Jester sighs softly, and Beau, watching her thoughtfully, wonders why. Jester is scribbling in her journal, her hand moving almost too fast for Beau to track. Beau wonders what she’s drawing. Jester’s tail flicks back and forth, poking through the slats in the back of the desk chair. Beau is sitting on the floor near the bed, pretending to meditate.
Pretending is the wrong word. She’s not meditating as she should be, clearing her mind and cleansing her spirit, but what she is doing (staring at Jester, cataloguing her movement and her form, her mental state, her apparel, her hair and the way it blocks Beau’s view of what she imagines is an expression of concentration) is meditative, just in a different way. Beau observes, evens her breathing, and studies . Her mind is empty of other thoughts, her sole focus is her best friend, across the room, completely, totally, and thankfully oblivious to Beau’s attention.
The motions of Jester’s hand slows over time, pausing here and there. Beau has watched her enough to know that that indicates that Jester is almost finished with the art piece, and is working on the final touches. When Jester looks up from the sketchbook, Beau quickly closes her eyes, pretending they have been that way the whole time. Her heart speeds up, irrationally afraid she’s been caught looking, but forces herself to keep her breathing even. She hears the creak of the desk chair as it scrapes against the floor, and Jester’s not-so-quiet footsteps.
Beau can sense her nearby, somehow, through her ability to manipulate energy, the disturbance in the air, or some strangely arcane lesbian awareness, although the last is as unlikely as it feels accurate. She can feel Jester’s hesitation to disturb what she thinks is Beau’s peace.
“Beauuuu” Jester says brightly, in her less than subtle “pay attention to me” voice. Beau opens her eyes and raises one eyebrow. She looks up at Jester who is holding her journal, finger in one page and as soon as she does, Jester opens the bookmarked page and shoves the book into Beau’s face.
“What do you think?” Jester asks, the casual tone belying the importance of the answer. Beau looks at the drawing, sketched in pencil and then inked, of a ship resembling the Ball Eater , on a horizon, with the end of a dock in the foreground, as if the person watching the boat is standing on the pier. It’s a good drawing, excellent even. Beau nearly has to look away, because the pain of it, Jester’s pain, is palpable to Beau. The longing that Jester feels for her home, for the ocean, for the time when they had adventures for fun and for money, and not to stop the world from ending. It’s all there, plain as the enthusiastic smile on her face beginning to falter as Beau scrutinizes the work of art.
“Jester, it’s gorgeous.” Beau says, knowing she’s not supposed to mention that she noticed all the yearning and the confusion and the sadness and the nostalgia that Jester has hidden in the work. All the feelings that Jester hides in her personal art that she never acknowledges having. Jester’s smile perks back up.
“Thank you, Beau!” With the words, Jester reaches out her hand to help Beau up, and Beau hesitates a second before taking the offered assistance that she doesn’t need. She takes Jester’s hand, relishing for only a split second in the softness of her skin (perfectly marred by calluses where she frequently holds art implements), before admonishing herself for the thought, and standing. She lets Jester’s hand slip out of her own, staring after it for a brief moment. She flexes her fingers, trying to shake the tactile memory.
While Beau tries to organize her thoughts, Jester reopens the sketchbook, fussing over the details of the drawing, doubting herself.
“You’re an amazing artist, when you’re not drawing dicks, at least.” Beau says and Jester grins. Beau knows that her friend would not deliberately fish for compliments but she would lavish them on her anyway, even if she did.
“I mean I draw pretty good dicks.” Jester says and Beau can’t help but laugh. Sometimes Beau thinks back, and tries to remember laughing before she knew Jester. It wasn’t the same. Jester tucks a falling strand of soft, blue hair behind her ear as she laughs with Beau, and Beau watches her hand again.
Beau looks at the sketchbook. Back at Jester’s hand. She has a bad idea. She idly reaches back to rub her fingers over the still itchy skin of her recent tattoo.
She has the bad idea again. She knows it is a bad idea.
She stares at Jester’s hands. A bad idea, she tells herself. She involuntarily recalls how soft and deceptively gentle Jester’s fingers were in hers, the many delicate, friendly touches she’s showered on Beau, the more insistent, healing touches too, fraught with magic and tension and fear and relief. How many times Jester has touched her, how many times Jester will touch her again.
They’re best friends. Jester is a tactile person. It’s not Jester’s fault that Beau gets more out of it than she knows. A bad idea.
She wants Jester to touch her, feel her hands on her skin, working their skill. She knows Jester will oblige. A bad idea.
“Hey, Jes...When was the last time you gave someone a tattoo?” Beau asks, and she knows that she is failing to sound casual. Her heart races.
“A while ago.” Jester says thoughtfully, not noticing that Beau feels like she is dying. “Probably that guy who we…” Jester trails off, frowning, remembering the circumstance.
