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a bruise is only your body trying to keep you intact

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Before awareness, before the pain, before he opens his eyes, Scanlan thinks: how can a snore sound so much like a groan?

And then the pain hits him, although pain isn't quite the right word. Instead, a raw soreness suffuses his body, as though every inch of him from skin to bone is bruised or scraped, even the inside bits, and an exhaustion so deep he can barely breathe past it. The only thing he can compare it to is the time he was almost dissolved and crushed in the stomach of a dragon, and, as it did then, it fucking sucks.

But there's also the snoring, which isn't familiar, and after a few minutes he manages to gather the strength to open his eyes. He sees above him the canopy of his bed in Whitestone, and another moment's thought tells him that the force holding him up isn't, in fact, granite pushing into every part of his tender skin, but a bed. The snoring drifts to him from his left, and after another push of exertion he turns his head to see Kaylie half-sprawled at his side, seated on a chair with her torso on the bed. Her hair sticks in every direction and he can see, because her face is turned towards him, that a small wet spot of drool is collecting below her mouth. Judging by the smell, the source of the snore isn't as much her as it is her approaching hangover, which will likely be epic.

She needs her rest, he decides, and closes his eyes again.

He doesn't quite make it back to sleep before a creak alerts him to the door opening, and when he blinks to clear his vision, he sees - of all people - Gilmore on the other side of Kaylie, shaking his head at her.

Then Gilmore notices Scanlan, and stands up a bit straighter. "You're awake!" he says loudly.

Kaylie starts, sitting bolt upright with a dagger in her hand from gods-know-where, eyes casting wildly around the room. "Whuzzat?" she says.

"Morning," Scanlan tries to say, and becomes suddenly aware of the dryness at the back of his throat, the aching of his tonsils, and the sheer amount of energy it takes to turn air into words, which he had somehow never noticed before.

"Oh, you're awake," Kaylie says, and the dagger disappears. Scanlan still doesn't manage to catch where it went, and after a second that confusion shifts into confusion at the incongruity of Kaylie being in Whitestone. And of him being in Whitestone. How'd he get to Whitestone?

"How are you feeling?" Gilmore asks, leaning on the back of Kaylie's chair.

"Bad," Scanlan manages, and Gilmore laughs.

"I bet. But it's good to see you up - well, up-ish. You just missed everyone else, I'm afraid - they all went to Emon to try to restore some kind of order, and I think the rest of Vox Machina had a list of errands they didn't want to trouble you with while you were recovering."

Scanlan takes a deep breath, gathers his strength, and begins to sit himself up. The sheets shift oddly around him, and his face itches, but it's nothing compared to the sheer crap the rest of him feels like. "Speaking of," he says, and tries not to wince at how his voice manages to sound simultaneously creaky and gravelly. "What happened?"

"Good news: Raishan's dead," Gilmore says, and Scanlan watches Kaylie frown in confusion - or maybe it's the hangover arriving. It's hard to tell. "The bad news," Gilmore continues, more grimly, "is that she managed to take you with her. They brought you back, obviously, but you're going to be a little rough for a while - hence why they wanted to let you sleep. I think they wanted to spare you the worst of it."

Now Kaylie glares at Scanlan.

"Ah," Scanlan says, and tries for a smile. "Hi?"

"You," Kaylie says, her voice poisonous, "owe me a talk. A long one, about promises."

Gilmore's gaze goes from Scanlan to Kaylie and back again, and he takes a step back from the bed, letting go of Kaylie's chair. "How about I get someone to bring you some food and some water - a lot of water," he adds, with another glance at Kaylie, "and give you two some time to catch up?"

"Thanks," Scanlan croaks. Presumably Gilmore knows Kaylie is his daughter. Someone has to have told him, right?

Gilmore's gone before Scanlan can say anything.

"So," Kaylie says, and leans back in her chair, propping her feet up - muddy boots and all - on Scanlan's bed. "I heard you died saving the realm."

He grits his teeth before his jaw protests. Whoever told her - whoever brought her here, to, what? Stare at his body? Rub her nose in the promise he broke to her? There'll be hell to pay, whoever it was.

"Apparently," he says, and then tries for a sentence longer than two words. "It's good to see you."

Kaylie snorts a laugh. "Yeah, well. Your half-elf friend was pretty insistent I come." Scanlan frowns, and Kaylie elaborates, "The one with the bow. She came and found me in Kymal, said I had to help bring you back."

Vex. Fucking Vex.

"Just so you know, you pissed yourself," Kaylie adds.

Of course he did.

He doesn't have to come up with anything to say about that, because the door opens and a servant enters holding a large covered platter and a jug of water.

"I was instructed to - " he begins.

"Just leave it," Kaylie says, pointing at the foot of the bed, where Scanlan's stature has left a considerable empty space.

The servant looks at her, then looks around the room, his eyes widening. He mutters, "Yes, miss," and sets the platter and jug down and leaves very, very quickly.

"So does dying make you hungry?" Kaylie says, taking her feet off the bed to haul the platter further up towards herself - and, incidentally, Scanlan. "Or is it breaking promises that does it?"

Scanlan swallows heavily, but with his throat so dry, it provides no comfort - only the dry, uncomfortable scrape of muscle on muscle. He leans forward and grabs the jug, sipping directly from it both for the moments it buys him and for the water itself. As he swallows, the itchiness on his skin reasserts itself, and he absently wipes one cheek with his hand as he puts the jug down.

Something crumbles off his cheek, and he goes still, squinting at it. Some kind of gunk covers his palm, dry but a little sticky -

He looks around the room more closely than he had before, and this time notices the whateverthefuck that covers the walls and, apparently, him. Kaylie's eyes gleam with vicious happiness as she watches him take it in.

"Quick question, Kaylie," he says, and although he still won't be trying for any high notes for a bit he at least sounds more like himself now, "did you do this, or did my friends? Because if they did it, my revenge will be both swift and brutal. But if it was you, I forgive you completely."

She breaks out into a half-cocked grin, tilting her head as she nabs a roll off the platter. "I can't take the credit for this work of genius. They left your hands tied, too, but Keeper Yennin kept untying them - he must've come in when I was sleeping." She takes a bite and reaches across to the jug, grabbing it too.

So they had time to prank him, but not to stick around for him to wake up. Scanlan tries not to think about that, distracting himself with a little bit of food - the platter has rolls, two bowls of clear but savory-smelling broth with vegetables in it, and, oddly, two bowls of pudding. He keeps his bites small and eats slowly, since even the muscles of his abdomen hurt.

"So…how are you?" he asks eventually. "You said you were in Kymal?"

"Oh, are we talking now?" Kaylie says through a mouthful of bread. She swallows, and says, "I thought we were eating, but if we're talking, then we're not talking about me."

The ache in the back of Scanlan's throat intensifies.

