Fandom: Critical Role
Word count: 3386 words
Characters: Percival de Rolo, Cassandra de Rolo.
Summary: During the weeks preceding the Winter Crest Festival, Percy and Cassandra bond while clearing out the castle.
A/N: This show has taken over my life. But what is Critical Role? To keep it short, let's just say it's a bunch of American voice actors playing Dungeon&Dragons and sharing it with us on the internet, but if you want a glimpse of how much joy and pain and laughter it offers, just watch this fanmade video. Thank you to smallmonday for her beta work on this fic!
Link to the fic on AO3
Percy had forgotten just how cold the winters could get in Whitestone—he’d stuck to the south back when he was traveling on his own, during that dark period before Vox Machina. He’d been running away, fool that he was.
From the top of the East Tower he watched snowflakes dance around, and dust the tops of the trees and the roofs from the town down below, some of them melting away as they came into contact with his skin. It was too cold to be outside with nothing but a jacket on, but he couldn’t make himself get back inside.
“Percy?” a gentle voice called. “There you are.”
It was Cassandra, of course. There was no one else it could be. Keeper Yennen and Archibald were both too busy to waste their time looking for him, and the rest of Vox Machina had scattered to the winds: Vax had melted into the shadows, as he was prone to doing; Vex and Grog were lending a hand with rebuilding, while Keyleth revived the land with a bit of nature magic; Scanlan was running around town on a series of mysterious errands, one of which Percy suspected was going to result in the defilement of their keep.
“What’re you doing up here?” Cassandra asked mildly, as if she were curious but didn’t feel an urgent need to know.
He didn’t turn, but answered in the same airy tone of voice to show that he held no irritation against her, “Getting some fresh air, I suppose.”
“Yet you never were one for fresh air.” He could hear a smile in her voice, a hint of teasing that was a throwback to happier times. “If I remember correctly, you could spend days without even seeing daylight.”
Percy couldn’t deny the truth in her words—it was peculiar to find himself again in the company of someone who knew him from before. His party members might tease him about how much time he spent tinkering, but it was because they had nothing to compare it to. During his teenage years he had certainly spent more time inside his workshop than outside of it, which had irritated his father to no bounds. In there, the world had seemed so much more manageable to him. It still did, to be honest, only he didn’t have the same luxury to ignore what lurked outside.
“A copper for your thoughts, brother?”
He’d been ignoring her, lost in his own mind. He’d done a lot of that when they were younger, but circumstances had drastically changed since then. Guiltily, he turned around to face her. She wasn’t wearing a dress, but trousers and a man’s jacket, her white-streaked hair tied into a ponytail. She looked so much the mirror image of their sister Vesper at the same age that for a moment Percy had no breath to speak.
“I apologize,” he eventually said. It came out colder than he’d intended, so he tried to inject some warmth into his words with a smile. “You know how my mind wanders.”
“That mind of yours is a maze, I know,” she said, smiling slightly too, probably remembering that recurring joke at Percy’s expense which had run among their siblings. Abruptly, her smile dropped. “I need to apologize, too. I shouldn’t have asked you to—”
“No, no, there’s no need for—” he hurried to say, his words overriding hers before they both broke off, that now-familiar chasm opening up between them.
Young Cassandra had been such a sunny child, Percy thought, one who never would never have worn the kind of pinched expression she did right now.
“There’s no reason why you should have to do this on your own,” he forced out. “This is my home too.” Even though he had given up on it for five years, he didn’t add.
Cassandra’s forehead wrinkled. “I didn’t mean to imply it wasn’t. Only that I stayed here and lived through the changes, and you didn’t. I can’t imagine how much of a shock it is for you.”
