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Beau was on her way to pick up the booze from her ‘dealer’ (aka an upperclassman she bribed into buying alcohol for her) when she saw some poor sucker sitting in the hall, slumped against the wall in a familiar way. She recognized him, not because he was in her biology class because she didn’t know who half the people were and didn’t care about the rest, but because Jester had told her all about him. His name was Fjord, a freshman with an undeclared minor. He was in one of the beginner art classes with Jester and had quickly endeared himself to her.

“He’s not a great artist,” Jester had told Beau one night, lying on her bed doodling in her sketchbook, “But he actually tries you know? Some people are just doing as little as possible so they can pass and leave but he really cares about doing well. He still needs some practice, but I like his drawings,” She’d grinned to herself as she picked up a colored pencil to add some shading, “He seems to like the ocean a lot, I wonder if he’s a sailor! Texas has beaches right? He could totally be a sailor.”

“Uh-huh,” Was all Beau had offered. She couldn’t help but hear but she tuned out a lot of what Jester said. Jester didn’t mind, if it was really important she would make sure she had Beau’s full attention.

It was pretty obvious that Jester had a crush on him, and from the way Beau had seen Fjord looking at Jester from across the dining hall, he liked her back. Neither had made a move though, maybe now was a chance to give them a nudge. She smirked, walking up and poking Fjord’s leg with her foot.

He jumped a little and looked up, pulling his legs in, “Sorry, was I blockin’ the hall?”

“Nah, you’re good; you’re Fjord, right?”

“Uh yeah, Beauregard right?”

“Beau.”

“Nice to meet ya’ Beau,” He held up a hand and she shook it.

“So, you sexiled?”

“You could…say that.” At that moment, a series of giggles could be heard behind the door he was sitting next to.

“Are there…are there three people in there?” She wasn’t sure if she was impressed or more sorry for Fjord now.

“My roommate brought over some…friends.”

“Who’s your roommate?”

“Mollymauk Tealeaf.”

Beau grinned, “You’re a freshman, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“All the upperclassmen are too smart to get stuck with Mollymauk for a roommate. So, I gotta ask, what is Molly? Guy? Girl? Both? Neither?”

Fjord shrugged, “He doesn’t really care about gender and all that, I just say he because it’s easier when I’m talkin’ to the folks back home.”

“Yeah, I get that. Well I’m about to get some shitty beer then go watch shitty movies with my roommate, wanna come?”

It looked like he was about to decline when an audible moan made its way into the hall, “Yes."

Chapter Text

Jester looked up to ask Beau what took her so long but stopped on the first syllable when she saw the person walking in behind her.

“Hey Jes, sorry about the wait. I picked up a straggler though; you know Fjord, right?”

Beau only called her Jes when she was deliberately being obnoxious. Of course Jester knew Fjord, she’d only been admiring him since the beginning of the semester.


 

Jester had been the first one in the room, eager to catch up with her favorite professor, who had been posting regularly about his travels over the summer. He’d been to all kinds of beautiful places and Jester had been dying to talk to him about some kind of mural using images from the trip. She’d also wanted to show off her new bright blue hair. While they were talking, other students had trickled in, some from previous classes but not all. A few had a look Jester was all too familiar with: ugh why do I have to do this I’m not even an art major. They were probably going to be difficult to deal with, but she would muster through.

It was right when the professor was about to start class that someone…different rushed into class. He was tall, a little scruffy, and somewhat lean though there were hints of muscle tone. He was also panting and flushed, apparently fresh from a run. There was a slip of paper in his hand that he held out to the professor, trying to speak before giving up and just bending over with his hands on his knees.

The professor took the slip and looked over it and the student, the faintest smile on his lips, “Ah, our last minute addition. Welcome, Fjord? Is it?”

“Yeah, Fjord Siemin. Sorry I’m late.” His southern drawl came through a bit slurred as he caught his breath.

“Not at all, you’re right on time. Please, have a seat next to Jester.”

Fjord turned and Jester waved, giving him a friendly grin. He sat down, face still somewhat flushed, and everyone turned their attention back to the professor. Jester kept glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, assessing him. He seemed attentive enough, and he was pretty handsome too, if she did say so herself (and she did).

When they were all given some free-draw time, she immediately turned to him, folding her hands under her chin, “So, Fjord huh? That’s a cool name.” She smiled as he looked over at her then glanced down. He was shy, it was adorable.

“Jester huh? That’s a pretty cool name yourself.”

“I know, thank you! My mother always says I came out of the womb laughing. What about you, what’s the secret behind your name?” She lowered her voice conspiratorially, leaning in closer.

“It’s uh, it’s kinda a family name. My grandpa always claimed that our ancestors sailed all the way from Norway to Texas, so we’ve always tried to take pride in those roots.”

“So your family were like Vikings!”

“Well,” Fjord leaned in a little, “the way Grandpappy told it, they were on the run, so really they were more like pirates.”

“No way!”

“Of course, there’s no way to be sure, but I feel a bit o’ pirate in me,” Fjord changed over to a pirate accent and winked, making Jester giggle. The professor cleared his throat, gently reminding them to get to work. Jester reluctantly pulled herself back and turned to her sketchbook, but not before catching a glimpse of Fjord’s blush. It was shaping up to be a fun semester.

Chapter Text

“So Beau, how do you know Fjord?” Jester tried not to sound too accusing. She knew Beau wasn’t so tactless as to walk right up to him and say ‘Hey my roommate is practically in love with you and keeps staring at you across the dining hall, wanna come hang out in our room?’

“We’re both taking that stupid bio class,” Beau told her, passing over one of the beers and pulling out Jester’s desk chair for Fjord before straddling the back of her own, resting her elbows on the backrest.

“The material isn’t so bad,” Fjord added, “It’s just the professor that’s driving me crazy. I swear we spend more time on pointless tangents than actually learning.”

“I know!” Beau leaned forward, rocking the chair back, “I could probably test better on her stupid cats than any shit about cells.”

“Hey,” Fjord leaned forward, grinning a little, “What did the cell say when his sister stepped on his foot?”

Beau narrowed her eyes suspiciously, “What?”

“Ow! My toe, sis!”

Beau groaned and Jester started giggling, “That was pretty good, Fjord.”

“If those are the jokes you make when you’re sober,” Beau said, “I don’t think I want to hear your drunk ones.”

“So you two have biology together,” Jester said, gesturing between them, “And Beau, don’t you also have chemistry with Yasha?”

“Shut up, Jester,” Beau groaned, dropping her head onto her arms.

“Yasha? Ain’t that the tall chick that’s usually hangin’ around Molly?”

“You know Molly too!?” Jester clapped her hands together, “I have theater class with him, it’s so fun!”

“I think everyone knows Molly, but yeah he’s my roommate.”

“He’s also the reason you’re here,” Beau smirked, tipping back her beer. “Fjord here got sexiled by Molly’s threesome.”

Jester leaned forward eagerly, “Who else was there?”

“I didn’t really get a good look at ‘em,” Fjord admitted, “I just kinda grabbed an apple and wished them Godspeed.”

Beau frowned, “You guys have apples in your room?”

“Molly was usin’ ‘em for a still-life or somethin’ so now we have a bunch of fruit sittin’ in the room.”

“So,” Jester said, trying to get back to their previous topic, “Do you know Yasha then?”

“She stops by the room every now ‘n then when she and Molly are off to do somethin’ but we haven’t really hung out; why do you ask?”

“Beau has a really big crush on her,” Jester staged whispered delightedly.

“Jester! Dude! Not cool!”

“It’s true Beau! You know, I really think you should ask her out.”

“Do you really want to be talking about crushes right now, Jester?” Beau asked, a warning but also a plea to stop.

Jester immediately backed off, “Sorry Beau.”

“It’s alright.” Beau sighed, rolling the beer can in her hands, “I don’t even know if she’s into women, and I really don’t feel like being labelled a ‘predatory lesbian’ again.”

“Did someone here say that?” There was innocence in Jester’s voice but murder in her eyes.

“Nah, just some shit I had to deal with at home.”

“Folks not that acceptin’ of certain things?” Fjord asked, glad they were past the awkwardness of the crush discussion.

“Yeah, something like that.”

“I hear that.”

“What’s your red letter?” Beau asked. “I mean, you don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to I’m just trying to engage in the conversation.”

“Naw it’s alright. I’m bisexual, not exactly a well-known or well-liked concept in a lot of places. I’ve made my peace with it though, no use dwellin’ on that kinda thing.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Beau held out her can and clinked with Fjord before downing half of it in one go. As Fjord and Jester started talking about art or something, she let her thoughts wander to Yasha.


 

It had been fate, in a way, meeting Yasha. Beau was assigned to work the desk at the fitness center on campus as a way of teaching her responsibility and keeping her out of trouble or some shit like that. She didn’t mind too much, the douchebags had learned not to mess with her and she got to go right from work to training. Dairon, one of the coaches, was teaching Beau during the off hours as another incentive for her to take the desk job a little more seriously.

The day she met Yasha, she hadn’t been scheduled to work but Bryce, one of the colleagues she didn’t hate, had had some kind of emergency or whatever and promised her a favor, so she begrudgingly took their shift. It had been a really slow shift since most people were in class or at lunch so Beau had been trying to balance a pencil across her nose. She’d just about gotten in when a gentle voice startled her to attention.

“Uhm, excuse me? I think I need to sign in?”

The woman on the other side of the desk was so Beau’s type it hurt. Tall, obviously strong, and with a hint of ‘don’t fuck with me’ in her stance.

“Uh right, yeah, sign in,” Beau scrambled for the clipboard, “Are you a student here?”

“I am,” She held out her ID.

“Right, cool, thanks,” Beau copied down the information and held the clipboard out, putting the ID at the top, “just sign there. Y’know, Yasha’s a pretty cool name,” she said as Yasha took the board and her ID.

“Thank you,” Yasha nodded and glanced down, “Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

“A pen, yeah totally, sorry,” Beau grabbed the nearest one she could find, mentally kicking herself for looking like a total dumbass. All those thoughts came to a screeching halt when Yasha’s fingers brushed hers as she took the pen. She had calluses, but her skin was still so soft.

Yasha glanced up at her and for a terrified moment Beau thought she might have said that out loud but Yasha just signed her name and passed back the clipboard and pen, “Thank you…Beau?”

“Huh?” Beau glanced down at her name tag, “Oh, yeah. My full name’s Beauregard but I kinda hate it so I put tape over the last part.”

“It’s nice to meet you then, Beau. Have a nice day.” Yasha nodded, and picked up her gym bag, heading towards the punching bag room.

“Yeah thanks you too!” A few people turned at Beau’s slightly-too-loud response but she glared and sent them back to minding their business. Once no one was looking she dropped her head on the desk with a quiet groan. She was so fucked.

Chapter Text

“Hey.”

It’s a sharp voice, feminine but gruff, and one that Caleb recognized from the mandatory biology class he’d put off till this semester. Looking up confirmed the identity of the speaker: Beauregard. She looked pissed off but from what he can tell from the other side of the back row of the lecture hall, she has two moods and that’s one of them.

“Can I help you?”

“You’re smart, right?” Somehow she still managed to sound aggressive as she asked it, like she’s accusing him of something.

“Why?” He stared at her eyebrow, trying to fake eye contact with her almost getting in his face.

She slammed a book down on the desk, The Psychologists’ Handbook, he knew it all too well. “Can you explain this shit to me without talking to me like I’m 5?”

That’s when Caleb realized she’s not mad at him, she’s just mad and he’s there. “You have Ikithon, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” She bit the word out, grinding her teeth.

“He’s an arschloch and he’s full of shit, but he’s only aware of one of those things and he doesn’t care. If you want to pass, you have to play by his rules.” Caleb picked up the book and thumbed the edges of the pages, “I will try to explain this, but I’m not very good at talking to people.”

“Neither am I.”

“Well as long as you don’t punch me in the face I think we might be able to work together.”

“I only punched a guy one time and it’s because he was being a total tool,” Beau’s defensive anger dissipates as she realizes Caleb is smiling just a little. He’s fucking with her. “You’re gonna make it really hard for me not to punch you.”

“Ja, probably.”

Chapter Text

Everyone knew who Mollymauk Tealeaf was. Even people who had never spoken to him before knew who he was. He didn’t exactly try to blend in. His hair was a shock of purple flitting across campus, seemingly everywhere at once. He was always sitting with a group of people in the dining hall, and hardly ever the same people twice. The only constant companion he ever had was Yasha; when she wasn’t studying abroad or off campus she was usually somewhere in his proximity. If you asked anyone what year he was or what his major was, they could give you an approximate guess but there were no certain answers.

