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Percival hadn’t slept in three days and keeping his hands steady enough to continue working was becoming harder and harder. Despite the fact that he was often reckless with himself, Percy knew his own limits quite well. In the past, three days of no sleep and no food was hardly a stretch for Percy. When he was first designing and building his Pepperbox, he could go weeks with no more than two hours of rest. Nevertheless, he was still efficient. Percy prided himself on his ability to maintain quality no matter what told he was personally taking, whether he was being tortured by others or if he was punishing himself.

Apparently, he had overestimated his ability to handle emotional turmoil.

He had daydreamed for five years about precisely how he would exact his revenge when he saw the Briarwoods again. He had played out every story beat, planned every move, written every witty one-liner that would make him feel triumphant and clever and bigger than them. He was a grand hero in that story, bold and brave and what he couldn’t be five years ago when his family was killed. But when he turned the corner of that mansion and he saw them for the first time, his heart stood still in his chest. He was terrified. That was not the reaction that he had expected of himself. Perhaps upon seeing Dr. Ripley again, the woman who tortured and broke him, he could accept that reaction, but not the Brierwoods. Silas didn’t inspire fear in him. Delilah didn’t haunt his dreams. The only thing that boiled in his belly for them was hatred. He might have been afraid of them when he was a boy and they were just horror stories that Julius would spin to scare them in the dark, but not now. Not when he held the power of the gods in his hands. But the moment Silas locked eyes with him, the moment they saw the last de Rolo, he was thrown back into the body of that boy who had watched his father’s throat torn out. The coward that left his sister to die in the snow.

He tried to sleep that first night, but in his dreams, there was Silas, teeth sinking into his arteries and eating him whole. There was Delilah, charming him into letting his guard down and then, with the swift flick of her wrist, his neck was snapped in two. Or worse, they kept him as a pet at their feet, charmed and dazed and robbed of his mind and will and unable to exact his revenge. A joke of his bloodline. There was his mother and his father and Julius and Vesper and Ludwig and Oliver and Whitney and little Cassandra, crumpled in the snow.

Percival had too many ghosts to count.

So he retreated to his workshop. He retreated to the burning in his belly, the inhuman drive towards revenge. He had his mission and he wasn’t going to let the limitations of his human body stop him. He never had before.

Percival hadn’t slept in three days and his hands shook so badly that he brought the heavy iron hammer down on his fingers instead of his bullet casings.

There was a sickening crunch as three of his fingers flattened and twisted in ways that they shouldn’t. He tried to steady himself, after all, this was not the first time that he had broken fingers in his work, but he was so worn down and so tired that he couldn’t help the scream that escaped him or the way that his body crumpled or the heaving of his untrimmed chest that followed for several minutes after he realized that he had done. He gripped his wrist and hoped to will his fingers back into place.

He couldn’t fix this without help.

The problem with Scanlan in relation to Percy was that he was never sure if and when he was being genuine. Admittedly, Percy wasn’t excellent at social language, not the way that Vex or Vax was, so it could be his years spent alone building death revenge machines that built their gap. Nevertheless, he had such a hard time deciphering Scanlan. The two of them were prone to arguments and disagreements when they failed to meet eye to eye. He had recently spent an evening in Keyleth’s room, braiding flowers into her hair, and complaining about Shorthalt.

“I just don’t get him, Kiki.” he had said. “Maybe I’m just shit at communicating.” Keyleth had hummed and shook her head.

“No, Percy, I think you’re a fine communicator,” she replied. “It’s just that people rarely speak your language. Give Scanlan some time. He cares about you and he’ll catch on to you at some point.”

Percy could just never get a joke, he supposed. Scanlan could be serious sometimes. He had his moments of consequence, but he almost always followed them up with a joke or a snide remark about his penis. Percy couldn’t tell when to take him at his tone. Nothing was ever grave for Scanlan. At least not for long.

Percival set aside that tension, though. He didn’t want Keyleth to have to deal with this. She had been exceedingly worried about him the longer this situation went on and he was getting exasperated with how right she was. Her moral code was a reminder that what he wanted and needed to do was wrong. That Percy was wrong. That he was self-destructive and in pain and letting his anger and trauma control him. She wouldn’t say that to him, but Percy would see it in the look on her face and the way she wrapped her arms around herself, and the gentle brush of her fingers on his elbow. Keyleth didn’t deserve to have to deal with him. Really none of them did, but Keyleth especially. Keyleth most of all.

