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In the Moments We Were Alone

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Caleb trailed after Mollymauk with a faint expression of dread on his face and shook his head. “But why must we be the ones that must go to fetch Jester?” he asked.

The pair of them wove through the Interstead Sprawl, Molly blazing a path in a whirlwind of color and charm for Caleb and Frumpkin to follow. The afternoon sun was just beginning to make its descent, but the bustle of merchants shouting their wares and citizens milling about was still in full swing. Though the city itself was still on alert after the attack on the Zauber Spire and the strange incident of the floating object in the Pentamarket, and there were still Crownsguard stationed at the gates and the street corners, life had largely returned to normal. Normal enough for the Mighty Nein to resume their roaming through the streets without fear of being arrested, anyhow.

Molly sighed. “Fjord and Nott went to go see you-know-who at the Evening Nip for work, since he likes 'em the best. Beau is holding our research at the Archive since she’s technically one of the monks there. Yasha is off…Yasha-ing. And Jester can’t get herself, since she and the do-deca thingy in her bag—which is why we need her right now, I might add—are currently sitting in the Pillow Trove waiting for a package that I will eat my coat for if it ever arrives.”

“Ok, ja, let me amend that,” Caleb sighed, “Why do I have to come? I could have kept researching. That last book about the cultural ceremonies of major denizens of the Underdark was very promising. And then by the time you got back, Beau and I would be ready to compare notes.”

“Oh, I believe you there, dear,” grinned Molly, “but that would mean I would have to try and charm my way into the Tri-Spire all on my lonesome. And you wouldn’t want that.”

“Why? You are very charming, it would be fine, would it not?”

Molly suddenly started coughing violently. “Are you alright?” Caleb asked with a start.

Mollymauk held his hand up for a moment, then said with only a slightly-strained grin, “I’m fine. Air went down the wrong way, or something like that. I was going to say that yes, while I am rather charming, I also look quite like some of the types roaming around in Xhorhas, coincidentally the same country where the terrorists that just tried to take down the Zauber Spire were from. And unlike you and Jester, I do not have a rapport with the fine gentlemen that guard the entrances.”

“Yes, but you remember that I was denied entry a number of times before, yes? I look like a hobo.”

“Right. But between my cleanliness and your human-ness, and my charm and your familiar face, we are just one charismatic, hygienic…entity on the way to fetch our friend. We should be fine.”

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“No entry,” said the guard. “This part of the city is on lockdown." Behind him, the quiet cobbled streets seemed to suggest a significant lack of foot traffic.

“But…but we aren’t going to cause any trouble," Caleb tried. "We’re just here to fetch someone. The blue tiefling that came by this morning. You’ve seen us together before. You’ve seen me in the Tri-Spires before,” he added desperately.

“That doesn’t change anything. She had a key for her room in the Pillow Trove. Do you also have a key?” he asked, doubt written clearly across his face.

“No,” muttered Caleb.

“Then tough luck,” said the guard. “Only people that get in are the ones living here or working here.”

“I do,” blurted Mollymauk suddenly from Caleb’s side. “I work here.”

The guard’s focus immediately shifted to the lavender-skinned tiefling in the ridiculous technicolor coat. “Do you? Where?”

Caleb’s took a deep breath.

“In…in the Silken Terrace,” said Molly.

“Really? Where in the Silken Terrace?”

Caleb’s stomach tied itself into a knot. Any second, now…

Molly put a hand under his jaw and leaned into them as if in thought. The guard raised an eyebrow and sighed. But then, Molly slowly trailed his fingers down his neck and over his chest until he got to the front of his linen shirt. Caleb and the guard watched with shock as he tugged the already low cut even lower and grinned suggestively. Caleb almost choked on the breath he’d been holding.

“The Triumph Chime,” said Molly, and winked.

The guard’s demeanor instantly shifted. “Oh, uh, I see,” he said. “But why are you with a…a client from outside the Tri-Spires?”

“Met ‘im inside, actually,” said Molly brain now racing at a thousand miles a second, “but we decided to go drinking for a bit in one of the rowdier taverns. You know, to get us into the proper mood.”

The guard’s face was now a deep, flushed crimson. “Right, right,” he said, and immediately stepped aside.

“I cannot believe you, Mollymauk Tealeaf,” Caleb muttered after they walked past. “I-I mean…”

He glanced up at his companion, who was wearing an enormous, shit-eating grin. “Enjoy the show?” Molly teased.

“I-I…” Caleb tried.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” chuckled Molly. “I guess I really could have gotten in by myself, then. Ah, but then what would be the fun in that?”

“I…I cannot believe you, Mollymauk Tealeaf.”

Before Molly could respond, a voice called out from behind them. “Hey! Hey, wait!”

They turned around. The guard had recovered, mostly, and was now scuttling over to them. “Look, you really can’t be wandering around like this. Investigations are still going on and the streets might not be safe. Let me escort you there, alright?”

Their eyes briefly met. Molly’s were saying, don’t worry, let’s just play along. Caleb’s broadcasted, oh, fuck, oh, fuck, oh fuck.

“Of course, sir. Lead the way.” Molly pulled Caleb in close, hanging onto the shorter man’s arm, and gestured for the guard to walk on.

