Chapter 6: Effloresce
“Aaah! Ef im’ha fewwo…” Alensyr giggled as he played with his stuffed toy, draped across Rhoelyn’s lap and telling himself some fantastical tale of adventure while the priestess sat propped up in bed, her hand resting on his little back. His floppy saber cat, hand-stitched by Faeroh and just a bit lopsided, galloped across her shin and over her knee, roaring with bestial vigor in a chiming, high-pitched voice that had Leothir chuckling and looking up from the pile of monthly reports on his lap.
He paused in that moment, his luminous green gaze drinking in the scene: the sunlight that slanted across the child and woman from the open veranda doors, the gilded radiance of the loving smile that she probably wasn’t even aware curled her lips as she watched the boy, the calm, warm breeze from outside that brushed occasionally through her silver hair, the bright flashes of violet and blue and silver as finely-dressed little Alen wiggled and squirmed against her cream-colored coverlet.
It soothed him just to be there with them, like a brazier full of glowing coals – no fire, just a luminous, suffusing warmth. The mage couldn’t leave; he hadn’t for more than an hour here and there in two days, no matter how his mother railed at him. Spending time with the little collection he was building didn’t seem ‘beneath him’ in the slightest, not when it filled his heart so pleasantly. At ease, settled near his kal’dorei lover with her being soft and sweet and motherly to her adoptive son, the blood elf just felt so very… complete.
“Ash’aforho!” The boy’s shout drew Leo from his reverie.
“What trouble are you causing now, little plum?” he asked gently, setting the pages aside and making his way over to the bed.
The child blinked at him, his comprehension of the blood elven language still lethargic at best. And then he grinned and said, “Kitty eated! Eated aw da leafs an’ fwowers.”
Raising his brows, the blood elf settled on the mattress, sharing an amused glance with Rhoelyn before he regarded the boy with mock gravity. “Your mighty saber is a vegetarian? Doesn’t she hunt rabbits?”
When Alen just blinked at him, his adoptive mother supplied a brief Darnassian translation that had him shaking his head, wavy purple locks swinging. “Thas mean, an’nu!”
The priestess smiled, brushing a hand over his hair as she explained in the language he could best understand. “Not exactly mean, my love. It is the way of this world. The sabers eat the rabbits so that there are the right number of rabbits and the rabbits eat the plants so that there are the right number of plants. This is the balance of nature.”
Alensyr tilted his head, his little brow wrinkling. “Do somebody eats kitties?” He looked very sad at the idea, but Rhoelyn answered him with gentle honesty.
“Yes, Alensyr. Sometimes someone must eat the sabers as well or they, too, will fall out of balance. Perhaps the furbolg or owlkin.”
He clutched his toy to his chest, shouting, “Don’t eats kitties, mama! Thas mean!”
Leothir shushed the boy and gathered him into his arms as Rhoelyn laughed. “Darling boy, do you really think I would hurt your kitty? I love sabers. Did you know I used to keep them, sometimes?”
As the child’s face lit up, Leo’s dissolved into a petulant frown. “Come now, you two. Thalassian,” he scolded. “I can barely keep up with the conversation.”
The priestess glanced over at him with a smile, switching back to his tongue. “Perhaps you should practice more, then, my dawn.”
The blood elf wrinkled his nose at the idea, a knee-jerk reaction that he immediately regretted at the disappointment that flared to life in her eyes. He winced, but he lost his chance to say anything when the child spoke first.
“Where?” Alensyr asked in the language that would please Leothir.
Rhoelyn’s sky-blue eyes swung back to him, and she blinked. “Where what?”
The boy waved his toy at her. “Where do you keeps kitties? I wanna see you kitties.”
“Ah,” she smiled softly, longing leaking into her expression. “They aren’t here, my love. They were back at my ho-…” Leo hated the little sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, watching her as she stopped herself and slanted a glance at him, her expression an odd mix of emotions. “T-they live far away, in a city by a big, beautiful lake. I used to help them, sometimes, when they were sick or injured, and keep them in my little house with me and m-… You would like it there, Alensyr.”
The priestess lowered her eyes to avoid whatever was in Leothir’s, and he watched her focus instead on the little cherub’s face and a lock of vibrant hair that very badly needed to be brushed back and toyed with. He knew she felt his stare, though, and watched her fight the blush that warmed her cheeks. There was an unhappy wariness in her expression, as if she expected him to scold her, and he sighed softly.
