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Immodesty

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 "Kael was so many things Arthas wasn’t. Older, more sophisticated, experienced, powerful, and almost impossibly physically perfect. Arthas felt jealousy growing inside him in a cold, hard knot.”

—Arthas: Rise of the Lich King


 

At first, Kael had chalked up the series of incidents to sour happenstance. Now, faced with Arthas’s smug stare, he could no longer deny his rival’s unmistakable intent.

It all began with the night he had followed Jaina Proudmoore to return her dropped book, only to discover her wrapped in Arthas’s clutches. Kael was disgusted to glimpse the human prince’s lips pressed hungrily against her neck, and they lingered there for a pause even after he made his presence known.

Perhaps Kael had committed a great mistake by revealing his wounded jealousy, for in the weeks that followed, Arthas appeared to delight in parading his romantic victory. Jaina herself seemed unaffected by the crackling tension as Arthas flirted and pawed at her conspicuously when Kael was near. The elf, to his credit, bit his tongue and restrained his anger well; aside from his gritted teeth and clenched claws, he was a model of refined composure.

Unfortunately, his civility was only rewarded with an apparent escalation of such occurrences. The Violet Citadel was not exceedingly large, yet even this fact could not explain the frequency at which he came across the human couple. The gardens, hallway alcoves, and even the stairwell leading to the Kirin Tor mage lodgings had all been befouled by the sight of Arthas and Jaina engrossed in their tangled passions. Not once had Kael actually witnessed the Lordaeron prince studying, which was the purported reason for his visit in Dalaran. Kael wondered if Jaina, the ever-studious mage, would lose patience with Arthas constantly launching himself at her like a lovesick dog.

On this particular sweltering summer afternoon, Kael had settled into the library for a focused session of reading. The cavernous room was cool and devoid of people, and he savored the peaceful atmosphere. He sat on a burnished wooden bench between the stacks, absorbed in a leather-bound tome. Only the occasional faint rasp of a turned page broke the silence.

An hour later, the door creaked open, ushering in a gust of balmy air and a pair of muffled footsteps.

“Arthas, once again, you needn’t accompany me here. I only plan to read, and it will be terribly boring for you.” Kael’s pointed ears pricked at the hushed sound of Jaina’s voice.

“Please. There’s no such thing as a dull moment when I’m with you.” Kael sighed, pinching his brow. No corner of Dalaran was safe from Arthas, the horny plague.

His narrowed green eyes tracked Jaina’s midsection through the shelf spaces as she approached the adjacent aisle, her suitor trailing close behind. She wore a short silvery gray frock, a marked change of pace from her standard flowing robes. Kael noted how the thin material clung tightly to her waist, and it briefly crossed his mind that perhaps the week’s heat wave wasn’t entirely unwelcome. Arthas too was clad minimally in a white tunic that exposed his tanned forearms, and his long blond hair was swept back in a ponytail.

“Would you help me find the book, Arthas? It’s called Creatures of the Arcane, by Goyen.” Kael could see Jaina’s back directly in front of his gaze as she scanned the packed rows of texts.

“Of course.” Arthas turned and knelt opposite from Jaina, running his thumb across the tome spines. Kael’s lip curled into a sneer as their eyes suddenly met across the gap. He glowered haughtily for a few seconds before redirecting his attention back toward his reading material, pointedly ignoring the other man.

Arthas’s face hovered between the shelves, and his mouth twitched into a smirk at the sight of the elven prince scowling into his book. A mischievous glint flashed in his eyes.

“Jaina,” he murmured, straightening to stand beside her. He leaned in conspiratorially, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’m getting rather distracted,” he said in a husky whisper, just loud enough for Kael to hear.

Kael cursed inwardly. If only he could pyroblast Arthas all the way back to Lordaeron…

“Arthas, please. Not right now.”

“Please what?” he purred lazily, stepping closer.

“I really must find this book and read it today, so we can’t—"

Kael, still adamantly refusing to raise his head, grimaced at the faint wet sounds of locked lips. His ears flushed as Jaina broke away, panting slightly.

“Arthas! Not here!” she pleaded quietly.

“Relax. Nobody’s around.” His arms snaked around her waist, effortlessly drawing her against him as he backed against the shelves, facing Kael.

“How do you know? There could be—"

Once again, Jaina was cut off, and her whisper dissolved into a low moan. Arthas held her jaw in one hand, while his other reached lower to grasp her backside. She writhed against him, her ragged breathing betraying her excitement.

A stifled squeal caused Kael to finally glance up, against his better judgment. Arthas had jerked up the hem of Jaina’s dress waist-high, exposing her blue satin underwear and smooth skin. His fingers caressed and squeezed the supple flesh. Kael gawked, transfixed with a throbbing sensation of mixed outrage and titillation.

Arthas dug his nails in gently. “You like that, don’t you?” he breathed tauntingly against Jaina’s neck, staring at Kael over the crook of her shoulder. His eyes glittered with triumph. 

Kael suddenly stood; he dropped his hefty spell book on the bench with a booming clap. Jaina gasped and lurched backwards, frantically tugging down her dress.

“Excuse me,” he snapped, voice dripping with scorn as he strode around the shelves. He stopped at the end of the aisle and cast a withering glare upon the couple.

“K-Kael!” sputtered Jaina, wide-eyed. Her lower lip was swollen and glistening, and Kael was grateful that the heavy crimson fabric of his robes concealed any sign of his arousal.

Behind her, Arthas smiled innocently. “Prince Kael’thas,” he said with a nod.

The elven mage’s nostrils flared. “May I remind you,” he hissed, “that this is a library? Not your bedroom.” Before either of the humans could reply, he turned with a huff and stalked out of the building. The heavy doors banged shut behind him.

Arthas looked at Jaina in amusement; her face was nearly as red as Kael’s robes. “He likes to toss books around when he’s upset, doesn’t he?”

Jaina crossed her arms, brows furrowed. “Arthas! Don’t embarrass me like that!”

“Who cares what that stuffy elf thinks? Personally, I find his fingernails more embarrassing than anything else. What kind of man files and paints his nails like that, anyway?”

“I care what he thinks!”

“Oh?” A hint of petulance crept into Arthas’s voice.

“In fact, I care what everyone here thinks,” continued Jaina. “I need to be taken seriously as an academic, not dismissed as a prince’s plaything.”

“Jaina, nobody but Kael’thas has seen us together like this. Besides, this was hardly the first time for him.” He paused. “Or the second, for that matter.”

“What?!"

“Never mind.” Arthas reached over to play with a lock of her hair. “You know he’s just madly jealous that you’re mine.”

Jaina swatted his hand away. “I’ll have no part in this juvenile game of yours,” she said coolly, and turned back to the bookshelves.


 

Kael fumed, marching up the stairs of the citadel tower in a flounce of billowing robes. He flicked a bead of sweat from his temple. The image of Arthas’s crude, possessive display was seared into his mind.

At the top of the staircase was a wooden door, emblazoned with a gilded eye. Here was the Kirin Tor’s observation chamber, a room used for magical demonstrations and examinations. Due to the recent drought of newly admitted mages, the beautiful yet secluded space hardly saw use anymore. Kael had taken to visiting it for his private sessions of contemplation and brooding.

The marble interior sides of the broad chamber were carved with a twisting lattice pattern, and an amber stained-glass window spanned the west wall, overlooking the gardens far below. In the evenings, the setting sun would coat the room with a rich golden glow. A wide and elegant oak-trimmed sofa was tucked neatly in an alcove, padded luxuriously with black velvet; it was flanked by a pair of ornate cabinets, which Kael knew contained a variety of magical scrolls, potions, trinkets, and other such supplies. To the far end of the room was a shallow fountain that was used primarily for conjuring.   

The most prominent feature of the chamber was a giant enchanted mirror that cut across the room. It was nigh unbreakable and lacked a single smudge. Behind the glass was a smaller section featuring an arrangement of desks, accessible through a curtain at the far edge. This side of the two-way mirror afforded a panoramic view of the room while allowing observers protection from stray spells. Performers were unable to watch the reactions of the audience, which could be either a welcome relief from distraction, or utterly nerve-wracking.

Kael checked behind the curtain as usual, just to be certain he was alone, and then slid onto the sofa with a deflated sigh. He tugged irritably at the collar of his robes before shrugging them off altogether. The fabric pooled around his hips, and the skin of his bare torso felt slightly damp with perspiration.

Why, he pondered, did Jaina so favor Arthas? He gazed dourly across the room at the mirror, scrutinizing his reflection. Undoubtedly, he was handsome by both elf and human standards. His face was aristocratic and youthfully masculine, framed by fair silken hair; his body was tall and athletically muscled, with a broad chest, lean waist, and toned legs (regularly ascending the countless flights of stairs within the Violet Citadel had given him phenomenal calves beneath his robes). And although Arthas had an undeniable boyish charm, he possessed none of Kael’s lithe grace.

His focus switched to his tapered ears and sweeping eyebrows. Could his elven nature be the issue? Kael knew of some high elves who would balk at the idea of intimacy outside of their race, and disdainful whispers circulated Quel’Thalas regarding the Windrunner sisters and their rumored love affairs. Certainly some of his people would be appalled to learn of their crown prince’s private penchant for humans. Indeed, Kael had told Jaina of how he often hungered for foods from human lands, but in truth his appetite went well beyond apples.

No, he thought. He had become familiar with Jaina during their mutual time in Dalaran, and intuitively he was confident that she held no such racially guided aversions. With some amusement, he recalled how she even leapt to defend the dignity of brutish orcs.

In Kael’s mind, the only realistic edge that Arthas had was his roguish charisma. Kael was loath to acknowledge that his own impeccable manners and refined restraint had done him no favors toward winning Jaina; she remained ever untouchable behind the frustrating veil of polite formality. Jaina was slightly shy, as well as exceedingly study-oriented, but Arthas had somehow apparently barged and groped his way into capturing her attention. A sharp twinge of jealousy uncoiled in Kael’s abdomen as he remembered the earlier scene in the library.

Look at what you can’t have. Arthas didn’t even need to say those words, as the message was blatant in his gloating expression. Disgusting. Kael would never dream of debasing Jaina like how Arthas did, flashing her naked flesh to other men as though she were his mere brothel toy. Even worse, the Lordaeron prince coyly refused to publicly acknowledge any speck of interest in Admiral Proudmoore’s daughter. In Kael’s eyes, Arthas was simply a licentious coward, and he couldn’t help but wonder if Arthas maintained similar furtive relationships back in his capital city. Jaina surely deserved better.

“Jaina…”

Kael closed his eyes, his mind returning to the irrepressible memory of her bare skin and stifled moans. Hot blood rushed to his loins as he pictured her smooth thighs and curved backside. How he’d love to knead her flesh beneath the blue satin, run his tongue along the delicate dips of her lower back dimples, relish in the sound of her gasping his name…

Yes, if only given the opportunity, Kael would eclipse any carnal experience with Arthas. And if Arthas’s exhibitionist trysts with Jaina were any indication, the apprentice mage was surprisingly receptive to erotic advances. However, Arthas had the advantage of easy familiarity with her; around Kael, Jaina instead seemed reserved, almost as though she were intimidated by him. Kael would need the aid of some sort of social lubricant.

A bold, terrible scheme began to emerge in his head.

Kael stood, pulling his robes back over his shoulders. He walked over to one of the cabinets and rifled through the contents. In the bottommost corner was a tiny crystal flask, no larger than a sample bottle of fine perfume. The container was intricately carved to resemble a coiled serpent, and its jaws gaped upward to seal around a dropper cork. Within the transparent ophidian’s belly was a meager quantity of carmine fluid. Kael raised the bottle contemplatively, and the contents caught the light like molten ruby.

The liquid was incredibly expensive, having been distilled from the venom of a rare snake native to the Black Morass. The tiny label on the underside revealed its identity as an obscure and highly potent aphrodisiac. Once, upon first chancing across it amongst the sprawl of miscellaneous supplies, Kael’s curiosity gained the better of him. That day after dinner he had returned upstairs and surreptitiously let a couple droplets fall on his tongue, purely for the academic purpose of expanding his firsthand knowledge. Hours later, sprawled on the floor in a sweaty disheveled heap, he soberly questioned the quality of such a decision; he had spent the entire evening fervently rubbing himself raw, and at one point even gave serious consideration to the velvety cleft between the sofa cushions. Copious amounts of semen had been rinsed off into the conjuring fountain, and thankfully no mage had subsequently used the waters and wondered why their elemental summons appeared oddly cloudy. Even for several days afterward he remained restless and hypersensitive.

Truly, a substance capable of reducing the esteemed prince of Quel’Thalas to nearly fucking a couch was fearsome indeed. He needed to carefully deliberate over the gravity of administering it to another person, as the act would tremble upon the line that separated seduction from predation.

In fact, Kael wondered why the Kirin Tor even stocked such an item in the observation chamber. What magical demonstrations could it possibly aid? The implications were downright disturbing. As a member of the High Council, he could not recall the subject ever being discussed.

Kael gazed thoughtfully at the room’s giant mirror with an expression of faint bemusement. Suddenly, a deliciously vile notion slithered through his mind, causing a sadistic smile to unfurl along his lips.  

“I should hold myself to a higher standard,” he voiced aloud, thinking once again of Arthas’s arrogant leer boring into him over Jaina’s shoulder. Kael yearned to incinerate the smug grin right off the bastard’s face.

“I absolutely should not consider it,” he repeated, dwelling on the memory of Arthas’s fingers roaming across Jaina’s exposed skin. Kael’s emerald eyes flickered dangerously. What pleasure it would bring him to grind Arthas’s bloated pride to powdery ashes.

“Why, it’s patently unthinkable,” he said with a low laugh, fingering the serpentine flask.


 

The blazing sun had finally sunk beneath the horizon, and the sky over Dalaran was now a deep dusky purple. Beyond the citadel windows, wind rustled the trees and shook down sparse curtains of dancing white petals.

Kael paced down the hallway toward the mage quarters study lounge, where Antonidas’s diligent apprentice spent most of her nights. As he anticipated, Jaina was planted at a narrow corner table, poring over a book by candlelight. At the sound of approaching footsteps, her head perked up expectantly.

“Oh, good evening, Kael,” she greeted, smiling with visible apprehension.

“Ah, Jaina. I was searching for you.” He walked over to stand before her. “Are you free? I’d like to request the pleasure of your company for a while.”

Jaina’s eyes darted to the doorway behind him. His tone was measured and pleasant, but its slight edge of urgency gave her a ripple of unease. “Well, I would love to join you,” she began apologetically, “but I’ve been waiting here for Arthas. He told me he would meet me over an hour ago. And I also must finish my reading tonight.”

An almost imperceptible cast of amusement flitted across Kael’s face. “Surely at this point, you needn’t wait any longer? Regardless, I promise to not keep you for long.” This time, he thought with determination, he would not be turned away.

She hesitated momentarily before nodding. Kael looked satisfied as she stood and gathered her book under her arm. The tome was jacketed with fine magenta silk, and the title, Creatures of the Arcane, was embossed in silver text on the cover.

“Please, come with me.”

Jaina trailed him through the winding corridors and up a spiraling flight of stairs. As they walked, Kael asked her questions about her new book, and they soon delved into a discussion about mana wyrms.

“The illustrations are stunning! I’d like to see one in-person someday,” she said.

“When you visit Quel’Thalas with me in the future, I’ll show you. Among my people, they are tame.”

She smiled. “Yes, I’d like that.”

“As I’ve said before, I think you would love many things about Quel’Thalas.”

The pair reached the top of the stairs, and Jaina blinked in surprise as she entered through the doorway. It had been months since she’d last been in the observation chamber, the day she had passed her first set of conjuring examinations with flying colors. Kael had been one of the judges behind the silent glass wall. Now, the chamber’s atmosphere was far more relaxed and welcoming; glimmering sconces filled the room with a warm glow, and the fountain trickled softly in the background.

At his gesture, Jaina seated herself on the velvet sofa and placed her book on the low tea table. She felt self-conscious in the presence of the looming mirror, and hurriedly fixed her hair as Kael retrieved a bottle of wine and two glasses from the cabinet.

“Will you have a drink with me?” It was hardly a question, as he had already begun to pour, watching her carefully with an inscrutable expression. A light chink sounded as he placed the glass of dark crimson before her.   

“Thank you.” She swallowed, embarrassed by the hint of tremor in her voice. Jaina had always found the elven prince to possess a peculiarly intense, feline quality; at times he was skilled at putting her to ease, but sitting alone with him now, she felt like a fawn being circled by a covetous panther. “The bottle is beautiful,” she said, admiring the vessel in Kael’s slender hand. Its violet glass was encased in a delicate creeping pattern of pearlescent flowering branches.

“It's an elven wine, from the vineyards of Silvermoon.” He settled on the sofa beside her, and the aura of his heavy warmth seemed to consume the gap between them. “I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.”

“So then, what is the special occasion tonight?”

“Well, Jaina, I’ve been very impressed by how your studies have progressed recently. You’ve achieved quite a transformation from that student who lit my books aflame.” Jaina’s cheeks flushed at the memory of the mortifying accident. “Antonidas speaks highly of your talent. I would like to congratulate you, for proving yourself to be one of Dalaran’s most promising new mages.” Kael raised his glass toward her and smiled, baring a white gleam.

Jaina laughed. “You flatter me,” she said, clinking her glass against his before taking a sip. The wine tasted rich and fruity, with a foreign, startling bite of musky spice. “The wine is lovely.” Kael’s green eyes glinted eagerly.

“You know,” she continued, looking about the room, “I was so nervous last time I had an examination here. I hate not seeing who’s scoring me.” She turned her body to face him, leaning her shoulder against the sofa. “Watching my own reflection just causes me to overthink everything.”

“You needn’t feel that way,” Kael assured her. “I was there. You were flawless. Watching you perform was a pleasure.”

Jaina blushed, his words causing her to think unwittingly of their encounter earlier that afternoon. She took a sip of her drink, anxiously wondering whether or not to mention it. Kael, offended as he appeared at the time, seemed to have let it go entirely. However, Jaina supposed, a proper apology was warranted.

“About today in the library,” she began awkwardly, running her fingers along the stem of her glass. “I’m sorry for disturbing your studies. My conduct was unbefitting, and I meant no disrespect toward anyone.” He gazed at her silently. “It certainly won’t happen again, and I hope you won’t hold it as representative of my character.”

Kael reached over and took her hand in his; he was intrigued to discover that her skin burned with heat. “Never mind that,” he said with a sigh. “You must know by now that it pains me to see you with Arthas.” He cocked his head slightly and leaned in towards her ear. “I’m surprised by what you let him do with you,” he added, his tone dropping.

Jaina’s heart thumped in her throat, and she wondered if Kael could detect the trembling of her fingers. His touch and voice were sending goosebumps along her arms. She drew her hand away and took another sip of wine, wracking her mind for a proper response.

“Arthas… is a dear friend of mine.”

Kael smirked wryly. “Clearly he is.” He shifted on the sofa, causing his knees to brush against hers. “Although, ‘friend’ is an interesting choice of words.”

“We cannot be more than that. Arthas must go back to the capital, and I am devoted to my studies here in Dalaran.” Jaina’s voice was tinged with disappointment. “He is a prince after all, so I understand his priorities. I’m sure you could relate to that.”

“On the contrary, my duties to the crown and my presence with the Kirin Tor are not at odds with one another.” He paused, studying her intently. “Jaina… Nothing would stop you and me from being together.” His hand rested on her lower thigh, and she shivered as his thumb swept beneath the hem of her dress, stroking her skin like a feather. Jaina glanced down, and for the first time noticed that his typically sharp nails were trimmed short.  

A fluttering shadow of doubt rose in the back of her mind. She realized that she had been unconsciously leaning forward toward Kael, lips parted, as a strange heady fire coursed through her veins. Why were high elves so uncannily attractive?

Get a hold of yourself, she thought, inhaling deeply. She drew back and assumed a serious countenance.

“Forgive me, but I don’t understand. What interest does elven royalty have in an apprentice mage?”

Kael chuckled. “Don’t act so humble, Jaina Proudmoore,” he teased liltingly, his eyes flicking down to her mouth. Any man can see that you are achingly beautiful, and fearsomely talented.” He caressed her jaw, letting his fingers trail delicately down her throat. “Your presence drips with magic.” His voice lowered to a whisper. “I find it quite… addictive.”

Jaina stared up at him, frozen like a rabbit. Kael could feel her pulse hammer through the skin of her neck, and her blue eyes were glazed with unmistakable desire. He placed his hands gently on both sides of her face and bent close, his lips hovering a hair’s breadth from hers.

“Be mine, Jaina,” he breathed.

“But Kael, Arthas—"

Kael pressed forward, steady and warm. Jaina shut her eyes, entranced. He kissed her tenderly, struggling with restraint as he pulled back.

“Forget about your friend Arthas. Allow me to be more than your friend.” He claimed her mouth again, and Jaina shuddered with pleasure as his tongue brushed against hers, soft and relentless like licks of rain. By the time he withdrew, her body was alight with yearning.  

Kael drank in the sight of Jaina’s flushed lips, slightly parted and wet with his kiss. He had barely sipped his wine, yet a desperate tide of lust was surging within him.   

His hands roved down her back and encircled her waist as he pinned her back against the sofa. “Do you want me?” he asked huskily, sweeping back her hair to kiss her ear. How he loved the endearingly rounded ears of humans. They reminded him of little mice, and he was the cat. He ran the tip of his tongue along the outer edge, tracing down to catch the lobe between his teeth. A tiny moan escaped her as he began to suck gently.

“Shall I stop?”

Jaina shivered; his breath was hot and silky in her ear. In the absence of a response, Kael slid a hand up to boldly cup her breast, thumbing its stiff peak through the fabric. She inhaled sharply as an electric jolt sparked through her core.

“You’ll have to tell me soon, before we get carried away.” He began to undo the clasps of her dress with his other hand, reveling in the powerful effect he held over her.

“Say that you want me, Jaina.” The silver cloth collapsed down her shoulders, and soon Kael’s skillful fingers began to stroke and massage her bare flesh.

Jaina fixed her eyes beyond his shoulder at the scene in the mirror. She watched herself pressed limply back into the sofa, face flushed with burning pleasure as Kael leaned over her, encasing her with his firm body and devouring her with his touch. Her ripe breasts were shamelessly exposed, displaying their raised pink points.

How did it come to this, she wondered with a sense of surreality. If not for the long pointed ears and crimson robes, Jaina could almost believe that the back of the blond head featured in the reflection belonged to Arthas instead.

“Kael… I…” Jaina struggled to find her words as he nipped down the side of her neck, pausing in his downward path to plant kisses against her collarbone. His movements grew fervent, and Jaina too was quickly succumbing to a mindless need for his attentions.

“Yes, say my name,” he growled, closing his lips over her nipple. Jaina tangled her fingers in his long golden hair, arching her back as his tongue swirled and flicked. She gasped as he bit down firmly. The sound caused him to look up, panting lightly, and his eyes glowed with need. “Do you know how many nights I’ve spent dreaming of this?” His hands and mouth continued their unyielding journey downward, peeling off her dress and igniting her sensitive nerves like wildfire.

Dreaming… Is this a dream? Jaina continued to watch, overwhelmed, as her reflection was ravished in front of her eyes. Even Arthas, with his sly calloused hands and rough kisses, had never been so aggressively seductive, nor had he so quickly reduced her to the human equivalent of quivering gelatin. Was this truly Kael’thas Sunstrider, the ever proper high elf prince?

Kael suddenly let go of her and stood, then proceeded to push the tea table back impatiently with his foot. Jaina’s book tipped to the floor with a thump. He untied the crested sash around his waist and shrugged off his robes, revealing a smooth, muscled chest and a pair of black breeches. The silk material was thin, and the strained tent at his groin left little to Jaina’s imagination.

She moved to stand as well, but Kael placed his hands on her shoulders and gently guided her back down. He knelt before her, watching her face intently as he gave a tug to the dress at her hips. She snapped swiftly out of her reverie as she felt his fingers hook into the top edge of her underwear.  

“W-wait!” she stuttered, her voice weak with lust even as she grabbed his wrists in protest, legs clamped shut. Kael paused and released his grip, smiling reassuringly.

“I won’t hurt you.” He stroked his palms upward along her thighs, lightly pressuring them apart. Jaina’s breath hitched in her throat as Kael’s thumb brushed against the crotch of her panties. He was delighted to discover the fabric slippery and radiating heat.

“You’re incredibly wet,” he murmured, acutely aware of his own burning arousal. Her legs trembled as he kissed her thighs and rubbed tight circles over the patch of soaked satin.

“May I?” His fingers once again rested on the hem of her underwear.

A sea of conflicts roiled in Jaina’s mind. Would Arthas be heartbroken? Although, he was the one who told her they could only be friends… Would the other mages of the Kirin Tor accuse her of seducing her way to success? She strived so hard to prove her competence… Would Kael grow bored of her afterwards? After all, he was exceptionally handsome and influential, and certainly many other women would vie for his affection… 

But the tumult in her head began to fade, drowned out by the aching lust blooming in her core. She reached out and ran her fingers through Kael’s hair, wishing to kiss him again.

“Please, Jaina…”

Jaina glanced ahead in the mirror and nearly laughed. It was absurd, she thought, that the great mage prince of Quel’Thalas was on his knees before her, sporting a massive erection and begging to strip off her panties. Absurd, yet arousing. Somehow Kael managed to make her feel simultaneously like a timid schoolgirl and a powerful queen.

“Okay,” she said finally, excitement beating in her chest.

She gasped in surprise as he yanked down her underwear and pushed her legs up. His mouth latched onto her dripping slit, and his tongue probed and lapped hungrily. She arched and writhed, face contorted with shocked ecstasy. Kael groaned against her, inhaling the musky sweetness of her scent. He suckled at her sensitive bead of flesh and was rewarded with a loud, breathless moan.

“Kael,” she whimpered, hips bucking involuntarily. The sound of his name on her lips spurred him further; with a prickle of dark jealousy, Kael wondered if Arthas had pleasured her this way before too. He probed her entrance with his index finger, and despite her weeping slickness, he was met with a taut resistance.

Kael balked. It couldn’t be—

He lifted his head back and spread her folds, narrowing his eyes as he examined her.

“What are you doing?” Jaina asked, panting heavily and too aroused to feel self-conscious any longer. She wriggled her hips impatiently. Don’t stop, she thought.  

“Are you… Have you not, with Arthas…”

Jaina blinked. “Oh. No, I haven’t yet,” she admitted. Her brow knitted. “Does it matter?”

A cold wave of sobriety washed over Kael. He was uncomfortably reminded of just how relatively young Jaina was, and felt somewhat disgusted with himself. Were his grand plans of seduction naught but predatory lechery? As a senior member of the Kirin Tor, he wondered if his infatuation with her appeared to be that of a goatish, cradle-robbing authority leering after a vulnerable student girl. Yet competing with these doubts, a more primal side within him crowed its victory. Though Kael was old in human years, he still manifested the testosterone-laden egotistical streak of a young elven man. The notion of laying first claim to Jaina, forever bookmarking himself in her memories and setting her sexual benchmark, stoked his vanity greatly. He would overwhelm her with such pleasure that she would never again contemplate wandering into the arms of another man, not even Arthas.  

“It didn’t occur to me,” he said carefully, gauging her frustrated expression. “Perhaps this is too fast?”

He inhaled through his teeth as she brushed her foot against his clothed erection. On a certain level, Jaina appreciated the consideration, but she disliked being regarded as a frail maiden. She had never actively guarded her virginity; if anything, sex was largely forgotten to her in a demanding world of books and studies, and she and Arthas hardly ever had more than fleeting privacy to themselves.

“Please continue, Kael.” Her tone was as dignified as she could muster, and a gratified smile curled across his lips.

“As you wish,” he replied, and then his mouth was upon her once more. He slid his finger inside of her slowly, knuckle by knuckle, working to stretch her narrow, scorching passage; then soon, a second finger, and he stroked her interior in a firm, languid, come-hither motion. All the while, his tongue laved wetly over her swollen flesh, and Jaina felt a dizzying, toe-curling euphoria blossoming upward through her abdomen.

“It’s too much! Kael, ah—" She tried to sit up, reaching to grasp at him, but he pushed her back down against the sofa, thrusting his fingers relentlessly. Jaina cried out raggedly as her walls convulsed around him, legs shaking. Her body still pulsed and tingled as Kael gave her one last lick and withdrew. He stood before her and began to release the drawstring of his breeches.

“Kael…” She lay limp and sweaty on the sofa, regarding him with a glazed expression of awe. He wiped a trickle of moisture from his chin, smiling down at her like a cat that had swallowed the canary.

“I’m honored to be your first,” he purred, and pulled down his breeches. Jaina gaped, her heart pounding with apprehensive desire. She had fondled Arthas through the layers of his clothes before, but never had she seen a man like this, not even in the illustrated pages of her countless books. The shadow of a vein ran up his thick length, and a clear droplet of fluid oozed from its blunt tip. “I promise you’ll enjoy this,” he said as he climbed onto the sofa, repositioning her lengthways and caging her beneath him. Curtains of his flowing blond hair cascaded down as he kissed her.

Jaina wrapped one hand around his nape, and trailed the other down along the rigid muscles of his abdomen until she tentatively held him in her grasp. She squeezed and marveled at his hardness. He felt hot and smooth and unyielding, like the grip of a freshly forged sword wrapped in a sheet of silk.

He jerked forward at her touch, stabbing against her inner thigh. “Jaina,” he hissed, “Let me hear you say my name.” She tensed at the sensation of insistent pressure now directly between her legs. “I want to hear you say it… repeatedly.”

“Kael,” she whispered, wincing as he slipped through her slick folds and began to bear down his weight. A raw shot of stinging pain burst from below, and she buried her nose in the crook of his shoulder. His scent was heady and curiously floral, like a meadow after the rain. He continued to sink inward, stretching her with his girth until he lay prone upon her, sheathed nearly to the hilt. 

“Say it again,” he breathed, cradling her shoulders and stroking her hair. He withdrew an inch and pressed back in.

“Kael,” she mewled, lips pressed against his warm skin. He rocked his hips gently, and the foreign sensation of his cock massaging her from within stirred an emotional swell of intimacy. It felt intensely good, and involuntary tears sprang to her eyes.

Kael groaned. She was wonderfully tight and wet around his shaft, and he doubted whether he could last. He drew back to look at her face; her lips were parted, and her blue eyes shined like dew. His breath hitched in his throat. Jaina was beautiful, wrapped trembling in his arms, and she belonged to him now. If he were to make her his human queen one day, surely the high elves of Quel’Thalas would understand…

He crushed his mouth fervently against hers, and his tongue delved between her lips as his thrusts began to lengthen. She arched her back, moaning as he lifted her thighs and plunged in hard, rubbing circles on her swollen nub with the pad of his thumb. In response, her nails dug into his nape and scraped down his back.

He broke the kiss, panting lustfully. “You’re mine, Jaina.” He increased his pace and latched his teeth to the delicate skin of her neck. She thrashed beneath him as he began to suck with force, creating a bruise-like blotch of maroon.

Don’t do that, she wanted to say, but all that came out was a disjointed cry as he drove into her like a ceaseless piston. Jaina closed her eyes. Two weeks ago, Arthas had done the same on the other side, and she was forced to wear cowls for days afterward. It was such a primal and possessive act, and despite her admonishment, Arthas had delighted in glimpsing his mark on her. In a certain regard, Kael and Arthas were indeed similar in many ways... She wondered if Arthas could make love to her like this, if Arthas’s cock inside her would feel this sinfully enjoyable…

“Ah, ah—Arthas—“

Kael halted abruptly, just as Jaina teetered on the brink of climax. He leaned back with narrowed eyes, dark with hurt.

“Look at me,” he demanded. She focused her lidded eyes, barely registering the sounds that had escaped her lips; her mind swam with sultry thoughts of her childhood friend and crush. Kael loomed over and pinned her wrists on the armrest of the sofa with one strong hand.

“Here in Dalaran,” he said, his voice a low growl, “I will be your only prince.” He slammed his hips forward, piercing her sharply. Jaina writhed, gasping. “So say my name, and my name only.” He grasped her chin, tilting her head to the side and bending down close. “Jaina.” His breath was hot and husky against her ear. “Be assured that Arthas will never fuck you like this.”

He sank his cock in even harder, grinding her into the black velvet upholstery. Her knees clung desperately to his hips as he pumped wildly, beads of sweat dripping down his muscled torso. Jaina cried out, writhing as bright ecstasy began to build deep within her body, threatening to seize her mind and reason.  

“Kael!” she screamed his name, her breasts heaving as she tightened like a vise and clenched rhythmically around his shaft. Kael gritted his teeth and shuddered, his orgasm imminent. He fought back an animalistic temptation to bury himself deeply as possible and fill her with his seed; instead he gave one last thrust and withdrew, spilling milky spurts into his palm.

Kael released her wrists and collapsed over her, his breathing labored. He brushed his lips against her shoulder and lay still, listening to the pattering thrum of her heart. Jaina dragged her fingertips absentmindedly down his spine and smoothed over the raised welts that her nails had left behind. As she basked in the satisfied afterglow, it occurred to her how Kael seemed like an entirely different person; the panting, sweaty man stretched on top of her was far removed from his typical immaculate and regal image. He looked profoundly human now, or as human as any elf could be.

“It felt wonderful,” she murmured, and he smiled lazily.

“I’m glad.” He kissed her mouth gently, lingering affectionately before moving to stand up. She watched as he retrieved a handkerchief from the cabinet and wiped his hand, and then pulled on his breeches and robes. Jaina reluctantly peeled herself from the sofa and dressed herself as well, wincing at the cold, damp sensation of her wet underwear.

“You barely drank your wine,” she noted, picking up his full glass and touching it playfully to her lips. A faint look of alarm crossed his features, and he turned swiftly to pluck the stem from her fingers.

“I was quite distracted by something that tasted much better,” he said. Jaina reddened and laughed. Kael took a casual sip and placed the glass back down on the far side of the table, safely beyond her reach. He was confident that he had calculated the wine quite well, and he had no desire to let Jaina continue drinking and potentially be reduced to a worg in heat. He cringed as he recalled his original self-experimentation.

“Kael,” she began, still grinning shyly. “It’s quite late now. I have class to attend early tomorrow morning, so I’d best return to my room.”

He nodded. “Allow me to accompany you.”

They left the chamber and descended down the winding staircase into the network of hallways, their footsteps echoing across the darkened stone. Kael’s hand roamed her body as they walked, caressing her hair, fingertips, and lower back; she flashed him a coquettish smile, and his heart swelled fondly. He would have to thank Arthas for giving him the inspiration to finally win her over.

They rounded the corner, and Jaina gave a start. A man’s figure stood silhouetted in the broad arched window, silently staring outside at the flurry of moonlit petals swirling in the night wind.

Arthas, thought Jaina immediately, her stomach plummeting with dread.

The mysterious person turned, revealing a bushy white beard that shone in the gloom.

“Ah, Prince Kael’thas. Jaina. It’s a lovely night.”

She felt her chest deflate in relief. “Hello, Antonidas.”

Kael slipped his hand from Jaina’s waist and bowed his head politely. “Antonidas. An unexpected pleasure.”

The archmage knitted his bushy brows, evaluating the pair suspiciously. “I could certainly say the same to you.” His moustache twitched in reproach at the sight of their flushed faces and tousled hair, and he shot Kael a penetrating glare that communicated words unspoken. Just WHAT are you doing with my apprentice?

“I shall see you tomorrow morning, Jaina.” Antonidas’s tone was clipped. “Good night, Kael’thas.” He redirected his solemn gaze back to the window, hands clasped behind him.

The two continued down the hallway, quickening their pace. Jaina glanced behind her furtively, suddenly paranoid of encountering Arthas. She shook her head. No, there was no way that he would be searching for her in the citadel at this hour. He was, by all odds, fast asleep in his lodgings at the nearby inn. Guilt trickled through her stomach like sand in an hourglass.

“Are you alright, Jaina? Never mind what Antonidas may think of us.”

“I’m fine,” she lied, anxiously tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

Kael smirked deviously. “You do look, shall I say… freshly fucked,” he whispered, eyeing her with amusement. “I’m sure it was a shock for the old man to see his student appearing less than innocent.”

Jaina’s cheeks burned. She thought, with a pang, that his teasing remark sounded just like something Arthas would say. And how would Arthas react if he could see her now? Would he detect the musk of sex on her skin, or notice the trail of dried fluid that crept down her inner thigh? Surely he would discover the splotchy love bite that Kael had created on her neck…

I am only his friend, she reminded herself firmly, the sting of Arthas’s unromantic proclamation still palpable in her chest. Arthas may be hurt, but I don’t owe him such fidelity.

They soon reached the door to her room, and Kael bent down to capture her lips. To his surprise, Jaina deepened the kiss, tugging insistently at the front of his robes.

“Actually, will you come inside with me?” she asked, her tone hushed and coy. Her curled fingers dragged down from his chest to his hips, and he realized he was hard again. He wondered if perhaps he should have forgone the earlier mouthful of wine.

“We could just lie down together for a bit,” she added hopefully, dreading the prospect of retiring alone to her bed with haunting thoughts of Arthas.

Kael's smile was warm. “I would love to,” he said, stroking her cheek. She looked confused as he clasped her shoulders and delicately separated their bodies. “However, I have a few obligations that demand my attention before tomorrow.”

“Oh,” said Jaina, disappointment evident on her face, and he kissed her forehead in apology.

“I’ll come back afterwards.”

Jaina pressed forward again, gingerly stroking his erection through his robes. He suppressed a groan and grabbed her wrist. If she continued, he would be too tempted to stay…

Yet Kael did indeed have other obligations. Or rather, one obligation in particular.

“I’ll return shortly,” he promised, disappearing back down the dark corridor and leaving a forlorn Jaina in his wake.


 

Arthas jerked his body uselessly once more, the veins in his muscled arms bulging as he strained against the enchanted bindings. The heavy chair he had been attached to for the past couple hours bucked slightly with the force of his movements and raised a silvery plume of dust from the shadowed floor. He shut his eyes in an attempt to calm himself, his snorting breaths punctuating the silence.

His eyes snapped open again upon the creaking noise of the door, and he curled his lips into a feral snarl at the sight of the elf entering the room on the other side of the glass.

Kael flashed a cocky leer into the mirror before striding to the far end of the chamber and slipping past the heavy curtain. Arthas resumed his thrashing, practically frothing as he gnashed his teeth into the gag, his eyes wild with hatred.

“Greetings to you too, Arthas.” Kael stalked towards him, appraising his rival with a supercilious expression. He dragged a chair over and took a seat before him. The normally tan skin of Arthas’s forearms was a bloodless white against the bindings as he struggled to break free.

“It’s no use. My magic is more powerful than the likes of any human.” He crossed his legs primly and examined his lacquered fingernails as Arthas continued to writhe with futile rage. “I cut my nails for Jaina,” he remarked casually, emerald eyes flicking upward with a cold glint. “Her skin is so delicate, after all. I couldn’t risk damaging it.”

Arthas went still, trembling with wrath. “So,” Kael continued, “do you get it now? Your time on stage is over. Jaina is mine. Perhaps my lesson was cruel, but you were practically begging for this to happen.” He tilted forward with a sneer. “Yes, that’s right. Insolent whelp. You honestly believed that you could get away with your endless provocations? Let it be known that the pendulum swings back hard.”

A menacing, muffled growl rumbled from Arthas’s throat. All he wanted to swing was his fist, right into Kael’s villainously monologuing mouth.

“Oh, sorry, what was that? I didn’t quite catch it.” Kael snatched the enchanted wad of fabric from between Arthas’s teeth, wrinkling his nose at the slimy layer of foam. He tossed it aside and rubbed his fingers on his robe.

“Fucking elf!” Arthas rasped, and spat in Kael’s face. “I’ll kill you!”

Kael wiped the saliva from his cheek and leaned close, grinning wickedly. “Will you? How savage.”

“I love Jaina,” Arthas blurted out, and his voice cracked. Kael scowled, noticing for the first time that Arthas’s eyelashes were spiked with moisture. He felt a flicker of uncomfortable sympathy.

“Is that so?” Kael leaned back in his chair, eyes narrowed. “I seem to recall that at dinner last month, Antonidas directly inquired about your romantic prospects, and you were ever so tight-lipped.” He folded his arms. “I personally won’t hide my relationship with Jaina from anyone. Granted, I’m not a coward.”

“Your relationship?” Arthas looked disgusted. “She’s not yours because you raped her, you filthy knife-ear. Jaina loves me, and you can’t change that.”

Kael’s elongated eyebrows shot up. “Rape?” He let out a peal of scornful laughter. “Is that how you’ve rationalized it? Jaina was screaming for quite a different reason.” He paused, smugly savoring the moment as Arthas clenched his fists. “Yes, she’s mine now, Arthas. You were merely a setback.”

Arthas fixated on his lap, shaking with anger; his long hair cascaded down and obscured his face. Kael tilted his head to the side, pupils dilated dangerously. Sadistic triumph and lingering aphrodisiac coursed hotly through his veins, washing away his last vestiges of propriety. He reached out and lifted Arthas’s chin, causing the human to flinch and snap his teeth.

“Don’t touch me!” snarled Arthas.

Kael tutted. “Now, now. Play nice.” His eyes glowed with a surge of magic, and a prickling sensation flowed from his fingertips and spread through Arthas’s jaws, causing the man’s lips to part slackly. Kael scooted toward him until their noses nearly touched, and the green fire in his stare danced with manic cruelty. “Since I’m in a generous mood, I’ll let you have one last taste of Jaina.”

Arthas bucked at his restraints as Kael pressed his lips forward. He was powerless to bite down as the elf’s tongue lashed against his own, painting the inside of his mouth with a sweet, faintly tangy wetness. Kael lapped harshly, probing deep before breaking away. He released Arthas’s chin, and the paralysis spell faded.

“She tastes good, doesn’t she?” he breathed. “She was absolutely dripping for me.”

Arthas swallowed thickly, searching for his voice. “What the hell is wrong with you?” He glared at Kael and recoiled at the sight of the elven man’s feral, unhinged expression. “You’re sick!”

“Hm. Perhaps.” Kael stood and leisurely strolled around to Arthas’s back, resting a well-manicured hand on his shoulder. “But it’s only because I despise you so very much, Prince Arthas Menethil.”

Arthas was unable to see behind him, but the mocking sneer was evident in Kael’s voice.

“The feeling is mutual,” he spat. There was a pregnant pause as Kael’s presence loomed ominously.

“Oh my,” came the elf's gleeful voice, and his hand dipped along Arthas’s torso to rest upon the center of his lap. “Where did this come from?”

Arthas glanced down, and with a clenching sensation of utter horror, realized that he was partially erect. A tiny moist stain dotted the fabric of his trousers, and Kael prodded it with one extended finger.

“Did you enjoy watching Jaina being pleasured? Or was it her second-hand flavor that gave you this?” Kael hissed in his ear. “Or… Was it perhaps me?”

“Light, no!” Arthas grimaced. “I’m not a freak like you are!” A shiver rolled down his spine. The prince of Quel’Thalas was indeed more insane than he had ever fathomed, and he regretted spending the last several weeks figuratively tossing pebbles at the wasp nest named Kael’Thas Sunstrider. 

Elven men. In Arthas’s mind, Kael just epitomized every distasteful stereotype about them. Stuffy and quiet, yet prone to fussy temperamental outbursts. Vain and snooty, constantly preening. Fragile superiority complexes. Hedonistic and sexually deviant. Weirdly androgynous and eerily perfect-looking. Kael was beautiful, and Arthas hated that.

Kael closed his fingers over Arthas’s bulge and stroked audaciously with his thumb, reveling in his enemy’s humiliation. With fleeting curiosity, he wondered how large Lordaeron’s prince was; surely not bigger than him, he thought conceitedly.

Arthas flexed his thighs, desperately willing away his swelling rigidity. “Why don’t you untie me?” he said. Kael hesitated at the hard, leveled edge of his tone.  

“And why should I do that?” Arthas suppressed a shudder at the hot rush of breath in his ear, and steeled his nerves.

“Do you plan to keep me bound to this chair forever? Why not face me like a man, rather than fondling me from behind? Haven't you done enough molesting for tonight?”

Kael halted, rankled, and withdrew his hand. “Swear that you’ll keep your distance from Jaina, and I’ll let you walk free right now.”

Arthas craned his neck to flash Kael a challenging glare. “Fight me first.” I’ll beat the sorry shit out of you, he thought.

“Fight you? What an inspiring idea,” Kael drawled, a look of amusement on his face. “I could fry you to a crisp in an instant, if I pleased.”

Arthas snorted. “Afraid to take me on like a man? Aren’t you elves capable of anything beyond flipping your hair around and juggling fireballs?”

Kael’s eyes narrowed as he rose to the bait. He slinked to stand before Arthas, and fixed upon him with a cold stare. Wordlessly, he untied the sash of his robes and tossed the elegant garment to the side, baring his muscled body. He towered over Arthas in his breeches and raised his right hand.

“Test me, paladin.”

Kael snapped his fingers, and the binds around Arthas immediately unraveled and slid to the floor. Arthas wasted no time in hurtling out of the chair, and a loud thump reverberated through the room as he slammed Kael backwards against the enchanted glass. Arthas was surprised to discover that the full weight of his heavy brawn barely winded Kael; the elf deftly caught his incoming fist and kneed Arthas brutally in the stomach.

Arthas reeled back, wheezing, but before Kael could open his mouth to make a snide comment, Arthas swiftly grabbed his shoulders and forced them down. His skull smashed into Kael’s with a dull crack. Kael hissed in pain and pivoted around to seize Arthas’s burly arms, ramming him forward into the back of the mirror. He twisted hard, and the other man emitted a choked cry. Arthas writhed free and stabbed his elbow backward, knocking Kael in the jaw. The pair struggled, flailing and staggering lengthwise along the smooth wall of glass.

“I’ll make you pay!” spat Arthas between grunts. They grappled recklessly toward the far curtained edge, and the sudden lack of support behind Arthas caused him to stumble backwards into the main chamber. He caught his balance, chest heaving. Kael cursed, momentarily wrapped in the heavy fabric; Arthas pounced on the opportunity to land a frenzy of blows on his encumbered foe. Kael snarled, and his foot swept out in a blind kick that barely missed Arthas’s groin. He desperately threw his weight forward to tackle the other man, and the curtain tore from its track with a loud rip.

Arthas lurched backwards upon the clumsy impact and banged into a tall wooden cabinet. He straightened, teeth gritted, adrenaline screaming in his ears. Silky strands of the elf’s hair hung from between his curled fingers, and his hands itched to grasp the cool weight of a sword.

Kael threw the ruined curtain from his head; his handsome face was contorted with icy fury. His posture was hunched, and he winced as a throb of pain racked his body. The two blond men regarded each other with hatred from across the room, panting.

“I should end this now, and render you a pile of soot,” Kael growled, palms glowing dangerously. “Terenas could sire a new son. Surely that would be a desirable improvement for the people of Lordaeron.”

“Go ahead and do it, then! My kingdom will raze Quel’Thalas to the ground.” 

“Feh, what a joke.”

Arthas scanned his immediate surroundings, and his eyes fell upon the wine bottle and glasses on the tea table by his knees. He scowled and picked up the bottle, holding it up to his face. The miniature blossoms adorning the violet glass sparkled like shards of seashell.

“You have the style of a woman, Kael’thas.” His voice was laced with scathing jealousy. “You truly believe Jaina will fall for a mincing elf like you?”

“It’s already evident that she spreads her legs for me, not boorish excuses for human royalty.”

“Jaina will loathe you once she finds out what you’ve done.” Arthas took a long, exaggerated swig from the bottle, eyeing Kael with fierce cockiness. He wiped his mouth on his forearm and tossed the bottle carelessly into the conjuring fountain, where it splashed and shattered with a clear tinkle. The wine diffused like a cloud of blood in the water. “Elven wine? That tastes like fruity piss.”  

A vein in Kael’s temple twitched. “You’re well-accustomed to that flavor, I’m sure.” He began to pace towards Arthas, ignoring the soreness of his bruised flesh. “I’ve had quite enough chit-chat. Isn’t it time for you to trot along home like a good boy? Tomorrow I’ll speak with Antonidas about helping you arrange an early journey back to Lordaeron.”

Arthas glared, baring his teeth. Kael scarcely managed to react as Arthas tensed and lunged forward like a bloodthirsty wolf.  

“I’m not going anywhere—"

The elf narrowly blocked the blow and spun to seize the furious human in a chokehold. Arthas gasped for air as Kael squeezed his elbows together punishingly; he scrabbled and thrashed as Kael fought to keep control. Kael staggered backwards, and his foot slipped on a magenta book that was splayed on the floor. The silk cover had no friction against the smooth tiling, and Kael was sent crashing downward with Arthas in tow. Fortunately, the edge of the sofa broke their fall.

Kael heaved them both onto the seat, his arms still wrapped around Arthas’s neck like a pair of pythons. Arthas’s wild kicking caught the tea table and sent it skidding across the room, and slivers of broken glass scattered when the cups toppled and broke. Arthas’s movements became increasingly erratic and limp; Kael loosened his constriction and flipped the prone man to pin him securely against the velvet upholstery.

“Are you done yet?”

Arthas gazed up blearily, the edges of his vision bleeding black. Kael’s flawless features swam before him; his smooth chiseled jaw, contemptuous lips, sharp nose, cat-like green eyes, sweeping eyebrows, unblemished skin. The elf’s lustrous hair spilled down over his shoulders and brushed Arthas’s cheek.

A peculiarly intense sensation pounded in Arthas’s abdomen. He felt a raw tide of desperate, excruciating longing. What right did Kael have to steal Jaina and vulgarly humiliate him, and then saunter away with infuriating perfection? In that moment, every fiber of Arthas yearned to see the prince of Quel’Thalas humbled, bent to his knees. The agony of his broken pride gouged him like spurs. He would not accept defeat, even if it killed him.

Fuck you,” he croaked, tears studding his eyes as he jerked dizzily upwards, smashing his mouth against Kael’s. His lips moved with feverish abandon, crushing and biting. “Fuck you—” His words were muffled, and the hint of a sob trembled in his throat.

Kael froze, and his eyes squinched at the rasping friction of stubbly skin against his own. He tasted a surge of metal as Arthas’s incisors sank into his bottom lip, and the burst of hot pain sparked a riling inferno within him. Arthas, like most humans, was endlessly stubborn; he was a thorn in Kael’s side, an arrogant nuisance, a cur yapping at his heels. Know your place and submit, he thought, gripping the sides of Arthas’s head and kissing him back domineeringly. His tongue forced out Arthas’s and plunged forward.

Arthas groaned unthinkingly, and the noise was guttural and erotic, inciting Kael to push him harder into the sofa. Arthas lifted his freed hands and fisted them in Kael’s golden hair, tugging aggressively. The locks felt pleasingly silky and knotless, just like Jaina’s, and the unexpected association caused his fingers to loosen and comb. A pang of grief echoed in his chest. Would he ever hold Jaina in his arms again? A hurricane of memories thundered through his mind; Jaina as a child, sitting in the grass and smiling shyly as he poked a daisy behind her ear; Jaina leaving to study with the Kirin Tor, her sweet scent filling his nostrils as he embraced her goodbye; Jaina dancing with him in the snow, her peals of laughter bringing a wide grin to his face; Jaina kissing him passionately in all the secluded corners of Dalaran, a bitter elf sulking somewhere in the background; Jaina staring at the floor, poorly attempting to hide her crestfallen expression as he told her they were only friends; Jaina gasping and writhing, naked, clutching a familiar long-eared head between her legs; Jaina crying out in ecstasy as she came on another man’s—

“You’ve craved my attention so badly, haven’t you? Parading Jaina around in front of me like a—" Kael grunted mid-sentence, interrupted by Arthas groping at his crotch. Arthas bucked beneath him and flipped the pair over, taking advantage of Kael’s stunned reaction.

Kael lay rigid and still, apprehensive yet curious. “You’re hard,” said Arthas, surprised to find that this discovery pleased him. He wondered fleetingly if Kael had cast a spell on him. Another one of your mind games? His fist clenched around Kael’s shaft, bunching the thin silk of his breeches. The flesh was warm and throbbing against his palm, and with a heady rush of powerful control, Arthas suddenly understood why Kael had fondled him so spitefully earlier. Confused excitement pounded in his chest, and his pupils were black and wide as he began to pump his hand.

“Arthas,” gasped Kael huskily, and Arthas was thrilled by the bewildered tone of his voice. Kael bucked his hips, mind buzzing with agitated, incoherent lust. He reached upward and yanked the other man’s tunic over his shoulders, exposing a broad muscled chest that was dusted with blond hairs. Kael raked his blunted fingernails down hard along the skin; he wished he still had filed claws that could gouge bleeding scratches down Arthas’s sweaty torso.

Arthas said nothing, and instead focused his concentration on tugging down Kael’s breeches. As much as he insulted the elf’s masculinity, the prince of Quel’Thalas was certainly… big. Did Kael trump him in everything? No, it was just a trick of the angle. He stared down flintily, lips flushed and parted.

This was inside of Jaina…

The realization triggered an electrifying wave of nausea. With a flop of his stomach, he imagined being bound back in the chair, Kael tauntingly offering to let him taste Jaina’s residue from more than just the surface of his tongue...

Kael watched tensely as Arthas’s stare bored into his lap. Arthas's expression was dangerously inscrutable, as though Kael could very well be castrated in an instant of ripping flesh. He flinched as Arthas suddenly licked the calloused palm of his hand and brought it back down, slathered with saliva, to enclose his girth.

Arthas jerked slickly, provoking a breathless moan from his rival. His wrist twisted and jumped seemingly on its own. On a blurry plane of awareness, Arthas inwardly protested that what he was doing was appalling, perverted, wrong by every measure. Yet the sensation of hard, wet, vulnerable flesh pulsing in his fist felt like victory in its most carnal form, and the panting noise of Kael yielding reluctantly beneath him was a testament to his triumphant dominance.

Arthas reached to unbuckle his belt, and the strip of leather slithered from its loops to be discarded on the floor. He pushed down his trousers, releasing his own straining erection. It bobbed rigidly and brushed against Kael’s. Being a young male in his prime, Arthas certainly had libidinous fantasies featuring various women he saw in the streets, or pretty servant girls around the castle, and of course Jaina, but never had he remotely contemplated laying with another man. The very idea of engaging intimately with some burly, musky partner was abhorrent, let alone one who wasn’t even human. Yet somehow, at least in that moment, Kael’thas Sunstrider was an exception. The elven prince’s skin was smooth and flawless, his face was elegant and delicate, his cascading locks of hair were glossy and smelled faintly like a lady’s perfume—could Arthas really call him a man?—and most importantly, he had fucked Jaina, so it was only right, it was only justice that Arthas should—

“Arthas?!”

A feminine voice pierced the room, jarring him from the heady whirl of strange thoughts. He froze.

No. No. No. Arthas had never been Lordaeron’s most virtuous paladin, but if the Holy Light had any mercy, if it offered any divine protection, then this could only be a figment of his fevered imagination. Kael’s face below him paled with dread, and the stimulated groan on his lips died as his mouth snapped shut into a grim line.

“Kael?” The sound of disbelief was palpable.

No, no—Arthas finally broke his eyes away from the graphic sight of Kael’s slippery, engorged cock nestled flush against his own. He looked up with a surge of panic and met the shocked blue gaze of Jaina from across the room. Her hair was wet, and for several excruciating seconds, only the soft impact of a water droplet hitting the marble floor perforated the silence.

“Jaina!” he sputtered, scrambling off of Kael’s lap and tugging up his pants, desperately attempting to stuff away his swollen rod. Despite his hasty efforts to conceal, it bulged haphazardly through the fabric. “What are you doing here?” Kael remained limp on the sofa in apparent mortified surrender, and he made no move to fix the breeches bunched around his thighs.

Arthas stepped hesitantly toward Jaina. She gaped, immobilized, like a bloodless statue bolted in the entryway. The airy folds of an indigo nightgown hung motionless over her body.

She swallowed, struggling to process the surreal scene before her. “My book,” she began. “I forgot… I came to… I—Arthas, what’s going on?” The tint of hysteria belied the forced, stilted calm of her voice.

Words caught uselessly in Arthas’s throat as he glanced numbly at the magenta tome on the ground. It lay splayed and creased, its spine partially ripped. Of course, Jaina’s trampled book was the least of his immediate troubles.

“I saw everything,” he blurted. “Jaina, Kael’thas is a madman. He forced me to watch you lie with him, from behind that mirror.“

“What?!” Jaina’s exclamation was hoarse, and her arms were stiff at her sides. “Kael—?“

Kael slid lithely off the sofa, his breeches now secure at his hips. Like with Arthas, the thin fabric did little to disguise the deflating evidence of their interrupted activity. He arranged his rumpled hair back behind his shoulders and stood tall, in spite of his demolished dignity.

“Yes, it is true, and I was terribly wrong to have done it,” he admitted, his voice carefully leveled and contrite. Jaina’s face burned red, and all she emitted was a faint choking noise. “Please forgive me, for I—"

“I can’t believe this,” she said, stricken. Blood crashed in her eardrums like a waterfall.

“Let it be known that Arthas started this,” he snarled, turning to glare accusatorily at the other man. “He’s exposed you all over Dalaran. Surely at least half of the Kirin Tor has glimpsed beneath your clothes, thanks to him. I merely sought to teach him a lesson.”

“That’s a lie! I’ve only done that in front of Kael’thas. Nobody else saw us.”

Ashamed, angry tears welled in Jaina’s eyes. She had naively believed in the men before her as authentically affectionate, but now she realized the true extent of their vindictive, prideful rivalry. Her face dropped with broken hurt, unwilling to sustain her gaze upon the pair. With their sweaty, bruised chests and wildly tousled hair, they appeared less as sons of royalty and more like mangy street dogs, brawling over the same piece of meat. I’ve been exploited like a fool, she thought, with a pang of violated betrayal. Caught between two entitled princes engaged in a posturing contest... Jaina didn’t dare to ask the context of their frottage, and at that point, she hardly desired to know the answer. Arthas had apparently changed beyond recognition in his past years of young adulthood, and Kael was a cunning mystery.

“Jaina,” began Arthas softly, reaching out to touch her arm. She flinched away. “I’m not upset with you, so…”

Her eyes flashed icily. “I have nothing to say, Arthas.” No sugary consolations could change the fact that he'd used her. She scooped up Creatures of the Arcane from the floor, hollowly assessing the damage. What on Azeroth happened in this room, she wondered with perplexity, her eyes scanning over the askew furniture pieces, scattered shards of glass, torn curtain, and diluted wine trickling in the fountain. These men are animals.

“Prince Kael’thas.” Kael stared at her apologetically, wounded by the frigid, bitter formality. “May I remind you that this is an examination room? Not your sex theater.”

He opened his mouth and then closed it, his usual eloquence failing him. Jaina turned and strode to the door, jaw set and shoulders held back. I will not cry over this, she told herself with determination, carrying her battered book and bleeding pride. Men, sex, romance—just distractions, mistakes, folly... I need to study.

Arthas and Kael exchanged glances, and in that moment reached a silent understanding of their common goal.  

“Jaina, wait,” Kael called, hurrying past her and blocking the entryway. “You have every reason to be upset. But please, allow Arthas and me to explain. Neither he nor I ever intended to hurt you.”

Jaina stopped, and though her features were arranged stoically, tears welled in her eyes. Kael was so charming, yet all along he had only been manipulating her…

“Your conduct has been outrageous, and I have no desire to be deceived any further,” she said threateningly. “Let me go, or Antonidas will hear about this.” In reality, the idea of explaining how the prince of Quel’Thalas used her to unknowingly sexually humiliate the prince of Lordaeron in the examination room caused her insides to shrivel with mortification. No, Antonidas would certainly never hear a word.

She tensed, bristling, as she felt Arthas’s warm hand grasp her shoulder gently from behind.

“Jaina, I would never lie to you.”

“What are you intending to tell me, Arthas?” she replied, voice cracking. “Perhaps you and Kael’thas should ride your horses to the nearest brothel, and leave me out of this altogether.”

“This was all about you!” he insisted, fingers tightening. “Don’t you see that he and I are both mad for you?”

A single tear slipped down Jaina’s cheek, and she hastily bent her head down, hoping her hair would hide the sight. “Yet neither of you respect me,” she said quietly. “I told you, Arthas, that I didn’t want to play such games.”

Kael walked towards her, arms open. “Jaina, this will never happen again,” he pleaded. “Allow me to make it up to you. I’ll do anything you wish.” She stepped away as he began to close in, and her back bumped against Arthas.

Jaina’s heart pounded as Kael reached forward and brushed the tear from her face. The tall men both radiated heat, and their broad bare chests to her front and back caged her in like the walls of a furnace chamber. She stood still as Arthas tentatively stroked her damp hair.

“I thought you two didn’t like each other,” she muttered. Arthas caught Kael’s eye over her shoulder; he could still feel the memory of the elf’s hard flesh imprinted on his palm.

