He knows when he wakes up that it’s going to be a Bad Day. The type of day where, if he had still been at the grove, he would have planned to do nothing except the most necessary of tasks and then gone directly back to bed with a pain-killing tea and a hot water bottle.
But he isn’t at the grove. He’s in Xhorhas, where he and his friends have just suffered a crushing defeat. The have work to do – and half the work is going to be figuring out what in the name of the Wildmother they’re even going to do next.
Caduceus likes to be steady.
He loves his friends, but they are usually anything but. They surround themselves every day with danger and chaos, some of it their own and some of it not. He watches Fjord teeter at a knife’s edge with Uka’toa, watches Beau look for betrayal in every gesture and Caleb flinch at shadows. He watches Yasha and Jester, both wrapped up in divine forces that he does not understand and watches Nott drink and drink.
They are cohesive only in their fierce affection for one another. Their positions are always precarious, and their lives are never stable. He sometimes feels the need to be a counterbalance to their wildly-swinging weight. He tries to be calm when situations are chaotic, mild when others are angry, safe when things are dangerous. So when he realizes that it is most certainly going to be a Bad Day, his first thought is that there was no need for the others to know.
He rises slowly and spends a few long minutes debating whether it is worth expending the energy to climb to the top of the tower to commune with the Wildmother, before deciding to simply meditate on the floor next to his bed. It is a little harder than normal to slip into the deep calm he needs with pain thrumming deep in his bones, but he finally manages it. The result is well-worth it, and he rises from the meditation with a renewed desire to face the day despite the trembling fatigue he feels throughout his body.
Most days he is the first person in the kitchen. Beau is the only one who will sometimes get up before him of her own accord, but she usually spends the first hour of her morning training. He has woken up to find Caleb at the kitchen table, red-eyed and unslept, or Nott half-dozing over an alchemical solution. This morning, he is surprised to find Jester sitting alone on the counter, hunched over a mug of milk. He does not miss her dashing tears away with the back of her hand before she greets him with a wobbly smile.
“Good morning, Caduceus!” Her voice is bright enough that a less perceptive person might not even realize she had been crying – so long as they didn’t get a good look at her face. “How are you today?”
There are a few different answers he could give to that, but most of them seem … unhelpful in this situation. He finally decides on a not-untruthful, “As well can be expected. Are you alright, Jester?”
“Me? I’m fine,” Jester grins unconvincingly. He meets her eyes with a long, steady look and her expression slowly crumples. He makes his way further into the kitchen, leaning heavily on his staff, until he is right beside her as she abandons the mug of milk to the counter and leans haphazardly to the side, resting her head against his torso.
“I just couldn’t sleep,” she explains, muffled against his chest. “I just – Yasha was right there! And she’s so sad, Caduceus, every time I scry on her I see her crying and we didn’t even try to get to her. We couldn’t even try to get to her! We couldn’t even do the one thing we did try to do, and now they’re more powerful than ever and what if they just keep getting more and more powerful and we can never ever stop them!”
“I know,” he says gently, bringing up a hand to rest on the back of her head. He hopes she won’t notice how much it’s trembling. “Last night was hard for all of us, but we’re all alive to try again. He won’t have Yasha forever – I am certain of that.” There’s more he wants to say, but his throat closes for a moment as a wave of pain washes over him and he has to close his eyes and take a slow breath to keep his knees from buckling. When he opens them Jester has pulled away and is watching his face intently.
“Caduceus, are you alright?” she asks, reaching up to catch his hand in her own. “You’re shaking.”
“You know my hands shake sometimes.”
“Yeah, but it’s not usually this bad. You’re having a Bad Day, aren’t you?”
He almost wants to laugh, “I guess I should have known better than to try and hide it from you, Jester.”
She smiles, as he watches her do exactly what he was trying to avoid – pushing her own problems away to make room for his own. She shoves at him lightly. “You should sit down, I can make you tea. What are you even doing up this early?”
Caduceus makes no move to sit down. “Well, I thought I’d make some breakfast.”
“I can make breakfast!”
“… No you can’t”
“Okay, I can’t. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it! Nott can… sort of cook. And so can Fjord! Or we can just eat toast and coffee. Caleb can make both those things I’m pretty sure…”
“I can make what?” asks the wizard, entering the kitchen. “Am I… interrupting something?” he adds, taking in the tableau before him.
