“I—” Vex can’t meet his eyes any longer and instead looks to the window. She takes one more steadying breath, “I don’t want this anymore.” Not for you, she adds silently.
Percy closes his eyes and says slowly, carefully, “The reason I came here was to tell you the same.” He swallows past the lump in his throat, straightens his back, opens his eyes to make it look like he is better than he actually is. He meets her eyes when she looks at him with thinly veiled shock, but he focuses hard on seeing anything but her. That would be too much, to really see Vex while he did this.
Vex feels a sudden urge to fight rolling inside her when he says that. She wants to work it out, to try harder, to talk about this. She wants to fix this, whatever is wrong she wants to make it better. But even Vex, who rarely backed down from a fight, knew what battles to pick. Because in the end, if she wins, then what?
It’s been eating at Vex in the months since they defeated the Chroma Conclave and went their separate ways. Percy was wonderful, Whitestone was the home she didn’t know she was looking for, everything was all she had wanted as a child. Except it isn’t what she wants now. Vex isn’t done with adventure, with travelling, with getting into trouble. She wonders if the last few years have ruined her, made her hungry for something that could kill her at any given moment. She shouldn’t have been craving danger, her fingers shouldn’t be itching for her bow, she shouldn’t feel an excited jump in her heart when something snapped in the woods. Vex wasn’t ready for the life she had been waiting for.
It was unfair to ask that of Percy. It was cruel to ask him to step back into danger with her. He deserved this life, a quiet life with his sister and his people and the city he was forced away from. Percy deserved to make peaceful and wonderful inventions in his workshop and after all he had been through he had earned a simple life. A safer life. But if Vex asked, and she would, he would come with her. And she couldn’t bear the idea of tearing him away from this, taking him from it all over again. He was a good man and he deserved a good life. Which was why it would be best if she was not someone who could drag him down into her terrible ways.
So Vex bites her tongue. It is a fight she would win, like most of her fights, and if she won then she would have him still but at what cost? Taking his life from him or losing the life she craves? No. She needed to let him go. They would be okay, they would go on. It would be better for both of them. “Thank you. For—” her voice almost breaks but she covers it smoothly “—everything. I’ll be out of your hair in no time, I’ll send a letter to Pike and—”
“You’re leaving?” Percy is the model of a lord right now. It makes Vex almost angry. She wanted more than this. But Percy was coming to end it as well and maybe this is what it’s like to be strangers this with a real noble. She suddenly remembers how much she hates nobles and the rise of conflicting emotions almost makes her nauseous, but that can wait.
Instead she just shrugs, “I don’t need to be here anymore.” Vex isn’t sure what else to do or say, she had gone to Whitestone for more than Percy but it is his home and ultimately she was just a visitor in his world.
“You are the Baroness of the Third House of Whitestone. It is as much your home as mine. I…” Percy clears his throat and finally looks away from her, “I gave you the title because you deserved it and because you would do well in the position. I did not do it so you would be closer to me.” There is a pause before he looks at her again and says, “You don’t have to leave. Whitestone is your home. I know you love it as much as I do.”
A wave rises up through Vex and it’s all she could do to stop herself from crying right there. But Percy would try and comfort her and if he did she wouldn’t be able to hold herself back. “Thank you,” she whispers instead.
Percy bows his head slightly, stiffly, such a formal goodbye that it physically hurts her.
Vex doesn’t know he’s doing it because his eyes are threatening to spill over with tears and he can’t have her see him like this right now or she’ll do what she does best, make him love her. She’ll hold his face, kiss his cheeks, wipe away his tears, tell him everything will be okay. She’ll even make him believe her because she could tell him the grass was purple and he would trust her. And he can’t love her. Not anymore. She’s not his to love. He’s not good for her anymore.
Percy is of course better than he was, he no longer reaches out to death, he no longer steps in front of an enemy with the idea that if he dies here then it is a heroic and well-deserved death. He is healing and in large part due to Vex. But even though he’s better his hands still build dangerous things and he still wakes up tasting iron and looking in the shadows. The worst part is that it doesn’t come from fear or memories, that when he feels eyes on him at night and when he walks the streets alone with his gun on his hip he doesn’t jump from fear, he searches for danger because he misses it. He misses how his blood would pump and how he could feel his heartbeat in his ears and he misses how they never stopped moving. It’s been years since he spent so much time in one place and Whitestone is too filled with his past for it to sit right with him.
But Vex has been running for so long and she has been through so much. Vex hasn’t had a home in so long and he knows how badly she wants it. Vex has been running for her life and fighting to protect people for so long and she has earned a break from it. She’s earned a home and a people who look up to her and a job that brings some excitement but doesn’t put her life in true danger. Percy can’t take her from this, he can’t ask her to leave because he knows if he did that she would follow.
Neither knows what to say after that and Percy leaves quickly with a flourish of his blue coat.
