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Nothing Behind, Everything Ahead

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Vex can't volunteer fast enough when Pike complains about needing a special type of stone to rebuild part of Emon's temple to Sarenrae. She's as glad as anyone else to finally be back home in Emon, but it's a wreck. She can't look anywhere without seeing the ghosts of streets and buildings and people, and she can only dig so many corpses out of the rubble before they start affecting her sleep. Plus, it's been so long since they stayed in one place for more than a couple of days that two weeks in the ruined city has her chafing around the edges, desperate to get into the woods.

Pike looks pleased when Vex volunteers, but a little worried. "There's reports of goblin activity around the mine," she says. "Maybe you should take someone else? I'd go with you but I really have to stick around here for the next few days - I have so much work to do!" Which she does, working her way every day through the wasted remnants of the population of Emon and spending every spare minute rebuilding the temple and hospital dedicated to her goddess.

"I think me and Trinket can handle a few goblins," Vex says, but she didn't live this long by being an idiot, so she sticks her head into Percy's workroom and asks him if he wants to join her.

"All right," he says, without looking over at her. He's slumped in a chair, covered in soot, glaring at his forge. Judging by the bangs Vex has been hearing for the last hour or so, something isn't going well.

"Something exploding that shouldn't be exploding?" she asks.

"More the opposite," he says. "Or, well, it's exploding sooner than I'd like, or not at all."

"Bummer," she says.

"A few days away from it won't do me any harm," he says. "Are we going to get to fight something?"

"Goblins, probably."

"Beggars can't be choosers, I suppose," he says, making Vex laugh.

"Leaving tomorrow morning," she says, just to hear him groan. "Early," she adds, and is convinced she hears him whimper.

"You're the worst," he says, finally looking over at her.

She grins back at him, cheery. "Mornings are the best time to travel. Especially getting out of the city."

"Mornings aren't the best time for anything, actually," he says, but flaps a hand at her. "Fine. You'll probably have to wake me up, but you'll probably enjoy that."

Vex flashes her teeth at him. "Probably," she says, and leaves him with a wave.

*

Vex is happy when she goes to bed that night, whistling through the dark corridors and as she enters her room. She lights her fire and sits on the bed to brush out her braid, already thinking about the scent of moss in a dark wood and the drip of water in unexplored caves. That's the excuse she gives for not noticing Vax, sitting still as a particularly creepy stone in a dark corner of the room, until he says, "I'm coming with you, you know."

Vex tries to conceal her jerk of surprise, but probably doesn't manage it, judging by the smug expression on Vax's face.

"You're such a creep," she says, and throws her brush at him.

He snatches it out of the air and comes to sit behind her on the bed, legs either side of hers, deft fingers combing through her hair to take out the feathers she braided in there this morning and undo the ribbon holding her braid together. She sits stiffly as he works his hands through the length of the braid until it comes apart, then takes a fistful to brush.

"You don't invite me to come goblin-killing with you any more. What's up with that?" His words are teasing, but his tone isn't; Vax is surprisingly unsubtle for someone who's almost impossible to see unless he wants to be seen.

"Oh, well," Vex says, airy. "You've been in such a mood lately, I didn't know where to find you." She doesn't say since when, although she knows perfectly well it's since Keyleth took Vax aside for a serious talk and came back to the party looking red and uncomfortable and relieved. Vax didn't come back at all; he vanished for a day, and he's barely been around since, and never when Keyleth is.

"Yeah, well, I'm still your brother," he says.

"You always will be," she says, and the steady motion of the brush in her hair pauses for a moment, then resumes.

They're both silent for a second.

"You know," Vex says, "avoiding her isn't going to make it less awkward."

"I know," he says without hesitation. "But I'm going to do it for just a little bit longer. We killed four dragons and liberated a city, I can wallow for a little, you know?"

"Yeah," Vex says.

"So let me come kill goblins with you and Percival and when we get back I'll talk to her."

"With an offer like that," Vex says, dry, but nods, and leans back into Vax. She takes the brush out of his hand and draws his arm around her.

Vax wraps the other arm around her waist. She feels him bury his face in her hair, and rubs his arm soothingly, easing him down onto the bed beside her, saying nothing until they fall asleep.

*

Vex's eyes flick open early the next morning. The fire's burned down in the night, but she's not cold; Vax is snugged up alongside her, head on her chest and one arm slung over her belly. The room's dark, but lightening ever so slightly with the expectation of dawn; left to herself, Vex would probably leave now, but Vax is snoring softly and she's comfortable, so she lets herself drift back to sleep.

