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until all these shivers subside

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So after they kill the dragons, life sort of goes on as usual, and everyone mostly just forgets that Vex kind of died.

Which is a weird concept in and of itself to think of, but ultimately not the weirdest thing that Vox Machina has been through. Pike's already died once, and when the group got back to Whitestone after the debacle in the Champion's tomb, she and Vex shared a high-five and joke about starting a club.

Sometimes people die and sometimes, Vex has discovered, they are brought back to life afterwards, if one is very quick and very lucky and they have a cleric on hand.

But yes, life returns somewhat to normal for them, especially once the repairs on Emon start to hit their stride and the population slowly begins to trickle back, except maybe save for the fact that Vax now shadows her even closer than he used to, while as if to counteract that Percy has mostly been avoiding her. Oh, he's very kind about it, of course, very polite and proper. Asks her how her day's going and makes her exploding arrows and such. But in general, there's a distance between them that didn't used to be there, which-- Whatever. That's a bug up his ass, not hers.

She's been alive (again? still? does time restart for her now, is she still twenty-seven or is she technically an infant again? goodness that would be awkward for a multitude of reasons.) for almost two months after It happened, and in fact for a while there Vex thinks that maybe she's managed to have been resurrected without much consequence at all, the proverbial get-out-of-jail-free card, like some great cosmic celestial being, which signs point to being Vesh, though she highly doubts this, has decided that everybody gets one. After the first few weeks of normalcy she stops waiting for the other shoe to drop, stops looking over her shoulder and expecting dragons or Beholders, and just sort of accepts what happened.

Which, all things considered, is why she's surprised by the first nightmare.

Oddly enough, and she'd actually been a bit concerned by it at the beginning, up to this point her sleep following her death has been fairly standard for her. Vex has never been the sort of person to have very vivid dreams, or at least not ones that she usually remembers, and most of the ones she does recall after waking are more based on emotions than anything else. She dreams of hunger, or of happiness, or of that feeling that one gets when one is counting one's coin, the feeling she has difficulty calling by any name other than arousal. So when she has the first nightmare, a frigid, aching thing that makes her wake very suddenly and very quietly in her bed, shivering, her first instinct is to run to her brother.

However, since it's very, very early in the morning and she honestly isn't sure if she can look at him without breaking down, she goes instead to the temple of Sarenrae Pike tends to in the Keep.

Grayskull's halls are empty this early in the morning, all guards currently on duty being stationed up on the walls, and the temple is silent. Not that she was expecting anyone to be there before sunrise, and she's thankful for it as she sinks down against the alter and stares up at the stained glass windows, dark and dull with no light shining through them, and with a heavy, wet breath tries to recall what she'd dreamt.

She can't, though. She knows that it was something terrible, something that sent her heart racing in her sleep, but she can't remember any of it beyond the feeling of cold that still tickles at the tips of her fingers. She flexes them nervously, trying to get a bit of feeling back into them, wipes her hands against the corners of her eyes and is gratified when they come back dry.

Sometimes Vex wishes she were religious, that she had some sort of belief. That always seems to help Pike, anyway, to have something like that to hold onto. But the statue of Sarenrae is silent, not that she was expecting anything different. People like her don't get visits from the gods.

Not any of the good ones, anyway.

She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath and holds it until her chest hurts from the pressure of it.

It was just a dream. She's fine. She's fine. It was just a dream. She is alive, and her brother is alive, and she is home; it was just a dream.

------------------

"You look tired," Grog says the next morning, squinting at her over the breakfast table, and then dumps half his share of bacon onto her plate. Vex, simultaneously annoyed at being babied and pleased because now she has more bacon, narrows her eyes and flicks a bit of oatmeal off of her spoon at him. It hits him on the nose and he glares at her, and she waps him with the spoon when he moves to take his bacon back.

"Have you not been sleeping well, Vex?" Keyleth asks, curiously, looking up from the alchemy book spread open before her with wide eyes. As one, everyone assembled at the table seems to turn and look at her.

And this is the thing: they all worry about it, and nobody wants to talk about it. She wishes they would, if only to get it out of their systems. It'd been mostly swept under a rug when the Conclave was still an issue; they'd discussed it, but there hadn't really been enough time for them all to actually deal with it emotionally.

But, see, Vex? She doesn't have to deal with it. It's a total nonissue for her. She doesn't care, she doesn't even remember it, she's fine.

"Had a funny sort of dream last night," Vex says lightly, as if she hadn't woken in the middle of the night terrified. Much like death, the dream feels like it happened to someone else and not to her, the panic that struck her in the darkness banished in the light of morning. What silly things to fear, she thinks, dreams. She bites into her bacon and hums. "Don't remember it, though."

Keyleth and Pike exchange glances and Vex resists the urge to roll her eyes. Vax, at her side as he almost always is these days, elbows her gently and gives her his Very Serious Face that usually makes him look like he's trying to not let out a fart. (Vex has seen his trying-not-to-let-out-a-fart face. The two look quite a bit alike.)

"Sister," he says, voice low and stern.

"Brother," she mocks, her own high and falsetto, almost sing-song, and his frown deepens. "Honestly, Vax," she says after a moment, "I had a dream. People do occasionally do that, you know." He continues staring at her; she crunches down hard and obnoxiously on her breakfast, eyebrows raised pointedly until he finally looks away and turns back to his own meal.

The tension, or at least most of the tension, seems to dissipate from the table, though there is that perpetual low-key nervousness still hovering about the party that Vex isn't sure will ever actually go away. It's because it's different than when Pike died, she thinks. Pike was brought back by her God, who also happened to be the Goddess of Healing.

Vex was, apparently, brought back by a very pissed off Goddess of Death, with a different Goddess of Death sort of muddying the waters even further. There's not really a precedent for this, which she understands, but she feels perfectly normal. She's fine. Determined to ignore the way Vax is still watching her out of the corner of his eye, she glances around the table and takes a big bite of toast.

Pike has gone back to whatever conversation she'd been having with Scanlan, apparently a minor squabble of some sort from the way she's gesturing at him with her fork. Keyleth is pretending, poorly, to read her book but is actually watching her brother. Vex knows that she's almost more worried about him than she is for her, which, if what they'd told her about his offer? threat? to the Raven Queen is true, is probably a good thing. Grog seems the most unaffected by the whole thing, and is trying to lick the oatmeal she'd thrown at him off of his nose.

She does a mental count and frowns, then says around the toast in her mouth, "Where's Percival?"

"Where do you think?" Vax grumbles, picking at his food more than eating it. "In his workshop."

Vex frowns harder.

They've shared a sort of tenuous peace between them lately, her boys; Vax blames Percy for her death and wishes he didn't, and Percy blames Percy for her death and seems to embrace that blame wholeheartedly and that, at least, the two of them seem to agree on. In fact, Percy's relationship with Vox Machina has been so strained lately that at this point she even wonders why he didn't just scarper off back to Whitestone after the Conclave was dealt with and just wash his hands of the twins and their drama entirely.

"Has he eaten, then?" she asks the table at large, her eyes falling on Grog, who spends the most time of all of them in the kitchen.

The Goliath shrugs and says, bits of bacon spraying out as he speaks, "Dunno. Haven't seen him in a day or two."

