I dunno. There's something about the distance in this song that translates into my feels when Caius tells this story.
Both. So be it.
Caius laughed, more subdued given the formal atmosphere, but genuine none the less. He couldn't help it, really: his own too-warm hand reached up and gave the older. Venora's on his shoulder an unashamed squeeze. He'd been close to his own brother. Once. But things had changed over the arcs. The young Gawyne had no objections to gaining a better one,
"Mes'me perto—there's just enough of that vrung on the boots of every sarding House, not just Venora's. It just so happens this arc, yours is freshest. The winds will shift. You'll see."
He teased, for as far as he knew, there was no avoiding scandal regardless of which name one found themselves born into; everyone had their own problems. Some were just more public than others.
The promise of outside was always acceptable to the northern noble, who chuckled at the older Venora's choice of descriptors, rolling his eyes before making a show of allowing himself to be lead, "Pick that one up at The Sacred, did you?"
Caius smirked, though the words only brought up the Lord Inquisitor's face from his memories and he bit his lip instead of found something equally unsavory to retort with, quiet until the mild southern chill of Zi'da filled his needy lungs. It wasn't cold enough, but it would do. Ink-stained fingers curled into unkempt hair as he watched Oliver retrieve his cigarette case, unable to help but appreciate the craftsmanship as one familiar with the processes involved in a similar fashion in printmaking.
Accepting the offer, the strong scent of apples reminding him of his childhood, of the rare fruit trees that managed to endure the frigid Umbridge weather, particularly the scraggly crab apple trees that clung desperately to the cliffside near Warren's End and all of their pie-worthy bounty come the final trials of the brief but beautiful hot cycles of the north. They were stubborn old things, to be sure, sturdy for climbing and falling out of, the hard little fruits wonderful ammunition for playing at war and breaking a window or two. All it took was a smell to unlock the treasury of memory, and Caius smiled wistfully for a moment, always distracted by how the mind worked, even his own.
The younger Gawyne looked to Oliver for a light because he had none and watched his face as he talked of his siblings through a singular event, unsure if he really needed to speak to his story or if he was just meant to hear it. He heard it, and his narrow shoulders sagged a little, the weight of their mutual burdens suddenly tangible. The older Venora's relationship with Darcyanna was an enviable one as far as brothers went, and the northern noble couldn't help but think of the purposeful distance he'd chosen to put between himself and his sister, Ivy. Purposeful because of his self-blame, because of how a singular event unraveled the tight weave of what his family had once been.
He still blamed himself.
With a long drag and a slow exhale, Caius watched Zi'da's chill turn the scented smoke into something even more visible with the cloud of his breath, looking away into the dark at Oliver's compliments, attempting to bridge the sudden gap between his past and his present that the other man had talked him into without even knowing,
"Sard it all, I'm not—I don't, really."
He hissed quietly, irises fading in color toward silver, no longer vibrant, "I'm trying, Oliver. I am. Your kindness isn't deserved, but thank you."
Shifting to slouch over the same railing as the other man, digging elbows into the chilled stone, he chose to keep his eyes on the barren cold cycle garden than meet Oliver's gaze, "Growing up, we were close as children—my eldest brother Hunter and my younger sister Ivy, especially. Robert, too. Inseparable, I suppose. Always finding something to get into, but always managing to get each other out of it, you know? Adventurers and trouble makers. Wild as all Umbridge children should be. Well,"
Caius paused for a moment with the cigarette as if it was an integral part of his ability to tell the story that seared like hot lead at the back of his throat, smoke weaving his thoughts into words, "Ivy got it into her mind over whatever sarding offense children find in the decisions of their parents to run away. I wasn't about to let her do that alone. I was fourteen, and I made a promise. Only, damn it, I chickened out—"
Sparks and more smoke and Caius rolled his narrow shoulders, listless already,
"—I let her go by herself, too afraid of the consequences if we got caught. If we got sarding caught! Like that would have mattered. She didn't come home, and only I knew why. When I finally confessed, it was far too late. By the time she was returned home, twelve and pregnant mind you, her captors slipping through the cracks, everything fell apart. We Gawynes hide our stories behind nice covers with marbled endpapers and gilded edges, the pages of our histories no less ugly than yours on the shelf."
There was more to it all, of course, but this beginning was, perhaps for Caius, the most important part: what he hadn't done, what he'd failed to do. While Oliver had at least made an effort to protect Darcyanna when he could see and could know, the young Gawyne had not.
"I won't make the same mistake twice."
He said quietly, finally looking at the older Venora with a sincerity unfiltered by his usual aloof sarcasm, "I'm not convinced I'm good for anybody, Oliver, but you have my word I'm not aiming to fuck up again."