Before they meet, Percy is already keeping tabs on the Twins. This is not a reflection on the two of them, but a reflection on Percy; he keeps tabs on many different up and coming villains, and even some heroes that seem likely to fall from grace. Most of them will die or be imprisoned or join the Clasp or just get day jobs, but it's an interesting intellectual exercise to guess which ones of them will be successful. On his scale, the Twins have a moderate chance of success and a low chance of imprisonment, though he's watching to see whether the latter will go up.
He's also interested in the Twins' gimmick, both their atavistic weapons and their relationship to one another; he wonders if they're real twins or just people who look very similar. He's betting on the former, because sometimes they're impossible to tell apart, two identical figures until one of them draws a bow or a dagger. Then again, the images he's collected of them are not particularly high quality; perhaps in person, they're nothing alike.
And, quite frankly, it delights him when people call them Artemis and Apollo, because it appeals to both his love of mythology and his taste in sarcasm.
They stay on Percy's radar for a long time, but he doesn't expect to meet either of them; he usually doesn't meet most of the people on his watchlist. The watchlist is for contingency plans, information gathering, but its strength is in its breadth, not its focus.
So when he does meet them, it literally sneaks up on him.
Vox Machina gets a tip that someone's going to rob a jewelry store; this happens a lot, and those tips usually don't amount to much. It doesn't even come with a name, which tells Percy that it's thirdhand information, someone talking shit to someone else because they're annoyed at whoever the culprit will turn out to be. But Percy is feeling bored, so he takes it off the tip board and goes alone.
He knows just the spot for a stakeout, across the street and up a few floors, and he prepares to settle in. He likes it, sitting there in the cool night air, listening to street noises while he waits.
"What are you doing here?" a voice says behind him, and it takes everything in him to not draw his guns. That's premature; there's just as much a chance that it's a maintenance worker who doesn't want people on their roof.
He turns, looking the person over. It's a very beautiful woman wearing an elegant black mask; all of her clothing is black, loose cloak, close-fitting shirt and pants. He knows he must know her name, but he can't quite get there. "What are you doing here?" he asks, stalling.
"I asked you first," she says.
"Upon consideration, I'm fairly sure I'm here to stop you from what you're about to do," he says. Finally it clicks. "You're Artemis."
Oh no, a treacherous part of his brain says.
"If you have to call me something, choose something else," she says; she isn't quite nonchalant enough to cover the fact that she genuinely dislikes the name.
"Do you have a name, then?" he asks.
"Names are passé, darling," she says lightly, which speaks volumes; he wonders if she knows that. "You know, guns are so lazy."
Percy raises an eyebrow, not that she can see it. "And arrows are endlessly practical."
They stare each other down for a long moment.
"You're terrible at hand-to-hand, aren't you," he says.
"Well, you must be, or you'd have charged me by now," Artemis points out.
"Touché," he says, because she's not wrong. "Though I could say much the same of you, and if I wanted I could certainly shoot you point-blank."
"That wouldn't be very heroic," she taunts.
"You'll find that I'm not," he says.
"And yet you'd be too noble to take a cut and keep your mouth shut," Artemis says lightly.
"I am at least that heroic," Percy replies, because even at his darkest, he was more of a vigilante than a thief.
"More for me," she says.
Both of them draw weapons as a winged figure shoots up beside them and lands on the edge of the roof; it's Percy's first clear look at Apollo that wasn't through a scope. Up close, it's clear that they can't be anything but real twins, but several of his largest questions are still not answered. He still doesn't know whether the wings are mechanical or natural; he thinks perhaps they're the result of an ability like Keyleth's, but that's only a theory.
"We have a problem," Apollo tells Artemis; he gives Percy a look that's more "why were you chatting up my sister" than "you're that famous superhero, oh shit", which fascinates Percy. "I can't do it."
Artemis seems to be more cognizant of the fact that they probably shouldn't be having this conversation in front of Percy, and she drags Apollo away for a hurried, angry conversation. Percy only hears pieces of it, something about some woman who's keeping Apollo from his duties. Percy makes mental notes of all of it, something to add to his files, an interesting complication of the type that sometimes sinks outfits like these.
When he sees the opportunity, Percy uses the camera in his mask to snap pictures of both of them. He knows it won't tell him anything; it's too dark, and he's sure both of them know that the combination of asymmetrical masks and hoods plays hell with facial recognition software, but it makes him feel better.
The conversation is growing heated, and while he's interested, Percy has other things to do. He starts to walk towards them, which they don't notice at first.
"You're gambling with the rent check right now," Artemis is saying, "so I need you to take a breath, center yourself, and go back to doing your job."
"It's not happening," Apollo says, adamant. "You just have to accept that."
"If I may," Percy says.
Apollo has a dagger out so quickly that Percy doesn't see how he did it, which is quite the trick. "Take one step closer to my sister and you'll be dead before you hit the ground."
