Contrary to what Vex might think, Vax didn't find religion at all. Religion found Vax, in a dirty alleyway with his sister bleeding out in his arms. He'd been hit in the head, and he assumed the beautiful masked woman with flowing red and black hair was a hallucination; hallucination or not, he'd have made a deal with the Devil himself right then, as long as it would bring Vex back to him.
But She wasn't the Devil, and She wasn't even really all that bad, all things considered. And so he cleaned out a space in his home, a space in his life for Her. It was an adjustment, but he's adjusted to a lot of things over the years.
What changes things is that his sister meets Animus. That's when it goes haywire.
For the first while, worshipping the Raven Queen is a lot like worshipping any other god. Vax prays to Her, lights candles, kind of bumbles around, the way people do when they're trying to appease the unknowable with their meager, mortal hands. He thinks he's doing okay, since She gifts him with a set of strong, agile black wings, which is more than he's been gifted by anyone, not counting when his mother gave him Vex.
He doesn't hear Her again until an unremarkable evening; well, it's pretty unremarkable for him, anyway, casing his latest target. Vex radios that she's almost in position, and he takes it as his cue to creep stealthily towards the guards who are currently trading off shifts. He uses light and shadow to conceal his movements in a way that it's taken him his whole life to learn, and he's confident that none of the guards have any clue he's there.
He sizes them up, trying to come up with the best strategy for each of them. One of them is small but wiry, a threat not to be underestimated, but the other ones are the general bulky security guard model. None of them are packing heat, so if he can just take out two of them right away and get his daggers back in his hands-
No, a voice says in the back of his mind.
Vax pulls up short, looking around for the voice's source, even though he's afraid he already knows what it is. He shakes his head, trying to put his attention back in front of him; maybe if he just ignores it, things will go fine. The smallest guard passes the door again, and Vax tracks his movements, calculating where he has to be to throw a dagger-
No, the voice says again, and Vax is shaken to his core. There is no questioning Her, no possibility of moving on without Her blessing.
"Fuck," he says under his breath, and as quietly as he can, he runs back towards the street, extending his wings and darting upwards to where Vex is positioned.
Vex talking to a fucking superhero- not the kind of street-level vigilante they've come up against before, but the real, makes the headlines, has followers kind- is the last thing he expected to see, but there she is. He can see the look of keen interest in her eye, the way he has entranced her, and Vax wants to smack himself in the forehead. He can already tell this is going to be a whole thing, one he didn't want to deal with.
But he gets himself and Vex out of there, and he gets them home, and after he fights with Vex he goes back to his room, kneeling in front of his altar. There's ash on the black silk altar cloth, and he wipes it away, trying to look presentable for Her. He lights his candles, though like every time he wonders if he really needs to, if he's doing this for Her or just for himself.
Vax spends a long moment there in contemplation, trying to figure out what to say. "We made a bargain," he says finally. "I will hold up my end of the deal, even though I don't know what that is. If You are to guide my steps, lead on." He takes a breath. "But I put my sister above everyone. This job was nothing, no matter what she thinks, but when it's serious, when it comes down to it, I will choose her over You every time."
I have you because you chose her, Vax hears. But you have her because you chose Me. Don't forget that, My champion.
There is no draft, no source of wind, but the candles blow out, snuffed by an unseen force.
Vax rubs his forehead. Things looked very different this morning, and he's really not sure what they're going to look like from now on.
Vax is perfectly happy to fly under the radar, even if he's been doing that literally as of late. What he does, he does so he and Vex can have a good life, so they can stay comfortable and happy. And sure, what he does is fun, but if he thought it were possible to pull one last score and retire, he might strongly consider it.
That's not how the world works, so they rob Emon National Bank.
They try, anyway. This isn't supposed to be an easy heist, and a good amount of planning goes into it. This time, it's not at all Vax's fault that things go wrong, the Raven Queen's touch nowhere to be seen, except in the black wings that carry them to safety.
Vax is looking for orange juice the next morning when he sees the article Vex has stuck to the refrigerator door. "TWINS THWARTED" it says in bold black lettering.
Vax hates the word thwart. It feels weird in his mouth.
He doesn't know why they can't just be defeated or countered, because they've definitely been both. He doesn't know why the attention suddenly needs to be on them, when all they do is take what rich people don't really need and apply it to people who do need it, namely themselves.
"I don't know how to live another way," Vax says aloud, and there is no response.
"What was that, darling?" Vex calls from the living room.
"Talking to myself," he replies. "Apparently," he adds under his breath.
The Raven Queen seems indifferent to Vox Machina; perhaps this is only because Vax never finds himself in a position to kill one of them. Vax has killed several people, but he's not sure whether She would let him do it again, nor is he sure he wants to. Maybe She'll ask it of him, being a death goddess and all, but he thinks it won't be soon.
