You are cordially invited to the home of Fjord and Jester Lavorre on the 6th of Undillar for a housewarming party and evening of revelry, reads the letter in looping script that Caleb recognized as Jester’s “fancy” handwriting. Please respond at your earliest convenience.
After a loose filigreed design that Caleb spies at least two dicks in follows a messier note: Caleb I know you’re busy with professoring but you GOTTA come or else I’ll NEVER stop messaging you the WHOLE NIGHT okay also can you pick up Caduceus and Beau and Yasha please??
Finally, a thicker note in a different handwriting: Yes, we finally bought a house. Please don’t bring your cat(s).
Caleb smiles down at the note and wonders if he should claim one of his cats was sick and needed round-the-clock care, just to see the look on Fjord’s face. One of the cats in question, a grey-furred, one-eared thing named Vesta, rubs against Caleb’s ankle until he scritches behind her ear nubbin. “Do you want to visit Nicodranas, schatz? ”
She scratches at her face and shakes out her fur in irritation. “No, you and Nugget would not be allied.”
He pulls his sending stone out of his pocket, one of a matched set he’d purchased for all the Nein when his first teacher’s salary made rationing his adventuring winnings less important. Jester had not stopped sending messages in it to everyone for the first week, and Veth attempted to convince Yasha that the two of them didn’t need stones to communicate with each other. Caleb rubs his finger over the grooves to communicate with just Fjord and Jester’s stones. “Ah, Jester? Fjord?”
The reply is instant. “ Caleb! ” Jester says. “Did you get our invitation?”
“Yes,” he says. “I will be there. Do you want me to bring anything?”
“Just don’t bring a cat,” Fjord says, distantly.
“Shame,” Caleb says.
“Ooh, do you have any new smutty books?” Jester asks. “Like good ones.”
“A few. I will bring them.”
“Okay!” Jester says. “ Also, you should make sure Essek comes, because he hasn’t sent me a message yet and he’s got to come.”
“And I will message him because…?”
“Be cause he’ll listen to you more than anyone. ”
Caleb opens his mouth to protest, but shuts it. She isn’t wrong. “I’ll message him now.”
“Tell him you won’t kiss him if he doesn’t—”
The connection cuts off; probably Fjord, snatching the stone away. Caleb shakes his head and laughs quietly. Vesta looks up at him, and her yellow eyes look at him judgingly. “It’s complicated.”
She blinks at him before slinking away, her tail twitching.
He keys the stone to Essek. “Essek? Are you there?”
“Mmm, yes?” he returns. There is a familiar tone in his voice, like his mind is in one place while his speech is in another; something Caleb had witnessed many times on their trip through Aeor.
“If you are mid-experiment, I can call you back.” To Caleb’s surprise, he hears birds tweeting. “Are you outside?”
“Ah, yes.” There is a rustling, and when Essek speaks again he seems fully present. “I’m gardening at the Blooming Grove.”
A smile creeps to Caleb’s face as he imagines a flower-hatted Essek pruning. “I didn’t know you were back there.”
“Caduceus invited me. I have been… in between locations right now.” He pauses, and there is a familiar note of honesty lacing his tone. “It is nice to have a place where I can wear my own face.”
Caleb hmms in agreement. “I am sure.”
They fall into a comfortable silence for a moment, with nothing but birds and wind in leaves making its way through the channel. Calab pictures Essek sitting below a tree, his hat tilted up in the shade, his legs sprawled out comfortably.
“I assume Jester told you to make sure I come to her… shindig?”
“It is an appropriate word, Caleb Widogast,” he says, teasingly. Caleb’s smile grows wider.
“Yes, she did. I assume you’ll be in attendance?”
“Of course. Frankly, I just want to see what a Jester Lavorre-inhabited home looks like.”
“How many dicks do you think will be there?”
Essek laughs. “Innumerable.”
“Then I will see you there, Essek.”
“I look forward to it.”
Caleb ends the spells and clutches the stone to his chest. Talking to Essek has grown so….. easy. Vesta gazes up at him from across the room, and his other cat, a tortoiseshell named Hilde, slips beside her to stare at him.
“Don’t look at me like that.”
A week later, Yasha and Beauregard show up at his front door, bottles of Lionett wine slung in a bag over Yasha’s shoulder. “Sup,” Beau says, as Yasha waves.
“Step inside—I’ve got the ritual almost done.”
“Isn’t Essek here?” Yasha asks, peering past Caleb as they step in.
“No?” he says. “He’s actually at the Grove currently. And he doesn’t live here—you know this.”
“Of course he doesn’t,” Beau says, in the tone she has when she clearly doesn’t believe what she’s saying.
“You’ve been here,” Caleb says. “For dinner. With no Essek. ”
“And he could’ve been out doing wizard shit.” Beau shrugs.
“I have a perfectly functional laboratory and library. If he lived here, why would he do wizard shit elsewhere?” Caleb shakes his head in exasperation. Meddlers, all. “To the circle, or I’m leaving you behind.”
Beau still has a shit-eating grin on her face when they land in the permanent circle at the Brenattos’ residence. They are immediately met by a halfling toddler running out towards them, butt-naked and shrieking, followed not far behind by an exasperated Yeza.
“Leda, sweetheart—” Yeza begs. “You need to wear clothes for Edith—”
She runs straight to Yasha, arms outstretched, who scoops the two-year-old up into her arms, and Yeza finally notices the visitors in his backyard. “Oh! Hello!”
“Hello,” Yasha says. She rubs circles on Leda’s back as she buries her head into Yasha’s hair and sobs.
“Terrible twos?” Beau says wryly. “Sucks.”
Yeza shrugs tiredly. “Leda somehow got this idea in her head that if Veth and I leave her for a night, we’re never coming back, ever.”
“And going naked will stop you from leaving her in the devious hands of Edith?” Caleb says. He tucks Leda’s black curls behind her ear, and the child looks at him with tear-filled eyes. “Hello, liebchen .”
She sniffles. “Hi, Uncle Caleb,” she says, waterlogged.
Yeza shakes his head. “Kid logic.” He gestures towards the door. “C’mon inside. Veth is trying to convince Luc he can’t stay here alone yet.”
“When I was 8, I already went spider-hunting alone.” Yasha strokes Leda’s hair, and Caleb, not for the first time, wonders what the fuck happened in Yasha’s tribe. “The spiders were larger than me. They tasted delicious. ”
“I’m sure they were, babe,” Beau says. Yeza leads them inside, and Caleb can’t help but smile at the sappy look on Beau’s face.
Really, he can’t help but smile at all of it. Four years ago, facing down Lucien—facing down Trent— Caleb had struggled to see something so good in his future. And yet. The Empire is whole. The rats have been rooted out. The children are safer than they have been in the last hundred years. He has an office at the Soltryce Academy where he can leave quills and spellbooks and a pillow under his desk for whichever cat decides they must tag along. He witnesses children— Empire children, young and bright —transmuting and casting right before his eyes every day, and there is no more destruction. He holds only one book now, and visits his parents’ grave and leaves Yasha’s flowers by the stones at every season. He has a home of his own, with a library and comfortable chairs before a fireplace and a stove he lights with a cantrip and paintings of the Nein that Jester paints hanging in every room.
