She was breathing heavily, far more heavily than a little gem smashing really merited, and stared off into space for a few breaths, but she knew she would have to look at Sylvanas soon because the woman was standing right there . But first, Jaina spoke. “No more scrying on you. I hate that I’ve been doing this.” She hated that she hadn’t always hated it, too.

Sylvana’s voice was strained. “Jaina?”

She finally looked, and the look on Sylvanas’ face was… Tides, shit, she hadn’t thought of this, but Sylvanas looked like she was going to cry again. As if this were a kindness, and not something Jaina should have done sooner. But she didn’t cry, and so Jaina didn’t, and they stared at each other for a long quiet moment before Jaina finally found some words. “It’s a start. I think it’s a start?”

Sylvanas’ eyes seemed to frantically search the floor between them. “Yes. Well. The poem was a start. This is.” She blinked. “Yes.”

Jaina scanned the mess she’d made - Tides, the glittering dust was everywhere, and that legal tome had dents in its cover now. Correspondence was still piled up on her desk, and she knew she ought to get to it because it wasn’t that late yet, and that she was derelict in her duties if she simply took an early night, but - Tides damn it - “I - I think I need to rest.”

Sylvanas nodded brusquely, avoiding eye contact. “Yes. Yes, I understand. You are a - a fleshy mortal thing, after all. Prone to weaknesses. Like exhaustion.”

Jaina smiled a little at how utterly uncomposed Sylvanas was. But she really was feeling exhausted, as though beating up a few glassy gems had somehow been an ordeal. “I’ll deal with this all tomorrow, I just… Yeah. It’s been a tiring day.”

Sylvanas nodded, a gentle curl finding her lips. “You have a difficult living situation.”

She could have said things to that, but too many options presented themselves. After a moment of silent eye contact Sylvanas turned to leave, so Jaina simply followed. They quietly retreated to their separate rooms, and Jaina spent a bit of time changing and getting ready for bed, and a lot of time just breathing, and staring at her hands, and feeling… not elated, or free, but like she was slowly unwinding a great deal of tension in her muscles and her soul. She looked at her bed, and realized she wasn’t actually unwound, and she probably wouldn’t be for a while, and then stood up.

She left her room and peeked into Sylvanas’ bedroom, unsure of why she expected to find anything other than the Ranger-General simply sitting on the ground, staring back at her, as though she’d been waiting for Jaina to show up. The look on her face was more calm, more composed. A little breathing room did good even if you didn’t breathe, it seemed.

Jaina stepped into the room. “What did Alleria tell you, to make you apologize?” She bit her lip. “And I accept it, by the way. I didn’t exactly say so earlier.”

A gently amused twitch lifted the corner of Sylvanas’ mouth. “I deduced.” Then she looked down at the floor. “Alleria told me trust is something that is given. She said that I should think carefully about what it means to betray someone’s trust. And that one could give trust in order to… encourage thoughtfulness. To invite care.”

Jaina stood there, fidgeting with her robes, and Sylvanas looked back up at her, so she crossed the room and sat down on the bed, trying, in the dim light, to get a measure of what those words meant to the woman who had ordered deaths and betrayals on frightening scales. The woman who trusted no one, save her Forsaken. And her sisters. “She does sound wise.”

Sylvanas huffed, which must have been an entirely artificial thing to do. “Perhaps. Terribly smug, in any case.”

Jaina split into a smile. “I don’t doubt it.” She blinked, slowly, trying to keep her eyes open. “I’m sorry. I feel like we have more to say, but I’m just…”

Sylvanas gave her a strange little smirk. “Being unreasonably exhausted has never stopped you before.”

She chuckled. “I guess not. I have so much to do, can't let mortality get in the way.”

Sylvanas slowly stood and walked over to the bed, standing there somewhat uncertainly in the starlight. “You have too much. And among the things you have to do is sleep.”

“Stop mothering me.” Jaina patted the bed. “Sit.”

Sylvanas sat. She kept her hands to herself, tucked in her lap. “You seem… particularly tense, since yesterday. I assume I have been… overwhelming. Especially our argument. And my… theatrics, last night.”

Jaina turned towards her a little more. It had been overwhelming. She barely had the words to describe how it had felt, and she was still piecing that together. "There are things you might apologize for, but please, not for last night. That meant something to me. You gave me something. Besides, I just engaged in some theatrics of my own.”

Sylvanas smiled. “Yes. I enjoyed your theatrics. But I understand you are also trapped, as my warden. That it is placing difficult limits on your life. And I am… Well.” Sylvanas seemed to frown. “I found it difficult to believe that you were… willing to entertain the idea of friendship. But I believe you are. It might do us good. I would be… open to that. If you like.”

Her friend. Sylvanas had melted down like that because she thought Jaina might want to be her friend? Tides, this was more complicated than she thought. And she was so tired. “Sylvanas. There are things I don’t know how to give you, when we’re… bound by treaties like this. Things like freedom, like safety -”

Sylvanas nodded, as though she understood. “Ah. Like friendship.”

“No - Tides -” She caught Sylvanas’ arm. She didn’t want to say yes, let’s be friends, because there was a part of her that wanted something far more difficult to ask for and didn’t want to close that door accidentally, even though she should not be thinking about that at all, and Tides she was not in a state to be having this conversation. “I don’t know what I’m saying. I want to give you things you need, and I can’t do everything, but I can give you trust. If you’re willing to accept it.”

“Of course.” She stared into her eyes.

Jaina let go of her arm. “Sylvanas, can I sleep here tonight?”

Sylvanas stiffened, and stared at her bed. “I don’t see why not.”

“If you didn’t want me here. That would be why not.”

Sylvanas didn’t take long to respond to that at all. “Stay.”

Simple. Quiet. Reserved. Jaina felt a little pang of disappointment that it wasn’t hungry, but that was probably for the best. She shifted further back onto the bed and lay down. “Alright. I like what Alleria said.” She stared up at the ceiling, knowing, deep down, that this was a good idea. She wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep on her own very well. “About giving trust.”

Jaina looked over, and couldn’t quite tell what Sylvanas was thinking, the reddish glow of her eyes casting odd shadows out onto Sylvanas’ own face. She looked a little frightening, but also… a little warm.

Jaina muttered the sleep spell, snapped her fingers, and knocked herself out.

 


 

At first, Sylvanas didn’t know what to do. Jaina had knocked herself out with a sleep spell, leaving herself completely helpless. Sleep spells were used for infiltration and assassination and even in the heat of combat, and for good reason. Jaina knew this, and she’d done it on purpose. To give trust.

The vulnerability wrenched at Sylvanas.

Of course, it wasn't exactly complete vulnerability. Sylvanas still knew she would be vaporized by divine Light if Jaina were grievously harmed in any way. Still. After a long moment of surprise, she settled down on the bed. She didn’t embrace Jaina or anything of the sort, even though she could not deny she felt a desire to do exactly that. The pull of her heat, the strange magnetism of her skin, tugged at the edges of Sylvanas’ awareness. The trembling anger she’d seen in Jaina as she smashed the scrying gems to bits made Sylvanas want to… Well, she wanted to hold her, at the very least.

But Jaina seemed to have set some limits for them, too, and she would respect those. It had been an emotionally tumultuous day, and it seemed to have affected Jaina as much as it had Sylvanas. So Sylvanas lay next to her, and closed her eyes, and tried to reflect on what it might mean for them to be close. Alleria would have wanted her to reflect carefully.

What, exactly, was Jaina offering her? Queens, even Rangers-General, did not have close friends. But rangers did, and sisters were all that and more. Sylvanas thought back to her early days among the rangers, as a trainee, the awkwardness of sharing rough and close quarters with strange women slowly giving way, under heated battles and tense nights of watchfulness and shared jibes and pranks on their officers, to bonds of friendship and closeness that felt, at times, as close as any sisterhood. This was not a border war against trolls, but she and Jaina were under stress and isolation-together nonetheless. That much made sense.

A few times, even something more than friendship had come from that, and her mind strayed in that direction as she glanced at the gentle rise and fall of Jaina’s robes with her breath. But Sylvanas was a prisoner and a tyrant, both of which complicated things; and Forsaken. She knew that changed nothing for the Forsaken themselves, but so often it warped the gaze of others, twisted it with hate and disgust. Jaina may be coming to enjoy her company, her words; she may truly care about Sylvanas in some way. But bodies were another matter entirely, and Sylvanas feared to let her mind stray too far down that path. She was willing to be vulnerable, to be friends, but to allow those overpowering sensations into herself again was… She didn’t feel safe doing that. She didn’t know what she would do if she bared that much of herself and was rejected. It was all a matter of degrees.

She’d almost crossed that line, unthinkingly, their first morning together. She’d thought it amusing to tease about Jaina’s state of dress, but Jaina had firmly thrown her out. It was a clear rebuke; she did not want to cross that line with Sylvanas. Whatever the reason, it pained her, but Sylvanas was used to loneliness in all its shades and Jaina was already giving her far more togetherness than the living normally deigned. She could respect that line, then; it was a line she’d respected as Queen and, with a little more trouble at times, even as Ranger-General.

But Alleria had said she was functional enough to participate in the basic rituals of life, even if she was not living. Anyone could appreciate the ability to speak the right words, to hold the right silences, to apply the right touch. Perhaps Jaina might entertain her as a friend within this odd little lynchpin of peace they’d carved for themselves. For however long it lasted.

Perhaps. Though she hadn’t said it; she hadn’t said the word.

Sylvanas’ first inclination was to doubt Jaina’s sincerity once more, but she reached for Alleria’s advice instead. Alleria trusted Jaina with Sylvanas. It was a patronizing statement, on its face, but it meant something coming from her sister. So she tried to search for an alternative explanation. Why would Jaina be hesitant to respond to an explicit overture like that in kind? Was she wounded by past friendships?

Sylvanas thought of the times she herself had nearly lost her composure - repeatedly, over these last few days. She thought of the times she did lose her composure. Jaina had seemed welcoming of it, but she’d also seemed shocked. Overwhelmed. Like she didn’t know what to do with some of the things Sylvanas said, with all the emotion in her. Even in the kitchen, earlier, she had seen Jaina nearly panic when Sylvanas had asked her not to hurt her. When she’d tried to remind Jaina that she was not the one who’d destroyed Theramore, or caused the chaos in Dalaran.

She wondered why. It was difficult for Sylvanas to say such things, yes, but why was it difficult for Jaina to hear them? If anything, she ought to be relieved, or satisfied, that Sylvanas was being more vulnerable and understanding. Alleria did not react so strongly to Sylvanas’ outbursts, after all. She was calm, collected, thoughtful. But of course, they knew each other well. They were sisters…

The thought suddenly struck her. They were sisters, and Jaina did not have sisters. Jaina had increasingly been mentioning Sylvanas’ sisters over the past few days, and Sylvanas had thought it was simply an attempt to appeal to her, but what if it was something more? Jaina didn’t have sisters; she might not be familiar with the strength of that bond. She might see its power over Sylvanas and find it peculiar and interesting. But on the flip side, if she didn’t have sisters, perhaps she wasn’t used to speaking to women like this herself. Perhaps she’d never seen a woman’s emotions so clearly on the surface, as Sylvanas was trying to show them - even if her attempts were difficult and at times clumsy.

She felt a curling of cleverness in her skull, like she’d solved a piece of a puzzle. Sylvanas was not familiar with human customs, or close human friendships, so she couldn’t be sure. Nathanos, always obsessed with her and more a steadfast and loyal comrade than an intimate friend, was not a good guide in this. But if Jaina didn’t have sisters, and her brothers were anything like any other brothers Sylvanas had ever heard of, she could imagine Jaina might never have had any experience in being spoken to in such intimate terms. End me, Jain a was certainly not a normal thing for anyone to say, admittedly, but in less extreme ways Sylvanas was trying to be more open, in the ways she thought she remembered how, and still Jaina seemed to respond like raw nerves more often than not.

Had Jaina never cried into a woman’s arms, never whispered secrets together in a dark bed at night, never traded praises and compliments and difficult truths whose sincerity could not be doubted? Perhaps this was more than she knew how to handle. Perhaps Sylvanas was being too familiar, even now. Perhaps Sylvanas herself had an unusually close bond with her sisters, and her sense of what was appropriate was skewed - how would she even know?

Jaina had a soft heart; Sylvanas had often heard those words, and spoken them herself at times. Sometimes they were spoken in spite. But she was only now beginning to truly appreciate their meaning, and that she may be oafishly trampling all over that heart with her overbearing feelings without even thinking. It was perhaps little wonder Jaina had suddenly snapped and gone and smashed her scrying gems, and then spell-shocked herself to sleep, if she was feeling overwhelmed by everything Sylvanas was doing to try to reach out to her.

She had a great many questions, and the answers were locked away behind those golden and silver curls. And yet she selfishly ached for not being able to bare even more, which was horrible of her. Sylvanas watched, wishing she were still alive. Wishing Jaina could see her as more than a friend locked in a sad corpse, as more than a sister - and even that already felt presumptuous.

She wished she were alive, that she could blush at Jaina’s voice and shiver at her touch, that Jaina could hear her breath catch in her throat. That she could burn with all the signal fires of life, beacons in this dark night to draw Jaina in even closer. That the quiet need in the shadows of her soul could sing from her throat sounding like something more inviting than a dirge. That Jaina might see those things and feel warmed herself, feel drawn in, feel welcome.

But they were what they were. And, now that she thought of it - she was also a woman. And what, exactly, did Jaina’s track record of lovers look like? She knew of no women among them, at least not among those publicly acknowledged. In life, such a thing would not have dissuaded Sylvanas from at least trying. But with so many other factors already at play, it felt like a rather sordid blow to that whole edifice of thought.

She would take what closeness she was offered, and she would not pour all her feelings out at once like a bucket of scalding water. Alleria meant for her not to hurt Jaina, so she would not push her. She would wait.

Dawn came and went, and Sylvanas waited, ruminating, trying to clear her heart. It was not until a few hours after the sun rose that Jaina suddenly slackened, the spell wearing off. She began to turn, bleary-eyed, and Sylvanas dodged a stray elbow. Then a brief flicker of open blue eyes found her before Jaina shut them again, and though the colour was icy, the sight was warming. “You’re on the bed.”

“Where else did you expect me to be?” Sylvanas smiled. Jaina was smiling at her, too, and her eyes were closed. She could still afford a smile this tender, when Jaina wasn’t seeing.

Jaina smiled, in the awkward, inelegant way of one barely aware of one's facial muscles. “You said you were going to discover just how far in this house you could get away from me.”

Sylvanas felt a little stung. She had, once. But at the time they had not been… this. “I have.” She hesitantly stroked Jaina’s white lock of hair, and after a moment the archmage smiled, her eyes still closed.

"Okay, but I'm going to need more space for the lavoratory at least."

She smiled back. "Will you? Why? Remember, I am undead, I have no sense of these things anymore."

Jaina snorted and gently shoved her hand away. "You're ridiculous."

Sylvanas didn't mind being this kind of ridiculous. For a moment they lay in silence, and she found herself smiling gently, unconcerned; Jaina's eyes were still closed, though they fluttered about a little.

Then the archmage frowned slightly. “Sylvanas. I meant it.”

Meant what? Perhaps she really wasn't awake. “That you didn’t expect to find me on the bed? Or the lavoratory?”

“What - no -” Jaina frowned and tried to open her eyes. “Sorry. I’m not fully awake yet. And my brain is still where it was last night. Sort of.” She blinked repeatedly. “I mean… I can’t do everything for you, not with the treaties we signed, but I want to help you. You’re afraid for your people, so if you still want, we can look into it together. I want to help you. Okay?” Her eyes shut again, her features still soft with sleep. “Nobody knows what the Night Warrior is doing.”

Sylvanas remembered what Nathanos had said - and remembered how badly things had gone last time she’d brought up his words. She tried to be very careful. “I was informed that Tyrande has been seen, occasionally, in Stormwind.”

Jaina’s eyes flung open. “What? I haven’t heard of this!”

Sylvanas glanced away. It was quite possible Jaina didn’t know, of course. What did Sylvanas know of the Horde’s goings-on, these days? “Somebody must have. I don’t want to repeat our conflicts, Jaina; I have this information from Nathanos. But if you say you haven’t heard of it, then - then you must not have heard of it.”

Jaina did open her eyes more steadily, and looked at Sylvanas for a long moment. “Then it sounds like I need to go to Stormwind, and make some inquiries.” Her hand twitched towards Sylvanas, and then stilled, and Sylvanas saw it in a new light. Jaina wasn’t sure how to calibrate her familiarity for this kind of situation, but she preferred some distance. “You trust me?”

Sylvanas paused. She had been extended trust by two people she was - rather differently - very close to in the past day. She should try to extend trust, in a way less explosive and uncontrolled than her meltdown in Jaina’s arms. She could not bring herself to hurt Jaina again, not when that pain now felt so close to her own heart. So she gave trust instead, and tried to do so carefully. “I do. I want to. But I may struggle. It is always difficult to trust when there are such barriers between us.”

Jaina frowned a little. “What barriers?”

What barriers? Sylvanas smiled a little and rolled onto her back. “Undeath. Politics. The fact that I am your prisoner and you are my warden. The fact that I am a queen and everything people want from me has political implications. The handful of times we’ve attempted to kill one another.”

“Oh. Well.” She shifted onto her shoulders to look at Sylvanas, and her evening robes parted slightly near her neck, and it pained Sylvanas how her own body did not gasp and sigh and coax from Jaina the feelings Jaina’s littlest movements coaxed from her soul. “Undeath? I suppose it must be hard to trust someone when they still enjoy the taste of butter. I eat so much butter.”

She genuinely chuckled at the non sequitur. “Tell me you don’t just eat butter straight with a spoon. That would make me trust you less.”

“No. That’s vile.” Jaina smiled. “How do you think up such disgusting thoughts?”

The voice was amused and Jaina’s face was open, but the words stung. She felt she knew what Jaina meant by them, but she knew all too well what they might mean directed at Sylvanas Windrunner by anyone else. Even if Jaina’s tone clearly said otherwise. She closed her eyes. “The more appealing parts of me were stripped away long ago.”

Jaina jerked backwards. “Wait, you didn’t take that seriously, did you?”

“I’ve heard similar enough from people calling for my death.” And she had - not in those exact words, but they could have been. She opened her eyes again to look, and saw the flicker of her own red eyes in Jaina’s pupils for a moment.

“I was teasing you, Sylvanas. I didn’t think. I’m -” Jaina closed her eyes again, and sighed. “I’m sorry. I just… I want to tease you. Can you - can I ask you to trust I mean it well?” She opened her eyes. “You surly crypt wench?”

She smiled at that. Jaina wanted to tease her, and Sylvanas wanted to be teased. Wanted to never think of the horrible things that Jaina might be hiding behind her words. It wasn't Jaina who put those thoughts in her head - but they were there nonetheless. “I trust you don’t mean the meanings others would fit into those words. I am slowly learning that you are, in fact, something of a brat. But those other meanings still do fit.”

“Of course - I see what you mean.” She groaned. “And I’m not a brat. I’m just… No, you're right, I need to be more thoughtful about you.” She rolled onto her own back and opened her eyes more fully, blinking at the ceiling. “This is hard, Sylvanas. You’re not what I expected. It would have been so easy if you were just a… a monster. Someone to hate. That’s what everyone knows you to be, except your sisters.” Jaina pressed her hands to her face. “Everybody I talk to is so ready to hear me tell them that you’re awful and that I can’t stand being around you and that this is a terrible duty and burden to bear. But I can’t - I can never tell them the worst thing about it.”

Sylvanas leaned on her arm, cautiously, maintaining the same distance. “What is the worst thing?”

Jaina didn’t look at her. “I smile when you smile. I like your snark. Your tears fucking break me. I don’t know what to do with you, but the only time I really hate you is when you push me away.” A deep breath, a rise and fall of her evening dress. “And I know why you push me away because... of all of this. And I hate it. And then I have to listen to people hate you and wish you were dead and nod politely and not say anything because if I tell them about how I know you they’re going to think I’m insane. There goes Jaina again, being a softie, letting tyrants march all over her, just like she always does! It hurts me to hold all this in my head because the rest of you, the things you’ve done - those are true, too. But they’re the only things anyone else sees.”

Sylvanas thought about it. Jaina didn’t know what to do with her. Her tears broke her. She was too much for Jaina, wasn’t she. Jaina wanted to be there for her, to defend her, and that was difficult enough, without… “I am difficult, I suppose.”

“No, not you - it’s the silence, Sylvanas. It’s the way I have to not tell people what I - what it’s like, with you. I feel like I’m lying to everyone by omission. But if I said anything they’d think I was being a sentimental idiot. If I tried to do something to change the situation we're in, people would -” Jaina was gritting her teeth now. Sylvanas cautiously took her hand, and Jaina seemed to start, slightly, her eyes sliding to Sylvanas before fixing on the ceiling again. “I can never do anything right. Either I’m too angry and I’m not doing things properly, or I’m too sentimental and I’m too forgiving and I need to just stand aside and -”

She was starting to tremble, and Sylvanas grew concerned. Driving Jaina mad was not what she wanted, and she let go of Jaina’s hand again. “Jaina, I worry I am being too familiar.” She looked sideways. “I don’t mean to overwhelm you. This is - this was once normal for me. My sisters and I used to sleep in the same bed almost every night. We would tell each other everything - frustrations with our mother, heartbreak, petty squabbles with other students or rangers. We would fawn over girls and boys, we would talk apart ways we’d insulted or neglected each other, and how sorry we were after tempers had cooled. Ways we loved each other, ways we hurt. It has been a long time, but this is something I was once familiar with. But if this is too much, I don't want to force it on you.”

An odd frown crossed Jaina’s face, and her voice ticked up in pitch. “Your sisters? You lay in bed like this with your sisters?”

“Of course. But I understand you only had brothers, and you seem… I am perhaps overwhelming you, is all I meant. I will exercise more restraint, if you prefer.”

A wild, strange look of bewilderment crossed Jaina’s face, and Sylvanas worried that even that had perhaps been too close to the heart of the matter. “But I do know people with sisters.” Jaina shook her head, her eyes wide. “Not elves, I’ll admit.”

Sylvanas watched her closely. Jaina really wasn’t used to this. It had been a long time for her, too, but Jaina seemed outright confused. “I simple mean that if my feelings are too - effusive - demonstrative -”

“No, it’s not that. It’s just.” Jaina seemed to be trying to look at her, but her eyes were darting wildly. “Are you - do you think of me as some kind of - sister-in-training?”

Sylvanas laughed at the idea of training to be a sibling. “I don’t know what you are. If that’s what you’d like. I will accept whatever friendship you’re willing to give.”

Jaina’s frown only deepened, though. Something wasn’t right. Sylvanas wasn’t sure what it was - was the word friend a problem here? - but suddenly Jaina was sitting up in the bed, rubbing her eyes. “I want to give you what you deserve, Sylvanas. We can take our time figuring out how.”

Sylvanas wondered if she’d said something wrong. She contemplated, for a splinter of a moment, simply lying there, which would force Jaina to climb over her again to get out of the bed. Her mind knew many ways that could go, but instead she sat and moved aside, because she knew how few of those ways were what Jaina might want. It was easy, a living soul in a dead body, to forget how one was seen. “Very well. I… Jaina?”

“Yes?” Jaina looked at her curiously, and Sylvanas wished she could know what she was thinking.

“Cancel my next meeting with Nathanos. I believe I have enough paperwork to occupy my attention for now. Perhaps we can make time for Go’el sooner, so we can learn what exactly he has to say about our situation.”

Jaina squeezed her fists together in a sudden tension Sylvanas couldn’t identify, holding them to her chest, and nodded rapidly. Then, absolutely bafflingly, she leaned over and caught Sylvanas in a hug, pressing Sylvanas' arms against her side in the embrace. “Yes. I’ll do that. Thank you for - for trusting me.” Her words fluttered past Sylvanas' ear like wind, wild outdoor wind of the kind Sylvanas had not felt in weeks, and yet somehow even in a hurricane she knew she would have felt Jaina's voice cross her skin.

A part of Sylvanas, small and afraid, wished she could run back to Windrunner Spire, throw herself onto her childhood bed, bare her confusions, and listen to Vereesa’s chattering and Alleria’s quiet insights as they talked the evening into night once more, trying together to resolve and unpuzzle the many questions of Jaina Proudmoore.

Chapter Text

Jaina was furious. Absolutely livid. Utterly unconsolable.

She tried to hide it from Sylvanas. That seemed to be working - the fearsome Queen of the Forsaken was not as insightful as she seemed to think she was, at least not where Jaina was concerned. She had to hide it from anyone else she spoke to, because if she didn’t… Jaina didn’t know what they would do, but it would be bad.

But she couldn’t hide it from herself, and she cursed her own sleep-addled, exhausted brain that it would not simply be silent on the matter.

After their reconciliation, things had… normalized. Which had not quite brought the peace of mind Jaina had expected. This had been going on for days, now - on and on. The same daily routines, the same long hours of isolation. Piles and piles of correspondence, some of which increasingly gave Jaina the sense that Katherine was, in fact, moving back into the role of Lord Admiral, in deed if not in name. Fleet reports; the Black Empire was striking back, and skirmishes against faceless n’raqi incursions were being waged across southern Kalimdor. Magical inquiries from fellow mages. Hurried meals consisting mostly of bread, cheese, and distraction. Reviewing and strengthening of the wards. Studying… Well, Jaina had a little inkling of an idea she might develop, something to allow Sylvanas a bit of extra freedom, but the magic involved was a bit unfamiliar and there were legal complications she didn’t know how to solve. It was slow going.

The problem, the real problem, was that slipping between the routine, suddenly, were moments. They were having moments. Jaina would tease Sylvanas by mockingly claiming to be watching her mouth because of the rangers watching through the windows, and Sylvanas would sign to them and make them go away and give Jaina a look that dared her to say something personal, and Jaina would inevitably fumble her way to a bad joke instead. They would cross paths in a hallway and both stop and try to let the other pass and Jaina would start feeling awkward and just teleport behind Sylvanas to get past, and they would laugh and she would feel like an idiot. They would get bored and drop into each other's office and make terrible excuses for why they were doing it. Sylvanas brought her over-steeped tea with a friendly smile and watched her drink it, and Jaina couldn’t fucking tell if Sylvanas was torturing her or just didn’t know how to brew tea.

And the nights. The nights. Sylvanas bloody Windrunner would lie down on the bed - mostly Jaina’s bed, in her room - and stare at the ceiling, and they would talk about their childhoods, or about the idiot squabbling of the great names of world politics, or about the annoyances of dealing with unreliable minions. It turned out a water elemental wasn’t much different to a bound ghoul, and that strict mothers around the world had a way with disappointed glares. Or Jaina would read a book (not the romances, never in front of Sylvanas, Tides forbid), and Sylvanas would whittle, or meditate, or one time - one time - she had the utter gall to undo Jaina’s braid for her, carefully avoiding touching the skin of her nape at all. And eventually Jaina would go to sleep, or put herself to sleep. Most often the latter, lately.

She wanted to scream.

Oh yes, Jaina. Me and my sisters used to lie in bed all the time, Jaina. We used to braid each other’s hair and talk about girls or boys and cuddle under the covers and giggle. Poor you, Jaina, you never had sisters, it must be so confusing for you to have me in bed with you like a sister, which you’ve never had. Here, I can be a surrogate sister for you. It’s nice to have someone I can treat like a sister again. Sister sister sister.

That was, perhaps, not exactly what Sylvanas said to her. But it might as well have been. And for all that it always felt like a cold bucket of water dumped on her head, it did very little to cool the heat curling beneath her belly whenever Sylvanas got physically close. Or whenever she thought of the last time Sylvanas had got physically close. Or whenever she imagined the next time... well. Jaina felt furiously guilty that she was feeling this way; it was wildly inappropriate to their situation on so many levels. She absolutely could not act on it.

And even if she wanted to, she had no idea how she would act on it, because Sylvanas kept her own cards close to her chest and was frustratingly inscrutable. It wasn’t like Jaina could ask anyone else for advice, either.

Alleria, could you please come work your magic on Sylvanas again?

Vereesa, how exactly did Sylvanas’ last lady-lover get her into bed?

Honored Councillor Lilian Voss, do the Forsaken fuck?

These were particularly acute frustrations this morning, as she portaled out to Stormwind. She was supposed to be focused on gathering information about the kaldorei and the Night Warrior’s activities, but she was in a completely distracted state.

Not because she was actually in a perpetual state of frustration, admittedly. Most of the time she actually felt quite well. It was because this particular morning, Jaina had asked Sylvanas whether she wanted to learn to do up Jaina’s braid, instead of taking it apart. Which was transparently pointless, because Jaina knew how to do it herself, and she’d felt guilty even asking it; but she’d assuaged her own guilt by telling herself it was just part of building trust. Even when it was so clearly not.

And then, with Sylvanas’ face right by her ears, Jaina had panicked at the proximity and asked Sylvanas about her time fighting trolls among the rangers. That had been the least arousing thing she could think of. And Sylvanas had, quite reasonably, spoken quietly instead of talking at conversational volume directly into Jaina’s ear. And despite Jaina’s lack of interest in the logistics of border skirmishes, the soft, smokey sound of Sylvanas’ voice curling up the bare skin of Jaina’s neck, and the tugs of hair and fingers across her scalp, and the occasionally harsh, occasionally wry tone that voice took in her tales, and the way her arms brushed against Jaina’s back -

Essentially, it was all Jaina’s own fault. And she’d just bathed before that, so she couldn’t rightly rush off to the privacy of the lavatory again without rousing suspicion. And Sylvanas, damn her, had become used to waltzing in through Jaina’s permanently open bedroom door whenever she pleased. So Jaina was stuck like this.

It was a small mercy that the reason she was in Stormwind was enough to give her nerves of a very different and more unambiguously unpleasant sort. She was not looking forward to meeting with Shandris Feathermoon, but at least she had two reasons to stride through the royal gardens, without drawing attention, and calm herself with deep breaths. And one of those reasons was not deeply embarrasing. She tried to focus on that, on the task ahead. She’d portaled out in the morning, but morning in Orgrimmar was evening in Stormwind, and so the sun was nearly setting over the western horizon, and she paused for a moment to watch the evening light warm the pale stone of Stormwind Keep. She could do this. She could focus. She was an adult.

When she could walk through the gardens with a clear head and some control over her posture, Jaina went and found her way to the kaldorei embassy, which had first doubled as a refugee camp and was now being built out more formally with suitable kaldorei housing. Entering the embassy proper earned her a long stare from one of the wardens on guard, but they always seemed to stare, so she tried not to let it feel suspicious. It was not long before she stood in the office of the highest-ranking night elf currently accessible in public - the only one she could reach by courier. Shandris Feathermoon was perfectly pleasant and formal, inviting Jaina to sit at her desk in her meeting room with a spread of leaf-wrapped fruit Jaina picked at graciously as she began her investigation.

Jaina was not entirely surprised that neither Tyrande nor Malfurion were anywhere to be found in Stormwind. Sylvanas’ intelligence suggested Tyrande had been here, but the rest of the Alliance didn’t seem to know about it, so it might have been secret. Shandris was cool but fairly open, until Jaina asked more personally after the wellbeing of Shandris’ adoptive motherparents. When she did that, she noticed the kaldorei’s brow furrow slightly.

“They are well, physically. Shando Stormrage is grieving Teldrassil within the barrow dens of Moonglade. The High Priestess is on active duty.”

Jaina was not close to Shandris, but she still found it odd that the general would refer to them that way; especially Tyrande, who had been Shandris’ mother for longer than Jaina had been alive.

She tried to be gentle. “Has Malfurion recovered spiritually from his wounds?” His body and spirit had both been wounded by the attack on Teldrassil, Jaina had heard. She winced at the reality of what she was dealing with; Sylvanas’ attack on Teldrassil. “I haven’t heard word from him directly in recent weeks.”

“He is physically recovered.” Jaina noted the repetition, though Shandris didn’t seem aware of it. Her eyes were focused on an unremarkable point of her desk for just a moment. “But he has not left barrow dens. Correspondence is being handled. Malfurion is in grief, and does not wish to emerge at this time.” Shandris sounded like she’d learned to recite these words by heart. She wasn’t directly looking at Jaina, either, even when she lifted her gaze from the table; it felt rather like she’d had this same conversation many times before, and that didn’t sit well.

Jaina frowned, considering the situation. Malfurion may not wish to emerge, but where did that leave Tyrande? The Night Warrior was a warrior aspect of Elune; she wasn’t going to sit around doing nothing. Was she without her husband's support? “Have you spoken to Tyrande recently?”

Shandris’ jaw tightened visibly at that, and her eyes did flick to Jaina more keenly. “She is working with the Army of the Black Moon, which operates outside of my command. As is their remit, they are surely pursuing Elune’s will.”

Which was the problem. Or rather, Jaina and Sylvanas’ problem. She bit her lip, trying not to give that feeling away. “Can I ask you a personal question, Shandris? There’s something about the Elune's will and Night Warrior’s blessing I don’t understand, and I’m trying to get a sense for what the Black Moon’s role will be in the events to come.”

“I have not been initiated into the deeper mysteries of the cult of Elune.” Shandris’ voice grew a note of caution now, and suddenly Jaina did feel like she was being observed. “I will answer with what I know, but it may not answer your need.”

This was a risky question, but she thought it might explain some things. “I’d like to understand how the blessing was actually granted. You were present during the ritual on the Darkshore. Why have you not been touched by the Night Warrior’s powers?”

Shandris stiffened visibly at that, and Jaina sensed she’d made some kind of mistake. “That is between myself and Elune.” She was looking at Jaina with some hostility now, and she didn't seem to notice a strand of blue hair falling quite close to her eyes as she rolled her shoulders. Apparently this was a sore point.

Jaina nodded quickly. “I’m sorry - too curious for my own good. I’ve just been trying to get a sense of how to account for the Army of the Black Moon in our plans to assault Ny’alotha, and I don’t have a remotely reasonable grasp of the magic involved. And SI:7’s reports on their whereabouts are confusing at best; it feels like nobody knows where they are. I’m just trying to understand the priorities and activities of an important allied force.”

Shandris’ eyes remained narrowed, but she didn’t seem to grow more hostile, which Jaina took as a slight relief. “I am not at liberty to discuss the Black Moon’s activities.”

“Of course. I imagine Tyrande’s briefings with you are confidential.” It was a gamble, but it paid off in at least one way; Shandris’ eyes widened fractionally, her brow twitched, her face gave a dozen signs of surprise and confusion. Flush with overconfidence, Jaina prodded one step further. “I’ve heard she’s been seen in Stormwind recently, at least, so it’s a relief to know she’s alright. You’ve spoken to her; I don't need to know any military details, but how is she doing, personally?”

And that was the problem with overconfidence. Shandris’ eyes practically bugged out of her skull, and Jaina instantly regretted prodding. “After our living city and home was torched alive and our people decimated by a tyrant who is now apparently lounging in luxury in a heavily protected house? My mother is under a great deal of stress, is how she’s doing.”

“Of course - sorry, that was insensitive.” She glanced to the side. “At least you’ve spoken to her. I’m relieved.”

She saw, from the corner of her eye, pent-up frustration rippling in the muscles of Shandris’ face. She couldn’t be sure, because Shandris wasn’t going to admit it. But Jaina felt an extremely strong suspicion that Shandris herself had no idea whatsoever where Tyrande was, or what she was doing.

Unfortunately, she’d apparently taken this too far - whether Shandris understood her angle or not. “Jaina, should you not be in Orgrimmar, keeping vigil over the arsonist?” Shandris’ brow rose. “Do you require the assistance of more experienced wardens? I have a mind to assign Maiev Shadowsong to something that keeps her hands busy and her nose out of my family’s business. I’m sure Sylvanas would serve that purpose well.”

Irrationally, stupidly letting her earlier frustrations flood her veins, Jaina nearly sputtered at the thought of Shadowsong - or anyone - keeping their hands busy with Sylvanas. Jaina’s hands ought to be perfectly sufficient for that. If it weren’t for the fact that Sylvanas’ trust was a delicate thing, and she was a city-torching tyrant who was widely hated by everyone Jaina was in league with, and was also a prisoner and so subject to Jaina’s whims to an uncomfortable degree. She needed to stop thinking about this, and tried to take a deep breath without being obvious about it. “I will not be needing the watcher’s assistance. Sylvanas is well contained.”

“Then should you not be in Boralus, Lord Admiral? ” Shandris leaned back, her posture seemingly relaxing but the challenge on her purple face clear. Jaina had come to her home, asked prying questions about her mother, and exposed her own ignorance of the situation. Clearly Shandris intended her to pay a cost for that. “I hear you’ve rarely been seen in Kul Tiras since you accepted the Lord Admiralty. You’ve been running around other cities more than in your own home - Dalaran, Suramar, Stormwind -”

Jaina frowned. “Suramar? I haven’t been there in months.”

A flicker of tension crossed Shandris’ brow, but she didn’t dwell on it. “Perhaps ledgers have been confused. They seem unreliable, of late.” Because Shandris apparently hadn’t seen Tyrande, either. Somebody's ledgers were, indeed, quite wrong. “Either way, it seems it is easier than we all expected, ruling a nation from a prison in an enemy city, no?”

Needled by the tone and the words, Jaina almost shook with rage. It wasn’t just that Shandris was openly skewering her actions - but that she was saying things Jaina had already been thinking about. As if Jaina didn’t already know. As if Jaina were an idiot, and hadn’t considered the difficulty of balancing all these responsibilities, and needed to be gently prodded into correct behaviour. If it were simple, obvious, she’d already be doing it. “I am not having trouble tending to my responsibilities. I know where everyone is.”

Saying that was definitely a mistake. Shandris’ eyes flashed with sharp anger, and she straightened in her seat. “As I have said, Lord Admiral Proudmoore, I know nothing more than what Alliance intelligence has already told you. And I have nothing to tell you about my mother’s activities. Will that be all.”

Jaina's cheeks flushed with anger and embarrassment at how badly she’d handled this conversation. She stood, knowing that pushing things further would only make it worse. “Yes. I look forward to learning more of the Night Warrior’s plans to assist in defending Azeroth against our common enemy N’Zoth. That day isn’t very far off.”

“I look forward to never seeing Sylvanas Windrunner’s face in person again, unless it has been detached from the rest of her.” Shandris stood as well, her smile entirely false, her tone only gesturing insincerely at levity and politeness. “Good day, Lord Admiral.”

Jaina turned and left, heat building on her neck. Damn it all, that hadn’t gone well. Was she simply facing a more difficult challenge than she expected, or was she losing her touch? Surely people knew where a hundreds-strong, goddess-empowered kaldorei army had gone. They had to have a paper trail, logistics. Did Shandris actually not know - which would indicate a serious rift between mother and daughter - or had she decided, even before this meeting, that Jaina wasn’t trustworthy?

What was Jaina supposed to do differently? The confusing thoughts danced around her head as she exited the room and walked down the hall. Only the slightest movement alerted her to the figure standing right on the other side of the open doorway.

She jumped in surprise, but Maiev Shadowsong didn’t say a word. She simply watched Jaina intently, expectantly, and Jaina got the sense she’d listened to the entire conversation.

Tense with frustration and feeling pointlessly defensive, Jaina raised her finger to point it in the warden’s face. “Hands off Sylvanas.”

Maiev raised her eyebrows up into her helmet. “Why should it concern you, whether harm befalls Sylvanas? Or where the Army of the Black Moon has gone?”

“I don’t want -” She bit off the personal plea; it would be worse than useless on someone like Shadowsong. “How would you have felt, if someone had broken in and killed Illidan?”

Maiev’s lips compressed slightly, and for a moment Jaina cursed herself. But unlike Shandris, Maiev's response was flat and cool, as though she'd been prepared. “I don’t think you understand me as much as you believe, Proudmoore.”

“Fine.” She searched Maiev’s eyes, but she found only cool consideration and judgement there. She had the uncanny feeling that Maiev knew more than she was letting on, and Jaina tried to test that feeling. She lowered her voice. “Do you know whether Tyrande has been seen in Stormwind?”

Maiev’s voice dropped to match. “The Night Warrior’s activities should not concern you.”

But she said it so very differently to the way Shandris had said it. What had Shandris said, about Maiev sticking her nose in Shandris’ family’s business? Jaina tried not to let it show on her face. She waited, hoping there would be more, but Maiev's face was cold and determined and Jaina knew it would be worse than useless to push her. “Fine.” She turned and left before she could reveal anything else, and Maiev made no move to follow.

But Maiev knew. Maiev knew where Tyrande was, in some way that was meaningfully different to what Shandris did not know. Why the warden - who had variously been at odds with Tyrande in the past - and not Tyrande’s own daughter? What had Shandris meant, that Maiev was poking her nose into family business?

What in the world was going on with Tyrande and Shandris? Clearly whatever it was had upset the younger general. The Black Moon were veterans of the battle in Darkshore who had partaken, secondarily, in Tyrande’s ritual to become the Night Warrior - that much Jaina knew. Shandris had been present at the ritual, and yet had not received Elune’s blessing. The power, and the vengeful rage. Or was the rage even part of the blessing - was it perhaps a prerequisite? Had Elune rejected Shandris, somehow?

Jaina had no idea. This was a great blotch of ignorance on her understanding of the situation. There was a personal tangle here between Tyrande and Shandris and perhaps Maiev that Jaina had no insight into, and yet it seemed terribly relevant to her pursuit of answers.

Darkshore had been reclaimed, but with heavy losses and a fear that the Horde might return. What was the purpose of the Army of the Black Moon, now? What did the Night Warrior drive them to, in the name of Elune’s will? What was Elune’s will? And why weren’t they coordinating with the Alliance?

There were hundreds of soldiers in that army, carrying a lesser form of the Night Warrior’s own blessing. They had all vanished, and while Shandris Feathermoon, General of the Sentinels, didn’t know where they were, Maiev Shadowsong did. That was information, at least… and much as Jaina hated to say it, it did make her worry about conspiracy.

This day just kept getting worse and worse.

But she had more to do in Stormwind. People to talk to, intelligence to gather, moods to test. She would do as much as she could into the late night; she was not the only poor sleeper, and there were night shifts and late dinners aplenty in the political realm here.

She looked up at the evening sky, and it never ceased to throw her off that she could step through a portal, halfway across the world, and go from morning to evening at the same time. It was cloudy here, and a cool wind was blowing in from the sea. She wished, openly in her own mind even if she couldn’t say it aloud, that she could just be with Sylvanas.

 


 

When Jaina returned from her stay in Stormwind, night had just fallen in Orgrimmar. It brought Sylvanas some amusement to know that for one Jaina was keeping other people up at night, rather than herself.

Sylvanas was prepared. She’d received an odd report from Councillor Voss, with information that puzzled her. And Jaina was her… something. They were close. There was still an uncomfortable tension between them at times, but mostly they were close, and Sylvanas’ effort to trust her seemed to be rewarded. So Sylvanas was ready to share what she knew; it wasn’t much information, but it was something she should put in front of Jaina, in case their two heads could manage what Sylvanas’ alone could not.

When Jaina swept out of the portal, though, she was quiet. Sylvanas had been waiting in her office, but moved into the lounge to find her, and could tell right away that something was on Jaina’s mind. “I take it Stormwind went poorly.”

“Poorly.” Jaina glanced at her, and sighed, something defeated written onto her face. “Not very well, no. Let’s sit down. You’re not going to like this.”

She certainly didn’t like hearing Jaina say that. “If I may be so bold, Jaina. If you ever intend to backstab me, reveal that I have been betrayed, lay out some plot you believe I’ve been involved in, or otherwise surprise me with sensitive matters, would you do me the kindness of telling me immediately rather than dancing around the subject?”

Jaina smirked slightly, and started walking towards Sylvanas’ office. “All right, all right. I promise, no nasty surprises.”

Sylvanas followed her, still uneasy at Jaina’s mood. Just how serious was it? She prodded. “Am I to understand you have pleasant surprises in store for me, then?”

Jaina rather absurdly fumbled as she was sitting down in the chair opposite Sylvanas’ own. “What?” She glanced at Sylvanas. “What kinds of surprises from me would you find pleasant?”

Sylvanas only managed to hold her eyes for a fraction of a moment before looking away and sitting down herself. She could think of a number of things, none of them likely at all. “They wouldn’t be surprises, then, would they?”

Jaina frowned at her, but she was smiling slightly. “Alright. I’ll try to think of some pleasant surprises for you, then.”

Jaina raised her fingers to her braid, beginning to undo the small binds that helped it stay together, and Sylvanas had an absurd sense that she wanted to be doing that for Jaina instead. “I will strive to be on my best behavior until I receive said surprises.”

Now Jaina did smile, though she glanced away as well. “Good. I’ll keep track in my warden’s log.”

