It’s late when they all step out of some tree in the middle of what Kash assumes is Whitestone, since it’s not like Keyleth would screw that up. Well—no, she wouldn’t. She might kind of be a disaster sometimes, but her spells are off the charts cool.
Lady Kima—he’s not sure how he feels about her, really, since she completely ignored him, basically, but she seems like good people—takes a deep breath of the night air. “So. Beds?”
“Yes, of course,” says Percy. “The castle is just this way.”
“Actually,” says Vex, looking excited and grinning brightly. Z’s right, she’s cute too, even if she’s no Keyleth. “Actually. You all remember how I died today?”
Her brother actually growls and gets a little closer to her, like a total freak.
Vex puts a hand on his shoulder and says something quietly to him, and he kind of relaxes, but he still doesn’t look very happy. “Anyway,” she says to the rest of them. “You know what we should do?”
“Pub crawl!” Keyleth shouts.
“Pub crawl!” the rest of Vox Machina echoes, like this is just a thing for them.
“You guys drink a lot, huh,” Kash says.
Keyleth sort of pouts at him, which should be annoying, but is a little bit adorable instead. “You don’t like drinking?” Then she blushes, like she remembers all of a sudden that they’re being awkward right now, and she looks away.
“I like drinking,” he says quickly. “I mean—yeah, let’s do it, pub crawl. Z?”
“I could use a drink,” she says, watching Vex. Kash isn’t really sure she’s stopped since that moment when they all saw Vex fall back away from the sarcophagus, stone dead.
“Excellent,” Vex says, hooking her arm through her brother’s. “Percy, since you know the area best, and since you owe me, because you killed me today—”
“Yeah, that’s not funny yet,” Percy says.
“—lead the way to the alcohol,” Vex says, ignoring him. “Oh, Kima, is that all right?”
Kima looks sort of amused and tolerant, like they’re small children and she’s enjoying watching their antics. “I suppose I could go for some ale. And it’s not so late yet. Why not? Lead on, Percy.”
“All right,” Percy says, looking around them. They’re in some kind of square, with just a tree and them in the center of it. “Keep in mind that Whitestone is still rebuilding, so I’m not certain how good the bars will be.”
“Rebuilding?” Kash says. “What happened?”
“Oh, there was a whole thing with a vampire and some zombie giants,” Scanlan says. “Also, I burned down a house.”
“Yeah, but we took care of that,” Grog says dismissively. “It was awesome.”
“Oh, but there might be an evil ziggurat or orb of death or something underneath the city,” Keyleth says. “Pub?”
Kash trades an incredulous glance with Z. “Yeah, okay,” he says, deciding not to think about it too hard.
“You all have the oddest lives,” Z says, walking over to stand beside Vex. “But I’m very glad you made it out none the worse for wear.” From the look on her face, it’s clear who she means.
“Yeah, it was…” Percy trails off. “Fun. Um. Let’s go, shall we?”
They walk through the city, following him. Keyleth’s hair kind of swings as she walks, in the opposite direction as her hips. Kash looks away, tries to find someone else to watch, but there’s slim pickings in this group, honestly. Z’s his sister in everything but blood. Kima’s hot, but also clearly a lesbian. He’s not stupid. Vex is definitely off limits. Hell, he and Z bonded that first night after she saved his life by basically calling dibs on members of Vox Machina.
Besides, Keyleth’s just…better. She laughs at something the gnome says, and it’s all he can not to sigh like a lovesick fucking teenager. She reaches out to cuff Scanlan on the head, and she’s beautiful and wonderfully alive.
He shakes his head to clear it.
“So—Grog,” he says, randomly picking the person closest to him. “Nice sword.”
“Oh, yeah, thanks,” Grog says, looking weirdly bashful. “Its name is Craven Edge. I tried to call it Bacon, but, uh, it didn’t like that.”
Kash gives that due consideration. “Yeah. Okay. Good talk.”
The bar Percy brings them to is, as he’d indicated, kind of shabby and run-down looking, but it’s not like Kash has ever bothered to care about things like that. They settle around a long table, and Scanlan yells out, “Ho! Good barkeep!” probably because at heart, he’s kind of an asshole.
The man behind the bar squints at them suspiciously, which is fair. “What do you—Lord de Rolo?” he says, sounding shocked.
As one, they turn to look at Percy, who looks a bit startled himself. “Oh, well—yes, I suppose. That’s me, yes.”
“Lord de Rolo, it’s an honor,” the man says, rushing out and over to them. “What can I get for you and your companions and your—bear.”
“Oh, the bear’s mine, actually,” Vex says. “And I’m not sending him outside, Scanlan, because I died today. But don’t worry, he’s really very sweet.”
Kash winces. He wishes she’d stop making jokes about that. She’s definitely the only one who finds them funny.
“The bear stays,” Z and Vax say, almost in unison. Tonight, they absolutely look like they would both fight this random civilian to give Vex anything she wants.
The bartender shrinks back from both of them. “Of course. Whatever you need. The bear stays. Did you want something to drink?”
“Ale all around, please,” Vex says. She winks at him. “Thank you very much.”
“Of course, uh—my lady,” he says and practically runs away.
“My lady,” Vex says, sounding pleased. “I like that.”
Percy sighs. “In the future, you two, please refrain from threatening my people.”
“Who threatened?” Vax says. “I didn’t threaten anyone.”
“All I said was that I wanted the bear to stay,” Z says.
“It was really more the way you said it—oh, whatever,” Percy says. “Tonight, the bear definitely stays.”
“I could get used to getting treated like this,” Vex says, grinning. “I should die every day.”
“Please stop,” Vax says. “Just—stop saying shit like that, I can’t listen to you saying that, not after you—”
“Okay,” Vex says, quick and tender. “Okay.”
“Imagine,” Vax says, his voice rough, “if it were me, and you were holding me and realizing that you were all alone and—”
“Don’t,” Vex says. “Don’t ever say that, not ever, I’d—all right. I’ll stop.” She leans her head on Vax’s shoulder and says, “I’m right here, brother.”
Kash looks away, feeling like an intruder. Z takes his hand under the table and squeezes, hard. “You did good today,” she whispers into his ear.
“Yeah, well,” he mutters, feeling uncomfortable. “I couldn’t just leave her lying there.”
“Of course not,” Z says and kisses him on the cheek.
“Oh, look, ale!” Scanlan cries out, sounding incredibly relieved.
“Ale!” Kima echoes, sounding equally glad. “I think everyone at this table definitely needs a drink.”
“Yes, keep it coming,” Percy says to the bartender. “I think everyone plans to drink heavily tonight.”
“Of course, my lord,” the man says, and he scurries away after a nervous look at Vax and Z.
Everyone takes a tankard, and Scanlan lifts his. “To Vex!” he says. “The best shot and most beautiful woman—except, of course, for Pike, my future wife—I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh, thank you,” Vex says. “But we should’ve gone to get Pike!”
The members of Vox Machina look at each other. “Anyone want to go back for her?” Vax says at last.
“She’s probably asleep already,” Grog says, finally, and the rest of them leap on that.
“Yes!” Scanlan says. “We wouldn’t want to interrupt her beauty sleep—not that she needs it, of course.”
“Of course,” says Percy, smirking.
Everyone drinks, and Keyleth lifts her tankard again. “To Kashaw,” she says, blushing and not looking at him. “Who saved our dear friend, and—and struck a blow for life.”
Kash feels like he’s been punched. He bites his lip and takes a deep breath, but there’s a tear threatening to spill at the corner of his eye. “Fuck, everyone just drink,” he says gruffly, and buries his face in his ale.
Z pats his leg understandingly.
“Yeah, what’s with all the talking?” Grog says. “Drink, people.”
The night devolves from there.
A few—later, it’s later, a few something later. Kash isn’t sure what. He would swear, swear that he hasn’t even finished his first tankard of ale, but the world is pleasantly soft and fuzzy around the edges, so that seems…wrong? Probably wrong.
“Kash,” Z says, collapsing against his shoulder. “Kash. Kash.”
“Yeah, Z, what?” he says, slinging an arm around her shoulders. He loves her so much, with the—and the—she’s so great.
“Vex,” she says. “Have you seen Vex? Because she’s so—she’s so. You know?”
Kash glances at Keyleth, who is leaning on Percy and laughing hysterically. “Yeah, Z, I know.”
“Yeah,” she says. “You know. She’s just—I just—wow. Wow, Kash. Wow.”
“You should tell her,” Kash says. “Yeah! You should, you should tell her.”
Z makes a face, her head lolling back as she looks up at him from her slumped position. “But what if she—”
“No,” Kash says. “No buts, because, like. You have to seize the day, and, um. Stuff. And, uh, I think. She’s always smiling at you. You know?”
“Keyleth smiles at you,” Z says, poking his shoulder.
“Keyleth smiles at everyone,” he says. “She probably smiles at Vax. But Vex, like. She smiles at you, not just at you. You know?”
Z gasps. “She does? She smiles at me?” She frowns. “Are you sure?”
“I’m, I’m so sure,” Kash says. “You should go tell her. You know. That she’s so.”
Z straightens up. “I’m going to. I’m going to! Okay.” She stands. “Vex! Vex, darling!”
Vex looks up from where she’s giggling with her brother. “Zahra! Yes? What is it?”
“You’re so. You know?” Z says.
“Ummm,” Vex says. She frowns. “No?” She bursts out laughing and falls back against Vax.
Z laughs too, clapping a hand over her mouth. “Oh, yes, that was—I meant, you are so beautiful. Like, so beautiful.”
“Zahra!” Vex says, pushing off of her seat and coming forward to clasp Z’s shoulders. “You’re beautiful too. So beautiful. You’re—I mean—wow.”
“That’s what I said!” Z says. “Kash, isn’t that what I said?”
Kash raises his drink in acknowledgment. “That’s what she said.”
“See?” Z says to Vex. “But, like. You’re beautiful, and I want to kiss you all the time. Is what I meant.”
“Oh my god,” Vex says, her eyes going wide. “Me too!”
“Oh my god,” Z says. “That’s so!”
“It is so!” Vex says, and then they’re kissing, right there in the middle of the bar. They break apart after a few seconds to giggle into each other’s shoulders, and then they start right back up with the kissing.
Kash claps. “Yeah, Z! Fucking awesome!”
“It is awesome!” Z says, and then she and Vex kind of stumble sideways onto a bench, fall onto it, and keep kissing.
Kash is really just so happy for them. He’s smiling. He can’t stop.
There’s a thunk as someone sits down next to him, and he looks over to see Scanlan, watching the girls. “Oh, it’s you,” he says.
Scanlan gestures at them. “Hot, right?”
“Dude,” Kash says. “Z’s like my sister. Gross.”
“Yeah, but still,” Scanlan protests. “A little tiefling half-elf action? No? Oh, right, wrong half-elf, huh?”
For a second, Kash thinks he means Keyleth, but then he remembers that Scanlan is certifiably insane. “Right, her brother, yeah. Look at him. Wow. I want him so much.”
Scanlan claps him on the shoulder. “That’s what I’m saying! You’ve just got to go for it, man, okay. Like she did! Just go up to him and lay it all out there, you know?”
Kash thinks about going up to Vax and doing just that, and he has to stifle a snigger. “You know what?” he says, grinning broadly. “You’ve inspired me. I’m going to do it!”
“Wow, really?” Scanlan says. “Yeah! You do it! You go get your man!”
“I’m going to go get my man,” Kash agrees, levering himself out of his seat and grabbing his drink. He stumbles across the room to drop into a seat next to Vax. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Vax says. He narrows his eyes. “Look, I want you to know that Zahra seems like a great person, and I’ve never been able to stop my sister from doing anything anyway, but if she hurts Vex even a little bit, I’m going to kill her in her sleep.”
“Yeah, I’ll kill you if you do that,” Kash says. “And same, obviously.”
“Right, same,” Vax says, and they knock their tankards together and drink.
Kash goes to put it down and accidentally lets go, dropping it onto the table, which is—wrong, definitely, because he hasn’t gotten to the bottom of this drink yet, he’d remember that. Except that as he watches, the mug slowly fills up again, like magic. He follows the stream up with his eyes and sees a barmaid, who tops him off and grins at him before she reaches over to do the same for Vax. “Oh,” Kash says. “That makes sense.”
“Huh?” Vax says.
“Nothing,” Kash says. “I think I might be drunk.”
“I’m not,” Vax says and takes another drink. He frowns. “I might be.”
“Told you,” Kash says, even though he definitely didn’t. Across the room, he sees Scanlan giving him excited thumbs up, and he’s very confused for a moment. “Oh! Right.”
“Huh?” Vax says. “I don’t get it.”
“Listen,” Kash says. And then, very loudly, because if he’s going to do this, he might as well get some fun out of it, “Listen! You’re.” He frowns. What was he supposed to say? “You’re so beautiful, and I want to kiss you all the time.” He tries to keep a straight face, but he starts snickering after approximately no seconds.
Vax chokes and starts coughing, but then he takes one look at Kash’s face and snorts, laughing hysterically. “Oh my god,” he says, just as loudly. “Me too!”
And Kash starts laughing harder, except then Vax reaches out and grabs him by the shirt, tugs him forward, and sticks his tongue in his mouth. It’s kind of hard to laugh after that, what with how his mouth is all busy.
He thinks about it seriously for about half a second while Vax goes to town, but, like. What the hell. He grabs Vax’s face with both hands and responds as enthusiastically as he can, because it’s funny, right? It’s so funny.
They break apart to gasp for air and laugh some more, but then he sees every single one of their friends staring at them incredulously, and he reels Vax right back in.
It’s fucking hilarious.
All nine of them stumble out of the bar at—well, Kash isn’t sure what time it is, but it’s late, he thinks. Very late. Grog and Kima are singing bawdy drinking songs very badly, and Scanlan keeps shouting, “To Vex and Zahra!” even though none of them are toasting anymore. Every time he does, Vex and Z stop walking to make out in the middle of the street. Then Scanlan shouts, “To Vax and Kashaw!” and Vax and Kash have to stop walking and make out as well, which is getting kind of tedious, but still funny.
What with all the stopping, it’s pretty slow going.
“Love conquers all!” Scanlan yells into the night.
“Hell, yeah!” Vax says. “Because, because—me and Kash, right?” And he dissolves into laughter, falling over into Kash.
“Love conquers all,” Kash says, he starts laughing too.
“You all need to be quieter,” Percy says, very loudly. “Because it’s the middle of the night, and people are—people are doing the quiet thing. Sleeping. That.”
“Is that the quiet thing?” Scanlan says.
“It isn’t when Grog does it,” Keyleth says delightedly. There’s a pause, and then she says, “Because snoring, god.”
Scanlan sniggers. “Keyleth made a sex joke!”
“I did not,” Keyleth says, punching Scanlan in the arm. Judging by his wince, it’s maybe harder than she intended. “I didn’t!”
“Okay, you didn’t!” Scanlan says. “Aren’t you supposed to be weak? Isn’t that a whole magic user thing? I’m weak.”
“Well, you’re…tiny,” Keyleth says, frowning. “And helpless.”
Kash giggles—he doesn’t giggle. He does something much manlier, and Vax kind of pets his hair absently. “What?” Vax says. “What’s with the—are we kissing again?”
“Keyleth’s funny,” Kash says.
“Keyleth’s such a good person,” Vax says, sighing. “She’s just always doing the right thing, it’s so… So nice. So nice. You know?”
“She’s so,” Kash agrees fervently. “Wow.”
“You’re good with words,” Vax says, staring at him. “Guys! Guys, Kash is so good with words.”
“To Vax and Kash,” Scanlan yells, so then they have to make out again. That’s the rule.
When they stumble into Percy’s castle—Percy has a castle, that’s crazy—it’s even later. Kima yawns and says, “Not that I didn’t have a great time with the drinking and watching the kissing, but beds? There was a whole thing where we were going to sleep somewhere comfortable tonight.”
“There’s bedrooms somewhere,” Percy says. “I guess I can show you. And Zahra and Kash, of course.”
“That’s okay,” Vex says, already halfway up a flight of stairs with Z. “Zahra can share with me, we’d hate to take beds away from refugees, and, and the needy, good night.”
Vax laughs. “Oh, oh, Kash! You should share with me.”
“Because of the needy?” Kash says.
Vax flicks a glance over Kash’s shoulder at all their friends and gets a look in his eyes that Kash is coming to recognize in members of Vox Machina. In battle, he’d take cover and ready some healing spells; as it is, he just gets fucking excited. Vax has such good ideas.
Vax smirks, stifles a laugh, and grabs Kash’s ass. “I mean,” he says, “I’m feeling pretty needy.”
“That was such a good line,” Kash says, impressed. “You’re good with words.”
“Oh my god,” Percy says, sounding vaguely horrified. “Someone just get them into a bedroom.” He looks around the room and sighs. “That’s going to be me, isn’t it.”
“I mean, I could, like, carry them,” Grog says. “One under each arm.” He gestures.
“Yes,” Percy says. “Definitely, yes, do that.”
“Is that a good idea?” Keyleth says, frowning and kind of listing against the stone wall. “Because drunk and, ummm, informed consent and. Something?”
Kash starts laughing. Keyleth thinks they’re going to have sex. That’s ridiculous.
“Go infrared consent my sister,” Vax says.
“Nailed it,” Kash whispers. It comes out louder than he expects it to, but he doesn’t have much time to be surprised, because that’s about when Grog grabs him and slings him over a shoulder. “What the fuck.”
Grog makes a motion towards Vax, who dances backwards, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. It would be more effective if he didn’t almost immediately trip over his own feet and fall on to the floor, sprawled out onto his back. Grog stoops over and hefts him easily over his other shoulder. He turns to Percy, who’s sitting on the floor with his head between his knees, laughing hysterically.
“Where’s Vax’s room?” Grog says.
Kash considers casting some sort of nasty spell on him, but honestly, every time Grog moves, he feels nauseated, so it’s probably a bad idea. He leans his forehead on Grog’s chest and groans.
Percy gets himself under control long enough to say, “Right across from yours.”
“Ooh,” Keyleth says, watching them. “That looks like fun! I want to ride Grog too!” And she runs at them, going around behind Grog and jumping on his back, clinging with her arms and legs.
“Kiki wants to ride Grog,” Vax says, snickering, and Kash laughs helplessly.
Grog huffs out a slightly pained breath, buckling slightly, but he rallies and straightens up again. “Where’s her room? Can I leave her with them?”
“No,” Percy says. “Definitely don’t do that.” He gets to his feet. “I’ll show you.”
Kima clears her throat.
“And then I’ll find a room for you as well, Lady Kima,” Percy says promptly.
“How drunk are you?” Kima says. She’s swaying slightly, but otherwise, she seems much more sober than Kash feels.
“Very,” Percy says. “But I hide it better.” He taps his nose. “I’m a hider.”
“No, you’re not,” Vax says from the other side of Grog. “I’m a hider. And my sister.”
Kash twists his head to look at him. It’s really hard. It keeps going the wrong direction. “You look funny upside down.”
“Okay,” Percy says, “definitely you need to be in bed. Come on, Grog.”
Grog follows Percy up the stairs and Kash moans. “No. Walking is better than being carried. So much better.”
“I’m having fun,” Keyleth says, sounding disappointed.
“Big guy, I’m going to throw up on you,” Vax says faintly.
“Oh, right,” Percy says. “Yeah, probably put them down.”
“Oh, do I have to?” Grog says.
“Yes,” Percy says. “They’ll—hang on, where’s Scanlan?”
“Asleep in the entrance hall,” Kima says, sounding bored. “Didn’t you notice?”
“What?” Percy says. “No. What?”
“He sat down, and about two seconds later, he was snoring,” Kima says. “It was almost impressive.”
“Damn,” Percy says. “Grog, put Vax and Kashaw down.”
“I don’t want to,” Grog says.
“But—I will take away your immunity to water if you don’t.”
Kash has no idea what that means, but Grog immediately puts him and Kash down on the stairs, and Percy grabs their arms to keep them from rolling down.
“I can’t believe that worked,” Percy mutters. “Kash, Vax, can you stand?”
“No,” Vax says, stretching out onto a step and closing his eyes. “No standing.”
The steps are stone and very cold. Kash rests his cheek on one. It feels really good, and he thinks Vax is probably right. “Here is fine.”
“No, absolutely not,” Percy says. “Grog—no, wait. Keyleth, do you know where your room is?”
“Yes,” Keyleth says, sounding offended. Kash opens his eyes to look at the little furrow in her brow.
“Good,” Percy says. “Do you know where Scanlan’s room is?”
Keyleth bites her lower lip. When she stops so she can talk, it’s very red. “Probably?” she says.
“Good enough,” Percy says after a moment. “Grog, go back downstairs and get Scanlan and put him and Keyleth in their rooms. Keyleth will tell you where to go.”
“And then you won’t let the water hurt me?” Grog says.
“Yes, exactly,” Percy says. Grog leaves, and Kash closes his eyes again, moving his head slightly to a new, freshly cool portion of stair.
“Lady Kima—” Percy starts.
“Can I help you wrangle your friends?” Kima says. “Percy, the bed you find me had better be truly epic.”
“Best in the castle, I swear,” Percy says, and then Kash is being roughly dragged to his feet by a very impatient halfling.
“No,” he says.
“Yes,” Kima says firmly. “Or I will kick you in the balls. I barely know you, and I’m very tired, but I can’t go to sleep until Percy stops dealing with you.”
Kash squints at her and decides she’s probably serious. “Yes,” he echoes, struggling to support his own weight on his very unsteady legs.
“Good boy,” Kima says. “Vax’ildan—”
“I’ve been flicked in the nut by Grog,” Vax says, his words slightly muffled, since he’s face down on the step. “You can’t threaten me.”
“I will pick you up and dump you into your sister’s room, where she is almost undoubtedly having sex with Zahra right at this moment,” Kima says.
Vax picks up his head. “You wouldn’t.”
“I really would,” Kima says. “I’d hate to interrupt her, but they were both so drunk I’m honestly not sure they’d notice.”
“You’re mean,” Vax says. “I’m getting up.”
“Will you marry me?” Percy says.
“I’m obviously marrying Kash, the love of my life,” Vax says, almost falling down the stairs as he gets to his feet, but he catches himself on the bannister. Kash kisses the air in his direction and then burps. It tastes horrible.
“I meant Kima, who’s obviously the love of mine,” Percy says.
“Kima’s gay,” Kash says. “Obviously.”
“And taken,” Kima says. “But that’s flattering, thanks. Come on, you two, start moving in the direction of Vax’s room.”
“I don’t know where that is,” Kash says.
Vax frowns and looks around. “I don’t know if I do either.”
Kima looks at Percy. “Please tell me you do.”
“Yes, thank god,” Percy says. “Come on, both of you.”
“Not worried about informed consent?” Kima says, as they start slowly climbing the stairs. Kash has to watch the stairs very closely while he picks up his legs, because they keep moving to try and trick him.
“The state they’re in, if either of them can get it up, it really is true love,” Percy says.
“Yeah, that’s reasonable,” Kima says.
“So, your girlfriend,” Percy says. “Allura?”
“I thought you guys knew.”
“We strongly suspected, but—oh, Vax is falling.”
Kima’s arm snaps out and grabs the front of Vax’s shirt. “For all the drinking I hear you lot do, you’d think you’d be better at it.”
“You really would,” Percy says. “But, well. It was a hard day. I’m just impressed he let his sister out of his sight. Anything else is just details.”
“I guess that’s fair.”
“I feel like they’re talking about me,” Vax says to Kash as they get to the top of the staircase.
“Who?” Kash says.
“Oh, look, we’re here,” Percy says, opening a hole in the wall.
“I didn’t know you could do magic,” Kash says, staring at it.
“It’s a door—you know what, yes, it’s magic, just get in the room already.”
“You’re testy,” Vax says to him. “Good. I’m mad at you.”
“You are?” Percy says. “Wait, why?”
“My sister,” Vax says, like it should be obvious, though Kash is pretty lost.
“Oh,” Percy says. “Yeah. Okay. That’s fair.”
“Just go to bed,” Kima says, shoving Kash.
He stumbles through the magic hole and keeps going forward, unable to get enough control over his legs to stop until he hits something soft and falls forward onto it. A moment later, Vax lands next to him and he hears a thud as the hole closes again.
“This is a bed,” Kash says.
“Uh-huh,” Vax says, pulling himself fully onto it and collapsing.
Kash considers this. “I’m not sleeping on the floor.”
“So don’t,” Vax mutters. “It’s a big bed.”
“Yeah, okay,” Kash says and manages to slump next to him on the other pillow. “Snore and die.”
“I’m so quiet,” Vax says. “So quiet.” There’s silence, but then he adds, “Keyleth snores sometimes.”
“That’s annoying,” Kash says. He totally wants to kiss her again.
“No, it isn’t,” Vax says.
Kash opens his mouth to say something else, but then he falls asleep.
Vax dreams—of his sister cold in his arms, eyes staring sightlessly past him, of the utter stillness of her pulse. And he yells and rages and begs the spectral figure to take him instead, and she laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs and Vex isn’t moving—
He sits straight up with a yell and immediately doubles over, clutching his head in pain. “Oh, fuck, why, fuck, what.”
“If you don’t shut up,” a voice growls from next to him, “I’ll throw you out the window.”
Vax glances at the window automatically and moans, squeezing his eyes as tightly shut as he can. “Why is there sun,” he says.
“I’m told it happens in the mornings,” the voice says—Kash, it’s Kash—oh. Right. Kash.
“Did I climb into your lap and stick my tongue down your throat last night?” Vax says. “Or is that another nightmare?”
“No, you definitely did that,” Kash says. “Now stop talking. And doesn’t this place have curtains? Aren’t we in a castle?”
Vax bats weakly in the direction of the window and does manage to find cloth. With some effort, he draws it closed. They both sigh in relief.
“I have so many regrets,” Kash says.
“Aren’t you a cleric?” Vax says, pressing the heel of his hand into his forehead and rubbing. “Can’t you do something about hangovers?”
“…Oh,” Kash says. “Uh. Probably.” There’s silence, and then he groans, but it sounds more euphoric than pained. “That’s so much better.”
“Care to share?” Vax says. “I’m dying.”
“Maybe I’m annoyed because you climbed into my lap and stuck your tongue down my throat last night,” Kash says.
“You told me I was beautiful and you wanted to kiss me all the time,” Vax says. “So I think it was probably your fault.”
“I was obviously joking.”
“So was I,” Vax says. “Just, in a more…physical way.” His head pounds. “Are you going to help me or not?”
He feels a hand land on his hip, and almost immediately, relief washes over him.
“Ohhh,” he says. “That’s amazing.”
“Careful, someone will think we’re actually having sex in here,” Kash says. “You sound like you just had an orgasm.”
“I kind of feel like I just had an orgasm,” Vax says. “I’d marry you just for the hangover relief, honestly. That might’ve been better than sex.”
“I thought your bard said you didn’t swing that way,” Kash says.
Vax stares at him. Kash is, as always, hard to read and totally stoic. Vax says, “Scanlan told you I didn’t like men.”
“If he was wrong, I won’t exactly be surprised,” Kash says, unmoved. “He thought I had a thing for you.”
“Of course he did,” Vax says. “I like men. Not you, of course—”
“Of course,” Kash agrees.
“—but other men, certainly. I thought you didn’t, though.”
“I don’t,” Kash says.
“So Scanlan was just…”
“That’s—all right, that’s true,” Vax says.
“Yeah,” Kash says. “So, the kissing was whatever, neither of us was into it, let’s just get breakfast and never talk about this again.”
“You are very intelligent,” Vax says. “Yes, let’s do that.”
They make their way down to where Vox Machina has been eating lately, and the instant they step into the room, seven pairs of eyes whirl around to stare at them. Kima’s missing, but Pike is sitting next to Grog, and even though she wasn’t even there last night, she seems as interested as everyone else.
“Good morning,” Vax says flatly and goes to sit next to his—alive, alive, alive—sister.
“Hello, brother, dearest,” Vex says, smiling.
“Oh, god, you’re glowing, that’s disgusting,” Vax says, gagging a little. “Could you seem a little less like you just got laid?”
“You’re one to talk!” Keyleth says, and then she immediately looks down like she’s embarrassed.
“Yeah, come on, spill,” Scanlan says, leaning forward across the table. “How was it?”
“You don’t have to answer that!” Keyleth says.
“What?” Vax says.
“Did you have good sex,” Scanlan clarifies. “Was it everything you’d been dreaming of?” he adds to Kash.
It hits Vax all at once, and probably later than it should’ve, that they actually think he slept with Kash last night. And once he works that out, nothing in the world can stop him from saying, “It was magical. Wasn’t it, sweetcheeks?”
Vex chokes on her eggs.
Vax smirks at Kash, totally expecting to get shoved off the bench and growled at, but Kash frowns at him and then he looks at Scanlan and kind of grins. “I can’t imagine anything better than a long night in the arms of my one true love. Honey…nose.”
Zahra seems to inhale a sip of water and starts coughing violently.
“Aww, you two are adorable,” Scanlan says. “I take full credit, you know.”
