The Wild Wild West
The Night of the Deep Regret
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is a direct continuation of season 3's The Simian Terror, which is probably the most haunting and dark episode in the series. It picks up the same night, likely within an hour of the episode's end. It was partially written for the 31 Days writing prompt You cannot save people, you can only love them, and was born out of a desire to do a character study of Aaron Buckley as well to explore the possibility that Caleb Buckley wasn't killed. He was definitely attacked, but since Fletcher lived for a while afterwards, Caleb could have as well.
Aaron Buckley stood in the doorway of his brother Caleb's bedroom, gazing almost blankly at the battered, tortured form on the bed. Doctor Liebeg was doing his best to ease Caleb's pain, but it looked all but hopeless. No one held out much hope for Caleb's survival, not after what had happened to Fletcher and Benjamin.
Down the hall, Senator Buckley was still in shock over the horrible events of the night, particularly Dimas's death. Dr. Liebeg was concerned that they should not give him any more terrible news in his state. Aaron had found Caleb's body; their father still didn't know.
He gripped the doorframe. He had been the first to notice Caleb's absence, and the first to go up the stairs looking for him. As soon as he had seen the nursery door open, he had known that something was wrong. When he had approached, he had found Caleb's motionless, twisted body—another of Dimas's victims.
He had cried out in sickened disbelief as he had knelt beside what he had been sure was a corpse. Realizing that Caleb was still alive had mostly produced a fear that it was just prolonging the inevitable conclusion. He could hardly rejoice when he was sure Caleb would soon die, and when he knew that in the meantime, Caleb was in excruciating pain.
It was just as he had predicted—a bloodbath. So many were dead now, with Caleb sure to follow and their father perhaps irrevocably shaken and devastated. He continually muttered over and over that what had happened was all on his own shoulders for allowing Dr. Liebeg to take Dimas with him.
He certainly had some responsibility in the matter, it was true. But they had all participated to some extent, once they had been old enough to learn of the Buckley secret. The entire Buckley family was guilty, Dimas included. Aaron did not intend to excuse him for what he had done to the rest of them, just because he had been wronged as an infant.
He started at the gentle touch on his shoulder. Naomi was standing behind him, her eyes shining and filled with worry.
"Mr. Gordon's resting downstairs," she said. "Dr. Liebeg thinks he has several cracked ribs. He's just lucky they're not broken." She shuddered, biting her lip. "I know you told me to stay away, but I can't any longer. Please tell me, how is Caleb?"
Aaron looked away. He did not want to admit it, but he was relieved that Naomi had come. He wanted someone to talk to. But he still did not want her to see into the room. She had always become hysterical if any of them were hurt. Seeing Caleb's state would certainly make her overwrought.
"None of us hold out much hope," he said. "I doubt he'll last much longer than Fletcher did."
"Oh no." Naomi's eyes filled with tears and she hugged him from behind, keeping her hands on his shoulders.
"I knew this would happen!" Aaron fumed. "We tried to stop it the only way we knew how, but it wasn't good enough. Now Benjamin and Fletcher are dead, Caleb is well on his way to being dead, and Father has taken leave of his senses!" He pulled away, slamming his fist into the wall.
Naomi flinched. "You tried everything you could to reason with Dimas, before you tried anything else. He just wasn't going to have any of it."
"That's what I told Father," Aaron said bitterly. "Just last night, I told him and Caleb and Benjamin. And I told him there was only one solution left if we didn't want to all be slaughtered!"
"Just last night," Naomi repeated softly. "Benjamin was still alive then. So was Fletcher."
Aaron walked away from the open door and farther down the hall, Naomi right behind him. "I keep turning the last twenty-four hours over in my mind, wondering if there was possibly anything else I could have done. What if I hadn't gathered the posse to seek out the beast and destroy it?"
"You would have been here, and probably been killed too," Naomi said softly. "And that horrible ape would still be running free."
