It takes time for Essek’s cough to develop. At first, he thinks it’s just because the sea air didn’t agree with him--it will go away in a day or two, once he gets reacquainted with Rosohna’s air and back to his daily schedule. He is rummaging through his medicine cabinet, looking for something to ease the irritating cough when Jester messages him about bringing them cupcakes.
“It is two o’clock in the morning,” he tells her, snapping more than he means to, but he doesn’t feel well, his throat irritated and swollen. He starts coughing violently almost as soon as the spell with Jester ends.
The appearance of red in his sink would be disturbing regardless, but the appearance of red and orange petals mixed in with the blood gives him pause.
As he lies in bed, trying to sleep and hoping the syrup he’s taken will settle his cough, he tries not to think about the orange-red color of the blooms, and how it reminds him of the color of Caleb’s hair.
Beau’s cough comes much more subtly; so much so, in fact, that she manages to hide it from the Mighty Nein for a long time. A random cough now and again isn’t unusual when you adventure all the time, especially since Beau has a bad habit of not wearing sleeves in cold weather.
Still, even she pauses when she starts coughing up blue and pink petals.
Luckily, Caduceus knows more than her, at least about this. "Hanahaki disease," he tells her, brewing a pot of tea as he talks.
"I've never heard of it before."
"You wouldn't have; it's a Xhorhasian disease originally, although I've heard of it spreading past the borders more frequently. Soldiers carrying it back and forth from the war, you know."
"Is there a cure?"
"Yes, and no," he says, cryptic as always. "You can cut out your heart, and it won’t suffocate you. You could fall in love with someone else."
"Neither of those are good options, man."
"No, they aren't. But magic can--help you deal with it. There are people who have lived many years, full lifetimes, in fact, before Hanahaki has killed them, and with the right herbs and spells it's possible it will die down on its own,” he pours a cup for her, and hands it over. “Tea helps. Soothes the throat."
She's just a little bit suspicious of him. "How do you know so much about it, anyway?"
He stops what he’s doing, and instead pulls a box from his backpack and shows her his growing collection of green flowers, the same dual green color of Fjord's skin. She stops asking questions, and he doesn't give her any more answers, and it becomes a nightly ritual for them, tea and spells and a shared secret, before bed.
Then Yasha comes back, and it helps. Beau doesn’t want to think about why Yasha being back helps with her cough, but--it does.
Not everyone who loves unconditionally develops the Hanahaki disease. Jester longs after Fjord but never once coughs. Caleb pines--for Astrid, for Jester, for anyone to understand his pain--and not once do petals blossom in his throat. Veth stares at Caleb too much, sometimes, especially for a woman with a husband at home, but she's never had to hide flower petals covered in blood.
“Why us?” Beau asks, a quiet night on watch, the two of them awake in the dome, while everyone else sleeps.
“It’s a disease, Beauregard. Why do some people get cancer and others don’t? Why do some people catch a cold and others don’t?” Caduceus explains, a look of fondness on his face before the cough comes, violent red and green erupting from his throat. “We are just lucky, I guess.”
Essek knows what the petals mean, of course. He's Xhorhasian; the disease has its origin from here. Legend says it was a side effect of the Calamity, a blessing from the Wildmother gone wrong, mixed with some vile curse from a Betrayer God, so that the only flowers that grow in Xhorhas are the ones that grow along the inside of someone's throat.
He never thought it would be something he would suffer from, however.
Then again, he never thought himself capable of love, either, much less the deadliest form of unrequited love.
The longer the Mighty Nein are away at Traveler-con, the sicker he gets. It's nearly impossible to hide his condition in court, where he coughs up red-orange blooms nearly every day.
He does not deserve the looks of pity that the Dusk Captain sends his way, shame and fever both making him weak as he excuses himself from the meeting.
Does she suspect Caleb, he wonders? How many others could be that bright orange and red flower growing in his lungs?
You were not born with venom in your veins, Essek repeats to himself, washing the blood off of his hands.
Would you still think that way, he wonders to himself, if you knew about the garden growing inside of me stronger by the hour?
