Lead Home / Astray
[Rating: PG-13 for suggestive content]
Northrend: Valiance Keep
(during BfA: sometime before the discovery of the Cathedral of Storms)
The draenei trudged back to his little wooden home on the edge of the fort with heavy, tired steps, his thoughts on the real work of his night now that his craft at the shop was done. Crystal trinkets and gemmed enchantments, baubles and decorations... he loved to make them, but they were an occupation and not a purpose.
His purpose was at home, where half of the small space was a workshop that he never let anyone see, its shelves and workbenches thick with a clutter of projects. Winking gemstones and caged vermin, delicate tools and ingots of various types of metal waiting to be formed. The crystal slurry had taken a step into more foul seed materials, so the old one in the workspace had been replaced last month by a new cobalt basin banished to the rickety lean-to jutting out from the back of the cabin.
At least his home no longer stank of decaying things and fetid chemicals.
Adrilas yawned and nodded to himself, scratching at his wild, dark hair as he walked. Gemma, Hayden Carlisle's little girl, called his name and grinned as she darted by with an armful of wood. Probably new stock for the carver to work his magic on. He gave her a wink and a jaunty little wave without breaking stride.
It wasn't far, the path home, but the streets got quieter the farther he went. Not on the outskirts of Valiance Keep's many buildings, but somewhere off of the heart of the place, where he could have just a bit of privacy, his cabin hunkered like a little brown wart. It was not so spacious but comfortably appointed and in good repair, the wooden logs treated and stalwart against the salty sea air and the chinking solid proof against the Borean chill. Drafts were not tolerated, and besides... they could affect his work.
He smiled to himself in anticipation of his fire until he could see his front door in the distance. The familiar and unexpected figure that paced back and forth outside it set his heart pounding in his chest, and the artificer stopped in his tracks, luminous azure eyes widening.
Adrilas didn't bother to remind himself of what she'd said when last they parted or of how long it had been since he'd seen her. Instead, he drank in from afar the little details: her hair was longer, her armor almost... bright in the cream and gold and blue of something vaguely Alliance; a tiara of metal banded her smooth forehead, its shape at the center a diamond pointing to the light ridges on the bridge of her nose. She was different but also the same and beautiful to him, always. He burst into a bright smile as his steps gained an energy and urgency they'd lacked.
"Vasedra!" the draenei called when he was close enough, throwing his arms wide out of habit. "What a glorious surprise it is to see you!"
The void knight spun at the sound of his voice, her hoofpoint digging in to the cold, brown dirt of the path and her lively heart suddenly pounding. Her false, blue eyes followed the artificer as he approached, and her cheeks darkened in a flush borne of an odd sort of hungry anticipation married inextricably with anxiety.
Adrilas. He looked well, his simple leathers in brown, grey and teal complimenting his medium frame and hugging his wide shoulders. The studious young man might not have had the hammer-swinging bulk of so many of the compatriots that she ran into in Boralus, but he was a sleeker, softer sort of appealing. Familiar and more slender. Gentle and lithe without seeming weak.
That certainty came as much from her reaction to him as from his to her, and some part of her - perhaps most of her - saw the draenei striding toward her with a warm and welcoming smile as something precious, someone irreplaceable among the web of her connections. It was the biggest reason why she'd made the restless journey to Valiance Keep, her nerves humming and the uncomfortable lack creeping farther and farther along her spine until she felt near-desperate to address it. The hunger that made her fingers itch and her tail twitch. That made her want him in every meaning of the word.
Adrilas alone was the one she would choose for this. He was the one for whom she would never be a toy, an amusement. A tool. And, at some point, she had convinced herself that seeking him out was the best thing for them both. That he would thank her, later.
The artificer, unaware of the thoughts behind his visitor's false blue eyes, stepped into range and wrapped his arms around her, engulfing her smaller form in his hug. He was equal parts shocked and pleased when she neither grouched nor shied away, only standing still in his embrace and muttering close to his ear, "Invite me in, Adrilas."
