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A Home by the Woods

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Vex always feels most herself in the forest.

From their childhood, Vax preferred the hustle and bustle of cities and towns; while Vex acknowledges the many charms of urban life (good food, cute shops -- and cute shopkeepers -- soft beds...), every so often she needs a day away, needs to trade cobblestones and buildings and prying eyes for soft earth and ancient trees. A day to breathe deeply of fresh air, feel dappled sunshine on her cheeks, listen for the small sounds of abundant life -- wind brushing through leaves, insects creaking, birds chirping, the cry of a distant eagle. Alone, with her bear and perhaps her brother for company, Vex can journey into the woods and find solace there.

Not every day, but some days, she awakens to wooden beams over her head instead of the open sky, and knows she needs to make her escape. On one such day, she rises, dresses, and wakes Trinket -- all quietly, so as not to disturb the man still asleep beside her -- and then goes, snagging some bread and cheese from the kitchen on her way out. As she leaves the castle for the woods, she feels her breath come easier, her shoulders lighten as the trees rise around her and the rustle of wind in the leaves fills her ears. An hour in, she finds a likely fallen log, covered with moss and dead leaves, and sits, pulling out her breakfast and scratching Trinket behind the ears while they watch the sun rise.

Vex feels comfortable in any forest, but she finds something particularly welcoming in the woods near Whitestone. Perhaps the mountains in the distance, their craggy peaks glimpsed in moments as she passes through the trees, or maybe the knowledge that she helped make this place safe again, freeing it from the dreadful villains that once ruled this land with fear.

Or perhaps, she thinks, her small smile growing larger, it is the knowledge that she might claim a small corner of this place as her own. Very small, Percy has hastened to remind her many times, but Vex doesn't care. Her title could grant a square foot of the castle gardens, and she would still love it, lay down roots and grow, strong and sheltering like an ancient tree. It would only be better if she could claim her lands here, deep inside the forest.

And if she could convince Vax to stay.

Vex pushes the unwelcome thought away, curling her fingers into Trinket's comforting warm fur. The sun is fully risen now; she looses her grip and gets up off her stump, stepping forward into the tiny clearing. She closes her eyes and stretches out her arms and basks in the morning light, bathing in its warmth. "What do you think, Trinket?" she asks. "Should we keep wandering, or make a home in this place?"

"I hope you weren't expecting an answer." The voice was not Trinket's laconic growl, approximating words as it did whenever Vex used magic to talk with him. Instead it was a mellow baritone, clipped of accent, warm and affectionate. Smiling again, she turns to face the man who must have followed her into the woods.

"I might have cast Speak with Animals, you know," she says, and Percy chuckles. "Trinket and I have the best long talks these days."

"I don't doubt you do," Percy replies. "Apologies, then, if I have interrupted your conversation."

Vex shakes her head. "Not at all, darling. Today, we were enjoying the morning in silence. Well," she corrects herself, "mostly silence."

"So." Percy raises a hand, and she reaches for it, taking his fingers in hers. "Did you get an answer, then?"

She steps in close to kiss him. A part of her is desperate to confess to her conflicted emotions, her fears, and get his advice; more of her is terrified to speak the words aloud. And he is not exactly a disinterested party. If she could tell him anywhere, it would be these woods... but not today. Not yet. "Not particularly," she admits. "Perhaps I only need to get tomorrow over with."

"Ah yes," he says, placing his hands on her shoulders. "Is the Baroness of the Third House of Whitestone ready to lead her first Grey Hunt?"

"Never readier." She forces a bright laugh before turning away, twirling a loose lock of hair about her finger. "I can certainly hunt, anyway. The leading, well..."

Percy rests a finger beneath her chin and tips her face up towards his. "You can do it, my dear. I would never have named you Baroness had I any doubts."

"I thought you named me Baroness in order to tweak my father's nose," Vex retorts, smiling.

Percy chuckles. "I will admit to that motivation, in part. Your father is a pompous ass, and I know a thing or two about managing pompous asses." His smile turns wry, and Vex's giggle turns genuine. "At least he was a pompous ass who came through for us in the end."

"I suppose." Vex sighs. "After a fashion."

"After a fashion," Percy agrees. "But you must know it was not mainly for his benefit. It was for you, Vex. Everything and always, for you."

Vex makes no reply, only takes him in her arms, leans her head against his shoulder as his kisses press into her hair. If only they could hide in the woods forever, away from other people, their responsibilities, the choice she knows will come when Keyleth returns to her people, Vax at her side. "Thank you," she murmurs, and lays a gentle kiss into his warm neck.

They stand so for some time, and then Percy pulls away. "Well. Is there any of that breakfast left?"

"Of course, dear." Vex returns to the tree stump, and Percy sits by her while Trinket curls at their feet. They sit in companionable silence, sharing bread and cheese and the calm of the forest, storing up peace before the storm that will inevitably follow.