REVISED: The original article was written before Talks Machina 2019-01-15 where Taliesin clarified that Caduceus’ feeling for Caleb are platonic. This article was written on that assumption anyway. It’s been lightly revised to include that certainty and include the Talks Machina Transcript.
The two flattering exchanges between Caduceus and Caleb caught my ear as much as anyone. There’s clearly some stronger, closer relationship forming there. Maybe it will come to something else one day, but on review, I was not reading it as romantic overtures so much as two socially awkward people trying to communicate kindness, which Taliesin confirmed on Talks Machina 2019-01-15 (0:39:18). Taliesin: “I will say he doesn’t feel that way [about Caleb], though, but yeah. Yeah, he don’t- he doesn’t have a thing going on in that direction, but he’s definitely like, ‘Yeah, you’re cool.'” I really like the idea of an ace/aro Caduceus who basically doesn’t understand the concept of flirting. He just thinks you should be kind and supportive to all living things and ease their insecurities, but other people reserve that for ulterior motives.
Caduceus’ comment that Caleb smells nice (3:23:42) came directly after Jester was projecting all her insecurities & making Cad feel insecure himself before she tried to correct (3:22:56). Caduceus could see that the joke about Caleb being stinky was really bothering & hurting Caleb in the same way. So, Caduceus was partly trying to reassure Caleb that wasn’t the case and passive-aggressively put an end to the joke with the others. And doing that with his disarmingly frank honesty and supportive personality. Taliesin said on Talks, “I think that it’s more the teasing that he smells bad.” (0:38:03)
Caduceus is flattering to plants and animals he wants to reassure and persuade to be kind to them in exactly the same tone. And Caleb was irritated enough to be withholding magic from them until they apologized (3:23:46), so there’s a similar motive here.
Also, this is Taliesin. He tried to flatter sentient grass with Percy and it came off as flirting (CRC1 Ep060 2:21:56). He’s expressed before (on Gather Your Party, I think) that he sees flirting as a way of making people feel good about themselves without necessarily expecting it to be reciprocated.
Caleb offering Caduceus the book I’ve a harder time reading, as did Caduceus. He’s clearly stumbling his way through trying to build a positive relationship of some kind. Caleb’s been socially isolating himself for such a long time that any attempt to peak out of his shell is a bit startling. Caleb saw Caduceus being very kind to him when his best friend was being an asshole, and he had something he could offer in return. He was trying to practice returning kindness that wasn’t so transactional, which he is very, very rusty at and unsure about.
Caleb was also unsure what value it would have to Caduceus. Caduceus is as backwoods as you can get, and clearly not that bright. Caleb was probably unsure if books were something that would ever interest him or be of any use to him. Remember that Molly was barely literate, so I can see why he wouldn’t want to make assumptions. Also, this is Caleb making himself even more vulnerable by trying to share his dearest passion with someone else he feared would reject it.
There’s clearly some form of attraction there from both of them, but let’s look at a multi-layered attraction model view of it. It could be romantic or sexual from Caleb, but those seem to be tied up in a lot of old baggage. Taliesin explicitly said Caduceus isn’t sexually or romantically attracted to Caleb (0:39:18), and Caduceus has frankly never expressed having either attraction at all.
We’re clearly seeing emotional attraction, the desire to get to know someone better as a result of their personality. Both Caleb & Caduceus have been isolated and struggle expressing this in general. Caleb by withdrawing and not getting close, Caduceus by being overly friendly.
Caleb seems to have been testing intellectual attraction by offering the book. Caduceus is wise in ways Caleb is not; Caleb is smart in ways Caduceus is not. They complement each other. Intellectual attraction is the desire to explore how someone thinks and know them that way.
Caduceus obviously shows high sensual attraction to everyone. The desire to tactilely interact with people in a non-sexual way like hugging and cuddling (frankly, this is also just Taliesin). Caleb shies away from a lot of physical contact with people.
The UNC-Chapel Hill LGBT Center has a great article on multilayered attraction called “Asexuality, Attraction, and Romantic Orientation.” It’s something developed in ace/aro discourse that applies to everyone and everyone should be aware of to better understand themselves and others. People can be attracted to certain genders more than others in any of these ways, and they might not line up. Gay ace and aro people exist and are just as valid, even if there’s strict limits on the sort of relationship or physicality they want.