Somewhat of a shock, indeed. Whatever strength of purpose—or demonic influence—had sustained Percy as he and his friends mounted their assault on Whitestone, it was now failing him. Walking through the castle didn’t feel like coming home, because home had been altered beyond recognition by the Briarwoods. All the family portraits had been burned except for the one fragment Cassandra had salvaged, the rich tapestries ripped from the walls to be supplanted by new ones picturing gory hunting scenes, most of the furniture destroyed save for the few rooms the Briarwoods used on a daily basis. Half of his father’s library, gone and replaced by books on necromancy and dark magic. His own workshop, raided for anything useful. The gardens, his mother’s pride and joy, left to grow wild and abandoned. When Percy and Cassandra had finally deemed it safe enough to enter the castle again despite the orb of death that spun underneath, they’d found it littered with the corpses of the undead servants who had served the Briarwoods, lifeless again now that Delilah Briarwood’s power had gone with her. In consequence, their first task had been to make sure the decomposing bodies were cleared out.
“It got a bit overwhelming for a moment,” Percy conceded, figuring he could give her that much. “The servants. I don’t know how you—”
Cassandra’s lovely, young face hardened. “You get used to it, with time. Which you didn’t have, and I didn’t think to warn you. For that, I’m sorry.”
“I’d heard about the servants. It had—slipped my mind, I guess. But, Cass, please don’t apologize to me: between the two of us we have enough apologies to last us a couple of lifetimes. What do you say we start making sparse use of the word ‘sorry’?”
He felt validated when her lips twisted briefly into a wry smile. “I will if you will too, Percival.” Her cheeks and the tip of her nose had turned red from the cold, and she shivered. “Shall we get back inside? I want to do Mother and Father’s room first, if you care to help me.”
She held a hand out in an encouraging gesture, and he was suddenly brought back to years in the past—Cassandra at eight, ten, twelve, fourteen years old, trying to drag him away from his workshop so he would play with her. The memory made his heart ache with a nostalgia that contrasted with the annoyance he’d felt at the time.
He’d paused long enough that Cassandra had started retreating her hand, her mouth pulling down a bit.
“Of course I will help you,” he said, closing the distance between them in a few steps and firmly grasping her hand.
They had agreed that they would go through their family’s rooms and clear them out. It was supposed to be a clinical, ruthless sort of task, but Percy feared that he could only make use of his ruthlessness in combat.
The rooms were all clustered in the same wing of the castle, and the last time Percy had been there was when they were all hurrying to Vax’s help after he’d rushed into danger as usual. This now felt like it had happened to someone else—standing there again, Percy was hit all at once with the reminiscence of the hundred, thousand times he’d walked those corridors to get to his own room or visit one of his family members. It was a place so well-known and well-loved that he’d stopped actually seeing it back when he still lived there, and was now looking at the stone walls, oak doors, and shadowed corners with new eyes.
“Ready?” Cassandra asked him once they had reached their parents’ old room.
“Not really, but I’m not going to make you wait for me again,” he said, and took a deep breath before entering.
The first thing he noticed—and at that realization he had to quall a surge of bright hot anger—was that the Briarwoods had apparently had no compunction about occupying Lord and Lady de Rolo’s room. The curtains and carpet had been changed to heavier drapes and darker colors, and their parents’ belongings replaced by Silas’ clothes, and Delilah’s jewelry and infinite collection of dresses of the style that Vex and Keyleth had raved so much about. Percy and Cassandra readily agreed on burning everything that could be burned, but keeping the jewels for evaluation, as Percy was afraid Vex would murder him otherwise. He caught his sister stroking the shimmering fabric of one of Delilah’s dresses, though, and wondered if the regret he could see on her face was for the beautiful piece of clothing or for the person who had worn it.
Clearing up their siblings’ rooms turned out to be a very different, but still harrowing task. Whether out of indifference or a twisted brand of consideration, the Briarwoods had left them mostly intact and their content was preserved under a thick layer of dust. They looked like crypts, and the sense of death in them was so strong that Percy was struck with a fresh wave of grief, old wounds suddenly reopened and bleeding again.
To his surprise, it seemed to come as a shock for Cassandra too when they first entered Julius’ room. “I… wasn’t allowed to wander as I pleased in the castle,” she admitted with some reluctance, maybe because she’d assured him that she was used to it all. “I didn’t know they’d kept the rooms… Maybe they found nothing of interest in there.” Her mouth twisted into a bitter grimace.
