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The heat of the summer sun pulsed down on Caleb’s shoulders as he stepped out of the house and walked toward the white fence that surrounded his property. It was August. The early days of spring had come and gone with the soft breeze. The morning hours had been spent packing his belongings into about twelve boxes. Nature and solitude nursed him back to health after the tragedy. Now, he only wished to be closer to Octavia. That meant leaving behind this place and moving further into the city, which was only a few miles away from the Ailwards. There was a blue Chevy sitting on the lawn that was filled with half his belongings. The other half were packed away in storage and yet more were scattered across his father’s ranch in Texas and his Grandmother’s apartment in Paris. It was emotional to be leaving this patch of land. It was the first place he’d called home in fifteen years, but Caleb had not spent as much time here during the summer as he’d planned.
He’d gotten distracted. A twenty-four hour road-trip had become longer and longer, until weeks had passed by without him noticing..The grass was taller than it had been and it brushed his legs as he came to look out over the lake. He’d somehow thought that this would be the last move of his life, but a new relationship had shown the impracticalities of such minimalist living. The little slice of heaven would always hold a special place in his heart, but it was time to keep moving. The only thing he regretted was not being able to carry the willow tree with him.
It was taller now. With Aurantia’s help, it had sprouted up dramatically in the last three years. It reached his torso now. It was easy to imagine that at six years old, his son would have been tall like his Daddy and perhaps been as tall as the tree. Caleb shoved his fingers deeply into the pockets of his jeans as he walked down the driveway to greet the sapling. The original still lived in Paris. He and Ava had planted it in the back garden on one of the first days that she was strong enough to get out of bed.
Caleb crouched down by the tiny tree with a wistful expression on his face.It had been a good year. He’d focused mostly on turning over new leaves, instead of grieving the old ones. He ran his fingers down the bark. In the back of his mind, the image of a little boy with gleeful blue eyes and bright red hair floated to the surface. He wanted to push it away.
Everyone had told him that it would get better with time and it had, but Celeste had been right that nothing had ever filled that very unique Darcy-shaped hole in his heart. It was just there. He’d slowly started picturing a future with Octavia, but hadn’t dared to hope that far. Deep down, the young man knew that he was forgetting something. It was nearly August. August. August twelfth. It was important.
It wasn’t just important because he’d rented the blue chevy to help him move. Memories shifted in his brain, filing into order, until one came into focus. Dread became the prevailing emotion, but before he could back away a strong image cemented in his mind of a white hospital room, his fiancee lying almost catatonic as she stared out the window, and the small empty bassinet.
Caleb pushed his lips into a thin line, furrowing his brows. He had been so busy. He’d gotten sidetracked. He’d forgotten. How could he forget? One of only a few important dates that had once been tattooed onto his mind has passed by with surprising ease. Three days ago had been his son’s birthday.
He took a deep breath of the humid air as a giant wave of guilt washed over him. and pushed his hands into the mulch that steadied the tree. He didn’t want to move. He didn’t want to leave. The branches swayed in the wind. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
The tree said nothing, which left his mind to wander. Like his mama, Darcy had bright red hair the day he was born. The day he was born was also the day that he’d passed away. They’d spent six precious hours holding his tiny body and reading him stories. Singing. He remembered the moment that the tiny, shallow breaths just stopped. There had been no warning. Everything leading up to that day had suggested that they would bring home a healthy, happy baby. Caleb hadn’t cried. He’d needed to be strong for Ava. It was only after he lost her too that the dam finally broke loose. They’d planned a funeral for their child before they ever saw him walk. Only a year later, he'd been alone.
The last few five years had changed him, but it took so little to remember everything that had happened. The sun was fading away into an afternoon storm. Caleb swallowed, hard, and stood up. He couldn’t leave the city on such short notice. He couldn’t go visit their graves. The only place he knew to go was the same place that he’d grieved Ava four years ago. It was a small cemetery on the back of one of the oldest chapels in town. It was never busy. Most likely, the people who were buried there were lost to time. No one had ever minded his presence.