“We don’t.” He could hardly rationalize the spontaneous situation to himself, let alone to Jaina.

Jaina hesitated. “So why were you and Kael…” she trailed off, her face burning as she recalled Arthas straddling Kael’s lap, so lustfully engrossed with his task that he didn’t even notice her standing in the doorway. If she hadn’t watched for as many seconds as she did, she scarcely would have believed the scene to be real.

Arthas scowled, embarrassed. “I don’t know!” He rested his hand on Jaina’s waist, and Kael raised a wry blond eyebrow at him. “Besides,” he continued, “are you really the one to ask me about that?” He dipped down to her ear. “Remember, I saw everything you did with him.” The memory of Jaina and Kael together triggered a resurgence of adrenaline in his veins; whether the fiery emotion throbbing within him was anger, excitement, jealousy, disgust, arousal, or some combination of them all, he couldn’t say. “I always imagined I would be your first.”

Jaina fixed her eyes at the floor, silent. It was true, she supposed, that she had no right to question Arthas about what he did with Kael, however shocked she might be.

“So, was he that good?” asked Arthas suddenly, petulant curiosity getting the better of him. His voice was husky and bitter behind her ear.

Jaina shut her eyes. “Arthas, please…”

Kael’s arms snaked out to grasp Jaina, turning her and pressing her back against him. His hands rested over her hips as he smiled at Arthas, eyes narrowed. “Yes,” he replied silkily. “I am.” His fingertips played with the thin, sleek fabric of her nightgown. Jaina’s face was flushed, but she made no move to break free from his embrace.

Arthas glared. This fucking elf, he thought, perturbed to realize that he was once again simultaneously pissed off and turned on. “I don’t care what you’ve done with him,” he announced, ignoring Kael and cupping Jaina’s face. “I’ll still always want you.” He bent down to kiss her, and her lips were soft and yielding against his.

Jaina’s eyes shimmered with reluctant desire at the proclamation from Arthas “Just Friends” Menethil. She relaxed her fisted hands as his tongue slipped inside her mouth, sweeping hungrily against her own. His hand wedged itself in the warm crevice between her back and Kael’s abdomen in order to curl around her waist. Another brush of fingers fluttered lower to stroke her inner thigh, and she realized the touch belonged to Kael. We’ve lost our minds, she thought, intensifying the kiss as lust and heartache pooled in her stomach.

“Jaina,” growled Arthas, temporarily breaking away. “Come to me next time, not him.”

“Should I say the same to you?” asked Jaina, only half-joking. Arthas and Kael, she mused, still digesting the concept. Shocking indeed, as the two men together were like oil and water in a frying pan. Yet in spite of everything, she felt an undercurrent of twisted, voyeuristic interest roll through her.

Arthas wrinkled his nose, and behind her, Kael’s lip turned up in a sneer. “Rest assured, that isn’t a concern,” said Kael, perhaps a touch too emphatically.

“If you say so.” Jaina felt breathless, and she wondered if the effect was due to Arthas’s ravenous mouth against hers, the firm pressure of muscled bodies sandwiching her from both sides, or perhaps something else… She took a deep breath, drawing in a heady lungful of their combined masculine scent.

Arthas’s eyes widened as he tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear, and his cheeks reddened as he scrutinized the curve of her neck. His eyes flicked to Jaina, and then up to Kael’s green gaze behind her. “You think she’s yours to mark?” he snarled, and before Jaina could stop him, his mouth latched upon the offending patch of skin.

“Arthas!” Jaina gasped, squirming as he sucked aggressively, his teeth grazing. She tangled her fingers in his hair and he jerked back, studying the reddish splotch. “You’ll just make it bigger!” she protested. “Don’t—"

He pinned her forward hard against Kael, causing the elf to step backwards until he was pressed against the wall. Arthas’s hand slipped down between her legs, lifting the loose pleats of her nightgown. His eyes darkened as he felt the other man’s hand already there, protectively cupped over the junction of her thighs.

Jaina tensed, motionless. Despite the suffocating heat of her position, her nipples stood erect, poking up under the thin fabric, and a tingling shiver rolled down her spine.

“Do you always sleep without underwear?” Kael whispered in her ear, his voice thick with arousal. He began to rub his middle finger slowly back and forth, boldly applying pressure between the folds of her slit. “How wet you are, Jaina.”

Arthas stared at Jaina’s face, transfixed by her stimulated expression. Her gaze was cast downward, eyelashes shadowing the blue of her eyes, and her lips were flushed and swollen from his kiss. He still hated letting Kael touch Jaina, yet he didn’t want the elf to stop. A small gasp escaped her throat as Kael slipped inside of her, fondling her briefly before removing his lubricated digit and raising it up on display.

“Is this for me?” he teased. Somehow, at the sight of Kael’s glistening finger, Arthas felt even more emasculated than when he had watched them through the mirror earlier. He’d never touched Jaina beneath her underwear before, and he jealously wondered if he had ever provoked such a physical response in the past.

“Kael…” Jaina’s chin remained lowered, and she leaned back into his warm, solid body. Kael was gratified to hear his familiar name from her once again.

“It’s certainly not for Arthas, is it?” Kael brought his hand up and lightly flicked the tip of Arthas’s nose with his wet finger, smirking at the other man’s stunned reaction.

“Kael,” she repeated, frustrated, grinding her rear back against the hard protrusion of his erection. This is wrong, she thought feebly. Am I truly so wanton? Two men at once was obscene, unheard of outside of brothels. Yet Jaina felt utterly possessed, addicted to the rush of heady sensations.

“Arthas…”

Arthas gritted his teeth. The pleading tone of his name on her lips sent a bolt of vicious longing through his bones, and he craved to hear it again. The memory of Kael provoking him in the chair returned, and goosebumps rippled along his arms as he recalled the flavor of the elf’s tongue lashing against his own.

I’ll let you have one last taste of Jaina… She was absolutely dripping for me.

Arthas exhaled harshly, a violent sensation twisting in his ribs. He fisted his hands into the hem of Jaina’s nightgown and dropped to his knees, pinning her hips back against Kael as he tilted his chin upward to lap between her parted thighs. She cried out in surprise, bucking as he slathered and probed. Her skin against his nose was freshly bathed and smelled mildly of plain soap, but the flavor of her inner wetness was bright with the same tangy sweetness he recognized from Kael’s mouth. Curiously, Arthas also detected a faint hint of the spicy, biting musk that had lingered in Kael’s bottle of wine. He moaned against her, suckling insistently, and the sound was low and needy.

Jaina trembled, gasping as Arthas stroked relentlessly against her sensitive flesh. Her fingers curled tight in the roots of his thick blond hair. Kael’s hands slid up her body to pinch and roll the stiff peaks of her breasts, and his warm lips swept against her ear.

“Kiss me,” Kael breathed. She wordlessly complied, angling her head back against his shoulder to let him catch her lips. He caressed her with steady pressure, and Jaina felt as though she were melting from above and below, like a lit wax candle set upon a stovetop. Arthas and Kael’s mouths were slick and hot, and the weight of their hands felt irresistibly solid as they rubbed against her body. Their combined touch seemed to meld together into the ministrations of a single ravishing entity. She closed her eyes, overwhelmed with paralyzing pleasure.

“I want you,” she whispered feverishly, speaking to neither Arthas nor Kael specifically. At that point, it no longer mattered, and she only desired to sate the demanding, consuming fire scorching within her.

Kael wrapped his arms around her and slid down the wall, hoisting her onto his lap. His hardness strained upward in his breeches, but Jaina felt it beneath her only briefly before Arthas grabbed her calves and tugged her down along the floor. She propped herself on her elbows, wide-eyed at the sudden chill of cold marble against her back. Kael’s thighs lay to both her sides, and Arthas kneeled between her legs, shucking off his trousers. He stared down at her, a desperate and intense expression upon his face.

“Jaina.” He uttered her name huskily, wild eyes still fixated as he pulled her hips closer. Is this real? Jaina wondered fleetingly, gazing up at his sweaty, muscled torso towering over her. But the question fizzled away, drowned out by the excitement buzzing within her. Instinctively, Jaina feared what scrutiny of the situation might reveal; it was as though she clung to the back of some charging beast, and all she could do was succumb to its speed.

Arthas pushed up her nightgown, exposing her flushed wetness in the tempered light of the sconces. The sight made him groan with excitement. He felt bewitched, a slave to howling primal drive. He positioned himself against her entrance, enthralled by the visual of the weeping head of his cock barely parting her folds.

I’m yours, Jaina. Perhaps Kael had succeeded, and she no longer belonged to him—Did she ever, really?—but that stinging thought ceased to matter.

He began to sink forward, watching with lidded rapture as the girth of his shaft slowly disappeared within her stretched slit. Jaina’s lips parted as he filled her to his hilt, and she dropped her head back to rest in Kael’s lap. Arthas glanced up. Kael’s face was oddly unreadable as he stared down at Jaina and brushed a stray hair from her forehead. Arthas withdrew and buried himself deep once again, and the smooth friction of her tight wet heat drew a growling gasp from his throat.

“Arthas!” Jaina panted his name, sparkling moisture dampening her lashes. She grasped Kael’s knees and arched her back as he began to thrust fervently. Arthas had never intended for their first union to be like this—not on the bare stone floor of some bizarre academy room, not surrounded by broken furniture and shards of shattered glass, not with angry bruises on his chest and another man’s love bite stained on her neck, certainly not while she pressed her cheek into the lap of Kael’thas Sunstrider—but there was no question in his mind that he had to have her, terribly and urgently, before she disappeared forever down a dim corridor of the citadel, whisked away in the lacquered clutches of some doll-like elven prince—

“Arthas,” She whimpered his name again, and he halted his frenetic rhythm at the sight of tears dribbling from the corners of her eyes.

“Am I hurting you?” he asked worriedly. His clenched fingers released from her thighs, leaving bloodless white marks on the skin.

“I love you, Arthas,” she choked. “I love you…” You will always be my prince and dearest friend, she thought with a bittersweet ache. He wasn’t perfectly beautiful the way Kael was, nor did he reside in her new world of spells and studies, but there would never be a true replacement for Arthas Menethil in her heart. As indignantly humiliated as she had been, some part of her believed she could forgive him for anything. His lovemaking was clumsy in comparison to Kael's, but nevertheless, the feeling of him inside of her caused her chest to constrict with an intimate surge of emotion.

The concern dissolved from Arthas’s features, and his mouth spread into a smile. “I love you too,” he said softly, running his hands up her waist. He resumed his movements, rocking gently in the hopes of staving off his intensifying drive to climax. He knew he couldn’t last like Kael had, but he’d try his best to please her.

Kael sat stiffly, his insides knotted by Jaina’s tearful adoration for the other man. He swallowed, but the acrid lump in his throat remained. His presence had apparently become altogether invisible to Arthas, and Kael would have welcomed even the briefest smug sneer or taunting comment rather than Arthas's stomach-turning expression of tender captivation for the woman between them.

This is all my doing, he thought with a guilty pang. Tossing her head and moaning in his lap, Jaina seemed hopelessly further away than she had ever been before. Jaina and Arthas were young and human, painfully so, and the sight of them coupled on the floor in a mesh of blithe, desperate debauchery jarred him with a terrible solemnity. Were it not for his vengeful machinations, were it not for his wine poisoned with artificial lust that streamed through his own blood even now, the night would never have descended to such a state—Yes, he had manipulated her body, and inadvertently, Arthas’s as well. Perhaps Arthas had been right, and he had indeed raped her in the process of weaving a selfish illusion for himself. The notion caused a tide of nauseated shame to rise in his chest. 

Arthas. Even when Kael had taken Jaina, it was Arthas’s name hovering on her lips, and likely Arthas’s face featured on the back of her eyelids. Kael could have the greater looks, the greater magical prowess, the greater political influence, the greater skills as a lover, but what did greater mean to Jaina when he wasn’t Arthas? Kael could be the one driving his cock in her now instead, and it would mean nothing at all, he would be merely a stand-in prop for the human lout she “loved”—

His thoughts were interrupted by Jaina’s eyes rolling upward to lock with his. Her blue irises were wetly glazed, yet their focus carried a sharp intensity. His breath hitched. She was enchanting, lovely and brilliant in all the subtle ways that thrilled him, and it crushed him to think that she would never love him, at least not how she loved the prince of Lordaeron. In spite of himself, he found his fingers combing through her hair and trailing down her cheek.

“Kael,” she murmured, still fixated on his impassively arranged features. The shyness of her voice seemed bizarre to him, starkly at odds with the blatant view of her splayed thighs and pink nipples spilled out from her twisted gown. Arthas had temporarily withdrawn, and he rested on his haunches with one hand squeezed around his rigid shaft. His chest rose and fell heavily, damp with sweat; blond locks framed his flushed face and draped down to brush his muscled shoulders. Kael felt a slight flicker of amusement at Arthas’s determined struggle to prolong his stamina.

Jaina rolled onto her stomach, and his attention diverted back to her. “I want to please you as well,” she said softly.

Kael’s heart began to hammer. She always was a considerate girl, he thought with a hint of wryness, but he had half a mind to teleport himself out from the room altogether. After all, Jaina already had the man she claimed to love naked and raring before her, and Kael couldn’t bear the idea of receiving some pseudo-obligatory pity-fondle. He imagined she would regret it in the near future anyway, just as she would surely lament losing her virginity in his arms.

“You made me feel amazing before,” she continued. Her cheeks were rouged with a glowing blush, and she cast her eyes down to his groin as she began to run her palm along the bulge. Kael swallowed.

“Did I?” The constriction of his voice betrayed his emotional injury. What am I to you, he wanted to ask, yet dreaded the answer. He tensed as she pressed her lips against the side of his clothed erection.

“Yes,” she replied, and the warmth of her shallow breath soaked through the black silk. His cock twitched. He had intended to stop her, but his resolve faltered as blood flooded to his loins.

“There’s no need for this,” he said, raising his hips automatically as she pulled down his breeches. He sprang out stiffly, throbbing and still achingly unfulfilled from Arthas’s earlier attention. “Don’t feel you must—" His eyes fluttered closed as her fingers roamed his sensitive skin, squeezing and stroking with naïve curiosity. Jaina was so innocent, and filling the gaps in her experience shook him with a certain forbidden delight.

His eyes snapped open upon the sensation of a delicate, slippery heat snaking up the underside of his shaft. Jaina withdrew her tongue and looked up with nervous anticipation, searching for a reaction.

He trembled. Jaina Proudmoore on her knees, licking him sweetly… It was nearly unbearable, and his head spun with the desire to pin her back and embrace her, to sink deep within her, to fuck away every last trace of Arthas.

No. I shouldn’t allow this to continue, he thought guiltily. I’ve indulged myself far too much already.

“Jaina,” he began gently, grasping her hand. “I—" His words died abruptly, giving way to a low groan as her flushed lips sealed around the tip of his cock, and her tongue swirled like hot satin. Kael cursed, curling his fingers through her long hair. Jaina made him so distressingly weak, and he yearned for her madly, regardless of whether her lust toward him was genuine. Yet he still wondered if she would ever seek to gratify him like this again in the future, or if he would be sentenced to stroke himself alone at night in his bedchamber, reliving this scene through his fevered memories.

“Do you like it?” She watched him with wide blue eyes. He petted her hair tenderly, deliquescing under her attention.

“Very much,” he whispered. She smiled and enveloped his pulsing cock with her mouth, struggling to close around his girth. I am truly the worst, thought Kael, leaning back against the wall and breathing heavily in ecstasy. Letting her service him like this felt dreadfully, irresistibly perverted. 

Her blonde head bobbed as she licked and sucked him eagerly, and a trickle of clear saliva dripped down her lower lip. Kael found the sight both tantalizingly obscene and deeply touching. He shut his eyes and imagined himself sitting in the throne room of Quel’Thalas, Jaina kneeling before him in traditional quel’dorei bridal garb, swallowing his milky seed as her sapphire eyes gazed up at him in adoration. The fantasy brought him dangerously close to climax, and in his heady haze, he decided that the dream could still very well come true one day. Yes, he told himself stubbornly, it’s only a matter of time, really. Arthas had so many past years to accrue her affection, thus it was only logical that with more passing days together in Dalaran, Jaina would grow to love Kael as well, likely even more so. Another muffled voice within him protested that he was once again ensnaring himself in the same pathetic trap, mooning ridiculously after the young human student and throwing his heart upon pit spikes of rejection.

I love you… I love you—

Kael could hear her words echo in his mind, only now they were for him, not Arthas. The muscles in his abdomen tightened, and he began to pulsate heavily against Jaina’s tongue. “Jaina,” he groaned quietly, eyes still closed. He reached blindly to caress her face.  

She gasped suddenly around him, choking as she lurched forward. Kael opened his eyes. Arthas stood on his knees behind Jaina, hands clenched around her hips. He looked straight at Kael now, smoldering with envy. He withdrew and pierced Jaina again from behind, gaze fixed unblinkingly upon the elf, baring his parted teeth.

Jaina moaned, rocked by pleasure, and the high, muffled sound vibrated through Kael. Each forceful thrust stroked her firmly at just the right angle, ramming her depths and weakening her body. She wondered hazily how she appeared then, her exposed rear raised in the air for one man and her mouth wrapped around the flesh of another; the appallingly lewd image in her mind did nothing to dissipate the intoxicating fog of lust that enveloped her. Am I so wrong to want them both? Arthas slammed harder, and his roughness spurred her to resume sucking and tonguing with mindless vigor.

Kael’s breath shuddered as he exhaled; his entire body tensed and throbbed. He felt paralyzed, and each individual thought attempting to cross his mind popped to sparking fragments like fireworks. He was intensely aware that his orgasm was mere moments away from wracking him, and he opened his mouth to warn Jaina, but all that escaped his throat was groaning, mangled Thalassian. Meanwhile, his eyes remained helplessly locked with Arthas’s unflinching stare. Kael bristled and melted in waves, his pointed ears twitching.

I don’t want to look at your damn face, Arthas—

Jaina’s slick, heated mouth engulfed and milked him, warm moisture leaking from the seal of her lips. Her tongue swept his shaft, matching the steady rhythm of skin slapping against her from behind. Arthas blew off a tiny bead of sweat that dripped down the chiseled point of his nose. 

Stop looking at me like that, you son of a—

Her long hair fluttered and pooled against his thighs, and her fingers meandered over the muscled plane of his stomach. Arthas began to squint, chin tilted upward.

Fine, watch me come down her throat then—

Jaina barely registered what was happening as Kael’s hips jerked involuntarily beneath her. She coughed upon the sudden spurting flood of hot, viscous fluid. The foreign taste was mildly saline, and she swallowed instinctively to rid it from her mouth.

“Sorry,” Kael said from above, panting. His voice was hoarse, and his hands shook against her.

Behind her, Arthas quickened his pace; Jaina cried out and buried her forehead against Kael’s burning thigh, overwhelmed. She was close, so close—She bucked back against him, frantic to reach her own coveted release.

Arthas gritted his teeth. He could no longer stave away the inevitable, and he tingled with the yearning to climax inside of her, to spill deep within her womb where his presence could not be rinsed away. With a sense of numb disconnect, he recalled his disturbed agitation back when Jaina had once coyly mentioned that their hypothetical offspring would be blond. How foolish I was then, he thought. There was no question in his mind now that Jaina would be his eventual queen. He would flaunt her by his side each day, and lay with her each night until she’d begin to swell with his heir. Why should he wait? With the prince of Quel’Thalas constantly circling her like some awful slavering tiger, Arthas worried that Jaina just might end up with blond children regardless.

His eyelids quivered shut as his thrusts grew erratic, approaching the point of no return. Jaina had told him once before, earnest and starry-eyed, that she would never deny him anything…

“Arthas!”

Kael snarled his name, lunging upward and shoving his chest with an outstretched palm. Arthas grunted, bewildered to find himself toppled back on his haunches, his swollen cock now spasming in the other man’s grasp.

“What—"

He grimaced as his orgasm rolled through him, dampered but unstoppable. The floor was graced with an opaque splatter, and several pearls of ejaculate oozed and dribbled onto Kael’s hand. The elf glanced at the mess with an expression of disgust.

“To think you would be so irresponsible…” He trailed off, voice laced with contempt. It was useless to say any more, he decided. Surely Arthas understood the implication, although Kael had his doubts about the Lordaeron prince’s biology education. He halfway expected the human to retaliate, but Arthas instead lay back limply on the cool marble tile, spent and wordless.

Kael’s gaze shifted to Jaina. She sat in a daze, legs folded to her side, and her breathing was audible as her chest rose and fell. Her skin glowed under the sconces with a light sheen of perspiration, and her hair tumbled down in loose waves. Trace moisture gleamed below her lower lip and from the shadows of her thighs. Her tangled gown hung askew, the color of a darkened ocean that made her clear blue eyes seemed abnormally bright in comparison. Kael scanned his eyes across her, silently drinking the sight. She was truly the image of a sorceress, he mused; her magic went beyond the spell of an ordinary woman. He was reminded of a painting of a siren, lovely and bewitching and always barely out of reach, driving men mad as they dove in the icy sea to touch her. He’d had his coveted taste of Jaina Proudmoore, and he thirsted for her more than ever.

Jaina trembled, collecting herself. In the absence of constant stimulation, she was able to will away the swirling, desperate cloud of arousal and frustration. Her climax had been snatched from her—perhaps for the better, she thought, glancing at the white splash on the floor—leaving a vacuum of crashing reality. What have I… No, what have we done? She’d engaged in something certainly outrageous, unspeakably so, but the two naked men before her were equally complicit.

In a single night, everything had changed between the three of them. Or had it? Did Arthas and Kael still despise each other, as they formerly claimed? Jaina eyed how their legs casually touched, and a bead of Arthas’s semen dripped leisurely down Kael’s thumb. Regardless of sexuality, what sort of enemies looked like that?

She watched as Arthas exhaled; his wet cock was flopped upward on his stomach. Jaina blushed and turned her head. Would she and Arthas remain as mere “friends”? She and the Lordaeron prince had toed the line of propriety many times before, but now, their mutual attraction was finally consummated. Her transient, passionate hysteria had faded, and although she did surely love Arthas, love and practicality seldom aligned. Aside from the element of sex, their circumstances remained the same. Arthas ultimately belonged in Lordaeron, and she in Dalaran.  

And then there was Kael’thas Sunstrider, mage prince of the quel’dorei… Be mine, he had said. Jaina had never imagined she would become so intimately familiar with the elf, but her torn hymen and the lingering taste of salt on the back of her tongue proved that nothing was a dream. Was she “his” now? No, she told herself. It was ludicrous to claim that a woman who slept with multiple partners at the same time could belong to any man… Perhaps to a brothel, she thought with an ugly pang of self-consciousness.

Deep down, Jaina knew that none of it mattered. Her life’s dream was to become a great mage of the Kirin Tor, not a caged bird confined to the gilded palaces of Lordaeron or Quel’Thalas. The power she craved was arcane, not diplomatic. Whatever romance happened—or didn’t—with Arthas or Kael was tangential at best, and distracting at worst, to her ambitions. Dwelling on the night’s consequences would accomplish nothing.

I entered the Violet Citadel to study, not make love with princes. Tonight I must finish my reading, and early tomorrow morning I have classes to attend.

The reminder weighted her churning mind like a cool anchor. She stood purposefully and gathered her book from the floor, ignoring the sensation of gravity drawing a rivulet of wetness down her inner thigh. Kael rose to his feet as well, tall and nude; the intensity of his stare in her peripheral vision gave her a flicker of anxiety.

He surveyed Jaina with mounting concern as she smoothed down her nightgown. Her face was eerily composed, and her eyes avoided his own. “Jaina,” he began, unsure of what to say. Beside him, Arthas sat up.

“I really must go get my reading done.” She paused and smiled prettily, lips tight. “Kael, Arthas, good night.” She turned, cheeks beginning to color.

“What? Jaina, wait,” said Arthas, stunned by her abrupt departure. He reached out his hand helplessly as she walked away.

Kael watched with dread as the wooden door closed shut. From the quick pattering of footsteps on stone, he knew that she was running.


 

In the days that followed, Jaina was nowhere to be seen. She evaded Kael adroitly to the point where he may as well have hallucinated her entire past existence. The night she had left, Kael had hastily tugged on his clothing and hurried to her room, Arthas stumbling after him and buckling his belt mid-stride. Her door was locked and silent, and no light spilled from the crack below. The pair had waited in the gloomy hallway, tense and awkward and unsure; eventually they had no choice but to return to their respective lodgings.

Unable to concentrate on his studies, Kael spent most of his spare time combing the halls and rooms of the citadel. He’d find his gaze constantly drifting to the windows, hoping to glimpse a familiar blonde figure crossing the grounds outside. At night he would retire to his bed, unsuccessful and frustrated, hungrily replaying memories of her writhing in his arms. Every place he typically encountered her was fruitless; even her bedroom was virtually abandoned, and several times he had caught Arthas lingering at the door like a confused ghost. The library, the gardens, the mages’ lounge, Antonidas’s study—all yielded no promise.

“You’re here again, Kael’thas?” The archmage had exited his office, only to find the elven prince pacing the hall for what seemed the umpteenth time that week. He raised a silver eyebrow.

“Antonidas.” Kael gave a brief nod, his eyes searching sharply beyond the old man’s shoulder. “Is Jaina here?”

“No, she is not. She left my study an hour ago.” Antonidas’s frown bent his drooping moustache. “May I inquire what this is about?”

“I wish to speak with her, that is all.”

Antonidas remained motionless, appraising the elf with piercing grey eyes. “Prince Kael’thas… All I shall say to you is this.” His voice carried a stern, warning edge. “Jaina is quite young.”

Kael’s ears flushed, and he turned his head away. “I’m aware,” he snapped, then bowed his head in a respectful motion. “My apologies for the intrusion. I will consume no more of your time.” He strode back down the hall, uncharacteristically temperamental, long hair and robes fluttering in his wake.

Antonidas shook his head in disapproval. After taking on a youthful and attractive female apprentice, he expected to catch eventual wind of some such tomfoolery brewing in the walls of the Violet Citadel. But it surprised him to find that Kael’thas Sunstrider was the one moping around like a lovestruck schoolboy.


 

Nearly seven days had passed when she finally reappeared, standing in the doorway to Kael’s study. She wore the same silvery dress he had peeled from her body before, and his heart leapt in his throat; he wondered briefly if her presence was the product of his wishful imagination, like a shimmering mirage in the desert. A filmy violet scarf was wrapped around her neck in spite of the summer heat.

“Would you like to have dinner later?” she asked lightly, as though nothing at all had ever happened. She took a bite of the scone she carried, awaiting his response.

His chair scraped as he started to his feet. Where have you been? Are you alright? Have you thought about me? Why were you avoiding me?

“I would love to,” he replied automatically, striding over in disbelief. His eyes were glued to her, afraid to blink lest she disappear. He touched her arm hesitantly, and her flesh was cool and solid beneath his fingers. “Jaina, I’ve looked everywhere for you.”

She smiled, perhaps apologetically; he couldn’t tell. “Ah, well, I’ve been quite busy.”

He frowned, hurt and unsatisfied. “Yes, but…“

“I believe I’ve perfected my ice barrier this week. Perhaps you’d test it for me?”

His heart pounded heavily. She was just as she’d always been, eager to discuss magic with him and advance her studies. Just as she’d always been… Kael felt both relieved and disappointed.

“Jaina.” His voice dropped, and he glanced furtively down the corridor. “Would you come inside and speak with me?”

“I can’t now. I’m meeting Arthas out in the garden soon.” Kael’s eyebrows shot up.

“Oh?” He made no attempt to hide the jealousy in his voice.

“Yes, I sent a letter, so I expect him to be waiting. And then the three of us can meet together for dinner, if you’d still like.”

You didn’t mention Arthas before, he thought with mild annoyance, although the paladin’s presence would hardly discourage him from seeing Jaina again. He wondered if he was being invited to join Arthas and Jaina, or if Arthas was the third party. Hopefully the latter, probably the former. “I’ll come outside with you,” he said, stepping across the boundary and shutting the door to his study.

They exited the citadel together, and the late afternoon sun lit their golden hair. Kael resisted the urge to touch her, irrationally afraid that she’d flit away like one of the elusive songbirds that darted overhead.

Jaina seated herself on a shaded stone bench in a secluded corner of the garden; waxy white flowers hung down from the tree above, and the warm breeze carried their honey scent. Kael recalled witnessing her here with Arthas last month, her peals of laughter breaking the calm silence as the Lordaeron prince pulled her onto his lap. It seemed like so very long ago. Kael’s chest tightened as he sat beside her and folded his hands, handsome and stiffly regal.

“He’s not here yet,” she said, scanning the far perimeter of the grounds. “Usually I’m the one who’s late.”

Kael watched her intently. He rested a cautious hand on her knee, wishing she would turn to face him. “Jaina… Have you been well? Your absence caused me worry.”

“I’m fine,” she replied softly, cool eyes cast downward to the scone she held. “Everything’s been great. Antonidas has begun to instruct me in advanced counterspells. I wondered if perchance you would recommend me some extra reading material.” She took a slow, focused bite of the scone, and he wondered if she only did so to further avoid connecting with his gaze.

“I missed you terribly,” he said bluntly. He stared at a tiny crumb that clung to her lower lip. Unable to restrain himself, he reached out to brush it away; he lingered, stroking the velvety pink skin with the pad of his thumb. Jaina went still. Her lashes flicked downward, then finally up. Her wide blue irises were vulnerable and translucent, and Kael thought unwittingly of Antonidas’s reproachful words. Jaina is quite young. Had Kael known beforehand that she was a virgin, would he have still fed her a laced drink? He’d always been painfully aware of her human youth, yet that fundamental guilt did nothing to dissuade him from his admittedly underhanded maneuvers.

He seized the opportunity to kiss her chastely, brushing her jawline with a gentle caress. She closed her eyes, and his tongue darted out questioningly; her mouth remained closed and unmoving against him, and he sensitively withdrew.

Jaina clasped his hand in her lap, looking away with a troubled cast to her face. “Kael,” she began, and his throat constricted at the distant tone. “I treasure you greatly as my friend and fellow academic. I wish for us all to be normal again… Can’t we be?”

Friend. Fellow academic. Kael was silent as he considered her naïve, earnest words. His stomach sank as he wondered if the essence of the Jaina he had made love to that night—the Jaina who kissed him back passionately, stroked his hair, pleasured him eagerly with her mouth, cried out his name as she came on his cock—existed only in that tiny snake-shaped bottle.

His grip tensed around her slender hand. “What precisely do you mean by ‘normal’?” he asked with quiet desperation, although he already knew the answer.

Jaina was saved from responding by the sight of Arthas rounding the hedges across the lawn. He paced towards them eagerly, Antonidas following in his wake. Jaina stood expectantly, and Kael followed suit.

“Jaina!” Arthas cried out, reaching to wrap her in his arms. “I’m so glad to see you.” He buried his nose in her hair. “You have no idea…”

Antonidas stopped behind him and cleared his throat loudly, causing Jaina to extricate her body from the suffocating embrace. “Jaina, I’ve been looking for you,” said the archmage. “Tonight I must leave Dalaran on short notice, and I require your presence immediately to discuss the coming week’s schedule. I have some materials for you as well, so please accompany me to my office.”  He paused, noticing Arthas and Kael fixing him with twin expressions of dismay. “It will be quite brief. Minutes at most,” he added, annoyed. If not for his pupil’s stellar academic performance, he would be inclined to voice his concerns over their constant demands for her time.

“Of course!” Jaina stepped towards her mentor, who nodded and began to walk away impatiently. She turned apologetically to the two. “Forgive me, I’ll return quickly. Here, Arthas.” Arthas blinked as she handed him her partially eaten scone. He watched in disappointment as she strode off hurriedly, the silver hem of her dress rippling in the breeze.

Kael resettled himself on the bench, leaning back with a low sigh. Arthas glanced at the elf, and after a brief hesitation, sat down beside him. There was an extended silence as a heavy flower petal dropped between them. Kael noted with distaste how Arthas’s thighs sprawled open wide, one knee flopped inches from his own. The human prince’s hands fiddled restlessly with the scone, breaking off little crumbs and tossing them into the grass. A sparrow sprung from the bushes and cocked its head warily at the men.

“How has Jaina been? She disappeared entirely,” said Arthas finally. His voice was apprehensive, tinged with resentment. Kael tilted his gaze toward him, surprised. If Jaina had been avoiding Arthas as well, then surely her rejection wasn’t personal… She’s only afraid of what happened, he realized hopefully. Not me.

“I haven’t seen her either until just today. Although not for lack of trying,” Kael admitted. Arthas’s expression lightened, and his hands relaxed. “She told me she’s been well, engrossed in her studies with Antonidas, I suppose.” The sparrow nabbed a fragment of scone and then dove to the safety of the foliage.

“Ah, I see. I’ve been busy studying as well. There isn’t much else to do here in this city.” Arthas had successfully convinced King Terenas and Sir Uther that an extended stay in Dalaran would serve as unparalleled educational enrichment, but it was plainly apparent to the other paladins that their prince came solely for Admiral Proudmoore’s daughter.

“Have you really?” A smirk tugged at Kael’s lips. “I’ve been curious what a paladin is learning in the city of magi.”

Arthas shrugged, biting into the scone. It was buttery and soft, scattered with sweet blueberries. “Well, you know. History. Theory. I’m expected to have a conceptual understanding of magic, if not the ability to practice it myself. I was never born with the talent for that—Not like Jaina.” Or you, Kael’thas. He swallowed the faint taste of envy in his mouth.

“You might surprise yourself,” said Kael carefully, observing Arthas as he ate. The tension between them sagged wearily, and he realized that this was the first civil conversation they’d shared that wasn’t forced for appearances. “Contrary to popular belief, the ability to harness magic is not limited to proficient mages, nor is it always evident by adulthood.” Kael crossed his legs. “Perhaps I could teach you a spell or two, in our spare time. After all, it would be a shame to leave Dalaran after months without a single trick to show for it.”

Arthas was taken aback. He looked at Kael with wary curiosity. “What sort of tricks do you have in mind, Kael’thas? Do you intend to teach me the art of binding men, paralyzing mouths, or raising cocks?” he asked dryly.  

Kael’s eyes widened, flicking sharply to Arthas’s face at the blunt reference to the unspeakable night. He raised his long blond eyebrows, detecting no hostility upon the other man’s features. “If you wish,” he replied airily. “Although that last one is hardly an arcane skill.”

Arthas merely snorted. The sparrow from earlier hopped tentatively forward, rustling the blades of grass as it regarded Arthas with bright, beady eyes. He tossed it another crumb and consumed the last bite of scone. “In truth, I’ve always admired how Jaina can light a candle with a simple touch of her finger.”

Kael smiled. “Ah, yes. Learning to summon energy at all is the difficult part, but once you’ve achieved that, producing a spark is elementary. I have a deep affinity for fire magic, so I could certainly show you the basics.”

“Thank you,” said Arthas cautiously. “Your offer is generous.” His cheeks colored as he struggled to suppress a surge of unbidden memories bubbling up in his mind, the haunting images echoing with snippets of Kael's smooth voice.

I’ll let you have one last taste of Jaina. He wet his lips, recalling the slippery tongue lashing hard inside his defenseless mouth.

I should end this now, and render you a pile of soot. His chest still ached with splotchy bruises, souvenirs from their heated brawl.

You’ve craved my attention so badly, haven’t you? Looking at Kael now, Arthas could remember exactly how his body appeared beneath his robes: smooth, muscled, lean, hard—

Arthas! The shocked sensation of spilling his climax in Kael's hand had inexplicably wormed its way into his nightly thoughts of Jaina; it was almost as though…

Arthas blinked rapidly. A shiver rippled across his skin despite the summer heat. He drew his legs together, suddenly self-conscious of his close proximity to Kael. A part of him desperately wondered what the other man thought of everything that occurred between them, but the elf's coolly impassive face proffered no clues.

“She’s back,” said Kael, his attention fixed to the distance.

Arthas followed his gaze to see Jaina jogging across the lawn. They stood to their feet, and the sparrow fled twittering up to a high tree branch.  

“I’m sorry for that,” she said, slightly winded. Her blue eyes sparkled animatedly. She swept back a lock of blonde hair from her forehead and adjusted her scarf. “It’s all taken care of now. Shall we go?”  

“Sure,” said Arthas, and Kael nodded. Arthas’s eyes were glued to her, fraught clearly with helpless affection and tender worry; Kael recognized the emotion with a familiar pang. Perhaps it was pathetic, he thought, that he would gladly take his meals each evening beside Arthas if it meant being with Jaina too.

“What urgent business does Antonidas have?” Kael asked, as they began to walk in the direction of the citadel dining commons. Jaina grinned, and her cheerfully enthusiastic demeanor caused his heart to rise fondly.

“I know he looked severe just now, but it’s actually good news. Well, I don’t know the entirety of the details yet, but Antonidas is on the brink of a major breakthrough regarding his research on the orcs’ condition. If all goes well, I’ll be traveling to join him in Durnholde Keep.”

“Durnholde!” Arthas looked alarmed. “Why would you need to go there?”

Jaina cast him a quizzical expression. “I’m his apprentice, Arthas. Of course I would go.” Her tone grew hushed. “Antonidas and his contact may finally develop a successful cure. It would be truly historical.” She glowed, giddy at the thought. To Jaina, such achievements were the pinnacle of academic glory.

Arthas frowned. “Yes, that would surely stir some excited controversy.” All three of them knew very well that supporting a so-called cure for the orcs was a politically unpopular stance. Kael personally saw no merit in the notion, and he viewed Jaina’s oddly defensive investment in the topic as the symptom of a girlish bleeding heart. After all, she was too young to have witnessed the damage wreaked by the orcs’ cruel barbarism. “Are you sure it’s not a contagious disease that’s responsible? When would you be back?”

“Oh, I don’t know. And I have faith in Antonidas’s research. You needn’t worry, really, Arthas.” She clasped his hand reassuringly. “Kael, don’t you agree with Antonidas?”

Kael’s lips tightened. He couldn’t pretend to care about the plight of the orcs, not even for Jaina. “Hm. Perhaps his withdrawal theory is correct.”

Jaina shot him a shy glance. She scanned the grounds furtively before lacing her fingers with his.

“I’m thrilled to be studying in Dalaran during these important times,” she said, and he smiled at her happiness. Admiring her from the corner of his eye, Kael thought she appeared every bit like a young girl’s fantasy; beautiful, talented, promising, flanked hand-in-hand by two handsome princes.

The coil of her scarf loosened and drooped, and for the briefest moment Kael glimpsed a faded blemish on the shadowed surface of her skin. He swallowed and wet his lips.   

I wish for us all to be normal again… Can’t we be?

No, he thought, and waited for the charade to fall.

 

Chapter Text


 “’Ashamed of her are you, Arthas?’ Kael’thas hissed. ‘Is she only worth your time and attention if nobody knows about her?’"

—Arthas: Rise of the Lich King  


  

The high stone walls of the citadel dining hall flickered with a warm glow. A massive chandelier was suspended from the ceiling, adorned with transparent baubles that hung overhead like a cloud of luminescent crystal. The room thrummed with subdued conversations and the delicate clattering of cutlery, and the savory scent of braised mutton and vegetable soup permeated the air. Jaina, Arthas, and Kael set their plates down at a table in the corner.

The early dinner passed quickly, occupied mostly by political chatter between Arthas and Jaina. Kael kept his own opinions minimal and carefully neutral; he spent most of the time distracted by how Jaina’s lips sealed and slid over the smooth dip of her metal spoon. He ignored the curious glances from the assorted magi seated at the surrounding tables, fully aware that the sight of him and Arthas casually dining together was an unforeseen spectacle. Gossip flew detestably freely amongst the Kirin Tor, and the cold animosity between the two princes was no secret to anyone.

“…In any case, I don’t agree with his notion of entertainment, but he’s the sole authority who’s willing to have the orcs be seen,” said Jaina. “Even if gladiatorial combat is his only concern, Durnholde currently remains the lone available opportunity for this.” She pushed aside her empty bowl and dabbed a cloth napkin to the corner of her mouth.

“Blackmoore is a drunken brute.” Arthas’s voice was laced with disgust as he dropped the base of his mug on the wooden tabletop. “He had this slave, named Taretha…” His brow furrowed at the memory of the bruised, scantily clad girl waiting meekly in the entryway to his guest quarters, threatened by her lord to spend the night with Arthas as some twisted gesture of hospitality. “Well, I won’t expand on the topic at dinner, but know that he’s a lecher as well. Don’t ever be alone with him.”

“I won’t, Arthas.” Jaina’s voice was unconcerned.

Kael’s gaze switched back upward. “Who is Antonidas’s contact in Durnholde? The veterinarian?” he asked.

“The orcs’ doctor, yes.” Kael simply nodded at her correction. Veterinarian, beast doctor, what difference did it make? “He’s an esteemed physician from Stratholme.” 

“Only the best for Blackmoore’s prized pet,” said Arthas, and finished the last remaining bites of his meal with a dark expression.

By the time they exited the dining hall, the trees outside were glazed with a golden luster. Kael stood against the garden wall, arms crossed as he watched Jaina accompany Arthas to the edge of the grounds.

“I despise having to constantly report back for training this, training that,” groused Arthas. “I’m the prince! I should be free to spend my time here as I please.”

Jaina laughed. “Your schedule is strict because you are a prince. You have the highest of expectations upon you.” She stopped at the end of the lawn, and Arthas hurriedly took her hands in his.

“I want to see you again soon,” he said, urgent voice lowered as he disregarded Kael glaring impatiently behind her in the distance. “Will you meet me after lunchtime tomorrow? I’ll come to the gardens at two.” 

“Well… Yes, that’s fine,” she agreed hesitantly. He placed a gentle palm on her waist and bent down to catch her lips. Jaina twisted her head, and his mouth met her cheekbone in an awkward brush. Arthas frowned. Jaina had never shied away from him that way before; she kissed him frequently and casually, and the gesture was a standard farewell between them. His hand slid from her body and dropped to his side.

“I’ll speak with you tomorrow, Jaina.” His tone was solemn, and Jaina smiled thinly.

“Good night, Arthas.”

He stared after her as she returned across the grass. Kael met his gaze, and the elf’s green eyes lingered coolly before he turned to disappear beyond the gates of the citadel, Jaina at his side.

Arthas clenched his fists, a hollow pit developing in his abdomen. He felt the spontaneous desire to chase after her, Silver Hand duties be damned, and demand an answer to his nebulous disarray of questions. Not once during dinner had any of them made even the vaguest reference to what had passed that night, yet the ghost of the taboo incident hung thick in the air. It was plain to him how Jaina’s face reddened with subtle apprehension every time his leg slid against hers beneath the table, and Kael’s poorly disguised ogling hardly escaped his notice either.

Arthas remained rooted to the lawn, mouth twisted with annoyance. Kael’s meal had grown cold as he practically salivated over Jaina like the loathsome, cradle-robbing elf he was. In retrospect, what conniving game was he playing earlier, offering himself as a magic tutor? Arthas didn’t trust Kael as far as he could throw him, and at that moment the notion of tossing the snobby prince to the floor was quite appealing indeed. Kael could mask his intent with polite words and an unreadably bland smile, but Arthas knew instinctively that he remained a fearsomely cunning creature.

And what of Jaina? Evidently, her aim was to pretend as though nothing had ever happened. As much as Arthas admired her academic devotion, he felt an undercurrent of resentment toward her obsessive efforts to prove herself as Antonidas’s perfectly polished scholar. As a young girl, Jaina had always been precocious yet childishly fun, never batting an eyelash at the prospect of sneaking off together or exploring forbidden dangers; as they matured, she melted eagerly in his arms, curious for his touch. Now she was acting as physically aloof as a nun.

Arthas turned from the citadel, suddenly irritated by the sight of its ivory walls and gleaming violet rooftops. He walked away briskly, restless to escape the miasma of estrangement that seemed to spill from the lofty gilded spires.


 

“Shall we begin?”

 Kael stood back against the pillared edge of the broad balcony, long strands of his hair streaming in the evening breeze. Beyond him the surface of Lordamere Lake stretched like a bright sheet of copper. He smiled, still viciously pleased by Jaina’s clumsy denial of Arthas.

 “Yes, here works fine,” Jaina replied, breaking her eyes away from him. He looked strikingly like some enchanted king from a children’s storybook, effortlessly elegant and radiant below the rays of dying sunlight. She half expected him to begin sprouting a pair of gossamer wings, but then quickly shook her head at the fanciful thought. “Okay, tell me what you think.”

Her expression hardened with focus as the air glittered and fogged around her. A wide circle of translucent ice flakes crackled to solidity around her ankles and spread upward in a crystalline lattice, swiftly mending together and encasing the sorceress in a perfect dome. Beads of condensation froze into sparkling studs along the smooth curved surface.

Kael paced towards her, appraising the barrier. He rapped the ice sharply with his knuckles. The construction was sturdy, and he nodded approvingly as she grinned behind the frosty sheen.   

“Beautiful. You have such a gift with ice, Jaina.”

“Will you try to break it? I want to test its strength with you.”

Kael eyed her, considering the challenge. He was still the more proficient mage by leaps and bounds, and though Jaina’s demonstration was exemplary, cracking her pretty shell would be a relatively minor feat. “Very well,” he said, and retreated backward several yards. He flicked his wrist lazily several times, sending a series of small violet bolts arcing and twisting towards her. One by one, they pinged impotently against the ice and fizzled away. Jaina crossed her arms.

“Kael, really.”

He regarded her with amusement. “I’m only checking. Have patience.” His fingers flared open, and a fiery, apple-sized bolt whizzed in a beeline. Jaina watched unflinchingly as it sizzled on impact and smoldered to crumbly wet ashes. “Excellent. I imagine that spell was just about a step above Arthas wielding a hammer.”

“Hit me with a real fireball,” she said, ignoring his remark. Kael lifted his elbows reluctantly.

“This could be quite dangerous, you know.” He spread his hands with hesitation, and his palms began to glow. “I’ll slow it when I cast.”

Jaina smiled confidently; she’d already gone through a battery of offensive spells with Antonidas. “No, don’t bother. You can be rough with me.”

“Can I?” he replied liltingly, titillated by her word choice. The flames leapt to life between his palms, and he sent them roaring forward. A brief fear clenched his chest as the miniature conflagration split apart in raging licks, but his concern was quickly assuaged by the sight of Jaina standing calm and untouched by the shrinking blaze. The ice barrier wept trickling sheets of water from the heat, yet the sphere remained as intact as ever. Kael raised his eyebrows. “I’m impressed.” 

Jaina glowed. “I’ve practiced all week,” she said, obviously quite pleased. “Well, go ahead and break it now, however you’d like.”

“If you insist.” Kael’s eyes gleamed fondly. He raised his hand and held it steady, long fingers curled. Puzzlement crossed Jaina’s features as the seconds passed. Her eyes widened when countless rivulets began to stream down the sides of the barrier, reducing its thickness to that of plain parchment. Glinting pinpricks of fire flashed and faded in sequence as they erupted like goosebumps across the surface.

“What spell are you using?”

Kael remained silent in concentration. Then, with a high-pitched tinkle, the weakened dome of ice abruptly shattered to white crumbs; the opaque, broken barrier hung briefly around Jaina before collapsing to the floor in a crashing curtain of sleet. A flurry of embers swirled, and Jaina gaped as they streaked away in the direction of the lake.

“What spell was that?” she repeated, breathlessly excited by the sheer panache of his technique. Kael smiled nonchalantly, inwardly delighted by her awestruck reaction.

“It was a highly attenuated variation of a living bomb spell. I could teach you sometime, if you’d like.”

“Yes, please do,” she replied, her blue eyes fixated eagerly upon him as she approached. Kael’s heart swelled. Perhaps he’d never suitably impress Jaina quite enough to trounce Arthas, but at least he could depend on his magical prowess to rivet her attention. Certainly, this was a realm in which the paladin held no candle whatsoever.

A tendril of smoke rose up between them, causing him to glance down in alarm.

“Oh!” Jaina exclaimed, tearing off her scarf. A stray ember had settled upon the gauzy fabric and ignited it, and a fiery hole grew rapidly. She tossed the garment to the floor, where the cold puddle of melted ice extinguished the fire.

Kael cursed. “I’m terribly sorry, Jaina. I’ll replace it—"

“No, never mind, really. Please, it’s just a worn-out old thing.” She retrieved the sodden strip and folded it into a ball. “Shall we go?” Jaina moved towards the door, eager to return to her room and begin her nightly studies. Kael gave no response, and she turned toward him questioningly.

“Wouldn’t you rather stay and watch the sunset with me?” His voice was quiet as he stepped close enough for Jaina to feel the warmth through his robes. His catlike stare focused on the side of her neck; with a blushing realization, she grabbed her hair to cover the skin. Kael swept back the obstruction and touched his fingertips to the faded mark. The sensation was electric, and Jaina wondered if arcane energy still lingered on the surface of his hands.

“It’s still there,” he whispered, tilting his head. His green eyes flicked up to meet her own, and they remained motionless and unblinking for several long seconds before his gaze lowered to fix upon her lips. Jaina swallowed.

“Yes, it is. Thanks.” She cringed inwardly; what was intended to be a dry, dismissive delivery instead sounded breathy and girlish.

“You’re welcome,” he replied huskily, tracing his fingers around the splotchy border. He remembered every detail of its creation—the sweet taste of her skin on his tongue, the soft movement of her breasts pressed against him, the high needy sound of her moans, the sharp pressure of nails gouging his back, the slick heat clamped tight around him—and he wondered if seeing the mark in the mirror stirred memories for Jaina as well.

“Jaina.” His touch dragged up to her chin. He wet his lips, reaching with his other arm to draw her waist against him. An oddly pained look flashed across her face, and she straightened stiffly.

“Please don’t.” He paused, stunned by the severe edge of her tone. “Good night, Kael.” Like water, she slipped from his grasp and disappeared swiftly back within the building.

The sun sank beneath the pink horizon. Kael stood alone on the balcony, flushed with guilty frustration and embarrassingly hard beneath his robes.


 

Arthas paced in agitation beside the stone bench, periodically scanning the edges of the garden. Jaina, as usual, was late. It was yet another sweltering afternoon in Dalaran, and his hair had begun to stick uncomfortably against his temples.

All morning he had ruminated over what exactly to say to her, and still he found himself at a loss. He kneaded his brow, plagued by a torrent of unsavory questions. Did Jaina regret sleeping with him? Was she sharing her bed with Kael now? Why did she avoid him for an entire week? What was the point in having them all eat dinner together? The more Arthas stewed, the more annoyed he became with her mysterious pretension.

“Arthas!” Jaina jogged across the grass, clad in a lavender set of high-collared robes. Finally, he thought. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.” She heaved a deep breath and rearranged her windblown hair.

“Never mind. It’s fine.” He looked at her with a serious expression. “Jaina, I need to talk with you.” Jaina tensed at his urgent tone, and her eyes scanned the garden furtively. “Privately, not here,” he added, gesturing at a couple of young magi reading in the shade of a nearby tree. One of them, an elven woman with red hair, glanced up at the pair with curiosity.

Jaina pursed her lips. “Okay. Let’s go inside, then.” She turned to walk back within the citadel.

The air between them was thick with apprehension as Jaina led him through a network of winding corridors, her rapid footsteps echoing against the stone. Arthas remained silent, his brow lowered with determination. Jaina too was wordless.

Finally she stopped at a blank wooden door, the first in an identical series that extended down the hallway. Arthas followed her in, surveying the space as she shut and latched the entrance. The room was small, apparently intended for study purposes; a square table was featured in the center, flanked by four chairs, and a chalkboard covered an entire wall. A lone bookshelf sat below the window, stocked with several dusty tomes and a sheaf of parchment.

“How has your day been?” Arthas asked, hoping to put Jaina at ease. She stood with her back against the door, arms folded.

“Good, thanks. Tomorrow morning I travel to Durnholde. I’ll be there for several days, possibly longer.”

“Who will accompany you? Durnholde is at least a day’s travel on horseback. Surely I could be granted leave to escort you.” He took a step toward her.

“Antonidas will open a portal for me. But thank you, Arthas.” She smiled, and Arthas was relieved to see it was genuine.

“Ah. I see,” he replied, feeling somewhat like a rube. He cleared his throat and moved closer. “Jaina… I’ve been thinking about everything that took place…” She exhaled softly, and he reached forward to grasp her hand. “I care about you,” he continued awkwardly. “It might sound strange to say this, but, I’m glad it happened. Between us, I mean.”

“Arthas…” Jaina cast her eyes down, and Arthas followed her gaze. Her clothed breasts twitched steadily with the beat of her heart, and the sight stirred a rising want within him. He pressed against her gently, encouraged by how she sighed his name.

“Know that I love you.” His voice was nearly a whisper as he cupped her cheek with his other hand. He stroked with his thumb, brushing the warm callous against her skin. “I always have, and nothing will change that.”

Jaina didn’t look up; instead, a strange and unpleasant expression twisted fleetingly across her face. “I thought we’re only friends,” she said, her words tinged with bitterness. Arthas was close, too close, looming tall and trapping her against the door. His familiar masculine scent saturated her nostrils, appealing but unwelcome, and she held her breath as his hand slid down her body. 

“Honestly, you and I have never been just friends. Not for a long time, at least.”

She looked at him now, glaring sharply. “You told me that we’re nothing more, Arthas!” Her voice was frayed with betrayal, and his roaming hand paused, the other one tightening its grip around her fingers. “You said that we’re young, and that you’re busy, and that I need to study—"

“Don’t be so naïve,” he interrupted, frustrated by her outburst. “You act like we should just sweep all that happened neatly under the rug, as though that’s even possible.” He fixed her with a keen stare as his fingers moved to undo a front clasp of her robes. Jaina stilled when his hand slipped through the narrow opening and rested on the side of her chest.

“Why not?” she countered, suppressing a shiver as his heated palm ran down steadily along the curve of her waist. Arthas remained silent, appraising her defiant expression. The pads of his fingers paused against her hip, and then slowly trailed diagonally until they hovered between her thighs. He lowered his head to her ear, and a hanging lock of his hair tickled Jaina’s jaw.  

“Because.” His deep voice was quietly forceful, and Jaina found herself trembling as she listened. “A woman doesn’t take a man—" His fingertips pressed firmly into the hot fabric of her underwear.“—And stay merely his friend afterward.” Jaina struggled to mask her arousal, simultaneously disturbed by his mounting aggression as he began to rub.

“What do you want from me, Arthas?” Her voice was weak and raspy. He smelled irresistible—Jaina knew she was already wet. He leaned down against her, and their foreheads touched.

“Kiss me.” There was a note of harshness in Arthas’s voice that was rarely directed toward her; she was reminded of his bossy streak that occasionally revealed itself back when they were children. Jaina acquiesced and planted her lips chastely against his. Even the brief, dry contact felt electric, and they locked eyes with each other longingly. 

Arthas grasped her chin. “Not like that, Jaina.” His mouth closed over hers hungrily, and Jaina emitted a muffled moan of protest as he thrust his tongue forward. The wooden door was hard against the back of her skull as he kissed her ravenously, his fingers stroking between her legs. The weight of his body was nearly suffocating as he ground his erection into her hip. He broke away, breathing heavily, and Jaina felt cowed by the intensity in his narrowed eyes. 

“Stay away from Kael’thas.” He pushed aside the crotch of her underwear and began to probe her slick cleft. “I can’t stand him.” She gave no response; Arthas suddenly slid two fingers inside, and her lips parted in wordless shock.

“You love me, don’t you?” The question was pleading and accusatory. His fingers pistoned while his other hand tugged and combed through her hair.

“Yes,” she said immediately, gasping and arching into his touch. She fumbled urgently with his tented hardness, and Arthas bared his teeth against her.  

“That night… Did I make you come?” His whisper was a hot rush of breath in her ear. He continued to ram into her ceaselessly, and despite his lack of finesse, Jaina felt herself tightening.

“Arthas—"

She began to squeeze around him, red-faced and open-mouthed as slippery fluid trickled down his knuckles. Arthas grabbed her breast with his wet hand and kissed her hard. His tight grip seemed almost punishing, and Jaina felt like a twig against his muscled stature.  

“On your knees,” he breathed, unbuckling his belt with a clinking rustle.

Jaina blinked, jarred by the command. Arthas’s eyes were bright and wild as he stared at her with lustful expectation.

“I want to feel your mouth.” He clasped her limp hand and drew it to his groin. The rigid flesh throbbed, and Jaina looked down at it numbly.

“You’re asking me to…”  

His cheeks colored as he detected her sober absence of enthusiasm. “Come on. You’d do it for him.” Arthas’s voice dripped with scorn, causing Jaina’s attention to snap upward. “You looked like you loved it. You moaned and swallowed every last drop. Did that elf really taste so damn delicious?”

Her eyes widened at his vulgarity, and then narrowed to a squint as she jerked her hand away from his body. Her face flamed with stinging humiliation. “Are you sure you can’t answer that question yourself?”

Arthas sneered, equally incensed. “Remember, I’m to be your king,” he warned, regretting the words no sooner had they left his mouth. Jaina snorted, shriveling him with a disdainful glare that reminded him horrendously of Kael. It struck him that in all their years growing up together, he’d never seen her with such an unkind face.   

"Only magi rule here,” she said icily, clutching her robe closed with a tight fist. “I could turn you into a sheep! A crown means nothing if you’re a bleating pile of wool. You don’t own me, and I will not kneel on demand for you.”  

Arthas stepped back, inwardly cursing himself. “I know,” he said hurriedly. “I'm sorry. I just keep thinking about everything that happened—"

“Forget that entire night.”

“I can’t,” he replied bluntly. Jaina jabbed his chest, and he was stunned to see an icy layer crystallize in a small patch around her finger. The chill bit him through his shirt.

“Then at least allow me to forget.” She fixed him with a furious stare, and her blue eyes glowed unnaturally. Despite her smaller stature, Arthas felt a genuine ripple of intimidation. “Go seek out Kael instead, if you absolutely must reminisce with someone.”

“Jaina…” Arthas raised his palms, but she had already spun to fling the door open. She shot him one last hurt, angry look before exiting into the hallway. “Jaina!” He huffed in frustration. “Wait, please. I'm sorry. Don't go.” He stuck his head out the doorway and watched her stride away deafly. “Jaina, come back—” He scowled as she disappeared around the distant corner.

“For Light's sake,” he muttered, refastening his belt.


 

Jaina laid spread eagle over the rumpled white sheets of her bed, staring watery-eyed at the blank ceiling. Dusk purpled the cloudless sky outside, and the open window did little to alleviate the muggy heat of her room. She felt damp and half-melted as she lounged miserably in her undergarments; the lavender robes from earlier had been cast unceremoniously to the floor, reeking with the scent of Arthas. Beside the sprawled clothes lay a half-packed satchel for her journey to Durnholde.

She had eaten dinner an hour earlier, seated alone, barely tasting the food as she stared unseeingly into an open book. The text was impossible to focus on as she brooded over her encounter with Arthas, and the skin of her back prickled with the imagined gazes of many eyes. Unpleasant thoughts followed her to her room like a sticky cloud; in solitude, their volume rose from whispers to a cacophony. 

“You’ve always understood me so well. Can’t you understand me now? Can’t we still be friends?”

Teenage Arthas’s flustered voice was engrained in her memory. That evening had been the Winter Veil Eve ball; she’d been seventeen years old, as lovely and feminine as she’d ever looked before in her life, decked in flowing white finery and made up like a flawless china doll. Back then, Jaina had fantasized about dazzling Arthas with her womanly beauty, being swept up passionately in his arms on the dance floor, perhaps even slipping off and succumbing to the dreamy culmination of their exhilarated adolescent touches. Instead he awkwardly compared her to a candle, delivered a pained dismissal of their burgeoning romance, and spent the rest of the night casting troubled stares out the ballroom window.    

Eventually his stinging rejection ceased to hold meaning to Jaina, for Arthas still kissed and held her as much as he ever did, if only in private. Expectations vanished, but his touch remained.  

“The day I first saw you, I thought that this would be a girl I could have fun with.”

Jaina’s fists tightened against the sheets. Playing together with Arthas had always been fun—tossing snowballs, swimming in Lordamere Lake, chasing each other through the woods…

“On your knees.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, unwillingly picturing herself submitting before him, chin tilted and lips parted. You’re so much fun, he would say, looking down with his boyish grin, reaching to place his palms on her scalp, groaning his approval and tangling his fingers through her hair, just like—

“You’d do it for him. You moaned and swallowed every last drop.”

Jaina opened her eyes. Her fears had been validated; even Arthas, her closest childhood friend, saw fit to treat her as a whore now. And how would everyone else perceive her if they discovered her secret shame? Her chest clenched with petrified horror as she thought of her father, of Antonidas, of the countless critical eyes of her peers all shaking their heads in contempt. As it was, how many people had already jumped to conclusions upon witnessing her follow Prince Kael’thas into private study rooms, and then the very next day disappear into some secluded corner of the garden with Prince Arthas? Academia was notoriously cutthroat, and Jaina could practically hear the disparaging remarks that would surely be muttered behind closed doors—Lacking sensible priorities… Throwing her body at powerful men… A lightning rod for scandal… An embarrassing disgrace to Antonidas’s reputation…

Jaina clutched her face as she gazed wretchedly at the ceiling. How pathetic it was, she thought suddenly, that her only close companions in Dalaran were men who wished to bed her. As much as she had genuinely missed them both, yesterday’s dinner had primarily been a self-conscious display to the magi of the dining hall, an attempt to demonstrate that the three of them were regular friends and colleagues. No, Arthas and Kael didn’t actually hate each other over a woman as rumors claimed, and if such a woman even existed, it certainly wasn’t Jaina.