Well, nothing for it then, she thinks, and stands. She makes a fresh plate and then tucks her own half-eaten one into her elbow, and is about to leave when Vax's hand falls onto her arm and squeezes. It's not a hold, not really, but it's not gentle either, and neither are his eyes when she glances at him. The whole ordeal has hardened him; the dragons, her death, everything.

It's so strange, that something she doesn't even remember, that something she feels such absolute disconnect to despite knowing intellectually that it happened, has traumatized her brother so badly. Vex wishes that she could help, that she could reassure him, but she doesn't know how. What do you say to something like that?

"Even Percival needs to eat, brother," is what she ends up with. "Not even he can survive on spite alone."

Vax's mouth tightens minutely but he releases her arm, eyes following her as she finally turns with a sigh and makes her way out of the kitchen and down the halls of the Keep.

Trying to keep the food on the plates from upsetting while jogging downstairs is difficult, but not impossible, and is an activity that Vex is used to. She and Percy used to share meals on a fairly regular basis, if only because he'd occasionally need a second set of hands to assist him in his projects and she knew that he'd completely forget food existed if it wasn't set in front of him.

The dungeons are quiet but for the ringing of metal that echo through them, and Percy's workshop door is closed so she can only imagine how loud it must be inside. There's the familiar strong, repetitive striking of a hammer against an anvil, and she juggles the plates onto one arm and waits until there's a pause in the rhythm to knock on the door.

A moment of silence, and then footsteps, and then the little grate set inside it slides open and Percy's icy blue eyes meet her own. He blinks once, twice, three times, the way he does when he's surprised.

"I brought food," she tells him, lifting the full plate she'd made for him up to the grate so that he can see. He blinks again. Clearly he hadn't been expecting anyone to interrupt him, and probably most especially not her. "When was the last time you ate, Percy?"

After a moment his voice floats through the grate, seeming disembodied from this angle, where she can only see his eyes. "...I'm working on something that's a bit time-sensitive. If you leave it outside, I'll eat when I'm finished."

Vex bites down on a sigh and shrugs instead. It's-- it's fine. She's not sure what she was expecting, anyway. It's been a while since she and Percy shared the close camaraderie that they used to. Just another unfortunate side effect of the death that she can't remember, she supposes. It's just-- when the fuck is she going to stop being punished for something that she can't help?

Whatever. Whatever. It's fine.

"I'll just leave this here, then," she says, and there's a short, vaguely-affirmative grunt of acknowledgement before the grate slides shut again and Vex leans against the door, closing her eyes to the sound of some more steps and then the hammer hitting the anvil again. The metal door is warm from the heat of the forge he's got lit in the workshop; the rest of the dungeon is so cold, all underground stone, and more than once she's fallen asleep against this door, the warmth of it at her back as she sat on the floor, the sound of Percy fletching arrows or sanding wooden shafts a soft lullaby in the background.

She sighs now that he can't hear her, presses her forehead hard against the door before stooping to set his plate down on the floor beside it and ascending the stairs once more.

------------------

She dreams, and it's darkness and feathers. She coughs and they burst from her mouth, the vanes scraping against her throat, pin feathers and down feathers, primaries and secondaries, black, black, black.

She gags and pulls them out, claws at herself, but they're choking her, and for every handful she spits up there's another ten stuck to the back of her tongue like paper, like cotton, and her fingers are cold and her teeth are cold and her brain is cold, water dripping from her hair until it drenches the back of her shirt, freezing but never icing over. She tries to scream, tries to call for help; her breath wheezes and her words are muffled, barbules sticking to the roof of her mouth, and she can see, she can see in the distance, a figure, watching her, a woman maybe, too far to make out details but watching, always watching, moving towards her but too slowly to get there in time, she is cold, she is so cold--

Vex wakes with a gasp, coughs violently. Trinket lifts his head from the floor, blinks sleepily and groans at her in confusion. She sits up in bed, her hair falling in a curtain around her face as she rests her forehead against her knees. Her heart is racing, but already the details of the dream are starting to slip away, and grasping for them is like trying to catch hold of running water.

It's-- it's fine. It was just a dream. Everyone dreams.

Still, when she lays back down, her breath even through sheer force of will, her feet are freezing and her hands are trembling, a chill wracking her frame beneath the sheets. And that's okay, sometimes the Keep gets cold, it's all of the stone and poor insulation, she should talk to Percy about maybe looking into some kind of heating mechanism for her room, or perhaps Keyleth might have some ideas with her nature magic since Percy seems so terribly busy lately.

Flinging back her sheets, Vex pads from her bed over to Trinket, tucks down in beside him and curls up. He wraps around her happily, his bulk and fur warming her immediately. Already the dream is gone, and the only proof that she'd even had it at all is her pounding heart but that too is beginning to calm. It's fine. All is well.

------------------

"Have you considered, like, making something that can burn indefinitely?" Vex asks Keyleth a few days later, the two of them out in the garden of the Keep.

The sun is shining down brightly, the spring warmth burning away the memories of the terrible winter; under Keyleth's gentle supervision the bloody, muddy slosh that had surrounded the Keep after the initial dragon attack has become a vibrant green once more, flowers budding and saplings growing at an exponential rate. Vex sits on a low branch of a tree that didn't even exist a week ago, feet swinging below her as Keyleth tends to her greenery, touching seemingly every leaf of every plant, like a miser counting her coin to make sure it's all there. Trinket is snoozing in the shade of the same tree and Vax, she thinks, is out here somewhere too, loathe to let her leave his sight and with the added bonus of having Keyleth close as well.

The Druid, always the epitome of naive curiosity, latches onto the idea just the way Vex was hoping she would, with enthusiasm and few questions.

"My hands can," she says cheerfully, and on cue and with a flick of her wrists her hands obligingly erupt into flames, browning and charring a few blades of grass. She squeaks and quickly puts out the fire, hands now glowing green with nature magic as she encourages the grass to live again.

"I'm thinking more like something portable," Vex hums, reaching out to pluck a flower from a twig of her tree. It's soft and white, a little tiny thing that nonetheless impresses her, considering how very young the tree itself is. Life will out, she thinks to herself, and drops the flower. It twirls through the air under her and lands daintily on Trinket's nose; he sneezes once, twice, and then rolls over with a groan and goes back to sleep.

She smiles at the sight before continuing, "Something I can put in my room. I'm catching a chill, I think. I've woken up the last couple nights shivering." Keyleth looks up at her with a bit of concern and Vex hastens to clarify, "I'm fine, honestly! Just a case of cold tootsies. Might be because I haven't had anyone to warm my bed with me in a while," she says with a wink, knowing that nothing will throw Keyleth off of a conversation like mentioning sex will. True to form the younger woman blushes and twists away, red hair whipping out behind her.

"Well," she says after a long moment, and Vex shuffles to lean against the trunk of the tree with a grin. "I wouldn't know anything about that."

"Wouldn't you?" Vex asks innocently, closing her eyes and letting her muscles relax. The sun is warm against her clothes, a gentle heat that she appreciates, one that chases away the coolness that's been clinging stubbornly to her skin. Her dreams have been getting angrier, and darker, and colder, but that's fine, she knows that the others have nightmares too, after everything they've all been through it'd probably be more concerning if she wasn't having bad dreams. Still, the sunlight is a welcome relief.