It was sun up when he finally trudged his way up the stairs to Scanlan’s door. The thought had crossed his mind that it was morning and Scanlan was not a morning person, but if Percy set the fingers himself and tried to work with them bound up and still broken, it would leave him utterly useless. He couldn’t afford to waste time on this. He knocked on Scanlan’s door with his good hand. He heard Scanlan groan and shift through the door.

“What the fuck do you want?” his voice was thick with sleep and annoyance.

“Scanlan-” Percy’s voice was tight and high. He was dangerously close to crying. He stopped himself in the middle of his sentence and cleared his voice to try and sound more like himself. “I require a bit of assistance.” There was a moment of silence, and then a frantic scuffling from behind the door, then a soft thud, then a curse, and finally, the door opened. Scanlan looked up at him, disheveled and sleepy, face taut with concern. He was still in his sleep clothes and his hair was standing almost on end. When he saw Percy’s hand, his eyes grew wide. He took hold of Percy’s sleeve and pulled him into the room. Scanlan’s room was surprisingly neat and not at all personalized. Everybody had done something to make their rooms their own. When they were picking rooms, Keyleth re

quested the one with wide, tall windows that looked out on the garden. She kept potted and hanging plants growing all over, she painted the walls a soft orange. She left her windows open and let birds fly in. She made a little forest in their urban setting. The twins had, naturally chosen rooms next to each other. They had their separate spaces, but they had the builders knock out a door in their shared wall. It stayed closed most of the time, but they had the ability to get to each other as quickly as they needed to. Vex covered her room in fine silks and linens, mostly in reds. She enjoyed fine things, and surrounding herself in those things was how she relaxed. Vax, on the other hand, had a simple room. It was, according to his sister, similar in layout to the room that they had shared in their mother’s home. He draped heavy curtains over the windows and filled the shelves with nik naks and souvenirs from their adventures. Percy’s own room was painted a soft blue and the bed was larger and softer than was strictly necessary to contrast the harsh lines and dark colors of his workshop. Scanlan’s room had a few personalizations. His sheets were a fine linen and his blanket was a soft lavender color. He had hung translucent red curtains on his window that cast a gentle red glow across the room. It looked unlived in. The only things that were truly loved in the room were Scanlan’s instruments. His flute was lovingly set in a black case, surrounded by a few rags that had been used to clean it diligently. His lute was hanging from a stand in the wall, recently restrung, Percy believed. His horn was layed out of a handkerchief, the mouthpiece removed and cleaned.

Scanlan was a pain in the ass, but he understood that a good tradesman took care of his tools. Percy had to give him that.

Scanlan sat him down on the bed and carefully examined the fingers. This was unnecessary, Percy knew that. Scanlan could have just cast the spell and be done with it. But he was taking his time, examining Percy’s entire being for inconsistencies or injury. This scrutiny made Percy inspect himself for the first time in three days. He was dirty, smudged in grease and black powder. He probably smelled terrible, seeing as he’d been working nonstop over a forge for days, he had probably coated every piece of clothing on his body in sweat. There was a small nick on his right forearm and a charred, black burn on his left wrist. Percy was much too skinny when Vox Machina had collected him, but Pike and Vex had taken it upon themselves to make him eat. He had developed a nice stomach since they had begun traveling together. His style of fighting did absolutely nothing in way of muscle. His friends seemed very satisfied with this development, and Percy wasn’t at all bothered by it. That comfortable layer of fat had all but disappeared in the week leading up to their confrontation with the Briarwoods. Now, three days with no food left him feeling weak and bony. Taking stock of his body made Percy sag and wilt. He was exhausted. His body was betraying him.

“Percival,” Scanlan said. No nickname, no familiarity. Formal. Oh no. “What happened?” A shaky sigh tore through Percy. He folded into himself.

“I wasn’t paying attention in the workshop. I brought my hammer down wrong. It was an accident.” It was, and Scanlan seemed to believe him. It was something that needed to be clarified with Percy. There was a time when he had first joined the group that Percy was purposefully reckless in his work and in battle. The others had given him a good talking to when he took one too many needless blows, and he had promised to tell them when an injury was incurred on purpose. Percy was nothing if not a man of his word.

“You haven’t been sleeping,” Scanlan said. Or eating. Or interacting with other people.