"He's good at hand-to-hand," Artemis says. She rolls her eyes. "The job is blown, let's get the hell out of here. Smoke Machine over here probably has friends closing on us as we speak."
"I'm sure they'd love to meet you," Percy says, covering for the fact that he doesn't.
"Thanks but no thanks," she says, and then the two of them are off. He doesn't get the chance to fire on either of them, but he knew he wouldn't, not in the middle of the city.
He jumps off the roof, activating the gliding rig in his duster for a safe landing, and considers what's happened. The Twins were on his radar before, but what he's seen tonight fascinates him. There are more variables than he expected, angles to be investigated. Perhaps there's something to this.
Either way, Percy will have an interesting time finding out.
The Twins come to be something of a special project to Percy after that. After Ripley, he stopped making deep dives, learned slowly how to stop letting obsession take him over, but it's nice to dig into something that has no emotional aspect to it, just academic curiosity. They're certainly interesting, but it doesn't take him much time before he's gleaned everything there is to know without fighting them.
And if Percy is rather more interested in Artemis than Apollo, well, that really has nothing to do with anything. It's only natural that another ranged specialist would interest him more; it's a thing he understands better than the desire to be in the thick of things all the time. There are precious few archers, as well, and he wonders how she got to that point, what compels her to do something that's such a production number in this day and age.
And if he still recalls her voice with crystal clarity, that's just good memory for you.
It's Scanlan who gets the actual tip; Percy is just chatting with Keyleth in the lounge at the mansion when he comes in, waving his phone. "Who wants to go a-thwarting?" he asks.
"What's the crime?" Keyleth asks.
"Looks like somebody's going to take advantage of Emon National showing their big juicy ass," Scanlan says.
"Someone was always going to," Percy says. "We'll all be better off when several people get fired over it."
"Well, it looks like what they're going to get fired over is the Twins," Scanlan says, and Percy's ears perk up.
"I think it's a lovely day to go thwarting," Percy says.
"I'll get Pike if you get Grog," Scanlan says, already out the door.
The reality of it is kind of a disappointment, because the Twins just scatter, doubtlessly shocked at Vox Machina's arrival. Percy has the numbers; the Twins could stand against Vox Machina if they made the attempt, though it would almost certainly end with the Twins fleeing. They have so many advantages- stealth, speed, flight, low risk of mechanical failure- and it disappoints Percy that they apparently don't know how to utilize them to the best of their ability.
"TWINS THWARTED", the paper says in the morning, a picture of a silhouetted Vox Machina underneath it, and Percy is mostly just annoyed.
He keeps at his research, and the Twins keep at their crime. The more he goes through it, the more he thinks they would be a fascinating counterpoint to Vox Machina's skills. It's another two weeks before he brings the matter to Vox Machina as a whole, at one of the family dinners that Keyleth and Pike like to throw.
"Let's talk Twins," Percy says, after everyone but Grog is full. "They interest me, and I know they interest some of you."
Using the projection technology in the nearest wall, Percy pulls up the workspace where he's been arranging his information on the Twins. The fact that it looks like a conspiracy theorist's corkboard is a private joke he has with himself, but it's very useful in terms of organizing and presenting data. No one says anything, which Percy is expecting, given how much information there is, but the silence goes on a little too long.
"What's wrong?" Percy asks, looking at his board and then back to the group.
"You need to get laid," Grog says.
It's on the tip of Percy's tongue to protest, but then he gives the board a closer look. In a flash of insight, he suddenly realizes that eighty percent of the pictures on it are pictures of Artemis; a good third of those could have been omitted, because they're just different angles of the same shot, ones that are particularly flattering.
Christ, maybe he does need to get laid.
"Be that as it may," Percy says. "We have a real chance at serving as a counter to a burgeoning threat, if not ending it entirely."
Percy walks them through his evidence, suddenly much more aware of how much he talks about Artemis. The team considers it with the combination of heckling and probing questions that Percy expected, but he thinks they might be coming around.
"Is this really what we want to do?" Keyleth asks. "Run around with the same villains?"
"Yeah," Grog says.
"It's a hazard of the job," Scanlan says.
"We have a goal," Pike says. "We're their counterpoint, yeah, but we're doing it to keep their crime to a minimum and bring them in when we can."
"Exactly," Percy says, though Keyleth still looks skeptical; he values her input more than he can say, but sometimes things just don't go through. She is not of this world, after all, and it makes itself apparent at times like these. "So, what's the consensus?"
"I'm in," Grog says.
"Same," Pike says.
"Well, if they're in, who am I to say no?" Scanlan says.
Keyleth pauses for a long time before answering, and Percy tries not to pressure her. "I guess we can try it," she says.
