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Moonshine couldn’t sleep. The hollowness in her chest and the guilt weighs her down too much. Her body is wracked with pain as she remembers Hardwon’s laughter and Beverly’s patient smiles. Glancing over at her bedside table, she picks up the abandoned woodblock and the little humor patch, ripped free of Bev’s Green Teen uniform. She lays the objects in front of her and manages a watery smile as she looks down at the symbols of her friends.

There’s Hardwon, in his woodblock, strong and vulnerable, with a heart sweeter than Mama Toegold’s sticky buns. Beverly, in his humor patch, the little Green Teen from Moonstone forced to grow up too fast, keeping his innocence and hopefulness through everything. These objects couldn’t mimic the feeling of Beverly’s arms around her waist as he hugged her tight, Hardwon’s back hacking away at their enemies, trying so hard to protect them. She tries to convince herself that it’s okay. Rosaline leans against the wall, gleaming with the promise of adventure. Moonshine isn’t up for adventure anymore. 

-------

Beverly was spry and alive, bouncing around the Crick, and eventually back to Galaderon. Hardwon traveled around - to Frostwind to pay his respects to Gemma, to Irondeep to help the dwarphanages, back to the Crick. Everyone lost found themselves at the Crick eventually, and Moonshine prided herself on the fact that everyone could try to find a sense of belonging in her own home. Lucanus and Mee-Maw grew older and wiser, sticking by Moonshine through her decisions. She never became the Mee-Maw, instead working to improve the Crick’s hospitality, coordinating cook-outs, traveling as an Ambassador to important meetings across the world. They weren’t worried about her - Moonshine always found her way home to the Crick, so why should they be worried?

She remembers the day that no-longer-young Bev came walking back, a backpack slung around his shoulders and a mask of happiness plastered over obvious despair. She runs out to hug him and he dissolves into tears in her arms. Hardwon joins the hug too, half-elven eyes crinkling with worry, lines deepening in his face as he looks at Moonshine. I’ll talk to Beverly, she had said. He concedes to her, patting them both on the back, familiar smile returning to his face as he jokes about working out with Bev later. The halfling gives him a half-hearted smile and Moonshine realizes something is terribly, terribly wrong. 

Bev sits down at the edge of her bed. He had grown into a handsome young man, determination spread across his face, etched into every scar from their past battles. Moonshine smiles as she recalls his face. Halflings lived into their mid-200s, but Beverly was still young. What could he want from her? Erlin is dying, he’d said. I can’t live without him. Will you help me reverse my immortality? That’s what he wanted.

Moonshine pores over books in the library, looking for magic that could help Beverly leave this plane, pushing away her heartache. How ironic, she thinks, that the youngest will be the first to go. But Beverly had found love, someone he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Moonshine remembers the wedding, cheerful and sparkling under the evening lights of Galaderon, filled with the sound of the fiddle. That was the last time they were all together, with Ol’ Cobb, Mama Toegold, even Shay. It was selfish of her to want Beverly with her all the time, but love is selfish, and she couldn’t help herself. 

Young Beverly, barely a teenager when they’d met, so much already taken from him. She couldn’t imagine a world without him, she didn’t want to. Beverly was the optimism in their little group, when Hardwon’s thoughts ran dark, when Moonshine’s plans didn’t work out. How could she lose him? As he snuggles into her bed for the last time, she tucks him in and kisses him on the forehead, fighting back tears. Hardwon comes in, too, and they all fall asleep together, one big family. Family. Bev was family, of course he was, how couldn’t he be? He was a kid, forced to grow up so fast, to train for his whole life. Tears spill down her face. He should’ve been able to date his boyfriend, go to school dances, spend time at church, be a kid. But this world, sweet as it was cruel, never stopped taking from them. 

The night they buried Beverly, her heart cracked and split. His eyes were closed, hair messed up, face calm in the frigid winter air. Her throat tightened as she turned away from him, throwing the shovel to the side, fists clenching up. She wanted to hit something. Mama Toegold’s face was too painful to look at, Hardwon’s eyes were full of tears, so she ran. She kept running as every citizen of Galaderon raised a torch, lighting up the night sky, as Beverly and Erlin were buried side-by-side. Moonshine’s heart buries itself in the earth of Galaderon, next to him, blonde and beautiful. My Grey Knight. Her walls crash down around her and she sobs, heartbroken and helpless, spinning around in the depths of the dark forest. Moonshine collapses onto the moss and hugs herself, trying to wipe away the tears. Strong. She needed to be stronger now, more than ever. The Crick would be watching to see how she dealt with this loss. She needed to be a leader.

