Percy is too close. It’s for innocuous reasons: he’s only showing her the illustration of the goristro, and they both volunteered to scour the library for information on the demon with the vestige in its belly. Everything about his face being so close to hers is innocent. Why then does every movement around him feel so purposeful? Vex’s heart is beating so loudly she wouldn’t be surprised if Percy could hear the lub-dub of it throbbing against her ribs.
The fact that Percy doesn’t know about her offering to his resurrection ritual, the fact that he remains in sweet, blissful ignorance: Vex has decided to take it as a blessing in disguise. She doesn’t want to distract him from their mission, and he has always been the clever one. They need him at his best, at his most focused. Making things awkward enough to put Percy off his game is a disadvantage that Vex knows Vox Machina cannot afford.
She trusts the rest of the group not to tell Percy about what happened. In time, when the moment is right, she thinks that he deserves to know. For now, though, he will have to wait for it.
Her eyes drift up from the page to his eyes, shielded behind the same gold-rimmed spectacles he always wears. They’ve been mended since his fight with Ripley, the lenses now crystal clear enough to see the light dancing in Percy’s blue eyes, eyes that are currently hinting at a smile and perhaps something more. Her gaze drifts down to his lips before she forces herself to look away. No—she’s going to be good. She needs to stay on target.
“Anyway,” Vex says, voice tight and high in her throat. She needs to get out of this situation. She needs—she needs space, she needs distance, she needs—
Vex moves to leave, but Percy catches her by the wrist.
“Vex’ahlia,” he says quietly. “Nothing’s changed. I’m still…” Percy trails off, trying to find the words to calm her supposed nervousness around him. Vex is confused, but doesn’t pull out of his grasp. “I’m still me. I came back the same. You don’t have to be scared.”
Vex’s brow furrows in consternation. “Scared of you? Darling, even when you had your black smoke issues, I was never afraid.” She tilts her head up at him. “What are you thinking?” she asks.
Percy bites at his bottom lip and tugs the book to his chest. It’s obviously a comforting mechanism, a motion that he must have done countless times before as a child: holding a tome to his heart and hoping for some kind of protection. “You are looking at me differently,” he finally spits out. The unsaid than before rests in the air between them. “And I want to fix it. Whatever it is that is scaring you about me, I want to make it go away.”
He is right, in a way. She is scared of him—scared of how he compromises her judgement. And that is not something he can make go away with a snap of his fingers.
Vex lets out a sad laugh before tugging him in for a hug. “I just don’t want to lose you again,” she hums, turning her head into his chest. “Give me a few days. I’ll get over it.” She’ll give him a partial truth for now. He deserves that at the very least.
The book is squashed between them, but Percy wraps his arms around her all the same. “Time heals,” Percy says, and she can feel him nod against her. “But some wounds fester. Don't let this dig at you.”
Vex pulls back gingerly, fulling disengaging. “There are other things to think about than how I feel. This will dissipate. It’s not important.”
Percy makes a face. “I disagree.” It’s clear he wants to say more, but Vex is done talking. If she continues down this path, she’ll reveal too much of her heart. Considering the twisting turmoil she’s felt in her gut over the last day or so, Vex needs her guard up, not down. Even around friends. Even around him.
“Percival, enough,” Vex warns. He nods, agreeing not to press further. It’s clear Percy isn’t satisfied with her answer, but Vex darts toward the library door before he can reply. Percy follows on her heels, and they bang against each other on the way out.
“After you,” Percy nods, stepping back, and Vex ignores the way her cheeks burn. She decides it’s just the cold.
The terrain of Wildmount is as precarious as ever.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Vax says darkly. They’re stealthing ahead of the group, just the two of them, and Vex is already on edge.
“Shut up, brother,” Vex hisses. Vax throws a middle finger over his shoulder at her and Vex rolls her eyes. “Just be happy he’s not dead, alright?”
“I’ll be happy when you stop being a goddamn ten-year-old and tell him,” Vax says before skirting around an icy pillar that stands before the white dragon’s lair.
“I’ll be happy when you stop being a goddamn ten-year-old,” Vex imitates, but she frowns as her brother’s words fully soak in. How strange. This is not the talk she expected from Vax. “Whatever. Not everyone in this family can throw themselves into a love confession all willy-nilly.”
“I’m just trying to look out for you,” Vax mutters, before putting out a hand to silence their dispute. Something shifts in the distance and both twins take pause, tucking themselves into the shadows until the land stills.
“It’s there,” Vex nods up at the lair. She can sense it in the air. She’s always had a nose for dragon hunting. Vax bites his lip but ultimately nods in agreement.
Vex tugs on her earring and whispers across the magical link, “Vorugal sighted. Prepare the bait, Scanlan.” She releases the earring and looks to her brother.
“Here is my advice,” Vax says as they trek back through the snow. “Stop torturing yourself. Loving someone and not telling them is to die a little, every fucking day.”
Vex’s head whips around at the sound of her brother’s brutal honesty: the way his voice catches in his throat makes Vex’s lower lip wibble. “But I said it already,” she grumps in a somewhat petulant tone, a voice she tends to use with Vax alone: it’s the voice of a child, and it makes her sound small. “I said it, brother. I shouldn’t have to say it again.”
“You told his dead corpse, sister. I’m not sure if that counts.”
