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Steel and Smoke and Skin

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The first thing Vax noticed about Percival- okay, to be fair, the first things he noticed about Percival were that he was dirty and smelled bad and had white hair. But the first thing he noticed about Percival-of-Vox-Machina, rather than Percival-the-mysterious-prisoner, was the distance he kept from everyone else. Oh, he was cordial enough, always ready with a dry quip or surprisingly deadly assistance in battle, but he wore his coat like armor and shied away from even the friendliest touch. Vax couldn’t understand how anyone could live that way, but he could understand trauma and, considering the state the group found him in, he couldn’t very well begrudge the man his space. He even went so far as to warn his sister to respect the distance Percival seemed so eager to establish between them- she, as she had done in many things, patted him on the cheek before continuing to do as she pleased.

It wasn’t until years later, after their little family had stumbled their way into something delicate, something carefully nameless and yet all the more precious for it, that he paid enough attention to see it. The slight twitch of Percy’s hands toward his own, or his sister’s. The barely-there shift of his weight towards Keyleth when they sat together to read. The way he held himself icy and rigid even during Pike’s healing, his set shoulders betraying how much he wanted to lean into the touch. The fleeting seconds he let himself bask in an embrace before he gently pulled away.

Trauma Vax knew intimately, but self-isolation was a much different beast. He was beginning to think his sister had the right idea all along. And how smug she would be to hear him admit that thought- he must be certain never to speak it aloud. All the same, now that the shape of the matter was clear, he couldn’t very well leave things be. Vax was nothing if not a man of action- and he thought action, rather than words, might serve them all well in this case.

That night, in the safety of Scanlan’s mansion, Vax quietly pulled the rest of their little family together and started to plan, voices soft under the rhythmic ringing of metal on metal from Percy’s workshop.

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Clang.

Percy was not, is not, and will likely never be a good man. He acknowledged that long ago, on a cold night in the woods- and recent events had done nothing to change that truth.

Clang.

He wiped the sweat off his brow and readjusted his grip on his hammer. He swung again in a wide arc, striking true.

Clang.

Metal he understood, metal he deserved. Icy cold and blisteringly hot by turns, inert and yet full of promises of what might be, Percy was not sure whether he saw himself in it’s changeable nature, or his salvation. Perhaps both.

Clang.

Distantly, the tinkling of laughter reached his ears. He smiled, a small, secret thing despite himself. As of late, their makeshift family had shifted, not growing closer, but knitting together in new ways- healing old hurts and finding new ways to fit together. Nights like these were a rare commodity usually spent entangled with each other, laughing, sleeping, or … other close activities that propriety forbade Percy from naming.

Clang.

He rarely, if ever, joined, of course- and then only if coaxed by good alcohol and Pike or Vex (and, on one memorable occasion, Trinket.) The attention he received on those rare occasions made it increasingly difficult to return.

Clang.

Nights of bliss, soft words and comforting embraces were not made for men like Percy. He knew he was a creature of ash and violence, even with his mind rid of Orthax’s influence, and he refused to let his corruption taint the tenuous threads of the new relationship that were being woven around him.

Clang.

Perhaps a true dark, selfish creature would take what it wanted anyway, but before he ever made his first gun, before the Briarwoods and the torture and the smoke, Percival de Rolo was a coward, and a coward he remained under the mask.

Clang-clank.

“Damn it!”

While he contemplated, the sheet of metal he was working had cooled too much, losing it’s cherry glow- his last blow had cracked the piece clean through.

Stupid. He chuckled weakly as he slumped against the wall, sliding his mask back from his face. Laughter from far away echoed him again. He closed his eyes, head lolling against the stone. A tug of wanting pulled at his heart. He steeled himself. Better to let them be, free from under the dark cloud of his own making.

He didn’t know how long he stood there in the waning glow of the forge, hammer slipping to clang against the floor. The metal he had been working was useless now. If he listened closely, he could almost imagine he was upstairs with his- with the rest of them. Music filtered down- apparently Scanlan had thought it time for a song, probably one about his own prowess as a lover to try to lure the others to bed. Percy snorted inelegantly, eyes still firmly closed.

“You know, you make it so easy to sneak up on you that I’m almost insulted.”

Percy’s eyes snapped open and he shifted fully to his feet before registering the voice. Vax stood before him, hands spread in a gesture of surrender and calm. Percy couldn’t determine whether he was mocking him or genuinely trying to calm him- knowing Vax, it was likely a bit of both.

Percy straightened, hastily straightening his work clothes and running a hand through his hair.

“I… apologize?”

Vax smirked, hard edged and feral in the dying light. Percy’s mouth went dry.

“Good. You can make it up to me by coming upstairs.”

Percy’s breath hitched- join them? He couldn’t- he’d only- he didn’t- he dropped his gaze.

“That would be unwise,” he gritted out, teeth clenched against the wanting humming under his skin.

Vax stepped closer, careful and measured.

“Percival.”

Another careful step. Another hitched breath.

“Percival look at me.”

Percy felt his gaze dragged back to meet Vax’s. Vax’s eyes softened fractionally.

“Percival, if you truly do not want to join us, you need only say the word. But-”

And Vax’s hand flew up, quick as only a rogue could be, as if to stop Percy from speaking too hastily. Percy rather thought he was being overestimated- he could not have spoken just then if his life depended on it. Still, he snapped his jaw shut.

“But,” Vax continued, “if you are down here alone because you think you are unwelcome or unworthy, then you must have a lower opinion of me- of all of us- than we thought.”

The words hit Percy like, well, Bad News straight to the chest. He gaped, vaguely aware of protesting noises being forced past his lips. No no no this is all wrong, he must make him see-

Again Vax held up a hand.

“If you think,” he growled, once more a predator eyeing Percy, “for even one moment that me or my sister or Kiki or any one of us would want you to torture yourself down here by yourself, then tell us what we did to fall so far from your esteem.”

“That’s not-,” Percy sighed, adjusting his glasses. Vax allowed him a lengthy pause to find his voice. The forge crackled lightly, down to it’s last breath. Finally, he sighed again.

“The problem, I think you will find, resides on rather the other end of the spectrum.”

Vax’s eyebrow shot up, but it was Percy’s turn to hold up a hand for silence. He leaned back into the solidity of the wall and took a steadying breath.

“I am not unaware that you would welcome my participation in the… physical affection you all share. I cannot in good conscience say that I am not tempted- I will lie to a great many people without a qualm, but I hope that you know that you are not one of them. None of you.”

Here, Percy paused again, fidgeting with his glasses and collecting his thoughts. Vax, as he was wont to do, jumped back in headfirst, impulsively.

“Then what is it, de Rolo?”

Percy flinched away, instinctive. When he dared glance back at Vax, the other man’s face looked softer- and infinitely closer. Percy nearly swallowed his tongue.