In some ways, Caduceus thinks Beau is handling her disease much better than he is. But he is, if nothing else, an excellent gardener, a purveyor of plants, and one who knows how not to waste anything.
"This is a wonderful tea, Caduceus," Fjord tells him, sipping it gently. They were meditating together, earlier, and Caduceus has suggested tea to finish the evening with. "What’s it made of?"
My love for you is too honest of an answer; instead, he says "It’s a sea flower. I picked it up while we were in Nicodranas, and thought it would make for a good tea.”
Not a lie; Nicodranas is where he first began coughing. Not the truth, either, though, but a wonderful little gray area that Caduceus thrives in.
“Well, it’s delicious,” Fjord smiles, little tusks poking through his grin. “We should have it more often.”
Not a problem, Caduceus thinks, as he’s running out of spaces to hide the petals growing in his lungs.
Yasha makes things better, for Beau. She’s a wonderful distraction: she’s beautiful, and fun to talk to, and when Yasha is there, it is easier for Beau to not want Jester, quite so much. The fact that Yasha is freer with her affections than ever before makes it easier, too. Sometimes, Beau thinks she will get over the Hanahaki disease all on her own. If she could just will her heart to love Yasha -- and that should be easy , Yasha is so very loveable -- and forget about Jester then she will be fine. The flowers in her lungs will die down on her own.
But then Jester will laugh, or smile, or suggest something ridiculous with Veth, and Beau will have to excuse herself, running to the bathroom to cough up blue and pink petals.
Essek doesn’t just cough up orange-red petals, although those are the most frequent offenders in his supernatural cough. The first time he sees a speck of blue among the red he panics, and does what he always does: heads to the library, to do more research.
Although rare, hanahaki can be formed from platonic bonds as well, he reads. Children who are neglected by their parents develop it, longing for a love that isn’t there. And it can develop among friends, too, even, rare cases where a literal physical absence for a friend can cause the disease to develop.
How reassuring, that is, for Essek. He’s not so desperately in love with Caleb as to have made himself sick; instead, he just misses the Mighty Nein. He’ll get better when they return, that’s all. It makes sense that he sees more red-orange than any other color: he’s closer to Caleb than any of the others. Of course he misses him the most; why wouldn’t he?
But the one thing he does know for certain is that jealousy can make the disease accelerate.
The first time the Mighty Nein return to Rosohna, they are there only for an hour, maybe two, before rushing off again. But their presence means Essek doesn’t suffer for days afterwards, able to thrive on limited interactions, morsels of affection that feel like a feast to a starving man.
When the Mighty Nein do return to Rosohna, properly this time, they throw a party to celebrate. Essek is invited, the only non-member of the Mighty Nein to be welcomed so freely into their home, and it warms his heart and fills his soul at the same time. There is music at the party, and dancing, and he’s not felt this at peace in months. He doesn’t cough at all.
Then Jester and Caleb share a light-hearted waltz, a casual affair, and Essek vomits blood-orange petals across their living room floor.
“Is Essek going to die?” Jester’s voice is full of concern, the whole of the Mighty Nein swarming over Essek’s body, where he’s collapsed briefly on the floor. Someone--he thinks it might’ve been Veth--has put a pillow under his head.
“He’s not going to die,” Caduceus explains, healing magic already settling Essek’s stomach and throat.
"He might die."
Caleb, for his part, is picking up orange blossoms off of the living room floor, examining them, studying them carefully, like they might hold secrets or answers.
“Is this a magic thing?” Fjord asks.
“Is he cursed? ” Veth asks, too much excitement in her voice to be showing concern.
Before Caduceus can answer their questions, an unexpected voice pops up: “Hanahaki,” Yasha says quietly, sitting on the floor next to Essek’s body, picking up petals off the flower, and pressing them into her book, blood and all. “It’s a--it’s a thing, here. In Xhorhas.”
“I’ve never heard of it before,” Jester says, holding Essek’s hand and squeezing it gently.