Beau almost chickens out. She thinks of the sadness in the drawing Jester showed her. She thinks of Jester giggling and threatening a man with a tattoo, of her watching Orly in fascinated delight. She thinks of Jester touching her, forever inking her art into Beau’s skin.
“How about you give me one?” Beau cringes inwardly at the sound of her own voice. How does Jester not hear the desperate break in her voice? The obviously fake confidence? Or worse - does she hear it ? A bad idea.
Jester lights up. Heat infuses Beau’s face and heart and stomach, as it always does when she makes Jester smile. Maybe not such a bad idea, after all.
“You would really want - really let me tattoo you?” Jester asks excitedly. “But didn’t you just - Your magic tattoo is still so new - Are you sure?” The pitch of Jester’s speech climbs higher and higher as she says this, practically squeaking by the end. The kind of sound that would drive Beau crazy if she wasn’t so damned endeared. She is endeared. She is so endeared and she wants somehow to convey how full her heart is in this moment, but she’s not sure how, but she can do this. Jester is so excited, so pleased, Beau can forget the ulterior motive she has for wanting this. It feels as the butterflies in her stomach are trying to cocoon her heart as her chest clenches tightly.
“Uh yeah.” Beau says, going for calm, composed, her usual sardonic self, but to her own ears missing the mark by a laughable margin. “Of course.” She focuses her mind on Jester’s delighted exclamation that follows, and absolutely not on her hands as they clap and clasp with glee.
“What do you want me to tattoo?” Jester asks, and Beau watches her rummaging through her belongings for the equipment given to her so long ago. Beau briefly thinks about how things have changed. She doesn’t know how to answer Jester’s question; she didn’t plan this far ahead.
“You pick.” Beau says, and then immediately rethinks the words, and then thinks fuck it and decides to go with it.
“Me?” Jester squeals, her search through her bag pausing.
“Yeah.” Beau says. “You’re my best friend, right? It’s like a trust exercise or something.”
Or something .
“Oh, well then I will need to do a sketch!” Jester says thoughtfully, looking at Beau, suddenly appraising and studious. Beau imagines that Jester is looking at her the same intense way she looks at Jester. “Where do you want the tattoo?”
Beau’s mind races, keeping pace with her heart. She thinks first of what she can cover, in case Jester picks something silly, but then she remembers trust . She knows somehow with absolute certainty, that despite her frequent mischievousness, Jester would not do that to her. Trust . Beau tries to think of anyone else that she’d ever had that confidence in. She comes up blank. She thinks of where she wants Jester’s hands, and she feels her cheeks flame. She tries to squash the idea of it, but can only push it to a mental back burner. She thinks of Jester’s art, and where it would look the coolest adorning her body. She’s suddenly less sure of her ability to handle this. Was she really that sure to begin with?
“You pick that too.” Beau says, because it is easier than trying to answer, and because there it is, forefront in her mind, the trust she has in Jester, the confidence. There are many things about Jester that cause her chest to tighten and her breath to catch, but the trust that she shares with her is what sets her feelings apart from the attraction she’s felt before. “Total trust fall. Except it’ll be on my body forever. So don’t fucking drop me.”
Jester gasps again, and almost before Beau can process, Jester has thrown her arms around Beau’s neck.
“I would never drop you.” She says in Beau’s ear. Beau hugs her back. She doesn’t let herself think that she could stay like this forever, doesn’t let herself admit how good Jester smells, despite travel, and fighting, and blood that can never be unshed. Beau does not think about how solid Jester’s body and arms feel, strong and sturdy, hard muscle with a protective softness that comes from all those sweets that feels like heaven against her own dense, lean body.
Beau thinks she holds on for just a moment too long.
“Then again, it would be pretty funny if I did drop you, if this was actually a trust fall.” Jester says as Beau lets her go. “But I wouldn’t give you a shitty tattoo on purpose.”
Beau laughs. She can’t help it. She can’t help thinking that even if Jester did give her a shitty tattoo, she would love it and treasure it always. As Beau has this thought, she watches Jester open her sketchbook back up. Jester sits at the desk, a thoughtful, preoccupied expression on her face. She stares at the paper, and then up at Beau. Her eyes remain trained on Beau for a long moment. Beau watches Jester scrutinize her, and she blushes again, and has to look away, feeling that Jester can see right through her flesh to the soul of her. She stares at a knot in the wood of the wall, but that doesn’t feel right either. She sneaks a peek at Jester, who is now sitting sideways in the chair, facing Beau, the sketchbook on her lap, not the desk, and sketching furiously. Beau tries to see the sketch, but Jester’s wrist blocks it. She forgets that she is only supposed to be peeking, and watches Jester work. She’s still watching as Jester looks up from her paper to examine Beau again. Beau is very thankful, not for the first time this evening, that her skin tone partially conceals the blood rushing to her cheeks. Jester looks pleased with herself, her hair in her face again, with ink on her hands and sleeve.