“Oh, you absolutely should,” Kash says. His voice is surprisingly even.
“Should he, babycakes?” Vax says, just to prove that if anyone can come up with the worst pet names in this room, it’s absolutely him.
“Absolutely, caramel lips,” Kash says, who has apparently discovered a formula of ‘sweet thing, body part,’ and is sticking to it. “He’s the one who told me to tell you how I feel.”
“Oh,” Vax says, because yeah, that makes sense. That is absolutely what prompted drunk Kash to come over to him last night. “Then I’m so grateful. My life is so much better, now that I’ve accepted what was staring me in the face this whole time.” Kash raises an eyebrow, and Vax hurriedly adds, “Honey pie.”
“I never dreamed you felt the same way,” Kash says, still in a sort of deadpan voice. Honestly, he’s a truly terrible actor. “I feel so blessed, sugar lashes.”
Vax absolutely cannot keep a straight face at that one and buries his face in Kash’s shoulder so he can shake with laughter.
“Is Vax okay?” he hears Grog say.
“I’m just—” He bites his lip, hard. “I’m just so overcome with emotion. And love.”
“Yeah,” Kash says, wrapping an arm around his back and awkwardly stroking. “Love. True love.”
“It’s the only kind,” Vax says, and he does his best to smile soppily. “Cutie pie.”
“Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop with the cutesy pet names,” Vex says, sounding deeply disturbed. “I’m already nauseated enough from the hangover.”
“I can’t help it if my deep and passionate love is making me creative,” Vax says. “The sight of my beloved’s beautiful visage is inspiring me.” He bats his eyelashes.
“First of all, that’s horrifying,” Vex says. “Second of all, please never be creative again, if you can help it. Third, shouldn’t you be hungover?”
“I woke up with a cleric,” Vax says cheerfully. “Turns out his dick can cure hangovers.”
Kash actually chokes this time, biting down hard on a hysterical laugh, but he apparently tries to cover it up by saying, “Baby, how can you be so crude about something so beautiful?”
“I’m sorry,” Vax says, kissing him on the cheek and trying to fake remorse, which is pretty difficult, considering he’s having the time of his life. “You just turn me on so much that the words exploded right out of me.”
“I bet I can think of some other things that exploded out of Vax this morning,” Scanlan says eagerly.
“Ugh,” Vex says, making a truly tragic face. “Zahra, save me.”
“I’ve got you, darling,” Zahra says immediately, putting her arm around Vex and covering her ears. “Don’t listen to the bad men.”
From further down the table, there’s a choking noise, and everyone turns to see Percy, head in his arms and actually shaking with suppressed laughter. “Don’t mind me,” he manages to gasp out. “I’m just having the best morning of my life.”
“Pumpkin pie,” Vax says, “he’s making fun of our love.”
“Well, I think it’s wonderful,” Keyleth says firmly.
There’s silence, and then Vax and Kash say, practically at the same time, “You do?” in what Vax is pretty sure are similar tones of disbelief and faint horror.
“Of course!” Keyleth says, pressing her hands together. “You two are so happy, and I think that’s beautiful.”
Vax would be the first to admit he’s pulled pranks he possibly shouldn’t have in the past and taken things too far, but when she speaks, it’s like all his plans for this joke—get through breakfast without laughing, make fun of Scanlan until one of them finally kicks the bucket—get brought up short and shunted to the side. He has no idea what to say.
Kash’s arm lands solidly across his shoulders. “That’s right,” he says. “We are happy.”
Vax glances at Kash’s totally serious, deadpan face. On the one hand, this is a really dumb joke. On the other hand… It feels like an invitation. One that, under the circumstances, he probably shouldn’t accept, but that’s never stopped him before. He reaches up with his hand to take Kash’s, looks Keyleth straight in the eye and says, “So happy.”
“See?” Keyleth says, glaring at Percy. “That’s sweet.”
“Oh, I see, all right,” Percy says. “They’re the sweetest.”
“We’re adorable,” Kash says, totally deadpan. And then he dips Vax and kisses him right on the mouth. And they aren’t even drunk.
“Well, that’s—nice,” Pike says, once they’ve straightened up and tried very hard to pretend they aren’t wiping their mouths. Kissing is messy.
“Sorry, do I know you?” Kash says.
“Oh, shit, you never met Pike,” Vax says.
“Pike is the love of my life,” Scanlan says proudly.
“I’m so sorry,” Kash says to Pike.
“Hey!” Scanlan says.
“Thanks,” Pike tells Kash, but in a nice way. It’s Pike, so somehow it manages to come out sweet, and not like she’s making fun of anyone. “You must be Kash. Didn’t you kiss Keyleth?”
“That’s what I was gonna say!” Grog says, as Vax, Keyleth, and Kash all simultaneously cough and look away. “And now he’s all over Vax. S’weird.”
“Yeah, big guy, because you’re known for your devotion to a single person,” Vax says once he can meet people’s eyes again.
“Vax,” Pike says chidingly. “And Grog, that’s not what I meant. I was just trying to make sure I had the right person.” Vax can’t help but wonder if she has a hitherto unnoticed mean streak.
“Vax kissed Keyleth too,” Grog mutters.
“Grog,” Pike says.
“It’s nice to meet you, Kash,” Pike says. “You’re a cleric too, right?”
“Yeah,” Kash says. “I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Oh, okay!” Pike says. “Well, I’m glad you and Vax are…figuring things out.”
“In bed!” Scanlan says. “Ba dum tssh.”
Kash looks at him. “You’re an embarrassment to your people.”
“Who are his people?” Vex says. “Us? Gnomes? Bards?”
“Sex addicts?” Percy suggests.
“Can you embarrass a bard?” Vax says. “I mean, they’re already bards, what’s left?”
“None of you deserve me,” Scanlan says.
“I figure it’s bad karma,” Percy says.
“For you to be so rude?” Scanlan says. “I should think so!”
“No, it was bad karma that saddled us with you,” Percy says.
“Next time you need a house burned down, don’t come crying to me,” Scanlan says.
“Okay, seriously, what the hell did he do with this house?” Kash says.
“It’s a long story,” Vex says.
“He turned into a dinosaur,” Keyleth offers.
“Right,” Kash says. “Okay.”
“Generally,” Vax says, “it’s better not to ask.”
“Yeah, I’m getting that.” Kash glances at him. “Your family makes for terrible in-laws.”
“You’re married to a vengeful goddess of death, I wouldn’t talk,” Vax says. “How do I know she won’t kill me for moving in on her man?”
“Yeah, no, she’ll definitely do that,” Kash says. “Sorry.”
Vax sighs loudly. “Don’t worry, pookie. I promise to stay stalwart and true anyway.”
“Right, well, that’s me done with breakfast,” Vex says, pushing her plate away. “Thank you oh-so-much for ruining my appetite, brother dearest.”
Vax hugs her around the shoulders. “Any time, sister dearest.”
Vex stands up, and he gets up too. She looks at him. “Are you coming with me?”
“Yes,” he says, in a way that hopefully doesn’t convey ‘because the only reason I was willing to let you out of my sight last night is because I was blind drunk.’
“Fine,” she says with a sigh. “Come on. Zahra, darling, I’ll see you later?”
“Of course,” Zahra says. She stands up and gives Vex a quick hug and kiss. “I want to talk to Kash about his new storybook love, but I’ll find you soon.”
Vex winks. “Can’t wait.”
Vax follows Vex silently, through the castle and eventually out to a courtyard area. The sun is shockingly bright, and Vex winces slightly and makes for a tree. “Fuck hangovers,” she says, sitting down with her back against the trunk and tipping her head up.
“You don’t seem that hungover,” Vax says, standing in front of her. “This morning, I thought I was dying until Kash did his cleric thing.”
“Brother, you drank a lot more than I did last night,” Vex says.
Vax thinks back to his—admittedly slightly fuzzy—memories of the night before. “You were pretty drunk.”
“I was giddy,” Vex says. “Because of Zahra. There’s a difference. Are you going to sit down? You’re making my neck hurt.”
Vax shifts on the balls of his feet. Every time he looks at her, she looks dead. He thought it would help to be near her, but— “Maybe I should just go.”
“Sit down,” Vex says. “Or I’ll tell everyone you and Kash are faking. Though how they haven’t figured it out yet is anybody’s guess; you realize both of you are terrible liars, don’t you?”
Vax sits. The thing with Kash is fun in a way things haven’t really been lately.
“That’s better,” Vex says, putting an arm around his shoulders and squeezing. “What’s with you lately, huh?”
“I’m fine,” he says.
“Yeah, sure,” she says. She moves her hand up to the side of his head and draws him down to rest his ear against her chest. He can hear her heart beating. “Dummy.”
He sighs and lets her play with his hair. “You’re the dummy.”
“Mm-hmm,” she says. “I’m not the one pretending to date my romantic rival because—honestly, I have no idea why you’re doing it. Is this about Keyleth?”
“Not everything’s about Keyleth, jeez.”
“You’re pretending to date your rival for her affections. This might be about Keyleth.”
Her heartbeat is very steady. He says, “It’s not about Keyleth.”
“Are you lying to me right now?” she says. “You’re not allowed to lie to me, I’m me.”
“No!” He pauses. “It’s not only about Keyleth.”
“There we go. So, you’re trying to make her jealous? Both of you? That’s going to end badly.”
“I’m not trying to make her jealous, I’m—why was she happy for us? Well, because she’s a good person. I suppose that’s the right way to feel, right?”
Vex taps her fingers against his jaw absently. “You know it’s not, like, guaranteed that Keyleth has any romantic interest in either of you, right?”
“She was all happy when Kash kissed her,” Vax mutters. “Which is fine, obviously. That’s fine. But shouldn’t that mean she should be unhappy if he doesn’t want to kiss her anymore?”
“Being happy that someone kissed you is different than wanting to pursue a romantic relationship with them,” Vex says. “Not that I’m not completely on your side, of course. You want Keyleth, you get Keyleth.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Vax says, but he can’t help smiling. “And you didn’t even like that I had feelings for her.”
She’s silent. “I want you to be happy,” she says at last. “Does Keyleth make you happy?”
“I’m happy,” Vax says immediately. “I’m happy, I’m happy.”
“Vax, right before the dragons destroyed Emon, you were telling me we should leave Vox Machina because you were so unhappy,” Vex says. “Try again. What makes you happy?”
“I,” Vax says. “I don’t know. You do.”
“Well, of course I do,” she says. “I’m your sister.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” he says, helpless, grabbing her hand and squeezing tight. It feels too honest, but he doesn’t know how to take it back.
She grips back, just as tightly. “There is no me without you. Do you understand? There’s only us. Me and you. We’re never losing that. If you leave Vox Machina, I go with you.”
“What about Zahra?” he says and bites his lip, hard, trying to draw the words back in.
“She’d come with us,” Vex says. “Or—or she wouldn’t. But I’d still be there.”
Hearing it is comforting in a way it shouldn’t be, and he takes a deep breath.
“Would that make you happy?” Vex says, very soft.
“No,” he says. He rubs his free hand across his face. “We can’t, anyway. There’s the dragons.”
“Right, the dragons,” Vex says. “Well, they certainly aren’t making anyone happy. Come on, Vax. There must be something else.”
“I don’t know,” he says. “Things have been so…dark lately. It’s hard to remember the other things sometimes.” He feels her sigh, very slightly, and says, “Pretending to date Kash makes me happy.”
It makes her laugh, which is what he’d wanted in the first place. “Well, you should definitely keep doing that, then,” she says. “Consider me the biggest fan of your new relationship.”
“I think Scanlan might have already taken that position, frankly,” Vax says.
“Well, he can fight me for it,” she says. “Actually, he can fight me for a lot of things, including that and the stuff he keeps saying about Trinket.”
“You’d win,” he says.
“Of course I would,” she says, smug. “I’m me.” She pauses. “But Vax, about Keyleth—”
“I don’t want to talk about Keyleth,” he says immediately, and he hears how abrupt his voice is and tries to soften his tone. “I don’t know if she makes me happy. That’s such a weird metric, anyway. Maybe if we were together—but we’re not, so who knows. It doesn’t matter. She told me after we were finished with the Briarwoods that she didn’t want to be with me.”
He feels her entire body go momentarily still. “You didn’t tell me that,” she says.
He shrugs a shoulder. “I didn’t really want to talk about it.”
“Oh,” she says, and he thinks she might be hurt, but he doesn’t know what to say.
“Sorry,” he offers.
“No, don’t,” she says. “It’s fine. And you know—I want whatever you want. Whether that’s Keyleth, or Kashaw—”
“Not like that,” he protests.
“—or, or, I don’t know, Grog. Or none of them. Or for it to be just me and you again, making our way in the world. I’m on your side.”
“You are my side,” he says, and even though he’s not looking at her face, he somehow knows she’s smiling anyway.
“Now you’re getting it,” she says.
After the twins leave, Kash keeps sitting awkwardly at the breakfast table and making steady, challenging eye contact with anyone who so much as glances at him. Except for Keyleth. He can’t quite bring himself to look at her properly, even if she’s always somehow at the edge of his peripheral vision.
Percy, who seems to have gotten himself back under control, breaks the silence by saying, with a smirk, “Well, you two seem to be settling in well.”
Z smiles demurely. “You’ve all been such gracious hosts.”
“Well, we aim to please,” Scanlan says. “Especially the twins, apparently!”
“Yes, well, they are very pleasing,” Z says, and Percy snorts.
“Aren’t they nice?” Keyleth says, eagerly agreeing, and then her face falls. “Oh. That’s…not what you meant, is it.”
“Of course it’s what I meant,” Z says. “But Kash, darling, would you take a walk with me? We didn’t get much of a chance to talk last night, what with…everything.”
He stands. “Sure, okay.”
“Excuse us, everyone,” Z says, nodding regally. “I want to discuss our plans. Obviously, we’ll help you fight the dragons, but we never actually talked much beyond coming with you to Whitestone.”
“Of course,” Percy says, standing as well. “Please, feel free to go wherever you like. You’re both entirely welcome.”
Z takes Kash’s arm. “Thank you. I’m sure we’ll see all of you very soon.”
They walk out of the room, Kash following along in Z’s wake. Once they’re a reasonable distance away, walking along an empty corridor, he says, “Did you really want to talk about our plans?”
“Eventually, I suppose,” she says. “But really, I wanted to ask you why on earth you’re pretending to date Vax’ildan.”
He winces. “That obvious?”
She gives him a very pitying look. “Darling, you called him ‘sugar lashes.’ Yes, I’d say it was obvious.”
“Yeah. Well.” He presses his lips together. “I couldn’t think of anything else.”
“That was extraordinarily clear.”
“Whatever,” Kash says. “Dumb couple names are hard.”
“Of course,” Z says patiently. “Darling.”
“But that really wasn’t my question, if you’ll recall,” Z says, as they end up back in the hallway with the bedrooms. She opens the door to one—not Vax’s, which is the only one Kash even thinks he might recognize—and ushers him inside. “I inquired not as to why you couldn’t come up with anything more realistic than ‘sugar lashes,’ or even why you thought that would fool someone with even a child’s intellect—”
“Well, that implies some bad things about Scanlan, at the very least,” Kash says.
“—but, in fact, why you decided to, as far as I can tell, kiss Vax’ildan, pretend to have had sex with him, and pretend to be madly in love with him.”
“It just sort of happened?” Kash tries.
“Really?” Z says, unimpressed. “Do these sorts of things happen to you often?”
“It’s not that I mind, darling,” Z says, sitting down on the bed. The bed where she probably had sex with Vex last night. Wow, he does not want think about that. “But I can’t help but be curious as to your motivations for pretending to be in love with a man that, as far as I’ve been able to tell, you aren’t even necessarily terribly fond of.”
“He’s a good guy,” Kash says automatically. And if he irrationally hates him a little because of Keyleth, well, that’s his own problem and he’s suppressing like a master.
“Of course,” Z says. “And as the dear brother of my girlfriend—” she smiles there, a little giddily, like she can’t quite believe she’s saying it “—I am honor-bound to only say good things about him. However, as your family, may I say that I hope he suffers some sort of disfiguring injury shortly.”
“Keyleth isn’t shallow,” Kash says, before he realizes that the appropriate response to that is probably something more along the lines of, ‘no, that would be awful.’
“Everyone’s a little bit shallow,” Z says.
“Do you think it would help?” Kash says, unable to help himself. “Wait, no. That’s not the point. The point is—the point is, Vax is a good guy.”
“No, that’s not the point either,” Z says. “The point is, you’re pretending you’ll be married to him imminently.”
“Nobody said anything about marriage,” Kash says. “I’m already married, anyway.”
“You know, I’m not sure that’s legal,” Z says. “And the way you two were behaving, I half thought you were going to insist we adjourn to a temple immediately.”
“There’s no marriage,” Kash says. “And—I don’t know, one second I was sitting there, the next thing I knew I was calling Vax ‘honey nose.’ It was completely outside my control!”
“It was all Scanlan’s fault?”
Z considers it. “Yes, that seems likely. What on earth happened?”
“He got this weird idea while we were in Vasselheim that I had a thing for Vax,” Kash says. “I’m not sure why or how. But then, after you and Vex got together, he said I should, you know, follow your example and tell Vax—”
“And you were drunk, so you did,” Z says. “Naturally. What about this morning? You can hardly still be drunk.” She eyes him. “Or perhaps you can. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone drink as much as you did last night.”
“I’m not—huh,” Kash says, thinking about it. He rubs his fingers together, testing. “Okay, I might still be a little drunk.”
“Well, that removes some of the question of motivations,” Z says. “So, what, you just decided it would be funny?”
“Basically,” Kash says. “Honestly, I didn’t actually think that any of them—except maybe Scanlan—would actually think there was anything going on with us.”
“Despite spending all night locked at the lips.”
“Well, sure,” Kash says. “It was a joke. I thought everyone could tell it was a joke. Couldn’t you?”
“Last night? Of course,” Z says. “But I know you best.”
“But we’re both into Keyleth!”
“Grog did comment on that,” Z says.
“Grog. Great. The most observant person in Vox Machina is Grog.”
“Being fair, I don’t think Percy believed you either, considering how hard he was laughing,” Z says. “And Vex certainly didn’t. I’m not sure about the rest.”
“Well, that’s comforting. Good to know that at least a third of our allies in saving the world can’t be fooled by two guys who can’t act and aren’t trying.” Kash sighs. “It’s a dumb joke. We’ll quit it, we’ll laugh at Scanlan, we’ll be done with it.”
“You most certainly will not,” Vex says.
Vax glances at her askance. “Of course we will,” he says. “It’s a stupid joke, he’s right.”
His sister glares at both of them, Kash on the bed with Zahra where they’d found them, and Vax leaning against the door frame. “There will be no stopping.”
“Look, no offence, but I don’t actually get all that much enjoyment out of macking on your brother,” Kash says. “And it’s a little weird that you do.”
“That is not why!” Vex says. “I just think it’s hilarious, is all. It is just so funny. Don’t you think it’s funny, Zahra?”
“Of course, darling.”
It’s Kash’s turn to glare. “Do you have to agree with everything she says now that you two are together?”
“Of course not,” Zahra says.
“She just chooses to, because I’m right,” Vex says smugly.
“Look, Vex,” Vax says.
“No,” she says, holding a hand up in his face. “Stop. It makes me laugh, and considering I—” She stops and visibly backtracks. “And considering my very expensive house was just destroyed by a group of ancient dragons, I think I deserve a laugh.”
Vax hears, ‘considering I died,’ anyway, and he feels numb.
“Well,” Kash says. “I guess if you feel that strongly about it.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” Vex says.
Vax grabs her arm and pulls over to the wall, angling their bodies so Kash and Zahra won’t be able to see their lips. “This is ridiculous.”
“You, shut up,” his sister says. “You won’t take care of yourself, so it’s fallen to me to do it for you, apparently.”
“I don’t need you to—”
“I don’t care,” she says. “You are officially banned from running your own life, because you’re terrible at it. You can have it back once you’re less…everything.”
“Oh, great,” Vax says. “Less everything.”
“That’s right,” she says and pulls away from him. She beams at Zahra and Kash. “This is going to be so much fun!”
“For you, maybe,” Kash says. “You don’t have to kiss your brother.”
Vex glares at him. “Are you suggesting that my brother is not an amazing and attractive person whom you ought to be grateful to kiss?”
“See, that’s a weird thing to say about someone you’re related to,” Kash says.
“I’m just saying, kind of seems like you might have a bit a complex there.”
“Look,” Vax says. “Do you want a dagger through the eyeball? Because that’s all I’m hearing when you talk.”
Kash turns to Zahra. “Are you sure you’re attracted to one of them?”
Zahra smiles at Vex. “Very sure, yes.”
“Well, I guess it’s your life.”
Vax glances at his sister. “Are you sure that anyone who willingly spends time with him is someone you want to get into a relationship with?”
Vex punches him in the arm. “You’re such a jerk.”
Someone outside the door makes a loud noise. “Sorry if there’s sex happening in there,” Scanlan’s voice calls out. “But we’re looking for the lovebirds.”
Vex yanks the door open. “There’s no sex, Scanlan, god. And which ones? All of us are in here.”
“Ooh, orgy? That’s hot.”
“Scanlan!” Keyleth, standing next to him, says, horrified, as all four of them make disgusted retching noises.
“What? Nothing wrong with a little something-something.”
“There’s a little something-something wrong with you,” Kash says.
“You should be thanking me,” Scanlan says. “I’m the reason you and your honey are having such a good day.”
There’s a part of Vax that honestly expects Kash to shrug and admit it was fake. Instead, Kash comes forward and wraps his arm around Vax’s waist. “You’re right,” he says. “We’re so happy, and it’s all because of you. Thanks, Scanlan. You’re a real pal. Isn’t he? Baby.”
Trying to mask his surprise that Kash is going along with it and also has managed to come up with a semi-reasonable term of endearment, Vax stutters, “What? Uh, yes. Definitely. I mean—you’re so close, I can’t think straight, sexy.”
Vex claps her hands over her mouth, her shoulders shaking slightly.
“Vex?” Keyleth says. “Are you okay?
“Yes,” Vex gets out. “I’m just so happy that my brother is so happy. Zahra—”
Zahra opens her arms, and Vex practically falls into them, burying her face in Zahra’s neck and presumably laughing hysterically.
“That’s so sweet,” Scanlan says. “And it’s all thanks to me! I’m a miracle worker, honestly. A gift to all of you. My true calling is as a matchmaker! I’ll make all of you as happy as Vax and Kashaw are.”
“If only everyone could be so lucky,” Zahra says solemnly. “Of course, I already am.”
Vex lifts her head up. “Darling, that’s so sweet.”
“But you aren’t as lucky,” Scanlan says. “Because you weren’t brought together by me. It’s close, but… I’ve got certain flair, it has to be said.”
“Good point,” Vax says seriously. “We’re so much luckier.”
“So much,” Kash says. “But didn’t you two come here for something?”
“Yes!” Keyleth says, sounding relieved. “We thought we could show you around Whitestone, introduce you to people, talk plans?”
“That sounds sensible,” Kash says, with the unspoken, ‘unlike everything else we’ve been doing’ very clear.
“Great,” Vex says. “Let’s do it.”
As Kash follows everyone out of Vex’s room, he grabs Vax’s hand and holds it in his. At Vax’s glance at him and slightly raised eyebrow, he shrugs, “I’m the best fucking boyfriend, sweetie.”
Vax snorts. “Hell yeah, you are, baby.” He leans over and nuzzles the side of Kash’s neck, which is kind of weird, but whatever, it’s funny.
“Well, you two are getting disgustingly domestic,” Percy says as they come upon him, Grog, and the other gnome, Pike, in the foyer. He’s smirking, and Kash thinks Z’s probably right, he knows what’s up. But he doesn’t seem excessively inclined to mention it to anyone else, so he’s probably happy to sit back and enjoy the joke, and if he isn’t, it’s not like Kash cares.
“Aren’t they just supposed to be having sex everywhere?” Grog says, frowning. “Isn’t that how beginnings of relationships start?”
Pike laughs, but doesn’t correct him.
“Don’t give us any ideas,” Kash says.
“Oh, I’m already getting ideas,” Vax says, and then he shoves Kash up against a wall and slams their mouths together.
Kash reflects vaguely, while grabbing Vax’s ass and hauling him closer, that this is the kind of thing that would probably hot if he were even remotely attracted to the ass involved.
“Seriously?” he hears Vex say. “Did you have to get them started?”
“Actually, I’m the one that got them started,” Scanlan says proudly. “I got them together, you know.”
“Yes, Scanlan, we’ve heard,” Vex says impatiently. “Vax! Take your tongue out of your boyfriend’s mouth, nobody has time for that.”
Vax pulls away, grinning. “Sorry, Vex’ahlia,” he says. “I was overcome with lust.”
“I never want to hear you say that again,” Vex says. “That’s disgusting. Keep it in your pants.”
She’s a much better liar than either of them. If Kash hadn’t been there, he’d never believe that ten minutes ago she was insisting on this kind of behavior.
“Our love is beautiful and pure,” Vax says.
“Yeah, pure is exactly the word I’d use to describe Kash groping your ass,” Vex says. “Weren’t we going somewhere?”
“Yes,” Percy says. “I thought Cassandra might want to meet our newest guests.”
“Cassandra?” Z says. “And shouldn’t Kima be here for this?”
“Cassandra is my sister,” Percy says. “And Lady Kima is already with her, actually. She woke up much earlier than the rest of us, and apparently Cassandra elected to show her around herself. They seemed to be getting along.”
“Well, that’s nice,” Z says. “Lead on, in that case. We’ll try to make sure Vax and Kash keep their hands off of one another.”
“I feel persecuted,” Vax says, leaning into Kash. “Don’t you feel persecuted, honey?”
“Very persecuted,” Kash agrees. “But don’t worry, baby, I’ll protect you.”
Vax gives him an incredulous look, and Kash wonders for a minute if he went too far, but then he’s got an armful of rogue, and he remembers there’s no such thing.
“I’m so glad to have such a strong, protective boyfriend,” Vax says, somehow managing to keep a straight face. “It’s so sexy.”
“Not as sexy as you are,” Kash says, because it’s the obvious response, and he’s not totally brain dead. And, then, of course, they have to start kissing again.
“Okay, that’s enough of that,” Vex says, thank god, grabbing her brother’s collar and hauling him off of Kash. “You two are completely incorrigible.”
“That’s us,” Vax says, grinning ridiculously widely. “Complete and incorrigible.”
“Because having you makes me complete,” Kash coos. It’s all down to miracles and a natural scowl that he isn’t laughing yet.
“You took the words right out of my mouth, snookums,” Vax says, blowing him a kiss, though his sister is keeping him too far away for them to actually touch.
“We’re so alike,” Kash says.
“It’s like we were made for each other,” Vax says.
“I will pay you to stop,” Vex says, making a disgusted face.
“And she usually never pays for anything,” Percy says.
“Well, I think it’s beautiful,” Scanlan says. “A perfect example of true love.”
“That’s us,” Kash agrees. “True love.”
“It means so much to hear you say that,” Vax says. “I feel so blessed.”
“We’re the luckiest,” Kash agrees, and he glances at Keyleth. She’s smiling brightly at both of them, like a beacon of happiness and total non-jealousy, and his heart sinks. “So, Percy, your sister?”
“My sister,” Percy agrees. “Come on.”
Kash grabs Vax’s hand, though Vex tries to pull him away before he can. Vax grins at him, looking totally exhilarated. Kash kind of wonders if the guy gets off on fucking with people, but if so, hey, who is he to judge?
“What do you think?” Vax says. “Can we make out the entire time we’re talking to Cassandra?”
“Vax!” Vex says. “That’s so rude.”
“You’re no fun,” Vax says, and Kash drags him down the hall after the others.
Vax zones out through most of Cassandra greeting Kash and Zahra, honestly. Instead, he makes Kash lie across his lap and starts braiding his hair—tiny, intricate braids all over his head, twisting across one another.
“When did you even learn how to do this?” Kash whispers to him. “Your hair is long, but you don’t really do anything with it.”
Vax shrugs. “My sister does,” he says. “And it’s easier when someone else does it for you.”
“Right,” Kash says. “So, what are you doing to my head right now?”
Vax pats him on the cheek. “Making you beautiful.”
“Are you implying that I wasn’t before?”
“You have to be incredibly attractive for it to be believable that you’re with me,” Vax says, ignoring him. “I’m making all this more realistic.”
“You’re not even that hot,” Kash says. “I could do better.”
“Well, yeah. Isn’t that the whole point of this?”
Cassandra clears her throat. “Excuse me.”
“Oh, hello,” Vax says. “Yes. Sorry. I was just—he’s so sweet. I just have to tell him how sweet he is all the time.”
“I’m pretty great,” Kash agrees, which is definitely not what he’s supposed to say. Vax pinches him on the arm viciously, and Kash jumps and says, smiling in a sickeningly saccharine way, “But not as great as you are.”
“See?” Vax says. “See how sweet he is?”