She wakes again perhaps an hour or so later; now the light coming in the shutters is soft and rosy, and she wriggles out of Vax's clasp to open them wide, taking a deep breath of cold dawn air. Her room looks to the east, and she looks out to see the sun rise over the plains outside Emon and the Silvercut Road and knows that she'll be out there herself, soon, soon.

It's a good feeling. She stands there and breathes for a minute, feeling the cool air and the sense of possibility, then strips out of her clothes, which are dirty with sleep, and washes quickly with the jug and soap on her nightstand.

As she digs naked through her wardrobe to find new clothes, she feels Vax's eyes on her, and glances up. He's lying on the bed, head propped on one hand, just watching her. She meets his eyes briefly.

"Morning," he says, and she feels his eyes trace down her form. She favours him with a wink as she yanks on her leggings and tunic.

"Do my hair, will you?" she says. "I have to go wake Percy."

"Sounds like fun," he says, levering himself out of bed. His fingers are brisk in her hair, though, belying his lazy walk, and he works quickly.

"Thanks," Vex says, and leans in to kiss him on the cheek, lingering for a moment.

His hands come up to grip her arms for a second, and then he pushes her away. "Go and get Percy," he says. "I'll meet you down at the stables."

*

"I expected that from your brother, but not from you," Percy says, dripping wet, as he swings his pack onto his shoulders and closes the door to his room.

"That's what made it so good," Vex says, and laughs all the way to the stables.

*

When they get there Vax has three horses saddled and waiting. He and Trinket are leaning against each other, both with their eyes closed. Vex sneaks up on them as quietly as she can, waiting until she's nearly touching Vax before shouting "Boo!", but neither jumps. Trinket opens one sleepy eye and nuzzles up to her, licking her face and making affectionate noises. Vax gives her a wink, which is infuriating; Vex determinedly ignores him and gives Trinket a thorough petting and a scratch behind his ears.

"Let's just leave," Percy says, swiping wet hair off his forehead. He sounds pained; at least Vex has aggravated someone this morning.

They mount and ride out with the sun low over the horizon. Percy slumps in his saddle, looking as miserable as he ever does when woken before dawn. Vax looks bored, as he typically does when given no opportunities to go off and risk life and limb. Vex, full of the joy of the morning, watches Trinket amble along beside her and whistles the day away.

*

They make good progress that day, and make a quiet, defensible camp on a rise near a stream.

"Watches?" Vax says, dismounting and stretching.

"I can ward us," Vex says, doing the same. "Not a big area, but we'll be woken if something approaches."

"Fine," says Percy. "What are we worried about, anyway?"

"Oh, goblins, wolves, bandits," Vex says. "The usual." Though there's so much rebuilding work in Emon and Westruun at the moment, bandit activity should be fairly minimal, she supposes.

"I'll try not to lie awake in fear," Percy says, and Vax laughs. Vex shrugs in agreement, but better safe than sorry, after all.

They do their duty by the horses, and Vex builds a fire to heat food. They packed rations and she shot a rabbit; she cleans it while Percy puts vegetables and a sprinkling of fusaka (which they've all become strangely fond of; it really is an acquired taste) into a pot with water and rests it over the fire.

Vax vanishes off somewhere and reappears when the food starts to smell good; Vex catches him tucking a feather into a pouch at his side. She's seen him praying over them before.

"Did she answer?" she says.

Vax shrugs.

"I suppose that's a no."

"Leave off, Stubby," he says; Vex, taken aback, shuts up and shoves a bowl of stew at him, and they eat in silence.

Percy eats distractedly, poring over a ragged book and taking notes in the margin, so it's not surprising when he spills hot stew all over himself and has to jump up, to keep it off the book.

He shoves the book at Vex and drags his shirt over his head, swearing all the while. "I'm going to wash this in the river, before it sets," he announces, and stalks off. Vex puts the book on Percy's bedroll, but distractedly; in the firelight Percy's torso absolutely gleams and, well, she's only human.

"You're drooling," Vax says, voice pitched so Percy can't hear him.

"Because you're so unmoved by … that," she retorts, gesturing with her hands in an attempt to outline Percy's surprisingly muscled Perciness. He's made it to the river; she glances at Vax, who absolutely is staring, thank you very much, and reaches out to tap him under the chin until his mouth closes.

