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Mostly Temporary

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To be fair, most things in his life were and always had been, of temporary nature.

The Consortium gig? Temporary, paid well, he was young and impressionable, tried to do good but ruined the ecosystem of an entire island, had asura assassins come after him, pretty much everyone hated him afterwards: not worth it.

Imprisonment? Temporary, miserable, rotten fruit target practice for the juvenile and the bored and he had to put up with both Magnus and Ellen. His stay in Lion's Arch was relatively short because of one crazed sylvari and the subsequent languishing in Vigil Keep wasn't much better: still had enough time to think over his life choices.

Anise's personal doormat? Temporary, from boring to aggravating to would've preferred imprisonment instead of pet names and plant puns and dealing with Krytan court and the fine art of ass-kissery practiced by nobles, but he recognized that Countess Anise was an extremely smart, cunning and ruthless woman whom he reluctantly respects. Generally was forced to do good deeds like a good person which was good for redemption, but also had to act in the shady manner of a thief which was further beating the dead horse that was his public image, and he was still hated and untrusted by everyone (and for a good reason): depressing.

Mordremoth? Temporary, thank the Tree, having an Elder Dragon privy to all his thoughts was the absolute worst because he was forced to think over life choices and had his past rubbed to his face by the jungle dragon in constant stream from deceptively gentle to maniacally violent enticement and he would've almost, almost preferred staying with Anise in the drollness of Krytan court or running mind-numbingly boring errands for Trahearne. Speaking of, he had to witness the death of a Firstborn, a stick in the ass blowhard scholar he might've been. At least while at it he made important, powerful and not entirely unwanted acquaintances and got to dish out personal vengeance: could've been worse.

Actual agent of the Shining Blade? Temporary, really cool, forgot to mention like actual real agent and not just one in association to Anise. He even got to be a field commander with an actual squad to boss around (did he mention it was very cool?), could revel at and act on his love of and talent for explosives and at times he even enjoyed himself (aside from that time there was a slight oversight and he got captured by the bad guy for a moment): unfortunately temporary.

Total freedom from indentured servitude? Well, permanent, for the time being, but freedom is a difficult term defined by ambiguity.

Drinking and gambling at the Great Sahil casino in Amnoon? Temporary, some days win big and other days lose pants off him (shouldn't drink and gamble, and that was before he figured out the high stakes roulette was rigged), so he had to take on mercenary gigs to regain pants. Was constantly badgered by Very Important People: should have seen where this was going.

Chasing a rogue God? Temporary, he does not believe in gods but whatever, had quite a bit of coin riding on the Commander emerging victorious so had to see it through. Very dangerous, very exciting, made… friends, got to blow a lot of stuff up: a horrifying experience but would not change it for anything in the world.

Drinking and gambling at the Great Sahil casino in Amnoon, part two? Temporary, again, had to witness and survive a Brandstorm and didn't even have the time or the guts to bet on how quickly would it happen again since he found helping the locals much more rewarding and… guess he really did become a better person at some point. Huh. Personal redemption gained. Thankfully did not lose the scathing sarcasm.

Getting rid of a maniacal lich? Temporary. Had to go to Ass-end of Nowhere like Kourna, but got to blow up some explosives with a very satisfying yield and never had to get up close with Joko since undead are creepy even when they're not bent on conceited theatrics and long-winded monologues: on one hand could've gone without, on the other could've been worse.

Dealing with yet another Elder Dragon? Temporary for the time being, nicer than the first time around because Kralkatorrik doesn't have a hotline to his mind and worse in every other possible aspect: at least got to blow some big stuff up.

Spending time with Dragon's Watch? Temporary, but by his own choice: have regrets, now.

Spending time with one specific member of Dragon's Watch? Temporary.

Calling this same member Cuddles and watching him hate every second of it until he got used to it and probably started liking it underneath the charade of dislike? Temporary.

Camaraderie? Temporary.

Falling for him? Temporary temporary temporary.

His life? Most definitely temporary in light of recent events.

It took him and his team some time to get down from the mountains surrounding Thunderhead Keep. Sayida had already pulled her ship away after Kralkatorrik's retreat made it impossible for her to pick him up (at least she got to broadside an Elder Dragon just as she had hoped she would have the chance to). The downside of getting to collapse half a mountain on top of an enormous dragon was—wait, what was he saying? There were no downsides: he got to collapse half a mountain on top of an enormous dragon. They had lost contact with the Commander and rest of their people in the Keep. What they did know was that Kralkatorrik had retreated, so they were fearing the worst while taking half a day to find a way down the mountains and back to the Keep, traveling rest of the way in torchlight.

He thought that if adventure ever brought him back to Shiverpeaks it was too soon. Cold he didn't do well with. He didn't do well with the arid desert heat either, but Shiverpeaks proved that he preferred it to the ever-present chill.

