It all starts when Vex's car breaks down.
It's two in the morning, and she's on her way back to the apartment from a party a town away that a more responsible person of her age probably wouldn't have gone to, and her car starts making chugging and spitting noises. She slows and pulls off to the side of the road just in time for the engine to cut out, saying softly but feelingly, "Oh, shit." She throws it into park and twists the key in the ignition, but the engine doesn't even turn over. There's only a soft clicking sound.
After a few seconds the dashboard lights blink out, and she's cast into darkness.
And see, here's the thing; she's been expecting it, she can't act surprised, and she's got no one to blame for it but herself. Get your car fixed, sister, she can hear Vax saying in her head, just bite the bullet and spend the money to have it done so you can put it behind you.
"Shit," she says again, pulling her coat on and getting out of the car.
She pops the hood and then just stares into the bowels of the engine helplessly. She thinks it was the catalytic converter that Percy said needed replacing? Or possibly the oil well. Maybe both. All she knows is that between the two of them, she and her brother have been nursing this car along for a couple months, and it's given them trouble before, but it's always been when trying to crank it at start-up and not in the middle of the fucking night on the side of the road in the ass-end of nowhere in winter.
Vex stares at everything for another few seconds, then stomps back to the driver's side door, throws herself into the seat, and slams it shut behind her. Then she bonks her head against the steering wheel a couple times.
Her first instinct is to call her brother, of course. He'd make fun of her ruthlessly and probably bitch the entire drive back home, but he'd wake up from a dead sleep and come get her no questions asked to do it. And in fact, she's already typed in his number and is about to hit the call button before she remembers that it's a weeknight; he's got work in the morning.
Vex blinks down at her phone screen, the light harsh in the darkness of the car, then backs out to the contact list.
Vax would come get her, yeah, but she's at least an hour away from home which would make it at least two hours to get her and get back, so best case scenario he'd be going in to work dead tired and worst case scenario he'd have to call out entirely. She knows he hasn't had the job long enough to do that and get away with it, and besides, he's been so excited about it, so happy to get back out into the world.
A step in the right direction, Kimah had called it, her voice proud, and Vex knows the parole officer doesn't hand out praise easily.
No. No, she can't mess this up for him. He might get mad or feel guilty about it, but she won't let him fuck this up because of her.
Her second instinct is to call Pike, because if anyone else would come get Vex without complaining, it would be her, and it's as she's scrolling through her contacts that she remembers fuck Pike just switched over to night shift at the hospital, didn't she? She's probably still at work right now.
Vex bangs her head a few more times and resists the urge to throw her phone out the window. She settles for tossing it in the passenger's seat, then rests her cheek against the middle of the wheel (the horn hasn't worked for several months now, so she's not worried about that) and lets herself feel shitty for a minute or so before she scoops it back up.
Her contact list is still open and scrolled down through the P's, and above Pike's name she sees Percy's. She pauses.
In truth, Percy probably wouldn't have been her third choice, either; that would likely have been Tiberius, if Tiberius hadn't fucked off back to his parents halfway across the country. It's not that she doesn't like Percy, it's just... she doesn't really know him that well. Not well enough for him to likely want to jump out of bed and come get her dumb ass out of the middle of Bumfuck, Nowhere. Hell, even Scanlan would probably be more amiable about it, if he thought he could get something out of it.
But she hasn't really known Percy that long. She's not even sure if she could say they were friends. More like... acquaintances. But if anyone were likely to be awake at this time of night, it'd probably be him.
Vex cocks her head in thought, and then presses dial.
It rings exactly three times, and then the call connects and on the other side of the line a masculine voice says, "Hello? Vex?"
"Percival," she says cheerfully, trying to sound like she's not shivering in a dark car on the side of the road at two in the morning. "How are you, darling?"
There's a long moment of silence, and then Percy gives a little sigh. Vex can already picture him rubbing at his eyes. "Well, I'm certainly not sleeping, am I?" he asks, but it somehow comes out as amicable instead of sarcastic. "And how are you this fine winter morning?"