"Oh, I'm moved," Vax says. "I'm so very moved." Percy's now splashing around in the gathering dark; with a regretful sigh, Vex returns her attention to her meal.

"You know," Vax says, sudden. "I've thought of something that might cheer me up."

"Thank the gods," Vex says, briefly devout, making Vax roll his eyes. "What is it?"

He's silent as Percy returns, stomping past them to his pack complaining under his voice about having been drenched twice in one day, and then moves over to sit next to Vex. He leans up to whisper in her ear.

"I bet I can get him in bed before you can."

Vex laughs out loud. "That's what would make you happy?" She drops her voice. "Getting Percy in bed?"

"Wouldn't it make you happy?" Vax nods across at Percy, now pulling a dry shirt on over his head. Vex's gaze follows his as if magnetised.

"Oh, you know. Take it or leave it," Vex says, aiming for glib.

Judging from Vax's smug expression, she doesn't make it. "Uh-huh. But anyway, no. What would really make me happy," he says in her ear, "is beating you to it."

Vex bites her lip. "It won't even be a contest," she says.

Vax leans back and pulls away from her. "Keep telling yourself that," he says, at normal volume, as Percy rejoins them.

*

Vex sort of thinks he's joking, but Vax makes it pretty clear over the next few days that he isn't, sitting close to Percy in the evenings, riding with him, making excuses to brush up against him when they eat or take breaks or stretch their legs. One evening they leave Vex and Trinket in the camp and go out to gather firewood; an hour later they're still not back, and she follows their tracks as quietly as she can until she finds them in a clearing.

She ducks behind a tree to keep an eye on them, because she's only mortal. They're talking quietly; Vex can hear them speak, but not the words. They've stopped for some reason—perhaps because it's a very pretty little clearing—and there's a pile of firewood beside them. Percy's long limbs are propped up against a fallen tree; he ducks his head when Vax murmurs something, then laughs, and Vex watches Vax walk over to Percy and stand between his legs. Percy goes pink and lifts a hand to Vax's cheek. Vax leans in.

Vex steps back and stomps carefully on a dry stick, breaking it with a snap, then walks into the clearing.

"Here you are," she says, deliberately not looking at them. "I thought you'd both grown out of getting lost outside cities," and she bends to pick up firewood.

Percy mutters something and gathers up his own armful; he's gone from pink to red, she notices out of the corner of her eye. Vax isn't blushing; when Vex looks at him he narrows his eyes at her.

She brushes past him on her way out of the clearing, saying, as she leaves, "I'm not going to make it that easy for you."

*

But it's not that easy to get started, somehow. Vax, Vex thinks, semi-affectionately, has always been a flirtatious motherfucker. He loves easily, and shows it; even when he was angriest with Percy, just after the tomb where Vex—well, she doesn't like to think about it, but Vax was furious, and showed it, and even then he still loved Percy. Though it's possible Vex was the only one who could tell.

Vex flirts, too, but as in so many things, she's Vax's mirror, not his copy. Vax flirts to get close to people; Vex flirts to keep them away. Vax and her mother are the only people she's ever really known how to show her love to. She never got it right in Syngorn, somehow; she learned to flirt there, eventually, after one too many stumbles and sincerities, but in their practiced way, void of real emotion, no matter how much she's feeling. A wink, a smile, a kiss—she's done that with Percy, for years, and from time to time he's returned it. But she doesn't know how to go from that to what she saw Vax doing in the clearing, because of course the problem is that she does love Percy, and she's been practising hiding it for years.

Still, she has to start somewhere if she's going to beat Vax, and gods damn it, she hates to lose.

She starts simple: she sits next to Percy by the fire that evening, and when he starts sketching in his notepad as he often does in the evening she leans in, propping her chin on his shoulder. He goes still for a moment as she presses up against him, then relaxes again and continues scribbling.

"What are you working on?" she asks, after giving him a decent interval to feel her pressed up against him.

He coughs. "Oh, ah, a few things for the keep, you know." He shifts a paper over so she can see it; it's a catapult. More or less.

"Expecting a siege?"

"I think recent experience has shown us it doesn't matter much what we expect," he says, bone-dry.

"True," Vex says, finally leaning away. She thinks his cheeks are pink, but it's hard to tell in the firelight.