“That’s just disturbing,” Grog says.
“Grog!” Keyleth says. “How can you say that?”
“Vax is never that nice,” Grog says. “S’downright unsettling. Are we sure he hasn’t been, like. Possessioned? Pike, don’t you have a spell thing for that?”
“I don’t think Vax has been possessed, Grog,” Pike says gently. “But I guess I could try it?”
“Yeah!” Grog says. “Do it!”
“I have not been possessed!” Vax says. “I’m in love.”
“You didn’t act like this with Keyleth,” Grog says suspiciously.
Vax sputters. “Well—I—” He has absolutely nothing to say to that. He doesn’t even know where to start.
“Different people make you behave in different ways,” Kash says, saving him. And then he grabs Vax’s face with both of his hands and starts kissing him again, which is at least a pretty good way of making sure neither of them has to actually say anything.
“See?” Scanlan says as they compete for Most Tongue Ever Used in a Kiss. “Look at them, Grog!”
“I’m looking,” Grog says dubiously.
“They’re definitely in love,” Scanlan says. “I’m never wrong about these sorts of things.”
“Yes, listen to Scanlan,” Vex says solemnly. “I feel like he knows what’s going on.”
“Thank you, Vex, that’s very sensible of you.”
Cassandra sighs, though it’s a bit hard to hear over the slightly gross wet smacking sounds of his and Kash’s lips sliding over each other. Vax likes kissing as much as the next guy, but this is going on for an awkwardly long time, and it’s not like he’s ever going to very turned on by locking lips with Kash.
“Well,” Cassandra, “I suppose it’s not as if I had anything important to say.”
“Sorry,” Percy says. “They’re morons.”
“Ignore them,” Kima says. “You can talk to those of us who have an interest in something other than having clothed, public sex.”
“I didn’t need to hear that,” Vex says. “Oi! You two! Cut it out!”
Kash draws back. “Sorry, what were we talking about?”
“How perfect we are for each other,” Vax says cheerfully.
“Well, that one we knew,” Kash says.
“Right, both of you, shut up,” Vex says. “We’re listening now, not talking or kissing. Or braiding hair, brother.”
“It looks good,” Vax says, glancing at Kash. It’s not like he had anything to tie them off with, so they’re fraying a bit at the ends, but braids hold together pretty well regardless.
“Yes, it’s very fancy, stop talking now.”
“I mean, I appreciate you,” Kash says, seriously.
“Cassandra, you were saying?” Percy says.
“Oh, nothing really,” Cassandra says dryly. “Please feel to ask me for anything you need and also kill some dragons before they get here.”
“That’s our whole thing,” Scanlan says. “We kill things and ask for other, free things.”
“Actually, I think that’s just Vex,” Percy says.
“You should be grateful,” Vex says. “Think how many more health potions we can buy because I bargain.”
“And threaten people,” Keyleth says.
“I liked threatening people,” Kash says.
“It was very wrong,” Keyleth says, but then she bites her lip. “But also pretty funny.”
Vax isn’t quite sure whether that means they should’ve done it or not.
“You helped,” Vex tells her.
“With the lying, not the threatening!” Keyleth protests. “I mean. Well. That’s not really better, is it?”
“Not really,” Kash says. “But it was fun.”
Cassandra shakes her head. “Okay, all of you, get out. Go meet someone else. I have real work to do, since my brother keeps dumping refugees on my door.”
“I am sorry about that, but it was necessary,” Percy says.
“Yes, and I understand, but nevertheless,” Cassandra says. “It’s not as if we were exactly swimming in resources before this.”
“Do you need any help?” Kima says. “I don’t mind skipping meeting people. It’s not really what I’m here for.”
“What are you here for?” Kash says.
Kima looks at him. “Violence, mostly.”
Kash nods. “Solid.”
“Let’s get out of my sister’s way,” Percy says. “Cassandra, did you want to keep Kima?”
“If she doesn’t mind?” Cassandra says, glancing over. “I could use a hand talking to some people and possibly help me with resource allocation.”
Kima shrugs. “I’m not incredibly diplomatic, but I’ll do what I can.”
Cassandra smirks, very slightly. Vax is so glad she isn’t evil anymore. “Diplomacy isn’t exactly what I’m looking for,” she says.
“Oh, well, in that case, definitely,” Kima says.
“Great,” Percy says. “Everyone else, I guess I’ll take you for a tour. Vax, try to let Kashaw spend at least a little bit of time looking at where he is instead of staring into your eyes?”
Vax grins, unaccountably cheerful. “No promises.”
Kash wanders around Whitestone with Z and Vox Machina, with Vax apparently trying to distract him as much as possible, like an asshole. A really happy asshole. They hold hands, of course, and Vax—in between groping him and kissing him and calling him pet names clearly designed to make Kash choke on suppressed laughter—seems almost giddy, dragging him from place to place, smiling even wider whenever he looks at any one of their friends who’s clearly buying it, and laughing happily.
“What?” he says, when Kash says he’s acting like a kid on a sugar high. “I like pranks.”
“Clearly,” Kash says. “Even though it’s not working on most of them?”
Vax’s grin broadens. “Honestly, if it’s working on Grog and Scanlan, that’s more than enough.”
Kash eyes him. “I mean, if it’s making you happy.”
“It is,” Vax says, and he laughs again. “It’s making me really happy.”
“You’re kind of weird,” Kash tells him.
“You’re married to a goddess of death that you also seem to hate but still derive divine power from,” Vax says. “So I wouldn’t talk.”
Kash regards him. “If I punch you, that’s bad for the prank, right?”
“Unless you want to stage a really dramatic breakup,” Vax says. “But I thought we’d wait at least a couple of days for that.”
“Too bad. You’re really asking to get punched.”
“You would not believe how often people tell me that.”
“You know, I think I might,” Kash says, as some distance away, Percy points out a no doubt important part of the castle. “You seem like a pretty punchable guy.”
“Careful,” Vax says. “Scanlan will decide you’re an abusive boyfriend. There’ll probably be an intervention.”
Kash groans, but quietly. “I can’t believe I ever said nice things about you assholes.”
“Me neither,” Vax says. “Who to?”
Kash wraps an arm around his waist and pulls him close so they can keep talking and Vax doesn’t go careening off the walls in his happiness. “I don’t know. People.”
“Zahra?” Vax says, kissing his neck.
“Zahra isn’t people,” Kash says, before he remembers that’s a weird thing to say.
Vax only hums in acknowledgment, though. “Yeah, I get that.” He raises his head and suddenly stiffens, which is so different from how he’s been acting before now that Kash nearly grabs for his holy symbol. “Where are we going?”
His voice is oddly wary, so Kash replies carefully, “I’m not sure. You were being really distracting. Something about a claymore? Do we need more weapons?”
Vax goes even more rigid, and Kash is practically dragging him along at the back of the group now. “Gilmore?” he says.
“That sounds right,” Kash says. “Who’s Gilmore?”
“He’s—fuck,” Vax says. “I forgot that—fuck.”
“Do we have a problem?”
“No. Yes. I mean—goddamnit.”
“Hey. Vax,” Kash says. “You’re kind of freaking me out.”
“I forgot that I’m not the center of the universe,” Vax says, which is so fucking weird that Kash completely misses that a door’s been opened and they’re walking through it until a voice breaks through his incredulous staring.
“Well, hello there,” it says, and he whirls around to look at the new guy—a little older, a little bigger, all raised eyebrows and beaming smile and loud clothing. He looks like one of those guys that you’d see on a stage, conjuring amazing feats to astound the eyes, or whatever it is they put on those signs. Dramatic and charismatic and absolutely the biggest personality in the room.
“Gilmore!” half of Vox Machina cries, running forward to greet him.
“How are you feeling?” Keyleth asks eagerly. “Pike said you were doing better, but—”
“Not to worry,” apparently-Gilmore says. “Pike has patched me up fantastically.”
“She’s pretty great like that,” Scanlan says.
“Aw, thanks,” Pike says.
“Indeed she is,” Gilmore says—no other word for it—jovially. “But I see you’ve brought me guests! Won’t you introduce me?” Kash can’t help but notice that his gaze lingers over Vax for a moment before it dips down to where their hands are still joined, and his brow furrows.
Vax yanks his hand out of Kash’s like he’s been burned.
“Of course, of course,” Scanlan says. “Gilmore, this is Zahra, a beautiful and talented woman we met last time we were in Vasselheim. She decided to come back with us to help us fight the dragons and also kiss Vex. And this—” He gestures with a flourish at Kash. “This is Kashaw, a brooding and sexy man, also from Vasselheim, and Vax’s new boyfriend.” He whispers, very loudly and completely audibly to everyone in the room, “I got them together.”
“Oh,” Gilmore says, and his mouth twists a bit. “Well. How nice to meet both of you!”
“Yes,” Scanlan says. “Love has come to Vox Machina; isn’t it wonderful?”
“Gilmore,” Z says, extending a hand, “everyone’s told us so much about you. It’s a pleasure.”
“Likewise,” Gilmore says, shaking her hand. “Anyone so dear to some of my favorite people must be equally lovely.”
Vax flinches oddly, and Kash frowns at him, trying to take his hand again, since up until now, their whole thing is that they’re incapable of not touching for more than a couple seconds at a time. Vax jerks away and takes several steps away from him.
“Kashaw, is it?” Gilmore says, coming over.
“Yeah, hi,” Kash says, shaking his hand awkwardly. “I think they said you do magical items and stuff?”
“Ah. Well, my shop was destroyed by the dragons, so not actually at the moment…”
“Oh, yeah.” Kash nods. “That sucks.”
“Thank you,” Gilmore says, apparently genuinely. “And however did you and Vax’ildan meet? And come to such a…felicitous arrangement?”
Kash stares. “Well, there was a thing with a rakshasa and then—” He looks to his side to get help from Vax, and then all around the room when he doesn’t see him immediately, but the man has completely vanished, like a total fucking asshole. “Look, it’s a long story, I’m madly in love with him, where the hell did he go?”
Everyone else looks around, and Vex huffs loudly. “I hate it when he does that.”
“Do you think he’s okay?” Keyleth says. “He seemed like he was in a good mood earlier, what with him and Kash being so happy and all.”
“I’ll go talk to him,” Vex says. “He’s been weird since I died, Gilmore, I’m sure that’s all it is—oh, I died, make Percy tell you—”
“Great, that’s a story I want to relive,” Percy mutters.
“—let me just go deal with my brother.”
“No,” Scanlan says, grabbing her arm. “Let Kash deal with it!”
“What?” Kash and Vex say instantly, in tandem.
“No,” Vex says. “That’s a—” She presses her lips together and backtracks. “It’s probably to do with me, I should—”
“All the more reason for Kash to do it!” Scanlan says. “Maybe he can’t be around you right now, Vex, thinking of your dead body… But I’m sure Kash would be very comforting.” He waggles his eyebrows a few times to make it really clear what he means.
“I don’t know if that’s the kind of comfort my brother needs right now, Scanlan,” Vex says.
“When does a man not need that kind of comfort?” Scanlan says. “Come on, Kash, go to your dearest love.”
Kash looks helplessly at Vex, but she just shrugs, so he says, “Yes. I will—do that. I will go find my boyfriend and comfort him. I’ll comfort him all day.”
“With your dick,” Scanlan clarifies.
“Yes, Scanlan, I think we all got that,” Keyleth says.
“Right,” Kash says. “Uh, Gilmore, nice to meet you, or whatever, you seem like an…interesting guy.”
“I’m sure we’ll talk more later,” Gilmore says, his eyes on the door. “When Vax feels better.”
“Yeah,” Kash says. “Sure.”
“Give him my best,” Gilmore says.
“Sure,” Kash repeats, and he leaves, looking around and wondering vaguely where Vax would even go, if he’s feeling pissy or upset about his sister or who knows what. His room? Somewhere else? It’s not like he even knows Vax very well.
He wanders down the hallway idly, and eventually calls out, hopefully, “Hey, moron. I literally don’t care what’s going on with you, but can we at least agree to pretend we fucked for however many hours you want to avoid your friends for?”
Vax appears, fifty feet away, coming out from a shadow.
Kash looks at him. “There’s nothing even there to hide behind, how the hell did I miss you?”
Vax shrugs. “I’m just that good. And I’m not avoiding my friends.”
“Right, you’re avoiding that Gilmore guy,” Kash says, catching up to him. “He seems a bit weird, I guess.”
“He’s not weird,” Vax snaps. He turns and starts walking, and Kash keeps pace easily, his feet echoing on the stone floor. Vax’s steps, he notices, are completely silent, the bastard.
“I mean, he kind of is. And I thought you didn’t like him.”
“I like him just fine,” Vax says. “I like him a lot. That’s not—you know, it doesn’t matter. We can have had sex until the next time anyone sees me, all right?”
“Yeah?” Kash says. “When will that be? Just so I know about how much sex we’re going to be having.”
“Why on earth would you need to know that?” Vax says. “Who would ask you that?”
“Scanlan, probably,” Kash says. “Besides, if we’re having marathon sex in your room, no one can see me either.”
Vax doesn’t say anything.
“We can also have stared into each other’s eyes and talked about our feelings,” Kash says. “Since we’re in love.”
Vax snorts. “Yeah, my problem isn’t with the hypothetical sex.”
“You’ve got a lot problems, but at least one of them is the problem you aren’t having with Gilmore,” Kash says. “But I don’t even care about that. How long until you’re going to go talk to your friends again?”
“I’m not avoiding them,” Vax says.
“Yeah, that’s also what I say when I awkwardly disappear out of a room away from everyone I know,” Kash says. “You know, you lie a lot. You’d think you’d be better at it.”
“I’m not avoiding them.”
“Right. You’re avoiding Gilmore, the guy you don’t dislike. So after everyone else isn’t with him anymore, you’re going to go back to normal.” Kash thinks about it. “Normal-ish.”
“Hey, I’m just trying to get a sense of how long I have to avoid everyone else.”
“Nobody said you had to come after me.”
“Actually, Scanlan did.”
Vax glances over at him and sighs. “Of course he did.”
“Hey, if you didn’t want someone to come out and play babysitter, you should’ve been less of a freak about leaving,” Kash says.
“You’re a real dick, you know that?”
Kash nods. “Yeah.”
“Yeah,” Vax agrees. They walk in silence.
“So, you’re into Keyleth, right?” Kash says abruptly.
“What?” Vax glances at him. “Oh. Yeah. Are we talking about that? How did you know, anyway?”
“You’re not subtle,” Kash says. “And we’re not, like—talking about it. We don’t talk about things. But you weren’t just weird about Gilmore, you were weird about Gilmore and us pretending to be into each other. And the only reason I can think of is that you’re into him and don’t want him to think you’re taken, but—”
“I’m in love with Keyleth,” Vax says.
“Wow,” Kash says. “Love. That’s dramatic.”
Vax frowns at him. “You’re not in love with her?”
“I don’t know her that well, man,” Kash says. “I mean, I think she’s great. She gets under my skin so much, it’s crazy, I really—she’s something else, you know?” He shakes his head. “Of course you know. But love’s a bit much, don’t you think? For me, anyway. We spent that time together in Vasselheim, and then there’s been this stuff, but. Yeah. I don’t think I’m in love with her yet.”
“Yet?” Vax says.
“Maybe yet,” Kash says. “Maybe not ever. Hard to tell right now. I don’t get feelings for people all that often, so this is pretty special, but that’s not exactly a guarantee.”
Vax nods and doesn’t say anything.
“But you’re in love with Keyleth,” Kash says and tries not let his heart sink too much. He has a feeling ‘love’ beats ‘I don’t know, she’s awesome’ any day. “That’s cool. Good for you.”
Vax smiles, very slightly. “You don’t really think that.”
“No,” Kash says frankly. “But I want her to be happy, I guess. Love sounds like the kind of thing that would make a person happy.”
Vax presses his lips together until they go white. Kash wonders what he’s trying so very hard not to say, and the silence presses down on them, his own footsteps and the distant sounds of other people living and working in the castle the only noise he can hear.
“Gilmore has feelings for me,” Vax says abruptly. It sounds somehow, like an apology—sorry about this shitty fucking situation, but here, have an explanation for something I was being an asshole about.
Kash nods, slowly. “Huh. Yeah, okay, I can see that.”
“We used to flirt a lot,” Vax says, continuing as if he hadn’t heard. “I used to flirt a lot. At first it was just for fun, and then it got—I don’t know. More serious, I guess. But then I told Keyleth, about how I felt, and I couldn’t—it wasn’t fair to him. If I was telling Keyleth, I was saying I wanted to be with her, and if I wanted to be with her, I couldn’t keep wanting to be with him, so I told him everything.”
“You told him you were in love with Keyleth,” Kash says, “and that that was why you couldn’t be together.”
“And then you showed up with your new, non-Keyleth boyfriend that Scanlan was calling the love of your life.”
Vax nods again.
Kash stares into the middle distance, some point at the end of the hallway. “Shit. That’s fucked up.”
“I was having so much fun, I forgot how it could hurt other people,” Vax says quietly.
Kash doesn’t really have anything to say to that. “Yeah,” he says.
“Yeah,” Vax says, looking morose. He fiddles with the edge of his cloak. “Listen, I have a deck of cards. Do you want to just go back to my room and play for a while and absolutely not talk about feelings?”
“And then afterwards say we’ve been fucking like bunnies while staring into each other’s eyes the entire time?”
“Yeah, that was my thought.”
Kash nods. “Solid plan.” He looks around. “But you’re going to have to lead the way. I have no idea where the fuck we are anymore.”
Vax looks from side to side. “Yeah, uh, this way, I think.”
“I’m at least half sure.”
“Oh, great. This is going to go so well.”
“So,” Vax says, a couple of hours into beating Kash at cards on the floor of their bedroom, “I should tell Gilmore, right?”
“Oh, yeah, probably,” Kash says. “You’re kind of being an asshole.”
“Right,” Vax says. He nods. “Are we being assholes to Keyleth?”
“Huh,” Kash says, looking up. “I didn’t consider that.”
“We’re bad people.”
“Nah,” Kash says. “Well, maybe. But not because of Keyleth.”
“I’m being an asshole to Gilmore, but not Keyleth,” Vax says.
“Keyleth doesn’t have a stated interest in either of us,” Kash says. “I assume, anyway, since I figure that if she did, whichever one of us it was would be dating her. If she’s not interested in us, we’re not being assholes. Well.” He shrugs. “Maybe a little bit. But not in a really bad way. If she’s not interested, she’s got no reason to care, and if she is, then she should’ve walked through one of the doors we’ve both been leaving wide open for her.”
“Right,” Vax says. “I feel like there’s a flaw in that logic somewhere, but I can’t find it yet.”
“Let me know if you do,” Kash says. “If you can convince me we’re being that bad to Keyleth, I’ll even apologize.”
“You make such sacrifices.”
“Don’t give me that,” Kash says. “I’m not the one who led a guy on, then said ‘it’s not you, it’s Keyleth,’ and then showed up with a brand-spanking-new boyfriend. Younger boyfriend, even.”
“Fuck off,” Vax says viciously, feeling his spine go rigid. His posture’s better in this moment than it has been in years. “I didn’t lead him on.”
“Really? Then what do you call flirting with a guy who’s clearly got feelings for you, without any intention of ever following through, since you don’t share those feelings, asshole?”
“I do share those feelings!” Vax snaps. “Did. Fuck.”
Kash looks at him, still totally deadpan, but he says, “Come again?”
Vax scrubs a hand across his face. He hadn’t meant to say that, but then, there’s a lot of things in his life he hadn’t meant to do. “I didn’t—it’s not like I wasn’t—I was interested, okay? Who wouldn’t be? Gilmore’s great, and yeah, okay, I was flattered that he thought I was great, and—I really like him. Liked him.”
“I feel like there has to be a ‘but’ coming.”
Vax looks away from him, to the side. “But it all just got fucked up.”
“Because of Keyleth?”
“Not just because of her,” Vax says. “There were other reasons, even before I—why am I telling you this?”
“I don’t know,” Kash says. “I don’t even care.”
“So why do you keep asking questions?” Vax says.
“Yeah,” Kash says, “I don’t care about your feelings, but now I’m kind of curious. Your life is such a disaster.”
“You are married to a goddess of death you both hate and fear,” Vax says.
Kash glares at him. “You can’t use that to win every argument.”
“It’s such a trump card, I think I might be able to, actually.”
“You’re such an asshole,” Kash says. “I’d say I don’t understand how anyone could ever fool themselves into thinking they had a thing for you, but Gilmore did seem like kind of a weirdo.”
Vax’s hands clench into fists. “Don’t say shit like that about him.”
Kash’s eyes catch the movement, flicking down. “Or what, you’ll punch me?”
Vax grits his teeth. “I fucking might.”
“Well, this looks like a healthy and functional relationship,” Vex’ahlia’s voice says from the doorway, making them both jump and turn their heads to look at her. She has her hands on her hips and looks extremely unimpressed with both of them. “You’re so lucky it’s just me and Zahra.”
“Don’t you knock?” Kash says.
“I did,” Vex says coolly. “No one answered, but I heard voices, so I just came in anyway.”
“That’s kind of presumptuous,” Kash says.
“Not really,” Vex says. “It’s my brother’s room.” She and Zahra come in and close the door behind them, crossing the room to sit on the bed.
“What on earth is going on with the two of you?” Zahra says, frowning at Kash. “I thought you were getting along better, what with this prank of yours.”
“We had a difference of opinion,” Vax says flatly.
“Sure,” Kash says. “Let’s call it that.”
Vex looks straight at Vax. “Details. Please.”
Vax scowls. “He needs to stop talking shit about Gilmore.”
“What?” Vex snaps out, glaring at Kash.
“He needs to stop bringing up Vesh,” Kash says.
“What?” Zahra says, glaring at Vax.
The two girls glance at each other, surprised, and then Vex’s mouth quirks slightly. “All right,” she says. “Kashaw, first of all, Gilmore is amazing. Secondly, he nearly died rather recently, and we’ve all been a bit jumpy about him ever since, so please, don’t.”
After a short moment, Kash nods stiffly.
“Vax’ildan,” Zahra says, “if you’d been married by a goddess you weren’t overly fond of, would you want people bringing it up?”
Vax grimaces. He doesn’t really know what’s going on with the Raven Queen, and they definitely aren’t married, but it’s still not like he wants to talk about it. “Fair enough,” he says.
“Right,” Vex says. “Well, now that we’re all acting like adults…”
Vax stands up. “I should go.”
“Vax!” Vex says. “What did I just say?”
“I have to go talk to Gilmore,” Vax says. At Vex’s blank expression, he adds, “And explain that I’m not actually dating Kash.”
“Oh!” Vex says, her eyes widening. “Yes, I suppose you should.”
“So I’m going to go,” Vax says. “Sorry about—well, you know, Kash.”
“Yeah, uh, same.”
Vax nods, and he walks out of the room.
Halfway down the hallway, he hears the door open again, and a few seconds later, Vex catches up, silently falling into step with him.
“What’s up?” he says, finally.
“I’m glad you’re talking to Gilmore,” she says.
He looks away. “I’m an asshole.”
“No, you’re not,” she says firmly. “You might be if you weren’t planning on saying anything to him, but you are, so I think you’re all right.”
“Definitely. And I’m pretty sure Gilmore will understand that you just wanted to fuck with Scanlan a little. Everyone likes fucking with Scanlan.”
“It’s the national pastime,” Vax agrees. He nudges her. “I’m all right. Go back and hang out with your girlfriend.”
“Yeah,” he says. “What are you going to do, wait outside and cross your fingers?”
“Provide moral support, dick,” she says. “But all right, I’ll see you later.” She turns and starts walking back to Vax’s room.
Twenty feet down the hall, Vax turns. “Hey!” he calls out.
She looks at him, one hand on the doorknob. “What?”
“Did I ever tell you I was happy for you?” he says.
“You didn’t, actually,” she says. “Why, are you?”
“Yes,” he says. “I’m always happy when you’re happy.”
“Well, now you know how I feel,” she says, and she disappears into the room.
Vax keeps walking down the hall, but he finds his steps getting slower and slower as he draws closer to the room Gilmore’s staying in. His feet get quieter on the stone floor of the hallways, and he draws closer to the shadows automatically, staying out of sight.
Ten feet away from the door, he stops altogether, staring at the heavy wood and cursing himself. He doesn’t know when this got so hard. Talking to Gilmore the last time had been bad enough, but he’d planned to deal with that mostly by never bringing it up ever again. And now, here he is, planning to open a conversation that does exactly the opposite of that.
He’d say he doesn’t know how he gets himself into situations like this, but the worst part is, he does, he just keeps doing it anyway.
Finally, he walks forward, trying to make himself make noise like a real person again, and he knocks, as deliberately as he can.
“Come in!” Gilmore’s voice calls from inside the room.
Vax steels himself and slips through the door. “It’s me,” he says.
Gilmore whirls around. “Vax’ildan! What a delightful surprise!”
“Hi,” Vax says. He glances to the side, where Sherri is sitting in a chair and reading a book. “I was sort of hoping I could talk to you?”
“Of course,” Gilmore says. “Sherri, would you—”
“I’ll go sit in the library for a while,” she says, slipping a bookmark between the pages of her book and standing. She gives Vax a dirty look as she leaves, which he supposes he probably deserves.
The door closes behind her, leaving Vax alone with Gilmore in the small room he and Sherri have apparently been given to use, at least while they recuperate and need to be close by Pike, in case of emergencies. It feels absurdly tiny, even though Vax knows it’s actually bigger than the room he’d just been sharing with Kash, Zahra, and his sister.
Gilmore smiles at him, slow and easy. “Have I mentioned how wonderful it is to see you?”
Vax smiles back in spite of himself. “It’s pretty good to see you too. I’m so glad you’re doing better. I was—well, I’m glad.”
“Well, with my favorite people coming to visit me, how could I be otherwise?” Gilmore says, laughing. “And how are you doing? Are you all right? Vex’ahlia told me she died, are you—?”
“Oh,” Vax says. “Yeah. I don’t really want to talk about that.”
“Of course,” Gilmore says immediately.
“Thanks. Um,” Vax says. “How’s Whitestone treating you?”
“Oh, wonderfully,” Gilmore says. “Lady Cassandra has been the soul of courtesy, and of course, Pike has been taking good care of me.”
“She takes good care of all of us,” Vax says.
“Yes, I’d say she does.” Gilmore leans forward conspiratorially. “Between you and me, I think half my fellow refugees are convinced she is Sarenrae.”
Vax smiles. “You know, she might be.”
“I’m not certain I’d be surprised if she were,” Gilmore says. “But enough of that. You came here with a purpose, didn’t you?” He spreads his hands. “What can I do for you?”
Vax winces and looks down at his feet, already missing the comfort of small talk and Gilmore’s easy smiles and jokes. “Look, Scanlan’s a moron,” he says, before he can think about it too hard.
Gilmore’s eyebrows rise. “That seems a little harsh.”
“It’s really not,” Vax says with a sigh. “I’d kill him if I weren’t having so much fun messing with him. Look, it’s not true, about me and Kash. We’re not together, and we’re definitely not in love. Kash doesn’t even like men, and I certainly don’t like him. We’re just faking, for fun.”
“Well, that certainly sounds like a story,” Gilmore says slowly.
“It’s all Scanlan’s fault,” Vax says immediately. When Gilmore laughs, he says, “Well, almost all, at any rate. Apparently he got some idea while we were in Vasselheim that Kash had a thing for me—”
“Kash who doesn’t enjoy the company of men?” Gilmore says.
“Yeah, I don’t how he missed that,” Vax says. “And then last night—god, I can’t believe it was only last night—we all got really drunk and decided it would be funny, and then I guess it was still funny this morning.”
Gilmore smiles widely. “When Vox Machina drinks, you really drink, don’t you?”
“We really do,” Vax says, grinning in relief. “Probably because we’re too busy the rest of the time.”
“You do lead very adventurous lives,” Gilmore says. He pauses and smiles wryly. “You know, Vax, you don’t have to worry about me. Not that I don’t appreciate being in on the joke, but you were under no obligation to feel uncomfortable earlier or to tell me now.”
“Yes, I was,” Vax says immediately, the words practically falling out of his mouth. “Of course I was. I couldn’t stand the idea that you thought I’d turned you down and then fallen straight into bed with Kash.”
“You know, I’m not certain the young man deserves that kind of derision.”
Vax closes his eyes and shakes his head. “It’s not about him.”
“Well, I suppose the idea that you’d moved on so quickly would somewhat cheapen your devotion to Keyleth—”
“It’s definitely not about Keyleth,” Vax says, too loudly.
Gilmore frowns. “Who’s it about, then?”
“You,” Vax hears himself say. “I wanted you to know I’d never pick Kash, I’d pick you. If it weren’t for Vex—” He stops.
“Vex?” Gilmore says. “I thought this part, at least, was about Keyleth.”
Vax takes a deep breath. “I’m not in love with my sister.”
“It never crossed my mind for a moment that you were,” Gilmore says, and it sounds honest.
