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Grog’s heart beats with the rush of battle, pumps fury through his veins in time to the swing of his axe.

 

He can feel it in every inch of his body afterwards, throbbing from head to toe as his rage fades and his wounds make themselves known.

 

It feels like life. It feels like victory.

 

--

 

He sits with Pike on the roof of Wilhand’s house, watching the bustle as the street merchants pack up for the night and mothers stand in their doors and holler for their children to come home.

 

They traded a day’s work of moving barrels for a hogshead of ale and managed to sneak it past Wilhand, and they’re celebrating Grog’s latest victory in the neighborhood fight club by drinking it from old teacups.

 

Pike, listing against Grog’s arm, elbows him in the ribs and giggles.

 

“I saw the way Lily was looking at you during that last match, you know,” she says conspiratorially, in what would have been a whisper several drinks ago.

 

“Everybody was looking at me,” Grog crows. “I was being a badass.”

 

“Yeah, but she was looking at you,” Pike insists, poking at him until he shifts out of her reach. “She likes you.”

 

Grog laughs. “She likes my muscles. I mean, who can blame her?”

 

With the arm not keeping his best friend from falling off the roof, Grog flexes. Pike snickers and sways towards him.

 

“Grog.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Grog. Do you like her?”

 

He shrugs and takes advantage of her not leaning on his arm to pour himself another drink. “She’s all right. She’s real tough, and she tripped Billy into that puddle the other day. That was hilarious.”

 

Pike gives an overblown sigh. “But do you like her?”

 

Grog throws his hands up helplessly, sending his ale flying. “I dunno what you want here, Pike!” he says, exasperated. “I like fighting her! I like when she gives me cookies! She’s my friend, I guess!”

 

Pike goes quiet for a while, mulling it over and sipping from her teacup of ale thoughtfully. Finally, she asks, “Do you like Billy?”

 

Grog snorts. “I like kicking Billy’s ass.”

 

Pike snorts a laugh and ale comes out her nose. The topic is completely lost in the following uproar of laughter and scramble not to fall off the roof.

 

A few days later Lily asks him if he wants to visit the temple gardens with her. When he blinks and asks why he’d want to do that, she stammers, turns bright red, and runs away.

 

She doesn’t smile at him quite so big, or offer him cookies much anymore, and when he goes to hug her, high on the euphoria of a well-won wrestling match, she blushes and pushes him off. He doesn’t know why, and it’s weird, and kind of sad, he guesses, because she was nice and it’s sad to lose a friend, but he shrugs and moves on.

 

--

 

Grog’s heart beats in time with his friends’, warm with the heat of a campfire or crowded tavern, hazy with a night of drinking and celebration or full with the weight of affection and responsibility as he sits up for his turn on watch and looks out into the darkness while his party relies on him to keep them safe.

 

He carries his injured friends to safety and lets them rest their weary heads on him after a long day’s journey and hopes they hear his heartbeat, strong and steady and reliable as the rest of him.

 

--

 

Vax is drunk, which is often entertaining but can also be a nuisance.

 

At the moment, he has one arm slung as far around Grog’s shoulders as he can reach and is leaning heavily against him, gesticulating with his half-empty mug. Grog has had just enough ale to make him amenable to the situation, and not so much that he’s looking to pick a fight. He sits and hums along to the music coming from the back corner of the tavern, comfortable supporting the rogue’s slight weight and listening to his (slightly slurred) ramblings.

 

“She’s just… she’s just… she’s just so beautiful, you know?” he says.

 

“Mmhmm,” Grog hums, wrinkling his nose as he looks down at his distressingly empty mug.

 

“And not just on the outside!” Vax continues, unhindered by his companion’s lack of interest. “That’s what—that’s what makes her really beautiful, is the inside! She just cares… she cares so much.”

 

Vax lets out a distressed moan and slowly slides down from Grog to slump down headfirst onto the table.

 

Grog grunts and nudges him.

 

“You all right, mate?”

 

Vax gives him a sluggish thumbs-up, then flops his head over to the side so he can peer up at Grog with one eye.

 

 “Have you ever loved someone, Grog?”

 

Grog rolls his eyes. “Sure. I love my buddy Pike. I love you lot, when you’re not getting on my nerves. I love ale.” He throws back the last dregs of his drink and looks around for a waitress to refill it.

 

“No, I’m serious.” Vax doesn’t give up, going so far as to drag himself back off the table. “Girl, guy, dragon, whoever—you ever been in love with someone?”

 

He shrugs. “Nah.”

 

“Nah?”

 

“Nah. Never bothered with it.”

 

Vax squints at him as if he suspects him of lying. Or perhaps he’s just confused and drunk; either is just as likely. “Never bothered with it? It’s not something you bother with, Grog! It’s love!”

 

Vax’s voice is climbing in both pitch and volume and Grog motions for him to calm down with one hand, the back of his neck prickling uncomfortably. The sudden vehemence in his friend’s voice has caught him off guard, and he’s eager to get off the subject.

 

“Seems like a bother to me,” he says. “Turns you into an idiot. Well, a bigger one, at any rate. Seems to me like I got everything I need in life all ready, what do I want love for?”

 

Vax looks stricken, then sighs and slumps down against Grog again. Grog rolls his eyes and allows it as Vax drops his cheek heavily against his shoulder and pats his chest absently with one hand.

