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It had been three days in the middle of nowhere. Which, granted, was not ideal for most people but for Caleb was a slice of paradise. Driving through the plains of Oklahoma and all the way into the mountains of Colorado, he had the opportunity to clear all the thoughts from his head and just be alone. There weren’t a lot of people on the roads he took and it was even better when there was an opportunity to go off the path with only the word of the locals as a guide. Meeting his father had been both sudden and not quite the family reunion he’d always anticipated. From Spencer, he’d heard a new side of the story of his early childhood. How his mother hadn’t always been the saint that he knew her as and had left suddenly from what (in his father’s eyes) had been a peaceful and happy marriage. It filled Caleb with questions that his mother could never answer and a weight on his shoulders that couldn’t be lifted. Leaving the ranch had been a difficult decision.
He urged the motor bike to a slow stop beneath him as he came towards a fork in the path. To the left was more wilderness and towards the right the path was more beaten and in the distance he could see what a passerby a few miles back had referred to as ‘ever more’ with no more descriptors than the simple phrase. It was far enough in the distance that even squinting to see proved useless, other than a few lights that could either be a campground, or a city, or a carnival or all he knew. Caleb bit his lip, exhaustion pining at the back of his mind, just where he couldn’t let it take over. It had been a long few days.
A long few months.
A long year. Caleb absent mindedly twisted the ring on his left hand, red hair and a bright smile flashing through his memory. He still wore it.
Til death do you part isn’t supposed to…
Actually die. Caleb couldn’t think about that right now, the wind was picking up and a storm was blowing in. He kicked the bike back into action, but it protested with a grumpy groan. Granted, it had been a few hundred miles since he’d had it serviced.
This was not the time for his singular mode of transportation to fuss out. Rain drops dashed against his face and thunder echoed in the distance. Caleb fastened the straps of his backpack securely and wheeled the motorcycle further into the underbrush. He’d come back for the bike. Looking once more at the two angles in the pathway, he chose the one facing right.
Ever more? If only things could last forever.
He stepped further into the rain, struggling against the wind. It was heavy and seemed to easily move against his frame. The thought of tornado was the last one on his mind before a large tree branch snapped from above and came hurtling towards him. There was a sharp pain behind his eyes and everything went black.
She glanced over at Caleb a few times while they were talking to the woman, she was very kind and sweet, younger than Argent was expecting to be honest, but then she supposed she didn’t really know all that much about orphanages having never visited one herself. She was expecting it to be sad but the kids actually seemed well cared for and happy, or as happy as you could be given the circumstances. After the headmistress left them to wander for a little bit, she stood by Caleb’s side and chuckled softly when he finally realized she had been trying to get his attention.
“I notice a lot, I guess you could say people kinda fascinate me” she commented with a chuckle, especially people who were so full of light and bright colors like she saw when she looked at Caleb “Plus I live alongside a lot of people, kinda pays to be able to read people” okay her aura ability definitely allowed her to cheat a little but she had always been a decent judge of character and was yet to doubt her instincts.
Her breath hitched for a moment when he mentioned childhood, she had to be careful how she responded to that because she knew he was human and that she looked much younger than she was “I didn’t have a great upbringing” she admitted and pressed her lips together, understatement of the century frankly “So I guess I blanked most of it out” her green eyes flicked up to his gaze and then down to the ground “I remember always being excited by the leaves turning in the fall and getting to play out in them” she chuckled softly “What about you? Better childhood than mine?”
Caleb's eyes wandered the colorful hallways which were brightly decorated in children's artwork. The projects ranged in size and skill level, from toddler's scribbles to genuine painted canvas of parrots, pirates, and penguins. Children truly had no end to their sources of creativity and sometimes he missed the freedom that came along with believing there was no end to the amount of good in the world. He'd only been a preteen by the time he'd been forced to grow up and see things in black and white. Being rapidly pulled out of childhood wonderland and into sobriety was never ideal and he got the sense that it was something Argent understood. Unfortunately, it was all too common and meeting children who really got the chance to act their age seemed like a rarity.
Caleb ran his fingers over a sketch of two dogs howling at the moon and tilted his head. It was well done and certainly had some unique aspects to it. The Ailwards seemed to have a lot in common with being fascinated by people, at least, as far as Argent and Malva were concerned. He, himself, tended to enjoy most people from a distance and when he did meet someone he liked, bonded to them strongly. His childhood? Before it ended, it had been something he still remembered fondly. Caleb nodded as their footsteps fell together to a slow walk. "Indeed." They came upon a table near the front of the room which housed a neat stack of blank paper and a bucket of rainbow crayons. "It was...good. I was raised by my Mama at her childhood home in Annecy, France. A little village, oui?" He took a few crayons from the collection and began a rapid, but dept sketch of the lake house from his memories.