“Percival. Percy, please. We miss you. I-,” Vax stumbled over his words. Percy saw his eyes dart to the door, no doubt resisting the temptation to walk away. Percy was almost tempted to let him, and yet, and yet.

“I am not a good man.” It left him all in a rush, his breath stirring Vax’s hair, let loose for the evening. “This thing that I’ve created, the lives I’ve taken-.”

“You’ll have to get in line, buddy. We’re all a bit fucked up, isn’t that what you told me once?”

“But not like this,” he continued, breathless, unable to stem the flow of words. “Never like this. I’m- I still see smoke in my dreams. I can’t scrub it out, and there’s so much anger. I thought it was him, but he’s gone and I can still- and I’m dreading the day you all realize that the cruelty and the rage and the revenge, they’ve never left me, they are me. I’m trying to make something more of myself, but they’re still there and I can’t- I’m not worth- guh!”

Percy choked as Vax’s forearm suddenly pressed like a brand against his throat, pinning him to the wall. Raven hair spilled over Percy’s shoulder as Vax’s face loomed dangerously close. Percy fought not to whimper, acutely aware of the warmth of Vax’s skin on his.

“Do you trust my sister, Percival?”

The question, so casual, took him off guard and he sputtered for a moment, throat working against Vax’s forearm. Finally, he nodded, brow furrowed. Vex? Of course he trusted Vex. Vex was-

“I mean, do you trust her to know the value of the things that are hers?”

Again, Percy nodded, at a loss for words.

Vax smirked and leaned ever closer, his nose brushing Percy’s cheek- earning another hitched breath and an aborted whine, damn him- and whispering, deathly quiet, in Percy’s ear.

“Well, you are ours, Percival. And we do not find you unworthy.”

Percy couldn’t suppress the full body shiver the wracked him as Vax held him there- almost effortlessly, he thought hysterically, as he bit his lip. Vax chuckled lightly, his breath warm on Percy’s neck.

“And I would think,” he continued, “that someone as educated as yourself would know better to argue with the Baroness about the value of her possessions.”

This time, a whine rose unbidden from Percy’s constricted throat. He caught himself nodding without quite knowing what he was agreeing to.

This seemed to satisfy Vax, as he stepped back, leaving Percy to sway, unsteady, caught between begging him to leave and pulling him back in. He missed the contact already, but should he, could he dare-?

“Percival. I can hear you getting all wrapped up in that head of yours again.”

Vax sounded amused, but there was an undercurrent of something that sounded dangerously like hope in his voice. It was that tremor that forced Percy to look at him fully again. Vax stood in front of him, hand carefully outstretched, palm open.

“Come upstairs with me. I should be able to do something about that,” Vax quipped, throwing in a wink his sister would be proud of.

That broke the strange tension in the room and Percy huffed out a silent laugh. He pushed himself gently off the wall and turned to bank the forge fire. With his back still turned- before he lost his nerve- he called back over his shoulder.

“I don’t know- I have an awful lot of thoughts to get wrapped up in. It might be quite the job for one.”

Percy didn’t hear Vax come up behind him, but this time he was expecting it, so he barely jumped when strong arms wrapped around his waist.

“I was hoping you’d say that. Everyone’s upstairs, handsome. We’re just waiting for you.”

Percy turned in his hold, dusting his hands on his trousers. He peered down at Vax through his glasses, pleased to see his pupils dilate from their closeness. Steeling himself, because old habits die hard, he gently took Vax’s wrist and pressed a kiss to the palm of his hand. He heard Vax gasp softly. His own lips felt on fire from just that quick brush, but he couldn’t let himself think too far ahead or he’d retreat back into himself once more, and that was clearly not what Vax wanted. Percy sent an absentminded thought up to Pelor for strength, and straightened.

“And I’m afraid I’ve been terribly rude, making you all wait so long. Please, lead the way and I will be sure to make it up to you.”

Vax immediately reversed their hands, dragging Percy out of the workshop by his wrist. As they passed through the doorway his fingers tightened, as if afraid that Percy would vanish the moment he let go. Percy couldn’t blame him- he felt much the same.

“It’s cute, you know,” Vax said, conversationally, tossing a smirk over his shoulder.

“Hm? Cute?”

Percy was perhaps not paying the most attention, distracted by the feeling of strong fingers circling his wrist, the all-encompassing heat of it.

“Cute how you think you’ll be in charge of any of this. You’ve been denying us for a long time, Percival.”

Vax’s fingers tightened on Percy’s wrist, bordering on painful as he wrenched Percy close once more.

“We intend to enjoy what is ours.”

Percy felt his face flush, glancing between his wrist, Vax’s predatory expression, and the stairway ahead of them in quick succession. His breathing quickened. He licked his lips, fascinated by how Vax’s eyes seemed to follow the action. Encouraged, he caught his bottom lip between his teeth. Vax let out a soft hiss.

“Well, as I said before, lead on.”

Chapter Text

 

Percy wasn't quite sure how he found himself in this situation.

Well, that wasn't entirely honest. Percy found himself here through a combination of poor choices, spectacular luck, a stunning lack of willpower, and a very insistent half-elf. But the rest still baffled him.

Presently, Percy was being lead up the stairs in Scanlan's ridiculous mansion, wrist firmly in Vax's grip, to join the rest of their merry band for... well, he wasn't sure he could think past the stones in front of his feet at the moment.

Past the stairs, through a series of hallways, and suddenly Vax stopped. He let go of Percy's wrist, turned to him, and produced a thin strip of dark cloth.

"Percival, I'm going to ask you to close your eyes. Can I trust you to keep them closed, or would you rather I used this?"

Percy heard the unspoken plea- do you trust me to guide you? - but his attention was locked on the scrap of fabric. Panic and visceral want ripped through him, tangled together and messy. His throat went dry, his breath leaving his lungs to rattle about in his bones.

Vax stepped closer, so carefully, like Percy was a skittish animal.

Maybe he was.

"Percival."

Vax searched his gaze, brow furrowed. Percy held still, hoping his eyes could convey what he could not.

"Yes?” he wheezed after a long beat.

It seemed to do the trick- Vax relaxed, holding the blindfold between them again like an offering.

"I won't use this unless you want me to. I trust you know that," he said. At Percy's nod, he continued, "And you are allowed to want this."

Percy sucked in a rattling breath.

"But you need to let me know, Percival. I can wait."

Percy closed his eyes. The image of Vax leaning against the wall, smirk curling the edge of his mouth, blindfold dangling from his hand, burned into his eyes, a fantasy come to life.

He took a deep breath. Then another. And another. And again, until he felt steady enough to look again.

Vax hadn't moved, still smirking at Percy with a knowing glint in his eyes.

With a concentrated effort, Percy unlocked his jaw.

"I- I would very much appreciate your assistance in putting... that on."