Molly and Jester met in the Improv Club and were instantly drawn to each other’s brightly colored hair. Some say they felt the winds of change ripple across the campus that day. The two instantly fell into what was later dubbed a “Bullshit Feedback Loop,” just riffing back and forth with increasingly ridiculous stories about their lives, claiming things likes crawling out of their own graves or allegiance to trickster gods. Things got really out of hand when Molly produced a deck of tarot cards (because of course he just had tarot cards on him) and started doing some complex reading for Jester. The professor for the class arrived in the middle of it but just stood back and watched the madness unfold.

Between Jester’s excessively friendly demeanor and Molly’s near-total disregard for social conventions, they were a force to be reckoned with when on the move together. Her flowing dresses and his…colorful coat ensured that everyone could see them coming from a mile away, but even if they ran they were not necessarily safe. Thankfully for everyone else, Jester usually had club obligations or art to work on, so she wasn’t with Molly too often.


 

Fjord honestly hadn’t been sure what to expect when he found out he was rooming with an upperclassman. He’d been somewhat of a last-minute addition, barely getting from the waitlist to the acceptance list before the start of the semester, so he’d probably just been stuck with a random person who still didn’t have a roommate. It hadn’t concerned him as much as it probably should have that there was a room vacancy this close to the school year but he’d been too busy making sure he’d packed everything and was enrolled in classes.

When he’d checked-in to get his key, the first inkling that he might be in trouble was the slight wince he swears he saw when the Res Advisor looked at his room assignment. The second inkling was really less of an inkling and more of a flashing neon WARNING sign, and it came in the form of a giant dragon tapestry that covered almost the entirety of one of the walls.

“Uhhh.” Fjord looked around, there didn’t seem to be any sign of his roommate even though the door had been open, “Hello?”

“Hi there,” An arm came down around his neck, “Are you the roommate then?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m Fjord, Fjord Siemin.”

“Mollymauk Tealeaf, Molly to my friends, pleasure to meet ya,” The lopsided grin matched the slightly mischievous tone behind the lilting accent. “Can I help with your bags or anything?”

“There’s my duffel and my backpack, that’s about it."

“Is this all you have?” Molly hauled up the duffel bag and followed Fjord into the room, “We need to take you shopping or something.”

“That’s alright, I packed all the necessities.”

“Yes but this is a whole new adventure! A brand new chapter in your life! This is the time to stretch the boundaries of your world and go for something just for the hell of it. You’re still alive Fjord, live a little.” With that, Molly strode out of the room, off to do who-knows-what, leaving Fjord to wonder what the hell he’d just gotten himself into.


 

“Excuse me,” a pair of tattooed hands rested on the desk as the brightly-haired speaker leaned forward, “Could you tell me if the library has House of Holes by Nicholson Baker?"

“Do you have a call number?” Caleb put down the book he’d been reading and turned towards the computer.

“I’m afraid not. Well, I do but not for the book,” They grinned, watching Caleb for any kind of reaction. “Mollymauk Tealeaf, Molly to my friends.”

“Caleb. Widogast.” He responded absently, “We do not have that particular book but we can order it from another library for you, and there are a number of other smutty books upstairs on this shelf if you would like to take a look at those,” Caleb scribbled down the numbers on a piece of paper and held it out, looking at the person’s nose.

“You don’t say,” Mollymauk took the paper and glanced down at it before looking back up at Caleb, “You seemed to find your way around those pretty easily.”

“You are hardly the first person to come in here asking for smut or something else of that nature in an attempt to humiliate me. I don’t know if you’re trying to settle a bet or something but do me a favor: either settle it or lose graciously, stop wasting my time.”

“I can see why that would be annoying, but I assure you my intentions were purely out of curiosity. A friend of mine picked up an interesting read here the other day and I just had to come look for myself. Tell you what, I’m going to go upstairs and peruse the selection and would you do me a huge favor and put in the order for House of Holes? I’ve been dying to finish that thing for ages and I’m not going to pass up an opportunity when I have one.”

“May I see your student ID?”

“Here,” Mollymauk handed over his card, “you hang onto that and I’ll be down in a flash.” He whirled and sauntered off to the staircase, apparently serious about his mission.

Caleb sighed, mentally reminding himself how many days to graduation there were before resigning himself to the task of ordering House of Holes. When Mollymauk returned with a handful of books Caleb scanned them out and passed the stack back with the ID card on top.

“Excellent, how long do I have these for?”

“Three weeks. You will receive an email when the due date is coming up.”

“Do I get to come back and see your charming face again when I turn them in?”

Caleb wasn’t sure if Mollymauk was, well, mocking him but decided not to just let it go, “There are return slots on the front of the desk as well as by the front door, so even if it is after hours, or if there is no one at the desk, you should be able to return them without an issue.”

“Well then, I just may have to come back sometime. Until then, Caleb Widogast.” Mollymauk winked, and strolled out the front door. If he had a tail, Caleb was sure it would be wagging.

Chapter Text

Caleb and Beau were studying in the dining hall. It wasn’t their first choice of locations but Beau was too loud for the library and the usual study areas had enough people to make Caleb nervous about drawing attention. They’d tucked themselves into a back corner booth with Caleb comfortably in the corner of the booth and the wall where the sound was muffled. Beau was straddling her chair in what Fjord had once called the “Riker position” and was rocking back and forth on two of the legs, making sure not to bump into the table.

When someone called Caleb’s name, they looked at each other before turning to see who had spotted him.

“Scheiße,” Caleb cursed under his breath, seeing the person first.

Beau snapped her attention back to Caleb for a second before following his gaze to the waving arm attached to a familiar figure. “Is that Molly?”

“Ja, you know the purple-haired weirdo?”

“Sorta, he’s my friend’s roommate.” Beau turned to look at Caleb, “Has he been bothering you?”

“Yes and no,” Caleb gave a half-shrug, still keeping an eye on Molly, “He likes to come into the library when I’m working and check-out bizarre books, but he doesn’t stay past the transaction.”

“Do you want me to talk to him? Tell him to back off?”

“I don’t think that will be necessary, but I’ll let you know if that changes, thank you, Beau. He’s coming over here, by the way.”

“Well isn’t this a rare sight,” Molly said approaching the table, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in here, Caleb, let alone out of the library.”

“I don’t come here much.”

“Can’t say I blame you, the food here is shit on a good day.” He grimaced slightly at his plate. “Mind if I join you two?”

“We’re working,” Beau responded, staring him down.

“So I see, whatcha got there?” He spun one of the books towards him, “Psychology? Ouch, hope you don’t have Ikithon, I’ve heard some creative nicknames for him. And a few less creative ones."

“Look, Molly? Right? I have an exam I need to pass, so either sit down and shut up, or go away.”

“Aren’t you charming,” Molly sat down, rocking back with a casual lean. “Have we met?"

“No, but I know your roommate.”

“Ah, you’re one of Fjord’s friends. Beauregard, isn’t it?”

“Beau.”

“Pleasure. I think I’ve heard about you, people seem to perceive you as somewhat…”

“Tempestuous?”

“Heinous bitch is the term used most often.”

Beau gave Molly a calculating look. “Alright,” She decided, “I don’t already hate you, so you’re off to a good start.”

“Wait,” Caleb looked up from the paper he’d been reading while ignoring them, “What just happened.”

“We’re bonding,” Beau told him.

“He just called you a heinous bitch.”

“It’s a movie quote,” She explained, “And, I mean, it’s also true.”

“To be fair,” Molly said, “You’ve never kicked anyone in the balls. At least, not that I’ve heard.”

“Not yet anyway,” Caleb responded, half to himself.

“Watch it,” Beau warned, “Could be you.”

“Perhaps but I have the security of knowing that you need my help at least through the next semester so I think my balls are safe.”

Beau pretended to glare at Caleb as he gave her a totally unfazed look. They both went back to work and Molly watched the two for a second before digging into his food with a smirk.

Chapter Text

It was finally fucking Friday. Caleb breathed a sigh of relief; no classes, no work, and he’d taken care of his homework during the study session with Beau. Since he didn’t live on campus they’d agreed that they wouldn’t meet on the weekend, which meant he had it all to himself, and he needed it. Many professors were starting to give the first exams of the semester which meant stress levels were up and he’d dealt with more than one poor soul strung out on too much caffeine and not enough sleep. Sighing again, Caleb opened the door to the apartment, not bothering to turn off the lights as he kicked off his shoes, hung up his coat, and shuffled around to flop onto the couch. He felt Frumpkin jump onto his back, knead his shirt into a more comfortable state of rumpled, and curl up into a purring furball.

This was how Nott found him when she got home. With the light from the hall, she could make out his form on the couch, Frumpkin’s eyes glinting as he looked over at her. It seemed that they’d both had pretty rough days. Nott had had to deal with a lot of new people today, which meant a lot of convincing people that she actually knew what she was doing and that she wasn’t twelve she was just short. Even then, there had been a lot of assholes. Hopefully later tonight she would deal with more of her usual people, for now she just needed fuel and a break.

As silently as possible, Nott took her shoes off, hung her bag and jacket on the hooks by the door, and slipped into the apartment. She turned on the flashlight on her phone, covering it with her fingers to dim it as she made her way to the kitchen. The first thing she did was put dry cat food in Frumpkin’s bowl and refill his water, smiling as she saw him padding over to her.

“Mrrow.”

“Hi kitty,” She whispered, scritching him under the chin before letting him eat.

Opening the fridge, Nott was relieved to see some “healthy ramen” left in the fridge, ramen made with half the flavor packet and mixed with some vegetables that Caleb had taken from the dining room at his college. She pulled out the container and hopped up on the counter, not even bothering to heat it up as she put half of it on a plate and ate by the light of her phone. Another search of the fridge revealed leftover cheap beer so she grabbed two bottles and resumed her previous seat, prying open one of the beers,

Caleb wandered into the kitchen shortly after, mumbling what sounded like a greeting as he rubbed the sleep out of his face. Nott silently slid the remaining ramen over to him, opening the other beer as he put the container in the microwave. The unspoken “how was your day” lingered in the air between them, both knowing the answer and neither wanting to say it. Caleb accepted his beer with a nod, leaning on the counter next to Nott while he waited for his food.

“I should be getting paid tonight,” Nott finally said, “If you make a grocery list I can pick some stuff up on my way home.”

“If you wait till the afternoon, I can go with you,” Caleb said, stopping the microwave before it could beep at him, “My hours should have gone through by then and I would like to stop by the book shop. If that’s alright,” He added.

“Of course,” She reassured him.

“Danke.”

“Bitte.”

Chapter Text

Beau needed a break. She’d been studying almost non-stop for Ikithon’s fucking exam all week, to the point where she wasn’t sure if she was going to pass any other tests her professors gave her but she’d be damned if she didn’t pass that fucking psych exam. It didn’t help that some asshole had skipped work and she was the only one available to cover the shift. She’d been trying to be civil to people, she really had, but everyone was stressed out which meant a lot of people were acting stupid. In order to distract herself she’d been putting her frustration into studying, determined to pass if only out if spite, but it hadn’t done much. Thankfully, it was the end of her shift, and the standing punching bags were free.

She was in the middle of one of her sets when a very familiar voice behind her said, “Uhm, excuse me?”

“What?” Beau whirled mid-kick and ended up banging her toes into the bag, “Ow! Fuck!” She grabbed her foot and hopped around, “What!?” Glancing up, she saw Yasha’s concerned face. “Uh, hi, Yasha.”

“Hi, Beau; I’m sorry I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, just bruised it; what’s up?”

“Well I know you’re off-duty but I was looking for a spotter and you’re the only person here I know.”

“Oh yeah, I can totally do that,” Beau became aware that she was still holding her foot and set it down quickly, flinching as it hit the mat.

“Are you sure you’re alright?”

“I’m fine, just need to wait for the throbbing to go down so I can walk but I can still move it so it’s not broken which is great.” Beau gave an awkward double thumbs-up, internally cringing at herself.

Yasha seemed to hesitate for a second before blurting out “I could carry you? If you want?”

Beau’s brain came to a screeching halt as she processed that sentence, “uhh…”

“Or, you could lean on me, of course; I mean I feel bad because it’s my fault that you hurt yourself and I don’t want you to be in pain while you walk so I just thought that, you know, I could help.”

“Uhh yeah, yeah that would be great, y’know; like it’s not bad but it’s still kinda painful so like I appreciate the help.” Shut up Beau! Her inner monologue of ‘fuckfuckfuck’ was cut off as Yasha scooped her up off the ground in a fireman’s carry. It was definitely not what she was expecting but she couldn’t bring herself to be bothered. They made their way to the weight room, earning a few astonished glances. Beau just grinned and flipped everyone off.

“Ok, I’m going to put you down now.” Yasha gently lowered her back to the floor, waiting till she had her balance before letting her go.

“That was fucking awesome,” Beau said, totally in awe. She’d known that she was attracted to strong women but until now she’d had no idea just how strong Yasha was and damn it was kinda hot. Luckily she managed not to blurt that out as they moved over to one of the machines and Yasha starting doing reps.

