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     “Is it true?”

     Allura looked up from her desk. What research she and Drake had been able to gather from Westruun was woefully unorganized, a state she knew could cost them valuable time in future. She had barely stopped to greet Vox Machina upon her arrival in Vasselheim, instead seeking out a room in this Slayer’s Take guildhall in order to settle herself and begin sorting through crucial information. She had told her allies that she wished not to be disturbed, but then, Kima had never been one to follow orders.

     Allura’s oldest friend stood in the doorway, arms crossed over her customary breastplate. She’d put on weight since their last meeting, gaining back the mass she’d lost during her time in the Underdark. For a moment, Allura was so glad to see her she forgot about the question, but Kima raising an impatient eyebrow brought her back to herself.

     “Is what true?”

     Kima stepped into the room, closing the door behind her. “They told me about Emon and the dragons. Specifically, the stupid big red one they say is leading the pack.” She paused, and under her usual fire Allura could see a spark of genuine fear. “Is it true, Allie? Is it him?”

     Allura sighed. She’d hoped, foolishly, that she wouldn't have to have this conversation. She’d seen the devastation for herself, of course, but telling Kima would make the situation real in a way didn't know that she could bear. “Yes, it’s true. It seems Thordak has managed to escape his bindings on the elemental plane.”

     There was a moment of silence as a number of expressions flitted across Kima’s face: fear, anger, shock, disbelief. She strode across the room and sank onto Allura’s bed with a thump, dropping her head into her hands. Then, softly:

      “Fuck.”

     Allura chuckled, but there was no mirth in it. “Indeed.”

     Kima looked up, her eyes blazing. “How? When?”

     Allura pushed back her chair and stood up, crossing to sit next to her friend. “We’re still not entirely sure. However he escaped, he came through the entrance to the plane of fire a few days’ journey from here. He destroyed the tribe of Ashari guarding the portal.”

     Kima passed a weary hand over her face. “The Ashari. Keyleth, of course. No wonder she looked so worn.”

     “Keyleth is strong,” Allura protested.

     “Of course she is,” Kima said, a hint of brusqueness returning to her tone, “but strength may fail in times like these.”

     Despite herself, Allura smiled. “Encouraging words from a warrior.”

     A pause, then Kima chuckled, the tension fading from her posture. “Aye, a warrior who’s had her ass kicked up between her ears enough to times to know that strength isn't everything.”

     Allura snorted. Undignified, but Kima always seemed to bring out that side of her. “Tell that to Grog.” She nudged Kima with her shoulder. “I think he quite fancies you, you know.”

     Kima groaned. “Don't remind me. I never know how to turn men down gracefully.”

     “Just saying ‘I’m sure you're lovely, but I’m only interested in women’ doesn't do the trick?”

     “You would think, and yet…”

     They exchanged a wry glance. Allura chuckled. “Do you remember that time in Westruun-”

     “-with the guard at the-”

     “-and he kept trying to-”

     “-oh, he was incorrigible , I must have turned him down a half dozen-”

     “-until finally Ghenn got sick of it-”

     “-broke his nose with one punch!”

     Both women burst into peals of laughter, the reminiscence allowing them to forget, for a moment, the darkness of the present. But only for a moment.

     Kima’s laughter faded, and Allura watched as the shadow returned to her face. “Ghenn… Sirrus, Dohla… They died for nothing.”

     “No.” Allura took Kima’s hand in hers, holding tight. “They died to save us, all of us.”

     “But now that he’s returned-”

     “Then we will defeat him again, for good this time. We will not let our friends’ sacrifices be in vain, do you understand me, Kima?” Allura squeezed her friend’s hand, felt Kima return the gesture. “We will fight this monster, and we will not let him win.”

     Kima huffed. “Always the optimist, you are.”

     Allura rolled her eyes. “I know, I know. I should be more realistic. The situation is quite grim.”

     Kima shook her head. “Don’t you dare. You’re always ready to see the best in things, in people. It’s one of the things I love about you.”

     The words were out before she could stop them. Allura tensed, and pulled her hand away. Kima mentally kicked herself. “I’m sorry, Allie. I shouldn’t…”

     “No, it’s alright.” Allura folded her hands in her lap, not meeting Kima’s gaze. “I had wondered, if… after all this time, you might have… moved on.”

     Kima forced a chuckle. “From you? Not likely. Have you seen yourself lately?”

     That got a laugh from Allura, if a small one. “I’ve just traveled hundreds of miles after digging through the ruins of what used to be a library for the past three days. I’m sweaty and covered in dirt.”

     Kima reached out, slowly, and tucked a strand of blonde hair behind Allura’s ear. In the stillness of the room, she could hear her old friend’s breath catch at the contact. “Doesn’t matter. Still beautiful.”

     The words hung in the air for a long moment. Finally, Allura turned to face her. “Do you remember what you said to me, the night Uriel offered us seats on the Council?”

     Kima nodded. “I said I’d go mad locked up with politician and schemers. That I needed the open road and a sword at my hip to keep me going.”

     Allura smiled, soft and sad. “I’d thought my heart couldn’t break anymore than it already had by then, but…” She looked down, swallowing hard. Her next words were barely a whisper. “I wanted you to stay so badly.”

     Kima took her friend’s hand again. It trembled in her grasp. “I would have stayed. If you’d asked me.”

     Allura’s eyes glistened. “I know. That’s why I didn’t.” She bit her lip. “We were happy, weren’t we? Before?” Kima nodded, unable to find words, and watched as Allura’s tears began to fall. “We were happy, traveling together, but then… Ghenn, Sirrus, Dohla… Now Uriel, the entire city… Gods above, Kima, when did it all go so wrong?” Her voice cracked on the final word, and it seemed to Kima as though all the grief, the frustration and fear she’d been holding in had finally broken through whatever walls she’d thrown up around them. That was Allura, always trying to be strong for others, never thinking of herself.

     Kima let go of her hand and reached out, cupping her friend’s cheek so she could meet her gaze. “We’ll make it right, Allie. I swear to you.” She brushed away a tear with her thumb, and mustered up a smile as best she could. “I’m here now, remember? What can’t we face when we’re together, right?”  Allura looked at her, and her eyes hardened. Kima had a moment to realize, she knew that look, that was the look Allie always got when she was about to do something stupid, before she ducked her head and pressed her lips to Kima’s.

     The kiss swept through Kima, and she forgot the dragons, forgot the chaos, forgot everything except this feeling: Allura’s mouth against hers, her fingers twining in Allura’s soft blonde hair, the taste of salty tears on her tongue, the warmth flooding her body that she hadn’t felt for many long years of wandering alone. After what felt like an eternity, Allura pulled away, just far enough to rest her forehead against Kima’s.

     “Don’t leave,” she said. “Please.” She lifted a shaking hand to rest on the back of Kima’s neck, holding her to her. “I couldn’t bear it if you left again.”

     Kima placed two fingers under Allura’s chin, lifting her up into another kiss. This one was softer, sweeter. A promise. “I won’t,” she said.