Nathandiel

Copper Kisses

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"Just remember, you asked me for help. Not the other way around." Mharren said, eyeing him from the other side of the table. A man-sized mound covered in a sheet was before them. "So whatever is under here, we're gonna deal with it my way." She aimed on bone-thin finger down at the heap. 

"Yeah," he said lightly. "That's the idea."

He stood and raked one hand through his hair, coaxing it back on his skull so he could secure his skullcap. He'd had it cut recently and he didn't want any bits of his fringe shaking loose over the coming hours and peeping out to look over his brows and bother him. Without nurses they were on their own for itches and he didn't dare touch his face once he got started. He secured his mask and put on gloves. Mharren went to the record player in the empty operating theatre, the pews above them empty, and she put on a record. After a few bars he noted that he'd heard it before, it was one he didn't mind. Music would be good, they had a lot of mindless work to delve into. 

"Now...shall we see what's under this cover?" Mharren asked, swaying absently as she approached the table, tying off her white-blonde hair before pulling a bouffant cover over it. 

"It's not great...." he murmured, waiting. He knew what was under the sheet. He'd seen it become the way that it was and he still didn't quite believe it. That Baal'Themar of mine is into some very bad voodoo.... He'd travelled with it to the Undercity and he'd had plenty of time to acclimate to its ness

Together, they took back the sheet and Mharren's brows pinched at the bridge of her nose, her green eyes large with surprise and revulsion. A wordless exclamation left her mouth as the thing was revealed. "What...in the name of the good Gods, is this?" She asked. 

On the table lay the dried outer covering of a man-sized cocoon, dark and red-brown in colour, like the shell of a meal worm. It wasn't smooth like chitin, but rather it was rough and flaky, already fragile petals of the husk littered the metal table around the pupa. It tapered towards one end and jagged abruptly to one side about two feet in like a crooked pepper. Feet.And to the other end was a more rounded top--a single, fleshy, wet gash in the centre. It oozed slowly, seeping clear fluid. Face.

"That...looks like a cunt." Mharren said, aiming one finger in the direction of the slit. "So, I ask again. What is this?" 

"Something magical...." Nathandiel said with an air of annoyance. Their eyes met briefly. She too disliked magic, it was a shared trait amongst surgeons. You couldn't trust magic because you couldn't explain it and what you couldn't explain was best left alone. 

Mharren unaimed her finger, opened her palm, and slowly put it on the centre of the pupa. "It's not as hard as it looks...," she murmured. "This outer shell, it's like old, desiccated bark. And this...," her fingers approached the gash. "This still looks like a cunt. What is that?" 

"I think its for whose inside." He offered. "So they can...breath or whatever is it her kind does." He shrugged. 

"Do I know whose in here?" Mharren asked. She approached the gash with her fingers, but rather than probe it directly, she prodded around the opening. He thought of the stories some boys told of their first encounters with a similar looking orifice and how they had both wanted nothing more than to poke it with a fingers, bury their faces in it, and run away as quickly as possible on error that it might bite said finger or face. Mharren didn't look interested in sticking her face in what was before them, but she did look interested in maybe risking a finger. 

"Syreena...." he trailed off, thinking, "you know? I don't know her full name actually." He'd never cared to. Mharren only nodded. She knew some of the Grim, knew them because of her relationship with Drinn. "She was burned, or something, I don't know by what but when I saw her before she was put into this she was just twisted and black, like an over-grilled carrot." 

...gross.

Mharren was inspecting the mass still, and still she skirted the perimeter of the oozing orifice. It crossed his mind then and he wondered if this older woman had ever met a longitudinal orifice she'd wanted to put her face in. That thought might have been sexy even with the pupa on the table if it hadn't smelled as poorly as it did. Sexy thoughts, like sexy fantasies in moving pictures, could be ruined when reality confronted one with that much neglected sense: scent. 

"Well then...let's get her out of here." She took her hand away and picked up a trochar, he followed suit but with a tens-blade. "Dah'Lorei." She addressed him as she slid the trochar into the slit. It puckered greedily and his stomach flipped. She eyed him as she slid the metal in, angled down towards the chest. "If I lose any digits while we do this, I will be very unhappy with you." 

He nodded and they set to work. 

With the trochar they were able to probe inside and feel where there was a body and where there was just casing. She directed the cutting, utilizing his greater upper body strength to cut through the tough shell while she gave instructions, simultaneously leading the endeavour and assisting in place of a nurse. The shell didn't bleed, it was dry--until they got to the soft inside and it began to weep, spraying both of them with purulent fluid. Each surgeon took the spray to the chest and face with only mild annoyance. They had both been sprayed with worse.  

Exposing the burned, twisted husk of The Shadowblade was easy once they got to the wet inside. She had been wrapped in wet, rubbery membranes the colour of white snot. They left behind a mucous residue that looked grey against her blackened body. Once she was out of the cocoon he thought maybe they had made a mistake, maybe Syreena was dead and what Baal'Themar had done had been for not. Surely the young man could have been misguided, by his own admission he knew nothing of medicine and how exactly did one know when an undead thing was finally, really dead?

