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helped me get my old self back

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Keyleth listens to the leaves crunching under their feet as they trek towards the top of the mountain, and looks up at Grog, who returns her look and grins. She can’t help but smile back.

Grog doesn’t like to “cheat” at travel, so she is walking everywhere, these days. It’s surprising in the way that it reminds her of scrappy fights and roadside bandits and slowly getting to know each other around a campfire. It’s nostalgic. And lately, when she is called to put a judgment on the third quarrel over crops this week, she needs those memories, that reminder that she was Keyleth of the S.H.I.T.S. before she ever was the mighty Leader of the Air-Ashari.

It's not that Keyleth doesn't enjoy the responsibility, the feeling of making something grow, for once, but these days she’s restless all the time. She knows she’s not the only one to feel this way: Vex and Percy both at times storm out of their domestic bliss into the forest outside Whitestone and pretend to pick fights with each other just to shoot at something. The truth is, when you've fought a god and won, everything can start to feel like not enough.

So she turns to Grog. He makes her feel a great many things, but restless isn’t one of them. It’s far too easy for Keyleth to get lost in her own head, but Grog runs no such risk, and he steadies her. He has learned that all she wants at times is for him to stop her thinking. Truth is, if you need to blow off steam, Grog’s the guy you want. Fight or fuck.

Though, sometimes, they don’t want either of those things.

So they climb up to the top of the highest cliff in Zephrah, and Keyleth puts her head on Grog’s shoulder and feels the wind blow through her hair and twirls her ring around her finger and thinks about the letter from a blacksmith who changed their lives some time ago.

It makes me angry, as it always does, and my anger has no place to go.

She wasn’t raised to anger, she found it along the way, spun it out of all the fear, the loss, the helplessness, and it saved her from despair. Now, when she thinks back to those times, she thinks it was Grog’s sheer glee, his savage laughs when he saw her in battle that made her begin to realize she may have been on the right path. The group was always right there with her in everything she did, but Grog’s the one who relished this side of her.

And this is the thing about Grog: he gets it. Keyleth used to care too much. She still does, she always will, and sometimes her grief gets overwhelming, as grief is wont to do. But Grog is always right there with her. Not because he loves her, though he does, but because he knows exactly what she feels: her grief is his grief, too. At first, when Keyleth asked, he would just say “I’m fine”, and Keyleth knew that what he really meant was, I’ll smash through something later.

It took a while for Keyleth to make him understand that she wants to be there for him, too.

The truth is the world thinks them superhuman: legendary, powerful, unbreakable, and there’s only five other people in Exandria who know how painfully untrue that is. So if they can’t help each other, what else is there?

He started talking to Vax, too, after that.

It used to be something Keyleth did, back when the loss was recent and raw, back when it was still unthinkable to have him far from her. She would sit beside the tree up top and tell him of her day, like he was still right there. And who knows, maybe he was.

Grog was hesitant, at first, but he quickly warmed to it. Most people would say that it’s weird, mourning your ex-boyfriend with your new lover, but it’s Keyleth’s favourite of all their little rituals: Grog is shy and sweet and there and it makes everything a little more bearable, every single time. And she knows how glad Vax would have been, too, to see them happy and together like this. So fuck most people.

She’s getting better at that, shedding all this weight she used to carry. Other people’s expectations, sure, but her own, too. About the way she lives her life, about the people that she’s with. About her moral code.

Keyleth always used to agonize about it, couldn’t come to terms with the evils of the world, but in Grog's mind it's simple: you axe evil in the face and you don't worry about it. And it’s always touched something in her, the way he’s big and strong and violent, and he still, every time, chooses to be kind. To fight, yes, but for good.

Sometimes breaking is making, Kerrek said, and that is Grog all over.

She knows they turn more than a few heads walking side by side in Zephrah, the princess and the giant at her side. But the people of Zephrah don’t know anything. They don’t know the real Grog, his huge heart. Grog’s first family left him for dead because he dared to show compassion. His new family was built on compassion. And they definitely don’t know the certainty she gets when she feels him at her side like this.

Keyleth is aware she makes most people uncomfortable. She used to be afraid to take up too much space, but Grog never seemed to give a shit. It’s refreshing. Keyleth will never be smooth, but he makes her confident. Decisive.

It still startles her, sometimes, how much more she likes herself when she’s with him.

A year and a half ago, she never would have thought that she’d be here. She never would have thought that she would find this with somebody else, and if she had, she never would have guessed Grog. But though neither of them knew, she can see now they’ve been building up to this for a long time.

And they both know how lucky they have been, after it all, to have found each other. They are not happy people; they have lost too much for that, and yet. Neither of them are the religious sort, they do not believe in fate. When hope has been a hard thing to come by for too long, you have to build it yourself.

Building, building, building.

The heart of a gardener, Kerrek said. When ruling gets hard, and she misses the road, Keyleth wishes she could see it like that.

But then sometimes, like now, she looks on as Grog talks to the wind, and thinks of seeds that cannot sprout unless they are first burned, and loves him more.

She could get used to this garden, she reckons.