The nastiest thing about sensory deprivation cells, Aethas thinks, is the utter confusion and overwhelmed senses that follow.
Aethas’ senses scream without reason following his rather ungraceful ejection from one of the Violet Citadel’s cells. They were never meant to used as cells, to hold people as long as he had been. Originally, they had been used to test the effects of spells. Aethas’ mind scrambles. Had he trapped himself in one? Had someone else?
He can first make sense of two hands cradling his face and he looks up past his hood to see Rommath before him. His head swims as he tries to remember what he messed up this time, to see his mentor in Dalaran. Had he freed tormented small rodents again? Or had Kael’thas set something on fire?
The events of the past day or so (because time held no meaning in those magical cells) slam back into his mind at once. He is Aethas, (former) Archmage of Dalaran, not Aethas the Student, best friend of the Sunstrider prince.
Rommath is telling him something as sound and sense trickle back into his ears, saying “...now, we have to go now! Get up, Sunreaver!”
The Grand Magister roughly hauls Aethas to his feet, brokering not a moment for Aethas to become steady. With Aethas’ arm about his shoulder, Rommath begins to run, shouting commands at those around him as magical sirens scream their offense to the heavens.
They find their way out of the Citadel quickly enough, for Rommath shoves him through a portal into the sewers. One of Aethas’ feet slips suddenly and he peers down groggily, wondering if the snow of Northrend had once again evaded their neutralizing spells. It wasn’t a perfect system and really, mages had no business dealing in weather but--
But it is not ice or water that founders Aethas’ step.
It is blood.
Blood on the streets of Dalaran, slipping between the cracks in the cobblestones and no doubt being ferried away to the sewers by the magical gutters beneath. Blood is not an uncommon thing in the Underbelly, but on a causeway such as this, so heavily guarded…
He looks up and sees the collapsed body of an elf weeping blood from her throat. The culprit, a Silver Covenant sword, lay nearby her.
He must have hesitated, or made a noise, because Rommath is pushing at him again, urging to go faster. He sees ahead the exit of the Underbelly’s largest pipe, but Rommath shows no signs of slowing down despite the deadly drop awaiting them.
“Stay by me!” the magister instructs. “We’re going out the tunnel!”
Despite their disagreements, Aethas has never though Rommath to be mad nor stupid. He supposes, as they reach the end of the tunnel, that there is a first time for everything.
First a mad prince, now a mad grand magister.
Rommath grabs Aethas’ wrist and orders again, “Stay by me!” as if Aethas had any other choice.
A flash of color enters Aethas’ vision. Dragonhawks twist through the sky, followed by gryphons hot on their tail. Rommath yanks him forward, sending Aethas tumbling off the edge of the pipe and landing ungracefully on a Dragonhawk’s back. Rommath soons follows, landing on yet another dragonhawk, and together, along with the odd ally or two that had accompanied Rommath, they make their escape from the chaos of Aethas’ only remaining home.
He has never seen Lor’themar so angry, not in all his years of knowing him. The Regent Lord is at once relieved to see Aethas alive when the Dragonhawks dump them (or rather him, because Rommath is nothing short of dignified and refined) in the crowded square before the Sunfury Spire.
Lor’themar’s mood quickly blackens to rage. It takes all Aethas has to remain on his feet and answer the question Lor’themar throws out to him, to anyone who can answer. He has never known Lor’themar to behave as this, throwing a bench and spitting out impetuous orders that surely he will regret come next morning. Overwhelmed, he allows Rommath to lead him away from the crowd after the Grand Magister sends his own people scrambling to fulfill Lor’themar’s orders.
He is vaguely aware of the venom that fills his ears as Rommath nearly frogmarches him through the Spire to his private quarters, aware of the disappointment and contempt his mentor holds towards him.
“Your actions, your pride have killed so many, Aethas!” Rommath snarls he nearly kicks down the door to his bath. He pushes Aethas through and tugs violently on the hood about his head. Aethas winces weakly when the metal of the spellcrown catches on one of his ears and tugs, leaving a blood scratch behind. “Your recklessness knows no ends and your optimism has damned you! You could have been killed, for your naivety! Is that what you wanted?”
“It’s what you would have wanted!” Aethas snaps back, on the verge of tears.
The Grand Magister looks stricken for a moment and then shakes his head. He continues to pull at Aethas’ robes and armor until he is bare and shoos him over the sunken tub. Weary as he is, Aethas barely flinches when the too-hot water hits his skin.