"I don't even know what I was thinking," Aaron mumbled. "I was trying to get Dimas before he got us. I suppose I thought that with all the townspeople, we'd surely triumph over him. Instead he sneaked into the house while I was out and did that to Caleb!" He gestured back at the room.
"Excuse me, Aaron, Naomi."
Both of them looked up at Dr. Liebeg's serious voice. "What is it?" Aaron demanded.
The physician sighed. "Caleb is very delirious. If you want to see him and try to speak with him one last time, this is probably your only chance."
Aaron swallowed hard. He had always been the leader among the boys. It had always been him who had thought up the plans for both their play and more serious matters. Caleb and Benjamin had been willing to follow, trusting in Aaron to lead them right. But now he felt so helpless and vulnerable. Benjamin was dead. And there was nothing that could be done for Caleb. At this moment, nothing else seemed to matter.
He headed for the bedroom, Naomi right beside him.
Caleb's skin was flushed and his eyes glazed. He was staring at something off in the distance, but as Aaron and Naomi approached, he turned just slightly and reached for them with a trembling hand. "Aaron?"
Aaron took the hand, chilled by how clammy it was. "Yes," he said. "It's me. Naomi is here too."
She leaned over, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Caleb, oh, Caleb!" she sobbed.
"It's alright. Do you see them?" Caleb mumbled.
Aaron stiffened. "See who?"
"Mother and Benjamin. They're standing there, at the foot of the bed." Caleb nodded in that direction.
Naomi's eyes widened. "There's no one there," she whispered.
"Not that we can see, anyway," Aaron muttered, shaken. At this point he was willing to believe almost anything.
"They're saying not to worry." Caleb's eyes fluttered, starting to close. "I'm sorry. Will you tell Father . . . I'm sorry?"
Naomi looked to Aaron, stricken. "He should be here now," she said.
"I know," Aaron said through clenched teeth. He did not know what to do. Calling for Senator Buckley now, and having him witness the death of another son, might just be too much for him to take.
But would it be worse for him to be told long after the fact? Aaron had thought that he probably already believed everyone was dead, except Naomi, and that it would be far worse to tell him Caleb was alive, but dying.
"Aaron? Will you tell him?"
Aaron stiffened, looking back to Caleb. "Yes," he said then. "Yes, I'll tell him."
"Mother says it's going to be alright," Caleb went on. "Oh . . . she says she's going to talk to Dimas."
Aaron frowned. "What about Benjamin?"
"Benjamin's worried. She says he . . . he doesn't have to be." Caleb's eyes fluttered and started to close.
Aaron clutched at Caleb's hand, desperate, not wanting to let go. "What about you?" he exclaimed. Surely, if Caleb was not just hallucinating, they were not all going to be in the same place. Dimas hated them all. Not without reason, it was true, but those feelings could not be so easily eradicated. And he was responsible for several deaths. How could he be in the same afterlife with Benjamin and Caleb? And how would they stand to be around him with that level of tension?
"I . . ." Caleb looked confused. "I don't know. . . ." He tried to keep hold of Aaron's hand, but his grip was weakening and trembling. He had no chance to say anything else before unconsciousness claimed him.
Naomi immediately bent over him. "Caleb?!" she cried.
Aaron quickly released his hand. "Doctor!" he barked.
Dr. Liebeg came over, his visage grim as he checked Caleb's vital signs. At last he straightened with a sad sigh. "He will most likely never wake up," he proclaimed.
In a mental fog, Aaron stared at his brother for a long moment before turning away.
Naomi looked to Aaron and sat down next to the bed. "I want to stay with him," she said.
Aaron offered no objection. Instead he stood and gazed out the window without really seeing anything other than his memories.
His family was completely falling down around him and he had no idea what to do to stop it.
Arte gritted his teeth as he carefully changed his position from lying down to sitting up. Looking over, Jim frowned in disapproval. "Arte, you know what the doctor said."
"Yes, I know," Arte retorted. "But I can't keep lying there, Jim. It's driving me out of my mind. And not just that, but not knowing what's going on in this house. We haven't heard anything for ages."
