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Not So Young Anymore

Chapter Text

They’d been through a lot together in a very short time. Their manic sprint through Tanaan’s damp and deadly jungles hadn’t left them much time to actually talk, and while Celia couldn’t speak for him, she knew that their desperate bid for survival had impressed her with a deep trust for the Archmage. When things had settled down into something more regulated with Lunarfall’s construction, she hadn’t had the time to sit down with him despite his invitation and his offer of a bottle of red. She’d been so caught up in managing her new position as Commander that she’d had to decline. “There’s too much to do, I’m afraid,” she’d said apologetically, still bloody from the fight with the Warsong. “Maybe another time.”

She’d decided that this would be that other time. In two days her forces would be in place to assault Highmaul, and they would take the city by storm. In its heart they would face Imperator Mar’gok, and Celia wasn’t sure they’d succeed.

She wasn’t worried about herself. She’d had a good run of it. She had a long list of achievements under her belt and her name was carved into more than one tribute statue. She was thirty-eight, and some would call that young. She felt old, and to her, that was what mattered. She’d had a good run of it. But a lot of the soldiers under her command were actually young, some still fresh-faced and hopeful. It was for their sake that she would be leading the assault on Highmaul. Her power and expertise would, hopefully, turn the tides in their favour.

But she didn’t want to think about that right now. It was the second night before the assault would commence, and she wanted something pleasant to think about. Khadgar had set up wards around his base of operations in Zangarra, but he’d made an exception for her when she’d agreed to try and collect an absurdly specific number of Apexis crystals for him. Four thousand nine hundred and eighty-six of them, to be exact. Still, the task had given her focus when she’d still been struggling to get her feet under her. She was a mage. She’d spent most of her life studying in libraries, tracking down arcane artifacts, and traipsing through ruins. Command was not new to her, but Lunarfall was much larger than anything she’d ever done. It took some time to adjust.

Khadgar’s tasks had helped give her focus, and she’d planned her assault on the Iron Horde around them. She’d first gained allies amongst the locals. She’d befriended some of the Outcasts, lent her strength to the draenei of the Council of Exarchs. There was a lot of work still to do, but for now, she had enough of a reprieve to rest and gather her strength before Highmaul.

She was an exception to the protections lacing Zangarra, and with a lack of concentration that came from years and years of practice, she opened a partial portal using her mirror as a focus. It wavered as the wards around Zangarra reacted to her magic, and slowly focused until she had a clear view of the inside of Khadgar’s tower.

“Ah, Celia!” his voice greeted, slightly warbled through the portal. A moment later his form wavered into view. For a few brief seconds she had to squint, as he shimmered like a fish in water. The portal refocused and upon seeing his welcoming smile, she grinned. “It’s good to see you. How are your preparations?”

“Well enough that I’m taking the rest of tonight to relax,” she replied easily. “There’s not much left for me to do, personally, until the assault begins.”

“Thursday at dawn, if I’m not mistaken?” Khadgar half-asked. Celia nodded slowly.

“You’re not. I don’t know why I’d ever expect you to be. You do an exceptional job at knowing everyone’s business.”

He laughed warmly, and she smiled. “Now, now, I must know what you’re doing if I’m to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong.”

“Oh, is that what you’re doing?” she asked blithely. “I could’ve sworn you were just trying to see how many things could go wrong at once. For, you know. Science.”

He laughed again. “Something like that,” he replied. “Will you be in the assault?” he asked, sobering. “It will be quite dangerous.”

“But you need things from Highmaul, and I need to ensure that all of my soldiers aren’t turned into sheep and then fried to a crisp,” Celia sighed. “Yes. I’ll be leading the assault, in fact. Don’t worry too much,” she soothed, seeing his worried frown. “I’ve got some old friends of mine who’ve agreed to accompany Lunarfall on commission.”

“Oh, good,” Khadgar said, his frown easing. “That will hopefully smooth your way through the city.”

“Yes,” she hummed. “But I’ve decided that I’m not going to worry about that tonight. I need to relax, and build up my mana before Thursday.”

“Do you have enough mana crystals?” Khadgar asked. “I could give you a handful. Fully charged, of course.”

“Any extra power will help,” Celia said. “Thank you. I’m a controller, not a siege engine, but I think a siege engine will be what we need.”

“I’m happy to help,” he replied. “Shall I send them by messenger? I can have them packed up neatly for a portal by tomorrow morning.”

“No, actually,” Celia said. “I’ll come and get them myself. I’ve got the time to spare and while I’ve got you on the line, you can open the portal and save me my mana.” She smiled. “And if you’ve still got that bottle of Dalaran red, we can talk about these... Abrogator stones you want me to collect.”

Khadgar’s reply was a half-second later, and Celia noticed but didn’t comment. “Of course,” he said brightly, recovering quickly. “Give me a moment and I’ll have a portal for you.”

“You can use the mirror I’m using as a focus,” Celia said, taking a few steps back. “I’ve carved stabilizing runes into it.”

“Perfect.” The image on the mirror wavered, and then distorted harshly and Celia was forced to look away lest it give her a migraine. A credit to his title as Archmage, it took only a brief few seconds for the portal to fully form, and beyond it, the image of Zangarra was clearly visible.

Celia stepped through the portal, blinking a few times to rid her eyes of the afterimage of the bright magic. She felt the ripple of the arcane up her spine as the portal’s arcane energy was allowed to disperse, and she looked up. Khadgar’s hand was still outstretched, mana sparking between his fingers. He offered her a smile.

“Welcome to Zangarra,” he said.

“Thank you,” Celia replied with a nod. She watched as he stepped away to climb up the raised dais in the corner. There was a crystal of translocation that could only able to be activated by Khadgar himself. She gave him a moment to open the way, not speaking. She knew that interrupting his focus wouldn’t do much in the face of his experience, but she gave him that courtesy all the same.

He was wearing what he usually did. Celia couldn’t really recall seeing him in anything else for her entire duration as Commander thus far. She supposed it didn’t really matter - she had four of the same robes for battle and two sets of identical pauldrons and vambraces.

“There we go,” Khadgar said, turning to her and gesturing towards the crystal. “Please, Commander. After you.”

“This doesn’t lead to the dungeon, does it?” she asked dryly as she climbed the stairs. “Because I usually wait for that sort of thing until at least the third date.”

Khadgar’s response was lost as she reached out to touch the crystal. Only her fingertips made contact, but it was enough. She was whisked through a closed-circuit portal and in a moment, found herself in a perfectly circular room that was much larger than the tower should have allowed.

“A pocket dimension,” she muttered, stepping away from the crystal to give Khadgar room. “You clever bastard.”

“What was that?” Khadgar asked as he materialized next to her.

“I said, you clever bastard,” she repeated, offering him a smile to show she was joking. “Have you got the entire Dalaran library up here?” she asked, moving into the room. Past the first set of ceiling-high bookshelves, there was a sitting area and a hearth, a food cabinet enchanted to keep its contents cool, and more shelves. These were full of books, but also bits of arcane paraphernalia, twisted metals armaments, Apexis crystals, and various tools and scraps of paper with scribbled writing in dark ink. “Or maybe just the first three sections.”

“I will have you know,” Khadgar started, unable to fully dampen his smile. “That I’ve only got the first two sections up here. And half of the fifth.”

Celia chuckled, and at Khadgar’s gesture, slowly made her way to the sitting area. She let her hand touch the arm of the chaise, deep blue in colour and a little worn around the seams. Slowly she sank down into the cushions, and relaxed into it. “Do you mind if I take my boots off?” she asked, hearing him move around behind the myriad of shelving units that separated the great chamber into something resembling rooms.

“Not at all,” he replied. It sounded somewhat distant from behind the shelves. Celia toed of her left boot, and the right one gave her some trouble so she reached down to yank it off. They were both deposited unceremoniously on the floor next to the chaise. The boots were soft, supple leather, but her feet still ached with phantom pains from the past two months of constant travel and battle. Wriggling her toes in their woolen socks was a simple pleasure, and she enjoyed it for that same reason.

Celia heard the familiar clink of fine crystal, and the sound of wine pouring from a bottle. When Khadgar came around the corner, she looked up. He’d removed his coat and the protective leathers worn underneath, and it left him in a deceptively simple and heavy blue tunic over his robe.

“Not even enchanted,” she said, tutting in false disappointment. “How can you expect to be anything resembling useful without enchantments?

Khadgar gave a rather undignified snort, and offered her a glass of ruby-red wine. She accepted it with a murmur of thanks, and watched as he set down the decanter and his own glass on the tall, narrow table between the chaise and one of the armchairs. With a wave of his left hand he conjured a floating table covered in several kinds of mana cakes, and with his right he summoned various meats and cheeses that had likely been stored in the cooling cabinet.

“Wonderful,” Celia murmured, reaching out for a slice of cured ham.

“Please, make yourself at home,” Khadgar said, his voice slow and easy. “If we’re to be discussing the stones, you may as well be comfortable.”

“You mean we,” she said, sampling the wine.

“Of course.” He offered a short but sincere smile, and settled into his chosen armchair. He reached over to take his wineglass from the table between them. His movements were slower than usual, Celia noted. She wasn’t the only one who was trying to relax for a change. “You remember what we’ve previously discussed?” he asked, sipping the wine.

“Of course. Though it was more of an impassioned lecture than a discussion,” she teased.

“I do apologize for that,” he replied contritely. “I tend to get a bit... carried away.”

“Oh, I don’t mind at all,” Celia said, smiling warmly. “I can always appreciate passion, especially for knowledge.”

