It started pretty much as soon as Mollymauk came back from the dead.
Well, that wasn’t strictly true. There were a few months between crawling out of the ground absolutely covered in mushrooms — which, what the hell, Caduceus? — and the beginning of this nonsense. A few months spent wandering and identity-less which he would rather not get into. But, hey, that was fine, it happened, but he didn’t know any better at the time, it was only looking back later that he realised just how hollow and lifeless that version of his life was.
Again, he would rather not think about it.
No, this particular nonsense was, as one might imagine, mostly Jester’s fault.
...this isn’t going to make any sense. Maybe the beginning would be a better place to start.
It was Yasha who found him. Of course it was, it had to be Yasha. She found him before, she found him again.
That was before his memories came back, and all she was to him was a stranger on the docks, two barrels effortlessly hefted up on both shoulders. As always she was an intimidating presence, all straining muscles and cool, detached expression, people parting in front of her like a river passing around a rock. She seemed as much a part of the docks as the salty taste to the air, the flecks of seafoam whipped around by the sharp wind, and the groaning of wood and rope in the restless waters.
Completely unaware of just how badass she looked.
She didn’t see him that time, but as soon as he looked at her he felt a force behind his eyes and ribcage that almost pushed him towards her, a kind of sharp, sparking warmth.
This probably should have terrified him. He was alone and friendless and running errands between docks and shipyards to scrape by. He didn’t know who he could trust, didn’t know a single name or a face, including his own. His body was covered in scars and ink he did not know the origins of. Everyone he met eyed him with suspicion, and he wasn’t sure he could even blame them. So he did his best to go unnoticed, a feat that was difficult given his general appearance.
Yet here he was, feeling as though something wound around his soul was dragging him towards this — as he thought — complete stranger.
He was still wary, though, and when she turned with a frown, scanning the bustling crowds around the docks as if looking for something, he ducked behind a stall before her gaze could pass over him.
He couldn’t stop thinking of her over the next few days, but couldn’t bring himself to seek her out. What if he did know her, but because he had done her harm in some way? Besides, for all he knew she was already gone, maybe she had boarded a ship and left the very same day he saw her.
He was sinking some of the little spare coin he had into an inn for one night of drink and decent rest when he encountered her again.
This time, Mollymauk didn’t notice her until she was sitting beside him at the bar, ale in hand. She pretended she didn’t know him, bless her heart. She said later that she hadn’t wanted to scare him off. There was no doubt who he was for her — at least, she knew it was the body of the person who had been her friend. She had no idea what had become of the person inside.
‘Those hurt?’ she asked, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. She nodded to the snake tattoo winding down his wrist and hand, peeking out of his frayed sleeve.
He didn’t know what to say, blurting out, ‘I assume so.’
Anyone else would have thought he was insane. Thankfully, Yasha was every bit as bad at small talk as he had been that day.
So bad, in fact, that they only exchanged a handful more words before she left, off to do who knows what. That may have been for the best, because having just sat with her in relative silence he felt less alarmed by her than he had down by the docks. Otherwise he might have bolted, and none of this would have happened.
She didn’t come back the next day — not that he had expected her to. He thought he had had his last chance encounter with the strange woman who hadn’t told him her name. He was also somewhat glad of that, seeing as he hadn’t thought up a name of his own yet to trade.
But she did come back. Every other day for a few weeks. Quiet, unprying conversation, the most he’d had since — well. This entire life, if he was counting these as different lives.
Then one day Mollymauk noticed a messenger trying to catch her attention, so he tapped her on the arm and said, without thinking, without knowing, ‘Yasha—’
And before he could form a frown or question the name that had escaped his lips, a force exploded in his skull. It was as if every colour ever imagined had been given life and set afire in his mind, coursing through his entire body with a piercing pain.
When he finally came to, he felt as though every fibre of his being had been torn apart and reassembled with tiny searing needles and barbed thread.
His breath clouded in front of him, and all he could see was stars. He blinked, sat up, and immediately threw up on the ground beside him. He didn’t notice Yasha beside him for a minute or so.
He didn’t remember everything, exactly. He knew some things.
He knew Yasha’s name. He remembered wings. A circus. Fire. Storms. Laughter in the dark. The flash of a sword and a final, overwhelming cold.
More than anything, he felt a flare of pain in his chest, a sense of loss that consumed him. Tears streamed down his cheeks uncontrollably.
Six faces flashed in front of his eyes. Six names whispered across his lips.
He met Yasha’s eyes and saw a gleaming well of pain, and his heart clenched for the woman who was the only sister he had ever known.
‘Welcome back,’ her voice was hoarse. ‘What do you want to know?’
He didn’t ask for everything at once. He wondered how long he had been dead, but he didn’t know if he could bear to hear it. He could barely ask why he was outside.
Apparently he had let out a harsh shout in a language that shook the very walls of the inn, and would have slipped to the floor catatonic had Yasha not caught him. She carried him out under the pretense of getting him to a medic, much to the relief of the inn patrons who had become increasingly uneasy as the purple tiefling cried out.
She brought him to the cliffs flanking the dock and laid him out on the hill where nobody would disturb him, and waited.
He shivered as she explained this, and she draped a cloak over his shoulders.
‘We need to get you a new coat,’ she said, and he didn’t understand the smile that teased at her lips until a week or so later when a vibrant image flooded his mind, a rainbow of symbols and fabrics.
And then, even later, when the memories had stopped arriving so violently and he and Yasha felt he was stable enough to stand the journey, he came home.
Across the lives he’s known, home was never a place. It was always people.
He wasn’t entirely sure how Yasha knew where they were. Maybe she was pulled to them in the same way he had been pulled to her. She had no way of messaging to tell them what was happening, only a vague idea of what area they were in. So she left him at an inn and went searching.
The inn was… well, it was a place to sleep. The room was tiny and stripped bare to floorboards, one bed and one chair. It was clean, though. He would give it that. All Mollymauk could do was sit and wait for Yasha to return, staring unseeing through the smudged window at his disposal.
The first she brought to him was Fjord, both of them thinking he would be the most sensible of the group to reintroduce Mollymauk to slowly, without too much emotion, and together the three of them could work out how to broach returning him to the rest of them.
Yasha being Yasha, however, lured him out without explaining exactly what was going on, so as soon as he crossed the threshold of the room he froze.
The door swung open and Mollymauk shakily started to his feet. Fjord’s eyes were wide as he stared at him, colour draining from his face. He glanced to Yasha, and when she nodded he cleared his throat, worked his jaw without achieving a sound, then strode across the room and yanked him into a crushing hug.
