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Literature and Film 2320

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When the professor announced that Percy was going to be doing a group project with the girl named Vex’ahlia, he made sure to look discreetly enough that he could gauge her reaction. Her eyes roved around the room looking for his raised hand, and when she found it they widened just a moment before starting to roll. He grinned softly to himself before chuckling under his breath. That was the reaction he had been expecting.

He had seen that particular look enough times that when the hurt came it wasn’t very painful. Her’s was the look that said “Oh joy, I get to work the pretentious white boy aren’t I so lucky.” He had seen it enough times during his time here at Emon University that it just rolled off his back, or at least that’s what he tried to make himself believe.

It wasn’t their fault of course, if Percy had seen some white guy walk into an 8 a.m. class in a waistcoat with a silver pocket watch, and stark white hair to boot, he would automatically hate him as well. But then again, he thought that every time he looked in the mirror.

Surprisingly enough though, Vex’ahlia was the one to walk up to him. “Vex,” she said softly, holding out a hand. She was dressed for completely the wrong season, in a black and white striped long sleeved shirt that showed a rather wide stretch of her toned stomach, a pair of dark cutoff shorts, and a light black jacket was tied around her waist. Long dark curls were pulled back in a braid that hung gracefully over one shoulder and three large blue feathers that Percy thought may have once belonged to a blue jay were pushed neatly into the hair on the side of her hair. A brush of dark eye shadow and sharp eyeliner highlighted her brown eyes and her dark red lips were turned in a small frown. She was easily the most striking and gorgeous woman he had ever seen.

He tried to hide his momentary gawking and pushed himself out of his seat.“Percival,” he stumbled pushing out his hand with what he hoped was a kind smile, while also noticing that she wasn’t that much taller than he was. Her nose twitched for just a moment and Percy was so impressed with her not fully wrinkling it in disdain that he added, “You can call me Percy though.”

Her shake was firm and self-assured enough that it caught him slightly by surprise. Her hand didn’t feel as he had expected either, as there was a smattering of calluses along her first two fingers that rasped dryly along the back of his hand and it was much warmer than his own. In addition, the tawny gold-brown skin stood out so starkly against his own it almost looked like his hand was made out of paper. He looked up into her face and found that her eyes were a striking umber with flecks of golden amber that he hadn’t noticed while sitting down. They stared at him with a soft intensity that made his heart stutter for moment in his chest.

“Oh I am so fucked,” Percy thought to himself as his stomach clenched and his mind went through the various things to say that weren’t, “Hey, I know we’ve only just met but I think I’m in love with you. So anyways what movie do you want to write a 10 page paper on?”

He suddenly became aware that he had been shaking her hand for a lot longer than was strictly necessary and immediately pulled his hand away. They stared at each other just long enough to make the awkward moment even more awkward.

“So,” he started, “What do you want to do this project on? Are there any movies that you already know really well, or anything?” He went on to say more but was cut off as she began to laugh with a slightly hysterical fervor.

She sat down next to him clutching her stomach, and Percy suddenly became very aware of the fact the tables in this classroom weren’t nearly as large as they should be. Her knee pressed softly against his own and even through the fabric of his khakis her could feel her heat. She was also still laughing even after the fifteen seconds that had passed since he asked her that question, and if it wasn’t for the fact that her laugh was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard he would have assumed that she just might be laughing at him.

“Sorry darling,” she gasped, her laughter still infused in each word, “It’s just that in my friend group that’s something of a loaded question.” She sucked in a breath before giggling just a little bit more and shook herself making her dark curls strain against the tight braid. She looked up at him with a grin and he realized that when she smiled, her cheeks dimpled. Oh yeah, Percy was well and truly fucked.

“My favorite movies are mostly bad sci-fi flicks and cheaply done horror movies with terrible effects,” she said leaning her chin on her fist, a cocky grin exposing a set of perfect white teeth, “And I will argue with just about anyone that the Exorcist is the greatest horror film ever made.”

That on the other hand made Percy grimace slightly. He had seen enough horror in his past that the idea of purposefully watching someone’s life be ruined by events, supernatural or otherwise, was enough to make his chest ache. Vex must have noticed his misgivings about this because her smile vanished, “We could always do something else though if horror movies make you uncomfortable. I’ve just always thought that horror was a good way to examine what the public fears and relate it back to the historical events that are going on at the time of their creation.” But even Percy in his drunken stupor over her could hear that there was a note of disappointment.

“Oh no, we could do a horror movie,” Percy stammered trying to come up with something coy and clever to say, to hide that fact that he would gladly watch anything if it meant she would be happy, “I’ve just not seen a whole lot of horror, I’m afraid. Honestly, I haven’t really seen a lot of movies.”

That didn’t bring the grin or the dimples back as he had hoped and instead she frowned again,“Why are you taking a Literature and Film class if you don’t watch movies?”

“I needed another 2000 level English course for my major and the 18th Century British Literature class I wanted to take got canceled last minute,” Percy said with a shrug. This made Vex roll her eyes and he mentally kicked himself. “I take it you aren’t a fan,” he said trying for it to come out as coy but knowing that it came out as more of a letdown.

