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friends don't know the way you taste

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This is their fault, really, when she thinks about it. She's not a snoop - a detective , yes, she is most definitely a fine detective, and very clever, and these are good things. These are things that shouldn't be held against her. These are things that, actually, they should have remembered about her, anyway. So it's their fault and not hers, anyway. 

 

Sneaking out in the dead of night, it's just… it's very weird , okay? And it's even more weird that it's both of them. If it was just Beau then fine, she could make reasonable assumptions like… like sometimes Beau just does that, she just disappears at night. Usually to train with Dairon (who's back in the Empire so that doesn't make sense anymore) but also sometimes just to watch the sunrise. Which, again, doesn't make sense since there's literally never any sun here. That's the whole point. 

 

But Caleb is going too and, frankly, he's just too twitchy to willingly leave in the dead of night. Or… or to want to leave, and so often.

 

Something is up and she was bound to notice, and they got sloppy , so they must want her to come find them. Beau doesn't do sloppy, this has to be intentional… or Jester's just getting really, really good at pretending. It took her weeks to actually trick Beau into believing she was asleep when she wasn't. Which in and of itself is crazy that Beau knows (or knew ) when she is asleep and when she isn't really.

 

The night feels darker here, somehow. The sky is never light, but it feels… darker than dark at night, and she doesn't really like being out here alone. Maybe that's why they go together. So they're not alone. "Which is still stupidly ridiculous," she tells the Traveller quietly as she stalks the city streets, following her locate object spell. "They're both human and the medallions will protect them from official members of the city and the guards but not, like, the people you meet in an alley."

 

"These are two of your more capable friends," he reminds her. Always around, drifting nearby, keeping her company in the dark. But it's… Guilt creeps in her chest, sinking into the muscle of her heart. His company alone isn't enough anymore. She sees his phantom smile and misses the way she can feel Beau fight her grin so often, they way her eyes crinkle when she smiles that big, and… and she's never even seen his eyes! It's not enough! If he would just…! "What's wrong, Jester?"

 

"Oh, nothing! I'm just really sleepy and I guess kind of grouchy that I have to follow them, that they didn't invite me, you know?" She rubs her hands up and down her arms, despite not feeling the chill of the night. "I don't like secrets."

 

"You love secrets."

 

"Okay but only if I get to know them!" she pouts but can't stop the smile tugging her lips up. She really does love secrets, she's super good at keeping them. "Beau and Caleb have too many, more than anyone else in the group!"

 

"More than you?"

 

"I already know all mine, that's no fun." Jester kicks at a stone and watches it tumble down the street in front of her. Her shoulders heave in a heavy sigh. "Do you think she's still mad at me for almost letting her die? She's been… weird since then. I feel like she's avoiding me and I know she said she wasn't, but…"

 

"But where is she now, if not with you?" he finishes her thought. The sinking feeling in her stomach feels like a cramp, tight and angry, and makes her wanna puke. Just a little bit. "Perhaps it has something to do with one of those pesky secrets and not so much with what you've done… or not done?"

 

Blue eyebrows furrow with thought and Jester glances up at him, already fading into the night. A frustrating dude, sometimes, who says weird shit and leaves before she can ask about it. "I'm gonna figure out the secret then, this is stupid. I feel stupid just fol-oops! Sorry!" she gasps, maneuvering her way around the Orc she bumped into. 

 

In all her thinking (pouting, if she's honest), she didn't even hear the noise of people around the corner. Now that she's paying attention, though, Jester starts to elbow her way through the crowd pouring out of a dingy looking… bar? Maybe?

 

She hugs Fjord's coat tighter around herself, hiding the glittering tattoos on her skin to try and look more… well, less Jester-y. Less bouncy, bubbly, and fun. More like the dark, dangerous sorts on the streets at this hour. She's not entirely sure if it worked, people keep glancing at her, but nobody is staring.

 

Good sign.

 

Inside the building is… crowded, which is almost an understatement. People are mashed together pretty much everywhere but the darker, danker corners. She doesn't even try to make it to the bar, there are at least three rows of people reaching and shoving to get closer. But she wanders towards the centre of the room, where she sees a large gap, and has to squeeze between another orc and a gnoll with a muttered apology that turns infernal halfway through when they don't make room.

 

But! She pops between them and catches herself on a wooden railing, her eyes widening as she looks to the level below them. Some kind of fight ring that everybody is watching from up here; dirty, bloodstained wooden floor, the four posts holding this second floor up, marking the edge of the ring down below. She can see an unconscious, bloodied gnoll being dragged from the ring, can feel Caleb's book down below her, and makes for the stairs far off to the side.

 

They're just as cramped and honestly, at this point, Jester is tired and annoyed enough to whip out her lollipop. She grits her teeth and all but kicks the man in front of her down the stairs, listening to the air get knocked from his lungs as he clings to the stairs railing.

 

Down below isn't a whole lot better, but at least she can move without someone being pressed up against her. There are… fighters down here, and she suspects they're even more likely to start throwing punches when crowded than she is.

 

Her gaze lands on a Goliath sitting on a crate, unwrapping the bloody wraps around his knuckles, sporting a wicked black eye that's swollen all the way shut. 

 

Oof.

 

Someone clangs a cowbell near the ring and the cheering starts. She can barely hear herself think, and stretches onto her tiptoes to try and see - but people are waving their arms and shoving to get closer. She sees a flash of red and a flash of white, but not much else, not until there's a plume of fire that billows up towards the second level of the building. People down here shield their eyes, while the people leaning against the railings above all flinch back. 

 

The fire is cut short, abruptly, followed by a cheer again, and Jester slips between a goblin and - well, she has no idea what that other person was, they're gone before it registers.

 

"Caleb!" she shouts as her eyes finally catch the brilliantly red hair of her friend that looks… weird on his dark elf version of himself, but not unpleasant. He's closer to the ring, in a pocket of space she's surprised to find down here, looking on anxiously. Frumpkin is scarf'd around his neck, also watching whatever is happening in the ring. The two of them look entirely out of place here, his clothes are just a little too nice, he holds himself tight together and inches away any time someone breaches the bubble of space. He looks like he'd rather be anywhere else, and Jester doesn't even have to guess whose idea this was.

 

His eyes widen a second before she grabs his coat. "Jester! What are you doing here?"

 

"What am I doing here?" she echoes in disbelief. "What are you doing here? Why are the two of you sneaking out all the time to fight? Are you fighting too, Caleb? We all always get the shit beaten out of us, why is everybody looking for seconds around here?" 

 

He opens and closes his mouth a few times during her spiel but seems to decide to wait until it's his turn. When she finishes, he lifts a finger, and she realizes she's been shaking him and has the wizard dragged up right to her face. "I am not fighting no, nor could I guess as to what inclinations have our friends entering these fights." His eyes drift up, over her shoulder, and shine very faintly with something fond. "However, I would say that Beauregard has never not shown interest in fighting or fight pits such as this. This is not such a surprise, ja?" 

 

"Since when do you like watching?" she asks, still more aggressively than she means to.

 

The real question lingers just beneath the others.

 

Why didn't you guys bring me?

 

Caleb shrugs and Jester finally releases him, let's him straighten his coat and shirt. "I do not, but Beauregard has promised to give me access to more restricted areas of the Cobalt Archives."

 

"Do you really think she wouldn't have if you'd just asked instead of making a deal for it?" She waits for him to consider this, sees the burn of an embarrassed blush cross the tops of his cheeks and across his nose. "What kind of deal is this anyway, she just wanted one of us to watch her kick ass?"

 

"Quite the show off, is she not?" he chuckles softly. She eyes him tiredly and he frowns. "I am here to provide her disguise. We are still human and the… riff raff come out to play the later it is. They don't look too closely at dark elves and tieflings, though."

 

"You turned her into Mister Tiefling again?" Jester asks and isn't quite sure why her chest feels weird, what that shaky… thing is. Maybe all the noise. Probably all the noise. 

 

Caleb's eyes dart towards the ring. "Not exactly. She had more specific requests this time, something about the way a body moves and the weight behind it. I did the best I could but she is no artist like yourself and her words are… less than eloquent. We’ve landed on something more, ah, androgenous?” 

 

Jester turns to look at the ring as he speaks, amethyst widening in surprise and intrigue. The red tiefling in the ring hooks their hands on the joint of the post on the edge of the ring, swinging their lithe body around for them to drive their feet into the chest of the dragonborn and launch him back. They make a three point land, tail flicking out to the side and-

 

-and Jester can see the playful quality in it, the way the sharp tip curls ever so slightly like Frumpkin's does when he’s catching fireflies. She leans forward, pushing another dark elf out of the way, to see the side of this tiefling’s face, the hooked smirk over a flash of fang, curly black hair against red skin slick with sweat. The rest of the bun in their hair bounces once, heavy with sweat - it glistens against their skin and calls Jester’s gaze to the muscles that flex beneath with each fluid movement. 

 

“Is that-”

 

The dragonborn charges just as Beau pushes forward on her palm against the floor - one foot kicks his big meaty fist back while the other clocks him right on the bridge of his nose. It bursts with a spray of blood and Beau is springing up from her feet in the same moment, dragging her fist up under his jaw. Jester can almost see the stars in his eyes and then they’re clenched shut - a red elbow connects with the side of his head. He goes down with a very solid thud that has a finality to it, and she knows the fight is done even before that cowbell is clanged again.