But then she moved. Not by much, just a little, but enough that he knew he had seen it. 

And now I know magic is truly, truly real because you don't open your burnt mouth and--

--grin.

"C'mon." Mharren prompted him. He stared, sure that the gnarled face had lifted at one side, a set of charred teeth peeking out to convey amusement. "Debridement. Now this gets fun. C'mon darling boy, if this really is the elf-hater we'll want to fix her up nice." 

Three boxes of anti-septic soaked wire pads and multiple scalpel heads later, they had cut away the worst of the blackened flesh, leaving only sinew and grey remnants of ruined skin where some had survived. The bit and bobs of salvaged heroes from the killing fields would not be enough to fully rebuild Syreena, at least not to the way she had been before. While they worked Mharren remarked that while she could rebuild the compromised joints, she was rebuilding them from "shit stock," and so they wouldn't know if Syreena's functionality would return after they finished. That depended very much on the quality of her replacement components. 

That's something for her and Baal'Themar to worry about. If I do this, if she "lives," maybe he'll stop being so reckless and feckless and loitering around this sort of trouble.

He could hope. 

While Mharen worked on Syreena's face, he worked on her abdomen, and while he worked there, he felt Syreena's bone-tipped fingers curl into the loose fabric of his pants, tugging weakly. He wanted nothing more than to pull away, to flee in disgust, but he let her hold onto him. He set his teeth and ignored the molestation of the corpse. He would let her do it. Perhaps in that state she needed comfort, perhaps she was confused. Perhaps she just needed something to hold onto while she went through whatever it was like being rebuilt. Despite his distaste for her he would let her do it. 

Even if it was just torment him. 

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"Nice tits," Nathandiel murmured, nodding at the rack of racks laid out before him. Breast sets, big and small, green and pink, were spread on boards with item numbers on them. It was an impressive collection for parts so highly sought after by men. 

"Fresh too," Garnard Plimbkin, the prosector that Nathandiel least liked doing business with, grinned as he added this tid-bit of sales information. "Got these 'uns off an orcish bitch with only one arm," he gestured to his own arm. "Titty bits was floppin' about, back and forth. Wild, them orcesses is." Garnard Plimbkin had felt the need to mime what the flopping breasts had been like.

"...are." Nathandiel's correction was absent as he reached out, hand hovering over the selection, as he assessed each set for colour, firmness, and tissue integrity. 

"I recommend these 'uns, sir." Garnard Plimbkin put his own dead hand over Nathandiel's and pushed it down on a smallish, pale breast. It was cold and firm, but by no means rigid. He eyed the other of the two: the nipples were still Noblegarden-pink. "Elf," Garnard Plimbkin growled. "Turgid teacups ready for pinchin!"

Nathandiel withdrew his hand and eyed the other man. Garnard Plimbkin needed some work; his noise was half off and he'd lost a chunk of his lip somewhere. Odd that a man who was not whole was helping Nathandiel to put the final touches on Syreena. 

"I . . . don't think the patient would appreciate Elven breasts." Wouldn't it have been funny if he did it anyway, though? Syreena, the Hatress of Elves, walking around with a bangin' new set of Elvish knockers. 

"What'll it be then? Titties don't keep long. . . ." Garnard Plimbkin said. 

That was true. They didn't keep long, not even with the best pastes and wraps that the apothecaries could provide. He exhaled sharply, taking in the valley of peaks and pert hilltops. "Those." He threw one finger in the direction of a large set with a smattering of freckles on them. One couldn't go wrong with a classic set of high beams. 

"Human! Excellent choice, sir" Gardnard Plimbkin exclaimed. ". . . are these, mayhaps, for a special lady?" 

"Just wrap them up, I'm in a hurry." Nathandiel snapped his fingers, irritated by the question. He didn't bone with the boneyards; the suggestion was offensive to him. As Garnard Plimbkin wrapped up the breasts, Nathandiel found himself to be very pleased with his choice. He thought that he would have very much liked to have met the woman that had owned them previously. He would have shown her a delightful time and treated her front plating with expert fingers, counting each of her orange freckles with his lips.

The way to a woman's heart. . . .

Smiling, Nathandiel collected his selection and headed back towards his office. He'd put the breasts on ice and go ready Syreena for the next surgery. 

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Xandric’s garrison is much quieter than Siané remembers since the bulk of Alliance forces moved back to Azeroth to deal with the Legion. The peace, however, has been welcome. The past few weeks have been a time of healing, a time of reorienting herself to a life free from fear and captivity. With her head on more straight than it’s been for a long time, Siané sits at a desk inside the stone keep, two blank pieces of parchment in front of her. Tentatively she takes the pen and starts writing.

