“That’s Lady Vex’ahlia, as we’ve recently wed,” Percy tells Syldor, his tone saccharine but deadly. “So, good sir, despite your relationship with her, do watch your manners.”
Grog squawks out a confused, “What the shit? ” before all hell breaks loose.
Part of the reason Vex hates her father so much is that she sees too much of herself in his unkind, detached eyes. Vax, she thinks, has it easier: he had just inherited the looks, the features of Syldor Vessar, avoiding the malevolent multitudes that Vex seems to drown in every day. Watching her father both in and out of the house, Vex had witnessed the deception of hiding your true face to the world. Even the face Syldor wore at home with just his two bastard children, even that face was guarded and distant. Vex wondered what he looked like when he stood alone, unfettered by his obligations to the world. She wondered if he would look kinder. Maybe he would just look tired.
Vex practices her mask in the mirror, pricking her finger with a sharpened nail until it draws blood. She wants to wince, wants to flinch, but instead she steels herself in the mirror and fixes her gaze. Vex forces herself to smile through the pain. There, she thinks. Now no one knows what you’re thinking.
She finds that concealing physical pain is child's play—it is far easier to hide than pain born from emotional wounds. When the other children shun them for the clothes the twins stubbornly hold onto, the same clothes Mother had made them before disaster had struck, her eyes prick with unbidden tears. Of course, Vax tries to fight them, as he is wont to do. Vex joins him in kind when it looks like five-against-one isn’t exactly a fair advantage. Their teachers break up the scuffle, and Vex finds herself with a split lip, standing side by side with Vax in her father’s study. “I got you too late,” Syldor tells them angrily. “You grew up wild. There’s no taming you now.”
She can see that Vax is trying not to cry. “I hate you!” he yells at Syldor, who takes the exclamation without the slightest change in expression. Gods, Vex is jealous of that kind of control.
Vex says nothing, just lets out a deep breath before looking up at her father with the most impassive expression she can muster. “You’re right, father. We’re sorry.”
Vax looks at her with a betrayed expression on his face. “Vex’ahlia—”
“At least your sister sees reason,” Syldor interrupts, surveying her with a newfound respect, like he finally sees a flicker of himself in her eyes.
The twins are grounded for a week, and Vax is more than displeased. “Are you trying to be friends now with that asshole?” He spits the curse like he knows he’s not supposed to use that kind of language.
Vex stares out the window of their shared bedroom into the streets of Syngorn, saying nothing. The open window allows in a gentle breeze, and it ruffles her braided hair in a tantalizing, come hither sort of way. “Pack your bags,” Vex says quietly. “We’re leaving tonight.”
Scanlan is the first one to break the thick silence that surrounds the group once they’re behind closed doors. “I think I speak for all of us when I say: how did I not serve as both chaplain and jaunty reception entertainment?”
“What the fuck,” Keyleth whispers, her hands over her mouth, looking from Percy to Vex in wide-eyed astonishment, “is happening?”
Vex says nothing but stands by herself in the center of the room. She’s decided that her brain had some kind of misfire, that she had fully imagined the moment upstairs where her father had offered her and Percy couples accommodations, a room he'd described as "befitting the Lord and Lady of Whitestone.” The guards are to lead them to said room for their evening’s rest and right now, all Vex can do is imagine a long night slept on the floor. She consigns herself to it almost immediately: she’s slept on rougher terrain, and though they’ve made their bed, metaphorically, she doesn’t have to literally sleep in it.
“Yeah, that’s what I’d like to know,” Vax butts in after Keyleth, both daggers in hand, not to stab anyone, but to occupy his twitching fingers. Vex had watched him bite through his own glove while Syldor marveled at the excellent match, one quite above her station, that Vex’ahlia had managed to find.
"Well, excuse me for wanting to see that slimy look wiped off your father’s face,” Percy huffs. He looks over at Vex a little apologetically, like he hadn’t anticipated the group reacting so strongly. “I just couldn’t stand the sight of you looking so—”
“Angry?” Vex asks, finally speaking up. She had felt the frustrating rage coursing through her veins during the entire encounter with her asshole of a father: tears had pricked at the edges of her eyes, not for missing a life un-lived under Syldor's roof, but out of bitter, bottomless betrayal that breaks her fucking heart.
“Small,” Percy says gently. “He made you look small.”
“So you just lied? ” Vax asks, astonished.
“So I lied,” Percy shrugs. “Means to an end, the end being: the look on your father’s face.”
“It was rather marvelous,” Vex smiles to herself as the memory of Syldor’s shock and strange admiration returns to her. “Not that I care what he thinks,” she adds, looking a little nervously at Vax. Her brother is still glaring at Percy, though, and she lets out a small sigh of relief.
“I enjoyed seeing our father tongue-tied as much as the rest of you, if not more,” Vax amends, glancing at Vex. “But how long are you actually going to keep this charade up?”
“Are you two actually married?” Grog asks. “Because, like. A lot of things go over my head, but I thought you’d at least invite us to the party to get nice and friendly with some bridesmaids or something.”
“I think I would remember getting married,” Vex says as she turns away from the group, wanting to hide her face. As a child, she had barely allowed herself fanciful dreams of an ornate dress and a vow of love before the gods. Marriage—it was a stupid, naive wish, one that Vex does not think much about anymore. She pushed that dream away, considering it a childish fantasy of the highest order. There are more important things in the world, things like defeating evil and making a profit. And besides, Vex does not consider herself the marrying type, these days. Not the way she is now: so rough and hardened by the world. She is not—well, weddings, like the ones she attended as a child in Syngorn...those ceremonies are for daintier things.
Vex is not dainty anymore. Perhaps she never was.
She lets out a quiet sigh before hugging her arms to her chest. In a quick moment, Vex feels a familiar touch at her elbow.
“Say the word, and I dagger, dagger, dagger. I’m with you.” It is, of course, Vax at her side, his eyes large and knowing. He recognizes her wistful despair.
So Vex makes a decision and steels herself, rolling her eyes with a casual grin that she’s perfected over the years. It’s a smile she pulls out only when she needs it: a grin that is the backbone of her it’s fine facade. “You need to lay off, brother. Percy was doing me a favor. Nothing more.”
A moment passes where Vax just stares at her, evaluating her reaction. He knows her best of all, but Vex has had years of practice trying to elude his piercing gaze. Ultimately, he frowns at her before sheathing his weapons, and Vex lets out a small sigh of relief. “Alright, sister,” he nods, and Vex clenches, knowing that tone of voice: there will be a Serious Talk later that she is not looking forward to.
“Shotgun best man,” Scanlan pipes up, elbowing Percy. “You know. In case your new father-in-law asks about the ceremony. In detail.”
“Can I be the flower girl?” Keyleth asks as Vax simultaneously gawks at Scanlan, “You’re best man over my dead body! ”
“That can be arranged,” Grog suggests at Vax. He and Scanlan high-five briefly before Vax starts chasing Scanlan around the room in a frenzy for an opportune noogie.
Percy catches her eye from across the room and shrugs, as if to say, what can you do?
Once the group calms down and prepares for a long rest, Percy wanders over to Vex. “We have alternative accommodations,” he reminds her, and she nods, heading for the door.
The guards are waiting for them outside. “Come, your suite has been prepared,” one of them tells her as she emerges from behind the door with Percy on her heels.
“So,” Percy starts, a strange awkwardness in his voice. Laughter bubbles up Vex’s throat, the nervous energy spilling through her like lightning shooting down from the sky. Her skin seems to crackle, prickling up as she suppresses a shiver.
The room is generously decorated: gilded furnishing spans its entirety, filigree of the highest order dancing down the carved wooden furniture placed throughout. It is the kind of room that Vex has always dreamed of owning, the kind of ornamentation she imagined she’d someday decorate their keep with—once they’d made their fortune, of course.
There is, of course, one bed. It is a large bed, and Vex could conceivably sleep in the bed with Percy and not touch him the entire night, but Nine Hells it would be awkward.
“So I’ll take the floor then?” Percy suggests.
Vex bites her lip. Fuck awkwardness, she’s slept closer to Percy while camping out in the wilds. “Don’t be a baby,” Vex decides. “We’re both adults. We can sleep peacefully in a large, comfortable bed together. It’s nicer trappings than we’ve both seen for a while. Might as well enjoy it.” Vex wipes her palms on her leathers, sweat coming off her palms in large swathes against her thighs. “Right?”
Percy clears his throat. “Yes, of course.”
“Of course,” Vex repeats. She looks from the bed, to Percy, and then back to the bed again.
“Right, well. Let’s sleep, then,” Percy says, voice oddly tight and breaking on the word sleep, like there’s something caught in his throat.
Vex undresses minimally: her armor and padding comes off, but she leaves her undershirt on and does not even think about taking off her small clothes. Overall, it’s not an uncomfortable way to sleep, and when she slides into her side of the large bed, she lets out a little moan of contentment. “Percival, this bed is so comfortable.”
Percy rolls his eyes from where he is setting down his glasses on the nightstand. “I’m sure I’ve slept on better,” he grins, and Vex laughs at him from under the covers. Hilariously, when Percy slips under the covers on his end of the bed, shirtless and strange-looking to Vex’s eyes without his glasses, he also makes a noise of approval. “Alright,” he grins at her. “Not bad at all.”