And his family is here, right along with him. Beauregard and Yasha live down the road, and Beau often stomps into his house just to shriek at him about bureaucracy and the Assembly and how she wishes she could still punch away her problems. His home is decorated with bouquets of flowers grown from the garden Yasha tends. He drinks tea from Caduceus’s garden, and he knows he can drop in anytime for a cup of tea, a vegetarian meal, and a handful of bugs from Clarabelle he gently shifts to the ground. He caught a severe cold this past winter, and Caduceus heard his sniffles along the sending stone and wouldn’t accept anything other than Caleb coming to the Grove for a cup of soup and a Lesser Restoration. He has Jester in his ear every day, messaging about Marius’s latest idiocy and her new tattoos from Orly and the most recent turtle that attacked Fjord. He hears from his captain, every so often, usually highjacking Jester’s call, and takes comfort in the ever-growing, natural confidence in Fjord’s voice, and in the unsurprising news of Kingsley Tealeaf’s unpredictable differences and similarities to the tiefling they’d lost. He goes to the fish market with Fjord and Kingsley and anyone else who tags along and savors the fish and vinegar and laughs when Fjord accidentally eats a spicy pepper. He teaches Luc how to prestidigitate and learns the soft weight of Leda sleeping on his chest, and he watches Veth teach Nicodranian ten-year-olds how to sneak and wield a crossbow. He hears those same children call him “Lebby” because that’s what Veth shouts across the camp when she thinks no one is paying attention, and in return he teaches Luc Zemnian swears. He has Essek, dropping in to visit when he can and calling him anytime he reaches a stride with a spell, and in return Caleb talks about the children he teaches and the books he’s read and have you worked out yet how to get bat guano out of formal robes and I almost punched a fellow professor when he said Ikithon had some tenable methods and I might have accidentally taught a student dunamancy and I hope you can visit soon —
In the Brenatto home, Veth gives him an aborted hug and drags him over to Luc and tells him to “Tell my son that the fact he can shoot fire out of his hands is actually less of a qualification for him to stay home alone,” and Beau and Yasha coax Leda into pajamas, and five minutes later Caduceus and Essek teleport in, and Caleb meets Essek’s eyes and hazards a smile that the drow returns, and Caleb Widogast is quietly, incandescently content.
After a raucous tour of their place, led by Jester (where Essek counted 32 hidden dicks in the various pieces of artwork and Caleb counted 39), Caduceus took over the kitchen from a struggling Fjord and finished up dinner. What had been some Port Damali stew had been altered by Caduceus into something unrecognizable but still delicious.
After they eat, Beau reaches into her bag and pulls out at least twelve bottles of Lionett wine. “I stole these last time I saw TJ. Fuckin’ bottoms up.”
Veth places her hand primly on her chest. “All the rest of you feel free to partake—no drop of wine shalt touch my lips.”
“Bullshit,” Beau says. “You have a seven-year-old and a toddler, and Luc can set shit on fire with his brain.”
“Okay, yeah, maybe I’m shitting you,” Veth says. She grabs towards the nearest bottle. “Tonight is a night to PARTY!”
Yeza sighs and falls back onto his chair. “Thank all the gods. ”
Kingsley holds up his wine glass and grins. “And thank you two for leaving the squirts at home. They’re cute, sure, but I don’t fancy being ridden like a bull again.”
“Your horns are perfectly positioned, can’t blame ‘em,” Fjord says, and Kingsley smacks his shoulder.
Caleb pours himself a tall glass, and fills Essek’s glass beside him without thinking. “Thank you,” Essek says, and Caleb feels the tips of his ears burn and smiles. Great way to dispel rumors, he thinks wryly.
“Oh, Jester,” Essek says. “And Caduceus as well, of course, but you knew—for those who don’t imbibe, I have an after-dinner treat.” He flicks his wrist, and a bakery box appears out of his wristpocket.
Jester gasps reverently. “ Black moss cupcakes. Oh, Essek.”
“I was near Uthodurn this morning, so I figured I would get some. As a housewarming gift.” Essek sets the box in the middle of the table, and Jester immediately jumps on the box.
“I thought you were at the Grove,” Caleb whispers.
Essek shrugs. “Technically, with Teleport, everywhere is nearby.”
The night continues, and they all gather in the house’s living room, where they push the comfortable couches and chairs to the corners to make something approaching a dance floor in the middle. Caleb has activated his housewarming gift: a small box that plays any song the box magically recorded. Pumat had given him a special deal on it, and Caleb had gone to several lively taverns to record bards’ songs specifically for this evening.
Caleb has wedged himself into one of the corner-shoved chairs with his third (fourth? fifth?) glass of wine clutched to his chest, and he can watch the whole room unfold. An upbeat song plays, and Jester attempts to teach Fjord how to two-step while he gazes drunkenly, lovingly down at her. Kingsley is sprawled on the floor and gives Caduceus an alcohol-fueled tarot reading while Beau is perched on the nearest chair, heckling.
“That card is upside down,” Beau says.
“It’s supposed t’be.”
“No, I think she’s right,” Caduceus says.
“See? Deuce’s always right.”
“I will push you out the nearest window. ”
Veth and Yeza are entwined on a couch, fervently kissing. Yeza is flushed bright red; from the alcohol or their activities, Caleb doesn’t know. What he does know is that he will not be surprised if a third Brenatto child is soon on their way. Yasha sits on the floor against the wall and rubs Nugget’s belly; the blink dog’s leg kicks erratically, and Caleb can faintly hear a “who’s a good boy” over the music. Essek floats alone near a wall, daintily sipping from his wine glass and blinking, catlike, at the green-cloaked archfey lounging in midair.
Caleb shuts his eyes and lets the noise roll over him like warm air. This is good, he thinks. I have missed this.
The last time all of them gathered had been a few months ago, when the Nein Heroez had last docked in Nicodranas. They’d done a bar crawl around the city and eventually collapsed at Veth and Yeza’s house and talked for hours. Leda, insisting she wasn’t tired, had toddled over and instantly fallen asleep on Essek’s chest. Essek was paralyzed and barely touched her, and Caleb adjusted his hand on Leda’s bottom and teased him beneath the other conversations.
“She’s not made of glass, you know.”
“Not like there are many babies in the Dynasty,” he said, and, seemingly unconsciously, adjusted her slumbering frame further up his chest. He sighed. “My brother has a child, but I haven’t met her yet.”
“Why not?” Caleb asked.
“I haven’t stepped in Xhorhas in years, Caleb Widogast. I think my mother would skin me alive.”
“She’d consecute you first,” Caleb said. “Try for round two.”
Essek laughed, even gentler than usual to avoid disturbing the sleeping child, and Caleb felt warmth bloom in his chest.
Now, hearing laughter and music and chatter all around him and the identical heat of wine in his stomach, Caleb thinks he could stay like this forever. And his quiet house—wonderful, but quiet—seems all-too lonely.
Caleb opens his eyes. Essek floats in front of him. “Incredibly,” Caleb says. He pats the empty chair beside him. “Try this one out.”
Essek settles into the chair and sets his empty glass on the ground. “I am too old for nights like this.”
Caleb laughs. “You have a long time ahead of you, my friend.”
Essek meets his eyes with false sternness. “You’ll understand one day, young man.”
The two fall into comfortable silence for a few moments. “So, where are you heading next?” Caleb asks. “Back to the Grove?”
“I think I'm tired of gardening for now. Would also, frankly, like a non-vegetarian meal.” Essek shrugs. “I’m not sure where I’ll go. I have no plans.”
Caleb hmms. Come stay with me, his alcohol-muddled brain insists. “Wherever you go, I’m sure you’ll find something.” I have a spare room. “And if you have business in Rexxentrum, I’m always available for a visit.” There’s a library, and a laboratory—
Essek smiles. “I’ll be sure to take you up on that. If you have time for me in between your teaching and constantly annoying the entire Dwendalian government.”
“Don’t forget inspiring light sedition among the youth.”
