After everything Thra had been through, Rian hadn't been sure if he'd live to see the Great Conjunction. So much had happened in the two trine leading up to this moment. Clans had fallen while one had emerged. Maudras had fallen and new ones had risen or none at all. He couldn't count how many lives had been taken- either during the fight or by the Skeksis' hands. So much had changed and he still found it hard to accept at times.

Ever since the Crystal Shard was found, the master plan had been set in motion. The Garthim's existence made things so much more deadly and complicated. Yet their fire still hadn't wavered. No matter what they were faced with day after day, the final goal never changed. If they healed the Crystal on the Great Conjunction, they could save everything. Thra would be healed, and the Mystics and Skeksis would be joined once more. It wouldn't bring back lost souls, but perhaps it would return them to Thra, where they belonged.

On the day the Three Brothers aligned, Rian had never felt more afraid. It was nothing like any fight against Garthim or any close calls he had endured. Even the blue mouth incident where he would have died didn't compare. Today, it wasn't just his own life he was worried about- it was everyone's life. All gelfling, podling, plant, animal, and the Crystal's wellbeing was at stake. If they succeeded, everything they had worked for would pay off and life on Thra would continue. Not the same, but better than it was before.

If they failed, the Skeksis would rule forever and Thra itself would fall.

Rian fought valiantly. They all did. Every creature who could fight came together as one. This was a fight for their home, and not a single creature abstained. Rian was with the group tasked with bringing the Shard to the Crystal Chamber. Others had defended the outside, to keep the Garthim occupied and at bay. Many faces in his group he knew- like Seladon, Brea, Hup, and Deet. Others he knew less, only having fought with them a few times. Rian cared for them all the same. Their job was the most dangerous and they had to keep each other safe.

Everything had been a blur from the moment Rian had fallen. The Skeksis had ambushed them in the Crystal Chamber. In a desperate attempt to stop the Conjunction, they had attacked. During the ensuing fight, Rian had lost his blade. The sword, which Rian had affectionately dubbed 'Protector', had been knocked out of his grip and into the chasm beneath the Crystal of Truth. With his only source of defense gone, the Shard had nearly been taken from his grasp. Even now, recalling the General's hands that had constricted around his neck seemed like distant dreams. He remembered crying out Seladon's name, then throwing the Shard high into the air.

Then there was light, so much light. He had heard the Mystic's chiming and the Castle quaking beneath their boots. He remembered Hup helping him to his feet and standing before the urSkeks. Even so, he couldn't remember the words that were spoken. Everything felt so far away and right in front of him all at once. It was confusing and he was still processing all of it. His friends had swarmed him, hugging and cheering all the while. They did it- that was what they kept saying.

It felt like another trine before Rian could grapple their words. They had succeeded. All this time, through all of their hardship, pain, and misery… they had done it. Thra was safe and the Crystal of Truth had been restored. Life had a chance to begin again. They could forge a new future in the Crystal's light, and the Skeksis were gone. The Resistance had ended, and it had won.

They reached the outskirts of the Castle. Creatures of all shapes and sizes were roaming over the green fields. The gelflings were all in a large group, mingling with the podlings who joined the battle. Seladon had been dragged away by the maudras, but everyone was still interacting with each other. The sounds of countless gelflings talking, embracing, and cheering with one another was nearly deafening. Rian was jostled ever so gently as he was maneuvered around.

After all this time, Rian was grateful to have Brea, Deet, and Hup at his side. They were an effective filter as his mind continued to adjust. He could still feel his head spinning at everything that was happening around him. Deet held his arm and gave it a reassuring squeeze. In the distance, he could see Mother Aughra speaking to Seladon and the maudras. Pride and relief was written all over their faces.

Rian moved his focus to the crowds they were slowly treading through. He recognized many faces of gelfling who were interacting with each other. All were in various states of celebration. Cadia was shaking hands with everyone he came across. The Librarian from Ha'rar was sharing an embrace with one of the Elders from Rian's clan- a gelfling who matched him in age and wisdom. Re'kyr, Onica, and the familiar Threader that was ever-present on her shoulder- Tavra- were weaving between groups. Not one creature was celebrating alone. Their joy was shared, and he couldn't help but feel like he was part of the grandest celebration Thra had ever seen. This was history and now they all had a part in it.

Throughout his search, Rian couldn't help but notice that one gelfling was missing. It was surprising to not see Gurjin in the crowd. Usually, he would be standing out like a tree amongst the grass. Now he couldn't find a trace of that familiar head of green locs, or those handsome amber eyes. Dread struck him, and Rian couldn't stop the fear from rooting deep in his chest. He had been so good at trusting his best friend's capabilities, but now he wasn't so sure.

