When he arrived she was chatting with a group of fellow mages near the punch bowl. She was a vision of loveliness as always, clad in a light lavender gown trimmed in white satin. Her face brightened when she saw him and she stepped forward to greet him, leaving her comrades in mid-sentence. He took her hand and kissed it formally. "Jaina, you grow more beautiful every time I see you."
Her cheeks turned rosy and she hooked her arm around his, her hand on his forearm. Her hands were ink-stained but delicate, which Arthas knew was very deceptive. He had seen those hands conjure tongues of flame and lances of ice on a whim.
She turned back to her friends and said casually, "I assume you all know Prince Arthas?" Coming from anyone else it would have seemed pretentious, but from Jaina, it was natural. As the daughter of High Admiral Daelin Proudmoore, she had been brushing elbows with royalty her entire life. Indeed, there was more than one prince present.
"Kael'thas," Arthas said, nodding to acknowledge the elven mage.
"Arthas," Kael said, barely glancing in his direction.
Arthas stifled a frown. The crown prince of Quel'thalas had been cold to him all week, remaining barely civil when diplomacy required him to speak to his Lordaeron counterpart.
"Arthas, have you met Nathanos Marris?" Jaina asked, politely pretending not to notice the icy awkwardness between the princes.
"I have not had the honor," Arthas said, turning his attention to the tanned young man standing next to Kael'thas. "But I've heard of your exploits. Most impressive."
Marris bowed with a humble smile. "Your Highness is too kind. I'm sure the Ranger General would be happy to say less complimentary things, but I am learning."
"Well, elves aren't usually too quick to trust humans," Arthas said, keeping his expression innocent as he glanced at Kael'thas. "Present company excluded, of course."
"Of course," he said with a thin smile that make it look like he had tasted something sour. "One cannot help being drawn to one's own kind, after all."
"Kael," Jaina murmured with a warning tone.
"If you gentlemen will excuse me, I could use some fresh air," Arthas said with a nod of farewell before leading Jaina off toward the arched doorway that led to the gardens. When they were safely out of earshot, he asked, "Do you have any idea why Prince Sunstrider is suddenly treating me as if I've killed his entire family or something? We used to be on cordial terms, as far as I knew."
"He, um," Jaina faltered, lowering her eyes. "I believe he well...fancies me."
"He hasn't said it outright, mind you, but...he's been acting a bit silly around me, and he asked to escort me tonight. When I told him you had already offered he wasn't happy."
"You mean he's jealous? That's why he's been glaring at me all week? Good grief, I thought there was an impending war with Quel'thalas, the way he's been acting!"
Jaina smirked. "Wars have been fought over a lady's hand before."
He took her hand and kissed it once again. "None so lovely as this one."
She made a scoffing noise but could not contain her grin.
He continued, "I doubt King Anasterian would approve of his heir wedding a human, anyway."
"True, but matters of the heart rarely follow logic."
"King Terenas on the other hand..." Arthas cleared his throat nervously. "He likes you, Jaina."
"I like him too. He's a good king, and he's produced a very fine son." She leaned against his shoulder as they walked by a fountain.
"What I mean is, well... He's told me, unofficially, of course, that he wouldn't object if you and I were to, you know, um, decide that we wanted to, you know, marry."
Jaina stopped in her tracks. "Arthas, are you really trying to propose to me like that?"
"No! I mean, I...sort of... That is, er... We've talked about it before, and I was just, um, letting you know that if we were to decide we were ready to, you know...then my father approves."
"Arthas, that was the least romantic thing you've said to me since we were six years old and you asked me to eat library paste."
"Well, I-I-I," he stammered, blushing profusely. He stopped, took a deep breath to compose himself, and began again. "Jaina, we've talked about this before. If there is to be a wedding, it wouldn't be until after we both finish our training. I was just thinking ahead, and it's good to know we won't need to worry about my father's approval."
She gave a crooked smile. "Good to know, yes."
They stopped by a whimsical topiary of floating orbs, held in place by the magic that permeated the air itself in Dalaran.
"After our training..." she repeated. "Then what? You'll have to stay close to the throne, and I won't be able to leave Dalaran that easily, either."
He sighed. "Jaina, do we have to go through this again tonight? I'm tired of hearing about how much we have to be apart."
"You're the one who brought up the future."
"So I was. Well, forget I said anything. Let's just enjoy ourselves, shall we?" He turned and put a hand on her cheek, sweeping back a strand of golden hair. "You are so beautiful tonight."
She leaned into him with a smile. "Thank you. I had hoped you would think so. I picked out this dress especially for tonight."
He glanced down at her cleavage and grinned. "You picked well."
He put his arms around her and brought his lips to hers. She responded hungrily, her hands playing through his blond hair as he slowly caressed her back.
"I missed you so much," she managed to say in between kisses.
"It's been too long," he agreed.
As she lost herself in the moment she remembered again why she put up with their long-distance relationship, complicated by their studies and responsibilities. She loved this man. It would have been so much easier to fall for someone else, someone less famous, less burdened, but Jaina Proudmoore rarely chose the easy way to do anything.
Other little girls dreamed of growing up to be like Calia Menethil, Arthas' older sister: dignified, elegant, soft-spoken, and every bit a storybook princess. Jaina was more or less a princess, although Kul Tiras didn't use the same titles. However, she had always aspired to grow up like Aegwynn, the great Guardian and one of the most powerful mages in human history. Although she was treated with the respect of a princess when it came to diplomatic functions, she never felt like one--except when Arthas' blue eyes met hers, and he held her with a reverence that made her heart light. He was her prince, literally and figuratively.
She knew the path ahead wouldn't be easy, but as long as they had each other it would be all right. Jaina kept telling herself that.
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