Caleb brings the smell of Nicodranas with him when he teleports into Essek’s chambers, sea and salt dissipating quickly in the chill air, and for a moment he is back in the dimly lit bowels of a ship - slumped on a dusty crate with his head in his hands and wrenching emotions whose existence he had barely allowed himself to acknowledge from his chest, awaiting a judgment he cared more for than that of any politician or deity.
He waits again as Caleb’s gaze perfunctorily sweeps the room, cannot help the way his breath catches as it fixes on him. His cheek throbs in remembrance of a chaste press of lips.
Well. Surely the moment has passed by now. “Impressive aim,” he says, and stands, gesturing to the fire. “I know you haven’t been exposed to the weather yet, but if you are cold-”
Caleb takes three solid strides across the room and envelops him in a hug.
When Essek regains his ability to form coherent thought, he wonders for one wild moment if Caleb has misinterpreted his gesture as an invitation. The rest of him is entirely intoxicated by the way Caleb’s breath tickles the short hairs just above his ear, the light press of a palm on the flat of his back - if he turned his head, he might be able to kiss Caleb’s cheek. Or were such grand gestures best saved for farewells?
Thinking of either of them leaving tightens something in his chest to a nearly painful degree - ah, that might be something. “You have been missing the rest of the Mighty Nein, I see,” he proposes, a little more breathlessly than he intends.
Caleb shifts a little, grip loosening. Essek fights the urge to move closer and press him back into place. “Was? No, I have just come from them - we all met up in Nicodranas to ah, see me off. Jester was very disappointed that you could not come, she said she has been sending you messages all week.”
Maybe coherent thought is still beyond him. “Oh - yes, I remember now, I just - and everything is well with them? And with you?”
“Ja, we are all right - are you? You seem a little confused, my friend.”
There’s blood rushing to his face now, a terrible waste of heat that burns any remnant of his ability to reason about this to ashes. “This is,” he chokes out, “a very long hug.”
“Ah,” Caleb says. “Well, that is because I missed you, Essek.”
The plain honesty of it is piercing - it plunges to the core of him, the sharp edge of a garden trowel shifting loam to carve out a resting place for something new and delicate.
Those long, precious evenings spent tending the Blooming Grove still haunt him, even in the frozen wastes he’s retreated back to and buried himself in, packed and preserved like something long dead. All the more now, with every sprout the Mighty Nein have planted in him blooming wild and colorful as they strain for the bright warmth of the man before him.
Essek allows this new seedling to take root, winding hungry and painful into his lungs, brings his hands up to fist clumsily in stubborn folds of waterproofed cloth. “It is good to see you as well,” he manages-
And then, quickly, before the exposure starts to burn - “Caleb Widogast,” he murmurs into the air between them. It is as close to reverence as he allows himself.
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