The last thing Rian had heard of Gurjin's location was the front gates of the Castle. The Garthim had swarmed the Resistance and were defending the Castle grounds. There wasn't a single doubt in Rian's mind that Gurjin could take care of himself. This was different, however. The fight they had gone through today was unlike any other ambush. Gurjin could handle a few Garthim when they fought together- that didn't mean he had the same chances against the entire fleet of them.

What if something happened? Had Gurjin fallen whilst Rian was inside? Was he alright? What if- Rian was yanked out of his worried trance by the sound of two familiar voices.

"Rian! Deet! Hup!"

"Brea!"

The group of friends all looked over and lit up as a familiar Drenchen and Spriton scurried towards them. Naia looked a bit worse for wear, but the smile on her face made any concern Rian felt dissipate. At his side, Brea grinned and broke away from the group to rush forward. "Kylan!" The two caught each other in a tight embrace. Kylan gave Brea a tender squeeze and planted a firm kiss on her temple. "You're alright?" she asked.

"I'm more than alright," Kylan responded with a short chuckle. He pulled away but held Brea's hand to his cheek. "You're safe?" Rian barely suppressed a snort. Out of all of the gelflings Kylan could worry about, Brea was at the end of that list every time. She was every bit as fierce and strong as both of her sisters. He supposed that wasn't something Kylan could help- love often made you worry too much.

Brea merely giggled at his concern and gave him another hug. "I'm fine, you silly song teller," she teased. She kissed his cheek, which made his ears turn a deep shade of scarlet at the ends. No matter how many times Brea did that, Kylan's reaction never changed. It was amusing and touching all at once.

Rian looked to Naia, smiling tiredly. She looked battle-worn but had no signs of vital injuries. Merely exhausted and perhaps a bit winded. He expected nothing less from the future Drenchen Maudra. Still, he couldn't resist the urge to jest. "You look awful," he remarked.

Naia cocked a brow, chuckling. "So do you," she snapped back, but there was tenderness in her voice. Her gaze settled on the way he was leaning against Deet and Hup, and she frowned. "Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine." Rian felt a 'whack' against his chest as his friend slapped him with a spoon. Hup was glaring up at him, scrutinizing. "...A little in shock, I suppose," he added after careful hesitation. His neck felt tender, but not as much as it had before. "But I'll be alright. There's plenty of others who could use your touch more than me, Naia."

Naia hummed and crossed her arms. "Even so, you should be treated just as much as anyone else," she disagreed. Her tone left little to be argued, so Rian conceded with a soft sigh. She was every ounce of Gurjin's sister- both were as hard as stone and just as stubborn. "I'll have a look at you later." It was an offered compromise, so Rian took it.

By now, Kylan and Brea had rejoined the group. Rian smiled at the way the two were firmly holding on to each other. He was glad that the fight hadn't separated the couple- seeing either of them grieve for the other was a scenario Rian didn't want to humor imagining. At the thought of that, his worries resurfaced. Rian looked towards Naia, smile fading. "Have you seen Gurjin?" he asked quickly.

The worry was tiny but still evident in his voice. Hup chuckled beneath his shoulder whilst Brea gave Rian a strange look. Naia softened but gave him an entertained smile. "Yes. He's alright," she assured.

Rian let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. His shoulders fell with relief. Those simple words told so little but healed so many of his worries. "Where is he?" was his next question. Rian believed Naia, but that didn't make him want to see Gurjin with his own eyes any less. He needed to see his best friend in person before he could let go of any anxieties at the corners of his mind.

"Soaking up praise, I'm sure," Naia replied. She rolled her eyes and rested a hand on her hip. "Knowing my brother, he's making rounds to collect as many compliments as possible. Once he's had his fill of arrogance, he'll start looking for you." Her eyes, the same amber hue as Gurjin's, fell over Rian's face. They shared the same gaze, yet looked completely different. Her stare was piercing, knowing, and curious all at once.

Rian's heart picked up in his chest at the suggestion his best friend could be searching for him. "We need to find him," he decided quickly. "He shouldn't be alone. He needs me." Rian's concern was so great that he didn't catch the slip-up of 'me' over 'us'.

Ignoring his friend's protests, Rian pried away from Hup and Deet's grip. Their momentary worry was for nothing, as Rian proved that he was well enough to walk on his own. His boots sunk into the rejuvenated soil at his feet. Rian swallowed as he began to tread through the crowd. His friends were around him, all working with him to find the missing member of their little group. They snaked their way through the crowd of gelflings, podlings, and other various creatures. It felt like finding a pebble in a riverbed, but Rian didn't give up.