“Vex and I can be odd about each other, sometimes people think—”
“I don’t think you’re in love with Vex’ahlia,” Gilmore says.
“That’s not what I meant, is all,” Vax says.
“I understand,” Gilmore says. “What did you mean?”
Vax shakes his head, crossing the small distance between them to put his hands on Gilmore’s shoulders. “I just wanted you to know I’d pick you, Gil. Not over Kash, because I wouldn’t pick Kash at all, I’d stay happily single and never have to deal with him again, but—you, I’d pick. And I guess we both know I wouldn’t pick you first, because, well—well, I didn’t, but I would pick you. At all, I mean. Does that make sense?”
Gilmore puts a hand on Vax’s waist, somehow heavy and warm even through the armor. “It does, actually,” he says. “Thank you very much.”
“I just—” Gilmore’s taller than him. “I wanted you to know—” Vax’s hands feel like they’re burning, even just resting lightly on Gilmore’s shoulders. “I didn’t want you to think—” He’s leaning forward, and his mouth is on Gilmore’s, and he has no idea what his body thinks it’s doing, but it’s wonderful, perfect.
And after a second, Gilmore draws him closer, puts a hand on the back of Vax’s head and tilts it up a little more, and that’s even better.
There’s a bubble of something warm and effulgent expanding in Vax’s chest, and he feels light, like he could float away in a moment.
He jerks away, stumbling back across the room until his back hits the door. “Fuck,” he says. He feels cold and awful again. “I’m being a tease again, fuck, I’m so sorry—”
“Vax,” Gilmore says carefully. His mouth is wet, and he’s breathing a little hard, his hands still out, like if Vax would just step forward again, he’d pull him right back in.
“Fuck, I’m so sorry,” Vax says again, and he flees.
Kash watches Vex slip out of the room after her brother, and Z turns to look at him.
“Darling,” she says. “You’re all right with this game, aren’t you?”
“You mean the thing with Vax?” he says. “Sure, I guess.”
“I’m not sure why Vex is apparently so set on it, but I can actually disagree with her, if you need me to,” she says. “It’s just a very silly joke.”
Kash shrugs. “Honestly, at this point, I might be having more fun than Vax is.”
When Z looks dubiously at him, he shakes his head. “Look, Vax and I are never going to be best friends, is all. We rub each other the wrong way, and neither of us is incredibly polite, so we get into fights when we don’t bother to censor ourselves. It’s not a big deal. I’m already over it.”
“If you’re certain,” Z says.
“Yeah,” he says and bumps her foot. “But hey, it’s nice to know you’d go against your girlfriend for me.”
“Darling, family comes first,” Z says, laying a hand against his arm. “And I’m absolutely certain she’d agree.”
“Yeah,” he says, looking at his lap. “And, you know. Same here.”
“I come before your fake boyfriend?” Z teases.
“Yeah, him, exactly,” Kash says. “That’s the order. You, then Vax.”
“Scanlan would be horrified.”
“Well, he’s going to have to be eventually,” Kash says. “If Vax and I manage to keep this up for more than a few days, I’ll be impressed.”
“Oh, but you’re doing so well,” Z says.
Kash eyes her. “Are you being sarcastic?”
“Yes, darling,” Z says, amused. “I genuinely can’t believe how bad you two are at pretending to date. I’m not even certain you’re trying.”
“I’m trying!” Kash says. “I stopped calling him things like ‘sugar lashes,’ anyway.”
“And a very great help it was,” Z says. “Well done.”
Kash thinks about it, but then he shrugs. “Well, it’s fooling Scanlan and Keyleth, at least, which was most of the point. And Grog, which is good. If we’d stopped fooling Grog, then I’d feel pretty embarrassed.”
“Glad to know you don’t now,” Z says.
“We might even be fooling Pike,” Kash says, ignoring that. “I don’t really know her well enough to tell.”
“You’re almost certainly not fooling Pike,” says Vex, coming back in through the door. “Pike’s just letting you think you might be, because she’s nice.”
“But we’re fooling Scanlan and Keyleth and Grog, right?” Kash says.
“Oh, definitely,” Vex says. “Though I have no idea how. You two are terrible at this. You’re just hilariously bad.”
“Glad to know we’re providing you with amusement,” Kash says.
“You really are,” Vex says.
Kash shakes his head. “I’m going to go get a drink.”
“Really?” Z says. “After last night, you want to drink more?”
“Well, apparently I don’t have to be hungover if I don’t want to,” Kash says. “So, uh, yeah, pretty much. It’s been a really weird day.”
“All right,” Z says. “I think we’re planning to eat dinner in an hour or two, though, do try to come back for that.”
“Yeah, I’ll do my best to make Vax sit in my lap while I feed him,” Kash says dryly.
Vex chokes. “Oh, please,” she says. “Please do that.”
“Why don’t you sit in Vax’s lap?” Z says wickedly.
“I think he weighs less than I do,” Kash says. “But maybe elves just look like that.”
“Half-elves,” Vex says.
“Sure, okay,” Kash says. “But hey, I could sit on Vax’s lap. Whatever he is, he isn’t actually light, so I can’t say I’d necessarily mind.”
“As long as there’s feeding him,” Z says. “I’m holding you to that, darling.”
“With my fingers,” Kash assures her.
“I can’t wait,” Vex says. “This is better than that time Vax shaved off half Grog’s beard.”
Kash looks at her. “How do you guys ever get anything done?”
“It’s a mystery to us as well,” Vex says cheerfully.
“Whatever,” Kash says, getting up off the floor. “I’ll see both of you later, when I act as sickeningly couple-y with Vax as we can possibly manage. Have fun having sex in his bed, or whatever you’re planning to do until dinner.”
“Ugh, no,” Vex says. “I’m not having sex in my brother’s bed. We’re having sex in my bed, next door.”
“Yeah, I didn’t need to know that,” Kash says. “But have fun.”
“We’re definitely going to,” Z says, giving Vex bedroom eyes.
“Gross,” Kash says, and he leaves the room.
It takes him a little to find his way out of the castle, since he was so drunk last night when he came in, and everything kind of looks the same, but once he makes it out into the cool evening air, he finds he remembers the way to the pub they were at last night pretty well. He slides into a seat at the bar and raises a hand when the bartender looks his way.
“H’lo,” the man says. “I remember you. Weren’t you with Lord de Rolo last night?”
“Oh, uh, yeah,” Kash says. “It’s just me tonight, though. Can I get some ale?”
“Coming right up,” the bartender says, grabbing a mug and filling it from an open cask. He sets it down in front of Kash and nods to him. “Yell if you need anything else.”
Kash raises the glass to him. “Thanks.”
He takes a long pull of the ale and sighs, wondering how on earth he managed to get himself into this situation.
“Kash!” a surprised voice says behind him suddenly, and he turns to see Keyleth standing silhouetted in the door, with her hands over her mouth like she hadn’t meant to say anything at all. Their eyes meet, and she lowers her arms sheepishly.
“Keyleth,” he says. The bar’s empty enough that his voice carries easily. “Hey.”
She waves, then tries to turn it into fixing her hair and says, “Oh, yeah, hey.”
He bites his lip to keep from smiling and gestures at the stool next to him.
She crosses over to him slowly and slides onto the seat. “Uh, fancy seeing you here,” she says.
“I needed a drink,” he says, before he realizes that probably sounds odd, considering he’s supposed to be outrageously happy now that he’s with Vax. “Vex just threatened to kill me if I hurt her brother,” he invents wildly.
Luckily, Keyleth seems to be about as good at identifying lies as he is at making them, because she just nods. “She can be intimidating.”
“Yeah,” he says, sipping again. “You’re not wrong. But I didn’t think I’d see you here. I thought you’d have had your full of drinking after last night.”
“It’s been a long day,” she says, sighing, and then she sits bolt upright. “No! It hasn’t been a long day! It’s been a very short day! No, that’s not right either. I—I just really like drinking.”
“Well, you’re clearly lying,” he says. “But okay.” He waves the bartender over again. “A drink for the lady, on me.”
The man nods and sets a mug of ale down in front of Keyleth. “Are all your friends coming here again tonight?” he says dubiously.
Kash snorts. “I don’t think so,” he says. “Sorry about whatever it is I’m absolutely positive we did last night.”
“Not at all, sir,” he says, but he looks relieved.
“Kash,” Keyleth says, looking down at her drink. “You didn’t have to pay.”
“Least I could do,” Kash says. He actually might feel a little bad about all the lying. “Wait, no, that’s not right.”
“Well, you’re clearly lying,” she says, smiling at him sidelong. “But okay.”
He grins and holds his mug up. “Cheers.”
She clinks the edge of hers against his. “To you and Vax.”
“Uh, yeah, sure, that one,” he says and drinks very deeply.
She does too.
“So, uh,” he says and then trails off, helpless.
“You don’t remember last night?” she says quickly. At his frown, she adds, “I mean, you said to the bartender—”
“Oh, uh. Mostly I remember kissing Vax, honestly.” He shrugs. “A little of Z kissing Vex. That’s about it. Turns out lesser restoration doesn’t actually fix blackouts, just hangovers.”
“I mostly remember you kissing Vax, too,” she says. “Oh! I mean, not that I was watching you kissing Vax, because that would be…weird…”
“I mean, this whole situation is pretty weird,” he says, and then he internally curses himself. How is it that first the person he’s had an extended conversation with who doesn’t know what’s up is Keyleth, who he’s terrible at controlling himself around anyway?
“Is it?” she says, her voice suspiciously high-pitched. “Uh. I mean. What situation?”
“Okay,” he says. “How about we make a deal?”
“A deal?” she says.
He holds up his ale. “Both of us chug, and we don’t say anything else until we’ve both hit the bottom.”
“Uh,” she says.
“This was always going to be awkward,” he says. “Let’s get, like, one conversation about this whole thing out of the way before we try to talk sober.”
“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, okay. That’s a great idea. Uh. Cheers, again?”
“Cheers,” he says. “To us having a conversation like adults, unlike everyone else we know.”
She’s already starting to drink, but when he says that, she snorts and coughs, dribbling ale down her chin. Somehow, it’s both disgusting and cute. There’s something incredibly alive and vivid about her.
“Careful,” he says. “If you spill too much of that, I’m going to make you have another before we can talk.”
“It was your fault!” she says. “You made me laugh.”
“Sorry,” he says, though he definitely isn’t.
“Anyway, I didn’t lose that much,” she says. “And I bet you have a better alcohol tolerance than I do, so if one of us is drinking more, it should definitely be you.”
“Really?” he says. “But you drink so much.”
“I don’t drink that often,” she says. “We’re busy a lot.”
“So just a lot at one time, then,” he says. “My kind of girl.”
She chokes on air. “Uh.”
“And we’re drinking!” he says quickly. “Come on, chug. We made a deal.”
“You too,” she says immediately. “Three, two, one—”
They both lift their mugs to their lips and start drinking in sync. After half a minute of silence as their throats work, Keyleth meets his eyes above the lips of their cups and immediately starts giggling, putting her drink down quickly and covering her mouth with her other hand as she tries to get herself under control.
Kash sets his down as well, swallowing. “I feel like that wasn’t part of the deal,” he says.
“Shut up!” she says, flapping a hand at him. “I couldn’t help it, with you looking at me all seriously while you chugged your ale—your liquid social skills.”
“You failure,” he says, and she starts giggling again. “How are your liquid social skills coming?”
She straightens up, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Better.” She grins at him. “But I think we can get good at this if we try hard enough. Once more with feeling?”
“You got it,” he says.
“But this time don’t look at me!” she says quickly.
He deliberately picks up his tankard again and turns his back to her, hearing her laugh again behind him. He allows himself a quick smile and starts drinking again.
They manage it this time, slamming their drinks back onto the bar at almost exactly the same time. He looks at her. She’s a little flushed, and she’s breathing hard, and it’s driving him absolutely crazy.
“So, me and Vax,” he says. “It’s weird.”
“It’s weird!” she says immediately. “It’s so weird. I mean, I’m happy for you—really, I am—but it really is just so weird.”
“Yeah, it is,” he says with feeling, and then he remembers that it probably shouldn’t be that weird for him. Potentially, drinking was a bad idea. “Uh.”
“It’s weird!” she repeats, gesturing wildly with one hand. “I’m so glad I can say it’s weird now. I was trying really hard to pretend I thought it was totally normal.”
“Are you really happy for us?” he says before he can stop himself.
“Of course!” she says instantly, and it sounds genuine. “I want the people I care about to be happy. I’m not jealous, or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Oh,” he says. It probably sounds more disappointed than it should. “That’s, uh. Good.”
“Yeah,” she says, apparently oblivious. “But I didn’t think you two were interested in each other. What happened?”
The fact that they weren’t interested in each other because they were interested in her goes unspoken.
Kash clears his throat. “Uh, well, that’s…” He trails off, lost. How has no one has actually asked them that? How have they never bothered to figure out an answer to that question?
Keyleth watches him expectantly.
“Vax is just so hot,” he says finally. “I was overcome by lust.”
“Oh,” she says. “Really?”
“Yeah,” he says, because now that he’s said it, he might as well commit. “What, you don’t think Vax is hot?” He tries not to sound too hopeful.
“Oh, sure,” she says absently. “Both the twins are really pretty. I just meant, you don’t seem like the overcome with lust type.”
He’s really not, otherwise he’d be kissing her again, right now. “I was also drunk,” he says.
“Oh, right,” she says. “That makes sense.”
If it does, it’s news to him.
“I guess Vax is pretty good looking,” she says, propping her chin on her hand and looking into the distance across the bar.
“You, uh, you never thought about it before?” Kash says, his heart pounding. He wonders how morally questionable this is, and how hard Vax is going to kill him later.
“I mean, I did,” she says. “When he told me he was in love with me, I thought about a lot of things, because I was trying to figure out if I wanted—” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter now.”
It kind of matters to him.
“I guess I just didn’t realize you thought he was good looking,” she says. “But of course you would. He’s very handsome.”
He wants to ask if that means she’s attracted to Vax, if that not really sounding like a ringing endorsement of Vax’s looks is all in his head, if she’d be more excited about describing his looks. He doesn’t. He tries to think of something else to say, and what comes out of his mouth is, “So who’s the best looking member of Vox Machina?”
He hates himself, he really does. If she says it’s Vax—well, he’s glad he’s already in a bar.
“I don’t know,” she says musingly, giving the question a lot more thought than it really deserves. “I mean, it sort of depends on what you like, doesn’t it? And if we’re talking about aesthetic looks or, you know, attraction. Because Pike is really beautiful, but she’s so holy that being attracted to her would feel wrong, you know?”
Does that mean she isn’t into clerics? He wants to bang his head on the very solid wood beneath his elbows, but he also doesn’t want her to notice.
“And Grog is, like, hot, I guess, but I don’t know if I’m into that. The twins are both very pretty, I suppose. Maybe Percy? Not that I’m into him or anything, of course—obviously! I mean, he’s—we’re—that would be weird.”
“Percy,” he repeats. She didn’t say Vax. “You didn’t mention Scanlan.”
She waves a hand dismissively. “Well, Scanlan.”
He snorts. “Fair enough.”
She looks at him. Her eyes are really big, and they’re bright under the soft, golden candlelight in the bar. “What about you? Who do you think the most attractive member of Vox Machina is?”
“You, obviously,” he says. “What? No! I meant, Vax, definitely Vax. I said Vax.”
Keyleth stares at him. “Uh, Kash?”
Z and Vex were right, he’s the worst liar in the entire world. “Vax, the love of my life, is so hot, I was overcome with lust,” he says. “Obviously. I just thought it would be…nice…? To say you?”
She looks at him for another second, but then she says, “Oh. Okay. Yeah, obviously.” He thinks for a second that her shoulders might slump, but he’s probably imagining it.
He wants to backtrack and tell her she’s the most beautiful person he’s ever seen, so hot it’s insane, but he doesn’t, because he’s playing a stupid prank on Scanlan Shorthalt, and he wants her to be jealous, and she isn’t, and he thinks that even if he did tell her, she wouldn’t really care.
“So, uh,” Keyleth says, “what was up with Vax?”
“What?” he says.
“With Gilmore,” she says. “Earlier. When he disappeared?”
“Oh, right,” Kash says. “That. Uh. He’s fine. He was—it’s a long story.” He crosses his fingers underneath the table. “And it’s kind of personal. For him, I mean.”
Sure enough, she backs off. “Oh, sure. But he’s okay?”
“Yeah, definitely, totally fine,” he says. It might even be true. He can’t imagine the conversation with Gilmore Vax had left to have could have gone that badly. Gilmore seems like the kind of guy who’d appreciate a good prank.
“That’s good,” she says. “I was worried?”
“You were?” he says. He wonders how worried.
“Of course. Vax and I are friends,” she says. “Oh! But you don’t have to be worried or jealous or anything. I know he used to be in love with me, but he clearly really likes you.”
“Clearly,” Kash says. He really, really hates his life.
“Loves, I mean,” Keyleth says. “I’m so happy you two are so happy.”
“We’re the happiest,” Kash agrees. An unforeseen flaw in his chugging plan is that now he doesn’t have anything else to drink.
Keyleth folds her arms on the bar and puts her head down, turned so she’s still looking at him. She smiles.
Kash looks dubiously at her empty tankard. “You’re not already drunk, are you? It wasn’t that much.”
“No!” she says. “Maybe a little tipsy.”
“Oh, well, as long as that’s all,” he says. “You know, the trick to a not embarrassing alcohol tolerance is drinking in moderation more often.”
“Oh, is that what I’m doing wrong?” she says. She’s grinning, like she really thinks he’s funny, like she’s really enjoying being here.
“I mean, you know. If you want to not suck.”
“I’m so glad I can tell when you’re teasing me now,” she says. “I couldn’t when we met, and I thought you hated me.”
“Well. About that.”
“I know, I know,” she says. “You did hate me. You thought I was the most annoying person you’d ever met.” She closes her eyes, looking sleepy. “I guess Vax is probably the most annoying person you’ve ever met now, huh?”
Kash thinks about Vax. “He might be,” he says darkly.
“Oh,” she says. He looks at her, frowning, and she opens her eyes. “Do you think it’s bad that we couldn’t talk to each other until we drank?” she says. “I mean. Forget I said that.”
“Okay, we couldn’t talk about me dating Vax until we drank,” Kash says. “Considering the situation, I think that’s probably normal.”
“Yeah?” she says.
“Sure,” he says. “We’ve had other conversations sober.”
“Not that many,” she says, looking genuinely troubled. “We haven’t spent that much time together, what with not living in the same city.”
“Well, we’re both here now,” he says. “And that’s why people spend time together. So they can have sober conversations.”
“I feel there’s something wrong with what you just said,” she says, as dry as he’s ever heard her.
“That’s absolutely the only reason people spend time together,” he says, just to see if he can make her laugh. “Sober conversations. No other point to human contact. That’s definitely the only reason I hang out with anyone.”
She laughs, just like he’d hoped she would. “So, this is…?”
“Well, I’m sober, so it’s you who’s ruining this for me.”
“Oops,” she says. “My bad.” She looks around. “What time do you think it is?”
“No idea. Why? Got somewhere to be?”
“Same place you do,” she says. “Dinner.”
He thinks about it. It’s not nearly appealing as the idea of staying here is. “Eh,” he says. “I bet this place does food.”
“The castle will have ale, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Keyleth says. “Grog would cry real tears if they didn’t.”
“That’s definitely not what I’m worried about,” Kash says. “Didn’t I just tell you? Sober conversations are my whole thing.”
“Which is why you’re spending your evening in a bar,” Keyleth says. “We really should go, though. Won’t Vax be missing you?”
Yeah, that’s likely. “Pining, probably,” he says. “But uh—he wanted to talk to his sister.” That sounds reasonable, if very easy to disprove if Vex and Z mention the marathon sex they’ve probably been having.
“Well, he’s probably done by now,” Keyleth says. “And besides, we might do some planning during dinner. We usually do. Or, I don’t know, Vax will shave half of Grog’s beard off. That’s the other thing that happens during dinner.”
“I guess we can’t miss that,” Kash says, giving up. He throws a few gold onto the bar and stands, holding his hand out to Keyleth. “Come on.”
She takes it and lets him pull her up, off the stool. “I don’t actually need help standing,” she says, but she also doesn’t let go. Her hand is cool in his—bad circulation, he thinks vaguely, but there’s no spells for fixing that—and very steady.
He feels intimately and acutely aware of the fact that he’s touching her, and his skin feels somehow too thin and also like it’s buzzing, which is crazy. He’s crazy. No one person should be able to make him feel so terrifyingly present in a single moment, in a single space.
He lets go of her hand abruptly, trying to viciously remind himself that just because he feels like this doesn’t mean she does. Her hand hangs in the air for a moment, and then she drops it, awkwardly smoothing down the line of her skirt.
“We should go,” he says.
She looks down. “I guess we should.”
Vax tells himself firmly, as he flips a dagger in the shadows of one of Whitestone’s courtyards, that he is neither panicking nor hiding. He is having a measured and thoughtful reaction to the fact that he’s even more of an asshole than he was this morning and also has apparently lost his mind and all control over his body.
He glances up at the rapidly darkening sky and looks over at the doors leading back into the castle. He’s well aware that if he doesn’t go to dinner, his sister will come and find him, which means he should probably get up.
He stabs the dagger roughly into the earth and stands. Ignoring the sensation of it returning to his belt, he walks, very slowly, inside.
Pike practically runs into him as walks through the halls, head down, not paying much attention to where he’s going.
“Oh, hey, Vax!” she says cheerfully. “On your way to get something to eat?”
He reaches a hand out to steady her and tries to smile. “Yeah.”
She eyes him. “Are you okay?”
“You’re the one who almost fell over because I wasn’t looking where I was going,” Vax says. “Sorry about that.”
“Oh, no worries,” she says. “But you look a little down. What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” he says. “I, uh.” He shrugs. “I miss my boyfriend.”
She looks at him steadily, and he tries not to squirm. “Okay,” she says gently. “Sure, Vax. But you can always talk to me if you want to, you know that, right?”
“Yeah,” he says, his throat closing up. “I’m, uh. I’m really glad you’re back.”
“Aww,” she says. “Me too.”
They make their way into the dining room, where most of Vox Machina is already waiting, sitting around a table of food. It’s not quite the kind of feasts Vax is used to when he hears the word “castle,” but then, Whitestone is still rebuilding, and they’ve turned it into a refugee camp on top of that.
Cassandra’s sitting with her brother and Lady Kima, heads bent, talking quietly. They don’t so much as look up when Vax and Pike come in, but Grog, sitting a little away from them, beams.
“Pike!” he says.
“Hey, Grog!” Pike says, jogging over to him. They smile at each other widely, and Grog lifts her up onto the bench next to him.
Vax grins and goes to the other side of the table to sit next to his sister and Zahra. “Don’t tell me I’m early,” he says.
“You’re late,” she says. “Everyone else is just later.”
“Was there really a set time?” Zahra says. “All I ever heard was ‘eventually dinner.’”
“Well, as far as I’m concerned, we have hit ‘eventually,’” Vex says. “So Scanlan and Keyleth and Kashaw are all late. And so was my brother.”
“Any idea where they are?” Vax says. At Vex and Zahra’s shaking heads, he calls across the table, “Pike, have you seen your stalker?”
“He said he was running late,” she says, looking up. He loves how she doesn’t even pretend to not know who he’s talking about. “He said he had some kind of surprise.”
“A surprise?” Vex says. “That’s ominous, coming from Scanlan.”
“He said it would make me fall madly in love with him,” Pike says, smiling indulgently.
“Well, now I’m even more worried,” Zahra says dryly.
Pike shrugs. “It’ll probably be sweet, from a certain perspective.”
“So, from his?” Percy says, looking up from his conversation.
“That’s a certain perspective,” Pike agrees.
Vax snorts. “I can’t wait. Keyleth and Kash?”
“Kash left to get a drink,” Zahra says. “I haven’t seen Keyleth since… Oh, since after we left Gilmore. She said something about wanting to commune with nature? I couldn’t tell if she meant a spell or if she just needed to pee.”
“The joys of druids,” Percy says.
“No one’s seen her since then?” Vex says, looking around. Pike and Grog both shake their heads.
“I talked to her a little, but I haven’t seen her for at least an hour,” Percy says.
“She’s a grown woman,” Kima says. “She can take care of herself.”
“And we haven’t seen any dragons nearby,” Cassandra says. “Luckily. She’s probably just…communing with nature.”
“Well, now I can’t tell if you mean a spell or masturbating,” Vex says.
Vax chokes. “Vex!”
“What?” she says. “You know, she’s ploughing her fertile fields?”
“I will pay you to stop,” Vax says.
His sister holds out her hand immediately. “Five gold, and I’ll stop making sex jokes about Keyleth.”
He stares at her. “There’s something seriously wrong with you,” he says, but he hands her the gold anyway.
“Wow, I can’t believe that worked,” she says, pocketing it.
“My sister, ladies and gentleman,” Vax says, rolling his eyes and making an extravagant gesture in her direction.
“What did she do now?” Kash says, coming through the doors, with Keyleth standing a foot or two to the side.
“She’s an extortionist,” Vax says.
“I mean, we knew that, though, right?” Kash says, walking towards him. “There was that whole thing with the guy selling potions.”
“She extorted me,” Vax says.
“Oh, well, then that’s definitely worse,” Kash says dryly, stopping at his side. “Hey, baby.”
Vax grins. “Hey, sexy face. I can’t believe you left to get a drink and left me here to pine over the memory of your abs.”
Kash gives him a clear ‘I can’t believe you just said that’ expression and says, “But you wanted to talk to your sister, sweetie pie. I was just trying to give you time and space for your needs.”
“I—I did want to talk to my sister, yes,” Vax says slowly. “You’re such a good boyfriend.”
“I try,” Kash says, sits down, grabs the front of Vax’s shirt, and drags him into a kiss.
Vax moans loudly and theatrically and hears his sister making gagging noises next to him. It’s the little things in life that really matter.
“Wow, what an amazing time for my entrance,” he hears Scanlan say, and he and Kash break apart to look over at the doors again.
“Oh, look, darling-baby-face,” Kash says, apparently forgetting how to use words. “It’s the man who got us together. We’re so blessed, thanks to Scanlan.”
Vax would respond, but his throat has gone dry, because standing next to Scanlan and looking amused is Gilmore. He’s looking at Kash and clearly trying to suppress a laugh, but it would take almost nothing for their eyes to meet. Vax wonders if everyone in the room can hear his heart beating.
“That’s right,” Scanlan says, preening. Vax’s eyes snap to him. “You’re so lucky you know me.”
“You brought Gilmore!” Keyleth says happily, standing up from the bench next to Percy. “That’s so awesome!”
Vax flinches, and he curses internally when he feels Kash go still all along where their bodies are pressed together. It’s really difficult to hide emotional reactions when you’re touching someone.
“I ran into him when I was coming down and said he should come join us,” Scanlan says. “I’ve got a surprise for all of you, and I figured, what’s a party without Gilmore?”
“Barely a party at all,” Gilmore says, smiling broadly.
Keyleth runs up and grabs his hand. “I’m so glad you came! Come and sit with me!”
“Of course,” Gilmore says, taking her arm. Vax shivers.
“Okay, what’s your problem?” Kash hisses in his ear, covering it up under the guise of kissing his cheek. “Did you not talk to him?”
“No, I did,” Vax says, nuzzling the side of Kash’s face.
“So? Was he pissed or something? Did he not like the joke?”
“No, that was fine,” Vax says. “It’s all fine, okay? Drop it.”
“You’re such a liar,” Kash says. “What happened? You’re being all weird about Gilmore again. I thought there was a whole thing where you were going to make that better.”
“I was.” Vax tries not to squirm in his seat or twitch, knowing Kash will just feel it and get even more suspicious.
“So I made it worse instead, okay?” Vax hisses. “Why do you even care?”
“Your life is such a disaster, it’s entertaining,” Kash says. “Plus, I’m starting to actually feel bad for the guy. What did you do?”
“I fucking kissed him, okay?” Vax says, impatient and pissed off. “Would you shut up?”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Kash yells, and it takes them both a second to realize how very much not whispered that was and that everyone in the room is looking at them now.
Kash takes a deep breath and says, in the exact same tone and volume, “You’re so sexy. It’s all I can think about. It’s so unfair.”
Vax is so thankful he could cry. He throws his arms around Kash’s neck and kisses him messily. His eyes still open, he sees Gilmore over Kash’s shoulder, one hand covering his mouth and his eyes crinkled in a smile. Their eyes meet, and Vax slams his closed, but not quickly enough to miss seeing the smile fade slightly at the edges.
“You’re a good man, Kashaw,” he whispers when they break apart.
“You’re not,” Kash says. “But whatever. It’s your business.”
“They’re so sweet,” Scanlan says.
“The sweetest,” Vex says, her eyes narrowed as she looks at them. “Pike, didn’t you say Scanlan had a surprise for us?”
“I did,” Pike says. “But I don’t know what it is.”
“If you did, it would be a pretty terrible surprise,” Scanlan says.