“And it took an age for Keyleth to say it back, right,” Vex counters suddenly. She’s tired of being put on the spot by Vax, and she’s more than ready to throw his mistakes in his face to defend herself. “Even if I tell him, who says he’ll say it back. Or feel it.” She looks at her feet.
Vax shrugs. “These things take time.” He smiles at a memory Vex can only guess at. “And, to be clear, she did say it back. Eventually.”
She knocks their shoulders together, her brother’s armor shedding a few black feathers in the process. “Was all the waiting worth it?”
Vax looks out on the horizon where the mansion is set up, where Keyleth is prowling around in her Minxy form, watching and waiting for the two of them to return. “I’d do it again a thousand times over,” he says, and his voice is full of warmth despite the frigid temperatures.
Vex’ahlia’s attempts at sleep in the magnificent mansion are thin at best: she mostly holds Fenthras close, letting its tendrils wrap around her wrist, and tries to find some comfort in the power that seems to grow from it. The weapon is itself a little eerie at times, but the sheer damage it deals more than makes up for the ghoulish way it makes itself known. Some dark part of her thinks that a piece of Saundor still lives inside this vestige, but mostly she thinks that’s all silly nonsense and a vestige is a vestige is a vestige. Right?
One of Fenthras’s tendrils travels up the back of her hand, slowly, like a lover’s touch, and Vex shudders.
A knock shakes her from her silent brooding. Part of her briefly hums with the possibility that it is Percy on her doorstep, followed quickly by panic and a faint sense of nausea. Overall, Vex isn’t sure what she’s expecting, or even what she wants, but when she finds Scanlan looking around nervously in her doorway, she’s both confused and relieved.
“Too much fusaka?” Vex asks, trying for a joke. When his characteristic smirk remains absent, she gestures him inside her room.
“Sorry for coming by so late,” he apologizes. “It’s just—I’d really like to not mess this up tomorrow,” he pulls out the gate scroll with an apologetic look on his face, “and you’re clever.”
“Percy is far cleverer,” Vex defers. Scanlan rolls his eyes.
“Alright, well, you’re clever and I trust you,” he corrects, and Vex crosses her arms over her chest.
“Would you like for me to look at it?” Vex asks.
“Please,” Scanlan gulps, holding out the scroll.
The gate scroll feels ancient in her hands, like if she makes a wrong move the paper might disintegrate entirely. She has never had a gentle touch. In a few ginger motions, she recognizes a few fragments of Draconic, but it is mostly unreadable to her eyes. Still, she can sense the power in the object. It makes the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
“The Draconic word for door is there,” Vex points out. Scanlan nods, peering at the rough scrawl. “And even I can feel that this scroll carries a real punch.”
Scanlan makes a noise of frustration and flops himself face first onto Vex’s bed. “Iznotgunawwerk,” he says, voice muffled by the blankets. He rolls over and sighs dramatically. “I, as you know, am a very powerful magic user. But this is beyond my expertise! I’m not used to being bad at things!”
Vex sits down on the bed next to Scanlan’s supine form. “So wing it. You’re a talented little gnome. Who says you can’t just do it by the seat of your pants?” She winks at him and Scanlan smirks at her.
“No winks for me, my heart belongs to another,” he grins.
“I thought you were letting that Pike thing go!” Vex exclaims.
“I’m talking,” Scanlan plows onwards, hand on his chest, “about my daughter.”
“In a totally platonic and wholesome familial way—”
Vex pretends to gag, hand coming up over her mouth, and Scanlan flips her a familiar middle finger.
“You’re the one with the dirty mind here—”
“Hey, remember when you tried to make some hanky panky with Kay—”
Scanlan snatches the gate scroll back and pouts. “Asshole.”
Vex smiles and pats his head. “I love you, darling.”
“Who wouldn’t?” Scanlan replies in a rote, easy response. He stashes the scroll and takes her hand, kissing her knuckles with a strange gentleness. “Thanks for the pep talk. Stay gold, ranger girl.”
When Scanlan doesn’t let go of her hand, she snatches it away with a roll of her eyes. “Don’t even think about it.”
Scanlan clears his throat. “Can’t blame a man for trying.” It wasn’t exactly a serious come on, and it is such a funny thought that laughter bubbles up in Vex’s throat in spite of herself. She kicks him lightly in the stomach, forcing him backwards toward her door.
“Really, truly. You’ve got this whole gate scroll thing. And if you fuck it up, we’ll deal with it all the same. Together.”
“But it would be really, really cool if it worked,” Scanlan whines.
She nods. “Yeah, it would be.”
A strange look passes over Scanlan’s face, and Vex tilts her head at him like a confused dog. “As you are immune to my charms,” Scanlan starts, “and I am also alive with two working eyes and a brain in my head, I’m can see that it’s a serious torch you’re carrying. Someone who shall not be named but whose name may rhyme with Kaxildan told me to tell you to, and I quote, ‘just fucking tell him.’” Vex can feel her annoyance rising, and Scanlan reads her perfectly. “But that would, of course, be in poor taste.”
“Very poor taste, dear.”
