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you don't know this now but (there's some things that need to be said)

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what if i fall and hurt myself—
would you know how to fix me?
what if i went and lost myself—
would you know where to find me?
if i forgot who i am, would you please
remind me? oh, ‘cause without you
things go hazy.

/

i. caleb

.

They should not be here.

Of course, they technically have little choice in the matter. The Dynasty deserves to have all of their beacons and Trent has one of them—it’s only logical that the Nein are the ones to retrieve it. But Caleb knows that Trent will have more than a few tricks up his sleeve. Some Caleb can thwart, having been a practitioner of them so many years ago. But they have both learned a great deal since then. Caleb is sure retribution is waiting for him wherever Trent is.

The guards are easily thwarted and Caleb grows more unsettled by the second, snapping at his friends each time they move in a way he doesn’t like. It’s a terrible strategy, but he leads the way for once and pulls everyone close to him, for their safety as much as his comfort. Someone will get killed this way, but Caleb is not yet strong enough to face this sanitorium on his own. He has spent too much time alone here.

The hallways here are dim, as they’ve always been, and they have to sneak single-file through the shadows. This darkness is nothing like the shade of Rosohna—Caleb has come to find comfort in the city’s perpetual twilight, like being in a library late at night with only flickering candles to keep you awake. This tower is no place for flickering candles. It has torches placed too far apart that glare when you’re too close and blind when you walk away. Caleb is comfortable walking only because he is so good at averting his eyes.

It is disorienting the way the reality of the tower clashes with his memory of it. Caleb remembers a dank castle, echoing with distant drips of water, the tortured mumbling of patients and residents (though this place offers no promise of recovery or home). In his mind, it fits that his tortured years were spent in a tortured place, a dungeon for outcasts. But evil is hidden here rather than overt, and that terrifies Caleb more than he’ll ever admit.

Perhaps that is why Astrid and Eodwulf surprise them so easily on their way to Trent’s laboratory. Caleb has slipped back into his thoughts and the gloom that used to control his life. He is unprepared for the darkness they have yet to face.

Beauregard stuns Eodwulf with a well-timed strike, and Fjord hypnotizes Astrid after she unfortunately inflicts a fairly severe amount of damage on the rest of them. They are not nearly as hearty as Caleb hoped they would be before encountering Trent.

He pauses a moment before they enter the laboratory, stealing precious time they realistically do not have.

“I know it might be a futile request, but please—please—be careful once we are inside. Trent is capable of so much more than you think.”

“I mean, we can only promise so much,” Beau replies.

Caleb clenches his arms underneath his tattered shirt. “Please, Beauregard.” He looks to her and Yasha, lingering until they know he’s serious. “Those of you who fight up close are in a lot of danger today.”

“We’ll be careful, Caleb,” Fjord placates. “As much as we can be.”

“Thank you,” Caleb nods.

“That’s exactly what I just said,” Beau grumbles. But she stops talking when Caleb glares.

He turns her invisible before they head inside, having agreed beforehand that an invisible, speedy monk will probably have the greatest chance of acquiring the beacon without interruption. Trent is waiting as soon as they enter the room, and everything goes to plan for long enough that Caleb thinks they might just get away successfully. The group is doing well to protect him, and what little damage he’s taken hasn’t impacted his ability to maintain Invisibility.

But Trent isn’t the only thing they’re fighting, and Caleb wonders how Beau is doing when he can hardly step without setting off a trap or hidden spell. She hasn’t materialized yet so he wagers she must be okay.

The beacon itself is settled into another tripod, resting behind an iron cage, no doubt enchanted with one or more spells. Caleb glances over whenever he can, trying to gauge if Beau has made her way near it yet.

Just as he avoids a nasty lightning bolt from Trent, Caleb watches the beacon rattle in its enclosure. He ducks behind a table, gathering magic in his palms. “Take care with your hands!” he calls out, careful not to use her name.

It is a warning that would have been valuable moments earlier, and in the weeks to come Caleb will revisit this moment in so many of his nightmares.

Beau blinks back into existence as the ground rumbles underneath Caleb’s feet, shocking his joints and ribs into angles they shouldn’t be able to form. He falls to the ground, unable to control the spell anymore, and watches as Beau slips onto the cage, absently grabbing at it to maintain balance.

There is a wave of thunder that booms and resonates throughout the room, throughout his very bones, and the area around Beau shines with an overpowering radius of light. Tears prick at the corners of his eyes, and he watches Beau fall to the ground.

“Do not step any closer!” he shouts.

Trent responds with a sickeningly satisfied laugh. “Very good, Caleb! How well you remember.”

Caleb scrambles for the string of copper wire in his pouch and sends a hasty message to Fjord.

We must get Beauregard out of here now, he implores. If you retreat, others will follow.

Fjord doesn’t respond but Caleb can see him back up in his peripheral vision. The rest of the group follows, Yasha and Beau leaving a few parting attacks as they run away. She is keeping up with them fine but Caleb knows the other shoe must drop eventually. It always does, with Trent.

They manage to evade Eodwulf and Astrid on their way out of the tower, running until Caleb can find a hidden part of the campus to draw his teleportation circle. They travel to Rosohna and once again Caleb is leading the pack. This time he takes them to Essek’s house instead of their own, banging insistently on his door though it’s very late at night.

“Caleb, what’s going on?” Jester whispers.

Caleb waves her off and waits for Essek to answer. “May we come in, please?” he asks, already pushing past the yawning mage when he opens the door.

“Of—of course,” Essek stammers. He nods as each of them files past, then joins them in his main room. “What’s wrong?”

“I need you to inspect Beauregard,” Caleb answers.

“What’s wrong with Beau?” Jester blurts. As one, the group parts to turn and look at the monk, who furrows her brows and glares back.

“Nothing’s wrong with me,” she shrugs. “I didn’t really have time to get beat up before we high-tailed it out of there.”

Caleb shakes his head. “It wouldn’t be anything that we could see.” He motions for Beau to stand near him and Essek. She follows, albeit a little reluctantly, and crosses her arms. Essek gives her a once-over, looking to Caleb before holding up his hands. Caleb can feel the magic start to crackle.

Beau kicks Essek’s feet out from under him faster than Caleb even sees it happen.

“Beau!” Fjord scolds.

Beau turns to scowl at him. “What? Listen, I’m down to hang with you guys for now, but I’m not gonna let a stranger do any kind of magic on me.”

Caleb’s heart sinks as confusion ripples throughout the group.

“What do you mean ‘stranger’?” Fjord asks. “We’ve known Essek for months now.”

“Maybe you have, but I haven’t.”

“Beau, what are you talking about?” Jester’s voice is shaky and nervous, a few pitches higher than it normally is.

“How the fuck would I know him when I don’t know any of you?”

Caleb wants to curl into a ball, to melt into the floor and escape everything, for this is surely one of his nightmares come to life. His first instinct is to reach out and hold any part of Beauregard that he can, to take comfort from the first person to offer it. But she wouldn’t know what it means now. Caleb isn’t sure what terrifies him more—who she is without them, or who he is without her. He has been without Beauregard for most of his life, and none of those are times he particularly wishes to revisit.

“I don’t understand,” Yasha murmurs.

Caleb is too distressed to answer, so Essek thankfully saves him. “Beau has been affected by some kind of memory enchantment,” he explains. “A particularly powerful one, if it’s caused her to forget all of you.”

“But nobody cast any spells on her,” Jester pleads frantically. “She was invisible the whole time and then we were running and now we’re here! There was no time for her to get hit, right?”

She looks to Caleb and he still cannot find the words. He doesn’t know any that wouldn’t break her heart.

Essek covers for him once again. “I’m not sure what might have happened,” he says softly. “But in my experience, memory loss like this acts as a kind of madness, which can usually be dispelled with a restoration spell.”

Jester’s hands are on Beau before the monk can run away, pink magic shimmering through their connection. It fades after a few moments but Jester doesn’t move; her tail twitches anxiously while they all wait.

“Well?” she prompts.

Beau looks at her. “Was it supposed to do something?”

Jester turns to Caduceus, anguish all over her face. “I only know the little one, Caduceus—”

He holds up a hand and steps forward. “Don’t worry, Miss Jester. I’ll see what I can do.”

Caduceus rests a large hand on the top of Beau’s head, keeping steady when she flinches. A pale green mist floats down and encompasses her body, molecules of light dancing over her skin before sinking into it.

Everyone holds their breath while the spell takes effect. Eventually, Beau peeks an eye open, peering at all of them in turn.

