In his sleep, Mollymauk Tealeaf dreams of rising.
He opens his eyes to darkness, blinking a few times to clear away the clouded cobwebs that cling to the edges of his eyelashes. The dark is vast, endless and impenetrable and almost soothing, but Molly knows that he’s awake, that he’s moving, that he’s somewhere, and all around his limbs he can feel fabric and earth tangled up tight, weighing him down as though it’s trying to drown him. There’s no panic in his mind, though, not immediately – he’s not quite there, is not entirely present, as though his body has woken but his mind is still slumbering, slowly coming to consciousness as, gradually, his body wakes up further. He feels it in his tail first, becomes aware of the very tip of it and twitches it back and forth, feeling it brushing against hard-packed earth and the prying fingers of tree roots. After that, he feels it in his legs and feet, recognising the prickle of pins and needles as blood circulates through them once again. Then it’s his arms, his hands, his neck, and then, finally, he feels it in his chest, feels his heart beat-beat-beating beneath his ribs, slower than it ever had in life but beating all the same. He feels his heart, and feels his lungs expanding and deflating with every breath, and knows that he is alive.
At the very edge of his consciousness, Molly feels a dull ache cutting across his chest, and remembers the sight of his own blood painting the snow scarlet.
At the very edge of his consciousness, Molly remembers the darkness of death rising to swallow him whole.
How long has he been underground? He is alive, now – he must be, because how else would he be here to think that at all? – but still he lies amongst the soil, discarded from the land of the living like unwanted litter. There is no life down here, not beyond the beetles and insects that he thinks he can sense scurrying over his skin. There is no sunlight to warm his bones. There is no air.
There are none of his friends here to greet him, to welcome him, to hold him and hug him and assure him that he is not alone. There is no one to assure him that he is not empty. There is no one to assure him that he is, and will always be, Mollymauk Tealeaf.
I have to get out.
He cannot stay here, beneath the soil and earth. He has to move, has to force his way out like he had only a few short years ago. There had been no one waiting for him then, either. But there should be this time. There has to be.
Molly swallows, and tastes dirt and soil on the back of his throat. He has to trust in his friends. He has to trust that Yasha will be waiting there for him, where the sunlight touches the ground high above him. He has to trust. It’s all he can do. He reaches out, tugging one arm free from the rotting, mildewed fabric wrapped around him, and reaches up blindly. There’s a slight void around him, as though the earth had hollowed itself into a grave for him, but even with his darkvision he cannot see through the absolute pitch blackness that surrounds him. And, when his seeking fingertips brush unexpectedly against soil and rock, his first instinct is to flinch back.
But there’s nowhere to flinch back to. There’s no space anywhere, not above his head or behind his legs or around his tail. His entire body, save for his head and the arm that he freed, is encased in the fabric like a burial shroud, keeping him wrapped up tight for all that the fabric itself is disintegrating and falling apart around him. He can feel the pressure and weight of the earth around him now, pushing down on his bones like leaden weights as though the earth itself is trying to consume him, to swallow him down and keep him amongst its frozen bones for all eternity.
In his chest, behind the cage of his ribs, Molly feels his heart start to beat faster. He knows where he is. He has been here before.
This is his grave, and it means to keep him here.
But it can’t. It won’t. He has risen from the grave before and he will do so again. He has to do it again. His only other option is to stay here, away from the sunlight and away from his friends, and let the earth and insects devour him until he is nothing but bones. Molly reaches up again, feels the rough touch of soil and earth against his fingertips and starts to scratch away at it again, tugging it free in chunks and clumps until, suddenly, all his seeking, desperate fingertips find is a cluster of rocks, jammed together so tightly that they barely move. No. He doesn’t stop, doesn’t let himself stop. He keeps digging, keeps grabbing and yanking at the rocks but they don’t come free, don’t move, don’t open up into the sky above him. They just remain where the are as though taunting him, keeping him sealed in this awful, claustrophobic tomb. Molly grits his teeth, frees his other arm from the shroud, and lifts it up to dig too. He can feel blood running down his wrists from where his fingers have been skinned raw by the rocks but still he keeps working, pulling and prying and twisting and tugging and doing anything he possibly can to free the stones.