“Would you like to?” asks Jester gleefully, before Caduceus can say anything. Honestly, Caleb should know better than to give her an opening like that. She extends a hand and crooks a finger as Caleb colors nearly to his hairline.
“Jester and I were discussing what happened last night,” he interjects before Caleb can actually pass out.
“We were discussing how Caduceus isn’t feeling well and is going to go sit down instead of trying to make breakfast,” interrupts Jester, cheerful mask now firmly re-affixed. Caleb looks at him in concern.
“Are you alright, my friend? And you still haven’t answered my question,” he adds, turning back to Jester. “Is there something I can, er, make to help?”
“You can make toast, right? Like, you’ve got that whole fire thing going on.”
“Ja, I mean, I can make toast, but I would probably just use the stove. I don’t want to eat toast that has been set on fire, do you?” Caleb looks even more confused now. Caduceus can’t help but feel that he’s lost control of the conversation.
“You don’t need to make toast because I was going to make breakfast.”
Jester shakes her head wildly and mouths “bad day,” at Caleb. He nods in understanding.
Caduceus frowns. “I’ve done much more strenuous things on Bad Days before,” he reminds them. “We aren’t always in a place where I’m able to stop and rest.”
“Yes, but right now we are perfectly safe –” begins Jester. She pauses and considers.
“I don’t know if I would go that far,” says Caleb. “But we are not the bottom of a dungeon or about to be executed by pirates, which is about as safe as we get these days. You can take a day to rest.”
“Besides,” adds Jester, “Isn’t it always worse later if you push through it?”
“It is,” he admits. Sometimes through willpower and the assistance of the Wildmother he can ignore the worst of the effects, but doing so always means a day or more spent in agony once he finally lets himself rest.
Caleb crosses the room in a few steps, and gently takes Caduceus’ elbow. “I’m sure Jester and I can cook under your supervision. If you tell us what to do, I will make sure that Jester doesn’t light anything on fire –”
“—I think you mean I will make sure that you don’t light anything on fire –”
“—and you can sit at the table and have some of your pain-killing tea, yes?”
“That… sounds real nice,” he says, and means it. Caleb and Jester help him over to the small table in their kitchen and under his direction begin to prepare a breakfast. Slowly, the rest of the Mighty Nein filter in. When Jester brings him a cup of carefully-brewed tea, he lifts it to his lips with shaking hands and glad, despite it all, to be where he is.
Am I several days late with this prompt? Yes. Do I headcanon Caduceus as dealing with some kind of chronic illness/pain? absolutely!
I probably won't do all 31 of this years prompts, but I'm going to try for a steady stream! I am also working on the next chapter of Nightsickness, but I'm going to be devoting most of my writing time to this for now.
I am bad at remembering to reply to comments but I absolutely treasure every single one!
Chapter 2: Stitches
Team Drowning Victim hang out
“Do you want to sit here and bleed out?” The artificial calm in Fjord’s voice pissed her off, like she was some child he was trying to placate
“No! But it seems like you do, since you’re trying to poke more holes in me! I’ll be fine until the others come back.”
“Nott –” Fjord looked doubtful, but he cut himself off. Nott hissed at him between her teeth, hoping to sound both pained and menacing. The motion sent a fresh wave of blood oozing through her fingers, pressed tightly to the scimitar-gash on her skinny neck.
They sat in a standoff for a few moments, Fjord glaring in an irritatingly concerned manner, still holding the healers kit he had apparently been keeping in the bag of holding, which somehow didn’t contain a SINGLE healing potion. Nott conveniently forgot that she had insisted that the portion of the group that contained Caleb was carrying all their healing potions. It was easier to blame Fjord for everything, including the situation they were currently stuck in.
“This whole thing is your fault, anyway,” she decided to tell him. Unfortunately, the movement caused a fresh wave of blood to spill down her chest, and her vision went blurry and dark for a moment. When she blinked to clear her eyes, Fjord was suddenly much closer, his face filling her field of vision.
“Jesus Christ, Nott! At least let me put pressure on it!” She realized that his much larger hands were covering her own. “And don’t try to fuckin’ move!”
“I wasn’t stopping you,” she muttered for the sake of being ornery, careful not to shift too much this time. “Who is ‘Jesus Christ’?”
“I… don’t really know. It’s just something Vandren used to say. Hey, hey, don’t fall asleep on me now. Tell me again, how is this my fault? I don’t recall being the one to run in here half-cocked.”
