Long after her brother has gone to bed and she watched Percy sneak into the Slayer’s Take, Vex sits in the common room, nursing a pint of ale. She’s going over Vox Machina’s books, counting and recounting, trying to keep herself busy and not at all avoiding her own bed. She’s tired, beyond it really, but she can’t seem to make herself walk down the hall to her room again. To get there, she’d have to walk past them all, past Percy’s room, past Vax’s. Their doors have been closed for hours and they might not even notice her pass, but she just can’t do it again.
From time to time, between the flipping of one page to another, she looks up and stares down the hall. On the table next to her lays the only book she’s ever paid full price for, the book she’s read almost nightly since it came into her hands.
She’d bought it to help them prepare. And at first she read hoping for insight for what they might face. Then she hoped there would be something in it to help her brother. By now, she could probably recite the book in her sleep. There’s definitely no reason to reread it, but she has a hard time sleeping these days until she’s at least flipped through its pages. It doesn’t tell her anything new. The words have lost their meaning. But there it sits, pages worn and many of them turned down at the corner for quick access. If it was old before, the book shows more than its age now, looking far older for all its use.
Counting their treasure is supposed to calm her, it’s supposed to make her happy, or at least it used to. And at times, it still does. She’s pleased by their recent acquisitions in Westruun, even if she doesn’t like thinking about what it took to get them.
She flips a page, looking down the hall as she does. There’s a distant sound of metal on metal, a rhythmic, familiar sound. She wants to smile, thinking of Percy working into the night as usual. Perhaps he’s even working on what they started together, his designs for the seat of her broom. That does twist a small smile from her lips. But it’s wiped away quickly as she remembers Percy as she last saw him. He looked smaller, paler, haunted in a way that twists her stomach with its familiarity. It wasn’t her imagination, the small red dots on his ear and neck. And she’s not sure what bothers her more: that Percy followed in Vax’s footsteps, that he did it alone, or that the look on his face reminded her too much of their old Percival. Their oppressed Percival, the man who was haunted for far too long by something strong and frightening.
Her gaze drifts down to the book at her side. The page from her records of Vox Machina slips from her fingers. Her vision goes blurry and she feels emptied out, hollow as though the whole of her rests inside that book. As if she’s worth only the 30 gold she paid for it, far less than her brother has given up in exchange for her life.
For all his dithering, his uncertainty, the quiver in his voice and the distance in his gaze, Vax’ildan came back to her today changed. Or maybe he was changed from the moment she woke up. Maybe he’s right, maybe his arrival was fate -- if it exists; has everything led them here? Was she fated to die and return by the whim of some goddess? Vax seems more confident now, like he might now what it means... and all she has to do is trust him. Trust Vax’ildan, with himself and at the mercy of the Raven Queen.
But what of her? Was her life some plaything for a goddess, easily traded back for her brother’s servitude.
And what of Percy? Beautiful, pained and guilt-ridden Percival; she forgave him and it felt so easy to do so. It was her own greed that gave her up to the Raven Queen, but she’s seen the way he looks at her. Is it still forgiveness he seeks? She doesn’t know how to tell him not to worry, Percival has been constructed by pain and worry and darkness since long before she met him. He had made such strides to fight against it, watched the light inside him grow after the Briarwoods died. And now she worries the darkness returns in inches and what of it is hers to claim?
Vex pulls a hand to her chest wishing she could press out the breath that catches there, the pain that rests in a hard lump at the base of her throat. Sweet, dear Percival, who has trusted her since the day they met, who gives her so much of his hard work, of his attention. What has she given him in return but guilt and pain.
The book finds its way into her hands and she grips it, holds it closed against her knees as she curls up in her chair. The cover is clear in her mind but fuzzy and hard to hold in her vision. She doesn’t want to look at it but there it is in her lap, held like she might a pillow, like she might Trinket’s adorable face, like she might Vax after a particularly bad fight. It hurts the closer she holds it and yet she embraces it tighter. The corners dig into her forearms and the tops of her thighs. It’s a sharper pain than the one in her chest and distributed between several points on her body. Somehow, that helps.