“You keep a log?” Sylvanas felt a slight pang of surprise; she was torn between believing that was exactly what Jaina would do, and believing Jaina absolutely did not have the time or discipline to do so. How many things could one person keep track of? She watched Jaina’s fingers work at the braid. “Fascinating. I’m sure I have scored poorly so far.”

“Oh yes.” Jaina closed her eyes now, as though visualizing the log. “I have columns and columns dedicated to the various things you should and shouldn't do that I tick off for each relevant day.”

Sylvanas smiled. “I shudder to think of the patterns you've unveiled.”

Jaina snorted slightly, and spoke in a rather peculiar tone. “Well, some of the columns are rather sparse for my liking.”

Did she mean there were things she expected Sylvanas to do that she wasn’t doing? “Are you suggesting I'm derelict in certain duties?”

“That information is classified.” Jaina smiled more and winked at her, and Sylvanas felt a flush of embarrassment. She remembered joking with Jaina like this in the past, though, so with that embarrassment also came relief. They were alright. Jaina was already seeming more playful and relaxed than she had been when she’d gotten home. As Sylvanas recovered, Jaina reached into her satchel. “I spoke with a few people while I was there, and I was able to secure copies of some reports from Alliance intelligence that I am not allowed to give to you.”

She threw them on the table with a disregard for the law that Sylvanas found rather charming. She grinned, uncontrolled, and met Jaina’s sly smile. “I knew you were a pirate at heart, Proudmoore.”

“How dare you slander me like that.” Jaina’s expression looked utterly unslandered as she slowly undid her braid, and Sylvanas’ attention was snared by each newly liberated lock of white or gold. “I haven’t given you anything. If I happen to misplace the documents, in a fit of exhaustion, which everyone apparently knows I’m prone to, well, I suppose accidents happen. I’m notoriously sloppy these days.”

Sylvanas slid her hands over to the reports and picked them up, scanning them with her eyes and immediately wincing when she recognized the half-mad, scribbled handwriting of gnomes. “Thank you. I appreciate you sailing into such murky waters for me.”

“Sylvanas!” Jaina stopped and straightened, but there was a twinkle in her eyes and her smile stayed on her lips, and that relaxed Sylvanas more than she expected. “I’m trying to be subtle.”

Sylvanas smirked, only too happy to play along - or with, as the case may be. “I’m afraid that subtlety is one of those features of the living of which I am devoid.”

Jaina rolled her eyes back. “You’re ridiculous. Listen.” She finally finished undoing her braid, and her hair cascaded down around her shoulders and neck like a molten flow of sunshine slashed through with a blade of moonlight. She never wore it unbraided outside of bed. Sylvanas found herself feeling slightly less sober. “You should read the reports, but first let me tell you what happened with Shandris when I asked her about Tyrande, and the Black Moon.”

Sylvanas sobered a little at the thought of the kaldorei. “Did she know why you were asking?”

“I made something up about trying to coordinate deployments.” Jaina was fidgeting as she spoke now, and after a moment she took off her official robes, leaving herself in simpler tunic and trousers. “These are too warm.” Sylvanas had seen her simpler clothes before, of course, and it had been a sunnier day than usual in Durotar, so even at night it was still too warm for robes that would be comfortable in Stormwind. But usually Jaina didn’t just peel off her outer layers in the middle of the house, and Sylvanas found herself distracted. “You know what happened? She didn’t know. Shandris has no idea what Tyrande is doing, and she isn’t happy about it. So it’s not just the wider Alliance that doesn’t know. Even her own daughter, Sylvanas.”

That was surprising, and wrenched her focus back. Those two were family. Had something gone terribly wrong? Was Tyrande protecting Shandris through ignorance? Or was their family more strained, more like Sylvanas’ and Jaina’s, than she let on? “She told you about this?”

“No, but when I prodded at her ignorance she got very angry.” Jaina sighed. “Unfortunately, I think Maiev Shadowsong does know something. I ran into her briefly, but I think she had listened in on our conversation and at that point I felt like she was testing me for something, so I didn’t stick around. I messed it up a bit, I have to admit - I think I provoked Shandris.”

Jaina rubbed her neck in apparent discomfort, and the motion shifted her tunic slightly. Sylvanas glanced at the exposed skin between her neck and shoulder, where Jaina’s hair had fallen rather softly. “You did not apply your wiles, I see.”

“My -” Jaina looked at her, smiling again just a little, and her voice took on a tone of quiet exposure and openness that Sylvanas found disarmingly soft. “No. My wiles are not for Shandris.”

Sylvanas tried desperately not to think about who her wiles were for as Jaina forged on. Was there someone else?

“She started throwing accusations at me about being derelict in my various duties, though, and I got angry.”

Sylvanas nodded, curiously noting the pang of anger she herself felt towards Shandris for having upset Jaina, for having prodded at the struggles Jaina experienced with her duties and her needs. That upset had apparently persisted until she’d gotten home, and not unreasonably so; Jaina was hard enough on herself. She didn’t need further criticism. “Shall I have Shandris assassinated for you?”

“No, but if you could slip her something that will make her a little queasy, I wouldn’t be displeased.” Jaina smiled as she leaned forward on the desk, then paused with one hand on the reports. “You understand that’s a joke, right?”

“As we have established, I am devoid of subtlety.” Sylvanas grinned widely. Jaina was a little imp, sometimes, and that tickled her sensibilities. She genuinely relished the thought of giving Shandris a mild, nonlethal poisoning, which was something she’d never actually considered. Using a simple, harmless poison for petty revenge had some charm to it. She wouldn't, because Jaina clearly didn't want her to, but she could entertain them both by pretending she would. “Your will shall be done, Lady Proudmoore.”

Jaina smiled widely, and Sylvanas drank in the sight. “I’ll teach you subtlety or die trying, Sylvanas.”

“Oh dear. I shall endeavour to learn well. Otherwise I might need to lose another Val’kyr.”

Jaina froze, looking at her very intently for a long moment, and Sylvanas felt a sudden pang of embarrassment and scrutiny. That might have been a bridge too far. It was difficult to remember that most of the living thought of undeath as undesirable, especially when she herself spent no small amount of time complaining about it. But the living complained about life, too, after all. Surely Jaina understood it had been meant as a... well, however Sylvanas had meant it? She hadn't really thought before speaking.

But after a moment Jaina simply shook her head, and slid over a folder of reports, apparently deciding not to comment. “Look - there’s even a map I had compiled of Alliance deployments. This is high level information, but we can go over the details tomorrow when we have time.”

Sylvanas glanced through the reports. They seemed rather thorough, actually, but she was surprised to hear Jaina defer anything at all. “But it isn’t well past midnight yet. I expected you to work yourself to exhaustion while I gently chastise you about it and bring you tea. Are you saying you aren’t trying to destabilize Orgrimmar’s candle economy any longer?”

Jaina actually chuckled a bit at that; it wasn’t the funniest joke, but her mood seemed to have improved. “I’m saying I’m tired and I’m finally going to do as my mother asks and rest.”

“Ah, yes, your mother.” Sylvanas found she craved more of those chuckles and smiles. “Should I open correspondence with Katherine? In order to influence you myself?”

Jaina leaned back in the chair - practically splayed, with one arm hooked over the back of it. It did interesting things to how much skin was exposed around the neck of her tunic, and the laziness of the pose was… inviting. Jaina gently shook her head. “I'm not interested in you mothering me, Sylvanas." The look she gave Sylvanas seized her a little, made her think there was more to the words than their simplest meaning, rooted her to the chair. "Shall we call it a night?”

Shall we. The we did something to Sylvanas, too, and not for the first time. Each time she heard it, it did a little something. She wished she could say yes, but she realized Jaina alone had delivered on her part of a shared bargain. “In a moment. I made some discoveries of my own.”

Jaina leaned forward again to face her more fully, her face taking on a little more seriousness. Which was both a relief and a sadness. “Oh?”

“Yes. I’ve been inquiring through different intelligence channels.” She’d been asking her rangers, and Lilian Voss, and even, to her consternation, Geya’rah, who had a few attentive eyes and ears in the city. “There is an Alliance agent, a goblin by the name of Renzik, who is known to operate in Orgrimmar. He is tolerated so that he can at least be observed. Do you know of him?”

Jaina stiffened slightly, and nodded. “I’ve heard.”

This was one thing she was not very comfortable telling Jaina, though it was not the worst of them. “According to Geya'rah's mag'har agents, Renzik was seen speaking with Nathanos a few days ago. Unfortunately Nathanos’ reports have not mentioned this meeting, and while he didn’t deny it to Voss when she questioned him, his activites are by default state secrets, so Voss had no insight. I can only assume there is something going on he believes is too dangerous to communicate.”

Sylvanas struggled to make sense of what Nathanos was thinking, and that was a new and uncomfortable feeling for her. Normally they were mostly on the same page, but the strangeness of this situation had put the two of them in radically different places, with radically different perspectives.

“I understand his concerns about speaking to me while I am under arrest, but coordinating this information is proving challenging. I would like a meeting with him, to convince him to treat Lilian Voss as an equal partner in our information network; she has some legal authority and insight that would be valuable. And I wish for him to trust in our situation here.”

Jaina nodded, looking a bit reserved. “We can set one up.”

Sylvanas reached across the desk, cautiously, and laid a hand on Jaina’s. Jaina’s icy eyes flicked to the contact, and for a moment Sylvanas thought she would flinch away, but instead she turned her hand over, pressing their palms together.

“Nathanos is a loyal comrade, but he does not understand our situation.” Sylvanas spoke as clearly and slowly as she dared, knowing this was a dangerous topic. “I understand that better now. I previously allowed his fears for my safety and independence to stoke my own fears for the same. I do not intend to do so again. It is up to me to convince him I am safe.”

Jaina gave a nod that contained a slight tremble, and Sylvanas slowly pulled her hand away, wondering if this was still too much, if Jaina still found it too overwhelming or off-putting to be reached for with touch like that. This had been an attempt to add sincerity to her words, but perhaps she'd been lulled by the teasing look Jaina had given her. Perhaps that was something she should refrain from.

She pressed on. “In any case, this Renzik appears involved in some kind of information operation. I stationed two rangers to alternate following him, and they tell me he was seen accessing a Horde intelligence dropsite in Azshara yesterday. Being an Alliance agent, he should not have been aware of it.”

Jaina appeared contemplative, and seemed to shake herself to attention. “You think Nathanos gave an Alliance agent intel on a Horde drop site? Sylvanas, I hesitate to say it, but are you certain Nathanos’ initiative can be trusted?”

“Absolutely.” It was rare to find an agent who was as reliably and seemingly incorruptible as Nathanos, differences in perspective aside. “His initiative can be trusted, at least to the extent that his beliefs align with reality. He will do what he thinks is best for me.”

“Which could, if he had the wrong information, be almost anything.” Jaina frowned. “Shandris thought I’d gone to Suramar recently, but I haven’t. Could it be that he's feeding the Alliance false information about my whereabouts?” She sighed, clearly dissatisfied. “But that’s ridiculous, the Alliance doesn’t need to spy on the Horde to know where I’m going.”

“I’m not sure, but I’d like to have insight into whatever he is planning. And now that scrying in the house is no longer an issue, perhaps he will be more open.” She could only hope. She had an idea of how to convince him that they truly weren’t being listened to, though she hated invoking the memories involved. “I’ve also secured a scout’s log from a patrol through Ashenvale and Darkshore. There are some basic details about magical residues near the site of the Night Warrior ritual, which you may find useful.” She reached for the file on her desk and moved it into the pile of information she and Jaina had collected. Together. Their pile. “There are also some possible signs of Black Moon activity in the area. And we should indeed go over them tomorrow, so you can rest tonight.” Sylvanas blinked, slowly and on purpose, so that Jaina caught it, and risked a little foray along a path Jaina had gestured to. “Unless that suggestion is too mothering of me. I certainly do not want to vie for that role in your life.”

Jaina watched her for a moment, looking as frozen as Sylvanas had felt earlier, before quickly turning her head away, as if the wall were quite fascinating. She did smile a little. “I don’t want to rest. I just want to stop talking about politics.” She glanced to the window, as if she were nervous, before apparently steadying herself. “I have plans, actually.” 

Sylvanas was again puzzled by this strange creature in her house. “Plans? You sound like you’re planning a dinner party.”

“Maybe I should.” Jaina shook her head, though. She stood up and beckoned Sylvanas after her. “No, I have plans for a pleasant surprise for you. Come on, I need to go to the bedroom.”

Sylvanas went rigid. A pleasant surprise? In the bedroom? Visions of walking into the bedroom and finding Jaina wearing a surprisingly little amount of clothes flickered through her brain, which was something she should not be thinking about, since Jaina was clearly only being friendly and familiar. Clearly. There weren’t hints of anything else, were there? Anybody could read innuendo into anything, especially if they wanted to. That was no proof of anything.

It didn’t matter what Sylvanas thought, though, because Jaina was already moving. Sylvanas got up and followed, trying very hard not to scramble. She stood at the threshold of Jaina’s bedroom once she arrived, suddenly not trusting herself to step more than one step inside, but Jaina was merely gathering up her pillows. She thrust them both at Sylvanas. “Here. Take these, and let me change.”

This was confusing. And not what Sylvanas had been thinking. “Your pillows? Fascinating.

Jaina snorted, and with a sudden burst of boldness actually shoved Sylvanas by the shoulder towards the door. Or tried. Sylvanas was not easy to shove, and she was so surprised she rooted herself to the ground, so Jaina quickly despaired. “Come on, don’t make me beg you to get out.” Her gaze had an oddly pleading look, her eye contact suddenly more direct than Sylvanas knew what to do with. “It’ll just take me a minute to change.”

Jaina obviously didn’t want her in the room while she changed, a completely reasonable thing given the circumstances. Jaina was delineating what level of propriety that was to be expected, obviously. Sylvanas backed out of the room holding the two pillows and feeling exceptionally confused about what was going on. To her further confusion Jaina didn’t even close the door, so Sylvanas heard the rustling of cloth against skin and tried not to imagine too vividly what sight would have accompanied it. She hadn’t had these kinds of straying thoughts, not this strongly and consistently, in… a very long time. Too long, and not long enough. “What, exactly, did you want to show me?”

“Something I don’t think you’ve seen in a while.”

Belore, it was like the woman was reading her mind and tormenting her on purpose. Sylvanas felt a sudden tension, and began to feel wildly out of place with two pillows in her arms. She squeezed them closer. “Ah. A friendly face, then?”

Jaina emerged from her room, in her simple nightgown and carrying the blanket, and gave her a quirk of a smile. It was a very friendly face, and she’d seen a great deal of it, and they both knew it. Jaina’s nightgown was fairly bare around the shoulders, and if Sylvanas tricked herself a little she could imagine the shoulder straps entirely gone, and that - that was quite a thought. “You joke like we’re still fighting, Sylvanas, and I never know how to respond. I don’t want you to misinterpret me. What would hurt you less - if I played along and pretended we were still fighting, or if I reminded you that -” Her gaze faltered slightly. “That we’re not?”

Sylvanas stiffened against the wall. This was worse than both. “Would you choose the one that hurts me more, or less?”

Jaina suddenly leaned on the doorframe, hugging the blanket to her chest. “Think about it for a moment. My answer to that question depends on your answer to my question.”

Sylvanas furrowed her brow, and thought. Damnable archmage. It was a convoluted sort of logic Sylvanas couldn’t disentangle herself from. “This is the kind of rhetoric the Kirin Tor teaches you?”

Jaina raised both eyebrows and walked past her, grabbing a pillow from Sylvanas’ arms as she went. “I’ll figure you out eventually. Come on.”

Curious and baffled and desperately afraid of what might happen if Jaina figured her out and didn’t like what she found, Sylvanas followed, wondering what exactly they could do with pillows anywhere outside the bedroom. She knew there were obviously a number of things that could be done, but most seemed on the other side of Jaina’s fine line of propriety.

Jaina headed up the stairs to the second floor, which Sylvanas considered to be Proudmoore territory entirely, though she was only familiar with the office. But then Jaina… kept walking up the stairs, towards the roof. What was she playing at? Some kind of prank? Jaina did have an impish streak to her which Sylvanas normally found rather endearing, so she held her tongue and waited to see what Jaina would do. It occurred to her that, despite the strange situation, she did not suspect Jaina of wanting to actually harm or offend her in any way. She trusted her not to.

A heavy, leather-lined wooden hatch - one Sylvanas could not move, on account of the wards - lay across the top of the stairs, blocking the way to the terrace. Jaina put the pillow down and heaved it aside. For a brief moment, devoid of all common sense, Sylvanas thought Jaina was going to set her free.

What would she do, if that happened?

A horrible feeling seized Sylvanas when she realized that she might not instantly flee this house. That she might hesitate. That she might even stay.

Who had she become, that she wouldn’t immediately seize freedom? How in all the hells would she explain that to Nathanos?

But Jaina didn’t actually go onto the terrace, not any more than was necessary to set the latch aside. The wards that kept Sylvanas indoors shimmered as Jaina’s body passed through them. Then Jaina sat down, awkwardly, on the stairs. Held out her hand, for the pillow. “Come on.” Still confused, Sylvanas handed it to her.

“What is the meaning of this?”

Jaina set up the pillows by the top steps, spread the blanket awkwardly below the, and reached out to pull on Sylvanas' wrist. “Come here. Lean back with me.”

On the stairs? Jaina had entirely lost her mind. “What -”

“Come on, you big oaf, just sit and lie your head on the pillow.”

So she did as asked, uncomfortable as it was, lay her head back as though the were on an awkward bed, and -

Sylvanas saw stars.

The hatch was big enough that, if she ignored the periphery of her vision, she might fool herself into thinking she was outside under a clear night sky.

Jaina flicked her wrist, and the torches in the hall went out, leaving them in the darkness of night and starlight. Then she leaned back against the other pillow, beside Sylvanas, and sighed contentedly. “I wanted to rest under the stars with you. It’s been a tiring day.”

“You… wanted to lie under the stars with me.”

“Yes.” Jaina glanced at her. “You know, to build trust. That kind of thing.” She glanced back up at the stars. “Thank you for… being silly with me, when I got home. I needed that.”

Sylvanas blinked. She hadn’t explicitly thought to herself that she should set Jaina at ease, try to amuse her and soothe her mood. She’d just… been thinking fondly. And this was what happened.

Jaina waited a moment before continuing. She shuffled slightly, their shoulders pressing closer together. “Don’t stand up too quickly or you’ll hit your head on the wards. It’ll blur the sight, and you might get hurt.” It wouldn’t actually hurt her; Sylvanas had tried. So the fact that Jaina said so with concern anyway felt… rather touching.

Sylvanas stared up at the night sky, and tried not to cry.

She hadn’t looked at the night sky in… years. She’d been under it often enough, but to simply look up into the sky and see it, not looking for danger, not judging the weather, just taking it in… she had done this when Argus had disappeared, after the war with the Burning Legion. She’d seen the world free again, witnessed the sky unblemished. But that, she thought, was the last time. Until tonight.

And Jaina wanted to do this with her. She’d said it like that. This simple little moment, this thing so easily overlooked - Jaina had wanted to share this. The thought of that want, as mundane and pure as anything - far more pure than some of the thoughts in her own head - struck her. Sylvanas was suddenly aware of the ache of a decade and more of struggle, turmoil, and pain, as though she’d stopped being the banshee for a moment and lost all the blinding anger that had gone with that, and was left with… exhaustion, sadness, the mourning of days and years whittled away by war. Of needlessly lonely nights that had passed them by, stars ungazed.

She didn’t trust herself to look at Jaina for a while, so she simply stared into the night. Tried to find old elven constellations she’d been taught. Wondered if they would see a shooting star. What would she wish?

She knew what she would wish.

“Look.” Jaina’s fingers awkwardly found her hand and tapped, as she pointed to the sky with her other hand. “Wyvern?”

A dark shape, gliding across the night, blotting out a few stars. Sylvanas managed words. “Looks like a bat.”

“You’d know, wouldn’t you.” Jaina’s hand rested in its place on Sylvanas’ own hand, and squeezed slightly.

Sylvanas turned to look at this strange person. Jaina was, in that moment, tired and dishevelled; awkwardly bent over blankets and stairs; pale and faint in colour under the dim light of stars. Lips gently parted, eyes scintillating with the cosmos, she was one of the most beautiful sights Sylvanas had ever seen.

Chapter Text

Jaina wasn’t sure when she’d fallen asleep last night, but she woke up in Sylvanas’ bed, with the queen herself lying quietly to her side, and with rather more pillows and blankets than she needed piled under and over and around her. Apparently she’d been carried back; that was a warm realization to wake up to. She pressed her back into Sylvanas' side as she stirred, a little disappointed to be feeling hard leather instead of skin, but she could have sworn Sylvanas pressed into her slightly in response.

It had been nice, watching the stars with Sylvanas. It had been terribly close, in some ways, but it had also been soothing. Jaina had gotten home from that excursion to Stormwind, which had turned out more difficult than she’d wanted in part because of her own tactlessness and single-mindedness; she’d been tired and frayed and unhappy. Yet somehow, with her harmless jabs, Sylvanas had brought her mood back around, and so it had felt good and fitting to spend time together like that. The thought occurred to Jaina, treacherous as most of her recent thoughts about Sylvanas were, that under a different light Sylvanas seemed like someone else entirely, someone she liked a great deal. Someone she wanted to be with, for no other reason than that.

If only that someone didn’t also have a past laden with violence and pain that couldn’t help but follow her day by day. If only Jaina knew how to allow herself this new closeness and companionship - not to mention the more urgent feelings that sometimes flooded through her, despite no clear signs of reciprocity - without compromising her duties and her relationships to the people Sylvanas had hurt. Jaina knew she had to reckon with all that, one way or another. But she had time, and space - or at least she desperately hoped she did, because this was a complicated tangle of emotions that would not be resolved easily.

Yet in the hazy, bleary-eyed moments of waking, the cool of Sylvanas’ leathers against her back, Jaina felt deeply content. Those darker, guiltier thoughts had not yet sunk into her for the day. They were stalking her from outside the gates of her heart, and she saw them clearly; but within her heart, for now, her first feelings of the day were good. Surely that meant something important.

She rose with Sylvanas, and they bantered and glanced and smiled and reluctantly went their separate ways as they readied for the day. They didn't have much time; they had a joint meeting scheduled with Go’el this morning, and they’d slept in. Jaina knew he wanted to talk about their situation, and ways to move forward with it. She knew from his missives that he didn't think house arrest was sustainable in the long term. But what did he think they could do about that now?

Might they find a gentler way out of this situation, a way into another light, where they could be in ways they hadn’t been before? Jaina worried that the light under which Sylvanas was anything other than a rakish villain might be a light too sparse and soft to survive the presence of anybody other than Jaina herself. And Go’el was about to put those very worries to the test.

But Sylvanas was not in the mindset she has been on the day of the mak'gora. They had something, now. And Jaina knew that if Sylvanas’ private affection for Jaina - even if it wasn’t the exact kind of affection she craved from those pouting, scowling lips - went up against Sylvanas’ public persona of bluster and threat, one of them would have to give. Jaina was deeply curious to see which one would win out in this peculiar setting, a curiosity tinged with both hope and fear.

Cultivating that something between them was one of the excuses Jaina made to herself when she asked Sylvanas to braid her hair again, after she got dressed. Unfortunately, this time the woman was even slower and more deliberate about it, and she started telling Jaina the stories behind some of the elven constellations they hadn’t been able to see last night, and her voice was like a quiet, dark ocean graced by moonlight lapping at Jaina’s ears, and Tides but this was frustrating and soothing all at once.

She felt herself warmed as she slipped down into Sylvanas’ voice, and then Sylvanas started recount a myth about long-lost lovers reunited among the stars - because of course it was one of those myths, with Jaina’s luck every single elven constellation was probably designed after some pair of star-crossed lovers. She felt barely able to stay afloat, barely willing to stay afloat, listening to that and struggling to keep her reactions private.

Jaina wondered whether Sylvanas even had the slightest idea that she was telling Jaina a love story, or whether she was just sharing a quirky piece of cultural storytelling with a sister-friend. Surely the juxtaposition must be crossing her mind. Surely? But Jaina detected no sign of innuendo or hinting. It was a painful, aching mercy when Sylvanas’ fingers stopped accidentally brushing against her nape, and they quit the bedroom, and Jaina had to pretend to be a dispassionate, functional human being once more. Had to steel herself for the meeting ahead.

And that steeling, and the very necessity of it, felt like one of the biggest reasons why the frustrating, damning attraction Jaina was feeling towards the banshee could not be indulged in. On the one hand, what did it matter how Sylvanas was with Jaina, if she couldn’t be trusted around anybody else? Even around her own Forsaken servants Sylvanas was domineering and aggressive, and even now that her temper seemed milder, Jaina could only imagine how she’d be around people she didn’t care about, like Go'el.

While on the other hand - how ridiculous was it that even as she tried to cultivate this woman’s trust, to build a rapport, to work with her, Jaina found herself wanting so much from her, wanting things Sylvanas quite possibly did not want to give?

As she watched Go’el lumber up towards the safehouse, she wondered if she could follow him afterwards to shout about all this to a sympathetic ear. That was probably a terrible idea. She had little sense of how he felt about Sylvanas these days, but Go’el had stoked a rebellion aimed at deposing the former Warchief. That goal had been achieved, at the cost of lives needlessly spent. Where did that leave her friend’s mind now?

And if she told him anything about how she was feeling about Sylvanas - how she was actually feeling - the conversation could become incredibly awkward. He’d never been the kind of man who could speak about such things out loud without growing nervous after more than a few sentences, or at least he hadn’t been years ago. His bewilderment would only be worse if the person stoking the heat in Jaina’s hearth was Sylvanas Windrunner herself, who, as far as most people seemed to care, was barely a person with any kind of internality.

Jaina was not a fool; she knew this was weighing on her, and she knew she had to talk to somebody, or she would go mad and do something foolish (and oh, what foolish things she could imagine herself doing). She was already fidgeting just standing at the window thinking about it. But she was struggling to imagine speaking to anyone about this at all. Almost everybody either hated Sylvanas, or mistrusted Jaina, or both. The only exceptions she could think of were Alleria - a prospect that was terrifying, because Alleria had the intensity of a midday summer sun - and Vereesa. And while Vereesa didn’t hate Sylvanas, she certainly seemed angry, upset, or somehow miserable about her sister. What would she do if Jaina came to her with this?

Go’el was almost upon them now, so she composed herself. Sylvanas’ office was closer to the door, so it would do as well as any meeting place. Jaina placed a kitchen stool next to Sylvanas’ chair, because sitting in Sylvanas’ lap would be inappropriate and was certainly not a thought that should cross her mind in any case, no, not at all. Sylvanas glanced at it briefly, the at her, and Jaina wondered if she was thinking the same thing. Surely not.

Jaina greeted Go’el at the door, and despite their tumultuous history, the sight of his great green face was a surprising relief. She could tell right away that he wasn’t angry or in a dark mood; he only seemed tired, and a little wry. She took that as a good sign; she trusted him to at the very least not to be hostile. He would try to understand, she thought, even if he failed.

She tried to focus on this immediate challenge, on Go’el meeting Sylvanas in person again for the first time in weeks. If she was learning anything lately, it was that there was hope for Sylvanas to be cooperative. Maybe this would go fine.

Of course, there was a problem with that hope.

That problem was Sylvanas Windrunner herself, sharing a room with anyone who wasn’t Jaina Proudmoore. Sylvanas’ eyes narrowed as Go’el entered her office.

“Go’el. I thought you preferred the company of spirits. Have you come to see if mine is willing to be parted from its corpse?”

Jaina let herself groan audibly. Let Sylvanas remember she was here, too. “Sylvanas, be nice.”

Sylvanas simply bared her teeth and growled like some sort of angry coyote, and Jaina nearly despaired. She'd almost forgotten Sylvanas could be like this. Go’el didn’t seem fazed though, and why would he be? This was exactly the Sylvanas he knew, and he responded unsurprised, as though he was already exhausted. "Greetings yourself, Sylvanas."

Jaina glanced back at him and gave him an apologetic look. “Go’el, have a seat. Sylvanas is perfectly able to have a civil conversation, I promise. I’ve been having plenty with her.”

She looked at Sylvanas, and despite being frustrated with the woman’s opening salvo, she smiled. And Sylvanas looked slightly terrified in response, as though she were remembering putting Jaina's hands on her own throat and begging to be ended. Plenty of civil conversations.

That look vanished quickly, and Sylvanas actually backed down, sitting in her seat. Jaina circled around to her stool, and saw the questioning look in the orc’s eyes as he sat across from them. 

“I believe you believe that, Jaina. But that's exactly what I came here to see for myself." He fixed his eyes dourly on Sylvanas. "I want to see if our bloody mess of a rebellion bought something more than a doomed half-measure.”

That reminder made Jaina realize that perhaps she shouldn’t have sat quite so close to her supposed prisoner, but it was too late to move without calling further attention to it, and Go’el’s attention seemed focused on Sylvanas instead. Sylvanas responded to that attention rather predictably. “Varok died trying to depose me, did he not? He would surely be pleased.”

Jaina could see the storm raging on Go’els face at that, but he said nothing, and so she waited. She knew how he was, or at least how he aspired to be. He breathed in and out once, slowly, and the storm seemed to recede. “I'm not going to be baited. Keep your performance and your pride if you want, but we all expected a Forsaken rebellion, some kind of escape plot, a retaliatory assassination spree. There’s been none of that. I'm sure Varok would rather not have died, since it wasn't his honorable death that bought us peace.” He glanced at Jaina. “But peace was bought. I think we can all agree this could be much worse. I'm hoping we can work with that."

Sylvanas smirked. “With that? I have a name, Thrall.”

Jaina almost smacked her on the arm, but her good sense caught her. She should not be seen engaging in horseplay with Sylvanas. “Don’t use that name. He left it behind for a reason.” Jaina cringed at the same time, though, remembering how she’d done exactly the same thing to needle him once before.

He heaved a sigh even as he tried to smile, a performance that didn’t reach his eyes. He glanced at Jaina again. “People do that when they’re angry. I didn't come here expecting personal kindnesses from you, Sylvanas. Frankly, I’d probably fall out of the chair if I got any.”

Jaina averted her eyes and looked at Sylvanas. She could see on the elf’s face a conflict raging within over whether to attempt to knock Go’el out of his seat by being kind to him somehow, and Jaina really wished she would give it a try.

Go’el didn't seem to get his hopes up, though. “But we cobbled this situation together in haste. It’s not sustainable, and even if it was, it's not what we should want. I'm not the only one who thinks that, so I'm here to talk about planning for a better solution if we're… Less hasty.”

Jaina could tell Sylvanas was growing more attentive, so she picked up on the positive. “You're not the only one? That's good news. I think we'd all like to find a better way forward.” Jaina looked at Sylvanas slowly, and tried with all her might to convey I don't mean without you. For good measure, despite how it wracked her nerves to do so, she shifted her leg sideways so it pressed against Sylvanas’. The banshee’s expression, which had flickered into cross frustration for a moment, softened considerably, and she felt Sylvanas’ leg press back. A secret little gesture that felt more thrilling than it probably should. “But I can understand concerns about Sylvanas being given any leeway. I've been thinking about this, too, but I don't know how to address those.”

Sylvanas pursed her lips, and to Jaina’s surprise, after a moment of what seemed like pent-up struggle, she agreed with Jaina. “Yes. I would love to make demands, but I am in a poor bargaining position. I'm surprised to hear you suggest it, Go'el. You and I were not on the friendliest terms, when we last spoke in person.”

He grumbled slightly, and his green lips pulled back into a grimace that showed a little more tusk as he nodded. “Well, no. You killed an honorable friend, even if it was a mak’gora. You were driving the Horde to ruin, whether you realized it or not. And the first thing you said to me today was rude. I’m not inclined to like you, Sylvanas. I'm here for Jaina, and for the Horde." He crossed his hefty arms across his chest. "You’re lucky for Jaina, you know. You've gotten a good deal here.”

Sylvanas glanced at Jaina. “On this, we agree.”

Jaina felt a slight flush in her cheeks as she thought of several different things that might mean, and tried to suppress it as Go’el turned to her and loosened his arms. “I wish I could say the same about you, Jaina. But you deserve a better life than decades of presiding over a magical cage for Sylvanas."

She stiffened, the fluster fading quickly. "I volunteered."

"You do that a lot." He smiled in a sad sort of way, and she felt a pang of frustration as he continued. "I've been speaking to Baine, and he's talked to Anduin once or twice in person, where their conversation can't be screened by… less sympathetic Alliance eyes. We're all worried about your well-being in here. And I have to imagine your mother doesn’t want you stuck here forever, either."

That Anduin was in on this as well should have been good news; but this sense of worry, combined with the mention of her mother, instead rankled Jaina deeply. She remembered how Baine and Anduin had spoken to her after the mak’gora, as though she’d lost her calm and made a mess of things, when as far as she could tell she’d been the only one with the will to seriously do anything about the mess the world had been in. Clearly they meant well, but they understood far too little of the situation to be making such judgements, and they obviously underestimated her as a person. She felt a little heat rising up her neck.

"You're worried? You have a little gossip circle talking about how poor Jaina is in over her head? That is motherly of you."

Go'el flinched back slightly; more than any jibe Sylvanas could deliver, Jaina knew Go’el hated the feeling that his attempts at kindness rang false. He hated trying to be good, only to have people grow angry at him in response. She knew this well.

At the same time, a gentle press against her thigh caught her off-guard. Sylvanas had softly but very deliberately bumped her knee against Jaina’s leg, well below the desk, just as Jaina had earlier. She wasn’t making eye contact, but the touch was enough to make Jaina’s frustration feel seen. Sylvanas understood. That helped, somehow.

She tried to releax her shoulders. “I appreciate the concern, friend.” She hoped she sounded like she meant it, tried to remember that it was well-intentioned worry. “I didn't know Anduin was open to… Changes.”

"He’s open to thinking about it, anyway. There's certainly more inclination in the Horde to change things. Now that we have a Council, and the Forsaken don't have a strong base in Lordaeron, some people see Sylvanas as less of a threat.” He raised his eyebrows. “And they don't like that the Alliance is mandating Horde politics via treaty.”

"Ah. A sovereignty issue." Sylvanas sounded thoughtful as she piped up, and she looked at Jaina. "Yes. It does set an unfortunate precedent of weakness for the Horde." She glanced back at Go'el, who was looking at her sharply now. “But I doubt much has changed with the Alliance’s desire to see my head on a spike. Or do you hope that if I walk free, they will be provoked into assassinating me? That would solve another of your problems."

He smirked, then, and Jaina knew him well enough to see that he found that last idea genuinely amusing, even if it was a kind he would never endorse. That duality - his anger, and his willingness to set it aside - was one she had a hard time truly measuring. "Imagine the uproar if the Alliance decided to just kill a Horde Councillor. Or more than one.” He glanced between both of them. “Sylvanas, you aren’t the only one of us the Alliance might want to start shackling if they think this is just something they can do to us now. And Jaina, you literally threatened to burn down the entire Horde. You shouted it. Not everybody is comfortable with a powerful, hostile mage squatting in the middle of our capital; half the reason this house is under watch by multiple organizations is to keep an eye on what you’re doing.”

Jaina blanched; she’d known they were under watch by dark rangers, and a rotation of Alliance spies, but multiple organizations suggested there was more she did not know. Goel’s eye contact suggested he was offering this vague information to her on purpose, too, before he turned to Sylvanas again.

“What I mean, Sylvanas, is that there’s some appetite to push back, and you can work with that by speaking to certain Councillors. You haven't tried yet, from what I've heard, and that's to your credit; you must know your cause isn't exactly a sympathetic one.”

Sylvanas scowled. “I do not intend to play for sympathy like a dog. I am a Windrunner, not a Greymane.”

Jaina shot her a glare, but Sylvanas was paying more attention to Go’el right then. He nodded, as though he had expected no less. “I know, but you’ve already agreed to some concessions. That’s how you ended up here. Do you think you’d be willing to make more, to win people over?”

“I’m flattered you ask me so politely, Go’el. Let me tally what is left for me to give up.” Sylvanas crossed her arms and glared at the orc, clearly unwilling to be pushed further to the sidelines. “Ah, yes, exactly how many of my limbs should I have chopped off, for them to allow me my freedom once more?”

Tides, why did Sylvanas do this? Jaina intervened. “Sylvanas.” She pointed her finger at the elf’s face, and tried, again, to plead with her eyes. The gesture snapped Sylvanas’ attention over to her. “Just let me do the talking. Stay quiet unless you have something nice to say. Got it?”

Sylvanas leaned away from her, peering down her nose as though Jaina had offended her deeply. But Jaina held her gaze. She knew that in private, she could turn Sylvanas into a softened, gooey mess with the right words. And Sylvanas knew it, too, and that knowledge was written in the shapes around her eyes as she demurred. "Very well. Jaina speaks for me."

Those words sent a jolt through Jaina's heart. In a sense, it was a nice thing to say, but it was also far more than she'd expected Sylvanas to say in front of someone else. Sylvanas trusted Jaina to speak for her?

Go'el seemed outright shocked, and Jaina rushed to make sure he didn't think too hard about where that trust might come from. “We’re both listening, but we’ll need to mull over anything before acting. What concessions were you thinking? And who exactly should we be talking to?”

Go’el nodded, with only a slight pause to suggest he was thinking more carefully about Sylvanas' tone.

“Sylvanas’ old supporters - the mag'har and the goblins - are keen on letting bygones be bygones. Frankly, the goblins don’t seem to give a single damn about anything that happened.” His exasperation was wry, tinted with old familiarity. He looked at Sylvanas, though, so Jaina felt a bit of relief he was still speaking to her even after she’d been told off. “I’m sounding out other members of the Council. I’ll send a list of who to talk to and what their concerns are, so you don’t have to remember it all right now. I don’t believe much could be done until N’Zoth has been defeated anyway - we need an army of soldiers who can resist the madness of the Old God, and frankly, Sylvanas, you’re still leverage on that matter.” Sylvanas snatched a piece of paper and started scribbling, but aside from glancing in her direction, he continued. “The latest reports I’ve seen suggest there’s a temple in Ny’alotha that Forsaken troops will need to disable before the living can avoid the Old Gods’ whispers and stay sane. That’s a major concern.”

Sylvanas simply held the paper up to Jaina’s face, and Jaina was introduced to Sylvanas’ handwriting. It was spidery, because of course it was.

The Void gibbers.

Jaina clenched her entire face and chest to stop from laughing. What an absolutely feral beast of a woman. “Yes. Well.” She tried to put the paper out of her mind, but it was difficult with Sylvanas staring at her like that, completely blank in the face, as if she were serious. Jaina felt rather derailed. “I think you’re right. The status quo will provide stability. Until then.”

Go’el glanced pointedly at the paper, but said nothing. “Yes. But after that I think you, Sylvanas, could start formal discussions with various Councillors of the Horde. With the right assurances, the right contracts, and perhaps the right restructuring of power…” He spread his hands.

Jaina furrowed her brow, focusing on the problems rather than the joke. The Horde might easily decide they would accept Sylvanas’ freedom - there was some bad blood there, certainly, but it wasn’t unthinkable with the right concessions. The Alliance, though - how could they possibly agree to this? Anduin and Katherine’s feelings meant something, but at most they wanted Jaina removed from this duty - they didn’t want Sylvanas free. Sylvanas’ own words, nobody wants us, came back to her; they were not far from the mark in this case.

On the other hand… would the Alliance break a hard-won peace and start a whole new war, just to bring down one war criminal? One who has already been demoted, her stronghold shattered, the very power structure that enabled her rise dismantled?

Most troubling of all, however, were the personal feelings that swirled within her at these thoughts. This house arrest had, at least to Jaina, begun to feel less like a vigil over a prison and more like a sort of mutual withdrawal from the violent games of Azeroth. That idea made a strange sort of sense, one she wanted to pursue. But Sylvanas had no choice in the matter; she was trapped, and Jaina couldn’t rightly let her own fleeting feelings dictate the course of Sylvanas’ life, if there were other options the queen might want to take.

What would happen to Sylvanas, though, if she stepped back onto the world stage? Would she revert? What would happen to the world, the political scene?

What would happen to the two of them?

“The Alliance is still a problem.” She sighed, and glanced at Sylvanas. “I’ve been thinking about how to appease them. What if we could allow her to leave the safehouse, with sufficient magical restraints that she couldn’t run off beyond where we could find her? Could that speed things along?”

Sylvanas seemed to tense. Jaina hadn’t talked to her about this, but she’d been quietly researching the idea. And now she had to ask Go’el; he was here, he was willing to listen, and not putting it to paper meant not risking anyone unsympathetic reading her words and responding badly to them. Other people were the biggest obstacle to any plan to grant Sylvanas more freedoms. Other people, and also Sylvanas herself, depending on her mood.

Go’el hummed, looking between them. “What kind of magical restraints?”

“Well -” She glanced at Sylvanas. “There might be ways to restrain her banshee powers without completely binding her. We could also put a tracking spell on her.” She sighed. “It’s not - I know you won’t like it, Sylvanas, but I think if we tried to find measures that even your opponents would find credible, it could help.”

Sylvanas simply glowered at her. Jaina didn’t need to hear the words to know what Sylvanas was thinking; some people would never find any half-measures acceptable. Compromise required a willingness to compromise in the first place.

Go’el, though, was a compromiser at heart; Jaina had known that when she'd brought it up. He nodded along. “I can see the credibility problem. You’d need something Alliance mages - other than you - can look over and vette. But it might work, depending on the details. And it would ease my conscience a little.” His face fell, his mood seeming to darken a little. “I hate that a man like Saurfang had to die for a half-measure. But the war that was eating us alive is over, the situation that led to it can’t be repeated, and the Warchief who did it, well.”

He met Sylvanas’ eyes as he leaned back, and Jaina feared Sylvanas would snap back at that. She could see frustration in Sylvanas’ face, twitch of her brow. But somehow the banshee queen held her tongue; she did not, after all, have anything nice to say. Once Jaina realized there wouldn't be an outburst, she didn’t want to let the tension linger any longer. “You think Sylvanas deserves a chance?”

Go’el barked an unhappy laugh, a curt and tired sound. “Deserves? I’m not sure I know what that means anymore, or who deserves anything. I’m not feeling charitable about Sylvanas. But this house arrest won’t last decades; it’ll end, one way or another, and I want it to end in a way that’s deliberate and peaceful and sets up something afterwards that isn’t terrible. I don’t want it to just explode into shrapnel after years of strain. That would be irresponsible of everyone involved.”

Jaina glanced at Sylvanas, and thought, rather absurdly, that there was a certain explosive strain she felt at times in this situation. It almost certainly wasn’t what Go’el was referring to, though. She almost wished she could joke to Sylvanas about it, to ease the frown on the elf’s face.

Instead, she played along with his logic. “And the Horde is a sovereign confederation of nations, one that can’t afford to be controlled from the outside by people who hate you.”

He nodded gravely, as though satisfied they were on the same page. “And hate breeds hate.” He contemplated Sylvanas for a moment, a look of exhaustion sagging his features. “I came here not knowing what I'd find, but I can tell you’ve been cooperative with Jaina. Maybe you at least still have a chance to learn what Garrosh did not.”

Jaina saw Sylvanas tense at being compared to Garrosh. There were similarities, undeniably; similarities that were deeply uncomfortable, if Jaina looked at them too closely, if she reduced Sylvanas to her intersections with Garrosh. But Sylvanas had also fought to undermine Garrosh; not hard enough, but that was a fault Jaina could sympathize with. It was hard to know how much was not enough, until it was too late.

And less rationally, but far more immediately, Jaina felt a welling of frustration at how poorly Go’el understood who Sylvanas was in the context of Jaina’s own life. Sylvanas was not Jaina’s Garrosh; she never had been, and she certainly was not now. Jaina knew how peculiar that perspective was - she trembled to admit how selfish some of its motivations were - but that was still how she felt.

She tried not to let it reach her voice, so she gently pressed her own knee against Sylvanas’ leg, and felt a reassuring pressure in return. “Go’el. Sylvanas is many things, but Garrosh went to his grave baying for Alliance blood at any cost, while she backed down. She accepted defeat, for the safety of her people. She ruled longer, and smarter, and after so much worse pain. She would not have dropped the bomb on Theramore.”

Go’el clearly felt a rebuke, but he also looked at her with tired sadness. His voice was quiet. “Really? Not even if it were being used as a port to ship Azerite to the Eastern Kingdoms?”

She felt a flush of shame, and could see Sylvanas tense next to her. The heavy, horrible truths of the things Sylvanas had done raised far more spectres of what she might have done, and what she might yet do. No matter how much stargazing and hair braiding and poorly steeped tea they enjoyed together, those spectres would remain, because the past always echoed.