"Then I'll keep an eye on them, and we'll agree to prioritize them in our activities," Percy says. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a nemesis."
There's a round of consensus, then the meeting breaks up, people chatting to each other. Keyleth stands up and walks over to Percy. "Can I talk to you?" she says, looking hesitant.
"Of course," he replies. She takes him by the arm, leading him away from everyone else, where they won't be overheard.
"Be careful," she says, without preamble.
"About what?" Percy asks, confused.
"You're my best friend, okay?" Keyleth says. "And I don't want to accuse you of anything, but just, just be careful. You've been doing this longer than the rest of us, and I know you know your stuff, but I don't want you get wrapped up in a villain-hero thing."
"A villain-hero thing?" he says, looking at her skeptically.
"You know," she says, like she doesn't know why she has to explain. "When the villain and the hero fall for each other."
Percy laughs in disbelief. "I have not fallen for Artemis."
"Are you sure?" Keyleth asks, in a way that makes Percy feel exposed.
"I'll be fine," he says. "If I feel like it's getting to be too much, I'll just recuse myself."
"Just be safe," she says. "It doesn't end well for anyone."
Keyleth walks away, and Percy lets her.
True to his word, Percy follows the Twins more closely, looking for opportunities to strike. He cleans up his board, getting rid of unnecessary shots as he adds more information. Everything is strictly professional, and everything is fine. Just because he's watching Artemis's every movement doesn't mean that they're anything to each other, other than enemies.
Then he meets her again on another rooftop, and things go slightly to hell.
They've met up several times by this point, but the two of them haven't been in close quarters. It doesn't really surprise Percy; he's been keeping himself at arm's length, for everyone's sake. It's pure chance that he comes upon her on a cold, clear night, while looking for somewhere to study Apollo's movements.
Artemis is bundled up in her cloak, but Percy can tell she's still freezing. She's too focused on that to be paying attention to his approach, even when he comes within twenty feet.
"You'll catch your death," he says, startling her, and in moments he's facing down an arrow.
"Oh, it's you," she says, and Percy neither takes aim nor holds up his hands in surrender. "I hate to tell you this, but if you're here to stop a crime, I'm not doing anything illegal."
"Brandishing a deadly weapon might qualify," he points out.
After a few moments, she lowers her bow and replaces her arrow, sauntering towards him. "Come to talk, or just enjoying the view?"
"Can't it be both?" he says; talking was not on his agenda, but he finds he's not opposed to it. "Maybe I'd like to get to know my opposite number."
"By all means," she says. "I like long walks on the beach, and my turn-ons are good conversation and lots and lots of cash."
"Is that so?" Percy says with a smirk, and he can't help thinking about the number of zeroes in his bank account balance. That is not what he should be thinking about, but being this close to her is messing him up.
Artemis proceeds to make it worse, walking over, and Percy just lets her do it, just watches her come closer.
"Do you ever consider that anyone could just push this mask right off?" she says, and Percy doesn't pull away as she strokes a finger down his mask. "Seems like such an easy target."
"And this isn't?" he says, running his thumb along the edge of hers; the skin of her cheek is soft beneath his fingers, but he keeps himself from touching her anywhere else.
"I'll tell you a secret, darling," she says, in a conspiratorial voice. "It's glued on."
She puts a deliberate finger on the tip of his mask, sliding it upwards, and he doesn't stop her. He doesn't want to stop her; if she goes much further, the deadman's switch in his mask will send an electric shock through her finger, but he imagines what it would be like to take it off deliberately, let her see him, leave himself open, maybe for a kiss.
Then he realizes he's done it.
He's fallen for Artemis.
Bigby to Animus, Scanlan's voice says into his ear, and Percy only just manages not to let out a stream of invective. He turns his face away from Artemis, holding a finger to his communicator earring. Animus, if you're reading, there's been a change in plans. Meet back at base.
"Roger," Percy says, instead of what he really wants to say, which is something more like "please go fuck yourself, Scanlan."
He turns back, and Artemis is still standing there, waiting on him. She looks disappointed, and he wonders if she knows that, if she thinks she's keeping her emotions in check.
Percy is apparently not any good at it. Thank god he wears a full face mask.
"Sorry to break up this magical evening, but I'm needed elsewhere," he says. He can't stop himself from reaching out; he lays a finger to her lips for just a moment, like a promise, like the kiss that he can't give her. "See you soon."
He leaps off the roof and is gone into the night, reproaching himself the whole way.
And what would it mean, anyway? What would it look like to have anything at all with Artemis? She's on the wrong side of the law, and that makes her inaccessible to Percy, shut off. Would he even want her if he could reach out and touch? Is she a person to him, or a mask? Would he even want to see what she's like in the morning, blurred with lingering sleep, or sitting in the sun, her skin warm and soft, or in a thousand other quotidian moments?