"You made me a promise," Kaylie says, and it comes out like an accusation. As well it should.

"I know," Scanlan says, his voice heavy. "I tried to keep it. I'll swear to you on anything that I tried. I know I'm not - not particularly experienced at keeping promises, and I'd be lying if I said I was okay with screwing it up. I know you have no reason to believe me, not when I'm throwing more promises after the one that I broke, but - I did try."

"You can't just go around making promises like that if you don't intend to - to stick around to keep 'em," Kaylie says, bolstering her stoic facade as Scanlan watches - squaring her shoulders, blinking her eyes back to a normal shininess, setting her jaw.

"I know," Scanlan says, and puts his bowl of soup down, his appetite gone. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah," Kaylie says, not meeting Scanlan's eyes. "Well, you're lucky your friends were so keen to get you back, or you'd really have hell to pay."

Scanlan opens his mouth and the questions nearly come pouring out - the sequence of events still doesn't quite come together in his mind - but he closes it instead, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. "Kaylie," he says slowly, "I want you to have - well, to have everything that you want. Including everything that you want from me. I'm aware that you have no reason to…to want me in your life, but if that is what you want, then - well, now that the dragons are dealt with, I…" It's a strange sensation, when words fail a bard - when the right words are the ones he desperately wants not to say. "I want you to get what you want," he repeats instead.

"Maybe I just want you not to die, which, honestly, shouldn't be that hard," Kaylie says, meeting his eyes with a hard gaze. "Plenty of people manage it for a lot longer than you have."

"What I do is…dangerous," Scanlan says, and he can feel the truth that he's been avoiding circling the conversation. "I shouldn't have promised in the first place, that was a mistake, but now - if that's what you want…" He takes a deep breath. "Maybe it's time for me to retire."

Kaylie stares at him. "For you to what?"

"I had a good run," Scanlan says, infusing the words with a joviality that he doesn't feel. "Dragons, vampires - I'm a Kingslayer, after all. Plenty of material to make a comeback on the touring circuit. Rejoin the old troupe - "

"Don't you dare," Kaylie says immediately, her shock at his words suddenly overridden by something even more powerful. "Dr. Dranzel already takes all the violin solos, and I'm not sharing the flute solos too, so don't - don't you dare."

"Gods I love you so much!" Scanlan says, the words slipping out before he can stop them. "Sorry, that just - came out. Go on."

But she just keeps staring at him. "Your friends just put a lot of effort into getting you back," she says.

Scanlan's heart gives a painful beat in his chest. "I know," he says. "But they - they'll be fine without me. There's nothing I can do for them that someone else can't do better. Hell, if they decide they need another bard, there are plenty of them out there, although obviously none of them are as good as me - or you," he adds hurriedly. "But if you want me alive, there's no one else who can do that for you."

Kaylie's eyes flick down to his chest, then back up, then to the door, moving like a cornered animal's. "What if I don't know what I want?" she says, half-defiant and half-despairing.

The knot in Scanlan's chest relaxes minutely, a reprieve. "Then we'll take the time and figure it out," he says.

Kaylie nods, then stands up. "Right! Well. I know at least one thing that I want, right now, and it's a tavern."

"But - " Scanlan says.

Kaylie cuts him off. "Don't look for me - I'll find you." She hesitates in the doorway, then gestures at her forehead, another curl to her lips. "By the way, you've got a little something on your face."

Then she's gone.

Scanlan finishes eating, letting the act take up as much time as possible, before he pulls himself out of bed to look at himself in a mirror. The nightgown must be Pike's, although it's ruined now by whatever the fuck they put on him - although it was obviously Vax, he couldn't be more obvious about his pranks if he tried. Across his forehead, he sees written, "NO, NEVER."

It gives him an odd pang of if only, given what he's just said, but he owes Kaylie whatever she wants, and if she wants him alive, well. That seems less and less possible with Vox Machina, and if it comes down to breaking his heart or risking breaking hers, there's no contest at all.

But they're still gone, hopefully for a little while, and Kaylie still wants time to think. There's still time.

When he opens the nightgown, he sees the violent red weal carving its way down his body, still tender and barely scabbed over.

 

Then he sleeps. A lot. He's pretty fucking tired. At one point, he carries on an entire conversation with Keeper Yennin, eats another meal, and then goes back to sleep without remembering a single detail of it. The next time he wakes up, there's a servant shaking him and a hot, steaming bath. He falls asleep in it, too, and the servant has to wake him up again to get him back to bed, but at least the damn shit's off his face this time.

 

The next morning, he's feeling enough of himself to come downstairs for breakfast, although by the time he makes it to one of the tables in the eating hall of the castle, he's completely winded. So much for his plan to find Jarret today - he'll be lucky if he makes it back upstairs to his quarters.

That's great motivation to take his time over breakfast, and he's on his fourth cup of coffee (which doesn't seem to be doing anything other than making him jittery, because of course) when a familiar diminutive figure comes into the dining area, sunlight glinting off her armor.

"Scanlan Shorthalt! Look at you, all breathing and shit!" Lady Kima walks towards him with a wide grin, her maul flung casually against one shoulder. "How's it feel to be back from the dead?"

"Great, if you don't mind feeling like crap," Scanlan says, and gestures to the chair next to him. "Pull up a chair. I think the guards are running a bet on how long I'll stay awake, but that's only because they caught me dry-heaving from exertion from coming down the stairs."

Kima gives him a sympathetic hum, resting her maul against the table and pulling herself into the seat next to his. "You'll get there eventually. Just give it time." She reaches out and pats him on the shoulder, and he feels healing energy roll through him, easing some of the soreness.

"You're a godsend," Scanlan says immediately, basking in the relief, as slight as it is.

"That's how being a paladin works," Kima agrees easily, reaching around Scanlan for the coffee pot. "Where's the rest of your group? Still gone?"

"Yeah - wait, I thought they were with you?"

Kima shakes her head, finishing pouring herself her coffee. "We went to Emon together, but then they went off to Vasselheim - something about some ashes?"

"Oh, Senokir's wife's ashes, right," Scanlan says. "I guess they're finally taking care of that."

Kima shrugs. "Sure, I guess. I wasn't paying that much attention. Seriously, though, how are you? You really, really look terrible."

Scanlan shrugs back. "That's basically how I feel, so…I guess there's that."

"Well, I'm glad you're okay. You had everyone pretty shaken there for a while."

That's the last thing he wants to think about. Maybe the second-to-last. "I bet I did." After another quiet second, he says, "Why are you back here, anyway, if you were in Emon?"

Kima rolls her eyes. "What with the giant pile of treasure under the city and the previous Master of Trade of Emon being a little bit executed even before the dragons showed up, Allie and I got sent back to do some recruiting. Salda insisted, and honestly, after everything, none of us had reason to disagree."

