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A Town for Two

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From Vex’ahlia’s journal: Brother and Percival have designs on escape at noon. Brother has been brushing his hair for the past twenty minutes. Percy continues to elude me, but I hope to identify his whereabouts shortly. Scanlan and Keyleth have offered to aid me in my endeavors. Pike was meant to come, but even out of her armor that darling girl is no rogue. Keyleth is along for magical support. If all goes well, this will make for both an amusing and adorable tale in the future. 

Percival adjusts his scarf, then his gloves, then his overcoat. Tilts his glasses left, right, pushes them up his nose until he goes cross-eyed with the effort to set it back on his nose. There’s a tremble in his hands, though it comes less from the biting wind and more from what faces him as he sets out into the noonday sun. 

He’d told Vax’ildan that it would be far more practical to leave together, but ever mysterious, Vax had merely winked and spirited himself away to do gods-know-what. Now he’s resigned to walk the road to the market square all on his lonesome, the chill of the air seeping under the wool of his coat and the thin linen of his shirt. With a hot huff of breath aimed lazily upwards, Percy shoves his hands into his pockets, feeling the outline of Ripley’s pistol in the holster hidden beneath layers of cloth. To come armed to an outing with a dear friend, he knows, is hardly appropriate - still, they are Vox Machina. Never is it clever to walk without a weapon, hums Vex’s voice in the back of his brain, a distorted little lullaby sung at sunrise on the road, like Pike’s prayers and Scanlan’s shanties. 

The cobblestone roads slowly fill with the bustle of business as Percy makes his way into town, nudging by a throng of rowdy civilians, their voices raised in excitement as they watch a troubadour band strike up a piece in the street. He’s just entering the roundabout of the Merchants’ District when he feels a cool gust of wind, not natural in the slightest, at the nape of his neck, and then a lithe figure attaches itself to his side, slender fingers coming to rest on his left shoulder. 

“Percival, darling, glad you could make it.” Comes Vax’s gentle greeting, the timbre of his voice warm and sweet. 

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Vax’ildan. Is this a call of business or pleasure?” Percy replies, smirking as he utters the last word, laden with implications of a less savory manner.

Vax laughs, a raw kind of joy Percy doesn’t often see with the half-elven rogue. So often is Vax shuttered away, blunted and dulled by caution and tempered passion in equal measures. With only the slightest hesitation, Percy wraps his arm around the other man’s waist, not so low as to imply anything untoward, but not so high as to be quite appropriate for “just friends.”

“I am always in the business of pleasure, dear Percy,” Vax simpers, and then, letting the smolder fall a bit, gives a true smile, “Admittedly, I stole you away purely for some alone time. I’ve missed talking just the two of us. Besides, look around you! No market quite so utterly diverse as this. Gilmore gets me discounts all across the place.” 

At the mention of Gilmore, Percy gives a petulant grunt. “Mentioning other men on the first date, Vax’ildan? You ought to ask your sister to attend to your courtship manners.”

Vax pats his shoulder, pulling him forwards with a grin so incredibly brilliant that for a moment Percy forgets his jealousy (and perhaps his own name). 

“Come now, sweet Percy, you know my heart is yours and yours alone!” He snarks, and Percy elects to merely roll his eyes, for fear of showing his cards too blatantly in front of Vax. He is love-blind, but not at all a fool for it; Percy may not be experienced in the game of hearts, but he knows enough to keep his mouth shut at times like these.

Suddenly, a cart rolls up before them, the wheels bumping along the stones, loud and conspicuous as it screeches to a halt, wooden wheels sparking at the seemingly random stop. At its helm, a burly-looking man with foggy spectacles and an overlarge jacket which dispels any visual of his lower face. He seems almost… lopsided, perhaps with a rather harsh limp, trembling slightly as his hands surprisingly womanly hands grip the cart’s side. 

“Hello, gentlemen! Cream of the ice dragon?” Comes a muffled, vaguely familiar voice, obscured by the cloth. 

After blinking for a moment, Percy nods, almost too stunned to think about it, and before the two can truly process what’s happening, he and Vax are left standing with woven cones in their hands, melting desserts frozen into balls atop the wood. Percy meets Vax’s gaze and, with a shrug, licks the suspicious food.

“Not bad for a… whatever this is.” He says, not without suspicion, but continues to eat it. The cream, he quickly finds, is messy and fickle despite its portability, and he has to chase rivulets of white down the side of the cone with his tongue to prevent them tarnishing his (newly washed and pressed) gloves. 

Though he doesn’t see it with enough certainty to think it anything more than projection of his own desires, Percy can’t help but believe that Vax’s dark eyes are tracking the movements of his tongue, his own cone left mostly untended in favor of watching Percy work at his. 

