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the myth of loneliness

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They make camp for their first night in the Feywild. While the group goes about the business of arranging bedrolls and making a fire, Vex quietly slips off to the edge of the clearing they’ve chosen. She makes sure to keep the camp in her sights - the Feywild is tricky, and she doesn’t trust it not to move her dozens of miles away with one wrong step - but she finds a small outcropping of rocks that is not, she hopes, immediately visible to her companions.

With a sigh, she sits down and immediately releases Trinket from her necklace. “I know, buddy,” she says when he sniffs the air suspiciously. “This place feels weird. Too much magic.”

Trinket looks at her - appraisingly, it seems to her - before flopping down at her side and licking her cheek. She smiles, but there’s a catch in her throat she doesn’t want to feel. “I love you too. Let’s just sit here and rest before we deal with anything else, okay?”

She watches the camp in the distance. Each one of her companions are distinct, even at this distance. How could they not be? Scanlan is no more than a speck, albeit a brightly colored one. Grog, by contrast, almost looks human-sized. Percy’s white hair is a beacon amidst the dark trees. And then …. her brother, a dark figure next to Keyleth’s warm, autumn-colored one. There’s something striking about them, from her current view, black and red-gold and green. Not that they’re not striking all the time. It’s just that, from this far away, lit by a dancing fire and the strange unearthly glow that the Feywild seems to throw off of every tree, they seem … like art. Death and the Druid, a story about life and all its richness and what you should take from it before the inevitable end. It almost makes Vex wish she could paint.

It makes her irrationally sad.

She loops her arms around Trinket’s neck and buries her face in his fur. His answering grunt is a comfort that vibrates into her chest. She stays like that for a long few minutes, breathing in the familiar scent of sweaty, musky bear. Others (Scanlan) may call it a stink, but it’s been the scent of home for Vex ever since she held a bulky cub in her arms as she ran from the poacher’s camp. She closes her eyes and imagines herself back in that forest - that very human, very non-magical forest, where she knew every path and every hidey-hole. Where she learned to track and hunt, to survive on her own while Vax roamed the city streets.

Surviving on her own. It’s a skill she’s lost in recent years. Truth be told, she hasn’t missed it that much. She likes being a pack animal much better. “Are we, though?” she murmurs into Trinket’s fur. “A pack?”

An unexpected voice responds. “You know Trinket can’t answer you, right?”

Proof she’s lost some of her survival skills - in years past, Percy would have never been able to sneak up on her. He’s quiet, sure, and she’s taught him a bit about how to dampen his tracks, but still. She looks up and makes a face at him. “Says you. Keyleth has talked to him.”

“Unless you’ve suddenly learned druidic magic, I’m pretty sure you’re just getting grunts in response.”

“Trinket’s grunts are very evocative.”

“I’m sure.” Percy gestures to the rock she’s sitting on. “May I?”

Vex nods, and Percy climbs up and settles down next to her. The uneven surface of the rock leaves him no choice but to press against her side. The butt of his pistol presses into her hip, but somehow the warmth of his arm against hers is more distracting. She has a passing urge to lean into him, but keeps her arms around Trinket. “This place is weird,” she says, “right?”

“Yeah. Weird.”

They fall into a comfortable silence. It’s nice, Vex finds, to be surrounded by living warmth. After a moment, Percy reaches in front of her to scratch Trinket’s ear. His coat has the sharp, tangy scent of gunpowder. Odd, how that feels almost as familiar as Trinket these days. She closes her eyes and rests her cheek in Trinket’s fur. “Percy?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you ever jealous of Cassandra?” She doesn’t open her eyes. She doesn’t want to see if he’s surprised by the question, or worse, if he looks at her knowingly.

He pauses a moment before answering. “Oddly, yes. I know all the reasons I shouldn’t be. She spent five years a prisoner, under a kind of mental torture. I abandoned her, and she still feels it. I know all that,” he says, “but at the same time, she’s spent those years in Whitestone. At home. Her life was comfortable, or as comfortable as it could be given the Briarwoods. And now, she gets to put down roots. She doesn’t have to risk her life. Whitestone is hers, more than it will ever be mine. I envy that.”

“Even though you know you’d never want to live her life.”

“Even though,” he agrees. “Jealousy isn’t a very rational emotion.”

“You can say that again,” Vex grumbles.

“It is, however, totally understandable.” Percy’s hand rests lightly on Vex’s back. “The wings were a big deal, huh?”

“Yes and no,” she says. “I don’t know. Which is a very specific answer, I know.”

Percy lets her fall silent again. His hand stays on her back, a warm, light pressure point that somehow helps her to breathe around the dreaded lump in her throat. Eventually she looks up at the sky. There are no stars here in the Feywild, just a permanent dusky glow that renders everything around them somewhat unreal. She sighs. “I don’t know how to deal with feeling lonely,” she blurts.

“Lonely?” he repeats.

“It’s the one thing I never had to go through. Vax and I have dealt with a lot of shit, but it’s always been together. But right now, I feel … I don’t know,” she mutters.

Percy doesn’t speak, but the hand on her back moves in a small, comforting circle. She leans back, into the touch, before trying again. “He’s becoming something … more, and it feels like he’s further away from me. He’s more, and I’m just me. I don’t know how to describe it, it just feels … empty, I guess.” Beside her, Trinket grumbles, and Vex pats him absently. “I know you’re here,” she murmurs.

“I might know a bit about feeling empty,” Percy says softly.

“How do you deal with it?”

“Badly, I’m afraid.”

Vex exhales a soft laugh. “You’re not alone, and neither am I. I know that.”

“But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

Vex looks over at Percy. His gaze is intent on her face, which makes her feel warm in ways both comforting and not. His wry half-smile is a familiar anchor in this unnerving place. “Is it odd that knowing you’re just as empty makes me feel a little better?”

His smile widens. “No. It’s nice when you’re not alone, even when you’re just companions in your own nothingness.”

On a whim, Vex wraps her free arm around Percy’s waist. He stiffens for a moment, but she feels him relax against her when she leans her head against his shoulder. “Neither one of us are nothing,” she murmurs. “Let’s just keep reminding each other of that, shall we?”

“I can do that.”

They stay there like that for a while, the three of them. At some point, Vex notices her brother, noticing them. She knows what he thinks. Maybe he’ll be right, someday. But for now, she’s content with the smell of gunpowder and fur and a tiny bit of warmth inside this cold, magical place.