Scanlan leans back against Vex’s door and sighs, like he’s going to regret what he’s about to say but needs to say it anyway. “Here’s some real advice from an old man.” Vex balks at the sight of the cheerful gnome before her. She does not usually consider Scanlan to be the elder of the group, but indeed, he bears years that none of the rest of their party shoulder quite yet. When he smiles, his eyes crinkle at the edges, revealing the crow’s feet that rest there, the only physical sign that time has left its mark on his body. “I think the two of you are so used to shooting at things from far away that you’ve learned to love the world from a distance. Being up close and personal scares you both.” Vex opens her mouth to protest, but Scanlan puts up a hand. “And that’s okay! All of this shit is really scary. But maybe, you can both learn to be less scared together.” He puts his hands up feebly in a don’t hit me I’m small gesture.
Vex is just flummoxed.
“Where the fuck did that come from?” she asks after a beat of silence.
“When I’m not being a total idiot, I’d like to think I’m rather wise,” Scanlan hums.
“Thanks for the advice,” Vex adds begrudgingly. “Though I don’t admit to anything, mind you.”
“You’re welcome,” Scanlan smirks. “In return, you’ll name your firstborn son after me.”
“That’ll go over well,” Vex laughs. “You evil little man.”
“Evil little gnome!” Scanlan corrects, and he scuttles out of her room before she can get another word in edgewise.
The next day, it takes nearly all of Vex’s strength not to shake in fear of the fight that was coming. Even with Lady Kima’s help up front and Raishan’s assistance from the shadows, Vex is terrified that someone is going to die during this monster melee. A goristro versus an ancient dragon versus another ancient dragon versus little old them? The skies are dark, and hail rains down from the heavens: you know, like Vox Machina needed another disadvantage.
She hides Percy as best she can, and it takes almost half an hour to disguise the area. “You know, I think I’ll be alright,” Percy says a little warily as Vex busies herself trying to make his cubby-hole more inconspicuous. “My dear, I have cover.”
“It’s shitty cover,” Vex snaps at him while adjusting some foliage over his hiding spot. “I’m making it better cover. You know. So you don’t die up here.”
Percy perches himself on Bad News like a walking stick and looks her over as she does her best not to look him square on. If she falls into those eyes, she might just take the terrible advice she’s been getting all week. “I don’t plan on dying again any time soon, rest assured,” Percy says in a gentle voice that Vex decides she hates.
“Like it was your choice before,” she hisses at him, throwing around some of the snow over the place where his tether is rather precariously latched to the wall.
“Vex’ahlia,” Percy says. He puts a hand on her arm and she shrugs it off. She’s not ready for this talk; she needs to prepare, mentally and physically, for the dragon to arrive. The idea of opening herself up and being vulnerable with Percy right before she needs to put on her best dragon-slayer’s persona is just incompatible. Vex needs to be fierce. She does not need this softness, not now.
“Stop, I have to go,” she says angrily. “And I just did you a big favor, you were so damn obvious from less than twenty feet up. I could probably have seen you from the moon.”
Vex tucks the broom between her legs and flies off before Percy can come up with a witty retort. The wind pulls at her braid and the icy hail that merely obscures her visibility on the ground whips against her skin in the air like a thousand shards of glass. The pain is worth it to get away from wherever that conversation was leading. She lands and stands atop the cliffside crag, ice beneath her feet, soaked to the bone and stealthed to the best of her ability.
Scanlan walks out into the arena and begins to chant.
It is a bit like Scanlan started the incantation and something else finished it: like Scanlan is the mere conduit to a greater power, one that takes control of his words and changes them into a magic that Scanlan could not have touched on his own. The gate opens, and from Vex’s bird’s eye view of the battlefield, she can see right through it into the fiery Abyssal plane.
The magic pulls the entity through. When, in a blink, the goristro hulks out into the snow, its very essence melts the icy landscape where it stands.
“Now that was fucking magnificent,” Vex whispers over her earring as Scanlan runs back toward the door of the mansion.
“Holy shit,” she hears Percy murmur over the earring connection as Vorugal comes into view.
Vex silently concurs.
The dragon is massive, more massive than Raishan by far. Even Umbrasyl, the Hope Devourer, was smaller than this behemoth. Vex recalls Raishan calling the white dragon Thordak’s main muscle, and as the great beast flaps its way into the battleground, Vex cannot help but think that they might be in a bit over their heads.
Ice crusts over the already snow-trodden ground where Vorugal lands, and Vex shivers as the icy hail that had been falling down upon her shoulders now picks up with even more intensity. Vorugal seems to bring the storm with him. Any creature in his wake will suffer the consequences.
Watching the goristro fight the dragon is like watching a match between titans: it feels unreal, mostly because their plan worked so well. That never happens. She allows herself a smile.
Then the goristro starts to climb towards Percy.
Fuck. Fuck. She should have known better than to hope.
“Jenga, jenga,” Percy is hissing into the earring connection, but Vex doesn’t know where the rest of the group is, or even if they’ve emerged from the pocket dimension of the mansion as of yet.
From there, chaos ensues.
Vax unleashes on Vorugal like a dagger in the dark, using the now reclaimed Whisper with renewed gusto. A flood of affection for her twin courses through her. He is more powerful now than he has ever been before and still the biggest idiot on the planet.
Seeing him fall unconscious makes her scream.
Spells and weapons have been flying across the battlefield, and she sees Vax dart across the sky, his dark wings streaking him through the air like a bullet. She sees him tumble out of sight and then Keyleth is screaming, “Vax!”