Freezing my tits off, Vex thinks. "Just peachy," she says. "Though I might have run into a slight problem."
Still as cool as a cucumber, Percy says, "Least me guess, your car broke down."
She winces and runs a hand through her hair. "Ah... perhaps. How'd you guess?"
"Well," he says, voice a tad bit louder now, like he's tucked his phone into his shoulder and his mouth is closer to the receiver. Vex can hear rustling in the background, the sound of papers sliding against each other. "I distinctly remember telling you that you needed to get that catalytic converter replaced as soon as possible, or your car might explode."
Ah, so it was the catalytic converter. Well at least she got that right.
"Yes. Well." And then she falls silent, because there isn't much she can say to that.
A few moments pass, and Percy sighs again. "I'm going to take another shot at guessing and say that you need a ride?"
"That would be a bullseye. I'm not, ah, interrupting anything, am I? You weren't sleeping?"
"Would it have mattered?" he laughs, and now Vex can hear the jingling of keys. "Where are you?"
Vex looks out the window, slightly fogged from her breath, into the darkness of the woods around her. "Somewhere in Hell," she says, exiting the car to walk around to the trunk and get her kit out so she has it ready to go. Percy laughs louder.
"Trust me," he murmurs into the phone on a chuckle, "I know all about that."
Here is what Vex knows about Percy:
She knows that he's kind of quiet, that he's equal parts sweet and caustic depending on the mood he's in, and that he comes from a family
that Tiberius would call "old money" and that Vax would call "rich as balls."
She knows that he's the kind of person who looks perpetually startled, that he has at least a partial education in law, and that he can occasionally be persuaded to barter mechanical services for tattoos (or at least, that's how she got him to diagnose her car).
She knows that Vax vouches for him, that they met in group counseling, and that he's apparently willing to drive an hour out of town to pick up a friend's sister who he's only met three or four times.
She knows, even with as few times as she's been around him, that he's the kind of person who she could really see herself liking.
And she knows that he's hiding something.
Percy's old beater truck passes hers on the road about fifty minutes later, and by the time she's clambered out, pulling her coat tight against herself and trembling so hard her teeth are chattering, he's done a three-point turn and pulled up alongside her.
"H-hey, sailor," she greets when he rolls the passenger's side window down, breath puffing out visibly in front of her. "Give a g-girl a ride?"
"My god, woman," he says, sounding genuinely concerned, "get inside, it's freezing out here."
Vex doesn't have to be told twice. She's opening the door, hefting her kit up under her arm, even as the window is sliding back up, and immediately upon sitting in the passenger's seat she peels off her gloves to press her fingers against the air vent, sighing in delight at the warm air that blows against them. When she finally looks over at him, Percy looks about the same as he has every time she's seen him; white hair tussled, blue eyes wide behind his glasses, and lips that would naturally turn up into a smile pulled down into a frown.
"What in God's name are you doing way out here, anyway?" he asks, but before she can answer he's already thrown his truck into park and is climbing out, shutting the door behind him. She rolls her eyes and watches as he shuffles around to the front of her car, and takes a pocket flashlight between his teeth to start fiddling with things under the hood. After a minute or so of this he comes back to her side and she rolls down the window just enough for them to talk, having spent almost an hour sitting in a car with no heat and not willing to lose any warmth now that she has it.
"So," he says, in a mild way that nonetheless makes her stomach drop instantly the way only teachers, doctors, and mechanics have ever been able to accomplish, "The good news is that I think it's your battery, which I can jump, and not your catalytic converter, which obviously I can't help you with. The bad news is that I checked your oil, and it's absurdly low considering I remember checking it last time I saw you as well, which means you likely have an oil leak, which means if you continue driving it then you're essentially, ah." He seems to consider his words for a moment, and then finishes with, "Fucked."
Vex groans and drops her head into her hands, which is lovely actually because her nose was really cold too and could probably use a defrost.
Percy disappears back into her car and she rolls the window up without looking, determined to blame the stinging in her eyes on the cold bite to the air.