Jim nodded. "It's hard to say whether that's good or bad." He stood, crossing to the bottom of the staircase and looking up.
"How could it be good?" Arte scoffed. "We saw how Fletcher and Benjamin ended up."
"I know. But Caleb's hung on longer than they did." Jim turned away, unable to keep from seeing the broken part of the railing—or from remembering how it had shattered during his brief struggle with Dimas.
". . . It was strange," he frowned. "For all the lives Dimas took with ease, it didn't take much to end his life."
Arte nodded. "And in a freak accident at that. Falling and breaking his neck." He shook his head.
"It's hard to even say who's the most responsible for what happened here." Jim started to walk about the room. "Dimas killed those people and wanted to kill the other Buckleys too. But he wouldn't have got that way if not for what Senator Buckley and Dr. Liebeg did to permanently change the course of his life."
"Under the circumstances, I find it hard to blame Dimas too much," Arte said bitterly. "What could he have learned of right and wrong while being used as a lifelong scientific experiment? And while of course he shouldn't have set out on this quest to exterminate the Buckley family, I wonder what they were expecting after Senator Buckley refused to acknowledge his inheritance. He was raised with an animal, so he decided to behave like one after learning the truth."
"A very vicious and cunning animal at that," Jim said. "He probably would've gotten away with it, with Johann around to blame."
"I wonder how much damage Johann really did, anyway," Arte mused. "He sure did a number on me."
"He sure did." Again Jim paused by the staircase, looking up.
Arte gave a heavy sigh. "I was so repulsed by what Senator Buckley did. Well, I still am, and I'm still sure that his political career was a factor. But then when I saw how Senator Buckley reacted to Dimas lying dead, I knew that at least some part of him had truly loved his son. Maybe he'd even managed to convince himself that politics weren't part of it at all and that he really did just want to see if Liebeg could help Dimas."
"Maybe," Jim agreed.
"Aaron acted like he wasn't even going to tell him about Caleb being attacked but still being alive," Arte went on.
"Dr. Liebeg was afraid of a complete mental breakdown," Jim said. "Or that the Senator's heart wouldn't be able to take another shock. And maybe he was right."
"Two sons dead, one of them killed by the other, and a third nearly dead for the same reason." Arte shook his head. "It's all so wrong, Jim. None of it should have happened."
"Of course not, Arte."
Arte glowered out the window. "I wonder if they'll possibly try to cover this up, since Dimas already has that conveniently-placed grave in the cemetery."
"No, Mr. Gordon."
Arte looked up with a start. A weary and sad Aaron had just appeared at the top of the stairs. He gripped the banister as he started down. Jim stepped aside to allow him passage.
"There isn't any way this can be covered up. Oh, I suppose I could say that the ape killed Caleb and our father entered a state of shock over two of his sons being killed within a twenty-four hour period. But if he recovers, I doubt he will stand for any further covering up. And whether he does or not, you and Mr. West will be making your reports. So unless I want to rid the world of both of you, there isn't any way around it any longer." Aaron reached the bottom of the stairs. "And I don't want to destroy you, particularly. I never wanted either of you to be hurt. In any case, too much blood has been spilled already."
Arte looked down. "You're right there. Is Caleb dead then?"
"Close to it. And our father hasn't even begun to come out of his shock."
"You're still covering up that Caleb is alive," Jim noted.
Aaron glowered at him. "What would you have me do, West? Tell our father that Caleb is alive but will soon be dead?"
"I don't know what the right thing would be," Jim admitted. "But if he could handle the news, maybe he would want to say goodbye, like he couldn't with Benjamin and Dimas."
Aaron stiffened and turned away. "Don't you think I've thought of that?" He spun around again. "Note the keyword in your sentence, Mr. West. If. And what if he can't handle the news? What if he can't take one more blow?" His voice lowered. "Then I would be directly responsible for his death."