 

Jester’s knocked back as half the room cheers. Caleb drags her by her sleeve over to his bubble of space, lifting an arm to point where he’d been watching over a couple of goblins nobody wanted to get too close to. Inside the ring, they can see an orc walks over to Beau and grab one of her wrists, hoisting her arm in the air while the other wipes the blood from her mouth. Her chest heaves and something in Jester’s chest twists up, almost uncomfortable but then she’s-

 

Blue collides with purple and Jester feels her jagged breath escape over her lips. Her fists smooth out, sweaty palms pressing against Fjord’s coat, and she tilts her head, scrutinizing this face staring at her. Strange and oh so familiar, a blend of Mister Tiefling and Beau

 

“It suits her, ja?” Caleb almost has to shout in her ear to be heard over the roar of the room again. Competitors shuffle around the ring, people make their way through to collect bets or pay them out, some still cheer while others voice their aggression. “Being a tiefling, I mean. More than it suited me.”

 

And it really, really does, Jester has to agree. Beau was born to have fangs, it adds a threatening element to her grin that just screams Beauregard, and Jester feels herself nod. Caleb says something else - she thinks, it’s really loud in here and there’s this, like, whooshing in her ears? Super weird. But Beau is still looking at her, even as she pulls away from the orc with a pouch of coins in her hand.

 

Jester shakes her shoulders, just a little, and perks up as her friend approaches. She smiles - big and bright, and bounces forward to meet her. “Beau! That was so cool! You kicked his ass, I mean, I only saw the end, but look at him! You did so good!”

 

“Jes,” Beau pants - the twinge in the cleric’s chest moves, loose from where it was lodged and caught between her ribs, and sinks lower. She swallows roughly, taking half a step forward until her cool hand presses against the warm, red skin of Beau’s arm. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I’m-” she lifts her hand to wipe on her coat and makes a face, “you’re so sweaty, Beau, you need a bath." Even as she says it, her eyes don't listen, they don't stay on Beau's. They're flicking down and Jester takes in the simple fighting clothes her friend wears; dark and bold against her new skin that's a darker red and purple in splotches against her ribs, her abs, and just under her left eye. "And healing! Beau, you're beat to shit!"

 

"You saw the other guy, yeah? I-"

 

"You know you aren't actually a tiefling, right?" Jester snaps and where did all this aggression come from? Why can't she breathe properly in here? Why are her hands shaking? "You'll change back before they knock you out and then everyone will know you're human, they'll know who you are!"

 

The smile sent her way revives the jittery energy in her chest she was finally smothering. It's bold and sharp and so arrogant. "Well, that's why I only let them hit me a little." 

 

"Beau!"

 

"You just said I was so good! This is - Caleb, is she tracking you?" Beau whines and hooks her hands on the back of her neck. 

 

He glances up from the coin pouch Beau had tossed him. "She cannot."

 

"Did you bring any of your stuff with you?" They both watch his face shift into something sheepish and the monk groans. "Your books. I'm docking an hour from your Archive Time." 

 

His mouth opens and then closes. "That is… fair, but on the other hand? Look how pretty I made you."

 

"It isn't always the coat itself so much as how you wear it."

 

"And sometimes it's just a really good coat."

 

"I didn't take the coat, just a couple coins and buttons and whatever this thing is," Nott gargles into her flask as she wanders up, ducking between the legs of a gnoll that's even more drunk than she is. She stuffs her flask into the bag slung over her shoulder, yellow eyes widening. "Oh hi, Jester! I didn't know we invited Jester this time."

 

It takes her a moment. It really does, Jester has to dig her fingers into her own hips and take a breath before she looks back at the humans with wide eyes. They both stare at different spots in the ceiling like it's the most fascinating thing they've ever seen, and she shakes her head. "You brought Nott and didn't invite me? I can't even begin to describe how-"

 

"Oi! That goblin's got my fuckin' broach!"

 

Each of them freeze in one moment, and move simultaneously in the next. Nott tucks the deceptively intricate broach into her pocket before launching herself up at tiefling Beau to scurry over a broader shoulder than she's used to. The monk turns her head to dodge the heel she almost gets in the eye, and ducks under a gnoll's furry fist just to toss her own back in his face. "Nott!" she growls.

 

Caleb opens his arms to catch the goblin before turning and beginning to push through the thick crowd of people. "Time to go! This way, Jester!" 

 

"What did you-!" the rest of her - question? accusation? whatever it was going to be, it's lost when Beau is shoved back into her and they both hit the wall. She blinks wide eyes, swallowing the heart in her throat, and lifts a finger to touch the sharp point of Beau's horns that she hadn't realized point back that far. "Beau…"

 

"Sorry, Jes," the monk grunts and pulls away, doesn't feel the cool palms against her bare sides, nor the way Jester instinctively digs her nails in as if to keep her there. She does , however, feel her arm almost get ripped from its socket, and the big palm clamp on her hip before she's hoisted up. "This is all a big misunderstan ding!" 

 

Jester watches the gnoll throw her best friend down and against one of the few tables by the ring that collapses like a stack of cards. She staggers forward, necrotic energy pooling down towards her fingertips, and presses them against a furry side. She doesn't linger to listen to his strangled whimper to know her spell landed, and instead she crouches down to gather up her monk and start dragging her through the crowd. "Stealing? Fighting? Sneaking off? Alone?!" she hisses back at the fake tiefling as they make their way further away from their new friend who's seemed to have gathered a few more gnoll buddies. 

 

"I was just fighting, talk to Nott about the stealing!" Beau shouts back. She looks over her shoulder, catches the flash of metal across a few of their knuckles. "But later, maybe! These guys mean business, come on!"

 

"Why didn't you bring me?"

 

Beau slams into her back and shoulder as she's forced to stop behind an orc. The monk's voice curls around her ear, drifting in, in, in and raises goosebumps along blue skin. "Is now really the time to talk about this? Here, to the left, the stairs!"

 

Their hands clasp together sometime between the orc and the stairs themselves, fingers laced together by the time they make it up to the main level. "No, up again!" she gasps as Beau tugs towards the front door. "Obviously, they'll think we went out the front door."

 

Her breathless explanation serves only to make Beau grin again and then they're racing up to a much more abandoned third floor. Beau is, well, fast and a hell of a lot more agile than she is; the monk is always there with her, or anticipating a turn and ducking down a hall just ahead of her. But a castle, this is not, and eventually they reach the end of the second hall.

 

If Jester had to guess, from what she's seen, this is some kind of inn with a fight ring level, an audience and bar level, and a rent-a-room level. It actually, in some regards, almost reminds her of the Lavish Chateau… like a poorer, more broken down, grimy, dangerous version. 

 

The stairs creak beneath the weight of someone heavy or maybe multiple someones that are heavier than - humans and tieflings, at least. Jester looks at Beau, whose eyes dart to the window next to them, before she's wrenching it open and shoving the monk halfway through. "Jes! Careful!"

 

"Gooooo, Beau!"

 

"Easy, you're going to fall if you rush!" Beau growls at her and - and damn it, there's that flash of fangs, the more guttural and rough quality to her voice as her ears flick back. Gods, she's like a sexy, angry- nope, no. What?!

 

Jester does shove her this time and it's only a red tail shooting out to curl around her wrist and forearm that keeps Beau on the ledge just outside the window, her arms wind-milling. "Sorry, you - Beau, I - move!" she chokes out.

 

"Well, I'm not pointing fingers but someone has my tail."

 

"You shouldn't have a tail!"

 

"What's that supposed to mean?"

 

"You! Get back here!"

 

Beau helps drag Jester out through the window but not plummet two stories down onto the gravel road below. Their hands find each other again and they inch down the ledge until they can turn the corner. Jester watches Beau crouch on the lip of the ledge and spring out, ducking into a roll on the slightly lower roof across the way, before looking back up at her. 

 

You know, like she expects Jester to just do that. Like some kind of superhero. "You're joking, right?"

 

"Yes and no."

 

"What does that even mean?!" she whisper-yells. Wobbles. Leans back against the wall again.

 

Blue eyes watch her anxiously. "Yeah, two can play at the weirdly random things to say in a serious situation game. Now, come on!"

 

"What if I don't make it?"

 

"You will."

 

"What if I fall?"

 

"I'll catch you. Jump, Jester!"

 

"I can't!"

 

Beau shuffles to the edge of the roof, no more than seven feet away, and the dip in height helps but… gods, it'll be close. She raises her arms, hands stretched out into the free air as she gazes up at Jester, unwavering. "Jes… I got you. Jump."

 

She does.

 

Like, really well.

 

Those blue eyes widen a second before Beau is tackled back against the roof, catching the deceptively buff tiefling who dove from a ledge into the monk's arms. She can feel Beau groan beneath her, and something else creak beneath even that. "Ow…" They sink another inch with the sound of ripping wood before the roof splits beneath Beau's back and Jester's knees and they fall through in a mess of debris and dust. Inside the building, they land on the hardwood floor with a bang and a whimper from Jester as teeth sink into her lower lip just a little too hard. "...ow!"

 

The cleric pushes herself up, swiping a finger over her mouth to pull back and squint at the blood. "You bit my lip!"

 

"You tackled me through a building-"

 

"How did you even bite my lip?! We weren't kissing!"

 

"Through a building, Jester!"

 

She sucks her lip into her mouth until she can summon a little bit of magic into her fingers, eventually working the sting from her skin. "That really hurt!"

