Chapter Eighteen

The room exploded with cheers as the couple entered. Molly bowed low and greeted everyone, apologizing up front for any public displays of affection toward his husband he would be unable to restrain himself from and he was immediately forgiven. He scanned the room and in his mind repeated each of their names, but hit a wall with two of them. "Ah! It's the pirate kid!" he said, noticing the tiny halfling boy and his father he had seen in the Lavish Chateau's halls once before.

Veth beamed with pride. "Pirate? That's mah boy!"

As Gustav had not had time to fill in many of the details of the life and times of Moliggan Brightside, Molly was able to share stories with his new friends. In return, they shared stories of Mollymauk's adventures with him. They laughed heartily at tales of the Zadash Hospital Caper, their run-ins with the Hapless Bandits, and Drinking Games played in Hupperdook.

Molly had to confess to them (after several people offered him a drink) that he had ruined his ability to consume alcohol, but they were glad to hear he was getting treatment and feeling better.

Marion asked the couple to show off the garments they wore as they were either Gustav Couture or Fletching & Fletching designs. Everyone was impressed, especially by Molly's jacket, and they reminisced about Mollymauk's wonderful coat, which by the time they revisited his grave had long since disappeared. They were not surprised to learn that Gustav had made it for him and he begged them to stop by Fletching & Fletching before they left so that he could give them anything they liked. With not a small amount of excitement, Marion announced that Gustav had, in his absence, acquired another wealthy but anonymous investor who would forward thousands of gold to help his fancy clothing business get back on its feet.

"I'm so sorry," he said, deflating the high energy in the room. Molly held his hand tightly. "Even before I left, I'd made a painful decision to fold Gustav Couture. I found I was forced to choose between financial success or happiness, and I chose happiness," he said firmly, looking lovingly into his husband's eyes. "I'll speak to Sir Epwint soon to figure out how to settle my debts. He's a kind man, I think he'll understand. And I can still create garments for him, just not for everyone in the Opal Archways. It was a great idea, but it's just too much. Please thank the investor for me and extend my apologies to them."

"Well, how much do you think you'd need for your debts?" Marion asked cagily.

"I'm sure over time I can handle it," he answered slowly, realizing that all eyes were on him.

Fjord cleared his throat. "How much, Gustav?"

The half-elf froze and stared at their expectant faces and knew he was sitting in the same room with his seven 'anonymous' investors. "Oh, no. Not again. It's too much! You can't!"

"We can and we will."

"But—!"

"We looted that horrible place, Gustav. They took a quarter century from you. We took what we needed," Fjord said and stood.

Yasha pulled a small chest out from behind her chair and brought it over to him. "This is yours," she said and opened the chest revealing shining, silver-colored metal coins. "Six hundred and seventy platinum."

"Holy fuck," Molly sort of laughed and gasped at the same time.

"I… can't…"

Molly threw his arms around him. "We can pay your debts and buy a house! A proper house, Gustav!"

Gustav Fletching wept. He buried his face in Molly's shoulder and nodded. "Ok. If it's for you, I'll accept it. Thank you. Thank you."

Each in their turn, over the course of the evening, the Mighty Nein congratulated Gustav and Molly. Veth sat at Molly's feet as he played his bouzouki for them and marveled at his skill, especially when he played an upbeat, positive song and laced it with his bardic powers. They were all left inspired and energized and the party got a little raucous for an hour after. Caduceus, Jester, and her mother chatted with Molly about these newfound powers of his and their potential, and how remarkable it was that his songs could cross the continent to reach his beloved's ears.

Yasha spent a long while simply seated beside him, listening to stories and getting periodic squeezes from the affectionate tiefling. Fjord apologized to him for not being able to return his golden blade, the Summer's Dance, and recounted many a crazy tale from their months of bunking together. Meanwhile, the two human members of the party watched and listened, laughing and smiling, but kept their distance for a long while.

As the evening wore on, Molly excused himself from those clustered around him and crossed the room.