Vex stares up at the ceiling for a long time before turning her head toward Percy. “Percival,” she whispers in the dim light of the suite.
“It’s bedtime, Vex’ahlia,” Percy says, voice rough.
“Thank you,” she says quickly. “For—for what you did. For the title. And the fake wedding.”
She sees Percy smile in the darkness. “It was more than worth it to see the look on your father’s face. Also the look on Grog’s face, that one was pretty priceless, too.” Vex laughs at the memory and nods to herself. “He’s not worth the dirt on your boots. You know that, right?” Percy adds. Vex knows he’s talking about her father now, and she sees his surprised but impressed face in her mind’s eye once more. It had felt good to see him eye her with what looked like an inkling of respect. She’s just not sure if she likes that it made her feel good. “I thought you needed a bit of a...boost.” Percy leans up on his elbow to stare at her in the dark.
“Maybe I did,” Vex defers. She doesn’t exactly have a high opinion of her father, but she knows an exaggeration when she hears one.
“Things will go right back to normal once we leave Syngorn,” Percy vows.
Her stomach sinks. “Back to normal,” Vex repeats, and she hopes the disappointment doesn’t show in her voice.
She comes to a slow, easy consciousness early the next morning. Everything is warm and comfortable, and Vex snuggles deeper into the cocoon of pillows surrounding her. Something makes a noise from behind her, and she burrows backwards against the warm body that seems to wrap around her at every angle.
Vex’s eyes shoot open in alarm. Warm body?
It takes a moment or two to realize that Percy’s arm is around her waist in a tight grip, like his subconscious mind doesn’t want to let go of her. His lean body is pressed up against her back, his form mimicking the arch of her own. He’s molded himself to her every curve, and has even found a way to wrap around her sharper angles. He’s not squashing her by any means, but there’s no way she’s going to be able to get up without waking him. She shudders a little at the sensation of his mouth at the back of her neck, breathing in little sleepy huffs against her skin. It’s not uncomfortable, physically. It is, in fact, inspiring a rather gooey, pleasant feeling in her stomach. Vex just knows that a conscious Percy would never allow himself this small pleasure.
Vex, in perhaps not the most virtuous choice, closes her eyes and decides to pretend for a while.
It would not be hard to buy into this farce. He is conventionally attractive, give or take a shock of gray hair (and Vex likes the hair, but don't tell him that). Furthermore, Percy is more than clever enough to keep up with her—it’s not like she’s trying to date Grog—and he is good at heart, even if he doesn’t want to believe it.
She curls back into the bend of Percy’s hip and he lets out a small sigh of contentment.
It will be easy to sell this story, Vex decides. After all, the easiest lies are born from shadows of the truth. Percy’s arm tightens around her abruptly, like now that he has her, he has decided to never let go. “Five more minutes,” he mutters into the bedraggled nest of hair on her head. She runs her fingers along the back of his hand and she can see herself, years from now, touching him in the same way with the same casual intimacy.
Enough, Vex thinks to herself. Enough of this farce. It’s one thing to lie to her father. It’s another thing entirely to lie to herself.
“Percival,” Vex tries, trying to pry herself away from the easy languor that seems to rest on her skin like a heavy blanket.
“Not here are at the moment,” Percy replies, voice rough with disuse. “Leave a message.” He is quiet for a long pause, as if his brain is slowly realizing their compromised situation, before rolling away from her to the other side of the bed. It leaves a cold draft at her back, and Vex suppresses a shiver. “Shit. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize, darling,” Vex waves off easily, her outwardly serene manner far more relaxed than the adrenaline and excitement that thrums through her veins.
“It was—unintentional—I don’t,” Percy stammers, scrambling for his glasses and his undershirt. “I don’t expect anything from you during our engagement, is what I mean. Certainly not that.”
Vex sits up in bed and clears her throat. “Of course you don't. You're a gentleman,” she says, smiling brightly at him with false enthusiasm. Stupid, stupid. There’s a reason why she doesn’t daydream anymore.
Percy stares at her for a moment, like he's finding something incongruous about their current situation and describing himself as a gentleman. His gaze, searching and a little confused, forces Vex to turn away. Instead, there’s a mirror on a vanity near the door that draws Vex in. Her visage is, as expected, unkempt and bedraggled from a full night’s rest, and Vex tugs at her messy braid to make herself more presentable for walking the streets of Syngorn as a foreign noble. There’s a certain way she likes her braid: put together but with a few strands out, her feathers arranged in purposeful disarray. Messy by choice. Much like the rest of her life.
“Vex,” Percy starts as Vex ties the end of her braid with a ribbon. “There’s something I need to—” Vex looks over her shoulder to see Percy standing there awkwardly. He’s holding something in his closed fist, and he’s holding whatever it is tight enough that his knuckles are turning yellow-white in exertion. “Married people wear rings,” is what Percy comes up with, and he opens his palm.
The stone of the ring is sapphire blue. “To match my eyes?” Vex jokes—her eyes are a honey-brown color—because if she doesn’t joke she might just start to cry. Percy laughs.
“No, not your eyes,” Percy says with a grin. He reaches out and for a moment, Vex thinks that he’s going to take her head in his hand and kiss her. Instead, his fingers dust along the edge of the large, deep blue feather that sits behind her ear.
“Oh,” Vex nods in understanding, her voice small and tight. “Well. Thank you.”
Percy doesn’t put the ring on her finger, just places it on the vanity before her. “It’ll do for now,” he shrugs before tugging on his coat and turning away from her entirely.
Vex slips the ring on. It is warm to the touch, Percy’s body heat still present in its metal band.
Vex and Percy meet the rest of the group as they go about their various errands in Syngorn for Garmelie and only gets a wink and an eyebrow waggle from Scanlan. Vex is grateful. The guards address her as “m’lady,” when she passes them in the halls, and the smug pleasant feeling that settles in her stomach feels better than she had anticipated. Vex glances at Percy and he’s looking back at her too, evaluating her smile.
“Like I said: they’re shit, and you’re you,” he shrugs. “Now with title.”
“And husband,” Vex winks at him. Percy grins and offers her his arm as they begin their walk through the streets with their friends.
Vax is the first to her side when Saundor falls. Keyleth is on his heels. “I’m sorry,” Vex huffs, feeling weak. Vax pops open a potion and feeds it to her.
“Shut up,” Vax says viciously. “Shut up and drink this.”
The potion tastes clear and fresh, in stark contrast to the Shademirk Bog that surrounds them. She closes her eyes and feels the healing energy of the magic inside the potion course through her. Vax is supporting her with one knee behind her shoulder-blades and an arm behind her neck. “Ooh. I’m so quenched.”
Vax rolls his eyes down at her, but his expression is bright and proud. “Sarcastic as ever.”
Vex sits up onto her hands and knees. Guilt in all its many layers racks her mind, and she finds it hard to look her friends in the eye. -“I’m sorry,” she repeats, staring at the dark, sticky ground that seeps between her fingers. “I wasn’t sure what to do, and I just—maybe I should have—”
“No,” Keyleth says. Her voice is open and assuring, and when Vex looks up, she finds herself surrounded by Keyleth’s vast array of orangey-red curls. Her freckled face can’t hold deception well, and seeing the truth of Saundor sitting in the lines of her upturned mouth gives Vex strength she didn’t know she had. Keyleth offers Vex a bronzed hand and pulls her up to stand. “He was a dick.”
If there is one thing Vex admires about Keyleth, it is how she can stand in her convictions with confidence. She may not have a lot of charisma, not like Scanlan does, but the woman is wise enough to know the moral path through most situations. That doesn’t mean she’s infallible, or that she doesn’t make mistakes. Hells, they all do. But Keyleth’s mistakes are generally born from a desire to do good. Vex’s mistakes are born from baser things, from greed and insecurity, from knowing something is wrong and doing it anyway.
“He really was, wasn’t he,” Vex says with a sigh, and she sways into Keyleth’s shoulder, partly as a sign of affection, partly because the room is still spinning a little. She shivers, noting how now that her adrenaline is subsiding, the black muck that has stuck to her in every possible place seems to conduct the chill of the bog. As her heart stops beating quite so fast, Vex finds that she is becoming cold in her bones.
“Vex’ahlia,” Percy calls from across the way. He holds Fenthras aloft in one of his hands and Vex focuses on his silhouette in the dark atrium of the tree. “I’ve got you a wedding present.”
“Because we really need to keep that up while we’re alone together,” Scanlan remarks, looking down at his nails. Vex just watches Percy stride toward her, victory in his eyes. She shivers again, and Keyleth frowns.
“Your vestige,” Percy grins, handing the bow over. He bows a little and Vex has to smile. Looking up through his lashes at her, he grins. “And Keyleth is right, he really was a dick.”
Vex is distracted from Percy’s comforting words by how the weapon seems to come alive in her hands. The bow itself is made of moving tree branches and leaves in every shade of green she’s ever imagined. Some of its tendrils curl around her wrist in what Vex can only describe as affectionately, like the weapon hasn’t been taken care of in some time and is anxious for some tenderness. Vex knows the feeling.
