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The Unusual Pair

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He’s never trusted her, and she’s never understood what he was good for, outside of the obvious. 

They share space and spend time in mutual company, but if you were to ask either of them, they would find it difficult to recall any words they have exchanged.

He would admit that he has trouble recalling the details of who-said-what-to-who of many conversations, except the ones he knows are really, you know, serious. She just has no reason to think that she ever had anything to say to him outside of talking to the group as a whole. Not a bad thing, not a good thing, just how it is.

-

Cassandra knows that many horrible things have happened this day, even if there is victory in the sealing away of Vecna. She cannot recall everything that happened to her yet, but the flashes of memory are bad enough. 

A burst of sound and of light in her quarters and the Briarwoods are back again, real. She is sure because their leers and vicious grins are worse than anything her mind has yet conjured in her nightmares. 

Then just impressions - heavy, dark armor and a helm, then a flash of pain, then darkness, a burst of light, a brief sensation of another dark place, another flash of magical energy, and being back in Whitestone with Gilmore and a gnome woman.

-

He knew, in some way, once Arkhan removed the helmet and they saw that it was Gilmore standing there. He got a feeling he knew who the two smaller bodies on the ground would be. As they removed the other helms, he couldn’t bring himself to look, doesn’t want to see his suspicion made real.

Scanlan’s whispered shriek, “Is that my little girl!?!” Sent a shiver down his spine, and he watches as the rest of his friends came undone.

It was all horrible, and it felt like it took forever. Scanlan continued to repeat himself, approaching his daughter’s body, and Vax, Keyleth and Pike moved to surround them.

Vex and Percy were worse, if that’s even possible. She was shaking, looking down at the arrow she’s put in Cassandra, and he can’t see her face. Didn’t need to, though. Her shoulders pulled in, her bow clattered to the ground, and the arm that held it reaching toward her husband. 

But Percy is gone. Physically he was there, but his face was a mask. Not a clever one like he puts on when he’s bullshitting, or the cold one, when he was hearing that voice in his head back in Whitestone. It went slack, nothing going on in that head of his is making it to his face. He hadn’t moved since Cassandra was revealed, and no part of him, eyes, or hands, are registering that Vex needs him.

Seeing his family like this made him scared. Being this scared made him angry. He’s there to dish out damage to their foes and to soak it up in return. That’s okay, he’s made for it. It fuels him; it’s what he can do to keep the rest of them safe.

He can’t protect them from the kind of thing that just happened, and it made him feel useless. But Pike will fix it, she always does, and then someone is going to pay for making him feel this way.

Chapter Text

It doesn’t take her long, especially once Percival and his friends return to Whitestone, to put together many of the pieces that she doesn’t yet have. The members of Vox Machina look relieved but absolutely drained, and the reason is obvious. Vax’ildan is not with them. 

She doesn’t ask questions; she knows the how those left behind look when loved ones are gone and never, ever, coming back. She’s seen it in the mirror since she was fifteen.

She’s not melodramatic. No one who knows her even a little would describe her as such. Not that those who know her is a large number, and since she was captured by the Briarwoods, a little is as much as she feels comfortable with anyone getting to know her. 

She’s been through so much for a short life, and had to take on so much so quickly. She knows this because any time there is a new disaster, or a break from any disaster, someone-  Percy, or Keyleth, or Vex’ahlia, or Keeper Yennen, pulls her aside to tell her so. As if she had possibly been unaware of the events of her barely 20 years in the world.

She just needs to know for sure that her surmise is right. That she died, and that they brought her back. She has to know the boundaries. The location and extent of the damage, so that it can be walled off and locked away.

They won’t want to tell her, for her sake, and theirs. It would be cruel to ask Vex’ahlia now. Percival is with Vex, where he needs to be. He would just dissemble, or skirt the truth, anyway. Keyleth is too raw to speak with, and the gnomes are with the younger one. Scanlan’s daughter.

So she goes to Grog. She knows he still carries suspicions of her, and that’s fine. He won’t spare her feelings, and if he tries, well, he’s not deft enough with his tongue to fool her.

