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Reading Between The Lines

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The first time Caleb noticed it was two months ago.

Jester wanted to throw a party because she and Fjord finally got their new apartment. There were a few things to settle, so the group split in two: Jester, Beau, Yasha and Nott stayed at home to decorate and prepare it for the night, while Fjord, Caleb and Molly went to the supermarket to buy some food and drinks.

That's why Caleb was now looking at a bag of chips held in his right hand, trying to understand if they contained something Nott was allergic to.

The fact that the description of the ingredients was written in a small font wasn't helping at all.

Caleb squinted his eyes more, trying to read it, but it was impossible for him without his glasses.

He sighed, his shoulders slumped a bit, but in that exact moment a familiar voice caught his attention and he looked up.

Molly was passing by, pushing the cart and humming along to a song the radio was playing, the long, green skirt he was wearing waving along with his sinuous movements. When he saw Caleb, he sprinted towards him as he said “Hey Caleb! I thought I'd lost you in the magazines aisle, but apparently I was wrong”.

He chuckled and came to a stop next to the wizard, eyeing the bag of chips curiously, his tail swaying lazily behind him.

Caleb’s mouth was pressed into a thin line and his brows were furrowed. “I don't like that kind of reading. You should know that.” he said in a flat tone, shooting Molly an annoyed glance.

“Yeah, yeah, as you say.” Molly smiled widely, resisting the urge to roll his eyes at the ginger’s grumpiness. “You taking it?” he asked then as he nodded at the bag Caleb was still holding.

Caleb blinked like he suddenly remembered what he had been doing before the lavender tiefling appeared, and looked at it again inquisitively. “Actually, I was trying to see if they contain something Nott can't eat.” he explained as he shook the bag.

Nott had a quite particular stomach for being a goblin, and Caleb wanted to avoid her being sick again, like last time she ate a pineapple cake that Jester had baked for her and Caleb.

“Oh, okay.” Molly shrugged and leaned against the cart, arms crossed on the handle as he kept staring at Caleb with his red, void hues.

“The thing is, I don't have my glasses with me so I can't read properly.” Caleb said in a sigh, before handing it to Molly. “Could you?”

The lavender tiefling just stared at him, a little confused, yet Caleb could swear he saw a glimpse of something else flashing in his eyes, but then Molly laughed and took the bag from the ginger.

“Sure.” he mumbled before lowering his gaze to the bag and worrying his bottom lip between his sharp teeth.

A long silence lingered between them.

Caleb was still looking at him, a strange feeling started creeping up inside him as the minutes passed.

What the fuck was Molly doing?

“It- it has nothing strange, so I think- I think it's okay.” said Molly after a long time, his voice a bit tense and his face twisted in a grimace, while he put it in the cart among beers and bread for sandwiches. Then he shot Caleb a smile, bright as ever, like nothing happened.

“Huh.” was the only response from Caleb, who was studying the other very carefully, a brow arched and arms now crossed over his chest, like he was trying to understand if he was bullshitting him or not.

“C’mon, c’mon. Let's not make Fjord wait.” the lavender tiefling said hurrying him up with an energetic pat on the arm, before turning the cart around and starting to walk away, the jewelry on his horns jingling as he slowly shook his head to the rhythm of the music.

The frown on Caleb's forehead only deepened and he stayed there a bit longer, wondering what was going on.

 

Caleb had known Molly for a while now, half a year more or less. He met him through Beau since he was Yasha’s best friend, and Beau and Yasha were together. They didn't hang out a lot, though, because Molly was usually with Yasha or Fjord.

Molly always made him curious somehow, piqued his interest, but Caleb never started any conversations with him if not necessary, he didn’t know how to handle him because the tiefling was a bit of a character, with all his colorful clothes, his flourish, his ostentatious tattoos, his outgoing behavior, all things Caleb wasn't, to be fair. Sometimes he was too loud for the wizard's likings, yet he was kind, especially towards Nott and that was a point in his favor.

Still, Caleb couldn't understand why he was so obsessed with him, now. He wanted to know what he was hiding, because Caleb was sure Molly was hiding something from him and the others.

From that episode of the supermarket, in fact, Caleb had kept an eye on the lavender tiefling, paying attention to every little detail, ready to expose him at any moment.

One time Caleb and Nott went to Beau’s and Yasha and Molly were there, too. While they were chatting amiably on the couch sipping some tea, Yasha’s phone started to ring, vibrating on the small table next to where Molly was sitting. As soon as he heard it, he picked it and stared at the screen.

“It's- it's-” he tried to say before Yasha barely shook her head and gave him an easy smile as she took the phone from his hands.

She answered the call, placing a hand on the tiefling’s thigh as a thank you before getting up and going to her bedroom to talk with the person on the other side of the line.

Caleb watched that brief scene with narrowed eyes, sipping slowly from his cup as Nott was talking to him about what she had discovered on internet that day, something like the properties of lemons.

 

Some time later, Yasha and Jester were cooking for the group in Jester and Fjord’s kitchen, and Caleb was helping them by peeling potatoes in a corner of the table.

Suddenly, a jingling sound caught the wizard’s attention, then a scent of incense and spring flooded the room. Caleb lifted his head to see a swirling of sky-blue fabric approaching Jester.

“Hey darling, how is going on here?” Molly asked in his cheerful tone, eyes wandering up and down the counter where Jester was cutting some vegetables.

“We are making pasta, Molly. Yasha told me she knew a good, healthy recipe and I want to try it.” she explained, each word accentuated by a sharp noise of carrots, broccoli and zucchini being sliced up.

