The Violet Citadel had many chambers for many purposes, most of them academic, some of them diplomatic, and the rest she didn’t much care for.
The rest spread out before her in a grand hall, lit bright and pretty by a slowly undulating wave of crystal lights floating overhead, filled with the sound of calm music and incessant chatter as the Horde and Alliance puffed themselves up around each other. They put on airs of cooperation, for now, pretending just for tonight that all was well, that they respected each other for the joint victory in Ulduar.
Well. Some were.
Sylvanas adjusted the collar of her coat for the third time that night. It wasn’t that it scratched, or was too tight, it was entirely comfortable, and nothing else. She felt practically naked out of her armour. She was sure they knew it and took pleasure in her discomfort, and that thought stopped her from reaching a fourth time.
The black and silver uniform was a concession, much like her otherwise unnecessary presence at such a celebration. Neither of which she had any goodwill to burn in refusing, not after Putress.
Her stomach roiled at the name, and she clenched her jaws around the wail that bubbled up her throat.
Thankfully, even without her armour, she was severe and macabre enough that most were content to let her brood in peace, so her plan to spend most of the insipid evening on the edge of the party was going quite well. Not that she wasn’t catching attention as blue eyes kept meeting her across the way, always bright and observant, but never afraid.
Proudmoore was doing a far better job of socialising, flitting to and fro as she did what she always did. She tried to keep the peace, subtly reminding everyone how much they accomplished working together and what lay ahead of them, doing her best to maintain diplomatic ties even as Varian and Garrosh glared death at each other.
The Archmage was going to run herself ragged for those people, eventually, and Sylvanas wondered if they would ever appreciate the energy Proudmoore expended trying to keep their ungrateful little lives intact.
She would not forget Proudmoore’s actions in Undercity or the fact that she asked after Sylvanas when it was all said and done.
Sylvanas hadn’t known how to respond to that at the time. To be asked, to someone caring about her well-being at a time when it felt like everyone was a hair’s breadth away from deciding they had tolerated her aberrant presence long enough, it was jarring in the extreme. Proudmoore shouldn’t have cared, should have looked at her with the same hateful ignorance and malice that came easily to so many others, but she did.
All Sylvanas could answer her with was a terse ‘fine’ because what else could she have said. Whined about her wounded pride, confessed how afraid she was of losing everything she worked for, and that the pain of seeing her people thrown into chaos scared her even more than that? Not in a thousand years.
Eventually, maintaining everyone’s charitable mood seemed to exhaust the mage, and Proudmoore wove through the crowd to Sylvanas’s corner. She leaned back against the wall next to her without preamble and let out a long breath as if ridding herself of a great weight.
Before Sylvanas could even comment, Jaina turned a warm smile on her and said;
“You know, you look quite dashing out of armour.”
Sylvanas blinked, one ear cocked to the side. From anyone else, she would have taken it as appeasement or an attempt to get something out of her, but from Jaina, it felt entirely sincere, at least with the way Jaina’s eyes roamed all the way from her neatly brushed-back hair and down to the shine of her tall boots.
She resisted the urge to adjust her collar again.
A kind woman like Jaina had no business being around her, and yet throughout this bloody campaign, they kept falling into each other’s company, sometimes by circumstance, sometimes by choice.
Often by choice, these days.
Sylvanas allowed herself to actually take in what Jaina was wearing, a lovely, flowing gown of white and sea greens that left the freckled expanse of her shoulders bare. She wore her golden hair up in a coiled braid, and Sylvanas found her eyes following the elegant line of Jaina’s neck and lingering at the point it met her shoulder.
“And you, Lady Proudmoore, are looking radiant tonight,” she said smoothly, the words leaving her before she could catch them.
Jaina did not cringe. She did not baulk, or blanche, or make a hasty excuse to leave. She blushed and looked away, smiling shyly as she fidgeted with her hands.