The words were an order, but the tone was something softer, a sultry edge of plea to it that he wasn't quite sure he didn't imagine. Her oldest friend blinked and nodded, releasing her to pull back and grip her cold shoulders instead. His brow creased, his forepate furrowing as he held her at arm's length for his perusal.
"Ah, of course. Is something wrong? For you t-"
She cut him off with a shake of her head, simply reaching up to grip his wrists and repeating, "Invite me in, Adrilas. Please."
Though he was confused, he smiled and claimed her hand, leading her to the door.
"Certainly. Welcome to my humble abode, Vasedra." The artificer's nimble hands fished the key from a pouch at his waist, and soon they were both inside with the door closed behind them, a barrier to the winter chill.
Vasedra stepped to the center of the room and stopped in front of the low embers of the fire to look around, her attention falling on every detail of the space in turn. The house was large enough to be called cozy, but the living space had been neatly bisected down to “minimal” by a heavy curtain of what looked like ghost iron chain backed by patched leather. The far side was a mystery, but the side on which they stood held everything basic for comfort. A pair of padded leather chairs lounged before the grey stone fireplace, just barely discernible beneath a draped tool belt and a pouch of discarded crystal shards. Clutter, the signs of a mad genius at work in the form of pages with scribbled notes and books with stains and worn spines, covered two sets of shelves and nearly every other horizontal space she could find save the rumpled bed itself and a small oval on the table beneath the window that seemed the perfect size for a plate and mug.
It was clean, fastidiously free of dirt and dust and other potential contaminants, but it was packed to the gills with all the other signs of the man’s work save tools and equipment and results. Her cold blue gaze flicked to the curtain, and she surmised that she knew precisely what was on the other side.
While Vasedra perused, Adrilas set into motion, chatter on his lips and nervous energy in his frame as he bustled around the room, moving tools and pages and dog-eared books piled with thickly-filled bound notes.
"Excuse the mess, of course. I've been busy with... ah, with many things and my notes have gotten a scosh out of hand. You will have to-"
The sudden clatter of her swords and sword belt thudding against the wall interrupted him, and the artificer jumped guiltily, on edge, spinning to blink at her as she tossed her pack down beside them. “Ah… Vasedra? Oh, yes. Please do make yourself at home, my dear. There is tea if you-”
“Adrilas,” she interrupted, striding toward him with purpose, her hoofsteps loud on the wooden floor.
“Y… yes?” There was no threat in her, but he still found himself shying back with apprehension as she pulled off her plate gauntlets and tossed them in the vague direction of the pack. His eyes widened when those bare, cold hands reached for him.
“Don’t talk,” came the command, but he never even got a chance to consider it. Vasedra cupped the corners of the male’s jaw and lifted her chin, dragging his lips to hers and pressing him back against the shelves behind him with a sudden thud.
For a few heartbeats, Adrilas was frozen, shocked and helpless beneath her kiss. Watching the metal on her tiara wink in the dim light as she opened her lips against his. But he thawed in record time, wrapping his arms up her back and tugging her lithe form against him through the buffer of her armor with a hunger that nearly matched her own. To Sedra’s surprise, he laid claim to the moment from there, slanting his mouth over hers and threading strong fingers through her hair, stoking the heat even higher.
It was long, drugged moments before they parted, both breathless, but he did not release her. Her once-love merely leaned down by her ear and whispered, “Your lips are warmer now than when you first returned to me.”
Something stabbed in the vicinity of her heart at the memory of his joy and subsequent tears at his first sight of Sedrai the undead abomination, and Vasedra groaned and rested her horns against his shoulder. His big hands slid along her cheeks to the column of her neck, and he gasped to feel the slow, languid pulse there.
“You live! Vasedra!”
“I told you,” she muttered back, straightening once more and trying to keep something cool and detached in her tone, “that everything has changed since then, Adrilas. It’s been seven years. Everything has changed.”