“Oh, I see.” Molly nodded, tilting his head to the side while following her friend’s movements with his gaze. “I trust Yasha, so I'm not worried.” he spoke further as he shrugged a shoulder, making the strap of his dress fall, thing that Caleb silently noted, still looking at him behind the ginger curtain of his hair, head down on the potatoes before him. “But if the suggestion had come from you-” he left the allusive sentence hanging, biting back a smirk.

Jester nudged him with her hip shooting him a murderous look, but the lavender tiefling just sniggered amusedly at her reaction, gripping at the counter for balance.

“Make yourself useful and choose a type of pasta that cooks quickly, Tealeaf.” Jester ordered, making a face when she said his surname, and that got another high-pitched snigger from him.

“Yes, my dear.” he made an half bow smiling widely, before scooting away from her and opening a shutter of the further cabinet on the right.

Gold painted claws clattering on wood, he started looking through the boxes. But, as seconds passed, the clattering slowed more and more before coming to a stop and his joyous behaviour vanished.

Caleb could see doubt washing over Molly's face, and that strange, unsettling feeling clenched his guts again.

There was definitely something going on with that lavender tiefling.

As if Yasha took pity on his friend, she reached him and picked a box from the cabinet in his place. She then returned to her position, but only after having gently squeezed Molly's naked shoulder, in an attempt to… comfort him?

A fond smile blossomed on Molly's face, then he shook his head. And his usual sparkle was back.

The wizard witnessed that scene in utter confusion. His mind was starting to hurt from how hard he was thinking about what just happened, he couldn't shake the episode at the supermarket off his memory, and now this.

He didn't even notice that his hands had stopped from peeling, and he almost dropped the knife on the table.

Suddenly, the tiefling turned and their eyes met for a moment, Molly's went wide and his cheeks looked darker under the yellow light of the kitchen.

“I’ve heard Fjord calling me, I should see what he wants.” he said in a rush, before leaving a light peck on one of Jester's horns, cutting off any possible question. “Later!” he then yelled swaying away, his tail whipping the air.

Caleb released the breath he didn't know he had been holding.

Nothing was making sense for him anymore.

Chapter Text

Other episodes like those happened in the meantime, and Caleb was eager to see how further that situation would have gone.

Even if he tried so hard to not think about it while he was buttoning up his light grey, slim shirt standing before the mirror, the thought of seeing the lavender tiefling later that night made it impossible.

He chewed his bottom lip as he did the last button, but he quickly felt like suffocating that way, so he unbuttoned it and let out a ragged sigh. Then he reached to grab the pair of black, skinny jeans that laid on his bed behind him.

“I see you’ve taken Jester’s suggestion to heart.” Nott’s head popped out from the door, yellow, glowing eyes peeking in the room curiously.

“Yeah, well-” he shrugged as he put on the pants, wincing a bit because his friend found out that he was actually following Jester’s lead in the fashion area.

He had never been too interested in how he looked, to be fair he didn't care about it at all, there was no need to. He always wore what he liked: grey, brown, black and orange in all their shades were his favorite colors, so his wardrobe looked like a forest in autumn, and his clothes were comfy and practical, qualities that he had got used to during a certain period of his life. However, Jester had been so sweet and genuine when she had talked with him about what to wear to emphasize his body and features, that Caleb had actually listened to her.

For now, anyway, he would have followed her suggestions about wearing more fitting clothes because “Caleb, you’ve got a hot body! Show it! You're thin but pretty fine.”. He had been feeling more comfortable in his own body after ages and Jester’s help boosted his self-confidence up, if only a bit.

“I'm just glad you're treating yourself again.” the little goblin smiled at him, a small, sweet smile that was barely there, but Caleb knew all the affection behind that gesture and returned it.

“Danke, Schatz.” his voice was a low whisper, filled with warmth.

Nott nodded, then trotted away.

The wizard shook his head and looked himself in the mirror once again.

They were gonna meet with the others in a nightclub, even if he didn't like those kind of places, too crowded for a person who suffered from social anxiety like him. He was getting better, though, thanks to his meds and his group of friends.

Friends. That word still made his throat clench up irritatingly. He didn't deserve their attention, deep inside him he knew that was the truth, yet Nott was there to remind him that it was not, that it was his mental illness that tricked him into having those thoughts.

He was so lucky to have her by his side.

Caleb breathed out slowly, then took his wallet and keys, turned off the light and went in the hallway.

“C’mon Schatz!” he said loud enough for Nott to hear, before crouching down and scratching Frumpkin behinds its ears. “I'm sorry, I promise we won't stay out for too long.” he patted the cat’s head, smiling at his meowing, then got up and opened the main door.

He was about to call Nott again when his little friend came into view and walked past him.

They left their flat, fastening the door, then met with Beau to reach the nightclub together, the Queer Trove.

Half an hour later, Caleb, Nott and Beau were standing outside the entrance, scanning the area as they looked for their friends.

All of the sudden, Caleb saw a lithe figure approaching, heels ticking on the concrete, followed by a ringing laughter.

“Hello, my dears!” Molly said walking towards them with his typical flourish, maybe a little more wavering than the usual, shooting a wide smile in their direction.

Beau just rolled her eyes emitting a disgusted noise, while Nott greeted him more joyously than her, though the wizard wasn't hearing any of that at the moment, somewhat too struck by Molly's attire.

The lavender tiefling in front of him was wearing scarlet, high-waisted shorts that left nothing to the imagination, a pair of velvet, black, 7 inches boots that ran up to half his thighs, a black crop top with long, puffed sleeves made of chiffon and big magenta roses all over the bowknot that hung from around his neck, rainbow fishnet tights and various golden jewels, even on his tail.