But Sylvanas, miraculously, stayed quiet; all she did was gently withdraw her leg under the table. Jaina saw a hint of self-consciousness on the banshee’s face as she saw Jaina looking at her. Jaina couldn’t fool herself into thinking that Sylvanas wouldn’t have done what she’d actually done. But would she do it now?

For a moment Jaina felt like a foolish schoolgirl trying to hide secrets from her professors in Dalaran, but she leaned back in her chair and brought her hands to rest in her lap, trying to project relaxation for a moment before carefully laying a hand over Sylvanas’ leg. She saw Sylvanas grow still at the touch; she was pretty sure the high desk still covered where exactly her hand was. “She may have in the past. But I believe if she faced that choice today, as she is now, she would not. And the Sylvanas of now is who we’re talking about. Not the one from last year.”

Both Sylvanas and Go’el stared at her, and she felt heat rising in her cheeks. It was a dangerous thing to say out loud, inviting all kinds of disaster and judgement. But she did think it was true. If Theramore were still standing as a lynchpin of an Alliance war effort, and the Forsaken had a bomb they could drop on it they believed would end the threat, would Sylvanas, sitting here in this house with Jaina, give the order? It was an impossible question, but her heart wanted to answer no.

Go’el found his words first. “Well, I mean, she’s in a cage with someone who could kill her, Jaina.”

“Go’el.” Jaina furrowed her brow. “I mean it deeper than that. I really do.”

He looked at her, then turned his gaze long and hard on Sylvanas, as though the shapes of her face would rearrange themselves into proofs of intent. Jaina waited a moment, then risked throwing more words into his sense of open contemplation.

“You’ve given people chances, old friend. Too many, sometimes. I know you regret what that led to with Garrosh; I know that makes you hesitant to do it again. But do you regret every chance you’ve ever given? Has it never paid off?”

Her words seemed to meet the mark, as he glanced back at her, then at Sylvanas again. Sylvanas, for her part, had gone oddly blank-faced. “It has, sometimes.” He breathed in once through his nose, and let out the breath with a sigh. “I trust you, Jaina. We both know each other's mistakes. I trust you. So if you think that’s not a good comparison, I’ll reconsider. Maybe you know her better than I do, at this point.”

Jaina desperately wanted to know what Sylvanas was thinking, but Sylvanas was doing a great impression at looking entirely dead, so she pressed on. “Thank you. I didn't think there was enough willingness in the air to talk about this yet, so I haven't tried. I'm glad to know there are people to talk to. Give me time to research some magical options, and to sound out the Alliance, and give us that list of people we can talk to on the Council.”

Go’el nodded. “I'll do that. You have time anyway. The spirits are wailing about the Old God’s misery and anger. We can’t do anything concrete until that’s dealt with.” He shifted on the seat, his discomfort played out oddly in his massive orcish frame. “Sylvanas, I don't actually get the feeling you’re afraid of Jaina, even though you should be. So the fact that you’re heeding her does give me some hope. Maybe time together has done you some good; Jaina has that effect on people.”

Sylvanas actually nodded, glancing at Jaina, and Jaina thought she saw a hint of a strained smile showing itself. She couldn’t tell if Go’el had seen it, and even if he did he certainly wouldn’t have understood. But it really did feel like nothing short of a miracle.

Go’el turned to her and inclined his head. “You surprised me too, Jaina. I thought you’d be looking ragged and worn down, but if anything you look more whole. You must be sleeping better these days.” He smiled at her, toothy in the orcish way but genuine all the same, and she found herself smiling back. “I’ve said all I have to say, but I have a better feeling about this now than I did before I walked in the door. You’re right; I shouldn’t have been so worried about you. I’d do well not to forget your strength.” He inclined his head.

Jaina returned the gesture; she could tell, from his tone, that this was the extent of what he'd brought to the table. “Thank you. I appreciate you bringing us things to think about and look forward to. Give Aggra my regards.” She glanced to her right, at the Banshee Queen, and smirked. “And give her Sylvanas’ too, why not.”

Sylvanas’ jaw clenched slightly, and Go'el snorted, and Jaina tried not to look delighted. She needed a little joke, and she suspected Go’el noticed her delight. His massive face made it difficult to hide the twitch of a smile, though he still looked somewhat baffled.

After she’d escorted him from the house, and after a short private conversation - was she really alright, was Sylvanas really cooperative, was she looking after herself, did she really not want to visit his lifemate and their two little orclings in Nagrand someday - he seemed genuinely pleased by how not-terrible the situation in the safehouse seemed. Jaina did not address her more personal frustrations, though; that did not feel right. So they bade each other farewell, and she returned to the house.

Sylvanas was still sitting in the office, in the exact same spot. Except the piece of paper lay on the desk, with a few new words scribbled on it under The Void gibbers.

Sit. I have something nice to say.

She sat on the kitchen stool next to Sylvanas. “Something nice to say? That means you can actually say it, you know.” She set the paper aside and tried to meet Sylvanas’ eyes. “Do tell, I’m curious to see what you’ll manage.”

Sylvanas did not make eye contact with her, but instead reached out and tapped the stool she was sitting on. Her palm gently patted Jaina’s thigh in the process, an electric feeling that was surely an accident. “You need a more comfortable chair, if we are going to be hosting joint meetings.”

Jaina gawked for a moment longer than she should. We. Joint meetings. “Yes. Yes, that would be nice. I can arrange it.”

“I appreciated your… support. During that.” Sylvanas’ gaze was steady, but that seemed to be the result of some effort.

“Of course. We’re in this together.” She tried a light smile, something to reassure Sylvanas that they were, in fact, in this together.

She couldn't tell if it got across, because Sylvanas looked pained. “May I speak freely?”

“I expected you to start doing that a lot sooner, Sylvanas.”

Sylvanas' eyes seemed to crease sadly. “He is right. You deserve life, Jaina.”

“That…” Jaina tried to read that face that had grown so close, but it seemed especially difficult now. “That’s also a nice thing to say, Sylvanas.”

Sylvanas looked at her blankly, as though she’d missed something. “Yes, of course it is.” 

Only as she stood did Jaina realized what was going on in that undead brain. She almost jumped to her feet, knocking the stool over behind her, and Sylvanas stared widely at her. “Tides, I wasn’t thinking.” She cleared her throat. “It wasn’t nice for you, when he said that, was it?”

Sylvanas shrugged, as if it didn't matter, when it very clearly did. “It was true. And well-meant.”

“It was misguided of him. Go’el doesn’t understand our situation.” Jaina almost reached out to touch her. You’re as good as alive; now get in my bed.

“And still. You’ve been working on ways to give me freedom.”

Jaina glanced down a little. “I’ve been looking into options. I didn’t want to give you any false hopes. I’m not sure of anything yet, since I want to do something more limited and precise, and that’s a lot harder than just paralyzing you. But since Go’el was here, I thought it was important to ask and see what he thought.” She realized, only then, what Sylvanas might be implying. “It’s not because I want to get rid of you -” Tides, wait, what was she saying. “I mean, obviously, ideally you would be free in a way that you aren’t causing further harm to anybody - I’m not saying I want you stuck in here forever, either - but I’m also not saying that I don’t -”

“Jaina.” Sylvanas was smiling, very slightly, and the sight was a small relief. To Jaina's surprise, she even chuckled a little. “I understand. Believe it or not.”

Did she? Jaina looked into her eyes for the answers. Did Sylvanas understand how Jaina wanted to set her free, but was terrified of what might happen if she did; how Jaina wanted to keep Sylvanas close, for no unselfish reasons at all, even though she knew Sylvanas deserved a choice; how Jaina wanted to be free of this burden, but was starting to think of that future freedom as a loss, as loneliness? The thought left her thunderstruck; what if she did?

She liked to think she could read Sylvanas’ moods better now, but there was only ever so much she could interpret. All she could see in Sylvanas’ face was a little sadness, a little fondness, and that awkward underlying tension of having things to say and not quite being willing to say them.

What things did Sylvanas want to say to her, Jaina wondered? What had she chosen to elide, by instead looking into Jaina’s eyes and saying, simply, I understand?

Whatever Sylvanas was thinking, there was some discomfort to it, and Jaina didn’t want to let Sylvanas stew in discomfort. “Maybe I do believe you. I have something nice to say too. Can I say it without you protesting or self-deprecating?”

Sylvanas smiled beautifully, though her eyes seemed to widen slightly with a gentle, soft little terror. “You demand much, Proudmoore. Speak.”

She didn’t speak at all. She simply stepped closer and gave Sylvanas a hug, tight and firm, her arms under Sylvanas’ to give her room to move. She nestled her face against Sylvanas’ collarbone, letting her cheeks cool on the softness of Sylvanas’ skin, even as the sensation of touch electrified and warmed her elsewhere. It was selfish of her to feel that way, but it was also good, and somewhere inside, she felt a strangely unselfish need to make Sylvanas herself feel something good, something alive. She tried in the shifting and squeezing of her embrace to let Sylvanas understand just how deeply deliberate and heartfelt this really was.

And Sylvanas, after a moment as still as she was cold, wrapped her arms around Jaina’s shoulders and squeezed her in return.

 


 

It had been well over a week since Sylvanas had last seen Nathanos. This time, she was approaching their meeting somewhat differently.

Trust was a difficult thing to maintain. She always thought of Nathanos’ trust as unconditional, perfect, unfailing. Yet no trust between two people was so simple that it existed in complete blindness to the world around it; his trust for her may be unflagging, but his trust in the situation they found themselves in was a different matter. For decades the two of them had worked side-by-side, in tandem, and they’d always been on the same page - and in the same general environment. Now, though, their daily lives and concerns had diverged radically.

That was a problem. He didn’t understand anything about what Sylvanas was going through, and she didn't understand what he was up to either. He feared for her safety, her freedom to speak, her privacy, and so his sparse reports were not easing her mind or maintaining her own trust in the way they should. What was he doing with all his time? She would never know, if he didn’t trust the house itself, the situation they spoke in.

And how could she build that trust? How could she make him understand that she trusted Jaina? She was having many good moments these days, in a way she hadn’t in years. How could she explain that to him?

To sit quietly together, to share memories, was a treasure she’d been deprived of for too long, and Jaina was giving her that in a way nobody had since death. Things were awkward at times, and Sylvanas tried not to cross any lines that were not welcome to be crossed. Tried not to think about the intensity of the occasional touch, tried not to seek out too close an embrace. Tried to keep her eyes from roaming below the neckline - at least when Jaina was looking.

So there were difficulties to captivity, but they were not ones Nathanos would understand or expect. They were the difficulties of fearing that Go’el was right; that Jaina deserved more than to be locked in here with an enemy. Jaina was a soft, sometimes foolish, forgiving sort of person, despite the wounds and injustices she had been dealt, and despite how she had tried to harden her heart. She took the pain inflicted on her as a reason to strive harder, so hard she pushed herself into exhaustion and isolation and grief. She needed to be able to indulge her qualities with real friends; what if, in their shared cage, Jaina had turned to the only other person here for comfort? Sylvanas feared what would happen to them, if Go’el’s advice bore fruit, and they were somehow let out of these walls.

Nathanos would not understand any of this. Or he would misinterpret, and he would be jealous. He had long wanted nothing more than to be his liege’s closest and only heart, a wish she could never quite completely grant in the way he desired. Sylvanas needed to be careful, deliberate, and understanding. If she didn’t restore the bonds between them, Nathanos might do as Alleria had warned, coaxing her into seeing Jaina as a threat when she clearly wasn’t.

Clearly. If Jaina were a scheming villain, surely Sylvanas would have been dead fifty times over by now. But that did not mean that exposing her heart to the Lord Admiral was without risks anymore. There were ways to hurt a person that required no malice, not even intent. And these were troubles she was uncomfortable sharing with anybody.

But the schemes turning outside of this house were beginning to worry her, and she needed Nathanos at his best. So it was that her spymaster joined her in her office once more. Sylvanas knew what she could say to make him take her seriously. She’d thought about this. She didn’t like talking about it, but he already knew - it shouldn’t be uncomfortable for her to say it again. It was, still, but it shouldn’t be.

She wasted no time once he was settled. “Jaina Proudmoore is not listening. She is no longer able to scry on our meetings at all; the means have been destroyed. I need your complete transparency, Nathanos, and I need you to trust me when I tell you that you can speak completely freely.”

He nodded, but he was doing it too smoothly for her to really think he’d changed his mind. “Of course, my Queen.”

Very well. She had to do this, then. She spoke quickly, almost - but not quite - stumbling over her words. “After Arthas’ defeat at Icecrown, I threw myself off the glacier to kill myself in a fit of despair. I succeeded. Something was waiting for me beyond the veil of death, for me and all Forsaken. Waiting for us to die and serve as its slaves, because we - through Frostmourne, through Arthas, and through every undead creature they slayed who slayed us in turn - are all bound to that deathly creature’s will. It wanted to bargain with me, and I refused, and by the grace of nine Val’kyr who bound themselves to my will in order to escape that very same creature themselves, I was returned to unlife.” She crossed her arms. “I told you this, Nathanos, years ago. I still have not told anybody else in full.”

This had an effect on him. This, he responded to. Nathanos’ eyes widened, his jaws slackened, and a genuine look of grief came upon him. He’d never understood quite why she’d done it, but he always despaired at the mere thought of her coming to any harm. She kept her arms crossed, waiting, hoping this would help him see sense.

“My Queen.” He glanced around them. He understood that she would never say this out loud, if she thought she was being listened to. “I see.”

He was silent, and he looked thoughtful, and by Belore it seemed he was actually listening this time. Relief flooded her. She waited for a moment to see if he had anything else to say, but when he didn’t, she decided to push. “Nathanos, this is difficult for me to explain. Things have changed, within this household. Jaina is… not an enemy to me. Not anymore.” She frowned, unsure of how much to say. “Not for some time now. I believe I have won her over.”

Nathanos looked deeply thoughtful at this, staring at the desk, his eyes aglow with a quiet fire. She could never - would never - know exactly what he was thinking. But she trusted him to come to the right conclusions, if the evidence was before him, and what better evidence could she give that she truly meant everything she said, than to expose to the room the one secret they’d always held between them, unshared with anyone else?

After a moment he looked at her, long and considering, and spoke quietly. “How has she been won over? This is quite a feat.”

How indeed. Sylvanas, in truth, did not know how she had won Jaina over. She’d been herself, a particularly cross and angry version of herself at first. She’d been true to the things that mattered to her. She’d felt the overtures and the kindnesses and she’d granted mercy and leniency and trust, and somehow they’d found their way to something good, and she didn’t know how to explain any of it. She struggled not to let the confusion show on her face. “Nathanos. I am your Queen, but I am also a woman with concerns, and challenges, and fears. You know this as well as anyone.”

He nodded deeply, and there was a softness around his eyes. “Indeed. My Queen’s triumphs in spite of her mortality have always been among her most admirable traits. Mortality underlines and uplifts triumph.”

“Then if I tell you that she and I have developed an… accord.” It was a terrible word; but she didn’t want to describe the magnetic feeling Jaina’s skin had on her when it was close, the wry twist of Jaina’s voice that seemed to curl around Sylvanas’ fingers and draw them in, the sparkle of her icy eyes. “If I tell you that she has been kind to me, and that she has become a companion more than a warden, and that I believe she feels as I do. That she has defended my character against criticism, beyond what I expected. That we are working together on solutions to ease, and perhaps end, this captivity. Do you understand?”

He looked at her for a long moment. She knew many of his looks, and tried her best to understand this one, but she was afraid, for some reason. She was afraid of being seen as crazy; afraid of being misunderstood; afraid of Nathanos thinking she was somehow, secretly, communicating some other message beneath her words. But she meant them as she said them, even if she could have said even more.

“I do, my Queen.” He seemed troubled, but that was more emotion than he’d shown in past meetings, when he’d been closely guarding himself against scrying. She took that to mean his sense of the world was changing - that his understanding was shifting. Such things were always uncomfortable.

“Good. Thank you, Nathanos.” She leaned back, slightly, and allowed herself to relax. “I wish to understand what you’ve been up to. Lilian Voss tells me you’ve refused to share our secrets with her. I understand not trusting Voss, but I wish to at least know them myself. I have long allowed you a great deal of freedom in your operations, but this is a peculiar situation we find ourselves in, and I need more direct oversight over what you are doing to be certain it is the right course of action.”

“Anything, my Queen.”

“You’ve been dealing with the Alliance agent Renzik, have you not? Tell me about this.”

He nodded, his eyes fixed more attentively on her now. “My Queen, we have been feeding the Alliance false information about Forsaken activities, Proudmoore’s activities, and more generally about the activities of the Horde. It has been an obfuscation campaign. There are a great deal of specifics, which I can compile for review. In exchange, I have been extracting promises from Renzik.”

“Such as?”

Nathanos nodded briskly now, apparently falling back into the swing of operations talk. “I am on the verge of recovering our lost asset, Sira Moonwarden.”

Sylvanas raised an eyebrow. Sira Moonwarden was one of the kaldorei wardens raised as Forsaken during the battle at Darkshore - and as far as Sylvanas was aware, she was the last one standing. The others had been brutally hunted or killed off by kaldorei retributionists shortly thereafter; they hated any kaldorei being raised into the ranks of the Forsaken, but they seemed particularly sour about the conversion of a few wardens. 

This, she realized, must be the old friend Nathanos had previously referred to; the label would not be so far out of place. Sira had been a fierce and loyal agent, in her short service, so bitter was she that Elune abandoned the kaldorei at Teldrassil. Unfortunately, Sira and Nathanos had departed on a mission shortly before the war moved to Durotar, and Sira had not returned. There hadn’t been time for Sylvanas to properly follow up on what happened, but apparently the warden was still active, a prisoner from the sounds of it. “That is indeed good news. And yes - please provide a detailed, comprehensive report on what exactly you have been feeding the Alliance. Lady Proudmoore has encountered cases of discrepancies in Alliance information, and I would know if these are your doing or someone else’s. You are not the only one scheming, Nathanos.”

His eyes flickered slightly at the mention of Jaina, but he acquiesced, and he did seem more open now. Sylvanas could tell he was uncertain about the situation, and no doubt he was trying to puzzle things out on his own. As they continued to speak, she did what she could to remind him that he ought to raise concerns with her directly, and that the situation she was in was, at least internally, stable and safe. She needed him to focus on external threats, not on the walls of this house.

For once she felt better after he left, and that itself was also a relief. She did not feel plagued by suspicions; she did not feel her situation with Jaina was cast in doubt. She felt in command of her senses, and confident in her words and deeds. This was progress.

That confidence shook a little as she made her way to the kitchen. Dark ranger Anya had brought a basket of fresh fruit earlier, at Sylvanas’ command; Sylvanas had wanted to get something for Jaina, and she still wasn’t certain if she meant it as a reward for the kindnesses Jaina had showed her recently, or a simple gesture of fondness, or a reassurance that this time the meeting with Nathanos hadn’t set her on edge, or a companionate concern that her friend’s meals should be interesting, or an excuse to watch Jaina’s lips drip with juice and see the archmage lick them clean. Certainly not the last, no. But the thought had crossed her mind.

There were days she saw little of her companion, locked away in the other office as she so often was, but Sylvanas had made a point to bring her food from the kitchen and tea at noon every day these last few days. She was starting to gauge just how much Proudmoore actually ate, which seemed to not be that much, but after some deliberation she hefted the entire basket of oranges along anyway. The measure of Jaina’s appetites confused her, so she didn’t want to come up short.

Jaina had left her office door open, not for the first time; like her bedroom, this was becoming a space Sylvanas felt implicitly welcome, though she still felt a bit flustered if she thought about it. It was so strange to have this kind of openness. And from someone who didn’t want her ear for power or war, most of the time. She knocked on the doorframe anyway, just as a warning.

“The door’s open!” Jaina sounded a little strained. Perhaps the mantle of the Lord Admiral was especially heavy today; or perhaps Jaina was dreading the thought of Sylvanas having another breakdown in trust.

Sylvanas slipped inside. “That doesn’t mean you’re disposed at this very moment.”

“It means I’ll - oranges!” Jaina’s face brightened immediately when she saw the basket. “Why do we have oranges?”

Sylvanas laid the basket on her desk, directly on top of whatever correspondence she was working through. She saw Modera’s name, and found herself short on quips about that woman, so she steered clear. “You have oranges. Because I brought them to you.”

“I love oranges.” Jaina did hesitate briefly when she picked one up, though, turning it in her hands in contemplation.

“I had a meeting with -”

“Tides, Sylvanas, just sit down.”

She blinked and made for a chair. “It makes you uncomfortable when I stand?”

Jaina fumbled at the orange peel. “It feels nicer when we’re on eye level. When we’re talking at least. What’s the occasion for fresh fruit?”

Sylvanas leaned onto the desk, but looked away. There were a great many things she could say, and Jaina was watching her rather closely even as she picked at the orange peel. She needed to do this right.

“I had a meeting with Nathanos.” She waited slightly, for Jaina’s attention to sharpen. “It went well. I believe he trusts in this situation now. And I trust you.” She wanted to reach out to touch Jaina’s hand, but Jaina’s hands were occupied. “As much as I did before. I wanted you to know that.”

Jaina breathed a gentle sigh of relief, and her lips curled into a soft smile, and the sight warmed Sylvanas’ heart. “Thank you, Sylvanas.”

The sound of her name on Jaina’s lips nearly burned in how much it touched Sylvanas’ heart, in that tone. She tried to steady herself. “It seemed a fitting reward for your various overtures.”

“Oh? So I get fruit when I make overtures?” Jaina raised an eyebrow, which made Sylvanas wish she had been making quite another sort of overture. And her tone brought to mind the same thing, oddly enough. It was almost as if Jaina were… but no. Jaina was not prone to innuendo.

“You’ve been kind. And you defended my character to Go’el, which I did not expect. I thought you did not deserve to stew in the thought that we might have yet another disagreement after I meet with my agents.”

Jaina was still turning the orange in her hand and scratching at it. Perhaps she was distracted. “I meant what I said to Go’el. There’s more to you than your worst.” The worst struck close to her heart; Sylvanas wanted to hear Jaina say it all again, wanted to hear that hope on Jaina’s lips, see the stiffening of her spine as she readied herself to tell the world that she believed something good about Sylvanas. She wanted to feel quiet terror again at the prospect of disappointing those words. But she would not beg, and Jaina’s mind seemed to drift elsewhere. “So the fruit are to soothe my anxiety?”

“Anxiety?” Sylvanas frowned. That wasn’t exactly how she’d imagined Jaina’s sense of discomfort, but perhaps it was true. “I would have thought frustration. What are you afraid of?”

Jaina seemed to redden slightly, her eyes dropping. “Well I want us to get along! I like you. When you’re nice. Which you’ve been, more and more.” She fussed more with the orange as she spoke, and Sylvanas found she suddenly remembered exactly what it felt like to blush, and she wondered if she was actually doing it.

She eyed Jaina’s hands more closely. “Yes, well, forcing me to speak to Alleria was surprisingly…” She watched the orange in Jaina’s hands, and her embarassment evaporated, and a realization suddenly warmed Sylvanas with a soft feeling she could not name. “Fruitful. Jaina, are you not able to open oranges with your fingers?”

“I don’t have a knife!” Jaina dropped it in her lap in despair, her voice jumping as if it had just been cut loose. “I just know if I jab it too hard it’s going to burst straight into my eyes. Get me a knife.”

Sylvanas felt a pang of amusement, and a desire to press further. She enjoyed seeing Jaina slightly disarmed like this. “Did you just give me a command?” She leaned forward on the desk. “An order?

Jaina stared at her for a long moment, and Sylvanas had a sudden memory of the times she’d played predator for Jaina, before they’d really understood where they stood with one another. Of the delightful ways Jaina had reacted. Jaina blinked. “Fine, I can get myself a knife, I -”

Sylvanas leaned forward and snatched the orange from Jaina’s hands, bared her sharp fangs, and pierced the tip of the fruit. She wondered what this predatory display would do. She tasted bitterness and stinging tang as the pockets of oils in the peel burst under a fang, and with a jerk of her mouth she sliced a long gouge through the peel. Then she handed it back, never breaking eye contact.

Jaina took it, her eyes wide and fixed on Sylvanas, and Sylvanas felt a curl of delight at the sudden expression. Then Jaina looked closer at the orange and sucked in a breath. “Oh, you just barely broke the skin.” She started unpeeling it. “Didn’t mess up the insides. That’s -” She was fumbling again, but actually peeling it this time. “Very precise. Delicate.”

“You sound surprised.”

Was Jaina blushing? Perhaps she was annoyed by the display. Or perhaps… No, that was just a fancy. Jaina stammered a little. “I just hadn’t thought very much about your teeth, or the control you could exert with them.”

Jaina did seem to be blushing, but Sylvanas didn’t trust that instinct. Oh how she wanted to, though. She’d told Jaina an entire elven love story about the origins of a constellation the morning after their stargazing, partly to distract herself from how desperately she wanted to run her fingers down the skin of Jaina’s nape, partly to indulge in those feelings, partly just to distract Jaina... but also, secretly, to see how Jaina responded to the topic of romance. Under multiple layers of plausible deniability. Jaina hadn’t exactly said anything… but she had seemed extra pleased with her braid.

But that didn’t mean much. And hadn't Jaina said she didn't want to give Sylvanas false hopes? Sylvanas had no proof either way.

But what else could it be? 

“Ah. Yes, my teeth.” She decided to test the hypothesis. And if Jaina didn’t respond to the gesture the way she hoped, well, Sylvanas was just being Sylvanas, monstrous and predatory as she always was. She openly ran her tongue over one of her fangs, lips parted, as if doing so might transmute fancy into reality. “They did grow sharper, in undeath. Curious.” She moved her tongue over to lick the other one, and Jaina was watching her, hands frozen on the orange, for a few seconds before quickly looking away. Very curious.

Sylvanas closed her mouth as Jaina finally took a bite of the fruit, unsure of what to do next or how to interpret a face she’d perhaps been too nervous herself to read properly, but she masked that uncertainty for now with a sly smile.

“I will keep them to myself. Unless you give me cause to do otherwise.”

“What -” Jaina’s mouth gushed with orange as she looked at Sylvanas, but she also smiled. “Was that meant to be threatening?”

Was she losing her threatening touch? She didn’t think so; she rather thought Jaina enjoyed the little threats, in fact. Even though that enjoyment now seemed… different. She risked it. “Apparently not. You seem to be thinking about something, Jaina. What is it?”

Jaina gawked at her now, and she did blush rosy and clear, and for a moment Sylvanas thought she hadn’t imagined it, that Jaina really was looking at her lips like that, and the thought filled her with a delighted, giddy terror - because if that was true, if Jaina was looking at her that way…

But Jaina’s eyes darted around frantically for a moment, and then she broke the spell. “I, uh, was just thinking I’d like to invite your sisters to dinner.”

What? ” Sylvanas burst to her feet, knocking the chair over behind her. The shock of the idea forced her to her feet as surely as a declaration of war.

Jaina’s face finally slipped from flustered confusion to something more direct and determined. “Sylvanas, don’t be foolish, you love your sisters.”

What did that have to do with anything? “Why didn’t you warn me?”

Jaina stood and flailed her hand around, the orange still gripped tight. “Literally doing that right now. Do you not want to? It was just a thought!”

Sylvanas tried to calm herself. This was not where her mind had been headed. Of course, one way or another, Jaina would have to first introduce the topic without warning. But she didn’t see how this followed from anything else - unless Jaina really did see her as a sister, which was a depressing thought. Worse yet, the last time Sylvanas and her sisters had all met had gone… not ideally. “I haven’t spoken to Vereesa since -”

“I’ll speak to her, Sylvanas.” Jaina looked away. “There are some things I wanted to discuss with her anyway. And you have spoken to Alleria, and that was, as you said, fruitful. She’ll be here. I’ll even bring her first, so you don’t have to be alone with Vereesa, if you like.”

Sylvanas thought back to her younger sister. To the time when Vereesa had almost - almost - chosen to join her in the Undercity. They could have rekindled their bond, they could have killed Garrosh, they could have started rebuilding their family - and she’d thrown that all away. Written her a letter dashing her hopes.

The thought filled her with some sourness, but on the other hand, Vereesa had also gone and reclaimed her necklace. Just like Sylvanas. She was volatile and fickle, unlike Alleria but perhaps a little more like Sylvanas herself. They had an understanding, on that level.

But that was also a problem, wasn’t it? She couldn’t know what Vereesa would do, or say. Whether she would arrive with her sons - and Alleria’s son - full of cheer at a family reunion, or whether she would stare arrowheads at Sylvanas from across the dinner table in silence the entire night, or whether she actually had some bone to pick with Alleria and would ignore Sylvanas entirely. Vereesa would probably cry, which Sylvanas was not looking forward to, but the reason for that crying could be just about anything.

Table. Dinner. “Jaina, you realize I don’t eat dinner?”

“Oh. Um. Yes, I didn’t forget.” Jaina very obviously had. “We’ll clear a spot for you to whittle.”

“I don’t want to whittle in front of my sisters -”

Jaina suppressed what looked like a smirk. “Why not?”

She almost snapped something out to divert the conversation again, but thinking of Alleria reminded her to instead focus on the discomfort. Contemplate it. Why was she so uncomfortable at this idea? At the whittling? At dinner? At everything? She grasped at her first, most straightforward thought. “I used to whittle them trinkets, when I was on patrol. I would bring them back gifts.”

“Oh.” Jaina grew quiet, thoughtfully passing another slice of orange between her lips. “You could whittle them gifts before they arrive.” Sylvanas stared at her, and Jaina seemed to shrink. “Just a thought.”

She looked down at her hands.

Why hadn’t she thought of that?

When she was on patrol as a ranger, especially her first few rotations, she’d thought of nothing more than returning to her family. Whittling was a way to think of them with her hands, when she wasn’t with them. When Vereesa had married Rhonin, she’d carved her sister a little wrym of red-stained maple, to commemorate the adventures on which they’d first met.

She wondered if Vereesa still kept it, somewhere, or if she’d thrown it away with Sylvanas’ death. Or Rhonin’s. Or after Sylvanas’ more infamous military exploits.

Why wasn’t she glad, eager, to see both her sisters at once again? She hadn’t hesitated to go out to Windrunner Spire, when that had come up. Had that left such a sour taste in her mouth? But no - speaking to Alleria had been a deep relief. If there was more of that to be had, why not embrace it?

There were so many ways this could go wrong, though. Fewer now that she knew Alleria was open to mending their sisterhood. But to meet one at a time, in private, was different than to bring all three back together and to face once more the fact that they were not the family they once were. In front of Jaina.

That thought struck her. With Jaina present… If things went wrong, Jaina would see just how far Sylvanas had fallen, that she could not even maintain her bonds of sisterhood. If things went well, that was fine and good - but they might not. Could those wounds spill over to this… life? The quiet, simple little existence she’d found inside this prison? Tearing it apart, just as it had begun to soften?

“Sylvanas, it’s alright.” Jaina had approached, with an unbecoming amount of stealth, and laid a hand on her arm, near her shoulder. “It was just an idea. We can wait -”

“No, no. I think I would like to see them again.” She looked deep into those eyes, trying to find truths locked away in their colours. “Why do you -” No. What had Alleria said about trust? “No, it is a good idea. Yes. Give me time.”

Jaina smiled. “Of course.” She moved the basket precariously to the edge of her great, gilded desk. “I’ll visit Vereesa tomorrow. I was going to go to Dalaran for some supplies. Actually, I wanted to ask you - I’d like to get you something to, I don’t know… something to change up your day. Do you need anything?” Jaina glanced up and down at Sylvanas. “I mean I suppose you’re fine, obviously fine, but if you wanted some kind of… books? Some artwork, for your room? Maybe some clothes?” Jaina frowned. “Black isn’t exactly the fashion in Dalaran, but I’m sure there must be something. You’ve been wearing the same three things for weeks now." She averted her eyes. "I’ll, um, need to take your measurements -”

“I’m afraid.” The words just came out of Sylvanas’ as Jaina babbled. They wore heavier and heavier on her until they just spilled through. She was staring at the wall behind Jaina, as though in its wooden featurelessness she might have room to whittle the contours of her own thoughts. She’d barely been listening.

Jaina stilled and stared at her, and looked like she was about to express pity, and Sylvanas hated herself for being so pitiful, but instead Jaina said, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone else your measurements. The tailor won’t even know who it’s for.”

Sylvanas barked out half the tension in her shoulders, a curt laugh that startled the archmage ever so slightly. The thought hadn’t even crossed her mind. “What? No, you fool, I’m not concerned by anyone knowing my measurements.”

Jaina smiled, if a little nervously. “Oh. So, um, should I go get a measuring tape, or -”

“I have them on file somewhere. Honestly, Jaina, I’m a head of state. If I had to be measured every time I received some new thing to wear -” She smiled and shook her head, and the smile left her again. “I mean I am afraid of letting you see me with my sisters. I am not… I don’t know if I am still the Windrunner sister I once was. And if I am, that is not the Sylvanas Windrunner the world knows. Not even you.”

Jaina leaned forward on the desk, nodding solemnly, but with one eyebrow raised in jest. “Oh, I see. You wouldn’t want me seeing you do anything vulnerable. Such as crying, or locking yourself in the same room multiple times by accident, or putting strawberry jam and beef on the same slice of toast for me like someone who's never seen a charcuterie board before.”

Sylvanas blanched, drawing back. Wondering if Jaina thought her humbled, foolish, pitiable. Was that what had happened? Had Jaina extended a hand in affection simply because Sylvanas had debased herself enough to be pitied?

You meat-headed fool, Alleria would say. She’s smiling at you.

Trust. Give trust, give a little weakness, and trust that that weakness would be cradled, and not exploited. Jaina had simply named the weaknesses. She hadn’t done anything cruel with them, not yet at least; she was just being her typical, impish self. Sylvanas relaxed; how she wanted Jaina to hold her weaknesses, gently and foolishly. That was a wonderful thought. “Yes. I do fear to let you see such things, even if you already do. I want you to think better of me.”

Jaina’s face softened further, and she reached across the table to lay a hand on Sylvanas’. “Each time those things happen, Sylvanas, I do think better of you.”

What a strange creature this woman was. Their eyes lingered, and once again Jaina’s eyes flicked downwards, and Sylvanas could have sworn -

Jaina cleared her throat. “So am I taking your measurements?” Ah. A practical thought, then, not a yearning one. Jaina sounded almost hurried, and twisted her hands back together oddly. “Your file could be anywhere -”

Unfortunately for Sylvanas, the thought of Jaina taking her measurements, for no particularly good reason, while Sylvanas was scantily dressed enough for the measurements to actually be accurate - that did provoke yearning thoughts, thoughts of Jaina’s hands on her body, of Jaina’s eyes roaming her skin, of Jaina on her knees -

But in reality Sylvanas would have to stand still and not do anything and certainly not show what she was feeling, and the idea of having to hold that particular bridge against the armies of ideas and desires which raised banners to the wind every time she felt Jaina’s touch was terrifying.

Sylvanas bolted from her seat. “I know where the file is.”

Chapter Text

“Vereesa? Vereesa!

The delicate elven-style door swung open as Jaina knocked, and two half-elven boys barreled into her waist. “Jaina! Jaina!”

“Oof!” She ruffled their hair, unable to tell them apart since she could only see their hair from the towering heights of adulthood. “Hello boys! Where’s your mother?”

A more adult voice, fine and lilting, took her by surprise. “Their mother is fussing over charcuterie.”

Jaina glanced up at a bright blond young half-elf she hadn’t seen in quite some time. “Arator! It’s been a long time!”

Alleria’s son smiled warmly at her, and gently pulled his cousins from Jaina’s waist. “It’s good to see you, Jaina! I managed to end my rotation in Uldum a little earlier so I could take the boys out of Vereesa’s hair.” He glanced at his cousins fondly and patted them on the shoulders. “Giramar, Galadin, go get your wooden swords. I’ve got something more interesting than straw dummies for you to fight today.”

The boys shouted in excitement and rushed off into the home, and Arator smiled for a moment as he watched them go, before turning back to Jaina.

“Vereesa says you sounded urgent. Is everything alright?”

She blushed, trying not to think about that urgency while Sylvanas’ nephew was looking at her; not that it would be any better when she broached the topic with Sylvanas’ sister, of course, but at least she’d planned on that. Instead she tried to remember that Arator was her friend’s child on brief shore leave from an actual warzone; she looked him over, but seemed hale and healthy, no worse for wear despite the skirmishes taking place in Uldum. She was glad to see it. “I’m fine. Just being impatient. How are things with you, Arator? How’s Alleria?”

Perhaps not the best question; his smile tightened slightly. “I haven’t seen much of mother yet; I think she’s been very busy.” He said it with a hopeful tone, but changed the subject rather quickly. “But the n’raqi are no match for thousands of angry Azerothians, and I find they’re not particularly fond of the divine Light. It’s going well.” His smile dropped now, and he took on a look of concern. “How is my banshee of an aunt treating you?”

Jaina tried not to blush. Not quite the way I’d like, which is why I’m here. “She’s been remarkably pleasant. More than you’d think.”

He looked at her for a moment, and she tried to find Sylvanas in his features, but there was enough familial distance there for it to be a difficult thing to detect. He seemed to consider her words carefully before pursing his lips. “I would think not at all, so I suppose a little pleasantness might be possible. I wouldn’t trust it, though. I hope you’re being careful.”

“I am being careful.” Too careful, perhaps, in some matters.

He laughed a little, suddenly brightening again. “Of course. I’m practically still a child, and you’ve been there more than long enough to get settled, and I’m telling you to be careful. You must be sick of it; I apologize. Forgive me, Jaina.”

She laughed too; she was sick of it, sometimes, but at least he didn’t need to be told outright to realize he was doing it. “It’s fine, I know -”

She was interrupted by the boys barreling back into her and Arator again, swinging wooden swords at each other, as they’d apparently decided the adults were columns around which to attempt to duel. One practice weapon flung perilously close to Arator’s face, and he caught it in his hand with a grin. “I think it’s time I took the little imps out for some sparring.”

Galadin frowned at him and tried to wrestle his sword back. “Who’re you calling an imp, Rara?”

Arator blushed bright crimson as Jaina laughed. “Rara?”

“Galadin!” Arator scowled at his cousin’s words even as he looked at her. “He doesn’t even call me that affectionately anymore. He’s too old. He does it purely to embarrass me in front of others and it has completely lost all its charm.”

“No, that’s your name! Rara! Give me my sword back, Rara!”

With a deft movement of his hand, and a little help from the fact that he was an adult and Galadin decidedly was not, Arator pried the sword entirely from his cousin’s hand. “Not unless you can take it back. We’re going to practice disarming techniques today.” He hopped slightly away from the door and gave Jaina a salute and a wink. “Lord Admiral, I shall create a diversion. Enjoy dinner!” He reached out and plucked Giramar’s sword away too, and the boys started clamoring after him, and suddenly the three of them were off to the races down the causeway.

Jaina laughed as they went, stepping inside the youngest Windrunner’s home. She’d wanted to speak to Vereesa right away, but the little diversion turned out to have eased her nerves slightly. And Tides but she had nerves about the conversation she was going to try to have.

She found Vereesa arranging the balcony table again, and was welcomed with a warm hug and a string of greetings and pleasantries as they settled down at the table overlooking Dalaran. Jaina eyed the plates; Vereesa had heaped them with cheese, jams, and thinly-sliced smoked fish, along with plenty of bread and a few pastries. Vereesa knew her tastes.

Jaina also knew her own tastes. She loudly thunked a large bottle of questionable but outrageously affordable Arathi wine onto the table, pausing only briefly to give Vereesa what she hoped qualified as a look before reaching for their glasses.

“We’re drinking, are we?” Vereesa’s smile curled in delight. “I’m happy to help, if you need a little relief from whatever my sister is putting you through?”

Jaina raised her eyebrows; she certainly needed some kind of relief. “Vereesa, I have too many things to tell you today, not enough time to get through them all, and some of them will require wine.”

“Very well, Lady Proudmoore!” Vereesa mocked a terrible salute as Jaina filled he glass. “Please state the nature of your concerns!” Vereesa grabbed her glass and gave it a sniff, and grimaced and laughed. “Oh dear. Well I have some suspicions as to the severity of your concerns, at the very least.”

Jaina blushed, almost choking on her first gulp of wine. Surely Vereesa hadn’t guessed. “Oh?”

Vereesa sighed with a thoughtful look, and took a sip with less of a wince than Jaina had feared. “You know, Alleria did write to me to tell me that she had a chat with Sylvanas. About the necklace. It was a bit of a strange letter, you know, typical Alleria, very serious and measured. I had to read between the lines, but I thought maybe it had been a nice chat? That things were better?” She frowned as she stared into the glass. “I’m glad. If that was the case. I feared… But I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you even so. Sylvanas is a very defensive woman. Even if she truly holds onto some part of her old heart, she will guard it with every inch of skin she has.”

End me, Jaina. Jaina took another sip of wine. “Well -”

“So I assume it will take time.” Vereesa looked slowly out onto the Dalaran’s spires. “You are a kind soul, Jaina. I understand how you must hate being with someone so abrasive and reserved. I think maybe - and I don’t mean to presume - but if you wish for advice on how to make her friendlier to you, I would be happy to help. With however much the memory of our sisterhood may still be useful, at least.” 

“Friendlier.” Jaina knew she shouldn’t drink this much all at once, and tried to hold off and speak, but Vereesa cut her off again, shaking her head.

“I know, I know. Perhaps I’m being foolish. You’re probably here because you can’t stand being in that house another minute with her and need to drown your sorrows.” Vereesa tried the wine again and laughed. “And they must be quite the sorrows, Belore, where is this wine from? Arathi? Ah, yes, but I’m not familiar with this quaint little vineyard -”

“Vereesa -”

“Sorry, yes, my sister. Did she regress again after Alleria gave her a talking to? I wish Alleria would tell me more about what happened, but she’s not very gossipy with me these days. Not just with me either; poor Arator can barely get five sentences out of her sometimes. Alright, no, that’s not quite fair. But in any case Sylvanas listens to Alleria, and Alleria wants her to listen. You did well to make them talk. Though I would have expected -”

Jaina gulped the wine, and Vereesa stared at her.

“Jaina, what in the world -”

“Sylvanas cried all over my evening dress and asked me to destroy her.” Words started spilling out, and she closed her eyes to not see Vereesa’s face. “That was before Alleria even talked to her. She did get better after. Better? Tides, she - I know she torched a fucking world tree, everybody hates her, she's barely civil with people she doesn't like! So maybe better isn’t much! But it feels like a lot and - and -"

Jaina laid her left arm on the table and thunked her forehead down onto it, trying to hide the embarrassment burning in her cheeks.

"And she writes silly notes on paper for me! She keeps locking herself in rooms! I found her in a broom closet yesterday, she can’t open any of the doors so I leave them open for her, I swear she did it on purpose! She lies on my bed every night and chitchats ! She braids my hair and tells me stories about constellations and she peels oranges with her teeth for me! She feeds me lunch every day! She doesn’t know how to brew tea, Vereesa!”

No words, from the elf.

"How do I -" She groaned. "We're stuck in a house together, it's not like -" She pressed her fingers to her scalp. “I can’t believe I -” She groaned some more. "But the way she looks at me sometimes I swear - agh! Help me!"

Jaina risked a glance at her friend’s face. Tragically, Azeroth’s collective body of portrait artists was cruelly denied the incomparable sight of one single, private moment of Vereesa Windrunner looking like she’d just witnessed a whale rutting with a Kul Tiran frigate.

Jaina slowly straightened herself in her seat. She’d somehow gotten her point across. As stiff as she could manage, maintaining direct eye contact with the sister of the woman she desperately wanted to bed, Jaina raised the wine glass to her lips and took a long, loud sip.

“Jaina. Um.” Vereesa blinked, rocking her head back and forth like some kind of beast shaking its mane. “What. Could you.” She shook her head properly, and drank. Looked at Jaina. Drank again. “I’m sorry. Let’s try this again.” She set the glass down, and stared at the table. “Are you -” She caught herself, her eyes widened. “No. Surely not.”

The muscles of Jaina’s face twitched and thrummed like springs in a gnomish gadget about to explode in every direction. “Y-yes?”

Vereesa’s eyes widened even further and locked straight onto Jaina, and she very nearly whispered. “No.

“Well - well it might be a no from her side -” Jaina raised the glass helplessly and clunked it back down against the table again. “That’s part of the problem -”

Vereesa’s voice jumped an octave. “Lord Admiral Jaina Proudmoore!”

“Yes, that’s one of my titles, Vereesa please listen -”

Vereesa buried her face in her hands. “Go on. I am listening.”

“I - so, look, there is nothing untoward happening at the moment. The situation is stable, don’t worry about that. ” Jaina tried to keep her chin high. “I am not compromised -”

“You are incredibly compromised -”

“I’m a little compromised, but the important thing is that I truly.” Truly? Yes. “Genuinely… I like being with her, Vereesa.” Jaina sighed, and for this, she was able to soften her voice. “Alleria had a good conversation with her. I saw it wake something in her, bring something out. Sylvanas was… more open, afterwards. More trusting. She’s been… affectionate.”