Over trine and countless days, they had grown close. The two had always shared a tender relationship, even in the early days when they were guards. That had grown into something deeper before the war, then became even more apparent once the Resistance had formed. Every close call or experience Rian had gone through, Gurjin had been a constant presence at his side. He was there when Mira had her life taken. He had been there when Ordon had been killed. He was there during the Battle (even if Gurjin argued otherwise).

It wasn't just before the Garthim appeared that Gurjin had been there. Every moment since the Second Battle, they had been together. Rian couldn't count how many nights the two shared a tent or spot by the fire, but he remembered all of them. He could recall the times where they had sparred, encouraging each other to become the warriors they knew they could be. Then there were softer moments. Rian remembered the nights where Gurjin woke up in a cold sweat, hands clutching at his back where the scars of his torture burned deep.

The tears Rian had shed on nights where his hope felt the dimmest came to mind. He remembered the way Gurjin had held on to him, granting Rian the freedom to cry for as long as he needed to. There weren't always words on those nights. Sometimes they would sit until the early hours of dawn, the only thing breaking their silence being ragged breathing and quiet sobs. Other times, Gurjin would sing to him. Rian remembered those nights the best- he would often relive them in dreams. He enjoyed the sound of Gurjin's voice when he was laying against his chest. He liked feeling Gurjin's careful fingers stroking his hair while strong arms held Rian like a sleeping childling.

If a gelfling had asked Rian what he thought a home was three trine ago, he would have answered with 'Stone-in-the-Wood'. It was the heart of his clan and an answer every Stonewood gelfling gave. Yet if someone were to ask him now, Rian knew his answer wouldn't be the same. His clan was nonexistent at this point and all gelflings had come together since. Not only that, but the location of Stone-in-the-Wood carried so much emotional weight that Rian wasn't sure if being there made him feel safe anymore.

What Rian did know was that no matter where he laid down his head each night, he always felt safest when Gurjin was beside him.

Whether he was on a rock, patch of grass, or an abandoned village, Gurjin's presence always made sleep come naturally to him. He felt secure, no matter the environment around them. When they shared moments of vulnerability, Rian trusted Gurjin implicitly. The Drenchen had full ownership of Rian's fragile little soul in each of these cases. His heart was the thinnest piece of sea glass, so easily broken with just a bit too much strength. Yet Gurjin cradled it with more care than a parent would to their own child. Rian trusted him with a large fragment of himself, and Gurjin had never once let him down.

Rian wasn't sure if a safe space could be just one gelfling- but if it could, then he had no doubts that Gurjin was home.

Right now, there was nothing Rian wanted more than to be reunited with that home. He continued to walk forward. Many faces and voices were calling out around him. Some recognized him and offered congratulations. He shakily thanked them, then continued weaving between shoulders and bodies of all shapes and sizes. There was a loud hiss and Rian jumped back as an Arathim Spitter skittered across the grass before him. He exhaled and looked about, worry beginning to prickle at his nerves. Where in Thra's name was he?

"Gurjin?" Rian's voice was drowned out in the celebration that was happening around him. His fists clenched, growing anxious. "Gurjin!"

Naia came forward and rested a hand on his shoulder. Rian barely paid attention to her. His friends began to disperse around him to cover more ground. Rian bustled forward and turned around in circles. He stood up on his toes, trying to see over gelfling heads. His throat was growing tight while his heart began to race. The longer he went without seeing him, the less calm Rian felt. So much had happened in so little time, and he needed Gurjin at his side. He needed his companion to get through this.

Rian shuddered a breath before resorting to questions. He described Gurjin's appearance to many. As more people gave directions that conflicted or empty answers, his anxiety grew. After a few minutes of frustration, he called out his name again. It seemed like the crowd was neverending. No matter where he looked, the one gelfling Rian wanted to see most was nowhere in sight. Desperation was pooling in his gut and he shouldered his way between bodies in a heightened sense of urgency.

"—seen Rian?"

He froze. The words were barely noticeable in his ears, but Rian still heard it. Someone had said his name. With an inhale, Rian turned around. Wide blue eyes searched the area. There was a sea of bodies in front of him, but Rian still tried. He might have been simply hearing things. Things were so loud around them, it was very possible. He tried to lean to the side, desperate to see further. A landstrider walked in his path. There, between its legs, Rian spotted him.

Even with all the different creatures scattered amongst them, he towered over the average gelfling. His back was to Rian, but those perfect green locs were instantly recognizable. Currently, he was talking to a large group of gelflings and podlings. He was gesturing as he spoke, too far away to make out distinct words. It was hard to make out from this distance, but going by how expressive he was, it was safe to assume that he was growing frantic.