The worst part of Percy says that it doesn't matter what he has to give up to see it.
He can't and he shouldn't, so he won't. He's a bad idea, and he's not going to inflict himself on someone who's already chosen where her loyalties lie. That's just going to have to be enough.
This is the point where he said he'd recuse himself, where he can see himself slipping away, getting too close. He knows that, and he also knows he's not going to. He doesn't like that about himself, but there it is anyway.
Things change irrevocably at the bank, and only ninety percent of it is Percy's fault.
When he gets the call, he's not with the rest of the team, off on an errand for Cassandra, and he speeds over to meet them. The Twins are still in medias res, and Vox Machina beats out the LEOs, Grog roaring out his battle cry before they approach. Percy uses his mask to bypass the tint on the front doors, seeing two familiar figures in the lobby.
"Got 'em," he says, and he eases the door open so Grog can chuck in a smoke grenade.
Percy is through the door first, as is standard procedure, since he's become immune to his own knockout gas. There has been a bit of collateral damage, tellers and patrons passed out with looks of terror on their faces; Percy has stopped feeling bad about splash damage, because he's confident in the safety of the gas. Apollo is nowhere to be seen, but Percy's not as surprised by that as he could be. Apollo's strength lies largely in his speed, and it's not inconceivable that he got out fast.
What is inconceivable to Percy is that Artemis is still there without him.
Percy carefully walks over, sure for a moment that she's going to get up and have at him. But no, she's just lying there, slumped against an island in front of the teller windows. She has a gash on her forehead, from her hairline down to her mask, and Percy really hopes that the amount of blood is just from the fact that head wounds bleed a lot.
Percy looks around, both for his teammates and for Apollo; neither of them are approaching, but that won't last. He has half a second to make a very important decision. He can leave her here to her fate, which will probably be being thrown into a holding cell with blood still dripping from her face, or he can just sort of pick her up and leave.
So he picks her up and leaves.
The grappling gun functions perfectly, something Percy admittedly had doubts about, and the two of them are on the roof in an instant. He runs across the roof towards the alleyway, Artemis in his arms; he only knows Apollo has followed when he sees a pair of daggers in his peripheral vision. They both go wide, and Percy leaps off the roof, landing hard with Artemis's added weight. He carefully lays Artemis in his passenger's seat and gets in the driver's side, cranking up the car.
Halo to Animus, Pike is saying in his ear. Where are you? Do you have a location on the Twins?
Animus, don't do it, Keyleth says urgently, in a voice all too knowing.
Percy takes out his earring and tosses it into the back seat.
The time it takes to outrun Apollo is all but negligible, and Percy spends the time wondering where he's going to go. He can't take her back to the mansion; there would be too many questions, too many accusations, too many people. Luckily for him, he has places the rest of them don't know about, safehouses that are safe even from his friends.
He selects the most private of these, parking in the garage and carrying Artemis up in the freight elevator; she's still bloody, but she doesn't look like she's in shock. He doesn't have much time before the gas wears off, but for now she's sleeping rather calmly for what's happened to her.
Inside the safehouse- the safe-apartment, but close enough- he takes her into the windowless bedroom, setting her down and getting rid of his duster. The medical supplies are easy enough to gather, and he realizes suddenly that he's going to have to contend with another choice. He knows it's a serious invasion of privacy to even consider taking off her mask, but the cut on her forehead extends underneath it, maybe all the way to her eyebrow. Privacy is necessary, but he's not going to forgive himself if he puts it above her safety.
He takes his own mask off. If he's going to remove hers, at least they'll be even; if his suspicions about her and her brother's origin are true, he'll actually be putting himself at a much greater disadvantage. He suspects they came from not much, and well, he came from quite a lot.
He pulls very gently at the edge of her mask; it really is glued on. He rifles through his first aid supplies; all he comes up with is rubbing alcohol, but it works to get the mask off. All that and the mask itself remains sticky; he must ask her for the formula, as long as she doesn't wake up and immediately punch him in the face.
She's no less compelling without her mask, even with blood on her face. He makes himself not think about it while he hooks up the medical scanner he copied from Pike's; thankfully, the results are good.
Within a few minutes, she startles awake, a side effect of the gas. He sees her take in her surroundings, the look in her eye that gives away her shock.
"My brother's going to murder you," she says, which is more or less what he thought she'd say.
"I promise to have you home by curfew," he says. "The knockout in 'knockout gas' is not supposed to involve you falling and cracking your head, and for that I apologize."
Artemis makes a noise of disgust that Percy resolutely doesn't find cute, and he pushes her gently back down when she tries to sit up. "Couldn't you have told me something cooler happened?"
"On my end it was very cool," he says. "There was a grappling hook." Suddenly he feels caught out, like he really has no good reason to have done any of this, like she's going to attack him at any moment, and he feels the need to justify himself. "The police were right behind us. If I'd left you there, they'd have arrested you on the spot, head injury or not."