Besides, killing any member of Vox Machina would be a problem. Vex is largely indifferent to whether they die, but there can't even be the slightest rumor that the Twins were involved. The Twins are not very famous, but from Vax's googling, they are very cool. He doesn't want people to follow them or even approve of what he's doing, but he won't give rise to more murderers.
Also, the city would turn on them in an instant. You just don't kill heroes, period.
Vax wonders what it must be like to be on the right side of the law. He wonders what righteousness is like, the feeling of going to bed knowing he's done the right thing. He's never felt that way before; he's gone to bed still on the high of a good heist, but it's not at all the same.
He wonders if that's what his Queen wants of him, if She's just never said the words. She still speaks to him, but Vax has never been able to tell whether She moves him or only comes along for the ride.
But he does kind of wish he could pull off that lined up, silhouetted against the sky thing. It just looks too cool, and two is not enough to make it work.
The bank is a clusterfuck.
Is this what their lives have come to, that they can't rob a fucking bank in peace? And yet, they make their attempt, and things do not go well. The only thing that goes well for Vax is that he sees the smoke grenade before it goes off; with preternatural quickness he dives out the door and slams it behind him. Some of the gas seeps out around the doorframe, but Vax stays well away from it.
He boosts himself up to a nearby window, looking down at the scene, and nothing about it is good. Vex is bleeding on the floor, and standing over her is Animus. Vex's heart seizes, and he knows this is it, this is where they get separated. He's just about to make for the door, gas be damned, when Animus looks both ways and scoops Vex up. He raises his gun and shoots out the skylight, protecting Vex from the glass with the edge of his duster. He takes some kind of larger gun off his belt, shooting something- a grappling hook?- towards the ceiling, and he and Vex both rocket up through the skylight and onto the roof.
Inside the bank, the rest of Vox Machina make their way in, only to find Animus and both Twins gone. Vax doesn't see it, too busy shimmying up the drain pipe and onto the roof, because that Phantom of the Opera motherfucker is not making off with his sister. He makes it in time to see Animus making his way off the other side of the roof, and Vax chucks both his daggers at him, neither of them finding purchase before zipping back to Vax's belt.
When he catches up, he looks over the edge of the roof and sees Animus putting his sister into the passenger's side of an admittedly sick vintage sports car, dark blue with white seats and gold trim. He jumps into the driver's seat, cranks it up, and floors it.
Vax makes an undignified leap into a dumpster and hotwires a Honda Accord, because being a hero is always more glamorous.
The fight isn't fair in the least. On foot, Vax would catch him easily, but Animus has the edge on him in terms of both tech and time. Within fifteen minutes, Animus just disappears, and Vax has no idea how to find him. He's scared out of his fucking mind, flat out convinced that the worst has happened to Vex- and he can come up with a whole lot of worst for this particular scenario. He drives home and ditches the Accord a few blocks from their house, needing somewhere to regroup, something to do with himself while he tries to figure this out.
He finds himself on his knees in front of his altar, scared shitless and doing what people have been doing for millennia when they get that way. "I need a sign," he pleads. "I need fucking anything, just please help me. He has my sister."
Vax feels a touch on his shoulder, and he shuts his eyes. He feels warmth suffuse him, but he's still agitated, jumpy, ready to fight.
Breathe, She says, and Vax tries, he really does.
The candles have blown out again when Vax's phone rings. He snatches it up, answering as quickly as he can. "Vex?"
"It's me, dear," Vex says; she sounds a little high, but in the grand scheme of things that's fine.
"Are you okay? Where are you?" he demands.
"Yes, and I have no idea," she says, with a little laugh. "Um, I'm in a park, and there's a Subway and a Rite-Aid?"
Vax rolls his eyes, even though he's more relieved than he knows what to do with. "A street name would help."
"I suppose it would, wouldn't it?" she says. "Hold on." There's nothing for a moment. "Beauregard Avenue and Thirty-Fifth."
"I have no idea where that is," he says, already getting up to find his car keys.
"I don't either, but it's right near Beauregard and Thirty-Fourth," she says.
"Just stay there," Vax says. "I'll be there soon."
"Don't keep me waiting," Vex says, and any other question that Vax has is lost in his rush to find her.
He does take a moment to look back at the altar and think.
He knows that Vex is not telling him the whole story when she explains the kidnapping, but he doesn't know how to twist it out of her. He's good at picking her apart, having been doing it for the entire length of both their lives, and Vex is not a good liar when it comes to him. Something happened between her and Animus; Vax can't stand not knowing what it is, and Vex is determined to keep it from him.
