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you can cross the same river twice

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Caleb wonders if it’s possible to fall in love in retrospect.

Since Molly’s death Caleb has been thinking about him a lot. Even more so than when he was alive. Death does that to people, he ponders while he sits awake during night watches and draws patterns into the dirt. Death somehow shifts the presence of someone from outside of you into your head and makes them live there on and on and on.

Much like a violinist who only plays one song over and over.

Because Mollymauk can’t change in his mind, he’s destined to stay the same, just as Caleb knew him, without room to develop, to evolve.

And still.

Still, Caleb finds himself replaying their conversations almost obsessively in his mind. He’s able to remember most things, really, but sometimes, when it’s been too long, memories fade from him. And he doesn’t want Mollymauk’s memory to fade.

Mollymauk, who said he didn’t care about what they did before, only what kind of people they are now. Mollymauk, who needed to live by this code because his past never belonged to him. Mollymauk, who gave Caleb the tiniest smile when he said “That is enough for me, Mollymauk Tealeaf.”.

Stupid, ridiculous, endlessly brave Mollymauk Tealeaf.

Caleb feels an almost forgotten fluttering in his chest. Being in love is something he almost can’t remember.

Almost.

In hindsight, Caleb can’t say if he’s been in love before Mollymauk died. Maybe he just didn’t realize it. Maybe he got better at sorting out his feelings during the last months.

Today, the thoughts of Mollymauk are especially persistent. And it’s Jester’s fault. Her voice keeps repeating in his head, small and timid and unsure.

“I’ve been asking the Traveler to teach me this new spell. To bring Molly back to us.”

Caleb could see the surprise on Nott’s and Fjord’s faces. Beau on the other hand simply sat up straighter, leaned forward towards Jester and nodded encouragingly. That’s when Caleb knew that Beau is the same as him.

Replaying memories, still searching for solutions, still hoping, not letting go.

Not ever letting go. They’re both very good and not letting things go, Caleb thinks.

“I think I can do it now”, Jester said. “But I need his body and a pretty big diamond, guys. Like. Really big.”

So now they’re traveling towards the Glory Run Road again. And as if Yasha was able to feel what is going on, she joins them when they’re halfway there. Caleb can see her talk to Jester, tears glimmering in her eyes before she hugs Jester.

Caleb is sure that Yasha hasn’t hugged any of them first so far. But there they stand, holding each other tightly and Caleb can see Yasha’s lips move. He doesn’t need to hear the words to know what Yasha is saying over and over again.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Later, when they’re only a little more than a day’s ride away from Mollymauk’s grave, Beau sits down next to him, shoulder to shoulder.

“You’ve been quiet”, she says.

Caleb shrugs. His mind hasn’t been quiet at all at the prospect of seeing Mollymauk again. It would have been so fitting, being in love with a dead man. The thought of being in love is still foreign in his mind. The last time he was in love, he was merely a teenager.

Now his heart stumbles at the thought of Mollymauk pressing a kiss to his forehead.

“You know I am not much of a talker”, he says, wondering if he should just tell Beau.

“Except when it comes to books and cats”, Beau says and gives him a lopsided grin. Caleb manages a smile.

“Looks like we’ll be complete again tomorrow.”

Her voice is so quiet, Caleb almost can’t hear her.

Complete again.

Yes.

“I’m happy”, he finally rasps, the words foreign on his tongue. Happiness feels strange, like something very old and lost to him, and still very new. Maybe he’s learning how it works to be happy again.

Beau actually puts her head on his shoulder.

“Me too”, she says.

The words stumble out of his mouth before he can stop them.

“Do you think it is possible to be in love with a dead person?”

Beau’s head stays where it is but Caleb can feel Beau go still at his words. His heart is hammering in his chest as if it wants to escape. Breathing is suddenly very hard. Hearing the words out loud is still very different from just testing them in his mind.

“Yeah. Sure”, Beau answers. No hesitance. No judging.

When did Beauregard Lionett become one of the very best friends to him? Caleb can’t say. Just like he has no idea when he fell in love with a certain purple tiefling.

“I feel stupid”, Caleb rasps, wringing his hands and trying to control his breathing.

“It’s not stupid, Caleb. Isn’t it like… super normal that people only realize what they had when it’s gone? Or whatever? That’s what it was like for me anyway. That dumb fuck was the worst and then he pissed off and–you know? When he gets back I’ll hit him. Like. At least twice. And then I’mma hug the fuck out of him because I fucking... didn’t do that while he was still around.”