“I’ve found that the 18th century is full of too many white men who hated women and loved to stroke their own ego,” Vex said testily, drumming her fingers against the table, “Also most of the books are not all that well written and they all certainly lack a basic understanding of how to write a female character.” She looked at him again her eyes flashing with disdain that he hoped was aimed not at him but rather the authors

“Fair enough,” Percy laughed weakly, “You would be most correct in that regard.” His mind raced trying to come up with someway to convince her that he was only wanted to take it because he had already read most of the books growing up and figured it would be an easy A, “But I liked the professor who was supposed to teach it and he told me that we were going to be discussing the various folktales and fairy tales of Britain as opposed to the actual literature.” This seemed to calm Vex’ahlia but her frown didn’t vanish. Percy sighed internally as she pulled out her phone and started tapping on it softly. “Perhaps we could watch a remake of one of those books and simply tear the author and the director apart for its awfulness,” he offered hoping to make her laugh, but she just shrugged offhandedly looking down at her phone.

“Give me your email address, I have to get going to my next class,” she said all business now, the laughter and mirth gone from her voice. Wordlessly he wrote it down in his notebook and tore it out. She took it, her eyes still locked on the screen and stuffed it into her pocket. “I’ll send you a list of movies tonight with some links to summaries that you can look through and let me know which one you like.” With that she rose like a dancer to her feet and slipped out of the room, her hips swishing softly amidst the other students who were racing to leave.

“I am so so very fucked,” Percy whispered when the room had emptied of everyone but him and the professor, “So very very fucked.”

Chapter Text

Despite Percy’s best efforts he couldn’t focus on the rest of his classes that day. Had it not been for the red haired girl who sat near him during his Chemistry practical he would have, as the professor put it, “Killed everyone very quickly and very painfully!” So he was fairly sure he hadn’t done very well on that.

As bad as that was his Engineering class was even worse. The thing about this class was that Percival had a work study program with Professor Taryon Darrington, where he aided him with the various projects he was working on. And while they had only been working together for the last two semesters Taryon had become more than aware of Percy’s talent in engineering and mathematics. Knowing this and learning that Percy would be taking his class, he told Percy that he would be adding wrong information during his lectures to keep him on his toes and help to test him on his knowledge. Percy has agreed to this readily, more than happy for the challenge.

And on most days he was capable of paying attention. But instead today all he could think of was the girl he had been paired with. The graceful curve of her thin neck, the soft planes of her muscled stomach, those intense brown eyes, the music of her laughter. All of the things he wanted to do for her, the things he wanted to make for her, the things he wanted to do…

“Percival my boy!” A sudden voice came in interrupting Percy’s thoughts before they turned, “Where in God’s name was your head today? I made no less than 5 mistakes and you said absolutely nothing! By God if we had actually been building something this class you could have killed someone!”

Well so much for not killing people in both my classes, Percy thought to himself but instead offered rather lamely, “Sorry Professor, it’s just been one of those days.”

“I don’t believe that for even a second Percival,” Taryon snapped waving his hands around. It was a rather comical display in his opinion as the blonde man was several inches shorter than Percy and when he waved around his hands his blonde hair tended to fly about giving him the appearance of an angry fluffed up duckling.

Had it not been for Percy’s excellent poker face he probably would have started laughing which would have prompted Taryon to continue berating him. “Look Tary I don’t know what to tell you,” Percy stated, “I just have found I haven’t been able to concentrate very much today. I formally apologize for any problems that may have caused and I promise you that I will do better tomorrow.”

“Oh quit it with that nobility act boy, you forget I was raised with it too! Whoever this girl is that you’ve found yourself enamored with you’d better deal with it,” He started, poking him angrily in the chest, “And wipe that look off your face, I was young once too.” He sighed heavily, even as Percy flushed crimson at being so easily seen through. “Look Percival, I know this is probably, no definitely, your first time noticing a woman before but don’t lose your head.”

Too late for that, Percy thought as Taryon went on explaining about his future and all the things that he could do if he didn’t let himself be distracted, I do believe that she already has me wrapped around her finger.

“Just who is this girl anyway?” Taryon asked snapping his fingers in front of Percy’s face to get his attention back.

“I highly doubt you know her,” Percy said taking off his glasses to clean them nervously on the edge of his coat. He didn’t want to tell Taryon about this...this...what the hell even was this? Infatuation? Love at first sight? Whatever it was Percy didn’t want people to know about it, much less his boss. But even as he thought this her melted caramel smooth voice wormed its way through his thoughts, bringing with it the image of those intense eyes that seemed to look into Percy’s very soul.

He shook himself down and started collecting his things, shoving them into his bag with a tad more force than necessary. “Honestly Professor,” he said not looking at the other man, “You don’t know her and I would rather not…”

“Percival!”

“My god her name is Vex’ahlia,” Percy snapped, shutting his laptop with much more force than was called for. But he really didn’t want to talk about this. He didn’t want to remember those eyes or that laugh, not when he could tell that she wanted less than nothing to do with him.

“My god you know little EG!” Taryon cried making him jump nearly out of his skin, “Oh this is just perfect!” Percy spun around staring in shock at Tary trying to understand just how a professor would know a student well enough to call them such an odd name. It was then when it really clicked that Taryon, despite his tenure status, was only four or five years older than Percy.

Could I have been like him, Percy asked himself watching as Taryon leapt around the empty room talking to himself, ”if my life hadn’t gone how it did? He didn’t think that he would have tenure status at one of the best schools in the country, but there was a chance he would be further along in his studies. Hell he could have been on the trek to becoming a professor.

