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the lion from the beast

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Percival had never been a religious man, but locked down in Dr. Ripley's basement prison, faced with his own impending doom, he prayed to Pelor. He hadn’t spoken to the god in years, hadn’t wanted to since Julius had told him he was a fool for believing in a deity that wasn’t listening (and Percival had gone to Pelor’s temple that day, had decided to give Him one last chance and had prayed with everything in him, and Pelor didn’t answer). Maybe, in what he thought were surely the last moments of his life, Percival would receive an answer from Him.

 

Hours later, a band of adventurers came crashing into the dungeon, and Percival thanked Pelor in his head, relieved beyond reason. He was freed, and, having nothing better to do with himself, decided to go along with his saviors and see where the road lead.

 

One of the twins – Vax, Vex, he couldn’t remember which was which (he later found out it was Vax) – walked next to Percival as they headed to the biggest tavern in Stilben. The twin kept darting sidelong glances at Percival, most likely believing that he was being sneaky. Percival let him keep thinking that.

 

Percy's heartache began years ago, but not the first time he'd lain eyes on Vax'ildan. It had taken him longer to fall than one meeting. Maybe it started sooner than he realized, but it surely wasn't at the very beginning of their relationship.

 

The first time Percy realized it was in the Underdark. Vax kissed him on the cheek, and Percy thought, oh fuck. He could feel the phantom press of Vax's dry lips on his cheek for hours afterward. Later he'd tinker and find his mind drifting, seeing long fingers around the hilt of a dagger in his mind's eye. Percy saw the upturn of Vax's smile, heard the sound of Vax laughing genuinely.

 

They were still friends, of course, and Percy had that seed of something more planted in his mind that lingered at the edges of his thoughts when around Vax. There was never opportunity.

 

Shaun Gilmore looked fondly on Vax, and Vax gazed right back at him with adoration in his eyes. Percy pushed his feelings to the wayside, knowing that that look would never be for him. He grew used to it. Then Vox Machina headed to Vasselheim and there was hardly time for infatuation from that point forward.

 

Vasselheim by itself was a trial, but upon their return to Emon, to learn that the Briarwoods were spreading their influence to Uriel Tal'Dorei himself, that brought all thoughts of love right out of Percy's head.

 

“I trust you implicitly,” Vax said.

 

Despite the murder in his heart, Percy took comfort in that.

 

The Sun Tree happened. The demon's smoke filled Percy up and choked him. He let it happen. Percy watched as Vax told Keyleth he loved her. He let that happen too, and scolded Vax for going off by himself rather than be clouded by his impotent rage.

 

Vax was taken by the Briarwoods and Percy felt his heart turn to stone. They had his sister, they had Vax. All that was left for Percy was his anger, his need for vengeance. In the end, Orthax was revealed. In the end, Orthax was defeated and the Briarwoods were wiped off the face of Exandria. They allowed themselves only a moment of respite. Vax looked at Percy differently, but Percy couldn't place exactly what had changed.

 

Vox Machina dealt with Scanlan's daughter, they dealt with the traitor Riskel Daxio, they dealt with the Clasp, they dealt with everything that was thrown at them. They weren't prepared for the Chroma Conclave. No one was.

 

Another feverish quest was at hand and Vox Machina set about dealing with that, too. Keeping busy meant that Percy didn't have to deal with the loss of purpose. And then the Sunken Tomb happened.

 

It was loss of a different kind. Vex fell, and Percy watched in abject horror, hand reaching out as if he could pick her back up. He couldn't. The relief Percy felt when Kashaw revived her wasn't even a balm to the pain of knowing that he was the one who killed her in the first place.

 

The guilt gnawed at him. He saw her go limp time and time again, the moment replayed to torture him (and sometimes he would see Cassandra instead with a chest full of arrows, sometimes Vex'ahlia would be holding the bow that loosed them, sometimes he would blink and see his sister and Vex as one entity and through their bloody lips they'd whisper it's all your fault Percy, it's all your fault, you killed us).

 

Percy went to Vax. He could never confess his love, but he could confess his sin.

 

“You just opened it?” Vax was disbelieving. The betrayal had hardly registered at that point.

 

Percy knew he'd made a mistake, felt regret in every part of his body, but damn him if he could find the right words for the mess he was in. He watched his world fall apart when he confessed, watched Vax grow cold as he'd watched Vex grow cold. Everything he'd worked so hard to build crumbled to dust. In so few words, Percy felt the trust he and Vax had built between them shattering, felt himself retreating further and further into the recesses of his darkened mind. Vax's face shuttered.

 

“Could you do me a favor?” Vax asked.

 

Anything, Percy thought. “Yes,” he said.

 

“In the future,” Vax began, then had to breathe, “um, if there is anything that your little heart desires inside of a box, ah,” he paused again, swallowing. “In the future, could you check with my sister or myself first?”

 

“That's the hope,” Percy said, once again not thinking. He watched Vax's face shift from anger to incredulity, and felt yet another dark pang of guilt knowing he'd made yet another error. “Yes,” he corrected, but what he'd done was already unsalvageable.

