Work Header

The Power of a Long Rest

Work Text:

The others were speaking but Essek didn’t particularly hear them. His eyes, his ears, his whole being was trained on Caleb as he awaited his response. This idea had been stewing in his mind for many hours, ever since they had discovered that regeneration pod in Aeor. Every moment they were not fighting for their lives he had been considering all of the possibilities, how he could go about replicating it, and as they had pushed deeper and deeper into this Luxon-forsaken city with no rest, how he could convince his colleagues that it was worth the risk to attempt what he had in mind. Truth be told, it was not something that he would be capable of alone ( a fact that was difficult for him to admit even to himself) but for the first time in his life Essek had found that he wasn’t alone. It would be possible with Caleb’s help. He just had to say yes. 

Now Essek sat holding his breath, waiting for the man that was capable of offering him the chance to create magic that hadn’t been seen in ages and to, for once, just once, be the hero of a story. He saw the wheels turning in Caleb’s mind, saw that he was going to agree but then the other’s started peppering them with questions. He was forced to do his best to explain. He wouldn’t lie to them but they had to understand . It was worth the risk. He was going to save these friends he’d made and he would break reality to do it if he had to. 

Caleb began arguing for his side and relief washed over Essek. They were going to do it. They were going to push the boundaries of fate and time itself and they were going to do it together. From that point on it didn’t take too long to bring the others around. They gathered close as Essek laid down the complex magic circles necessary. They had to be perfect and they were, well… theoretically. Essek pretended not to notice the rush of exhilaration he experienced as Caleb watched him, wide eyed, with a look of almost admiration as he quickly sketched out the necessary runes. He tried to attribute it to the exhilaration he was feeling at the prospect of testing this spellwork but he had to admit, it had been quite a while since Caleb had looked up to him in any sense and he certainly didn’t mind the sensation. Essek was aware he didn’t deserve admiration in many ways but in this, in magical theory, he could be deserving of Caleb’s approbation. It was why they had brought him along in the first place. Why the Mighty Nein had allied with him for this journey and he was going to prove that it was a worthwhile investment for them. He would be useful if it was the last thing he did. 

Essek completed the circles and Caleb took his place without needing to be instructed. Neither man could help but to remember a certain comment about being one another’s mirrors as they sat mirroring each other now. Essek could tell Caleb would not think of the possibility of failure in this moment, always focussing on the hopeful end result, but he found himself doing the opposite. He thought that, if they failed, if this was to be their end, he would be fine dying across from Caleb Widogast doing what he loved. It was a far better fate than many he had imagined for himself over the past several days. So he proceeded forward without fear. With the assurance that however this worked out would be better than the alternative.

They began and Essek focussed, weaving at the hands of fate with practiced fingers, slicing a seam in the fabric of time itself. Caleb provided as much as he could, though truthfully he was fairly spent. Essek was beyond determined however, this was going to work and with a force of will that Caleb had not yet seen, Essek bent the laws of nature and reality to his whims, commanding them to do as he asked. Caleb was shocked that Essek made such a feat look almost easy. 

For a moment everything around them seemed to break and slow. The mighty nein were moving as if through molasses and it could be assumed that the things were moving past very quickly for them. Caleb and Essek sat in their own bubble, as if in the centre of a beacon watching timeline’s spill out around them; possibilities that could almost be grasped at. Caleb held the seam that Essek had carved, firm while Essek worked to pluck just the right strings of fate to achieve their goal. Neither of them could miss, however, some of the possible futures that were spilling out before them.

There was a quick flash of Essek lying dead in snow. Jester crouched over him desperately, sobbing as a revivify failed. Caleb was staring on in horror, looking over his broken body. Essek paid it no mind, knowing this to be a common ending for him in the paths that were laid out before him now. He had imagined as much plenty of times. Caleb tried hard not to allow the image to sink in. It was a grim possibility that he had been stalwartly refusing to acknowledge for some time but his fingers twitched dangerously as it passed by, betraying his emotions.