“Naturally.” Essek curls his long fingers under his sharp jawline and leans on the arm of the chair. He has a dusting of silver freckles along his cheekbone, like a pale galaxy, or the stars in a beacon. Caleb wonders what colors his skin would turn if he brushed his thumb along that line.
The song changes to something slower and more melancholy; something a bard played when the night had drawn on and the candles were falling low. A slow waltz.
“Dance with me,” Caleb’s tongue says before his brain can stop it. “If you want.”
Essek’s mouth falls open, and Caleb’s stomach falls with it. But then the corners of his mouth curl up and his eyes crinkle, and he says, “With you? Anything.” He stands up, and he actually stands, dropping his levitation spell. At Caleb’s surprised look, he shrugs. “It’s more difficult to dance without my feet on the ground.”
Jester and Fjord still dance. Her cheeks are purplish from exertion, and her head rests on Fjord’s chest. They don’t dance, truly; they just step and sway to the rhythm, using the music as more of an excuse to press themselves together than for anything else. Yasha has moved to sit beside Beau, watching Kingsley’s hands move over the tarot cards with a small smile, and Beau twirls one of Yasha’s braids. Yeza leans against Veth’s shoulder, his hair mussed and his eyes slipping shut. Veth, on the other hand, spies Essek and Caleb stepping onto the floor, Caleb’s hand sliding behind Essek’s back—carefully, cautiously, as platonically as Caleb can make it—and her eyebrows shoot up. Caleb cocks his head at her and meets her eyes. Please don’t, he silently begs.
She cocks her head in return and smiles as innocently as she can, which, even lacking the goblin teeth, has all the innocence of a cat who just hacked a hairball up on test papers.
Essek follows Caleb’s lead, looping his arms around his neck, and the two of them fall into step. There is space between them, and Caleb is increasingly sure that if their chests touched—or worse, their hips—he would implode.
“I’ve always liked dancing,” Essek says. “One of the few real perks of being in a high-ranking Den.”
“I used to dance when I was young,” Caleb says. “At that tavern in Rexxentrum? I believe we took you there, once.” Over a year ago, and Essek had drunk too much and forgotten to maintain his illusion’s image of walking, so Yasha picked him up and carted him back to Beau and Yasha’s home.
“With your… ex-partners?” Essek hazards.
“Yes,” Caleb says. “But before that, too. We were children, having fun.”
“Better times, eh?”
Caleb nods. “Something approaching it.”
Essek’s hand slides down to the small of Caleb’s back, and he grasps Caleb’s hand in a more traditional waltz position. He lets Essek lead. He’s shorter than Caleb, when he’s not floating; not by much, but enough that Caleb has to look down at him. Caleb tries to stop his eyeline from falling on Essek’s lips. “I am… incredibly drunk,” Caleb admits.
“Your dancing doesn’t suffer for it.” Essek leads him through a slow spin, and Caleb manages to not stumble even as his head spins along with him.
“Probably because I learned to dance while similarly drunk.”
One song bleeds into the next, and the next, and time passes quickly as they dance together. They alternate who leads, and Caleb cannot decide which step he prefers. There is a slight discrepancy in their movements, between their two styles, but it doesn’t take long for them to find the similarities and dance within them.
The question builds on Caleb’s tongue again: stay with me, for a while. He pictures Essek in the kitchen in the morning, hair mussed and in whatever fancy pajamas he must own. Or Essek lounging in a library chair, a book in his hand and a cup of tea abandoned on the table next to him. Or Essek, beside him in his lab, focused, and he succeeds and he reaches to him and pulls him in—
“You can come stay with me for a while,” Caleb says. “I—ah. I have a spare room. And you’d be fine company. If you’d be amenable.”
Though Caleb’s heart stops and breath stills, Essek does not break his stride. His hand tightens—affectionately, he thinks—on Caleb’s lower back, and he smiles. “I would love that.”
Caleb smiles and tries to not breathe out shakily. “I cannot promise I won’t put you on grading papers.”
“As long as it’s not entry-level, please. ”
“Sorry, only Transmutation 101.”
“At least let me have a harsh grading scale.”
“A hard bargain,” Caleb says. “But deal.”
Essek beams. “I’ll teleport in tomorrow?”
Caleb swallows down the laugh in his throat. He’s coming to live with you. This is fine. This is normal. Nothing is going to happen.
Unless it does, says a voice that sounds suspiciously like Veth.
The next morning, after a breakfast of pastries and a flurry of goodbyes, Caleb begins casting the ritual to send himself, Beau, and Yasha back to Rexxentrum.
“I will see you soon, then?” Essek says. He’s floating again, his hair perfectly coiffed. He doesn’t look like he’s had a drop of wine last night. He speaks casually, but there is a slight turn-up in his tone that makes Caleb know that this isn’t just a clarification: it’s a question.
“Of course,” Caleb says breezily. “Just teleport in.”
Essek nods, his shoulders losing tension, and Caleb turns to finish the circle with a flourish before the flush he feels building reaches his ears. “Quickly,” he says. “Or you’re stuck here until I decide to get you.” He steps into the circle and hears Beau swearing behind him.
They appear in the basement circle he’d set up as soon as he’d moved in, and Caleb immediately runs up the stairs.
Fuck, everything’s dirty. He clears patches of dust with a quick prestidigitation and sweeps piles of crumpled paper into his pockets. Scheisse, his room.
He’s just started transmuting the bedspread into a more Essek-like dark blue when Beau speaks behind him.
“So, when’s the wedding?”
Caleb doesn’t turn around, still focusing on shifting colors to find the perfect shade. Maybe I should put some stars on here too— He pauses as her words sink in and turns around to face her. “What do you mean, Beauregard.”
“Well, I just assume that ‘come stay with me a while’ is ‘let’s get married’ in repressed wizard speak.” She leans against the doorframe, her arms crossed. “I speak every language, you know.”
“ Ich hasse dich.”
Beau grins. “No you don’t.”
Caleb sighs. “No, I don’t. Just like you know that Essek and I are not…” He waves his hand vaguely. “I am extending an offer to a dear friend.”
“Sure. An offer to just… live in your bachelor pad. Casually.”
Caleb runs his hand down his face. “Either please go home or help me clean my house.”
Beau holds up her hands in mock surrender. “Okay, okay.” She steps out the door but sticks her head back in. “Have fun.”
Caleb cleans quickly when his mind is occupied, and he manages to remove every bit of scattered junk and dust from the place within twenty minutes as his mind races. What if Essek thinks this is a proposition?
What if he doesn’t?
Caleb scrunches his eyes shut and releases a heavy sigh. A cat rubs against his ankles and purrs. “Hello, Hilde.”
She meows in response before jumping up on top of his couch. Caleb casts his eyes around the room: kitchen clean, sitting room clear, fireplace dusted. A few piles of books on the small table between two chairs, but Essek wouldn’t mind that. Vesta, apparently annoyed that Hilde got a hello when she didn’t, jumps onto the couch beside her and mewls.
Does he like cats?
Before his mind can overwhelm him more than it already threatens, he hears a quiet whumpf from the basement. Self-consciously, he adjusts his coat and quick-steps down the stairs. “Essek?”
“Caleb!” Essek’s voice sounds… happy. And when Caleb steps into the basement and sees Essek floating there, a bag slung around his back, he recognizes the smile on his face as a genuine one. “I hope I haven’t arrived too soon.”
Caleb waves his hand in dismissal. “Absolutely not. Come upstairs—I’ll give you a tour.”
