Caleb rolled over and woke up with a start, reaching into the empty space he thought Molly had been in when he fell asleep. He sat up, looking around his empty room, and shook his head. You idiot, of course he did not stay. He dropped his head down into his palms, curling his knees up to his chest and sighing. You were a pitiful sight last night and he was there for you, but why would he stay? Why should he? Why are you suddenly so soft for this man? So weak? He rubbed his hands over his eyes, still swollen from crying the night before, then through his hair. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to push aside the disappointment of not waking up next to Molly. Truth be told, this was not the first morning he had woken up reaching for the tiefling. Since he'd woken up face to face with him a few weeks ago, after the warlock incident, it had been happening more and more. Weak, he thought again.
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, standing to move to the chair he had laid his belongings on, stumbling in surprise when the door swung open abruptly.
“Caleb!” Nott stood in the doorway, holding a bag at her side, eyes wide with excitement. “Good, you're awake, we have a surprise for you!”
“Good morning, schatz .” Caleb chuckled, righting himself. “A surprise? Wait, we?” He looked around Nott, seeing Molly standing sheepishly in the hallway and trying to ignore the skip in his heartbeat at the sight of him. “Oh...”
“I had, ah… hoped we'd be able to sneak out and back before you woke up,” Molly mumbled, clearing his throat and stepping back into the bedroom. “I didn't want you to wake up alone, after last night. I'm sorry.”
Caleb couldn't seem to stop the small, pitifully grateful smile that crept across his face at Molly's thinking of him, wanting to be there for him, “It is fine, Mollymauk, do not worry.” Molly smiled back at him, crinkles appearing next to his eyes like his face couldn't hold his smile. They stayed, looking at each other across the room, a blush building across Caleb's face, at the tips of his ears, until Nott cleared her throat.
“A surprise, we have a surprise for you, Caleb!” She said impatiently, brandishing the bag in front of her and shaking it slightly.
“Oh, ja , of course,” Caleb looked down, taking the bag from her hands and opening it. Looking in he saw… charcoal, and incense, and herbs. He looked up, bewildered. “Y-you…?” He let out a surprised laugh and looked between Nott and Molly, both standing in front of him looking proud of themselves. “For Frumpkin? F-for me ?”
“Of course, for you! You don't have nearly as many nightmares when you have Frumpkin around. Molly suggested us chipping in to get him back for you, this morning. He came to find me while you were still asleep” Nott smiled up at Molly, who turned an interesting shade of magenta.
“I just-” He bit his lip. “I thought it might help.”
“Well, you were right,” Caleb stepped forward, crouching down to gather Nott into a hug, still looking into Molly's eyes. “ Danke, schatz. ”
Molly's eyes widened at the endearment, unsure of who it had actually been addressed to. He felt a bloom of warmth in his chest, overwhelming him slightly, and he had to look down, had to look away from Caleb. He continued to avoid eye contact, looking down at his boots, until his heart stopped thundering in his chest and the heat left his face, hopefully taking his blush away with it. He took a deep breath and looked back up at Nott and Caleb, who had moved over to set up Caleb's things on the floor in the corner of the room, not wanting to waste any time. Molly's mouth dropped open slightly, his heartbeat speeding up again as Caleb sat cross-legged on the floor while Nott grabbed the other things he needed for the ritual, combing his long fingers through his hair, taking a small band from his pocket to wrap around the short ponytail he'd created at the nape of his neck. He swallowed and ran his forked tongue across his lips unconsciously, flexing his fingers at his sides to ward off the sudden urge to run them through Caleb's hair. Shit , he thought, turning and rushing through the door as quietly as he could. He stopped and closed the door gently behind him with a tiny click , leaning against the wall and clenching his jaw, breathing through his nose and wishing Yasha were there. He had to talk to her about this. He guessed it had been building for a while, but there was no denying it now. He'd have to think about it later, he couldn’t deal with it on his own. After a moment, he sighed, bracing himself, and finally sauntered downstairs as if his whole world hadn't just tilted. He needed a drink .
When Caleb and Nott wandered downstairs a little over an hour later, Caleb had Frumpkin settled on his shoulders like a scarf. The rest of the Nein sat at a corner table, and sent up a small cheer at the familiar sight of the fey cat. Caleb unconsciously sought Molly automatically, and when their eyes met across the tavern floor, Molly raised his glass and gave him a lopsided smile. Nott scurried over to the table, scooting in between Jester and Beau, with Caleb following behind her at a slower pace, a bit more at ease than he'd been recently, now that his familiar was with him again. He sat down next to Jester at the end of the bench, barely listening to the conversation that bounced and bubbled around him. His nightmare had left him unnerved, and even with Frumpkin returned to him, he couldn't help but look around the room, scanning faces suspiciously and reassuring himself of the exits.
He was itching to get back on the road, to be on the move again and feel a little safer. He startled as he felt a hand settle on top of his right hand where it was resting on the table. Looking down, he saw Molly's warm, calloused but somehow still soft, hands enveloping his own and slowly prying his fingers from their clenched position, leaving small imprints of his own bitten-off fingernails in the flesh of his palm. He swallowed and looked at Molly. “ Danke ,” he muttered, pulling his hand back and readjusting the wrapped bandages to cover his palm again.