 

"Yeah, no, my back is fine," Beau wheezes as she shoves Jester sideways and gets to her feet. She stretches backwards until they both hear a pop, and sighs heavily. "This was not how I saw my night going."

 

"Yeah, I guess you counted on leaving me out."

 

When Beau looks back at her, it's with more patience than she had by the ring. There's sympathy shining in those soft blues, and something else. Something like guilt and fear. Jester doesn't like it. "It's not like it was on purpose or anything, Jes. We didn't set out to intentionally hurt your feelings or exclude you, I just… I need to unwind and I don't wanna bring our group unnecessary attention so I need a disguise that will hold up."

 

Seemingly reasonable, but… "Okay, but why did you ask Caleb and not me??"

 

"... I - I don't know! It just happened that way, I saw him first the first night, that's all."

 

Beau is usually a much better liar. Like, she even gives Jester a run for her money and Jester knows that she is a good liar. She had to learn how - her momma is frustratingly observant and good at reading people, really good. But this lie? It was weak and uncomfortable, forced in a way Beau's lies usually are not. 

 

Her momma might even say that it could mean Beau didn't wanna even tell that lie. 

 

For the first time since they've met, Jester doesn't know how to talk to Beau. She doesn't know how to say that she can see the lie, she doesn't know how to tell Beau that her feelings are hurt without making Beau lie again, and she doesn't know how to pretend she bought that lie. They both know she didn't.

 

Now they're stuck - Jester just watching her and Beau scowling at a point on the wall. 

 

Oh, Traveller, I never should have followed them.

 

"Beau-"

 

"Jes-"

 

They both fall silent and it feels wrong.  

 

Jester brushes the dust and dirt from her hands, wiping them on her pants before she stands up and walks to the only window in this room. "Do you know how to get back home from here?"

 

"Yeah, you see that glow over there?" Beau is… close, she can feel the heat of her up all across her back, watches a red arm raise up to point way out to the left of the city. Her knuckles are purple and raw, and Jester misses the brown. "That's Caduceus' tree. Pretty much the easiest thing to find in this city." 

 

A brief smile plays at her lips and she tries to pour herself into it, to leave behind everything else and simply be happy . Her arms wrap around her chest in a hug against a cold night she doesn't even mind, and she sinks back into Beau's chest. Maybe she can make it feel right, again. 

 

They both sort of still at the music that softly drifts in from the window. Jester looks around for a translucent green cloak with narrowed eyes but Beau's hand rests on her shoulder and squeezes gently. "Come on, I wanna take you somewhere."

 

"Beau…"

 

"It'll be fun!" the monk insists and, damn it , her tail all but wags behind her head when Jester turns to tell her no. She doesn't want a pity hang out. "Please?" Beau must see her cave though - her eyes light up and she grins again, pointing in the opposite direction of the Xhorhouse. "Can you dimension door us, like… two hundred feet that way?"

 

She sighs enough that it heaves her shoulders. "Beau, I'm not dressed for dancing. I'm wearing pants and Fjord's coat that is too big!"

 

"You look beautiful, you always do," Beau tells her absently as she eyeballs the city beyond. Indigo swirls into Jester's cheeks and she, she kinda… hops when Beau glances down at her. Green magic swirls around her fingers and she turns quickly to flick it halfway down from the window. "What-"

 

Beau's hands are warm and rough in hers, they're a little bigger than Jester is used to, they don't fit as perfectly anymore, but it's still - habit. Comforting. It feels more like them , more like normal; Jester pulling her out a window to drop down into unknown magic and Beau following without hesitation, without a second thought.

 

-

-

-

 

The momentum of the drop has them skidding down the alley a few feet, and catching themselves against a brick wall. Jester looks up with a grin and - her chest swells at the longer, straighter, messy bun in Beau's real hair, how bold and bright her eyes are against her dark skin. 

 

It's Beau. 

 

"I think tieflings have thicker skin than humans," she grumbles and stuffs her hands beneath her armpits to shiver. "Stupid… no sun… city…" 

 

Jester's already pulling Fjord's coat off and wrapping it around the human, ignoring the way she stubbornly fights it. "You should have brought a coat."

 

"Or kept track of my disguise kit. Here's hoping those two made it out okay." Blue eyes bounce across the alley to her, and Beau gives in to do up the buttons. "Thanks."

 

"Oh, you're welcome!" Jester chirps with a flutter of her eyelashes and a teasing lilt in her voice.

 

Beau very quickly hides most of her face in the tall collar of the coat and looks away again. "So they have - this smells literally like the bottom of the ocean - they have this sort of garden party… thing almost every weekend, here." She holds out her hand for Jester - the corner of her mouth ticks up in a smile when their hands join, and leads Jester down the alley towards the light at the end. "I thought it was a celebration, at first, like a wedding or something. But it's been four weeks now? So. Party, I think."

 

"It could be a wedding," Jester says and flashes another smile up at Beau's curious look. "Don't orcs have that Forty Day Feast part of their ceremony?" 

 

"I'm… you're fucking with me, right?" Beau chuckles.

 

"I feel like I read that somewhere."

 

"How are you real?" Their connection breaks before Jester can respond, before she can even register the breathless feeling in her chest. "They're pretty chill, I stopped by two weeks ago and they let me pick at the food and mingle."

 

The grin on Jester's face stretches. "Did you dance with anybody?"

 

"I don't dance."

 

"You know how though, don't you?" She watches Beau bump her shoulders in a noncommittal shrug and giggles when the human refuses to look back at her. "I bet the Monks taught you how, you move like a dancer sometimes."

 

The human coughs harshly once and clears her throat. "How would you know? You a dancer?"

 

"Of course, Beau! Momma taught me when I was little," Jester explains and this. This is easy. Hiding in the shadow of a building, watching people talk and laugh and dance and eat just around the corner, just… just being with Beau. Tiefling Beau is - different, makes her feel different around her favourite person. "She has a lot of hobbies but also she needs to know how to dance for her job, like, sometimes they would clear out the main floor and have very fancy but very small balls in there, and everybody would always want to dance with her. So she taught me how!"

 

"That's cute as fuck," Beau mumbles or grumbles. She's being so weird tonight. Jester watches Beau dig her fingertips into the side of the wall and just stare at them for a few seconds. "The monks didn't teach me. I learned when I was younger, my family also had these big parties and shit. I had to know all of the lame and boring dances in case someone requested a dance with me."

 

"Were you allowed to say no?" Jester asks quietly. She's pretty sure she knows the answer.

 

Beau slides her fingers down the wall and then shoves her hands into her pockets, glancing up at the sky like she's tracking something Jester can't see. "You can always say no."

 

Her stomach sinks at the way say sounds, at the tightness in Beau's jaw, and she doesn't realize she's reaching out until her fingers slide against that sharp angle. Until Beau flinches and looks down at her with wide eyes, and she's cupping the human's warm cheek. "I'm sorry, Beau. You deserved to have a better family."

 

"I wouldn't trade my family for the world," Beau tells her with furrowed brows. "I just wish I'd met them sooner. Blood means less than nothing to me." 

 

Jester steps back with a pleased hum, clasping her hands behind her back as she tames the smile on her face. "So I guess I can't ask for a dance."

 

"Am I allowed to say no?"

 

"Are-!" she almost chokes on her gasp, eyes wide. "Yes, Beau - of course , you're allowed to say no!"

 

The monk chuckles and shakes her head, turning on her heel to creep ever closer to the edge of the building. "I'm fuckin' with you, Jes. Come on, let's get you some cake and negotiate how many dances we'll stay for."

 

"More than one d- cake?! Beau, you didn't mention cake!"

 

-

-

-

 

If she could, Jester would say that things went back to normal after that. She wishes they did, most of the time, because the days are full of wondering why they're absent of Beau. But the nights?

 

"Jes… Jester, hey… Jes!"

 

The tiefling sits up too fast, and pain blooms in her forehead as it knocks against Beau's - her hands cradle her face as she listens to the monk's thud on the floor of the room. "Shitballs!"

 

"What the fuck??" Beau groans from the floor and sits up. She rubs at her red forehead while Jester blinks the sleep from her eyes, a pout sliding across her polymorphed face. "This is why nobody wakes you up for your watch; we take blunt force trauma."

 

Palm massaging the ache, Jester leans on her other hand to look down at Beau. "What are you doing? It's so late!"

 

"It's… how can you tell?" Beau glances over her shoulder to the balcony where it's, of course, always dark.

 

"Because I'm sleepy! Beau, what do you want?"

 

The monk - the show off, rolls back into a backwards somersault to get to her feet, stretching red muscles. Any lingering fatigue is scorched away with one solid beat of Jester's heart against her ribs. Her eyes trail over the bright red abs that flex, watching Beau reach her hands towards the ceiling, up on her toes to stretch the length of her new body. "Caleb can't sleep, we're going drinking. Wanna come?"

 

Something in Jester wilts when Beau finishes stretching, when a dark, heavy coat falls back down over the expanse of skin and muscle she'd been staring at. 

 

"Jes? Did you fall asleep sitting up?"

 

The tiefling shakes her head and blinks a few times. "Uh? Oh! Um, yeah…" She swings her legs over the side of the bed, the cool night air raising goosebumps along her blue thighs. "Who all is going? Beau?"