Percy winced as he felt himself slipping into noble-speak, but Vax didn't comment.

"Well, since you asked so nicely."

He stepped lightly around Percy, pressing himself distractingly against the thin cotton at Percy's back. Percy was certain he felt the shiver that ran through him at the contact. He spared a thought for the potential embarrassment just before Vax removed his glasses and the thin cloth dropped over his eyes.

He was relieved to not find himself in complete darkness.The fabric was dark, but thin, and tiny pinpricks of light filtered through it. Not enough to see by, but enough that he felt some of the panic in his chest ease.

Percy stumbled lightly when Vax grabbed his hand again, tugging him forward slightly too fast. Vax muttered an apology, grasping his shoulder and setting a slower pace.

Lost in semi-darkness, Percy wasn't sure how long they walked, but realistically it could only have been a few minutes. Scanlan's mansion wasn't that big, surely.

Eventually, Vax pulled him to a stop. Ahead of him, he could hear laughter and... splashing? Interesting.

"Here's our stop, handsome," Vax declared.

Percy didn't hear Vax move, but a breeze stirred the air around him, warm and wet, and suddenly the laughter and splashing were much louder.

Vax ushered him impatiently into what must be a bathroom. The hum of conversation that echoed off the large space quieted as they stepped through the threshold.

Vax leaned in close once more, breathing in Percy’s ear, “Would this be easier for you if we kept the blindfold on?”

They drew to a halt, Vax’s hand casually resting at the back of Percy’s neck.

After a moment of deliberation, Percy surprised himself by shaking his head minutely.

A beat.

“Alright,” Vax said, half a question. “Close your eyes- I’m untying it.”

Apparently Percy wasn’t the only one surprised.

He obediently closed his eyes, and felt the cloth slip away. Slowly, cautiously, he cracked his eyes open.

Before him sat Vox Machina, arranged in such an aggressively casual way about the bath that it had to be anything but. Vax slipped away from him to join them, his hand leaving a burning imprint on Percy’s neck.

He squashed down disappointment- he would take only what he was offered.

Tension slowly ratcheted up in his spine, forcing him tall and noble-straight. He locked his hands behind his back to hide their trembling. This close, without his glasses, the shapes of his friends were slightly blurry, details smoothed out and softened. He couldn’t see to meet their eyes, but he held firm, chin high.

Behind his back, he rubbed the place where Vax had gripped his wrist.

He would take what was being offered- and he was acutely aware of what a terrible man that made him.

Chapter Text

Things seemed to go surprisingly smoothly from there, some distant, analytical part of Percy’s mind noted. He mentally shushed it. No need to test his luck.

            Vex and Keyleth- the two who knew him best, they were trying to lull him into a false sense of shut up- took over where Vax left off, winding their arms around his and gently guiding him toward the large inset tub.

            Steam caressed his face, billowing like smoke’s friendlier cousin. Percy inhaled deeply, felt the warmth reach down to his bones, and let his shoulders drop another fraction of an inch. Distantly, he was aware of Grog and Vax having a hushed conversation to his right.

A bright, happy ditty wove it’s way through the room- Percy spared a glance for Scanlan, kicking his feet against Grog’s massive shoulder, and received a wink in response.

            The slapping of bare feet on tiles brought his attention to Pike as she approached him. She beckoned him down to her level- he obediently knelt, feeling Vex and Keyleth’s hands slide up to his shoulders. Even in the heat of the room, he shivered.

            “Percy,” Pike said, cupping his face. “You know we just want to take care of you, right?”

            Mutely, he nodded, more to feel her small hands move against his rough stubble than to answer.

            Pike’s brow furrowed. Immediately, Vex’s hand clamped down on his shoulder, just this shy of painful. Percy leaned into it.

            “Darling, you need to answer us. Out loud, okay?”

            “I- yes, dear,” he answered, bowing his head.

            Vex relaxed her grip. She chuckled, leaning down to press a light kiss to his hair.

            “Good boy,” she whispered as she pulled away.

            Percy had to close his eyes against the torrent of shame-want-fear-lust that ripped through him.

            “Percy… To take care of you we need to know what you want,” Pike said.

            “And what you don’t want,” Keyleth added.

            Percy forced himself to open his eyes, turning to send a tentative smile Keyleth’s way as she rubbed soothing circles on his collarbone.

            “I-ah... Well.”

            He wished desperately for his glasses, if only to see the expressions on their faces. This close, Pike was nothing more than a blur of gold and white.

            “I want anything you are willing to give me.”

            A beat of silence made him squirm under their hold.

            “Is it- is it what Vex said?” Keyleth ventured. “Do you want to be… good?”

            A deep flush stole over Percy’s skin, worsening when Vex started carding long fingers through her hair. He couldn’t stop himself from pressing up into her hand.

            “I… I hardly believe that will surprise anyone here,” he said, shaky.

            Pike swiped her thumbs against his cheekbones to get his attention. Percy felt like crying.

            “You are good,” she assured him, fiercely. “And we’re going to make sure you know it.”

            Percy’s chest was going to crack open and swallow him whole. He was fairly sure he whimpered audibly.

            He felt more than saw Vex kneel next to him. Her hand kept gently petting through his hair.

            “Percy, dear. You didn’t really answer Keyleth,” she chided.

            He swallowed. Of course Vex had caught on. It was just- were they really going to make him say it?

            “I… I do. I want to be good,” he croaked. “For you. For all of you.”

            Keyleth joined them on the floor.

            “I don’t quite understand but… I know you’re good. I want you to know that too,” she said.

            “Our good boy,” Vex purred.

            Percy squeaked, caught between the desire to run and the desire to bare his neck to them. He could do neither, caught between them as he was. He found he didn’t mind.

            “When you’re being good, you have to promise me one thing,” Pike said. “If you don’t like something, or you want it to stop, you have to tell us. Promise us, Percy.”

            Words caught in his throat. He tried to force them out, but ended up expelling only air. All the while, Vex kept petting his hair.

            “If it’s too much to say the words, we can pick a different one. People do that, right?”

            All eyes turned to Keyleth.

            “What? The air ashari aren’t celibate,” she griped. “I know things.”

            They all chuckled. That small bit of normality allowed Percy to breathe again.

            “I think… choosing a word would be wise. Something easy,” he said.

            “Like jenga,” Pike offered.

            He shuddered.

            “I don’t think mixing mortal danger and whatever… this is, even just in my head, would be a good idea,” he forced out.

            The girls hummed in understanding. Vex just kept fucking petting him.

            “I think..." he trailed off, Vex's hand in his hair tugging the words from his mouth. "Bad News would be appropriate, don't you think?

            He'd be lying if he said Keyleth's snort of aborted laughter wasn't gratifying. He twitched a smile her way, relieved the weirdness of the night hadn't changed this, at least.

