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Second Chances

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The first time she kissed Cassandra was at the Winter's Crest celebration.

Vex hadn't intended to do it. It was just that the night had been full of ghosts, both of them missing familiar faces from previous years' celebrations who they knew would never be there again. She'd seen the shadows in Cassandra's eyes as yet another longtime citizen of Whitestone had brought up the de Rolo family's fate, felt a familiar anger building inside her when someone else mentioned Percy, and then she just, well, snapped.

"Excuse me," Vex said, her tone carefully blasé – just like Cassandra had taught her – but with a hint of iron underneath as she looped her arm in that of her former sister-in-law. "I need to borrow Lady Cassandra for a moment."

It said a lot that Cassandra didn't protest. She simply let Vex lead her away, murmuring only a few perfunctory apologies as they slipped towards the nearest balcony.

The careful mask that Cassandra wore slipped as soon as they were out of everyone's sight, cracks appearing in it that Vex couldn't possibly miss.

Vex didn't say anything. She just hugged her.

As always, Cassandra went still for a moment before relaxing into the embrace. She was getting better at accepting them, slowly but surely, but Vex didn't think the other woman would ever be quite comfortable with such an overt sign of affection. It wasn't in her nature.

"Want me to shoot them?" Vex asked quietly, in a tone meant only for Cassandra's ears.

Cassandra laughed into Vex's shoulder, her face pressed against the cloth of her dress. "I'm afraid that might draw the wrong sort of attention," she said lightly a moment or two later, pulling away.

The shadows were still in her eyes, but they weren't quite as dark as before. Vex suspected it was the best that could be hoped for, at least for now.

Vex let out a thoroughly unladylike snort. "The offer still stands."

"And I appreciate it," Cassandra said primly, her expression smoothing out as she pushed her emotions back down. "But, no."

Vex let out a rather theatrical sigh. "Fine," she said, shaking her head. "Spoilsport."

Cassandra smiled, just for a moment, and Vex felt a familiar pang in her chest at just how much it reminded her of Percy. "Behave," she said, pushing herself up on her tiptoes so that she could press a quick kiss against Vex's cheek.

"Don't I always?" Vex asked teasingly, falling back into familiar banter.

Cassandra opened her mouth as if she was about to argue. Before she could say anything, though, Vex leaned in and pressed a kiss against her lips.

It was quick, barely even a peck, but it wasn't quite as chaste as Vex had intended. She'd meant for it to be a teasing, sisterly type of kiss, like dozens of ones she'd given her before. She could tell the moment their lips connected that she'd failed, that something that she hadn't even realized was there had slipped through.

Both of them stared at each other as Vex pulled away.

"I should go," Cassandra said, her face flaming bright red. Without another word, she turned and fled back inside.

Leaving Vex standing there on the balcony, the cold winter breeze biting at her skin as she wondered what in the Nine Hells she'd been thinking.

Somewhere in the distance, she heard the cry of a raven. It echoed in her ears like her brother's laughter. Oh, Stubby. Why would you go and do something like that?

"Fuck," Vex muttered under her breath, leaning back against the stone wall without a care in the world about the white dress that she'd been so worried about keeping clean just a few minutes earlier. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

*

Three days of pointedly ignoring Cassandra later, and Vex had all but decided that she hadn't been thinking. Well, actually, she'd decided that she hadn't been thinking approximately thirty seconds after kissing her. But after three days, it had solidified into something more definite rather than an idle thought.

It wasn't the first time she'd done something impetuous that turned around to bite her in the ass, and it probably wouldn't be the last. Still, she couldn't help but feel particularly guilty about this time. Cassandra had been a godsend for her over the last few years. Before everything had gone wrong, during that precious year of peace, she and Percy had worked their asses off to make certain Vex was prepared for her new role. And since the final battle, Cassandra and Vex had supported each other as best they could.

They'd both lost their families, after all.

In a lot of ways, that made it worse. Vex hadn't even realized she felt anything towards Cassandra that wasn't merely sisterly, not until the moment she'd kissed her, and if she hadn't known then there was no possible way Cassandra could have expected it. Which had been abundantly clear when the poor woman had all but ran screaming.

