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A Civilized Discussion

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Manners, Percy Dear likes to say, are the easiest currency to come by.

Trinket hasn’t figured out what currency is, yet - Vex talks about it a lot, so he’ll work it out eventually - but he knows what manners are. Vex taught him good manners when he was very young, and still reminds him that he won’t be able to go into cities or towns if he doesn’t use them properly. He knows how to bow to important people (the ones wearing shinier clothes, usually) and sit at tables and shake hands and give back massages, and all of these things are important - um, ‘currency’ - when talking to people.

So that’s why Trinket is ashamed, because he’s still confused about the human’s name. The male one, with the big blue coat, who always smells like smoke and metal. Names are a part of manners, and he has a very, very long name that Vex prefers to shorten, but Trinket can’t tell if it’s being shortened to “Percy” or “Dear”, because she says them both all the time (and sometimes together). Trinket errs on the side of caution and calls him “Percy Dear” when they talk, because Percy Dear is a ‘delicate’ human (so Vex says) and Trinket doesn’t want to offend him by accident. Percy Dear hasn’t ever corrected him, so Trinket is pretty sure he’s on the right track, but it’s hard to say for sure. For all that they practice good manners, humans sometimes have trouble listening to bears.

Trinket also knows that if you want a favour from someone, you have to say “please”, and that waking Vex up when she’s sleeping is very bad manners. So, that’s why he is where he is - poor, scruffy, tangle-furred Trinket, alone in Scanlan’s magic house with his brush between his teeth, waiting outside Vex’s door until she wakes up. He says “please” at some of the ghost-people who drift by in the hall, but they all seem very busy, and after about the sixth one (that’s as high as Trinket can count, anyway) ignores him, he stomps off to see if anyone else is awake.

Pike is awake, and running around the kitchen talking to the little fawn-man. Trinket does not like the fawn-man at all, because he smells odd and electric like the rest of the Feywild, and he doesn’t clean his fur half as well as he should. Trinket would help him, but he is not going to share his favourite brush with a muddy half-deer.

The only other one up, of course, is Percy Dear. His workshop doesn’t smell great either, but it’s not as bad as the fawn. He’s sitting at the table with a book open on his lap, doodling on the pages. Occasionally, he makes a big frown and a dramatic cross-out motion, left-right-left. Trinket says “Please!” around the mouthful of brush. The human glances up, and snaps the book shut.

“Ah,” he says, in a voice that’s all bright with happy surprise. “It’s good you’re here. You and I-” he looks over his glasses, and points with his book “-need to have a man-to-man talk.”

Trinket drops the brush (it goes clatter-clatter on the stone floor and he hopes it isn’t broken). Vex has told him to listen to Percy Dear when she isn’t there, so he puts his paws together and stands very straight. Sometimes when they talk to important people, Vex makes him stand up tall like this (but not on his hind legs; that’s bad manners and also it scares people).

“Good,” Percy Dear says, and rises from his chair. He tosses the book aside, and folds his arms. “So, Vex has learned a new spell, obviously, which is very exciting. I’m sure you’re glad she can talk to you and finally understand what you’re saying. I’m glad as well, of course. Er, that is, I’m very happy for you.”

Trinket blinks. Vex always understands him, doesn’t she? This is a weird mantoman talk. Maybe mantoman doesn’t mean what he thought.

His human friend is fidgety, like a skittish little tree-creature. He plucks at the white fur on his head, then sweeps his hand through it, leaving a little smudge of ink above his brow. He looks like the foxes and hares that live in cold places. They have white fur, too. Trinket remembers Vex telling him that Percy Dear comes from the north, so that makes sense. He says, “Well, you know-“

And then he stops talking for a little bit. He does that a lot. Vex says it’s because Percy Dear likes to plan what he says first, so he can sound smart once he says it. Trinket has his doubts. When humans try to sound smart after big pauses – Percy Dear included – they usually say things that don’t make sense.

(Except Grog. Somehow, Grog always makes sense. He is a true warrior poet, and Trinket is quite in awe of his wisdom.)

“You and I,” Percy Dear finally continues, “have talked about some very, uh – sensitive matters in the past.”

Trinket says, “We talk about Vex.”