"No," Keyleth says firmly. "I wouldn't. Besides, that sounds more like a job for Percy. The heating thing, I mean, not the, uh, bed warming thing. Though I guess that's more likely to happen than you and I. N-not that I don't like you!" Vex laughs, bright and loud, surprised by her happiness, and Keyleth twitters nervously before chuckling herself. "Oh, you know what I mean. I'm just saying, he's got more of a mind for heat and metal than I do, I'm sure if the two of you brainstormed he'd be able to come up with something for you."

The mention of Percy brings her good mood plummeting again. The two of them have still only exchanged the most base of pleasantries, and truthfully she's been mostly ignoring him since the issue of breakfast a few days ago, a stinging pride and wounded feelings pushing her to give him a taste of his own medicine. And, okay, maybe it's a bit petty, but-- but she fucking died, okay? And it's not a big deal to her, not really, she can't even remember it, it's fine, but it was a big deal to him apparently, and now he can't even share a meal with her, so fuck him.

She'll go eat with Pike. The Not-Dead Club, party of two.

"Ah, he's busy with his own projects," Vex says instead, forcing her levity into her voice than she truly feels. "I don't want to bother him with my silly wants. Or you, for that matter." She stretches her legs out ahead of her, closes her eyes again, determined to go back to enjoying the warmth of the sun. It's a little harder of a thing to grasp now, but never let it be said that Vex won't try to force herself to be happy simply out of spite. "Never you mind. It's a very small thing."

There a few minutes of silence, save for the chirping of birds and the snoring of the bear below her. It's funny, she thinks, how life just... goes on. Only a short time ago they were being attacked by dragons; before that, they'd been hunting vampires; and before that still they'd nearly lost themselves beneath a mountain. And yet birds still make their nests and grass can still be persuaded to grow.

What a resiliant thing, nature.

"Vex... I think that maybe you and Percy should have a talk, yeah?" Keyleth voice is very small, very nervous; Vex still doesn't open her eyes, doesn't even move. "I know he's handling all of this... very poorly. Very, very poorly. But it's been hard for him, everything that's happened, all of it in such quick succession, and I think he blames himself for..."

"For me dying?" Vex asks blithely, and knows that Keyleth has flinched without having to see it. That's funny, too. That she's the only one of them who can talk about it without issue when she's the one who actually goddamn died. "I know he blames himself. Maybe he should. Regardless, our estrangement is entirely his doing, not mine. I've extended more than my share of olive branches, and frankly all of this extending is making my arm tired."

"Maybe just try," Keyleth urges, her voice closer and stronger now, and Vex opens one eye to look down at her. The Druid is standing below her now as well, one hand on Trinket's massive back, her head tilted back to look at Vex. "Percy's always had a bad habit of thinking he needs one thing when he actually needs something else."

"And you think he needs me?" Vex asks with a laugh, because-- because what utter bullshit. Nobody really needs her, not anymore, and certainly not Percy. Which is, it's okay, it's fine, she's used to being second; second born, second thought. It's fine.

"Maybe. Maybe he just needs somebody to talk to. Maybe that's what you need, too."

"I'm fine," Vex snaps, her good mood officially tanking. "I don't have anything to talk about. You guys are the ones who have a problem with everything."

There's a long, long silence. The sun isn't as warm now as it was previously, and Vex fights the shiver that creeps down her spine. She needs to go inside, she thinks. Put something hot in her stomach and wrap up in some furs. Maybe cuddle with Trinket. She's been doing that more often than not anyway.

"Just talk to him, Vex," Keyleth murmurs finally, quiet and discouraged. "Please."

"Fine," she growls, and vaults out of the tree. Trinket lifts himself with a shake and follows. "I will later."

------------------

She dreams, and she is in Rimefang's cavern. The ice drips water that pools at her feet but never seems to actually melt. The dragon's body is torn and shredded, blasted apart by Zahra's spell; it looks so pitiful compared to the dragons she'd faced in the Chroma Conclave, so small. It strikes her suddenly that he must have been such a young thing, and so angry.

The frigid water soaks through her boots, to the leggings she's tucked into them, sopping up her socks. She knows without having to look that her toes are white and bloodless, but she hardly feels it, can't even really acknowledge it. She feels-- numb. Her brain feels disconnected, like she's watching through someone else's eyes. Water drips from the ceiling into her hair, and her hair is feathers; barbs that catch on each other, on the water, on her shoulders, and she knows the vanes are splitting and that it should hurt but she's just so numb.

A woman watches, watches, from a distance, too far to make out the features, indiscriminate, shapeless, vague. A woman watches.

"You shouldn't be here," Vex calls out, her voice lazy, lethargic, a shiver causing it to tremble, but she can't feel the cold, can't feel her feathers. "You'll freeze. The dragon might come back. You never know, with dragons."

The woman watches, takes a step forward, but it's not a step, it's a glide, watches, watches. Vex's feathers are soaked and clipped, torn vanes and plucked shafts, and she's so cold, but she's so numb and she can't feel it.

Behind her Rimefang lifts, bones snapping back together, reforms silently; he is white, he is red, he is young, he is ancient, he is dead, he is alive, he is reaching for her and wrapping around her but she can't feel it, she's so numb. The woman watches, from a distance, too far to make out the features, watches, watches, as Rimefang swallows her whole and his throat freezes, but she can't feel it, she's numb, as Thordak eats her alive and his mouth burns, but she's not alive, she's dead.

------------------

Vex doesn't go talk to Percy, actually. Instead, she skulks about the Keep for a few days avoiding everyone and then decides to hang upside down and try and shoot her own arrows out of the sky.

She can shoot upside down with no problem, and she's a fast enough draw that she can shoot one arrows and then another to hit the first, but combining the two is proving to be a challenge. Presently, she's hanging over the side of the wall close to the guard tower, her back against the wall and her feet hooked over the stone railing, holding herself up with calf muscles strong enough to break a man's neck and sheer spite, Trinket about twenty feet below her on the ground and pacing anxiously, and a good dozen arrows stuck between her teeth since she can't very well keep them in her quiver upside down.

There used to be this, this-- what's it called? A little catapult thing, something Percy had built for the two of them, and they'd go outside the Keep with a bunch of shitty plates and clay disks and one of them would pull the lever to jettison it up in the air while the other would shoot it for target practice, and they had it until they'd both gotten spectacularly drunk one time and Percy'd had one of his exceptionally bad ideas and loaded the thing with molotov cocktails of whiskey to shoot it with his gun, just to see what'd happen, and Laina had confiscated it with a heavy frown and a matronly finger-shake. They'd made plans to swipe it back from her, possibly over more whiskey, but.

Well.

There hasn't been much time for silly things like that lately, has there?

Anyway.

It's something to do with the depth perception, she thinks, that's why she's having issues. Or maybe the blood rushing to her head; she's decided not to right herself until she ran out of arrows, and frankly she's getting a bit dizzy, thus why Trinket is hovering below her. You know. Just in case.

Vex carefully removes an arrow from her mouth, nocks it, shoots it up into the air, then swiftly takes another one and shoots that one as well, eyes tracking the second arrow as it soars up and misses the first by a few scant centimeters.

"Damn and double damn," she grumbles, and in the process of grumbling loses the rest of the arrows. "And triple damn!" They plummet through the air and she whistles to Trinket just in time to have him scamper out of the way, most of them tumbling harmlessly into the loam below, while a few land tip-down and sink into the earth.

"What in the hell are you doing?"

