Disclaimer: I do not own W.I.T.C.H. or any of its characters in any shape or form.
Note: this is based off the cartoon series.
At long last, the last installment. I had an idea of where I was going with this, but then life hit me and once I finally got back to it, I lost it so yeah... Not sure how this turned out, but I hope it is decent at least.
Thanks to all who have reviewed/favourited/followed this story. I can't express in words how grateful I've been for your support, especially those of you who took the time to leave such kind reviews.
It was a red flower he almost stepped upon as he drew up to where she stood, its petals a splash of vivid colour against its black center and the green around. It reminded him of blood, of his own wounds and the wounds of others. Of the battles he had just fought so soon after everything else. After the clash of steel. The flash of magic. The death. The terror. The screaming-
His hands trembled at the echo in his head.
There was rosemary at the lapel of his jacket, pinned underneath its fold. His heaving chest caused the clothing to rustle and this in turn rustled the poignant leaves, allowing their scent to drift up to him and ground the soldier in the now. Those memories faded, and they were just that, memories. Parts of a past that was over and done with. Scars, perhaps, had they possessed physical manifestations.
(He had scars enough. The man could count them, new and old, though he could not say where all came from with certainty.)
(He did not think he wanted to know.)
Caleb's fingers pressed against his collar, a new habit developed around the same time as he had added the new adornment to his outfit, a nervous tick that served to ground him when the past became…
It had been his father's idea to have him always carry something that would accomplish such. A trick learnt from older soldiers who had seen war before the wars even the children now remembered, and from older former Rebels who had taken this trick up as their own. The choice of rosemary had been his own (as much as it had been hers all that time ago). There was a comfort to it. A sense of peace it gave him that little else could. A reminder (of her, of everything he loved). A promise, perhaps, if he were brave enough.
He was brave. He was. He had led the Rebellion as a child. He had faced Phobos and Cedric and so many others, all as a child.
("It is never good to bring children into war," Vathek had said. "And in that way we have wronged you."
Regret was, indeed, an ugly thing.)
Caleb's heart trembled at the task before him.
She was standing amongst the flowers with their red heads and lone black eyes, her feet moving between their stems as gently as the dawn's first light. Flaxen hair swayed with the wind some soft thing blew and her face was tilted towards the sun, so much like the flowers she grew. Caleb swallowed. Stroked his rosemary and did not move.
The Guardian of Earth seemed unaware of her wayward love hovering on the periphery. She sighed and strode across the meadow, and it was then that Caleb saw the wires trailing to her ears; she was listening to music then. Dancing? Her feet stepped and the flowers moved between, both they and the girl as graceful as ever. Her hands were moving too, slow and lonely, empty and clutching at equally empty air. Yet, her back was straight, her cheeks dry. Her chin angled proudly towards the sky.
That lady stepped forward and Caleb followed, stepped back when she did, tried to move among the flowers without crushing them beneath his boots. At least twenty paces stood between them and her back was ever turned. Yet, the watcher could not help but join as the absent partner he was. His hands raised themselves of their own accord, placed themselves around air that might yet form a body, both fisted, one clutching a purple hyacinth. Forward and back, swaying in the contained manner of a rod being nudged by a fish. She, in turn, was freer. She always had been, it seemed. Forward and back. Step by ghosted step.
If he was braver, Caleb would step in and take her hands, move with her instead of in her shadow, as her shadow.
A shadow he had been for much of his life, a spy in other people's places. A watcher and a doer of things done in the dark, much like the creatures from the stories he remembered only vaguely from the youngest years of his life. He had been a commander of shadows, a commander of people sent to watch, sent to spy, sent but not ever returning. He had sent them. He had sent them, and they had not returned, had not been seen until later when the upstarts' base had been raided. Hale and whole. Hale and scared. Hale as bones in Phobos' dungeons where how many had not seen the light of day again?
Bones, he had found bones, encased in flesh this time that lived and breathed still. They had clung to him, the pair of them, his people sent to spy and learn and be in danger on his orders, were caught enacting his orders, could have been-
He had found bones when searching the dungeons of the liberated castle, mounds of bones heaped in the darkest corners where those forgotten had died chained. He had found bones and Vathek had freed each one from the chains and ropes and rags, his expression grim, his expression sad and angry and hateful, for regret was an ugly thing. They had found bones, Caleb and Vathek, and had touched them and mourned them and moved them into the light. How easy it would have been to become those bones. How easy, a voice inside Caleb had screamed.
Ropes around him, his hands, his arms. Bars before him. Walls around him. He had been caught, caught, caught-
A sharp scent floated to him somewhere beyond that vision. Grounded him. Pushed the memories away. Somehow his hand had found the rosemary.