“Is everything okay?” Molly said quietly, not wanting to interrupt the group or draw attention to Caleb's apparent distress.
“ Ja, Mollymauk, I am fine. Restless, is all,” Caleb said back, still looking down at the table, rubbing his hands over each other nervously. “I am anxious to be moving on from here, I suppose.”
“We'll have to get supplies, but Fjord said we should be leaving tomorrow morning.” Molly considered offering to stay with Caleb again tonight, but held back, not wanting to be brushed off, feeling too vulnerable in his recent realization. “You're safe, here, with m-” He coughed over the stumble in his sentence, “Um, with us, until then. It will be alright.”
Caleb nodded, blinking back up at him, “ Ja , thank you. And, ah, I know I already said it, but, thank you, also, for… for everything.”
Molly smiled back at him again, and took a large swig to finish his drink, “Of course, Caleb.”
Nott stayed behind with Caleb while the others went into town for supplies. He seemed to be in an off mood, which wasn't unusual after one of his worse nightmares, but this time it seemed a bit different, and she needed to make sure he was okay. He sat, silently rubbing his left thumb in circles on the palm of his right hand, on his bed in their room while she made sure all of their things were packed up, ready for the trip or, just in case, ready to leave together, just the two of them. It had been a surprisingly long time since they'd last talked about leaving the group, but she was always ready in case her boy needed to bolt.
Satisfied she'd prepared their things, she crept over to her wizard, clambering up onto the bed next to him and leaning lightly into his side. She let out a relieved sigh when he moved his arm around her shoulders and scooted her a bit closer. In his way, she knew that meant he was fine, just deep in thought. He'd tell her what he was thinking so hard about when he was ready, but there was no immediate cause for alarm. They would stay with the Mighty Nein.
The next morning, Caleb woke up with his arms wrapped around his pillow, and not Mollymauk's waist, as it had been in his dream. He sighed. Nott was curled up behind him in the crook of his legs and Frumpkin was on the pillow above his head, but he had to remember that Molly had gone to his own room last night. There had been no reason for him not to. Caleb had given him no reason to stay with him, so why would he have? He shook his head, exasperated with himself. He patted Nott on the head and got out of bed to gather his things, grateful they'd be leaving this morning.
After they were both ready and Frumpkin was settled on his shoulders, Nott and Caleb went and knocked on Fjord and Molly's door. “Come in, guys, we're jus’ about ready to leave” Fjord's gruff voice drifted through the door. Caleb turned the knob and started to walk through, stopping abruptly as he took in the sight of Molly standing in the middle of the room, shirtless.
“Oof,” Nott ran into the back of his knees, sending him tumbling forward, Frumpkin teetering and falling from his shoulders with an unhappy yowl, Caleb himself landing on his hands and knees at Molly's feet.
He looked up slowly, unable to stop himself from dragging his eyes over Molly's entire form in such close view. His eyes slid up over Molly's boots that laced up to just below his knees, his colorful leggings that hugged his thighs. He swallowed as his gaze found skin, a dusting of hair trailing down the middle of his lower abdomen where purple skin met the top of the leggings, his eyes locking on an opalescent stone crescent moon hanging from a curved silver bar pierced through Molly's navel. He trailed further upward, following the path of tattoos and scars, stopping again at Molly's lips, curved up in a sharp grin as he looked down at Caleb, still on his knees in front of him.
Molly could admit, at least to himself, that he rather liked the sight of the blushing wizard before him, on his knees and looking up at him like he was taking it all in and memorizing everything he saw. Interesting , Molly chuckled to himself, holding out a hand for Caleb, his tail swinging lazily behind him. “Quite the entrance, Mister Caleb.”
Caleb put his hand in Molly's and allowed himself to be pulled from the floor, his heartbeat thudding loudly in his ears. “Ah, ja , sorry. I was… distracted.” He finished lamely, backing away from Molly and nearly sending himself over backwards when he collided with Nott again. “Sorry, schatz , I, ah, I'll be downstairs when everyone is ready to go.” He turned and hurried from the room, his ears turning more scarlet by the second.
Nott looked suspiciously between Caleb's retreating form and Molly, who was still standing in the middle of the room with his hand outstretched, and was currently debating skipping a shirt altogether today. Fjord smirked at her and shrugged, tugging on his shoes and making his way out the door, slapping Molly on the back on his way out.
Molly chuckled again, pulling on his shirt and coat on, very aware that Nott was still staring at him, eyes narrowed. He looked at her with an eyebrow raised and cleared his throat, “So, uh,” he stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and shrugged. “We gonna get going or what?”
“I'm watching you, buster!” She said, pointing her finger at him accusingly and turning to run after Caleb.
Molly sighed, grabbing the last of his things and heading out.
