They haven’t spent long in the moorlands, and the rules of the Dolorov tribe are strange and foreign and strict, but still - a party is a party. This one feels like just about every party Beau has ever been to, and she follows the same pathway and settles herself as close as possible to the alcohol.
They’re in a large clearing, canvas walls and tables and chairs and strings of enchanted lights hung around. There’s no ceiling, but Beau thinks she can see where canvas could be thrown up and tied if it started to rain. It’s obviously the tribe’s main gathering space, and the decor can be shoved around to suit any occasion. Food and alcohol are set out to the side, buffet style, and no one in particular seems to feel especially in charge of maintaining it, although once or twice Beau has seen teenagers carry out additional platters and shove them wherever they could clear a space on the overladen table. The seat she’s claimed is on a comfortable backed bench near the large open barrel of what she assumes is a homemade mead - there’s a lingering taste of honey to it, though it couldn’t be described as sweet.
She’s nursing her third cup of it, as the sun finishes setting and there’s finally a backdrop of real darkness behind the strings of lights. She’s watching the dance. It's an impromptu gathering in the middle of the space, set to beautiful strange music with more of a drumbeat than anything else, and there’s a lot on the dance floor for her to watch. There’s Yasha, her arms impossibly gentle around the fragile form of Zuala as they dance. They’ve been entwined on the dance floor almost since the music started, and they’re ignoring the pattern of whatever traditional steps seem to go with the song, barely swaying in place as they speak to each other in soft murmurs. Yasha is incredible - soft and gentle and whole again at last, her entire body turned toward Zuala like a plant toward the sun.
Zuala is weak, still - she’d been a captive and then a slave for many years, had been through more ill-treatment than Jester’s healing spells could possibly undo in a day. But they’ve rescued her, and there she is in Yasha’s arms, gloriously alive. The lights shine golden against her brown skin, against the enormous tangle of her hair, and there’s an intensity to her, something vivid and wild. It’s easy to see why she’s the person who captivated Yasha, who has earned Yasha’s devotion through life and beyond it into death. They're magnetized toward each other.
Beau watches them, and makes an effort not to let her eyes drift over to where Jester and Fjord are dancing, laughing together as they try and fail to copy the motions of a pair near them. At another table toward the back, Nott is demonstrating a card game to a trio of rapt preteens and an equally rapt Caduceus. Caleb is allegedly reading, but even from here, Beau can see the smile playing at his lips. She should go join them. She will, in a moment. She just needs a little time to herself to feel all the private things she’s feeling that don’t belong in a celebration.
“Beau? Whatcha doing?” Jester’s voice comes from the side, startling her - apparently she’s been too successful at refusing to look toward her, since she hadn’t even seen Jester leave the dance floor.
“Aw, hey Jes - how was your dance?”
Jester’s noise crinkles attractively. “It was fun for awhile, but I don’t know any of the steps - it’s a really hard dance.”
“Oh, I mean, I think you can dance however you want, really. Look - Yasha’s not following the steps.”
“That’s truuue,” Jester says. “But she’s basically their leader now, right? So of course she can do whatever she wants if she’s the boss.” She plops down on the bench next to Beau, leaning demandingly into Beau’s side. Beau takes the hint and raises an arm to make room for her, adjusting them so that Jester is curled comfortably against her.
“You ok?” she asks, vaguely surprised. Jester can be cuddly, but Beau wasn’t really expecting her to abandon a dance with Fjord to come cuddle on a bench. She's fought for that dance, over the years.
“Actually, I was coming over to ask you that.”
“Me? I - yeah, of course! Why wouldn’t I be OK?” Beau protests, aware even as she does it that she’s giving herself away. When did it become so impossible to hide anything from Jester, anyways?
“Well I mean - I’m not trying to pry, Beau, but…. you had a crush on Yasha for a really long time. And when we thought Zuala was dead, I always figured that someday, Yasha would move on and she would be ready for you.” Jester’s voice is full of wrongly directed compassion, and her eyes are gentle as she looks into Beau’s and says, “I just wanted to be sure you knew that - that it is ok for you to be sad, if that’s how you feel. It doesn’t mean you don’t want Yasha to be happy. We all have to take time to grieve when our lives change course from what we expected.”
Beau takes a moment to let herself be overwhelmed by fondness for her friend, who has grown so much over the past years, has gained the wisdom and experience to fortify her fundamentally compassionate nature and turn it into this. Jester’s completely wrong about the details of what Beau is feeling, but - she’s captured the essence of it nonetheless. More importantly, she has sacrificed her dance to come make Beau feel better.
“Thanks, Jester. I am grieving, a little, but not for that. I never really - once I got to know Yasha, I never really thought we were suited for each other that way,” she says. “It’s just that this feels a little like the beginning of an end, doesn’t it?” she lets her eyes linger again on Yasha on the dance floor, surrounded by her people. “Look at her - she’s not leaving with us, when we go. She’s the matriarch of her tribe now. They need her, and she needs them. This is her place.”
“Oh.” It’s clear from the way the word is punched out of her that Jester hadn’t thought of that, but she can’t possibly disagree now that Beau has pointed it out.
“But that doesn’t mean we won’t see her anymore,” she says after a minute. “Caleb can teleport us practically anywhere, now - we can come visit her every single week if we want to. And if we need her for something, I know she would still come fight with us."