 

Dear Baal’themar,

I’m sorry for leaving so abruptly. I didn’t know it was going to happen, but I had to do it when the chance came. I’ll talk about that more but first I want you to know that I don’t want to seek any retribution against you or Nathandiel. And I absolutely would never do anything to put Kieran in danger. I love him and would lay my life down for him. So I won’t be encouraging anyone to hurt any of you no matter how mad they are, and won’t help them do so. But I couldn’t stay.

 

She stops there and stares at the letter for awhile, chewing on her lower lip. Eventually she pulls the other piece of parchment closer and starts writing on it.

 

Dear Nathandiel,

I’m sorry for leaving without saying goodbye. It happened very suddenly. I know you must be scared and angry. I’m sorry for leaving Kieran. I’ll miss him very much. I hope he doesn’t miss me too much.

I meant it when I asked if I could come back to visit, before, but I don’t think I can. I wish I could trust you guys but I know I can’t. You see things differently than I do and have different priorities, and yours put mine in danger. I don’t know if that makes any sense to you, but… know that if nothing else I would never do anything that would put Kieran in danger. You can trust that, no matter what.

 

She stops there and looks at both the letters for another little while. The candle on the desk flickers, a gob of wax slowly running down the side until it hardens. The keep is a little drafty, and she misses Xandric, who is away tonight. She had set herself this task while he is away because she doesn’t want him to see her like this. Slowly, she slides the letter addressed to Baal’themar back in front of her. Her pen hesitates before it begins to write.

 

Baal, I couldn’t stay because I couldn’t trust you. I was always terrified and had to be careful of what I said and did for fear of making you angry or making you think keeping me around wasn’t worth it anymore. I couldn’t help but be honest more often than was wise, though. I kept trying to find some sort of connection. I wanted to understand you, and for you to understand me. But in the end it seemed impossible.

 

The elf puts down the pen to cross her arms and hunch over. It’s not so much the growing chill of the lengthening evening that’s getting to her. For all that she tries to keep hopeful, revisiting the dread she lived with for months is difficult. She sits there, shivering, until she calms down enough to look at the letters, thinking, and finally picks up the pen. She pushes the first letter away and starts writing on the second again.

 

I also meant it when I told you I forgive you, Nathandiel. I was more scared of you at first but eventually I realized you were just like anyone else and just wanted to be loved. You should focus on loving Kieran. You are all he needs. Just give him your love and do the best you can, and he’ll be all right.

 

Siané stops and rubs at her eyes. A deep sadness pulls at her heart as she thinks of Nathandiel and Kieran. Nathandiel had opened up to her, in his own way, and had ended up treating her with something almost like reverence. She wishes she could do more than offer some words on a piece of parchment to try to help him, but knows she can’t. Her eyes move to the other letter. Her relationship with Baal had changed over the duration of her captivity as well, and its lasting effects are far more insidious than simple pity. She takes a deep breath and returns to the first letter before she loses her nerve.

 

But there were things that gave me hope. You went out of your way as much as you could justify to avoid hurting me. You told me about yourself. You told me about your past. You trusted me with Kieran. You told me you just wanted a family. You were always honest with me. You respected my consent. I want to ask you why you did all these things. Why you went through all these motions if that’s all they ever were to you. I want to believe these things mattered to you, and still do.

But as long as you act like they don’t, I can’t be near you.

 

Siané shudders and drops the pen. Asserting herself now is harder than it was when she was with him. She always had, and he had never listened; and even though he’s no longer with her, and won’t even be able to respond, it awakens the same feelings of helplessness when she tries to do it now. That it is all in her own mind is somehow worse than anything he did to her body. She starts to cry, but picks up the pen to finish the letter.

 

Please know I’m not angry. I know you don’t understand why what you did hurt me. But I hope you do understand someday.

Sincerely,

Siané Dawnlight

 

Siané folds up the first letter and sets it aside, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. She returns to the second with a little more peace in her heart.

 

Please give Kieran my love, and tell Mikki I say hello.

Sincerely,

Siané Dawnlight

 

She stuffs them both inside separate envelopes and tucks them away in her satchel beside the desk. Tomorrow, when she returns to Dragonsroost Port to see Jeho, she’ll put them in the mail. She had been sure to not include any details about Kieran so that he would remain safe. Her hands still as she thinks about the baby boy. She had hoped to help him grow into someone kinder than either of his fathers were. But what could she do now?

Siané bows her head, fighting back a sob although there is no one to hear it. All she can do is think of Jeho. Her baby girl whom she’d be seeing again soon. Jeho would be all right. She had Zakael to watch over her. That was one of a few very precious things Siané could cling to, and she does so now as she gets up to extinguish the candles.

It was time to move on.

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His soup was cold.

Pointless.

Nathandiel pushed the bowl aside and looked away; he'd already reheated twice and both times he'd gotten so lost in his own thoughts that he'd forgotten about his hunger. It wasn't a nice hunger, it was a necessary hunger, the kind of hunger that was bad but made numb by a different need: the need for comfort. That was a need that wouldn't be filled. 