Arte frowned, deeply. ". . . You're afraid, aren't you, Aaron. All this time, all these years, you've been trying to keep the secret, to keep your family together. And then suddenly it all unraveled when Dimas learned the truth and came after all of you."
Aaron walked past him to the window, sadly staring out at the night. "None of us liked what Father had done, when we learned of it. Make no mistake about that; we were horrified. But until Dimas discovered his birthright, he was alright where he was. And we didn't want to see Father's career go up in smoke if the truth came out. We made an agreement, a pact, to keep the Buckley family secret at all costs."
"The cost was just far too high," Arte said.
Aaron nodded. "I'm the only one left who can even begin to try to pick up the pieces. I've always done my part to protect the family, taking charge whenever necessary. In the past it usually worked, but everything slipped out of my hands this time. I couldn't save anyone. The only possible salvation left is if I can spare Father one final heartbreak. Will you deny him that?"
"Will you deny him the chance to say goodbye?" Arte returned. "Oh, nevermind. You do what you feel is right, as you've always done."
Jim paused. "You realize, once our reports go to Washington and an investigation is officially opened, Senator Buckley will hear about Caleb anyway."
Aaron grimaced. "He might handle it better if some time passes first."
"Or maybe he would handle it worse," Arte said. "He could have a complete setback from another shock being sprung on him when he was finally healing from the others."
Aaron fixed him with a long look. "Then you both think I should tell him."
"We think that you should give it some more thought before dismissing it altogether," Arte said. "Aaron, I think you've become obsessed with being this family's protector, its savior. And one thing I've learned, same as you, is that you can't save everyone. Sometimes all you can do is to love them."
Aaron's eyes flamed. "I love my father very much. You have no right to suggest otherwise. But this family has already been shot to pieces. If I know that the information I have could shatter the final fragments, and I keep it away because of that, can you truly say it's so terrible of me to do so?"
"No, not at all," Arte replied in all seriousness. "You have your reasons why you feel it's necessary. And perhaps you're right, but perhaps not. Think about this. Have all the years of keeping the Buckley secret truly helped anyone in the end? Do you honestly want to carry around another?"
"To keep hold of Father's sanity and maybe his life?" Aaron returned. "Yes." He turned, heading back up the stairs.
Arte sighed when he was gone. "I don't know, Jim. It really is a rough decision."
Jim nodded. "I can't say that Aaron is wrong. But I don't know that he's right, either. No matter whether he keeps it locked away or tells, the consequences for his family could be serious and far-reaching."
The sudden, agonized voice of Senator Buckley from upstairs made both Jim and Arte jump a mile.
"Caleb is alive and you weren't going to tell me?!"
Aaron's reply was not much quieter. His nerves, as well as his father's, had been stretched to their limit. "Father, he's not going to live much longer! You were already so upset about Dimas that I thought . . ."
The sound of a slap echoed sharply through the house.
"What kind of person are you?!" Senator Buckley snarled. "You wanted to kill Dimas. Now you don't want me to see another of my sons before he dies!"
Arte cringed. He could all too easily imagine how stricken Aaron must look right now. When Aaron spoke again, he sounded defeated.
"Father, I . . ."
"Nevermind. I don't want to hear it!" Senator Buckley thumped his cane on the floor. "I'm going in to see Caleb!"
A door slammed with finality.
Arte exchanged a worried look with Jim. This night was only growing more and more heartbreaking, for all concerned.
Naomi had been struck dumb at the confrontation. Now, as Senator Buckley limped into Caleb's room and saw the young man lying motionless in the bed, the fury and fire faded from his face, replaced by his true helplessness and pain.
"My son," he said softly, his voice cracking. "Caleb. . . ."
Naomi bit her lip and looked down. For a long moment, neither she nor her adopted father said a word. But at last she raised her eyes to look upon the sight of Senator Buckley trembling as he held Caleb's limp hand.
"Father . . ." She drew a deep breath. "Aaron wasn't trying to do anything wrong."