Hardwon came to find her and she hugged him tight, dragging him back into her stump in the Crick, for once, quiet. She didn’t feel like chattering about Bev that night, and Hardwon, dear Hardwon, tried to fill the silence before closing his mouth. What was there to say? A small box lay on the bed and Moonshine opened it, golden ribbon fluttering to the floor.

Kid… ” Hardwon had whispered as the box tumbled open. A broken sob comes from next to her. She’d never seen him cry like this before, so openly and so freely. It scared her. There were no words that could make this better. Bev had made his choice. Moonshine wishes she could’ve talked him out of it - no, that was selfish - and saved him. Her job was to take care of everyone else, even if sometimes she neglected taking care of herself. She was supposed to be happy, young, empathetic and loving. Full of hospitality. Her mind goes silent as she pulls the gift closer.

Years of letters, written in beautiful script, fill the delicately woven box. Moonshine tried not to weep on the pages, but in some places, if she still looked, there were ink splotches over some sentences. Love, Beverly. They read the letters out loud to each other - both had practiced reading and writing just for Bev - voices hoarse by the morning. Hardwon falls asleep on the end of Moonshine’s bed, she falls into a restless trance, and neither wakes until the next morning. Martha Toegold knocked on Moonshine’s door, to say goodbye, and the two women started crying again as they hugged each other. She tries to erase the memory of him lying cold in the earth, buried under dirt. It wasn’t fair that the earth got to hold him instead of his mother, instead of her. He should be here. 

At least, she’d had Hardwon, back then, to keep her head on straight. Even Jaina had returned home from Irondeep to stay with her in her grief. She never visited Galaderon after Mama Toegold had sent her Bev’s humor patch with another handwritten note. It was too painful. Perhaps that was no excuse, but grieving is a long process, and Moonshine was still working through it. At least, that’s what she told herself. 

 

Dear Moonshine and Hardwon,

Thank you for being the best Scoutmasters a young Green Teen could ask for. 

Love, 

Beverly

 

The note was sealed away somewhere special, in the little carved box that Hardwon had painted in the dark winter days when it was too cold to go outside. They’d sit in her stump, Moonshine cooking her time away, Hardwon painting his grief onto a canvas and trying to hold it together. One night, Moonshine had brought him a mug of hot chocolate as they watched the snow fall outside, eyes brimming with tears. She started crying, remembering the snow angels, and the snowball fights with Beverly when he invited them to Galaderon, when he could be a kid again. His childhood had been stolen by Thiala and he deserved to have it back, so they played in the snow for hours. A part of her thought that Bev would never get his childhood back, another part of her yearned to help him try to reclaim it. 

She wrote his name on the inside of her stump and stared at it, practicing the shape of the letters and reciting them like a prayer. Sometimes Hardwon would join her, painting his own version of Beverly in bright colors on the wall where Paw Paw slept. They would gaze at his name and try to come up with something to say that could fill the emptiness in their chests, in their bed, in their adventures. On nights like that, when everything seemed hopeless, Moonshine would curl up next to Hardwon and they would hold each other through the nightmares. His hair and beard were both graying at the edges and with a sharp arcing pain, Moonshine realized she would have to say goodbye to him too, maybe sooner than she wanted to. Beverly would know exactly what to say - she smiles, remembering his inspiring speeches - but he wasn’t here, so she reconstructs the sentences in his voice and lets them comfort her instead.

The moon rises over the Crick and she puts the humor patch back on her side table, pressing it to her lips and praying that Pelor would let Beverly know how much she missed him, wherever he was. Every so often, she could hear his voice, see his footsteps outlined in the grass of the forest, his laugh decorating the air above the swamp. She hoped he was happy.

-------

The night she burned Hardwon Surefoot, her chest screamed with pain. He deserves a warrior’s death, Moonshine had said. But she was tired - tired of hurting, of losing and loving. Does losin’ people, does it ever get easier? Her own words echo back to her. It was foolish of her to believe that losing people could get easier. How could she lose her friends and be okay with it? How could anyone? 

