"No," Lilifred said firmly, slamming her drink on the table. Elexine was pouting, but her mind was made up.
"But he's funny!" the draenei insisted, gesturing towards the young dwarf. Grator Gunsmoke was busying himself with the business of sloshing beer all over the floor of the Pig and Whistle while arguing loudly with some dangerous looking human about the specifics of gun-smithery. Well, arguing was a generous word to use. Far as she had observed, Grator could barely string two sentences together even when sober.
"Look, Lexie, I know we're pretty desperate for members here, but we've still got standards to uphold."
"Oh, 'Fred, don't be harsh. I do not think he's been long out of Dun Morogh. He is just naive."
Lilifred furrowed her brow, "Elexine. He's mentally deficient is what he is. Anyways," she glanced at the exit longingly, "I'm just going to leave before he notices me." It was a busy night. If she was fast enough-
"Aye, 'ittle one!"
- and the gnome winced as the object of her derision called out from across the bar.
"Puckernuts," Lilifred hissed, "Lexie-" she looked up at her friend pleadingly, but dear, sweet Elexine Iaarthis simply cracked a sun-bright smile and waved the damn dwarf over. Lilifred glowered; sisters in all but blood indeed.
"Grator! I talked to the boss about your application!"
Lilifred buried her head in her hands, "You gave him an application?"
As Grator began to push his way through the crowd towards them, Elexine glanced back, nodding wide-eyed, "Oh yes. But I do not think that he can write." a pause, "Or read."
"Where's the damn bar- wench?" Lilifred looked up wearily, "I need another drink..."
Several months later..."No." Lilifred said firmly, setting her jaw. Grator had this really stupid expression of self-sacrifice or something else equally moronic painted on his dumb, idiot face, but her mind was made up.
"Dinnae try tae stop me, lass." and he kept going! "This be one fight ah fecked oop on meh own. Meh and Chompeh will 'andle eet."
Lilifred attempted to swallow her anger, but that was just making the rage turn soft. She could feel her eyes burning so she tore off her goggles. Fine, Grator. she thought, If you're going to make me cry, you have to look at it. The gnome took a deep breath before speaking, "That's... that's really selfish of you," she jabbed the dwarf in the chest, sniffling a little and hating herself for it.
Grator reached out a large, calloused hand to ruffle the gnome's hair affectionately. Lilifred raised her shoulders, embarrassed at being physically coddled by one of her employees, "Jest put summat nice on meh grave, eh? Win ye election an' save ye lot."
Xyria choked back a thick sob at the word 'grave'. Grator looked guilty for a moment, but did not rescind his statement.
"You idiot!" Lilifred shouted, slapping the dwarf's hand away, "You think we'll write you a nice poem if you die stupidly!? Think again!"
Behind her, Lilifred could hear Mardelos shifting awkwardly. To her side, Xyria was crying silently. She didn't need to hear anything else- her fingers closed around the twin hilts of her swords.
"Yeh realleh want tae go thar, lassie?" Grator's voice was more serious than she'd ever heard it. He was bigger than her, true, and probably stronger, but Lilifred was fast and she was angry. Even if she lost, at least getting a few good hits in would make her feel better.
"I'm going to beat you black and blue, Grator Gunsmoke," her lips quirked up in an unpleasant grin, "After all- if I break your legs, you can't leave."
Xyria inhaled sharply and crumpled to the floor, still rubbing her eyes.
The dwarf flexed his muscles and swelled to his full height, frowning, "Lass, do ah look like ah will allow ye tae 'it me?"
Lilifred snorted, "I'm your boss. I don't care what you "allow"."
"No, no, no, no-" Xyria had pressed her eyes shut and was whispering to herself, the word becoming a mantra.
"Ah quit, remember?"
"Don't let it come to this." Mardelos' words were a plea but his tone was a flat statement. He was right, Lilifred knew; letting it come to blows would end it for sure. Still, she didn't back down.
"Not yet," her tone was surprisingly light, "I'll only accept that you've quit if you beat me." she tipped her head to one side, tightening her hands around the hilts of her swords, "Well?"
Grator nodded, spreading his arms, "Come ae meh, then
She turned her swords to the blunt edges and dove, aiming first for the dwarf's chest but twirling into a last-second feint and slicing at the underside of Grator's knee. He slid to the side with surprisingly agility- of course, the whole time she'd been holed up in Gadgetzan doing paperwork and working on her election speech he'd been off killing felbeasts and who knew what else in the Outlands- and grabbed a fistful of her tabbard, jerking her off balance and backhanding her hard enough to send her stumbling. The gnome fell back on one knee, brushing her knuckles across the reddening mark on her cheek, "Goddamnit!" she growled, "At least hit me properly, Grator! I'm not some delicate flower!" without waiting for a reply she shoved one of her swords back into it's scabbard and threw herself at Grator, shoulder first.