"Gurjin!" Rian yelled. The sounds around them drowned everything out. Rian threw up an arm. Beside him, Naia and the others took notice of his voice, then tried to rejoin him. Their reactions didn't matter- all Rian was focused on was his friend. He tried to reach above the eye level of the gelflings around him and took a breath. "Gurjin! Over here!"

Rian knew when Gurjin heard him from the way his posture stiffened. Gurjin slowly turned towards him. Familiar amber eyes that were filled with concern met Rian's. Even from far away, he could see the way Gurjin lit up at the sight of him. "Rian?" His mouth formed the words before they reached Rian's ears.

For a split second, neither of them moved. Rian watched Gurjin from afar for a moment. He took in the sight of his best friend. Soon, he realized neither of them were moving. His legs stumbled forward. The crowd didn't part for them, but Rian still tried to get through. Seeing Gurjin was all it had taken for Rian's heart to lurch in his chest. Like an invisible string, his soul was pulled across the field towards the one creature in Thra he cared for the most.

Gurjin moved as soon as he saw Rian do the same. The taller gelfling had less trouble maneuvering his way through the crowd. Rian's heart began to race in his chest. His friends were left behind as he pressed onward. Frantic hands pushed arms and shoulders aside as Rian ducked and weaved between dozens of bodies. Gurjin shouldered his way through the crowd, reaching out towards Rian and breaking into a sprint as soon as he was able to.

"Rian!"

The sound of Gurjin's voice was heavenly. Rian felt his eyes water at the sound and he broke into a wide grin. He let out a strangled laugh and began to run. The path was much more difficult now that he wasn't taking his time. A landstrider began to walk by, falling right into his path. Rian ducked beneath it, causing a loud cry of alarm from the creature as it reared back. He ignored it as the crowd finally began to break apart. As he reached the edge, he tripped over another gelfling's foot. For a brief moment, he stopped. Then Rian scrambled to his feet. Gurjin was so close and his legs wouldn't stop for anything.

"Gurjin!"

"Rian!"

The two met in the middle of a small break in the crowd. Rian felt the breath get knocked out of him as he slammed into Gurjin's chest at full speed. Strong arms wrapped around his torso. Gurjin leaned down and squeezed with all the strength he had left to spend. While it would have been uncomfortable for some, Rian only felt relief as the gap between them came close to vanishing completely. He reached up with desperate arms. His fingers found the curve of Gurjin's shoulder blades and clutched at the armor and fabric sitting there.

Rian's face nestled into the base of Gurjin's neck. Gurjin's breath shook against his ears and Rian listened to it like the most treasured melody. Their difference in height was threatening to lift Rian into a position that forced him entirely onto his toes, but he didn't mind one bit. They could be hanging over the chasm of the Crystal for all he cared. Gurjin was here, and nothing else mattered.

"Thank Thra you're safe," Gurjin muttered. He continued to hold onto Rian. The hug was therapeutic for them both anyway. If Gurjin chose to never let go, Rian couldn't say he would mind. "I saw the Castle coming apart and I wasn't sure if you made it out."

The concern was so simple, but Rian's heart warmed all the same. He smiled into Gurjin's skin and squeezed. "I'm alright," he reassured. "Hup and Deet saw to that." With a hesitant inhale, Rian pulled back to see Gurjin's face. "What happened to you? I thought you were with Naia."

Gurjin let him but didn't allow Rian to drift too far. His arms moved to grasp Rian's arms and squeezed gently. Amber eyes that were soft with relief and care flickered over every inch of Rian's face. "I was," he answered quickly. Gurjin's voice was soft, only loud enough for Rian to overhear. One hand reached up to cup the side of Rian's head. The fingers brushed against his silver hairpin and pinched the base of Rian's ear, making it flick instinctively. "We separated once we saw the light."

Rian adjusted his grip to clutch Gurjin's forearm and shoulder. He squeezed. "It fell apart when Seladon restored the Crystal," he explained. It was a dumb thing to say- Gurjin knew what happened, even without Rian having to tell him. Everything was just going so quickly that Rian wasn't sure what was helpful or common knowledge.

"So she did it." Gurjin broke eye contact for a moment to look down. He was breathing heavily, shoulders trembling just a little. Eventually, he looked back up to meet Rian's eyes. "...We did it. It's over…?"