Rommath attacks him first with soap, causing his small wounds to sting, and then shampoo. Aethas cannot remember the last time he was treated like this. Perhaps it had been shortly before he was sent to Dalaran as a child, and Rommath had taken him and Kael’thas to a stream on a hot day to cool off. Both of them ended up covered head to toe in mud, with Rommath’s robes covered with a fair bit as well. Kael’thas had shoved a slimy frog down Rommath’s high collar and Aethas had pleaded to take it back with them. The day had ended up with a portal directly to a bathtub and Rommath scrubbing the boys’ skin until it was pink.
Unlike that time, though, there is no playfulness in the way Rommath roughly handles him, no fond exasperation evident in the silence between them. Aethas is at least allowed the dignity (or indignity) of shakily standing on his own and drying off while Rommath drains the bath. He is not left alone for long: Rommath seizes his arms and turns them over, inspecting for wounds, and then forces Aethas to spin under his inspection.
“Other than the mana exhaustion and a few scratches, you look to be in good shape,” Rommath says.
Aethas expects him to say something about a wound leaving a lasting lesson, but the other mage only tugs him into the other room and shoves him into some clothes. Aethas has never been the tallest nor the most muscled elf but he is positively lost in the shirt that Rommath drops over him, and the pants he is given are only held up by a belt cinched on its tightest setting. Despite his age and current position, Rommath has never lost the lean muscle padding his body from his upbringing in the south.
He is left alone when Rommath strolls over to the divan in the room and sinks onto it heavily.
“Well?” Rommath snaps. “Are you just going to stand there like a fool, or are you going to come join me?”
Reluctantly, Aethas circles around the divan and settles at Rommath’s side. To his surprise, the other mage loops an arm about his waist and yanks him close so that his head falls on Rommath’s shoulder and their sides are firmly pressed together.
It has been years since he has been this close to Rommath, years since his mentor has treated him in any other way than barely-concealed contempt. Perhaps, Aethas thinks, it has been since before the fall of their kingdom. Even after the fall of Dalaran, Aethas never returned to Quel’Thalas and remained with the scattered mages of the Kirin Tor, scrambling to rebuild their home.
“You are a fool,” Rommath murmurs, his hand creeping up to comb through Aethas’ still-wet hair, “but perhaps I am a bigger one.”
Aethas says nothing, but his confusion is apparent when Rommath continues. “I am furious that you did not heed my advice again, furious that our people have once again been betrayed by allies of nearly two millennia, furious that so many lives were lost today. Most of all, I am furious with myself that I nearly lost you forever.
“I cannot truly fault you for you optimism, Aethas. It is both a blessing and a curse, but you would not be the same without it. You did something I could not and carved out a home for some of our people in this broken world and kept them safe for so long despite the odds. What happened today is not truly your fault, for it was an inevitability for the situation at hand. It might have been handled better had you heeded our warnings, but it is not ultimately on your shoulders at the end of the day.”
Aethas has nothing other he can say but, “I thought you hated me.”
“Never, Aethas. I could never hate you. I was angry and disappointed, particularly because you abandoned us in our greatest time of need to tend to Dalaran instead, but had you needed me at any point, I would have been by your side.”
“Quel’Thalas and Dalaran were equally my home, Rommath,” Aethas says, “Quel’Thalas at least had you, and Kael, and Lor’themar, but Dalaran and the Kirin Tor were nearly obliterated by Archimonde’s attack. I could not choose!”
“It has been chosen for you, now,” Rommath says quietly. His voice does not hold the usual venom, nor the lecturing tone. “Your home is here, and always has been.”
He says nothing in return to Rommath. What can he say? That Dalaran is still his home, despite the actions of its inhabitants? That he would leap at the chance to return? That the new, shining buildings of Silvermoon do not sing the song of hearth and home to him?
His silence cannot stop his tears, though. They run freely down his freckled face and he sniffles pathetically, sure that Rommath seems to read his thoughts when he sighs. His fingers twist Aethas’ hair into small plaits and gradually, Aethas’ exhaustion from earlier settles into his bones once more. Rommath begins to bear more and more of his weight as sleep threatens to drag Aethas under once more.
“I am glad you’re here,” Rommath says quietly. “As are Lor’themar and Halduron. Your presence has been missed here, even if we thought you to be dangerously foolish.”
“It seems nothing has changed,” mumbles Aethas, “if you still mask every sentiment with insult.”
He falls asleep to the sound of Rommath’s quiet laughter.
When Aethas next awakes, it is to fear flooding his heart with ice. At first, he thinks he is still in Dalaran, waiting for the Silver Covenant to find him and gut him with their wicked, gleaming swords. His mind readjusts to his current surroundings, but the fear remains.
