Waking up in a bed, with a bedmate, and two cats cuddling nearby was a novelty still, one Caleb had only sort of gotten used to. Some mornings Essek had been trancing and was already up, some mornings it was Caleb that was first to rise. Some mornings they both found themselves distracted and late to pull themselves out of the covers, and that was good too.
He’d never woken up after a very vivid dream, with weeks of memories jammed into his head, not all good, not all bad. Just-- life.
An overwhelming life, at times. But there was a little too much and it made Caleb’s head ache first thing in the morning, like a hangover without the benefit of having drinking the night before, but he did still have a bedmate and that helped him sort through things. Not everything, that would take a while to unpack. Right now, the worry that he had memories of not speaking to Essek in a while coupled with the fact that Essek was right next to him hit hard.
Caleb took his time opening his eyes, sorting through things quietly as he let his arm slip across Essek’s middle and he slowly crowded in. Finally, when he was ready to actually show he was conscious, Caleb murmured against Essek’s neck. “We can skip today, can’t we?”
It was the gentle change in pressure as Caleb's arm came to rest around Essek that roused him that morning. Even then, it was a slow process. When he tranced, Essek simply went from that meditative state that left him aware of his surroundings to fully conscious. When he made the decision to sleep, a decision that he had been making with greater frequency as of recent, he slept. It had gotten easier to do with each subsequent night of rest, the warmth of Caleb at his side and his even breathing more soothing than any lullaby.
But it was the waking in the morning that Essek appreciated most about his new sleeping habit. It softened the grogginess that clung to his consciousness to wake with Caleb by his side, the undeniable reminder of something good being a pretty nice way to start one's day. It was especially nice this morning, with Caleb so close and it so easy for Essek to lift an arm to rake his fingers into sleep mussed red hair.
"Mm." The murmur was soft, more a noise than any confirmation one way or another to Caleb's question. Eyes still closed to the morning, he smiled as he continued, "I don't see why not."
Caleb didn’t want to ruin the soft morning that was already starting out, and he laughed lightly against Essek’s shoulder in response. It was purely selfish, wanting just another five minutes of touch that he had previously been starved for. Memories of that touch being gone again wrestled with the ones from Vallo he’d experienced simultaneously, and it was like a war on his brain.
A war that was a losing battle, as it usually was. Sometimes, Caleb truly hated his brain.
He groaned, frustrated at himself, when all he should have wanted was to just cuddle his boyfriend and be sweet, not think about things. “Good, I am glad, because I think I will give them the day off. Today is not going to be a good day, I do not think. Let’s start over again tomorrow.”
Concern started to leak in, waking Essek more thoroughly than any alarm might have. He finally allowed his eyes to flutter open and they immediately adjusted to the darkness of the room as he tipped his head in order to look down at the wizard that was holding him close. Caleb could have been simply lamenting the fact it was morning and they both had responsibilities that would eventually lead to them untangling from one another and leaving the warm blankets behind, but Essek had become more in tune to Caleb than he'd once thought possible in recent months. And though he knew he didn't interpret everything correctly, he trusted his intuition when it came to Caleb just enough to at least check.
Pressing a gentle kiss to the top of Caleb's head, Essek carefully moved down the bed until they were face to face. The hand that had been in his hair also moved, fingers ghosting along a jaw rough with a night's worth of stubble that he couldn't grow himself. "What's on your mind?"
Caleb made a little nose of protest, but he did like being able to look at Essek. He just missed the prime cuddling that came with the movement. This didn’t allow for him to keep avoiding the topic, either, which was probably for the best, given Caleb was a master at ignoring something until he could ignore it no more.
Essek and him had made promises to stay as honest as possible, however, and that was not very honest. He sighed, giving in. “New memories, I think. Travelercon 3000 was …” Caleb trailed off and huffed out a little laugh, sorting through some of their most ridiculous Rumblecrusp memories. “A riot. Of sorts. Jester really brought the house down.”
It had felt as though it was only a matter of time before someone in their immediate group would find themselves with new memories, Essek had known. It was inevitable, but he hadn't decided how he felt about it. In the months that he had been Vallo, he had become comfortable and content with his life. The prospect of events and actions taken back in Exandria potentially changing that was worrisome; he didn't want to consider that to be a possibility, and yet his anxious mind couldn't help considering it.