“Well, come on, then,” Vex says. “Surprise us.”
Scanlan grins and leaps up onto the table. “I’ve been very industrious today,” he says. “In fact, I’ve composed an epic song about the recent triumphs of Vox Machina.”
“Triumphs?” Grog says. “We got our asses handed to us by a fucking dragon, how’s that a triumph?”
“Romantic triumphs, Grog,” Scanlan says kindly. “The important kind.”
“Oh, no,” Vax says, his mouth falling open. “You’re kidding.”
“He can’t possibly be—” Kash starts to say, and then Scanlan starts singing.
They listened in stunned silence for a silent minute or two, and then Kash says, out of the corner of his mouth, “Did he just call himself the Love Doctor?”
“He really, really did,” Vax says faintly.
They listen a little longer, and Vax feels Kash’s shoulders start shaking with suppressed laughter right around “Love Doctor to the rescue.” Vax has to bury his own face in his hands, and even then, he suspects he might be making some wheezing noises.
Vax says, once he can breathe again, “Isn’t this song supposed to be about us?”
“I mean, in theory,” Kash says. “But no, I think this song is supposed to be about him. Also, if this isn’t the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to you, you’re wrong.”
“No worries on that front,” Vax whispers. “Causing this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”
“Haven’t you saved lives?”
“Yeah, what’s your point? He just called us star-crossed sex heroes.”
Kash nods. “Yeah, solid argument.”
“Aren’t me and Zahra the people who actually had a romantic triumph?” Vex says beside him. “Why are we barely in this song?”
Kash leans over him to say, “Because he can’t say you got together because of him.”
“Oh, come now,” Zahra says. “I’m sure he could if he tried.”
“Yeah, you’re right, I’m not giving him nearly enough credit,” Kash says.
“I’m just so glad you guys are trolls,” Vex says. “Imagine a world without this song.”
They all pause to give that due consideration.
“A horrifying thought,” Zahra says, and Vax and Kash both nod in agreement. “Truly, Scanlan is doing his part to make the world a better place.”
“Hang on, is this verse about Pike?” Vex says.
“This verse is definitely about Pike,” Vax says.
“Pike wasn’t even there!” she protests.
“It’s Scanlan,” Vax says. “Of course there was going to be a verse about Pike, come on.”
“Is he talking about how good her hair smells?” Kash says incredulously.
“Oh, yeah, he does that,” Vax says.
“It’d be kind of disturbing, but she doesn’t actually mind,” Vex says.
“Really?” Zahra says.
“Mostly she thinks it’s funny.”
Zahra nods. “Fair enough. It is funny.”
“It’s fucking hilarious,” Kash says. “I’m so glad I let you people talk me into keeping this dumb joke going.”
“This is the best day of my life,” Vax says, laughing uncontrollably into Kash’s shoulder.
Scanlan finishes to thunderous applause and a standing ovation from the entire room, though it’s especially loud from everyone who’s in on the joke. Which is—nearly everyone, frankly, Vax realizes, looking around. He and Kash really are bad at this.
“All hail the Love Doctor,” Kash says, somehow managing to sound serious.
“I mean, if you wanted to call me that, I certainly wouldn’t object,” Scanlan says, grinning smugly.
“That was genuinely amazing,” Percy says. “Thank you. I hope you sing that song, just, so often, especially going forward, as Kash and Vax’s relationship…progresses.”
“Well, I don’t think they’d let me serenade them while they have sex,” Scanlan says.
“I don’t think it counts as progressing if we’ve already done it,” Kash says. “The love of my life and I have already had all the sex. In all the positions.”
“Oh, if you think you can have sex in all the positions in a day, you’re doing it wrong,” Scanlan says. “Maybe I should serenade you. I could give you tips!”
Vax lets that horrifying image settle in his mind, and then he quickly says, “Don’t worry, Scanlan, I know a lot of positions we haven’t tried yet. I’ve got him covered.” He pats Kash’s shoulder. “He’s just very innocent,” he stage whispers. “I think he thought me blowing him was kinky.”
“That’s adorable,” Scanlan says.
He feels fingernails dig into his thigh in retribution for that, and he tries to cover up his instinctive wince by leaning over and kissing the tip of Kash’s nose. “He’s so cute,” he says.
He absolutely deserves the kick in the shins he gets, even as Kash gives him a saccharine smile and simpers, “Oh, baby, I’m so glad you’re taking care of me.”
“While we’re on the topic of sex,” Percy starts.
“Actually, do you think we could get off the topic of sex?” Vex says. “Especially as it pertains to my brother, no matter how tame it is.”
“No, sorry, this is important,” Percy says. “Vax and Kash, I really hope you’re using protection.”
Vex makes a noise like a dying mouse and slaps both her hands over her mouth.
“Please, no,” Kash says.
“Yes,” Percy insists. He’s smirking like the evil bastard he is. “Appropriate protection is very important, no matter how much you love the other person involved.”
“Why aren’t Z and Vex getting this talk?” Kash says. “How is this just about us?”
“Vax has a habit of going in half-cocked,” Percy says, and then he makes a horrified face, like he knows what’s coming.
“Actually, in this particular instance, I can assure you I’m going in full-cocked,” Vax says, because he literally can’t stop himself.
“Wow, did I ever walk into that one,” Percy says, as Vex covers her eyes as well, and, across the table, Gilmore’s shoulders start shaking with suppressed mirth.
“I’m always full-cocked,” Grog says, with a grin and wink at Kima.
Kima looks up with mock concern. “You know, that’s a pretty serious medical condition.”
“Yeah?” he says. “Do you want to inspect it, to see if it’s okay?”
“I leave that to the medical professionals,” she says, and she grins wickedly. “Like your friend Pike.”
“Grog?” Pike says, her voice conciliatory and full of innocence, though her eyes are dancing. “Do you need me to look at something for you?”
“Uh. No, uh. I’m good.”
“All right, then,” Pike says. “But I think Percy had something important to say regarding good health practices and safe sex.” She looks seriously at Vax and Kash. “You have to be careful, you know.”
“I thought we were protected by the power of love,” Vax says, because at this point, he might as well lean into it. Plus, it makes Gilmore snort and cover a smile.
“Oh, dear,” Percy says. “Cassandra, make a note to instate good sex education programs across Whitestone.”
“Sure,” Cassandra says sarcastically, but there’s a faint smile on her face.
“Now, Vax,” Percy says, “I know you think you’re so stealthy, you don’t need armor—”
“But in sex, the goal isn’t for no one to know you were there,” Scanlan says cheerfully.
“Yes, exactly,” says Percy.
Kash opens his mouth, and without blinking, Vax leans over and kisses him firmly. Making out must be giving him telepathy, because he swears, he can hear Kash gearing up to say, ‘That is a problem Vax has, yeah.’
“Sorry,” he says when he draws back. “All this talk about sex, with the love of my life sitting next to me—I’m starting to get overcome by passion.”
“Yeah, me too,” Kash says. “I’m about to rip Vax’s clothes off and have him right here on the table.”
“That’s very unsanitary,” Percy says disapprovingly.
Kash widens his eyes. “You mean I can’t use kitchen grease and olive oil as lube?”
Vax presses his mouth against Kash’s shoulder and tries not to laugh too audibly.
Percy puts his head in his hands. “Oh, dear lord.”
“Oh, no,” Pike says, looking a little horrified. Vax is almost entirely sure she knows what’s up, but apparently that’s not enough to save her from being disturbed at the thought of Kash using cooking ingredients in terrible ways.
“Ugh, Kash, darling,” Zahra says, patting Vex’s back absentmindedly as his sister covers her ears and makes retching sounds.
“You know,” Gilmore says, smiling widely, “Gilmore’s Glorious Goods has a range of supplies for all occasions.”
Vax follows that train of thought and feels his face go abruptly and terrifyingly hot. He shifts in his seat and thinks determinedly about sex jokes, and not—well.
“Gilmore’s Glorious Lube?” Scanlan says musingly. “No, that doesn’t alliterate. Hmm. Oh, I know! Gilmore’s Glorious Goo!”
“Oh, I like that,” Gilmore says. “In a variety of flavors for the most discerning connoisseur.” He winks at Vax, who tries to come up with something clever to say and draws an utter blank, his mind whirling.
“Please, please stop,” Keyleth says, and Vax glances over at her. She’s hiding her face in her hands, but around the edges of her fingertips, her forehead and ears are so red he’s a little surprised she hasn’t spontaneously combusted.
“Sorry, Kiki,” he says, feeling a little bad.
“But Keyleth,” Scanlan says, “this is important!”
“Hey,” Vex says, getting herself under control enough to sit up, “at least they can’t knock each other up, run off, and then eventually try to sleep with their children.”
Vax holds his hand up to his sister for a high-five, which he instantly gets.
“You know what?” Scanlan says, holding his hands up. “I’m going to let that go. I’m going to take the higher ground. I’m more mature than all of you.”
“Are you sure you’re not just older, grandpa?” Vax says. “All this sex advice for me and Kash—we’re young men. Sure you can still get it up? Kash and I can do a few times in a row, no problem.”
“Easily,” Kash says. “After all, we’re energized by the power of love and being incredibly hot.”
“Yeah, what he said,” Vax says.
“Guys,” Keyleth says. “How about those four dragons, huh?”
“How about the four dragons in my pants,” Scanlan says.
“Four?” Vex says, raising her eyebrows. “Think you might have a little problem there.”
“Believe me, there’s nothing little about my problem.”
“But you do admit it’s a problem,” Percy says.
“Only if you call intense, mind-blowing pleasure a problem,” Scanlan says, winking.
“As long as the pleasure’s for everyone involved,” Gilmore says. “No one likes a man just focused on his own dragon.”
“I pay attention to everyone’s dragon,” Scanlan says. “I make sure they all—”
“Breathe fire?” Kima suggests, grinning.
“Yes, exactly, Lady Kima,” Scanlan says. “Thanks.”
“Any time,” Kima says. “Vex, Zahra, how are your dragons? Breathing fire?”
“Would they be dragons?” Scanlan says speculatively. “What’s, like, an inverted dragon?”
“A wyvern?” Grog says dubiously.
“No, that’s just a less badass dragon,” Vex says. “Try again.”
“Well, an inverted dragon,” Percy says. “Something furry that breathes fire in?”
“What’s that, some sick cross between a bunny rabbit and a salamander?” Grog says.
“Oh, that’s just sad,” Zahra says. “And not at all sexy.”
“Better to just stick with dragons, frankly,” Kima says. “Simpler.”
“Much hotter,” Percy agrees, and everyone groans simultaneously.
“There are so many different kinds of dragon breath,” Vax says. “How did we all immediately know that was a pun?”
“It’s not the size of a man’s pun, it’s how he uses it,” Percy says smugly.
“Oh, yes, Percival,” Vex says mockingly. “Tell us more about how you use your pun.”
“I have excellent technique with my pun, thanks,” Percy says. “I’ve never had any complaints about my pun.”
“See, at this point the euphemism breaks down,” Zahra says musingly. “Because you’ve definitely had complaints about your puns.”
“Oh, dear, Percy,” Pike says, sounding sympathetic and only a little bit mocking. “Can you not satisfy women with your puns?”
“I don’t like them either,” says Kash, raising a hand.
“Percy doesn’t satisfy men or women with his puns,” Vax says, shaking his head sadly.
“Not a man who looks after other people’s dragons,” Gilmore says, and Vax snorts.
“Shame on you, Percy,” he says.
“You are all terrible people,” Percy says, but he’s smiling like he can’t quite help it.
“You started it,” Vex says.
“Actually, I think Vax started it with that comment about going in full-cocked,” Percy says.
“I’m sorry,” Vax says, “any man who uses the phrase ‘half-cocked’ during a conversation about sex deserves whatever he gets.”
Keyleth lifts her head up long enough to say, “The man has a point.”
“Hell yeah he does,” Kash says immediately. “And he uses it better than Percy.”
“Honey,” Vax says. “High fucking five.”
“Nah, we’re saving the fucking for later,” Kash says and slaps Vax’s hand.
“You guys are adorable,” Scanlan says.
“So well-suited for each other, it’s true,” Gilmore says solemnly.
Vax grins in delight—and with some relief—and their eyes meet. Gilmore winks at him, and Vax bites his lip and, after a second, winks back.
“I don’t know why I hang out with any of you,” Keyleth says, but she’s smiling a little under the blush.
“For myself, this is exactly why I spend time with Vox Machina,” Gilmore says. “I can’t imagine better dinner conversation.”
“Well, that’s why you’re our favorite, Gilmore,” Vex says.
“Oh?” Gilmore drawls. “Your favorite what?”
Vex winks. “You know what, darling.”
Zahra puts an arm around Vex’s shoulders. “Should I be jealous?”
“That’s right,” Gilmore says. “Vex’ahlia and I are carrying on a torrid affair right under your nose.”
“Gilmore!” Vex says. “It’s supposed to be a secret.”
“Sorry,” Gilmore says. “I was so overcome by my feelings, the words just spilled out of me.”
Vax laughs. It sounds so much like something he or Kash would say, trying to cover up for some slip of the tongue, that he can’t help himself.
Kima shakes her head. “All of you are ridiculous.” She stands. “I’m going to bed. I was up way too late last night helping to corral your drunk asses, I’m not doing it again tonight.”
“We’re not even drunk,” Scanlan protests.
“No, this is just what we’re like normally,” Percy says.
“That’s even worse,” Kima says. “Stay sober, all of you.”
“Sober conversations are what human interaction is all about,” Keyleth says, grinning, but then she starts, like she’s surprised herself, and looks down at the table.
If Vax weren’t right next to Kash, he wouldn’t hear the sharp intake of breath, but he does, and he glances over, wondering.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Kima says. “But you were drunk enough yesterday to last for a whole week, so take it easy. Good night, morons.”
“Good night, Lady Kima,” Pike says, and the rest of them echo her.
“I believe that’s my cue as well,” Cassandra says, standing. “I have to look over some supply lists before I go to bed.”
“Oh, I’ll help,” Percy says immediately. “After all, it’s my fault all these people are here.”
“You did the right thing,” she says. “But I’d appreciate the aid, nevertheless.”
“I could try to help too,” Pike says. “Though I don’t know if I’d be any good at it.”
“That’s all right,” Cassandra says. “But thank you for the offer. Good night, all of you. It’s a pleasure to have you in Whitestone.”
They all thank her, and she walks out with Percy at her side, heads bent together as they discuss grain farming.
“I feel like we should have done more actual planning,” Keyleth says after a moment.
“And less planning Kash and Vax’s sex life?” Scanlan says.
“Yeah, everyone knows that the best sex happens in the moment,” Kash says.
“I’m just saying, aren’t there other, more important things for us to be discussing?”
“More important than the happiness and sexual fulfillment of our closest friends?” Scanlan clicks his tongue. “Shame on you, Keyleth. We thought you cared.”
“What?” Keyleth says. “No, I—”
“Yeah,” Kash says. “How dare you.”
“What?” Keyleth says, glancing at him. “Oh—oh, you’re teasing me, right?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Pretty much. You’re right. We should probably talk more about the dragons and less about all this lovey-dovey stuff.”
“That hurts, it really does,” Vax says, pouting at Kash.
“So serious all of a sudden,” Gilmore says. “There’s hardly a need for that.”
“Yeah, who cares about our imminent death?” Kash says.
“Oh, come on,” Vax says. “I was having fun.”
“Well, I’d say we could discuss things now,” Vex says, “but seeing as Percy has already left, if feels a little impractical.”
“Let’s just call today our day off,” Zahra says. “I know the world’s ending, but doesn’t it feel a bit as though we deserve it? What difference can it really make, at this point?”
“A lot,” Keyleth says seriously, “to the people being killed and oppressed by the dragons right at this moment.”
Vax feels the responsibility of that settle in his stomach like stone, because of course she’s right. She always is. All those people and only seven of them to save them—ten, counting Kash, Zahra, and Kima. He looks down at the table.
“Hey, Keyleth, deep breath,” Kash says. “On the one hand, you’re right, but on the other hand, so’s Z. If we do nothing but run after dragons, we’ll kill ourselves. You’ve got to lighten up sometimes, relax. It took me a long time to figure that out, but once I did, it helped.”
“We have to help people,” Keyleth says.
“Yes,” Zahra says. “By staying alive, and by staying sane.”
Vex kisses her on the cheek. “What do you say we go keep ourselves sane right now?”
“Well, that was quite the come on,” Zahra says, a hand snaking around Vex’s waist. “How could I possibly resist?”
“Clearly the answer is that you shouldn’t,” Vex murmurs, and they kiss.
Vax makes a gagging sound.
Without looking at him, Vex pulls away from Zahra and says, “Brother, we spent all night talking about the kinky sex you aren’t having with Kashaw, so you can shut it.”
Vax makes a face. He wants to whine about how it’s different, because they both know that he and Kash aren’t having any sex, kinkiness notwithstanding, but if he spilled the beans on their prank because he couldn’t resist getting the last word, Vex would never let him hear the end of it.
“You’re a brat,” he says.
“You’re a jerk,” she says. “Zahra and I are turning in.”
“But not going to sleep, I imagine,” Gilmore says. Vax shoots him a betrayed look.
“It’s far too early to sleep,” Zahra says, kissing Vex’s cheek. “Don’t you think, darling?”
Vex hums an agreement. “Better to…talk about dragons.”
“More than talk, I hope,” Zahra says, and they start kissing again.
Vax mimes retching, but he’s careful to make sure his sister can’t hear him doing it this time.
Gilmore reaches across the table and pats his arm gently, though he looks more amused than sympathetic. His hand is warm and solid, and Vax would swear he can feel every groove, every whorl on Gilmore’s fingertips, even though his hand must only make contact with skin for a second or two.
“Good night, brother,” Vex says, and Vax jumps. He hadn’t even realized she and Zahra had come up for air, but there they are, standing up next to him with their arms wound around each other.
“Good night,” he says. He grabs her hand and squeezes, and her face softens as she squeezes back. She leans down to kiss him on the cheek.
“Sleep well,” she says. “I’m right next door if you need anything. Knock first, but other than that, if anything’s wrong, I want to know about it.”
“What could be wrong?” he says, and he smiles.
She shakes her head, but she lets Zahra tug her away, off to their bedroom.
“Love is in the air,” Scanlan says. “Pike, darling, love of my life—”
“I’m going to go check on some of the refugees,” she says, neatly cutting him off. “You should get some sleep.”
“I’m not tired,” he says quickly. “I can go all day.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Pike says, probably thoroughly crushing Scanlan’s dreams. “Get some sleep. You too, Grog,” she adds, giving Grog a hug around the shoulders. “Don’t train too hard. Go to bed.”
“Okay, Pike,” Grog says, hugging her back. “Go save sick people.”
“Okay,” she says, grinning, and she leaves.
Scanlan sighs heavily. “Well, I suppose that’s my cue as well.”
“Night,” Kash says. “Good song.”
Scanlan perks up. “Well, yes, I am very talented.”
“So talented,” Vax agrees.
“I’m so glad all of you appreciate my genius.”
“We sure do,” Vax says. “Night, buddy.”
“Good night, lovebirds,” Scanlan says. “Grog, Keyleth. Gilmore.”
“I suppose I should get going as well,” Gilmore says, drawing himself up after Scanlan leaves. “Not that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this evening, but it is getting late.”
Kash leans over to Vax and kisses his ear, hissing, “Look, I’m not going to make you stop being an asshole, but I feel like we both know you owe him another conversation, moron.”
Vax winces. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” he mutters. He pulls Kash close and kisses him messily on the mouth. “Wow, baby, you’re right, we should go to bed,” he says loudly, and drags him upright, saying more quietly, “Try to dump me on the bench next to him.”
They stumble around to the other side of the table, and Kash trips neatly, making Vax fall back and catch himself on Gilmore’s arm, overbalancing and falling into him. “Hey, take a walk with me?” he whispers as they collide.
Gilmore holds him up with an arm around his waist, their torsos pressed right up next to each, a line of heat all down Vax’s side. “Of course,” he murmurs. “Where?”
“Outside,” Vax says. “There’s a courtyard on the west side of the castle. Meet me?” He barely has time to register Gilmore’s nod before he pushes himself back up and throws his arms around Kash. “Come on, angel. Let’s go get some…rest.”
“I thought they were going to have sex,” Grog says.
“Yeah, buddy, that’s what the significant pause was for,” Vax says. “You know what, don’t worry about it. Good night, everybody.”
“Good night,” Gilmore says, his eyes warm.
“Good night,” Keyleth says, and Grog raises a tankard to them in farewell.
Vax and Kash make it out into the hallway and let go of each other.
Kash eyes him. “I’m going to go to bed. You’re…?”
“Not yet,” Vax says. “I’m going to go try and be less of an asshole.”
“Good idea,” Kash says. “Hey, tip: don’t fucking kiss him if you don’t want to date him.”
“Thanks for the help,” Vax says flatly. “I’ll try not to wake you up when I get back, okay?”
Kash shrugs. “It’s okay if you do. Fuck if I know why, but I’m starting to give a shit about your disaster of a life.”
“You’re going to want an update?” Vax says. “I’m totally getting to you.”
“You’re an asshole,” Kash says. “Let me know how much. Unless you kiss him again, then you can just commit ritual suicide in the library or something.”
“Fuck off,” Vax says, and he glances back at the doors to the dining room. “We should get going before anyone sees us out here not having sex.”
“Come on, I’d just shove you into a wall and we’d start making out and say we couldn’t make it to a bedroom,” Kash says. “It’s like you’re new at this.”
“Yeah, I forgot you were the grand master of fake dating,” Vax says. “Sugar lashes.”
“You guys have got to let that go,” Kash says, rolling his eyes.
“We really don’t,” Vax says. “Okay, I’m going. Good night.”
“Night,” Kash says. “Make good choices.”
Vax flips him off and runs down the hall, disappearing into the shadows. He slows down once he’s put some distance between himself and Kash and walks more slowly to the courtyard he seems to have adopted as his own, lingering in the hallways and pausing in the shadows, but he still makes it outside before Gilmore does. The space looks beautiful in the moonlight, and for a moment, he feels more like he’s waiting here for a romantic assignation than a conversation with a friend where he tries to figure out how many different ways he can find to say sorry.
He shakes the feeling off and slips into the shadow behind the tree he’d sat under with his sister that morning. He leans against the trunk, feeling his hair catch and pull on the bark, and breathes in and out mechanically.
It takes a few minutes, but eventually he hears Gilmore come out, his footsteps crunching firmly on the gravel path. Vax closes his eyes and listens and doesn’t make a single move to make himself visible.
After a second, he hears a huff of breath, and then Gilmore’s voice calling out quietly, “Vax, you know, if you’re here, I can’t see you.”
Vax grins helplessly despite himself and slides around the tree trunk. “Hey,” he says.
“Oh, good,” Gilmore says. “I would have felt very silly if you hadn’t been here after all.” He walks over to Vax slowly, crossing the grass and narrow paths. “Hello.”
“Hi,” Vax says. He bites his lip. “I thought we should we talk.”
“I’d like it if we did,” Gilmore says. “I hope you won’t blame me if I’m a little bit confused.”
Vax grimaces, looking down. “No, that’s…reasonable.”
Gilmore nods, apparently waiting for him to say something else, but for the life of him, he can’t find the words. He isn’t even sure what he wants to say. He’s spent so much time today trying to not think about doing this that he didn’t manage to prepare at all. “I’m sorry,” he offers, finally.
“I appreciate that,” Gilmore says. “But it’s not exactly what I was hoping to hear. You already apologized, you tease.” He smiles, softening the blow. “And I forgive you completely,” he adds. “I’m really more curious about why.”
“Why,” Vax repeats. He wonders if there’s a not insane sounding way to say he’d just done it, that he doesn’t know why, that he hadn’t even realized he was doing it until it was already happening.
“Yes,” Gilmore says, watching him. “You know, that last kiss, in Emon, that felt like a goodbye kiss. I understood that. This one felt…” His lips quirk up at one side. “Less like that, to say the least.”
Vax feels himself blush, hard, and tries very hard to pretend he isn’t. His eyes dip down, away from Gilmore’s eyes and to his lips, and he looks away quickly. “Uh. I shouldn’t have done it,” he says, sticking to the only thing he feels absolutely certain of right now.
“So you said,” Gilmore says evenly, his mouth twisting slightly.
“Not that it wasn’t incredibly fantastic,” Vax says. “Oh, fuck, that’s not—I don’t know what I’m saying right now.”
Gilmore’s very close to him. Vax wonders if it’s possible to spontaneously develop claustrophobia this late in life, or if he’s just losing his mind.
“I don’t know why I did it,” he says. “It was like I blinked and then there I was, and you were—” He cuts himself off harshly, turning to the side so he doesn’t have to look at Gilmore anymore, though he still thinks he can somehow sense the space Gilmore takes up in the night air.
“That’s not much of an explanation,” Gilmore says, but he doesn’t sound upset.
“I know,” Vax says, looking at his feet. He jumps slightly when he feels a hand on his arm.
“Sorry,” Gilmore says. “Why don’t we sit down?” He nods at a small stone bench on the side of the courtyard, and after a moment, Vax pushes himself away from the tree and walks over to it, sitting down gingerly.
“I keep trying to think of something to say,” he admits after a moment, feeling Gilmore settle down next to him. “And I know I should know why I do things, but I don’t right now.”
“Hmm,” Gilmore says. “Why don’t I trade you?”
Vax blinks. “You’re going to explain something to me?”
“Oh, no,” Gilmore says. “Unless you think I need to, but I’m not really under the impression that I’ve been unclear about anything.”
“No, you haven’t,” Vax says, which sort of makes him feel even worse.
“Well, then,” Gilmore says, “what I actually meant was that I’d let you not explain that if you’d explain something else instead.”
Vax frowns. “Explain what?” he says warily.
“What did you mean about your sister?” Gilmore says. “Earlier today, when you weren’t trying to say that you were in love with her.”
Vax tenses. “I’m not.”
“I know, Vax,” Gilmore says patiently, running a hand down Vax’s back, which doesn’t actually help much with the tension. “But I wouldn’t mind knowing what you did mean, especially if I’m not going to get to know why you keep playing with my poor, mangled heart.”
Vax chokes, looking over, and— “You’re emotionally manipulating me right now, aren’t you.”
“Yes,” Gilmore says shamelessly. “Is it working?”
Vax laughs, albeit a little weakly. “It is, yeah.”
“Well, I have many skills,” Gilmore says and pokes him in the side. “So?”
Vax feels his amusement fade. He looks out across the space, trying to get his thoughts in order. “Back in the beginning,” he says, “when we met and started flirting, I was interested. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about—anyway. You know.”
“Indeed, I’m flattered to have made you think about anyway,” Gilmore says, and Vax feels his lips stretch out into an inadvertent smile.
“Fuck off,” he says. “I’m baring my soul here.”
“Oh, of course, my mistake.”
Vax shakes his head, still smiling. “Anyway—”
“Mm, anyway,” Gilmore says, and Vax flips him off without looking at him.
“—I considered a lot of things,” he says. “About us. But the thing is, if I ever had to choose between my sister and literally anyone else in the world, I know who I’d pick. No matter what.”
“I know,” Gilmore says. “I’m not certain how that changes anything.”
“It’s sort of complicated,” Vax says, stalling.
Gilmore nudges him gently. “I’m a very intelligent man.”
Vax smiles. “I know.” He picks at a loose thread on his shirt. “Vex loves being a part of Vox Machina. So do I, of course—mostly, at any rate—but it really means a lot to her. Having people. And we’re not actually in Emon very often.”
“Is that what this is about?” Gilmore says. “Vax—”
“We barely ever make it back,” Vax says firmly. “And most of the time we are there, we spend either planning for the next time we leave or talking to the Council. And when we aren’t—I want to be with my sister, mostly. I don’t like not being with her. And that doesn’t leave me with a whole lot of time to see people I don’t live and work with. Which would be unfair to—to anyone else I was trying to spend time with.”
“That’s very noble of you,” Gilmore says, “and also very foolish.”
“You think you wouldn’t mind?” Vax says, trying not to sound too skeptical. “I would. I don’t think I’d be any happier in that situation than my theoretical lover would be.”
“I think it’s the kind of thing that could be figured out with some effort,” Gilmore says.
“I don’t think even you can magically make us start spending less time on the road and more time at home,” Vax says. “Anyway. That’s what I meant. I need to be with my sister, and you’re not with her all that often.”
“I see,” Gilmore says. They sit in silence, and then he adds, “Do you mind if I say something slightly unkind?”
“I’ve sort of been waiting for you to all night, honestly,” Vax says.
“Well, this might not be what you were expecting,” Gilmore says. “I want you to understand that I’m not saying this out of any sense of entitlement to your affections, but just because I think it ought to be said.”
“Okay,” Vax says warily.
Gilmore regards him. “If you’re creating your own affection for Keyleth because of some sort of relief that she fits into your schedule, there are at least four people that’s unfair to, and you’re one of them.”
