It Gets Better than This?

((Written based on chat logs, so thanks goes to Dolraan’s player!))

The next morning dawned unusually crisp. Cool breezes blew in from the forests bordering Stormwind, whipping their ways around the streets like a group of mischievous children, and the sun was barely peeking its head over the horizon at the sleepy city. Ordinarily, Rhianon would still be asleep at this hour, nestled against Quincy’s flank, but this morning found her standing in the city streets before Dolraan’s apartment, staring with absurd fascination at the cobblestones at her feet. She had actually been up most of the night, partly due to being intermittently pelted with apples, and partly due to her mind constantly finding new worries. She hadn’t even been able to put together a suitable outfit; everything had either seemed overly dressy or too simple, and so she had just thrown on her normal armor as time began running short.

She looked up, waving, when Dolraan stepped out onto the street, mug of coffee in his hand and dressed in his jogging attire. He stretched his arms out wide and smiled at her. “Good morning, Rhianon! Sleep well?”

The nighttime concerns seemed to evaporate when he spoke and she grinned. “Well…well enough! Quincy kept me up most of the night tossing apples at my head. My elekk, you remember him?”

“I think we’ve met. Why was he tossing apples at you?”

“Oh, well, that’s a little complicated. You see, I told him he couldn’t eat so many or else he’d get sick. And so, he kept on trying to wake me up to show me how many he could eat without getting sick.” She blushed, glancing down at the cobblestones again. “I’m sorry; that’s a little strange, isn’t it?”

Dolraan chuckled ruefully. “No, just a bit childish on his part.”  He took a sip of coffee, savoring it. “Oh, I’m sorry; would you like some coffee before we get going?”

Rhianon glanced at the mug, pointing at it. “Is that stuff really any good? It smells good.”

“It takes a bit of getting used to; it’s quite strong. But I don’t know how I’d start my day without it.”

She pursed her lips, debating whether or not to accept the offered beverage. She didn’t want to turn him down, but she wasn’t sure she could drink anything that looked like it had been scooped out of a mud puddle, no matter how tempting it smelled. Finally, curiosity got the better of her.  “Well, I can try it. First time for everything, right?”

“Luckily, it goes well with cream and sugar. Helps soften the blow.” After saying that, Dolraan disappeared back inside, reappearing after a few moments with a second mug of coffee.

Rhianon smiled at him. “Thanks! Extra cream and sugar, I hope?”

“Yes, indeed. Here you go!”

She accepted the proffered mug and took a big sip, blinking but then swallowing it. “Well, that’s strong…” She took another sip. “But not in a bad way! Sorta like a wake-up call! Although, it really does need the sugar.”

Rhianon glanced over to Dolraan. “Do you take sugar and cream in yours?”

“I used to, but it was hard enough even getting coffee in the Crusade, so I learned to drink it black.”  Dolraan took another sip from his mug.

“Another reason why I’m glad my involvement with the Crusade let me stay in Dalaran. I’m not really one for ‘roughing it’,” she said, grinning.

“Oh, it’s not so bad. Once you get used to sleeping on the ground, never having quite enough supplies for anything, and the constant peril anyway.”  Dolraan grinned wryly.

She laughed. “I have just enough peril to suit me already!” Finishing off her mug, Rhianon continued, “So, this jogging thing…you do it every day?”

“Just about,” he said. “Gets the blood flowing and makes sure I don’t get fat from all this rich Stormwind living.” Dolraan downed the rest of his mug, placing it on the windowsill.

Rhianon placed her empty mug on the windowsill as well and looked down the street warily. “So, it’s just the running…?”

“Yep, I generally take a jog along the canals, into the market district, and end at the Blue Recluse for their breakfast platters. By the time I get there, I’m good and ready for breakfast.”

Rhianon bit her lip, nodding. The route was somewhat longer than anticipated; although, in reality, she really didn’t have any gauge for its length. “That’s a pretty good sized route, I guess.”

Dolraan eyed her. “You don’t do a whole lot of running, do you?”

She flushed, laughing uneasily. “Err…well…I run when we’re on the battlefield, don’t I? I guess I just don’t usually do it deliberately…”

“Well, if you start to get tired, let me know. I wouldn’t want you feeling awful all day.”

Rhianon nodded. “It’s probably a good exercise anyway. I shouldn’t always be relying on the spirits to help me move fast.”

“Well, let’s get started, shall we?” Dolraan came over to Rhianon’s side, jogging in place.