It took some good seconds for Caleb to realize that Molly was looking at him, almost expectantly.

“Aren't you cold?” Caleb muttered absently, still scrutinizing him with his gaze, as his right hand went to grab his own arm in reflex.

That question must have startled the tiefling because he looked puzzled, shrinking back in his tracks. “What?” Molly's face wrinkled in a confused expression and Caleb felt stupid immediately, darting his eyes away.

Any other response was cut off by Jester who greeted each new arrived with a squeezy hug. Then she stopped before the wizard, grabbed his hands and literally cried out jumping on her feet at the sight of his new look.

“You look so cool!” she said with a big smile on her face and a light shade of pink spread across Caleb’s stubbled cheeks.

“Danke, Jester.” he uttered in a breath, scratching the back of his neck, now heated. He wasn’t used to compliments.

“Are we gonna get in or not?” Nott asked twisting her clawed hands, her eyes bouncing between the group of friends and the door.

“You can't wait, can you?” Molly laughed amusedly, leaning arms crossed against the brick wall. “But that's fair, little one. Tonight I wanna drink and think about nothing.” he emphasized those words gesturing with his ringed hands as he stood up.

“You've been drinking since we got here, Molly.” Jester reminded him, side-eyeing him in her mischievous way.

“Or have you already forgotten about those two elves who offered you five shots?” Fjord’s low voice spoke as he appeared behind the blue tiefling, judging the lavender one with a heavy look.

“How dare you?” Molly looked offended by that sentence, huffing at the couple and placing a hand on his chest dramatically.

“We’re extremely sorry, guys.” the half-orc said heaving a deep sigh. “Molly was whinin’ like a baby, so he deliberately flirted aroun’ to get free drinks.” he continued to talk with the three as the individual concerned wasn’t there at all.

“I wasn’t whining!” Molly interrupted, scowling in a way that Caleb found absolutely comical.

“Yes, you were.” the two deadpanned in unison.

“But that's okay, Molly! We know you like alcohol and hot people-” Jester went on, using her best patronizing tone, as a wicked smile curved her lips.

“Next round’s on Molly, then!” Beau yelled before Molly could reply to Jester’s not-so-wrong accusation, while she put one arm around the blue tiefling’s shoulders and opened the door of the nightclub.

“Oh, fuck you, Beau!” Molly said out loud, throwing a sharp glance at her back.

The girl just raised her hand to show him her middle finger, and Molly grumbled something in Infernal in return.

The wizard fought back a smirk watching those two bickering like children.

He and Nott were the last to enter after Molly and Fjord, who was shaking his head hopeless, then music and chattering of strangers started booming into his ears, while he followed Jester and Beau’s figures in the crowd, headed to find a free table for the group.

As they were searching, they saw Yasha already sitting at a table in the farthest corner of the main hall, and Jester immediately approached her, her eyes wide and her voice shaken by surprise when she exclaimed “Hi Yasha!”.

Molly came in a hurry to hug the massive girl, who smiled softly at him and hugged him back right away.

“Hi, darling.” he whispered in a delighted tone, “Have you waited long?” he asked then worried as he took seat beside her on the bench.

“No. No, I just got here.” Yasha replied with her calm voice, looking at her friends whilst they were sitting down around the table.

“We didn’t see you outside.” Caleb pointed out, glancing at her with furrowed brows.

“Well-” she hesitated, lowering her eyes and staring intensely at her clasped hands resting on her lap.

“C’mon, friends, let's drink!” Molly promptly said to change subject, grinning excited as he slammed one hand on the plastic surface of the table.

As soon as they were given menus, Caleb started reading his together with Nott, looking for a drink that could meet his tastes.

While he was reading, though, he couldn't help but catch some words from the conversation Yasha was having with Molly, who sat in front of him.

She and Molly were whispering to each other as they usually did when they hung out with the group, but, since the last episodes which kept replaying endlessly in his mind, Caleb found them shiftier.

The wizard silently studied them both with piercing eyes, while Nott asked Fjord for suggestions about drinks.

The thing that made Caleb so suspicious was that Molly wasn't reading the menu held by Yasha, he wasn’t even looking at it. And it was strange because that was the first time they went in that nightclub.

Seriously, what the fuck?

Caleb's eyebrows drew together once again as he stared at the lavender tiefling who, as if sensing his gaze, looked up at the wizard, blinking.

He hadn't noticed before, but Molly's make-up really made his eyes stand out, framing them in glittery emerald eyeliner that blended into a dark purple, only to fade into an orange pink eyeshadow. It made the corners look as sharp as a feline's, in the dancing lights of the club.

The ginger quickly broke eye contact and chewed on his lips, feeling himself flush, guilty from being caught staring.

When everyone had chosen their drink, Jester and Beau stood up.

“So, two lagers, one glass of milk and mint for Jester, one whiskey on the rocks for Nott, one Zemnian Vacation for our hobo wizard-” Beau counted on her fingers while listing, eyeing her friends at the table, and Caleb scoffed when she addressed him. “One Long Island Iced Tea with strawberry-” she jerked her chin in the direction of Yasha who blushed slightly under her attention. “And I think that's all?”

“Oh, Molly, you didn't say anything! What do you want?” Jester asked him, gently placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Uhm-” he swallowed down thickly, a brief movement that Caleb's eyes followed anyway as if he was magnetically drawn to it. “I'll take what Yasha takes.” he then said with a casual smile on his face.

Caleb thought that his forehead would have cracked into pieces at that pace, but he couldn't stop himself from frowning at Molly's fishy behaviors.