Vereesa raised her head and looked away, swirling the wine in her glass, staring over the city.

“Also I panicked and told her I wanted to invite you and Alleria to dinner with us. I’m sorry.”

Vereesa closed her eyes, measuring her words carefully. “With us. Jaina… You sound infatuated with my sister.”

Jaina flinched at the thought of saying the words directly. “Well despite some of the extremely odd things Sylvanas does she has made it quite clear that she thinks of this as a friendly, sisterly arrangement. Apparently you elven madwomen grow up rolling around in your sisters’ beds and holding hands and braiding hair and it’s making this very confusing for me!”

Vereesa turned to look at her, and after a long, awful, awkward moment, Jaina saw a hint of a grin cross her face. “You sound furious about this.”

She whispered. “So furious. So furious.”

Vereesa held a fist to her mouth, and Jaina wondered for a moment if she were feeling some kind of awkward disgust, but then Vereesa chuckled. And then she laughed, and laughed, she practically howled.

Because Jaina was being ridiculous, wasn’t she? And now Jaina was laughing, too, because how couldn’t she laugh?

“Jaina - Jaina your face -”

She laughed even though she wanted to cry. “Help - Vereesa help, tell me her - her favourite flowers! Her secrets! Does she - is there a perfume I should wear -”

Sylvanas?!

She tried not to laugh into her wine. “I know she had lady lovers -”

“Jaina she’s undead - does - do you think - by Belore’s light, no, I don’t want to think -”

“She certainly cries, Vereesa, I can only imagine -”

Vereesa jabbed her finger at Jaina, still laughing. “No! Don’t go there!”

Emboldened by the wine, Jaina flashed her surliest sailor’s smile. “I have imagined -”

“No! No! I’m not listening!” She covered her eyes, as though that were how one listened. Who knew, with elves. “Why? Why?

Jaina laughed and laughed with Vereesa until the tension was gone, along with most of the wine in their glasses. She finally paused long enough to top them up, and as she breathed more normally, her senses returned, and she spoke, the evenness of her own voice surprising her.

“She is… She’s silly, Vereesa. And she’s in pain, and she’s afraid, and I can feel the contours of her fear. And she’s not unkind. When she wants to be, when she’s feeling safe. She’s even a bit sweet. She -” A glance told her that Vereesa wasn’t laughing anymore, but her face was still contorted with something strong. A glint in her eye, a tear on her cheek, that hurt Jaina to see. “I’m sorry. This is too much.”

Vereesa reached and grabbed her hand. “No, no.” She wasn’t sobbing, not quite, but she was certainly moved. Or distressed. “Jaina, I’m… glad, I think?” She let out a tense, ragged breath. “This is strange. This is not a conversation I expected to be having about Sylvanas ever again. But if you’ve found this side of her, maybe -”

Her voice stilled, and she looked out on the city again. And Jaina did see tears in her eyes, and when she spoke again, Vereesa’s voice suddenly cracked.

“I know how selfish it is but I just want my sisters to be normal again!” She blinked, and with a lurch Jaina suddenly realized she’d made Vereesa cry. “I just want us to have dinners and visits and gossip and see each other’s children and go to festivals and trade gifts and - and watch each other fall in love - and - and I know - I know it can’t be the way it was -”

“Vereesa.” Jaina was feeling the wine, and she was already scooting around the table to try to give Vereesa a hug, but when she put a palm on her friend’s shoulder Vereesa held up a hand.

“I’m alright. It’s okay.” Vereesa breathed deeply. “It’s just… it’s a great deal to think about all at once.” She sniffed, and patted Jaina’s hand. “I wish this were simpler. I wish I could just be happy and excited. But I know it’s… it’s anything but simple, outside the walls of that house.”

Jaina chuckled, rubbing a thumb on her shoulder. “It’s not simple inside the walls of the house either.”

Vereesa sniffed and laughed. “No, it wouldn’t be. Sylvanas was never a simple woman.” She sighed deeply again, glancing at Dalaran.  “It will never be the way it was. But perhaps it can be something new, that isn’t terrible.” She looked back to Jaina, and Jaina could see the fragile hope in Vereesa's eyes. “Do you think so?”

“I... yes. I hope so, obviously.” She glanced at the city. “I think Alleria thinks so too.”

Vereesa let go and nodded somberly, her emotions seeming to harden a little. “Alleria. I haven’t actually seen her in person since Orgrimmar.” She drank again. “Arator says he's only seen her once in Uldum. I - I told her -”

Vereesa blinked a few times, and suddenly she was sobbing again, and Jaina vaguely thought that perhaps she hadn’t completely thought this through, bringing up something so emotional around the Windrunner sisters. She pulled Vereesa over in a sideways hug. “I know you had some disagreement at Orgrimmar.”

“I told her they’d have to kill Sylvanas! ” Vereesa buried her face in her hands, and though Jaina knew the disagreement had been strong and caused some rift between them, she hadn’t known that. The admission sent fire up her spine, and though she tried not to, she knew her arm tensed against Vereesa. “I was so angry with Sylvanas and I was angry that Alleria was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt after Alleria spent so long away and had no idea what had happened to either of us and I was angry at all the killing and I thought there was no stopping them anyway and everyone was telling me it needed to happen and I thought I needed to accept it somehow so I shouted at her and - I’m so sorry Jaina -”

Jaina was bewildered, and completely unsure of whether she should have had more or less wine before the crying started. She tried to give Vereesa a hug, but the woman kept sniffling.

“Jaina I know this isn’t about me - I’m just - I’m not being helpful -”

Jaina felt her own eyes welling with a few tears, and didn't want to fall apart herself. “You don’t need to be helpful! Tides Vereesa, your family is a mess, it’s okay.”

Vereesa, thankfully, laughed at that through tears. “Oh we are a mess, aren’t we?” And she chuckled, and Jaina smiled nervously along with her, and she was starting to feel raw from just how much was pouring out of them this afternoon. “Oh Jaina. I feel terrible. I didn’t know… I didn’t know this could ever happen. I’m so sorry. I need to tell them I’m sorry.”

Jaina kept her in the sideways hug, nodding, trying to imagine just how dinner with the three of them was going to go. Alleria was right about one thing - Sylvanas and Vereesa had at least a few personality traits in common. “Of course. I’ll make sure we have a mop at dinner. For the tears.”

Vereesa laughed. “Not for blood?”

“Tides I hope not!” Jaina chuckled back, though. She didn’t think that would happen, at this point. She only hoped there wouldn’t be too much crying.

When Vereesa’s chuckling subsided, she was smiling a little, and she reached for a smoked salmon bread even as she wiped a tear from her face. “Alright. Okay. Alleria. How was she, when you saw her? Clearly I’m… worried about seeing her again.”

Jaina let go of her, but stayed close to her side of the table, trying to breathe steadily. “At this point I feel she’s the Windrunner I know the least. She seems as well as ever, I suppose.” Jaina almost said, despite the Void gibbers.

“That’s fair. So she was a bit quiet and a bit stiff, but not unkind.”

“And full of advice, yes.”

Vereesa chuckled again, wiping her eyes once more, though they’d gotten a little red. As she swallowed a bite, she smiled. “How blessed I am, to have two sisters who are not unkind. ” Her silver hair was warming in the afternoon sun, and Jaina was relieved to see the tears stilled for now. “I love them, Jaina. Both of them. Even if things won’t be the way they used to be.”

Jaina risked a pointed joke. “No more frolicking in bed.”

“We did not frolic in bed.” Vereesa snorted, rolled her eyes. But the joke seemed to draw her further out of her distress. “This is a sore spot for you, Jaina.”

“It is quite a sore spot, actually.” She blinked, realizing how she’d intoned the words sore spot. “I mean -”

But Vereesa roared in shocked delight. “Jaina you rake!

“Oh come on!” She blushed and stuffed a pastry in her mouth to avoid having to talk for a moment before speaking. “It’s just… I don’t understand her, Vereesa. I’m not sure if she’s just afraid of me, or doesn’t know if - well, she didn’t know she could cry. Or maybe she just -” Jaina’s heart abruptly sank as she tried to puzzle out why Sylvanas wouldn't be giving her any of the obvious signs of interest. She hadn’t even thought of this until now. “Oh Tides. Is it just me? Vereesa, what does she have - what’s her - am I not -”

“Oh, quiet,” Vereesa scolded her, and grabbed the bottle to pour more wine into Jaina’s glass, rather unsteadily. “You are a beautiful woman, and as I said, you appear to be a rake, and Sylvanas has always liked more rascally younger ladies.”

"Rascally? Vereesa, where the hell do you get these words?"

“Please, Jaina, I know how you are. I don’t know what Sylvanas is actually thinking, but you're certainly the kind of woman she'd like. I think.” She frowned into her glass of wine, as though it were asking her uncomfortable questions. “Jaina, would you believe me if I told you Sylvanas struggles with propriety?”

“With - what? We're talking about your sister, specifically the one who peels oranges with her fangs.”

“Yes, that one. By the time she was Ranger-General, you can be sure she had her pick of fine elven maidens.” Vereesa was shaking her head. “She rejected almost all of them. Even a few who’d already been lovers before, when they were rangers. And the worst part is, she rejected them whether she liked them or not! She tortured herself about some of them! And you, Jaina, you are not the first to come crying to me that Sylvanas would not return her affections. Although you are perhaps my favourite.”

Jaina blushed, and felt a distant pang of sympathy for those elven maidens. It must have been bad. “Why?”

“I asked her several times. She was always evasive. Perhaps she viewed it as dishonorable, to place the weight of her office on the scales of affection. Perhaps she feared losing her judgement, her ability to lead, if she was so entangled with one she led.” Vereesa stared into the wine, shaking her head, tipping the glass slightly side to side. “Perhaps she feared that the lady in question was turning to her because they were working closely together on campaign, and happened to be lonely while Sylvanas was nearby, rather than real affection. Perhaps she believed that, with so much power, it was impossible to distinguish between one who wanted her, and one who wanted her power. Sylvanas never wanted to be the fool who believes she’s found love in the arms of a paid courtesan. She had too much pride.”

Jaina mulled this over. “That’s a whole lot of perhaps, Vereesa.”

“I know. She said all these things, at one time or another. I cannot say which was most true. Maybe all of them. These may be reasons she isn't saying anything, if she feels the same way you do.” Vereesa looked at her with sadness. "Jaina. You are my friend. And I want very much for Sylvanas to be doing something… good."

She couldn't help herself. "I'm good?"

Vereesa giggled, her eyes still red with emotion. "This! You see, she likes this. I'm sure she finds you delightful." She sighed, looking at Jaina contemplatively. "If you want her, I think you should try to tell her. Do you?"

Jaina blushed at the phrasing, but… Yes. Yes, rather desperately. But there was a gulf of unknowns and terrors she would have to jump into in order to do so. "I know I sound like a child, Vereesa, but what if it's not mutual? We literally can’t get away from each other."

“Yes. There are extra complications.” Vereesa closed her eyes thoughtfully. Or perhaps drunkenly. "Sylvanas is a fan of what she calls plausible deniability. That’s a military term for being too skittish to commit to something but too desperate not to. Make your feelings clear in a way that is unmistakable, that she cannot explain to herself any other way. But also give her an out, where she can pretend not to understand if her answer is no. If you're willing to hear her say no, that is."

Was she willing to hear that? She thought about it, and the thought was painful and frightening... but the thought of going on like this forever, when things only seemed to be getting worse in her brain, was no less frightening. At least she would know. At least she would decide what to do next.

"I am. I think. But how the hell do I…" She paused. In truth, Jaina already had an idea. She'd come to Dalaran with this idea already, more or less; it just hadn’t been… tactical. "Vereesa, do you know any tailors who can work on short notice? Good tailors."

Vereesa frowned as she sipped, and seemed to take a moment to understand the question. "In Dalaran they all use animated enchanted needles these days, you can get anything in a few hours. When you say good, do you mean -" She paused, and met Jaina's eyes for a moment, and then grinned slyly. "Oh, Jaina. I see. You mean a good tailor. Yes. I know just one."

Jaina reddened further at her own obviousness, but she was glad for the help. "Thank you. And… Vereesa, I know this is, um, exciting news -"

Vereesa nodded firmly. "But it is extremely politically taboo and you don't want me gossiping about it, yes, I completely understand. I am… Concerned about what this means for the future, if it goes awry. Or frankly even if it goes well. It is certainly delicate. But I can't resist the hope that this will go well for you both, and... I need something to go well for you. Especially for Sylvanas. And I know you need privacy to make that happen." Vereesa winked at her, and Jaina briefly thought she might die. "I'm happy to keep a secret. Though I’ll subtly lord it over Alleria next time I see her. She'll have no idea. Between her and the paladin, sometimes I’m not even sure how Arator happened, though I’m very glad he did."

Jaina snorted, and went for a pot of jam with some bread. "Thank you. I appreciate your discretion."

Vereesa leaned her head on her hand, staring lazily at the table. “It heartens me that Sylvanas’ foibles have cause to be remembered, Jaina. These things I learned about her as a sister. That being family still matters, as more than memory.”

Jaina breathed out, just as glad. She was slightly afraid that the idea of the Windrunner family resting on her might be too much, but that was Vereesa’s thought; she didn’t need to carry it with her.

She only needed to focus on her immediate mission. She could give Sylvanas a sign that couldn't be mistaken as anything other than an intimate overture. Something unmistakable, undeniable, but still private enough that if Sylvanas didn't actually want Jaina in that way…

The thought of that, the fear of it, pained her. Because she wanted Sylvanas. It was about time she admitted that in clear terms, to herself. She wasn't sure Vereesa needed to hear the words I want your sister, but they both knew, now. Her desire was seen, and it was not rejected, it was actively supported. She felt like she had Vereesa's blessing to go forward with this, and that felt… good.

“Thank you so much, Vereesa. I really needed to say something, I was going absolutely mad in there.” She reached for one of the pastries next.

Vereesa slowly blinked, grinning widely. “Oh dear. Well, I hope she sees reason. I’m sure you’ll make a compelling argument.”

Jaina chuckled. “I’ll try. We’re not done for the day here though.”

Vereesa’s eyes widened. “Belore, after that there's more? What else?”

She laughed louder. “You still haven’t confirmed you’d join Alleria and Sylvanas and I -”

“Yes.” Vereesa smiled, soft and genuine. “Of course I will.”

“So - good. We need to plan that. I know where Alleria is camped out, I’ll go meet her and I'll coordinate a date. I’d appreciate your help getting some things together.” She glanced at the city. “You'll need to point me to your tailor, too. And I'd like to maybe stop by a library -”

“Jaina, please. You said you were here for a personal visit. Very personal, as it turns out.” Vereesa was frowning. “Not work.”

“No, not work. I want to get a book for Sylvanas.”

Vereesa almost recoiled, sitting straighter. “Does my sister read now?”

“She seems to?” Jaina frowned, remembering Sylvanas pouring through her spellbooks. “Sometimes. For reconnaissance? I don’t know, actually, I just wanted to get her things. Gifts. She didn’t tell me what she likes. Does she read?”

“I saw her with a book, once.” Vereesa nodded. “She was beating a scorpion to death with it.”

 


 

“It’s done.”

Jaina flopped down on her own bed, her pack from Dalaran still unopened. Sylvanas sat in Jaina’s reading chair, not reading. She had been whittling in the chair until shortly before Jaina arrived, but by the time Jaina portalled back in, she’d simply been looking at the finished piece of wood in her hands. Jaina had chased her out only long enough to change into her evening gown before calling Sylvanas back into the room.

“Both of them?” Sylvanas raised an eyebrow, sitting back down in the reading chair, hand still firmly gripped on the whittling project as she tried to calm her nerves about the prospect of an evening with both her sisters. “Is that why you’re late?”

“Oh - yes.” Jaina looked at her sheepishly, then lay her head back against the pillow. “I figured I might as well pop out to find Alleria as well. Her troops are camped in Tanaris. They both agreed; I was surprised how easily Alleria agreed to take a day’s leave, actually. I think she really wants to see you. They’ll be over in a few days.” Her voice lowered, and Sylvanas fought an urge to get closer to listen. “They both want to see you, Sylvanas. Not just the you they remember. They want to see what is becoming of you.”

Sylvanas relaxed a little. She found she could believe this, if Jaina did. It was difficult to believe there would ever be a place for her in the world that she did not have to fight for tooth and claw, but at a table with her sisters, at least she did not feel her existence would be under threat.

Adding Jaina to that table did not change that sense. The archmage surprised her at every turn; maybe she didn’t need to fight that urge. Sylvanas left the chair and joined Jaina on the bed, sitting next to her. “Thank you for arranging this.”

“Of course.” Jaina’s smile was a little bleary, but painfully warm and gentle, and Sylvanas scrambled for another topic lest she say so out loud.

“How goes the search for the Old God’s lair?”

Jaina raised her eyebrows and sighed. “Well, Alleria says she and the ren’dorei have found the gateway to Ny'alotha, by tracking the Void gibbers into Uldum.”

Sylvanas chuckled, and Jaina paused to smile at her before continuing.

“That’s where troops are pushing to. The tol’vir are being helpful; some of the n’raqi attacks have hit them hard, so Horde and Alliance troops are reinforcing them. There are ancient texts and tablets that supposedly contain details about the city, but they’re fragmented, so every kind of mystic you can imagine is trying to piece them together. We’ll manage.” Jaina looked far too tired. “I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of the details. I think we’ll put this whole war to rest, like the other ones.”

Sylvanas hoped so, but even that would not spell peace for Azeroth. Peace was something that never seemed to stick. She rested her hands on the bed, which put one of them rather close to Jaina’s arm, and she tried not to let a tremor of fear into her voice. “Will you fight the Old God, when the gates are opened?”

“I -” She frowned, and looked at Sylvanas, her brows creasing. “I would have thought so, but nobody asked me. Sometimes I get the feeling they expect me not to be there. I have new duties now, I suppose, but I… I’m not sure, Sylvanas.”

Sylvanas considered what to say carefully. Not to send Jaina Proudmoore against the Old God would be to deny themselves a powerful asset; but to send her away from Sylvanas, and risk her death, meant possibly letting loose one of the few mortals the Alliance hated as much as N’Zoth. Or vaporizing her, enraging her faction. She could see why others might not want Jaina to go. And Sylvanas herself… In truth, she worried about risking Jaina like that. She truly did not want to lose her. “I suppose I could put my escape plans on hold while you go kill a god. For fairness’ sake.”

Jaina’s eyes widened a bit, more alert now, but she smiled. “Good. I wouldn’t want you escaping without me.”

“That would be disrespectful. A prisoner must give their warden the chance to face them dramatically at the door, just before they break the final seal of their captivity.”

“Yes. When else would I get to dramatically beg you to stay?” Jaina seemed only after saying it to realize what she’d said, and snapped her mouth shut, but it was too late and Sylvanas’ brain was already responding.

“Now that’s unfair. I don’t think I could leave if you begged.”

Belore, what was she saying. Jaina looked back at the ceiling, for a moment turning rather red, before laughing in an unusually high pitch. “Well I would be sorry to see you disappear!” Jaina suddenly took an interest in her travel pack. “It would make tracking you down again so inconvenient!”

Sylvanas chuckled, more in nervousness at how close she’d come to embarrassing herself than anything. “You’d never find me. I am well-known for my subtlety, my restraint, and my ability to blend quietly into crowds.”

“Pff. Sylvanas, if there’s any crowd on Azeroth you could blend into, it must be full of terrifying people who are terrifying and the rest of us are doomed.”

She grinned. Jaina was surely wrong, though. If Sylvanas wanted, she was certain she could meld into certain darker, less living crowds. She just never wanted to. Why be subtle when she could be direct, loud, and take what she wanted?

Speaking of which, she flung her little whittling project at Jaina’s hands. Jaina startled and sat up properly on the bed, fumbling with it. “What - huh?” She reached for where it had landed in her lap, and held it up.

Sylvanas had whittled an anchor, somewhat larger than the one Jaina usually wore around her neck. “It’s made of the wood of a species of ebony native to southern Kalimdor.” She avoided Jaina’s gaze as the archmage sat up straighter. “Too hard for mortals to whittle, but it seems my unnatural destructive strength also has some less wanton, more precise uses.”

It was also expensive, but she didn’t need to tell Jaina that. At first, she’d thought it simply a way to avoid boredom, when she’d asked Delaryn to procure her some of the more challenging woods available in Orgrimmar. She hadn’t expected to make gifts of it. How things changed.

Jaina spoke softly. “Is this a gift?”

She narrowed her eyes. “What does it look like?”

Jaina did not respond, but she smiled, clearly pleased, and Sylvanas allowed herself a smile too as Jaina responded. “Whittling is an interesting choice for you, you know. You destroy, but in doing so you create. Maybe it’s an art that suits you.” Jaina’s brushed her fingers over the wood; Sylvanas hadn’t polished it, but she doubted it would splinter. “Why an anchor?”

Ah. The question Sylvanas had hoped Jaina wouldn’t ask, but had also obsessed over exactly how she would answer. She looked away. “It’s easier to reference things that are always in my field of vision.”

From the corner of her eye, she saw Jaina pause, and gently prod at the anchor pendant that hung from her neck. Nestled just above the curve of her breasts, near where soft, smooth skin slipped away underneath the icy blues and wintery dark of her evening gown.

Sylvanas tensed, wondering if that was too bold. She did not want Jaina to feel targeted, or to think anything was expected of her - and worse still, Sylvanas did not want to have to disentangle the thought that she herself was not only a person, but also a prisoner to be managed, and a head of state to be influenced or courted for favors, and also the only person around for Jaina to speak to most days. There were too many ways this could be less than real. She wished this could be simple. She feared the ways saying such a thing could go wrong.

If she feared it all, why say such a thing in the first place?

Because Sylvanas also feared what might not happen, if she did not say it. She feared the death of the smallest, most delicate of future that seemed to shine so much brighter than the many safer ones combined. She shifted on the bed, slightly uncomfortable, stretching her legs as she sat next to Jaina.

Jaina laid a hand on Sylvanas’ thigh, and it was like someone had poured warm spring water on a frostbitten limb. Jaina’s voice was much the same. “It’s beautiful.” She leaned into Sylvanas’ shoulder, holding the newly whittled anchor up where they could both see it, as though Sylvanas hadn’t stared at the thing for hours. She stared at it anew in Jaina’s hands, and felt as though she’d never seen it before. “Thank you. I have a gift for you too, actually.”

Sylvanas blinked, and smiled in surprise. “What? Another terrible poem?”

Jaina laughed. “Sylvanas, after the last one I’m worried that if I wrote you another poem we might need to call all of your three remaining Val’kyr just to get you standing again.”

“Write a better poem, then.” Sylvanas smirked, pushing Jaina’s hand with the anchor into Jaina’s lap. “Or just give me a pastry. That will restore me to my usual self.”

“Bitterly angry and suspicious that you’re being mocked?”

“My usual self.”

“No pastries for Sylvanas, got it.” Jaina started to move from the bed. “No, I got you a nightgown.”

Sylvanas nearly jumped. A nightgown? “Jaina, I don’t sleep.”

Jaina grimaced at her as she fumbled for her pack. “And yet you lie in my bed in your leathers.”

Sylvanas plucked at her black leather bodice. “Do you have a problem with leather?”

“It’s not for sleeping in. Or sleeping next to. What, should I be thankful you don’t lie there in steel battle armor?”

She hummed, pretending thoughtfulness, trying to cover up her nerves as Jaina yanked a paper-wrapped package from the bag. “Perhaps sleeping is not among leather’s better uses.”

Jaina paused, for a split second, then turned to her with a grin and threw the package so fast it almost hit her in the face. Sylvanas' hands snapped up on instinct, though, stopping it and crinkling the dark paper wrapping. Jaina’s voice was authoritative. “Go put it on. I’m not sure about the measurements - if it doesn’t fit, just let me know, and I’ll get it replaced.” Jaina gave her an oddly intense look, once Sylvanas glanced back up at her. "I mean it. Don't wear it unless it's a perfect fit. I want to return it if you don’t like it. I’ll get my money back and maybe I can get you something not as finicky as clothes."

Sylvanas watched Jaina’s face for a moment, and understood the implication perfectly. If she didn’t like it, she didn’t need to tell Jaina directly. She recognized the kindness of a deniable exit when she heard it. This one seemed rather insistent, in fact. “I should put this on now? Is that an order?”

“I’m tired.” Jaina arched an eyebrow, and she looked tired, certainly, though she also looked something else. “If that fits, no more leather in bed unless I say so.”

Belore, but those were certainly words. They landed somewhere soft and sensitive in her mind and Sylvanas averted her eyes to avoid giving herself away. “Very well. I shall do as you command.”

Jaina seemed oddly stiff and alert, even as she blinked obvious exhaustion from her eyes. “Good.” She waved at her. “Well, go on then. I tried to pick your colors; but we could change those too if you don't like them. I just - really, Sylvanas, only wear it if you like it. Okay?”

Sylvanas could tell Jaina was babbling, and smiled at her. "I understand."

Jaina gave an odd, firm nod without making eye contact, and Sylvanas puzzled over that a little as she returned to her room.

Where she didn’t have a mirror. Oh dear. Well, this was off to a poor start.

Once she opened the rather fanciful packaging paper, Sylvanas quickly realized that Jaina’s ideas of her colors were black, purple, black, pale violet, and more black. The woman wasn’t wrong. The material was incredibly fine, though, and with a start Sylvanas realized it was spidersilk. That meant it was incredibly expensive. Milking giant spiders for their silk was an occupation few even knew existed, and one most of those who did would rather forget.

Well, Jaina had gotten her a gift, and seemed fairly insistent that she try it. Sylvanas felt a bit flustered at having a gift, but she was also curious to know what, exactly, Jaina had picked out for her, and what that said about how Jaina looked at her. A small thing to be curious about, of course, but she couldn’t not try it on even without the help of a mirror. She slipped it on easily enough, and adjusted it, and -

Oh no.

It fit.

It fit extremely well.

The neckline plunged down like an abstract rendition of someone cleaving a giant axe through the walls of Stormwind all the way down to the earth. The gap it left was crisscrossed with embroidery in the shapes of vines, the only things holding it together. Oh dear. She went for her trunk and fetched a well-polished blade, because that was the only thing she could think of that could serve as a mirror, inconvenient though it may be; she flicked it up, angling towards herself, and tried to get a sense of what the hell had happened to her.

The same vines that valiantly held the gown together across her chest blushed with purple highlights where they curled suggestively around and under her breasts - literal embroidered vines with dark thorns and little purple roses, in exquisite detail yet somehow still abstract and bold. They grew more and more numerous towards the bottom of her robe until the hem, which sat rather scandalously halfway up her thigh, was itself a single long piece of embroidery that looked like a rosebush. It was a gown in name, perhaps, but despite barely reaching her knees, a slit also shot so high up her left thigh she wondered if Jaina had gotten the tailor drunk. And it was thin, by the Sunwell it was thin. Not transparent - from what she could see - but as Sylvanas moved the reflective blade around in her hand near the dress she could feel currents of air on the skin beneath.

Belore, what the hell did she look like? This blade wasn't enough. She ran her hands over the fabric to try to form a fuller sensory impression of it, and because it was so fucking thin this meant she was running her hands over herself, in a way she almost never did. She jerked her hands away in surprise; she felt she was blushing and as she tried to make sense of what she mush look like, she rather suspected the only possible impression was… ravishing.

This was not a nightgown; it was the kind of thing Valeera Sanguinar would wear if she were spending her own birthday afterparty drunkenly seducing and assassinating aristocrats.

Sylvanas had not worn something like this - well, ever. She'd never been put on display like this. The swerve and pull of the material did lovely things around the curves of her chest, the slits of exposed skin seemed designed to guide the eye towards interesting places that remained barely hidden from sight, and it tightened above the hips a little too much for something that was supposedly intended for sleeping .

This was the kind of nightgown that any grown woman understood was meant to be hurriedly hitched up barely above the waist before the evening was over.

If Forsaken could breathe, Sylvanas would have been panting. There were precious few ways to interpret this. She felt stupid, idiotic fear at going back into that bedroom and seeing those last remaining interpretations collapse into one solid truth. She briefly considered taking it off, embracing that plausible denial, but her utter rage at herself for being so afraid propelled her out the door again and back to Jaina.

Who had also changed into her own nightgown. A real, fairly modest nightgown by comparison. Alas.

The look on Jaina’s face when she saw Sylvanas step into the room and almost-close the door behind her was, well, a look. There was lip biting, and her bleary, tired eyes flung wide open.

The silence was taut as a bowstring, until Sylvanas fired. “It fits.”

“Yes. Good." Jaina sounded strained. "You like it?”

“It’s a little sparse.”

Jaina pulled aside the blanket with an uncertain motion. “Are you cold?”

“I am freezing.” Sylvanas wasn’t freezing. What the hell did that mean? “It’s exquisite sleepwear, Jaina. I’ve never owned anything like it.”

Jaina seemed to falter a little, her eyes darting away. “Is it - sorry, I didn’t want it to be too much -”

What did Jaina want it to be? “It’s really not a lot at all -”

“I just wanted -” Suddenly Jaina seemed full of panic, and furiously red in the face. “Sorry, I was a fool, if you want you can go -”

Sylvanas leaned back, slightly, and clicked shut a door her undead hands were not able to open again.

Jaina tensed, looking carefully at her. Expectantly. But, no words. Sylvanas did not have any words in her quiver, either. She’d forgotten to pack enough words for this, and cursed her own stupidity.

After a moment, Jaina shifted in the bed. “Can you come undo my braid?” Jaina bent her neck and grabbed at a braid they both knew Jaina could undo herself, because she was an adult woman who did adult things. Like hair maintenance. And shop for… nightgowns. Very adult activities. “I liked it, last time you did it.”

Sylvanas stalked closer, quietly, furiously trying to think of what to say. Her mind ran through the possibilities as she sat on the bed - oh dear, she had to be quite careful about how she moved her legs now, there was so very little left to cover anything - and slowly started undoing the ties in that gold-streaked silver hair.

Possibility one was that Jaina was actually plotting and this was part of a long game to weaken Sylvanas’s resolve. Well, that had obviously worked. But to what end? Sylvanas was already trapped and partially deposed, and could have been killed several times over. She knew, in truth, that there was little to be gained by further manipulating her. This was a ridiculous excuse of a hypothesis, and she discarded it.

She undid more of the braids, and Jaina leaned back a little, perilously close, her hips brushing against Sylvanas’ inner thighs. Possibility two was that Jaina was in fact flirting with her, because Jaina was drawn to power, and Sylvanas was a queen, and controlled the one army that could defeat N’Zoth - a battle with whom was looming on the horizon, perhaps only weeks away. There was power in her. But Jaina’s history of lovers, known and suspected, did not paint a portrait of a woman drawn to great heads of state. Minor ones or future ones, perhaps, but not the genocidal queen of the Forsaken.

Jaina’s history of known and suspected lovers also did not include women. But such things could change - or they could have been true all along, merely invisible. Sylvanas had experienced this before.

Sylvanas slowly, luxuriously ran her fingers down Jaina’s scalp as she pulled more of the braid apart, and Jaina leaned further into her. She gasped a little at the brush of Sylvanas’ fingers. Jaina leaned enough that her back suddenly came into contact with the tips of Sylvanas’ breasts, through the incredibly thin spidersilk.

If Forsaken breathed, Sylvanas’ breath would have caught. As it was, she remained utterly silent.

Other bodily functions, however, were now well and active.

Possibility three was that -

Jaina placed her hand, gently, on Sylvanas’ bare thigh.

Possibility three of this inevitable betrayal was that -

“Sylvanas.”

You meat-headed fool , Alleria’s voice echoed.

Not now, Alleria! Out of my head!

“Sylvanas I have a question for you. Will you answer me plainly?”

“I too have a question.” No she didn’t. What the hell was she saying? Now she had to think of a question and it was already hard enough to speak. Jaina leaned further into her chest, and Sylvanas felt her trembling, and felt a sudden, desperate need to soothe whatever uncertainty was ailing her Jaina.

“Ask me anything, Sylvanas.”

Every time Jaina said her name, Sylvanas wanted to cry and die and bite down on Jaina’s skin and squeeze and everything at once. Damn it, now she had to ask something. “Why - why did you get me the nightgown?” Belore, Jaina would think she hated it. Alleria was right; Sylvanas was an idiot.

Jaina breathed quietly for a moment. “Sylvanas. Why did you tell me a love story, after we watched the stars together?”

It was like an arrow from somewhere in a darkened wood, pinning her in place. Sylvanas closed her eyes, embracing the wound, her hands freezing at Jaina’s nape. “Why did you cry when you thought I didn’t trust you?”

Jaina was almost whispering now. “Why do you bring me lunch every day?”

“Why did you write a poem for me?” Sylvanas knew, she knew what they were saying, but it couldn’t be, it was impossible -

Jaina slipped her hand further across Sylvana’s bare leg. “Why did you peel an orange with your teeth and lick your lips at me?”

Sylvanas knew, she knew, she - she leaned closer, towards Jaina’s ear. “Why do you shiver when I whisper into your ear?

Jaina shivered, yes, she did exactly that, and Sylvanas felt it up against her body and damn near shivered back. Then Jaina was suddenly moving, awkwardly and far too close to move freely; she turned around to look Sylvanas in the face, incredibly close, her breathing incredibly loud, her face flushed, her eyes red. Her legs hooked over Sylvanas’ hips as she sat to face her. Sylvanas’s body and mind were alight with tension as Jaina answered with an audible tremor. “Why the fuck do you think?”

“I.” More arrows spearing her in place. Jaina looked frustrated, and Sylvanas felt a pent up feeling pressing at her skin and her muscles from deep within her, pushing out and out as it longed to escape. “I thought you -”

“Sylvanas.” Jaina closed her eyes, and she was whispering, so very close to Sylvanas’ face.

What was going on. “Yes, my lady?”

Jaina didn’t gasp, didn’t moan, but gave an exhalation of breath too soft and tender and needy to be given a more prosaic name. She leaned forward and put her forehead against Sylvanas’. “Sylvanas - why - why aren’t we -”

Jaina’s hand slipped behind Sylvanas’ head and gripped her hair and pulled her so close their noses were rubbing against one another, so close Sylvanas couldn’t even focus on her beautiful blue eyes, but still not quite as close as she had sometimes dared dream.

Sylvanas trembled. Not the tremble of a living body overwhelmed - she thought - but the tremble of a predator, lunging through her limbs at this warm prey that sang desire, barely restrained by the thinking part of her brain. She shook. “I want - I - Jaina, you - ” Words, words.

“Is it me?” Jaina sounded broken, broken on the shores of Sylvanas’ face. “Am I not your type?”

Type? ” Sylvanas gawked at her, suddenly feeling like they were actually having this conversation, and she needed to participate, and the knowledge that she was flailing about incompetently struck her rigid. “I don’t need a type, I have Jaina fucking Proudmoore, you beautiful, infuriating, silly -”

Jaina pulled back just enough to look at her, bright scarlet in the face even in candlelight. “Then why -”

“I’m afraid - you don’t - that you -”

“Argh!” Jaina grabbed her shoulders, and pressed their foreheads together again. “Please.” She straddled Sylvanas’ lap, her cheek trailing down from Sylvana’s forehead. “Please.” She whispered Thalassian into Sylvanas’ ear, accented and stilted and beautiful. “Anu’alayn. Please, a please that crawled and pleased up and down Sylvanas’ spine. “I don’t know any other words, Sylvanas, I don’t know what words will prove to you -”

Perhaps trust is a beginning, not an end.

She gripped the back of Jaina’s head, lacing her fingers into her snowy gold-striped hair, brought her face so close their upper lips grazed, felt the heat of that glancing touch. “You’re right. You’re right. No fear. Just…” She slipped her hand under the nightgown, up Jaina’s thigh, which was terrifying but also felt like the obvious thing to do, why both at once? “If you want - there’s nothing I want more -” 

Jaina’s hands wrapped around her shoulders and Jaina buried her face into Sylvanas’ neck, warm breath and wet lips pressing against the cool of her skin, and Jaina groaned in what sounded like terrible frustration. After a moment managed a single word. “Help. ” Jaina’s voice was ragged. Help? Help with -

Jaina grabbed Sylvanas’ right hand, already trailing on her leg, and yanked it forward, inward around the curve of her thigh, towards the source of her problem.

For some reason that wordless, very living, very primal connection blasted away the dams in Sylvanas’ soul in a way that words could not. Oh. Yes. Jaina did need help. And it was exactly help of a kind Sylvanas desperately wanted to give her.

Sylvanas felt a smile creep onto her lips, and she chuckled voicelessly into the hair on Jaina’s scalp, and she felt like all the pent-up fear and stupid idiot tension in her body was pouring out all at once because she was right, she was right. “Oh my, Jaina. Daughter of the Sea indeed.”

Her fingers found their way, despite the unusual angle, and Jaina gasped. The slightest movement of Sylvanas’ hand suddenly seemed to interrupt Jaina’s ability to speak like a coherent person. “Sylva - a - anas -

“Oh.” Sylvanas trailed a finger along the shoreline, savouring the utter fucking relief that she hadn’t been fooling herself, the sudden departure of weeks of fear and restraint, trying instead to spell out in cursive the ways in which she’d been a fool to overlook this for so long. Memories of flesh, of life, rose from the graves of her memory and reminded her skin and her muscles and nerves of all the promise and delights that could be found in quiet, private nights. She sat up straight. With her other hand, she gripped Jaina’s waist and adjusted her slightly, keeping her face close, smelling the sweat on her skin, tasting the air that graced her flesh. “Dear Jaina, I fear you’ve made a tactical error.”

Jaina groaned wordless frustration into her ear, pressing her hips forward against Sylvanas’ palm as she gently, lazily moved her fingers to no particularly effective end. Yet. The groans were delicious, and Sylvanas hummed her own deep satisfaction at hearing them from her throat back into her little lover’s ears as she reacquainted herself with the cartography of desire.

“You’ve lost patience.” The angle was awkward, but her thumb flicked across what she sought anyway, and Jaina’s teeth clenched with a hiss as she suddenly rose from Sylvanas’ neck. “You look like you’d do anything for me.”

“Please -”

“May I?” Sylvanas dragged her teeth along Jaina’s neck, remembering Jaina’s fascination with them. Jaina's voice made a breathy, high-pitched sound as fangs grazed flesh. Sylvanas realized she’d stopped with her hand, and kept going. Jaina was on her knees, not entirely of her own strength, and she’d already been exhausted; she would tire sooner than later. But Jaina hummed a wordless assent, and Sylvanas slipped one finger inside, savouring the texture and sound and the gasp from Jaina’s throat. “This?”

“Mm-hm-”

Jaina’s breasts pressed into her upper chest and neck through the nightgown as she sucked in breath and leaned into Sylvanas. Sylvanas dragged aside the strap of Jaina’s nightgown with her teeth to find the soft skin between shoulder and neck, while she gently began to slip her middle finger in and out, teasing, keeping the pressures of her thumb and palm not quite where it ought to be. “Would you be vexed if I stopped?”

“I - would - m - murder -”

The words lost their strength in the shudders of Jaina’s voice, spread out in the air, ceremonial weapons uselessly hanging on the wall at the signing of a surrender. Sylvanas inked the treaty with her thumbprint, and Jaina gasped and started forward, and Sylvanas’ own thighs squirmed together under Jaina’s legs in her own anticipation. She could wait a little; she’d already waited so long. But even a little now felt like eternity. “It appears -”

Jaina pressed forward, up on her knees, and wrapped both arms around the back of Sylvanas’ head, pressing her face down into the soft curves of her breasts, still somewhat awkwardly contained by that vexatious nightgown. Sylvanas chuckled; she would not deny this, and her lips parted and kissed across skin as the scent of life, of sweat and sea, filled her nose and mouth and seasoned her tongue.

Jaina whimpered, high-pitched, almost girlish, gripping the back of Sylvanas’ head with one hand and running the other firmly, haltingly, desperately down her neck and upper spine. Her hips rocked against Sylvanas’ hand, against Sylvanas’ long fingers and thumb and palm that had just found their way, inside and out, to two particular spots Sylvanas was eager to become familiar with.

Jaina’s own nightgown was an irritation, and with her left hand Sylvanas yanked one of the shoulders further to the side, and there was a tear of fabric.

“Syl -” Jaina gasped. “Expensive -”

Sylvanas tore it further and growled. “Gold is worthless. You are precious. ” Her lips descended further down the curve of Jaina’s breast, her hand tore the gown further. “One inch -” Kiss. “Of your skin -” A flick of the tongue, a rip of more cloth. “Is -” She didn’t know where she was going with this metaphor. Her hands were already both occupied and taking up too much of her brain. Her lips suddenly found the rosy hardness of a nipple and latched onto it. Words. Any words. “The measure of the world.” She pressed slightly harder with her fingers down below. “Jaina.

Jaina’s grip around Sylvanas tightened as her moans grew in pitch. She gnashed her teeth as though she were attempting to resist even as every inch of her seemed to be trying to melt into Sylvanas. Lips and tongue teased and sucked while her hand and fingers found a rhythm that seemed to match the ebb and flow of Jaina’s tides.

Sylvanas - ” That gentle voice creaked from stony depths to icy heights, and she tightened her grip around Sylvanas’ head. It didn’t matter if she crushed Sylvanas’ skull; this would be a fine way for the world to end. Sylvanas’ right hand was drenched, Jaina’s knees were trembling, the air smelled of sweat and slick, Sylvanas’ own legs were tensing because she, too, wanted from this woman, this -

Jaina pulled on her head and spoke between increasingly rapid gasps. “Look - me -”

Sylvanas pulled her face back, promising to return with one last flick of her tongue over Jaina’s nipple, and looked up, and Jaina seized her head between her soft hands, fixing her gaze on Jaina’s. Jaina’s face was agony and need whittled into human form, whittled by Sylvanas’ fingers, steady, rhythmic, constant -

She looked like she was going to cry, to weep. And she screamed and was cut off, and for a moment Jaina’s will failed her and she stopped looking Sylvanas in the eyes, just for a moment, one long, drawn-out instant of silent ecstasy.

Then Jaina exhaled, with all her voice at once, too raw to even be called a moan or a shout. Then she was quiet. She opened her eyes, let them fall, opened them again. Trying to look at Sylvanas. Sylvanas helped her, held her face with one hand, wondered at the gift of this sight, this sensation, this polished gem of life she would treasure in memory forever. Her heart - the one in her soul - welled with something terrible and frightening and alive, even as her body began to demand its due, began to pull the strings of her own need taut.

“Sylvanas.” Jaina leaned into her, panting. “It’s sore.”

Chastised, she pulled her hand away, trailing it messily over Jaina’s thigh and around the back of her leg. “I am dangerous like that.” She trailed her sharp teeth up the skin of Jaina’s neck.

“Thank you. I mean. For everything.”

She smiled, and they leaned against each other, cheek to cheek. Perhaps banter was difficult, afterwards. It had been a long time; but Sylvanas intended to find out. She gently lowered Jaina backwards onto the bed, and Jaina giggled slightly, her eyes closed. Sylvanas whispered into her ear. “I intend to be thanked much more profusely.”

“Mmm Sylvanas -”

She kissed her way down Jaina’s neck again, towards a breast exposed by her unauthorized retailoring of the nightgown. Then she paused and pulled back slightly, her brain hazy and her limbs taut with want, but her eyes also desperate to just see, because she hadn’t seen Jaina like this yet -

Jaina’s hand found her face, awkwardly stroking her near the temple. “Just - a minute.” Her hand descended to tug a little clumsily at the hems of Sylvanas’ gown. “Give me a minute. Come here.”

“Of course.” She found Jaina’s shoulder, licking her way back up Jaina’s neck, latching onto it with her lips. “I will give you more -”

Jaina’s hand fell comfortably to her side. “Mm.”

She traced one hand down Jaina’s side as she reveled in warmth, wishing she’d just removed the gown entirely rather than tearing open a small piece. She tried to pace herself, tried to imagine what she would ask of Jaina, but so many things were crossing her brain at once, and in some other way it was still so novel, so terrifyingly new, to be trailing her tongue and lips up and down this warm living skin. “I’ll give you anything you -”

She paused. Jaina had gone oddly… Not still. Calm?

She looked up.

Jaina’s eyes were still closed, and she was breathing easier.

Wait.

No.

“Jaina?” Sylvanas tried to sound seductive.

Tragically, Jaina had apparently been seduced by other bodily needs.

“Jaina,” she hissed, “Are you asleep?

No response.

Sylvanas nearly burst. What an evil, awful, heinous, monstrous woman. She climbed up, straddling Jaina’s hips, but it was no use. Surely as if she’d been hit by a sleeping spell, Jaina Proudmoore had apparently been orgasmed into a stupor.