When they finally move, Molly isn’t expecting them to. The rocks shift under his hands, dislodging slightly and letting in a small trickle of soil. It lands on his face and he shakes his head to clear it off, feeling it tracing over the peacock feathers on his cheek. Don’t focus on it, he tells himself, even as half of him wants to reach up and brush the soil out of his hair and face. Don’t focus on it, Mollymauk. He lifts his hands, pressing them against the stones once again, and is just about to resume his desperate, panicked clawing when the rocks shift on their own. A few of them tumble down, bouncing against his chest, and the trickle of soil increases in volume, becoming a stream, a rivulet, before, with a quiet groaning of earth, it starts to pour into the grave-hollow that surrounds him. Molly forces his limbs back into action, forces himself to dig faster, to reach up and find the open air that he knows must be somewhere above him, but every action makes the soil pour in faster as the earth races to fill his little bubble of life and snuff it out like a candle flame.
Molly opens his mouth to scream, and feels the grave-dirt pour down his throat to choke his lungs.
He wakes to a cry clawing its way up his neck, and he snaps his mouth shut and squeezes his eyes closed because he feels like if he let it out, he wouldn't be able to stop screaming. He's curled, shuddering, in a bedroll, but he still sees the endless dark behind his eyelids, feels the weight of the soil pressing down on him and pushing his limbs into the earth. With sharp, frantic movements his shoves his blankets off, scrambling to a sitting position and pulling his knees up to his chest. A dream, he tells himself, even as he feels his breath rattling in his lungs. It was just a dream.
There's the sound of rustling beside him, like the sound of soil on his clothes or brushing against his skin, and he flinches away at the first cautious touch to his shoulder.
"Molly?" The word is soft, fuzzy with sleep, and the hand that rested briefly on his shoulder pulls away instantly the moment he moves. "Molly, what is it? Are you alright?"
Molly manages to shake his head, even as he can feel the relief flooding his system – it's ok, he’s not underground, he’s not dead, it’s just Yasha, it’s Yasha, and he’s safe and okay and Yasha is here.
Yasha is here, and he is alive.
“Bad dream,” he mutters eventually. His throat feels sore and sharp like rocks were mixed in with the soil that he breathed, lacerating his throat and choking him on gravel and his own blood. “It was just a-just a bad dream. That was all. Go back to sleep.”
Yasha doesn’t speak, but a moment later Molly hears her shifting, and in the darkness of the tent he sees her moving to sit before him. She reaches out slowly, cautiously, looking to him for permission, and when he gives a shaky nod she settles one hand on his knee. Her touch is warm, as warm as it has always been. It’s as warm as life.
I am alive, Molly tells himself, and when Yasha gives him a small, concerned smile, he just about manages to smile weakly back. I am alive.
“Hey,” she says quietly.
Molly feels his smile widen, just a little bit. “Hey.”
“Are you alright?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Molly says emphatically, looking away. “I’m fine. I’m- I’m fine, Yasha, it was just a nightmare, no big deal, I can barely remember what it was about, it was-”
“-nothing major, love, it was- I’m- I’m going to go back to sleep, you know, it was nothing-”
Molly falls silent, dropping his head slightly. Yasha’s brow furrows, but it’s out of concern and not anger.
“Molly,” she says again, her voice halfway to a sigh. “Don’t lie to me. Please.”
But it’s what I do, Molly wants to say. It’s what I’ve always done, Yasha. I lie to everyone, about everything, if I think it’ll help. I lie to the Mighty Nein. I lied to the carnival. I’ve lied to punters and to tavern owners and to townsfolk and to everyone. I lie to myself.