That's close enough to the reason.
"What happened to my brother?" she says, looking afraid for the first time.
"He made it out, and then I outran him," Percy says; he focuses on cleaning her forehead instead of the concern in her eyes.
"If you'd just given me up, you wouldn't have had to run at all," she says.
"I know," he replies. "I just had to make sure you got the right kind of medical attention as quickly as possible," he adds, because that's his story and he's sticking to it. "And before you say it, yes, he tracked us. I lost him."
"Isn't there a medic on your team?" Artemis asks, and it somehow doesn't surprise him that she's already poking holes in his story. "Does your team even know I'm here? Because it certainly seems like it's just you."
"She left before you woke up," Percy lies, and it looks like she might believe him. "I thought perhaps you would prefer as few people as possible, in case you revealed any sensitive information."
"Vex'ahlia," she blurts out. "My name is Vex'ahlia."
"That's not what I meant, but thank you," he says, instead of doing something unforgivable like telling her she has a very lyrical name. "And what am I going to find if I look you up?"
"Next to nothing," she says, which Percy expected. "Especially not compared to what I'll find if I look up Percival de Rolo."
He really wasn't expecting her to recognize him, though he left the possibility open deliberately, quid pro quo for taking off her mask. He should have just- he should have done a lot of things differently, if he's being honest, and leaving his mask on is just another one for the pile.
"Call me Percy," he says, because there's no going back now.
"Then you can call me Vex," she replies. She laughs humorlessly. "The standard line is that I have to kill you now that you know too much."
Percy smirks. "You can certainly try."
He keeps attending to her wound, cleaning it thoroughly. She shuts her eyes, and Percy hopes she's not doing it because it hurts; he's being as gentle as he can under the circumstances.
A thought comes to Percy unbidden. "What if I paid you?"
"What?" she says, opening her eyes and frowning at him.
"What if I paid you for your services?" he says, and it feels sort of giddy, the idea that he could solve all his problems like that, write a check and allay his every worry. Vex raises an eyebrow at him, and Percy blushes, realizing what it sounded like. "Not those services. You have skills that would be very valuable in a crime fighting capacity. If you're only doing this for the money, I have plenty of it that I'm not afraid to spend."
"I'm not in the market for a sugar daddy," Vex says dismissively, though Percy fancies that she sounds intrigued.
Percy reaches into his pocket and retrieves a business card; he's given out maybe ten of them ever, the number of the emergency line that he keeps on his person at all times. "Then at least promise me you'll take this. Use it if you change your mind."
"If I start selling myself, you'll be the first person I call," she says wryly.
"See that you do," he says, deliberately ignoring the innuendo. He doesn't speak for a moment, considering what he's going to say, considering if he wants to say it; fuck it. "You should know that I'm not the kind of person that saves people for selfless reasons."
"Then what is the reason?" Vex asks, looking at him keenly.
"I want to put you to work," he says, which is not the answer.
"You already told me that part," she says, and it doesn't surprise him to be called on it. "There's something else."
"You intrigue me," Percy says. "I want to figure you out."
"I'm not a puzzle, dear," Vex says, which is such a lie. "You'll find I'm quite like I appear on the surface."
"I don't even think you think that," he says.
"And what do you hope to achieve?" she asks, sidestepping Percy's comment.
"I don't know yet," he says. "It depends on what I figure out."
This is all going too far too fast, and Percy tries to get away, defuse all of this before it blows up; Vex doesn't let him, pushes it forward instead, grabbing him by his shirt and dragging him into a kiss. It's been a long time since he kissed anyone, and it wasn't like this. This thing between them has been growing, building, and it's a relief that it wasn't just him. It can't have been just him, given the desperation she's kissing him with, so much pent up emotion.
She pulls away, and he forgets to stop, looking for more for a moment before he gets it back together. "Figure that out," she says breathlessly, and she looks triumphant.
"You may have to give me that prompt twice," he says, leaning in again, because if he's going to fuck himself over like this, he's going to get his fill. "I need time to consider all the angles."
"Let me refresh your memory," she says, letting him in.
She twines his fingers in his hair as they kiss, and Percy is helpless to stop the way he moves towards her, caging her in. He wants so much more than a kiss, wants everything, up to and including having Vex everywhere in his life, but starting in this bed. She's reaching for his belt and it would be so easy, nothing at all to take her just like this, exactly the way they both want.
Except the part where her brother is out searching for her, and the part where they're a hero and a villain, and the part where he kind of kidnapped her, and the way he can hear Keyleth's warning in the back of his head.
Somehow he finds the strength to push her away. "Sorry," he says, unable to resist getting in one more kiss before he presses the button on the gas canister he's been hiding in his pocket. Vex is out almost instantly, a peaceful look on her face instead of the way he left her last time.