Chapter Text

Yasha was conflicted. She’d walked off-campus to a small park she’d found her freshman year and was sitting under a tree near the small stream that formed one edge of the park. Molly was the only other person she’d brought here, and they’d never seen any other students there since it was a fair hike from campus, so they considered it their haven. They’d scattered wildflower seeds at the end of her freshman year and had enjoyed watching them blossom and spread since. She picked a few idly, pressing them into her journal as she sat and thought.

 

People didn’t usually pay attention to her, once they got used to her, and very few people stood out to her. Yet Beau had managed to do both. Yasha had seen her the previous year, when Beau was a freshman, but had chosen to ignore her at the time. The only significant difference between her and the other fresh-faced newbies was that she seemed to actually be as tough as she acted. This year…something had changed. Yasha had been gone most of last spring semester and Beau had not been around when Yasha was doing summer courses and the woman that returned that fall had been…noticeable. And she had noticed Yasha in return. It was…different, and she wasn’t sure yet if that was a good thing or a bad thing. These kinds of feelings were not something she had ever spent a lot of time dwelling on.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Molly said as he plopped down next to her, coat spreading out on the grass.

“Just…going through everything. You talk first, I still need to think.”

“Fair enough. Mind if I rant about Caleb again?”

“Not at all.”

“I still can’t tell if he actually likes me or just puts up with me, it’s very frustrating. I’m charming, I know that; I’m also obnoxious, I know that too; but neither seem to affect him. If there’s some other approach I need to take with this I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is.”

“Maybe he needs to get used to you.”

“I’m in the library practically every week! I’ve been in there more times this semester than all of the previous ones combined, and he’s been there at least 80% of the time. How could he not be used to me by now?”

“You said yourself, you try not to bother him too much while he’s working. He’s used to seeing you but does he really know who you are? How much have you talked to him outside of the library?”

“Not much,” Molly admitted, “He’s not around a lot, I think he leaves as soon as he’s done for the day. Not a lot of opportunities to have a nice chat. Then again,” Molly started to smile as a twinkle appeared in his eye, “There’s nothing that says I can’t make my own opportunities.” He grinned, leaning against Yasha and playing with a clover that he’d picked while he was ranting. Four leaves, as usual with Molly. “So, tell me what’s on your mind.”

Yasha ran her fingers over the flowers and the grass, “How do you know when you like someone?”

“Like like like? Like more than a friend like?”

“Yeah, like that.”

Molly took in a deep breath, settling more comfortably against her arm, “Well…I suppose it’s when they’re the first person you see in a room; no matter how many people are there, your eyes find them first. You start to realize that they’re always just in the back of your mind; even when you’re not thinking about them, you could be at any moment. You find yourself being reminded of them by the smallest things, a smell, a flash of color, a piece of clothing in the window. And you miss them.”

Yasha looked down at the flower she’d started twirling in her fingers: blue. A very familiar shade of blue. She opened her journal to a fresh page and gently pressed the flower into it. As Molly started to doze, she plucked another flower and began idly pulling off the petals, a childish mantra repeating in her head. She knew it was silly, believing her fate was determined by a flower, but that didn’t stop the slight flutter of her heart, when the petals ended on an odd number.

Chapter Text

“Mister Caleb,” Molly slid into the seat across from Caleb, sketchbook in hand.

Caleb looked up, slightly wary at Molly’s unfamiliar, somewhat serious tone. “Mister Mollymauk?”

“I have a slight favor to ask.”

He leaned back a little, “How slight?”

“For my drawing class we’re supposed to practice drawing people, and I was wondering if it would be alright for me to draw you?”

“Why?”

“Well for one thing you actually sit still when you’re studying, unlike a lot of my friends. I can ask someone else if you’re not comfortable with it though, I just saw you here and thought I might as well try.”

There was a moment where Caleb wanted to say no, to ask Molly to find someone else and to get back to his books, but he could tell that Molly was being serious and it made him hesitate. Yes, it was entirely possible this was some bizarre joke; yes, Molly seemed to have a particular tendency to mess with Caleb; yes, this could come back to bite him in the ass. But Caleb’s gut wasn’t telling him that something was wrong.

“Alright, but if you start distracting me I will ask you to leave.”

“You won’t even know I’m here,” Molly promised, the irony of that not passing Caleb. He settled into a cross-legged posture on the library chair, sketchbook in his lap, and got to work.

Caleb had honestly expected to be distracted, to be hyper-aware of Molly’s presence and watching eyes. Instead, Molly barely glanced up at him; the scratching of the pencil and the flipping of pages blended in with the sounds of everyone else studying. As Molly drew, Caleb focused on the books in front of him, taking careful notes on common themes that he would use in his thesis. One hand traced down the lines of poetry while the other scratched out messy shorthand he would decipher at home. Just his luck, the books he’d needed he’d had to get through an interlibrary loan which meant he couldn’t get an extension, and he hadn’t settled on a thesis until last night, and the books were due at the end of the night which meant now was the only opportunity he had to read through them. It was mostly scanning, committing everything to memory, but he still wanted to take the time while he had it to jot down any initial thoughts and feelings.

When Caleb reached the end of the last book, he shut it and sat back with a tired sigh, rubbing his face with his hands. He’d forgotten Molly was there until he pulled his hands down and was abruptly met with brown eyes. It was the first time he’d noticed the color of Molly’s eyes; they were warm, like a lit cabin in the middle of a snowy forest.

“All done there?” Molly asked.

“Ja,” Caleb stretched to crack his back and started rubbing the cramps out of his hands, “Did you get what you needed?”

“And then some, thank you again.” Molly shut his sketchbook and started stretching out his hands as Caleb gathered his materials. “Can I interest you in joining me for a late-night dinner at the hottest dining hall on campus?”

There was a faint hint of a smile on Caleb’s face as he packed his messenger bag, “That is certainly a very tempting offer, but I think I would just like to go home.”

“Alright,” Molly shrugged, “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Caleb gathered up the books to drop at the returns desk, “Good night, Mister Mollymauk.”

“Good night, Mister Caleb.” Molly left with a grin and a wink,

Chapter Text

“I still don’t see why you can’t just talk to her,” Jester said to Beau as they sat up in one of the trees on the edge of campus.

Beau groaned, gently banging her head against the trunk, “Because, she’s just so hot, I get tongue-tied every-time I see her.”

“Basically she’s so hot you can’t think straight.” Jester grinned as Beau flipped the bird.

“You’ve been spending too much time with Fjord.”

“I know, it’s pretty great.” Jester bounced on her branch a little. “Anyways, I agree, I think Yasha is really pretty, and Molly says she’s super nice; but I feel that way about Fjord too and I can talk to him just fine so I’m not sure how to help you.”

“You mean you’ve never seen someone so attractive that your brain just immediately shuts down?”

“I mean,” Jester shrugged, “My mom taught me how to talk to anyone so even if I don’t like the person I can pretend well enough.”

“That sounds like a very useful technique but also kinda weird to teach a kid.”

“Weeeell,” Jester said in that way that meant whatever she’d just said wasn’t as innocuous as it seemed, “It was mostly in case the police or somebody came by.”

“Do I want to know why the police might have been stopping by? Actually,” Beau sat up and leaned forward, “scratch that, I totally want to know.”

“Ok!” Jester leaned in as well, “So when my mom came here she had a temporary visa, and when that expired she had a fake one made so she could keep staying while she worked towards citizenship and built her business.”

“Which is what again?”

Technically it’s a massage parlor…but a few more things than that go on if you know what I mean,” Jester’s voice dropped as she switched to her innuendo tone.

“Gotcha.”

“So while that was going on she needed someone not suspicious to be very nice to anyone snooping around. She’s a citizen now and all of those papers are real so she doesn’t have to worry about that anymore, which is very nice!”

“And the uh, unofficial business?”

Jester just grinned.

“I really want to meet your mom one of these days.”

Jester gasped excitedly and grabbed onto Beau’s arm, almost tipping them both out of the tree, “You should come home with me for the holidays! I can call my mom and have her set up a room for you, or you can stay in my room!”

“Are you sure it’ll be ok?” Beau asked carefully, not wanting to get her hopes up even though that sounded like the best thing ever.

“I’m sure it will be! And even if you can’t stay with us I can stay here with you and she can come up to visit, that way you still get to meet her!”

“Jester, you don’t have to do that…”

“I know, I want to.” Jester got a little more serious for a moment, “Beau, you’re my best friend, I don’t want you to spend Christmas on a lonely campus again. Besides, my mom has been looking forward to meeting you too. I’ve told her all about you.”

“I’m surprised I came up in between you pining after Fjord,” Beau joked, trying not to tear up.

Jester pushed her gently, “Better than you always pining after Yasha.”

“I don’t pine!

“‘Oooh Yasha, she’s sooo hot! I’m sooo gay for her!’” Jester said in a poor imitation of Beau, swooning on her branch.

Beau shoved her playfully, “Oh shut up!"

Chapter Text

Fjord would’ve been lying to say he wasn’t surprised to find Molly in their room on a Friday afternoon. Though they were only a few weeks into the semester, Molly had settled back into  his apparently very active social life and was rarely to be found in the room before midnight. Of course midterms were approaching fast so it was plausible Molly had decided to sequester himself into the room to study, but if so then he had apparently decided to take a break because laying on your back with your head hanging off the bed and a zoned out look was not typically how people studied.

“Y’alright there, Molly?” Fjord asked, setting his stuff down and starting to change out of his work-out gear.

“Just contemplating the intricacies of life, fate, and the humor of the universe.”

“You uh, wanna talk about it?”

Molly hummed, still contemplating, feet kicking in the air, “Hypothetical question: what would you do if you thought that life and fate had brought you to a crossroads of irony and now the universe was laughing at you?”

Fjord paused in the middle of pulling on a fresh shirt, giving Molly a very confused look, “Pardon?”

“It feels like I’m in the middle of some cosmic joke, one that I’m not in on.”

“Well, I don’t know about cosmic, but I think I’ve been where you’re talkin’ about.”

“What did you do?”

“Proved ‘em wrong, flipped ‘em the metaphorical -and sometimes literal- bird.”

Molly smirked, rolling over onto his stomach, “A southern gentleman like you? I can’t imagine.”

Fjord returned the smirk, “I might’ve been raised a gentleman, but I sure wasn’t raised a fool.”

“What a fascinating place the south must be, I must be sure to visit.”

“I’m sure you’d be a smash hit in my hometown, just be careful you don’t give any of the old folks a heart attack.”

“I haven’t the faintest idea to what you might be referring.”

“Riiight,” Fjord let his drawl come out a little stronger, making sure the sarcasm was obvious.

“Are you mocking me?” Molly teased, knowing the answer.

“I would never,” Fjord lied.

Well,” Molly rolled back over in a huff, “I was going to ask for your help but now I don’t think I’ll waste my time.”

“Another hypothetical question?”

“Nothing of the sort. I need models so I can practice drawing people for class, interested?”

“I’m uh, I don’t know Molly, I’m not really the ‘modelling’ type.”

“First of all,” Molly rolled over again so he could sit up on the edge of the bed, “You are a fine specimen of a human being, in more ways than one. Second, no one else has to see the drawings except my professor and a peer who will offer critique which personally I think is ridiculous because we don’t know what we’re talking about. I don’t care how many semesters of art we’ve all taken, we are all full of shit.”

“At least you’re self-aware enough to include yourself in that.”

“I am always aware of my own ignorance; I don’t know anything, it’s part of my charm.”

“Right,” Fjord took that with a bit more skepticism. “I’ll think about the modelling thing, but I’m not makin’ any promises.”

“Of course. Like I said though, you are a fine specimen.” Molly winked, grinning as Fjord gave him an unimpressed look.

Chapter Text

“Excuse me,”

Jester looked up at the soft voice, and found herself looking up and up and up, until she reached Yasha’s face, “Yes?”

“You’re Jester, right?”

“Yes! And you’re Yasha! Molly has told me about you, would you like to sit?”

“Thank you.” Yasha set her food down on the table and took the seat across from Jester. “I’m sorry for bothering you, I normally sit with Molly but I got out of class early and he’s staying longer to work on a project.”

“No no no! You’re not bothering me, I’ve been wanting to meet you!” Jester pressed her hands together excitedly, refraining from clapping as she knew that would draw attention. “So, I have a question,”

“Yes?”

“What is your favorite color and pastry?”

Yasha blinked, “My what?”

“Your favorite color and pastry! I think those are the two most important things you should know about a new friend.”

“I suppose…dark grey and those little cookies with the nuts and powdered sugar?’

“Oh! You mean Mexican wedding cakes?”

“Yes I think so.”

“I love those! One of the women who works in the grocery store my mom and I go to makes those all the times for holidays! I’ll have to remember to bring some back next time I’m home.”