“No, I haven’t.” Percy felt no reason to lie. They all knew how bad it was. They all knew that he was in danger.

“You’ve got to sleep, Percy.” Scanlan wasn’t one to lecture on healthy habits, but the entire group had seemed to take Percy’s well being as a personal mission. Percy didn’t mind it most of the time, but he wasn’t this bad most of the time. Vex easing him from his workshop and into bed wasn’t bad when he’d had a good day. Keyleth making him dinner and forcing him to eat in her garden was good when he was good. Vax and Grog forcing him to the bar when he’d been alone for too long was cleansing and necessary when he wasn’t knee deep in depression and self-loathing. But when he was bad, when he was falling down a hole he couldn’t get out of, he felt as though he were being treated like a child.

Anger swelled up inside of Percy’s chest. He wanted to storm back to his workshop, but he still needed that spell. He swallowed down the acid bubbling up in his throat.

Scanlan sighed and covered Percy’s rough and twisted hand with his small ones. The warm tingling feeling of Scanlan’s healing spells cascaded over Percy’s finger. He grimaced and hid his face as his joints popped back together. Scanlan tutted in sympathy. Once the spell was, Percy flexed and relaxed his fingers. They were still a bit sore, but they worked. That’s what he needed.

“Remember,” Scanlan said, “that I’m not Pike. My spells are band-aids, not cure-alls. Go easy on that hand. Go easy on yourself.”

Percy, of course, ignored him.

Percival hadn’t slept in five days and keeping his knees steady enough to support him was getting harder and harder. Keyleth had tried to bring food down to him on the third night he was locked away in his workshop, and while he appreciated her affection, it was a distraction. He kept the door locked. She knocked every few hours and asked him to come out and rest for a while. Percy had stopped responding.

Percy’s exhaustion had turned from the heavy, fuzzied eyes kind and into the manic, jumpy, shaky kind that usually told Percy that it was time to sleep. He had decided at some point that he wouldn’t sleep until the Briarwoods were dead. He wouldn’t sleep until the entire institution of their Whitestone was burned to the ground. He wouldn’t sleep until he had his home back. He wouldn’t sleep until his work was done.

He took a break from hammering bullet casings to sit at his workbench and draw out designs. This was partly because he was out of materials, and partly because he wasn't sure he could support himself anymore.

There was a knock at his door. Percy sighed heavily and ignored it. There was another knock. Percy ignored it. Knock, ignore. Knock, ignore. Percy pulled lightly on his hair and tried to concentrate.

“I’m not going to stop until you answer, so open the door before I get Grog to kick it down.” Scanlan’s voice came muffled through the large metal door. Scanlan. That was not at all who Percy expected. Scanlan was the last person to go to for comfort. A good time, sure. A story, definitely. Comfort though was not his expertise. Percy’s curiosity got the better of him.

Scanlan greeted him with an outstretched hand and an earring. Percy’s fingers met his ear and found that he wasn’t wearing one.

“It’s for you.” Scanlan said. “And I’d answer quick, she’s pissed.”

When Percy took the earing hesitantly and worked it through his piercing, he was met with the voice of Pike.

“Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, what do you think you’re doing? Five days? Five?! I really can’t believe you, Percy, we’ve talked about this! Not taking care of yourself only makes your mental health worse! Eight hours of sleep, three meals, thirty minutes of exercise, you promised me! How are you supposed to do anything with no sleep and no food? You need your strength now more than ever!” She was shouting into the earpiece and she was angry and Percy was crying. Pike stopped when she heard him sniffle. “What do you have to say for yourself, Percival?” It took him a long moment to find his words.

“It’s so good to hear your voice.” It tumbled out of him as he shook with barely contained sobs. Tears were slipping past his glasses. His vision was blurred. Scanlan took his hand and led him gently to the workbench. Percy clutched tightly to the contact.

“Oh, Percy...” Pike said in that voice, and that was all it took. Percy’s walls broke down and he wept. So total was his devastation that he seemed to go missing from his own body. He was somewhere removed, somewhere deep inside of his own chest, listening to some pitiable stranger sob and curse and sniffle. He felt far away. He was some other person, standing outside of the Keep, watching its inhabitants with curious abandon. He was someone passing, catching a glimpse of their lives. Watching their lives for only a moment under a street light. A stranger on the cobblestone who didn’t know his name or his face or what he had done. Someone far, far away.