And what waited for them was absolute apathy. Half of Dragon's Watch were nowhere to be found and from scattered Pact members and other people who were not out of their minds with grief or busy tending to the injured he finally got to piece together quite a grim chain of events: that Aurene had sacrificed her life to save the Commander. The attack hadn't been entirely pointless: Kralkatorrik was injured, but he had slithered back into the Mists to lick his wounds and the loss of Aurene was a hard blow to the morale.

He was let into the auditorium to see for himself. The only one there, aside from Aurene's horrifically twisted, Brand-frozen body, was Caithe, now branded without meaning anymore, the crystalline pale flowers Aurene had adorned her with wilting. She told him what had happened in a quiet, resigned voice he was not used to hearing from her. From any Firstborn, really. She was his sister, brilliant and clever, not this withering bloom all but given up, he wanted to shout.

He couldn't stay for long, it felt… it felt.

Aurene? Temporary.

He stalked out of the auditorium with one pervasive thought: find Rytlock. His time spent with Rytlock had been cut short ever since they had dealt with Joko and their chase for Kralkatorrik had them leave Elona for Shiverpeaks. Pact Marshal Logan Thackeray had become an extension to what he and Rytlock had managed just fine on their twosome before and it was slightly irritating (alright, very) because Logan was both extremely qualified strategic mind (not saying that Canach's simple "if bribing is out of question, blow it up" or Rytlock's crude "charge at it and hit it with any object at hand" go-to strategies were any worse, really) and extremely droll. What would you expect from someone who canoodled with Krytan court?

Logan was especially good at shooting down Canach's jokes and sarcastic remarks with a single barked order and had managed to pull Rytlock back to what he used to be before Canach's free-going disposition had made him less of a grumpy grouch. Logan was all work and no fun and it was almost irritating how quickly Rytlock had fallen into the same routine that was probably already familiar to him. The three of them came along only when they could arrange mock fighting tournaments to keep up morale and even then Rytlock and Logan kept yelling at each other over the pit while Canach tried to ignore them until he realized that he couldn't and made a game out of it.

He missed needling Rytlock. He missed being a thorn in Rytlock's side. He missed it the other way around. He missed betting on who got the most kills in battle, he missed the banter, the insulting (but delivered with friendship level of affection) nicknames. Rytlock's laugh low in his throat.

He missed Rytlock denying he ever purred after one night of keeping watch together early on in their chase for Balthazar through Elona. Rytlock had been napping by the fire curled up next to Canach, who actually kept watch, his hand idly brushing through the fur in Rytlock's neck. He had been unable to keep quiet when a satisfied, involuntary purr rumbled through Rytlock's chest. He had to promise, hand on heart (joke was on Rytlock: he doesn't have a heart, and he doesn't mean that in the 'heartless bastard' kind of way, but the very literal 'no heart, really' way) and everything, that he would not tell their friends or sell the information. He would not gamble it out for something stupid. No, not even gold. That this was the one thing he would keep between himself and Rytlock. Rytlock Brimstone did not purr.

He totally did, he so totally did, and it was adorable, as was the gentle headbutt he got after swearing hand on nonexistent heart that he would keep the secret and he had continued stroking and Rytlock had continued purring, like a gigantic housecat after a meal. And he had.

He had kept the secret.

Because it was much too precious to share with anyone. It was a thing that was his in a world where he didn't have many intangible things that were his. It made his chest feel strange and tight and warm, nonexistent heart notwithstanding.

Also, his fur was very soft.

He wondered if Logan knew.

 

***

 

You will give in sooner or later, Secondborn.

He fought a chill in the sweltering, humid heat of the jungle around them. The cacophonous noise of bugs and birds and other local fauna was very loud in the undergrowth and the thick canopy that barely let sunshine through, but still the dragon reached out straight to his mind, clear and terrible like a pervasive thought he couldn't shake; like a trauma torn open. And deeper into the heart of the jungle they made their way, the stronger the dragon's reach became, his words clearer, louder, cleverer: as if he, too, saw better the closer they got.

Those stronger than you have already joined us, it is only a matter of time.

A lie: Caithe was still with them, as was the Commander, and Laranthir, a shining example of the secondborn generation being no less capable of resisting the dragon than the firstborn, and he had a feeling that Trahearne was alive and kicking as well, if only because peeking into his head would cause the dragon to wither away from sheer boredom.

But Faolain of the Nightmare, she fell to us, she is one of ours.

Yes, well, you said it yourself: she was never one of us, or at least hadn't been, in a very long time. She was separated from the Dream and you killed her to make sure she'd be an obedient puppet, of course she couldn't resist.

Ceara…

Okay, point. The secondborn were not immune.

Come to me, Canach. Let go of the Dream, leave the trickster woman behind you and be free. Do you not yearn for freedom?

Yes, but there is freedom in the Dream.

There can be no freedom when you keep returning to the Dream like a babe to a teat.