God, she just can't catch a fucking break, can she? She's stronger than this, she knows she is, it's just--
God. God. This last year has just been so hard.
After another minute or so the driver's side door opens and shuts again as Percy slides back into his seat. Vex swallows hard and wipes her nose, but if Percy notices he doesn't comment on it. She glances over to her car to see that he's shut a plastic grocery bag that's been rattling around her passenger floorboard for weeks into the driver's-side door.
When she looks back at him, he shrugs a little sheepishly. "I didn't think to bring a towel and I didn't want to go digging around in your stuff. I locked it up, we can call a tow truck tomorrow."
The 'we' comment makes her remember that Percy's awake at nearly three in the morning to come get her ass out of hot water. With a sigh she rakes a hand through her hair and tosses it over her shoulder, turning to look at him and nervously biting her lip. "Listen, I really appreciate you coming to help me out. It's... really awesome of you, Percy."
He smiles a little, gives a slight nod as if to say yeah, I know.
"It's fine. I wasn't asleep anyway. Besides," he continues, pulling back onto the road and turning his high beams on, "Vax would kill me if he found out I knew you needed help and just left you stranded out here."
Vex rolls her eyes again but can't help the grin that brings. "Yeah, he would. Though he'd probably kill me too, just on principal, so."
There's a few minutes of companionable silence, the kind Vex doesn't get to have with a lot of people. Percy's just like that, she thinks; he doesn't mince words. Vex can appreciate that. She's good at talking her way out of trouble, but has never had much in the way of patience for needless small talk.
She likes that Percy seems to understand that.
Still, she's not surprised when, a couple miles down the road, he asks again, "But really, Vex. What were you doing so far from home in a rattling metal death trap?"
She shrugs, draws her coat in against herself a bit. It's not quite a nervous tic, but she can't blame it on the cold because by now it's actually quite toasty in his truck. "There was a party." Out of the corner of her eye she can see Percy's eyebrows raise and he blinks a few times, but doesn't react beyond that. She drums her fingers against the plastic case of her kit. "I heard about it from one of my friends in the area, just a bunch of drunk college kids. Thought I might see if any of them wanted some ink, maybe make some money on the side."
Percy lets out a soft hum, brows raising even higher. "A party, hmm? Seems a bit... unhygienic."
It's bland, nonjudgmental. Diplomatic as fuck.
It rankles her.
"Yeah well," she says, a bit testily, just on this side of snapping. She's couldn't say that he looks pissed off, exactly, but the tilt of his mouth lends to an expression of mild disapproval. "We have to earn a living somehow, right?"
He glances over to her now, then down to the kit in her lap. She wraps her arms around it protectively. "Yes," he says finally. "I suppose we must."
This time the silence is a bit tense, a bit awkward. Vex isn't sure if it's entirely on her end or not, since Percy is now looking straight ahead again, hands firmly at ten and two.
After a few minutes pass he speaks again. "Well? Did you make enough money for it to be worth it?"
Vex rests her head against the window and stares out into the darkness, watching the dimly-lit trees flashing by, and says nothing.
(Did Vex tell you that she does tattoos?
Well, she does tattoos.
She's not a professional or anything, but she's great with calligraphy and she's trying to branch out into more artsy designs, and pretty much all of her friends have something by her somewhere.
The first time she'd met Percy, they'd bartered a service for a service; she'd give him a tattoo if he'd check out her car for free.
The issue that she runs into is that she's not licensed.)
((Once, when Vex was a child, she woke up in the middle of a night from a nightmare.
Vax was going through a phase where he didn't want to be twins anymore and so he'd demanded his own room. It wasn't going well for either of them, but Vax was determined to be strong without his sister and Vex was determined to be spiteful to her brother and so the two of them slept in separate rooms even though neither of them was happy.
Anyway, Vax's room was too far for her to walk to-- she was young and scared and besides, Vax was only a little bit older than her and not all that much taller and she didn't need him to protect her anyway.
So she went searching for her mother.