She holsters the bow around her body, moving away from Keyleth and standing on her own two feet. She suppresses another shiver before beginning the long walk out of the bog.
They camp at the base of the Gilded Run, and when Vex sits down in a heap, she is surprised to find something being draped over her shoulders in turn. Blue fabric comes down around her periphery and her body is flooded with warmth. Percy’s coat.
Percy doesn’t say anything, just goes over to Keyleth to talk about some of the plants he’s been sketching in his notebook and how they could replant some in Whitestone. Vex tugs the edges of the jacket closer, curling her chin down to touch her tucked-in knees. She tries not to think too long about Saundor’s offer. Instead, she breathes in through her nose and tries to ground herself in the earth.
She drifts in and out of a light sleep for the next few hours. Grog is snoring loudly next to her, and Scanlan is passed out over by Percy’s prone form. She closes her eyes for a while and when she wakes up, she sees Keyleth and Vax sitting side by side, hands tangled together like roots that have spent years growing in tandem.
“Are you alright?” Vax asks, his murmur a mix of affection and worry.
“I’m always alright,” Keyleth smiles at him, and Vex’s heart breaks with how Vax’s face crumples.
“I know I think that way,” Vax starts, but Keyleth shushes him gently, putting a finger on his lips. “I think that you’re invulnerable. That you’ll survive anything. I don’t like being reminded of your mortality.” He leans forward and kisses her, and Vex knows she should look away. She doesn’t, simply watching as Keyleth melts a little against him. “We can wake Scanlan up for next watch,” Vax murmurs. “I’d like—I’d like to hold you tonight. If that’s alright.”
Vex should see it coming, but when Keyleth’s eyes dart toward Scanlan’s snoozing body, she makes contact with Vex’s piercing gaze. Vex isn’t sure what kind of aura she’s exuding, but Keyleth’s hand snaps away from Vax’s in a quick motion. “Let’s wake Scanlan up,” she defers.
Vex frowns and pulls Percy’s coat around her tighter, turning away from the lovers before her. She fingers at the ring on her hand as she falls asleep in the grass.
The planeshift back to Whitestone feels like Vex has missed a step at the bottom of a staircase: her stomach bottoms out and she gasps at the sensation of solid ground beneath her feet. She squeezes Vax’s hand before breaking the circle and then looks across the group. “All in one piece?”
“Off to the Feywild!” Percy says excitedly, looking around at the group and reaching to grab Keyleth and Scanlan’s hands. Once he sees the strange looks he’s receiving, his hands drop. “It seems I’m very confused.”
It becomes apparent, quickly, that both Percy and Grog are missing something: namely, their memories of the last week. Everything that had happened in the Feywild, including the intricate lie that had been the false marriage between Vex and Percy, was snatched from their minds by the strange magic of the other plane.
Vex wants it not to hurt, but it does, and sharply: in her chest, like she’s been stabbed by some kind of dagger. Slowly, quietly, she slides the ring off her finger and into her pocket. No one seems to notice, and for that, she is grateful. Trinket sidles up to her and nudges at her waist, clearly sensing her disappointment, and Vex reaches to scratch behind his ears. “It’s alright, darling,” she murmurs to the bear, who huffs out a small noise at her. “It’s better this way.”
Grog is nonplussed, seemingly glad to hear about his great heroics in the Feywild (heroics that were slightly exaggerated for his benefit), but Percy’s face has crumpled. Vex knew that Percy had alway dreamed of going to the Feywild, and knowing that he’d never be able to look back on the experience was crushing his spirit entirely.
A thought strikes her. “Percy, your journal!” she says excitedly. “You made drawings the whole time we were there. Look!”
Percy pulls out his notebook quickly and opens it up, flipping through the pages until he comes across a sketch he obviously doesn’t recognize: a wildflower with spikes on the stem. His eyes light up, and soon the two of them are flipping through the pages. “I’ve never seen plant life like this,” Percy says with a grin, flipping another page to find the threshold crest design that he and Keyleth had conspired upon.
“A story for another time,” Keyleth says with a smirk, eyeing the page over Percy’s shoulder as well. “Trust me, though, you came out on top.”
“Glad to hear that,” Percy says, and Vex can hear his voice catching in his throat. This means so much to him, catching even a glimpse of the Feywild, that Vex wants more than anything for him to just remember. Not for her sake, not for the scheme or anything, but for Percy.
Keyleth is tugged away by Vax as Percy flips one last time and then snaps the book shut quickly. Only Vex is able to make out what drawing had been on that ultimate page, and she can feel her face flush.
It was a drawing of her, sleeping, in the grand bed they had shared in Syngorn. She was far more beautiful in the drawing that Vex knew herself to be in reality, for Percy had softened all the hard edges of her nose and mouth, had drawn her as something beautiful enough to put down on paper. She doesn’t comment on the drawing, just starts walking ahead, and Vex can swear she hears Percy let out a sigh of relief behind her.
It doesn’t take long to find Pike, and when they do corner her at the temple of Serenrae, she looks at Percy with kind eyes. “Here, can I—” she asks, and before Percy can say a word otherwise, she casts Greater Restoration on him. Cleansing light covers his person for a brief moment, and when the light fades, Percy opens his eyes and smiles at Pike.
“Truly, you are the best of us,” he says in thanks. Pike winks at him and agrees, “Damn straight.”
“Pike! You just cursed in a temple! ” Grog says proudly. “High five!”
When Percy turns back around to face Vex, a slight blush comes to his cheeks. “So, uh. Should I call you Lady De Rolo, then?”
Vex waves him off. “We're out of Syngorn. It’s over, anyways.”
Percy tilts his head at her. “No, no. Considering Syngorn’s involvement in the war to come, we’d better keep up this charade for them. You know, put something down in writing, in case your father ever comes to check about his daughter's marital status.”
“Put something in writing,” Vax repeats, clearly perturbed.
“Bureaucracy,” Percy shrugs with a lazy smile, before leading their group back up through the city and towards Whitestone Castle.
“Something’s been spotted in the distance!” a runner shouts as he barrels his way into the war room. The council members had been gathered there to strategize about where, exactly, everyone needs to go from here. Brimscythe and Umbrasyl are dead, but the other dragons are larger, more cunning, and more powerful than either of the two beasts Vox Machina had managed to fell. Vex turns to face the runner, who looks out of breath but terrified: a harrowing portent for things to come. “A big—a big thing—”
“Specific, aren’t you,” Percy grunts before taking off in a sprint out of the room. Vex and Vax follow in his wake, and Grog overtakes them quickly with Scanlan and Pike on his shoulders. Vex looks over her shoulder to see Keyleth relaying orders to Allura and the rest of the council before sprinting off after them. She can’t spare too long of a look before she trips on her face, and even so, Vax has to catch the back of her cape to keep her from eating it in the dust. If this were different circumstances, she and her brother might have had a quippy, fun repartee about being less than nimble. But with things as they are, Vex settles for a tight nod in thanks at Vax before continuing her hasted sprint outside.
She nearly runs into Percy as they make their way into daylight. He’s come to a standstill at the gates, staring up into the sky in shock.
Nearby, she hears Allura, Gilmore, and Kima Dimension Door in with a pop. “My God,” Gilmore says under his breath at the sight before him, and Vex can’t help but agree.
The white dragon, Vorugal, is flying towards Whitestone. Vex can see that it is massive, even at a distance, more massive than Umbrasyl even, and it is not alone: smaller minion creatures seem to accompany the dragon while it makes its flight towards them.
“We are not ready for this fight,” Vex says immediately.
“We could be ready, if we make a call to arms,” Keyleth says. “That or at least we need to warn the citizens. They’ll all die if they don’t hide!”
Percy is silent, and Keyleth moves to skywrite something. He grabs her arms and holds them tight.
“Don’t. Do. Anything,” he hisses before turning to Allura and Gilmore. “The bubble. Will the dragon see through the bubble?”
Allura looks at Gilmore. “That is the purpose of the shield,” she says in a tight voice. “It should conceal the city from outside forces completely.”
“Even dragons?” Percy asks.
Gilmore purses his lips. “We think so. But we haven’t exactly had an opportunity to test that theory.”
“Until now,” Scanlan supplies, and a shiver goes through the group.
“If we’re wrong, thousands of people are going to die because we did nothing,” Keyleth says viciously, trying to tug herself out of his grip, but Percy is still holding her arms tightly. "You have a responsibility as their leader, Percy! You need to protect this place!"
“If we’re right, this fight can be delayed,” Percy says. “And we can’t win right now.” He tugs at her hands. "We can't win here, Keyleth. We can only hide."
Keyleth bites her lip and, finally, the fight goes out of her limbs. “I hope you’re right.”
“I hope I’m right, too,” Percy says, and at last, the real fear that has surely been coursing through his veins crosses his face.
The dragon is close enough that if Vex was stationed at the city limits and aimed true, she could strike it with an arrow. She doesn’t breath. It seems like no one in their group makes any errant movements. Whitestone is quiet as the grave.
The dragon turns away. One, two minutes later, the entire group of winged enemies has vanished into the mountains and out of sight.