“Do you want to see it first?” Jester says and Beau shakes her head, not trusting herself to speak. “Perfect! You should lay down on the bed, on your back, near the edge. Do you need to use the facilities first?” Beau shakes her head again, her mind not so helpfully replaying Jester saying “lay down on the bed” over and over.
“I’m uh. I’m good.” Beau lies, but not in the context of why Jester is asking. Beau approaches the bed, and thinks about the fact that tonight, she will be sleeping in it beside Jester, so normal and common, and yet so provocative. She tries to clear her mind with meditative breathing, but it fails. She wishes this would go away, so she can stop being weird, stop making things weird, and go back to relishing having a best friend for the first time in her life. She lays down as Jester instructed her and she closes her eyes and counts the seconds of her inhalations and exhalations. She hears Jester dragging the chair over to the bedside, so she can sit over Beau and work. Beau opens one eye. Jester is holding her tattoo equipment and an oil lantern, exceptionally bright for its size, and Beau realizes she is using her innate magic to brighten the flame. Beau smiles thinking about how clever and accomplished Jester is, and immediately cannot look at her and closes her eyes again.
Inhale through the nose, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Exhale through the mouth, two, three, four .
Beau feels Jester's hands moving aside her loose clothes to gain access to the side of her ribs, just beneath her bust. She feels the tickle of Jester re-sketching the design onto her side.
“Is this okay?”
She tries to focus on her breathing. Really she does. Tries not to think of Jester’s hands, soft blue skin vivid against her warm brown, moving just slightly to touch her -
Inhale through the nose, two, three, four.
Beau feels Jester pull her hands away.
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
“I’m going to start the actual tattoo now. Are you sure you don’t want to see?”
Exhale through the mouth, two, three, four .
The pain is almost welcome. It distracts Beau from the proximity, from the startling intimacy of the situation. A permanent part of her body, so well maintained and kept, in the hands of someone else, and the absolute faith that Beau has in Jester. Beau keeps her eyes closed, because she doesn’t think she could do this if she could see Jester, the tender concentration in her eyes, the hair falling in her face. She can barely breathe as it is, no matter how much she counts and counts over again, nose, hold, mouth. The weight of Jester leaning her arms on Beau’s side to carefully and deliberately deposit the ink under her skin with more care and intensity than Beau can remember her attending to anything, and feels a warm pride in that realization.
“You’re taking this really seriously, aren’t you?” Beau asks, and then breathes sharply as Jester makes a particularly painful stab with the needle.
“Aren’t you?” Jester asks, nonchalant but cheerful. Beau doesn’t answer, because the truth is too revealing, and she can’t bring herself to lie to Jester. “Sorry, sorry.” Jester says quickly when Beau winces again.
Even the pain is not distracting enough for Beau. She feels Jester lean closer. Beau tries very, very hard to not let her imagination wander, but it’s hard, barely possible.
Inhale through the nose, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Exhale through the mouth, two, three, four .
She tries to clear her mind, lose the passage of time and external stimuli to her meditation, the way her mentors do, and tell her she must be able to do. It doesn’t work at the best of times, and now, with Jester, so close that Beau can smell her, it certainly doesn’t. Jester’s scent calms her though, and if she concentrates on the counting, she can focus on her breathing, at least, even if she can’t empty her mind.
Despite stray thoughts, usually of Jester, how close she is, how she smells, how she feels, holding Beau in place at times so as to keep her steady for a particularly delicate bit of work, Beau keeps herself mostly calm. It is comforting to have Jester so close, she cannot help but feel. Even with just this best friend intimacy. Jester’s proximity makes her feel secure in a way that makes her think she is so well and totally fucked. Breathing.
Inhale through the nose, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Exhale through the mouth, two, three, four .
Just keep breathing. She can do that. She can do that, without thinking about her best friend, touching her, touching her, thinking about her best friend touching her chest. Jester’s hands are slightly cool, just colder than those of human with poor circulation to their extremities. It oddly soothes the pain, making it something to focus on. She tries not to notice how gently Jester dabs at her side with a handkerchief every so often. She finally understands what it is to lose time to a meditative state, lulled by the tandem rhythm of the pain and her breathing and Jester’s gentle ministrations.
The pain is a throbbing thing, such that it takes her a moment to realize when Jester actively stops tattooing, and opens her eyes. She watches Jester stand and stretch, rolling her neck and wrists. She stops focusing her thaumaturgy on the lantern, and the room dims considerably.
“The outline is all there, and a lot of the details, too. We can continue in a little bit, or we can wait until tomorrow night. I can heal some of the swelling to make it easier.” Jester says, her eyes closed, as she presses her hand backward with the other, and then switches. “I need a break , so you probably do too.” Once she says it, Beau realizes how badly she does need to relieve herself, and how stiff she is. She tries to gauge how long she’s been lying on the bed, Jester hunched over her. She’s pretty sure it’s been hours. It must be coming close to midnight.