"Hello," he purred, pulling up a chair and facing the man reading a book who had tucked his own chair firmly into the corner of the room. He made sure to leave enough room should he wish to flee from the attention, but close enough to touch. "I'm sorry I've been so wrapped up with running my mouth over there, we haven't had a chance to chat."

"It's alright," Caleb said quietly.

"What accent is that?" Molly asked, doubling down on his own light brogue.

His face flushed. "Z-Zemnian."

Molly leaned back in his chair, observing the wizard trying to sink into the upholstery. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you nervous, Caleb. If this is too much—" he said and started to get up.

"No, no. I am sorry." He smiled, but it was thin and tense. "It's been a long time. It is so very good to see you."

Molly narrowed his eyes. "Alright, what did he do?"

"I'm sorry?"
"Mollymauk. Was he terrible to you? You seem like you'd rather be doing anything but chatting with me."

"No, no! That's not it at all." His intense blue human irises found Molly's red tiefling eyes and stared for a beat before flicking away.

"Ahhhhh…" Molly pushed his chair back a little and folded his hands in his lap. "I see."

"What? What do you see?"

"We had a thing."

Caleb closed the book. "No, I—" he began. This man was not Mollymauk. He owed Moliggan no admission of how much his heart twisted to see him in the flesh. "I was not mentally well, and you… well, you were a little crazy, too. It would have been terrible."

Molly smiled kindly. "Can't say I've improved all that much. I'm a recovering alcoholic with identity and co-dependency issues, but at least I'm getting help!"

Caleb blinked and chuckled. "That is impressive—to acknowledge and to admit. And very strong. It took me a long while to become even slightly so. These people have helped me tremendously," he said and motioned to the group on the other side of the room who were currently gathered around Veth, Yeza, Marion, and Gustav who were playing a card game. Occasional shouts or bursts of laughter would go up from the table.

Molly reached out and took his hands in his and just held them. Caleb flushed and froze in place, but did not move to tear himself away. Molly's hands were soft and warm. He did not recognize any of the baubles on his fingers except one, a platinum ring in the same style as the only one that Gustav now wore.

He stared at the wedding band and gave a resigned sigh. "I buried you," Caleb said quietly, not to the man before him, but to his ghost.

"Then it's your handwriting on my note."

He glanced up, confused for a moment. "Your note?"

Molly nodded. "My most prized possession, after my ring."

"You still have it!"

"Apparently I was clutching it so tightly, even the bandits who mugged me couldn't tear it from my grip."

Caleb trembled and his mind scrambled for an analytical thread to carry him away from the flood of emotions that bubbled up. He found one and followed it away from the rising need to burst into tears. "We thought you might come back. We did wonder why you didn't read it and seek us out, especially because you were there, right there, in Zadash for so long. Caduceus, Gustav, and I have determined that you might have a tether to the moons, judging by the timing of your return, why it was weeks later when they were full. Gustav told us how troubled you were. We understand. We're just glad that you were safe." He smiled softly, lips twitching nervously as if unused to the action. "I mourned Mollymauk. I missed him terribly, but I let him go. I'm happy you are alive, Moliggan Brightside. I'm happy that I get to know you, again."

Molly smiled back and gave his hands a squeeze. "Thank you, Caleb. I look forward to it."

"Oh!" The wizard brightened and raised a finger. "I got the killing blow on the man who killed you!" Caleb piped with pride. "I've wanted to tell you that for a long while."

Molly put a hand to his chest and thanked him again. "I covered up today, but usually I don't care who thinks what about my scars. I just didn't want to make you sad, is all."

Caleb stared at the center of Molly's chest. He asked to see it with a nod. Molly pulled the neck down revealing the diamond-shaped scar. "Gottsverdammt," he breathed. His eyes flicked up over Molly's head and he straightened suddenly. "Beauregard…"

"Whatcha doin', guys? Playing you-show-me-yours I-show-you-mine?" she joked as she approached, then saw just what he was showing and stopped short. "Oh."

