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this heart is a foolish one

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     Keyleth doesn’t get the sex thing.

     She understands how it works , that’s not the problem. Her dad made sure she knew what was… what, when she reached adolescence, and animals have no problem coming right out and saying and doing whatever they feel like when they want… that. She knows the how, it’s the why that confuses her. Scanlan and Grog talk about their exploits in brothels (too much, in her opinion), and it all just seems too complicated. And sticky.

     No, Keyleth doesn’t get the sex thing. The love thing, though, that she gets. The tingly, butterfly-stomach, light headed swoopy feeling thing. She has plenty of experience with that. With boys in her tribe, with people they’ve met in passing on the road, with Kashaw. If anything, Keyleth might have too much experience with that.

     Somehow, none of that is any help at all when she’s standing in front of the Sun Tree watching Vax walk away from her. She almost wishes it was just a sex thing. She’s heard enough from the others in Vox Machina that she could probably come up with a response in that case.

     She has no idea what to do with this.

 


 

     It’s not that Keyleth’s scared of Vex.

     She’s really not. She loves Vex. Vex is one of her closest friends, and yeah, it took them a little bit in the beginning to figure each other out, but once Vex stopped trying to make Keyleth talk about sex stuff, and once Keyleth stopped trying to feed Trinket vegetables behind Vex’s back, they got on fine. It’s nice, her and Vex and Pike, having girl time together when the others (ok, Grog and Scanlan) get a little over-enthusiastic with the macho bro-dude stuff.

     So Keyleth’s not scared of Vex, exactly. She just--likes having friends, and it seems like there’s a strong possibility that she could make some decisions about… some things, that would make her not have some of those friends anymore. She’s not an idiot, she knows Vex won’t come after her with a flaming arrow if she breaks Vex’s brother’s heart, but… Hurting Vax would mean hurting Vex, too, and that’s way scarier to Keyleth than getting lit on fire. She could lose both of them in one go.

     As if the Vax thing wasn’t complicated enough.

 


 

     Keyleth’s afraid of her temper, mostly because no one else is.

     She knows what the others think of her, okay? She knows they get annoyed with her when she goes off about if they’re doing the right thing, but except for Tiberius, she’s the only one with actual ties outside of Vox Machina, and Tiberius, while she loves him, makes crappy decisions sometimes, not that she doesn’t also make crappy decisions sometimes, but--goddammit, somebody ought to be paying attention to that, right? Somebody has to think about more than just how much money they’re getting or what needs killing at this immediate moment. It’s not that they’re not good people, but in the heat of battle they can kinda get caught up in the moment, and somebody has to look at the big picture. Especially once Pike’s gone and Percy’s all fucked up, somebody needs to be able to say “This isn’t okay.”

     They listen to her, usually once she’s already yelling, but someday they’re not gonna listen, and Keyleth doesn’t know what’s gonna happen then. She’s almost never lost control of her magic, not like she’s seen other casters do (like Tiberius does sometimes, even if he’d never admit it), but she knows herself well enough to think that her friends, the people she loves, crossing that line of right and wrong might be enough to send her over the edge. That’s gonna be the day she hurts somebody again. Killing that kid, it messed her up. Badly. And that was an accident. That’s what she did when she wasn’t even trying .

     So yeah. She’s scared. Can they blame her?

 


 

     The thing is, Keyleth actually really likes touching people. She learns over the course of their adventures that she’s a really touchy-feely drunk, which she didn’t know before, since she didn’t really go around getting hammered back with the Air Ashari. But even when she’s sober, she draws comfort from physical interaction.

     Sometimes, it’s a practical thing, like she’s subconsciously checking up on her friends. A hand on a back as she walks past, a knee knocking another under a table, a shoulder bumping shoulder when the quiet’s gone on too long. A wordless way of checking in, making sure everything’s okay. Sometimes it’s a moment of connection, when something is funny or sad or difficult, when her feelings become too much for just her to handle and she needs someone else to share them with. Sometimes it’s just a reminder that she’s not alone.

     Which would be fine, if other people didn’t keep reading shit into it . Just because Scanlan is trying to get in the pants of every person he so much as breathes heavy on doesn’t mean that’s true of her, and some days it feels like she can’t even look at anyone without somebody (usually Scanlan or Grog. Look. They’re very different people, okay?) wagging their eyebrows suggestively. She didn’t use to give it that much thought, beyond annoyance that people didn’t believe her when she said she wasn’t interested in the fucking people thing, no seriously, no, seriously , but then.

     The Vax thing.

