"Lady," Pained said, nodding her head to Jaina as Jaina ascended the stairs. Really, Jaina should be used to this by now. Pained was always up before her, though not always waiting in her usual spot. Sometimes she had duties to attend to, duties that Jaina was greatly appreciative of.
Jaina hadn't asked for a bodyguard, nor had she ever expected Pained to stay on after Hyjal, but she'd become indispensable, her spymaster in all but name and arguably better than any of the Admiralty bodyguards on Kul Tiras.
"Jaina," She corrected her with a smile, before sitting down at her desk. Her work area was always a controlled sort of chaos, with tomes and paper fluttering about and a flying inkwell that she absently plucked out of the air. The desk itself was marginally more organized; Everything had its place but sometimes there were too many things and not enough places.
"Of course, my lady," Pained replied, the corner of her lips turning up as she got a little taunting spark in her eyes.
Jaina glared at her, before picking up a quill and dipping it in the inkwell, "So how was your morning?"
"Productive." Pained relaxed slightly, leaning her hip against the wall, the faint blue glow of her eyes following the scribbling quill in Jaina's hand. "Our little smuggling problem should be coming to a head in the next few days."
Smuggling problem? Jaina set her quill down, rubbing at her temple and leaving ink smudges there, "Oh! Right. The crocolisk hides."
"I have a name, and I have someone keeping an eye on that name. If he moves, we can catch him in the act." Pained's eyes flicked up to Jaina's temple and back down again, her ears twitching in amusement.
"I'll bet you never expected to have to deal with crocolisk poaching," Jaina said, trying to read Pained's expression. But she'd known her long enough to take a guess, "What's so funny?"
"Nothing." Pained seemed to lose her fight and smiled, "You just have a little…" She gestured to her temple. "Some ink, Lady. A little earlier than usual. You don't have smudges until later, most days."
"I used to write on myself," Jaina said, wiping her fingers on a cloth but pointedly ignoring the smudge on her forehead. "Notes, little drawings, I'd even practice arcane runes to give myself a little bit of an edge."
"Isn't that cheating?"
"I prefer to think of it as being creative," Jaina insisted, gesturing for Pained to come over. "Now give me your arm."
Pained walked over, eyeing her for a moment before holding out her left arm, "Whatever you wish, my lady."
As she took Pained's warm, calloused hand, Jaina tried not to think about how good those fingers felt against her skin. "The quill on skin is an interesting sensation. Mine are usually very sharp, so I'll try to be delicate." Her eyes flicked up when Pained snorted, and she said, "Not that you need a delicate touch."
"I'm willing to make an exception." Pained's fingers curled in against Jaina's wrist, brushing gently up and down the vein there, "For you."
Jaina promptly ran out of breath, "I'm ... trying to be precise here."
Pained's rough fingers continued to inch up and down her wrist and Jaina wasn't sure she actually minded. Each minute touch sent electric shivers up her arm and contributed to her breathing difficulties.
Miraculously, her hands didn't tremble as she worked, neither with the quill nor with the enchantment she cast right after.
Ink could be washed away quickly and tattoos last a lifetime, but with a simple enchantment the former could remain for a limited time. Jaina had been practicing writing Kaldorei script and with Pained's help was becoming proficient with the language. Long nights with the elf leaning over her, close enough to feel her body heat … Jaina shook herself out of a reverie, "Tell me I didn't misspell anything."
Pained lifted her arm, looking the markings over with a smile, "No, I think you did well."
That probably gave Jaina more of a rush than it should have. "I'm glad you like them. They'll last a few weeks, unless you want them gone sooner."
"A few weeks is fine." Pained said, staring at her intently.
Jaina nodded, flushing as she returned to her work and quickly became so engrossed in it that she barely noticed Pained leaving.
Most days, her time was filled with paperwork, reading and research, and today was no exception as she got lost in shipping manifests and the delicate nature of threading the needle of neutrality between the Horde and the Alliance. They were more similar than different and she wished both sides could see that, but the people of Theramore had so many ties to the Alliance it would be cruel to just sever them.
Still, she knew if she showed too much favoritism it would give the Horde reason to stretch their muscles. The solution, at least for now, would be to offer Thrall license to fish in Theramore waters; so long as the Horde did not overfish and a percentage ended up Theramore coffers.
And then he'd write back a counter offer and they'd eventually settle in the middle and some nobles in the Eastern Kingdoms would pitch a fit and she'd get an angry letter from Stormwind to which she'd respond that Theramore was a neutral port open to trade with anyone, including the Horde. Maybe if she was very unlucky there'd be a scathing message with an official Kul Tiran seal from her mother, or more likely Ashvane speaking for her mother.