Stop it Percival, Percy snarled to himself, there’s no point in thinking of what could have been instead of what is!

“I would appreciate it Dr. Darrington,” Percy said using the name that Tary hated, “That you do not speak of this to Vex.”

The name had the right affect as Tary immediately stilled and turned to face Percy again. “But, but Percy,” he stammered, “Don’t you want to…”

“What I would like is to go home and sleep,” Percy interrupted, “Vex’ahlia is only working with for an assignment and I am not about to make it any more than it is.”

“But Percival.”

“But nothing Taryon. All this is is a group assignment and that is all it will be.”

He was being an asshole. He knew that he was being an asshole and yet, he was just too tired to care right now. This day had drained him and all he wanted was for it to be over.

Taryon watched him for several very long seconds, a sage expression on his face. “You’re young Percival,” he started and raised a hand when Percy started to interrupt him, “Let me finish. You’re a young handsome man and you have the right to have an infatuation over a beautiful young woman. For once my boy get out of your own head! I won’t speak to Vex of this but I do believe that you should talk to her, she may even surprise you.” Tary walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder, “Please Percival, let yourself be happy for a change.”

Percy stares at him, his pulse racing. Did Tary know more about Percy than he was letting on? Did he know about his past?

“Perhaps you’re right,” Percy said turning away from him and pulling his bag over one shoulder and loping his coat over an arm, hoping that his voice wasn’t shaking, “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Tary called as he walked out, “I will hold you to that!”

Percy didn’t go back to his empty apartment in the end. As he stood staring into space on the bus ride home he decided that he needed to do something, something that would wear him out so that his brain wouldn’t keep him awake the rest of the day. So instead of getting off at his regular stop he let the bus take him another three stops until he came to a nondescript metal warehouse that squatted between two towering office buildings.

As he stepped off the bus and walked the ten feet to the front door the acrid scents of metal and burning smoke assaulted his nostrils. The smell only strengthened as he pulled open the door and breathed out a sigh of relief feeling his body relax for the first time since that morning. He nodded to a short woman who sat behind the desk sharpening a small knife. “Good afternoon Karen,” Percy greeted resting his forearms on the counter, “Gorgeous knife, is that Damascus?”

The woman, Karen, looked up and her face broke into a wide grin, “Percival! And here I thought you had forgotten about us at your fancy college!”

Percy laughed, feeling tension he didn’t even know he had been carrying relax. “I was only gone for three weeks!”

“Three weeks too many!” She snapped waving the knife around before putting it down and walking around the desk to give him a hug, “You’re next creation had better be for me young man!”

“Fair enough,” he laughed returning the hug, “For you I shall make you the world!”

“Oh come off it,” she chuckled slapping him playfully on the arm and walking back to her seat, “Now go on and make whatever odd thing you have trouncing about in the mad head of yours.”

He ended up staying at the forge much later than he had intended. What he planned to be an hour or two of just messing around turned into four hours of muscle burning work with a backdrop of classical music that pulsed its way through his headphones. By the end of it his back and shoulders ached from trying to thin the metal to the point where he could carve the designs into it. That part, which would have driven most people out of his mind with the number of times the metal cracked or warped, was the most satisfying for him. It was so meticulous and challenging that for a few hours he forgot about Taryon and his maybe knowledge of Percy’s past and Vex’ahlia and her branding gaze. He hadn’t even known what he had been making when he started but by then end his three gorgeous creations sat in front of him, steaming softly as the cooled next to the quench tank.

As he stared at them he knew exactly why his subconscious mind had made them and just who they were for. “Oh yeah,” Percy whispered to strips of metal, “I really am fucked aren’t I?”

Chapter Text

Percy was the third child in the family of De Rolos and as such his place at the table reflected that. When the whole family gathered around the table at night to eat together he would always sit next to Vesper. At either end was his parents, his father on left side, his mother on the right. At his father's right side was Julius, the eldest and most likely to inherit the company, next to him was Vesper, a young Percy. The came his mother next to him at the other head, and on her left side sat the last four; Cassie, closest to her because she was still just a child, Ludwig, then the twins Whitney and Oliver, with Oliver sitting to his father’s left.

Seeing all of them was odd in and of itself, but the real shock came from seeing himself sitting there. Percy stared at the young version of himself in a daze. It was mind boggling to look at this Percy but not Percy. His hair hadn’t turned white yet and his eyes weren’t filled with the melancholy that always seemed to look out at him from the mirror. Percy watched as Not Percy fiddled with a small contraption and made notes in a slim notebook on his lap, his dinner left cold and barely touched in front of him. His mother not mother chastised telling him to eat but Not Percy waved her off still taking down notes. Talk to her, Percy wanted to scream at this not version of himself, talk to her before it's too late!

But it was already too late as that was when the murders started.

It began with his father, a black form manifesting itself out of thin air, and shooting his father point blank in the back of the skull. Blood sprayed out across the table but no reacted. No one except for Percy who was begging, pleading, screaming for them to turn around, run away, do something! But his cries couldn’t even make it past his lips, as another shot rang out and his mother died in an explosion of blood and brain matter.

Mother with a third eye opened on her forehead, the bullet falling with a clink to a porcelain plate.

Julius with a grinning smile permanently carved into his throat.

Vesper gurgling as three holes pumped blood out of a ruined chest.