She found her in the kitchen, sitting at the table with her head in her hands and her shoulders bent. It was a position Vex was familiar with: it was the Balancing The Checkbook position. She knew better than to bother her mother when she was Balancing The Checkbook, because her mother had to concentrate. Numbers were difficult, she knew from school, especially when you weren't given the right ones to add up to how much you were supposed to have. But Vex had a nightmare, and Vax was mean.
"Mama?" she'd said, tiny and nervous. Her mother's head had lifted up and Vex could see tears in her eyes. "I had a nightmare."
Her mother had sort of swiped at her face for a moment, but her voice had been strong when she'd said, "Oh, come here, darling. I've got you."
And Vex had climbed into her mother's lap and stared up at her. "Why are you sad?"
And her mother had pushed the papers and envelopes and letters with numbers on them into a pile and across the table and said, "Don't you worry about it, my darling, don't worry. I've got you."
After a good bit of time passes, the tension seems to fade. It's difficult to stay annoyed at someone who isn't giving you any ammo, and Percy doesn't seem much inclined to actually argue.
"So not that I mind helping a friend," he says, after they've gone ten or so minutes down the road in silence, "but why call me and not Vax? He seems the more logical choice."
Vex, a little thrown by the fact that Percy honestly considers them friends, clears her throat and shrugs. "He has to get up for work in a few hours. I didn't want him to be exhausted, or God forbid have to call out entirely."
"I might have work in the morning," he says mildly, but when she twists to look at him he's smiling. "You never know. I might have to call out myself now. Thanks, Vex."
She rolls her eyes and turns towards him fully, elbow against the passenger door. "Firstly, when I called you, you told me that you were already awake."
"Point," he concedes, then obligingly shuts up when she raises a finger to stop him.
"Secondly," she continues, "last time I saw you, you said, and I quote, 'jobs are for plebs'. Which I still take offense to, by the way."
"Point again. However! That," he says with a laugh, the good mood obviously restored, "was a joke! One that you punched me for making, if I recall."
"Yes, well, you deserved it. And finally--" At this he laughs again and looks up at the roof of the truck with a disbelieving grin on his face. This is an expression she's familiar with; she sees it a lot when Pike and Scanlan are together, and Pike is simultaneously amused and praying for patience. "Finally, I just like him more than you."
"I'll remember that for next time," he tells her, turning slightly to look at her while still keeping his attention on the road. "Though I can't really blame you."
And this is why Vex doesn't hang out with Percy as much as she should.
Because she actually, honestly likes him. Not necessarily romantically, though she's self-aware enough to know that she has a Type and that he mostly falls into it, but just that... she likes spending time with him. He's funny, he's clever, and what's more he's damaged. She doesn't have to worry about fucking him up.
Vex has never tried to kid herself into thinking that either she or her brother are entirely healthy people.
To that effect, Vex has spent most of her adult life doing shitty, stupid things, with shitty, stupid people, and she knows a liar when she sees one.
And she knows that Percy may not have outright lied about anything to her face, but he is most certainly keeping something close to his chest.
As someone who perhaps knows more than most about the difficulties of life, she can relate. Everyone is entitled to their secrets, and Percy is no exception.
That doesn't mean she trusts him, though.
(But then again, Vex rarely trusts anyone.)
"How is his job going, anyway?" Percy asks, oblivious to her thoughts. "I haven't seen him since the last time our group got together, and he'd just gotten it then. Does he like it?"
Vex snorts, thinks about her brother and the way he swoons about the apartment, head in the clouds, whenever he gets off of work. "It was weird for him at first, but I think it grew on him. Though that might mostly be attributed to the shop's owner."
She's only ever met Keyleth twice, but both times she could easily see how Vax could become so attached so quickly; Keyleth is beautiful, and happy, and she trusts. She's never seemed to care that she's employing an felon, which is probably exactly what Vax needs in a boss.