By the end of it all, that would be that, at least until the next grievance, or the next time she needed to smooth tensions between the Horde and the Alliance.
Sighing, Jaina set aside her missive to the Warchief and sat up, stretching her back. She glanced outside, realizing it was well after noon. Had she really been working all day and yet was there ever any doubt that she would?
Someone came up the stairs, a Kaldorei woman with purple, shoulder-length hair pulled back into a small tail. She had claw-like tattoos on her face and she seemed… young. Or at least much less subdued than Pained or many other Kaldorei Jaina had met. She looked familiar, but Jaina couldn't recall her name.
"May I help you?" Jaina smiled when the woman ducked her head.
"Hi. I'm uh. I'm Yukale. We met once, at Hyjal." Yukale jerked her thumb in the vague direction of Mount Hyjal. She had a lopsided sort of grin that was a little infectious, though she contained herself, even as she shifted from foot to foot, "I'm actually here to help out. I also have a missive from Stormwind."
She held out a small envelope and Jaina took it, thinking it was definitely too soon for Fordragon or Prestor to weigh in on fishing rights. The seal was unusual, featuring a cheese wheel, which told her this was serious indeed. Jaina skimmed the letter, her frown deepening. When she was finished, she lifted her eyes to the Elf's, "I see. I'll leave you to it, but please keep me informed."
"Of course, Lady Proudmoore." Yukale inclined her head.
"And good luck," Jaina added. "I sincerely hope you're successful."
"I'll find our wayward diplomat," Yukale promised, before leaping over the railing.
Jaina stared at where she'd been, before peering over to see if she hadn't killed herself with her stunt. The Kaldorei seemed to be alive, which was fortunate, and Jaina shook her head. She'd been seeing more and more adventurers coming through lately and she was positive that most of them had death wishes. Jaina herself had too much to live for, so she wasn't sure she understood the urge, but she could respect the rush of adrenaline.
What work she had left could wait and she likely wouldn't have any word from Yukale about their missing diplomate until morning, so Jaina went down the stairs of her tower and stepped out into the dimming light of the setting sun.
She liked to walk her city at this time of day, as the shadows grew longer and people began to settle down. There was singing coming from the tavern, and she could see the sails of the ship that had likely ferried Yukale to her door.
Most of the people in Theramore were human; refugees like herself who'd fled the Scourge, along with others who'd come after the fact. But there were a half dozen other races if not more, befitting a port town. A pair of High Elven scholars had taken residence and she'd been trying to convince them to open up a school. There were Dwarves, Goblins and Gnomes, and even some members of the Horde came into the city on an infrequent occasion. Tauren mostly, but the occasional troll as well. Orcs were rare, and the Forsaken rarer still.
Jaina still didn't know how she felt about the Forsaken. The memory of the Scourge and the Plague still kept her up some nights, her sleep interrupted by nightmares of Lordareon and a monster with the face of the man she'd loved.
Jaina paused to feed a mule an apple, stroking its neck for a moment before she continued her rounds. On principle, she wanted to give the Forsaken a chance. Thrall had and she trusted him to make the right call. After all, she'd spent most of her life being told Orcs were remorseless savages with no redeeming values. That clearly was not the case as Thrall was far from the only example. Jaina was convinced the bad blood between Orcs and Humans could be erased by a steady peace and growing familiarity..
She felt a change in the air as Pained fell into step beside her and failed to hide a smile. Jaina was getting better at that. Sure, Pained probably announced her presence on purpose but Jaina wasn't going to acknowledge that, preferring to take any win she could.
"Any luck on the smugglers?"
"We could move on them now, but we'll miss out on the buyers."
"Walk me home?" Jaina said, unwilling to discuss this or other topics further in public. She offered Pained her arm, "And tell me your opinion on these adventurers."
Pained snorted, taking Jaina's arm, "Most of them are in it for rewards. Money, equipment, fame. I'm not sure how reliable they are. I'd almost trust the ones in it for the adventure more than the others."
Jaina nodded, lowering her voice even as they walked back into the tower, "What about ones trustworthy enough to be sent with a message from SI:7?"
"Now that would be different." Pained glanced at her, ears raised with interest. Jaina simply pulled the letter out of her sleeve and offered it.
After she scanned it, Pained said, "Burn that."
Jaina promptly did, watching the embers and ashes drift to the ground, "I told her to proceed but to keep me informed. We need more proof and a better lead before we can act so I don't expect anything until tomorrow morning at the soonest."
"Be two, maybe three days before I move on the smugglers, too. All we can do right now is wait." Pained nodded, moving ahead of Jaina to ensure the entrance to her quarters was safe.
It was kind of ridiculous, but Jaina thought it was cute, "If someone can break the ward to get inside, we'd have bigger problems to worry about."