Percy heaves a sigh and reaches for the bandages, closing up her wound. His hands are shaking, but he resolutely ignores it. He can't believe he just did that. It was such a mistake, but he knows he'd do it again; he has every intention of doing it again if he's given a similar opportunity.
When he's done bandaging the cut, Percy carefully replaces her mask; it adheres instantly, even over the bandage, and he almost wants to keep it, just to see how it works. He picks her up and takes her downstairs, buckling her into the car. He has no idea where her base is, but he knows just the place for a drop off. And drop her off he does, leaving her slumbering under a tree, snoring just a little bit.
He's back in his car before he remembers about his earring; he is almost certainly in deep shit by this point, but it won't be the first time he was incommunicado. He finds it wedged in his back seat cushions and sheepishly puts it back on, touching it as he drives away.
"Animus to base," he says.
Where the fuck are you? Grog demands.
"I had to do some cleanup," he says.
Did you kill the Twins? Scanlan asks warily.
"Hardly," Percy says.
What's that supposed to mean? Scanlan says.
We should wait until Animus comes back to discuss this, Keyleth says, and Percy can just tell that he's in for it; the only question is whether she'll go after him alone or in front of everyone else.
All of Vox Machina is waiting for him when he gets back. The entire way home he thought of what to say, but he came up short every time; all he did was wind himself up, getting more and more defensive over questions he hadn't even been asked yet.
"So that didn't go like it was supposed to," Scanlan says, as an opening.
"We'd like some answers," Pike says.
"I am always going to do some things without your knowledge or permission," Percy says levelly. "This was one of them. Please don't ask me anything."
Keyleth makes a noise of annoyance. "Percy, you owe us an-"
"I let you live in my house, and spend my money, and use my information," he says, low and dangerous. "I don't owe you a goddamned thing."
He turns and walks away, partly so he won't be questioned but mostly so he won't see the look on Keyleth's face.
He has fucked this day up the most he possibly could without someone dying, and the worst part is that he knows he's going to keep on fucking up.
Everyone gives Percy a wide berth for a few days, and he's frankly shocked when no one suggests dropping the Twins. He's surprised that not even Scanlan, who has a sexual innuendo for every occasion, seems to have put two and two together. Percy still feels fairly awful about how he treated them, and it's past time for him to get his shit together about this whole affair.
Which he doesn't.
They keep coming up against the Twins, though the Twins are busier and more easily mobilized than Vox Machina, and Percy continues studying them, looking into every lead, with one exception. Vex's name is unusual enough that he knows a cursory search would tell him everything there is to know, but for reasons he doesn't quite understand himself, he doesn't look her up. Maybe it's because it would tell him everything about Apollo too, who didn't agree to revealing himself; maybe it's because he's violated her privacy enough already, even if her name is something she volunteered.
But either way, he sees her only from afar, and that is more than enough. If he thinks about her, if he dreams about that kiss, it's his own problem, and he's not making anyone deal with it from now on.
Until he gets a phone call.
He's with Pike when it happens; they're in the helicopter, in which Pike has just picked Percy up after some reconnaissance. They're talking idly over their headsets when Percy's phone rings- not just his normal cell phone, but his secure line, the one that so few people have access to.
He takes his headset off, answering as soon as he can. "Hello?" he says uncertainly, hopefully audible over the noise in the helicopter.
"Percy?" Vex's voice says, and Percy almost drops the phone. "It's Vex'ahlia, dear." Her voice is uneven, breathy, but she pushes on before Percy can question her about it. "If you'll get me an extraction in the next five minutes, I'll let you pay me and my brother as much as your little heart desires."
"Are you hurt?" Percy says, his heart racing; he's sure Pike is looking at him in alarm, but he can't deal with that right now.
"That's why you only have five minutes," she says. "Roof of the Bridgewater Building. Don't keep me waiting."
"Vex," he says urgently. "Stay with me, Vex. I'll be there soon, just stay on the line."
The call doesn't end, but he hears what sounds like phone hitting pavement. He can't bring himself to take the phone away from his ear, but he doesn't hear anything else, just the sound of rain.
Percy raises the headset to his mouth, speaking into the microphone. "Any favor I have with you, I'm calling in now," he says to Pike, still holding the phone in his other hand.
"What's wrong?" she shouts back, frowning in concern.
"I need a medical extraction at the Bridgewater Building, and I need it now," he says. "I'll explain on the way."
Pike plugs the location into the helicopter's navigation system, and they bank hard, headed back into the heart of the city. Percy finally manages to lower the phone from his ear and put his headset back on, but he puts the phone on speaker and sets it in his lap, nervously tapping his foot.
"You said you'd explain," Pike says gently; Percy knows she thinks she's being kind, but he can feel the sting of her disapproval very sharply.