Before long, a brown two-story chalet stood out against the white page with a blue lake in the distance and some white ducks on the green lawn and some spring flowers surrounding their litle orange feet. Spring was his favorite season. Caleb chuckled, signed his name at the bottom, and taped it to the wall. "C'est bon."
All the drawings she saw around them kept taking her attention, keys drifting from one to another as she took in the different sketches and the tones behind the, mostly they were brightly colored and of beautiful things like flowers and animals but a couple drew her attention because of how artistic they were and the way they were abstract but also felt like they had some sort of meaning to them. She studied one for a while as she listened to Caleb talking about the life he had led until now. She smiled brightly as he spoke about his mother and his hometown “I always wanted to visit France” she admitted with a gentle smile “Do you miss it?” he asked curiously, she never really missed her hometown and couldn't wait to leave it as soon as she could but she did miss the Isle of Skye very much.
Seeing him pick up the crayons she followed his lead and grabbed a couple of her own along with a sheet of paper, she wasn’t Tatiana when it came to art but she had dabbled in drawing a few times so it wasn’t completely awful, she started to draw a field of flowers she remembered from Skye, a reminder of the home she left behind and a place she would unfortunately never be able to return to. She missed it dearly, it was the first true home she had ever known and now it was a mass grave and the reminder of everything her people had lost. It was still raw for her, even two years down the line but the picture she drew of it held nothing but beauty.
She followed his lead and taped her own to the wall beside his before studying the paper he had posted seeing what she assumed what his childhood home, it looked beautiful too, even down to the little ducks he had drawn on the bottom. She smiled, her eyes trailing over it and then turned to look up at him “So he can fix bikes, doll houses and he can even draw pretty well” she squinted her gaze at him “What are you bad at?” she asked with a teasing look.
Caleb looked over Argent's drawing with curiosity in his eyes. It was a soft blue sky of varying shades with an island below. He'd never been to a lot of islands, but it looked beautiful and made him wonder what she was describing. As their drawings stood taped together on the wall, it came to his attention that perhaps they'd both drawn home or at least where their hearts felt at home. He tilted his head, with a wistful expression on his face. He loved the chateau and always had; it had been a special place, but even more so it had been filled with special people. It was where he'd taken his first steps as a toddler, where his mother taught him to talk and paint and throw a ball, and where he brought Ava and they started a life. It was where the two of them learned they were having a baby and subsequently grieved over that loss together. His eyebrows wrinkled together as his hand traced over the crayon outline of the house. Did he miss France? No, not really. It was just a place. He could live anywhere and he loved adventure, but...he did miss his family, some of whom would never return. He turned to Argent, a wistful expression lingering deep in his eyes, as he shoved his hands back into his pockets. It was a comfortable posture lately. "It's complicated, yes?"
They continued their walk down the hallway, back towards the car, to retrieve the house for dolls which was the entire purpose for their trip to the orphanage. "How you miss a home, but a home is a person." Caleb opened the back door of the car and carefully pulled the wooden structure out, balancing it on his arm as he closed the door. After all their hard work, it would be unfortunate if something happened to it. The walk back to the garden was solemn, until Argent's tease about his talents. "Oh, you would be surprised, mon amie. I am a talent at failing many things."
He thought for a moment. "Like sports. And anything to do with fashion rend Caleb confus!" He chuckled. Whenever his thoughts turned him downward, it always seemed like he could count on Argent to lift his spirits.
Complicated, that always seemed to be the word for anything and everything nowadays, nothing was simple or easy, it was all criss crossed wires and emotions and influences. Perhaps it was just her being wistful for better and brighter times but that drawing represented a time in her life where she had been truly free and happy. Or as free as you could be when your life quite literally depended on the existence of 7 others but that was a choice she made and lived with, all the things that happened around that were much further out of her control. It was frustrating and at times heartbreaking, watching the world go by, seeing the cruelty people could inflict and often not being able to do a single thing to prevent it. She knew she was only one person and it was impossible for her to shoulder ever bit of hardship but being what she was made her feel a small part of responsibility for the world’s suffering and wanting to see an end to it “It always is” she responded to his words her green eyes flicking towards him for a moment.
She followed his lead as they headed back to the car which she unlocked when they reached it so he could retrieve it from the trunk, she was impressed with the way he managed to pick it up so effortlessly “Damn you are strong” she commented offhandedly, she was small but she trained a lot to be able to handle herself and she still found that dollhouse heavy. When he mentioned home being a person her breath hitched for a moment, her thoughts going back to the love she lost over 100 years ago “Yeah I suppose it is” since then she had this unsettling feeling in her stomach like things weren’t right and perhaps never would be again “It’s hard to be away from home” she spoke as she met his gaze, figuring she was bridging the gap of what he was saying with his solemn statement.