"I still need to check, Lady." Pained gave her a half smile, before stepping through a door on the wall.
Jaina's tower was too small to have both her living quarters and her office at the same time, but through her magic she had simply made it bigger on the inside than on the outside. Not too much bigger; a simple apartment, lavishly furnished and filled with things that brought her joy. She'd spend too much time in cramped quarters in Dalaran and buried in books in the library to ever feel comfortable sleeping in a huge room.
She stepped in after Pained, studying the Night Elf when she got to the other side. Her broad, muscular shoulders were tense, and she shot Jaina an annoyed look. Jaina gave her a smile in return, "I'm sure it's perfectly safe. If you're really that worried why don't you stay the night?"
The normally graceful Kaldorei nearly ran her head into one of the shelves. Pained's ears twitched, color rising to her cheeks, "There could be demons, Lady. Or someone out of Stormwind or Kul Tiras wishing to bring you down."
The mention of her homeland sent a dagger through Jaina's heart, and she sighed. "If my mother wanted to bring me low she could blockade us. She's not the kind of person to send assassins or kidnappers in the night."
"She might not be, but others are." Pained finished her inspection and returned to Jaina's side. She looked at her a moment with an unreadable expression, before saying, "I'm sorry I brought her up."
Was her distress that clear on her face? "No, you're right to bring up that concern. My mother hasn't responded to any letters I've sent her and I'm sure there are loyalists to my father who would like to see me hang."
Pained's eyes dropped to Jaina's neck and back up again, "I'd never let that happen, Lady."
It might have been her imagination but Jaina was certain Pained's gaze had lingered on the hollow of her throat, and maybe even lower. Or maybe it was the way Pained kept saying Lady. Low and deep and with a great deal of affection to it.
Oh. No, no, that couldn't be it, that was just wishful thinking. Though what exactly was she wishing for, here? "My hero."
Jaina didn't exactly need protection, but even the most powerful mages had moments of weakness and blind spots. She wondered if Pained was one of those weaknesses, as she started to unlace her robes. Pained stepped out of sight, only returning once Jaina had changed into a nightgown.
Again, Jaina felt Pained's eyes sweep over her. Then the elf sighed as though it were a great imposition, "I suppose it would be easier to keep an eye on you if I stayed up here."
Frankly, Jaina thought that Pained had been keeping an eye on her with more frequency of late, and it was kind of a thrilling thought. She could remember the feeling of Pained's rough fingers on the skin of her wrist and … and gods she wanted more of that. "Then you best get comfortable because there's only one bed."
Jaina walked into her bedchamber, calling behind her, "Would you like help with your armor?"
There was a loud thud that sounded suspiciously like a night elf running into something and Jaina stifled a laugh. She sat on the edge of the bed, reaching for a brush as Pained entered. With great interest, she watched as Pained propped her claymore against the wall near the side of the bed she was apparently claiming. Then Pained slipped a dagger under the pillow, slid another down behind the bed and put a third into the end table's drawer.
"I've seen cooks with less cutlery," Jaina noted, running her golden locks through her fingers before she started to brush it.
She could hear the sound of metal scraping together, and then chainmail hitting the floor with a heavy thud. Swallowing, Jaina hazarded a glance over her shoulders and was greeted with the sight of pink skin over the solid muscle of Pained's back. There were a number of blade scars running down below her left shoulder blade and another low on her right hip. Jaina's fingers itched with the need to touch them.
Those muscles flexed as Pained tossed her braid back over her shoulder and Jaina had to fight the urge to reach over and tug on it like she was 12 years old with a crush. The feelings flooding through her right now translated roughly into a nigh irresistible urge to brush her lips over every muscle and scar on Pained's bare back.
Turning away, Jaina felt as though the laces of her nightgown were suddenly too tight, the soft fabric too constraining, Pained too close and too rugged and beautiful and - the bed shifted and then Jaina could feel Pained almost inches from her back and she was literally going to suffocate. Her earlier confidence felt like shredded fabric.
Gently, Pained took the brush from Jaina and started in on her hair, her voice thick, "Let me, Lady."
"Do you … would you like a …" Jaina chewed on her lip, eyes fluttering as she stifled a very impolite sound, "night … thing. Gown! Would you like a gown?"
Warm breath in her ear and Jaina tried not to imagine what those fangs would feel like, "I left my tunic in my quarters."
That wasn't a yes, but Jaina didn't have the strength to suggest the idea again, especially when Pained rested her fingers on the side of Jaina's neck where it met her shoulder. They moved back and forth in time to the brush in her hair and Jaina had lost control of the situation but did not particularly care. Jaina was pretty sure she was going to combust but that was only fair since she'd made Pained run into things. Twice.