“So you say.” The draenei couldn't hide his smile, his nimble fingers joining hers when she started to work on the buckles of her armor. “And yet you are here,” he said without looking up.
“Yes.” There was no point in denying that truth, so she didn’t try as her pauldrons dropped with a clatter. “I am here…”
Her cuisses fell away in the lull that followed that admission, and her breastplate not long after, the clatter of metal on wood becoming the first act of the odd music between them. Soon, there would be no plate left… But not soon enough. When Adrilas knelt before her, working on the buckles of her greaves, she looked down at him and could stand no more.
Sedra’s long, calloused fingers tangled in his tunic, and she tugged him back up until he had straightened on his knees and come in range of her lips. The artificer dared to reach up and trace a finger along one of the tendrils on her jaw when she bent down, and she shuddered in the moment before their kiss reignited. From that contact, they both became lost in touch and taste and, for her, a hunger she barely understood. For him, it was the ghost of a dream that had died decades ago. But for the moment, neither cared that they were mired in the lies they told themselves. Now was a choice they made together without saying a word. Without understanding anything.
The void knight set to work on the laces of his shirt with fingers every bit as nimble as his as her once-love pulled away from their kiss. He paused there and rested his horns against hers, their foreheads touching as their heated breath mingled.
“You are here, and I’m glad. You will always have a place with me, shanai…”
Ah, there it was. Vasedra closed her eyes and sucked in a breath, guilt slicing through her like a dulled blade, ripping and dragging pain with it. Her fingers stilled and her shoulders rounded. That word was a wounded, grieving man’s heart laid bare before her. It meant, among so many other things, that he did not understand what she was. It mean that if she stayed now, if she did what she’d planned, that fragile thing would likely end up broken at her hooves. Adrilas would likely end up broken at her hooves.
She whispered, “Lightless Depths, I shou-”
The artificer silenced her when he bracketed her ribs and dragged her down to kneel with him, tugging her cool body against his without the barrier of her armor, forceful and demanding and unwilling to let her think. Unwilling to let her change her mind. Without hesitation, he caught Sedra’s lips once more and slid his big, warm hands beneath her tunic and along the soft skin over the strong muscles of her back.
“You are here,” Adrilas repeated breathlessly as his kisses moved along her jaw, tempting and tantalizing. Distracting her from her worry… and her resolve.
All she managed was a little hesitation while her hunger gnawed and her conscience pricked and his touch beckoned, and then Vasedra let her eyes close and her head fall back at his urging. She could feel the pounding of his heart beneath her hands, the warmth of his skin through his tunic, the pull towards him from conflicting places within the mess of what she was.
“Yes, Adrilas,” Vasedra muttered in resignation, giving in to his misguided dream and to her own flaws. “I am here.”
Most of an entire day later, the artificer watched from the bed as Vasedra dressed, his warm gaze drinking in the way her perfect, pale-sky skin and powerful muscles flexed around the puckered scar behind her heart. He could measure the breadth of the blade that made it even after so many years, could read in the character of the remains of the wound all the details of the weapon beyond that. On her chest was the matching scar where the weapon had exited, and it made his gut clench to imagine her beautiful self impaled on that metal.
Adrilas frowned and shifted until he could put his palm over the chilled, ridged skin, resting it against her back just in time for her tunic to catch against his wrist. He could feel her tense as she froze beneath his touch, and he asked in a soft voice, “Will you, at long last, tell me what happened?”
Her hesitation was a palpable thing, and she kept her gaze on the mantle and the low-burning fire as she considered whether or not to answer. Despite all the ways in which he was not always aware with people, he could see this particular one with a crystalline clarity. And in that moment, he saw fear. It stiffened her back and sharpened the line of her jaw.