"Sorry, Beau," Molly apologized and covered it back up.

"Nah, it's ok. I mean, I saw it happen. Not much that's worse than that." An awkward silence fell over them. "Anyyyyway. Can I steal you for a sec?" she asked. "I gotta tell you something before I forget."

Caleb waved his consent and Molly got up, put his hand on her back and drew her with him out onto the balcony overlooking the city.

"Some view," she said. The last bit of sunset still colored the distant waves in orange and red, fast shifting to plum, violet, and black. The moon had risen, huge and pale yellow above the horizon behind the city skyline.

He grinned, looking out at his home city. "Isn't it?"

"Molly, I—" Beau began and fished a coin purse from the folds of her sash. "I want to give you this."

He obligingly opened his hands and gave her a perplexed look. "Paying me off? What did you do?" he teased.

"We got you killed," she said flatly. "This was yours. One hundred sixty-five I took off your body."

He fought the desire to drop it like a hot turd and instead tried to hand it back. "I can't. It's not mine anymore. Besides, you probably spent it on something fun?"

"I think most of it went to Gustav's bail, actually."

Molly gasped. "Then it went to something important. Even better!" He tried again to hand it back, but she wasn't having it. "It's fine, Beau, really. You're a good person and I appreciate it."

Finally, the firm pout on her lips cracked and she smiled and accepted the coin. "I learned it from you," she whispered.

Tears pricked the corners of his eyes. "You know, I've really struggled with that!" he said, voice strained. "I didn't feel that Mollymauk could have been a good person, what with these scars and having gotten himself killed off, and all the lascivious behavior Gustav told me about. I thought that my behaving like a jackass from time to time, especially when Gustav and I had our argument, was some sort of negative residual from a man I used to be that I had no control over."

Beau's brows arched but she did her best to restrain herself from protectively wrapping her arms around him. "Well, you were a bit of a jackass, for sure, but you were a good person! You were kind, and full of joy and happiness. You made us happy. You made every place you went better. I don't even remember you ever getting sad or dark, oh, except once. When you—" she chose her words carefully. "When you thought about your previous life. You said you didn't care about that guy because he got himself killed and you liked who you were, that you were happy and a good person." She gave a soft chuckle. "Say, Moliggan, since you're a great guy, and Mollymauk was a great guy, maybe the guy before him wasn't so bad, either?"

Molly beamed at her and nodded, wiping his eyes with his thumb. "Maybe you're right."

Beau awkwardly reached out to embrace him. He folded his arms around her and squeezed tightly and Beau leaned into his embrace. "I'm glad you came back to us, Molly," she said quietly. After a moment or two had passed, she collected herself, gave him some friendly pats and slipped back into Marion Lavorre's parlor. Molly watched her go and scanned the room. He already felt a soft, familiar love for the Mighty Nein blooming, just as Mollymauk had, just as Gustav had in his journey home with them. He breathed a sigh and went to the railing. He inhaled the cool night air and watched the moons for a moment. "Caleb says you bring me back," he whispered. "If so, thank you. Thank you so much."

"Molly? Everything alright?"

Molly turned and smiled sleepily at Gustav. "Just thinking about how I keep coming back." He took him into his arms in the moonlight. They stood and watched the colors fade from violet to purple to indigo.

"That's not usually something that makes you smile. Did you just come to some sort of epiphany?"

"I think so!" he grinned. "I had dreaded having to face them," he said quietly. "Because I didn't remember, I couldn't have known how much it would mean to me. How I'd feel so connected. They loved Mollymauk, they love you, I love you, I love them. It's just a mushy love fest all around and I'm so glad I got to come back again and give it another go. Feels like it's what I was meant for, in a way." He spoke softly, head bowed against Gustav's shoulder.

"You were meant for what, exactly?"

Molly looked up at Gustav and grinned to split his face. "The answer was love, the whole time."

Gustav rolled his eyes and kissed him. "You're a pest."

THE END