"What - wait, Gilmore?" Scanlan says, raising his eyebrows. "That's…actually an amazing idea."

"Nobody objected, that's for sure," Kima says. "Not after he risked his life to fight Thordak."

"Yeah, I guess not," Scanlan says, and goes quiet for a second. "Oh, hey, could you tell Allura something for me? Every time I see her, it never seems like the right time…"

Kima's mouth goes into a flat, unimpressed line. "I don't think she's interested, buddy, but nice try."

"I certainly wouldn't dream of intruding on whatever you two have…going on," Scanlan says, fluttering his fingers vaguely, "but that's not what I'm talking about."

Kima's mouth goes flatter and even less impressed, but Scanlan keeps going.

"We, ah - we buried Tiberius's body. After defeating Vorugal. I thought - I thought she might want to know that he got a proper burial, with a statue and everything."

"I'll…I'll let her know," Kima says with a sad sigh. "She'll appreciate it." Then she glances back at Scanlan, one of her fingers tapping against the side of her coffee cup. "Tiberius was the first adventuring companion you lost, wasn't he? Sometimes I forget how young you are all, with all the things you've done."

Scanlan snorts. "The rest of them, maybe. You and I are about the same age."

"You just have such a…youthful air, I guess," Kima says, although she half-smiles at him. "But then again, gnomes are pretty long-lived, aren't you?"

"Not at the rate I'm going," Scanlan says, and takes another gulp of his coffee. Kima lets the silence sit for a bit, until Scanlan breaks it. "Allura told us once that you and her and whatshisname, Goldeneye - "

"Brom Goldhand," Kima says immediately, her smile fading into exasperated resignation.

"Yeah, him - that you were all a party of adventurers like us."

"If you're going to ask what happened, the answer is Thordak," Kima says, shaking her head. "Ghenn and Sirus and Dohla all fell. Ghenn and Dola were our healers - there was nobody left to bring them back, and no bodies left even if we could find someone. He got 'em with his fire breath. Brom and I went on to other fights, and Allie decided to go into politics and join the Council - so also other fights."

Scanlan takes his in, and then says, "Did you - I mean, you kept fighting. Did you ever, I don't know…resent Allura for quitting?"

Kima bristles, one hand heading towards her maul. "Are you calling Allie a quitter? After she went after Raishan with you?"

"No, that's not - I'm not saying I think she's a quitter, I'm just saying - " Scanlan gestures vaguely around the room. "Other people might see her that way."

"If they do, they'll answer to me," Kima says firmly. "We went through too much shit for anyone to accuse her of that - and not just before Thordak, it's not like she's been sitting on her ass for the past fifteen years."

"But what if she had?" Scanlan presses. "What if she had retired and, say, joined a traveling troupe of musicians and been entirely out of any life-threatening adventuring shenanigans altogether? Hypothetically."

Kima stares at him long enough that he starts to wonder if he missed some of the junk on his face the day before. Then she looks back at her coffee cup and says, with unusual care, "Everyone in this line of business quits eventually. Or they die."

"Yeah," Scanlan says slowly, "I guess those are the two options, aren't they."

"I mean, obviously not in that order, necessarily," Kima adds, waving towards Scanlan, who pastes a reasonably-believable smile on his face in acknowledgement.

"Of course not," he murmurs.

"You're finally out of bed!" comes a booming voice behind them, and Kima and Scanlan both turn to see Gilmore and Allura coming into the room, both smiling, although Gilmore's grin is wider and his face more flushed than Allura's.

"Welcome back, Scanlan," Allura says, coming to stand just behind Kima and laying a hand on her shoulder. "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty terrible, but apparently that's expected," Scanlan says, and looks past her and Gilmore. "Are congratulations in order, then, Master of Trade Shaun Gilmore?"

Gilmore's eyebrows raise even as his teeth flash with his grin. "Word certainly travels fast! And yes, thank you."

"Very fast," Allura says primly, looking pointedly down at Kima.

Kima just shrugs. "You know you shouldn't tell me stuff if you don't want me to share it. And besides, he's a member of the Council, technically."

"True," Allura admits. "Well, if the news is out, then yes: Shaun has graciously agreed to join the Council."

"After a long vacation once all the immediate problems are dealt with," Gilmore adds quickly. "It's been a long few months. Speaking of which - we needed to get back to Emon, didn't we?"

"If you can get us there, that would be lovely," Allura says, her hand squeezing Kima's shoulder. "Scanlan, may we continue to use Greyskull Keep's teleportation circle? It's slightly less arduous."

Scanlan gestures in assent. "My teleportation circle is your teleportation circle. Help yourself."

He doesn't think that it might not be his for much longer. The Keep belongs to Vox Machina, after all.

Kima's chair scrapes as she stands up, pushing it back and stretching. "Oh, hey, how's, uh - I didn't catch her name, but I guess she's your daughter? The gnome girl who helped with the resurrection?"

"Kaylie," Scanlan says, "yes, she's, uh - enjoying Whitestone's hospitality."

Kima snorts. "She sure smelled like it at the temple."

"Hey! That's my daughter you're talking about."

Hauling up her maul and resting it against her shoulder, Kima holds out her free hand in appeasement. "I just mean - she definitely takes after her dad."

Scanlan can't keep his chest from puffing up with pride, despite the sharp pain that arcs across his new scar. "That's definitely true."

 

Vox Machina spends another night away, which makes sense: if they got tangled up in any of the things Vasselheim has to offer, or got distracted by the Slayer's Take, or if Vax got distracted doing his Raven Queen-y things again, it makes sense that they might decide to spend the night. Or they might've gotten into actual trouble and had to use some of their higher-level spells and recharge. Or they might just've gone out and gotten drunk, for all Scanlan knows, and he can't really blame them for leaving him out since he ends up sleeping for about twenty hours out of the day anyway.

He doesn't see Kaylie, and he doesn't go looking. This is only partly because he doesn't think he has the strength to make it out of the castle just yet.

His dreams, oddly enough, are of Glintshore: shards of glass piercing the soles of his boots and leaving a trail of blood in his wake, the way the dulled thudding of his pulse filled his ears after the explosion, the color of Percy's blood as it stained his clothes. The red, wet glint of it on the glass ground.

But he wakes up to the loud creak of a door and Grog's voice saying, "Nah, he's still asleep - hey, where'd the pudding go?"

Scanlan seriously considers playing dead a bit longer - possibly forever, because that was pudding? Those assholes - but he can't keep that up forever, particularly not when he's already been seen moving around the castle. So he says, not opening his eyes or rolling over from his position face-down in his pillow, "Hey, some of us are trying to get some rest, here."

A chorus of gasps from the room, then rapid footfalls coming towards him. He pulls himself up just in time for Grog's goliath hands to grab him, turn him, and pull him into a bruising hug.