This wasn't about him, though. Essek did his best to push those thoughts aside, though he was sure that worry wasn't entirely vacant from his expression as he looked to Caleb. His hand returned to Caleb's hair, his movements slow as he toyed with the strands almost idly. Now he was missing the cuddling.
"I would expect nothing less." He remembered a few mentions of Jester's event for her (not a) deity and thought there had been mention of a volcano at some point, but he hadn't known Jester long enough at that point to always know when she was teasing. "You all came out of it in one piece, though?"
It was soft and easy now, to lean into Essek’s touch and to let his hand smooth across the dark purple skin against him. Before a large memory dump, that touch would have had more purpose than just a gentle caress, but for now it stayed light and comforting. Like a soft glow at the end of a tunnel.
Caleb’s mind was often against him, and now was no different. He let his head fall down to the pillow and closed his eyes again, sighing, but nodded. “Ja, we are fine. I just--” There was a lot of things he was currently struggling with, no recent memory of Essek among them, but it was fighting for a place in the top position against another, more sinister one gnawing away at his brain. “I do not do well with my memories being altered. To feel as if I lived something I did not. What could change? What is different? Is it someone giving me that information? It is too early for this type of thinking.”
"Those are indeed heavy questions to ponder right after waking," Essek agreed, giving Caleb what he hoped was an at least marginally comforting smile, albeit a small one. "But I think they are only natural; I may not have your history, however I know that I would have similar worries."
It was difficult, Essek had found, to care for someone as much as he did for Caleb, but not be able to shield them from the difficulties that lives like theirs could bring. Even as he felt a hint of guilt bubble up in the back of his mind, a reminder of his own recent history of memory modification resurfacing, it was easily outweighed by his desire to find a way to fix this. There wasn't an easy answer to that, he knew, other than just being supportive -- something that Essek was still devastatingly new at.
And so, he leaned in toward Caleb just enough to press a soft kiss to his temple, then settled onto his own pillow to gaze over at him. "I wish you did not have to be in the position to ponder these questions at all, though."
Caleb made a little noise of displeasure - but not directed at Essek, just the situation as a whole - and slumped even further into the bed. It was too early and they did not have enough tea for this. Caduceus would no doubt have some brewing and breakfast cooking. But here was comfortable, and safe, and did not carry the stark memories of Veth missing from them or narrowly losing Fjord.
What was it that Beauregard had said when they were all drunk? That they were co-dependent on each other?
Well, she hadn’t been wrong. That was a thought he didn’t particularly mind, the Mighty Nein had become Caleb’s family over the last year and there was nothing he wanted to change about that. “It is annoying. But-” A faint smile touched his mouth. “I got to be a dinosaur, and a shark a few times. It is a bit of a hollow win, not having heard from you since we parted ways, though.”
Thoughts of Caleb turning himself into new and different creatures made Essek smile, though the expression almost immediately faded as the rest of his words sunk in.
It had been six months since Essek had arrived in Vallo. The man that he was now, the one that was laying in the bed he ostensibly shared with Caleb, that had a fraught relationship with his brother but genuinely wanted to fix it, that had found a new career path, that had friends -- this Essek Thelyss was very different than the one he had been. He had come to Vallo on the tail of confessing his treason to the Mighty Nein, nervous for the future, how his choices could further effect them, and wondering if there would be a time where he could call them his friends once more.
And so, despite the six months of memories in Vallo, it wasn't hard for Essek to conjure up a life back in Exandria where he hadn't sought out the Mighty Nein -- and where they hadn't sought out him. But, because of those six months of memories, the thought of such a life made his stomach sink.
"Ah," Essek said after a quiet moment, the silence stretching on perhaps a second too long to be comfortable. His gaze broke from Caleb's face, looking past him and instead to a spot on the wall beyond. He swallowed. "We lead busy lives, you and your friends especially."
So that was how it was to be. That was how it should be. Caleb was historically bad at speaking about his feelings, Essek usually only did it when guilty or coerced. They were a pair.