But he doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say any of that. He just gives a little sniffle, clearing the snot from his nose, and reaches up a hand to brush it against his eyes. I lie to everyone, he thinks to himself. I lie to everyone I’ve ever met.
But not to Yasha.
Not to Yasha, not about things that matter. He respects Yasha too much for that, loves Yasha too much for that. He adores her with everything that he has, loves her more than he thinks he could ever love anyone else. She’s his best friend in every single way possible, and Molly loves that for being what it is. There’s never any concerns of romance with Yasha. There’s never any concerns of anything more. She’s just Yasha, and he’s just Molly, and he loves her so, so much.
He cannot lie to her about this.
Molly sighs quietly, brushing away the lingering tears that still cling to the edges of his lashes, and looks down between his feet, curling his tail around his ankles. “I had a nightmare,” he mumbles. “About- well, about waking up.”
“In my grave.” The words come out easier than he thought they would. His throat still feels tight, choked with soil and blood, but he can still speak around it. He can still make himself known. “I was- I was where they all buried me, in that god-awful tapestry, and I- I couldn’t- I-” He pushes his lips together, forcing himself to stop speaking. He knows that if he were to start speaking now it would all come pouring out of him, every moment of fear and every second of panic and the awful, cloying terror that he would never be free, that he would be locked away within the ground forever and would never see his friends again.
Yasha seems to understand. Her thumb rubs against the side of his knee, slow and steady and reassuring. “Okay,” she says quietly. “I- okay. Do you… do you want to talk about it?” Molly shakes his head, and when he notices the slightly relieved look on Yasha’s face he can’t help but give a tiny smile. That’s the Yasha he knows. They’ve had their deep, meaningful conversations, and will likely have them again, but they can both tell when the mood and time is right for serious conversation. Now isn’t one of those moments. Right now, Molly wants to forget his dream as much as possible.
And Yasha, bless her soul, already knows that.
“Okay,” she says. “I- hm.” She frowns a little, tapping her thumb against Molly’s knee, but barely a second later her face clears. “Come on,” she says. She pats Molly’s knee and then stands as best as she can in the confines of the tent, nodding towards the tentflap. “Come and take a walk with me?”
As if Molly would say no. As if Molly would ever say no.
He follows her out into the little circle of firelight in the middle of their small camp. Beau is taking watch off to one side, her still-ridiculous owl goggles firmly secured over her eyes. She doesn’t say anything when she spots them, just raising one hand in a small wave as, silently, Yasha starts walking out into the field surrounding them. She doesn’t say where she’s taking them but Molly doesn’t speak up to ask – he trusts Yasha, and he trusts that, wherever they are going, it is with a purpose.
They don’t go very far, though. After barely a few minutes of walking Yasha slows to a stop, her head tilted back to look at the stars above them. Away from the camp as they are, with the firelight a distant glimmer at their backs, the stars seem brighter, somehow - closer, as though urging Molly to reach up and touch them. He’d done that once, while high on some substance or another – he’d climbed up onto Yasha’s shoulders and had told her to lift him up so that he could talk to the stars. Yasha had, keeping a tight hold on his waist so that he wouldn’t fall, and when the giggles and laughter had finally left his system she’d lowered him back down, getting him a waterskin and listening to his wild, mindless ramblings until he eventually fell asleep.
There are no ramblings tonight. Molly still feels quieter than usual, his words buried in the same grave dirt that had embraced him for so long and, in the absence of his speech, the silence stretches on for a long while until Yasha eventually breaks it.
“I thought,” she says quietly, turning her head slightly to look at Molly. “I thought it might be nice if we got out of the tent for a bit.” She pauses, reaching into her pocket, and draws out a surprisingly uncrushed handful of flowers. “I thought that I could, you know…”
Molly knows. He moves closer, absently resting a hand on Yasha’s shoulder as he looks at the flowers in her hand. In the dark of the night, illuminated only by the stars overhead, he cannot make out the colours of the blooms, but he doesn’t need to. He knows what they are. They’re sweet little flowers, pale blue and white and a bright, sunny yellow, and Yasha’s entire face had lit up with delight when Molly had presented them to her the previous day.