-

A couple of hours and a lot of drinks have begun to drown out this rawness that he feels all over, on his insides. They won, but Vax is gone, and it doesn’t feel like they won at all.

Everyone else is either torn up worse than him, which makes sense, or dealing with those who are, which he’s not as good at. So, he’s sitting with a drink in the castle courtyard when Cassandra approaches, and sits down nearby on another stone bench.

She’s wearing her own clothes, and has cleaned herself up. She’s tried to put herself together.

It’s not working.

She’s got the same look that Percy had when he was looking down on her body a few hours ago. She’s barely more than a kid. How small she looked in the darkness of Entropis, in that black armor, in a pool of her own blood. She looked like Percy, when he died in the fight with Ripley, too young to look so broken. Just . . . wrong. 

She looked like Pike.

When she died.

He shivers, and not because he’s cold. He’s never cold.

She lets him look at her for a moment, and then she makes a statement, “I’m sorry about Vaxil’dan.”

“Yeah.”

“I need to know about something.”

He swings his head toward the doorway to the castle interior. “Okay. I think everyone’s mostly busy. Maybe Pike . . ”

“No, I think you can tell me.”

He shrugs. “. . . Alright.”

“I died in the tower today, didn’t I?”

Shit.

“Yeah. I guess you did. . . But only for like a minute?’ He flattens the palm of his free hand and makes a small raising motion. “Pike brought you right back.”

Cassandra sits there, looking toward him, although not really looking at him, he doesn’t think. She  nods.

He continues, looking for something to say. “You know, I feel bad that happened, to you and Kaylie.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“You got hurt because of us. Because they wanted to use you to hurt us. To hurt Percy and Vex.”

It looks like she shudders a little when he mentions Vex. Does she know? That Vex killed her? Even if it was an accident or whatever the fuck you call that fucked-up situation, is she going to blame Vex?

Vex is certainly going to blame herself. That’s not right.

“Cassandra.”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry about what happened to you.”

“You already said that, Grog. It’s not your fault.” She has that look now that he’s used to getting, when they slow down because they think he’s really simple.

He’s gonna need more ale, so he finishes this cup in a large gulp, and then tries to find the words he wants to use. “Yeah, but it is. Y’see,  . . when we were in the tower, and we saw you all, all in the armor. . .  We thought you were guards. . .”

The metal tankard in his hand crushes inward. “And I did it, and, I’m sorry.”

“Did what?”

“Hurt you.” He makes sure to look her in the face. “Killed you.”

“Oh.”

-

She is familiar with wounds. The puckered mark, barely there, where her collarbone meets her neck, she knows what it is. It matches the four scars on her chest. That Vex’ahlia could barely look at her had told her even more.

She was never going to blame her for it, or even mention it again.

-

He stands now. He can’t be here and answer any more questions, look her in the eye. He turns to leave.  “Well, I didn’t know it was you. And I feel real bad about it. And I’m sorry about it, and I thought that you should know. And that’s it”.

He walks away.

He barely hears the voice behind him. It sounds so small. “It’s okay, Grog.”

Chapter Text

It’s a few days to figure out what, exactly, happened after he left her in the castle courtyard. The gnomes eventually figure it out. Pike, consults with her deity, and a haggard Scanlan is granted a vision by a powerful spell.

Vox Machina, now down two members, take a few days before embarking to rescue him. This new tragedy and mayhem spare her from reliving any other tragedies and mayhem.

Their physical wounds heal with rest and magic, but they are more brittle than she’s seen them previously. When the dragons first attacked, they were resolute. They were grimly determined when they learned the truth of the ziggurat and the truth of the Briarwood’s master. They now seem less sure, and though obviously deeply bound to one another, less so than when last they left.

Resolved. Determined. Grim. Sure of purpose. Deeply bound to loved ones. Such a hole left by Vax'ildan.

-

They set out to recover his soul, and she remains in Whitestone. Gilmore stays until they depart, but he too is mourning Vax'ildan. He makes a proper, yet obvious, excuse that he is needed in Elon, and takes his leave. So does Shorthalt's daughter.