Oliver and Whitney screaming as two bullets lodged themselves in their skulls, taking them out of this life as they came in, together.

Ludwig gasping in an almost amusing gasp as, like the older brother he idolized so much, a grin was carved into his throat.

Cassie’s chest torn open but a hundred thousand bullets forcing their way out through her small body.

Percy was forced to watch all of this from the outside, as Not Percy pleaded for help from smokey apparitions and suddenly he was Not Percy. His chest burned as he ran full tilt down the hallways of his childhood home. Behind him, voices shouted and laughed telling him the running was pointless. In front of him open doors exposed the twisted tableau of his family’s demise, playing on over and over and over. But still on and on he ran, taking turns and twists that should have led him to freedom but only ever to more hallways, more open doors, more death.

And as bad as all of that was, it all became worse when she stepped out from behind a dark corner. “Come Percival,” Dr. Ripley crooned, her painted red lips pursed up in a horrible rendition of a smile, “You still need to help me with my experiments.”

Percy whimpered, now 14 again, his body coated in the slashes and blood that came with Anna’s “experiments.” He wanted to curl up and cry, he wanted to go to his mother and tell her he loved her and let himself be wrapped in her embrace. He wanted to go to his father and hide behind his legs and let him deal with the horrors of the world like he always did. He wanted Julius to take the brunt of Anna’s wrath as he would have if he was alive.

“That is of course, you want dear sweet little Cassandra to fill in for you,” she purred, placing a hand tipped in bloody polish on Cassie’s head. Cassie who’s chest had been destroyed, Cassie who should be dead, Cassie who couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t deal with this.

Percy was on the operating table screaming through a cotton gag as Ripley opened him up to see what made him tick. As she carved away sections of skin and muscle to see what would happen. “And now for the most exciting part,” she whispered into his ear, “Let’s see what truly does go on inside that head of yours!”

He woke with a start, great heaving gasps forcing themselves out of his lungs. He tried to thrash around and push off the restraint tying him to the operating table but his body wouldn’t move. His lungs still worked and his eyes could open (he always knew his eyes could open) but the rest of his body was a seamless prison he couldn’t escape.

He tried to calm himself, pleaded with his lungs to slow down his breathing, begged his heart to slow down but to no avail, screamed at his stupid stupid brain to stop producing adrenaline, but it was all for nothing. His body was captive to panic, still believing that he was still in Ripley’s clutches.

“Come now Percival,” a new voice purred into his ear, making his blood, once so hot and fast, turn to ice in his veins, “Why do you struggle so much.”

Don’t open your eyes, he chanted to himself, don’t open your eyes!

“Percival,” the voice chastised, all deep baritone and smokey bass, “Look at me.” Percy kept his eyes close. Don’t open your eyes, don’t open your eyes, don’t open your eyes, don’t open—

“Aww but Percival,” it sounded so sad as it crooned in his ear and Percy felt as something pressed down on his chest, “I have a present for you my dearest friend. Just open your eyes and see.”

Don’t open your eyes, don’t open your eyes, don’t open your eyes!

But Percy was weak, as he always had been he was weak to the voice’s wishes. He opened his eyes. There before him a being made of smoke and claws and beaks and horrible gnashing teeth sat grinning at him, all sharp fangs and bloody talons. And on his chest, where he had felt the weight, sat Vex’ahlia’s head, her face contorted in agony and pain.

That finally broke the spell on him and he lurched out of bed, making the vision, the head, the being, all of it vanish like mist on a hot day. But he barely saw it in his haste to get to the bathroom before his stomach finally rebelled and hot bile forced its way out of his stomach.

He stayed there, his head jammed in the porcelain bowl, for well over an hour waiting for the retching and the burning bile to subside. Each time he thought it had finally abated the memory of Vex’ahlia’s severed head or Cassandra’s ruined body would rise like a demented phoenix from the ashes of his nightmares and bring with it a fresh wave of bile and nausea.

When finally the last of his nausea burned itself away Percy was even more of a shaking mess then he had been when he had awoken. His throat ached with the acidic residue of the bile and the taste had coated his tongue with the taste of burnt rubber. His head throbbed in agony with each frantic beat his too frantic heart, and all of his scars felt like they had been reopened even though they had been healed for years.

Percy struggled to calm down all while his rasping breaths made his chest ache and burn. He needed to...he needed to...what in the hell did he need to do? He couldn’t focus over the sound of Ripley’s laughter echoing around in his head. He needed silence, he needed to calm down, he needed to get his head in order.

He spent hours there, curled up on the hard tiles of his bathroom, twisting in and out of consciousness. His subconscious and conscious minds mingled with each other filling his waking dreams and resting nightmares with horrid visions. He dreamed of when Ripley had carved her initials into the skin over top his heart.

“So you always know who you belong too,” she had purred, cutting into his flesh with the scalpel as he screamed in agony, “So you can never forget that you are mine!”

That had been the worst thing she had ever done to him. The scars, the wounds, the threats, they had all been terrible but those two letters had left him with more than just scars on his psyche. They had left scars on his very soul. Percy didn’t have a single mirror in the apartment, all because of those two scars on his chest. Every time he had seen them, without fail had left him as he was now, a blubbering, weak mess of a man.