“A plant is growing in his lungs,” Caduceus explains, and his healing magic is already making Essek feel world’s better than he has been in the previous month. Cautiously, Caduceus starts to lie, for Essek’s privacy if nothing else: “I’m not sure what causes it--”
“It’s because he’s in love with someone who doesn’t love him back,” Yasha explains, blunt in her mannerisms. If anyone notices how Caduceus, Beau, and Essek all wince simultaneously, they don’t say anything about it. Yasha leans forward and kisses Essek on the forehead sweetly, and he cannot find it within himself to be mad at her for so bluntly revealing his anguish. “I’m so sorry, Essek.”
“It’s fine,” he says, his voice weak and scratchy.
“You’re in love with someone?” Jester asks, wiggling her eyebrows. “And they don’t love you back? Essek, that’s so sad. Is it anyone I know? Wait,” she gasps. “Is it me? ”
He laughs and coughs in the same breath, and has to hold his hand up to his mouth to catch orange and blue petals that come out of his mouth. He grins at her, his smile toothy and bloody. “Of course it is.”
“I knew it,” she kisses him on the forehead, a loud and playful smooch . “You can start feeling better then, Essek. I love you.”
Her words do help, and he squeezes her hand in return. “Thank you, Jester.”
At that exact moment, Beau begins coughing as well, and when it feels like the whole party turns to her, she just glares at them. “What?” she says. “It’s just a cold.”
“I think we might let Essek rest,” Caduceus says, ever a voice of reason. “Party’s over, for the night.”
There are a few grumbles, but everyone ultimately agrees. Veth and Fjord set up the guest room upstairs for Essek to stay in, and Jester stays by Essek’s side, telling him stories about their adventures, picking up orange blooms and cleaning them before tying them together, making a crown to place on his head.
No one seems to notice Caleb and his collection of red-orange blossoms, like they hold the answer to a question he didn’t think to ask.
Yasha notices, of course. She is so much more perspective than people give her credit for.
Before bed that evening, Yasha confronts Beau, pulls her aside from everyone else.
“You’re in love with her.”
“What?” Beau tries to play it off. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not in love with anyone.”
But then she coughs again, and Yasha merely pulls out her book of flowers, opens it up to a page, and pulls out familiar blue and pink flowers. “Hydrangeas don’t grow where we were traveling. I thought it was odd how I kept finding flowers that were covered in blood, but I didn’t think too much about it. Not until Essek threw up, and then you started coughing.” Yasha stares at her, one eye green and one eye purple, studying her. “You have hanahaki, too, don’t you?”
Beau bites at her lip. “Caduceus does as well.” She says, throwing him under the bridge, as it were. If she’s going to go down, Cad might as well go down, too.
“Fuck.” says Yasha. “Is he in love with Jester too?”
“No,” Beau shakes her head. “Someone--someone else.”
Yasha is quiet for a moment. Perhaps she is thinking about who it is Caduceus could be in love with. Regardless, Beau is grateful for the quiet, for the moment of respite, the attention not on herself. She sits on Yasha’s bed and studies the mural that Jester painted for her, and hopes one day Beau can love flowers again, the way Yasha does.
Right now, all flowers do is make her throat hurt and her heart long.
In the quiet of Yasha’s room, Beau studies the flowers on the wall. Jester really did do a marvelous job in here--the flowers are a beautiful watercolor, and they have a dreamlike quality to them that makes it easy to get lost in them. Quietly, she notices a few dick-shaped flowers that she cannot help but smile at.
Fuck, she thinks suddenly. Even if she were to get over Jester and be with Yasha, it would be like Jester would be in here with them, always. Because of these fucking flowers.
She’s starting to hate flowers.
“I love you, Beau,” Yasha says, her voice small and quiet, so quiet that Beau wonders if she misheard her as it breaks the silence.
She turns away from the mural to look at Yasha, hurting her neck with the speed of which she turns to her. “Yash--”
“But you don’t love me,” Yasha continues, not letting Beau speak. “And that’s okay.”
“No, it’s okay,” Yasha smiles, a little sadly.
