It was entirely their own fault. Everyone knew it, Vex included, even if some of the others probably wouldn't be quite as willing to admit it as she was just then. They had gotten cocky, and they had underestimated the person they were going up against. Gods knew it wasn't the first time they'd made that mistake. One of these days, maybe they'd learn.
If it didn't get them killed first, at least. Which was looking more and more likely at the moment.
It was supposed to have been a quick and easy day trip, one last hurrah before everyone went their separate ways for the next few months. It hadn't even occurred to them that it could be more complicated than that.
The person they were fighting was nothing but a man, albeit one who apparently had quite a bit of magic to his name. They'd gotten used to fighting dragons and demons and devils and kraken, and they had assumed that a single human would be no match for them. Maybe that was why they had rushed in too fast, with even less than a plan than they normally had. They'd been so damn sure there wasn't anything to worry about that they hadn't even stopped to consider what they would do if there was.
Vex just hoped it wasn't going to cost them more than they were willing to pay.
She cursed under her breath as another one of her arrows went wild, missing the target completely. There was a slight shimmer to the air around the man, something there that she couldn't quite see keeping most of her shots from hitting.
The man sent a blast of energy shooting in her direction and she ducked, hissing in pain as the sudden movement reminded her that her ribs had taken several hard hits from whatever in the hells the small creatures he'd summoned to help him were. This was not going even remotely well.
Behind him, Percy ducked out from behind cover and let loose with several shots from his pepperbox. Purple energy sparked along Animus as he did, and there was a familiar focused look on his face as he carefully aimed his gun. Despite the situation, Vex couldn't resist shooting him a quick grin, even though she knew he probably wouldn't see it. When his attention was focused on a specific goal, he tended to ignore anything else going on around him until he was finished – something she'd learned quite well over the last few months, since it very much wasn't a habit he only had while fighting.
His first two shots missed, deflecting off of the invisible shield that had been causing so much trouble for Vex's arrows, but the third one connected. The man – wizard, sorcerer, whatever in the hells he was – they were fighting cursed and stumbled backwards a step or two. Then he straightened up, a look on his face that made Vex's blood run cold, and he stretched out his hand towards Percy.
Percy's eyes went blank as he froze in place.
Vex's breath caught in her throat, her mind snapping back to their fight at Fort Daxio all those months ago. She tried not to think about it very much, if she was honest, those long moments where her body and her mind hadn't been her own. She'd fired on her friends without even a second's hesitation, and it wasn't until the spell had been broken that she'd truly realized what had happened.
"Oh fuck," Vex whispered under her breath.
The magic user they had been fighting said something that Vex was too far away to hear, and she couldn't quite see his mouth in order to read his lips, but there was no missing the fact that Percy immediately turned in her direction at the man's quiet words. His face was expressionless, not a flicker of recognition or emotion or anything in his eyes.
Vex's eyes darted from side to side, trying to see if anyone else had noticed what was happening. Keyleth was still near the entrance, her attention focused entirely on keeping any more of the man's minions from getting into the room. Pike and Tary were guarding her back the best they could, trying to keep her safe since she clearly wasn't capable of defending herself just then with all her magic funneling into the spell she was casting. Grog was preoccupied with the five – no, ouch that had to hurt, make that four – robed figures that were attacking him.
She didn't see her brother, but that didn't mean anything. He had to be around somewhere. Still, whether or not he was watching was a mystery. Vex doubted he'd noticed. She didn't think he'd be hidden from her if he had.
She was on her own.
Time felt as if it was passing excruciatingly slowly, but Vex knew it was a trick of her mind. Everything was happening in an instant, just a few short seconds, even if it seemed to be stretching out endlessly as she tried to process what was happening.
And then Percy aimed his gun at her.
There was a part of Vex, a large part, that wanted to close her eyes so that she didn't have to see what she knew was about to happen. It wasn't his fault, it wasn't his fault, but if she watched it then she knew a part of her mind would use it to give her new nightmares.
But she couldn't help but think that it might make it worse for him, once his body and mind were his own again, if she looked away. And gods knew she didn't want that. At least this way he could see that she knew it wasn't him, that she didn't blame him for something that he couldn't control. Or that's what she hoped. Of course, Percy had a tendency to lean towards self-reproach even in the best of times.
A gunshot rang out. She instinctively jerked away, trying to move out of the way, even though she knew that Percy had to have been expecting it and would have adjusted for it when taking the shot. He knew her, after all, probably better than she knew herself.
