She almost didn't see him there, sitting off to the side of the steps, a bottle of wine on the ground next to him. It wasn't unlike Arrens to enjoy a little alcohol - but something was decidedly off, both with the lack of proper stemware and the expression on his face - sour enough to curdle milk, as the saying went. Aely sat down next to him.
"Love? Ye a'right?"
Arrens chuckled humorlessly and took a sip from the bottle of wine. "Never better, my dear." A cold wind blew, apropos of his mood. Word had reached him of the final push into the heart of Northrend and into the traitor-king's fortress. His thoughts played upon his face like that of a novice card player. She would be going and he would be staying here in Stormwind, safe in the confines of the city walls, away from the cold dread the soldiers would soon be facing.
She'll be leaving, he thought. She'll be leaving...me.
He sighed, looking at the ground in front of his feet. "It's just...I'm worried, dearheart."
"Wir /all/ worrit. I'm goin' in wi' th' best folk I ken." She looked over at him. "Would ye rather be goin' wi' me?"
"I ... well. I would? But... Fel." He cursed sharply. "I don't know. Of course, that seems to be the standard these days, doesn't it?
Aely frowned. "Ye'd like all 'is t' go away, an' f'r th' bloody war t' jus' /end/ a'ready."
"Well...yes. But I'm also a pragmatist. I know that's not likely to happen."
"But tha' dinna mean ye wan' elsewise."
"What I'd truly like is equally as unlikely to happen." His shoulders slumped again, and he eyed his wine bottle warily. "Forgive me, my dear. I'm...I'm not handling this turn of events particularly well, I know."
"Y'r takin' it 's well 's any, love. I've nae been in th' bourbon, 'cause I dinna wan' t' end up
bein' silly an weepy."
"Am I? Am I really?" he asked, his face contorted in a look of pleading desperation. "The fact that all I want to do is take you home with me and hold you until you don't want to leave? That you'll not go to the north anymore? Is that really what you would consider 'taking it well'?" He glanced down a moment before looking up to the sky in a retort to the gods above. "Godsdammit?! Why does the fight against that....that...that fuck have to happen now?!"
Aely didn't reply. The outburst was unexpected, and she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to handle any of this sitting on the steps of the tavern, in full view of anyone going in or out. She cut Arrens a sharp look and stood up, holding her hands out to help him stand as well, then led them both some distance away, off to an alleyway where they would not likely be disturbed. Arrens looked around, warily. The place didn't exactly bring back warm fuzzy feelings, and he was hard pressed to hold back memories of turning into a demon, of being punched by what he would come to learn was Aely's adopted family and of being led, humiliatingly, to the Stockades.
The memory had started to flood forward, particularly as he found himself shoved up against the wall of the alley - only to disappear completely in a kiss, fierce and impatient.
When Aely spoke again, it was low, and intense - not much louder than a whisper but with a sense of importance. "'m goin' 'cause I dinna have a choice. I dinna get t' decide when some grea' fuckery happens, an' when Fordring finally figures out how t' build a big enough batterin' ram t' take down th' door ay th' Citadel."
Flustered, Arrens stuttered. "I...I know. It's just..." Casting his gaze downward, he said, "Aely, I..." He was unable to finish his thought. More emotions played across his face, his eyes half shut, his brow furrowed.
Just admit it.
He continued to stare downward, unable to look at the impassioned paladin in the eyes.
You're a fel-damned fool, Caltrains.
Aely grabbed Arrens by the chin, forcing him to look at her, nervousness and uncertainty in his eyes. "Ye love me. An' y'r afraid t' say it, 'cause ye dinna wan' me t' disappear."
"I..." Arrens sighed, his shoulders slumping even more. "Dammit," he muttered. "Dammit!" he shouted towards the encroaching twilight. Aely looked at him, confusion in her eyes. "I do! Aely, I love you. There. I've said it. And now...now..."
She blinked. "An' now? I'm still here."
"And now I"m not sure. Now, I wait for something awful to happen. For you to hate me or for a giant gods-damned infernal to come crashing down upon you, or for you to not come back!" He was nearly shaking as she wrapped her arms around him in a very close embrace.
"Did ye really think tha' sayin' 'at would make me hate ye, air change whate'er will happen up North? Really? All ye've done is make this stronger, harder t' break... An' I love ye in return."
Time seemed to stop as the warlock breathed a deep, body-trembling sigh of relief and kissed her, stress visibly draining from his tensed body after hearing but three little words. "I...I had prayed..."
"Ye had prayed?" she asked, the statement an odd one from the man she had come to know so well, religion not usually part of his experience.