            Pike hmmed, a cute little sound in the back of her throat. Percy was immediately distracted - he wanted to chase that sound with his lips, capture and taste it. His skin thrummed from the hope that he might be permitted to do just that.

            "We should probably stick to something simple," she said. "For the first time. Just in case."

            "A wonderful idea, darling," Vex murmured. She tugged at Percy's hair lightly, bringing him back to himself.

            "Yes, quite." He wrenched himself back to the matter at hand. Words - were they always so bloody complicated, or was it only now they seemed to elude him? "Something simple, yes. Colors, perhaps?" he asked, suddenly unsure.

            “That’s fine,” Vex assured him. “The words aren’t important. What’s important is that you use them if you need to.”

            "Of course. Yes. In that case... " He pondered briefly on colors and the associations he made with each. "Black, for obvious reasons, would be appropriate to ask that... things stop." He shuddered, sure he felt phantom smoke crawling up his arms. "And green, I should think, to mean that all is well."

            He caught Keyleth's eye, recalling spring growth, forgiveness, and the rush of healing magic. She seemed to understand, smiling softly and stoking a hand down his cheek. He gave into the temptation to lean into the touch.

                     “You won’t be being bad if you say it,” she murmured. “I know you want to be good, but doing something you don’t want to because you think we do isn’t being good. You have to promise to use the words.”

            Percy clenched his jaw. Damn these women, for knowing him so well.

            “I… I promise, Keyleth.”

            She pressed a light kiss to his cheek. Vex's hand tugged lightly at his hair. Even Pike's small hand, resting innocently on his shoulder, seemed to burn through his skin. Percy felt dizzy at all the contact. A breath… two… three steadied him.

He nodded towards the tub in front of them. It was huge, large enough to fit most of them in one go, if they were willing to be very friendly with each other. Percy rather hoped they would.

            “I imagine we’re to be bathing? Or at least I am.”

            Vex laughed.

            “You are kind of covered in soot, darling.”

            “I am, at that.”

Chapter Text

           Pike was somewhat in awe of the entire situation unfolding before her. She had hoped, privately, that Percy would start to feel more comfortable with the new shape their family was taking. She had, perhaps selfishly, been jealous that Vax had been the one to convince him to join them.

            All of that fell away as she watched Vex and Keyleth gently helping Percy out of his soot-stained work clothes. Vax silently accepted the clothes from his sister, folding them in a way Pike knew Percy would appreciate once he was aware enough to pay attention to it. Percy started at every unexpected touch, but he was met with only gentle hands and requests for a color.

           A hole in Pike’s heart that she had been acutely aware repaired itself every time Percy replied green, green, green. His face was pink and blissful as he slid into the warm water.

           Vox Machina arranged themselves around him, close but not crowding. Grog had his feet dipped into the tub a bit away, Scanlan resting on his thigh. Vex and Vax flanked Percy, stripped down to their smallclothes. Keyleth rested her head on top of Grog’s knee, red hair spilling into the water beneath her. That left Pike to sit behind Percy, kicking her feet in the water and cradling his head between her knees.

           They were all very careful to leave a clear path between Percy and the door, just in case.

           “Good boy,” Pike murmured again into his hair.

           He sighed, eyes closed, and pressed his face against her thigh. Pike’s heart constricted in her chest. She looked up at the rest of her family, helplessly beguiled. They all looked back at her with the same expression.

           She wanted to laugh, but she thought Percy might take it the wrong way so she settled for combing through his hair with her fingers. It was hopelessly tangled, knotted in some places and stained grey with soot in others. Percy hummed in the back of his throat, pushing gently back into her hand. It gave Pike an idea.

           “Percy, how would you feel about us washing your hair?”

           His eyes snapped open. He turned to look at her, eyes unfocused and so very blue without his glasses.

           “I… am perfectly capable of doing that myself,” he said, raising one eyebrow.

           “I know that. I just thought… You know, it might be nice.”

           “We did say we wanted to take care of you, darling. Are you going to let us,” Vex asked, gliding closer.

           “What my sister means is, are you going to let yourself want it?” Vax said, doing the same on Percy’s other side.

           Percy sat up, drawing slightly away from Pike. She suppressed a sigh.

           “You know, it’s incredibly disconcerting to not be able to tell the difference between the two of you until you speak. I could have sworn Vax was on my right,” Percy quipped.

           Vex clapped her hands, delighted.

           “You really can’t tell, darling? Oh, this could be fun,” she crooned.

           “We can experiment with that later. For now…” Vax said, looking meaningfully at Pike.

           She swallowed.

           “Percy, we need a color for washing you up. Please.”

           He thought for a moment, still and tense, before he gently eased himself back into her hold. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back against her stomach.

           “You don’t need to do that for me… but… green,” he said, softly. “Just… Please be careful. I’m not… terribly fond of the feeling of water running over my face.”

           “Why not-” Grog started to ask.

           He was cut off by Keyleth leaning up and whispering in his ear. His eyes widened in sad understanding. Pike met Keyleth’s eyes from across the tub. Keyleth gave a short nod, eyes sad.

           “I’ll be careful,” Pike promised, and got to work.

           The twins helped, in their own ways. Vax quietly took each of Percy’s hands in turn, lathering soap up his arms and wiping away black smudges as he went. Vex bantered with Percy, that gentle push-pull of clever conversation that had once made Pike so sad to hear now helping soothe him as Pike took care of him.

           For her part, Pike gently scooped water into her palm, using her other hand to shield Percy’s face from the water. Vex helped in this as well, her larger hands put to good use.

           Percy, caught between the three of them but never held down, seemed to revel in it. Occasionally he would stiffen, lost in thought or memory, but his status was always green, green, green. Pike could practically feel the knots in the back of his neck easing with the heat and relaxation. And if she added a gentle cure wounds spell as she was rubbing at his neck, well, she didn’t think he would mind. Judging by the approving groan she got when she pressed her fingers into the base of his skull, she was right.

           Scanlan tossed Pike a bottle of expensive-looking shampoo with a wink, and took up a distinctly… saucier tune than he had played before. It seemed he approved of the way the evening was progressing.

           Percy noticed as well, if his suddenly pinker complexion was anything to go by. He didn’t pull away though, so they continued as they were.

           It was Vex, of course, who rocked the boat. Pike had been expecting that, but she certainly didn’t expect it to happen the way it did. Vex swam up very close to Percy, practically sitting in his lap, but instead of reaching for him, she grabbed Pike by the collar and kissed her deeply.

           Pike liked kissing Vex quite a lot, so she could be forgiven if she got distracted for a minute, almost forgetting about Percy between them. It wasn’t a gentle kiss. Vex kissed like she loved- fierce, warm, and with just an edge of teeth. Eventually, Vex pulled back, looking very much like the cat that got the cream.

