Caleb was no stranger to brooding. More than anyone in the Nein, more than anyone he’d ever met, he turned brooding into an extreme sport. It was only natural when a person had so many things to keep them up at night.
That night, it was not the usual things that stopped him from sleeping. He sat in an empty room of his own creation, sparse and uninteresting in comparison to his companions’, and felt his heart clench in his chest. Putting words to the thing was dangerous, so he didn’t. It only made the guilt of it worse, the shame hot and red like the flush of humiliation that flooded his cheeks when he thought too long on it.
He’d felt this way before, a long time ago, before he’d confessed his past sins to Beauregard and Veth. It was nervous energy, bubbling like hot lava, wanting an escape even though he knew it should be kept secret. He’d done so many terrible things already; he couldn’t believe he had to add this to the list as well.
Talking to Veth was out of the question. Not now, at least, not with their last conversation so fresh in his mind. They had an understanding, it felt like, and he would not impinge on that anymore than he already had. She deserved peace, and he would not allow himself to be the one to take that from her.
But Beauregard. Maybe, for the second time, she could listen as he unburdened his sins.
He was out of his room and halfway to hers before he even realized he’d decided to go. He wanted to talk, to expel this thing so it would no longer haunt him. Somewhere deep inside, he knew that wouldn’t happen but he still had to try. It was a compulsion that he couldn’t ignore, drawing him to Beauregard’s door, where he raised his hand to knock and found himself hesitating. She had better things to do than listen to him. What about Yasha? She probably didn’t want to hear anything he had to say until she’d spent time with Yasha, so why was he trying?
Because he was going to throw up if he didn’t. Because some things had to be said or they ate you up alive.
He knocked three times in quick succession and stepped back from the door, hands stuffed in his pockets like he was trying to hide the offending appendages. If she wasn’t there, she wasn’t there and he wasn’t going to knock again. If she didn’t come to the door, that was fate telling him to let it go, that there were some things better kept to himself and this was definitely one of them—
The door opened. Beauregard stood in the doorway, still wearing her winter clothes, a nervousness to her frame that fell away when she saw him. “Caleb,” she said, surprised. “Hey.”
“Hello, Beauregard,” he said, unable to keep his voice completely even.
“What’s up?” She asked, her brow furrowing.
“Can we…can we talk? I know you are probably busy and have plans, I just thought…” He trailed off. He didn’t know what he’d thought. Everything was so much harder in person, when you had to make a fool of yourself in front of someone else. Even now, he somehow expected her to push him away, to not have time for him. And he wouldn’t blame her for it if she did; that was the worst part of it. He would understand completely if she thought he wasn’t worth the time to talk to. He didn’t think he was.
“Yeah, of course. Are you okay?” She asked, stepping back from the door, motioning him inside.
He stepped in, sighing with some mixture of relief and anxiety. “Ja, ja, I’m…I’m all right.”
“Because you don’t look it,” she said, the words and her tone asking him to cut the bullshit. Don’t pretend to be all right if you clearly aren’t, she seemed to be saying.
“No, I suppose I don’t,” he said. He glanced around the room, noting the stained glass of the Nein and the Empire, so different from the blank space in his own room. He felt pride when he looked at this one though, pride in his own creation and his ability to make his family happy. That was worth more to him than a pretty design in his room ever could be.
“So what is it?” Beauregard asked. She perched on the arm of the loveseat in front of the fireplace, watching him with keen blue eyes.
“It’s about…um,” he laughed humorlessly. “I’m kind of losing my mind.”
Beau raised an eyebrow. “I can see that. Is this about Lucien or…something else?”
“Something else,” he said immediately. “Well, in a way, Lucien. This. Everything we’re doing right now.”
“Okay, I’m going to need you to just come out and say whatever it is you need to say,” Beauregard said. “If you keep beating around the bush, we could be here for hours.”
“I think Veth is going to leave us,” he said, the words spilling from him in a rush.
Beau’s mouth opened, but she paused. “Ah,” she said, but that was all.