The first shot hit her square in the chest, sinking in deep. Percy was an excellent shot, even when his mind wasn't his own. There was a sharp, stabbing pain in her lungs, and breathing almost instantly became something of a challenge. Despite her best efforts, a pained cry slipped out before she could stop it.
There wasn't even a flicker of emotion in Percy's eyes.
Vex saw movement against the far wall of the room, her brother's gaze snapping in her direction as he stepped out of the shadows. She could see the moment he realized what was happening, the way his eyes went wide as his hand dropped down to grab one of the daggers hanging at his side.
The second shot hit higher than the first, going straight through her shoulder. It still hurt like the hells, but she didn't think it had done quite as much damage as the first. There was a part of her that couldn't help but hope it was because Percy had pulled the shot, that a part of him realized what was happening and was trying to fight back, even though she knew from personal experience how unlikely it was.
Her bow slipped from her hands, her grip growing lax as another wave of pain hit her. She'd never realized just how much Percy's guns hurt.
Vex licked her lips, frowning a bit when she tasted the unmistakable coppery taste of blood on them. Shit. That wasn't a good sign. "Percy," she said, her eyes meeting his. "Percy, don't—"
The roar of a gunshot cut her off.
Vax's dagger sliced through Percy's arm at almost the exact same moment, barely more than a scratch. Just enough to draw blood and break the compulsion that was on him.
Percy blinked once, then twice. His eyes widened, a horrified look appearing on his face as he met Vex's gaze. The gun dropped from his hand, falling silently to the ground as his mouth opened.
Vex didn't hear what he said. There was a sharp pain in her abdomen, the third shot hitting her straight on because gods damn it of course Percy would still make those perfect shots of his even when he wasn't in control of himself.
And then her vision went grey.
She didn't know how much time passed. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, years. Time blurred together, whirling around her like a storm as she drifted somewhere between darkness and light. It was endless and fleeting at the same time, a mishmash of experiences that she could barely even comprehend just then.
Awareness returned gradually, murmurs that sounded almost familiar in her ears and a litany of aches spreading across her entire body. Vex grimaced and forced her eyes open, blinking at the shapeless blobs of color hovering over her until they slowly came together to form a familiar face.
Pike was leaning over her, a serious look of concentration on her face and her lips pressed into a tight line. There was a familiar glow around her hands that was already fading away as she finished whatever spell she'd been casting. Vax was hovering behind her, a look on his face that Vex didn't quite know how to interpret. "Terrified" didn't even begin to cover it.
It wasn't the first time she'd seen that look on his face. Every time she did, she hoped it would be the last.
"What happened?" Vex asked. Or, more precisely, she tried to ask. The question came out more as an incoherent whine, and it took her a second of swallowing before she could repeat it in a way that actually came across as words.
Pike didn't reply. She just reached out and brushed a few strands of Vex's hair out of her face, tucking them gently behind her ear. Her hand was trembling a little as she did. That spoke louder than any words ever could, and it sent a shiver down Vex's spine.
"You were unconscious," Vax said, and his voice just as shaky as Pike's hand had been as he reached out to gently squeeze Vex's shoulder. "You were dying, Vex. It was—" He broke off, taking in a deep breath before trying again. "It was close. Just another few seconds, if we'd waited just another few seconds, you might have—"
He cut off again. This time he didn't try to finish speaking, his grip on her shoulder tightening almost painfully.
Vex took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. She didn't hear any fighting, and now that she was looking more closely she could see some movement not too far away. Grog, Keyleth, and Tary were hovering nearby, worried looks on their faces. Or, at least, worried looks on Keyleth's and Tary's faces. Grog's was a bit more difficult to interpret, but there was definitely something that looked like concern mixed in with the fading bloodlust.
"I'm fine," Vex said, trying her best not to grimace as she forced her aching body upwards into a sitting position. She suspected she didn't succeed all that well considering Vax reached out to support her as she moved, a hint of warmth emanating from his hand as he clearly used some type of healing magic on her. "I'm going to be fine."
His eyes were dark as he looked down at her. "You weren't fine just a few minutes ago."
"But I am now," Vex said, putting a bit more force into her voice. "You said it yourself, I just passed out. I'm fine, Percy's—"
She cut off abruptly, suddenly realizing for the first time that she hadn't actually seen Percy since she'd come back to consciousness. The last thing she remembered were his eyes widening as the spell on him dissipated, a look appearing on his face that she suspected would haunt her nightmares for the foreseeable future.