Beau made a face before saying “Whatever.” as she shrugged her shoulders. “Let's go order, Jester.” she took the girl’s arm and turned away, aiming for the bar, and Jester followed shortly.

Caleb was still glaring at the lavender tiefling, and noticed he was squirming under his gaze.

Gut. The wizard wanted to expose him, and tonight was the right time. That show must have come to an end, he decided. Enough was enough.

Caleb patiently waited for the booze to kick in, playing with his straw and absentmindedly chatting with Nott about the new books that would have arrived soon at their bookshop. He was careful to not let the alcohol cloud his mind because he had to be lucid to act out his plan, if what he had prepared in 5 minutes could be seen as a plan.

Every once in a while, he threw a quick glance at Molly to see if the alcohol was having effect, and he noticed that there was already a flush on his cheeks, he was also laughing more frequently and mumbling incoherently at whatever Yasha was saying.

So, he waited until another two round of drinks were served, even though he stopped drinking at the second, waited until Molly excused himself and stood up to go to the bathroom. Caleb saw him stagger a bit, and that was perfect. The cocktails must have been stronger than the tiefling had thought, apparently, and the wizard grinned winningly to himself.

Taking advantage of everyone’s distraction, but especially Nott's, now busy talking heatedly with Yasha about flowers, the ginger scooted away slowly across the bench and easily got up. Fortunately, he hadn't drank too much so far, so he could stand on his own feet without swaying or feeling dizzy.

Finding Molly in the crowd was easy since he was literally a peacock and you couldn't not see him, seriously.

Thanks to the alcohol, he wasn't thinking about being pushed and nudged by sweaty people, his anxiety totally forgotten for the moment. He had a task to accomplish, and he was very determined to do so.

Suddenly, the tip of a lavender tail caught his eyes, lazily waving between two people who were dancing, before disappearing completely out of Caleb's sight. He immediately sped up towards it, not paying attention to the insults aimed at him by said people.

The wizard gripped Molly's upper arm from behind and saw him jump out of his skin, although he was a little drunk.

“We need to talk.” Caleb hissed in his right ear that looked darker now, feeling the tiefling going tense under his grip, shivering even.

That close, Caleb could smell incense and lotus flowers on his skin, together with sweat and fruity booze, and he couldn't tell why but that mix went straight to his brain and lungs, making a funny feeling twirl in his guts.

Nonetheless, he tightened his hand and started walking, dragging Molly away from the dance floor and into the hallway next to the bar that headed to the bathrooms.

The tiefling was letting him do so, maybe too shocked by the sudden events to react.

Only when he was sure they were alone and out of earreach, he pinned Molly against the wall by the shoulders, using all the force he could manage with his librarian body, noticing that the other was still strung tight as a violin, his face was such a dark shade of purple that his red eyes looked like shooting stars, and he was actually trembling.

“C-Caleb, what's goi-” Molly blabbed in a high-pitched voice as he tried to speak even if his tongue was momentarily out, but he was cut off by the wizard’s voice, who leant forward, staring at him with a penetrating gaze.

It was only in that moment that Caleb noticed that as they stood like that, Molly was slightly taller than him thanks to those boots.

"You can't read." he stated as-matter-of-factly, his eyes not leaving Molly's, peering in them almost uncomfortably as his fingers dug into the soft fabric of his crop top.

Molly literally flattened himself against the cold wall, gulping. “Excu-” he breathed out, but he must have thought better of it because then he said ”What?”, more steadily than before, though all the blood had drained out from his face all of the sudden, leaving his skin of a pale lilac.

The tiefling also looked... disappointed? And Caleb didn't know what to do with that information.

“You can't read.” the wizard slowly repeated, studying his every little movement.

It was getting hot there, surely because of Molly's heated body so close to his.

A few long seconds passed, then the tiefling bursted into a nervous laughter, borderline hysterical.

“That's- that's stupid, Caleb.” he brought a hand in front of his mouth, before adding ”How could you ever think something like that?” avoiding the ginger’s stern gaze.

“Then-” Caleb began to say, now his eyes wandering around him, searching for something until he noticed the event posters attached to the wall behind the tiefling. “Read this to me.” he said, his tone commanding, as he tore one of them and shoved it right before Molly's face.

Molly stared at it, impossibly silent, and the more he didn’t speak, the more the wizard’s resolution grew bolder.

Busted.

Caleb grinned, cocky. “C’mon, read it.” he repeated one more time as he frantically waved the sheet in front of Molly, making him flinch. “Do it!” he barked out in the end, throwing it at his chest that now was rising and falling way more rapidly.

And that was when things went south.

“I knew you were hiding something, I knew it!” the ginger spoke again, seeing that the tiefling wasn’t responding to any of his actions, he was like stunned, staring at Caleb with wide eyes and not a word coming from his mouth. “With all your smiles und Lügen-”.

Then, a rollercoaster of emotions crossed Molly's face as little tears gathered in the corners of his eyes.

A loud sob.

Oh, Scheiße.

Suddenly, Caleb felt like a moron, the alcohol seemed to vaporize from his body all at once. He was gaping at loss of words in the face of Molly having an attack, still plastered against the wall, shaking like a leaf and clearly struggling to not break down and cry.

He didn’t know what to do too, the realization of what just happened washing over him like cold water.

Snapping the poster away and feeling his throat closing up, he took a step back from Molly. "I'm sorry, I-" he started, but what could he say after the scene he had made for literally nothing?

He had really, royally fucked up, hadn't he?

Molly stayed there, eyes glued to the floor, arms hugging his own chest, while his figure kept shaking uncontrollably under the violet and blue neons of the hallway.