“Brother?” Vex calls.
“He’s down, he’s down,” Pike mutters before she lets out a cry of pain.
“KILL THE BEAST,” Scanlan is yelling at her over the earring connection. “That’s what you can do for Vax right now. Kill it before it leaves!”
Her brother is down. Pike is down. And the dragon is beginning to retreat.
Tears forming an icy crust on her face, she steadies herself on her icy perch and takes aim with Fenthras. The weapon curls itself around her wrist, locking itself in place. It knows where she wants to strike.
Vex sees the dragon fall in her mind’s eye before the arrow pierces the beast’s beating heart. “Got you,” she grits through her teeth before releasing the arrow.
The treasure hoard is...gargantuan. It is certainly befitting of a mighty ancient dragon. She looks at the gold and platinum tallies they managed to sock away during their looting and thinks, if we survive this, we’ll never be hungry again.
Vex hasn’t gone to bed hungry in years, but she still remembers the gnawing feeling in her gut. She also remembers the way the children of Syngorn had snickered at her meager trappings when she first arrived in the city. They will never laugh at her again. Not with treasure like this. With this hoard in her coffers, she’d only dress in the finest silks and armor so beautifully crafted it would almost be a shame to wear it onto the battlefield.
“Let’s go meet up with the others,” Scanlan suggests. “Unless you want to run away with what we’ve got. Split it three ways.” Vex shakes her head a little, releasing herself from her reverie. “You’d have more gold, Vex,” he reminds her in a sing-song voice.
She rolls her eyes at Scanlan. “Let’s go back.” It is perhaps the first time she has thought this, but they just might have more than enough to last.
Vax is tending to his wounds when she returns, and she hooks him by the neck with a fond elbow before pulling him in closer. “That was a little too close for comfort,” Vex murmurs into his neck.
“Yeah, yeah,” Vax mutters, tugging her in tightly as well. “We all have our days.” He pulls her back and marvels at her with newfound admiration born from years of familial affection. “Vex’ahlia the Dragon Slayer! They’ll be telling tales of you, sister!”
“Shut up,” Vex grins, punching him lightly on the arm.
“It was really freaking cool,” Vax beams at her. He looks away. “Mum would be proud.”
She rests her head on his shoulder for a while before the group calls it a night. She can feel his shoulders shake when he laughs, as well as the simple rise and fall of his chest. Brothers are good to have around, sometimes.
Vex sleeps like a rock that night and enjoys the peaceful, dreamless sleep of the victorious.
Keyleth spends the next day performing a nature ritual for the Ravinites while the rest of Vox Machina effectively fucks around in the snow. When her brother pulls out his unmentionables for a pissing contest with Scanlan, Vex thinks that this is a perfect time to pull Percy aside.
If she’s going to fall flat on her face, let it be now, with the defeat of Vorugal so fresh on her heels, while victory still flows through her veins. It eggs her on and gives her courage. If she can take down an ancient white dragon, telling Percival her true feelings ought to be a piece of cake.
“Where are we going?” Percy asks her as she pulls him toward the forest. He seems relieved to be leaving the others behind, but also intrigued by her mysterious intent. Vex’s tongue trips on her teeth and she finds the words, the real words, the words she’s held hidden to her chest for so long, those words are hard to come by.
He looks at her expectantly. “What is it?”
Vex feels her heart hammer hard in her chest. She gulps and decides to show him the bow. “Do you know what Fenthras means?” She proffers the weapon, gesturing toward the carving in the wood. He is close, and when he looks at her, Vex marvels at how the icy blue color of his eyes can also betray warmth and kindness. “Growth. It means growth.”
It feels good, talking in the woods: talking about Ripley, about Saundor, about forgiveness and self-doubt. Even if Percy doesn’t return her feelings, he has always been someone who can see her true face and not just the facades she throws up to protect herself from the world. He knows her soul. Perhaps that’s why she fell so damn hard.
She gets close, very close, to telling him. And what she does tell him, all the stuff about forgiving himself and leaving vengeance behind, that’s all true. She’s wanted to tell him that for a long time. “You have—” She almost says my heart, but she bites her tongue and instead manages a feeble, “You have a brilliant mind, Percival.”
He tilts his head at her, like he’s trying to sort something out. Vex looks away.
“That’s all,” she murmurs. And she’s not lying: that’s all she can bear for now. He needs to—he needs to meet her halfway, or not at all. A desperate part of her prays to a god she cannot name for Percy to recognize the words left unsaid.
“Vex,” he finally sighs, “you’re right. My mind has been honed by diligent study, by experiments, by time and hard work. I do use my head. But that does not preclude the fact that I also have a heart.”
A heart? Vex thinks in confusion. She never said anything about hearts. Or maybe every word she spoke to him was imbued in how he makes her breath catch; how when he smiles and his eyes crinkle at the edges, she can see her whole future lining up before her. Maybe she doesn’t need to say anything at all. Maybe it’s been written on her face the whole time.
Before she can think anything else, he takes her face in both his hands. His fingers are gloved, but the leather is smooth against her cheeks. She finds herself raising onto her tiptoes to meet his lips unconsciously, drawn to him like a moth to a flame. This is exactly what she dragged him out into the woods for: a chance at mutual understanding. The kiss itself is gentle and soft in all the ways she doesn’t usually allow herself to be. It’s a good change.