“Yash,” Beau says, a frown on her face. “Just because I don’t love you now doesn’t mean I won’t ever love you.”
“I know,” Yasha agrees. “But you love Jester now.” she wipes her eyes, and Beau feels a little foolish, to have not realized Yasha had started crying. “I feel like a fool.”
“You aren’t a fool--”
“No, I mean,” Yasha laughs, wiping her eyes. “I told Caleb to dance with her! I didn’t realize you loved her. I made everything worse."
"Yasha," Beau breathes. "You make everything better. My lungs don't hurt as much when you are here, you know? You make me--you make me feel better."
"But you are in love with Jester."
"Yeah, well," Beau scoffs. "Be glad it's not a contagious disease, or the whole fucking Mighty Nein would have it." She coughs then, a violent abrasion of blue petals in her throat. "I don't even know if Jester likes girls. I don't know if it's even possible for her to love me back," Beau shakes her head. "And I do have feelings for you. Perhaps if you and I just--"
"You don't know that she doesn't love you until you talk to her." Yasha says firmly. "Oh Beau, you must talk to her!”
“Why?” Beau snaps, wiping her own eyes as the tears fall without her consent. “So she can break my heart, too?”
But Yasha takes her hand, and squeezes it gently. “You don’t know until you talk to her. If she loves you back, why, that is a cure in and of itself. And if she doesn’t love you--” Yasha leans forward, and kisses her cheek. “I will be here, to help you if you need me to.”
Beau wraps her arms around Yasha, pulling her into a tight hug. “I don’t deserve you.”
“Love’s not about what you deserve,” Yasha squeezes her once more before letting her go.
In the morning, Caduceus makes breakfast.
In the kitchen sink is a bowl full of sea-green flowers and blood-drops; a particularly anxious cough had gotten the better of him this morning, it seems. On the other side of the sink is a bowl of potatoes, and a knife, and he needs to start peeling them for breakfast, because Jester complains about the skin being left on.
He should throw the flowers away, he knows. He has too many; there is nowhere to put them, he can only make so much tea, and Caleb told him the tea was too bitter last time he made it, so maybe it is only Fjord who can stomach the taste. Or maybe Fjord was lying to him, last time; maybe no one can stand the taste of Caduceus’s love, the symbol of everything he feels, the--
He cuts himself.
Under his breath he mutters a swear; “Wildmother’s tits,” he scowls, and as he turns to grab a towel to stop the bleeding when he finds himself face to face with Fjord.
“I don’t know that the Wildmother would appreciate you using her tits in vain,” Fjord muses, before his eyes catch sight of Caduceus’s bloody hand. “Caduceus!” he exclaims, rushing over with a towel. Bless Fjord and his big heart, Caduceus thinks. He really does care so much. “You’re bleeding!”
“It’s just a little scratch,” Cad tries to explain, as Fjord puts pressure on the wound.
“A little scratch ?” Fjord repeats, looking over Cad’s shoulder at the kitchen sink, filled as it is with petals and blood. “You bled all over the flowers!” He tisks at him, running water over the wound to clean it. “Here,” he says, energy pouring out of his hand onto Caduceus. “It’s not much but--”
But it’s enough. It’s more than enough. Fjord’s lay on hands is simple and not terribly strong, but the Wildmother’s energy is a blessing, a warm and familiar comfort. It’s such a stupid act of kindness, a waste of resouces, but the fact that Fjord cares enough to expend the resources, on Caduceus --
Before he can stop himself, he kisses him, straight on the mouth.
He’s been on edge all night, if he’s being honest with himself. Essek throwing up flowers all over the living room and Yasha blathering about what it means has put him on edge. He didn’t sleep well because of it.
But Fjord’s mouth is soft, and sweet, and he hasn’t recoiled back in horror yet.
He hasn’t kissed him back, either, though, so Caduceus pulls away, feeling a pink flush to his face beneath his fur.
Fjord’s brown eyes are wide like a startled gazelle.
Caduceus hides his face behind his hands. “I’m sorry,” he says, insecurity growing like a raging beast inside of him. “I shouldn’t have--”
Fjord kisses him suddenly, and the flowers dissolve in his lungs as he kisses him back.