           Percy, when Pike rallied enough to think to look at him, looked a bit bewildered and more than a bit interested. Pike met Vex’s eyes over his head. They could work with that. Vax rolled his eyes in the background.

           “Percy… Could I kiss you,” Pike asked.

           How a person could turn that red, Pike would never know, but Percy managed a startling shade of scarlet even as he nodded yes.

           “Percy,” Vax warned, coming up behind him. “Good boys answer out loud when they’re asked a question, remember?”

           Percy shivered and licked his lips.

           “Yes,” he whispered, and turned around to face her.

           Pike caught his face in her hands again and slowly- giving him plenty of time to pull away- brought them to eye-level.

           “Color,” she breathed.

           “Green.”

           Kissing Percy was nothing like kissing Vex. Where Vex was heat and passion, Percy was patience and charming shyness. Pike brushed their lips together again, cool and chaste. Percy sighed into her mouth, lips parting beneath hers. His hand came up to tentatively trace the line of her cheek. Pike smiled into the kiss.

           When she pulled back, ages and eons and seconds later, Percy looked a bit winder, flushed pink and wide-eyed. It was a good look on him. Pike wanted to be the cause of it, constantly.

           It seemed everyone else agreed.

           “As lovely as the show has been- and it has been lovely, don’t make any mistake about that- I think it’s about time we move to a more… dry location,” Scanlan declared, hopping down from Grog’s knee.

           Vex pressed against Percy’s back, wrapping her arms loosely around him. She nuzzled gently against the side of his neck. Pike smiled wider- they made a very pretty picture, light against dark.

           “How do you feel about that, Percy dear,” Vex asked.

           Percy fumbled for words for a moment. They let him, Keyleth and Scanlan gathering up soaps and bottles that didn’t really need to be put away in order to give him more time. Finally, he covered Pike’s hand in his and met her eyes with a small, hopeful smile.

           “Green,” he said with finality. “Most definitely green.”

           Grog cheered, loud in the tiled room. Keyleth tried to shush him, glancing anxiously at Percy to gauge his reaction.

           Percy just laughed, loud and long. He leaned back against Vex and forward against Pike in turns as the giggles took his breath away. It wasn’t long before the rest of them joined him, laughing away the awkwardness of before.

           When it subsided, Pike helped a very-pruny Percy out from the tub, who in turn helped Vex and Vax out, gentleman that he was. When they were all ready and Percy began to fidget, Pike took his shaking hand in hers and kissed his wrist.

           He gasped above her. His shaking increased, but she knew him well enough to know it wasn’t a bad sign.

           “Our good boy,” she told him, fiercely. “We’re going to make you feel so good.”

           He blinked. Slowly, a wistful, wicked sort of smirk stole over his face.

           “And here I was hoping I could do the same for you.”

Chapter Text

Scanlan Shorthalt was no stranger to the art of seduction.

 

He would be the first to admit he’s a bit of a tramp- a lover and a fighter, one could say. His silver tongue and musical wiles had enticed many a willing playmate for the night, often more than one at a time.

 

So Scanlan should have been taking charge right about now, smoothly stepping in and sweeping Percy off his bony feet and yet…

 

Here Scanlan was, hanging back as they led Percy- warm and open and trusting, arm and arm with Keyleth, his free hand caught by Pike- upstairs to the room he had specifically designed for tonight.

 

It had nothing to do with a lack of interest- Scanlan wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t 100% on board with rocking Percy’s world, and gods knew the dude could use a little recreational stress relief. No, the physical aspect of it wasn’t the issue. It was the less tangible things he was worried about.

 

Percy was delicate in a way none of his previous partners had let themselves seem to him. Not in a physical way- blacksmithing was hard work and boy did it ever show on Percy’s arms- but emotionally. Feelings had never been Scanlan’s favored terrain and Percy had so many potential landmines lurking in his head that he was afraid to even take a step.

 

Scanlan knew his (many and varied) good qualities, but he was also painfully aware of his less flattering traits. He didn’t exactly have the best track record for dealing with feelings.

 

So he let the others gently shepherd Percy to the bedroom, let them tease and joke with him, let them make him feel comfortable and open and easy. He hung back as Keyleth kissed Percy softly, as Grog swept big hands from waist to shoulders, releasing tension as he went. He played a low, slinky tune in the corner as Vex pulled Percy against her, playing with his hair as Pike explored his chest with small hands.

 

He let the more qualified people navigate around the landmines, directed by Percy himself: green for go, pink flush for keep going, bitten lip for please. Only once the atmosphere in the room had heated up sufficiently to keep most stray thoughts at bay did he crawl to join them on the bed.

 

Scanlan knew what he was good for- a quip, a song, a good time, and a plan so stupid it’s clever. Tender words and gentle comfort were mostly beyond him, he thought, but this he knew he could do and do well.

 

Percy smiled up at him as he straddled his hips, dislodging Pike with a smile and a wink.

 

Percy’s eyes were blue and gently unfocused as Scanlan looked down at him and it hit him with a pang. He sometimes forgot how young Percy was, white hair and crotchety attitude aside. He just sat and looked for a moment, taking in the relaxed set of his shoulders, the permanent worry lines on his forehead, the slight dusting of freckles across his nose.

 

Percy squirmed under the scrutiny, reminding Scanlan abruptly of what he was there for.

 

He let a smug smile curl across his face as he leaned in close, brushing their noses together.

 

“Percy,” he purred. “I want to absolutely destroy you. Will you be a good boy and let me?”

 

The way Percy’s pupils blew wide almost immediately was gratifying, but Scanlan didn’t move.

 

Percy liked his lips and flickered glances around at the rest before coming back to him. Scanlan let his grin widen, showing more teeth than was probably necessary.

 

“Green,” Percy breathed, like he could hardly believe it himself.

 

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

 

Scanlan slid down on the bed and got to work.

 

As Percy came apart under hands and teeth and tongue, struggling against Vex’s hold on his wrists and howling his delight all the while, Scanlan wanted to cheer, wanted to throw open the windows and let the world hear. See, he wanted to shout, I may not be good for much but I can do this! I am good enough for this.

 

As it was, he had to content himself with sucking bruises that should last for days across Percy’s slim hips.

 

Absorbed as he was, he didn’t notice Vax moving until he felt a hand in his hair, pulling gently the way he liked. He let out an appreciative whine and closed his eyes. Vax chuckled, tugging again.

 

“I can’t tell who’s enjoying himself more,” Vax mused.

 

Percy flushed even darker and tried to hide his face in Vex’s thigh. Scanlan rolled his eyes.

 

He had a pretty good idea of who it was, but a gentleman didn’t talk with his mouth full. And neither would Scanlan.

Chapter Text

Grog was-

 

Well, Grog was a simple guy, right?

 

He liked the thrill of the fight, the thrill of a fuck, and the satisfaction of an ale after either- preferably both. And then another ale, besides.