Sylvanas blinked slowly, unsure of how to take that reaction. She’d been the cause of that reaction in women many times before, from countless mercurial pursuits in Silvermoon when she was alive, the ‘hedonistic peacock’ of the family as Alleria so lovingly called her. She felt like no such thing now, she was a mockery of what she once was, a frostbitten crow, a monster barely tolerated because she was still useful, for now.
Yet, Jaina blushed, and smiled, and shyly fidgeted, as if none of that mattered.
The silence between them extended to the hall as Rhonin called everyone’s attention to clear the floor and for all participants to get ready.
Right, the dancing.
None of the pairs were from opposing factions. Everyone neatly kept their distance rather than try to reach across, typical.
Sylvanas sneered and clasped her hands behind her back, trying not to let better memories rise to the surface as the first song began. She glanced at Jaina to find the Archmage watching the dancers intently, even swaying a little with the music, her eyes warm and longing.
A foolish thought crossed her mind. It had been years since she danced last, but she certainly remembered how, and if she wasn’t mistaken Jaina certainly seemed to want to by the look of her.
Sylvanas wondered what she had to lose, at this point. Her presence here was demanded. Thrall and the rest expected her to behave. Surely, participating in the dance would count as good behaviour. It was expected, really, and it would annoy the smug scornful shit out of them all to show them up as petulant children by taking to the floor with a member of the Alliance. That's what the celebration was about, after all, cooperation. Unity. It was only proper.
And if Jaina wasn’t utterly repulsed by the offer, maybe it would bring another smile on her face.
As the first song finally came to an end, Sylvanas steeled herself for a completely understandable rejection and offered her gloved hand. “Would you care to dance, Lady Proudmoore?”
Jaina started, looking at her with wide eyes. She stared at Sylvanas’s offered hand, then at her, and gave another shy smile. “I would,” she said softly, taking her hand.
. . .
Jaina was fully prepared to spend the rest of the evening in Sylvana’s quiet, reserved company on the edge of things, a welcome respite from the restless, demanding energy of almost everyone here.
The last thing she expected to do was dance, let alone for an invitation to do so to come from Sylvanas and her heart thundered against her ribs as she was led to the floor.
She heard a noticeable swell of chatter among those watching as a member of the Horde and Alliance took to the floor hand in hand and imagined that she and Sylvanas made quite the contrast, she in her pale, flowing dress and Sylvanas in her sharp, dark uniform.
It suited Sylvanas well, her double-breasted tailcoat’s black velvet absolutely pristine and tailored to fit her tall, angular frame perfectly. Jaina almost hesitated to put her hand on Sylvanas’s shoulder for fear of messing it somehow, only to feel a strong, corresponding hand at her waist and immediately lean into the touch.
Everything else in the room quickly fell out of focus as the second song started and Sylvanas began to lead them, steady and confident in a way that left Jaina feeling completely secure. She would not be dropped and left to stumble on her own.
It took very little time at all for them to grow comfortable moving together. At first, Jaina put it down to them both knowing the steps, to Sylvanas just being a good dancer, a good partner, but the longer it went on, the more she couldn’t help the excited stirring in her belly.
The fact that Sylvanas’s attention was wholly focused on her only furthered the thrill she felt. She hadn’t gotten the chance to do this in the longest time and as the dance stretched on Jaina noticed a smirk develop on the Banshee’s lips.
The second song came to an end all too soon, but neither moved to break away and continued into the third. It was more intense than the first two. Still, Sylvanas moved with assurance and Jaina followed her without missing a step, watching in delight as the smirk became an honest to gods little smile as if Sylvanas, however briefly, shed some of that terrible weight she always seemed to carry.
She could feel eyes on them, peripherally aware that there were fewer dancers around them than before, and Jaina proudly lifted her chin.
Let them watch, she was allowed a moment of fun, especially with someone who didn’t look at her with that condescending pity, who didn’t just assume her reasons for being here were so childish and self-centred. No, Sylvanas had all too quickly understood that she was also full to bursting with anger and guilt over all of it, over failing to stop him, failing to protect everyone she cared about until all she could do was run.