In examining character interrelationships, I think it’s important to examine the context they’ve already given for their preferences. I’ve written an analysis of Caduceus already. He not only expressed no interest (or experience) in sex, he’s tried to firmly avoid the subject every time it comes up and seems completely mystified that anyone thinks he should engage that way. Even in this conversation with Jester, he’s lost for how to respond when she asks, “So, like, if you think something dirty, [Melora] knows?” (3:22:56)
Given that he’s been clear, be it celibacy or asexuality, it makes me extremely uncomfortable when other people decide he should want sex (even as a joke) because that’s a microaggression against ace and celibate people that happens CONSTANTLY. It’s rape culture and gross.
Caduceus has also not particularly expressed any romantic attraction to anyone past or present, and he doesn’t feel that way for Caleb. He was perfectly content on his own. He seems to just want friends. He hasn’t expressed being against the idea, so this is uncertain.
Caleb, I don’t have a clear read on, but he shows many signs of feeling too damaged for relationships at the moment. He has his hands full with friendships he’s still scared of. It’s possible he doesn’t know what he’s feeling at this point.
So, this is not to step on anyone’s ship, but there are other equally interesting motivations & desires that could be at play here, which frankly line up with more evidence, & which have MUCH less representation. It’d be nice to not see those possibilities drowned out, especially given that we have a canonical answer.
The character growth here is significant, whatever the subtext. Caduceus reached out to comfort Caleb when everyone else was giving him a hard time. Caleb reached out as the very first person to offer Caduceus help on the quest he left home for. No one else has cared.
Some stronger bond was formed here between them. Some greater trust. Caduceus is getting through like Beau has, and it’s built on a base of greater comfort, healing, and respect for goals. However it plays out will be fascinating.
3:38:57 Caleb: “I’m glad you are traveling with us.”
Caduceus: “Me too, I’m… I’ve never felt so helpful.”
It’s brief, but Caleb actually warmly smiles.
1. CR C2 Ep47 Jester asks what Melora knows, Caleb smells nice: 3:22:50 to 3:24:16
2. CR C2 Ep47 Caleb gives Caduceus to book: 3:38:12 to 3:39:09
3. TM 2019-01-15 How Caleb smells to Caduceus and attraction: 0:38:09 to 0:39:57
1. CR C2 Ep47 Jester asks what Melora knows, Caleb smells nice
3:22:50 Jester to Caduceus: “Do you think the Wildmother can hear your thoughts?”
Caduceus: “Well, I know the Wildmother can- knows everything.”
3:22:56 Jester: “So, like, if you think something dirty, she knows?”
Caduceus looks confused.
Jester: “What if, like, you’re thinking like, ‘Oh mom, I’ve really got to poop?'”
Caduceus: “That’s- I don’t- I mean… Sure?”
Jester: “What if you’re thinking, ‘Oh man, you know, I think I smell a little bit today,”
Caduceus: “I’ve never really thought that.”
Jester: “but what-I’ve got a booger in my nose…”
Caduceus, more anxiously: “Now I’m thinking about that. Oh man, I’ve got a booger in my nose.” He curls in to one side rubbing the side of his nose.”
Jester: “What if you think like, ‘Ah, does my breath smell bad?’ Do you think she thinks-“
Caduceus, alarmed: “No, does it?”
Jester: “Do you think- No, your breath smells fine, but I’m just won-“
Caduceus: “You’re sure?”
Jester: “No, you smell pretty good.”
Caduceus: “Oh, that’s nice.” He rubs the bridge of his nose again. “Ah, think about this.”
3:23:31 Nott: “Speaking of stinky, Caleb, what’d we get? What’s our stuff?”
3:23:37 Caleb, incredulous and perplexed: “I have been in the ocean for days, and days, and days, and days.”
Travis: “He’s the most sterile he’s ever been.”
3:23:42 Caduceus: “I think he smells great.”
Jester, excitedly: “What did we get; what did we get; what did we get!”
3:23:46 Caleb: “Well, first I want you to admit that I have been washed from top to bottom for a month.”
3:23:51 Caduceus, firmly: “I think you smell fantastic.”