He closed his eyes and put his face in his hands. He couldn't cry anymore, for now at least there were no more tears. A broken heart warranted sufficient crying fits to bring on dry spells and he was very, very dry. Baalthemar and Fayleah were thing which meant that he and Baalthemar weren't. He hadn't been so sad since Drinn had gone away. He tried to intellectualize it to make it hurt less, but really, it hurt very badly because logic didn't matter. He had loved the ragamuffin kid. 

It wasn't going to work anyway. he was too young and too...long for this world. She's a better fit, and a 'she.' She's more available, more enticing, more ready to accommodate.  This is a good thing.

His inner voice was calm and it's logic was sound--Fayleah was all of those things, cheap, easy, fast, and replaceable; just what a young elf really needed. Nathandiel was old, bagged down, and slow. He had responsibilities to eat up his time and didn't know anything about the hot new trend of being fel tainted. He'd lost his appeal. No matter what Baalthemar had said, he knew that was the truth and while he had been tempted to buy those placating lies about being a big family he didn't think he could. He thought that Baalthemar had meant them, that Nathaniel was his and that he loved him and that he was "Angel White," but he was a young man and young men didn't understand the damage they did with their idealism. That wasn't how Nathandiel was: cheap, fast, and easy had no worth to him and he would have no worth to her. The children should be together and he should go away. 

Speaking of children....

Kieran yawned in his basket. The Undercity was no place for a baby, but it was the only other place he had rooms. Sleeping in Siane's room had been the loneliest thing he had done since leaving home. He had hoped that Baalthemar would come to him and maybe say all the things he had needed hear, but he hadn't. As much as Nathandiel wanted to make excused for this failure he knew that's all they were: excuses, and not real reasons. He had left Baalthemar a note to explain where to find the baby, if he wanted to. He thought that maybe Baalthemar would want to for a little while, but that youth and fast fun would win out and that would be the end of it. He would stay available as long as it took. He had no desire to steal the child. Maybe Baalthemar would have children of his own with Fayleah? "That's alright Dearling," Nathandiel murmured to the baby. "And when that time comes, I know where to take you. Where you can be happy." 

Filled with anguish and desiring a comfort he couldn't have, he took vellum from his desk and began to write to Siane. 

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Syreena had been a mess, one large, abraded, raw piece of meat comprised of grafts and replacement parts, not all of which were strictly of the meat variety. Nathandiel had commissioned some of the Lady's tinkerers to deal with some of the less replaceable bits Syreena had lost to the fire. The benefit of that had been getting the magisters in to fortify some of the parts. Syreena would be stronger in many ways, a sure benefit to the mandate, something he was caring more and more about as he faced the emptiness that love had left behind; love for Clara, for Drinn, and then for Baalthamar. They were gone, but the Grim were not, however distasteful they were they were a constant and like many a man before him, Nathandiel sought the comfort of consistency in his time of upheaval. 

Nathnadiel looked down at Kieran, the other constant he had. The little boy had become a permanent staple of Nathandiel's appearance in the Undercity, if not directly hung on his person that tucked away safely in his bassinette. He didn't trust any of the nursing staff to give the little boy both the attention he deserved and  to refrain from asking any questions about him. After all, how had the single doctor with the poor temperament acquired an infant? It could be his, but didn't he prefer the company of men? That wasn't true, but he let them think what they wanted. 

Kieran suckled his bottle. It had taken some coaxing but the boy had gotten better about his feedings. He seemed to have accepted that the pillowy softness of a woman's breasts had been revoked and that he'd have to make due with a prosthetic: an inevitable lesson for all men. "And what a mighty suckler you are! Eater of Worlds, Muncher of Men!" Kieran kicked with delight. 

Tap tap tap

Nathandiel looked up, his face instantly sour. Syreena was tapping her talons on the rail of her bed again. Something about the silent attempt to not exactly communicate but to inform of one's presence made the tapping unsettling to him. His upper lip curled at the heavily bandaged head of the woman who hated all elves and he held the boy a little more closely. He could think of better reasons for her to hate him, but then she'd never struck him as particularly observant. 

Nathandiel stood and Kieran kicked him in the arm, protesting the change in position. He went to the bedside and extended one hand towards the bandages. He ran the tip of one finger over the moist, reddish-brown wetness that made up the gash of a grin on the mummified face. "Good morning Syreena, you had some additional work done last night when I put you to sleep." The talons rapped more fervently on the rail. "Oh no, no nothing too extreme, just something to help you in your endeavours to serve the mandate. The Dentist Leicester owed me a favour--silly body I had to deal with for him--and he allowed me to give you the one thing I have never seen you have: a smile."

Nathandiel grinned, catching one of the sharpened points through the bandage. He'd had no intentions of letting the Shadowblade leave pretty. If she'd had lips left after the fire the new alterations would only have shredded them. "You can expect some drooling, but I think you'll get used to it."

