It seemed that even the demonic hordes had taken time off in celebration of the Feast of Winter’s Veil, and so since arriving back on Argus, Vasp had little else to do but roam the Vindicaar, trying to keep herself busy, regaling her former comrades with tales of bacon and beer and all the wonders of Azeroth.
The Vindicaar was no Xenedar. The ships were practically identical in design save for the former being smaller and the latter having never been so crowded. It was strange to see a ship of the Golden Army packed with so many beings, Alliance and Horde, armed to wage war against the forces of the Legion. That is not to say that the crowding was bad, the war for the first time in millennia seemed less desperate. Less hopeless. The Grand Army of the Light resembled an army again.
Vasp spent some time on her first day back helping the engineers to complete construction on a new warframe, then sparring, instructing novice mages on the ways of fire and light. The second day she set off on patrol with her former bunkmate Tahara, finding little of note besides a felpup that roared and spat, but ultimately ran away.
Tahara was keen on hearing as much as she could about Azeroth, being especially interested in detailed descriptions of Stormwind and Ironforge. The layouts of plazas and squares, the style of brickwork and roofing, the span of bridges and parapets. In another life, where the endless war never happened, Vasp imagined her bunkmate would have made a fine architect.
Mostly, Vasp spent her time dreading the inevitable conversation with her former commander, Arlan. He had asked, nay, ordered, her to return to Argus for the holiday and she knew why. Arlan had objected to her leaving the Army to join the Alliance and now was going to order her back into the fold. A few months earlier she may have capitulated and come back meekly, even gratefully, but she was an Eagle now, and found, for the first time, a purpose all her own.
Besides, Vasp had promised Jolaini she’d return and she suspected that if she broke that promise Jolaini would come to Argus and personally drag her back to the Perch even if she had to take on the entire Golden Army to do it.
Much to her frustration, Arlan appeared to be avoiding the inevitable confrontation. Upon her return he barely said two words to her and in the days since had operated as though she was back under his command. He wasn’t exactly barking orders at her, but his requests of her weren’t exactly posed as questions.
“I would love to have you back,” Tahara told her on the day of their patrol, as they sat on a ridge overlooking the Antoran Wastes, “but you should not come back. We talk about you. We admire you. That you left gives many of us hope that our lives are more than this. More than the Legion.”
“Azeroth is full of dangers,” responded Vasp. “The Legion is there too.”
Tahara smiled teeth and responded: “Yes, but it is not all that it is.”
When Arlan did finally, briefly, speak with her on Winter’s Veil Eve it was mainly to interrogate her about humans, a race he was especially obsessed with. He wanted insight into their culture, their capacity to wage war, their trustfulness.
“I have known humans in the Army,” he had said, “but these humans of Azeroth are something else.”
When Vasp tried to steer the conversation around to her imminent return to Talongrab, Arlan deflected and abruptly walked away.
By Winter’s Veil itself Vasp had had enough. Loaded up on coffee and a no less than three candy canes she had smuggled aboard ship in her bag, she stormed to Arlan’s room that morning determined to confront him. She wouldn’t allow him to dodge or stonewall this time. He was going to listen. He was going to acquiesce. And if he didn’t she would leave anyway and there was nothing he could do to stop her. Vasp was ready for a fight, and so she was more than a little thrown off her game when Arlan opened his door, and, with an uncharacteristic smile, greeted her: “Ah, Vasp, I was hoping you’d come see me today. Please come in.”
Vasp had known Arlan for over a century and never had she heard him use the word “please.”
Arlan’s room wasn’t very big, as space on the Vindicaar was limited, but it was cozy and warm and filled nearly to the ceiling with books and scrolls, documenting battle plans, magical theory, and history, with the occasional novel tossed in. A small bed sat off to the side, and near the door a table with two chairs. On the table was a fresh loaf of bread, a pot of tea, cups, utensils, and an enchanted candle, which gave off a warm steady glow.
Arlan gestured toward one of the chairs, “Have a seat,” he said.
As Vasp sat Arlan poured some tea into a fresh cup, setting it before her, and then took the seat opposite.
“Are you all right?” asked Arlan finally, after a long pause.
Vasp picked up her cup and took a sip of the tea.
“You seem…” Arlan considered a moment, “You seem unlike yourself.”
Vasp put her cup down on the table and said, “I was not expecting this.”
“This,” was her reply.