"It's over," Rian repeated back. At the sound of his own voice, something in him snapped. He had heard those words from anything that could speak. Yet it wasn't until Gurjin spoke that Rian finally understood what they meant. Everything they had worked for was finally over. Thra was restored to balance. All of the hardship and lives that had been lost had finally been granted peace. Mira, Ordon, Mayrin, Tavra, Fara, and every gelfling since. They were at peace because of the Resistance. Rian's vision blurred at the edges as his eyes watered. "We did it, Gurjin."

The crack in Rian's voice wasn't missed. Immediately, Rian was pulled into a tight embrace. Gurjin buried his face into Rian's shoulder and cradled him. "We did it," Gurjin assured. He let go after a moment to look Rian in the eyes. "Thra is safe, and they're gone. They're all gone. Forever…" Gurjin's eyes were wide and distant as he spoke. It was clear that he was having trouble wrapping his mind around it too.

Rian laughed between fresh tears. He reached up and wiped his eyes. "It feels like a dream." Every emotion was crashing into him all at once. It was overwhelming. There was happiness, relief, sadness, grief, bliss, fear, and peace. Rian wasn't sure how else to respond anymore, so he just continued to laugh. A smile had spread across his face and refused to fall.

Soon, Gurjin couldn't help but join in. He shut his eyes as a wide grin appeared over his face. Gurjin's deep laugh reverberated through his chest as he held Rian in his arms. The corners of his eyes prickled with tears as their heads fell forward. Gurjin pulled Rian closer and pressed his forehead into his. "It's not a dream," he reassured softly. "This is real, Rian." Rian could feel his breath on his lips as he continued to chuckle between words.

The volume of their laughter grew and Rian looked up at Gurjin as words found him once more. "We did it— We won!"

The cheer in Rian's voice lit a fire in Gurjin's soul. The Drenchen moved his hands to grip Rian's waist. With a sharp inhale, Gurjin hoisted him high over his head. Rian gasped as he felt the ground vanish beneath his feet. Gurjin held on tight and smiled up at him. After the initial surprise, Rian felt his worries vanish- he knew Gurjin would never let him fall. His face felt hot as he was now high above every other gelfling's head. Rian laughed, both happy and nervous.

"We won!" Gurjin threw his head back and hollered to the blue sky above them. He had no care for who or what heard him. Pure joy was radiating off them both like sunlight. Gurjin's hands slipped and Rian began to fall as his arms failed to support him. Before fear could take root, their position adjusted into a closer embrace. Rian wrapped his arms around Gurjin's neck, holding on tight, while the Drenchen held Rian by the waist and lower back. Gurjin spun on his heels and Rian's legs glided through the air, matching his momentum. The toes of his boots brushed against the grass as he was carried like a ragdoll in his companion's embrace.

Rian's heart was full as they cheered, laughed, and smiled into each other's skin. After everything hit him all at once, Gurjin was the anchor that kept him sane. No matter how hard things seemed or how painful life had become, he had been there. For every day the Three Suns rose each morning, Rian would awaken with Gurjin at his side. They had sworn off oaths and promises long ago. Yet Rian knew in his heart that this one had been made long ago, always left unspoken and made unbeknownst to him. It was a vow Gurjin had made to Rian without realizing it himself.

No matter what happened or Thra decided to throw at them, it would never get in the way of their bond. Their fates were set and Thra would do what it liked with Rian and Gurjin's life. Nothing could change that truth. Still, Gurjin fought it with everything he had. There had been many times where Rian could have- should have- returned to Thra. Yet he hadn't. In each scenario, Gurjin had always been the one to change that outcome.

Rian remembered the time when he nearly fell off the Castle drunk- Gurjin had caught him and pulled him to safety. He remembered when the gates nearly abandoned him to the Arathim horde- Gurjin had thrown himself into the mechanisms to give Rian time to escape. Gurjin had sacrificed his freedom to let Rian escape with Mira's essence and endured torture at the expense of keeping him safe. The bluemouth had chosen him as its next meal. Gurjin not only slew it in retaliation but leaped into the beast after Rian without a moment of hesitation.

It all seemed so obvious now. Rian was shocked that he hadn't recognized it sooner. He felt so much heartbreak for everything he lost. From his father to Mira, Rian had always been in a constant state of loneliness. There was nothing left- no home, family, or loved ones.

It had taken until now for to Rian realize how utterly wrong he had been.

He had never been alone. Even in the moments where nobody was at his side, Rian never had nothing. No matter where he had been, there was always one constant in his life. One gelfling who, despite the obstacles thrown at them, never stopped finding his way back to Rian. A gelfling Rian saw as his home and kept him safe in his darkest moments. It was Gurjin- it had always been Gurjin. Rian felt a mixture of shame and disbelief. How in Thra's name had he been so blind?