Tap tap tap tap tap tap

He put his hand over hers and they fought briefly in the arena of small muscle jerks and joint twists until he pinned her hand. "There is no more work left for me to do on you Syreena, not at this time. In a few days you will be ready to leave if you wish, but I might suggest you remain to work with the kinesiologists, you may need some . . . rehabilitation. I will have other things to attend to." He leaned down and whispered to her, the smell of her ointments and healing skin bitter, sweet, and sour all at once. He nosed at the new ear he'd installed for her. "I did this for you because of Baalthemar, he picked the wrong time to tell me the truth but I finished for me: you owe me now. Don't forget that for however much longer you live your unlife." He kissed the bandages gently and she resumed her fervent protest of tappings. 

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

Nathandiel patted Syreena's hand, fingers light on the clenched appendage, and he walked away, turning his attention back to the tiny child in his charge. He had fulfilled his obligation. 

Edited by Nathandiel

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Life in the wake of heartbreak could become manageable, provided the broken individual experienced it enough times to know its tricks. Heartbreak hijacked the body and the mind, it pulled at the chest from the inside and stirred the contents of the abdomen like fingers in a bowl of noodles. The mind's inner pilot argued with itself and it argued with the Heartbroken. What Nathandiel found most exhausting was not the nausea, the sleepless tiredness, or even the tears, but the bargaining! It will all be okay if this; it will all be okay if that. Maybe its my fault for this and if I just fix that it can all be okay again.

It was just a parting of a ways, a discovery of incompatibility, and an event in which the Heartbroken was forced to face their insufficiencies. Nathandiel's fine lines seemed like fissures, his silver roots like iron rot, his midsection weak and rotund. Never was one as ugly in their own eyes as when that had been dropped for something prettier. "The only one keeping you away from Baalthemar is you," The Winner had said before calling him a terrible person with too small a heart. He knew that adulterers blamed the one that they had usurped. He knew. But still, that others had agreed that he should just settle for being one of many lovers had caused him great doubt and self-loathing. The balding troll, once a welcomed sight, had told Nathandiel that his heart was just too small and he didn't have enough love in it. "It's your fault Nathandiel. We've done nothing wrong." But that was always the message the blissful doers of betrayal sent to the ruined. Perhaps they were right though, about his heart, he thought it more likely that he just a man out of place and time. His kind didn't collect harems, his kind valued sanctity. But he wasn't with his kind and theirs became more and more distasteful the longer he was with them. 

He stood naked before the mirror, bits of shaving cream waiting to be wiped from his smoothed face. His bangs hung in his eyes and down his nose; they had reached the point at which he knew he needed to visit the barber. He combed his hair back severely from his brow and frowned as he inspected his face. He pulled at his temples, watching his lines dissappear. They reasoned that the visible effects of aging were due to both use and to gravity, thus the sagging. Still, as he inspect his he felt the bottom of his stomach drop just a bit more. "Angel White" Baalthemar had called him, sweet sentiments for all of his angels surely. How could a grown man be so foolish as to fall for such silliness? Had his wife died and taken his maturity with her? A sour taste grew in his mouth and stopped poking. He was done with that nonsense and letting go of it, letting go of even the desire for companionship, was a promise of comfort. He still hurt to much to really feel the freedom of a commitment to solitude, but knowing that it was coming was a balm on a raging wound--it helped just enough. 

The eyebrows were awful, long and foolish and of a length that had no point to it. He brushed cream over them and took up the razor again. Slowly he cut them away, black wisps of fine hair falling into the sink. When they were gone and the raw, pink flesh was all that was left he bared his teeth--and was pleased. So pleased that he laughed. Without those harbingers of expression he looked more like he felt; numb. What beauty he had was deeply displaced by the loss and he liked that very much. He would not become entangled with a pretty thing again if they didn't see him as pretty either. 

He opened the medicine cabinet and took down a pair of dusty scissors; Drinn's scissors. She'd like to snip her own bangs and keep herself coiffed, not that her particular presentation to the world was all that extravagant. A plain and sensible ponytail had been the crown for her plain and sensible face; two things he'd loved deeply about her and still did. Clara had been plain too, blonde and freckled, but plain. Exotic things were for passing fancies, practical things with substance were for keeping. Baalthemar had been pretty under all that dirt and that, he thought, might ought to have been a clue to show some restraint in just how much of himself he bared to the young man. 

Nathandiel was not a great barber, but he could manage. He messed his hair and began to cut, using his comb and forefingers to approximate the length. He had a deep desire to shear it all away and see himself bald and bare, a scrotal head with teeth, but he resisted. He could destroy his allure but he could not be truly ugly. Withdrawing from company was not the same as withdrawing completely and he needed to be acceptable to look upon. That much sense was still with him.

