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My Fire and the Place I Need to Reach

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The moment it happened, Caleb started to shake. He put the final line in the paper and his hands, so steady and precise until then, started to flutter like butterflies. His heart too seemed to grow wings, beating so fast inside his chest he thought he might die. He had asked for death for such a long time, but he couldn’t have it then and he didn’t want it now. Not when he had finally done it, not when he had finally learned the spell that could change his life.

He looked down at the scrolled papers around him and released a breath he didn’t remember holding. He had purchased all the ingredients necessary and he had written down the spell enough times to commit it to memory, now all he had to do was say the words and draw the teleportation circle. A few lines of chalk and some words and he could be back to before it all went wrong, before he became a murderer, an orphan, a broken man...

But he couldn’t do it then. No, not without a night’s rest.

“In the morning, Widowgast, in the morning.” He told himself, his voice echoing trough the room. It felt like talking to a ghost. In less then 24 hours no one would know that name. He would be Bren again and Caleb Widowgast would disappear from history. In a way it did feel like death, like saying goodbye to a close friend. And he was already overwhelmed by the idea of saying goodbye to his other friends, the real ones sleeping next door. He hadn’t told them about the spell and he didn’t plan to, it was easier that way, no last words, no last chances to change his mind. Not that they could, not unless... no.

In a couple of hours, the sun would rise like it always did and they would awake like they always did, except he wouldn’t be there and they wouldn’t remember that he was supposed to be. He didn’t feel guilty, they wouldn’t have to feel the pain of missing him, but he would live with their loss, knowing that they would be out there, adventuring without him. Happy without him.

He laid down in bed but couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes, he kept remembering his brotherly arguments with Beau, his long nights teaching Nott magic, the time he did a crazy blood pact with Fjord, and Jester... Oh Jester, he knew he would miss her most of all, her smile like sunshine in his darkest days, her jokes that always broke trough his somber facade, the way her accent added syllables to his name, Cay-leb. No one would ever call him that again...

Before he knew what he was doing, he sprung out of bed and opened his door. He needed to go outside, needed to fill his lungs with the night air and ground himself. For years his mind had been consumed with only this, this manic search for the spell, and now he had it. There was no time for second guessing, no time for weakness. The only faces he should be picturing should be his parents but whenever he tried all he saw were flames. Scheisse, he wanted to scream!

He stepped out into the hallway and froze. Jester was at the other end of corridor, standing by an open window in just her chemise, the simple white one with the pink flower trim, the long sleeves flowing in the breeze like ghostly manifestations.

Caleb thought about going back into his room, but it seemed like torture, the four walls like a cage meant for him and his thoughts alone. He had stopped mid-step, his breath caught in his lungs, and she hadn’t stirred, apparently still unaware of his presence. So he stayed, stopped in front of his door, like an idiot, taking in the way her skinned glowed like a sapphire under the moonlight, for what would be the last time.

After a while he noticed the way her shoulders kept shaking, going up and down in quick jerky motions, while the rest of her body stayed stiff, her head bowed down. She was crying. Jester, the most cheerful member of their group, hell the most cheerful person he had ever met! was crying...

“Hey, Jester, are you okay?” He asked against his better judgement. She jumped at the sound of his voice, her hands going up to wipe away her tears with remarkable speed. He immediately regretted speaking.

“Oh, Cay-leb! Yeah, of course, I’m totally good!” She lied, turning to face him. She smiled brightly but her eyes were still reddened and shinny.

“You don’t have to lie to me, blueberry.” He walked up to her, his steps echoing far too loudly trough the hallway.

“But I’m such a good liar!” Her face started to go back to its normal, relaxed state, her smile brightening up even more. If he didn’t know better, he would have never guessed she had been crying a minute ago.

“Why are you upset? Was the barmaid flirting with Fjord again?”

She let out a snort of laughter, her freckled nose wrinkling up adorably. “Nooo. I mean, yes, but that’s not why.” She lifter her hands up and Caleb saw she had been clutching her Traveler’s symbol, tightening her small fists around it so hard her knuckles were almost white. “Cay-leb, do you ever feel like you’re not strong enough and all your friends will die because of it?”

He felt his heart stop in his chest. It was a thought that occurred to him...oh about a thousand times a day. “All the time.” His voice was a horse whisper, barely audible in the wind.