Khadgar looked at her in silence for a moment, and then cleared his throat. “Yes, of course,” he said, focusing on the hearth. “Do you mind if I light a fire?” he asked, gesturing towards it. “I find it helps combat the humidity.”

“I hope you’ve set something up to protect your books,” she said, waving to the hearth. With a little twist of magic, the logs inside were lit with white-hot fire. After a few moments it cooled slightly to a more natural red and orange, and Khadgar sighed quietly.

“Do you really think I’m that mindless?” he asked dryly. “Do I have runes for my books.” He shook his head. “Oh, to think that such a low opinion of me could truly have formed, despite my best efforts here in Draenor...”

Celia laughed. “Oh, grow a spine,” she teased. “Now, I know you have at least three more impassioned lectures in you about the Abrogator stones,” she said. “You’ve got the wine to wet your throat. If you talk quickly enough it might last two whole lectures!”

“You have quite the attitude, Miss Commander,” Khadgar said gravely, wagging his finger at her, but his eyes were practically sparkling with mirth. “Very well,” he said, giving a very put-upon sigh. “I’ll once again take it upon myself to teach you about the stones. Again,” he said, shooting her a mock glare.

“Oh, whatever would we do without you, Archmage?” she chuckled. “By the way, this is a fine vintage,” she said, swirling the wine in her crystal glass.

“Thank you. I’ve had it for a few years now, waiting for a good opportunity. I find that truly fine wine is wasted without good company.”

“I do intend to be good company to you tonight,” Celia replied.

“Right,” Khadgar coughed. “If you recall everything we discussed the last time, I’ll explain what I know of their history.”

“Please,” Celia said. “I’m a Commander today, but yesterday I was a scholar and tomorrow, if it comes, I will be again.” She smiled. “I’m always ready to learn.” That earned her a warm, approving smile that she returned easily.

Khadgar very quickly became impassioned, which was exactly what Celia had been expecting. She listened with half a mind on the subject, and the other half on Khadgar. He wasn’t normally the kind of person Celia would trust. He was too knowledgeable about things he shouldn’t have known, and he seemed to always be in the right place at the right time.

But his enthusiasm for knowledge and arcane truths seemed to explain that at least in part, and he didn’t seem to have a single cruel bone in his body. Celia had forced herself to withhold her trust until she’d been sure he truly had the best interests of Azeroth in mind. Running through Tanaan with only the remnants of the vanguard, and Khadgar, had made it difficult. She’d made the conscious decision to trust him after she’d established Lunarfall. She had enough to worry about already. Adding a mistrust of the Archmage on top of it all would have been too much.

“I really do hope I’m not mistaken in trusting you, Khadgar,” she said aloud.

She’d interrupted him, and he frowned at her, brow furrowed. “I should very well hope not,” he said gravely. “I only wish to see Azeroth safe from the Burning Legion. If we clashed over ideals, I’d be quite worried.”

“It’s not the ideals,” Celia said. “It’s the methods. It’s always the methods.”

Khadgar took his time to deliberate his answer. Thinking before speaking. That was something Celia could appreciate. “I like to think that I have a good moral compass,” Khadgar said. “Spending years conversing with a Naaru would certainly help to form one. Still, you’re right to be cautious. I wouldn’t advise trusting easily in these dark times, even when it comes to myself.”

“You seem to be a good sort,” she said. “But sometimes that’s the kind you shouldn’t trust.”

“I will try my utmost to be worthy of your trust,” Khadgar said.

“Only a little bit of snark. I’m impressed.”

He laughed. “I do try, my dear. Now, may I continue?”

“Oh, please. You were saying something quite interesting. I’m sorry I interrupted you.”

“Oh, not at all,” he replied warmly. “Now, as I was saying, there’s a high chance that the stones currently in Highmaul are the very same as the ones used by the ancient emperors. This could be a good thing, as it’s likely their power has faded slightly over the ages. Slightly, but possibly enough that...”

Khadgar’s voice had a quality to it, and Celia was hard pressed to name it. It was a sort of warmth, a knowing fondness that made you feel a little more at ease, and little less cynical. Celia wouldn’t call herself jaded, but she’d been a raider at the Black Temple. She’d been in Icecrown, fighting endless undead and frostwyrms and giants made of cobbled corpses to give the heroes in the citadel a chance at victory. She’d seen firsthand the power of an Old God in Ulduar. She’d been out of commission for the battle against Deathwing because of her near-death in Uldum’s bloodied sands against his allies. She’d fought the Horde for years, lost everything to war and disaster. She wasn’t jaded, but after seeing Hellscream’s touch rot Pandaria from the inside, after facing down her worst nightmares in the sha and triumphing over them only to turn around to see the Dark Portal open to Draenor, she was getting quite close to it.

“So you’re saying that if I can get you a pack full of Abrogator stones, you can tell me where they come from?” Celia asked when Khadgar fell silent for more time than it took to sip his wine. “And what they’ve been used for? That’s some serious sympathy magic.”

“It’s one of my specialties,” he replied.

“Oh? So you’re good at reading the mood?” she asked. She regarded him, raised an eyebrow, and smiled. “Well, maybe not.”

“Excuse me?” he replied indignantly, but Celia only laughed and shook her head. “Well,” he said, clearing his throat. “Aside from your snide comments, you make a lovely audience.”

“I make a lot of things,” she agreed. “Mostly fireballs.”

“I’ve seen your fireballs,” Khadgar said. “I think meteor is a better name for them.”

She smiled widely. “Yes, I’m quite proud of them.” She set her wine glass down on the narrow table between their chairs, and settled into the chaise. It was soft and cushy, unlike the hard wooden chairs she had to sit in for officer’s meetings, and she enjoyed the indulgent velvetiness under her fingers. “To be honest, I’m not really looking forward to the assault.”

“I imagine so,” Khadgar said. “It’s not going to be easy. Oh, that reminds me...” He stood smoothly from his chair and Celia envied him the apparent ease of movement. She was younger than him, but she was always stiff getting up after a long rest. It was her adventuring years catching up to her, she reasoned.

Khadgar returned with a leather satchel in hand. “The mana crystals?” Celia asked, sitting up to accept the satchel when he offered it.

“Yes. There are twenty-one of them, fully charged, as I said.”

Celia opened the satchel and peered inside. Indeed, there were twenty-one glowing draenite shards, the edges sanded smooth and tiny runes inscribed in lines over their edges. “Wonderful,” she said, closing the satchel. She set it aside next to the wine decanter, nearly empty after Khadgar’s long talk. “This will help me greatly, Khadgar. Like I said, I’m no siege engine. I’m not the most powerful mage in Azeroth.”

“But you are one of the most skilled spell weavers I’ve seen in years,” Khadgar said. “Your affinity for manipulating magical energy is not something you can train for. It’s a rare and useful skill that comes naturally to you, and I dare say it’s quite a bit more useful than a simple battering ram.”

Celia smiled softly, and nodded. “Thank you. I appreciate it. I would say the same for you. Frost and fire are like oil and water, but you merge them so easily, even adding arcane into the mix. I’d still like to learn that spell you hit the dam with.”

“That one’s staying with me for a little while longer,” Khadgar chuckled.

“I’ll have to try and figure it out myself, then. If Lunarfall is oddly absent from the valley tomorrow, you know where to find it.”

Khadgar laughed outright at that, and sipped the last of the wine in his glass. “Oh, please,” he said. “You and I both know how much care you put into your spellwork. It’s truly a thing of beauty.”

“Thank you,” Celia said. “Though I’d say that your spells are quite neatly aligned with sublime artwork.”

“Now why would you say that?” Khadgar asked.

“You know, of course, that sublime artwork encompasses both the beauty and the terrible power of nature?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I’d say that your spells do just about the same. The beauty of magic, its versatility and wonder, and the sheer power of the arcane. You mix them quite beautifully.”

“If I didn’t know better I’d say you were buttering me up,” Khadgar laughed.

“Oh, I don’t need to do that. I’ve already fetched you four thousand nine hundred and eighty-six Apexis crystals from various sources, and I’m about to collect at least a few dozen Abrogator stones for you.”

“More like one hundred and something,” he said, sounding almost sheepish.

“Oh, really,” she said dryly. “For that amount, you’d best have some kind of worthwhile reward. At the very least I expect another bottle.”

Khadgar chuckled. “I’m sure I can manage to find some way to properly reward you. Hell, I might just find you two bottles!”

Celia laughed with him at that. She turned her head to watch the fire in the hearth, the trace of a smile still on her face. The chamber fell into silence for a short while, save the crackling of the fire and the almost imperceptible hum of arcane runes and enchantments.

“It’s getting late,” Khadgar said quietly. “Do you have an early morning?”

“I always have early mornings,” Celia said. “And late nights. And busy afternoons. Why did you give me Lunarfall?” she sighed. “You could have given it to someone young, someone spry and capable of doing all this crap every day. But no,” she complained, betraying it with a smile sent sideways over her shoulder. “No, you had to give it to the aging mage with a bad knee and too many cats.”

“You can never have too many cats.”

“My latest title would say otherwise.” She laughed. “People have taken to calling me the Crazy Cat Lady in jest. It’s cute, actually.”

“You’re one to talk of aging mages,” Khadgar said with humour in his voice.

Celia chuckled and offered him another smile. “I still have a bad knee,” she said.

“I won’t argue that. It’s insulted me at least three times in the past hour.” Celia laughed loudly, and Khadgar smiled triumphantly. “It’s getting quite vicious, actually. Did you hear what it said about my mother?”

“I think I’ll take my bad knee away from you then, before it insults your fashion sense.”

“Excuse me, what’s wrong with my outfit?” Khadgar said with false indignation.