Caleb blinked and looked to see that dancing lady staring back at him, now still and blank of face. He swallowed. "Cornelia-"
"It's been weeks," she said. "Weeks and weeks."
"There was a duty I had to attend to."
"There always is." Yet, the words were not as bitter as they had been in the past. Indeed, they were as blank as her face, hard to gage.
"I…" Caleb faltered, unsure how to begin.
She was not. "You asked me to leave, so I did."
So she had, and so he had in foolishness and fear-born anger. Caleb could not blame her for it. "I-" But he could not continue, for now there were tears in her eyes, glinting and traitorous to the blank mask that graceful lady tried to wear.
"It hurt," she said. Paused. Swallowed, and half turned her face away. "It hurt when you said what you said, and when you pushed me away, refusing what I had offered. It hurt to hear you say you did not need me, that you did not want me there beside you as you suffered, because you were suffering, Caleb. I know you were. I have read about it. I've told you about it, remember?"
Remember he did, though only vaguely and it was mingled with other memories of frogs and dreams and Irma's unsubtle jests. Caleb did, however, remember more clearly another thing from that night, a promise he had made with his forehead pressed against Cornelia's own.
I can't lose you.
Irma had hit him when he had gone to see her. It had been a solid punch and his arm still bore the bruise. Taranee had simply shook her head and handed him the flower, saying that the Guardian of Earth would understand its meaning even if he himself did not despite Taranee spending the better part of an hour delving into the symbolism of plants.
I can't lose you, Caleb thought as his stomach twisted itself into knots. His hands trembled as they had so many times before. Yet, this was a different sort of fear, and perhaps it made him brave.
"You asked me to listen that night," he said, and he held the gaze of those blue eyes steadily. "I will listen now. Anything you have to say, I will listen and hear, I swear it."
There was an apology to those words, but it was overshined, for now, by other things. She wanted to speak, the one before him, needed to have her say like his father had. Listen, she had told him how many times? How many times had she extended her hand to help?
He had spurned her the last time, almost cruelly so, and so was the cause of this new rift between them. Perhaps this offer of truce, this extending of his own hand for her to take, if only briefly, could mollify her enough that she could look upon his apology without bitterness. Perhaps this acted as its own apology, one more sincere than any merely spoken 'sorry'.
The hyacinth spun in his hand from Caleb's nervous fidgeting.
Cornelia regarded him with eyes that were unreadable. "You swear it?"
"I swear it," Caleb said, never once ducking his gaze. His every molecule strained in earnestness like a soldier knelt before their Queen.
"Okay." And she took his hand in the symbolic sense of things, though both physical appendages remained unstretched across the space between them.
The Guardian of Earth inhaled deeply. Took her time to think. The wind passed across the meadow they were in and the red flowerheads bobbed gently to it in greeting. Across from each other, both humans watched the same wind stir their hair gently. Flaxen locks settled back on proud shoulders. Then she begun.
"There is a language in flowers. It is an old tradition and part of many cultures. I think some people found it an easier way to communicate than using words. I can see why." Cornelia gestured to the field about her, to those red, lone-eyed faces bobbing gently around them. "Take the anemone. The Ancient Greeks said it bloomed from the tears of the Goddess of Love and Beauty who wept for the death of her lover. It came to symbolise those forsaken in love. The Greeks are famous for their tragedies. Apollo, another God, accidently killed his lover. He made the hyacinth as an apology." A pause.
"You are sorry."
It was not a question.
"You would not have come otherwise or asked for Taranee's help."
Caleb found himself blushing at being caught out, but he held the hyacinth out nonetheless. Cornelia took it from him and planted it in the ground. The she waved her hands and the Guardian of Earth guided the flower through a new growth.
"I cried after I left you," she said as she stood. "It's not the first time I've cried because of you. I hope it would be the last, but I'm not Hay-Lin. Sometimes we can't avoid it, but we can always say sorry."
She began to walk, heading past the tree-line of the meadow, past where Caleb stood and though nothing in her body language indicated that he should follow, he did so anyway. He knew to, knew that he always would follow when it came to her. Was that not love?
(He was not afraid to follow her, not this graceful being who was delicate and strong all at once, the flower and the rock it grew upon. He supposed that was love, or at least why he could love her.)
Through the trees they passed until a small wall of rock loomed before them, some ruined house long abandoned by its makers. Yet, it had not been abandoned by the wild. Vines and moss grew between the cracks in the bricks. A pine tree had sprung up within the roofless interior and it seemed that several birds were nesting in its branches. Blue flowers dripped from the wall like water cascading down a cliff face.
"They are called 'morning glory'," Cornelia said. "Brought here from another country, but that doesn't matter." A slender finger stroked the blue flowers that crept along the wall. "It used to be used to symbolise love, though its flowers only exist for a day. A fleeting love then."
