The warmth had crept into the pointed tips of his purple ears first, then tinged his sharp nose and his cheeks, and that feeling, the warmth, that was his favorite part of alcohol, what he drank for, really—the clip of steel against the bare skin of neck everyday as he leapt into battle sent shivers racking through his body no matter how many times he did it, and by the time they got to a tavern at the end of the night, he was still chasing away the chill, no matter the weather.
When you were swapping blood for power, strength was an obvious trade-off, weakening himself to gain an edge just for a few moments in a fight.
Molly was always cold, and there was nothing like a strong drink to counteract it. The rooms they usually pulled were drafty, when they had a roof over their heads at all. He was used to sleeping on the ground, even when they’d had the tents, but the chill of the earth settled into his bones every night. His coat was only so heavy, and fires always sputtered out eventually.
But once they started drinking, he could find enough warmth to feel a little stronger for a while.
This particular tavern was more lively than most, and he hoped that meant that the rooms they’d bought for five silver a piece would be a little better kept and better-equipped at keeping out the elements, but in the meantime, he would get as drunk as the gold he’d tossed the barkeep would get him.
Jester sidled up to him, her tail flicking back and forth, perfectly sober and still wearing an expression more mischievous than any other patron of this bar. “Mollyyyyy,” she cooed, and he swung an arm drunkenly around her shoulders, planting a sloppy, whiskey-scented on her cheek. She smiled and cuddled into the affection. He was used to this, to hugging and kissing and cuddling, and most other members of the Mighty Nein had not yet warmed up enough to respond to it. But it was his preferred form of affection, and Jester was always happy to receive it. Really, it was warm. “You’re turning pink.”
He laughed boisterously, drawing the stares of a couple human patrons, townsfolk probably unaccustomed to one tiefling, let alone two. He bared his teeth in a sharp smile, meeting their gaze, and their eyes dropped to their table, the whispers passing amongst themselves.
“Well, I’m normally not that far off from pink, I suppose.” He wondered where Yasha had disappeared to tonight; she might’ve already headed off to bed, overwhelmed by the noise and the music and the chaos on the makeshift dance floor where the tables had been shunted apart enough to make room.
Beau had dragged Fjord into the center, placating his apprehension with pats on the shoulder and guffaws of laughter at his protests, and seemed to be teaching him some absolutely batshit movement that seemed more like drunken fight technique than a dance. Nott and Caleb were shuffling back and forth on the edge of the crowd, Caleb trying to lead Nott well enough so she’d stop tripping over his feet, and garnering about as many stares at the tieflings’ giggling was.
This town—gods, what the fuck was the name of it? Molly didn’t have a clue anymore, with how much the drink was settling in and how many places they’d passed through in the last week and a half—didn’t seem particularly used to people of their ilk, but at least most of the humans in this tavern were inebriated to the point that they stopped seeing color. Only a few eyes were wandering now, but Molly had never had any trouble with wandering eyes.
In fact, he could use a few more, on occasion. Being the center of attention, for better or worse, had often been a more effective weapon than his swords.
“Molly, Molly, Molly,” Jester said again, her voice rising a note on each iteration of his name. “Do you wanna dance, Molly?”
He turned his wide grin to her, bright as the sun and sharp as a knife, and she responded with a mirrored grin of her own. Tossing back the rest of his whiskey, he extended a hand, more graceful with her than he was with almost anyone else—she made it hard to be uncomfortable, easier not to stumble over himself. Jester Lavorre was a good friend to have. “Always.”
She pulled him onto the dance floor as the music quickened, their feet tapping in an elaborate, constructed jig. It was warm here, in the midst of the crowd, bodies stumbling into each other for lack of space and lack of sobriety. If he could capture this warmth and bring it with him, he’d never want for anything else no matter how long he lived.
Jester giggled uncontrollably with him as he spun her, under his arm, then out and in, and she caught his wrists, much stronger than he was, and sent him spinning in return. In his intoxicated state, his hands fumbled and slipped, and he stumbled headlong into the rest of the crowd, catching himself squarely on the shoulders of—
Caleb, who stumbled with him in surprise, as unsteady on his feet as Molly was, and both of them went crashing into the bench of a fortunately empty table on the edge of the crowd. Molly couldn’t stop himself laughing, even as Caleb sputtered for words, a little indignant and a lot confused, and in fact his drawn eyebrows, almost comically concerned—Caleb had to be at least a little drunk, with that much emotion on his face—made Molly laugh that much harder.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—” Molly stammered out the words around hiccups and laughter, trailing off into giggles that didn’t seem to permeate Caleb’s outer shell. “Jester— I let go of Jester—”
Jester, the life of the crowd, had skipped over to join Beau and Fjord, locking elbows with both of them and leading them in an odd line dance that only threw Molly back into chest-heaving laughter as Beau threw all of her energy into kicking her feet up as high as possible and Fjord tried to mirror the girls, his cheeks a stark magenta in contrast to his green skin, and Molly didn’t know if he was drunk or embarrassed.
His friends were so much fun, so warm and alive and warm, and without thinking—how could he be thinking, right now, with the heat of the crowd and the intoxication smothering all brain activity, flattening it out into joy and contentedness—he leaned into Caleb’s side, head propped on his shoulder.
It was so natural to do with Jester, so casual, but as soon as he’d done it he knew that this was, hmm, forbidden wasn’t the right word, but certainly dangerous, and Caleb froze beside him, body stiffening like a board.
But dear gods he was warm, in his oversized coat, patched and repaired and added onto to keep him bundled up tight no matter where he slept, and the soft, worn scarf that he hadn’t taken off to dance. Molly didn’t know if he too had been cold, or if he was just so used to never knowing what might happen that he kept his outerwear on him at all times.