As if he could read her mind, Vax shifted a bit, the familiar beads in his hair clicking against each other as he gestured off to the side. Vex followed his gaze, trying to ignore the rather significant pain that shot through her body as she moved enough to see what he was pointing at.
Percy was hunched down on the far side of the room, his back to the rest of them. Even from a distance, Vex could see that he was shaking.
"He hasn't even picked up his gun," Vax said quietly enough that it was clearly for her ears only. "It's still on the ground where he dropped it."
Vex opened her mouth. Then she closed it. Even the thought of that was so wrong, so utterly unlike Percy, that she didn't even know what to say. He was meticulous when it came to his weapons. He might toss them aside in the heat of battle, but he immediately gathered them up afterwards.
"It wasn't his fault," she whispered, the words barely audible even to her. She wasn't entirely certain who she was speaking to just then, herself or her brother or the world at large. "There wasn't anything he could have done differently."
Vax's hand on her shoulder tightened again, just for a moment. "I know," Vax said, without a hint of blame in his voice. And it said a lot, that they'd come far enough that there wasn't any. "I know. This isn't like last time."
He didn't have to say that it didn't matter, that Percy still blamed himself for letting it happen in the first place. That much was clear without actually putting it into words.
Vex's hands clenched into fists. "Help me up."
Her brother's hesitation was clear.
"Vax," she said, forcing a firmness into her voice that she didn't quite feel, "either help me up or get out of my way."
She'd give him this: Vax knew when to push and when to not even try. He helped her up. And he even kept his mouth shut when she almost fell right back on her ass, her legs not quite certain whether or not they wanted to hold her up.
"Here," Pike said softly, reaching out to press her hand against Vex's arm. "I'm pretty tapped out, but maybe this will help."
Vex couldn't quite hold back her sigh of relief as another wave of healing magic rushed through her, pushing back a fair number of the aches and pains she'd been feeling. Oh, she was still sore, but soreness she could handle. More so than the borderline agony she'd felt earlier, at least.
Pike shot her a quicksilver grin. "That's what I'm here for, right?"
"Among many other reasons," Vex said with a wink and a smile that she suspected didn't quite reach her eyes.
She pretended not to notice the very knowing looks being shot in her direction by basically everyone as she turned and made her way in Percy's direction. It was easier that way.
Especially since she made a point of kneeling down to pick up his gun on her way towards him.
The room wasn't all that large, relatively speaking, but Vex was definitely wavering a bit by the time she made it over to where Percy was sitting. He didn't even glance up at the sound of movement behind him, his attention clearly focused inward.
Vex sighed and dropped down to the ground beside him. If it was a bit more heavily than she'd intended, well, nobody had to know that.
It was almost comical, the way that Percy spun his head in her direction the moment he heard her voice. If the situation had been different, maybe it would have been. As it was, though, the haunted look on his face was enough to chase away any amusement Vex might have felt before it had more than a fleeting moment to cross her mind.
"Vex." When Percy said her name, it sounded more like a breath of air than an actual word. Nothing more than an exhale.
Or a prayer. But that wasn't something she wanted to think about just then.
She gave him a tired smile. "I'd tell you it wasn't your fault, but we both know you're not going to listen to me."
"I always listen to you," Percy replied promptly.
Vex snorted at that. Then she held out Animus towards him.
Percy froze, save for the trembling she could still see in his hands. His eyes were focused on his gun, unblinking.
"It wasn't your fault," Vex said quietly.
For a moment, she didn't think he was going to reply. Then he slumped a bit, his stiff posture disappearing in an instant. "I almost killed you."
Vex sighed. "I could have killed Grog back at Fort Daxio."
He was already shaking his head, his gaze drifting back towards the gun she was still holding in her hand. "It's not the same."
A part of her wanted to argue with him, to make him understand that it was exactly the same thing that had happened to her. A larger part of her knew there wasn't a point. Percy could be ridiculously stubborn when he wanted to be.
That's part of what she loved about him, after all.
With a sigh, Vex leaned against him. She felt him stiffen a bit at her touch, but he didn't pull away. That was the important part. As long as he didn't pull away, there wasn't a risk of her losing him to the darkness of his own thoughts.
Vex wasn't a fool. She was well aware that there would be fallout to deal with on both their parts, fears to work through and nightmares to put up with and probably an argument or two to have before it was all said and done. But not then. Later. When they were ready.
"Let's go home," she said quietly, pressing a quick kiss against his cheek.