His house is nothing expansive and nothing exciting for the average person, but the library and laboratory, small as they are, were what drew Caleb most to this house. The house’s initial occupant had clearly also been a wizard or an artificer or something of the like, as one room is fully decked out as a lab, with a magic-fueled board for equations and theories, well-constructed tables, and lead-lined walls to prevent failed experiments from leaking into the rest of the house. The library is similarly fixed, complete with plush red carpets, a fireplace, and wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves that Caleb hasn’t even begun to completely fill. Naturally, Caleb decorated it in his own style, adding perhaps his favorite decoration in the whole house above the fireplace: a swirling blue galaxy, an as-perfect recreation of what he saw in the beacon and recreated on the ninth floor of his Nein-Sided Tower as he could, but with a minor addition of a nearly-invisible white-furred cat disappearing into the swath of stars.
While Essek nods politely at the rest of the house and thanks Caleb for his bedroom (though Caleb feels foolish at his fixation on the bedspread when he remembers that Essek trances rather than sleeps), when Caleb shuffles him into the library, the grip on his bag slackens and an involuntary “Oh ” escapes him. Caleb strategically ignores the echoing “oh” that strikes him internally at the thought of what else could make Essek create similar sounds.
“Any books you may have brought, you can put them on shelves,” Caleb says quietly, as if not to break the quiet reverie Essek seems to have fallen into. “There is plenty of room.”
Essek nods. “I… will do that.” He drifts towards the nearest occupied bookshelf and starts running his long finger along the spines, his mouth reading silently and his brow slightly furrowed.
Caleb watches him peruse, unguarded as he takes in the texts, his texts, that he’s read and loved or hated and kept for spite or been given by Jester and stored for a bad day; he watches him look at spines Caleb has thumbed innumerable times, in his home, in his library, and, selfishly, he memorizes him.
Essek taps twice on books he seems to take greater interest in (one, notably, being one of Caleb’s more deceptively-titled smut novels). He vocalizes small exhales of air as he mouths titles. He effortlessly floats a few inches higher to read the next shelf, and he never breaks his gaze, entirely focused. There’s a tight curl of hair fallen over his forehead. Caleb wants to fix it.
“How do you feel about tea?” Caleb says. “We can sit up here, and you can ask me what questions you have.”
“Mmm, sure,” he says, distractedly.
Essek doesn’t respond, instead pulling out a thin, nearly-hidden book and flipping it open.
Caleb smiles and shakes his head before going down to the kitchen and brewing a pot of mint tea. The kettle is about to boil when he hears, “Caleb? Where did you go?”
“I’m making tea,” he calls. “You like mint, yes?”
“Do you have lavender?”
As he puts the tea leaves into small strainers and dips them into the water, the domesticity of it all settles on him. He’s been here for all of ten minutes, and you already know his favorite tea. He laughs to himself. “Down, Widogast.”
It feels good. Bringing Essek tea. Essek being upstairs, reading his books. Knowing, intimately, what Essek will taste when he sips the tea from Caleb’s own cupboard.
Caleb loves him. He knows this. He has for a time. But for now, he will just have to imagine kissing the lavender from Essek’s lips.
So, Caleb goes upstairs, and he explains a Zemnian text and names Vesta when she jumps on Essek’s lap, and he watches his lips curve over the porcelain and his tongue flick out to catch a stray droplets, and he quietly yearns like he has for the last three years.
Caleb has always been lightly obsessed with memorizing intricacies: of spells, of Exandrian history, of his friends. Living in the same space as Essek, he finds, allows him to memorize aspects of him he’d never noticed.
Aeor had allowed for understanding between them, for a greater intimacy than he’d been able to have before by virtue of them being alone, sith no one else to talk to. Aeor had still been a dangerous place, and more than once either of them had to bandage the other’s wounds; most notably for Caleb, a massive slash across Essek’s stomach that not even a healing potion could entirely heal that Caleb had to hold together with his hands while Essek choked down the potion. That night, Caleb watched him throughout Essek’s fitful trance, counting the raises of his chest and the flicks of his silver-white lashes below his eyelids.
Yet, in Aeor, they were guarded. They could never fully relax around each other; both because their friendship, their relationship, their understanding of each other was still fledgling, and that they could be attacked by one of Aeor’s horrors at any moment. Now, with no danger outside of a failed experiment imminent, there is glorious opportunity for Caleb to just… watch him live.
Essek never eats breakfast. He has a lick of curly hair that sticks up in the morning, and he’s entirely unable to communicate until he has a cup of coffee. When he reads a book, he leaves it folded face-down until he can snag a scrap of parchment to use as a bookmark. He licks his finger to turn pages when he reads. He only likes lavender tea, and his cheeks flush a dark red-purple when he eats spicy food. He forgets to put on gloves in the laboratory unless Caleb reminds him. He ends up missing gardening, and he plants herbs and flowers the two of them purchase from the Rexxentrum market. He always ends up with dirt in the crease of his neck and across his cheekbone when he gardens. When a cat jumps on him, his face melts into one of awe that the cat chose him. He never floats at home.
It takes only a few months for him to start thinking of this as Essek’s home, and not much longer for Essek to call him home.
This is dangerous, he thinks sometimes. We should stop this.
But they do not. Instead, they eat dinner together every night, and Caleb recounts his school day with equal parts joy and annoyance. They sit at the table afterwards, and Caleb passes him papers to grade, and they laugh at misspellings and missed spells. When one of them fetches tea, they always bring a cup to the other. Caleb translates Zemnian texts for him—arcana, of course, and history, but a few fairy tales and even a book on gardening Essek digs up at a shop—and he memorizes the deep-focused expression that settles on Essek’s face as he listens, rapt. They explore Rexxentrum together, wandering through the streets with Essek carefully disguised, and they visit Beau and Yasha’s home for dinner and drinks and laughter. When Essek is gone, as he increasingly less often is, Caleb finds he misses the creak of his steps in the house, the whoosh of his cloaks along the floor, the quiet sounds he makes that he doesn’t even realize. He finds himself leaning to ask him a question, shouting for him through the house, making two cups of tea instead of one. When he gets home, the hug the two of them exchange is light with contentment and relief and heavy with things unsaid.
Caleb is in love with Essek Thelyss. He can’t deny that. His time at Soltryce each day is spent half-longing to come home to find Essek sitting in the den with reading glasses perched on his long nose and a cat on his lap—Vesta, or Hilde, or Daisy the grey tabby kitten Essek finds loitering between the blossoms of her namesake six months after his arrival and cannot leave outside.
Sometimes, on particularly dull days, Caleb imagines entering the doorway, striding across the room, and planting a kiss on Essek’s gorgeous, tantalizing face. He imagines running his thumb across the freckles on his cheekbone, skimming his hand down his back, pulling their hips together. He imagines guiding him back to Caleb’s bed and kissing him until he smiles, touching him everywhere he allows until he laughs, and moans, and comes apart.
This reality, of course, can live only in his imaginations, in his own clenching of sheets and stifled moans late at night with Essek’s name on his lips.
That winter, they return home late at night after Luc’s eighth birthday party. Essek teleports them, as Caleb spent all his high-level spells casting Programmed Image to make Luc and his friends laugh, and they are alone. Beau and Yasha stay in Nicodranas for the night, partially in order to stop in at the Port Damali Cobalt Soul the next day and partially because Leda was collapsed asleep on Yasha’s chest and only held Yasha’s braids tighter when Yeza suggested she free her. Essek and Caleb land in the circle clinging to each other and laughing breathlessly. They are flushed from wine and the excitement that always comes from seeing the Nein, and Caleb can’t muster any self-consciousness at his hand splayed across Essek’s stomach or Essek’s hand tangled in his loose hair.