Trinket loves to talk about Vex, even if the people in his family are poor listeners most of the time. He especially likes talking to Percy Dear about Vex. They both agree that Vex is very smart and very special, and Percy Dear always makes Trinket promise to protect her whenever their chats are over. Trinket is glad that someone else understands how important it is to keep Vex safe.

(He remembers – in that cold, stone room, the one under the lake – when everyone had been very, very worried about Vex, because she’d been thrown from the dais and didn’t get up for a while. Percy Dear had helped to fix her, with magic glass that burst into sparkling dust. Trinket wasn’t sure what he’d done – the whole thing was so scary and confusing, with Zahra’s strange glowing stone, and that angry cleric chanting horrible words, and Vax talking to the lady in black feathers. But Vex woke up. That was the important thing. Percy Dear and Trinket both knew that was the important thing.)

“Good,” he says. “Right. Sure. Well, I’d appreciate it if you could…refrain from telling Vex what I’ve told you. About her, and how I feel.”

What!? Trinket is so, so disappointed. Percy Dear has only ever said very nice things about Vex. He says she’s clever, and that he admires her, and once he called her beautiful (although he said it very quietly, like Trinket wasn’t supposed to hear it at all). Why wouldn’t he want Vex to know that? Trinket tells Vex he loves her every day and it still doesn’t feel like enough. He doesn’t mind passing on the message from Percy Dear, too.

“Don’t give me the sad bear look,” he says. His voice is hard and crisp, not quite a Trinket’s-in-trouble voice, but pretty close. “I talk to you because I trust that you will keep what I say in strictest confidence.”

This is so stupid. Trinket flumps down on the floor of the workshop and stretches his paws out as far as he can reach. Mantoman talks are no fun at all.

Percy Dear scoops the brush up from the floor, and settles down next to Trinket on his knees. Yes! Trinket immediately nuzzles up as close as he can, and starts to shove his nose under the brush with uncontrollable excitement, because this fidgety human is the best at brushing. Almost better than Vex, since he’s very careful to get every single knot out, and very patient, and he will brush Trinket for hours while he talks. He always starts just behind Trinket’s ears, which is the best place to be scratched. And he would never, neverstoop to something so evil as covering Trinket, in all his majesty, with ribbons. This time he starts brushing really hard, though, yanking at the knots like he’s trying to give Trinket a headache along with the grooming.

As he works, Percy Dear says, “You know I’m very fond of her. I’m certain I’ve mentioned that.”

Trinket huffs out a “yes”, and rolls onto his back, so Percy Dear can better brush the ruff under his chin. In a way, that’s all he ever talks about – how fond he is of Vex. At least when it’s the two of them having a mantoman, or whatever.

He continues. “And if she learns of that, I have no doubt she will tease me incessantly until the day I die.”

Yeah, Vex would definitely do that. She makes a lot of jokes. Sometimes she hides Trinket’s food behind her back and makes him guess what it is before he gets to eat. He thinks it’s fun (he usually guesses right!) but maybe Percy Dear doesn’t like being teased. He’s “delicate”. Usually when Vex tells Trinket someone is “delicate” it means he has to be very gentle if they wrestle together; in Percy’s case, it means Trinket has to be nice to him when they talk, too.

After a very long pause, the brushstrokes start to slow down. Trinket feels a little drowsy. Above him, Percy Dear muses, “I suppose that is neither the best nor worst case scenario. Worst case, Vax finds out and immediately stabs me in the neck just to be safe. Best, well-“

He trails off. Trinket doesn’t mind. He’s getting the brushing of a lifetime. Percy Dear works very steadily while he talks and thinks. He gets all the way to Trinket’s tummy before speaking up again. “I’m not yet resigned to being an atrocious human being. Perhaps I could be better for her sake.”

Trinket gives him another huff, because he’s really tired of having to explain this part. Vex doesn’t think Percy Dear needs to be any ‘better’ - she loves him as he is. She must, because Vex saved Percy Dear just like she saved Trinket. She saved him when he was weak, and cold, and imperfect. It’s another one of those magic things that Trinket doesn’t quite understand, but for a while, the poor pale human was really, really sick. He smelled like smoke and death. He buzzed with a strange, ugly energy, and Trinket started to feel the same way around Percy Dear that he always does just before earthquakes; he sensed the trembling of something big, inhuman and evil, about to unleash all its anger on the world at once. 