It’s oddly cold outside, and a breeze blows past them, ruffling Vax’s hair. “You’re right,” he says. “That wasn’t all that nice.”
“I know,” Gilmore says. “I did warn you.”
“You did,” Vax agrees. Neither of them moves.
“One more question?” Gilmore says.
“You shouldn’t say things like that,” Gilmore says wryly. “I might take you up on it.”
“Anything,” Vax repeats.
Gilmore shakes his head. “Just one question, because I thought I knew the answer, and I’m not sure I do anymore. What do you want?”
Vax tilts his head back. The stars are out, and the sky is clear. It’s beautiful. “A lot of things,” he says. “For me and my sister to be safe and never separated. To figure out whether or not Grog actually likes me. To kill those dragons and rebuild Emon. To help people. For my friends to get everything they want, and for Pike to not leave again.” The stone of the bench they’re sitting on is ice cold under his legs. “To give you your shop back, just the way it was.”
“Well,” Gilmore says. “You certainly dream big, don’t you?”
Vax smiles up at the night sky. “To save the world.”
“Of course,” Gilmore says. “Let’s not forget that, hmm?”
“It’s the most important part,” Vax says, feeling oddly light inside.
“Well, as long as you have your priorities straight.”
“I know that’s not really what you meant,” Vax says.
“No, no,” Gilmore says. “I’ll take that. But let me know if you happen to update that list in any way, won’t you?”
“You’ll be the first,” Vax says. “Or at least the second. My sister might want to know.”
“I appreciate that,” Gilmore says. “And I’m extremely flattered that my little store made your list.”
“Well, you give us great discounts,” Vax says. “And you know how Vex feels about paying for things.”
“Oh, I see how it is,” Gilmore says. He slaps Vax lightly on the shoulder, his hand barely glancing off, and Vax shivers in the night air. “Naughty.”
“That’s me,” Vax says. His voice is even, and he glances sidelong at Gilmore. His left side, where they’re sitting next to each other, is about twice as warm as any other part of his body. “I should go,” he says, standing.
“I suppose you should,” Gilmore says, though he doesn’t get up.
“Good night,” Vax says. The moonlight is very silver, and it makes everything look incredibly striking and beautiful. He looks toward the castle. “I’d better get some sleep.”
He’s barely taken three steps when Gilmore says, “Vax’ildan.”
He stops in his tracks and turns back. “Yes?”
Gilmore smiles at him. “Much as I enjoyed it, don’t kiss me again. I’m letting you off rather easy tonight, and I think you know that.”
“Yes,” Vax says.
Gilmore looks away. “I know my feelings for you can seem rather comic in how obvious they are, and I don’t mind. I think we’ve both taken some comfort in that, in being able to laugh at how silly I am, chasing after you. But please don’t think that means I can’t be serious about how I feel to myself, at least.”
“I know,” Vax says. “I’m—”
“No,” Gilmore says. “Don’t apologize again. Just—do me a favor and be mindful of a poor old man’s heart.”
The grass is dry and silent under Vax’s feet when he shifts slightly. “You’re not old,” he says.
“Flatterer,” Gilmore says, his voice low and teasing. He’s smiling at Vax, under the too bright moon, dappled by the shadow of the tree behind him.
Vax wants to smile back, can feel the muscles in his face starting to tighten in response. He turns and walks away, slipping through one of the gates going around the back of the castle, instead of going back inside. It’s very quiet.
He wanders aimlessly, not paying attention to his surroundings, his eyes on his feet as he fingers the pommel of one of his daggers. A gust of wind blows past him, towards the castle, and he absentmindedly pulls up the hood of his cloak against it.
“Vax?” a voice says, and he starts, grabbing the hilt of his dagger before he recognizes it.
“Kiki?” he says, peering over and immediately seeing her folded into a niche in the wall, head on her knees. “What are you doing out here?”
“It’s a nice night,” Keyleth says. “And I like being outside. I guess I was having trouble sleeping. But I thought you were going to bed?” She’s in heavy shadow, but he still sees her look back and forth along the path. “Where’s Kash?”
“In bed, probably,” Vax says. “I was having trouble sleeping, too, so I thought I’d take a walk, clear my head. You’re right, it is a nice night.”
“I think it must be a full moon,” she says.
Vax glances up. “I guess so. Everything all right?”
“You said you couldn’t sleep.”
“Oh,” she says. She looks down. “Just thinking about things. The—the dragons, I guess.”
“Right, the dragons.” Whitestone feels very quiet and secluded, somehow. Remote. Safe. It’s so easy to joke and pretend to date people, when out in the world there’s the Chroma Conclave and the ruins of Emon. “We should leave again. Start taking care of that.”
“Probably,” she says, sounding glum. “I mean—you’re right. We’re getting too comfortable.”
“Yeah,” he says. It’s a horrible thought.
“Hey, Vax?” she says suddenly.
“I wanted to say—I’m really happy that you’re happy.”
He doesn’t feel all that happy, alone in the middle of the night and thinking about the end of the world, but he knows that’s not what she means. “With Kash?”
“Yeah,” she says. “I think it’s really wonderful that you’ve found someone who can make you happy like this. I’ve been worried about you.”
He grimaces. “You and my sister, apparently.”
“Well, you were acting really weird in Emon, before the dragons came,” she says. “And you’ve seemed so much more cheerful lately. It’s good. I’m really glad that you found Kash, that you two can be that happy together.”
He can’t think of anything to say. “I guess I sort of thought you might be jealous,” he says at last.
“No,” she says. After a moment, she pushes away from the wall and comes closer to him, brushing her hair over her shoulder. “Will you hate me if I say it was a bit of a relief?”
“I don’t hate you,” he says automatically.
“Oh, god—I don’t mean that the way it sounds,” she says. “Not like—I was flattered, obviously, that you felt that way about me, and I think you’re amazing, I really do. But—I guess it’s just a lot of pressure, having someone be in love with you. That’s what I mean about it being a relief.” She tugs at the ends of her hair. “I’m not making any sense.”
“Not really,” he says honestly. “I guess I just thought—I mean, it’s nice having Kash be in love with me, that is. But I guess it’s different when you feel the same way.” He tries not to sound too bitter, but he can’t help the hurt creeping up.
“I don’t know,” Keyleth says, looking away. “I don’t know if I’m ready for a big, dramatic love story. It seems kind of stressful, and what with everything else—it might be nice to just take things a little slower, you know?”
“I—sure,” he says, though he doesn’t agree. Everything he’s ever done, he’s done all at once.
She looks sad. “I guess we’re just really different people.”
“I always thought we were kind of similar.”
“Maybe,” she says. She shrugs awkwardly. “I’m kind of confused, honestly.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I know the feeling.” He smiles, albeit a bit stiffly, and offers her his arm. “Come on. It’s getting late, and if we really are planning our next move tomorrow, both of us should get some sleep.”
“I guess you’re right,” she says, managing to hook her arm around his after a couple of bad starts. “Lead the way.”
They start to walk, and she stops him with a hand on his chest. “I do love you, you know, Vax,” she says. “Just not—”
“Just not like that, yeah,” he says. “I got it. Thanks, Kiki.”
“I mean, obviously you don’t care one way or the other anymore,” she says, and she does sound relieved, profoundly. “Since you’ve got Kash now, and all. Which also makes it easier to say, though, and I do feel better having said it. Sorry. Am I just beating a dead horse?”
“It’s fine,” he says. “Let’s just—not talk about it.”
“Okay,” she says, and she sounds relieved about that, too.
Kash wakes up abruptly and can’t figure out why for a moment, before he hears someone moving around in the room, not particularly quietly. He reaches out and, after a couple of tries, manages to light the candle next to the bed.
Vax, shrugging off the last of his armor, glances up at him. “Hey.”
“You woke me up coming in,” Kash says. “I can’t believe I heard you. Are you losing your touch?”
“Fuck off,” Vax says. “You told me to, or don’t you remember? You’re all invested in my shitty love life now?”
“Your love life is amazing, you’ve got me,” Kash says automatically. “And I think it was more of a ‘you could’ than a ‘please do.’ Did you want to share your feelings?” He makes it sound as sarcastic as he can, just because it’s easier that way.
“No,” Vax says.
“I mean, you’re going to now, since I’m up anyway,” Kash says. He glances out the window. “It’s really late. Have you actually been out all this time? Fuck, you didn’t sleep with him, did you?”
“What?” Vax says, sounding genuinely shocked. “No! I might be an asshole, but I’m not that bad.”
“Did you kiss him again?” Kash says.
“No,” Vax says. “I kept my hands and my mouth to myself.”
“Well, look at that, it’s a miracle,” Kash says. “If you’ve ever considered finding religion, now might be a good time.”
“Fuck off,” Vax says again, but with less strength this time.
Kash eyes him. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Vax says shortly, coming over and collapsing on the bed next to Kash. “Let’s just go to sleep.”
“Are you and Gilmore okay?” Kash says.
“Since when do you care?” Vax says.
“Since I realized you needed a keeper and that I didn’t want to distract your sister from my best friend,” Kash says, which is at least mostly true. All right, so he might be finding himself maybe, sort of giving a shit about Vax’s life because of enforced proximity or, or—kissing germs, or something, but that doesn’t mean he has to admit it.
“Well, we’re fine,” Vax says. “Me and Gilmore, we’re absolutely fine.”
“Yeah, you sound like you mean that,” Kash says. “So what took you so long coming back? Where’ve you been?”
“I was just walking around.”
“So the talk went that badly.”
“No! I was walking around, and I ran into Keyleth.”
“Oh,” Kash says. He can feel a sick, jealous feeling coiling in his stomach. “Did you kiss her?”
“I don’t kiss people in every conversation I have, you know.”
“Lately, you do.”
“That’s…true, actually,” Vax says, and he laughs—a short, surprised sound. “I think I’ve had more kisses in the last day or so than I possibly have in my entire life beforehand.”
“Is everyone in Vox Machina a virgin?” Kash says, because apparently this late at night, he has no filter.
“Have you met Scanlan?”
“He could be overcompensating.”
“Brothels exist, and he likes them,” Vax says dryly. “So does Grog, for the record.”
“Well, that’s at least two,” Kash says.
“Three,” Vax says. “Don’t forget my sister.”
“Right, her and Z,” Kash says.
“Not just Zahra,” Vax says, grimacing. “My sister likes sex.”
“Why do you know that?”
Vax glares at him. “Does Zahra like sex?”
“Sure, of course. …Oh, come on, we’re not blood related. There’s a qualitative goddamn difference.”
“Vex and I have spent our lives virtually inseparable,” Vax says. “When she’s out at night, I know, and I know why.”
“I feel like that’s got to have given at least one of you a complex.”
“If we stay on this subject,” Vax says darkly, “I will bring up your wife.”
Kash hits him, but not too hard, because he feels like probably deserves that. “Why are we even on this subject?”
“You’re the one who started asking which of my friends are virgins,” Vax says. “And the answer is, definitely not Scanlan, Grog, or Vex, and I have no idea about anyone else, because I don’t fucking ask.”
“Whatever,” Kash says. “You usually don’t kiss people this much, and you didn’t kiss Keyleth.”
Vax throws an arm over his eyes. “Right,” he says.
“That’s good,” Kash says. “Uh, because of the pretending to date me, I mean.”
Vax snorts. “You’re allowed to be jealous, moron.”
“I’m not jealous.”
“You are,” Vax says. “But you shouldn’t be. Me and Keyleth—we aren’t like that, and I don’t think we ever will be.”
“I thought you were in love with her,” Kash says.
“I—” There’s a long silence. “Either way, she’s isn’t in love with me,” he says at last. “I don’t even think she just plain likes me that way. So the road is clear for you, buddy.”
“Huh,” Kash says, processing that. “You’re not exactly crying into your pillow about it.”
“Do I seem like the kind of man who cries into his pillow?”
“Oh, fuck you,” Vax says. “Anyway, it’s not like it’s the first time she’s turned me down.”
“Sure,” Vax says. “I told her I was in love with her, she said—well, she didn’t exactly say she didn’t feel that way about me, but she did say no. I guess she was trying to let me down easy.”
“You didn’t tell me that.”
“Why the fuck would I tell you that?”
“Okay, good point.” Kash flops onto his back and stares at the ceiling. “I feel like I shouldn’t be happy right now, but…”
“But you’re an asshole, so you are,” Vax says, but he sounds more amused than anything else.
“Pretty much,” Kash agrees. He runs a hand through his hair. “I guess I just kind of assumed it would be you and her. Especially after you said you were in love with her.”
“I am in love with her,” Vax says, too loudly.
“I didn’t say you weren’t,” Kash says slowly. “Something happen?”
“No,” Vax says. “Yes. I don’t know.” He rolls over onto his side, propping his head up on his hand and looking at Kash. “Something Gilmore said is kind of getting to me, I guess.”
“If he told you that you weren’t in love with her, I think he might have an ulterior motive.”
“He didn’t exactly say that,” Vax says. “I don’t know. It’s complicated.”
Kash watches Vax’s free hand tap absently at the blankets. He looks—not exactly anxious, but tense, maybe. Unhappy. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No offense, but if you agree with him, I think you might also have an ulterior motive.”
“Whatever,” Kash says. “Don’t tell me what Gilmore said. Are you in love with her or not?”
“I am,” Vax says, and then he grimaces. His hand clenches around the blankets.
“Okay,” Kash says. “Why?”
Vax frowns at him. “What?”
“Why are you in love with her? What about her do you love?” He shrugs, awkward as it is on his back. “I could give you a list of the reasons I like her, and I’m not even using the big L word.”
“This feels very thirteen years old, somehow,” Vax says.
“Don’t be a dick,” Kash says. “Do it or don’t, I don’t care. But I’m not going to lie, kissing some guy is making me feel a lot less confident in your feelings.”
“Keyleth’s great,” Vax says.
“So tell me something I don’t know,” Kash says.
“She’s a really good person,” Vax says, and he sounds more serious now. “She’s always trying to do the right thing, and she sticks to her convictions. It’s—when I’m with her and I agree with her, I know I’m doing the right thing. It’s nice. Easy.”
“Well, that wasn’t thrillingly romantic,” Kash says.
Vax flicks him on the forehead. “She’s very beautiful.”
“Well, you said you wanted something romantic.”
“And that’s the best you could do?”
“I’m not really all that good with words,” Vax says. “She’s beautiful, and she’s a good person.”
“She cannot possibly be the only beautiful, good person you know,” Kash says. “But okay, you say you love her, you love her. It’s not like I don’t believe you. Like I said, I always kind of figured it was going to be you and her in the end.”
“I’m not sure why,” Vax says. “I never did.”
“Seriously?” Kash says. “I just thought—you’re in love with her, you’re two young and hot heroes on the same team, here comes the epic love story.”
“I never thought she’d say yes,” Vax says. “Even before I told her. I never thought it was going to happen. One of those hopeless things.”
“So why’d you tell her?” Kash says. “If you thought you were going to get shot down.”
Vax grins, just slightly. It’s a little bit manic. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Vax laughs, bright and pleased. “Get to know me, Kashaw, and you’ll work out that that’s why I do a lot of things.”
“Damn, no wonder you’re such a fuck up.”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
Kash nudges him. “I don’t think you’re supposed to agree.”
“Look,” Vax says, cheerfully enough, “I once snuck into the bedroom of a necromancer and a vampire who were honored guests of my sovereign. After they spotted me, I tried to hit on them, and I did all of it because why the fuck not. In comparison, almost dying and then telling Keyleth I was in love with her is pretty small fry.”
“There’s something seriously wrong with you,” Kash tells him.
“Oh, I know,” Vax says. “Death looms, and all that.”
“It probably wouldn’t loom so much if you were less of a moron,” Kash says. “But I guess it’s better to live your life the way you want to while you’ve got it, if that’s your philosophy. Do what makes you happy, that kind of thing.”
“Yeah,” Vax says slowly. He looks about a million miles away.
“Did I say something?” Kash says, frowning at him.
“Huh?” Vax shakes himself. “Oh. No, just something reminded me of something my sister said. It doesn’t matter.”
“Okay,” Kash says slowly.
“Look, can we just go to sleep?” Vax says. “I’ve had a really weird night, and now you know I didn’t fuck it up too hard.”
“So glad you kept your tongue to yourself,” Kash says. “Remember, you’re only kissing me, at least until this all inevitably falls apart because we can’t act.”
“I can’t believe you let my sister talk you into keeping it going.”
“Whatever,” Kash says. “You have a comfortable bed.”
Vax smiles wryly. “You know, I’m actually kind of glad our weird fake dating means we have to share. Is that weird?”
“I mean, kind of,” Kash says. “Is it because you’re lusting after me, because I’m so hot? Because that would be a bad thing to not tell me, under the circumstances.”
“Yeah, that’ll be the day,” Vax says. “No, asshole. I just—I don’t really like being alone when I’m unhappy, I guess. It’s sort of nice to have someone crash with, is all. Even if it’s you.”
“Wow, what a compliment,” Kash says. “You sure know how to flatter a guy.”
“Funny, I wasn’t trying.”
“It’s an innate skill,” Kash says. He looks at Vax, lying on his side on the bed, his eyes shadowed and his shoulder tense. “Okay, come here.”
Vax raises his eyebrows. “What?”
Kash opens his arms. “We’re going to fucking cuddle. Get over here.”
Vax opens and closes his mouth. “Are you serious?”
Kash rolls his eyes. “Yes. Come on. You look like you’re about to get executed or something, so we’re going to boyfriend this shit up and spoon.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“I’m really not. Put out the candle and get over here, you weird, fucked up bastard.”
“It’s amazing how you can make something so nice sound so terrible, you socially awkward, fucked up loser,” Vax says, pinching the candle’s wick and plunging them into darkness.
“That’s my innate skill,” Kash says. “Are you coming, or what?”
“I’m coming,” Vax says, and a moment later, Kash feels him settle against his chest. “This isn’t weird, right?”
Kash thinks about it, wrapping his arms firmly around Vax’s torso. “Probably not in comparison to everything else.”
“I’ll take it,” Vax says. “You’re a pretty good fake boyfriend.”
Kash snorts. “You’re not. You cheated on me, remember?”
“You’ve got to let that go,” Vax says, shifting slightly until he apparently gets comfortable.
“It was so hurtful,” Kash says. “My boyfriend said he loved me and got me into bed and then—”
“Well, maybe if you’d put out, I wouldn’t have to go looking elsewhere.”
Kash punches him, but not too hard. “And here I thought you loved me.”
“I have no idea why,” Vax says.
“Good point,” Kash says. “You’re kind of a dick.”
“Only kind of?” Vax says. “You’ve upgraded me.”
“Okay, fine, you’re definitely a dick.”
“I wasn’t complaining,” Vax says.
“You’re always complaining,” Kash mutters. “Go to sleep, you utter freak. I’m tired, you’ve got to be tired, and we probably have to start being serious again tomorrow.”
“Probably,” Vax agrees. He turns, sets his head on Kash’s shoulder, and sighs. “Good night, drunken mistake.”
Kash snorts. “Yeah, yeah. Good night, love of my life.”
Vax pats him on the side lightly, and they both fall silent. Kash closes his eyes and tries to even out his breathing. He’s not exactly used to sleeping with someone else, but Vax doesn’t seem to snore or move around much, and eventually, he falls asleep.
When he wakes up the next morning, it’s because Scanlan, the asshole, barges straight into their room, the door crashing loudly against the stone wall.
Kash opens his eyes and glares at the ceiling. “Doesn’t that door lock?”
Vax groans and buries his face in Kash’s neck. “I’m still asleep.”
“Aww, you two are adorable,” Scanlan says.
“I hate you,” Kash says seriously.
Vax gropes blindly for the blankets and drags them up over his head. Before he disappears completely, he waves his middle finger in Scanlan’s general direction.
“Yeah,” Kash agrees. “That.” He closes his eyes again. “Go away.”
“We’re eating breakfast,” Scanlan says cheerfully.
“Great,” Kash says, since Vax has apparently chosen to ignore the world and nominate him speaker for both of them. “Eat without us. We’re sleeping.”
“Up late?” Scanlan says. Kash can actually hear the leer.
“Sure,” he says. “Now go away so we can sleep off our sex hangovers.”
Vax snorts under the blankets, which, since his face is about half a centimeter away from Kash’s skin, kind of tickles. Kash whacks him lightly on the shoulder.
“We’re doing very important planning,” Scanlan says. “Chop chop!”
“Fuck planning,” Kash says. “Fuck the dragons. They’ll still be there when I’m awake.”
“You’re awake right now,” Scanlan says, and he drags the blankets off of both of them, making Vax moan pitifully and curl up into a fetal position.
“No, I’m sleeping,” Kash says.
“Why are both of you dressed?” Scanlan says.
Kash opens his eyes to stare at him. “If you thought we were naked, why did you do that?”
“Please,” Scanlan says dismissively. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. Not that I’m seeing it right now.”
“Somehow I can’t bring myself to be upset about that,” Kash says. He pokes Vax in the shoulder. “If I have to be awake, so do you.”
“I take back everything I said last night,” Vax says into Kash’s chest, muffled and groggy. “You’re a terrible boyfriend.”
“You’re still worse,” Kash says.
“Fuck you,” Vax mutters.
“That’s so cute,” Scanlan says. “Get up.”
“Scanlan, stop bothering my brothers,” Vex says, and Kash glances over to see her leaning on the side of the doorway.
“Brothers?” he says.
“Well, brother and brother-in-law,” Vex says. She grins at him. “Twice over.”
“That’s nice,” Kash says, and he means it. He’s not used to having family, not really, and he knows she means that him being Z’s brother—or close enough—is enough to make him her family too, whether or not he’s faking his thing with her real brother.
“I’m going to dump him if he doesn’t kick the gnome out of our room,” Vax says. “It’s way too early to be awake.”
“It’s not even that early,” Vex says, sounding amused. “Why are you so tired?”
“Up late,” Vax says. “Kash—”
“Horrifying as that threat is,” Kash says, “I can’t do much of anything if you’re lying on me.”
Vax rolls to the side without opening his eyes. “Get rid of him.”
“Why is this my job?” Kash says, even as he sits up.
“You got more sleep than me,” Vax says.
“Your own fault,” Kash says, but he gets up. “Okay, Scanlan, time to leave.”
“I mean, it’s not my problem,” Scanlan says, shrugging. “But we’re making very serious plans for the future.”
“I agree with whatever Z says,” Kash says. “There, that’s my whole part in the conversation, right there.”
“And Vax?” Scanlan says, eyeing the lump on the bed.
Vax drags the blankets back up. “No,” he says, and then he grabs the other pillow and puts it over his head.
Kash rolls his eyes. “Vax agrees with me.”
“That’s almost certainly not true,” Vex says.
“Of course it is!” Scanlan says. “Their hearts beat as one. Don’t you remember the song?”
“However could I forget,” Vex says.
“No, seriously, how could you,” Kash says, and they grin at each other. “Vax agrees with Vex, then, and Vex and Z will probably agree, so there you go.”
“Zahra and I don’t agree on everything,” Vex says. “It would probably be a very boring relationship if we did. But yes, that does seem simpler.”
“Great,” Kash says. “Scanlan, go away.”
“That’s just hurtful,” Scanlan says, but he leaves, mercifully. Vex shuts the door behind him.
Kash looks at her. “Why are you still here?”
“Why are you two so tired?” she says.
“Late night,” Kash says flatly, getting back into bed. He has to yank the blankets out of Vax’s death grip, but he manages to curl up under them eventually.
“You and Keyleth,” Vex says. Kash sits back up. “You didn’t have a threesome or anything, did you?”
“What?” Vax says, sitting bolt upright. “No.”
“I’m just saying,” Vex says, raising her eyebrows, “she’s the other unexpectedly late sleeper this morning, and you two can both get a bit weird about her.”
“Yeah, but if we’d had a threesome, I would’ve had to have had sex with your brother,” Kash says. “And clearly that’s never going to happen.”
“You wish you could have sex with me,” Vax says.
“In your dreams,” Kash says.
“Boys,” Vex says.
Vax rolls his eyes and yawns. “No, Vex’ahlia, we did not have a threesome with Keyleth. She’s not here, is she? It’s not as if either of us would have kicked her out of bed afterwards.”
“You didn’t really think we did, did you?” Kash says.
“Not really,” she says. “Just checking. So, why were you up late last night? I know it wasn’t having sex with each other.”
“Ugh,” Vax says, falling back into bed. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going back to sleep.”
“We couldn’t stop insulting each other long enough to go to sleep,” Kash says, keeping his voice even and his face blank.
Vex eyes him. “Seriously?”
He shrugs. “Yeah. It’s really hard to stop once you get going, especially if you’re both trying to get the last word.”
“That’s really stupid,” she says.
“Well, you aren’t wrong. Can we go back to sleep, or what?”
She waves a hand at them. “Yes, yes, get your beauty sleep. God knows you both need it.”
“I look just like you,” Vax says. “So if I’m not pretty enough—”
Vex crosses the room to slap him—hard, if the grunt Vax makes is any indication. “Next time,” she says, “I’m telling Scanlan to dump ice water over both of you.”
“Evil,” Vax mutters. “Fine. Go away.”
“He really is tired, huh?” Vex says, looking at Kash.
“He—” Kash tries to think of something to say that isn’t ‘he got in really late last night,’ because it’s possible there are some things Vax doesn’t want to talk about with his sister. “Yeah,” he says, giving up.
“Whatever,” she says. “I’ll bug him later.”
Vax waves a middle finger in the air again.
She rolls her eyes. “He’s such a child. That’s the only way he knows how to respond to pretty much anything.”
“I’ve noticed,” Kash says. “Good night,” he adds pointedly.
“Yeah, yeah,” she says. “So, you both agree with your sisters on everything?” Her eyes glint with mischief.
“I never agreed to that,” Vax says, voice muffled by the pillow. “But yeah, okay, if it’ll get you to go away.”
“Nobody appreciates me,” Vex says, but she opens the door and slips out again.
“Oh, thank god,” Kash says with feeling.
Vax turns his head to look at Kash without picking it off the pillow. “She left?”
“Yeah,” Kash says.
“Yeah,” Kash says.
“Good,” Vax says. “Coming back to bed?”
Kash snorts. “That’s the most couple thing either of us has ever said.”
Vax opens his eyes and flutters them. “Coming back to bed, sugar lashes?”
“Someday, I’m going to snap and murder you, and nobody is going to blame me,” Kash says, but he sinks back onto the bed. He tugs at the blankets, which Vax has completely wrapped around himself again. “Let go.”
“I don’t want to,” Vax says, closing his eyes again, but he lets go of the edge and lets Kash pull the blankets away.
“Baby,” Kash says, climbing back under the covers.
“Aww, breaking out the pet names this early in the morning?” Vax says.
“Go fuck yourself. You know that’s not how I meant it.”
“Yeah, that sounds more like you,” Vax says.
“Just go to sleep,” Kash says, putting his hand over Vax’s eyes.
Vax just yawns. “Okay,” he says, and his breathing slows and he goes silent.
Kash grins at the ceiling and yawns widely, letting his eyes drift close again, and after a few moments, he slips back into sleep.
When he wakes up again, Vax is still asleep next to him, the sun is streaming in through a crack in the curtains, and the room is blessedly silent. He sits up carefully, dislodging Vax gently, and looks around, rubbing his eyes. Glancing out the window, he decides it’s probably around noon, which is ridiculously late, but he can’t bring himself to care much.
He gets out of bed and stretches, grabbing his armor and putting it back on slowly. Behind him, Vax shifts, rolls over into the space Kash had been occupying, and sighs in his sleep. Kash is tempted to shake him awake, just to be an asshole, but he manages to restrain himself. He makes for the door instead and then pauses, glancing back at Vax again.
“I’m such a nice goddamn person,” he mutters to himself, fishing out a piece of paper and a pen from his pack and scrawling out a quick note, leaving it the tiny table next to the bed. He glares at Vax’s sleeping form. “Don’t say I never did anything for you.”
He steps out of the room and looks back and forth down the empty hallway. In theory, he supposes he should try to find someone and find out how this morning’s planning conversation went, but in the end, he’ll just be following Z around, so he doesn’t see that it actually matters much.
Eventually, he strikes out in a random direction, wandering aimlessly and turning in the opposite direction any time it seems like he might be going someplace there are people. He’s not social at the best of times, and pretending to date Vax has meant a lot of touchy-feely team building shenanigans. Which is fine, probably—Vax is growing on him, kind of horrifyingly, and it’s still funny as hell, but he could use some time alone.
He turns a corner and walks straight into someone coming the other direction, both of them stumbling back. He catches himself on the wall as the other person stammers out apologies, looks up, and sees Keyleth, her long, bright hair slightly mussed and her hands out as if to try and catch him.
“Kash!” she says. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.”
“My fault too,” he says. “I wasn’t paying any attention.”
“Oh, well,” she says, her hands hovering a few inches away from his arms before she draws them back and grabs at her wrists awkwardly. “I am sorry.”
“So am I,” he says, straightening up. “Did I hurt you? I think I might have stepped on your foot.”
