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This date is not going well.

Vex has been on bad dates before, but this one is slowly climbing the Worst Dates Ever chart. He’s boring and casually rude; this would normally put him in the category of “grin and bear it and never call again”, but he’s been snappish to the servers at the very nice restaurant they are dining in. Personally, Vex thinks everything has been perfectly delicious; he’s just swinging his dick around because he can.

Would it be so bad to swear off men? It would cut down her dating pool substantially, but might be worth it.

One of the servers returns to the kitchen very obviously fighting back tears, and Vex turns to her date. “Just who in the fuck do you think you are?” she says.

He’s not looking at her, looking over her shoulder instead. “Someone who’s about to get the treatment he deserves,” he says, sounding satisfied with himself.

She turns around; a man wearing a chef’s jacket and a murderous expression is approaching their table, and oh my god, it’s Percival de Rolo, who is The Shit right now in the culinary world. Vex resists the urge to smooth down her braid or check her teeth, because ruthlessly competent and unconventionally attractive maybe goes a long way with her.

“Is there a problem?” de Rolo asks.

“Finally,” her date says, puffing himself up. “Ever since we sat down, your staff-”

“Ah, so you’re the problem,” de Rolo says. He looks at Vex. “Your meal is on the house, for putting up with this-” his eyes flick up and down her date’s body, with a look of pure disdain- “gentleman.” He turns to face her date. “You can pay your bill and get out.” He turns back to Vex. “If you’d like to throw your drink in his face now, we’ll cover the dry cleaning.”

“What a kind offer,” Vex says, and she does. Her date squawks indignantly and is firmly but politely shown the door.

“I am so sorry,” Vex tells de Rolo, as this transpires.

De Rolo smiles, and Vex is just done for. “You have no reason to be sorry.”

Vex realizes she has the perfect opportunity to do something truly stupid, and she is going to take it. Her brother would be so proud.

She rummages through her purse; all she comes up with is a gas station receipt and a green gel pen, both of unsure provenance, but she scribbles down her name and number on the back of the receipt and holds it out.

“I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t try,” she says, though she is already heavily regretting this decision.

De Rolo’s eyebrows go way up, but he takes the receipt out of her hand, folding it neatly and tucking it into the pocket of his jacket. “I apologize in advance if I accidentally call you at 3AM,” he says. “Restaurant hours leave something to be desired.”

“I’m a night owl,” Vex says. She ducks her head, feeling suddenly ashamed. “Sorry, that probably happens to you all the time.”

“Beautiful women giving me their numbers on Citgo receipts?” de Rolo says, looking at her askance. “Would that it happened to me ever.”

“Then I’m pleased to be first in line, darling,” she says with a grin. He blushes a little, and Vex thinks this might not be as far out of her grasp than she anticipated.

De Rolo sighs, looking towards where he came from. “I have to go back to the kitchen before someone sets the wrong thing on fire,” he says. He puts a hand on his pocket. “But I will keep this, and you enjoy the rest of your meal.”

“I am certain I will,” she says, and de Rolo takes his leave.

Vex sits back in her chair, sighing hard. She just did that.

A few minutes later, a server comes to her table, setting down a rocks glass of something red. “Compliments of the house,” she says. “The chef’s recipe. He calls it Courage.”

“Thank you,” Vex says. She picks up the glass, taking a sniff of it before sipping. The taste is delicious, cinnamon and vanilla and bourbon, though it burns a little going down. She raises her glass to no one and takes another drink.

Courage is treating her very well tonight.

--

The moment she gets home, Vex calls Pike to tell her absolutely every detail of both her terrible date and her encounter with de Rolo. Pike, who likes good food even more than Vex does and is more willing to pay for it, is more excited about the latter than the former, but in fairness, Vex is too.

"But which was better, that or the duck?" Pike asks.

Vex groans remembering it. "The duck was a religious experience," she says. "But even so, I can just walk in and order the duck anytime I have the money for it."

"The chef isn't usually on the menu," Pike says.

"Precisely," Vex says.

"I guess you'll just have to find out how cheap he is," Pike says, in the innocuous tone that she's so very good at, and Vex dissolves into laughter.

It's later when Vex gets a text message; it's past midnight, but she won't be in bed for another two hours. Her heart jumps when she sees that it's from an unknown number, and she eagerly opens it.

