CW: Canon-typical injuries
Inspired by this spectacular art by @caltracat - thank you for letting me write something for it! [Dear reader - I implore you, put this art into your eyes before reading.]
Thank you to @rainydaymonk and @calculatingdistances for beta-ing this for me!
The healing potion goes down Caleb's throat after a great deal of difficulty, partly from Caleb's half-choked gasps, and partly from Essek's own trembling fingers. It’s all he can do to pour the liquid sip by sip into Caleb’s mouth – if he were the praying sort, he would have already begged the entire pantheon of Exandria’s gods for mercy by now. Anything not to cut short a life that is already barely anything but a flicker in time when compared to his own. He and Caleb have had too many close brushes with death here in the depths of Aeor.
By no small miracle, the potion is enough to close the skin back together over the wounds. But from Caleb’s pallor and his labored breathing, it is obvious that this is far from enough. All this adventuring has given Essek a slightly better understanding of healing magic – these injuries will require much more than a mere potion. Perhaps even a spell of greater restoration.
For the first time, it occurs to Essek that while he would happily give his life in the pursuit of knowledge, there is precious little he would not trade to ensure Caleb stays alive.
A hoarse murmur pulls him from his agitated thoughts. “Essek?”
“I’m here,” Essek whispers. “I’m sorry, Caleb, I – that was our last potion –”
“Essek,” Caleb repeats, as though he hadn’t heard Essek speak at all. One arm lifts weakly, fingers reaching forward to rest against Essek’s wrist. “Are you hurt?”
For the first time, Essek registers that the sharp ache in his chest might indicate several cracked ribs, thanks to a harsh blow he had taken to the sternum. There’s a searing pain in his flank and in his side that tells him there is probably shrapnel from the explosion embedded in the muscle. But hopefully his cloak will be enough to conceal the bleeding, at least until he can get a bandage around the wounds without Caleb seeing.
“I’m fine,” Essek says. He tries to laugh, but it hurts too much. “How can you think about me at a time like this?”
The words are so raw they burn. Essek regrets them the moment he lets them slip from his lips.
Caleb’s mouth twists with pain. “Will you get something from my left coat pocket for me? I can’t reach it at the moment.”
Essek obliges, doing his best not to jostle Caleb overmuch, and withdraws from the pocket one last vial of a greater healing potion.
“Oh,” Essek says faintly, so relieved he’s lightheaded. “Oh, thank the Light.”
Caleb actually chuckles, though his face is still deathly pale. His words are slurring a little. “Been saving it for… for an emergency.”
“As you should,” Essek says, more sharply than he intends, “look at the state you’re in –”
“For you, Essek,” Caleb interrupts.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Essek says, already moving to uncork the little vial – but Caleb’s hand grips his wrist with surprising strength.
“I mean it,” Caleb says, his blue eyes hard as diamonds. “It is for you. You are the one who has to stay alive –”
Essek is already shaking his head despite the sharp protest from his broken ribs. “Between the two of us, you need it more –”
Caleb’s hand tightens. “You are the one who can get us out of here,” he says, voice grating with exhaustion. “You have greater reserves of magic than I do, and if we are to have any hope of surviving, we need you to have enough strength to teleport us out of here.”
“Even if I drank this,” Essek has to pause and take a breath, his eyes prickling, “I cannot teleport without a full trance, I am all out of spells –”
“Then trance,” Caleb says. “And then we can go home tomorrow.”
The rattle in Caleb’s breath sends a flash of ice-cold fear through Essek’s veins.
“A couple of puncture wounds will not kill me,” Essek tries again. “But I fear you are far from sufficiently healed – the potion you took has not done much more than stanch the external bleeding.”
“Take us to Rumblecusp then, when you are able. To Jester and Fjord.”
Essek swallows hard, fear tightening its hold around his throat, threatening to choke him. Prodigy he may be, but he is hardly infallible. With Caleb in this state, a botched teleport could be the end of him. A shudder runs through Essek.
“And what if – if my spell fails?” Essek whispers. “I have never been to Rumblecusp. What then?”
“It will not fail. Not if you are at your best. You know Jester and Fjord. You will not fail.” Caleb’s utter faith in Essek shakes him to the core. “I… we need you, Essek. It is…” Caleb takes a long, ragged breath, “it is all the more reason for you to drink this.” He pushes the healing potion insistently into Essek’s palm and closes Essek’s fingers around it. “I will not take no for an answer.”
Stubborn bastard. Essek presses his mouth into a tight line before Caleb can notice the way his lips are trembling.
At last, he nods. The alternative is to break down completely, which will not improve their chances of survival in any way. Instead, he uncorks the vial with shaking fingers and swallows it with his eyes clenched shut.
The effect is immediate. His wounds knit back together, the innumerable fractures in his ribs repairing in fast forward. He sighs, half in relief, half in complete terror.
