They both collapse onto the sand, breathing heavily, his boisterous laughter and her happy giggle resounding loudly in the empty training pit. Keyleth has her head in Grog’s lap, and Grog feels her shifting as she leans up to kiss him. They are still laughing, both of their blood on the ground next to them.
Here’s the thing. If he thinks back to the beginning of their friendship, he remembers stupid jokes, and bar fights, and being excited about Minxie. They've always been bros.
They haven't always been this.
He doesn't know quite how it started, but if he looks back, he knows the steps that took them there.
He remembers when the Chroma Conclave took over. They were all running on little sleep and pure desperate hope, in those days, feeling like kids taking on giants, but he remembers the way Keyleth took it harder than anybody. He watched her grieve her people, and saw that rage he knew so well, blossom in her. And he remembers how when him, of all people, urged her to be patient, it was the one time she listened, because they've always understood each other on a fundamental level. Pike will always be his best buddy, but Keyleth is the one who gets him.
And then, when she did finally go off, something in him shifted as he watched her take on Raishan in a council room in Whitestone, one girl against a dragon. Voice of the Tempest indeed. Grog is not afraid of anything, but if you asked him in that moment, he'd have told you it's not the ancient dragon he'd have run away from. He told her at the time he would always stand with her, and never broke his promise since. Sometimes he thinks about the way Keyleth was then, and wonders how Raishan survived that long.
He remembers the kraken. Something changed during that fight, for all of them. They'd battled dragons and beholders and monsters of all kind but never before it had all started to feel something of a losing game. They’d been missing a puzzle piece since they lost Scanlan, like fighting with an arm cut off, and he remembers them all being swallowed in turns, how desperate they became when Vax died, how it felt like there was nothing any of them could do. Himself, hitting recklessly because what other options were there?
And then, suddenly, Keyleth.
He remembers how she grabbed the twins and disappeared, apologizing to the ones she left behind, as if she didn't just save two party members, as if she thought it was on her to save the rest of them, too. He knows how hard it was for her to go, leave them behind, because they are the same in this, too: he never would have gone until all of them were safe. He’d have told her if he could, then, I can handle it, you just take care of them. But she already knew.
He remembers a dream, too: a nightmare of stone and blood, a pool of acid and two identical towers. He thinks the others may have been there; it's a little fuzzy. What he does remember, clear as day, is the black dragon that matched his fight, electricity crackling in the air around them. The others never stood a chance.
That one may have been a dream, but they’ve always been like that, together: a force of nature, larger than life; anywhere’s too small for them. Yet they used to be even more, when all of them were there.
They still miss him.
There will always be a presence, between them, but Grog has never felt like a replacement. He wouldn’t even dream of it. She knows he would give all of it up in a second if it meant he could give them all Vax back. He knows it mattered, to her, back when this thing between them was still new, that he had loved Vax just as much.
It’s still hard, and some days grief overwhelms her, but you gotta understand this if you’re gonna be with Keyleth: she feels everything like that. She was always so much bigger than her body. Most people don't know what to do with that, but he gets it. This is how he works too, after all: black or white, all or nothing. This, he's good at.
It makes sense she likes to turn, to take a new shape every time: she has to put the rest of her somewhere. It’s no use, though: she is bigger than all her other forms, too.
He has a particularly soft spot for Minxie, himself. He knows she can tell it's his favourite trick of hers, and does it all the time, especially when she is aching for a fight.
And he loves it when she wants to brawl, of course, of course, this is what he does. He knows she likes to be earth elemental, tall and big and strong just like he is. He likes it too. But to him, it's never really about the physical relief in and of itself. Grog trains to be big and strong, and loves the challenge, but he's learned it before, Pike's lesson: the real secret to winning is, you gotta have something to fight for. The thrill of soft lips, warm hugs, his hands in her hair, is greater than winning any crucible.
The two of them, they are all fight, but they are this, too. When she looks into his eyes with a smug smile, Grog loves the way he never quite knows whether to expect a kiss or a fist. He’s always thought of them as his two favourite things, but he never knew, before Keyleth, that one could find both at once in the same person.
Grog knows if people saw them together and were asked to identify the one who's feral, raging, and unhinged, they'd point to him. They'd be right, of course, but also wrong. He's seen her spit blood in an opponent's face, once, as the proper response to taking a glaive to the stomach four times. And let’s be honest, "feral" takes a whole other meaning when someone can turn into a fucking tiger.
Then again, they'd also fail to point at the one of the two with a flower girl act, the one for whom sparing an old man was the most defining decision of his life.
They are an unconventional pair but the world is full of contradictions, and there is something about the way that they work, the barbarian with a heart of gold and the delicate-looking flower who'll kick your ass into the mud. Grog may be the berserker, but she's the one whose rage could burn the whole world to the ground.
And they do work, so much more perfectly than either of them ever could have thought. Grog knows Keyleth likes to make dumb jokes. He knows she’s the only one he never has to be afraid to be too rough with. He knows she never talks down to him. He knows that deep inside, she’s full of anger, just like him. He has always known these things. He just never thought that all of them, added up, would result to this.
Then again, he's never been that great with numbers.
So he just kisses her back, and tries to catch his breath.