Caleb frets over Essek like a worried mother hen. Since waking up, Caleb’s been at Essek’s side all morning, leaving only to get him some tea or water.
It’s nice, actually. It makes Essek’s throat hurt less.
For the most part, though, they don’t talk much; instead, they sit beside each other in the library and read, only making a few comments here or there, most of them related to their spellwork and not Essek’s disease.
That doesn’t mean Caleb isn’t curious, though. He keeps looking like he wants to ask questions, and then stopping himself, and it’s driving Essek crazy, the way he’s tiptoeing around like he’s walking on eggshells.
He doesn’t want Caleb to have to walk on eggshells around him. He wants Caleb to be free, even if it means Caleb asks questions Essek doesn’t want to answer.
Eventually, Essek closes his book loudly, and looks at Caleb point blank. The other wizard has the decency to blush and look a bit sheepishly.
“You want to ask questions,” Essek says, matter of factly. “Ask them.”
“Er,” Caleb rubs the back of his head. “I do not wish to offend, and--”
“You won’t; ask. I’m a wizard, too, you know. I understand wanting to know something. Go ahead and ask.”
He doesn’t say: you are driving me crazy with your not-asking, even though it’s the truth.
“Alright,” Caleb turns, crossing his legs underneath him. “You have a plant growing in your lungs?”
“What kind of plant is it?” Caleb’s question surprises him, and he finds himself blinking slowly in response. “Obviously, it's some sort of flowering plant, but what kind is it?”
“Ah,” Essek rubs the back of his head. “I think it’s some sort of marigold, based on the flower petals.”
“ Fascinating ,” Caleb scratches at his chin. “And does the flower mean anything?”
“How do you mean?”
“Does everyone with this disease produce marigolds?”
“I don’t think so,” Essek laughs lightly. “I think it varies person to person.”
“But that’s so curious!” Caleb flaps his hands around with excitement. “It’s a disease, it has its origins in genetics, but the plants inside people vary! If you caught the disease from someone else, wouldn’t it make sense that the version you caught from them also created marigolds?”
“I don’t think it works like that.”
“Then what does it mean? There must be some reason you are coughing up marigolds, and not some other flower.” He pulls from his pocket a handful of orange-red blooms, and Essek realizes with a lump in his throat that he must have picked those up last night, and kept them with him. “Why not rose petals? Aren’t roses supposed to symbolize love, anyway?”
“I don’t have an answer for you,” Essek shakes his head, amused at Caleb’s line of thinking. “I do not know how much research has been done on hanahaki, after all. It’s a relatively rare disease.”
“Does the color matter?” Caleb muses. At that moment, Frumpkin jumps up from his place on the floor, lying across Caleb’s lap, scattering the flower petals and playing with them. “...Your petals are the color as Frumpkin.”
The petals are the same color as your hair, Essek wants to scream. It’s the color of the piece of amber you keep around your neck, the color of all of your spells, and yes, the color of your damn cat.
“You’ve caught me,” Essek smiles sadly, keeping his eyes on Frumpkin as to not look Caleb in the eyes. “I’m madly in love with your cat.”
“Well, I can hardly blame you,” Caleb picks Frumpkin up, cradling him like a baby. “He’s quite a lovable cat. Unfortunately he’s taken, but I think I could be convinced to share him.”
“Now, that’s quite a deal you’re offering me,” Essek muses, leaning forward to pet the baby-fied Frumpkin in Caleb’s arms. “Sharing a familiar? How intimate.”
“Partial custody,” Caleb agrees, kissing the top of Frumpkin’s head. “You can have him on the weekends, when I’m in Rosohna.”
“Only when you are in Rosohna? Then I would never get to see him.”
“Well,” Caleb looks at him tentatively. “Perhaps if you ever wished to travel with us, I might be convinced to share him more frequently.”
“Hmm,” Essek muses. “Leaving my home and my comfortable government job to go fight monsters in the mud and the muck. I’m not sure you are making a very convincing argument, here.”