"He likes it," she continues, a bit quieter now, a bit softer. "She lets him manage the shop by himself while she works in the nursery. Probably not the wisest course of action," she says, and Percy huffs as if he's not sure if he's allowed to laugh or not, "but he appreciates it. I appreciate it." She looks out the window. By now they've approached the town, and she can see lights in the distance, maybe fifteen minutes away. She blinks in surprise. She'd thought they were further away than that. (This is another reason why she doesn't hang out with Percy much. She gets caught up. She loses time. She doesn't pay attention.) "This is probably the best thing he could be doing right now. Things are starting to turn around for him."
"Just for him?" Percy asks, tone lowered to match hers. It does interesting things to the timbre of his voice, the way it raises up in question. Vex represses a shiver.
She should have called her brother anyway. She's not like him. She doesn't like to get attached.
She looks back over at Percy, taps her nails pointedly against the case of her kit again, one eyebrow raised. "Percival, you've literally just driven an hour out into the countryside to come pick me up because my car broke down after a kegger where I gave illegal tattoos. If my life were a map, I believe that at this point I would reasonably be at rock bottom."
"Technically it's been about an hour and a half now," he corrects, but glances back over at her, and again, his concern seems so genuine. "Aren't you apprenticing at a shop, though?"
"Unpaid," she sighs, "and only three times a week."
"But it's something," he says firmly. A long moment passes, then with a sigh he takes a hand off the wheel and puts it on her shoulder. She can't feel it through the thick fabric of her coat, but she can hear the rasp of texture as his thumb slides across it comfortingly. "You are very far from rock bottom, Vex. Take it from someone who has hit it and is clawing his way back up."
(He makes allusions to a difficult past but he doesn't talk about it. She doesn't know anything about who he was before she met him only a few months ago. She doesn't trust him. She doesn't trust him.)
She nods her head slowly in response, and his hand on her shoulder squeezes briefly before he puts it back on the wheel.
"Besides," he continues, eyes on the road once more. They're approaching city limits, and street lights are starting to appear on the road. Whenever they pass one, the fluorescent light throws his features into contrast, washes out his pale skin, makes the dark circles under his eyes stand out more. It's a little bit haunting. It's a little bit entrancing. "I am more than willing to help a friend in need. I've had little enough of those in the past, friends, and now that I've got some I'm rather inclined to keep them." He smiles at her again. "Besides, I'm kind of hoping that this will make up for the pleb comment from last time."
(Vex does not like to be a cliche. She doesn't like to lump herself in with anyone else, has tried her entire life to strive to be her own person, set apart from the rest. It's necessary when you're a twin, when you're a lower class kid in a public school, when you've got to fight tooth and nail to get anywhere in life.
The Type of person that she's attracted to is generally broad. Male or female, doesn't matter; so long as they're clever, they make her laugh, and they respect her privacy.
Unfortunately, if her past relationships are any indication, another prevalent trait that seems to tie into her Type is that they are typically dangerous.)
Vex and Vax live in an apartment with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a small den above a book shop close to the center of town. This might seem fancy or extravagant, but the rent is cheap because the shop is right near the train tracks, which generally see the most use around one in the morning, and because of the book dust and old paper smell, which was novel in the beginning until Vax's allergies started to kick in.
The book shop is owned by a man named Shaun Gilmore. He and Vax flirt harmlessly but relentlessly, which Vex would find far more tolerable and amusing if they'd either fuck already and get it out of their systems, or if it got them a discount on their rent, which it doesn't.
It could be better, but it could also definitely be worse, and the lights are thankfully off in the apartment when Percy pulls the truck into the tiny side parking lot.
Percy kills the engine and blinks against the harsh glare of the street light that's set at the corner of the lot, then turns and looks at her. Now that they're in full light for longer than a few seconds, Vex can see that he's dressed in a set of striped pajamas, the pant bottoms of which are tucked neatly into combat boots. It's so silly; she has to stomp down a rush of affection for this strange, lovely man that she hardly knows.
"Thank you for coming to get me," she says again, quietly. Now that they're parked and outside her home, she feels more subdued, like if she doesn't whisper she might wake up her brother from here. He nods in reply.
