There was a soft, precise knock at Vex'ahlia's door. She glanced up from where she sat in front of the vanity in her room, brushing out her hair in her nightgown.
"Come in!" she called.
The door opened and Percy poked his head in. There were smudges of green copper rust on his forehead and nose, and his glasses were ever so slightly askew.
"I do hope I'm not interrupting anything," he said, his eyebrows raising in mild astonishment.
"No no, darling, do come in," said Vex. She set down her hair brush and turned to face him, folding her hands on her crossed legs. Percy came in the room and shut the door behind him.
"I've made you something," he said. His hands were clasped behind his back. He had clearly made an effort to get his hair under control—unsuccessful, of course.
Vex held out her hands, grinning. "Show me," she said.
Percy rolled up onto his toes and came back down. He crossed to her, paused, then placed something in her hands, his fingertips just barely brushing her palms.
Three deep blue feathers lay in Vex's hands, crafted from wire and metal. They sprouted from a little hoop, curled like a treble clef.
"I thought you might like something a bit more resilient," he said. "As a note, they can also be used as firestarters in an emergency, if you've got something to scrape them on. I wouldn't get them too near to open flames, however."
"Oh, Percy, they're lovely!" Vex gushed. She hooked the little ornament over her ear and immediately turned to examine herself in the mirror, toying with her hair and turning her face this way and that to take in all the angles of light that shone off the feathers.
"Yes, well," Percy said mildly. "I'm very glad you like them."
"Do sit down, Percy, do," said Vex, flapping her hand at a chair without taking her eyes off her reflection. "Oh, they're wonderful, how did you make them?"
"A great deal of fiddly nonsense, for the most part," said Percy, lowering himself into one of her cushy armchairs with a quiet groan. "I'm not used to making things without moving parts."
"Oh, but they're magnificent, darling, I adore them," said Vex, still flirting with her reflection. "I'll find some way to pay you back for them. Anything you like. You do give me such lovely presents, and I never give you anything back."
"Oh no, no repayment necessary, it's worth it just to watch you preen," Percy said.
"Do I preen, Percy darling?" Vex asked, tossing her hair over her shoulder.
"Oh yes, excessively," Percy assured her.
She waggled her shoulders, regarding him through her eyelashes.
"Am I preening right now?"
"Oh yes," said Percy, smiling. "Excessively."
Vex turned back to the mirror and pulled all her hair over one shoulder, examining the delicate metal feathers, still captivated by the way the light played over them.
"Percy darling, when are you going to ask me to marry you?" she asked.
"Well, I thought I might confess my undying love for you first," Percy said, sitting back and resting his cheek on two of his fingers. "That is generally how these things go."
"Why don't you do them both at once and get it all done together?"
"What a brilliant idea! Yes, that's much more efficient. I do have a rather busy schedule at the moment—how's next Thursday?"
"Next Thursday sounds lovely, darling, I'll pencil you in."
"Thank you so much. If something comes up, do let me know so we can reschedule."
"Of course, darling, hate to miss it."
"I think, under the circumstances, I shan't be asking your father's permission beforehand."
"No? But isn't that how these things are done?"
"Generally, yes, but in this case I feel entitled to make an exception."
"And why's that?"
"Well, for the first part, because I don't give a flying fig what your father thinks, and for the other part, I think, because neither do you."
"Not a fig," Vex said with some satisfaction, tipping her head back regally.
"There, you see? And it simplifies things greatly."
"Oh, but shouldn't you be asking my brother? At least informing him of what's to come. It will be such a shock to his poor heart."
"He's your brother," said Percy, "you ask him."
"I'm not asking my brother's permission to marry you."
"Then neither am I."
"I'm fairly certain he'll kill you, or at the very least never speak to you again."
"Well, then holidays will be awkward, won't they."
"What makes you think they haven't been?"
"I made no such insinuation. I've had my share of awkward family dinners, you know."
"You've never had one with my family."
"After seeing your behavior at Scanlan's dinner table, I shudder to think what a whole family of you must be like. Do you always shoot your host, or is that just Scanlan?"
"You're horrendous," Vex said, grinning at him.
"Entirely," Percy agreed mildly. "And you're very silly."
"I've never been silly in my life," Vex said, perfectly straight-faced.
"Oh, dear, I'm not sure we'll get on well, in that case. Perhaps you shouldn't marry me after all."
"Perhaps I won't," said Vex, tossing her head imperiously. "Perhaps I shall leave you a heartbroken wretch."
"I'm sure I shall muddle through somehow," Percy said.
"Now that's not very nice," Vex said, pouting. "If you're going to joke about proposing to me, you could at least have the decency to pretend to be madly in love with me as well."
"Speaking of decency," Percy said, getting to his feet. "I believe it's generally frowned upon for a man to be in a lady's room after dark, especially when she isn't fully dressed."
"Gods forbid you should be indecent," Vex said, batting her eyelashes at him. "I'm sure it wouldn't do."
"Not at all," said Percy. "At least not until next Thursday."
She snorted and rolled her eyes. Absently, her fingers reached up and touched the metal feathers over her ear.
"Thank you, Percy," she said. "Honestly. They're lovely."
Percy inclined his head and made a dismissive gesture. "It was my pleasure, Vex'ahlia. Truly."
There was a moment of silence, just one heartbeat too long.
"Well," Percy sighed. "Have a good night, and I shall see you in the morning."
"Yes," said Vex. "Sleep well, Percy darling."
"You as well. Good night, Vex."
"Good night, Percy."
He left, shutting the door softly behind him. Vex took a few minutes to brush out her hair again, to marvel and delight at the little feathers over her ear. She kept them on while she ran through the keep's expenses, briefly, while she had time and the end of the world wasn't pressing. Things seemed to be in order, and she was yawning before the second page.
Idly, in the corner of the bills and receipts, she doodled a few words.
Lady Vex'ahlia de Rolo
After a moment's consideration, she bookended them in hearts.