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The Therapeutic Value of Cliffhangers

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Before they left Hupperdook, Molly, Beau, and Nott cleaned out several fireworks vendors. Beau was right; they did come in surprisingly handy. At one point, a band of slavers crept around their cart, nearly getting hold of Yasha, Fjord, and Jester.  Yasha managed to cast dispel using her sword, shattering the silence spell around them, Nott had run to the slavers’ carts, unhooking the horses, Caleb had lit the firecrackers, and Beau expertly winged them under their horses, rendering the carts quite stationary.  


It had been a difficult fight, but ultimately the Mighty Nein had succeeded, Nott with a badly frostbitten ass, Molly with a new scar down the center of his breastbone, and Caleb having burned enough people that he really needed to have a lie down.  


Molly refused to leave Caleb’s side, making sure he ate and drank and spinning stories to fill the silence, some bullshit, some true.

“Molly, the guy’s already fuckin’ traumatized, he doesn’t need you to talk his ear off,” Beau snapped at one point over her shoulder as she drove.


“Fuck you, Beau,” Molly said cheerfully. “I have the most experience with being catatonic. Eventually I’ll say something so annoying that he’ll snap out of it to tell me to shut up, or leave him with a cliffhanger he can’t resist.”


Molly wasn’t entirely sure, but he thought he saw a brief glimmer of amusement in Caleb’s eyes before they went distant again. Beau grumbled and paid attention to the road.


It was, in fact, one of those cliffhangers that drew Caleb back to the world.  Molly had put Caleb in a tent with himself and Nott, the two of them taking different watches so that Caleb was never unattended.  Nott was frightfully worried, but seemed to take Molly’s reassurances that it would be okay at face value.


Molly had just returned from his watch with Fjord, Nott having gone out with Yasha, and tucked himself shivering into his bedroll next to Caleb’s.  Despite his efforts to be quiet, he saw Caleb’s eyes open in the dark.


“Sorry Mister Caleb,” Molly said softly.


Caleb didn’t say anything, but didn’t close his eyes either.


“Can’t sleep?” Molly asked, getting his boots off and bundling up in this own blankets.  “Want a story?”


Caleb turned onto his side to face Molly more fully, rather than turning away.  A yes, then.


“Okay. That was my very first time ever seeing fireworks,” Molly said.  “When I was first with the carnival, we had to leave town a bit early. Shame, it was a good gig, but Gustav pulled some shit and we wound up having to sneak away the night of the festival finale. I still wasn’t talking much, but we pulled up stakes in the dark and tiptoed out into the night. Once we were about a half mile away, I heard all this banging and blasting, saw a few flickers of light through the trees.  Loud as fuck , scared my limited wits out of me, but Bo caught me before I could bolt and explained what they were.”


Molly chuckled.


“It is entirely possible that Gustav rigged up that explosion. So I heard all the noise, but didn’t see the lights, and wondered what fun could that possibly be, until we saw them ourselves. I truly think I might retire to Hupperdook. It’s a marvelous life, Caleb, having everything be so new and lovely when you can actually remember it. Such a pity that most firsts happen when you’re too young to remember them.”


“Lucky,” came a hoarse whisper. Molly looked over at Caleb’s serious face and lit up with delight.


“I am,” Molly agreed. “The absolute luckiest.  What’s the Zemnian word for luck?”


Glück ,” Caleb said after a brief moment of mouthing the word before any sound came out. Molly beamed at him.


“And that’s the first time I’ve heard the Zemnian word for lucky!”


Molly reached out of the blankets and offered Caleb his hand.


“I’m sorry Frumpkin’s not here. Would touching help?” The familiar had been sent back to the Feywild by spell crossfire during the fight with the slavers, and while they’d gotten enough gold off those assholes, even after ensuring that all the captives they’d freed would have enough to make it back to their homes, there was no place on the Glory Run Road to buy incense.  


Caleb looked at Molly’s hand, then his face, and nodded, but didn’t move.


“It’s fine, Caleb.  Put me where you want me,” he said. Caleb slowly reached out, propping himself up on one elbow and shuffling closer to Molly. He then took Molly’s hand, pulled it closer to him, and laid his face in it.  “That’s good, that’s lovely, you’re so smart.”


Caleb brought forth a single dancing light underneath his topmost blanket, lighting their tent gently. His eyes followed the snake tattoo whose head was currently pillowed under his own, and ran his finger up it a few millimeters above Molly’s skin where it disappeared into a sleeve.


“First?” Caleb rasped.  Molly nodded.


“The red eye on the hand was hardest to hide,” Molly said. “The others were easier to cover with clothes. So I worked it in.”


Caleb nodded against Molly's palm and then tapped his own cheek.


“And that?”


“Third, after the sun, before the pyramid. We were doing a private performance in a fancy garden, and it turns out peacocks do not care for Infernal. I wrestled three to the ground and won their grudging respect.”


Caleb smiled, to Molly's great relief, a real one.


“Bullshit,” he rasped.


“Perhaps,” Molly agreed, “but the best kind.”


Caleb was silent for a moment, then, with a wry grin, pointed to himself.


“Suggestions?” he asked. Molly’s face ached with smiling, and he bit his lip.


“For you? For a tattoo?”


Caleb shrugged, and Molly thought.


“A giant life sized picture of Frumpkin across your chest,” he answered. “Position it right and you can work any hair on your chest into his fur.”


Caleb had to slap his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing out loud, eyes crinkled with mirth, and Molly was terribly proud of himself.


“Or a Von Brandt house crest, so we could be sponsored. Free Trosts every time we roll through town.  A sweet sticky candy apple on your ass, though you've no one to blame but yourself if Jester bites you in a bath house.”


Tears were gathering at the corners of Caleb's eyes, his whole body shaking with mirth. Molly's heart softened with his joy, and he let himself stray into the sincere.


“A book,” he said softly. “A complicated tale, written all over you under the bindings of clothes, only read by whatever lucky souls you choose, but fascinating and riveting every time, with new and deeper meanings after every read.”


Caleb's laughter had stopped, and Molly wasn't sure his cheeks were flushed from holding in his laughter, or from a proper blush.


“I know, I'm terribly embarrassing,* Molly apologized, in case. “Can't take me anywhere. Get some sleep. Long day tomorrow, and you owe me some stories.”


Caleb nodded, reaching up to squeeze Molly's wrist for a moment. It felt like a hug to Molly. He tugged the blankets up with one hand as best he could. Caleb's eyes were still watching his by the time Molly's finally drifted shut.