Caleb whistled for his dog and a golden retriever bounded into view. “Heel.” The Frenchman said softly and the two of them began the several mile walk, side by side, with their shoulders slumped. His loyal friend stayed glued to his side as he found a space in the grass that seemed familiar and stared up at the sky. He didn’t care if it rained. Maybe, the sky wanted to cry too.
Being Earthbound was difficult. It was a difficult change with each Aurazin. Carmela missed her child who was left in the Vile. Lucien was lost without his wife, the two had grown close in their time on Earth. They leaned on each other allowing the other to be weak when they couldn’t be so in front of the other Aurazin. Carmela took to holding sick children at the hospital, helping parents grieve when they lost a child, and visiting Graveyards to help people grieve. She really leaned into her Aurazin nature, it was how she felt the most useful in a world that she wasn’t a part of anymore.
Carm stood in a Graveyard lost to time placing flowers on all the graves, and toys on the one for children. “You are missed.” She said to each one before shifting behind a large gravestone when Caleb entered. She paused feeling the wave of sadness hit her. She peaked around and took in everything, understanding that he was struggling with the fact that he was moving on. Feeling bad that he forgot the birthday of his son who had passed. Her heart ached for the man and she shifted into the woman on his mind Ava.
She took a step closer, then stood beside him. “It's not wrong to move on, it's a part of life.” She said in Ava voice as she looked at him with a smile. “You can’t stop living, you can’t beat yourself up over forgetting his birthday. You are human after all.” She said lightly as she held her hand out to him. “Want to take a walk Caleb?” She asked softly to the frenchman.
Caleb had a particular habit of lying on the ground and gazing upwards when he was upset. The great expanse of the sky had always welcomed him like an old friend. He often felt that it carried more secrets and knew more sorrow than he ever could. Perhaps, that was why he liked nature so much. Things like stars were distant, the sky had fits of rage, and even the trees sometimes seemed to bend under the weight of the world. He’d grown up hearing many stories that explained the story of earth and the origin of its sorrow. There were those of the Ancient Greek pantheon, the ones found in the Catholic Bible, and so many more. Evermore itself had it's own stories. Every culture had an explanation for the burden of grief that was so terribly attached to humanity.
He wasn’t sure what he believed, but he did know there was something out there. The existence of magic had only further cemented in his mind that there were bigger things out there than his own mind could fathom. It was part of being an artist to find meaning in everything. Even in pain, and especially in death. The Frenchman squinted up at the clouds. The rain was just on the verge of tearing downwards and thunder boomed in the distance. A wooded graveyard was probably not the safest place to be in the middle of a storm. He knew that should matter, but Caleb had long struggled with finding concern for his own safety over that of the people that he cared about. Right now, he'd rather stay.
He closed his eyes, breathing in the damp air, and trying to center himself to the moment. That was particularly difficult to do when the moment wasn't something a person enjoyed remembering. It was often said that no child should ever lose a parent, but that a parent especially should never lose their child. In his short life time, Caleb had experienced both of these things. The day that everything had gone down had been almost blank in his memory for a while. His brain had written a blank slate over those memories for such a long time. It had only been in the last two years as he settled into a healthy, happy routine that his mind had allowed the pain to truly exist.
Caleb hadn't necessarily planned what he'd do on days like this. There had always been a plan when it came to the anniversary of his mother's death. He'd brought her geraniums every year and the gardener had begun planting them. Now that he didn't live in France, the happy colored flowers decorated the window boxes of his home. He liked the reminder. They were like sunshine. She'd been much like that herself -- happy, even on the hardest of days.
He opened his eyes as there were soft footsteps in the grass beside him. The sun had emerged from the clouds, as it often did after a brief summer storm and Caleb had to shield his eyes in order to see who was standing above him. He blinked, twice. The face was one that he recognised instantly. It was the one that had belonged to the young woman he'd shared a home with, a bed with, and eventually a child, too. She was dead. He knew that.
Evermore was a strange place, but Caleb was still fairly certain that the dead couldn't just...rise out of nothing. He felt caution creep above the tender jolt of fondness that had been triggered upon looking at the familiar features. "Sure."