“I don’t feel broken,” she says. “Why are you trying to fix me?”

Caleb vomits. With a sympathetic hand on his back and a smooth flick of the wrist, Essek magics it away.

Caduceus frowns, so different from his usual pensive expression. “That should have worked. Something’s wrong.”

“Yeah, no shit, Caduceus,” Nott snaps.

Fjord shushes her, quick and harsh. “Beau, if you don’t know us,” he prods gently, “why did you follow?”

She slides out from under Caduceus’s grasp. “Everyone else was running, and that old guy probably would have killed me if I stayed. I probably would have split outside the castle if he hadn’t transported us here.” She gestures with her chin at Caleb, who is finally standing again. “Was that a Teleport spell? That’s a crazy ride. Also, by the way, where the fuck are we?”

“Rosohna,” Fjord answers. “You know, in Xhorhas,” he continues when the word seems not to spark any recognition.

Beau’s mouth drops open. “No shit.”

Fjord opens his mouth like he’s going to keep asking her questions, then shakes his head. “You can recognize Teleport spells, you know of Xhorhas, and you know your name, but you don’t recognize us.”

“Yeah.”

Fjord turns to Caleb and opens his arms in a sweeping gesture, a helpless what the fuck that he usually reserves for Nott.

Caleb clears his throat and wipes his mouth, clears his throat one more time. “It was a favored trick of Trent’s,” he says, hoarse and reluctant, “to alter the memories of his enemies. Sometimes even his students.”

“Why?”

Caleb runs a hand through his hair. “I will never tell you the depths Trent reached to torture us,” he quietly replies. “But that’s what it was. Anyone who rebelled too much, who grew too insolent—there were days we would wake up and our compatriots didn’t know us. It gave Trent the opportunity to restart the indoctrination.” He heaves a sigh and begins to pace. “In my darker moments, I wished I could have been one of them. But Trent never wanted to start over with his star pupils.”

Yasha curses and walks away, disappearing into another room. Caleb can see Essek wince before deciding not to follow her.

“But you can fix it, can’t you?” Jester pleads. “If you know this is Trent, you can probably undo it.”

Caleb shakes his head. “Trent kept more secrets than he shared. You’re right, Jester, that he never had time to cast a spell on Beauregard. This was never a spell he cast out loud; I didn’t hear him speak any incantation. I believe it was primarily executed through touch.”

“What does that mean?”

“Possibly an enchanted artifact,” Essek answers.

Caleb nods as Essek looks over. “That’s what I always suspected, though I could never confirm it.”

“Beau touched something?”

“No way,” Beau scoffs. “Listen, I don’t know much about myself right now, but I know I sure as shit wouldn’t touch anything suspicious on purpose.”

“It wasn’t on purpose, Beauregard. You—”

“Can you quit calling me Beauregard? I hate that name.”

Caleb closes his eyes and tries to swallow away the guilt. “Do you know why you hate it?”

“I—no,” she says, frowning. “I just...do.”

Jester stomps her foot and flits her eyes quickly between Beau and Caleb. “How are you so calm about this, Beau? Don’t you want to know what happened; don’t you want to fix yourself?”

“I don’t know what needs to be fixed, Jester!” Beau shouts back. She softens at Jester’s gasp. “I—don’t get excited. Tall boy over here said your name earlier, that’s all. Sorry.” Beau looks at Caduceus. “Caduceus, right?” He nods quietly, though not at all serene. “And that’s Caleb,” she continues, pointing at him, “and that’s all I’ve got right now. I know three names—four, if you include me—I know that we’re in Rosohna, and I know I didn’t touch anything spooky.”

“You didn’t,” Caleb confirms. “At least not intentionally. It happened too quickly for me to do anything, but you slipped right when the invisibility stopped. You grabbed onto the cage around the beacon to stop your fall.”

Beau tilts her head, a gesture Caleb is so used to seeing now in the body of someone who doesn’t know how to wield it. “I...guess I remember that,” she concedes. “That’s all it took?”

“Ja.”

“Damn.”

Silence envelops them as the consequences sink in, the chasm of loss that exists between the reality of their friend and the memory of who she should be. Tears are rolling earnestly down Jester’s cheeks now, and Caleb finds that he isn’t far behind. Beau has cajoled him into so many things; it’s only fitting that crying is the latest.

“Perhaps we should reconvene tomorrow,” Essek quietly offers. “When emotions are a little...less potent.”

“Beau, do you want to stay with us?” Jester’s voice is quiet, cautious with a thread of doubt Caleb has rarely heard before.

Beau looks around at all of them. “What, here, or—”

“We have a house,” Fjord corrects, “a few streets over. I, um—” He clears his throat. “I’m Fjord, by the way.”

Caleb watches him wince at the small wave Beau gives him.

“Cool,” Beau nods. “I guess, uh, I guess I’ll stick around.” She scratches a hand at the back of her neck, the first sign Caleb has seen that she’s feeling nervous about any of this. “You all seem to know me and you’re pretty convinced that something isn’t right, so...sure?”

Caleb isn’t the only one who breathes a sigh of relief. “I will go collect Yasha,” he mutters as Caduceus shoulders the burden of reintroducing the rest of the party.

Yasha hasn’t gone far; she is simply kneeling in a corner in the next room with her hands on either side of her head.

Caleb calls her name softly, careful not to spook her. “We are taking Beauregard home.”

Yasha stands, takes a moment to gather herself before slowly straightening her neck. “I do not know how much of this I can take,” she admits, still facing the wall.

Caleb takes a chance and walks closer, hesitating before resting a hand on her expansive back—such a contrast from Beau’s slender form. “I understand,” he murmurs. “But we must take it if we are to restore her.”

Yasha wipes a tear from her chin. “When I spoke with the witch, I offered her my book of memories—every tether I have to Zuala and Molly and those dear to me that I’ve lost. Knowing what we do about her now, I believe she would have taken the memories themselves, and I thought I was prepared for that. To sacrifice yourself for a friend is noble and righteous. I am neither of those things but I could be one day.” She turns to look at him. Both of her eyes, though different colors, have dimmed. “I was wrong, Caleb. I am not ready.”

Caleb bunches his fingers in Yasha’s shirt. He is an academic man and knows many words, all of which have escaped him at this moment. He lingers a beat longer, then turns to leave the room, Yasha looming silently behind him.

The rest of the party have left the house; Caleb can hear them milling in Essek’s front yard. Yasha excuses herself with a nod and joins them.

Caleb holds out his hand to Essek, but the Shadowhand reaches out and grasps his shoulder instead.

Caleb’s hand twitches at his side, resisting the urge to place itself atop Essek’s. She is not around to see it, but Caleb irrationally feels the gesture would be a disrespect to Beau. “Thank you for the shelter and assistance,” he says instead. “I won’t bother you with more favors; I know you’re a busy man. But if you come across any bit of knowledge or spell that might be of use to us…”

Essek offers a sad smile. “I will let you know,” he promises. “I’m confident you and your friends will find the solution to this, and I look forward to greeting Beau again when you do.”

“Ja.” Caleb sighs and looks down, and this time he is powerless to still his arm. He keeps his eyes averted as he places his hand over Essek’s, curling around his cool fingers for just a moment.

Caleb clears his throat, the brief spell broken. “Thank you, again,” he repeats. He risks a glance at Essek before he leaves, catching the fading blush of surprise.

Caleb nods to his friends when he gets outside and they walk home, present but certainly not whole.

/

There is so much to do these days—there is always so much to do, and this time, Caleb is robbed of his favorite research partner. Certainly Beau is still as adept as always, and still holds her clout within the Cobalt Soul, though she no longer knows what it means. But it feels cruel to recruit her in finding her own cure, and so Caleb sequesters himself in the War Room in the following days with piles of books, poring through them until his body gives up. The only reason Caleb sleeps anymore is because his body is too physically exhausted. Once in a while, Caduceus slips a potion into his tea, but Caleb pushes himself to his limits any chance he gets.

They try so hard not to walk on eggshells around Beau, but she makes it very difficult. Maybe they would have an easier time if her personality had changed, if she had reverted to the brash, hostile monk they met so long ago in Trostenwald. But she doesn’t treat them any differently—she simply doesn’t remember anything about them. Beau is still thoughtful; whip-smart with him, boisterous with Fjord, and so gracious and kind to Jester. Caleb rarely sees their joyful tiefling smile anymore.

More than anything, they learn to tiptoe around each other.