“Ah, but you’d get to pet a very adorable cat. Surely that counts for something?” Caleb smiles warmly. “I’ve heard my own company isn’t so terrible, either. Can’t say anything about the mud and the muck, unfortunately.”
“That is perhaps a bit more convincing, when you put it like that.”
They are quiet for a moment, both of them watching as Frumpkin bats at the orange-red petals. Caleb is right, of course; the petals match Frumpkin’s fur almost perfectly. Essek wouldn’t have even thought of that if Caleb hadn’t pointed it out. Eventually, the cat gets bored, jumping off of Caleb’s lap to chase after something else, something more interesting than his master and a quiet wizard who pines for him.
“You’re in love with me, aren’t you?” Caleb whispers into the quiet of the room. “You’ve not coughed all morning that I’ve been by your side, but you were up most of the night coughing. My room is right below where you slept--I heard you all night.”
“I’m sorry,” Essek hangs his head low. “I didn’t mean to keep you up.”
“I’m not,” Caleb groans. “I’m not upset that you kept me awake. I’m worried,” he bites his lip, and picks up a flower petal. “I’m worried that I’m killing you.”
“This isn’t your fault, Caleb,” Essek shakes his head, scooting ever so closer towards Caleb. “This is my burden to bear. I am sorry to cause you worry, but this isn’t--this isn’t something so easily fixed.”
“But I am the cause, am I not?” Caleb whispers, leaning his head closer, so that his forehead almost brushes against Essek’s own. “You’ve not said.”
Defeated, Essek sighs. “Yes. I love you, Caleb. I think perhaps I have always loved you, but I--” he chews on his bottom lip. “It wasn’t until you kissed me on the forehead on that ship that I realized how much I loved you, I don’t think. And I don’t expect you to love me back,” Essek shakes his head, and tries to will himself not to cry. “Because how could you? I betrayed you before you even met me, and I--”
Caleb kisses him, and the butterflies in his stomach find a home in the branches of the flowers of his lungs.
The kiss is not very deep, nor is it extremely passionate, a declaration of love, but it is soft. “I am so sorry,” Caleb whispers, leaning his forehead against Essek. “You are right, I do not love you yet, and yet seeing you suffer so much--”
“It’s okay, Caleb,” Essek reassures him. “I don’t expect you to love me back. It’s okay--it really is.”
“I do feel something though,” Caleb bites his lip. He hasn’t moved any further away from Essek--he is still close enough that they share their breath, that Essek could kiss him, so easily. “I--I do not know if those feelings are love, but,” he pulls Essek’s hand up to his mouth, and kisses his hand gently. “If they could grow into love, and if it would ease your suffering--”
Essek pulls away sharply. “I do not want to force you into anything, Caleb,” he shakes his head. “You do not owe me anything. Just because I have this disease, doesn’t mean you have to try and love me.”
Caleb studies him carefully. “But you could die.”
“Then I must.”
“No,” Essek shakes his head. “I would rather die than force you to act on something you don’t actually feel.”
Caleb is quiet for a moment, and it’s then that Essek realizes he has yet to let go of his hand, as he squeezes it gently. “But saying things like make me feel like I could fall in love with you. With time.” He bows his head again, and kisses Essek’s hand once more. “I’m not going to force myself to fall in love--I do not know that that is possible--but I do feel things for you, things that I think could evolve into love. And if trying would ease your suffering? Then Essek, I must try,” he kisses his hand one last time before letting go. “We would take things slowly. I am not in Rosohna all the time, like you noted earlier. And I may never return your feelings, at least not to the extent of what you feel. But I would like to try. I,” he looks Essek directly in the eyes. “I want to try.”
Essek leans forward to kiss him, and feels the flower in his lungs dissolve as soon as their lips meet.
It wasn’t difficult to find Jester; she was on the roof in the gardens, making a mosaic in the shape of a dick out of flower petals.
Beau couldn’t help but laugh as soon as she saw it.
“Beau!” Jester squeals, running over and dragging Beau closer to her mosaic. “Look what I made!”