Caleb makes a soft sound and leans forward, collapsing against Essek’s newly healed chest. After a long moment of astonishment, Essek pulls the fold of his cloak around Caleb’s shoulders. His arms wrap around Caleb, holding him as close as he dares.
“I hope you are satisfied,” Essek says, voice tremulous. He can feel Caleb’s heart, a beat fragile as a butterfly’s wings. “Now please. Please, stay alive.”
“I will, now that you’ve given me a reason to,” Caleb mumbles, and closes his eyes.
As the teleportation circle glows around them, Essek remembers too late he hasn’t even thought to send a message to Jester. By the time he finishes tracing the somatic gestures for Sending, the words flowing in a near-incoherent stream from his lips, Jester, we need help, please, we’re on our way to you now – they have already materialized in front of a pretty white cottage overlooking the ocean, its window shutters painted a shockingly bright yellow, and Essek is clutching an unconscious Caleb by the waist with what little strength he has left, pounding on the front door, hoping against hope that Jester and Fjord are home and not at sea –
The next few hours pass by in a blur.
Essek has brief flashes of being dragged in bodily through the door to the tune of two voices so familiar they make his heart ache, of his resisting fingers being urged to let go, of a warm, savory liquid being coaxed between his lips, of cool healing magic flowing into his limbs, of being consoled as his fear threatens to break free of his throat.
When he resurfaces into a state resembling consciousness, he finds himself in a chair, slumped over on a bed with his head buried in his arms, the smell of the room at once alien yet absolutely familiar. It makes him think of Jester throwing herself into his arms. Quiet conversations with Fjord over cups of steaming tea.
Essek eases himself up on his elbows. He rubs at one eye with the back of his hand, trying to gather the fraying threads of himself back together before he remembers with a start –
“Caleb,” he gasps, “Caleb –”
“Shh, it’s alright,” a soothing voice answers at once, a broad palm rubbing circles on his back, “don’t worry, Essek. We’re safe here.”
Essek has to blink a few times before his vision comes into focus. When it does, he finds Caleb sitting up, leaning against the headrest of the enormous oaken bed. The bruised skin under his eyes betrays the terrible ordeal he has just endured, but other than that, he looks good as new.
To Essek’s utter mortification, burning tears are spilling from his eyes.
“Oh.” Caleb’s hand is warm between Essek’s shoulder blades. “Breathe, Essek. Just breathe. We’re alright now, I promise.”
Essek’s words have deserted him. He climbs onto the bed and buries his face in Caleb’s neck, his shoulders heaving with guilt and fear, all thought of propriety completely gone. For a long moment, Caleb’s arms around his shoulders are the only thing still holding him together.
Caleb, Caleb, why did I ever drink that potion, oh gods above, I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t made it –
“But I did,” Caleb says steadily, and it seems that Essek’s thoughts had flowed unbidden from his lips, “we both did, thanks to you.”
“No, you should have –”
“Enough,” Caleb says with finality. “I will not hear any more about who deserves to live and who deserves to die, do you hear me? Remember – you and I are mirror images of each other, Essek. What you deserve is what I deserve, and what ill you wish on yourself, you wish on me. Is that what you want?”
Essek stares at him, the shock punching the breath out of his lungs. “No, but –”
“No buts,” Caleb interrupts. He pulls Essek in closer, pressing his lips to Essek’s temple. “Schatz, give me this. If you are so intent on ensuring I live out what few human years I have, then let me spend them with you.”
Essek’s breathing skitters to a stop. “I… Wait –”
“No. I will not. Not anymore.” Caleb’s arms tighten around him. “You want this as much as I do, I know it. And I am so tired of us dancing around this when I have so little time to be with you.”
There is a distinct ache in Essek’s chest not unlike the sensation of his broken ribs. Only this is a deeper pain, well beyond any cleric’s healing.
“Please,” Caleb whispers. His breath hitches. “Tell me I am not wrong.”
“You… you are not.” Essek bites back a sob as Caleb presses a kiss to the very corner of his mouth. “I do not want you to regret this, Caleb Widogast.”
“I could never,” Caleb says at once. He reaches forward and cups Essek’s face in both hands. “Essek,” he whispers.
Caleb’s blue eyes drift slowly down to Essek’s mouth. His breath is caught in his chest, his heart pounding half in terror, half in jubilant elation. The two of them hover on the edge of a precipice, the whole world falling away around them.
A sudden loud sniff from outside the door makes them both jump.
“You guys!!! Kiss already before Fjord starts bawling!”
“I am not –”
A fond chuckle tugs itself from Caleb’s lips, a wet sound that sounds much closer to a sob than a laugh. His blue eyes are very bright. Like stars, guiding Essek home.
“May I?” Caleb whispers at last.
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