‘Are you... you?’ Fjord asked, voice tight.
‘More or less,’ Mollymauk responded to the embrace after a beat of being caught off guard, burying his face in the neck of the man he had shared rooms, stories and secrets with.
Salt water. Green light. Strong words.
It didn’t take long for Fjord to collect himself, but he still kept glancing to Mollymauk as if to check he was still there, like he could be lost to a strong enough breeze. If he was being honest, that might have been the case. As soon as Fjord released him he sank back down onto the bed.
‘I’m sorry if that was too much, I wasn’t… it’s good to see you, Molly,’ Fjord said, and Mollymauk wondered for the first time whether he looked frail in comparison to who he had been if he was causing this much concern.
To be fair though, he felt frail.
‘So how do we do this?’ Fjord asked. ‘As calmly as possible?’
‘Jester last,’ Yasha and Mollymauk blurted in unison.
And god, it felt good to laugh again.
They brought in the others in a couple days apart, so Mollymauk could recover from the lashings of remembering that convulsed within him every time he was reintroduced to a friend.
After Fjord came Beau.
Air rushing past his face. The impact of wood on skin. Dried blood.
She broke down in floods of tears, threw her arms around him, punched him in the arm, apologised, then threatened both Fjord and Mollymauk with painful consequences if they ever told anyone. Mollymauk noticed that she didn’t threaten Yasha, and he tried not to smile.
Next came Nott and Caleb. That didn’t hurt any less.
They entered the room warily, because Nott and Caleb were wary, and their friends kept disappearing for hours at a time with no explanation, and then Fjord wouldn’t explain where he was taking them.
Nott didn’t even take a beat to comprehend what she was seeing, she just flew across the room into Mollymauk’s arms.
Whispers in his mind. Fingers slipping into pockets. The scrape of a goblet on a tabletop.
‘I told you!’ she cried. ‘I knew he’d be back! I knew it!’
Yasha vacated her chair and shepherded Caleb towards it, and that’s the first time his eyes met Caleb’s.
Rustling pages. Waves of heat. Crackling magic in the air.
He had gone impossibly pale under the dirt — some things never change — and his shaking hands covered his mouth. He moved mechanically towards the chair, eyes never leaving Mollymauk’s face.
He jerked his hands away from his lips just enough to croak, ‘is this real?’
When Mollymauk nodded, he just buried his head in his hands.
Nott patted Mollymauk’s shoulder — she reached for his cheek but couldn’t quite reach — and the grin she gave him transformed her face in such a way that would make anyone rethink their understanding of goblins. And as she did, the silent form of Frumpkin slipped into the room and wound himself around his legs, and Mollymauk reached down to pet the not-cat.
Surprisingly, Jester and Caduceus were the easiest.
Jester did lift him off his feet, spin him in a circle and promise to ‘fatten him back up’ so forcefully that he felt vaguely threatened.
Sweet, spun sugar. Pen brushing paper. Faith.
But he could see that she was holding back. As soon as she saw him she assessed the situation, realised he had already been through meeting the others, and clamped down on her reaction. By god, he appreciated it.
Jester was like that, though. He may not remember much, but he knew that about her. Later she would let loose when it wouldn’t impact anyone else. He would have to thank her for that one day… and maybe try to convince her to take better care of herself.
Caduceus, in Mollymauk’s opinion, was just fantastic. He looked completely bemused about the entire situation, but glad to be involved. The guy just radiated calm.
No memories flooded back with his introduction, and for that he was glad.
When he offered his hand to shake, on a whim Mollymauk bowed and kissed it. For some reason, he just felt like that was something he — the real him — would do.
‘Oh, you’re weird, too. This is great. I like him,’ Caduceus said, aiming that last part at Jester.
‘I like him,’ Mollymauk said, a smile curling his lips as he turned to Fjord. ‘Can we keep him?’
It was another few days before he experienced the entire group as a whole. He was scared, he told Yasha as such. He didn’t know what they expected from him. His memory was still in tatters, like someone had put together a puzzle and all he had was the missing pieces with no indication of the full picture they belonged to. But god, they didn’t expect a thing.
They were in an inn, they always seemed to be in inns, but theirs was nicer than the one Mollymauk and Yasha had been staying in. They moved to join them, Jester brightly doling out the money from their pooled resources. Still another room, still sharing — Mollymauk just needed Yasha right now, she was his anchor. But they were there. Together.
The bar was dark, but a warm dark. Not the dingy dark of the portside inn Yasha found him in, or the cold dark of their previous accommodation. The light was low, but muted lit wicks were everywhere, flickering like starlight. The conversation in the room was muted and regular, like distant waves. The booths lining the walls were even cushioned.
He had been worried that people would take interest in them, stare and whisper. He had once been used to that, he knew. And it was understandable, they weren’t exactly a regular looking group. But he had survived these past few months by being as invisible as possible, and that was a habit and an anxiety that was hard to shake. Thankfully, they barely got a glance from their fellow patrons as they passed by, not even pausing in their bright, bubbling conversation.
Mollymauk just sat and listened, for the most part. They had been working since they had lost him, of course, and filled him in on the details of their last encounter — breaking into a gang’s hideout to steal a map of some description and accidentally releasing a score of prisoners and destroying an entire smuggling operation in the process.
He wondered if they knew they were all heroes.
He wondered if maybe he was, too. Did he have that in him?
Yasha didn’t talk much either. The group just folded around them, surrounding them with a bubble of light and warmth, babbling merrily. Every so often one of them would glance over at Mollymauk and their eyes would grow bright, but they never did anything more than smile. As the night grew late and the bar became less populated, they began to drift away from their table.
Fjord and Yasha, after checking Mollymauk was comfortable, had turned in to their respective rooms. Caduceus engaged a nearby patron in conversation and made for an enthusiastic, if somewhat distracted, audience to his inane drunken ramblings. Caleb excused himself to a distant table and began spellworking, and Nott and Beau were quietly plotting something… probably not legal. Jester went to the bar, and Mollymauk followed her shortly after. As he approached, she noticed she was doodling in a journal, and was careful to avert his eyes so she wouldn’t think he was spying.
‘You know what I don’t understand?’ she asked, without looking up to confirm who had joined her, or waiting for a response. ‘Why does Caduceus get a kiss, but the rest of us don’t?’
It took him a moment to realise she was referring to their introduction, and then he laughed. ‘You never asked.’ He was impulsively, tentatively feeling out the charm he felt he had once possessed, and he felt like Jester would be accommodating to him… testing himself.