Her spiraling thoughts were interrupted by a light rap at the door. She tensed and remained silent, listening intently.

Several seconds passed, and the knock came again.

Jaina sighed. After a moment of conflicted hesitation, she peeled herself off the bed and threw on a clean frock. She opened the door to glimpse Kael leaving down the corridor; he turned and smiled, and then it was too late to discreetly close the door again. 

“Ah, Jaina.” He walked back to meet her in the doorframe, the sleeve of his dark violet robes wrapped around a trio of tomes. “I feared I would miss you before your departure tomorrow morning.”

“Kael, good evening,” she said, her face arranged pleasantly. Kael frowned at the sight of her swollen eyelids.

“As requested, I’ve brought you some supplemental reading on counterspells. These are from my personal library,” he said, handing her the books. Jaina barely skimmed the titles as she took them, a stark contrast from her typical bibliophilic behavior.

“Thank you. I appreciate it very much, Kael.”

“The pleasure is mine. Your interest in my collection always gladdens me.” He glanced over her shoulder, observing the twisted bedsheets and scattered clothes laying in the gloom. “May I come inside?” he asked delicately.

Despite her intent to decline him, Jaina found herself feeling oddly grateful for the elven prince’s unwavering manners; Kael wasn’t like Arthas, who was prone to strolling casually into her room as though it were his own. Yet as soon as this thought finished crossing her mind, Kael was already gliding past her and moving to shut the door behind him. Jaina sighed quietly. “Please excuse the mess right now,” she said with embarrassment, moving to tidy up.

Indeed, Jaina’s room was in quite the disarray. Swaths of fabric spilled from the dresser onto the wooden floor, and a lace bra hung limply over her open satchel. Countless paper notes were pinned above her bed, covering the wall like scales on a fish. Her desk was an appalling shrine to chaos; a teacup and inkwell perched high upon a tower of tomes and jutting parchments, and half-spent candles had dripped shallow pools of wax onto the small bare patches of tabletop. The chair too was piled with books, and a decidedly non-academic title raised Kael’s eyebrows. Draconic Desire: Flight of Passion’s cover illustration featured a blue-haired model with a rose stem clenched between his fanged teeth.

…Dragons. Fascinating. He tore his eyes away and seated himself on the edge of her mattress, still regarding the rest of Jaina’s unexpected clutter with nearly voyeuristic interest. Even the air smelled wonderfully like her skin. “Pardon my intrusion.”       

“It’s fine,” she said, hastily tucking the bra into the satchel. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Not particularly, no.” He crossed his legs, watching as she cleared the chair and turned it to face him. “Won’t you sit beside me instead?” He stared green-eyed from her bed, looking unsettlingly like a cat in a bird’s nest.

Jaina held his gaze and moved to drop next to him. “What is it?”

“You look unwell.” He folded his hands in his lap. “May I inquire what troubles you? Surely you can speak with me, as your… friend.” And ‘treasured fellow academic’, he thought sourly.

Jaina hesitated. She opened her mouth, but the air caught in her throat; she blinked and swallowed back an unanticipated swell of emotion.

“Jaina,” he said, gently prodding.

She turned her head away before speaking. “Is it true that half of the Kirin Tor has seen beneath my clothes?” Her question was constricted and trembling, and Kael’s brow knitted in confusion.

“What? Because of Arthas? I imagine not,” he replied, caught off-guard. Then he recalled how he had indeed made that exact claim, lashing out in a desperate bid to somehow account for his own vengeful misdeeds. His stomach dropped upon realizing the gravity of his words. “Jaina, forgive me. I misspoke before. I truly had no basis for such a farfetched statement.”

Jaina remained silent as moisture brimmed in her eyes. “I wish it never happened,” she whispered finally. “Everything…” Kael’s chest clenched at the sound of her broken voice. “I must have been out of my mind. If anyone knew… I…” Tears were streaming down her cheeks now. He froze, horrified.

 “Jaina.” He reached out tentatively, drawing her against him and stroking her narrow shoulders. Her body shook as she cried into his robes, and he felt revolted with himself as he touched her.

Jaina is quite young.

Without a doubt, Kael had crossed an unspeakable line. A chain of shameful memories rattled through his mind—pinching a dropper as crimson beads fell into the uncorked mouth of the wine bottle, cramming a gag between Arthas’s gnashing teeth, pushing inside of Jaina as her body lay flushed with false lust, kissing her greedily while Arthas knelt between her knees—and he shuddered, thinking himself now as some lascivious beast.

“You’d never tell anyone, would you?” Her pitiful voice was muffled against his chest. He held the human girl close and caressed her blonde hair.

“Certainly not.” Who would he even divulge such a story to? Rommath? Kael could only imagine his friend’s expression of disturbed disappointment.                  

Jaina drew her head back, wet lashes cast downward. “What would people say,” she began quietly, “if you and I were together?”

Kael’s heart leapt in his throat, his inner session of self-flagellation grinding to a halt. “Pardon?”

“What would the Kirin Tor think of a relationship between us? Would we be condemned?"                           

“No,” he replied immediately, eagerly. “And what anyone says hardly concerns me.” Bored magi trapped up in stuffy towers together would whisper about anything; Kael’s hearing was better than most suspected, and he had overheard plenty of canards about himself during his years in Dalaran, ranging from an intimate affair with Rommath to hair extensions. None of it held relevance to the heir of a kingdom, but Kael recognized somewhat why Jaina cared. “You would never be a secret of mine. I would be proud—so proud—to have you by my side.”

“I’m not an elf,” she muttered, leaning back into him. Kael’s heart beat wildly. “Wouldn’t your people scorn me?”

“Thalassian culture is one of magic above all. My people would be honored to accept such a talented mage as their queen.” He pushed aside conflicting thoughts of his isolationist father and their numerous discussions about miscegenation. Jaina would be an exception.

She gave a weak laugh, shaking her head. “I’ll die long before you. Like a flower under a tree.” Kael clutched her shoulders.

“Jaina,” he said hoarsely. “You could be on the brink of death today, and I would still desire you just the same.” He choked slightly as he brushed the damp trails from her cheek. “In the embrace of the Sunwell, you too would last for centuries. If you return with me to Quel’Thalas one day…” He knew he was babbling wishfully now, and he stopped to draw in a breath.

Jaina gazed somewhere beyond his shoulder, and her blue eyes had become unreadably placid. Kael touched her chin and brushed his lips against her forehead, afraid to linger for more than a second.

“Thank you,” she said softly. She stood, and Kael automatically followed suit.

“I will leave you to prepare for your departure tomorrow,” he said, still staring at her longingly. “Will you see me upon your return to Dalaran?”

Night had fallen, and Jaina’s smile was a shadowed line in the darkness. “Of course.”

“Farewell, Jaina. I wish you and Antonidas success in Durnholde.”

He left her room silently, and the door shut behind him with a quiet click. Jaina lay back on her bed and stared at the dim ceiling.


 

Kael walked to the window of his study, and the bright afternoon sun lit his hair a brilliant gold. The north-facing view afforded a lovely outlook over Lordamere Lake; the waves rippled like molten blue glass, lapping the sandy shore beyond the citadel wall. He tapped his clawed fingers on the wooden sill, his mouth set in a thoughtful frown.

Three days had already passed since Jaina’s departure, and Kael spent each one restlessly awaiting an update from Durnholde. His mind raced with their latest conversation’s implications, and despite his best attempts to maintain tempered expectations, he frequently caught himself engrossed in flowery fantasies of Jaina emerging from the portal and leaping passionately into his arms.

The prior morning, a letter had been delivered to his room. Kael’s excitement dissolved away at the sight of the blue wax seal imprinted with a lion’s face, and unfolding the paper revealed an inquiry for his tutelage penned in Arthas’s somewhat crooked hand script. The request surprised him, and he wondered suspiciously what ulterior motives might be at play. He had all but forgotten his earlier offer; at the time he fancied it noble to pinch his nose and extend a token olive branch. Now, upon further consideration, perhaps this would be an opportunity to glean valuable information about Arthas and the subtleties of his relationship with Jaina. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” was not a particularly elven philosophy, but in the given circumstances, Kael felt it suited his proclivity for careful observation and planning.

Thus it was that they’d arranged a meeting, and Arthas was due to arrive at his study any minute now. Kael stepped back from the window and circled the perimeter of the room, flicking particles of dust from the shelves and smoothing over the minute creases on his robes. In spite of his dismal expectations of Arthas’s magical capacity, he had indeed prepared a genuine lesson plan.

A loud knock sounded, and Kael opened the door to stand face-to-face with his new pupil. The Lordaeron prince was presented respectably for the occasion; he wore a steel blue jacket with gold detailing, tailored white trousers tucked into tall leather boots, and his blond hair was combed back neatly from his clean-shaven face. Kael’s gaze swept down and up, and their eyes met with an instant sizzle of animosity.

“Arthas. Come in.”

Arthas followed Kael into the room, undoing the metal buttons of the tight coat. Uther, who’d arrived in Dalaran to visit for the upcoming summer holiday, had insisted that Arthas wear the starchy attire upon learning he was to take private lessons from the prince of Quel’Thalas. Your father will be thrilled to hear of this wonderful gesture of diplomacy, he’d said, beaming proudly and clapping Arthas on the back.

“Thank you for seeing me, Kael’thas.” Kael gestured for him to sit across from his desk, and Arthas draped his jacket over the carved wooden chair back. “Can I call you Kael?” he drawled, tilting his head to look around. The floor was carpeted with a dark woven pattern, and mahogany and glass cabinets stood from floor to ceiling, displaying various ornate curios and rows of countless textbooks. On the wall behind Kael hung a massive oil painting, vivid and flamboyant against the muted elegance of the room. The subject was a flame-wreathed phoenix flaring its wings, eyes bulged and blazing, its black tongue outstretched in what looked to Arthas like the midst of some dramatic avian hissy fit. 

Kael gave a brief pause before seating himself before Arthas. “You may.”

“So, what will today’s lesson entail?” Arthas leaned back with a casual smile, but his eyes were sharp and wary. Kael opened a desk drawer and pulled out several hefty textbooks, which he stacked on the table and slid forward. Red ribbons hung from between the pages.

“We’ll begin slowly,” said Kael, appraising Arthas with his bright green stare. “I trust you’ve already learned the bare fundamentals of magical theory. These chapters I’ve selected and bookmarked should be considered an extended introduction, with a focus on fire magic specifically. I ask that you read them before we attempt to progress much further.”

The mere sight of the hulking tomes made Arthas nearly glaze over. “What about portals?” he asked, thinking back to Jaina’s method of travel. Kael’s eyebrows knitted in confusion.

“…Portals? What about portals?”

“How difficult are they?”

Kael laughed dryly. “Don’t concern yourself with topics of such high level mastery. Amateur portals have caused far too many accidents to count.” Arthas frowned, shifting in his seat and crossing his arms.

“Can Jaina create portals?”

“No, she cannot. Her studies with Antonidas haven’t yet advanced to that point.” Kael’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.

Arthas shrugged. “Well, never mind then,” he said, mentally putting aside the notion of a portal connecting Lordaeron’s palace with Jaina’s bedroom. He tugged a ribbon from one of the books and wound it around his finger distractedly. “When’s Jaina returning, by the way?”

“I don’t know,” Kael replied tartly, already feeling annoyed with Arthas’s fidgeting and derailing. “Now let’s move on, please. Are you familiar with meditation?”

“Yes, I am.” Arthas leaned forward, resting his elbows apart on the desk. “It’s a routine part of paladin training.”

Kael nodded. “Excellent. Channeling magic begins with finely tuned control of the mind.” He reached back into the drawer and fished out a small bronze statue, which he then placed before Arthas on the desk with a delicate clink. “We’ll be practicing with this.”

Upon closer inspection, Arthas realized that the object was an oil lamp. It resembled a tiny dragonhawk and was cast with breathtaking detail; the metal creature balanced on spines that snaked down through two broad wings, and its tail arched upward and bloomed into a fan of glinting polished feathers. A threadlike chain connected the tip of the tail to an embellished lid in the center of the creature’s scaled back. “That’s a nice piece of art,” he said, admiring the craftsmanship.

“I received it as a gift, during a past year’s Midsummer Fire Festival.” Those celebrations were due to take place again next week, and Kael had never been fond of the nightly din of fireworks, nor did he ever attend the raucous drunken bonfire dinners that swarmed with unsavory tourists. The event was famous in Dalaran for showcasing the artistry of fire magic, but the combination of pyromancy and gratuitous alcohol consumption nearly always generated some incredibly idiotic incident.

“I’m looking forward to that,” said Arthas, watching as Kael lit the lamp with a tendril of flame from his finger. The dragonhawk’s gaping beak ignited with an orange flare, and the fire in its hollowed skull flickered brightly through the eyehole slits. A subtle aroma of lemongrass filled the surrounding air. “I wonder if Jaina will be back by then.”

Kael scowled at the thought of Arthas dragging Jaina into the flaming bowels of debauchery. “Perhaps,” he replied curtly, banishing the upsetting mental image from his head. “Now, cup your hands and place them around the flame.”

Arthas did as instructed. The warmth radiated into his palms, and he glanced up at Kael with a quizzical look.

“Close your eyes. Train your focus on nothing but the sensation of heat rising in your skin.”

Arthas obeyed. The seconds ticked by as the temperature grew uncomfortably hot. He began to feel rather foolish, and wondered if this was all just an elaborate scheme to embarrass him. He finally opened his eyes to look; Kael had also shut his eyes, and the elf’s graceful features were solemn with concentration. Arthas took the opportunity to stare without reserve. Kael outwardly appeared scarcely greater in age than himself, but all of the high elves Arthas had encountered were endowed with mysteriously ageless, unlined features. He wasn’t knowledgeable about the detailed biology of their race, but clearly elves preserved well.

“How many years old are you?” he asked suddenly.

Kael’s eyes opened, his brow tensed with irritation. “And what interest do you have in such information?”

“I don’t suppose you’ve lost count?” Arthas withdrew his palms, fixing Kael with a curious gaze.

Kael’s pointed ears twitched. “Close your eyes and pay attention.”

“Older than Antonidas?”

“Has the king of Lordaeron not schooled his son in manners?” snapped Kael.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d have the sensitivities of a middle-aged woman.” Arthas folded his arms, unperturbed by the elf’s baleful glare. “So then, am I correct to assume you’re basically an elderly man, masquerading around in a younger body?”   

Kael sniffed, rankled by the sheer ignorance of the statement. He was far from elderly, and such a description would be laughable in his homeland. “Yes, Arthas,” he spat. “Just as you are a sword-swinging lout, piloted by the brain of an infant.” Why did he think that bringing this insolent boy into his study could ever be a good idea?

“Can’t you court an elf woman? Shouldn’t you?” Arthas’s voice was bitter with resentment.

“I’m selective, and I shall court who I please.” Kael stood abruptly with a haughty glower, incensed that Arthas apparently came to waste his time under the guise of accepting a favor, to insult him, to piss all over his last shreds of goodwill. Lordaeron’s prince was truly an insufferable brat. “The fact that your hair will whiten faster than mine has no bearing on your suitability for Jaina. I’m a far superior match for her, and she’ll see that soon enough.” Soon, soon, Jaina would be hanging off his arm, and Arthas would finally run sniveling back to Lordaeron.

“Don’t make me finish what I started, elf.” Arthas stood as well, fists clenched.

“Finish what, fighting me?” Kael leaned forward, lip curling into a sneer. “Or masturbating me?”

“You cast a spell on me!” Arthas’s voice was rising to a frantic yell.

“I did no such thing,” said Kael coldly. “Keep your voice down, Arthas.“

“You used a spell on Jaina too, didn’t you? Admit it!” Arthas banged his fist on the desk, squinting accusatorily. “I know you did something, and when I find out exactly what, I will ruin you. You slimy pervert, resorting to trickery to get your cock wet—"

A high-pitched smack resounded through the study as Kael backhanded him across the face.

“Shut your insolent mouth,” he snarled, raising his hand again warningly. Arthas clutched his cheek in shock, teeth bared wildly. Both men suddenly tensed at the sound of insistent light knocking.

Kael flashed Arthas a withering look and strode to open the door. A short young girl was waiting nervously, clad in the plain robes of a Kirin Tor servant, and she seemed to shrink even smaller at the sight of Kael’s stormy expression.

“Yes? What is it?” he demanded.

“Your Highness,” she squeaked, bowing deeply and thrusting forward a floppy parcel. “A delivery has arrived from Quel’Thalas for Prince Sunstrider.”

Kael took the package, plastering a polite smile on his face. “Thank you.” The girl raised her head, staring googly eyed at Arthas who was hunched angrily in the background. “You’re dismissed,” he added impatiently. She turned and left, casting gaping glances behind her as she scurried down the hall.

Kael slammed the door, bristling with anger. “Just wonderful! Surely the servant heard all that, you jabbering imbecile.”

Arthas ignored him, swiping his arm out and snatching the package. He began to rip apart the paper wrapping before Kael could stop him. Arthas’s jaw dropped as he pulled out a slinky strip of fabric, lustrous snow-white and shimmering ethereally with a pearly iridescence.

“You bought this for yourself? Please don’t tell me this is for Jaina.” Arthas ducked away as Kael lunged at him. “And of course it came from Quel’Thalas,” he drawled loudly, rolling his eyes. “Just leave her alone, Kael. It’s embarrassing how desperate you are to sleep with her.” Kael grunted, still trying in vain to snatch back the scarf as Arthas twisted and jerked out of reach. His fingers twitched to cast a binding spell, but the magical summons sputtered impotently in his rage-clouded, unfocused mind. “You can slide her glasses of elven wine, teach her elven words, dress her up in elven clothes, but she’ll never run off with you to your stupid elf castle.” Arthas tossed the scarf to the floor, and Kael hastily retrieved it, blood pounding in his ears.

“Get out,” rasped Kael, practically seeing red. “Leave!”

“Aren’t you going to request your compensation first?” Arthas grinned madly, eyes narrowed.

“Excuse me?” Kael glared at him in confusion.  

“I know exactly why you offered to tutor me,” spat Arthas, pacing closer. “You do this with Jaina, don’t you? Lend her books and offer her private lessons, and then attempt to cash in for favors?”

Kael simply stared, incredulous, struggling to wrap his head around Arthas’s crackpot theory. Arthas stepped up against him, his previously neat hair now hanging in stray locks around his face; his eyes burned with seething ferocity.

“This is what you want, isn’t it?” Arthas fisted his hands into the front of Kael’s robes, jerking them against each other. Kael’s pulse roared in his ears as Arthas grabbed the back of his head and kissed him sloppily, their teeth clacking together. “You want my cock, don’t you?” Now he was snatching Kael’s wrist, mashing the elf’s hand onto the crotch of his white pants. “I’ll never forget what you did to Jaina and me, you sick bastard.” His mouth lunged forward once more, forcing Kael backwards in a dizzying assault of saliva and shuddering gasps.

Something inside of Kael snapped explosively. Arthas Menethil was the most uniquely rage-inducing individual in all of Azeroth, and every inch of Kael’s body throbbed with blind fury, hackling invisibly like the coat of a mad dog. He grabbed Arthas by the nape and shoved him violently over the desk, sending the heavy tomes thundering to the floor.

Arthas barked out a choked laugh, cheek squashed hard against the glossy wood. His eyes rolled upward at the painting spanning the wall above, and the looming phoenix’s wide-beaked, demented expression seemed a fitting illustration for the snarling huffs of breath behind him. Kael’s forceful weight was crushing his thighs into the front edge of the desk, and the elf’s shaking palm pressured the side of Arthas’s skull down as though attempting to flatten a large insect. From the corner of his vision, Arthas saw Kael reach to fumble with the oil lamp.

There was a clattering from somewhere over him, and warm liquid splattered and soaked through the back fabric of his shirt. The scent of lemongrass was strong in his nostrils. “You’re ruining my clothes. Are you going to purchase me elven replacements?” The jeering words spilled unthinkingly from his mouth; Kael’s shattering control was exhilarating, and Arthas felt perversely compelled to witness just how far the ever-so-cultured prince of Quel’Thalas would go. Perhaps his head would pop off with sheer rage, and the problem of Kael’thas Sunstrider would be solved forever.  

A thump sounded as the metal lamp hit the carpet by his foot. Arthas felt his trousers suddenly torn downward, and pointed nails raked painfully through the fabric. Without warning, Kael’s open hand connected with the skin of his ass in a brutal smack. Arthas flinched, shocked.

“Impertinent brat.”

Something hard, greased, and hot poked and slid firmly against his rear thigh; Arthas’s entire body froze, his heart ricocheting in his chest.

“I thought you were selective,” he said, gasping for air. Kael leaned over, yanking his hair and smearing the length of oily flesh against his exposed skin.

“Some things are merely meant to be fucked.

Kael’s hiss was pure venom in his ear, and Arthas lay still beneath him. “You’re a rapist after all, aren’t you?” Arthas’s voice was excited, breathless with an odd note of vindication. “I’m not afraid of you, Kael.”

For a brief moment, Kael paused. Then he released Arthas with an abrupt shove, reeling backwards.

“Get out of my study.”

The quiet sound of Kael’s command was raw and cracked. Arthas turned his head, pulling up his pants as he staggered to his feet. Kael had backed up against one of the cabinets, and he leaned into it stiffly, his face contorted and bloodless. Combined with his long pointed ears and twitching claws, he looked uncannily like a vicious cornered animal. Arthas stared, rendered wordless by the numbing rush of adrenaline vibrating in his veins.

“Get out,” Kael repeated, and Arthas left.

Chapter Text

 


"Sweat broke out on Arthas’s brow. What was going wrong? Why wasn’t the Light wrapping itself around him in blessing and benediction?”  

—Arthas: Rise of the Lich King


 

“By the Holy Light! What happened?”

Uther’s jaw dropped as Arthas strode past him through the inn lobby, hair mussed and one cheek glowing red, wafting heavy fragrance like a lemongrass candle. The back of his shirt was splashed with grease stains, and his knuckles were white as they clenched the jacket slung over his shoulder. Thin parallel rips lined the seat of his pants.

“What did you do?!”

Arthas spun to face him, irritation plain across his features. “Nothing! The lesson was fine.”

Uther sighed and sat back down at the table. He’d helped raise the prince of Lordaeron from birth, and Uther was no stranger to the boy’s rash behavior. “How fares Prince Kael’thas? Did you forward him my regards?”

Arthas’s expression darkened further. “Yes, the elf—I mean Kael’thas—He’s fine.”

Uther pulled out the chair beside him, an expectant look upon his bearded face. Arthas rubbed his temple and sat down. “Have you received any word from Jaina?" said Uther. "I hoped to see her while I’m here."

“No.” Arthas glanced at the pair of greaves lying on the table, and then turned to sweep his gaze around the cavernous room. The inn had grown increasingly busy with guests, presumably in preparation for the upcoming Midsummer Fire Festival. “Anyway, I'm not exactly on her good side at the moment.” 

Uther patted him on the shoulder. “You’ve got to let her study. She’s under great pressure right now, and you’d best not take it personally.”

“Kael’thas fancies her, you know.” Arthas glowered across the lobby at a pair of handsome elven men checking in at the counter. “Would you believe that? He’s trying to cart her off to go be his… elf bride," he said, voice laced with disgust.

“Ah,” said Uther, his vision of a heartwarming international friendship between the royal sons of Quel’Thalas and Lordaeron rapidly dwindling to a pinprick. “Remember, lad,” he said kindly, and set down the buffing cloth in his hand. “Jaina’s a clever young woman. You can trust her to take care of herself.”

Arthas shook his head. “Jaina doesn’t see how off he is,” he began, struggling to procure appropriate descriptors for what he regarded as the window-lurking, undergarment-huffing, dungeon-owning type of suitor. Obsessive. Scheming. Sadistic.

“Perhaps you’re being too harsh on Prince Kael’thas, if Jaina sees virtue in him. There's no wisdom in hasty judgment.”

Arthas's mouth twisted, and he stood from the table before Uther could launch into a series of quotes from the Holy Book.

“Yes, I suppose,” he said curtly. “Well, I’ll be in my room.”

He picked up his coat and walked away to the staircase. Uther watched with concern as he left, wondering how a cat managed to ruin the back of Arthas’s trousers.


 

On her first day in Durnholde, Jaina had immediately disliked everything about the wretched stone fortress. Now, by the fourth day, she loathed it.

The master of the Keep was Aedelas Blackmoore, a tall and imposing war veteran with a dark goatee, gleaming straight teeth, and a jagged scar that arced across his left eye. Toward Jaina, Blackmoore was polite, albeit dismissive; he seemed unimpressed that Antonidas had brought merely a delicate-looking girl to assist. His breath reeked of liquor in the early morning, and by nighttime he wobbled and leered. His apprentice, Karramyn Langston, was a young man who slinked around in his master’s shadow and mysteriously disappeared whenever manual labor was required. The human servants of Durnholde drifted about like faded ghosts, so pale and feeble that Jaina began to question the supposedly non-contagious nature of the orcs’ lethargy.

Nearly ten years had passed since the night she and Arthas first spied through the fence of an orc internment camp, yet the pang of pity Jaina felt now was the same as ever. As much as she reminded herself that the orcs were responsible for immeasurable bloodshed, including the long-ago death of her own brother, it seemed impossible to summon any hatred for the hulking creatures when they languished so sad-eyed in the dirt. 

The lone exception in Durnholde was Thrall, Blackmoore’s prized fighting orc and a rippling green tower of muscle. His blue gaze was bright with intelligence, and the speech from beyond his jutting tusks was gentle and articulate. “It is an honor to meet you, Grand Magus Antonidas and Lady Proudmoore,” he had said, bowing as Blackmoore grinned proudly beside him. He behaved and sounded just like a man, nothing like the common notion of orcs as savage animals, and Jaina felt distinctly unsettled.

The reason for Thrall’s resistance to the lethargy remained unclear. Under the direction of Antonidas and the local doctor, the orcs had been split into separate study groups. The doctor regarded Jaina warily and was hesitant to include her in his discussions with Antonidas; based on eavesdropping, Jaina came to learn that a slave by the name of Taretha had a history of meddling with past studies.

“Jaina is my trusted apprentice,” Antonidas said, his tone firm. “Consider her your colleague as well.”

“Yes, I understand. But I fear that young women can be simply too emotional, and I’d rather not jeopardize our work by needlessly oversharing,” the doctor had muttered in reply.

It didn’t help that Jaina and Taretha shared an uncanny resemblance. They were close in age, and though Taretha was frailer with a darker shade of hair, the two girls could have passed for long-lost twins. In spite of the doctor’s misgivings, Blackmoore demanded that Taretha assist Jaina with recording data in the camps. “It just tickles me,” he’d said one afternoon to Langston, his voice loud and slurred, “watching those little blonde wenches scurry around with the beast men. I ought to order a pair of nurse dresses.” His booming laughter carried through the open window, and Jaina fumed. Taretha remained quiet, diffident and impassive as she always seemed to be.

On this day, Jaina worked alone in one of the ramshackle shelters. By now, many miles from Dalaran, her troubling situation with Arthas and Kael seemed but a distant and relatively trivial dream. She placed her stethoscope to the green chest of the orc sitting before her; he breathed shallowly, and his gummy eyes stared down into some hollow realm far beyond his tattered loincloth and the dusty floor.

Jaina’s concentration was broken by a bleating groan that sounded from outside. She stopped what she was doing and jogged to look out the door. An orc boy lay crumpled in the distant dirt, and Blackmoore stood over him, striking the creature’s ribs with the toe of his heavy boot.

“Get up,” Jaina heard him growl. “Get up, I said, get up!” His voice was rising to a thunderous roar, and Jaina’s heart began to pound. She watched in horror as Blackmoore seized him by the armpits and hauled him upwards, shaking without restraint. The orc was thin, scarcely taller than Jaina, and his head bobbed and lolled. Blackmoore threw him back to the ground like a sack of grain.

“Unacceptable!” he yelled, and flecks of spittle sprayed down his goatee as he drew back his foot to land a vicious kick. The savagery startled Jaina from her wide-eyed paralysis.

“Stop!” she screamed, nearly tripping over her long skirt as she ran towards them. She faltered at the sight of Blackmoore's bleary glare. “Please, I beg you. Stop!” Her fingers trembled, curving together unconsciously as though to summon an ice lance.

His brows lowered over inky eyes. “Calm yourself, girl.”

“Leave him—"

“The strength of a man is born from pain,” he spoke over her, swiping his fist through the air with a dramatic flourish, “and I will make true men of these beasts.” Jaina stared, wordless, as he tilted his chin toward the cloudless blue sky.

“They are my sons!” he cried out, squinting at the sun. He turned suddenly, hiccupped, and began to teeter in the direction of the fortress. “Now go and help prepare dinner, Tari.” He left the camp enclosure, and the spiked wooden gate creaked shut behind him.

Jaina dropped to her knees beside the sprawled, motionless boy. She placed the stethoscope against his filthy skin, her throat cold with dread. The wisps of his heartbeat fluttered in her ears, and the breath she was holding fell from her mouth in a rush of shuddering air.


 

Bugs…

Yes, it was because of bugs. Pestilent bugs would fly into her room if nobody closed the window. What if moths ate her clothes? Or it might rain. Never mind that this was the hottest and driest summer ever to plague Dalaran. Jaina had now been gone for six days, and who knew how soon she would return?

That was Kael’s internal justification as he made his way down the dormitory hallway to Jaina’s bedroom. Upon crossing the citadel grounds earlier that day, he’d spotted the lavender curtain fluttering out from her window high above. For such a talented student, Jaina could often be surprisingly absentminded.

He paused now, his hand resting on the doorknob with uncomfortable reluctance. Was he committing yet another invasive transgression? No, no… He would enter and leave in less than a minute, and surely Jaina would be grateful for his concern. 

Her door lacked any sort of protective ward, and the locking mechanism clicked open as his palm glowed over it. After casting a furtive backwards glance, Kael slipped inside.

The state of the room was just as he remembered from the previous week. Jaina’s disorganization was her only characteristic that Kael disliked; but no matter, she would have maids in Quel’Thalas. He began to cross the floor, until from the corner of his eye he saw it—a white moth, resting on the dresser. With a swell of vindication, he deftly scooped the tiny creature in his palms and carried it to the open window. He tossed it outside and leaned over the disheveled bed, pulling the pane of glass closed with a swiveling creak.

The faint scent of Jaina’s skin lingered in the air, and he paused to inhale. He closed his eyes briefly; then, with a flicker of conflicted guilt, Kael found himself walking over to her desk. He knelt to search through the pile of books scattered upon the floor. His heart pattered as he withdrew Draconic Desire and set it on his lap.

Innocent Jaina Proudmoore… He wondered where she lay when she read this. On the bed? In the bath, perhaps? His ears flushed at the mental image of Jaina nude and wet, one slender hand splaying the book while the other dipped below the water to stroke between her thighs. What private fantasies stirred her lust? He opened the book and began to skim eagerly.

“He clambers out of the dungeon, giving me my first full glimpse of the Dragon, divinely formed, that is Kalec Blue. My inner goddess has stopped dancing and is staring, open-mouthed and drooling slightly. His erection tamed but still substantial... wow.” Kael flipped the page.

“’See how you taste. Suck me, baby.’ His thumb presses on my tongue, and my mouth closes around him, sucking wildly. Holy fuck is this wrong, but holy Light is it erotic.” Kael wet his lip, flipping further with a lacquered claw.

“I cry out loudly. ‘Oh please,’ I groan. ‘Quiet,’ he orders, not taking his eyes off mine. He scrunches my panties in his hand, holds them up to his nose, and inhales deeply. His hands reach around and touch my breasts, and my nipples pucker at his touch.” Kael’s eyes were wide with fascination as he scanned further down the passage.

“’No fisting, you say? Anything else you object to? I’ll agree to no fisting, but I’d really like to claim your ass.’”

Kael closed the book. He placed it back in the pile and stood. That was quite enough, he thought, retreating to the door.

Several steps later, something else caught his attention. On the bedside table lay a small paper booklet decorated with hand-drawn hearts and strips of lace; it hadn’t been there last time. Kael changed course, unable to resist his curiosity.  

His features darkened at the sight of Arthas’s name penned in curly script on the cover. He opened the booklet, revealing a pocket filled with photographs, and began to peruse.

The top photo was captioned Invincible—A young boy, presumably Arthas, stood with his arms around a snow white colt; he was maybe a decade old, although Kael struggled to estimate the ages of human children. This Arthas was grinning, looking as much like an insufferable pest as the current version. The next photo said Silver Hand—Arthas was a man here, standing in gleaming armor and backdropped by a towering cathedral. Red rose petals hung suspended in the air around him. Lordamere Lake—Arthas waded shirtless in a navel-high stretch of blue water, Jaina clinging to his back with a giddy expression of laughter.    

A tightening sensation began to develop in Kael’s stomach. The sight of Arthas’s face again was sending his blood pressure skyrocketing. He imagined Jaina lying in bed and flipping fondly through the pictures, doodling little hearts around the bastard’s name, and he was seized by the sudden urge to incinerate the booklet and fling its miserable ashes out the window. Instead, Kael took a deep breath and placed it back down on the bedside table.

He turned to the door once more, and this time, no prying interests interrupted his brooding departure. 


 

A week had now passed in Durnholde. Although the oppressive atmosphere of the fortress hung over Jaina like a sodden quilt, she bore her routine duties without complaint. With Taretha's diligent assistance, the workload was cut in half, and the conversations between them helped ease the monotony of data collection. Taretha, albeit soft-spoken and seemingly mistrustful of Jaina’s intentions, eventually began to warm up toward the other woman.

Jaina came to learn that Taretha, or Tari, had been born in Durnholde to Tammis Foxton, the secretary of Blackmoore. Both Tammis and his young son had succumbed to fever years ago, leaving behind only Taretha and her sickly mother Clannia. Taretha was deceptively bright, and much like Jaina, she shared an intense desire for any books she could get her hands on. Unfortunately, most of the reading material in the fortress was exclusive to military strategies and fighting techniques; Blackmoore had purchased an expansive collection on these topics for Thrall to study.

As for the orcs, individuals of the treatment group were beginning to demonstrate subtle yet promising signs, and most notably they had begun to sustain eye contact. Alongside vitamin supplements, Antonidas and the doctor were administering a novel stimulant in the feed. The potent substance had been derived from a fungus native to the Black Morass; it was one of many prospective treatment samples that Antonidas had researched and special-ordered from far lands across Azeroth. Much to his vexation, the Kirin Tor’s newest birdbrained servant had misplaced the contents of several critical shipments and stocked the expensive items only Light-knows-where throughout the citadel.

Perhaps we’ll never even need those lost materials, thought Jaina, lying restlessly in the bed of her guest quarters. Antonidas maintained that the orcs’ lethargy was a form of magical withdrawal, and therefore palliative management of the symptoms represented the best case scenario. Spiritual revitalization, he believed, would be the only true cure, and his aspiration was merely to enable that pursuit for the orcs—a controversial idea, certainly. What was it that Kael had said?

“They are beasts, brutes. I, for one, do not think it is wise to ‘help’ them find a cure for this addiction. Right now, they are powerless and crushed. It is how I—and anyone in his right mind—prefer to see them. You humans could solve the problem by simply executing the creatures.”

Ah, yes. Jaina could picture Kael as he said that over dinner with Antonidas, his lip curled faintly in disgust as he buttered a slice of bread with an elegant sweep of his wrist. And of course, Kael had never set a princely foot near any one of the internment camps.

But Arthas had, and he agreed with Kael. She remembered how he’d looked at her, incredulous and annoyed at her expression of sympathy.

“They killed your brother, for Light’s sake. Don’t waste any pity on them. And of course they have children, even rats have children.”

Kael and Arthas’s point of view was hardly uncommon. Even Blackmoore’s motivations lacked any fleck of compassion, as all he seemed to care about was the hideous gladiator ring she’d heard about from Arthas.

Jaina sat up, struggling to find a comfortable position atop the hard mattress. The scratchy wool blanket irritated her skin, and she tossed it from her body in a fit of frustration. The guest room was windowless and stuffy, located in the inner maze of the fortress, and at that moment it felt like a suffocating tomb.

With a flick of her wrist, Jaina summoned a flame and stood. She padded to the door and slipped out into the hallway. Perhaps a lungful of fresh night air would clear her agitated mind.

The stone floor was cool against her bare feet as she made her way upstairs and paced along a wide corridor. A bright moon shined through a window at the far end, casting the walls with an eerie bluish luminosity. Jaina snuffed the fire from her palm. Further up ahead was the door to Blackmoore’s bedchamber, and Jaina halted at the rising sound of muffled sobs.

She held her breath, listening apprehensively to the stifled noises. Wood creaked several times, and something thumped to the floor with a squeal.

“Useless!” came Blackmoore’s gruff bark. “Should I have you go practice on an orc? I’ve had enough. Out!”

The door opened and closed with an abrupt slam, and Jaina nearly jumped in shock as a girl’s hunched form flew stumbling out. Her naked skin glowed pale in the moonlight, mottled with bruises, and she pawed at her glistening face. The hushed hallway now echoed with shaking bursts of whimpering gasps.

“Tari?” Jaina whispered.

The girl fell immediately silent and turned her puffy gaze. “Lady Jaina,” she choked out quietly. She wrapped her frail hands around her body, covering her exposed breasts and groin.

Jaina’s blood ran cold. She felt herself walking toward Blackmoore’s chambers as though pulled by a magnet, and her nerves were numb as crackling ice began to crust outward from her palms. The corridor seemed to constrict in a dreamlike fashion as she passed Taretha and approached the heavy wooden door.

“Stop, please—" Clammy fingers closed around Jaina’s wrist, and she paused, shuddering out of her heart-pounding trance. “Please, don’t…”

Jaina looked at her. Taretha’s wet eyes were swollen and beseeching, and her lips trembled in a tight line.

“Come with me,” said Jaina, drawing Taretha back toward the shadowed staircase. 


 

Kael weaved his way through the bustling crowds clogging Dalaran’s central plaza, ignoring the headache that had begun to pulse behind his sensitive ears. Glittering red streamers fluttered from the trees, and the late afternoon air was loud with excited chatter. Today marked the first day of the Midsummer Fire Festival, and commotion was already ramping in preparation for the evening celebrations.

News had finally arrived from Durnholde—Jaina’s trip had by now extended to over a week, and the only update provided by Antonidas regarding their return was a frustratingly vague “soon.” In light of the head archmage’s absence, he requested that Kael aid in providing some rudimentary supervision over the festivities. This too was ambiguously worded, and Kael had no intention of spending his night lassoing intoxicated Kirin Tor students back inside the citadel.

His nose wrinkled as he passed a fisherman assembling a portable grill. On the nearby grass sat a steaming tub of mudsnappers, oozing pungent slime and glinting under the harsh sunlight. A clattering din rose from behind him, and Kael turned in alarm; a trio of goblins elbowed him out of the way as they carted bins of neon-wrapped fireworks, and in their wake, dwarves jogged by rolling massive wooden kegs. Somewhere in the background, glass broke on the paving stones.

Kael scowled as he trailed the goblins out the city gate to the lakeshore. Scattered tourists milled around the sandy strip of beach, and a towering unlit bonfire had already been assembled further up toward the hills. In the other direction, Kael recognized several female elven magi clustered at the water’s edge, their bodies clad in two-piece bathing suits and wrapped in sheer orange sarongs. They clutched cups of fizzing drink, giggling and murmuring to each other as they watched a group of muscled swimmers bob around in the waves.

Kael squinted, drawing closer behind the women. Was ogling those human men quite so entertaining? The drinks must be strong this year, he thought; surely his people had better taste. 

Then, like an overgrown murloc, he rose from beneath the water—Arthas.

Arthas swept back his wet blond locks, and gleaming droplets trickled from his raised biceps down over the sculpted plane of his abdomen. Kael’s pulse began to accelerate as Arthas locked eyes with him, wading into the shallows and revealing a pair of white swim shorts plastered over his thighs. He flashed Kael an unpleasant smile and raised a lazy hand of salutation; the group of elven women turned to greet their prince as well, waving cheerily and bowing their heads. Kael nodded politely at them in return.

“Prince Arthas," he called out, unable to escape the social obligation of mutual acknowledgment. "I see you’re enjoying the weather.” He gritted his teeth, now recognizing several of the other young men in the water as visiting paladins. He wished they’d all just stay on the opposite side of Lordamere Lake, where they belonged.

“Yes, the water’s quite nice today.” Arthas’s voice dripped with contrived friendliness as he tilted his head, eyeing Kael and wringing out his soaked hair. “You look sweaty in those robes. You should come in and join us.”

Now the men were staring at Kael with expectant interest. His pointed ears twitched as the excited women began to whisper amongst themselves.

“I’d rather not,” he replied curtly, arms folded. He had zero desire to splash around in a grubby lake, let alone with someone who'd likely delight in drowning him. “Now if you’ll excuse me—"

“You can swim, can’t you?” Arthas's smile was a taunt as he began to wade backwards into the waves. The cerulean surface stretched to meet the horizon behind him. 

“Yes!” Kael's face began to color as he tried to disregard the curious gazes upon him. “Of course I can."

“Then show me,” called Arthas. “How about you get changed and we have a race. It’ll be fun, won’t it?” His narrowed eyes were smug, and Kael bristled.

One of the elves held out her hand toward him. “I'll hold your robes for you, my prince,” she said eagerly. The other women tittered behind her, sipping their drinks and casting coy glances between Arthas and Kael. 

"Thank you, but I have no time for games.” Kael directed one last look of disdain at Arthas, who answered the look with a gratified smirk as he treaded water out deeper in the lake. “Please enjoy yourselves today,” he said to the magi, ignoring their disappointed expressions. And stop feeding attention to this overweening trogg already.

 Kael turned back towards the city wall and stalked away. “He knew he couldn't win,” Arthas announced behind him, and Kael clenched his jaw, quickening his pace.


 

Dinner at Durnholde that evening consisted of baked chicken with turnips, prepared by Clannia and Taretha. Jaina sat stiffly beside Antonidas, barely able to swallow her mouthful of dry pulped meat. Across from her, Langston and the doctor served themselves seconds, and at the head of the table, Blackmoore nursed a crystal goblet of brandy.

“Antonidas, you really must come out tonight,” said Blackmoore. Nearly the entire meal had been occupied by his animated ramblings about that night’s upcoming gladiator arena battle, starring Thrall and a pair of exotic tigers that had been imported all the way from Stranglethorn Vale. “Bring your apprentice, too.”

“I’m afraid the event is well past my bedtime,” said Antonidas. His smile was polite, and Jaina side-eyed him with a pang of betrayal. She’d gone to him yesterday, desperate and flustered as she recounted her nighttime encounter with Taretha. He’d listened with a sad and placid gaze.

"Jaina," he’d said, placing his withered hand on her shoulder. "Remember why we are here. The good of our efforts will be reaped in due course." Then he’d relayed his favorite saying: “'Grant me the strength to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'”   

Evidently, Antonidas believed that rescuing Taretha was a hopeless cause, and his weary dismissal stung Jaina’s chest with indignation. Of all the individuals in her life, her mentor had always been a shining beacon of compassion and innovation. Yet once again, she felt acutely alone in her sympathies.

Jaina’s thoughts were interrupted by Blackmoore banging his empty goblet down on the table. “A shame, but very well!” he said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go oversee the battle preparations. Langston, kindly escort Antonidas’s girl for me, will you?” He stood and marched excitedly from the room. Taretha darted from the kitchen to collect his plate, her eyes cast downward.

Antonidas rose with a sigh. “Good night, everyone. If all goes well, our first phase of work should be completed by tomorrow morning, so let us look forward to that.” He departed from the dining room, and the doctor soon followed.

Langston leaned forward, swiping back his mop of brown hair as he smiled at Jaina. “Ever seen a tiger, Miss Proudmoore?”

“No,” she replied, her tone clipped. The prospect of seeing such a creature trapped and mauled in an arena hardly appealed to her, although Arthas’s stories of the infamous gladiator matches had planted a seed of morbid curiosity.

“Nor have I. But we’ll witness the beasts in the flesh, soon enough!” He raised his glass of brandy in a toast, then faltered and lowered it at the sight of Jaina’s dour stare.

Langston cleared his throat. “It’s not for everyone,” he admitted. “Perhaps we men are just more partial to the thrill of a fight.”

“Perhaps,” said Jaina coldly, spearing a slice of turnip with the tines of her fork. 


 

“You slimy pervert, resorting to trickery to get your cock wet—"

Kael slammed the tome shut and shoved it to the far end of his desk. He pressed the heels of his palms against his eyelids, unable to concentrate; the sheaves of note parchment before him were rife with scratched out errors and blots of dripped ink. With a scraping of chair legs, he stood and walked over to the study window.

The sun was just beginning to set, and the sky above the lake was tinged with a pinkish hue. Most of the beachgoers had left by now, presumably to spectate the magical performances taking place in the plaza. A lone figure sat on the sand far below, legs stretched before him; Kael was startled to recognize the long blond hair and white swim shorts.

“You can swim, can’t you?”

Renewed indignation began to froth inside of him at the memory of Arthas’s goading. In truth, Kael rather despised swimming. Though he'd received instruction during his childhood in Quel’Thalas, the skill was merely a survival asset, and he never learned to enjoy the exercise recreationally. As a young boy he was nearly carried off by an ocean rip current, and the harrowing experience cemented his discomfort with the sea and its relatives. Deep water seemed to have a malicious quality, chilly and rapacious, eager to swallow his groundless body and extinguish him like a flame. 

But there were numerous activities which he found disagreeable, yet demonstrated proficiency in nonetheless. Arthas’s self-assured superiority was a fool’s pride. Exactly who did he think he was, flaunting his muscles for an audience of elven women? Kael’s people?

Kael’s fingernails dug into the windowsill as he fixated on Arthas's back, glaring down from the lofty citadel window like an angry hawk. He thought suddenly of the booklet in Jaina’s room and the photo of her clinging to Arthas’s shoulders as he carried her through the lake, and his head began to swarm with recollections of nettling provocations.

“Afraid to take me on like a man?”

“Aren’t you elves capable of anything beyond flipping your hair around?”

“She’ll never run off with you to your stupid elf castle.”

“He knew he couldn't win.”

With a seething hiss, Kael turned from the window and strode to his dresser, fists curled. Lose? To that human whelp? He would rupture Arthas’s ego like the bloated pustule it was. 


 

“KILL HIM! KILL HIM! KILL HIM!”

The hollers and cheers had coalesced into a deafening chant, and Jaina covered her ears as a goblin screeched behind her. Spittle sprayed the back of her hair.  

Above the wide dirt arena, the dusky indigo sky was spattered with flecks of stars. Shimmering smoke and shouting cries rose up into the darkness, and the air smelled metallic with the lusty tang of blood. Down below the bleachers, crackling torches illuminated the night’s most anticipated beastly brawl.

Thrall thrashed in the dust, knocked to his back by a massive Stranglethorn tiger. The creature was graceful power incarnate, all coiled muscle and inky striation, and its orange fur rippled in the dancing light of the fires. The crowd shrieked as the tiger tore its fangs into the meat of Thrall’s shoulder, drawing a guttural bellow from the orc.

“KILL HIM! KILL HIM! KILL HIM!”

Thrall was the undisputed king of the gladiator arena, yet the masses always bet against him. Sitting next to Jaina, Langston crammed grapes in his mouth while he watched eagerly.

The tiger bucked as Thrall heaved upward, wrapping his bulging green arms around the animal and slamming it to the side. Its striped tail lashed frantically as Thrall grabbed his ax and swung it overhead in a vicious arc. He roared his victory as the blade buried in the tiger’s neck with a smack. Its spine severed, the creature collapsed in a twitching mass of sinuous dead flesh, and the crowd erupted.

“THAT’S MY BOY!”

Jaina glanced to the other side of Langston, where Blackmoore was seated. Thrall’s master raised his fists and bolted to his feet, knocking a bottle of whiskey over in the process. The rest of his drunken celebrating was drowned out by the frenzied din of the audience.

Thrall brought his slick red axe crashing down once more, separating the tiger’s large head entirely from its body. He raised the trophy up with one hand, turning in a circle. Blood poured from the open neck and splattered to the ground in a steaming pool of crimson, and Jaina felt the gorge rise in her throat as she locked eyes with the animal’s lifeless citrine gaze.

“Want some grapes, Miss Proudmoore?” She jerked away at the sound of Langston’s voice against her ear. He dangled the bunch in front of her, and she shook her head, pale-faced and nauseous.

The second tiger was far less willing to put on a show. It slunk in circles around the arena’s perimeter, jumping at the high barrier and gouging scratches into the stone. Thrall marched after it as it ducked and fled, his own blood streaming down his bruised chest. Jaina was shocked that Blackmoore neglected to provide his prize gladiator with even a helmet, and his braided hair was matted with sweat.

“CHOP OFF ITS TAIL, THRALL!” Blackmoore was hollering again, sparkling droplets of whiskey suspended in his beard.

Jaina squeezed her eyes shut. She knew she’d had enough. She stood and scrambled her way through the clamoring aisles of gamblers, her heart pounding with outraged disgust.

Finally she reached the outside of the stadium, and the stone was cool against her shoulder as she leaned against the wall. Her ears rang with savage screaming, and the stench of blood was still sharp in her nostrils. She took a deep breath and moved to walk back towards the fortress, but the sight of a blonde girl pressed against the side entrance caught her attention.

“Tari,” called Jaina, pacing over. She stopped in her tracks as Taretha turned. Her face was twisted with hateful grief, and the ferocious expression sent a freezing chill down Jaina’s back.

“Lady Jaina,” she said. Her voice was low. “Please, will you help me? You’re the only one I can ask.” 


 

Arthas gazed out at the water’s windblown surface, absentmindedly rubbing a smooth pebble between his fingers. The waves lapped at the shore, and the soothing rhythm reminded him of all the times he’d sat with Jaina on the other side of the lake, chatting idly as they watched the clouds drift by overhead. He wondered what exactly she was doing in Durnholde, and why it was taking so long. Would she still resent him upon her return? Jaina never stayed angry for long about anything… But then again, many things had changed recently.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps compressing the sand somewhere behind him. Maybe Uther was looking for him; displays of fire magic only caused Arthas to think broodingly of a certain elven mage, and he’d declined to go watch that portion of the festival with everyone else.

The steps halted, and Arthas looked over his shoulder. No, that wasn’t Uther—just the only other man who’d ever spanked him.

“Oh, it’s you.”

Arthas turned his head back to the water. From the corner of his eye, a set of robes fluttered to the beach in a pile.

“Yes, it’s me,” Kael said, stalking in front of Arthas and folding his arms. The elf was wearing nothing but cropped swim bottoms, and his long hair was bound in a ponytail.

“What do you want?” Arthas asked, eyeing Kael’s body. His muscled form was lean and flawless, not a scar in sight. Weirdly hairless as well, like a dolphin.

“I’ve returned to accept your challenge.” Kael glowered down, and Arthas was unpleasantly reminded of the night he’d been strapped to the chair, forced to look up at the smug ranting bastard.

“I’m not in the mood anymore,” Arthas said. He stood and brushed the sand from his palms.

Kael paused. He looked surprised, then affronted. “Why not? Because no women are watching?”

A smirk tugged at the corner of Arthas’s mouth as he remembered the elven women gathering to spectate him. “What, are you jealous?” Kael was rather thin-skinned, hardly unexpected for such a vain creature.

“Of course not,” Kael snapped. “So, you’re nothing but talk, as usual.” His scarlet nails drummed on his bicep.

Arthas remained silent as he appraised him. His gaze dropped from Kael’s green glare down to his contemptuously twisted lips. This pompous elf would soon regret everything, he thought.  

“All right,” said Arthas, stepping forward. “But let’s make a bet first. Listen closely. When I win, you’ll—”

“Let me guess, keep away from Jaina? Not a chance,” Kael interrupted with a sneer.

“Actually—"

“Bets are for children and fools. Now, get in the water.” Kael turned and strode into the tide. Arthas watched with some amusement as Kael hesitated, goosebumps raising along his arms, before continuing in to the waist. Arthas followed him, and the cold water sloshing against his skin sparked an exhilarating rush of adrenaline. He stood beside Kael and grinned, his blood beginning to pound with the thrill of competition.

“Out and back. Try to keep up, elf.”

Arthas wasted no more time in diving forward and kicking off, Kael splashing in a second behind him. The waves buoyed the pair as they fought straight ahead, flashes of wet skin and blond hair glistening beneath the setting sun.

Kael’s muscles burned as he bore onward, several feet behind Arthas. How long had passed now? Five minutes? Ten? The pace was brutal, and Arthas showed no signs of slowing; his limbs sliced through the water with nearly leisurely power. Kael steeled his mind and suppressed his body’s aching demand for rest, focusing only on speed and efficiency. With a surge of success, he found himself steadily creeping ahead of Arthas, who began to push forward with renewed vigor.

Another excruciating minute eked by. How far did Arthas intend to go? Kael felt anxiety trickling in his chest. Unable to look back, and with the horizon masked by fog before him, he had no way of gauging the distance traveled. The sky dimmed, and the lake was only growing colder and unfathomably deeper. Now that he had finally taken the lead, Kael halted decisively and pivoted around.

“That’s all you’ve got?” came Arthas’s harsh voice, gasping somewhere behind him over the slapping din of the windswept waves. Kael’s stomach plunged as he glimpsed the shore. The citadel’s towers appeared like tiny sticks, and the bonfire on the beach glowed like a matchhead. He kicked off towards land, seized by tendrils of dread.

Cold… At the hottest point of summer, why was Lordamere Lake so cold? To Kael’s horror, his numb limbs began to falter, and the choppy water smacked over his face as he turned his head to draw air. The current battered his body as though he were a shred of kelp. Was he even moving forward anymore?

Arthas splashed by him, swiftly propelling ahead. Kael’s chest tightened and burned, and his arms and legs seemed wringed of energy. He was struck suddenly by the sheer bottomless expanse that he floundered upon. Blood roared in his ears as he began to slip downward into the loathsome water.

He gasped and swallowed, closing his eyes to collect himself. What options did he have? The lake was a behemoth, far too massive to freeze or evaporate, and its ravenous pull left little time for elaborate summons. Kael beckoned a burst of magic anyway, and ice floes lurched to the surface; his efforts weren’t enough, and the wide frozen chunks bobbed and slid from his drained grasp. Murky water lapped over his head.

This must be a dream, he thought. He, Kael’thas, mage prince of the quel’dorei, heir of the Sunstrider dynasty, couldn’t possibly be drowning—of all the ignominious ways to perish, it couldn’t be like this—Why, why did he embroil himself in this harebrained pissing match—He was utterly disgraced, unfit to lead his noble people… Would Jaina weep over his grave? And he still had so much unfinished work on his desk…

A pair of strong arms hooked him up, and he broke the surface, choking and sputtering. He felt his shoulder press against warm, solid flesh as he was yanked backward.

It was a long paddle back to shore, and Arthas said nothing as he dragged the weight. Kael stared up at the stars now sprinkling the sky, nearly catatonic with humiliation.

No words were exchanged as Kael stumbled to the shore and bent over vomiting. He collapsed unceremoniously on the sand, and Arthas dropped beside him, dripping water and panting.

“So, you can't swim."

Kael remained mute, his eyes fixed hollowly on the lake. He could almost hear the ghostly wails of his drowned pride, emanating out from somewhere beneath the darkened surface.

“You’re welcome," added Arthas.

Kael closed his eyes.

“Jaina will thank me, at least.”

Kael’s skin crawled as he imagined Arthas being fawned over by a starry-eyed Jaina, a crowd of elven women stroking his biceps and praising him for heroically rescuing their prince. A part of him wished he simply died.

“Well?”

A loud whistling sounded in the distance, accompanied by whooping shouts from further up the shore. Kael opened his eyes as crimson fireworks boomed and crackled over the lake, painting the reflective waves with shimmering dots of light. Another explosion followed in the shape of a bird, and fire rained majestically from its open wings.

Kael glanced sideways. Arthas craned his chin up to watch, captivated by the display and mercifully silenced.   


 

“As I said, I can’t run away. But thank you.”

Once again, Jaina had tried to convince Taretha to start a new life as a servant in Lordaeron's palace. Maybe even Kael would pull a string in Quel’Thalas, if Jaina asked pleadingly enough. She’d first made the proposition the night she had brought Taretha to her guest quarters, wrapping ice in an old tunic and pressing the bundle to the girl’s bruises. It felt like a paltry gesture at the time, but Taretha’s eyes had filled with gratitude.

“Thrall is like my brother. I can’t possibly leave him here." Taretha clenched her arms around her midsection as she stared beyond the edge of the rooftop railing. "Without me, he has nobody." Wind lifted strands of her hair, carrying with it the scents of smoke and blood.

Jaina followed her gaze. On the distant horizon, tiny bright fireworks popped over the black treetops. The Midsummer Fire Festival, she realized. She’d missed it last year while visiting her father in Kul Tiras. Was Arthas watching those fireworks now? Perhaps Kael too was standing at his study window. Dalaran seemed so fantastically idyllic compared to the wretched fortress of Durnholde.  

“I envy you,” Taretha whispered.

Jaina turned to her, heart heavy with regret. “I won’t leave you like this. I’ll help.” She paused, clasping Taretha’s slender hand. “Whatever it takes, and no matter how much time.” 

Taretha locked eyes with her, and her normally passive features were tight with shrewd resolution.

“Can I trust you, Lady Jaina? You mustn’t tell anyone this. Not even Antonidas.”

“Yes,” breathed Jaina earnestly, stepping close along the railing. “I promise you.” 


 

“Where are you going? You said you’d play host for me.”

Kael grimaced as Arthas yanked his arm back toward the bonfire, his other hand clutching a tall glass. Arthas stumbled, and amber fluid sloshed over the edge and dripped into the sand below.

“I’ve had far too much to drink,” Kael complained, still futilely attempting to backpedal as Arthas drew him deeper into the teeming crowd. Attendees of all shapes and sizes swarmed together, and many of them wore unsettling painted masks; Kael glimpsed visages of flame imps, core hounds, drakes, and other beastly creatures. In the flickering glow of the flames, the costumes lent a quality of barbaric wildness to the gathering.  

Arthas turned, incredulous. Sweat beaded on his temples and ran in rivulets down his bare chest. “Are you serious? You hardly touched anything. You must have the liver of a chicken.”

“The drinks are quite potent,” Kael snapped. Not to mention he’d regurgitated the remains of his dinner beforehand, along with a good pint of lake water. “I recommend you make that one your last.” The prince of Lordaeron swam like a fish, and apparently he drank like one too.

Arthas shrugged and continued onward, parting the throngs of people. Overhead, dwarves on high stilts were hoisting a massive dead boar over the roaring bonfire, and below them, a gaggle of women in swimsuits tossed handfuls of flower petals into the air. The delicate flashes of color fluttered downward to be incinerated by the fire.

Kael swiped his hair back. In the stifling heat, it kept plastering to his forehead and ears. He’d been unable to recover his robes, and now he was being dragged about in nothing but his swim bottoms; whatever scraps of his dignity remained that night had long been trampled into the alcohol-soaked sand. Fortunately, everyone there seemed either too inebriated or foreign to recognize him.

“Ah, look, it’s Sunstrider and the handjob prince from Lordaeron!” The unidentified commenter was drowned out by an eruption of girlish giggles. Kael sighed, resigned to his fate.

Arthas whipped his head around. “The what?!”

“He’s a handsome prince, all right!”

Arthas kneaded his forehead. “I’m hearing things.”

“Arthas! Has anyone seen Prince Arthas?” A man’s baritone voice called through the crowd, and Arthas stiffened before abruptly steering Kael in the opposite direction.

“What are you doing?” Kael hissed, staggering as Arthas shoved him to the edge of the massive congregation. “Shouldn’t you answer to that?”

“Uther doesn’t want me to drink.” Arthas’s cheeks glowed red, likely some combination of indignation, intoxication, and the radiance of the bonfire.

Kael took a deep breath of fresh air, relieved to have escaped the crawling inferno. “He’s rather late for that.”

Arthas drained his glass and thrust it toward a bedraggled servant. “He still treats me like a child sometimes. I can’t—" He hiccupped and lurched further into the darkness, still gripping Kael’s arm. “I can’t stand that. I’m a grown man, damn it.”

“Mm.” Kael chose not to comment, instead dedicating a moment of silent pity for the Lordaeron prince’s long-suffering babysitter. “Well, it’s quite late now. Good night.”

