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we won't know the actual (if we never take the chance)

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Percy enjoys doing new things. He is interested in experimentation, in finding the limits of both himself and the world around him. Emon is a new city for him, so it's a part of this process, figuring out what it's all about. He moved here without really knowing what he was getting into, and he wants to explore.

Tonight's exploration has been an abject failure.

The club is very loud, and Percy is both overdressed and dressed in completely the wrong style. He misjudged the whole thing, so now he's sticking out like a sore thumb in this sea of leather and piercings. He's trying to find it in him to like the band that's playing, but they're mostly just focused on volume instead of style. He can't even get drunk, because he drove, and if Emon has taxis, he's never seen one.

Percy looks around; in a perfect world he'd see a familiar face, but something else catches his eye immediately. There is a woman standing at the bar, and he finds he can't look away from her. She's dressed like a punk, though in a brown leather jacket instead of the typical black. She's wearing heavy black boots over ripped fishnet tights, a pair of blue feathers braided into her long black hair. Her shirt is a crop-top advertising some band he's never heard of, and its color matches her short skirt.

Percy has never wanted to be cool enough to talk to someone with the ardor he has for it right now.

There's a guy standing next to her dressed in all black, and if they're not twins then Percy will eat his proverbial hat. They're standing next to this massive bald guy with a full beard and a shorter man in a red beret. All of them look as appropriate as Percy looks out of place.

He's so caught up in studying them that he gets caught looking; the woman turns, surveying the crowd, and her eyes land on Percy. He panics, having the strongest urge to dive behind a pillar, but he stands his ground, trying to look like he just glanced her way and wasn't staring. The woman gives him a once-over and turns back to her friends; her probable twin sees Percy too, looking suspiciously at him for a moment before he turns away.

Percy rubs his forehead, looking back at the stage where the band is still being loud. He has no idea how one look has shaken him up so badly. It probably means nothing; he should just carry on and act like a civilized person.

He looks back at her again. She's laughing, her head tipped back, and Percy can't stop looking at the line of her neck, the elegant way it curves up, bisected by a black choker that just seems to highlight the grace of it by counterpoint. He gives himself thirty seconds to look; surely that's acceptable.

While he's still looking, the woman's bald and bereted friends detach from her, heading for the door, and Percy almost runs when they walk by him. He does have enough courage not to, despite his appalling lack of it this evening, and he pays them no mind- or pretends to, anyway.

"Her name is Vex," the shorter guy says to Percy as they pass. "You'll regret it if you don't talk to her." Percy can't come up with a response quick enough, and they walk on by and out of the club.

Alright. Enough of this. Percy is going to go to the restroom, make sure he's presentable, then go to the bar and introduce himself to Vex, who is certainly living up to her name right now.

There is of course a line, and he waits impatiently for his turn. He finishes up and comes back, walking directly to the bar to speak to her, and she is gone.

Percy is only mostly crushed. He leaves the club, and there's no sign of her outside. Now that he's out of the club, he has no desire to go back in. He gets in his car and goes home, and he tries not to think about what an idiot he is.

By Tuesday, Percy still regrets missing his chance.

It's perfectly ridiculous to be hung up on this. It's just a silly crush on a girl that he saw for maybe five minutes at a show he didn't even like. True, relationships have probably been built on less, but that doesn't mean Percy should be dwelling on this. He should just leave it alone, let it be an interesting glimpse he had once, whether of a random girl or another life.

He's not going to do it. He has to see her again.

He sighs, setting aside the diagram he's been working on and pulling out his phone. The only hope he has, other than waiting for an ultimately uncaring universe to answer his plea, is to go back to the club and hope she shows up. Surely that's not as creepy as it sounds in his head; it's not like he's going to follow her home or press it if she's not interested. All he's doing is trying to assure he's in the same geographical area as her. That's probably fine.

He pulls up the schedule for the weekend at the club in question. On a hunch, he chooses the cheapest show of the weekend; a national act is playing Saturday night, but some band he doesn't recognize has the Friday slot, for a fraction of the price. If he's going to go through with this stupid plan, he's at least going to do it on the cheap.

Before he can think better of it, he buys his ticket. Whether Vex is there or not, he will be in attendance to see the Verdant Guard. Hopefully, they might even be worth listening to.

