9 for the kiss prompt meme, shadowgast?? 💕💕💕💕💕💕💕
9. ‘War’s End’ Kiss
The real war didn’t end on the battlefield; it didn’t even end on the waves of the Lucidian Ocean, with the Balleater bobbing tensely nearby.
The real war had waged for decades, even before Essek had been born, and ended in the halls of the Dwendalian King and Bright Queen. It was fitting, Essek supposed. The shadow war had always been fought quietly, its participants preferring to spy and stab each other in the back rather than stab each other outright on the battlefield. It made sense that its particular brand of devastation be brought to an end by a court of nobles and rulers pretending to be civil.
“What are you thinking about?”
Caleb’s voice shook Essek from his reverie, the interior of the Lavish Chateau coming back into focus. The rest of the room was blessedly empty, the riotous ‘we ended another war’ party having died down a few hours previously. Caleb propped his chin on his hand as he waited for an answer, fiddling with the expensive tablecloth absentmindedly. Essek’s eyes followed his movements, and for once he didn’t mind that Caleb knew he was looking.
“I suppose I’m thinking about the war you just ended. I’m surprised nobody tried to blow up the building while the Cerberus Assembly was officially disbanded.”
“The war we ended, I believe you mean,” Caleb corrected. “It would’ve been easier for you to just stay uninvolved, and safer, too. But you didn’t, because it was the right thing. I would say that you deserve some of the credit.”
Essek didn’t respond, the remaining wine in his glass suddenly becoming very interesting. He couldn’t accept that, at least not yet; his actions weighed heavily around his neck still, despite his attempts to help prevent any further conflict. Guilt was part of the package of making yourself better, but he was starting to think the pros outweighed the cons.
“I never thought I’d get here, you know,” Essek murmured finally, swirling his wine glass. From the corner of his eye, Caleb’s expression morphed into an intense thoughtfulness, though his eyes remained soft and kind as he looked at Essek. It was a familiar expression on him, but every time it was turned on Essek it managed to make him melt a little bit more.
“Here, with someone I… care about, in the Lavish Chateau of all places. Having just helped you do something good, for about the first time in my life. If you’d told me that even five years ago, I would’ve laughed in your face.”
A warm hand cupped his jaw, and tilted his head upwards just as it hand on the Balleater over a year prior. The same movement, between the same people, but somehow there was a world of difference. Finally, Essek let their gazes catch. Just like the first time, it was a punch to the stomach to look into those blue eyes and see compassion he could barely believe is turned on him.
“You have such capacity for kindness, Essek,” Caleb said. “And I am so grateful to have been able to show that to you, and see you embrace it.”
Maybe it was Caleb’s words, or the soft grip of his hand at his jaw, or the lump in Essek’s throat, but for once he didn’t deny the confession building in his head. “I did it because of you, do you know that?”
Caleb blinked, and moved to speak, but Essek continued. “Trying to fix what I’ve done, trying to be better, it was all because of you. Because you make me want to be better, because I-“
He cut himself off, the words catching and snagging on his tongue. He’d never been good with talking. The hand at his jaw moved, drawing back to run through his hair until it came to rest at the back of his neck. He couldn’t avoid sinking into Caleb’s touch if he tried.
“Because I love you, and it’s taken me until the end of a war to finally tell you.”
The smallest, softest of smiles spread across Caleb’s face. “I’d prefer not to wait until the end of another one to tell you that I love you, too.”
The hand at the back of his neck pulled gently, and it was far too easy to let himself be pulled closer, agonisingly slowly, until their lips met. Caleb’s mouth was warm, and welcoming, and when his hands settled at Essek’s waist he wasn’t sure he’d ever belonged somewhere so much in his life. It wasn’t a rush of fireworks, or the instant, frenzied crushing of teeth and lips and tongue; it was the release of a breath held too long, and the relief of fresh air into parched lungs. He buried his fingers in Caleb’s hair, neat ponytail be damned because the faint taste of wine on Caleb’s tongue was so much more precious. They moved together, and suddenly Essek was leaning into him, and he could feel the warmth of his body through his dress shirt and every inch of him craved more, more-
Chuckling against his mouth, Caleb pulled away, though Essek tried to lean further into the kiss in protest.
“Eager,” he teased, but looking at Caleb’s ruffled hair and flushed cheeks, Essek couldn’t bring himself to be embarrassed.
“I am not above saying that I have wanted that for a very long time,” Essek breathed, still threading his fingers through Caleb’s hair. “So forgive my impatience.”
Caleb smiled, and leaned back in. “You are forgiven.”