"Yeah.." he muttered under his breath after a stretched silence, his voice sore from the suppressed emotions. "I can't read, nor write. So what?" he asked sniffing ungracefully, then cleared his throat, without looking at Caleb. He was clearly angry, but his eyes were veiled by true embarrassment.

Caleb had never seen him so vulnerable and that made him want to-

That was the moment that something popped in the wizard’s mind.

"I could teach you." the words slipped from his lips so easily, maybe it was that small quantity of alcohol that remained in his body talking, winning over his constant anxiety, but Caleb couldn’t bring himself to care right now. He had made Molly cry, and it felt so wrong, he didn’t want to see him like that anymore.

"What?" Molly sounded bewildered, like he couldn't process Caleb's offering, and he might have had his reasons, because neither the wizard could.

"Yeah, you know.. I could teach you both." his lips moved completely disconnected from his brain at this point. There was a small functioning part of it that kept telling him to stop, but he didn't listen. "If- if you want, of course." guilt was swimming through his guts, making him sicker and sicker. "It's been so rude of me forcing you to-” he couldn't finish the sentence, too ashamed of himself right now. “I'm still learning. How not to be an Arschloch." it was a shitty excuse, he could see it from how Molly’s lips twitched in a grimace. "But I want to make up for that, so. Would you like me to?” he asked anyway, hoping that his good intentions could make that mess of a situation better.

He didn't know how to be a functional person most of the times, yet that didn't mean he could get away with all his actions. He had made mistakes in the past, mistakes for which he still had nightmares at night, and, even though what just happened with Molly was nothing compared to them, he would have tried to not turn away like he usually did, he wanted to.

Molly needed a few seconds to realize what Caleb just said, he must have been pondering on what those words implied. Then, a spark of joy shone in his glossy eyes, little drops constellating his long, dark eyelashes, making them glisten in the dim lit room, a big, warm smile bloomed on his face, baring his fangs, his cheeks now flushed of a deep purple, and-

Well, fuck.

Something fluttered in Caleb's chest. Ah, yes, his heart. And he didn't know the reason behind that sudden, burning feeling that began to quiver within it.

"Thank you, Caleb." he blinked a couple of times, tears fell down his face and another sob broke his voice.

Caleb wasn't used to seeing that vulnerable side of Molly, and it had shaken him to his very core. He never seemed to be fazed by anything, he always looked ready to take the world by storm, yet in that moment he was fragile and insecure. He almost looked small. The tiefling was usually bold, charming, flirtatious and very well aware of how attractive he was.

Attractive. Yes. He was very attractive. Caleb couldn't deny that, even if he had never really stopped to acknowledge it, and he couldn't really tell why. However, now that Molly was smiling at him, so sincere, so genuine, now that Caleb knew that those lips were curling just for him, only for him, in that hallway of a nightclub in Zadash, Caleb thought that Mollymauk was… beautiful, like he was seeing him for the first time, really seeing him.

Heat crept up the wizard’s face and suddenly breathing was hard. An annoying thumping started to hammer in his chest and he clenched his right hand painfully.

“But- keep it quiet.” Molly spoke again before Caleb’s mind could wrap around what was going on inside him. “I don't want the others to know. Only Yasha knows. And now you.” he uttered, his voice barely there, while he wiped the tears away with the back of his left hand, his makeup now all smeared down his face. “Please, just- keep it to yourself. Keep it quiet.” he asked in a whisper that echoed in the empty hallway. “Not even Nott can know.”

“Ja. Okay, Mollymauk.” he spoke in a rush, avoiding to meet his gaze, it suddenly became too much to handle.

“Promise.”.

Caleb looked up at him again, at his wide, starry hues, at those begging, puffy orbs even redder than normal after having cried. He looked up at him, and all he could do was nod, his voice stuck in his throat, not wanting to get out.

A faint, trembling smile slowly formed on the tiefling’s lips, though he stayed rooted where he was, his arms tight around himself, his long legs looked like they could give out at any moment.

Wow, Caleb had really scared him. Good job, Widogast.

He didn't know how many minutes went by after that. Molly was still recovering from the shock of being manhandled, breathing in and out trying to calm himself down, while Caleb was there, both hands clenched in fists at his sides, not knowing what to do to help him. He hadn't even thought about the consequences of his plan, he hadn't even thought about Molly's feelings, hadn't even thought that Molly would have reacted like that. He wanted to blame the alcohol, he really did, but who was he fooling? He didn't think about all of that because he had been so blinded by his own desires of knowing, that everything had taken second place.

“I-I’m sorry if I- I've shouted at you.” he rasped out after a while, those words scraping his throat like pins. It had been stupid, he had been stupid.

Molly's eyes flickered back on him hearing that, and the wizard could feel a bitter taste flowing down his stomach.

“It’s okay.” the lavender tiefling shrugged it off like it was nothing, like Caleb hadn't just cornered him and yelled right in his face like a psychopath. Molly didn't deserve it, and Caleb felt even guiltier now.

“We should go back to-” Caleb muttered a few heartbeats later. If he stayed a second longer he could throw his bile up on the floor. As the thought crossed his mind, his right arm went to wrap around his stomach and he swallowed it down.

“Yeah, we should.” the tiefling agreed with an aborted nod of his head, the jingling of the sun and the moon on his horns so far away in Caleb's ears. “But I actually need to go to-” he pointed at the bathroom door with his shaking index and Caleb took another step back, almost stumbling on himself.

“Ja, sure.” he babbled out as he made room for Molly to go. The tiefling carefully stepped forward, one foot at a time, not meeting Caleb's gaze once. Then, he wobbled on his legs towards the bathrooms door, his heels ticking loudly.

