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Icarus, is that you?

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Essek stands at Caleb’s side, surveying the destruction of the Academy with the facade of cool indifference. Despite the distant flashes and rumbles of the climax of the battle, the tense anticipation that is building in his belly is not due to the long-awaited execution of spineless cretins that make up the Assembly, rather the grim determined human beside him.

He tilts his face and looks at his companion, skin vibrating with need. Essek admires the wisps of red hair escaping from his low ponytail, three days of stubble growing, clothes ruined with the blood of their enemies. Essek doesn't think he’s seen anything so beautiful.

They haven't even so much as kissed, couldn't risk the Bright Queen from scrying in on the wrong moment and guessing at Essek’s true allegiance. But now, there's nothing stopping them.

Many a night Essek has dreamed of this moment. Caleb will pull him in by his waist, tenderly cup his face and tease him into a soft sweet kiss, or perhaps with the heat of battle adrenaline coursing through his veins, Caleb will be overwhelmed with the need for a passionate embrace, hungry and all-consuming. Essek will welcome both.

This is the moment. The moment where the loneliness ends and the touching can begin.

“Essek, you’ve outdone yourself,” says Caleb without taking his gaze off of the roaring flames that are alighting the citadel. “Dwendal will have no choice but to listen to our demands now.”

Essek fails to hide a smile and replies, “Yes, our calculations for the time manipulations were correct. Your plan was executed flawlessly.” Watching the light from the nearby flames flick over Caleb’s profile, Essek’s joy seems to falter.

Caleb’s gaze is trained on the continuing carnage as another spire crashes spectacularly in the distance. “It has been a long time coming,” he says, voice low but with a thread of pride interwoven in his tone, “But I have finally avenged my parents and unearthed the corruption that is rotting this empire.”

Essek holds his breath and waits. But Caleb doesn't turn and gives him the exhilarating kiss he expects. Perhaps, Essek thinks, Caleb is still shy even after all these months of plotting and scheming. Perhaps they will start slow, tenderly brushing the back of each other’s hands, listening to each other's breath, experimenting to see what they like. Maybe Caleb is still contemplating the magnitude of what will be an intense relationship. This is to be expected.

Essek comforts himself with the thought that after this deep yearning on both sides, surely they can spare more time to savor this moment. It would be nonsensical to rush into it.

Essek has spent many idle hours imagining Caleb hovering over him, eyes drifting to his lips, body shaking with want. Essek swallows, just thinking of those artistic broad hands stroking his collarbone and traveling down his chest creates a heat in his lower belly. His hands curl into fists, stopping him for reaching out, it would be just his luck if he scared Caleb off at this momentous occasion.

“That burden you’ve been carrying for so long can finally be unloaded. You’re free of those mental shackles ,” says Essek. “We both are.” Taking a deep breath, he leans slightly, purple silk to ragged linen, only for Caleb to lurch away suddenly.

“This is where we part Shadowhand”, says Caleb. “I must check in with the others and I’m sure the Bright Queen will be wanting an update.” Blue eyes as cold as steel glance his way as he moves to disappear into the chaos that is ReXxintrum.

“But what about…”, Essek blinks, dumbfounded by the curtness.

“You must understand it wasn’t anything personal”, says Caleb. “But the knowledge you had was imperative to our plans”.

Essek jaw drops. “I didn't expect it to work so well, but you were so lonely and decided to develop a childish infatuation.” Caleb gives a small one shoulder shrug, “the rest just fell into place.

Essek feels his insides freeze, his future hopes ripped from him, “You lied to me?”

“Hardly. I’ve barely touched you.” Caleb makes a move to walk towards the carnage, but halts at the sight of Essek’s face. “I didn't mean to hurt you meine freunde, but there were bigger things at stake.”

Essek thinks he might be sick. “Leave then,” voice quivering, eyes stinging with restrained tears. There will be no soft embraces, no hushed midnight conversations under sheets, no warm caresses. The loneliness never-ending stretches out before him.

Caleb’s jaw twitches in confusion. “You’re taking this harder than what I thought.”

Essek’s resolve to remain stoic crumbles. “You led me on. You fed me a fantasy, just so you could get your revenge.” A final rumble alights the sky with streaks of orange against the indigo night.

“Learning about the interwoven threads of time was my only goal.” Although Caleb’s posture speaks of resolve, there is a trace of uncertainty in the Zemnian voice. “I cant have any distractions while we debate with Dwendal.”

“I wouldn’t be a distraction!” Essek pleads, shame curling in his belly, he sounds pathetic even to his own ears. “You’ll need help! Nobody knows the finer subtleties needed for court politics like I do.” Caleb continues to look at him, taken back by this uncharacteristic outburst. “Please I-,” he takes a ragged breath to try and calm himself, eyes glued to the floor, “I’ll do anything to stay by your side.”

“Was für eine Überraschung!” Caleb turns his body to mirror him. “You want me this badly?” Essek forces himself to meet his gaze and sees shame written in Caleb’s face. “Essek, meine freunde I didn't realise your feelings ran so deep.”

Essek rocks forward, hand hovering just above Caleb’s chest. The air between them quivering with anticipation, he can no longer hear the distant screams, no longer breathing, all he wants is to feel the heat of Caleb underneath his palm.

“Can I show you what I want?” Without waiting for an answer, Essek casts Programmed Illusion, where two figures shrouded in golden light appear on his palm, legs entwined, promises of devotion exchanged, mouths locked, writhing in pleasure, no longer alone, no longer ostracised, the air around them shimmering with sparks.

He hears Caleb swallow, “Oh.” He breaks the trance that the image temporarily has over him with a shake of his head. Embarrassed and shy Caleb is unable to meet his gaze, a shell-pink brushing his cheeks. “I have a duty to my parents to see this to its completion. I can’t let you distract me.”

“I thought you liked me,” Essek needles.

“Yes- I - I’m sorry Essek. I just-”. Caleb stutters out. The last visage of the confident wizard who just firebombed an ancient magical institution washes away leaving a conflicted young man in his place. Caleb attempts to shake his head free of Essek’s pleading, but his eyes seem to be fixed on the mage’s mouth. “Maybe when Dwendall has finally agreed to our terms, and a new independent school is-” His breath hitched.

The night that surrounds them has gone dark leaving only the trails of smoke in the air as evidence to what has transpired here. And Caleb has still not moved.

Essek sensing a sliver of an opportunity reaches up and strokes the wizard’s ashen face. Caleb barely blinks as he watches the mage tilt his face to the side, and ever so slowly steals his much longed-for kiss, the lightest touch of warm human lips. “It was never my intention to-” Caleb mummers against him. But hands are slowly finding their way to Essek’s waist and soft kisses are slowly being exchanged, hair is entwined around the mage’s finger’s and the ache of loneliness that they have both been carrying finally unfurls, leaving only the fluttering of this newly found pleasure.