Well.

Well.

Sylvanas should have laughed. She very likely would laugh a great deal, tomorrow. But at this very moment there was a very pressing need waking up parts of her that had laid dormant for years, and a beautiful woman lay underneath her, nightgown half torn aside very suggestively, and Sylvanas had had no idea this might happen and had no idea what to do now, and it was horribly unfair.

She couldn’t wake Jaina, could she? That would very likely not lead to what she wanted; Belore, Jaina had even complained she was tired! She was always tired! As far as Jaina was concerned, the moment was either gone, or they’d moved on to some encore in the dream plane, which unfortunately did absolutely nothing for Sylvanas.

She crawled off and grumbled. “I hate you.” It was an utter lie.

Jaina was backwards on the bed; very well. Let her sleep without a pillow. It might teach her a lesson. There was enough room beside her to lie down, but Sylvanas’ frustration was far too great to simply switch off and meditate, or stare at the ceiling. She lay there, squirming, wondering what the hell to do, and after a moment had a profound realization.

Jaina was asleep.

She glanced sideways. Well. Sylvanas was used to bearing responsibilities alone, wasn’t she?

She slipped a hand between her legs, the same hand still slick with Jaina - and there was something gratifying in that, at least - unsure of whether to gaze upon her new lover, or the ceiling, or close her eyes, but… Belore, it felt good to do this again, at least. It wasn’t Jaina but it was good, and Jaina was right there, and they’d just - and that was something. Why she’d neglected this for so long…

Her mind swam and beat like a heart with images, sensations, of Jaina. Of the things she would do to Jaina, to make her pay for this insolence. Of the things she would do for Jaina, if the woman only asked her to, only gestured at it with the tiniest twitch of an eye or a finger.

As she coaxed herself to that quiet moment, the eye of the storm, the space between lightning and thunder, she opened her eyes and looked beside her at the peaceful, beautiful, sweat-matted face of the woman sleeping next to her. And the thunder took her, then, and she kept her eyes open, and every spasm of her body sung the name Jaina Proudmoore.

She still did not breathe, afterwards. She did not sleep. She did, however, lean over, careful not to wake her lover, and delicately kissed Jaina on the cheek.

That felt somehow more forbidden, more secret, than the slick on her hand, the trails of cold saliva on Jaina’s skin, the sounds and smells and sights they’d take with them through the night.

Sylvanas snuggled closer on the bed, resting her face near Jaina’s, and whispered. “Next time, it will be you.”

Jaina started snoring.

Chapter Text

“I’m telling you, captain, they actually had sex.”

Delaryn glanced frantically between Anya and Clea. She and Marrah had only just arrived to rotate onto the guard shift, and the two rangers who remained from the night shift had told them the dire news. Delaryn could barely believe it. “You mean, separately, in their own rooms? Or with each other?

Anya nodded. “Together. I’m certain of it. Clea?”

Clea spat out a chunk of apple into the dust. The fruit was still in her hand, dripping inedible, vile fluids into the dirt next to the barrel she was sitting on. “There was no mistaking the silhouettes. After which we averted our eyes, of course, to guard against the sight.” She took another delicate bite of the apple, to Delaryn’s equally deep confusion.

Delaryn glanced at Marrah, who looked equally shocked, either by the news or by Clea eating food. Possibly both. She’d known the Dark Lady was growing indulgent of the human, but sex? Really? “Surely this must be a mistake. Jaina Proudmoore? She’s alive. She must be so sweaty! What could the Dark Lady possibly see in her? She has us!

“I understand your confusion, captain.” Anya wagged a pale finger as Clea spat out another apple chunk a few feet away. “But you’re newer to the corps. The Dark Lady never partakes in battle rites. I can only imagine her noble celibacy reached a breaking point, and reached for the closest help she could get.”

“What? I noticed in general, but - never? Why in the world would she avoid battle rites?” Delaryn couldn’t fathom the idea. It was a well-established fact that if you went into battle fresh from a good night in another ranger’s bedroll, you would be blessed with excellent luck. Not everyone seemed to think they needed excellent luck, of course, but it was also quite entertaining, so it was a reasonably common practice. “Do her tastes lean in other directions? Does she simply have an incredible surplus of good luck? Surely her luck can’t have become so bad that she would turn to Proudmoore?”

Marrah hummed, looking thoughtful. “Well, she did get deposed. That seems a bit unlucky.”

Clea spat out another chunk of apple, just barely missing Marrah’s face. Marrah hissed like a cat, and Clea smiled back with just as much feline intensity. “Perhaps the Lord Admiral has charms we are unaware of.”

“Such as?” Delaryn didn’t like the thought of Proudmoore hiding even more secret powers from them, but Clea could be right. “Clea, are you saying Proudmoore may be skilled in the arts of… beadwork?”

Anya gasped, pressing both hands to her mouth. “Beadwork! Captain Summermoon, I hadn't thought of it! That’s genius.”

“Oh dear, that would be seductive.” Marrah closed her eyes sleepily. “Ah, to bed a beader. Beadstress? Beadist?”

“You’re all ridiculous.” Clea spat another chunk of apple. She seemed to be spitting them roughly in a circle some distance around her, judging by where the chunks had fallen. “I was referring to her bookkeeping skills. The Dark Lady was never one for accounting. What wouldn’t a woman do for someone who made all her paperwork go away?”

Anya backhanded Clea’s shoulder. “Oh, what do you know of romance, Clea? You’re sitting on a barrel spewing apple chunks into the sand."

Romance? ” Delaryn’s eyes widened at the absurd thought. “You exaggerate, Anya. Our Dark Lady may simply be looking to have an itch soothed. That’s no reason to think she actually likes Proudmoore.” She frowned as she thought about it. “The way we’ve been asked to call her Lady Proudmoore is quite odd, though. Could it be a promise Proudmoore extracted from our Dark Lady, in exchange for services?”

Marrah hummed thoughtfully. “Perhaps by using Lady Proudmoore’s true name, rather than calling her the frost wench like we used to, we gain some sort of mystic power over her.”

Anya continued glaring at Clea as she bit off another apple chunk. “Clea, what are you doing? You realize we don’t eat, don’t you?”

“I am cultivating a persona, you fools. I am a rake, a villain, a rogue, a pirate.” Clea’s tongue mashed awkwardly against another piece of fruit in her mouth as she spoke, and then she spat it out. It lightly plunked into the dirt. “Tell me, is that something a highborne, well-educated, refined, elegant, noble woman would do?”

Delaryn shot her a glare. “Clea, have you ever spoken to a person with any of those qualities, for any length of time? It obviously isn’t.”

“Which means I am succeeding!” Clea grinned wildly; there wasn’t much apple left. “I am squandering precious resources for no gain at all. I am sloth and indulgence incarnate. I buck the rules of society, and carve my own path. I cannot be mastered. Velonara will never be able to resist me now.” She took another crunchy bite, and Anya rolled her eyes.

“Velonara hates you.”

Clea immediately glared at her. “She says she hates everyone, Anya. It’s a ruse!”

Anya pointed her thumb at herself. “She doesn’t hate me!”

“She doesn’t say she hates you because she actually does hate you and doesn’t want to deal with your feelings about it. She only says she hates people when she likes them!” Clea suddenly flung the remaining apple core at Delaryn’s face, and Delaryn ducked and squawked. “Ho, good dodge, captain!”

Delaryn spun around to see how far the core had gone. “If that didn’t go at least twenty paces, you’re a shame upon the dark ranger corps, and I’m going to court-martial -”

But when she turned around on her barrel, the thing she saw caught her in place and froze her utterly. The core had fallen quite a ways away, about twenty-three paces in fact, and wisps of shadowy magic were clearing around it.

The unmistakable shape of a kaldorei warden was standing above it.

“Clea you summoned a warden with your stupid apple?!”

“I didn’t know it was cursed! I’m going to kill that little tauren fruitmonger -”

All four rangers were bolting to their feet, but something was wrong, because as the warden raised her hands Delaryn felt a pang of something - something - “Hold!”

Anya, Clea, and Marrah all froze, halfway through nocking arrows. Anya piped up. “Captain? Shouldn’t we be shooting it?”

“No - no!” Delaryn didn’t bother explaining as she bolted forwards, eyes already locked with the warden’s. “You! I thought you were dead! Actually dead this time!”

It was her, it was really her! Delaryn drew to a stop just out of arm’s reach, and saw the eyes peeking above the ridiculous warden faceplate, and they glowed red like proper excellently-raised Forsaken eyes, and the creases and brow around them were Sira Moonwarden’s, she knew those eyes, because she’d been looking into those eyes as she lay dying on the Darkshore, as Sira lay dying on the Darkshore, they’d really had a moment there -

But Delaryn restrained herself. Aside from a long and mundane series of interactions and intersections over the course of their lives for centuries before death, nearly dying in each other’s arms, being raised together by the same Val’kyr, a brief but very comforting conversation with each other after the shared trauma of death, a certain ineffable camaraderie, the fact that sometimes it was lonely being one of the few kaldorei Forsaken in a corps of mostly quel’dorei Forsaken rangers and it was nice to see another deathly purple face and curse Elune without being joked at about it, and the fact that Sira was just so very handsome, Delaryn didn’t know the woman at all.

“Delaryn. It’s me.” Sira raised one hand in greeting. “You remember me? We don’t have much time.”

“I’m not sure, Moony Sirawarden or something, yes?” Delaryn glanced behind her, at the rangers watching suspiciously, and tried to feign disinterest because she suddenly didn’t want to be annoying, and that was an adjustment. “Actually, I just started my shift, so we either have no time right now or a lot of time, depending -”

“Something is coming, Delaryn. We need to protect the Dark Lady.”

Delarynn snapped to attention at the thought of a threat, shoving aside the surprised delight she felt at seeing this face again after so long. “What’s going on?”

“She is in grave danger.” Sira glanced past Delaryn, at the house. “And her mind is no longer her own. She has had sophisticated interrogation techniques used against her to twist her will, and needs our help.”

“What?” Delaryn laughed at how serious Sira sounded. Oh dear, some kind of comical misunderstanding. Did Sira not know about battle rites? She hurried to clear it up. “Are you talking about the fact that she just had sex with Proudmoore? That’s not sophisticated interrogation, Sira, it’s quite basic, and it’s actually quite fun if you -”

“She what? ” Sira’s eyes widened even further. “Oh no. Delaryn, it’s worse than I thought. There’s no time - there’s an Alliance warden on the way to assassinate the Dark Lady. We must free her - now.

“What? A living warden -” Delaryn felt a boiling of sudden rage at the idea of a living warden coming in here and making a mess of the Dark Lady’s house, especially now that the bed was almost certainly a mess already and the Dark Lady surely didn’t need even more to clean up. “Point me at that Elune-thirsty priss and I’ll -”

“No. Listen, Delaryn.” Sira clapped her gauntleted hands gently on Delaryn’s shoulders, and Delaryn couldn’t not listen. “I’ve arrived with a plan, and I need your help.”

 


 

Jaina awoke to a strangely calm mind.

She felt well-rested aside from a crick in her neck; it was as though a tension in her body had been uncoiled and relaxed, a burn had been soothed, a held breath had been let loose… it was as though she had finally been fucked by Sylvanas Windrunner, thoroughly enough to ease the yearning she’d been feeling for days now.

Because those were not, in fact, dreams. That had actually happened.

The drowsy calm of waking was disturbed when she remembered that she’d then fallen asleep almost immediately. Backwards on the bed. Without a pillow, no less, which explained the slight crick in her neck. A flood of nervousness coursed through every muscle in Jaina’s body. Tides, why did she have to embarrass herself like this? Sylvanas might be regretting ever laying hands on her.

She could feel Sylvanas next to her, which was at least some relief, but a part of her thought she might be about to have an argument. She did not know how the Forsaken were; had she left the woman in an uncomfortable predicament? But though she was embarrassed, and nervous, Jaina knew she had to face this. So she opened her eyes.

Sylvanas was glaring at her in bright bloody red.

“Oh good.” Jaina closed her eyes again and yawned, trying to seem casual, hoping to amuse her a little. She seemed to like Jaina’s teases, at least. “You’re still you. Are we fighting?”

After a moment, Sylvanas gave a gentle chuckle, and Jaina risked a peek. The banshee’s bluish features had softened considerably around the eyes, and a strong, cold hand found Jaina’s cheek. “I would prefer we never fight again, Jaina. Your crimes are easily forgiven.” Jaina opened her eyes wider to see Sylvanas’ wry smile. “Though I shall never forget.”

Jaina flushed with embarrassment again, and buried her face in her blankets. “Sylvanas, I’m sorry, I -”

Sylvanas’ hand found the back of her head, and in a confusing motion Jaina found herself pulled closer, until Sylvanas whispered near her ear. “If you’re going to hide your face, I think you should do it over here.”

Sylvanas held her close, nestling Jaina’s face against her neck and resting her chin on Jaina’s head, and Jaina thought to herself, Oh. In her arms. And now she felt very warm and very fuzzy, even as she continued trying to excuse herself. “I am sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. Is this a common occurrence for you?”

“Um - not - I mean it’s not the first time - but it’s not every time - usually I just feel tired, I don’t actually - it’s also been a while - I was -”

Sylvanas’ chuckle was deep and rich and emerged from her throat to vibrate all through Jaina’s skull like a soothing massage. “I understand. I am now forewarned.”

She understands. Tides, but she was glad that this wasn’t becoming a problem. And she realized from Sylvanas’ words, I am forewarned, that Sylvanas… oh, she was thinking of doing this again. Good. Jaina brought her head up a little, so their noses touched. “I didn’t mean to leave you like - I mean - Did you need…?”

Sylvanas stared at her oddly, bright red eyes devouring most of her vision for a few moments. “Need is a presumptuous word.” She could practically hear those long elven eyebrows going up. “If you’re asking whether I have needs - yes. No different from the living; this is not like my sense of taste. But if you’re asking whether I was trapped and unable to do anything about those needs, well… I managed on my own.”

“Oh.” Jaina closed her eyes. She felt an oddly frustrated sense of having missed out. “Um, well that’s good?”

Sylvanas snorted. “It was less than ideal.”

“Right.” She seemed to be bantering, not fighting, so Jaina smiled and curled more comfortably into Sylvanas’ arms. “I suppose I would be ideal, wouldn’t I?”

Belore , and you say you aren’t a brat!” Sylvanas actually laughed, and Jaina realized, bittersweetly, that she didn’t remember when Sylvanas had first started laughing at her jokes. But she’d managed, one way or another.

“Oh you like it, Sylvanas.” She sighed, brushing some of Sylvanas’ pallid blond hair from her face. “I do feel like we both missed out, though. I'm a bit sorry for that.”

“You don’t look sorry.” Sylvanas’ voice was as silken as her nightgown.

Her nightgown. Which, as far as Jaina could tell, was still intact. Jaina plucked at the frayed threads along her own sleepwear, where it had been ripped opened up last night. “Neither do you. You tore my nightgown!”

Sylvanas smirked, and closed her eyes. “As I said, it is worthless.”

“Sylvanas, it cost thousands of gold.”

“Why do you have such an expensive nightgown when it isn’t even as scandalous as mine?”

“It was a bad day!” She reddened a little, mostly at the thought of Sylvanas wanting her to wear a more seductive one to match. The thought of it made her feel oddly shy, which in turn felt completely ridiculous. “At least it wasn’t as expensive as yours.”

“Well.” Sylvanas arm reached around her back, rubbing her back just below the top of the gown. “It appears I’ve done something unfortunate. If you have another bad day, just let me know who I should kill. It’ll be cheaper.”

The words warmed her, absurd and unserious as they were, and Jaina found herself simply smiling at Sylvanas. It surprised her how much she’d come to care about this woman, to want her. They’d been trapped together for a while now, but how was that enough to undo years of caution and outright hostility? It wasn’t just the time, of course; it was the nature of that time. The vulnerability of it. Years of the same shallow, repetitive interactions could fail to scratch the surface compared to what weeks of intense conversations could dig up and expose.

But still it filled Jaina with surprise, and no small measure of wonder - and a desire, sated but in no way diminished from last night, to draw that closeness even tighter. “Sylvanas, do you want -”

Her voice caught, though, before she could ask if Sylvanas wanted to have another go at it. She realized with a jolt that she’d more or less forced the issue into the open last night. Had Sylvanas actually been ready? She’d implied she would have wanted more, which was good, but was she just responding, or -

Sylvanas was looking very intently at her, and cupped Jaina’s face in both cool, strong hands. “Jaina, allow me to make something absolutely clear. If you are interested, I would very much like to do that again. More evenly. And more… elaborately.” Sylvanas smirked, and one hand left to run down Jaina’s back and lower still, and squeezed. “And repeatedly.”

Jaina blushed, and squirmed a little with her legs at the feeling of being seen and wanted in a way that was finally open. “Good. I was thinking something like that.” She raised an eyebrow, and lowered her voice. “How’s this morning?”

Sylvanas ran a few fingers down the side of her face and neck, and a thumb grazed Jaina’s lips. “Allow me to speak to my warden.” She cleared her throat, rather ludicrously for a Forsaken. “Lady Proudmoore, please clear your schedule today. And mine as well. We have some important fu-”

There was a loud knock on the window. Jaina instinctively buried her face, in accordance with the old logic that if you couldn’t see the problem, it couldn’t see you. She groaned. “Oh Tides what the hell is that?”

Sylvanas’ voice suddenly grew sharp and angry. “That, dear Jaina, is the sound of a fool about to die.”

The banging got louder, and Jaina risked a glance, but the sunlight was obscuring whoever was pummeling the bedroom window. Sylvanas tensed.

“I think it’s Delaryn. I recognize the ears.” Sylvanas was still growling, but she was also suddenly moving. “She would not do this without reason, though admittedly the reason may be suicide by commanding officer.”

Delaryn, captain of the Dark Rangers, stationed outside to defend the house. Jaina’s mind tried to reassemble a model of the world outside this bed, even as she pulled the covers around her. The curtains were open, which meant the dark rangers - whose job it was to watch the damned safehouse - “Wait, we didn’t pull the fucking curtains?”

Sylvanas gave her a strained but slightly amused glance. “The Fucking Curtains? Is that what we’re calling them now?” Jaina sputtered without words as Sylvanas gestured something in ranger sign to Delaryn, and the silhouette disappeared. “She’s going to the entrance. Let me out of the room, I need to see what’s wrong.” Sylvanas’ lips pressed together, and something about her struck Jaina slightly cold. She looked… distressed. Unhappy. “Jaina… experience tells me this is not frivolous.”

What the hell was going on? Not frivolous?

Jaina scrambled for the bedroom door, awkwardly holding her nightgown up at the shoulder. Sylvanas was already following, she didn’t even -

Sylvanas!

She hissed, but Sylvanas was already out the door… wearing her nightgown. An incredible piece of work, was the woman wearing it. The nightgown gleefully underscored that, and Jaina was not sure the dark rangers would be happy to see Sylvanas wearing it. Jaina certainly wasn’t keen on anyone else seeing it.

But apparently Sylvanas wasn’t listening, and now she was gone, and Jaina scrambled for her proper clothes. The bedroom door was still open, and to her relief Sylvanas' and Delaryn’s voices carried clearly through the house.

Sylvanas was curt about it. “Ranger-Captain Summermoon, report.”

“My Lady, we spotted a shape across the Valley of Wisdom. We cannot be sure who exactly it is, but at this distance we can clearly see the silhouette of a kaldorei warden. She appears to be observing the safehouse.”

Jaina’s heart clenched at those words. “A kaldorei warden?” Sylvanas’ voice grew darker. “From the Alliance?”

“We can only assume, my Lady. We turned towards her, and Anya and Marrah performed the standard intimidation dance, and the warden vanished. Either she does not want to be seen or Anya is better at the dance than I thought. Marrah has always been good at it, of course.”

A Tides-damned warden? Jaina swore, and went for the battle robes. She checked that her staff was where she left it as she pulled into her clothes.

“This is troubling.” Sylvanas echoed Jaina’s thoughts perfectly. Possibly for somewhat different reasons.

Jaina had a horrible suspicion already. Tyrande, you fool. Does peace mean nothing to you? The thought of the Alliance coming down on this house with lethal force, asking her to stand aside… It made Jaina’s hands tremble, and she fumbled a buckle. She’d had enough of that in her life. Enough of people - foolish people, reckless people - being taken from her, like -

“Your own jailer may know more, Dark Lady. Perhaps she can investigate? It seems improper for an enemy agent to be spying on you. I worry the warden may be here for assassination, or other unsavory activities.”

Jaina did not know more. All she knew was that this was a terrible start to what should have been a lovely morning. Again. She gnashed her teeth as she fastened her boots.

Sylvanas’ voice was strained. “Yes, Proudmoore may know something. I will speak to her.” Oh, Tides.

She could hear Delaryn’s armor clank with what was probably a salute as she pulled on the rest of her robes and buckled up. “I will await your command here, Dark Lady.”

“Is that all, or have you seen anything else troubling?”

Delaryn’s voice remained utterly professional. Yes. My Lady is dressed as an expensive courtesan.”

Sylvanas nearly barked at her. “Captain! ” But from the footsteps, she was already returning to the bedroom, and Jaina tried desperately to think. Was this - whatever was going on - going to undo weeks and weeks of change? Was this going to throw everything she’d gained out the window? Was Sylvanas’ trust in her going to shatter again?

It might. If Sylvanas saw this as a reason to suspect her, it might.

She grabbed her staff and scrambled for the door, still sorting out her robes, and nearly ran headlong into Sylvanas.

“Jaina -”

“Sylvanas, I swear -” She tried to get past Sylvanas. “I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who this is. Fucking Tyrande -

Sylvanas held her steady. “Jaina!”

“I will deal with this I promise you -”

Sylvanas seized her arms, and leaned in close to whisper. “Jaina.” Sylvanas’ voice was soft, delicate, and warm, and it stopped Jaina dead in her panic. “Jaina, I trust you. And I know my rangers, I know how they act. Something is amiss, something they aren’t saying. Be extra vigilant. I will find out more from them while you are out.”

For a brief moment, Sylvanas’ lips grazed Jaina’s ear, and then she pulled away to look at Jaina. Their eyes held each other for a long moment, and Jaina wondered if this was a warning, a worry, a deception. But she believed in Sylvanas; she did. She gripped Sylvanas’ shoulders with her hands. “Thanks. Thank you. But something is going on, one way or another, and we need to know. I’ll be careful.”

Sylvanas’ grip on Jaina’s own arms softened, and the banshee queen nodded quietly, once. Jaina’s heart made a little lilt at the thought that Sylvanas might be worried for her.

Then she pulled her arm free and rushed out of the house, barely looking at Delaryn. The other three dark rangers stationed outside gave her a wide berth, arms behind their backs at attention, and Anya pointed across the Valley of Wisdom.

Sure enough, if she looked with her inner eye she saw traces of the kind of shadow magic embraced by the kaldorei’s secretive wardens. She tapped her staff on the ground, focused on that distant place she could just see with her eyes, and remembered what Sylvanas had said. Be vigilant. She held the welling of her mana just below the surface, just in case, and blinked.

The world opened up around Jaina again, and there was mana in the wind that whipped at her robes. “We saw you, Warden! In the name of the Alliance, show -”

Crippling pain lanced through her back and flared up into her skull, darkening her vision as something magical pierced her essence. The mana she’d been just barely holding back held enough force for her to seize the attack and fix it in place, preventing it from immediately seeping into every corner of her soul. Nevertheless, shadows descended upon her without a care for Orgrimmar’s midmorning sun, and she felt a deathly cold ripple across her skin.

Jaina’s reserves of mana were deep, but the smallest cut in the right place or with the right weapon could kill even gods, and Jaina Proudmoore was no goddess. She struggled to focus the energies within her onto the attack, but it went deep; possibilities played out in her mind in instants, worlds in which she blasted it away with fire or raw magic and destroyed herself in the process. But fire was so tempting - she was feeling so cold.

Silence surrendered to the crunch of a boot against gravel. The world was bleeding its colors into grey nothing. Her mana churned against the shadowy blade even as it sank deeper. Jaina looked up to see, yes, a kaldorei warden - but something was wrong with those eyes.

Jaina sought meaning in the sliver of a face above the faceplate, but the kaldorei did not offer her a speech, an explanation, anything. She simply watched the shadowy poison seep into Jaina’s soul, and waited. For death.

Jaina was not going to die here. Not like this. She was an archmage; she wasn’t going to be undone by a simple warden’s attack.

The ethereal blade was shadow, a force fundamentally inimical to divine Light. Of the six forces, Light, Life, and Order were the ones that sustained mortal beings, and they were allied - so Light magic that could neutralize the attack would not harm her ordered, living mortal form… much.

Unfortunately, Jaina was no expert in Light. She was not unfamiliar with it, but brute force would have to suffice. And luckily Jaina was the very measure of brute magical force. Under the silent eyes of her assassin, wracked with pain and a darkening sense of the world outside her body, Jaina struggled to focus, to breathe, to stay wakeful, to maintain control of the magics crashing around behind the dam of her soul. She retreated inward, praying to no gods but her own training.

Mana itself, within every soul, was a raw, unifying force of magic that contained all the six fundamental forces; including Light. Performing magic was often a question of separating the constituent components of mana from each other to get only what one needed.

Her soul might be inexpert with Light, her mind might slide off the attitudes and rituals that commanded Light, but Jaina was nevertheless full of Light. Darkness and emptiness shrank the world without, but the world within her had more than enough for this. She feared what this might do, feared what destruction it might cause, but she had no choice. She would die if she did nothing -

And Sylvanas would die. The wards on the house would explode, vaporizing her beyond the healing powers of any Val’kyr.

Jaina couldn’t let that happen, and with a burst of panic she let loose the font of mana that was her soul, a well blasted deeper and darker by the bomb at Theramore, and instead of winnowing out the rush of fire or the chill of water she let those more familiar forces crash against her will as she sieved out the one thing she needed. Light.

Normally a mage expended mana by controlled release, like a gardener directing water from a watering can; a small, precise application in a controlled amount, for a specific purpose. Jaina was an ocean, and as she held on desperately to the other forces within her, she loosened her grip on all the Light, closed her eyes, and simply... let go .

The midmorning sun paled in comparison.

The detonation all but vaporized the shadowy weapon within her and its seeping corruption. An enraged shriek filled her ears and she stopped herself, keeling over with the sudden shock of taking control of such torrential magic once more. But that only lasted a second; when she opened her eyes, the shadows around her had vanished entirely, and the warden had collapsed with a thud some distance away. Still feeling weakened, but rallying and ready, Jaina heaved to her feet and advanced on the warden with a blast of ice.

Or tried to. Her control was tenuous and shaky, and the ice melted as too much fire escaped with it, and suddenly the warden was drenched. The assassin bolted to her own feet, and she was steaming, and in a moment those wrong eyes, the wrongness of this all, clicked in Jaina’s mind.

Light magic didn’t burn living things. This warden wasn’t alive at all; she was Forsaken.

The warden blinked into shadows, and Jaina instantly realized she had to stop the escape. She knew blinking magic inside and out, probably better than the warden did. Her mind’s eye locked onto the wave of the warden’s shadowstep, the place where magic parted to let her back out again - down near the entrance to the Cleft of Shadow, where a clever agent could easily lose pursuit. Jaina tapped into the trail left by the blink and followed with a blink of her own, crashing with a burst of mana into the warden as she reached the dusty streets of Orgrimmar.

The warden collapsed, and so did she, but Jaina managed to grab onto an arm and hold tight. The warden struggled and struck her on the shoulder, but by then Jaina was putting to practice the spells of binding undead she’d first researched for Sylvanas. The warden’s limbs stiffened with paralysis, and she fell over. It was done.

Jaina’s lungs heaved as she tried to catch her breath. All this had been too much, too fast, and her sluggish awakening this morning had been cut through by crisp panic. All around them, citizens of Orgrimmar were starting to run away and shout, but she kept her eyes on this undead warden.

You.” Jaina leaned in and grabbed the warden roughly by the arm. Those burning eyes stared at her with impotent rage. “Are coming with me.

Jaina reached into her staff to focus her mind around a portal spell, and yanked the inert warden through the portal, out in front of the safehouse door.

Where Jaina promptly tripped over something and fell over.

That something, she realized, was a dark ranger lying on the ground. Limbs splayed out. Dead.

“Fuck!” Eyes wide, she scrambled to her feet as shouts and the clash of metal on metal clued her in. She whirled towards the sounds only to see another dark ranger trying to shadow-step backwards away from something around the corner of the house.

Something lunged forward right after her through the shadows and sheared through her chest, nearly taking off an arm and shoulder entirely. Jaina screamed as the ranger collapsed, and swung her staff to blast fire at whatever was coming for her -

“Proudmoore!”

The voice was vaguely familiar, and Jaina stopped, catching only a brief glimpse of the new attacker before Delaryn barreled out from around the corner of the house and tore at the attacker’s armor with blades and a wail of rage. As weapons clanged, she saw enough to know that she recognized this attacker. Unlike other wardens, she was not wearing face-covering plate armor.

Maiev Shadowsong. Definitely not Forsaken.

“What!” She turned to stare at the definitely Forsaken warden still lying paralyzed by the door. This made no sense. “Maiev! ” She bolted after Maiev, who was dancing between Delaryn and Anya, clearly out for more blood. Jaina tried to focus, sending a blast of arcane force to throw them all apart; it struck all three women and sent them flying.

Jaina had precious few moments to freeze Anya’s feet in place with ice, then Delaryn’s, then - too slow. Maiev blinked right in front of her, seizing her by the shoulders. “Proudmoore, stop it! Are you lucid?” Her eyes, a green a little too reminiscent of fel magic, bored into Jaina’s even as the shadow step dissipated around her, and the question made no sense at all, and Jaina babbled and Maiev scowled. “Tell me how many Kul Tiran bodies you recovered in Thros with your brother, after defeating Gol Inath!”

The memories struck Jaina like blows. “What? What?! Five! And it was my mother , not my brother! Maiev what in the name of -”

Maiev let go over her, glancing up and down. “Good. The rangers plotted to kill you; deal with them. I will handle the banshee.”

Jaina’s eyes boggled as Maiev shoved past her. “No! I’m handling the banshee!” She ran after Maiev. “Stop! This is my safehouse!”

Maiev rounded on her. “You may not be possessed, but you are in no position to hold this vigil any longer. I know the signs of a warden breaking. I know the look of a guard who’s heard too many sad stories from criminal lips. I’ve found those guards dead after they help those criminals escape. You do not want that fate for yourself.”

Maiev was facing her fully, and Jaina couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Who the hell had sent her? Was this Tyrande’s doing, or Shandris’? None of them even liked Maiev!

“You are a noble woman, Proudmoore, but still mortal and human. You’ve been leaving the safehouse constantly, you’ve ceased supervising Sylvanas, you’ve been consorting with enemy agents. You were supposed to be in Thunder Bluff this very day, were you not? On the day the Horde attempts to break her free? Too convenient.”

Jaina had no words for whatever the hell was going on, but she managed to scream a few anyway. “What? Thunder Bluff? What are you -”

“Sylvanas must be caged or killed, and you are dangerously close to doing neither. Your vigil ends now.” Maiev reached for the door, barely glancing at the Forsaken warden on the ground. Jaina clenched her teeth in frustration and set the air around Maiev on fire. The warden screamed and blinked several feet back, singed and smoking. Maiev glared at Jaina, and was suddenly upon her with her vicious, ichor-soaked crescent blade. “Stand down, Jaina!”

“Leave Sylvanas alone!” Jaina barely blocked the crescent with her staff, blinking away.

“Jaina, she ordered an entire city burned!” Maiev’s eyes flashed with poison. “She is still far more dangerous than you seem to realize!”

“You’re - you’re breaking a treaty!”

Maiev turned for the door again. “Unjust laws and orders must be cast aside.”

Jaina blinked in front of the entrance, sweat matting her brow. Tides, but she didn’t want to fight a warden to the death. Would she, if she had to? Not if the damned woman just listened. “Not another step! Why are you working with a Forsaken warden?

Maiev scowled, apparently unwilling to kill Jaina herself. “Sira is trying to redeem herself in the eyes of Elune. Stand aside, now, or I will be forced -”

“Redeem herself by assassinating me?”

At this Maiev tensed, and her eyes widened fractionally. Oh dear - Maiev didn’t know about this. After a moment Maiev’s jaw clenched, and she looked Jaina carefully in the eyes. “Explain.”

“She speared me with a shadow strike as soon as I blinked over there and just watched me rot! ” Jaina pointed her staff at the warden. Sira who? “I almost died, you self-righteous -”

Maiev looked at Sira, then glanced back at Jaina. “You were not supposed to be here, Jaina. I told her to distract you. I specifically told her not to harm you.”

“Distract me?”

Maiev still wasn’t looking at her, though. “Yes. It appears she remains a foul traitor, then. It pains me that I was wrong, but this was also planned for.” She turned back to Jaina. “We will handle Moonwarden later. First I must deal with Sylvanas. Stand aside -”

Stand aside, Jaina. Rexxar’s axe flashed bloody in memory. It’s for the best.

Jaina extended her arms to fully block the door and snarled. “Never. Maiev -”

Maiev lunged at her physically, not with the magical tricks Jaina expected, and elbowed her in the face while somehow shoving her aside with the other arm. The strike caught Jaina off guard with a sharp welt of pain to her cheek, and she staggered and fell against the door even as Maiev yanked it open, lunging past into the house.

Looking for Sylvanas. Who was trapped, who could not escape even if the door was wide open.

Jaina scrambled up the door on her knees, reached out, and cast a sleeping spell with all the mana at her grasp. Maiev collapsed to the ground with a painful-sounding thunk.

Straight at Sylvanas’ feet.

Jaina hauled herself inside, stood up haggardly, and heard a rushed clanking of armor as two pairs of footsteps appeared behind her. Heard the taught pulling of bowstrings.

“Dark Lady!” Delaryn’s voice cracked. “My Lady, why are you still here?”

Jaina didn’t need eyes in the back of her head to know Delaryn and Anya had arrows drawn on her. She froze. She hadn’t wanted to kill Maiev; did she want to kill dark rangers today? Her hands tensed as she took in the scene in front of her.

Sylvanas was holding something. Holding it in one hand, and staring down at the inert, sleeping form of the kaldorei’s chief warden.

Sylvanas was holding a hearthstone.

A Tides-damned hearthstone?

The realizations struck Jaina all at once. Hearthstones, like portals, relied on a magic that Jaina had built the house’s warding to ignore so that she could escape in emergencies if needed, or easily access the house. Hearthstones were rare, but the wards were still supposed to alert her if one crossed the threshold… but if it had crossed when she was busy being stabbed with shadow magic, she probably wouldn’t have noticed it.

How many people even had hearthstones? Jaina had one, hidden in her secret desk compartment, but Sylvanas’ had been confiscated before her house arrest, and the banshee had no access to portal magic either. A combination of different security teams were supposed to screen anything that came in here. It had seemed a safe back door to include in the defenses, in combination with the fact that Sylvanas breaking out would effectively put a death warrant on her own head and forfeit any peace the Horde had won.

It had been absolutely foolish, and she’d forgotten about it far too soon.

And now Sylvanas held the means to escape in her hand, right as an Alliance operative broke in to try to kill her.

Sylvanas looked at Jaina, her face ashen, and Delaryn shouted from behind Jaina. “Use the hearthstone, my Lady! Go!”

Sylvanas was looking into Jaina’s eyes, as though searching. Jaina stared back at her, knowing nothing she could say would make this look any better, knowing only that a great many things today had gone horribly, heart-wrenchingly wrong .

Sylvanas dropped the hearthstone on the ground.

And for all the wrong in this day, something was still heart-wrenchingly right.

Jaina broke and rushed over, reached for Sylvanas’ face, and wrenched her down to plant a firm, fierce kiss on those cold purple lips.

 


 

The kiss - their first, Belore, she couldn’t help but realize it was their first kiss - would have taken Sylvanas by surprise if she had any surprise left to feel. But surprise had died several times in the last few minutes, suffocated under a pile of absurdities. So she simply accepted it, frozen in place, a block of uncertainty carved into the false pretense of a queen.

Just as her lips finally moved to respond, Jaina pulled away. Sweaty, flushed with anger, frazzled and panting, she stared at Sylvanas, who felt a sudden, desperate urge to kneel and take this woman’s hands and beg.

How had everything gone so wrong? What in the world was happening here?

Sylvanas felt the urgent weight of things she had to say now, before it was too late, before withholding them became a danger in and of itself, and she and Jaina both started talking at once.

“Delaryn gave me the hearthstone -”

“I think Maiev was going to assassinate you -”

“The treaty would be void, I would never -”

“There’s a Forsaken warden out there -”

Sylvanas’ spine went rigid. “A Forsaken warden?” She turned to glare at her rangers, a horrible suspicion already building, and they flinched from her gaze even as they kept bows on Jaina. “Lower your weapons! Now!”

They did as asked, but Delaryn spoke, her voice trembling. “My Lady, rangers Clea and Marrah are dead! My Lady I know we failed -”

Sylvanas felt as though she’d been stabbed, and ran to the door as if she might find her captain proven wrong, so fast she collided with the wards and swore before darting for the window. Two rangers lay inert in the reddish dust, the sight nearly as bad as the sudden shock of the knowledge itself. She’d lost rangers before, but this - here - so unexpectedly -

She closed her eyes, felt within herself for the hooks that bound them, and called.

Help me. I have two rangers - I can’t touch them, they’re just outside -

Dark Lady, we can do this for you. The three voices were radiant, dark, and echoed in a chorus; speaking from far away, and yet somehow from within. But it will cost us.

Her shock was dragged down by that truth. Sylvanas knew, painfully and horribly and with a heavy grinding sharpness in her soul, that the Val’kyr were right. To raise a mortal corpse was one thing. To strengthen and make whole a Forsaken was more difficult already, a strain but not a fatal one. To raise a Forsaken from their second death, already a creature of death magic… it was something her Val’kyr could not do without sacrifice.

And these were not the first. She’d lost many rangers, and this realization had speared her again and again. At least those other rangers had been lost in battles. Deliberate deployments. They’d expected danger, and so had she. Here...  She'd been at peace here.

She felt a horrible despair that two rangers had to die for her like this, and be given over to the horrors beyond death. But even more terrifying, though she could never have said so aloud, was the knowledge that those last three Val’kyr were the only barrier between Sylvanas herself and… whatever was waiting for them, on the other side.

She had to fight that. She had to protect the Forsaken who remained from that monstrous slavery - whether it was by waging wars against their enemies to keep them at bay, or carving for them a niche of peace, or something else entirely. She couldn’t sacrifice her Val’kyr for two rangers, not even if they’d died defending her, not even if it was monstrously unfair that they be surprised in such a place. She recoiled from the precarity of it, and staggered from the window. No. No. Another day. Another… no.

She trembled as she turned to the scene in the lounge, seeking some other way to make this right. Maiev Shadowsong lying inert on the ground. Delaryn and Anya staring daggers pointed at Jaina, as if Jaina were an enemy - now there was something to fix.

She stormed over to her rangers and stared them both down, and they shrank from her like flowers wilting under the heat of a summer drought. “Listen to me, you imbeciles. I don’t know what you think is happening in this house, but let me make clear that Lady Proudmoore is under my protection. If anybody injures her, and I find the dark rangers on duty did not at least make a valiant effort to defend her, I will personally find every such negligent ranger and rip her spine out and shove it down her own throat. Never raise a weapon against her again. Am I understood?”

They didn’t quite meet her eyes, but they both echoed numbly, “Yes, my Lady.”

“Good.” She nodded at them, trusting them to at least not directly disobey her, and turned away to where Jaina was standing over Maiev. She stormed straight for the warden. “Now I must wring the neck of another kaldorei -”

“Sylvanas!” Jaina was at her side, gently grabbing one of her wrists. “Sylvanas we need to interrogate her.”

She froze, desperately wanting to lay hands on Maiev’s throat. But Jaina was right - Sylvanas was furious, but far more had gone wrong here than Maiev Shadowsong simply deciding to come kill her on a whim. There were problems and puzzles and Sylvanas was enraged but she had to solve them properly, or even more of her people would die. She nodded gently at Jaina, and they both looked down at Maiev, and at the hearthstone Jaina was holding.

Delaryn started babbling. “The hearthstone will take you to safety - my Lady, take it -”

Jaina cut Delaryn off sharply. “It will take her to Stormwind and that’s almost certainly going to get her killed! Who the hell gave this to you?”

Sylvanas stared at Jaina again, eyes wide at the words. Belore, but this was only getting more complicated.

Both Delaryn and Anya shouted in surprise. ”What?”

Sylvanas had to agree with them. This made even less sense. “Yes, Jaina. What?

Jaina looked straight at Sylvanas. “Any mage with experience in portal magic can feel where a hearthstone is bound, roughly. It’s somewhere in Stormwind. It feels familiar enough that I can say that much.” Jaina flashed another glare at Delaryn before she softened her voice. “Sylvanas, they didn’t just target you. The Forsaken warden took me by surprise with a shadow blade; I almost died.”

And this. This.

Someone had tried to kill her. Someone had tried to kill Jaina, and all Sylvanas could think of for a moment was Jaina’s body - that she’d held against herself and touched and tasted last night, vibrant and full of life, the embodiment of a woman who warmed her own heart and cared for her and had sought to find her buried beneath her own scars… That body growing cold, and still, in a final moment of fear, alone in the dust.

Everything Sylvanas had sacrificed for, struggled for, wept for, yearned for, fought for. Peace between the damned factions at the cost of her own freedom and power. Her steadfast, loyal-to-the-death rangers. Everything she had built with Jaina - her hopes, her stupid, impossible, naïve hopes. All of it had come a hair’s breadth from being completely, violently undone, and for what? For whose gain? On whose brain-addled authority?

Any and every hope of a life after all of this, dangling from a fucking thread at the edge of somebody else’s misguided knife -

“Jaina I am going to scream.”

Delaryn and Anya didn’t need to be told twice; they immediately bolted from the house. Jaina, though, appeared to have forgotten what Sylvanas was. “Sylvanas - it’s okay. I’m here for you. You can let it all -”

“Jaina I am a banshee I am going to scream -”

“Oh - fuck -” Jaina grabbed Shadowsong, still limp, and started frantically dragging her towards the door. “Tides - damned - armor -”

Sylvanas barely managed to control herself long enough for Jaina to stumble out the door; she didn’t care how much of Maiev made it through the wards. She howled, her jaws unhinging with the force of her rage, the discomfort of their dislocation barely registering in her soul as she tried to hold back the churning, endless imaginations of all the ways her world could have been torn apart, and her pain roared forth and tore apart the air and the room in turn,  rattling the floorboards and lighting up the wards angry brilliant blue as she screamed and screamed her her helpless, horrible rage at the terrors in her heart until she was hoarse.

When she’d screamed the fears into exhaustion, when she could think about herself and the world again, she was kneeling on the floor. Staring at nothing. Dust had puffed into the air and scattered from her voice in a route, and the sparse furniture in the lounge they never used had all been knocked over, some of it splintered. An unnatural calm reigned over the empty room.

Shakily, Sylvanas stood, and as she did Jaina peered back through the door and its wards. “Sylvanas!” Jaina didn’t wait for a response, and was already hurrying up to her and reaching for her shoulder.

But Sylvanas saw her hesitate when she almost touched her, saw Jaina’s hand hover in the air in fear. It almost made her heart break. She was a banshee, and Jaina would never be able to not see that, no matter what else they shared. Jaina might care for her, might want her, but it was still incumbent upon Sylvanas to make sure this didn’t fall apart, not now, not like this, not when her life had suddenly seemed on such a different, brighter path.

She raised her own hand. “It’s alright.” Sylvanas pressed her palm to Jaina’s, and saw Jaina blinking, her eyes red. “No, it’s not. But we are - are we alright?”

Jaina looked her in the eyes for a moment before nodding, and laced her fingers between Sylvanas’. “I think we’re alright.”

They dove for each other, and the force of Jaina’s impact against her chest seemed to knock some of the anguish from Sylvanas all at once. They embraced, and she pressed her mouth and nose into the hair on Jaina’s head, and they held each other for a quiet, tight moment and said nothing at all.

But this couldn’t last - there was far too much to do, and much as she hated to do it, Sylvanas gently pulled away. “I am relieved you’re safe, Jaina. We need to understand what happened to ever throw that into question.”

Jaina nodded, gasping slightly as though almost out of breath. “We’ve got two wardens, and I think they’ve been lying to each other. Let’s make them talk.”

Sylvanas ran her hands down Jaina’s face, trying to ward off the awful thought of harm befalling her. “The rangers were involved. Get them in here. Let me handle the Forsaken, you speak to Maiev.”