It’s not just Yasha, though. Beau thinks Jester senses it too, even as she tries to deny it. Yasha is the first of them to split off, but the rest of them are going to follow. Like she broke the seal, and now their little group is all just going to leak away. Caleb is almost ready to resurrect Nott, and once she’s a halfling again, she isn’t going to stay with them. She’s going to leave a name and a body and a life behind, trade a death for a rebirth, and rejoin her husband and her son. Beau doesn’t doubt that it will be a real sacrifice for her. Nott - Veth - will miss them all dearly, and she will miss the freedom and adventure of their time together. But it’s a sacrifice she will make willingly, and she won’t ever regret it.
Caleb has no reason to hide anymore now that Ikithon has been overthrown, and now that he has allies of his own amongst the rebuilt Cerberus Assembly. Saving Nott has been his last tie to them, and once she is returned to her own form, he’s going to drift away naturally as well.
And Jester and Fjord - they’ve finally gone from dancing around each other to dancing together. It’s easy to picture the life they’ll build together back on the menagerie coast. They’ll get married, Fjord will take back over as Captain of the Ball Eater. They’ll have the occasional adventure, but they’ll also have children, and a home, and Nugget. Sprinkle will finally have the chance to recover from his weasel PTSD.
She can’t bring herself to say all that to Jester though. Instead she just tightens the arm she has around Jester’s shoulder, and lets her head fall to the side to rest on her. Jester presses against her and sighs, seemingly content.
“You’re right - moving forward isn’t really the same as an ending,” Beau says. She doesn’t believe it, but she doesn’t want to infect Jester with her bad mood.
“It might be kind of nice,” Jester says after a minute, and Beau can hear in her musical tone that she has descended into daydream. “I mean - where we’re all going next. Maybe we could all get a house together in Nicodranas. Caleb could work on all his magicky stuff with Yussa, and teleport to Rohsona or Rexxentrum whenever he needs to. And Yasha and Zuala will have a baby and come stay with us for beach vacations and Luc can babysit.”
Beau grins, maneuvers her cup of mead so that she can drink some of it without tipping any onto Jester’s head. The future Jester has started picturing is so similar to the one Beau has been moping about, but she’s managed to make it a much happier place. That’s the difference between them in a nutshell though, isn’t it? Life happens, Beau gets angry about it, Jester gets happy.
“Now that he’s getting a little older, Fjord could take Luc out on the Ball Eater, start teaching him a good trade,” she adds, happy to lean into the fantasy Jester is creating for them. Just for a night.
“I’ll start an official temple for The Traveler, and be his head priest or whatever,” Jester adds. “You and I will still be roommates, and sometimes Dairon will probably still come climbing up onto our balcony.”
Beau laughs, but all at once she’s thrown out of the fantasy and back into reality. “I dunno, Jes - don’t you think you’ll eventually end up wanting to room with Fjord? You two were looking pretty cozy on the dance floor earlier.” She’s proud of herself for the steady way her voice comes out, teasing and warm. Jester sees everything else about her so clearly, but this one inevitable hurt, Beau can keep to herself. For both their sakes.
There’s a beat of silence.
“Beauuuuu.” Jester’s voice has gone low and sing-song. “Do you think Fjord and I were flirting when we danced earlier?”
Beau’s not totally sure what to make of the mirth in Jester’s tone. It’s the voice she uses when she knows something that Beau doesn’t, not the one she uses to secretly ask for reassurance while she’s pretending to be totally confident, because of course she knows everything about romance, she has read Tusk Love like sixteen times, jeez Beau.
Still. Beau decides to roll with it like that’s what’s happening anyways, because otherwise this conversation is out of her depth. “I thought it looked pretty flirty, yeah. You two have grown a lot closer lately.”
“Well, that’s true. But it’s not like that. I think part of why it’s easier to be closer now is that I know I’m not in love with him, you know? I had all these fantasies, and he fit the part of Oskar so well - it got in the way of what we could be in real life, that’s all.” Jester laughs. “I feel pretty stupid, looking back on it.”
“Never stupid, Jes,” Beau objects immediately, although she’s still trying to wrap her head around what Jester is saying. She can’t mean that she isn’t in love with Fjord, can she? Jester being in love with Fjord has been a constant for the past six years of their lives. She doesn’t know how to interpret this, but she’s clear on one point, at least. “You weren’t stupid - you were going after what you wanted. I always thought it was cool that you were so straightforward about it.”
“Hmmm…” Jester sounds thoughtful for a moment. “Beau, you think a lot of things about me are cool.”
“Uh - yeah, course I do. You’re the coolest.”
“And you like it when I say what I want?”
Beau is now one thousand percent certain that this conversation is over her head, and possibly on very dangerous ground. “Of course I do - sometimes the best way to get the things you want is to ask for them, right?”
“Alright then.” Jester detangles herself, sitting up and turning so that she is facing Beau on the bench. “If we get a big house together in Nicodranas, I want us to stay roommates. In fact, wherever we end up going, I always want you to be my roommate, Beau. OK?”
“OK - roommates for life, you got it,” Beau agrees. Jester nods once, decisively.
“ And, I want you to dance with me. Right now.” She hops off the bench and holds an arm out to Beau. Beau stares, stunned.
Too many things are rearranging themselves all at once, all the pieces shifting to form a brand new picture. She feels light-headed.
“I, uh - I don’t know any of the steps,” she says, but she takes Jester’s hand anyways, and the smile on Jester’s face is blinding as she levers Beau up and pulls her toward the dance floor.
“That’s alright,” she says. “Neither do I.”