 

“You’ll find someone one day, big man. Then you’ll see.”

 

Grog finally makes eye contact with a waitress and waves her over, already losing interest in the conversation. “Yeah, whatever you say, Vax.”

 

--

 

Grog’s heart beats strong, but he has felt it stop before, juddering to a stop in his chest.

 

The first time was when a demon drove its claw through Pike, but it wasn’t the last.

 

He has seen his friends fall around him, and even through the comforting veil of rage it stops him short every time, ripping a hole in his chest and leaving him to try in vain to stop the gap with fury and blood until whoever is responsible has been cut down.

 

Every time, his heart doesn’t start again until his fallen friend’s does.

 

--

 

Pike spends the afternoon with him in the training field, beating on training dummies and showing off tricks with their weapons until they flop down in the shade of the keep wall, sweaty and exhausted and laughing.

 

As they gulp down water from their water skins, Pike goes oddly quiet.

 

Grog looks down at her to see her fiddling with her mace.

 

“What is it, Pike?” he asks, tilting his head.

 

“Nothing, Grog,” she says immediately, then pauses and looks up at him, frowning. “Well. Actually… Grog, you can keep a secret, right?”

 

Grog tilts his head the other way. “’Course I can, Pike. Is something wrong?”

 

“No, no, nothing’s wrong!” Pike says quickly. Her eyes dart around, as if making sure they’re alone, then she leans in close and whispers, “I have a crush on someone.”

 

Grog blinks. “You wanna crush someone? Can I help?”

 

“Grog!” Pike says, swatting his arm. “I’m serious!”

 

“So’m I!”

 

Pike huffs out a breath. “Well, no, I don’t want to crush anybody. What I mean is… I’m in love with somebody.”

 

Grog’s shoulders slump. “… Oh.”

 

Pike frowns at him. “What?”

 

Grog shrugs. “Nothing, just… that’s a little less interesting, I guess.”

 

Pike snorts. “Of course you’d say that,” she says, rolling her eyes, but it’s fond. Grog is a little offended anyways.

 

“What? I just don’t get it, is all.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Love. I don’t get it. What’s being in love even mean, anyways?” Grog leans back against the tree and gestures vaguely in front of him. “Everyone’s always making such a big deal out of it, but I just don’t get it.”

 

Pike frowns, thinking, then tilts her head and prods at Grog’s elbow to get his attention. “Do you want me to… explain it?”

 

Grog grins down at her, nodding. “Yeah, that’d be great! I can always count on you to explain the things I don’t understand, Pike. I know you won’t make fun of me.”

 

“Hmm.” Pike taps her finger against her chin and leans back against the tree, thinking. “Well, it’s sorta like… it’s like, you see someone, and you feel butterflies in your stomach, like you’re nervous, but it’s good? And you’re always excited to see them, and you want to be around them and spend time with them and do things like hold hands and stuff.”

 

Grog wrinkles his nose. “Sounds like a pain.”

 

Pike laughs. “Well, sometimes it can hurt, too. But usually it’s a good thing! It’s like having a very favorite person in the whole world, and your heart beats faster and your palms get a little sweaty and you got really excited whenever you see them.”

 

Grog waves his hand helplessly. “No, see, that’s what I don’t get! ‘Cause, like, you’re my favorite person, Pike, right, but I don’t feel any of that stuff when I see you. And I definitely don’t see how I could ever love someone more than you.”

 

Pike shoots up straight and reaches up to put both hands on Grog’s arm. “No, Grog, that’s not what I mean! You’re my favorite, too. Just because I love someone else doesn’t mean I love them more than you. It’s just different.”

 

Grog frowns as he thinks it over. “Oh.”

 

Pike smiles at him. “Yeah.”

 

“Well, that’s okay, then, I guess,” Grog says. He looks back off across the training field. “Y’know, Pike, I don’t think I work like everybody else. I’m not ever gonna be in love the way you say. I don’t think I want to, either.”

 

“Well, that’s fine, Grog,” Pike says, settling back down beside him. “You don’t have to. You’re just fine the way you are.”

 

They sit in companionable silence for a several long moments, before Grog shifts and says, “If being in love with this person makes you happy, Pike, that’s good. And if whoever it is ever hurts you, I’ll help you kill them.”

 

Pike laughs. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary, but thanks, Grog.”

 

Grog loops an arm around her and draws her close, ruffling her hair. “Whatever you say, Pike.”

 

--

 

Grog’s heart beats for Tal’Dorei, its windswept plains and dense forests and craggy mountaintops, every crook and cranny promising adventure and glory and treasure for those brave and strong enough to seek it out.

 

Grog’s heart beats for the people he’s saved, the selfless and the selfish, the proud and the meek, the old and young and everyone in between, who look at him as he passes with awe and fear and pride.

 

Grog’s heart beats for his heritage, the Herd of Storms redeemed and restored by his hand and the hands of his friends, for generations of warriors laying claim to the plains.

 

Grog’s heart beats for his family, love and laughter and loyalty etched in their bones and tying their very souls and fates together. As close as a campfire or stretching across oceans, they stand by each other.

 

Grog’s heart beats for himself. He welcomes others in, holds them close, feels their joy and pain as his, but always, it belongs to no one but him.