“Yes.” Jaina breathed raggedly as she turned to look out the door. “Yes. We’ll figure this out.”

It took a little coaxing to get the rangers to stop flinching from Jaina like she was some kind of bomb, and elbow grease to haul Maiev Shadowsong and Sira Moonwarden into the lounge. Sylvanas fetched chairs from her office, and Jaina, apparently an old hand with knots from her sailing days, bound them both to the chairs. Jaina kept hold of the hearthstone; Sylvanas did not see why anyone else should hold such a thing.

They left Sira paralyzed for now, and Jaina cast a silencing spell on Maiev and then woke her up, and Sylvanas watched with some glee as the warden’s bleary eyes quickly focused into sharp, angry slits. Sylvanas crossed her arms and glanced between the two wardens, before looking up at her rangers. She was going to solve whatever tangle had showed up at her doorstep. Her quiet, peaceful life here had been shattered, and somebody was going to pay.

“Captain Summermoon. Explain to me, as succinctly as you can, what just happened.”

Delaryn looked angry and troubled and distressed, but she nodded stiffly and kept her gaze ahead. “Sira Moonwarden appeared unexpectedly. She said you were in trouble, Dark Lady, and that an Alliance warden was coming to assassinate you. She told us that we should draw out the human -”

Sylvanas bared her teeth, and Delaryn remembered.

“Draw out Lady Proudmoore by telling her about an Alliance agent spying on the house. Sira said she would deal with Lady Proudmoore and then return to help us stop Shadowsong.”

Deal with? ” Sylvanas’ jaw tightened. “Did you know she was going to attempt to kill her?”

“My Lady, she didn’t say that, not in those words, it certainly sounded suspicious but I thought - I - I was not thinking of -”

“Captain Summermoon.” She glowered long enough for Delaryn to look truly uncomfortable and cowed. “Remember what I said about Lady Proudmoore’s safety, and the consequences of neglecting it. Continue.”

Delaryn managed to straighten out a little. “We were to give you the hearthstone once Lady Proudmoore was out of the house, so it would escape her detection. We did, but Sira did not return to help stop Shadowsong, so when ranger Clea spotted the enemy we had to face her alone.”

Sylvanas considered the situation, trying not to simply scream with rage until she had a clear target. Sira had known Maiev was coming, and wanted to deal with her; that was entirely reasonable. Sira had apparently meant to kill Jaina, though. Nathanos had said he was recovering Sira - what did that mean? Had he sent her? Or had she come of her own volition?

“Why did you trust Sira, captain? She’s been gone for months.”

Delaryn’s eyes darted wildly side to side. “She is an old acquaintance. She is a loyal Forsaken warrior. She’s inappropriately handsome. She seemed to understand your strange predicament.”

“What predicament - no, I would hear it from her.” She glanced at Jaina, who was still staring intently at Maiev. Maiev’s glare had cooled, though, and her eyes flicked between Jaina and Sylvanas, watching closely. Sylvanas didn’t care for that attention. “Unless you have any questions for the dark rangers, Lady Proudmoore?”

Jaina shook her head absently. “No. Make Sira explain herself.”

Sylvanas nodded. “Ranger Anya. Go to Councillor Voss. Tell her everything. Absolutely everything, I will speak to her and I will know if you omitted any details. Then go to the barracks, convey to the rangers what has happened and my sentiments regarding Lady Proudmoore’s safety. Get four rangers over here to prepare Clea and Marrah for proper funerals. Understood?”

Anya nodded stiffly. “Yes, Dark Lady.”

“Go. Now. Captain Summermoon, remain.”

Anya fled immediately as Delaryn stood awkwardly alone in the corner of the lounge. In the meantime Jaina had been undoing the paralytic binding spells on the Forsaken warden, and once she was free, Sira’s first words were unprompted and flat. “Dark Lady. I have failed you.” 

Maiev actually rolled her eyes.

“You’ve certainly done something wrong!” Sylvanas crossed her arms, standing directly in front of the warden and towering over her. She desperately wanted to wring Sira’s neck, but that feeling might change if more information came to light and she found a new target to blame. “Until recently I thought you were dead. Now you return, only to attempt to kill Lady Proudmoore? That is certainly a failure, Moonwarden. You’d best explain yourself immediately if you value your hide.”

Sira closed her eyes. “Dark Lady, I understand you may see your position differently from the inside. But I have seen it many times from without, as a warden. A prisoner who is first defeated and forced into submission, only to be treated to long periods of quiet and small kindnesses, often develops an emotional bond with their captor. It is a common technique for making prisoners compliant, for turning spies against their masters, for extracting valuable information. In most cases it is more effective than torture or threats or negotiation. You have been isolated for too long, Dark Lady, but your people are loyal to you, and love you -”

She nearly struck the warden silent, but managed instead to simply lunge and slam her hands down on the back of the chair by Sira’s shoulders. This? This was what was going on? “If you are indeed here for my sake, tell me exactly what happened, where you’ve been, how you escaped, why you were somehow working with Maiev bloody Shadowsong on a mission to kill me - I am not interested in you explaining away my own mind! You do not come to my house and kill my woman and violate treaties I signed on somebody else’s orders because I am your Queen and you will explain yourself , you little wretch!

Jaina was staring at her wide-eyed with a look Sylvanas couldn’t quite place, and Maiev’s gaze was flickering more urgently between Sylvanas and Jaina, but Sira at least seemed to get the message, and started speaking with admirable calm considering how close and unfriendly Sylvanas’ fangs were to her eyeballs.

“My mission to Kul Tiras with Champion Blightcaller went awry. Alliance special forces cornered us on the western coast of Stormsong Valley. Blightcaller suggested I lie in ambush of our pursuers; he needed to reach a secluded location to follow a lead. He rowed west of Stormsong, towards an island I was unfamiliar with, while I stayed on the coast to distract the enemy. Unfortunately they were prepared to deal with a Forsaken warden - they came ready with magic to counter my abilities and bind the undead. I do not know how they knew who to expect. I was captured and taken to Stormwind, where I was interrogated by several kaldorei. Including Shadowsong.” The wardens glared angrily at each other.

Damn it. Sylvanas had had a vague sense of where Nathanos and Sira had gone, but she’d forgotten - it had been a chaotic time, and this had been a reconnaissance mission Nathanos proposed to her. She never second-guessed his simpler proposals, and sometimes, to her discredit, didn’t look at them very closely. She turned to Jaina, wondering how badly the news of a covert operation in her homeland might affect her. “We were at war. It was a reconnaissance mission. Jaina -”

Jaina looked a bit perturbed, but she nodded, her eyes still fixed on Sira. “I understand. Right now I just want to know what happened today.

Sylvanas turned, but Sira didn’t continue. Sylvanas glanced between Sira and Delaryn. “Allow me to make something very clear. By my authority as Queen of the Forsaken, you will treat Lady Jaina Proudmoore as an equal partner in this investigation and tell her everything you would tell me, even if I am not present - which will be the case when we send you off to the Horde Council for further interrogation, because this is far from over. And right now I simply do not care what Shadowsong hears. If you do not cooperate fully and tell your story without hesitation, I will grind your corpse into a paste and have it burnt to a sizzling with divine Light and served in a bun with the foulest dwarven foot cheese in a doggy dish to Genn fucking Greymane himself. Am I understood?”

Sira nodded quickly, her eyes seeming to widen a little, and she tilted her head to crick her neck slightly. “Shadowsong and General Feathermoon believed I could be convinced to betray you, Dark Lady, and returned to kaldorei command as a double agent. Tyrande Whisperwind herself wanted me killed. During their disagreements, I wasted away in a cell.”

Sylvanas turned to Jaina, cautiously. Taking in the details of her face; if a mission to Kul Tiras was a slight in one direction, this was a slight in the other. She had not forgotten Calia Menethil’s own attempts to turn Forsaken against her. “Did you know about this? Trying to convert Forsaken soldiers?”

“Not like this. Not on prisoners.” Jaina held her gaze steadily. “I didn’t know about Sira at all. And most of what I heard suggested Tyrande hasn’t been seen in Stormwind for some time.”

She did not see lies on that face. Alleria did not think Jaina was a liar, and neither did Sylvanas. So… what, then? She turned to her warden. “How did you escape the Stormwind stockades?”

“I did not. Blightcaller came and spoke to me. He secured an audience by bargaining with an Alliance agent somehow, some goblin stationed in Orgrimmar. The Champion was not able to free me, but he informed me of your situation; I recognized the symptoms he described. He had discovered that Whisperwind was planning to assassinate you, and laid out a plan to both foil the assassination and free you from the mind games you’ve been subjected to. I was to beg the kaldorei for Elune’s mercy, and offer to lead the assassin through Horde surveillance to you. The true plan was to dispatch your jailer and then assist the rangers in defeating the living warden before she could reach you.” Sira glanced angrily at Maiev, who was staring daggers back at Sira. “Though I underestimated the archmage’s ability to absorb a sudden shadow strike from behind, and I did not know when I agreed to the mission that it would be Shadowsong herself I was to face. My preparations were inadequate.”

Jaina spoke up before Sylvanas managed. “Sylvanas warned me something was amiss.” She looked at Sylvanas with a slight worry in her brow. “I was ready for something to go wrong. Sira, you said Nathanos found you in Stormwind?”

Sira turned to Jaina with the deepest scowl. “You evil -”

Sylvanas lunged with her fingers for Sira’s throat, a pointless gesture on a corpse, but one that froze the warden nonetheless. “Lady Proudmoore, you insolent warden.”

Sira looked at her, bewildered for just a moment before her eyes hardened and she nodded. Sylvanas slowly withdrew, noting from the corner of her eyes how Jaina seemed to hug her arms together.

“And the hearthstone?”

“After I was freed and met up with Shadowsong, we passed through Ratchet, where I knew from the plan to investigate a Horde intelligence dropsite. I found the hearthstone, along with instructions that it be given to you. I do not know how it came to be there, or whether the dropsite was tampered with.”

A dropsite. Sylvanas breathed some measure of relief - Nathanos and Sira had perhaps both been fooled. Their original plan was already a bad one, and one she would never have endorsed, but clearly things were more complicated. “What did you know about the hearthstone?”

“That it would hearth you to a Forsaken outpost in Silverpine, where you could escape and regroup with your loyalists. After Ratchet, we proceed to infiltrate Orgrimmar, and here we are.”

Sylvanas crossed her arms and paced for a few moments, trying to restrain her anger. “So you and Nathanos were planning to kill Jaina. That is unacceptable. And deeply misguided.”

This sat very poorly with her - Nathanos had seemed to understand the situation, when they last spoke. Had he believed she needed to be indulged in some delusion of closeness with Jaina, until she could be rescued? Had he thought she was compromised, or even just tricked; that they were still being surveilled? Had Sira, a warden with a long history of serving in dungeons, interpreted this situation to him and misled him? Whoever carried the guilt, she needed to get Nathanos in a room with Sira and hash it out. She knew her agents meant well for her - she knew they were working in what seemed to be her interest. There had to be a way to get to them. Right now, the basic situation at hand still hadn’t been resolved.

She looked at Jaina again, tried to read the tense feelings in her face, but Jaina looked as perplexed as Sylvanas felt. “I will deal with my people’s failings, Lady Proudmoore. But the trail runs foul; there’s more deception afoot. I believe it is time we allowed Shadowsong to speak.”

Jaina looked pensive, but she nodded and dismissed the silencing spell, and Maiev immediately made herself even more unwelcome in Sylvanas’ house. “Jaina listen to me - they are deceiving you. Remember what I told you. I’ve spent thousands of years tending to prisons and I have seen far too many wardens lulled by the sad family histories and gentle tears and quiet pain of unrepentant killers. I’ve had to collect the bodies of many such guards after they foolishly helped prisoners escape. It is no ill reflection on your character, Jaina; it is entirely mortal, but you are not in a position -”

Jaina’s face was suddenly contorted with an expression Sylvanas had very rarely seen on her - it took her a moment to realize that Jaina was actually enraged. “Maiev, I am in full control of my faculties. You’ve just listened to Sylvanas berate Moonwarden for being a stubborn ass and I intend to do the exact same to you or worse, so how about you make things easy for yourself and explain what the fuck is going on and why you’ve broken into my house to try to kill my Sylvanas -”

My Sylvanas - oh dear, for all that Sylvanas was enraged and frustrated herself, the slip of the tongue somehow slipped past all that and tickled her just a little. She could tell Jaina was losing her composure, and in truth right now Sylvanas felt perilously close to doing so herself. She could barely remember what she’d been shouting at Sira. But this was what they had to do - stand here shouting themselves hoarse at a pair of wardens until answers came out. Wasn’t it? There wasn’t time -

“Maiev, Tides, you were going to violate an international treaty! The Horde would have had free reign to declare war on the Alliance again! At the very least you would have collapsed the integrity of a war effort at a time when we’re already skirmishing against Black Empire forces in Uldum! This isn’t the time to pull a political coup!” She raised her hands to her head in frustration. “What were you thinking?

Maiev glared at Sylvanas. “I was thinking you were far too close to meekly allowing yet another Scourge to run loose on the world -”

Before Sylvanas could gouge the woman’s eyes out herself, Jaina dove between them. For a brief moment Sylvanas cursed Jaina’s compassionate need to save people from her, but then she heard the thwack of skin and bone coming into contact, and after a shocked moment she realized Jaina had struck Maiev Shadowsong across the face with her bare fist.

“Don’t you dare compare her to that bastard and don’t you dare tell me that was my fault you little -”

Sylvanas briefly, fondly, let Jaina get a few more words and a hearty shake in before she reached out, trying not to look at Maiev at all. “Lady Proudmoore. She is goading us. You are better than her.”

Jaina jerked back straight into Sylvanas’ chest. Sylvanas steadied her, and nearly embraced her, barely managing to look professional instead. “Yes. Right.”

Maiev eyed them with a suddenly more intense look, and Sylvanas felt a hair’s breadth from ripping something off Maiev herself. She knew she wasn’t in a good state for this, and Jaina probably wasn’t either. She couldn’t do anything for what Maiev or Sira thought of them… but she feared what would happen if they both spiraled into rage, especially if Jaina got it into her head that Sylvanas had somehow authorized any part of this.

Despite the near-assassinations, despite the inevitable flurry of action that would follow Anya spreading word of what had happened, Sylvanas trembled most of all with fear of what might happen if her bond with Jaina frayed in the bewilderment and distress of this initial interrogation. By all rights they should be locking these wardens away and dealing with this tomorrow, but she simply refused to wait that long for answers. But they could take a moment, at least.

She squeezed a hand on Jaina’s shoulder. “May I speak to you in private, Lady Proudmoore?”

Jaina nodded after a moment, and they ducked away from the lounge after Sylvanas gave Delaryn a quick sign command to watch and guard the prisoners. In a moment they were in Jaina’s bedroom, the door shut behind them, and Jaina was suddenly pressing her face against Sylvanas.

“They think we’re both insane Sylvanas they all think we’re insane -”

“I’ve noticed.” She wrapped her arms around Jaina’s shoulders, because when she was upset Jaina did this to her sometimes, and it was nice, and it seemed like something that might help both of them. “Jaina.”

Jaina exhaled, and hugged her back. “Are we insane?”

She tried to think about the theory Sira had put forward. Sylvanas was familiar with the techniques described, but it rang terribly false to her ears. It would either way, though, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, Maiev also spoke of true things, in general terms. Perhaps more to the point, she and Jaina both seemed to be in this strange, difficult predicament, and Jaina’s own mind was equally in doubt. “I don’t think the measure of anyone’s sanity is how much other people approve of their hearts.”

Jaina sighed into her. “You’re right. It’s not.” She ran a hand up and down Sylvanas’ shoulder. “We wouldn’t know if we were, though, would we?”

“Presumably not.” She squeezed Jaina slightly closer, and scratched at the back of Jaina’s scalp with her fingers. She was still real. She felt so real, and yet somehow only barely more real than the yawning horrible thought that she might have simply vanished from Sylvanas’ world if something had gone a little more wrong. “I am content to enjoy our happy little insanity while we try to untangle this scheme. We have enough to worry about. I can’t… I cannot lose you, Jaina. Not now.”

Jaina pressed closer, looking up a little. “You won’t. You know me. I’m worried, I thought you’d be safe here but…” Jaina groaned, and her voice went flat. “Tides, we both could have died.”

“Yes.” Sylvanas peered down at Jaina. She gazed down into Jaina’s water eyes, and found the cool of them soothed the burning anger in her chest at least a little. She wanted to make sure Jaina felt soothed, too; that they both remembered just why this was so troubling. And she knew Jaina appreciated a lighter touch, too. “Is this a common occurrence for you?”

It took Jaina a moment to register the joke, and her lip quirked slightly as she looked up. “Surviving people trying to kill me? You know what, Sylvanas, these last few years it’s unfortunately been more common than falling asleep after sex.”

She chuckled, but she did it full of nerves and fear - and yet, also, hope. She hoped. Jaina gave her hope, and she feared she could never repay that, but she knew she had to try. “I intend to make sure to correct that imbalance when we have found peace once more. For now, at least, you’ve saved yourself and me on the same day. Quite the hero.”

Jaina blushed deeply, and the set of her features grew more determined all at once. “You know, I did. I’m not going to let a bunch of -”

She saw Jaina regaining her confidence, and pushed a little more. “I consider this adequate repayment for last night.”

Jaina stared at her for a moment, her expression like thin glass, before her cheeks crinkled into a broken kind of smile. She slowly thunked her face against Sylvanas’ collarbone and gave a desperate, snorting sort of laugh, and pulled Sylvanas closer. “You’re just - oh for - maybe we are insane, Sylvanas, but I really do like you.”

She’d merely wanted a laugh; those words were far more than she’d expected, and she felt herself embracing Jaina tightly just to hide her own face. If this was insanity, Sylvanas thought it suited her quite well. “I am very fond of you. And I regret that you were hurt.”

“Thanks.”

She waited just a moment longer, but there was only so much time they could take for a break like this. “I think we should interrogate Maiev. If you are ready?”

“I’m not great, but… I was scared for you.” Jaina pulled away. “Sylvanas, I'm sorry about your rangers."

She tried not to let that particular rage overtake her; there were too many competing forces in her heart already. "It is an unjust loss. Tearing up this plot at the roots, and protecting those who remain, will be the best we can do for their memory."

Jaina sighed. "Right. I don’t know what the hell happened, either, so let’s…” She glanced up and down at Sylvanas. “Tides, can you change into something normal?

Sylvanas glanced down. Ah. She was still wearing the nightgown. She curled her lips up slightly, because she knew now that despite the violence that had been visited upon her life this morning, the most terrifyingly fragile thing she had was still here, and was not as fragile as it seemed. And because she’d never shown Jaina one of her favourite banshee tricks. “I suppose this should really be for your eyes only, shouldn’t it? Very well. Let me out of the room and I’ll sort this out.”

Jaina simply gawked at her, a hint of bewildered amusement finding her face as she opened the door, and that levity was a comfort deeper than Sylvanas could describe. They needed to solve this assassination, but it felt just as important that her bond with Jaina should retain a warmth they could return to. A little humour seemed to help, even in darkness. Even as she was feeling the darkness herself.

Sylvanas burst into shadows and mist, a form in which clothes were rather superfluous, and she could leave or discard them at will. She dropped the nightgown and seethed into the armory, vaguely aware of the women in the lounge noticing her, and coiled herself through her favourite suit of battle armor, ripping the pieces off the walls. She dragged them back through the air into Jaina’s bedroom, where she held them in just the right places to materialize straight into them again.

Jaina’s eyes widened, and she barked out a little laugh. “I don’t know whether to love how impressive that is, or hate you for being able to get dressed so damned easily. Why don’t you do that all the time?

Sylvanas took Jaina’s hand, already feeling more confident in her armor. Good armor was not designed to be vulnerable. “It gets old. And I… enjoy being in a body. This is merely expedient, but I thought it might amuse you and lift your mood.”

Jaina looked at their joined hands. “Thank you.” She closed her eyes for a moment, then suddenly bounced on the balls of her feet and pecked Sylvanas on the cheek with a kiss. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Sylvanas felt flustered by the casual gesture, and heartened that they were still in this together, and so she let herself be dragged out of the room. Almost as soon as they stepped back into the lounge, Maiev rounded on Sylvanas so suddenly the chair jumped. “What exactly are you doing to twist Proudmoore’s mind?”

Sylvanas stared blankly at the kaldorei for just a moment before laughing - not the laughs she reserved for Jaina, but a deeper, more angry one spilled out instead. She still had her nerves, and was all too happy to exercise them with barbs against her prisoner. “Oh, my dear.” She leaned in closer to the chief warden’s face, baring her fangs. “You have no idea.”

Sylvanas.” Jaina hissed and smacked her shoulder, but beneath the annoyed shock there was a little curl of fondness, too, Sylvanas thought. “Maiev, I’m not possessed or charmed or anything.”

Sylvanas turned to Jaina, feigning a wounded heart. “You’re not charmed?”

Jaina glowered at her, but a twitch revealed that she was trying not to smile. Sylvanas knew she could and probably should be serious, but her nerves were soothed by these little irreverent performances, as much the teases with Jaina as the barbs against Maiev. It almost felt like she was a ranger again, and so was Jaina. Jaina likley didn't feel quite the same, but she didn’t reprimand Sylvanas any further, and instead turned to Maiev. “Why didn’t you even talk to me about this insane scheme before coming here?”

Maiev glared at Jaina instead. “You were clearly either outright possessed, or the victim of common psychological manipulation techniques -” Maiev’s glare shifted to Sira. “That are regularly practiced by serial killers and other hardened criminals to woo their captors or win sympathy and ultimately escape. We didn’t know which, but either way you seem unfit to maintain this vigil. I intended to capture Sylvanas, or kill her if she resisted. I assigned myself after I found the warden initially chosen, and the orders themselves, to be… lacking.”

“That’s why you asked me about Thros.” Jaina’s eyes widened slightly, and she glanced at Sylvanas. “Details only I would know, things someone possessing me wouldn’t have access to. How did you know about that, Maiev?”

Unfortunately, Shadowsong only shrugged. “It was part of the mission brief. I don’t know where the information ultimately came from. It seems you are not possessed, which means your emotional faculties have been compromised.”

Jaina pressed a hand to her face. “You’re the closest Sylvanas has gotten to escape, you fool. What makes you think I’m not doing my job?”

“You’ve been frequently leaving the safehouse, leaving Sylvanas under guard of Horde agents and undercover Alliance operatives only. You’ve ceased providing any written reports regarding any observations of Sylvanas’ private activities. You’ve been visiting the Windrunner sisters, both known Sylvanas sympathizers.”

Jaina protested. “Something is seriously wrong with the ledgers, I don’t hop around that often -”

Sylvanas, meanwhile, took greater offense. “They’re not sympathizers, they’re sisters and they’re actually rather low on sympathy, you cretinous -”

Maiev bowled straight over the words, and rather than cool, she now began to sound genuinely angry. “Your meeting with Shandris was also very interesting, Lord Admiral. You inexpertly fished for secret intelligence on the Black Moon’s activities without plausible cause, provoked Shandris into anger, slandered her relationship to her mother, and spoke callously and dismissively about the burning of Teldrassil. These are the actions of a criminal sympathizer.”

This, Sylvanas had not known. Jaina didn’t protest; she merely pursed her lips. Sylvanas had known that Jaina had met with Feathermoon, but slander? That sounded delightful, and she wished Jaina told her about the more entertaining things she got up to.

Jaina saw her looking, and the archmage’s face reddened. “That’s a mischaracterization!”

Maiev raised an eyebrow, steadying her voice once more. “Your Lord Admiralty is increasingly symbolic; we know who is pulling the strings in Boralus lately.”

“It would be easier to run a country if I weren’t being assassinated!”

“And if your mental acuity were at its peak, which it is apparently not. You suffer from severe insomnia, don’t you?” Maiev glared knowingly at Jaina. “Your shopping trips to Dalaran include repeatedly purchasing new stocks of stamina potions, and you’ve borrowed three tomes on sleep magic from the libraries of Dalaran. I’ve seen the receipts, Jaina.” Maiev wrinkled her nose. “And apparently suffered the consequences.”

Jaina crossed her arms. “I’m under a lot of stress!”

“Yes. Lack of sleep is a poor sign in a warden, and a head of state for that matter.” Maiev took on the tone of a lecturer. “It weakens one’s acuity, one’s emotional resolve, one’s senses. I assume Sylvanas has been keeping you up at night somehow in an effort to weaken your will.”

“She has not!

Sylvanas shook her head. “Regretfully, Lady Proudmoore is correct. In this I have failed.”

Jaina rounded on her, beet-red. “Sylvanas Windrunner!

Maiev continued, clearly an utter imbecile. “You were even observed buying gifts for Sylvanas, which has no reasonable explanation.” Maiev glanced at Sylvanas, up and down, clearly remembering the nightgown. “At all.”

“What, the nightgown? ” Jaina’s eyes nearly widened out of her head. “Maiev, who the fuck has been following me and reading my library receipts and tailoring commissions?!

“It was feared you had been possessed, so agents were watching closely for signs. We have Sylvanas’ measurements on record and cross-referenced with the tailor’s work order. It’s simple investigation, really, Jaina.”

Sylvanas could tell Jaina was feeling increasingly frustrated again, and tried to flash her a smirk. “You see? Everyone is interested in my figures. You shouldn’t be so surprised I have them on file.”

Jaina simply seethed as she kept staring at Maiev, and Sylvanas feared the effects of humour were wearing off as the weight of the world’s suspicions settled heavier on Jaina’s shoulders. “What about the hearthstone?”

“I was told to expect the enemy may be using me for other purposes, and to be wary of complications to the plot. While Sira retrieved her hearthstone, I visited an Alliance dropsite in Ratchet myself, and found a message explaining the hearthstone plot had been uncovered, and that the enemy hearthstone had been swapped as a backup plan. If I couldn’t capture or kill you myself, I was to ensure the hearthstone came into your hands. I was told nothing else.”

“Who the hell organized this?” Jaina asked the question, crossing her arms, clearly furious. “You’re the chief warden and you don’t know?”

“As I said - this was not my mission. My copy of the orders came through secret, secure channels; I only saw the orders themselves, and who they were going to. The operation was being managed with a lower-clearance warden in mind. I simply removed her from the mission and went in her stead.”

“Why would you put yourself on a mission -”

Maiev clenched her teeth harder now, and her voice took on a more frustrated, irritated quality than it had had previously. As though this were something she’d been seething over since before the attack. “Because, Jaina, that warden’s orders were to kill Sylvanas without question and without attempting to bring her to a prison where she could be tried and held for her sins. And the orders were to kill you if you attempted to stop me! Even the mention of possession was only for the purpose of helping the warden understand how to best defeat you in combat!”

That information struck Sylvanas cold. It wasn’t just her Forsaken who’d judged Jaina to be expendable - somebody in the Alliance had decided the same thing. She seethed at the thought, baring her teeth, and Maiev briefly met her eyes and, for a bewilderingly strange moment, Sylvanas felt as though she and Maiev saw each other’s agreement in just how unacceptable this was. Maiev even gave her a fractional nod as she continued.

“I knew that particular warden would have done exactly as ordered, assuming she didn’t get herself slaughtered. I knew that we had to at least attempt to move Sylvanas into proper custody, and I knew that a kill order on an Alliance head of state was absolutely unacceptable. Somebody had to be here to exercise sounder, less wrathful judgement than whoever wrote those orders. I chose myself.”

Less wrathful judgement?!”

“I know the life of a warden, Jaina.” Maiev locked eyes with the archmage. “It is lonely. Difficult. Isolating. Cruel. There is no room in it for warmth or forgiveness. It is not a life I would wish on you, certainly not for the sake of someone as base such as Sylvanas Windrunner. And it is not a path I believe you can walk without faltering. I’ve had centuries to learn to judge the character of wardens, and I would not admit you to our order. I consider this our failing, for accepting too hastily a poor attempt at stopping the Fourth War. I do not think you should suffer for that mistake.”

Well. Sylvanas seethed at Maiev once more for her criticism of Jaina, as though she were incompetent. Sylvanas of all people knew the stress the woman kept on herself, the efforts she went to to try and do what she thought was right. It was disrespectful to throw that back in her face, but she tried to temper herself with the bare minimum knowledge that at least Maiev had apparently tried to protect Jaina. “I am quite under Proudmoore’s thumb, Shadowsong, I assure you. To my great chagrin, I have had difficulty coaxing many concessions from her. She is more than competent.”

Jaina glanced at her, maybe in gratitude, but she was still huffing from her nose like an angry sea lion as she glowered back at the warden. “Maiev, what’s waiting on the other side of this hearthstone?”

Maiev raised her eyebrows precipitously. “I have no idea. Somebody’s idea of justice.”

Jaina stared at the hearthstone for a moment, and suddenly hefted it up in her hand. She was angry, Sylvanas could tell, and she seemed to be thinking hard. “Sylvanas?”

The tone filled her with a quiet dread. “Yes, Lady Proudmoore?”

Jaina’s eyes shot up to hers, and her voice lost its sharp edge. “I’m going on a little trip.”

Sylvanas glanced at the hearthstone. Stormwind. It wouldn’t lead to a luxurious suite stocked with jams and cheeses and fish to please Jaina’s palate, of that Sylvanas was certain. Fear struck her all over again as she realized what Jaina intended. “What? Jaina, don’t be rash, you don’t know what -”

“They’re not expecting me.” Jaina tightened a fist around the neck of her staff, and she squared her shoulders.

“They’re expecting someone they want to kill.” Sylvanas gripped her arm and held her eyes. I will not lose you. “This is foolish.”

“Yes, and I intend to tell them that.” Jaina grabbed the wrist of Sylvanas’ hand and gently removed it, lowering her voice. “I’ll be alright. I’ve been told I’m more than competent.”

Sylvanas was heavily aware of the eyes of three other women on her in that moment. The rangers had seen them kiss earlier, but the wardens knew nothing for certain - Sira had been paralyzed outside, and Maiev had been knocked out. The fewer people who knew, the safer they were, weren’t they? She withdrew her hand, nodding. “Very well. I will try to track down Nathanos and alert the rest of the Council. When you return, we will hopefully know more. In the meantime, Lady Proudmoore, do as you must -”

Jaina grabbed her again and pulled her close. This time shock did not get the better of Sylvanas, and damn the wardens and rangers, she let her lips part around the liquid warmth of Jaina’s tongue as it probed, slightly too firmly, for Sylvanas’ own. Sylvanas cupped the back of Jaina’s head, forgetting herself, forgetting everything but moments so rudely interrupted -

Jaina pulled back and stared up at Sylvanas with a fierce expression, red-faced and furious even as she caught her breath. Sylvanas’ chest felt like it was tearing itself a new hole for a new heart as Jaina spoke. “I’ll be back.”

Jaina stepped back, breaking their physical contact to safely use the stone without yanking Sylvanas along with her. A snaking flash of green light darted from her hand to envelop her entire form, and before Sylvanas could object once again, Jaina was gone.

The silence fell long and heavy. Then a clank of armor drew Sylvanas’ attention to her ranger-captain, who had shifted and stood more rigidly to attention. “Captain Summermoon?”

The dark ranger-captain stared straight ahead, avoiding Sylvanas’ gaze entirely. “Permission to report another sight that troubles me, my Lady?”

“Denied.” She scowled, and started pacing. Jaina was gone again. Of her own volition, ready for trouble, incredibly powerful… but she was still gone.

And Sylvanas had to sit here, unable to protect her, hoping that nothing went wrong. Hoping that whoever put a kill-if-necessary order on Jaina’s head decided it wasn’t necessary. All she could do was hope, because Sylvanas had no way to strike back at anybody involved in this damned mess, no way to protect Jaina, no way to do anything to dismantle the chain of threats that had led to this -

She paused. She looked at Sira. Remembered something Nathanos had said.

Oh. No - she was still Queen. She had means - and she knew some of the names of those who had made this happen. And with every second Jaina was not in her arms, looking into her eyes, Sylvanas grew more and more tense and certain that they were in far more danger than they realized, and that something had to be done if she and Jaina were going to stay safe.

“Captain, come with me.” She strode off through the house, knowing Delaryn was following, until they were as far as they could get in the house from the lounge. She turned on her dark ranger-captain and lowered her voice. “You remember the goblin Renzik, the Alliance agent? Nathanos was liaising with him. Apparently he had a hand in the Sira situation. He must have reported things to his superiors, which allowed them to begin foiling his plans and furthering their assassination attempt.”

Delaryn nodded slowly. “Yes, my Lady. That seems likely.”

Sylvanas could do so little to protect Jaina from here. Sylvanas Windrunner was not seen as a threat, she realized; she was not being taken seriously by her enemies anymore. She was a sitting duck, as far as they were concerned, and that sense of weakness had apparently allowed people to think they could wrench her life out of her own control. And apparently they realized that life included Jaina, and were determined to poison or kill everything she’d nurtured with the archmage.

But she was not helpless. She would not stand by while this was done to her and to Jaina. People ought to be reminded of who she was, and Orgrimmar ought to be purged of anyone who thought they could hurt her or hers with impunity.

“Go find the stealthiest ranger you know, or two if necessary. Do not talk to the deathstalkers - keep this within the corps. I want Renzik dead by sundown. As quietly as they can manage, but make clear it absolutely must be done. Then return to this safehouse immediately, and say nothing more about it.”

Chapter Text

Jaina assumed she was hearthing into trouble, so she arrived with magic crackling at her fingertips. The damp, dimly-lit stone walls of the Stormwind stockades surrounding her only proved her right. An arcane flare of binding spells immediately swept over her - undead binding spells, useless against her but a clear sign of what she was dealing with.

She ducked and poured mana through the head of her staff, and it exploded above her head in a shockwave that shredded the spells around her, cracking wood and stone moorings and metal bars, and wrenching screams from someone nearby. 

She quickly summoned a trio of water elementals, the serpentine waves of their forms whipping around her as they arrayed themselves defensively - she wasn’t going to attack, not yet. Only then did she stand to take stock of the situation.

Two of the elementals lunged away from her, and after a moment she noticed why. Aggressive Light magic had lanced at her from two priests, both kaldorei, their eyes blackened by shadow and their skin a few shades paler than she’d expect. The elementals lunged to block, not to attack, and the starry magic on the priests’ hands faltered and scintillated off. The third elemental coiled in the air between Jaina and… well.

“Jaina Proudmoore?” That voice. “What happened to Sylvanas?”

Tides be damned. She’d expected this, she’d feared exactly this, but the validation of recognizing that voice did Jaina’s heart no good at all. “Tyrande.

“Is this actually Jaina?” Tyrande walked to the side, where Jaina’s third elemental and the shattered bars of the cell she’d hearth into where no longer blocking their line of sight. The Night Warrior’s new armor was narrow and pallid, gently shimmering as though clouded; she cut the figure of an angry weapon forged of moonstone. Her flush of green hair was bound tightly at the back of her skull, blackened eyes seeped a darkness down her cheeks, and Jaina couldn’t fail to see the resemblance to the markings that trailed under Sylvanas’ own eyes. “I see the binding spells failed. I assume this means the banshee has not possessed you magically. Is she dead then?”

“Tell your priests to stand down.” Jaina glared at the men, and from their hesitation she could tell they sensed at least a mote of the fury that was building in her chest. “I’m here because you almost had Sylvanas and I both killed.”

Tyrande’s darkened eyes flickered to her priests, and she nodded. They lowered their hands apprehensively, but the Night Warrior showed no signs of backing down. “You were not the target, Jaina. You misunderstand -”

“Misunderstand?”

Jaina dismissed her water elementals. She had the measure of the room now - Tyrande, Jaina, and two priests of the Light, their features dimmed and darkened by the Night Warrior ritual. They were of the Black Moon, so their Light was Elune’s own peculiar brand of celestial magic. Jaina, wildly irrational in the heat of the moment, decided she could probably kill them all if needed, Night Warrior or not. The thought horrified her, but it did cross her mind as she stepped across rapidly dissipating puddles of water on the ground, stepping out of the shattered cell. Instead, she tried to speak.

“Sira Moonwarden stabbed me through with shadow magic and watched me almost die. Apparently you kept her in reserve until now. And not only did you sic her on me without giving a damn whether I died or not, but you ordered your own warden to kill me if I got in the way. What, exactly, have I misunderstood?”

Tyrande was scowling, though, not even meeting Jaina’s eyes. “That traitorous bitch.”

“Sira? The Forsaken warden is the one you’re calling a traitor, because she did exactly what you’d expect a tortured and isolated Forsaken to do and went scrambling to try to protect her queen?” She advanced on Tyrande quickly enough that the priests drew blades. “The warden you clearly expected to do something like this, because you set up a Tides-damned decoy hearthstone as a backup plan? She’s the traitor? When you signed a fucking treaty -”

Tyrande’s voice sounded like thunder. “I mean that wretch Shadowsong! She has been a thorn in my side for years, and has now clearly betrayed the secrecy of this mission! She injected herself into it, and I chose not to intervene only because -”

“Oh, so someone trying to murder me is just a fucking footnote now?”

The darkness of Tyrande’s eyes sharpened into a more predatory shape. “Don’t get petty with me, human. You know there are greater things at stake here than individual lives. Even mine. Calm yourself.”

Calm? No!” Jaina advanced a step forward, thunking the base of her staff against the stone floor. “You don’t get to send wardens to fuck up my house with kill orders and tell me to calm down! I had to fight for my life, and Sylvanas’, and two rangers died anyway! Don’t act like I’m overreacting -”

Tyrande’s eyes flared inky black with rage, her lips raised in an impatient snarl. “You protected her? You are overreacting, girl. You of all people ought to understand the depths of the injustice that was done to us. The death of Sylvanas is a small, inadequate restitution for what that monster did to us - and so is the death of anyone fool enough to defend her!” Tyrande advanced on her, teeth bared, and for all that they were shorter than Sylvanas’, her fangs were far more unpleasant to see. “How could you possibly think otherwise? Have you decided to piss on the graves of Teldrassil and Theramore and every other home the Horde has burned to the ground? Am I overreacting to genocide?

Jaina lost it. She was not going to listen to this. She had almost obliterated Orgrimmar in retaliation for Theramore, but she hadn’t. Go’el had talked her down. And by the fucking Tides, she knew all the blood of all the cities of the Horde would not wash history clean of the blood of Theramore. There were awful truths about time and war and the past, and they could not be buried by shovelling yet more blood and charnel on top of them.

She twisted her hand on her staff and lowered it slightly at the Night Warrior. “I learned a lot of things in Theramore, Tyrande. I even learned just how effective summary executions are at securing a lasting peace.”

“Pathetic.” Tyrande’s shoulders were shaking, and Jaina glanced at the Night Warrior’s hands, curling into fists. “Your father would be rolling in his grave. Did you slaughter Shadowsong after interrogating her, at least? I have no use for a warden who betrays her kin so easily.”

“Tyrande, she’s on your side!”

The Night Warrior’s eyes narrowed. “There are no sides. There is only justice, and clearly you are not its servant.”

Tyrande caught her off-guard with a gesture of the hands Jaina didn’t recognize, and starlight-studded darkness spilled from the ceiling like ink devouring. The Night Warrior and her priests practically melted upwards as if become starlight, and for a brief moment Jaina screamed in fury, trapped in the basement of the stockades with no idea how to follow that celestial magic.

But she was in the Stormwind stockades. She knew where those were - she’d portaled there before. So she did so again, diving through a quick portal leading to the gate just outside the stockades, and her feet hit the stone just in time for her to see three shapes, on particularly bright, trailing shimmers of frostbite into the evening sky, headed north.

And now that Jaina could see them, she could blink even faster than she could open a portal.

With a simple thought and gesture and a gentle tug through the world’s ambient mana, Jaina collided with the ephemeral, brilliantly cold form of Tyrande, reformed as some kind of stardust, and did the only thing she could think of, casting a mana shield in a bubble all around both of them.

The raw mana of her shields, a heavy and strenuous but incredibly powerful barrier thanks to its totality of essence, trapped Tyrande in place, cutting her away from whatever Elune-derived flight she was being given. She materialized again, and suddenly the Night Warrior was grappling with Jaina’s staff while they were both trapped in a mana bubble that Jaina desperately tried to control as it plummeted towards the ground. “Stand down, Tyrande!”

Jaina had barely enough awareness to try to shove the mana bubble sideways as they fell, already on an awkward arc as the two remaining priests fled as shooting stars. Tyrande was far stronger than Jaina hand-to-hand, and nearly pulled the staff from her grasp. Jaina juggled setting her own staff on fire to keep Tyrande’s hands from properly gripping it while maintaining the manan bubble; she noticed nothing more than that she was aiming somewhere familiar. Then Tyrande snapped a fist towards her face, and Jaina tried to catch it with a burning hand and missed, taking a punch to the temple as the Night Warrior shouted. “Traitor! ”

The throbbing in her skull was suddenly outweighed by a chest-rattling crash through something solid, root tiles and wooden splinters and stone flying everywhere in a sudden cacophony that lit up the mana shield with chaos. The bubble slammed into something made of stone and the second impact was enough to knock Tyrande bodily into Jaina, so hard that Jaina entirely lost her concentration, dropped her staff, and let go of the mana shield and her fire bubble all at once.

That didn’t stop Jaina from punching Tyrande right back in the face as they rolled across the shattered floor. “My house!

Tyrande called on her blessing, pinprick points of white glinting in her night-dark eyes, and the piercing weight of stars poured through the hole in the ceiling like arrows aimed at Jaina’s heart. But Jaina was magic, too, and poured her rage into another shield of raw force that scattered every shrapnel of starlight that sought her, spilling aside the stars as easily as the dust of the crumbling ceiling.

An inferno of rage whirled inside of Jaina as she grappled with the Night Warrior. This woman thought she could waltz in and kill Sylvanas and cast Jaina’s life to the wind, for what? What would it accomplish? When would she be sated? She’d even said Sylvanas’ death was inadequate. Where would she stop? “Don’t you ever -!

Tyrande, pinned with her under the mana shield that kept Elune’s predations from Jaina, suddenly reached for one of her glaives - sharp, killing weapons Jaina couldn’t fight in single combat. She grabbed Tyrande’s arm but failed to stop it from reaching the hilt; the glaive was wedged under Tyrande’s hip, though, and the kaldorei had to shift sideways to pry it loose. Jaina threw herself bodily down onto that side of her even as they wrestled, and Tyrande let go of the glaive and tried to heave her off.

For a split second Jaina looked into Tyrande’s eyes, and saw nothing but inky darkness, death, and vengeance, and that was enough.

She let the inferno out. Fire burst from Jaina’s hands and arms like molten blood from her pores. Tyrande yelped and flinched from the sudden heat, and somehow all the world around them roared with flames and wind, but it gave Jaina a split second of free moment to get away or cast another spell or end this, somehow.

She wrapped her burning fingers around Tyrande’s throat and squeezed.

Brilliantly sharp rage and starlight cracked at the mana shield above them, but between a grip so tight Tyrande couldn’t scream and the burning sizzle of flesh that was making her desperately try to scream anyway -

“By the Light!

That voice cut through the fire in Jaina’s hands and heart with the cold, horrible realization that not only was she on the verge of killing Tyrande, but she was seen. Her rage, her horrible pained anger, was known.

Jaina let go, the fire dissipating, and stumbled back as Tyrande wheezed, reaching for the waxy reddish-brown welts scarring the pale purple of her neck. The mana shield shattered into shards that evaporated almost immediately, and to Jaina’s horror the entire room they were in had been scorched by a firestorm. Furniture along the walls now wept sparks and embers from their blackened husks, the very stone underneath them was warped in drunken circles around where they’d been wrestling, and the ceiling crumbled in a rain of dust and ash, its gaping wound a gateway to the cold starlight far above.

Tides, they’d landed in the middle of Stormwind Keep. Which meant -

“Jaina? Tyrande?

For a horrible moment Jaina couldn’t bring herself to look. But she had to. She scrambled to her feet, snatching her staff back into her hands, and turned just enough that she could still see Tyrande while she faced him.

Anduin Wrynn’s eyes were bloodshot and wide with panic at the sight before him, his hair wildly matted to one side of his head like he’d just jumped out of bed. The guards who’d tramped into the room alongside him hid whatever fear they felt behind their helmet visors, but their postures were skewed with the fear of mortal men facing immortal arcane power.

Tyrande was already rising to her feet, her voice wheezing. “Proudmoore has been corrupted -”

“Tyrande violated four international treaties -

Tyrande rounded on Jaina again, her face wild with range. “Law does not make right!”

“Neither does might! ” Jaina advanced. “Neither does assassination!

“Says the woman who just had her hands on my throat!