 

"Hmm?" her usually-human-now-tiefling grunts and clears her throat, turns towards Jester's bed quickly (too full of clothes and pencils and paints and… not nearly as comfy as Beau's, it's unreasonable to expect her to sleep in it) to pick our darker clothes. "Just me, Caleb, and Fjord."

 

"Not Nott?"

 

"Who's there?" She doesn't have to see Beau's face to know there's a grin. Instead, she pads over to the bed, gently knocking the swishing tail out of her way (Jester has never met an actual tiefling with such an active tail but it makes a certain amount of sense - Beau is always moving). "Nah, she's already passed out in their room. Figured we should let Yasha sleep, not sure she got to do it a whole lot with… you know. And Caduceus doesn't drink, doesn't like how the taverns smell. So. Just the brjos going. And you, if you want."

 

The crinkle eye smile is given to her so softly, so simply and without thought that Jester couldn't say no even if she wanted to.

 

And part of her wants to.

 

The part that can't seem to… to fit right around Beau these days, the part that won't stop fidgeting around her, the part that can't stop staring at this disguise. 

 

"I'm in," she breathes and clears her throat when Beau's head tilts curiously. "I mean, I'm so in, Beau. I don't wanna drink but I can't wait to hang out with you. Guys! With you guys, and Fjord! I haven't really gotten to see him much lately, he's always training with you, which is obviously paying off. Look at his muscles, they're coming in so nice, he looks so handsome and sexy now-"

 

"Are you breathing?" Beau asks and leans forward, just a little. It makes that very thing she's asking about hard to do because drowning in her blue eyes is super easy when they're that close. 

 

She's not sure why she shoves Beau back and laughs too hard - she mentally facepalms when the monk topples backwards over her own tail and lands on the ground again. "Maybe you should see Dairon next time we're in the Empire - getting slow, Beau! Meet you downstairs, I gotta pee!"

 

The door swings shut behind her just in time for her to hear Beau's incredulous, "what the fuck?"

 

-

-

-

 

The tavern isn't as bad as she thought it would be, though really, the last Xhorhasian tavern she went to was the one t hey found Dairon in and that was a bit of a pit. These ones in the city are nicer - still dark, still loud, still more crowded than she expected, but they're clean. Mostly. 

 

Caleb is happy, at least, and she thinks that's probably what really counts here. Drunk off his ass, to be sure, but happy, and she's thankful she came. The Three Drunkenteers would have had a hard time finding their way home alone.

 

"To Xhorhas!" Caleb slurs loudly and leans against the table. His dark blue face is flushed, disguised as a dark elf again, and it's… charming. He looks handsome, even like this. "And to friends who go drinking late, late, late at night!"

 

"Cheers!" Fjord croons and slams his mug against the wizard's, promptly sloshing it out of his cup and into Beau's chest. His eyes widen and he flips his mug, leaning down to watch the last drop drip onto the table. "Damn."

 

Jester rolls her eyes. "Come on, Beau, let's find a wash basin. Beau?" She follows the monk's glazed eyeline to the female goliath slinging drinks behind the bar. Her heart sinks, an acidic twist in her gut. "Beau? Beau!"

 

"Huh, wha-?" The fake tiefling turns to look at her, blinking until her eyes focus. "Hey, Jes. Wassup?"

 

"You're covered in beer!" she snaps.

 

Beau drops her chin to look at her white tunic, a pout hooked onto her face that Jester hates to admit is endearing as all hell. "I didn't even notice I spilled."

 

"You - no!" Jester gasps and reaches out a second too late. Beau's alcohol soaked brain has her flipping her supposedly spilled mug to confirm it's empty - which it definitely was not , and ends up pouring it over her spot at the table and her lap. "Oh my gods , Beau. Okay, you two, don't move. I'm going to get Beau cleaned up and then we're leaving. What time is it, Caleb?"

 

His voice is muffled against the table but he lifts his hand, elbow propped up, and raises three fingers. "It is three o'clock, Jester."

 

"Come on, Beau." Jester stands from the table, glancing around the room to find the bathroom, and perks up when she notices one. She hopes. "Beau!" 

 

The monk jolts to her feet, knocking the table and disrupting a sleepy Caleb. Fjord pats him on the shoulder, and Beau hooks her arm around Jester's shoulders. "Where we headed, Jessie?"

 

Her heart does that - that swirly thing it does whenever Beau calls her that. "To get you cleaned up, or just less sticky. Over here, there should be a wash basin in the bathroom."

 

"Been to many a bar bathrooms?"

 

"No. Have you?"

 

The wiggle of her eyebrows is all the answer Jester needs, and kicks the door open. It's empty, thankfully, and looks like it doesn't get that much use. She all but drags her friend to the dark counter where a few porcelain bowls are set up beneath the mirrors, with small towels and pitchers of clean water beside. 

 

She doesn't realize how dark it is in here until Beau stumbles over the mop bucket and catches herself on the opposite wall of the mirrors, leaning back against it. Her tail flicks back and forth, watching Jester watch her, until the tiefling puts her hands on her hips. "Well? Take off your shirt, we gotta rinse it off. You'll have to wear it home soggy, sorry."

 

"I've worn worse," Beau tells her. Whatever she says after that is muffled as Beau tugs the garment over her head, stumbling a few steps to the side with it up over her face and elbows. "Where am I? What the shit is - oh." She puffs the loose strands of hair from her bun out of her eyes, tossing the shirt to Jester.

 

Who catches it - idly. Absently. Slowly. Her eyes rake across Beau's chest, the cut of muscle and abs, sinfully red skin wet with beer. The flex of her biceps, carved from marble, as she clasps her hands behind her head to lean back against the wall. "Like what you see?"

 

Heat burns the tips of Jester's ears, creeps into her cheeks. She spins quickly, stuffing the shirt into one of the bowls to pour some water on and start kneading. "I was just looking for your bruises from the other night. I guess you're all healed up now!"

 

"Caduceus said if he sees them, he's healing them. And the dude sees everything. Damn observant cow."

 

Her eyes find Beau's in the mirror again. The monk has her head tipped back, resting on the points of her horns, just a thin slit of blue to catch beneath her eyelids. "Why do you keep fighting, Beau?"

 

It's something she's been meaning to ask, a question that has always kept her up, here and there throughout their travels, all their time together. It seems… personal to ask, though, like she shouldn't. None of the others do, and she's not sure why. She doesn't want to push too much, but…

 

This feels like a good time to ask. Beau is a lot more open when she's drunk (and part of her feels guilty, like she's taking advantage, maybe, but if it's for a good reason… that's okay, right?).

 

Red shoulders rise and fall, and the slit of blue of her eyes disappear. Jester assumes that's all the answer she's going to get - it probably would be, any other time she asked, but Beau grunts a few seconds later. "It's easier. I know how to deal with a broken hand or nose or… whatever." She drops one of her hands to her side, drags the darker red nails across her ribs that Jester follows with her gaze and swallows thickly. "I can deal with that pain. It hurts, and it hurts, and it hurts, but then it stops. I've broken it all so many times that I even know when it will stop."

 

That doesn't surprise her. She's seen Beau after a bad fight, when there's more bruise than skin, when she's bloodier than all the others and needs to borrow clothes until she can wash her own.

 

"That other shit? The inside shit, the… feelings?" She grimaces and scrubs a tired hand down her face. "I don't do that. I don't know how, it just hurts and then it hurts, and months later it still hurts, years later, it still hurts. That shit doesn't heal."

The shirt in her hands threatens to tear beneath her claws, she has to consciously be careful. 

 

She didn't… Beau is so good at brushing things off, at acting like they don't matter to her. She's been calm through it all, level headed through it all. The shoulder to lean on, the person to go to when everything else is going to shit. She's the one that brings sense and order to the chaotic fuckery that is their lives. Jester never even considered that she could be struggling with any of it.

 

Fuck. What a horrible friend she's been. She didn't even notice the monk was hurting. "Beau…"

 

There aren't words, not that she can think of in the moment. Beau glances at her and smiles… shallow and fleeting. "But fighting helps. I break my nose or pop a knuckle, crack my kneecap, and it overrides the rest. Distracts from the inside shit. I know it's not good, I don't always do it, I'm just kinda fucked up right now, Jes."

 

And when that smile turns jagged, into something more destructive and dismissive? Jester's whole heart clenches painfully, fear spikes through her and has her turning to face Beau. "Is it because of Yasha? With Obann? Or the chained oblivion? Or the war? Or Caleb's stuff with Trent? Or fixing Nott? Or helping Caduceus cure the woods and find his family? Or keeping Fjord from Big Bad Worms? Or losing Molly? Or your family?" They all come tumbling out, one after the other, like a horror show of a list that individually was daunting but altogether? Gods.

 

"… worse than all that, Jes," Beau tells her and the tiefling grits her teeth, finds herself leaning closer. "I found a fucking grey hair."

 

"Beau!" she cries with frustration. Sinks back against the counter and bowl behind her again. She clicks her tongue, disappointed, and turns around. "Be serious! We were having a moment!"

 

"We always have moments, Jester, that's our thing. Have you noticed that or am I not green enough?"

 

Her hands freeze in the bowl, electricity crackling up her spine. The mask sits tight and she keeps her voice easy, level. Curious, even. "What are you talking about?"

 

"Uuuuugh," her friend groans lowly. "Maybe just the wrong kind of green. I don't wanna feel that way about Fjord, I love that dude, you know?"

 

Okay.

