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The Meaning of the Word

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Something was wrong.

Vex wasn't entirely certain what it was that was catching her attention, not yet at least, but there was definitely something odd going on. She felt it like a tickle at the back of her mind. She just had to figure out what it was that she'd noticed.

Narrowing her eyes, she let her gaze drift over their campsite. It was starting to get late, but it wasn't quite at the point where anyone had gone to sleep yet. The others were spread out in small groups or on their own, their attentions focused on various things.

Grog and Scanlan were sitting on the far side of the camp, having a conversation that involved enough winks and hand gestures that someone would have to be blind not to get the gist of it. Well, blind or Tiberius, considering he was completely lost in whatever tome he was reading, his gaze not even flickering in their direction once despite the fact that he had to have been within earshot.

By the fire, Pike was practically sitting in Keyleth's lap so that her hair could be braided. Her dark strands were barely more than shadows in the dim light, the purple streak that was so noticeable during the day completely invisible just then. Vex had no doubt that, by the time they were done, at least one flower crown would have appeared out of thin air. Most likely to hide the fact that Keyleth, despite being a dear, wasn't particular gifted at braiding hair although she was trying her best to improve.

Her brother was leaning against Trinket, fiddling with a small wood carving of a raven that he'd picked up a few days earlier. Vex still didn't know why he was so interested in the thing. It wasn't expertly made by any means, probably not worth even a single copper, yet he seemed pleased with it.

And Percy was... was...

Vex paused, that tiny tickle she'd felt growing into something much harder to ignore.

Percy was sitting at the far edges of the camp, his back against one of the large trees that surrounded them. He was halfway in the shadows, and from the angle she was at Vex couldn't see his face. She could see his posture, though, the way he was hunched over as he fiddled with his pepperbox. There was a tenseness to his shoulders that she didn't like, something that reminded her almost of pain.

His gun had jammed during their fight earlier, she remembered suddenly. He'd sworn a blue streak when it had happened, and there'd been no mistaking the guilt in his eyes when the bandit he'd been trying to shoot had gotten a lucky strike in on Keyleth a moment or two later. Percy had clearly blamed himself for it, even if the rest of them hadn't.

And that explained a lot, didn't it?

Vex grimaced, several small pieces coming together to reveal the bigger picture. Percy had been traveling with them for a few months now, but she'd have to be blind not to see that he did his best to hold himself at least a little bit distant from the rest of them. It wasn't as bad as it had been at first, when he'd seemed halfway convinced that the moment he wasn't being useful to them they were going to shove him back in a cell somewhere, but something like that didn't just disappear into thin air. Not completely.

Not too far away, Vax's head suddenly popped up and he looked in her direction. He narrowed his eyes at her, like he was trying to figure out exactly what had caught her attention. Then he followed her gaze, the puzzled look on his face quickly fading into an understanding one when he saw just who she was looking at. He raised an eyebrow, and she could hear his unspoken question as clearly as if he'd said it out loud. Need any help?

She shook her head.

Vax eyed her for a moment before nodding, his gaze dropping back down to the carving he was holding. She couldn't help but smile, just a bit, before pushing herself to her feet. Once upon a time, he wouldn't have been so quick to trust that she could take care of things herself. Just a few months ago, even. A lot had changed since they'd started traveling with a group instead of by themselves, and she couldn't help but think it was for the better.

She was careful not to be too quiet as she made her way over to where Percy was sitting. His vision wasn't all that great at night, and the last thing she wanted to do was startle him when he was fiddling with his weapon. Despite the noise she was purposefully making, though, he didn't look up as she stepped up beside him.

Not that he hadn't heard her. Vex had seen him clearly tense, his hands hovering over his weapon for a short moment before going back to work. They were shaking a little. Not nearly as much as they'd done back when they'd first rescued him from that cell, but still more than Vex had seen in weeks, if not months.

"Can I help you, Vex'ahlia?" Percy asked, still not glancing up at her.