The voice startles her, makes her jerk, and she loses her grip on the railing of the wall, her muscles jumping, and she starts to slip and this is it, this is fucking it, this is how she actually dies and stays dead, by falling over backwards off the goddamn wall of her own Keep like an idiot.

Hands catch at her boots, wrapping around her ankles, and steady her before she slips any further than a few inches down the wall, though her heart is still pounding rapidly with the surge of adrenaline. With the added weight of the hands holding her in place she lifts up, abdominal muscles flexing rather impressively she feels, and curls upwards until she's sitting straight up on the parapet and then sliding down to her feet, putting her rather close, and in fact possibly a bit too close, to Percy, who's staring at her with wide, concerned eyes.

A bit dizzy from the blood rushing this way and that in her body and struck by sudden vertigo at being upright for the first time in several minutes, Vex laughs, a bit manically, and leans into him. "Why, Percival," she says, forgetting for a moment that she's rather hurt and unhappy with his behavior at the moment, "is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

Percy blinks and then jerks back away from her, looking down at where his jacket bulges out around his holster. "Well, I-- I mean. Well. Yes, actually, that is a gun."

Vex stares at him, and then drops her forehead against his chest. "You are damnedably stupid, darling," she mumbles, a headache starting to form at her temples, though whether it's from Percy or her recent acrobatic recovery she's not sure. Likely a mix of the two, to be honest.

"Unfortunately," he says, sounding uncomfortable, "I have to agree." Slowly, awkwardly, his hands raise up and then wrap around her, drawing her into an embrace that squishes her against him. It's a bit difficult to breathe around the fabric of his jacket, but things are starting to look up a bit, so she doesn't complain and just lets him hold her. "I was... I am quite a bit of a fool, aren't I?"

She hums affirmatively and he scoffs. "Trying to apologize here, Vex, darling, in case you hadn't noticed."

"Dearest Percy, I'm simply trying to be agreeable."

"Right, of course." There's a smile in his voice now, and when she leans back to look at him it's such a tiny thing, such a little tilt to his lips when he gazes down at her. It drops slowly, his eyes sweeping over her face like he's taking everything in, and then he draws her close again, his hold on her tightening. "I had gone so long without a family," he murmurs into her ear, "that I'd forgotten how much I rather liked having one. I lost my first; recent events have made me fear losing my second."

She's quiet, just lets him talk, lets him get it all out. Percival has a tendency to chew on his words, to let them sit in his mouth until he's sure he likes the taste of them before he speaks. Emotional conversations with him have a tendency to take twice as long as any other kind, because of this.

"And I have been thinking that I have not been kind to you at all, but I wanted you to know that... it was because I care for you, for all of you, and when faced with the fact that I could lose you like I lost them..." He rests his cheek against her head and sighs. "I thought it was more than I could bear."

Vex pulls away, places her hands on either side of his face, tilts his head down and presses a kiss to the tip of his nose. Then she slaps him.

Lightly, of course.

"Oh, bloody hell. I deserved that, didn't I?" he grumbles, disengaging and rubbing a hand across his cheek, glaring at her behind his glasses. Vex leans against the parapet and crosses her arms, smirking.

"You did," she agrees. "So tell me, how long did Keyleth fuss at you before you gave in and came to find me?"

"Forever," he admits freely and with a grand roll of his eyes. "I was planning on doing it anyway, but the way that woman wields guilt we should be paying her to defend the Keep."

She hums again, and Percy runs a hand through his hair. And it's-- it's not perfect, his apology, mostly because he never actually said that he was sorry, but life isn't perfect either, even when you've died and been brought back. Perhaps especially then, actually. And maybe it will never go back to normal, back to the way it was before, but so long as people will stop avoiding it then she'll be fine, she is fine, and she knows the pain that Percy holds inside himself, knows how difficult it can be to let yourself care about someone when they run around with a bloody fucking death wish, Vax.

Still, when they lock eyes again Percy wordlessly opens up his arms and Vex wordlessly walks back into them, and she feels a piece inside of her connect, like something snapping into place, something she hadn't realized was upset now righted once more. He's warm, he's always run hot, and it soothes the chill that she carries with her now, not completely, but she can ignore it.

"If you had not come back," he says quietly, gravely, and she listens to his heartbeat through his jacket, strong and steady despite being muffled by the fabric, "I am not sure what I would have done."

"Vax would have done something stupid and foolish to try and bring me back, surely," she says, digging her hands into the layers of his clothing, between his jacket and his shirt, and holds them there beneath his shoulder blades. Maybe if she leans hard enough, if she grabs hold tight enough, she can sink into him and take some of that warmth for herself.

"And I would have been right beside him, no doubt." He kisses the top of her head, gentle, unassuming; he is such a complicated man, her Percy, and they have such a complicated relationship, but it seems so simple right now. They stand there for a second, a minute, an hour; she didn't realize she was so cold until she was holding something so warm, but finally he leans back and smiles down at her. "Do you want to shoot some arrows, and then have me try to shoot them down?"

Vex thinks on it for a moment and then smiles back. "Yeah. That sounds lovely, darling."

He steps back, draws his gun and takes a stance, and she mourns the loss of the hold but the twinkling in his eyes nearly make up for the shiver that quivers through her arms.

"Fire when ready, then, dear," he says, and so she does.

------------------

She dreams, and she is in a poacher's cage. The woods are silent and dark around her and the camp fire gives no heat that she can feel. Shadowy figures move in her periphery, too far to make out, shifting and twisting like smoke. A bear, great and powerful, lies dead to the side.

In the distance, walking closer, somehow more clear than the shadows that haunt the edges of her vision, a woman watches, too far to make out the features but coming closer, watching, watching. The bear's corpse grows and shrinks, bulbous, something moving inside it, like rats in carrion, and she sees the tiny form of a cub crawling between the bear's still, frozen paws.

The camp fire flickers but gives no heat, only cold, in a cavern, on a lake, in a tomb, with a casket, and the woman watches, coming closer now, and she is beautiful, and she has no face, and the bear splits down the side, the skin bursting open in decomposition, and it bleeds feathers, black, pouring over the cub and the fire and Vex's feet, black, climbing to her knees, sticking to the bars of the cage, black.

She is cold, so cold, so numb, and the cub stops moving and her heart stops, it stutters, it freezes, it's too cold for the cub, and the feathers are covering it, suffocating it, and the woman watches, from a distance but closer now, beautiful, terrible, black, black, black.

------------------

"Pike?" she asks, curious, turning an arrow between her fingers. A tremor takes them unexpectedly and she fumbles with the shaft for a moment, but the Cleric doesn't notice, just looks up at her with a questioning hum.

Vex doesn't often go into the temple of Sarenrae, or at least, she didn't used to. Nowadays she finds herself in there more often than she ever did before, the nightmares she barely remembers pushing her from her bed to roam the halls of the Keep at night and this place is as good as any to rest after an hour of thoughtless pacing. She's not a religious woman, never really has been, but maybe--

Well, she can't deny that her mind has been troubled of late, and some healing and meditation probably wouldn't be too terrible a thing.

Currently, she is sitting in one of the pews, stretched out across the wood leisurely while Pike goes about her weekly cleaning ritual, dusting and sweeping and what-not. It's a decent place, and the glass windows catch the sun prettily, and if she scootches to the right then she can sit in one of the sunbeams and it warms her, a bit.

"Yes, Vex?" Pike prompts after a minute of silence, and Vex startles, shakes her head. Her mind has been wandering lately, catching her off guard as it trundles along ahead without her, and she takes a moment to collect her thoughts.