“Come Monday after lunch in my bookshop.” the wizard said at Molly’s back that stiffened a bit. “It’s called the Knowledge Nook, it’s in the main street of the centre.” he added quickly as he mentally ordered to his feet to move the fuck on.

The tiefling just nodded at his words, then disappeared in the bathrooms, his tail fiercely whipping the air.

After that, Caleb's mind was floating numbly as he walked through the crowd to get back to the table, where there was a pair of yellow, glowing pins that were following his movements, claws drumming on plastic, making him gulp.

He felt himself blush under that inquisitive gaze and abruptly sat down next to his goblin friend.

Nott asked him where the hell he had been for all that time, and Caleb shook his head briefly before placing his hand on hers to shush that bruising noise.

She squinted at him, not believing him, but let it go, for the moment at least. And Caleb could breathe again.

The night went on without any further problems. The others went to dance, even Beau, and the wizard stayed at the table with Nott talking about everything but Caleb's precarious mental state, while Molly sat at the opposite side, his gaze wandering on the dance floor and Caleb needed to order some water because he couldn't, just couldn't.

Since his brain was fucked up and anxiety was killing him, he dared to glance in Molly's direction and witnessed the moment when Yasha, coming back from the dance floor, stroked gently his arm, and begged him to speak with a worried look. Yet the tiefling’s mouth was sealed, and it felt like a punch right to his guts.

He drank his water, replaying the scene from earlier again and again before his eyes as Nott peered at him and said nothing.

They left the nightclub after 2 a.m., bid each other goodbye, Caleb and Molly shared an awkward wave of hands and the wizard wanted to bury himself.

He, Nott and Beau got home half hour later. When he was finally in his room, he just stared at the ceiling, hands clasped over his stomach.

He still couldn’t believe what happened that night, he couldn’t believe himself. He thought he was getting better at interpersonal relationships, but evidently he was wrong. He didn’t understand what had gotten into him back there, all the progress had been made with therapy almost gone in one night.

A walking failure, that’s what he was.

At some point, Frumpkin curled around his head and started purring loudly, and it was the only thing that stopped him from having a panic attack.

Caleb would have struggled to sleep that night, not because of ash and flames, but because of two bloody, crying eyes.

Chapter Text

Days passed painfully slow. Caleb spent most of the time at home, reading books or chatting on the phone with Jester about everything and nothing. His mind wasn't totally there, going on autopilot like he wasn’t actually living in his own body, like he was seeing another person moving through the seconds, the minutes, the hours; yet he tried to be functional nonetheless, if not for himself, for Nott and Frumpkin.

And then Monday came.

Caleb had successfully managed to not have multiple breakdowns thinking about what had happened at the nightclub, but most importantly about what would have happened that afternoon, even now that he was standing behind the counter while leafing through a book and waiting in what could only be described as agony.

He chose that day because he knew Nott and Jester wouldn't have come, so the two could stay alone in peace, and Molly's secret would have been safe.

The ginger was continuously glancing at the clock hanging above the door that headed in the back of the shop. They didn't decide on a set time in which Molly should have arrived, and it made Caleb's anxiety worse.

He felt nervous, almost sick to his stomach, and focusing on needles that marked that self-inflicted punishment tick after tick surely wasn't one of the best ways to calm himself down. So, he stood up, his bones crunching loudly as he stirred his back, and went to the snug in the back to make some tea.

It was chilly outside, autumn was already there with its somber colors and rainy days, but today the sky was of a pale greyish blue and his black sweater warmed him up, so it was okay. He actually liked that season, it made him sort of melancholic, a bittersweet feeling that reminded him he was alive, after all.

He took two mugs from the cabinet above him, then prepared the kettle and settled it on the flame.

Whilst he was eyeing the boxes of various tea Jester had brought from her home to the shop, a loud whistle caught him off guard and he immediately hurried back to the main room, heart in his throat.

Was it possible that he didn’t hear the chiming of the door opening, too lost in his thoughts?

His magic was flickering between his fingers, ready to be cast at any moment. Cold sweat was running down his face, and his scarf was like a vicious snake wrapped around his neck, strangling him.

He cursed under his breath in Zemnian when he saw that it was just Molly roaming around his bookshop with his usual flourish, touching books with his long, ringed fingers.

Today the lavender tiefling was wearing a short, loose denim overall with patches of a sun, some stars and different kinds of writings on it, a simple white crop top and a pair of combat boots with pink and lilac flowers. Caleb noticed afterwards that their mismatched laces were blue and magenta.

As Molly paced the room, the air started filling up with his characteristic perfume, and Caleb’s mood strangely softened, his previous anxiety left his body almost completely because that was a familiar scent by now, and it meant ‘safe’, there was no threat and Caleb could let his guard down.

Then, scarlet eyes went up to Caleb's and he smiled widely. “So, this is the famous bookshop you always ramble about?” he asked in a playfully tone as one of his clawed fingers ran across the leather cover of a book.

Obviously, he had to ruin everything with speaking.

“Yeah, it is.” the wizard couldn't help but rolling his eyes at his question, brushing the sweat away from his forehead with a hand.

Suddenly, he was regretting all of this, for many reasons, but he was glad Molly was being, well, Molly, cutting through the tension between them. It was working, and the knots in Caleb's guts were loosening up bit by bit.

He walked over where Molly was and shoved gently his hand off the book. “Bitte, don't touch them.”.

“Okay, Mister Widogast.” he said, still smiling brightly, but with a mocking voice that made Caleb grunt in return.

He levelled him with a look before saying “Follow me.”, then turned away and went in the back of the shop.