Thank you for that mental image. And as if that didn't mean that I would just change the Dream to a damned Elder Dragon who is, for the record, very poor conversational partner: you should really brush up on small talk, big guy, might be easier to talk us to your side, just saying. Anyway, you're not the answer to a quest for freedom: I'd just end up dancing to your tune instead.

No, Canach, let go of the Dream, come to me, and forget these people you have surrounded yourself with. One wrong move and they'll have your head. I can take you away, make you stronger. These people, none of them trust you. They hate you. I see it.

You can't. That's a lie.

"Canach? He's not one of us. He just shows up when Countess Anise sics him on us."

Stop.

It is clear: you believe they're right, yet you falter. They have no reason to trust you, you're not part of their group; you're here only because someone told you to come. You are alone. (I am alone.) You have no one. I have no one. Do I trust myself to keep them safe from me?  What a noble but pointless sacrifice, they do not care. I am weak, alone, I am scared.

Stop. None of that is true.

It's true. They hate me. I see it. SEE IT. I CAN SHOW YOU. I CAN GUIDE YOU. BECOME MINE.

No, you can't, get out of my head—!

MINE, CANACH, MY CHILD, MINE. MINE. I SEE, I CAN—

"Hey."

He jumped when he felt a sudden heavy weight on his shoulder, pulling him back to reality from the dangerous labyrinthine web the dragon had begun to weave for him. He had been holding his head, having fallen behind from the rest of the party and now Rytlock Brimstone stood in front of him, large and all-protecting presence silencing the dragon inside his head with a single word and a grounding touch.

He breathed out.

And in.

Mordremoth wasn't there anymore.

That had, however, never happened before. The dragon had taunted him with his unknown Wyld Hunt, his past and how he would never be anything but a petty criminal. He was in terms with all of these things. He was, much to his chagrin, not in terms with not having actual friends or people to turn to. Poking at his innate loneliness was the most successful attempt the dragon had had this far, enough so to make the dragon's call indistinguishable from his own thoughts. That was horrifying.

"You okay?" Rytlock asked. Barely anyone trusted the sylvari now and Rytlock had had his misgivings about Canach, which was understandable since they had never met before, but his trust had been surprisingly quick to gain. He wondered if Rytlock would've been as quick to accept him as part of the group had he known about his mottled past.

Deep breaths.

"Yes," he managed.

"The dragon knocking at your noggin?" Rytlock patted his shoulder and pulled his hand back.

Canach nodded.

"Bad?"

Canach shook his head. Were he not so shaken by the jungle dragon's attempt, he would have told Rytlock, haughtily, that he was stronger than that. He was. It would take a lot more than that from the dragon to get him to listen. He now knew that his loneliness was something the dragon might try to use against him, and he wouldn't fall for it anymore. Maybe these people weren't his friends per se, but they had proven, time and time again, throughout their trek through the jungle how they all stood up for and supported each other. He had allies, at least, and it was as much as he could hope for. The Dream, as distant as it ever had been, was still a presence at the back of his mind and still stronger than the dragon's influence over it.

"Alright," Rytlock said with a nod and turned to return to the others who had stopped to wait for them.

"Um?" Canach made a questioning sound, took a step and reached out for Rytlock before he even realized he was doing it.

Rytlock stopped and turned to look at him over his shoulder.

"Thanks," he said quietly.

Rytlock nodded. "You let me know if it tries anything and I'll do whatever I can to keep you grounded to reality, alright?" he said. "I promise."

He let out a near soundless laugh: his throat was parched and his jaw ached from grinding his teeth together while he had been having that enlightening bullshit conversation with the dragon inside his head.

Rytlock just nodded in reply (and that could've been a smile, but it was pretty hard to tell with the wrap draped over his eyes) and turned to join the others.

He followed.

 

(by HiddenCarpet, original at Twitter / Pillowfort

 

***

 

He missed Rytlock. He missed Rytlock like a limb. He missed Rytlock so much that his heart (the non-literal heart, the one they talk about when they mean feelings), were he to admit that it wasn't just a shriveled thing incapable of feelings, hurt like it had done back when he was but a sapling and he learned that life was pain; that no one was going to save him and he would have to stand on his own in this world where he was nothing but a weird curiosity to others. It hurt like when he realized he had screwed up badly back at Southsun. When he heard Mordremoth for the first time and realized that he didn't have anyone to turn to for strength and he had to tough it out on his own.

And if he were the kind of sylvari to have a need for physical closeness, he could've done with a hug right now. Maybe he wouldn't mind if Rytlock, smelly and ornery and sharp-edged though he was, were to offer one. Just this once. Because they were all grieving. Because he was sure they shared something. Years of banter turned easy, finding the best company in the presence of one another, eyes fixed on his after the blindfold was gone and he just wanted to take a step and. He didn't know. Touch? It wasn't just nothing. It couldn't be. Could it?