“I see that,” Beau laughs, admiring the tasteful artwork. There are orange flower petals, and red ones, and two different colors of green. “Did you use Essek’s hanahaki petals?”
“Yeah! There were so many of them on the floor last night, I just grabbed a whole bunch. Then I found a bowl of these green ones in the kitchen sink, covered in blood. Easy to clean though. I was going to ask Caduceus if I could use them, but uh, he was busy making out with Fjord in the living room, so I thought it would be okay if I took them and then just apologize later.”
“Wait, Cad was making out with Fjord?” Beau asks. Good for him, she thinks, admiring the sea-green petals in the phallic mosaic. “How--how are you feeling about that?”
Jester just shrugs, then starts rearranging some of the petals. “I don’t know. Happy for them, I guess. A little sad. I liked Fjord for a long time, you know? But I’m happy for Caduceus, and if he makes Fjord happy, then I’ll be alright,” she kicks at the mosaic, sending some of the petals flying. “I wish I had some more petals, though. It doesn’t look right.”
“The balls are too small,” Beau agrees, before a genius idea occurs to her. “Oh my god. You need blue petals, so you can make blue balls.”
Jester’s purple irises get impossibly large. “Beauregard,” she half-breathes, half-squeals. “You are the smartest woman I know.”
“I try,” Beau laughs, as Jester wraps her arm around her to hug her tight.
“Where am I going to find blue petals, though?”
“I, uh,” Beau blushes, rubbing the back of her head. “I wanted to talk to you about that, actually.”
Jester looks confused. “About blue petals for my dick mosaic?”
Well, sort of. “No, no, sorry, I just,” she grabs Jester’s hand, and sits down criss-cross in the dirt, pulling Jester to the ground with her. “Last night, when Essek threw up--I started coughing. And I started coughing because...I have hanahaki too.”
“Oh, Beau ,” Jester leans forward, her knees in the grass as she hugs Beau tightly. “It’s because you love Yasha, isn’t it? You just have to talk to her, Beau, I know Yasha can love you back--”
“Jester,” Beau pulls her hands towards her, squeezing them tightly. “It’s not about Yasha. Well. It’s not just about Yasha, although I do care a great deal about Yasha, too. I--”
“Is it Veth? ” Jester gasps. “Oh my gosh, she’s married, Beau! I mean, I know it’s not a boy ‘cause you don’t like boys, and she’s the only other girl other than--”
The lightbulb clicks, and Jester’s eyes get impossibly wide.
“Other than you?” Beau offers, raising her eyebrow slightly.
“Beau,” Jester breathes. “Are you like, totally in love with me?”
“I mean,” she scratches her undercut softly, and then pulls a handful of blue and pink petals from her pocket and hands them over to Jester. “I think so?”
“Oh, Beau,” Jester coos, holding the flowers and studying them, like they are precious gems. “They are beautiful.”
“You don’t, have to say anything if you don’t want to,” Beau winces slightly, her face red even in the eternal night of Rosohna. “Yasha just thought I should say something to you. She said I couldn’t say you didn’t love me if I didn’t give you a chance to.”
“Well, you should listen to Yasha. She’s very smart,” Jester nods solemnly. “Because I love you so much, Beau!”
Beau winces, her face scrunched slightly. “But not in that way?”
“Well,” Jester starts, biting her lip. “I don’t know! I mean, you are extremely attractive, Beau, and you smell really nice, and your arms are like, wow, but I’ve never kissed a girl before--what if I’m bad at it? Or what if I don’t like girls? I mean, I think I like girls, because girls are so pretty and beautiful and smell nice, and--”
Beau kisses her.
It’s a soft kiss, at first, a gentle kiss, meant to say hello, full of possibilities. Beau pulls away quickly, and wills her stomach to stop turning about in circles.
Jester’s eyes are still closed, and when she opens again they flutter open like butterflies. “Oh,” she breathes heavily. “Can we--can we do that again? Please?”
Beau doesn’t hesitate to kiss her again, the petals fading in her lungs with a single touch.