Caleb doesn’t want to hit Mollymauk. He wants to hug him. He wants him to smile. And in a very ashamed part of his brain is a wish for a kiss. Caleb probably doesn’t even know how to kiss anymore. Molly on the other hand–

He can feel heat rising to his cheeks and he clears his throat, hoping that Beau won’t notice.

“I don’t think I want to hit him”, he confesses and Beau snorts.

“Nah. Didn’t think so. Though I have to say, Caleb. If you start smooshing faces I’ll get the fuck out of there. No offense.”

Caleb coughs a little and Beau raises her head again.

Beau looks at him and Caleb actually manages to look back. Beau seems to consider something, then she opens her mouth and Caleb can see the embarrassment on her face.

“Pretty sure that asshole is like. The brother I was supposed to have, y’know? And I didn’t realize that before–before he died. For me. So. Yeah. Not stupid. And now I have to stop talking about my fucking feelings or I’ll vomit”, she says, her voice hoarse and her eyes definitely wet.

Then she gets up and ruffles his hair aggressively before stomping away.

Caleb doesn’t sleep much that night and he knows that Yasha and Beau are also awake. Yasha staring at the sky, Beau pretending to be asleep.

Still, they’re the first at Mollymauk’s grave where, surprisingly, a rather dirty and worn-out coat still floats in the wind. Caleb feels his breath catch in his throat because the whole grave is full of vibrant, colorful flowers. Caduceus doesn’t seem to be surprised by this and he smiles, apparently satisfied with his handiwork.

Yasha sinks to her knees and carefully touches the flowers while Beau grabs the coat and folds it up before ripping the stick out of the earth.

“Let’s do this”, she says, throws the stick aside and swallows heavily, while Jester slowly approaches the grave and pulls out the diamond.

Caleb can’t breathe.

He’ll be back. He will be alive and breathing and–

Even though he’s exhausted and tired and weak Caleb helps to dig up the corpse. No one speaks when they find the remains. After months, there is not much left that resembles Mollymauk and Caleb has a hard time looking at what’s left of the colorful person he knew.

Jester is crying the whole time while she carefully puts the diamond on what was once Mollymauk’s chest. There is no question if the person coming back will be Mollymauk or someone else.

Jester calls only for Molly’s soul. The soul that belongs in this body above any other soul. Yasha and Beau hold Jester’s hands and Caleb carefully places a hand on Jester’s shoulder while Fjord, Nott and Caduceus stand on either side of the corpse.

The diamond vanishes in a flash of light and Caleb feels nauseous as he watches the body reassemble itself like a morbid puzzle.

“That is quite fascinating to watch”, Caduceus mumbles somewhere to his left.

When the body is whole again, it’s completely naked.

There lies Mollymauk Tealeaf, naked, scarred and in a bed of wildflowers.

In a moment of silence and panic nothing happens before red eyes spring open and a deep breath gets sucked into intact lungs.

Caleb realizes that he’s been holding his breath as they all rush forward, except himself and Caduceus.

He needs to sit down. He needs to calm his breathing. He needs to touch Mollymauk to make sure that he’s really alive and unharmed and–

“Alright there, Mr Caleb? Breathe with me, you’re doing great. Breathe in, breathe out”, Caduceus’ soothing voice says in his ear and warm hands grab him as he stumbles.

The next few hours are a blur for Caleb.

He has no idea how to approach Mollymauk while all the others have no problem acting as if he never died in the first place. Beau doesn’t actually punch Mollymauk, but she does hug him and Caleb hears her suppress a sob when she stammers “You fucking asshole, don’t you dare–don’t–just don’t!”. Yasha doesn’t leave his side for even a second. Nott and Jester keep telling Molly all about what happened to them after he was gone (”We were pirates!” – “You were pirates without me!?”) and even Caduceus asks curious questions about being dead.

Fjord shows Molly his sword. Jester and Molly hold hands. Yasha shows him all the new flowers she collected.

All Caleb can do is sit there and stare at Mollymauk. Wonderfully alive Mollymauk.

His heart aches so much, it actually feels like a physical hurt and Caleb just wants it to stop. Being in love never felt like that, he’s sure of that. At one point, he finds Mollymauk staring back at him.

Caleb’s throat feels very dry while those red eyes rest on his face and a small, lopsided smile spreads on his face.

He might just faint then and there.

“Do you want to get out for a bit?”, a familiar voice says and Caleb flinches before he looks up into Mollymauk’s red eyes. He swallows and looks around in a panic before he finds Beau’s face and she nods her head to encourage him. Caleb gets up and feels dizzy as he follows Mollymauk out of the small Inn they settled in for the night.

“You looked like you wanted to be elsewhere”, Mollymauk says when the cold night-air brushes their hair out of their faces and Caleb sits down on one of the boxes standing outside the Inn. Mollymauk sits down next to him.