Vex makes it to her room, shuts the door softly behind her, presses her back against it, slides down it until she’s sitting on the ground, and sobs for what feels like hours.
Percy makes it to an alley across the street, settles down behind an old crate so nobody will see him, puts his head in his hands and cries until he thinks he’s dehydrated and it’s dark outside before he even thinks about going back to the castle.
The day after that, Day One, they think has to be the hardest one they’ll go through. Even Tary thinks it’s the hardest thing he’s gone through. Vex and Percy don’t leave their respective spaces all day. When Vex wakes up in the morning she goes to forest without saying a word to her friend who was sitting at the table waiting for her. Tary doesn’t hold it against her, to be fair she didn’t even look up from the ground and probably didn’t know he was there.
She spends the day surrounded by the trees thinking that it would help put her at ease, that it would be familiar and calming and that there were less signs of Percy in the woods than anywhere else in the city, and still he was everywhere in them.
Birds landed near by and watched, small creatures scurried around the trees, some paused to look, a few brave ones came close to investigate, but for the most part she was left alone to cry in the forest. Somehow the privacy she thought she wanted only hurt more.
She spends the day moving between unbelievable pain and mild numbness. And when night falls and she thinks about how she should go back, that Tary was likely worried, that a warm bed would be best for her, she thinks about how it was the bed she had shared with Percy and instead balls her cloak up and uses it as a pillow while she sleeps.
Percy is not in much better shape. He barred the door to his workshop and threw himself as deep into his work as he could. He legitimately didn’t hear Tary knocking on his door, asking to come in and see what was wrong. He knew if he paused, if he stopped focusing on keeping all of his fingers, it would start all over again and he would be all but consumed by the emptiness that was left in the wake of the mutual breakup.
He doesn’t even pretend he was going to bed that night. He isn’t even sure it is night time when his arms can barely hold the hammer anymore and he finally collapses into the small cot in the corner of the room and passes out into a thankfully dreamless sleep.
Day Two is supposed to be better, and in some ways, it is. They don’t spend the whole time crying and Percy doesn’t spend the whole day working (he would have but his arms shook whenever he lifted something). There seemed to be no tears left and no energy to move and busy themselves. Instead they just stay home and think and remember.
Tary wants to be there, he knows what happened, but he can tell they’re not ready to talk yet, and instead goes to his own workshop where he touches up Doty 2.0 on his own.
The worst part of all is that Percy and Vex know if the other asked, they would open their arms to them immediately. Two days apart and they’re already so weak and ready to forget there was a reason they left in the first place. That’s the part that makes Day Two unbearable. Their resolve is beginning to slip.
Day Three is the first time Vex thinks about leaving. About going on the adventure she so desperately wanted to go on, so desperately that she left the man she loved. There’s a sharp pain at the thought and she knows she isn’t ready. She can’t leave yet. In the back of her mind she knows it’s because she wants to make sure Percy doesn’t need her. That he’s okay, that he doesn’t run back to her.
Day Three is when Percy goes back to his mind-numbing meetings and thinks about how he could go find that danger he craved so badly a few days ago. He also thinks about how the last time he was at a meeting like this Vex had made faces whenever one of the council members looked away. That’s the thought that keeps him from leaving, he can’t say why exactly but he knows he isn’t ready to leave yet. He needs time. Just to make sure Vex doesn’t ask him back, just to make sure Vex is alright. If he leaves then she will think that he has moved on and he wants to be there in case she needs him, either as a friend or as hers.
Day Four is the first time they see each other again. He’s talking to Cassandra in the castle and Vex was going to talk to her about something important but when she sees Percy she can’t remember what.
The mere sight of him almost tears a sound from her throat but she puts on the mask again. She’s well practiced at it and even if Percy can see it’s a mask he still won’t know that under it is pain and regret and that’s all she wants to keep from him. She reminds herself he wanted to leave too and steels herself to walk up to Cassandra instead of run away.
When she does Percy looks up and his body goes stiff and his mouth stops working halfway through a word. There’s a false smile on her lips and she pointedly focuses on Cass. She looks…almost the same. Her hair is in its signature braid he used to watch her do in the morning, the blue feathers are in her hair, her bow is strung across her back and there’s a leaf stuck to her from being outside when it was sprinkling earlier. He feels his entire body try to pull him closer to her but he stays still and after a moment he finishes his thought.
They don’t say anything to each other but before he leaves Vex’s eyes flick up to him and her smile falters before she’s got it back.
Both almost break. Both stay strong for the other.
Day Five is when they have to be around each other again. Thankfully they’re done crying all the time, now if there are tears they save them until their alone in their beds holding pillows and missing the warmth of their ex-lover.
They sit through the meeting. Percy at the head of the table and Vex on his right side, that had always been her seat and Percy is both thankful and hurt that she doesn’t wish to change that. It hurts having her so close but he knows it would hurt just as much if she was farther from him.