 

Okay, okay, okay. This is okay. Everything is okay. Beau is not coming onto her, her best friend is not interested in her, she is a girl . And-and she's drunk, this doesn't even matter, it's not real. "Beau, we need to get you some water or some coffee or something."

 

Her smile is brittle and water sloshes from the bowl as she roughly dips the tunic in and out, forcing her eyes to stay on her own hands and not look back at all that red in the mirror. "I'm fine. I'm fine , Jes," Beau said very simply, full of charm and ease. It's almost believable. "It's this body, it doesn't hold liquor like mine. Or it did, really well, better than me, and then it did not . Like a brick wall of inebriation. I think it messes with some of my monk shit… or I should have turned down that orc liquor."

 

What a mess.

 

"I could give you a restoration spell," Jester offers with the deepest frown she's felt in a while. It's not real. It's not.

 

"How do you do that?"

 

"The Traveller taught me-"

 

"No. No, no, no, no… not that. I get that." Beau waves it to the side and makes a face, wobbles her hand instead. "I mean, I don't, not really, but. You know." She shrugs her shoulders and tosses her hand towards Jester, palm out and blue eyes wide. "How do you just, like, stand there being cute as a fucking button? With your, with your face all like that and your eyes the size of fucking dinner plates, and your accent? Dear gods, your accent." 

 

The jitters come back and Jester shakes her head, squeezes the shirt and her smile trembles before it locks in place. "That's very sweet but-"

 

"You're very sweet, you're so nice, Jester. To everybody."

 

"Beau-"

 

Beau scoffs and pushes off the wall - Jester's gaze flicks up to watch, to make sure her friend doesn't trip and put her head through a wall. She traces the curve of shoulder and Beau's back, the V of her pelvis dipping into her dark trousers, and squeezes her eyes shut again. Caleb was a fucking liar when he said he wasn't an artist. "And then you turn around and you rip grates out of walls and obliterate monsters. That sexy as fuck edge that'll cut you if you find it beneath all the cute."

 

Wait-

 

"… what." Her own shoulders drop, her hands grip the edges of the bowl.

 

"I can't deal with that shit."

 

"You're drunk, Beau," she repeats. For Beau's benefit or hers, she's not sure. But it's a necessary distinction, it's important to remember in this room that makes things easy to forget. It would be so easy to forget - everything . "I'm not… I'm not sexy," she admits softly and blinks at her own reflection. "I'm not anything like Keg or Reani or those barmaids, I feel like a stupid little kid in this group, sometimes. Yasha had a wife, Nott has a husband, you're sleeping with every single girl we meet, Caleb had some romantic assassin school romance, and Fjord…" Her eyes close again. "I don't even know what he sees, no wonder he picked Avantika."

 

"I won't lie, Avantika was smokin' hot, but honestly, Jes? She didn't have anything on you." The dragon in her chest swoops through, catches her breath and has her eyes fluttering open. They meet blue, bright enough to burn her, and oh so close. She can feel the heat radiating off of Beau, could touch her if she leaned back even an inch. Her hands on the bowl tremble, Beau's against the counter just on either side of her hips. "Obviously, Fjord wasn't looking at you… look at you, Jes… "

 

She can't look away, she can't do anything but watch as Beau drops her chin to a blue shoulder. As she drags her eyes down the front of Jester's body in the mirror, lingering at the swell of her breasts. "B- ohhh!" she gasps softly, tilting her head to the opposite side as the monk drags her lips up Jester's neck and behind her ear.

 

"Who could ever choose anyone but you?"

 

Traitorous, her tail weaves itself around Beau's thigh and up over a scalding hip, blue curling around red abs, tugging her closer. Beau's grin is all fangs, strong fingers dig into Jester's soft hips and pull another gasp from her. "Beau!" she groans or mewls or - she's never made that sound before, she's not totally sure which one it is from her books. "Beau, wait, you're dru-ohhh gods!"

 

Those fangs dig into her skin, just over the pulse in her neck sending a trill of pain and pleasure shooting through Jester's body and settling deep in her stomach. The bowl could be on another planet for all Jester knows, for all she cares as she presses her palms against the counter, leaning forward to brace herself as Beau sucks on her neck. 

 

This is wrong. This is so wrong… but it feels so , so good…

 

She whimpers, immediately misses the contact when Beau pulls away. "No, please!" she gasps and-

 

"I'm here," Beau tells her in a voice thick enough to spread on toast. Her hands spin Jester by the hips until they're facing each other, and hoist her up onto the counter. But the fake tiefling is taller than Beau normally is, she still looks down into Jester's eyes, even as she leans against the counter to settle between the cleric's legs. "And I really, really want to kiss you, Jes." 

 

Beau flinches, sorta, she shivers and grins as Jester runs her fingers up that red chest… and Beau must be ticklish (it's silly and childish and so not appropriate for the moment, but she files the information away, all the same). Her smile is sweet and Jester forgets, she forgets, she forgets, she forgets and curls her fingers behind Beau's neck to drag her down closer-

 

And then they're kissing. Beau's lips are firm but soft, more pliable than Jester was expecting (Fjord was stiff and rough and quick, very quick in that temple). They move against hers fluidly, never aggressive or sloppy as she guides Jester through her first kiss. Her first real kiss. When they pull away, just enough for Jester to let out a shaky breath and drag another in, enough to feel Beau's breath against her lips, she licks her bottom one. Tastes faded copper and alcohol, but also something fainter, something distinctly Beau. 

 

She feels pressure on her arm - Beau's tail looping up and around lazily, and realizes she has her legs wrapped around Beau's hips, realizes how close they are. She can almost see out the corner of her eye when Beau lifts her arm to press her palm against the mirror and lean on it, the other comes up under Jester's chin, thumb swiping just under her lip as she tilts the tiefling's face up… and waits.

 

Waits, frustratingly close, for gods know what. Those blue eyes study Jester's, look for something in them, until Jester whines in the back of her throat and squeezes her legs again.

 

Beau's chuckle is lost to the kiss, this one more insistent than the last. Jester isn't sure who opens their mouth first, but Beau swallows her moan as their tongues meet. That taste is back, beneath the liquor, it's stronger and intoxicating and Jester whimpers. She feels Beau shift, feels the scorching hand on her back, pulling her closer, holding her closer.

 

(Something warm settles in her chest, beneath all the rushing hormones and adrenaline. Something inside purrs at the gentle way Beau comforts her, instinctually knows what she needs even when she doesn't know it herself.)

 

She lets her own hands fall, drags them down Beau's neck and chest - is too distracted, too.. much to register the disconnect in her head, the weird twinge at the absence of Beau's boobs that she, logically, on some inactive level within, knows should be there. But her fingers glide lower, trace the groove of her abs and feels them tremble beneath the skin. The monk groans and Jester aches between her thighs, she sucks on Beau's tongue and digs her fingers into her sides until she gets a hiss of pain.

 

"Sorry," she mumbles against her friend's lips, tries to pull back to - fuck, apologize properly? Check to make sure she didn't draw blood?

 

But Beau drags her off the counter, hooks her hands under Jester's thighs and kisses her harder. Someone's fang knicks Jester's plump bottom lip again when Beau's back collides with the opposite wall, and she flips them. Presses Jester against it and pins her there with her hips. 

 

Jester stares down into pupils so dilated they leave only a thin ring of blue around the edges, she catches sight of Beau's tail swaying behind her head and feels her cheeks ache with a smile that makes her lip sting more. "You bit my lip again."

 

"Not my fault you're rough," Beau grumbles with delight. She stares at the blood on Jester's lip, has to tilt her own face up now - their position has Jester higher than her - and gently sucks on that bloody lip. Jester's eyes fall closed again, her hands grip Beau's shoulders, drag back up her neck to tangle in the mess of her hair and bun. She opens her mouth to Beau's tongue, feels the heat pour all the way down, and pulls Beau's hair. "Fuck, Jester!" the monk moans and growls, all in one, and rolls her hips forward against Jester.

 

"Oh!" she gasps and - and the electricity is back, the lightning crackles back up her spine and through her body. It makes her fingertips and toes tingle and her body hot , scalding against her friend. "B-Beau, do that again!"

 

The words are whispered against Beau's lips, muffled between kisses. "Jes," she tries to pull away but blue lips chase her, "if we - Jes, I'm going to - that's different. It's-"

 

Jester finally pulls back- a little. She stares down at Beau's bruised lips, bumps their noses together affectionately. "Please," she whimpers softly…

 

Beau's hands are on her hips again, digging into the cool, blue skin exposed with her shirt riding up. Their tongues twirl and glide against each other, and Beau rocks her hips into Jester's - harder when Jester gasps and pulls her hair again. They stay like this, tucked away in the bathroom of the tavern - making out and grinding against each other until Jester is moaning into Beau's shoulder, sinking her teeth into the skin as she comes undone in the monk's arms.

 

She's a twitching, shuddering mess for a long while as Beau simply holds her, waits for her. It isn't until much later, until Caleb comes knocking on the door in search of Beau to re-up her disguise that Jester remembers where they are.

 

Who they are…

 

She drags the three of them home without a word, flinching away from Beau's hand when she reaches out. 

 

As soon as they walk through the door, Jester ducks into Yasha's room, ignores the confused look Beau gives her… and spends the rest of the early morning staring up at the ceiling.