He didn’t know how to comfort her, especially as he didn’t have the slightest idea of what might be going through her mind. Was there ever any love mixed with her hatred for the Briarwoods? Had she genuinely thought of them as family, or had it all been a spell? It wasn’t that he was still angry with her for her betrayal—most of his anger had been turned at himself, anyway—but part of him still felt… uncertain about her.
“Let’s take a closer look,” he simply said.
They tied handkerchiefs to cover their noses and mouths so they wouldn’t choke on the dust, and set to work. They went through Julius’ room, and Vesper’s, and Oliver’s, and Whitney’s, and Ludwig’s. They sorted through piles of moldy clothing, half of them Julius’ countless jackets, and through Whitney’s books, Oliver’s odd collections of old coins and pinned butterflies, Ludwig’s drawings. The castle had always been a damp place, and, left uncared for, little of their siblings’ belongings could be salvaged.
They worked in silence, side-to-side rather than together. Several times Percy saw Cassandra blink away tears, but let her pretend her eyes were stinging from the dust. He, on the other hand, could feel his own heart grow cold and unresponsive with each passing moment, as if a coat of ice was hardening around it. Maybe it was that he had lost the ability to properly feel pain somewhere along the way.
At one point, Cassandra stilled in the middle of Oliver’s room, holding in her hands a handkerchief she had embroidered for him. She had been nine and the work was sloppy, the letters too big and irregular, but she had put her heart into it and Oliver had kept it always. He had been her favorite brother, the one who always had time for their baby sister and had kept looking for ways to make her laugh.
Percy almost asked her if she wished Oliver were her one surviving brother but it seemed unnecessarily cruel, so he said nothing. He squeezed her shoulder instead, and she graced him with a wobbly smile.
Eventually, they had to get to Percy’s own room. He hadn’t stepped inside in five years, and found it similarly preserved as the others. It looked, in fact, absolutely identical to the night the Briarwoods had taken over the castle, down to the chair he’d knocked over when men had surged into his room to capture him.
He’d bowed out early of the dinner served in honor of their guests. It was in no way unusual—formalities bored him to tears, and he always had a book or a new project he was burning to get to. His family was used to it, but that night his mother had frowned at him—the last look she’d ever given him—letting him know she thought he was being rude to their guests. He’d gone back to his room, and that was where they found him, so enthralled by whatever he was reading that he hadn’t heard them come before it was too late.
He heard Cassandra walk inside after him and stop at his elbow. “Where were you, that night?” he asked her. They’d never had an occasion to discuss it. “How did you manage to escape capture?”
It was mere curiosity that made him ask, but as soon as he’d said it he realized he must have sounded accusatory to his sister’s ears. He might be unable to understand the complexity of her relationship with the Briarwoods, and would probably always be, but he didn’t want her to think he nourished the ridiculous notion that she’d been conspiring with them from the beginning.
Before he could clarify his meaning, though, she said, “I’d slipped out before the attack. I was done with my dinner and I wanted to leave, but I could see that Mother was annoyed with you for going early, so I waited until she and Father were focused on Deli—on the Briarwoods before I quietly made my exit. Julius saw me leave, but he didn’t say anything. He just—he winked at me. Later I heard the screams, so I hid.”
She paused to swallow, and Percy said, “You don’t have to tell. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No, it’s quite all right. I have done my best for so many years to forget that night, but maybe it’s time to stop hiding. Anyway, I heard members of the Briarwoods’ guard talk about you, so I knew you were a prisoner in the dungeon. It was easy enough to find where they were keeping you, but I had to—had to wait until she was done with you before I could come and get you out.”
She slipped him a guilty glance. She must have heard him scream too, he realized, and was hit with an absurd sense of embarrassment.
“Well, you saved me,” he said, trying to cover for it. “I don’t think I ever thanked you for that.”
She smiled then, a genuine smile that reached her eyes. “You’re very welcome, brother.”
They stood for a moment in the middle of the room, looking at it without speaking. Their footsteps had left their prints on the layer of dust, which was thick enough to resemble freshly fallen snow. Just like the snow that covered the ground on the day they had made their escape, when Cassandra had fallen prey to the enemy’s arrows and Percy had left her for dead. It was a strange thing, remembering it, because most of his memories from that time were confused and hazy, but that particular moment remained achingly clear: Cassandra’s blood vividly red where it had spilled on the pure white snow, the color clashing against the bright blue of her dress. She had tumbled face first in the snow, so he hadn’t been able to see her expression when she was hit. He had started to stumble back to her, but the sound of dogs barking in the distance had chased him away and into the river that had probably saved his life.