The question of what was happening and who she was slipped towards the back of his mind. He was certain - anyone invited to take a last walk with their long-gone loved one would jump at that opportunity.
Caleb tucked his hands into his pockets, as he commonly did when he felt shy. It had been a very long time. "How did you find me? I left France and never looked back after both of you died. I...I haven't been back."
The dampness clung into the air as the depths of the dew nipped at her ankles. Graveyards many feared them because they were a reminder that death comes for us all one way or another. Sooner or later, immortal or not. We all meet our ends at some point. Yet many seemed to not understand that not all deaths meant their time ended. Rebirth into beings like herself, or Valkyrs or other beings yet to be studied could happen. Yet that was not something you could tell mortals, the vast majority of them fear what they don’t understand. Even though myths and histories tell you that other beings exist. Stories of fiction. It was utterly laughable how fear filled she had once been as a human. A grander understanding now in her new life.
Standing there taking in the flood of memories she could understand the man and his sadness. He had lost so much in his life. It caused the mother in her heart to swell. In another life she could see a friendship bloom over their losts. The fold of the universe is such a strange thing. Finding a gentle smile came upon her lips as she took into the fact that he kept the flowers to remind him of his mother to this day even though he no longer lived in France.
Feeling the waves of emotion crash in Caleb as he took in Ava's face that was now masking her appearance. Her gaze took him in as he slowly rose to his feet and agreed to take the walk she offered. She was sure anyone would take a walk with someone they thought long gone. So she really didn’t overthink that moment as she turned on her heel and started to walk towards the large oak on the top of the hill.
She often let the other lead the conversation. She found it was easier instead of trying to take over and dominate the others' perception in that moment. She gave a gentle smile towards him as she gave a gentle shrug of her shoulder. “When you are no longer bound to a mortal life. Travel is vastly easier, and finding you just as easy. I am always with you no matter where you go. Cheering you on and watching you grow.” She reached over, placing a gentle hand along his forearm.
Despite what Caleb might have once thought, the silence between them was not bad. It was comfortable and rang much more of quiet companionship than awkwardness. The path up the hill was gravel which crunched under their feet and left soft imprints behind them. In the past, he might have looked back and wondered if her footsteps existed but that did not bother him today. Whether this was some illusion or a trick of his mind — it was welcome and overthinking it seemed like the wrong thing to do. “I can see that,” He nodded as she spoke. “It had always been my belief that the people we love never truly leave us.”
She had been with him: in his heart and his mind, and even on his body — commemorated in various small tattoos on his right bicep. Even though he’d built a new life among the shreds of the old one there was still damage that ached when touched.
Caleb looked at the ground most of the way. He wasn’t sure if he could meet her eyes. It had been something that had taken him nearly six months to do after they first met. They had always been such a piercing green which had much less to do with the color than the passionate mischief that lay behind it.
After they reached the top, there was a small bench awaiting underneath the grand old oak. It had been a place that he’d found shelter frequently during his first days in Evermore. Less so, in recent days, but his heart still ached upon reaching the familiar slats of wood. The young man sat down. His hands were still firmly cemented in the pockets of his denim jacket.
He was worried that if he moved them, he’d do something stupid like try to reach for her shoulders and make sure she was real. He was scared that if he did…the image that he was seeing would vanish into dust, but he did not have to move to make either reality true.
Before he could, there was a gentle grasp on his lower arm. Caleb froze for a moment, but after it had passed he looked up. Her eyes were the same as they always been. Vivacious, but caring in this moment. His brows knit together and a bittersweet affection bled through his eyes. “Hey, Ace.”
It was a simple greeting, but truly one that he hadn’t thought he’d say again. Ace had been her nickname because of her go-getter personality and because she truly seemed to beat him at everything.
So much had changed in five years. In five years, he’d moved across the continent and truly finally moved on. He’d started dating a truly wonderful woman whom he had very genuine feelings for now. Whom — perhaps, he even loved. He had new hopes and dreams. There were new happy memories which were finally building upon the ashes of what he had lost. Caleb had so many questions and very few words to put them together.