“It’s funner than here?” The child’s innocent question made Leo and Rhoelyn both wince, and the priestess had to force a smile for him.
“Merely different, my love,” she said, diplomatic. The mage appreciated her effort, but it didn’t do much to curb the growing irritation and fearful discontent souring his mood.
“Come, Alen.” Leo muttered, his gaze lingering on his night elven lady before finally dragging itself down to the boy’s upturned face, “Let’s go see if Ryni and Faeroh want to play. I think your mother is looking tired. She needs her rest still, right?”
With a nod and a little grin, the child said, “Yes. Sala’min’da got… got… il’aihem vas, sala’min’da?”
“‘Hurt’, Alen. The word you want is ‘hurt’,” she supplied.
He nodded and smiled up at Leo. “Min’da got hurt. Sleeps is for good’her.”
The sin’dorei chuckled as he stood, his irritation lost to the charm of the boy in his arms. “Good for her, my boy.”
“Oh.” Alen sighed and leaned his head on Leothir’s shoulder, his thumb finding its way to his mouth. Around the little digit, he mumbled, “Good for her,” in echo.
Rhoe watched them both with a tender smile. “Perhaps I am not the only one who could use more rest,” she said, eyeing the boy.
“I do believe you’re right, my flower.” The mage leaned down so that she could kiss Alen’s cheek and get a kiss in return before he stepped away. “I’ll see him settled and return in a while. Please lay back. You’re looking pale.”
Her quiet smile leveled at him made Leo’s heart pound happily as she said, “I will rest, Leothir. Don’t be too long, lest you find me asleep.” That beautiful smile turned teasing.
“I’ll be back with all haste, Rhoelyn.” The mage grinned and turned away, carrying the little boy that she called her son out of the room and closing the door behind him. As Alen started idly toying with the end of his long ponytail, sleepy and comfortable, Leothir brushed the child’s small back and pondered the definition of the word ‘son’ with a dangerous amount of fondness.
The shadows were steep and dusty when the priestess woke, her blue eyes blinking open with some surprise. It hadn’t been her intent to fall asleep, let alone to sleep away the afternoon hours. While dusk was not yet upon them, a glance outside showed her a day nearing its conclusion. She sighed and turned her gaze much closer.
Rhoelyn peered into Leothir’s sleeping face, her lips curling up into a tender smile. He napped beside her in her bed, his hands tucked around hers, his loose hair a drape of shining gold across his pillow. Judging by the pile of papers strewn across the bed, she could easily imagine the sequence of events that had lead to him being beside her: returning to find her asleep, gathering his work with a probably-petulant sigh, climbing gingerly into the bed and settling beside her to read… and then, bored as he always was by the manor’s record sheets, resting back with a yawn. She wondered idly at what point he’d decided to let down his hair. Regardless, he’d fallen asleep with his reports in his lap, again, and rolled quite a few times since then to distribute them haphazardly.
The priestess freed a hand from his and lifted it to his face, brushing her fingers across his warm cheek, amused by the fine prickle of stubble on his jaw. Her lover. Her mate. A sweet man, for all that his society embedded flaws in him, whose heart was true, if misguided at times. He was so beautiful in her eyes – body and soul as radiant as the dawn she named him by, as warming as the sun that used to soothe her to sleep after a long, chill night of work in Nighthaven. The Light in him shone, strong and pure and mostly unsullied by the uglier things he believed, by the mistakes he made. That he was innately good had been as obvious to her as he’d dragged her through a portal in Pandaria as it was when he held Alensyr with a quiet and self-conscious fatherly love.
That she loved him, truly and deeply, had become equally obvious to her in more recent days. And perhaps less disturbing to face than it once was.
Rhoelyn shifted forward and pressed a kiss to his slack lips, tasting him tenderly. “My dawn…” she whispered as he stirred.
The mage cracked his eyes open before letting them shut again, his lips curling up. “Mmm. Good morning, beautiful,” he mumbled, his hand lifting to rest at her waist as his fingers flexed against her side.
She giggled softly, brushing his hair back. “It is not morning, Leothir. We have nearly slept the day away, I’m afraid.”
“You needed the rest,” he said, dragging her closer to nuzzle his prickly chin into the corner of her neck. His next words were muffled. “How do you feel, my flower?”
Again, she giggled, this time at the tickly scratch against her skin, her hands finding themselves trapped between his chest and her own. “I feel rested and ready to quit this sick bed. Perhaps tonight we can take a little walk.”
