It wasn’t hard to see that Caleb suffered from some kind of night terrors.
From mumbling “Take them out,” in his sleep, to whimpering and coughing like the fires the wizard created were burning him to ash from the inside out, it was all very obvious. And Mollymauk knew that sleeping outdoors did nothing to help with those instincts. It only heightened your awareness of every little sound, leaving you teetering on the edge of constant anxiety in the hopes of keeping yourself alive.
Molly noticed the nightmares seemed to be worse when Frumpkin wasn’t a cat. Normally, the bengal cat curled up directly on top of Caleb’s chest, resting right in between the two books that never left Caleb’s sight. The first time Caleb had turned his familiar into a sparrow was the first night Molly heard the wizard groaning in pain and asking for someone to “take them out.” He still didn’t quite know what that referred to, but the scars he’d seen in the bathhouse seemed telling. Molly was no stranger to scars, and he had a few guesses about the ones on Caleb’s forearms.
He also had a few strong words for whoever gave them to his favorite wizard, but that was beside the point.
The point was that a guard in the last town had kicked Frumpkin and Caleb didn’t have the supplies to get him back. They'd left town that day to head somewhere that might have the ludicrous amounts of fancy incense needed for the spell (among other reasons), but it would take a few days to get there. He’d been gloomy about it all day, but it only got worse as they gathered around a small campfire and ate some of the rations they'd managed to pick up in town.
Caleb was barely talking, until it was time to rest and he slipped away to string his silver wire around the campers. That wasn't completely out of the ordinary, but Molly had grown used to him making a few funny comments, or at least having quiet conversations with Nott. He found he rather missed the quiet Zemnian accent he'd been keeping an ear out for, eager not to miss a rare joke. Caleb came back from setting up the spell rubbing his eyes, but contradicting the movement with his words. “I’ll take first watch. I’m not tired yet.”
“I’ll join you,” Molly said on a whim, getting a glare from Nott but no protests.
Caleb only shrugged and went back to the campfire. The others set up their bedrolls and started drifting off, quiet voices slowly being overtaken by yawns and snores.
Molly sat beside Caleb, enjoying the firelight illuminating the copper hair of the wizard. It was unfairly pretty for someone who seemed to not like any advances. He watched as Caleb shivered and waved his hand, making the fire grow in size.
“Neat trick," Molly said, always impressed with the wizard's command of the arcane. He'd gotten used to standing near Caleb when they fought, partly to keep whatever was attacking them away from the squishy wizard, but partly just to watch.
But he only shrugged, holding his bandaged hands up closer to the flames as another shiver wracked through him. “It’s cold.”
“I run pretty hot, if you wanna snuggle.” It was mostly a joke, but definitely at least part an invitation. Molly was well aware that humans had trouble staying warm, especially as it grew later in the season.
Caleb shot him a calculating look before his shoulders slumped and he moved so that his shoulder bumped into Molly’s.
It was more than Molly had been hoping for. Much more so, in fact, but he was still willing to push his luck a bit. Carefully, he placed his hand over the wizard’s cold one, admiring the pale skin mingled with his lavender. He loved how hickeys looked on pale skin, and freckles were fascinating. He’d painted some on with makeup in the past, but nothing was quite like a pale person just covered in them.
To his delight, Caleb didn’t pull away, and eventually began leaning on him more heavily. His blue eyes glowed softly in the firelight and Molly could see the bags under his eyes up close now. Caleb looked exhausted. But he said nothing, just letting the wizard steal his body heat.
To his embarrassment, he felt a soft rumbling in his chest as Caleb nuzzled a bit closer, half asleep. He didn't mind taking the watch alone. It wasn't as if Caleb had darkvision anyways. He did mind the involuntary reaction to even the light cuddling. He was good at spinning bullshit, but his body loved to betray him.
“Did… Did you just purr?” Caleb asked, accent a little thicker and voice gruff from exhaustion. He didn't lift himself away, but shifted slightly to look up at Molly.
Molly plastered on a big smile, hoping the human’s lack of darkvision would hide the embarrassed flush in his cheeks. “What can I say? You’re comfy.”
“Oh,” he said, eyes flicking down. Before Molly could try to apologize or offer to put space between them, Caleb mumbled, “That’s cute.”
That didn’t help the pleased purring in Molly’s chest, his tail flicking back and forth behind them.
Soon Caleb was leaning on him completely, eyes closed. Molly was worried about ruining the moment by saying anything until he realized Caleb was fast asleep.
Now that was cute.
He was extremely disappointed when Yasha and Fjord started stirring to take over their watch. “Hey, Caleb. Time to sleep, yeah?” he said quietly, tapping his hand on Caleb's knee and hoping not to startle him too badly.
Blue eyes opened wide, the wizard sitting up straight as a ramrod. “Sheiße, sorry Mollymauk. Purring… I mean Frumpkin always puts me to sleep. I didn’t mean for you to-”
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. You looked like you could use the rest,” he smiled softly.
Caleb nodded, but Molly could see the flush in his cheeks in the dark as they moved to roll out their bedrolls near the others. With the way the silver wire was set up, they were forced pretty close to each other, so Molly could hear Caleb tossing and turning as he tried to get comfortable.
“Caleb?” he whispered, not wanting to startle him again.
A blue eye cracked open and Caleb rolled to face him.
“I, um… Trouble sleeping?” he asked lamely, unsure how to phrase his real question.
Caleb nodded. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you up. It is… ah… difficult. Without Frumpkin.”
“I could…” Molly swallowed his fears. Worst case scenario was Caleb saying no. “I could purr again. If you want,” he said, holding out his arm for Caleb to come closer. Only if he wanted.
That flush came back to Caleb's cheeks, and Molly almost took it all back before the man shuffled forward. It only took a moment of the warm pressure along his side for Molly to start purring again.
It was far too comfortable.
Caleb gingerly rested his head on Molly’s shoulder. “Is… Is this okay?” he asked, words distorted by a yawn.
He nodded, resisting the urge to turn and kiss Caleb’s temple. It felt to intimate. This was totally normal, platonic cuddling. “Totally fine.”
More than fine.
The wizard fell asleep within two minutes, but Molly’s chest was pounding. This felt different than cuddling with Yasha or others from the circus. This felt warm, and not just literally.
He knew he liked teasing the wizard. He knew that he was always going to keep an eye on him around fire. He knew he was going to stand in front of him during battle. He knew that he wanted to make the people that had hurt Caleb suffer.
This he didn’t know. This was unfamiliar and made his heart flutter in his chest.
Very carefully, trying not to wake Caleb up, he turned and pressed a kiss to the forehead of the sleeping wizard.
He might not know what this was, but he was very eager to find out.