“You don’t have to do that-“

“I really do, there are not a lot of good pastry places around here,” She leaned in close to whisper, “some of them don’t even use cinnamon on their scones.”

“Do all scones have cinnamon?” Yasha was fascinated. There was something oddly intriguing about this conversation.

“Well not all of them,” Jester admitted, “but the really good ones have just the right amount of cinnamon, and none of the scones around here have the right amount of cinnamon. It’s really pretty sad actually; I’ve been trying to find a decently working stove on campus so I can make my own scones; I’m thinking about having a tea party before finals.” Jester suddenly gasped and put her hands on Yasha’s, “I’m going to have a tea party before finals, would you like to come?”

“Oh…I don’t know Jester, I’m not very good with a lot of people…”

“Well what if it’s only a few people? I think more than like ten would be too many anyways; once we get close to finals there’s going to be a lot if stress and you don’t want that much in the same room.”

“Are you planning on having this party in your room?”

Jester pretended to consider that, “I mean, if we put all the furniture in the hall and people get really close together then we could probably fit with juuust enough room for like a small table where we can put the teapot and the cookie tray. Or we can just keep passing the tray around so there’s room for a vase of flowers or something to make the room a little prettier.”

“Will I have to wear a fancy dress and hat,” Yasha mimed a wide brim around her head, “like the ones you see at the Kentucky Derby?”

“You can if you want to,” Jester grinned, resting her chin on her hands, “I think you would look really pretty. But dress codes make things boring so pretty much as long as you’re dressed you’re fine. Does this mean you’ll come???” She perked up, almost vibrating in her seat.

“I will definitely think about it, it sounds like it would be a lot of fun,” Yasha smiled softly, “And I promise I’ll wear clothes."

“Excellent!”

Chapter Text

Dear Dad,

It’s been a remarkably dull few weeks since my last letter. Exams are happening everywhere and I swear I’m getting second-hand anxiety-hives from some of these freshmen. It’s really tempting to offer something to help “calm them down” but I’m pretty sure at least half of them would nark on me. Fucking-freshies. Was I ever that nervous? As a freshman I mean, not in my general life because we both know the answer to that. I’m managing well, been doing a lot of drawings of people which has been kind of challenging. Remind me when I’m home that I want to draw you and Uncle Bo if that’s alright.

Because I know you’re going to ask, Yasha is doing well and sends her love. She’s as charming as always as in fact seems to have gotten herself an interesting admirer. It’s a young woman by the name of Beau who works at the campus gym and has “disaster lesbian” written all over her. I’m honestly not sure sometimes if she’s aware of how much and how badly she’s flirting with Yasha. Yasha, for her part, is trying to figure out if she’s actually interested or just intrigued by the novelty of the experience. Personally, and I will deny I ever said this, I think it could work well. I don’t mind Beau, she’s a bit abrasive but she tries to be aware of boundaries and actually makes an effort.

Speaking of brewing romances, I’ve been waiting to tell you since I wasn’t sure where it was going to go but darling Jester is absolutely smitten with Fjord and my poor roommate doesn’t know what do to. He adores her, how could he not, but I’m not sure he realizes first of all that she is smitten with him and second of all that he is just as smitten with her. If this goes on till December I’m definitely making them play rigged Spin-The-Bottle. I know I said I would stop but you don’t live here Dad, you don’t know.

Now before you ask or figure it out or read in the stars or whatever you do to always seem to know, yes I have met someone that I’m interested in. However, I don’t know if he feels the same, and I want to be sure this time. He doesn’t feel like the same kind of risk-taker I am. If something happens you’ll be the first to know, I promise.

Miss you lots, love you more, see you when I’m home!

Love Molly

Chapter Text

“Oh Fjoooord,”

He looked up, already smiling at the familiar accent, “Afternoon, Jester.”

She plopped down on the grass next to him, skirt spreading out around her, “What are you working on?”

“Tryin’ to do some biology homework.”

“Oh yeah, Beau’s been working on that too, she keeps banging her head against the desk. Is it that hard?”

“Well, if I knew what they were askin’ me it might be easier, but it’s like the professor turned on auto-fill and let her stupid cats walk across the keyboard.” Fjord sighed and put the homework down, rubbing his eyes, “I’ll give it another look over the weekend. How’s your artwork comin’ for class?”

“You mean the architecture sketches?” Fjord nodded. “I’ve pretty much got that done, I’m looking for like one more really good piece to bring it all together. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about a project I have in another class. I need to practice drawing people-“

“And you wanted me to sit for you?”

“Yes!” Jester leaned forward excitedly, “Are you psychic?” she whispered loudly.

Fjord grinned and leaned in as well, “Maybe,” he said with a wink, making Jester giggle in that way that made his heart skip a beat. “Actually, Molly asked me the same thing,” he admitted.

“Oh,” She frowned a little, looking down and picking invisible lint on her skirt, “Well it’s probably going to take a bit of time so if you’re already going to be working with Molly I don’t want to take up more of your time.”

“Well,” Fjord leaned back on his hands, “I haven’t said yes to Molly yet, and I’m pretty sure he’s gotten some drawin’s of other people, so I can check if he’d mind me sittin’ for you instead.”

Jester perked up and leaned in more, putting her hands on Fjord’s knee, “Would you really do that?!”

“Of course, Jester.” Fjord put his hand on hers, “I’d be happy to help you out.”

“Thank you Fjord!” She sprang forward, throwing her arms around his neck, “You’re the best!”

Fjord hesitantly brought his hands up and rested them on her back, “No problem.”

Jester sat back and pulled out a pocket-sized journal, “Here, I don’t think we’ve exchanged numbers yet which is just so weird but I’m going to give you my number now and we can figure out a time. Or, if Molly decides to be a dick then at least you have my number so we can complain about it.” She tore out the paper and handed it to him, “There you go, I’ll see you later!” She sprang to her feet and leaned down to give him another hug before dashing off.

Fjord watched her go, then leaned back to fall down onto the grass with a groan. He pulled out his phone and added Jester to his contacts, smiling at the little heart she’d drawn under her number. Then he texted Molly:

‘Hey you remember how I haven’t complained at all to the RA about the number of times I’ve been sexiled?’

The response was almost immediate: ‘I see where this is going. What do you want?’

‘I just told Jester I’d sit for her, which means I probably won’t be able to do it for you’

‘Sit?

Oh you mean model?'

‘Yeah’

‘Well as much as I am heartbroken by this betrayal I’m never one to stand in the way of love so go git ‘er cowboy’ with a very suggestive emoji.

‘….thanks’

Chapter Text

Nott glanced around the campus, hoping to spot Caleb among the students on their way to and from class. Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be seen. She sighed and pulled her scooter into a parking spot, resigning herself to walking across to the library. It wasn’t that bad of a walk until people who thought that short=child tried to help her find a parent or older sibling. Nott usually managed to park closer to the library where she could just duck in and either find Caleb right away or hang out behind the desk with other workers who knew her.

After a few moments, Nott realized that she’d ended up in a part of campus she was less familiar with…and had no idea which direction the library was. She sighed and tugged her hood up around her face, hoping that if she didn’t look like she was lost people wouldn’t notice her as easily. Unfortunately this had the result of making her run right into someone.

“Hey!” The voice was gruff and annoyed, Nott couldn’t distinguish whether it was male or female. “Watch where you’re going kid. You lost or something?”

Nott glared up from under her hood, “No, I’m not! I know exactly where I’m going.”

“Uh-huh.” The woman, as Nott now guessed, didn’t look like she believed her but also didn’t look like she cared. She was wearing sweatpants and had her hoodie open over a sports bra. Between that and the bag on her shoulder, Nott guessed she’d just come from the gym. “Well my tutor’s waiting for me so if you are lost I’m sure you can find someone else to help you, I need to get to the library.”

“Wait,” Nott said as the woman kept walking, “The library’s that way?”

“Yeah, why?”

“…that’s where I need to go.” Nott admitted.

To her credit, the woman tried not to make it too obvious that she wanted to groan. “Ok, come on. I don’t need to hold your hand, do I?”

“I’m 21.”

“That’s a no then. Awesome.” She hitched her bag up and started walking again, “Coming or what?”

Nott followed behind. The woman walked with an even pace that was easy to keep up with, glancing every now and then to make sure Nott was still with her. Once they reached the library, the woman hopped up the stairs and opened the door, holding it open behind her for Nott.

Caleb was sitting at a table in view of the door. He looked up when Nott and the woman entered, glancing between them with a surprised look on his face. “Beau,” He greeted the woman as she approached, “Nott.”

“Wait,” Nott looked from the woman to Caleb, “Caleb’s your tutor? This is Beau?”

“Yeah,” Beau said, crossing her arms, “What about it? Wait,” She turned to Caleb, “Have you been talking about me?”

“Nott is my best friend and my roommate, we talk about people.”

“What do you say about me?”

“He said you’re a bit aggressive,” Nott informed her, pretty sure based on what little she knew about Beau that it would be taken as a compliment. “But he also said that someone called you a heinous bitch and you didn’t punch them in the face.”

Beau smirked, “It was a movie quote. But also true.” She dropped her bag and sat down leaning the chair back on two legs, “So you stickin’ around?”

“Nope,” Nott reached into her bag and pulled out a plastic container, “Just came to drop this off.” She slid it over to Caleb, “Eat it. Before it gets cold. I’ll see you when I get home.”

“Ja,” Caleb accepted the container a little sheepishly, “thank you. See you at home.”

Beau held up a finger, “Hang on, I have a question.”

Nott crossed her arms and braced herself, “What?”

“What kind of name is Nott?”

“What kind of name is Beau?”

She squinted at Nott, then shrugged, “Fair enough. I have another question though.”

“What?”

“Do you need help finding your way back or do you actually know where you’re going this time?” Beau smirked as Nott casually flipped her off, returning the gesture.

Caleb looked between them and sighed, “I’m going to regret you two meeting, aren’t I?”

The grin Beau gave him was not reassuring, “Yeah probably.”

Chapter Text

 

 

“Yasha!”

Yasha turned and saw Jester across the dining hall, waving to her from an already slightly crowded table. She considered just waving and finding someplace more private until she saw a tattooed hand with painted nails was laying on the back of the chair at the end, reserving it for her. Molly turned and gave her a wave as well, smiling as Jester started using her other hand to signal their location. When Yasha got closer, she could see that the other people at the table weren’t the strangers she was worried they would be. Molly’s roommate (Ford? Fjord?) was sitting next to Molly, arm wrestling with Beau while Caleb (recognizable from the multiple times Molly had pointed him out) sat next to her, intensely focused on a book, trying to avoid getting elbowed.

“Hello,” Yasha said quietly, setting down her plate.

Molly pushed the chair out for her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders when she sat down, giving her a half-hug. “Hello darling, how’s your week been?”

Before Yasha could answer there was a loud thump followed by a quieter “Fuck!” from Fjord as Beau slammed his hand down onto the table.

“Sorry.” She sounded like she was trying to be sincere but she also wasn’t looking at anyone, especially not at Yasha and Molly.

“’s’alright, I think you just bruised it.” Fjord shook out his hand, nodding at Yasha in greeting. “Nice to see ya again.”

“Hello,” Caleb waved awkwardly, “I am Caleb Widogast, I don’t think we’ve actually met.”

“Yasha, nice to meet you. Are you Beau’s friend?” She knew exactly who he was but she couldn’t tell him that without revealing Molly’s interest.

“Officially I’m her tutor but I think we have formed a weird comradeship from putting up with each other so much. She’s also met my roommate and they get along, so I think I’m stuck with her.”

“More like I’m stuck with you,” Beau nudged him with her elbow, “She keep texting me to remind you to eat.”

“You’re roommate’s a she?” Molly tried to seem casual about it but Yasha could see him tapping his fingers against his leg.

“Ja, we agreed to share an apartment when I started school because I did not want to live on campus.”

“Are you two close?”

Caleb shrugged, “I’ve never had a sister before but I think she fits the bill.”

“Aww!” Jester leaned in, “That’s so sweet! I always wanted a sister but the closest I had was the little kids in the building that I helped look after.” She gasped and turned to Beau, grabbing her arm, “Beau! Do you want to be my sister?”

Beau grinned, “Fuck yeah! I’d take you over my actual family any day.”

Jester squeaked happily and half tackled Beau into a hug, catching her off guard and almost sending her crashing into Caleb. Beau recovered though and returned the hug, a wide smile on her face.

Yasha had to catch her breath; Beau’s cocky grin, very different from her usual smirk, had been disarming but her smile was beautiful. Molly, relaxed again now that he knew Caleb didn’t have a secret girlfriend, glanced at her and gently squeezed her arm to stop her from staring before she got caught. He glanced at her with the sympathetic look of someone who knew what it felt like to be unexpectedly smitten with someone you didn’t realize you were that interested in. If she was a little quitter than usual while they finished their meal, no one commented, though more than one person noticed.