Realizing that he was waiting for her to be ready, she gulped and started running in place. “Sure! You lead. You know your route better than me.”

“Alright, off we go!” At that, Dolraan started moving, setting a fairly brisk pace towards the canals. Rhianon followed behind, doing her best to keep a regular, reasonable distance behind him without pushing herself too hard.

As she ran, she looked around, admiring the bright day. “This isn’t so bad! It’s a nice morning too!”

“Part of the reason I do this early is because of how hot it gets once the day is in full swing,” Dolraan explained. “Running in the heat is no fun at all.”

“Maybe not – “ Rhianon paused mid-sentence, catching her breath. She inwardly cursed at herself. They had barely been jogging a minute or two, and she was already feeling the effects. Shaking her head, she continued, “But not every morning has to be nice. There are gloomy ones too. The sun is out and the winds are fresh.”

“Thank the Light for a breeze that doesn’t come up from the docks!” Dolraan chuckled at that as he turned to cross the bridge.

“Oh, you don’t need – “ She had to stop again mid-sentence again, her chest starting to burn, cheeks flushed. Embarrassed, she quickly tried to pick her train of thought back up.  “I could have just asked the winds to change their direction as we were passing through.” Rhianon laughed as much as her aching lungs would allow.

As she crossed the bridge behind Dolraan, a playful breeze gusted past her and her head swam. She stopped, gripping the side of the bridge. “Okay, I think I need a second’s breather.”

Hearing that, Dolraan stopped moving forward, but continued jogging in place. “Whatever you say. It’s a beautiful morning, just like you said.”

Rhianon, purple-faced and winded, tried to stave off humiliation. “Well, if you need to move on ahead, you should. I don’t want to ruin your run.” Trying to gather herself back together, she paused and looked down at the water slipping underneath the bridge. The morning breezes were skimming over the water, tossing ripples every which way. “Look at the way the wind is moving over the water! What pretty patterns.”

Dolraan stopped jogging in place, moving to stand beside Rhianon. “You know, I’ve never really looked too closely at the ripples on the water.”

“You should.” She pointed down at the undulating surface of the water. “See, you can see how the wind is moving over the surface. It’s almost like it’s dancing. And every breeze has a different dance.”

Dolraan smiled. “You know, I think that’s what intrigues me the most about you, Rhianon. The little things you notice that no one else does.”

She flushed. “I’d like to think it’s my job, isn’t it? To notice the little things most people ignore. And sometimes that means I have to be quiet – and that’s okay with me.” She grinned at him. “I never really thought of it as anything special. My mother was the same way.”

“You don’t have to think something’s special for it to be special.”

“I guess so.” Rhianon looked out over the water, smiling to herself. “But you’re right. Most people don’t see what they have for what it is.”

“Heh, isn’t that the truth.”

She grinned at Dolraan. “You do the same thing! You always act like the only good thing about you is how good you are at being a paladin!”

“Well, it’s a fairly big thing, I think,” he replied. “Defined most of my life since I received the calling.”

“Well, yes,” Rhianon said, “but I think that even if you hadn’t become a paladin, you would have still been a very good Dolraan. And that’s important too.” She ran her fingers along the cool stones lining the bridge’s railing. “I always have to remind myself that it’s important to just be me and not be a shaman all the time. Most of the time, it’s hard to separate it, but I try.”

“That sounds suspiciously like wisdom.” Dolraan grinned at her wryly. “Isn’t it a little early for that?”

She returned the grin. “I’m the wisest when I’m sleepy. And since I haven’t eaten yet, I’m still half asleep!”

“Well, why don’t we head to the Recluse? I’m getting hungry myself.”

Rhianon glanced around. They were just crossing over the first bridge in the Canals, barely ankle deep into Dolraan’s normal morning jogging route. “But don’t you need to finish your run?”

“Well, as it happens, I’ve thought of a way I can get a similar amount of exercise in, even if I cut the route short.”

Relived, she took a deep breath and giggled.  “Oh, that works then. I wouldn’t want to be the one hurting your physical fitness – particularly since I depend on it so much!”

“Alright, then it’s settled.” A mischievous glint in his eyes, Dolraan then reached out and picked Rhianon up, holding her in front of him.

Startled, Rhianon gasped and quickly tried to gather herself. “Well…ummm…this is a little unconventional!”

“Alright, hold on!”

Dolraan started running through the canals, Rhianon in his arms. As she got her bearings, she began to looking around, noticing the way the pebbles in the street kicked up as crowds bustled through and the way the water in the canals lapped against the embankments. “You know, this is rather interesting way to see the route!”