“Oh,” she says, glancing down and flexing her right foot. “It’s fine.”
“Oh,” he says. “Good.”
“Yes,” she says, biting her lip. “Well, I should—”
“Vax said he talked to you last night,” Kash says quickly, and then he curses himself. Five seconds ago, he’d just wanted to be alone, and now he’s trying to make her stick around.
“Yes,” she says. “Yes, we ran into each other outside. He said he couldn’t sleep.”
“Right, yeah,” Kash says, and they lapse into silence again.
Keyleth straightens her coronet-thing, running her long fingers through the ends of her hair until it lies flat and smooth. Her movements are quick and sharp and maybe a little nervous.
“You couldn’t sleep either?” Kash says, helplessly trying to keep the conversation going.
“Oh, um—” She looks down and to the side. “I was just thinking a lot. I’m fine.”
“That’s good,” he says, after a moment. Her shoulders are tense and drawn. “Did you wake up in time for the planning this morning? Vex said you were the other late sleeper.”
“I did, yes,” she says. “We’re going to go up through Westruun to find the sphinx’s mate. He might know something about the Vestiges. Zahra said that would be fine with you?”
“Yeah, sounds great,” he says. “Sure.”
“Good,” she says. “That’s good.”
“Yeah,” he says. They stare at each other.
“Maybe we can only talk to each other when we’ve been drinking,” she says, and her eyes go wide and horrified. She waves her hands in front of her. “I didn’t mean to say that!”
He laughs, relieved. “So much for sober conversations, huh?”
“Sorry,” she says, putting her hands over her mouth.
“We can talk to each other,” he says. “Really, I swear.”
“Are you sure?” she says. “Because all signs point to maybe not.”
“I’m always right,” he says, and she laughs, and it’s wonderful.
“Oh, well, in that case,” she says.
“In that case,” he says. Impulsively, he adds, “Hey, you know something kind of weird?”
“What?” she says.
“Vax told me what you two talked about last night, and—I guess I kind of always thought you two were going to end up together,” he says, though he probably shouldn’t. “Even with everything, I mean.”
“Oh,” she says, looking surprised. “I—is it weird if I say I sort of did too?”
“You did?” he says. “But I thought you told him—”
“I mean, I didn’t exactly have feelings for him,” she says. “But I sort of felt like I should? It felt like—it felt like something that was supposed to happen. I guess I wanted to want all of that. The big, dramatic love story. The happily ever after.”
“Sounds stressful,” he says evenly, watching her face.
“That’s what I said!” she says, sounding relieved, and she relaxes, all at once. “I don’t think I’m ready for things to be that intense. I’ve never been in love. It seems like a lot.”
“People say it’s nice,” Kash says.
“I guess,” Keyleth says. “And it sounds like it would be. But I think I’d like to work up to it, instead of jumping in all at once.”
“Yeah,” Kash says. “Me too.”
“Yeah,” she says, and then she seems to shake herself. “Wait, really? I mean, you and Vax—”
“Oh, right, me and Vax,” Kash says, quickly. “I mean—that’s—”
“I guess it’s different when it’s the right person,” she says dubiously.
“Yes, that,” Kash says, jumping on it with relief. “I meant that before I would’ve thought that, but obviously, now that I have Vax, things are different.”
“Of course,” she says, nodding. “That makes sense.”
He really wonders how on earth she can buy this stuff. No one else does, except for Grog, who’s a moron, and Scanlan, who clearly wants to. Maybe she wants to. She keeps saying she’s not jealous, and it even seems true, and—
“So, no setups from the Love Doctor for you?” he says, grabbing his thoughts and bringing them furiously to heel.
She laughs, thankfully. “I don’t think so. Did he really get you two together?”
Kash shrugs. “In a manner of speaking. But, uh, between you and me, we might have exaggerated a little bit.”
“I had a sort of feeling,” she says. “But it seems to have made him so happy, so that’s all right.”
“That’s me,” Kash says, deadpan. “I make people happy.”
“You do,” she says, suddenly serious. “You really do, Kash. You know that, right?”
“Uh,” he says, and words fail him.
She steps forward, right into his space. “You do.”
“That doesn’t sound like me,” he says.
“You brought Vex back,” she says. “You heal people. You help people. You do good things.”
“I didn’t want to,” he says. “You know I didn’t want to. That’s—”
She smiles. “That just makes it even better that you did it in the end.”
“That doesn’t seem fair to the people who just do good things naturally,” he says.
She shrugs. “Oh, who does good things naturally, anyway?”
“You do,” he says. He looks down. “And, um, probably other people. I don’t know.”
“Um,” she says. “That’s sweet.”
“I’m a sweet guy,” Kash says belatedly.
“I’ve made you uncomfortable,” she says.
“No,” he says immediately. “I mean, yes. But not in a bad way. I—that is, I’m uncomfortable a lot, because I’m not really, uh, good at talking to people, so this is. Better, I mean. Because it’s you, and you’re being very—uh, nice. I guess.”
“Oh,” she says. “Well, uh, good? Or sorry? I’m not really sure.”
“Yeah, me neither,” he says. “So thanks, or possibly fuck you.”
To his relief, that makes her laugh. She brushes a lock of her bright, cheerful hair behind her ear and smiles at him widely. “Well, you’re welcome, or fuck you too.”
“See?” Kash says. “We’ve got this sober conversation thing down pat.”
“Yeah,” Keyleth says, her voice teasing. “We’re not having any problems at all.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“And you’re always right,” she says.
He grins at her. “Now you’re getting it.”
“I’m a slow learner,” she tells him seriously, but she looks like she’s trying not to smile.
He wants to kiss her suddenly, desperately, more than he can remember ever wanting to kiss anyone before in his life. He can imagine it. Reaching out, pulling her close—her pushing him away and saying she doesn’t feel that way about him. Her looking disappointed, not smiling anymore, the awkward silence.
“Did you have plans for today?” he says. It must come out too abrupt, because she looks startled and blinks a few times like it takes effort for her to register the question.
“Oh,” she says. “I don’t know. I mean—yes, sort of. I was going to go out into the town with Vex to see if there’s anything helpful left worth buying, but I think Zahra was going to go as well, and I’m not in the mood to—” Her mouth snaps closed, and she looks a little horrified with herself.
“To what?” he says.
“To—to be a third wheel,” she says, but she’s blushing hard enough that he thinks that probably isn’t what she’d actually meant to say.
He raises his eyebrows at her.
“I just feel like maybe they’d rather be alone,” she says weakly.
“Okay, well,” he says, moving on, “ditch them, then.”
“Ditch them?” she says.
“Yeah. Is there anything you really think you can get from Whitestone?”
“No,” she admits. “It just seemed sensible. I feel like I should be preparing, but I don’t know what else to do.”
“Realistically,” Kash says, “is there anything you can actually do?”
“I’m sure there’s something,” she says firmly.
“Okay,” he says. “What? Because wandering around in this beat up town while Vex and Z go on and on about how happy they are doesn’t actually sound productive.”
“Well, what do you suggest?” she says.
He looks at her and tries to think. “Hang out with me,” he says impulsively. “We’ll—I don’t know, we’ll play cards or something.”
“What good will that do?”
“It’ll be fun,” he says. “Tomorrow, we’re going to go be heroes. Apparently. There’s nothing we can really do about that today, so we’re not going to sweat it.”
“We’re not going to sweat it?” she says. “Kash, people are dying.”
“I know,” he says, and he’s never cared as much as he does right in this moment, with her looking like it’s killing her not to run straight to their aid. “But making ourselves crazy isn’t going to help at all. If you can think of something useful to do, I’m for it. We’ll do it right now. I’ll help. But while you think about it, let’s play cards.”
“I just don’t like—” She looks down. “I don’t want to fail anyone.”
He puts his hand on her shoulder for a second, decides that’s awkward, pats it instead, decides that’s worse, and tries to fix his hair. “You’re not, uh. You’re not failing anyone. You’re amazing, and you’re doing everything you can.”
“But if I play cards, then I’m not,” she says.
“And if you sleep, then you’re not,” he says. “And how dare you spend time eating. And come to think of it, this conversation we’re having, just standing here, it’s pretty terrible of us.”
“Well, now you’re just making me sound crazy,” she says. “You’re exaggerating. Everyone sounds nuts if you take things to an extreme.”
“Okay, fair enough,” he says. “You make a good point. I’m being a dick. But I’m serious, Keyleth. I’ll make you a deal. Any time you think of something worth doing, something helpful, we’ll do it. But any time we aren’t doing that, we have to be doing something else.”
“Like playing cards,” she says dubiously.
“It can be anything,” he says impatiently. “As long as you’re having fun.”
“Kash,” she says, looking at him with surprise, and her face goes suddenly earnest and serious. “That’s really sweet.”
He looks at the stone floor. “Whatever. You should be—you know, happy. I guess.”
“That really means a lot to me,” she says, her voice soft.
“Yeah, well,” he says, still refusing to meet her eyes. There’s nothing to say that won’t sound completely moronic.
Her hand reaches out, just at the edge of his peripheral vision, and for a moment, her fingers brush his sleeve, and he feels almost dizzy. She pulls back and crosses her arms, looking unbalanced and uncomfortable somehow.
“Sorry,” he says. “I shouldn’t have—I’m not in charge of your life. Go out with Vex and Z. Or don’t, because you didn’t really want to. I’ll just—” He waves a hand at the hallway behind him. “I’ll just go.”
“Oh,” she says. Does she look disappointed? God, he can’t tell at all. “I mean. If you want to.”
He might actually be blushing, which he hasn’t done in approximately ever. “Yeah. Sure. Absolutely.”
He turns around and walks resolutely down the hallway, staring directly ahead of him. He makes it about ten feet before he stops and looks back at her again. She hasn’t moved, and between one breath and another of looking at her standing there, he gives up completely on dignity. “I mean, but the option’s still open, obviously,” he says. “If you’re into that.”
She breaks into the widest smile he’s ever seen. “What kind of cards?”
“I don’t know,” he says, feeling stupid. “I don’t even own cards.”
She snorts, but if she’s laughing at him, he doesn’t really mind. “I bet Percy does,” she says. “He owns a whole castle.”
“No idea where to find him either,” Kash says. “But hey, I just remembered, Vax totally has cards in his room. I bet I can exercise boyfriend privileges and steal them.”
“Well, that’s convenient,” she says, catching up and falling into step with him. “This is a really big castle. I wouldn’t have known where to start with finding anything.”
“Aren’t you lucky you have me,” Kash says, making it sound as sarcastic as possible.
“I really am,” she says, only she doesn’t sound sarcastic at all.
He wants to tell her she isn’t half as lucky as he is just to know her, but it comes out as, “I hope that makes up for the fact that I’m going to kick your ass at cards.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s what you think,” she says, and the moment passes.
He isn’t sure whether to breathe a sigh of relief or try to backtrack, so instead he just walks a little too close, watches her a little too much, and pretends he isn’t. That’s good enough.
Vax wakes up slowly, rolling over in bed and stretching under the blankets. He stares blearily up at the ceiling for several minutes before he even realizes he really is awake. Reaching out a hand, he twitches the curtains covering the window back and winces as the sun hits him full on the face. It’s clearly well past morning.
He groans and sits up, letting the blankets pool around his hips, and looks around the room. No Kash, which probably makes sense, since he knows who definitely got more sleep last night.
On the other hand, there’s a note on the bedside table, which he didn’t really see coming. Very gentlemanly, if totally unexpected and completely unnecessary. He picks it up and looks at it.
Left, because you’re boring when you’re asleep. You should work on that. In case you don’t remember the conversation this morning, everyone else did some planning, and you agree with your sister on everything. That’s what you get for kissing guys you don’t want to date and having to have late night talks with them.
Try not to fuck up today, you complete and utter disaster of a person.
P.S. Last night was MAGICAL, honey bun.
He’s drawn hearts and flowers around his name. Vax hates him, he really does.
He also can’t believe he said he agreed with his sister on everything this morning. She’s never going to let him live that down, not if they somehow become immortal. The world will crumble, and she’ll turn to him and say, “But remember, you agree with me on everything.”
He puts the note back down, but his fingers linger on it for a moment. It’s sweet, probably, if Kash ever did anything that was actually sweet. It’s also kind of bitchy, but that can be sweet, so the problem is really just Kash.
He leans back over the bed and pulls the curtains all the way back, looking out the window. It’s an almost horrifyingly sunny day. There isn’t a single cloud in the sky, and it’s so bright he feels a little blind just looking around.
He closes the curtains again, straightening up, and makes the bed automatically, fluffing up the pillows and shaking out the blankets. Their mother used to be a stickler about that kind of thing and somehow, years and years of living rough never broke the habit for him.
Vex, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered when they were kids, and as far as he’s aware, still can’t. He smiles and smooths down the wrinkles, considering things.
He has a couple of options. He can go find someone and make them tell him whatever horrifying thing it is Vex agreed to for him and get the worst over quickly. He can sit in his room and sulk all day. He can go back to sleep—sort of tempting, but probably not sensible, and destined to end horribly with his sister waking him somehow when she decides he’s had enough.
Undecided, he starts dragging his things back on anyway, armor and cloak. He grabs his daggers from the various places he’d stashed them in arm’s reach of the bed last night—Whitestone is probably safe, but that’s what they’d thought about Emon, and unlike all the magic users he knows, he can’t do damage unarmed—and pulls his boots on.
Pushing his hair back, he looks around the little room and wonders what the hell he’s going to do with his day and where he can find all his friends. The problem with castles is that they’re big, complicated, and he only really knows his way down to the evil ziggurats hiding in the basement.
The note from Kash is still lying on the table, bright white and vaguely accusing against the dark wood. Don’t fuck up. That shouldn’t be nearly as hard as it somehow always is.
He turns his back on it and pulls the door open, stepping out into the hallway and trying to make a decision. Eventually, he heads for the only member of Vox Machina who can be reliably found in a single place.
“Hey, Pike,” he says when he reaches the sickrooms.
“Oh, hey, Vax,” she says, looking up at him from a man he’s pretty sure they brought with them from Emon. She smiles. “Finally awake?”
“Yeah,” he says.
“Not sleeping badly, are you?” she says, her brow furrowing in concern. “I’m sure there’s something I could do about that.”
“It’s fine,” he says. “Thanks, though. I appreciate it.” He sits down on a stool near her. “I hear we did some planning this morning?”
“We did, yes,” she says. “Give me a minute here, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Sure,” he says, watching as she clutches her holy symbol and closes her eyes, mouth moving slightly as she and the man are both suffused with a warm glow. The injured man sighs in relief, and his skin, mottled by what looks like some sort of burns, evens out and regains a healthier color.
Pike opens her eyes. “Well, that looks better,” she says to the man, smiling cheerily.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says, looking both relieved and slightly awed. “Thank you.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” she says gently, and she stands. “Come on, Vax. You missed breakfast, you must be hungry.”
“I could eat,” he admits, following her. “Are there leftovers?”
“There are kitchens,” she says. “Which is nearly the same thing.”
“You weren’t even here last time,” Vax protests. “How do you know where the kitchens are? I don’t know where the kitchens are.”
She gives him a look that, on another woman, he would assume meant she was mentally filling a book with what he doesn’t know. “I didn’t go to Vasselheim with you,” she says. “I found my way around.”
“You’re a miracle, Pike,” he tells her honestly.
She laughs. “Careful, you’re starting to sound like Scanlan.”
“God forbid,” he says. “Are you going to ever tell him ‘yes’ or ‘get lost’?”
“I don’t think it’s a requirement in our relationship,” she says as she leads him down hallways that all, frankly, look the same. “He likes chasing me. I think he has more fun doing that than he would if he actually caught me.”
“You’re a very perceptive woman,” he tells her.
“Oh, Vax,” she says, smiling up at him. “Thanks.”
“So, tell me the worst,” he says. “Apparently I informed the world this morning that I agreed with my sister on everything. What did she decide to do to torture me?”
Pike giggles. “You two don’t trust each other much.”
“I trust my sister with my life,” Vax says. “But not with my dignity.”
Pike nods. “That’s probably fair.”
Vax snorts. “If even you think so, it really must have been bad.”
“It wasn’t,” Pike says. “Scanlan spent a lot of time speculating about why it was you and Kashaw were so tired—”
“Of course he did.”
“—and Vex groaned a lot and said she wished he wouldn’t, and then I think Percy brought up the fact that Keyleth was tired as well—”
Vax stares into the middle distance. “Who suggested the idea of a threesome?”
“I’m pretty sure it was a joint effort from many people. Sorry,” Pike says.
“I’m trying to remember why I have friends,” Vax says seriously.
Pike just laughs, of course. “Keyleth made it down, and she was pretty horrified too.”
“I’d like to say I can’t believe any of you, but I can, and that’s the problem,” Vax says.
“If it helps, I don’t think very many people actually believed you and Kash and Keyleth had sex together last night,” she says.
“They just had an incredibly good time speculating,” Vax says. “Of course. I can barely believe anyone thought it might be true. Obviously we didn’t have a threesome.”
“Obviously,” Pike agrees.
Vax glances at her. “You know me and Kash are faking, right?”
Pike looks a little startled, but only for a second. “Yes,” she says. “You two aren’t very good at pretending to be in love.”
Vax sighs. “So people keep telling us.”
“Well,” Pike says, “you’re kind of over the top. The only person who’s that dramatic about romantic feelings is Scanlan, so it’s no wonder he believes you. And Grog tends to take what other people say at face value. And Keyleth—well, I’m not sure about Keyleth, actually.”
“But everyone else is just having a good time watching us fuck with them.”
“Well, yes, as far as I can tell,” Pike says. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“What? No, of course not. It’s hilarious. I’m glad everyone’s having fun.”
“Oh, good,” she says. “Just as long as you’re having fun, too. It’s a bit of an odd thing for you to be doing. You’re happy, right?”
Vax rolls his eyes. “Everyone keeps asking me that.”
“Well, we worry,” Pike says. “Here are the kitchens.” She pushes open a wide door made of dark wood and walks through.
Vax follows her and watches with a lot of respect as Pike manages to charm the cook into loading them down with breakfast leftovers and pushing them out into the herb garden to eat.
Pike smiles and breathes deeply. “I love it out here,” she says. “Doesn’t it smell wonderful?”
“It does,” Vax says, walking over to the low stone wall with her and settling down with his back against it.
Pike lays out their feast in front of them. “Hungry?”
“Sure, but you’d better be too,” Vax says. “I’ve never seen so much food for only two people.”
“The kitchen staff likes me,” Pike says.
“I think everyone likes you.”
Pike elbows him, smiling. “That’s sweet.”
Vax grabs a muffing and bites into it. “So,” he says, chewing rapidly, “after everyone finished talking about my sex life, what happened?”
“Well, it took a while,” Pike says. “But eventually we started talking about those dragons and what we should do next. Vex kept getting distracted coming up with various thing she said you agreed with—”
“I knew it,” Vax mutters.
“—and Zahra kept insisting Kash agreed to do a striptease for the dragons—”
“—but eventually we agreed to go visit Osysa’s mate and try to find more Vestiges.”
“Well, at least that’s sensible.”
“We take some detours, but we get there in the end,” she says cheerfully.
“New team motto.”
She laughs. “We could get matching jackets.”
“Perfect.” He grabs a piece of fruit. “Am I going first so that I inevitably die before everyone else?”
“Don’t you do that normally?” Pike says. “No, you agreed to go last so your sister doesn’t have to worry about you for once.”
“I honestly can’t tell whether or not you’re serious.”
She shrugs. “Ask Vex.”
“No way. If you’re joking, I don’t want to give her ideas.”
“Probably wise.” Pike breaks off a piece of a muffin and pops it into her mouth. “Can I ask you something?”
“Questions that start like that never end well,” Vax says. “But yeah, okay.”
“Why do people keep asking you if you’re happy?”
“How should I know?” Vax says. “Maybe they think I’m not.”
“I don’t know,” he says. “There’s dragons. It’s kind of hard to be happy about that.”
“True,” she says. “But you could be happy in spite of it.”
He snorts. “Don’t get all philosophical on me, Pike.”
“I’m not!” she protests. “Terrible things are always happening to us, but that doesn’t mean we have to be unhappy all the time. That’s a horrible way to live, Vax.”
“I’m not unhappy,” he says. “Really, I’m not. I might not be laughing and having a grand old time while the world ends, but I’m not unhappy.”
“Are you sure?” she says. “You’ve seemed a little down lately. It’s sort of why I didn’t say anything about the whole pretending to date Kash thing. I thought maybe it was good for you.”
“Well, that’s patronizing.”
“I’m not unhappy!”
She looks at him. “You did seem happier yesterday. Is that just because of Kash?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know.” He shrugs, shredding his muffin into crumbs. “It was a good day, I guess. I kept—dinner was fun.”
Pike smiles. “Scanlan’s very funny.”
“He is,” Vax says. “And—”
“Vax?” Pike says, when he doesn’t finish his thought.
“And so is Gilmore,” Vax says after a moment. “I talked to him a couple of times yesterday, about serious fucking things, and every time, he just—he made me laugh.”
“That’s nice,” Pike says.
“It is.” The herb garden is beautiful in this light, bright greens and butterflies and the golden sun shining all around them. It’s warm for this time of year.
“Vax?” Pike says again.
“Just thinking,” he says absently. “Pike, do you think I’m in love with Keyleth?”
Pike’s hand slows as she draws a cup of juice to her lips. She sips, swallows, puts it down again deliberately. “Do you think you’re in love with Keyleth?”
“Yes,” he says.
“Then I think you probably are,” she says.
“Just like that.”
“Just like that,” she agrees. “They’re your feelings, Vax.”
“What if I think I’m not?” he says.
“Then you’re probably not,” she says. “What’s bringing this on?”
“Someone said something,” he says. “That maybe—I don’t know, it’s complicated.”
“Well, I don’t think anyone can tell you what you feel except for you,” Pike says.
Vax nods, picking at the grass. “Have you ever been in love?”
Pike is silent for an oddly long time, a breeze blowing past them and sending muffin crumbs flying. She brushes her hair back again after the wind tousles it. “Yes,” she says at last.
He glances at her. “Really?”
“Yes,” she says distantly. She smiles at him after a second, seeming to come back to herself. “Why?”
He shrugs. “I’m trying to figure things out.”
“Well,” she says. “I think being in love is probably different for everybody. So I don’t know if I can be much help with that.”
“I want to be in love with Keyleth,” Vax says. “She’s wonderful.”
Pike presses her lips together, tapping her fingers on her cup. “She is wonderful,” she says. “But that doesn’t have to mean she’s wonderful for you, you know. Kash seems pretty wonderful, in his own way, but you don’t seem to be in any danger of falling in love with him.”
Vax snorts. “No, no worries on that front.”
“Right,” Pike says, flashing him a quick grin. “So you see my point.”
“I understand wanting to be in love with someone,” she says. “And you’re very— Well, I can see it, anyway. And that’s lovely, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t have to be in love with anyone, you know.”
“I know that,” he says. “I do.”
“All right,” she says. “Well, I can’t tell you whether or not you’re in love with Keyleth, but I don’t really think wanting to be in love with her is quite the same thing.”
He nods, and they sit in silence again, watching bees buzz around the herb garden and the sun beat down on the plants and stone walkways. They both eat and drink a little, and it’s very quiet, but not awkward. Pike has a gift for making situations comfortable no matter what, and not for the first time, Vax is unspeakably glad she’s back.
All the greenery and new growth reminds him vividly of Keyleth, walking under the trees, beautiful and strong and firm in her convictions. Her long red hair, the set of her determined jaw in bad situations, the twist of her hand as she casts a spell.
“I have feelings for Keyleth,” he says. “I really do.”
“Okay,” Pike says, nodding.
They both lapse into silence again, and Vax buries his hand in the dirt, rubbing it between his thumb and fingers. “She’s wonderful,” he says again.
“Yes,” Pike says.
“Is it horrible if I say I don’t think she makes me very happy?” Vax says. He laughs, short and sharp and not very amused. “I feel like an asshole just saying that.”
“You’re not,” Pike says immediately. “You two—you tend to be very serious around one another. I don’t know if that’s very good for either of you in the long run. Not that—I mean, if that’s something you want, then of course you should give it your best shot.”
“I really want to be in love with her,” he says helplessly.
Pike lays a steady hand on his arm. “I know,” she says.
“I don’t think I actually am,” he whispers. He feels like he’s lost something, like it’s been ripped out of him bodily and thrown haphazardly on the soft grass. “Fuck, what’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing, Vax,” Pike says. “Nothing at all. Feelings are confusing.”
“That sounds like the kind of thing you say to a five year old,” he says. “I told her I loved her. And I swear, I thought I did, and I wanted to so much. But I don’t. I like her, and in not platonic ways, but—”
“That’s okay,” Pike says. “It really is. I think she’d understand. I don’t think she’ll mind.”
Vax laughs, but it’s not very funny. “Of course she won’t,” he says. “She’s relieved.”
“Vax?” Pike says.
Vax waves a hand dismissively. “We talked last night. About things, and she thinks I’m really in love with Kash, and she said she was so relieved that that meant I wasn’t in love with her anymore.”
Pike squeezes his arm. “Sorry.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be,” he says. “If I’m not in love with her after all, it’s probably for the best, right? I should be relieved, right? Fuck.”
“It’s not a zero sum,” she says patiently. “Not being in love with her doesn’t mean you didn’t want to be with her. You had feelings for her. You can be upset.”
“I did,” Vax says, and his shoulders relax, some of the tension leeching out of his lungs. “I do have feelings for her.”
“All right,” Pike says. “I’m really sorry she doesn’t feel the same way.”
“Yeah,” Vax says. He crosses his arms on his bent knees and rests his forehead there and breathes deeply. “Yeah.”
Pike pats his back and lets him quietly deal with everything, not speaking.
“I’m not in love with her,” he says without moving, his voice slightly muffled, “and that’s probably a good thing, because we don’t make each other very happy.”
Pike wraps her arm as far around him as it will go and hugs him tight. “It’s okay,” she says. “It’s better to know.”
“Probably,” he says, leaning back against the wall again. “It still sucks, though.”
“It does,” she says.
“I liked being in love,” he says. It feels like a bigger confession than it should be, and he glances to the side to see her face.
“I mean, that’s pretty understandable,” she says. “It’s not a bad thing. Lots of people like being in love. And if you’re enjoying it, then it’s not a bad thing, no matter what.”
Vax smiles wryly. “That’s the philosophy that lets you laugh and pretend we’re decent liars when me and Kash call each other stupid pet names, huh?”
“Pretty much,” Pike says, grinning at him. She rubs his arm. “I think that life is hard, for all of us, and you should do whatever it is that’s going to make it better for you. If that’s being in love with Keyleth, that’s lovely; if it’s kissing Kash, that’s nice too. I don’t think it matters much how you’re making yourself happy, as long as you’re being considerate and not deliberately hurting anyone else.”
“Good philosophy,” Vax says.
“Thanks,” she says, nudging him companionably. “I made it myself.”
He laughs, a little weakly. “You did a good job.”
“Thanks,” she says again. “You should be happy, Vax. We should all be happy.”
“Even though the world’s ending?”
“Sure,” she says. “What’s a few dragons? We’ve killed dragons before.”
“Not like these,” he says.
“I think we can do it,” she says, and he looks over at her, sitting calmly in her shining armor. She meets his eyes steadily. “I really do.”
“Well,” he says, “how can I argue with that?”
“You shouldn’t even try,” she says, beaming at him.
“Yeah, okay,” he says. “We’re going to kill those fucking dragons.”
“Of course we are,” she says. “And we’re going to be happy. Vax. What makes you happy?”
“You know, I’m starting to suspect that you don’t actually know how to play this game,” Keyleth says as Kash glares at his cards.
“Shut up,” he says. “You’re annoying.”
“Uh-huh,” she says. “You’re just saying that because I’m winning.”
“I’m saying that because you’re annoying.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet,” she says. She grins at him. “It’s your turn.”
“I know,” Kash says. “Whose idea was this, anyway?”
“Well,” Keyleth says, “you know, I’m not certain, but I feel like I remember you making me promise to spend all day playing cards with you.”
“If I murdered you in your sleep, no one would convict me,” he says darkly.
She actually laughs. Clearly, he’s gotten a lot less scary over the years.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I feel like I’ve got an in with the rulers of the city. They’d probably want to get justice for my gruesome end.”
“Who said anything about gruesome?” he says. “I was considering a nice, neat smothering. At least you wouldn’t be able to talk anymore. That’s sounding like a definite point in murder’s favor.”
She pouts at him. It’s adorable. He wants to beat his brains out on her bedroom floor.
“Don’t give me that look,” he mutters.
She laughs, bringing her cards up to cover her mouth, but her eyes crinkle at the edges, and he can feel her smile somehow, like it’s pressed against his skin. “What look?” she says.
“The ‘how can you be mad at a face like this’ look,” he says. “You know which one, don’t pretend you don’t.”
“Uh,” she says. “What’s my face like, exactly?”
He stares at her. She stares back, and he can feel the blush creep up his neck as, like looking into a mirror, redness floods her face. “Got any eights?” he says desperately.