Literally bruising. "Ow, ow, ow, be gentle - " Scanlan says.

"Nope," Grog says.

Scanlan can see the rest of Vox Machina just over Grog's shoulder, various degrees of smiles across their faces and, Scanlan notes with a slight flutter in his chest, held-back tears in Pike's eyes. Apart from a few healing-over singe marks and bruises, everyone looks…more or less okay. Except for Keyleth, who for some reason has puffy half-circles under her eyes and whose face looks a bit green against the red of her hair.

"All right, all right, that's enough, big guy," Vax says, coming forward to smack Grog lightly on the shoulder. "How are you feeling?"

Scanlan finally escapes Grog's grasp and his ribs remember what it's like to expand. "You know, people keep asking me that," he tells Vax, "and it seems a bit silly. Obviously I feel like I got clawed to death by a giant dragon and dragged back to life by the ankles. Over rough terrain."

"Keeper Yennin said you woke up yesterday?" Vex says, joining Vax closer to Scanlan, and the rest of the group follows her, crowding in.

"Do you need any healing?" Pike asks, offering a hand towards him.

Scanlan almost says yes, just so he can hold her hand, but he shakes his head. "I've been resting since yesterday," he says. "I don't think healing will do anything - it didn't for Percy, right?"

"It'll just take time," Percy confirms, although he's looking around at the walls. "We hoped if you slept a bit, you might skip the worst of it."

The pieces fall together in Scanlan's mind - Grog talking about pudding, Percy looking around, Vax's attention solely on him - and he rearranges his guess of what happened while he was out. And, well, revenge against Percy and Grog looks very different than revenge against Vax.

Percy and Grog like results. Well, best of luck to them. Scanlan's not going to give them any.

"Did you bury those ashes?" he asks instead. "Kima mentioned you'd gone to Vasselheim - "

"Yeah…we did…" Pike says, her mouth settling in a slanted line of displeasure.

"The Birthheart was really cool," Keyleth says, although her mouth opens as little as possible between words, and she smells - well, she smells like Kaylie. So that explains what the second night in Vasselheim was for. "We should go back - you'd like it."

"I fought Earthbreaker Groon again!" Grog says. "Pike backed me up."

Pike laughs joyously. "We got our asses handed to us."

"It was great!" Grog agrees.

"And we, uh, did a bit of catching up with Zahra and Kashaw," Vax adds, and quickly jerks his head towards Keyleth with a slight motion of his hand indicating the pouring of a bottle, as if Scanlan hadn't already figured it out.

"We thought we'd take care of a few errands that you'd be less interested in," Percy says, his gaze arrowing back on Scanlan. "And, uh, how were things here? Normal?"

Scanlan can tell that Percy's already twitching, but he won't give him the satisfaction of mentioning the pudding. "Basically," he says. "Oh - Gilmore's on the Council now. Master of Trade."

"Oh, really?" Vex says, her eyebrows raising. "Well, good for him!"

"Can't imagine a better fit, honestly," Vax agrees.

"Anything else?" Percy says, and nudges Pike gently with an elbow, which, because of their height difference, instead brushes across the top of her head.

"Right! Yes," Pike says, "how was…waking up? Normal?" Her eyes go wide and her head moves in a way that couldn't be more suspicious if she were spelling out "PUDDING" with her nose.

But Scanlan doesn't get a chance to answer. "Wait - " Vex says, looking around. "Where's Kaylie? She said she'd stay with you."

"Ah," Scanlan says. "She's, uh - around. She just…needed a little bit of time to herself. You know."

Vax grimaces with understanding. "I'm sure she'll come around."

Percy nudges again, but this time at Grog, who whips his head around to look at him. Percy jerks his head towards the walls with absolutely no subtlety, but Grog goes, "Oh!" and then gives a cough that sounds suspiciously like "Pudding!"

"What?" Scanlan says, as innocently as he can. "Oh, right, yes - the kitchens insisted that I sample Whitestone's pudding. I guess it's a local recipe? It was quite good, Percival, you should be proud."

Percy looks like he just sucked on a lemon. Scanlan revels in the satisfaction of a well-foiled prank.

"We should probably let you get back to your rest," Keyleth says, squinting at Scanlan. "Unless - are you feeling up to a trip?"

"Ank'Harel is on the list, but we're saving it for when you're feeling up to it," Vex adds. "We figure we can, you know. Make that casino regret it ever crossed you."

"Burn it to the ground," Grog clarifies.

"Only if you're up for it," Keyleth says.

"Casino?" Pike says, frowning.

"Oh, right, you weren't there for that," says Vex.

"I will point out it was only a few days after I came back that we fought Vorugal," Percy says with a nonchalant shrug, "so a friendly trip to another continent to hand over a hand and do a touch of arson doesn't seem too arduous…"

"Uh, well, since my big accomplishment yesterday was getting all the way down to the eating hall…" Scanlan says with a wince.

"Right! Let's give him some peace and quiet," Vax says, and begins to shoo everyone out.

Grog lingers, pointing at Scanlan. "Oi, you," he says. "Don't do that again, okay? The next time you think you're going to die, just yell out for me and I'll come take the blow instead."

"I…wish it were that simple," Scanlan says, and Grog's gaze hardens into a glare so he adds, "but I'll try."

"Good enough."

Grog has to step around Vex, who hesitates at the foot of Scanlan's bed, but he stops at the door, staring back at her. "You coming?" he asks.

"I'll catch up," Vex says, and Grog shrugs but closes the door behind him. "I just - wanted to see how you were," she continues, her hands twisting in front of her.

Scanlan holds out his hands in a helpless 'well, here you are' gesture. "I think as fine as I could be, under the circumstances."

"I just - " Vex says, and looks down at her hands. "You scared us."

"Well," Scanlan says slowly, "here I am…"

Vex nods, putting off meeting his eyes. "Do you remember anything? About the resurrection ritual?"

Scanlan frowns in thought, letting his gaze go distant. "Not the ritual itself," he says, "and the stuff I do remember is probably just - dreams, or made up, I guess. Misremembered. Because what I remember is Grog giving a heartfelt speech and then singing, and Pike reciting poetry, and then - a fiddle, I think? But it didn't sound like Dr. Dranzel, and he's the violinist I've heard the most…"

"Vax told me Kaylie played for you, as part of the ritual - I missed it, because I was in Kymal from getting Kaylie," Vex says, with a forced smile, "but yeah, the rest of it sounds fake."

"Right, yes, speaking of Kaylie - whose idea was it to get her?"

"Well, mine, but I think Percy was thinking along similar lines."

Scanlan stares at her. "It was your idea? What the hell were you thinking?"

Vex looks up at him, startled. "What do you mean what was I thinking?"