Slowly, he relaxed and let out a deep breath which led to a slightly perplexed laugh. “Why now?” He asked. “There were so many years that I begged the universe for one more chance to see you. Why now? After my whole life has changed?”
The human felt a small amount of frustration rise above the confusion. “On Darcy’s birthday. Why now?”
Carmela looked over to Caleb as he said that he believed that those they love truly never leave them, and he was correct fully in that. Their spirits could be around, their items were still there so you would remember them, there are so many ways to say they are still around. Really as long as you think of them and miss them, they would truly never be gone. Let alone if they became an Aurazin like she had. She smiled with the face that he was comforted by, his passed lover. “You have no idea how true that statement can be.” She reached out to place her hand on his bicep for a brief moment.
Reaching the small bench that was under the massive old oak tree she moved over to it. It was a place she had been more times than she could count since she visited the graves often to help others heal and move from all the pain that they are holding on to. It was what she was built for, even with the vile not opening to them she would keep doing this. One way or another, or till she didn’t exist anymore. Which was something that worried her more than she would ever admit to her fellow Aurazin.
As they moved sitting beside each other she stared out to overlook the back half of the grave sites waiting for him to speak. It was Aurazin 101 to allow the griever to lead the conversation, so you knew what was weighing on their mind mainly. As she reached out to grasp him softly, to sooth him the best she could in that moment. She watched his brain process everything and she smiled softly back to him, “Hey, (Whatever Ava would call him).” she smiled softly to him.
She gave a gentle chuckle to Caleb for a moment as she looked back to the graves before back to him. “You seem to be searching for something Caleb, so why not tell me why now? What do you think brought me here?” She felt the frustration and the confusion before looking away, there was a child involved who had passed also. She may have gotten in over her head here. Yet she would see it through. “Tell me what's on your mind.”
Cal. The familiar nickname caught his ear and Caleb turned his head. He hadn't liked it at first. It was worlds from how he had always pronounced his name in his native tongue. Still, it landed sweetly. He smiled. Ava had been relentlessly stubborn in her Americanisms. It could be beautiful sometimes; the way that her eyes shined under fireworks or her stubbornness reflected that of a country born from rebellion. Others, it was frustrating. After her absence, he had learned to see how often had conceded to her desires, needs, and emotions. It sometimes left his own on the backseat of their relationship until everything he carried was too heavy.
They had been happy. His love for her had been true; but everything was different now. After crashing inwards, it slowly opened. In many ways, he was an entirely different person than a few years ago. A better one. He saw the holes in their relationship. The ones that he had created, too. By shutting out her brightness because he was afraid. He hadn't been able to walk that tightrope.
"I'm not sure." Caleb said. Her grasp was kind, perhaps even comforting. Not what it was once, though. Only a simple fondness remained. "Solace, probably. Guilt, maybe." He tilted his head. "Fear, definitely."
"Every remnant of the way that I got things wrong with you." His jaw tensed. "Sometimes, there will be these moments where nothing happens and I feel like no time has passed. All of the old is still there. Just...hidden, beneath this glass stairway. I can so easily see through it. And I would like to forget."
He wanted to be better. If only there could be a day when nothing could touch him. Where the laughter and joy that lived in his current relationship could breathe fresh air into everything. "Forgetting means letting go, though, doesn't it?"
He looked up. The eyes which he met seemed so perfect, but he knew they weren't real. It was temporary. This was goodbye. "I have always found solace in history, Ace." Caleb swallowed. "What can be there for us if not the memory of the good we experienced and the bad we survived? I feel guilty to think that if I forgot, people would think --"
He stopped. And looked sharply away. "That I had not been good enough. A good enough partner. A good enough caretaker. A good enough parent."
"And that is terrifying." Caleb bit his lip. "Because despite how hard I tried to kill it - those are still things I want to have. Someone to hold, someone to teach, and someone to grow old with -- someday."