“I’m down to finish tonight, if you’re okay.” Beau says, gingerly swinging her legs over the side of the bed, being careful not to twist her torso. She says something about being right back, and not bothering to cover up, she goes to relieve herself and find a glass of water.
She takes a moment to herself while she sips water, hoping it’s safe to drink, but not caring terribly if it isn’t. She breathes deeply, and resists the monumental temptation to look down at the tattoo. She can feel that it is not quite properly on her side, sort of shifting from the front of her abdomen just under her bust down her ribs and veering toward her side and then curling back inward to end on the edge of her stomach.
When she returns, Jester is waiting for her.
“Are you sure you’re okay to keep going?” Beau asks.
“I’m sure!” Jester says brightly. “It’s coming out great .” Jester smiles her charming smile. “I think it should only be another hour of work. It’s much quicker to give a tattoo when you can just heal the swollen parts!” She looks very pleased with herself, and the butterflies in Beau’s stomach make their presence known again.
How can this be wrong , Beau thinks, if it’s making Jester this happy . She’s not even sure it’s a rationalization. Jester is happy, and relaxed, and the anxious, slightly melancholy energy she had been concealing earlier in the evening has vanished, and Beau feels like she is glowing from the warmth she feels at having caused the uplift in Jester’s mood. Jester is so cheerful, but she hides so much, Beau knows, and she hates anyone to know that she struggles. But Beau always knows, and she never says anything out of respect for her boundaries, but she always knows. Knows, and does her best to help cheer Jester up in little ways.
Beau pretends that Jester isn’t watching her as she rearranges herself back into a tattoo-able position, carefully, trying and mostly failing to not stretch the skin on her side. Jester sits back down in her chair and then makes a face.
“What’s wrong?” Beau asks, perhaps too concerned. Was this a bad idea?
She knows this was a bad idea. Her side burns. Jester leans over Beau’s prone form, and for one horrifying and enthralling second Beau irrationally thinks that Jester is going to kiss her.
She doesn’t though, and Beau is disappointed. And relieved. She aches for Jester, literally now, the pain of needles in her skin, so close to bone fresh in her mind. She doesn’t want things to change. Instead of kissing her, Jester grabs the pillow next to Beau’s head. Beau watches as Jester straightens, and fluffs the pillow enthusiastically, before dropping it to the floor. She positions it with her foot and then with a grace that is so peculiarly Jester , she kneels on the pillow, letting it cushion her knees, and bends into what looks like a much more comfortable vantage point for tattooing.
“Are you ready?” Jester asks, picking up her needle contraption. The room brightens again as Jester adjust the lantern, physically and then magically.
“Sure.” Beau says. She’s not sure at all.
She doesn’t close her eyes fast enough, and then she can’t . She watches Jester bend her head over her ribcage, shiny blue hair falling to block Beau’s view of her expression. The position, the proximity, the intimacy of it, it’s too much for Beau. And then she feels Jester put her hands on her abdomen. Her soft skinned but strong, but most of all cool hands, and wrists and despite the needle and the contact to raw, abused skin, the cool of her is soothing. Beau bites back a groan from the relief of Jester’s cold touch on her burning skin. She feels herself let go of a fraction of the tension she is holding in her tightly controlled muscles.
“Are you okay, Beau?” Jester asks, pausing in the work she’s only just restarted. Beau doesn’t know how to answer.
“Just keep going.” Beau is not okay. She needs to feel Jester’s hands on her, wants to feel her everywhere, her caresses literally the answer to Beau’s pain. It’s not that Beau can’t handle a little pain. She can. But now she’s near drunk on the heady cocktail of pain and Jester’s touch, and she can’t determine where her desire for pain relief ends, and her desire for Jester starts.
Beau can’t focus on her breathing anymore. She can only watch Jester, stabbing her over and over again, and soothing the burning pain away in the same motions. That’s probably a metaphor for something.
“Re lax , Beau.” Jester scolds, but she looks up to smile at Beau. “You are very tense. Maybe you needed a massage not a tattoo.”
“Maybe I did.” Beau says, but she does her best to force her muscles to relax. “Maybe I’m tense because you’re literally stabbing me.” Jester laughs, and some of Beau’s tension drains, genuinely.
“Maybe you’re being a b a by.” Jester retorts gleefully as she bends back over Beau’s stomach. Beau watches her. She loves to watch Jester. The way she moves, bouncy and exuberant, yet graceful. The way she focuses on her art, her expressions intense and absorbed. She loves watching Jester when Jester thinks no one is watching her.
Except sometimes, in those moments, Beau watches how sad Jester gets. She knows Jester hates being sad, how she is afraid for people to know it. But Beau knows. There is nothing she wouldn’t do to make Jester smile in those moments. More than that, there is nothing that Beau wouldn’t do to make Jester want to confide in her in those moments. She wants to help .
Wants to help Jester the way she helps Beau. Now more literally than ever. Beau tries to breathe evenly, forgoing the counting. It doesn’t really work.