"You told my daughter I was dead before you even tried to resurrect me!"

"Okay, first of all, we did try - Pike did a Revivify on the battlefield and it failed, so we tried that, all right?" Vex bristles. "And second, I don't know what your problem is - she helped in the ritual. She helped bring you back!"

"You told her I was dead and you showed her my corpse!"

Vex rolls her eyes. "She was going to find out eventually, and at least this way - "

"No," Scanlan interrupts, "she wasn't going to find out, not if I came back, which obviously I did!"

Any trace of humor disappears from Vex's expression. "You were going to lie to your daughter about having died. Twice."

"I wasn't going to lie, I was just never going to tell her! I'm back - there's no need for her to know!"

Vex's voice goes as cold as her face. "Of course there is, and it's that you're her father. She deserves to be part of your life."

"Yes, she does! The alive part!"

Vex crosses her arms. "Well, you're back now, so what does it matter?"

"It matters because she's worried! And because she knows I died even though I promised her I wouldn't!"

"Oh come on, Scanlan, that's not a promise anyone can make to anyone, ever."

Scanlan flings his arms out. "Obviously I realize that now!"

"If you're trying to work on keeping promises, then maybe at the same time you can work on not lying."

The quiet sits for a moment as Scanlan struggles for words, frustrated. "It wasn't yours to tell her, okay? I'm - I'm trying to be everything she needs me to be, I really am, and it's not helping to get it thrown in my face when I fail."

Vex's eye twitches, just a little, such a small motion that Scanlan can't figure out what it means. "You dying isn't a failure."

"Yeah, it is. It really is. The one thing I promised her was that I wouldn't die, and then I did, twice, literally in a row." He crosses his legs on the bed and lets himself hunch over a bit, trading the twinge of compressing scar tissue over his ribcage for the itchy tightness when he stayed upright. "I get that you were trying to help me, and obviously I'm glad that the spell worked and everything, but…" He throws his hands out again.

After a second, Vex says, "Well now I'm really going to sound like an asshole, but - I didn't do it for you." A moment's hesitation. "I did it for her."

Scanlan blinks. "What? That makes no sense. You don't know her - have you even had a conversation that wasn't about accusing her of stealing our silverware?"

A smile moves over Vex's face for a fraction of a second. "Funny you should say - " Then she cuts herself off. "No, that's not the point, we'll talk about that later. The point is that you care about her and you love her and that's not a small thing. It's a big thing. And I know exactly what it feels like not to have that. She deserves to have a father who loves her and cares about her, and she deserves to have you in her life."

Scanlan processes this a bit. Then he says, "That's right. I almost forgot about your daddy issues."

Vex snorts, levelling a pointed look at Scanlan. "I'm sorry, but you know exactly when you lost your right to say 'daddy issues' unironically."

Scanlan opens his mouth to protest, and she raises an eyebrow at him and he shuts up because, yeah, fair point.

"I hate to say it," Vex continues, picking a loose thread off the quilt across Scanlan's bed, "but if I thought for a second that you being in her life would make Kaylie's life worse, I wouldn't have gone after her. I wouldn't do that to her - not to anyone. And I know that you make our lives better, and that if you were gone there would be…something missing."

She goes quiet again, and the silence is unbearable enough that Scanlan breaks it.

"I won't be offended if you say it's the dick jokes. I'm self-aware, I can handle it."

Instead of laughing, Vex just gets testy. "It's not the dick jokes, you dumbass, it's just you, all of you, whether you're being lewd or an asshole or slapping someone around with a big purple hand or…" She trails off again, and as she clears her throat, Scanlan notices that her eyes have gone just a little bit shiny. "Do you remember when Percy fell in the battle against Ripley?"

Blood on glass. The way it refracted, casting echoes of color from shard to shard to shard.

"It was mildly memorable, yes," Scanlan says.

"You held us together," Vex says. "I couldn't think, I was crying so hard I could barely see, and we were all just terrified and angry and breaking and you - you put Ripley in that sphere and brought us together to finish it. You created the Mansion and got us to bring him in there so that even if he didn't know it, he wouldn't be alone, and even if we didn't realize it's what we needed, we wouldn't be without him." Her voice begins to tremble, and the glossiness across her eyes is unmistakable now as her words speed up. "You kept us from falling apart, and then when it was you…things were bad and then they just kept getting worse and all I could think every time I looked over and saw my brother carrying you was that it would be just a little bit easier, just a bit more bearable, if you were just okay. Because as long as you were dead, there was a part of me, a part of each of us, missing, and the world was just a little bit more broken because you weren't in it. Because you're our family. Because you're a part of us now, and that part died with you and it came back with you. And if Kaylie's been feeling even the tiniest bit of all that, then I couldn't keep her away."

Scanlan stares at her with an ache in his chest that has nothing to do with his recent injuries. She still won't meet his eyes, having delivered the speech entirely to his quilt, but she drags a hand across her cheeks and takes a deep breath. When she speaks again, her voice has just enough cheer to sound obviously faked, but she looks back towards him with a too-wide smile.

"Well, you should probably get that rest," she says, too brightly. "I'll let you - "

"Vex - "

"I'm glad you're all right," she says, reaching out to tap his knee through the quilt.

He leans forward to stop her from going, but the ragged line of still-knitting tissue across his chest tugs the breath from him, a fissure of pain. Too late. Vex turns around. As she opens the door she lets out a surprised, "Oh! Grog, what are you doing - "

"I'm keeping watch - " Scanlan hears before the door closes behind Vex.

He doesn't rest after that, but he thinks very, very hard. It occurs to him, for the first time, that if he leaves Vox Machina, it may not be only his own heart that breaks.

 

But if he eats one more goddamned meal in his goddamned room, he'll have to start setting things on fire, so he drags himself back down to the eating hall, making sure to tiptoe around Grog's napping form across from his door, and only trembles a little bit as he pulls himself into a chair. He considers it to be improvement.

Other than Grog, the only other member of Vox Machina he finds is Keyleth, who comes to join him a few minutes after he sits down.

"I think we're trying to deal with all the stuff on our to-do list before the next emergency happens," Keyleth says, pouring herself a glass of water to the brim. "Vax asked Pike to give him some tips on, y'know, what a temple should look like - I think he wants to spruce up the Raven Queen's Temple here. I haven't seen Vex or Grog, but Cassandra stole Percy a little bit ago. I think they're doing some sibling bonding. Either that or some weird royalty stuff." She shrugs apathetically.

"And you?" Scanlan says, giving Keyleth an opportunity to chug the water. She looks like she needs it. "What've you been doing all morning?"

"Catching up with the Sun Tree, mostly."

"Oh, yeah? How's it doing?"