Wildmount is thawing, but a chill in the air remains. The woods that surround them are blanketed with snow seeing its first melt in months. When Percy pulls away, Vex can see her breath condense in front of her face as a gasp escapes her lips. She can feel her heart beating in her ears, and her right hand moves to her lips seemingly of its own volition.
Percy’s usually kempt edges seem to vibrate with a nervous delight that belies his cool demeanor. And Gods, the look he gives her is all fire: his aura radiates with unhinged excitement, like a powder keg ready to ignite.
Regardless, she is no longer cold.
“We’ll talk later,” Percy promises before walking away.
A small smile grows on Vex’s face as she watches him go.
It is strange, wanting something and getting it. Vex hasn’t felt this light-footed in ages.
She tells Keyleth, and that feels good; more than good, it feels steadying. It makes the whole moment in the woods seem more real, especially since Percy hasn’t deigned to reference the kiss in the days since it happened. But Vex understands his desire for discretion. They all saw how difficult Vax had it when he admitted his feelings for Keyleth so publicly. Things were messy, and strained, and the idea that Vax would sacrifice this new made family for a schoolyard crush had, at the time, seemed incredibly foolish. It was part of why Vex had kept her feelings hidden for so long: unlike her brother, she has a rather fragile heart that. Once broken, it remains cracked. Granted, Keyleth and her brother had worked out, but she gets taking their time. It doesn’t mean she likes being left in the dark as to what this all means, but taking things slowly, discretely: those are both things that Vex can agree with.
“Let us discuss what the days ahead are going to look like,” Allura suggests, gathering Vox Machina up and leading them toward the above-ground war room that Vex despises. When the false Seeker Asum appears on her left, Vex has to suppress a shudder. The ruse must continue to assure their allies safety, but the secret weighs heavy on Vex’s shoulders. Vex hopes that when the secret does come out, and it will come out, she won’t have to see Allura or Gilmore’s faces fall in betrayal. She can’t help but imagine the glare of you knew and kept this from us etched into Gilmore’s face, the hurt of you didn’t trust me when I have given you everything in the furrow of Allura’s brows.
She turns to share a nervous look with Percy, but finds that he is not looking at her. And he is not looking guilty. He looks like he’s been lit on fire from the inside, alight with purpose and determination. Her mouth opens to ask him what’s going on when he leaves her side and begins to stroll around the room. His stance pretends to be one of ease and calculated thought, but Vex can see the coiled strength and nervous energy running through his body, can see how his fingertips shake ever so slightly. Vex knows Percy’s tells.
Something is wrong and she knows it. Her own fingers curl around Fenthras protectively.
She just didn’t realize how wrong until Percy moved behind the disguised Raishan and pulled out his blade to stab her in the back. You know, like a madman.
Whitestone is Percy’s home. His legacy. He’s nearly drawn his pistol on fellow party members for merely mentioning the name Whitestone outside of the city limits. And now he wants to start a fight with an ancient dragon inside the fucking castle?
He plays it off well when Raishan blinks away across the room, unscathed and fuming. “No tricks here,” he hisses at the ancient beast, sword of dragon slaying raised but wary. Vex almost laughs at the turn of phrase. She can very well see his true intentions, even if he does his best to hide it from the group. He wanted a brawl. He wanted a fight.
It makes no goddamn sense.
And if Vex can see the truth so easily, can see that Percy was gagging to throw down, a dragon built from deception and trickery sure as hell can see it.
“What in the Nine Hells was that?” Vex asks, pulling him aside after their group meeting in the ziggurat with Allura, Gilmore, and company. Vax gives her a strange look before he follows Keyleth out of the ziggurat, the last of the assembly to clear out. When they’re alone, Vex steps a little closer.
A look passes over Percy’s face, like he’s considering playing dumb or innocent but then reconsiders the lie. “I forced her hand,” he says stiffly, crossing his arms over his chest. Maybe he’s still ready for a fight. “She revealed her true nature to our allies. I’d say it was worth it.”
Vex grabs Percy by the shoulders. “You nearly destroyed everything you’ve ever wanted to keep safe.”
“It was a risk,” Percy says sharply, his eyebrows pressing together. “One I was willing to make. This is, after all, my ancestral home. I knew what I was putting in danger. I’d do it again.”
A small wisp of black smoke seems to curl around the golden rim of his glasses, and Vex takes a step back. She blinks her eyes and the smoke vanishes. Perhaps it was just a trick of the light.
“Can you stop looking at me like that?” Percy finally asks, breaking the uneasy silence that has fallen between them.
“Like what, Percival,” Vex sighs.
“Like you’re afraid of me,” Percy blurts out. He opens his mouth to correct himself, bites his lip, and then refrains. “I don’t scare you, Vex’ahlia. Do I?”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Vex sighs, cupping his jaw with her hand. “I’m afraid of what you might do.” She raises her other hand and takes him by both cheeks. “You’re acting so strangely, darling. What’s going on?”
Percy makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and in a quick, seamless motion, leans down to kiss her. While this is not where she had planned to take this conversation, the physical sensation is more than pleasant, to say the least. His fingers tangle in her hair, rooting themselves at the base of her scalp, and she sighs into the feeling. It’s a bit like kissing a loaded gun: the man is so obviously set to spring, and she’s not sure what’s going to set him off.