"I was just wondering... do you remember anything? About when you died?"

Pike pauses her cleaning and then turns to look at Vex, expression troubled. She sets down her dusting rag and then walks over, hopping up onto the pew beside Vex with a kick of her little Gnomish legs.

"I... no, not really. Why do you ask?"

It's a simple question, without judgement or expectation. Of all of Vox Machina, Pike is probably the best qualified to speak with about this, not only because of her connection to Sarenrae but because she's the only other one of them who's actually died.

"I was just. You know. Wondering." Vex waves a hand in front of her vaguely; she's taken to wearing gloves, thick ones, to try and retain some of the heat that seems to just leak like a sieve from her. "I've been thinking about it lately, I guess. I don't remember any of it, you know? Just... curious to see if that was standard, I suppose."

Pike hums again and thinks, taps a finger against her chin. "I remember. Well. Warmth, I suppose. But only very vaguely, like it happened to someone else and not to me. I think that I heard voices, but I couldn't understand them, and now when I try to think about it, it's like..." She snaps her fingers in thought and looks at Vex with a smile. "You know how like, when you have a bruise that's a few days old, and you poke it, it sort of, I guess, aches? It doesn't really hurt, it just feels kind of wrong, and a little soft. That's what trying to remember it is like for me. Not really pain. Just a little bit of an ache."

"Oh," Vex says, and bites her lip.

"Is it like that for you, too? Do you remember any of it?"

She doesn't. She doesn't. She doesn't remember anything. She definitely doesn't think it was warm. She's fine. She's fine.

"Oh, no, me neither, darling," she says finally, and with a smile. Pike stares at her for a second and then smiles back easily, too trusting, too sweet. "I'm fine."

------------------

She dreams, and she's falling. She's falling through ice to a tomb in the water below, she's falling through air and Lady Briarwood's horrible spell has caught her, she's falling from the mountain near Vasselheim after being hit with a boulder, she's falling through the Underdark and into the jaws of a Beholder below, she's falling through Allura's tower as the elevator crashes around her, she's falling, she's falling.

There's a woman watching, from a distance but close, so close now, she watches on the frozen lake, she watches from the Ziggurat, she watches from Rimefang's cave, she watches from the immovable rod, she watches from the magic carpet, she watches as Vex falls and falls and falls, and she is beautiful and she is terrible with feathers for hair and eyes black as sin, but she doesn't smile at Vex's pain and she doesn't frown when she survives each fall, she is indifferent, she is neutral. She watches, and her features are fine but seem to shift with the shadows, she watches and she is close but not too close but not far enough away, and Vex watches, Vex falls, Vex screams, Vex hits the ice with a flurry of feathers and freezes.

Vex wakes, curled up against Trinket, with his tongue laving at her face in concern. She shivers, nestles in tighter, fingers digging into his fur until he whines at her. She remembers.

She remembers.

------------------

Percy's workshop is warm. Vex has always secretly believed that this is why the man himself is so warm; because he spends most of his time down here at his forge and the fire just seems to sink into his skin.

She goes there, sometimes, when the chill takes her too hard or when she's lonely, the way she always has. She and Percy have a strange relationship, built mostly on a mutual refusal to acknowledge their own feelings, but she never feels the need to explain herself to him, just knows that she can skulk about his space and draw strength from his presence without needing to speak.

Half the time she thinks that he even forgets she's there within a minute of her arriving, which is a grand thing, because it gives her such a lovely opportunity to just watch him.

See, the thing that she likes most about Percy is that he is not an apologetic man. This is also the thing that she hates most about him-- she thinks the two of them are rather similar in that regard, actually. Percy knows he does stupid and shitty things like make deals with demons and talk to monsters in skulls, but he doesn't apologize for them and stands by his decisions. She appreciates that, even if she doesn't always agree with those decisions.

Having grown up with her brother, who often tries his hardest to avoid conflict by any means necessary, it's refreshing to find a man who takes responsibility for his actions.

He's interesting, and he's easy to talk to, and when she flirts with him he can blush prettily in one breath and then give it back just as hard in the next. He's probably also great at sex, though she's never had occasion to find out, and likely won't any time soon. Still, it's a nice thing to think about, when she's got some time and some alcohol to herself.

Regardless, his workshop is warm, and she is cold, and the door opens easily enough when she pushes against it. It glides forward soundlessly, Percy being far too meticulous to not oil the hinges on a regular basis, but he must sense some change of air in the room because he glances at her over his shoulder, his mask pulled down low on his face. The long beak looks red against the glow of the fire in the forge, and the light reflects the glass over the eyes, making it look black and shimmering, and she's suddenly very cold, and she can't--

Her breath stops, for a moment, and she freezes in the doorway, eyes going wide. Percy quickly tilts his mask up, face a picture of horror, and says in a rush, "Oh, Vex, no, it's just me. Just me."

She blinks, and then nods, unsure how to tell him that Orthax had been the last thing on her mind.

There's an awkward silence before Percy gestures to a bench pushed up against the far wall, away from him, face carefully turned away from whatever he's working on. "You're free to stay, of course, but I'm working with some powder I'd really rather not breathe in, so..."

"Yes," she says, swallows, nods her head. "Yes, of course. Please, carry on." She sits on the bench and Percy watches her, concerned and embarrassed, for a moment longer before pulling his mask back down and leaning over his work table once more, shoulders hunched up high as he fiddles with whatever it is he's working on.

With his back to her, with the mask facing away, Vex relaxes, lets the familiar warmth and smell of hot metal and gunpowder lull her pounding heart. It is only Percy. He is warm. He is safe. She is fine. Nothing haunts her here, not Orthax, not the woman in her dreams; it is just the two of them alone. She is fine.

"So," Percy says after a minute or so of companionable silence, his voice muffled but pointedly light, soothing and gentle, and she lets it wash over her, lets it settle over her skin like a blanket. She's always rather liked his voice, such a steady and calm thing. "What brings you down to my little corner of the world this morning?"

"Just a bit of a chill," she says without thinking, the way she has started to lately. It's hard to hide the shivers that wrack her body, the cold that seems to have taken up residence in her lungs and given her words a little tremor. At first she tried her best to keep everyone from noticing, not wanting to cause a stir, not wanting to make a fuss, because honestly, darling, she's fine, but now she's just a bit too numb to it. "Thought I'd see if a warm room and pleasant company couldn't lift it."

"Not that I mind the company, because honestly I don't, if anyone were visiting me I'd much rather it be you," he says, and she smiles down at her gloved fingers, ignoring their traitorous little tremble, though she's not sure if it's because of the cold or because of his words. "But it's honestly a bit warm outside, and so I'm not sure how you've caught cold. Now granted, I'm from a more colder, Northern clime, and so anything above freezing is generally bloody hot to me, but still."

She loves this about him, how when speaking of important things he sits on his words until they scream under the weight of him, but when making casual conversation he just seems to prattle. When she's there he swings wildly between working in complete silence, to filling the air with his voice, explaining what he's doing and answering questions, going off into random tangents about whatever science he's practicing at the moment, asking after her and then hardly listening as she speaks, just humming when appropriate. She thinks that he just likes the background noise, that maybe he lets loose all the words he bottles up when there's no one there to listen.