His work week seems to fly by after that, and soon enough it's Friday. The show doesn't start until nine, so of course by seven-thirty he's sitting on his couch fully dressed, tapping his fingers and trying to distract himself with the Food Network. He's wearing all black even though it really doesn't suit him; all black is appropriate for just about anything, as far as he can tell.

Percy finally can't stall anymore, getting in his car and driving to the club. He walks in, and it feels like he's stepped back into the nineties. There is some definite dayglo going on, along with a lot of people wearing a lot of pants with a lot of straps. He isn't the only person wearing black, but he is decidedly in the minority. It's probably fine; it's been a very long time since he owned a hypercolor t-shirt.

He gets a drink and walks around a little bit. The band is okay and also reminds him a lot of the nineties, but it isn't much to write home about. He convinces himself that he hasn't wasted his money even if Vex isn't here. This would be a pleasant night seeing a decent band for a good price. Nothing else needs to happen.

Then he sees Vex.

She's standing by the wall, next to her brother and a woman with long white hair. Vex's hair is pulled back, obscured by a set of black and blue falls that glow softly in the darkness of the bar. She has fishnets over her arms this time, bright pink, with a black tank top and a silver skirt that glimmers when she moves. Her friend is dressed in the same style, as are a lot of women in the club, but her brother is in all black again.

Percy steels himself, takes a deep breath, and walks over.

While he's still walking, her friend says something to her brother, steering him away from Vex; Percy can't tell if it was intentional or not, but he's kind of glad she's alone. He does not need more people to see if this goes sideways. She looks up as he approaches, and he walks up to her. He has a whole thing to say, a succinct yet charming sentence that will form the correct impression instantly.

"Um, hello," is actually what he says. "Percy."

"Vex," she says, holding out a hand, and Percy shakes it. "I'd ask if you come here often, but I saw you last week."

"Admittedly, I'm hard to miss," he says, gesturing vaguely at his hair. "It was actually my first time here. I'm new to Emon."

"Yeah, I didn't peg you for a punk," she says.

Percy bites his tongue on a choice comment about pegging; it seems a little much for a first meeting. "How can one know what one is into if one doesn't take a chance?" he says instead.

"That's a very astute observation," she says.

"I try," he says. "So what do you do when you're not here?"

"Dog trainer," she says. "You?"

"Engineer," he says. It's only mostly true, a thing he does occasionally on contract, but it's where he starts with people; he generally needs a run up to explaining he's independently wealthy and running from the pressure of being a de Rolo. "Mostly industrial, which fascinates me but is, objectively, dreadfully boring."

"Somebody's got to do the boring stuff, I suppose," she says.

"That's one way to look at it," Percy says; he's never heard it put like that, and it's kind of charming.

The music changes tempo, and he can see how Vex's body moves to it unconsciously, even mid-conversation. He wants to stand there and watch her, but that would definitely be creepy.

"Can I ask you what your tattoo is?" he says instead. "I've never seen a design quite like it."

"This?" she says, touching her arm. "It's the logo for the Slayer's Take. My friends and I spent a whole summer following them once."

"It's very unusual," Percy says.

"In a good way, I hope," Vex says, and he gets the strangest sense that she actually cares about his approval.

"Of course," he says. "It's striking in its simplicity."

"I think so," she says, smiling.

They talk for a while, and it's easy, just chatting, even if sometimes they have to shout over the music. He likes her laugh particularly, and she does it often, free with it. Something feels right about talking to her, like it's worn in, like they're supposed to be doing it.

Eventually, she goes back and joins her friends, and Percy gets the sense that Vex is giving them the rundown on him. He can't find it in himself to care; he thinks he did a pretty good job. He stands around listening to the music instead of worrying about it. Even if that's it, he's done what he came here for.

He really hopes that wasn't it.

The music is still not really to his taste but is giving him bouts of nostalgia, which, he supposes, is good enough. Things are winding down when Vex finds him again; her friend and brother are already leaving, and she swings by Percy on her way out.

"You should come out next weekend," Vex says, and Percy wonders if she's just now worked up the nerve to tell him. "Arcana Pansophical is pretty great."

"Is it like this?" he says.

She shakes her head, her falls bouncing. "This is throwback techno. Arcana Pansophical is a downbeat trip hop band."

"What's appealing about trip hop?" he asks. "That was a genuine question," he adds, realizing what it sounded like.