Percy takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "I am in over my head with a supervillain and we have to pick her up."
"That's not something I expected you to say," she says.
"Which part?" he asks.
"All of it," she says. "Why didn't you tell us about this? We could have helped."
"You're helping now," he says. "I- if I knew how to tell you about this, I would have. But as long as we can save her, she's going to be an asset from now on, not an enemy."
"Wait," Pike says. "Is this Artemis?"
"Yes?" Percy says, wincing.
"Percy," she says, scandalized. "Have you had a thing going with Artemis this whole time?"
"Nothing so serious as that," he says, trying to play it off, though he knows it won't work.
"That time you disappeared at the bank?" she says.
"I was with her," Percy says, because at this point, not admitting it is not going to help. "And I extended an offer to her, that I would help her out of her present situation if she asked, and she's called to collect."
"This is a lot," Pike says, but Percy is relieved to realize that she's bringing the helicopter into a hover over a building downtown. Looking out, he can see two still figures on the roof, both dressed in black cloaks, and his heart leaps into his throat.
Pike gets out of the pilot's seat, quickly putting on a harness before sliding open the heavy door to the helicopter. Without delay, she swings out over the side, lowering herself down towards the roof.
For several horrible minutes, Percy forgets how to breathe.
"They're alive," Pike says finally, and Percy sucks in a deep breath. "Get the stretcher ready, I need to get them out of here immediately."
It's probably more than a two person job to medevac people, but Pike and Percy manage it, getting both the Twins into the helicopter before Percy gets into the pilot's seat and takes off, back towards the mansion. He focuses on flying so that he won't ask Pike questions, won't think about Vex bleeding out, won't run back and try to give aid that he's in no way qualified to provide. That's Pike's area; he doesn't understand her magic any more than he understands Scanlan or Keyleth's, but right now, he just has to know it works.
They're almost back by the time Pike sits down heavily in the seat next to him. "They're okay for now," she says. "They lost a lot of blood, but I have them stabilized. We're not out of the woods yet, but I'm doing what I can."
"Thank you," Percy says sincerely.
"So now you can start figuring out what you're going to tell everyone else," she says.
"And what do you think?" he asks.
"I think you told me you had a thing with our archnemesis and then asked me to put us in who knows what kind of danger for her," she says sternly.
He starts to protest, but thinks about it instead. "I kind of did, didn't I."
"Percy," she says.
"I'm so sorry," he says. "Let's just get home and sort this out, then I'll let everyone yell at me at once."
That's not actually what happens; what happens is that Percy and Pike rush the Twins into their infirmary, Keyleth running in to assist, and nobody thinks of saying anything to anyone for a while. Apollo is the less damaged of the two, his injured wing inexplicably folding into his back and disappearing. While Vex is still out, he jerks awake, in time to see Pike and Percy both standing over him.
"Hi there," Pike says, voice soothing. "You're safe."
"Are you sure?" Apollo says hoarsely, and Percy realizes for the first time that he has no idea what the man's name is; it feels strange, given what he knows of Vex. "Where is my sister?"
"There," Percy says, indicating Vex, and Apollo whips his head around to see; the relief on his face at seeing his sister is immense.
"I'm going back to sleep," Apollo says, deliberately shutting his eyes, though Percy suspects he isn't tired.
"Take your time," Pike says.
Keyleth looks both the Twins over, checking their monitors before looking at Percy. "They're stable," she says, and Percy knows what she means.
"I suppose I'll go face the music," he says, squaring his shoulders and walking out.
Grog and Scanlan are waiting in the lounge that's just off the infirmary. "I cannot wait to hear this one," Scanlan says, and he looks almost gleeful.
"I can explain everything," Percy says. "And you're not going to like the explanation very much."
"You're probably right about that," Keyleth says.
"I've agreed to pay the Twins to fight crime," Percy says.
"What, you mean like join Vox Machina?" Grog says, after a very long pause.
"Wouldn't you like to have a new baby sister and brother?" Percy says, cringing, and the joke falls flat. "We can make that determination later."
"Apollo stabbed me," Scanlan protests. "Twice!"
"We all make mistakes," Percy says.
"Look, just because you hooked up with Artemis behind our back-" Keyleth says.
"You hooked up with Artemis?!" Scanlan interjects.
"I didn't hook up with anyone!" Percy protests. "Everyone, please, just calm down."
"I think calm is a little much to expect," Pike says.
"I made a choice," Percy says. "I won't make anyone else deal with the fallout who doesn't want to."
"But they'll be out on their ass," Grog says.
"I promised my home as Vox Machina's base, and I haven't rescinded that," Percy says, though a little tiny part of him wants to at this moment. "The Twins are just going to be here for now. We'll work it all out."
"Just remember that they followed you home, and they're your responsibility," Scanlan says.
