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nothing to fear, but

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One day, Allura thinks, I’m going to wake up, and the whole world will be burning.

Allura wakes up, and her world burns.

Sometimes, it’s so easy to fall in love.

Allura has done it. So many times, in so many ways, Allura has fallen in love – with the way someone smiles, or the kind backlight of their eyes. It’s an active search, staring at people and picking them apart, bone by bone. She’s gotten good at it. There is so much to love about the world.

Kima doesn’t. Kima is hard edges and brittle, roughened skin. Her teeth are cut on glass. Sometimes, Allura reaches out and she can’t quite reach Kima without cutting her fingers.

“They’re going to die,” Kima says, because Vox Machina is many things, and one of them is doomed. Allura wants to reach out and brush the hair from Kima’s eyes, but she restrains herself.

“They might not.”

“They will,” Kima says. She looks tired. There are scars on her body that weren’t there fifteen years ago, a hardness to her jaw that won’t ever go away. Allura wonders what happened down there, in the Underdark, but she can’t quite gather up the courage to ask. And here, now, is the last place she wants to bring up the swelled bruising of Kima’s past. They need to be strong.

Allura shakes her head, and reminds herself to breathe. “They are different than us,” she says. She doesn’t say, they are better, but a part of her thinks it is so. “We failed. They might yet succeed.”

Here’s the thing: Allura has fallen a little bit in love with Vox Machina. She cherishes their trust, though she cannot return it. Not for this.

Kima’s smile is everything Allura has never wanted to see. Not on her. Not on Kima. Please, no. “I’m not afraid of dying,” she says. “But I think that they are.”

I’m afraid of dying, Allura thinks.

“I love you,” Kima murmurs into the skin of Allura’s collarbone, into the braids of her hair, into the tight line of her lips. Allura hitches her breath and hugs her tighter, so much tighter, because they are both fundamentally different people and they are going to die.

Allura wonders, sometimes, how things turned out as they have. When had she gotten so used to cutting her losses? She remembers, now, thinking that Kima was an inevitable loss. One more sacrifice on the road of life. Allura has a lot of bodies lain out in her wake, and Kima will be one more.

It’s easy to see why. Kima is a bad investment. Her smile is fire and she’s so, so small. Let’s go dragon hunting, she says, like it’s easy, like it’s just another adventure. I’m not afraid of dying.

“Don’t go,” Allura absolutely does not say. She would sooner cut out her own heart. “Please, don’t go. Stay with me.”

Once upon a time, Allura thinks, in the cold night before the dawn, when the rest of the world is silently still. Kima is curled up next to her, shivering. Once upon a time, the world was brave and happy, and there was peace –

(There was fire.

For however long Allura lives, there will always be fire licking away at the marrow of her bones. It scorches her blood thick and leaves her breathless, voiceless, useless. Allura is so afraid of being useless.

Kima is shouting, but Kima is always shouting. Allura struggles to open her eyes. There’s a high-pitched noise that beats to the tune of her heartbeat: da-dum, da-dum, da-dum –)

Allura strokes a soft, shaky finger down the side of Kima’s face. She traces invisible, long-healed scars, pulls gently at her hair. Allura is a good liar. Better than Vox Machina gives her credit for, at the very least. Gilmore sees it, but Gilmore is as good as dead, along with the rest of them. Walking corpses, talking corpses. Allura hasn’t had anything but ash in her lungs for weeks, now.

“I love you,” Allura wants to say, so badly, so very badly. It sticks to the back of her throat, pulling tight over her skin like a noose. The words won’t come, not even here, with only the still air to hear them.

Kima curls up a little tighter against Allura’s side, a little smaller. When she’s awake, it’s so easy to forget how small she is. It terrifies Allura, the way Kima can grow and shrink to fit her own awareness. One day, someone else is going to find out about this, she thinks, And I’m not going to be there to protect you.

Which is ridiculous. Kima has no need of Allura’s protection.

Here are some conversations Allura has never had:

“I don’t think we can win this.”

“I don’t know if I’m enough.”

“I can’t do this.”

“I miss you. God, I miss you all. So much.”

“I need you to stay with me.”

“I need you to come back alive.”

“I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.”

Vox Machina has, in fact, become larger than life.

Allura remembers them before – all of this. Before the dragons, before the Underdark. They remind her of Kima, all of them, growing to fit into their armour. Allura can only step back and watch, because what else can she do? They are a different kind of strong, to Allura’s kind. Less comfortable.

Inexplicably, she misses them in their grim smiles and tired eyes. There is nothing but terror around the city, these days; the stones stink of it. Vox Machina stinks of it, rank and rotting. Allura wants to badly to reach out and reassure them, but she can’t, because at night she closes her eyes and dreams. In them, she burns, and the rest of the world burns with her.

Kima goes.

Of course she goes.

The night before, she sits Allura down in their shared bedchamber.

“Don’t say it,” Allura says, shaking. Allura has spent so much of her life shaking.

Kima stares up at her, fingers threading into Allura’s. She doesn’t say a word.

“I know you have to go,” Allura says. “Don’t worry, I’m well aware.”

“If I don’t come back,” Kima says, and Allura cuts her off with a kiss.

(“We have to have this conversation,” Kima says, later that night.

“No we don’t,” Allura says. “Because you’re coming back.”

“Allie,” Kima says.

“You’re coming back,” Allura says, as firm as she is able. “You have to come back. I won’t forgive you if you don’t.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Kima says. “I’m not afraid of –”

“You’re coming back,” Allura says, pulling Kima into her arms.

Kima pulls back a little and stares at her, hair silhouetted in silver starlight. It is late. It is dark.

“Alright,” Kima says, from an eternity away. “Alright, Allie. I’m coming back. And you’d better take care of this place while I’m gone, okay? And yourself.”

Allura doesn’t say anything, just clutches her tighter, and tries to believe that they will all make it out of this alive).