This time, the grief was different; it happened gradually at first. When they place his body onto the S.S. Stormborn, Moonshine loads the flaming arrow. As she takes aim, her hands shake with the effort. One arrow, and he’d be gone. She’d be living in a Bahumia without Hardwon or Beverly. She would be alone. Bev and Hardwon stuck with her through everything. Moonshine’s throat closes up. The other half of her heart was on that boat, floating away from the shore. Mee-Maw puts a hand on her shoulder, the scent of lavender rising around the two of them. The dwarves of Irondeep kneel, iron-plated legs hitting the ground in a sickening thunk , as she fires the arrow, burning the Stormborn around Hardwon. Goodbye. Smoke rises from the wreckage; Moonshine sits there well after everyone else returns home. She transforms into a raven, circling over the destroyed boat, searching for something, anything to keep brave, strong, Hardwon alive. The man that had given so much to save the world and never asked for anything in return. Moonshine no longer trusted her memory. She lands on a floating piece of wood and peers into the depths of the ocean. Nothing. I love you. Her heart splinters off and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. So she returns to the Crick for the last time, putting on a brave face, chest hollow, heart still beating somehow.

The Crickfolk whisper about her, the Maiden of Melora, haunting the forest and orchards. Cooter drops muffins off at her doorstep. Ol’ Cobb tries to console her. Mee-Maw cooks for her until she yells at her, screaming in a broken voice, throwing bursts of chromatic magic until her mother leaves. She knows she’s pushing them away. Walls up. Eventually, they stop swinging by. Her stump is desolate and devoid of life, eerily quiet. It didn’t matter. Moonshine tries to convince herself that she likes the silence.

Her walks in the woods become longer and longer until she comes home exhausted, so she doesn’t have to think about...about them. One day when she comes home, a little package sits on her bed. Beverly’s letters are hidden under her bed, a constant reminder of the halfling boy that had done so much in his youth, and never got to enjoy his old age. A letter lies on top of the package, written in Hardwon’s sprawling script. It was old - they must have recovered it from the Stormborn, she thinks -  from when they fought Thiala, years ago. Hardwon’s script had improved since then. 

Moonshine rips it open, tossing the packaging aside. It crashes into the rubble on the floor - empty cans of Sprite, old Tupperware containers with Heroes’ Feast - a Heroes’ Feast for one. It was too much food for her to eat at once. She needed Hardwon, with his hardy appetite, Bev with his teenage cravings, to be here to help her clean up the mess she’d created. Tears come to her eyes as she rests on the bed, still doubting herself.

A paint palette. A vivid oil painting. His woodblock, and a letter. She hugs these objects to her chest as she sobs. Moonshine examines the paint palette - red and green almost completely gone - and the painting, dated to only a few weeks before his death. It was her, surrounded by lightning, eyes blazing with fury as mushrooms erupted from her feet. That was how Hardwon saw her, even after Bev, after she tried to put herself together again. He still thought she was brave. Quivering hands reach for the letter. Could she do it? Could she read what he wrote to her all those years ago without crying? She cuts open the letter with Rosaline, a fierce satisfaction tearing through her at the reduction of Galad’s instrument. Then she sits there, Hardwon’s final words in her hands, the last thing she would have from him. And she unfurls the paper, willing it not to crumble at her touch. 

 

Dear Moon,

If you’re reading this, I’m either dead or really far away, or both…

 

She works through the letter that night, taking breaks to cry, trying not to ruin the ink. Eventually, she pulls out the box of Bev’s letters, dumping them around her and reading through them again. It was comforting to have these pieces of her friends around her. Love, Hardwon. Moonshine was out of tears to cry, instead letting dull pain rule her emotions. Love, Beverly. She grabs for a pen, writing a letter that she knows she’ll never send. Where would she send it to, anyway? There’s no post office in heaven. Love, Moonshine. 

-------

Moonshine didn’t think she could get more hollow. She’d faced so much pain already, what was one more loss? No, she couldn’t afford to think like that, not now. If she broke, she wouldn't be able to put herself back together. She sits back on her legs, pulling the blankets around her and cocooning herself in her own warmth. Paw Paw scrambles into her lap and she holds him close.