“Absolutely nothing, if you’re going for a homeless hedge mage sort of look.”

“Excuse me?” Khadgar held a hand to his heart. “Betrayed, by the very same woman I helped to institute as Commander of Lunarfall! Betrayal, I say!”

“Oh, stop it,” Celia scolded lightly, smiling all the while. “You’re right, though. It is getting late, and I’ll have a stack of mission reports on my desk by eight tomorrow.”

“Today, actually,” Khadgar corrected, glancing at the clock floating above the hearth. “It’s just past midnight.”

“I’d best get back, then,” Celia sighed, leaning down to pick up her boots. She slowly pulled them onto her feet, wriggling her toes experimentally. “It’s not so easy to get to sleep nowadays.”

“Are you having hard nights?” Khadgar asked, worry creasing his brow. “Is there no one at your garrison who can make sleep aids? Potions, or otherwise,” he said.

“It’s just the stresses of being in charge,” Celia said. “I worry about my followers, and my scouts, and my soldiers. I worry about the meetings I have to attend in Stormwind every week or two. I worry about Gul’dan, the Iron Horde, the regular Horde, the remnants of Hellscream’s True Horde, the tensions in the Alliance...” She shrugged. “I could go on.”

“I’m sorry, for what it’s worth,” Khadgar said. “I didn’t mean to add a burden to your shoulders, but at the time you were the best candidate for Lunarfall’s command. You still are,” he added. “You are in a unique position between Draenor and Azeroth. The Exarchs trust you, and you’ve created a solid foothold for yourself within the power vacuum that appeared in our initial charge. What’s more, you managed to make a good impression on Drek’thar, and even Ga’nar, the ornery old codger.”

“Who’s the ornery old codger, here?” Celia teased.

“Both of us.”

“Damn right.”

Khadgar laughed at her proud tone, and offered a hand to help her stand. She slipped her hand into his - it was warm and dry, and wide, and a bit rough. “Try to get some rest tonight,” he said as she stood. “And you’re welcome to return tomorrow, if you have the time.”

“I’ll try to make some room,” she said. “But the night before the assault, I’ll probably be needed.”

“I understand.” He nodded. “I’ll open a portal up here so you don’t have to use the translocator again. I know it can cause a headache if you’re not used to it.”

“Thank you, Khadgar. I appreciate you taking the time to entertain me tonight.”

“You’re a pleasure to have, Celia,” Khadgar replied, bringing a hand up. Magic coalesced in his palm and he stretched it to create the base for the portal. “Whenever you have time to visit, you are welcome here.”

“Thank you. I’ll see you another time. Goodbye, Khadgar.”

“Goodnight, Commander.”

Chapter Text

It took everything they had to fell Mar’gok’s breakers. Magic simply didn’t work against them. Something they had negated the arcane, and it was left to the soldiers and Celia’s old raiding friends to kill them. Their fight was a hard-won victory.

It took the rest of what they had to defeat Mar’gok himself. It was almost too easy to gain access to his court, and it was made obvious the moment they stepped in that it had been a trap. Mar’gok knew how powerful they were from watching them carve a path through his city, and they had underestimated him. Rather, they’d underestimated the stones of his ancestors. Celia had been forced to use nineteen of the twenty-one draenite crystals Khadgar had given her, and even with the massive amount of mana inside them, she’d been forced to rest for three days before the healers would allow her to return to Lunarfall. Mana exhaustion did strange and dangerous things to the body. She’d exited Mar’gok’s court bleeding from her ears and nose, and even her eyes were bloodshot from burst blood vessels. A week after they’d taken Highmaul and her hands still shook.

But she was alive, and most of her forces were alive, though many were still recovering from varying degrees of injury. What’s more is that she’d handed the order for the Abrogator stones to one of her field lieutenants, who’d had them delivered on her behalf to Zangarra by gryphon.

She was alive, sequestered in her chambers in Lunarfall while her body recovered slowly from the abuses of mana exhaustion. She’d never felt such a rush as she had when fighting Mar’gok. Khadgar’s mana crystals had been so full of sheer power that when she’d siphoned the magic from the first one, she’d had a brief moment of shock. What was she supposed to do with that much power? Turn it against the enemies of the Alliance, of course.

She’d been ordered to bed rest for another two days by the healers, but she was easily bored at the best of times. Despite Thorn’s suggestion that she actually rest, Celia had taken up the study of artifacts Harrison Jones was searching for. Some were interesting, others seemed to be mere myth. She wrote theories on sympathy magic and twisted timelines. It occupied her time.

It was still boring to her after over a week of enforced rest, and she was glad for the distraction when her mirror shimmered in the beginnings of a partial portal. Window portals, they’d been called. Everyone seemed to have a different name for them.

“Commander, are you there?”

Celia smiled at the familiar voice. “Archmage. Who else would hijack my mirror?”

“Apologies, but I’ve found the most interesting things in these stones and after all the effort you’ve been towards this venture, I thought you might be interested in hearing it.”

“Of course,” Celia said brightly, quickly setting aside her notes. It was a lesson in exhaustion to struggle out of bed, and just getting on a pair of breeches and a shirt strained her. She managed to get on her most comfortable leather boots, and then limped stiffly to her mirror. “Open a portal, would you?”

“Of course.” Khadgar’s voice warbled slightly as the portal shimmered, and then solidified into a true portal. She stepped through, landing hard on her feet and stumbling a step. “Watch out!” Khadgar said, quickly stepping forward with a hand on her back to steady her.

“Thanks,” she sighed. “I’m still quite stiff. I think I’m getting a bit old to be raiding like this.”

Khadgar gave her a smile, and she was surprised to see that he was unsure. Uneasy. “Would you care for a drink?” he asked.

“Sure,” Celia said, and sat carefully in the blue chaise she’d occupied less than two weeks ago.

Khadgar returned with a bottle of Stormwind cider, and she took the heavy glass tumbler with a murmur of thanks. “So,” Khadgar asked as he sat in his armchair. “How did it go? You were successful, obviously.”

“Yes. You read my report on the breakers?”

“Yes.” His brow furrowed. “Strange that a sorcerer king would empower someone who could oppose him so directly, but...” He shrugged. “You did find a way to triumph, as I knew you would.”

“I wasn’t so sure,” Celia said, sampling the cider. It was sweet, and then bitter on the back of her tongue, and then it was sweet again. Dry, too, and thick. She decided she liked it. “And when we were in his court, I was sure Mar’gok would kill us all.” She shrugged. “But he didn’t. Those mana crystals you gave me helped immensely. Thank you again for those.”

“I’m glad I was able to help, even indirectly,” Khadgar said quietly. “But, do you mean to say you didn’t expect to survive the assault?”

“I’m a bit old for adventuring, Khadgar. My reflexes aren’t what they used to be.”

“You don’t think your soldiers would let you down so easily.” He was frowning unhappily, and she offered him a smile.

“No, of course not. But, well. I’ve been through a lot, and each time I grow more certain that my luck’s run out. So I decided it was better to go in expecting the worst. When you do that, everything’s a pleasant surprise.”

“I suppose. And I’m honoured,” he said. “The last night you had available before the assault, and you chose to spend it listening to me prattle on about old rocks. I hope at least that I didn’t make your last moments unpleasant,” he said, a bit of a smile returning to his face.

“You’re pleasant company, Khadgar,” Celia said. “Whether you’re prattling about old rocks or telling me about the possibilities of Titanic tampering in Draenor. It was quite a nice night, actually.”

“Good,” he said, and cleared his throat. “How are you feeling tonight? You seem quite tired.”

“I may have used a bit too much of myself in the fight against Mar’gok,” she replied, a bit sheepish.

“Is that why you’ve been inactive this past week? Mana exhaustion?”

“Yes.”

He frowned sympathetically. “I’m sorry. I know how unpleasant that it.”

“Unpleasant?” She snorted. “I’m stiffer than a dwarf with a fresh bowl of haggis.”

Khadgar swallowed his sip of cider a bit too hard, coughed once, and looked at her. “Where do you hear these things?” he asked.

“Around.” She laughed. “Come now, don’t tell me the great Archmage Khadgar has never heard a dirty joke?”

“Oh, I’ve heard plenty,” he said blandly, looking away. “Too many.”

“What do you call a hot tub full of paladins?”

Khadgar gave her a wary look. “I don’t think I want to know. What?” he asked.

“A bubble bath.”

He stared at her, and then snorted. “That’s not dirty,” he said.

“How many paladins does it take to replace a mage light?”

“... Four?”

“Two. One to uphold the ladder, and one to uphold the Light.”

“Still not dirty.”

“What’s written on a sign on a brothel that’s gone out of business?”

“What?”

“Beat it, we’re closed.”

It took a moment, but Khadgar did laugh, and Celia kept on.

“Why does Greatfather Winter have such a big sack?”

“I don’t want to hear this one,” Khadgar chuckled.

“He only comes once a year,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Oh, that’s just bad.”

She laughed quietly. “You hear all sorts of things when you’re part of a raiding guild,” she said. “And I have been around the block a few times.”

“Yes, I’ve heard.”

She sipped her cider. “So, tell me what’ve you learned of the stones?”

“Oh, of course!” he said, and immediately Khadgar launched into an animated lecture. He ran on tangents several times, diverging into the history of ogre magic, the evolutionary line of magnaron, and then into his theories on the zangar spore.

“And really, it’s quite fascinating,” he said. “It seems to worm its way very quickly into the nerve center, regardless of whether its host is bipedal, quadripedal, land-based life form or aquatic...”

“I hate to interrupt you, Khadgar,” Celia said with a smile. “But we’re out of cider and it’s left me a bit thirsty.”