The rest of the house dispersed to their bedrooms (Beau has painfully installed herself in the guest room), Caleb makes his way to his improvised library, intending to pick up where he’d left off in his most recent find.

Yasha is already there, books strewn open on the table. Caleb falters in his steps before pulling out a chair to sit across from her. He can’t help smiling—a rarity in general and certainly these days.

“I’ve already gone through those books,” he says quietly.

Yasha doesn’t look up from what she’s reading. “Maybe a second set of eyes would help? Though I, uh, don’t exactly understand too much in here.”

Caleb leans forward to scan the titles she’s spread out. Most deal with very specific areas of magic that he would not ask Yasha to understand; neither is he going to turn down any offers of help. He spins around one of the books closest to him, a thick volume on the mechanics of runes and symbols that he originally found too flowery and theoretical.

He flips through it quickly and dog-ears a few chapters before sliding the book back over to Yasha. “This one has potential to be very helpful, though I could not discern anything specific myself. Perhaps a second set of eyes is exactly what it needs.”

“Good,” Yasha replies, nodding slightly. She opens it and frowns at the table of contents, before smiling at something halfway down the page.

Caleb doesn’t direct her in her study, doesn’t guide her to any of his marked sections. But it’s nice to have her there, to look up and see someone braving the dreary night with him. She disappears to the kitchen a few times, coming back with mugs of tea and a sparse offering of snacks.

Early in the morning, when the noises from their street are just beginning to bubble up, Yasha shakes Caleb awake, another mug of tea wafting steam into his face.

“We can continue later tonight,” she says. “Caduceus made breakfast downstairs.”

“Ja, okay.” Caleb gets up and stretches his back, rolling his head in circles in a habit he’s picked up from Beau. He glances over how their piles of resources have shifted overnight as he drinks his tea, and is surprised to find Yasha’s book open about a third of the way through with writing in the margins.

“You made notes?” he asks, trying not to sound too surprised.

Yasha scratches the back of her neck. “A few,” she admits. “Nothing—I’m sure they’re not too insightful. But I didn’t want to forget anything, just in case.”

“Thank you, Yasha.”

She nods and holds the door open for him. They spend the day apart, recovering in their own ways. Yasha doesn’t follow him later that night when he announces he’s going to do some reading, but she does pop in almost an hour afterward.

Sleep should be his companion these days. But Yasha will do.

//


ii. jester

.

The first night Beau spends in the guest room, Jester doesn’t sleep. She thinks about talking to Yasha, or at least sitting with her in her room even if they don’t talk. Jester could use the comfort of someone else who knows what she’s feeling, especially since the one person she would normally go to is who she’s feeling things about.

It’s just that Jester doesn’t need silence right now, she needs to talk about things because there are so many things and she’s going to go crazy if she doesn’t get at least some of them out. So after a few hours of being sad by herself, Jester Dimension Doors herself to Fjord’s room and hopes he isn’t naked.

The room is dark when she pops in but she can see through it that she’s landed facing his door. “Fjord?” Jester puts a hand over her eyes. “Are you awake or naked?”

“Isn’t that something you ask before you trespass in someone’s room?” Fjord’s voice sounds muffled, like his cheek is pressed up against something. Jester turns around and peeks through two of her fingers to see Fjord sprawled out face down on his bed.

“You don’t look naked,” she says, removing her hand entirely.

“I’m not.”

“Are you okay?”

“Oh, sure, Jester. I’m doing great.”

Jester stomps her foot and walks over to his bed, pushing him across it so she can sit down. He isn’t naked but he is only wearing a thin shirt. His skin is warmer than Beau’s underneath his clothes, and Jester can tell even from the brief touch that he’s bulkier than he used to be.

Everything that Jester would have celebrated about him a year ago now just makes her think of Beau.

She sits down and scoots to the top of his bed, leaning against the wall he has it pushed against. “You should get a headboard,” she grumbles.

“This was in the house when we moved in; you think I’m going to go bed shopping?”

“Why not? Don’t you want to make this a home?”

Fjord rolls onto his side and props himself up with an elbow. “I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I don’t really have any experience with that.”

Jester nods, plays with her fingers in her lap. “Beau said something like that to me once. You know, maybe both of you have seen more of the world than I have, but you’re, like, really fucked up.”

Fjord grins and flicks her knee. “Well, I knew that.” He juts out his lower jaw, showcasing the tusks that are slowly growing back. “Been that way for a while.”

Jester runs her thumb over the top of one of them. It’s bumpy, jagged and rough, but she can see it taper off, starting to come to a point. Jester’s heart constricts at how much Fjord’s grown since she met him—how much they’ve all grown, really; and doesn’t that just make Beau’s situation worse?

Fjord recoils from her touch and tucks his teeth back in.

“Sorry,” she mumbles.

“It’s fine, Jessie.” The sleep is gone from Fjord’s voice now, except maybe it wasn’t fully there to begin with. “It’s...nice. That you care.” Next to him, Jester nods. “Was there a reason you came in tonight?”

“I don’t know; I guess...I miss Beau. And I didn’t want to be alone.”

“Ah. I get that.”

Jester looks down at the space between them, where Fjord’s hand has lazily settled. His room is almost completely dark but Jester can see fairly well, even if everything is kind of grey and hazy. Fjord’s skin is still kind of vivid even in shadow, or maybe his sheets are just dull and boring. Jester reaches her fingers to curl around two of his and wonders if he thinks the same thing about her.

“Remember when it was just you and me traveling, before we even met Beau?”

“Mhm.”

“I think that was some of the best fun I’ve ever had.”

Fjord laughs a little. “Better than anything we’ve done since?”

“I mean, kind of? I love everyone and everything we do is so cool except for, like, a few things—but I’m a little used to it by now, you know? Going from home to traveling with you was really cool. I don’t think I could have made a better first friend.”

“Thanks, Jester.”

Jester plays with his hand, picking up each finger one by one and letting it drop back onto the bed. “I had a crush on you, like, ten seconds after we met,” she teases.

“Oh, I knew,” Fjord chuckles. “One hundo percent; I am very perceptive.”

“Come on, Fjord.” Jester shoves his own arm toward his face. “I am way, way more perceptive than you.”

“And just a little bit obvious sometimes, Jessie.”

“Oh. Really?”

“Yep.”

“Oh.” Jester lets go of his hand and turns to look at him, squishing a finger into his nose after a few long moments of silence. “Did you ever feel that way about me?” she murmurs.

Fjord twitches his nose from side to side, dislodging her finger. “No,” he answers. “Don’t get me wrong; you’re very endearing. But ten years is a lot to overcome, and I never could.”

“What if I were older? How would you feel then?”

“Why are you asking?” Fjord sits up and stretches out next to her. “Do you still feel that way about me?”

“No.” Jester shakes her head, sniffs back a few tears. “But I was just thinking that maybe this would be easier, if I did.”

“What would be easier?”

Jester leans her head onto Fjord’s shoulder and stops fighting the urge to cry. “Missing Beau,” she mumbles, thick and warbly. “Can I stay here tonight?”

“Of course, Jester. I’ll stay up until you fall asleep.”

/

Jester becomes Beau’s keeper in the days that follow. It’s not that Beau needs a babysitter—she’s still capable of looking out for herself and it’s not like she’s forgotten how to walk or anything. But she doesn’t remember anything about Rosohna and she seems more restless than she was before the memory loss. Their group has sway in town but Beau is still a human in a drow city. Jester follows Beau on excursions to mediate as much as protect.

Beau is waiting for her at the door after they all finish breakfast. She brightens immediately when she sees Jester, but it’s the little things that let Jester know this isn’t her Beau. She isn’t wearing her arm wrappings and her hair is only loosely tied back, hanging low on her head.

“Hey, Jester,” Beau smiles. “You look great.”

Jester instinctively smiles back. “Thanks, Beau.”

Beau holds the door open, letting Jester pass through and smiling at the tinkle of Caduceus’s bell. She jogs down the front path to catch up. “You need to do any shopping today?” she asks.

“A little bit,” Jester answers, “but also I thought we could just kind of walk around.”

Beau settles into step next to her, kicking at an occasional rock on the street. “That’s cool; I don’t think I could stay inside all day anyway.”

“No, you definitely can’t,” Jester agrees. It doesn’t hurt right away, to joke with Beau like this. That’s all Jester has done since they’ve been friends. But she knows when she goes to sleep tonight, when she can’t avoid her thoughts anymore, the aching will overwhelm her.