Arthas’s eyes widened as Kael pried himself away. “You’re leaving? I’ll walk up with you.”

“You’ll—Excuse me?” Kael scowled at the prospect.

“It’s dark, and you look so… So…” Arthas knitted his brow, struggling to articulate his thoughts. “I mean, I’d escort Jaina.”

“What nonsense are you babbling about?” Arthas was obviously desperate to evade his mentor, and the transparency was pathetic. Kael turned and began to walk toward the city gate. By the time he was crossing the plaza, Arthas’s unsteady footsteps still sounded behind him.

“Arthas.” They were in the citadel now, and Kael turned to glare down the stairwell. “Be gone.” Arthas sneered up at him drunkenly, leaning against the handrail and adjusting his swim shorts. Kael exhaled and strode forward through the hallway, ignoring the teetering sensation of the stone beneath his bare feet. He reached the entrance to his room; after fumbling with the doorknob, he slipped inside and shut the door behind him. He headed immediately toward the bath, eager to rinse away the lake odor from his skin.

The door banged open behind him, and Kael whipped around, exasperated by the unwelcome sight of Arthas. The intruder swatted the door closed and stepped inside, tracking caked sand all over the carpet. 

“I wasn’t done talking with you,” he said, surveying the bedroom. He moved to Kael’s table and flopped into an empty chair, arms folded across his naked chest.

Kael clenched his fists. “Yes? What do you want?”

Arthas stared him down blearily. “You've… confused me.” His voice was slurred, and Kael regarded him with wary irritation.

“One of many sources for you, I’m sure. Now, if you would kindly—"

“I think about it all the time, you know,” interrupted Arthas, still eyeing Kael from the chair.

It? Kael had no desire to ask what specifically he referred to by “it.” The heat of the air was prickling his skin, and he crossed the room to open the window, pointedly ignoring the other man. Behind him, Arthas continued speaking anyway.

“That whole night. Jaina… putting her mouth on you.”

Kael paused, his fingers resting on the window latch.

“She wouldn't do that for me.”

Kael’s eyes widened as he shoved open the pane of glass. “You… You asked her?” he sputtered.

“She told me to go to you instead.” Arthas’s voice was thick with bitterness.

“She what?” Kael spun around to face Arthas, who remained sprawled in the chair with a disgruntled expression.

Arthas furrowed his brow, presumably attempting to recall Jaina’s exact phrasing. “It was her implication.” He shifted his weight and pushed his hair back from his face. “So, Kael.”

Kael leaned against the wall, eyes narrowed to green slits, scarcely able to believe his ears. “Don’t take liberties with me, Menethil,” he warned, in what he hoped was a suitably menacing tone.

“I hauled you out of the lake. If it weren’t for me, murlocs would be gnawing your soggy carcass right now.” Kael cringed. Once again, Arthas exercised poor volume control.

“I’d honestly rather drown,” he said snippily. “And there are no murlocs in that lake.”

Arthas rose unevenly to his feet and stepped forward. “Listen. We'll keep this to ourselves. I've no interest in men, but you'll—you'll do.” Kael’s lip curled contemptuously. Just how drunk was Arthas? Couldn’t he simply go back to his inn and masturbate, like any sensible man, or did his precious Holy Book forbid that? The raucous beach crowd held no shortage of willing women, and barring that, surely King Terenas could muster the paternal sympathy to provide his hormonally pent-up heir with a concubine.

“There are establishments known as brothels, which offer—"

”I’m the crown prince of Lordaeron! A knight of the Silver Hand." Kael snorted derisively, wobbling over to his bed. Certainly this was all a dream. A bizarre, obnoxious dream. “I don’t know about you, but I can’t be seen patronizing a whorehouse.”

Kael settled back, sighing at the blissful sensation of his aching muscles relaxing against the mattress. “Wear a sack over your head,” he said, closing his eyes. “An elegant solution, and the girls will be grateful, I assure you.” 

“Shut up,” said Arthas angrily, and Kael’s brow lowered as he felt the other man’s weight drop onto the foot of his bed. “Everything was your fault, so take some responsibility.” Kael hesitated to respond, unable to comprehend how assuming responsibility involved placing his mouth near Arthas’s genitals. “If you’re sorry, you’ll do it.” When had he ever implied a desire to apologize? “What you did? Spells or not, it was wrong. Dishonorable, utterly depraved.”

“Arthas.” Kael pulled a pillow over his eyes. “I won’t perform fellatio as an apology.”

There was an extended silence, and for a hopeful moment, it seemed that Arthas’s presence was merely the product of alcohol-induced delirium. But when Kael tossed aside the pillow, Arthas was still sitting on the edge of his bed, lashes cast downward in what was either deep contemplation or a blank stupor.

Finally, Arthas spoke, and his eyes drifted upward to lock with Kael’s perturbed glare. “If you do it,” he began quietly, “I’ll give you something in exchange.”

“No, no, no thank you. You have nothing to offer me.” Kael didn’t even want to hear whatever insulting offers Arthas’s brain was in the process of dredging up.

“What if I disclose a piece of information?” Arthas bent closer, and Kael’s ears flattened backward instinctively. “Jaina’s secret.”

Kael blinked. “What?” he said, propping himself up on his forearms and regarding Arthas with sudden interest. “Jaina’s secret?”

“Yes,” Arthas said conspiratorially, and Kael frowned. Inebriated though he was, he wouldn’t fall for such common trickery. “She’d turn me into a sheep and light me on fire if I told anyone… Especially you.”

Kael’s eyes squinted suspiciously. “And what sort of secret might this be?”

“Sex,” murmured Arthas, and the corners of his mouth curled upward.

Sex? How cryptic. Kael struggled to wrack his mind for possibilities. He himself had taken Jaina’s virginity just within the past month. How could Arthas possibly be more knowledgeable in that realm?

“I’ve known Jaina since childhood,” said Arthas, correctly reading Kael’s dubious expression. “I’ve always been her closest friend.” His slurred voice took on a more pointed tone, and Kael’s mouth twisted in annoyance.

“You know nothing,” Kael snapped, lying back down. “This negotiation attempt is pitiful.”

“Okay. It’s probably for the better," Arthas said, still eyeing him. “Jaina made me swear not to tell, and I… I can’t betray her with a loose tongue.” Kael gritted his teeth. He refused to be baited. “She’d cry for days. She’s so sensitive about things like that.”

“Aren’t you leaving yet?”

Arthas ignored him and lay back along the foot of the bed, his long bare legs sprawling off the edge. He rested one hand on his lap and turned his head, fixing Kael with an idle stare. Kael’s arms were folded tightly as he scowled at the ceiling.

“Tell me more,” said Kael finally, his voice grudging. “Be more specific.”

“It’s something that she really likes. You'd never guess.” Kael twitched, and Arthas smiled wolfishly.

“Fine!” Kael cried, flinging himself into a sitting position. His drunken imagination was torturing him with an endless carousel of obscene ideas—Was it bondage? Whipping? Asphyxiation? Some type of outfit, maybe? A forbidden roleplay scenario? Kael swallowed dryly, his blood pressure rising. Whatever the answer, surely he could rise up to the task. “Fine, Arthas. I’m intrigued. Tell me.”

He stomach dropped as Arthas sat up and tugged down his swim shorts, exposing his partial erection. Kael recoiled as though the carcass of a jormungar had materialized on his bed.

“I’ll tell you afterward,” said Arthas, kicking the shorts from his ankles. Kael stared at him, and Arthas held his gaze. Several long seconds passed; Arthas tilted his head and patted his thigh.

Kael twisted his mouth at the sheer effrontery. “If you’re lying about Jaina…” he said dangerously, bleary eyes flicking to the door. Distant noises from the bonfire carried through the open window.  

“I’m not,” Arthas said. Kael’s muddled mind churned with desperate thoughts of Jaina—the scent of her hair, the ecstasy of her touch, the sweet sound of her voice… 

“What if you and I were together?”

She would be back in Dalaran soon, so close to being his once more. He needed to be prepared. Knowledge was power. Who said that again?

“Lie down further up,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper. “I won’t kneel on the floor.”

Arthas shifted back and watched with eager excitement as he repositioned next to his hips. Kael tossed his long hair over his shoulder and lifted Arthas’s cock gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, bending his face down reluctantly.

He paused and glanced to the side. Arthas’s eyes were lidded, shining with arousal and a gleam of cruel amusement. Kael felt his face color hotly. “Don’t watch,” he snarled, and Arthas laid his head back in compliance. Kael extended his tongue and gave the shaft an unenthused lick, cringing at the resulting groan.

His head pounded and buzzed as he choked back his pride and took the other man fully in his mouth, vainly attempting to blank his mind. The warm flesh was rock hard against his lips, and Arthas’s thighs tensed as Kael began to move his head.

“Ah… Light, Jaina… yes, Jaina—ah—”

Kael fumed, pressing his teeth down threateningly. He raised his neck, and Arthas’s cock fell from his mouth and landed with a wet slap. “Would you just refrain from speaking?”

Arthas propped himself on his elbows, appraising Kael with a drunken, hungry gaze. He reached to caress Kael’s head, lifting a lock of hair and running his fingertips along the silky length. He let the strands fall one by one, and Kael felt goosebumps prickle along his arms.   

“Your hair’s just like Jaina’s,” Arthas breathed. “Actually… it’s even nicer…”

“I told you to be silent,” Kael warned, embarrassed by the raspy tremble in his voice. “Shall I continue or not?”

Arthas dropped his arm expectantly. Kael licked his palm, taking a deep breath as he proceeded to wrap his hand around Arthas’s throbbing erection. He closed his eyes, ignoring the intoxicated swaying sensation and attempting to imagine that he was just polishing his staff. The magical one. The one made out of metal.

Arthas’s hips began to buck upward into his fist, and Kael hastened the pace, hoping to end the ordeal quickly. What could this titillating secret of Jaina’s possibly be? The sooner he’d finish Arthas, the sooner he’d be enlightened. 

Yes… if Arthas truly wanted Jaina for himself, then he was a fool to consider equipping his opponent with such indispensable knowledge. She would soon be putty in Kael’s hands, and this agreement born of myopic concupiscence would spell the human prince’s downfall. Dealing with Arthas’s drunken base demands for several distasteful minutes was indeed an easy exchange for countless nights with Jaina. A triumphant smile began to spread Kael’s lips as he jerked his wrist robotically. 

His anticipatory fantasies were interrupted as Arthas grabbed his forearm. “I asked for your mouth, not your hand.”

Kael bristled but complied, his frayed ego assuaged by his advantageous position in their exchange. He hovered his head, lips barely sealing over the topmost portion of Arthas’s girth as he continued to twist and bob his hand. His eyes widened when Arthas sat up and gripped the back of his scalp, yanking the roots of his hair and shoving his face down to the hilt, ramming into his throat. Kael gagged, and his fingernails gouged into Arthas’s thighs as he tried instinctively to withdraw.  

“Use your mouth, I said.”

Kael’s watering eyes flamed with rage, and he struggled for air as Arthas forced his skull up and down like a ragdoll, seemingly unfazed by the molars grazing his flesh. Arthas would suffer for this, Kael swore, now possessed by a violent vision of trussing the human over the bonfire and roasting him beside the dwarves’ boar like the vile pig he was. If the stakes were any less compelling, he would abort this foul deal in an instant and oust Arthas through the open window.

Arthas grunted as he shot in Kael’s throat; Kael sputtered and choked, face mashed in his lap. He flung himself upright immediately, flushed and seething, a shining mixture of saliva and semen smeared upon his chin.

You—"

Kael was cut off by Arthas pushing him backward, trapping him to the bed with his heavy weight. Arthas’s fingers fisted in his hair, and the thumb of his other hand wiped away a glob of wetness from Kael’s lower lip.

“It felt good,” Arthas whispered huskily, and Kael wrinkled his nose at the whiff of liquor on his breath, “using that uppity mouth of yours.” He bent even closer and began to paw clumsily at the hem of Kael’s swim bottoms. 

“Enough!” Kael snarled, grabbing him by the shoulders and shoving him to the side. “Our bargain, Arthas, lest you forget. Tell me now.”

Arthas eyed him with foggy impatience. “Fine, calm down. Jaina, she…” He faltered, guilt flickering across his face.

Yes?” Kael’s pointed nails tore hard into his skin, causing Arthas to wince and wrench his hands off.

“She likes dragons. She has all these erotic novels about them, and she was beside herself when I found them.”

“Is that it?” Kael was devastated. He raised his hands to seize Arthas by the neck, then fell limp and lay trembling on the bed.

Arthas cast him a puzzled look. “Yes… She likes them like that. You don’t find that interesting?” In the absence of a reply, Arthas shrugged and rolled over, elbowing Kael carelessly as he reached backward to pull a pillow.

Kael shut his eyes mournfully. He wished alcohol remained in the vicinity to drown him in oblivion.

 

Chapter Text


 “Jaina would be intrigued—but too horrified to pursue her curiosity. That was what made her weak. It… was what made her Jaina…”  

—Arthas: Rise of the Lich King  


 

A knock sounded against the open doorframe, and Kael glanced up from his desk. His breath hitched in his throat.

“Jaina,” he said, and she smiled, so lovely it hurt. She wore that silvery frock again, the same one he’d now spent countless nights peeling from her skin in his dreams. He wet his lips and stood, then began to drift towards her, trembling with excitement. He wondered if he looked as ridiculous as he felt, rendered awkward with infatuation in her presence. “You were gone for quite a long time. I trust all went well in Durnholde?”

“Yes,” she replied, stepping into his study and closing the door behind her. Her blue eyes flicked downward before fixing him with a shy gaze. “I missed you while I was there.”

“Did you?” His ears flushed, and his heart had begun to patter. Jaina nodded, moving closer to where he stood frozen to the floor.   

“Could I ask you something, Kael?” She was looking at the carpet again, and her voice was hushed and girlish. He watched as she swallowed nervously. “Do you… love me?”

“Yes, I do,” he breathed, snapping from his light-headed stupefaction and reaching out to touch her. Jaina’s body was warm in his embrace, soft and sweet-smelling. “I love you.” More than Arthas does. More than anyone could.

Her fingers curled in the front of his robes as she rested her cheek against him; he wondered if she could feel his hammering pulse. “While I was away, I was thinking that I want to be with you,” she said quietly. Kael felt faint with elation. “I was afraid of what happened before. But I can’t forget how… how good you made me feel.”

Yes… Bless Arthas for rescuing him from the wretched lake yesterday. All of that ignominious suffering was mere water under the bridge now, for he was alive to experience this moment. “I’ll take care of you, Jaina,” he murmured, stroking her cheek. She rose up on her tip-toes, lips parted, eyes fluttering shut; Kael bent his head to kiss her eagerly. She moaned against him, and her tongue darted to sweep against his own.

Yes… Kael shook like a leaf as their kiss deepened, wrapping a hand around her narrow waist. She pressed her body into his while her fingers trailed down his back and toyed with the hanging ends of his hair. Then she drew her face away, and Kael could only stare, dumbstruck by his unbelievable fortune.

“I need you, Kael,” she whispered. “Please.” Her hands fumbled with the sash of his robes as he crushed his mouth against hers once more.

Here? Now? Kael bit back his astonishment, afraid to speak lest she change her mind. They stumbled backwards breathlessly, bumping into his desk as he slid down her dress. The thin fabric pooled around her ankles, and his lips parted in surprise—she wore no undergarments, and her pink nipples stiffened in the open air.

“Do you like this?” Jaina asked, turning to bend over the wooden surface. Her bare rear curved upward for him, and Kael caught a glimpse of her folds as he hastened out of his clothing.

“Yes,” he croaked, nearly tripping as he kicked off his breeches. Blood drained from his head to his groin. He had waited so hopefully for Jaina to come back to him, but he never dared to dream that she would proffer herself this boldly. He stood behind her, fully nude as he ran his hands along the smooth skin of her back, tilting forward to caress her hair and sweep his fingertips along the swell of her breasts. Jaina’s breath caught as he brushed along her inner thigh.

“I need you,” she repeated, grasping at the glossy desktop. Kael traced a finger along her naked slit, pulse pounding as he felt her body tense.

“Do you?” he muttered huskily. He gave her another languid stroke, pressing more firmly, and Jaina whimpered in frustration. She was unbelievably wet for him. “What shall I do for you, Jaina?” He restrained the immediate urge to grasp her by the hips and slide in his hard flesh. Perhaps he’d first drop to his knees and press his lips between her thighs… But she was already soaked, clearly in urgent need of something more substantial than a tongue.

“Touch me, please, Kael,” she whispered, her side-turned face blushing red. “Nothing satisfies me like your touch…”

Yes, her words were servicing his ego wonderfully. Of course he was better than Arthas. “Touch you. Like this?” Kael slipped a careful finger inside of her, making a mental note to clip back his nails again.

“Please, Kael…” Her words were muffled against the side of her arm as he fondled her. “Kael, please…” The sweet sound of her begging was more powerful than any aphrodisiac, and he could hardly contain himself any longer. He grasped his aching shaft and guided himself to her entrance. Jaina pressed back excitedly against him, but he held her down.

“Are you mine, Jaina?” His voice was lilting as he remained motionless behind her. She writhed beneath his palm, frenzied with pent desire, and he rubbed the head of his cock teasingly against her wetness. “This is for me only, yes? Nobody else?” Arthas won’t touch you.

“Yes,” she said, gasping, “I’m yours, Kael, so please—" Jaina cried out as he sank into her, clutching her hips and drawing her against him. He exhaled shakily. She was hot and slick, clinging to him like tight silk as he withdrew, just as intensely pleasurable as he remembered.

“Jaina,” he said, reaching to run his fingers through her blonde locks, tugging and caressing while he thrust heavily into her from behind. “I love you.” His breath hitched into a groan as she suddenly constricted. Was she climaxing already? Jaina… “Yes, come for me, Jaina—” She squeezed tight, nearly as though to force him out, and he plunged forward even harder. Jaina’s legs buckled, quivering against the desk, and her slippery heat fluttered and clutched around him.

“Don’t pull out of me,” she whimpered. Kael kept his pace, burning instinct uncoiling within him.

“Are you sure?” A tingling sensation spread along the base of his spine, and he tightened his grasp. He knew he likely shouldn’t, but the prospect of spilling inside of Jaina was too enticing. Saliva pooled beneath his tongue as he imagined the aftermath—Jaina collapsed over his desk, still flushed and shuddering with orgasm as his thick elven seed leaked down her inner thigh…  If she desired that, then he’d be more than happy to provide…

“Fill me, Kael—" Jaina’s voice was high and needy. Of course she wanted it. Her body was his now, yielding to him completely. She was pleading for him to claim her in the most primal of ways; how could he deny her? He panted, abdomen tensed as he felt himself rising to his release. “I love you, Kael—I love you—"

He buried his throbbing flesh deep, and his eyes fluttered closed as a raw moan fell from his throat. His hand roamed across the broad expanse of her muscled shoulders.

“Unh—Kael—"

Kael’s eyes snapped open in dismay. He stared at the tan line cutting between the bronzed back and pale ass below him. Arthas grunted, dripping sweat onto the surface of the desk as he pressed hard against Kael’s hips.

“Kael,” he groaned, gasping for air. “Holy fuck is this wrong—"

NO.

“—But holy Light, is it erotic.”

NO! NO!

“NO!”

Kael’s entire body jerked over the mattress as he awoke to the sound of his own frantic protest. He squinted, momentarily blinded by the daylight pouring through the window. His heart hammered, and his achingly rigid erection had leaked slick fluid through the fabric of his swim bottoms. With a rattling gulp of air, he peeled himself from the tangled sheets and sat upright; Arthas’s face lolled off his stomach and flumped into his lap, revealing a stripe of dried saliva painted across Kael’s bare abdomen.

NO—

Kael clutched his head as the horrors of the previous day trickled back into his memory. A snort sounded against his crotch, jolting Kael from his petrification and spurring him to shove the other man away. Arthas groaned and opened his eyes, then winced and recoiled from the bright rays of sun.

“It’s you,” he mumbled, peering up groggily at Kael. “What did you do to me?” His hands patted over his naked body. “Where are my clothes?”

“What did I—?“ Kael sputtered. “I have no time for you. You need to leave, immediately.”

Arthas rose into a sitting position and massaged his temples. He looked confused, and his blond hair was askew in a tangle. His wary eyes narrowed as they flickered about the bedroom; they finally landed accusatorily on Kael, who had by now discovered the sheer amount of sand that had accumulated in his bed. Kael swatted at the sheets and muttered darkly, too preoccupied to glance up as Arthas stumbled to the bathroom.

The door closed, followed by the sound of a squealing faucet and splattering water. Kael stood, wincing at his sore muscles, unpleasantly aware of his parched throat and the faded odor of algae emanating from his hair. He waited impatiently, arms crossed.

The shower turned off, and more minutes passed by. Kael rapped his knuckles on the door.

“Hurry up.”

Arthas swung open the door. A towel was draped around his shoulders, but otherwise he remained shamelessly uncovered. “Is that any way to speak to your savior?” His words were muffled by Kael’s toothbrush hanging from the corner of his mouth. He turned and spat in the sink, and then proceeded into the bedroom, brushing Kael’s side roughly as he passed. He stopped in front of the dresser and began to rummage through the neatly folded clothes.

The back of Kael’s skull pounded as he glared in disbelief; the human prince’s displays of sheer disrespect never ceased to gall him. Did nobody in Lordaeron’s palace ever discipline this cur? Truly, he was long overdue for a lesson in manners. Kael wondered desperately what Jaina saw in him. He knew she liked animals, and in light of her fondness for beastly overgrown lizards, perhaps it only made sense that Arthas appealed to her.

“Stop that,” he snapped, striding over and snatching a set of Kirin Tor robes from his closet. He owned multiple spares, and Arthas could go roll in the mud for all Kael cared. “Here. Wear this.”

Arthas paused, eyeing the flowing purple fabric with distaste. “Don’t you have anything that’s not a dress?”

Kael sneered and thrust the robes into his arms. “Not for you, no.” Arthas sighed and began to dress himself. The robes fit him well, albeit somewhat more tightly than on Kael’s leaner frame. “Ungrateful swine.” Kael stuffed the dissarayed clothes back in the open drawers.

“Thanks,” said Arthas airily, tossing Kael the wet towel. Kael caught it and scowled, standing unkempt before Arthas and still in his swim bottoms. Arthas eyed him up and down, and an expression of sly smugness began to spread across his face. “And thanks for last night, I suppose.” 

Kael’s long ears flushed pink as he clenched his fists. “Just leave,” he spat. “Now! Be gone.” Arthas complied, plucking his swim shorts from the carpet as he exited. He paused just outside in the corridor and turned.

“You won’t kiss me goodbye?” He grasped his crotch and began to fondle himself through the robes, fixing Kael with a lewd stare.

 Kael lunged forward, and the last thing Arthas saw was the elf’s livid expression before the door banged shut in his face. Then came the clattering sound of a lock, followed by a muffled string of hissed Thalassian. Arthas continued down the hallway, his amusement somewhat mitigating the throbbing nausea of his hangover.

Yes, Arthas remembered now. Kael had actually done it—Evidently he was just that grateful. Arthas hadn’t even needed to propose a bet, as the aquatically-challenged windbag now owed him his very life. What other favors would the snooty prince of Quel’Thalas feel obligated to perform in return? This turn of events was delicious, really. 

The hazy snippets Arthas could recall triggered a surge of excitement, although the thrill was tinged by a shadow of uncertain discomfort. He paced down the winding staircase, engrossing himself in the flashing memories of sensation—warm silky hair bundled in his fists, wet heat wrapped around his cock, that stupidly pretty face drooling in his lap. Arthas felt a stir of guilt in his stomach. The wholesome boy he’d been raised as knew quite well that this was all just wrong, and Uther would probably have an embolism if he found out what happened. But some rebellious and savage part of Arthas liked it anyway.

Kael’s age remained a mystery, and Arthas wondered just how many lovers the elf had taken over his extended years of physical youth. Judging by how pitifully he pined after Jaina, Arthas had assumed it couldn’t be a high figure. But judging by how he used his mouth… Well, Arthas still wasn’t sure, and admittedly he had no basis for comparison. Perhaps an opportunity for a more sober assessment would arise. After all, the pervert elf clearly wanted him quite badly; he could stick his nose in the air and spout bitchy comments all he’d like, but Arthas wasn’t fooled. Kael was probably already in the midst of concocting some elaborate scheme to touch his ass again.

Kael’thas Sunstrider… Sometimes Arthas barely knew what to think anymore. He loved the taste of adrenaline, and Kael was undeniably a rush, albeit in the worst ways possible. And the way that perfumed predator hovered over Jaina and tried to slither up her skirt was unbearable.

“Arthas!”

He stopped in the foyer and glanced upward with surprise. Jaina leaned over the bannister above, blinking down at him. She turned and descended the opposite stairs to greet him, faltering as she reached the bottom. Nervous hesitation fluttered across her face.

“Jaina,” he said, mouth spreading into a grin; she relaxed and smiled eagerly in return. They walked toward each other, and Arthas wrapped his arms around her. No, Jaina never did stay angry with him… He breathed the scent of her hair as she leaned in, soft and warm through the thin cloth of her silvery grey frock. “So you’re back, late as usual. I missed you. Did things go well over there?”

“More or less,” she replied, beaming up at him, and Arthas wanted nothing but to kiss her mouth again. He settled for brushing against her cheek. To his delight, she mimicked the gesture, her lips curling upward as they pressed sweetly to the side of his face. “I missed you too,” she said, and her breath tickled his skin. She drew back and ran her fingers along the purple fabric of his chest, then reached to touch the tips of his damp hair. “Why are you wet? And why are you wearing these robes?”

“I, er, I received a lesson in magic here today.” The sound of his own lie caused an awful wilting sensation to coil in his stomach. “There was water involved. And the robes are, well, they’re for immersion in the setting.” His ears began to burn as Jaina stared at him curiously.

“A lesson? With who? You’re studying to practice magic now, under the Kirin Tor?” Jaina looked impressed, and Arthas stung with flustered embarrassment.

“No, never mind, it’s a long story, and not a particularly interesting one.” Jaina’s eyebrows twitched upward. “Tell me all about Durnholde. Did you see Blackmoore’s gladiator orc?”

“Yes, I met Thrall. Who gave you a lesson?” she pressed.

Arthas shifted in discomfort, and his arms dropped to the side. He tucked the hand clenched around the folded swim shorts behind his waist. “Kael’thas,” he admitted, unable to weave the web of deception any further.

Kael?”

The astonishment vanished from her features. “That’s nice,” she said. Arthas felt pinned beneath her motionless appraisal, and the silence was suffocating. Jaina sniffed. Her eyes tightened into a vague squint, and Arthas cleared his throat.

“It was a one-time thing. Anyway, Uther is in Dalaran, and he’s been asking to see you. Why don’t we have dinner tonight?” he said hastily. Jaina remained quiet, still fixing him with a shrewd, steady gaze. He adjusted his sleeve, beginning to feel unnerved beneath the blatant scrutiny. “I’ll come get you here around seven? Does that work?”

“Yes,” she said. “I look forward to it.”

“Great. See you then.” Arthas squeezed her hand affectionately, but an air of suspicion still prickled around her. He stepped back and released an almost imperceptible sigh.

“I'll see you,” she said, watching as he exited the building and stepped into the late morning sun. 

The breeze swished the hem of Kael’s robes, lifting the fabric to reveal his bare feet, and Arthas hoped that Jaina didn’t notice.


 

Jaina paced her way through the citadel, brow furrowed in deep thought.

For as long as she had known Arthas, he had never been an artful liar, and far more inclined toward blunt honesty. Deception was never an asset he cared to hone; he spoke his true mind, and that was one of many qualities she loved him for. Arthas wasn’t a man of pretenses.

It was obvious to Jaina that no such “magic” lesson had happened, and she was hurt that he felt compelled to spin flimsy fiction. Now as for what actually transpired, Jaina could procure a favorable guess; her mind leapt to the memory of Arthas straddling Kael on the sofa, shirtless and sweating, the pants of both men bunched around their thighs as they engaged in an unspeakable activity. Why else would Arthas be leaving the citadel in the morning, wearing Kael’s robes and smelling of his hair products?

“Are you really the one to ask me about that? Remember, I saw everything you did with him.”

Once again, Jaina could recall Arthas’s voice in her head. 

“Stay away from Kael’thas.”

Quite a double standard that demand was. Irritatingly so, the more Jaina considered it. What other clandestine encounters took place around here during the past nine days, and what was the real source of that jealous request? Arthas had always possessed a certain obstinate controlling streak, and Jaina wondered now if she and Kael were like belongings stored in separate drawers. Did Arthas regard Kael as another person to have “fun” with, someone he wouldn’t share?  

“I can’t stand him.”

Indeed, since the day the two princes first met in Dalaran, the antagonism between them had been excessive, bizarrely so. Everyone here knew this. Jaina had always chosen to ignore the passive-aggressive posturing that occurred whenever Arthas and Kael were in the same room, as she found it embarrassing to behold. Their mutual resentment seemed rooted somewhere beyond their shared interest in her, and Jaina had made her own private speculations.

She didn’t believe racial tension to be the cause. Kael was unwaveringly pleasant to everyone, regardless of appearances or social standing. Only after Arthas arrived had Jaina witnessed the frigid-faced, snippy version of Kael emerge. And Arthas had never expressed discriminatory sentiments toward elves before he came to Dalaran. Hearing the term “knife-ear” slip casually from his mouth last month appalled her, and he hadn’t since repeated that deplorable profanity.

Perhaps Arthas was channeling competitive vanity. In Lordaeron, he was hailed by his people as iconically handsome; but in Dalaran, there was another tall, attractive, green-eyed blond prince, one with that refined elven beauty which humans so rarely attained. It was possible that Arthas simply couldn’t swallow his first experience with common envy. But why Kael bristled with equal cattiness was a mystery… Maybe it really had just boiled down to Jaina. 

Regardless of what fueled the antipathy, Jaina carried mixed feelings about their manner of resolution. She supposed she should be grateful for this end to their tiresome animosity. And if they were lovers now, surely their crude attempts to possessively flaunt her company at one another would finally cease. Arthas had never desired a formal relationship with Jaina anyway, so any visits of his to Kael’s bed were hardly a betrayal... And Kael was somehow less painful for Jaina to stomach than another woman. She wondered dryly if the elven prince had already begun to inundate Arthas with eager invitations to Quel’Thalas.   

Yes, Arthas and Kael being intimate was, in this light, a tentatively welcome development, so long as it didn’t birth a new set of petty jealousies. It was only the lying that Jaina couldn’t abide.

She’d finally meandered her way to Kael’s room door, and apprehension unfurled in her stomach as she knocked and waited.

The door swung inward, and Kael’s eyes lit up when he saw her. His handsome face was somewhat haggard, and Jaina noted the dampness of his long hair. A fleeting mental image of Arthas and Kael frotting together in the shower popped unbidden in her mind.

“Jaina,” he said warmly. “You were gone for quite a long time. I trust all went well in Durnholde?”

“Yes,” she replied, returning his smile. “It’s very nice to be back in Dalaran.”

“Mm. I imagine so.” He continued to gaze down at her with an unsettling expression; his features were arranged politely as usual, but his eyes bored into her hungrily. Jaina swallowed. She knew he likely had a busy schedule, and thus decided not to beat around the bush with excessive pleasantries.

“Could I ask you something, Kael?” He flinched oddly and intensified his fixation, waiting for her to continue with sudden tense excitement. “Do you own any books concerning portals? If so, then I’d like to borrow them, if you wouldn’t mind.”

His shoulders drooped, and to Jaina’s relief, his heated stare diminished to normalcy. “Yes, of course.” He stepped out toward her and closed his room door. “Shall we go to my study? I’ll retrieve them for you now.”

Jaina nodded, and they headed down the corridor together. Kael eyed her curiously as they walked.  

“Has something in particular sparked this interest in portals?” he asked. His robed arm brushed against her side, and Jaina felt acutely aware of the touch. Nothing ever seemed completely casual with Kael.

“No, not specifically. I’d just like to start studying a new topic.” This wasn’t the truth, but Jaina could hardly disclose her actual motivations, let alone to someone who despised orcs.

“Always the ambitious student. I admire that about you,” he said. They’d now reached the entrance to his study, and he unlocked the door and ushered her inside. “Do you intend to practice on your own? You should know that portals can’t be opened in Dalaran without prior authorization. Wards are in place throughout the entire city.”

“Oh?” This was unexpected and troubling information, and Jaina’s mind began to race. “Do the wards end at the city wall?”

For a brief moment, Kael appraised her silently. “Yes. They’re the same as for scrying, illusions, and other restricted spells.” He continued to eye her. “I could request permission from Antonidas to help teach you, but he’d likely disapprove of me skipping so far ahead of his curriculum.” No matter, thought Jaina, she could learn on her own—maybe on the lakeshore, or out in the forest. “Amateur portals are quite dangerous, as I’ve informed others before,” Kael added. His delicate emphasis on others seemed intended to draw a response, but Jaina had no idea who he referenced. Perhaps she was reading too much into his tone.

“Thank you, Kael, but there’s no need to ask Antonidas. I’ll keep my studies theoretical.” She smiled, and he seemed to release whatever suspicion had crept over him. “Do you have books about local geography as well?” The cast of suspicion instantly returned, and Jaina did her best to appear nonchalant.  

“Certainly.” He turned to open one of the large cabinets and began to search through its dense rows of leather bound spines. Jaina leaned against the edge of his desk and waited, watching as he plucked out a black tome. Her thoughts drifted back to Arthas. Should she mind her own business? A pettier part of her wanted to confirm that Kael would lie too.

“How was your lesson with Arthas?” she asked. She kept her tone relaxed, despite the calculated nature of the question’s suddenness. Kael displayed no visible reaction, but Jaina expected the elven prince to be cunning, at least relative to Arthas’s flushed stammering.

“Ah, so you’ve heard about that,” said Kael sourly, moving to the next cabinet. “I’m afraid he leaves quite a lot to be desired. We won’t be continuing past that first attempt.”

“You’re letting him keep your robes, though? They’re yours, aren’t they?”

Now Kael froze. He crouched to retrieve another book, face turned away from her. “Yes. I care not if he neglects to return them.” His tone was clipped, and Jaina frowned. Was she mistaken after all? No… Arthas had definitely showered in Kael’s bedroom this morning; the floral fragrance of their still-damp heads of hair was unmistakably the same. Jaina wondered what happened to Arthas’s clothing. Perhaps Kael’s sharp claws had ripped them passionately to shreds…  

“I’m glad that you and Arthas are on good terms,” she said, scrutinizing his tensed form. Kael remained silent as he pulled another book.

“Arthas is not welcome back here,” he said curtly, standing and walking toward her. “Let’s not speak of him.” His dark expression switched to a wistful one as his gaze flicked down to her dress. Jaina remained quiet, unsure of what to say. He placed the armful of books beside her on the desk, and then proceeded to circle around and open one of the drawers.

“I have something I’d like to give you,” he said, withdrawing a folded square of opalescent white fabric and returning to stand before her. He unraveled the cloth between his hands, revealing a delicately woven strip, pale and shimmering as though cut from the surface of a winter moon. 

“A replacement for your scarf I ruined.” His face was solemn, and the edges of his long ears were tinged pink. “I hope to see you wear it on occasion.”  

“It’s beautiful,” she said, admiring it with widened eyes. Kael looked pleased. “Thank you, Kael. You shouldn’t have.”

“Ah, but I wanted to.” He stepped forward closer, reaching out to drape the airy cloth around her neck. Jaina stood still as he arranged it in a neat loop. “Lovely,” he breathed, gazing down at her affectionately. The corners of his mouth lifted upward, and his fingers dropped down to ghost over the back of Jaina’s hands. She blinked, heart pounding from the sudden intensity.

Kael clasped her hands in his. “Jaina. The magus senate is hosting their biannual symposium in two weeks, and there’s to be a function here in Dalaran the night beforehand. Will you grant me the privilege of your company?”

Jaina found her voice, embarrassed by how easily Kael seemed to reduce her to girlish shrinking and blushing. “Antonidas mentioned the event. I plan to attend, so we’ll see each other there, yes.”

His gaze continued to pierce her, green and unblinking. “It’s a formal late-night mixer, you know. Music. Wine. Dancing. I’d be honored if you’d attend as my date.” Jaina hesitated, looking downward, and Kael’s fingers lightly squeezed her skin. “I’m not so disagreeable, am I?”

Jaina blinked. “No, of course not. That’s not it at all,” she said hurriedly. “It’s just that everyone will be there, and, well…” Kael released her hands and brushed her hair behind her ears. His touch lingered along the edges of the curved cartilage.

“I want everyone to see us.” He bent his face down closer, and the hard desk behind her felt almost as though it were gradually shoving her into him. “Please let me take you.”

“Yes, okay,” she said weakly. Kael’s mouth spread into a gratified smile.

“Excellent. I can hardly wait,” he murmured, tilting his head and regarding her subdued posture. His hands trailed down from her ears, one resting beneath her jaw and the other brushing its thumb against her lower lip.

“May I?” he asked, his voice low and lilting, gold lashes cast downward as he stared at her mouth. “Please.”

Jaina tensed, wordless, trembling as he closed the gap and kissed her softly. The brief contact caused her heart to jump in her throat, and he drew back to check her stunned expression before pressing his lips forward once more. His hand moved to her back as he held her to the solid warmth of his chest; she sighed against him, and his tongue slipped in her mouth and brushed wetly against her own. The gentle pressure began to escalate hungrily as Jaina kissed him back.

Kael withdrew, and suddenly his lips moved to her ear, resting motionless as he breathed shallowly. After several agonizing seconds, he finally spoke, and the hot whisper sent a shiver along her neck.

“Do you wear this on purpose around me?”

His palms slid down her clothed body, running languidly from her ribs to the tops of her thighs. Jaina’s breath hitched at the sensation. She was too overwhelmed to ask what he meant; the silvery grey dress was plain, its hem hanging an inch above her knees, and the collar bared her shoulders but revealed no cleavage. Did Kael really find this ordinary piece of summer clothing so immodest?

“Are you teasing me, Jaina?” His teeth grazed her ear, and she flinched, leaning back over the wooden desk. “It’s working,” he whispered. She squirmed at the sensation of heated air on her skin, and his hands held her firmly to his lower body. “I may be an elven prince, but lest you forget—I am still simply a man…”

“Kael, please,” she protested. He drew his head back, eyes glinting, seemingly only encouraged by the sound of his name. With a fluid tug, he loosened the coil of the scarf and touched his fingertips to the curve of her neck.

“Has your body forgotten me already?” he muttered silkily, gaze lidded as he peered at the unblemished skin. “Let me leave another reminder, and then you can hide it away again…” 

No, she thought, cringing at the prospect of receiving another embarrassing mark. She lifted his face tentatively away from her neck, and he raised his head and kissed her excitedly again, a needy groan rising in his throat. His hands slipped behind her upper thighs and hoisted her onto the desk, and her dress hiked up as he pressed his hips forward between her legs. The heated pressure of his erection was evident from beneath his robes.

A small noise escaped her as he grasped her rear, grinding her against him. He began to lean forward, pressing his weight close, and his quickened breath was hot on her cheekbone. “Kael… What are you doing?” she asked shakily, half of her hoping he would come to his senses, the other half yearning for more of his intoxicating touch. He turned to look at her pleadingly, and Jaina wondered what possibly provoked the crazed desperation in his eyes. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, voice hoarse and thick with arousal. “Forgive me.” He wet his lips as he shifted his hardness against the crotch of her underwear. “Please don’t deny me, Jaina.”

Deny…?                                                                                                                                      

Don’t deny me, Jaina. Don’t ever deny me.

Jaina’s heart sank, clenched by the wistful specter of sentimental vows with Arthas, and the reminder ripped her from the heady captivation. She placed her palms on Kael’s chest; he ceased his movements, lips parted and eyes guilty. “Let’s not do this,” she said firmly, ignoring the tremble in her wrists. She inhaled, aching with stirred memories of past mistakes, suppressing the compulsion to fist her hands in his robes and pull him close, to let Kael slake his lust with her right there on his desk.

“Forgive me,” he repeated, drawing back with a remorseful expression. “I can’t say what came over me. Please, don’t think too lowly of me.”

Jaina stood, and the pulsing in her thighs began to ebb. “It’s okay,” she said, head still muddled. “Never mind.” She gathered the books and clutched them to her breast. “Thank you for the books, and the scarf as well. It’s lovely.” He nodded, arms crossed awkwardly, poorly masking his crestfallen shame.

A woman doesn’t take a man and stay merely his friend afterward.

No, she didn’t want to think about anything else that Arthas had said. What did he know, anyway? If anyone had the self-restraint to maintain appropriate boundaries, it was Jaina, not the notoriously impulsive prince of Lordaeron. Arthas was projecting… After all, he was the one who’d shiftily emerged from Kael’s bedroom this morning.

“Goodbye,” she said, moving her lips into what hopefully appeared as a friendly smile. Kael’s mouth remained a grim line, and his stare was pitiful as Jaina turned and left his study.  


 

Wine filled the transparent goblet, streaming from the mouth of a violet glass bottle. Arthas eyed the vessel as the waiter finished pouring. 

So many things in Dalaran were purple, he thought idly, his head relaxed with a faint pleasant buzz. Building rooftops. Flowerbeds. Inn bedsheets. Kirin Tor robes. Kael’s hair conditioner. He had to admit, his hair did feel amazingly silky now.

“No need to refill mine,” said Uther, sitting across from Arthas and Jaina. “That’s good for me, thank you.” The waiter smiled politely and withdrew from the table. Jaina had declined to drink entirely, and Arthas felt mildly self-conscious as he raised his glass to his lips. She’d emanated tension since they met to walk to the restaurant earlier, and he wished she would loosen that unsettlingly focused demeanor.

“So, regarding these orcs near Strahnbrad,” began Jaina, leaning toward Uther. “Why is the Silver Hand using resources to pursue them, if they’re as reclusive as you say?” Jaina kept steering the dinner conversation back to orcs, and Arthas could only assume her stay in Durnholde provoked this curious fixation.

Uther cut into his broiled fish. “We’ve received numerous reports of stolen livestock recently, the orcs being the prime suspects. Villagers in the outskirts fear violent escalation, so our actions are preemptive.” He paused and set down his knife. “Even if those orcs do turn out to be nonaggressive, encampments remain the safest place to supervise them.” 

Arthas glanced sidelong at Jaina; her brows were lowered. “How many of them are out there?” she asked, pushing the food around on her plate as she watched Uther eat.   

Uther chewed thoughtfully. “By Strahnbrad? Hm, difficult to say. There could be hundreds in those mountains. We haven’t gathered much intelligence yet, unfortunately.”

“I see,” she said, and finally took another bite of her meal.   

“Don’t be concerned, Jaina,” said Uther, smiling reassuringly. “Say, now that you’re back in Dalaran, you should treat yourself to a short break. Perhaps take a picnic with Arthas. The boy certainly missed you!” He gave Arthas a sly wink and drank the last sip of his wine.  

“Yes, that would be lovely,” Jaina said absentmindedly, probably still engrossed in thoughts about orcs. “I wish I hadn’t missed the Midsummer Fire Festival performances. How was everything last night?”

Arthas stiffened. He had expected Uther to admonish him upon their meeting that afternoon, but the senior paladin neglected to voice any disapproval. Training resumed as usual, much to Arthas’s cautious relief.

“Quite spectacular!” said Uther. He turned to Arthas, smiling broadly. “Arthas—I heard you spent the whole festival with Prince Kael’thas, so I trusted you were in good hands when I left. Best for me not to ask too many questions, I suppose.” He chuckled, and Arthas’s stomach began to sink. “I had my share of dusk-to-dawn celebrations as a lad,” Uther continued. From the corner of Arthas’s eye, Jaina’s fork lingered in mid-air. “And a drink now and then does aid in diplomatic bonding, as your father could tell you.”

Diplomatic bonding… That was one way to put it, thought Arthas dryly, remembering Kael’s face connected to his lap. Great, now Jaina knew he’d spent the entire night with the elf. Why was Uther doing this to him? Was this the Holy Light’s punishment for lying? Jaina busied herself with her plate, clearly listening with great intent.

“Yes, I had a good time,” Arthas said. He pierced his fork into a cut of meat.  

“Marvelous,” said Uther, and his eyes twinkled with fond pride. At least Jaina’s presence curbed him from launching into a metaphor-littered speech about overcoming prejudice, allying the lands in harmony, and representing the virtuous face of Lordaeron. “You should consider resuming those lessons you began with him last week.” Uther—Holy Light—enough.

Jaina’s fork paused again. Arthas swallowed his mouthful, ignoring the heat rising in his face. He’d told her that today’s purported lesson was the first, hadn’t he?

“Kael’thas is busy,” he muttered. 

“A shame,” said Uther, leaning back with a sigh. “Perhaps you could invite him horseback riding this weekend. I’d like to meet this elven prince before I leave.”

Arthas bit another forkful; his cheeks colored as he fumed at the thought. Ride horses with Kael? What next, invite the elf for a picnic too? Pick him a damn flower and tuck it behind his overgrown rabbit ear?

The rest of their dinner passed with mercifully no further mention of Kael, and Uther seemed somewhat puzzled by the tense pall that had dropped over Arthas and Jaina. By the time they exited the restaurant, the sun was beginning to set, and Uther bid them farewell before returning to the inn.

Jaina walked solemnly by Arthas’s side. The evening was quiet, and the only sound now was their footsteps on cobblestone as they cut through an alleyway. They emerged into the plaza, and enchanted blue streetlights glowed to life beneath the darkening sky, casting their faces with a ghostly tint. Arthas halted.

“Let’s go walk by the lake,” he suggested, and Jaina nodded. They changed course to the northern city gate, still wordless. Jaina and Arthas had always been comfortable enjoying each other’s company in contented silence, lazing in sunny fields or meandering through the woods; but now the lack of talk hung thickly, like a spectral presence gliding between them.

The shoreline was deserted. At the horizon, the coral glow of the sky faded upward into a dim swath of milky green. Lake water sloshed, stirred relentlessly by a cool northern breeze.

“Are you cold?” Arthas raised his fingers to the clasp of his cloak. Jaina shook her head, eyes fixed forward as their shoes padded through the sand. He stopped; a few steps later, Jaina did too. Her gaze switched to rest on Lordamere’s dusky surface. 

“Do you miss swimming together?” asked Arthas. “I thought about those times while you were away.” Jaina’s lips parted as if to speak, but she remained silent. He waited.

“You said you’d never lie to me,” she said finally, eyes flitting to him. Her voice was soft and careful, but the hurt on her face was evident. An instinctive knot of defensiveness twisted in Arthas’s chest.

“And I recall you promised never to deny me.”

Jaina blinked upon his quiet reply. What had she ever denied him? Was Arthas truly dredging up what she thought he was? “I understand why you did, though,” he continued. “I was a brute. I’m truly sorry for that. And what happened with him doesn’t change how I see you… I know things weren’t right that night.”

Jaina crossed her arms. “Please don’t change the subject.” He stared at her impassively, standing still and tall as the wind rustled his blond hair. She looked back at him now with tightened lips. “If you and I are more than friends, then what are you and Kael?”

Arthas’s brow creased, and he snorted. “What? That elf isn’t even my friend. He never was. I don’t know where you’re getting these ideas.”

“You don’t?”

He grasped her shoulder, and she tensed. “Jaina, listen to me. Something was wrong that night. Really. Didn’t you feel that way too? Like you couldn’t gather your thoughts properly? Like you were too warm all over?” Jaina remained quiet as she considered his words. Arthas pressed further. “Don’t you think he used a spell? He must have.”

“No, Kael wouldn’t do that.” Nor could he, Jaina was sure—the elven prince was an exceptional mage, but even he wasn’t capable of sustaining a mind-altering spell for such a duration, let alone over two subjects, and certainly not given the distracting circumstances. 

Arthas’s eyes narrowed at her confident response. “Why not? You think him so noble? He tied me up.” Arthas hesitated, ignoring the flush spreading up his cheeks. “He touched me, against my will. He forced his mouth on me.”

“What?!” Jaina was shocked, and her pulse pounded in her ears.

“That’s why I need you to stay away from him. I know you think my reason to be petty jealousy, but Kael’thas is dangerous.”

“Arthas…” Her eyes brimmed with tears and shone in the gloom. His fingers tightened on her shoulder.

“Don’t run and hide from me anymore. I need to protect you.” He paused, studying her broken expression. “You’re not going to report this to Antonidas, are you?”

“I…” Jaina faltered. Arthas seemed like he didn’t want her to tell anyone. Was he embarrassed? Afraid of being dismissed? Or was there more? “No, I don’t want Antonidas to know.” She blinked back the moisture blurring her vision. Perhaps Arthas indeed spoke the truth; but when she had entered the room that night, Arthas was the one pinning Kael to the sofa, straddling his lap and groping the recumbent elf.

“Arthas,” she said firmly. “Why did you spend the night with Kael? You showered there this morning, didn’t you? You lay in his bed?” Her gaze fixed on him unflinchingly. Jaina asked, but she knew. Arthas had slept with another, and what hurt most was that she couldn’t understand why. She’d grown up with Arthas, known him best as he changed by her side from a boy to a young man, and he had never once been a mystery. What changed this time? The Arthas she knew wouldn’t fraternize with his enemies.

“Light, enough with these questions! I told you I can’t stand him. And I meant that.” Now his other hand gripped her shoulder as well, and he stared down at her. “I’m going to find out what he did to us.”

Jaina grabbed his wrists and wrenched them downward. Tears sprang unbidden once more, clouding her view of Arthas’s determined face. “Kael didn’t do anything like that! Let’s just accept that everything was a mistake, and move on. I need to move on. Please,” she begged. Being back in Dalaran now, the anxiety was washing over her anew—bitter shame, spiraling loss of control, fear of what her body had done and what it might do again. The air choked in her throat as she recalled sleep tainted by unsettling dreams, ones of heated hands that pushed her through the gates of an ominous palace, dragged her naked skin along the cold marble tile of an aisle lined by scandalized eyes, then hoisted her upon a throne where she dissolved in surges of guilty ecstasy…

“Fine, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” Arthas’s mouth pressed shut into a tight line.

“I did it because I wanted to,” she blurted. “That’s why it happened. I was curious to… to have sex, with you and him both.” Her face flamed red, but she continued. “There were no spells, and now I take responsibility for what I chose to do. I know better now. I—"

“Jaina, just stop, please.” He cupped her face gently, sweeping his thumbs to clear the droplets sliding down her cheeks. She fell quiet in the steady cradle of his hands. “It’s okay.” Arthas tilted his head down, and his lips closed over hers, warm and comforting. Jaina tried not to cry as he wrapped her in his arms.

“Uther is right,” he said, staring out at the dark lake as she clasped him back in a motionless embrace. “Let’s go for a picnic soon and forget about all that. Everything will be all right, so don’t worry anymore. Just study.”

Jaina nodded, face buried against his shirt. She breathed in the sweet smell of Arthas’s long hair—delicately floral, wrongly familiar.   


 

Just study.

Jaina did, and the following week passed in a haggard haze. By its end, her newfound predicament wholly eclipsed her mad night with Kael and Arthas.

Her encounters with either man were scant. Kael had become occupied with demanding political matters from Quel’Thalas, and Arthas dedicated most of his time to training during his mentor’s last few days in Dalaran. If Uther’s suggested horseback excursion ever occurred, Jaina heard nothing about it. She too was busy, absorbed in her lessons with Antonidas, and she funneled what precious time and attention remained into her new extracurricular pursuit—portals.

True to Kael’s warning, creating a portal was unprecedentedly advanced and dangerous. The pages of the books he’d lent her were diagrammed with severed limbs, falls from great heights, unanticipated flooding, and a slew of other potential catastrophes. Jaina’s first attempt had been a disheartening failure; she had indeed overestimated her talents when she assumed herself capable of achieving adequate command within a mere week. That night she’d slipped furtively from the citadel, clutching her staff and draped in a hooded cloak, headed to the forest beyond Dalaran’s wards. The magical process was an enormous strain, the mental equivalent of puncturing a hole in leather with her bare hand. The final product of that exhausting endeavor was an apple-sized portal that connected to the boughs of a tree located Light-knows-where; the drooping disappointment Jaina experienced caused the portal to constrict shut, cleaving a twig that protruded from the other side. She stared down, stomach twisting with dread as the wood sizzled in the dirt like a cauterized finger.  

The challenge was daunting, but the memory of her promise in Durnholde drove Jaina to focus her efforts with unwavering resolve. Bags developed beneath her eyes, and her skin grew wan with mental strain and sleep deprivation. Long nights were spent materializing windows to Durnholde—and soon, framed within their shimmering borders were glimpses of the distant fortress. One portal had opened inside the gladiator arena, mercifully empty, and another went askew into the moat, resulting in a stinking waterfall that splattered through to Jaina’s side. Only after the entire straight week of practice was she able to conjure an accurately placed portal, located with reliability near Taretha’s designated meeting spot. 

When the planned night arrived, Jaina was prepared. Barely. Her portals were scarcely the size of her bathroom mirror, only capable of stability for up to ten seconds at most.

She stood in the dim woods now. The summer night air smelled crisp with pine, and crickets chirped from the shrubbery. Jaina knelt, and with a deep breath, she clenched her concentration and waved her staff. A glowing dot appeared in the air before her, bleeding and rippling outward to display a portrait of another dark forest, many miles away. The black silhouette of Durnholde Keep towered in its background. The portal’s edges pinched and wobbled like an egg in a frying pan, and though Jaina’s heart pattered with apprehension, she was already out of time. She rose into a crouch and thrust her staff into the opening, folding her shoulders forward as she darted through.

She tumbled to the dirt, tucking her feet in frantically as the portal shrank shut with a silent glimmer. Jaina inhaled shakily and stood; the air here was balmier and smelled of smoke.

“Lady Jaina!”

She turned at the sound of the quiet call. Taretha stood between the trees behind her, her frail body clad in a cream-colored nightgown, looking eerily like a pale ghost as she approached and slunk into a curtsy.

“Thank you for coming,” she whispered. “I knew you would… Thank you.”

Jaina rifled through her cloak and retrieved a stack of folded maps, a compass, and a narrow glass bottle. The liquid inside was a sedative, stolen with no minor guilt from the supply cabinet in Antonidas’s office. She handed the objects over to Taretha, who knelt and tucked them into the crevice of a nearby rotten log.

“Lady Jaina,” she said, rising to stand again. Her mouth was set in a solemn line, but her eyes were wide and pleading. “Please meet me here at this clearing, the same day and time every week. If I’m unable to come, let us use this log to exchange messages.”

Jaina blinked. Hadn’t she done all she promised? Taretha only requested help in aiding Thrall escape… What was left? Had she changed her mind about not fleeing to Lordaeron? “Is there something else Thrall needs?”

Taretha clutched her arms to her chest, staring at Jaina with the traumatized eyes of a beaten dog. “Not just Thrall. Everyone.” Several quiet seconds passed. “All the orcs.”

Jaina’s lips fell open. “Tari!” she exclaimed, voice still hushed. “It’s not possible.”

Taretha stepped toward her, and Jaina leaned back as the girl grasped her hand in desperation. “Please, believe me. Blackmoore is planning to raise an army, to coordinate a surprise attack on Lordaeron and overthrow the king. Lord Langston knows, as does the doctor. I heard them discussing. It’s real.”

Jaina stared. An army of trained orcs storming Lordaeron’s palace, led by the alcoholic beast-wrangler Aedelas Blackmoore? The notion was ridiculous. “Surely he was drunk.” Taretha shook her head furiously, squeezing down on Jaina’s hand. “I… well, I’ll have King Terenas informed,” Jaina whispered.

“No!” Taretha cried in a hush. “Who in Lordaeron will believe the word of a slave, or an orc?” Admittedly, even Jaina was struggling to suspend her disbelief. “Blackmoore is a war hero. He sends over half of his gladiator earnings directly to the throne. There’s no proof. Nothing will happen, and we servants and guards will be executed and replaced!”

“Prince Arthas will believe you,” Jaina insisted, not so confident that Arthas would. “He’ll ensure that Blackmoore is investigated and arrested for high treason.”

“No! Then Lordaeron will slay Thrall. They’ll kill all the orcs. Thrall isn’t a beast, none of them are.”

Jaina’s brows knitted in frustration. “What else can I do, then? Be silent, and allow Lordaeron to be attacked?”

“They’re still sick, and those who are recovering don’t wish to fight anyone. It would take months and months to train them all. Blackmoore’s betrayal may well be discovered before anything happens, and the orcs executed.”

Jaina stared at Taretha’s fervid expression, her mind racing. Taretha’s eyes watered as she continued in a frantic whisper.  

“You musn’t tell anyone! You promised me, and I need you more than ever.” She dropped to her knees and seized Jaina’s ankles, burying her head between Jaina’s feet, pleading despairingly. “Thrall can’t die. Please, please—” Jaina’s pulse thumped in her ears. “He’s not a monster, it’s Blackmoore who makes him do all those atrocious things in the arena…” Taretha’s fingers sank into her skin, pale and unyielding, like a wraith’s grip chaining Jaina to its gravestone. “Thrall is good-hearted… He’s just like you and me. All the orcs are… Please…”

Jaina wet her lips and swallowed. “Where will all the orcs go, if we set them free? And how could we do that? We can’t possibly let them escape all at once.” Jaina’s ears could scarcely believe her own words. Such an act was treason, punishable by death.

Taretha lifted her head, and her bright gaze bored straight up into Jaina, sending a shiver down her back. “I don’t know. That’s why I need you to help me. There are free orcs living in the mountains, aren’t there? Please, surely you have all the connections and books and magic at your fingertips—"

They froze at the sound of crunching footsteps in the distant forest. Jaina’s heart leapt in her throat with a splash of adrenaline. Taretha darted up to her feet and pressed her lips to Jaina’s ear.

“Please return to help us, I beg you. You can’t tell anyone this!” she whispered hurriedly. Panicking, Jaina scurried into a thicket of nearby shrubs and lay flat, numb with dread even as brambles tore through her clothes and hooked her skin. The footsteps grew closer, dragging through the dry leaves at a leisurely pace.

“Tari. There you are.” It was Langston’s voice, bored and somewhat irritated. “You walked outside in your sleep again? A servant saw you leave, and Blackmoore asked me to come fetch you. This is annoying.”

“Lord Langston, forgive me.”

Jaina listened breathlessly, terrified to turn her head. Her body felt as though it were floating, dreamlike.

“He’s talking about making you wear the dog chain at night again, you know. Remember how you peed all over yourself last time? And Blackmoore ordered me to mop you down?”

“I’m so sorry, Lord Langston. Please forgive me.”

“He thinks it’s funny to make me deal with you. Well, I don’t. Hurry up and get inside already.”

“Yes, right away, Lord Langston.”

The pair of footsteps faded away. Jaina lay petrified in the dirt, clutching her staff with white knuckles, unable to move even as the hair-like appendages of a spider scuttled across her cheek. After an indeterminate length of time, she rose from the bushes and stepped into the hushed forest clearing.

With a heaving breath, Jaina waved her staff and summoned a portal back to Dalaran. Her mind jittered as the shimmering image appeared; a thin layer of water lapped on shadowed sand, and the white stone of the city wall rose in the distance. Her intended destination was the forest as practiced, not the lakeshore, but this was close enough. It was a welcome sight, considering where else the portal could have jumped.

The glowing edges constricted in a sudden throb. Rattled with adrenaline and desperate to escape, Jaina crammed herself headlong through the tight opening. Tingling heat pressed around her hips as she squirmed forward, clawing at the damp sand in the manner of a trapped animal. The sound of the lake sloshed behind her ears as the portal shrank. Jaina was nearly hysterical with panic as she twisted to look; the rippling border was sealed around her left thigh, bearing down like a white-hot vise. For a plummeting moment of horror, she was convinced she’d leave a leg behind in Durnholde, just like in Kael’s textbook illustrations.

But with a strangled cry, Jaina pulled free, and the portal sucked itself soundlessly into a fleeting prick of magical energy. She lay crumpled on the beach, gasping for air.

Still numb and shaking, she picked up her staff and staggered to her feet. Jaina barely registered the heart-pounding, empty-headed walk up through the citadel. The time was well past midnight, and the deserted corridors remained dim and silent.  

Before she knew it, she was already shutting her bedroom door and stripping from her ruined, sandy clothing. Piles of books scattered the floor; she stumbled as she drifted to the bed. Her head hit the pillow, and the sound of leaves crunching in tangled hair was Jaina’s last memory before sleep swallowed her.

 

Chapter Text


 "His mind went back to the moment when Kael had surprised Arthas and Jaina in a kiss. The boy that Arthas had been then had known himself outmatched by the older, much more powerful mage.”  

—Arthas: Rise of the Lich King


 

Nathanos Marris, a human, as ranger lord? The proposal was unprecedented.