Scanlan was next to him, he thought, rubbing circles in his back as he sobbed. Percy tried to focus on that sensation, to find that feeling from outside of the Keep. It tethered him to inside. Percy heard Pike talking through it. She sounded kinder than he’d ever heard her, which was saying something. She spoke gently and coached him on breathing and encouraged him to tell her what was wrong.

The problem was that Percy was couldn’t seem to get it out. He couldn’t get the words out of himself, or perhaps he couldn’t get himself back into his own body. What’s wrong? Oh, I just saw the two people who killed my entire family for the first time in five years. Oh, something inside of me just snapped when I laid eyes on them. Oh, something inside of me just snapped when I laid eyes on them. Oh, I just can’t tell if I’m terribly, absolutely afraid, or if I’m actually losing my mind this time around. Oh, I’ve just been scaring myself with how disgusting and cruel my daydreams have become. Oh, I’m just becoming something completely and awfully unrecognizable. Oh, I’m just not sure you’ll know it's me when you come home. Oh, I’ve just been reminded of how very, very alone I actually am.

How could he put all of that into words? How could he describe to someone as whole and good as Pike the exact ways in which he was broken? How could he do that to himself? How could he do that to her?

Furthermore, how had any of them survived without Pike for so long? How had he gone on without her gentle tone and kind words and warm hands? Pike was a rock unlike any other in their group. How hadn’t they all killed each other or themselves without her there to keep them in line?

While he hadn’t gone into the ways in which Ripley had tortured him, and while he hadn’t described to her Cassandra’s little form crumpled in the snow, Pike knew the most out of all of them. Kiki knew a lot, but not like Pike did. He had opened up in a big way when she had noticed his panic attacks and depressive tendencies. She had encouraged him to talk about his trauma. Otherwise, he’d never get over it. Percy knew that, of course. He didn’t want to get over it. He wanted to revel in spite and pain. He knew it wasn’t healthy and Pike knew what he was doing, so he opened up a little at a time. He kept some things for himself, though, some things to keep him motivated. Some things to hold on to. She dug her heels in, though. She talked him through hyperventilation, healed him after reckless battles, forced him to eat and sleep and talk to people.

Pike was everything he needed and she was miles and miles away. Percy’s heart broke at the distance.

“Percy,” Pike cut through his thoughts like a knife. “Go eat something. Go have a meal with your family. Something high in protein. Have some water and then have some tea. If you can, spend some time just sitting with the others. Relax. Give your hands and brain a rest. Then, I want you to sleep for nine hours. Keyleth has some herbs and spells that can help if you wake up, but that’s what’s going to help. You need to be healthy to do what you have to, Percy. I don’t condone it, but I understand. Don’t make it easier for them.” It sounded like she was making a suggestion, but Percy knew that she was giving an order.

“Alright.” He said. He didn’t have the energy to fight it. It didn’t have the energy for anything.

“And Percy,” Pike cut in, “you are not alone. You’ve got Scanlan and Keyleth and Vex and Vax and Grog and Trinket and me. You've got me. You are loved so much by so many. Please don’t forget that. You hide in yourself when it gets bad, but please remember that you are never alone.” Sometimes, Pike read his mind. It was creepy and it made everything so much easier. He had cried out the last of his energy and he was willing to believe anything she said.

Percy spent the evening with his head in Vax'ildan’s lap. He braided little pieces of the white strands and tied them off with beads and leather. Grog had Percy’s feet on his knees and was recounting the tale of the time he had beaten a giant in an arm wrestling competition and won his wife as a prize. Vex bristled at his vulgar comments at her place by her brother. Every once in a while, she popped a grape in Percy’s mouth and ordered him to eat it. There was no need, of course. Percy was calm and malleable and he would, at any given time, do quite literally anything that Vex asked of him. Scanlan plucked his lute quietly and added commentary to Grog’s story, weaving it into an epic poem. He egged Vex'ahlia on, making disgusting commentary. She threw a grape squarely into his eye. It shut him up for a few minutes. Keyleth tended the fire and quietly defended Vex’s side of things as she drafted the warmth to Percy. Trinket snored from somewhere on the living room floor. Percy was content and as at ease as he could be. He was full and tired. At some point, he drifted off. At some point, Grog carried him to his too-big, too-soft bed.

At some point, he fell deep enough asleep to stay that way. That night, Percy dreamt of light. Light, light, light, burning away his darkness.