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Pretty Stones

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Mother was a giver.

She would find beautiful stones to mark paths, sweet smelling flowers to cleanse the temple, strong wood to carve into walking sticks. All these gifts would be  kindly handed to Father. “This will help you later.” or “I thought of you when I saw this.”

His Father would smile. A smile that his Mother said Caduceus mirrored more and more as the seasons passed. Father would thank her and always make good use of these treasures.

“Well, sometimes acts of good faith deserve to be rewarded when they can. I wanted to give you something that will make your time with us a little bit easier.”

His Father was a healer. Any hurts he would heal with gentle hands, but he was always best at stopping wounds before they happened. When Mother would go deeper in the woods he would take her hand, or tap her back playfully. “Bless you.” With a smile.

In the dark ocean it only made sense to tap their Wizard’s shoulder. Mister Caleb made a habit of walking through deep places of the unknown. To prevent his pain put Caduceus’ heart at ease.

 

Love is like clover between grave markers. Dotted, scattered, close together. Little actions, little words, little fondnesses. Gentle and soft.

Caleb gives like his Mother  had. Things that he thinks will be useful to Caduceus. He appreciates that. Utility has always been shown to him as shades of loving kindness. From his own Mother to The Mother, who provides all that is necessary.

Caduceus in turn heals like his Father. Protective. Sheltering. Preventative. He’s seen Caleb fall too many times already.

Clover sprouts easily. Love is easy. It was always easy for Caduceus and Father. But Mother needed to wander in the dark woods.

And Caleb wasn’t ready to leave his solitude.

But Caduceus thought of the pretty stones that marked Mother’s path, that would lead her back to them.

He twisted his fingers in the chain of the peraphet.

 

In the beginning of their voyage Caduceus found a profound loneliness while sailing on the ocean. A disconnection from soil and growth. The ocean was a living thing. Life and death on an endless horizon. It made him feel small. He was okay with feeling small (it was a good reminder when he towered over everyone around him physically), but in his Blooming Grove, his home, even when all his family had gone he had never felt such deep loneliness.

Caleb smelled like an old growth forest growing anew out of fire, no matter how many times he dove in the ocean. Smokey and earthy. Not his home. Not his graveyard.

But something close. Something new.

 

Father would go into the deep dark woods at times. When it had been too long. He would get his lantern, smile at his children, and walk down the paths following pretty stones. Sometimes he would return alone but reassured. Sometimes he held Mother’s hand.

Caleb throws himself into books. Into loneliness. A blanket, a shield, already cracked by Nott and the others. Caleb is a gift giver though. A craftmaster. He knows how to fix the wall around his heart like Caduceus made new iron bars around his graveyard.

But Caduceus has always been like his Father. He brings in meals, a fair trade for company.

Caleb likes deals, but that only makes things easier.

Caleb works at his desk that was dragged out from Captain Avantika’s room. Caduceus reclines on the too small bed. It smells like smoky earth, alcohol and metal. Caleb is deep in his books and writing. They had been talking, but he pulled back to his forest of paper and ink. Back to his solitude, but not alone. And maybe not lonely.

“I’m glad that you are travelling with us.”

Nott is there sometimes in the quiet moments. Caduceus has come to know her as a loud person. Not exactly talkative, but she makes herself known with squeaks and fidgets. She is quiet and still for Caleb. Overflowing with care and fondness. Sometimes Caleb shows her things. Arcane patterns, and woven tapestry of power. He sometimes shows Caduceus as well, but Caduceus has no talent in deciphering the meaning. He only likes the sound of Caleb’s voice precisely stitching the words and ideas together. Caduceus learns nothing about magic and everything about Caleb’s voice.

 

Mother taught them how to follow paths, how to commune with their garden, with the forests, with the others that lived in it. She taught his elder sister how to craft.

Well, teachers are the best gift givers, aren’t they?

Just as preventing the wounds was the best medicine. Father’s markers for how far was too far. Identification of poison plants and dangerous creatures. Preparation.

His parents’ romance was the only romance he had met that wasn’t tapered by weeping. He had met wives, husbands, and partners who were at the beginning of learning how to live without the ones they cherished. So romance was tears or home to Caduceus.

Caleb is a strange mixture of the two.

The tears had been shed a long time ago… or maybe they were still yet to come.

 

“I am not the person to give advice on anything.” Yasha’s words are always hard with soft edges. Blunt boulders covered in soft moss. Rarely seen. When Yasha talks it’s important to listen. “But I think he feels better with you.”

Caduceus raises his eyebrows and leans towards her wondering what she means even as his heart speeds up a little.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, well.” She shrugs. “He’s like…” she hesitates. She does not say me, but Caduceus knows it’s on her mind. Yasha and Caleb rarely speak to each other, but they have a deep understanding of each other’s wounds without communicating their stories. Deep primal loss is easy to see when you’ve seen it so many times on so many faces so Caduceus knows their stories too, without knowing the words of them.

“You’re his type,” Yasha finishes brusquely. She slaps Caduceus on the shoulder awkwardly. It hurts and Caduceus subtly heals himself because he knows it was meant as encouragement. He smiles at her. She’s reaching out, learning from Jester, speaking her mind more. That was good. And she was thanking him for the tea. That was appreciated.

 

That night he’s in the crow’s nest staring out at the infinity of the ocean and sky. The Mother is with him. The Mighty Nein are with him. He hasn’t felt lonely for a long time. His ears flick when he hears the creak of rope, someone else climbing to the top.

“Hallo,” Caleb is holding on to the ropes, he hasn’t climbed in the nest yet.

“Come on up,” Caduceus shifts to make room. Caleb is very aware of space and it helps to welcome him into it. There’s not too much room so they’re pressed against each other. It’s nice in the cold night air. The wind is sharp in the crow’s nest. Caleb’s body heat is pleasant. Caduceus shifts a little closer.

Caleb  doesn’t shift away. He plays with the hem of his jacket.

Caduceus waits. For a gift, for advice, for a lesson. Teacher, gift giver.

Tentatively, Caleb leans his head against his shoulder.

Caduceus wraps an arm around him feeling even warmer now. A pleasant comforting warmth that spreads through his body.

“I--” Caleb is trying to find his reason. His deal. His path from his solitude and into Caduceus’ arms. His pretty stones to trace back home.

“The stars are beautiful here.” Caduceus says when the silence starts to make Caleb twist and fidget. “Better with company. Won’t you view them with me, Mister Caleb.”

“...Ja.” Caleb stills and allows himself to lean back against Caduceus.