Being set down brought Rian out of his head. His boots planted firmly onto the ground and he blinked. Gurjin looked down at him, still chuckling to himself. Rian watched his kind eyes settle on him. The grin that was plastered to his best friend's face had yet to fade. Unable to help himself, Rian smiled back. His heart was beating like a drum in his chest. The air in his lungs was cycling at a pace that was growing rapid. All Rian could see was the handsome smirk on Gurjin's face and the shimmer in his pretty, amber eyes.

Everything was so wonderful. Their world was finally safe. The life they had fought for would finally come to fruition. Gurjin was here, holding Rian in his arms. It was all so perfect. Rian had dreamed of a day like this, but all of his hopes didn't compare to the true experience. All of his worries had faded in an instant and he felt lighter than air. He felt like he could take on the entire world.

It was this moment of pure bliss that caused Rian to leap towards Gurjin.

Rian didn't think- he simply acted. On any other occasion, he would choose his gestures carefully. Performing on impulse was not Rian's style- especially if it was for romantics. He was a bundle of nerves and it took plenty of consideration even before he figured out what he wanted to do. What made this time different was the simple fact that his senses were overwhelmed. His brain was still busy processing every detail of what happened in the past hour alone. By the time Rian was able to register his actions, his lips were already pressed against Gurjin's.

The emotional high Rian was riding left him in a moment of bliss. He was smiling wide as he held on with eager hands. The clumsy delivery left their noses awkwardly squished against each other. Gurjin's posture was tense, arms frozen and hovering around Rian's waist. After a few moments, Rian lifted his gaze. It was the sight of two amber irises that were opened wider than he had ever seen that made Rian's heart freeze.

With a quiet gasp, Rian lifted his hands and shoved himself away from Gurjin. The contact was broken abruptly and Rian tried to ignore the way his lips tingled from the kiss' aftershock. Oh, Thra have mercy. He had truly done that, hadn't he? Rian's entire body felt as though it had been scalded with a branding iron. Gurjin was watching him with sharp eyes, piercing his skin like a spear through the water. Rian's stomach was a stone weight in his chest. In a moment of foolish and emotional vulnerability, he had forced himself on his best friend. It didn't matter how good that had felt at the time. If Gurjin didn't feel the same way, none of it mattered.

The fact that the Drenchen had yet to react in any way didn't make Rian feel better. "Oh Thra have—" Rian choked. He lifted a hand to partially obscure his mouth but gave up. As words failed him, Rian's ears fell towards the ground. The appendages twisted back, flattening against the side of his head in an unmatched show of horror. "Gurjin, I'm— I didn't mean to—" Gurjin's expression softened and Rian saw a fire light within his eyes. The corners of his mouth lifted, but Rian still took a nervous step backward. "I wasn't thinking with the moment, and I just—"

Gurjin had moved before Rian could react. In a single, fierce motion, Gurjin grabbed Rian's head from behind the ears. Rian flinched as he felt himself get yanked forward, expecting Gurjin to hit or curse at him. Not having the cowardice to hide from his consequences, Rian forced himself to keep his eyes open. It still did nothing to prepare him for Gurjin crashing his mouth against Rian's.

The kiss was still fervent, more so than the first one. The sensation of their lips touching was electrifying and Rian's eyes went wide from shock. Their difference in height had forced Gurjin to lean down, but he didn't appear to mind. His back arched downward while the hands on Rian's jaw held him close. It took a few seconds to register but once it did, Rian's heart soared. For a few moments, Rian had fallen into the darkest pit of Thra. Then, in just one little action, Gurjin had taken his hand and raised him even higher than before. Everything the two had gone through had brought them closer than ever before. It was a connection that went beyond words, actions, or even dreamspace. It took everything in Rian to stop himself from crying at the realization that not only had he been right to feel that way, but it was entirely mutual. There was a love that had always been there and both of them felt it.

At some point, they were forced to break apart out of the need for fresh air. A soft gasp broke through Rian's lips as Gurjin pulled away. He took a few deep breaths, drawing in the air with shaken gulps. As Rian reached up to squeeze his forearm, Gurjin fell forward so their foreheads touched. For a while they simply stood there, catching their breath. Gurjin's hand didn't move, still caressing Rian's jaw and neck. When the energy to move came back to him and Rian had the mind to register the world around him, he tilted his head just enough to meet Gurjin's eyes. The warmth in his gaze made Rian's knees nearly buckle.

"...Uh," Rian began, still breathless. He wanted to speak but wasn't sure what to say. It didn't seem like words were needed anyway. Perhaps silence was the only choice he could make. So instead, Rian just let out a shy laugh.