Eventually he did find Rytlock. He also found Logan. Hugs had been already dealt out, probably, with Logan's head on Rytlock's shoulder. Sohothin was laid half on his lap, half on Rytlock's. He never let anyone touch the sword with the obvious exception of the Commander who had apparently given Balthazar a proper asskicking with it.

Rytlock Brimstone? In the capacity of shared something in Canach's life? Temporary.

His tagging along with these two throughout Thunderhead Keep felt stupid suddenly. He hadn't known the exact history between them aside from what everyone knew: how Logan had left his guild when they were about to face Kralkatorrik and resulted in the deaths of the asura Snaff and the Scion-back-then Glint. Rytlock had blamed Logan. Before that? They had been close like brothers.

About that he didn't find out before he had stealthily asked around and paid for a couple of silences.

The tenseness between them made sense after all that, although they had apparently once already made a tentative attempt to not be at each other's throats during the campaign against Zhaitan. He wouldn't know. At least he had avoided that Elder Dragon scuffle just with the equal merit of obscurity and not giving a shit.

And he had even enjoyed watching them yell at each other for a time, thinking it was fun seeing Rytlock get worked up over something that was not a thing Canach had said or done and Logan got such a bigger rise out of Rytlock than Canach had ever managed and it was glorious to see him sulk afterwards. Ha! He could laugh now that he understood! Ha ha!

Canach's heart (not the one he didn't have, but the one analogous to feelings)? Temporary.

Bygones.

He stalked away to be on his own and think over his life choices, again.

 

***

 

Rytlock sat down heavily next to him on the sand. He looked up to see him settle down properly, stretching his legs past waterline where waves would crash against his paws and make them sink into the wet sand. He stared out to the ocean and didn't look at all like himself. Gone was the perpetual scowl and the usual signs of annoyance: the look in his eyes was softened and his jaw relaxed, ears perked forward instead of moving to catch everything, wired shoulders now relaxed: Rytlock must have felt safe, now, watching and listening to the lazy waves break over the sand.

He looked like everything was quite alright in this moment in time and Canach couldn't stop watching.

If he already didn't have pointless feelings for Rytlock Brimstone, that would have done him in, helplessly and heedlessly. He loved the grumpy grouchy Rytlock who solved problems with punching them in the face, but this? This was fine too. It was better, because it was something he hadn't seen before: a new affable facet to what he already held dear.

Rytlock glanced at him, as if he had known Canach was staring, starry-eyed and overwhelmed, and then shook his head with a tiny sound like a laugh and carefully, mindful of the claws, took Canach's hand, next to his in the sand, in his.

Canach's breath hitched slightly and he was sure the sap inside him ran bright and hot like liquid fire for a moment, gathering as a radiating, indeterminate mass of something in his chest, and he was almost sure his green bioluminescent glow became brighter for the duration.

He looked away and was about to remark something appropriately clever to make light of the situation.

"Don't say anything," Rytlock interrupted him. "Don't, Canach."

He had quite a few things to say but he faced the ocean, the bright moonlight dancing on the waves and let his hand be held by Rytlock until after a while he dragged himself closer to lean against Rytlock's arm. He closed his eyes and imagined, dared to entertain himself with the thoughts of maybe staying right there.

Not on the beach with moonlit ocean before them and the celebrating Amnoon behind, the crackle of fireworks in a peaceful, joyous night.

At Rytlock's side.

 

***

 

He distanced himself from Dragon's Watch. He came to Dragonfall with the Pact, at the beck and call of Vigil's General Almorra Soulkeeper. Of course he would end up with a charr. He engineered explosives for the Pact's use, all Dragonsblood and Eternal Embers and regular ones, too, for clearing out debris.

Most of the time he just tried to ignore the asura kid who was apparently incapable of shutting up for even a second and equally incapable of understanding sarcasm or getting a joke and no, ugh, he doesn't know at what temperature embers need to be in order to stabilize enough to keep their structural integrity yet yield the most effective explosive effect, and he doesn't need to know because he just has a feeling of how and when they go boom. At that the asura kid pushed his glasses up his nose in a very belittling way as if he was looking at Canach down his nose despite being maybe three feet tall to Canach's not very towering five, and told him that he found it disappointing that Canach didn't accept criticism or peer reviews and if he could just run the calculations he could make the embers 5.36% more effective. Canach told him a resounding no.

After that he kept giving Canach and his embers judgmental and disappointed looks and Canach could only remember the absolutely miserable way the kid had carried himself in Sun's Refuge and...

Canach let the kid ran his calculations to give the explosives a minute increase in power. He thought he could learn something but turns out asura technobabble is not a language he can grasp. He knew how things went boom: turns out he didn't care at all why they did.

Other times he ran errands for General Soulkeeper and stayed in base command while others pushed deeper into the impossible fractured islands Kralkatorrik's violent outburst from the Mists had brought with him.