 

-

-

-

It's not that she's hiding, exactly. It's more that she doesn't know… much, these days, actually, but she doesn't know what to say after last night. It has to be perfect, the first thing she says to Beau, perfect enough to not completely ruin their friendship, to not hurt Beau or make the situation worse. And Jester? Well, when it comes to words, she's not perfect, and she can't think of the right words to say.

 

So she can't go downstairs, not all morning, and not most of the afternoon, and not well into the evening.

 

Yasha doesn't question it when she wakes up and Jester is just there , curled into her strong back. She had frozen for only a couple seconds, until Jester squeezed her and shifted back enough for her to extract herself and sit up. Jester told her she didn't want to talk about it and Yasha had simply let her be - had squeezed her shoulder before leaving the room.

 

But now she's been here all day with a spell on her lips, unable to form the words to ask her momma how to fix this. It's just, she's not shy, she isn't too uncomfortable enough to tell her momma I made out all night with a super handsome stranger and had my very first orgasm ever and now I don't know what to say to them . It's just that this isn't a stranger.

 

It's Beau.

 

It's Beau.

 

Momma loves Beau and she might be - like, disappointed that Jester is about to ruin everything, and that's an entirely new layer of guilt she'll have to deal with. 

 

She can't.

 

She can't, she can't, she can't.

 

Gods, she never should have followed them to the fight ring.

 

-

-

-

 

The irony of using polymorph, the very spell that got her into this mess, is not lost on Jester. But sometimes you have to turn yourself into your friend's cat so you can avoid your other friend, with whom you spent almost an hour of the previous night sucking on their tongue. 

 

Nott squawks and almost flinches off the bed when Jester pops up from the other side, dropping her spell. She throws a pillow that hits the tiefling square in the face, scowling. "We're going to forbid polymorph if you and Caleb don't stop doing that to people!"

 

"I need your advice, Nott, I did - Caleb walks around here as Frumpkin?" she asks quickly, her eyes widening. "I tell Frumpkin lots of stuff in confidence! Has it ever been actually Caleb?!"

 

"We'll never truly know, it's best to just stop talking to that beast altogether," Nott tells her firmly.

 

Which is… does Nott like Frumpkin? She's pretty sure she remembers Nott used to try and eat him but she always thought that was a joke. 

 

Jester shakes her head, makes herself focus. She has a problem, she came here for a reason. "Nott, I did something really, really, really bad!"

 

"Caduceus is very good at getting rid of bodies, nobody else has to know, we'll just-"

 

"No, I didn't kill anybody! Nott, I made out with Beau!"

 

"..." Her mouth hangs open, jagged teeth sharp and crooked. She steeples her fingers, leaning her chin on them as she studies Jester's face. "Did you not like it?"

 

Not the reaction she was expecting, nor a question she really wants to answer. Jester sucks her lip into her mouth, squirms on the bed and looks away. "I mean, yeah, Beau is really good at kissing. Better than Fjord - not that Fjord's was a real kiss, I'm sure he's great at kissing too, I bet I would love kissing him!" 

 

"Was she drugged?"

 

Heat swirls into her cheeks and she bounces, holding up an indignant finger. "She was drunk but very … suave!" 

 

"So she made the first move?" Nott tries to clarify.

 

"I think… well, technically , I pulled her face to me but…"

 

"Did she want to kiss you?"

 

"She said she did, she started it all, I was just trying to wash her shirt for her!" the tiefling gasps. Why is it so hot in Nott's bedroom?! 

 

The rogue nods and leans back against her headboard to study Jester. It's weirdly the most thoughtful Jester has ever seen Nott, the quietest she's ever been, and that somehow makes this worse. Nott was a chatterbox when it came to talking about Jester's crush on Fjord, she went on almost too much. And now she's tight lipped and that must be bad. Oh, Traveller, she really did ruin everything.

 

Nott taps her fingers against her chin. "Let me just get this straight. Beau said she wanted to kiss you, so you kissed her, then you made out, and now you're here… telling me it was good but bad?"

 

"Yes! Exactly!"

 

Green shoulders slump. "I'm not sure I follow."

 

"Beau is a girl , Nott!" Jester cries and has to grab her tail, has to squeeze it and hold her breath until the lump in her throat eases down. "I like boys , I like Fjord , and Beau is my best friend!" 

 

"You're distressed so I'm not going to hold that against you but ouch."

 

"Nott!" she croaks sadly.

 

And the halfling coos, she stands up to walk over to Jester and wrap her arms around her, holding her in a hug. Jester is careful not to squeeze too tight, and rests her cheek on her friend's shoulder. "It's okay, Jester. It'll be okay."

 

"I'm ruining everything! She must hate me!"

 

"She doesn't hate you, nobody could hate you." Nott rubs her back in soothing circles, doesn't notice or doesn't comment on the tears soaking into her shirt. "Do you like Beau?"

 

Jester hiccups. "I love her!"

 

"Yes, but are you into her?"

 

"No, I… I don't know!" she cries miserably. "Her tiefling disguise has me all confused and she's just, she's very handsome, Nott. She's strong and kind and gruff and funny and I don't know how I feel anymore!" she sobs and buries her face against Nott's shoulder. "I don't like girls, that's not how the stories go, that's not how this was supposed to go!"

 

"Humans are… plain." Jester feels Nott's words against her cheek, can feel the halfling rest her chin on the crown of Jester's head. "They're like wallpaper, I never understood how they found each other attractive. Big and pink and awkward, the darker ones look nicer but still…" Jester sniffles, laughing weakly. "Caleb is very handsome."

 

The tiefling pulls back to wipe at her eyes, to look at Nott and the gentle smile on her face. "Nott, do you… do you have a crush on Caleb?"

 

"Sometimes you don't know what you like," she replies vaguely. Her little green thumbs swipe under Jester's eyes to catch the tears. "You don't get to choose and when you're sure of one thing, your heart will fuck you up just for fun." 

 

She sniffles again and nods. "It really, really will."

 

"I can feel your stomach growling, you haven't been downstairs all day." Nott pats her cheeks affectionately and steps back. "Time for food, you'll feel better afterwards." 

 

"No!" she gasps with wide eyes. "What if I see Beau?!"

 

"She's human right now so it might actually help clarify things."

 

"Nott!"

 

The halfling shrugs and hops down from the bed. "You need to eat and you live under the same roof as her, you'll have to see her at some point. The longer you wait, the more awkward it will be."

 

"But I don't want to deal with it tonight! Please!" 

 

Nott watches her from the doorway for a few long seconds that have Jester's heart sinking in her chest. She sighs and nods, relenting at the desperation in her friend's face. "Fine, I'll go get you some food."

 

"Thank you, thank you! Some dessert too, right?" 

 

Yellow eyes roll up to the ceiling and Nott hesitates again. "Life isn't about what you're supposed to do or say or think, and certainly not about how you're supposed to feel." Jester settles back in the bed, her smile fading as she listens to Nott's words, the genuine quality to them. "None of us would be here, together, if we were who we're supposed to be. I don't want you to take this the wrong way because I love you, Jester, but… your life is not a storybook." 

 

"Are you trying to tell me to be gay, Nott?"

 

The halfling groans and throws her hands up in the air. "You're a ridiculous young woman and no matter who you like or sleep with or do whatever you crazy kids do these day, we'll all be here in the morning." She grins mischievously. "Otherwise we would'a dropped Yasha and Beau a long time ago." 

 

"Nott!" 

 

-

-

-

Fjord's shriek is actually really similar to Nott's as Jester drops her spell mid cackle. Hands on her knees, she has to blink the tears from her eyes, and lifts a hand to point at him as his cheeks darken. "You should have seen your face , Fjord!" 

 

"Why do the two of you keep doing this to me? It stopped being funny the third time!" Fjord snaps at her and crosses his arms. He waits, patient as he can, for her giggles to subside. Part of her wonders, as she catches her breath and looks at him, if he's this patient because she's been hidden out in Yasha's room for the past three days or if he's truly amused, on some level. He's annoyingly hard to read, sometimes. "How are you doing, Jester? Feeling better?"

 

Ah, pity it is. 

 

The humour of her smile fades, more polite than anything now. "What did Yasha tell you?"

 

"That you're sleepy and we should let you rest," he answers slowly. His brows shift down, eyes looking at her in a different light that she can see. "Are you alright?"

 

"I'm fine!" They both wait, kinda, just staring at each other. Like he's waiting for her mask to drop - it doesn't, not really, but it wears thin. "I just, I… was wondering something."

 

It's unexpected, she can see, as his face shifts to intrigue and he sets his weights down by his feet to give her his undivided attention. "How can I help?"

 

This is it.

 

This is the moment that would tell her, this is what will confirm, finally, once and for all, if she's into Fjord. He's his best self - so far, at least. The best version she's seen yet, how far he's come from the Balleater and Uk-otoa.

 

Fjord is kinder now, he's open and honest and gentle with his words, she sees him wait and put thought behind each of them now. He's more considerate than he has been, in his search for - belonging, she suspects? And, after a few months of training with Beau and a divine seaweed wrap, he's in the best shape he's ever been in, as far as she knows. No Yasha, but his chest is broader now - even more obvious when he's shirtless like this, the curve of muscle forming beneath his green skin. And the tusks growing back in? So cute, Jester wants to squeal sometimes.

 

This is the best version of Fjord (ironically closer to Oskar now) and if Jester ever liked him, if she was ever into him, this is the version that would do it. This is the version that would lock it in. 

 

Right here.

 

Right now. 

 

Down in the training pit.