They get Jester’s errands out of the way first, Beau dutifully tagging along without making too much of a fuss. She only complains a little about coming in every shop instead of lingering outside, but Jester knows from experience that trouble seems to find Beau even in the calmest of situations. A busy street filled with people who distrust her on sight—not a chance Jester is leaving her alone.

Jester tries very hard not to be unsettled as they walk around the Gallimaufry district, but Beau is just so not Beau in very little ways, obvious to anyone who knows her well enough. She’s flashy these days, fidgeting and pulling tricks with coins as they walk. Jester watches as she lets one roll down her arm before catching it between two knuckles and flipping it up. Beau barely looks as it comes to rest on the back of her hand, teetering on its edge for a split second before tipping over.

Jester is so preoccupied she walks into a group of three goblins.

Beau pulls her to the side with a laugh and an apologetic wave. It’s such a familiar gesture, such a Beau move that Jester feels a lump growing in her throat.

“Thanks, Beau,” she says after she manages to swallow most of it down.

“Yeah, no sweat.” Beau stuffs her hands in her pockets and slows to a stroll. “You know, maybe we should train together sometime. I can help you be, you know, more vigilant, and you can—” She trails her eyes very obviously down Jester’s body. “I don’t know what, but we should definitely spar.”

Jester tries very hard not to react to...all of that. It’s not Beau’s fault; she doesn’t know what she’s doing or why she wouldn’t be this way if she had her memory back. But it sends Jester’s mind reeling; her thoughts race with the relationship she and Beau might have had if things were different earlier on, perhaps even if things were different now. It hurts to think this version of Beau is brave enough to say things Jester’s Beau wouldn’t, that Beau now could pull Jester into a closeness they might lose once she regains her memories.

“Besides,” Beau continues, “working out makes you happy and you deserve to be happy. You’re way too pretty to be sad all the time.”

Jester takes a deep breath and moves to the side of the road, waits for Beau to follow her.

“Please stop,” she murmurs when Beau jogs over.

Beau’s face falls immediately. “I’m sorry, did I overstep? Shit, my bad if I read this wrong…”

Jester shakes her head. “It’s not just that, Beau; it’s—” She grabs Beau’s hand and leads her back toward the house. Beau doesn’t say anything as they walk but Jester can feel her scrutinizing gaze. She pulls Beau faster and makes sure to keep in front of her, otherwise she’ll lose her resolve.

Instead of going to the Xhorhaus, Jester takes them to one of the gardens in the district, finds a secluded piece of grass where they can sit and talk, hopefully without arousing suspicion from any residents in the area.

Jester smooths her skirt and sits down; Beau slowly joins her, looking uneasy the whole time.

“I’m really sorry, Jester,” she repeats. “I didn’t—”

“I know.” Jester nods and picks at the grass. “I don’t blame you, Beau; I am pretty cute.” She smiles a little, just to relieve some of the tension. It’s still mostly sincere. “But it’s...it’s different and hard to hear right now.”

“Because I don’t remember stuff?”

“Yeah.” Jester can feel a blush creeping up; she looks down, hoping Beau won’t notice. “Why did you say it?”

Beau pauses for a while before answering. It feels like a habit of the Beau she knows, so thoughtful and deliberate when it comes to Jester’s feelings. “I don’t remember you,” she finally says, “or how close we were or anything. But it kind of feels like I still have a pretty good grasp on myself. And whatever—whatever kind of friendship we had, I think I’m still your biggest fan.”

Jester looks up to find sincerity in Beau’s eyes, sincerity and worry and a lot of remorse, and Jester relaxes. “That’s really nice.”

“Thanks. Plus—oh my god.” Beau’s eyes grow almost as wide as Nott’s. “It wasn’t, like, a secret or anything, was it? That I’m super into women? Because I constantly feel that way about, like, every woman we come across, but I would hate to out my past self.”

“No, it definitely wasn’t a secret,” Jester laughs. “You’ve for sure hooked up more than anyone else in the house. It’s a little ridiculous, actually.”

Beau’s familiar, arrogant grins stretches across her cheeks. “Dope.”

Jester throws a handful of grass at her and manages to get some in Beau’s mouth.

“Do you want to know anything? About you or us or...whatever.”

“I don’t know.” Beau lies down in the grass, clasping her hands together under her head. “Maybe we can just chill for now?”

“Sure.” Jester scoots back, lining herself up with Beau’s shoulders, and pulls out her sketchbook. “If you ever want to ask, you totally can.”

Beau simply nods. Jester spends the rest of the time drawing the gardens, the city, the guards inside the Lucid Bastion, and definitely not any part of her best friend.

/

She finds Caleb once they get back to the house and Beau disappears to the training room. He’s already deep in his books, though it’s too early still for Yasha to join him.

She smiles at the way that he doesn’t respond to any noise she makes—not the door closing, or when she bumps into a chair, or just when she walks because she’s pretty loud at just that. Caleb always sinks into any book, a quirk that’s become more endearing the longer she’s known him.

“Caleb.” He jerks a little at her voice, his book rattling in his grip. “Can you help me with something?”

“Of course, Jester.”

“Can we go to Nicodranas? Like, right now?”

Caleb closes his book and straightens up, narrowing his eyes. “Just the two of us? Why?”

“Well, I don’t mean to offend you because I love spending time with you but also I can’t get there on my own, so.”

“Sure, that makes sense.” He waits for more of an explanation but Jester doesn’t really have one, apart from the fact that she’s sad and she needs a hug. “I’m sorry, why do you want to go?”

“Well, I don’t know,” Jester wavers, “I guess I’m just sad and this hurts and it’s hard to be in this house, and—my mama would know what to say, that’s all.”

Caleb stands and pushes in his chair, pulling a piece of chalk from his pocket. “It will take me a minute to draw the circle. Perhaps you should make sure she is available tonight.”

Jester nods. “Thank you, Caleb.” She takes a moment to count out words on her fingers before sending a message to her mom.

Hi, Mama. Hope you’re not busy because I need to talk. It’s okay if you are but I’ll be there soon if not. With Caleb.

Jester picks at her nails while she waits for a response, hoping one will come before Caleb finishes drawing the circle.

Her mind buzzes with her mama’s voice very soon after. Jester has never been so glad to be lucky.

My sapphire, for you I would cancel any plans. Thankfully I don’t have a show or clients tonight. I can’t wait to see you.

Jester considers sending another one, just to say “I love you” until she hits the word limit. But Caleb is done drawing so she steps through before the circle fades. Once again, she and Caleb share a guilty look as they realize they haven’t told Yussa they were coming.

“It is a small thing to forgive,” Caleb shrugs as they walk down the stairs.

They pass Wenceforth on the way and he tells them Yussa has gone into the Happy Fun Ball again. The idea terrifies Jester, that they might have to save him from his arrogance and foolishness one more time. She considers staying in his tower, because it’s super important that nothing bad happens to Yussa while he’s in that ball.

Caleb watches the guilt wash over her and sends her off with a pat on her back. “I will stay here,” he promises, “in case anything should go wrong. Come back in the morning.”

Jester gives him a kiss on the cheek as she scurries off to the Chateau. She sends a quick message to Yasha just so someone knows where they are; Yasha’s response passes in and out of her ears immediately.

Jester runs until she’s within sight of the house and then she Dimension Doors into the building, landing in her room instead of terrifying her mother. As it turns out, Marion is waiting on Jester’s bed anyway.

She opens her arms and Jester runs into them, almost knocking them both over.

Marion showers Jester with a barrage of kisses to the top of her head. “My darling Jester,” she coos, “tell me what’s wrong. Can I fix it?”

“No,” Jester cries. “Everything is ruined and I’ll be sad forever.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Marion chuckles. “I know that’s not true, because you can always come home.”

Jester takes a few shuddering breaths and nestles deeper into Marion’s arms. “Beau touched a cage or something that was enchanted with a spell that erased her memory and now she doesn’t know who any of us are and we don’t know how to fix it yet.”

“Oh, Jester. I’m so sorry.”

“All of the spells that we know should have brought them back but they didn’t and now my best friend doesn’t know who she is or how much we love her and what if she’s stuck like this forever, Mama? I don’t know what I would do.”

Marion just sits and holds her for a few minutes, letting Jester cry into her robe. She smells wonderful and cozy; Jester is transported back to her childhood, to evenings spent helping Marion with her jewelry and spraying her with just a little too much perfume. She refined her touch as she got older and Jester always filed those nights away; she knew how special they were even as they were happening. Every so often she wishes she could relive one of them—any of them, really—just for the chance to be happy and unburdened with the weight of two wars.