She pulls back, breathing heavily. “You can’t just kiss me and not answer my questions.”
Percy kisses her again. Again, it feels good, and again, it leaves her wanting. She pushes him back, her hand in the middle of his chest. As his hands fall from her hair, she can see that they’re shaking. “Percival,” she questions, her voice hardening. She nods at his hands and he flinches, clenching his fists quickly to hide the tremor.
“I died, Vex,” Percy says.
“I know. Same. Don’t brag about it,” Vex jokes. Anything to lighten the dark mood they’re both in.
Percy smiles. “I’m not bragging,” he assures her. “Death, though. It gives one a different perspective.” Percy shrugs knowingly at Vex, like she ought to share this opinion, considering their shared experiences. “Certain things came to the forefront.” He tangles the end of her braid between his fingertips, and his touch is like someone setting fire to a fuse. It is as if Vex wants to burn it all down, too. “Things like how a girl ought to be loved. Like how to damn the consequences.”
The torchlight glimmers in Percy’s eyes, and Gods, he is a match burning. He cannot possibly maintain this kind of intensity for long.
Perhaps that is the point.
“You know, I used to feel like that too,” Vex says quietly. “After the tomb.” Percy’s posture stiffens at the memory. “That I wasn’t afraid to die anymore.”
He frowns at her. “Why did that feeling fade?”
Vex laughs to herself. “Oh, you know. Found someone worth living for.” Vex’s face feels hot for a second, and she knows she’s blushing under his direct gaze. “And, my brother. He’d drag me back or follow me there. So I’d rather not give him that option. You know he’d take it,” she adds darkly.
Percy grimly nods in agreement. “He doesn’t need that kind of encouragement.”
“You asked if I was afraid of you,” Vex brings back. Percy nods, and when she steps back from him, she can see the heartbreak in his eyes. “I am afraid of this reckless attitude, Percy. I know we live dangerous lives, I know that, but I can’t love someone with such little consideration for their own livelihood. I get enough of that from my damn brother. Aren’t you supposed to be the clever one?”
Percy crosses his arms over his chest. “The time for caution is over. This is the endgame.”
Vex turns away from him to face the dark orb that centers the ziggurat. “I don’t want to be something you can only love when you throw caution to the wind.” As she says the words, she finds the truth in them heady and real. “I know I’m a hard thing to love, but that’s bullshit. If this is going to work, I need to know that this isn’t just a desperate, flash-in-the-pan attempt at feeling something besides absolute terror before we all crash and burn in some insane blaze of death and glory.” Vex quirks her head at him, her chin tilting to the side as she evaluates the man who stands before her. “I don’t want that, Percy. I don’t want to be a distraction.” She wants to be his future. She wants to plant seeds of a real life here in Whitestone. She wants to feel grounded here with him.
Vex feels Percy approach her from behind. His hand cups her upper arm, and he runs his thumb along the armor there. At another time, she might have thrilled under this touch, but now Vex blazes with a righteous fury that courses through her veins. She can barely feel his fingers rubbing against her. “We might die. Again.”
She whips around to face him, tears pricking at the edges of her eyes. She has to make him understand. “And we might live, Percival! Nine Hells, I don’t know what scares you more.” When Percy doesn’t reply, simply bites his lip and waits, she continues. “Tell me you see a future here. One with—with a life. A real life. Not running from dragons or beholders or what have you. Something with substance.”
“Danger does not make our lives less real,” Percy points out.
“Percy, I’m talking about stability. About making roots. Gods, don’t you want that?” The words slip from her lips roughly hewn: she hasn’t practiced them at all. This is the raspy, quiet plea of someone admitting everything they’ve ever wanted for the first time. This was what made Greyskull Keep so hard to leave after the Conclave attacked Emon. She had poured her heart into that place, made it her own, made a damn home after living on the road for so many years. There were certainly grander keeps and far finer castles, but Vex had laid down roots. Leaving hurt.
When she looks back up at Percy, for the first time in a long time, he seems very young in her eyes. The last time his youth had struck her so intensely was the day she found him chained up in the cultist’s prison: he had been so frail and weak that he had appeared barely of age. Once they’d gotten a few weeks of solid food on his bones, the boy had filled out into the shape of a man, and he talked like he was some kind of posh, ancient thing that Vex had laughed to herself at the idea he could ever seem childish. But now, in this argument, Vex is struck once more by his youth. She can’t be more than a few years older than him, but she looks into his eyes and sees it: that fiery, unerring focus that only the young can carry in their heart. It’s like fighting with a brick wall.
Percy frowns. “I was born into a noble lineage, I dare not ask for more.” He clears his throat, his face growing dark and troubled. “I don’t deserve more.”
“Well, I do,” Vex says viciously, reflexively. It comes out before she can hedge her words, but the time for honeyed words is over. She leaves Percy there in the dust.
She feels her face twist into a wince as she leaves the castle. Leaving always hurts.
The forest outside of Whitestone is thick and green as she runs through it. If Vex were in her right mind, she would note that the lush nature of the land has started to grow anew since they rescued it from the clutches of the Briarwoods. If, perhaps, she were Keyleth, she would take the time to notice the new foliage and the way the forest animals have returned, even in spite of the heavy rain that pours down around her.