Anduin sounded oddly broken, like he was on the verge of pleading. “I am High King of the Alliance and I am begging you -”

There was no silence, though, because you couldn't tackle a shooting star, punch a hole in a castle, and set an entire room ablaze without drawing some attention. A hippogryph shrieked as it burst through that ragged hole in the ceiling, startling them all. Shandris Feathermoon jumped off, taking in the scene with the wild-eyed panic of someone who had only just realized something was happening at all, let alone what. “I saw starforms leaving the city, fire, Elune’s light - Mother?

Jaina froze at the tone Shandris used to address Tyrande - shock, frustration, fear. As she stood gripping her own neck, Tyrande stared back at Shandris, and it struck Jaina just how dark those eyes had truly become. “Do not invoke her name if you reject her will, child.”

Jaina almost recoiled at hearing Tyrande speak to Shandris that way. Shandris seemed unsurprised; still weathered it like a blow, one she’d suffered before. “Mother, where have you been - what happened to you -”

“I have been fighting for our people!”

“Your people are here!” Something ragged clawed at Shandris’ words. “This isn’t what I meant!”

“All of you!” Something metallic hit the floor with a loud clang, and they all turned to see that Anduin had apparently taken the helmet off one of his guards and flung it at the stone floor as loud as possible. It was still rolling away, the guard’s dark, pudgy face rigid and sweaty, while Anduin’s own was bright red. “No more flying in through my roof! Please, let’s all just take a moment to breathe, and then explain what is happening -”

Tyrande cut him off. “I will not be held here against my will. Not with a traitor warden who bungles her duty, thwarts justice on Sylvanas Windrunner, hides behind failed treaties, and tries to burn the life from me with her own bare hands!”

Jaina slammed the base of her staff against the warped stone. “You weren’t even at Orgrimmar, Tyrande! You didn’t stand with the Alliance when those treaties were made! You do not get to swoop in and undermine decisions I fought to make -”

“You undermined them yourself, you weak-willed -”

“Your entire plot was interfered with from the start! You were baited by Nathanos Blightcaller like a hapless, ill-tempered child, and the two of you almost had us both murdered -”

“And a pity Moonwarden failed, as you are apparently the banshee’s bodyguard -”

Enough! ” A flash of Light drew their attention to Anduin yet again, and he was actually glowing with divine Light, so much it hurt to look at him until he let it fade. Shandris was simply staring at her mother. “My friends, please. In less than two weeks we’re to begin an assault on the sanctum of an Old God, and you two are bickering like enemies when we should be working together!” He stared wide-eyed between them, and his gaze seemed to land on Jaina, perhaps because he mistook familiarity for safety and was less afraid of her. “What in the world happened?”

Tyrande was breathing heavily, and shook her head. “The arc of justice bends undeniably in my favour, little king.” Then, to Jaina’s shock, she shifted her gaze to Shandris, who was still staring stiff and wide-eyed at Tyrande. “I will not stand here bearing the wounds Jaina has inflicted on myself and my people's dignity, only to be condescended to by children, while every moment Sylvanas Windrunner persists in this world smears bloody injustice across the pages of history.”

Before Jaina could compose her thoughts - thoughts, as though she had anything coherent to say besides screaming - shadow and starlight wreathed Tyrande once more. Shandris snapped out of her stupor and ran for her shouting “Mother!” as though that might stop her, but Tyrande shot into the night sky like an arrow. Whatever rift lay between them only grew wider as the Night Warrior receded into the sky, soon resembling nothing more than a bright comet heading north, and was gone.

Jaina twitched. A part of her wanted to give chase again, to bring the Night Warrior slamming down back into the ground and hold her until they could be sure she would not do this again. But there was no way to be sure of that, and she already felt the rage ebbing; she knew in her core that she couldn’t simply indulge in it the way she almost had. She’d nearly done something terrible, something that could never be undone. She gripped her staff more tightly and leaned on it to steady herself against the tremors in her hands.

And what would Elune do, if her champion was killed? All Night Warriors met their doom one way or another; they were clearly not immortal. But they were also avatars of wrath, of which Elune appeared to have plenty. Jaina’s reserves were deep, but the amount she could channel at any given moment was still limited.

Unfortunately, Shandris saved her from her indecision. “Jaina, what did you do to my mother?”

Deep breaths. “Your mother sent assassins - two of them - with orders to kill me.” She rounded on Shandris. “You knew about Sira Moonwarden -”

“She sent Sira?” Shandris’ eyes widened. “To kill you?”

“No, that was -”

“Please. Jaina, Shandris.” Anduin sucked in a deep breath, and took a few steps forward, his hands raised; his eyes were panicked, but he managed to keep his voice calm. “General Feathermoon, I am very sorry. I didn’t know Tyrande was here.” He frowned, raising and lowering a hand as though unsure of whether to reach out to comfort the general. “That speaks poorly of somebody on my council.”

Shandris tensed, but responded to him with only a nod before turning to Jaina with an expression of pain and anger bandaged with bare civility. “Lord Admiral. Tell me what happened.”

I almost killed your idiot mother. She pressed her lips together and tried to calm herself. She had to be careful how she handled this. “There is a lot to talk about. Assassins came for both Sylvanas and I. Anduin, you’re going to need to call a full meeting as soon as possible. We’ve detained two assassins at the safehouse for questioning - we’ll be turning them over to the Horde Council, and then I’ll bring them before the Alliance. Even I don’t quite understand the full extent of what happened; I need to return quickly.”

“Is the criminal not secure?” The kaldorei general’s eyes narrowed, and what remained visible of her gaze was not generous.

Jaina scowled. In a safehouse with Maiev Shadowsong tied up to a chair? Surrounded by a dark ranger and a Forsaken warden to protect her? Maiev had given up fairly readily once she was detained - at least she had some sense to her. “I’ll tell you what I know.” She glanced at the hippogryph, which was sniffing uncertainly around the rubble. “General, secure your mount and we can sit down.”

Shandris didn’t even acknowledge her beyond stepping off to tend to the animal, giving Jaina a bare moment to breathe and shudder at the noxious sort of discomfort running through her veins. Anduin leaned in cautiously. “You’ve been leaving things out of your letters, haven’t you?”

She said nothing, unsure of whether he was trying to make a joke, or what made him say that. What she was leaving out, she left out for reasons. She still wasn’t sure they were good reasons, but the thought of telling Anduin made her skin prickle even more, especially if it were only to soothe his concern. Shandris rejoined them before she needed to answer, and Anduin led them to a seating alcove in the hall where they could talk, the guards dismissed to a respectful distance.

As Jaina tried to calm herself and tell the story as deliberately as she could, a servant arrived with mugs of piping hot spiced apple cider. She paused to drink for as long as she dared under Shandris’ questioning glare, letting the warmth of the drink soothe her nerves a little. Anduin watched her closely, curiously, as Jaina did her best to explain the assassination, her confrontation with Tyrande, and everything she and Sylvanas had managed to extract from the wardens. She wondered what Anuin saw in her, whether he was still too young to guess at just what was going on in her head, at how minds and hearts could change as the world wore them in.

But Shandris brooked no such curiosity. Her brow furrowed in constant dissatisfaction at Jaina’s story, but she said barely anything at all. Jaina knew she was not in a state to think clearly about this, and neither was Shandris; something was going on between the general and Tyrande, something Jaina couldn’t put her fingers on, and something she didn’t dare ask about now considering how their last conversation had gone.

When her story reached its unsatisfying end, Shandris seethed for a few long moments with emotions Jaina felt ill-equipped to read, then positively glugged the entire mug of still-steaming cider and slammed it down on the table, storming back to her hippogryph without another word.

After she’d left their line of sight, Jaina risked a word with Anduin. “Do you know what’s going on with the kaldorei, Anduin?” She ran her finger along the inside of the mug’s handle. “Malfurion is still in the barrow dens and nobody has heard from him. Shandris is running around angry and clueless. Maiev is hijacking secret missions and undermining orders because she doesn’t trust kaldorei command. Tyrande is staging assassination attempts on heads of state and hiding her whereabouts from everyone.”

Anduin sighed, leaning his face into his hands, and loose blond locks of hair hung to either side like old curtains. “All I know is we can be thankful Illidan is still where he’s supposed to be.”

Is he? At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to find he’s claimed the Undercity as his own and appointed himself king of the damned.”

Anduin simply wheezed. “I don’t know, Jaina. They lost their home, and so many of them were killed. The refugees in Stormwind and Gilneas are miserable. I can only imagine they’re going to break in all kinds of ways. I wish I knew how to heal them.”

Jaina tightened her grip on the mug of cider, trying to still the tremor in her hands as she thought about what Tyrande was doing, and she took another sip. “Anduin. Assassinating Sylvanas won’t heal them.”

Anduin was quiet for a moment, before repeating himself. “You’ve been leaving things out of your letters. I’ve been worried about you, Jaina; several of us have been.” She knew, without asking, that he was referring to the same us that Go’el had referenced, her little circle of concerned friends. “I knew you’d be under horrible stress, but that you’d fight for Sylvanas… I don’t understand.”

She looked at her mug, and tried to think of a way to explain it without saying too much, but it seemed he wasn’t quite done.

“And to see you trying to burn the life out of Tyrande… did she really try to assassinate you, too?”

A part of her wished she could tell the truth - but what truth, exactly, was that? Under what circumstances was it acceptable to throttle and burn to death a High Priestess of Elune? Was it acceptable if she’d tried to assassinate someone you were close to? Someone you’d slept with? Someone who’d wept in your arms?

“Her plot was to assassinate Sylvanas first and foremost. The order was to kill me if I got in the way. Which I did, obviously.” She took a deep breath. “But I’m angry that she tried to kill Sylvanas. Yes. It was reckless, but also… Anduin, Sylvanas is under my protection.”

Anduin’s eyebrows shot up, hiding behind his blond locks. “That’s an interesting way to pronounce house arrest.

She groaned. “I’m serious, Anduin. First, part of the whole point of this arrangement is that she’s supposed to be safe and still leading the Forsaken. But beyond that… She isn’t who we thought she was. Or, she is that person, but there’s more to her than that. We’ve grown closer.” She would leave out the things Sylvanas did with her hands, her voice, her teeth. She didn’t think Anduin would be able to read so closely between the lines. “She’s full of fear, Anduin, she’s driven by it in so many of her bad decisions. She’s so afraid of being attacked or deceived, and all Tyrande did was prove her right.”

Anduin listened, his head increasingly slumped. He looked saddened. Not confused. Just… miserable. He sighed for a moment, trying to flatten out his mess of blond hair. “You’ve heard of the Gathering.”

Jaina nodded, feeling a constriction in her chest. She knew Anduin and Sylvanas had worked to try to bring together Forsaken and their living families; she knew Calia Menethil had been present, and that some disagreement between Calia and Sylvanas had led to a skirmish in which Calia was killed. “I’ve heard a fair bit.”

“Calia was the last living heir to the throne of Lordaeron. You remember that ever since the Divine Bell, I get aches when I’m doing things that are… dangerous?” He grimaced. “It was the aches that woke me tonight, actually, before you even crashed through my ceiling. But I was aching before that meeting, too. I was worried, and I thought it was clear why - I was trying to bridge the gap between the Forsaken and living humanity. Sylvanas seemed willing, but she was obviously dangerous. I felt the pangs even worse when Calia revealed herself to the Forsaken, and asked them to join her, promising to heal them. When Sylvanas attacked her, I thought Of course it ached, bad things were happening.”

He seemed conflicted, and stared off down the hall for a moment.

“Sylvanas claims she was defending the Forsaken. That felt like a lie. But… Calia did have a legal claim on Lordaeron, the city and the country. And she had backers in that claim - Genn was very excited about it, and a lot of the noble and bourgeois families of Stormwind, and Lordaeron refugees, helped support her in the years after the Scourge. They were encouraging her to pursue it - not openly, not in front of me, but Valeera has her ways of knowing, and she informed me. I don’t know what Sylvanas was originally planning, but if she pursued her claim Calia could have wrenched legal control of the Forsaken’s only home away from them, and claimed international law in her favor as the rightful sovereign. It would have been a mess.”

Jaina nodded along quietly, though the words made her cold. “Where would Forsaken not accepted by their living families go, if Lordaeron were retaken?” She knew enough of Sylvanas that she could guess what the elf had been thinking. “What about Forsaken who had no living family at all? What would become of them if their new homes got reclaimed by survivors from Lordaeron, backed by some legal right?” She sighed. “But that doesn’t excuse the murders.”

“No. But when the Forsaken were arguing - they were arguing, I saw them. Calia thought they were being detained, and started to invoke the Light to beat back those Forsaken who weren’t defecting to her. Those civilians, and the dark rangers, and Sylvanas herself…” He leaned forward, his head in his hands.

Jaina nodded. She hadn’t spoken much with Calia since her resurrection, aside from the time she’d brokered a meeting between Derek, Jaina, and Tandred. What she remembered of Calia from her earlier years was a woman who was benevolent, kind, and well-meaning, but very much wanted to be in command of the results of her own benevolence. “They both felt they were under attack, I imagine.”

He groaned. “I thought for so long that we could work with Sylvanas, but she seems erratic. At times she seemed amenable. At other times…Jaina, you think she’s afraid enough to see plots and conspiracies that aren’t even there?”

“Not without reason.” Jaina gestured at herself. “Anduin, we were both nearly murdered today. There was a plot. Two, in fact.”

“I take your point.” Anduin hung his head over his mug with a quiet sigh. “Genn has told me he believes some Forsaken can be treated with, as people. That’s why he backed Calia in going to the Gathering. But I’ve seen what we do to even living people whose kin have wronged us, so I can't imagine it would be easy for anyone to deal with the undead without reservations. Jaina - I want what you say to be meaningful. To lead somewhere that isn’t endless war. But it’s not easy to believe.”

“Do you trust me, Anduin?”

He looked at her, sadly, and she worried at the weight of the crown. Of all crowns. “I do. Of course I do. I guess I’ve been too worried about Sylvanas to really think about who’s in the house with her. You believe she’s… I don’t know the word. Contained? Tame?” He grimaced. “Those sound terrible”

Jaina grinned slightly; Sylvanas was, actually, quite a bit more tame than Anduin seemed to suspect. “She’s very cooperative. And I think she and I are developing a good rapport.”

He did smile a little at that. “Well. I hope it’s more solid than our previous attempts at treating with her. I think it would be good for more heads of state in the Alliance and Horde to cultivate friendships with one another.”

Jaina wondered, in a flash, whether any such previous attempts had been quite so intimate. She couldn’t imagine anything less likely - and surely she shouldn’t flatter herself that her own wiles were all that was at play between them.

But the other matters also weighed on her. “Anduin. I… I feel like I’m building something with Sylvanas. I feel like it’s good for me. She’s actually reaching out to me, I think. It feels like we’re making real progress.” She sipped the dregs of the cider, now only lukewarm. “I’ve spent almost a year as Lord Admiral and I can barely tell if I’ve made any difference to my homeland. And the world keeps intruding with demands I don’t know if I can ever properly meet, and… What if the best thing for Kul Tiras is for me to step down?”

Anduin went slightly stiff, and his eyes darted down to the table, as though he were trying to divine an answer in the grain of the wood. Sadness, and perhaps something like longing, played across his eyes. She knew he was not without resentment of his own throne, or the manner in which he’d come by it. “Do you know for certain that it is?”

“I think… I may not be suited to sit in a keep, to rule a nation. I think I’m better applied elsewhere.”

He chuckled half-heartedly. “You’re a person, Jaina, not a tool. You aren’t applied.

She winced. “I would rather be elsewhere, then.” It sounded selfish, but it felt no less true. “I was never one to sit still at home. And…”

She didn’t know what to say, though. Because she didn’t have a plan. What was her plan - to sit in Sylvanas’ house arrest forever while Sylvanas ruled the Forsaken by proxy? That was untenable, especially if they were to be subject to assassination attempts every few months. But she didn’t want to throw Sylvanas out into the world alone, either. That left…

Anduin gently lifted his mug and clinked it against hers, where it rested on the table. “I can't tell you how to steer your life, Jaina. I think you know what to do better than me. For what it's worth, having worked with Tandred, I think he would manage when his time comes. I’ll support you either way.”

Tandred. Tides, she hadn’t even thought of it - could she foist that responsibility onto her younger brother? Much as it pained her to think about it, her mother would not be around forever, and what other Proudmoore remained? Not Derek, not in any way that Katherine - or even Jaina - would want to invite into Proudmoore Keep as a ruler.

But it was still an odd relief to hear Anduin say it. She sighed as though she’d been holding in her breath, and lifted the mug. “Thank you, Anduin. I think it will help me focus on the situation with Sylvanas, too.”

“It’s quite a situation.” He nodded, and sipped at the cider. “I’m afraid of what might happen if she’s let loose. I hope you’re right, Jaina. But if you’re developing a rapport, you’re doing it in a place where she’s been robbed of some of her power. If it returns to her, are you sure she wouldn’t still reach for violence?”

Jaina wanted to say yes. She wanted to scream it. But Maiev had already made clear that her judgement was suspect, even the perspective of the Alliance; and in some way, she was afraid of the truth behind that question. What if Sylvanas the leader was always destined to be bloodthirsty? What if Sylvanas, unchained, would arm and armor herself against everyone once more, falling back into the rhythms of fear and violence that she knew best?

Would she do that if she didn’t have Jaina at her side anymore? Would she do it if she did? What would it take for Sylvanas to understand the value of restraint?

Those questions stuck in her heart like thorns as she helped clear the worst of the magical damage she’d caused in the war room. And the questions remained as she remembered that the plot might yet have further complications. Sylvanas had sent for Nathanos and for other members of the Horde. Would there be more waiting for her when she got back?

With a weary mind and a heavy heart, she opened up a portal to return to Orgrimmar. She needed to understand the full extent of the machinations that had led to the assassination attempt. For all that it was a prison, the safehouse had become her home. Not through exposure or right, but because it was where she and Sylvanas lived. Together. And now it felt violated, its peace destroyed.

She wondered how long that feeling would take to heal.

 


 

The five women were entirely comfortable with silence, once matters were tended to. Delaryn had come back quickly to brief Sylvanas on the search for Nathanos and the Horde Council's reactions, and had said nothing about the goblin, as instructed. Anya had arrived later, and with the bodies outside now being taken care of, she had returned to her queen’s side and had not been unruly in any way since. To Sylvanas’ surprise, another ranger had come by the window not long after, with a simple, clear message in military sign that her will had been done. She knew exactly what was meant.

Even Maiev Shadowsong sat there stoically, saying nothing, offering no complaints, making no demands. Under different circumstances, ones not involving attempted kidnapping or assassination, the lack of complaining or bluster might have made Sylvanas like her more.

Still, despite all the comfort with silence she tried to cultivate, when a portal opened in the lounge and Jaina stumbled back through, Sylvanas jumped and almost ran to her. She could immediately tell two things - first Jaina was alive, which was excellent. And second, Jaina’s mood was reserved. She walked towards Sylvanas and reached gently for her arm, but nothing more, and worry sheared at the safe, familiar shadows of Sylvanas’ heart. “What happened?”

“It was Tyrande, obviously. We had a... disagreement.” Jaina’s voice was tinged with disappointment and exhaustion. She looked across the room, visibly trying to settle herself, and Sylvanas noticed a red welt on the side of her face.

The sight of it made something seize in he chest, and without thinking she reached to touch Jaina's face. “We need a healer! Anya -"

“No, it's fine!” Jaina seemed to blush a little, startled, but the corners of her lips did curl up. “It's just a bruise, I promise. I came out on top. I'll see a healer, but we have more important things right now.”

Sylvanas swallowed her desire to debate that as she remembered they were being obsered. The other women had all seen them kiss earlier, but she still tried to restrain herself. “If you insist." She lowered her voice, nearly to a whisper. "I’m glad you’re back.”

“Have you been lonely?” Jaina’s gave a nervous smile. “We have guests, Sylvanas. Were you at least hospitable enough to offer them tea?”

Sylvanas could tell Jaina was trying to lighten the mood, and did her best to help, despite her deep desire to throttle Tyrande. “Alas, we are all dead inside. No tea.”

Jaina rolled her eyes, but it was an amused sort of look. “What about Maiev?”

Shadowsong sounded positively bored. “I would sooner die of thirst than accept tea from Sylvanas Windrunner.”

“You see?” Sylvanas gestured at the warden. “Dead inside. All of us.”

“I suppose you had other things to worry about.” Jaina’s face grew a deeper frown now, as she scanned the room more deliberately, and stepped back from Sylvanas. “Where is Nathanos? Where’s Voss?”

This was the news Sylvanas was not happy to share - and luckily, as Dark Ranger-General, she didn’t have to share it directly. “Lilian decided to convene a session with the other Councillors immediately. I was hoping to send you to speak with them, once we’re done here.” She found Jaina’s eyes, and Jaina gave her a slight nod. “As for the rest - captain, tell Lady Proudmoore exactly what you told me earlier.”

Delaryn nodded, staring blank-faced at Jaina. “Your sweaty mortal flesh is unworthy of touching the lips of our glorious Queen of the -”

She snarled at the ranger. “Captain Summermoon, the relevant things you told me earlier, relevant to Lady Proudmoore’s question, which she obviously just asked, right here in front of you, have you no sense?

Why were they all so ill-behaved the moment they opened their mouths? Sylvanas knew the rangers cackled and giggled about these moments when her back was turned; as a junior ranger serving under her mother, she certainly had. But right now the ranger-captain had the sense to remained still and calm. “Champion Blightcaller is nowhere to be found in the city. We’ve searched his former and current offices, and spoken to his known liaisons. He appears to have vanished a few days ago. It is possible he was waiting with the team in Silverpine for the Dark Lady’s liberation.”

Jaina’s face fell, and the panic that filled Sylvanas at that sight raced for her mouth. She had to clear up this ridiculous misunderstanding as soon as she possibly could, and she had to do it decisively, or else Jaina might lose faith in her. That was an unbearable thought.

“Captain Summermoon, I want you to provide me with a list of his contacts in the city. I need to interview them all, and attempt to find a way to reach him again.” This was a gamble, not one likely to please Jaina, but it was also important to maintain her rangers’ loyalty, especially at a time when they were profoundly confused about Jaina’s position. “You were used, captain, but you fought nobly, and you are to be commended for that. I am temporarily putting you in charge of this investigation.”

Delaryn blinked. “My Lady -”

“Ranger Anya, you will summon four more rangers, secure both Moonwarden and Shadowsong, and transfer them to the dungeons of Orgrimmar. Then you will return here; you are now in charge of Summermoon’s safehouse watch shift. Consider it commendation for surviving a fight with an opponent of the calibre of Maiev Shadowsong.”

She saw Maiev's eyes flash with something unreadable while Anya nodded curtly. “Yes, my Lady.”

“Once you’ve secured the prisoners, summon Lady Proudmoore to the dungeons in order to brief Councillor Voss and any other Councillors who wish to be present, and to further interrogate the prisoners. Understood?”

Anya nodded stiffly, but Delaryn dared protest. “Without you, my Lady?”

She glowered. “Obviously, as I am not able to leave.” Sylvanas turned to Jaina, meeting the icy little gems of her eyes and wanting nothing more than to see them warm just a smidge. “In all matters regarding this attack, treat Lady Proudmoore as having my complete trust.” She thought she saw Jaina blush a little, and felt much the same herself, though she managed to keep it from her voice. “Ranger, go.”

As Anya scampered off, Delaryn stiffened and nodded wordlessly. This was going well. First she’d ordered that slimeball Renzik assassinated, and now she was doing something, was setting things in motion. She was not powerless, not yet. Sylvanas felt the thrill of command finding her spine, a tingling of taut satisfaction. Something had gone wrong, and she was going to lock arms with it.

“Sira Moonwarden.” She tried to steel herself and her tone, still unable to shake the thought of the warden hurting Jaina. “You too have been misled. You have only just emerged from prison, and the situation has changed radically. I recognize that you acted fiercely and effectively within the isolation and misinformation you were trapped by. You might have succeeded, had Jaina been anything less than the greatest mortal mage of Azeroth.”

She risked a glance, to see the effect of those words, and found it written into Jaina’s cheeks like roses. Then she turned back to Sira.

“For which I would have killed you. As it stands... Once the interrogations with the Horde and the Alliance are complete, there may be some manner of exchange of prisoners. One assassin each targeted a Horde and an Alliance head of state, after all.” She shot Maiev a glare. “I would speak to you again. If you are willing to swear loyalty to my explicit will, and to discard any notions you have about my mind being poisoned, and if you swear a legal oath to defend Jaina Proudmoore’s life with your own, I would vouch for you.”

Sira’s eyes widened, just a fraction, and she bowed stiffly from the shoulders, still bound as she was. Sylvanas could tell there was still a great deal of skepticism in the warden, but she was obeying - and if she was under Sylvanas’ direct command, she hoped she could help the warden see clearly once more.

She could tell Jaina was somewhat displeased at that, but Sylvanas was ready to argue the point in private. She also saw a slight look pass between Sira and Delaryn, one she didn’ know how to read. She ignored it for now. “Captain Summermoon, assign rangers Alina and Kalira to protect Jaina Proudmoore with their lives whenever she is outside of this house but within the premises of Orgrimmar. The seriousness and priority of these orders cannot be understated.”

The ranger nodded sharply.

“Good.” She noticed Jaina blushing again, and while the sight pricked her insides with warmth, Sylvanas knew there were limits to just how indulgent she should be of Jaina, especially in public, without encouraging Moonwarden’s misguided interpretation of their relationship. Even if the rangers and wardens had seen them lips to lips already. “Lady Proudmoore. ” Jaina snapped to attention and stared at her. “You will report your whereabouts to your dark ranger bodyguards whenever you are in Orgrimmar, and you will not attempt to undermine their watch over you.”

Jaina was apparently not expecting to be addressed, and her throat bobbed visibly. “Yes, Dark Lady.”

The title rankled and teased her all at once, and Jaina seemed amused. Sylvanas tried to beg her with her eyes not to laugh. “And you will report your travels to me, that I may be aware of your location should you be needed while you are away.”

“I already - um, yes. Understood.” Jaina bit her lower lip.

Sylvanas wondered how far she could push this. “And you will report Tyrande’s assassination attempt to the rest of the Alliance in as public a forum as possible.”

A flicker of a smile on Jaina’s face. “I’ve already agreed to a formal debriefing tomorrow, though Anduin and Shandris know the basics. I’m going to compile some notes tonight - you’ll have a chance to read them before I go, of course.” Jaina blinked. “Dark Lady.”

“Oh.” She hadn’t quite expected that, and caught herself almost offering a genuine smile. “Well, very good.”

Jaina raised an eyebrow slightly. “Am I to be commended as well?”

Sylvanas winked with her right eye, the one the rest of the room couldn’t see. “Commendation will be arranged.”

She could have sworn Jaina almost shivered. She turned to the room, gazed around, and -

“What of me, your majesty?” Maiev sounded halfway between annoyed and sneering. “Since you appear to be running the house now. I don't intend to waste away in an orc prison, and I doubt the Alliance would like that much either.”

Jaina glared at Maiev, but Sylvanas stepped forward and knelt before the kaldorei, staring into her venomous green eyes. After a long moment she sighed, as dramatically as she could, and patted Maiev on the cheek. “Indeed. Just a moment.”

She stood and left the room, heading for the back of the house. It was trivially easy to find what she was looking for, and a private smile broke out across her face as she filled a small drawstring pouch.

When she returned, she knelt before Maiev again and tied a small brown pouch by the drawstrings just under Maiev’s neck, on a clasp in her armor. “There you go. Pastries to eat in prison. So you don't waste away.”

Maiev’s face contorted in anger, the rangers were smiling and trying terribly hard not to, and Jaina was quite simply white as a ghost and utterly still. Sira, well, Sylvanas could only see her eyes, but she hoped the other warden was enjoying this. She clapped her hands together. “Well? Captain Summermoon, you have orders.”

She did, and bolted out the door.

Sylvanas wanted desperately to get Jaina in a room alone. To see what she was feeling; to reassure her this had never been Sylvanas’ intention. That this was all some horrible mistake born of the collision of Nathanos’ well-meaning but violent protectiveness and Tyrande’s vengeful scheming.

But they had prisoners to watch, so the most she dared was to step into the hall, just out of sight, and beckon her with a gesture. Jaina followed her with a strange, tense smile on her face, and Sylvanas feared for a moment she was only pretending to be cordial, that something had happened in Stormwind that had destroyed this strange, fragile little flower they’d been nursing, that -

Jaina gripped the front of her battle armor and leaned into her. “Why did you tie a pastry baggy to Maiev’s neck?

“Because it makes her cross.” Sylvanas grinned; she did enjoy seeing her opponents write.

Jaina, though, looked a little strained. “Yes, and that's going to antagonize her. Like it or not, apparently she's here because she's less hostile than some of her kin. We need to be careful, Sylvanas. You want to know where I got the bruise? I got into a fight with Tyrande. I'd rather not start any more fights.”

Sylvanas pursed her lips and said nothing; Maiev had brought a fight to their home, and she was not inclined to be charitable. But she understood what Jaina was getting at, and it was not an important matter worth arguing about, not compared to the idea of Jaina fighting with Tyrande. She slipped her hands around Jaina’s cheeks, careful not to press against the bruise, and stared into her face, searching for pain, for doubt, for exhaustion - plenty of the latter, of course, but otherwise she seemed soft and… fine. “Were you hurt anywhere else?”

Jaina’s eyes flickered away. “No - nothing serious. A few more bruises maybe.”

She leaned in to kiss the bruise on the side of Jaina's face, and let her voice drop. “Where?”

And it worked; Jaina blushed a little, and smiled as she looked away. “Later. Sylvanas… I’m worried. I think -”

A sudden swing of the front door announced the arrival of four very angry dark rangers, who grumbled rather incoherent profanities as they grabbed Sira and Maiev both and hauled them out of the lounge and into the city, two rangers per warden. Sylvanas and Jaina watched from the hall, in stunned silence, for the brief time it took for them to get in and out.

“Sylvanas.” Jaina frowned slightly. “They just… they took the chairs, too.”

“Well.” Sylvanas blinked. “In my rangers’ defense, the chairs were attached to the wardens.”

“You don’t have any chairs left in your office now.”

You tied them together.” Sylvanas raised an eyebrow. “With complicated sailor knots my poor woodland rangers couldn’t possibly undo.”

Jaina pressed her palm firmly against Sylvanas’ shoulder. “You gave them clearly deficient orders. Now I’ll have to go get those chairs back because I'm the only one allowed outside the house.”

“As you say - later.” Sylvanas was watching her face ever so closely, and was realizing they were alone in the house again, finally, and simply couldn’t help herself. They were alone again, they were alright, she’d done everything she could - she’d given her orders, she’d dealt with threats, she’d tried to nurture Jaina’s good spirits. Things were the way they were supposed to be, more or less. Things were better. “For the time being…” Her voice cracked, and she felt ridiculous for it. “May I kiss you properly, Jaina?”

Jaina’s eyes widened, and her cheeks turned a slightly brighter shade. She angled her face upwards slightly. “I - well. I guess that’s something we do now, isn’t it?”

She knew Jaina was being purposefully obtuse, but she couldn’t help but feel a pang of uncertainty. “It’s merely that this has been a terrible morning for us both, and I was rather hoping -”

Jaina was already trailing a hand up her hip, her voice a dark whisper. “Kiss me.”

She did. Perhaps not very properly - they nearly scrambled for each other, and she felt a slight pinch as her upper lips caught between her teeth and Jaina’s, but the sudden wet warmth of Jaina’s mouth against hers and the gentle, insistent press of Jaina’s tongue in return, in the quiet privacy of their home, was intoxicating and enthralling and entirely unlike the frantic shock of being kissed in front of rangers and would-be assassins. And once they settled into it, it became languid and slow, and she felt it, she felt the press of skin against soft skin on every scrap of surface between them. One hand fell to the small of Jaina’s back and the other pressed her closer from behind her shoulders, and Sylvanas, her eyes closed, in a haze of heat and living scent, enjoyed this a great deal more.

After a moment Jaina pulled back, and Sylvanas wondered what she’d done wrong, only for Jaina to gasp slightly for breath and smirk. “I still need to breathe, you know.”

She chuckled in genuine surprise. “Yes. I mustn’t forget.”

Jaina sighed contentedly against her chest, and for a moment they held each other, before Jaina finally spoke up. “I suppose someone's going to fetch me when they want to interrogate Maiev. Any idea when that will be?”

“Probably a precisely inconvenient amount of time.” She rubbed a hand up Jaina’s back.  “Do you need rest?”

“Tides, please.” Jaina squeezed under her arms again. “Not sleep, but yes. Let’s just lie down for a bit. I need to talk to you about what happened in Stormwind, I… It’s complicated.” Jaina plucked at her battle armor. “Take this off, though. Get your silly nightgown again, or at least your regular clothes.”

“Silly?” Sylvanas smiled as she ran a hand under the hair of Jaina’s nape. “Do not slander my favourite nightgown, Proudmoore.”

That earned her a smile as they retired to the bedroom. Jaina did not change, collapsing onto the bed in her robes - she’d need them again before the day was done - but Sylvanas did as asked and went to retrieve her everyday clothes. Some small part of Sylvanas thought about trying to provoke a somewhat more active form of rest, and the nightgown would have helped with that, but she herself still felt tense and bewildered. Besides, Jaina apparently had matters to discuss with her. And at any rate, when Jaina lay down next to her in a proper embrace, she found that the weight and heat of a person, sprawled next to and on top of her, was more than enough to soothe her. As though she were a great source of comfort to someone who was a great comfort to her.

As though. That was exactly what was going on.

“Sylvanas.”

She turned her head, pressing her nose into Jaina’s forehead, awkwardly and as precious as any other touch. “Mm?”

“I… I almost killed Tyrande.”

She tensed, slightly. If this was the matter Jaina had wanted to talk about, it was a dark one.

And yet Sylvanas couldn’t help herself. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” She knew Jaina wasn’t telling her this to fantasize about killing the Night Warrior. She heard the distress in the words, and Jaina hissed in some kind of exasperation, so she hurried to be less glib. “You feel that would go against your nature?”

“It is my nature sometimes, though. It obviously is!” Jaina shifted, her frustration muffled by Sylvanas’ shoulder, but did not let up her embrace. “I wanted to drown Orgrimmar. I wanted to purge Dalaran. I wanted to sack Dazar’alor, after decades of their ships harassing my people, even if I knew it was also just a strategic assault. And when she tried to hurt you…“ Jaina looked up, and seemed to shiver. “I had my hands around her neck, Sylvanas. I was burning her. Anduin shouted at us and I stopped, but… I don’t know if I would have stopped myself.”

“Why did you?” It did not escape her that she herself had already ordered a death today. But it was not one that troubled her - she did not care about Renzik in the slightest. She realized Jaina had more complicated feelings about Tyrande, and did not want to draw a parallel.

“It felt wrong as soon as I thought about it! As soon as I felt seen! ” Jaina did look up at her now. “What would have happened? Imagine if Shandris had stormed in and watched me kill her mother! Imagine the fallout of a Lord Admiral killing the Night Warrior, the kaldorei High Priestess! And Tyrande was acting from a place of pain, just like I was, even if it was more… removed. What kind of person would I be, if I murdered her in rage?”

Sylvanas nodded, a quiet sense of uncertainty building inside her. “Do you feel there is a difference between killing in rage and killing at remove?”

Jaina scrunched up her face. “I don’t think Tyrande was any more right about what she did just because she’d had time to think. Why?”

She braced herself. She hadn’t thought of this when she’d issued the order - she hadn’t thought of needing to tell Jaina at all. But of course that time would come, unless she were to lie. And though she felt a strong inclination to omit this, to simply not say anything until it came up, she was acutely aware of how her relationship with Jaina had flourished thus far in part because she had denied that sort of inclination again and again.

“After you left, I realized one of the people who played a part in this debacle was the goblin Renzik, that Alliance spy based in Orgrimmar. He was Nathanos’ channel into the Alliance - he must have been part of the network that led the information back to Tyrande, which means he helped bait Nathanos into initiating the plot to kill you in order to further Tyrande’s ends. I had him killed.”

Jaina’s voice skipped upwards. “You what?

“It is already done. It took my rangers less than two hours.”

Jaina shot up onto her elbows, and the sudden lack of her against Sylvanas felt all the colder. “Sylvanas! You can’t just order retaliatory assassinations like that!”

“Why not?” She rose to her elbows to match. “Jaina, I did this to protect you. Surely you understand - you were a hair’s breadth from killing Tyrande yourself. Even if he was Alliance, he was an unreliable, duplicitous -”

“I restrained myself! And it wasn’t Renzik who ordered the damned attack!”

“He enabled it! I needed to do something -

“No you didn’t!” Jaina sat up on the bed, red in the face, and Sylvanas thought she saw… tears? For Renzik of all people? “Something had to be done, Sylvanas, but you don’t always have to be the one doing it! Especially not just for the sake of not doing nothing!

Sylvanas’ head spun; she’d feared a gentle scolding at most, though she’d rather hoped to reassure Jaina that trying to kill Tyrande wasn’t something worth fretting about. This was well beyond what she’d imagined. “What do you care about Renzik? Did you know him?”

“I almost killed Tyrande! This isn’t about who you did it to! I don’t care about some MI:7 goblin turncoat, I care about you!

Jaina’s eyes widened at her own words, though, and for a moment Sylvanas felt unsure of whether to sit up or collapse back down onto the bed. Jaina seemed to hurry after herself, her face growing even redder before she buried it in her hands.

“Oh Tides, listen to me. I’m awful." She drew in a deep breath. "I don’t mean I don’t care, nobody deserves to be killed, I mean - I mean if you go around killing people you think have threatened you, other people are going to see you as a threat, and they’re going to try to kill you. They’re already doing that! And I don’t want anyone to hurt you.” Tears of frustration were welling in Jaina’s eyes when she looked back up. “I can’t stand it, Sylvanas, you’re exactly like my father, he never listened -”

Sylvanas sat straight up. She clearly had no idea what she’d walked into. She’d obviously known Jaina might not be thrilled with her assassinating an Alliance agent, but she’d thought Jaina’s admission about wanting to kill Tyrande was an opening to share their more violent feelings.

What in the world did any of this have to do with Daelin Proudmoore?

Except if Sylvanas thought about it for all of a few moments, she did know what Jaina was talking about. “Jaina. I am not about to be defeated and cornered -”

“You don’t know that - Sylvanas! ” Jaina grabbed her shoulders, her face perilously close. “Listen to me, please. You’re going to get yourself killed, or you’re going to put yourself in a position where you need to keep killing and where people keep fighting to stop you, and I can’t - I can’t keep doing this - I almost killed Tyrande because I was trying to protect you because I’m an idiot and I keep doing this -”

Sylvanas felt slower to understand than she wanted to admit. Jaina was trying to protect her - was trying to prevent Sylvanas from doing the sort of thing, in magnitude if not in kind, that had kicked off the Fourth War and ultimately led to her being deposed and the office of Warchief abolished. She was trying to keep Sylvanas from making the kinds of decisions that had made her one of the most hated figures of the world scene.

And she was doing it because she cared. She wasn’t angry because Sylvanas had disobeyed her or broken some rule - she patently didn’t care for a single life lost, and Jaina had ordered and caused enough deaths in her time to know these things were at times necessary. No, Jaina was angry because she was afraid of losing Sylvanas to Sylvanas’ own destructive decisions - just the way she’d lost her father. Someone Jaina had presumably loved. The realization speared her through the soul.

And what, exactly, had Sylvanas gained from ordering an assassination on a known agent? No new information; no termination of a concrete threat. Renzik had been one small, replaceable cog in a much larger machine that did many things, only one of which was to directly threaten Sylvanas and Jaina. She’d felt powerless and afraid of what had almost happened, and had wanted to strike back at something convenient. But the Alliance would find out sooner than later, which meant they might be looking more deeply into the matter of who was threatening their intelligence network. A whole new world of problems could come crashing down on their heads; that was always true, except that before, it had been Sylvanas' head, and she'd felt she could bear it. Now that risk hung over Sylvanas and Jaina and, most alarmingly, over the bond they'd only just begun to forge. 

And that was the shape of Jaina’s fear, and the situation Sylvanas had bumbled her way into like a fool. Would Sylvanas have cared a year ago? Probably not - any enemy killed was progress. But now - she was not who she was, she did not have the resources she had once had… and she had someone she not only wanted to protect, but with whom she wanted to nurture something good, something that would not thrive if it was only cradled by rage and fear.

She leaned over slightly, unsure if she was welcome but desperately wanting to reach out, while Jaina stared angrily at the bed with red eyes. Sylvanas tried to soften her voice. “You are not an idiot, Jaina. I acted rashly. It was an unnecessary risk. I simply… I was angered someone tried to harm you.”

Jaina glanced at her, and started twisting her hands together in her lap. “I was angry someone tried to hurt you, too.” She let out a breath, and seemed to sag as she did. “Please listen to me, Sylvanas. I want to help you, but I need you to help me, too. I need you to listen.

She desperately wanted to hold Jaina, or at least her hands, but she feared that would be demanding, and sat awkwardly just apart instead. Jaina was used to not being listened to; she could hear it in her voice, but she also knew it outright. It was something the archmage had complained about more than once. People called her soft - Sylvanas had done so herself - until they suddenly accused her of overreacting or being emotional. If Sylvanas wasn’t careful, Jaina would hear echoes of those same accusations from her own mouth, and she did not want to compound Jaina’s frustrations on that matter.

She could be petty, and insist that they hadn’t specifically discussed not assassinating people. But that would not address the pain Jaina seemed to be feeling, those echoes of past hurts. So Sylvanas stilled her nerves and did the more difficult thing. “I will listen. I… will do my best to restrain myself, if it helps us avoid danger.”

Jaina looked up at her, blinking. “It isn’t easy, Sylvanas. I know it isn’t. I almost… I could have killed her. I might have. I know it’s hard.” She paused for a moment, and extended an arm. “Come here.”

Sylvanas restrained herself from jumping, instead leaning over, and Jaina wrapped her arms around her shoulders.

“I want… I keep thinking about what happens after this. If we can get you out of here. I want to… I don’t know, Sylvanas. I don’t know what’s possible, but I want you -”

Whatever she wanted, it was more than just the end of this house arrest, more than just surviving this ordeal. Sylvanas thought about that as she felt Jaina’s hair against her cheek. Jaina wanted Sylvanas to be some part of her life, and Sylvanas wanted nothing more than to keep Jaina in hers. And that meant they needed to reconcile certain issues where their inclinations diverged.

And who should yield, here? Well, one of them had ended up deposed and under house arrest. Sylvanas wondered if she would be in this predicament, if only she’d already had Jaina by her side years earlier. She had a strong feeling about the answer to that question.

“Jaina. I want you with me. I want to know what you think. I want - I wish for you to be happy with… whatever this is." Happiness. When had she started to think about happiness? "I failed to consider your wishes. I will need to remember this.”

Jaina heaved herself a little closer, and leaned into Sylvanas’ arms, and the warmth of it almost burned for how much she was shocked anyone would cling to her this way. “Next time someone tries to assassinate us, we should sleep on it before making any serious decisions.” Jaina breathed deeply. “I’m angry you did that, but… I understand. I feel you. Even if I don’t like that you did it.”

Sylvanas still did not feel regret for ordering an enemy agent killed. But there was a pain in her chest nonetheless, and it had the shape of betrayal and disappointment, which were two things she absolutely did not want to inflict upon Jaina, not now that Jaina knew the contours of Sylvanas’ own heart. It would be foolish for her to expect Jaina to simply ignore everything she did - and there was a wisdom, if an indirect and difficult one, in what Jaina was suggesting.

It did not feel like a safe wisdom. It felt vulnerable; it required letting enemies live. But it was also the kind of wisdom that would allow Sylvanas herself to continue existing in the world, she considered. “Let us hope there is no next assassination. Though if we must practice, I’m certain I can arrange for the dark rangers to come after us with sticks and pebbles. They still seem a little eager to vex you.”

Jaina snorted, and as she shifted against her shoulder, Sylvanas thought she might be wiping tears on her clothes. “Sylvanas, are we insane?”

The words disoriented Sylvanas for a moment, but she could feel in the press against her shoulder that Jaina was seeking an answer with her. Or she hoped that was what she felt. “For wanting to hurt our enemies?”

“No, for…” Jaina looked at her. “For being more worried about each other than the people we’re hurting. And for caring about each other when we came together - well - like this.”

Ah, yes. That. Sylvanas didn’t think it sounded wrong that they would be more worried about each other, but she could imagine how someone like Jaina might not feel the same way. And the question of the circumstances of their affection were more open. “Do you think we are?”

“Not really. But I can’t explain why not.” Jaina looked to the side, but she still shifted to press closer into Sylvanas. “And it seems obvious to everyone else. Especially with me attacking Tyrande like that.”

Sylvanas thought about that. It seemed obvious to Sira, and apparently by extension to Nathanos, that she herself was suffering some delusional attachment to Jaina. Sylvanas knew such things were said to happen. On the other hand, it had seemed equally obvious to Maiev, and apparently an entire Alliance intelligence network, that Jaina was deeply compromised.