Just how exactly did Sylvanas come to hold Marris in such lofty esteem? Kael’s mind drifted darkly to thoughts of Alleria and Vereesa’s interracial love affairs, and from there, the gathering of elven women spectating Arthas on the lakeshore. Perhaps Sylvanas, too, was manifesting special fondness for a human man…

Kael banished the petty train of thought as he continued down the corridor toward his study. He already had a litany of other, more pertinent objections to draft in his letter. And he was well aware of the hypocrisy in these musings. But nevertheless…

His eyes widened as he turned the corner, nearly bumping headlong into Jaina.

“Jaina—Pardon me.” He’d scarcely seen her that week beyond a hasty, stilted lunch four days prior. Her appearance had been exhausted then; now, she looked frighteningly awful. Her pallid face was splotched with dark bags, and her hair on one side lumped up in a tangle. Even more concerning was the set of inflamed red scratches that lined her cheek and jawline.

“Pardon me,” she mumbled, staring beyond him with glazed eyes. She moved to drift past, barely sparing Kael a vacant glance. He clasped her shoulder, forcing her to pause.

“Are you ill?” He peered closer. “Jaina, what happened to your face?”

“My face?” she echoed. He stared as she struggled like molasses to arrange her features into a polite smile. “Oh, I fell… in a bush. It had thorns.”  

Kael’s sweeping brows lowered. “When did this happen? Your wounds are infected.”

“It doesn’t hurt, but thank you for the concern.” Her eyes dropped to his hand, which still rested on her robed shoulder. “Well, I’m going to the library now… Have a nice day, Kael.”

He caught her wrist, frowning. His letter to Sylvanas could wait. “Will you come with me first? Let me give you something for your scratches.”

“I’m fine. It’s quite all right,” she protested weakly as he steered her back down the hall to his room.

He sat Jaina down on the edge of his bed, and she waited in limp bewilderment as he searched through his bathroom cabinet and withdrew a bottle of ointment and a small cloth. The Saturday morning sunlight streamed through the open window, brightening the border of her messy hair to a glowing gold. He wondered fleetingly if he should fetch his comb too.  

“This balm will help repair your skin,” he said, sitting beside her and dabbing several drops onto the cloth. He tilted her chin with his fingers and began to smooth the ointment delicately over each scratch. The effect of the clear sheen was instantaneous as the red marks faded to pink, hair-thin lines. Kael appraised the improvement before locking eyes with Jaina.

“You should be more careful,” he murmured, and her gaze slid away shyly over his shoulder.

“Yes, I will.” Jaina’s voice shook. Was she still afraid of him? He cursed himself for succumbing to overeager impulses during their last encounter in his study. His self-restraint that day had collapsed like a cobweb, unable to withstand the insatiable craving born of yet another agonizing dream, the nostalgic temptation of that dress he’d once handled so intimately, the urgency to seal his claim before Arthas arrived and threw her over his shoulder like a ransacking troll.

“Thank you, I appreciate it,” she added, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear and shifting forward. The sleeve of her robes drooped, and Kael glimpsed another series of scratches marring the surface of her forearm. He grasped her hand, deftly pushing up the loose fabric before Jaina could stop him. Her skin from wrist to shoulder was speckled with angry red nicks.

“Quite a bush you fell in.”

He rolled up her sleeve and reached again for the ointment. Jaina said nothing while he worked, and she remained silent as he proceeded onward to her other arm. The astringent, herbal scent of the balm grew thick in the air between them.

Jaina balked as he knelt to the floor and began to lift the hem of her robes. “My legs are fine,” she said, pressing her thighs together with sudden apprehension. Kael paused before folding the fabric up to her knees. As expected, more cuts were revealed, some of which were dark with crusted blood. He frowned, eyeing them skeptically as he tapped more ointment from the bottle. What exactly had she done? Tumble down the side of a hill?

“Where was this bush? And what were you doing, may I ask?” he questioned, skimming the cloth along a red line that extended up the length of her shin. Jaina winced.  

“I was walking in the forest and tripped,” she said, evidently embarrassed. He decided not to press the matter further, focusing instead on the slender curve of her leg. He ran the slick cloth along her calf, pleased by the sensation of firm warmth beneath his fingers.    

“Accidents do happen,” he said softly. In spite of himself, tantalizing memories were creeping their way back into his head—kneeling before Jaina as she lay sprawled on velvet upholstery, dragging his lips along her sensitive thighs, pressing the tip of his tongue to trembling soaked satin… working his long fingers into her tight wet heat… listening eagerly to her moan as she experienced the first carnal touch of a man—

I wish it never happened. Everything…

Kael’s hands tensed with a twitch. Why was he plagued by this horrendous, voracious want? He inched her robes up further, keeping his features schooled impassively while his heart fluttered with guilty excitement. He would do nothing, of course—not unless she explicitly desired him—but he wondered, shamefully, if a brush of his lips to her legs would revive her buried lust for him. Jaina now appeared so piteously overtaxed, and Kael wanted nothing but to melt away her stress…

His spiral of impure thoughts was derailed by the sight of a peculiar mark, pink and linear, spanning her left thigh like a garter.   

“What’s this?” he asked sharply, just as Jaina yanked the hem of her robes back down. Kael held her knee and stared up at her, eyebrows raised.

“It’s nothing—"

A loud knock on wood sounded through the room, causing Jaina to flinch.  

“Never mind the door,” Kael muttered, discreetly attempting to slide up the fabric again. What was that? A burn? How curious. “May I look? Jaina—"

“Kael. Hello. Are you in there? Open up.”

The sound of Arthas’s muffled voice sent Jaina bolting upward off his bed, nearly kneeing Kael in the chest as she stood. Kael scarcely had time to react as he heard the door rattle and swing open behind him.

“Jaina?”

“Oh, Arthas, good morning,” Kael heard her say as her footsteps hurried across the floor. “Kael, I’ll be going now, thank you very much—" He blinked and turned in bewilderment. Jaina was gone, already escaping down the corridor, now replaced by Kael’s least favorite human standing in the middle of his bedroom. Arthas’s blond hair fell starkly over his navy shirt, and his face was surly with an accusatory stare.

“Hasn’t anyone taught you to wait after you knock?” Kael hissed, rising in a flow of red robes. Arthas’s glare remained fixed as he strode over and tossed a folded square of purple cloth to the bed. He stood in front of Kael and glanced down, eyes widening at the elf’s tented lap. On the floor nearby lay the slender glass bottle of oil.

Arthas looked scandalized. “What is this?!” 

“What are you doing here? Explain yourself!” Kael’s pulse spiked with frustration. He inhaled, attempting to calm himself.

Arthas ignored him, and his narrowed eyes snapped upward again. “Just what were you doing? Did you scratch her?” Despite Jaina’s hasty departure, Arthas had glimpsed hairline marks scattered across her arms and jawline, not unlike the ones clawed into his own ass cheek two weeks prior.

“Of course not.” Kael’s lip curled into a familiar sneer. “Try to rein back your stupidity before you open your mouth.”

“Keep your filthy talons away from Jaina. She has no interest in you.” Arthas’s gaze flicked to the elf’s fingernails, and his brow lowered darkly upon noticing their uncharacteristically short length.

I cut my nails for Jaina. Her skin is so delicate, after all.

Hot anger flared in Arthas’s chest at the memory. In Jaina’s absence, he’d almost started to forget precisely why he so despised Kael. The elf was insidious, dangerous, not merely an effeminate fop; as much as Arthas liked to think of Kael as a stuffy jealous rival to provoke for entertainment—and Kael was admittedly intriguing to Arthas, in all his immaculate elven deviance—nothing was remotely funny about him fucking Jaina.

“Oh? She doesn’t? Do tell me more next time you barge into my bedroom. I’ll be sure to pull her thighs off my ears and listen closely.” Kael’s voice dripped with disdain, and his emerald eyes glittered spitefully.    

“You're disgusting,” Arthas spat. He stepped threateningly close. “You know she’s afraid to spurn you. You’d probably score her next exam poorly if she did, wouldn’t you?”

Kael clenched his jaw. He knew by now that it was unwise to let Arthas rile him. He needed to maintain control.

“Or were you using your spells again?” said Arthas. “Playing around with her head?” He gave Kael a light shove, causing the elf to stumble backward into the wall behind him. Kael fixed him with a cool gaze, mouth set in a tight line. “Come on, Kael.” Arthas cocked his head, fisting a handful of crimson robes and tugging Kael forward. “You want to touch a human so badly? Jaina’s not fair—she can’t say no. Why not try your lechery on me again?” He pushed Kael back into the wall once more, leaning to his long, pointed ear. His harsh voice lowered. “Go ahead. Shove your tongue down my throat. See what happens this time.”

Kael’s posture was stiff, but he made no move to throw Arthas’s weight off. “Do be careful what you ask for, Arthas,” he said blandly, seemingly unfazed by the heated breath against his ear.

Arthas grasped Kael’s chin and turned his head. They stared eye-to-eye, noses barely touching.  

“I’m not afraid of you. Suck my dick.”

Kael’s hand darted up to snatch Arthas’s chin in return, and Arthas was stunned to feel his bared teeth separate slackly; his tongue lay limp and mute. The corners of Kael’s lips curled upward unpleasantly.

“You have quite a nasty mouth, Prince Menethil,” he said in a lilting mock. “It’s unbefitting for your title.” He’d had enough, really. And if Arthas intended to lord that unsavory alcohol-addled incident over him, well, two could play at that game.

Arthas’s hands lunged for Kael’s throat; Kael snapped his fingers, and Arthas hit the floor with a heavy thump, knees and elbows rendered limp like puppet joints. 

“Not today, Arthas. You’ve been spouting all this nonsense about spells, so here’s a real spell for you. Shall I take this demonstration further?”

Kael watched with vicious satisfaction as Arthas struggled to rise on his knees, glaring up at Kael with impotent rage. He licked his lips as the paralysis wore off his mouth, then immediately spat on Kael’s robes.

“Let me up, you dirty bastard—" His snarl was swiftly truncated as Kael grabbed his chin again, pinching down hard with a glow.

“Be quiet.” Kael’s smile spread wider as Arthas thrashed his shoulders. “’Dirty bastard’? My… You’re ever so uncouth. Who let you run amok outside your cage?” He tutted derisively, gazing down into Arthas’s livid eyes with glinting appraisal. “Hmph. You’re in luck today—I’ll teach you a few courtesies.” His words were measured, sharp and chilly beneath the contrived layer of gentility.

“Now, these concepts may fall beyond your comprehension, but do your best to follow.” Kael brushed back the blond hairs draped wildly over the human prince’s flushed face, rearranging his temporary student to appear a tad more presentable. It crossed his mind that Arthas wasn’t entirely disagreeable-looking, at least when his mouth ceased to spew insults and idiocy. Certainly after he arrived in Dalaran, girls around here were tittering about him, much to Kael’s irritation. There was a certain roguishness about his countenance that Kael found entirely unsuitable for a prince, and the coarse mannerisms behind closed doors only validated his instinctive dislike.

Arthas did have attractive ears, admittedly. Kael ran his blunted nail along the contours of cartilage, gripping harder with his other hand as Arthas fought to buck his head away.

“Let’s start with saying please,” Kael said finally. The mental effort required to keep Arthas weakened and restrained was beginning to gnaw his energy, and he could only toy with the writhing paladin for so long.

Kael released his chin, resulting in more projectile saliva spattering his robes. “Say please,” he warned, tweaking Arthas’s cheek. Arthas gnashed his jaws at Kael’s hand like a mad dog.  

“Please,” he rasped, and Kael smirked broadly. “Please go fuck yourself—"

His words fell to soundless air at the silken touch of Kael’s hand.

“You need to work on your enunciation. I didn’t quite catch that last part.” Kael’s voice was mild, but he stared down at Arthas with unmistakable loathing smoldering in his eyes. “You asked me to ‘fuck’ something, did you?” Arthas resumed his thrashing with renewed vigor, sweat beading on his brow as Kael’s fingers dropped from his cheek to undo the sash of his robes. Only the sound of labored breathing punctuated the silence as Kael pulled his cock free.

His grasp tightened punishingly around Arthas’s jaws, mashing at the shaved skin. His other hand stroked himself languidly as he continued to fix his rival with a contemptuous gaze.

“Since you requested so politely, I’ll certainly oblige you.”                                            

Kael kept his mind focused. His pulse remained calm even as a succession of hateful snippets paraded through his head, smothering any last reservations with torrential resentment—Arthas taunting him all over Dalaran, groping at Jaina with a triumphant leer; Arthas lunging at him in his study, enraging him with infuriating provocations; Arthas gagging his throat, humiliating him like a brothel toy; Arthas sinking into Jaina as she proclaimed her tearful adoration, Arthas holding her heart in his loutish, calloused, unworthy hands—

Kael licked the skin between his thumb and forefinger and began to jerk himself more purposefully. “You could use a lesson in fellatio etiquette, I think. Let’s keep this educational, shall we?” His clipped nails dug hard into the other man’s face, and his fingers glowed until Arthas’s neck stayed still and stiff. Satisfied, Kael thrust Arthas’s chin up and laid his cock across his parted lips.

Oh, what a sight. A pity there was no mirror in the vicinity to show Arthas. Kael held himself by the base, tapping his length of flesh down on Arthas’s helpless face with repeated smacks. Arthas blinked rapidly, and his eyes were positively wild with fury. If looks could kill… Well, they couldn’t, and Arthas was a dolt to pick fights with a mage.

“Today, I’ll teach you what to avoid,” Kael said, wedging the blunt tip between Arthas’s lips. “You should find these mistakes quite familiar.” Kael penetrated his slack mouth, repositioning his jaws to minimize the wet graze of teeth. The slick flesh of Arthas’s throat spasmed as Kael drew his face flush against his groin, fingers still hooking downward to grasp his chin. His other hand fisted in the roots of Arthas’s blond hair.

“Memorize this. Holding your partner’s head down? This is rude.”

Kael paused for a moment, observing as Arthas’s torso shuddered and heaved. Arthas truly brought out the worst in him, he mused. He gave the paladin a condescending pat on the head.

“Comfortable? No?” Arthas’s stifled breathing came in uneven snorts through his nose, and the muscled pad of his wet tongue twitched beneath Kael’s shaft. His gaze rolled upward to fix balefully on Kael, watering eyes bright with wrath. Kael yanked Arthas’s hair and began to force his head back and forth with a series of short tugs. Arthas writhed ineffectually; a frantic, muffled growling rose from his throat, and the thrusting motion broke the guttural sound into a feral staccato.   

“And this?” Kael’s lofty tone was now tinged with excitement. “Jerking anyone’s head around is quite barbaric, really. I wouldn’t recommend this. Most consider such behavior to be—" he paused to suck a breath of air through his clenched teeth, curling his fingers harder and scraping Arthas’s scalp, “—unforgivably discourteous.”

Kael maintained the ruthless rhythm, bracing back against the wall as Arthas choked and raged. Watery saliva trickled down Arthas’s chin and coated Kael’s fingers; his throat began to convulse, and Kael withdrew reluctantly, unwilling to make Arthas dribble vomit on his bedroom floor. He watched as Arthas shook and panted, desperate for unobstructed lungfuls of air.

The sight of Arthas Menethil kneeling, defeated and silenced by his cock, was obscenely satisfying—Kael was quite sure that this psychological gratification would eclipse any orgasm achieved by the end of their encounter. And tempting as it would be to watch semen drip down his fuming face, Kael felt a vindictive obligation to finish in his mouth. That was only commensurate justice, after all. With that thought in mind, he clutched Arthas’s head again and resumed his movements. 

“Another guideline to follow—try to inform your partner when you’re going to finish.” Arthas’s paralyzed flesh provided suitable sensation, and Kael steeled his concentration as he felt himself building to release. “For example—I’m telling you now, Arthas, that I intend to come shortly. That’s only polite.” His grip tensed in Arthas’s hair.

His climax was subdued, and Kael regarded the sensation with almost clinical cognizance as it rolled through his lower body. Aside from a slight squinting of his eyes, his face remained cold and impassive. He secured Arthas’s head and emptied tidily in his throat.

“I hope you found that enlightening,” Kael sneered, tucking himself back in his robes. He leaned his full weight against the wall, suddenly drained of energy. The mental exertion of maintaining the spell had already taken a hefty toll. He pushed his foot up onto Arthas’s chest and tipped him backward, leaving him sprawled and coughing on the carpet.

Kael glanced down, and his twinge of post-orgasm disgust dissipated upon noticing the taut bulge at Arthas’s crotch. A peal of laughter burst from his lips.

“Did you enjoy that?!” Kael’s eyes gleamed with mirthful incredulity. Arthas scrambled to his feet, swearing incoherently. He wobbled as the debilitation spell began to fade, but despite his weakness he spared no time in lunging forward, teeth bared, eyes flashing with vicious intent. Kael snapped his fingers, and Arthas’s muscular frame crashed instantly to the floor. He stepped forward and grinned down, eyebrows raised.

“Say thank you.”

Kael watched in amusement as Arthas writhed laboriously onto his knees, snarling like a beast. A throb of fatigue wracked Kael as he pinched Arthas’s ear and immobilized his head.

“Never mind. Perhaps expressing gratitude is a tad advanced for you.” Kael seated himself on the edge of the bed behind Arthas, still clutching the other man’s ear. “Now, regarding our original topic. Listen closely.” He bent forward, and the side of his face swept against a stray lock of Arthas’s tousled blond hair. “I won’t be spoken to like that about Jaina by—what did Antonidas call you, again?—ah, ‘Lordaeron’s most eligible bachelor.’ Now how about you stop groping Jaina in broom closets. She’s already mine; I’m escorting her to a formal event next week, so I advise that you cease these petty tantrums. Jealousy doesn’t become you, Arthas.” Beneath Kael’s touch, Arthas trembled hotly.

Kael released his ear and patted him on the shoulder. “That’s all. You’re dismissed.”

Arthas twisted immediately, staggering to a stand, swiping with an enervated arm. Kael sighed. He snapped his fingers, and the carpet bunched as Arthas jerked once more on the floor. The human was relentless. At this rate, Kael would need to remove him by force.

“Enough. I have no more time for these games. Be a good boy and kindly leave my room, please. Don’t make me turn you into a sheep and toss you outside.”

Arthas floundered to his feet. He straightened tall, and this time, his shaking white knuckles remained clenched at his side. His flailing fury had frozen into a rather eerily composed shell of hatred.

“I should have left you to drown,” he hissed. He paused silently, glaring down at Kael with murder shining in his eyes. “Jaina doesn’t see yet what a monster you are—but I do, and I swear—you will regret everything.”

Kael blinked like a cat in the sun. “Very well.”

For a long moment, they only stared at one another. Kael lifted his hand, thumb and middle finger pressed together.

Finally, Arthas broke away his venomous gaze and stormed from the room. The door slammed shut behind him with the noise of a thunderclap.

Monster? Kael snorted. How dramatic. But of course Arthas couldn’t bear to swallow what he dished; and he’d asked for it, really. Perhaps one day, an older and wiser Prince Menethil would look back on this incident as a valuable formative exercise in humility. Or he could recall the memory with frothing paroxysms of anger. Either way, it didn’t particularly matter to Kael.

He glanced beside him at the folded violet robes that had been tossed to the bed earlier. Why didn’t Arthas simply send a messenger? Kael stood, frowning, and placed the clothing in his closet.

He’d gotten quite sidetracked, and now his morning was off to a late start. Where was he before? Ah, his letter to Sylvanas regarding Nathanos Marris… 


 

Jaina paused by the edge of the large fountain, gazing at the money sprinkled across the blue mosaic bottom. Bright gold and silver glittered as the rippling water’s surface scattered flecks of sunlight.

The hoard was impressive, and its frequent replenishment hinted that the denizens of Dalaran were a sentimental populace. She wondered if any of the coins belonged to Kael. He didn’t seem the type for such whims, but then again, Jaina still considered the elven prince to be a rather mysterious person.   

How many wishes had she herself made here now? There had been so many…

I wish for Arthas to have a good day.

I wish for Arthas to visit soon.

I wish for Arthas to be accepted into the Silver Hand.

I wish for Arthas to think about me.

The list went on, and it was always his name on her lips each time she sprang a gold piece. All else in her academic sphere of existence here was measured and achieved by her own toil. Wishing fountains were fanciful things, and what else in her life was dreamy and nostalgic, if not her love for Arthas? Working hard to “earn” Arthas’s affection seemed to Jaina like trying to control when the sun shone. He appeared by her side of his own volition, and when they were separated, she could only hope fondly for their next reunion. 

I wish for Arthas to recover quickly, she thought, but then realized she’d left her purse back up in the citadel. The passing gesture slipped from her mind as she turned and continued toward the inn.

Earlier that Tuesday morning, an expedited letter had arrived from Uther, who by now was back in Lordaeron. He’d informed her that Arthas had fallen sick with fever, and though nurses were attending him, Uther requested that Jaina check on him when she found spare time. Arthas had a tendency to either stubbornly ignore his occasional bouts of illness, or hole himself away like an injured animal; and either way, he never took care of himself properly, so Jaina left the citadel as soon as she’d read the message, stopping only to comb her hair and change into a nicer outfit.

The inn was quiet as she walked through the lobby and ascended the stairs. At the end of the hallway, the door to Arthas’s room swung inward, and the back of a robed woman appeared in the doorframe. Her black hair was swept in a bun, and a tan briefcase hung from her hand.   

“I’ll return at noon with your lunch, Prince Menethil. Please rest in the meantime.”

Jaina hurried down the corridor, exchanging smiles as the nurse passed by. She stepped inside the room, and the door shut behind her with a soft click.

The silent air was dim and cool. An empty glass and pitcher of water sat on the bedside table, and a drawn curtain undulated gently over the open window. Arthas lay in bed on his side, facing the wall; the thin sheets were tangled over his waist, and his bare muscled back appeared damp with perspiration. Blond locks of hair spilled behind him across the pillow.

“Arthas, it’s me,” she said, sitting down on the side of the mattress. “How are you feeling?”

Arthas remained motionless as Jaina placed her hand on his shoulder. His flesh was clammy, and his arm was stippled with goosebumps. She reached to brush his hair back and touch his heated forehead.  

“You’re burning up,” she said worriedly, wishing he’d turn to look at her. Arthas took a rattling breath.

“I'm fine.” In spite of his voice’s raspy weakness, his tone carried a forceful edge. “If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to be alone now.”

“Arthas…” Jaina stroked her fingertips down his sweaty back. He shifted in agitation.

“I’ll be fine by tomorrow. Leave me be, Jaina."

Jaina withdrew her hand, somewhat stung by the rejection. She stared anxiously at the back of his head, wrestling with the temptation to expel the news of Durnholde, Taretha, Blackmoore, orcs, treason—the secret knowledge twisted from gut to throat, prickling her insides like a tangle of thorny vines. Her pulse quickened with a surge of nausea. A feeble part of Jaina wanted to dismiss it all as a nightmare, or perhaps a horrendously detailed delusion born of chronic sleep deprivation.  

In any case, she doubted that Arthas would believe in sparing Thrall or any of the orcs, or “greenskins,” as he called them. And even if he did argue for amnesty, his words had little power over decisions that fell ultimately to King Terenas, Lord Uther, or anyone else of higher relevant authority. Such a situation required delicate navigation, and subtlety was not among Arthas’s strong suits.

No. Promises to Taretha aside, she couldn’t talk to Arthas, not yet. She needed more time to think carefully. There was time, wasn’t there? Maybe everything truly had been just a disturbing fantasy…

Jaina took a deep breath.

“I missed you,” she said softly, and she meant it. “We haven’t seen each other in a while.”

The silence stretched, and a gust of wind from outside blew the curtain into a noiseless billow. 

Arthas grimaced at the wall. Indeed, the last time he’d seen her was several days prior, bolting guiltily from Kael’s bedroom, having just done Light-knows-what with the erect elf. Arthas felt his blood pound at the thought. He could hardly bear to look at Jaina right now.

Her fingers returned to trail along his spine, cool and dry. “When you’re feeling better, shall we go for that picnic?”

In spite of himself, he turned. Jaina’s face was angled down toward him, weary but still pretty, and her gold hair tumbled loose over the fabric of a white halterneck sundress. Arthas had always thought she looked good in white, and now she seemed to glow like an angel in the darkened room.

You’re like… a white candle. All white and gold.

His fevered brain momentarily transported him to that past Winter Veil Eve ball. He vividly remembered twirling a lock of her hair as he said that admiring line. He wondered if Kael could give her better compliments; the thought constricted his chest, and he reached to touch her. His fingertips landed in her lap, skimming across the raised texture of the embroidered flowers decorating her dress. The pattern reminded him of the daisies he had picked for her when they were children. She’d told him it was better to let them grow, so he’d stopped breaking their stems…

“Arthas,” she murmured, watching his hand drift. He tilted his chin to look at her. The concern on Jaina’s face was evident as she scrutinized his flushed skin and glassy eyes. She pushed her hair back over her shoulders and leaned closer, eyebrows knitted.

Arthas’s stomach plunged. He hadn’t seen it at first, subtle white over white and half obscured by her flowing blonde tresses; but there it was, terrible and translucent around her throat. His heart seized. The sight of it felt like a dagger sliding between his ribs.

“Your scarf,” he whispered, propping up his torso unsteadily on his elbows. The urge to tear it off roared within him, but his hands lay limp with ill dread. Perhaps an even worse adornment of Kael’s lurked behind the gossamer fabric…

Jaina’s lips tightened into a confused frown. “My scarf? Are you okay? Just lie back down.” She placed her palm gently on his chest, then blinked in dismay as he batted her wrist away.

“So you’re going to be his date?” he asked suddenly, locking her with his hurt gaze. “What is it, a mage party? An elf dinner? You’re going to dance with him?” And then slip away to his bedroom afterward?

She hesitated, mouth parted in surprise. “What? Who, Kael?”

Arthas’s eyes squinted accusatorily at her baffled tone. Of course he meant Kael’thas. Who else? Antonidas? Would Jaina ever tell him of her own accord?

“We’re only friends."

“Friends? Jaina, you’ve already lain with him.” For such a brainy scholar, Jaina could be exasperatingly naïve. The scarf shimmered, delicate and taunting.   

Jaina winced. “Arthas—"

“How many times now?” he demanded, ignoring the wounded tremble of his words. “What else are you up to with that elf?”

Jaina sputtered as she stood. Her cheeks blushed red, and she cast him a look of deep offense. “How rich! I’ve yet to sleep in his bed. Can you say the same for yourself?”

Yet. The word told Arthas all he needed to know, and it slashed him like a sword.

“Go ahead then,” he said, volume rising as his blood coursed beneath his skin, “Spread your thighs for him, wear his gifts around your neck like you’re his pet—you know, it’s revolting, do you even know how old he is?” She stared mutely, shocked by the coarse vitriol tumbling from his chapped lips. Arthas’s eyes flashed with burning indignation as he continued. “Of course you don't. He’s ashamed to admit it, can’t you see that? It's wrong! What he’s doing is no different than if Antonidas were to pour you drinks and slip his wrinkled hands under your clothes—"

“Stop it, Arthas!” She blanched and spun away, her voice high as she hastened across the room and grasped the doorknob. “You have no right—"

“That's fine, leave,” he said hoarsely, “Go run crying into the arms of that rapist elfAnd kiss his rotten groin again while you’re at it—

The door shut with a bang as Jaina fled the room. Arthas’s rattling breath broke into a fit of coughing, and he braced himself against the mattress before collapsing onto his back.

Who was Jaina to caress him, to gaze at him pityingly as though he were a dying dog, to fling allegations at him like a nosy wife, to ask about a picnic, all while secretly consorting with the man he despised the most?

Arthas swallowed hard as he blinked at the ceiling, desperately willing away the sense of grievous betrayal that was splitting a chasm inside of him.


 

“Oh, good evening, Kael.”

Jaina glanced up as Kael approached her table in the dining hall. He had watched her from afar for several minutes prior, while she sat absorbed in a textbook and consumed her cold dinner at the pace of a snail.

“May I join you?” He pulled out the chair opposite from her and set down a saucer and cup with a light clink, seating himself before she managed a reply. “You look like you’ve recovered well, I see.” She wore a white sleeveless dress today, and her exposed skin was flawless in appearance. 

“Yes, thank you very much for the ointment.” Jaina’s eyes drifted back down to her open book. Kael leaned over to flick a tiny crumb from the page, smiling, and she closed the tome politely. He recognized the title as belonging to his collection—Principles and Applications of Interlocational Linkage: Volume IV—and something elusive niggled at the back of his mind, but he brushed away the vague sense of concern.

“Of course,” Kael replied, eyeing her eagerly. The magi’s function was a mere three days away, and he’d by now spent several sleepless hours romantically fantasizing about what Jaina might wear, how she’d best like to dance, how ideal they would appear together before the entirety of the Kirin Tor. Surely by the end of the night, the status of their relationship would no longer be ambiguous.

He leaned forward, ears tinged pink. “Jaina, would you meet me earlier before the event this week? I’d like to enjoy your company for dinner as well.”

Jaina’s gaze slipped back down to the book cover, and she ran her fingers over its leather surface. “Oh, it’s Friday night, isn’t it? From nine until midnight?”

“Yes. No other plans have arisen, I hope?” Kael felt an unpleasant twinge of apprehension as Jaina bit her lip.

“Well…” she trailed off, still avoiding his expectant stare. “Perhaps you should attend with someone else. I might not be free.”

“Why not?” Kael stifled his wounded dismay. He’d asked her two weeks in advance, after all.

Jaina blinked, and her guilty eyes darted across the table in an oddly searching manner. “I have, oh, Arthas, Arthas has fallen ill. I visited him today, and his condition is severe. I may need to go be with him at the inn.” She picked up her fork and set it back down, suddenly flustered.

Arthas? Kael was incredulous. Jaina would forgo accompanying him in order to—to what, exactly? Dab Arthas’s forehead with a moist towel? Prod a soupspoon in his mouth? Wring her hands and watch him snore?  

“Surely he won’t expire while we’re there,” Kael said, resentment creeping into his voice. Perhaps he never should have flaunted his plans at Arthas before. Of course he would attempt to sabotage everything, and it would hardly surprise Kael if Arthas wasn’t genuinely ill in the slightest.

“I’m sorry,” said Jaina, and Kael’s heart began to sink into the seething pit of his stomach. “You know, anyone else here would be flattered to escort you instead.” She gestured feebly at the assorted magi dining at the surrounding tables, most of whom were elderly men. Kael stared, fingers pinched tight around the handle of his cup, and she glanced at him apologetically. “I’d love to go, but… You understand, don’t you?”

Kael inhaled deeply. “Jaina, please come with me,” he said. “Arthas will be fine.”

“Well… I just don’t think I can be there.” Jaina picked up her fork and began nudging the food on her plate, rearranging it as though searching for a hidden escape route. Kael’s chest knotted. Was the prospect of being his date so vile? Did Jaina consider him… lascivious? Or was Arthas’s condition truly perilous enough to warrant this absurd level of concern?

“Arthas will recover. I assure you,” Kael added, his eyes narrowing.    


 

Arthas craned his neck up at the noon sky. The open expanse was smooth and cloudless, blue like the shell of a robin egg. He dropped down in the soft grass and relished the sensation of warm summer wind sweeping back his hair. Daisies dotted the forest meadow and waved about in a sprightly dance; he picked one from beside him and plucked it apart, tossing its white petals to the breeze before flinging away the bare yellow head. The shredded flower pieces soared eastward, where the gleaming spires of Dalaran rose up like purple matchsticks in the distance.

Jaina usually sprawled out with him here, reading a book contentedly in the dappled shade of a tree. Now it was just Arthas. It was a nice day to relax outside, and he could enjoy a damn picnic by himself.

He opened his leather satchel and pulled out a lone bottle of wine. The picnic was a minimalist one, but without Jaina present, Arthas wasn't fussed. He set the bottle next to him and pulled off his boots and socks. The sun felt great on his skin, and on a whim, he stripped his shirt as well. Moments later, his pants followed. Why not? Nobody was around to witness the Prince of Lordaeron getting sauced in his underwear.

Just as the thought finished crossing his mind, muffled clopping sounded behind him. He turned his head, and his nose bumped against the snuffling ivory muzzle of a horse.

“Invincible?” Arthas’s eyes widened in incredulous delight. The horse nickered, acknowledging him with a placid dark gaze.

Yes, he could never forget the face of his most loyal companion. Somehow the fallen white steed had returned to its beloved master. Arthas leaned back in breathless elation, twisting his shoulders to embrace the creature’s powerful neck. His fingers combed fondly through the glossy mane.

“I missed you, dear friend.” Invincible flicked his ears, and Arthas began to laugh. “Shall we ride together once more?” He rose to his feet, grinning like a young boy.

A throat cleared, and the smile slid off Arthas’s face. Invincible’s back was already occupied. Kael stared down with a disdainful expression, and a crimson crown glittered atop his fair head.  

Arthas froze, rooted to the grass in shock. His lips fell slack, and his tongue lay paralyzed.

“Please be quick, Jaina,” said Kael in a bored tone. Behind him, Jaina slipped down sidesaddle and stepped toward Arthas. Her long white gown was blinding in the harsh sun, and she glowed so bright that her smile hurt his eyes. 

“Arthas! What are you doing here? Put your clothes back on, goodness.” Arthas glanced down, bewildered. Light, he’d removed his underwear too? The bottle of wine lay uncorked and empty at his feet. “You’ll miss the wedding. Sir Uther’s already waiting for you in Quel’Thalas.”

Wedding…?

Jaina’s cheeks were rosy, and her sapphire eyes sparkled with glee. “Did you ever imagine I’d be a queen?”

Yes, of course he had, many times…

“You’re happy for me, aren’t you? Jaina Sunstrider, how does it sound?” She laughed, and the noise was a giddy trill.

Jaina Sunstrider?

“Enough, Jaina,” Kael called from the stallion. “Shall we go?”

Jaina beamed at Arthas one last time and spun back to Kael, her gold hair swirling in the wind. Invincible turned his traitorous head away as well. Kael sat straight and regal, contempt glinting in his catlike green eyes.

Sensation began to flow back into Arthas’s numb jaws. “You…” he croaked. He was utterly naked, stripped too of all he loved most, and even the scalding spring of rage had been siphoned from his body. “You mount my horse—you mount my woman—what next?!”

Kael smiled leisurely as Jaina’s arms wrapped around his waist. “Mm. You, perhaps.”

The elf’s lips split open into a devilish grin, and the disturbing vision blurred to blotches behind a watery sheen. Arthas was horrified to hear an uncontrollable sob rise up in his throat, and his shoulders shook.

“Prince Menethil—”

The wobbling sensation intensified as wetness streamed down his face. The surrounding air dimmed, and something cool pressed against his forehead. Arthas opened his eyes.

“Oh good, you’re awake.”

The nurse smiled down at him and dabbed his cheeks with a cloth. He swiped her hand away and flung himself into a sitting position, his heart hammering; beads of sweat studded his bare chest. A shuddering breath brought him back to reality.

Water trickled as the nurse filled his glass. She placed it down on the bedside table next to a lit candle. “I apologize for disturbing your rest, but you have a visitor.”

Arthas kneaded his face. How late was it? The open sliver between the window curtains was pitch-black.

“A visitor?” he echoed hoarsely. 

“Prince Sunstrider is requesting to speak with you now.” Arthas paled as a wave of nausea wracked him. “Which shirt would you prefer?”

“Never mind the shirt. Send him away,” he rasped. Panicked agitation flared up within him, and his eyes snapped over to the closed door.

“Forgive me. I informed him that you were resting, but he insists the matter is urgent.” She retrieved a folded tunic from the closet and placed it on the side of the bed. “He’s waiting in the hallway, so I’ll bring him in now.”

“I said send him—" His cracked whisper dissolved into a fit of hacking coughs. Why did nobody listen to him around here? Was he a crown prince or not?  

Arthas was still doubled over and gasping for air as the door creaked open. Kael strode in and turned to the nurse with a polite nod.

“Thank you. I assure you, my visit will be brief,” Kael said, smiling at her pleasantly. She bowed and left the room, and the door shut behind her.

Arthas glared. His sword, where was his sword? Adrenaline flooded his veins, animating his weakened body as he struggled to extricate himself from the tangled bedsheets. He staggered to his feet and stood straight, ignoring the icy cramps rolling through his muscles. The thin breeches began to slouch off his hips, and he yanked the drawstrings to tie a hasty knot. His shins and knees were clouded with dark, splotchy bruises.

Kael folded his arms and appraised Arthas with a look of distaste. The candlelight illuminated his robes with a warm hue, and his extended eyebrows and ears cast tapered shadows on the wall behind him.

“So. You’re sick after all.” Kael stepped closer, and his eyes narrowed to shining green slits. “The flu, I’ve heard?”

Arthas’s fists clenched. “Get out,” he warned, suppressing another cough. His ragged breathing broke the silence with a rattling wheeze. Had this loathsome elf shown up merely to taunt him? Ill as he was, Arthas wouldn’t take insults lying down.

“In a minute.” Kael pulled a small paper box from his robes, and Arthas stared at it apprehensively. The green package featured stylized artwork of a red bird, and Thalassian writing lined the sides in compact white print. “I’ve brought you medicine. Now—"

“Shove it up your ass!” Arthas snarled. His face flushed with outraged disbelief. Were such nonsensical social interactions considered normal in Quel’Thalas? Or was Kael just toying with him even further?

Kael gave a thin smile. “It goes in your mouth, actually.” He unfolded the box flap and slid out a glass vial, filled with what appeared to be tiny scarlet beads. “Don’t trifle with me. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” His fingers rose up in a motionless snap, and Arthas gaped.

“Have a seat,” Kael said. Arthas’s bare feet remained fixed to the floor, even as desperate foreboding began to creep up through his abdomen.

“Why?” he croaked. Why was this sadistic elf bent on tormenting him? Arthas couldn’t recall a lick of Thalassian from his foreign language courses, and for all he knew, that box didn’t contain medicine at all. First it was a tongue, then it was a cock. What elven atrocity was Kael going to force down his throat this time?   

Kael shut his eyes in annoyance. “Sit,” he commanded.  

“I already told you to leave once,” Arthas said with perturbed defiance. “Now get out.” 

Kael’s eyes opened, and his sweeping blond brows pinched down darkly. A crisp snap punctuated the air, and Arthas tumbled back on the mattress’s edge.

“Must you be so insufferably contrary?” Kael stepped forward to loom over the bed, and the candle flame sent shadows trembling across his face. He scraped the wax seal off the vial and began flicking the glass with his fingernail. “You will not interfere.”

“Interfere with what?” Arthas’s bare chest heaved as he struggled to sit up. His fevered mind raced frantically, grasping for potential strategies to thwart the demented mage.

“Don’t play coy,” Kael hissed. He tucked the box back in his robes and pulled Arthas’s shoulder forward. “And don’t make me come back here, either. Be a healthy boy for Jaina tomorrow. If you aren’t up and about by Friday morning at the latest, then I assure you, influenza will be the least of your miseries.”

“What?” Arthas’s exclamation dissolved into a bout of violent coughing. Light, was this Jaina’s doing?

“Enough. Let’s not waste time.” Kael grabbed Arthas’s jaw, and the dreaded prickling sensation radiated through the lower half of his face. Kael’s fingers spread his teeth apart with a scissoring motion before tapping the contents of the vial into his mouth.

The flavor was metallic and earthy, reminiscent of blood and unwashed mushrooms. Arthas felt saliva pooling in his mouth as Kael slipped the mystery beads beneath his tongue with a series of careful prods.

“This medication is absorbed sublingually. Spit and vomit all you’d like afterward, but know that such petty resistance is pointless.”

With a satisfied expression, Kael shut Arthas’s jaws. He reached with his other hand to pull a small silver pocket watch from his robes. “Just a bit of waiting,” he muttered, staring down at the ticking needle.

The so-called medicine heated the flesh of Arthas’s mouth with a strange tingling. He strained to spit, but all he achieved was a spastic tremble. Kael’s fingers clenched hard in response, and the glow surrounding his knuckles flared.

Kael cast Arthas a warning glance. “No. You will ruin nothing,” he said coldly. He paused, scrutinizing Arthas’s agitation with a look of sharp suspicion. “And if you do,” he continued quietly, leaning closer, “then you will suffer. Exquisitely.”

Kael held Arthas’s gaze for several unblinking seconds before redirecting his attention to the watch. Arthas fumed, and his eyes remained riveted with bewilderment. What abstruse point was Jaina trying to communicate by orchestrating this? What could he possibly be ruining by lying in bed? What was this foul substance? And if this was yet another fever dream, where was the nurse to wake him up…?

An immense tide of fuzzy fatigue suddenly poured over him, soaking his bones in warmth and sapping the tension from his torso. His eyelids drooped as Kael clicked the metal watch closed and slipped it back in his robes.

“Rinse,” Kael ordered, releasing Arthas’s face and holding up the water glass. Arthas clasped it and took a gulp, grimacing at the harsh taste that saturated his tongue. He spat back in the cup, and ropey strands of saliva bled crimson clouds in the water. Kael snatched the glass back and strode to the bathroom, where he dumped the contents in the sink.

Arthas watched in a hazy stupor as Kael refilled the glass and returned it to the table. Sitting upright was rapidly becoming an insurmountable feat, but he stubbornly focused his mind and braced his palms on the mattress.

“If you develop a rash, send for me immediately.” Kael withdrew yet another small object from his robes, disc-like in shape and wrapped in yellow wax paper. “Here,” he said, dropping it beside the water glass. “I advise that you eat this. It clears the taste.” He loomed over Arthas once more and cast down a menacing, stony glare. “Now, I will await word of your full recovery by tomorrow night. Otherwise, anticipate my return. You will not stop me.

Arthas half expected the elf to melt into a ghoulish apparition and slither beneath his bed; instead, Kael turned and walked away to the door. Arthas reached for the wrapped object, fumbling as he tore the paper open to reveal some sort of oily miniature cake. A surge of patronized indignation swelled inside him, and he summoned the last vestiges of his strength to hurl it across the room, where it struck Kael square in the back of his head. A spray of crumbs clung to his sheet of silky blond hair. 

“Fuck you,” Arthas rasped. And fuck your cake.

Kael spun around, seething. “Why must you be such a child?” he hissed, teeth bared in snarl. Arthas’s head reeled with a peculiar throb; it felt as though someone were yanking a fleece blanket around his skull. His fingers twitched as he sank into the smooth cushioned plane of his bed, and he groaned in protest while the room faded to dark. Kael’s voice was now distorted to a murmuring echo.

“You’ll take your medicine. I’ll see to that personally.”

With the click of the shut door, Arthas fell unconscious.

 

Chapter Text


"She felt as though she was drowning, and he was the only solid thing in the world. This was what—who—she wanted.”  

—Arthas: Rise of the Lich King


  

Jaina stared in horror. Her throat tightened, and tears pricked in her eyes. She spun from Arthas’s darkened room and chased the nurse down the hallway.

“Wait, please,” she choked out, and the nurse paused and turned; she was the same black-haired woman from the day prior. “What’s wrong with him? I thought he had the flu? I just saw him yesterday, and he didn’t look like that.”

The nurse smiled reassuringly. “Prince Menethil experienced a severe allergic reaction to his dinner last night. We’ve medicated him accordingly, and he’s in no danger, I promise you.” Jaina nodded before hurrying back to Arthas. The air in his room smelled of crushed pine, and she shut the door behind her.

Like before, he lay facing the wall, and whether he was asleep or not, Jaina couldn’t tell. His entire body was slumped on top of the sheets and clad only in loose undergarments; his bare back and limbs were studded with welt-like hives, deep crimson like bloody thumb prints. A thin layer of dried pink cream had been smeared in patches across the afflicted skin. Candlelight glowed from the bedside table, illuminating the ghastly scene in a shimmering tint of gold.

“Arthas,” she said worriedly, standing over his bed. She reached down with a hesitant hand, and Arthas turned on his back. The rash bloomed dense on his chest, climbing upward to paint his neck red and scatter up his cheeks. Jaina gasped. “What happened? What did they have you eat?”

He gazed up at her blearily. “This is Kael's doing.” His voice was hoarse and slurred, and Jaina only continued to gawk. “Nobody will listen. Jaina… Why did you send him?”

Jaina inhaled a deep breath, snapping out of her shock as she pressed a palm to his scorching forehead. “What are you talking about?” His temperature felt even hotter than during her prior visit. He was delirious, she thought. “I didn’t send anyone.”

Arthas looked confused, and his eyes were clouded with dim hurt. “I don’t understand,” he said, voice cracking. Jaina shushed him as she rearranged his hair in a frantic, fidgety motion.

“Just… just lie down,” she stammered, although Arthas currently didn’t appear capable of much more than a listless flopping motion. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Okay,” he echoed vacantly.

Jaina hastened from the room, breaking into a jog as she descended the inn stairs. Her heart pounded with panic; regardless of the nurse’s reassurances, Jaina had never seen Arthas so sick before. Her boots clacked swiftly across the stone floor of the lobby, and she soon burst through the front entrance into the warm night air.

Some yards away, a tall man approached from the opposite side of the road. He stepped beneath a cluster of streetlights, and his flowing blond hair glowed beneath the turquoise illumination. Jaina did a double-take.

“Kael?” she called, pausing in her tracks. He walked toward her, smiling in the gloom. The tips of his long eyebrows glinted blue. “What are you doing here?” Perhaps the blunt question was rude; but it was quite late, and she had never known Kael to make a habit of strolling after sundown.

He stopped before her, examining her unnerved appearance before replying. “I’ve come to visit Arthas,” he said plainly. Jaina blinked. “He fares better today, I hope?”

“No,” she said, collecting her wits, although the mysterious relationship between Arthas and Kael still perplexed her. “He’s terrible. I’m going back to get my study materials, and then I’ll stay with him tonight.”

A jaundiced expression flitted across Kael’s face, so fleeting that she may have imagined it. “I see. That’s unfortunate news.” He inclined his head. “Well. I’ll be seeing him myself, now.”

Jaina nodded, already turning to hurry away to the citadel. A few seconds later, a curious sensation of doubt twinged within her through the cloud of anxiety. She hesitated at the intersection and looked behind her.

Halfway down the block, Kael still stood in front of the inn. His hand rested on the door handle, and he’d turned his face to watch her with an impassive green stare. Jaina waved nervously and pattered off into the night.

A breeze picked up, rustling the sleeves of Kael's robes. He sighed and stepped into the lobby. Jaina would sacrifice her valuable sleep to attend a flu-ridden boy? The way events were unfolding, she’d likely be sick by Friday as well. It seemed that his best efforts to intimidate Arthas into putting on a convincing performance were all for naught.

He walked across the lobby, passing a table of gnomes playing board games, and made his way up the stairs. The door to Arthas’s room at the end of the hallway was unlocked, and he let himself in quietly.

Kael blanched. He strode to the bedside; Arthas’s tired gaze tracked him, but the paladin made no apparent effort to stand. He looked remarkably miserable and exhausted, and although the defeated expression might have pleased Kael in another time and place, now it only engendered a surge of flustered dismay.

“You,” Arthas whispered. Kael seated himself and gingerly pried open Arthas’s mouth. As expected, his tongue was beet-red and swollen. Kael shut his eyes in frustration.

“I specifically instructed you to send for me.” Humans… They could be such unexpectedly frail creatures.

“You poisoned me.” Arthas’s voice was a slurred wheeze, and he barely mustered an accusatory tone. Kael ignored him and pulled out the green medication box.

“What are your allergies?” Arthas stayed silent, staring at the ceiling. Whether he was merely being stubborn or had fallen into a stupor, it wasn’t clear. “List them for me now,” Kael demanded.

“Nothing,” Arthas said finally. A scowl darkened Kael’s features.  

“Clearly it was something.” He peered at the tiny font printed on the side of the cardboard. “Are you sensitive to Kingsblood? Dreamfoil? Mageroyal? Kobold whisker? Powdered phoenix down, perhaps?”

Arthas’s eyes remained blank and glassy. Kael tucked the box away, and his frown deepened.

“This was not my intention. Under ordinary circumstances it’s a highly effective remedy, I assure you. I’ll return tomorrow with an alternate solution.”

Now Arthas gazed at him with groggy despondence. “Holy Light, no… Just go away,” he mumbled, shifting laboriously to face the wall. Residual flakes of dried balm rained down from his waist and shoulders, dotting the sheets with pink powder. He reached back to scratch at a large, bleeding welt.

“Don’t touch them,” Kael said sharply, grasping Arthas’s wrist. He snatched the bottle of unguent from the bedside table and tapped a dollop into his palm. “Lie on your stomach.” With the aid of a firm shove, the paladin’s heavy body rolled over with limp flump. Kael brushed away the locks of blond hair and began slathering the viscous medication over the most irritated patches, spreading it evenly up between Arthas’s shoulder blades. A muffled groan rose up from the pillow.

Kael stopped, suddenly perturbed. Why was he doing this? Arthas had a nurse. But maybe if Kael took care of this task now, that would prevent Jaina from tenderly reapplying the cream over Arthas’s entire rash-ridden hide, a rather sour prospect…

No, no, this was ridiculous logic. And he certainly didn’t want to be caught sitting here with greasy hands, rubbing all over a questionably conscious Arthas when Jaina returned. As it was, she already seemed leery of the nature of their relations. With that thought in mind, Kael stood and moved to wash his hands in the sink.

He paused in the center of the room and cast a final guilty glance at the ailing human prince. Arthas remained prone as Kael had left him, face buried in the pillow, and his back shuddered as he coughed raggedly.

It was only Wednesday, Kael reminded himself. Two days was plenty of allowance for a significant recovery. And dismal as Arthas’s condition was, he was certainly pliant now. Kael had access to a selection of other potent remedies. No, hope was not lost—his long-awaited date with Jaina Proudmoore would attain its fruition.

“Expect me tomorrow,” he said, standing in the doorframe. Arthas offered no reply, still laid out in a boneless heap. Kael supposed it was a better farewell than crumbs in his hair.


 

Arthas closed his eyes. Above him came the wet sound of unguent shaking in its bottle, followed by the cool pressure of hands on his spine.

“Your nurse only covered part of your back,” Jaina muttered. Arthas rarely knew her to brood or blame, but the frowning resentment was evident in her voice. “How could all of this happen? It’s appalling, honestly. I’ll write a report to Sir Uther tomorrow morning.” Her palms continued to run smoothly over the expanse of his shoulders, spreading to his ribs and the dip of his lower back. Arthas’s body was drained of energy; he lay utterly motionless, even as Jaina’s careful touch ignited a stinging fire along his skin. His brow furrowed as she moved to his thighs and calves.  

“I don’t trust these people to take care of you. Maybe I’ll bring separate meals.”

“It’s fine, Jaina,” he said croakily. He’d given up on explaining his disturbing encounter with Kael, as any attempts to do so only resulted in a worried stare and a thermometer wedged between his lips. Even Arthas was beginning to doubt his own fevered recollection of events.

Jaina was silent while she finished applying the balm. Arthas listened as she paced across the room and briefly turned on the sink, and he turned his head to watch her upon the sound of opening curtains. A small white moth flitted in through the black square of night. Outside in the distance, blue pinpricks of light glittered from the city streets.

“It’s so hot outside,” she said, leaning out the window and craning her neck. Arthas watched the breeze flutter her hair. “The stars are bright… I can see the dog constellation.”

She turned and smiled at him. In the dim room, all that shone was the fondness in her eyes. Arthas felt an aching, undefined heaviness in his chest. For a moment, he was a boy again in Lordaeron, and this was yet another night of blithe, endless summer with the girl from Kul Tiras.

His bleary gaze followed her as she pulled a book from her satchel and sat beside him on the bed. For a long while, only the occasional dry rasp of a turned page perforated the hushed air. Wax beads dripped leisurely down the candle, sweating an oily sheen beneath the warmth of the flame. Jaina tilted her head periodically to fix him with a concerned look.

“You don’t have to stay,” he said quietly.

Jaina closed the book and placed it at her feet. “Is the light keeping you awake?” Before he could answer, she leaned to blow out the candle. Now only wan moonlight penetrated the dense gloom, and a tendril of smoke unfurling from the wick emerged into view as Arthas’s vision adjusted. “You should rest now.”

A shuffling noise sounded as Jaina pulled off her boots. He felt his heart beating, steady and hard, as she slipped onto the mattress beside him.

“You’ll get sick,” he said. He turned his face toward the wall.

Jaina said nothing. Arthas shut his eyes as her body pressed against his side, surprisingly cool in the sweltering heat of the night. Her forehead leaned into the edge of his shoulder, and her bare feet brushed his own.

Jaina never stayed angry with him, and he wondered why she didn’t.

“I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely. In spite of the muggy air, a shiver rippled across his limbs and torso. Shame pooled within him, viscous and cold, seeping over the burnt coals of anger. His lips parted, and the breath hitched silently in his throat before he continued. 

“I… hope you have a good time. At your event.” The words tasted bland on his swollen tongue, and their sound was distant from his stuffy ears. He swallowed thickly.  

Jaina’s fingers trailed down a lock of his hair. “How exactly did you hear about that?” she asked softly.

“He told me.” Even the memory of Kael’s lilting taunt thudded emptily in his head.

For a while, Jaina remained quiet, and only her shallow breathing tickled his shoulder. “Oh,” she said finally, and a faint edge of hardness lined her tone. The silence stretched further.

“You know, I would have invited you, but it’s more of a networking social for local and visiting magi,” she said apologetically. “I’d forgotten about it until just yesterday.”

“It’s fine,” he whispered, and his face burned with humiliation. He knew acutely well that he was an outsider to Jaina’s new realm, and her attempt to placate his insecurity only made him feel like a child.

Why must you be such a child?

Arthas stared hollowly at the dark wall. Jaina was a year younger than himself, but sometimes he wondered when she’d left him behind. Kael could force him to his knees, yet Jaina’s even-tempered maturity would always remain painfully more humbling.

“I don’t actually plan to attend anymore,” she added, and Arthas turned in regret. Had he wanted this? This was no victory.

“Jaina…” He shifted on his side to face her, desperately arranging his features into something that felt less pathetic.  

“I’m just so busy, that’s all.” She smiled, and Arthas felt a lump expand in his throat. “But of course, I’d still like to go for a picnic.”

She nestled against his chest, and in spite of the inflamed skin, Arthas barely registered the stinging pain. He wrapped his arms around her, enveloping her with his clammy warmth.

“Let’s do that, then,” he murmured, chapped lips pressed to her hair. Contrition continued to trickle within him, and he inhaled deeply, curling his fingers into the fabric of her robes, losing himself in the moment’s sensation—the familiar width of her shoulders, the sweet scent of her hair, the smooth caress of her hands. How had their childhood years passed by so quickly? At least the best parts of Jaina were always the same.

I love you.

He opened his mouth, but once easy words were now caught tangled in his throat.

Would Jaina echo them back? Would she simply smile, or turn her head away completely?

He shut his eyes briefly. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Her reply was instantaneous, nearly as though she'd been waiting for his words. Maybe she had been. She was Jaina, after all, and when had Jaina ever not loved him? He clutched her to him tighter, and she peered up, eyes glistening in the dark. Her lips curved; the smile stayed steady, even as his chest shook against her.

Arthas’s fever burned through the night, and as he drifted in and out of sleep, Jaina remained in his arms throughout—Jaina draped across his chest in a meadow; Jaina pushed against an empty corridor wall; Jaina weeping in his shirt; Jaina writhing on cold marble; Jaina glowing in the light of ballroom chandeliers; Jaina curled silently in his bed…

Grey dawn had begun to radiate through the open window when she finally extricated her body and retrieved her boots and satchel. Arthas awoke as she slipped quietly out the door. He shifted instinctively to the spot where she’d lain, where the heat and lingering fragrance faded slowly from the sheets. When he slid into another dream, Jaina was there once more.


 

Later that morning, Arthas sat hunched on the edge of the mattress. He stared haggardly into a steaming mug of lemon tea that the nurse had brought earlier. A throbbing ache wracked his skull, and with a sigh, he dropped back onto his side. For a while he lay motionless, staring at the door, wondering idly when Jaina would next visit. Ideally he could just walk to the citadel himself by the next day.

The door swung open, and his insides knotted. For someone who complained about knocking etiquette, Kael lacked in that department as well.

“Good morning. Wide awake, I see,” Kael said coolly, striding to the desk and dragging the cushioned chair over near the bed. He seated himself before Arthas and placed the glossy satchel he carried onto his lap.

Arthas eyed him with weary trepidation. “Just leave,” he muttered.  

Kael paused, and his bright green gaze flicked down to the shadowed space beneath the bed. He bent forward to withdraw a tome bound in sturdy black cloth. “Studying while bedridden, are you? Hm.” A tasseled bookmark shaped like a snowflake fell from between the pages. Kael plucked it off the floor, frowning.

“That’s Jaina’s.” Arthas glimpsed the embossed metallic font on the cover—Physiology and Behavior of the Orc: Second Edition by Krastinov and Whitherlimb. Apparently that recent fixation had yet to wane. “She spent the night,” he added, unable to help himself.  

Arthas watched as a familiar expression of brooding frustration darkened Kael’s face. It was a sight he once savored, and undoubtedly still would, if only he weren’t debilitated by illness and utterly at the mercy of the jealous mage.

“I’ll return it to her,” Kael said, sticking the paper snowflake back inside the book.

Arthas felt his irritation stir. “She’ll come back today anyway.”

Kael looked up, and their eyes locked in a glare. “I’ll return it,” he repeated coldly, tucking the book into his satchel. “Now, let’s try something else, shall we?” He removed a cylindrical bottle and placed it on the bedside table, followed by a small glass beaker. The transparent bottle contained a mysterious fluid, vivid magenta and alarmingly luminescent. “This should avoid triggering any complications with your incompetent immune system.”

“What is that?” Arthas’s stomach flopped as Kael poured the substance into the beaker, where it drizzled with the consistency of hot honey. He squinted at the label on the bottle; it featured a picture of a speckled black flower surrounded by yet more Thalassian script. He wondered if it occurred to Kael that elven remedies might not translate well to medicine for humans.

“It’s medicine. You’ll drink it.” Kael appraised him with narrowed eyes as he set down the bottle.

“I won’t.” Arthas stared back balefully, lips tensed. Never mind personal grudges; he was now convinced that Kael had no credibility whatsoever in this field. Or perhaps the elf was indeed inflicting intentional suffering, in which case he was more than adept.

Kael smiled humorlessly and reached into his satchel. “I anticipated your resistance,” he said, pulling out a gleaming metal apparatus. It was a slender pipe, slightly curved, blunted at one end and flared into a funnel at the other.  

Arthas felt his insides shrivel. “What is that?” The function was grotesquely obvious, and the question only served to stall for time as he processed his dismay.

“Ah, this?” Kael asked silkily, stroking his long fingers along the metal tube. “I had this delivered from an agricultural supply vendor based in Lordaeron. Do you enjoy goose liver?”

Arthas paled. He hated Kael. His eyes darted desperately to the door.

“So you’re familiar with gavage, then. Yes, I find the practice quite appalling too. In Quel’Thalas, such gratuitously cruel treatment of animals is prohibited. Can you imagine this device sliding down your esophagus every morning, noon, and evening, fattening you just shy of bursting… whether you like it or not?” Kael flashed another bland smile, and his fingertips reached to tease along Arthas’s bare abdomen. “I wouldn’t wish such a fate on even the simplest of creatures.”

Arthas flopped out his palm. “I’ll drink your damn syrup,” he said hoarsely. Kael would obviously have his terrible way with him regardless, and compliance seemed now the most dignified option.  

“Excellent.”

Arthas sat up, wincing as his muscles ached in protest. He twisted his mouth reluctantly as Kael held out the beaker.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked. “I’ll recover on my own.”

Kael stared, impassive and expectant. Arthas took the beaker. He looked down at several silver bubbles straining their way to the treacly surface.

“Is this some twisted manner of apology?”

Kael sniffed. “No.”

Arthas’s focus switched helplessly between the glowing concoction and Kael’s flinty expression. “You’re… using me to impress Jaina?”

“Your talkativeness today is auspicious, indeed.” Kael tapped his crimson nails on the side of the metal funnel. “Hurry and drink.”

Uther often said that sometimes, villainy simply had no rhyme or reason. Arthas cast aside his questions and downed the contents of the beaker. With his swollen tongue and congested sinuses, any flavor possessed by the thick, slippery fluid was undetectable. Kael took back the empty container and withdrew another glass bottle from his bag, which Arthas recognized as the same one from Kael’s bedroom floor.

“Here,” Kael said, placing the clear ointment on the bedside table. “For your rash. Apply it to your face, at least. And don’t think for a second of throwing the bottle at my head as I leave.” His hands clenched around the gavage instrument, and his extended eyebrows angled steeply over the sinister slits of his eyes. Arthas lay back down and rolled to face the wall. If only Jaina could witness her mild-mannered elven prince now, he thought darkly. Of course she only ever saw the book-alphabetizing, tea-sipping version, not this demon brandishing a feeding tube.

Kael’s satchel rustled, followed by the sound of footsteps pacing across the room. The door opened and shut.

Arthas waited with tense apprehension, planning to induce himself to vomit in the bathroom. A minute passed, perhaps two. He detected nothing amiss about his stomach or head, at least not beyond his current ill state, but a terrible sense of foreboding permeated the room.  