“What?” she says, her voice leaping an octave. “Oh, uh, yes, eights, yes. I mean, no—no, I don’t have any eights, you asked for eights on your last turn.”
“But then second I stop asking for them, you’ll get one,” he says, trying resolutely to pretend like everything’s normal and he doesn’t have a stupid crush on her. “Your turn.”
“You, uh, you haven’t taken a card yet,” she says.
“Oh,” he says. “Right, a card, yeah.” He pulls one quickly from the deck in front of them. “Oh, hey.”
“Eight?” she says.
“Uh, no,” he says. “No.”
She narrows her eyes at him. “It’s something I’ve been asking for, isn’t it.”
“You don’t know that,” he says petulantly.
“You’re taking this game way too seriously.”
“I’m also winning,” she says, grinning happily. He picks up one of the cards from the single group of four he’s managed to make and throws it at her. It catches in her hair, and she fishes it out, her fingers catching momentarily in the strands. “Do I get to keep this now?”
“No,” he says. “I won it, fair and square.”
“Now who’s taking this game too seriously?” she says. “I think since you gave it to me, I get to keep it. I think it’s mine now.”
“I will take it from you,” he says.
“You can try,” she says.
“Don’t make me come over there.”
“I can’t believe you just said that,” she says. “Nobody says that. Real people don’t—”
He tackles her, reaching for the card, and she shrieks as she tumbles backwards onto her bedroom floor, throwing her hand back so he still can’t reach the card and grabbing his hair to keep him from crawling forward. “Give me my ace!” he yells.
“Death first!” she says, wrapping her legs around his waist to hold him in place better.
“I’ll death you!” he says.
“That doesn’t even make sense!”
“Well, you two look like you’re having fun,” Vax’s voice says from the doorway, and they both freeze in place, staring at each other in mute embarrassment and horror.
“Uh,” Kash says.
“No, no, it’s cool, don’t stop,” Vax says, sounding oddly upbeat. “Actually, I was just coming to ask Keyleth if she’d seen you, but this is so much easier.”
“Um,” Keyleth says faintly. “This isn’t what it looks like!”
“Totally fine if it is,” Vax says. “Kash, I feel like we should break up. It never would’ve lasted for more than another couple of days anyway, and also, I’m going to go make out with Gilmore for, like, a really long time.”
“What,” Kash says.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” Vax says. “Kiki, you should kiss him. He’s totally got a thing for you, and he’s not even in love with you. Anyway, have fun. Bye!”
Kash hears the door close, his eyes still fixed on Keyleth’s increasingly red face. “Uh,” he says again.
“You should get off me, maybe?” Keyleth says, her voice a little higher pitched than normal.
“Oh, right,” Kash says, trying to pull back. “Uh. Legs.”
“Oh,” Keyleth says. She lets go of him all at once, springing back like he might be contagious.
He pulls off of her and sits back in his spot on the floor, staring at her. She straightens up, slowly, looking at him.
“So, uh, that happened,” he says at last.
“Are you okay?” she says.
“What?” he says. “Sure, why?”
She stares at him. “Vax just broke up with you?”
“Oh,” he says. “Yeah, uh—look, we’re assholes, we weren’t actually dating, it was all an elaborate ruse. Well, it wasn’t that elaborate. We were mostly just trolling Scanlan and anyone else who believed us. Plus—” He shakes his head. “Anyway, we were lying.”
“You were lying,” she says flatly.
“Yeah,” he says, taking in her closed off face and tight lips. “Uh. Are you mad?”
“Am I mad,” she says, her voice trembling a little bit. “Were you two making fun of me?”
“What?” he says. “No, don’t be stupid.”
“Don’t be stupid?” she says, her volume rising.
“Could you stop just, like, repeating everything I say?” Kash says. “It’s kind of annoying.”
“Oh,” Keyleth says, getting to her feet, “well, I’m sorry I’m annoying you, but apparently my friends, who, incidentally, are also the two people who keep trying to date me, have been lying to me for days!”
Kash stands up as well, feeling an odd mix of shame and anger curling in his stomach. “Like a day and a half,” he says, “let’s not exaggerate.”
It’s definitely the wrong thing to say, and for a minute, he thinks she’s actually going to hit him.
“Look,” he says quickly. “It wasn’t about you.”
“Do you really expect me to believe that?” she says.
“Yes, I do!” he says.
“Was it funny for you?” she says, ignoring him.
“Well, yes,” he says. “Shit—that’s not what I meant. Yes, it was funny, okay, it was fucking hilarious, but not because of you. It had nothing to do with you! It was about Scanlan being stupid and getting it into his head that I had a thing for Vax, of all people. And it was about being drunk, and it was about everyone somehow thinking we could possibly have actually had sex, and it was about—” He stops.
“Yes?” she says viciously.
“Well, it’s not like you even fucking cared!” he yells. “You were all fucking happy for us! How could we possibly be laughing at you when you didn’t even have the fucking goddamn decency to be jealous?”
“Of course I was jealous!” she shouts and grabs a pillow off her bed, throwing it at him. “Just because I’m nice person—”
“Oh, yeah, you’re the nicest,” he says sarcastically, ducking. “You didn’t even—” He shuts his mouth, his mind backtracking. “Uh. Hang on. Back up. You were jealous?”
“Yes,” she says furiously. “How could I not be?”
“But you told Vax you were relieved he didn’t have feelings for you anymore,” Kash says, confused. “He said you were relieved that he wasn’t hung up on you. He said you didn’t feel that way about him.”
Keyleth stares at him. “I wasn’t jealous because of Vax, you complete and utter brain-dead moron,” she says. “And yes, I was happy for you. I want my friends to be happy, is that so fucking bad? Am I such a terrible fucking person—”
That’s about when he takes about two steps forward and kisses her, and god, it is nothing like kissing Vax. She’s shocked and not really moving, and both of them have chapped lips, but her skin is incredibly soft, and he’s tingling a little bit, all over, humming with the awareness of how close she is.
When he stops, her eyes are huge and her mouth opens and closes in faint shock as they look at each other.
“Uh,” he says.
She grabs his arms, hard. “If that was another ‘bye, see you when I see you’ kiss, I’m going to tell Grog you’re planning on shaving off his beard.”
“What?” he says.
“He’ll kill you.”
“Oh, okay,” he says. “That works. No, uh—that was more of a ‘I like you, do you like me—’”
“‘Check yes or no?’” she says wryly.
“Something like that,” he agrees. “Uh. Did I misunderstand? Or, I could draw you yes or no boxes to check, probably, there’s got to be something to write with in this room—”
“Kash,” she says. She giggles. “Usually I’m the one babbling.”
“Shut up,” he says. “I like you. You should date me.”
“You know, I feel like Vax was more romantic.”
“I’ll kill you,” he tells her seriously.
“I like your way better,” she says, smiling, and then she wraps her arms around his neck, and they’re kissing again, but this time is better, because she’s kissing back, warm and friendly and enthusiastic.
“I take it back,” he says when they pull apart.
“What?” she says.
“About killing you,” he says.
“Oh,” she says. “Yeah, good plan.” She leans in again and then pulls back, frowning. “I’m still mad at you, you know.”
“Yeah, that’s fair,” he says and ducks his head to kiss her again. He puts his hands on her hips and pulls her a little closer, so they’re pressed completely up against one another, their chests, hips, thighs, and he’s never felt this close to anyone, not ever.
“I’m serious,” she says, pulling back after a moment or two. Her lips are shiny and red and he can’t stop looking at them. “We can’t just start kissing and get together and have everything be suddenly okay without talking about it.”
“Uh-huh,” he says, and he kisses her again.
“Kash,” she says, when they pull apart to gasp for breath.
“I’m really sorry, and I understand why you’re mad, and I promise to never lie to you again unless it’s absolutely necessary in a life-or-death kind of way,” he says.
She stares at him. “Yeah, okay, that’s a good lesson for you to learn from this,” she says. “I mean, I’m still kind of not over it, I guess? But—yeah, don’t do it again. I don’t know. We’ll talk about it.”
“Right now? Or, uh, we can go back to kissing?” he says. He grins. “Check yes or no.”
She laughs and reaches up with a finger to very gently draw a check mark over his mouth. He kisses the tip of her finger, and she blushes. “That’s the yes box,” she says.
“Good place for it,” he says, oddly hoarse, and she leans back in.
Vax knocks perfunctorily on Gilmore’s door and pokes his head in immediately. Gilmore and Sherri are sitting on a couple of chairs, their heads bent over a book, talking seriously, and they glance up to see him in the doorway, and he can feel his lips stretch into a broad smile. “Hi,” he says, grinning helplessly.
“Vax!” Gilmore says. “You’re in a good mood.”
“I really am,” he says. “Do you have a minute?”
“Of course,” Gilmore says immediately. “Come in. Sherri—”
“Sure,” Sherri says, standing and eyeing Vax with her lips pursed. “I’ll go.”
“You’re totally not going to hate me anymore,” Vax tells her cheerfully, coming all the way into the room and leaning against the wall. “Soon, hopefully.”
Gilmore frowns at him. “Sherri doesn’t—”
“She absolutely does,” he says. “It’s okay, I’d hate me if I were her.”
Sherri eyes him while she gathers her stuff. “Sir, are we sure this one hasn’t suffered some brain damage? Irreparable brain damage?”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Vax says. “But I’m just—happy.”
“Well, I’m delighted to hear that,” Gilmore says. “Anything happen in particular?”
“Yeah,” Vax says. “I’ll tell you in a second.”
Sherri sniffs and walks past him out the door, radiating disapproval.
Gilmore watches her go. “I’ll admit she may not be your biggest fan,” he says wryly, once the door’s shut behind her. “I can’t think why.”
“Really?” Vax says. “Seems obvious to me.”
Gilmore glances over at him and smiles ruefully. “Well, I suppose.”
“Hey, I’m glad you’ve got someone to hate me for you,” Vax says.
“That is at once sweet and one of the oddest things anyone has ever said to me,” Gilmore says. “You have checked on the brain damage, yes?”
Vax laughs. “I’ve been sharing a room with a cleric, I think I’m good.”
“Well, as long as you’re absolutely certain,” Gilmore says, smiling at him. “Come in, come in! Welcome to my humble abode and please, by all means, share whatever felicitous news has made you so happy.”
Vax smiles so hard it starts to hurt. “I love the way you talk,” he says inanely. “Sorry, that’s not the point—well, it is a bit, I guess. I mean, not really.”
Gilmore raises his eyebrows. “You’ve completely lost me, I’m afraid. Not that I’m not flattered, of course.”
“Sorry,” Vax says, but he’s still smiling helplessly. “I’m not making sense. I’ve just been thinking about things, and I ate breakfast with Pike this morning, which was nice, and—you know what we talked about last night?”
“I think I may remember bits and pieces,” Gilmore says. “You know, here and there.”
“Oh, just here and there?” Vax says. “I think I’m hurt.”
“Well, we certainly can’t have that,” Gilmore says, smiling slightly and leaning back against the wall languidly. “If pressed, I suppose I might remember a little more than that. For you.”
“I appreciate that.” Vax forces his face into a slightly more serious expression, though he can’t stop his eyes from briefly tracing the long line of Gilmore’s body. “Last night, though—you said you thought my issues with not having time for other people could be dealt with.”
Gilmore frowns. “I did say that, and I do. I think if you can’t make that work, you’re probably not trying hard enough.”
“Probably,” he agrees easily. “I’m not always very good at, uh—being optimistic. Sometimes I just see a bad situation and accept that that’s what my life is.”
“No,” Gilmore says. “Really?”
Vax laughs, even though he’s trying to be serious and actually talk about things. He can’t help it, it just bursts out of him, and Gilmore smiles at him when he does, and that’s even better. “Hey,” he says, “it’s almost like you know me.”
“It is, in fact, almost like that,” Gilmore says.
“I just—I get caught up, I guess, in the problems and what’s going wrong,” Vax says. “So I know what the problem is: I don’t know if I have enough time to spend with someone who doesn’t travel with me and my sister, no matter how much I want to be with them. Want to help me fix it?”
Gilmore looks at him for a long moment, his mouth twisting oddly at the side. “I assume,” he says at last, “that you aren’t asking me for advice about Keyleth, since she does travel with you and Vex’ahlia?”
“What?” Vax says. “No. I’m not—I wouldn’t do that. That’s not what I’m asking, I wouldn’t, that would be—no.”
Gilmore’s shoulders relax, and it’s only that Vax realizes that they’d tensed up. “A hypothetical, then? Well, I suppose I could try and help.”
Vax blinks. “Sure,” he says, “a hypothetical.”
“In that case, first of all, you’re not the only man in the world with a busy schedule,” Gilmore says, folding his arms across his chest. “If you’re imagining some poor lover of yours waiting tearfully by the window while you run across the country slaying dragons, you may need to, ah, reign in your self-esteem.”
Vax snorts. “Okay, good point. But doesn’t that make it worse? If I’m busy, and they’re busy, and we both have things to do, isn’t that sort of inconvenient?”
“I think you may be overthinking this.”
“I hear long-distance is murder,” Vax says. “And I don’t think being able to randomly drop by on no particular schedule every couple weeks when your, your person is possibly busy with their own stuff is particularly helpful, especially if you keep running off and saying, ‘Sorry, but my sister’s been out of my sight for a full two hours, I have to go.’”
“Has it never occurred to you that your person may not be opposed to spending time with or near your sister?” Gilmore says patiently. “In my experience, spending time with a loved one’s friends is rather normal. And as for the rest, letter writing exists. For that matter, so does magic.”
Vax opens and closes his mouth. “Well, when you put it like that, it all sounds so logical.”
Gilmore laughs. “I wonder why.”
“Yeah, it’s almost like you’re a smart guy,” Vax says. “And you are. The smartest guy I know.”
Gilmore leans forward a little. “I’d be flattered,” he says conspiratorially, “but I’ve met some of your friends.”
Vax laughs, delighted. “God. I—I love talking to you, you know that? I mean it, I do.”
“Well, this is a day for compliments,” Gilmore says. “Whatever have I done to deserve this?”
“You know,” Vax says. “Gilmore, you have to know.”
Gilmore raises his eyebrows. “Know what?”
“I thought about what you said last night,” Vax says. “About Keyleth. And you were wrong, because I do have feelings for her, but you were right, too, because I’m not in love with her. I thought I was, but I’m not.”
Gilmore’s eyes widen, suddenly. “Vax—”
“And I kept thinking about things,” Vax says, barreling on over him, because now that he’s started, he’s not certain he knows how to stop, “and everyone kept telling me to be happy, and I realized that what makes me happy is you. Or—not just you, because I have my sister and my friends, and having your happiness completely dependent on one person isn’t a great idea, and I should know, because I’ve done that, but it’s still you. Every time we’re together, you make me happy. And I think we should be together. As often as possible.”
It might be the first time Vax has ever seen Gilmore genuinely lost for words, staring at him, completely silent, his mouth hanging open.
“I love being with you,” Vax says. “I love spending time with you. I don’t love you yet, but I think I’d like to. And I—fuck, is it okay if I kiss you now? And just so we’re clear, this isn’t a kiss where I’m being a tease, this is I think about kissing you all the time, and I pretend I don’t, but I do, and I’m tired of not being with you, I give up, I want—”
And Gilmore crosses the room in a few short strides and presses him up against the wall and kisses him, and Vax gratefully stops talking, bringing his hands to grab Gilmore’s shoulders and tilting his head up and closing his eyes and completely losing his train of thought.
When they finally separate, Gilmore licks his lips, and Vax feels his knees go a little weak, which he’d always sort of thought only happened in those terrible romances Scanlan tries to tell them over the campfire.
“Is that along the lines of what you had in mind?” Gilmore says, his voice slightly rough. He’s smiling, but he looks uncertain, too.
“Something like that, yeah,” Vax says faintly. “You’re, um. You’re very good at that.”
Gilmore’s smile widens, and he rubs his thumb along Vax’s hip, who suddenly and abruptly feels too big for his body, like he’s bursting at the seams, like his skin is too tight and ridiculously sensitive.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” Gilmore says lightly.
“Yeah?” Vax says. His lips feel raw and touch-starved and completely fantastic. “That’s, um, good. I don’t have a whole lot of experience.”
Gilmore’s eyes dip down and come back up with raised eyebrows, slightly incredulous. “Oh?”
Vax shrugs. It makes his torso move against Gilmore’s, just slightly, and his heart pounds stupidly. “I’m more of a serious relationship guy than a casual anything.”
“Serious sounds good,” Gilmore says. “I like serious.”
“I’m a serious person,” Vax says, gasping as Gilmore leans forward to slowly kiss his way up his jawline. “Um. I can’t help but notice you have a bed. Right there.”
“Really,” Gilmore says. “What a fascinating observation. Would you care to expand on that?”
“I think I could be—god—persuaded to. With the right motivation.”
“I’ll try to exert myself,” Gilmore murmurs against his neck. “Whatever could I do to inspire you?”
Vax grins, closing his eyes. “I’m pretty sure you’re on the right track.”
—in some nebulous and successful future
“Hail the conquering heroes,” Cassandra says dryly, as she watches her brother reenact the party’s various final blows against Thordak, with a lot of dramatic license and Scanlan as the dragon.
“It was pretty fucking cool,” Grog says, grinning toothily.
“We’re pretty fucking cool,” Scanlan says, collapsing onto the bench next to him.
“We are!” Pike says happily.
“We’re the fucking best!” Keyleth yells at the ceiling, raising her glass to the stone arches of Whitestone’s banquet hall.
Kash looks over at her uses the arm he’s got wrapped around her waist to draw her closer. She falls back against him with a thunk, a bit of ale sloshing out of her cup, though she doesn’t seem to notice, and she smiles at him.
“Are you already drunk?” he says.
“It’s a party, Kash,” she says leaning up to kiss him lightly. “Have some fun!”
“I think you’re having enough fun for both of us,” he says dryly.
She rolls her eyes at him. “Vax!” she yells.
“Huh?” Vax says, looking up and across the table at them. He’s slumped across Gilmore’s chest, who somehow just looks charmed—it is beyond Kash’s comprehension how anyone can put up with Vax for so long, honestly—and his legs are thrown carelessly across his sister’s lap. Vex makes faces and tries to push them off whenever she remembers to be horrified, but mostly she seems distracted laughing at Scanlan and Percy and playing with Z’s hair.
“Vax!” Keyleth says. “Tell Kash he’s no fun.”
“Of course he’s no fun,” Vax says immediately. “That’s why I broke up with him.”
“You broke up with me because you don’t know a good thing when you’ve got it,” Kash says.
“I broke up with you because Gilmore’s a better kisser,” Vax says. “And also sexier.”
“That’s true,” Gilmore says, smiling broadly. “Please, allow me to demonstrate.” He leans down and covers Vax’s lips with his own, and Kash groans.
“Well, that’s them done for the rest of the night,” he says. “They may not ever come up for air.”
“They will when Vex hits him and starts gagging,” Keyleth says. “She probably won’t give them much of a choice.”
“Good point,” Kash says. “I’m glad we can count on Vex’s violence to save the day.”
“I think it’s sweet,” Keyleth says.
“That Vex is going to hit him?”
“No, that they’re kissing like that,” she says. “It’s nice.”
“We could kiss like that,” he mutters.
She grins at him. “That would also be nice.”
“Oh, well, I mean, if you insist,” he says.
“There’s too much lovey-dovey shit in this room,” Grog says, reaching over to pull Keyleth’s head back away from Kash. She yelps and bats ineffectually at his arm. “How’d that start happening? Remember when there was a lot less kissing?”
“I remember when my brother didn’t make out with people when he was on top of me,” Vex says, slapping the back of Vax’s head. “Oy, you, stop it.”
Vax flips her the bird.
“At least get off me,” she says. “This is disgusting.”
“Get off me, Grog,” Keyleth says. “Quit it!”
“You’re gonna start kissing Kash,” Grog says.
“Almost certainly,” Keyleth agrees. “Let go! Grog!”
“Grog, let go of her,” Pike says patiently. “She can kiss Kash if she wants to.”
“It’s okay,” Scanlan says, patting Grog on the arm as Grog sighs and lets Keyleth go. “We’ll go find some whores, how about that? Then we can kiss people.”
“Wow, Dad, that’s so classy of you,” a dry voice says from the huge doorways, and Scanlan whirls around instantly.
“Kaylie!” he says. “Whores? What whores? I don’t even know what whores are.”
“Oh, yes, he does,” Dr. Dranzel says. “Back when he traveled with us, we couldn’t even find him half the time, he was so busy with the ladies—and men—of the night.”
“Dr. Dra’s a compulsive liar,” Scanlan says instantly. “Very sad, didn’t want to mention it—”
“My father’s a moron,” Kaylie says conversationally as she plunks herself down next to Cassandra.
“Family can be like that,” Cassandra says.
“Hey,” Percy says. “What did I do?”
“What did I do?” Scanlan says.
“There’s no way you actually need us to answer that,” Kima says, who’s been watching them and looking amused.
“Hey!” Scanlan says. “Kaylie, it’s so wonderful to see you—”
“Yeah, okay,” she says.
“—but I didn’t think you were even in Whitestone.”
“Cassandra invited us,” Kaylie says. “She said there was a party.”
“I thought we could use a little musical entertainment,” Cassandra says. She and Kaylie smirk slightly at each other, and Kash raises his eyebrows.
“Well, they’re plotting something,” he murmurs to Keyleth.
“At least it probably has nothing to do with us,” she says. “I didn’t even know they knew each other.”
“Should I get started?” Kaylie asks Cassandra.
“Actually,” she says, “we’re still waiting for one person.”
“I think that’s me,” another voice says, and they all look up.
“Oh, Lady Allura—” Cassandra says.
“Allie!” Kima says and throws herself across the room.
“Kima!” Allura says, and they cling to each other and kiss.
Grog sighs loudly, and Pike pats his back comfortingly.
“Well, this really is getting to be a party,” Percy says. “Cassandra, where on earth did you find all these people?”
“I’m a miracle worker,” Cassandra says.
“You really are,” he says.
Kash looks around and turns back to Keyleth. “Well, if Kima and Allura are kissing—”
“I love following the crowd,” Keyleth says cheerfully, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Yeah, we’re conformists.” And Kash leans forward to kiss her, putting his free hand on her cheek and tightening the arm around her waist. He has two fingers on her neck, and he can feel her heart beating, steady and clear. Her long hair tickles the side of his face, and she makes a pleased humming sound and pushes a little closer.
“What is this, an orgy?” Scanlan says. “Because I could get into an orgy.”
Kash pulls away from Keyleth. “Weren’t you pretending to be classy for your daughter?”
“Come on, Scanlan can’t keep that up for more than a few minutes at a time,” Vax says cheerfully. “Next thing you know he’s propositioning the entire room.”
“It’s embarrassing,” Vex agrees, half on Z’s lap.
“Shameful,” Vax says.
“Shocking,” Vex says.
“What, did you two swallow a thesaurus?” Kash says.
“Yeah, way to tag-team the gnome,” Kima says, though she doesn’t exactly look upset about it.
“It’s not the first time I’ve ever been tag-teamed by twins,” Scanlan says confidentially.
“Oh, dear lord, really?” Percy says. “No. Just—no.”
“On that note,” Cassandra says. “Kaylie—”
“Of course,” Kaylie says. “The troupe and I have a performance for you, in honor of your victory over the Chroma Conclave and to celebrate Tal’Dorei’s freedom.”
“We’re honored,” Scanlan says instantly. “We can’t wait. Everyone sit down and shut up.”
Kaylie rolls her eyes. “Thanks, I guess.” She and the other members of Dr. Dranzel’s team set up at the end of the room, and Vox Machina settles down on the benches around the table.
Keyleth leans back against Kash’s chest and smiles at him.
“You’re in a good mood,” he says.
“We beat the dragons!” she says. “And we’re alive, and we’re together, and we’re happy, and your wife hasn’t even tried to kill me yet. Life’s pretty good, don’t you think?”
He grins and kisses her cheek. “Yeah, I do, actually.”
“I knew you’d see it my way,” she says.
“I like you a lot,” he says.
She laughs. “Yeah, me too.”
“Everyone!” Kaylie says. “I would like to present, by Lady Cassandra’s command, a performance of piece written by your own Scanlan Shorthalt!” She smirks. “Well, mostly.”
The troupe starts to play, and Kash’s mouth drops open. He looks across the table at Vax, who’s leaning against Gilmore with a similarly stunned expression on his face.
“Is this—” Kash says.
“It is,” Vax says. “It really, really is.”
“Fucking fuck,” Kash says. “How does she even know this song?”
“Fifty-fifty on it being Scanlan or Cassandra’s fault,” Vax says.
“My money would be on Lady Cassandra,” Gilmore says.
“They were smirking at each other a lot,” Keyleth says.
They listen, astonished, for a while, and then Vax winces. “If I never hear my eyes described as ‘limpid and glistening’ again, it’ll be too soon. Remind me to kill Scanlan later.”
“Only if I get to help,” Kash says. “I think that’s the third time my muscles have rippled in this song.”
“At least he seems to think you’re attractive.”
“I find your limpid and glistening eyes very attractive,” Gilmore says, clearly trying to hold back a laugh.
Vax looks at him. “I’ll kill you,” he says. “I know where you sleep.”
“Yes,” Gilmore says, rubbing a thumb slowly across his collarbone. “You do.”
“Fuck,” Vax says. “Damn. I’m not going to kill you.”
“I thought not,” Gilmore says smugly.
“That’s disgusting,” Vex says. “I don’t want to see or hear that.”
“You’re sitting on Zahra’s lap,” Vax says. “How am I worse?”
“At least I’m not talking about all the fantastic sex I’m going to have later,” Vex says.
“No one said anything about sex.”
“It was implied,” Vex says.
“I still can’t believe he called himself the Love Doctor in this song,” Z says lightly, stroking Vex’s hair and otherwise completely ignoring the twins’ ensuing fight.
“Really?” Kash says. “I thought you’d met him.”
Z smiles. “Good point.”
“I still can’t believe she’s singing this song,” Keyleth says. “Why is she singing this song?”
“To embarrass Scanlan?” Z says. “After all, he was very, very wrong about all this.”
“Yeah, that’ll be it,” Kash says. “After all—hang on, is this verse new?”
Their heads all turn to look at the front of the room again, where Kaylie’s smirk has gotten even more pronounced as she sings very dramatically about the ‘Love Doctor’s folly’ and what trolls Vax and Kash are. Cassandra is visibly muffling laughter in her sleeve, and Kaylie looks incredibly pleased with herself.
“Definitely to embarrass Scanlan,” Z says dryly.
“No kidding,” Kash says faintly.
“That seems mean,” Keyleth.
“I think you mean that seems hilarious,” Kash says.
“Did she just say—” Vax starts.
“She did,” Vex says.
“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Vax says. “Barring, you know, family, friends, Gilmore.”
“That’s all right,” Gilmore says. “This can be better than me. This is amazing.”
Vax laughs. “That’s why I love you,” he says.
“And here I thought you loved me because I’m incredibly sexy.”
“Yeah, that too.”
The troupe finishes with a flourish, and everyone rises to give them a standing ovation. Scanlan is smiling even harder than the rest of them, looking absolutely delighted, and he runs up to hug Kaylie hard.
“You’re definitely my daughter,” he says, kissing her on the forehead.
Kaylie eyes him. “Not quite the reaction I expected.”
“Why not?” he says. “That was wonderful! It was clever, it was funny, it was—”
“Pretty insulting?” Kaylie says.
Scanlan waves this off. “Insulting? Insulting who? Kash and Vax might’ve been faking, but they got together with Keyleth and Gilmore because of it, and they were faking because of me, so really, their current happiness is all down to me. I really am the Love Doctor!”
“That’s a way of looking at it,” Kash says.
“Wow,” Kaylie says. “I’m surprised your ego even fits in this room.” But she’s smiling, and after a moment, she laughs. “What do you say? Want to play the next few with us?”
“Of course!” Scanlan says. “Let me grab my flute.”
Kash looks at Keyleth. “This isn’t really thanks to Scanlan, is it?”
“Does it matter?” she says.
“Yeah,” he says. “It’s totally going to ruin it for me. I’m definitely going to break up with you if you say yes.”
“Oh, well, in that case, absolutely not,” she says.
“Right, of course, can’t believe I messed that up.”
“It’s because of K’Varn, since he’s why we were in Vasselheim the first time,” she says, smiling at him. “Or, wait, no. It’s because of that hydra we killed. It’s because of Vanessa setting up the groups so that we met. It’s because of the Chroma Conclave making us go back to Vasselheim, or it’s because of Vex and Zahra getting together in that bar, or it’s because of Percy accidentally killing Vex, or it’s because of the ale.”
“I feel like maybe you’re trying to make a point,” Kash says.
“Yeah,” she says. “Who cares?”
“That’s your point?” he says.
“Pretty much,” she says, tugging lightly on his hair and grinning.
Kash thinks about it. “Yeah. Okay. Works for me.”