Extricating themselves only to go up the stairs, they both collapse into the plush couch in the den, still half leaned into each other. Caleb’s head feels heavy and his chest hurts from laughing, and his fingers brush across Essek’s neck beneath his high collar. Daisy mews angrily at her apparent abandonment and jumps onto Essek’s lap.
“Hello,” he says, his voice still gentled by a laugh. “Can you ever forgive us?” Daisy, in answer, curls up on his lap and nudges his hand until he pets her.
“Congratulations, Essek,” Caleb says. “You have spoiled your first cat.”
“And how many have you spoiled?” Essek looks at Caleb, his smile crooked and his eyes sparkling, and gods Caleb wants to kiss him.
“Not enough.” Caleb lets his head fall against the back of the couch and shuts his eyes. “Never enough cats.”
Essek chuckles. Caleb hears a brushing of hair on leather and figures Essek has also fallen against the couch. Caleb opens his eyes and looks at Essek’s peaceful face. Essek exhales. “What a wonderful day.”
Caleb laughs tiredly. “The best.”
“Luc is… a fascinating child.”
“He’s a hellion,” Caleb says fondly. “But look at his mother. And his… Other influences,” he says, vaguely gesturing.
Essek raises an eyebrow. “Caleb Widogast, are you calling yourself a bad influence?”
“Mostly talking about all of us.”
Essek turns onto his side, leaning his elbow on the back of the couch and his cheek on his fist. “Elaborate.”
“Well,” Caleb says, ticking off the Nein on his fingers. “His mother gets far too much joy out of blowing shit up. Fjord almost awoke an eldritch god and slept with an evil pirate woman for information. Jester leaves dicks everywhere she goes, including temples, and would have certainly killed Sprinkle by now if the weasel was not divinely inspired. Yasha gets so angry at things that she cannot die. Beau has only relatively recently learned to not punch her problems and swears more like a sailor than the actual pirate captain. Caduceus more than once explicitly threatened an archmage of the Cerberus Assembly. Kingsley is…”
“Kingsley,” Essek supplies.
“Correct. I lived in self-hatred for something that wasn’t my fault for half my life and am actively teaching Luc to do magic, thereby directly increasing his level of chaos. And you, Essek Thelyss, are a wonderfully reformed war criminal.”
Essek, thankfully, laughs so hard that Daisy mrrps at being disturbed. “You are, my friend, entirely correct.” He holds his hand to his forehead. “Holy shit, how is this child not going to get into absolutely insane levels of nonsense.”
“I think Yeza is already going grey at the thought of it.”
Essek shakes his head ruefully, and they both fall quiet; not an awkward, don’t-know-what-to-say quiet. A comfortable, easy quiet.
“You seem… happy,” Essek says. “Settled into yourself, finally.”
Caleb nods slightly. “There are many things I finally allow myself to understand about my past. And now with no one truly dangerous left with unchecked influence…” he shrugs. “I am happy.”
“You should be,” Essek says fervently. His purple eyes have a glint to them, and his jaw is set tight. “You deserve all that you have, and more.”
Caleb’s heart feels liquid. He puts his hand over Essek’s and squeezes it. “You deserve joy, Essek Thelyss. You deserve all that you have now, in this moment.”
Essek breaks into a hesitant smile and squeezes back. “I am getting to understand that. I have done terrible things. But…” he shrugs. “Should I be lucky? I will have hundreds of years to complete my penance.”
“So you are happy?” Caleb asks. Here? With me?
Essek shuts his eyes and breathes out. “Happier than I could have ever imagined I would be.”
It would be so easy to pull him close and drag a kiss along the edge of his jaw, to wrap his hand around the back of his neck and hold him snug. Would he be startled? Or would he expect it? Would he pull Caleb toward him and kiss him in return?
I will have hundreds of years to complete my penance .
I have maybe 50, he thinks, not for the first time.
Caleb smiles tightly and, instead, pulls Essek into as best an embrace he can give while they are both sat on the couch. “I am proud of you,” he says. I love you. You’ve come so far. I love you. I love you. I love you.
They linger in the embrace, and Caleb pulls away first, but not before pressing his forehead to Essek’s, just so they can breathe the same air for another moment.
Essek’s eyes glimmer with something else, and his mouth hangs slightly open. “I am just— I am grateful for you, Caleb. So very grateful.”
Caleb smiles, closed mouth. “And I you, Essek.”
“So,” Beau says, her tone clipped. “Why the fuck haven’t you jumped each other’s bones yet.”
They are having a dinner party at Beau and Yasha’s home. Yasha, who mastered cooking under Caduceus’s tutelage ages ago, fixed a whole dinner that all of them savored. Even the bugs were not remarkably delicious. It had been a wonderful night; they’d exchanged stories about their lives since they’d last spoken (in-depth) and about Jester’s always-unique Sendings, and Yasha and Beau expressed that they plan to join the Nein Heroez for a time.
“Kingsley said he’s read Beau’s journal,” Yasha says quietly. “He wants to talk to me.”
“To all of us, I think,” Beau says. “He’s not gonna say that he’s that curious, though.”
Caleb chuckles. “No, he won’t.”
“Maybe we can take a trip to Nicodranas next time they dock?” Essek says. “Or just teleport on the ship once your semester is done.”
There’s a curiosity in his eye beyond his continuing affectionate incredulity towards Kingsley. “You want to try out piracy, don’t you?” Caleb says, a laugh on the back of his tongue.
“Maybe I just want to see what a professor-turned-pirate looks like.” Essek playfully tugs at a strand of Caleb’s hair fallen from his ponytail. “Your hair is long enough to camouflage on Darktow, I’m sure.”
“You haven’t even been to Darktow.”
“So?” Essek says. “Take me there and prove me wrong.” He grins, and Caleb can’t help but match it.
“What a terrible influence we are on you. There you were, high-ranking in the Dynasty, and now—“
“I’m squatting with a Zemnian wizard and dining with a former Xhorhassian hoardswoman and a Cobalt Soul expositor.”
“Wanting to be a pirate,” Caleb finishes.
“To be fair,” Beau cuts in, and Caleb has nearly forgotten she was there. “You were also a war criminal.” There’s no venom in her statement, yet her eyes are glued to Essek.
Essek raises in glass in a mock toast. “Indeed I was.”
Beau touched Yasha’s knee. “You should show Essek your garden. You like plants and shit, right, Essek?”
“I do, Essek says. “Like plants… and shit.”
“Thought so.” Beau claps her hands. “Show him your art, babe.”
“Do you like hydrangeas?” Yasha says, as the two of them walk outside. “Mine are blooming like crazy.”
“You know you can change the color of the blooms with the soil it’s planted in?” Essek says.
And as soon as they’re out of earshot, Beau leans back in her chair, cocks up her leg, and asks a question Caleb really does not want to answer.
“No, fuck that. Tell me.” Beau leans forward, hands linked between her knees. A no-nonsense, interrogatory pose. Shit, Caleb thinks. Shit. She’s going full Cobalt Soul on him. Please don’t punch the truth out of me.
“Clearly you’re hung up on something, because that man has been making moon-eyes at you all night. For forever, let’s be fuckin’ real.”
“It’s complicated,” Caleb tries.
“Nope. Not good enough. Love is fucking complicated, Caleb. So why aren’t you being complicated with that fuckin’ wizard?”
Caleb swallows, and he feels acid in the back of his throat. He looks at the floor and memorizes the pattern of the wood. “I would hurt him.”
Beau leans back in her chair, her head flailing back. “Don’t tell me it’s this self-hating, I-hurt-everyone-I-touch thing again. I thought we’ve been over that.”
