It had been several minutes that Essek had been hovering -- not literally, as his feet were on the ground -- at the entrance to the library. The door was open and he'd had every intention to enter it, having come from the kitchen after completing his evening chore of washing (it counted as washing, even if Prestidigitation was heavily used, yes?) dishes and levitating them into the proper cupboards, but he had paused outside, not wanting to interrupt.
Still, he took one step further, peering in with whatever stealth he could muster. Just being able to hear Caleb's reading to Kiri had stirred a warmth in Essek's chest that he hadn't even come close to imagining could exist several months ago and actually seeing it made a soft smile bloom across his face. As Caleb read, Kiri piped up occasionally, showing off the gently accented words and phrases that were being repeated and added to her growing repertoire of mimicry. It was endearing, to say the very least -- yet one more thought to add to the things that Essek couldn't have imagined himself thinking not too long ago.
Essek's experience when it came with children had been nonexistent, to say the least. He hadn't even much liked kids when he technically was one himself; that likely spoke more to his reluctance to be around people more than anything, of course. When Kiri had first arrived, he had been nervous; she was clearly dear to Caleb and the others and the last thing he wanted was for his hesitation to make things difficult. It hadn't been a problem, though. She quickly became dear to him as well, something about the young kenku letting his nerves melt as one more person wedged his way into his heart. Now it felt almost natural to let her take his hand when they were out and about, to give her (high quality) parchment out of his supplies to draw on, and to cast cantrips at her request, just to see the excitement there as sparks or glowing orbs chased her around.
It was odd, Essek knew. This was a turn in his life he would have never been able to foresee. But, he would have been lying if he said he didn't enjoy it -- and Essek was making a conscious effort to not lie anymore.
Once Essek recognized that the story had come to a close, he finally stepped into the room, still smiling as he observed the pair. Though awake, he could recognize the slow blinks of a slowly fading kenku where she was tucked up against Caleb. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Caleb," he said, glancing once toward the nearby clock in faux contemplation, "but I believe it might be bedtime for young Kiris."
Caleb smiled, he had just leaned away from pressing a soft kiss to the feathered head tucked against him, and closed the book. He’d registered her sleepiness, and knew it wouldn’t be long before he was carrying her to bed, but had also been incredibly tempted to just grab another book from the side table and start reading it off, to stall.
Essek’s interruption wasn’t surprising, though they didn’t always align their bedtimes together with their own wizard studies and reading, he knew the elf wouldn’t be far behind, after a promising look and light touch after dinner.
But Caleb himself had had a long day, of teaching and the bookstore, of study and picking up from school. It was a life he had never expected for himself - but one he had settled into perhaps a little too easy. His legs were tired - one of them asleep as it had a Kenku leaning her full weight into it. “The tower seems very far away right now, doesn’t it?” He asked both of them, with a little sigh. Kiri nodded, piping up just enough to mimic something from earlier, sounding faintly of Jester. “Soooo tired.”
That coaxed a soft laugh out of Essek as he stepped forward, perching himself next to where Kiri and Caleb were seated. "Am I going to have to teach you two how to float?" he asked, his words and tone as fond as his laugh had been just seconds before.
"To float," came Kiri's agreement in Essek's voice. The first time she had done that had felt eerily unsettling to the drow, but now it was as normal as anything else. It had been an awkward thing in the beginning, as Essek tried to navigate how to communicate with the young girl, but observing the others, especially Caleb and Jester, had made it easier. Well, that and just getting used to Kiri's personality. She certainly fit in with the Mighty Nein.
"Perhaps another night," Essek conceded, reaching out to brush a hand over the dark feathers at the top of Kiri's head. "Say goodnight to Caleb, lotha uss, and I'll carry you up to bed."
As if on cue, Essek watched as Kiri lifted her sleepy gaze up to the other wizard and repeated, "Goodnight to Caleb."
In an act of tiny defiance, but with a secret little smile pointed in Essek’s direction, Caleb leaned down to mock-whisper. “You can stay up extra late tomorrow.” He knew it likely wouldn’t pan out, that either she’d get tired or end up sneaking into Jester’s room or something of the sort, and he wasn’t one to nitpick, so long as her studies went well.
Ending up a pseudo-father-figure to a small kenku was not how he saw his life going. But then, he hadn’t expected any of them. There was a lot in this life that took him by surprise, and right now it was the Wizard pulling the Kenku out of his arms and into his own, with a soft touch that Caleb longed for.
That longing made it’s way into his gaze as he looked up at Essek, gentle smile playing at the corner of his lips. “Come back quickly, bitte.”
As he let Kiri secure her arms around his neck, Essek paused just a brief moment before rising to his feet to let one hand tuck a lock of escaped red hair behind Caleb's ear. It was a tender motion, but he wasn't sure he could have done anything else, when he was on the receiving end of the look that Caleb was currently giving him. With a smile, he promised, "I'll be right back."