Next there was an image of Trent Ikithon cowering, broken and beaten while Caleb and Essek stood over him, the mighty nein behind them to back them up. Essek was ready to deal the killing blow, waiting patiently for Caleb’s command, looking to him for a decision as he had back in that prison cell. This possibility of defeating Trent flooded both men with dread and satisfaction simultaneously. 

Then there was Lucien who was commanding flesh monsters of all sizes and shapes to head after them, Jester grabbed their hands as they fled into a different plane. Then another possibility of Lucien broken with a sobbing Yasha laying atop him. Then yet another of the mighty nein traversing the city as it’s new rulers smiling up at the nonagon lovingly with eyes glowing on their forms. Then another of a sudden seizing confusion over taking Lucien as the nein bombarded him telepathically with memories until he blinked, dropped his weapons and smiled gently in a way Essek had never seen on the purple tiefling. It was startling how fast and fickle fate seemed to be over the events of the coming days. Caleb looked up to make concerned eye contact with the wizard before him but found his attention stuck elsewhere. He followed his gaze.

Essek was staring at another thread of fate spilling out of the seam where the two of them were busy working in Essek’s study. A joyous discovery was being made that lead Caleb to reach out and kiss Essek in excitement. They laughed in delighted success and placed their foreheads together, breathing heavily from the exhilaration of whatever they had worked out. For a moment Essek was so tempted to reach out to that particular thread, to follow it where it would take them, that it was torturous to will himself to focus. 

Caleb hadn’t missed this but his eye was caught by a similar depiction of the two of them on the other end of the spectrum of fate before them. Essek was in Caleb’s room in the tower and Caleb was shaking his head sadly but firmly. Essek looked briefly heartbroken but recovered his usual polite mask efficiently and swept out of the room. This was followed by an image of Essek stepping in front of Caleb as Trent dealt a killing blow alongside Astrid and Eadwulf. Essek took the hit for himself and was smiling gently at Caleb as he fell. These two paths seemed interwoven, or perhaps like branches of the same tree.  

Then a new thread appeared catching their attention. They saw a quiet moment in a dome, Essek’s hair grown well past his usual style, knotted behind his head to keep it off his face. Caleb’s was styled much the same. Essek’s mantle was long gone and he wore proper adventuring attire and almost seemed more chiselled - hardened from adventuring. They were battered and bruised but they both seemed lighter and quietly content in a way neither remembered ever having been. They watched over their sleeping friends, seeming to make small talk and joke with one another in a casual and almost intimate way. Caleb placed his hand over Essek’s and  squeezed it gently. The other wizard looked down to observe the affectionate touch, then up at Caleb with a questioning but hopeful look. They leaned into one another for a small kiss. It was short and sweet and perfect. They seemed to be in utter harmony, their movements a perfect dance. They smiled at one another as they pulled back. Essek seemed to admit something and Caleb seemed to agree. Both men watching were intelligent enough to infer from context what had been said.

All told, it appeared that their fates were thoroughly and utterly interwoven now. And furthermore, that in every eventuality that had appeared to them, Caleb would be the one to make or break something beautiful between them. Caleb was moved to realize that in every mote of possibility playing out before them, Essek loved him. Was that true? Had he really affected Essek so much that in every possible outcome he would allow Caleb to lead, protect him at all costs, be there by his side no matter where fate took them from this day on? The enormity of such a realization was shocking to Caleb. He had clearly underestimated the depth of the feelings his Kryn Colleague appeared to have for him.