So, yes, let them watch her dance with the Banshee Queen, elegant and penumbral and smiling at her with just a hint of elvish fangs.
As the music built to a dramatic crescendo, they twirled and swept across the dance floor, and Jaina breathed hard to keep up. She wanted it to last forever, to capture the image of Sylvanas smiling, however slight, because it felt absolutely precious in a way she could not articulate in the heat of the moment.
It was so rare and fleeting a look that it made Jaina’s heart swell to see it, forgetting for a moment where they were, what lay outside these walls, this city, in a terrible frozen land of old nightmares and new alike. For just a moment, she could forget all of it in favour of that smile.
At the height of the song, Jaina’s stomach flipped as she found herself dipped and effortlessly held steady in Sylvanas’s arms as if there was a band of velvet-wrapped steel supporting her shoulders.
Sylvanas’s ash blonde hair fell in a curtain around their faces, and Jaina distantly thought that the red glow of those eyes should have terrified, but they were soft and warm in a look that stole her breath. She was struck, and not for the first time, by how handsome Sylvanas was, taking in every sharp, regal line of her, and the impulse to pull her down and kiss her ran through Jaina’s mind like a bolt of lightning.
She swallowed thickly, almost wishing Sylvanas would do it instead, but after a secretive beat of staring searchingly into each other’s eyes, neither of them did it, and Sylvanas pulled her up.
A scattered clapping filled the silence and sweat trickled down the back of her neck. Most of those watching seemed bewildered more than anything else by what they had just witnessed, and Jaina quickly returned her attention to Sylvanas before she could catch any angry or judging looks.
With an understanding cant of her head, Sylvanas led her off the floor and back to their quiet corner where she could fetch Jaina a glass of water.
Jaina nodded to her in thanks, sipping slowly, so she had time to try and think of something to say that was at least half-way intelligent and not just breathless gushing. She wasn’t some hapless initiate at her first ball.
Mercifully, the burble of conversation began to fill the hall again, and Jaina breathed a sigh of relief.
When her throat was a little less parched, she drew a steadying breath and said, “Well, I think that’s the most fun I’ve had in years.”
“You flatter me.”
“I mean it.”
Sylvanas hummed, and Jaina felt a twinge behind her ribs. The smile was gone, and the weight had settled on Sylvanas’s shoulders again like a black cloud. She stood with her arms crossed and her back straight, watching the hall impassively as if they didn’t just render at least half of those in attendance speechless.
She hesitated for only a second before she reached out and gently touched her fingertips to Sylvanas’s arm, just a light touch, just enough to make Sylvanas look at her. “I mean it, Sylvanas,” she said firmly, “thank you.”
Sylvanas’s long ears twitched, dropping into a lop-sided slant that Jaina could only interpret as confusion and uncertainty, but before she could say anything else those red eyes darted over her shoulder and a mask of cold neutrality fell into place.
She dropped her hand and turned at Varian’s voice, too calm to sound natural. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, regal and imposing in his ceremonial armour, and he wasn’t even looking at her. His hard, flinty eyes were fixed on Sylvanas.
Curbing a flare of irritation, Jaina asked in a light tone of voice, “Is something the matter, Varian?”
He took a few seconds to respond, finally looking away from Sylvanas and to her. His eyes softened only slightly. “Only a little disagreement between Khadgar and Vargoth. Something about ley lines. They wanted your opinion as a tie-breaker.”
Jaina arched a brow and searched the crowd until she could see the aforementioned mages. They did seem to be in a heated discussion.
As good an excuse as any to drag her away, she supposed.
Suppressing a sigh, Jaina smiled. “I can certainly try,” she said, ever polite.
Varian gave her an expectant head tilt, turning on his heel, and as she followed him, she looked over her shoulder to see Sylvanas watching.
She smiled with a meaningful nod, expecting nothing back, but Sylvanas canted her head, and ever so slightly returned that smile.