 

And now they were all fucking, Vox Machina that is, and fighting together he should be feeling pretty good, right? Grog thought so, at least. And he did feel pretty great like… 98% of the time. Most of the time.

 

It was just that sometimes-

 

And he wasn’t freaking out ‘cause of the gay shit, you understand. Grog likes women, yeah. Of course he does. But Vax is pretty, and Scanlan’s Scanlan and Percy…

 

Percy, after Scanlan was done with him, was flushed all the way down his chest, biting his lip like a pretty, blushing virgin.

 

So Grog definitely didn’t have a problem with the gay shit. He knew how it was supposed to go, and Scanlan did most of the hard work anyway.

 

It was just that sometimes he got these- these flashes, like. It happened when Scanlan or Pike would curl up on his chest. Or when he realized his hands reached all the way around Vex’s waist- and Vax’s, too. Or when Keyleth threw her head back, baring her throat and he realized he could snap it like a twig. Or especially when he came back to himself after a Rage and realized one of them had gotten caught in the crossfire.

 

It wasn’t that he thought he would break them- Keyelth especially could probably take him in a fight, and nobody was stronger than his buddy Pike. But sometimes he just… worried. He just worried, was all. He was supposed to protect them, but he had to be so careful not to hurt them himself.

 

It made him wonder why they let him see them that way at all. Why he was allowed to know that Vax melted when you rubbed between his shoulder blades, or that Vex liked having her hair petted but never pulled. He knew how Keyleth would sometimes sit out when they fucked and come cuddle afterwards ‘cause that was what she needed. He knew what Scanlan was into (a very long list) and what Scanlan was absolutely not into (a very short list). He knew how pretty and pink Pike looked, after, and that was something he never thought he’d know.

 

He just sometimes didn’t understand why they let him know that, why they shared it with him.

 

And now they threw Percy and all of his issues in the mix, and Grog was feeling a bit like Trinket in a china shop. Except worse, ‘cause Grog was pretty sure Percy had never done this before. So he felt like Trinket in a glassmaker’s shop. One with a glass floor. And paper walls.

 

It was a little intimidating, was what he was trying to say.

 

But Grog was never one to back down from a fight (or a fuck) and Percy was chanting green, green, green before he even laid a hand on him.

 

The poor guy was so disoriented that he didn’t question it when Grog gently manhandled him onto his stomach, arms and head pillowed in Keyleth’s lap. He waited until Keyleth gave him a thumbs-up (she was petting Percy’s hair and whispering to him or something, Grog was a little distracted) before he went for it.

 

Percy positively howled, his back arching into a perfect bow off the bed.

 

Grog stilled instantly, suppressing a growl. He felt a gentle hand smooth down his calf- Pike, probably. His buddy had his back.

 

Percy raised his head slightly off Keyleth’s lap.

 

“If you don’t start moving,” he ordered, voice hoarse and deep, “then I will not be held responsible for my actions.”

 

Grog chuckled low in his chest.

 

“Oh it’s on, Princess,” he rumbled into the skin of Percy’s shoulder.

 

Percy shivered, but whether that was because of what Grog said or the way he pressed him against the bed with large hands was anyone’s guess.

 

Even during the thick of it, Grog had to admire the pale stretch of Percy’s back stretched out underneath him. Pink dusted his ears and down the back of his neck, creeping lower every minute. He had some freckles too, even though Grog was pretty sure Percy hadn’t gone out in the sun in days. He was surprisingly built, for someone so skinny. And louder than Grog would have thought- not that he was complaining.

 

Positive feedback felt good- and robbing Percy, smooth, silver-tongued Percy, of most of his words was absolutely delicious. The muffled whines and strings of curses that would make most sailors blush were music to Grog’s ears.

 

After, he was careful not to crush anyone when he crawled into the bed. Percy immediately latched on to him like a big, lanky octopus. Keyleth rolled to snuggle up on his other side. Scanlan used his calf as a pillow.

 

One by one, his family piled into the ridiculous bed to nap before round two.

 

Grog knew that in a few minutes Keyleth would get too hot and throw all the covers off, and then Vex would steal them all and the rest of them would be forced to huddle for warmth or feel her wrath. But he couldn’t find it in him to care.

 

They were all here, for now, and all safe.

 

Grog felt Percy press a sleepy kiss to a random patch of skin on his shoulder and smiled.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Percy could feel himself drifting between sleep and consciousness.

He found he rather preferred the latter.

He was very warm, bracketed in on both sides – held, not trapped.

His pillow rose and fell, rumbling deep and comforting beneath him. A thin arm wrapped around his waist. A hand rubbed light circles on his shoulder, easing some leftover tension. A small, heavy weight rolled onto his lower legs. He had just enough time to worry about pins and needles before sleep took him again.

So warm.

He was surrounded by a comforting sense of warmth. He was… he was warm? No, that wasn’t right.

He was cold, of course. Cold as the steel in his gun. Cold as the snow under his feet as he ran under cover of night. Cold as the look in her eyes as he left her behind.

Stupid boy.

Indeed. He swore he felt his bones cracking as ice shoved its way into and through his joints – he almost sighed from the feeling. Excruciatingly painful, yes, but intimately familiar. Pain was trustworthy that way.

Thought you were supposed to be clever, dearie?

What use was ‘clever’ when his tongue was freezing inside his mouth?

Panic bloomed in his chest, a searing counterpoint to that aching numbness, and forced a strangled sound from his throat.

His muscles were locked in place. Stupid, useless body. Move, he begged himself. Just one inch, one finger would be enough. Move, move move. His chest wanted to heave with effort, to draw in life, but he was locked in place as he felt his lungs slowly losing air. Frost blossomed across his skin, infectious and inevitable against his weak flesh. Useless.

Sweet, broken Percival.

Bile rose in his throat. He thrashed, suddenly free to move. He opened his mouth to heave in great, greedy mouthfuls of oxygen – only to choke on oily black smoke.

It slid, oozing and weightless but no less violating, down his throat, through his nostrils and ears. It crowded his vision, enveloping him in warm, ashen darkness.

Oh gods, he wanted to beg, take me back to the ice. Take me back to the cold fingers ripping into my marrow. He deserved very little in this life, and even less for all he’d done, but he wanted to pray all the same. Not this, not again. Not ever this.

But the gods were not merciful creatures. Not ever. Not to him.

It mattered little – his voice was not his own. Smoke twined around his vocal chords, sickly and terribly, terribly tangible.

Distantly, he was aware of a voice – voices? – that might be his own.

How many voices had he had, when he had one?

Percy, come back to us!

There was a thin, terrible laughter being played from his unwilling throat. He could feel the smoky tendrils playing this body like a toy, bending and breaking to its will.

Roiling black all he could see, Percy was powerless to fight back. This body was not his own, not here. Was it ever?

Smoke stung his eyes. Had he opened them?