He is not in his bedroom, nor anywhere familiar to him. Truly, the most he can make of his surroundings through the small amount of moonlight slipping past curtains is the plush bed he lays in and what seems to be a high backed chair in the corner. The bed beside him is warm, as if a bedmate lay there not too long ago.
From beyond what he assumes to be a door, the sharp tones of Rommath’s lecturing tone filter through to him. Something or someone (probably him) has angered Rommath and the reserved fire the magister usually kept inside himself is spilling out. He hears a door slam and something fragile crash to the floor in the other room. Not too long after, the door creaks open and Rommath pokes his head into the room.
“You’re awake,” he says, and lets himself in. “I suppose you heard all of that, and that it probably caused you to wake. My apologies.”
“Actually, I didn’t,” Aethas croaks. His throat is painfully dry. When was the last time he drank, or ate for that matter?
As always, Rommath is a league and a half ahead of him. When he sits on the bed, he flicks a flame at a sconce on the wall and grabs a tray from the bedside. It’s not a proper meal by any means, but the small amounts of cheese and fruit on it will soothe his stomach until he can actually find a real meal. As Aethas picks through the food at hand, Rommath pours him a rather tall glass of water and pushes it at him. Aethas takes it thankfully.
“That was just a fool who would drag you in to be interrogated now,” Rommath says mildly, inspecting his lacquered fingernails, “rather than afford you the decency of a night of rest. He was so gracious as to change his mind after I spoke with him, though.”
Aethas is unsure if it’s the prospect of a rough interrogation or the venom dripping from Rommath’s voice that turns his stomach so, but he pushes the tray away from himself.
“I could go now,” he volunteers. “It would get me out of your hair.”
Rommath gives him a look as if Aethas had just suggested raising Dar’khan from death using the Sunwell.
“You will not.” Rommath’s voice is icy. “You are going to stay here and rest until you are whole and well, and then you will meet with Lor’themar, Halduron, and myself regarding our next steps in regards to the Sunreaver situation.”
The Grand Magister is unperturbed by the heated glare Aethas treats him with.
“You are not my caretaker anymore, Rommath,” he snaps. “You made that abundantly clear before.”
“Boy, I will always be cleaning up your messes,” Rommath snarls back. “And even if I weren’t, I would always be there to care for you when you fall from own stupidity.”
Aethas rises from the bed, but a spell Rommath slams him back down hard enough on the covers that he bounces slightly.
“How can I further spell this out, to get it through your dense head?” Rommath queries. “You may be stupid, and impetuous, and infuriatingly naive and optimistic, but I still care for you as a brother, a son, a friend. You are always going to be my responsibility, whether you like it or not.”
The two elves stare each other down. Finally, Aethas backs off and tears his gaze away from Rommath. The other mage grabs the tray and rises to take it to the other room. When he returns, he throws a blanket over Aethas’ head.
“You were always cold when you were small,” Rommath muses. He watches Aethas arrange the blanket on top of the others. “You always seemed to find a way to press your cold feet against me and wake me up.”
“Probably because Kael’thas stole all of the blankets,” Aethas mumbles as he lays down on his side, facing the outside of the bed. Rommath walks around the bed and he feels the bed dip.
“I doubt that,” Rommath says. “You did it tonight. It was a rather...unpleasant flashback to the past.”
Rommath reaches for his shoulder and gently turns Aethas over.
“If my...correcting that misguided individual did not wake you, then what did?”
“I think you can guess.”
The older mage finally settles himself down on the bed and pulls Aethas into his arms, tucking him under his chin. This is home to him, if Aethas is honest with himself, and he has not known it for well over a decade at this point. Their family is smaller now with Kael’thas’ absence, but if Rommath speaks truly (and the other man never has been one to mince words nor lie) Aethas has been missed.
As Rommath carded fingers through his hair once more, undoing the braids from earlier, Aethas finally says, “This is nostalgic, but I feel as though we are missing two bodies.”
Rommath’s breath fans over Aethas’ head when he laughs.
“They are staying away for a reason,” he admits. “I may have threatened them both with grievous bodily harm should they approach us before dawn tomorrow. You do not need the additional stress tonight and Halduron is a tempest of chaos.”
“Lor’themar may be a worse mother hen than I.”
“I think that his presence would have been less stress inducing than your ever-pleasant presence,” Aethas grumbles.
The steady rhythm of Rommath’s breathing and the warmth of another body curled around his quickly lulls Aethas back into a drowsy state. Add in the fingers massaging his head and he knows he is not going to stay conscious for long.
“Sleep, Aethas,” says Rommath. “All will be well tomorrow, or we shall make it so.”
More at home than ever and safe in the arms of his mentor-friend-parent, Aethas slips off into dreams.