Just as he slung his legs off the edge of the bed, the door creaked open. Arthas flinched. Kael stared suspiciously from the doorway.

“You can leave,” Arthas croaked, retracting his feet back onto the mattress. He lay still, heart pounding. The door closed.

Only one question echoed through the fogging ache between his ears. Why?  


 

It was now Friday night, and for all of Kael’s efforts, his plans had crumbled to nothing but ash and disappointment. He walked briskly through the blue-lit streets of Dalaran, and the wind flapped the gilded edges of his formal robes as he headed to the venue alone. The foreign sting of rejection still prickled in his chest. 

Due to a slew of interferences that day—an impromptu council meeting to discuss last-minute approval of a controversial presentation at Saturday’s symposium, high priority letters from Quel’Thalas requiring immediate replies, a large carrion bird inexplicably squeezing its way through the open window of his study—there had simply been no time to check on Arthas’s recovery. And in the end, that didn’t even matter. Jaina had stopped by his desk earlier that afternoon, tucking her hair behind her ears and apologizing for her inability to attend with him. Being "busy” was her desultory explanation, and she sheepishly departed the room while Kael sat wounded between his stacks of paperwork.

Even Rommath, who formerly planned to visit Dalaran for the biannual gathering, was unable to leave Silvermoon due to unforeseen demands from Grand Magister Belo’vir. The event now represented little more than a nuisance obligation to Kael, and after hastily sending off his last letter, he threw on his change of clothes and left the citadel nearly an hour late.

Kael cut through an alleyway and stepped out into a cobbled plaza. The broad area was deserted, save for a dark cloaked figure hastening eastward along the topiary-lined perimeter. He recognized the gait instantly; after all, he'd spent enough time by now staring after Jaina as she walked away.

“Jaina,” he called. The figure gave a start and turned. As expected, Jaina’s unmistakable face was shadowed beneath the drooping fabric of the cowl. Kael strode toward her. She remained motionless, frozen like a cornered mouse before a cat.

He stopped in front of her and loomed tall, eyeing her with disbelief. She was clutching her staff beneath the billowing folds of her cloak, and its sharp crystal head poked free to glow in the night air.

“Oh, hello,” she blurted.

“Where are you going?” he asked. It was past ten, and all the shops had closed by now.

Jaina blinked, looking distinctly uncomfortable. “I’m visiting Arthas. He’s… I’m still worried about him.”

“Ah. Is that so?” Kael glanced pointedly at her staff. “His inn is west of here, is it not?”

“Y-yes,” she stammered. “I got sidetracked.”

Crickets chirped from the flowerbeds as Kael appraised her. He reached his hands up to push back her hood; Jaina flinched backward, and a faint expression of hurt crossed his features.

“I really must hurry. Good night, Kael.” She bowed her head. “I hope you have a nice time,” she added, skimming her gaze down and up Kael’s formal robes with what he imagined was a hint of wistfulness.

Kael wrestled back his frustration as he bit the tide of questions on his tongue. “Thank you,” he began, hoping Jaina would wait just a moment more, but she was already turning away to slink off into a dim side street.

He stood there for several seconds, frowning, before continuing toward the venue. What use did Jaina have for a hooded cloak on such a balmy night, let alone her staff? Where else could she possibly be going, if not to visit Arthas? And what about this furtive activity granted it precedence over one of the most high-profile magi events of the year?   

Around the next corner, the entrance to the Dalaran Galleria spilled gold light onto the lavender pavement. Kael cast aside the seeds of brooding suspicion that were taking root within him. There would be time later to ponder that mystery, but for now, nothing would be gained from lamenting Jaina’s Friday night priorities.

The wide indoor court was bustling with crowds of magi, and the air thrummed with chatter punctuated by boisterous laughter and shrill exclamations. Enchanted instruments gleamed from a raised platform in the corner; piano keys glowed as they dipped gracefully on their own, and a levitating bow swept across the strings of a cello with supernatural zeal. Overhead, ruby clouds of bougainvillea cascaded downward from the rails of catwalk balconies, on which more ornately robed guests clustered like tropical birds amidst strings of lanterns. High above them, colorful reflections dancing on the glass ceiling were pinpricked with starlight from the night sky beyond. 

A Kirin Tor servant weaved over with a platter of cocktails, and Kael plucked one as he entered the teeming mass. Both fresh and familiar faces flashed in and out of view, and the next forty minutes or so were spent exchanging pleasantries, discussing recent projects, and engaging in a seemingly endless stream of introductions. Many prospective scholars were present, and Kael made his best effort to memorize the deluge of new names—Calandra, Elandra, Corla, Silva, Tiare… the list spooled on. Apparently an unprecedented number of women would be joining the ranks of the Kirin Tor by the next year. Kael wondered guiltily if the curtain in the examination room had been repaired yet.

He moved toward the refreshment counter at the northern wall, navigating between carved marble pillars and tipsy old men. On the way he glimpsed Khadgar on the opposite edge of the polished dance floor, clutching a champagne glass as someone’s hand stroked coaxingly at the sleeve of his robes. Over at the tables, a congregation of students listened while Kel’Thuzad gestured in the midst of an animated speech. 

The black-clothed food table was laden with dainty hors d’ouvres, their plates arranged around the bases of glittering ice statues that towered and twisted in the shape of mana wyrms. An assortment of bottles formed a line along the middle. Kael had just begun to peruse the wine list when Ansirem Runeweaver appeared beside him. The grizzled archmage was a loquacious drinker, and Kael was soon ensnared as the lone audience for his mournful tales of Catelyn, his beloved only child who’d recently fled Dalaran to pursue a life of piracy in Stranglethorn Vale.

“’Boring,’ that’s what she called it here. She said life in Dalaran was nothing but ‘musty books’ and, I quote, ‘grey-haired, stiff-backed, stuffy mages.’” Ansirem looked grieved. “My contacts in Booty Bay inform me she’s been seduced onto a leaky boat by a man known only as Pretty Boy Duncan. Pretty Boy Duncan!” 

“Perhaps she’ll return, once she’s quenched her thirst for exploration,” Kael suggested, pouring his second glass of wine.  

“I’ll be dead by then! Moldering in my grave!” Ansirem drained his glass and reached for a tiny chocolate tart. “Ohhh. The rash, fickle heart of a young woman. Why a pirate? Why couldn’t she be a mage?”

“There’s time enough, surely.” Kael was perturbed to notice wetness wobbling in Ansirem’s eyes. “How goes progress on your most recent book?” he asked, hoping to derail the downward spiral of a heartbroken father.

“Oh, it’s all finished! The first edition of Portals are NOT Garbage Bins has been published as of this week. It’s an ethical piece, although fairly technical as well.”

“Your writing is sensational. I know someone who’d love to get her hands on your latest work.” Yes, Jaina and her curious preoccupation with portals… Kael’s smile faltered slightly.

“Come find me at tomorrow’s symposium, Kael’thas. I’ll be giving away signed copies.” Ansirem looked pleased. He turned his head to the direction of the dance floor, and his gaze lit up even further. “Ah, if you’ll pardon me, I see my colleague’s apprentice over there. Wait here please, I’ll introduce you two.”   

Kael nodded and shifted his focus to the table. He stared absentmindedly at the cheese platter, eyes narrowing as he nursed his wine. Portals… of course. His mind flashed back to the garter-like burn on Jaina’s thigh. What quality portal could a mage of her standing possibly conjure? Gifted as Jaina was, she was a novice nonetheless. Her summons couldn’t be much larger than a rabbit hole. Perhaps that was why Kael had seen her barely eating lately. But where was she sticking her limbs off to? And why now, specifically?  

“Your apprentice, Miss Proudmoore. She’s not here with you?”

Kael’s pointed ears pricked, and he looked to the source of Jaina’s mention. Off to his left and beyond a cluster of several guests stood Antonidas, along with another man who Kael had never seen before. He was a lanky human, perhaps in his late forties, with pale skin and a trimmed beard. He wore an elegant set of black and maroon formal robes, and his wheat-brown hair was slicked back neatly.

“Jaina’s not feeling well, regrettably. She’s taken the day to rest,” replied Antonidas. Kael pinched the stem of his wine glass, now listening intently as he eyed the pair through the crowded gap.

“Mm. Women and their indispositions.”

Antonidas raised his bushy eyebrows. “The women here aren’t any more prone than the men are.”

“Indeed. Ah, I’ve been meaning to ask, have you any updates on the status of my shipment request? The sexual stimulant.” Kael stepped closer, straining to filter the man’s low-pitched voice through the background babble.

“Not yet, I’m afraid. The importation paperwork is always slow to process.” Antonidas took a sip from his glass. “I do apologize for our servants misplacing the first delivery. That wasn’t the only incident, unfortunately.”

“Perhaps one of them ran off with that little philter, hm? The packaging is hardly clinical.” The man smirked wryly, giving his glass of red wine a swirl.

Antonidas’s brows knitted. “Remind me again. What is this project of Lord Blackmoore’s? Exotic animal breeding, you said?”

“Yes. They’ve all been rather… listless, and pheromones have such a short shelf-life. Aedelas will be pitching a funding grant request from King Terenas to construct a zoo. He claims the revenue would be unprecedented.”

“A zoo is an ambitious venture, to be sure.” Antonidas didn’t appear enthused by the prospect, but then again, Kael couldn’t recall a time when the solemn archmage acted particularly excited about anything.

The man grinned before sipping his wine, and his straight teeth gleamed bright white. “Aedelas is a man of many grand ambitions.”

The crowd of guests impeding Kael’s view wandered away to the seating area, and Antonidas’s sweeping gaze fell upon Kael.

“Ah, Kael’thas. I was wondering where you were,” he said, stepping over. The brown-haired man approached beside him.

“It’s quite a crowd to get lost in this year,” Kael replied, and they exchanged friendly smiles. Antonidas gestured to his companion.  

“This is my colleague Dr. Krastinov—an esteemed physician, and a talented mage,” Antonidas said. “Jaina and I worked with him in Durnholde last month while investigating the orcs’ affliction.” The man, Krastinov, bowed.

“Prince Sunstrider, it's an honor to meet you,” he said, reaching to shake Kael’s hand.

Kael smiled. “The pleasure is mine.” Krastinov’s grip was firm and cool.

“You’ve spent time recently with Prince Arthas Menethil, haven’t you?” Antonidas asked Kael, who wondered just what exactly the archmage had heard. “Krastinov will be transferring soon to work as a royal doctor in the palace of Lordaeron. Now, would you say—"

“Kael’thas, thank you for waiting!” Antonidas’s inquiry was cut off by the abrupt reappearance of Ansirem Runeweaver, who now moved with a faint teeter and a human girl in tow. Antonidas’s moustache twitched. “Oh. Pardon me,” said Ansirem, only now noticing Antonidas and Krastinov.

“It’s quite all right," Antonidas said. "Kael’thas, enjoy your night. We’ll continue our conversation later, perhaps.” Kael nodded, and Krastinov bowed once more before departing into the crowd with Antonidas.   

Kael turned his full attention toward Ansirem, who beamed and placed his hand on the shoulder of the petite blonde beside him. “Allow me to introduce you to Lady Delth, the apprentice to my colleague in Stratholme, and an aspiring young author. She gained admittance to the Kirin Tor several years ago, and she’ll be studying here next spring after finishing her extensive travels abroad.”  

The girl dropped into a curtsy, plucking up the shimmering fabric of her emerald dress robes. “Your Highness,” she said, barely audible over the din of the crowd.

Kael smiled. “Please, call me Kael.” The girl blushed.

“Lady Delth has a particular fascination with elven history,” said Ansirem. “She would be honored to share a dance with the prince of Quel’Thalas.”

Kael glanced at the ornate clock face mounted behind the refreshment table. It was a quarter past eleven, and although he’d hoped to make his exit soon, it appeared that dancing was now unavoidable. The lights had gradually dimmed over the past hour; Khadgar’s sweating face swayed by from somewhere deeper in the dense flock of couples.

“It would be my privilege, Lady Delth,” Kael said pleasantly, extending his hand to the red-faced girl. Ansirem watched with fondness as Kael led her to the floor.

Perhaps it was the wine—Kael had never been a jovial drinker—or maybe it was the girl’s vague, almost taunting resemblance to Jaina, but as they swung in step, Kael caught himself beginning to brood. The warmth of her shoulder against his palm, the musky perfume of her plaited hair, the crystal blue of her kohl-lined eyes... it all served to brew an inexplicable frustration within him.

The last violin bow glided to a halt, and he bade the girl a polite farewell. By the time the night air greeted him beyond the venue doors, a foul-tempered unrest simmered steadily in Kael’s head.

Out on the street pavement, a couple continued their dance to the performance of crickets. The woman twirled, and the wind blew her hair across her face as she cried peals of giddy laughter. Kael strode by sourly in the direction of Arthas’s inn.

Less than ten minutes later, he arrived at his destination. The inn lobby was quiet and deserted, as was the hallway leading to Arthas’s room. Kael rapped his knuckles on the wood and waited.

“Come in,” came Arthas’s voice. He certainly sounded better.

Kael opened the door. Arthas sat at his desk with his hair tied back, clad in pants and a sleeveless top. The blood-red hives across his body had flattened and faded to a subtle pink, and his face had regained its normal healthy hue. Before him on the table lay a silver broadsword, alongside a bottle of oil and a clump of metal wool. A lantern burned bright from the built-in bookshelf.

Arthas turned his head, and his eyes narrowed. He picked up his sword, resting the flat of the blade over his shoulder as he stood.

“Yes?” His voice was strong, and he paced toward Kael with a flinty stare. “I’m in no need of elf doctors today. Nor was I ever, for that matter.”

“When did Jaina leave here?” Kael asked tersely. Arthas remained unsurpassed as his least favorite conversational partner, and he had no desire to prolong their chat with snippy exchanges.

Arthas stopped a couple feet away and eyed Kael’s embellished formal robes. “Noon. Why?”

“Be honest.”

Arthas’s hard gaze flicked back up. “I am.”

“Do you know where she is?” Kael kept his features wooden, unwilling to submit more details than necessary.

“No. Why?” Arthas replied, his brow creasing further. He studied Kael intently.

“It’s urgent,” Kael said cagily. “I need to know. If you have information, tell me now.”

“By all means, continue to explain nothing whatsoever.” Arthas’s mouth twisted in irritation as he tapped the sword against his shoulder. “Why not ask her yourself tomorrow? Or don’t—seeing as how you’re not her man, and where she goes is none of your business.”

Kael glared, rankled. “I much preferred you with a bloated tongue. Perhaps—”

“Okay, get lost.” The door swung shut in Kael’s face with a firm bang.

Kael sniffed and stalked back down the corridor, fists clenched. Trust Arthas to be wholly unhelpful, he thought. Regardless, he’d confirmed his suspicions; Jaina had spent her night doing something else entirely. But what?

By the point at which he’d arrived back at the citadel, Kael’s somewhat inebriated mind was swarming like a nest of wasps. He marched to Jaina’s bedroom and knocked loudly on the door.

This wasn’t his place, arguably—but no, her activities were dangerous. Hadn’t he explicitly stated that amateur portals were a serious hazard? Any Kirin Tor authority would have this discussion with her. And on a more honest level, Kael was simply tired of being held at arm’s length, shunted aside with polite smiles, mumbled excuses, halting hands, hasty departures.

“Jaina.” He knocked again.

Kael pulled out his pocket watch. The time was past midnight. Was she inside, ignoring him? Or was she still out, slinking around the dead of night in a black cloak? He wasn’t sure which prospect was worse.  

He stood there in silence, struggling internally as he placed his hand on the doorknob. The sensible part of him protested this behavior as unacceptably demanding, invasive, uninvited. But when had passive, polite consideration yielded him anything at all with Jaina? Certainly Arthas wouldn’t think twice about barging in, and who did Jaina adore more in the world than Arthas “Manners Optional” Menethil? Yes, perhaps he would take a leaf out of Arthas’s book tonight.

His grasp tightened around the cold brass. His knuckles glowed, and with a click, the door creaked open.

 

Chapter Text


 “And yet, Prince Kael'thas unnerved her. She wasn't quite sure what it was."

—Arthas: Rise of the Lich King  


 

I am sorry for my absence. I cannot leave at night this week. I believe the situation will be temporary.

Blackmoore is constructing extra enclosures and transferring more orcs from neighboring camps. He tried to make Thrall and other orcs father children, as he believes all will obey him if he owns their sons and daughters. Conditions are crowded and there are now over three hundred sick orcs here. I heard him speak to the doctor about killing the elderly to make space. I am afraid of what else they will do. 

Thrall escaped on Wednesday night. I brought the guard coffee with sedatives. Blackmoore was furious and had the guard beheaded as soon as he found him sleeping. The doctor suggested my involvement, but Blackmoore and Lord Langston did not listen. He asked to examine the guard, although by then, the body was thrown to the bears.

Word has not spread beyond Durnholde. Blackmoore sent men to find Thrall—please pray for his safety.   

Thrall intends to return for me and everyone else. Blackmoore is hiring more guards, and I think it is too dangerous for him to come back. I told him that I have made a powerful friend who will help free everyone, and then I will flee with Mother to Lordaeron City.

Please come back to meet me next week. Provided is a map of the camps and the new guard posts. Could everyone escape with your portal?      

Thank you for everything. When nobody will answer the suffering here, you alone are good and right. You are the answer to our prayers. This is a token of my deepest gratitude.

Yours,

Taretha Foxton

Jaina’s hand trembled as she clutched the wrinkled paper; Taretha’s tiny, precise handwriting swam before her eyes. She snuffed the flame from her palm and tucked the letter in her cloak.

Over three hundred orcs… storming through her pathetic, unstable portal? How? And to where? All the way to the Alterac Mountains? Perhaps Taretha regarded magi as omnipotent miracle-wielders, but Jaina didn’t feel quite so powerful in the slightest.  

She reached further in the log and withdrew a folded, hand-drawn map. The picture was a sprawl of squares in the gloom, and settled in the crease lay a slinky silver necklace. Jaina shoved the items away in her pocket before pulling out a pencil and scrap of paper.

I promise to return, she scribbled, even as she wondered why she continued to make such promises. She wedged the message in the recesses of rotting wood, and her stomach twisted.

She stood and turned her head toward Durnholde Keep, recalling her last encounter. Framed by dim tree boughs, the fortress loomed against the night sky like a quiet black beast. Was Taretha chained up right now like a hound, throat dark with bruises and thighs wet with urine, praying for a savior to materialize in a sparkling cloud of righteous glory and release a massive stampede of orcs? A crushing sense of impotence washed over Jaina.  

The muggy air seemed suffocating, and she broke from her mounting paralysis to take a deep breath. With a sweep of her staff, a cramped portal unfurled in the darkness before her, hovering unsteadily and shuddering at the border. Jaina dove through to emerge into the forest east of Dalaran.

The walk back through the city passed in a numb haze. Jaina moved briskly, focusing only on the rhythmic swing of her limbs and the passage of air in her lungs. Before she knew it, the Violet Citadel’s open gates rose before her.

She halted, seized by a bolt of anxiety. The prospect of her book-scattered bedroom now seemed less like a comfortable retreat, and more of a chaotic confinement. Mindlessly, she found herself instead detouring into the citadel gardens toward her favorite stone bench. Waxy fallen petals littered the seat and glowed white beneath the moonlight.

Jaina sat in silence amidst the foliage, heart hammering. What was she doing, really?

She thought back to her conversation with Uther, and the reports of orcs stealing livestock. If what Uther suspected was the truth, then there were already plenty of orcs hiding in the Alterac Mountains… but what if there weren’t? How would so many loosed orcs support themselves? Where would they sleep, and what would they eat?  

And then there was the apple of Blackmoore’s eye—young, powerful, keenly intelligent Thrall, adept in combat, trained in military strategy, educated to read and write at an advanced level, raised to overthrow a kingdom.

Thrall is good-hearted… He’s just like you and me, Lady Jaina… All the orcs are… Please...

Jaina could believe that. But would a good heart override the needs of survival? What if a mass of starving, shelter-less orcs attacked Lordaeron anyway? She could only imagine Arthas’s appalled reaction if he learned what she was inadvertently responsible for, not to mention the countless lives that would be snuffed in the carnage.

Don’t waste any pity on them, Arthas had once told her. King Terenas, her father, Uther, Kael too—it seemed that everyone viewed the orcs as either contemptible enemies or tools of destruction. Only Antonidas gave them the benefit of the doubt, maintaining that the orcs’ savagery was born of past demonic corruption, an unwitting bloodlust that had since fled their veins. And if her mentor’s theory held true—and Jaina assumed it did—then weren’t the orcs simply parents, children, siblings, friends, and lovers like any other people? Didn’t everyone deserve redemption, a second chance to live freely and peacefully? Wasn’t bettering the lives of others why she aspired to be a powerful mage in the first place? That conviction now echoed through her skull like a tinny platitude.

When nobody will answer the suffering here, you alone are good and right.

Jaina fished into her pocket to dangle the silver necklace. A shining metal pendant hung from the chain, wrought into the shape of a small crescent moon. She traced her finger along the polished curve. This was it—the sole reassurance that her intuition bore any validity, a symbol of admiration from a girl no older or wiser than herself.   

She clasped the jewelry around her neck, gnawed by nauseating doubt, struggling to quell the mental image of a hundred orcs strewn beheaded in the dirt.


 

Kael waited grimly in Jaina’s chair, legs crossed and arms folded. The lamp he’d lit on her dresser cast a flickering glow across the stacks of tomes that towered and spilled upon her desk and floor. If he’d ever disapproved of the state of her room before, previous levels of disorganization held no candle to what now appeared to be a miniature library assembled by blind kobolds. Tacked sheets of note parchment papered the walls, and Jaina’s odious, heart-adorned Arthas booklet lay open on the foot of her bed.

A cursory survey of the mess revealed, as expected, an apparent focus on portals. But there were bookmarks and jottings that indicated an alarming interest in other subjects well beyond her current student curriculum—animated illusions, mind alteration, remote incendiaries, and other spells of highly questionable application. Starting from the day Kael had met Jaina, he knew her to possess a voracious appetite for knowledge, yet there was a decidedly troubling tone to this present array of fascinations. 

Perhaps this warranted a discussion with Antonidas. Any lingering pang of guilt from his intrusion had now been dissolved by increasingly validated suspicions. Although Kael had no specific ideas in mind, all evidence indicated that Jaina was involved in something untoward.

Time passed as he mulled over the possibilities. What hypothetical activities involving portals, fires, and assorted trickery would capture the attention of a wholesome pacifist like Jaina Proudmoore? Kael was truly at a loss.

Just as his concerned ruminations began to fade to drowsiness, the door opened. Jaina jolted, and she gaped at him wide-eyed like a stunned doe. Kael remained seated as she stared dumbstruck from the doorway.

“Ah, you’re back. May I speak with you, please?” he asked, gesturing to the edge of her bed.

Jaina blinked, and he watched as her throat dipped in a swallow. “Kael—What are you doing here?” Her voice was hoarse, and she made no move to step inside.

He fixed her with a calm gaze, studying her unnerved appearance. “I’d like to discuss your recent activities with portals.” Jaina blanched.

“I—What time is it?” she stuttered, staff clenched in hand. The crystal tip pulsed with subdued turquoise light.

Kael glanced down at his open pocket watch. “It’s half past midnight, which leads me to my next inquiry—"

“I took a walk,” she interrupted, now moving inside and shutting the door.

“For over two hours?” Kael’s sweeping eyebrows raised. “Antonidas claimed you were ill today. Arthas had no knowledge of your whereabouts. And as I recall, you were supposed to be quite preoccupied with studies tonight, were you not?”

Jaina’s bloodless face began to flush, and she turned to examine the doorknob. “Do you have a key?”

“I used an unlocking spell,” he said impatiently. “Now—"

“Well, this isn’t your room, you know.” Jaina’s face continued to redden, and an expression of flustered ire began to cross her features. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”

“Forgive me. However, given the circumstances—"

“What circumstances? This is not your room to enter as you please.” Jaina’s voice was rising with a panicked harshness, and Kael’s eyes widened in surprise. “Must I say so explicitly? Or is the significance of a locked door inconsequential to royalty?”

“That in fact—"

“May I remind you, since you consider it acceptable to intrude in my private quarters and demand to know how I spend my time, or to… to put me on display for Arthas, that I was born on the soil of Kul Tiras, not Quel’Thalas, and prince you may be, I am no subject of yours—"

“Jaina—" Kael winced, frantically attempting to follow the sudden string of high-pitched words tumbling from her mouth.

“—and since when have elves had such concern for people outside their own kind?” Jaina tossed her cloak and staff to the bed and crossed her arms, still fixing Kael with the bristling look of a cornered animal. “If I woke up as an orc tomorrow, you would have me slain on the spot, wouldn’t you?” Her lip trembled.

Kael’s brow knitted in bewilderment. Perhaps Jaina actually did contract Arthas’s fever. “Jaina, why—"

“How blessed I am, to have been born with features deemed just tasteful enough for your company!”

Kael’s indignation flared, and he rose to a stand. Jaina was plainly desperate to derail his line of inquiry, but he could hardly ignore bizarre accusations of such superficial racism.

“You are blessed to have no memories of orcs destroying swathes of your homeland and murdering countless innocents.” Veiled barbs had flown over the topic several times before between them, and Jaina’s naiveté now wore his patience thin. “Do not speak to me of prejudice, Jaina, when you were born scarcely two decades ago and suffered no personal loss to those bloodthirsty beasts.”

Jaina’s gaze slid away, and her defensive puff of reproach appeared to deflate into defeated discomfort. “My brother was killed by orcs,” she said quietly.

Kael hesitated, taken aback. “Forgive my presumption.” Jaina stood against her dresser, arms still folded in a tense knot, and the lamplight shuddered across her haggard face. He began to step closer, weaving around the scattered piles of tomes. “And please forgive my intrusion as well. It was a thoughtless act of concern.”

Jaina remained wordless, looking pointedly at the door. Kael stopped before her and placed a cautious hand on her arm.

“You should know that you can always speak with me, if you so desire,” he began carefully, studying her weary expression. “Anything at all, Jaina.”

Jaina’s gaze flicked up, and gold reflections wavered in the blue of her eyes. She wet her lips. Kael reached to clasp her other arm as he waited earnestly.

“Have you slept with Arthas?” she asked, a faint quiver in her voice. Kael balked at the unexpected question.

“He… incapacitated himself at the Midsummer Festival,” Kael said, schooling his features as he maintained contact with her unflinching stare, “and he… inadvertently retired in my room, yes.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Jaina paused, and her breast rose and fell with a shaking breath. “Did you and Arthas lie with each other?”

“I—No.” Certainly in Kael’s mind, his incidents with Arthas didn’t constitute ‘lying’ with one another, and he only hoped that Jaina would make no attempts to extract a detailed account.

“Have you kissed Arthas?”

“Jaina…” Kael cringed inwardly. How had he allowed this intended interrogation to reverse on its head? Were these questions of real import to Jaina, he wondered, or was she merely distracting him further?

“I won’t pretend it’s my business,” she continued, her gaze finally releasing downward, “but whatever games you and he are playing, well, I won’t be used in the middle.”

Kael’s grasp tightened around the sleeves of her robes. “There are no games.” He reached to brush back her hair, and Jaina flinched away, twisting her torso to pull open the top dresser drawer behind her.

“Why did Arthas know you gave me this?” she asked, tugging out his scarf. He shifted closer, lips parted with muted explanations, and she pushed the white fabric against his abdomen. “Here… maybe you should take this back. I don’t…” She trailed off into an inaudible choke.

“Jaina.” Kael took the scarf and slid it back inside the drawer, leaning to shut it. He swept his fingers through the locks of hair framing her face, and this time, she didn’t jerk to the side; instead her body tensed as though to disappear in a straight line, legs clamped and shoulders narrowed back. “None of this is about Arthas.”

“Then why does Arthas—" Kael pressed his thumb over her lips, perhaps more firmly than intended, and Jaina fell abruptly silent. The quickened breathing through her nostrils tickled his skin.

“I’m tired of hearing his name.” Kael’s voice, too, was laden with leaked frustration. He dropped his hand and softened his tone. “Can’t I hear mine instead?”

Jaina’s mouth opened soundlessly, and he took a step backward, suddenly self-conscious of how he had pinned her against the dresser.

“I wish you’d come with me earlier,” he continued, desperate to break her bedroom’s suffocating hush. “It was a beautiful night. I only thought of you while I was there.”

“I would have liked to go.” Her voice was softened with only the barest tinge of wistfulness, and her face remained wooden like a doll as she eyed his gilded robes.

“Jaina… Won’t you tell me what preoccupies you?” he pleaded. “Perhaps I could be of assistance.”

For a moment, Jaina’s blank mask slipped to reveal a look of despaired longing. Kael’s heart pattered as he stepped forward once more, encouraged by the glimpsed reaction.

“Anything you disclose will be kept in the utmost confidence, I assure you.” He lifted her hand, clasping it delicately between his palms. She wet her lips as hesitation flickered in her eyes. “I promise,” he breathed, studying her hopefully.  

Jaina looked up at him with what appeared to Kael as a voiceless plea, and he touched her shoulder gently. “Let’s sit down,” he coaxed, steering her to the edge of the bed. He pushed aside the strewn cloak and seated her beside him. Jaina gazed straight ahead toward the door, and Kael turned her head with a caress of her jaw.

“What manner of magic do you require?” he asked, stroking his fingertips along the edge of her face. Jaina cast her lashes downward, seemingly withdrawn in thought, but she made no move to reject him. “You needn’t struggle on your own.” He leaned tentatively to brush his lips against her cheekbone, pulse pounding.

“Every subject here,” he said, gesturing to the countless books scattering the floor, “I’m well-versed in them all. I’ll gladly provide a solution.” At this, Jaina met his gaze unguarded, and Kael bent down to kiss her mouth chastely. Her lips were warm and soft—Jaina’s lips—and he pressed forward excitedly, parting her with a delicate slip of his tongue, eager to taste her again for the first time in weeks.  

“Have you been drinking?” Jaina’s voice quavered as he withdrew, their noses still touching. His fingers ghosted silken trails down her hair.

“Barely,” he murmured, restraining the mounting urge to lower her into the mattress. Instead, he cupped her face and recaptured her lips, attempting to soothe her tension with tender, insistent pressure.

The tip of his nose grazed her skin as Kael dragged his lips further down; he dipped his head and planted steady, precise kisses along her neck. “Is it a portal you need?” The breath of his question trapped heat against her throat. “Where would you like to go?” He slid his hands across the curves of her waist and thighs, his touch slow and smooth as though petting a house of cards. “Let me open one for you, Jaina.”

Jaina remained wordless. Her arms lay limp to each side, and she watched, seemingly mesmerized, as he proceeded to undo the clasps of her robes with a series of deft movements. Kael slid the robes from her shoulders, fingers tensed with a subtle tremor, breathless with disbelief at her acquiescence. Dark violet fabric dropped to ripples upon the bed. The flame of the lamp illuminated a stippling of goosebumps upon her skin, and a silver pendant rested above the swell of her chest.

A crescent moon… Kael wondered if the necklace was from Arthas. It was a tin-pot trinket, really, he thought with a flash of contempt. So Jaina wore jewelry? He’d adorn her with finer pieces.

“I’ll teach you, if you’d like. We needn’t inform Antonidas,” he told her, leaning to her ear as his fingers roamed across her bare torso. He traced the bottom edge of her bra, and Jaina shivered as his thumbs swept across her breasts. The peaks were stiff beneath the thin cotton shells. “Where have you gone to practice? The woods?” Kael reached behind to unfasten the strap, and the cups of the undergarment hung loose from her body; his palms curved covetously over the exposed flesh. “I’ll instruct you there,” he whispered, pressing his lips to her ear.

“Kael…”

He loved to hear Jaina say his name, and how could he possibly resist when she spoke it in such a sweet, breathless voice? He pushed the fallen robes from her lap, revealing smooth thighs and a triangle of white fabric. His index finger stroked idly along the faded pink burn mark, now nearly invisible in the room’s dim golden glow.

“Illusions, enchantments, abjurations… my abilities surpass the contents of your textbooks. I could cast whatever you wish for.”

Still she remained motionless. Kael couldn’t predict if interrupting her contemplation would yield reciprocation or rejection, and he lowered his touch with caution. Jaina’s breath hitched as he reached the cleft between her clamped legs. He rubbed lightly, eyeing the plain cotton underwear. Perhaps on future occasions, she would wear undergarments of his own choosing. How would Jaina look in crotchless crimson lace…? His pointed ears flushed, blood coursing hotly at the thought.

“Do you plan to set a fire?” Kael asked, and then hesitated. Would he commit potential arson for Jaina? He supposed it didn’t feel beyond consideration, at least in that moment. Surely Jaina would supply a compelling reason. “I’d take care of that too, if you’d only ask me.”

He leaned to kiss her hungrily, winding the fingers of his free hand through her hair. Jaina’s thighs trembled, slackening apart, and his probing touch pressed firm into her clothed warmth. He began to bear down with the weight of his body, reclining her to the bed.

“It pains me to see you stressed like this. Surely I can aid you,” he muttered against her mouth, intoxicated by sensation—the arousing scent of her hair and skin, the quaking of her lithe body pinned below him, the taste of her shy tongue brushing against his own. A quiet moan rose from Jaina’s throat, and Kael all but forgot what he was originally talking about.

“I’d request nothing in return.” He slipped his finger past the crotch of her underwear, dipping between her folds, and was thrilled to discover the slickened victory awaiting him. “Your trust in me alone is a valued reward,” he said huskily, caging her beneath him as he reached down to free himself from his robes. The sound of rushing blood throbbed fast in his ears.

He held aside the cotton fabric and pushed his hard flesh against her entrance, too impatient to fully disrobe. Jaina gasped, twisting to life at the persistent pressure.

“Wait,” she said. Her blue eyes were wide with shock. Kael combed through her spilled blond locks, mouthing a hot trail from her ear to her collarbone.

“There’s no shame in wanting this,” he insisted, hitching his hips forward, eager to witness her unfounded reluctance melt away into pleasure. He remembered exactly how exquisite she appeared the last time—chin tilting back, eyelids fluttering shut, lips parting as she cried out his name. “Allow me to take care of you, Jaina… Whatever that may entail…”  

Jaina placed her palms on his chest, blinking rapidly. “Thank you, but you’re mistaken. I only went for a walk… really.”

Walk? What about a walk? He rolled the points of her breasts between his fingers, aching with frenzied desire. He felt himself begin to spread her tight heat, and he gazed down longingly, anticipating the sight of her back arching as he’d sink completely within.

“Kael, stop—" Jaina gave a firm shove and squirmed out from beneath him. She sat up immediately, proceeding to rearrange her hair and shrug her robes back on. Kael propped himself on his elbow, gawking in dismay as she fastened her clothing. She stood, red-faced but otherwise composed, and turned to him.

“Good night,” she said, ignoring the sight of his bare erection jutting from the flaps of his robes. Traces of her wetness glistened on its head. “I look forward to seeing you at tomorrow’s symposium.” Kael blinked, utterly taken aback. How could she dismiss him so casually… so abruptly?

“Jaina,” he said hoarsely. “Please.” He made no motion to cover his rejected cock, hoping the evidence of his burning need for her would stir something, anything other than determination to avert her eyes.  

“I can’t continue our discussion,” she said. “It’s very late, and I should sleep now.” She swung the room door wide open, forcing Kael to rise from her bed and tuck himself back to a decent state.

He stood amidst the mess of books, staring at Jaina in bewilderment. Did she truly intend to just sleep? How that thought stung… He wondered if it crossed her mind that he’d be several corridors away, finishing himself with his hand as their encounter continued in his feverish imagination.

“Jaina,” he pleaded, still looking at her while he made his hesitant exit. She gazed into the hallway behind him with a troubled expression.

“Perhaps you had too much to drink tonight. It’s okay, really.” Kael’s mouth opened in protest, and Jaina cast him an embarrassed glance.

“Good night,” she repeated, turning her head away as she shut her bedroom door. Kael lingered in the dim corridor, more confused and frustrated than ever before.  


 

Applause pattered from the seated rows of magi as Kael exited the stage, yielding the podium for the next scheduled presentation—My Kingdom for a Horse: A Defense of Inanimate Polymorphs by Archmage Aeteric. Kael’s lecture on remote manipulation enchantments had filled his entire one-hour time slot, and his words had slowed ever so slightly each time his gaze landed on Jaina’s attentive face in the audience. Her eyes had lit up at his demonstration, and he relished the sight of her awe as swords danced and clashed in mid-air beside him. Yes, his latest work with enchantments far surpassed the established scripts of self-playing instruments and hands-free cleaning tools. Animated weaponry imbued with its own rudimentary form of intelligence held unprecedented applications to future defense systems.

Jaina beamed at him as he took his seat beside her. Once again, her apparent ability for selective amnesia flooded his chest with a mixture of relief and disappointment. He continued to steal glances from the corner of his eye as she jotted notes in her journal.

What else lurked within the pages of that notebook? Just lecture summaries and doodles of Arthas on a horse? Or, perhaps, details of mysterious midnight excursions…? Kael wondered if Jaina kept a diary. She certainly struck him as the type.  

Guilt stirred inside him as he recalled her flushed indignation upon his presence in her bedroom. Entering a locked room was transgression enough; nosing through her private musings would likely cross the limits of forgiveness. 

Kael’s thoughts were interrupted by mutterings of disapproval rising amongst the audience. He redirected his attention to Archmage Aeteric, who had just polymorphed the podium into a motionless, glassy-eyed sheep. With a light kick to the rump, the woolly animal began shuffling across the stage.

“Behold! A perfectly fine specimen! Now I ask that we as the Kirin Tor reconsider polymorphic rule number six. ‘Gratuitous,’ we called this; an ‘impotent’ use of magic with no practical applications.” A hollow thump sounded. The sheep had keeled off the edge of the stage and lay still, its cloven legs rigid in the air. Aeteric continued, unperturbed. “Within the responsibly supervised confines of the Violet Citadel, why should we limit ourselves so severely? Indeed, I believe that rules number one through six are symptomatic of an excessively stringent attitude toward magical education. We must not infantilize our curious apprentices in the name of mere pragmatic propriety.”   

The speech continued. Kael supposed Aeteric brought up several agreeable points, but he never addressed why anyone would desire a stupefied sheep for fifty seconds in the first place.

Several hours later, the series of presentations had wrapped to a finish, and the crowd of magi began milling from the auditorium into the neighboring poster exhibit. Kael accompanied Jaina as she flitted enthusiastically between displays.

“Your lecture was fascinating,” she said, looking up at him with shining admiration. Kael thought this facial expression was perhaps his second favorite of Jaina’s. “I had no idea that your work with enchantments progressed so far already.”

“Yes, this past month has been quite productive.” He smiled, and Jaina continued to hold his gaze intently.

“Oh, that reminds me. I was wondering if you’d teach me your unlocking spell. I couldn’t find it mentioned in my textbooks,” she said, the shrewdness of her eyes belying her casual tone. “I lock myself out of my room so much, and it would be convenient if I could just use a spell.”

Kael eyed her impassively, too humbled from the prior night’s encounter to voice another suspicious inquiry. “Of course,” he replied. Did Jaina fancy herself subtle? It was endearing, really. He’d learn soon enough where she intended to trespass, but for now, there was no reason to be interrogative.

They meandered their way to the back of the gallery hall, where Ansirem Runeweaver sat behind a table stacked with books. Pinned behind him on the wall was a large poster titled The Grave Dangers of Felweed: Remembering Apprentice Argoly.

“Ah, Kael’thas! Miss Proudmoore,” he said, standing to greet them. “How are you finding this summer’s symposium?”

Ansirem was chatty enough without a drop of liquor in the vicinity, and Kael listened politely for the fifth time as he recited the somber tale of his previous apprentice, Argoly, who had fallen from a cliff while high on felweed. The story then segued into an unreserved condemnation of Aeteric’s controversial presentation.

“There’s a reason why he has no role in training anymore,” Ansirem continued. “He has no sense of rigor whatsoever! If Aeteric had his way, the Kirin Tor would be churning out a next generation of dangerous nincompoops! Now I, on the other hand, take a firm stand against all manner of magical buffoonery, hence my latest publication.”

Eventually, Kael bade his farewell and departed the table, Jaina in tow with her freshly signed copy of Portals Are NOT Garbage Bins. He watched as she browsed through the pages, regarding the contents with great interest.

Jaina and portals… No, Kael knew he wasn’t mistaken. The ominous secrecy was unbearable. Why did she refuse to confide in him? Jaina Proudmoore, for all her candid smiles and earnest words, was yet the elusive enigma—to all but one person, perhaps.

Kael’s eyes narrowed. He was loath to acknowledge the fact, but if Jaina would divulge her secrets to anyone, surely it would be Arthas. And as Kael had already confirmed, the lippy paladin no longer suffered from a bloated tongue. 


 

The Sunday afternoon was just like Arthas’s dream—the clear skies, the soft forest meadow, the white daisies swaying in the summer breeze. But this time, there was no resurrected stallion, no elven prince, and no notice of a vile wedding in Quel’Thalas. In that halcyon moment, the past events that inspired the nightmare felt almost like yet more figments of his imagination.

Jaina was here, now. She sat leaning against the trunk of a tall elm, and her bright white sundress was subdued by the dappled shade. Arthas lay beside her, boots kicked off in the grass and arms folded behind his head. His satchel slumped several feet away; from its opening spilled a checkered red picnic cloth.

He shut his eyes, starting to feel drowsy in the warm air. Just as he began to drift off, Jaina’s voice sounded through the tranquil silence.

“Arthas.” She spoke softly, absentmindedly, and his eyes remained closed. “When you’re King one day, what will you do about all the orcs in the camps?”

Arthas didn’t feel particularly inclined to discuss orcs, a perennially touchy subject with Jaina, but he humored her anyway. “I suppose that depends on the state of their illness,” he replied. “If they recover their strength, perhaps they could be put to work—construction and the like. I don’t agree with executing them unnecessarily.”

“Well, let’s assume they’d no longer be a threat to anyone.” Arthas opened his eyes, tilting his chin to peer up at her. She gazed off in the distance, and her fingers played with a fallen leaf. “Don’t you believe everyone deserves a chance for redemption?”

“Are you referring to releasing them? Not killing them is mercy enough, I’d say.”

Jaina glanced down at him with a slight frown. “But don’t you think those camps are awful? People shouldn’t live like that.”

Arthas twisted his mouth reluctantly, watching as she folded the leaf into a tiny green square. “Call the orcs ‘people’ all you’d like, but the fact remains that they waged violent war against us. Just think of Stormwind, and all the men, women, and children murdered in cold blood.” Arthas still remembered clearly the day he’d met freshly orphaned Varian Wrynn; it had been his first acrid taste of helplessness as he witnessed another’s raw, inconsolable grief. “They would have killed you and me without a second thought. And tell me, what good has an orc ever done?”

Jaina remained silent. She continued staring at some faraway tree, apparently lost in thought. Arthas reached for the leather-bound book lying between them and sat up to open it.   

Portals are NOT Garbage Bins. He wondered if the title was a mere tongue-in-cheek reference, or if the topic literally warranted over eight hundred pages. He began to flip through idly, and the author’s tone was stern indeed. As powerful and intelligent as magi were, there were occasions when they seemed to lack basic common sense. On the inside cover was a signed note scrawled in loopy purple ink.   

To the admirable young scholar, Jaina Proudmoore:

You possess a brilliant mind—always follow it. Remember, the heart knows nothing!

Archmage Ansirem Runeweaver

Arthas snorted. Of course a celibate old archmage would tell her that. But it wasn’t the worst advice for Jaina, who could be compassionate to a fault. He shut the book and placed it back down, shifting to sit closer beside her.

“You haven’t done that before, have you?” he asked. Jaina turned, breaking out of her absorbed musings.

“Done what?” A patch of sun caught her irises from the side, illuminating them like clear blue water. 

“Chucked your trash through a portal.”

Jaina blinked. “No! Of course not. That’s irresponsible.”

Arthas leaned his head against the tree trunk, tilting to eye her. “So can you open portals yet?”

Jaina glanced to the side as a strange expression of alarm dashed across her features. “No,” she said, hesitating. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, I was thinking… They’re quite convenient, aren’t they? Distance means nothing if you can travel like that.” Arthas pinched the folded leaf from her fingers and smoothed it open, revealing a grid of neat creases. “Just imagine,” he said, a boyish gleam in his eyes, “even when you’re head archmage of the Kirin Tor one day, you can finish all your mage business in Dalaran during the morning and afternoon, and then still arrive in Lordaeron’s palace by dinnertime.”

A blush spread up Jaina’s cheeks at the phrase head archmage, and the corners of her lips tugged into a smile. “I can’t imagine your future queen would appreciate that.” The wind blew gold strands in her face; she tucked them behind her ear, eyelashes fluttering.  

Arthas folded his hands behind his head, gaze still fixed on her. “I said before that I’d marry you one day, didn’t I?” He shifted his legs apart, letting the weight of his thigh settle against Jaina’s. Her laugh was small and strangled.  

“That was child’s talk,” she murmured, smiling at her lap. “You also said we’d have pet saber cats in your castle.”

“Why not? Uther can’t say no once I’m King.” Arthas grinned. Had he said that? Well, why not, indeed.   

“So shall I take this as your proposal?” she asked teasingly. Specks of filtered sun danced across her reddened cheeks, and Arthas’s grin broadened as he plucked a long blade of grass from the ground between them. Jaina watched curiously as he raised her left hand, deftly tying a small green knot around her ring finger.   

“Will you be mine, Jaina Proudmoore?”  

Arthas kissed the back of her hand. A tremor shook beneath the steady curve of his lips, prompting him to lift his head; Jaina’s face was turned sharply to the side, obscured by rippling hair. He waited, and she brushed back the blonde curtain to meet his eyes.

“Don’t fool around so much, Arthas…” Her smiling voice was thin with feeble mirth, and her eyes glistened. Arthas’s chest clenched at the sound and sight.

“You know,” Jaina said, withdrawing her hand to smooth her dress, “I… never truly understood before, when you told me how you wanted to be nothing more than friends…“ She paused and swallowed. “But I understand it now, I think.” She blinked away the damp sheen, fixing him with a sincere look.

Arthas felt his throat tighten. Only friends. He wished he had never said those words.

Jaina wet her lips before continuing. “You want to enjoy your youth freely, don’t you? To… explore with different people, before you’re forced to take a queen and start a family? That’s natural.”

Granted, he hadn’t been keen on bearing the impending weight of yet another life-defining commitment, but he’d certainly never been a skirt-chaser either. Jaina’s assumptions were unfair, he thought.

“No,” Arthas said bluntly. “I don’t care about dalliances. There’s never been anyone else, if that’s what you’re thinking.” He hesitated as Kael’s epicene face flashed unbidden in his mind. None of that counted for anything, of course. “And as for marriage, nobody will force me to do any of that. I’ll make the choice myself.” 

Jaina merely looked at him, unguarded but unreadable. He grasped her arm, leaning in to kiss away what he couldn’t understand; she twisted, and he tightened his grip instinctively, stomach sinking further when she tensed in a flinch.

Arthas stopped a hair’s breadth from her trembling lips. He drew back and let go.

“I’m sorry,” he said, feeling at a loss, suddenly wishing he had a silver tongue and a softer touch. It was a bitter thought. Jaina had always liked him the way he was.

Jaina looked down at his hand. “Don’t be.” She touched his neck tentatively, tilting forward to press her mouth against his. He kept his arms by his side, moving his lips clumsily in reply as Jaina wound her fingers through his hair. She tasted like the apple she’d eaten earlier, and her sunlit tresses were bright in the corners of his vision.

Her body pushed against him, tender and light, reclining him back in the grass. She buried her face in the crook of his shoulder, and he rested his hands on her back, feeling the rise and fall of her chest and the warmth of breath on his skin. Jaina remained silent, and he too said nothing.

The sky overhead was robin egg blue between the gaps of the leaves. Arthas stared up, content to bask in the same clean pleasure of simpler days.


 

It was the cusp between afternoon and evening, and the white bellies of the clouds overhead were now dusted with gold. A cluster of copper bells over the door jingled as Kael entered the tavern adjacent to Arthas’s inn.

In spite of Kael’s emphasis on urgency, Arthas had waited nearly two full days to respond to his letter. Kael had considered walking over to his quarters unannounced, but presumably such uninvited demands would yield nothing more than a broadsword pointed at his face, and he preferred to engage in discourse like reasonable, civilized men. Arthas was capable of demonstrating good breeding in the public eye—which in fact made his willfully flagrant impudence all the worse—and as such, Kael had optimistic expectations for their meeting here. Surely by now, Arthas would know better than to court humiliation by provoking Kael in a crowded establishment.

The inside of the tavern was swarming with dwarves, all of whom were engrossed in some trendy new card game; large boards were set up on the center tables and decorated with pop-up miniature castles, and the air was loud with hoots and chatter. A lone barmaid scurried about with foaming pitchers of ale. Arthas sat by the far wall, his blond hair gleaming in the light from the window.  

“Now hit it very hard!”

“HANDLE IT!”

Kael eyed the gathering sidelong as he passed. Enchanted game pieces sparked in battle, and a tiny carved gryphon was sent skittering across the floor as a red-faced dwarf pounded his fists on the table. Arthas turned at the spike in commotion, and his expression hardened.

“Arthas,” said Kael coolly, slipping into the wooden chair opposite of him. “Thank you for seeing me.” Perhaps a café would have been preferable. The intoxicated dwarves were already lending the atmosphere a decidedly unruly tone, but he and Arthas could still conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to their social rank.

“Yes. And thank you for sending me such a remarkably vague letter.” Arthas leaned back with a surly stare. “What do you want?”  

Kael paused, eyeing the glass mug on the table in front of Arthas. It appeared to be a snakebite—cider over lager. “Rather early for that,” Kael remarked disapprovingly.

A look of annoyance flashed across Arthas’s face. “Not everyone keels into bed after a few drops of liquor.” He brushed specks of debris off his leather gloves and grasped the mug handle, still fixing Kael with narrowed eyes as he took a deliberate draught. “Are all elves such lightweights, by the way?”

Kael blinked, confounded. Did Arthas not recall stumbling half-naked across Dalaran, shedding a trail of discarded dignity and whining for fellatio? Kael, at least, could travel in a straight line.

“Your ears looked like a pair of long red radishes. Does that always happen?”

“Enough, please,” Kael said, teeth gritted. “As I alluded to prior, we indeed have an important matter to discuss.” Arthas raised his eyebrows, and Kael continued. “This information was too sensitive to entrust with a messenger. Now, I’d like to temporarily lay aside our differences for the purpose of protecting Jaina’s best interests. I have reason to believe she’s become involved in highly perilous activities.” Kael lowered his chin, peering at Arthas with a grave expression.

Arthas studied him. He placed his mug down and pushed it to the side. “What manner of activities?”

“I have several areas of concern, chiefly unauthorized portal creation, which is expressly forbidden by the Kirin Tor. Jaina is risking both her physical health and her academic reputation. I’ve come here to implore you, for Jaina’s sake, to disclose anything you may know before I’m forced to consult with Antonidas. I’d much rather address this off the record.” Arthas remained quiet as he continued to scrutinize Kael from across the table. “Do you know of any places she might be going, or people she could be visiting, perhaps?”

Kael waited with tense expectation. Arthas crossed his arms.

“No,” he replied finally. “Not besides her family in Kul Tiras.” He straightened, gaze still suspicious. “Anyway, you’re mistaken. Jaina can’t open portals.”

A frown twisted Kael’s mouth. He expected Arthas to be resistant, either out of his stubborn grudge, loyalty to Jaina, or both. Then again, perhaps Arthas really did know nothing.

Kael rested his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers. “If you’re privy to her activities, then I urge you to dissuade her.”

“And what exactly has you so convinced that Jaina’s doing anything like that?” Arthas asked, hostility edging his tone.

“She’s been conducting extensive independent research, and on Friday night she disappeared for hours with her staff. The circumstances were… incriminating.”  

Arthas looked unimpressed. “That’s all? None of that constitutes evidence. Jaina is constantly absorbed in random topics. Anyone familiar with her could tell you that.”  

Kael eyed Arthas carefully before replying. “She has a distinctive burn mark on her upper thigh. It’s a well-documented type of portal injury.”

“How did you see that?”

Kael held his gaze silently, watching with flickers of pleasure as the blood drained from Arthas’s face. Yes, Kael was quite 'familiar' with Jaina. 

Arthas leaned in, and his voice lowered to a threatening pitch. “Let there be no pretenses here—I'm no ally of yours. ‘Lay aside our differences?’ What a pile of dross. You think I’ve forgotten all that you’ve done, you degenerate milksop?” Kael’s brows pinched down sharply, and Arthas rested his elbows wide as he bent closer. “Go to Antonidas if you must, if you’re so desperate to pry into Jaina’s affairs.”

Kael stood. “Very well,” he replied, jaw clenched. Degenerate milksop?

“You’re unwelcome, Kael. Watch where you step around Jaina.”

“Unwelcome, am I?” Kael placed his palms on the edge of the table, squinting down dangerously at Arthas. “Know that I touch higher than her thigh.”  

Arthas stood abruptly as well, his glare wild. Kael’s mouth spread into a cold smile.

“Shall I tell you more?” Kael continued, cocking his head as he leaned across the table.

Arthas lunged in a flash, and Kael scarcely registered the gloved knuckles swiping past his chin as he jerked instinctively backward. He stumbled into the open aisle, fingers pinching to cast a binding spell, but in a deafening clatter of knocked chairs, Arthas was already upon him; Kael found his hands suddenly mashed in twin iron grips, Arthas plowing into his chest like an ox.

One of the sturdy tables skidded with a screech under the slammed weight of the grappling pair. Behind them, the dwarves erupted in a cacophony of shouting.

“A FIGHT!”

“EVERYONE! GET IN HERE!”

Arthas pinned Kael hard over the table, smothering him with the heavy bulk of his body. He banged their locked hands down firmly to either side, and his hair draped to sweep Kael’s cheekbone.

“Don’t fuck with me anymore,” Arthas warned, crunching his fists tighter with unrelenting pressure. He bent his face close, eyes fierce. Kael squinted.

The dwarven spectators screamed as crackling flames exploded from Kael’s contorted palms, charring the top layer of Arthas’s leather gloves and sending him recoiling upright. Fire continued to blaze along the wooden tabletop, and pitchers of ale began splashing in a panic. A loud thud sounded. Kael grunted as an icy drink doused him across the face, obscuring his view of Arthas now thrashing on the floor beneath three hefty dwarves.

“PILE ON!”

“GET THE MAGE!”

Arthas’s protests were indiscernible with his mouth squashed into the stone floor, and the trailing mop of a massive black beard soon engulfed his entire head. Periwinkle cards from the board game scattered the surrounding floor like oversized confetti. Kael wiped the ale from his eyes, grimacing as someone began emptying a keg of seltzer water over the flickering embers beside his shoulder. He lurched to a stand, only to be seized by another trio of muscular dwarves; they grasped his sodden robes and commenced to hauling him toward the exit.

The flustered barmaid hovered dumbstruck over Arthas, who had successfully clawed his face free. “I’ll pay for the damages,” he wheezed. “Now let me up—"

The door jingled as Kael was shoved unceremoniously out to the pavement, followed by the scraping clack of a lock. He shook a rain of droplets from the drenched sleeves of his robes and squeezed his long hair out, panting and fuming.

Degenerate milksop? Arthas would soon learn—

A pair of women gawked through the window of the bakery across the street. Kael straightened, glowering, and stalked away to the citadel.


 

Portals…

Were portals the answer? It would certainly solve the dilemma of three hundred orcs stampeding toward the Alterac Mountains. The journey would take days on foot, and how many fugitives could outpace the inevitable pursuit by Lordaeron’s army?

If each of the three hundred orcs took approximately four seconds to cross the portal, which was likely an optimistic estimate, then Jaina would need to sustain a portal for over twenty minutes total, at least. Two consecutive ten-second portals already drained her considerably. And then there was the issue of size; the average male orc was seven feet tall, and Jaina’s portals were scarcely larger than three by three.

At first, Taretha’s notion seemed preposterous. But perhaps there were tools to surpass the current limits of Jaina’s abilities…

She finished her ascent up the winding stairs of the citadel tower and stopped. Her hand hesitated against the wooden door as she stared at the gilded eye design. Thirty-seven days had passed since she’d last entered this room.

As Jaina recalled, the supply cabinets in the exam chamber were stocked with cases of mana potions, which were available to aid students in extended casting sessions. She had forgotten about that potential resource until their mention during the past weekend’s symposium. The next Kirin Tor exam season was months away; surely nobody would notice if several bottles went missing. She tightened her grip on the strap of her empty satchel and opened the door.

The enchanted sconces flickered to life as soon as she stepped inside, bathing the room in warm light. The giant mirror spread broad, and Jaina’s heart raced as she met the uneasy eyes of her reflection. She remembered watching herself here before, red-faced and utterly undone. Her gaze flinched, and she strode past the cabinets to check behind the glass.

Nobody was there—only scattered chairs in the gloom. Jaina released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

The curtain was still missing, she noted, and she turned around to survey the rest of the chamber. Minimal cleaning seemed to have taken place. Although the shards of glass littering the floor were gone, and the fountain water ran clear once more, a layer of dust had settled across the marble floor. The stained-glass window was dull amber against the night beyond.

Jaina opened one of the storage cabinets, ignoring the black velvet sofa in the corner of her vision. A hodgepodge array of scrolls, trinkets, and neatly labeled bottles greeted her. The bottommost shelf was laden with stacked mana potions, and she pulled one out for inspection. The fist-sized glass bottle was cubical, sealed with a wide cork, and its cerulean fluid sparkled with suspended silver silt. The label on the underside detailed the concentration, expiration, and source.

Jaina’s cheeks burned as she loaded the bottom of her satchel with potions, feeling rather like a criminal. But if any shop in Dalaran sold these, she wasn’t aware, and there simply wasn’t much time to waste. She stood to shut the cabinet, anxious to abscond, but curiosity took over as she eyed the various items. What other Kirin Tor provisions were available to utilize?

She placed her satchel on the floor and began to rummage. A variety of fascinating objects had been stored away here, although for the most part, their intended functions remained mysterious. There was a cream-colored conch shell, its lip plated with silver and inscribed with glowing runes; a jagged yellow crystal, cold to the touch and swirling faintly deep within; a smooth ivory egg that felt shockingly heavy in her palm; a cut diamond lens arcing with tiny rainbows; a crystal dropper flask, carved to mimic a tiny coiled viper; a square of folded crimson silk, crumpled and stained with…

Was this Kael’s handkerchief, the one he’d used to…?

Jaina wrinkled her nose, disgusted. Perhaps Kael, like Arthas, was too accustomed to servants picking up after him. She flung the offending cloth in the back corner and continued her inspection, compiling a mental catalogue of the cabinet contents. There was a potential wealth of resources here, unlocked and unsupervised. She could research more about any of these things, and then later slip back to borrow at her discretion… 


 

Could Jaina make her attempts at covert plotting any more glaringly obvious? Over the past several days, Kael had observed her hurrying out the library with towering stacks of books, slinking from Antonidas’s unoccupied study with a box of scrolls and bottles, and returning to the citadel perimeter with her staff in hand—all the while with nervous, shifty eyes. And since these glimpses he caught were entirely coincidental, surely Jaina was doing far more than just what he happened to chance upon. 

Between Kirin Tor duties, academic projects, and correspondence with Quel’Thalas, there was hardly time to spend playing Private Investigator. Still, the mystery gnawed him terribly, and now, having seen her disappear into a darkened stairwell, he had made up his mind to follow her.

He’d trailed her silently up the stairs, more intrigued by the second as she hastened to the exam chamber. Kael hadn’t returned since the incident; his once favored room of tranquility was now tainted with shame. By Kael’s self-assessment, he rarely erred, yet he could still acknowledge when miscalculations arose. Jaina and Arthas each had their unique manner of corrupting his judgment, and their combined influence that day had driven him to intemperance. Involving Arthas had been his undoing, really. Wooing Jaina and crushing Arthas would best be accomplished separately in the future.

He waited outside the door for a while, listening. Aside from an occasional flurry of faint clinks, no sounds were detectable. The minutes stretched by, and Kael opened the door with a soundless motion.

Jaina knelt before one of the large supply cabinets, partially obscured by its open doors. A satchel rustled in her lap. Suspicious, indeed.

“Searching for something?”

Jaina’s head popped back. She looked at him with a fleeting expression of horror that might have been comical, were it not rather hurtful. Her entire body tensed like a maiden cornered by a slavering worg, and her eyes darted to the door behind him. Kael crossed his arms.

“I was just fetching some supplies for Antonidas,” Jaina said, shutting the cabinet and rising to her feet. She clutched the bulging satchel to her chest and moved to exit past him. Kael took a step to the side, barring her path.

“Mm. What sort of items, may I ask?”

Jaina stopped. “What are you doing here?” she asked, blinking. Her expression was unnerved, and Kael felt a surge of impatience at yet more of this bizarre behavior.  