Jester squealed and abandoned her drawing to tap her cheek, and Mollymauk dutifully leaned over and pressed a kiss to the freckled skin there.
‘You know you have to kiss everyone now,’ Jester’s voice was matter-of-fact, but her eyes twinkled with mischief. Mollymauk felt he was being conned, but he wasn’t sure why. ‘Otherwise it’s just unfair.’
‘I’ll see what I can do,’ he smiled, then ordered another drink.
As he waited, his eye caught on some movement over Jester’s shoulder. He watched as Caleb stirred and attempted to exit the room, face buried in a book, and walked straight into the doorframe, knocking himself to the ground with a dull thunk and a surprised ‘oh.’
Jester turned just as his head hit wood and laughed so hard milk came out of her nose. Mollymauk, having barely managed to restrain his own laughter at Caleb’s expense, snorted into his wine on seeing this.
‘It’s okay Caleb, Molly will kiss it better!’ Jester sang, and slipped off her stool to help him to his feet.
Nobody else seemed to hear, or maybe they just didn’t take her seriously, but Mollymauk felt his face heat up.
And he wasn’t sure quite what to make of that.
The funny thing was, he couldn’t really blame Jester for any of it. He knew she wasn’t being serious. He knew she wouldn’t hold him to it. Hell, she had probably already forgotten she had said anything. It was, after all, just a passing joke between friends.
But for some reason, something in the back of his mind kept going back to what she said. Something in him heard ‘you know you have to kiss everyone now,’ and took it as fact, as a challenge.
It didn’t have to be anything big. He kissed Caduceus’ hand, kissed Jester on the cheek. He liked kisses! They were soft. They were affectionate. Hugs would also do, he could work in more of those, too. Maybe he was a little touch starved, true. But mostly he just… really wanted to do this. Boundaries and personal comfort being respected, of course. He wasn’t an asshole… he didn’t think he was, anyway.
Maybe the old Mollymauk didn’t kiss his friends, but the new Mollymauk? He wanted to spend as much of his life — this third, impossible life — as possible making sure his friends knew they were loved. He couldn’t risk losing himself again without making absolutely sure they knew just how important they were, how much they all meant to him. So, why not? Why not set himself an unspoken challenge and kiss all his friends? A nice little bit of affection so they knew he cared.
After all, he had already kissed two out of six. How difficult could it really be?
Mollymauk reckoned he owed Yasha something like six lives at this point. Between emotional support and battle support, she’d saved his neck more times than he could count — and that was just the times he could remember.
So when a storm hit in the middle of the night and she cried out in her sleep, he left his bed without a second thought and went to her side.
He called her name and she flinched, a hand tearing at the bedsheets, but she didn’t wake. Thunder crashed outside, drowning out the world.
He wrapped his hand around hers, prying her fingers from the fabric and wincing at her crushing grip.
‘Yasha,’ he said again, louder this time. ‘You’re safe. Wake up, Yasha.’ He shook her shoulder with his free hand.
When her eyes opened, for a moment he could have sworn they were pitch black and shot through with gold, forked like lightning.
‘Mollymauk,’ she responded after a moment, chest heaving with effort. She glanced to the window, the glass rattling in its frame from the strain of the storm.
‘You okay?’ he asked, releasing her shoulder and perching on the side of her bed.
Yasha pushed herself upright and shivered, pulling the sheet close. She flexed her fingers and her gaze softened when she noticed her hand in Mollymauk’s, loosening her vicelike grip.
‘Okay is… relative,’ Yasha responded after a moment. Mollymauk nodded. He could understand that.
They sat in silence for some time, listening as the storm outside went from raging to distant.
‘Do you know how many times I saw you in my dreams saying the exact same thing? When you were gone?’ she said, quietly. When Mollymauk frowned, she clarified. ‘“You’re safe. Wake up.”’
Mollymauk looked at her, her face backlit by occasional flashes of lightning, but he couldn’t read her expression. And he couldn’t think of a suitable reply.
So instead he leaned over and kissed her on the top of her head, without even thinking about it.
Through the terror, she smiled.
It was another couple of months before they were willing to take him with them on their exploits. An unanimous vote meant they postponed all plans to remove from the town until Mollymauk regained his strength enough to travel.
In the meantime, his friends helped out in the town, and he tried to get back to fighting fit.
Partially, that consisted of Jester plying him with food until he retreated to Caduceus, who tended to be much less intense — and more healthy — with his food offerings.
He definitely wasn’t drinking any of that tea, though. He’d had enough of death.
‘Feed Caleb!’ he laughed on one occasion where he literally ducked behind Caduceus to avoid having a donut inserted into his mouth with force. ‘He needs the sugar!’
‘And have Nott think I’m questioning her mothering skills?’ Jester said with a dramatic gasp, hand flying to her chest. ‘I would never.’
‘I’ll try that… whatever that is,’ Caduceus offered, removing the donut from Jester’s threatening grasp.
Mollymauk and Jester ceased their shenanigans momentarily to witness the face journey Caduceus undertook in his donut-tasting debut.
He methodically made his way through the entire sweet with a thoughtful expression, a shower of sugar crystals getting caught on the soft down of his face.
‘Ah,’ he said, eyes suddenly wide. ‘Sugar. Yes, that is a lot.’
Jester fished in her back and retrieved another one, offering it wordlessly to Caduceus.
‘I’m not actually sure I like this,’ he said.
But he took the donut anyway.
Fjord, on the other hand, wanted to make sure he focused on the fighting part of ‘fighting fit’ — for his own good. He said was ‘mighty sorry’ about the subsuming of Mollymauk’s blade into his own, but if he was being honest Mollymauk couldn’t really care less.
He was alive. He had his friends. He didn’t need the sword.
Thankfully, although his muscle mass had diminished while he was in the ground, the muscle memory was still there. He was still quick on his feet, even if his stamina was wanting.
As for the blood magic… he shuddered even thinking about it, now. Not because it was bad, it was just… difficult to disassociate it with what went wrong that last time. The last time.
‘You’ll get there,’ Fjord grinned, barely a bead of sweat on him. When he did so, Mollymauk could see the beginnings of what looked like tusks reforming in his lower jaw.
‘Suits you,’ Mollymauk said with a vague gesture, between desperate attempts to heave air into his lungs. Fjord made an aborted movement towards his mouth, then shrugged it off, returning his hand to the hilt of his sword.
‘It certainly takes less effort,’ he responded, barely a grumble. A dark blush tinged his face, so Mollymauk didn’t push it further.