*

The next morning Vex stays in her bedroll, snuggled up against a warm Trinket, until she hears Percy start shifting around. That means it's much later than they'd usually get going, but she really needs Percy to be awake if this is going to work.

She waits until she hears him start moving down towards the river, and rolls out of bed. She glances across the fire to where Vax is lying. He's apparently asleep too, but he opens his eyes when she walks past him with her towel and bathing gear and gives her a sly look. She kicks a pebble at him and keeps walking.

Percy's barefoot in the river, filling the flasks and the big black kettle they use to heat water. Vex is struck, seeing him. With his pants rolled up, bent over, he looks like an unusually tall child; she can imagine him here, building a dam or learning to tickle trout, a skill Vex picked up when she was rather older than a child, trying to feed herself and Vax the first time they were out on their own. The childlike impression is not dispelled when he stands up and looks over, smiling at her. She's rarely seen him so unguarded.

It's almost enough to make Vex feel guilty for what she's about to do.

Not quite, though, so she smiles back at him and peels her tunic up and over her head.

"Morning," she says, and strips off her leggings and breastband.

"Morning," he says, sounding a little strangled. The tips of his ears are going red.

Vex splashes naked into the river with her soap—carefully picking a spot downstream of where he's collecting water, but upstream from where the horses are tethered. There's a waist-deep pool there, convenient for bathing; mind you, it would be nicer if it were not so clearly fed by snowmelt, and she suppresses a little shriek.

"Cold?" He's politely averted his gaze, though his ears are still pink.

"Refreshing," Vex says, trying to stop her teeth from chattering and wondering what in the nine hells she was thinking. She grabs the soap to lather up. "A girl can get sick of smelling like a horse, you know."

"Oh, yes."

She glances up; his tone is suddenly less embarrassed and more measured. He's no longer ducking his head, just looking at her, squinting, really, behind his glasses.

Vex braces herself, and plunges under the water to rinse off. She comes out yelling; Percy is picking his way out of the river, flasks and kettle full, and when he reaches the shore he picks up her towel and holds it out to her.

"Come on," he says.

She hesitates, because this wasn't exactly the plan, but—it's cold, and she's not sure what she's really expecting to accomplish anyway, so she climbs out of the pool and heads towards him.

She stretches out her hand to take it, but he whisks it out of her grasp and shakes it out, wrapping it around her as she steps into it.

Vex can feel the heat coming off him, and feels equally aware of how tall he is; she can barely stop herself leaning into him, but he steps away as she takes the towel, bending to pick up the flasks and kettle. "I'll put the water on the fire," he says, and then paces away up the hill towards the camp, leaving Vex to dry herself off, feeling rather more destabilised than she'd expected.

"Smooth," Vax says, out of nowhere.

Vex's head snaps up. He's leaning against a tree, cloak pulled back from his head. "Stop spying on me."

He grins at her. "Got to keep an eye on the competition."

Vex makes a face at him, stepping into her leggings and yanking them up. "Don't get relaxed," she says.

"Your strategy was 'be naked'," he says. "I'm relaxed."

"It's worked before," Vex says, and pulls her tunic over her head, working on the clasps. "Fix my hair, will you?"

He levers himself off the tree and comes over, running his hand down the side of her neck and under her collar to collect stray hairs before braiding efficiently and tying her hair off with one of the dozens of little leather cords both he and Vex carry around.

"Thanks," Vex says, and turns.

He doesn't step back; for the second time that morning Vex feels someone else's body heat, and it makes her shiver. She meets his gaze, then leans up just a little to press their mouths together.

Vax holds very still; Vex wraps a hand in his hair, tugging, and he makes a little noise and relaxes against her. After a moment she draws back, and he lets her go.

"See," she starts, and suddenly the cool silence of the forest is broken with a stick snapping somewhere near.

They both freeze; Vax's hand goes to his belt for his daggers, and Vex is suddenly very aware that she came down here without a bow and is stuck with just her belt-knife. Stupid. She knows better, or she should; just because she feels like she's taking a break doesn't mean every bandit and owlbear in Exandria feels the same way. She holds her breath.

They wait for a minute, and hear nothing; then another stick breaks, up at the camp, and Vex smells smoke.

"Percy lighting the fire," Vax says, and relaxes.

"I'm going to get my bow," Vex says, and does.

