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Utility, Necessity, Enrichment, Decay

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“You’ve been avoiding me.”

 

Mr. Caleb’s face is dirty, smeared with mud like the first time they met. The others have teased the wizard about bad hygiene before. Caduceus sees it for what it is, a disguise, a carefully crafted mask. Perhaps the others tease because they know it for what it is and think by knowing the mask has become obsolete.

 

It’s not. At least not for their friend.

 

He smelled like soil when they first met. Enriched with decay. Caduceus had mused that one day Mr. Caleb would grow something beautiful and felt privately embarrassed for it. Beauty wasn’t something he worried about. Utility and necessity. Order and nature. Prettiness was another part of all of it, but not a part that concerned Caduceus.

 

Still, he liked Mr. Caleb. And when he came to him as a stranger and promised him ‘anything,’ he liked him even more.

 

Utility, necessity, enrichment, decay…

 

He realizes he had been staring a long while, Mr. Caleb looking back in his direction, owl like. Feathers ruffled. His eyes weren’t meeting his though, they were downcast.

 

“Ja,” Mr. Caleb finally admits softly. His eyes stray even further away from Caduceus’ face.

 

Eye contact with wizards… can be dicey. He wonders if it’s social anxiety, a lesson well learned, or a bit of both. He gets the sense that his friend has learned many lessons. That someone else saw his utility and necessity. Had fed and watered him unkindly to use him optimally. They hurt him.  

 

“Why?” Caduceus finally prompts almost losing the conversation. When you live with so many and then with no one words become less important, conversation for him had been hard, finding the beats of it and the right tones. Focusing and trying not to be distracted by the other little things, like small beads of sweat cutting through dirt, soft copper coloured hair, he’ll grow something beautiful.

 

Caleb offers a shy smile to him.

 

He’ll grow something beautiful .

 

It’s wry, and there’s a little grimace at the end of it.

 

“Fjord thinks you can read minds.”

 

Caduceus offers his own smile in return at this. “That’s very…” He trails off, considering it. “Misinformed.”

 

Caleb nods. Caduceus wishes that he would meet his gaze, even if it can be a bit dangerous with wizards. His eyes are blue, a colour of blue he only sees in springtime flowers. It’s winter, or at least in his core it’s winter. The Menagerie Coast has been colourful and warm when by now there would be piles of snow in his graveyard.

 

“I don’t think you can read minds,” Caleb says, a little playfulness colouring his words. Caduceus mirrors his nod. He’s found that mirroring his companions is a good strategy in this strange world. Nature is violence, unyielding and at times unmerciful, but people… he was a bit out of his depth. Grieving people he understood. You give the grieving what they need not what they want. Being stuck between a dead loved one and life is a miserable and dangerous place to be.

 

In the Briar Woods bad things happened when she was given what she wanted, not what she was needed. Grief and power are terrible things combined. We cannot let that happen again, little brother.

 

Caleb had been grieving when they met. Caduceus still wasn’t sure if he had read the situation correctly. Was Caduceus a need or a want?

 

But it was a moot point, because Caduceus needs Caleb. Or at least he had thought that at the time. Thinking the wizard--

 

Who offered him anything--

 

Was his sign. Was his guidance.

 

Caduceus pulls his smile bigger. He’s lost the conversation. Ah.

 

“I think you can read faces,” Mr. Caleb continues, the playfulness dropped. Caduceus has always found that people fill long silences. Say the things they want to hold back in those silences. Reading faces had always been something he was good at, even before he became the chief custodian of the graveyard. He was always good at seeing what people need to move forward--

 

“Oh,” Bright roots all tangled together in his mind. Connection made. “Mr. Gustav. You found it… unsettling.” He frowns now because that was when Mr. Caleb started pulling away. Not unkindly, not maliciously. He still spoke to him, helped him in battle, but he had drawn away from him. He was hiding, hiding from Caduceus.

 

“What are you hiding?” Caduceus asks softly without meaning to say it outloud. Mr. Caleb’s eyes flutter up very quickly. Blue spring time flowers. Home in a graveyard. Filled with life, empty of people . They’re quickly gone again and the wizard is fidgeting now. Wanting to bolt, but trying to stay.