Good thing he let her go, though, because for all that Vax wouldn't kill a hero, all bets would be off if Animus did so much as touch her. There are certain things more crucial than his image, and he's not even sure he would let his Queen stop his vengeance if Animus hurt Vex.
He thinks She knows that.
Vax knew their number would be up one day, but he's not expecting the Clasp. That's only partly true; Vax expects the Clasp all the time, waits for the dagger in his ribs in the darkness of an alleyway, but watching them open fire on Vex is a kind of horror he didn't think would ever be coming.
He sees the bullets clearly, one after the other, sees the blood even against the black of her clothing. Time slows down, every moment achingly clear and precise, and he's almost relieved when an attacker comes at him with a knife, giving him something to do other than being horrified.
He manages to grab Vex and get into the sky, and he can feel her shaking in his arms. It's wiped out when the bullet pierces his wing, the pain searing, nauseating; he didn't know it was possible to hurt this much. Still he tries to keep going, because he's Vex's only ticket out. It doesn't work, not at all, and moments later he slams hard onto concrete, only registering Vex landing on top of him before he's gone.
For a long, long moment there is nothing, but when Vax comes back to himself, he is floating in a vast expanse, masses of threads stretching out beneath him in all directions. His Queen is there, as She was when first he saw Her but massive, filling up the space even as it seems infinite.
"My champion," She says, and suddenly She is very close, close enough to touch. She's taller than he is, but not overly so, just tall where Vax is short, not of the stunning frame it seems a god should have.
"So this is it," Vax says, and somehow he feels at peace, like the hurt is over with, like this is the end. "This is my fate."
"Your fate is as it is," She says, cupping Vax's cheek; Her hand is cool but soft, and he shuts his eyes for a moment. "And like every fate, it intersects others. It winds around them. It pulls and releases. It is not for you to change these entanglements, merely to fulfill them."
"I don't understand," Vax says, though he thinks he might be starting to.
"You will," She promises. "Your thread does not end here. Think on why."
Very slowly, She pulls away, massive again but withdrawing, leaving Vax alone in the dark.
Vax wakes with a start, and the first thing he sees is a man and a woman bending over him. He knows them both, though they've never been formally introduced.
"Hi there," Halo says. "You're safe."
Vax looks up at her and what must be Animus, though he's foregone his mask; he doesn't look like Vax expected. "Are you sure?" Vax asks, his voice raspy. "Where is my sister?"
"There," Animus says, inclining his head to the left, and Vax looks over to see Vex, who is on a hospital bed like Vax's, asleep or passed out, her chest rising and falling rhythmically.
"I'm going back to sleep," Vax says, shutting his eyes, because he has a million things to sort out and no desire to do it in front of his archnemesis.
"Take your time," Halo says, touching his shoulder, and Vax wonders.
Living with Vox Machina is an adjustment. Not since the regrettable summer that he and Vex lived with six other people in a Clasp safehouse has he shared space with anyone but Vex; granted, living in the de Rolo mansion is very different. For starters, it's a mansion, and even with all of them and Percy's sister, it's only half full. It blows Vax's mind that there are rooms no one uses, locked doors that haven't been unlocked in years.
It is one of these self-same doors that Percy brings him to one day, a few weeks after Vex and Vax move in. "I have something for you," he says, turning the key in the lock, and Vax sees that this door has indeed been unlocked recently, at least for long enough for the room to be cleaned. Along one wall is a table, and sitting next to it is a box. In the box are miscellaneous things, candles, cloth, incense, and Vax is surprised to realize that they're very similar to the things on his altar, only without the wax stains and ash.
"I'm aware that you have two women in your life," Percy says. "I wanted you to know that we have room for both of them." He waves a hand at the box. "I'm agnostic at best, so I have no idea if any of this is what you need. Feel free to use what works and do what you will with the rest."
"You're a good man, Percival," Vax says, and he can tell by Percy's reaction that Percy doesn't believe him.
"You're a better man than you give yourself credit for," Percy says, and Vax doesn't believe him either. Percy puts the key to the room in Vax's palm, and Vax weighs it in his hand, looking at the key instead of Percy's face. "If you need anything, Pike is the person to talk to, but I suspect you know that much already."
Percy doesn't say anything else, just leaves Vax to his own devices. Vax turns back to the table, considering it. It's bigger than the altar he has now, but he doesn't think that's a bad thing. There's a piece of black silk large enough for it in the box, and a pretty incense holder shaped like a feather, but mostly he thinks he'll transfer the things on his old altar onto this one, if he can make them fill the space.
Yes, a voice in his head says, and Vax's tension eases.
He doesn't know how long he's waited to hear that.