"It was my pleasure," he replies, a small smile tilting his face. It's a little crooked on one end, and she knows that she needs to leave if she's starting to study him. "And, Vex? Get your car fixed. If you can get it towed here tomorrow I'll come by and we can try to jump it and I'll put some oil in it, and we'll go from there."
He reaches out as if to touch her shoulder again but seems to think better of it; before he can pull back, she grabs at his hand on instinct, threads their fingers together and squeezes.
"Thanks," she repeats, as sincerely as she can, and then lets go. He lets it happen, the only visible reaction a slight widening of his eyes, and then he nods at her. "Go get some sleep, Percival."
She opens the door, pulls herself and her kit out, and hoists it up onto her hip. She pauses outside the truck, staring in at him for another few moments, then says, "Good night, Percy."
He laughs, a soft and quiet thing. "Good morning, Vex." Then the door shuts behind her and the engine turns over, the headlights snapping on. He waits for her to climb the steeps stairs up to the apartment, which she appreciates because she's always kind of scared that she'll fall and break her hip, and after she's fished out her keys and opened the door she waves at him. A second or so passes, and then the truck backs out of its parking spot and he's back on the road and disappearing behind a curve.
Vex shuts the front door behind her and then leans against it with a sigh. She tries in vain not to think about all the fucking money she's going to have to spend, either fixing her current car or buying a new one. She tries not to think about Percy. That's in vain, too.
A low growl jolts her from her thoughts and she flips on the kitchen light, then frowns and puts her hand on her hips.
Trinket is on the couch.
As soon as he sees who it is the growling stops and he thumps his tail slowly against the cushions, big brown eyes peering at her guiltily.
"Trinket," she hisses, "get off! Bad boy!" His tails thumps a bit harder but other than that he doesn't move. She can't even imagine how many little hairs are all over the furniture now.
The bathroom door opens suddenly and Vex jumps, startled. She hadn't even noticed that the light had been on inside it. "Relax, sister," Vax says, walking out with one towel around his waist and another pulling at his hair, which is dripping with water. Steam drifts out of the room behind him and Vex places a hand on her chest, her heart racing.
"Jesus Christ, Vax," she hisses, stumbling to the kitchen table and dropping down into a chair, her kit left by the door. She drops her face into her hands and watches through her fingers as he walks back to his bedroom, chuckling. She turns and checks the time on the oven's clock. It's only like a quarter past four, a good two hours before her brother usually gets up. "Why the fuck are you up this early?"
The bedroom door is cracked open, so she can hear when he calls back to her, "Kiki wanted us to start early today, says she needs help transplanting some of the orchids before we open up."
(Vex groans. Vax has only had the job for a couple months, but whenever they transplant or re-pot something Keyleth inevitably sends him home with a cutting. The end table beneath the window in the den is covered in pots, and they're starting to migrate to the sill beneath the window in the kitchen. It's cute, but they don't have the space.)
"So," her brother says, drawing the word out long, and Vex groans again, the surprise that made her heart race earlier turning into dread. "Where've you been, stubby?" He comes out of the bedroom and turns on one of the lamps, scrutinizing her closely. He's in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt with cats in space on it that she's pretty sure Scanlan got him for Christmas last year. He squints at her, hands working to pull his damp hair into a messy bun. "You look like you crawled through a blender."
Oh fuck, does she?
In a move that's half horrified curiosity and half stalling, Vex runs to the bathroom to inspect herself in the mirror. It's... well. It could be worse? She could definitely use a hairbrush and some of the eyeliner she'd put on before leaving has smeared a little, but she's never been too makeup heavy so it's not... horrible.
Christ, this is what Percy came and picked up. Thank God she's not actively pursuing him. Otherwise this would just be embarrassing.
"I went to a party," she says finally, combing out her long hair. "A couple towns over." Vax hums in response, and Vex swallows. Taking a wet wipe, she carefully cleans the eyeliner off of her face, then turns to lean against the doorway. In the den, Vax has dropped onto the couch beside Trinket and is scratching behind his ear. The dog looks pleased as punch to be on the furniture and getting attention. Spoiled rotten.