Chapter Text

The last thing Nott was expecting to find when she went up to her silent corner tucked away in the back of the upper floor of the library, was another person. Especially not a person with a very colorful coat and glittery jewelry and bright purple hair. Everything about them screamed “look at me” and yet they were in the last place anyone would even think to look. They seemed to be studying from their twisted perch on the chair, curled around a book with neither feet on the floor. In fact one of their feet seemed to be dangling over back.

As Nott paused, just within view, they looked up and smiled, almost instantly turning on the charm. “Afternoon, you lookin’ for something?”

“No, this is where I usually come to study.”

“You don’t go here, do you? I’ve never seen you before.”

“It’s a large campus.”

“Not that large, I’m pretty familiar with everyone’s faces here. Not that it really matters to me I was just trying to figure out if I was supposed to know you.” They swung their leg down to rest on the floor and stretched, reminding Nott of Frumpkin waking up from a map. “I’ll give you your spot back then, it hasn’t really done anything for me except make me tired. Though,” They looked down at the book in their hand, “Perhaps that’s unfair to your spot.”

“Wait, you’re just going to leave? Just like that?” It seemed almost too easy.

“I mean,” They shrugged, “If you want me to stay I’m more than happy to but I’m getting nowhere in this fucking thing,” They waved the book, “And I want to see if the cute librarian is still there."
“Caleb?”

“Ah, you know him then? Would you be able to answer a question for me then?”

“I mean,” She shifted on her feet a little, “I don’t know him very well.”

The colorful person tilted their head at her, considering her answer. “Your name wouldn’t happen to be Nott, would it? He mentioned he lived off campus with someone named Nott and since I’ve never seen you on campus before but you know Caleb and it seemed like too much of a coincidence for me not to ask.”

“I am…Nott.”

“You’re not Nott? Or you’re Nott?”

“No, I’m Nott.”

“You are Nott?”

“I-” She stopped, head starting to spin, “Who the hell are you?”

“Mollymauk Tealeaf, Molly to my friends,” They bowed with a flourish, “Pleasure to meet you.”

Nott crossed her arms, whoever this Molly person was they clearly thought they were charming but she wasn’t swayed. “Why do you want to know about Caleb?”

“Because I’m interested in him.”

“In what way?”

“In any way he’ll let me.” Molly grinned and scooped up their messenger bag, “Nice to meet you, Nott. Enjoy your corner!” They breezed past, waving over their shoulder as they headed towards the stairs.

Nott watched them go for a bit before pulling out her phone and texting Caleb. “Do you know a Molly?”

“He’s an upperclassman. Very colorful. Rooms with Beau’s friend, might be Beau’s friend as well. Why do you ask?”

“Just ran into him upstairs, he’s heading your way. Do I need to be worried about him?”

“I’m pretty sure he’s harmless. Thank you. I’ll text you when I finish my shift.”

“I brought containers at home so we can stop by the dining hall”

“Ok. Molly just got here. See you later.”

Chapter Text

“Pardon me, Caleb? Right?”

Caleb suppressed a groan, there were too many people paying attention to him these days, and he wasn’t entirely sure who’s fault it was, but he was pretty sure he could get away with blaming it on Molly (and that Molly would happily take the credit). When he looked up, he was relieved to see Fjord, one of the saner people among the group.

“Ja, guten Nachmittag, can I help you with something?”

“Yeah Molly asked me to pick up a book for him. I don’t know why he couldn’t do it himself or if I’m even allowed to do it for him but I needed to stop by here anyways.”

“It is unfortunately against library policy to allow students to pick up books on another’s behalf and while with anyone else I might be tempted to make an exception because I know you are not likely to cause shenanigans, I do not want to encourage Molly to test library boundaries the way I’m sure he does every other rule on campus.”

Fjord nodded, half smiling half grimacing, “Yeah that sounds about right. Figured I’d ask anyways. In any case, this may be a stupid question but do you by chance know if there are cookbooks in here?”

Caleb woke up the computer and started pulling up the database, “Is there a particular kind of cookbook you’re looking for?”

“Somethin’ for baking.”

“There is a title listed here called Baking in America: traditional and contemporary favorites from the past 200 years. If you need it right away, I’m afraid it’s checked out and an interlibrary loan would take a few days to arrive.”

“Would it get here before midterms?”

Caleb paused, mentally double checked his internal calendar, and turned to Fjord, “I don’t mean to seem prying or judgmental but, if this is for a midterm assignment, shouldn’t you have gotten it sooner than less than a week before midterms?”

“Well it’s not for midterms per se, y’see Jester was talkin’ the other day about missing the scones they make where she’s from and I was thinkin that I could make some for her since midterms are gonna be hell.”

“Have you tried looking online for something?”

“I did, but I’m trying to mix two different recipes together and the ones I found have slightly different times and temperatures, so I wanted to find a standard recipe to use as a reference.”

“Do you know if the ones at home are homemade or from a store?”

“Homemade.”

“You could ask Beauregard to get in touch with Jester’s mutter and get the recipe. I’m sure she could find a way if you make it a challenge for her.”

Fjord nodded, eyes lighting up as he saw the plan coming together, “Yeah, yeah! That’s a really good idea! Thank you, Caleb.” He pulled his phone out and started to compose a message before stopping and slowly looking back up at Caleb. “I uh, I don’t suppose you have Beau’s number, do you?”

“You don’t?”

“We kinda just keep running into each other and make plans to meet up later, we never actually got around to exchanging numbers.”

“I will text her and get her permission to pass on her number.” He handed Fjord a piece of scrap paper and a pen. “Give me your number so I can text you in case she does not respond in a timely manner, I do not want to keep you.”

Fjord took the paper and wrote down his number as Caleb texted Beau, “Again, thank you, Caleb, I really appreciate this.”

He shrugged, “Hey, I’m at the library info desk, I’m getting you the info.” His phone screen lit up with a message, but it was a reminder from Nott that she was taking an extra shift, so they’d have to run errands tomorrow. “No word from Beauregard, which means it could be a while.”

“Alright; I’ve got some studying I need to get done so I’m going to get find myself a table. If I don’t see ya before I leave, have a good weekend and thanks again for your help.”

“Ja, you too. Good luck with your studying.”

“See ya ‘round, Caleb.”

Chapter Text

It seemed like midterms week dragged on for an eternity. Most of the professors were wise and kind enough to coordinate within their department to make sure that there were as few exams and due dates happening on any single day as possible, but there were still a lot of students with exams across multiple departments that ended up all bunched together. The dining hall was pretty much only crowded during the general lunch rush, otherwise there was an ever-changing scattering of people studying, loading up on caffeine, or just vegetating.

Friday evening found a decent section of the campus gone home for the weekend, with the majority of the remainers somewhere out of sight. In a back corner, Beau was slumped onto the table, too tired to even sleep. Jester sat next to her, hands wrapped around a warm cup of coffee to loosen up the cramps from her art assignments. Fjord leaned back in a chair at the end, mind trying to come down from a whirlwind of Gen Ed cramming. Nott was sitting quietly in a chair further from view of the general dining hall; the heat was out in the apartment so she’d taken advantage of her sort-of friendship with Beau to use the showers in the res hall. Jester had invited her along to dinner to wait for Caleb to get off his shift so that Nott could tell him about the heat. Fjord had already offered to let Caleb into his res hall which meant that now they waited.

When Caleb trudged into the dining hall, he acknowledged Jester’s silent wave with a nod before turning in the direction of food. He joined their table with two sad looking slices of pizza. It seemed like the better option compared to the soups that had been put out. He’d also filled his thermos with (decaf) coffee, mostly to decramp his hands using Jester’s current method. He took the seat next to Nott, moving his arm when she leaned against him. They almost looked like a parent and child, Beau noticed, snorting a little into her arms.

“The heat’s out,” Nott said quietly, not wanting to disturb the peace too much. “I showered on Beau and Jester’s floor, Fjord says he can let you into his building.”

“Ok. Thank you, Fjord.”

“No problem.” Fjord settled his chair on the floor, finally asking the question they’d all been avoiding: “How did everyone’s midterms go?”

There was a collective groan at the table, “I think I got high off the paint and marker fumes,” Jester said.

“I just turned in an elf-page paper that I’m not even sure what it was about anymore,” Caleb said into his coffee.

“I think I passed. Barely.” Beau turned to Caleb, “Ikithon said he was ‘very impressed’ with my progress so far.” A shudder went down her spine and Jester scooted closer to offer comfort. Caleb grimaced, unsure whether to congratulate her or offer his condolences.

“And you, Fjord?”

“Praying for the mercy of the curve in bio but otherwise I think I’m alright.” He rapped on the table just in case.

“There they are! See, I knew they’d all be together.” Molly’s voice rang out clearly in the nearly-deserted dining hall. The group at the table turned to see him and Yasha headed their direction. “Well, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a group of people more in need of a good time in my entire life.

Beau’s first instinct was to blow him off but the part of her brain that really liked bad ideas was a little less restrained when tired, “What kind of bad idea?”

Molly’s grin grew impossibly wider, “I’m so glad you asked.” He pulled a chair over from another table and scooted in next to Fjord. Yasha sat on the edge of the booth seat, trying not to squish Beau into Jester. “I just happen to have acquired a lovely little stash of something, as well as the best booze a college student can afford.”

“Not in the room,” Fjord said almost immediately, “I don’t know what you did but the RA has been on the prowl this week.”

“Oh?” Molly looked amused and delighted, “What makes you think it’s because of me?”

“He passes by our door a lot more than everyone else’s, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him peeking out of his door when I leave the room. He never talks to me so he must be waiting for you.”

Beau wrinkled her nose, “What a fucking creep. Our RA is really uptight about the rules but at least she doesn’t spy on our door.”

“I don’t think she’s getting any,” Jester lowered her voice, “you know.”

“I don’t think ours is either,” Molly said, “and if it’s who I think it is then he’s been trying to nail me for years, in more ways than one. Unfortunately for him, I’m not stupid enough to get busted and he’s not my type.” Molly winked at Caleb, making him blush and stare down at his coffee.

“What kind of stash are we talking about here?” Nott asked, leaning forward to look at Molly from Caleb’s other side.

“I’m not entirely sure. It’s some kind of dried fungus I think. I got it from my usual guy and he’s a nice upstanding fellow. He grows all of his own stuff and I’ve seen the set-up, it’s very impressive and very organic.”

“Organic dried fungus. Well,” Beau shrugged, “first time for everything, I guess. Too bad our RAs suck.”

“I’ll save it for when the heat’s died down a little,” Molly promised, “No fun trying something new on your own. In any case, if we’re not going to do that I do have a new tarot deck I need to get familiar with.”

Jester gasped and nearly jumped out of her seat in excitement, “Can you tell our fortunes?”

“I knew you were going to ask that,” Molly grinned. “That’s one yes, who else is in?”

“Sure, I’ll join in,” Fjord nodded.

“Fuck it, nothing better to do.” Beau sat up and stretched, “I’ll come watch, I don’t think I want you poking around in my past, present, or future.”

“Don’t trust me?”

“Nope.”

“Probably for the best.”

Chapter Text

They relocated to Molly and Fjord’s room, snagging some extra food on their way out. Caleb borrowed a towel and some shower supplies from Molly, blushing and muttering his thanks. He also borrowed some clothes as Jester insisted on taking his clothes to the washing machine (ceding only to not washing the coat as it would have been too much to empty out all the pockets).

“You know,” Jester said, holding it up, “if you want, I can repair the holes. I have some really cute scraps pieces if you want patches, or I can just sew them up so no one sees them.”

“Uh maybe another time, Jester, thank you. I will be back shortly.”

In the meantime, Molly and Jester settled cross-legged on the floor with the others sitting around them on chairs and beds. “What is your question?” Molly asked, shuffling the cards in his hands.

“Hmm.” Jester’s face scrunched up in concentration as she thought about it. “I want to know about my dad. My mom’s told me a few things but I want to know if he’s like still alive, and if I’m ever going to meet him.”

“Ah, a very important question. Let’s see what comes up,” He did a quick, one-handed shuffle, and popped a card up out of the deck, making Jester gasp and clap her hands together in delight. “There’s one. Why don’t you pick the other two?” When Jester had picked her cards, Molly flipped them and leaned over them pensively to study them.

After a little while, Jester leaned forward and pressed her head against Molly’s. “What do they say?” She whispered loudly.

“They say you need to have patience,” Molly whispered back. Jester giggled and punched them gently. “I’m joking but I’m also serious. Look,” He picked one up, “Temperance, it means patience. We also have Judgement here which means that you have a revelation coming. And of course,” He twirled the last one, “The Sun, because you are such a delightful presence and you have good things ahead of you.”

“So does that mean I’m going to find him?”

“It means you will find the right answer when you’re ready for it.”

Jester settled back, chin in her hands, “That’s not very specific.”