"Even at its most dark and political, you can still grind to it," she says.

"I can't say I would be opposed to that," Percy says. That wasn't subtle, and Percy is completely okay with it.

"So I'll see you then?" Vex asks, with a casualness that seems forced.

Percy considers playing it cool, saying he'll see about it instead of committing. He does not, because he's going to be here if those tickets are a hundred fucking dollars.

"Of course," he says, and it's worth it for the smile that crosses her face.

"Til next weekend," she says, kissing his cheek.

She's out the door before he realizes he forgot to get her phone number. He almost runs after her, but it almost feels like that would be overstepping. He'll see her in a week. That's something.

On his way out, he buys a ticket for Arcana Pansophical.

Obviously, a week is plenty of time to overanalyze absolutely everything, and Percy does, at length. He picks apart every sentence, diagnoses every pause, drives himself crazy with it. He knows he's doing it and is annoyed with himself for entertaining it, but that doesn't stop him.

Above all, Percy thinks about what a trainwreck he is, how if she knew she'd run away, and rightfully so. He's known he was broken for so long that it's a done thing, without a value judgment attached to it. Vex doesn't need to wander into that without prior warning, but there's no way to tell someone you've just met that you come with sharp edges.

In his better moments, he sees through his own bullshit. He's not twenty anymore, nor is he in a town where people recognize him immediately and treat him differently because of it. He's a grown man, not a bad idea; he might even be the right idea for someone. After all he's been through and as much progress he's making, he deserves to consider the notion of being happy.

He keeps telling himself this. It's only kind of working.

The days drag and drag, but finally it's Friday night again. The club isn't quite as full or noisy as it was the last time, though in his dress shirt he has once again missed the mark when it comes to clothing. He sees Vex right away; she's standing by the bar with her brother and a redheaded woman, and Percy wonders how many concert friends she has to cycle through.

Vex is wearing a black sweater dress and thigh-high black leather boots that come up all the way to the bottom of her skirt. The only pop of color in her outfit is the pair of blue feather earrings that dangle from her ears. She smiles when she sees him walking over, and god does Percy want to see that smile more often.

"Percy, darling," Vex says, kissing his cheek. "So glad you made it."

"I was curious about the band," Percy says.

"Of course you were," she says, with a sneaky smile. She holds a hand out, indicating the people with her. "This is my friend, Keyleth, and my brother, Vax."

"You're the guy," Keyleth says excitedly, and Vex elbows her in the ribs. "Uh, I mean, you're certainly a guy."

Vax hasn't said anything; he's looking Percy up and down like he's vetting him. He looks more thoughtful than cruel, though, like he's trying to figure Percy out before he makes a decision. Something about him makes Percy want to admit everything, open himself up for Vax's scrutiny, but that would definitely be too much.

"A pleasure to meet you," Percy says instead, to both Vax and Keyleth.

The musical act has already started up; the music is dark and dreamlike, and it appeals to Percy more than the last two shows. He's about to make a comment about it, but without asking, Vex takes his hand and pulls him into the crowd. There's a cluster of people who are dancing, mostly on each other, and she leads him into the thick of it. Vex turns, putting her back to Percy's front, and Percy follows her lead; he goes for broke and puts his hands on her hips, and Vex relaxes against him, moving to the music.

Vex is beautiful like this; the way she loves the music is genuine, and Percy finds himself caught up in it too. There are people around, but they almost don't register to him, things on his periphery while Vex fills up the center. It's so easy to follow her, letting her guide his movements. The beat is slow and sensual, and he feels Vex like an extension of his body, melded with him.

"You're a good dancer," Vex says, rolling her hips against Percy's. Her voice is soft, pitched only for Percy to hear, and Percy wants her to talk to him like that forever.

"I'm just following you," Percy says. He takes his hands off her hips and wraps his arms around her. Vex threads her fingers through his, holding him to her. The rhythm of the music gets faster, but they only speed up incrementally, moving on every other beat to keep things slow.

They are being disgusting and Percy doesn't care. At least they're not the only people doing it.

Percy doesn't know how long they dance. It feels like one long moment, an expanse of time without limit, where there is nothing but her and the music. They take a break when the band does, but when they start up again, they're back on the floor. The music shifts and flows around them, and they flow with it, let it consume them.