Gurjin closed his eyes, another deep chuckle resonating in his throat. He leaned in closer and gave Rian's forehead a tender nuzzle. The action made his forehead nubs brush against Rian's temple, tickling him. Gurjin dared another small step closer, continuing to cradle Rian's head against him as the boundary between their personal space dwindled. "I was wondering what that would feel like," he said, breath on Rian's lips.

Rian giggled at Gurjin's words. His chest felt so light and airy now. One moment he had been on top of the world, then the next Rian was somehow even happier. He had kissed Gurjin- and Gurjin had done it back. It had all happened so quickly, but it didn't alarm him. At the time, it had been on impulse. Now it simply made sense. It felt right and not like a grave mistake. Gurjin certainly didn't seem to think Rian had taken a misstep, and that was all the assurance he needed.

"Gurjin…" Rian trailed off. He wasn't sure how to express what he wanted to say. Gurjin already knew so much of how Rian felt on a normal day. They knew each other's thoughts and feelings. There was so much that didn't need words to be expressed. Before it had been what Rian loved most about their relationship- now it was a curse. He wanted to speak but didn't know how. "I— I don't know how to… I'm— you're my-"

Two fingers gently pressed against Rian's lips, silencing him. Gurjin shushed and smiled down at Rian. "I know." Their foreheads still laid against each other. Gurjin watched Rian with a grin, softened with pure affection. His gaze lowered for a moment as Rian saw him drift into deep thought. Then, Gurjin chuckled with a low hum. "... I love you, too,"

Rian's breath left his lungs. It took a moment for the words to sink in. Once they had, he looked up in astonishment. Neither of them noticed that their friends had found them, nor did they see the way they were excitedly celebrating their romantic gestures. All the noises that were never-ending on all sides didn't matter. Gurjin continued to caress Rian's jaw with his hands but was now watching with a soft smirk. After a moment to absorb, Rian knew it was the truth. There was no other way to describe his feelings. It was merely the notion that Gurjin felt the same about him that made Rian want to start crying all over again.

His heart was full and his face was beginning to hurt from how hard he was smiling. Rian didn't care one bit. It had taken so long to realize how much Gurjin meant to him. Far too long. Now that he had, Rian never wanted to forget. His eyes glistened as he fought down the urge to cry for joy. Instead, Rian flashed a wide smile and huffed a laugh of relief. He reached out to gently seize Gurjin's head from behind his ears.

Gurjin grinned and let Rian pull him forward. Their lips met a third time, but this was easily the most gentle. Gurjin tilted Rian's jaw up and caressed the back of his neck, pulling him closer. As the kiss deepened, Rian smiled and shut his eyes. It made the kiss more difficult, but neither of them minded. He could taste the salt of his tears, but Gurjin didn't seem to be bothered. Perhaps, if he couldn't express his feelings into words, Rian could show how he felt instead.

Rian shut his eyes and kissed Gurjin back, this time with more passion. His hold on Gurjin's jaw moved to grip the back of his neck. With a firm pull, Rian moved their bodies even closer. Gurjin's eyes fluttered in surprise but quickly recovered. He chuckled against Rian's lips as their kiss grew more passionate. At the assurance that this was entirely wanted and enjoyed, Gurjin moved one hand to wrap around Rian's waist. It didn't take much longer for them both to need oxygen. Rian reluctantly broke away first with a soft inhale.

For a short period, they simply stared at each other. Rian couldn't stop smiling, whilst Gurjin's eyes shined in newfound warmth. They took another moment to watch one another. Rian softened and bit his lip. "...You're good at this." The statement was fueled by nothing and Rian realized how idiotic he sounded moments after. His ears reddened whilst Gurjin let out a hearty laugh.

"I finally kiss you after thinking about wanting to do it for unums, and you say it's just 'good'?" Gurjin's lips curled as he playfully attempted to look offended. "First I'm just 'Gurjin', and now I'm just 'good'?"

"You know I didn't mean it like that," Rian defended. His voice cracked with embarrassment. The implication that Gurjin had wanted to kiss him for a long time wasn't missed. His heart raced at the mere thought, and he had to silently wonder how long Gurjin had known his feelings before Rian knew his own. He looked down, hiding his face with his bangs and hair. "You know I'm poor with words, Gurjin."

"Oh, I know." There was a low chuckle, then a hand gently gripped Rian's chin. Gurjin lifted Rian's head, forcing him to meet his gaze. His kind eyes observed with an affection Gurjin had never shown on full display, and it made Rian's heart flutter. "I prefer it when you're caught off guard, anyway. It's cute- and more fun."

"I'm not cute," Rian spluttered, cheeks darkening with red. He wriggled in Gurjin's hold, slipping out of the hold on his jaw with ease. He missed Gurjin's touch and instantly regretted his actions.