It wasn’t until the pale gray light of dawn drifted in through the bathroom window that Percival finally cast off the shackles of the night. His body was cramped and aching from the time spent on the floor, but his scars didn’t burn anymore. His mouth tasted bitter and sour from the vomit, but his throat didn’t burn anymore with the acid from his stomach. His chest ached but his breaths were smooth and even now.

With several groans of protest he rose off the floor, whimpering as his muscles barked and whined in pain. He peeled off his pants which clung to his sweat soaked body and half climbed, half fell into the shower. He stayed there for a long while, just letting the warm spray of water sooth his aching form. Afterwards, still soaking wet, he stumbled back to his bedroom and fell into his bed and let himself drift into a black, dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

The last time Percy had slept later than 7:30 in the morning had been when he was a toddler. So when he finally woke up just after noon he was understandably off kilter. He couldn’t remember a time when he had slept in and everything about it felt off. But then again, he wasn’t sure if that was from the previous night, or from his late rising.

It had been a long time since he’d had a night like that, longer still that he had gone through it alone. But it hadn’t been that long since he had one of his Gray Days. A day when his head was a sack someone had filled with wet sand and hung up on an iron spike. A day where he felt unbalanced, strange, and not quite alive. A day where he felt like a stranger inside his own skin. The soft silken feel of his blankets were a siren song to him.

“Come and sleep,” they sang, their smooth softness caressing and soothing his battered mind, “Rest in us.” His eyelids began to grow heavy, his muscles soft and pliant. He could sleep a little bit more, he didn’t have anything he had to do today. He could always just email Taryon later and tell him that he wasn’t feeling well…

Sleep was so close to overtaking him, that naturally real life decided to butt in. His phone began to chirp and beep at him relentlessly, and even in his barely there state he found it annoying.

“Yeah, yeah, I know you want attention,” he snapped, snatching up the phone and glaring at it. This effect was immediately lessened as after a moment of glaring, Percy realized that he couldn’t actually see anything and had to group blindly around looking for a pair of glasses that weren’t where they should be. He found them a few minutes later, somehow stuck between his bedside table and the wall and pushed them haphazardly onto his nose.

Immediately, everything came into sharp focus and he saw this his bedroom was in a state of disarray. Sheets and bedding were knotted up around the floor. His lamp had been knocked over in his haste to get to the bathroom last night. In general, everything was a mess.

He waited for that sense of unease to come in that normally came when he let his room get messy. He waited for that need to have clean space creep it’s away into his mind. He waited for the gray clouds to be cleared from his mind. But none of those things happened.

He found that he didn’t, no couldn’t, care about it. Nothing mattered to him right now, not himself, not his cleanliness, nothing at all. All he wanted right now was to stop, stop existing, stop being. With another glance around the room and a soft sigh he looked back down at his phone, still giving the occasional buzz to remind him that he had unread notifications.

He had three new emails and two missed text messages from Taryon, all of which came in at about the same moment, which explained why his phone had a noisy fit. He breezed over the texts which said something about how Tary had to go back home for a few days to take care of his mom and that he had the next week and a half off until he got back. The first email was just college nonsense, asking Percy to come to “FUN FUN FUN NIGHT!!!!!” which he immediately deleted. The college was always doing nights like that and Percy learned after his freshman year that they were not the kind of events he wanted to attend. If he wanted to be surrounded by half drunk, sweaty bodies he would go to a frat party.

However, the other two emails were much more interesting. They were from a v.vassar both with the header “Movie Project” and it took him a few heartbeats to remember what that meant. Quickly he opened it and scanned it over. The first one was just a short list of links with what he assumed was to the different synopsis for the movies she had mentioned. However, it was the second one that managed to peak his interest even on this gray day.

It was short, barely more than a line or two but even still it was enough. “Hello Percival,” it read and somehow he could almost imagine that it was Vex’s voice that he read it in, “I will be in the Cobalt Library this afternoon at 1:30, want to meet up and discuss the project?- Vex”.

Percy wasn’t naive enough to read too deeply into it, but well, he’d be lying if he said that the thought of seeing her didn’t send a small thrill through his veins. And well, it was just a simple project, one that only needed them to see each other in class. They could watch the movie separately, read the book separately, write the paper over Google Docs. They didn’t actually have to meet up outside of it, and yet she had asked anyways. Maybe it was something, maybe she wanted to be friends? The thought of seeing her again, of hearing her voice, of maybe even hearing her laugh… He glanced up at the time and saw that it was only a quarter to one.

He still had some time.

He could get their early.

Plan out how to interact with someone.

It wasn’t the first time he had faked his way through a Gray Day.

He sat their for some time, becoming slowly aware of the fact that his blankets were still fairly damp from sleeping on them soaking wet. He ran his hand along them, feeling the way they clung slightly to his fingertips. He brought them up to his face and saw that small droplets of water had coalesced onto them. He laid back down.

“You could stay here,” he whispered, making the clouds in his race and move amongst his thoughts, “You could stay here and not move. Just lie here and let the world go on.”

He stood up and approached his closet.

“You don’t have to go there, just tell her you’re busy.”

He put on underwear and pants.

“Just stay here, just lie back down.”

He buttoned his shirt and tied on his tie.

“Let the world go on without you Percy.”

He laced on his shoes and buttoned up his waist coat.

“Go back into your room Percival”

He called his Lyft and put on his coat.

“Turn around.”

He left the house.