Her mother smooths her hair, whispers comforting words, and eventually Jester calms down. She feels heavy, limp enough to fall asleep, but Jester came here to talk. So she sits up and wipes her eyes, smiles just a little at her mother’s comforting hand on her cheek.

“Why don’t you change into some pajamas and I’ll get Nadine to bring us some tea, alright?”

Jester nods. “Okay, Mama.”

Marion glides off the bed and out of the room because that’s just how she moves everywhere. Jester had tried to emulate that for a while as a kid, but she was always too energetic to pull it off. Jester commands a room because she announces herself constantly; Marion commands a room because she doesn’t have to.

Marion returns a few minutes later, propping the door open a few inches. “For Nadine,” she explains, but Jester is super smart and had basically already figured that out. Marion sits on Jester’s loveseat and curls her feet into the corner. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Jester shakes her head. “No. It’s kind of, like, all we’re focusing on right now so I get enough of that at home. I just wanted to see you.” She climbs onto her bed and slides underneath the covers, only going halfway—any further and she’d fall asleep for real.

“Mama.” Jester picks at a loose thread on her blanket. “What do you think about Beau?”

Marion leans her elbow on the arm of her chair and rests her head on her fist. “That’s a big question.”

“Well,” Jester huffs, “do you like her?”

Marion laughs. “I like all of your friends, Jester. But”—she bites back another smile at the look on Jester’s face—“if I must answer specifically: yes, I am fond of her.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, Jester. I’ve only met her a few times, and she hasn’t yet given me a reason to dislike her. She’s a bit loud but well-intentioned, and she treats you well.” Marion shrugs. “What more could I want from a friend of yours? She clearly adores you.”

“Really?” She says it too softly to be a passing question and Jester feels her heart start to beat with a little panic.

Jester looks up and can’t help blushing at the way Marion tilts her head. “Oh, Jester,” she sighs. She holds her arms out once more. “Come here.”

Jester walks over and squishes next to Marion on the chair, tangling their legs together to make it more comfortable for both of them to sit.

“I think I really like her, Mama,” Jester whispers, “and I can’t tell her.”

Marion smooths a hand down Jester’s hair, tickles her fingers at the back of Jester’s neck. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Marion murmurs. “You’ve surrounded yourself with so many intelligent, capable friends. I’m sure you’ll all be able to solve this together.”

“Yeah, but what do I do when she gets her memories back? I can’t tell her then, either.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. We’ve been friends for a year and she hasn’t given me any kind of sign that she likes me that way. She used to flirt with Yasha a bunch but that kind of stopped when they rescued the three of us.”

Marion tucks a strand of hair behind Jester’s ear. Her fingernails are filed but not sharp, and Jester finds that she’s missed their pleasant scratching. “Does she flirt with a lot of people?” Marion asks gently.

“Sort of? I don’t know. You’ve seen her, Mama,” Jester huffs. “She’s just kind of...like that.”

“Indeed,” Marion agrees, giggling and pinching Jester’s cheek. “Were I your age, I might find it charming myself.”

“Mama!” Jester gasps dramatically. She puts a hand to her chest, feigning disbelief as she looks up at her mother.

“Just because I make a career out of my charm doesn’t mean I am immune to it, my sapphire.”

“That’s true,” Jester agrees. “Beau is very charming. I mean, obviously. She flirted with me today,” Jester admits after a long pause.

“She did?”

“Mhm. We were doing some shopping and she complimented me and then totally checked me out and then told me I was pretty.”

“Suddenly I like her even more.”

“Mamaaa.” Jester smiles, unable to hide a blush. “I mean, sure it was nice to hear, but it was confusing, too. Like, she’s only doing that because she doesn’t remember not doing it.”

“Well, did you ask her about it?”

“Sort of. She didn’t really have an answer and I didn’t want to push because what if I trick her into saying something she doesn’t know she was trying to keep secret?”

“I don’t think that would be a trick, Jester.”

“Yes, it would, Mama; it definitely would. It would be like using my Zone of Truth spell only Beau wouldn’t know about it. Oh,” she explains, “I can do this spell that makes it impossible for people to lie.”

Marion arches an eyebrow. “You’ve brought me many surprises tonight. First Beau, now this.”

“Is Beau really a surprise though?” Jester asks, scrunching her nose.

Marion laughs like she’s singing. “I meant about her accident. Though I suppose your feelings are a little surprising; I’d thought—well, Fjord seems like he stepped right out of one of your books.”

“That’s true,” Jester nods. “He’s very dashing. And I used to like him, I think.”

“You think?”

“Well.” Jester looks up, trying to find the best way to explain herself. “I definitely thought he was a hero when we first met; he was so helpful and handsome and he had a nice accent. And I guess I still feel those things, but I also kind of feel like...like I upgraded?” Jester swats her tail just a little at her mother when Marion laughs. “Don’t laugh, Mama; I don’t mean it in a bad way. It’s just that Fjord has changed so much since we first met and so have I, I guess. Beau is just…”

“Beau would be an upgrade from anyone right now,” Marion interprets.

“Exactly.”

“I understand the feeling, my sapphire. Can I tell you a secret?”

“Of course!”

“I feel that way about women, on the whole. Men are wonderful and fun, but women are—I don’t know if I can really put it into words. Sublime, I suppose.”

Jester sits with that in silence. She doesn’t feel the same way—not now, maybe not ever—but she understands. It’s a lot to think about when she’s still processing her feelings for Beau.

Marion, always attuned to the atmosphere in any room, sits up and untangles herself from Jester. “We’ve had enough serious talk for the night.” She gestures to the cart of tea that neither of them had noticed being brought in. “Why don’t I pour us some tea and you can tell me all of the exciting things you’ve been up to since the last time you were here?”

“Okay.”

“Would you like me to stay with you tonight?”

Jester smiles, though she almost feels like crying. “Yes, please.”

They curl together on Jester’s bed while they sip tea and Marion recounts a few adventures of her own.

When it comes to Jester’s turn, all of her stories are about Beau.

/

Jester wakes early the next morning feeling refreshed and at least a little lighter. Marion has relocated to the chair with a book and more tea, and they laugh together as Jester gets dressed. Jester resolves to come home more often, even if it’s only with a few of her friends. Nothing recharges her more than a trip to Nicodranas, to the home she’s no longer barred from or trapped in.

She bids a quick goodbye to Marion with promises to send more messages, or letters or treasures or something, just to ensure they don’t lose their connection. Marion insists they never will, but Jester can’t help worrying, in light of recent events.

She walks all the way back to Yussa’s tower, using the time to think about how best to help Beau. She knows Caleb and Yasha haven’t gotten very far in their research and Essek hasn’t suggested anything either. Jester has a sinking feeling that they might just have to kill Trent to break the spell. She wants to do that anyway, but woof—is it going to be hard.

Wenceforth lets her in and tells her that Caleb hasn’t left Yussa’s study all night, barely taking a few hours to rest. That sounds like Caleb, Jester says, before bounding up the stairs two at a time.

Caleb stands as soon as she steps into the room. “You seem happier,” he says, offering a smile of his own.

Jester nods. “Mama always helps. Did Yussa come back?”

“No. But Wenceforth said he hasn’t been in there very long. He’s gotten out on his own before; I think we’re safe to go back home.”

Jester smiles as they enter the room with the teleportation circle. “Thanks, Caleb. For taking me here and for staying.”

Caleb’s hand is sure and steady on her back. “You give so much to us, Jester. It is no trouble to start repaying the favor.”

They teleport in a flash and make quick work of walking home from the Lucid Bastion. It’s already early afternoon here thanks to the time change. Jester knows it doesn’t get brighter during the day because there’s no sun, but she likes to pretend it does anyway. It feels nicer, like she’s more at home whenever they return.

They say hi to everyone still in the house; Caduceus greets them in the kitchen with fresh mugs of tea. Jester lingers long enough to finish hers.

“I’ve been thinking about Beau,” she says as they all sit down.

“Understandable,” Caduceus nods.

“I think, maybe, there isn’t really a secret to undoing the spell.”

“What would you suggest?” Caleb asks.

“Well.” Jester swirls her spoon in her mug, watching the leaves churn into a small vortex. “I mean, I’m pretty sure killing always does the trick.”

“Mm. Usually,” Caduceus agrees.

