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It starts with rain. 

Caleb wakes up alone in the bed he shares with Essek. It’s not unusual, Essek doesn’t need the sleep he does. But there’s rain at the window, Essek always stays with Caleb when it rains. 

A chill goes down Caleb’s spine. The rain pounds ceaselessly on the window pane. The rain always made Professor Ikithon angry. Angrier. 

Caleb’s chest grows impossibly tight at the thought. Ikithon will be so angry he slept in, Astrid and Wulf are already long gone. He sits up in bed quickly, throwing the blankets off of his legs. He’s got to go to class and hope that Ikithon doesn’t notice him entering late. 

Who’s he kidding? Professor Ikithon always notices. Maybe it’s better not to go at all. Caleb finds himself wracked with indecision. The walls feel like they’re closing in on Caleb. Then footsteps. Caleb takes a sharp breath in. He knows those footsteps. It must be Ikithon coming to check on him. And when he finds that Bren isn’t bleeding out or dying, it will be hell for him. His hands shake at the thought and it is suddenly much harder to breathe. 

Professor Ikithon’s feet pound in the hallway and Bren is frozen in place on his bed, too terrified to move. 

His breath is strained in his lungs and his vision is swimming in his eyes. If feels like every other blink Caleb is in his bedroom and then back at the Academy. Caleb clamps his hands to his ears, trying to drown out the sound of angry footsteps. It’s not real, he tells himself. It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not-

The door creaks. 

Caleb flings himself off the bed and nearly into the wall in his panic to hide. Ikithon will be mad if he finds him like this. And when the Professor gets mad it means awful consequences not just for him but for Astrid and Eadwulf too. 

“Caleb?” 

That voice. That name. 

Caleb slowly unclenches his eyes and sees a drow standing at the foot of the bed, looking down at him with deep concern, his hands held up to show Caleb his palms. No, not a drow. Essek. 

Upon seeing his eyes, Essek takes a tentative step forward. Caleb doesn’t react, his eyes fixed on Essek’s face. His vocal chords are locked in place. Ikithon’s footsteps are still pounding in his ears. Caleb’s lungs are so tight. He wants to beg Essek for help, or tell him to run.

Essek takes a few more steps forward and then falls to his knees in front of him, still five or so feet between them. “Caleb?” Essek asks gently. “I need you to focus on me okay? Focus on what’s real. Can you touch the wall?” Caleb doesn’t move. If he moves, he’ll make noise and Ikithon will find them. When Caleb doesn’t move, Essek says, “That’s okay. I’m going to touch you.” 

Essek closes the distance between them tentatively, watching Caleb for any sign he should stop. Caleb’s eyes bulge in his head but he doesn’t move. Essek moves slowly as he touches his shoulder. Caleb jumps at the contact, but lets Essek pull him into his arms. 

If Professor Ikithon finds them like this it will be hell for both of them. But the other half of his brain tells him that Essek will protect him, that nothing can hurt him if Essek is here. 

It’s the latter half that lets Caleb melt into his boyfriend’s arms, still struggling to breathe. Essek rubs his back. “Just breathe. Everything will be okay. You’re alright. We’re in our apartment, it’s just the two of us.” Caleb manages to nod. “Think about how my shirt feels, how my hands feel on your back, think about my voice. That’s real.” 

Caleb sucks in a lungful of air. He forces himself to keep his eyes open and focused on Essek’s shoulder. He’s wearing Caleb’s sweater, one he left purposely by the hearth so Essek would steal it. His body is warm against Caleb’s. His voice is calming and reassuring. It always has been. 

The footsteps fade. 

Caleb’s whole body relaxes and he wraps his arms around Essek, burying his head against Essek’s neck. “You with me?” Essek asks softly. Caleb nods, tears falling from his eyes as Essek tightens his arms around him. “Can you talk?” Caleb clears his throat a few times and then shakes his head. “That’s okay,” Essek kisses the top of his head. “I’ll message Beau and tell her not to expect us for dinner.” Caleb immediately sits up and shakes his head. 

Essek’s eyes soften, “You still want to go?” Caleb nods. His sister always makes him feel better. Besides, he would never pass up Yasha’s cooking. Essek kisses his cheek, “Okay.” Essek pulls him back into his arms and at this moment there’s nowhere Caleb would rather be.