Time passes there, the fire in the hearth dying down over time in the quiet hours of the Slayer’s Take. The room darkens as the fire dies down, small glowing embers flickering in the corners of her vision.
A distant voice pulls her from the shadows, a gruff sounding dwarf ransacking the kitchen. There’s indentions in her arms where she pulls the book free and sets it on the table.
It’s just a book, she thinks, setting it down on the table next to her ale and Vox Machina’s records. Foolish girl. She hears her father’s voice, then Vax’ildan’s in her head. One dark and chiding, the other teasing, playful. Her own voice supersedes them.
“There’s nothing to be done now,” she says aloud. There’s no one to hear, unless Thorbir is particularly observant which she heard in great detail isn’t an ability he’s possessed of. She gathers her things, warm ale included.
She’s supposed to be the strong one after all. She survived, however it happened, it happened. And Vax, well, she knew he wasn’t quite right even before he offered himself to the Raven Queen. He’s been searching for something for some time and while he might remind her often that he’s the oldest, he needs her. If she falls apart, there will be no one there for him. Keyleth, perhaps, but that woman has a host of problems all her own and who knows how long it will take for her to work them out. Of all the things on her mind, she wants to think about whatever is happening between her brother and Keyleth least of all. Back straightening as she stands, she puts it all from her mind. Sleep, the best option for her immediate future.
The hall to the rooms is darker now, quieter too. Perhaps even Percy has sought sleep. That’s probably something they all could use more of, herself included. She glances at their doors as she passes, a hand trailing over the fine grain of Vax’s door. Nothing but a look at Percy’s, but there’s a tug in her chest as it moves out of her line of sight.
Tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow she’ll pull him aside. Maybe she can get him to talk to her. Maybe he wasn’t where she thinks he was. Maybe tomorrow will be different.
Vex leans on her door to close it behind her. The books are tucked quickly away in her bag. She’s seen enough of them both for one night. Her bed looks cold, empty and the more she looks at it the less she wants anything to do with it. She lifts a hand to her necklace, another frustrating reminder of the Raven Queen. At least this one has proved useful, it has saved them all once already.
“Trinket, darling.” She holds the necklace a moment more and Trinket appears in the room before her. He trundles up and licks her hand, letting out a low rumble of greeting.
“Oh, I missed you too,” she says. “I missed you so much, buddy.” Her fingers slip through the fur on the top of his head and she ruffles it lightly.
If bears could purr, that would be the sound Trinket makes, that’s what it sounds like to her anyway when she leans down and rests her head against his. He’s warm and comforting in his own way. He nudges her gently, cold nose pressing against the back of her legs as he moves behind her and then around to the other side.
He doesn’t move away and is close on her heels as she moves towards her bed. If ever there was a solid, constant comfort in her life, it’s Trinket. Just having him in the room raises her spirits some, bringing a smile to her lips and lightening the weight in her chest. Trinket nudges her hand and grunts.
“We'll play tomorrow, buddy,” she whispers. She kisses his nose. “Maybe Grog will let you knock him down again. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” She ruffles the fur on the top of his head.
Trinket curls up beside her bed as she lays down. Even with him on the floor, her bear is tall enough to rest his head on the bed. She kisses the top of his nose before laying down completely, head on her pillow.
In the dim light of her room, she looks at her adorable Trinket. “Thank you, buddy.” Her hand rests on his head, ruffling his fur occasionally. Before she closes her eyes, she looks over at her bag. Vex can still feel the sore spots on her forearms and her thigh where the book pressed into them. She knows the story by heart... and Vax has found what he needs. Maybe it’s time to pass it along. Trinket licks the inside of her forearm. She scritches between his ears.
“You’re right, darling.” Tomorrow.
Vex sighs, closing her eyes. Already she can feel the pressure of fatigue in her shoulders, her hips and it drags her down into the bed. It pulls her eyes closed. It doesn’t take long to drift off, but as she does, she hears a familiar voice in her head.
As they have many times since Keyleth told her, teary-eyed and with halting words, what happened when she died, it’s the druid’s words that sound in her head before she falls asleep.
“You have a lot of men who will do anything for you.”