The fall of hair into the sink was soothing, like shedding, shedding bits of what he didn't like right then and there, bits of what others didn't like, and bits of frustration. He was aware that as he worked he was slipping a little into the madder side of grief and he welcomed it. The break that so many feared when laid out on the couch, holding desperately to sanity, was perhaps the kindest release the mind could offer. He felt each cut and slice as he resized his ears, blood raining lightly down upon the sheared off hair, and each cut was white fire, white, searing, cleansing fire. His blood was warm and he liked the feel of it on his neck and shoulders. When he was done the waist band of his pants were soaked. The raw ridges of his new ears were hot, swollen and need of stitching.

He closed his fingers over the lip of the sink, tips sliding through red and painting bloody tattoos on the porcelain. He examined his work and for the first time in a very long time he felt like he knew the man that looked back at him. He smiled slowly, revealing just how many teeth he had in his very smart head. Damned be to the consequences and damned be to sense. It felt good to give in to the break and even better to ride it down, down, down into the darkness where the drains of humanity went. 

He turned on the tap and washed the debris away. 

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“I'm not sure this is a fit place for the child,” Nathandiel said, holding Kieran protectively to his shoulder. “Particularly not with one of those here.” He nodded towards the wretched strapped into the chair before the incinerator.  
 
“There is no need to worry, I assure you,” Howard Philip Glenn spoke from the platform above, working at a complicated looking control panel. Jets of steam escaped and coloured liquids boiled in large, glass vats. The smell in the room was surprisingly clean, if a little reminiscent of a country fire. “He is quite tied down.”  
 
Howard Philip Glinn did not seem the least concerned with the quivering, babbling, soiled creature in the unwelcoming chair. It fought its restraints between bouts of distraction, eyes drawn to the releases of steam or the striking of iron. Whenever Glinn moved, the milky-white eyes followed and the babbling lowered in volume.  
 
“I'd be happy to come back. . . . When I've gotten a nurse for the infant.” Nathandiel offered his voice needlessly cheery. Glinn dismissed this with an absent and irritated wave of one skeletal hand.  

Sure, mana addict and monstrous machinery; quite the place for a child less than one. 
 
Nathandiel pressed his lips to the small boy's head, soft tendrils of fine black hair like feathers against his own flesh. “Alright right then, it's all okay.” The little boy was silent, not asleep but near to it. Nathandiel didn't think that many elves were born in the Undercity. and that if Kieran could count himself amongst peers they were few and had not stayed long.

In a way their leaving the cabin had been a coming home for the child—back to the screams and the antiseptic and the dank dampness of life without the sun. But a sun child needed that great globe of warmth and as soon as he was old enough, as soon as the arrangements were made through Pascal in Stormwind, Kieran would go to the woman that embodied sunshine; He would go to Siané. There he would be cared for and watched over at the Bramblewaithe Grammar School for boys while Siané performed the duty of guardian. For this he would see her handsomely remunerated. That she had agreed had been a load of relief for him. Baalthemar had not come to see the child and Nathandiel had felt forced to resolve that the other man no longer held an interest in the baby, with that in mind arrangements had needed making. Until Kieran could go to school he would stay with Nathandiel. Unfortunately that meant staying in the Undercity--and being at the mercy of whatever insane studies the other occupants pursued.  
 
He turned his attention back to Glinn. “So what's this about then, what's really going on here?” He asked. 
 
“Finally, you ask.” Glinn lowered his wretched form down the ladder and joined Nathandiel on the same floor. Glinn’s dry, dead face, pulled into a hideous grin of pleasure as he approached, reaching out and laying one withered hand on Kieran’s back. “My my, he is warm. Elves and their sunshine, they are so warm to the touch. When they are wee are they hot like the flames of candles.”  
 
Glinn came close and, without invitation, took the baby from Nathandiel. There was a moment of alarm, a twisting of the intestines, in which Nathandiel warred between snatching his ward back and showing his superior unquestioning trust. Trust won out. 
 
“There is a good lad, yes.” Glinn held up Kieran for inspection. The child was cooperative, making no fuss as he was handled by the cold hands of the undead. “He’s not yours, I know that.” Glinn said, “unless you mean to tell me that Drinn Sel’Quar has born you a son. I do suppose he looks a little like her and she'd have made a very warm child.” 
 
Nathandiel said nothing. That would have been a good cover story, what with Drinn missing and the resemblance, the time between her disappearance the birth of Kieran. He had a single photograph of Drinn, perhaps he could lead Kieran to think her his mother. 
 
“But he isn't, because he isn't a halfling. His warmth is too great.” Glinn’s eyes twinkled as he set them on Nathandiel who remained very, very still. The two men stared at eshcother, the corpse absently rocking the pink child. Glinn did this with a familiarity that, to Nathandiel, indicated that Glinn had been well-acquainted with children in his life.  
 