“It’s not that —”
“I’m a third of the way through my life if I’m lucky. And in another third, I’ll be an old man, and Essek will be Essek.” His tone is measured, level, but barely; he’s only in check so Essek doesn’t have a chance to hear him in the garden outside, but he’s roiling inside. It’s like his rib has been ripped out and replaced with flame, with residuum. “ Yes, I love him, Beau. I want to do everything with him. But I cannot hurt him like that. I can’t make him watch me age, and grow frail, and die when he still looks the same as he always has. I can’t do that.”
Beau is silent. She sucks her bottom lip between her teeth and releases a sharp breath. “You know, Yasha’s gonna outlive me. By a lot.”
Caleb blinks, and his ire is snuffed out with cold water. “What?”
Beau shrugs. “Apparently people like her live almost 200 years if they’re lucky. So, yeah. I’m dying before her, unless someone else has something to say about it.”
“Why are—” Caleb starts. “Why are you so calm about this?”
“Because it’s stupid to stress about something inevitable. We love each other, and we’re gonna get the time we’ve got.” Beau leans her elbows onto the table and meets his eyes. “Think about it this way: Essek loves you, yeah? You can’t deny that. He cares for you, a lot, even if you want it to be platonic.”
“Yes,” he murmurs. “I—don’t want it to be platonic. And—” he thinks of the joy on Essek’s face when Caleb comes home, of the lingering touches on Caleb’s shoulder, of Essek being here, with him, always— “I don’t think it is platonic.”
“So, what? You think if you never fuck or go on an official date, he’s just not gonna be affected when you die?” she says. “He lives with you. You think that he’ll just go on with his day, happy-go-fuckin’-lucky, and not be upset that a friend of his who changed his whole life died?”
Caleb doesn’t speak. He can’t. There’s no rebuttal he can dream up that won’t fall limp on his tongue. There’s no rebuttal now for his feelings but Essek himself. He shrugs, and he takes a deep swig of his wine.
Beau settles back in her chair and crosses her arms over her chest. “You deserve this, Caleb. Both of you.” Her voice has softened. “It’s not gonna be easy. But none of this is.”
Caleb swallows thickly and blinks away the tears forming. “It never is.”
“So take the time you’ve got. Take the time he’s willing to give you. And if that’s none—which, it won’t be—”
“Then I’ll know.”
Beau nods. She grasps his shoulder, and he, still instinctively after all these years, reaches up and grabs her hand. A grounding force, like always. “Stop being stupid and kiss that hot boi.”
Essek and Yasha’s voices quietly mingle as they reenter. There is a sprig of lavender in Essek’s buttonhole, and he’s smiling like the sun he avoids has made its way into him anyway.
Caleb squeezes Beau’s hand. “Yeah. Maybe.”
Beau smiles and pats his shoulder brusquely. “Works for me.” She stands up and turns towards the others. “Sup, babe. Find any good bugs?”
Essek steps up behind him and sticks an identical sprig of lavender behind Caleb’s ear. “I can almost hear Hilde yowling. Should we go home?”
“Sure,” Caleb says. “Home.”
In the end, Caleb reflects years upon years later, that it happens this way is perfect.
They are in the library, sitting in the two plush chairs in front of the fireplace, each in the chair that they have claimed as their own. Hilde, Vesta, and Daisy lay stretched out by the fire, perfect mirrors of each other, except for Daisy’s tail flicking playfully as her wide eyes hunt a shadow. Essek fixed them cups of tea twenty minutes ago, and they periodically reach for them to take a drink in between page turns. It is silent but for the crackle of fire and the quiet snap of paper. This night is one they have had many times before, and one they will have many times again.
They reach for their teacups simultaneously, and on the tiny table their fingers clock together, reddish-pale and deep purple. They pause, fingers still touching, both caught off guard, and look at each other. There is a weight to this touch, to this moment. There is a choice to make.
Caleb could laugh, pull his hand away, set his teacup down half an inch further to the left. There would be a moment, but Essek would move past it and everything would remain the same. That is the safe choice.
But, gods, Caleb Widogast left safe behind when he left behind Bren Aldric Ermendrud.
Caleb interlinks their fingers. He swears he can feel his heartbeat in his fingertips, but the warmth and softness of Essek’s hand tempers him even as it thrills him.
“Oh,” Essek says, nearly silently, and Caleb pulls their interlocked hands to his lips and busses kisses across Essek’s knuckles, on the base of his palm, on the birdlike bones of his wrist.
“Caleb—” Essek murmurs, his eyes fluttering. “Caleb, come here.” He reaches his free hand towards him, pleading, and Caleb takes it. Essek pulls him in, and Caleb straddles his lap. Their foreheads press together, and Caleb can smell the lavender on Essek’s hot breath.
Essek’s free hand curves around Caleb’s lower back to pull him even closer. Caleb’s breath catches. This is happening, he thinks. Gods, this is happening.
“Can I kiss you?” Essek says. His last word is cut off as Caleb kisses him.
Channeling magic is addictive. It’s a heady rush through the caster’s veins of pure power that they, somehow, can tap into and create something more than any human boy from Blumenthal could imagine forming from his own flesh. Caleb’s addiction began young, teaching himself cantrips from worn ten-page pamphlets purchased from spare coppers his mother saved especially for him, and not even Ikithon’s abuse could staunch the arcane craving Caleb has felt daily since he first felt that searing joy of magic running through him.
Essek’s kiss, he thinks, may be more addictive.
The hot slide of his mouth and the short, gasping breaths the drow takes are what Caleb have craved for years, what have lived in his fantasies. The surprises are equally pleasant: the cautious flicks of Essek’s tongue, the quick bites of Caleb’s lower lip, Essek’s long fingers, dextrous from somatics, entwining in Caleb’s hair and gently tugging. Caleb’s body thrums with arousal and energy, and he keens, especially when he feels the growing stiffness at Essek’s groin beneath him.
They kiss for what seems like forever, even Caleb losing track of time as he loses himself in Essek’s touch. Then, Caleb slides his hand beneath Essek’s loose shirt, feeling the thin ridge of his spine, and Essek stiffens.
Caleb pulls away and whips his hand off Essek’s back. He feels like a foolish teenager, straddling him with his cock hard and his lips swollen and spit-smeared. “What’s—is everything ok?”
“Yes, gods,” Essek says, his voice straining. He wraps his arms around Caleb’s back, fiddling with the bottom of his shirt. “But—is this nothing to you? Because if this is nothing, I need to know.” His eyes are steady even as his voice wavers.
“Essek,” Caleb rasps. He cups his face and rubs his thumb along that line of star-silver freckles. “This is everything to me.”
Essek leans into Caleb’s hand and kisses his palm. “ Good.” He draws Caleb flush to him and buries his face into Caleb’s neck and worries at the skin. He untucks the back of Caleb’s shirt and slips his hands beneath the worm cotton. His fingers scratch across Caleb’s back, pulling another moan out of Caleb’s tight throat as his back arches.
“You’re so responsive,” he says. “And so easy to mark—your skin—“ He sucks harder at the spot on his neck, and Caleb’s hips involuntarily thrust forward.
“You’re going to kill me.”
Essek squeezes the thin layer of fat at Caleb’s hips and pulls off his neck. “You’ve been killing me all this time, I was sure that this invitation to live here was an invitation for something more—”
“Well, I’m a stubborn fool. We know that.”
Essek drops a peck on Caleb’s lips; chaste, gentle, but firm enough to promise more. “We do.”
Caleb answers that promise, wrapping his hand around the back of his neck and crushing their lips together again. Essek responds eagerly, grinding onto Caleb’s ass and splaying his hands across his back. Caleb attempts to grind against him in return, seeking any kind of friction on his aching cock, but finds a painful twinge in his knees underneath the pleasure.