They make polite conversation and discuss ideas and events for the future. And when the meeting is over they don’t rush away. Secretly neither wants to be the one to leave first and cut their contact so soon. As everyone filters out they make small talk about Tary and what he’s been up to, about Trinket, about how Keyleth said she would be stopping by in a month or so. They don’t even realize they’re the only two left in the room and they soon become a little more lost in the conversation and almost forget the circumstance.
Somewhere in the distance a bell rings and startles Vex out of what she was saying. “Oh shit, I’ve got to be somewhere and I’m late. I’ll see you later darling,” she leans forward, her hand brushes against his elbow to steady herself and keep him close, she stands on her toes, and kisses him softly and quickly, like she would when she was saying goodbye before.
When she pulls away neither one moves and they’re both red and looking anywhere but at each other. “I’m so sorry,” Vex says quickly, “I didn’t mean to. It was just kind of a habit. I—I’m sorry.” She’s not sure what else to say other than that.
Percy rubs the back of his neck, “No, no it’s fine. I forgot about…everything for a moment too. It was like it used to be for a moment. These kinds of changes take time to adjust to. Don’t worry about it.”
They stand there in the most awkward silence for a few moments before Vex jerks a thumb over her shoulder, “I have to—”
“Yes of course, don’t let me stop you.”
And she doesn’t.
Don’t let me stop you might be the line most befitting this entire thing. Don’t let me stop you from the life you want. Don’t let me stop you from the life you deserve. Don’t let me stop you from falling into my arms. Don’t let me stop you.
Day Five might be the worst yet.
Day Six is spent with them going out of their way to avoid each other and, because it is the way of things, are unable to stop seeing each other, both in a literal and figurative sense.
Vex went to the store to pick up a few things, Tary even gave her a list of things he wanted too. She even went out of her way to avoid the shop that she and Percy went to when they had to. All in vain because as she was picking up some of the last few items on her list she turned and facing a shelf with his back to her stood a man. His blue coat and snow-white hair led to no guesses about who it was.
Later Percy took the long way home, which he forgot went by the graveyard where he had made Vax’s shrine. Where he and Vex had visited a few times since their time off began. Vex went by the Sun Tree on the way home and all she could think of was the times she and Percy sat underneath it and ate fruit and laughed at terrible jokes. When Vex went to deliver something to Tary in the workshop there were signs of Percy everywhere. When Percy went to grab something from the library he was bombarded by memories of reading dates and books she had chosen to add to their collection.
That night when Vex decided she definitely needed a drink and some song she walked into a tavern she chose at random to see a white-haired man sitting with his back to the door and his head hung over a tankard.
Day Six was a day of painful remembrance.
Day Seven was still hard. The tears were more or less done, one can only lose so much water before the body just says “Stop being such a bitch about it”. That didn’t make it feel any better though, it just felt unsatisfying. All the times they wanted to cry and they just couldn’t, all the times they felt like they had to do something and they couldn’t. They felt empty and numb and when they didn’t feel nothing they felt far too much and couldn’t do anything about it.
Day Seven was the day of feeling nothing or everything and anyone who has been on that part of a breakup knows that it is one of the worst days following a breakup. Day One Percy and Vex knew exactly what they felt, Days Two through Six were understandable and shitty but they were knew what they were feeling and could express it still. Day Seven was confusing and unsatisfying in every possible way.
Which was why after a whole day of not knowing how she felt Vex decided to go for a walk. She missed Percy more today than she had the entire week. It was not the painful, sharp loss it had been, that was bearable and expected. It was the soft ache. It was seeing him in small places. His scarf that he left a few weeks ago. The arrow in her quiver. The place where he sewed a hole in her shirt. The cup he used every morning in the cabinet next to hers. The extra pair of glasses he left in the reading nook. She found pieces of him in places she had avoided for a week and it left a throbbing pain in her chest.
So she went for a walk. She took the path that she and Percy used to take on their late-night walks. It was dimly lit and rarely did they ever see anyone else walking along it. It was familiar and filled with lovely memories of times where she and Percy walked down it together. She thought about all of the times they’d snuck into one of these alleys to make out, all of the quiet midnight talks they had. She thought about everything.
She heard something ahead of her and looked up to see him. Percy, her Percy, standing maybe forty feet in front of her on their street.
Percy had also decided to go for a walk for many of the same reasons she did, only his walk took him the opposite way. He saw Vex before she noticed him and when he stopped his foot scraped on the stone under his foot and when Vex saw him they both froze.
There was a half second that stretched on for hours while one thing became incredibly obvious.
Neither one wanted this. And all it would take was for someone to make a move, to close the distance between them, and it would break. It would be over.
They were both miserable and they didn’t have to be.
Vex’s breath shook as she realized she would rather have a quiet life than a life without Percy.
Percy’s heart stopped in his throat when he decided that he would rather never leave his castle again if it meant Vex was there with him.
All someone needs to do is break the distance.
And when time starts up again they both take a step towards each other.