I saw them growing by the side of the road, he’d said, after hurrying to catch up with the others on the cart, his smile widening just from seeing the look on Yasha’s face. They’re pretty, aren’t they?
They are, Yasha had confirmed. Her voice was soft – it always was, always with Molly – and just a little bit awed, and she’d hesitated for a moment before starting to reach out, glancing at Molly as if for permission. May I…?
Of course, of course! He’d pushed the blooms into her hands, folding her fingers over them. He didn’t have any worry about her crushing the small, delicate flowers. She wouldn’t. He knew that she wouldn’t. They’re for you, love. Do whatever you wish with them.
At the time, he hadn’t been able to see what Yasha had actually done with the flowers. Beau had called his name from up ahead, seemingly requiring his attention, and so he’d stretched up quickly to press a kiss to Yasha’s cheek before hurrying on, draping an arm around Beau’s shoulders once he’d caught up with her and quickly losing himself in the conversation. He hadn’t given a second thought to what Yasha had done with the flowers. He’d assumed that she’s pressed them between the pages of her book as she so often did.
But, it seems, she hadn’t done that. Yasha catches his eye, giving a small smile.
“Sit down,” she says quietly, nodding towards the grass, and Molly does so immediately. The grass is cool beneath him, the stalks tickling against his hands and brushing over his tail as it sways back and forth across the ground. “Are you comfortable?”
Molly nods. “I am,” he says. His voice is small, soft and quiet, but it seems fitting. He doesn’t want to be loud right now. He doesn’t want to be boisterous. He just wants to sit, and exist, and feel the starlight on his skin and the grass beneath his hands and hear the sound of his best friend’s voice.
Right now, he just wants to live.
“I am,” he says again, impossibly quieter, and feels the shifting of air as Yasha kneels down behind him. He knows what she’s about to do. This isn’t the first time that it’s happened. “…Thanks, Yash.”
Yasha only hums. She reaches out, gently squeezing Molly’s shoulder, and then he feels her hands brushing over his scalp. Yasha’s fingers are gentle as she starts to weave the flowers through his hair, tucking them into braids that she herself had put there only a few days ago. Her touch is so light that Molly can barely feel it but it’s still enough, is still enough to remind him of where he is. Of who he is.
With every flower that is tucked between his hair, he feels like he’s coming back to himself just a little bit more.
“Did you know,” Yasha says unexpectedly in the growing silence, her fingers still light and gentle against his scalp, “that while you were… gone… Caleb taught me some of the constellations of Wildemount?”
Molly’s ears twitch. He hadn’t exactly been expecting conversation, not from Yasha, but he’s not going to turn it down. He likes to talk, and Yasha knows that, but he also likes to listen, and this sounds like it could be fun. “Did he now?”
“Mm,” Yasha hums. She pauses for a moment, reaching down for another flower, and then resumes her work. “Back home, we used to use them to navigate by, but they’re a little different in Wildemount.”
“How?” Molly hears himself ask. “How can the stars be different?”
“…I actually don’t know,” Yasha replies. “I didn’t- it didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. Something about how we are all at different positions on the planet, or something like that, so they look very slightly different in Wildemount than they do at home.”
“…Well. Fancy that.”
“Mm. Although, um, Caleb also told me that Wildemount and Xhorhas are close enough that it doesn’t really make much of a difference.”
“Then what’s even the point-” Molly starts to ask, waving one hand, but Yasha quickly taps his shoulder to stop him from moving around too much.
“Molly,” she says warningly. “Hold still, or this will be all crooked.”
Molly stills immediately. “Sorry, love.”