“No, but it was your idea to split up. And you’re the entire reason we’re here in the first place, Captain.”
Fjord actually flinched a little at that. “I… you’re right. This is my fault, and I can’t stand the thought of any of you getting hurt for the sake of my, this, quest. Now will you please let me stitch this up before you bleed to death?”
“Fuck. Fine, but pass me my flask first. I’m going to need to be drunk for this.”
“Aren’t you drunk already?”
“Not nearly enough.” He passed her the flask and she took a few healthy swigs. She felt a little of the pain in her neck recede – literally, and figuratively. She stayed slumped against the rough wall as Fjord re-threaded the needle he had threatened her with earlier. He stared at it in his hand, frowning.
“Well? Are you going to get on with it?”
“Do you… can you make fire, the way Caleb does?”
“What?” The non-sequitur took her off guard. “No, I can’t. What does that have to do with anything?”
“I need something to sanitize this with. Hang on – give me your flask.”
“What! No.” She cuddled the flask closer. Fjord closed his eyes and breathed through his nose. Suddenly he opened his eyes wide and exaggeratedly pointed over his shoulder.
“Hey look, buttons!” In a quick movement, he snatched the flask out of her grasp. Nott let out a sharp cry, the movement jostling her wound.
“Fuck you!” She shouted, angry tears welling up in her eyes against her will. “Why do you always do this, I’m not a fucking child!”
“Then why are you being so goddamn unreasonable!”
“Because I’m scared! I’m scared all the time! Everything that we do is awful and terrifying, and you spend so much time trying to pretend that you’re not scared but I know that you are, you have to be. How is my reaction to this situation less logical than eating fucking swords and trying to release and eldritch god!?”
For a moment, Fjord looked genuinely angry. Then he seemed to deflate, but his voice, when he spoke, was sharp. “I don’t understand how you can go on about being scared when you’re always the first person to do the stupidest, most self-sacrificial shit. You didn’t need to take that hit for me, you know that? I might look weak, but at the very least I’ve got a whole lot more blood in me than you do.”
“…That’s the scary thing, of course,” she muttered, her voice hoarse. Her anger had subsided as swiftly as it arrived, leaving her feeling exhausted and weak. “I know how to take bad things happening to me. I don’t know how to deal with the thought of bad things happening to… anyone else. Especially not when I could have stopped it and didn’t.”
Fjord was quiet, or maybe he was saying something now but he was very far away. He was underwater, or they were all underwater. They were all underwater and Nott was drowning, and Fjord was shouting at her from far away under the water, something about buttons, and she tried to raise her hands to flip him off but they were too heavy, her hands were trapped in a fishing net and something was stinging her neck. And she tried to move, tried to cry out or get it off or warn the others, something, but eventually the stinging subsided and she heard Fjord’s voice above her, low and soothing in an unfamiliar accent. Something about it was enough to convince her she was safe enough to sleep.
When she woke later it was to healing magic and Jester’s cry of triumph, harmonized with Caleb’s quiet panic and Beau’s abrasive concern. Caduceus was speaking to Fjord across the fire from them, in a voice too low for her to hear, but they both looked up when they saw her stir. Nott touched the now-ridged scar at her neck and, making eye contact with him across the fire, smiled.
If he said the word “buttons” one more fucking time, though…
I did say I wasn't going to do all of them.
When does this take place? That's a good fuckin question! Sometime in the pirate arc is the best I can give ya. We've had Team Cleric and Team Drowning Victims, so the next one is probably going to feature Team Empire Kids. Stay tuned!
So, so much love to everyone who commented on part one. I love you like Nott loves buttons :3
Chapter 3: Asphyxiation and Stay with Me
Empire kids get trapped in a cave-in.
“You’ve said that already.”
“Fucking fuck shit ass shit balls!”
“Beauregard, the more we exert ourselves the faster we will use up our air supply.”
“Shit,” Beau slumped against the mass of rock that she had been trying, unsuccessfully, to dislodge with her staff. “Do you really think we’re going to run out of air?”
“It’s a distinct possibility,” Caleb slumped heavily against the far wall, less than six feet away from where Beau was fruitlessly toiling. “We’ve been in here for nearly 30 minutes, and I have yet to feel a whisper of movement from the air. That wall in front of us looks airtight. And I have seen you move far more vigorously than that without gasping for breath the way you are now.”