Vex raised an eyebrow. "You're getting better at that," she said, sitting down beside him on the ground in one fluid movement. "How did you know it was me?"

Percy did look up at her then, and it took a lot of effort on her part not to flinch. The shadows under his eyes were darker than they should have been, a clear sign that he hadn't been sleeping well. It had been months since nightmares had kept him up at night, or at least that's what she had thought. Now she couldn't help but wonder if maybe he'd just gotten better at hiding it from the rest of them.

Not that she was foolish enough to comment on it.

"Who else would come looking for me?" Percy asked. It sounded more rhetorical than an actual question, not that Vex had ever let something like stop her before. She already had a teasing retort at the tip of her tongue when she looked at him, really looked at him.

There was something just a little off about his expression, a hint of something there that she didn't know how to interpret. Even after all this time, there were still so many things that she didn't know about Percy – that none of them knew about him. They all had their secrets, but he took it further than any of them.

"You okay?" Vex asked quietly.

The corner of his mouth twitched, just slightly. If Vex hadn't been watching him so closely, she probably would have missed it. "Worried about me?" he asked lightly.

"Always, darling," Vex shot back, "and don't think I didn't notice you ignoring my question."

Percy blinked a few times, something that looked a lot like surprise flashing across his face for just a moment. It was gone almost as quickly as it appeared. "I'm fine."

"Bullshit," Vex said, careful to keep her tone light and almost teasing.

He did a better job of keeping his expression neutral that time, although his eyes showed more than she thought he'd meant. "I assume you already have something in mind for me to do as proof?" he asked, a bit of fond amusement coming across in his tone.

Vex reached out and tweaked his glasses, ignoring the clearly exaggerated wince he gave her at the action. "You're going to make yourself even more blind than you already are," she said, "hiding over here in the dark. At least come closer to the fire."

Percy opened his mouth and then closed it, his nose wrinkling a bit as a rather perplexed look appeared on his face as he glanced around. It was rather adorable, if Vex said so herself.

She didn't even attempt to hide her smile. "You hadn't even noticed how dark it was, had you?"

He spluttered for a second or two before his face flushed red. "There's a chance I might have lost track of time," he admitted grudgingly.

"A chance," Vex repeated teasingly.

If anything, Percy's face grew even more red. "I think that I'm going to go join the others by the fire," he said, as if it had been his own idea all along. He almost tripped in his hurry to stand up, stumbling a bit as he made it to his feet.

Vex's smile grew even larger. "You do that, darling."

Percy muttered something under his breath that she couldn't understand. She wasn't entirely certain what language he was speaking, but she had the feeling it might not have been the most complimentary comment.

Vex felt her smile fade a bit as he hurried away, moving at a somewhat faster pace than was necessarily needed. Her brother glanced up and waved in Percy's direction, gesturing to the empty space beside him on the fallen tree he was sitting on.

At least he wasn't sitting by himself and brooding. It was a start.

Shaking her head, Vex let her gaze move over the camp for a moment or two. Scanlan's hand gestures had transitioned from obvious to obscene, enough that they had managed to finally draw Tiberius's attention away from his book, and Pike's dark hair looked almost white from the small flowers that Keyleth was methodically braiding into it. And, of course, Percy was sitting beside her brother instead of by himself, trying his best to avoid Trinket's tongue as the bear attempted to lick his face. Other than that, what she was seeing didn't look all that different from the last time she'd looked around.

It felt... right, seeing all of them sitting there. In a way that she wasn't expecting. She didn't really have a word for it, but there was something almost familiar about the feeling.

Percy half-turned back in her direction, squinting as he apparently searched for her in the dim light. After a moment or so he raised his eyebrows and patted the empty space beside him, a clear invitation for her to join him.

Vex winked at him, even though she doubted he'd be able to see it. Then, without one more quick look around the game, she made her way in his direction.

It wouldn't do for any of them to hide in the shadows.