"The, uh. The car layed down on me on the way back home."
Vax's head jerks up to study her anew, eyes wide with concern. He pulls himself up off the couch (Trinket whines) and strides over to her, looking her up and down like he's expecting to suddenly find her missing a limb or something. "What? How? What happened? How'd you get home? Why didn't you call me?"
Vex holds up a hand to stop him and he bats it away with a frown.
"Jesus, what is this, the Inquisition? The battery died or something. I knew you had work in the morning and didn't want to wake you, so I called Percy because he helped me out with the car last time. He came and got me."
"You should have called me," Vax says, looking annoyed and hurt all at once. God, now she feels guilty. "I'd have come to get you."
"I know you would have," she sighs. "I know."
"Keyleth would have understood if I had to come in late."
Vax stares at her hard for a long moment before sighing as well and holding his arms out. She hesitates, then goes in for the hug. "She would have understood," he says again. "Are you okay, though? Nobody tried to give you any grief?"
"Percy did, a little," she says with a small laugh, just enough to make it clear that she's joking. "But he was really cool about it."
"So the car's kaput?" he murmurs.
"Yeah. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," he says. "I can take my bike."
Vax doesn't respond to that, just hold her a little tighter. After a second or two she just sort of melts into it, leaning on him heavily. He smells like men's soap and her hair conditioner, an odd mix of scents that still makes sense to her, and she finally feels safe.
Not that she can't feel safe around Percy. She just... she doesn't like to let down her guard.
She doesn't know. She doesn't want to think about it. She's tired.
Vax kisses her hair and then glances over his shoulder at the clock.
"I've got to leave in half an hour," he says slowly, "but if you think you can stay up that long I'll make us some waffles and bacon." At the word bacon, Trinket huffs hopefully from the couch.
"None for you," Vex says firmly, and he whines again. She tucks her face into her brother's shoulder and smiles. "That sounds lovely."
This is how it all starts.
Vex's car has been making concerning noises for the past month, and Vax tells her about a guy he met in group who does mechanic work.
"He's not, like, an actual mechanic," Vax says. "I don't think he's employed at a shop or anything, but he's crazy smart about that kind of stuff. He helped Thorbir replace a part on his Harley a few weeks ago. I mentioned you do tattoos a while ago and he said he might be interested in getting in touch, so maybe you guys can work out a trade or something."
"Socialist," she accuses with a smile, and he shrugs.
"Hey, sometimes it works."
When Vex thinks of a mechanic, she typically thinks of a larger, muscley guy in overalls who's probably already got some tattoos and has grease smeared on his face, and who looks like he could fuck somebody up.
When Vex thinks of a guy named Percy, she typically thinks of a skinny, lily-white prep school boy who's allergic to everything and who bruises like a week-old peach.
Percival de Rolo, she finds, is somewhere between a mix of the two.
He greets her with a handshake, a tired smile, and a full name that Scanlan could probably have his kids use for their vocal warmups. He pours over her portfolio with an intent eye, then nods and spends an hour outside in the parking lot, fiddling around under the hood of her car and even pulling some ramps out of the bed of his clunker of a pick-up and setting them up so he can drive her car onto them to crawl underneath.
Vex and Vax watch all of this from the window of the apartment above.
"We should probably help," Vex says, biting her lip when Percy uses his arms, sleeveless and with delightfully toned muscles visible even from this distance, to pull himself out from under the car.
"And lose this prime view?" her brother murmurs. "No, thank you. Damn, Percival," he whistles as below them Percy stares at the car and scratches the snowy white scruff he's got on his jaw in thought, "I had no clue you were hiding guns like those beneath that jacket."
Vex, used to comments like this and knowing that if Vax were actually interested he'd have bedded the guy already, just nods in agreement.
After another few minutes Percy stomps up the stairs, opening the door after a brief knock, and then takes his heavy boots off at the threshold. "Well, I found a couple-- ah, thank you," he says as Vex hands him a glass of water and Vax hands him a wet towel to wipe himself off with, seemingly oblivious to their oogling. "I found a couple of problems."