She laughed softly to herself, a huff of breath that had not much tone to it save perhaps that of relieving pent up emotion. Caleb remained silent. Every part of himself he had devoted to listening to her.
"Yet, there is always another flower the next day," she continued calmly. "A new one to replace the old until its flowering days are finished, and the leaves don't fade between this flowering. They stay as strong as the gardener who tends them allows. Fleeting love or renewing love it is known to represent. Love can be renewed, Caleb. We did it once before." Cornelia turned back to him at last, her blue eyes earnest. "I think we can do it now. What do you think?"
She waited. Waited for him, Caleb knew. He reached out a hand to Cornelia. It was trembling.
(Was it alright to be afraid?)
She took it without hesitating. Her hand was warm in his.
"If we are to remain boyfriend and girlfriend, then you need to make some choices," she then said, and Caleb felt his heart plummeting to his stomach like a thousand stones.
They had fought over choices before, had split over choices, his choices that he could not remake being born and raised as who and where and when he was. The sword felt right in his hand, felt as much a part of it as his bones. His friends, his teachers, his father all marched with their own swords raised ever against the threats to their people and their home. He had fought and won and fought and won, and now that winning was being challenged and he had to fight again. He had to. He chose to (just like that little boy who chose the same oh so long ago). Something desperate gripped the youth's chest and squeezed, painful, almost sundering his resolve and his calm. Green eyes looked to blue and a wordless sound formed on parted lips as the male sought to pull his hand away, but the other refused to relinquish her grip and answered before he could withdraw in full.
"I won't make you choose between things," Cornelia said with an almost smile. Her eyes were filled with emotions that Caleb dared not name. "I'm not that kind of girl."
A swell of relief rushed through him, heady and dizzying all at once. It stilled him. Melted his muscles from that tense place of instinctive flight. A smile began to wash over his face, unbidden-
"But I can't watch as you destroy yourself by refusing to get help when you need it."
Caleb inhaled, then let the breath go in one big whoosh. "I know," he said at last, forcing the words through his throat. Then, more easily, "I am sorry for the hurt I caused you. I am very, very sorry."
She smiled at this and pressed his hand softly to her lips. "What are you sorry for?"
Caleb returned the gesture in kind, breathing in her scent (it was sweet and subtle, some new perfume or the result of walking amongst the flowers) as he held her gaze in earnest. "I am sorry for pushing you away like that. I should not have done that. I should not have reacted with anger towards you when you were only acting out of concern." He paused. "I am sorry for saying I did not need you."
Because he did in a way – need her, that was, truly and utterly, to keep him whole and not so focused on how well the sword melded into his hand.
"That wasn't what you said," Cornelia told him and now she drew away, a frown on her face.
Caleb drew in another breath and shuddered. Stayed his place to allow her space. "You are right, but I cannot deny that perhaps the sentiment was there. I love you, Cornelia," he said. "Please don't ever doubt that. But… I was scared and I was angry and- I've always dealt with things on my own. I've always had to. That's what it meant, being a spy and a scout and a leader in the civil war. Besides, everyone was always dealing with their own problems and I didn't want to add to that, didn't want to make them worry more. So, when I have these moments where I…lose control, lose myself to something that's not- I can't let myself be that. I can't let myself accept it. I can't need help because I've got others depending on me."
The young man sunk to his heels on the ground and wrapped his arms around his knees. They were coming in waves now, the words, relentless and wretched and unable to stop. It was like some power had cast an exorcism on him to cleanse him of all the dirt that ever seemed embedded deep inside him, rending his unseen flesh asunder with gaping wounds. Did they bleed? How was he to know? All he felt was the hurt and it made him weary in a way that drained the fight from him. He had been tired when he had spoken to Vathek and his father. He had been tired the entire time when he was commanding Queen Elyon's soldiers to quell the upstarts.
(He had been tired when they had found their missing spies, hale but caged and scared. His legs had shaken quietly when he had taken a moment to himself after the two had been helped out of their prison, and not all of that shaking had been from the lingering remnants of fear and the crash of adrenaline.)
"It's lonely," he said, more honest than he had thought to be. Tears were streaking down his cheeks now. "It's hard and I don't think I want to do it anymore. I can't stand it anymore. I'm sorry I rejected your help so harshly, Cornelia. I really am. I'm a mess and I know it and I don't know how to fix that. I don't know if I can. I don't like relying on other people. It's a habit and was a necessary one, both to protect myself and to keep others from the worst of the Rebellion. Then you came along, you and Hay-Lin and Irma and Will and Taranee, and I found myself wondering and then trusting and, then, how could I not fall in love with you? How could I not? You were a rock for me when everything else was barely holding itself together, hope when it was dwindling, and I was way in over my head." He twisted his fingers together, arms still locked around his knees. "We won. You won, and then it was over, and then it was not, and now I don't know what to do. I don't know how to deal with this and not go insane. These memories, these visions I keep seeing-"
He was weeping now, truly, and she had come to kneel beside him. Slender hands took one of his and pressed it to the dirt, letting him feel as a sprout shot up, young and supple and growing rapidly. She kept his hand there, raising it as the flower came to raise its head, unfurling white petals in the form of a simple tulip.