This is Percival de Rolo, it reads. My apologies if you were just claiming night owl status to be polite.

Not a worry, she writes back. I'm still awake

I'm glad I didn't wake you up, the reply comes. I wanted to text you before I forgot.

So hello, this is a text message from me, I suppose.

Vex smiles at her phone. You're not very good at this, are you

Terrible.

Vex looks up at the clock, thinking about what she's going to say next. I know a coffee shop that stays open all night, she says, if you'd like to see if you're a little better in person

There's a long gap before the next reply, and Vex just knows she's fucked up. Maybe de Rolo is no good at flirtation, but he's also mildly famous, and despite his protests he probably has people throwing themselves at him all the time. Honestly, she'd be ready to do it after tasting his food, no matter his bona fides.

Send me the address, he responds, and Vex lets out a relieved sigh.

Vex doesn't put her date clothes back on, agonizing over a new choice but ultimately picking something casual; in her laziness she hasn't taken her makeup off, so she just repairs it slightly and heads out. The coffee shop isn't far away, and twenty minutes later she's sitting with a latte and waiting impatiently for de Rolo to arrive.

He doesn't keep her waiting much longer than that; the next she sees of him is him walking through the tables of students and insomniacs, holding a coffee and craning his neck to look for her. She waves, and he comes over, taking the seat across from her.

There is a pause as neither of them say anything.

"As it turns out, I am not better at this in person," de Rolo says, and Vex laughs.

"You've only started," Vex says. "I'm not prepared to write you off so quickly."

De Rolo runs a hand through his hair and exhales. This close, without a murderous expression on his face, he looks young, tired, and she wonders how old he really is. She had a vision of him in her head, but he's softer than that.

Vex is already certain she's going to fall for him, which is terrifying.

"So, Percival-" she starts.

"Please, call me Percy," he says.

"Alright, then, Percy," she says, grinning, and Percy blushes again, just enough for Vex to see it. "What do you do when you're not lighting up the culinary world?"

Percy gives her a suspicious look. "You're not a reporter, are you?"

"Is that the sort of thing reporters ask?" she says, frowning, because she just thought she was being clever.

"Occasionally," he says.

"Actually, I work at an animal rescue," Vex says, and Percy relaxes.

"Sorry," he says, looking chagrined. "To answer your perfectly innocent question, I mostly read. And, as luck would have it, I drink a lot of coffee."

"How fortuitous," she says playfully, trying to put him back at ease. "I also drink a lot of coffee."

"Clearly it was meant to be," Percy says, and Vex can see when his ears catch up with his mouth. He blushes again. "I didn't mean that how it sounded," he says carefully.

"Relax," Vex says, putting a hand over his. "It's just coffee."

"I am much cooler under pressure," he admits. "It brings out the side of me that doesn't put his foot in his mouth."

"I could pressure you if you like," she says.

"No, thank you," he says. Vex realizes then that she hasn't moved her hand, but Percy makes no move to extract his own.

It stays there for a long time as they talk, and Percy seems to come back to himself, becoming more sure. This probably isn't the fairest situation to put him in, considering he's just come off what must have been a stressful night, but Vex finds that he rises to the challenge, meets her in terms of wit. It's fun and nervewracking at the same time; she doesn't want to fuck this up, not when she's having such a good time.

But eventually she yawns, unable to keep herself from doing it; she has no idea what time it is. She'd rather just stay at this table, talking to Percy, but she doesn't know how much longer she can do it without falling asleep.

"I'm sorry," Percy says. "I shouldn't have kept you so long."

"It was every bit what I wanted," Vex says. "But I'm afraid I should go."

He finally pulls his hand away and stands up, and Vex follows. The table between them is small enough that they're quite close together, and Vex suddenly doesn't know what to do. She could touch him if she wanted, or make a joke and diffuse the situation, or any number of things. She just doesn't know which one.

While she's still thinking, Percy bends down and pecks her on the lips, just a light touch but, as it turns out, exactly what Vex wanted.

"We'll talk later," Percy says, and with that, he takes his leave.

Vex does her best not to do a fistpump. Instead, she gathers up her coffee cup, throws it away, and goes back out to her car.

And does a fistpump there.

--

Years later, Vex finds a gas station receipt in a drawer on Percy's desk.

"You're terrible," she says, though she feels her heart swell.

"I'm really not," Percy says, and she kisses him.