He then proceeds to tell her the laundry list of reasons why her car sucks, Vex barely following the explanations and Vax clearly not even trying, too entranced with the way Percy's throat works as he talks.
Vex tries to total up in her head all the money she'd have to dish out to fix everything which results in a brief mental error screen.
Percy seems to agree, because he sends her an apologetic look as he says, "You may want to consider selling it for scrap and getting a new one altogether."
They have a light lunch before Vex has to set everything up, and she finds that Percy is... charming. He and Vax have a friendly rapport, snipping at each other good-naturedly and drawing Vex into the conversation easily. People tend to get overwhelmed when interacting with the twins when they're together (the first time she'd met Keyleth, she'd spent the entire time finishing Vax's sentences for him. The way the florist's eyes had grown steadily wider was hilarious.) but Percy doesn't seem at all intimidated, bantering back and forth with them both effortlessly almost immediately.
He's funny, and clever, and oddly proper despite the fact that he's still got grease smeared beneath the rim of his glasses. Vex can see how Vax could feel connected to him so quickly despite the odd circumstance of their meeting.
"So," Vex says after the conversation has wound down and her fingers have started itching for her tattoo gun. Vax has left to take Trinket for a walk (and that had been hilarious, Percy's eyes widening in surprise when the great bear of a dog had jumped up to lick at his face) and the two of them are cleaning up the kitchen. Vex had tried to stop him, saying that he was a guest, but Percy had insisted on helping her do dishes. "What kind of tattoo are you looking for?"
"I have a piece of calligraphy that I'd like done under my shoulder blades," he says, drying a plate with a towel and setting it down carefully in the dish rack. He hesitates, then says haltingly, "It, ah. It probably won't make any sense to you, but--"
"But it's important to you," she guesses, and he nods, relieved.
This is why Vex likes doing quotes and sayings, tiny bits of wisdom pushed into skin so they can be carried around forever. For every peace sign she puts on a twenty year old, she puts a Pablo Neruda quote on someone else, or a Never Forget, or an aspiration. It doesn't have to mean anything to her, because it means something to them.
That's also the easiest way to get a judge of someone's character, she thinks. Find out what they're willing to permanately put on their bodies.
After they finish Vex vacuums and dusts and sets her kit up in the living room, making the environment as clean as she can. Percy helps her wipe everything down, then after the two of them deliberate for a minute or so she sends him off to the shower to scrub the sweat and grease off of his skin.
She's ready when he comes out, dressed in a pair of borrowed sweatpants from Vax and toweling at his short white hair. Vex is delighted to see that the definition doesn't stop at his arms; Percy is skinny as a twig, but he's toned.
He pulls a sheet of paper carefully out of his messenger bag ("Man purse," Vax had said cheerfully after Percy'd dropped it off inside and left to go work on the car) and hands it to her.
In graceful, looping capital letters that are clearly free-handed, she reads NO MERCY.
It's a little cliche, she thinks but doesn't say, because there's a shadow in Percy's eyes when he looks at it. Yes, this definitely means something important to him.
"Did you write this?" she asks, pouring out her ink as Percy lays himself across the couch, arms folded beneath his head. "It's very pretty."
"No," he says shortly. "My sister did. One word beneath each shoulder blade, if you please. To scale."
Prone as he is, he can't see her considering face.
He's clearly educated, probably more so than she and Vax combined. He knows his way around an engine but isn't employed. He did an hour's work unpaid for a simple tattoo that literally anyone with a gun could do. And as much as they talk in group, she knows that Vax still doesn't know why he's there.
Warnings start pinging off in her head. She knows that she could really grow to like this guy, but she doesn't trust.
"This will hurt," she says after she's applied the stencil and Vaseline, holding a mirror so that he can see the placement. He nods, and she dips the needle into the ink. "I'm sorry."
Percy laughs, a short little thing that doesn't sound all that happy. "That's fine. I'm accustomed to pain."