He didn’t remember the name of his driver. He didn’t notice himself getting in the car, or exchanging meaningless pleasantries with the nameless man. He spent all the time in his head, trying to remember how to smile, how to laugh, how to speak with someone that wasn’t himself.
When he got to campus he didn’t notice the people walking around him. He didn’t notice the skittering the dry leaves made on the concrete. He didn’t notice when someone brushed past him. He was still trying to remember how to plaster on a smile.

He didn’t remember until he got to the library. And it was only when he heard the hushed sounds of two women chatting that he actually knew how to change his memory into reality.

“A white haired boy who always wears nice suits,” came a voice that Percy felt he should know, “Yeah I know him I think.”

Remember to smile Percival, the voice of his father whispered as Percy stopped to listen in more. It didn’t make sense to Percy that he should care, he was dead.

“He’s in my chem class,” she continued, “Actually I think I saved his life the other day, we were doing this project and he almost mixed these two chemicals together that would have made mustard gas.”

Be coy! Women like coy, Julius shouted after him as he walked out from behind a row of books. Percy wondered why it was always the Gray Days that they decided to talk with him and not the other days.

He plastered a smile onto his face as Vex and the redheaded girl from his chemistry came into view, still not having noticed him. “Well now,” he started making them jump and swing around to face, “In my defense, what Professor would think that having the components for mustard gas available and not warn his students about it was a good idea?”

Redhead gaped at him and glanced back to Vex, “Vex that’s him! That’s the boy!”

“Yes darling I gathered that,” Vex deadpanned resting her chin on one fist. She was dressed slightly more normally for the weather today, in a pair of leggings and a shirt, that same dark coat slung over the back of her chair.

Vex stared at him with those dark eyes, her head cocked to one side in a decidedly birdlike fashion, and Percy had the inexplicable feeling that she could see the clouds and sand that filled his mind. He looked away.

Percy looked instead at the redhead, Keyleth, and held out a hand. “Percival,” he said in a smooth voice that years of high society training had taught him. She knows, she knows, she knows. That was one was the twins Oliver and Whitney, they were always the most vigilant.

“Oh, uh it’s Keyleth,” she stuttered taking his hand in hers. He didn’t feel it.

She looked back over to Vex and shared a look that Percy couldn’t understand in his current state. “Well Vex,” she started, “I’ll see you tonight at the family dinner yeah? Grog said he’d be making something special for your birthday.” He was supposed to say something to that, he thought. What did you say to someone on their birthday again?

Vex nodded but didn’t look at her, but rather continued to stare at him with those piercing eyes. Percy noticed now that she had some kind of tablet in front of her, an unfinished but frighteningly intricate drawing on the screen of something he couldn’t make out, a discarded stylus next to her hand.

“You must not have gotten my email,” she said her eyes softening every so slightly, “I have to take my dog to a vet appointment.”

Of course she does, Anna whispered, Who would want to spend time with you?“That’s perfectly fine,” he said, trying to ignore her even as she created more and more clouds that choked off what little light made it through, “Maybe we can meet up tomorrow.”

He started to turn around to go, to go away from this strange girl who could see the clouds in his head when Keyleth piped up. “Oh you should come to dinner with us tonight! You could work on your project there!”

Percy was very certain that both him and Vex turned and gave her the same look at the same time. A look that said “what the hell are you doing we barely know each other?” But whether she didn’t understand or just didn’t care she continued on with a, “Yeah, you should totally come!”

Percy glanced over at Vex to try and see what she thought of this but her face was impassive and blank, or maybe it wasn’t. Percy couldn’t remember what emotions looked like right now. “I wouldn’t want to impose,” he started trying to keep his voice even.

“Oh no you wouldn’t be imposing,” Keyleth assured him, “Plus think of it as a way of thanking me for not letting you kill the whole class!” Somehow, and he wasn’t at all sure how this happened, that brought a slender shaft of light through the gray.

“So my thank you to you would be allowing you to give me free food?” he asked coyly, and this time it was only mostly forced coyness. He looked back over at Vex who had returned to staring at him. “Are you and the rest of your family ok with a total stranger coming?” Say no, say no, say no, he silently pleaded with her.

She regarded him long enough that Percy imagined that even Keyleth was starting to sweat a little before finally, “You know Scanlan has brought stranger people than you over, I don’t see why you can’t come.”

This wasn’t how today was supposed to go, it was a Gray Day. He was supposed to curl up in bed and wait for the clouds to abate. He was supposed to listen to the voices of the dead and gone until they faded alongside the clouds.

And yet, he couldn’t just say no. Not when he swore that there was a little bit of hope in Vex’s eyes. “Then it would be my pleasure,” he said softly, giving a small bow. Her resulting laugh made the shaft of light grow just a little bit.

“Great email me your address and I’ll pick you up around 6,” she laughed rising to her feet and pulling on her jacket, “It’ll be fun!” As she stood up she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, gave it a light squeeze, and moved her head in close, “And if you want to talk about what’s wrong, just let me know.” With that and a much less touchy goodbye both girls walked away.

Percy watched as they vanished behind the various bookshelves and waited until he was sure they were gone. “Looking forward to it,” he let himself whisper and somehow he found that that wasn’t even a lie.

Chapter Text

When his parents told him that they weren’t going to be sending him to any kind of fancy schools and instead choose to send him to the local school they told him two things that he had never forgotten.The first was long and complicated. “You need to know who it is we work with here in Whitestone,” they had told him, “Just because we run this place doesn’t mean that we are any better than them. Always remember that all people are just that, people. Treat them well and they’ll treat you well.” The second was simply, “With a good plan anything is possible.”

