I want to give some possible perspective on Essek and Caleb’s relationship as it stands in CR C2 Ep140 before the grand finale. Whatever happens with them romantically, it’s going to come from a specific place that needs understanding.
Essek said he hasn’t really had friends before. While we have no confirmation, the makes me suspect he’s also not been in a romantic relationship before. Wouldn’t surprise me if he was just so focused on ambition and research it was just a distraction he never cared about. He comes from a culture where the romantic relationships of leaders may be expected to last multiple lifetimes. That’s a lot of pressure!
Caleb’s only relationships were with Astrid and Eadwulf. Trent cultivated these relationships to help control them. Their love for each other was and is very real, they would still risk it all for each other, but it’s hopelessly tangled up in that abuse. That’s all Caleb has to measure romantic relationships against.
Essek and Caleb have known each other only five months total. Their relationship started because Essek deliberately got close to them to manipulate them into not seeing that he’d stolen the beacon. He was working with the Cerberus Assembly, the source of Caleb’s trauma. And Caleb also got close to Essek in part to get intelligence and restricted magic from him using the spycraft Trent taught him. While their attraction and feelings for each other genuinely grew in that time, the entire first 3 months are caught up in that subterfuge. Liam and Matt have said since then they’re both still shaping the relationship in the moment by how to get what they need from the other then.
When Essek confessed, Caleb felt some degree of personal betrayal, but more than that he recognized exactly who Essek is and what his game is because Caleb recognized himself. Caleb knows how much constant work on himself he had to do with The Mighty Nein to get from where he was when he was like Essek, to where he is today. And part of that was getting away from people like Essek, Astrid, and Eadwulf who were mired in that toxicity. He thinks Essek is as redeemable as he is (which he’s still finding out) but has every capacity to suck Caleb back into that toxicity, especially if he doesn’t fully cut himself off from it, which he hasn’t totally.
Since Essek’s confession two months ago and the peace negotiations after that, Essek and Caleb have seen each other on three days. There were 3 sending spells through Jester. They met Essek again only at the outpost when they told him what was going on with The Tomb Takers. They didn’t see him again until they recruited him to join them in the final fight against the Tomb Takers, and that was just two days ago.
It’s pretty clear Caleb’s feelings have been all over the map. He can only trust Essek as far as he trusts himself, and that’s not a lot, even after everything that’s happened. But he also sees in the last two days the tremendous growth Essek’s shown when around the Nein. Get Essek out of the toxic environments that shaped him and he’s a very different person. I think Essek is only just realizing that, too, because he was never out before even briefly.
Caleb also can’t deny his attraction to Essek and how much he cares and wants to see him recover and thrive. He’s terrified those feelings will lead him back into darkness and bad decisions, but no justification against them in the world will stop them.
In Liam’s recent Twitter post about Caleb’s sexuality he said, “His focus has been survival, recovery, and rebuilding. And the greatest help toward that end has always been the Mighty Nein as friends and family.” He’s worried about Essek pulling him back, but he also wants to pull Essek forward into having all of those with him. He’s torn between hope and fear. I think it’s all leaning towards hope, but he wouldn’t be wrong to keep hesitating for now.
A strong relationship is built on trust and people in a position to elevate each other’s better self rather than release their inner demons. As of right now Caleb is worried neither of them is stable enough. They could easily get there. I do believe they’re trending towards that kind of healing, but it may take far more time and healing than this chapter of their lives.
There’s also the matter that if their relationship is known about, and exactly who they are and who they’re connected to is known, people in both their countries will assume they’re spying on the other and exchanging state secrets. Suspicion has already fallen on Essek in the Dynasty that he’s the traitor BECAUSE of his close friendship with the Mighty Nein (right answer, wrong solution). Trent already wants to destroy Caleb for being the only Volstrucker to get away. He has all the “evidence” he needs to pin the blame on Caleb as accepting the stolen Beacon in the Empire. They’re a danger to each other even if their relationship was perfect. That also terrifies both of them and keeps them apart.
It’s also worth pointing out that Caleb and Essek’s relationship cannot be understood through any lens except romantic longing. Wherever it ends up, it is unquestionably queer. They’re star-crossed lovers for many reasons (refreshingly none of those reasons being their sexualities). I cannot say what Thursday will bring for them, but it will be an honest story about two men caught in a conflict that consumed them from a young age and stole their lives through using high achievement to sculpt them into weapons of the system. They are so alike, and they are drawn to each other through that, but also drawn away from each other because of it.
My personal hope is that they one day find peace together somewhere far out of reach of either of their nations. Maybe spend the rest of their lives as private researchers in Aeor. To just live with each other without definition to the relationship until slowly the walls fall away with healing and new growth. But if they never get there, that’s still a realistic queer story worth telling.
3:28:03 Liam: “Nope, I catch him by the forearm, last one out, and say:”
Caleb: “Just breathe.”
Caleb: “Just… breathe that fresh air,”
Liam: “mindful of the people about.”
Caleb: “Time. Time. Not weeks, not years. It takes time.”CR C2 Ep124