Jester only used her powers of persuasion for good, it seemed.
Mollymauk resisted the urge to use his sword as a makeshift cane as he followed Fjord back through the streets towards their lodgings, returning it to its sheath with a hand that was only shaking a little.
Progress. Mollymauk smiled.
Unfortunately, he was so distracted by this small victory that when a human teenager barrelled into him, they succeeded in knocking him to the ground with minimal effort.
He gave a surprised cry. He wasn’t hurt by the fall, maybe scraped the palms of his hands at the most — but he was fully aware that the kid had swiped his coin pouch in the assault.
‘Hey,’ he began, but Fjord had turned to see what the commotion was and had witnessed the theft. Before he could even begin to get to his feet, Fjord acted.
They were already too far away to catch up with, especially as they knew the terrain better than Fjord and would likely disappear down an alleyway before he could catch them, never to be seen again.
So he did the next best thing — he swiped a sizeable fruit from a nearby market stall, ignoring the vendor’s complaints, and launched it after the kid.
Mollymauk had seen him playing games at fairs, Fjord didn’t always have the best throwing arm. But it seemed luck was in his favour — the projectile hit them in the small of the back and they lost their footing, hitting the ground at speed.
Mollymauk approached to see his coin pouch had spilled from their hands, though thankfully the bag itself hadn’t opened. Everyone around them was now warily eying Fjord, obliviously repaying the fruit vendor for her loss of wares, so thankfully no opportunistic fingers lifted the pouch before he could retrieve it.
Item restored, Mollymauk considered the youth on the ground. Scrawny, with keen, haunted eyes, hunger-sharpened features obscured by dirt, and an air of desperation that was all too familiar. He reached into his pouch, fished out a silver coin and tossed it to them. ‘Next time aim for subtlety, kid. It’ll get you further.’
He secured the pouch then returned to Fjord, rubbing at an ache that indicated a bruise was fast developing on his outer thigh as he did so. He kept his eyes on the ground, aware that they were still the focus of several curious passersby.
‘That was generous of you,’ Fjord said, nodding towards where the would-be thief had disappeared.
‘Thank you, my hero,’ Mollymauk looped an arm around his neck and smacked a kiss that was more noise than contact onto his cheek.
‘Aw, Molly— next time I’m just letting you get robbed,’ Fjord said, batting at him ineffectually.
He didn’t push him off, though.
So Mollymauk grinned all the wider.
The first time they invited him to join them once more, it was to perform a fairly easy duty. Jester had selected a poster on the notice board of a local church at random, offering some coin in exchange for guard service during a wedding of some wealthy pair who apparently had done something that gave them cause to believe they would be disrupted during the ceremony.
Apparently Nott and Jester scoped the couple out to make sure they weren’t getting in the way of people who had genuine grievances making a point to like… a couple of assholes getting married. It seemed the woman had some political power in the town and had done nothing but trigger reform to benefit the poor at the expense of the rich. So, naturally, anyone who did want to make a scene — or worse — was someone who deserved to be taken down a few pegs.
So, they watched.
There were regular town guards as well, of course, but they were all well known faces. They could be easily avoided. The Nein, on the other hand, blended in seamlessly with the crowd, and could catch any whispers or dissent that circulated much easier.
Mollymauk had been paired up with Beau, and they were given an area by the front of the impressive temple in which their client was currently mid-ceremony. It was a beautiful day, cool but clear, watery sun just warm enough to sit outside and do nothing but bask in its light.
So, while they watched, they basked. They positioned themselves outside of a bar and slowly nursed the cheapest drinks available. Molly took to a low brick wall that separated the cobbled street from a sizeable grassy incline, and Beau perched on a barrel that had been placed outside the bar precisely for the purpose of perching.
About two hours into their duties — they had arrived long before the ceremony just in case — Beau surveyed the crowds that were amassing, either to attend the ceremony or simply witness the spectacle, and frowned.
‘Fancy hats,’ she said.
‘Uhh?’ Mollymauk responded, elegantly. He had been distracted, watching Jester and Caleb — in disguise as Fancypants and… well, Caleb but cleaner and better dressed, respectively — stroll around the corner. Jester was chattering away like a particularly animated bird, and Caleb looked mildly bemused, but somewhat less stressed than usual as he ducked out of the way of her wild gesturing.
They looked good. Objectively speaking. Obviously.
‘Fancy! Hats!’ Beau said again, nodding to the people around them. ‘We stick out like sore thumbs.’
She was right. Even the people who weren’t officially attending the wedding, milling around aimlessly like them, were dressed in as fine a garb as they could manage.
And there was an abundance of fancy hats.
Suddenly her face lit up. ‘Wait here,’ she said, and disappeared into the crowd, weaving her way expertly through the bodies, only to resurface a minute or so later at the opening to a store and slip inside. He tried to read the sign that bore the name of the shop, but the glare from the sun was too bright.
‘I mean, that was literally our one job,’ Mollymauk laughed under his breath, returning to scanning the crowd around them. ‘Wait here. Watch people. They didn’t ask for much.’
He glanced down at his own clothing. Dragging himself out of the ground had ruined what remained of the beautiful ornate clothing he had worn before. He had cobbled together some... what could generously be described as ‘rags’ to wear in the time before he and Yasha had found each other, and she had provided him with a simple white shirt and dark trousers. They weren’t much, and something in him missed the dramatic flair he used to be adorned with even if he still struggled with attracting attention, but they were better than what he had.
And hey, he’d managed to knock the dirt off his boots. They were sturdy creations.
At least he had his own boots.
He turned his gaze back on the crowd in time to glimpse Beau diving back in and making her way back to him. A moment later she was throwing herself down at his side, bearing a triumphant grin and two, devastatingly tacky, fancy hats.
For Mollymauk, a top hat, specifically altered for wearing atop horns, with a blood red sash and a spray of obviously fake peacock feathers that added about an extra foot to his height. For herself she had chosen another top hat, this one a deep velvety blue with a turquoise sash and a sprig of heather where the other had feathers and studded with bright blue stones.
He gleefully donned his hat.
‘I feel as though I should be holding a cane,’ Mollymauk said, assessing his distorted reflection in his wineglass.
‘I’d give you my staff, but I think that would give off the wrong impression,’ Beau replied. She smiled somewhat maniacally and tipped her hat at a passing child, who gave a shy smile in return then hid behind their mother. As she did, a familiar face caught his eye over her shoulder.