 

… her stomach flips and she clasps her hands behind her back, knows her cheeks are a dark purple. "You could kiss me."

 

"Of course, I-" his automatic response is cut short, too ready to help, too ready to agree with her. The request catches up, registers in his mind, and his eyes widen. "Uh. Are you… asking me to or just giving general permission?" 

 

She swallows thickly and squeezes her hands. "You were - Fjord, you were someone before. Not the real you, the fake you, with your accent and your bravado, and everything? Maybe you were lots of someones, and I think maybe you were too scared to be the real you or maybe too scared to find out who the real you was."

 

"You're not entirely wrong." 

 

"I'm trying to figure out who I am," she admits softly. Fjord's gaze turns gentle and the tension in his body relaxes. "I know you don't like me - and, and that's okay! Really, Fjord, it is! I'm not sad anymore. I just need to… I need to know if I actually liked you or if I just felt like I was supposed to like you."

 

He nods. "I get it, Jester, I do. I'm not saying no but I think you might already know the answer to that." 

 

Her brows furrow. Of course he doesn't want to kiss her, especially not like this. This isn't how you ask someone to kiss you, a kiss is romantic! It's passionate! In front of a sunset with a field of bodies behind you, enemies slain and the damsel rescued. It's a sweet and tender moment during a magical picnic in a beautiful field. It's a heated, stolen moment in the bathroom of a tavern fueled by stuttering hearts and burning eyes. It's- oh wait. "Wh-why do you say that?"

 

"You looked entirely disappointed when I said I understood, and you stepped back."

 

"Oh. Sorry."

 

The smile that cracks across his face is amused and he sighs, hands on his hips. "That's okay, really. Jester, I'll do everything in my power to help you discover who you are but in my experience, you tend to know who we are before we do. Finding yourself, being yourself… is scary. Trust me , I know." He rests a large hand on her shoulder and squeezes. "But it also feels unbelievably good. No more pretending, no more hiding." 

 

"I know it's okay if I don't," she says suddenly, interjects with earnest eyes and an insistence that has Fjord stopping. "Like, it's not like I think it's weird that Yasha and Beau like girls, that's fine and not even a thing. I'm not narrow minded, Fjord."

 

"Sometimes it's jarring when we think we're one thing and turn out to be another."

 

"Yes!" she gasps and punches him in the shoulder. His eyes widen and he has to bite his lip to muffle the noise he makes, and Jester winces. "Sorry. I just want to be sure this time, it's important this time because if I'm… if I like girls and kinda knew but not really, then I'm not sure what it means that I really, really, really liked Beau when I thought I was straight. Fjord. Fjord, I might be in love with her!"

 

He nods a few times - she can see his eye twitch and his jaw work, just a little. Knows he's controlling his reaction. "That is definitely not super big news, that is totally regular. A regular conversation. My mind is not blown right now."

 

"You're being super weird."

 

"Jester, you're in love with Beau?!" he finally breaks and almost shrieks. His hands are on her shoulders again, eyes wide with the biggest grin she's ever seen on his face as he shakes her. 

 

Not very helpful. "I said I might be!" she grumbles and sighs, crossing her arms. "I don't know! She was a super sexy tiefling person when we kissed, she didn't have boobs and her jaw wasn't as sharp as it usually is, and what if I just really like that version of her?"

 

"You two kissed?!"

 

"Fjord, keep up! What if Beau likes me but I don't actually like girls? What if I do and she was just drunk and doesn't actually like me? And what if she did like me and I do like her but I ruined it by making out with her and then ignoring her for three days?!" 

 

"Wow! The drama that's been happening right under our noses. Wait, was it at the bar the other night?" he asks excitedly and ignores her scowl. "What? This is exciting news, you can't expect me to not react. I'm not dead, you know, I'm a person with emotions and Beau! It's Beau! How did I not see this? You guys are adorable - oh my gods, you're roommates!"

 

He's gone from kind, gentle words to absolutely gushing like some pubescent schoolgirl, and Jester sighs. She leans against the wall to slide down in a heap on the floor, staring across the room to the stairs. "Fjord, what do I do?"

 

“The way I see it, you have three options,” he says, shifting to slide down next to her. His arm is sweaty around her shoulders, especially when he tugs her into his side, but… comforting. “One; you talk to Beau about all of this and go from there, hoping for the best. Two; you figure out if you like girls or if you like Beau before you talk to her, and go from there. Three; you can ignore it all and pretend it never happened, for better or worse.”

 

“Is there a secret option four?”

 

“I mean… death, technically.”

 

She drags her feet up to hug her knees, dropping her forehead against one while he rubs her back. “Those are all horrible choices. How do I… how do I figure out if I like girls? Do I just go to the bar and start fucking?”

 

“Jester!” Fjord chokes on his exclamation, raising a fist to beat against his chest once. He rasps in another breath, scowling at the smirk he can see playing at her lips. “You’re making something very sweet - your potential romantic feelings for Beau - into something tawdry.” She shrugs helplessly and the two just sit there for a few minutes. Fjord heaves a sigh and pats her back. “You could go to Yasha.”

 

Jester whips her head up to look at him curiously.

 

“Yeah, Yasha likes the ladies and she’s really, very sweet, especially to you. I’m sure if you explained the situation she could help you, at least more than I can. She has experience with what you’re going through.”

 

“That’s… you’re right! Thanks, Fjord!”

 

She’s gone in a flash of skirts and a palm against his face, leaving him stunned and huffing. 

 

-

-

-

 

The barbarian's hand is big and rough in hers, she has callouses right where the hilt of a mighty blade would rest in her palm, with crisscrossing scars carved through. Jester remembers the few times over their travels when attackers took a swing and Yasha simply caught their swords by the blade, yanked it right from their hands to beat them with their own hilts. 

 

Her heart does that thing it always does around Beau - just a small one, just a little hiccup, and her face flushes before she can even close Yasha's bedroom door behind them.

 

Mismatched eyes regard her curiously, softly. Yasha's large, powerful build is framed by all the wildflowers of her mural, and - and maybe Fjord was wrong, maybe she was wrong. This doesn't seem easier, it actually seems a lot scarier. Looking at Yasha, sometimes , is like looking at the gods themselves. Or close, at least - she doesn't fit in their mortal world. Tragedy is draped over her broad shoulders, clinging to her like a phantom cowl, with the strength of a storm in her eyes and lightning at her fingertips. 

 

How are you supposed to ask an angel to kiss you?

 

"Are you alright, Jester?"

 

And then, sometimes , she speaks so softly and gentle, with such a small voice, that Jester remembers it's still Yasha. At the end of the day, when everything is said and done… it's Yasha. The girl who collects flowers and wears ridiculous hats just because her friends gave them to her, who carried Nott on her shoulders to try and hide a cool sword she wanted to keep. The big, loveable dork that goes and finds Caleb when she doesn't know what one of the words in her book means. 

 

"You could kiss me," Jester blurts out. 

 

She really wanted to go about this in a better way. She wanted to make Yasha want to kiss her, maybe be a little suave, a little flirty. She wanted to be soft and adorable and irresistible. She is, sometimes, usually she is when she's talking to people or just being herself, it's been mentioned. But sometimes she's - she doesn't mean to be, but she's strong and stubborn and, damn it, sometimes she's aggressive and rough!

 

(There's still a knick on her lip, she runs her tongue over it before bed and thinks back to the urgent, passionate kiss. To Beau pinning her against the wall, to the hint of blood in a kiss that only spurs the monk on more. She thinks - she knows that Beau likes pain, on some level, that she would like how rough Jester can be…)

 

Why is she so bad at this? All those stories she read - she should be an expert at this by now! Nott was right. Life is not a storybook, hers especially. 

 

Yasha must see her droop, her eyes widen and she shuffles closer, lifts her hands to… well, do nothing, they kind of hang just over Jester's shoulders. "I - okay! Okay, I can do that! Don't cry!"

 

Oh, gods, she's crying , too?! 

 

The tiefling drops her face into her hands to stifle the sob that tries to force itself from being lodged in her throat. "This isn't sexy!"

 

"Well, no. I'm a little frightened, to be honest. Jester, what is going on?" Yasha asks. She sinks to her knees so she can gently pry blue hands away from purple eyes, staring up into her friend's face. "I'm very confused right now but I want to help you."

 

No turning back now, she needs help. She needs it. "I think I like Beau but I-!" Her eyes widen, the gasp is ripped from her throat as she stares down at Yasha. "Oh shit! Oh shit! Yasha, you like Beau and I just came in here all caught up in my own stuff and- oh my gods, Yasha, I kissed Beau, I'm so sorry! I'm so, so sorry! I completely forgot about you guys and she was so - she's, okay, she's very sexy when she's being all charming and sweet and smouldery. This is at least half her fault, too." 

 

"No, yeah, I know that," Yasha agrees idly, she nods her head along but still looks overwhelmed by… well, Jester on a whole. "Okay, so you kissed Beau and you think you like her and you want me to kiss you," her brows furrow as she works out all the information like a puzzle, "to… see if you just like girls or Beau specifically?"

 

A couple more tears fall down Jester's cheeks and she sniffles, nodding. "You're super clever, Yasha."

 

"Well, it was either that or you wanted me to kill someone. I'm trying to murder less these days, so this is the option I was hoping for." The two stare at each other until pink dusts across Yasha's pale cheeks and the bridge of her nose. "Okay, not the right moment for a joke. I'm really killing my whole family and tossing you under a bridge here."