The skies have cracked open since they transported back to Whitestone earlier that morning: gray clouds hang above her, no sign of the sun in sight. The rain that had started out at a fairly light drizzle when she left the city limits has begun to come down in a full on torrent. The woods shield her some, but not enough: she is drenched long before her feet wander from solid stone to movable soil. Perhaps the farther she runs from the scene of her incredible idiocy, the less stupid she’ll feel. So far, it’s not working, but Vex is determined and the forest has many miles to traverse. Somewhere in between here and there, maybe she’ll find the reason why exactly she has to sabotage her own happiness every single fucking time she comes close to something that just might make her a little less miserable.
She’s not focusing on her environment when a tree branch sideswipes her shoulder. She hisses at the pain and slows down, clutching at her arm. Vex will definitely have a bruise tomorrow. “Ow,” she groans, throwing herself back against a large tree in frustration. “Fuck,” she adds, more quietly.
Vex closes her eyes, lifts her head up, and allows the rain to soak her face for a long time.
She thinks about popping Trinket out of the Raven’s Slumber, but he’ll only get drenched and matted in the storm. Instead, she lets the jewel rest in the middle of her palm, and it comforts her all the same. If all else fails, she’ll have her brother, her broom, and her bear. And that’s something.
It’s not everything, though.
Maybe we don’t get everything we want, Vex muses. Maybe she’s asking for too much. Maybe she should throw caution to the wind like Percy. She could ignore the risks and just have fun with the limited time she has left before Thordak incinerates her where she stands.
But that has never been Vex’s way.
“Vex’ahlia,” a voice calls out, and Vex’s eyes snap open. A streak of white and blue bursts into the clearing where she’s taken her rest. Percy looks out of breath but relieved to see her. “There you are.”
Vex grimaces. “Here I am.” She decides she’s not going to apologize because she’s not sorry. She stands by the things she said to him. They’re all still true.
“It’s raining, you know,” Percy points out blithely, and Vex shrugs. “You’ll catch a cold,” he adds in a softer voice.
“Who cares?” Vex laughs mirthlessly. “We could be dead tomorrow. Doesn’t matter if I get sick.” Percy frowns, and Vex throws her head back at stares up at the tree canopy.
That Vex doesn’t expect.
“Excuse me?” Vex asks, her head whipping down to glare incredulously at Percy. But he’s just looking at her like she hangs the moon.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.” Percy steps toward her, and she finds the edge of her mouth quivering. “You know me too well, Vex. I’ll do better.” He clears his throat. “And they say I’m the clever one.”
“I wouldn’t call stabbing ancient dragons and threatening a rather tenuous alliance too clever,” Vex points out.
“Not clever at all,” Percy muses. His mop of white hair is slicked back with the rain, and he runs his hands through it in a quick, nervous gesture of which Vex finds herself rather fond. His words come quickly now, like if he slows down, he might not be able to get them out at all. “Of course I want a life with you. It’s just—so, so hard to think about. I want it so badly that I’m scared to think about it too much.”
“Scared?” Vex scoffs, but her heart is singing.
“Oh, you must know that you terrify me,” Percy says plainly. There’s a smile on his lips but a glint of reluctant truth rests in his eyes.
“I’m not scary,” Vex harrumphs in faux-disgruntlement, feeling mildly triumphant.
Percy crosses the clearing and takes her by the hand. He is a shock of warmth in the downpour. “If I think about anything beyond this war that we’re orchestrating, about a future in Whitestone, a future with you—it feels like such there is such a small chance of success.”
Vex looks away. “I know, I get it. Why get your hopes up?”
“No. Vex, look at me,” Percy asks, his voice rough and low. When she cannot bare to face him head on, he tilts her chin up with the back of his thumb, and she lets him. Her eyes wander from the patches of red in the hollows of his cheeks to the rain dripping down his nose to his eyes, dark blue and just as stormy as the skies above them. “Because it’s better to sustain yourself on the hope for a happy ending someday than to barely survive off the fumes of the desperate, miserable present.”
Vex feels the fight go out of her as Percy finally seems to understand her completely. A tightness eases in her chest that she hadn't noticed until the squeezing feeling had simply ebbed away, dripping down her body with the rain. “Yes. Exactly.”
He has her by the chin, by the waist, and by the heart. “I think too often about how we are cut from the same cloth,” Percy murmurs. “And if you want me to go, I’ll go back to the castle. Give you space. Let whatever this is...dissipate.”
“No, please. Don’t leave,” Vex replies, voice tight in her throat. She had not planned on begging, but the words seem to come not from her head but from her heart, and she cannot begrudge them. “Not ever.”
Percy’s brow furrows and he leans in infinitesimally. “From the moment I saw you, I knew. I saw it in your eyes when you unshackled me from that cultist prison. I did not even know myself back then, but I saw you and I knew it.” The rain is beating down mercilessly on them now, and it is like the two of them are trapped in another plane of existence: to Vex, nothing else exists besides the way his finger brushes across her chin.
Vex noses forward in a small movement. “What did you know?”
“That we are two elementary bodies in an imperfect orbit, circling around each other for years,” Percy smiles. “We have always been destined to collide. I knew it then and I know it now.”
“So we’re some kind of crash,” Vex deduces, a small, choked laugh escaping her lips. She does not like the sound of this.