Percy drops his hands to his knees and tries to catch his breath. He immediately reaches out toward Keyleth and murmurs, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” and Keyleth is muttering the same phrase back to him in tandem. The two of them hug each other in relief while Vax goes over and gives Allura, Gilmore, and Pike a grateful, “So I think that theory’s been pretty well tested, eh? Nice work!”
Once the initial terror and subsequent mind-numbing relief have both subsided, the group comes to the conclusion that haste is of the essence. They split apart to run their respective errands: Vex herself stocks up on arrows in town, and by the time she makes it back to the castle in the early evening, most of the rest of her friends have also returned. Percy is not at dinner—neither is Cassandra—and Vex doesn’t think twice about his absence as the rest of Vox Machina trails in and out of the dining hall. There is a palpable relief amongst the group, but also a real dread that this Vorugal problem isn’t just going to go away on its own. That thing, that massive beast that had so nearly cost them their lives today—they were going to have to bring that monstrosity down.
Just thinking about the idea of a Vorugal face-off for a split second is enough to plant a seed of despair in Vex’s stomach. It’s going to be a bloody mess.
She excuses herself for bed after she finds that the food, although a nice change from Scanlan’s magnificent chicken, tastes like ash on her tongue. Keyleth gives her a quiet frown but does not question her early exit.
She strips out of her armor but keeps her undershirt on and her bow near. If Vorugal appeared again, she wanted to be ready. In addition, Vex has already been attacked by assassins once in these halls. Keeping her weapons close is only natural. “Not paranoid at all,” Vex says to herself. She runs a thumb down Fenthras and one of the tendrils curls back against her in a mirrored gesture. “Totally cool.”
Three loud, erratic raps on her door startle her into drawing her bow, arrow nocked and at the ready. She nearly jumps out of her skin at the fright: what could it be? Is Vorugal back, perhaps this time with Raishan in his wake? Her heart feels like it’s beating in her throat, and she shouts out a gruff, “Who is it?” If she sounds terrified, it’s because they’ve had a bit of a day. She has every right to be on her guard.
“Vex?” asks a familiar voice.
The fight ebs out of her like a leaky balloon. At least we can be miserable together.
She opens the door, leaving Fenthras and her arrows behind against the wall. It is, of course, Percy standing in the doorway, and he looks just wrecked. The rims of his eyes are red, like he’s cried out all his tears in either grief or frustration or some other unknown emotion, and his lips look swollen with how much he’s been nervously biting at them. Most of all, he seems to vibrate with residual energy from the day’s events: fear, doubt, confusion, and horror flit across his face in equal turn, like he’s been relieving every decision and how terribly wrong each choice could have gone. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, Vex thinks to herself. She wouldn’t have wanted to be the one to make that critical decision this afternoon.
“Darling,” Vex says softly. She knows her voice is full of pity, and that is probably the last thing Percy wants from her, but she can’t help it. Her heart is breaking for him.
Percy walks inside and closes the door behind him. His fingers are trembling.
“We can talk about it,” Vex offers, though she’s not sure what she’d have to say to calm his nerves or bat away his fears. Vex has never been good at comforting people. She couldn’t even bring her own brother, the person she knows best in the world, out of the misery that had followed in the wake of her near-death experience. How is she supposed to wipe the worry lines off of Percy’s face?
“Can we not talk?” Percy asks, and it’s a near beg. He steps into her space and puts a shaking hand on her bare forearm.
It’s a seductive move, full of clear intention. Vex feels her eyebrows shoot up.
“Alright,” Vex says softly. She takes his face in her hand and he makes a quiet noise between a whimper of relief and a moan of exhaustion. “Let’s not talk.”
She will look back on that first night with him in snippets, like someone has cut out particular memories from her mind and put them on display in her own private gallery. She remembers taking his glasses off, recalls gently placing them on her nightstand before guiding him to her bed. She remembers wanting to keep them safe.
She thinks a lot about the things she did tell him that night, even though she had promised not to talk about what had happened. “Relax,” she remembers commanding, pressing him back into her mattress. She blinks and once again, her hand is wrapped loosely around his throat: not as a menace, but as a constant.
“Funny thing, when people demand that you relax,” Percy said beneath her, his breath hitching all the same. “Some might say it becomes more difficult to—” and his words stop as Vex trailed a thumb lightly across his adam’s apple. “To let go.” Vex raised an eyebrow at him before bending down low to murmur in his ear.
“Here’s the thing about letting go,” Vex recalls saying in a low voice. “It’s about doing it because I told you to: not because you need it, but because I want it. It's on me, Percival.” Percy’s eyes had fluttered closed, lashes brushing against the tops of his flushed cheeks oh so prettily, and Vex had encouraged in a low voice, "Put it all on me." He’d let out a breath through his teeth: it's more of a hiss than anything. But Vex, with her one hand sitting on his chest, felt his heartbeat begin to slow. “You’re a good boy, aren’t you?”
He did need it.
She remembers the flush in Percy’s cheeks as she straddled his shoulders, remembers the sheen of sweat across his brow and the awed look on his face. The memory of his hand at the small of her back while she had born down on his waiting mouth is so potent, that if Vex closes her eyes, she can still feel the rough, slippery texture of his tongue upon her.
He had slept like a rock that night, after they were both sated. Vex calls that a job well done.
Vex isn’t sure where that person had come from, the one who had decided that Percy needed a stern hand and a steady heart the night he had come to her so broken and listless. She doesn’t usually take her lovers to bed that way. Usually she’s about more fun than ferocity. But here, she had seen Percy and known that he didn’t need fun. He needed an excuse to feel relief. Someone needed to force him to let go of his guilt and his despair, at least for a few quiet moments in the dark.
Vex comes to Percy’s door the next night. “Please,” she asks, with her two feet solidly planted in his doorway.
“Alright,” Percy nods, and he takes her by the hand.
That night, he doesn’t shake. When his fingers dust across her naked skin, they are strong and desirous. Certain in their path, they do not tremble. Vex is not surprised to find nail marks the next morning on the curve of her hips where he had dug into her sides. She presses on the indentations and they ache nicely.
“What are you smiling about?” Keyleth asks her, knocking her hip into Vex’s waist.
“I’m not smiling,” Vex says, flattening out her mouth. She glances at Keyleth before breaking into an even more beatific smile. “Okay, maybe I am.” Keyleth doesn’t press her, just leans into her shoulder and gives her a friendly nudge that Vex returns in kind. Vex fingers at the ring that she continues to wear on her left hand and tries to look a little less giddy.
Honestly, Vex isn’t sure how Keyleth would react to a relationship between her and Percy. Part of her remembers her initial reaction to Keyleth and Vax and shudders in horror: the jealousy, the protectiveness that had come out of her when she had seen Keyleth seemingly playing with Vax's heart...it was so teenage, in retrospect. But it had been easy to fall into that role: the watchful sister ready to throw down with anyone who dared to tug at the heartstrings of her emotionally vulnerable brother. Perhaps it had been because the twins had been alone for so long, relying solely on each other for more than a quarter-century. Perhaps it had been because she considered Keyleth one of her best friends. Perhaps Vex could sense Keyleth's hesitation.
She frowns. Vex can think of a thousand motives for her behavior, but none of them serve as good excuses. And now Percy is like a brother to Keyleth. Vex can only hope for the sliver of a chance that, if this thing between them ever progresses to something beyond a physical nature, Keyleth will give Vex the support that she clearly doesn’t deserve: the very same support that Vex had never offered Keyleth.
But Vex has never had the experience of knowing the taste of someone and wanting more. She thought that the feeling would dissipate once her initial hunger was sated, once she had filled her need of him to the brim. When she closes her eyes, she sees the edge of his jaw nudging at her inner thigh, sees the glint of his glasses in the candlelight. When it’s quiet, she can conjure up the sound of his laughter, or the way his breath huffs out a little when he’s been amazed. Her initial overwhelming need of him that had taken control of her the first night she brought him into her bed has not gone away. It is a fire that cannot be smothered, a flame that burns her from the inside out. She sees him during the day and she wants him. She sees him asleep in her bed and she wants him. She sees and she wants. She has become a wild thing, a true beast of a woman. Or perhaps her father was right: maybe she's always been wild.
She licks her lips against the sharp edges of her teeth and thinks about how hard they can bite down.
“Dear?” Percy asks casually over breakfast, curiously noting the tension that now seems to live in her body like a tightly coiled spring. They’re sitting at the kitchen table with Scanlan and Grog, and Vex wouldn’t put it past Scanlan to notice how strangely she’s been acting. He’s wise despite constantly acting the fool. Pike and Vax are in prayer with their respective deities. Keyleth is meditating. It’s a little degrading in comparison, but Vex simply wants.
Percy raises an eyebrow at her and lowers his hand beneath the table cloth.
He, at least, seems to understand.
Percy tangles his fingers with hers, his thick and calloused against her own, which are thin and cracked from years of handling the dry, hewn wood of arrows. She’s never cared much about having soft hands: she’d rather have the skill, rather her skin be beaten and rough from decades of her bowstring snapping against her forearm. Holding his fingers in her grasp now, she wonders if he’d prefer it if her touch was smooth and silky.