Someone taps on Percy's shoulder, and Percy considers refusing to turn around. He looks over his shoulder, though, and there is Keyleth, looking like she feels guilty for interrupting.

"Sorry," she says. "I just need Vex for a second."

Vex sighs, turning Percy loose and going off to talk to Keyleth. Keyleth seems to be trying to convince her of something, and Vex keeps looking back at Percy before answering.

Finally Vex comes back, and he can tell the news isn't good. "I have to go," she says, and Percy almost asks her to stay, almost asks her to come home with him.

"What's next week?" Percy says instead, because it feels like the next step.

"The Clasp," she says. "Post-ironic hipster grunge. It's on Saturday."

"I'll wear my best flannel shirt," he says.

"Don't forget the combat boots," she says.

"I assume they're de rigueur," he says.

"You're cute," Vex tells him, kissing his cheek again before she goes off with Keyleth and Vax.

He stands there watching as they leave; they get maybe halfway to the door before Vex turns back, rushing over and launching herself at Percy. She kisses him with abandon, and he gives her just as much back.

She finally pulls away, and she puts a hand on Percy's chest, breathing deeply. "That's all," she tells him, kissing him again before she leaves for good.

Percy just stands there for the longest time with an obnoxiously big grin on his face.

His week is busy, which is good, because every moment his hands aren't working he's thinking about Vex, her body next to his, the heat of that kiss. It's vastly preferable to trying to convince himself he's not a creeper or picking apart every turn of phrase. He is gone for Vex, in a way he's not sure he's ever felt before, though he doesn't even know her last name.

He somehow manages to make it through to Saturday, though he doesn't quite know how he did it. Percy really does wear a flannel shirt, over one of the white a-shirts that he hasn't ruined in his workshop yet. He doesn't have any ripped jeans, but he makes do with a pair that he actually has ruined in his workshop. He looks the part; he also kind of looks like a construction worker, but the line between that and the grunge aesthetic is paper thin.

Miracle beyond miracles, he looks indistinguishable from most of the crowd. Granted, fully half of them look like lumberjacks, but they're all ridiculous together. When he finds Vex, she's embraced the look too, a white tank top and jeans with a flannel shirt tied around her waist, a blue feather on a cord around her neck. It doesn't suit her, but Percy doesn't give a single fuck. Vax is the only person with her, and he's wearing all black; Percy is already figuring out Vax's fashion sense.

"Hey," Vex says as Percy approaches, smiling at him. Feeling suddenly emboldened, he kisses her on the lips in greeting, trying to ignore whatever reaction Vax has to that.

"Good evening," Percy says. "I'm glad to see you again."

"Likewise," Vax says, likely just to be an asshole, and Vex socks him in the arm.

"You ready, Emon?" the lead singer shouts from the stage, and without waiting for a response, the band launches into its set.

And they are terrible.

They're so bad that Percy is taken aback by it. The punk band was not to his taste, but they were not unskilled in their genre, but these people are just bad at music. They look fully committed, like they really think they're good at this, but they are so wrong.

Vex puts her hand in Percy's, and it is the only good thing about the experience. Percy has a lot of questions about her musical taste that he didn't before; does she think this is good, or is it some kind of statement? He's not sure what constitutes post-irony, but he doesn't think anybody could actually enjoy this genuinely.

Percy makes it through three songs by sheer force of will; in addition to being bad, they're also very loud, so he can't even distract himself by talking to Vex and Vax. He reaches his breaking point fairly quickly, turning away from the stage and towards Vex.

"I need to talk to you." Percy says.

"What?" Vex says loudly.

"Talk!" he shouts, pointing towards the hallway with the bathrooms.

"Okay!" she shouts back. She starts to make her way through the crowd, and Percy follows after her.

In the hallway, there's a line for the bathroom and a couple making out, and Percy ignores both of them. It's actually quiet enough to talk in here, though the band is still fully audible.

"There are two things I have to tell you," Percy says, and from Vex's face, he can tell the seriousness of his tone came through.

"If one of them is that you're married, I'll kick you in the balls," she says.

"I'm definitely not married," he says.

"Then proceed," she says.

"First, I barely know you, but you're one of the most extraordinary women I've ever met," he says. "Second, I hate this music. I want to see you, but I cannot abide this. I wasn't made to see a show every weekend."