Molly himself had left his coat on a rack at the door—he’d left it plenty of places in the past and it was absurd enough that no one had stolen it yet. As cold as he always was, and as much as he loved his coat, he was sure blasé about whether or not it was gonna stick around, but he’d come from nothing and he’d return to nothing at some point or another, and it wasn’t worth worrying about the things he had more than worrying about having fun.
And he was certainly having fun right now, and Caleb was warm and flushed from dancing and drinking, and when Molly snuck a glance up at his face, he hadn’t gone so blank that Molly thought this was an issue.
Still very dangerous though. But Molly didn’t have much issue with danger; in fact, he leaned into it most days, flirted with it like it was his job, and did a much better job courting it than he ever had a living person.
“Hmmph,” he mumbled, the sound almost involuntarily rising from the back of his throat, and he nuzzled a little further into Caleb’s shoulder, keeping his horns as non-perilous as possible. Caleb didn’t move for a moment, but after Molly had held his breath for what was getting to be a long time, his shoulders softened, and Molly let go of the air captured in his lungs. “I like being warm.”
“It is quite hot in here,” Caleb said, and his low, accented voice resonated in the bones upon which Molly was resting. Warm. “Are you too hot, Mollymauk? Do you need air?”
“Hmmmmno,” Molly hummed, fuzzy and content, and closed his eyes. Caleb had been a lot less stinky since they’d all taken that bath in Zadash, and Molly pressed his nose into Caleb’s neck. He was flirting with danger and enjoying it immensely, and as far gone as he was to the alcohol, he couldn’t see himself backing away from whatever cliff he could feel himself approaching. “No, no, no, I like the warmth. It’s too cold usually. Alcohol’s warm. This tavern is warm. You’re warm. I like warm.”
Caleb’s shoulders hadn’t stiffened again, but he seemed to be still. Then, he snaked one arm around Molly, his bandage-wrapped hand rubbing up and down Molly’s arm.
Eyes half-closed, Molly hummed again, a little pleasured sound, and Caleb’s cheeks warmed further, a minuscule smile catching on his lips.
“Are you cold, Mollymauk?”
“Oh, perpetually,” he said, and he could feel how the word got jumbled in his teeth, like the syllables had fallen over themselves on the way out of his mouth. He needed another drink. He’d talk clearer and think less that way, and then maybe he’d be less uselessly curled up against Caleb’s side and more willing to kiss him.
Hmm. That was the cliff he’d been dancing toward, and now that he could see it, his cowardice had snuck up on him again. It had stopped any further words in his throat as he looked up at Caleb’s flushed lips and shining eyes, and he swallowed down the fogginess that was creeping steadily further into his brain.
“You do draw blood on a daily basis,” Caleb murmured, and it was a miracle that Molly could hear it over the roar of the crowd. But Caleb’s mouth was so close to his ears, and it was a wonder that Molly could even think about the crowd at a time like this. “Blood loss is prone to weakening a person.”
“Hmm,” Molly hummed in agreement, not quite trusting his lips to get any point across if he opened them. “Mmhmm.”
Caleb’s eyes hadn’t left Molly’s, and Molly was just drunk enough to wish he wasn’t a coward, and just sober enough to recognize that he was.
He needed another drink, dammit.
And yet, he couldn’t bring himself to move. There was some kind of spell holding them both here on this bench, where they’d fallen only a minute ago, flailing limbs and clumsy dancing, and in another minute it might break and they’d go back to what they’d been before, and both of them could write it off in the morning as a drunken accident.
Oh, he was such a fucking coward.
“Do you need thicker clothing?” Caleb asked, and toyed with the broad neck of Molly’s cotton blouse, impractical as it was with the winter coming. “If you’re chronically cold, perhaps—”
“Pssh,” he scoffed, forgetting his cowardice and the cliff he was on the edge of at the mere thought of changing his outfit. He glanced down at the low neckline of his blouse. “I can’t possibly sacrifice the look for warmth, can I?”
When he looked back up, he froze now, his mouth agape as he met Caleb’s eyes, ducked lower now, an inch between their noses. It was funny—Caleb was usually the first to call himself a coward, but Molly was starting to get the idea that wasn’t the case.
His tail gave a nervous little flick, hidden beneath the table, and he scuffed one boot against the wooden floor. He felt like a foolish youth—not that he could remember being a foolish youth, but that was hardly the point—waiting for someone else to make the first move, and yet here he was, frozen in the moment, as though something was holding him back from closing the last few inches.
“Caleb,” he whispered, and found those clever eyes as hungry as ever, drinking in every crevice of Molly’s face and committing it to memory.
Caleb didn’t say anything as he pressed forward into Molly’s lips, and Molly could feel himself falling. He sank, in fact, into Caleb’s mouth, soft against his own, and he had to shift to pull himself up enough to react, leaning further into him.
It was so warm, spreading into his fingers as he wrapped both hands into Caleb’s hair, and both of them pressed together. Caleb’s arms circled him now, engulfing him in warmth, and Molly didn’t think he’d ever be cold again.
The door opened, letting a few more patrons into the bar, and a chilly wind swept into the room, and Molly gasped as it ran its cold finger up his spine. He broke out of their kiss but only tightened his grip on Caleb, pressing into him, and Caleb held onto him until the door had closed and the pleasant stuffiness had settled once again.
Molly could feel his hands trembling for an entirely different reason as Caleb broke away, his eyes warm and his smile soft. “I hope I’ve managed to warm you up, Mollymauk,” he murmured, and stood, sweeping back into the crowd.
Nonplussed, Molly pressed one warm hand to his mouth. His entire body was suddenly hot, all the way down to his toes, where heat was usually the last to permeate. Gods, Widogast, you can breathe fire.