*

She doesn't see anything on the way back to camp, despite moving quietly and carefully. Percy's bent over the fire when she gets there; he goes red when he sees her, and glances away. His eyes land on Vax, who's followed Vex up, and he jerks his gaze away from him, too, turning his gaze determinedly to the fire.

"Morning, Percival," Vax says.

"Good, ah, yes," Percy says. He prods at the eggs he has in a pot of water. "It is, yes."

Vex meets Vax's eyes; he looks baffled. She mouths "I told you nakedness works," and ducks into her tent to get her bow feeling vaguely relieved; Percy had seemed almost unmoved after the first shock down by the river, but he was probably just bluffing.

*

In the end, they see neither owlbears nor bandits before they finally reach the abandoned mine. Apparently Exandria really is having a vacation. Instead, Vex entertains herself by working on Percy as much as she thinks she can without becoming too transparent, and watches Vax do the same. At first Percy blushes every time one of them leans up against him by the fire, or holds a light for him, or tucks a flower in his hair, but the blushes fade after a while, and he seems to be playing along. He leans back, or comes up behind Vax to lean over him while he's sharpening a knife, or finds a feather on the road and cleans it painstakingly before offering it to Vex to fletch her arrows. He makes them things, too, and presents them almost shyly—an explosive arrow for Vex, a parcel Vax can throw that will burst into flame in the right circumstances.

It's strangely fun to travel just with them; together the three of them move can quickly and quietly, even with the horses. Vex kills birds and rabbits from time to time and finds herbs to flavour their food, then uses claims of her prowess to bully Percy or Vax into cooking. A few times she finds tubers and throws them in the pot with the wild turkey, or mushrooms she puts in with the rabbit.

In the nights Vex casts Alarm and sleeps deeply and dreamlessly. They have tents, but it's summer; she sleeps in her bedroll, cuddled up against Trinket, and wakes with a face damp with dew.

The journey's not long, and after a few days of peace they arrive at the abandoned mine. The sun is high in the sky, so they pause outside to eat lunch and poke around the cave entrance. There are posts and props holding the walls up, and an empty hut where evidently the miners used to live, but few signs of recent mining, which matches Pike's information.

There are signs of other activity, though. Vax, nosing around the entrance to the mine, grunts and beckons Vex over, pointing at a patch of mud.

Vex glances down. "Goblins," she says, and squats to squint at the tracks. "Probably ten or so, and maybe something bigger." It's not unexpected; this is goblin territory anyway. Whenever the humanoid species aren't around to keep an area free of them, they roll back in like rats seeking out dark spaces and slightly nicer caves.

Percy comes over, finished scraping at the support beams around the door. "Not rotting," he says. "Should be safe to enter."

"We've got goblins," Vex says, pointing to the tracks. "Ten or so, plus or minus a bigger friend."

"I hate to sound arrogant," Percy starts. Vax coughs, and Percy says, "Yes, well, that's a lie, but at any rate, I think we can take ten goblins, don't you?"

"And something bigger," Vex says, insistent.

"I'm not overly worried about a hobgoblin," Vax says. "Let's just go," and before Vex can say anything his hood is up and he's sliding away into the cave entrance.

Vex sighs, but Percy's pulling his guns and a couple of burlap sacks out of his packs and striding in after him.

"If we all get killed by goblins Scanlan's never going to let us forget it," she says, and sighs again, and strings her bow, and follows them in.

*

It's damp and dark inside, and Percy fumbles around for a second until Vex comes up behind him. She kisses him on the cheek, and casts Darkvision through it.

"Ah," Percy says, and she sees him blink rapidly as his eyes adjust. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, darling," Vex says, and saunters into the mine.

It's not dreadfully complicated as mines go; a hundred feet in they find Vax, leaning against the wall of a junction. He jerks his head to the right. "Dead end that way."

"You know if you'd gotten in a fight we wouldn't have found you and you would have been killed by goblins and then died again of embarrassment, right?"

He rolls his eyes at her. "Ten goblins are not going to find me, and if they did they wouldn't kill me."

"Try not to be such a dummy," Vex says, and stomps off down the left-hand passage. He tries to sneak past her, of course, but she feels him brush up against her side as he tries to get past; the wheezing sound produced when she sticks her elbow in that direction is most satisfying.

This passage breaks off once, to another dead end, carefully scouted and empty; it's the third tunnel that eventually leads to a larger room, with mine excavations at one end, slabs of stone stacked up against a wall, and a lot of evidence of goblins. As in, there are eight or so goblins, bickering amongst themselves over a fire pit, and a pile of rags in the corner where they evidently sleep.