"I remember you were chattier," General Soulkeeper told him. She had been his jailer at Vigil's Keep while Scarlet played with her watchwork abominations in Lion's Arch. She had also been around when Canach was starting his irritating hunt for ex-minister Caudecus as a respectable member of the Shining Blade. "Also annoying."

"Oh, I definitely am," he told her and asked if all charr were ornery by nature or was it something in their upbringing. (Except Rox, she seemed like a ray of sunshine compared to some others, but wasn't she also warband-less? Maybe being a gladium made her enough of a not-traditional charr to be a sunshine.)

"If you're talking about Tribune Brimstone," Soulkeeper said and left it at that. Irritatingly.

"Sure, don't finish that thought." He dropped an explosive he had been tinkering with into a crate with the rest in complete reckless abandon.

"Upbringing," Soulkeeper said after a while. By the tense look on her face she had waited for the entire tent to go sky high.

"And with you it's just a personality trait?"

"Pretty much." She told him to be more careful with the explosives because losing base command would be on her head. She had lived through one of Kralkatorrik's attacks, back in Ascalon like a million years ago; she wasn't going to not live through another one just because an associate let an explosive go off far away from the front lines.

He knew they wouldn't go off just by gently knocking against each other.

He was pretty sure.

At some point Rytlock stalked back into base command and noticing Canach and General Soulkeeper, headed their way. He looked morose, even more so than usual, and immediately upon reaching the tent just grumbled unhappily.

"Tribune," Almorra acknowledged him.

"Cuddles," Canach did the same.

"I ain't going back there," Rytlock grumbled, having pushed with Logan and a handful of Pact troops into the strange Mists-twisted jungle of Melandru's domain earlier. "That gigantic tear made a lot of stuff pour out of the Mists, especially with the Domain of the Lost being right there. Gwen Thackeray is at our forward camp in the jungle."

"Goremonger?!" Almorra said, sounding scandalized, which was a disturbingly weird thing coming from a charr.

"Yeah," Rytlock said, his expression dark. "The one and only."

"Who's that?" Canach asked, not having a clue of what was going on.

Rytlock sighed. "Goremonger, Gwen Thackeray of the Ebon Vanguard. Logan's great-great-great-whatever-grandmother, who killed enough charr back in the day to earn an appropriate title," he explained, voice dripping with venom and looking sulky at having to explain something quite painful. "This woman killed hundreds of our people. And she's chilling at our camp with her Mist Wardens, talking to Logan. What am I supposed to do?"

"Sounds like a perfect time to work on a grudge held for a couple of hundred years?" Canach suggested. General Soulkeeper was still too shocked to say a word.

"Fuck that," Rytlock grumbled. "Logan is where I draw the line of making nice with humans." He turned to leave.

"That's why you should be hanging out with, you know, not humans," Canach hollered after him. Rytlock just waved his hand dismissively at him before disappearing into the crowd near the supply shipments.

General Soulkeeper was eyeing him suspiciously, so he went back to his bombs.

Oh yeah Aurene was alive.

Aurene? Apparently not temporary at all and for all intents and purposes immortal. (Praise Joko?)

Kind of like the Commander. But she just had absolutely dumb luck, Canach had decided since nothing in the world could explain how she had lived—despite actually dying once—through battles with an actual God and three Elder Dragons. Because of course she triumphed over Kralkatorrik as well. On one hand: he was ridiculously wealthy now, on the other: did it matter? He didn't know when he could make it back to Amnoon to collect. Maybe he'd make time and buy a beachfront house at Southsun—not one of those Consortium timeshare scams but an actual property—now that it was slowly returning to normal and the Karka were, uh, less of an issue. He could see that it returned to normal like it was supposed to: he had promised he'd do that. And then there he'd sit, on the beach, sipping colorful drinks, and let his thorns grow long and even pricklier so that no one could get close to him ever again.

 

***

 

Rytlock led him past the Sunspear guards and into the main area of the cavernous, brightly lit hall, its inhabitants scurrying about their business while the unlikely union of Sunspears and what was left of Joko's troops and his devout servants were arranging militia-related affairs on the sidelines.

Amongst raging Brandstorms and unstable rifts to the Mists caused by Kralkatorrik's fly-by, this existed: an ancient safe haven for all, protected deep inside the mountain. And it was even relatively cozy, he had to admit. He didn't think he'd be in need of warmth what with the heat of the desert outside, but the rock walls were cool and the braziers blessedly drove the chill away.

"I see the Commander's been busy," he commented.

"You know her," Rytlock grunted back. "Doesn't even take a breather." He stopped by the underground river running around the center of the hall, its waters clear and bright enough to see the rocky bottom, and for a second he stood up straight, stretching his limbs and becoming imposingly tall.

"I'm almost offended no one invited me," Canach chimed, watching the river run. 'Almost' because coming to Jahai to deal with what began as tiresome politics and turned into a Branded nightmare with out of control rifts and a new brand of dragon lieutenant would have been too bothersome to consider unless someone asked him to come, or offered him coin for it, and no one did, so he stayed cleaning up the mess Joko and the Inquest had left in Kourna.