Well, fuck that, she decides with a secret smile. He seems to like her hands just the way they are.
His own palm spans the size of her thigh, easily: she knows that because he’s had his hands on her so many times since the Feywild that it is hard to know where his body ends and hers begins. She squeezes his fingers, large in her grasp, before running her thumb along the inside of his wrist. Her touch is purposefully delicate and lingering: a tease. If she has to endure this torture, he might as well experience the same insidious ache. He tilts his head at her, a little like he can’t believe she’s coming onto him in front of Scanlan Shorthalt, a little like he wants to slip his hand further beneath the table between her legs.
Confusion and desire: Vex can relate.
“Can we,” Vex murmurs, and Percy nods before she can finish the statement. He stands up and slides her chair out from the table and the two of them walk briskly into the depths of Whitestone Castle until Vex is certain they are alone. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she manages before pushing him up against the wall and tugging his lips down to hers. He tastes like the bitter edge of the coffee he’d been sipping on, and when he tugs her by the waist up to meet his form, she whines at the contact. It feels good to be close again.
It’s never enough.
“Don’t be,” he grunts, before adding a little roguishly, “wife.” His fingers slide into her hair, tugging at the skin of her scalp, and she whimpers at the sensation.
“I know it’s not the time,” Vex says, a little ashamed. She kisses him blindly, without thought, without any feeling besides desire. He meets her in turn, the scruff of his chin scraping against her cheek. Vex is pleased to find that he is hungry for her in turn. “We have responsibilities to take care of. Dragons to kill. But I wanted you.” She can feel his mouth twitch in confusion, like no one’s ever told him that before. It breaks her heart. “Please,” she continues, a little confused. She’s never needed much besides her brother and her bear before.
“It’s okay to want things, Vex’ahlia,” Percy tells her softly before kissing her once more. "And it's never going to be the right time." She aches under the way his thumb brushes her jawline.
But this is not just a want. A want is bread when you’re hungry. A want is a roof over your head while the storm rages on through the night. Vex wants enough treasure that she never has to think about money again. Vex wants to fly through the air, taste freedom on her tongue, and never feel trapped in a life she despises again.
A need, though: a need is air in her lungs. A need is the way he looks at her in the candlelight when they’ve both been stripped of everything that keeps the world from tearing them limb from limb. A need is his hand on the edge of her hip, the pads of his fingers pressing against her skin hard enough to leave a mark.
She’ll gladly wear his fingerprints, mostly because it’s the closest she’ll get to having his hands on her at all times. It’s going to make her ill, she thinks plainly, to desire someone in this way. But when he looks at her with those dark, hungry eyes, she does not think she is alone in this sickness. As much as she scares herself with this new, all-encompassing ache, sometimes Percy looks at her like he’s made another deal with the devil, but this time, she’s his reward. Or maybe she’s his new devil after all. Either way, he’s placed the survival of his tattered, broken soul in the palm of her hands. Vex wants to laugh: as if she knows how to handle fragile things.
But maybe that is something you do when you grow up: you hand over your softest, most vulnerable parts and pray the world has a gentle touch. It’s either that or run away as far and as fast as her broom can carry her. She’ll keep that as a solid plan B.
She’s straddling his thigh in an effort at some friction, as they don’t have time for a proper, thorough bedding, don’t have time to strip off all their respective armor. She’ll take it all the same. Her hips cant in a slow roll and she buries her face in his chest, relief flooding through her system as finally her need is addressed. “Gods, I don’t understand this,” she sighs into him. “Have you ever felt like this—?”
She isn’t sure what she is trying to ask him: maybe she wants to know if he’s ever been in love before this. Maybe she wants to know if he’s ever felt desire for another person in this intense, destructive way.
Percy cuts to the chase. “The last time I felt like this, like I was burning alive, I was fighting a dragon.”
“And now?” Vex breathes, tilting her head up so that he can mouth at her lips.
“I can barely remember what it feels like to be cold,” Percy murmurs against her skin. She smiles, shivers, and sighs into his neck. In the safe darkness of the hallway, they are two candles allowed to burn to the quick. When Vex finally melts against him, crying out against his patterned vest, her voice muffled by the fine fabric, she thinks she’ll be sated for a while this time. This time, she’ll know peace. The need seeps out of her like she’s wringing a towel dry, and she smiles, because finally, finally, she’s fed the wolf in her heart that keeps her wild. He must be sated, she thinks. There’s no way he could want anything more.
Then she looks him in the eye and the heat returns.
They’re clearly not subtle, and when Cassandra approaches her on their last day in Whitestone before beginning their quest in Ank’harel for Cabal’s Ruin, Vex feels herself gulp in anticipation of an awkward conversation. She looks down at her fingernails while attempting to put on a mask of impassive civility. She hopes it will serve her well.
Cassandra is little more than a child, but she still scares Vex beyond measure. The girl has seen and experienced more trauma than Vex will ever know, and she’s still a teenager. People like that, people who make their way through hell and come out the other side, they become someone different than they were before. The weak parts burn away. Only the strong and the scarred remains.
“Percy has spoken to me about your arrangement,” Cassandra says blithely, sidling up to Vex in the foyer. Cassandra doesn’t look at her, simply stares up at the tapestry that adorns the wall: it depicts the De Rolo family tree, all the way from Percy’s oldest ancestors down to Cassandra herself. “I don’t believe I need to tell you what I think of it.”
Vex turns from Cassandra to look at the tapestry as well. Two can play at this game.
“I trust my brother,” Cassandra continues. The implicit, unsaid I just don’t trust you hangs in the air between them. “Tell me, how does it feel to use someone for money, title, and power? Does it feel good?”
Vex nearly chokes on her own tongue.
“Obviously I’ve seen worse wives,” Cassandra adds, and Vex thinks immediately of Lady Briarwood and shudders, “but I didn’t expect this from you.”
“That’s not fair,” Vex tries, but Cassandra puts up a hand to stop Vex in her tracks.
“You know what’s not fair,” Cassandra says, and it’s nearly a snarl. She whips her head at Vex, and her eyes are shining with fury. “What’s not fair is tying down the heir to Whitestone in a sham marriage. Oh, I know that Percy says that I’m the real heir here, but we all know who this city pays allegiance to. Who I pay allegiance to.” Cassandra looks like her heart is breaking and Vex just wants to be anywhere else but here. “What, did you stare into our coffers for too long? Is Percy not giving you every dime he’s made in your company not compensation enough?”
Vex looks at her feet, wishing to be buried beneath the brick of the castle.
“Do you love him? Even just a little?” Cassandra asks desperately. Vex opens her mouth to retort of course, of course I do, but no sound comes out. Why? Why can’t she say the words aloud? Perhaps it’s the years of practice Vex has had at concealing her true feelings. She’s gotten so good at wearing the mask of a woman who doesn’t need anything from the world that she can’t take it off, even with her own two hands. Perhaps that facade has made itself a permanent fixture in her soul. Cassandra looks like she wants to spit, but she’s a lady, so she restrains herself. “Someday my brother is going to come home, and I don’t know if it’s a good idea that you follow.”
Vex is nauseas. This is not—this is not what she wanted. She thought that the title would be a good way to show her father that she’s made a name for herself. She thought the false marriage would be a foothold into a new home, regardless of whether or not she and Percy actually worked out as a couple. She could see herself living in town somewhere, helping rebuild. She could have lived a quiet life near the wooded outskirts of Whitestone, occasionally taking Percy out for a drink when the nonsense of landed life got the better of him. But the complications of Percy’s offer that Cassandra points out are obvious and compelling. They are complications that Vex never even thought of.
“He is swayed easily by his own genius ideas,” Cassandra says, and her voice is softer, like she can anticipate Vex’s next move. “It needs to come from you.”
Vex looks down at the ring on her hand, the blue sapphire a shining reminder of the lie she had to put aside. The ring slips off easily, and she hands it to Cassandra. “Destroy the certificate,” Vex tells her blankly. “I’d rather being in good standing with Whitestone as an outsider than be a part of it as a snake in the grass.”
Vex walks outside the castle and does manage to make it beyond the gates before turning to puke into a nearby bush. Bile coats her mouth and throat, and she spits away the taste as best she can.
“Nervous?” asks a low rumble of a voice. Vex turns to find Grog, of all people, eyeing her conspicuously.
“No,” Vex says, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Bad stew, then,” Grog nods. Vex shrugs, and Grog’s eyes narrow, but either he doesn’t quite understand or he chooses to allow Vex her dignity. “We’re about to head off. Let’s go.”
The rest of Vox Machina is waiting for them. Percy in particular looks excited to see her, and Vex tries to ignore the twist in her stomach that happens when he smiles at her. She flexes her hand automatically, fingers now free of any ring, and when Percy’s eyes travel down to look for the piece of jewelry, he only does a minor double-take.
When Vex crosses the circle to place herself in between Keyleth and Scanlan, she keeps her expression tight and focused. “Ready, everyone?”
Vex doesn’t look at Percy, simply closes her eyes and feels the world shift beneath her feet in more ways than one.
She waits up that night, the first night they make camp in Ank’harel, to see if Percy will come to her door.
He doesn’t. Nor the next night. Nor the night after that.