She was always afraid to let him get too close, even now that they were lovers. Much of her fear was for him, he knew, and after the danger he’d faced trying to help her two years ago, he understood why. But there was a layer of fear for herself that was tied in to vulnerability and his judgement, rejection that she dreaded despite how she broadcast that she didn’t care what he thought. Adrilas took it as more evidence of the love she pretended not to bear him, but he knew even that was messy, now.
The draenei also knew that he could never give up. Watching the fall of her short hair and the curve of her neck, the way her pointed blue ears just barely peeked from the black, silken locks, and feeling the slow, languid thud of her living heart beneath his hand, he would never settle for another, not when his Vasedra had come back to him from death itself. Not even when she pretended that all she’d been through had consumed the woman he’d loved entirely and left someone utterly new in her place.
The scholarly man understood what she'd tried so many times to tell him, he simply didn't believe it. Sedra couldn’t hide the truth from him, of all people. Her quick wit was familiar, her dry cuts, half-joke and half-truth. Her keen mind, strategic and purposeful, and her chimaeric emotions. The little way she held her fingers bent just so when she reached for something. He saw his once-love in far more than the curve of her horns and the set of her shoulders, and he did not believe for a moment that she wasn’t still a part of the woman before him.
“Vasedra,” the half-naked draenei sitting on the edge of his bed finally said, her voice cold, “died fighting the Scourge on the edge of the ruined town once known as Corrin’s Crossing. Her friends and travel companions perished gruesomely around her quite early in the ambush, torn apart and poisoned, and after that, she fought with whatever tools she could find for what felt like a very, very long time. I truly have no idea how long she actually endured.”
Sedra paused and turned to face Adrilas, shifting so that his hand slid from her skin. The metal tiara, the only thing she hadn’t removed since coming to Valiance Keep, ensured that when she gazed at him, piercing and intense, her eyes were the expected luminous azure blue.
“Crush the heads,” she muttered softly, her gaze narrowing. “Crush the heads, and you can last for quite a while against the undead, Adrilas.”
Sympathy shone in his eyes when he reached for her, but she swatted his hands away, standing in order to put a more comfortable distance between them. Her hooves clicked on the wooden floor as she stepped backward and finished her tale.
“Her reward was a party of dead friends, a runeblade through the heart, and the attention of the first of many Masters who would see to it that she was utterly destroyed despite that her body moved once more. Vasedra is gone. She has never returned to you, and I am most certainly not her despite that I chose to reclaim her name. Adrilas, you mu-”
He interrupted her by surging after her with a surprising agility and capturing her shoulders with his hands and her lips with his. She didn’t even remember to protest until a few long, drugged seconds had passed, and he rested his horns against hers and said, “Thank you for telling me. I have always wondered.”
Adrilas didn’t mention that he'd seen it all through the lens of her memories in the crystal she'd once given him. This little experiment was about whether she would choose to share or not, and the artificer was pleased with the result.
Sedra sighed and closed her eyes, sinking into his embrace for just one heartbeat before she yanked away and snapped, “You can stop wondering, now. And start listening to me.”
Her tail flipped back and forth, motivated by a combination of annoyance and hints of reawakened hunger that she ignored as she leaned down to retrieve her trousers and resume dressing.
The draenei behind her smiled at her surliness and announced, “I always listen, shenai. And I always see.”
“No,” she growled the word with annoyance, leaving her back toward him. “You never see, Adrilas, save for what you wish to see.”
The artificer reached out and snagged her calloused hand before she could pick up the first discarded piece of her ivory and blue armor, and his lover swung her head around, her gaze going from where he gripped her to his serious expression.
“You may be right, Vasedra. Or you may not give me enough credit for my powers of objective observation.” He lifted the hand he'd caught, pressing it between his own. “I am an artificer, you know. Raised into the craft and trained by one of our best.”
His stare was intense and uncomfortable, and though she shook her head and tugged lightly at his grip, Adrilas refused to release her. Finally, Sedra just sighed and glanced away from him, announcing. “You're ridiculous. And naked.”