"I'm not sure," Vex tells him, leaning forward away from the wall. The stone, normally warm just by proximity to the forge, is cold against her back, seems to sap the heat from her skin through her clothes, and with a rustle of fabric she stands and wanders closer to his little smithy, the orange flames dancing within calling to her. "Just have, I suppose. Maybe I've caught a persistent flu."

"Oh, that is the worst," he tells her, attention focused on his work. "When I was a youth my sister Whitney caught the flu and passed it around to all of us, and we spent the whole winter miserable in the castle."

"Whitney isn't a name I hear from you often," she comments, stepping forwards. She's cold, so cold, it's more than just a chill but she doesn't know how to express that in a way that won't make everyone worry, and she doesn't think she could stand that, Vax's heavy frown and Percy's eyes glazed over with guilt. She knows that he feels guilty for her death, that he struggles with the knowledge that he inadvertently caused it, but it's honestly alright, he didn't mean to, it's fine, she's fine, she doesn't rememb--

It's fine.

"We were never the closest of siblings," Percy says thoughtfully, pausing the steady movement of his hands. Closer now, she can see that he's packing black powder into his bullet casings. "I was something of a loner in my family, unfortunately, even as a child, and when I did associate with my siblings it was usually with Julius and Vesper, the two eldest ones. Besides, Whitney and I didn't have much in common; she was sweet and kind, and I don't mean to speak ill of the dead but honestly she was as dumb as a post." Vex snorts, an unladylike thing that jolts from her unexpectedly, and Percival's sigh is light and wistful as he does back to his tinkering. "She had a twin brother, you know. My younger sibling, Oliver. She worshiped the ground he walked on. I think he actually convinced her to eat mud once when we were children."

Percy's voice fades into the background as he continues talking, but Vex's attention is focused on the forge now. The fire dances within, embers white-hot and burning-- she used to dream of fire, used to fear it, spent much of her youth trying to avoid thinking about the terrible burning of her childhood home. But now she only dreams of cold, of freezing water, and she almost misses the flames.

"Vex?"

The air around the forge is warm, so warm, and she takes her gloves off, steps towards it with her hands out to try and coax home of that heat into her fingers.

"Ah, Vex'ahlia?"

It's nearly blistering against her skin, on her face, but she hardly feels it, she's just so cold, so numb, and she's gets closer. Maybe she's just not close enough, maybe if she gets closer, closer, maybe if she lets the fire take her...

"Vex."

She's fine, honestly, she's fine, it's just a chill, but she just. She just wants so terribly to feel warm again.

"Vex!"

Hands wrap around her wrists, drag her away, and she realizes very suddenly that she was mere inches from touching the no-doubt burning stonework of the forge. Her fingers are blood red and stinging just from the brief proximity to such a high heat, and her face feels tight and slightly scalded, as if she'd fallen asleep without shade in a high afternoon sun. Slowly, as if waking from a dream, she turns to head to see Percy, face still covered by his mask, the tip of its beak nearly touching her cheek from how close he is to her.

He pulls her away from the forge with both hands, settles her back down against the bench she'd been sitting on before and immediately removes his mask, dropping it carelessly to the floor as he sits beside her, close.

"You'll break it," she murmurs, a distant part of her realizing that she's in bloody shock but she doesn't know why. "Careful, Percival, birds are such fragile things."

"Damn the mask," he says harshly, touching her face with his hands; his gloves smear black powder across her cheek and he curses, rips them off and licks his thumb to swipe it off of her skin. "Vex'ahlia, what the hell just happened?"

She leans into him, she is tired, so tired, and she's burnt but she's cold, and his chest and firm and warm and steady enough, she thinks that it can be strong enough to hold her up, just for a moment, just so that she doesn't have to do it alone. "I just-- it was just--" She pauses, swallows, then turns and buries her face into his neck. His skin is heated and she digs into it, burrows in, clinging to him suddenly. "I just wanted to be warm again, Percy."

Percy is still, silent, his breathing hard, before he wraps around her tightly, drawing her in closer, closer, she can sink into him if she really tries, she knows she can, if only he'll let her.

"Oh, darling," he whispers into her hair. "Oh, god, my darling." And then he quiets and just holds her, grounding her here in this moment, warm against her cold, and Vex thinks that if he keeps a tight grip then maybe she won't float away like a feather on a breeze.

------------------

She dreams, and Pike is cut in half by a Treachery Demon, the pincers sliding through her armor like butter, cutting down into the skin beneath, and she falls, bisected, and a woman watches, from a distance, too far to make out the features, and her intestines spill out of her onto the floor like rope, a furious downfall of feathers, black.

She dreams, and Scanlan is in the jaws of the bulette in the Underdark, flung around through the air, it's teeth sawing into him easy, so easy, splitting like flower petals, blood spraying through the air, giant globs of it, and a woman watches, from a distance but closer now, too far to make out the features but closer, and he is so small, surely he cannot survive this, not when he's losing all of his feathers, black.

She dreams, and Tiberius is frozen, encased in stone, caught in the gaze of a basilisk, and they have to move, they have to run, they cannot leave him but they cannot carry him, and a woman watches, closer, closer, beautiful, but he is too heavy, stone, weighing him down with so many, many feathers, black.

She dreams, and Grog falls under K'varn's eye, under his horrible, hateful gaze, hitting him with every ray, burning him, disintegrating him, and a woman watches, closer, gods so close, terrible, shocking him until there's nothing left, no Goliath, only a wretched pile of feathers, black.

She dreams, and Percy is crushed beneath Rimefang's claws, smashing him into the frozen ground, and she watches but no breath mists from his mouth, he doesn't move, and a woman watches, indifferent, neutral, he's so small, smashed, sightless, and leaking out from beneath his jacket, pooling under him, feathers, black.

She dreams, and Keyleth is possessed, haunted, taken by vengeful spirits and forced to attack her party, and she can hear her screaming on the inside, can hear her soul wailing in despair as her body is not her own, but she can do nothing but strike forward, but attack, and a woman watches, closer, closer, too close, with feathers for hair, until she gives up, until she lets the spirit take her, she is not worthy, she lets herself disappear, lets herself fade into a void of feathers, black.

She dreams, and Trinket is ice, he couldn't move out of the dragon's breath fast enough, a horrific sculpture of her failure as a master, a mother, a friend, stuck forever in the courtyard of the Keep until with a roar the dragon brings a meaty paw down and smashes him, and a woman watches, so close now, not smiling, not frowning, just watching, so close, and he scatters shards of ice across the bloody feathers, black.

She dreams, and Vax, oh god Vax, her brother, her best friend, her best friend, is prone at the Briarwood's feet and she is not fast enough, she cannot reach him, she cannot save him, oh god, and a woman watches, close, at Vex's side, just over her shoulder, so close but just out of reach, oh Vax, and he goes limp against the feathers, black.

Vex wakes-- she wakes-- she wakes--

"You bitch," she weeps, jolted into consciousness, and the words are instant, reactionary, her cheeks sodden and damp; she has been crying for some time in her sleep, then. "You wretched, raven bitch."

Trinket huffs and puffs, concerned, nuzzles her but he cannot help, she is so cold, she is so numb, and she flings her arms around him, wails, hiccups and sobs, prideless, and outside her window a raven caws.

------------------

"When you made your deal with the Raven Queen," she asks Vax from her perch on his bed as he sharpens his daggers, the rasp of metal against whetstone so very comforting to her, "do you think She listened?"