“I do not understand,” said Arlan with a smile.
“I do not understand either,” agreed Vasp.
“You will need to do better than that.”
Vasp took a breath and said, “You are being very pleasant.”
Arlan honest-to-goodness guffawed.
For a long moment Vasp sat silent, stunned, until she finally put her hand down on the table and said, “Is this a trick? Are you trying to soften me with tea, and bread, and laughter?”
Arlan looked at her a moment, as though studying her, and, still quite amused, said: “Why do you think I am trying to trick you?”
“Because you want me to stay,” she said.
“Of course I want you to stay,” he said.
“I knew you did!” she said, gearing up for a fight again.
“Really?” he asked. He studied her for another moment and then suddenly reached out for her hand.
Vasp practically jumped to the ceiling, knocking her chair over in the process.
“What? What is happening here?” she asked.
Arlan raised both hands and stood cautiously, “I meant no offense.”
She shook her head and raised a hand to him, “You are ordering me back into the Army, yes?”
“No,” he said.
“No?” she asked.
“No,” he said again, smiling, taking a few steps toward her.
“But you want me to stay,” she said.
“Yes,” he said, another step closer.
“Why do you want me to stay?” she asked.
He took her hand again, and said plainly, “Because I have feelings for you.”
"You have feelings for me?"
Vasp stood frozen, jaw on the floor, her mind locked in a loop unable to comprehend anything that was taking place. Was she still asleep? Was this some sort of strange dream? Or perhaps Arlan was possessed by a demon and this was some sort of elaborate ruse.
Arlan looked into her eyes and then let go of her hand, saying, “I am sorry, I have surprised you.”
Vasp, unable to find the words simply nodded.
“No need for a decision today,” he said matter-of-factly, moving back toward his chair after standing hers back up, “return home and consider. I am quite patient.”
Vasp shook out of her trance, “How long…?”
Arlan shrugged as he took a sip of his tea, and said, “Decades perhaps.”
“Why did you never say anything before?” she asked still in the corner by the door.
Arlan frowned. “You were under my command. It would have been highly inappropriate.”
“And now you are not under my command,” he said, smiling.
“But you objected to my leaving…”
Arlan let out a long sigh and said, “Vasp, you are one of the finest soldiers I have ever had under my command. Personal feelings aside, the needs of the Army come first. I wanted you to stay for the sake of the regiment, but as you chose to leave, new opportunities presented themselves.”
For several heartbeats Vasp remained standing by the door in stunned silence.
“Is it such an unpleasant idea to you?” he asked setting his cup back down.
Vasp frowned at him, studying his handsome, solid draenei features.
“No,” she said sliding back into her chair. “No, it is not unpleasant. It is simply surprising.”
“As I said,” he said, “take your time. I am very patient.”
Vasp picked her cup back off the table but did not say anything, choosing to sit with it instead. And so for a brief moment they sat silently together. Whereas before she felt anger and determination, now Vasp felt only conflict and confusion.
“Are you leaving tonight?” finally asked Arlan.
Vasp nodded, “Yes, I am returning tonight.”
Her former commander nodded and reaching for a small shelf nearby placed a small box before her on the table where her cup had sat.
“What is this?” she asked.
“It is customary to exchange gifts on Winter’s Veil is it not?” he asked.
“I did not bring you anything,” she said, suddenly feeling guilty.
“I was not expecting a gift,” he said warmly, “I only wanted to get you one.”
Putting her cup down she took the box, and opened it, revealing a small golden pendant in the shape of her old regiment’s crest, made from a familiar alloy.
“I crafted it myself,” he said, “the metal is from the wreckage of the Xenedar.”
“It is beautiful,” she said sincerely, suddenly feeling exhausted.
He reached out and took her hand again, which this time she did not resist, “Happy Winter’s Veil, Vasp.
Although still dazed, she returned the gesture and smiled back at him, “Happy Winter’s Veil, Arlan.”
Later that night, after she crossed the portal and as she piloted her warframe back toward the Perch, Arlan’s pendant around her neck, Vasp couldn’t help but wonder in awe at all that had happened. Not just with with her former commander, though that was foremost on her mind, but in the months since she left Argus for Azeroth. As Tahara had once said, changing the world can be as easy as taking a single step. That night Vasp felt like she’d taken a thousand steps, and still had no idea, though she was excited to find out, where she would end up.