The smoke continued wringing that terrible laugh from the body’s mouth.

Percival, listen to us – whatever you’re seeing isn’t-

Fingers, clawed with burning embers, left burning tracks as they clenched the body’s throat. The pain, if there was any, was too far away to register – denying him the old, steadfast friend it had become.

Percy, please!

Strange, Percy thought as the fingers tightened. These voices are so loud. So angry. His vision, already black, became tinged with red as embers seared him to the bone. The terrible laugh morphed, never leaving his throat but growing deeper, possessive.

Pike! Pike, do it now, please!

Percy exhaled, all air leaving his body. Maybe now it would be quiet. He had almost convinced himself to half-hope when suddenly –

Light. Blinding and white, tinged with golden sun.

Air slammed back into Percy’s body as the light chased the smoke and shadows away.

He was left blinking up at a heavy bed canopy, completely alone in the center of what felt like a very comfortable bed.

Inhale, exhale.

Inhale, exhale.

Slowly, he remastered the art of breathing.

Inhale, exhale. And then once more, because he could, enjoying the burn of oxygen down to his lungs.

Inhale, exhale.

He had vague thoughts in the general direction of regaining his mobility next when he was swamped by what felt like a mountain of bodies circling him at once.

Pity. He was starting to really enjoy breathing.

His hearing was not similarly impaired, apparently, because a moment’s concentration brought a panicked cacophony to his ears.

“Oh thank the gods it worked. Darling, how do you feel? That was a nasty nightmare, it seemed. Let’s get you cleaned up, hmm?”

“Oi, don’t do that do us again, alright? Scared the girls half to death.”

“Not just the girls – I wasn’t looking forward to kicking a giant smoke demon’s ass again, and it looked like we got closer than I’d like.”

“We were so worried! I mean, I knew you had nightmares because… don’t we all? But this scared the shit out of all of us, and then we wanted to try Greater Restoration but I didn’t have the spell and we were worried that Pike wouldn’t have enough spells left but –”

Inhale, exhale, Percy reminded himself, valiantly attempting to tune out the onslaught. Inhale, ex-

A hesitant hand brushed against his hair and Percy lost it. His body, trembling as he fought hard for control, moved of its own volition, hauling him to a corner of the too-soft bed like a frightened animal. A high whine ripped free from his throat.

Too much, it was all too much.

Black, black, he could feel smoky blackness creeping back into his vision. No, not again.

Unaware, he screamed himself hoarse.

“Black! Please, no black!”

Instantly, though he didn’t look to see it, the hand retracted. Vax laid a comforting hand on Keyleth’s shoulder to ease the slight hurt on her face.

He could do nothing, however, about their mounting concern.

“Percy,” Pike asked, gentle as ever. “Is there something that hurts? Are you injured at all?”

The only answer from the bed was renewed shivering as Percy burrowed his way into the pillows, as far away from them as possible.

Vex motioned for them to follow her away from the bed, giving Percy some much needed space.

“Okay, darling. Okay. We hear you. We’re very proud of you for using your word – you’re being very good,” she cooed softly as she stepped away. “We’ll just be right over here if you need anything. Come back to us when you’re ready.”

“Did…” Keyleth’s voice was muffled by Vax’s shoulder. “Did I… I mean, is it my fault? He didn’t say the word until –“

Vax shushed her, holding her tighter against him.

Pike sighed. “Kiki, don’t blame yourself. Sometimes this stuff just… happens.”

“I think we surprised him,” Vex said. “And after… whatever the fuck that was… it probably wasn’t the most pleasant way to wake up.”

“We should’ve realized,” Scanlan snapped. “How could we be so-“

“How do we fix him,” Grog interrupted. “Cause, like, I get we fucked up. But normally when we fuck up we just… fix it, right?”

“People aren’t like weapons, Big Guy. You can’t always just fix things.”

“Oh... so we just. Can’t do anything, then?”

Grog settled his bulk on the plush carpet, leaning heavily against the wall. Pike scrambled up his leg to lean back against his check.

“I don’t know, buddy. I guess we just have to… wait.”

Chapter Text

Keyleth is aware that she is possibly, maybe, definitely not the best with words, or with people.

 

Scanlan’s words are literally magic, and Vex has never paid full price in her life, and Percy does the noble thing, and even Vax has these unbelievable moments of raw emotion, and then there’s Keyleth - all on her own, feeling way too much, stuttering her way to one day leading an entire nation.

 

It’s… a heavy burden, to be so aware of one’s flaws. And a heavier one still when those flaws hurt someone you love.

 

Keyleth watched Percy rock on the corner of the bed and she couldn’t breathe under the weight.

 

A minute passed.

 

The shaking continued, and Keyleth ached. It’s not in Keyleth’s nature to sit quietly and wait, but she clenched a fist and tried to force air past the weight settled under her breast.

 

A minute passed. Then two.

 

The twins shared a complicated look in the silence. Keyleth gritted her teeth against the phantom heat of flames against her palms. He looked so cold there. So small, despite his height.

 

A minute passed. Then two. Then three.

 

Ashy blackness snaked its way slowly around Percy’s neck, above his head. Six pairs of eyes tracked its ascension. Percy’s breathing picked up again, a staccato chorus ripping through his chest.

 

Vex’s hand tightened on Keyleth’s shoulder as Keyleth’s hands erupted into flames.

 

No. They wouldn’t be doing this again. It couldn’t happen again, she wouldn’t let it.

 

Scanlan yelped behind her, hushed gently by Pike, but all Keyleth could see was her friend, her best friend, alone and cold and hurting while they did nothing about it.

 

“Darling,” Vex murmured, not letting go, “I want to go to him too, but what if we make it worse?”

 

“I think it’s already gotten worse by itself,” Keyleth said. “Please, just trust me.”

 

And with that, Keyleth gently broke Vex’s hold, dimming her flames to a warm glow as she approached the bed.

 

Percy, wrapped up in memories and nightmares and smoke, didn’t seem to notice she was even there. She stopped a few feet away, kneeling with as much grace as she could muster.

 

“Percy,” she began, and then realized she had no idea what to say. She’d just needed to do something, to be there, to do anything other than sit on the sidelines while someone in her family ripped himself apart.

 

Oh gods, what if Vex was right? What if he just needed space –she could understand that, of course she could. Everybody needs space sometimes and Percy’s such a private person, and maybe (definitely) he wouldn’t want them seeing this, but what are they supposed to do? Just leave? How could he expect that when he knows –

 

Violent shivers wracking her friend’s body brought her back to reality. Right, of course.

 

Gently, slowly, she inched her way toward him, palms outstretched. Just a hint of her magic remained in the skin there, not enough for full flames but enough to radiate a small bit of warmth. She stopped just short of touching him, hovering there on her knees with her palms upward, a prayer from a nonbeliever, a supplication, a plea for her family to survive unscathed. The weight of hope, of expectation, pressed heavy and cloying on in her throat.