She laughs, sounding delighted, and he is instantly relieved. "I knew something about you couldn't be perfect."

"Myriad things about me are not perfect," he says.

"I'm okay with finding them out for myself," she says. She takes his hand. "Come on. This band got shitty when they replaced their drummer."

"Where are we going?" Percy asks, hoping he already knows the answer.

"You can take me next door and buy me a cup of coffee," Vex says, "or you can just take me home now."

"The second one, please," he says.

"Why, don't like coffee?" she says playfully.

"If you insist on it, I have a coffee pot at home," he says.

"Save it for the morning," she says. "Let me check in with Vax and let's get out of here."

Vex pulls him back into the club, where the band is still very bad. Vax hasn't moved, and Percy wonders if he's the one responsible for this terrible choice.

"We're going," Vex yells. "Don't wait for me."

"Address and phone number," Vax shouts at Percy, pulling out his phone. Percy considers protesting, but upon thinking about it, he would be much less calm if someone tried to pick Cassandra up in a bar. He shouts the information, and Vax types it into his phone before slipping it back into his pocket. "Have fun, wear a condom."

"You're such an asshole," Vex says, but she gives Vax a hug.

Comparatively, the noise of talk and traffic outside is like silence, and Percy is endlessly glad for it. "Do you actually like that band?" he asks Vex, unable to leave it alone.

"I used to," Vex says, "but that was godawful. Vax is probably only still in there so it doesn't look like he's following us."

"I feel better," he says. He leads Vex through the parking lot and his car, and before they can even get in, Vex backs him up against it, putting her arms around his neck and pulling him down to kiss him. He lets her in readily, wanting everything he can get, wanting her so much that every other thought gets pushed aside.

"Drive fast," she says when they part.

He does.

In record time, he makes it to his house, pulling up in the driveway. Vex is out of the car almost before he turns it off, and she follows him to the door. Percy fumbles with his keys, mostly because Vex chooses that moment to slip her hands into his pockets and bite the back of his neck, but he gets them inside, slamming the door behind them.

He pushes Vex up against the wall, kissing her hard, and she grabs his ass, dragging him closer. This is what Percy has wanted for so long, the two of them alone together, no interruptions, nothing interfering. He wants so much more, wants to know her, learn her, find her out, but he's perfectly happy with starting right here.

The kiss is heated, demanding on both their parts, and he knows she can feel him hard against her, what she's doing to him. She bites his lower lip sharply before pulling away; her lips are reddened, shining, and he almost dives in again.

"Take me to bed," she says, grinding against him for a moment, and Percy bites his own lip to keep from moaning. "Or anywhere, to be honest."

"Upstairs," he says breathlessly.

He jumps when she slaps his ass. "Lead the way," she says, grinning.

Percy does, haphazardly turning on lights and throwing off clothes as they go. Vex is doing much the same thing; there's going to be some flannel to sort through in the morning, but fuck it. When they get up the stairs and into Percy's room, he turns around just in time to watch Vex drop her bra to the floor.

He pulls her to him, kissing her soundly. "You are remarkable," he says.

"You're not so bad yourself," Vex says; she nudges him back until he falls onto the bed, climbing in with him as he pushes off his jeans, leaving them in a heap on the floor. She slips a hand into the waistband of his boxer briefs, and Percy groans as she wraps a hand around him, stroking him slowly. She grins dirtily. "Is all this for me?"

"Everything you want," he says, which is more honest than he intends. She seems to like it anyway, because her smile gets wider.

She pulls her hand away, and Percy wants to put it right back; she slips off her panties, though, and that seems like a reasonable exchange. "Take those off and find a condom," she says. "I'm not waiting anymore."

"Perish the thought," Percy says, pushing his underwear down and off. He rolls over and rifles through his nightstand, praying there's a condom; he can come up with a lot of good plans if there's not, but it would be such a waste when they both want it so badly. Luck is with him, and he sighs in relief, showing Vex the packet. He tears it open and rolls the condom on, and Vex pushes him onto his back, swinging a leg over his hips to straddle him.

Percy groans loudly as she pushes down onto him; she's hot and so wet, and it's so good he could scream. Vex bites her lip, slowly sinking until he's all the way inside. "Fuck," she sighs, putting a hand on his chest for support as she starts to rock her hips.