“I took a walk. One of those nighttime walks which end in unusual places. Surely you’re familiar?” His eyes narrowed as he continued to appraise her.

“I’m not.” Jaina turned to navigate around him. “If you’ll pardon me, I need to hurry.”

He’d asked plainly. He’d asked nicely. As of yet, he’d made no threats, and he remained reluctant to do so. There was far more at stake here to Kael than adherence to Kirin Tor regulations, or even Jaina’s physical wellbeing.  

“Jaina. Sit down with me.” She glanced at him reluctantly as he paced to the sofa. He sat, crossing his legs and gesturing to the seat beside him, staring with stern expectation.

“I… “ Jaina hugged her bag, looking like a rabbit poised to bolt. Kael kept his gaze fixed impassively, hiding his growing exasperation.

“I won’t bite you, Jaina.” This phrasing seemed to disturb her even more, and her features contorted slightly as though she’d tasted something unpleasant. Nevertheless, she walked over and took an obedient seat.  

Jaina tucked her satchel on the floor behind the sofa arm before turning to face him. “Yes?” Her voice was meek, and her bright eyes were innocent as she tilted her chin to meet his gaze. Kael wet his lips and paused. 

Where are you going? Who are you seeing? What are you stealing? Why are you lying?

“Do you ever think about the night we spent here?” he asked, struck suddenly by a sensation of foolish boyishness. Jaina Proudmoore made him a weak man. But no—there was tactical value to asking such questions, he told himself. Perhaps recalling their shared intimacy would prompt Jaina to finally open up to him.

If Jaina was surprised by the question, she masked it well. “Yes. Sometimes,” she replied softly.

“And… what do you feel when you remember me?” He shifted his body to face hers, eyeing her gold hair as it brushed the black velvet backdrop.

Jaina hesitated, and she looked to her lap. “Confusion, I suppose.” Her mouth parted to continue. Kael waited, stifling his disappointment. “I wonder if I may have lost a friend.”

He blinked, now struggling to decipher the cryptic response. “’Friends’ and ‘lovers’ are not mutually exclusive,” he said earnestly. “In fact, the most desirable lovers are those who share your heart and mind.” He stumbled somewhat over his words, desperate to address whatever insecurity haunted her, still unsure of what precisely she meant. “And how I admire both of yours, Jaina.”

Was he too forward? Or not forward enough? It was so hard to tell with Jaina. She said nothing, and he watched with unease, the tips of his ears beginning to burn.  

He grasped her hand gently and lifted her chin. Jaina remained still like a statue, and he kissed her slowly, purposefully, leaning in to press her into the cushioned sofa back. His touch stroked the back of her hand before gradually bunching her sleeve as he trailed up her wrist and forearm.  

The setting served as a potent echo; Kael was already shamefully aroused. He licked pleadingly, slipping past her lips and delving into her warm mouth. Jaina shifted to raise her arm, and he closed his eyes, awaiting the pleasure of fingers running through his hair.

A succession of dry snaps sounded from behind him. Kael’s eyes widened in shock as his arms collapsed involuntarily to his side. He withdrew, bewildered, staring down as Jaina’s palms pressed him firmly to the sofa back. Now she’d reversed their positions, and her tilted face hovered inches from his own.

Was this what Jaina liked? He’d certainly play along. A delighted thrill spread through him as her slender hand covered his vision.

His blood pounded with anticipation. Her magic was elementary to counter, of course. But Kael would let her do this, just as he’d let a butterfly rest upon his skin. He attempted to flex experimentally. Admittedly, Jaina’s binding spell was a bit more formidable than a butterfly.

A finger of her free hand traced steadily outward along the top edge of his sensitive ear; his breathing quickened as a shiver rolled through his body. By the time she’d reached the end to toy with the rigid, pointy tip, he was already biting back the urge to groan out loud. 

The hand over his eyes slipped slightly, and Kael could now view her through a tapered slit of light.

“Do you truly want me so badly, Kael?” She spoke slowly, deliberately, and her calculating eyes were the blue of a cold lake. Kael always considered Jaina easy to read, and now she was an ominous tome indeed.

“Yes,” he replied eagerly, agonizingly erect, not caring what negotiations might follow. “I do.”

Guilty doubt washed across her face. “Why?”

If only she felt the same way, then he wouldn’t need to explain. “'Why?' Let me touch you again, Jaina,” he said huskily. “Then you’ll understand why.” His hands lay limp on the seat, yielding tamely to the invisible constraints. 

Jaina remained quiet. He watched as she stared at his tented lap with a conflicted expression. Her lips were parted, and her eyes were filled with apprehension. The sight flooded Kael with frustrated dread. He blinked, sweeping his eyelashes against her palm and fingers, and her hand dropped.

“No, we shouldn’t,” she said, slipping off the sofa and hauling up her satchel of pilfered supplies as she made her swift exit. “It was a mistake before.”

The icy winds of despair shrieked through Kael. He was sick of being left hard and wanting. Did Jaina have any inkling of how she tortured him? Or did she just not care?

“Jaina.” With a burst of focus, the immobility dissolved from his limbs, and he strode after her to grab her shoulder. She turned, nearly at the door.

“Enough games,” he demanded, hoping the smooth authority of his voice would conceal the aching tremble in his chest. “Explain yourself now, before I arrange a meeting with Antonidas.” Jaina glanced down; Kael ignored the indignity of the prominent bulge straining beneath his robes. “Surely you don’t wish to defend your unsanctioned portal magic before the council, or become known as the reason for locks on these storage cabinets.” His gaze narrowed as he loomed tall before her.

“If you go to Antonidas,” she said quietly, “I’ll tell him what you let drip in your wine.”

Kael stared, speechless. His silence seemed to serve as confirmation to Jaina, whose eyes flashed with disbelief. 

“So you did that,” she said, and her pitch swelled high. Kael’s heart hammered in his ears.

“Stay away from Arthas.” Jaina’s voice broke into a quaver. “I have nothing more to say to you.”

The door slammed shut, and Kael listened to the déjà vu of footsteps pattering down stone stairs.  

He walked numbly to the cabinet and opened the doors. He’d returned the bottle to its original place on the shelf—it wasn’t his, after all. It was gone now.

 

Chapter Text


 “Arthas…beloved, best friend…please don’t do this.”  

—Arthas: Rise of the Lich King


 

“Jaina. You can open your eyes.”

It was Kael’s voice—smug, silken, laced with a tinge of boyish excitement. Jaina’s eyelashes fluttered open, and she raised her face from where it had rested against the vertical plane of glass.

“Happy birthday. Do you like your surprise?”

Birthday? Today wasn’t her birthday, was it?

Sconces flickered on the marble walls. Kael gazed from directly across the room, clad in scarlet robes, seated cross-legged upon the black velvet sofa. He smirked broadly as he swayed a golden chain; the links glinted in a hanging arc between his hand and an indigo collar. Jaina stared.  

“I was inclined to pick red, but I’ve noticed how Arthas seems fond of the color blue. This is all he’ll be wearing, so I decided to accommodate his preferences.”

Was that Arthas kneeling by Kael’s feet? An iridescent white scarf was knotted around his head, obscuring his eyes. But yes… the nose, the lips, the jaw, the broad bare chest and shoulders… there was no mistake.

“You wished for Arthas, didn’t you?” Kael stroked leisurely through Arthas’s hair, tousling the blond locks. “I took care of that.”

Arthas was utterly nude, and between his thighs, he was…

Jaina felt her throat close tight. Kael snapped his fingers, and the glass wall vanished.

“Come over here,” he said, standing with a smile. Jaina remained rooted to the spot. “Hold his leash for me, please.”

After a moment’s pause, she walked over numbly and took the chain from Kael’s grasp, heart pounding as she looked down at Arthas. His mouth was parted, and his flushed chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm.

“Arthas?” she whispered. He gave no reply, his hands resting tamely in his lap on either side of his…

“So, are you pleased? We’ll take him to Quel’Thalas with us tomorrow,” said Kael. Jaina shifted her gaze, shocked to see that he had stripped from his clothes. The crimson garments lay neatly folded on the sofa.

“What are you…?” Her words were weak, dying in her throat as confusion continued to seize her. How did she end up here again, between these same two naked men?

“Arthas is more useful than I gave him credit for, with that tireless waggling tongue of his. And he has far more brawn than any of the other servants, which I suppose could come in handy.” Kael tapped his chin with a lacquered fingernail, eyeing Arthas thoughtfully. “In the worst case scenario, he’ll make a nice decorative footstool. He’s certainly a touch willful, but I’ve taken care of the obedience issue.”

Jaina gaped at Kael, keeping her eyes trained adamantly above his neck, hoping he would put his robes back on. He turned to her and blinked.

“Oh, don’t look so worried. He’s just for you and me.” Kael gave her a reassuring smile. “We’ll keep him in our private chambers. My father has always had stringent rules about pets in the palace.”

Pets? The color rose hot in Jaina’s cheeks. She swallowed, retrieving her voice. “Arthas is the prince of Lordaeron. You can’t keep him in your bedroom!”

Kael looked unimpressed. “Can’t I, now? Lordaeron will sort itself out. They’ve dealt with more dire situations in years past, I assure you.” He returned his attention to where Arthas knelt on the floor, fixing the naked paladin with an almost affectionate expression. “And I’m no cruel master. If Arthas behaves, he’ll have his own quarters eventually.”

“You can’t do this,” she repeated. Arthas’s golden chain hung limp in her hand. Jaina had always loved animals, but who would ever think of keeping another person as a pet? 

Kael raised his extended eyebrows. “Actually, I’ve trained him quite well. See for yourself.” He moved to stand before Arthas, and Jaina watched with transfixed dismay. “Down,” he ordered.

Arthas remained upright and unresponsive, still disturbingly erect. Kael frowned, and to Jaina’s sheer horror, began to fondle himself. “Arthas.” His hand stroked lazily at his groin as he spoke. “Don’t make me discipline you in front of Jaina. You’re going to embarrass both of us.”

Kael tutted at the ensuing motionless silence. He placed his bare foot on Arthas’s chest and pressed him flat to the marble floor; the chain pulled taut and gleamed in the light. A grin unfurled across Kael’s face as he extended his foot higher, rubbing the sole against Arthas’s cheek. Jaina stared at Kael’s crimson painted toenails.

“Hm. All right, Arthas. It comes to this again.” 

Without warning, Kael stepped back, dropped to his knees, and hoisted Arthas’s legs in the air. Jaina gasped, turning her head away sharply; but the mirror had reappeared, and reflected in the glass, she saw it—Kael’s white-knuckled grip, the muscles straining in his arms, Arthas baring his teeth as…

Jaina’s heart hammered, and her vision swam. That was how men made love, wasn’t it? But no, this wasn’t lovemaking between Kael and Arthas. This was…

A strangled moan spilled from Arthas, long and guttural. Kael laughed.

“Mmm. You like that, don’t you? Not much of a punishment for you, is it?” Kael smacked the underside of Arthas’s thigh, and the loud clap echoed through the room.

Panic welled up in Jaina’s throat. She let go of the leash, and it fell with a jangling clatter.

“Stop!” she cried, seizing Kael’s arm. It was immovable as a metal bar. “Enough, Kael!”

He glanced at her idly, not breaking the steady slap of his hips against flesh. “Sit on his face.”

“What?!”

Jaina, Kael’thas is a madman.

Arthas, all this time, Arthas had been right—

“Don't be shy, Jaina.” Kael barely looked up, his voice a purr.

Jaina scrambled to kneel beside Arthas’s head, frantically tugging up the scarf, ignoring the stream of hair-raising groans. “Arthas! Arthas, can you hear me?”

Arthas’s pupils consumed the sea-green of his irises, and his lidded gaze was like a pair of wide tunnels, black like on the night they’d lain together. 

“Jaina,” he whispered. His head wobbled from Kael’s heavy thrusting, and Jaina clutched the sides of his face in desperation. She leaned closer, tossing the knotted scarf across the floor.

“It’s okay—I’ll save you, I promise—I’ll get this collar off—We won’t go to Quel’Thalas—”

“Sit on my face…”

NO! ARTHAS—

Jaina’s eyes snapped open. Sweat trickled beneath her nightgown as she clenched her fingers into the pillow. A candle burned low from her bedside table, and a hefty tome weighted the white sheets between her legs. She clambered out of bed and stood in the center of the room, still breathless.

No, Kael wouldn’t do that.

Why not? You think him so noble?

Kael didn’t do anything like that! Let’s just accept that everything was a mistake, and move on.

Jaina pressed her palms to her face, attempting to calm herself as she recalled her conversation with Arthas.

He tied me up. He touched me, against my will.

She let her hands drop, and her gaze fell upon the bottles on her desk. Yellow candlelight glinted from their glossy surfaces. Jaina walked over.

Two of the bottles contained tonics—Antonidas’s misplaced orders. They were both standard glass tubes, neatly labeled and sealed with silver wax. Their austerity stood in stark contrast to the third bottle, an ornate crystal flask carved into a tiny coiled snake; its seal was broken, and nearly a quarter of the inner volume was empty.

As the label on the underside indicated, the liquid ruby contents were an aphrodisiac. Given the circumstances, Jaina was quite sure that this was the sexual stimulant intended for Antonidas’s colleague, the missing shipment that her mentor had complained about. Had Kael really used this? He must have chanced across it in the cabinet, much like she did, and borrowed it opportunistically.

Jaina’s stomach flopped as she picked up the bottle and ran her finger along the raised stippling of the serpent’s scales. Could she turn this over…? What would Antonidas think? What if he noticed the broken seal, looked at Jaina with his piercing gaze, and knew? He’d even witnessed her that night as she and Kael walked through the corridor, pawing at each other like infatuated lovers…

No, she couldn’t give this to Antonidas. She couldn’t risk the terrible assumptions. With another swell of nausea, Jaina buried the snake bottle in the very bottom of her desk drawer, unable to look upon it any further.

She returned to her bed and lay down, now wide awake as she eyed the door. She’d cast a silencing spell earlier to block out the periodic knocking by who she could only assume was Kael.

Jaina, listen to me. Something was wrong that night. Really.

Arthas had been right all along, and she’d treated him like a jealous, paranoid instigator.

Jaina's heart pounded. The room was quiet, but her head still spun with imagined knocking from the door, serpentine hissing from the drawer, and sexual groaning from her nightmare; there would be no more sleeping here. With a burst of decisive unease, she grabbed her cloak, blew out the candle, and slipped from her room.


 

Arthas opened the door. He wore only thin cotton shorts, and his hair was mussed. His bleary eyes were dilated in the gloom. 

“Jaina…? What is it? It’s two in the morning.”

“I couldn’t sleep,” Jaina said, feeling self-conscious. After walking through the streets of Dalaran in nothing but a cloak tossed over her nightgown, her head had sufficiently cleared to realize her irrational impulsivity. Nevertheless, she’d continued her path up the silent inn stairs, desperate to see Arthas sane and un-collared. 

“What’s wrong?” he asked, closing the door behind her as she entered the darkened room. She folded her cloak over his chair and removed her shoes.

“I had a bad dream.” Jaina slipped into his bed, resigned to the childish nature of her visit. The spot where he’d lain was saturated with his comforting scent and warmth, and she buried the side of her face in his pillow. 

The concern faded from Arthas’s face, replaced by a look of amusement as the corners of his lips curled upward. “Oh?” He stepped over and moved to lie beside her. His bare torso pressed to her back, radiating heat like a furnace, and his heavy arm draped over her waist.

“So tell me,” he murmured against her hair, “what fearsome nightmare sent brave Jaina Proudmoore fleeing into my arms?”

Jaina closed her eyes. “You were sick.”

“That’s sweet,” he breathed, and she could hear the smile.

Arthas’s body was warm, almost too warm, but she leaned back anyway into his solid presence. “How about you?” she asked. "Have you had any lately?" She couldn’t describe Arthas as carefree, yet he never seemed to fret much about anything, either.

He paused before replying, and his thumb traced lazy circles over the fabric of her nightgown. “I did last week,” he said. He brushed up the hem to rest his palm on her thigh. “You rode off on a horse with another man.”

Arthas’s tone was absentminded, and his hand began to slide inward. Jaina lay still. “I have no time for horseback rides,” she said. 

“What if the man were me?”

“Well, then I suppose I’d ride the horse for a while.”

His fingers dipped into the line between her closed legs, trailing upward before migrating to play with her hair. He lifted a lock and ran his fingertips from root to tip, letting each strand fall one by one. Jaina opened her eyes to stare at the dim wall, unable to relax in spite of the pleasant sensation.

“Arthas…” There was still so much she didn’t understand, and perhaps against her better judgment, she had to ask him.

“Hm?”

“That night…” Jaina hesitated. Gauging by how Arthas tensed, there was no need to specify to which night she referred. “Did you drink anything?”

“No.” His touch ceased its toying. She waited. Behind her, his chest rose and fell with silent breaths. “Yes… I did,” he muttered. “His wine.”

Jaina recalled the sight of the diluted wine in the conjuring fountain, burbling over shattered violet glass. Her imagination began to weave perturbing thoughts—Kael forcing the neck of the bottle between Arthas’s clamped lips, Kael ravaging Arthas with a wine-soaked tongue while red drink trickled between their locked mouths… Could someone as gentle as Kael do such things? But no, the man who’d grasped her chin and pinned her wrists wasn’t truly so gentle…

She realized, with a flicker of unease, that Arthas hadn’t spoken further.

“Jaina,” he said finally. His voice was coarse and constricted.

Her pulse quickened as his arms tightened around her, drawing her flush to his body. His hand slid from waist to breast, where he cupped with sudden boldness.

“Arthas,” she gasped, squirming at the unexpected touch. Hairs brushed her skin as his legs twined with her own. This wasn’t so different from how they’d always toed the line—hands sliding over clothing, bodies pressed together through a layer of fabric, lips kissing exposed skin above the neckline—but those tacit boundaries, since thoroughly breached, seemed gone forever between them. 

“Tell me. You wouldn’t deny me, would you?” His grip was firm, and she shuddered at the husky voice hot in her ear.

How romantic that promise had felt, back on that autumn night when she swore herself to him with earnest abandon… and how foolish it seemed just two months later, on Winter Veil Eve when he changed his mind about everything. But now those words still seized her like fingers grasping the back of her neck. The vow was like a chain between them, sometimes threadlike silver, other times heavy iron, and it seemed that Arthas would never let go.

“I never would,” she heard herself whisper, knowing how he relished the words. He tweaked her nipple with brazen familiarity, and his hard frame was unyielding behind her as she arched in response.  

“But Kael'thas? Would you deny him?”

“Arthas…” Jaina regretted reminding him of Kael. Just moments ago he’d been languid, and now he stirred with sudden agitation like a prodded snake. 

“Say yes to only me.”

His tone had dropped, and his embrace tightened. The masculine scent of the bed now seemed to stifle Jaina, swallowing her back to a place of starry-eyed teenage promises and heart-fluttering admiration. 

This was just a game, she thought, a childish game she didn’t want to play. But the past welled up inside of her, and the girl who loved him was already answering eagerly.

“Yes,” she whispered, “Arthas.”  

He tugged the strap of her nightgown and peeled down the silky cloth, exposing her breasts. His palm pushed her shoulder flat to the mattress as he shifted on top of her, head bearing down to devour her mouth, knees parting her thighs; his touch crashed over her like a tide.

Jaina broke away from the pressure of his lips and tongue. “Arthas,” she protested, though even to her own ears, his name sounded like a plea.

“I’ll be gentle,” he whispered, tossing back the sheets. His raised body was a black silhouette looming in the dark, edged with lines of silver by the wan moonlight behind him. 

“Let’s just lie down together. Please.” Was that possible anymore? Or was she naïve, coming to his bed as though they were mere children?

Arthas paused. His face was shrouded by gloom, and for a moment, he was still and silent as a statue. Jaina pulled the bunched gown back over her chest, gazing up into his invisible eyes.

“Okay,” he said, and lowered back down beside her. She shifted on her side; his arms wrapped around her once more, and the tip of his nose grazed the cusp of her ear. Adrenaline jolted through Jaina as he slid up her nightgown and pressed himself between her closed thighs, clutching her hip and wedging his rigidity against the crotch of her underwear.    

They lay tense and tangled. Jaina listened to the steady exhalations behind her ear, paralyzed by the hard heat that refused to be ignored. 

Expectation clotted in the air between them. He waited, and so did Jaina, smothered from behind by his body’s blatant invitation. Time stretched to distortion, and she soon ceased to distinguish if the throb of coursing blood below the waist was his or her own.

Eventually, Arthas’s limbs relaxed and his breathing slowed. Only then did Jaina extract herself from the bed, retrieve her cloak and shoes, and retreat silently from the room. 


 

The study door was propped ajar. Jaina paused in the corridor, transfixed by the sight of Kael working at his desk. Sun from the window fell upon him like lacquer, lighting his hair and robe accents a gleaming gold. His long eyebrows were knitted in concentration as a sleek black quill glided across parchment, pinched between his slender fingers.

Kael still looked every bit as refined as the day she’d first met him in Dalaran. He had been a prince by every connotation—poised, beautiful, radiating nobility like a fairytale illustration come to life—and in his presence she’d felt like a childish bumpkin, an imposter in a resplendent city of grand and powerful magi. For all his kind smiles and familiar gestures, a persistent glass case seemed to hang suspended in the air around him.

But those days had passed, and somewhere between then and now, foreign royalty became simply her fellow scholar, recognizably youthful in spite of his years, eager to share his culture and knowledge. Perhaps theirs wasn’t a friendship of snowball fights and breathless laughter, but it was friendship nonetheless.

And now, that portrait of Kael was cracking too, its paint peeling back to reveal a person she’d never seen. This was a man with covetous hands and cunning eyes, driven to underhandedness by some incomprehensible hunger.

I may be an elven prince, but lest you forget—I am still simply a man…

Arthas was a man too, and for all his lust and imperfection, Jaina couldn’t imagine him tampering with a bottle of wine. She cast aside her contemplations and stepped into the study, reaching into her robe pocket to finger the cool weight of Taretha’s metal pendant.

“Kael. May I speak with you?” Jaina steeled her focus and approached his desk. Character aside, he was a masterful mage; and for now, that was all that mattered.  

Kael stood immediately, and his green eyes locked upon Jaina’s with desperate intensity. “I can only beg your understanding…” He paused to wet his lips, blinking. Jaina met his gaze. 

“I understand quite well now. You needn’t explain yourself.” She sterilized her tone with polite detachment. Somehow, Kael’s ruffled composure only bolstered her determination.

“It was the barest hint. This I swear,” he insisted, speaking with urgent haste. “I wanted you terribly, and I was a fool in my greed. I only wished for you to embrace your passions. It was never my intent to addle and exploit you.”

Jaina remained silent, listening in spite of herself. Exploit… but wasn’t that exactly what he had done? Rendered her vulnerable, abused her trust, and wielded her intimacy as a weapon in his asinine rivalry with Arthas?                                                

“The person who I made love with that night—was she not still you, Jaina?” Kael refused to break his earnest stare, and Jaina held it, chin raised. Her mind flashed back to the scene in the mirror, the stunned blue of her reflection's eyes, dismayed and excited as her bare body surrendered to his rousing touch. “Is there truly no piece of your heart that desires me?”

I did it because I wanted to. That’s why it happened. I was curious to… to have sex, with you and him both.

That was what she’d told Arthas, but Jaina wasn’t sure if she still believed it.  

Please continue, Kael.

Kael, Kael… KAEL—

Jaina swallowed back a rising patter of anxiety in her throat. “Why Arthas too?” she asked suddenly. What did Kael do to Arthas? The question still haunted her, but voyeuristic curiosity had now curdled to disturbed concern. 

“That was a development beyond my control.” Kael spoke smoothly now, but his ears were flushing pink. “I feel nothing but the utmost regret for everything that took place.”

Whether he was genuinely contrite or not, Jaina felt confident that Kael would never have admitted the truth unprompted. A tendril of disdain uncurled in her chest.

“You offered to aid me with your services.” Her stern tone felt unnatural directed at Kael, who was her undeniable superior by multiple definitions—he possessed higher social rank as well as authority within the Kirin Tor, he was the more experienced mage, and on a purely physical level, he was simply older, taller, and stronger—but Jaina braced her resolve regardless. “I’ve come to accept that proposal.” Kael could be a valuable resource, and that was what she needed.

“Of course,” Kael said. He gazed at her with an appearance of sincerity upon his unnervingly handsome face. “I’ll do anything you wish.”

Was this the so-called ‘power of a woman,’ the ability to hold an infatuated man in the palm of her hand? No… one day, Jaina swore, she would cast all manner of magic on her own. That would be true power. Kael could barely be trusted as things stood, and knowing how profoundly he despised orcs, Jaina was convinced he would turn on her in an instant if he discovered the truth.

She reached into her robes and withdrew Taretha’s necklace, then placed the piece of silver jewelry on Kael’s desktop. 

“I’d like you to enchant this,” she said, watching as Kael eyed it with an unreadable expression. “Please imbue it with the strongest protective properties available.”

Since the necklace was already Taretha’s belonging, no questions would be raised if she wore it around Durnholde. On the day of the escape, anything could go awry—blazing fire, stampeding orcs, clashing weapons, collapsing rubble—and Taretha couldn’t be left defenseless.

Kael hesitated. “May I ask who this is intended for?”

“My cousin,” Jaina said. Lying felt easy now; even if he saw through her false words, he wouldn’t stop her. As she’d now learned, Kael wasn’t a paragon of honesty himself, and the threat of leaking his misconduct hung unspoken in the air.

“Very well.” Kael scooped the chain and slipped it in his desk drawer, fixing Jaina with a penetrating look. “I’ll ensure your cousin’s safety.”


 

Arthas knocked and waited. The citadel hallway was barren and hushed, as it always was when he came by. Magi were a subdued bunch, it seemed.

Jaina opened the door, a surprised look upon her face. Her blonde hair tumbled down the front of violet robes.

“Arthas?” She poked her head across the threshold to glance down the corridor. “What are you doing here?”

“Visiting you,” he said, stepping inside. “I hope that’s all right.” Jaina’s dim room was a mess, and he nearly tripped over a stack of tomes as he moved to the bed. He tossed off his cloak and dropped onto the edge of her mattress.   

“Well, we’re not supposed to host guests past ten.” Jaina checked beyond the entryway once more before shutting the door. “You walked here so late? Don’t you need to wake up early tomorrow?” The lantern sputtered from her desk, and its soft aura of light wavered across surrounding sheaves of parchment.     

Arthas grinned, kicking off his boots and reclining into her bed. The frame emitted a creak beneath his weight. “Don’t tell me some old mage actually comes by and checks. Anyway, you came to see me last night, didn’t you? I thought I’d see you too.”

In spite of her concern, Jaina looked pleased. “It should be fine, as long as we keep our voices down.” 

“I’m not interrupting your studying, am I?” Arthas scanned the mounds of notes and books littering the floor. He wondered if she had exams approaching, and felt a stir of guilt.

“No, it’s okay,” she said. Arthas shifted to the side, but Jaina seated herself opposite from him instead, facing him cross-legged and smiling tiredly. Bags still shadowed the skin beneath her eyes. “How was your day?”

“More of the same,” he said, fluffing Jaina’s pillow next to him. “I received word from Uther, and I’m to travel with him to Durnholde next week. My father is ill, so I’ll be going in his place.”

Jaina’s eyes widened, and she leaned forward. “Durnholde? Why?”

“Remember the gladiator orc? He escaped. The Silver Hand captured him in the Alterac foothills.” Jaina looked stricken by the news, and Arthas eyed her carefully as he continued. “Blackmoore never reported the incident. We’ll be meeting with him and conducting an inspection of the encampments.” Jaina scooted closer, white-faced. “You know, this is exactly why orcs shouldn’t be educated with their own personal library. A fugitive orc trained in armed combat and military strategy? That’s a recipe for disaster.”

“What happened to Thrall?” Jaina asked, clutching his knee. Arthas hesitated. Was she worried about the great green brute? Perhaps he’d charmed her with his perfect Common. Outside of the arena, Blackmoore had him trained to smile and bow like an oversized butler. It was unsettling, as Arthas recalled.

“Well, he’s back in Durnholde for now. Uther said he was found with a small band of other orcs. They all surrendered peacefully, interestingly enough.” Arthas folded his hands on his chest. “There were pet wolves too, but they fled into the mountains.” He paused and raised his eyebrows. “Are you all right, Jaina?”

Jaina blinked. “Yes, I was just surprised,” she said, moving up further to lay beside him. She met his gaze with damp blue eyes. “Maybe I could go with you and Uther?”

“What? Why?”

“I’m worried about Antonidas’s project.” Her fingers traced the muscles beneath his shirt as she spoke. “I’d like to see how all the orcs are doing.”

Arthas sighed and draped his arm around her. “I’ll ask Uther. But don't worry about Durnholde and orcs. Really, just relax.” Jaina nodded absentmindedly, resting her head to his collarbone. “You’ve seemed so stressed lately. Is everything okay?”

She nodded again. Arthas felt her tremble, and he sat up to look; her face was pale and drawn, and her eyes brimmed with tears. He stared in bewilderment. Recently, he had no idea what went on in her head. He supposed her strange behavior might just be attributed to sleep deprivation, or perhaps menstruation.

“Jaina,” he murmured, reaching to stroke her hair. She wiped at her face, looking embarrassed as she shifted away onto her side. He placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Lie down.” He heard her sniff as he pressed her gently onto her stomach.

Arthas ran the heel of his palm along her spine, and his concern began to fade as she lay still. He bent over to massage his fingers at the base of her neck, then worked his way down to the edge of her shoulder blades, pleased to hear her emit a small sigh. The fabric bunched with the movements of his hands, and he noted the absence of an undergarment strap.

“Take off your robes,” he said softly. Jaina tensed beneath him. “You don’t have to hide. I’ve seen you already.”

After a brief hesitation, Jaina acquiesced. She rose to a sitting position, and the flimsy violet fabric dropped to her waist. Arthas admired the sight of her hair cascading over the smooth skin of her back, and he caught a fleeting glimpse of her breast from the side before she lowered herself prone against the mattress. 

He stripped his own shirt and leaned over, pressing his fingers methodically along her slight muscles. Her torso was lithe and narrow, and Arthas found himself remembering the days when he was barely a few inches taller than her, back when the concept of man and woman meant nothing at all. Now, the physical divide between them was impossible to ignore. Jaina’s soft, slender form seemed light as blown glass beneath his solid frame.

I’m not a fragile little figurine.

A smile tugged his lips. Jaina had said that nearly nine years ago, and he’d never forgotten it.

“It feels nice,” she said quietly, eyes closed. “Thank you.”

Arthas continued to gaze at her as he worked, his mind wandering down a scattered path of old memories. He remembered himself on a day long past, slouched distractedly in the back of a chapel, tuning out the bishop and peering at a small blonde head seated several rows ahead. He remembered befriending a girl who never shied away from dirty fingernails or snow whizzing at her face. He remembered being crammed into starchy formal attire, scalp still smarting from a comb yanked through his hair, feeling his heart thud strangely when Admiral Proudmoore’s daughter beamed from across the room.

Even as a young boy, he’d known Jaina was special to him. He wouldn’t lose her—not to his own fickle doubts, and certainly not to a conniving elven suitor. It would always be the two of them, just as it always had been, and just as it was now.

The lamp had sputtered out, letting darkness bathe the room. Jaina’s drowsy breath rose and fell. A light knock sounded, and Arthas’s hands paused.  

“I’m not answering that,” Jaina muttered. “It’s too late.”

“Jaina. It’s me.” Kael’s muffled voice emanated from the corridor, and Arthas slid immediately off the bed, ignoring Jaina’s arm reaching to halt him.

“Arthas, don’t,” she pleaded quietly.

He strode across the floor, avoiding the books scattered in the gloom. Jaina’s whispers of protest were indiscernible, and the hushed noise was replaced by frantic rustling when he swung open the door.

Kael stood waiting, looking as immaculately stuffy as ever. Arthas stepped to the threshold; their eyes swiveled down and up each other’s bodies.

“Can I help you?” Arthas said, cocking his eyebrows. Kael’s upper lip twisted as he stole a second glance at Arthas’s bare abdomen.

“No. You cannot.” Kael spoke in a clipped tone, and his fingers clenched around a folded slip of black cloth. “Where’s Jaina?”

Arthas smiled unpleasantly. “In bed.”

“It’s far too late for you to be here.”

So an old mage came by to check after all, Arthas thought dryly. He savored Kael’s jealous, baleful stare.  

“Sorry. We got carried away.” Arthas held his gaze and adjusted the crotch of his trousers, sliding his hand in a lewd, deliberate line along the seam before dropping his arm.

Kael’s ears flushed like a pair of pointy beacons. He stepped forward and craned his neck, scowling into the darkened room behind Arthas. 

“Jaina—”

“Do you mind?” Arthas placed his palm on the doorframe, barring Kael’s line of sight. Kael’s attention switched back to his face, and a sneer exposed a sliver of gritted white teeth.

“Watch your mouth with me,” he warned quietly. “I might repurpose it.” He gazed past Arthas and spoke louder. “I’ve brought the enchantment. It’s finished.”

“Thank you.” Jaina’s stilted voice came muffled from behind them, accompanied by more rustling.

“Here, I’ll take that for her,” Arthas said, plucking Kael’s wrapped object from his grasp. He noticed that the elf’s claws were trimmed short. Was Kael still hoping for a puncture-free encounter with Jaina? Well, he could go screw his manicured hand instead. 

“Bye.” Arthas flashed a nasty grin before swinging the door shut, half-expecting to hear Kael’s blistering glare sizzle the wood.

 Somewhere from her bed, Jaina huffed a sigh. Arthas turned to the darkness and waited for his eyes to readjust.

“Leave it on my desk, please.” She sounded peeved, and the pale form of her blonde head faced the wall. Arthas walked over to the desk and paused. He unraveled the dark silk, and his curiosity was piqued by the discovery of a slinky metal necklace. An ‘enchantment’… Arthas wondered sourly what Kael and Jaina were doing with this. They always seemed to be fraternizing over books and obscure magical projects.   

“Where’s your oil?” he asked. “I’ll refill the lamp.” Perhaps he'd take a closer look.

“In the top drawer,” Jaina replied. “There are matches too.”

Arthas slid open the spacious drawer, unsurprised to discover it stashed haphazardly with miscellaneous junk. He felt around and withdrew a slim cardboard box from the very back, raspy on the edges and encased by a layer of dust; presumably Jaina never used matches anymore. He placed that on the desk and returned to rummaging.

There was a paper booklet filled with laminated photos. Even without further examination, he had a good idea what it was. A knotted piece of dried grass fell out as he moved it aside, revealing a glass inkpot, a tin oil canister, and an intricately textured crystal statue. He withdrew the canister, and on a spur of idle interest, lifted the statue as well.  

His vision had by now fully accustomed to the dark; he could see clearly that the dense statue was actually a flask, shaped like a yawning snake and filled with dark liquid. Jaina’s perfume, he supposed. His older sister had owned an array of similar fragrance bottles, delicately embellished and stoppered with enamel flowers. Was there such a thing as a sweet-scented snake, though? He pulled out the dropper cork and sniffed. The contents exuded only the vaguest odor, which he couldn’t quite pinpoint… it was almost reminiscent of spiced milk, deepened with a musky undertone.

Arthas glanced over his shoulder, puzzled. Jaina remained motionless, presumably brooding, and he decided not to disturb her. He pushed the cork back in and turned the bottle over in his hands. A tiny label was sealed to the bottom, and he squinted to read.

Mandragora Viper Extract…

Aphrodisiac of Alraune…

Blood pounded in his ears as he lowered the bottle. There was no coincidence.

That night… did you drink anything?

Jaina’s question had struck him like a brick the prior night. The wine. It was so obvious, and Arthas had felt like a fool. Kael was a sorcerer, sleeves full of magical trickery, but in all likelihood, the method was nothing obscure. Laced drinks. The thought made Arthas’s blood boil anew. He’d always known, just not how. And even with that latest epiphany, the proof had long since bled out in a fountain.  

The question lingered unasked last time—did Jaina know? Or after begging him to not discuss the subject further, after tearfully defending Kael’s honor, was she merely speculating? Now he had the truth. Jaina indeed knew.

How this bottle ended up in her desk drawer didn’t matter. He trusted his gut before, and he trusted it now. Somewhere, somehow, Jaina discovered the evidence… and she never told him. Did he not deserve to know what happened? Even worse, Kael suffered no consequences, and the elf still saw fit to make late-night visits to her bedroom door.   

Arthas nearly turned to toss the bottle to the bed and demand his rightful answers, but a cold flood of clarity made him pause. Jaina’s soft-spoken question replayed in his skull.

Don’t you believe everyone deserves a chance for redemption?

Jaina, though brilliant and high-minded, had a weak heart. She’d let the wickedest of wretches walk unpunished if they looked half-sorry. Maybe one day she would learn that the world didn’t work like a bedtime fable, but for now, Arthas would take matters into his own hands. After all, what would confronting her accomplish? He couldn’t stomach the thought of her crying and apologizing on behalf of the elf who violated both of them.  

Let’s just move on. I need to move on. Please.

Never mind Jaina. Justice demanded retribution, and Arthas would have to do it alone.

He returned the crystal flask to the drawer, blood coursing with the thrill of vindication. Perhaps he wasn’t privy to every last detail, but he could infer enough. He proceeded to unscrew the oil canister and refill the lamp. With the wick lit, a fluttering glow bathed the surroundings in shadowed gold.

Bright silver gleamed from the desk, and Arthas cast a last glance to the necklace. The pendant was a flat crescent moon, simple in design and no wider than a copper coin. Overall it was an underwhelming piece.

“So, what does that necklace do?” he asked, now approaching the bed. Jaina still faced the wall, arms folded.

“It’s a protective amulet,” she said tiredly. “Just a small academic project.” The irritation had drained from her voice, and she shifted to face him as he lay down beside her.

“Hm.” Arthas’s lashes lowered. Jaina’s robes were secured over her shoulders, and he reached to slip them off again, taken by the impulse to feel the warmth of her breasts pushed against his chest. At the first tug of his fingers, Jaina clasped his wrist.

“Why does Kael make you act like this?” she asked, fixing him with a sharp look. He halted his touch, but didn’t withdraw.

“Like what?”

“You’re different whenever he’s around.” Jaina hesitated, pursing her lips. “It makes me think of a dog marking a street post. I hate it.” Arthas met her eyes, and she continued. “Like that time in the library. You only did that because he was there, didn’t you?”

There were only so many forms of recreation available in Dalaran, and driving Kael to hissy fits was premium entertainment. Arthas wasn’t inclined to apologize for that. 

“You could have ignored the door just now, like I asked, but you went out of your way to… do that thing you do. It’s juvenile.”

Jaina looked at him with weary frustration; Arthas cupped the side of her face and ran a thumb over her cheekbone.

“Maybe he shouldn’t come around here,” he murmured. If Jaina were a street post, he certainly wouldn’t let another dog piss on her. What was so bad about sending a message? “You know what he wants from you. Disregard that all you’d like, but it doesn’t change reality.”

Jaina knitted her brow. “I’m not ignorant. I can handle the situation myself.”

For a moment, Arthas appraised her defiant expression. She tensed as he leaned over and brushed his lips to her ear.

“Can you?” he whispered. Drinking Kael’s poison, wearing his decorations, and otherwise succumbing to his advances didn’t seem like ‘handling the situation,’ yet Arthas held his tongue. He had an axe to grind, but not with Jaina.

“Yes.” She spoke firmly, even as she squirmed beneath him. He pushed his weight over and caged her between his elbows.

“Kiss me,” he said softly. She held his gaze, blinking. Arthas bent his face closer, brushing the tips of their noses together.

“Kiss me,” he repeated. He felt the quiver of her breath and the dip of her swallow. His lips met hers with the lightest touch, and he poised motionless, waiting.

“Kiss me.” The friction of his demand swept like a feather, and Jaina pressed into him, her fingers clutching his arms. He kept his head still as she moved her mouth against his.

Her tongue slid tentatively, wet and silken in his mouth, and it was all the invitation he needed. He wound his hands through her hair, bearing forward to probe deeper, sinking her into the mattress; she gave no protest as he let his hips rest on top of her own. 

“Arthas…” Jaina’s voice was filled with longing, as was the look in her eyes.

They wanted each other, and what reason was there to hesitate? Their first union was nothing but a tainted mockery. This was how it should have happened, the two of them in her bed, brought together by honest desire—not fucking desperately on the floor while she gagged on an elf’s cock. He hated himself more each time he inevitably masturbated to that repulsive memory.

“I love you,” he breathed. Jaina was losing composure under him, misty-eyed and trembling, and the sight only cemented his resolve. Making love with him would be nothing to drip tears over and call a mistake. “Let's be together tonight.” He brushed a lock of hair from her forehead, sweeping his fingertips tenderly across the skin.  

“I love you,” she said, and in the subdued glow of the lamplight, Arthas could see the pained conflict etched across her features. His heart yearned for the bright-eyed girl who threw herself in his arms and grinned into their kisses. He wondered, with a sudden flicker of doubt, if he should wait for that person to return… but standing around wishfully never accomplished anything, and with that thought in mind, he dipped back down to capture her lips.

How many times had he kissed her now? It felt like nearly a hundred—a blur of childish pecks, chaste thrills, lips locked hungrily—and he’d make that thousands one day.

His mouth pressed a burning path down her body, pulling off her robe as he went. Every part of her would feel him; first the curve of her neck, then the line of her collarbone, and next the swell of her breasts. Arthas licked at her stiff nipples, excited by how she gasped and tugged his hair. He continued along the smooth plane of her stomach, feeling her squirm as he planted butterfly kisses to her navel and hips, forcing away the intrusive thought that this was a trail already blazed.

Her underwear was blue satin, and he paused upon reaching the hem. Was it the same pair…? His throat tightened as he saw the garment in his mind’s eye, Kael rubbing circles through its fabric with his thumb as he placed his lips to Jaina’s thigh. Arthas stripped the satin abruptly, sliding it all the way off her legs and flinging it to the floor. His pulse hammered with a spike of agitation.

Jaina watched him wide-eyed, flushed and breathless. He realized he was glaring, and he smiled reassuringly.

“Just relax,” he murmured, coaxing her thighs open with gentle pressure. Her cheeks reddened further, and he wasted no time in lowering his face between her parted legs, lapping at her delicate slit. He listened to her breathing hitch and quicken as he worked a finger inside of her.

This was what he was supposed to do, wasn’t it? He hated the fact that his main source of reference was a live demonstration by the person he despised most, a foppish elf. Unlike Jaina, Arthas had no attention span for erotic literature; and even in his most desperately hormonal moments, he never dared make furtive excursions to seek relief commercially, lest Uther catch wind and hammer down the bordello door. Arthas had seen little point in tomcatting with girls, and the notion that Jaina might ever compare him in bed to anyone was previously unthinkable. But Kael had done this, and Arthas wouldn’t be outdone.

“Arthas—"

Jaina was hot and tight, clenching on his finger as he slid back inside. He continued to piston in and out, laving his tongue over her swollen nub, encouraged by how she tensed and shuddered. His own arousal strained and throbbed from the confines of his trousers.

“Ah, it’s too much—"

Light, wasn’t that exactly what she’d said to Kael? He could play the scene like a recording in his head. He fucked her harder with his finger, struggling to banish the mental image of the elf’s long-eared head clutched between her thighs. Her hips twisted suddenly, and he grabbed her waist and forced her still. Fluid trickled down his knuckles as Jaina squeezed around him, stifling her moans.

By now her body was surely ready for him, dripping on the sheets, and he leaned back to shuck off his trousers and undershorts. He wiped the moisture from his chin and positioned himself over her, watching her face intently. Jaina gazed up at him, lips flushed and parted, blue irises glistening in the wavering glow of the lamp; adoring, yielding, his.  

Arthas arranged the hair around her face affectionately, prolonging the moment. He wanted to remember this forever—the warm rise and fall of her breasts beneath him, her taste lingering on his tongue, the scent of her skin, the intimate hush of anticipation, the love in her eyes.  

“We’ll always be together, you and I. Won’t we, Jaina?”

Jaina looked about to cry, oddly pained, and he wondered if he said the wrong thing.

“Promise me,” he said, cradling her cheeks, even as his words seemed to wring tears from her eyes. “Please.”

Jaina blinked, sending droplets sliding and soaking into her hair. “Shouldn’t you make the promise?” she whispered. “You’re the one who changed your mind.”

Arthas hesitated. He cleared the damp trails with his thumbs. More spilled in their place as Jaina fixed him with a look of wounded expectation.

“I swear it,” he said. “I’m yours. Always.”

He waited to hear the echo, but it didn’t come. Jaina gazed up at him silently, still leaking tears. The sight made his chest constrict.

Arthas lifted his torso and guided himself to her entrance. He looked away from her crying face in favor of watching his rigid cock disappear between her legs; her folds were slippery, and she stretched smoothly along his girth as he sank inside. Jaina exhaled in a shuddering rush of breath.

“All right?” he asked hoarsely, even as his hips continued to press forward with a mind of their own, forcing her open until she could accept no more. He continued to stare down, transfixed by how her flesh parted and clung to his own as he withdrew. His entire shaft glistened in the low light, slick with her wetness. He began to push inward again, riveted by the silky sensation of her tight, yielding heat.

“Arthas…”

His gaze slid up at her breathless moan. Jaina’s eyes were glued to his face, and her stir of emotion was now glazed with desire. He smiled and rocked against her, watching as her mouth twitched open and trembled. Her teeth bit down over her lower lip as he gave a firmer stroke.

“Arthas…”

Her voice was higher this time, a sweet whimper, and he wondered how his name would sound in a shriek. He already knew that Jaina could be loud… her scream rang through his head.

KAEL—

Arthas’s heart banged in his ribcage as his grasp tightened on Jaina’s knee. He swiped a hanging lock of hair from his eyes, not breaking the steady rhythm of his thrusts. Jaina’s arms reached up for him; he stared briefly at her earnest, tear-stained face before leaning into her embrace. Their mouths met hungrily, and Arthas felt like he was melting amidst the warmth of her body.

“Jaina…” He groaned against her ear now, pulling her hips tighter to him and grinding her into the bed. “You're mine.” He needed Jaina to say it, to exorcise that specter in his skull, to soothe the stinging doubt now flaring in his chest. “Promise me.” 

A tendril of humiliation writhed through him upon hearing his own husky plea. He lowered his head and began to fuck her desperately, kissing her neck and combing his fingers through her hair.

“Arthas,” she gasped, arching her back. Her fingertips curved into the muscles of his shoulders while her breasts pressed firm to his chest. “Arthas—"

No, his name wasn’t enough. A name by itself meant nothing at all.

“Tell me,” Arthas muttered, curling his fingers and tugging at her bunched tresses. Jaina flinched as he nipped her throat.

“I love you,” she said, a tremor in her words, and her legs tensed and quivered around him. He felt the insistent throb of his rising climax, and he halted his movements.

Arthas rose upright to look at Jaina’s reddened face. Her gaze was heady with lust, and she panted as her lower body continued to squirm in needy bucks, sliding short strokes down and up his shaft. The sight was overwhelming, and with a grunt, he grabbed her waist and forced her still.

“Jaina. Say it,” he demanded, ignoring how his cock ached and twitched for release. He wiped the sweat from his brow and pulled out, fixing her with a serious expression.  

Frustration flitted across Jaina’s features. She drew her knees together and gave him a fond smile, eyes still lit with passion. “Please, let’s just make love,” she whispered.

Arthas hesitated. His stomach knotted. Why dodge such simple words? Did Jaina not trust him? Or was the girl who had once eagerly pledged herself already caught up in the arms of a manipulative elf?

I’ve yet to sleep in his bed.

‘Yet’… How often did she consider it? Or did he come here to her bed? Blood roared in Arthas’s ears at the thought.

Know that I touch higher than her thigh.

His breath choked on sudden pressure in his throat, and his vision blurred with a prickle. He gritted his teeth, forcing down the jealousy slashing from within. Jaina’s expectant stare pinched in concern.

“Arthas?”

So who fucks you better? Whose cock would you rather suck, Jaina?

That filthy spite burned on the tip of his tongue now, inflamed by the memories seared in his mind's eye, rattling the taut chain of his pride. Arthas clamped his mouth shut and lowered himself back over her.

Jaina sighed as he sank in once more. Her fingers fondled his hair and trailed along his spine, then clenched when he withdrew and stabbed with abrupt force. A stifled squeal escaped her lips; the sharp nick of her nails only spurred Arthas further, and he plunged hard again, trapping her writhing hips to the mattress and listening to her disjointed breaths.

“Did that hurt?” He stroked her cheek and pushed in gently this time. Jaina blinked up at him, collecting herself, and Arthas gazed at the clear blue of her eyes. His favorite color… the thought sent a pang through his thudding chest.

Jaina’s palms caressed his sides from rib to waist, smooth and steady as though to pacify an agitated horse. “No,” she said, voice soft. She wetted her parted lips and tilted her chin toward him.

“Good.” Arthas splayed her thighs flat and slammed in to the hilt. He pulled her arms off his shoulders and pinned her wrists on each side of her fanned blonde hair; they lay inanimate and immovable, like bird bones in iron. Jaina met his stare with flinching shock as he began to ram repeatedly, driving his cock deep in her tight heat.

I’m not a fragile little figurine.

Wasn’t that what he liked about her from the very beginning? He could always play rough with Jaina. That thought was hollow as he watched her naked body quake and brace beneath the heavy thrusting. Her hitched gasps punctuated the air amidst the steady smack of skin, too quiet to drown Kael’s voice lilting in his ears.  

Yes, she’s mine now, Arthas. 

She was absolutely dripping for me.

She’s already mine. Jealousy doesn’t become you.

Arthas’s movements faltered. Jaina’s wrists remained on the bed as he let go to cup her tensed face. He collapsed down over her, leaning his forehead to touch hers. The hot huffs of their breath mingled in the space between.

“Won’t you say it?” he begged, voice harsh with helpless frustration. “You’re mine. Swear it for me.” His thumbs pressed into the soft warmth of her cheeks, and a bead of sweat rolled along the ridge of his nose. “Don’t deny me.”

“Arthas.” Jaina’s slim hands mirrored his own, pressing from jaw to temple, palms surprisingly cold like the glass of a frosty window. “Enough,” she whispered, and then her lips were crushed to his mouth, sweet and insistent as her fingers slid higher to tangle in his hair. Her hips rolled upward, and her slick flesh slid on him from below with needy, fluent strokes. Arthas groaned into her kiss, hazy and derailed by the cascade of pleasure lapping through him.

He couldn’t last, not like this, and he dipped his face to the curve of her neck, sucking the flesh with urgent purpose, biting with punishing pressure even as Jaina cried out sharply. The sudden rake of her nails down his scalp sent shivers rippling down his spine. Jaina thrashed her head, body still drawing him close while her heartbeat hammered at him through her breast; Arthas mouthed wildly across her throat, wolfish in his violence and blinded by long gold strands, trembling as he imagined seizing Kael’s windpipe between his teeth and gnashing down hard.

A string of moans tumbled from Jaina, and abruptly she was still, convulsing on his cock as his fists clenched bundles of her hair. He grunted and shoved deep. Kael’s contorted face blazed behind his winced eyelids as he shuddered and came.

He lay draped on top of her, the surge of his orgasm spilling in warm pulses. His mouth dragged back up to kiss her; their lips slid and pressed together clumsily, and Arthas’s eyes remained shut as release tempered the frenetic boil of his blood. Jaina’s shaking fingers brushed light, mindless patterns down his shoulders.

The ragged breaths between them faded and settled, and he finally rose up, slipping out wetly. His gaze rested upon Jaina, and visceral satisfaction flooded through him at the sight of her body flushed and slack upon the sheets. His bites had stained a blotchy swath around her neck, and a milky drip of his come oozed out from between her thighs.

She was utterly his… whether she’d admit to that or not.

Jaina watched him as he continued his appraisal. Her parted lips glistened with his saliva as they spread into a dazed, affectionate smile. Arthas grinned in return, and he reached for her waist, caught by the impulse to pull her up into his lap. He stopped when her face blanched with sudden tension.   

“Oh… Did you…” She sat up, and the lamplight guttered from the desk behind her.

Arthas’s brow lowered in concern. “What’s wrong?” he asked, touching her arm. Jaina said nothing, mysteriously disturbed, and darted off the bed. He turned in bewilderment as her nude form hurried across the floor to the bathroom. The door remained ajar, and he got up to follow upon hearing the creak and spatter of her shower.

“Jaina?” Arthas halted at the threshold and stared. Jaina stood beneath the pouring sprinkle of water, head bowed as her fingers twisted in the shadowed junction of her legs; rivulets of water streamed over the lean curves of her flesh. She looked up at him, blinking, and a faint expression of nausea tainted her face when she spoke. 

“Arthas, we can’t have a child. Not now. Not like this.”

Oh. He hadn’t thought about that.

He stepped inside the darkened chamber, tiles cold under his feet. “If you do, we’ll wed immediately. Everything would be provided for.”

Jaina gaped at him. Water dripped in loud patters from her hair and chin. “Is that what you want?” Her voice was thin with tentative disbelief.

“Well, no.” The sobering confines of the bathroom boxed narrow around Arthas. Everything they’d discussed before was true; they were young, and he and Jaina both had their respective trainings to finish. He was no Varian Wrynn, only four years his senior and already both a king and father… The prospect of being responsible for an infant was just as blood-curdling as the last time Jaina played with his hair and sighed dreamily about blond babies. “But eventually, yes,” he added, steeling his nerves.

Jaina continued to stare helplessly. The shower crashed like a storm in the silence, and Arthas wet his lips.

“It’s fine, Jaina.” He spoke in an assured manner, even as the gravity of potential pregnancy began to soak him with its own invisible torrent. “Regardless of what happens, I’ll take care of it all.” He swallowed back the fear of the future, the fear of failure, the fear that drove him to push her away once before. He waited as Jaina pressed the heels of her palms over her eyes; they slid up her forehead to reveal a weary, hollow expression.

“It’s not fine,” she said. “We’re being irresponsible. We shouldn’t be doing this, really.”

Arthas had no reply. His expression must have betrayed his guilty uncertainty, because Jaina dropped her hands and smiled. The gesture was strained, hardly the buoyant glow he’d known so well.   

“No… you’re right. Things will be okay,” she said. “Let’s forget about it all.” In spite of himself, Arthas felt a flicker of frustration. Forget sleeping together… again? Acceptance was one thing, but he was tired of being asked to forget

Arthas stayed rooted to the spot, and Jaina blinked at him, running her fingers along her sopping hair. “I’ll come out in a minute,” she said. Her skin seemed almost luminescent in the gloom, and he paused for a moment to eye the wet, pert curves of her full breasts.

In other circumstances, he’d waste no opportunity to step in and join her. But his appetite for devilry had been sapped, now replaced by brooding focus. Unlike Jaina, Arthas had situations he couldn’t selectively forget—nor would he, if he had such an ability.

“All right,” he replied, and he departed the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. He pulled his clothes on, grabbed his cloak, and strode to the desk. The drawer slid open quietly, and its contents sprawled bright in the burning lamp’s radiance.

Yes, he thought, he would take care of everything.

 

Chapter Text


 “Perhaps you’d like the details of these other insults. Shall I tell you what it was like to hold her in my arms, to taste her, to hear her call out my—”

Arthas: Rise of the Lich King


 

Kael drew with quick precision, and the study was silent aside from the light scratch of the quill nub. Jaina sat before his mahogany desk, watching the feather as it trailed lines of ink onto the parchment. A selection of gleaming metal locks lay to the side.

“This is the basic anatomy of a combination padlock. Each rotating disc contains a gate—these squares,” Kael said, dotting the diagram. “Once all are aligned with the notches along the central bar, the spring at the end will decompress, thus opening the mechanism.” He set aside the quill and slid forward one of the locks, a four-digit cylinder cast in bronze. “Here, try with this. Dispel my ward first.”

Jaina cupped her palm over the metal, channeling her attention toward banishing the protective barrier. For several moments, her hand glowed with cloudy light; but the invisible presence refused to diminish, cold and stubborn below her skin.  

Kael smiled. “That’s a different ward than the one cast on the previous lock. It’s still a basic abjuration—you should be familiar with its counter.”

“Yes, I only need a minute,” Jaina replied, glancing up with a solemn expression. The smile faded from Kael’s face, and he waited quietly.

The ward dissolved, vanishing in a rush of warmth, and Jaina curled her grip around the lock. Magic suffused through her hand as she focused the unlocking spell.

“Be sure to line up the gates first,” Kael said, eyeing her fingers. “You should detect the asymmetry of the discs. Then rotate them in steady unison until the bar springs open. The manipulation requires a bit more delicacy than the pins in the tumbler lock.”

Jaina steeled her concentration, attempting to follow his instructions. As much as she would currently prefer to avoid Kael altogether, his eagerness to mentor her was too valuable to dismiss. He had always been an excellent teacher, and in light of his expertise, Jaina had suppressed her aversion and arrived in his study.

He reached across the desk, and Jaina’s forearm twitched back. “May I show you?” he asked, fleeting hurt evident on his face.

She nodded. Kael’s fingertips rearranged her grasp with a series of nudges, lingering just a brush too long, as they always did. His eyes flicked up, sharp and green, and Jaina forced away the thought that every inappropriate encounter with Kael seemed to start with an innocuous touch to her hand.  

“Keep your knuckles arranged straight along the axis. Like so.” He withdrew his arm and waited, observing as the lock’s numbers wobbled and began to revolve. Upon the faint sensation of release, Jaina relaxed, and the surge of magic ebbed.

Kael looked pleased. “Perfect,” he said, hooking his finger in the shackle and tugging it open with a click. “This has been child’s play for you so far.”   

In spite of herself, Jaina felt her cheeks glow with a thrill of success. She glanced at the combination, and the sequence caught her by surprise. “Oh, that’s my birthday.”

“Ah, so it is.”

Kael’s smile was tentative, and with a pang of discomfort, Jaina realized this was yet another one of his deliberate flirtations. She tore her eyes away from the engraved numbers.

“Thank you for the instruction. I appreciate it very much,” she said politely, returning the lock to Kael’s assorted collection. There remained pieces he hadn’t yet shown her, but Jaina felt anxious to exit the room. Kael’s familiarity seemed now a mockery of their corrupted friendship, and bitterness rose in her throat. “I’ll leave you to your day now.”

Kael caught her wrist as she moved to stand. Jaina froze with a severe look, and he stared at her pleadingly.

“Jaina… Would you ever forgive me?”

She pulled from his grasp and stood straight, lips tight. Her inclination to respond with a conflict-averse pleasantry withered beneath a burning flare of resentment.  

“I trusted you,” she said. Kael had deceived her—and to what end? To further inflame his obnoxious rivalry with Arthas? He may as well have splayed her on the divan and jammed the flag of Quel’Thalas between her legs. Worse still, he had used the most insidious of methods. For all of Jaina’s rationalizing, for all of the responsibility she had shouldered upon herself in the aftermath, she had in fact been nothing but a gullible pawn. “Is that what anyone should fear amongst the Kirin Tor? Being tricked and toyed with by their fellow scholars?”

“You aren’t a toy to me,” Kael insisted, rising to his feet as well. “You never were.”

Jaina felt her face flush. “You used me to hurt Arthas. You put me on display like a brothel show. How can you claim to ever have respected me?” The words spilled quivering from her mouth, threatening a flood. How could she forgive him for that night when the damages continued to fester? She could only fault Kael for Arthas’s unprecedented insecurity, and part of her even suspected that their seductive advances were driven by little else but sheer competitive lather.

“Please believe that I care for you deeply. I was a transgressive fool, monstrously selfish, and I can only plead for your forgiveness.” Kael’s ears took a slight shift downward, reminiscent of a chastised dog. His proud, elegant features lent themselves poorly to the doleful expression on his face. “Allow me to earn back the privilege of your trust. Ask of me anything you wish, and I will prove my unwavering repentance.”

Kael’s groveling was unsettling to behold, and the brief power trip that had titillated Jaina back in the exam room was nowhere to be felt. Now, only a single request surfaced in her mind.

“Whatever grudge remains between you and Arthas… End it. Please.” She held his earnest gaze as she spoke, voice firm.

Kael was experienced and measured, and surely capable of swallowing his pride and burying the hatchet. Weren’t he and Arthas both princes, after all? Cultured, educated, diplomatic adults? In all likelihood they would be neighboring kings one day, and Jaina believed conciliation would benefit not only her own sanity, but also future political relations. Arthas and Kael could hardly afford to continue sneering at one another from across the room; Jaina shuddered to think how such petty hostility might translate over sovereign territory lines.

Kael hesitated, clearly reluctant. “Have you told him everything?” he asked.

“Arthas doesn’t need to know about the wine,” Jaina said, folding her arms. Arthas could be rash in his anger, and she saw no reason to provoke him with such a revelation. “I only ask that you apologize to him, and look beyond his past mistakes. Arthas is a good person. And… I believe you are, too.”