She was glad for the topic to turn a little brighter though, the male listing out things he wasn’t good at which made her laugh, purposely scanning her eyes over him to see the outfit he was wearing when he mentioned fashion “I don’t know, you dress like you know a little like fashion” she teased as nudged softly against his side with her elbow before closing the trunk and locking the car and following him back into the building, only to be met with the bright smiling face of the warden from earlier who looked thrilled to have something new for the kids, when she proclaimed her thanks she jerked her chin towards Caleb “Don’t thank me, all I did was let him have free rein of the basement, the work is all him” she grinned softly glad the kids would get to enjoy this all over again.
Caleb could sense that even the simple crayon art had pulled some emotion out of Argent that he hadn't connected with before, something a bit deeper than the base level on which they'd stayed only a few moments prior. That was a large part of why he himself enjoyed creating, because it was like a window into the world of anyone who picked up a brush. There must be more stories within his friend that he hadn't even begun to uncover. He got the sense that she was older than she seemed, but very often suffering produced learning and it could lead to the type of quiet wisdom that lay underneath Argent's bright smile. Caleb nodded as they carried the tiny house into the larger one. "Well, thank you. I appreciate your appreciation of the bottom of my suitcase." He teased. Caleb was really was more of a homebody, "Ava always pushed me to be my best self and that involves getting outdoors and staying active," He looked down at his feet with a wistful smile. "I think if I remained a bachelor forever, I may be content to live alone by a lake with an unlimited supply of paint. A colorful, but solitary existence."
As they set the dollhouse upright among the the other toys and were praised by the warden, he wrinkled his nose a bit, trying to shrug off the odd feeling of happiness that was settling on his shoulders in a way that was distant but also comfortable, for the first time in nearly a year. "Ah, but without the encouragement. It wouldn't have found a place to live again." He chuckled, watching as a few girls traipsed in from the garden, eager to inspect their new belonging.
As the children, ages four to six, crowded around the playhouse peeking up the sides and carrying on in quiet tones, Caleb bit his lip. Someday, he'd find a new family, he supposed. It had always been something he wanted, but never exactly something he knew why. There was a strange relief in being far away from Paris. He could be anyone he wanted to and leave certain things behind. It was time to keep walking.
He pushed open the door and headed back to the car. "I'll drive." It was nearing sunset and there was a smattering of colors leaking into the clouds. "Where are we going next?"
It was interesting to get a little insight into the life Caleb led before he came to Evermore and the kind of person he was, the more time she spent with him the more she seemed to learn and she found that he was quite a complex but kindhearted person, the kind who would let someone he barely knew tag along with him for an entire day while they talked about stupid things and fix up an old dusty toy. “Sounds like wise words to me, I try and get out when I can, though it’s easier said than done when you’re constantly tied up with responsibilities” being an aspect wasn’t exactly a walk in the park after all, nor was there a manual or an easy way of understanding what you were doing. “Living by a lake would be night, see the reflection on the water at sunrise and sunset, rowing out over it just to watch the world go by” truth be told if she could choose a life for herself outside of what she had now, she’d probably live a pretty simple and unspoken one.
There was a sense of achievement as they handed over the new toy for the kids and watched as they swarmed around to investigate their new belonging, she remembered the first time the house had been introduced in the manor for little Thea, she had been absolutely thrilled with it and played with it for hours, her cousins constantly getting dragged into playing with her. That was a very long time ago and the young guard was now an adult herself and yet the redhead saw it clear as day.
It was bittersweet for her, letting such a memory settle and moving on from it, she had lost a lot in the past few years and there were parts of her that desperately wanted to hold onto the little things and never let them go. Regardless, she thanked the warden for her time and then turned to walk away, heading out of the door behind the tall male. Argent tipped her head up towards him for a moment when he asked where they were going next and she considered it for a moment “Dinner” she spoke and almost as if on cue her stomach growled, they’d been so busy all day they hadn’t eaten at all.
“I can cook us something” she nodded a little “But we might need to pick up some groceries because I don’t trust the rest of the house not to have eaten all the food” she gave a mock roll of her eyes as she unlocked the door and climbed into the passenger seat of the car “What food do you like?” she raised her brows.