If this entire ordeal is meant to be a study in mind games, Percy is prepared to face down the Raven Queen and ask her what she plays at by torturing him so. Surely, this will be the death of him, at the very least she could make it quick after all he has been through.

Finally Vax seems to shake himself of his stupor when his own cone has started to drip onto his shoes, and discards it quickly. He takes Percy’s hand and guides him further into the market, firing off comments too quick to mean much of anything at all, and Percy’s musings are lost in the crowd along with the couple.

- - -

“Drat,” Vex’ahlia curses as she watches the two disappear into the fray, binoculars pressed to her eyes from her position behind a barrel of rice. Beside her, Keyleth and Scanlan are collapsed in a sweaty pile of heaving breaths, the lumpy green coat of their disguise covering most of Scanlan’s frame. 

Vex swats at her two cohorts with a cluck of frustration. “That was nearly too close for comfort, you two!”

“I signed up for romance and meddling, Vex, not a circus act! Do you have any idea how hard it is to balance atop Keyleth’s bony shoulders?!” Scanlan scoffs, flapping a hand in the ranger’s direction. 

“I think we need a more distant approach,” Keyleth suggests from beneath Scanlan, red hair splayed out around her as she attempts to draw air back into her lungs.

For a moment, Vex’ahlia merely purses her lips before nodding resignedly, “Agreed.”

- - -

Four hours later, Percy can easily say that this is the most eventful outing he’s had with a single person to date. Between a love potion dropped in the center of the street, resulting in the unholy union of a young gnomish peasant girl with an unusually deep voice and a gangly ginger merchant, the stampede of angry roosters - “Cockstorm!” Several people had crowed merrily - as they were promenading down the road, and the arrow which had lodged itself into someone’s chamberpot, spilling foul waste all over the roof of a merchant’s tent and leaving a destroyed parchment in an unappetizing puddle of urine and feces, Percy can’t even fathom a more preposterous series of events. 

“Had I known the market would be so uniquely chaotic today, I would have bought us popcorn.” Vax chuckles, and then almost chokes when he sees Percy’s look of befuddlement. “What, you human folk don’t have popcorn?!”

“I’ve never heard of the stuff,” Percy admits, “What is it?”

“Why, it’s an Elven specialty! Kernels of corn, heated until they burst into a cloud of hardened starch; you cover it in butter and salt and eat it while watching warriors prove themselves in contests of strength and skill each summer. The fondest memory I have of my time with my father, really.” Vax explains, a frown setting in on his face as he reaches the subject of his father.

Percy bumps into him, a sympathetic nudge, and strokes his thumb across the bare flesh where Vax’s gloves don’t cover his wrists or fingertips. The sun has begun to set, and the rows of lanterns which hang unlit above them are bouncing in the breeze, the gentle tapping of their metal doors a reminder to the city to light them soon. 

They continue walking for a bit, eyes trapped on the slowly dimming light, reds and oranges streaking across the sky like watercolor paints. When they do come to a stop, between two buildings overlooking a sudden decline to the docks, Vax turns to Percy with a nervous grin.

“Percy, I’ve meant to say this to you for a long time, and -”

Percy breaks into a grin, too impatient to wait for something he’s become increasingly sure must be the case. “Oh, you foolish, wonderful man, spare the words and act; you’re so terribly good at thinking without your mind.” He blurts out, cheeks reddening, and the next moment, Vax’s lips are on his.

The kiss is chaste, a press of winter-dried lips, Vax’s hands caressing the sides of Percy’s face like he is something delicate, something breakable. 

And that’s when Percy registers the sound of a bow loosing an arrow, and pulls away in confusion just in time to see a flaming bolt lodge itself in the clothesline holding up the candles above. The two men watch in horror as the flame spreads and rapidly sets fire to the entire line.

“Rain check?” Vax manages to get out.

“…Yeah. Yeah, rain check, back at the keep, now let’s get out of here before somebody blames us for this.” And then he’s grabbing Vax’s hand and they’re running, running like children, past startled shoppers and vexed vendors. 

An unusual outing, yes. And abnormailty breeds adoration in the best of men, this, Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III knows very, very well.

 

From Vex’ahlia’s journal: The mission, while unorthodox, was undoubtedly a success. Reconnaissance from a bird-shaped Keyleth confirms that Vax’ildan and Percival have been alone on Percival’s balcony since returning home, most likely attached at the mouth (an image I will endeavor to scrape from my mind’s eye like bird shit from a window pane). The two fools are finally together, bless their hearts. Indubitably, Brother owes me yet another life debt. That is all, for now. We set off on the road in a fortnight, and at that time I will give any other notices necessary. For now, however, I will attend to a much deserved bath. I still smell a bit charred.*

*Note: practice aim with flame arrows more often, spark seems to obscure vision slightly.