“Wouldn’t you... Oh, that’s right, you... Here, allow me,” he said, cutting off his sentences halfway through. They couldn’t seem to keep up with his thoughts. A moment later a mage table was floating in between their chairs, and Celia reached out to take one of the tall glasses full of conjured water.

“Thank you,” she said.

“My pleasure,” he said absently before restarting his tangent on zangar spores.

Celia let him go until he seemed to run out of words. “I’m not sure how you can talk this long without getting thirsty,” she said with a smile, giving the mage table a gentle push. It slowly floated over to Khadgar, who gave her a wry smile and took a glass of conjured water for himself.

“Years and years of practice,” he replied. He regarded her for a moment. “I’m sorry, you seem quite tired. Have I kept you too long?” he asked, an apology in his voice.

“Don’t worry,” Celia replied. “I’ve been going crazy. I’ve been locked into my chambers since I returned to Lunarfall. This is a nice, relaxing change of pace.”

“Good.” He smiled softly. “As always, I’m glad I could help.”

She smiled. “You have been helping me quite a lot. I’m glad I’ve got you to turn to, really. Without asking for you to pry into their secrets, how is the Horde garrison doing? Frostfire isn’t an easy place to set up, but they have the Frostwolves there, at least.”

“Well enough. While you were in Highmaul they were taking hold of much of Frostfire’s previously ogre-held territory.”

“Good. And tell me, do you regularly peep into the bedchambers of their Commander?”

Khadgar, to her surprise, blushed heavily and looked away, to the hearth fire. “Well, I was trying to be discreet, but now that you’ve pointed it out...”

Celia only laughed. “That’s not a yes,” she teased. “Really, I’m honoured!”

He glared at her, lacking any real heat, and she smiled cheekily. “You are terrible,” he said simply.

“Yes, I know.” She shrugged. “I’ve got to have fun somehow, don’t I?” She glanced at him, and sighed. “Khadgar, I know you’re in a difficult position between the Horde and Alliance, and I wouldn’t do anything to purposefully endanger that. I’m just teasing you.”

“I know,” he said with a warm smile. “For what it’s worth, I find you to be pleasant company as well.”

“For what it’s worth?”

“Well, I’m not exactly in a position to have dozens of friends to choose from.”

“That’s true. I’m surprised you even have me!”

“Hey!”

She laughed, and was pleased to hear him chuckling. “You’re satisfied with the stones I had collected for you?” she asked. “I can always send for more. I believe we unearthed a few caches of them. None of the larger clusters, but a few more stones could be found.”

“No, I think I have enough. One hundred and twenty five stones will provide me with plenty to experiment with while still leaving enough for the end result.”

“That ring you wanted to forge, with the solium band I fetched for you from Skyreach?”

“Yes, exactly.”

She nodded. “Forgive me, but I don’t have much energy to spare to be excited about it right now.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Khadgar said. “Anytime you want to leave, just let me know. I won’t keep you much longer, anyway. I know you still need to rest. Mana exhaustion is dangerous if you don’t let your body recover.”

“My body’s been through the ringer,” Celia sighed. “I think it still stands up quite well, though, don’t you?”

“You’re teasing me again.”

“Only a little.”

Chapter Text

Celia was well and truly tired, now. It was a bone-deep tiredness that no amount of rest could seem to alleviate. It left with her near-constant headaches and her knee had never ached more fiercely, forcing her to wear a brace most of the day, even if she spent it in a chair.

They’d killed Kargath in Highmaul, and they’d nearly lost everything to Blackhand but in the end, her quick spell weaving had saved most of her men’s lives. Blackhand had broken the floor beneath them and they’d nearly all plummeted to their deaths, but she was a quick caster and had immediately started flinging slow-fall spells at anyone she could see. They’d still lost a few unlucky souls to the fall. She had to fight off the self-blame for being too slow, as did several of her mages.

Her garrison had been in an uproar ever since they’d returned, as there was now only one place left to secure - Tanaan. But she didn’t want to think about that right now. She just wanted some peace and quiet.

Spider-silk magic flowed between her fingers as she wove a portal into her mirror. “Archmage?” she called when it was open. She waited, and then called again. “Archmage Khadgar?”

There was no response, and with no small sense of disappointment she let the portal fade. Strands of magic slithered away, dissipating into the air or escaping back to the Nether. She sat on her bed with a sigh that seemed to take what little energy she had left, and she let her shoulders droop.

She gave herself a moment of self-pity, and then straightened her back. “Might as well be useful,” she mumbled, pushing herself to her feet and limping out to the main hall. It was thanks to her knee brace that she could walk at all right now and she ignored the odd, shuffling walk it forced her to adopt.

She spent some time in the backroom with her artificers. Romuul was one of her best, and being a local, his help thus far had been invaluable. Celia moved on after a short while to the barracks. The stairs gave her some trouble, but she gripped the heavy wooden banister she’d had installed early on in the planning and made her way down.

She spent only an hour outside of her chambers, merely taking a few minutes at each stop. She checked in with the mine, the fishers she’d allowed to set up in the pond, scolded Scrap Sparkfuse for stealing supplies - again - and made sure the barn was fully stocked.

Celia returned, even more tired than before, to her chambers. She shut the door behind her, feeling the wards she’d set up months ago lock into place behind her. She looked at her mirror for a moment, and then shook her head. “One more try,” she murmured to herself, reaching out to gather mana in her palm.

When the portal was open again she called out. “Archmage, are you there?”

“Celia?” the image on the other side wavered, and then Khadgar came into view. He smiled. “There you are! I missed you earlier. I was downstairs and by the time I registered your mana you’d already shut the portal.”

She shrugged. “I figured you were busy,” she said. “Are you now?

“For you? Of course not. Please, come through.” He waved her forward, and stepped out of sight. It took only a twist of magic and a few seconds of concentration to change the portal’s form from a window to a doorway, and she stepped through when it was complete. “Hello,” Khadgar greeted with a warm smile. “What brings you to Zangarra today?”

“I need a nap,” she grumbled.

“You couldn’t take a nap in your own bed?” he laughed.

“No! There’s always some issue that I have to personally resolve. No, I’m here to borrow a couch, or something. Do you have a blanket?” she asked, already walking away from him towards the sofa in the sitting area.

“I’ll get you something,” she heard him say with a chuckle.

She toed off her boots and let herself fall onto the couch, and stretched out, careful not to straighten her bad knee too much. Khadgar returned with a thin cotton blanket, and she sat up to accept it with a grateful smile. “Thank you, Khadgar,” she said. “You’re too good.”

He only smiled. “Is there really such thing?” he asked.

“I suppose not. I certainly wouldn’t argue it.”

“I’ll leave you to rest,” he said. “I’ll turn the lights off here, but on the other side of the room I’ll keep them on so you won’t be completely blind.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”

As Celia settled into the sofa, the lights above her dimmed and then shut off completely. There was still light coming from beyond the bookshelves, but not enough to keep her awake, and Celia burrowed her face into the blanket and closed her eyes. Now more than ever, she felt her age creeping up on her. One way to escape the aches it brought was to sleep, and she tried to relax past the uncountable worries she had.

Khadgar didn’t return to the top floor of his tower for nearly a full two hours, during which Celia faded in and out of dozing. True sleep eluded her, but she rested well, and when she felt the magical balance of the chamber shift, she woke fully. Slowly, but each deep inhale brought her closer to full awareness.

“Sorry to disturb you,” Khadgar said quietly.

“Oh, not at all. I’m the one who’s taken over your sitting room.” She sat up, leaning against the back of the sofa and yawning heavily. “Ow,” she murmured when her back gave a twinge of complaint. She held a hand to her lower back and slowly gathered heat in her palm and between her fingers until it seeped into her back and eased the ache.

“Can I get you something to eat?” Khadgar asked, looking down at her with some concern. “I’d feel like a downright mediocre host if I didn’t.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you did,” she replied, returning his smile easily.

He had a set of roasted meats and mushrooms - not zangar caps, of course - to offer her. And, of course, he conjured a mage table full of mana cakes. She ate a few bites of meat, a few wide-brimmed mushrooms that tasted smoky and earthy, drank some water, and relaxed into the back of the sofa with a mana strudel.

“Did you rest well?” Khadgar asked.

“I did. Thank you again for lending me your sofa. It’s quite comfortable, actually,” she said, glancing down and absently rubbing her hand along the soft fabric.

“Good. I worry for you, sometimes. I know it’s not easy to be a Commander.”

She smiled. “I manage. Thorn helps, as do my field lieutenants.”

“Well, that is their job.”

She chuckled. “And I have Leorajh and Delvar to help me on missions.”

“A saberon and a death knight. Wonderful company you keep,” Khadgar said dryly.

“Are we ignoring that I spend most of my free time in your library?” she asked, smiling crookedly.

“Excuse me, but I’m quite sure you’re here to nap, not to keep good company.”

“Since when do you qualify as good company, Sir Storm-the-Portal?”

He chuckled. “I suppose you have a point, Celia.” He fell silent for a moment, eyes on her with an unreadable expression. “Should you be returning to your garrison soon?”

“I probably shouldn’t have even left. There’s a lot to do to prepare for Tanaan.”

“Yes, I know. I’ll be with you every step of the way, of course.”

“Except when you’re with Frostwall, right?”

He frowned, and she shook her head.

“You know I’m only teasing you, Khadgar. I’ve worked as an ambassador for the Kirin Tor many times before. I know what it’s like to be stuck in the middle and I don’t begrudge you your efforts to stay close to their Commander.”

“Although I have yet to open a portal in his bedchamber,” Khadgar added, and Celia laughed.