He pauses his movement and glances up at her, brown eyes hard and brow furrowed. He thinks for a long moment and then shrugs, goes back to his work. "I'm not sure. I didn't-- I don't feel any different. I know that Her gaze fell upon me, and that I was willing to give myself up in your stead, but.. I am not sure that She was persuaded by the trade."

"Please do not ever die for me," Vex whispers, drawing her knees up to her chest and shivering. "I do not want that trade. I am not worth that."

He stops suddenly, jerks his head to look at her, mouth pulled down into a snarl. "Do not say that," he hisses, tossing his dagger onto the table and stalking towards her. She watches him, blinking slowly; he can growl and posture all he wants but she has watched him grow up, she has seen him weep out of nothing more than childish fury and she has seen him in his awkward teenage years in the grasp of puberty, too pretty to be a human man and to rough to be an Elven one, and she has seen him bleed and puke and weep and stumble drunkenly and stare at Gilmore and Keyleth alike with open adoration, and she is not intimidated by him.

She has seen darker things than her brother in a mood, now.

"Do not," he repeats, takes a seat beside her, pulls her roughly into an embrace. It's hard, not a comforting thing, a desperate grasp of too-long limbs, but still she fits into it like a puzzle piece.

"I do not wish whatever fate She had in store to fall upon you, brother," she mumbles, and he holds her all the tighter.

"If you died I would follow you there," he says harshly, his voice heavy with emotion, and she knows from the sound of it that there are tears in his eyes, but she cannot feel them and she cannot cry with him, she is too numb. "I would follow you and I would drag you back away from Her, if I had to kill every demon in every level of hell to do it."

"Oh, Vax," she sighs, and wraps around him. She's soothing him now more than anything, running a hand across his back. He is such a fragile thing, her brother, his emotions like thin glass, prone to breaking, but he still insists on carrying so much, thinking he's stronger than he truly is. His heart is not big enough to hold as much as he tries to make it hold. "Promise me that you would not."

"No," he snarls, breathing hard into her hair. "I will not."

"Yes," she says forcefully, drawing away from his shoulder but coming close once more, pushing her forehead against his. "Promise me that if I die that you will live as happily as you can-- No, doubly so, in my stead, and I will promise the same to you."

"I would not survive the loss of you." He's weeping now, openly, and sinking his fingers into her hair, clutching at her like a child. They haven't discussed it, really, not ever, just brushing it off, letting it go, she did not remember and she was fine and he doesn't know how to handle things like this, too much of his life spent avoiding conflict to know how to face it, and now the dam has broken and he is flooded with everything he's not allowed himself to feel the last few months. "I would be lost too."

"And you would find yourself again," she whispers, kissing his brow. "I am confident."

"Do not leave me," he pleads, gasping, and she tucks him against her chest and lets him cry. She's cold, cold, numb, but she can be comforting if she tries. "Please, sister, I beg of you-- do not leave me."

She says nothing, because she cannot make promises, and she is loathe to lie.

------------------

She dreams, and there is a woman. Watching, close, so close, standing at her side, a shadow, a force, a delicate wraith of a thing, skin pale and white and stretched over bones too thin to be human, a bird, a Goddess, a monster.

She and the woman regard each other, silent, shivering, she's cold but she's numb and she hardly feels it now, too used to it, accustomed to the frozen feeling in her skin.

"So, what now?" she asks, and the woman tilts her head, the picture of a curious raven. "You going to show me more images of my death? Of my friends' deaths? You going to freeze me or make me cough up feathers again?"

The woman is expressionless, faceless, but Vex swears that she smiles, a sad, terrible little thing, joyless.

"I just want to know what you want," she says, crossing her arms against the cold. "Are you trying to get me to kill myself? To make me go insane? I just don't understand the point of all of," she gestures about, about Rimefang's cave, about the town of Byroden's burnt skeleton, about the Keep, wreathed in ice and gouges torn from the lawn, "of this."

The woman turns away, walks forwards, ahead of her, her back to Vex, and after so many dreams of watching the bitch walk towards her the fact that she's walking away now just fucking rankles.

"Do not," she hisses, and leaps forwards, grabs at the feathered mantle the woman wears as a cloak, and--

she freezes, she burns, Thordak has eaten her, the Briarwoods have caught her, K'varn has her in his sight, Clarota has betrayed her, Orthax swirls about her in smoke and clogs up her lungs, she falls, she falls, she crashes, she lands, ice in her stomach, ice in her chest, ice in her fingers, ice in her brain, Vax is dead, Pike is dead, Percy is dead, Grog is dead, Keyleth is dead, Tiberius is dead, Scanlan is dead, Trinket is dead, Uriel is dead, her mother is dead, Vex is dead, but she grabs, she grabs, she holds tight, the vanes sliding through her fingers, barbs slicing against her skin, cold, so cold, but she clutches tight, and when she wakes--

--she's holding a black feather in her hand.

------------------

Feathers are such weird things, she thinks to herself, spinning it between her fingers. They're so light but they carry such heavy loads. Hers is shimmering, inky in the light, but it just looks so-- so normal. Not like a thing she'd plucked out of a dream at all.

The coldness in her chest has spread throughout her body, chilling her fingers and toes, traveling up her arms and down her legs, but she hardly notices it now, too used to the feeling for it to mean much of anything. The feather doesn't feel cold at all.

Her magic is small, and limited. Arrows and simple healing. She senses nothing abnormal about the feather, not wrong with it, nothing magical, nothing that should tie it or her to the Raven Queen, but she knows that you don't just fucking wake up inexplicably clutching feathers.

Keyleth is too suspicious, and Pike is... well, she doesn't want to involve Pike in this.

To that effect she goes to hunt down Scanlan, which is an easy enough venture, one just has to follow the obnoxious sound of flute music echoing through the Keep.

The Bard is in the dining hall, scribbling furiously on a parchment and mumbling to himself, counting off on his fingers as he goes and occasionally picking up his flute to play a few notes. Another limerick, probably; she stops behind him and clears her throat, and he glances at her over his shoulder, shakes a bit of spit out of the keys of his instrument.

"What can I do you for?" he asks with a smile. Vex doesn't get how he's always so... so fucking happy. People shouldn't be this happy all the time. Not when so much of their time is spent fighting for their life and nearly getting killed anyway.

"I was wondering," she says, instead of that, "if you could tell me if you sense anything weird or off about this feather?"

Handing it to him is difficult-- she doesn't want to let go, feels like she's giving something vitally important away, but when he takes it from her grasp she breathes a bit easier. Scanlan's eyebrow raises and he turns it over in his hands with a hum. He lifts it up against the light, sniffs it, runs his fingers over the vanes, and even gives it a little lick before handing it back to her with a shrug.

"Seems like a perfectly normal feather to me, though Keyleth could probably give a more accurate assessment." He crosses his arms, turning around fully in his seat to face her, his tiny legs swinging above the floor mindlessly. "Why do you think it might be weird?"

"I'm not sure," Vex murmurs, stroking it gently. "Just a feeling I had, I suppose."

He hums, rests his chin on the back of his chair. "Where'd you get it?"

"I found it. Thank you for checking, Scanlan," she says, turning away, but his voice stops her, calling her name.

"Hey," he says, frowning. It does strange things to his face, when he's serious; eyes that are normally filled with laughter tight with concern, lips that turn up in a smile pulled down severely. It feels wrong, to have caused that. "Are you okay, Vex?"