“Well, I’m glad you like it!”

“I like interesting.” She cast a glance over at the trees lining the edges of the canals. “I’ll just keep my head down to avoid any low hanging branches!”

“Don’t worry; I’ll avoid the really tight squeezes!” He continued to jog along the canals, dodging the occasional pedestrian or carriage that was silly enough to come in his way, before finally crossing the bridge into the Mage’s District.

She recognized one of the people they passed, pointing him out. “Look; it’s that little boy with the kittens, isn’t it? Not that I need any more pets!”

Rhianon could almost hear Dolraan chuckle. “I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of racket. Either that or they don’t take very good care of their cats.”

The little boy with the kittens had now disappeared behind a merchant’s cart and she nodded, agreeing. “He does always seem to have more kittens.” She smiled and turned her gaze back to the path in front of them, including the brightening morning sky burgeoning with fluffy clouds. “You know, I get a whole new perspective like this…I can watch the road, the sky…”

“And you don’t have to worry about finding a hitch when you’re done!”

“Or apples for an angry elekk!” She laughed to herself, shaking her head. “I don’t know why I always get the ornery creatures. Maybe it’s my curse.”

“I think it’s that you’re so nice. Sometimes you need to take a hard line with animals…not that that’s helped me in any way with Cassandra.”

“Yeah.” Rhianon sighed, thinking about the cat’s plaintive mews when she had once tried to get out of giving her a sliver of fish. “I just can’t help indulging them. And Cassandra gives you the biggest eyes ever.” Looking up at the surrounding buildings and the familiar sign just a few yards ahead of them, she added, “Looks like we’re just about there, aren’t we?”

“She’s disturbingly good at that. Sometimes I wonder…oh! And here we are!” Dolraan came to a stop outside the Blue Recluse, just under the hanging wooden sign. He gently placed Rhianon down, wiping his brow. “Well, that was quite the workout!”

Rhianon grinned. “Maybe I shouldn’t eat so many cream puffs!” She then looked up at the Blue Recluse, eying its unremarkable stone exterior and empty veranda. “You know, I didn’t know they had breakfasts here. That barker is always going on about free drinks.”

“Well, the owner has a special relationship with the Cathedral, so he’s willing to set out a spread when a paladin comes looking for a favor. Speaking of which, hold on for just a minute.” Dolraan smiled and ducked in through the door of the Blue Recluse.

Rhianon waited out on the veranda, tapping her hoof against the ground. Favors for paladins sounded important, not exactly what she would expect for a simple breakfast platter or two. After a few moments of waiting, a server came outside and motioned to her. “Please come in, miss.”

Startled, Rhianon looked up and mumbled, “Okay”, as she followed the server.

Inside the Blue Recluse, a table for two had been set, topped with a large plate of sliced fruits and a basket of sugary, cream-filled pastries. Dolraan was already seated at the table, watching with a large smile on his face as the server pulled out a chair for Rhianon.

The Draenei blinked several times as she sat down. The scene was surprising, almost overwhelming: all her favorites, accommodating waitstaff, a private table. She managed to get out a fragmented jumble of sentences. “This is…well…very nice — and all my favorites! I was sorta expecting the usual eggs and ham bit the inns do around here. And the server escorted me to the table!”

“Well, I thought I’d arrange something a little more special.”

Rhianon grinned. “I like it!”  She selected a pastry from the basket and offered it to Dolraan. “You know, we could have always skipped the canal part and gone straight here!”

“Yes, but I lack your ability to maintain your figure without constant, back-breaking maintenance,” Dolraan chuckled, taking the pastry.

She picked out a pastry for herself. “So, you run and then we have pastries!”

“Think you could get used to something like this?”

Rhianon looked up, licking sugar from her fingers. “This is probably the nicest breakfast I’ve had since…well…I can’t remember. So, yes. Unless they’re going to make me wash dishes if I can’t pay for the pastries or something.”

“Again, all taken care of. I was the one who invited you, remember?”

“Well, you did invite me to jog – and I only actually had to run half the route, if that.”

“Oh, that’s alright. I invited you for the jog because for some reason I thought I was sixteen again.” Dolraan sighed, holding a piece of pomegranate. “I have to admit, I wasn’t quite open with you when I invited you along this morning. I do have an ulterior motive.”

She blinked, fumbling for an appropriate response. “I hope you realize I don’t have any money to pay you for the necklace! I suppose I could work it off…” Her voice trailed off as she heard herself and how silly the statement sounded. Of course Dolraan didn’t expect her to pay for the necklace. It had been a gift.