Leothir nodded, lifting his head to capture her lips briefly before he spoke. “A little walk to see how you feel.” His gaze was warm, concerned, adoring. His lazy smile turned playful as he leaned even closer and spoke in a quieter, more conspiratorial tone. “And if you do well, perhaps we will take our dinner out by the lake on a blanket. I may let you have your way with me beneath that moon you love so much. I know how you enjoyed that, last time.”
Rhoelyn smiled despite the blush that darkened her skin from her cheeks to the tips of her ears. “Yes, ilais’surfal. I think I would like that very much. I have been inside too much, of late.”
Chuckling, her mate tugged her against him and caught her lips, a delicious precursor to their newly-made evening plans. It wasn’t until a few minutes later, when they parted much more breathless and heated, that he muttered, “My nature-loving little kal’dorei. I imagine that when you were a priestess, you frolicked by your moonwell with the deer and the birds quite beautifully.”
She blinked at that, pulling back. “I am still a priestess, Leothir. Though your mother might forbid me to speak of it within her earshot, I will always be called to serve Elune.”
The blood elf shook his head, trying for a reassuring smile. “There’s no need for that any more, my flower. We aren’t in the deep, old woods where you need your heathen godde-”
“Mind your words!” He blinked, stunned by the harshest tone he had ever heard from her. Rhoelyn yanked herself free of him and sat up, pale and wide-eyed and wounded, her anger quickly slipping sideways into a profound hurt. Her voice stern, she admonished, “You insult me and my goddess and my calling in the same breath, Leothir Duskfall.”
Following her retreat, he rested his hands on her arms. “I’m sorry, Rhoelyn. I’ve been insensitive. I know it will take more time before you can learn the civilized ways. Change cannot come overnight, after all.”
The words, thoughtless and blind and rote to him, drove her away from his touch with jerky motions, and she gasped, grabbing her clasped hands to her chest as if to catch the crumbling remains of her sense of joy.
“Don’t,” she snapped, leaning away again when he reached for her. “The things you say… I thought you, at least, understood me, Leothir. I believed that you saw me beyond my face and form and respected me beyond this demeaning collar.” Resting her fingertips on the leather, Rhoelyn paid no heed to the tears in her eyes, her brow furrowed. “Heathen. Savage. Uncivilized? Do you spout the rhetoric out of thoughtless habit or because you truly believe that I am merely a beast in need of your training?”
The sin’dorei blinked at her, arms still outstretched and empty. “You’re not a beast, Rhoelyn. Why would you say such a thing?”
“Because you do.” When he started to shake his head, brow furrowed, she surged on. “It’s in the disdain with which you speak of my language, my people, my culture, my goddess. How can you think so little of everything that makes me who I am without also thinking little of me?”
The mage blinked at her, stunned and reaching for what to say.
“I am kal’dorei, Leothir.” Rhoelyn said the words more softly, her brow furrowing as she sat apart from him, the cozy bedsheets pooled at her waist and her arms wrapped around herself against icy fear. “I was born in a snow filled forest and a simple village of people who your ancestors sneered at, and I am quite happy with blood you consider ‘low quality’ running through my veins. By your society’s standards, I will never be what you are, even if I dress in your clothes and obey your etiquette. They do not concern me, but i-if that means that you… you believe I am l-less than a pers-”
Leo could stand no more as her emotions got the best of her and tears rolled down her cheeks. He leaned forward, wrapping his arms around her and cuddling her close. “I’m sorry, my flower. Truly. I know you are not less than a person. You are, in fact a shining example of a person.”
He brushed his thumb across her cheek, banishing a few tears, and held her tight as she relented and sagged against him. “I admit that I have not learned much respect for the kal’dorei or your ways and beliefs, but for you I will watch what I say.”
“And keep your mind and heart open?” she prompted.
Leothir smiled and pressed a kiss against her temple. “Rhoelyn, my flower, my heart couldn’t be more open to you. So I will work on my mind as well.” As she nodded, he continued, “If you are the result of all things kal’dorei, then clearly I have been mistaken in many of my assumptions. You are amazing, and I am reminded of it every day that you are mine.”
Satisfied and quickly calmer, the little priestess blushed as she took a deep breath. After a few heartbeats, she lifted her face to him, her smile soft. “Flattery, my dawn, will get you nowhere with me.”