 

“We are all hiding something,” Mr. Caleb replies, but his lips twitched downward, disappointed in himself. “Honestly Mr. Clay there are many things that I don’t wish to speak about.”

 

“With a stranger?”

 

“With anyone,” Mr. Caleb says firmly. His fingers curl around his shoulders. He wants his creature, but the fey was still promised to Ms. Beau for the remainder of the week.

 

Mr. Caleb’s eyes are suddenly on him again. Reading information. Mr. Caleb reads a lot, it’s all he actively lets himself enjoy without his shadow of doubt. He reads faces accurately as well.

 

“I don’t see you as a stranger, Mr. Clay,” And there’s a quiet earnestness in that statement that makes Caduceus’ heart flutter, just a little bit. Just enough to let him know that he had been worried about it.

 

“I’m glad.”

 

He finds himself focused on Mr. Caleb’s next words.

 

“You read him so clearly. Gave him the advice he needed to hear.”

 

Caduceus tilts his head. “That’s what unsettled you?”

 

“I don’t want you to see it,” Caleb says quietly. “I don’t want your advice.”

 

Oh…

 

He had thought maybe it was their previous companion where Mr. Caleb’s hanging grief came from. Soft and sad, but far away. ‘Molly’ was there on the Wizard’s shoulders (and sometimes it felt like there was someone he hadn’t met trailing along with the Mighty Nien, invisible to him, but smiled at, spoken to, loved by the others), but what he was seeing now wasn’t grief over the specter of their party. Caleb’s sadness is old. He clings to a grief far longer than he should.

 

Cadeus heart speeds up, just a little bit. Scared for his friend. Power and grief were a terrible combination, and Mr. Caleb...

 

He has the utility, the necessity, the enrichment, and the decay to be the most fearsome kind of powerful.

 

What came out of the Briar Woods was not right. Not natural. It was an undead thing.

 

“Whoever they were, you can’t bring them back,” Caduceus says in a rush. Caleb pulls back from him then, but Cadeus snatches his wrist, gripping it tightly, desperately. “Caleb. Whoever they were, they’re gone.”

 

“I don’t want to talk about this,” His accent thickened with emotion.

 

This was not what Mr. Caleb needs. Caduceus lets his hand go, but wanted it back in his almost as soon as it was free.

 

Just a hint of blue meets his gaze by accident. And oh, how did he miss the madness there? How did he not see the glut of grief tearing Caleb Widogast from the inside out.

 

Caleb is on the other side of the hut now. A feat with all the other bodies lying on the ground in their protective dome. He hunches just a bit past Beau, arms wrapped around himself. Frumpkin quickly fluttered up to him feeling his friend’s distress.

 

I need to save him. His mind spins wildly. I need to stop him.

 

“This didn’t happen.” Caduceus said.

 

And it hadn't. He felt the molt of possibility burst within him.

 

“I don’t want you to see it,” Caleb says quietly. “I don’t want your advice.”

 

“Alright,” Caduceus answers, and it takes all his willpower to say it. “But I’ll help you, if I can.” Save you. “You promised to help me after all.”

 

“No one can help me, Mr. Clay.” Blue eyes stray over to the small sleeping goblin cuddled next to his leg. “But I appreciate the thought… I’m sorry if I was being…” He trails off, sighs. Gently pushes hair out of Nott’s face. “I want this to work.”

 

“It does… for the most part,” Caduceus says reassuringly. “We’re getting better at it I think.”

 

“...Ja… ja, maybe… it’s 2:39, we should wake up Fjord.”

 

Caduceus still likes Caleb.

 

He likes how he’s so precise with his words and actions. With time and numbers. How he so desperately tries to keep an arms length while holding them all together.

 

Fjord and Beau take their places. Caleb lets himself fall where he sat curling up next to Nott. Caduceus finds it hard to sleep. Stimulation all around with the soft snores of their group and Beau and Fjord’s quiet whispers.

 

Caleb has a wound, fresh and open.

 

Caleb is potentially terrifying.

 

Caleb is useful.

 

Caleb is his sign.

 

He softly exhales.

 

Caleb has made him an important promise.

 

And in turn, even though he had done as was asked, helped them save their friends…

 

Once again, Caduceus had promised Caleb.

 

Promised silently to save him.