Caleb was suppressing a smile himself, and Mollymauk almost blew a kiss on a whim before remembering they were supposed to be incognito. Caleb blinked rapidly once or twice, to compose himself, then gave a slight nod. The signal to change places.
‘Ah,’ Mollymauk said, getting to his feet and extravagantly dusting off his already dust-less clothing. ‘I think we should be moving on. Shall we?’
Beau preened for a moment, turning her nose up, crossing one leg over the other and daintily offering her hand in a movement so unlike herself that Mollymauk barely prevented himself from giggling like a child. Just like with Caduceus, he reverently took her hand, dropped into a sweeping bow, and dropped a peck to the back of her hand.
‘My lady,’ he crooned.
‘My ass,’ Beau laughed, then let him pull her to her feet before shoving him away.
For the first time in a long time, he didn’t care that he had drawn the attention of some of the people around him.
Maybe that was why, as they stretched their legs and began to make their way to the next position, Mollymauk was completely unaware of a gaze that was burning into his back.
Mollymauk didn’t realise for almost a week that he had almost succeeded in his personal not-quite-quest. In all fairness, it wasn’t as though he had been giving it high priority — or really thinking about it at all.
But now he was thinking about it… he couldn’t help but wonder how on earth he was going to complete the set.
That sounded bad. Again, he wasn’t seeing this as… conquests. He was just using it as a springboard for affection. And he didn’t want to leave anyone out.
He was, however, fully aware that he may need to leave Nott out. She wasn’t a very tactile person, and more than anything he didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.
He thought about this as he watched her across the table one night at the inn. It wasn’t something he had ever really noticed before, but even hunched over a page of scribbles with Jester there was no line of physical contact between them.
Yasha nudged him with her elbow and he lifted his hands slightly. Yasha was weaving flower blossoms, carefully selected and preserved by herself and Jester, into a small selection of garlands and crowns. Mollymauk had bands of leather and bright fabric wound around his hands for her to reel off whenever she needed. He also had needles clamped between his lips. He was being very helpful, in his opinion, and the mild discomfort was entirely worth it if only for the faint ghost of a smile on her lips.
The flowers were for a festival that was celebrated in this region. It had started the day previous, and Jester had been so inspired by the strings of flowers and banners and bright knick-knacks strewn about town that she had recruited Yasha and Nott in helping her to prepare. He didn’t know what Nott and Jester were plotting, he couldn’t decipher the page from upside down, all he knew was the flowers and other things were to be handed out to any children Jester spotted who didn’t have their own.
The door to the inn opened with a gust of fresh air, and Caleb sank onto the bench beside Mollymauk with a quiet groan. He brought with him the scent of the outside. Not of the city, but something comfortingly familiar — rich soil and forests sighing in sunlight. The others said he smelled dirty, but that wasn’t it. Not dirty, but earthy.
It seemed he had been out book perusing, and clasped an only slightly battered volume of something to his chest. Mollymauk almost asked him what he’d found, and in doing so would have inhaled at least one needle, but he remembered himself just in time and offered an exaggerated mumble of greetings instead. Caleb slid the book onto the table and patted him absentmindedly on the upper arm in response.
‘What…’ he blinked, suddenly noticing the activities around him. ‘What is going on?’
Before Jester or Nott could offer an explanation, Yasha leaned over Mollymauk and said ‘Hold still,’ before carefully balancing a flower garland on Caleb’s head.
‘Thank… you?’ Caleb said as Yasha leaned back again. She nodded and went back to her work. Caleb looked to Mollymauk for assistance only to notice the tiefling also had flowers draped across his horns and around his neck, at which point he apparently decided to embrace the flowers and relaxed in his seat.
Mollymauk lifted his chin up and looked pointedly at the needles between his lips. Caleb, the only one at the table who wasn’t deeply involved in their work, carefully extracted the sharp pieces of… enamel? Mollymauk wasn’t actually sure what they were, it was hard to think about that when he could almost feel the heat of Caleb’s fingers against his face. He was trying very hard not to think at all.
‘Thank you, my dear,’ Mollymauk said, and turned away to address the table, hoping the mild panic wasn’t showing on his face. ‘Any chance one of you lovely individuals could take a shift here? I may lose all power in my arms if I have to hold them up much longer.’
Caleb stretched out his hands. ‘I would offer, but…,’ he gestured apologetically to the ink and dirt staining his hands. ‘I wouldn’t want to ruin your hard work.’
Jester had been opening her mouth to offer when Caleb spoke, and her mouth closed abruptly when she looked down and realised her own hands were also stained, smeared with bright paints and ink from her own handiwork.
Nott wordlessly offered her own hands, remarkably clean and wound with fresh bandages. Mollymauk thanked her and carefully transferred his burden to her. ‘You,’ he said, getting to his feet and stretching his back, arms reaching high above his head, ‘are my saviour.’
He turned to Caleb, then, who was blinking blankly up at him. ‘Excuse me while I make a trip to the bar to reward my guardian angel, here.’
It took a beat for Caleb to respond, but he swiveled off of the bench and Mollymauk exited the booth.
On impulse, he turned back to the table, kissed his fingers and lightly pressed them to Nott’s forehead.
‘Their finest wine,’ Nott croaked, glancing sideways at Caleb, clearly equal parts pleased and embarrassed. ‘Or — well — their finest cheap wine.’
Mollymauk saluted, then executed a neat heel spin towards the bar, briefly missing the dramatic swish of his coat that should have accompanied the action as he did so.
Now, Caleb. Caleb was the real problem.
He had a vague recollection — a hazy memory of kissing him on the forehead before. As in, long before he… well. Knew him. Liked him. Died. Came back. Things were different then.
Then, he had used the kiss to intimidate. To make himself seem unpredictable. Now… well.
Now he wanted to convey the opposite. Now he… yes, as he said, he liked him.
And he didn’t have a clue what he was supposed to do about that.
He missed his first chance during a festival street party. It was approaching dusk, but the streets and alleyways were alight with warm lanterns and torches haphazardly attached to walls, with throngs of people everywhere and countless strains of music drifting on the wind from all directions of the compass.
They had nowhere to be, and the world was theirs to explore, so they simply allowed themselves to follow the music.
Suddenly, as they traversed one of the more narrow alleyways, a new song started up from the adjacent street, and Yasha’s head went up.
‘I know this one,’ she said, with a dreamy smile.
‘Well, then,’ Mollymauk said, took her by the shoulders and steered her towards the source of the sound.