“That might be a bit awkward if he’s not expecting you. A hunter, is he?”

“Yes. Not nearly as sensitive to the arcane as you or I.”

She nodded, and took a small bite of her mana strudel. “Blackhand was difficult enough. I imagine that the Iron Docks were equally challenging for the Horde. I don’t think either of us can take Tanaan alone.”

“Are you suggesting that you try to cooperate?”

She nodded. “At least in some things, I’d be willing to negotiate some kind of ceasefire. Or even a non-aggression. The Horde is enemy to the Alliance, but this...” She waved in front of her, as though to encompass Khadgar’s library, but they both knew that she was referring to Draenor as a whole. “The Legion. This is an entirely different situation, now. It calls for entirely different measures.”

“I will pass the message along, and try to foster some kind of agreement,” Khadgar said. “I believe the Commander of Frostwall will be of the same opinion regarding the Legion.”

She nodded, and sighed heavily. There wasn’t much else to say at the moment.

When it came time to return to Lunarfall, Celia folded the blanket absently and left it on the sofa. Khadgar stood to accompany her to the mirror set off to the side. She caught sight of her reflection, stared, and then sighed and reached up to touch her face. “I’ve still got a black eye,” she said mournfully. “How long can it possibly take for a bruise to fade?”

“Let me see,” Khadgar said, gently taking her chin between thumb and forefinger. She turned to look up at him and let him tilt her head up. “I didn’t want to make a comment, but this is really quite the shiner. What did you get hit with?”

“The floor.”

He chuckled briefly, and gently pressed his finger to the skin beneath her eye. It ached, but there was the familiar sting of frost magic and it faded, bringing with it some of the soreness that had been given her headaches for the past few days. “There, that should speed it up a bit.”

“Thank you.” She laughed. “At this rate I’ll be thanking you every five minutes.”

“You’d have to be near me for that to happen.”

“I don’t think I’d mind that,” she said, and Khadgar smiled awkwardly and looked at the mirror.

“Shall I open the portal for you?” he asked.

“Sure.”

The mirror shimmered and soon the image of her bedchamber occupied its surface. Every few seconds, Celia saw a flash of arcane spark across its surface. “Feeling a bit off today?” she teased, looking up at Khadgar.

“They can’t always be perfect,” he replied. “And anyway, it’ll get you safely to where you want to go.”

“Thank you, Khadgar,” she said frankly, reaching out to gently touch his forearm for a moment. “Don’t exhaust yourself studying Blackhand’s remains. You need to rest, too.”

“I will,” he promised, nodding once. “I’ll see you another time, Celia, and as always, you’re welcome to visit any time.”

She smiled at him for a moment, and then turned to step through the portal. Her bed greeted her and she groaned, and turned to her desk. There was, unfortunately, a limited time she had to sleep, and she’d wasted over two hours in Khadgar’s tower. But, it had been worth it to relax, and to see him again. He was pleasant company, easy on the eyes, and she could drop her officer’s insignia for a while and be just a mage again. It was a nice change of pace.

Chapter Text

Tanaan was a hellish place. Most of it was slowly being overtaken by fel rot that twisted natural things into monstrous creatures. Celia’s suggested ceasefire with the Horde had taken root, at least in the jungle, but only because of the completely overwhelming odds they faced. An endless Legion. A never-ending army of demons.

Celia tried not to think about it too deeply, but sometimes it caught up with her. There was no such thing as a night shift in Lion’s Landing - they had to be fully aware and operational at all times. But in Lunarfall, there was little to distract her from the hopelessness of it all. An endless Legion of demons. How could they hope to outlast the eternal? How could she make up for the lives lost on her orders? For the slaughter of so many young lives? Why did she stand when they fell?

And if they couldn’t, did she really want to die - or worse - with things they way they were?

Celia opened a portal through her mirror, using its polished surface as the base as she had done so many times before. She didn’t bother checking in first - she knew that Zangarra had been mostly emptied of mages, all forces redirected to Tanaan. Only Khadgar and a skeleton crew would remain. Not even Cordana, the poor soul, would be there. Not ever again.

The portal shimmered, reflecting her unsteady focus, and she stepped through before it started to fray. “Celia?” she heard, and a moment later Khadgar came around the corner of the massive bookshelves that passed for walls. His brow was furrowed. “Is everything alright?”

She stared at him for a moment. “How are we supposed to deal with an endless Legion?” she asked, the portal closing behind her with a snap that left a metallic tang on her tongue.

“We fight,” Khadgar said, approaching her slowly, as though approaching a wounded animal. Gently, his hands came to rest on her upper arms. He had a look of deep concern on his face. “We have faith in the Light, we fight, and try everything we came to stem the tide and find the source.”

Celia gave him a bitter smile. “I am so tired, Khadgar,” she said quietly. “I’m tired.”

Khadgar exhaled, shoulders falling slightly, before pulling her into a loose hug. She gripped onto the sides of his robes loosely, letting him hold her up. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

“I always get pulled back in and I always let it happen. I need to stop doing that.”

“It wasn’t fair of me to pull you in so deeply.”

“I don’t blame you for it. But after this, after Tanaan... I’m done. I’m retiring. No more. I can’t take much more.”

His hand held the back of her head, and she could feel his thumb stroking her hair lightly. “I know,” he said, and she knew he knew. “I’m sorry. I know.”

“How do you do it?” she asked.

“I’m not so sure myself, actually.” There was a bit of humour - dry, bitter - in his voice.

“What do you do when there isn’t an apocalypse on its way?” Celia asked.

“Explore, study,” Khadgar replied. “Try to find the answers to some very old questions.”

“Do you ever return to Karazhan?”

“Not if I can help it. Unfortunately, the library there is possibly the most extensive in all of Azeroth, so I find myself there more often than not when I have a difficult question.”

“Think you have room for one more?” she asked. “After all of this is over, I’ll need something to occupy all of my new free time.”

“I don’t know if Stormwind will let go of one of its Commanders so easily.”

“How will they stop me?” she snorted. “Firstly, it’s illegal to prevent an officer from retiring after service. Secondly, I have fireballs.”

“Meteors.”

“I have meteors,” she corrected, smiling. His outer tunic was rough against her cheek and the smile was uneasy and fragile. She inhaled slowly. “You smell rather minty today.”

“I was having tea,” he said lightly. “Care to join me for a cup?”

“Sure.” She sighed heavily, and forced her stiff fingers to release the heavy cloth of his tunic. “Might as well, while I’m here.”

“Do you imply that I’m not worth the trip unless you’re already here?” he asked, smiling.

“I would have to make the trip here to make the trip not worth the while.”

“But you’d have already made the trip.”

“But only because I had to make it otherwise worthwhile.”

“I think we’ve lost track of something.”

“Certainly seems that way.”

He offered her strong mint tea and little mana cakes. “If you’d like anything else, just let me know.”

“They’re so small,” she said, holding one of them between three fingers with a delicate touch.

“Well, eating the same thing for decades to replenish mana gets a little tiresome.”

She hummed thoughtfully, and took a careful bite. “They taste different.”

“Like I said.” He still wore a smile, but there was an otherwise unreadable expression in his eyes.

Even in silence, companionable and relaxed, Khadgar was pleasant company. Celia watched as he took up the book he’d obviously dropped at her sudden arrival. It was an old tome, bound in dyed red leather whose colour had faded significantly. It was large and thick and rested heavy on his leg. Some of its pages were held together with arcane threads that would lay flat as paper when the book was shut.

“I’ve interrupted you,” Celia said quietly. “I apologize.”

“No need for that,” Khadgar said in a tone that reminded Celia of times spent with her grandfather, uncountable years ago. He smiled softly. “You never need to apologize for visiting me. Really, why would you think that?”

“I interrupted your work.”

“I daresay you’re more pleasant than my work.”

“Is that so?” Celia asked, raising an eyebrow. Khadgar’s cheek pinked, and he rolled his eyes.

“Really, Commander,” he scoffed.

His gaze returned to the tome in his lap, and her gaze remained on him. She was just shy of forty, still in good shape despite her bad knee and old injuries. She knew she had a pretty face, not a great beauty but certainly no ogre either. Charming, she’d been called, with a full mouth and pretty hazel eyes with crow’s feet at the corners. A spattering of freckles decorated the bridge of her nose and her cheeks. Beside those freckles and her wrinkles, the only visible mar on her skin was a scar on her left jaw. And, as of recently, the permanent bruises under her eyes. Her body, she knew, was as strong as any younger war mage. She’d lost the soft, curvy body of her youth, replaced with hard, lean muscle and scars. Still, she certainly wasn’t unattractive.

And neither, if she was honest with herself, was Khadgar. He was older than her, perhaps by fifteen years, and he’d done well for himself in keeping a straight back and strong shoulders. He wore his greyed hair with pride and age hadn’t done much to soften the sharp cut of his jaw nor the proud arch of his nose. His eyes, Celia found, were his most attractive feature. Bright blue, keen with curiosity and sharp intellect, but never a cold sort. No, he’d always looked at Celia with warmth and a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes, even before she’d established Lunarfall with his aid.

“Khadgar,” she said.

He looked up at her after a moment, eyes searching her face unabashedly for clues. “Yes?” he said.

“I would never ask you for something I believed could compromise your precarious position,” she said. “When this is all over and I’ve officially retired - maybe I’ll rejoin the Kirin Tor as a scholar, or an emissary,” she mused. “Who knows? But after this is all over, I’d like to sit down with you and talk.”

“About what?” he asked, a flicker of ice in his eyes. He knew how to wield caution. Celia felt the back of her neck prickle and she wasn’t sure if it was mana static, fear, or arousal. “Something serious, I assume, that would otherwise jeopardize either of our positions?”