Essek got to his feet then, stopping just long enough to make sure Kiri was comfortable as she let her head rest on his shoulder with a chirp of a sigh, then strode out of the room. Though he did make quick stops to anyone else in the house who still might have been moving around so Kiri could gift each of them a goodnight as well, it took very little time at all before he was climbing the stairs of the tower to reach the little area that they had made up for her when she had first arrived in Vallo all those months ago. He could tell by her even breathing that she was already asleep as he leaned over to set Kiri down -- only for her feathered arms to automatically clamp tighter around his neck in her sleep. Essek let out a soft chuckle, then reached for one of the stuffed animals that she had collected since her arrival to replace him after he had gently pulled himself free from her grasp. Lingering a few moments to make sure the kenku was truly asleep, he brushed his fingers gently over her head, then left her to rest.
He moved a bit faster then, partially because he was free of a tired kenku in his arms but also simply because of the need to get back to Caleb. Still, he paused in his room to check his hair in the mirror and also to remove the earrings and adornments from his long ears; it was the first time he'd been in the room since that morning, when he'd dressed for the day. It was more or less the only time he actually spent there, his nightly routine instead revolving around sleeping or trancing in Caleb's bed, instead of his own. In truth, his bedroom was mostly used for storage of things he didn't want to go over to his towers to get and a closet.
A few moments later, Essek returned to Caleb with a smile. "She was asleep before I even got to the tower," he said by way of greeting. "It must have been quite the day."
In the time Essek had been gone, Caleb had found another book, and was settled in with it. He often lost track of time while reading, and that had happened here as Essek went about his business. Frumpkin settled onto his lap after no time at all, figuring out it was empty after only a few minutes.
He was absently brushing a hand across the orange fur when Essek made his way back, and Caleb looked up expectedly. “Ja, school has been good for her, I think. They do a good job of both keeping up with her and tiring her out.” His head tilted just slightly, taking Essek in from head to toe, his keen mind memorizing each part again and again as if it was new.
“You ah--” He lifted his hand from Frumpkin to just gesture in the air between them, directed towards Essek’s handsome face. “Lost all of your-- what do they call it? Ah yes- Bling.” He had learned a number of new words from this world that he had not known previously, but was nearly certain that was the right one for all of the flashiness Essek usually wore.
"My bling," Essek repeated, testing out the word for himself as he settled in next to Caleb. Though he wanted to check the cover of the book he had been reading, his curiosity in such matters more or less insatiable, Essek had enough self control to first give Frumpkin the respect he was due, his hand reaching to scratch behind the familiar's ears.
His other hand, though, lifted to toy almost bashfully with one of his bare earlobes. "I was actually near my bedroom for once, so I thought I'd leave them there, instead of scattered across your bedside table." Not that he really minded seeing his things scattered amongst Caleb's, outside of that it wasn't uncommon for one of the cats to bat at least an earring off in the night and leaving Essek searching under the bed for it come morning. That minor inconvenience aside, he actually rather liked the tangible ways he could see how their lives had entwined together. He knew that shift had started a while ago, but that didn't keep him from appreciating how natural it had started to feel to see his books stacked with Caleb's or even just their laundry mixed together.
"I would offer to go and put them back on," he continued, his warm smile a bit at odds with his teasing words, "but I already climbed those stairs once and I do not think I could do it again. Our bedrooms are too far away from each other."
Caleb snorted out a quiet laugh, and closed the book. For now. Either he would not be unhappy by a closed book because Essek would distract him away from it, or they would both take to reading their own materials once settled together in bed. It was usually a pleasant time regardless.
“There is no need, I like you like this as well.” A simple compliment given, but no less honest. This Essek was more natural, more the Essek he had come to appreciate in the privacy of a bedroom.
It was on the tip of his tongue to invite Essek to just use his room, as the library was much closer that way, but he chickened out at the last moment. “But I hate to tell you this -- it is what happens when you have gone so many years floating everywhere. Now I may have to set you upon Beauregard and Fjord for morning exercises, if some simple stairs best you.”
Essek let out a short laugh, almost taking him by surprise as he grinned toward Caleb. "And here I was under the impression that you liked me."
The talk of the stairs did have him thinking, though. "Carrying Kiri upstairs isn't so bad, but we may want to consider moving her to one of the bedrooms, rather than the tower. I assume that the weather will just grow cooler and her collection of toys will only multiply, so she may enjoy having her own space." It had been quite some time since Essek was four, but it seemed likely enough. He had considered it a few times, especially since she had started school.
Of course, that brought up the question of just where she could be moved to. Though the house that his den had gifted the Mighty Nein had been chosen because it was large enough for their full group, most of the bedrooms were taken. Essek himself was in the guest room, with the only other vacant room being Veth's -- not that he would suggest putting anyone else in there, of course. His room, though?
Essek swallowed, not even knowing that they had both now chickened out of a suggestion. Instead, he stalled. "What do you think?"
“I---” He hadn’t expected that kind of suggestion, though he should have. It had been on his mind a few times over the last few months, but Caleb wasn’t one to make suggestions that might get him turned down, his risks were either calculated or of the you only live once variety, there was no in-between.