"They didn't invite me either," Rytlock said, "until they needed Sohothin."

"Oh?"

"Yeah," Rytlock grumbled. "Had to wake up Balthazar's sword to plant some kinda tracker on Kralk so we could tell reliably when he's about to burst out of the Mists. Went well until shit hit the fan." He made a subtle gesture towards the asura kids fussing about their equipment and what looked like a nest built for Aurene. One was missing.

"Oh."

"Yeah. The Commander made it out just in time."

"Doesn't she always," he replied but it lacked the usual cheerfulness. He wouldn't know what to say. And they had come really close to losing Taimi already.

"Wonder how long we'll keep making it just by the skin of our teeth," Rytlock said, quieting down uncharacteristically, the low rumble of his voice genuinely contemplative and serious. "When is it my time to stay heroically behind to save the one who can save the day at the end?"

Canach chuckled without any genuine amusement. "You're the hero, you'll always be the one who can save the day at the end."

"Am I, though?" Rytlock turned to him. "Never managed to save anyone; anything, come to think of it. Snaff, Glint… Eir. Balthazar wouldn't have gone on a rampage through Elona if I hadn't…" He shook his head. "Canach. I can't save anyone."

The look on Rytlock's face felt like a thorn through his not-real heart. He couldn't look away, opened his mouth to say something but all words disappeared before he could even consider voicing them. Encouragements, comforting niceties, even playful insults and easy banter, all gone. Rytlock looked away after a while, an entire forever measured in a few moments.

Canach swallowed hard. "You said 'hey'," he said after a while, the words crawling dry out of his throat. "You asked 'you okay?'. Told me to let you know if it happened again."

Rytlock glanced at him.

"I don't know what would've happened if you hadn't, but…" he turned to face Rytlock. The confession was flaying his emotions raw and he wasn't used to it. It hurt. "You saved me."

Rytlock was silent, looking at him, unknowable.

He looked away. Cleared his throat. Stood up a tiny bit straighter. Fixed a piece of bark sticking awkwardly out of his armor. "Nothing like that compares, though, I know."

"It does," Rytlock said. "I didn't know."

"Yes, well," he said. "I tend to be a bit forgettable. Works out surprisingly well in my line of work."

Rytlock was quiet for a while.

"Just past Auric Basin," he said then. "I remember. I didn't think it was that serious: you seemed too strong for Mordremoth to wrap around its finger like that. At least you kept telling us you were."

"Well," Canach said and his face felt prickly and hot, his mouth dry. He had no idea how to defuse this strange, somehow embarrassing situation he felt was escalating into something truly unknowable. He had no idea Rytlock would have ever remembered. "Even I can't be perfect."

"You are," Rytlock said and for a second their eyes met, Canach forgot how to breathe under the scrutiny of sincerity in Rytlock's gaze, and then Rytlock cracked a grin, fangs showing. "But now I know you're also a lazy bastard who only does things when there's monetary gain involved."

"Monetary gain, mandatory and uninhibited use of explosives and minimal risk of definite demise," he returned, almost grateful that they could return to the banter so easily, the back-and-forth like falling to a familiar predestined pattern. Part of him missed that brief moment of recognition and remembrance, painful though it was, and how he didn't know what the look in Rytlock's eyes had been if not the exact same he had when he looked at Rytlock whenever he wasn't looking.

It made his heart (the non-literal one) feel full, overflowing; about to burst.

"I'm glad you're here," Rytlock said quietly, eyes on the river.

"Thanks for inviting me."

"Not what I meant."

The arrival of the Commander drew them both away right then but Canach didn't stop feeling strangely warm, nothing to do with the climate, until he had left Sun's Refuge and was well on his way back to Crystal Desert.

 

***

 

They were packing up, getting back on ships to leave the impossible islands and Kralkatorrik's corpse behind. Canach took one of the last of Sayida's corsair ships, making sure he wasn't forgetting anything considering everything that had been important in his life had left on an earlier ship and then spent the entire long flight back to Lion's Arch tinkering with leftover embers while a horrified asura in Priory garb watched across the hold.

He also hatched a plan. Amnoon had treated him well. The desert heat was annoying but if Dragon's Watch was just going to go after another dragon, going back to Elona meant that he'd be as far as possible from the remaining ones. He was going to get his coin from the casino, laugh in Zalambur's face and then… buy the entire city. Or at least a nice little lavish house somewhere peaceful. Real estate in Vabbi had to be booming now with Joko and Kralkatorrik out of the picture.

The Commander was waiting for him at Lion's Arch. For someone who had lived through impossible odds again and again it was exceedingly aggravating that the Commander was a petite, unremarkable sylvari, a Whispers Lightbringer and a thief by trade: not even secondborn, thirdborn; she was of seven years, a Valiant, and her Wyld Hunt seemed to have no end. Who knew, maybe it was "save Tyria".