“Not so serious,” she soothed. “Or, perhaps very serious. But nothing to do with anything official.”

The hard look in his eyes eased slightly, and he regarded her with an appraising gaze. “Forgive me my caution, Celia,” he said quietly.

“No need. You have good reason.” She offered a soft smile, a peace offering to soothe ruffled feathers and raised hackles, and he returned it, face easing into the warmth she usually saw from him. “No, it’s nothing like that,” she said, almost murmuring. The top floor of his tower, his private lounge, was a quiet place. She was loath to break that peace. He looked back down at his tome. Celia was almost regretful when she spoke, disturbing him again. “I mentioned before that I would be interested in travelling with you. I was quite serious. Or, if you feel for whatever reason you’d prefer not to have me as a travelling companion, I could at least occupy myself in aiding you in researching whatever topic has caught your eye. Something to do,” she said. “Something that doesn’t involve burning people to death. Demons, I don’t mind. But I’m tired of burning people.”

Khadgar had an appraising look in his eye again when he looked up at her. “I think I would quite enjoy having your company more often,” he said slowly. “But, you’re right in suggesting we have this conversation... after.”

She nodded. “That’s why I said it.” She smiled. “If I last that long, I’ll come and find you again.”

His brow was furrowed, something weighing on him, but he returned her smile briefly anyway. “I’ll be sure to have another bottle. Perhaps a pandaren brew?”

“Something light.”

“You can find anything in a pandaren brew.”

She nodded, and fell silent, and Khadgar stared at her a few moments longer before returning his attention to the old, magic-filled tome in his lap. She watched as he quickly fell back into it, almost missing his mouth with his tea so preoccupied was he.

If Celia noticed that he seemed preoccupied with something other than the book, if she noticed his eyes skipping over sections and skimming over ones he’d already read, if she noticed that he was not turning the pages nearly as quickly as before, she didn’t mention it.

Chapter Text

Celia didn’t think she’d ever have a peaceful night again. They’d taken Hellfire Citadel, Azeroth claiming victory over it for a second time. Horde stood shoulder to shoulder with Alliance, and Draenor’s native orcs cheered with their Azerothian counterparts as the draenei of both worlds stormed the citadel from land and sky to root out the remaining demons. Celia felt completely drained. She had no doubt she was, again, suffering from mana exhaustion. The last two crystals she’d had from Khadgar’s gift, what felt like ages ago, were dull and inert in her hands, completely emptied of power. One was cracked down the middle, rendered useless as mana storage. Maybe she’d make it into a mantelpiece, or something.

Hellscream - Grommash, not Garrosh - was standing over Archimonde’s broken body. He had taken it upon himself to claim Draenor’s freedom. Celia limped over to him. It was a long walk, made slower by her ruined knee and bruised back and broken ribs.

“You,” she hissed. Her head ached from a blow hours earlier. She needed a healer. She waited until Grommash looked down to her, eyes wide.

“Commander,” he greeted. “Never did I think I would be standing next to-”

“Shut up,” she growled. “This is partly your fault, you know that? Not entirely, no. I understand that the Draenor clans were facing grave threats from multiple directions. I understand the temptation of power - oh, I understand that. I am a mage. I understand the power and influence of the Legion and I understand that there were larger forces at play here than you could, at the time of the beginning, see. I understand that Garrosh Hellscream, of my timeline, was corrupt, and spread that corruption. But you lead your people with promises of conquering our world and we had to face our worst nightmare come back to life. Do you realize what you’ve done?” she said, and then had to take a moment to stumble a step, almost toppling over. She caught herself with her staff, the top of it shattered from when she’d channelled the power of fourteen other mages to deal a deathblow to one of Archimonde’s lieutenants. Hours ago. It felt like years. Celia’s vision swam and she swallowed blood and bile. There was already blood caked in lines from her ears, from her nostrils. A little more didn’t bother her.

“Human,” Grommash growled. A warning, which she ignored.

“Do you realize,” she said hoarsely. She needed a healer. She ignored the way her legs were going numb. “Do you realize,” she said again, “that you really don’t have the right to declare Draenor’s freedom from the Legion? Because you’re not free. You’ll never be free, not with the Legion breathing down our necks. No,” she said, half to Grommash’s snarl-crinkled face, half to the healer who was trying to get her to sit down before she fell. “No, it’s not over, and it won’t be over for a very long time. You’d best be ready to make up for what you’ve done, Grommash Hellscream. You’ll never be slaves, right? And yet, you were nearly a slave to your own pride. The same thing that created a tyrant in Garrosh Hellscream. The same thing that had him revive an Old God, turn on his own people, corrupt Pandaria’s very heart. I cannot express you to how much damage pride had wrought on him, and on our world.” She swayed and the healer caught her before she fell. “Pride goeth before the fall,” she said wisely, and weakly. Too weakly.

Celia woke up disoriented, out of breath, and that nearly brought her to panic. “Easy, Commander,” she heard, and she tried to swallow. Her throat was dry and it rasped painfully. “Easy. You need to relax. That’s it. You’re safe in Lion’s Landing. We were going to bring you to Lunarfall but your condition was too tenuous for that.” Laughter. She squinted. Her vision was blurred and her right eye was seeing everything with a red tint. Burst blood vessels, most likely. “You had us worried, my friend, but you are a awake now, and this is a good sign.”

“... Tuulani?” she rasped.

“Yes! I’m to stay here with you until you are able to stand,” Soulbinder Tuulani said brightly. “Leorajh was here too, but I believe he’s gone out for a bit.”

“Yrel?” Celia said. It took two tries to speak.

“Everyone is just fine,” Tuulani said. “Well, many are injured, but everyone’s alive. Except for Ahm, of course, and Admiral Taylor’s ghost. I think he stayed in Lunarfall, didn’t he?” She looked up, away, wondering. “I think so. Oh, you should drink some water. Here.”

She helped Celia drink, and then she helped her sit up against the pillows. It was a comfortable bed, certainly more comfortable than the cots Celia knew her soldiers would be laying on. She, after all, was the Commander.

“What happened?” Celia whispered. It was less painful than speaking. “I was speaking to Hellscream.”

“You fainted,” Tuulani said. “Mana exhaustion, coupled with blood loss and head trauma, and regular exhaustion. I’m surprised you stayed standing at all after Archimonde was felled!”

“What happened? After the fight.”

“Oh, I think Lieutenant Thorn wanted to speak with you about that, first. And I think Archmage Khadgar is going to return after he speaks to the Horde’s Commander. He was here yesterday, but you were still deeply unconscious.”

“Yesterday? How long was I out?”

“Five days,” Tuulani said. “Like I said, you had us worried. But Leorajh and I work well together and the Alliance lent us many skilled healers.”

Celia nodded. It sent a brief wave of vertigo through her and she groaned and closed her eyes. It didn’t help much. “Thorn,” she said. “Need to speak to Thorn.”

“I’ll go and get her. Don’t try to move,” Tuulani warned. “You’re still very weak.”

Celia gave her a shaky thumbs-up.

Tuulani returned less than ten minutes later with Thorn. “Situation,” Celia managed to say.

“Everything’s secure for now, Commander,” Thorn reported dutifully. She was in worgen form. Celia wanted to apologize again for Baros’ death, even though she knew it wasn’t her fault. “We’re holding our positions outside the Citadel while the Exarchs and their people finish clearing it out. Most of the Iron Horde has been disbanded and their leaders are currently being detained until their fate’s been decided.”

“Whose... orders?”

“King Varian Wrynn, Commander.”

“Here?”

“No, he’s not in Tanaan. He’s currently in Lunarfall, I believe, holding command in your absence. He’s already sent commendations to you and there are reports and letters awaiting you. When you’ve recovered further,” Thorn said, a warning in her voice.

“Yeah,” Celia said, an agreement to something she wasn’t sure she’d understood fully. She wasn’t completely awake anymore. She could feel herself slipping. “Everything... okay?”

“For now, yes. You have time to rest and recover. You need it,” Thorn said firmly.

“Hellscream,” Celia murmured. “Don’t let. Any sentence. Until I’m up.”

“I will do my best,” Thorn said, understanding what Celia had been trying to say.

Chapter Text

The next time Celia woke up, it was night. The window on the other side of her little private chamber was open a few inches, letting in a nice breeze that smelled like wet foliage and dirt. A welcome reprieve from the smell of fel rot and sulphur.

She groaned lightly and stretched her legs. It was particularly satisfying, as she’d just woken naturally from a very deep sleep for the first time in a long time. It was a struggle to sit up. She managed.
With an ease that only came from years and years of practice, she laid a net of magical threads finer than spider-silk over herself and her room. Nothing felt out of the ordinary. She let it fade, let the threads slip away into the Nether or disperse in the air.

Her breath was a bit heavy after that simple task, and she leaned back into her pillows and closed her eyes. She’d never felt so tired. It was bone-deep and took over every thought.

The door eased open and she opened her eyes, turned her head, and waited. “Celia?” she heard them murmur. Khadgar, she identified. It took a few moments longer than it should have. Even with her so weakened, she should have immediately recognized him by magic alone. He had an especially unique signature. She attributed her slow reaction to her exhaustion.

“Khadgar,” she replied, barely more than a rasping murmur.

The door opened wider to reveal Khadgar in his usual outfit. Celia smiled weakly - don’t you own any other clothes? - and it fell quickly. “I sensed your magic,” he murmured, shutting the door behind him. As he approached she got a better view of him. He looked haggard, his hair askew, his eyes bloodshot.

“You look like shit,” she said.