He did not seem to hear. He stared blankly at Caleb's pale face, not acknowledging Naomi's comment in the least. She leaned forward, laying a hand on his arm as she tried again.
"Aaron was only worried about you. He was always only worried about you, and Caleb and Benjamin."
Naomi, not being a blood Buckley, had not been in the same kind of danger—although she shuddered to think what would have happened to her if Dimas had completed his plan and come back to her. Dimas had also killed Fletcher, after all.
". . . He didn't care about Dimas."
The bitterness in Senator Buckley's voice brought tears to Naomi's eyes. "Dimas was out for blood, Father!" she protested. "I know you didn't want to believe that it was true, but it was. Surely you know now that it was! Caleb is proof of it. Aaron just wanted so badly to stop something like this from happening."
"Well, he didn't do a very good job of that, did he?!" Senator Buckley cried.
Naomi rocked back, her eyes wide. "Father . . ."
He buried his face in his hands. "Leave me, please," he requested. "Please leave me."
Naomi rose, slowly, gripping the chair arm. She looked to Caleb, so still and quiet, and to her father, sobbing quietly. Then, fighting back the sudden, choking lump in her throat, she raced past to the door and into the hall.
Aaron was still there, pacing, his cheek red where he had been struck. He turned to face her, stunned. "He evicted you as well?"
She looked to him, hiccupping as she tried to speak. "He . . . he's just so upset about Caleb, and Dimas, and Benjamin," she stammered.
"And he blames me for all of it," Aaron returned.
"No!" Naomi cried. "No, he wouldn't! He couldn't!" She looked down. "I think, really . . . deep down . . . he blames himself."
"And he doesn't want to face that, so I'm the nearest target," Aaron said dryly. "Oh, I can believe that's true, but there's probably at least some part of him that honestly does blame me."
Naomi approached him, taking his hand between hers. "You can resolve it with him, whatever it is," she said in earnest. "Even if he is upset with you right now, you're still his son. And he doesn't want to lose you too."
Aaron looked to the closed door. "Maybe, for him, he already has."
It was some time before Aaron could gather the strength and the courage to enter Caleb's room. He wanted to speak with their father again, but also, he wanted to be with Caleb in his last moments. He did not want a rift between him and their father to destroy that.
He eased the door opened slowly, not sure what he would find on the other side. Upon the sight of Senator Buckley sitting forlornly, staring at Caleb, Aaron slipped into the room, shutting the door behind him. "Father?"
Senator Buckley looked up, the anguish plain on his face. Aaron felt another rush of pain himself.
"Father, I'm sorry."
Senator Buckley's expression morphed into something all the more grieved. "No, Aaron," he said weakly. "I'm sorry. You . . . you were only ever trying to do what you thought was best for everyone. And I can't say the same for myself when I got all of us into this horrible situation.
"I . . . I wanted to help Dimas, when I sent him to Dr. Liebeg, but I . . . I knew I didn't want to raise him. I didn't want to be his father. I had such high hopes, high ambitions . . . and Dimas would have gotten in the way. At least, I was afraid he would have, somehow, some way." He covered his face with a shaking hand. "Your mother died giving birth to all of you. I didn't see how I could take care of a son who was different, even if I had help from the servants. So I . . . I . . . I signed his life, his birthright, away."
He looked up at Aaron in agony. "You tried with all your might to bear my burden, to keep this family together, but you couldn't. You just couldn't. It was always cracking, always splitting, because I had already done the unspeakable thing that destroyed it."
Aaron stared at him. "Father . . ."
"I can never ask you or Caleb to forgive me," Senator Buckley went on. "And certainly I can never ask it of Benjamin and Dimas. But if I could take it back . . . if I could only take it all back . . . !" He shook his head in utter, hopeless despair. "What I wouldn't give to have the chance to keep Dimas, to care for him as I should have been willing to do in the first place! Maybe we would all be happy right now if I had only had the courage to acknowledge every one of my sons."