“It's all right,” Glinn said finally. “I need your help.” Glinn turned his attention to Kieran, the tension disbursed. “Yes, yes I do. I need your new daddy to help me!” He held the child up and blew an awful, blasphemous raspberry in the babies tummy, making Kieran squeal with delight.  
 
As Glinn explained what he intended, using the withered as an example, he kept Kieran in his arms. The baby was delighted by this new friend, this decrepit grandfatherly figure who knew all the best ways to make something even as uncanny and cruel as the administration of violent serums to the captive soul in the chair something fun. Kieran trumpeted his joy along with Glinn when the spent withered went into the fire, echoing the beast's screams with his own laughter. How innocent children were before they learned of context and subtlety. 
 
“I'll need you to do the legwork of course, Silvermoon enjoys our resources as part of our partnership. You'll have all that you need.” Glinn gave Kieran back to Nathandiel and the child protested; he liked Glinn. “I'll arrange for larger quarters for you and your boy, I expect you'll be spending more time here, what with the loss of your dalliance--what was his name, the one with the single eye.”  
 
Nathandiel nodded, relieved to have the child back in his arms. “Thank you, my room is a bit too small for the two of us. One really shouldn't sleep with an infant in their bed.” 
 
“No, no they mustn't. That was one of the leading reasons for infant death in my village. I imagine you let him sleep in his basket though.”  This was a question and not a statement, despite its positioning. 
 
“Yes, of course. The room is just too cold, he's warmer next to me.”  
 
“Then a bigger bed and rooms with a fireplace you shall have. Just don't tell your colleagues, they'll become dissatisfied with their single rooms and I don't care to explain housing rules to them.”  
 
Nathandiel nodded. “I won't say a word.”  
 
“Good. Go on then, Ill send on the data collected so far. That mathematical brain of yours should start chewing as soon as you receive it.” To this, Nathandiel consented and headed to the door, grateful to be excused.

"Nathandiel . . . " He stopped at the door and turned back to Glinn. "Do you know why Horsley, during his attempts to cure homosexuality, ended up using oestrogen, the female hormone, instead of the male? He found that while oestrogren resulted in the abolishment of the sex drive, testosterone resulted in an increase--be it directed towards men or women--and that homosexual men being treated with testosterone not only pursue more sex, but neglected their other occupations in life. That was a side note of course, as a man's productivity was never the question for Hosley, but I have always thought back to that footnote when, in life, I have found myself torn between my laboratory and what lays between the thighs of a supple woman. Sex is a wonderful vice, a miraculous vice that can make babies like that little one you hold in your arms, but it takes you away from your work, and it is in our work that we are truly free, fed, and find ourselves fulfilled. While you are bound here to the Undercity without the comforts of sex, I would encourage you to heal your heart in your work. You might find that the most satisfyingly active organ you possess in between your ears."

Nathandiel inhaled sharply, struck by the depth of Glinn's words, of his advice. At a loss for anything else to say that would prove an equal and fitting response he only nodded. He hurried from the laboratory with the boy, the smell no longer clean, but sweet with burning meat and the faint scent of his own anxious sweat.   

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Nathandiel groaned as he set down the last of firewood by the hearth, kicking an errant log back onto the blanket he'd put down to catch the bits of bark that always fell from the lengths of tinder. He went back to the front door, leaning out into the street. Tarren Mill was bigger now, more boisterous than years before. Aside from the normal development of a healthy settlement that saw growth, Tarren Mill was now one of the nearer Horde outposts to the conflict in the Arathi Highlands to the East. 

With the Undercity gone, its also one of the more popular refugee towns.

He frowned at this, eyeing a few of those said refugees by one of the water pumps, on their way to the cemetery. Towards the town's centre there would be more of them, crashed out under lean-to dwellings, filling the inn, and taking up space in any shoppe that would permit them. He pulled the door to the little flat closed, sure to turn the lock. It wasn't yet clear who had survived the attack, and while there were some who knew he had, he wasn't yet keen to make it apparent that he was still with the living--he had other things to attend to besides the Warcheif's ambitions. 

The small flat was old, dusty, and he had yet to properly clean it. What equipment he had bartered for dominated the kitchen, a place that had become more a laboratory than a place in which he made food. In the cupboards there were canned goods tucked snug next to stock solutions and chemical powders with handwritten labels. Before the Undercity had fallen, he had been deeply engrossed in work, finding the solace there that Howard Philip Glinn had promised he would. He had been set back by the assault, but had salvaged his journals--along with his family. 

Kieran cooed with delight in the single bedroom, a small space with a wooden stove, kept from view by dusty curtains Nathandiel had taken from the living room windows. He had replaced those coverings with linens. His new wife liked it dark in the bedroom, the light still too much for her. Kieran didn't mind, so long as he had her attention--and she was surprisingly good at giving it to him. He could hear her speaking softly to the child, encouraging him to eat more, to become stronger. 

That should have been a happy moment, to hear his new wife speak to the child in their charge with such hope.

It is happy. I am happy--I am. We cannot always have things exactly as we want them.

