He keeps playing the same shady places after Sandra's death. Maybe he's hoping someone will slip up, that someone's words will ring hollow, someone's handshakes grip a little tighter than they should. Maybe he's hoping he'll figure out what the guard couldn't and he knows once he finds whoever is responsible, he'll... okay so his plan isn't completely thought through just yet, but he'll make sure there's no body to bury. Murderers don't deserve the same graveyard Sandra is in and this town only has the one.
Over time he understands that everyone he's spoken to means what they say. Either that, or he's too drunk to pick up on falsehood. He drinks more than he used to and he stays in the bars after his shows. Sits in some corner, never turns down wine, never speaks. He's watching, because from certain angles, he can piece her together. The waitress with the chipped tooth has her hair. The drunk falling asleep on a table has her same tired smile that he's been told makes his own expression go all soft. Used to at least. It doesn't get any easier.
A year or two later, he thinks he might have moved on, or maybe not. He's not any happier, he's just more drunk. Is that a form of moving on? Doesn't matter, it's a form of moving and that's what counts. He stopped caring a long time ago, stopped caring if he was moving forwards or backwards. If he stays in place, he starts thinking too much. He sold the house about a month after her death. He'd only ever been back once a week, rent was eating his funds and he kept cleaning blood that wasn't there.
Waterdeep is a big city and big cities mean no one knows who the fuck he is. Blessing and a curse. Building a new audience sucks, but people don't look at him like his presence breaks their hearts. The guys at the wine shop look at him like he's an annoyance when he swings by for the eighth time that week and he wonders how often they see people like him. He wonders if all alcoholic assholes blur together in their minds, just like everyone in every tavern he plays feel like one indefinable mass. He can't reach out to anyone, no matter how hard he tries.
He plays better venues here - not by much and most throw him out after the first show. But better. The kinds of places the holy people come to and he isn't ever sure if he needs to censor his songs. Because he gave up hope on the gods long ago, when they didn't do shit for his family or his wife. When he asks the barkeep about it over his fifth glass of wine that night, the guy tells him it's fine. Most holy people hate someone else's god, so he just has to make sure not to be specific on which god he feels betrayed by. Easily done, he mostly feels betrayed by himself, doesn't think the gods had anything to do with his choices.
They dim the lights when he plays, some magic, he thinks. It's horrifically easy to see the crowd's faces, so he makes sure he's taken a few shots. Regrets it, when they start dancing across the floor and on the tables, because that much movement only barely agrees with his stomach. He manages to keep from vomiting it all up, though, and is surprised when his gaze fixes on what must be a miniature sun. Some golden glow twirling across a table, then twirling someone else across a different table and if he tracks the brightness with his eyes, that's just cause the innkeeper said they'd dim the lights, but obviously didn't.
After a while, he accepts that this dancing sun is some god trying to play tricks on his inebriated mind to try to get him to believe again. He's over it. He's over looking for the glow every time he plays and he's over trying to analyze why he feels better when he finds it. Often, it comes with a bundle of darkness, that never seems to want to dance and always seems to get roped up into it anyway. Also some dude, that dances way too good for how uncomfortable he looks. From the safe distance of his stage, he can never help but watch them.
His sun is a girl, a woman. He figures that out one day, when she arrives early once, while he's setting up. Apparently it's set to be a bigger show and she wants to make sure they got the best seats. At least, that's what she tells the waiter, before launching into a sermon about the Morning Lord. Oh, of course. Of course his sun is some god's devotee, see, he was right when he said she was some kind of ploy, or omen at least. He stays more or less sober that night and studies her. She's tiny, short blonde curls, fluttering boots and bright smiles. It doesn't matter how long he searches, she is nothing like Sandra, and maybe that's why, when she asks him if he wants to sit with them, he doesn't say no.
A few months later he's traveling with them and she asks him to play most nights and most nights, he doesn't say yes. Most nights, he ignores her, raises his wineskin to his lips and knows he's being unfair. He's not sure what he's contributing anyway and if he doesn't even play... What good is a bard, that doesn't play? Doesn't matter. He's moving, literally this time, and he's pretty sure he's moving forward. Drunk, yes. Happy, eh. Happy is a strong word. He's comfortable letting this crew drag him around while he waits for the day they realize he's just an unhelpful burden.
They keep him around, even when he sells his shadow to a vampire. He's not even entirely sure why he does it. Maybe it's cause he's stuck in the castle and saying no is probably a death wish. Probably it's just cause he's stuck. He stops moving, he starts thinking. That's how it's always been and how it always will be. To be fair, he doesn't exactly tell the crew that he sold his shadow. They seem happy enough to have him back, they don't question him too hard.
Zone of truth feels like shit. Or maybe it wouldn't feel so bad if they were asking different questions. Truth or dare could be fun. Getting a spell cast on him, because his party doesn't trust him anymore, because the one person that was always rooting for him no longer knows what to think... Worst part is, they have a point. So he deflects, dodges questions as best he can and when she stumbles into her own spell, apologizing and telling him she loves him, he pats her on the back and tells her it's fine.