Beau wishes she could see Jester’s face. Before her brain can compute what her hand is doing, she is reaching up to tuck Jester’s hair behind her ear.
Idiot . Beau thinks of herself, but cannot stop herself from seeing the motion through. Jester’s hair is silky and smooth against her skin. Her fingers brush the gentle points of Jester’s ear as the movement reaches its culmination, and Beau wills her heart not to stop of the way it feels in that briefest second.
Jester does not even look up, and Beau thinks for the faintest second that she leans into the touch, just a bit. She scolds herself for her imaginings, for projecting her feelings into Jester’s actions.
Jester’s lack of reaction disturbs her. It shouldn’t. Jester is her best friend. Her tactile best friend, who gives and receives little gestures like that all the time. Why should Beau be different. Beau doesn’t want to be different, but oh-so-much she wants to be different. She wants Jester to think about Beau touching her, the way Beau is thinking about Jester.
She hates herself for wanting it. She doesn’t want things to change, she can’t stand the thought of things staying the same.
This was a bad idea.
“How much longer, do you think?” Beau asks, because she can’t stand her own thoughts. She feels hot all over, except where Jester’s skin touches hers, and twitchy, but she holds her body rigid.
“Not long. How are you doing?” Jester glances up quickly, and then back down, and the motion shakes the hair back in front of her face.
“I’m fine.” Beau manages with a strong exhale. Jester doesn’t reply for several minutes. Beau stares up at the ceiling.
“Can you move my hair again?” Jester asks, suddenly, in a higher pitched voice than a moment before. Beau’s breath catches. “It keeps falling in my face, and it is much easier to see without it.”
Beau reaches up and does as she is asked, and tells herself the shaking in her hand is from the pain, and the exhaustion of the hours creeping past. She tries not to let her fingers linger in Jester’s hair. Really she tries. Jester doesn’t notice.
Beau’s breathing is shaky. She stares at the ceiling again. No amount of counting helps. Beau shifts to move her hands under her head. She doesn’t trust herself not to reach out, to not touch.
Jester won’t mind. That’s the problem. The knowledge that Jester would not find it out of the ordinary, while it would secretly mean everything to Beau is what creates the temptation. But it’s wrong, it’s not fair, and Beau won’t do that to Jester, to her best friend.
It’s not fair. None of this is fair, nothing is fair. It’s not fair that things that mean so much to Beau, touch, affection, attention, are commonplace to Jester, and it’s not fair for her to think that, and hell it’s not even fair that Jester is even here at all, when she should be somewhere, safe and happy and by the sea, laughing and creating mischief and miracles alike in the same breath. She should be on a boat, playing a deadly game of pirate that she’ll always win, because she always should win. It’s not fair that Jester is sad, and lonely, and confused.
And it’s not fair that despite all of that, Beau wants her here, at her side. Perhaps not literally at her side, as she is now, but that too, if Beau allows herself a rare moment of internal honestly.
“Done!” Jester shrieks delightedly, and Beau startles. The pain she’d been distracted from comes rushing back with a burning throb. As if she somehow knows this, Jester adds, “I’m sorry, but I’ve healed it as much as I could without being worried about the ink not taking.” She stands, the pillow in one hand and her tattooing equipment in the other. She yawns.
Instead of watching Jester stretch appealingly, Beau looks down at her new tattoo, craning her neck to see her side. She sees black ink, with some blue, and gingerly stands to see if she has a better view that way. She doesn’t, but now at least she can make out the silhouette. Jester notices what she is attempting.
“Wait!” She exclaims, and rushes to rummage in her belongings. She pulls out a hand mirror, and holds it up to Beau, angling it so that Beau can see her ribs and side.
The tattoo is a pinup of a mermaid, done mostly in black with only enough shading to make her look believable. Her coyly smiling face is on Beau’s rib, her hands tangled in her hair, curling upward in an exaggerated underwater effect and threaded with blue flowers throughout. She’s nude, but for more blue flowers twisting across her breasts, caught around her like she had swum carelessly through them, and another chain of the same flowers around her hips, where her torso transitions into a scaled tail that curls playfully on Beau’s stomach.
It’s breathtaking, and so on point that it’s painful for Beau to think about. It’s a tattoo she never would have chosen for herself, but fits her and somehow her feelings about Jester so well that it shocks Beau to her core.
“We- ell ?” Jester prompts, startling Beau, who cannot stop staring at the mirror.
“It’s gorgeous.” Beau does not mean to whisper, but her voice breaks. Jester glows. The tension drains from Beau’s body as she watches Jester blush adorably violet with the pleasure of the compliment.