“It’s okay. But yeah, the stars are… they’re more or less the same. All that’s really different is the names of the constellations. They have some different ones to what I’m used to.”
Molly feels himself perk up a little more at that. He’s always liked the stars, has for years, and he loves the stories that people have assigned to them, the myths and legends and fairytales that are told out across their infinite, celestial tapestry. He’s made up a few himself, both for his own amusement and others, but he’s always liked learning new stories about them. “Yeah?” he asks. “Like what?”
“Well… you know the, um, the scorpion?”
“Yeah.” When he’d still been finding his words, when he’d still been skittish and twitchy and half-mute, Yasha had started teaching him all the constellations she could remember from home. Even now, Molly’s first thought when he looks at the stars, no matter where he is, is always the constellations that Yasha taught him, instead of any of the others he’s picked up in the time since then.
“In Wildemount,” Yasha continues, “they add on some extra stars, and call it the centaur.”
Molly frowns. “But it doesn’t look anything like a centaur. It’s got pincers.”
“Apparently, that’s the centaurs bow.”
“Apparently, some people are blind.”
Yasha laughs quietly. “Apparently so,” she agrees. “Caleb tried pointing it out to me, but I couldn’t see a centaur in it either. It just looked like-”
“It looks like a scorpion!” Molly exclaims. “A centaur, honestly… that’s unbelievable.”
“There’s more than just that,” Yasha says, sounding amused. “There’s one that they call the snake.”
“…Don’t tell me it’s just-”
“It’s just a line of stars.”
Molly groans, dropping his head back until Yasha nudges his shoulder to make him lift it again. “Ridiculous,” he mutters. “Bloody ridiculous. I swear, Yasha, some of these people have got no imagination.”
“Well,” she says thoughtfully, “maybe not sometimes, but some of the constellations were quite nice.”
“Were they more than just a line of dots or a centaur that is blatantly a scorpion?”
“A few of them were.”
“Tell me about them?”
Yasha’s hands pause in his hair, and then Molly feels her lips pressing to the top of his head in a kiss, right between his horns. “Of course,” she says quietly. “Of course.”
Yasha tells Molly about the constellations. She tells Molly about the ship, and the twins, and how the raven constellation is actually the same between Xhorhas and Wildemount, and even all the way over in Tal’Dorei. She tells him about the constellations that are similar, and the ones that are different, and about every single tiny piece of information that she can remember, until she has no more flowers to weave and Molly is sat crossed-legged before her, watching the starlight sparkle and shine off the metal beads in her hair and the buckles on her clothing. Her voice never really changes save for when she laughs at one of Molly’s comments, staying soft and quiet throughout, but Molly likes that. It’s so eminently Yasha, this gentle and careful manner of speaking.
Eventually, though, Yasha runs out of words. She trails off with a small shrug, looking away as she starts to fiddle with the grass beneath them, and, in her silence, Molly speaks up instead.
“Yash?” he asks quietly.
Yasha looks back at him, meeting his gaze. “Yeah?”
Molly smiles. He can feel the barely-there weight of the flowers in his hair, can see the starlight sparkling in Yasha’s eyes. He can feel his own heart, beating away beneath the horrible, jagged scar that cuts down the centre of his chest. He is alive, and he is here, and he has his best friend before him.
“I love you,” he says, the words achingly, impossibly fond, and Yasha smiles back at him.
“I love you too,” she says. “You know you’re my best friend, Molly.”
“I know,” Molly replies. “You’re mine, too.”
“Even after…?” Yasha trails off without finishing her question, looking down and fidgeting anxiously, but Molly can hear the unspoken words. Even after I was taken from you? Even after I was not there to stop you falling? Even after I killed you, after I left you cold in your grave, after I deserted the party and returned barely before you did?
Even after everything that’s happened?
