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Smoke and Mirrors

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“Caleb, come on,” Nott said, tugging at the hem of his coat. “Beau left already.”

Caleb blinked and looked away from the grimy shop window and down at the goblin. “Ah,” he breathed, “perhaps we should not keep Beauregard waiting.”

They met Beau outside the tavern, where she leaned, arms crossed and shoulders pulled up to her chin. As they approached she looked up and flashed the smallest smile before her mouth smoothed out again.

“Thought I lost you losers,” she muttered.

“Nein,” Caleb scoffed. “You would be lost without us.”

Beau just aimed a half-hearted punch at his shoulder and opened the door to the tavern. The inside was pleasantly smokey, a purple haze obscured the ceiling, and a number of people had colorful candles lit on tables in front of them. Beau headed towards the back of the tavern where Keg had already secured a table. She kicked the bench out across from her, making the legs scratch across the floor.

A number of people turned to look before going about their business.

“Drinks are on their way,” she grunted, taking a drag from her cigarette.

“Is it better than what Nott’s got in her flask?” Beau asked, sitting across from Keg. Caleb took a seat with his back to the wall, facing the door. Nott climbed up beside Beau, flask already in her hand.

“I resent that,” Nott said. “It may not be the best, but it never runs out. So it’s better.”

A tall woman with fair skin and dark eyes dropped a handful of mugs on the table. “What else can I get you folks? A meal? A smoke? A candle?”

“Ah, what are the candles, er, for?” Caleb asked.

The woman winked. “Depends on the candle, love.”

“I think he means in general,” Beau said, leaning forward on one elbow, drink raised to her lips as she smiled at the woman.

“Well, they’re infused,” she said slowly. “With certain herbs and magics.”

“They’re drugs!” Nott cried, pointing a bony finger at her.

She smiled. “I suppose you could call them that. We just call it entertainment.”

“I will take one,” Caleb said, rummaging in his pocket for his coin.

She raised a hand, and he froze, one hand in his pocket and the other held open his coat. She leaned down and looked him in the, just for a moment before he flicked his gaze to her cheek.

“I will bring you one. For anyone else?”

“What have you got to smoke?” Keg asked.

After she took their orders she disappeared behind the bar. She came back and gave Keg an assortment of smokes, Beau a golden drink in a tall glass flute, and Nott a platter of cooked meats. The group had gotten bread and cheese to share.

“Anything else for you?”

“A few rooms,” Caleb added.

“How many?”

“I…should like my own tonight,” he murmured, rolling the candle between his palms.

“Girls’ night!” Nott exclaimed, slamming her flask on the table, causing another wave of heads to turn in their direction.

They requested two rooms and continued with their simple dinner; Keg chainsmoked whatever selection was on the platter and Beau sipped at the golden liquid. Her words began to slur halfway through, and her eyes seemed to flash a brighter blue in the light.

“I, I might need my own room tonight,” Beau slurred. “I’ve got a, a, a funny feeling this drink might be magic too.”

“What kind of feeling?” Nott asked.

“The adult kind,” she said with a snicker, waving the glass. Caleb caught her hand before she dumped the rest in his lap.

“Oh, yeah, Nott and I can crash,” Keg said. “But I need some fucking sleep, so no talking about tongues, or eating babies, or anything weird.”

“No promises, just booze.” She tipped her flask into her mouth and gargled for a moment before swallowing. “Ahhh.”

“I’m going to let that go ‘cause I only said weird, not disgusting,” Keg said as she plucked the flask from Nott’s fist and took a swig.

Eventually Beau approached the woman at the bar and disappeared upstairs to her own room. Keg and Nott stumbled upstairs a while later, and Caleb sat in the haze of the tavern for a while longer.

As the smoke began to clear and the tavern started to empty he slipped up to his room on the third floor, a corner room with windows on two sides, with a view of the river from one side.

Caleb stripped off his coat and books, then shucked his shoes and scarf. He crawled onto the bed and set the candle on his windowsill, then lit it with a touch of his fingertip. The candle itself was white, encased in glass, but the burning wick glowed purple. He blinked and breathed deeply as the smoke curled upwards, and series of scents emanated from the candle.

The faint scent of damp earth. The sharp tang of metal. A floral perfume. Smoke that smelled more like a bonfire than a candle. Warm, rich liquor.

