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the lone and level sands

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Try as she might, Allura can’t quite remember when she realized her own mortality, when she realized exactly what that word meant, old. It’s a rather maudlin thought to have, but she seems to have grown mawkish in her age and can’t decide if it bothers her that that she has trouble pinning down the moment when the end of life went from being some vague threat to a truth.

Most days she thinks it’s a blessing, but sometimes she isn’t so sure.

Kima knew, of course. Before they met, back when they were prickly and so sure of themselves in the way of children, Kima knew all about illness and age and loss. Kima didn’t talk about it back then––she still doesn’t, really––but Allura knows. It’s something about her eyes, the way they go hollow, as if they can see past the borders of this world onto something beyond.

Allura isn’t sure when her own eyes took on that hollowness. She doesn’t mind it too much. Everyone figures it out sooner or later.

She sees it happen to Vox Machina and can't bring herself to be anything besides mildly upset. She never imagined they'd avoid that particular truth, given the dangers they've faced. She'd hoped their uncanny luck might spare them, though.

Kima brings it up. She doesn’t often drift past the solidity of the here-and-now, but when she does she’s more willing to poke and prod at things like this, the blunt truths. Allura talks her way around everything and always has, from her own wants and needs to the complicated political dealings of Tal’dorei; she has always considered her tongue mightier than her proverbial sword. Not so with Kima. The woman has been impatient since the day met––since birth, Kima likes to say; she came into the world ready to kick ass and take names and has no time for waiting around––and the grinding passage of time has worn away none of her edge.

Allura likes to think she will go to her grave plain-spoken and blunt, with grey hair and wrinkles and liver spots and all the unpleasantries of age. (It’s not so much that Allura likes to think of Kima old and crotchety, it’s just that Allura likes to think they’ll both be there to see it.)

“You know,” Kima begins in the small hours of the morning over the tea Allura has made more out of habit than anything else. These are the hours of nightmares and fears and old injuries and neither of them sleep well these days. They haven’t for a long while. “I don’t ever remember being that young.”

Allura stirs her tea in careful, concise counter-clockwise circles, spoon clinking against the glazed clay of her cup.

“I mean,” Kima continues, “we must have been, sure. But I don’t remember it, really. D’you?”

“No,” says Allura. “Not particularly.”

“Think we were ever that undignified?”

“I think some of us still are.”

Kima sticks out her tongue, and for a moment the humor holds, a bubble of quiet, teasing joy that the outside world cannot touch.

But the outside world cares little for their moments of joy, and Kima’s face settles again, and Allura sets her tea down on the table with a sigh.

Kima groans. “I feel old.”

“And maudlin, it seems,” Allura adds.

“Yeah, that too. Bahamut, Allie. Where has the time gone?”

“We’ve done well enough.”

“Yeah, but–– Well. You know,” says Kima, arms stretching above her head, and Allura smiles.

“I know.”

Allura sips her tea while Kima tips her head back in her chair, staring up at the slats of their roof, hair a wild halo around her head.

“Always thought we were gonna take on the world,” she says finally. Allura hums.

“I thought we did.”

Kima snorts. “Yeah, well. You would.”

“Ever the idealist. Yes, I know.”

“Oh, don’t say it like that. It’s what I love about you.”

“Only that?”

“Well,” Kima considers. “I can think of a few other things.”

Allura laughs in spite of herself and beckons Kima forwards. She comes willingly, settling across Allura’s lap with quiet laughter. Like this they are almost eye-to-eye, Kima a heavy weight pinning her down, holding her here in the present moment so her mind will not wander.

Funny how, in spite of everything, they always seem to end up back here. Allura isn’t sure she’d call herself religious, but the miracle of their continued peace brings her closer than anything else to something she could call faith.

Kima’s callused hand finds her cheek. “Still with me, Allie?”

"We were so foolish,” she says quietly, and Kima’s mouth twists into a crooked smile.

“Yeah, we were. We made it, though.”

Allie turns into Kima’s hand, presses a soft kiss to her open palm.

“We did,” she agrees. “Thank Bahamut.”

“Allie––”

“It’s alright,” she says, shaking away the cobwebs of old memories, friends gone and sacrifices made and victories had. “It’s over.”

And that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it. The beast is dead, finally. It has been fifteen years, and countless deaths, and damage irreparable, but he’s gone.

Allura almost feels guilty she wasn’t there. No, that’s not quite right. Allura is relieved she did not have to be there, and is guilty in her relief.

But then, that’s just one more old wound to add to those she has already collected. Really it’s not so big, in the grand scheme of things. None of it is.

When she was young, that obscurity frightened her. Now it’s just refreshing. She isn’t sure when the vague notion of age and death settled in a place between fear and relief, and if she ought to worry about that particular train of thought. Later, perhaps, she decides. Right now there are more important things to focus on.

The halfling in her lap, for instance.

Kima rolls her eyes. “And you called me maudlin,” she says, and Allura shakes her head at that and pulls the woman closer.

“I suppose we’re both just getting old,” she says.

“Maybe you are.”

“Kima––”

“I’m going to age like fine wine.”

“You wouldn’t know fine wine if you saw it.”

“I don’t have to. You’re a snob enough for the both of us.”

“And here I thought you loved me.”

“Oh, I do.”

And Allura has to kiss her then, has to hold her close and curl her arm around her back so she can kiss her long and a little desperate, because the world had not ended but she can’t quite remember that in the dark of night, and a part of her still thinks that perhaps this will be the last touch, the last kiss, the last moment. She’s not alone in that; Kima holds her just as tight, drowning-desperate, and they are a little messy and a little rough, pressed together until they cannot breathe and must part, foreheads together so that their breath mingles.

“I never thought I’d be so happy to grow old,” Allura admits quietly. Kima laughs and presses a lingering kiss to the corner of her mouth.

“Eternal youth really isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.”

“Leave the saving of the world to someone else for a change.”

“Exactly.”

Allura sighs. “We help where we can.”

“That we do,” says Kima. “We do a pretty good job of it too. And I still get to fight shit.”

“You do it wonderfully.”

“I know,” says Kima with a grin, her fingers weaving through Allura’s hair, one more point where she holds her down, keeps her grounded.

“You know,” says Allura. And she does. And she will for a long, long time.