But Vex was so brave! Whenever Percy Dear started to make those earthquake tremors, she would talk to him or hold his hand until they stopped. She worried about him so much she didn’t sleep most nights, and when he was okay again, she looked so happy! When Percy Dear makes her presents, she always brings them to Trinket and explains what they do, smiling wider every time. She talks to Trinket too – of course she does – and she thinks Percy Dear is very charming and wonderful, but that he needs to stop being so hard on himself.

On that, they agree. Even without being told, Trinket knows that Percy Dear is Vex’s favourite.

(Aside from Trinket himself, of course.)

Percy Dear doesn’t say much else. When he does, his voice is still soft, and he takes long, thoughtful pauses. “She’s so afraid of this place. I’ve never seen her doubt herself like this before, and it breaks my heart. So, we’ll be doing our best to look out for her, hm?”

He puts down the brush, and holds out his hand. Trinket gives him a paw, and they shake. Vex taught him that one too; it means a promise. He hopes Percy Dear is good at keeping promises. The human looks at him a minute more, and then laughs. “Trinket, you’ve given me a phenomenally good idea. We host this festival in Whitestone every year-”

Trinket slowly pulls his paw away. This is not good. Last time there was a Whitestone festival, Vex made him look like he had human clothes on and then fed him so much pie he nearly exploded. Percy Dear makes a pitying face, and scratches him soothingly behind the ear again. “It’s much more your speed than the last one, old chap. There’s a hunt in the woods, and a magnificent banquet under the Sun Tree. All the meat a hungry bear could want. I think you’d make an excellent fixture at that event, and your mum would be in charge of the whole thing. Sounds like fun, eh?”

With a happy huff, Trinket licks Percy Dear’s outstretched hand, and then swats at it playfully with his paws. That does sound like fun! He loves hunting, he loves Vex, he loves meat – and so long as he doesn’t have to wear ribbons or eat everything on the banquet table, a festival could be fun, too! He’s really starting to like Percy Dear. Maybe the human’s not so dumb after all, since he obviously realizes Vex is smart and should be in charge of everything.

He’s not quite smart enough, though. Percy Dear play-fights him a bit, making a mocking growling noise (racist) and Trinket plays along – just enough to deceive him. Lull him into a false sense of security. Percy Dear doesn’t want Vex to know how much he loves her. Pffft. Trinket knows better. Next time she asks, Trinket’s going to tell her everything he can remember, and he’s certain that Percy Dear will thank him for it one day.

Chapter Text

“Alright,” Vex says, both her hands raised with all her fingers spread, “so, buddy, let’s say you had to do something that could be really, really embarrassing and terrible, but there was also the tiniest chance it could make you very happy – what would you do?”

Trinket stares hard at the stone floor for a few seconds, and then gives Vex a long, defeated whine. She sighs, and presses her hands to her face.

They are sitting on the floor of a cavern in Scanlan's magic house, and they are oddly alone. He can hear the footsteps and chatter of the rest of their family, and he can smell smoke and sweat and people-perfume-smells, but they are all distant. Instead, Vex has confined them in a dark, warm space full of sweet, grapey-scented barrels. Despite the lovely aroma, Vex won’t let him sniff at the barrels too much - apparently they’ll make him sick. 

Trinket slumps down onto the ground, propping his jaw on his folded paws. He does not understand how this house can be everywhere they go, and how it always looks the same, so he is already a bit frustrated. Worse, his Vex is clearly upset, the way she's fretting with her feathers and pitching her voice so high and avoiding their family, but Trinket just doesn't understand her strange, vague questions. He is desperate to help, but he could get the answer wrong, and disappoint Vex, and that could make everything worse! 

(And why would you ever keep so many barrels of something that would make you sick? People are so confusing!)

“Okay, okay,” Vex starts again. She’s sitting cross-legged, a few feet from Trinket. He perks up a little - Vex's new idea seems to have given her some energy. “Let’s say I shot you a big, juicy deer for dinner, only I left it out in the middle of a rickety bridge. If you went out to get it, you might fall off and splash water everywhere and make a big bear fool of yourself, and everyone would laugh at you – but also, you might get the deer, and it would be the most wonderful deer you'd ever eaten, and you were just starving for it. Would you risk it?”