Good, Vex thinks. Let the charade be done with. Let them forget fanciful notions about rings and certificates and the like. Let them forget the lie entirely.
For a moment, Vex wishes she could purge the past few weeks from her mind completely. If only she had been the one to forget the Feywild. If only she had never let Percy into her bed. If only she had never learned to cherish his smile. You’ll never learn if you don’t remember your mistakes, she hears her father’s stern voice in her head. So where did you falter?
“The moment I laid eyes on him,” she mutters to herself. “Maybe even before that.”
While trying not to think of Percy, her mind drifts back to the Feywild. Even while their party travels to the distant land of Marquet and delves into the vast, colorful city of Ank'harel, Vex can't help but think back to Syngorn and the Bog. Ank'harel is bright and beautiful and strange and all Vex can think of is the darkest place she's ever traveled. It's more than a little ironic. If she had taken the Saundor deal, her mortal insecurities may have slipped away like sand through her fingers. Agreeing to Saundor's deal would have made her harder, less penetrable. As an archfey, Vex would have been able to move beyond this mortal coil and into a new persona not wholly her own. How enticing. Vex has always wanted to be be someone else, especially now that she's let herself and people she cares about down so deeply.
"What is your question?" the soothsayer asks her. She's not even conscious of having put down another five gold pieces, but she looks down at the table and spies the blind man who sits before her dragging the coins into the pockets of his robes before unfurling his deck of cards once more. She hopes the others have moved on, but she doesn't turn her head to check. Either they watch her ask her final question or they don't. She needs to ask.
"Did I make the right choice?" Vex asks. She's purposefully vague, mostly because she hopes the soothsayer will answer all her problems.
Instead, the man raises a furry eyebrow at her. He plucks one card from the deck, then a second. The first card depicts two hands clasping, and the second shows a rising or setting sun. "You have made many important choices, but the one you speak of brings unity and a new dawn." Vex lets out a sigh of relief as the soothsayer considers and then draws a third card. "This is the choice you don't dare ask about," he tells her, and Vex leans forward, drawn into the lull of his voice. The card he holds aloft, the final card, shows a shrouded figure. "It is time to remove the veil."
She stiffens and says a quiet, "Be pleased," before turning around and finding herself face first with a familiar gnome.
"Now that's one weird little man," Scanlan says coyly.
"Very," Vex agrees, trying to make her tone as light and casual as possible. Remove the veil? Wedding imagery dances in her head and Vex flexes her bare fingers. He has no idea what he's talking about.
Vax is in her room inside the mansion when she retires for the evening. He holds up a bottle of chicken wine from the cellar. "I figured this conversation'd need some booze." He hiccups and Vex spies an empty bottle sitting in the trash.
"Did you pregame this talk?" Vex asks, taking the wine from him and popping it open.
"Whatever," Vax evades while Vex drinks back the foul tasting bottle. "You're the one who makes this hard."
Vex flips him off easily. She's the one who makes talking about their feelings hard, when her brother walks away from every opportunity at real emotional depth. "Bite me, brother," she hisses, gulping down the wine, which tastes more and more palatable the more she glugs it down.
"Don't tempt me, you know I've done it before," Vax says darkly.
"Yeah, when you were five," Vex snaps at him.
"I had better sense then," Vax huffs. "Imagine, me trying to talk to you about your feelings. Fucking foolish, innit."
She scowls. "Foolish indeed." In reply, Vax purses his lips, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Spit it out, then," she cajoles. Vax grabs back the bottle of wine, takes a sip for courage, and then sits down on the edge of Vex's bed.
"De Rolo and I don't always see eye to eye," is how he starts, and Vex already knows this is going to be a painful conversation. "And I enjoyed seeing our father tripping over himself to accommodate your new status, or what have you," he adds with a dark chuckle. "He's always needing to be knocked down a few pegs, and Percy is excellent at maneuvering that kind of situation." He bites at his lip before continuing, "But Vex: you don't need any of that. You don't need a title. You don't need his last name. You don't need Whitestone, or a ring, or any of that bullshit. You don't need to lie about who you are and what you've accomplished. Because you're bloody amazing, alright? Just as you are."
"I think they are contractually obligated to pay you to for saying that, as my brother," Vex says weakly. She makes grabby hands at the bottle of wine and Vax hands it back to her.
"No one is paying me to say shit," Vax says daintily. "You know I don't take dirty money." He grins at her and she barks out a laugh in turn.
"You'll be pleased to know," Vex manages between swallows of foul, fowl tasting wine, "that I've already taken care of the situation. No more Lady De Rolo." She sits down next to Vax on the bed and rests her head against his shoulder. "We all knew that couldn't last."
Vax looks confused. "You what?"
But Vex continues, her words coming forth bidden by wine and heartache. "I don't want his title. I don't need him for his title." She doesn't realize what she's said until Vax has taken her by the hand. She looks at him, and he has understanding and concern written all over his mildly intoxicated face.
"But you do need him," he repeats in a quiet voice.
Vex sits back up, trying to pull away. "It's complicated."
"Does he know?" Vax asks. When Vex doesn't confirm or deny anything, her brother lets out a disappointed sigh. "Sister, there are things that are secret that should remain secret. I’ve always believed that there are some truths not worth bringing to light." And Vex cocks her head curiously at him, wondering what, if anything, Vax has successfully kept secret from her. "But some things, some truths: they deserve to be told." Vax smiles at her encouragingly. "He deserves to know, Vex."
"Who knows what any of us really deserve," Vex says darkly before draining the last of the wine. "We need more of this."
As the twins walk from Vex's room to the wine cellar, they pass Keyleth, Scanlan, Grog, and Percy, who are all shooting the shit in the kitchen. Their conversation is loud and engaged, and when Vex finally comes into earshot of them, the first thing she hears is, "What's going to happen, though? When the dragons are dead?" It's Keyleth asking, and she sounds curious.
"Yeah, or we are," Grog adds. "Dead, I mean."
"We roll around in our riches and make lots of dragon-hide armor," she hears Scanlan suggest. "Also, I don't plan on dying. I made a promise to a lady."
"I don't know." It's Percy now, and Vex strains to hear his voice. It's been days since they've really talked, and she's a little ashamed to say that she's missed the sound of him. "Go home, maybe. Rebuild Whitestone with Cass."
"But what about us?" Keyleth asks, sadness in her voice.
Percy lets out a little laugh. "Whitestone needs me far more than anyone in our highly capable group. And, well. I'm looking forward to moving on."
If Vex's heart breaks a little, she swallows it down so that it doesn't make a sound.
"Come on," Vax says softly, pulling her towards the wine cellar and out of sight.
She never wants to hear the word Glintshore again by the time they're done there.
Once the group figured out that Ripley had Cabal's Ruin, a strange tension begun to crackle between them, like static electricity flowing from person to person. It makes the crew angry and divisive. Vex doesn't even try talking to Percy during their travels from Ank'harel to the distant island. They're off to correct Percy's biggest mistake, and Vex knows that must rankle him. He doesn't like making mistakes, though Vex notes he's made quite a few of them in his short time on this earth. He'd let Ripley get away, and for what reason, Vex may never know. Perhaps he was so focused on taking down the Briarwoods he had discounted Ripley's creeping malevolence. Perhaps he had been scared to fail, revealing his weakness too soon in the game. Perhaps he had been scared not to fail, to take a player off the board who had such a similar mind to his, it would have been a little like killing himself.
Perhaps, perhaps. All Vex knows now is that Ripley is laughing at them, laughing at their foolish ineptitude. It makes her skin prickle with violent distaste.
The fight itself happens like a bad dream: at first, Vex isn't quite sure that she's awake. Surely their group wouldn't be so taken in by such a simple ruse. Surely there hadn't been a bomb planted beneath their feet. Surely that's not Kynan on the other side, wielding a fucking vestige like it's his birthright. Surely Orthax is as good as dead. This is just a nightmare, Vex thinks to herself: a collective nightmare that we can't seem to wake up from.
Anna Ripley is terrifying. Orthax is terrifying. Fighting against two vestiges is terrifying. This whole bloody fight is terrifying.
But it's not what scares her most.
No, what scares her most is the look on Percy's face: no longer afraid, but full of dread. It's a bit like he knows what's coming. When he glances at her across the make-shift arena, Vex sees a grateful look on his face, like he's happy to be disconnected from her. Without their bond, he can fight with reckless abandon and disregard the repercussions.
Vex can't remember a fight so personal and so bloody. Taking down Umbrasyl had been dangerous, yes, but Umbrasyl hadn't known how to push Percy's buttons. Umbrasyl hadn't handed a vestige to a scorned apprentice and said, "Go." Vex sees her brother's face and it looks like he's been torn in two. Vox Machina has made mistakes all around, it seems. Strangely, this fight reminds her of their brawl against Kevdak: brutal, merciless, and with a deeply intimate knowledge of the enemy. They had barely come out of it alive.
Arrows fly from Fenthras with an exacting cruelness, for Vex knows how much this woman hurt Percy. She's rather good at keeping track of that sort of thing. Vex knows the cost of suffering, and she's ready to pay that pain back with interest.