“You don’t look much better,” he replied dryly, pulling the chair from the corner to sit next to her bed. “How do you feel?”

“Tired.”

“Yes, you would. We very nearly lost you several times along the way. It will take some time for you to recover.”

“How are things?”

“Just fine,” he soothed. “Lieutenant Thorn is a strong leader and she’s keeping it that way. King Varian was at Lunarfall briefly to reinforce the command chain in your absence. The Horde has mostly taken itself back to Frostwall but maintains a presence here, as does the Alliance.”

“Hellscream? The leaders?”

“No one’s been executed yet, though many are calling for it,” Khadgar said. “But they’re to be disappointed. Exarch Yrel will visit you in a few days to speak with you on that.”

“Not an... Azerothian decision,” Celia whispered.

“Terribly rude of me to not offer you a drink,” Khadgar said, getting to his feet to fetch a pitcher and a glass. He conjured water to fill the pitcher as he walked and poured it as he sat. “Here.”

Celia took the glass with shaking hands and hesitantly took a few sips. It was blessedly cool but her dry mouth lent it an odd taste. She smacked her lips and drank more, and then let Khadgar take the glass away.

“You need to focus on recovering,” he said quietly, putting the pitcher and the glass on the side table. As he spoke, he took her hand gently between both of his. It was warm, she noted, and she lost the first few words he said. She wasn’t really yet able to take in two things at once. “And Thorn is capable,” Khadgar said, finishing his first sentence. “So in the meantime, you must rest, and recover. Mana exhaustion is a terrible drain on the body, and you nearly went right past it and straight to death.” There was a hard frown on his face. “We nearly lost you.”

“Had to,” she said quietly. “The link was fraying. One final effort.”

“I know. I was there,” he reminded her gently. “I could feel it slipping. When Lestrade was pulled through the nether portal, the entire chain of mages was nearly pulled in with him. You acted to save the others,” he praised. “Though regrettably Lestrade was lost, ultimately it was your quick reaction that saved us many more losses. Including you.”

Celia sighed. “Felt that one in my gut,” she murmured.

“What do you mean?”

“Through the link. Felt him pulled through the nether. Felt his magic twist. Hurt.”

“I see.” Khadgar regarded her oddly, absently rubbing her knuckles with his thumb. “Does it still hurt?”

“No. Just hurt for a moment. Like a knife.”

“I see,” he said again, quietly. “Are you in pain now?”

“Throat. Knee.” She chuckled, and grimaced. It hurt to laugh. “But that always hurts.”

“Your stomach?” he asked. “Or your ribs?”

“Ribs. Still tight.”

“I’ll let Tuulani know when she wakes.”

Celia nodded slowly. Too fast and it would send a fresh wave of vertigo through her already delicate head. She turned her head just as slowly to look at Khadgar. Her right eye still had tinges of red in the edges. Not all of the blood had drained yet. She blinked slowly. Sleep was trying to drag her back in.

“Your hands are warm,” she murmured. Her tongue felt thick.

“Sleep, Celia,” Khadgar murmured. She felt him brush hair away from her forehead, but her eyes were already closed and she couldn’t know for sure that he’d actually done it. “Rest. You’ve more than earned it. We’ll talk again later.”

Chapter Text

Lunarfall hadn’t fallen apart without her but it had stagnated. They still had a lot to keep up with, notably cleaning up the remains of the Shadowmoon clan that had sided with Ner’zhul, and controlling the podlings that had once again encroached on Alliance-held lands.

Celia busied herself with these missions, not yet able to do fieldwork of her own but certainly fully capable of sending others out to do her bidding. She left the heavier lifting to Thorn, still unable to stay up for more than a few hours at a time. Celia’s magic was recovering slowly, but at a promising and steady pace. She let Ishaal, a so-called Talonpriest - a shadow priest, really - create draughts to help her sleep without dreams that would disturb her rest. Leorajh stuck to her side like a burr and she let herself lean on him when she needed it. It’s not like he couldn’t take her weight with ease. Saberon were little if not incredibly strong.

It took nearly a full month for her to recover full use of her magic. Like a strained muscle, it had to be rested and carefully exercised when overused. She practiced against sparring dummies and combatants from the Gladiator’s Sanctum on the lower levels of her garrison, a bit at a time, until she was confident she could fight properly if the necessity arose.

“I’m bored,” she sighed, resting her cheek against her hand. “Leorajh?”

“Yes?” he said, a growl and a hiss in his voice as usual. He poked his head into her office, ears perked. “Master call?”

“Yes. I’m going out for a bit, to visit Archmage Khadgar in Zangarra.”

“Leorajh come with?”

“No, thank you.”

“No safe.”

“It’s perfectly safe,” she chuckled. “Khadgar’s tower is one of the safest places in all of Draenor. He’s extremely powerful.”

“Delvar go?”

“No, I’ll go alone. I just need you to make sure no one sneaks into my office while I’m gone.”

“Leorajh can do. How long Commander gone?”

“A few hours, at most, I think. If not, I’ll send word,” she promised, getting to her feet. “I need to take a break from all this,” she said, gesturing at her desk.

“Leorajh understand,” he said wisely, nodding his great head. The feathers tied to his fur danced lightly at the movement. “Leorajh keep work safe while you gone.”

“Thank you,” Celia said, giving his arm a pat as she passed by him. The tip of his tail flicked while he watched her walk away. “If anyone asks for me, I’m not to be disturbed.”

“Yes.”

It almost hurt to walk. Her knee hadn’t recovered from when she’d been thrown thirty-odd yards in the fight against Archimonde, and she doubted it ever would. The brace helped immensely, but she disliked the obvious limp it gave her. Still, it got her to where she needed to go. In practiced movements she opened a full portal with her mirror as the base. It was easiest, especially since she’d carved runes into it when she’d first had it installed. It also held the remnants of dozens of similar portals, and each one was easier than the last.

She step-jumped through it, landing mostly on her left foot - her good side. “Khadgar?” she said. There wasn’t an immediate answer, and she stepped in further, letting the portal waver and snap shut behind her. “Archmage?” she tried, louder, in case he had company.

There was a sizzle of magic, a metallic scent, and the swell of a very familiar magic. “Who’s there?” Khadgar called, his tone not friendly but not stiff.

“It’s me,” Celia replied.

“Oh, Celia!” Khadgar replied, his boots thumping down the stairs from the translocation orb and into the wide area of the lounge. His tone, now, was warm and friendly, and he was smiling when he came around the bookshelf. “It’s good to see you up and about, my friend,” he said, not slowing until he was right in front of her.

“It’s good to be able to get up and about,” she replied. “My knee will never be the same, but every week someone’s got a new and better way to deal with old injuries and disabilities. This is a life-saver,” she said, bending slightly at the waist to tap her knee brace.

“I can see that,” Khadgar said, looking down for a moment. His eyes followed her as she straightened. “How are you feeling?” he said, moving aside and belatedly inviting her without words to sit at her favourite blue lounge chaise.

“Thank you,” she said, moving past him. She caught a whiff of mint and cool aftershave as she did. “I’m still tired, nearly all the time,” Celia said, sitting carefully. “But it’s getting better. My magic’s just about recovered and I’ve been practicing lightly every day.”

“That’s good to hear. I know that being without it after so long is... a nightmare,” he said finally.

“Yes. Well, Leorajh keeps a close eye on me,” she said, smiling in thanks when he offered her a glass of conjured water. “I’ve recovered quickly, thanks to my healers, to him and Tuulani, and thanks to my superb Lieutenant.”

Khadgar sat opposite her. “Are you sleeping well?”

“Yes, Ishaal has a draught he makes me every other night. It prevents dreams. I can’t use it every night, but it does help immensely.”

“Good.” Khadgar’s voice was soft. “We came far too close for comfort to losing you for the first week. Even after that, it was touch and go.”

“I know.” She smiled softly, soothingly, and sipped her water. “But I’m still here.”

“Yes. I’m grateful for that.”

She blinked slowly. “There’s another few months of work to be done here, at least, before I can let someone else take over, and I’ll be back and forth between here and Stormwind at least a few times. I’m thinking of having Thorn promoted. Her hard work and creative solutions won this as much as my suspect leadership skills and giant fireballs.”

“Meteors,” Khadgar corrected.

“Meteors,” she said with a bright, humorous smile.

She passed a good hour in Khadgar’s company, speaking of easy subjects and her plans for the immediate future of Lunarfall. It was with no small regret that she stood and made her apologies.

“I should get back,” she said, something that wasn’t quite a frown on her face. “I can’t leave everything for Thorn, no matter how tempting it is. I’m almost done and it would be a poor thanks to her and everyone else if I quit before the finish line.”

“No need to excuse yourself,” Khadgar said warmly, standing with her. “We’ll talk another time. We have that chance, thanks in no small part to you.”

She turned away for a moment. The mirror stared at her from across the room, full of books and old shelving. She wasn’t close enough to see herself in it. She turned to Khadgar, closed the short distance between them, and cupped his cheeks gently. She kept her touch light, both in her hands and in her lips when she kissed him softly, so that he could pull away if he was so inclined. He didn’t.

It was only a moment, and she pulled away with an easy, soft smile. “I won’t ask you to do something that would compromise your position,” she said. “It’s precarious, I know. I’ve been the in between many times. I’d appreciate if you could wait another few months for that talk.”

He stared at her for a moment, a slight furrow to his brow, his gaze flicking between her two eyes and her lips. His mouth opened slightly, and it was a brief, tense moment before he spoke. “I’m nothing if not patient,” he said quietly. “But I don’t always appreciate teasing.”