There's also, against the wall, a small and sad pile of bodies. Even from here she can tell that they're months old, but still recognisably human and elven remains.

Vex flings a hand up to stop Vax and Percy; she feels them come up behind her. Vax leans on her shoulder; Percy is tall enough to see right over her head.

"It almost seems unsporting," Percy murmurs.

He obviously hasn't seen the bodies. Vex shakes her head, and gestures to the wall.

"Ah," says Percy; she can hear his lip curling.

"Allow me," Vax says, and in a blur he's on them, plunging his daggers into the backs of two of the goblins. They fall, and then for a few moments Vex is too distracted picking her own targets to pay attention to Vax, other than trying not to hit him. Percy's gun booms away at her side, and she smiles without meaning to, falling into the familiar rhythm of mark, draw, shoot, and release.

It's over quickly; the goblins are a bloody mess in moments, the last one pierced by Vex's arrow and one of Percy's bullets simultaneously. It slumps over, and Vex lowers her bow, blood singing. Across the cavern, Vax drags his arm across his forehead, leaving a bloody smear, and meets her gaze with a blazing look; she gives him a hard grin, and heads over to join him.

"That was bracing," Percy says; Vex looks over at him and is caught by the stark contrast between him and Vax. He's got a matching grease stain where Vax has a blood stain; the short hair standing up around his head is white where Vax is dark. Standing between them, for a moment Vex feels frozen by how much she wants them both.

Then she sees movement in the shadow behind Percy. She reaches for her bow, shouting, but the blow comes down before she can draw, and Percy goes sprawling, still, onto the floor.

She shoots automatically, sees Vax throw his knives, and the thing slumps to the ground. It's over so quickly it doesn't even reach them, and Vex runs as fast as she can to Percy, skidding to her knees beside him. She's holding her breath; not now, not like this, with Pike so far away. She doesn't think she can bear to travel back to Emon with Percy's body slung over a horse.

She reaches to turn him over, but before she can, he groans, and rolls over to his side. "Well, that was embarrassing," he says.

Vex's breath goes out of her in a rush, and she smacks him, instantly. "What the hell, Percy!"

He sighs, and brings a hand up to cover his face. "I tripped," he says, muffled. "Please don't look at me."

"Percival," Vax says, very dry, from over Vex's shoulder. "Try to trip more loudly next time, won't you?"

"Forgive me wanting to spare myself some humiliation," he says, and levers himself into a sitting position.

"Think a little bit less about your pride and more about our worries," Vax says, and reaches out a hand to haul Percy to his feet. Vex stays where she is for a moment, hands in her lap, as, bickering, Percy and Vax begin dragging the corpses to throw them into the fire pit. She can see, now the haze has cleared from her eyes, that the big thing is just a bugbear; a nothing, an annoyance, a bit scary if it gets the jump on you but nothing they haven't faced a hundred times. She should have known Percy was fine.

"Vex?" Vax is behind her.

She realises suddenly he's been saying her name for a while, and shakes her head, getting to her feet. "Sorry. Yes?"

He gestures at the corpses. "We're going to light them on fire, unless you want to search them first."

Vex looks at the pile, and turns away. "Burn them," she says.

*

It takes them the better part of the afternoon to burn the bodies and drag burlap sacks full of Pike's stone slabs out of the mine, so instead of loading up the horses Vex searches through the wood until she finds a stream and a convenient clearing. They lead the horses there and make camp. She hasn't caught anything, but frankly doesn't feel like meat anyway; they eat journeybread and sit by the fire, not saying much. Eventually Percy gets out his tools and lap desk and starts fiddling around with something; Vex, almost as if it's rote, gets up to lean against him.

As she does, he turns his face into her hair, and says, "How long are you two going to keep this up for?"

Vex freezes, and sees, on the other side of the fire, Vax doing the same, in a remarkable impression of a hunted rabbit. "I don't know what you mean, dear," she says, and Vax says, "What?"

Even Vex doesn't think they sound convincing, and Percy doesn't look convinced. "The flirting," he says. "The presents, the significant leaning, the accidental-on-purpose nakedness—I'm not an idiot, you know."

"We know, Percival," says Vax.

"I know this is just—a game you're playing with each other, a bet, a dare."