“Tarot cards like to be that way.” Molly scooped them up and started shuffling again, “Who’s next? Beau, change your mind? I’ll take that finger as a no.” Molly flipped one back. “Fjord, you seemed interested, ready for a blurry and vaguely helpful look at your future?” Before Fjord could answer, the door opened and Molly turned, “Caleb! You’re just in time, don’t suppose I can-” the rest of the sentence trailed off as Molly got a look at Caleb.

His wet hair had been pulled out of his face into a kind of half ponytail, dripping onto the towel he’d put around his neck. The shirt he’d borrowed from Molly was low-cut and billowy, showing off a hint of ginger chest hair while also giving strong Colin-Firth-in-Pride-and-Prejudice vibes. Caleb had even put on the loaned pants, grateful they were plain black jeans not skinny and so fit surprisingly well. He carried his own clothes in a neatly folded pile that he put on his bag to bring home before removing the towel and holding it out to the still-stunned Molly along with the hair and body wash. The scent of Molly’s lavender wash hung in the air.

“Thank you for letting me borrow these.”

Jester discreetly pinched Molly’s leg, snapping him back to reality. “Uh, right! Of course, anytime. I just wrapped up with Jester, would you like a turn?”

“Nein, not tonight. Perhaps another time. I will get your clothes back to you as soon as I can.”

“No rush,” Molly waved his hand, trying not to turn too abruptly back to the cards, “I don’t think I’ve worn them in a while so I won’t miss them. Fjord, did you want a fortune?”

“You alright there, Molly?” Fjord asked as he traded places with Jester. “You look a little flushed.”

“Fine! Fine.” If he didn’t know that Fjord could be a little oblivious when it came to romance, Molly would think he was being cruel.

“Yeah Molly,” Beau, on the other hand, was not oblivious, “You’re kinda red.”

“It’s just a bit warm in here with so many people, I’m fine.” To support his point, Molly slipped his coat off, rolling up his sleeves to keep them out of the way.

“Not sure what you mean, I’m a little cold actually. Maybe it’s just you.”

“If you’re cold,” Yasha suddenly spoke up, “I could loan you my jacket.”

“Uh…” As Beau’s brain reset, Molly hid his smirk behind shuffling the cards. “Yeah sure; thanks, Yasha.” The dark grey hoodie practically swamped Beau, but she didn’t seem to mind in the least.

As the night came to a close, Nott and Caleb left first, politely declining offers for them to stay the night. Yasha was the next to go, telling Beau she could hold onto the jacket and return it another time. Beau and Jester stayed for a few rounds of cards, switching to Go Fish after Slap Jack proved too hazardous. When they started bundling up to go, Fjord pulled a tin out from the back of his closet, holding it out to Jester while studying the rug intensely.

“I just thought since, y’know, you haven’t been home in a while and I had some free time you might, I dunno, like somethin’ sweet to hold you over till break.”

Jester immediately opened the tin, gasping as the smell hit her first, “Fjord. Are these Mama’s scones?”

“Sorta, I mean I got the recipe from Beau and I haven’t really baked before but-” He was cut off as Jester threw her arms around his neck, planting a big kiss on his cheek.

“Thank you so much, Fjord! Good night, Molly!”

“Night, Jester!”

Molly slapped Fjord on the back after the women left, breaking his stupor, “Well done, Romeo. Very romantic, I approve. You’ve got a little something right here, by the way.” Molly rubbed lightly at the lipstick mark on Fjord’s cheek, careful not to actually smudge it. “I think tonight has been a very productive evening all around, wouldn’t you agree?” Molly gave Fjord another friendly slap, “G’night!”

Chapter Text

 “Auuuuuuugh,” Beau flopped down onto her bed, face first, Yasha’s hoodie pooling around her.

“Are you ok Beau? Do you want a scone?” Jester gently prodded her with the tin, “They’re really good.”

Beau took a scone from the tin, mumbling her thanks as she rolled onto her back, “Jester, if I asked you to kill me right now, would you?”

“No.” Jester sat cross-legged on Beau’s bed, carefully eating a scone over the tin to contain the crumbs.

“What if I asked really, really nicely?”

“Mmm…nope! But you could try, it would probably be really funny!”

Beau flipped her off, taking an angry bite of her scone. “Holy shit, this is good!”

“I know right? He even got the right amount of cinnamon which is really hard to do, Mama must’ve given him great instructions.” Jester poked Beau’s belly, “How did you reach her to get it?”

“Uhhh…” Beau pulled Yasha’s hood over her face, “promise not to get mad?”

Jester leaned in close and lowered her voice, “What did you do, Beau?”

“I may have texted her my number from your phone and deleted the messages so you didn’t see.” She peeked out at Jester’s face and was relieved to see she didn’t look mad, just curious.

“How did you get my password?”

“I watched you put it in one day. I figured it was hack your phone or go through your mail and one has less glitter than the other.”

“I really should clean that up. I can’t believe the whole jar just spilled into the drawer!”

“I’m still finding it on my clothes and shit, fucking craft herpes. If any gets on Yasha’s hoodie, I’m blaming you.”

“If you want we can put cologne or something on it so that she associates that smell with you when you give it back.”

“Why cologne?”

“Because no one is going to believe that you wear perfume.”

“Fair. But I don’t really wear cologne either, so I feel like it’s still weird.”

“What does it smell like now?”

Beau lifted the collar up to her nose, pretending she hadn’t been subtly sniffing it since she got it, “Rain.”

“Ooooo, that’s cool.”

“Speaking of smells, did you get a whiff of Caleb? How does Molly stand smelling like that all the time?”

“I think he only uses it sometimes. I have noticed that Fjord smells like lavender sometimes.”

“Of course you have,” Beau smirked as Jester pushed her. “So does that mean you know what he usually smells like?”

“Maaaybe…he may have loaned me his jacket one time when it was really cold in class.”

“You never get cold.”

Jester shrugged, “He doesn’t need to know that.”

“Jester Lavorre, you shady lady.”

Jester giggled and lay down next to Beau. “Hey Beau, can I ask a stupid question?”

“Sure, Jester.”

“This means that Fjord likes me, right? Like, like likes me?”

“I mean,” Beau shrugged, “I’m not an expert on men, but if I went to the effort of secretly getting a homemade recipe and making scones, it wouldn’t be for just anyone, y’know?”

“Yeah,” Jester smiled. They were quiet for a little while until all of a sudden Jester shot up with a gasp, “I have to get him a gift to tell him I like him too!”

“Couldn’t you just, I dunno, tell him?”

“Well yes but I have to have a gift to go with it, something that shows I really like him!” Jester grabbed Beau’s arm tightly, making the other woman wince a little, “You have to help me.”

“What, why?”

“Because you helped him, so it’s only fair.”

“Ugh, fiiiine. Can I sleep first? It’s like 3am.”

“Of course, Beau.” Jester hopped up and changed into her pajamas before turning off the light since it didn’t look like Beau was going to move. She snuggled under her blankets with a happy sigh, “Good night, Beau.”

“Night, Jester.”

Chapter Text

Yasha was not afraid of the dark, hadn’t been since she was little. The dark felt safe to her, no one was looking, no one else was there except a few other wandering souls and occasionally some trouble, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She knew the back paths and alleys of the area pretty well by now, if there were people she wanted to avoid it wouldn’t be hard. Besides, most people took one look at her and decided to go the other way.

It was as she was passing the side alley of one of the local bars that she heard a crashing noise and a strangely familiar voice saying “Ow! Fuck!”

“Hello?”

Dead silence. Then, “Nobody’s here, go away!”

“Nott?” Now she could place the voice, it was Caleb’s roommate.

“Who’s there?” A head popped up from inside the dumpster, “Yasha?”

“Hi…are you alright?”

“Yep! Totally fine! No problem here.”

“Are you sure?”

“…I may need some help getting out…”

Yasha walked over to the dumpster and gave Nott her hands, letting her use them for leverage as she pressed her feet against the sides of the dumpster and climbed up. Nott stepped out onto a stack of crates next to the dumpster and brushed herself off before picking up a trash bag that was sitting on a lower tier of the crates and hefting it in.

“Thanks, Yasha.”

“No problem.”

“Just so you know,” Nott said a little quickly, “I don’t usually go dumpster diving behind bars. I was taking out the trash and threw the bag too hard and fell in.”

“I wasn’t judging,” Yasha assured her, “I was just going to tell you that I’ve had better luck behind fast food restaurants, if you’re looking.” She shrugged, “Bar dumpsters tend to have more drink leaks.”

Nott looked at her, almost at the same height from her perch on the crates, “The Chinese place clears out their fridge on Wednesday nights,” She shrugged, hands shoved into her hoodie pockets, “If you’re looking. Yasha…”

“Yes?”

“Would you mind not mentioning this to anyone? It’s a little embarrassing to be caught in a dumpster, no matter what the reasons.”

“Of course, Nott. Would you like me to walk with you anywhere?”

Nott glanced around at the dark alley and streets, “If you don’t mind. I don’t want to delay you.”

“I don’t have anywhere to be, I just felt like a walk.”

“In the middle of the night?”

“Fewer people out at this time.”

“That’s true.” They walked out to the streets, Yasha following Nott’s lead towards a community parking lot. “Do you walk around a lot at night?”

“I mean, a few times a week usually, more if it’s been really stressful. I live on campus so I can be close to my classes and the dining hall but I enjoy getting off campus when I can.”

“Does your roommate ever worry about you being out at all hours?”

“I actually live alone, the person I was supposed to room with never showed up and they haven’t placed me with a new person. My past roommates were all random, and we never got close.”

“That sounds kind of lonely.”

“I don’t mind. Besides, I have Molly when I need to be around other people.”

“He does know how to draw attention to himself.” Nott stopped beside a small green moped. “This is mine. I can offer you a ride to campus, but it might be a bit of a squeeze. Caleb has a hard time staying on and he’s practically a twig! Although it would probably help if he stopped trying to read on the road.”

“I can walk back, thank you, Nott.”

“Thank you.” She got on and strapped on her helmet. “I guess I’ll see you around. Good night, Yasha.”

“Good night.”

Chapter Text

Fjord had grown up mostly a morning person, working jobs that required him to be up sometimes even before the sun, and hadn’t seen a reason to break those habits in college. So far it hadn’t bothered Molly, who seemed to work totally without a regular schedule, and he happened to be alone in the room when someone knocked on the door as he was about to head out for a Saturday morning workout. He opened it to find Beau standing there in her usual athleisure wear.

“Hey.”

“Mornin’ Beau. Can I help you?”

“I’m not bothering you, am I?”

“I was just about to go for a jog before hitting the gym; I can wait though, or you could join me, if you’d like.”

“Yeah I’ll come with you.” She fell into step next to him as they headed out of the dorm, “I wanted to talk with you about something.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“I…” she kicked at the ground a little, “How do I not be a dick to people?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re like this really charming guy and people seem to like you a lot and I just piss off everyone I meet.”

“Well not everyone,” Fjord reassured her, “You’ve made a good number of friends here. There’s me and Jester, and Molly and Yasha seem to like you alright. I’m pretty sure you and Caleb are friends at this point, and you said yourself that Nott’s somewhat attached herself to you.”

“Yeah, but I still have to talk to people that aren’t my friends, and I wanna know how to do that without making them terrified or really mad.”

“Well Beau, I appreciate you coming to me with this, and I will certainly do my best to help you.”

“Thanks.” They were headed towards the edge of campus now, the morning fog still curling back. “Sooo, what now?”

“I’d rather not try to coach and workout at the same time so how about I text you when I’m free and we can meet up to start talking about it.”

“Ok, cool. Cool cool,” They stopped on the sidewalk and Beau shuffled her feet for a moment, trying to act casual. “See ya, Fjord.” She turned abruptly on her heel and walked away, not even waiting for a response. As she crossed back to her own dorm, she spotted a familiar, brightly colored figure walking towards her. “Molly?”

“Beau!” He grinned, “Fancy seeing you this morning. Walk of shame?”

“That implies I’ve done something I regret.”

“Or someone.”

“Either way, hasn’t happened yet. What about you?”

“Walk of a different sort,” He held up his shoulder bag, “Fell asleep studying.”

“Wait, seriously?”

Molly opened the flap on the bag to show her his books, “I suppose I should say trying to study. Emerson is not exactly exciting.”

“History?”

“English, essay on nature. The way the man writes you’d swear he wants to fuck a tree; not that I’m trying to kinkshame him or anything, I just don’t see the appeal in sticking it in something that could give you dick splinters.”

Beau snorted, “I’ve known a few people you could call that.”

“Haven’t we all,” Molly stretched his arms over his head, “well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go sleep in a more comfortable spot for an obscenely long time. Ciao!”

“See ya, Molly.”

Chapter Text

“Mollymauk, was this you?”

