“Good. Good,” Essek says, eyeing the slump of Caleb’s shoulders as his hand drops, the room around them smouldering into ash. Relief, disappointment, regret — Essek is not quite sure which emotion dominates his friend at the moment, but if they are as alike as he feels them to be, it’s bound to be a bit of all three.
This is an ending of sorts. The closing of a possibility. Essek has not had much experience with goodbyes or closing chapters, but he knows a little something about possibilities. He touches Caleb’s wrist, fingers light. Once, he may have hesitated. Now, he knows the grounding surety of touch and his own welcome.
“In all possible futures,” Essek murmurs, “they are better for having this version of you, Caleb Widogast.”
Caleb turns his wrist and intertwines their fingers. They stand, silent, for many more moments. Essek finds the only remaining interest he has in time manipulation at this moment is the desire to stop it.
“Essek.” Caleb’s voice is hushed, eyes intense as they meet Esseks’. His free hand comes up to Essek’s cheek. Essek commits the feeling to memory as he has with every touch between them since they met. He thinks of them often when alone, to remind himself that somewhere in this world exists a person, people, who see Essek as someone worth touching. Connection is what saves us, Yasha had said. It has saved Essek.
“I am so often, constantly, aware of the passage of time,” Caleb continues. “When I do not think about manipulating it, I find myself measuring it. Weighing it. The value of a moment.” His thumb moves softly over Essek’s skin.
Essek’s breath catches in his chest. He, too, measures this moment, in the beats of his heart. If he casts Slow, would it last a little longer? Or is the value in it held in its brief nature?
Caleb looks a little nervous, behind the earnest sincerity of his expression. He wets his lips before speaking again. “We cannot get back time that has already passed, so we must choose carefully what to do with the amount of time remaining to us. I have so little of it, compared to you. But I would, if you were also inclined, hope to spend much of it with you, my friend. You know there are many things I still must do, in the Empire. But I would welcome your company, and any time together would be a cherished gift.”
Essek swallows thickly and covers the hand on his cheek with his own. Caleb, ever the wordsmith. Always piercing straight to Essek’s heart with but a few words. Essek does not have Caleb’s eloquence, even in Undercommon. A cherished gift, he says. When there can be no greater gift in this world for Essek than Caleb’s attention and regard.
“All of my time, that which we share together and that which we spend apart, is yours. It has been for some time. I believe it will continue to be yours for longer still. I can think of no greater use for it,” Essek replies.
Caleb’s brow furrows as Essek knows it does when emotions overcome him, and then suddenly they are chest-to-chest, hands separating only as Caleb’s fits warm and solid at his lower back. Another breath, a moment. Essek feels the blooming expanse of potentiality contained within it until it crystalizes into the warm pressure of lips against his own, eyes closing with the momentum, the soft, wet brush of a tongue. Did Caleb lean in or did he?
He would be lying if he said he had never thought of this. Hoped for it. Imagined it sometimes, foolishly, like a child with a mind not yet shaped by society. A mere echo compared to the reality of this instant. The value of a moment, Caleb had said. All the secrets of the universe could appear before him, but Essek would not trade the memory this moment would become for any of them.
They kiss until the fervor between them turns languid. Essek pulls away only to plant another lingering kiss upon Caleb’s cheek. The smile on Caleb’s face is boyish, soft and so quietly happy that Essek finds his own lips turning up without conscious thought. What a beautiful world he lives in now, where such a smile from such a man can be aimed at him.
“Well then,” Caleb says, and the rough quality to his voice makes Essek ache to lean in again. “Let us find somewhere new to explore, together.” He steps back and holds out a hand. Essek takes it.