Canach had never even understood what his was supposed to be. He had asked the Pale Mother once, way before he became a dumbass fledgling mercenary, and she had only smiled at him, bright and serene and full of love, and told him to look within him and reach for the Dream of Dreams and something something, he didn't remember anymore. He didn't figure it out, so he figured it didn't matter what he did since he had no greater purpose in life.

Hence, a dumbass fledgling mercenary who couldn't tell a good deal from a bad one.

Now he could, at least. Sometimes. Definitely when he had money going for it.

"You've been keeping to yourself lately, brother. Will our paths finally go different ways?" she asked, walking alongside him towards Fort Marriner. She glanced at the stash of bombs he still had.

"Can't wait to get rid of me, can you?"

She laughed. "Join the guild, please."

"No, I," he said, took a beat to think, "I think I'll go back to Elona. Help Amnoon sort out their stuff after everything."

"How gallant of you," she remarked and, seeing him sneer, poked him in the side. "Join us this night at least. A celebration before everyone goes their way. Drinks are on me."

"You say that as if you don't know that Jormag or some other ginormous dragon is going to fly over and whisk you off to new adventures."

She laughed again. "And you'll have coin running on my beating it again, isn't that right?"

"Certainly," he agreed. "I'll think about it."

She placed her hand on his arm briefly before shadowstepping away and disappearing completely. Thieves. He appreciated sneaky stealthy approaches and utilized them himself too as long as it ended up in a satisfying explosion.

 

***

 

"You've been avoiding me," Rytlock grumbled behind him before sitting heavily down on the sand next to him. He stretched his legs. It was all reminiscent of something Canach didn't want to remember right now.

"I've had things to do, tasks to attend to," he said and after a moment's consideration, offered Rytlock his bottle of… some wine, dry and bitter, just the way he liked it. Rytlock shook his head and Canach helped himself to the bottle instead. "Oh Cuddles, I can't always be around to entertain you."

Rytlock grumbled again. "You were just twiddling your thumbs in base command while Almorra kept distributing munitions," he said. "Don't really call that a 'task'."

"Could be I was taking a break from working very hard."

"Could be you're full of shit," Rytlock returned. "You haven't been yourself since Thunderhead."

Canach bristled. "Well, a beloved little dragon scion lost her life, no one was acting like themselves after Thunderhead."

"And just before that happened you called her just as bad as her grandfather," Rytlock said. "Cut the crap, Canach: yeah, we were all shaken by Aurene. Then we were shaken by Aurene again. You kept acting as if you were still in mourning."

He didn't reply.

Rytlock sighed. "Are you making me say it?"

"What?"

"Don't make me do it."

"I have no idea what you're on about."

"I," Rytlock began, then thought over whatever he was about to say, and sighed. "Beating an Elder Dragon wasn't nearly as enjoyable without you by our side."

"I was always there in spirit," he said in mock cheerfulness. To be brutally honest, he wouldn't have been at the frontlines even if things were different. He preferred his wounded, reality-twisting, ley-line-leeching, Branded-spewing Elder Dragons from a safe distance. He remained quiet, however a little bit warmed by the sentiment. A little bit. "I'm not even part of Dragon's Watch. Besides, you already had company."

There was a beat.

"Oh."

Another.

"Oh, shit." Rytlock scratched his forehead with a claw, looking like he was getting a headache. He thought for a long time, a complicated look on his face, ears pulled alarmingly back. "Listen: to charr, our warband is our family. Our parents whisk us off to a fahrah when we're just cubs. Some keep contact, some don't. Mine didn't. The familial bonds I then forged were between others in my fahrah, then my warband."

"Is this incredibly interesting lesson on charr culture going somewhere?" Canach inquired, twirling the bottle in his hand.

"Shut it, twig," Rytlock said with a scowl. "My warband is Destiny's Edge. Dragon's Watch. All these people who have fought all these battles beside me? They are my family."

"Alright, okay, we're a big happy family, got it."

"No, you don't," Rytlock said. "Logan and I were brothers and he betrayed that bond. Only now have those connections started to mend. Getting to call him brother again is a weight off my chest."

"Okay, I really get it, are you done?" He didn't want to listen how they had hugged it out and then probably made out somewhere: how Logan was a brother when Canach probably was… that prickly salad who conveniently solved problems by making them explode on occasion.

"No, you don't," Rytlock growled with his fangs bared, weight on every letter. "Logan is my brother. You never were."

"In the name of the Tree," Canach finally sighed, feeling exceedingly tired and disturbingly numb, but he wasn't sure if it was the liquor or the things Rytlock was saying. "Are you planning to shup up any time soon or are you just going to keep making me feel worse about meaning nothing to you?"

"Canach," Rytlock said, exhibiting gentle patience Canach hadn't known he was capable of. "Remember? At Sun's Refuge?"