“And don't call me Mister Widogast.” he added as soon as he heard steps behind him. “I'm not a professor.” he reminded, mostly to himself, those words tasted bitter on his tongue. Sometimes he wished he would have finished the Academy, but evidently that hadn't been his destiny.

“I'll stick with Mister Caleb, then.” was the simple reply of Molly as he set down on one of the chairs, followed by a short chuckle. Then, he began studying the surroundings curiously, his nose up and his eyes gleaming under the light.

Even in that little, cramped, dusty room Molly looked like he belonged there, like it had always been his place somehow. And that thought sent a funny feeling right in the middle of Caleb's chest.

He rubbed his hand against that same spot, clearing his throat as he looked away from the lavender tiefling. Feeling his pale cheeks heating up, he adjusted his scarf to hide them, but it was pointless.

Only when he heard a blowing noise coming from the snug, he remembered the kettle left to boil. “I’ve made some tea.” he said in a flat tone before going to turn the flame off. Then, he proceed to pour the hot water into two mugs and put the tea bags into them.

As he waited for the tea to be ready, he took two coasters from the same cabinet, placed them on the table and then brought the mugs, only after he had cleaned everything up in the snug.

In the meantime, Molly was still looking around, his clasped hands resting on the table, but Caleb noticed that he was twisting them, like he was nervous, too. He also noticed that his claws were painted of a shiny orange.

When he placed the mugs on the table, however, Molly's eyes quickly followed the movement. “Oh.” he sucked in a breath, his lips formed a little ‘o’ while his head tilted to the side, making the jewels on his horns and ears jingle. “You remembered how I like it.” his voice was surprised as he looked down to his mug, then at Caleb.

“Sure, why shouldn't I remember it?” the wizard frowned at him while setting down on his chair. “I have a good memory.” he shrugged, his tone detached.

“That's fair.” he commented lowering his eyes again, a small smile that looked more like a grimace crumpling his face, then abruptly fell silent.

It was harder than Caleb had expected.

Anxiety was crawling again under his skin and he had to do something or he would have fallen in his numb state. "Why can't you read?" was the first thing that came in his mind and immediately regretted it, wincing. He hated his brain sometimes.

“Straight to the point, I see.” Molly let out a humorless laugh while he wrapped his fingers around his mug, not meeting Caleb's eyes.

"Sorry, I'm not..trying to pry in your personal life but-” he sighed, scratching his stubby cheek. “Well, knowing the reason could make things easier for me, to teach you, you know." he explained as he stood up one more time to go and pick what they needed for the lesson. He absolutely didn't tell that there was a small part of himself that was oddly curious and wanted to know more about him.

Absolutely not.

“That's- that's fair, I think.” the lavender tiefling said, but, throwing a quick glance behind his shoulder, Caleb had seen him shrug. He didn't seem to go further than that, either.

After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Caleb spoke again as he took a seat at the table, placing a book, some pens and a notebook on it in the process. “I-I know we're not exactly friends-” he began to say, and as soon as those words left his lips, Molly’s face scrunched up, his ears flattening a bit, like wounded by that statement.

“We are friends, Caleb.” Molly whispered in a soothing tone, and Caleb noticed his right hand twitched, as if he wanted to do something but he refrained himself. “Well, I see you as one, at least.” he stared at him in the eyes, and it was so genuine that Caleb's heart skipped a beat.

“Oh.” the wizard just said stupidly. “Even after what I've done to you?” he had to break the eye contact because it was getting hard to handle, he could feel guilt making his stomach clench awfully.

Molly nodded vehemently. “Everyone has their flaws.” he explained simply before a brief chuckle. “I’ve been threatened way worse, don’t worry.” he minimized it with a lazy wave of hand, rings shining of golden shades. “I tend to not hold a grudge. It's not healthy.”.

Caleb knew that he didn't deserve friends. He was a coward, a monster, he deserved to be alone in his corner, and the way he behaved towards Molly was another proof. He knew that he didn't deserve his kind smiles and words. But he was also a greedy man, and he wanted this to work. Molly saw him as a friend, a person who could trust, and somehow he didn't want to fail him. Not again. He was very aware that he had been a big jerk the other night, and he really wanted to fix it.

“That said-” his voice caught the ginger's attention again, his left index lifted to make a point. “I don't feel comfortable to speak about it.” he added after a few seconds, then he sipped some tea from his mug. “Not yet.” he hurried to specify in a hushed breath.

Caleb studied him saying nothing for a long minute. “Understood.” he then nodded, and picked the book left on the table between them.

Everyone has their secrets, and Caleb knew that too well.

“The fact is, I can't understand how you could keep going without reading und writing.” it was so unthinkable for Caleb, he couldn't still believe it.

“Yasha helped me.” Molly said as simply as it was, like Caleb should have guessed somehow. “Circus people must stick together and help each other. And she’s a good soul.” he smiled fondly, his fangs showing, and the wizard noticed just then the dimple on the right corner of his mouth.

“I can see it..” he muttered mindabsently, his eyes like transfixed on that little spot.

“But.. Why didn't you ask her?”.

“I- I don't want to be more of a burden to her-” the tiefling replied right away, before clearing his throat.

Caleb wanted to be rational and argue about that weak explanation, instead he decided to leave it for the sake of their already troubled relationship.

“And I'm good at pretending.” Molly went on, his usual careless tone back. “It’s safer.”

You're not as good as you think you are if I uncovered you, Caleb almost said out loud, but he bit his tongue in time before he could make things worse… again.

Another silence stretched after that.

“Let's- let's start, shall we?”

The ginger nodded slowly, but then his lips moved on their own. “I'm glad you're being sort of honest with me, Mollymauk. I appreciate it.” he mumbled before hiding himself behind his mug, trying to be casual but failing miserably as he took a sip of his tea.