Out at the cart, Jester had already loaded the supplies and was sitting at the front holding the reins as far away from Fjord as she could. He finally wrestled them from her and they sat together, bickering over who should actually be in charge. Much to her disappointment, Jester lost boulder parchment shears and Fjord was triumphant. Beau sat atop the frame of the covered roof, and held an arm down to swing Nott up to sit next to her. Molly decided he'd like to get a little more sleep and climbed into the covered section of the wagon, surprised to see Caleb already sitting in the corner, curled up and reading with Frumpkin sitting at his side.
Molly stopped, not wanting to make him more uncomfortable after the incident this morning, but still hoping to sit with him. “Sorry, it is okay if I sit in here, with you?”
“ Ja , sure,” Caleb responded, not looking up from his book. He hadn't turned a page the entire time he'd been hidden in the back of the cart, he'd still been thinking about Molly, about how he'd looked smiling down at him, about his vibrant tattoos and the soft-looking hair on his lower stomach… but Molly certainly didn't need to know that.
Molly's brow furrowed at the curt response, but pulled himself up into the cart anyway. He settled himself down a few feet away from Caleb, closer to the opening of the cart, and shifted around a bit, getting himself comfortable for the day's journey.
“Everybody in?” Fjord called out, hitting the side of the cart twice. Everyone called back in various states of wakefulness, and Fjord set the horses in motion.
Molly tipped his head back onto the box against his spine, letting his eyes fall mostly closed, but keeping and eye on Caleb in his peripheral vision. He hadn't flipped the page in a while, which was odd. He usually read quickly but as far as Molly could tell, he was just staring blankly at the middle of the book. Frumpkin though, was staring at him. Is he..? He's not even reading, he's fucking using Frumpkin to look at me! Molly realized with a bit of a shock. He opened his eyes to look right at Frumpkin and Caleb jumped, looking up at Molly through his own eyes, his mouth dropping open and cheeks blushing brilliantly scarlet. Molly sputtered out a laugh and Caleb looked down, swallowing hard and focusing on his book, finally turning a page.
Smiling to himself, Molly lay his head back again and fully closed his eyes, allowing himself to doze.
Idiot , Caleb thought to himself. Got yourself caught, looking at someone you can't have, shouldn't want. Garbage, you're garbage, of course he'd laugh at you. He chastised himself, embarrassed of his stupid crush. Of course someone as vibrant and beautiful as Mollymauk, someone who was confident and amazing like that, wouldn't look twice at a grimy, dirty, insignificant human like himself. He sighed. Weak , he called himself. You're weak and you can't even help yourself, can you. You want to be near him, you've been dreaming about waking up next to him for weeks now. Ridiculous. He looked over as Molly, who had fallen asleep, his mouth falling slightly open as soft breaths made his chest rise and fall, his tail sweeping slowly across the floor, back and forth, back and forth. Caleb rubbed his hands over his eyes and across the stubble on his jaw, setting his book aside and gathering Frumpkin into his lap, deciding more sleep would be welcome. He pulled his knees up to his chest, Frumpkin curling up on top of them and acting as an impromptu pillow of sorts for Caleb to rest his head on. Caleb quickly fell asleep to the sound of Frumpkin’s purr and the road passing beneath the cart.
Molly didn't know how much time had passed when the cart hit a particularly large bump in the road that jostled him out of sleep, but he opened his eyes just in time to see Caleb's sleeping form tumble toward him as he was knocked off balance. Caleb let out a yelp as Molly simultaneously opened his arms to catch him, but he still fell backward at the impact.
Caleb ended up on top of him, their noses barely half an inch apart, and they both stared wide-eyed at each other as they heard Jester yell out, laughing, “Oops, sorry, everyone, I hit a big rock !” as Fjord yelled at her, “Jes’, gimme those, this is why I'm th’ driver!” Molly and Caleb both broke into laughter, Caleb tipping his head down into the crook of Molly's neck to muffle the sound. His stubble brushed Molly's collarbone, and Molly suddenly let out a soft moan, feeling goosebumps spring to his skin. Caleb was still laughing, hearing Beau yell from behind the cart, and missed Molly's distress completely. He heard Beau collide with the side of the cart, then scrambling noises that indicated she was climbing back to the top with the help of a cackling Nott.
“Um, Caleb?” Molly said softly, barely daring to breathe.
Caleb pushed himself up on his forearms, shifting against Molly, and watched a lovely magenta spread across his cheeks. “Sorry, am I crushing you?” He said, moving to back away from him.
“No!” Molly gasped, reaching out to hold onto Caleb's arm before he could break away completely. “I mean, um, you can stay here? We're, uh, less likely to go tumbling again if we just… stay like this?”
Caleb looked down at him, considering. “ Ja , I suppose you are correct,” he said quietly, scooting back down next to Molly, who curled into his side, carefully arranging his head on Caleb's shoulder to avoid knocking him with his horn.
Gods, what a dumb excuse to get him to stay, Molly thought to himself.
You don't deserve this, Caleb was thinking. But he'd take what he could get, for now. He stared at the cart's cover as they journeyed on.