Aaron went to the tortured man, shutting his eyes tightly as he embraced him. "I can't speak for the others, but I forgive you, Father," he said quietly.
Senator Buckley reached up, grasping Aaron's arms. "I don't deserve it," he whispered. "I can never deserve it."
By morning the entire family, including Naomi, had gathered in Caleb's room. It was a dark day, with thunderclouds hanging heavy in the sky and the scent of rain in the air. It matched the mood in the Buckley mansion.
Arte, feeling well enough to get off the couch and move about, had made his way upstairs, Jim at his side. Together they approached the half-open doorway, worried and concerned for the family inside.
"Caleb must still be alive," Arte said softly. "We would have heard something if . . ."
"If he lasted this long, Arte, it's a miracle," Jim said, his face and tone grim. "And it's probably worn off about now."
Arte looked into the room and went rigid. "I don't know about that. Jim, look!"
Jim looked. For one of only a very few times, visible surprise registered on his face.
Caleb was stirring, slowly regaining consciousness. He looked around the room, perplexed, but then with growing recognition as he saw his family.
"Caleb?!" Senator Buckley, Aaron, and Naomi exclaimed with seemingly one voice, leaning over the bed.
Caleb gave a weak smirk. "I have so many admirers. . . ."
Aaron regarded him in amazement. Instead of being delirious, as he had been last night, Caleb was so alert that he had even reclaimed his sense of humor. "Caleb, how?" Aaron asked in disbelief.
The smirk melted into a genuine smile. "Mother said it was alright," Caleb replied. "She said I could stay. I'm not going to die, Aaron. I'm going to heal, somehow. I'm going to live!"
Naomi gaped at him. "Caleb!" she exclaimed, hugging him gently.
Aaron was reeling. Caleb would be alright? Maybe it wasn't true. Maybe it was only a delusion, on Caleb's part or theirs. But somehow, he did not believe that.
"You're going to live," he repeated, his voice hushed and reverent. "Caleb . . ."
Senator Buckley had gone sheet-white. "You . . . your mother told you this?" he rasped.
"She said she and Benjamin will keep watching over us. Benjamin said that he plans to apply for a permanent position as our guardian angel." Caleb smirked again. "He said we might need the help of someone who doesn't fear whatever might be lurking on the spirit plane to attack us."
Aaron shook his head. "It was that brash fearlessness that got him killed," he stammered, still reeling. "What does he think he can do?"
"He said we'll find out." Caleb leaned into the pillow. "I think I believe him."
Naomi laughed through her tears of joy. "I do too," she said. "And I believe you really saw them, Caleb, even if certain other people try to say you were hallucinating." She shot a look at Aaron.
"I don't know what to think," Aaron admitted. "But I do know that nothing short of a miracle could have saved you." He rested a hand on Caleb's shoulder. "And it isn't hard to believe that Mother and Benjamin could have been behind it."
Senator Buckley gripped Caleb's hand, overwhelmed with disbelieving joy. He had lost two of his sons and could have lost all four. But Caleb had been given back to him and Aaron had forgiven him. No matter what happened to him in the future because of the horror he had plunged them into, he felt sure now that he could bear it.
"Thank God," he said fervently.
". . . What about Dimas?" Aaron asked. Senator Buckley looked to him, surprised that he was the one to raise the question.
Caleb looked puzzled. "I don't know," he admitted. "Mother said not to worry about him. That was all."
". . . Then I'll believe that someday, there will be hope for him," Senator Buckley declared.
Arte turned away from the door, wanting to give the family the privacy they likely thought they had. "And maybe there will be," he said to Jim. "Who can say?"
Jim nodded. "Meanwhile, it looks like there's hope for the rest of the family, too."
Arte smiled. "And that's the best possible way to close this case and end our reports," he said.
Jim walked with him to the stairs. "Whatever happens to them now, I believe they'll withstand it and come through it."
"Same here," Arte said.
He rested a hand on Jim's shoulder as they descended to the main floor.