 

"What are you saying?"

 

"I-I… let's go back to your thing," Yasha says instead. She let's go of Jester's wrists, to sit back on her ankles instead, still looking up at the tiefling.

 

But Jester shakes her head. “No, I can’t! Yasha, you like Beau!”

 

The barbarian presses her lips together for a long moment, until Jester is a fidgeting mess in front of her. Her eyes are - difficult to read, they always look sad, at least a little, but they’re intense and raw, and Jester is having a hard time looking into them. “I stabbed Beau,” she says quietly and those large shoulders droop, much like her own. “I’m having trouble not seeing it when I look at her. It’s… complicated? But I don’t think that should stop you from, you know, feeling how you feel and acting on how you feel. That’s the last thing that I want, Jester. Even if it wasn’t complicated for me, I don’t know if I… I’m learning how to be a person again, with you guys. I don’t know if I’m at the point where I could, you know, woo someone again? Yet.” 

 

It’s maybe the most words Jester has ever heard Yasha say in one sitting before and of course they’re encouraging and generous, of course they’re to put someone else before her. “I want you to be happy, Yasha, more than anything, I think.”

 

“I am.” It startles them both and a smile smoothes out the crease between Yasha’s brows. “I think I really am. Zuala and then Molly made life bearable, they were what I lived for, and now I’m… just living. With you. I like it, I don’t have to clutch so tightly to my dreams anymore.”

 

More tears spill but Jester is smiling and these are different ones, these are good tears, she's pretty sure, she just can't make them stop. "That's, like, super sad and super sweet!" she chokes out - her hands are on Yasha's shoulders, a connection, something, she just needs to be closer. She needs Yasha to feel how much she means to Jester, and-

 

And the barbarian pushes up on her knees, her hands cradle Jester's face like it's something precious. Her long fingers run into Jester's hair, gentle and firm and there , and she leans up more to press her lips against the tiefling's. 

 

It's everything that Jester would expect from Yasha. Sweet, with some shadow of innocence, and softer than the heavens themselves. A gentle pressure that's so far from overbearing, Jester feels like she might break the barbarian if she pushed back too hard. Their lips separate, Jester's nose brushes against Yasha's and she lets out a shaky breath she knows the other woman can feel. Her eyes crack open, pulling back just a little more to drown in pools of sapphire and amethyst.

 

Oh wow. Yasha is, like, super pretty…

 

Her cheeks are even more pink than usual and Jester just about melts , her knees wobble at the shy look on Yasha's face. "Did that help?" she asks quietly.

 

And Jester stumbles back into the door, nodding way too much as fire creeps up her neck and to her cheeks. "Yup, mhmm, it sure did. Thanks, thank you. That was very informative, I have to talk to Fjord. I'll - we, see you tonight! That was very good, you are - okay, bye!"

 

She passes Frumpkin on her way by in the hall.

 

-

-

-

"Uh...huh."

 

The girl smiles brightly at her, reaching out to jingle one of the bells on Jester's horn. "So… do you want to come back to my house?"

 

"Kinda…" Jester touches her freshly kissed lips. "Not as much as I wanna go see Beau, though, or Yasha. Okay, I think I'm getting it. Thank you! Have a good night!"

 

-

-

-

 

"Beau!"

 

There's enough time for the monk's eyes to widen and lock with Jester's before she's waving her arms in the air and scratching at the railing, disappearing over the edge. Jester gasps and sprints through the room, out onto the balcony to lean over and look down below. Beau curls up to cradle her ribs. "Ow…"

 

"What are you doing?" she whisper-yells down at the human.

 

"Breaking my fucking back, what does it look like?" comes the grumbled reply. They stare at each other and Jester's surprised Beau can even see her in the dark, though she supposes there's enough light coming from the bedroom to illuminate her. "Did I do something wrong?"

 

Jester tilts her head, waiting with her heart in her throat.

 

Beau sits up to scratch the back of her neck before looking up again. "I can't remember most of that night we went drinking but you've been avoiding me since. I know I'm an asshole sometimes, and what small filter I have kinda, uh, leaves when I drink. If I said something that upset you, I-I didn't mean it. I was really drunk."

 

"Beau, I think-" Jester pouts and looks around the balcony, leaning over the railing more. "Can you come back up here? It's super awkward trying to have this conversation without yelling."

 

Almost immediately, Beau rolls onto the back of her shoulders so she can kick her legs up and out to land on her feet, and son of a bitch , if Jester doesn't swoon some more. Stupid, sexy, martial artist, distracting her while she's trying to focus on a crazy important conversation. Blue fingers twitch against the railing, the memory of feeling Beau's taught abs beneath them…

 

"Ah!" she gasps and stumbles back when Beau is just there , just hoisting herself back over the railing again like it's nothing.

 

"What's up, Jes-"

 

"Did you just scale the side of the house?!"

 

"... yeah?" Beau turns to look back over the edge and shrug. "It's not like it's smooth. I could probably still just run up, even then - Jes, did I fuck up? Did I," she makes an uncomfortable face and motions with her hands shoved so deep in her pockets that Jester is surprised they don't come shooting out the bottom, "fuck up our friendship?"

 

Oh, Traveller, she hadn't even thought of what Beau must have been thinking this whole time. She assumed (hoped) the monk hadn't noticed that she'd been avoiding her. Of course she noticed, Beau notices almost as much as Caduceus. What must she have been thinking? That something was wrong and Jester didn't even care enough to try and work it out.

 

"Oh, Beau, I'm so sorry! I've been all messed up in my head these past few days and I don't want you to think I hate you, I love you so much! You know that, right? You know that I never want us to be apart, that we'll be friends forever?" 

 

Those blue eyes widen, just a tad, at the desperation in Jester's voice. "Shit, yeah. I mean, I hoped so, and now I do, I guess." She clears her throat harshly, shuffling closer to drop her chin to her chest and grab Jester's wrist, turning her palm up to clasp their hands. "Jes, you're my best friend. Fjord is my - my dude, he's my best bud, and Caleb is my brother, but you and I were friends first. You're my first best friend, my truest one? And I'm just really fucking scared I'm going to ruin it. So… so tell me if I start, please? Always tell me, so I can fix it?"

 

She nods - a lot, she starts nodding when Beau first speaks and keeps nodding after she's done, squeezing the hand in hers. Slender, smaller than the red one, but just as calloused, even more than Yasha's. Strong in a way hers are not, in a way Jester's aren't. They're weapons, deadly and precise, efficient and powerful enough to punch ghosts and rip hearts from the chests of demons.

 

But here they are, holding Jester with a care she can feel, thumb rubbing a circle in her palm. "This isn't on you. This was me, I was the problem and I'm really sorry that I've been avoiding you. I didn't know how to do this, I didn't want to do it wrong and lose you. I don't want things to be weird and strained between us."

 

"Then can we just forget it all? Pretend there is no weirdness and be how we always are?" Beau asks. Her voice is rough - it's always rough, but more so and she won't look at Jester. 

 

She's scared.

 

Jester squeezes her hands. "I can't now, Beau." The monk squeezes back, Jester watches her jaw clench as her eyes flick up to meet the cleric's. Hurt. They're hurt. "Do you remember that night we went drinking?"

 

"No."

 

But she answers too quick, like a verbal flinch, and Jester catches the movement. So fast she would have missed it if she wasn't staring so hard, if she had blinked - Beau's eyes dropped to her lips for half a heartbeat before returning. "I was scared that I just liked the tiefling you were," Jester begins and Beau's brow hooks up curiously. "So I talked to Fjord to find out if I still like boys. I think I do, by the way, not him, but other boys."

 

"That's totally-"

 

"I'll gore you with my horn if you don't let me finish, I've been trying to figure out how to tell you this for the past seven hours," Jester warns her very simply, very softly, and can feel Beau's chuckle down her arms to her hands. "I talked to Yasha to see if I like girls and we kissed and it was super magical, oh my gods, Beau, like. Oh my gods. We need to talk about it later - anyway , obviously I liked it a whole lot but it's also Yasha, so I had to go find someone else. Someone that I don't love because even if I didn't like them like them, I still love them so it would always be kinda nice, you know? But I don't even care about Tally, I'm not even totally sure if that was her name. She was pretty and all, and I guess she was a good kisser too, and maybe if we dated I would really like her, if I knew more about her. Maybe if she liked horses or, like, candy or-"

 

Beau drops her forehead against her palm. "I'm trying so hard to be patient because it's you and I'm pretty sure this is a happy ending but you're literally killing me, Jessie."

 

"Oh!" the tiefling gasps and giggles, a pretty purple unfurls itself in a blush across her cheeks. "I like you, Beau. A lot. I wanna hold your hand and keep sharing a bed and snuggle more and have lots of really good sex - Beau! We can have sex, how cool is that?! But basically I am super romantically into you, I can't stop thinking about that bathroom, I think if you like me too, that we should be girlfriends, and… can I kiss you?"

 

"You'll be the death of me, I know it, I can feel it," Beau mutters as she raises her hands, walking forward as Jester steps backwards, capturing blue lips in a searing kiss. "You make things ten times harder than they need to be," she grumbles against Jester's lips. The tiefling's back connects with the wall of the Xhorhouse, Beau's hand cupping under her knee to pull it up and slide against her. "Why is it so fucking cute?"

 

Jester hooks her arms around the back of the monk's neck as she smiles into the kiss.