"I thought we were," Percy says, unable to resist, and Vex grins.

It's not at all like dancing, but Percy has that feeling again, like they're one thing, inseparable, driven by a beat. He rolls his hips up, meeting her as she takes him down, the two of them in sync. It's hot but so easy, like they were made to do this. Maybe they were; Vex was a surprise but all of this now feels somehow inevitable, a thing that was supposed to happen all along and just happened to work out this way.

Vex is beautiful above him, moaning as she moves on him, and Percy puts his hands on her waist, guiding her. He wants to luxuriate in this now that he has it, just enjoy it, both because of their connection and for sheer hedonism's sake. It's not going to last, though, not when Vex is moving faster, not when Percy can feel the tension building, feel himself getting so close to the edge.

So they'll just have to do it again.

Vex is panting, staring straight into his eyes, and Percy can't look away, wants nothing more in the world than to see her come apart for him. He slides his hand to where they're joined, rubbing circles on her clit with his thumb, and Vex gasps, closing her eyes for just a moment before locking them back onto Percy's. He nods, not even sure what he's trying to say, moving his thumb faster.

Vex breaks, looking surprised for a moment as it hits her; her fingernails dig into Percy's chest as she comes, but he doesn't care. In seconds he's right there with her, crying out. He grabs her free hand with his, needing the connection, and she squeezes his fingers tight for a moment before going lax, just resting there as they come down.

Long moments later, she finally rolls off of him, letting him throw away the condom before she puts her head on his shoulder. Neither of them say anything for a good while; there's not much to be said, really, after they've communicated so much with their bodies.

"Do you want to sleep over?" Percy asks, and if it comes out a little plaintive, well, it can't be helped.

Vex looks at the clock on Percy's nightstand and snorts. "It's like 10:45."

"Was that a no?" he says cautiously.

"No," she says, running a finger down his chest and grinning. "It means nobody's sleeping for a long time."

--

Percy wakes up with Vex beside him; she's mostly on top of him, actually, one leg and one arm slung over him. She's still out and snoring, softly enough that it's kind of cute. He doesn't intend to wake her up, but he must move or something, because she blinks awake.

"Morning, darling," she says, hugging him to her.

"Good morning," he says, brushing her hair away from her face. "Sleep well?"

"How could I not?" she says. "You wore me completely out."

"I'm not sorry," he says.

"Neither am I," she says with a smile. She sighs. "But I do really want a shower."

"Help yourself," Percy says, and Vex leans over and kisses him before letting him go and rolling out of bed.

He stretches, just lying there as he hears the shower come on. He's almost fallen back asleep when the doorbell rings. He frowns in confusion, rustling up a pair of pajama pants and a t-shirt before going downstairs.

He opens the front door, and there, wearing all black, though different than last night's, is Vax.

"Nice house," Vax says. He holds out a bag. "This is for my sister."

"Thank you," Percy says, taking it. "Uh, what is it?"

"Brunch clothes," Vax says, like Percy should know already. "You're coming to brunch."

"I am?" Percy says, and Vax gives him a look like brunch is not optional. "I mean, of course I am." Vax doesn't move. "Would you like to come in?" he says, and Vax is already stepping inside before Percy remembers that there's a line of commingled clothing going from the door up to his bedroom.

Well, it's not like Vax doesn't know what they did.

"I'll go tell Vex you're here," Percy says, not sure what else to say, and retreats back up to his bedroom.

Vex is just stepping out of the bathroom, wearing Percy's robe. "Who was that?" she asks, toweling off her hair.

"Your brother," he says. He holds up the bag. "These are for you."

"I hope he didn't startle you," she says, digging through the clothes and pulling out a blue skirt. "Is he still downstairs?"

"That's where I left him," he says. "He said something about brunch."

"You don't have to," she says, looking chagrined. "Sorry, I should have told you. It's just a thing we always do on Sunday mornings. If it's too much too soon-"

Percy cuts her off with a kiss. "All you have to do is ask," he says. "I am happy to go to brunch with you and your brother."

"There are actually six of us," Vex says. "It's a big friend thing."

"Then I guess I'm going to have brunch with all six of you," he says, because this woman could tell him to walk off a cliff and he'd consider it.

It does not escape Percy's notice that Vax brought his sister a turtleneck, but he doesn't mention it. Instead, he takes a quick shower and gets dressed; it's nice not to worry about trying to look the part. His usual style will suffice for brunch, and he'll feel all the better for it.