Truthfully, Caleb had been heartbroken to discover that his original distrust of Essek had not been misplaced when all had come out that fateful day by the docks. Much to his chagrin, he had become very fond of Essek and had continually hoped that his suspicions were wrong but, unfortunately, Caleb was not in the habit of being wrong about much. He had told Essek back then that it takes time but he had never expected that to mean the unravelling of it, though perhaps he should have knowing Essek. Now, in this moment, he was seeing possible futures that he couldn’t ignore and in each and everyone one of them Essek was trustworthy; a steadfast ally till the end. The thing he had been hanging onto, the hurt that kept them separated - that Caleb relied on to deny himself his wants, was clearly not a factitious worry any longer. He felt overjoyed at the prospect and also full of dread at the idea that he no longer had an excuse - other than their quite possible impending doom - to ignore his feelings for Essek. Love was complicated and inconvenient and challenging and vulnerable thing and he was not sure that he was in a place to manage all of that at this time. Still… something in him, that had been asleep for a long time, had awoken at the thought that he could love and be loved in return, and by one as brilliant, as spectacular in so many ways as Essek Thelyss. 

On Essek’s end, he watched these possible futures unfold and found that he was surprised to see more than just his death awaiting him. Yes, it was still very probable that he could die and that would be the fate he deserved truthfully, but was it possible? Was it truly possible that there were some endings where he and Caleb could be together and happy? Were there really futures where Caleb could find enough forgiveness to grant him his love? He knew of course that Caleb was enticed by him - knew that he enjoyed flirting, but he had not been foolish enough to think that it had meant Caleb could overcome his betrayal and all the pain and suffering that had been caused to so many, nor did he think that he should. Essek was by many standards patently unlovable, yet here time itself was telling him the contrary. He could be loved by Caleb Widogast. It was indeed possible. There were decisions, choices, opportunities that could lead to such futures. 

Essek was of course hopelessly and inconveniently in love with Caleb but he had not dared to hope for reciprocation and he found that he now wished to greedily chase down whatever threads of fate would allow him to end up in that dome, on that peaceful night taking a watch duty alongside the one person he trusted most in this complicated and painful world. But the first step of course was surviving the next few days so that he could make it to that future. 

So, with a renewed fervor, Essek focussed. He ignored the flashes of possible futures for the rest of the mighty nein, though he was extraordinarily curious. He ignored possible branches of fate that continued to splinter as they had perceived their possible futures and thus changed the outcomes. He ignored all of the observable details of this process that he had wished to unlock and study in depth for a hundred years and instead forced himself to redouble his efforts to survive. 

Essek called up an image of the mighty nein sitting in this same room and looking well rested. He focussed on it until that particular strand of fate became evident to him. He grasped it, anchored them to it and then, feeling Caleb’s supportive power coursing through him and his own reliable powers that had been earned with years of work and precise practice behind him, he knotted the current moment to that future and in doing so joined the moments into a singular reality. Everything went dark. 

As the mighty nein blinked around him, coming to in their new reality, he wished he could cheer. It was successful! They were alive! It had worked! He had succeeded at accomplishing something that had not been done for a thousand years and it was a remarkable feat! He wanted to celebrate as they had in that possible moment they had observed in his study but now was not the time for elation. Now was the time for decisive actions and grim objectives so he kept his joy to himself. 

Essek thought about all the times he had hoped to manipulate time in such a way, how useful that gem could have been if they could have saved it to recreate a similar pod as the one that they had observed. He was almost certain he knew how it could be done too. Somehow it still seemed worth it to see the hope blossoming among his friends who were now rejuvenated. It was perhaps worth it alone to have heard Caleb count him as a true member of the nein when he had merely suggested the idea. When had these people become more important than everything else? When had research, success and achievement taken a back seat to this band of misfits? Had he really changed so much since the day that Caleb lifted that beacon in the air and bonded their fates to one another?

Essek was not alone in his wish to celebrate. Caleb was frankly astounded by the feat that had just been accomplished. He had always thought that Essek would be the one to help him crack open the sands of time and here he had done just that. What surprised Caleb was the reason. From the moment that he had stumbled upon those notes in Aeor, Caleb had been contemplating what he truly wanted. For so long an opportunity to go back, undo… fix his mistakes had been his driving force but in a moment of crisis he had found himself completely willing to give up this gem that could have been a key to unlocking such a path, for just a chance- a chance - that the mighty nein would be healthy and well. They had pushed forward instead of backward. He had surprised even himself with that.