For the first time in her life Lilifred thanked the "freak height" she'd inherited from her father's side of the family for if she'd been both slight and short there was no way she'd have been able to catch the dwarf off balance. She and Grator both went flying into a nearby chair. He grunted, but otherwise didn't seem phased when Lilifred bashed him in the face with the handle of her sword. Xyria was sobbing openly now and Mardelos had apparently made up his mind to stay out of the conflict. Grator drove one of his armoured knees into Lilifred's shin and she hissed in pain, rolling off him and dipping down to avoid a punch- finally, a punch; both combatants regained their balance, breathing heavily. Lilifred dove again, this time aiming the point of her blade for Grator's shoulder, just between the seam of the mail where the links were the weakest. The dwarf dodged easily, not holding back as he swung his fist forwards with the force of a tram behind it. Lilifred swooped her blade around in a graceful arc and moved to pivot but-
- but she caught the expression in Grator's single eye and stopped mid-whirl, taking the punch full on. The crack of cartilage when his knuckles connected with her nose was audible. Her ears were already ringing when she hit the wall hard enough to steal breath from her lungs.
"F-feck-" she spit out a mouthful of blood and quickly ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth, checking to make sure all her teeth were still there.
"... what in the Light's name is going on here?"
Lilifred and Grator's gazes snapped up simultaneously to see Elexine standing in the doorway, anger twitching dangerously at her delicate features. Illuminated by the evening glow she looked almost like a statue. She tapped her hoof against the wooden floorboards and Lilifred was almost ashamed.
"'Fred?" Elexine asked again, her hand going to her own blade. Mardelos reached out to grab the draenei's arm, shaking his head.
"Don't." he said softly and Elexine fixed him with an astonished look.
Lilifred straightened her back and stalked towards Grator, still woozy from that last punch and teetering a little on her feet. She was holding her nose, blood streaming from between her fingers as she spoke. "Fine," she said curtly, words muffled by her gloves, "I accept your resignation." Lilifred jerked her thumb towards the exit, "Now get the feck out of here."
Elexine's eyes went wide and she slackened, the fight going out of her, "Wha-what?" she looked at Lilifred searchingly, but the gnome looked away.
Grator glanced back at Xyria worriedly, "One mo' first," he told Lilifred. She huffed a wordless approval and went to lean against the wall, wiping the blood from her face and sliding her goggles back on. The dwarf walked over to where Xyria was curled up on the floor and knelt down, touching her face tenderly.
"I... I don't want you to go," Xyria murmured, "Please don't."
Grator pulled her into a tight hug, his burly arms holding her close. He closed his eye, perhaps to hide the moisture forming around it, "I need tae go. So ye lot can live ye life in peace witoot meh messin' eet oop. Ye can unnerstand that, lassie. Eet's fer ye own good." he squeezed Xyria reassuringly.
"Every time someone says that, it's unhappy." her tone was almost childish but there was something quivering beneath her words that spoke of a deeper sorrow. Xyria was a woman, after all, who'd seen the wrong side of death and all its horrors.
Grator blinked away whatever had been around his eye and brushed back the draenei's bangs, kissing her on the forehead, "Ah'll be back. Ah ain' lied yet."
Xyria looked up hopefully, "Promise?"
"Ah swear eet on Flappeh's memoreh." Grator replied warmly.
Mardelos finally let Elexine go but the Paladin remained still, watching the proceedings with an unreadable expression.Disentangling himself from Xyria's loose embrace, Grator looked around at his former guild-mates and rolled back his shoulders, "Ah bedder git goin, then."
Lilifred nodded, "Just remember, you bastard. There's this unfortunate thing about family... it's unconditional, right?" she lowered her voice and looked away, a little self-conscious, "W-what I mean... is that you can always come back. We couldn't turn you away if we wanted."
Grator might have been smiling a bit under his thick beard. He tossed a pack of bandages at Lilifred- presumably for her face- and with one last tip of his head, walked outside. He didn't look back. Lilifred stared at the bandages for a moment, "Well, feck." she kicked them across the room, "Hmp. My nose was crooked anyways."
"I can't believe that just happened." Mardelos twitched his long ears, crossing his arms over his chest, "He'll regret it."
Elexine came to life, her features no longer statue-esque but strained with sorrow. She twisted her lip- obviously trying to fight tears- before spinning on her heel and taking off. Lilifred let her run past without a word; she knew Elexine well enough to know when the draenei didn't want to be followed.
Xyria pulled herself to her feet. Tears were streaming down her face, but she seemed okay. Mostly. Mardelos reached out to her, putting a calming hand on her wrist, "It will be alright someday, Xyria." he looked the Lilifred, "Boss? You okay?"
Lilifred shut her eyes and thought about drinking too much and shooting contests and dumb pet names and that time Aestaela and Grator followed her to a meeting with the Lionhearts even though she told them no. She thought about Grator's long-past incessant whining about girl troubles and about him falling asleep at important guild meetings and about him insisting on doing jobs even though he'd just lost an eye. She thought about him nearly beating a man to death for hurting Taelie and then she thought.
Sure. We're better off without him.
She sighed and shrugged dismissively, hoping her casual demeanor was enough to fool the elf, "Whatever," she chuckled, "I never wanted Grator in the guild anyways."