Being with Jester, around Jester, making her happy, feels so natural to Beau, so correct. Jester gives Beau another few moments with the mirror before putting it away, yawning again. Beau stifles her own yawn, tired, but not entirely sure she wants to sleep. The pain on her side is beginning to move past the acute burning of actively being tattooed, and into a dull amorphous throbbing. Beau prepares for bed, favoring her side. She does not get past the first of her nighttime sit-ups, the skin over her abs much too sore for such things. By the time she’s finished getting ready for a rest that she’s pretty sure won’t take her, Jester is already asleep, sprawled on her side of the bed, snoring ever so slightly. Beau smiles fondly, openly now. The peace on Jester’s face and in her pose make Beau think that everything might just end up alright.
Beau eases herself into the bed, even more careful to not touch Jester than she is about her tattoo. She breathes a long sigh and closes her eyes.
She wants to roll over but can’t, she’s trapped in this position by the pain in her side. She lays still, growing more and more restless. She very cautiously attempts to shift. Her side throbs. She swallows a grunt so as not to disturb Jester, and settles back into her original position, adjusting to keep out of contact with Jester, who is slowly taking over the bed. It’s one thing to touch Jester during the day, when she’s awake. But now she’s asleep, in a bed, in bed with Beau, and it feels more intimate, like even the most accidental instance of skin brushing skin is a predatory violation of trust.
Beau focuses on the sound of Jester’s light snoring, a regular and comforting sound. Her side aches. She feels too hot. Minutes pass, or hours, or mere seconds. She’s not sure. Sleep doesn’t come. She’s sure that if she doesn’t move, she’ll die.
She sits up, frustrated. She puts one foot on the floor and then the other, and swallows a wince as the boards creak when she stands.
Beau is still a moment but hears no movement behind her, and so takes another step. She makes it about two more towards the door.
“Beau?” Jester’s voice is quiet, thick with sleep.
“You’re dreaming.” Beau tells her and Jester laughs quietly and unexpectedly.
“I’m not going to fall for that . Do you think I’m stupid ?” Jester’s voice is slightly louder now, and Beau turns around. Jester is sitting up in bed, rubbing her eyes but definitely awake.
“No I don’t think you’re stupid.” Beau says, even though she knows the question was rhetorical and a joke. “I just couldn’t sleep. Didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Why couldn’t you sleep?” Jester asks, holding out her hand in a gesture asking Beau to join her.
“You were hogging the whole bed.” Beau accuses, staring at Jester’s outreached hand. Jester snorts a laugh.
“Was no- ot .” Jester lets her hand drop.
“Were too. But that’s not why I couldn’t sleep.” Beau is tired, the words fall from her lips impulsively.
“Does your tattoo hurt?” Jester’s concern makes Beau’s stomach to flutter once more.
“That’s part of it. I can’t roll over like I usually do. It makes me feel restless.” Beau says. She shrugs to lessen the importance of the words.
“Do I really hog the bed?” Jester asks after a moment where both women are silent.
“You kinda do.” Beau says and shrugs again, this time smiling.
“Sorry.” Jester mumbles. “I’m sorry I can’t help more with your tattoo.”
Beau has no logical reason to explain why she says what she says next. Impulsive words drop from an impulsive tongue, from a mind too exhausted to contain them.
“You can, actually.” Beau immediately feels her cheeks flame. Stupid . Beau takes a step backward.
“How?” Jester asks, her voice climbing in pitch. She looks excited at the prospect.
“Forget it, it’s stupid.” Beau stumbles over the words, and she takes another step back towards the door before turning and bolting toward it. She manages to open it, but the knob jerks from her fingers as it slams shut as soon as she does. Beau tries again, but the same thing happens.
“I can do this all night, Beau.” Jester sing-songs. Beau leaves the door closed. Turns around. Jester is beckoning for her again.
“It’s embarrassing.” Beau whines, hoping the complaint covers for the emotions she can’t name.
“Is it a sex thing?” Jester gasps with mischievous glee. Beau chokes, even as she recognizes it as Jester’s attempt to make her laugh, but her stomach twists, and her discomfort grows. “Wait - it’s not a sex thing, right ?”
“No, fuck! No!” Beau says. She’s not sure whether or not she’s lying. She doesn’t think she’s lying. She’s pretty sure the sex thing is separate. “It’s just. Your hands are cold.” Jester blinks at her in confusion.
“Are you sure it’s not-”
“I’m sure it’s not a sex thing!” Beau says, exasperated. She sits down on the bed. Jester leans over to put a hand on her shoulder, but hesitates, and then pulls back. Beau feels like she’s been stabbed. “Your hands felt nice. Like, numbing, or whatever. When you were touching the tattoo.” Her face burns and her chest hurts.
“Oh is that all!” Jester says with a sigh and a big smile, a smile that pulls all the breath from Beau’s lungs, but loosens the pain in her chest anyway. “You don’t need to be embarrassed, Beau. I’m like your doc tor, you know.” Jester laughs at her own joke.
Jester fusses Beau into a sleeping position, and then follows. She arranges herself unbearably close to Beau. Beau holds her breath, lies stock still. And then Jester settles herself, placing one hand flat on Beau’s stomach, over the mermaid’s tail, and tucks her other arm against Beau’s side, on the rest of the mermaid.