“No. No, dear.” Percy’s nose nudges against hers and Vex’s breath catches. “We are two friends approaching in a verdant wood. This is the crossroads, and here, you see me for exactly what I am.” He makes a surprised hum that reverberates low in his throat. “I never intended to be anyone’s open book, and yet I can feel your fingerprints on the edges of my pages,” he murmurs, his voice low and gravelly. “And I see you in return. The real you. Not the pretend faces you put on for the world. I see the girl behind the masks.”
That’s a daunting thought. Vex bites at her lip. “So you see a lost fool?” Percy frowns at Vex’s suggestion. “Or a greedy, heartless bastard? Maybe a runaway seeking stations she will never attain?”
“You are the first snowmelt of the year,” Percy explains. Vex has to strain to listen to his words over the harsh rain whipping down around them. “You are a torch in the darkness. You are a compass that points exactly where I want to go.” With each pronouncement, Percy’s words get faster and faster, like the sooner he can get her to comprehend what she is to him, the sooner they can finally, finally end this torture. “When I was dead, I felt you, even then. I think I could recognize your voice anywhere. Even when I’ve been torn asunder by the demons of my past.”
Vex flushes mightily under Percy’s thumb. “Then you know.”
“I know many things,” Percy shrugs.
Vex makes a face. “Don’t be an asshole.”
Percy smiles before answering with a smug, “Can’t help it.” He leans in another inch and murmurs with finality, “I wish my offer to be plain.” He touches his forehead to hers, and Vex’s stomach tightens in anticipation. “You said I had your heart.”
“Yes,” Vex sighs. He is so close that she can feels his words echo against her lips.
“I, for one, cannot see a future without you by my side,” Percy says. “Any path that diverges from you is one I dare not take.” He clears his throat before continuing. “With you, I am spellbound.”
“I barely use any magic at all,” Vex says, but she can feel the corners of her mouth twitch up in a small smile.
“That is not what I mean and you know it,” Percy says, and he brushes some wetted down hair out of her face. “What I mean is that, well.” Percy’s shoulders shift, like he’s been carrying a heavy burden and has finally let it settle to the ground. “If you'll have me, I’m yours, body and soul: tattered and worn as they both are.”
Vex’s vision is blurry from the rain, or from her own tears, she cannot tell. “You love me?” she asks.
“I do,” Percy nods. A faint flush colors the apples of his cheeks and Vex finds herself smiling. “It’s not hard. Loving you—that’s the easy part.” He flushes a little under her direct gaze. “You are more than worthy of love. I find myself lucky to be in a position to offer you my heart. I hope,” and he clears his throat a little nervously, “I hope it is satisfactory.”
Percy cups her jaw with his hand, and Vex finds herself covering his hand with her own. She threads her fingers over his and sighs into his touch. She is only vaguely aware of the rain at this point.
“Yes,” Vex says, bridging the small gap between their lips for a kiss. “It is more than enough,” she sighs against his mouth, kissing him once more.
She is drenched, they are both soaked to the brim with the storm that rains down upon them, but Percy is warm to the touch and his kiss stokes the coals that seem to rest in her gut, warming her from the inside out.
Vex enjoys people with fiery, reckless personalities who burn bright like the sun. Hell, she’s been her brother’s keeper for many years, and he’s the definition of rash. She loves him still. He keeps her on her toes and keeps her guessing. But one can only dance en pointe for so long. Ultimately, Vex craves solid ground. She wants something that can last: something that can plant itself into the dirt and grow thick and strong and tall.
She leans against the foundation of Whitestone castle with Percy at her side and notes the stability of his stature. He looks at her and she feels tethered.
The rain has cleared out, sun barely peeking through the clouds. “Want a bird’s eye view of your city?” Vex suggests as she watches Percy peruse the wide expanse of Whitestone before them. She holds out her broom and waggles her eyebrows. “Everything the light touches shall be your kingdom.”
“Shut up,” Percy laughs. “And yes. Please.”
He sits behind her on the broom and she wills it into the air with its Draconic command word. Percy tightens his grip around her waist as they take off into the sky. She yells out, “Don’t look until I say,” and he dutifully turns his face into her neck. She can feel his eyelashes against her skin and she shivers lightly.
Vex takes the broom higher and higher, circling around the turrets of the castle. She can see Kynan and Jarett with the gunners on one of the higher towers, and she waves to them gleefully before climbing higher into the air. Kynan just stares at her, but Jarett waves back and calls out, “Happy landings!”
Percy laughs into her hair. “Something tells me you’re making fools of us.”
“Always, darling,” Vex says with a grin. She settles at the top of Whitestone castle, where the view is immaculate and cloudless and the city sprawls beneath them like a map. “Look.” She feels Percy’s head raise from its tucked position. “That’s your city. Your home. Take it in.”
Percy is quiet for a long moment. “I’ve always thought the city beautiful, but it seems I’ve been looking from the wrong angles all along.”
The view is exquisite. The whitestone of the city, slick with the recent rain, now shines so brightly in the afternoon sunlight that the city looks like it’s been made from a metallic silver.
“When this is all over, we’ll come back here,” Percy says resolutely. “And then it will be home. Our home. Does that sound reasonable, my Lady?”
“Yes, my Lord,” Vex nods, leaning back for a kiss over her shoulder. Her heart is full to the brim with hope and deep affection for the man with his arm around her waist. “Very reasonable.”