"I forgive you," she said. Then, with the weight of their relationship upon the words, "Will you let me help you?"
It was not a refusal, not in the slightest.
For a while Cornelia sat with him, letting Caleb cry himself out while pressed into her shoulder and flaxen hair. She grew plants as they waited, gifted life back to the withering jasmine by the ruined house's broken door and brushed at the leaves that drifted around them every now and then. The scent of rosemary grew stronger too. This grounded him, reminded him of how she had grown the same plant on the windowsill of his room to pull him out of a much worse episode.
Silence came to sit between the pair, not at all awkward in its presence. Both allowed it to stretch for a time before a slender hand came to stroke Caleb's face, gentle and supportive all at once.
"I asked for advice on how to deal with this from someone on an anonymous site," the hand's owner told him quietly. "It's legitimate, but anonymous. I can't really go to someone in person now, can I? What would I say? That my boyfriend from another realm has nightmares and panic attacks from warring with mad kings and giant snake-men, while his mother was some psychotic witch who-" She cut herself off before her voice reached true hysteria and squeezed Caleb's hands. "I asked them for advice about my nightmares and it helped a lot. So, I asked them to tell me how I could help someone I cared about who had been in a war at a very young age and then had been a soldier and was now hurting because of it. I looked up all these websites, all this information. All to help you, Caleb, because I love you. Never doubt that."
And he did not.
"I can help you find some coping techniques to help deal with panic and anxiety and flashbacks – those visions you have. Taranee would help too, probably better than me, if you were willing to let her," she said. "But I won't ask her until you want to, if you want to. I don't mind doing the research myself. I'll make you up notes about the information I found and find. I can give them to your dad too, if you want, that way he can help you if you need it and I'm not there. Maybe we can also figure out a better way to communicate when we're…apart. That way I can come when you need me to, and you can come if I need you," she added in a small voice.
"I will always come when you need me," Caleb said and he pressed his lips to hers, chaste and fond and in control of himself once more. Then he stood, scrubbing at his eyes to rid them of the last tears. That lady love of his followed him and they faced each other once again. "Could we talk about this later?" he asked. "I- I think I've had enough of it for now."
"But we will talk later," Cornelia said even as she dipped her head in agreement.
"We will," he promised, and he meant it. The young man watched as a smile bloomed across her face, bright and bold and as confident as the mountains were to the wind that sought to bow them, everything he loved about her summed up into one simple expression.
He remembered back when they had been not even a breath apart as they swayed beneath the whirling colours of a festival. After a moment, Caleb offered a shaking hand. "Would you like to dance?"
She smiled. Took it and then took up his other one. Then, to a music only the two of them could hear that was dug deep in the bones of the nature around them, they began to move as two and one.
Around that place with the crumbled house they danced. Back and forth along the grass, over the roots of the trees before them and if it seemed these roots moved to let them pass, then neither took very much notice of this. The leaves pressed in around the pair, all the better to hide this intimate moment from prying hikers. In the branches of the pine tree several squirrels chittered away. Above them birds watched in their own noisy way, the only audience to this sight.
Caleb dipped his partner as waves dipped into the sea or flower heads beneath the rain, and for a moment they paused, chest to chest as their lips brushed over each other, chaste and longing. Then someone deepened the kiss – neither truly knew who – and it was a vine of morning glory he was trying to hold up. Or was he the vine, clinging ever to the post that grounded him? Breathless and reverent, and he pulled away to press his forehead to hers.
"I love you," he said, a truth and an oath. A whisper returned by her in kind.
"I love you too," she breathed. "Don't worry, we'll get through this."
And, for now, that was enough to quiet the memories in Caleb's head. His hands were not shaking. This counted as a win.
Meaning of flowers (as they appear):
Anemone = forsaken; undying love
Rosemary = remembrance; love and fidelity
Purple Hyacinth = regret; I am sorry; forgive me; sorrow
Morning glory = love; affection; fleeting OR renewable nature of love (it's flowers bloom & die in a day, but always produces more flowers the next day)
White tulip = forgiveness
Jasmine = unconditional & eternal love
Thanks again for sticking through this, especially with the incredibly lengthy time between updates. It is much appreciated and I hope this last chapter is an acceptable ending for this story (I'm not 100% happy with it, but ah well, I don't think I ever would be no matter how it was written).
If you would like to leave a review to tell me what you think, please do. They are, as always, much appreciated.