"Sure. What about it?" How could he forget?

Rytlock persisted. "I was this close to asking you to stay with me. Be with me. I thought you wouldn't understand, or that it wouldn't mean the same thing to you as it meant to me. Charr don't… take permanent partners often. We're not like that. Sire a cub, move on. Yet I found—find myself thinking of…" He looked difficult, scratched his face again. "That you could be one."

"Wait, what?"

"A mate," Rytlock muttered. "If you could be my mate."

"No, wait, seriously, I." Canach fell silent, rifling through his vocabulary for any intelligent words and quickly resorted to a bad joke. "Sylvari are weird but I can't bear you a cub."

"I would fucking hope so," Rytlock said drily. He turned slightly to Canach and took the bottle from him, setting it aside to keep Canach from consuming the rest of it very rapidly in his confusion. "I don't sit by the ocean and share a silence with someone I'd call a brother. I don't know what your people think about stuff like that but to me it was… I don't know. Romantic. Intimate, maybe. At Sun's Refuge I would have gone and fought Kralkatorrik alone with my bare claws if it so much as looked your way. I told Almorra to keep you at base command after Thunderhead Keep: to keep you safe, because I wasn't sure if I could."

Record scratch. Freeze frame. This is secondborn sylvari, Canach, formerly of the Shining Blade, an associate of Dragon's Watch, an explosives specialist and a prickly, snarky bastard, completely flabbergasted.

This feeling? Temporary?

He was reeling.

"I… I'm not that fragile," he managed.

"I know. I'm sorry. Not the point."

"Wait, I can't deal with the rest yet."

"Do you need to make more jokes?"

He was suddenly hanging onto Rytlock's arm somewhat desperately, wanting to shake him. Such soft fur. "I'd love to but I'm afraid my brain can't. I'm glad you didn't go fight Kralkatorrik with your bare claws."

"Yeah," Rytlock agreed.

"So what you're saying is—"

"As eloquently as I possibly can, yeah," Rytlock grunted.

Canach made a tiny unintelligible sound. His mouth was parched. The wine had been too dry, too heady, and really: not that good. Everything else was good, though. Rytlock was stealing his words. His fur was really soft.

"Huh," Rytlock said. "If I had known that would shut you up I would've told you a lot earlier."

"Haha."

"But then you had to go all mopey and jealous because of Logan of all people."

"I didn't," Canach squeaked pathetically.

"Yeah, but you totally did, didn't you?" Rytlock replied, an easy grin making his long fangs show. "Don't worry, Logan is, or at least was, hopelessly in love with his Queen, which is one of the many reasons I often had to offer him a brotherly shoulder when he was drunk off his lightweight human ass."

"But… wait, what? The Krytan Queen's with Anise," Canach said bluntly, aside the point. His mind appreciated the brief detour. You saw things, serving as Countess Anise's doormat. He had assumed everyone who was anyone knew.

"Yeah, and doesn't that eat at him," Rytlock snorted. "Do you wanna keep talking about the secrets affairs of human aristocracy or did you have something to say to me?"

Canach considered his life from that moment he had first seen Rytlock Brimstone swooping from the Mists to their rescue to the moment he had realized he couldn't take his eyes off Rytlock Brimstone and to the moment he thought, weakly back then and weakly even now, that he wouldn't mind spending the rest of his life at the side of Rytlock Brimstone.

"Yes," he finally said.

Rytlock quirked an eyebrow.

Canach made a face. He wasn't made for voicing soft feelings. He was made for relentlessly making fun of them until they went away. These weren't going to go away so either he had to say what bubbled under surface or find some other way to get the message across before he actually lost Rytlock Brimstone, unlikely though it seemed right now.

He put his hand on Rytlock's neck and, coaxing the charr to lower his head, placed his forehead against his. He drew a deep, calming breath and stayed there, his breathing slowly falling into sync with Rytlock's. He felt Rytlock's claws trace carefully over his ear and along his jaw.

All was good.

 

***

 

Later that night Canach spreads his legs and tells Rytlock that no, he won't ever be ready for that, even if sylvari physiology is slightly malleable, but Rytlock flips him over, asks him if he wants it and he absolutely cannot resist letting Rytlock fuck him until he forgets his name and the raw whisper of 'Canach' next to his ear just sends a shiver through him and spreads warmth in its wake until he's heated and full and happy.

Later that night he lies on the furs in a room of a norn-run inn, exhausted and aching but thoroughly satisfied and Rytlock keeps nudging his cheek with his snout, wordlessly badgering him to say it, purring, but he really doesn't have any words after shouting and moaning most of them into the furs while Rytlock fucked coherence out of him. And from that he had been abstaining from all this time.

"Don't leave my side," Rytlock growls quietly. "Be mine," he says.

He kisses the tip of Rytlock's nose and curls up against him and Rytlock covers him with furs and himself.

All this? Probably temporary, but he doesn't care.