Trinket buries his head under his paws, and then rolls onto his back, like he’s trying to untwist this twisty question. “Why would you put my dinner on the rickety bridge if I could fall off?” he asks.

Vex gasps, and reaches out to rub the fur on his cheeks. “Oh, darling, I’d never do that! It was just a metaphor - just an example!”

Her fingers dart up to scratch behind his ears, which is so nice and distracting that Trinket forgets to ask what a metaphor is. After a while, Vex releases him and lets him settle back down on the floor. She gives a long sigh, one that reminds him a bit of Percy Dear. “This probably isn’t the right approach, is it?”

“I don’t know,” Trinket says earnestly. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Trinket,” Vex says. “I'm being confusing. I’m confused.” She plucks at the her tail of dark hair. Trinket has watched her weave that curious plait almost every morning since she rescued him, and still, she never seems happy with it. She fiddles with the ribbon tying it shut, and she tugs at fraying strands and tucks them away. Every morning, without fail, she takes it out starts it over. Perhaps she won't be happy until it's absolutely perfect. "I think I have to do something scary, that’s all. And I have to do it soon.”

Trinket presses up onto his front paws, and slams them into the stonework. That he understands. Finally! He puffs himself up as big and scary as he can, and says, “I will protect you from the dragons, Vex. They have cold hearts and I will bite them out.”

“I know, sweet pea,” she says. She leans forward, a big grin on her face, and grabs both his cheeks. “Did you know your mummy killed a great big white dragon yesterday?”

Really?! Trinket’s so excited and proud he stamps once on his paws again, breaking her grip by accident. “You see?” he barks. “You are very brave, Vex.”

She’s a hero! He’s so proud he doesn’t know how to express it, so he just lets his head flop down onto her lap and nuzzles up into her stomach. She gives him an eager scratch behind the ears, giggling, and then folds over to hug him around the neck. “Isn’t that just like me, hm? Dragons I can deal with, but a little conversation is scaring the shit out of me.”

Wait, is that all? She's scared of talking to someone, then? Trinket tries to imagine how a conversation could be scarier than a dragon. What kind of conversation could roast you up like a rabbit on a spit, or eat you all in one bite?

Then again, Vex has been scared of talking before. She doesn’t like talking to that one dry-voiced elf, the one they saw in the Feywild – Syldor? He makes her so angry she starts shaking. (Despite that, Trinket's still not allowed to bite him.)

Maybe she's not scared of him anymore, though. The last time they met the elf, Percy Dear cast a spell on her. Sometimes, Scanlan or Keyleth will point at other people in their family and say “I’ll turn you into a crow!” and then, bam! A swish and sparkle of magic and there will be a little black bird where a half-elf once stood. In Syngorn, Percy said he would turn Vex into a “Baroness”, which didn’t make her look or smell any different from regular Vex – but her tears stopped, and her smile was the biggest Trinket had ever seen it. It must have been magic of some kind, to make her so brave.

He thinks about asking Vex what a “Baroness” is, but before he can, she stands up, giving Trinket a quick pat on the head so he’ll stay where he is. Vex picks up one of the sweet-smelling bottles, takes a generous swig, and then sits down on the ground next to him with the bottle in her hands, leaning against his tummy for support. He settles back down obediently, wondering how he can possibly help his Vex if she won’t tell him what’s bothering her.

“So, Trinket, dear,” she says, her voice high and musical, “Totally apropos of nothing, completely unrelated – what do you think of everyone else in our family, hm? Grog, Scanlan, Keyleth, you know – everyone else?”

Trinket rolls so Vex is leaning against his side instead. These are easier questions, although he still can't quite pin down the reason behind them. He hopes he hasn't disappointed Vex, and thinks hard about his answer this time to make up for it. “They are all important to you,” he decides, “so I will protect them too.”

There’s a hollow glass sound and a swish as Vex sets the bottle down on the stone for a moment. Vex makes a beckoning motion, like she does when she wants Trinket to follow her somewhere. “Come on now, darling, details. Opinions. Juicy gossip.”