Caleb sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “Unfortunately, I think you might be right. Yasha and I have been largely unsuccessful in our efforts. But he will be harder to defeat this time.”

“We can do it, Caleb. We have to do it,” Jester pleads.

“I know.”

Jester finishes the last of her tea, excusing herself from another cup. Caduceus watches her as she hesitates in the doorway, unsure of where she wants to go next.

He takes a long, noisy slurp from his mug. “I believe Beau is training with Yasha.”

“Oh.” Jester blushes. “Thanks, Caduceus.”

He sends her off with a smile. Beau and Yasha are indeed training, right in the middle of an intense fight when Jester walks in. She always feels conflicted when she watches them fight—it’s very, very nice to see; they’re both super hot and talented with their fists. But as a healer, Jester wishes they would pull their punches a little. She only has so many spells.

Beau has her back to Jester but Yasha sees her as Jester settles into a corner, out of the way. She gives a small wave and Beau takes the opportunity to deck her in the jaw. Yasha goes down immediately and Jester can’t hold back a giggle.

“Oh, jeez; I’m sorry, Yasha.” Beau is quick to offer a hand and pull her up. “I thought you were ready for it.”

“It’s fine, Beau, don’t worry. You must always pounce when the enemy is distracted.”

“You sound so serious,” Beau laughs. “It’s just a friendly fight.” She follows Yasha’s line of sight and finally notices Jester. Her smile falls a little, a flush creeping up her neck. “Oh. Hey.”

Jester rolls her eyes. “Ugh, don’t look so sad, Beau; you’re too pretty to be sad.” Jester winks and starts to take off the jewelry in her horns. “Besides, I thought you wanted to spar.”

“Yeah?” Beau brightens and flits her eyes between Jester and Yasha. “Hell yeah. You know, I can’t say I remember for sure, but I think I’ve had this dream before.”

Just for that, Jester doesn’t pull any punches, either.

//

iii. beau

.

Every day Beau feels like she’s going to crawl out of her skin.

She doesn’t tell anyone about it—they’re already worried enough—but she’s felt this way ever since she touched that cage. It’s a constant itch, a million spiders crawling on her bones even when she sleeps. She doesn’t really sleep much, actually. The bed in her room is nice but it feels just as wrong as everything else.

But the house is sad and Beau knows it has everything to do with her, so she keeps quiet. Trains when she can, hangs out with everyone for as long as they can handle. Beau can see how much it hurts her but Jester is very committed to spending time with Beau, as if nothing is different.

It’s nice, for the first few days. But the longer Jester keeps it up, the more it drives Beau crazy. It’s just, she’s so nice and so selfless and accommodating—and Beau knows that whoever she was before was totally in love with Jester. Like, one hundred percent doe-eyed, dumbstruck in love with her. She doesn’t say anything because it would be weird, right? To just say all of her feelings out loud when she doesn’t know if that’s the kind of person she used to be. If that’s the kind of person she will be when all this is over. Beau feels so cared for by this weird group of people that she almost forgets she has a say in things, too—in who she is now; how they get her memories back; who she’s going to be in the future.

Whatever happens, Beau is pretty sure she’s got to be more forward in her honesty. This well of secrets boiling inside is way too fucking much to handle all the time.

She puts a few pieces together about her past relationships; the group can’t hide everything no matter how much they try to coddle her. Her room, for example—this is definitely not the room she’s stayed in from the beginning. There’s nothing of hers in here and Beau hates the blankets and it looks like the kind of room you have to impress guests.

One day, when the house is relatively empty, Beau takes herself on a tour, sneaking into bedrooms and places she hasn’t been under the watchful gaze of one of her friends. She almost falls over when she steps into Jester’s room. It’s not—she doesn’t remember it; she doesn’t recognize anything inside. But she sees things all over that would appeal to her even now—the color of the pillows, the well-traveled leather bag peeking out from under one of the beds. These are her things. Beau hadn’t really thought that her feelings about Jester could get even more complicated, but here she is. They’re all over each other’s space, or at least they used to be.

What is that, if not love?

Beau tiptoes over to her bed and rifles through her pack. She pulls out a pencil and a notebook. Half of the pages seem to be filled as she flips through it, mostly academic notes. Maybe she’ll read them later, if they have anything that would explain how a child of the Empire came to make a home in Xhorhas.

But for now, she goes back to the guest room and turns to a new page. She writes down everything she’s learned about her companions—every habit she’s noticed, every small comment they make that’s clearly tied to one of their shared experiences. Beau fills two pages like this, with a good spread of notes for each person. Honestly, she could be a librarian or something.

“Whatcha readin’?”

Beau spins around and lashes out with her book, narrowly missing Nott’s nose. The goblin is quick on her feet and sneaky, so she thankfully manages to avoid getting hit at all. Beau likes spending time with Nott these days; she can’t be sure, but she thinks that Nott might be the only one who doesn’t treat her any differently than she did before.

“I’m not reading anything,” Beau says, pulling her notebook out of Nott’s reach. “Just writing some stuff.”

“Is that your journal? Oh my god, I didn’t know you had a journal.”

“Back off, it’s not a journal. Well,” Beau reconsiders, “I don’t know. Maybe it is. But it seems more like a record book or something.”

“A record book of what?”

Nott climbs up Beau’s left side as she flips to the beginning. “I don’t know, I guess stuff we’ve done? There are notes about different people and places in here.”

“You took notes?

Beau cranes to look at her. “Yeah, you never caught me doing it?”

“No. But to be fair, I never really paid attention to you.”

“Gee, thanks,” Beau says as she rolls her eyes.

“What? I only have room in my life for one sad orphan.”

“I’m an orphan?!

“No! My bad. Although, metaphorically? Probably.”

“What?”

Nott’s knees dig into Beau’s back as she perches. “You hadn’t seen your family in, like, three years up until a few weeks ago. Don’t ask me any more about it; that’s basically all I remember.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway, what are you writing now? We haven’t done anything or met anyone fun in days.”

Beau closes her book and stows it under her leg. “Just marking down a few things, trying to see if they’ll jog any kind of memory.”

“Hm.” Nott vaults off of Beau’s back and lands on the bed in front of her. “You know I could grab that faster than you could hide it,” she says.

Beau smirks. “I know. But you like me too much to do that; I can tell.”

Nott squints. “I do not,” she snarls. But her lips betray her, turned upward just a little at the corners.

“Sure. Hey, have you seen Jester?”

Nott hops off the bed. “I think she’s on the roof, talking to the Traveler or Caduceus or something.”

“Oh. Okay, I won’t bother her then. Thanks.”

“Whatever!” Nott yells, then scurries out of the room. Beau can’t help smiling.

It’s been a few days since Jester and Caleb went on their overnight trip, and Beau hasn’t spoken to her too much since. It’s just—she came back so different, in a mood that felt like a whole reversal of how she’d been with Beau that morning. Beau figured it must have had something to do with being away from the house (and from her, by extension, since she hasn’t really left the house for a while). So Beau’s given her space, allowed her the time to breathe that she clearly needs.

She’s about to open her book again when there’s a knock on her door.

Caleb gives her a quick nod, curt and almost professional. “Are you busy?”

“Nah, dude. What’s up?”

“We are having a team meeting in the War Room to discuss...next steps. I sent Nott in to collect you but it seems she hasn’t quite made it yet.”

Beau chuckles and stands up. “No, she made it. She just teased me instead and then ran off.”

“Oh. Ja, that sounds like her.”

Beau hesitates for a moment, then grabs her book as she falls into step with Caleb. It feels nice to walk with him, nice to find someone to be quiet with who doesn’t expect anything. Beau is unsettled by her lack of memories, but mostly by the way that she acts around everyone. She knows nothing about them, and yet her feelings toward them seem to be largely unchanged. Caleb feels like a brother to her and she doesn’t know why.

It really fucking hurts, is what it comes down to.

They’re the first ones there and everyone files in soon after. Jester sits on the opposite side of the table from Beau, but she still smiles, so. The night wears on as they discuss their plan of action and Beau has never been more relieved at the prospect of killing someone. Beau even gets the chance to be useful a few times, pulling out her notes and offering creative ways to attack Trent without putting themselves in too much danger. It feels—Beau feels full, familiar and warm and almost back to normal. She kind of wants to cry, honestly.

But Jester has a similar look on her face so Beau swallows it. She turns her attention back to planning, and stays that way for the rest of the night. They’re at it for a few more hours, listening to Caleb tell them about Trent’s evils. He gets more frustrated as the night wears on; Beau can tell he believes this is an unwinnable fight. She is more determined than ever to prove him wrong.