She voiced her last sentiment with some degree of uncertainty, but nevertheless, Kael’s face lit up with desperate hope.

“I’ll mend our disagreement,” he promised, golden head bowed. “You have my word.”


 

Kael strode down the darkened street, long hair and robes fluttering beneath the turquoise glow of the streetlights. It was late Friday evening, and although most of the shopfronts were shuttered, a number of pedestrians still roamed the city. A young human couple canoodled in the shadow of a topiary, whispering and giggling. The sight made Kael’s jaw tighten.

Forgive me for what I did to you. It was egregious, and I sincerely regret it.

The prepared apology stuck like sour phlegm in his throat, and shortly he would expectorate the words and wash his hands of Arthas forever. Spiteful grudges were unbecoming, after all. If Jaina desired pacifism, then he would strive to be a paragon of gentility—the man he’d been before the Prince of Provocations obtruded into Dalaran.  

Kael’s fists clenched as he pictured Arthas shirtless and smirking in Jaina’s bedroom doorway. The urge to light up Arthas’s cock like a torch had made Kael’s fingertips prickle, and at this point, he would rather shake hands with a troll than apologize to the human lout. Hadn’t he already extended generous gestures of civility? He’d offered to privately tutor Arthas, hosted and clothed his inebriated carcass, tended to his illness with thankless dedication, shared confidential concerns regarding Jaina’s safety…

Admittedly, none of Kael’s olive branches had ever originated with pure intentions, but even the most unembellished interpretation of events lent him comparatively more credit. What had Arthas ever done to foster goodwill, besides tow him out of Lordamere Lake? And even then, gallant knight that he was, Arthas immediately employed that favor in an effort to finagle sexual compensation. And then he had the nerve to manhandle Kael’s head as though attempting to whack the leaves off a cabbage.

Everything about Lordaeron’s beloved prince was insufferable, really. Jaina’s favoritism remained mystifying, and Kael despised Arthas more than ever.

His sleeves rustled in the night breeze as he quickened his pace. Seething over grievances was counterproductive, and sobering humility gripped him as his thoughts shifted to Jaina. He recalled her tears soaking the front of his robes the night before she left for Durnholde, and his shame and revulsion upon recognizing the gravity of his misdeeds. Conflict resolution was now Jaina’s behest, and honoring her simple wish was the minimum he could do in repentance.

He inhaled, attempting to adopt a more clement mindset. After all, it was Arthas who had sent the invitation to meet tonight, citing a desire to revisit their previous discussion over the topic of Jaina’s safety. Given their dismal track record for productive conversations, Kael’s expectations lay low in the dirt, but perhaps he could give Arthas the benefit of the doubt.

He’d now reached the tavern, and the copper bells over the entrance jingled as he pulled open the door. The sound revived recent memories of being slammed over the wooden table, fingers nearly sprained, Arthas’s huffs of breath hot on his cheek, a crowd of hollering dwarves dousing him in ale… Kael struggled to quell his fuming. Of course this location was Arthas’s choice, as the building was conveniently connected to his inn. Few other public venues were open at this hour, and a detail as petty as their meeting site was simply not worth quibbling over.  

The interior of the tavern this time was mercifully devoid of drunken dwarves and their rowdy card game convention, albeit still crowded with foreigners. Goblins in black formalwear were muttering over paperwork and martinis, and humans wearing feather cloaks conversed with heavy accents by the bar. The air throughout the room was tinted with a fruity haze; a group of magi had set up a large silver hookah in the corner, and they took turns blowing smoke-filled bubbles from a soap wand. Kael glimpsed Arthas at the same window seat as before, where he was currently engaged by a pair of redheaded elven women leaning over his table.   

“Mm, and I hear that Lordaeron City has the finest beef in all the lands. Would you recommend us restaurants for our upcoming sabbatical?” Kael overheard one of them ask as she twirled a lock of hair. “I tell you, we don’t have proper hearty meat like that back in Quel’Thalas.” The two women broke into giggles, and Kael bristled. What was this preposterous heresy?

“Excuse me,” he said loudly, approaching behind them. They turned, rosy-cheeked and still grinning.

“Oh, Prince Kael’thas!”

“Your Highness, what brings you here tonight?”

Kael flashed a thin smile. “I have an appointment with Prince Menethil. So, if you’ll pardon us, please.” The two women bowed their heads in courtesy and departed toward the bar, but not before sliding Arthas their business cards. Kael barely concealed his irritation. What sort of self-respecting elves vacationed in Lordaeron City? Everyone knew that Stormwind offered the best human cuisine.   

His focus switched to Arthas, who was dressed in a navy formal shirt with a high starched collar and gilded clasps. His clean-shaven jawline was framed by neatly combed hair, and Kael could appreciate the apparent effort he put into conducting a reputable meeting. Arthas grinned at him, baring a curve of gleaming straight teeth; for someone with a reputation for charisma, he had the criminal smile of a fel imp. Whatever wholesome charm everyone saw in him was beyond Kael’s comprehension.

Kael spread his lips coldly in return and took a seat. For all his titles and physical prowess, Arthas was a mere boy. Kael had never been much impressed by the human, let alone intimidated.

“Thanks for coming,” said Arthas. His sea-green gaze was steady, and his voice was mannerly. “I’ve thought better about our prior discussion, and I’d like to express my regret for what took place here. I do wish to reach an understanding between us.”

“Say no more; the fault lies with me as well. Perhaps I could have explained my intent more tactfully,” Kael replied, folding his hands. Arthas’s contrived cordiality was unsettling, and Kael could only assume that a stern lecture from Jaina was responsible. “I appreciate your invitation to resolve the incident.”

They continued to lock eyes, tight smiles plastered on their faces. A drunken mage at a nearby table had conjured a viola, and the discordant bow strokes pierced the background chatter with ear-splitting shrills.

Forgive me for what I did to you. It was egregious, and I… sincerely…

A muscle in Kael’s jaw twitched.

“Here,” said Arthas, sliding a glass toward Kael across the wooden tabletop. It looked to be the tavern’s advertised special, blackcurrant cider over red lager. A thick inky layer hung suspended on top of clear cerise. “I ordered for you while I was waiting. A drink aids diplomacy, doesn’t it?” He raised his own identical glass. “Cheers.”

Kael curled his fingers around the glass, smearing the wet layer of condensation. He hesitated. The surface of the liquid was vibrating, and he realized that Arthas’s foot was tapping against the table leg like the twitching tail of a cat.

What petty harm could Arthas possibly inflict? Sopor? Indigestion? Swelling? Kael was the crown prince of Quel’Thalas and a prominent mage. If Arthas should so dare to trifle with him…

“Thank you.” Kael narrowed his eyes and lifted the drink. “Cheers.” Their glasses clinked, and Kael continued to scrutinize Arthas over the rim as he took a sip. The cider was heavily spiced, but not altogether unpleasant as it heated its way down his throat.

“You wrote in your letter that you had a specific development in mind to discuss,” Kael said. “This is in regard to Jaina, correct?”

Arthas took another swig and set down his glass. He wet his lips before speaking. “Yes, I chanced across something concerning in her bedroom. I thought you might have knowledge about it.”

“And what sort of discovery was this?” Kael asked, intrigued. Perhaps there was more legitimacy to their charade than he’d presumed. If Arthas had been kept equally in the dark regarding Jaina’s strange activities, then it seemed probable that his level of concern would catch up sooner or later—unless, of course, he really was wholly oblivious. 

Arthas leaned forward conspiratorially, and Kael noted that his face was already aglow with a subtle flush. “I’d rather just show you. I confiscated it, and it’s in my room now.”

“Shall we go, then?” Kael slid his glass to the side and straightened in his chair. Arthas shook his head.

“Let’s finish our drinks first. I’d like to chat with you for a bit,” he said. Kael’s lips tightened with annoyance, and Arthas continued, his tone casual. “I was told that this is the signature drink in this city—a ‘Dalaran Snakebite.’ Charming name, isn’t it? Do you know why it’s called that?”

Kael glanced down at the dark reddish liquid. “It’s deceptively potent, so I suppose that’s what the name references.” Although Kael rarely went out drinking, he knew the cocktail to be popular amongst younger magi. On several exasperating occasions he’d been tasked by Antonidas to help peel students off the floors of local bars; Ansirem’s deceased apprentice Argoly had been the worst repeat offender. Thankfully Jaina had never been found sprawled in a sticky puddle, at least to Kael’s knowledge.

The corners of Arthas’s mouth curled higher. “Ah, makes sense. Perhaps I should have ordered you something else.”

“This is quite fine. Thank you.” Kael preferred wine to spirits, but that was hardly relevant to the purposes of their meeting here tonight. He took a draft, ignoring the toasty relaxation spreading in his stomach as he focused on Arthas. “By the way. The object you… took from me the other night was a moon-shaped pendant. Would you happen to know what Jaina did with it?” 

“No,” said Arthas, casting a pointed glance to the drink in Kael’s hand. Kael blinked impatiently and drank another sip. “I’d never seen that necklace before. She told me it was an academic project. Last I saw, it was laying on her desk.”

Kael remained silent as he processed the information. His mind’s eye flashed back to the silver crescent resting above Jaina’s exposed cleavage. If the necklace wasn’t a gift from Arthas, then who was it from? Not to mention, such advanced abjurations as she requested wouldn’t be a part of her curriculum until at least another year. The suspicious necklace was indeed a promising angle of investigation…

“Tell me. Is she close with any of her cousins?” Kael asked, adjusting the collar of his robes. The air felt uncomfortably warm, and the tinge of hookah smoke was cloying in his nostrils. The susurrus of his own breathing seemed distinctly audible over the background din of the tavern.

“Cousins?” Arthas’s fingers were tapping an electric rhythm along his glass. He hardly appeared to be listening as he stared down Kael with shining eyes. “If she even has any, I’ve never heard about a single one.” 

Of course there was no cousin. Kael’s pulse was pounding with unexpected agitation. Why did Jaina feel the need to disdain him with such trivial lies? His skin burned with heat as he wracked his mind to replay their last encounter in her bedroom, the night he’d first encountered that necklace—her guilty surprise, her staff and hooded cloak… her indignant accusations over orcs… her wounded interrogation about Arthas… her trembling sweet lips… her full breasts, her erect nipples stiff beneath his palms… her soft moans and gasps… her folds slickly lubricated against his arousal as he sank his hips forward, close, so close…  

Surely there was a vital clue he was missing here; if only he could concentrate. His loins throbbed, and his mouth was parched. He drained his glass to quench the sudden dryness of his throat, but it offered minimal relief. Moisture prickled on his brow. He could never think straight when it came to Jaina.

“You’ve got radish ears again,” said Arthas. His grin was broad with wolfish mirth, and a light sheen of perspiration was also developing on his temples. He swallowed down the dregs of his drink and placed it aside. “Let’s head upstairs now. I’ll show you what was in her bedroom.” He pushed his chair back and stood, reaching into his pocket and palming a few coins to the table.

Kael stood as well, and his view of the tavern clouded with brightness. He clutched the table edge for support, blinking hard several times until he reoriented. Had his alcohol tolerance really dwindled so grievously? He’d shared these same drinks with Rommath years ago when they’d first arrived in Dalaran, and back then it had taken quite a few to impair him… Admittedly though, Kael’s recollection of that night was rather patchy.

Arthas grasped Kael’s wrist under the sleeve of his robe and began to tug him through the crowded venue. Someone with actual musical talent had commandeered the viola from earlier and was now sitting perched on the bar, fiddling a spry melody, and a ring had formed around a board game match taking place at one of the center tables; a tiny gnome slapped cards to the enchanted board as she crammed a dripping peach into her mouth, squealing muffled threats and shaking her pigtails. Kael’s vision swam as he glimpsed the pair of elven women from earlier nestled in a corner booth. They fluttered their eyelashes in his direction—certainly at him, not Arthas—and waved, their plump cherry lips pursed tight around glinting hookah mouthpieces. Their mouths parted and released, smoke trailing out like dragon’s breath, and the sight was spellbindingly erotic… Yes, he could teach his kingdom’s women just how superior the meat of Quel’Thalas truly was… Kael’s mesmerized ogle stayed glued behind him even as Arthas pulled him through a pair of swinging carved double doors.       

They passed through the inn lobby and began to ascend the deserted staircase. Arthas’s sweaty hand remained clenched around Kael’s wrist, and he glanced over his shoulder with rakishly cocked eyebrows. For a split moment, Kael could almost appreciate why Jaina found him charming. Almost, he told himself, already panting as they continued down the corridor.

They reached Arthas’s room, and the door clapped shut behind them. Lantern light radiated over drawn curtains and violet bedsheets, and the air was warm and still. Kael leaned against the wall, head buzzing, as Arthas continued to his desk and turned the chair. He dropped into it and gestured at the bed across from him.

“Have a seat,” he said.

They held each other’s gazes as Kael walked over and settled on the mattress edge. The sound of their mismatched breathing was heavy in the silence.

“So,” Kael began. He blinked and wet his lips. Arthas’s flinty eyes were unwavering; his chest rose and fell beneath his fine tailored shirt. “What did you find?”

Arthas fished into his pocket. He withdrew his fist and tossed forward a small transparent object. It landed with a light thump beside Kael, who turned and stared.

The little snake gaped up at him from the sheets, its crystal jaws now relieved of the dropper cork. It was clear like a ghost and filled with nothing but air. Kael’s pulse hammered in his ears as ghastly realization dawned over him. His gaze snapped back up; Arthas sat motionless, arms folded.

“How much?” Kael croaked. His veins were coursing hot from head to toe, and his vision had begun to throb in time with his body’s pounding circulation. “How much did you…?”   

“All of it.” Arthas stood. “And how about you, Kael? Let me guess—‘just a drop’? A drop less, and she’d never have lain with you.”

ALL OF IT?

Kael remained rooted to the bed, mind racing with disbelief. How could he have fallen for this flagrant trap? Sweat trickled beneath his robes. Words failed him as Arthas’s leather boot stepped forward.

“Come on,” Arthas demanded. “Get up and look me in the eye.”

The imperious tone jarred Kael from his paralysis, and a surge of utter outrage blistered through him. He rose tall to his feet, pointed ears pressed back against his skull, eyes vicious as they locked on the human before him. His voice rasped when he spoke.

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” 


 

Steel flashed as Jaina sliced at her exposed forearm; the pendant on her chest glowed white when the razorblade struck her skin with an impotent glide. She felt no pressure or reverberation, and it was as though the impact had been instantly absorbed into another dimension.

She unclasped the necklace and held it to the light of her desk lamp, examining it with fascinated awe. Kael’s abjuration was more powerful than she had hoped for, and it was a shame that she’d had no option to question him in detail before tonight. The topic of the necklace, and by extension Taretha, was not a line of conversation that Jaina was inclined to reopen with Kael unless absolutely necessary. In lieu of his explanations, which would warrant verification anyhow, she had been conducting her own private battery of experiments.    

In regard to proximity restrictions, she’d determined that the chain needed to be secured around her neck. The abjuration failed to activate when the jewelry was clenched in her palm, encircling her thigh, or draped loose over her shoulder. Jaina wondered if this was an intentional restriction. Other protections she’d encountered provided aura effects that extended to individuals close by the wearer, but this necklace had no such scope. Perhaps the sheer potency of Kael’s magic necessitated certain parsimony.

The abjuration’s mechanical defense was impenetrable—needles, hammers, and blades skimmed off her body like cotton, and even the interior flesh of her mouth was protected. She could let herself drop to the hardwood floor and land like a feather. Similarly, heat at a threshold temperature vanished with a sudden chill, and she was able to dip her hand in a kettle of boiling water or rest her foot in a lit fireplace without the slightest discomfort.

A curious observation she encountered was her incapacity to channel magic while wearing the necklace. Jaina presumed this to be a corresponding downside to passive immunity against arcane attacks, but without a separate caster to aid her, the theory was untestable.

The other apparent limitations of Kael’s abjuration pertained to suffocation and freezing. Jaina had submerged her face in the bathtub for as long as she could bear, but no defensive mechanism triggered. Her skin also remained vulnerable to the harsh bite of frost, but such dangers would in all likelihood be irrelevant when it came to ensuring Taretha’s safety in Durnholde.

A variety of bizarre but minor side effects seemed to accompany the pendant, including inabilities to taste, smell, or relieve itches. Jaina wondered if the abjuration interacted with poison, but without Kael to answer, there was no way to confirm. Stranger still, the pendant could move on its own; when trapped between fabric and skin, the smooth metal slid to free itself and display in the open air.  

Satisfied yet intrigued, Jaina slipped the necklace into her cloak pocket, retrieved her staff, snuffed out the lamp, and departed her room. 


 

“If anyone should learn basic etiquette, it’s you. Drugging women is poor manners.”

Arthas’s hard gaze sized up Kael. The mage’s trembling hands were tensed talons at his side, and his ears jutted like a pair of red-hot knives. His chest heaved as his nostrils flared. It gratified Arthas to see him so discomposed, this stuck-up elf who’d stepped where he never belonged—he had a pretty face and a silver tongue, but he was a foul swine nonetheless.

Yes—How could Arthas forget, even if he tried? He loathed Kael.   

“Admit that you’re a rapist. Say it.” He paced another step closer, adrenaline sparking through his body, and Kael’s tightened mouth peeled back in a snarl. “You claim concern for Jaina? Do you know how you’ve made her cry?” And what would Kael look like with his high cheekbones dripping wet, red-faced and panting, stripped of his haughty pride…? “She thinks you have honor, but are you even sorry?” Kael’s exhalation was an audible hiss, and Arthas lowered his voice. “Get on your knees and beg, and maybe I’ll forgive you.”

Kael stood his ground, fists curled. Violence roared inside him, and his nails dug into his palms as he fought to collect himself. Jaina, he thought, Jaina would not want this menace of a man pinned to the floorboards, gagged and choked and taught just how helpless a paladin truly was in the city of magi… Jaina would not want that. Kael rolled back his shoulders, biceps and abdominals coiled with a hot ache. He wouldn’t even need magic, he would trounce this human cur with his bare hands and then—

Apologize to him, and look beyond his past mistakes. Arthas is a good person.

—No. Apologize? To HIM? Absolutely not, Kael thought, teeth clenched. He’d sooner crush Arthas beneath his heel a thousand times over than ever utter an apology. Arthas was hellspawn, and Jaina remained blissfully unaware of this fact.

“Go on. Here, lick my boots,” said Arthas, gesturing to the floor. “Or is there something else you’d prefer to use your tongue on?” His other hand rested on the buckle of his belt, its polished gold surface engraved with the face of a lion.

“You thought this would reduce me to some sort of mewling captive?” Kael spat, blinking hard as his blown pupils refused to contract. He tore open the placket of his stifling robes to let air flow over his sweat-soaked collarbone. Thanks to thorough research he’d conducted on the stimulant, Kael held confidence that he wouldn’t keel over from imbibing the entire blasted bottle, but this was surely only the beginning of a protracted descent into torture—and he’d be damned if Arthas didn’t suffer for it too. “Think again, Menethil. When will you learn your place? Shall I give you a remedial lesson?”

“A lesson in what? Painting fingernails? Lacing wine? Drowning in lakes?” Arthas stepped close, inches from Kael’s face. Heat rolled from the elf’s skin like an open forge. “Show me. Bind my limbs, light me on fire, do something, coward.” His eyes flicked downward, and he grabbed Kael’s elbow; Kael wrenched his arm away and snatched a fistful of Arthas’s starched shirt.

“Tonight you’ve gone too far—” Kael’s snarl broke into a huff as Arthas heaved them into the wall. A framed watercolor of the Alteracs rattled upon their impact.  

“You may be right, but you’re the one who’ll pay!”

Thrashing ensued as Kael found his chest trapped against the stone, wrists pinned above him and Arthas’s knee wedged between his thighs, stretching tight the fabric of his robes. His sleeves hung bunched, and rivulets of sweat poured down his exposed forearms; every inch of him felt drenched like a salamander.

“Tell me something,” Arthas growled, panting as the tendons in his hands popped, “What happens to rapists in Quel’Thalas? The commoner variety, that is.” Kael strained to twist around, and Arthas pressed his weight harder. His mouth swept the cartilage of Kael’s long ear as he spoke. “In Lordaeron, we put them in the stocks—” Kael tried to jerk his wrists away with a sudden flex, but Arthas kept his iron grasp secure around the slippery skin. “—They’re left to fare the night themselves, come what may—” A grunt escaped Kael’s throat as the pressure of Arthas’s kneecap between his legs shoved higher. Arthas continued, eyes narrowing, breathless and husky. “Sometimes their pants are gone by sunrise.” Kael only snorted in response, muscles still coiled to break free. “It’s justice, isn’t it? Shouldn’t those criminals taste their own poison?”

“You don’t understand what you speak of,” Kael hissed.

“And you don’t understand what you did.” Arthas winced, wracked by a sudden wave of staggering heat. His knee slipped down as he collapsed against Kael, grinding his hips forward as his fingers shook with a convulsion. Kael writhed loose and spun to seize Arthas by the collar. His slitted glare widened in disbelief at the sight of Arthas’s enormous owl-like pupils.

“You dosed yourself?”

Arthas swallowed. He could hear his own labored breathing loud in his skull as Kael’s stunned expression swam and vibrated before him. No, he’d only had a taste of Kael’s drink, just enough to check the flavor. What could a single sip do? And whatever might happen, he’d reasoned, Kael would feel tenfold. His loins stirred with an insistent throb. 

The ensuing silence shattered upon Kael’s loud, harsh peal of laughter. “So is this why you brought me here? You suppose you’re going to, what—fuck me? Punish me with your cock?”

Arthas burned. “Maybe I will, elf,” he whispered. Kael’s white-knuckled hands still crumpled his lapels; his aristocratic face was florid and wild with unhinged contempt.

“What does a boy like you know about how to fuck?”

Coy as Kael was about his age, Arthas could only assume he was the living equivalent of a crusty fossil. After all, the high elven king was unfathomably ancient. Yet being called ‘boy’ by someone hardly older in appearance was nothing but obnoxious.

“I know enough.” Sex wasn’t exactly goblin engineering. “Enough to bed Jaina without drugging her first.” He reached to knock away Kael’s grip, and Kael yanked his fists down with a loud tear. A gilded shirt clasp went flying and skittered somewhere under the dresser.

“And I suppose you threw her face-down over your bale of hay?” Kael spat. His eyes flashed, bright green and livid. “Crushed her like a brute?”

“Oh yes.” Arthas leaned close. “She loved it.”

“Did she? For the entire minute?” Arthas’s expression curdled, and Kael released his ruined shirt, reaching down to tear the sash from his robes. He shrugged off the expensive crimson garment and kicked it across the floor. “You can’t bear that I outperform you,” he sneered, wiping at the sweat that poured and glistened down his naked torso. He pulled off his shoes and tossed them aside. “Fetch me a glass of water, would you?”

Arthas bristled, even as his eyes remained glued to the thin silk of Kael’s breeches clinging to his lap. “Don’t order me. Who do you think you are? You won’t touch Jaina again.” His stare snapped back up. He swiped for Kael’s jaw, and Kael grabbed his hand, clenching it to a shaking halt.

“Who do I think I am?”

Kael’s gaze narrowed dangerously. Arthas was a child, a human child—it occurred to Kael that his stones must have dropped within just the past decade. Granted, Kael’s strict upbringing afforded fewer sybaritic dalliances than one might suspect for an elven prince, but he’d still toured the block long before Arthas tasted his first teat. And as far as Kael was concerned, royal bloodlines amongst the humans were a joke. Arthas’s strength and looks were attendant with the common vitality that any buck in the woods possessed. He wasn’t exceptionally clever. He boasted no magical prowess. What claim could he make to Jaina, other than the chance circumstances of having met her first?

“I’ll teach you who I am.” Kael crunched his hold tighter, and Arthas glared back unflinchingly. “We’ll settle this here and now.” Kael’s veins coursed with savage thirst. His magic was beyond reach by this point, but he could hardly summon the sense to care, just as it mattered nothing to him that his heart pounded at a pace fit for bursting, that sweat-soaked locks of hair plastered to his temples, that his lacquered nails were chipped and torn, that his aching drug-induced erection throbbed and strained and dripped beneath his undergarments. He’d come here to end this feud once and for all, and tonight he would do just that. Never mind fanciful apologies, he would simply crush Arthas—

“You’ll be sorry,” Arthas warned. His teeth bared as he yanked his hand free and lunged. Kael ducked to the side, staggering as he slammed Arthas with the full force of his weight into the wall. Arthas’s head banged back against the stone with a dull crack, and the framed watercolor by his shoulder jittered and slid off its hook, hitting the floor with the sound of fractured glass.

Arthas saw red as pain exploded from the back of his skull, but it registered nothing compared to the screaming bloodlust that shot through his core. He seized Kael blindly, fingers slipping against sweaty skin as he growled and shoved. Long hair whipped in gold flashes between them, and glass crunched beneath Arthas’s boots as they careened into the desk. The chair knocked over in a clatter; Kael kicked his legs out, pinned to the wood beneath Arthas’s muscled bulk and scrabbling for purchase. 

“How are you able to grab me—” Kael grunted, eyes squinching as Arthas’s fisted a mop of his hair, “—after such a blow to the head?!” The desktop bookrack jostled over and fell on Kael’s flushed face, spilling a cascade of miscellaneous objects. The bottle of ointment Kael had brought over weeks ago bounced off his cheek and rolled amidst the litter of pencils and matches. “Perhaps I was too gentle with you!” Kael snarled, wresting his arm free and snatching a broken candlestick; he clutched it like a stake and struck Arthas straight in the nose. Arthas gave a choked cry, flakes of wax fluttering from his nostrils.

“Fight me like a man, not like a damn kobold—”

Arthas’s features were contorted with fury as he slapped Kael hard across the face with a ringing smack. They locked livid stares, gasping for air and dripping a puddle of perspiration atop the desk.

Kael braced his weight, cheek still stinging, and the grinding pressure on his groin as he shifted his hips overwhelmed him with sensation. He licked his lips, eyes slitting with a flood of pleasure as he repeated the motion.

Arthas continued to stare down, stock-still while Kael rutted against him. A thrill began to spread through him when he realized that the elf was humping him like a desperate dog. The corners of his parted mouth twitched upward as he undid the remaining clasps of his shirt and tossed the sodden garment to the side. His broad, sun-tanned chest shone with sweat in the lamplight, and Kael’s gaze swept the expanse of naked skin above him. His intake of breath was audible.

“You wanted this,” Arthas said. The words came out like an assertion, an accusation, an admission—I wanted this

Arthas remained motionless while he surveyed Kael. Blood rushed through his head in a steady thrum, and the tremor vanished from his joints as he grasped Kael by the chin. Kael blinked hard, faltering in his effort to prevent the glazed expression of lust from slipping across his face, and his struck cheek blotched red like a patch of bloodthistle. Threads of saliva glistened between his parted lips.

“You wanted this,” Arthas repeated. He could feel Kael’s erection as it throbbed obscenely against his waist, rigid like heated iron. His mind flashed back to the memory of straddling the elf on that velvet divan, bruised and furious and horrendously, inexplicably aroused. It was as though they’d ported seamlessly from that night to this one, and for all the weeks that flew by in the interim, nothing at all had changed. And to Arthas, that was exactly what this was about. Unfinished business.

“I know you did something, and when I find out exactly what, I will ruin you.”

Arthas was, if nothing else, a man of his word. He bent closer over Kael, whose sweat-slicked chest was twitching with the frenzied pulse of his heart. Kael licked his lip as his gaze switched down to Arthas’s panting mouth.

“I swear—you will regret everything.”                                                                                 

They had the whole damn night, and this time, there was no need to play nice in front of Jaina. 

“You think I’ve forgotten all that you’ve done?”

Jaina. Fire surged in Arthas’s veins as he recalled it—Kael’s sickening face of pleasure as he thrust between her spread legs, as he made her writhe and moan and cling to his body, as he cupped her breasts and tongued her mouth. And he remembered, too, this insufferable, condescending elf spanking his ass, patting his head, grabbing him by the ear, murmuring lofty threats and cold dismissals, sauntering about in ornate robes as though he were something more than a vile, two-faced pervert.

“Arthas.”

Kael’s voice was a throaty rasp as he reached for Arthas’s crotch, fingers roving around his waist and thighs. Arthas stifled a groan when Kael squeezed his tented hardness.

With a sharp inhalation, Arthas wrenched Kael’s wrist away and raised back off the desk. “Here. Get on your knees,” he growled, pulling off his boots and hurriedly shedding his pants. The heavy, gold-plated buckle of his belt hit the floor with a clang. Kael for once had no retort, and he was already sliding off the desk as though drawn by a magnet, dropping to a spread kneel like a starved hound at scrap time. His straining arousal had leaked a dark stain across the silk of his breeches.

Ah—“

Arthas scarcely registered Kael’s slick mouth engulfing his bare shaft; the sudden sensation was overwhelming, and his knees nearly buckled as Kael grabbed him by the hips and pushed him back against the desk. The sudden wet, milking pleasure of hands and tongue and lips were rendering Arthas insensate, and he threw his head back, fingers convulsing to brace against the wooden edge. 

Yes—“ he gasped. The muscles of his abdomen were clenching in desperate spasms. Kael worked aggressively, perfectly—why was he so good at this? No, of course the mincing elf was good at this, Arthas knew it all along—and Light, he’d lost control, he was already going to burst; he could hear himself groaning in ecstasy, over and over, loud and raw.

And just as fast as Kael had gone down, he’d sprung up again like a dart, seizing Arthas with the brunt of his weight and shoving him back over the desk. His breeches were off in a flash, and Arthas caught a glimpse of a clear, viscous strand dripping from Kael’s swollen length as he attempted to thrash back to his feet.

“Lie down,” Kael ordered through clenched teeth, eyes feral while he wrangled with Arthas’s legs. “I know what I’m doing, so let me—“ He grunted when a hard kick caught him in the collar. Arthas heaved up at him, and every fiber of his body trembled in adrenaline-soaked excitement. The ensuing struggle was a lightheaded blur; Kael was a greased cat to subdue, but within minutes Arthas had him flung down over the desk, wrists pinned and strength exhausted.

“You’re extraordinary with your mouth,” Arthas taunted. Kael’s flushed face was turned to the side against the tabletop, and lamplight gleamed off his bared snarl. For the first time, Arthas noticed that his canines were surprisingly pointed, a rather animalistic quality. Indeed, genteel Prince Sunstrider looked quite the beast now. “I’ve heard that elves are all wanton sluts.”

Wanton sluts? And who said that, yet another involuntarily celibate human man?”

Arthas ignored him. “So tell me, have you practiced much? Or are you just a naturally gifted cocksucker?” He was still painfully erect, aching and wet with the other man’s saliva.

Kael’s livid eyes squinted back. “I hope you don’t ask Jaina such rude questions. I certainly didn’t, although I’ll admit she made me wonder.” Kael jerked his wrists to no avail as Arthas’s labored breathing quickened. “Oh, you look upset,” he hissed. “Did you think about that when you kissed her? If it’s any comfort, I’m quite sure that she’s only had mine in her mouth.”

Arthas’s blood blazed. He dropped low over Kael’s back, forcing a clammy smack of skin on skin, and his voice was murderous against the bottom edge of Kael’s pointed ear.

“So was it worth it? Getting a taste of what you can never have again? How often do you jerk yourself to the memory?”

“Less frequently than you do, I’m—“

Arthas released Kael’s wrist to yank his ear up, his teeth grazing the delicate skin, and Kael’s sentence hitched into a peculiar grunting whine. His freed arm flopped like a stranded fish.

“It’s pitiful how you lust after her.” Arthas’s harsh words were hot and humid as his lips pressed against the opening to Kael’s ear canal. “Maybe next time I lie with her, I’ll let you lick my come out after.” His tongue prodded out in a wet jab, and Kael shuddered violently beneath him, goosebumps stippling up the backs of his limbs.

“You like this?” Arthas grabbed his other ear and bent back the flexible cartilage. The gasp from below dissolved into strangled strings of Thalassian when Arthas began to roll and stroke with his fingers. The act was oddly reminiscent of petting Noblegarden bunnies in his childhood, although those rabbits had never drooled when he rubbed their ears. Arthas was fascinated at how Kael collapsed and whimpered, hips shifting and grinding against the desk. It was wonderfully undignified to behold.

“No? Should I stop?”

Kael’s groaning reply was unintelligible, and Arthas raised himself up again, panting with excitement. His fingers still pinched and fumbled with the tips of Kael’s ears as his attention redirected to his own body. He was harder than he’d ever been, and the throbbing, pent demand was maddening; he realized on some level that he was out of his mind, but satisfaction was all that mattered now. Kael remained prone even as the muscles tensed erratically in his thighs, and Arthas gripped the naked elf apart, overcome by depraved intrigue.

The sight of another man’s spread ass should have repulsed him, but the taboo vulgarity only inflamed his arousal further. He almost hoped to reveal some manner of imperfection—the slightest pimple, or perhaps a patch of discoloration—but Kael was like an airbrushed carving. Arthas stared down, pulse pounding. Did Kael remove the hair, or was there naturally none? Who could say when it came to a man who lacquered his nails? Arthas found it maddening; Kael’s body was beautiful, all lean muscle and smooth symmetry, and clearly he knew it. Arthas ran his gaze along the lithe waist, the broad shoulders, the silky sheet of gold hair, the dagger-like ears, the gravity defying eyebrows that sprang straight out like whiskers on a cat. 

“Go ahead, commission a portrait.” Kael, sweaty and slumped, still managed a mocking sneer. His entire frame stiffened at the blunt prod between his legs, and his hand began searching through the litter of objects on the desk as Arthas traced the slippery, leaking head of his cock up and down his sensitive flesh. Kael’s fingers closed around the ointment bottle; he proffered it out behind him, refusing to meet Arthas’s eyes. “Use the oil,” he rasped between shaking breaths.

Arthas took the bottle. “Don’t order me.” He chucked it to the floor amidst a tangled pile of clothes. He held his shaft and pressed firm against Kael’s tight opening, resisting the savage urge to thrust up inside. They had crossed the line of plausible pretense; Kael’s gesture was a plain acknowledgement of what was to come, and Arthas felt dizzy with carnal urge. He’d wanked to this late-night fantasy more than once, and discomforting as the implications of that were, it never failed to make him spill hard in his palm.

Kael was speaking in sibilant snarls, but if his words were Common, Arthas’s comprehension was drowned out by the roar of blood in his eardrums. He began to buck his hips in short strokes. His erection strained and slipped, throbbing and smearing a copious milky ooze. Undoubtedly this was some substance-induced anomaly, but he was past the point of concern; the wet slide was euphoric torture, and he could tease himself no longer. He realigned and bore his weight forward, fingers clenching Kael’s skin, and a groan tore from his throat when he felt the head of his cock push in with a sudden give. Kael’s abrupt cry was electrifying; Arthas continued to force deeper, steady and relentless as hot muscle constricted in tight spasms around his invading girth, stopping only when his hips pressed and grinded into the elf’s body. The sheer pleasure starred his vision, and he was surely a stroke away from finally relieving the demanding pressure of his aching load. He fought to collect himself, to savor the sight of Kael obscenely stretched below him, tensed and trembling and squinting with pain.       

Yes. His cock was hilted in another man’s ass, and it surprised Arthas to realize how little he cared. This wasn’t about latent desires to lie with men. This wasn’t about elves being prettier than they had any right to be. This wasn’t about dalliances or prurient curiosities or whatever other suspicions Jaina was projecting onto him. No, this was about showing Kael’thas Sunstrider his place, and what better place was there for the enemy if not bent over in surrender, impaled and moaning like a whore? It felt right—exhilaratingly, satisfyingly, victoriously right

Although Arthas knew this was wrong. For all his earlier talk about justice, he was well aware that he had committed the very crime he had condemned. Jaina would hate this, Uther would hate this, his father would hate this, and perhaps it was the drug, yet he was liberated by an utter absence of guilt. For once he wasn’t acting for the Light, for his people, for virtue and honor; he’d done this for himself. Tonight, the burden to be righteous lay discarded with his clothes, and it felt damn good to shed the weight.

He drew back and began to thrust, inhaling through his teeth as Kael’s tight ass yielded to the drag of his thick, stiff length. “Take it—“ Kael huffed shallow breaths into the wooden desk, and the sound that escaped his lips was unbridled and needy when Arthas leaned to seize him by the ears. “Dirty pervert,” Arthas whispered, “Take my cock, ah, just like that—“ His hips were slamming now with a possessed fervor, and his thumbs rubbed mindless tracks into the grooves of cartilage. Kael was undone beneath him, sweat-soaked and salivating at the jaws, muscles twitching and tendons straining; only his hair remained composed, draped across the desk in an immaculate spill of lustrous gold. Not a split end in sight. How much time was spent preening that mane? Everything about Kael was so… so fucking

Arthas’s climax surged through him like a molten tide, rushing up amidst smacks of skin and guttural groans. He wasn’t just going to come, he was going to explode, and at the last moment he jerked out his spurting cock and angled it in the open air.

“Ahh, ahhh—“

He’d never shot so hard or so much in his life. Kael surely felt the barrage as flying streaks of semen dashed upon the back of his head. Arthas was in awe of himself, and he spectated the display through a feverish squint while his orgasm continued to wrack his body. The emission finally tapered, although his shaft stayed raging hard. He stumbled backward to support his weight against the wall, nerves alight with radiant afterglow.

Kael staggered to his feet. He touched his hair gingerly before immediately withdrawing his fingertips from the sloppy glaze; his scarlet face contorted from revulsion to fury.

“Son of a trogg, I’ll drown you in your own blood!

“You’ll drown me?” Arthas remained where he leaned, cooling his heated shoulders against the cold stone. “I’d love to see you try. You swim like a worm in a puddle.” His gaze dropped; come coated Kael’s abdomen and dribbled down his erection like runny beads of melted wax. The desk, too, was sticky with an unmistakable daub.

“You came from that?”

Kael gave no response, breathing heavily, and Arthas met his wild glare with a spreading grin. 


 

“You’re here,” Taretha whispered. Pine needles clung to her wool shawl, and her feet were bare in the dry forest dirt. She stood before Jaina with a trembling smile.

Jaina’s arms hung at her side; her hand was limp around her staff. A flurry of emotion swelled in her chest—worry, exhilaration, relief, sorrow—but she forced it back and returned the smile.

“Tari, are you okay?” Her legs felt frozen in spite of the warm night air. “I heard about what happened… About Thrall. Is he…?”

Taretha’s gaze slid away. “Thrall is fine,” she said softly. “We have a new plan now. You’ve helped us so much, and for that you have our deepest gratitude.”

“Another plan?”

“Everything will be okay soon.” Taretha raised her chin, and Jaina felt a pang when she recognized the guarded mistrust that flickered in Taretha’s gaze. “If we don’t cross paths again, I want to say goodbye.” She paused and swallowed, and her blue eyes shone wet in the dark. “Thank you for everything… Thank you for being my friend. I won’t ever forget.”

Jaina’s heart thumped. “Tari, what’s going to happen?”

Taretha’s smile hung fragile across her lips. “There’s nothing more to be done. Thrall met someone who will take care of everything. If I tell you more, it will only serve as a burden upon you.”

Jaina’s grip tightened around her staff. She knew what Taretha really meant; leaking the information was a liability. The truncation of their partnership stung, but more importantly, Jaina knew she could still provide vital aid, if only Taretha would trust her.

“I’m here to help you,” said Jaina. The surrounding trees rustled in a gust of wind, and the crickets fell silent. Taretha’s wary eyes darted about. Jaina continued, voice quiet but firm. “I care about you, and I care about everyone’s freedom. My loyalty is bound to what is right, not what is decreed by law.”

“I know. But—“

“Please. The camps will be receiving a surprise inspection soon. Whatever you’re planning, and whoever you’re planning with now… Success is more likely if we do this together. I have the knowledge and resources to support you. Here—” Jaina fished into her cloak and retrieved the silver necklace, which she held out between them. “I’ve had this cast with powerful protective magic. Wear it on you for safety.”

Taretha reached forward and lifted the chain. She cupped it in her palm and tilted it, watching as the polished pendant refracted moonlight like a shard of mirror. “It’s so much brighter now,” she murmured. She looked back up and pocketed the jewelry. “Thank you. I…”

For several seconds they only stared into each other’s haggard eyes. The hard edge of determination in Taretha’s gaze blurred with tears, and Jaina felt the suffocating clot of tension break in her chest. The distance between them closed as they both stepped into an embrace. Jaina shut her eyes; Taretha’s slight frame was like brittle clay in her arms, and her disheveled hair and clothes smelled of thyme and smoke.

“Who is helping Thrall?” Jaina asked. Taretha’s grasp tightened; her voice was muffled in the heavy fabric of Jaina’s cloak.

“Orgrim Doomhammer,” she whispered, and Jaina was lost for words. 


 

Ice cold water rained from the showerhead, and the droplets practically sizzled as they rolled down Kael’s feverish skin. He sat naked in the carved marble basin of the inn bathtub, burning from his ears to the soles of his feet, ignoring the throbs of pain that lingered through his body. The sconce beside the sink mirror shone like the sun through his enlarged pupils, and his vision pulsed in time with the pounding circulation of blood. Huffs of breath sounded over the spattering water as he stared unseeingly at the wall tiles.

How much time had passed since he’d arrived here? Two hours? Three? His situational awareness was dulled by a fog of restless exhaustion, dreadful overheating, and insatiable physical craving. How many times had Arthas—

Arthas swung open the door, and Kael’s wrist ceased its furious jerking motion. “Out,” Arthas said, tossing the damp towel from his shoulders to the floor. His hair still hung in wet locks, but a sheen of sweat already glistened anew across his bare body.

“You had your turn scarcely minutes ago,” Kael snapped. Arthas stood at the sink and leaned toward the mirror, checking his dilated eyes.

“My ’turn?’ I don’t need to justify using my own shower. Go back to the citadel.”

Kael glared and trembled, agonizingly hard. “You expect me to walk back? Like this?”

“Just tuck it under your drawstring. Or magic yourself away.”

“I can barely see straight, let alone teleport, thanks to your vile, pin-brained…” Kael trailed off, swallowing back the surge of hunger stirred by Arthas’s lower back dimples. He took a deep breath. “We could be incapacitated for days on end. Tell me, do you know what priapism is?” Kael’s first ill-judged experimentation with the philter was burned in his brain—the countless hours lost in mindless pursuit of libidinous gratification, the bizarrely seductive sofa, the endless ejaculations, the chafing

Arthas cast an unconcerned glance. In spite of his glowing flush, his eyes remained flinty and arrogant. He filled the glass on the sink with tap water and began to drink.

If Kael had ever considered slaking his desperate desire between plush, velvety seat cushions, such temptation was a dull ember compared to the blazing inferno now aroused by the live specimen before him. He leered from the bathtub, running his gaze down the cartilage bobbing in Arthas’s neck, the broad sun-tanned shoulders, the chest dusted with blond hairs, the contoured abdomen… Kael wet his lips as saliva pooled beneath his tongue.  

“No. I feel fine,” Arthas replied finally, wiping a trickle of water from his chin.

Even in his lustful haze, the remorseless ignorance rankled Kael. He summoned a semblance of composed dignity and began to speak, eyes still glued to Arthas’s taut, muscled stomach.

“Listen closely, since you haven’t the slightest clue what you trifle with. The aphrodisiac was derived from the venom of the mandrake viper, a rare snake native to the Black Morass. The substance is exceedingly potent, unmatched by any known analog—that’s why the container had a dropper, not a spout.”

The faucet squeaked as Arthas refilled the glass and resumed drinking. Kael paused, momentarily transfixed by the other man’s swollen, rigid length.

“Are you familiar with mandrakes?” Kael asked, reaching down in agitation as his loins throbbed. “It’s a person-shaped root, commonly used in potions for its magical properties. In folklore, it’s said to grow where a dead man’s semen soaks the earth.”

His eyes narrowed as Arthas bent over the sink, splashing water on his florid face. If only Kael had the necessary clarity to wield sustained magic, he could have this human trussed like a bonfire pig, skewered repeatedly at his leisure…

Soon

“This viper is credited for sowing a bounty of mandrakes,” Kael continued, voice strained and breathless. “Its bite triggers erections that last for hours on end, a medical condition called priapism, and although you and I won’t die, lack of circulation will certainly result in tissue damage. This is why minding the dosage is critical. If I lose a single centimeter to gangrene on your account, you will suffer beyond comprehension, and mark my words that when—”

“Stop ogling me while you touch yourself,” Arthas interrupted, approaching the tub. “And enough of you sitting in here like a toad.”

Kael stood tall immediately, teeth bared and cock jutting. “You did this to me! Rotten son of a—” Arthas stepped inside, and Kael’s words were cut off when he was ousted from below the rain of icy water. The tiled room echoed with grunts and wet slaps of flesh as they grappled for position.   

“Just move and let me shower,” Arthas growled, jabbing with his elbow. His eyes flared wide upon receiving a slippery kick to his ankles, and his entire weight collapsed with a banging thud.

“LIGHT–augh!”

Arthas writhed in the tub basin, clutching his head. The metal faucet had cut his scalp on the way down, and blood began to soak his blond hair and seep in diluted rivulets. Kael loomed over him, mouth spread in a cold smile.

“That was clumsy of you,” he sneered. Arthas squinted up lividly, panting as he struggled to rise. Kael stomped on his chest; Arthas’s wheezed choke dissolved to enraged sputtering when Kael set the bath spout to full blast over his face.

Kael bolted to the bedroom and snatched Arthas’s belt from where it lay on the floor. He clenched the heavy strip of leather in his damp fists, eyes shrewd with single-minded purpose as he turned back to the bathroom.

Although the two of them had exhausted the worst of their mutual wrath hours ago, Arthas looked to be practically frothing at the jaws again as he clambered out of the bathtub, bright crimson dripping down his temple. He reminded Kael of a bull—large, provoked, and not the brightest candle in the cavern.

Arthas paused and stared at the belt. He barked out a laugh. “Really? All right, then.” He cracked his knuckles and spread his arms, eyebrows cocked. “Have at me.”

Kael made no move, gaze fixed steadily. During their struggle in the shower, a bottle of shampoo had been knocked across the bathroom floor, and a puddle laid spread like a creamy oil slick. If Arthas stepped forward as predicted, the treacherous footing would serve as Kael’s window of opportunity…

“And just what do you intend to do with that? Spank me?” Arthas’s eyes narrowed. “Give it here. I’ll show you how it’s done.” He began to advance, but his heel struck the spill, and he wobbled like a foal. No sooner had he caught his balance against the sink than Kael lunged, wielding the belt like a garrote and seizing Arthas by the windpipe. Adrenaline burst through his veins as he gave a violent wrench, struggling to haul Arthas’s thrashing, clawing weight from behind. Choked snarls pierced the air as they staggered through the open doorway. Arthas’s face blanched behind a mess of his wet hair, even as blood continued to smear and trickle over the leather strangling his neck.

With a grunting cry of exertion, Kael shoved the heavy paladin down over the bed, crashing with him to straddle his back. Arthas strained for air, and Kael’s grip whitened. His teeth were bared in vicious triumph; perhaps in a saner context, it would have disturbed him to realize how greatly the savagery excited him.

’Knight of the Silver Hand?’” he mocked, and gave another swift yank. Arthas writhed and pulled at the belt. “Pathetic. You whimper like a whelp.”

Arthas’s struggle was waning beneath him, and Kael’s keen gaze narrowed warily. He bent down closer, voice lowering to a threatening pitch.

“Now listen. You’ll behave, lest I silence you further. I’d hate to cause any brain damage. I know there isn’t much to expend.”

Kael slackened his hold. Arthas rubbed at his throat, lungs heaving with great gasping inhalations. He twisted onto his back and grimaced, blinking as sweaty water dripped down his brow.

“Do your worst, elf,” he spat.

Kael smiled. He dropped the belt to the mattress and closed his fist around Arthas’s cock; the damp flesh was rigid and heavy, and Kael circled his thumb over the head to smear its leaking slick. Arthas’s lips tightened, and he fixed Kael with defiant eyes. Kael began to pump his grip as he leaned down, brushing their noses and mingling the humid heat of their labored panting.

“So I’m a ‘milksop,’ am I?” His hand slid lower to cup and squeeze, and Arthas’s breath caught beneath him. “A 'degenerate’?” He brought his fingers briefly to his tongue, wetting them before returning to trace further down and press with firm precision. A flicker of panicked discomfort fled across Arthas’s face before vanishing behind a steely glare.

“I know you’ve been dying to molest me like this.” He grabbed Kael’s jaw and paused, breathing hard. “So hurry up with it.”

Kael wrenched Arthas’s hand back down to the mattress, still probing with lubricated fingers. “Hush,” he hissed. The twitching muscle clenched tighter against his touch. “Relax.” Kael felt his finger breach and ease further inside Arthas’s body, and the sensation of silky heat ignited his desire like nothing else. His cock throbbed, desperate to be buried and sated; how long had it been since he’d last fucked? After an endless purgatory of maddening sexual denial, after countless nights masturbating himself in his chambers, Arthas would serve as a more than suitable receptacle. After all, the loathsome paladin was single-handedly responsible for this torture, and thus using his body for relief was only fitting.

Arthas remained still, chest rising and falling in a shallow rhythm. His nipples were tight and pink, and his swollen erection laid flat against his stomach, weeping pre-ejaculate and matting the blond hairs below his navel. His thighs tensed when Kael pressed upward to stroke the internal bulge of his prostate.  

“Light—”

Arthas’s eyes widened and then slitted, and he quickly stifled his hoarse whisper of surprise. Kael watched him with a sharp smile. He’d held little inclination to mount Arthas and jackhammer away like a dwarven miner, although the option had certainly crossed his mind. Not only was it in his best interest to keep the human reasonably preserved for further use, but Arthas was a man who could clearly take the pain; his humiliated submission was far more compelling than a few days of bruises. That being said, the pounding in Kael's loins demanded immediate attention, and he could hardly stand to toy around much longer.  

Arthas’s cheeks matched the ruddy flush of his cock, and his eyes were shut with focus as his knuckles clenched the sheets. His legs had parted further, allowing Kael’s finger unfettered access to pleasure him from within. Who’s the wanton slut now? Kael wanted to sneer, but he held his tongue. 

“Look at me,” Kael ordered, ceasing his strokes. Arthas fixed him with an addled look of agitated lust.

“Light, you’re going to do it, aren’t you?” Arthas rasped. “Get it over with.”

Kael’s smile broadened unpleasantly. “Do what?”

Disgusted irritation darkened Arthas’s features as Kael withdrew his touch and rose on his knees. “You don’t mean that I should take this—” Kael grasped the base of his engorged length, letting it bob obscenely and drip a wet spot between Arthas’s legs, “—and ream you with it, do you?” He gripped Arthas’s thighs and pushed them up, exciting himself further with his own vulgarity. “Are you asking me to use your hole? Give you a proper fucking?”

Arthas began to struggle, teeth gritted. “This is exactly why I can’t stand you—”

“It’s fine,” Kael hissed, wrestling him back into place as he shoved his slippery erection against Arthas’s protesting muscle. “I’m more than happy to oblige you—”

Kael’s sentence was interrupted by Arthas’s ragged shout of pain when his thrust drove home into a smooth, steady, agonizingly slow slide.  

“Relax—”

“Fuck, take it out!” Arthas was frozen, voice harsh and flustered, apparently in a state of shock as Kael smashed their lips together.

“Relax,” Kael murmured into his mouth, biting and licking, savoring the animal pleasure of another heated body pressed against his own, shuddering around his sheathed cock. He drew his head back, eyes narrowed, and began to rock his hips in a soft grind. “Stop clenching.”

Arthas looked to be in the midst of a psychological crisis as Kael gave another firm, slick push; the spasming resistance was minimal this time. “Good, like that,” Kael breathed. He scraped his thumbnail over Arthas’s nipple, fondling the strands of hair that sprouted from his chest. Primal compulsion consumed him, and his gaze lidded upon the intoxicating warmth of a cresting orgasm.

“Tell me how you want this,” Kael groaned. “Faster? Harder?” His pace quickened with urgency even as he spoke, drawing an involuntary moan from Arthas’s throat.

Arthas squinted, struggling to reply. “Don’t speak to me,” he choked out finally, hand fisted in Kael’s hair. Kael realized, with a smug thrill, that Arthas’s other hand was occupied with jacking himself. “I don’t, ah, fuck—”

“Is hearing my voice so loathsome? Does it remind you of who’s on top of you? A ‘mincing elf’? You’re taking me right now, and Light forbid you enjoy it.”

Kael’s voice was strained as his climax pulsed threateningly near. He considered letting loose over Arthas’s chest and face, but he couldn’t pull out if he tried; and besides, it gratified him enormously to envision Arthas alone in private later, discovering the copious milky evidence as it leaked from his sore, well-used hole.

Arthas was convulsing beneath him, almost painfully tight around Kael as he arched his back and dissolved in breathless groans. There was a sudden splatter in the space between them; Kael nearly laughed when Arthas drenched his own chin with come, but overwhelming instinct was sending him beyond the brink as well, and he began hilting his cock deep in a series of erratic strokes.

“I’m close—beg for it,” he snarled, pounding with primal abandon, “beg for my come—”

“Holy Light, shut up!”

Kael felt Arthas’s sweaty palm mash in his face as he came with a blinding rush. The climax wracked him like lightning; he groaned, nearly insensate with ecstasy, mouth parted, heart pounding, huffing for air as he burst in warm surges. 

Arthas lay beneath him, a sweat-soaked heap of collapsed brawn. He grimaced when Kael withdrew slightly, and the pull of his hard shaft was slippery with a hot, wet drip.

"Ugh! Did you..."

Arthas trailed off hoarsely, sentence hitching into a grunt as Kael pushed back in, teeth latching to Arthas's earlobe.

"I did." Kael's voice was quiet and husky in his ear. "And I'll do it again before I'm done with you."  


 

“Peace is like a dream. Beautiful, ephemeral, unattainable.”

Jaina could hear the echo of her father’s words, pensive and bitter as he’d stared beyond his office window into the roiling gray sea. Her brother Derek’s body lay somewhere below those waves, having been charred by enemy orcs before his remains sank with his ship. His funeral service was the first and only time Jaina had seen her father cry. And how he’d wept… tears drenched his beard and splattered down his cravat, and his voice cracked and shook as he delivered his son’s eulogy to the people of Kul Tiras.

Then came the anger. Chairs crashed and splintered behind locked doors, and during dinnertime, nobody said a word about her father’s bruised and bloodied hands as he fumbled with the silverware.

Anger. Daelin Proudmoore’s contorted face faded into Kael’s tightened mouth and scathing eyes.

“You are blessed to have no memories of orcs destroying swathes of your homeland and murdering countless innocents. Do not speak to me of prejudice.”

Jaina thought too of Arthas, tilting his gaze tiredly as they lounged together in the sunny field.  

“Call the orcs ‘people’ all you’d like, but the fact remains that they waged violent war against us. Just think of all the men, women, and children murdered in cold blood.”

Jaina opened her eyes, still holding Taretha against her chest. She stared emptily into the dim trees beyond the straw-colored tangle of hair.  

“Orgrim Doomhammer is a monster,” she said bluntly. The escaped warleader had long ago disappeared into nothing but rumors and speculation, but his blood-stained legacy thrived fresh with notoriety and hateful retellings; to hear confirmation of his fugitive existence filled Jaina with surreal dread. If the masses of imprisoned orcs returned under Doomhammer’s reign, there would be no secluded sanctuary, no second life of simple existence. No peace. Like Blackmoore, he would rule them as soldiers to rekindle the hellfire of battle, and even Jaina was sure of this fate. “He’s a war criminal. A ruthless murderer. Lordaeron chose to spare his life, and he returned that mercy by slaughtering every person he could, even the homeless on the streets.”

Taretha remained silent. Jaina pulled back, hand gripped tight on the girl’s shoulder.

“He is not like Thrall. If he leads an attack here, no human will be spared. Not even you!”

“Thrall trusts him,” Taretha replied quietly, “and I believe in Thrall.”

Jaina’s fingers clenched, mind racing to process the turn of events. “Why should Thrall trust him? Does Thrall know who he is and what he’s done?” Do you?

“If I die for their freedom, so be it.” Taretha’s tone was soft and resigned, and Jaina’s stomach dropped in horror. “What else do I have to live for?”

“Everything! A whole new life awaits you. I’m going to help you leave this place, and your mother too.”

“My mother grows more ill by the week. She can barely even cook. Even if we flee elsewhere, there is no future for us.”

“Please, let me take you both to the capital. You’ll both be provided for as staff in the palace, I promise you.” Perhaps the notion of safely releasing all of the orcs to a life of pacifism had been nothing but a pipe dream, but Taretha could be saved. Jaina pitied the orcs, but more than anything, she wanted to help Taretha, someone who was kind, intelligent, and spirited, yet mired in the injustice of her birth circumstances. Jaina shuddered to imagine what a short and brutish life would be like as a human prisoner of Orgrim Doomhammer, and it broke her heart to realize that chains and abuse were all that Taretha had known to begin with. “You can even stay with me,” Jaina implored. Snippets of a hypothetical future were flashing through her mind; money was never an issue as the Admiral’s daughter, and she could rent a place in Dalaran beyond the citadel to care for her “sick cousin,” return from classes to cook and eat dinner with Taretha, teach her about magic and help her prepare school applications, take walks by Lordamere Lake together and converse about the brighter future… Jaina had never questioned existing on her own, having grown up with distant parents and few companions her age, but a sudden poignant yearning struck her as she imagined. What would it be like to have a friend again who simply enjoyed her, who didn’t suffocate her with possessive desires and dubious romantic proclamations? She took Taretha’s hands in her own, squeezing the girl’s cold fingers.    

Taretha trembled, but she met Jaina’s gaze with stubborn sangfroid. “I’m grateful, but I will not run away. I won’t abandon Thrall.”

“And after Thrall is free and safe? Will you come with me then?” For now, Jaina decided to hold her tongue regarding her candid assessment of abetting Orgrim Doomhammer. That development and its ominous implications warranted serious deliberation, but ensuring Taretha’s wellbeing would be her priority no matter what. “When the time arrives, I’ll be here for you.”

A breathy choke rose up in Taretha’s throat, and in the dark she began to weep. Her hands withdrew from Jaina’s grasp to wipe at her dripping face, and Jaina leaned forward once more to wrap her in a hug. Taretha’s arms twined tight as though she were drowning.

“You won’t have to be alone,” Jaina promised, and for all of the careless assurances she’d made before then, this time there was no trepidation in her heart.   


 

“When… are you leaving?”

Arthas’s question was hoarse between huffing pants; he scarcely bothered to raise his head from where he lay slack and defeated on the bed, twitching occasionally like freshly slaughtered livestock. Milky ejaculate had begun to congeal in the muscled grooves of his abdomen, and in spite of the open window, the air was thick with the smell of sex.

Kael ignored him as he knelt between his legs. One hand gripped his cock while the other rested lazily on Arthas’s spread thigh.

“Wait. What time is it?” Arthas asked, eyes glazed and bloodshot.

...What time was it, indeed? Kael paused and looked about for a clock.

If there had ever been a clock on display, there wasn’t anymore. The room was an abject mess. Even the furniture was in disarray; the mattress they occupied sagged askew off the oak bedframe, which had weathered a severe battering against the wall. Strewn clothes, spilled clutter, puddles of moisture, and broken glass littered the ground, and a violet square of card paper sat where it had been slid discreetly beneath the door. (Dear esteemed guest, this notice is to inform you that a silencing spell has been placed upon your room. For questions or concerns, please contact the front desk.Thank you for your attention!).

Arthas wiped his forehead and shut his eyes. “It’s on the bedside table,” he muttered.

The former bedside table had been kicked across the room, drawers hanging open, but Kael spied a bronze-rimmed alarm clock where it laid nearby on the floor. It was broken, frozen around 3AM, and dark blood crusted over its shattered edge. Beside it was an ornamental barrette sparkling with a cluster of enamel plum blossoms. Kael stared. It was Jaina’s; he recalled admiring it once when it was pinned in her sunlit hair. He made a mental note to retrieve it for her later.

Jaina…   

… 

JAINA.

Kael cursed beneath his breath. He turned his attention back to Arthas, surveying the bruised and naked paladin with guilty chagrin. But no… this, everything, was entirely Arthas’s damned fault.

Arthas cracked open an impatient eye. “Well?”

“Arthas.”

“What?”

Kael hesitated, swallowing back a grudging tide of resentment. “Listen closely. I’ll say this to you once.”

“Yes?” Arthas raised his head and fixed Kael with his drowsy attention. Kael tried to disregard his disturbingly enormous pupils.

“Please forgive me for what I did,” Kael recited through gritted teeth. “To you, and to Jaina. It was egregious, and I sincerely regret it.”

What?”

“I apologize!”

Arthas gave him a look of disgusted confusion. He reached back and pulled a pillow over his face, and his silence turned to indiscernible muffled groaning as Kael shoved his thighs apart and bore down once more.