“Speak,” Beau panted, “for yourself. Fuck!” Still, she turned and slid down the wall until she was sitting in a heap on the ground. “How’s your leg?”
Caleb grimaced, his grimy face barely visible in the light of the single dancing light that hovered in the air between them. “What do you think? It hurts. How is your head?”
“Totally fine.” Beau had been briefly knocked out by the rockslide that had trapped them and broken Caleb’s leg, and yeah, she knew a concussion when she had one, but this one really wasn’t all that bad. Her vision was only a little wobbly and the nausea was coming in more-or-less manageable waves. She was the one who was mobile, and that meant it was her job to get them out of here. “Do you think anyone’s noticed that we’re missing yet?”
“Ja, I’m sure they have, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have the means to find us or get us out. I think everyone was as tapped on spells as I am.”
“Yeah, well, this is why we need more non-casters in the party. When are the rest of you going to get on my level?”
“When,” Caleb coughed a little, “Whenever you get on … ours, Beauregard.”
“That was weak, man.” Beau arched her back a little as she took a deep breath, filling her chest with as much air as she could fit. “And kinda mean. You know I’m sensitive about that.”
Caleb lifted half of his mouth in what could have been a wry smile if the rest of his face hadn’t looked so ridiculously somber, but didn’t respond, choosing instead to concentrate on breathing. Beau did the same. It was stupid, but now that Caleb had pointed it out she felt like every breath was more difficult than the last.
Now that she thought about it, every breath was more difficult than the last. Her lungs were filling with air, but there was no relief tied to the action. She started to breathe faster and faster, her head pounding in time with the desperate sucking of air in and out, in and out, faster and faster as the already-close walls of the tiny cavern crumpled in around her and turned dark. She could hear nothing but the harsh sounds of her breathing, in and out, faster and faster –
Something hit her across the cheek – not nearly hard enough to hurt, but the shock of it spurred her to action, her arm whipping up and grabbing the wrist of whoever had stuck her on autopilot. She raised her eyes to find Caleb, face less than a foot from her own, wincing from her tight grip on his arm. Her head throbbed.
“Stay with me, Beauregard,” he said as evenly as he could, panting a little between words. His hand was cold on her face, but steady. “We can’t afford to lose ourselves right now,” he continued, quieter. He must have dragged himself across the small room to her side. Now he lowered himself to the ground next to her, wincing. She made a conscious effort to slow her breathing, bring it into rhythm. It still felt like she wasn’t getting enough air, but at least she wasn’t panicking anymore.
She let herself slump into his side. She could feel him shaking slightly under the strain of moving with a broken leg, but he was warm and solid and alive, smelling familiarly of sulfur and sweat and mud. “How are you holding up?” she asked quietly after a few moments.
Caleb closed his eyes and breathed slowly through his nose. “I am holding up as well as I can be, considering the circumstances. We have to believe that the others will come and get us out.”
“Have you heard anything from Nott or Jester?”
“…No. I would have told you if I had.”
“Fuck,” Beau said again, with even more feeling. Blood pulsed behind her forehead.
“I don’t think Jester had many more spells available to her, and Message only goes so far – it doesn’t mean anything.”
“Man, why are you being so positive? I thought doom and gloom was kind of your thing.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about, I am a very cheerful person.” Caleb’s expression was deadpan, his hair sweaty and stuck to his forehead.
“Do you really believe they’re coming for us?”
He looked away. “I… believe they will try. For the both of us together. I like to think that they would come for just me, but there is no way Jester will allow them to disregard you.”
“Hey, there’s no way she would let them 'disregard' you either.” Pain flashed through her skull again. Caleb made a noise low in his throat that was not an agreement.
“Don’t be an idiot, Caleb. Nott wouldn’t leave you behind. Jester and Caduceus wouldn’t leave you behind. Heck, even Fjord wouldn’t leave you behind.” She reached up and rested her hand lightly on his shoulder. “I wouldn’t leave you behind.
“… So you agree with me then. They are coming.”
“They must be.” She feels confident in that now. Although—“Then why aren’t they here yet?”
Caleb was silent next to her. “I don’t know. We should save our breath, Beauregard.”
“How much air do you think we have left?”
“That was … not my particular area of study. If I had to take a guess, I would say six, maybe seven hours? But the more we talk and the more we move, the less that will be.”