She laughs, having to force the sound a bit from her lungs but it manages to sound sincere all the same. "I'm fine, darling. Honest. It's just a feather." And, struck with inspiration, she bends forward and pulls her braid over her shoulder, holding it out to him. "Would you braid it into my hair with the others? I'd get Vax to do it, but he's off brooding somewhere."

Scanlan looks at her, hard, discerning, before he snorts and takes the feather back, tugs at her braid gently. "Yeah, he does that, good ol' Vax." After only a few seconds his nimble Gnome fingers have woven the raven's feather in with the turquoise ones she already wears regularly, and he sits back, crossing his arms over the back of the chair, to inspect his handiwork. "Sort of blends in with your hair a bit," he decides after a moment, "but it works. Looks good, babe," and he winks.

She smiles and leans in impulsively, kisses the top of his head. He's such a good man, Scanlan, even when he pretends not to be. He tries so hard.

"What are you doing, then?" she asks, pulling up a seat beside him, and he blinks in confusion before smiling widely at her, eager to share.

"I," he says in a lofty voice, "am composing an epic poem about our triumph over the asshole dragons, in iambic pentameter. Tell me," he leans forward conspiratorially towards her, "can you think of anything that rhymes well with, and Scanlan kicked Thordak in his chroma cloaca?"

She laughs, bright and loud, and says around a gasp, "No, I honestly cannot, but I would be more than happy to sit here and try."

Scanlan smiles at her, happy to include her in his musing, and together they do.

------------------

She dreams, and Thordak is dead. The Conclave is dead, the bodies and bones of dragons around her still smoldering. K'varn is dead, his horrible eye burst from the inside out. The Briarwoods are slain, laying together in death's embrace. A woman watches at her side.

"You let me do this," Vex says, not a question.

The woman says nothing.

"You let me kill them first, didn't you?"

The woman says nothing.

"You heard my brother, but you still wanted me."

The woman says nothing.

"And you waited for me to finish the job before you came to collect."

The woman says nothing.

"It's just, I don't understand what you want."

The woman says nothing.

"Do you want me to die? To serve you? I just want to understand."

The woman says nothing. She reaches out, slowly, towards Vex, her fingers long and pale, her face expressionless, and her black nails run across the raven's feather that she's braided into her hair. Then her hand lowers, outstretched, waiting for Vex too take it, waiting, waiting, watching, Vex doesn't understand, she doesn't know--

------------------

Vax's room is empty. Keyleth's, Vex suspects, is not.

That's fine, she's got other options.

Percy's door is locked but simple enough to pick, she's been practicing lately, and it swings open with a creak. He stirs in his bed and his eyes flutter open when she moves to stand over it, but he doesn't seem to perceive her as a threat and they close once more.

"Budge over," she whispers, lifting the sheets; he groans but rolls to the side obligingly, unquestioningly, only seeming to realize what's going on after she's crawled into the bed with him.

"Vex?" he rasps, voice heavy with sleep and throat dry. She knows he snores, she's shared enough campsites with him to hear it, though it's not nearly as loud as Grog's horrible night time noises. He clears his throat, leans up onto one arm to blink at her. His eyes have trouble focusing, whether due to sleepiness or the lack of his glasses she cannot tell, and he leans in close to look at her, close enough that she feels his breath on her face.

Apparently, when he is in the comfort of his own room, Percy sleeps without a shirt on. What a delightful thing to discover.

"What's--" He swallows, rests his face against his pillow before lifting it once more, clearly fighting sleep with all of his strength. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she murmurs, settling in and cuddling close. Too sleepy to protest, though she likes to think that maybe he wouldn't anyway, he lets her with a sleepy frown. "Bad dream."

"Mmm," he hums, body falling lax again, unresistant but also unhelpful when she attempts to nestle in under his arm. "I know well about those."

Percy is a terrible bedfellow, honestly; clearly he's never cuddled just for the sake of cuddling, his muscles too tense in some places and too loose in others, unsure of where to put his hands or what to do with his legs. After a few minutes of restless fidgeting it's clear that he's woken up enough to be uncomfortable, or at least that he's awkward with the circumstance, which, alright, she'll give him that, it's not like she's made a habit of sneaking into his room for a snuggle.

"Oh, hell, Percival," she huffs finally, after he's shifted for the dozenth or so time, and she puts a hand at his side, feels the warm skin of his stomach jump under her fingers, and pushes him. He goes with the motion easily, though he turns to look at her in confusion after she's rolled him over so that his back faces her. She scoots in closer, presses herself against him, throws a leg over one of his hips. "You just lay there, darling, I'll do all the work."

"I don't think I'm supposed to be the, ah, little spoon," he says, bemused but accepting, and drops his head back onto his pillow.

"Well apparently you're terrible at being the big one," she says informatively, and ducks in until her face is against him, between his shoulder blades, and he smells like metal and gunpowder, like Percy, like man, it's comforting but there is a pit in her stomach, a yawning chasm, and he's warm but she's so numb that she doesn't even feel it now.

He falls silent and his breathing is deep and even and she thinks that he's fallen asleep again so it makes her jump in surprise when he asks, "Are you alright, Vex?"

"I'm fine," she says instantly, on reflex, but her voice falls flat and unconvincing. He lifts a hand beneath the sheets, places it on her thigh where it's rucked up over his hip, and rubs her skin with his thumb. It's gentle, soothing, not at all sexual in its genuine care, and she presses in closer.

"You do know that I love you, right?" he asks, sleepy, his voice heavy with exhaustion. "I am not the clearest of men to understand but I feel I would be remiss if I allowed you to think otherwise."

"Fool man," she says, and kisses the skin of his back. "I know. I know."

Another minute passes before he speaks again, and she can hear a smile in the words. "Typically this is were a lady like yourself tells the gentleman that she loves him as well."

"Oh," she bemoans with a tragic, mocking sigh, "if only there were a gentleman here for a lady to tell."

He laughs, and she laughs, and soon enough he sleeps, and she's numb but eventually she follows.

------------------

She dreams, and there is a woman, with her back to her.

"I know," Vex says, and closes her eyes. "I know. You were just waiting for me to finish everything up. I'm ready, I think."

The woman turns, looks over her shoulder, and smiles-- suddenly she is not a woman, not a Goddess, not a Raven, not a Queen, she is a girl, young, perhaps a few years younger than Vex herself, pale but beautiful in a sort of plain way, her features just slightly too distorted for one race to appear prevalent over another, and reaches out with one hand, waiting for Vex to take it, and the woman, she smiles, and Vex lifts her hand, touches her fingers, slides her hand into her palm--

--and Vex wakes, and Vex knows.

She's cold but she's numb to it. The raven feather is a heavy weight in her hair but it is a comforting one, it lets her know that she's still strong enough to carry it. The chill in her heart sinks down into her feet; maybe if she walks to her destination, the movement will warm them.

Trinket follows her out of the Keep, huffing in confusion, in fear, but she's calm, she's ready. She finished everything up, and now she has things to do.

"Stay here, darling," she tells him gently, leaning in to kiss his wet snout. "Take care of your uncle. I'll be back, eventually."

He moans sadly, watching her with big wet eyes, but he sits at the gate obediently. He's such a good boy, Vex thinks; he would wait here forever if she asked him to.

A raven caws overhead, and Vex turns, and follows it into the darkness.