“We should—” Caleb gasps between kisses, “We should find a bed.”
“Please,” Essek says breathlessly. “I’d rather you fuck me in a bed than on the floor.”
Caleb’s mind goes blank as Essek’s words settle in. “Okay,” he says, dumbly. “You want—“
“ Yes, I want you to fuck me.” Essek drops a smiling kiss on his neck. “I want to fuck you, too, if you’re amenable, but not tonight.”
Caleb groans. “You don’t know what you’re doing to me.”
“I assure you I do.” Essek taps Caleb’s ass. “Now move, young man. I want to see you naked.”
They stumble to Caleb’s room, for the reasons being that it’s closer and that braving stairs while hardly able to stop kissing each other seems more foolish than it’s worth. They laugh, and trip, and midway down the hallway they both shed their shirts.
Caleb guides Essek until the drow sits on the bed and Caleb is bent over, still kissing him. Caleb moved his lips across Essek’s cheekbone to pull lightly on Essek’s earlobe. “What exactly,” Caleb murmurs, “is the refractory period of the average drow?”
Essek swallows. “Less than ideal, if you keep asking about biology.”
Caleb kisses down Essek’s purple neck, licks into the sharp pool of his collarbone. Simultaneously, he reaches down and cups the hardness between Essek’s legs. “What if I keep doing this?” Caleb begins to kneel, some confidence borne of arousal taking over him.
“Fucking short enough.”
Caleb grins as his fingers reach for the ties of Essek’s loose sleeping trousers. “I didn’t expect you to have such a dirty mouth in bed.”
Essek growls and pushes his pants down his hips, revealing a thin, long cock smeared with silvery-white precome that Caleb wants to lick away. “If you do not get your mouth on me in the next ten seconds, I will—”
Caleb wraps his mouth around the tip; perhaps too enthusiastically, and perhaps forgetting to cover his teeth, but Essek groans. He buries his hands in Caleb’s hair and tugs, and Caleb is grateful he hasn’t tied his hair back as pleasure shoots straight to his groin. He hasn’t sucked a cock in— scheisse— twenty years, but either Essek is similarly inexperienced with the pleasure of it or Caleb still has the knack for it that made Eadwulf’s toes curl, because Essek moans and murmurs and unconsciously shoves his cock deeper into Caleb’s mouth. Caleb looks up to see Essek’s eyes screwed shut and his brow twisted, and another burr of pleasure grows in Caleb’s gut.
I’m doing this, he thinks. I’m making him feel this.
Essek’s naked form is as beautiful as Caleb expected: lithe and lean, on the edge of too thin, with no body hair to speak of. His stomach, covered by a thin, soft patch of fat, ripples as his chest raises rapidly up and down. There are silver-white freckles on his shoulders that match the ones on his cheekbone, and his nipples are round indigo circles. Unable to resist, Caleb reaches up his left hand and swirls his thumb around one of them.
Essek’s hips buck as that, evidently, catches him off guard, and his cock hits the roof of Caleb’s mouth. His throat, agitated, starts to constrict, so Caleb pulls off for a moment and replaces his mouth with his hand. The spit isn’t quite enough to keep everything lubricated for long enough for Essek to finish, but Essek still gasps at the contact.
“You’re— mm —” Essek tries, but he switches to a garble of undercommon. “Your mouth, please— I’m close.”
What if you don’t get to come yet? suggests a part of Caleb’s mind, one begging to be scratched. Not right now, he argues, and he licks up Essek’s shaft and swallows around the head. That will need discussion.
It doesn’t take much longer for Essek to fall over the edge. His hips jutter and his hands tug Caleb’s hair, and a choked-out “ Caleb —” falls from his lips as he comes hot on Caleb’s tongue. He works him through it, swallowing even as he winces at the bitter taste, and when Essek wraps a hand around the back of his neck to pull Caleb onto the bed and into a searing kiss, Caleb feels warm all over.
“You are amazing,” Essek says against his lips.
“You, moreso,” Caleb says.
They kiss quietly for a little longer, lacking any urgency. It is getting late, Caleb knows, but he can’t care with Essek in his arms, his lithe body eventually moving atop him. Soon, their touches intensify as Essek sucks yet another mark into Caleb’s neck.
“You, ah—you really like that, don’t you,” Caleb says. He wraps his arm around the back of Essek’s neck and looks up at the ceiling as the pain-pleasure courses through him—pleasure that is only heightened when Essek’s fingers swirl around Caleb’s right nipple. Caleb’s hand entwines jerkily in Essek’s hair; it’s too short to get a real grip on it, but his hair is so soft he can’t resist.
“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do this,” Essek says. “Covering all this up with your scarves, and collars—” He meets Caleb’s lips again, for a spare moment, before brushing kisses at his mouth’s corner, his chin, his neck, his chest, his stomach, where his stomach meets his trousers—
“Take them off,” Essek says.
Caleb complies, wriggling awkwardly out of them with Essek’s help. Though Caleb’s erection had flagged on and off, Essek’s ministrations—and that near order —brings it up again, and it slips out of his trousers and onto his stomach.
Essek straddles him, sitting back on his haunches, and examines him. That’s the most apt description; Caleb usually sees this amount of directed focus on a particularly compelling text or a complicated spell. He traces a finger across Caleb’s stubbly jaw, around the curve of his ear, along his reddish freckles, placed identically to Essek’s on his shoulders. His brow furrowed, he tentatively takes Caleb’s cock in his hand and swipes his thumb across the tip.
“Am I so interesting?” Caleb asks.
“Of course,” Essek says, sounding slightly affronted. “I haven’t been with… many men, and not in a very long while. But they were all drow, and,” Essek clicks his tongue. “I know their anatomy. I could guess exactly what they looked like below their robes. And I’ve seen you, of course, with, ah, your little eye problem—“
Caleb laughs. “You make it sound like I was shortsighted.”
“But,” Essek says, sternly. “I haven’t been able to really look at you. And,” he dips down and licks slightly at the head of his cock, causing Caleb to fist his hands in the sheets, “I am wonderfully pleased by what I see.” He bends over, slightly awkwardly, and sucks Caleb down. He’s also clumsy, his teeth clacking a few times, but it doesn’t take long for him to get a rhythm going.
Too good of a rhythm, Caleb soon realizes, as pleasure curls and expands in his gut. “Essek, schatz— “
Essek sits up and wipes his mouth. “What does that mean?”
Caleb blinks and feels himself flush. “It—treasure. It means treasure.”
Essek smiles, looking slightly relieved. His hand works again at Caleb’s cock. “Good. I heard you call the cats that, and was concerned it was something more insulting.”
Pleasure soon builds again, and Caleb almost wants to just let himself go, to spill over Essek’s hand. But no—Essek wants Caleb to fuck him as much as Caleb does.
Caleb grasps Essek’s wrist. “If you do much more, we won’t get to the main event.” He bores his eyes into Essek’s, hoping he understands.
Essek’s cheeks flush indigo. “Then let’s get to it.”
Caleb takes his time opening Essek up, using a combination of his fingers and oil he (thankfully) has in the drawer of his bedside table. Having even his fingers in Essek is tantalizing; the tight heat of it, the near-constant sounds Essek makes, curious and surprised and pleased, the quick hardening of Essek’s cock, the erratic touches Essek lavishes on every part of Caleb he can reach.
“I’m ready,” Essek gasps. “Fuck me, please.”