“She would only have to move again if Veth were to arrive so--” That was out. There was already likely going to be drama when Veth did arrive and saw Essek living in the house.
Caleb’s own bedroom would help that, some. Veth might not have been here now but Caleb missed her fiercely and knew it was only a matter of time before… perhaps. Maybe. She would catch up.
“Would you like to be closer to the library?” The question was soft and simple, a little unsure, as Caleb worried on his bottom lip immediately after asking it.
If Essek didn't know any better, he might have thought that he felt his heart stutter in his chest. His hand stilled where he was still petting Frumpkin, the question forming in his mind -- would he ever stop being surprised when it came to Caleb Widogast?
Not that the question was truly a surprise, of course. He had been considering making the suggestion himself only seconds previous, but that hadn't meant that he'd truly thought that Caleb would be open to such a thing. Which, of course, was probably silly in and of itself; he spent most nights in Caleb's bed and much of his time spent in the Xhorhaus was also spent in the library. Logistically speaking, it made sense. But, Essek couldn't look at this as simply being a logical decision. Logical decisions were easy for him. This involved his heart and desires and hope for a relationship that he still had moments where he couldn't believe he'd gotten so lucky as to be a part of. This was one of those moments.
Essek smiled, warm and small and just a dash adoring as his hand raised from the cat to catch Caleb's cheek. "I would," he said, his words sounding more confident than he'd anticipated. "I would like being closer to you even more, however."
Oh. Oh. Caleb blew out a breath, not having expected it to go there. In hindsight - and if Caleb was nicer to himself - he would have. Because it was something logical - they were both very good at logical - and it was something emotional, which was another thing they were both learning to be good at. He knew that Essek had shared feelings on that end, there was no mistake of that any longer.
Caleb also knew he felt the same. But to have it displayed, and out there. That was still strange and unusual in a lot of ways.
“I-” Okay, he had to remind himself that this was not a battle he had to brace himself for, and Caleb let his shoulders relax. “Would like that, ja. There is more than enough room here for another person, if we add an extra desk.”
"Which can be easily handled," Essek agreed with a nod. His eyes flicked up toward the ceiling in the direction of where his current bedroom was. "The desk I've been using has been good to me. Otherwise -- my towers can provide."
But, even if Caleb had said he'd like this, Essek's own anxiety bubbled under the surface. He had never gotten so far along in a relationship where sharing spaces like this would even be considered, let alone actually discussed. His previous relationships could barely be called relationships in the first place -- not exactly flings, not quite dalliances. What he felt for Caleb was rare for Essek and he wanted so badly not to screw it up.
"I -- ah." Essek swallowed, his gaze dropping for just a moment before looking back to Caleb. "You're sure, yes? It is only -- I understand that this is your space first and I want to be sure you are comfortable sharing it with me more than we already do."
Was he sure? Yes.
Caleb was sure. And that hit him square on the chest in realization that came swinging in like a wrecking ball. There was hesitation, but only because Caleb had doubts about himself on a near daily basis.
He leaned over, an easy thing when he had Essek in his bed, and cupped the back of his lover’s head to pull him in for a heated kiss. When they parted a few moments later, Caleb leaned back just enough to stretch and place a gentle kiss on Essek’s forehead. “Ja, I am sure.” A teasing smirk played at his lips, “Besides, the worst case is I kick you out and you have to go sleep in the hot tub room.”
An immediate laugh bubbled out of Essek. A smirk to match Caleb's own took over his face as he teased right back, "Anything but that."
It should have been absurd, he thought. He marvelled on a daily basis how his life could not look more different than the plan he had concocted for himself years, decades, nearly a century ago. He was not unused to the notion of the vast number of possibilities that each decision made could create, but this -- this happy life that was filled with laughter and warmth and love -- had been too far-fetched to ever imagine. Essek had not considered himself unhappy before the Mighty Nein had thrown his life into a tailspin and he still didn't, more or less. He hadn't realized how lonely he had made himself, but he hadn't been unhappy. It was just that the happiness he enjoyed now was different and so much sweeter than he'd imagined.
The Mighty Nein had complicated his life, there was no denying it. But Essek would let them do it again and again, if it meant ending up right here.
While he had spent so much of his long life keeping his emotions in check, it had gotten easier to just embrace them when it came to Caleb. And so, he allowed himself to ride the wave he was feeling in that moment, hand raising to cup the other man's jaw. Essek smiled, soft and fond. "I am very glad that I met you, Caleb."
Caleb leaned forward to nuzzle against Essek, getting sidetracked easily. He did grin against the dark cheek, however, hoping Essek could feel the humor that bubbled up. “I am very glad you met me, as well.” It was easy to tease when he was like this, feeling easy and happy and comforted. The opposite of the cold darkness he’d felt for so long, as it was finally being driven back.
“Would you like to meet me again, naked?” Another tease, but Caleb ended it with a kiss to prove he wasn’t all talk, as if Essek didn’t know that he was a sure thing.
But what better way to celebrate a step forward than with innuendo and promise?