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The sour stink of black powder, the roar of it igniting and firing a bullet, the acrid curls of smoke wafting in the aftermath—to any reasonable person (indeed, to any of the many enemies Vox Machina had faced over the years), a gun was a horrid and frightful thing. Percy had certainly never tried to hide his weapons’ power from Vex or the others.

But to her, they were, well, comforting, nothing really of fear bound to them. For Vex, fear was… 

Fear was gritty ash and wood smoke, punctuated by the aroma of flesh burned and cooked and charred beyond any hope of recognition.

Fear was the refined and perfumed aroma of Uriel’s palace, the smell of wealth and expensive carpets, stained by the clogging iron stench of spilled blood.

Fear was the odor of a stagnant and rotting bog, fetid air trapped by dying wood, charged with ozone as lightning flashed under the gaze of cruel, lonely eyes long since given to madness.

Vex had faced some of these fears alone, with bow in hand, or with knives, or with rocks or anything else she could snatch up, or even with nothing but clenched fists and gritted teeth and shouted words.

Some she had faced with her sweet, idiotic, entirely too giving brother at her side, his scant inches over her and his steadfast faith a sorely needed shelter from the world.

And some, some she had faced with the seven bravest people she had ever known right at her back. And inextricably tied to that was the steady, even crack of gunfire, as Percy put bullet after bullet into any that dared threaten her or her newfound family.

When Percy’s eyes clouded with that blackness that sadly had nothing to do with Orthax, when his fear and despair overtook him as he struggled to make the enormity of his inventions understood to them, Vex couldn’t help but doubt. How could Percy not understand that a gun was no different from a sword, or an axe, or a bow? A weapon was just a tool, for good or ill, and so even an exceptional weapon was no more than just an exceptional tool.

Vex couldn’t really grasp Percy’s hatred for guns, not when he had saved her life or her brother’s or any of Vox Machina’s with a well-placed bullet.

Not until the day Anna Ripley put half a dozen rounds into him. 


 

If Vax were honest with himself (and between his sister and Keyleth, being honest with himself was becoming an increasingly common habit), he would admit he had a tendency to… obsess.

He preferred to call it focus: the focus needed to step silently through the night, to put his feet just so and avoid making the faintest whisper; the focus needed to hurl a dagger sixty feet and still plant it unerringly in his target; the focus needed to get the job done and beat the bad guy and make sure everyone he loved got out alive.

Kynan had been the target of his focus once—he needed to show the boy just what sort of dangers he’d be throwing himself into, and he’d hoped the sheer magnitude of the lesson would get it to stick. Even as other matters took the fore, he remembered Kynan. Because that was the price of his focus: not necessarily an eidetic memory, not picture perfect and unerringly exact, but still painted with razor clarity and detail, distorted by necessity and emotion.

After Whitestone, after Emon, he couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the boy. And he couldn’t help but wonder if he had just thought of a different way, if his focus had shown him a different path, he could be more sure of Kynan’s safety and happiness.

And so when it all went to shit on Glintshore and he found himself stuck in a crater, while Kynan—young, stupid, reckless Kynan who was just half a lifetime separate from himself—threatened his team, his family, Vax needed the focus now more than ever.

Except it wouldn’t come. Hands so sure and steady with a dagger, with a lockpick, with a fucking razor over a goliath’s magically grown beard—they shook, and pushed, and crushed soft, unstable rock that demanded a more delicate hand. Feet came sliding down as he desperately tried to hurl himself up the slope.

Mistake after mistake. Even then, he knew he needed to get through to Kynan, needed to focus.

Heh. He focused so hard he forgot what happened the last time he got trapped in a hole, what happened every time he got separated from his family.

And this time, he couldn’t blame Percival. Percy. He couldn’t blame Percy for being an arrogant, reckless, pompous idiot. Couldn’t blame him for not looking twice. Couldn’t blame him, because this time Vax had promised to always have his eyes on Percy.

And then he had to go and focus on Kynan. When he had climbed his way out of the pit in the beholder’s lair, when he climbed up and found Vex lying there with wide dead eyes staring into him, his world had ended. Climbing out of the crater to find Kynan standing over Percy’s body…

Well, that was an entirely different—yet similar, all too similar—ending altogether.


 

Come home. Those were the words Cassandra had thought to herself all the long, long years.

What she had thought when Percival fell into the river, leaving her alone with those monsters. What she had thought as her beloved hometown succumbed to their cruelty, dying in their grasp. What she had thought when she herself had succumbed, when she had given everything else up—her resistance, her hope, her name—when all she wanted was to make him suffer as he had let her suffer.

When he did return, and when he saved her, her home, her hope, only to leave again. When he went to wage war on dragons. When he went off to fetch the artifacts that might save them all.

When Percival lived, and he was her brother again. Cassandra never let those words leave her heart, even through all the years she hated him. The words were a mantra, a prayer, an anchor in a world corrupted and broken and gone utterly, utterly mad.

Because she loved him just as much as she had hated him, and when the hate was torn away and the world restored, the words became a prayer of an altogether different sort, a wish that what good was left to her would stay safe. For their home. For their lost, broken family. For her.

Cassandra knew her limits, her weaknesses, and she knew that Vox Machina had kept him safe—kept him sane—when she could not, when she was very much their enemy. She trusted them to keep her prayer, keep her faith, keep her brother.

They brought him back. To their cleric. Because he was cold and still and gone.

Come home. She had thought the unsaid alive was understood, was a given. Cassandra forgot that the world had never let her hold onto anything she had been given.