"No," says Vex, suddenly, surprising herself. "Percy—"

"I just think it's reasonable for you to tell me how long you expect it to go on for," he says.

"Percy," Vex says, and hears Vax say, at the same time, "Percival." She comes around to stand in front of Percy, and takes both his hands in hers. She meets his eyes. Her mouth is dry; she licks her lips nervously. "It's not a game," she says, and hopes that he can see how much she suddenly means it.

"Ah." He looks at her, and his eyes flick up to Vax. Vex doesn't turn to look at him, but she sees Percy's eyes change, sees belief there, and something else--fear or relief? She can't tell.

"Well, then," Percy says, and cups Vex's face in one hand, and kisses her.

His confidence melts a little as they kiss; Vex brings one hand up to tangle her fingers with his and kisses him harder, feeling him yield to her eagerly.

Vex feels Vax come up behind her, pressing up against them. She breaks the kiss, and Vax leans around her and kisses Percy. Vex is happy to stare at them. It's the same contrast she noticed in the mine that day—dark and light, black hair tangling with the white—but ever so much more appealing.

Vax eventually pulls back, biting Percy's lip as he goes; Vex takes a quick involuntary breath in as Percy gasps. His mouth is red, well-kissed, and Vex wants to taste it again, so she does.

Eventually, though, she pulls away, and they make it inside the tent Vax and Percy have been sleeping in, and Vax starts taking his clothes off. Percy coughs, but Vax just looks at him, and says, "We're doing this, aren't we?"

The tips of Percy's ears go faintly pink. Vex wants to bite them. "Yes," he says, sounding just a little strangled, but his hands go to the buttons down the front of his coat.

Percy wears twice as many clothes as the rest of them, so he's still unbuttoning his breeches when Vax and Vex are naked; Vex pushes the bedrolls together and kneels down on them. Vax is watching Percy, his eyes avid, but he looks over at Vex at that, then comes to her, kneeling between her legs. His eyes have a question in them; Vex shrugs at him, and leans forward to kiss him.

They kiss for a long minute; Vax's eyes flutter closed, but they open again when Percy, finally divested of his clothes, kneels down by them. Percy's eyes are wide when Vex dares to glance at him. "Please don't stop on my account," he says, so they don't.

Vex ends up on her back, Percy's face buried between her legs. She wraps her hand in his hair and shows him what she likes; he's eager, as hungry for her as she is for him, and it doesn't take look before she's shuddering and coming. When he comes up for air, Vax is there, kissing him hard; Percy's bright red and clinging to Vax like he's a lifeline by the time they break apart, and Vax pushes Percy over till he's lying next to Vex.

Vex rolls onto her side, throws a leg over Percy's waist, and kisses him briefly, pulling back to run a hand through his hair. He looks up at her, squinting slightly without his glasses, and says, "What next?"

"Hmm," she says, and wraps a hand around his cock. "I'm really not sure." She starts stroking, circling the head with her thumb to pick up some slick. "Brother?'

"I have a few ideas," Vax says, and Vex smiles at him. "Have you ever sucked cock, Percival?"

He's twisting his hips, evidently trying not to buck into Vex's grasp. "Once or twice," he says. "Might—" he gasps as Vex tightens her grip a little "—be a little out of practice."

"It's like drawing a bow," Vex says. "The body remembers."

"What a comparison, Stubby," Vax says, casual, as he comes up to kneel over Percy's chest. He balls up a blanket and tucks it under his head. "Nice and easy does it," he says, taking his cock in one hand and nudging the head against Percy's mouth. Percy's tongue swipes the head, and Vex feels her brother shiver as he presses forward into Percy's open mouth.

Vex slows her strokes, watching Percy's lips part around Vax, watching him suck, watching Vax's hips begin to move, slowly at first then more quickly as Percy evidently gets more comfortable. Percy hasn't gotten any less red; his hands, by his head, twist on the pillow, and on impulse Vex reaches out with her free hand and tangles their fingers together.

She leans down, until she can say into his ear, "Darling, if you can wait until Vax is finished, I'd like to ride you," and relishes the way Vax's hips buck forward a little as he hears her, making Percy's eyes water. She kisses Percy's cheek, then pulls back far enough to lean up and kiss Vax, too. Percy makes a noise, so she keeps kissing Vax until she feels him start to shake, and she kisses him through that, too, as he pulls back and comes all over Percy's face and neck.

When they break apart, Percy's eyes are locked on them.