Caleb curled up on the bed. He faced the candle, bright against the darkness of the window and breathed in the smoke, which had turned lavender in the moonlight. The moon made it’s way across the sky, one hour passed, a second hour, and the candle burned out.

He felt light as he breathed in the last of the smoke, as if he were swimming through the air. He closed his eyes.

.

.

“Wake up, darling, there’s time to sleep later.”

Caleb jerked as he felt a warm hand on his shoulder. He looked up, into the smirking face of Mollymauk.

“Liebling,” Caleb gasped, arms coming up to wrap around Molly’s neck. “What, how are you..?”

“You’ve been ingesting illicit substances without me,” Molly tutted, hands stroking up and down Caleb’s spine. Caleb simply leaned his head against Molly’s chest, curled into his side on the bed.

“How is the other side?” Caleb asked after a long silence.

“You know me. I can start a party anywhere,” Molly replied with a grin. “How are you holding up, love?” he asked, hands coming up to cup Caleb’s chin.

Caleb choked on a sob and clutched at Molly’s jacket, fingers tight around the familiar material, the comforting texture of the embroidery pressed against his palms.

Molly let him cry, and he gently brushed away Caleb’s tears with his thumbs. Caleb looked up when he’d cried himself out, to Molly, with silent tears running down his cheeks. Caleb rubbed at roughly at his cheeks before he reached up to wipe away Molly’s.

“I miss you,” Caleb murmured. “I miss you so damn much I can’t stand it sometimes.”

“You know, you have my amulet,” Molly replied, tapping the heart next to Caleb’s charm. “So it’s like I’m always with you.”

“It’s not the same,” Caleb replied, shaking his head. “I cannot touch you, I cannot be with you. I had just accustomed myself to your presence, and now you’re gone.”

Molly leaned forward and pressed his forehead to Caleb’s. “Darling, I had just accustomed myself to my own presence. You were everything I wasn’t, and it drew me in. You were studied, and practical, and shuttered. I was colorful, and wild, and flamboyant.”

“You were a peacock,” Caleb muttered.

“But I was your peacock, Mister Caleb,” Molly teased.

“You deserved better than me.”

“Well, here’s where we disagree, love. I could never deserve you.”

“Mollymauk Tealeaf,” Caleb said, “in the time that I have known you, it is inarguable that you have made me a better man. However, I am still not a good one.”

“I may not have known you very long, Caleb Widogast, but I know you are one of the best men I have ever met.”

Molly stared at him, red eyes bright against the haze that surrounded them. Caleb stared back, eyes solemn and damp.

“You threw away your life for me.”

“Excuse you, I sacrificed my life for all of yours. I was on borrowed time anyway. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

“I wouldn’t let you,” Caleb said immediately.

“You couldn’t stop me.”

“I would try.”

“I know.”

They were silent for a long time; Caleb played with the hem of Molly’s coat, tracing the patterns with his fingers as Molly rubbed his thumbs against Caleb’s knees.

Molly cleared his throat. “Tell Beau that I say ‘fuck you.’ And make sure Keg that I don’t blame her. It was a shitty situation.”

“And Nott?”

Molly was quiet for a moment. “Tell her…tell her that she’s my favorite dance partner.”

“Alright.”

“And the others?” Caleb asked.

“Tell them I loved them. And tell Yasha not to look for me, I know she’ll try.”

Caleb gripped Molly’s hand as the haze around them began to dissipate. “Liebling, I don’t want you to go.”

Molly smiled and squeezed back. “My love, we’ll see each other again. I will be waiting impatiently for you on the other side.”

“Impatiently, huh? Sounds like you.” Caleb replied, a small smile softened his face.

“Try and have some fun without me. I don’t want to see any of you for another ten years at least. I want good stories when you all join me, so take your time.”

“I will try my best to make sure that happens,” Caleb promised, eyes growing damp. “Don’t have too much fun without us.”

“Without my family?”

Caleb felt a swell in his chest, a warm tingling as he could feel two sets of hands now, both his own, one in his dream and one in the real world.

“Ja. Your family loves you, Mollymauk Tealeaf.”

.

.

Caleb woke to a knock on his door. The sun was nearly overhead outside the window and the smoke had completely faded from the air. He shook his head and reached for his books, but paused when a flash of purple caught his eye.

Inside the cover of his favorite book was a strip of fabric, purple and maroon with gold embroidery, the same piece he had been fascinated with in his dream. He closed the cover and tucked it into his holster.