Jester: “Yeah, if anything you smell briny now.”
Caleb, pointedly to Caduceus: “Well you’re- You are a nice fellow.”
3:23:57 Caduceus: “Thank you. But no, really, I do actually think you smell very nice.”
3:24:03 Caleb, satisfied: “You see?”
Jester: “Yeah. I didn’t say you were stinky. Nott said you were stinky, Caleb. I think you smell like salt and fresh air.”
Nott: “Like a douche.”
Caleb: “Revved up.”
2. CR C2 Ep47 Caleb gives Caduceus to book
3:38:12 Taliesin: “I’m going to gather some of my stuff and go to the crow’s nest.”
Taliesin: “Big everybody good-“
Caleb: “Oh, uh…”
Caleb: “You’re going up?”
3:38:21 Caleb: “Do you like a good book?”
3:38:23 Caduceus: “I- I’m not going to be reading up there, but…”
3:38:25 Caleb: “I don’t mean for tonight, in general.”
3:38:27 Caduceus: “I- I’ll admit I’m not the best reader, but… I’ve read a couple books.”
3:38:33 Caleb: “But you have? Um… One of the books that we found in that… ball-o-fun is about the corruption of plants.”
3:38:45 Caduceus: “I would be curious.”
3:38:47 Caleb: “I thought you might be.”
3:38:49 Caduceus: “I’ll… If you could leave it in my- my quarters, that would be most agreeable.”
3:38:54 Caleb: “Surely.”
3:38:56 Caduceus: “Thank you.”
3:38:57 Caleb: “Mmhm. I’m glad you are traveling with us.”
3:39:00 Caduceus: “Me too. I’m uh… I’ve uh… never felt so helpful.” He gives a half bow.
3. TM 2019-01-15 How Caleb smells to Caduceus and attraction
0:38:09 Brian: “[@asahi_azumane] Caduceus has mentioned in a couple of episodes that he likes how Caleb smells, is this just to refute the teasing from the others or does he find something comforting in Caleb’s smell like Nila […] with her smell bag?”
0:38:36 Taliesin: “I’ll actually, I’ve often just assumed that Caleb smells a little bit like peat moss.”
Brian: “Oh, really?”
Taliesin: “Or just peaty and dirty…”
Travis: “Oh! Not manure, or fertilizer but…”
Taliesin: “Not manure…”
Brian: “No no, Pete Moss, the tennis player.”
Taliesin: “but like peat moss, earthy. Just from, from… Yeah, Pete Moss.”
Travis: “Yean he has the soil in his hands, and…”
0:38:03 Taliesin: “Yeah, well, ’cause he’s got a pocket full of weird things that he uses and they’re all kind of like interest- I don’t- I think that it’s more the teasing that he smells bad, I don’t think he actually does.”
Travis: “It’s not a sandalwood fragrance?”
0:39:03 Taliesin: “I wish. That would be amazing! But, like, I actually think it’s legitimately from a, ‘No, I think he smells pretty good. I dunno.'”
Travis: “Yeah, earthy fellow. Alright.”
Dani: “I appreciate Liam hitting his breaking point with that last episode, and be like, ‘You HAVE to admit that I smell fine now!'”
0:39:18 Taliesin: “Yeah, no and, like, I think Clay is always… And it’s not like a sexy thing, like, ‘Woo, hey!’ But like, you know, ‘No, you smell great.'”
Travis: “You can compliment I fellow on his…”
0:39:27 Taliesin, firmly: “I will say he doesn’t feel that way, though, but yeah. Yeah, he don’t- he doesn’t have a thing going on in that direction, but he’s definitely like, ‘Yeah, you’re cool.'”
Travis: “Try telling Tumblr that.”
Taliesin: “Tumblr is welcome to their own opinion, and I’m not going to disagree with them.”
Travis: “Boy, I tell you.”
Taliesin: “I am not going to stop anybody from having a good time with their…”
Dani: “Everyone can ship whatever they want to ship.”
Taliesin: “Yep. Nope.”
Brian: “Except female presenting nipples.”
Dani: “Yep. No, Tumblr has a really bad problem…”
Travis: “Or lithium batteries. Most couriers have a problem with.”
Brian: “They cracked down on that.”
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