"Good, good!" Keyleth says with a sunny smile. "Spring's coming, and that'll be nice." She looks down at her plate and pokes at her food for a second, and then says, "Hey, Scanlan? I'm glad you're back."

"People keep saying that," Scanlan says. "That and asking me how I'm doing."

Keyleth contemplates this with wide, thoughtful eyes. "So how are you - "

"I'm tired, everything hurts, I'm sick of people asking me that, and my scar isn't even going to be a cool, sexy scar, it's going to be the kind of scar that makes people get all afraid of their own mortality," Scanlan says, and then realizes that he said it a bit louder than he intended when Keyleth stares at him.

Then she holds out a hand towards his chest, flat-palmed. "Do you want me to try to heal it? See if I can help?"

"I mean…I'm all rested," he says. "I don't think there's anything healing can do…"

"Can I try anyway?"

"…sure?" Scanlan says, and Keyleth doesn't hesitate: she just leans forward enough for her hand to come into contact with Scanlan. As a particularly tall half-elf, her palm spans over his entire sternum and her fingers reach all the way to his collarbone. He opens his mouth to make an inappropriate comment, but then the healing energy sweeps through him, warming and tingling and coalescing around his wound. His breath comes easier, an impediment gone that he hadn't even realized was there with all the other aches and pains.

"I know I'm not Pike," Keyleth apologizes nervously, "but did that help at all?"

"It did," Scanlan says honestly. "It helped a lot."

She bobs her head in a nod, then bites her lip. "I'm - I wanted to say I'm sorry," she says. "I was the reason we fought Raishan in Thordak's lair, and I can't help but feel responsible that we fought her the second time too. I'm glad she's gone, don't get me wrong, but…" She stops again, her mouth open as she tries to find the words. "If we hadn't been able to bring you back," she says slowly, "it wouldn't have been worth it. I don't want you to - to think that I'm taking this lightly just because everything worked out in the end." Her lips compress into something like a wince, but then she tugs the corners up into an attempt at a smile. "And I know you're sick of hearing it, but I am glad you're okay."

Scanlan sighs. "So am I," he says. "And, hey - you gave a pretty badass speech to her before all hell broke loose. That whole justice thing. It was pretty leader-y of you."

Keyleth's smile brightens into a genuine one. "That means a lot, coming from you," she says. "Hey - when we're done eating - I mean, I have kind of a weird request?"

"Uh-oh," Scanlan says, frowning. "Uh…what is it?"

Keyleth's shrug curls her in on herself a bit, raising her shoulders towards her ears and keeping them there. "I just, you know, we haven't heard you sing anything since…since you died. Could you maybe play me a song?"

It takes him aback because, honestly, other than spellcasting, the group generally doesn't ask him to play for them. Part of that is that he frequently just does it whether they like it or not - occasionally when they're trying to be stealthy, which is admittedly more of a problem - but part of it is that…well, sometimes Scanlan thinks they forget that his music isn't just for magic. Which is fair, in a way, because he does use it for magic a lot, but asking for a song just for a song's sake -

It's nice.

"Sure," he says, and begins rolling his shoulders to see how his scar catches. The answer is 'considerably less than it did five minutes ago.' "We can play Stump the Bard."

"Oh!" Keyleth says. "I think I saw where a few trees had been felled just outside the city if we need a - "

"Not that kind of stump," Scanlan tells her, but he can't hold back a grin. "You name songs and try to find ones that I don't know, and I play them to prove that - you know what, you'll pick it up as we get going. How about I go get my flute and we'll just go?"

"Can you make it up and back? You said that yesterday - "

"I'm feeling much better already," Scanlan says, and it even has the benefit of being true.

Sure enough, whether it was the healing or just the extra rest, he makes it all the way up to his room and back only breathing a little bit hard.

"All right," he says, settling himself into his chair again, "what've you got for me?"

Keyleth's delighted smile freezes on her face. "What?"

"The way this works," Scanlan explains, "is that you name a song that you think I don't know, and if I know it - I'm sorry," he corrects himself ostentatiously, "when I know it, I play it."

Keyleth nods slowly, thinking it over. "So what happens if I name a song that you don't know?"

"Then you will have successfully Stumped The Bard, but don't worry - " Scanlan tosses his hair theatrically. "That won't happen."

"Um," Keyleth says. "Well, here's the thing - most of the music I know, I kind of…know because of you? Other than Ashari songs, obviously, but those are pretty…niche…"

"Oh," Scanlan says, trying to think of any Ashari songs that he might know. Absolutely nothing comes to mind.

Keyleth shakes her head. "How about you just play something? Whatever you feel like."

Scanlan sighs. "I do have impeccable taste."

But he's not really feeling it, to be honest. The only song that comes to mind is the Wall of Wonder, and the only more cliché songs he could play would be Stairway to the Astral Plane or the Freedom of the Bird. And frankly, both of those are just too damn long.

"What's this, then?" Scanlan lets his flute leave his lips uplayed, turning to watch Pike and Vax enter the eating hall.

"You're looking a lot more chipper," Pike tells Scanlan as she and Vax come closer.

"How's the Temple coming?" Keyleth asks.

"Good, but time is of the essence," Vax says with an ironic twitch of an eyebrow. "If I wait too long, I'll go in one day and find that Vex has already set it up to her liking."

"It is technically on her land," Scanlan points out.

"Technically, it belongs to the Raven Queen, and I don't think the Raven Queen wants everything to smell like bear," Vax says.

Pike grins at him. "Is that the Raven Queen's judgment, or yours?"

"Since you're a cleric, I'm sure I don't need to remind you of the close personal ties between a deity and their chosen one," Vax says, lifting his nose into the air.

"So both," Keyleth says, resting her chin on her hand.

"Basically, yeah," Vax says, and then flicks his fingers towards Scanlan. "What about you two? We interrupting a concert?"

"Oooh, yeah!" Keyleth says. "Scanlan was about to play me something."

"Really?" Pike sits across the table from him, crossing her arms expectantly on it. Vax sits next to her, raising his eyebrows. "Let's hear it, then!"

Scanlan hesitates, then thinks of a song that he used to play with Dr. Dranzel. They'd heard it called by so many names that they had stopped referring to it at all, instead whistling the melody from it when they needed to talk about it rather than trying to think of which valiant, slain folk hero it was associated with in this part of Tal'Dorei. But it was the first song he'd heard them play when they'd come into his town for the first time. He hadn't known how to play the flute then - hadn't even owned one, had just been busking with his voice on street corners for coin - but Kent had been assigned to the crowd as the song played and he'd caught Scanlan humming a harmony during Dr. Dranzel's violin solo. That had been the beginning of that, and eventually Scanlan had gotten good enough with a borrowed flute to fill in that piece.

