The mood is not as dark as it could be as the five of them return to the inn, given the circumstances. Fjord, Beau, and Jester seem to be taking all this well, or at least better than Caleb and Nott, and Caleb wonders if they have as much to hide. Still, they're making it hard for him to be as worried as he should be, with the Crown's Guard breathing down his neck and probably-innocent people's lives hanging in the balance.
Jester goes in first, speaking to the proprietor about rooms for the evening, and the rest of them stand outside talking, waiting for her to return.
"We have two rooms for the night," Jester says when she comes back. "Everyone should eat and decide what to do."
"Don't have to tell me twice," Beau says, opening the door to the inn and walking inside.
Caleb thinks about the coin in his purse and wonders whether he should just stick to bread, but before he can say anything, Jester claps him on the shoulder.
"Except you," she says. "You come with me."
"I can't," Caleb says, though he doesn't know what she wants. "Nott-"
"Nott will be fine for thirty minutes," Jester says.
He eyes her warily. "What do you plan to do to me for thirty minutes?"
"Scrub you down," she says matter-of-factly.
"Thank you for the offer, but I don't really have the coin to spare," he says.
"I am paying and you are bathing," she says firmly. "I already told the barmaid."
He's deeply torn; truth be told, he really wants that bath, but he doesn't know if he wants to leave Nott alone with virtual strangers to do it. He also doesn't know how literal she's being about scrubbing him, and while it's been a long time since a beautiful person wanted to do anything of the sort with him, he's not the type to jump to such things.
Baser instincts win out, and Caleb crouches, getting on Nott's level. "Will you be okay for a little while?"
"We'll have a drink," Fjord says, putting a hand on Nott's shoulder. "The baths aren't far from the main room."
"I'd like a drink," Nott says hesitantly, and Caleb knows she's wary of contradicting him to agree with Fjord. He's trying to help her with that, prove to her that she can speak her mind without retaliation, and he doesn't want to jeopardize that by not taking her at her word now.
"Okay," he says, squeezing her hand. "Thirty minutes and I'm back."
He lets Jester lead him inside and into a hallway on the far side of the tavern. There's a sign boasting Whitestone taps, an innovation that Caleb is curious about but hasn't been able to read up on; he does know it means hot water fast, and that part he's okay with. He follows Jester through a door and into the bath itself.
The room is unremarkable, wooden walls and stone floor in the way of baths in this area. A pair of benches sit on either side of the room, a towel on each, and there's a large wooden tub that looks ancient but serviceable enough. A kid of maybe sixteen is just dumping a last bucket of steaming water into it, and he slips out quickly when he sees Caleb and Jester come in. The water looks incredibly inviting, and it takes everything in Caleb not to jump in fully clothed.
He looks down at himself and wonders if that's such a bad idea.
"Quickly," Jester says, making a shooing motion at him.
"Are you really staying?" he asks.
"Of course," she says. "Now, clothes off."
Caleb turns his back, carefully taking his books off his shoulders and putting his coat over them before undressing. He honestly doesn't know why he does it; something about this feels weirdly safe, even though he just met this woman this morning. He supposes they've already been through a lot, and something about her makes him want to relax, though it feels like she should be setting his teeth on edge.
She says nothing, not even on seeing the scars that criss-cross his back. He turns towards her when he's done, averting his eyes quickly when he sees that she's half-naked.
"You don't have to do that," he says.
She hums. "But I want to."
"I just want to be sure that you know I'm not asking anything of you," he says carefully.
She crosses the room to him like it's nothing at all, like she's not baring a pair of really gorgeous breasts to him. "You worry so much," she says, stroking a hand over his hair.
"I'm good at it," he says.
A tail wraps gently around his wrist. "But are you really?" she asks. He feels a little lost when she withdraws. "Now, into the water, please."
Caleb walks over to the tub and climbs in, letting out an involuntary sigh of satisfaction at the feeling of the almost-too-hot water. It doesn't even really surprise him when she takes off the rest of her clothing and climbs in behind him, the water rising to splash out just a little on the stone floor.
"Shut your eyes," she says, the only warning he gets before she scoops up two handfuls of water and dumps them on his head. She does it again, and he does manage to shut his eyes this time, though the clean water doesn't sting them. He keeps his eyes shut as he hears her pick up the soap from the little stand by the tub, knowing what's going to happen. Surely enough, the next thing he feels is her hands in his hair. She said she was going to scrub him, and she does, working the soap into the roots of his hair, her fingernails scratching against his scalp. Her motions are efficient but not hurried, like she's really committed to getting him clean even if she might be interested in something else.
"Eyes shut again," she says, though Caleb hasn't opened them, and he plugs his nose as she dumps more water on his head. He feels the suds run down his face; the sensation of having clean hair is one he didn't know he missed until now, but it feels amazing even as it sticks to his skin, plastered to it by the water.