Somewhat flustered again, he did.

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The second they made their way into the courtyard, walked beneath the strings of lights and multicolored triangle flags, passed through the stone archway, cleared the rose briars, creeping bluebells, and squat pansies, left the guard blushing at the door, and slipped into the Scarlet Embrace, Molly steered Caleb away from the small crowd in the lobby and through the nearest door, which led into a hallway full of more closed doors.

Caleb let out a heavy exhale, and Molly patted him on the hand. “There we go, that’s it. See? It all worked out.”

“I still cannot believe that it did,” Caleb sighed.

Molly pouted. “What, are you saying I’m not pretty enough to be your evening companion?”

Caleb balked, and quickly looked at the ground. “No, no, that’s not it. I just…I’m just impressed by your quick thinking.”

Molly leaned in closer. “Oh? And is that all you were impressed by?”

Eyes still on the floor, Caleb completely missed the flicker of…something that passed across Molly’s face when he said, “Let’s just get out of here now. Beau is still waiting at the—”

The handle of the door to the hallway turned. A woman in a rather sheer gown walked through, leading a nervous-looking young man by the hand. But before Caleb could even register the panic erupting in his chest, Molly had grabbed him by the waist, pinned him to the wall, and furiously pressed his lips against Caleb’s. His horns made a slight clink as they hit the wooden panels right above Caleb’s shocked expression. His jewelry jingled. This close, pressed together, Molly could feel the wizard’s heart racing. He wondered whether it was because of the shock, or because—

“Ahem,” said the woman from behind them.

Molly turned around, and took a step back. He caught the briefest flash of a profoundly dazed expression plastered across Caleb’s face, and wished he could have had longer to enjoy it. “Can I help you?” he asked with a dazzling smile.

She had her arms crossed. “Oh, good, you speak Common. You’re blocking my room.”

“My apologies.” Molly swept Caleb behind him and moved them both backwards. “Enjoy your evening.”

The woman grabbed her patron and brushed past roughly. “Exotics,” she scoffed, and closed the door.

“I would say fuck you too,” Molly mused, “but I think somebody else has that covered. Shall we get going?” he asked, turning around.

Caleb wore a deep scowl. “That was disgusting,” he said.

Molly’s heart plummeted. “Well,” he tried, “well, sorry if—”

Caleb hastily held up a hand. “Nein, not…not that. We can discuss that later. I meant what that woman said.”

Relief flooded through him, and he almost wanted to kiss the man again. Molly grinned and waved his hand dismissively. “Ah, don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s nothing new for a tiefling.”

Their eyes met. “It shouldn’t be that way,” Caleb said firmly. “You don’t deserve that. People like that woman, they can fuck off.”

Molly thought of something charming to say. But under the weight of Caleb’s intense gaze, he found himself unable to respond.

He felt Caleb reaching for his hand. “Let’s go now, ja? The others are probably wondering what’s taking us so long.”

He nodded and trailed after the wizard. “I know that’s the way it should be,” he said after a moment, “but that’s not how most people think.” And before Caleb could interject, Molly squeezed his hand and said, “Thank you, though. It was nice to hear it said out loud. And I’m…ah….I’m glad it was you.”

Caleb didn’t respond, but Molly could have sworn that under the dust and scraggly ginger facial hair, he was blushing again.

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“Ca-leb…” Jester grinned and leaned in until she was just under his chin. “Caleb something looks different about you.” She waggled her eyebrows in an impressive feat of mischief-driven dexterity. “Caleb…did something happen?”

She looked over at Molly, who was busying himself with his card deck, and winked. Molly wasn’t sure what it meant, but the whole scenario delighted him nonetheless.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Jester,” tried Caleb. “Now come on, Beau and I need you back at the Archive.”

She turned her head quickly, nearly smacking him in the jaw with her horns. “Caleb…you can tell me, Caleb! My mother was a courtesan, I know that look, Caleb.”

“Jester, if you are implying that I have been…partaking in evening trysts any time in the recent past, you are unfortunately rather mistaken.”

Jester beamed. “No, no, that’s a way different look. You look like you just got kissed by someone you like. Like, like-like.”

Molly fumbled with the deck, and seventy-eight cards tumbled onto the ground. Jester and Caleb looked over at him.

“Are you alright, Molly?” Jester asked sweetly.

“Yes, dear, I’m perfectly alright.”

“Here, let me help!” She shoved the bag of holding into Caleb’s bewildered arms, and flounced over to Molly. As she knelt down next to him she whispered, “Caleb has glitter on his lips.

Infernal. “Jester, I think you’re reading a bit too much into the situation. There were some shenanigans to get in here, nothing more than that.

She passed the last card over. “If you ever want some help, you know who to ask. You've got the look too, Molly. I promise I won’t pretend to be you and make him wear your girdle.

Molly snorted and stood up. “Thank you, Jester,” he said in Common, “for all your help.”

She gave him a radiant smile. “Shall we get going?” she asked.

And as they walked out of the Pillow Trove and onto the street, Molly trailing just a bit behind the others, only one thought ran through his mind. You look like you just got kissed by someone you like.

He ran a hand through his hair. “Fuck,” he muttered softly.