Beau is trying not to panic. Jester cuddles herself into Beau’s side. Beau begins to panic. She purses her lips tightly together, holds herself stiffly.
“Re lax , Beau.” Jester mumbles contentedly. Beau tentatively puts her arm around Jester. Jester snuggles in deeper, picks her head up to rest it on Beau’s bicep, carefully, sleepily mindful of her horns, arranging herself expertly so that they’re not hurting Beau, as if she’s slept like this, in the crook of someone’s arm tucked against their side, a thousand times. She probably has. Beau still does not dare breathe.
“How are you so warm?” Jester mumbles.
“I’m normal-person warm.” Beau says. “You’re just a weirdo.” Beau hopes the teasing, normal, funny, best friend teasing, will help her feel that this is just as normal.
It’s not. Not to Beau at least. Jester is already gently snoring, clearly unbothered. Beau’s side feels much better like this, not that the pain even registers now, as if Beau’s neurological capacity for sensation began and ended with Jester, soft and cool and content, cuddling her. Beau starts breathing again, slowly, tentatively.
For just a second, she allows herself to relish in it. In Jester. She lightly brushes her fingers over Jester’s hair, so soft and blue and slightly mussed. Jester makes a small mew of appreciation and Beau jerks her hand back, startled and ashamed. Jester doesn’t seem to notice or mind. Beau closes her eyes and tries to resume breathing.
She nearly manages it. Nearly.
“Beau?” All sleepiness is gone from Jester’s voice. She sounds unsure, afraid.
“This might be too awkward and you can tell me to shut up but we are having a sleepover but um ...when did… I mean. How did you know . You know? That you like g irls ?”
Beau breathes in sharply. Before she can even process the implications of the question, Jester is talking again.
“You don’t have to answer, I don’t want to make you, you know, uncomfortable or anything, I was just wondering because, well, you know, I don’t know. Sorry.”
The only thing more intolerable than answering Jester’s question is not answering Jester’s question. Beau tries to roll up on her side to look at Jester and winces. Jester’s fingers flutter against her side and Beau holds back a choked noise as it tickles.
“I dunno. It wasn’t really ever something that was a question. It just was, for as long as I can remember. The sky is blue, my dad hates me, I like women.” Jester is looking up at her with big violet eyes.
This is normal. Best friends. Talking about stuff. Girl talk.
“Why do you ask?” Girl talk , Beau reminds herself.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Jester says, her voice uncharacteristically wobbling. “It’s just. I always thought that because I grew up watching Mama, I knew what beauty was, and what handsome was, and what sexiness is and lo o ove .” Jester pauses a moment, but Beau knows not to say anything yet. She pets Jester’s hair as she thinks. This she can do at least, maybe, comfort Jester. She feels like Jester must be able to hear how her heart is beating like it’s trying to burst free of her ribs. When Jester begins speaking again, her voice is quieter. “I thought I kn ew what love was supposed to look like. My father was always a romantic mystery, from how my Mama spoke, and I had so many ideas, when I left Mama, I had decided that I was going to find l ove like in books and like my Mama and then I met Fjord and he was just like the men in the romantic books that I read-” Beau hopes that Jester did not hear her wince “-but then he started telling us all the truth about himself and I r ealized that I hadn’t really been recognizing him as a person, more like a character and I like him more now as a real person but I don’t really think...I like like him anymore. But you’re good at women, how do you know when you like someone?” Beau is silent, trying to process Jester admitting what Beau has suspected some of for a while. And then tries to come up with the answer that Jester is looking at Beau expectantly for.
“I'm not as good as you think I am.” Beau says, instead of a real answer. “I mean I’m good at hooking up with women, sure, but…” Beau trails off and winces at herself. “I don’t really know how to tell. You know, if I liked someone.” It’s a bald faced lie. She knows. She knows so intimately, knows so painfully in this moment. She looks at Jester and she aches and she knows . You know you like someone when you feel like this. When you feel your best friend curled up in your arm against your body and you go crazy with how much you want it to be normal but it’s not. You know you like someone when you let her tattoo anything she wants on your body, to make her happy. You know you like someone when you're the only person who sees her pain, and you’d break the whole world to make it better. When the barest brush of her fingers on your skin elates you in way you feel guilty about, when all you want is for her to touch you and mean it the way you do.
She almost doesn’t notice Jester deflate. Almost. She’s so attuned to Jester.
“Hey, hey, no.” She tries, she tries for soothing, thinks maybe she manages panicking. “I think it’s just different. You know? Person to person.”
“Oh.” Jester’s voice is small. “That makes sense, I guess. Have you really never… Liked someone? More than sleeping with them?” Beau sucks in her breath. She tenses out of Jester’s immediate grip. Jester winces.
“I - Wow, uh. Wow, Jes.” Beau’s heart is in her throat, she’s choking on it. Is this what Jester thinks of her? She breaks, somewhere, inside. In the place where she’s been keeping this constant ache, the way she wants Jester, loves her.