The song had always reminded him of home - not just the home he'd made for himself on the stage, walking among the crowd, pitching the tents with Dr. Dranzel, but the home he'd had with his mother. It was the song that had taken him away from her, had made him absent for the goblin attack that had claimed her life, but when he hummed the harmony that changed his life, she had been standing next to him, holding her hand. It reminded him of her.

So he plays that song. It isn't quite the same without the rapid, popping drum line or the sweet, reeling violin, but he closes his eyes as the music builds and lets his foot tap against the leg of his chair and it fills the whitestone eating chamber.

I could live with playing like this all the time again, he thinks, and then, I miss them already, and they're right here in front of me.

By the time he reaches the second-to-last repetition of the melody, a voice joins him, singing the harmony. He keeps playing - he's a fucking professional, after all - but he opens his eyes in surprise and sees Percy at the far entrance, mouth open. Cassandra stands next to him with a fond smile, watching him rather than Scanlan. There's affection in her eyes, though, so Scanlan can forgive Percy stealing his spotlight, at least this time.

They bring the song home together, and Keyleth, Pike, Vax, and - to Scanlan's surprise - Cassandra all break out into applause, which echoes through the room to sound like a bigger audience.

"I didn't know that one had made it all the way to Whitestone," Scanlan calls to Percy, who smirks.

"And here I hadn't known it made it out."

"What do you call it here?"

"The Blood of Mayaheine," Cassandra answers. "After a champion of Pelor. Have you heard it called others?"

Scanlan shakes his head. "None worth mentioning. I like that one. It fits."

Then Percy says, "Oh, look, they've put the food out already," and wanders towards the sideboard where the platters are laid out.

"You know," Pike says quietly, "it didn't really feel like you were back until now."

Which is funny: he hadn't really felt like he was gone until now.

 

By dinner, it becomes clear that whatever adrenaline had carried the rest of Vox Machina, sans Scanlan, through their trip to Vasselheim is wearing off. For most of them, anyway: Grog seems fine as ever, although he insists that Scanlan eat all his vegetables and watches pointedly until his plate is clear, and Vex is missing entirely.

"She said she had something to take care of," Vax says with a shrug when Percy asks. "I figure she's either trying to restock us on potions or get some of that loot from Thordak's lair appraised. Be nice to know what we've got before we go running off again."

Keyleth sighs heavily, looking exhausted at even the prospect of running. "How about we just…take a couple more days?" she says. "I mean, when's the last time we had downtime? Real downtime? When we're ready, we can go get Gilmore to teleport us to Marquet and deal with the whole hand thing, but maybe we can just…not? For now, anyway."

Guilt throbs in Scanlan's throat. He still hasn't said anything, but then, Kaylie still hasn't come to talk to him again yet, either.

By unspoken if complete consensus, they call it an early night. As much as Scanlan appreciates having a consistent roof over his head, he's seen quite a bit of his quarters in the castle for the past couple of days, but any kind of extensive search - like the one it would probably take to find Jarret - is still beyond him.

He sits instead at his desk, shifting through his papers. Most of them are scrawls of song ideas, half-plotted rhyme schemes and notes to himself. Some of them might be worth using - any festival that has enough children around will go for The Bear That Ate A Thousand Pies, definitely - but a lot of them are more brainstorming than anything else, written down in case he thinks of a way to make them work later.

Almost all of them are about Vox Machina, which is befitting a bard but also stings a bit. The ones that aren't about his friends are about Kaylie, including a ridiculously maudlin and self-indulgent dirge he'd written the night before they went to fight Thordak. Those are the ones he'll have to burn if he's going to spend any amount of time around her - she's too gifted a thief to miss them.

He'd left them here deliberately, in case he fell on the battlefield. (Which, in retrospect, is painfully ironic.) He'd meant the songs to be his goodbyes. He's never been a letter-writer, so Percy's - and apparently Vax's - strategy wasn't for him.

But maybe it is now, for a different kind of goodbye. In case it becomes necessary. He pulls out a blank piece of parchment and stares at it.

After about half an hour of staring, he hears a muffled conversation from outside his door - Pike and Grog, definitely, but not an emergency. Their voices are calm, teasing. It almost sounds like they're just hanging out in front of his room, but that's ridiculous.

It goes quiet after a little bit, and Scanlan keeps staring at the parchment.

Another forty-five minutes or so after that, another muffled voice: Vex this time, louder and firm as a slammed door. There's a brief exchange, and then:

"I need to talk to him," her voice says, and his door opens. She storms in, and shuts it behind her, then whips around to face Scanlan. The hardness in her expression could only come from stoicism, and based on how things have been going, Scanlan can't imagine that it's anything good.

"Vex, what - "

"Did you mean what you said to Kaylie?" Vex says, her voice too even to be anything but forced.

"I - uh - what?" Scanlan says, his brain blanking with panic.

"When you told her that you'd leave Vox Machina if she wanted you to," Vex says, enunciating with dangerous clarity and taking a step forward. "Did. You. Mean it?"

"I can explain," Scanlan says, but the only explanation that comes to mind is the one he doesn't think she'll like. Vex and Vax have always been so invested in the group as a family, and with her - with her completely reasonable conflicts with her father, he can't imagine this conversation will go well. At least a letter would've avoided all this messiness. "The explanation is…yes. She's my daughter, Vex. I've barely even gotten to start to know her, and adventuring is…it's dangerous."

Tears drip down Vex's cheeks now, but her face stays stony.

"I'm sorry," Scanlan adds. "But adventuring is dangerous, and - I died twice in twenty-four hours! If she says no, then - then I think that's that."

Vex surges forward and for a second Scanlan thinks she's going to hit him, but instead she pulls him into an awkward side hug that compresses his shoulder and can't possibly be any more comfortable for her. Lucky Keyleth healed him earlier, or he might be in a lot more pain.

"Kaylie's so lucky," Vex says suddenly. "She's so lucky to have you, and we're lucky to have had you for as long as we did, and if we have to share you now then - then I guess that's all right, because you're such a good dad, Scanlan, you really are. I'm so proud of you."

Scanlan doesn't move, stilled by shock, for a long moment. Then he does his best to hug back from this awkward angle.

"That's really condescending," he says, hoping she can't feel that his face, too, is becoming wet now. "You know I'm older than you, right?"

She laughs and squeezes him tighter, and he yelps. "Sorry, sorry," she says immediately, pulling back. He times wiping his face with when she wipes hers, to keep his plausible deniability.

Then it clicks. "Wait - is that where you've been all day? Tracking Kaylie down?"

Vex finishes mopping up her face with her sleeve. "She's a good kid, really. I thought she could use a - " a fleeting smile crosses her face - "a positive role model, unlike Dr. Dranzel."

"Oh, so you introduced her to Vax, then?" Scanlan says with perfect innocence, and she laughs again.

"Oh, fuck you!" She sniffs. "For what it's worth, I don't think she actually wants you to quit Vox Machina."