Gurjin let Rian pull back, but didn't stop smiling as he did. "Oh, of course not." Gurjin chuckled and adjusted his grip to keep Rian securely in his embrace. His arms lowered to Rian's lower back, then tightened just enough to bring the Stonewood snug against his chest. "It's merely a coincidence that being bothered is when you're the most pretty."

The action made Rian's stomach flip. "That's… I…" He was still reeling from the kiss, and the quick return of their instinctual banter was making him at a loss for words. Thankfully, he didn't have to say much else before another topic came to the forefront.

Soon enough, Gurjin's gaze fell over Rian's neck. As he saw the marks over Rian's throat, his smile faded. In an instant, the mood changed. "What happened?" Gurjin demanded. Rian's jaw was freed in favor of catching his jaw and neck with careful hands. Gurjin tilted Rian's head back and inspected the beginnings of bruises around his windpipe. "Where did you get these?"

Rian's cheeks were warm, as Gurjin was practically groping his neck and jawline. "It's fine," he reassured. "The General and I had a little duel when the Conjunction began." He tried to lean away, but Gurjin held on tight. It was clear that Gurjin wouldn't lighten up until he knew that for himself, so Rian was content to let him inspect for as long as he needed. The reminder of the fight made his heart sink, however, as Rian quickly remembered how he got into that situation in the first place.

"Gurjin?" The ashamed tone in his voice made Gurjin pause. He let go of Rian and met his gaze, brow furrowing. Rian swallowed as his stomach pooled with a spark of guilt. "I... " He sighed and looked down. His fingers found a loose thread of his bracer and he pulled on it. "... I lost your sword. It fell into the chasm when the General and I fought." Rian bit his lip. Gurjin had crafted that sword for him. It didn't occur until now that it was a symbol of their bond, and Rian felt awful for losing it. "I'm sorry, Gurjin."

Instead of being upset, he only softened. "I don't care about that, Rian." Gurjin's voice was firm, yet affectionate. He took Rian's shoulders and pulled him into a hug. "I make them by the handfuls." He rested his cheek against Rian's temple. "I care more about you making it out of a fight alive than I'd give any sog about some sword."

"But you spent so long on it," Rian argued weakly. "You wrote-"

"Which I can do again," Gurjin interrupted. "The Resistance not being around anymore doesn't mean I'll stop trying to protect the things I love." He shook his head and laughed, despite himself. Gurjin pulled away and cupped Rian's face. He leaned so their foreheads fell together. "A sword can be replaced. You can't." Gurjin hesitated, then gave the top of his head a small peck.

Rian's face grew warm as Gurjin kissed his forehead. His blue eyes were soft and filled with uncertainty. All of this was filling him with so much relief. Everything they fought for had been won. Thra had a chance to rebuild. It meant they had a chance to rebuild. The thought of trying to find a new place in the world made Rian's stomach clench. There were so many unknowns now and the future was exciting, yet also frightening. It made him anxious to imagine figuring out alone.

Then a thought came to him. He didn't have to do it alone. Rian never had to do anything alone ever again.

"Be with me." Rian stumbled out the words before he could think of a more eloquent variation. He looked up at Gurjin with bright eyes. "Please. I—I want to stay with you."

Gurjin softened. Once the words left Rian's lips, he leaned in again. Gurjin cupped the back of Rian's head and fell forward. The kiss he left was featherlight, only barely touching before pulling away. Gurjin returned to their position that left their foreheads pressed together. He continued to caress Rian's face, noses brushing together. "You'll always have me," he said quietly. Gurjin met Rian's eyes and smiled. "If Thra wants one of us, it gets us both-"

"-or none," Rian finished in a whisper.

Gurjin nodded in agreement. His thumb traced over Rian's cheek, carefully wiping away a stray tear that had been left. Then he hummed. "You know, after all of this is over… I think you'd like The Great Smerth." Gurjin tilted Rian's chin up and smiled at him. "It's a long journey back home, and it'd be nice to have some company."

Rian's face lit up. It was an unspoken invitation, but he heard it. Gurjin knew where he wanted to go, and he wanted Rian to join him. Somewhere out there, there was a new life they could forge together. In one effortless motion, Rian jumped to wrap his arms around Gurjin. The move made Gurjin stumble and laugh in pleasant surprise. The two shared a tight embrace, smiling into each other's skin.

Rian buried his face into Gurjin's shoulder, beaming with a grin that could rival the Three Brothers' combined light. "I think I'll like it, too." As long as Gurjin was at his side, Rian would go anywhere.