 

And somehow, remarkably, the shivers slowly subsided. Eyes still blank and faraway, Percy’s frame curled loosely around her warmth as he slumped boneless on the bed once more. His breathing softened, losing that razor’s edge quality as his eyelids fluttered shut, open, and shut again.

 

Keyleth took as deep a breath as the weight in her chest would allow – the pressure eased but never subsiding. Her breaths are measured, careful - a force like this was liable to leave cracks.

 

“Percy,” she said, softly. “Are you back with us?”

 

Blue eyes blinked open and damn it, this was not an appropriate time to be noticing how stupidly thick his eyelashes were, but Keyleth was probably to queen of untimely realizations, so what was one more?

 

“Whazzat,” he slurred, squinting up at her.

 

Someone Keyleth was pretty sure was Vax snorted behind them.

 

“Percy, you gave us kind of a bad scare. We didn’t mean to wake you like that – to make you feel unsafe. We’re sad you had to use the word we picked out, but I guess we’re happy you did?” Her voice tilted up into a question almost without her permission. “I mean, it’s just – we just want to make sure you feel okay. Or, mostly okay, I guess… Could I sit with you, maybe?”

 

As she was talking, she watched Percy’s eyes trace around the room, finding everyone still there, poised still as statues waiting for a signal.

 

“Percy?”

 

He hummed, still mapping the room.

 

“Percy, is it okay if I come sit with you? My knees are starting to hurt from sitting here.”

 

His eyes snapped back to her, glancing quickly between her knees and her face. Without his glasses and with his brow furrowed lightly in concern, he looked so soft and open she wanted to hide him away from a world that conspired to make him cold and hard – and that was before he made a trilling, concerned noise in the back of his throat. It seemed like he was coming back to consciousness in stages, and speech had yet to return.

 

Someone Keyleth was definitely sure was Vex cooed loudly.

 

            Still, she waited, refusing to budge until, with an exasperated sigh, he reached out and tugged lightly on her fingers, shifting ever so slightly backward on the rumpled covers. Keyleth followed, dropping tension like stones in a pond as she went, letting her worries sink to the core of her to be examined another day. Percy hugged her hand, still gently glowing, to his chest and refused to let go – eventually she gave in and let herself be arranged.

 

By the time she thought to look back up to the rest of her family, Percy’s head rested in her lap with her free hand carding through his hair. Likely still coming back to full awareness, he dusted feather light kisses across the knuckles of her other hand, which did nothing to hide her rising blush. He seemed to have completely forgotten that he was stark naked without even a sheet to cover himself – or maybe he was just so comfortable he didn’t care. Either way, Keyleth was having a hard time keeping her eyes from roaming the broad slope of his shoulders, the deep scars on his back, or the sharp curve of his hipbone.

 

Judging by the relieved yet knowing looks she was getting from her waiting friends, she wasn’t as successful as she had hoped.

 

“Um, Percy?” She ventured. “Would it be okay if our friends came over here too? We were all really worried about you.”

 

“Sorry,” is the first thing Percy says after screaming himself hoarse an hour, a moment, an age before. “Didn’t mean to.. You can… ‘M sorry I worried you all.”

 

“Oh, Percy,” Keyleth sighed. Honestly.

 

As if on cue, the twins walked to the foot of the bed, matching shadows in the strange half-light of the early hours. The others trailed behind, leery of spooking Percy a second time.

 

“Darling, you don’t need to apologize. We just want to make sure you’re alright.”

 

“Freddie, when are you gonna get it through your thick head that we care about you, dumbass? You think we’d be in here with just anyone?”

 

Percy huffed out a laugh, curling tighter around Keyleth’s hand before letting go. He hauled himself mostly vertical on the bed – too quickly, it seemed, as he swayed before sprawling flat again on Keyleth’s thighs.

 

“… Ouch.”

 

“Too fast there, Princess?” Grog rumbled, coming up behind the twins.

 

“I… suppose so. I’ll admit, this is unusual. Nightmares don’t usually… haunt me like this once I’m awake. Much less affect me physically.”

 

“But it wasn’t just a nightmare, was it?” Pike said. “I don’t know if you remember, but there was a lot of smoke.”

 

“Well, yes,” Percy said, perplexed. “That’s a fairly standard feature in my nastier dreams, as I’m sure you’ve all guessed.”

 

“No, she literally means you smoked up the room. In the real world. We thought You-Know-Who had come back to play,” Scanlan added.

 

Percy’s eyes widened and his long fingers tangled in the sheets – Keyleth twined them in hers and pulled him close, nudity be damned. He let her, hiding in the crook of her shoulder as he remastered himself.

 

“Relax, it’s okay. He’s gone, he can’t hurt you anymore.” That might be a lie and they all knew it, but it was a comfort nonetheless. Keyleth continued, “We think you might’ve used your Hex in your sleep. It wouldn’t be the first time – magic is weird, you of all people know that. Sometimes it can be… unpredictable.”

 

“Yeah,” Vax chipped in. “You should’ve seen how many bedrolls Kiki had to replace after she got her fire hands trick – she smelled like burnt cotton for weeks.”

 

Another laugh forced its way out of Percy’s throat, but he kept his face hidden in Keyleth’s shoulder. She let him, and ran her hands up and down the length of his back, feeling the muscles gradually unlock.

 

 A beat.

 

“So… that was a panic attack, right?,” Grog says. “’Cause, like… I know Kiki gets ‘em sometimes, and its like the scared comes at you with a big, fuck-off sword, right? Like, in the middle of the night while you’re in your skivvies an’ you’ve got no weapons. And you can’t stop being scared ‘til it leaves, but it looks like it left. So… why’s Percy still feelin’ all…” Apparently at a loss for words, Grog wiggled his hand in Percy’s vague direction.

 

Percy sighs and rests his chin on Keyleth’s shoulder.

 

“I suspect it has something to do with using my own magic against myself… Gods, I can’t believe I’m saying that. I hate magic. I hate magic, why do I have it?”

 

“Beats me,” Scanlan shrugs. “You’re the one who made the deal with the creepy smoke demon thing.”

 

“Touché.”

 

“Darling? Could we… join you? It’s just that I, um… Pike’s really worried and wants to check you over,” Vex said in a rush.

 

Percy sighed again. “Oh, all right. You have my permission to fuss, the lot of you, but only so we can get back to the fun bit later.”

 

Keyleth gulped – she could feel the vibrations of his voice in her chest, his breath tickling her ear. She bit her lip as he settled back in to nose at her neck, warm breath ghosting over her pulse point as it jumped.

 

No, getting back to the fun bit wouldn’t be a hardship at all. From the way she felt his lips curve against her skin, he knew it too, the stuck up bastard.