Vex is already downstairs when he finishes, and Percy notices on his way down that Vex's half of the clothing on the floor has been collected, probably placed in the same bag that Vax brought. "I'll drive," Vax says. "Everybody's already there."

"Is that alright?" Vex asks Percy.

"It seems easiest," he says.

"Then let's get out of here," Vax says. Percy grabs his keys as Vax opens the door; Vex steps through, but Vax puts a hand on Percy's chest to hold him back.

"I'm not going to warn you away from my sister, because she deserves to be happy," Vax says. "If you make my sister unhappy, we'll have a problem."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Percy says honestly.

"You're probably okay, de Rolo," Vax says, and Percy's heart stops. Vax shakes his head. "Vex doesn't know. That's for you to deal with."

"Thank you for not telling her," Percy says. "I- it's a lot to bring up."

"You'll figure it out," Vax says.

"If you're threatening Percy, please do it to my face," Vex calls from outside.

"After you," Percy says, holding out a hand, and he locks the door after Vax has gone.

Vax's car is kind of a rattletrap, but it has a great sound system; nothing about this surprises Percy. He drives them out into the city, pulling up in the parking lot of Abadar's Promenade, a place that Percy has heard about but never actually been to. It was the brunch place for a while, and Percy wonders what kind of strings they pull to get a table for six every Sunday.

The group is sitting in the back, at a long table with three open seats, only two of which are next to each other. Vax immediately takes the one that's by itself, sitting down and picking up the menu that's waiting for him.

"This is Percy," Vex says, standing at the head of the table. "Percy, this is Scanlan, Pike, and Grog, and of course you've met Keyleth."

"Told you," Scanlan says, before taking a bite of his waffle.

"Told him what?" Vex asks suspiciously.

"That he'd regret not making your acquaintance," Scanlan says. "I told him so the first time he saw you."

"You little shit," Vex says, surprised.

"In fairness, he was right," Percy says, pulling out Vex's chair.

"My meddling is all for good," Scanlan says, and Percy gets the sense that it is not.

Orders are placed, food is brought, and for a while Percy just eats quietly and listens to all of them. They must have been friends for a long time, the way the conversation flows easily and naturally. Strangely, though, Percy doesn't feel as put off by that as he could. He slips into the conversation too, making a remark about Keyleth's plans for her garden, giving an opinion when Pike solicits comments on a movie, riposting when Scanlan makes a sly remark. Maybe this is inevitable too; Vex comes as part of a set, but maybe Percy can have all of it.

He can't remember the last time he had friends, and he might just jump at the chance to have these.

"You can keep him," Grog says after they're done eating, sounding satisfied.

"Grog," Pike says quietly.

Grog looks around at the rest of them. "Were we not supposed to say that? Because you said-" He looks down. "Why'd you step on my foot?"

"I'm pleased to have your approval," Percy says.

"Almost everybody fails," Keyleth says.

"We weren't going to say that either," Pike says.

"Next time we need a better game plan," Scanlan says. "At least a more explicit one, apparently."

The waiter brings the check, and Percy takes it before anyone can react, throwing his credit card in it without looking and handing it back.

"Okay, you're definitely keeping him," Scanlan says.

"You don't have to do that to impress me," Vex says, looking at him warily.

"We have a lot to talk about," Percy says.

Vex holds up her hand, blocking the rest of the table from seeing her lips. "Are you secretly really rich?" she asks quietly.

"Um," Percy says. "Yes, as a matter of fact."

"I don't know what I did in a past life to deserve this, but I'd do it again," she says.

"You deserve it in this one," Percy says, and Vex leans over and kisses him.

"Alright, alright, break it up," Vax says. "Save the PDA for the third date."

"This was our third date," Vex says.

"We were dating?" Percy says, frowning.

"You didn't know?" Vex says. "I thought you kept coming to the club to see me."

"I did," he says. "I just didn't know it meant we were dating."

"You ridiculous man," she says, but she slips her hand into his under the table.

Pike pointedly asks Keyleth a question about her tomato plants, and the conversation moves on. Percy keeps his hand in Vex's, letting it pass him by.

He is still not cool enough for Vex, but if she hasn't realized that yet, he's not going to tell her.