"...that I would one day hear you say that."
Aely smiled gently. "I've been callin' ye "love" f'r a week now."
He shook his head. "It's...it's not the same. Terms of endearment are not the same as admitting affection."
"I s'pose nae. An' y'r right - yeh. 's differen' hearin' it too," she said, her cheeks flushing a light shade of pink.
Arrens smiled and whispered softly, "Gods, you're beautiful..." He paused, taking a short, shallow breath, "...my love."
Aely stammered, her cheeks flushing further. "I... I dinna ken quite wha' t' say t' tha', 'cept t' thank ye."
"You... could tell me again that you love me?" He smiled, a rather mischevious look creeping into the corners of his eyes.
She grinned. "I love ye, Arrens, an' Professor, an' Master Caltrains, an' by whate'er other names ye go by. I love ye."
"If you can promise to continue to say that to me, I shall consider myself the luckiest fool in the world." His face read easily with happiness.
Looking at Arrens with lips curled into a small grin, she said, "I dinna think that'll be o'er hard." He hugged her even tighter, smiling, and they stood for a few moments, wrapped in a warm embrace.
Ye dinna' think tha', no - but what ay other thin's ye've said an' thought? Ye maun nae come back frae all 'is, an' ye ken tha' - e'en wha' ye dinna wan' t' admit it. An what ay things ye've hoped for - now tha' ye may no' see him again.
Suddenly, and seemingly without warning, Aely pulled away, appearing as something Arrens had never seen before: shy. Looking at her with deep concern, Arrens asked, "Did...did I do something wrong?"
"No!" she exclaimed. "No ye dinna. "
"Then...then what troubles you?"
Aely opened her mouth as if to say something, the words not managing to find voice. Arrens peered at her searchingly, letting his fingers run across her cheek. "You can tell me anything."
Oi - now y'r timid. Ye air all talk, lass, if ye canna e'en bring y'rself t' say sommat wha' ye've already said to 'im; do ye fear him - an' y'rself - so much?
She took a moment that seemed to the warlock as if she was preparing to face down telling him something terrible and fearsome. She steeled herself with a breath. "I dinna ken any other way t' ask it, but I wan' ye t' stay wi' me, t'night."
He furrowed his eyebrows. "I had planned to stay here in Stormwind, to see you off in the morning."
"No, tha's nae..." Aely searched for words, trying to find something obvious that he'd still pick up on, knowing he'd likely miss any implied meaning. "Do ye remember th' nigh' we spent, up oan th' ramparts high 'bove th harbor?" Arrens nodded slightly. "I asked ye... well, told ye sommat then. Do ye remember?"
Arrens looked at Aely with confusion. They had sat upon the ramparts a great number of times in the recent past. "Well...there was the anniversary of the Scourge attacks there. And the night when the warlock came and began drinking invisibility elixirs..."
Aely shook her head. "None ay those - 's muir recent, wi' me folded up wi' ye, watchin' th' boats."
Arrens scratched his head trying to recall the exact words. "Forgive me, my dear. I'm a bit overwhelmed this eve." He smiled softly, looking rather sheepish.
Aelflaed took a deep breath, as if to steady herself.
Ye started this, better t' jus' finish it and apologize after f'r bein' impulsive an' pushy.
"I tol' ye tha' I would like, someday, t' make love t' ye." She paused for a moment, before continuing, words tumbling rapidly where she could hardly find them before." An' I prob'ly owt nae t' have said anythin'. Dinna change owt, an' I still have t' leave, an' it'll make everythin' muir complicated..."
He noded slightly, pulling away from her embrace. She looked to her shoes. "'m sorry. I owt no' say anythin'."
A million thoughts ran through his head ranging from confusion to embarrassment to elation. He took a moment to collect himself and, he hoped, resolve them. He didn't like her seeming embarrassed or afraid - particularly not of him, and especially not as she left to go face down horrors unimaginable. What would have been a nerve-wracking and embarrassing situation for the warlock but a day ago found him feeling confident, even self-assured.
Arrens coughed slightly and straightened up, running his hands sharply along his vest to straighten it out. "Forgive me if this is a bit forward," he said, leaning in close to Aely. Whispering softly, his voice barely carrying above the wind that blew through the alley, he asked, "Madam Aely, would you do me that honor this evening?"
She blinked and turned several shades of red. "I... canna think ay anythin' I'd wan' muir."
Arrens smiled softly and took Aely's hands in his. "Can...can I take you home?"
She smiled. "I'd like 'at, yes."