"That is really something to see," he says. His voice is hoarse, and Vex feels herself get warm thinking about why.

"Private audiences only," Vax says, swinging himself off Percy. "Now, have you been good?"

"I think I've been more than good," Percy says, ever so drily, and he really has, Vex is pleased to see.

"Lucky us," Vax says, and he comes around to sit behind Percy, lifting him up so Percy rests between his legs. "I want a good view," he tells Vex.

"You'll get one," she says, and straddles Percy, taking his cock in one hand and sliding down onto it.

Even though it hasn't been all that long since Percy was eating her out, Vex is hot for it again; she sets a brutal pace until they're both panting, angling herself forward until she feels Percy's cock pressing inside her in all the right places. It's still not enough to get her off, though; Vax, one hand idly teasing Percy's nipple, notices, and nudges Percy until he gets one hand off Vex's hip and up into the tight mess of curls between Vex's legs.

"Yes," she pants out, "just like that," and then, "Come on, Percy, come for me," which he does, just as soon as she tells him to.

He loses all coordination on her clit, but it's worth it, Vex thinks, to feel the way she feels, watching Percy come apart beneath her; and when she flops off him to lie panting beside him Vax leans over and gets his fingers in her, familiar and skilled, and works her until she's shaking through her own second orgasm.

*

Vex would have been perfectly content to lie between Vax and Percy until she fell asleep or possibly for a full week, but Vax gets twitchy first, getting up and moving around the campsite, bringing them damp cloths and wiping them down and generally fussing until Percy manages to trip him over and then slings an arm and a leg over him to keep him still. Vax twists around just enough to make it clear he could break the grapple and then subsides.

"Better," Vex says, blindly patting him, and snuggles back down.

She thinks she's just going to manage to drift off when Percy coughs, and she groans internally.

"Well," Percy says, "This was very … enjoyable."

"You seemed to be enjoying yourself," Vax agrees.

"So did you," said Vex, giving up and turning on her side to look at them. "And so did I. We all had a nice time. Congratulations on the good sex."

Percy blushes a bit, but looks determined. "Thank you," he says. "But, I, ah. Well. Is this a one-time sort of thing?"

"No," Vex says, and "No," says Vax.

"I mean, the plan was …"
"Not this," Vax says. "But plans change."

"Especially ours," Percy says.

"Unless you want it to be a one-time thing, darling," Vex says, suddenly unsure.

"No," Percy says, hastily. "No, no. That is, if you thought that it was something you wanted to keep doing, I would be … most amenable."

Vex can feel herself blushing. "Me too," she says.

Vax sighs. "You two are the worst," he says. "Everybody here likes each other very much, we had a very nice time, let's do it again, frequently." He rolls over with a huff, pulls a fold of blanket over his head, and apparently goes straight to sleep.

Vex suppresses a sudden laugh, and meets Percy's eyes, which are dancing.

He's still smiling at her, tentatively, as she falls asleep.

*

With the horses laden down, they're slower to get back to Emon than they were to get to the mine. They take it even easier, if possible, than they did on the way out, sleeping in in the morning, or more often messing around with each other, and camping in the late afternoon. But soon enough they can see Emon's wrecked silhouette ahead of them; going out, facing away, they'd ignored it, but it's difficult to ride up to it and pretend they can't see its shattered towers and the scaffolding covering the walls.

Vex wants to try to push home that night, but it's getting too dark to move the horses safely through fields that were a battleground not so long ago. She doesn't sleep outside that night, wriggling in between Vax and Percy, and she gets them up and moving as soon as the sun comes up.

Percy's inarticulate and Vax is invisible for most of the morning; Vex walks along talking to Trinket, and by the time it's reached the time of day when Percy usually recovers the power of speech they're nearly home. Vex pauses when they reach the road that will take them the last straight distance, right to the gates, and Percy and Vax come up on either side of her. She looks at her home. It was barely damaged in the occupation; she doesn't know why, but Thordak left it almost untouched, and so did people fleeing him. Jarrett's on top of the walls, and waves towards them. Without looking towards the city, it's as if Thordak had never come to Emon.

"Don't you want to go in?" Percy asks, after a moment.

"Oh, yes," Vex says, and curls a smile at him. "I was just thinking about what we could do with a bed."

Vax laughs, and Percy swallows. He sweeps an arm in front of her. "Lay on, Vex'ahlia," he says, and she does.