While the two did not necessarily cancel each other out, Sylvanas couldn’t help but doubt these interpretations, from where she was sitting in Jaina’s arms. Even though she understood - and a tiny part of her also feared - that such delusions were dangerous precisely because they were undetectable from within.

“This is something we should think on, perhaps.” She knew this was a risky thing to say, and hoped it would not be turned against her. “But Jaina, we are not strangers to violence. Not even you. We are not the same, but some anger is in both our natures. And I do not feel controlled by you unduly, despite our… roles. Even though I perhaps should. I am more resentful of the accusations than anything.”

Jaina was nodding. “We’ll think about it.”

Sylvanas wasn’t sure how to phrase this question, what words to use. It was a wordless fear and need she felt only Jaina could answer, even though she didn’t know the shape that answer would take. She hoped, if she started trying, that Jaina would understand. “Jaina - you and I - are we -?”

She did. Jaina looked her in the eyes for a moment before embracing her properly around the shoulders. “I wanted to hurt her because I like you so much. We’re - well - whatever we are, I think we’re in this together. Whatever this turns out to be. We’re together. You think so?”

“Yes.” She hugged back, closing her eyes, because all she needed to know of the world right now was in her arms. She wanted nothing more than for it to always be this simple, and knew that was not in the cards. “I understand my actions have created a number of difficulties. I am… I am baffled by your affection. But I am very pleased.”

Jaina chuckled slightly, and though she sounded tired, her breath warmed Sylvanas’ neck nonetheless. Then, to Sylvanas’ surprise, she started pushing on Sylvanas’ shoulders. After a moment it became clear Jaina was trying to push her back onto the bed, so Sylvanas allowed herself to be pushed, and suddenly she was on her back and Jaina sprawled awkwardly at her side, her face hovering more or less right above Sylvanas’s eyes.

Jaina still looked tired and worn out and red in the eyes, but an impish little grin had overtaken her features. “I intend to make sure you’re very pleased once we’ve actually got some time to ourselves.”

Sylvanas felt a rush of relief. “Time to ourselves?” She curled one of Jaina’s golden locks around her finger. “We’ll have plenty once you’re done reporting on all this to the various councils of the world.”

“Not quite.” Jaina’s smile faded slightly, and she raised an eyebrow. “Remember, your sisters are visiting tomorrow.”

Sylvanas almost froze into solid ice on the spot. “Tomorrow? Jaina, surely we can reschedule -”

Jaina smiled, pressing her face into Sylvanas’ neck. “We survived. I think we’re okay, Sylvanas. And I suspect they’ll want to see you, to make sure we’re alright. I’d want to, if it were my family.” Jaina withdrew her head, and her eyes widened. “Oh, Tides. I need to write to my mother before she finds out from someone else.”

“Yes. Do that instead of bringing my sisters over.”

Jaina snorted. “It’ll do you good, Sylvanas. And me. Remember, Vereesa is my friend. It’ll be good to spend time with friends, and…” Jaina shook her head, and lay down more fully again, her head nestled against Sylvanas. “And there isn’t much time left before the assault on Ny’alotha. Tides, but that’s not something I want to think about right now. But it’s soon.”

Sylvanas grew still. There wasn’t much time before Azeroth and its people contended with an Old God. And there would be casualties, even if Azeroth triumphed. Alleria was leading part of the assault force, and if the assault failed, chaos would reign across the world. There weren’t many days in the future they could be sure all three Windrunners would still be around.

There also weren’t many days before the war might yet call upon Jaina Proudmoore to face one of Azeroth’s greatest foes, if the need was dire. Leaving Sylvanas here, alone. Leaving Jaina at risk, without Sylvanas’ help. The weight of those possibilities crushed down on her far more harshly than Jaina’s gentle weight, hardening her voice. “I understand. Then yes. We will make time for my sisters.” She narrowed her eyes at Jaina. “And for each other. When you aren’t exhausted.”

Jaina stifled a laugh, looking away with a blush that only made Sylvanas want to see her blush more.

Unfortunately, it was not very long before Jaina was whisked away again for an afternoon away from Sylvanas, facing the Horde Council and further interrogations alone. As Sylvanas briefed her rangers, and impressed upon them exactly how serious it was that they treated Jaina not only with an eye to her safety but also with some modicum of respect, she wondered what, exactly, she could do for her newly minted lover upon her return. She fretted more about that than she did many of the other terrible things that had happened that day. Soothing words? Clever jokes? A rowdy evening in bed to distract from the world’s troubles? More oranges?

The answer, in the end, was the simplest of all. Jaina came home tired, irritated, hurting from constantly relating the violence over and over again to various Councillors. At least Go’el had apparently helped give her space, and had tended to the bruise on her face, which was already gone; but Jaina's mood was still stretched thin. So Sylvanas listened, and embraced her, and convinced Jaina she needed sleep more than anything, and held her as Jaina quieted her own troubled mind with another sleep spell.

And strangely enough, though Jaina was no longer present of spirit, simply holding the woman against her quieted Sylvanas’ own troubled mind, too.

Chapter Text

Jaina’s body apparently hadn’t been informed that she had slept. She still felt exhausted from yesterday's afternoon handling pointed questions and drawn-out interrogations of the two wardens by the Horde Council. The fact that she and Sylvanas had survived an assassination attempt the morning before somehow felt unreal and distant in comparison, like something that had happened to someone else. Like she was cleaning up after someone else’s mess, and was still nowhere near done.

Today she’d woken far too early in order to trek to Orgrimmar’s dungeons, shadowed by two dark ranger bodyguards. Lillian Voss had been waiting for her with a letter co-written overnight and signed by Sylvanas and Lilian both, pointedly explaining that they would not hold Maiev prisoner for attempted murder if the Alliance agreed to return Sira to the Horde, and to lay the blame on rogue factions of both side. Jaina wasn't especially keen on seeing Sira freed, but she saw the sense in not keeping the chief Warden captive, so she'd dragged Maiev and Sira out of the dungeons and portalled them over to Stormwind.

Almost all the leaders of the Alliance were waiting for them, and for the interrogations that would ensue. But there were a few exceptions - most notably, Katherine Proudmoore wasn’t there. She wasn’t Lord Admiral, of course, but that didn’t stop Jaina from expecting to see her mother. She still hadn’t sent that letter she’d been meaning to; in an attempt to avoid forgetting, she made a note to that effect that she stuffed into a pocket she was sure to check when she returned home, so she could dash off a quick note then.

Jaina also noticed that Shandris was the only kaldorei present, without attendants, and that she did not appear particularly interested in the proceedings; if anything, Shandris looked like she was ruminating. Maiev seemed keenly aware of the general’s presence as well. Jaina wasn’t sure if speaking to the general would help or harm, but the one time she thought to engage Shandris in conversation, Maiev shot her a guarded look that made her rethink it. The general was wrestling with something larger, and Jaina felt she both needed to know and couldn’t possibly ask.

She had more immediate frustrations, though. The leaders of the Alliance were rather muddled in their response to the attack. Everyone was outraged that Jaina had been threatened, but several of them expressed that she maybe should have simply let Sylvanas perish, or turned Sylvanas over once the house arrest was compromised. They did not seem very concerned that the Black Moon had gone completely rogue; if anything, Maiev was among those most upset by Tyrande’s lack of accountability, which Jaina found peculiar. Even Genn, though he was outraged at the danger Jaina had faced, insisted that this was a failure of the kaldorei to plan wisely rather than a foolish idea in the first place.

When it was revealed that Renzik had apparently perished in a suspicious explosion of fireworks crates, compromising Alliance spying efforts in Orgrimmar, Jaina set her jaw and exacted a petty, private revenge on them by saying she didn’t know who had done it. Her insincere consolation to herself was that she technically didn’t know who had done it. After all, Sylvanas had had her rangers do it; Jaina had no idea which ranger had lit the fuse.

More important to her, in truth, was her fear that if Sylvanas were to be attacked and pursued, she would revert further into the violence that had once characterized her rule. She did think Sylvanas was rethinking her actions, but Jaina thought she needed time to do so, and time to learn how to do differently. It was not the kind of time the Alliance would want to grant her.

She didn’t say that out loud, of course, but somehow Alleria helped her a little in this regard, reminding the council on several occasions that Sylvanas was coordinating the Forsaken efforts to breach Ny’alotha and ruin its temple of madness with a deathly Blight, silencing it so that mortal armies could enter the city and retain their sanity. Nobody wanted to jeopardize that mission by throwing the Forsaken into disarray, and that helped calm calls to put Sylvanas under investigation for the attempt on Jaina’s life by Forsaken agents, and for the unclear situation around Renzik’s death. The calm was grudging and hostile, though, and Jaina couldn’t help but notice some sideways glances directed at Alleria.

So the entire meeting was yet another ordeal. Jaina was all too happy when Anduin called the council to adjourn before returning for a discussion. She led Maiev and Sira into the hallway outside; the council had agreed to the exchange and the shifting of the blame, and both were to go free. Jaina unshackled Sira and, despite her own reservations and Maiev’s obvious distaste, sent the Forsaken warden back through a portal to the safehouse, so that Sylvanas could deal with her appropriately.

Once she was gone, Jaina closed the portal and started unshackling Maiev’s own mundane and magical bindings. “And you’re free to go too.” She glanced into Maiev’s acidic green eyes. “Next time you have concerns, talk to me, would you?”

“Freedom is not the word I would use.” Maiev rubbed at her unshackled wrists, looking back at the council chambers for a moment before staring Jaina straight in the eye. “Very well then. I still have concerns. You seem committed to your foolishness. Do you at least understand the risks?”

Jaina pressed her lips together. Did she truly understand Sylvanas? She thought she understood her enough, but she doubted Maiev would not listen to her on this. People had a hard time believing Jaina when Jaina believed in others; memories of that flickered through her mind now like gnats. “I'm as much a danger as she is. I'm not at risk.”

“You are as much a danger, or more.” Maiev looked at her, the purple lines of her face creasing. “But you are less of a risk. The odds you will go mad with your power are not negligible, but they are lower. But Sylvanas… Fine. You do not believe you have been manipulated by your captive.” Maiev’s eyes narrowed. “But a prison is a small, small world, Proudmoore, with precious little to occupy the mind. A prisoner will fixate on whatever they can get their hands on. What if Moonwarden is right, and Sylvanas is merely fixated on you? Do you truly know what she would do, if she had armies at her disposal once more?”

“She has armies at her disposal, Maiev.” Jaina crossed her arms, angry and a little afraid by the implication that Sylvanas had merely fixated on her. She desperately wanted that to be false. “Grand Executor Mortuus reports to her, and she’s still her own Dark Ranger-General. She’s the one who drew up and authorized the Ny’alotha deployment!”

Maiev pointed at her face. “Technicalities. We both know her freedom is limited. And those limits may be exactly what changed her behaviour in ways you find… amenable. Think on what would happen if those limitations were lifted.”

It was something Jaina worried about; she’d seen how thoughtlessly Sylvanas had ordered a retaliatory killing, and there was nothing good about that, even if they construed it as revenge for the fallen dark rangers. But Maiev was arguing this with her here, in an empty hall - not before the council. Before the council, Maiev’s report had been very… clean. Very tidy. Jaina sensed there was something complicated here. “Maiev. You didn’t mention any details about what you saw to the council.” She raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”

Maiev’s face seemed to slacken, and her voice grew more subdued. “It was not the situation I expected to find. I will not be airing every observation I made until I understand how they fit together.”

Jaina wondered if there was something sympathetic in Maiev’s tone of voice. Maiev had no obvious reason not to tell the entire council that she’d seen Jaina and Sylvanas kiss. But Jaina was hesitant to ask directly; if Maiev was inclined to be quiet, Jaina simply hoped she would stay that way. “Would you really have killed Sylvanas?”

Maiev took a long, slow breath. “When I first arrived, I intended to, if she resisted too stubbornly. I expected to find a raving madwoman, and I expected you to be some sort of possessed thrall. That is not exactly what I saw, though I didn't like what I saw much better.” She gave a cold, heartless smile. “But I also knew from the start that there would be benefits to keeping her intact, and that was my main objective. Illidan taught me many things, Jaina. More than I like to admit. One was that quests for bloody vengeance do little to mend the wounds of one’s soul; a lesson I realized Tyrande has yet to learn, when I became aware of this plot. Another…” She shrugged, glancing over Jaina’s shoulder. “It can be useful to have a monster sealed away in a box. Sometimes you can learn things from the monster, as you observe it. Sometimes you need to let the monster out again, to deal with a greater threat.”

Jaina was about to question what use Maiev wanted to put Sylvanas to when the warden’s eyes narrowed, and she spoke to someone behind Jaina.

“Speaking of which. Windrunner.” An angry little glint found Maiev’s eyes.

“Come now, Maiev.” The voice, liquid and cool, was Alleria’s. Jaina almost jumped as the ren’dorei stepped up next to her, far too sneakily. “You attempted to murder my sister, did you not? I believe on Azeroth that puts us on a first-name basis.” Alleria glanced at Jaina, a hint of a smile on her lips. “I understand Sylvanas is unlikeable, but I’ve spoken to her quite recently. She is… cultivating a different sort of self, of late.”

Maiev pointedly stepped closer to the ren’dorei. “Whatever the truth may be, I mistrust your judgement in this matter. Even the worst monsters can be congenial to family.”

“I shall have to ask your brother Jarod for his views on that.” Alleria didn't seem cowed by Maiev's step forward. Jaina did not miss the Windrunner family necklace that hung at her neck now, nor the way Maiev’s eyes narrowed in response.

“I’ve said my peace before the council. The exchange is done. Are you here to interrogate me further, or merely to conspire with Proudmoore?”

Jaina bristled at the implication, but Alleria shook her head. She was of a height with Maiev, and somehow her slightly more slender build didn’t make her any less imposing. Perhaps it was the weight of shadows in her voice. “You are no friend of Tyrande’s. Between your adventure with the highborne and her plundering your dungeons, and the various vengeances you’ve tried to extract from one another, you’ve both spilled blood and run each other perilously close to death. And now she has fled, leaving you and Shandris to answer for her misbegotten schemes.” Alleria smiled cooly, a predatory look Jaina found unsettling. “I wish to know why you involved yourself in her idiocy. Beyond the half-truth you gave the council about doubting the other warden’s competence. I know you hid something from your report.”

Jaina’s heart seized; what did Alleria know? What did she think Maiev was hiding?

Maiev’s lips thinned. “Tyrande’s ill-conceived plot could have alienated our allies in the Alliance; she was making a grievous mistake. If I ended the plot, she would have tried again, so I attempted to subvert it. And I am the chief Warden of the Watchers. Have you visited any of my dungeons, ren'dorei?"

Alleria smiled. "I haven't had the pleasure."

"If you had, you'd have seen not only prison cells but also temples, libraries, workshops. We protect the world by keeping its darkest creatures contained, but we also study them, probe them, test them and put them to use, that they may repay their crimes through service and knowledge. Sylvanas is a dark, monstrous creature, and it would please me to see her in shackles, and this one -” Maiev pressed a finger to Jaina’s shoulder without even looking at her, and Jaina was gratified to see Alleria scowl slightly at the gesture. “Does not seem to have any experience with chains. Tyrande’s rash gambit was an opportunity to take the reins and deal with the criminal properly, for the good of Azeroth. Is that not enough?”

Alleria glanced at Jaina, inscrutable, before flashing a dark look at Maiev. “I don't believe that is the best course of action right now. I know a thing or two about dark, monstrous creatures, Maiev. And about chains.”

“And it has crossed my mind that you too should be shackled, ren’dorei.” Maiev rested her hands on her hips, as though daring Alleria to walk past her. “I’ve seen how you defend your sister against all good sense. I’ve read reports on some of the ren’dorei succumbing to the Void. Our troops are marching against an Old God who serves the same masters that whisper into your ears; what have they learned from watching you, as you plan with us? It may only be a matter of time before your name crosses my desk.”

Alleria let her arms down, and clasped them behind her back rather imperiously. “And yet your desk seems rather bare. The voices mewl in my mind, but it is still I who decides how to act. I have trained to handle them, for thousands of years beyond time and space. You know something of such ages, Maiev. What it will do to a soul.”

That had some effect on Maiev, her sharp features dulling. “Eons do not guarantee illumination. You still see your sister only as family.”

“I see many things she could become.” Alleria smiled very faintly. “Would you like to know what the Void says about you, Maiev Shadowsong?”

Anger flashed anew across Maiev’s face, deepening the band of dark purple painted across her eyes. “I have better ways to spend my time.” She turned and beat a hasty retreat, her bladed cloak snapping behind her, and Alleria and Jaina watched her go.

“Does the Void really speak to you about us?” Jaina looked at Alleria, feeling oddly unsettled. She wondered if that had been an attempt to put Maiev off of bothering Windrunners ever again. “About people around you.”

“Yes. They are not subtle beings, thankfully.” Alleria closed her eyes, as if remembering. “They are used to manifesting their will through sheer persistence and power. Most often they make demands, or suggest fear and greed and ambition. Remarkably, I have never known them to lie outright, though I cannot seem to ask them questions or direct their interest. Regretfully, much of what they say would alarm you, Jaina."

Alleria raised her eyebrows, and placed a hand on Jaina’s shoulder, and Jaina wondered if Alleria knew things, if the Void whispered her secrets so freely. Jaina had been rather coy about explaining the circumstances that led to the dinner invitation, after all. But more likely than that, the voices were simply nasty and cruel and dangerous things; that was why all ren’dorei were feared, after all. “It's alright, Alleria. I won't judge you for your Void gibbers.”

Alleria's face lit up with amusement, and she let go of Jaina's shoulder. "My what?"

“Um, just a phrase I've heard.” Jaina felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment. Nobody said that, not outside the house! She scrambled for another topic. “What does the Void say about Maiev?”

Alleria shook her head, but an odd expression crossed her face, like she was wishing she hadn’t brought it up. “If she did not wish to hear it, it can wait.” Alleria gestured down the hall. “Walk with me a moment, Jaina. I have a concern that was inappropriate to raise before council.”

“Inappropriate?” Jaina’s face grew hot as she took off alongside Alleria. Did Alleria know? “What do you mean?”

Alleria stared ahead for a while as they walked, her eyes unfocused, and finally spoke in a low voice. “You lied to the council about Renzik’s death. You do know how it happened.”

The words sent a jolt of panic through Jaina’s spine. “What - how do you know?”

“As I said, the Void doesn’t lie. I urges, it reminds, it misrepresents; but I’ve yet to notice it saying full untruths. The voices urged me to declare you a liar before council because you did, in fact, know what happened.” Alleria glanced back down the hall, but they were alone. “Jaina, did Sylvanas order Renzik’s death?”

A cold pit formed in her stomach at the thought of all her secrets laid bare to beasts of the Void, whispering things into Alleria’s ears. What else did they say? She tried to read Alleria’s face, but it was composed and steely. At least they were alone; Alleria was asking her in private for a reason. If Alleria already knew she was lying, further lies might only make it worse, and… She had to trust that Alleria cared. She’d already seen proof of that. “She did.”

Alleria nodded; she’d expected that, then. “I remember how you were, when you came to me about the necklace and your argument. And I remember how she was.” She let that hang for a moment as they walked. “Are you protecting her?”

Jaina nodded slowly, glancing behind them again, but they were still alone. “I don’t want her to come to harm. Alleria, you understand, right?”

Alleria looked at her, and there was a touch of sadness there. “Indeed. I do not want her to come to harm either. But I am concerned you would lie about her actions, and so I must raise a difficult subject with you, Jaina. Steel yourself a moment.”

Oh Tides, what in the world was Alleria going to ask her? She did ready herself for something unpleasant, and nodded. Alleria looked at her quite squarely.

Alleria looked closely at her. “You were the Lady of Theramore, which the Horde obliterated. And now Tyrande has tried to kill Sylvanas, who obliterated Tyrande’s own home city. I know the details are in many ways different, but I know you see the striking parallels as well. So while I am happy, Jaina, that you and Sylvanas have found some measure of agreement, I see a risk of things going awry between you.”

Jaina was oddly thankful this line of questioning was upsetting her, because otherwise she might have blushed at agreement. Jaina had grown to hate thinking of this entire topic. Not just because it was awful, but because, yes, it sat uncomfortably with how she now felt towards Sylvanas. She did not believe that violence was a good solution to violence - Go’el had talked her out of destroying Orgrimmar, after all. But she couldn’t forget her burning fingers around Tyrande’s throat, and how easy it was to turn to violence anyway, and that moment was like a portal into just how right Tyrande would surely feel if she had Sylvanas’ head on a pike. It was a difficult thing to sit with, especially now.

Alleria was watching her, but did not slow down. “I hope your friendship becomes valuable for you both, but for that to happen, it must not be insulated from the past, or the larger world, and it must not be in ignorance of each other’s actions. I worry that you may be sweeping Sylvanas’ more objectionable behaviour under the rug rather than confronting it. If she continues to act this way, or to escalate, I worry that protecting her may harm you, or lead her down a path she should not walk. Have you thought of how to reconcile what she has done with how she is with you, and how to approach her… flaws?”

This was, perhaps, the worst of it all. “I have thought of it, some. And we talked about her latest… incident.”

“I would like to hear of it.” Alleria’s tone did not brook evasiveness or denial; she phrased it as a request, but she seemed quite intent on knowing where Jaina’s mind was at.

Jaina bristled a little - was this how Alleria treated her sisters, like irresponsible little children in need of instruction and oversight? But she took a deep breath and swallowed that objection. Alleria was concerned about her own sister, who would surely always be something of a child to her. It occurred to Jaina that she didn’t even know how much older Alleria was than Sylvanas - for all she knew, Alleria might well have helped raise an infant Sylvanas herself, might even remember it.

And Alleria was not wrong that this might poison things or explode, if mishandled. And more than anything, Jaina wanted this to work; she wanted to know that trusting someone, feeling this way for someone, could be a good thing. She wanted to nurture something good, something that could soothe her, somewhere she wouldn’t have to fight anymore.

“I understand rage at losing something, Alleria. A part of me was thrilled to finally sack Dazar'alor, after decades of them harassing our ships. You know what I almost did to Orgrimmar, and that had less reason than Sylvanas ever did. It was pure revenge - I had no tactic, no goal.”

That hadn’t been exactly how Go’el had pulled her back from that, but it was a realization she’d come to over the years since. There had been no goal to it. It had been punishment, pure and simple.

“So I understand how the mind can lose track of sense. I understood why Sylvanas lost it and did that.” She looked at Alleria, trying to read how private she might be with Jaina’s words. “I was so angry yesterday that I attacked Tyrande. Not to subdue her, but… For a moment, I was trying to kill her.”

Alleria simply nodded, inscrutable but attentive. She wondered if the Void had already told her as much.

“And I also understand… something similar to what Tyrande is feeling, why she would do this, even if it’s not the same.” Jaina scowled, wishing things were simpler, but the truth was not simple. “And I was angry at Sylvanas, but yes, I am very angry at Tyrande. Even if I think she’s right to be angry herself. Even if I did something similar after Theramore.” Jaina stared out one of the windows from the long hallway, overlooking the city and the sea. This was a bit of a gamble. “Do you know what happened to my father?”

A shadow of a look crossed Alleria’s face, and she nodded. “You forget how old I am, Jaina. I met Daelin on a few occasions, during the First and Second wars. Upon my return to Azeroth, I looked into the fates of those I’d once known, including his. I know about as much as one can know from books.”

Jaina nodded, trying not to remember that day at Theramore too clearly; the clamour, the smoke, the flash of Rexxar’s axe. But even if the images were held at bay at the edges of her mind, the weight and press of the day’s emotions could not be escaped.

“They told me to stand aside. That it was justice. That it had to be done. And I listened, because I’d seen the villages he put to the torch - the guttered houses, the dead mothers and children, the prisoners herded into pens and speared or burned alive. My father did evil, evil things to people who’d maybe done terrible things, once, but who had run far away and were trying to build a better home. And I know many other Kul Tirans died in the battle before my father was defeated; why should their deaths happen, yet the man who ordered them to their deaths be spared? That’s an injustice of its own! But -”

Jaina felt herself shake, her voice tremble, and she clenched her fist to try to exert some kind of control for a moment. The kind of control she hadn’t had when she was that young. Alleria watched her closely, and after a moment Jaina found the words.

“But they still killed my father . The man who raised me. He was already beaten and powerless, but they killed him anyway and it didn’t fix anything, Alleria . It bought me nothing but bad blood with Kul Tiras and my own family, it pushed Thrall and I apart, and we were at war again with the Horde within just a few years anyway. ”

Alleria touched Jaina’s elbow lightly as they stood by the balustrade, looking out of the walkway.

“So yes - yes, I’m angry at Tyrande and what she’s trying to do.” She took a deep breath and held it for a moment, trying not to feel too much the fool. “I can’t believe how angry I am, because when I think about it, I know her pain is awful and real, and she’s right to be angry. And I would want to do something similar if I were her. But… I'm still glad I didn't drown Orgrimmar. I'm glad Go'el stopped me. It wouldn't have healed any wounds.”

Alleria’s lip twitched. “I expected Sylvanas to remind you of Theramore. I did not expect her to remind you of… that particular episode of Theramore’s history.”

“No.” She thought of Sylvanas, whittling a new anchor pendant for her. “Me neither, honestly.”

“And this helps you reconcile her past actions with your protectiveness of her?”

Jaina was already breathing heavily, tension building in her chest. “I know people think I’m insane.” She glared at Alleria, daring her to say such a thing, but Alleria gave her a slight, understanding smile instead. “But I do see more than just the historian’s summary of her . And if I tell anyone… They all know what happened to my father. They know what’s happened since Theramore, what I might have prevented if I’d destroyed Orgrimmar. Tides, what happened with Arthas. Some people think of me as this woman who just keeps giving bad people chances.” She slumped against the stonework. “What if that’s exactly what I’m doing? It feels different somehow. It feels like I’m helping her have the space to be another self. Like we’re getting ourselves unstuck from the awfulness we were trapped in. But what if it’s not?”

Alleria nodded quietly and took Jaina’s arm in her own, and led her further down the walkway. She said nothing for long enough that Jaina wondered if she was lost in thought, or simply waiting for more.

“Alleria? What do you think about it?” She lowered her voice, as though speaking treason in the halls of the Alliance. In a way, they were. “Have you forgiven her?”

“Forgiveness is a fraught word, and what is meant by it seems to vary greatly. In this, I will avoid using it at all.” Alleria’s response was swift as an arrow. “I will not coddle her and tell her it is all right that Teldrassil burned. I will not tell Tyrande to leave the past behind and be civil. Sylvanas did a terrible thing - many terrible things, unfortunately. I hate many of the words she has written into the pages of history.”

Silence, but for their steps. “But you still look out for her. So, what, then?”

Alleria nodded quietly. “When I think of the worst things she has done, my thoughts are many, but my resolution is simple. Never again. No doubt more cities on Azeroth will burn in the future, cities filled with civilians, filled with life; but I must do what I can to ensure such a thing does not happen again.”

“And if Sylvanas were the one holding the torch?”

Alleria sighed, closing her eyes, and stopped. “If I saw her holding the torch, the single torch that would burn another world tree, I would shoot an arrow through her hand. Or whatever other part was necessary to stop her. Even her skull, in the worst case.” Jaina stared, but Alleria’s brow creased, in something that looked a bit like pain. “Sometimes even I must act in accordance with the Void. I fear the relief it brings me, to do their will… but that relief might be the only force that would overcome the horror of doing such a thing, even if it were necessary.”

She opened her eyes, and a curl of darkness seemed to be leaving them, and Jaina nearly shivered.

“But just as Sylvanas never should have been in that position at Teldrassil in the first place, I must first strive to ensure I never arrive at a position where my best option is killing a sister. We cannot simply respond to evil, or evil will never be defeated. We must do all we can to stop cities from burning, and doing so requires constant vigilance long before somebody lights a torch. For those close to Sylvanas, it means we must ensure she never burns a city again. Can you do that, Jaina?”

Jaina blanched. “Could I kill -”

“No. Can you keep her from burning cities?”

Jaina searched her eyes, and thought she understood what Alleria was asking. It was a difficult thing to think. A tantalizing thing to think… which made her distrust it. “You mean by any means necessary. Whether or not that involves killing her.”

“Just so.”

She let out a hiss of breath. “Well I'll try, Alleria. Is it really that simple though?”

“Simple?” Alleria’s eyes rose up her brow. “Of course not. You are doing it right now, Jaina - Sylvanas couldn’t ruin the little house you live in, let alone anything greater. Is it simple? Are you free of uncertainty, worry, remorse, regret, fear? How simple would it be, to do this forever? The simple answer was to kill her, and you rejected that answer at the gates of Orgrimmar. So why worry, now, whether you are choosing the simple path?”

Jaina’s head was spinning. “I’m just - this is hard, Alleria.”

Alleria smiled slightly. “It is Sylvanas’ own responsibility not to commit these acts, or to order them committed by others. But as we both know, sometimes Sylvanas has difficulty doing the things she ought to do, even if she knows them and wants them. Her options are what they are; her knowledge is what it is. Pain and fear cloud her judgement, and she has not had whatever it is she needs to heal. I have my own concerns, but where I can, I am inclined to lend her my help if it will keep her from a more dangerous path. I see her darkness and her wounds, and I do not shy away from the difficulties I may face in trying to care for her. I am ready for some amount of pain, for my sister's sake. I merely wish to know that you are mindful of this; that you are not ignoring or hiding her actions to avoid the discomfort of growth.”

Jaina tried to summarize it, tried to extract a lesson from the rambling. “You think we can save Sylvanas?”

But Alleria shook her head. “Saving is simplistic. Nothing can be saved permanently. All things decay; all things need tending to grow. And you cannot make another person’s decisions for them.” A flash of something tender across her cheeks. “I believe Sylvanas is trying. I saw that when I last spoke to her, and if you’ve gone as far to invite us to dinner, I believe things have gotten better. If she is trying to grow, she must do that on her own, but she will have needs. We can give her soil and water; even with that, she may yet fail. But we ought to know what kind of flower she is, exactly, as we tend to our garden.”

Jaina tried to make sense of what Alleria was saying, and she was certain she understood, but it was… unsatisfying, somehow. Not clean. Not a solution. “I understand what Sylvanas was saying, now.”

“Oh?”

She risked a bit of a frown. “About you being the worst Windrunner.”

Alleria chuckled, a quiet, light little sound that belied the darkness that nipped at the heels of her heart. “You can make a direct comparison tonight, if you wish to see for yourself. I would still very much like to speak to Sylvanas again, in the wake of all this, if you are well enough.” She frowned, slightly. “And Vereesa, of course.”

“Right - of course.” She glanced at Alleria’s mossy eyes. “Do - did you want to just come back with me, via portal, or -?”

“I believe we agreed on a time a little later in the afternoon. Let your mind unwind from what you’ve spoken of with us all today. Go home.” Alleria raised an eyebrow. “Enjoy a little privacy. Come fetch me when you’re ready.”

Enjoy a little privacy. Tides, but those were peculiarly well-chosen words. She tried not to let that show on her face as she bid Alleria farewell, and portaled her way back to the house.

She glanced into Sylvanas’ office only long enough to see that the banshee queen was still speaking to her warden. Sylvanas had a vexed look on her face that suggested to Jaina that she was trying very hard to not threaten Sira’s existence more than she already had. Jaina didn’t want to have anything to do with that conversation if she could help it, so she gave Sylvanas a simple nod and retreated to her office.

As she settled down at her desk, she set out the reminder to write to her mother and cleared space to write. One of the other letters sitting here caught her eye, though. It was an inquiry from a Dalaran mage into the magic being used to create the Blight the Forsaken were planning on using to assault the temple in Ny’alotha. It was not Jaina’s area of expertise, but she could at least put them in touch with Sylvanas’ people, and she found herself skimming the paragraphs of inquiry for longer than she’d intended before busying herself with other paperwork she’d ignored in the face of yesterday’s far more immediate concerns.

When she saw Sira leaving the house through the window, though, she immediately dropped her things. They didn’t have a great deal of time before she went and fetched Alleria and Vereesa - did Vereesa even know what happened? She hoped so. But they had some time, and she wanted to spend it with Sylvanas, damning as that might sound to anyone else.

Jaina found the queen in her office working through something with a quill, and when Sylvanas looked up at her, it was with a slight smile, equal parts worried and relieved. Jaina smiled back. “Hey.”

Sylvanas stiffened oddly at the greeting. “Excuse me?”

“I said hello.” Jaina blinked, knowing the difference was academic but struggling not to correct herself anyway.

Sylvanas gave her an odd look. “I don’t believe you’ve ever said hello to me. Is something wrong?”

Her voice was uncharacteristically soft, and it struck Jaina all at once that Sylvanas wasn’t used to anybody greeting her so informally. How often did people just shout her name, or launch straight into whatever they wanted to talk about? How many times did they punctuate their remarks to her with my Lady or my Queen, or perhaps you genocidal maniac?  

There was something slightly baffled in Sylvanas’ eyes, and Jaina was a bit saddened to think that she’d long been denied the simple kindness of a greeting. Alleria had said Sylvanas needed things to grow, to heal - surely simple human kindnesses would count among them. Or elven kindnesses.

She quickly sat down by Sylvanas’ side and looked a moment into the red glow of Sylvanas’ gaze, and couldn’t help but want to kiss her. And she was allowed to do that, now, and so she did. Sylvanas’ cold lips responded as much with a kiss as a smile, her lips parting as Jaina’s fingers grazed her cheek. Then Jaina pulled back and winked. “Hello.”

Sylvanas chuckled a little, and slipped her arms around Jaina’s shoulders. “My dear little mage.”

Jaina blushed at that, laughing a little too, and went to kiss her ear. “Hello. Hello. Hello -”

“Cease this immediately.”

Jaina snorted and hugged her back, and she enjoyed the silent embrace for a moment longer as Sylvanas stroked her hair. It was good, after a day like this, to be held. To have someone who wanted to hold you.

“How was Stormwind?”

Jaina pulled back, and tried to tug Sylvanas from her chair. “Stormwind was exhausting and I think I need a nap before your sisters show up. Let’s go lie down.”

Sylvanas raised her eyebrows as she stood. “Was Alleria not there to defend you from the Alliance? I shall have words with her.”

“Oh, Alleria was there. She had an interesting little spat with Maiev where Maiev, I think, threatened to chain her up?” Jaina led Sylvanas back to her bedroom, thinking as she went that they really needed some kind of comfortable sitting furniture. It would be nice to have a sofa, to lounge around together. It might also be a better place to have complicated conversations, rather than the bed.

“Is Maiev now harassing the rest of my family?”

“No more than you’d expect.” She lay down on the bed, pulling off the boots she’d forgotten to take off earlier. “I think it’s fine. Alleria had a little chat with me too. Serious business.”

Sylvanas lay down next to her, folding her hands over her stomach. “I dread to think -” Jaina lay down and flung an arm across Sylvanas and practically half laid on top of her. Tides, but it was good to be alone with her again. Sylvanas chuckled. “I see how it is now, Proudmoore.”

“Are you complaining?”

She freed one hand and ran it down Jaina’s back, giving her a pleasant little squeeze. “Never.”

Jaina smiled. “You rake.”

“Rake? You sound like Vereesa.”

“Just trying to prepare you.” Jaina sighed, her face so close to Sylvanas’ neck that she could feel the odd lack of a pulse. She should tell Sylvanas at least some of what Alleria had said. “The Alliance already found out about Renzik. I didn’t tell them it was you, but Alleria knew I was lying - the Void gibbers, apparently. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t just… ignoring the things you do, and that you’ve done. She wanted to know I’m not just going to suddenly break one day.”

Sylvanas’ face had stilled as she looked up at the ceiling, and Jaina wondered if this was something Sylvanas thought about often, too. Did Sylvanas hope she would just ignore everything? “I’d hoped my sister would be more supportive of us, yet now she is reminding you of my worst qualities.”

Jaina frowned. “No, she was fine. She’s concerned for us, I think . She wants us to do this right, even if I don't think she knows exactly what we're up to. And I think she’s right, Sylvanas. It’s something we should think about, if we - if you - well -”

Sylvanas frowned, trying to peer at Jaina’s face. Jaina didn't even know what exactly she meant to say, but Sylvanas asked anyway. “If we what?”

Jaina blushed, and that seemed to make Sylvanas smile. She could talk about this. It was a good idea to talk about these things. “This house arrest isn’t going to last forever. And apparently it makes us sitting ducks. So… one way or another, we need to get you out. And we need to think carefully about your past, both before and after that happens.” She looked Sylvanas in the eyes. “I’ve done bad things too, Sylvanas, but you understand that you’ve hurt a lot of people.”

Sylvanas pulled her arms a little tighter around Jaina, her brow furrowing, but she paused a moment before responding. “I would say my people are a convenient enemy for many, and that convenient enmity is not a trait unique to me. But yes. My decisions have not always yielded what I wanted, and have left a great deal of pain in their wake.”

Jaina wondered how much Sylvanas would ever be willing to admit to without prefacing it with something defensive; but she could tell the basic sentiment was there, and that was more than she’d seen in the woman when this house arrest had started. Sylvanas clearly knew her own decisions had gotten her somewhere difficult.

She decided to steer the conversation somewhere a little safer. “Maybe you can clear some of that up at dinner tonight.”

Sylvanas stiffened, but she looked more annoyed than anything. “If anything, I am the one angry with Vereesa at her abandonment. It will be a difficult matter to broach.”

Jaina thought back to her last conversation with Vereesa; she had a hard time imagining the conversation going poorly, but she understood she was privy to sides of each woman they’d kept from one another for years now. “You still love each other. And she feels bad about it, Sylvanas. She told me she does.”

“Perhaps. That does not make things easier.”

Jaina sniffed, though it had the tone of a chuckle. “Even if it's tense, it'll be an improvement on the past day or so.” She pulled back enough to see Sylvanas, and found her looking lost in thought. “And maybe a good reminder for you that there are nicer things to do with people than kill them.”

Sylvanas broke from her brooding to give Jaina a wry little grin. “I do plenty of nice things with you.”

“I’m not sure plenty really describes it yet.” She glanced up and down Sylvanas’ face and neck, down to the bodice hiding away parts of her Jaina had still yet to fully lay eyes and hands and lips on.

Sylvanas stroked her cheek. “Yet. Tell me - how much time do we have before my sisters arrive?”

Jaina wanted to say they had quite a while, but in truth she needed to go fetch both Alleria and Vereesa, and she wanted to spend a moment alone with Vereesa to at least give her a summary of the attack, so that they wouldn’t have to go over details with all three sisters together. And she was exhausted. “Not as much as we’d like. I do need a nap before I head out again.”

Sylvanas chuckled, and pulled her in close. “There is always too much to do in this life of ours, Jaina.”

Jaina closed her eyes, resting her head against Sylvanas’ chest, trying to imagine a life with a great deal less to do for both of them. It was a difficult thing to imagine, and an equally difficult thing not to crave.

 


 

Jaina had left to fetch Sylvanas’ sisters, and had agreed to bring Alleria first. It was a mercy for Sylvanas - of the two, Vereesa was the one Sylvanas most dreaded seeing again, and she would be glad not to have to do it alone. The sting of how she’d rejected Sylvanas’ attempts to come back together as a family lingered, even though she knew Vereesa felt some unease about it as well given her apology at Windrunner Spire. Sylvanas had gone to that meeting with her hackles up and her rangers in waiting, and sure enough, it had not been a very healing meeting. Not after the argument with Alleria, when her elder sister was finally confronted with the shock of who she’d become; not after Vereesa had dismissed them both as angry and broken.

Tensions had been high, both on the world stage and within them. Tensions now were… different. Perhaps that would bode well.

Sylvanas wasn’t sure how long it would take Jaina to return with Alleria, so as soon as Jaina had left, Sylvanas made sure her family necklace was visible around her neck. Then she’d fretted around the kitchen table, despite Jaina’s insistence that there was nothing to prepare. She tried to whittle away her fears, tried to make gifts for them. But in truth her mind couldn’t focus on what she was doing, and after a few frustrated attempts she tossed away the wood unfinished.

Before she could go mad with uncertainty, a portal thrummed to life in the lounge, and Jaina returned with Alleria in tow. Sylvanas’ back tensed a little when she saw her sister standing there; she still felt uncomfortable, even a little afraid, just as she had when they’d last said goodbye. She had refrained from embracing her at the time, and refrained from doing so now as well. Alleria’s appraising glance was not immediately soothing, either. Jaina simply gave them both a kindly look - no touching, not in front of Alleria, which Sylvanas had already assumed - and left to fetch Vereesa.

And so the meeting began. She tried to speak calmly. “Hello, Alleria.”

Alleria smiled at the greeting, and silently turned to settle a bottle of wine on a shelf in the lounge before facing her again. “Hello, Sylvanas. You seem intact.”

Sylvanas couldn’t help but smile a little at that. “Despite Tyrande’s best efforts.”

Alleria pursed her lips, her features still absurdly beautiful, her face hiding all hints of the chaotic voices of the Void whispering in her ears. Only her eyes looked anything other than the picture of elven vitality. Sylvanas saw concern there, and stone weariness. “Yes. I was angered to hear of Tyrande’s rash actions, and I am glad you were unharmed. But do not begrudge her her pain, Lady Moon, for it is as true and real as yours.”

Her smile faltered. “Her neglect almost saw Jaina killed.” Sylvanas nearly spat the words out, wishing Alleria had opened with something else. She would begrudge Tyrande as much as she liked, even if she could be persuaded to exercise restraint. “Her plot played into the hands of other forces, and she… she didn’t care whether Jaina was hurt. Her contingency plan assumed the plot to rescue me succeeded. She must have known Jaina might not survive that.”

“As I said. Sincere pain and rashness go hand in hand.” Alleria tilted her head ever so slightly, and smiled. “Speaking of which, your distress for the threat to Lady Proudmoore’s safety is quite touching. Or were you simply afraid of the house exploding if she were killed?” The thought was morbid at best, but Sylvanas recognized the encouraging little curve of Alleria’s lip, and was jolted out of her frustration by the sense that she was being teased. It was an expression she recognized well in her sister’s face.

“I enjoy her company, sister.” Sylvanas didn’t want to say more, or the teasing would surely never end. “As I suggested when we last spoke, she and I are friends.”

Alleria’s smile broadened; no doubt she was surprised to hear Sylvanas had friends. She would be far more shocked if she knew the truth of what had happened the other night. “A good friend indeed; she saved your life. I am glad she is here for you.”

A part of Sylvanas bristled at the almost patronizing tone, but another part of her was flooded with relief at the familial concern. In her confusion, all she managed was to say, “As am I.” She spotted the matching necklace around Alleria’s neck, and felt a sad pang of longing. She hated that they were already discussing matters of war and violence; this was not what she had hoped for. She ached for something far simpler.

“Sylvanas.” Alleria looked at her seriously, as if reading the thoughts on her face. “When we met at Windrunner Spire, you seemed too angry and self-assured to speak with openly, as sisters. Unfortunately, I avoided you at the siege of Lordaeron for that very reason, which I regret. I have not been thoughtful about the risks you still face in this house, and it pains me that you’ve been dragged back into the cycle of violence just as you were learning to trust. I know you have suffered many wounds, and that this plot is only the latest, but I would like to be here for you from now on, if I can.”

Sylvanas found herself unable to form a coherent sentence, because she wanted to say yes , but yes to what? She took a step forward, then stopped herself. She wanted to keep walking, but. She exchanged a long glance with Alleria for a moment. “Alleria, would it be - would you accept -”

Alleria took a step forward and extended her hands ever so slightly. Before Sylvanas could hesitate, she nearly fell into her sister’s arms, wrapping herself in an embrace she had not felt in years. Decades. All the time since Alleria departed for the Dark Portal, all those years ago, in what felt like another life entirely. Decades of learning to accept that Alleria was surely dead, and that such a reunion would never occur at all.

Sylvanas found herself weeping black tears, mercifully silent, but even if they had been loud she thought she would have heard her sister’s heaves and sniffles in her ear as Alleria squeezed back. “I’ve missed you too long, Lady Moon. Too long.”

For better or worse, that was around the moment a hum and a hiss announced the opening of another portal. Jaina strode through, with Vereesa quick on her heels. Sylvanas saw the moment Vereesa froze in her tracks, the moment she spotted her two other sisters in an embrace like this.

Jaina glanced at the scene, then at Vereesa. “Uh - well -”

Sylvanas and Alleria jerked apart, though Alleria kept one hand firmly on her shoulder. Vereesa stared at them both with wide eyes and a hand pressed to her mouth, and made a sort of gasping sound, and Sylvanas barely had time to register that she was holding something in her hand when suddenly Vereesa