Molly reaches out, taking Yasha’s hand. Her fingers are warm against his own, her touch unspeakably careful and gentle when she squeezes his hand. He can feel the rough callouses left by her weapons on her fingertips, can feel the lines of half-healed scars and scrapes on her palms, but there’s no harshness to her hands. There’s no anger. In the quiet of the night, with the stars shining silently overhead and the grass whispering amongst itself out in the fields, there’s no anger anywhere. Molly leans in, stretching up a little to press a kiss to Yasha’s cheek. He feels more than he hears her exhale of breath, and when he kisses her on the other cheek, and then on her forehead, she squeezes his hand again. “Yasha,” he murmurs. “Yasha…” He sits back, taking her other hand so that he’s holding both of them, and looks up at her. “Yasha, dearest… you’ll always be my best friend, yeah? No matter what.”
Yasha quirks a small smile. “That’s a big promise, Molly.”
“Well, it’s a damn good thing that I intend to keep it,” he replies. His voice is flippant, as it so often is, but he knows that Yasha can hear the very real core of truth and honesty beneath it. “When I say ‘always’ I mean it. Even after…” He frees one of Yasha’s hands so that he can wave one of his own around them vaguely. “Even after everything, alright? You’re my best friend, and you always will be, and I love you.”
Yasha’s smile widens, and just the sight of makes Molly’s chest feel warm. Gods, but he loves Yasha so much. “Okay,” she says quietly. “I- okay.”
“Good. I’m glad we’ve reached an understanding.” He grins at her cheekily, kissing her cheek once more, and then stands, tugging gently on her hand until she rises with him. “Now come on, it’s late, and I don’t know about you but I don’t really feel like staying up for much longer. I’ve already taken my shift on watch – I don’t have any intentions to take another one.”
Yasha gives a small huff of laughter. “Alright,” she says, her voice soft. “Let’s go back to bed.”
They make their way back to the tents still hand-in-hand, waving a small greeting to Beau who barely bats an eyelid at their return. At this point, with all that’s happened, even she understands the very real need for comfort that so many of them have. Molly holds the tent flat open for Yasha, ducking in after her, and starts climbing under his blankets without a second thought, Yasha’s hand slipping free from his own.
In the darkness he hears a small sound, like someone clearing their throat, and then Yasha speaks up again. “…Molly?”
Molly pauses, half-under his blankets already. “Yeah?”
There’s a brief, tiny pause, as though Yasha is figuring out what words to say, but then a moment later she speaks again, and her voice is as warm as ever. “Sleep well.”
It’s not, perhaps, what other people might expect her to say. They might expect her to ask him to make some promise about never leaving her again, or to promise to try and stay safe, but she doesn’t say any of that. She doesn’t request it. They both know what the world is like. They both know how easily people are snuffed out of it. They both know Yasha’s commitment to the Stormlord and her strange relationship to her past. They both know how Molly’s past seems determined to find him. If either of them were to make any promises, they would undoubtedly be broken.
Which is why, instead of any of that, Yasha says this. Which is why, instead of hope and prayers and promises, she simply tells him to sleep well. There’s no guarantee that it’ll happen, but it’s more likely than anything else she could have said.
Molly smiles. “I’ll try to,” he says, and Yasha smiles back.
“Good,” she says, climbing beneath her own blankets as Molly settles down. There’s a few moments of shifting and rustling as they both make themselves as comfortable as they can on the hard-packed earth, but soon silence takes the tent once more, and barely a few minutes after that Molly starts to hear the faint, quiet sound of Yasha’s gentle snores. It’s a steady sound, regular and familiar to him, and it settles his mind further still. Yasha is here. Yasha is beside him. And she may not always be with him, and he may not always be with her, but in their hearts, in their souls, they both know that they will always have each other.
In the darkness of the tent, so different from the darkness of the earth, Molly smiles. There are flowers in his hair, and a heart beating behind his ribs, and his best friend sleeping next to him.
Mollymauk Tealeaf shuts his eyes, and dreams of nothing at all.