It was a relief to talk about these things. The love he felt for Octavia was different. Perhaps, even wild; but these were not things he could completely bring up. It was too much right now. Their fresh start was just beginning.
"I want to let go. I want to just be myself without worrying what the future will look like."
Caleb crossed his arms, looking out over the misty cemetery. "Perhaps, for once, be a bit more like you."
Carmela watched a smile take over his once sadden features, it made the Aurazin inside of her swirl with joy that she was being helpful. Doing a job she hadn’t felt connected to since the veil closed. She was worried she would be out of practice. He could hear the comfort playing in his mind, with a soft smile on her lips as she watched him. She knew what the brian looked like when it was processing information from the past information that it didn’t necessarily want to process in the moments as life passed.
Relationships are vastly messy in life and in death, she had watched people process their pain in so many ways even though she mainly helped parents who lost a child or a child who lost a parent. Rarely it was someone who lost an equal. So she was rusty in more ways than one but she hoped she could help Caleb move past whatever was holding him back in life. She could tell he seemed to be buffering on moving on.
“Moving through the whole range of emotions then?” She gave a gentle smile towards him. “Ah fear the greatest of enemies holding one still in life.” a gentle breath left her lips as she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “Yet forgetting everything about our past relationship would only put you back at square one in your life. You have learned from the things you believe you have done wrong, yes? I had my faults too, ones I wish I could correct but I can’t now. You can learn from our relationship and use that glass stairway to find your correct footing.” Moving to place a hand to his cheek offering a soft stroke upon his cheek.
“Burying your past will only hurt you in the end. Learning to deal with issues and your reactions is the only way to move forwards. Letting go and moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting, it means learning and growing and keeping the good times stored away to remember me, us fondly.” She said with a soft smile. “I know Cal, If you didn’t follow history it was doomed to repeat or so you would tell me often.”
Moving Ava (Carmela) took hold of Caleb's face and made him look at her fully. “You are not to feel guilty for moving on. You are good enough, you are a good enough partner, you are a good enough caretaker, you are a good enough parent. Do not let those around you make you feel something that isn’t true. Shit happens in life, Me being taken away doesn’t make you not good enough. You need to know that you are worth finding love and finding that person who sees you for you. Forget what other people think, really it will make life so much easier for you. You deserve to be happy and in love. Just because you lose a lover doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to move on. Life is far too short to wallow in pain and not fight someone to hold and love and feel joy with.”
Letting Caleb's face go she smiled and then looked out to the misty cemetery, “Do it. Be wild and free and don’t let losing those you love hold you back because I promise you we both want you to be happy and have a family. We want you to have a long and happy life. We are just so sad we couldn’t do it with you.” She looked back at him.
Ava had never been a perfectionist. She'd dwelled so firmly in the present moment that her relationship to time had been completely different to his own. Caleb saw everything -- as it was, as it could be, and as he wished it had been. It often left him bogged down in his mind and lacking focus for the things that mattered. She'd once fondly referred to this as him occupying his mental castle, but Caleb had always known that it drove her crazy sometimes. Shit happens. The phrase stirred something in his mind that he'd forgotten. It was something that she told him on a weekly basis whenever their plans went awry. The wily redhead had never been much for 'pardoning her French'.
He almost laughed, but he held it back. It felt inappropriate to laugh in a cemetery; but maybe that was something he'd held onto from childhood. Being raised by someone older had occasionally meant that life as a child was to be seen and not heard. He didn't believe that anymore. Love was wild and the children that resulted from that should never be kept away from it. Spare the details, but not the expression.
He raised a brow stubbornly when she reached for his face. Old habits died hard, huh? It had never been enough to just talk to him. Having his full attention was one hundred percent required. Somehow, whatever magic had made this happen, Caleb knew that it must be able to truly connect to the person he had once known. Otherwise, how would it remember things that he had forgotten? That was one of the many wonders of Evermore. He couldn't keep it, or himself, inside a mental box anymore. The possibilities were too endless. The light too bright and air too fresh to ignore.