Caleb also found it remarkably difficult to ignore the spiral of thoughts rattling around in his mind based on what he had seen in that seam of time and possibility. The images of Essek. The images of Ikithon. Before he fully comprehended what he was doing and with his new found magical reserves, he attempted a new spell that he had read over time and time again in the hopes that he could one day use it and he found that he could now cast it successfully, shielding his mind from any invaders. It comforted him to know that he was protected against his former teacher’s intrusions. He didn’t mind the added bonus that it was less likely that Essek, with his new eye, would be able to tune into his thoughts as they bounced around in his mind. He wanted time to unpack and examine his own feelings before accidentally projecting them to all of his friends. 

Essek noticed Caleb staring at him as Beau meditated to connect with the city and he smiled in his gentle way. Caleb could see it now- all the love behind that gaze. He had been explaining it away the whole time they had been travelling together, coming up with excuses for the gentle and attentive regard, telling himself he was imagining how Essek always seemed to favor him out of the group or look to him for guidance. But that soft smile with eyes that stared as if Caleb was the only thing that mattered suddenly carried a new weight. That was the smile of a man ready to die a hundred times over for the person he loved. That was the smile of a man who never expected love in return but offered his anyway in his own quiet way. Confused as he was about his own feelings, Caleb found that he was honoured. He returned the smile. 

Was Essek imaging it or was Caleb’s smile a little bigger, a little more open, a little less weighed down with concern? How much had he seen of those possibilities that existed between them? Would it impact their friendship as it stood now? If anything, Essek would have thought only moments ago that such obvious displays of his unending affection would have scared Caleb away  but… well it hadn’t been entirely one sided in those flashes of possible futures now had it? And here he was smiling just that little bit broader. Perhaps the vision of his futures had assured Caleb of his intentions and proven that he was not waiting to betray him once more? It wouldn’t be that simple though , Essek told himself. Caleb has been too hurt too many times to trust again so easily after such a betrayal as mine . I am certainly not worthy of his love if there is any to be had. Essek thought back to the image of Caleb shaking his head at him in the tower and his chest squeezed uncomfortably. It had hurt even to see such a rejection in passing. He looked at the disgusting, fleshy ground thinking that it would be the most likely future for it was the one that he deserved.

Caleb saw the hopelessness that suddenly washed over Essek and thought he had an inkling of why. He had spent many years expecting only the worst outcomes himself, and was just beginning to overcome that habit, so it was easy to recognize someone doing the same. He decided to test out the boundaries of the mind blank spell and thought towards Essek.

Perk up Herr Thelyss. You must be at your best if you are to survive. It is essential so that you may make that appointment we have in the dome a few months from now ja?  It was vague enough that he hoped anyone who might overhear it would think it just a friendly rally. 

Essek’s back stiffened and he turned to Caleb with a shockingly open look of longing and hope that caused Caleb to feel electricity coursing through his veins. His heart pounded in his ears as he waited for a response. Essek took a moment to quickly compose his features from flabbergasted lovestruck fool into a familiar smirk and an arched eyebrow which caused Caleb to feel entirely different things. He was clearly attempting to think a response to Caleb’s message and realized that it was not getting through. Instead he mouthed “If you insist” across the room and flashed a brief but bright smile that Caleb would hold on to over the next few days. There were no guarantees that they would all get through this but he meant what he said. He wanted Essek to survive. He wanted the possibility of that future with him.

Caleb gave Essek a brief wink before turning back to focus on Beau, satisfied that the mind blank spell had worked and pleased to have given Essek hope. He was optimistic that his encouragement would renew Essek’s will to get through the next few days and hopefully make him less likely to martyr himself (as Caleb had grown worried that Essek was far too inclined to do just that). Caleb felt a weight lift from his shoulders as he found himself similarly inspired to push through and was prepared to take on whatever next horror arose. He felt far better than he had in a long time, despite the grim tasks that awaited them. That was the power of a long rest he supposed.