It was the first time he’d seen her cry. Or, really, seen any deep moment of weakness. He held her in his arms, as they lay curled up in the dark of her office. Various people had come and gone from her door, but he had kept the light off. Parts of her armor had been removed piecemeal, but small components hung loosely from her.
The steel dug into his flesh, but he had waited for Julilee to sleep before removing the armor, and setting it in its places on her shelf. She’d look it over later. The monk had gone to their bedroom, and pulled several blankets back into the office, wrapping the small elven woman with them, choosing not to move her while she slept.
He hadn’t been around much, lately. When he’d returned, he had learned, in all of her pain, of the events of Lilliana’s brash efforts and how Naheal abetted them. He wrapped the blankets around Julilee, and wiped a bit of sweat from her upper lip and forehead. Her hair, recently cut short, was still growing long; he tucked it back behind one of her ears, as much out of habit as to keep her tidy. She smelled like sweat and metal. An underpinning of her soap was drowned about but the anxiety-scent of uneasy quiescence, the heady, earthen tang of distraught sleepers.
The monk slipped and arm under her back, and cushioned her, as the pair sat in the dark. He wondered why he hadn’t moved to carry her to bed. Kex’ti watched her as she slept, fitfully. Unlike her unconsciousness while she’d healed from Kallavan’s attack, he let her dream, and held the mists back. He knew he wasn’t an expert in mental magic, but he knew enough to understand that she needed time to process the experience. He could dull the pain, help her rest, but he knew Julilee. He understood that she needed time to work through things on her own. The best way to help her was simply to be there. It wouldn’t be long before she’d recover; he knew that much.
The monk watched her aura swirl in her dreams. It was unbalanced, and the hard lines of energy along her chi pathways bled and swirled where they were usually so pristine and clear. He thought about her. He watched the small fractions of her aura bunch near her injuries, and watched the energy twinkle as it swirled outward from her navel towards her hands and ankles.
He saw the bright red of her mind at work, the fine traceries interwoven with strands of amber and crimson processing her ordeal, the thin gray lines of despair stemming from her chest to her shoulders. The deep blue of her resolve echoing, ever persistent underneath it all. The gray surprised him. The slow fade did not; the forked green and red of her dreams banishing the doubt and fear.
Kex’ti took a deep breath, and assessed his own colors. They remained mostly the same. Had he been able to study himself in such a way, he may have found them different, though he doubted there was truly much of a change, no matter his efforts.
He began to meditate. He’d always analyzed people; what kind of meal they wanted, which room they should be put in based on their predisposition to argue or love, how far they’d traveled and how kindly they would treat him; the small wounds left unhealed from previous bouts, whether an attack was a feint or a coup de grace, the individual’s mastery of the various schools of magic; whether someone was nearsighted, the flaws in their form, what taunts would work, which truths would sting, the jokes which brought smiles, the stories which brought sighs.
Her ears twitched, and she rolled her lips inward and upward, the bridge of her nose creasing. Kex’ti ran a pair of fingers through her hair, the tips of his digits just touching her scalp. She relaxed slightly. And so did he.
She woke, shortly before dawn. Speechlessly, she nuzzled his throat. He started, and kissed her. Together, they gathered the sheets and went back to bed. Julilee slept. She fought, briefly, to go back to her desk. Kex’ti had convinced her to sleep for another hour, under the promise of bringing her a cup of coffee and several of the ledgers she had been studying for Tanaan logistics.
After another four, he woke her. They got up an hour later. Side by side, they passed a barely-touched plate of sausage, and two cups of green tea, filled occasionally from a brassy, steaming pot Kex’ti had put over the fire. When he went to get the coffee, he found her back at her desk in the office. He coughed, once. And then, again. She noticed him almost spill the coffee, and watched him steady himself with a smirk.
By the end of the day, the monk looked across the table at the Commander.
“Why do we not go on a survey mission?”
The black-haired elf smiled, sealed a document with a wax press, and walked towards the shelved armor.
She stumbled through the underbrush, determination as much of a support as his own staff. He’d fought in Stranglethorn, and scaled the waxwater paths of Skettis. Jungle was no stranger to him, but he remained certain that this jungle’s strangeness was overwhelming, even beyond the savagery of its inhabitants. Or even more than the snaking tendrils of fel corruption, burning the ground black and sky green. He’d long dismissed it as a trick of the light: his sword was absorbing the taint of the surroundings, and his own alchemy had unearthed several useful reagents from the dissected fish of the rivers.
None of this concerned Julilee, who used her shield to clear aside brush; her sword to cut through the thickets of the copse. He had taken her to several vantage points, and already they had skirmished with a dozen Fel Horde legionnaires. It was with equal pride and curiosity in his eyes that he watched the Commander.
She wasn’t a novice, and he wasted no time with exposing her to the thick of combat. She was the person he trusted most. And he trusted her to fight, and stand her ground against even these most deadly of foes. And that trust was vindicated as the pair battled. Even though Julilee was skilled with a blade, he knew bringing her into the thick of the melee wasn’t an act of recklessness; it was an act of revelation. The Commander always fought hardest for the things she’d seen for herself.
The benefit of getting to vent frustration and stress, he thought as she slammed the edge of her shield into the throat of a charging orc, was a beneficial perk. The fel orc reeled, and the Commander twisted her stance, letting his momentum do most of the damage. Orcish nerves were resilient to heavy blows, but the combined force of the impact, followed by the subsequent shove to the ground, was more than enough to quell the berserker.
Her shield found its way between him and the enemy’s blades and claws. His fist and kicks drove foes off guard for her sword. The monk’s blade parted flesh of fel-corrupted wolves, even as his mists sealed and rejuvenated the blows which managed to score the elves’ own.
The dance was violent. The orcs who’d drunk too deeply of the corruption breathed their last under the sword and shield of Sanctuary. Others, who might find a brighter future, were returned to Vol’mar for trial. Her aura blazed. Red, blue, and gold.
Even over the reek of the jungle, she smelled alive. Sweat and iron. She wasn’t known much, for her smiles. Nor was he, particularly. But he caught more than a few glimpses, despite the poison which surrounded them. He would fight for more than just her. But what she symbolized, the woman, her guild, and her actions, were more than enough individually for him to raise his weapons and weave his spells.
The two stood at the peak of the Throne of Kil’jaeden. It was a moment of respite, even as Gul’dan’s forces rallied. The ether sickened him, even as he felt the pain in his leg and the wasting inside of him bloom ever wider. He sipped from his jug, and he watched her eyes in the viridian darkness of the mountain. She had focused on the Citadel. She confused him, even though he felt deeply for her. Perhaps, in another life, the Light would have called to him more loudly than the shadows he inevitably found himself drawn to. In this second world, mayhap he could’ve discerned the specifics.
But the only second world here was Draenor. The only second chance he’d received was a purple and golden tabard on his breast.
“One week, and we’re breaching the gates and heading in,” he said.
“I don’t know about Gul’dan. Not a lot, anyway. But from what I’ve heard, I know he must be stopped.”
She turned to look at him, her hand moving a lock behind her ear. She smiled.
“And I know you’ve been doing a lot to make sure that happens. You know I don’t trust some of the people we’ll be working with. But I trust your judgment.”
She kept a straight face. She had to.
The monk smirked back.
“I think I’ve earned that much. But it’s everyone who’s helping. We have a world to save. Nobody can do that alone. At least I cannot.”
The pair were quiet.
“From ashes we rise, Julilee,” said Kex’ti.
The Commander nodded. She hoped that, in six months, the mountain they’d be standing on was Kun-Lai. She looked up at the soot and bits of falling rock, and imagined it was snow.