Eventually they decide on a final strategy, planning to leave in two days. Beau wishes they could leave right now, just so she could finally be rid of all this anxious energy.

Instead she clears her throat and speaks up before they all disperse.

“I, uh, I just wanted to say thank you. You know, for working so hard to get me back and everything; I know it’s been rough.” She looks around at everyone; most of them are staring back at her with some kind of sadness in their eyes. “What, is this not—is that not something I would say? Am I that much of an asshole?”

Fjord laughs and walks over. “No, this is you all over, Beau.” He extends a hand to pull her up from her seat. “Just nice to hear it, that’s all.”

“We’ll always help you, Beau,” Jester promises, prompting a wave of nods from everyone else.

“Thanks, Jester,” Beau smiles. She springs up and follows the group out of the room. Not everyone spends time in their respective bedrooms when they have downtime, but they still have their corners of the house they like to hide in. Beau watches everyone follow those familiar paths: Caduceus up to the roof, Caleb downstairs to the study. She thinks about following suit herself and holing up in her bedroom, but something about the slow way Jester’s walking changes her mind.

Beau follows her instead, pausing in the doorway just in case Jester doesn’t want her to be there.

“Cool if I come in?” she says.

Jester settles on her bed and pulls out her sketchbook. “Of course, Beau. Did you just want to sit?”

“Actually, no. I wanted to talk a little, um. If you’re cool with it.”

Beau is bolstered by Jester’s smile, which isn’t as sad as she feared it might be. “Always,” Jester murmurs.

“Cool.” Beau looks between her bed and Jester’s, waffling on where she should go. She doesn’t want to impose and sit on Jester’s bed, but she doesn’t want to be isolated on hers either. After a few moments of silence and Jester very obviously waiting for her to do something, Beau moves a few things out of the way and pushes her bed toward Jester’s.

It moves maybe a foot. Jester giggles, then immediately covers her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Sorry,” she says, failing to stifle more laughter. “They’re pretty heavy.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Beau groans, rubbing her shoulder. “Wanna help?”

“Sure.” Jester gets off the bed and rolls up her sleeves, pulling as Beau pushes. Beau tries very hard to make sure she’s doing her share of the work and not just staring at Jester’s muscles.

They’re very good muscles, though.

They get the beds pushed together and Beau pulls her blanket from being trapped between the two, just in case she gets cold later. Or to have something to do with her hands—one or the other.

“Thanks, Jester,” she says as she sits down.

“Of course.”

“Listen, I just wanted to say, um.” Beau shakes her head, tries again. “You know, before we go fight this guy and—things are weird with us, right?” Jester opens her mouth to speak. “I mean, more than just the whole memory thing, obviously.”

“Oh.” Jester shrugs. “I don’t know; I don’t know what’s weird and what’s just sad.”

“Well, I mean. I’m not sad.”

From the look on Jester’s face, that was the wrong thing to say, and Beau immediately blushes.

“Sorry,” she mumbles, scratching at the back of her neck. “Fuck, was I always this inarticulate?”

“You’ve gotten way better,” Jester teases.

“Oh, well, that’s...kind of pathetic, actually. Fuck.” Jester laughs and closes her sketchbook and Beau is encouraged; it feels like a step in the right direction. “What I meant to say,” she clarifies, “is that I’m not sad about the memory thing because I don’t know what I’m missing, I guess. But I feel like there are things beyond that that we’re not saying to each other.”

“Oh. I guess,” Jester mumbles. “Why do you feel that way?”

“I don’t know, I just—I feel nervous in a bunch of different ways, and I feel like it should just be the one.”

“What do you mean, nervous?”

“I don’t know.” Beau folds her knees up as high as she can and wraps her arms around them. “I’ve kinda been going out of my mind ever since the fight, you know?”

“What?” Jester sits up straighter and drops her hands on the bed. “Beau, you have to tell me these things!”

Beau can’t help but smile at Jester’s indignation, at the forcefulness of her protest. She understands why she loves Jester—it’s almost impossible not to, but it’s more than that. One-on-one like this, Beau has never felt more noticed or appreciated. Being the subject of Jester’s attention is...Beau could get lost very easily.

“It’s okay, Jester, I promise,” Beau soothes. “I’m not your burden; I’m not your responsibility. I can totally handle myself. And besides, it won’t matter in a few days anyway, right? We’ll be good to go again.”

“Beau, you’re not any of those things ever, okay? You’re my”—she clears her throat, plays with her hair—“you’re my best friend.”

Beau can hardly manage a whisper, but she tries. “Thanks.”

They sit in silence for a few moments. There is so much hanging between them; Beau can almost feel it in her hands. She wants to tell Jester everything she’s feeling, to get it out even if it’s not something Jester wants to hold onto. Beau wonders what Jester is holding onto. She thinks maybe she might drown if Jester let everything out and, god—what a way to go.

“Anyway!” Jester turns around and bounces on the bed. “I think we should play a game instead of being so serious.”

“Yeah?” Beau is charmed in spite of the storm in her chest. “What kind of game?”

“Weeeell, I was thinking what if I told you things about me that I definitely know you don’t know, and you had to guess if they were true or not?”

“Alright, I’m game for that. Can we steal some snacks, too?”

Jester grins, mischief creeping slowly across her face. “Beau, that’s such a good idea. I’ll be right back!”

Beau watches her go with a laugh, takes a moment to write down just what Jester looks like as she runs out of the room.

She’s going to commit this night to memory if it kills her.

/

The next two days pass by faster than any of them are really ready for, and all of a sudden they’re back in Rexxentrum, skulking through the city at night on their way to the sanitorium. Beau doesn’t recognize anything but she hates that they’re here, for herself and for Caleb, who’s becoming more and more jittery the closer they get. In between checking on him as they walk, Beau recites the plan to herself—they’ll ambush Trent in his laboratory, drive him into a corner and leave Beau and Jester toward the back in case anyone sneaks in from behind.

It fits, then, that he sees them as soon as they even get in the building.

Everything explodes into battle shortly after that and Beau feels more alive than she has in weeks. This is something she’s good at, something she knows how to do even when the rest of her is lost. She throws everything she has at Trent, even managing to stun him for a short while. Everyone is ragged and bloody but Beau can feel it—this is the day he dies.

Maybe that’s why it surprises her, then, when the dagger sinks into her shoulder.

Beau curses and turns around quickly—either Jester is down and unable to protect her or someone got in a lucky shot. Thankfully, as Beau watches the other two Scourgers advance on them, it seems to be the latter.

She glances over her shoulder, torn between helping the rest of them take down Trent or incapacitating the two newcomers. It’s Jester who makes up her mind, as Beau watches her send angry, beefy spiritual unicorns at them. There’s no way Beau is leaving her to fend for herself.

“We’ve got company!” she yells, just in case anyone else wants to join in, and then she charges forward, knocking another dagger and two darts out of the way as she does.

She and Jester hold their own pretty well, a cleric and a monk against one wizard and one...muscle-wizard? Beau’s not really sure what their powers are, but it doesn’t really make a difference in the way she fights them. She’s fast enough to stay out of reach and everyone is susceptible to a crack over the head with her staff. She’s fine, she’s got this, she’s totally curb-stomping these assholes.

Jester, however, is not. Beau watches as Jester takes a spell right to the chest. It knocks her down to a knee and she stays there too long. Beau rushes over just in time to grab hold and run them both out of the way as fast as she can. She ducks them behind an overturned table, looking Jester over in the few seconds they have to spare.

“Jester, are you good? You okay?”

“Yeah,” Jester coughs, giving a thumbs-up. “Totally great.”

Of course she’s lying, but she’s also definitely not on death’s door. Beau sighs and swipes some dirt from Jester’s cheek.

“Jester, help!” Fjord yells.

Beau looks up to see the group fighting Trent momentarily stalled and crowded around a body on the floor, while Yasha is charging at Astrid and Eodwulf with a violent scream.

They’ll have to heal each other later.

Jester runs to help Fjord while Beau joins Yasha, happy to continue fighting. They move well together, covering each other and never letting either opponent out of their sight. It’s only a matter of time, really.

The end comes faster than even Beau was expecting, with a pair of vicious attacks from Yasha. The bodies slump to the ground and Beau and Yasha just look at each other for a moment, bent over and breathing hard.

“That was fucking insane,” Beau gasps.