“Fuck,” she muttered one more time, then fell silent. She let herself be distracted momentarily by the pain building behind her eyelids. Despite sitting at rest, she felt overheated and clammy, like she was coming down with a fever. She felt exhaustion crash down on her, but it wasn’t enough to allow her to sleep in this much danger. Another few minutes passed, excruciatingly slow. She turned to look at Caleb, watched as a bead of sweat slowly made it’s way down his pale forehead. His eyes were closed but his lips were moving slightly. The light hung a foot or so above their heads. Slowly, as she watched, it began to dim.
“Caleb!” she whispered harshly. He startled, and the light went out.
“Was?” he said tersely.
“The light went out.”
“It only lasts for a few minutes, Beauregard. And it requires… energy.”
“Oh.” They went back to sitting in silent dark. Beau felt herself slipping in and out of hallucinatory dreams. For a moment she would see the blinking of a colorful light, swear she heard a snatch of Jester and Nott’s laughter, or stranger still the voice of her mother. Then she would shift toward it and the spell would be broken as she suddenly felt the hard stone pressing into her as her body cried out in protest. Only the rapid rise and fall of Caleb’s chest beside her kept her at all grounded in the moment.
Every so often she would nudge him and request the time. The first few times were only minutes apart, then she lost nearly two hours all at once. That was frightening. She resolved to try and meditate through this, slowing her breaths as much as she was able and trying to count the seconds. This helped a little. She was able to zone out for long enough that when she finally opened her eyes again she had no idea how long it had been. She nudged Caleb.
“Hey, what time is it.”
No response. The body at her side was warm, still, and she tried to calm her breathing enough to lay her had against his thin chest and hear the sharp, too-fast flutter of his heart.
“Caleb,” she whispered again, sharper this time. Fear rose, unwelcome, out of the dark. Her own head was pounding. It felt too big for her body, inflated like a balloon and too heavy on her shoulders. She gasped out an involuntary sob.
“Please,” she said. Her head was falling forward, her neck too fatigued to hold it up any longer. She sent the last of her strength to her calloused fingers, wound tightly in the collar of his worn coat. “Stay with me,” she all but begged. “Don’t leave me alone in here.” Her vision was slowly going white at the edges, encroaching on the darkness of the tiny chamber. Before she passed out, she could have sworn she heard Jester’s voice.
There was a hand on her face, soft and cool. Beau opened her eyes and immediately regretted it as the light of the sun cruelly penetrated her eyelids. She realized she was breathing fresh, clean air and immediately gasped in, almost choking on her own tongue.
“Easy, take it easy Beau,” came Jester’s voice from above her as she hacked and coughed. “You guys were in there for a long time!”
“We’re sorry,” said Fjord voice from some hazy blob over Jester’s shoulder. “We decided to rest so Jester could cast message and Caduceus could cast locate object to find you – we never thought you would be in such bad shape by the time we got here.” As her breathing slowed, Beau became aware that the sharp, insistent pain from her knock to the head was gone, although her head still ached and her ears still rang.
“Caleb, where is Caleb?” she chocked out after a moment, knocking Jester’s fluttering hands away.
“Still asleep,” came Caduceus’s voice from somewhere a few feet away. “But he’ll be alright, don’t worry.”
“You looked after him, didn’t you?” Asked Nott, not moving from the spot where Caleb must have been lying.
“We looked after each other,” said Beau, before realizing that Jester was sitting right there. “I mean, I totally took care of him. Like, he was scared and of course you know how squishy he is, I was reassuring him and looking, like, super cool while I was doing it.”
“Not your best line,” said Fjord, unimpressed.
“Hey, try out your material after you’ve been stuck in a cave-in for 12 hours.”
“I’m sure you looked very cool Beau,” said Jester loyally. “And I’m glad you and Caleb are alright.”
“Yeah,” mumbled Beau, letting her eyes slip closed. “Me too, Jes. Me too.”
Whelp! It's not in any way, shape or form October anymore, but I had this half-finished and I figured better late than never!
According to a bit of research I did, Caleb and Beau would have about 8 hours of useful consciousness, and about 10 hours before they straight up died -- just enough time for the rest of the M9 to have a long rest and then swoop in to save the day.
Anyway, that's it for Whumptober. I'm sorry for how late this is and I really appreciate everyone who has taken to time to read, kudos, or comment on this story. Is it Thursday yet???