He felt a slight hand slip into his and clasp it. “Percy,” Cassandra said, an odd knowing look on her face. She opened her mouth to say something, then seemed to think better of it and shook her head. “Shall we get to work?”
It took them the rest of the afternoon to go through the clutter of Percy’s childhood bedroom. Most of his old clothes were just as ruined as his siblings’, but a lot of the books were in a good enough state as to still be readable.
“I’m guessing you’ll want to keep those,” Cassandra said, leafing through a book on the properties of minerals.
“No,” Percy said, a bit more sharply than intended. He was rummaging through his desk, finding scraps of paper covered in half-intelligible scribbles and sketches, vestiges of old projects of his.
Percy’s hand clung reflexively to the edge of the desk. “I actually replaced most of those, the useful ones, at least—they’re in our keep in Emon.”
“Oh. But don’t you want—”
“Professor Anders gave them to me.”
A silence. Percy refused to turn around to check the look on his sister’s face.
“All right, then,” she said quietly, and went back to sorting the books.
Light was starting to dim when they were finally done with their work. Everything that they’d considered ruined would be burned, and what little could be saved would be reused. It wouldn’t do to waste anything when times were hard as they were now. Once they were properly cleaned, the rooms could be refurnished and be livable again. Before they left, Cassandra selected one item from each room as keepsakes: Oliver’s embroidered handkerchief, a cufflink from Julius’ favorite jacket, a sketch Ludwig had made of the castle covered in snow, Vesper’s emerald pendant that Cassandra had found behind her bed, a volume of poetry that their father had gifted to Whitney.
“Don’t you want to keep anything?” she asked Percy, cradling the objects against her chest.
They were in the corridor leading away from the family private quarters and to the main entrance hall, their footsteps echoing hollowly as they walked down it. Cassandra had just given order to the new—living, breathing—servants to clean up the rooms.
“We travel a lot,” Percy said. “I don’t want to encumber myself. I’ll probably end up losing them, anyway.”
“I could keep them safe for you. And weren’t you saying that you and your friends have a keep in Emon?”
“Yes, we do,” he said, smiling faintly as he heard Vex’s voice echo in his mind—Yeah, we have our own keep. Greyskull Keep—and then Scanlan’s—We’re a pretty big deal. “Greyskull Keep is its name. I just—I don’t need anything, really. I don’t need anything to remember.”
“Very well. Suit yourself.”
“I wasn’t a very good brother. Neither to you, nor to them. I was always in my own world, never really available for anyone.”
“Oh, Percy.” Cassandra shifted her hold on her memorabilia so she could carry everything with one arm, and slipped her freed arm under his. “Don’t sell yourself short. You always came through for us in the end. And that part, brother mine, hasn’t changed at all. This much I can say.”
He looked at her long and hard, memorizing the new lines on her face, the white streaks in her hair, the hard-won wariness and self-doubt in her eyes that were probably reflected in his own. What a pair they made; the broken remnants of the de Rolos of Whitestone, leaning on each other just to keep afloat.
“We failed them,” he said soberly.
“We failed them,” she agreed, her eyes shadowed.
“I won’t fail again.” And, because he was the only big brother she had left, he amended, “We won’t,” and drew her closer to him.
When they stepped outside it had stopped snowing, and a thin layer of snow now covered the ground. They walked into town, where they were welcomed with the spectacle of Grog doing some heavy lifting under the eyes of a crowd of awe-struck town folks. Scanlan was among them, wearing an oddly shaped hat of a fashion unknown to Percy.
Cassandra looked to the cloudless sky, which was darkening as the sun set behind the mountains’ crest.
“At least we have the sky back,” she said.
“Thank the gods for small favors.”
“I do.” She dug her fingers into his arm, hard enough that the pressure felt close to the point of pain. “I thank them every day.”