It’s an interesting question. Most of the time, he just thinks that Vex’s family is his family. They do annoying things sometimes (he will never forgive Vax and Keyleth for those ribbons), but they have all fed him and brushed his fur and protected him in battle, too.

“I like Grog a lot,” he starts.

“Of course you do,” Vex chuckles.

“He’s very brave and strong,” Trinket insists. “And he fights with his heart, like a bear.”

Vex is still laughing. “You’re the sweetest thing,” she says.

Trinket isn’t sure if she’s talking to him or to whatever she’s drinking, because she takes another swig from the fruity-scented bottle before she talks again. “I can’t believe we don’t do this more often,” she continues. “And the rest of them?”

“I think Keyleth is the most like me.”

“Huh,” Vex says. She leans her head back against Trinket’s fur, staring up at the ceiling. Trinket looks up too, following her gaze. There are wooden arches above, almost like tree branches, but much smoother. “I suppose it must seem that way, from your perspective,” Vex says. “Druids and their nature magic and all.”

“Scanlan is confusing,” Trinket confesses next, which makes Vex laugh. Now that she’s asked for his opinions, they’re coming out all in a rush. “He keeps popping in and out from place to place. Sometimes I like his singing, and sometimes it hurts my ears. And I don’t understand why Pike only gets to come on adventures sometimes. She likes to brush my fur and she’s very good at it.” After a moment, reconsiders. “Percy Dear is good at that too, though.”

“What was that, darling?” Vex cuts in. “What did you call him?”

“Percy Dear?” Trinket repeats, tentatively. “That’s what you call him. Is it wrong?”

“No, darling, it’s absolutely perfect.” She’s got a laugh trapped in her voice, like a butterfly trying to get through a closed window – and Trinket isn’t sure why, but it seems like a good sign. She continues, “So, you like Percy Dear, do you?”

“Yes,” he says. “I like that he makes you presents and keeps all his promises."

"Promises?" Vex echoes. "What kinds of promises, dear?"

Trinket briefly wonders if talking about this will get him in trouble. That mantoman with Percy Dear is still fresh in his mind, and Trinket can't break a promise, especially after shaking on it. That would be bad manners.

Although...technically speaking, he never promised to keep Percy Dear's compliments and good feelings a secret. The only promise he made was to protect Vex, which he was going to do anyway. Hah! Trinket wastes a moment on his own preening pride. Percy Dear's supposed to be the smartest human of all of them, and Trinket tricked him!

"We promise each other that we will protect you.” Then he adds, with great solemnity, “And we always do a handshake.”

Slowly, she says, “Are you telling me, dearest Trinket, that Percival de Rolo has been swearing oaths to my pet bear and shaking his paw when I’m not around?”

That sounds about right, so Trinket grunts, “Yes.”

Vex lets the bottle fall slack in her hand, and says “Fuck.” Then she sits up, puts her head down between her knees, and grumbles, “oh, no no no,” and makes a noise that sounds partway like sobbing but partway like laughter, and then with a sudden swish she throws the bottle against the wall where it shatters, and over the noise she half-yells, “That is so fucking cute Trinket goddamn it!” At last, she collapses, letting her head fall back against Trinket’s shoulder. Sprawled out there, she moans, “Oh my god, Trinket, I love him so much.”

At that, Trinket arches his shoulders upwards, giving Vex a little shove of protest. She reaches out, slightly dizzy, and pats one of his paws. “I love you most, darling,” she mumbles. Satisfied, Trinket lets her ramble on, her words slurring into each other. “But he’s so sweet sometimes, and so brilliant, you know?”

And she sort of punches the ground with a half-slack fist, her voice growing shrill. “And he’s all tall and charming, and what with that awful smile and those stupid blue eyes I can’t even look at him now! You know, we were in the library just the other day and he did this terrible thing where we sort of walked into each other in the doorway, so he stepped back and he held the door and he bowed.” She laughs. “Actually bowed, holding the door like I was some kind of proper lady. A real Baroness.”

Trinket listens to her sigh, and he starts to put things together. Love, he knows, makes people (and bears) happy until it is love of a very particular kind. There’s a love that makes them stop working right, that makes them hesitate and tremble and forget how to talk, and cry and complain just like Vex is doing.

“Is he going to be your mate?” Trinket asks.