“I’m not teasing this time, Khadgar,” Celia said quietly, not breaking his gaze. “Do you recall me saying I enjoy your company? I’d like to think of my own happiness for once, rather than the whole of Azeroth.”

His eyes were normally warm, friendly, like a clear summer sky. This was only the second time she saw them closed to her, shut off like a shuttered window. “I’d like to trust you in such a way, Celia. I truly would.”

She smiled at him. “I understand,” she said softly. “If it helps...” She exhaled slowly. “I was married for six years. I lost him in Icecrown. I stood by and watched him fall with the Highlord, with hundreds of others. I lost so much with him that day. I didn’t have the time for myself, after that. I’ve been fighting since I was a teenager, and my time with him was a brief respite. Now? I’m tired. I’d be more than happy to step aside and let the younger ones take up the banner. I’d like nothing more than to step down from command, go back to how it was before. But I can’t go back to before. Not after so many years of war. Certainly not with the Legion looming over us, and certainly not now that I know I could be enjoying your company more often. I understand your caution,” she said. “It’s not easy to be in a position of power. It’s not easy to hold any sort of power. I’m really not asking much. I’d be quite content with being a friend. The thing is, this is a chance to be happy. I want to take it, before I lose it and everything else.”

Khadgar’s eyes were not warm to her then, but they were not cold, either. “I would like nothing more than to trust you, Celia,” he said. “And I think you have the right idea. It’s best to take chances before they disappear forever.”

She offered a soft smile, a peace offering, and the tightness at the corners of his eyes eased. “I’ll see you again soon, Khadgar,” she said.

He touched her hand gently, for a brief moment. “I’ll be seeing you, Celia.”

She knew he was watching her as she turned, and as she created a portal to return to Lunarfall. She didn’t look back. It wasn’t an appropriate time to think of more than chances. But Khadgar was patient, and Celia could be, too.

Chapter Text

Celia was not often able to get away from her duties for any significant period of time. Sometimes she hardly had a few minutes to herself, even at night when she was supposed to be sleeping. She tried to contact Khadgar once a week. Sometimes she couldn’t. He always seemed to appreciate her calls, even if they were just a couple of minutes of her image in a window portal and a rushed few words.

Celia petitioned the King to allow her an official retirement, and it took several months for a reply to come through. It would be allowed, but only if she found a suitable replacement for her position in Lunarfall who could meet the criteria of a field commander and keep order amongst the ranks of those Celia had gathered during her campaign. Thorn was the obvious choice, as she’d been there from the beginning and knew all there was to know about Lunarfall and its various holdings in Draenor.

“It would be my honour,” was Thorn’s only response, a choked few words and a wet muzzle she said was from drinking water.

Finally, Celia was released from Command. It took several escorted stubborn visits to Stormwind and a lot of planning and red tape and public pressure. No one wanted to let her go after such a decisive success against such impossible odds. But she insisted.

“I’m old and disabled,” she argued, pointing out her ruined knee and her bad back and the years that weighed on her mind. “You must let me retire when I call for it, and I’m calling for it now.”

As was tradition she became a Starred Commander, no longer truly a commander but still worthy of the title and its honours. She earned a military parade uniform with two stars for her Lunarfall campaign, and a somewhat early retirement.

She spent that evening in Khadgar’s tower. “So, he let you go?” Khadgar asked, humour in his eyes.

“Yes, finally,” she sighed. “I was Kirin Tor first, anyway. I’m the one who petitioned the Council to let me join the Stormwind army. They couldn’t actually keep me if I wanted to leave and the King knew it. It’s not like I’m leaving in the middle of a campaign, and I’m leaving Lunarfall in very good hands.”

“Clawed hands,” Khadgar teased. “Worgen, saberon, an ogron, the spirit of an Admiral, a handful of orcs, an ogre here and there...” He laughed. “Good hands, indeed.”

Celia shrugged. “What can I say? Variety is the spice of life.”

Khadgar laughed easily, leaning back in his armchair. He set his glass of wine down on the side table, his gaze fixed on the hearth fire. “I plan to stay in Draenor a little while longer,” he said. “There’s much to be discovered here. I’ve spoken with Vargoth at length through his image. There is some untangling to be done.” He looked at Celia. “Would you care to join me?”

“I’d love to,” she said, a slow smile curling her lips. “What a wonderful way to retire. Magical mysteries, good company, an unpleasantly humid mage tower and two and a half sections of the Dalaran library.”

Khadgar chuckled. “You’re not going to let that one go, are you?”

“You must admit, this is a lot of books.”

“It is. That’s sort of the whole point of having a library.”

She nodded in agreement.

It did not take long, as Celia had thought, to readjusting her living patterns. Before, she’d had her time eaten up by the maintenance of Lunarfall. Its constant demands on her time and energy had left little for anything else. Now, she slept when she pleased, she woke when she pleased, she ate at her leisure and helped Khadgar with his study of the apexis crystals and various artifacts of power he’d collected. Only the rings he’d forged were not added to the collection. One of them remained on Celia’s finger. Nithramus, the All-Seer. One of three rings Khadgar had created for the sole purpose of destroying Hellfire Citadel and killing Archimonde. Again.

And she did not find it strange to live with Khadgar, in the tower he had built. She found it was easy to relax there, and spend time catching up on the things he’d already pieced together. It would be some time before she could stand by him in his work as an equal, as there was so much he’d already done that she would need to catch up on. She enjoyed the challenge, as for once it did not accompany a threat to her life.

Celia wasn’t sure what was between her and Khadgar, not anymore. Before they’d been friends, trusted allies. They were still trusted allies, at the very least, but there was something murky and not yet defined. She didn’t let it bother her. She’d been alone for a very long time, not able to invest in any real personal relationships because of the risk of death inherent in her line of work. She spent occasional evenings and afternoons with him, sometimes mornings as well. He was easy to get along with, she found, not easily disturbed or put off. And he was intelligent, incredibly so, and more often than not made purposefully bad jokes or funny comments rather than offering grim moods or brooding silences. Celia found him to be a refreshing change of pace from the usual company that tended to be kept around Commanders and hard-eyed champions.

It took a good few months before she became uneasy with that undefined something. She was quite content being friends, but there was an unsteady something else that sometimes made her waver, and she didn’t enjoy it. She didn’t think Khadgar did, either. And it was obvious to her that Khadgar could sense her unease, despite her efforts to move past it. She wasn’t going to make any demands of him, besides housing her and her favourite gryphon. She would have brought her dragon friend, but Mirrastrasza had duties elsewhere, and they had no drakes to spare. Celia was not bothered by that all.

“Celia,” Khadgar said, interrupting her usual evening tea and books. Everything she did lately involved books of some sort. She loved it.

“Khadgar,” she replied. She finished the sentence she’d been reading, placed a little mark of magic to keep her place, and looked up. “You need me for something?”

“No, nothing like that,” he said. “I thought we... should talk.”

“About what?” she asked. “Has something happened?”

“No. Why do you think something happened?” he asked, frowning. “I’m not that destructive. Aside from the dam. And the bridge. And the cave-in.”

She smiled. “No, but things like broken dams and cave-ins do happen around you alarmingly often.”

“Yes. Well.” He cleared his throat. “No, nothing’s happened. Forgive me, but I’ve simply noticed that you seem... A little uneasy, lately.” He paused. “I think I understand why. You did go from being Commander of Lunarfall to being a retiree with an odd housemate with too many books.”

She shut the tome, and turned in her chair to face Khadgar. Her little magical mark would keep her place until she returned to her reading. “I’m used to such changes,” she said. “When you’re an adventurer, very few things are sure. That’s not a trouble for me. Besides, I know that on the off chance that you took issue with me freeloading here, I could simply return to Dalaran.”

“You’re not freeloading,” he frowned.

“I sort of am.”

“Nonsense,” he said.

“Don’t you think we’re both a little old to be skirting around the issue?” she asked.

“We sort of are.”

“Yes, I think we are,” she said, sighing and standing. “Did you have something you wanted to discuss in particular?”

“You said you wanted to think of your own happiness, but that you’d be content here as my friend.”

She interrupted him. “I’m not going to push anything on you. I understand that you’d be cautious.”

He interrupted her. “There wouldn’t be much pushing involved, Celia. I do trust you.”

She interrupted him. “We’re dancing again.”

“Yes, I think we are.”

She breathed a laugh, cupped his face gently and stretched up to match his height and kissed him. He placed a hand on her lower back, not firm enough to be a hold, and the other on her side, against the ribs she’d broken in Hellfire Citadel, a gentle touch. She broke away for a moment, breathing slowly, and pressed her lips to his again in a soft kiss.

Neither of them ended the kiss but it did end, and she let her hands rest naturally against his chest. He pulled her closer, holding her head to his chest with a hand on the back of her head. The other wrapped around her waist. She felt small like that, not only shorter or leaner or narrower than him, but small. She didn’t mind it. It wasn’t the same sort of feeling she’d had when Archimonde had been staring down at them.

“Whatever it might be, I’d like to keep it,” Khadgar murmured. “I never did think I would have the chance to have something like this. I lost my youth to the curse and though A’dal lifted it, so much time had already passed...”

“You’re very pleasant company, Khadgar,” Celia said, curling one of her hands around the side of his neck, under his jaw, her wrist resting against the odd leather collar he always insisted on wearing. “I’d love to take the chance.”

She felt his mouth press to the top of her head. It wasn’t quite a kiss. “I could use the company,” he said teasingly.

“I’ll endeavor to be a pleasant sort.”

“I’m sure you will.” There, again, the tone of warmth and knowingness that put her at ease. She smiled, and tucked her face in against the rough cloth of his outer tunic.