 

That knowledge didn't stop him from trying, didn't stop him stumbling over words to try and bandage it. By then, it was too late.

 

The punch didn't hurt much. No, what hurt was the loss like his soul was being sucked from his chest. It was the intent behind it, the bridge burning out from under his feet. Percy tasted copper in his mouth, knew he deserved it. Vax looked at him like he was a stranger.

 

“Goodnight, Percival,” he said, and Vax's use of the full name had never felt so distancing.

 

Percy nodded. “Goodnight, Vax.” His voice was hoarse, revealing more than he'd wanted to. He made his retreat.

 

The divide opened between them, and Percy would look across the chasm one day and realize it was there all along (perhaps ever since their first meeting with Gilmore, but just as likely even sooner than that). By the time he noticed it, it was already too late.

 

It was always too late.

 

 

>>>

 

 

In the crossroads of what has been and what will be, Percy is handing Vax his mask. He's meeting Vax's eyes for the first time in weeks, trying to extend the olive branch.

 

Vax reaches across the divide and takes the mask.

 

It doesn't feel like a victory.

 

 

>>>

 

 

“You and I could never have been happy,” Percy will say.

 

Vax will look over to him, perhaps confused, and open his mouth to speak before he notices the divide. Now, this particular split will be wider then than it ever has been before, but this will have been the first time for Vax'ildan to see it. He'll think he's spotted it before it's too big. It will be too big.

 

Percy, like the self-sacrificing bastard he's going to be, will make it easy on Vax. He'll smile. The fear and sadness and anger he keeps carefully packed away will still be under lock and key. “Oh, don't worry,” he'll say, “it's not your fault that I'm a damnable fool.”

 

“I don't believe I understand,” Vax will say, maybe frowning but maybe not. It's been years. Neither of them will understand at this point.

 

With a shake of his head, Percy will force himself to smile, pretending it's wry rather than pained. “It's nothing.”

 

Vax will press, as he does. “It doesn't quite sound like nothing, Percival.” He won't be able to realize why Percy won't tell him what's on his mind, after they've worked so hard to try and repair their relationship after Vex's death. They'll finally be able to call each other friends again. Percy doesn't want to ruin that.

 

“It's just,” and Percy will pause here, thinking about what he's going to say, how he's going to spin this. “All of us, all of Vox Machina, we're all so jagged. Was happiness ever in our cards? Sure, fleeting moments are possible, but anything lasting seems so out of reach.”

 

Vax will think on that for a moment, mulling it over in his head. “I believe,” he'll say slowly, “that I am happy. I have my sister, I have Keyleth, I have, well. I have you, and the rest of Vox Machina.” And at this point maybe Vox Machina will be scattered to the winds, will no longer be quite so close-knit. Or perhaps Vax and Percy have this talk while sitting on a balcony railing at Castle Whitestone, the rest of their party sleeping within the home of the de Rolos.

 

Percy will look away, out over his first home, and his chest will ache with something he can't decipher. “Maybe it's just me,” he'll say.

 

“You could be happy, Percival. I know you have it in you,” Vax will say, and at this Percy will make himself smile again, like he believes it.

 

There are many things Percy could say then. He could agree, or apologize, or confess, or yell and scream himself hoarse. What he will do is lay his hand over Vax's. He'll ignore the questioning look sent his way and lose himself in the fantasy that it could be real. Vax will say his name once, then again with more insistence in his voice, and finally Percy will look at him when Vax wrenches his hand away.

 

They'll stare at each other for a long, quiet moment. Vax will say, “Percy,” and his voice will break as he understands. Percy will smile again. He'll begin to get up, only to be stopped by Vax's hand around his wrist, pulling him back down.

 

“You don't get to run. Not from this, not now,” Vax will say, still searching Percy's face like he's seeing him for the first time.

 

Percy will swallow – his pride, his grief, his anxiety – and finally allow Vax to view him as he is. “I suppose not,” he'll say. His voice will be ragged. The torch Percy's carried for Vax all these years will burn brighter as Vax leans in, the conflict on his face now resolved into determination.

 

And Percy will turn away so Vax's lips land on his cheek.

 

“I can do many things, Vax,” Percy will say, closing his eyes. “I can do many, many things, but I could not survive this. My heart has been broken too many times to heal.”

 

Vax will back away, put his hand over Percy's. It will feel like ash is caught in Percy's throat. “I thought that this is what you wanted,” Vax will say. He'll be confused and hurt.

 

Percy will breathe out shakily. “I think it's best you forget what you've learned about me,” he'll say. “There's always been someone – Vex, Gilmore, Keyleth, the Raven Queen, others – and I have never quite made the cut. Go back to whomever it is at present. I will be okay.”

 

“I don't want to just leave you after I learn you're, you know, into me or whatever it is,” Vax will say, a hint of anger in his voice.

 

“Let me be okay,” Percy will say, or maybe whisper. He'll feel Vax's eyes on him (he won't look back at Vax because will it be pity? rage? longing? or will it be something more, something deep and inexplicable and primal, something the ancients sang of and fought wars for?).

 

Percy will open his eyes long moments later, and Vax will be gone.

 

They'll never speak of it again.