Vex would have given almost anything to have Trinket beside her just then, so that she could bury her face in his fur like she'd done when she was younger and was upset with Vax. He wasn't in Whitestone, though. He was in Zephrah with Keyleth for the next few weeks, the only comfort Vex could give her sister-in-everything-except-name when her own duties kept her from visiting at this time of the year.

Shaking her head, she slipped through the mostly empty streets. It was early, the sun barely even up yet, but the smell of bread baking was already filling the air.

"I'm an idiot," Vex muttered under her breath, shaking her head. "A complete idiot."

Nearby, a raven cawed.

Vex's gaze snapped upward to the roof of a nearby building. A large raven was sitting there, staring at her, and she felt a familiar pang in her chest. "You're an idiot too!" she called out, only two years of practice keeping her voice from cracking.

The raven stared at her, tilting its head a bit in what she couldn't help but think was acknowledgement. Without another sound, it turned and flew away.

Something that felt suspiciously like tears burned in the corners of her eyes, and Vex took a moment to blink them away. She still didn't care about appearances like Cassandra did, like Percy had, but she'd learned over the last few years that sometimes not letting everything you were feeling show had its advantages.

Vex took in a few shaky breaths. Then she started walking again.

She didn't handle the day-to-day running of the bakery, not any longer. It was mostly because she didn't have time, not with her being an official part of Whitestone's council now. That wasn't all of it, not that she'd admit it out loud. The Slayer's Cake had its own ghosts, memories of happier times that cut her heart with their sharp edges.

Still, she checked in from time to time to make certain the staff she'd hired were doing an adequate job. Just because she didn't have the heart to run it herself now didn't mean she wanted to risk doing anything that might cause it to disappear. Those memories were precious even if they did hurt.

Vex wasn't particularly surprised to see Cassandra hovering outside the door to the bakery as she came around the corner. Avoidance had never worked all that well with Percy, and his sister shared that trait with him – among others.

Cassandra had a somewhat pinched look on her face, and there were shadows under her eyes like she hadn't been sleeping properly. Her expression stayed carefully neutral, although her eyes clearly darted in Vex's direction.

"Cassandra?" Vex asked carefully. "What are you doing here?"

A hurt look flashed across Cassandra's face, there and gone so quickly that Vex wouldn't have noticed it if she hadn't been looking. Vex flinched, a wave of guilt hitting her. "Sorry," she said quickly. "I didn't mean—"

"I thought that we should finish our discussion from Winter's Crest," Cassandra said, cutting her off.

That in itself was an oddity. Cassandra was many things, but rude rarely was one of them, even with people who she was annoyed with.

"I'm sorry," Vex said, reaching up to rub the bridge of her nose. "I didn't mean to do it. It won't happen again, I promise."

There was a long pause. "What if I want it to happen again?" Cassandra asked quietly, something in her voice that Vex couldn't quite read. For the first time in a long time, she sounded like the young woman she was rather than the prim and proper Lady of Whitestone.

Vex's gaze snapped towards her, something shifting in her chest that she wasn't quite certain how to interpret.

Cassandra shifted slightly in place, a nervousness to her that Vex wasn't used to seeing. Even in the worst situations, Cassandra came across as poised and proper.

For once, she just looked... human.

"Do you?" Vex asked curiously, studying Cassandra's face. "Want it to happen again, I mean?"

Cassandra hesitated for a moment before nodding. "Yes," she said, and she sounded almost surprised to be saying it. "Yes, I think that I do."

Vex could almost hear Vax's laughter. A part of her thought that if she just glanced to the side, she'd see him standing there laughing his head off at her. She ignored the urge, though, well aware that she wouldn't see anyone there.

"Oh," Vex said, her own voice coming out a bit more surprised-sounding than she'd intended. "In that case, yes, we should definitely... finish that discussion."

Cassandra's face lit up, the careful mask that she usually wore in public fading away for just a moment so that Vex could see the real her. There was an echo of Percy in it, but it wasn't his smile. It was her own, similar to his in some ways but still unique at the same time.

Vex couldn't help but smile back.