"You may open now," Jester says, and Caleb cautiously runs a hand over his face before he does it. She doesn't give him a warning for the next part, pushing him forward gently, not far enough to put his face in the water. The next thing he feels is her hands on his back, the soap held in one of them. She doesn't ask about his scars, just washes, and he relaxes into it, enjoying the simple contact as much as the sense of being taken as he is, not pushed. He thinks she's probably the type who pushes, in other situations, but she has that sort of feeling to her that he's gotten off other clerics, the focus that comes when caring for another.
Caleb could stand to be cared for.
She cleans his neck and back, all the way from his ears down into the water. Apparently satisfied, she reaches for his hand and puts the soap in it. "Your face next," she says, leaving him to do it, and he scrubs with the soap until he can't feel the grime anymore. Wordlessly, he passes the soap back to her, and she pulls him against her, his back resting on her chest. She reaches around him, scrubbing the soap down his front, lathering it against his chest hair before moving down, across the taut plane of his stomach. For a moment he thinks she's about to touch his cock, but she washes his thighs instead, almost clinical in her movements.
"The feet," she says, handing him the soap again, and it feels heavenly to wash between his toes, every surface of his sore soles, up to his calves. He finishes by dunking them back in the water, rinsing off the suds and wiggling his toes to enjoy the sensation of clean feet in hot water.
"So much better," she says, pulling him back against her again, and he lets himself ease into it, letting her take his weight. Her voice has a different cast to it now, something sneaky about it that he recognizes as being more like her, as he knows her from one day. He's not very surprised when a tail curls around his waist, another point to anchor him. For some reason, he doesn't want to get away; it's a strange feeling, like a muscle flexing that he hasn't used in a long time.
Her breasts are pressed against his back, her soft hands sliding down his abdomen, and she kisses his neck lightly, lips barely brushing his skin. He is reminded of someone trying to catch a bird or tame a skittish horse, and he supposes it's really not that far off, all things considered.
"I can stop," she says softly, and after a moment, Caleb shakes his head.
"Oh, good," she says, and he can hear her grinning. She bites his shoulder just as she reaches down and grabs his cock, and he gasps, arching in her grip. She pulls him against her with her tail, holding him fast; he feels like he should struggle, but he doesn't. It feels so good, her sure hand on him, her teeth against his skin. It's been such a very long time since he let himself have any attention at all, much less sexual, and he wants to soak it up, have everything he can get.
"Let go," she says, tilting his face towards her, and he sees hers for the first time. She looks very pleased with herself, grinning at him, but there's no malice in it, nothing to suggest that she's laughing at him. She kisses him, her lips soft against his even as she takes control.
He'd like to say he lasts, but he doesn't; it's been so long and she's very good with her hands. He gasps into her mouth when he comes, and she holds him through it, wringing out every bit of pleasure until he's totally spent. He lets his head tip back onto her shoulder, and she kisses his temple, her hands and tail still on him, keeping him grounded.
"It's probably past thirty minutes," she says after a long moment, pushing him away gently, and he realizes too late that he forgot about reciprocating.
"Don't you want me to-" he says, letting the sentence hang as he turns towards her.
Jester laughs, kissing the end of his nose. "You look exhausted. It will have to be a thing you owe me."
He can't figure out what to say, so he just watches her as she stands up, climbing out of the tub and wrapping a towel around herself. She goes to his clothing first, making a face. She holds Caleb's shirt out at arm's length and looks at it in disgust. "If I thought you had more clothes, I would burn this."
"I would rather you didn't," he says, because he really doesn't have another one.
"It's two copper for a wash, and this will get one," she says, grabbing his socks while she's at it. "If you feel bad you can pay me back later."
"That's two things I owe you for," he says, standing up, and he wonders how long it's been since he let himself owe anyone anything.
It's more like forty-five minutes before they rejoin the group that Caleb apparently belongs to now. He feels strange wearing his books next to his skin, but with his coat buttoned up, it's not too apparent that Jester stole his clothes; he's just glad she left him his pants.
He feels a wave of guilt when he sees Nott, but it passes when he sees that she doesn't look worried or itchy. She's got a tankard in front of her and is listening to Fjord explaining something, something that involves making hand motions on the table in front of him.
"Oh hey, there you are," Beau says, and Fjord and Nott turn to look.
"Here and much less dirty," Jester says, taking a seat.
"Caleb," Nott says, and behind her mask he can see that her eyes are bright. "Fjord has an idea."
"Really?" he says, pulling out a chair. "I'm curious to hear it."
He feels Jester's tail stroke the small of his back just once, and he listens to the plan.