The tiefling stared at him for a long second, eyes widened, then brushed his face with a hand.

Though, Caleb saw a little smile curling his red painted lips.

Maybe things will be better from now on, he thought.

“So, the first lesson will be about-” he left the sentence hanging as he opened dramatically slowly the book in front of him, wanting to lighten the mood, even if he knew it wasn't one of his best qualities.

“The alphabet..?” Molly guessed, making himself smaller on his seat as he lowered his eyes to peek at the first page, where all he could see was a bunch of letters sprawled all over it.

“Ja!” he showed a little, encouraging smile and opened the book completely, letting the cover fall on the table with a small thumpf.

With a delighted snigger, Molly scooted over with his chair to take a better look at it, his eyes bright again as they roamed up and down the colorful page.

The ginger realized in that moment that it was the very first time he was alone with Molly, other than that night at the nightclub. Yet, it was so different, domestic even. And he was sure he would have felt more anxious to be that close with the tiefling; instead, his presence coaxed his nervous state like nothing before, only Nott had that same effect on him, and it was so strange. Be it his perfume, be it his warm smiles, be it his voice, Caleb didn't know. And he didn't want to dig deeper in that dangerous path.

He shooed those intrusive thoughts away and focused on the present.

“What do I have to do, Mr Caleb?” the tiefling asked, his lips stretching in a playful way, as he picked a pen from the table and started to fiddle with it between his fingers.

“For now, I want you to listen to me very carefully when I read each letter, ja?” the ginger said while opening the brown case near him and fishing a pair of fine glasses from it. “And repeat after me, and then you'll try to write them while saying it, ja? Was ist gut?” he asked then as he placed the glasses on his hooked nose and glared at Molly with a strict gaze, even if he was fighting back a smirk.

Ja, gut!” he said excited but horribly mispronouncing the words. Caleb winced in pain with all his body, closing his eyes as if hearing them hurt his ears, and Molly bursted into a loud, ringing laughter, leaning forward on the table, his jewelry jingling because of that sudden movement.

That small, stupid part of Caleb felt proud for making him laugh that way, and wanted to hear it again.

“Just-” he didn't even know what to say, staring at the laughing tiefling in disbelief, then grunted a short chuckle and shook his head. He took a deep breath rolling his eyes before he turned the page and started reading.

Molly's ears perked up immediately and he stopped fidgeting with the pen, looking at the wizard enthralled.

Caleb felt his cheeks flaring up under that attention, but tried to not think about it.

He read the letters, slowly, letting Molly fully understand how to say them and then repeat, letting Molly read from the book with him, standing so close that their shoulders almost brushed against each other. But the ginger didn't find it uncomfortable or too much, it just felt... natural.

Their voices were the only noises in the room. First Caleb’s, then Molly’s, then Caleb's again, then Molly's.

Writing was the hardest part for the tiefling, the wizard found out, but nothing that constant training couldn't fix.

“Ja, but try to soften it a bit-” he instructed Molly as he emphasised his words with a gesture of his hand.

Molly nodded quickly as he bit down on his bottom lip and adjusted the round part of the G.

“That's better!” Caleb cheered with a soft smile, and noticed that the tiefling’s hand quivered a bit before he kept writing on the notebook.

Time surely passed in a flash because, when Caleb looked up from the table to the clock, it was 7 p.m. already. He squinted at it, thinking he was mistaken, but no, it was true.

“Scheiße.” he breathed out, utterly stunned by that acknowledgement.

“What?” Molly lifted his head from the page and looked at the wizard, confused.

Caleb jerked his head towards the clock. “I should- Nott will be home soon und-” he said as he took the glasses off his nose and put them in their case.

“Oh..” the tiefling realized, his voice small, a strange light glinted in his eyes. “That's okay, Caleb.” he then said shooting a wide smile of his. “I should go home, too. Yasha might be worried.”

The ginger just nodded and weakly returned the smile.

After that, he stood up and began to pack everything away, also putting the mugs in the sink.

Once he was finished, he turned back to Molly and was surprised to find that the tiefling had patiently waited by the door, his hands hidden behind his back, his tail swaying lazily mid air. Yet, there was a shade of sadness that clouded his features and Caleb couldn't understand why but seeing it made him sad, too.

However, he inhaled deeply, then slowly breathed out before reaching Molly. “I'll walk you to the door.” the ginger said while moving past him, headed to the main door of the shop. The tiefling followed him shortly.

Caleb opened it, letting Molly go outside by leaving it ajar.

“You can come again this Friday, there will be nobody but us.” he offered, feeling the chilly breeze brushing against his heated cheeks, and adjusted his grey scarf right away.

“This Friday, then.” Molly nodded in agreement, his voice shaken by a chuckle.

“This Friday.”

There, standing in the middle of the doorframe, a strange thought crossed the wizard's mind. He wanted that conversation to last longer, just enough to give him the chance to smell Molly's scent one more time before going.

As if embarrassed by that sudden desire, he darted his eyes away. “Bye, Mollymauk.” a tiny smile forming on his lips as he spoke, his hand gripped briefly the door knob.

A clinking of jewels made his gaze flicker immediately back to the tiefling before him. “Bye, Mister Caleb.” he whispered in that warm tone of his as he waved his ringed fingers with flourish. Then he twirled away and started walking on the pavement, his tail drawing abstract lines behind him.

Caleb stood there for a bit longer, staring at the lavender figure before it disappeared completely from his sight.

Closing the door of the bookshop, he found himself already missing the tiefling’s colorful presence.

Funny, wasn’t it.