"I know," Percy says. "Sweet god, do I know."
And when everyone is done being angry at Percy, a funny thing happens: the Twins join up, and everything is okay.
More than anything, Percy feels like they were missing the whole time and he only realized it once they were there. He thinks back to his first assessments, and he wonders if he got the whole thing backwards, if they seemed like such good opponents for Vox Machina because they were what Vox Machina was lacking in. They slot in seamlessly, filling in the gaps; that's enough to win over Grog, whose first priority is always a good fight. Pike is predisposed to seeing the best in people, and Percy knows Scanlan has accepted them when he starts riding the two of them over all manner of things. Even Keyleth comes around, though it- rightfully- takes some work on Percy's part.
There are changes to be made, however, and thankfully some are cosmetic. Vax- now the Champion, a name supposedly given to him by a goddess- has not been persuaded away from wearing all black, though a man with wings was never going to be able to change his look all that much. Still, he manages to look much more imposing in his new attire, though he refuses to go out without some kind of cloak.
"I feel naked," Vax says, when questioned on it, and Scanlan has a lot of things to say about Vax being naked in public.
Vex- now shopping for a name that's not Artemis, which she has admittedly been doing since before she ever turned good- is a little more willing to adapt, and today is the first time she's showing anyone her new costume. She's testing it out on Percy, who suspects she's more worried about the whole thing than she'd ever admit, but who has promised himself to be honest when she asks.
"Don't say anything at first," she says, from over the screen she's changing behind. "I want you to consider it."
"I'm sure you look wonderful," Percy says. "Gilmore has never steered any of us wrong."
"Alright, here I come," Vex says, stepping out in her new costume.
Percy dutifully waits for a moment; he has plenty to say, but she did ask. "It's inspired," he says, when he feels like he's waited enough time. "Everything about it suits you."
"Do you think so?" she says, holding out her cape and looking at it critically. The costume is form-fitting, but comfortably so, a leggings, shirt, and tunic ensemble in shades of brown and blue. There is still a mask, but it's lighter, just an angular figure-eight in the same brown as her tunic. Percy understands that she must feel exposed compared to her last costume, no cloak to swallow her, but it's a definite improvement, and not just for selfish reasons.
He stands up, walking over and taking a closer look; Gilmore's workmanship is, as usual, impeccable, and the fit is perfect. "I wouldn't change the slightest thing," Percy says.
Vex's shoulders slump, and Percy can tell how relieved she is. "Good, because I love it," she confesses.
Percy smiles. The pendant she's wearing catches his eye, a lightly polished crystal of some kind that looks like it might be hollow in the middle. "Is that necklace new?"
"It's a little trinket I found a long time ago," she says, hold it out for Percy's inspection. "I only just stumbled across it again while I was packing, and it seemed to go with the look. It has something in it, but I've never been able to make out quite what it is."
Percy looks closely at the necklace. "Some kind of figurine, maybe."
"That's what I was thinking," Vex says. She frowns at it, looking like she has an idea, and suddenly something comes out of the pendant, making both of them jump back.
There's a bear.
Percy freezes, not remembering what to do about bears, which he'd never expected to encounter in his own home. Is he supposed to make himself scary or run or play dead? Maybe all of them? Maybe none of them?
The bear just kind of stares at the two of them, looking more sleepy than anything else; finally he pushes himself up on all fours and lumbers towards Vex. He sniffs her curiously before giving her hand a big lick, and then he sits back down, like he's waiting for instructions.
"What a handsome boy," Vex says, and before Percy can say anything she has her hands in the bear's fur. It seems to respond well to scritches, if the pleased sounds it's making are any indication.
"M-magic bear," Percy manages to stammer.
"He's just my little Trinket," she says. "Aren't you, darling?" The bear makes a happy noise, butting Vex's hip gently with his head, which almost pushes her over.
"You should be much more afraid right now," he says, and the bear gives him a look like it's offended by the suggestion.
"I think he understands us, so watch your mouth," Vex says tightly, teeth together. "I'm trying to placate him. I think I might be his owner now."
"Why not the Baroness?" he suggests, unable to resist even when they might be in terrible danger.
"I'm not basing my entire identity on a pun," she says. "But I'll keep that in mind."
"Think it over," he says.
The bear is still waiting, looking between the two of them as they talk; Percy thinks it definitely understands them. "Would you like some food, Trinket?" Vex asks, and the bear makes an excited growl, if that's a thing bears can do. "Let's go find you a snack."
Percy watches the two of them parade out, Vex still in her new costume. It occurs to him that a different woman would ask him if he wanted a eight-hundred-pound apex predator in his house, even an apparently magical one that came from a pendant. This, however, is Vex, and he knew she was going to fuck him up from the first time he met her.
Though he still thinks that the Baroness is still a pretty good name. That or something about hunting. He'll figure it out.