"Let me get you," She managed to say, once Pained had clearly finished with her hair and started to run her fingers through it instead of the brush. It wasn't that she was naive, but the idea of being vulnerable with anyone after … after Arthas terrified her.
As if sensing that fear, Pained let go of her hair and slid her hands down both of her arms before wrapping them around her waist and hugging her from behind. Closing her eyes, Jaina leaned back into the embrace, her skin feeling like it was aflame. Pained's hands slid up her belly until her wrists were passing over her breasts. Jaina's opened her eyes, glancing downward in abject fascination as Pained's fingers slowly worked at the laces of her nightgown. The glittering runes from the magical tattoo Jaina had drawn shimmered as she slowly, so slowly unlaced her.
"This is only fair," Pained whispered, her lips brushing the shell of Jaina's ear and a welcome note of desperation in her voice.
She'd been suffocating earlier but somehow her gown loosening made that feeling worse. But Jaina didn't want to give in quite this easily, no matter how badly she wanted to feel the rough texture of Pained's hands on her body. She just as badly wanted to run her fingers through that blue hair. Almost as soon as Pained had finished unlacing her gown, Jaina turned around and-
-immediately got lost in the heat simmering within Pained's eyes.
Maybe this was a very pleasant dream, or maybe things were just escalating quickly, or maybe just something about today had been a tipping point. Maybe maybe maybe …
Maybe Pained's expression was still guarded in the exact same way Jaina protected her own heart.
Jaina reached up and cupped her face between her hands, "What do you want, Pained?"
"What I want..." Pained leaned her face against one of Jaina's hands, "I was a warrior long before your civilization existed. But this ... This … " She tapped her chest then Jaina's, "This is a battle I'm ill equipped for."
"You're not answering my question, Pained." Jaina pulled back, her gown sliding down her shoulders before falling down to pool around her waist. Pained's eyes followed the movement before they slowly drifted back up Jaina's torso. They grew sharper, until Jaina could make out the almost moon-like pupils behind the normal glow. Her muscles tensed and relaxed and tensed again, trembling with barely restrained energy. At her heart, Pained was a creature of the woods and the night, and she let the mask drop as she drank in the sight of Jaina. A feral need, suppressed emotions and Jaina understood.
"Lady," Pained whispered, staring at her as if she needed to know that Jaina actually felt the same way, that she wasn't being humored, that this wasn't some mad dream. The word was a prayer on her lips, emotion flooding through it that was impossible to ignore.
Jaina heard all that in that single word and she could only nod.
Pained moved swiftly, graceful as a nightsaber as she Jaina onto her back and pinned her to the bed by the shoulders. The kiss burned like arcane fire, leaving Jaina dizzy and wanting so much more. Hands roughened by centuries with the blade caressed at her skin and Jaina moved her own over hard muscle and warm skin. And when Pained used her teeth Jaina became lost to all thought or reason.
Maybe it was a quirk of the spell that maintained her bedroom or simply how easily she lost herself in the Night Elf, but Jaina lost all track of the time. Pained was a considerate and responsive lover, predicting Jaina's wants and needs almost before she knew them herself. When to be rough and when to be gentle, responding eagerly when Jaina flipped the tables on her and returned the attention with equal fervor.
She woke with Pained wrapped around her, body aching in pleasant ways. Jaina had bruises in interesting places and she was positive that Pained had marked her throat and chest with her teeth on purpose. Jaina didn't particularly mind and she knew a spell that would keep her from having to answer awkward questions later. Letting herself float in the ocean of contentment, Jaina mused that making love to an immortal might have quite possibly ruined her for other women.
Pained nuzzled her shoulder, and Jaina stroked her fingers through her hair. She didn't think she'd ever seen Pained sleep before and in all honesty it was kind of adorable. And then kind of a lot of other things as Pained woke and stretched out beside her, "Gods, I'm tempted to cast a time spell so we can stay like this all day but have it only last an hour."
"I would not object." Pained's eyes fluttered closed when Jaina's fingers began to caress the edges of her ears; a favorite discovery of Jaina's last night.
"Aren't you supposed to be nocturnal?" Jaina asked.
Propping herself up, Pained replied, "I've had to adapt, though I do function best in the later hours."
Her fingers traced patterns in Jaina's stomach, tickling her in the process. She stifled a giggle, skin flushing as she turned her head away in embarrassment. Pained kissed her shoulder, then nipped lightly at the junction between neck and shoulder, murmuring her name as she undoubtedly left yet another mark.
And the way she said that was as deep and intense as the way she called Jaina Lady. The thought made Jaina sigh, the sound morphing into a hoarse groan as Pained's lips moved down her throat, hands caressing needily and rough at her breasts until Jaina lost sense of all time or reason.
And she completely forgot to cast that time magic.