And maybe it is fine, he thinks, maybe it is fine. It becomes clear her feelings aren't going anywhere and he's not sure if that's his fault, if he's leading her on, or if it's her. She tells him once, as a servant of the Morning Lord, she loves all that is light. He doesn't have the heart to tell her that he's about as far from light as the party gets – even Strix has a good heart, after all – so he tells her that he doesn't like the word 'servant' instead. She's no one's servant, her choices are her own and her strength of both body and character are completely her own accomplishments.
His friends start dying again and he doesn't know what to do about it. None of them do until the guy that killed his family shows up with a plan. He punches the glasses off the guy's face more times than anyone should punch an old man. The plan is stupid and pointlessly painful and he's really done with people he cares about dying. When she gives him her family's ring, he wants to throw it off the tower, but her death is the only plan they have and she's made peace with it. He knows better than to disrupt that peace. He doesn't kiss her back.
Metal and magic hold her together now and he isn't sure how to feel about that. She's not... He didn't see her die, but she's not quite who she was. She was always bad at stealth, but now she clangs around on top of that and he's mostly just glad these jungles have enough noise, that they don't have to be too careful. When the nightmare snake swallows her and the others fall and dive into a pool of blood and he's alone, that's just they way it was always going to end.
The Ring of Winter is the best thing that ever happened to him, except for Sandra and Simon and maybe, probably the Wafflecrew. Forth best thing that ever happened to him. He's contributing, finally and it doesn't matter, that he barely ever plays and that his Drunk and Dying Tour had exactly one concert. Because he can make an ice bird and swoop around the battlefield and when he throws ice daggers, a lot of the time he actually hits. So when it tells him to enter a cave and that cave leads to a dark place, it seems like a reasonable thing to give back. And when it tells him to kill the last few people he's ever loved, somehow his mind is twisted enough to accept that, too. His hair turns black and maybe that would worry him, if they weren't out of alcohol. As is, he has bigger problems.
His friends get the fucking ring off his finger and he doesn't know what to do. It's like the world is holding his breath to see how he deals with this and he has no idea. He doesn't know how to say sorry, he's never been good at apologies and he's never tried to kill his friends. When they say they want to leave, he couldn't agree more.
His son is burning and... and her head rolls to a stop at his feet like some cosmic irony. And if he sees her much like he first saw her, like a sun, but blurry around the edges – this time that isn't the alcohol, it's tears. He can't fix her this time, at least not right now, he can't pull her out of some devil face in a raven costume. Instead he makes sure the monster that took her never sees the sun again, collects all of her parts, that are still metal and horrifyingly cold. Disbelief is too weak a word.
The destruction of the death curse by blinding sunlight should feel like a victory. It only feels like a confirmation of what he still refuses to let set in. His friends don't celebrate like he imagines most do, they just grit their teeth and keep marching. They keep moving, but this time that doesn't stop him thinking. Or dreaming, this time. So when they get her back, it doesn't fell real at all. She's human, how the fuck is she human again? He's afraid and he doesn't talk much when he finally gets it, that it's really her, because if he talks his voice will get all choked up. And he can take the rest of the crew throwing him glances like the ones he got after Sandra passed, but if she looks at him like that and thinks it's her fault, he might as well jump off a bridge.
Maloon is really just some asshole, climbing out of the water like he's hot shit. Converted by her words, one of the first he's ever actually seen her sway, and the dude one-shots some pretty big bad guys. But the fucker was with the people attacking them when he arrived and is probably still a danger to the city. So he feels completely justified when he points him out to the guard and it probably doesn't have anything to do with overhearing the guy ask her if she was single. Probably. He'd rather drink more than think about it, if he's honest.
After a while it just keeps happening. She pulls people into her grasp – bad people, usually – with her smiles and forgiveness and kindness and he soon finds himself accompanying her to some backwater town that turns into Barovia and later kicking a dwarf out of their house. It's all getting a bit much, he thinks. Nevermind that he almost loses her in not-quite-Barovia. He bargains with a ring he doesn't even have and when the fucker that killed his family tells him to talk about his feelings, he dances around the words. Gets the message across well enough, apparently, because there she is. Right in front of him, a little dazed and very shaken, but she's back and that's all that matters.
Her family's ring still hangs from a necklace around his neck, along with a gear to commemorate his son. He lost that necklace when he was disintegrated and when he didn't get it back with his other belongings when they brought him back, he didn't quite know how to deal with it. He didn't know how to deal with dying at all, to be fair. He kept seeing it happen, kept hearing their screams and what a way to go, huh. What a way to go. So when he finally gets the last of his stuff back, he's apprehensive and dodgy about it, because honesty can be dangerous.
The next time she dies, she shatters and it's his fault. He wasn't there and when he was, he made it worse. Helps puzzle her body together and that's it. That's all he can deal with before he breaks down completely. He stops moving and everything catches up to him and crashes over him and he doesn't know what to do, he doesn't –
Whatever they tell him doesn't reach him until things come full circle and he tells her about Sandra. Sitting in a hallway, separated by only a thin wall from the playing children and here he is talking about how he lost his wife.
His sun is a light next to him and when she curls around him, he feels like an asshole, but it's good to talk. He's reminded once again of how unfair he's being, like every time she asks him to play a song and he doesn't, like every time he threatens to kick her suitor's teeth in because he can. She's patient and he's been waiting for the day that runs out. He used to think that would be a good day, but now he dreads it.
He'll just have to get his shit together before then. He just needs a little more time.