Molly looked up from his sketchbook, already smiling at the accented question, “Pardon?” He saw the black card in Caleb’s hand, “Ah, you got the invitation. What do you think? I wasn’t sure whether to do gold or silver so I just tried to balance both.”

“It’s very shiny, I’m surprised it doesn’t have more glitter.”

“Glitter is tragically not spooky unless done absolutely right, and when you’re hand-decorating invitations there’s simply not enough time. So, is this your way of RSVPing?”

“‘You are cordially invited to the Tri-Spires Players’ All Hallows’ Eve Performances featuring old and new members reciting original and classic spooky stories and poems,’” Caleb recited, “Is this some big campus event I didn’t hear about?”

“Not in the slightest,” Molly leaned back, “This is an annual tradition started by yours truly where the thespian society invites their friends and family to enjoy a private performance in honor of the Halloween season.”

“Any particular reason?”

“We lost haunted house privileges after an unfortunate incident that surprisingly had nothing to do with me as I was not here at the time.”

“Why me?”

“I thought you might enjoy seeing classic literature brought to life. You can bring Nott, too, if you want, we’re taking over the theater so there’ll be plenty of seats.”

“When is the latest I can let you know?”

“Well there’s no official RSVP since we won’t be filling the theater so as long as you’re there before we close the doors you’re good.”

“Alright, I will think about it. Thank you, Mister Mollymauk.”

“Of course, Mister Caleb.”


 

Nott was a little reluctant to go; she liked scary stuff for the most part, but she wasn’t sure about going to a theater production. However, Caleb had decided to go and she didn’t have a shift that night so she tagged along. They entered the theater, receiving programs from a silent, hooded figure at the door, and headed to the front where Nott would be able to see. Both were a little surprised to see Fjord and Beau already there on the end of the row.

“Hey,” Beau greeted them, “Jester give you an invite too?”

“Mollymauk, actually.”

“Me too,” Fjord held up his, “Anyone know what’s going to happen here?”

“Nope,” Beau shrugged, “Jester wasn’t in the thespian society last year so she was doing tech and couldn’t invite anyone.”

“I’ve never gotten an invite before.”

“Neither have I,” Nott added, grinning at Beau’s unamused stare and Fjord’s dawning realization.

“You don’t even go here,” Beau told her.

“I know, I just have a lot of feelings.” Nott took the seat next to Beau, sneaking a sip from her flask as she settled in. Caleb sat on the other side of Nott and pulled out his book, sneaking in a few lines of reading while they waited for the show to start.

The lights went out. Slam! Slam! Slam! The doors at the back of the theater closed, shutting out the light from the hall. Silence fell as the audience waited to find out what would happen next. Whispers came from the shadows, starting in the back corners and spreading down the aisles. There were rushes of wind as people ran by, totally silent. The whispers grew in volume, no discernable words, until they cut out abruptly as a single spotlight came on the stage.

There stood a masked figure, deathly pale, pitch black hair carefully styled. The mask was plain black, as was the suit they wore under a long cape.

“Welcome. A Happy All Hallows’ Eve to you all.” The voice was deep and rumbling. “The things you are about to see and hear tonight are all real and true. But of course, only for tonight, as the spirits walk among us. And so, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.” They gave a sweeping bow and disappeared into the shadows as the spotlight turned off.

The show opened with a dramatic reading of “The Raven,” enhanced with sounds effects of tapping, and howling wind, and whispers. When the poem came to the entrance of the Raven, a figure in a feathered cloak with a beaked mask stepped forward and must’ve been standing on a hidden platform because he loomed over the speaker. He never spoke, except to echo “Nevermore” in a rasping voice. Even as the speaker’s words grew into a frenzy, and they ended up on their knees with their back to the audience as they pleaded with the Raven to leave, he did not move except to repeat that single word.

Jester’s first appearance on stage was during a performance of “The Green Ribbon.” One performer read the story while Jester and another actor played the parts of Jenny and Alfred. Beau, unfamiliar with the story, exchanged a look with Fjord who just shrugged, having no idea where it was going either. When it came to the end, and the ribbon was removed, there was more than one shriek in the audience when Jester’s head dropped into her hands. She would never admit it, but Beau even jumped into her seat.

The final piece of the evening was an original. There had been a handful through the night, all well-written and well-performed, so the audience sat in anticipation. A light came up on a person sitting on the floor next to their bed. Their knees were pulled up to their chin and their arms curled over their head, covering their face. For a long time, nothing happened, the only sound was breathing. From out of the darkness, figures began to appear. Masked, hooded, or otherwise covered, it was impossible to tell who was who.

Slowly, they crept forward, some even coming down the aisles and up the steps of the stage. They formed a circle around the person, silent, watching, staying just out of the main circle of light. One final figure appeared behind them and crawled onto the bed. They ran their fingers through the person’s hair, leaning down to run their other hand down the person’s chest in what would be a comforting gesture if not for their menacing grin.

“You’re not alone.” The voice, not quite a whisper, seemed to echo through the theater. The hand in the hair tightened and pulled the person’s head back to expose their face and neck, eliciting a noise between a gasp and a sob. The figure nuzzled the person’s neck. “We are always here.” The other figures surged forward as the light went out.

For a moment, there was silence and darkness. Then, the lights came up to reveal the actors standing in a line. One by one, alternating from end to end, they removed their hoods and masks to reveal the friendly faces underneath. The audience rose to their feet, applauding and cheering as their friends and family members each took a bow. Finally, the actor in the middle, the narrator from the beginning, the Raven, and the figure on the bed, lifted his mask.

“It’s Molly!” Beau hissed, looking at Fjord, Nott, and Caleb who were just as surprised. The make-up covered his tattoos, his hair had been colored black, and his clothes were much plainer than anything he owned, effectively concealing his identity. He grinned and took his bow, winking at the gaping faces in the front row.

After the actors had changed out of their costumes and removed the majority of their make-up, cast and crew emerged to mingle with the audience. Yasha came out from behind the curtains where she’d been helping move props and furniture. She joined Beau and the others, greeting them with a small smile. Jester and Molly came out shortly after, both grinning broadly and still buzzing with the adrenaline of a show.

“Well!” Molly said, holding his arms out in a grand gesture, “What did you think?”

“That was very well done, Molly,” Fjord said. “I can’t believe I didn’t realize it was you the whole time.”

“Magic of the theater, it’s a wonderous thing.”

“It was pretty cool,” Beau admitted, “Way better than the haunted house last year.”

“I know right?” Jester bounced on the balls of her feet, “They really messed up when they took theater off the event.”

“In their defense,” Molly said, “From what I’ve heard there may have been a small fire due to some over-enthusiastic thespians.”

“Sounds familiar,” Beau smirked, “Candles, good in theory, not great in actuality.”

Molly grinned back, “Only if you’re using them for the wax and you’re very careful where you set them down. Mister Caleb,” He turned abruptly, “What did you think.”

“Ja it was a good show, simple but good.”

“Nott, pleasure to see you here, what about you?”

“I think you’re all nuts! Who wrote that scene at the end?”

“I did.”

“You’re insane!”

“Thank you,” He bowed, “So! Who’s up for late-night in the dining hall? I hear they have tater tots tonight.”

“Race you!” Jester took off running, Beau following close behind

“Caleb, let me on your shoulders and let’s get them!”

“Nott, I would love to, but I am not nearly physically fit enough for that.”

“Oh, I guess that’s true.”

“If you want,” Yasha said, “You can ride my shoulders.”

“Yes!” Nott grinned as Yasha helped her up, “Let’s go!” They took off, leaving the men behind in their dust.

Chapter Text

“Caleb!”

The sudden call from across the campus lawn would have been more jolting if he hadn’t immediately recognized Jester’s voice. Sure enough, he turned to see her waving excitedly at him from the branch of a tree. It looked like Beau and Molly were also in the tree while Yasha and Fjord sat underneath. To his surprise, Nott was also in one of the higher branches of the tree.

“Guten Nachmittag, what brings you all out today?”

“Unseasonably warm weather, hard to resist taking advantage,” Molly leaned over on his branch to smile down at Caleb. The straps on his sundress were falling off his shoulders and the way he was kicking his feet made the skirt flutter. “Won’t you join us for a spell?”

“We’ll probably be heading in soon though, looks like a storm’s coming in,” Fjord nodded at the clouds rolling in beyond one of the academic buildings. The wind also had picked up, blowing dead leaves across the grass.

Yasha turned her face to the wind, closing her eyes with an almost peaceful look on her face, “I don’t mind a little rain, I’ll wait till it comes in before leaving.”

“I’m certainly not in a rush,” Molly added.

Jester waved wildly again, making her branch sway, “Caleb! Do you want to come up in the tree!”

“It’s very high!” Nott was clinging to the trunk of the tree but had a huge grin on her face. She had to yell a bit louder to be heard.

“Nein, I think I’m happy on the ground.” He pulled a book out of his bag and settled down cross-legged to read, letting the conversations of the others drift into the background.

The clouds continued to drift in on the wind, stealing away the last of the sunshine and most of the warmth. Those in the tree began making their way down, holding out hands to help each other find balance. Molly at one point “accidentally” jostled the branch that Beau was grabbing, resulting in a brief battle to try and make each other lose balance before Nott screeched at them to “knock it off before she jumped onto one of their heads.” Still, no one was quite ready to go in, silently challenging Mother Nature.

The rain came in swiftly and with no build-up. A sheet of pouring water blew over the campus, drenching them in less than a minute. Yasha tipped her head back to let the drops fall down her face. Jester shrieked with delight, Nott in terror. Before Caleb could get to her, though, Molly had already draped his coat over her head to offer some protection. Caleb scooped her up onto his back so she wouldn’t have to walk in the rain and they all trudged towards the nearest building- the campus bookstore and café.

“Hello there!” Called a friendly voice, “What can I do for you today?” The man behind the bookstore register smiled widely, his curly hair and round face fitting well with his broad frame.

“Hello,” Fjord stepped forward a little, staying on the floor mat as he wrung his shirt out, “We were just looking to get in out of the rain.”

“Oh yeah, it sure came in quick huh? Well, take your time, get dry, and holler if you need anything. The name’s Pumat-Sol.”

“Much obliged. Say, you don’t know if the café’s open yet do you?”

“No not yet, but I hear they’ve found someone to take over. It’ll be nice to have the place up and running again, I would’ve done it myself but I don’t really have the knack for it.”

Jester bounced up and down, “Do you think they’ll have scones!?”

“I couldn’t say for sure, but I would imagine what with scones being somewhat of a staple among tea drinkers’ choice of pastries that there would be at least a small selection from which to choose from. Of course, that’s only a speculation on my part. Y’know, if you’d like you can go sit in the café area so you don’t all have to squeeze together on that mat. I was planning to mop the floors anyways so a little extra water won’t hurt too much.”

“You are a blessing!” Molly broke off from the pack to take a seat, Yasha close behind. The others wrung themselves out a little more before following, settling in as the rain continued to fall with no regard for the people who had other places they needed to get to.

A sneeze drew Caleb’s attention from making sure his book hadn’t gotten too wet, his instinctive “gesundheit joining the choruses of “bless you”s as everyone looked at Molly. Caleb took a moment to take in the flimsy dress, the dripping hair, and the goosebumps, before standing up and taking off his coat to drape over Molly’s shoulders. He sat back down immediately, feeling the flush creep up his neck and ears as the others stared at him. The pleasantly surprised smile on Molly’s face shone in his peripheral vision.

“Thank you, Mr. Caleb.”

“Ja, no problem.”

Mercifully, the deluge only lasted ten minutes before lightening to a gentle sprinkle. As the sun started poking through the clouds again, the group got ready to leave.

Beau stretched her arms over her head, leaning back a little bit, “I’m going to go for a run. Fjord, you want to come?”

“I would but I’ve got art stuff I need to work on.”

“Me too, can I come with you?”

“Sure, Jester.”

“Have fun with that. Caleb, we still good to study tomorrow?”

“Ja.”

“Cool, see you later.”

“Guten abend.”

As the three of them left, Molly returned Caleb’s coat and accepted his own from Nott.

“Caleb?” Yasha asked, “What was that you said to Beau? Gu- glu-“

“Guten. Abend.”

“Gluten almonds,” Molly interrupted.

“Oh! Gluten almond!”

Caleb narrowed his eyes at them, just barely holding back a smile, “Ja, ok. Guten nacht.”

“Present!” Nott piped up. She did her best to look innocent as Caleb silently accused her of betrayal.

Chapter Text

Caleb like to think he was usually a pretty perceptive guy, staying aware of where people were and the quickest route to the exit. So it was more than a little disconcerting when he found himself suddenly pinned to the shelf he was restocking, bracketed between someone’s arms. As his mind was racing between being concerned (terrified) and laughing at the fact that this was a very cliché scene from some high school movie about a kid who was bullied, he saw the familiar snake tattoo on the back of the hand.