Vex grins when Ripley hisses as an arrow catches her in the side. She blinks in and out of this plane, appearing once more across the chasm. A smile comes across her twisted face as she finds Percy in her crosshairs.
"No matter what today, I forgive you," Vex hears Percy call out across the field, and his voice full of an open forgiveness that scares her to her core. It is a forgiveness not meant for Ripley, though it is directed at her. It is a forgiveness for someone ready to cut all ties with this plane. This is a man ready to die.
Vex regrets not giving him a reason to live.
Percy's body falls to the ground. It doesn't happen in slow-motion, like Vex thinks it ought to, in retrospect. It happens quickly, and Percy crumples at the trunk of the tree he had been leaning against. Well, not Percy. Percy's body.
Vex doesn't realize that she's making a sound until Scanlan is yelling, "Shoot Orthax, shoot him," at her over the sound of her own screams. Her vision is blurring from what she thinks are tears, but she still hits the shadowy form with both of her arrows. Fenthras strangely helps her in this moment, a vine of the bow wrapping around her wrist and tugging her aim true. It's like the bow knows she needs all the help she can get.
At last, Orthax dissipates in a puff of smoke, and the field is quiet. Everyone on the other side is dead, besides Kynan. Ripley is on the ground with Grog's axe at her throat. "We're going to do this together," Scanlan says quietly. "Come over here, Vex."
It's like Vex never learned to fake a smile or a wink for a favor, like she never taught herself to swallow down the harder parts of her life like taking down a bitter whiskey with a grin. Grief floods through her like dam has been opened up: it's unrelenting and unconcealable, and the only thing Vex can do now is bellow a scream made from a despair so clean and pure that it frightens her.
"No," Vex says, her voice between a scream and a sob. She leans the nose of her broom down and races it towards Percy, jumping off the magical item to cradle the body in her arms. "I can shoot her from here."
Vex places the residuum on Percy's chest. "It's supposed to amplify magic," she says softly, remembering that Percy had done the same for her during that dark mistake in the sunken tomb. She doesn't even think about using the ring, doesn't have time to track down Cassandra, doesn't even want that false memory to be what represents her offering to the resurrection ritual. All she wants is for this to work, and for it to work, Vex needs to show Percy that there's something to come back for. And maybe he won't want her even if he does come back. Vex wouldn't mind that. As long as he's alive and breathing, there's not much she wouldn't sacrifice.
So she'll say it. Just once, she'll take down every mask, every facade she's built over the years. She closes her eyes and focuses on being the girl she hasn't seen in the mirror for some time now. When she opens her eyes, Vax is staring at her like he's seen a ghost.
"That day in Syngorn was one of the best days of my life," Vex says softly. "Not because of the title, or because of my newfound status as a noble. It was because of you." Her voice breaks, and she pauses. She can hear Keyleth weeping behind her. "I'd be just as happy with no title, dirt poor, and no legacy at all. But the one thing I can't take is being here when you're not. Whitestone needs you, darling. I still need you." She leans down and kisses the corpse. It is cold to the touch and feels nothing like kissing the warm, vital Percy she had kissed so often before. "I should have told you," she murmurs against his lips. "I do."
Pike and Keyleth make their offerings when Vex steps back, but all Vex can feel is her soul locked in step with Percy's: she knows that whatever she did in this ritual, it had taken root somewhere in the Astral plane. Come back, Vex thinks desperately. Come back to me.
Once Keyleth's final offering is made, the ritual takes hold of the body, raising it from the table beneath him. The table itself cracks, but the body remains in the air, hovering as Pike's magic courses through it. Please, Vex thinks. I know I don't deserve this, but he does.
Percy's body slams back onto the table. One moment of quiet stillness, then another permeates the room.
Percy's gasp brings her to her knees. She leans against Vax and he holds her up as best he can, but neither of them are very strong, and eventually, the two of them sink to the ground in a giddy, happy pile of limbs.
Percy only remembers how Keyleth untethered his soul from Orthax's—nothing about Vex or her confession—and a part of Vex's heart that has been open since Percy fell on the beach closes once more.
"Don't be selfish," she tells herself. "He's breathing, after all."
That has to be enough.
She raises a mug to her lips, and when Vax sidles up to her at the bar, she rests her head against his shoulder. "Hey, Stubbs," Vax says gently, hopping onto the barstool next to her. The old nickname brings a gentle, pleasant feeling to Vex's gut. "You good?"
Vex nods into her cup before settling it down on the bar. "Better." She coughs a little and adds, "But I've been better, too."
Vax nods before putting an arm around her shoulders. "I saw something in you today that I haven't seen for a long time," he tells her quietly.
She shrugs before nodding. "No more masks, I think."
Her brother laughs and clinks his brimming mug against hers. "I'll drink to that." They both gulp down the pale ale in tandem motions, and Vex is reminded that even if Vax can't be her better half in all ways, he remains a big part of her heart and will always take up space in her soul. "Always hated watching you pretend in front of me."
"You tend to see through it," Vex demurs.
"Not always," Vax says with a sigh, like he's disappointed in his ability to pierce her emotional armor. "It always reminded me of Father, when you did that."
Vex doesn't say that she learned it from him, but Vax knows. He has to know.
"I hate being like him," Vex says bitterly.
Vax sighs and takes her by the shoulders. "I'm only going to tell you this once, because I hate talking about that prick." He shakes her a little and then gives her a smile, the kind that only people who've known you for years can give you. It's a smile you can only give someone you love. "Sister, you never were."
Vex means to leave him alone. Enough meddling, she tells herself. Enough messing around with a man who ought not be trifled with.
She knocks on his door, and he opens it stoically, without greeting. The castle is quiet around them, and there are no guards in sight. "Hi," Vex says softly.
"You're up late," Percy nods. She puts a hand flat against the outside of the door, leaning a gentle pressure against it, coaxing it open with a wheezing creak. Percy lets her in, and though Vex has done this exact maneuver dozens of times since the two of them started fooling around, this time feels different. She's nervous.
"You look on edge," Percy notes, and Vex lets out a shaky laugh.
"Yes, well. You scare me a little," she says, and Percy throws back his head in a peel of laughter. When he looks back at her, his glasses are crooked and his eyes are full of a beleaguered affection.
"From what I understand, I scare a lot of people," he says with a smile. "Never thought I'd scare you, though."
"It's not really you that scares me, of course," Vex tries. "It's just, well. The absence of you. The lack of you. That—that terrifies me." Percy tilts his head at her, and Vex decides to just tell him. She did it once. It'll be like pulling out a splinter. "I need you."
Percy looks away, and Vex knows he's hiding something.
"You little shit," Vex says, agog. She points her finger and thrusts it against his chest conspiratorially. "You remember. You remember what I said!"
“Hey, you're the one who destroyed the marriage certificate. You stopped wearing the ring!" Percy bites back, and he grabs her wrist so that she can't quite poke him as aggressively as she wants to.
"Cassandra said I was using you," Vex spits back.
"Yeah? Well, maybe I wanted you to use me!" Percy retorts. He looks aghast at the admission and then his cheeks are flushing so prettily against his general paleness. "Obviously, things get said in the head of the moment.” Percy coughs. "Whatever we had... it was getting a little real, towards the end, there. I was giving you time. And an out, if necessary."
Vex stops poking him. How can he think that after all this, after everything that's happened, that she would just walk away? "Darling, I don’t want an out.” Vex laughs a little to herself. "I'm all in, alright?" The hand wrapped around her wrist loosens a little, and Vex threads her fingers with his own. “I love you.” She raises his hand to her lips and kisses the knuckles there as gently as she can. There are scars and scratches all over these calloused hands, but Vex could kiss Percy's fingers until the end of her days.
Percy does not say it back. Instead, he raises their clasped hands to his own mouth. "If this were in peacetime, I'd court you, I suppose," he muses, his lips moving against her fingers. She likes touching him again, likes the feel of his lips against her skin.
"I think I'd put up with that for about a week," Vex laughs, adjusting her hands so that they now cradle his face. "I don't have the self control required for long, drawn-out pleasantries." She lifts herself onto her tiptoes, nudging her lips against his. "And neither, I think, do you."
Percy makes a small, delighted sound when she kisses him, and it's like they never stopped seeing each other before: each motion makes sense, and they fit together like they were made to live in each other's arms. Vex is tired of trying to convince herself that this doesn't work, that she and Percy don't deserve this happiness. All Vex knows is not only does this feel good, it feels right, and that is perhaps the more important matter. Percy's hands slide down, wrapping around Vex's waist, and Vex could get used to this. Gods, she wants to get used to this.
"True. And have I ever known you to be pleasant?" he murmurs against her lips.
"You're an asshole," she grins against him.
"Here's something I would say if we were courting." He bends to kiss along the line of her neck and adds, as he reaches her ear, “Seeing you, my lady, is the best part of my day.” The edge of his teeth run along her earlobe, the wet hint of tongue there making her shudder a little. "And I'd take your hand and kiss your fingers gently." At that, he presses her against the door, hard, and Vex whimpers as he pins her body there with his own. "I'd write you letters. Compose poetry. In Celestial, so no one can parse my terrible rhyming schemes."