Percy has taken both of these things to heart, but he didn’t truly understand either of them until he was in his first year of school. Now, his parents kept their workers in the town with more than enough money to get by. High wages, sick leave, benefits and retirement plans; simply put they treated their workers much better than many other companies. But, there were always those times when the unexpected happened. Death, bills, and the like happened and despite everything his parents offered the people of Whitestone were a proud folk who didn’t always want aid. So there were times when ends didn’t quite meet and sacrifices had to be made.

And so the day came when Percy discovered that one of his classmates, a tiny slip of a boy who he had barely even spoken too, didn’t get anything for his birthday. This shocked him, everyone should get something for their birthday, he had thought to himself on the way home from school. And so he began to plan. 12 hours and several small fires that his parents had to extinguish later he came to school with two dozen chocolate chip cookies and book that Percy thought the boy might like. Even though they had never talked Percival was a perceptive youth and had a fairly strong idea of what the boy had liked.

That had led Percy down a path that no one had seen coming. For the next 8 years Percy got every single one of his classmates something for their birthday. Some of them were grand, stacks and stacks of books and comic books. Some of them were small, a fresh batch of home-baked cookies or brownies or cake and a drawing of them that Percy drew himself. And some of them didn’t even really make any sense to anyone other than the person receiving them. But what mattered was that they all came from the heart, and everyone knew that Percival de Rolo was someone who cared about people, regardless of how well he knew them.

So yeah, Percy was no novice when it came to planning. For the next few hours after leaving the school, despite the clouds that still taunted him, he had forced himself to plan out the potentials for this dinner he was now attending.

He planned out possible conversations that he might have. “No I just met Vex through a group project in our English class,” he would laugh, “How did you meet her?” Or, “Oh me? I’m just from a small town in Maine, you’ve probably never heard of it. And, you’re from where now? Oh that sounds like a lovely place! What was it like growing up there?”

He spent well over an hour washing, cleaning, and preparing himself. He shaved the several day stubble that had begun to accumulate on the sharp angles of his jawline. He brushed his hair and set it in place with enough hair gel that even a 50’s housewife would be impressed. He went over every single item of clothing in his wardrobe trying to figure out what would be most appropriate to wear. His tux was too severe, but his blue suit was too informal. Perhaps his white shirt and the ascot? Oh, and he could wear those black chinos that Cassie had gotten him for Christmas last year, and the gray waistcoat, that with his blue jacket should be formal enough. But wait, what kind of restaurant was this again?

Those thoughts and more plagued him as he spent the bulk of his time trying to figure out what to wear before finally deciding on a simple but stylish pair of black khakis, his gray waistcoat and a white dress shirt. That topped off with an ascot that had once belonged to his grandfather and his glasses which he had polished to a glimmering sheen, he felt that he looked good enough and had enough ways to circumvent any conversations about him or his life to just barely, barely make it through this night alive. So finally, at a quarter till six Percy buttoned up his coat, tied on a scarf and headed out the door to wait for Vex.

But nothing could have prepared him for what Vex’ahlia drove up on when she finally arrived just after six. Now, Percy was no stranger to planning. He had planned for her to show up in a maserati. He had planned for her to show up a bucket of bolts that ran on faith. He had even planned for her to show up in a stolen car with the police on her tail. But he had not planned for her to show up on a motorcycle that looked like it had been made back when his father was his age.

The screeching and angry monstrosity was a strange mix of chrome and tan painted steel. To him it looked like someone had started to make a bike but then halfway through decided that it should be a motorcycle instead.The wheels were shoddy and used, but still seemed fairly functionable and the seat looked like it was large enough for two. Embossed onto the side, in sloping and curling calligraphy were the words “Death from Above” in white ink.

Percy gaped at the thing without actually trying to gape at it. He kept his mouth closed and his forehead smooth, but he doubted that he could keep the shock (and maybe just a bit of awe) out his eyes. Vex pulled it to a screeching halt barely even a half a foot away from him and with a flourish pulled the helmet off her head before shaking out her shiny black tresses. Percy found it even harder then to keep the awe off of his face as just that simple thing sent a bolt of pure longing into his heart.

She placed the helmet between one arm and looked him up and down with an appraising eye. “So,” she started, her voice smooth and full of confidence, “Looks like Keyleth owes me some money.”

That managed to bring Percy out of his stupor, if only to shove him firmly right into confusion. “I...what now?” he stuttered, still trying to straighten out his thoughts between her unnaturally good looks and the shock of her showing up on a motorcycle.

“Oh Keyleth bet me that you own more than just,” she paused then once more eyeing him up and down, a look on her face that Percy couldn’t quite understand, “Well more than just suits and ties.”

Percy noticed then that she was still wearing what she had been earlier, only now she had traded her black coat for a leather one with a snarling bear painted onto the back. He looked down at his dress pants and dress shirt and felt very very foolish.

“I um, can go change if you give me a few moments,” he blurted, feeling his face flush in a blush so hot that he prayed to every god in the world that Vex couldn’t see.

But she just laughed him off and waved a hand. “No darling, I think you look rather dashing actually. Now then, get on, I don’t want to be late.” And with that she tossed him her helmet and started up the motorcycle again with a roar that made Percy jump.