Moonshine’s heart twinges as she remembers Jaina’s laugh and gentle smiles, the strawberries they’d pick together back in the days when they could just be each other’s and have no responsibilities. Jaina had helped her heal after losing Bev and Hardwon. They had agreed, long ago, to be faithful to each other throughout their adventures - Jaina, back in Irondeep with the King’s Guard, Moonshine travelling the world as an Ambassador for the Crick. They had had promise rings made for themselves - silver with golden leaves around the band, surrounding a little gem. When Jaina came back, they fell into their same easy groove; she was Moonshine’s protector, for once, holding her through inconsolable sobbing, clinging to her when they both had nightmares. Guilt bubbles up in Moonshine’s chest as she remembers how much of a burden she must have seemed to Jaina. But her dwarven wife had endless patience, always staying by Moonshine’s side, even on nights where it seemed like everything she’d worked for was gone, crumbling away in her hands. 

Her grave lies in the apple orchard to the west, under the gentle sunlight and the single willow tree, planted for those who had lost their lives because of Thiala. Moonshine remembers the day they had planted that tree together - Hardwon had tried to carry the tree by himself to the location, Beverly had brought all the tools needed, and they’d picnicked under the afternoon sun as they worked. She recalls them now, memory sparkling with Bev’s eyes, and Hardwon’s face. She brought dragons to the skies of Bahumia, sparkling and magnificent, at Telaine’s request. Melora smiled upon her, but Moonshine’s heart didn’t warm the same anymore at her approval.

She says that she visits on her long walks in the woods, but she can’t bring herself to look at the crudely engraved name on Jaina’s tombstone. The Jaina she knew was bright, bubbly and had infectious laughter. She was so much more than the badly written name on her grave. She deserves more than that , Moonshine thinks, for everything she did. The King’s Guard had come to the Crick to bury her, offering to take her home, but Moonshine had decided to keep her here. The last third of her heart was under the trees in the orchard, next to Jaina, but it would take time to heal. She could keep her wife safe here in the Crick. It was the least she could do.

-------

Moonshine sits up. Her heart, buried in Galaderon, in the ocean, in the Crick, still beats - she doesn’t know how it hasn’t fractured completely yet, killing her. It would be appropriate, she muses, to die of a broken heart. 

Beverly, Jaina, Hardwon - they were everywhere . She could see Jaina laughing and alive in the strawberry fields. Beverly was curiously bounding through the forest, searching for new animals, little berries to add to his Green Teen book. She wears the necklace of teeth he made for her once, holding it tight and letting the sharp instruments dig into her hand, drawing blood and grounding her. Hardwon was in the sound of the fiddle, the beer, and the crayfish that they boiled together. And all of them were together, in her Heroes’ Feast, lying abandoned on her countertop. 

Her grief would fade eventually of course. For now, she sets the wood block back on her side table, gently gets up out of bed, and crosses the room towards Paw Paw’s little cushions. Moonshine picks up the paint palette from the basket on the floor and pries the paintbrush out of its holding place with shaking fingers. Around Beverly’s name, she paints flowers, mushrooms, patterns in milky white. The moonlight shines down around her as she paints, in a state of determination and willpower she hadn’t felt in a long time. The whole wall is covered with her little drawings and tribute to their adventures. Stepping back, she admires her work.

Beverly’s name is at the bottom of the wall in Hardwon’s rainbow paint - above it, a map of their adventures. Hardwon is roughly sketched out over Irondeep, slogans running around his head, axe slung across his back. Their names were, and still are, synonymous with her heart. Even Shadowfell is on the map, Deadeye’s guns crossed, red roses backing the weapons. Yellow drips down from the Feywild and Moonshine smiles to herself as she traces the little drawings of Gladehome, home of magic and the high elves. That was her home too. Her friends would always be with her, on her adventures, and when she came home. She waves her hand, drying the paint. 

The paints glow under the moon as she tucks herself into bed, staring at the map across the room with a glimmer of pride. Moonshine was proud of her work, watching the white patterns crawl up her wall. Hardwon’s bronzed beard, with silver at the edges, shimmers in the moonlight, along with Bev’s grey plate armor. Her King of the Mountain and her little Grey Knight. Melora, she loved them. Paw Paw leaps into her lap and circles until he settles into a comfortable position. Moonshine softly pats him and smiles to herself. Maybe this is what healing feels like. She could almost see the two smiling down at her as her heart shifts in place, feeling calmer already.

And so Moonshine Cybin falls into a deep sleep, surrounded by her friends, at peace for the first time in years.