“Nowhere?” Her mate caught her lips tenderly before he continued, “Are you quite certain you don’t soften just a bit with it?” His palms wandered soothingly along her back.
She laughed and lifted her hands to toy with the embroidered collar of his tunic, her eyes suddenly playful. “Well. Perhaps you should try a bit more flattery to be sure.”
“Hm.” The blood elf grinned, playing along. He leaned away from her for a moment, his eyes perusing her slowly from head to hip as she sat, watching him with infinite patience and an amused grin. “I fear my words simply aren’t sufficient to praise the parts of you I’d like, my flower.”
Rhoelyn blinked, her eyes laughing. “You, Leothir? Out of words? This is an impossibility.”
“Oh, not out. My words are insufficient, Rhoelyn,” Leo began, his green eyes glowing merrily as he laid his hands around her waist, pulling her into his lap and leaning close by her ear. “The parts of you I’d most like to praise do require my mouth, but it will be otherwise occupied.”
His grin turned devilish as she gasped and flushed darkly.
“W-we… we will not manage our walk if you say such things, my dawn,” his lover admitted, lowering her voice. “And there is d-” She gasped anew when his hands wandered upward from her waist, revealing him to be uncontrite. “d-dinner… Leothir, we have not- oh!”
“Dinner will have to wait, I’m afraid, my flower.” His words were mumbled as he focused on distracting her entirely from her thoughts with his touch. “I owe you a proper apology.”
Her breathing made uneven, the little night elf managed a jerky nod as he lifted one hand to tug her gown down her shoulder. “I-I… yes, I think you need to… to apologize quite t-thoroughly.” She closed her eyes as a soft, appreciative sound slipped past her lips and reached up to help him by pulling free the ties at the nape of her neck. “We… we can walk later.”
Released, her silken bodice fell free to pool at her waist with the bedsheets. Leothir rested his hands in the middle of her back, eyes shining hungrily, and leaned forward. “My beautiful l-”
“Leo!” The door to the room thudded open. “I need you to p- AGH!” Relare froze in the threshold, his wide-eyed gaze on the bare expanse of the night elf’s back and his brother’s shocked face over her shoulder. He spun around with a choked sound, clenching his eyes shut and flushing immediately crimson.
“Knocking!” The mage gasped at him as Rhoelyn squeaked and scrambled to pull her dress up. “Knocking is good, Relare!”
“Y-y-yes. Yes. I’m very sorry, you two.” The younger Duskfall stammered. “I didn’t see anyth-… That is… I didn’t mean to interrupt.” He winced and lapsed into silence.
As he helped Rhoelyn retie her gown, Leo grouched, “Yet you’re still here, brother…”
“I am. I’m sorry, Leo, but I… Is it safe to face you, yet?”
Rhoelyn spoke softly, shifting off of her mate’s lap. “We are presentable.”
Relare looked very relieved when he turned and found that to be true, though he couldn’t fail to notice that both of them were still flushed, at least partly with embarrassment. He winced once more. “Leo, I need you at the camp. Immediately. It’s urgent.”
The mage scowled for a moment before relenting with a sigh, his shoulders rounding. He switched his attention back to the woman before him.
“I am sorry, my flower, but it seems duty calls. Most rudely,” he flitted an annoyed look to Relare, “but it calls nevertheless.”
As Leothir extricated himself from the bed, Rhoelyn nodded serenely. “I understand, my dawn. I hope whatever calls you both off is not too dangerous.” She could barely manage to drag her gaze to Relare, and when she did, she looked quickly away, her cheeks flaming anew.
Her mate distracted her by leaning back over the bed and claiming a quick kiss. “You should still get some air, if you feel up to it. Take Faeroh or Ryni along, though; I don’t want you going out alone, Rhoelyn.” The gaze he leveled on her was stern.
“Yes, Leothir,” she responded, looking down at the hands clasped in her lap.
“And make sure you have dinner. I’ll be back as soon as possible, beautiful,” he said before leaning close to whisper in her ear. The priestess’ cheeks darkened with a delicious little shudder, and she nodded, swallowing past a suddenly-dry throat.
“O-of course,” she whispered simply, brushing a tender hand along his fair cheek as he pulled back. “Be safe. Both of you.”
Once the two brothers had quit the room, the door clicking closed behind them, Rhoelyn groaned and flopped over onto her pillows, dragging the covers over her head to hide from both her still-heated blood and the last vestiges of her embarrassment.