He stared down at the helmet in his hands.

He stared back at her.

Back at the helmet.

Back at her.

She laughed again at whatever look Percy had plastered onto his face. This was not how this was supposed to be going. He was supposed to be charming and debonair, not stuttering through every sentence. He forced himself to swallow and very carefully climbed onto the back of the motorcycle, making sure to leave more than enough room between him and Vex, before clenching his hands around the underside of the seat. After that, he squeezed his eyes shut and waited for Vex to pull off.

He tensed, waiting for the screeching sound of burning rubber to echo off his ears, but nothing happened. Tentatively he opened his eyes to find that she had turned around in her seat and was now staring at him, one fist propped up under her chin, with eyes that danced with amusement. Percy blushed again, somehow even hotter than before.

“Now, I know we’ve only just met but unless you want to go flying off as soon as I move I would recommend you grab onto me,” she said coyly, raising one eyebrow. Tentatively he moved forward until he was barely a hair's breadth away. With a nod, she turned around. Hands shaking and very much aware that he had never planned on being this close to her, he wrapped his arms around her waist. “Now remember,” she said, louder than normal so she could be heard over the whine of the engine, “Hands to yourself. Unless of course you ask.”

Before he even had a chance to fully process what she had said, she pulled away from the curb with a screech of rubber and his hands tightened harder on her waist. He swore that he could feel the rumble of laughter that vibrated through her as she pulled out his parking lot without even pausing at the stop sign.

Percy very quickly came to the conclusion that Vex’ahlia, beautiful, deadly Vex’ahlia, was an adrenaline junky. She took corners and turns at breakneck speeds, weaved in and out of traffic, and very often speed through yellow lights just as the began to turn red. Needless to say that the gray clouds that still hung around his head in a blanket of misery, didn’t survive the trip up. All of it was blown away by the racing winds, and the snap her long hair in the breeze.

And honestly, Percy found that well, he didn’t exactly hate it. It was exhilarating and empowering and more than a little terrifying. But it was like all the times when he done experiments in his youth, the rush of leaping, lunging, headfirst into the unknown without even a backwards glance.

It helped, of course, that Vex was warm and soft beneath him. More than once he found himself wishing that he wasn’t wearing the helmet if only so he could press his cheek to her back and breathe in her scent. But then again, maybe it was good that he couldn’t do anything so creepy.

After much less time than Percy was expecting, Vex pulled the bike into a relatively small parking lot and he got his first view as to where it was that she had taken him. The building was surprisingly squat and made of burnt red bricks. The door was a deep black wood that shone with polish, and above it a large sign read simply The Alehouse. Percy blinked up at in shock.

“Your family,” he started before wrenching off the helmet that was muffling him, “Your family eats at the Alehouse?” He had heard of the Alehouse of course. Hell, everyone in Emon had heard of the Alehouse. Despite being built only a few years ago it had managed, in that short span of time, to become one of the biggest and most popular restaurants in the whole city. The waitlist was so long that even now most people had to make reservations months, if not even a whole year in advance.

“Actually,” she said cutting off the engine, “They own it.” Percy gaped at her, she said it so casually as if she was saying that they worked at a diner or fast food place. Not a five star restaurant.

Percy stared at her, unable to keep the shock off of his face. “Your family owns the freaking Alehouse!?”

She laughed at this and stepped off the bike with all the grace of a ballerina. “Well, they’re not actually related to me by blood,” she said, holding out her hand to help him off, “But we’ve known each other long enough that we may as well be.” Percy stared as he climbed off, the simple neon shine of the sign momentarily lighting up her face in a blur of reddish light.

Stress and worry immediately began to worm their way into his stomach. He hadn’t planned for this. He had planned for a diner or another simpler restaurant, not the gods damned Alehouse! Vex must have picked up on this as she patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, they’re loud and obnoxious but my friends are good people, and I’ve already made them promise to be on their best behaviour.” She looked up at him, that same knowing smile on her lips. “It’ll be fine.”

Percy gave her what he hoped was a smile, but figured was probably more of a grimace. She laughed again at him before looping an arm through him and guiding him into the door.

Now, Percy had planned for a lot. He had planned for them to be going to a diner. He had planned for them to be going to a relatively fine dining place. He had planned for Vex to pick him up in a maserati or in a bucket of bolts. He had planned for rain, for snow, for sun. He had planned and planned and planned. Now, of course there were hiccups, like Vex showing up on a motorcycle and taking him to the fucking Alehouse, but those were small things.

But what Percy hadn’t, and wouldn't have planned for was what came next. As Vex opened the front door and led him past the waiting area, Percy mentally went through his topics of conversation and his introductions. He could still keep those the way they were. But as he looked down at a large table in the middle of the room he didn’t see the three other people sitting around it, talking and laughing. No, all he saw was the small woman that sat off to one side of the table.

Her hair was long, and a blonde so pale it was almost white, and pulled up in a tight bun on the top of her head. Her eyes were a piercing blue and she was dressed in a pair of light blue scrubs. As he entered her eyes swiveled towards him, a smile in them. A smile that quickly faded, replaced instead by recognition, then confusion, and then finally shock. Percy imagined that she must have seen much of the same on him.

Because there, sitting no more than twenty feet from him, was the doctor that had stitched Percy back together after he had escaped Anna’s clutches when he was 14.