She nodded vigorously. “That’s how I feel. Technically not all the time, technically. But from time to time. And specially after yesterday’s battle.” They had just returned from fighting a group of giants, a fairly straight forward deal that, after a couple of failed spells, had turned into a very tricky situation. “I told Caduceus to not worry about preparing revivify, because I wanted to do it, if we needed it. But then I went down and Beau almost died and there was nothing Cad could do about it! If Yasha hadn’t landed that last blow, Beau could be gone now and it would all be my fault!” Tears filled her eyes again, spilling over full cheeks and staining her gown.

“Nein, Jester that wasn’t your fault!” Without even thinking, he grabbed her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “ You couldn’t have known things would go that poorly. But we’re all fine now, that’s what matters.”

“But what about next time?” She looked up at him, her full bottom lip trembling. For a moment he thought of nothing but biting that lip, kissing it with his own over and over until it was swollen and flushed a deep purple and she was wrapped in his arms, her tears forgotten. But he didn’t, of course. He shouldn’t have even thought it, but he was a wicked man and she was beautiful and vulnerable and oh so close. This is why he needed to leave, so they could all be happy. So he could have his parents and she could have someone worthy of her, someone honourable, like Fjord.

“Next time we’ll try to do better. Not just you, all of us. We’ll try not to get hurt, and you’ll try to be there if we fail. Deal?”

“Deal!” She jumped up and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him with a strength far greater than his. Oh he was wicked and broken and he didn’t deserve it, but he was also weak, so he hugged her back, his arms snaking around her soft waist. It is a goodbye hug, he told himself, let me remember this last moment, let me have a life of imagining what could have been.

“Oh Cay-leb, I’m just so glad I met you all! You’re the only friends I’ve ever had and I don’t know what I would do if any of you...” She chocked on the word, her breath ruffling his hair, her cheek surprisingly cool against his shoulder. He breathed in and inhaled the sugary sweet sent of her skin. “Not after Molly... You understand, right?” He nodded, not trusting his voice, sure that if he spoke the moment would be over. And he wanted it to last forever, to give him time to remember every detail of how she sounded and how she felt, so he could recall it for the rest of his life. “I knew you would understand. You always try so hard to learn more, to become better, even if you’re already so powerful! I want to be like that, I want to be powerful like you Cay-leb.” She stepped back and looked him in the eye and suddenly it became very hard for him to breathe. “I know I joke about not wanting to heal and not being the cleric, but I really want to become a better healer, for all of you.”

You don’t want to be like me, Schatz, he wanted to say, you’re far to good for that. You want to learn because you care, because you’re giving and pure. I just learn for my own selfish reasons.

“And you will, with time.” He said instead. “ But don’t ever doubt you’re worth, blueberry, you’re good enough as you are.”

She gave him a big smile then and it was like the sun coming out after a storm, he swore he could feel its warmth on his face. He was glad he got to tell her that, even if it was the last thing he would say. Those were the words he wanted her to remember him by. Except she wouldn’t remember him.

“Even if I can’t reach you in time and you go unconscious in battle?”

Ja, because that will most likely be my fault for being so squishy...”

“And even if I use up all my spells to evoke my spiritual weapon instead of saving them for healing?”

“That’s a perfectly valid choice, so again Ja.”

“And even if I draw dicks on all your books?” Her smile turned mischievous, her fangs shinning in the dim light. He couldn’t help but smile back.

“Even if you draw dicks on my face when I fall asleep, Jester.”

She laughed, her giggles soft like wind-chimes. “Thank you, Cay-leb. I’m really glad we talked, I feel a lot better now.” She yawned then, her moth forming a perfect little o, her tail swishing lazily behind her. “I think I need to get some sleep now, it’s been a long day. I’ll see you in the morning, Cay-leb.” Reaching up on her tippy-toes, she kissed his cheek, just above where his stubble gave way to smooth pale skin. It was the gentlest touch Caleb had ever felt, yet he knew he would feel its ghostly presence on his skin forever. How bitter-sweet, goodbye kisses were. How hauntingly lovely, unrequited love felt.

“Ja, see you in the morning, Jester.” He lied to her, for the last time.

*

When the sun rose, Jester crept into Caleb’s room, her quill and ink pots ready to draw some detailed appendages on his face. When she didn’t see him in bed she was confused, and when she saw the teleportarion circle on the floor she started to panic. She was about to run out to tell the others Caleb was missing when she realized she didn’t know who that was. In fact, she didn’t even know who’s room she was in, or why she had come in at all. Gathering her things, she slowly walked out. It was a beautiful day, she had no reason to be sad or worried, but the heaviness in her chest remained.