-

Things are quieter in Whitestone, and her days are busy with the mundane, official, business of governing a rebuilding city.

Nights are a different thing altogether.

Sleep has not come easy to her for years. When it does, it often is accompanied by nightmares. Sometimes they are worse than not sleeping at all.

It is not an accident that she starts spending her nights in the same room where Grog lies in repose. It is definitely no accident that aside from some paperwork, and some of her favorite books, she also has her sword.

-

His deck has been taken away, and his friends are mad at him. Vex had threatened to shave his beard, but he doesn’t think she was serious.

He’s a bit confused when he awakes, and his body feels heavy. He tells Pike. She says to take it easy for a little bit, as he hasn’t moved in a couple weeks.

“Perhaps we should let your babysitter see you awake, Grog” Vex says, more like the playful Vex, normal Vex.

“Babysitter?” He asks. He's learned the term, but never had one in the herd. He was raiding almost as soon as he could walk.

“Apparently my sister spent quite a bit of time in here with you while we were off getting you back” Percy looks him over. “And it would seem she had the staff do a good job looking after you as well. I don’t know that I’ve seen you and your possessions this clean in -“.

“Ever.” Keyleth finishes. She looks tired, but better than when he last saw her, which he guesses has been a while, although it doesn't feel like it to him.

-

She returns to the chamber, now that he’s properly awake, bringing along several serving men with food and drink for all of them. Mostly drink, but no one is objecting. She hands Grog a large bottle of ale and takes a glass of sweet sparkling wine for herself.

Scanlan, ever the shit-stirrer, continues to tease Grog about his “noble young lady protector.” After the fourth or fifth heavy-handed comment - that Casandra had given Grog daily sponge-baths, that he was a much better companion while in a vegetative state, or that Cassandra had been sizing up a plaque to mount Grog’s head on the wall had he not woken up just then - she feels compelled to say something.

“Singularly, or in a group, you people invite disaster constantly.” She shoos Scanlan from the high-backed armchair she has had positioned few feet to the side of Grog’s fainting couch and takes a seat. “It seemed like someone should be around in case Whitestone was stormed by vengeful kobolds or some such terrible thing.”

“You were protecting me?”

She answers slowly, as if she is choosing her words with care. “I’m not sure I would put it that way. I was keeping an eye out. It may have been very disturbing for you to come back to yourself suddenly, without the rest of your friends around.”

He has to consider for a few moments, to get the image in his head. He then nods approvingly and gestures to her with his ale. “That’s real sweet of you Cass. Thank you.”

“And, in case you came back without a soul, as some sort of abomination, I had my rapier.” She smiles, and her pointer finger lightly taps the hilt of the sword that leans against the arm of her chair.

“Hah!” He barks out. “You were going to stab me if I came back evil?”

“Well, yes.”

“Percy! Vex! Pike!” He bellows from his couch. “Lil’ Cassandra thought she could stab me dead with her tiny toothpick if I came back all zombified!” His laughs rumbles down the halls. “How cute is that!”

Chapter Text

 

The beast’s leonine head roared in defiance of its circumstance.

It was heavily wounded. Large bloody gouges ran along its flank, and much of its formerly tawny color was now a mix of russet browns and reds. Its goat-like head hung to the side, unconscious or dead from the jagged wound in its skull. The dragon head furiously snapped at the air, its attacker just out of reach.

While the whole of the massive chimera, the largest by far that anyone in the region had ever seen, listed to its left, favoring the heavier damage to that side, it’s wings still beat powerfully against the ground, scattering dust and rock around it. Its front paws, with claws like dagger blades, tore at the ground in rage as it regarded the creature that had lured it out of its den and into battle.