     And, god, she wishes she could give him a straight answer. She’d give anything to be able to look at him and say “Yes,” or “No,” and just be done with it, but she can’t . There’s too much she doesn’t understand. Her own feelings, for one thing, because it’s nothing like with Kashaw, when she got all fluttery and tingly inside even when he was being all broody and dismissive. She doesn’t get fluttery with Vax. Why would she? He’s Vax , her friend that she’s seen bleeding and bruised and throwing up, a couple times, and he’s seen her the same way, so it’s not like she has this pretty picture of him built up in her head. He’s a part of her life, and she’s safe with him, she knows where she stands with him, or she did until he had to go and fall in love with her like an idiot . God.

     And what would it even mean, if she said yes to him? She’s not going to sleep with him, which isn’t a huge deal, she doesn’t think, but what else changes when you go from being friends to being… whatever they would be? And should she even be thinking about this when they’ve got so much other shit to deal with?

     She hates keeping him waiting, hates feeling like she’s leading him on by not giving him an answer, but she doesn’t have an answer to give . Not one that would make things any less confusing, anyway.

     She spends a lot of time thinking it over, in Whitestone and once they get back to Emon. She hates not being certain, but she thinks she’s getting closer to having a real answer.

     Which, of course, is when everything goes to hell.


 

     They’re all dead.

     They’re all dead.

     Keyleth’s sitting under her tree in the temple. She doesn’t hear the approaching footsteps, and she doesn’t realize she’s speaking aloud until she feels the arm around her shoulders.

     “They’re all dead,” she breathes as Percy pulls her to him, tucking her head under his chin. “They’re all dead,” and she’s crying again, ugly sobs that wrack her body as her tears soak the collar of Percy’s shirt.

     “I know,” Percy says, and some small, distant part of her that isn’t drowning under waves of shock and grief acknowledges, he does know. If anyone knows this pain, it’s Percy, who lost everything in a single night. She cries for him, for herself, for her people and her city, and Percy rubs her back and lets her weep.

     After what feels like an eternity, the flow of sorrow subsides, and in its place Keyleth feels a cold pit of anger forming in her chest. “I want him dead.” Percy pulls back at her words, and she looks up at him, not bothering to wipe away her drying tears. “Thordak. I want him to die.”

     “He will.” The voice from the door causes both Keyleth and Percy to jump, and they turn to see Vax leaning against the post, his posture a mockery of his usual easy grace. He looks like he’s aged a decade in the last few hours, and Keyleth can see a weight in his body that wasn’t there before. Vax walks over and sits beside Keyleth, on her other side from Percy. “Trust me. This… Thordak. Will pay for what he’s done.”

     Next to her, Percy’s breath catches. “Oh. Oh, Vax.” Keyleth looks and sees Percy’s eyes widen, his face filled with a terrible sort of understanding.

     “What?” She looks back and forth between the two men, searching for what it is she’s missing. “What is it?” She knows she should know what it is, or at least be more gentle in her questioning, but she can’t. She’s too tired. She’s just too tired, now, for anything but the truth.

     Vax isn’t looking at her, and when he speaks his voice is flat and empty. “Earlier, when she was talking about Thordak’s past. The places he destroyed before they locked him away. Allura mentioned Byroden.”

     “Byroden…” The name lodges in Keyleth’s mind, and with a rush of horror, she remembers where she’s heard it before. “Oh my god, Vax… That’s where… You and Vex, that’s where you…”

     He nods. “Byroden was the town where Vex and I grew up.” Saying the words seems to crack whatever hold Vax had on his emotions, and when he looks at her, Keyleth can see her agony reflected in his face. “Thordak destroyed it. He’s the dragon that killed our mother.” He takes a deep, shuddering breath, and without thinking, Keyleth grabs his hand and entwines their fingers. She can feel Percy reaching behind her back to lay a hand on Vax’s shoulder, and Vax places his other hand over it. They sit for a moment in silence, the three of them bound together by their grief, and Keyleth relishes the touch and the closeness, uncomplicated by any insinuation or implication. Just three friends seeking comfort in each other’s presence.

     “I want to kill him,” Vax says quietly after a while.

     Keyleth squeezes his hand. “We will,” she promises.

     Percy laughs, once, without humor. “How? The Briarwoods were one thing, but this…”

     Keyleth cuts him off. “Together.”

     She looks first to Percy, then to Vax, her heart full of grief and anger and love for these men, for all of her family, and she sends a prayer to Sarenrae in thanks for bringing them to her, so that no matter what happens to the rest of her people, she doesn’t have to be alone. “We do this together.”