As they emerged Yasha let out a quiet gasp of what Mollymauk could only assume was delight. The had emerged into a square alive with dancing, with children and adults of all shapes and sizes, adorned in bright shining colours and whirling around the cobbles in a kaleidoscope of life. All dancing different dances, weaving different tales.
Mollymauk took one look at Yasha, saw the tension in her demeanor — she was restraining herself, she wanted to go — so he reached for her hand and dragged her into the fray.
He had seen Yasha fight before, but never seen her dance. She was powerful but graceful, face alight with joy, the flowers woven into her hair by Jester flying out around her in an arc of soft colour. She led him around the street with confidence and gentleness, effortlessly skimming around the other dancers, laughing with exhilaration. Mollymauk hadn’t felt so light in months.
So when they turned and he saw Beau watching them with an uncharacteristically open, soft expression on her face, he neatly stretched out a hand, pulled her in towards him and spun her into Yasha’s grasp.
‘Tap in!’ he called, breathless, as he stepped back to the sidelines to watch. Yasha was still without a care in the world, taking to Beau as easily as she’d taken to Mollymauk, if moving with somewhat more energy.
Mollymauk knew she had been holding back with him.
Beau’s eyes were wide and her cheeks were dusted dark red. Unlike Yasha, she danced how she fought — or perhaps she fought like she danced. Her movements were sharp and efficient, brightly coloured ribbons snapping audibly around her with every step.
‘That was decent of you,’ was the quiet remark that announced Caleb’s presence. Mollymauk turned to his friend. He had a crooked flower garland pinned atop his hair courtesy of Nott. They were similar to the ones which wound around Mollymauk’s horns, but combined with the soft expression on Caleb’s face the sight set a new rhythm in Mollymauk’s heart.
Mollymauk looked around himself, and realised they were the only ones not in the swirling crowd. He imagined Jester must have followed into the dance immediately, dragging Fjord with her, but he couldn’t see either of the two. What he could see, however, was Nott sat atop Caduceus’ shoulders, Caduceus gliding in circles as Nott whooped with glee. Caduceus alone was head and shoulders above the rest, and it was remarkable that he wasn’t bumping into any of the other dancers as he swayed to the beat with his eyes closed.
Mollymauk glanced at Caleb’s face, and saw his eyes, reflecting the faint glint of flame from a nearby lantern, were locked on the dancers. ‘The song might end soon. Aren’t you going to join?’
Caleb smiled. ‘I don’t know this one.’
‘Oh, Caleb,’ Mollymauk responded, offering his hand before he could really think through what he was doing. ‘Nobody knows this one.’
There was a beat where Caleb just looked at him, and Mollymauk’s heart nearly beat out of his chest.
Then he accepted his hand and Mollymauk swiftly brought him into the dance, holding his gaze, saying a silent prayer and walking backwards until they were engulfed by the movement and sound.
They weren’t as graceful as Yasha, not as precise as Beau. They weren’t as fluid as Caduceus and Nott, and when Jester and Fjord spiraled past them, completely out of time and hollering with glee, they weren’t as fast as them either.
But Caleb’s eyes were bright, his hands tight on Mollymauk’s wrists, hands, waist as they spun and dashed and changed position and changed back again. When they crushed close to avoid other dancers, he could feel his chest rise and fall through through the fabric of their clothing before they pulled further apart again. Caleb was grinning, and as his hair whipped around his face he seemed ageless and so, so alive. They were clumsy and stumbled and almost fell and caught each other and when Mollymauk laughed in Caleb’s face, Caleb laughed right back.
The song ended after an infinity and somehow, all too soon.
The song ended, and the dancers applauded, and coins were tossed, and the musicians bowed, and all the while Mollymauk was looking at Caleb, and Caleb was looking at Mollymauk. They had one point of contact, from fingertips to wrist, a tight, secure grasp. Electricity sparked across his skin, and a deep warmth filled his entire being. Mollymauk’s pulse pounded, and he wondered if Caleb could feel it, wondered if he knew it wasn’t just from the dancing.
Caleb’s fingertips twitched, tickling the sensitive skin of his forearm, and Mollymauk’s breath hitched. For a moment he considered kissing his hand, letting his lips linger where before he had been chaste. For a moment, he considered just staying there forever, joining the next dance then the next, then the next. For a moment, he considered just leaning in and letting whatever happened, happen.
But all he could do was stare.
After a heartbeat, or twelve, or twelve hundred, Caleb took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes. He bowed deeply, and Mollymauk mirrored the action, then gently squeezed Caleb’s arm and dropped the hold. When Caleb opened his eyes again, Mollymauk smiled shakily at him.
When Jester came to collect them, intending to redirect to a fair she’d caught wind of located just outside of town, Mollymauk noticed Caleb’s was gently, absentmindedly tracing the inside of his own wrist with his fingers.
So no, he didn’t really miss any opportunities. He had chosen the right path.
And there would be time for anything else later.
They hadn’t spoken about that night with the dancing, but something fundamental had changed. He had sensed Caleb’s eyes on him only to turn and see him engrossed in a book more than once, and he couldn’t for the life of him translate the look that crossed his face when their eyes did meet.
In one instance, they were rummaging through an antiques store when he caught Caleb staring at him through his reflection in an elaborate bronze mirror. Mollymauk raised an eyebrow at him, and instead of pretending he hadn’t been looking Caleb merely blinked at him.
‘It’s still odd seeing you without the coat,’ Caleb said. ‘All the colours.’
Mollymauk’s eyes drifted to himself for a moment before he looked back to Caleb.
He sighed quietly, and returned the silver candlestick he had picked up to its perch on an old oak chest. ‘I miss it too,’ he said, picking at a loose thread in his sleeve. ‘But I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable… that I want to continue drawing as much attention as I did previously.’
‘I can understand that,’ Caleb said. As he spoke, he tapped the fingers of his right hand against the thumb of the same hand one at a time, a nervous tic he had picked up while Mollymauk was… gone. ‘Although you do somewhat draw attention just by looking like… that.’
Mollymauk shrugged. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t already considered that.
At the same time, Caleb frowned, as though he was just processing his own words. Suddenly his eyes widened and his face flushed. He opened his mouth, worked it, closed it again, then said, ‘I should go find Nott,’ turned, almost tripped over a copper plate which gave an obnoxious clang, and disappeared into the depths of the store.
Fjord, alerted by the sound of the plate, glanced over from the far end of what could arguably be considered the aisle of clutter they were standing in. ‘What’s up with him?’
‘I have no idea,’ Mollymauk murmured, still gazing after Caleb.
Which was, as it happened, mostly a lie.