Scanlan's heart skips a beat. "Oh?" he says, keeping his voice neutral.

"Mmm," Vex says. "I told her some stories about you - some of the good ones, or at least I thought they were pretty good, but it turns out that some of them make you sound a bit...impulsive when taken out of context."

"Oh, gods," Scanlan groans, putting his face in his hands. "Which ones did you tell her?"

"Well, the time you turned us all into cows, obviously," Vex says, and her smile turns wicked. "The way you destroyed Duke Vedmire's house, or at least the way you told it to us."

Scanlan had told the group the story in perfectly accurate detail, and they had all assumed he was lying through his fucking teeth. Oh boy.

"That time you Dimension Door-ed inside of a dragon. When you summoned a goristro and, rather than running from it, decided to sing at it," Vex continues. "Oh, and of course, the time you picked a fight with a pit fiend and only avoided bringing the entire guard force of the City of Brass down on our asses by modifying his memory. You know, somehow as I told these stories, Kaylie got the impression that you might actually be safer with us."

"I hate you so much," Scanlan mumbles into his palms.

"She was also very impressed," Vex adds. "But she's still got a lot to drink about. Sorry, think about. Slip of the tongue."

"I hate you so much," Scanlan repeats.

"I know, darling," Vex says, and plants a kiss on top of his head. "That's what family's for, isn't it?"

 

"So you're to keep him safe," Kaylie continues, three days later as she, Scanlan, and the rest of Vox Machina stand in front of the Sun Tree. "If he says he doesn't need healing, don't you listen to him. If he falls, you get him back up. If he - "

"Okay, I am capable of taking care of myself," Scanlan says, and ignores Vex's audible snort from behind him. "No need to give them marching orders."

"And you," Kaylie says, turning on him. "You know what you're to do?"

Scanlan puts his hand over his heart. The scar's healed enough that he can barely feel it beneath his shirt. "I promise to try really, really hard not to die again," he says. "And seeing as all the dragons are gone and those have been the main problem, really, I think I stand a pretty decent shot."

"And we promise to do our best to mitigate his stupidity," Percy pipes up.

"Nobody asked you, de Rolo," Scanlan says, before turning his attention back to Kaylie. "And you'll be okay making your way back to Kymal from here? You realize we're basically in the middle of nowhere, don't you?"

Kaylie smiles a bit at that. "I've been traveling with the Troupe long enough that I can take care of myself," she says, "and long enough to want a bit of a break from them, to be honest. I'll be fine - I'm going to enjoy this. And you - " she reaches forward and picks a bit of lint off his shirt - "you go. Do great things, and then tell me all about them so I can write songs that make you sound like an idiot, with magnificent flute solos that you're not allowed to play."

Scanlan grins, and looks back to the rest of the group. "You hear that? She gets that pettiness from me!" he says proudly.

"Make sure you write about how moody Vax is," Vex says, flicking her brother's ear.

"Ow!" he yelps, and immediately wets his finger with his mouth and goes for a wet willy. Keyleth and Percy meet each other's eyes and sigh in unison, and Pike mutters up to Grog, "My money's on Vex," and Grog says back, "No bet - they never fight 'til there's a winner, just 'til they get tired."

"See?" Scanlan says, hooking a thumb at them. "I couldn't be safer!"

Kaylie rolls her eyes, but pulls him into a hug. He returns it, trying to match his strength to the full feeling in his chest; for the first time in a long, long time, he doesn't feel like he has to choose between the two halves of his heart, and he hadn't realized how much of a burden it was until it was gone.

"I love you," he says into her hair, "you're amazing, and I can't wait to see you again, but only when you decide that it's what you want."

"Good," Kaylie says into his shoulder.

"Actually," Grog says, and Scanlan pulls out of the hug to look at him. He has one hand in the Bag of Holding and looks almost bashful. "We had a thought about that."

"We all talked it over," Pike says, and gives Percy a pointed look.

Percy sighs. "Yes, we did. All of us."

"Since Whitestone isn't going anywhere, but Kaylie is," Vax says, "we thought maybe we could put the Gate Stone to a use more suited to it. At least for a little while."

Grog pulls out one of the Gate Stones and holds it out to Kaylie.

"You know how it works, obviously," Vex adds.

"But - " Scanlan says, looking at Percy. "Don't you - "

"Cassandra's already got it in the works to get a teleportation sigil installed here," Percy says. "And it's like Vax said - Whitestone isn't going anywhere."

"More importantly," Keyleth adds, "the Sun Tree isn't going anywhere. We'll always have a way to get here, and if we're coming here, we'll always know where we're going." She frowns. "Wait, that came out wrong."

"No, I think it's just a tautology," Percy tells her.

"The point is," Pike says loudly, "that we'll keep one of these, and if Kaylie keeps the other, we can get to each other if we ever need to."

Kaylie takes the stone. "Oh," she says, holding it close to her chest. "I - thank you, I s'pose."

"Just try not to lose it," Percy says. "Technically it's a loan. It has great sentimental value - "

"Percy," Vex says, though her smile.

"Right, yes, shutting up now," Percy says.

"I won't lose it," Kaylie says, and slips it in her pocket with one hand. Her other hand swipes at her face quickly, and then she looks back up at Scanlan with no trace of any tears. "Your friends aren't half-bad," she says.

Scanlan smiles. "I know. They - like me - are quite wonderful."

Kaylie rolls her eyes. "You certainly know how to make a parting easier." Then she flaps her hand at him. "Go on, then, wherever you're going. Until next time."

He reaches forward and takes her hand, squeezing it for a second. "Until next time," he says, and joins the rest of Vox Machina.

As Keyleth steps forward to do the encantation at the Sun Tree, Scanlan steps up next to Percy.

"You didn't have to do that," he says.

"Well," Percy says, keeping his gaze on Keyleth. "I know what it's like to find family you didn't think you had. It's good to see you treasuring it like it deserves. And, frankly, we've been spending enough time in Whitestone that Cassandra's rather sick of me, and I think Kaylie should have the opportunity to become equally sick of you."

"That's very thoughtful of you, Percival," Scanlan says.

"Isn't it just?" Percy says back.

The center of the Sun Tree begins to unfold inward, collapsing into a dark, sunless path leading to Greyskull Keep.

"Next stop - Emon!" Keyleth says, and steps to the side to let the rest of Vox Machina through. "Let's go set a casino on fire!"

Scanlan turns around in time to see Kaylie pause in her walk away from the Sun Tree, and he calls after her "We'll do it very, very safely! I promise!"

As Grog's hand gets him around the waist to haul him into the Sun Tree, he sees Kaylie's reply: a solitary finger raised in something like a salute. The world goes dark and cold as they travel, but, inevitably, they emerge back into dazzling sunlight.