An attractive pair that was cohesively good at not talking about their feelings on matters, when needed. Right now, it felt as if they should, but Caleb was a coward and a liar and he just made a little grumble of disapproval before burying his face into Essek’s shoulder. He wanted to tell himself that all was well - no news was likely good news, ja? But other members of their party were much better at being optimistic than he was.
He could fake some optimism, if he had to. “Ja, no doubt it will come in time. Not too much of that has passed-- there was a dragon turtle, and Travelercon, and that is really it.” Caleb ran a comforting - perhaps distracted - hand down Essek’s side. “You are here, that is what matters most.”
While the mention of a dragon turtle of all things brought forth a whole new series of questions to Essek's mind, he pushed them aside. It would have been easier to indulge in them, to change the subject; a conversation of events, no matter how new they felt, seemed more straightforward than what he knew they were likely supposed to be talking about. It would have also been easy to fall into the distraction of Caleb's touch. Essek had gotten marginally better at talking about his emotions and feelings, but it was still far from second nature and almost always required coaxing. He was much easier at speaking through actions; the intent may have been obvious at times, but at least he wasn't tasked with coming up with the words to explain them.
Even now, Essek found himself moving on instinct as Caleb came in toward him, his arms moving without thought. One hand again found Caleb's hair, while the other pressed gently to his back as his arm wrapped around him and held him close. It was an attempt at comfort on his own end, as much for himself as it was for Caleb. He cared for Caleb so much that he didn't know if he had the words to express it, even if he tried -- actually, he could think of one word. But, after decades upon decades of a life so devoid of love, Essek felt shy at the prospect of expressing it himself.
Despite himself, though, he wanted to at least try, in whatever way he could manage. "I do not know what will happen in Exandria," he started, fingers running slowly through Caleb's hair, "but I know that here, in Vallo, there is nowhere else I would rather be than right here and with you." Essek swallowed, his hand pausing as anxiety crept in and he added, "You know that, yes?"
Oh. It made Caleb’s heart stutter and almost stop, his breath caught in his throat and he wasn’t sure what to say in return for what felt like a lifetime instead of the ten seconds that had actually passed. He curled into the touch as if he were Frumpkin leaning into a pet, head arching a little dramatically. Oh how he had missed the touch of another for so long.
“Ja, I do- And I am glad for it.” He leveled a serious look on Essek, “You will tell me if that changes? Do not hide it from me.” Even if he was one to talk, with that serious question and his own desire to see Veth again. The new memories were at least a reminder that she was doing well, even if antsy to see her family. Being here would only bring her further away from them, and Caleb could not bring himself to wish for that.
There was a little squeeze in Essek's chest when he considered a possible future where he wouldn't feel the way he did in that moment. He understood that it could happen. He may not have had much experience with relationships and the life full of friendships and laughter that he had now, but he knew that it could all change. It had once before, had it not? Not a day had passed since, though, that he hadn't thanked the gods he didn't worship for his friendships to have instead changed and grown, rather than receded and disappeared as he had worried they would.
Essek's hand began to move once more, fingers smoothing out Caleb's hair. He likewise did not have much recent experience with touch, not until just enough wine had pushed them onto the path that had led them here. To touch and to be touched was something Essek hadn't known he could actually desire, until Caleb. Leaning up, he pressed a gentle kiss to Caleb's forehead, a form of affection that felt multilayered when it came to them. A demonstration of warmth and care, but also of promise and hope.
"I will tell you if it changes." The agreement was quiet when made, but no less sincere. He had sworn honesty to Caleb and he didn't foresee that changing; what more, Essek didn't know if he could deny him anything if he tried. "But, if I can be candid, I very much hope that it never does."
The rumble in Caleb’s chest came up again with the forehead kiss. It was a gesture that invoked a million feelings into his core, and he felt more than a little clingy at that moment. They should have taken this early morning opportunity to arise and make themselves ready for the day, but instead he found himself wanting more time with Essek.
That would be a recurring theme in the future; wanting more time with Essek.
But they had now, and he would have to take advantage of it. “So do I,” he whispered in return, soft and unsure about his words. His hands wandered, more sure of finding purchase than Caleb’s words conveyed. “We have a little time before Kiri is awake, would you like to make the best of it?”