Yasha had told him to stay back, snarling at him before plunging headfirst into the fray, Beau hot on her heels.
He hadn’t been in a battle since he was killed, and adrenaline and fear coursed through him in equal measures, freezing him where he stood. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was an ambush, set by some twisted family the Nein had crossed in earlier travels.
Caleb stepped in line with him and, scrabbling in his bag, said in a low voice, ‘they do not know you. This does not have to be your battle.’
But their battles were his. Mollymauk readied his sword in response. Caleb gave a shout in Zemnian and launched a handful of flame at a swirling cloaked figure advancing on Fjord from behind.
He did what he could from a distance; words leaden with poison sending a man to his knees, a sword dropping from his hands as he clutched his face. A rogue who made an attempt to cut off Jester mid-spell danced from under his blade, but in the precious seconds gained she was able to fell him herself.
The air was filled with flashes of green, orange, blue, cracking with magic and tinged with the scents of smoke and blood.
He watched as Fjord dropped a spell to swing his falchion to protect Caduceus, Beau launched herself off Yasha’s back in a neat manoeuvre that allowed her to slam two attackers into the dirt headfirst. He turned to try and get eyes on Nott, and that’s when he saw her.
A slim, robed figure materialising out of the smoke with a wicked grin slashed across her face and her narrowed eyes fixed on Caleb. She had not been there before, he had no idea where she came from, but he saw a flash and had no time to even shout a warning before the dagger left her hand.
He cried out in a language he himself didn’t fully understand, the words buffeting those around him as though a gale had suddenly blown, and threw himself forward, his arm thrust blindly out with the motion. A searing pain lanced through the palm of his hand, and blood began pouring through his fingers, where now quivered the blade that had only a heartbeat earlier been in the hand of the woman.
A blade that he stopped a hair’s breadth from Caleb’s throat.
Watching the blood spill from his hand, he spat out a curse and felt heat flare from the red eye imprinted on his neck, long unused, as the woman suddenly wailed and clutched her face, dropping to the ground blinded.
Caleb stared in horror at Mollymauk’s hand, a look that rapidly morphed into one of barely contained fury. With a fierce grip on Mollymauk’s shoulder he thrust out his own shaking hand, and a wall of flame erupted from the ground, engulfing his attacker and several behind her, Caleb’s shout drowned by the ensuing screams.
Anger still pulsing through him, Mollymauk unclenched his hand, now slick with blood and numb from pain, and let the dagger fall to the ground. At the back of his mind crept the sensation of a sword being plunged deep into his chest and stealing his life. Caleb tore a strip of bandage from his wrist and bound the wound as quickly as he was able.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked, hands lingering on Mollymauk’s injury, eyes darting between his face and where their friends were still engaged in the fray.
‘You’re okay. I’m okay,’ Mollymauk said, coming back to himself, opening his mouth again to speak more, then changed his mind, squeezed Caleb’s hand, winced, and turned back to the battle.
‘Oh, thank the gods,’ he murmured as he finally spotted Nott, safe and shooting her crossbow from a distance, dropping one of their few remaining adversaries with a triumphant shout.
Caleb did not move from his side for the rest of the battle.
‘Do you know what you shouted?’ Yasha asked him later, quietly, after Jester and Caduceus had fixed his hand up to the best of their abilities. ‘When you cursed her?’
He shook his head, trying to flex the stiffness out of his fingers.
She repeated the phrase hesitantly, pronunciation shaky, and Mollymauk blinked.
Yasha smiled at him. A small, knowing smile.
‘How long?’ she said.
He hesitated. Glanced at Caleb, in the centre of the room, poring over a text rescued from the remains of one of their ambushers. A look of fierce concentration on his face, fingers tracing the words as he flew through them, hand still bare of bandages from the fight.
‘In this life or the last?’ he said. When she didn’t respond he was glad — he himself wasn’t even sure of the answer.
He wanted to talk to him. He desperately needed to talk to him. Their eyes met constantly now, they’d stopped pretending to look the other way. But there was no time, always something to do or someone else around.
Mollymauk made an effort to sit near him at mealtimes, curling his body towards him. Trying to let him know… whatever it was he was feeling without making him uncomfortable. And judging by the way Caleb was acting — fingers ghosting just above his arms, thigh just barely brushing against his at meals, quiet conversation that didn’t so much as hint at intimacy but was somehow laden with it even when he was just talking about the several hundred cat facts he apparently had memorised — it wasn’t making him uncomfortable in the slightest.
One night they barely even spoke to each other. They arrived back at the inn later than intended, so found themselves crammed in at a table that was far too small for their party because everywhere else was taken. Caleb had drawn the short straw, crammed into the corner of the booth, and fidgeted with his arms in the small space until he finally gave up and threw his arm over the back of the bench… and, coincidentally, across Mollymauk’s shoulders.
Then slowly but surely, throughout the night, as Mollymauk ducked to avoid Jester’s gesticulations, and precious bench territory was lost as seats were exchanged for alcohol collection purposes, he found himself leaning further and further into Caleb’s space until he was all but reclining, the back of his head resting on the slope between Caleb’s shoulder and neck. He could just feel the rough scrape of Caleb’s beard against his horns whenever he moved.
They didn’t speak a word. Nor did anyone else comment.
It took all his willpower not to close his eyes and fall asleep melted into Caleb’s side.
The next day, when Mollymauk awoke, he couldn’t remember how late they had all stayed up, or going to bed. All he could think about was the heat radiating off Caleb’s body — not like the magic, the flame. Just like… life.
But the pleasant recollection was short-lived: Fjord appeared at the door of the room Mollymauk shared with Yasha — and he suddenly realised she wasn’t there.
‘Hey, sleeping beauty, get your ass in gear. Everyone’s waiting,’ Fjord said, seeming mildly amused by Mollymauk’s drowsy, confused blinks.
‘We got a… a thing?’ Mollymauk yawned, pulling on his clothes.
‘Something like that. Come on.’
Fjord led him down the stairs and, to his even greater confusion, the others weren’t waiting for them there. Mollymauk raised an eyebrow.
‘They’re meeting us there,’ Fjord clarified, failing to conceal a grin before Mollymauk noticed.
‘By all means, lead on,’ Mollymauk said, gesturing to the door and following him out onto the street. More than anything, he was intrigued. Something was clearly going on that he wasn’t privy to, but given how relaxed Fjord seemed he was more than willing to just wait and find out in his own time.