Yasha spits blood a few times before she responds. “You have a dagger in your back.”

“Oh, shit.” Beau registers the pain as soon as Yasha points it out, and she drops to one knee. “Fuck, that hurts.”

Yasha hauls herself up, leaning on her sword, and walks over to Beau with shimmering hands. “I can’t heal you completely, but I should be able to at least close the wound a little.”

“Okay.” Beau looks down and grits her teeth. “Don’t tell me when you’re gonna do it, just pull—fuck!” Her hand flies out to brace herself as Yasha yanks the dagger out, covering the cut immediately with lukewarm hands. She breathes out long and slow, leans her weight onto her elbows, curls her fingers against the dusty wood floor—anything to distract from the searing pain in her shoulder.

Yasha lets her have a few moments before lifting her gently, a warm hand underneath her other arm. “Let’s rejoin the group,” she gently suggests.

“Yeah, sure.” Beau groans and hoists herself up as Yasha lifts. She takes a moment to get used to standing again before noticing how quiet it is. “Wait, shouldn’t we be fighting still?”

“No?” Yasha furrows her brows. “I ran over to help you when we killed Trent; did you not know that?”

Beau slides an arm around Yasha’s waist as they walk back to the others. “I was a little preoccupied, Yash. You know, back-dagger and all.”

Yasha’s face stretches with a sly smile. “And I thought you hadn’t noticed.”

The group looks ragged as they return—the bottom half of Fjord’s pants are almost completely burned away, and Caleb’s skin is a sickly shade of green. But they’re all there, battered and alive and crowded around the still form of Trent Ikithon.

Honestly, Beau kinda doesn’t believe it.

“I can’t believe it,” she huffs. “All that planning for seconds of fighting.”

“I dunno,” Fjord stammers through grunts and gasps, “that’s kind of how it normally goes. Hey! Speaking of!” He slaps her side and Beau almost keels over. “How do you feel?”

“Oh.” Beau takes a moment to think about it, looks around at everyone’s hopeful, bloody faces. “The...same? Shit, guys, I’m sorry. I still don’t remember anything.”

“What?” Jester blurts. “But that should have worked!”

Even Caleb looks forlorn. “I don’t understand,” he mutters. “We performed both Restoration spells on you; we killed Trent—that should have broken the connection.”

Beau lifts her arms, lets them fall helplessly at her side. “I dunno what to tell you, Caleb. I’m not a magic user.”

“Restoration...spells…” Jester mutters. “Oh!”

She runs off before anyone can stop her, hopping over holes and broken bits of furniture scattered across the floor. Her hands are outlined in a pale pink glow, wisps of magic curling out of the tips of her fingers. Jester takes a deep breath as she approaches the cage protecting the beacon. Every cell in Beau’s body is buzzing, telling her this is a terrible idea, and she would run over to Jester instantly if her body weren’t so wrecked.

She’s considering it, even gets as far as lifting one foot, when Jester touches the cage.

There’s a thunderous reverberation throughout the room and Beau feels as if her limbs have been ripped from her body. She’s being pulled in every direction—toward her parents, the Cobalt Soul, the Nein—and Beau doesn’t really have that much to stretch to begin with. She watches as her muscles quickly expand and contract, squishing to fit a toddler and spreading to the definition of an adult. Her legs fluctuate in length so quickly she feels like she’s jumping.

And just like that—she snaps back to herself, into this body that’s gone through hell in the last minute and a half.

Everyone is staring at her, their eyes practically popping out of their heads.

“What?” Beau demands. “Did you actually see that; did my body just, like, fucking stretch and shrink twelve sizes in two seconds?”

Yasha shakes her head. “No, Beau. You were glowing.”

“And screaming,” Nott adds. “Really fucking loud.”

“Well, that kinda fits this place, right?” Beau is distracted from her teasing by sounds outside the room—not right outside, but not far enough away either. “Shit, get the beacon and let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Fjord runs to each door and locks it, just to buy them some time, while Caleb draws his teleportation circle on the ground. The rest of the party forms a barrier around him—even on the opposite side, Beau can feel the questions radiating from Jester.

It’s possibly the longest minute of Beau’s life.

But they make it out before being discovered, and Beau wouldn’t even notice if the Kryn soldiers attacked them as soon as they landed. She’s too happy, too filled with triumph and magic.

“Yash, pick Caleb up and hug him for me, will you?”

“Sorry?”

“I’m too busted to do it myself and I wanna thank him, you know, for—god, it’s so fucking good to see you guys.”

“Uh!” Jester clicks her tongue, stomps her foot. “Excuse me, I was the one who just un-cursed that stupid cage!”

Beau turns around with a wink. “I’m just kiddin’, Jes.” She holds open her arms as wide as she can. “C’mere.”

Jester runs forward, full speed, and throws herself onto Beau. It hurts like absolute hell, but Beau would gladly suffer a million cuts, a thousand spells and punches, to see Jester happy. She wraps her arms around Jester, digging her fingers into her tattered cloak, whispering her thanks as quickly and as many times as she can. Every time Jester sobs, Beau squeezes a little tighter—as if that will stop them.

“I love you,” she murmurs, muffled, into Jester’s neck. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come back. But you gotta know, Jes, this is the only way I’d ever forget you—a curse or a big fucking spell or whatever.” Beau wipes her cheek against Jester’s shoulder, clearing a few tears. “You’re the most important person in my life. No fucking way am I letting you go without a fight.”

Jester hiccups and cries, shivering in Beau’s arms. Beau just rests her chin on the top of Jester’s head, maneuvering around her horns. She feels like her lungs are bigger, like she’s finally learned how to breathe after weeks of suffocating. Beau has never felt so full in her life.

“I love you, too,” Jester eventually manages to say. “More than anyone else.”

Beau smiles. “More than your mom?”

“Beauuuu.” Jester presses her head into Beau’s chest. “I mean I love you more than anyone else loves you.”

“Oh. Well, that I believe, no question.”

“Is everyone just watching us hug?”

“No,” Beau laughs, “not everyone.” She quickly scans the room, small as it is. “Just three guards; Fjord made everyone else leave.”

“Why?”

“I dunno,” Beau shrugs. “Probably didn’t want to see us make out.”

Jester pulls back and releases an arm from Beau as she wipes her eyes. “Do you want to make out with me?”

“Oh, sure. For at least two months now.”

“Two months? That’s it?”

“You know, I’m still kinda fuzzy on the details. Maybe we should compare timelines when we get home.”

Jester leans up and grabs Beau’s chin with one hand, shaking it from side to side. “You’re silly, Beau.”

“Yeah, for you,” Beau smirks.

Jester kisses her.

This is when everything truly clicks into place. Beau breathes out and sinks into Jester’s warm lips, into the arms of the woman she loves. Beau remembers everything now—this she will never forget. Jester tastes of soot and grime, ash from the battle still dusting her lips. Beau thinks it might be the taste of victory.

“I love you,” Jester whispers when they pull away. “Did I say that already?”

“Yeah. But, you know, definitely keep saying it.”

Jester pokes at her side a few times. “You too, Beau.”

“Yeah, absolutely.” She sweeps Jester’s bangs away from her eyes, presses a kiss to her forehead. “I meant what I said a while back, Jes—I’d follow you anywhere. Might just take me a while sometimes.”

Beau is pretty sure Jester’s smile could light the city.

“Come on.” Beau steals one more kiss—two, four, as many as she can before Jester starts giggling. “We gotta talk to everyone else again eventually.”

“Okay.”

Jester takes Beau’s hand as they leave the room, lazily saluting the guards they pass. She leans against Beau’s side, wraps her other hand around Beau’s arm. Beau feels as if she’s grown another heart.

Their friends are waiting for them at the end of the hallway. They don’t say anything as Beau and Jester walk closer, generously giving Beau the opportunity to approach them in her own time.

Beau laughs uproariously and throws her arms open again. “Looks like you guys are fucking stuck with me,” she says, and everyone piles in on her. She thinks back to Kamordah, to hugging her friends out in the rain at her lowest point. It’s nice to know she’s found a family who will celebrate the highs, too.

Beauregard Lionett is an Expositor of the Cobalt Soul. Over the last year, her family has grown from one to seven. She has brothers now—and a barbarian, one weird fucking goblin mom, and a partner in love and crime. They are the Mighty Nein, adventurers and advisors to both the Dwendalian and Kryn Empires. They love each other, above everything else.

And they’re gonna end a fucking war.