When Caleb finally, finally slides into Essek, he knows that no magic could feel as addicting as this does, as watching Essek’s mouth open into a wide O and his white-lashed eyes flutter. He fucks into him slowly, initially, still testing both his own stamina and Essek’s comfort, but it doesn’t take long for Essek to wrap his hands around Caleb’s ass and hiss “ harder.”
Caleb memorizes Essek, just like this. Laid below him, his head tilted back, his face contorted with ecstasy and his body rocking back and forth from Caleb’s momentum. His usually-perfect hair is sweat-stuck to his forehead and ruched up by the bedsheets. He’s disheveled, and blissed out, and gorgeous, and Caleb gets to see this. He gets to be here, with him, like this, for as long as he’ll have him.
“I love you,” Caleb gasps. The vulnerability, for once, comes naturally. Confessing his love, after all, isn’t new information to Essek; if anything, it's the long-awaited confirmation of a theory.
A theory Caleb held that Essek then confirms when he opens his eyes, glittering with tears, and says, “I love you so much. ”
He pulls Caleb in for a crushing, desperate kiss, and Caleb feels his orgasm building, hot and flowing. “Are you close?” he says on Essek’s lips. Essek nods slightly before kissing him again, and Caleb slides his hand between their stomachs to wrap his lube-slick hand around Essek’s cock. His strokes are uneven, sloppy, and his thrusts into Essek even more so, but soon Essek spills hot over his hand with a string of swears and undercommon muffled against Caleb’s sweaty neck and a final sharp pull of Caleb’s hair.
It’s that final tug that does it, that pushes Caleb over the edge; that pain and pleasure coupled with the sweat of their bodies, the heat and tightness, and the aching sounds Essek makes as Caleb’s hips stutter out. He spills himself into Essek and kisses him, his Essek, as he comes harder than he has in years.
When he comes back to himself, he’s collapsed onto Essek’s chest. He’s softened within him, so he pulls out, grimacing at the mess that follows with. Essek tiredly waves his hand and prestidigitates the both of them clean before running his hands down his face.
He laughs quietly. “Did that actually happen?”
Caleb’s eyes are heavy, and he lays his head on Essek’s chest and slings his arm across his stomach. “Mm. Finally.”
Essek draws small patterns across his back. If Caleb wasn’t so tired, he could probably identify them. “Go to sleep, young man.” Caleb, dully, feels a kiss on his forehead. “I’ll be right here.”
Caleb, bone-tired and sated, drifts off to sleep, and Essek watches him breathe until he trances, still holding him close.
Caleb wakes up on the uncomfortable side of warm. It takes him a moment for his senses to register the causes: Hilde, atop his ankles, Vesta, curled around his head, Daisy, in the curve of his stomach, and Essek Thelyss, wrapped around him.
“Good morning, Caleb Widogast,” Essek says. There is no bleariness to his tone, only a familiar warmth that, Caleb realizes, Essek has given to him every morning they have spent together.
“Good morning,” Caleb responds. “I’d kiss you, but I can’t move without moving the cats.”
Essek chuckles and kisses the back of Caleb’s neck. “How tragic.”
“How long have you been awake?”
“Technically? All night,” Essek says. “I thought you knew drow biology.”
Caleb’s cheeks grow hot, and he smacks at Essek thigh, the only body part he can really reach. “Definitely more after last night.”
Essek tightens his grip on Caleb’s stomach and nuzzles into his neck. “Hopefully your knowledge of drow biology will soon be encyclopedic.”
“If you’ll have me as long as I want to have you…” Caleb’s chest aches. “I could write tomes.” He laughs, a little brokenly. God, you’ll live so much longer than me. “I can already write tomes.”
Essek’s grip loosens. “Caleb—”
“This cannot last forever,” Caleb says, quickly. “You know this. I will age so, so much faster than you ever could. So—when I am an old man, or—or whenever you decide otherwise, we can stop this.” Caleb exhales sharply. “I will not be upset with you. I will understand.”
He feels a kiss at the nape of his neck. “Look at me, my love.”
The endearment startles him, so all Caleb can say is, “The cats—”
“Will survive. Look at me.”
Awkwardly, and with some miffed cat noises, Caleb shifts around in bed until he is nose to nose with Essek. He could count every one of his freckles, if his eyes and the intensity within them didn’t draw him in like a black hole.
“I know this won’t last forever,” Essek says. “Just as I know that I am always going to love you, even when you are the finest tea in the Blooming Grove.” He cups Caleb’s face gently but firmly, like he is something fine he needs to hold close to keep safe. “I will be with you as long as you will have me.”
“And if you change your mind—”
“I will let you know,” Essek reassures. “But I think I have done enough changing in the last few years to make up for the next few decades.” He kisses the tip of Caleb’s nose, and the tears Caleb barely noticed falling. “I love you, Caleb Widogast.”
“I love you, Essek Thelyss,” Caleb says hoarsely. He hides his face in the crook of Essek’s neck and holds him tightly. “And I will have you.”
Genuinely, they forget to tell the Nein.
Initially, it was purposeful—
“Should we tell them?” Essek asks.
“ No ,” Caleb says fervently. “They’ll never leave us alone.”
“So we just… let it come out naturally?”
Caleb nods. “That’ll work.”
And then… they just forget. With neither of them being particularly sworn towards public affection, they did nothing more than small touches around the Nein—small touches that, Caleb realizes later, were touches the two of them had done for years. When they went to visit Nicodranas for Jester’s birthday in early spring, Caleb teleported them home before the night was out, as he had class to teach the next morning. Beau and Yasha were not around for dinner parties, as they still traveled the seas. Caduceus, when the two of them spent a relaxing weekend at the Grove and shared a bed, just nodded and smiled and kept his mouth shut.
Then came Caleb’s birthday, and Jester’s all-encompassing love of surprises.
Caleb and Essek lounge in what had become their bed, naked, filthy, and firmly debauched after a long, lazy morning of indulgent, messy birthday sex. They had time for it, after all, since they were not going to pick up the rest of the Nein for Caleb’s party at their home until early evening.
Essek mouthed lightly at Caleb’s already heavily-marked neck. “I’ll need to wear a high collar and a scarf if you keep this up, schatz, ” Caleb grouses.
He smiles against the skin. “Mmm, that just means more layers to unwrap later.”
“It’s my birthday—”
“And what a better present than me, in bed, with nothing but one of your romance novels over my—”
And, a moment later, Jester’s voice barrels into his mind: “Heeeey Caleeeeb! Sorry I forgot to message but we had Yussa Teleport us here early to get this party started! Anyway we’re in your basement—”
“ Oh, shit,” Caleb says. “They’re here. ”
“Clothes,” Essek says, desperately.
“ Clothes. ”
They throw on the first clothes they grab. They end up switching sleepshirts, leaving Caleb’s short in the torso and Essek’s dangling mid-thigh.
“Oh, Luxon, we’re filthy— ” Essek magics them clean, and Caleb fruitlessly tries to smooth down Essek’s mess of sex-tousled curls. The Nein’s voices slide up the bannister.
“Are you guys dead?” Jester shouts.
“Quit fucking and greet your guests—sorry, Yeza, Leda, don’t repeat that.”
“Are we good?” Caleb whispers furiously.
Essek shakes his head solemnly and points to his own neck. “Sorry, my love. Perhaps I was too carried away.”
Caleb’s sigh turns into a laugh, and he grasps at his bruise-covered throat. “Well. Nothing to be done about that.”
(Really, there are several things to be done; but, both of them, in their haste, forget that the entire school of illusion magic exists).
Caleb holds out his hand, and Essek takes it, and the two of them walk down the stairs to greet their friends.
Who, predictably, have a simultaneously deeply confused and unsurprised freakout.