“Oh! No! Nonono, that’s not it at all!” Dolraan protested.

Rhianon flushed. “Oh…well, I’m glad that was just as silly as it sounded when I said it.” She took a handful of grapes from the fruit bowl and added, grinning, “I don’t believe a paladin of your calibre wouldn’t be completely honest about his intentions.”

“It wasn’t for any deceitful intent; it’s nerves, actually.”  Dolraan took a deep breath. “Rhianon, you are the most wonderful person I’ve met in years. You’re pretty, you’re clever, and you make me notice things that I never did before.”

Rhianon swallowed the grape she was eating whole. “I am?”

“Yes, you are. It’s why I care for you so much, and why I was willing to make you that necklace just so I could see you smile.”

Deciding that she was now probably the same color as the grapes she had been eating, Rhianon stammered, “Are you sure…well…I’m not entirely…well, I say odd things at times!”

“That’s part of your charm! You can always make me smile when you do that.”

Still flummoxed but somewhat more at ease, Rhianon grinned. “I’m – I’m glad that I’m not incredibly crazy then.”

“Either that, or we both are.”

“I mean, I had thought…well, I had hoped that you didn’t just want to ‘jog.’” She added, with a grin, “Well, being just enough crazy isn’t so bad.”

“Well, I was hoping, that maybe if you were interested, we could try being, well, more than friends?”

Rhianon took a deep breath. “First, let me say something before I get completely flustered.”

“Okay, there’s juice if you need something to drink.” Dolraan punctuated the statement by taking a swig of his own glass of juice.

“Dolraan, you are perhaps one of the best people I’ve met during my time here on Azeroth.” She glanced at the juice as he gestured to it. “Oh…”  Shaking her head, she tried to get back to where she had left off. “Um…anyway…and you’ve always been nice and kind and funny and caring towards me, and I don’t think I’ve ever said how much that matters to me. And important you are to me.” She sucked in another big breath and reached for the juice. “There. I’ve said it.”

“Well. I guess that makes things fairly clear…Really? Wow.”

She bit her lip. “Was that too much? I’m sorry. I’m bad at these things.”

“No, I’d say that’s just perfect, to be honest.”

Rhianon released her breath, heart lightened. It hadn’t been as bad as she had imagined.

Dolraan wasn’t quite finished yet, however. “You’re very important to me too, Rhia. And I’d like to pursue that.” He stood up and walked over to her side of the table, taking one of her hands and kissing the back of it.

She nodded, grinning through a heavy blush. “But, Dolraan, that’s not fair since you already know now that I’m not very good at running.”

He smiled broadly. “Then I’m just going to have to practice carrying you, now won’t I?”

Rhianon laughed. “I think I could learn to like that.” Glancing around the room, she cleared her throat. “Dolraan, you remember how everyone was poking around us last night?”

“I don’t think I could forget. Though the fact that they’re nosey should really come as no surprise.”

She nodded. “Yeah, that’s no surprise to me either. I’m actually astonished that no one is here this morning! Although, they could be hiding under the floorboards…”  Rhianon cast a careful glance down to the floor, looking for any prying eyes. “I wouldn’t put that past some of them.”

“Unlikely. I gave the staff an extra sovereign each to redirect any Meddlers in the area.”

Rhianon laughed. “I don’t doubt they’re not surprised by the orders. But in any case, Daevra reminded me about something. You really do deserve a reward for this necklace.”

Dolraan sighed. “Rhianon, seeing the look on your face was reward enough. I told you!”

She raised an eyebrow. “So, you’re satisfied with just that then?”

He stopped for a moment. “Well, not when you put it that way. Now I’m all curious…”

Rhianon shrugged. “Well, I just think that the reward should be in scale to the gift, that’s all. So, I thought this would be more appropriate.”  She leaned over, giving Dolraan a quick kiss.

Now, it was Dolraan’s turn to blush and he appeared stunned. “…Okay, yeah, better than a smile.”

She grinned. “I thought you might think so.”

Dolraan attempted to gather himself. “Well, I think I’m going to be in a good mood for the foreseeable future. Why don’t we finish breakfast and go for a walk?”

Rhianon smiled. “That sounds like a plan. Thank you for the wonderful breakfast, Dolraan.” Wonderful breakfast, she hoped, he would understand to mean wonderful morning. Wonderful day. Wonderful week, even.

His response was both expected and absolutely perfect. “Oh…my pleasure.”

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