He went to the fireplace, stoking the coals to rouse them in anticipation for more fuel. He wiped sweat from his upper lip as the fire grew hotter with each addition, the glow leaning more yellow than orange as the flames licked up the sappy wood, popping when it hit sugar. He stood, content with his work, and pulled the fire gate closed. He couldn't have Kieran crawling into the fire, that would be most troublesome. The tiny tot had already put his hand on the stove in the bedroom, earning himself a red and inflamed palm that Nathandiel had salved and wrapped, feeling no need to admonish the child; it had learned enough of a lesson from the injury. 

In the kitchen he took off his shirt, wiping down his upper body and under his arms, removing at least the worst of the stink that enshrouded a man after a prolonged period of arduous labour; he would take a bath after supper. Without reclothing, he set to making the evening meal, pushing aside retort stands and moving glassware so that he could make enough space on the counter to chop vegetables. In the bedroom he heard mutual giggling; they were happy in there. 

I either need to go hunting, or suck it up and purchase some meat from one of the vendors here. We've been living on vegetables for nearly a week, he thought, while he cut the potatoes. Before moving onto the onions he put on his laboratory goggles. They didn't work entirely, but they did help keep the tearful miasma from his eyes, at least enough that he could finish the task. 

Once the pot was full, the water added, and the stock dispensed, he lugged the heavy iron receptacle to the fire and hung it. He took a moment to stoke the fire again before giving the soup a stir. It was thick this time, more like a stew. His mouth watered at the prospect of a hearty meal. 

It would be better with meat....

With supper attended to, he headed to the bedroom, pushing aside the curtains and slipping in before any light would enter. Inside the small room was dominated by a rickety bed, dark covers draped over a slender form who was propped up with pillows, an infant on her lap. The stove was cold, they wouldn't light it until evening. The box that served as Kieran's cradle was next to the bed, making it easy for his wife to reach the infant when she so wished. Affixed to the headboard were IV bags, several of them, some small and some large, some piggy-backing on others while some had direct lines to the woman in the bed. He went to the bed and took each bag in hand, turning them over to check their volumes, frowning at each meniscus that met a line he didn't like.

"You need more blood," he sighed softly, biting his lip. While they had been in the bowels of the Undercity coming by blood had been no problem. Now though....

A cold hand closed on his forearm and he looked down. The veiled face was turned up to him, the child tucked against her covered breast with a bottle. "I feel much better," she said, her voice throaty and smooth like velvet. "You worry too much. This is where Melchisedech did his best work, and this is where you will do yours. The fall of Lordaeron is infuriating," her grip tightened. "But for us, this may have been best. Now...favour me before you busy yourself with my care taking?" 

It was a simple request and he smiled. He lifted her veil, placing it carefully on her crown and leaned down, tipping up her chin as he kissed her. She was still so cold. He let his forehead rest against hers and she held his cheek with one slender hand. "Be stronger than the fear and doubt that wrest your heart. I have seen worse times in life, as have you. This space between life and something else does not frighten me; do not let it frighten you." 

He kissed her again, eager for her even in her given state. He restrained himself, however, for despite her assurances, she was not well. His eyes met hers, the once-vibrant green gone, a pale violet looking back. Her cheeks were sunken and her lips were barely the colour of bleached roses. Her dark hair tumbled over her shoulders, lank and really too long. Now, more than ever, she resembled the Queen she so adored, but she was not like Sylvanas or her kind, not entirely. 

"I can smell soup," Drinn said. "I think I would like to have some. Would that be alright?" 

He smiled, not sure that she really did wish to eat or if rather she wished to please him by appearing to wish to eat. "Of course," he said. "When its ready I'll bring you a bowl to go with Kieran's broth." 

Drinn nodded, smiling down at the infant she had become keen on. "Eat yours in here with us," she said. "Take just a little time away from the work and care giving and be with us." She looked up at him. "Do you think after supper you could read more to us?" 

Nathandiel nodded. "Of course." 

Drinn lowered her veil, hiding her meekness. "Good. We would like that very much. You may tend to me now." 

She did not like when he invited himself to administer her medicines and supplements, or to help himself to a bodily exam. Even in a nearly helpless state, she was not a submissive woman. He didn't mind this about his new wife.  Her strength, even her arrogance, enamored him to her. When he'd finally found her, broken and drained, she'd still tried to kill him.

With her permission, he changed her IVs, flushed her catheters, checked her lines, and drew his samples. By the time he had her settled, the soup was ready. They ate together, and when they were done, he read to Kieran and Drinn until they were both asleep. He watched them, the way the baby lifted and fell slowly on Drinn's struggling chest. As much as he wanted to stay there with them enjoying the peace they had created in that tiny room, he had work to do. 


[align=center]In Memory of Drinn[/align]
[align=center]Happy Birthday Drinn[/align]
[align=center]October 16, 1980 to June 21, 2016[/align]

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