“So. I can add ‘eaten by worms’ to my resumé. Pretty impressive, huh?”

Caleb shuddered and snorts.

“I don’t remember it though. Pretty glad about that.”

Caleb doesn’t know what to say. There are many things he wants to say, but they would be uncalled for, inappropriate and terribly embarrassing.

“The new guy is great, he knows an awful lot about mushrooms”, Mollymauk continues and lets his legs swing back and forth as if testing them. See if they still work the same as before.

“Ja. He uh–he really likes mushrooms.”

Molly laughs.

“Don’t we all”, he says with a chuckle and then he’s quiet for a while, looking up at the sky. Caleb thinks about how Beau doesn’t consider his feelings stupid. They’re still there, buzzing under his skin, now that Mollymauk actually sits beside him. But what do you do about feelings like this? They seem to big for Caleb’s body, trying to spill out in any way they can.

When a warm hand reaches for his he almost chokes on his own spit.

“Hey Mr Caleb”, Mollymauk says and doesn’t look at him when he speaks. His eyes are still turned skyward. “I died. And it sucked. Like, a lot. I might just die again tomorrow.”

Caleb’s chest feels very tight at the thought. Molly’s fingers don’t let go of his hand and he thinks his heart might fly away into the night.

“Don’t. Don’t–Just. Be careful, ja?”

Mollymauk tilts his head back and finally turns to look at Caleb.

“I’ll try. Dying sucks, to be honest with you. What I meant though, is–you know. If I die again tomorrow I might as well make the most of my time, yeah?”

Caleb barely manages to look Mollymauk in the eyes.

If I die again tomorrow I might as well make the most of my time, yeah?

Caleb takes a deep breath and turns his hand upside down, so his fingers are able to intertwine themselves with Mollymauk’s.

“We all missed you”, he rasps. It’s all he can manage.

Mollymauk smiles, a small, earnest smile. Not his flashy grin, the one he puts on when he lies and jokes and postures. It reminds Caleb of the smile he saw after they discovered the truth about Mollymauk’s past. Or the lack of it.

“I’m pretty sure I missed you, too. Can’t remember, but. You know. It was good with you all. I’d like to experience more of that.”

Another silence follows, this one stretching out longer. Caleb wants to know what’s going on in Mollymauk’s head. He also wants to say everything that goes on in his mind.

I’m too broken to love anyone. I’m too broken to be loved. I hate myself so much, being in love is so hard. Touching is hard. Talking about caring and feelings is impossible. How can it feel so good to just hold someone’s hand?

“Beau told me she missed me. Said I’m like a brother to her”, Mollymauk says after a long while. “She’s still entirely unpleasant, but I would die again for her any day, you know. Having siblings like that is great, to be perfectly honest.”

So Beau did what Caleb cannot. Just said it. Even though she must be ashamed and even though she has a hard time talking about feelings, just like Caleb.

“Mr Caleb?”

“Ja?” Caleb clears his throat. “Mr Mollymauk?”

His own words make him smile.

He missed saying this.

“If I die again tomorrow I’d be really angry if I didn’t try to kiss you right now.”

Caleb doesn’t want Mollymauk to talk about dying anymore. But his whole body freezes when he hears the second part of Molly’s statement and when Molly gets up and suddenly stands in front of him, all he can do is look up at him helplessly, his cheeks burning and his heart hammering.

“So, Mr Caleb. Will you let a dead man steal a kiss?”

The grin Mollymauk shows him is the one he uses when he tries to hide his uncertainty. Caleb knows how to spot it. He replayed every single one of Molly’s expression in his mind so, so many times.

“No”, he whispers and his heart might just explode at the flash of hurt that flickers over Molly’s features, “but a living one would be–that would be–”

Molly blinks and the next thing Caleb knows he has a lap full of purple tiefling, hands in his hair and very warm lips pressed on his mouth. He gasps and almost falls off the box he sits on before his arms wrap around Mollymauk and he finally finds the sense to kiss him back.

No more dying, he thinks as he desperately buries his fingers in Mollymauk’s hair. No more dying.

Molly kisses him like a drowning man in need for air. He tries touching every part of Caleb he can get his hands on and Caleb finds himself panting into the kiss. It’s all so much. Which is only fitting, he thinks, since this is Mollymauk Tealeaf he’s kissing.

“Why, Mr Caleb”, Molly pants against his lips. “For kisses like that, I might just stay alive as long as I possibly can.”

Caleb pulls him down again.

“Deal”, he murmurs into the next kiss.

He supposes that he’ll just have to kiss Mollymauk Tealeaf every day for as long as possible.