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i will buy the flower shop, and you will never be lonely

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After, when the dancing and the drinking and general revelry is dying down, Percival leaves his wife (his wife ) holding court and slips away to their room. He closes the door and leans against it for a moment, closing his eyes.

“Long night, hmm?”

He turns to see his sister watching him, eyebrow raised. In her arms, blue eyes wide, is Vesper. Cassandra had claimed babysitting duty for the duration of the trip, calling it her wedding gift to the happy couple. It makes something swell in his heart, to watch his sister with her niece. Cassandra with Vesper seems ages younger, soft in a way he can only remember her being before—

Well. Before. 

It doesn’t escape his notice that Cassandra took the opportunity to slip off with the baby as soon as it was socially reasonable to do so. She struggles with crowds, still, and open spaces even more so, after her long years confined in the castle. Percival bears many scars from his past, but he finds he is still only just learning about the scars his sister carries, especially the ones left on her heart and her soul.

He smiles, tired. “Indeed.” It’s the work of a moment to cross the room and retrieve his daughter, holding her up to meet his eyes. “I thought we put you to bed, madame,” he says sternly.

Vesper stares up at him. Vex jokes that she inherited her father’s stern countenance, and he has to admit, there is some truth to the idea. She definitely inherited the De Rolo eyebrows, which doesn’t help. She babbles for a moment, expression intent.

Percival nods with equal severity. “I see,” he says, utterly solemn. “I shall make a note.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Cassandra biting her lip against a smile. He pretends not to, out of politeness. “She didn’t sleep?” he asks, tucking his daughter to his chest in a by-now well-practiced motion.

Cassandra shakes her head. “Not after we got up to the room. She fussed for a while, I think she might be hungry.” 

Percival nods. “Vex should be up shortly. Thank you.”

She nods and walks past him to leave. He turns his attention to the baby, but is distracted by Cassandra’s voice at the door. 

“It was him, wasn’t it?” He turns to see her stopped in the doorway, face turned away from him. “Sylas?”

Percival has, in the past year and change, made it a point to avoid lying to the people he cares about. 

“Yes,” he says.

The answer settles on Cassandra’s shoulders like a physical weight. “I thought it might be,” she says, voice steady even as her hand presses against the door frame to keep from shaking. “When everyone started fading at dinner…”

The memory of another dinner hangs in the air between them. Another meal that ended in blood and death and screaming.

“If it helps,” Percival says, voice pitched deliberately low, “Vex’ahlia called his wife a bitch and then shot him in the chest.”

She laughs, a punched-out burst of breath. “It does, actually.” She looks back at him, chin up. “Your wife is so much cooler than you, you know that, right?”

He smiles. “My dear sister,” he says, “I’ve known that since the day I met her.” 

Cassandra nods. “Good.” She straightens her back, squares her shoulders. “Good night, Percival.”

“Goodnight.”

She leaves, closing the door behind her. 

“At some point,” he tells Vesper, “we’re going to have to deal with that.”

Vesper ignores him, much more interested in rooting for milk against his chest, tiny hands opening and closing. Finding only his shirt, her face screws up and her arms begin to flail in irritation, a motion Percival recognizes to mean he has only a few moments before she melts down entirely. “Shhh, shh shh shh,” he says, only slightly frantic, and he begins to bounce her gently in his arms. 

The singing happens almost without his realizing it, a lullaby he didn’t realize he even remembered until Vesper was born. It’s a silly little scrap of a song, and he remembers being perhaps ten or eleven and hearing his mother sing it to the younger children and thinking how terribly simple and unimaginative it was. He wanted so badly to be grown up, then, the way his parents were, the way he imagined Julius and Vesper to be.

Growing up himself has rather cured him of that illusion. Among others.

“I gave my love a cherry that had no stone,” he sings, swaying softly with his daughter in his arms. “I gave my love a chicken that had no bone. I gave my love a story that had no end-”

“I could get used to this.” He turns. Vex is leaning against the doorframe, a warm, if exhausted, smile on her face. “Hello, you.” 

He smiles. “Hello.” In his arms, Vesper begins babbling, arms swinging and legs kicking at the sight of her mother. “I think she’s hungry.”

“Of course. Let me just—” Vex presses a hand to her chest and casts what he recognizes as a Lesser Restoration, clearing the alcohol from her system. She turns her back to him, pulling her hair over her shoulder and away from the buttons on the back of her salt-stained dress. “Could you?”

He hums in assent, shifting Vesper to one arm and pressing her to his chest so he can work with his free hand. Undoing Vex’s clothes one-handed is a skill he has worked hard to develop, although it has been pressed into service for less exciting reasons these past three months than previously. Not that he minds.

The dress sags, revealing the freckled expanse of Vex’s shoulders and back, and he can’t help but lean in and press a kiss to the curve where her shoulder meets her neck. 

For a moment, he just leans against her and breathes. 

The past year has been hard. It has been grief, and processing trauma, and learning how to live without a crisis at their door, and all that without the added complication of the birth of a child. This year has been hard, but the hardships of that new life has been such that he had forgotten the desperate terror of watching the woman he loved killed in front of him while he was absolutely powerless to stop it.

He hates that there was a point in his life where he’d almost gotten used to it.