That earned her an amused chuckle, and the blue cad used his captured hand to tug her closer as he pointed out, “I am. But I think we have moved a step beyond modesty, today. Don't you?”
Sedra had no idea how to respond to that without lying or lashing out pointlessly, so the void knight said nothing at all, just watching in silence as he laid her palm over his heart. He trapped it there with his right hand and wrapped his left around her waist to tug her closer against him. And for some reason, she let him, looking up just slightly into his luminous azure eyes, his too-kind and too-familiar face filled tenderness. Adrilas smiled broadly and brushed her hair back from her temple, tucking it behind her ear. Her answer was in her face whether she knew it or not, in that slight softening around her eyes.
“You will not, I think, wait two years to seek me out, this time,” the young man whispered, leaning forward to steal a cool kiss.
The confidence in his voice irritated her, and she pulled back, grumbling, “If you insist on staying in this Light-forsaken wasteland, I’m sure the temptation to return will pale quickly. It is too far from anything civilized… and too close to Icecrown.”
She turned away, returning to the task of collecting her armor, but he didn’t miss her light shudder at the mention of the Scourge’s walled prison. Adrilas followed, resting a possessive hand on her shoulder. Possessive and reassuring.
“Then I will leave.” Sedra paused in her work for a moment as he ran his fingers down her arm, but then she took a deep breath and moved over to settle in his chair and start putting her armor back on. Adrilas gave her space, instead sitting on the edge of the bed and leaning forward to rest his elbows on his thighs, as unmodest as he promised. “Where would you rather I be, sh-”
“Don’t.” Her interruption was sharp, the word bitten out as she tugged too hard at one of her legplates’ straps. She didn’t bother to raise her gaze to him, but scowled instead at her armor. “Don’t call me that, Adrilas.”
The artificer tilted his head, considering her and his own feelings before he nodded. “If it makes you uncomfortable…”
“It does.” The statement was punctuated by the chink of a new piece of armor settling into place.
“... where would you rather I be, Vasedra?” he pressed gently, watching with a scientist’s interest as she moved methodically through the familiar paces of putting on her plate.
The eredar paused at that, pondering her stilled fingers for a long moment before she closed her eyes and glanced away entirely. Her gaze found a new focus in the hearth, and the man beside her watched her brow furrow, wishing he could hear the argument she was having with herself.
Instead, he could only wait in a silence punctuated by the occasional pop of the fire until she looked back at him and announced, “Boralus. There are rough parts to the city, but I will choose you a place that's safe.”
Adrilas was honestly surprised when she hesitated after that, her expression softening with the slightest hint of a plea in her eyes, and asked, “Will you come?”
He smiled, warmed by the fact that she needed him, wanted him, despite that he still had no idea why. Adrilas shoved to his hooves and stepped the two feet to kneel at her knees and rest his hands on her armored thighs, all while her luminous blue eyes followed him.
“I will. Give me a few days to put my experiments in a state I can leave them, and I will come with you to Boralus.”
Vasedra looked both relieved and conflicted at his answer, despite her attempt to be impassive, but her only response was a curt nod.
Happy, Adrilas reached up to cup her cheek, first with one hand and then with both, drawing her toward him.
“You will always have a place with me, sh-... Vasedra,” he muttered against her lips, a lingering, teasing melding of breath between them.
“Adrilas…” She closed her eyes and only made an empty, weak effort to pull away, a token objection that neither of them believed. “I need to leave. What… are y-”
The draenei silenced her with his lips over hers, a brief taste that allowed him to surge on. “I am reminding you. Before you go off and try to forget. You will always have a place with me, and my place will always be with you.”
Sedra managed a moment of control to murmur the only protest she could summon at the moment. “Foolish boy. When will you put some pants on?”
His answer was a playful grin before he shoved her back into the seatback and pressed his lips once more over hers. It was quite a long time, after that, before he got around to dressing.