He trailed behind Fjord down alleyways that had long since become familiar in their months of residence in the town, causing mischief and solving mischief and stumbling across much needed escape routes. They passed the square where they’d thrown themselves into the dance, the tiny street with the obscure antiques shop, the market where Mollymauk had almost been robbed.
They emerged onto a wide street and, even as he raised a hand to block out the sun that obscured his vision, he already knew where they were. The temple they had guarded so long ago stood tall to his left, casting long shadows behind it. Across the cobblestones was the bar he and Beau had lounged outside.
Fjord turned to the right, and Mollymauk immediately clocked their destination due to one simple fact: Frumpkin was, with a complete and utter lack of subtlety, keeping watch outside the door.
Though why their destination was the boutique where Beau had acquired their ridiculous hats, Mollymauk had no idea.
Fjord held the door open for him, and as he paused to scratch Frumpkin’s ears on the way past two large hands slipped over his eyes.
‘Just me,’ came Yasha’s soothing voice, as a bolt of panic shot through Mollymauk’s veins. ‘You’re okay, we just have a surprise for you.’
She sounded like she was smiling, soft and quiet though her words came. She was trying to reassure him without the others hearing, he realised. She knew he would panic on having his eyes covered. His pulse began to return to somewhere near normal, though a spike of adrenaline still remained.
He was steered further into the shop, navigated around what he presumed must have been displays of some kind, and finally brought to an abrupt halt.
‘Mollymauk, can I borrow your arm for a tinsy moment?’ came Jester’s voice. He laughed, albeit nervously, and lifted both arms to give her options. He then felt as more than one set of hands gently manoeuvred him, one arm at a time, and a weight of fabric slipped across his skin.
He heard Beau quietly remark, ‘Good job with the measurements,’ but whoever she spoke to gave no verbal response.
‘Oh, that’s nice,’ Caduceus said. Mollymauk heard a series of gentle thuds and felt a slight draught, and could only imagine that Jester was jumping up and down with excitement.
‘Okay, okay, go!’ she said, and he was again steered to a place not far from where he had been standing.
‘Oh, one last thing,’ Nott said, and he fight something light come to rest across his head and horns. ‘Now it’s perfect.’
When Yasha dropped her hands, Mollymauk found himself yet again blinking as he waited for his eyes to adjust to a bright light.
Then he realised he was standing in front of a mirror. Nott had retreated to the mirror’s side and had an encouraging grin plastered across her face, Jester and Yasha were at his shoulders, and further back Caduceus, with Frumpkin on his shoulder, and Fjord stood to one side, and Beau and Caleb to the other.
And then he saw the coat.
It was a deep, dark slate blue, with dark silver trim and buttons of the same colour. Very soft, very well fitted, very light and fluid and — if he moved — very unrestrictive in regards to movement. He began to smile, and then something caught his eye when he moved, and the smile became a gasp.
He clutched at the edge of the coat and pulled it away from his body to reveal the lining. On the inside, it was like an oil spill had been captured on cloth. The fabric shifted and shone from purple to green to gold and back in the light, and from other angles or in different lights it would doubtless gleam red and blue and black too. The buttons were bulky and mismatched and detailed and disastrous and overwhelmingly perfect.
And then there were the symbols. Some were the swirling, intricate designs that had covered his old coat, some completely new, all embroidered in a thread that was gold one moment, silver the next, copper thereafter — and it looked for all the world as though the symbols were moving.
Like they were alive.
‘It’s like mine,’ Beau said, cryptic in her excitement, but he understood immediately.
He slipped the coat from his shoulders and reversed it in one fluid movement, and where before the figure in the mirror had been stylish but inconspicuous, there now stood a Mollymauk that looked the way he felt — the way he knew he should look, feel.
‘I love it,’ Mollymauk said, his voice coming out in a croak. He raised his eyes to the reflections of his friends in the mirror, barely even registering the flower garland Nott had draped over his head moments earlier.
Jester hooked her chin over his shoulder, grinning. ‘Fjord and Yasha chose the cut and outer design because apparently I was being too outlandish, the buttons are from Nott’s collection, and Caduceus and I added to the symbols on the inside for something new and shiny, but it’s really Caleb you have to thank.’
Mollymauk glanced over to his friend, who was watching him wordlessly. His face was set in an expression that would have seemed stern if it wasn’t for the gleam in his eyes that Mollymauk had long ago learned to read.
‘...his idea, really,’ Jester was still speaking. ‘Beau suggested to make it reversible and Caleb ran with it, gauged the measurements and helped us with the old symbols — I wish I had his memory — and did a little bit of enchantment to make it that little bit extra… you.’
Unable to speak, he turned and embraced Jester, dragging Yasha in with them. Fjord gripped his hand with a firm, reassuring grasp before slipping away to where an employee — perhaps who they had commissioned to make the garment — was standing behind a counter, beaming. As Fjord paid, Beau awkwardly slapped Mollymauk on the back and slipped past them to escape the store. Caduceus, not wanting to crowd them, waited patiently for his own hug, which Mollymauk gladly gave him — he gave good hugs — and when he turned to do the same for Nott she had already vanished. He laughed.
And then he met Caleb’s eyes.
‘We should get going so our wonderful host can return to business,’ Fjord said, and began to shepherd his remaining friends out of the room.
Mollymauk slowly turned back to the mirror. He reversed his coat once more, and in a moment became a tiefling who could disappear in a crowd at a moment’s notice. The enchanted, enchanting lining was barely even visible when you knew to look for it.
Caleb stepped to his side, and Mollymauk met his eyes in the mirror once more.
‘And so order is restored to the world as Mollymauk once more has a coat almost as delightful as himself,’ he said quietly.
Something in Mollymauk released. It didn’t snap, nothing so harsh as that. It was as though a delicate string had been severed, releasing a precious stone to fall to the ground with a gentle ‘plink’.
‘When are you going to let me kiss you?’ he asked, and almost before he had finished speaking Caleb’s lips were on his.
It wasn’t a long kiss. They were in public and their friends were waiting outside. It wasn’t an awkward kiss, poorly thought out and poorly executed. It wasn’t a passionate kiss, one that led to grasping at clothing and tumbling to the floor. It was a familiar kiss, a gentle kiss, a kiss that felt as though he was a lover being welcomed home after a long time traveling.
And in a way, he was.
It was a kiss that lasted an age, yet at the same time it was over all too soon. As Mollymauk took Caleb’s hand and led him outside, he already missed the feeling of their lips pressed together, the soft pressure of Caleb’s hand cradling his jaw, the soaring swoon of his heart.
But that was the thing about kisses.
There would always be time for more.