Caleb pushed the keys into the car, feeling the engine hum to life. It had been a while since he'd driven anything apart from a motorcycle, but he enjoyed driving. Cars, even just their engines and motors, were a lot like people to Caleb. They had little parts and boxes and things that needed to be patched from time to time in order that they keep working and occasionally, cars got into wrecks. Some things were so very human that he had to wonder if there wasn't more to it all, if there was something adding a little brokenness to the world that didn't only effect the people, but also the cats, the dogs, and the cars. He'd never been particularly religious, but his aunt had seen to it that he saw the inside of a church several times a year as a young adult. The old chapels in France always struck him with their beauty and their sense of solitude even when filled with singing congregations.There was something solemn about buildings like the Notre Dame that made him wonder. If belief could erect buildings so magnificent, surely his slowly blossoming belief in the small routines would aid him.
The tall pathways of willow and oak trees spun past them as Caleb drove down the lane and back towards the city. It was evening, now, and probably an hour before sunset. There was something about the way the light hit the mirrors and bounced off that made him want to chase it, but there was also something about being with Argent in a car, with the windows rolled down, and a feeling of subtle relaxation throughout his body that made him feel perfectly content in the moment. Caleb couldn't put a finger on what she brought out of him. It wasn't that he ever had to hide himself, or his emotions, but more that he could also strive to create new memories to help them heal. She aided him in being his best self. It wasn't a romantic attraction. At first, he'd found it hard to meet her gaze seeing how similar in countenance she was to his Ava, but the more time they spent together, the easier it was to see how different the two women were.
"When you retire from your Ailward business, let me know, and there will always be a place for you in Annecy." Caleb nodded, keeping one hand on the wheel, but looking over to the next seat. "I've been working at restoring my family's home, but the work is slow...especially since I don't visit often."
He looked away, suddenly recalling to mind the many reasons why he'd chosen to leave France. "But, perhaps, there also lakes in Evermore one could call home." The sentence was finished quietly, as the twenty-six year old fell into thought. It didn't take long before the city came into view. Caleb pushed the car to a slow stop in a parking place and tossed Argent her keys. "How does Italian sound? Spaghetti."
He knew there was more to her and hoped to someday hear the rest of the story, but at the same time, Caleb knew that would mean sharing more of his own past. As they walked through the sliding doors of the shop, his brows furrowed. How much was he ready to say?
Most people were pretty possessive over their cars but Argent only had one for the novelty more than anything, she hadn’t learned until about 6 months ago and considering how old she was that was a very late stage to learn. But when you were a dragon and could fly quite possibly anywhere you wanted to go, driving seemed a little pointless. So she was totally cool with handing the keys over to Caleb and letting him take the wheel as they headed through the streets of Evermore. Her eyes gazed out the window as the city sped by in the evening light, it always reminded her how wide the world was and how small one person was in the grand scheme of everything. And yet she believed everyone also wanted to leave a little mark on the world in some way or another, they wanted to matter, to be remembered. For some that was simply in the minds of their loved ones, for others it was in text or news that would go down in history.
The redhead was practically lit up as she watched the sun as it began to cascade towards the horizon, sunrise was definitely her favorite time of the day, as aspect of light that was the very time when her element came out to greet her but sunset was a close second, the way the sun waved goodbye for the day so it could rise in another place, it was beautiful and it also meant it was her time to rest, where she could just focus on whatever she wanted to do and get some sleep. Though the aspect didn’t really sleep as much as she probably should, habit after living for so long she supposed. “I swear every sunset I see just gets more and more beautiful” she mused as she gazed at it, seeing the way the colors were beginning to scatter in the sky.
She had to stifle the laugh she wanted to give when he mentioned retirement, unfortunately, that wasn’t how it worked for aspects, the day they gave up their duties as the day their time on earth came to an end and honestly, Argent wasn’t sure she would ever be ready to let the light go. “That’s very kind of you” she praised with a soft laugh and smiled “Sounds like an awful lot of work though, you must have your work cut out” though from what she saw this afternoon, he was very good with his hands so she was sure the work, while time-consuming, wasn’t out of his capability.
“There are a few lakes in Evermore” she commented and was immediately stuck with a thought, her sister Aurantia had moved out of the manor so maybe that was possible for her, as long as she was still close to the manor then she wasn’t out of reach of the Ailward faction but it would give her the chance to have some of the independence she craved. As they came to a stop she fumbled a little when he tossed her the keys a little caught off guard but grinned when he asked about Italian “I haven’t made a good carbonara is so long” suddenly she was excited to make the meal.
She locked the car behind them as they headed towards the entrance of the store and headed inside, she could tell that Caleb seemed to be back in his own world again, he did that a lot, not that she minded, she was okay with silence as long as it was comfortable “Must be overwhelming for you, planning your life in a big new city” she commented as they headed through the aisles and she picked up the things they would need and placed them into the basket she was carrying.