He feels Vex’s fingers come up and twine in his hair. Her head turns to lean into his. “I’m alright,” she says.

He kisses her shoulder again. “I know,” he says, and steps away. 

Vex rolls her shoulders, letting the dress fall to the floor. She hums, stretching her arms up over her head. “Alright,” she says, reaching for the baby, “come here, little one.” She scoops Vesper up and sits down on the bed, shifting her hold until she can open the front of her chemise and let Vesper latch on. 

Slowly, Percival begins stripping off his own waterlogged, battle-stained clothes. Normally he would show at least a minimal amount of care in folding them and putting them away, but tonight he just tosses them to the floor with Vex’s dress. The past year has softened him, stripping him of his battle-ready physicality, and his body is already complaining about the overexertion. Between having his hands bound behind his back, trying to swim with his legs manacled, and the general ache that he associates with a hard adrenaline crash, he would be very happy to lay down and not move for several days. 

He gets started on step one of that plan, crawling onto the bed and flopping down next to Vex, close enough that he can reach out a hand and run it over Vesper’s small, fuzzy head. She hasn’t quite grown into her hair yet, still only sporting soft wisps of dark curls. He wonders idly if she’ll take more after himself or Vex in that regard. If she’ll let him braid it back from her face when it grows long enough, or if she’ll want it kept short.

There are so many things he never thought to wonder about his daughter before she was born. So much he has yet to learn. 

“I don’t think,” he says after a while, softly, almost conversational, “I have ever been so terrified in my entire life.” 

Vex’s gentle rocking of the baby in her arms slows. “It was… incapacitating,” he says, the way he always (only) says these things to Vex, these scraped-out pieces of him too rough and jagged to entrust to anyone else. “All I could think about was Vesper, and if he had her, or knew about her, and how we were going to get back to her…”

“I wasn’t thinking about her at all.” He looks up at that, Vex’s voice so much flatter and quieter than normal, and finds her staring at Vesper. “Or— I was, but.” She swallows. “I was thinking about my mother. When I was… drowning. I couldn’t stop wondering if… If she knew , when she died. If she knew it was coming. If she was frightened, or angry. If she was thinking about her children, like I was, about how much she loved us and how much it hurt not to be able to say it one last…”

She trails off. As if sensing the topic of discussion, Vesper finishes nursing and blinks up at her mother sleepily. Vex smiles weakly. “I wish she could have met her granddaughter,” she says.

Percy shifts until he can rest his head on Vex’s leg. “I know,” he says. “I wish that, too.”

Vex chuckles wetly. “It feels— It feels selfish, wanting more after— after tonight, but—” She pulls Vesper tighter to her chest. “I didn’t realize how much becoming a mother would make me miss my own.”

Percy hums softly. “I don’t think that’s selfish,” he says. “Or if it is, I’m just as selfish as you are.” He presses his cheek against her thigh and sighs. “I miss an awful lot of people.”

Vex shuffles slightly next to him, and one of her hands comes to rest in his hair. They stay like that for a while letting the sadness wash over and away, buoyed by the comfort of each other’s touch. The moment is broken by Vesper, who, having finished her meal, yawns loudly and begins making the fussy grunts and grumbles Percival recognizes to mean that she’s ready to sleep. 

He sits up, ready to take Vesper to her crib, but before he can offer, Vex shifts to lay down on the bed, placing Vesper on her back between them. “Is this okay?” she asks, looking over to him. “I just— I don’t want her very far from us tonight.”

Percival leans back down, his body mirroring Vex’s, curled around their daughter. “Of course.” 

Vesper stretches, her chubby arms spreading as far as they can. Vex reaches out with a finger and Vesper grabs on, tiny fingers clutching on tight. “I could do this again,” Vex says, gently waving their daughter’s round little fist back and forth.

Percival blinks. “You don’t— have to? I mean, unless I’m misremembering, we don’t really have any other archnemeses floating around waiting to seek revenge—”

Vex snorts. “Not that , darling.” She nods at Vesper. “This.”

Percy’s breath catches in his throat. They’d only talked a little about children before they eloped the first time, enough to establish yes, someday— and then everything with Vecna— and Vex had gotten pregnant so quickly, before they’d even really actually started trying, so they hadn’t— they’d never talked about— 

“She should have siblings,” Vex says, still looking at the baby. She traces a line with her finger down Vesper’s forehead, tapping her lightly on the nose and smiling when Vesper wrinkles it in response. “I want her to have a big family.” She does look at Percy then, and his breath catches at the depth of love and devotion in her eyes. “I want us to have a big family.” She sighs shakily. “I don’t want any of us to be alone again.”

Very, very carefully, Percy leans over his infant daughter to press a soft kiss to Vex’s lips. “I like the sound of that,” he says.

In the morning, they will clean up properly. They’ll deal with the fallout from tonight, explain everything to the guests arriving for the ceremony at the time it was supposed to happen. Hells, they might even get married again while they’re at it, because why not? And they’ll have their proper honeymoon, and they’ll say goodbye to their friends, and they’ll go home to Whitestone and return to the painful, wonderful, daily work of building a life together.

But until morning, there’s nothing outside of this room. This family, this new beginning, and their eyes blinking shut as Percy’s low voice sings an old, gentle song. 

“The story that I love you, it has no end. A baby when it’s sleeping has no crying…”