“I should’ve guessed you were a wine snob.”
“Snob is a strong word. I’m just very familiar with the local wine.”
Caleb snorted. “You know, I’m not sure why you don’t get along better with Beauregard. You certainly could talk about a lot.”
Essek raised an eyebrow. It sounded a bit like an accusation. “I’m not claiming I’m an expert—”
“But you are claiming you can identify all of the local wine types just by taste,” Caleb interrupted, looking up from his book with a playful gleam in his eye. “Sort of like an expert could.”
Essek returned the lighthearted glance. “Oh, I see. You don’t believe me?”
“Well, you are a known liar.”
Essek waited for the bite to those words, but it never came. Even the word liar was spoken through a soft smile. He felt a bead of warmth blossom in his stomach at the realisation. “Well, why would I lie to you about knowing wine?”
“I’m not sure,” Caleb confessed. “To impress me, maybe?”
Essek straightened up a little too quickly at his words. “I don’t need to impress you.”
He worried that perhaps that sounded rude, but Caleb didn’t flinch. “Alright,” he said simply.
A pause. “Anyway, even if that was my intention, it doesn’t seem to have worked, has it?” Essek struggled to keep the strain of embarrassment out of his voice. “All you’re doing is teasing.”
“Ha! Fair enough.” Caleb closed his book while still giving Essek that twinkling look that made his stomach freefall for a couple seconds. “I also think it is perhaps not fair of me to tease you without any evidence. Why don’t I test you with the wine in your pantry?”
“What, like some sort of game?”
“How do I win? By guessing correctly?”
Caleb pursed his lips, thinking. “You win if … you impress me.”
“And what do I get if I win?” Essek firmly fixed his gaze on Caleb’s face, and not where his loose scarf exposed his neck and collarbones, where a mole peeked from between the few open buttons at the top of his shirt, where the bottom of his shirt had wrinkled up from his posture and was now showcasing a strip of pale skin by his waistband—
“Is my congratulations not enough?” Caleb laughed. His teasing smile remained, and Essek felt as if it were shining a light and laying bare the few secrets he had left hidden. Essek didn’t keep secrets from Caleb anymore, or frankly from any of the Mighty Nein, except perhaps the fact that Caleb was on his mind all hours of the day, and certainly the last thing on his mind before he went to sleep.
Essek looked away before his blush became noticeable. “I guess it will have to do.”
As Caleb emptied Essek’s pantry of the wine bottles and Essek collected some glasses, he felt a twinge of irritation at himself for not simply trying to share a bottle with Caleb alone. A poor attempt at courting him, perhaps, but a real date nonetheless, and not the quiet moments together Essek could only get under the guise of ‘study sessions’. But now he was going to be drinking wine alone while Caleb … watched? He wasn’t sure, but he knew for a fact it would not be impressive and would only come across as pretentious.
Caleb was setting the bottles on the coffee table in the den when Essek looked in. “I didn’t think you’d be pouring drinks in front of me,” Essek remarked, placing his load of glasses on the table as well. “Or am I meant to shut my eyes?”
Caleb’s answering smile was more of a smirk. “Ah, yes. I had a better idea.” He straightened up and slipped his scarf from his shoulders in one slick movement. He held the scarf taut, holding both ends. “You could be blindfolded.”
Essek ignored all of the thoughts that made his mouth dry and focused only on the one that agreed. “Certainly.” It came out with a little bit more of a hiss than he intended.
Essek lowered himself into the armchair next to the coffee table and Caleb stepped close to tie the scarf around his head. There was a moment before the fabric covered his eyes and Caleb leaned in that Essek had a better view of Caleb’s bare neck and collarbones, his shirt opening enough for Essek to see a brush of red hair on his chest, and a slow warming of pink to the skin that spread just before his vision went dark. The scarf was soft and warm and gods it really smelled like him. Essek felt his heartbeat spike, and he tried to keep his breathing under control, focusing on the sound of Caleb moving around the table.
A cork pops. It’s loud, and a faint sigh of air accompanies it. Something previously unopened and sparkling. Essek files through his brain to narrow down the type. A slosh of liquid in a glass and then Caleb’s muffled footsteps are approaching him again.
“Alright, here’s your first test,” Caleb said, guiding the glass to Essek’s hand. Essek drinks quickly, pulling his hand away from Caleb’s almost too-warm fingertips. The idea of Caleb being so close without being able to see him makes his head spin. Essek can feel Caleb looking him. He pulls the glass away from his lips.
“Zesty, and a bit bitter, and bubbly. This is Rosohna Sky Wine. Unfortunately, naming it is not very impressive on my part, as I’m aware this is the only sparkling wine I currently have.” Essek held the glass out and felt Caleb’s fingers brush against his own again, and the clink of the glass on the table followed.
“Too easy then?” Caleb’s voice was soft and Essek could hear the smile around his words.
“I thought I was meant to impress you.” Essek tried to have his words glow with smugness, play a little back against Caleb, but he felt hoarse, and his voice struggled to remain above a whisper. Something about this whole situation made Essek feel like he was at Caleb’s mercy, and he liked it.
He heard the rasp of shifting bottles on the table before the sound of pouring again. “How about you try this one instead?” Another glass in Essek’s hand, another moment of knuckles against each other. Essek could already smell the dark, fruity scent of the wine. He took a sip to wet his tongue, which was feeling heavy and sort of useless in his mouth.
“Uh … very fruity, and a bit—a bit spicy,” he finally said. “A red. Likely the uh … Dark Rose Classic.”
Caleb hmmed and took the glass back, but said nothing else.