“Of course I have, you know? I do feel things.” The words come out before she can stop them.
How is it not obvious? Does she not realize?
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Beau, I didn’t mean it like that, only that you said - I’m sorry I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Jester’s voice climbs to a frantic wail and she scrabbles after Beau’s body, abandoning purpose and throwing her arm over Beau’s torso in a hug. Beau tries not to tense. She fails.
“Beau, I -”
“I can’t believe you can’t fucking tell.” Beau mutters darkly. She can’t prevent it.
“ What ?” Jester pulls back now, looks at Beau. Beau pulls her arm out from under Jester’s head and uses it to prop herself up. Her new tattoo hurts like a motherfucker, but she can’t care.
“I fucking like you , Jes! I’ve been shit at hiding it, for months now, every time I see you, speak to you, every time you touch me, I’ve been losing my mind, because I like you!”
Beau is not finished, actually. She blinks hard and continues, though her voice nears breaking.
“And then you come in here and you look so sad and I have to pretend not to notice and then you give me a tattoo and I’m losing it because you get me like no one else ever has! And you ask me these questions , and I have to pretend like I don’t feel like I’m dying because you’re my best fucking friend! You’re my best friend! We do best friend stuff and it’s so normal for you and I want it to be normal friend stuff for me but it’s not and I hate it because you're the first best friend I’ve ever had, and that’s important to me! And here I am, fucking it up! Because I fucking. Like. You. ” Beau lets herself fall rigidly back down to the bed, on to her back, and stares at the ceiling, holding her arms tightly to her side, careful to not let any part of her touch Jester. Her breathing is rapid and shallow and she isn’t crying. She isn’t. She wipes her cheek with a shrug of her shoulder in a violent motion. She is so very, very tired, but filled with more energy than she ever has been at the same time.
Suddenly her field of vision is filled with Jester, and Beau jerks her head to the side, away, as Jester leans over her, propped up on an arm perilously close to Beau’s shoulder.
“Beau, you should look at me.” Jester says, so gently. Beau winces but does. Jester’s hair is falling in her face, almost tickling Beau’s. Jester is staring at her, so tenderly that Beau’s breath catches.
“I keep thinking how easy it would be to kiss you.” Beau says hoarsely. As long as she’s spilling, right? She hates herself more in this moment than she ever has before, a monumental feat, and she wants to die, wants to be punished by someone for doing this. Jester’s lips form a surprised little ‘o’, only serving to highlight Beau’s point. She tries to wrench her eyes away.
“You should.” Jester says it so softly that Beau thinks she may have imagined it. But Jester is still staring, right at Beau’s lips, she thinks, and she knows that somehow, she actually heard what she thought she had heard.
She doesn’t waste a thought on it, for once, allows her mind go blank and she does. She lifts her neck and shoulders to bring her face to Jester’s, and kisses her, so softly on the mouth.
Her lips are soft, and slightly cooler than Beau’s, a weird sensation. Jester uses the hand she’s not supporting herself with the cradle the back of Beau’s head, her fingers rubbing the shaved stubble on the back of her scalp in the wrong direction, but Beau doesn’t mind. The euphoria in her chest and cheeks and stomach erase everything else. Jester lets Beau control the kiss, and Beau keeps it gentle, mostly chaste, for a long moment before pulling back.
“Easy, just like you said!” Jester’s voice is bright and high pitched, and she’s blushing violet high in her cheeks. She hasn’t moved her hand from the back of Beau’s head. She has so many thoughts, so many feelings. Confusion, elation, guilt, delight, and sheer joy and incredulousness.
“Oh my god, that was your first kiss, wasn’t it?” Beau asks as it dawns on her, like an idiot. She can’t get her thoughts orderly, there are so many, but that one escapes. Jester winces.
“Yes. It’s just. I thought I liked Fjord for so long but I -”
“Let’s not talk about Fjord right now, please?” Beau interjects, as she plans for this to have just been something Jester wanted to try, while simultaneously knowing-hoping that Jester is not that cruel.
“No, but it’s important that you hear this.” Jester says, so matter of factly that Beau clamps her lips shut. “I thought I liked Fjord, but now I’m sure I never really did, actually. I think he was what I thought I was supposed to like. I thought lots of things, but you’re my first best friend too!! And I never thought - I think it- I think it took me a long time to realize that I like girls. Women. I like you. I want to be more than your best friend, too.”
Beau lets her head fall back against the pillow, she’s stunned, she’s breathless, she’s dreaming. She can’t figure out what’s happening. Her heart is pounding, soaring and she’s looking up at Jester’s soft, shy smile, and she raises a hand to gently wipe the first forming tears from Jester’s eye with the pad of her thumb.
“I’m an idiot.” Beau mumbles. “Can I kiss you again?”
“I would like that very much.” Jester says.
So Beau does.