Vex rears up from his back with a gasp. “Trinket!” she scolds, and that’s definitely the Trinket’s-in-trouble voice, so he flattens his ears to his head and lowers it to show he’s sorry. Vex puts her fingertip on his muzzle. “Where’d you learn that word, you naughty boy?”

That’s an odd thing to get in trouble for. “I just know it,” he says. “Where did you learn all the words that you know?”

For a long time, Vex is quiet. “Huh,” she says. “Good question.”

Then she sighs, rolls over onto her knees and leans into Trinket’s shoulder, plucking at his fur with her fingertips. “It’s not usually what we call it,” she continues, “but if that’s how you think of it, I guess it’s good as good a word as any.”

Wow. That’s serious. Honestly, Percy Dear strikes him as a weird choice, at first. Technically, Grog would have been the obvious pick. He’s much bigger and healthier than Percy Dear. Good mates protect each other, and fight for each other, and for bears they do that best when they are strong. Percy Dear’s one of those clever humans, though, and if he can keep Vex safe with cleverness instead then that might be enough. Still, Vex needs to know what she’s getting into. As gravely as he can, Trinket explains, “Your children will be skinny and it’s very cold in Whitestone, so make sure you buy them coats.”

“Our what?” Vex says flatly.

“Your cubs.”

She blinks, and then, in a small, tense voice, says “Oh, alright, well, shit. I really hadn’t thought about that, and now I am. Now I am very, very much thinking about that. Thank you, Trinket.”

“You’re welcome,” Trinket says, happy to have helped at last. After a moment, he adds, “I would keep your cubs safe, too.”

“I know you would, buddy,” she mumbles. After a long moment of quiet, she asks, “So, then – I guess I never thought to ask you this, but does that mean you approve? Of – um, Percy Dear?”

Trinket considers. Percy Dear is always nice to him. He’s good at brushing, and he thinks very highly of Vex. More importantly, that strange, smoke-scented human somehow knows all the best tricks to make Vex smile, and he has promised that he will keep her safe. There is always room for improvement, of course – he has made Vex cry before, and if he doesn’t want to know exactly how sharp Trinket’s teeth are he will not make that mistake again – but if he really wants to keep Vex happy, like he promised, then he will improve. Trinket will make sure he practices better manners.

“If he makes you happy,” Trinket replies, “then he is a good choice.”

“Funny you should say that,” Vex continues. Her voice is thin and small, like she’s telling a secret. “He’s been breaking my heart more often than not, these days.”

Trinket knows what she’s talking about. For a day, her Percy Dear was taken away from her – and that was the only word for what happened, because they carried a harmless, hollow thing that looked just like Percy Dear, but had none of him inside it. He’d never seen his Vex so shaken, so broken.

He doesn’t have much to say to that, so he turns around and noses up to Vex’s cheek in a way that makes her giggle instead. This time, her laugh is more like a cough, but when she shoves him playfully away she does look happier.

“So I bet you’ll say just what Vax said, huh, buddy?” she says. “That I should tell him how I feel, even if he doesn’t feel the same, and even if it’s pointless and will make everything horribly awkward for the rest of time?”

Trinket rolls under her hands, and she scratches his ears, his neck ruff, smooths out his fur. “I don’t understand, Vex,” he complains.

“What’s that, dear?”

He thinks back to Percy Dear, in the workshop. He wanted the same thing – he thought Vex was wonderful, and didn’t want her to know. It's the strangest secret to keep. “He loves you too. He wants to protect you and he thinks you are very special. How could that be bad?”

“Sometimes I wish things were as simple as that, Trinket," she sighs.

“Maybe they are," he argues. "If you tell him why he is important to you, that should make him feel good. I don't think he could ever feel horrible about that."

Vex pauses. "That's not a bad idea. Tell him why he's important to me," she repeats. "It's a nice middle ground. Thank you, buddy. I love you, you know."

Trinket licks her cheek, and nuzzles his way into her lap again. He knows, of course he knows - and he tells Vex he loves her too. He hopes that she'll be brave enough to say it to Percy Dear. It feels good to hear it, but it feels even better to say it out loud. Then the words are clear in everyone's hearts, and no one can make the mistake of thinking they are alone.