It went on like this for another five types. Essek would take a sip or two and guess, correctly, he knew, and Caleb would say almost nothing, certainly nothing about being impressed. The ‘game’ didn’t feel stagnant either, though; maybe Essek was imagining things, but it seemed like Caleb’s fingers lingered a little longer each time on Essek’s hand as the glasses were passed back and forth. Essek’s pulse never slowed down.
Another splash of wine in a glass, this time with a few straggling drips at the end, as though reaching the bottom of the bottle. A heavier slosh. A thicker wine. And then the subtle swish of a mouthful of wine passing the lips, followed by a swallow and a gentle exhale of satisfaction. Caleb had had a taste himself. Essek suddenly felt very glad he couldn’t see the way Caleb’s throat moved when he took that drink; he probably would’ve blacked out.
Caleb’s footsteps back to him were very soft, and before Essek could hold out his hand instinctively, ready for the next glass, Caleb’s knees were against his own, much closer than he had been this whole time. Essek’s words were lost on the way out, and he ended up saying nothing. A trouser leg brushed gently against his shins, and then there was slow weight against his thighs of two other legs and a human ass sitting down.
Essek had never been more still in his life. Multiple worries and a flushing fondness crowded his attention in a moment, and he tried to sort them all out without his face or body betraying his thoughts.
Caleb had clearly settled sideways in his lap. If Essek flinched on instinct due to being unused to such closeness and affection, not even in discomfort, Caleb could pull away and retreat, perhaps getting the wrong idea. If Essek spoke, breaking the utter silence that Caleb had done this in, he might scare Caleb off, who was probably just as nervous as he was. Worse, if Essek reached to touch him, and had somehow misunderstood, he would be slapped. The desire to touch him was there, however, and Essek dug his fingertips hard into the arms of the chair, pressing a desperate plea into the fabric that he didn’t fuck this up.
Essek had about four more scenarios to consider in his head before he felt a hand, warm and solid, rest on his forearm, the thumb making light and cautious strokes against the thin skin of his inner elbow. His pulse skyrocketed. He could not suppress the shaky gasp that slipped from his mouth, and he worried that Caleb was about to back off, but he remained.
Essek did not need to see Caleb’s face to know that he was so near to his own. His breath warmed his cheeks and his neck, and Essek could smell the wine he had just sipped moments ago. What was Caleb waiting for? He was close enough for Essek to taste his breath; would he be allowed to taste more as well?
Essek nodded his head at subtly as he could. A quiet go-ahead. Of course that’s what Caleb was waiting for: he’s polite.
Caleb’s lips just grazed Essek’s at first, and Essek very nearly jolted forward to kiss him properly, showing his whole ass in desperation, but he restrained himself. Caleb then pressed a firmer kiss into his lips, warmer, and suddenly it was Caleb’s mouth, hot and open, on Essek’s own, moving confidently.
There was so much of Caleb’s mouth that tasted of that wine. Full-bodied and sweet, a spark of woodiness from a Vermaloc barrel … if Caleb wasn’t giving so much attention to his mouth, Essek might be drooling by now.
Caleb pulled back far too soon, and Essek gasped for air, breathless from the kiss and Caleb’s mere presence. A beat. Caleb breathed out, a fire rushing out of him and into Essek’s nose, filling him. “Which wine was that one?” Caleb murmured.
“The Di—!” Essek voice came out barely audible and far more choked than he expected. He swallowed hard, taking a moment to get his voice under control. “The, uh, D-Diamond Plum Wine, I think. I … I can’t be sure, though.”
“Would you like another taste?”
Essek wasn’t even drunk but his head was swimming with the sensation of Caleb’s mouth and tongue against his, and his thighs straddling his lap as he got more bold. Essek was still too nervous to touch him, but at some point Caleb grabbed Essek’s hands with his own and guided them to his waist. Essek relented and held tight to Caleb’s sides, grounding him, afraid he would float away.
Essek kissed the wine from Caleb’s tongue and lips until it was gone, and all that remained was the flavour of Caleb himself. Something of woodsmoke and a burnt honey, a strange, strong, but not unpleasant taste. In fact, it drove Essek even crazier, and he wanted to bruise his mouth against Caleb’s neck for hours.
He did not know how long they stayed locked together like that, drinking the flavour from each other, Essek’s hands still clinging achingly to Caleb’s hip bones. But then Caleb’s broke away again, his hands splayed against Essek’s chest.
“Keep your eyes closed, okay?” Caleb’s voice puffed nearly imperceptibly against Essek’s ear.
Essek only could mouth his agreement, his voice long stolen by Caleb’s movements against his lap.
He felt Caleb’s hands reach against the back of his scalp, scratching the short hair there with tender, affectionate movements before finally undoing the scarf’s knot around his head. Essek kept his eyes shut tight.
“Keep them closed,” came another whisper, and the scarf didn’t leave his neck. It shifted in Caleb’s hands to drape around Essek’s shoulders, similarly to how Caleb might wear it himself. Caleb’s weight and warmth ebbed away as he stood up, and Essek bit his lip to keep from groaning in protest.
“Shhhh, keep them closed,” Caleb hushed him. His voice was more distant now, his footsteps travelling away from Essek. Essek didn’t open his eyes, but the tension in his gut from Caleb’s weight on his hips was unbearable. He had to leave now?
After a couple more repeated “keep them closed”, each more distant and quiet than the last, Essek heard the click of the door in the hall closing. He finally blinked open his eyes, surprising himself when a few tear droplets clung to his lashes.
The den was empty. Essek sighed shakily. He might have thought what happened to be one of his many late night fantasies, Caleb Widogast the last thing on his mind as usual. But there were still the wine bottles. There was still the taste of him in his mouth and the smell of him around his neck.