He looked into the familiar green eyes one time. It was difficult to do at first. They were so familiar, but a singular awareness that this was over did not bother him anymore. He'd traced every path and explored every question. If it continued, all that he would be doing was forming an escape from real life. That seemed ludicrous considering the amount of time it had taken to be freed of the pain. "So," Caleb squeezed Ava-not-Ava's hand. "This is goodbye?"
C'est un aurevoir.
He looked forwards and tilted his head. Magic made the impossible, possible, didn't it?
"If that is the truth," He bit his lip. "May I say goodbye to him too?"
For as long as he could remember, he'd carried a Darcy-shaped hole in his heart. It had been soothed by little, apart from actually spending time with children. Perhaps, it was one of the many reasons that he so well enjoyed his first grade art students. That's how old his son would be today. Perhaps, it would be just his imagination. Perhaps, a face made from the hundreds of children and smiles that he'd observed in his lifetime - but it would be enough.
Sometimes, the hardest things to say goodbye to were the ones you never truly got to experience. But, Caleb was finally ready.
He didn't even have to ask. When he looked up, there was a small red-headed version of his childhood self sitting beside him. He was shocked at first, but slowly relaxed.
With everything else considered, he only had one question. It had once been a thousand -- what was his favorite color? His favorite song? His favorite annoying kid's television show that would never be turned off?
Caleb chuckled and messed with the little boy's hair. "Are you happy?"
He was happy, finally; and would be a fool to deny that. There was a bright future ahead of him, but it was no longer daunting to leave the past behind. He took hands with the little boy and they walked downwards to the unmarked grave that he had used for so long to honor the child's mother. By the time he stood there himself, Caleb looked down and realized that the hand he was holding had disappeared.
For a brief moment, the same panic as always reached for him, but when he looked up he could see Ava and Darcy waving to him in the distance as they walked away. There was a true sadness that reached him, as he slowly waved goodbye; but sadness was temporary. Like they did now, it would soon fade away.
Just like when he entered Evermore, he was standing by an ancient cross. It honored the lost, it honored the dead, it honored a million souls who'd never had the chance to say goodbye. Caleb rested his hand on the cool stone for just a moment before wading through the knee-length grass. He knew that the wondrous image of his fiancée and his son were standing behind him, but even as he walked away...he didn't look back. His steps left imprints on the wet gravel just like the people he'd once loved would always leave an imprint on his heart. Now, there was only a future to look forwards to and nothing was holding him back.
Carmela in the form of Ava gave a smile at the almost laugh that left him. She understood not wanting to laugh in a cemetery, but it was nice to see the smile on his face as well. She could feel the warmth of what Ava held for him in her soul in that moment. There were reasons they were together and had the life they had even if it was cut short. She moved the hair over her shoulder as she held onto Caleb's hand for a moment. “I’m not ever gone, I am here when you need someone to talk to, or know is cheering you on. Never goodbye just, Jusqu'à ce que nous nous revoyions.”
As Caleb seemed to catch on to the fact magic was having its hand in the meeting that was happening at the moment Carmela in the form of Ava gave a gentle nod of her head before her body shifted into that of Caleb child Darcy. This would be the form that would make Carmela cry later alone. Standing there with the mass of hair and bright eyed as he would last remember him. “Père.” Darcy's voice would leave the mouth of the child she was portraying now.
“Oui, Père. Je t'aime.” Carmela was choking back tears not that Caleb would notice that. As in Darcy form she was there hugging him. Giving him a long goodbye hug before stepping back. Using what magic she had she made herself two forms, Ava taking Darcy hand and moving into a bright light. Carmela walked away from Caleb waving as both forms before the darkness covered her and she could transform back into who she was and move into the shadows of the trees in the cemetery.
Watching from the shadows for a moment, she felt a sense of comfort in being able to give Caleb a chance to say goodbye to those he had lost. Whipping away the tear that had fallen from her eyes before making her way to leave. Feeling locked in this world and never being able to see her own child again. She needed this need to remind her not to lose hope. As she made her way back to the prairies she hoped to run into Caleb in the future to see him growing.