The chimera’s opponent was heavily bloodied as well. Red mess, some his own, some the beast’s, colored his bare arms and chest. He was covered in bite and claw marks from up-close exchanges with the monster; dragon-tooth marks across his left arm where it had latched on, rows of parallel cuts evidence of claws dragging across the muscles of his stomach, barely missing reaching deep enough to hit vital organs. There was a deep wound to the back of his right thigh, where the goat head had gouged into his hamstring before he clouted it, and a feline teeth marks across his head when the lion head had tried to crush his skull in its mouth. He had wiped a forearm across his brow to try to keep some of the blood from his eyes - he thinks that maybe a lion tooth may have broken off somewhere in his forehead.

Grog Strongjaw was having an absolute fucking blast.

He had missed being in a honest-to-goodness brawl with something monstrous for a good long time now, and it got his blood pumping. Maybe a little too much of it was pumping out of his body and onto the dirt, but his body sang with the thrill of battle.

The chimera surprised him with its strength, its ferocity. It leapt forward, beating its wings to propel itself into the air quicker and higher than would be expected, and then again the wings pulsed to drive its bulk downwards into him. They crashed together, and Grog found his back pounded into the shale cliff face which held the monster’s den.

The struggled for positon. The beast leaned on him with all of it’s massive weight, paws digging into his chest for purchase and walking their bloody way up his torso until one was on each of his shoulders, claws dug deep in the bulk of his muscle, and continuing to try to pin him to the wall.

The lion and dragon heads lunged forward on their respective necks toward his face, and he dropped his axe to grab each one in each hand, his massive stone knuckles pushing back against bestial fury.

“Wanna get involved anytime soon, de Rolo?” he bellowed.

As he did, a figure in flowing dark dress and cloak darted into his vision from the left, where the goat head remained slumped and unaware. A dark tri-corner hat covered their hair, and their left arm was held close in to their side, favoring the rib area where the flailing chimera’s tail had swept them aside earlier in the battle.

Depsite their own injury, the roaring, screaming, and gouts of  goliath and beast blood occurring just inches from their head, the cloaked figure darted below the chaos and delivered a precise thrust with silvered rapier. The strike slid past the chimera’s front leg, the blade entered the creature’s chest between to ribs and drove deep.

Grog could see, hear and feel the beast hitch as the blade struck true, and shudder as the wielder turned the blade as they withdrew it, gouging the mortal wound wide, and rendering the chimera dead almost immediately.

 

-

 

“So, do you feel better now?”

Cassandra didn’t answer right away. She crouched uncomfortably down by her pack, withdrew a healing potion from within, and opened it. She took a large swig, emptying the bottle of chalky liquid, then rummaged around until she found a larger bottle of the same stuff and held it out for him to take.

“Somewhat,” she said “It was quite a tussle, and watching you get the ever-loving hell torn out of you until I saved you is . . .  quite agreeable,” She smiled as he started to protest and gestured at him to hold on with the empty potion bottle in her hand. “But maybe next time you want me to get out of Whitestone to have some fun, we focus more on drinking and fine dining?”

He finished his own potion, putting the empty bottle in the bag of holding hanging off his hip, and considered a moment as some of his more grievous wounds began to knit from the magic of the draught.

“I dnno. I don’t much go in for fancy foods. Sounds kinda  . . .  prissy.” He made a self-satisfied noise at having used his favorite descriptor of her, then moved his head back and forth in a considering motion, “Although some drinking sounds pretty good after a fight like this.”

“Then I’ll do the fine dining and you can handle most of the drinking. How about that?”

His face lights up at that prospect, and he looks somewhat child-like, Cassandra thinks, if one ran across a child that was ten feet tall, fully bearded and grinning through a mask of monster blood. “Sounds like a plan, that does!” he exclaims, “We make a pretty great team, Cass!”

She smiled back. “We do.” She motioned for him to bend down toward her, and wrenched a lion tooth out from where it had been lodged in his temple. She holds it out to him, and he takes it with his best imitation of a curtsy. She laughs and he laughs.

Then, the smiling girl was replaced by the task-oriented noble. “Now then, let’s carve up this little shit for parts, then drink one of those bottles of fine wine I know you have in that bag of yours while we walk back to Vasselheim . Sound good?”

“Sounds real good, buddy!”