“And I don’t know what to do about it.” Heady frustration clouded his mind, and he found himself embarrassingly close to tears. “I made this tower so she could bring her family here, I learned spells so the distance would not be so great, so that she could justify staying but she can’t. And I don’t blame her. Who am I—who are we to keep her from her family? And she said—she said—” His words stuttered to a halt and he blinked furiously, doing everything he could to keep an iron will on his emotions, to not let the frustration and sadness close up his throat.
Beauregard’s voice was unusually gentle when she spoke. “What did she say?”
He took a deep, shuddering breath. “She said after this mission, it would be goodbye.”
A moment passed. Caleb chanced a glance up at Beauregard and she was regarding him steadily, not unkindly. She stood and rounded the loveseat, sitting on the cushions instead. She patted the seat next to her. “Come on,” she said. “Sit down.”
Slowly, numbly, he did. He felt drained, having admitted what he already had, knowing there was more. Giving voice to the fear of losing Veth was terrifying and exhausting, just as much as thinking about it was. Maybe more so. Somehow, he hadn’t expected that.
“You know,” Beauregard started. “A while ago, back at the Xhorhaus, I asked you something. Do you remember?”
“Of course I remember,” he said.
“Right, fucking right. You remember everything, whatever,” she shook her head. “You seemed pretty adamant back then that you didn’t…”
He stared into the fire in front of him, letting the flickering orange glow blur his vision, liking the way it hurt. “I…”
There was nothing to say. Nothing he could say to defend himself from this. It wasn’t that he’d lied to Beauregard then so much as he hadn’t let himself think of it, not really.
“There’s nothing wrong with loving her,” Beauregard said gently. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“But I have,” he said. He covered his mouth with one hand still staring into the fire. “She has a family. A husband and a child. How is it not wrong for me to…”
“Caleb, you can say it. This,” she motioned to the room, all flailing fists in that familiar way hers, “is a safe place. You made it—“
“I soundproofed it,” he said.
She cocked her head. “Okay, A, thank you. B, you see? You can say what you need to say, you don’t need to hold it back or talk around it here.”
He waited, trying to shape the words of his tongue, but he was unable to do so. “She’s going to leave us, Beauregard.”
“You know she loves you too, right?” She said, a brash intensity to the words. She didn’t like that he wasn’t going to say it outright, so she may as well do it herself. “Not just as friends, not just as someone who saved her. She kissed you, Caleb. Would you be so willing to say she did something wrong, too? Or are you just going to put that on yourself?”
“I’ll put it on myself,” he said.
“You’re not a villain for loving her,” Beau’s voice was steely and he knew if he met her gaze, it would be full of iron.
“No, I’m a villain for many other things. That still doesn’t make it right.” He sighed and hung his head, massaging the back of his neck as if that would help.
“Did you think talking about it would make you feel better?” She asked.
He nodded silently.
He shook his head. “No.”
Before he knew what was happening, Beau’s arms were wrapped around him and she pulled him into a tight hug. As usual, it took him a while to reciprocate, but she held on for a long time, waiting for him to respond.
“You’re going to be okay,” Beau said, still holding him in her embrace. “None of us want to see her go and if she does—I don’t know. I don’t know what we’re going to do. But I know she means more to you than anybody else. You’re still going to be okay. I promise.”
He didn’t know if that was true. Just the thought of losing her made his heart feel like it was cracking in his chest—his stupid, traitorous heart, too fragile after so many years of hardships. Or maybe it was only so fragile in Veth’s hands, breakaway glass to her nimble fingers.
He held on to Beauregard, clinging to the physical contact to make him feel real, to convince him that she was right. He would be okay. Even without Veth, he could be okay.
But the worst of it? The worst part was that he thought maybe he didn’t want to be okay without her. The day would come when he would have to learn to let her go and he ached already, just imagining it.
He loved her. More than he should, more than should be allowed. But this had always been his lot in life, hadn’t it been? To want things he could not have.
He held on to Beauregard and tried not to think of it anymore.