She tears his shirt off easily, fingers finding buttons while patience allows, and eventually sending said buttons flying when patience runs out.
"We would attend the Great Hunt," he continues, as Vex undoes the string on his pants. "Slaughter the ceremonial boar." His finger find their way under her shirt and she lifts her arms briefly so that he can tug the article of clothing off her completely. Once she is topless, she goes back to getting his pants off, which is far easier once she's unlaced the front. He paws her hands away and instead reaches for her own pants, which come down in an easy tug. "Adrenaline pumping through our veins, I'd pluck up the courage to kiss you there," Percy says, and with a smirk, he drops to his knees before her, which is a bloody sight. Vex's breath catches in her throat. "There in the woods, I'd kiss you over our spoils." He runs his nose across the top of her naked thigh. Vex nudges her small clothes down her hips, and Percy does the rest by pulling them down past her knees and ankles.
"I'd kiss you back," Vex sighs as Percy hitches one of her legs over his bare shoulder. He dips his mouth to taste her, and she holds her composure until he hums against her clit, and then her hips buck against him most ungraciously. He raises a hand to hold her in place, and Vex huffs out a breathless, "Oh, I know I'd kiss you back, Percival."
When he looks up at her, his face is shiny with her slick, and Vex finds that she likes that look on him a lot. "I’d be nervous, though maybe that’s the same. You do make me nervous, dear." His fingers dance around her wet core, finally slipping inside with a curious push. Vex's breath catches when his thumb starts to rub against her at a feverish pace.
"You don't seem nervous now," Vex huffs out.
"Trust me, if my hands weren't occupied, they'd be shaking," Percy says. "Gods, why do you think I tinker so much?"
"I don't know," Vex laughs. He twists his fingers inside her, and she groans. "I'm glad you do, though."
"Something about you unsettles me in the best way," he says darkly. "Like you’ve disturbed my foundations."
"A little renovation never hurt anyone," Vex says with a hiss as he licks her up.
He stops talking for a while, simply gets to the task at hand. His tongue is broad and warm and knows how she likes it, what with weeks of practice and many hours perfecting the art of making her come. He knows her body and most of all, Vex trusts him. She trusts him with her whole self, really, and that makes all the difference. Her fingers tangle in his hair, a mix white and brown that juts between her fingertips, and when she finally goes over the edge with a shout, she sinks down against the door and into his lap.
"I love you," Percy says, and his glasses are fogged up and halfway down the bridge of his nose. His mouth his wet and red as a ripe apple. "Of course I love you."
She kisses him back with an open mouth and an open heart.
Opening Percy's door the next day to find Scanlan waiting smugly in the doorframe across the way is only momentarily startling. Of all the people in Vox Machina that could find her doing the walk of shame, it might as well be the person who's got the least sense of shame amongst them. "You lost, short stuff?" Scanlan grins at her.
"You know, being a ranger, my sense of direction is just completely off when I'm not in my favored terrain," Vex plays along, and they start walking in tandem towards the kitchens.
"I'm happy for you." Vex smiles as Scanlan punches her hip lightly. "Also, good to know that your rooms will need soundproofing in the mansion from now on."
"We were not that loud," Vex hisses, and Scanlan fixes her with a look that reads, oh honey. "Okay, we were a little loud," she adds in a pleased voice.
It's always easy to spot a De Rolo from a distance. Vex spies Cassandra's tell-tale plait down the back of her head, striped with brown and white, and she nudges Scanlan to hurry on ahead. Vex wants to talk to her, wants to tell her that she was right, that Vex was going about it all wrong—
"Hello, dear," Vex says, and Cassandra whips around, nearly smacking Vex in the face with her braid. "Occupational hazard, that is," Vex laughs, pointing at Cassandra's hair and the near misfire. She grins at Vex sheepishly.
"You must understand," Cassandra smiles, eyeing Vex's own braid. The look on her face softens from a humorous slant to something more introspective. "I need to tell you—my behavior before was inexcusable—"
"Please don't apologize," Vex stops her. She takes Cassandra's shoulder. "Darling, you had every right to say what you said. Honestly, it reminded me a little of me."
"All the same," Cassandra says, and her voice is small. "I'm sorry. I know your character. I simply wanted to believe no one good enough for him."
"Come on, you're a brilliant girl. You knew something was odd about the whole situation. It was all a bit of a confusing mess, wasn't it?" Vex nods, and when Cassandra breaks into an agreeable smile, Vex squeezes her shoulder in solidarity. There is something so familiar about Cassandra that it makes her heart hurt. "Does a clean slate sound good?"
"Clean slate sounds wonderful," Cassandra nods.
"Sister, d'you want coffee?" Vax calls out, holding up a mug in the distance. Vex starts walking towards him until Cassandra catches her by the back of her shirt.
"I have something for you," Cassandra says, and she holds out the ring in the center of her palm. "I never should have had it in the first place." Vex watches as she gulps before adding, "It would be nice, having a sister again."
The ring remains boldly blue and marvelously beautiful. It still matches her feather.
Vex closes Cassandra's fingers around the ring. "Oh, darling," she says, pushing the ring away. "We're doing things the right way this time. And no matter what happens, you'll always be family to me." She throws her arm around Cassandra's shoulders and turns them towards the kitchens. "Are you hungry? I'm starving."
"Please tell me there's coffee," says a sleepy but familiar voice behind them.
"There's always coffee, brother," Cassandra grins over her shoulder at a rather exhausted looking Percy.
"The mug Vax has is mine!" Vex grins before sprinting off for her promised pick-me-up, leaving the De Rolos in the dust behind her.
They catch up, though. They always do.
The dirt beneath her knees is soft and fertile. Keyleth's made sure of it. The entire Whitestone garden has flourished under Keyleth's tender care, and when Vex offers to help her tend to the flowers that now grow there in most bountiful number, Keyleth seems most excited to show Vex the different variety: how certain plants could never grow in this terrain if not for a little magical help, how some plants have poison in their petals and others offer healing remedies, how even the smallest seed can grow into the largest of trees.
"This white rose is native to the land here," Keyleth points to the flower under Vex's nose. "The native ones tend to grow better than any of the transplanted ones I sow." In looking around, Vex couldn't tell you which flowers were native or not, so she presumes that any real difference between the plants here are only discernible to a true gardner like Keyleth.
Vex plucks a white rose and puts it behind Keyleth's ear. "I need to tell you something."
"I know," Keyleth smiles. "You don't usually join me for my gardening."
It's hypocritical, Vex knows it's hypocritical to hope for any reaction different from her own initial response to Vax and Keyleth's romance: but she still dares to hope. Keyleth is a better person than Vex. And Vex may not deserve Keyleth's approval, but Gods, she wants it. "I know you and Percy are close," is how she starts. Keyleth nods. "I know you only want the best for him." Vex's eyes start to prick at the edges, and she's not sure why, but her voice is choked up when she adds, "And I'm not the best person, not by a longshot, I know that. But I will be better." She presses the heels of her hands against her eyes to stem any tears that threaten to drip out. No crying here. "For him."
Keyleth doesn't do anything for a moment, and Vex holds her breath. Then she has Vex in her arms and she's holding her tight. "Oh, Vex," Keyleth says, "it doesn't matter if you think you're a bad person. Well, it does, but it matters less than this: you're good for him. And that," Keyleth winks a little wonkily, both eyes going at the same time, "makes all the difference."
"You madwoman," Vex sniffs at her. "I thought you'd want to push me off a cliff."
Keyleth snorts. "Hardly. I'm happy for you and Percy. You're in love. It's obvious. And you both deserve a little happiness." Vex's heart feels so full, but when Keyleth looks away, a sense of dread comes over her. "I just worry still that you're not good with me and Vax." She takes Vex by the hand. "I love him, Vex. I love him so much, I promise you that. I'd never hurt him, and I hope you know that."
"Darling, I know. And of course I'm good with it." Vex looks Keyleth up and down, reassessing the druid before her. "You're taking this a lot better than I expected."
"The only thing I've ever wanted from you is your respect," Keyleth says in a vulnerable tone.
"You have it," Vex says solemnly. "You've always had it." Vex purses her lips in a sad smile. "But I should have made that clearer."
Keyleth smiles and then shrugs. "So I’m cool. So cool. Right, Vex?"
"In all the ways that matter." Vex throws her arms around Keyleth, pulling her in for a giant hug. "I love you so much, darling. Don't forget it."
The dragons are dead, and Vox Machina has had many adventures since the Chroma Conclave fell. It's been years since Thordak's demise, longer still since the Briarwoods were defeated. They've fought liches, killed demi-gods, and finished Keyleth's Aramente, amongst many other adventures since taking down the Cinder King.
Right now, Percy has his feet up against the headboard. He is beautifully, blissfully naked. Beads of sweat collect on his brow, dampening the hair at his temples. Vex has never seen a more radiant sight. She leans up on her elbows and crawls over his chest, her breasts grazing against his skin. Percy's eyes drift open in lazy satisfaction. "Yes, darling?"
"We should get married," Vex suggests with a wicked grin.
Percy smiles back at her, his eyes crinkling at the edges. There are a few more lines there now than when Vex first met the man. "You know, I think that’s an excellent idea."