“Guten abend, Herr Caleb.” The voice brushed up against his ear.

“Guten abend, Herr Mollymauk.” There was no room for him to turn around without making full contact with Molly so Caleb kept his eyes on the shelves. “Can I help you with something?”

“Fjord said that Beau said that Nott said you brought in the clothes you borrowed, so I came to return your coat. I figured if you were half as fond of yours as I am of mine then you’d prefer to have it back as soon as possible. Don’t worry, I didn’t try to wash it, I just hung it up to air dry.”

“Danke. I washed the shirt and trousers but not the coat. However, they are all downstairs with my bag. I can go get them for you once I finish shelving these books.”

“No rush.” Molly didn’t move.”

“Do you have something else you can do while you wait?”

“Am I making you uncomfortable, Caleb?”

“No,” He lied, “but you are getting in the way of my work.”

“Liar,” Molly teased, pulling his arms back and stepping away. “Not a fan of getting up close and personal?”

“I don’t like being snuck up on and trapped from behind.” Caleb put a book on the shelf with a little more force than was necessary, “Especially when I am working.”

There was silence. Caleb shelved three more books before turning to look at Molly. The other was leaning against the opposite shelf, arms crossed, not making eye contact. In fact, he was looking down, almost like he was embarrassed?

“You’re right,” Molly finally said, “I’m sorry. That was creepy and inappropriate. I’ll let you get back to work.” He turned and disappeared down the shelves.

Caleb took his time with the rest of the books, letting his mind settle down. He was glad Molly had apologized, and looked like he meant it, but that didn’t change the fact that he’d crossed a line. Luckily, Molly seemed to have learned his lesson and likely wouldn’t be doing it again, but Caleb would be keeping an extra eye out for bright purple hair just in case.

When he got back down to the desk, his coat was resting on the back of his chair and the bag with Molly’s clothes was gone. Pinned to the collar was a ripped note with a number on it. Crammed in the margin was the barely legible message: In case you need it -Mollymauk

Chapter Text

Jester found Molly in the smaller studio late that night. It wasn’t uncommon to find art students holed up somewhere in the building working on one thing or another, trying not to (or, in some cases, trying to) get high off paint fumes. Molly wasn’t working though. He sat on a stool in front of a blank canvas, coat off, sleeves rolled up, absolutely still.

“Molly? Are you alright?”

“Hmm?” He turned, smiling a bit when he saw her, “Jester, hello dear. What brings you here at this time of night?”

“I wanted to work on some paintings but it’s too cold to open the windows in our room. Plus, I think Beau has a friend over if you know what I mean.”

“Good for her, she was looking a little stressed.” As he talked, Molly absent mindedly stirred one of the pots in front of him.

Jester pulled another stool over and sat down next to Molly. He had a rainbow of watercolors laid out in front of him and was currently swirling a brush in the orange. She leaned gently against his arm, resting her head on his shoulder, waiting for him to decide if he wanted to talk.

“I messed up today, and I don’t know what to do.”

“What happened?”

“I…overstepped, and I didn’t realize until I did it that this was one time when I really didn’t want to do that.”

“I’m sorry, Molly.”

“I’ve screwed up before, but I just made amends as needed, backed off, and moved on. I don’t…I don’t want to just move on this time, but I don’t know how to fix this.”

“Mama says the best way to show you’re sorry is to show them that you care. Sooo like if there’s a book they mentioned they would like…” Jester kicked her legs innocently as Molly chuckled.

“I never was good at subtlety.” He fell silent again, sighing thoughtfully. “Jester…”

“Hm?”

“Would you…would you help me with something? I was going to ask Caleb but…”

“What is it?”

“I…” he whispered in her ear, not wanting to say it out loud even though they were alone.

“Of course, I can do that! I used to help people at home with that all the time! It’s not super easy but you’re starting with an advantage so you should pick it up in no time. And you’ll figure out what to do about Caleb, I’m sure. Now you better start painting something before your colors dry out.”

“Thanks, Jester.” Molly wrapped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a kiss on the head before turning himself to his canvas. She moved to a canvas across the room so they could make faces from around their canvasses and not be tempted to look over each other’s shoulders, or flick paint at each other.

After a few hours had gone by, they both decided it was time to stop and took a moment to stretch out the kinks and cramps.

“Show you mine if you show me yours,” Jester said.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard that.” Molly winked, making Jester giggle. “Let me take the tape off first.” He peeled off the painter’s tape and carefully turned his around. The splashes of color with the blank geometric lines made his canvas look like a stained-glass window. “Thought I’d try something new. What do you think?”

“Oh Molly, it’s gorgeous!” Jester turned hers around, “What do you think of mine?”

Molly fell off his stool laughing as Jester revealed a highly detailed, skillfully painted, anatomically correct, very erect, purple penis.

Chapter Text

“Help.” Beau slid into the open seat at the lunch table, almost knocking over Jester’s glass with her plate as she hunched forward on the table. Everyone but Caleb and Nott were there, both of them presumably working.

“What’s wrong Beau,” Jester looked around, “Is it that guy who keeps flirting with you?”

“Worse. Ikithon’s attending some ass-kissing luncheon event next week and invited me to come meet some alumni. I tried making up excuses, but he kept getting around them. Is there any way I can talk one of you into having an emergency that I have to go help you with?”

“Well,” Molly said, leaning back, “While I’m certainly not opposed to some well-orchestrated theatrics every now and then, given the type of man he seems to be anything short of a dire emergency won’t cut it and there will be follow-up. All in all, too much planning, not enough time, and too many things that can go wrong. Counter-proposal: take me with you.”

“While I honestly think it would be fucking hilarious to unleash you upon the snobby assholes that are probably going to be there, I need this guy to not hate me at least until I’m out of his classes.”

“Shame.”

“Jester? Fjord?”

“When is it?”

“Tuesday at 1.”

Jester pouted, “We have an exam in art class. I’m sorry, Beau.”

“Who the fuck gives an exam in an art class?” She made a face.

“We have to prove that even if we’re not going to use the techniques he teaches us (because some of them are sooo boring) we at least understand them.”

Fjord nodded, “Right, something about knowing the rules before you break them.”

“I mean,” Molly shrugged, “Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse, so why bother learning it in the first place?”

“That’s- no.” Fjord rubbed his hands over his face, “Don’t listen to Molly.”

“Guys,” Beau groaned, “This isn’t helping.”

“I can go with you,” Yasha said quietly, “I mean, I’m free so I can go but I don’t know how much I’ll be able to help.”

“Yasha, you’re a lifesaver. Honestly, as long as you show up and you’re dressed, that’s more than enough. We’ll get out of there as soon as possible I promise, I just don’t know if I could stand going to this thing alone.”

“Just be yourself and you’ll be fine,” Molly told Yasha. “Beau, just be anybody but yourself and you’ll be fine.”

She flipped him off across the table but she was smiling.


 

Beau stood outside the hall where the luncheon was being held, fiddling with her tie as she debated whether she was actually going to wear it. It was a great color, Jester had helped her pick it out, and it went nicely with her vest, if you cared about that kind of thing (which Beau tried to pretend she didn’t), it was just kind of a pain to put on. She’d meant to have Jester help her with it but lost track of time and had to rush out without even watching a tutorial video.

“Do you need help with that?”

Beau’s head snapped up and her brain quickly short circuited at the sight of Yasha in a dove grey dress, dark grey shawl, and black flats, hair pulled back from her face, looking down at Beau ‘s tie. “Uh, yeah, if you don’t mind. I keep meaning to learn how to do it but forgot.”

Yasha gently tipped Beau’s chin up so she could see and tied a simple knot, leaving it loose so Beau could adjust it. “There.”

“Thanks. Where did you learn to do it?”

“Molly’s dad taught me over the summer so I could help with costumes for the show.”

Beau nodded, adjusted her tie one last time, and looked at the hall with a sigh, “Come on, let’s go make asses out of ourselves. I’m pretty sure we can get away with talking to Ikithon’s alumni and ditching, but there should at least be some decent food.” She held her arm out for Yasha, mentally doing somersaults as they walked in together.

They managed to pass down the refreshments line, getting small plates of sandwiches, fruits, and cheeses, before a voice called out “Beauregard!”

“That’s Ikithon,” Beau whispered, half turning to wave in acknowledgement. “Can you see who he’s with?”

“Looks like a man and a woman.”

“Old?”

“Older than us, probably closer to Caleb’s age.”

“Ok, that’s not too bad.” Beau turned fully towards Ikithon but hesitated. She felt a gentle hand on the small of her back, supporting her and guiding her forward. “Hello, Dr. Ikithon.”

“Beauregard, so glad you were able to join us after all.” Trent Ikithon was smiling but it was a tight smile, clearly put on for pleasantries. His hair was bald on top but otherwise grown out longer. He was wearing it down, letting it fall to his shoulders. His jacket was white but had a gold shimmer to it, simple but imposing.

“Yes, I was able to adjust my schedule.”

“Excellent. It’s always good to have one’s priorities in line. And who is this?”

“This is my friend, Yasha, I asked her to accompany me.”

“Hello.”

“Hello, Yasha. Beauregard, I’d like you to meet two of my top students, Astrid, and Eodwulf.”

Astrid in her heels was taller than Beau, dark hair in a pixie cut, handsome features. She nodded politely with a cordial smile. Eodwulf was tall, bald, and not smiling though something about his face suggested that he did often.

“Nice to meet you, Beauregard,” Astrid said, “Dr. Ikithon has been telling us about your impressive progressive.”

Adequate progress,” Ikithon corrected. “It is only ‘impressive’ compared to the others in the course.”

Eodwulf nodded, “Yes, it sounds like things haven’t changed much from when we were here. How are you enjoying the class, Beauregard?”

“Please, call me Beau. It’s been an…interesting experience. I’ve found myself challenged in unexpected ways.”

Their conversation continued into light discussion about Eodwulf and Astrid’s jobs in unnamed agencies before turning to Ikithon reminiscing on his own career achievements and his continued progress in the private sector. After about 45 minutes, the majority of the crowd, which included other alumni, professors, and donors, started to thin out. Astrid and Eodwulf made their excuses and left, Beau and Yasha followed as soon as they were able. They escaped out the back door, wanting to avoid anyone else who might recognize them, and were surprised to find Astrid and Eodwulf there as well, sharing a flask as they leaned against the wall. Eodwulf’s tie was undone and Astrid was holding her heels.

“You sure didn’t hang around,” Eodwulf commented, a smile starting to show through.

“Yeah, I thought about it but there was this one guy who was just being a real prick, y’know?”

Astrid laughed, “Oh I like her. You’re tough, that’s good hold onto that.”

“You’re going to need it.” Eodwulf took a swig from the flask and set it on the ground towards Beau.

“Is that an invitation?”

“I’m not saying anything.”

“Same reason you’re not asking if I’m old enough?”

“Plausible deniability is a wonderful thing.”

Beau picked up the flask and took a sip, “Oh man, those government jobs must really pay well, this is some good shit.” She held it out to Yasha, getting a head shake in return.

Astrid took it back, “You know your whiskeys?”

“I’m more familiar with wines but I know enough.”

“Can I give you a word of advice?”

“Sure?”

“Whatever you do, don’t sell your fucking soul to Ikithon. Nothing he offers you will be worth it.”

“And it’ll take you ten years to get it back,” Eodwulf added.

“…ok, not gonna lie, I thought you were going to say something about not drinking too much in college.”

“That too. Trust me, you’re going to want your liver when you’re older.”

“Are you speaking from personal experience?” Yasha asked.

“About the souls or the alcohol?”

“Either.”

Astrid nodded as Eodwulf said “Yes. To both.”

“What did you do?”

“Started unlearning everything Ikithon told us, and held each other accountable.”

“He’ll tell you don’t need other people, that any connection that doesn’t give you a step up is just a distraction.”

He’s wrong.

Chapter Text

“Jester?”

“Yes, Fjord?”

“Whose child is that?”

“This is Kiri!”

“Kiri!” The little girl chirped, looking up at Fjord with a bright smile.

“That’s nice. Whose child is that?”

“Her family is visiting the college on a tour and she was getting tired and cranky but they know one of the art professors so when I volunteered to babysit for them they said sure! I was also asked to show one of the new art majors around later because I’m like the nicest person in the department and I know it the best. We’ve been texting and I told her to meet me here when she was ready.”

“Ready!” Kiri looked up from the music box she was playing with. She kept winding it back up and watching the mechanism inside, humming the tune to herself.

“Does she do that a lot?”

“Mhmm, her family says she doesn’t talk much on her own, but she’ll repeat things back to you.”

“Great.”

“Great,” This time Kiri’s voice was deeper, with a bit of a drawl to it.

“That’s going to get old real fast.”

“I think it’s cute!”

“Cute!”

When Beau joined them in the study lounge later, she didn’t see Kiri over the back of the couch until she’d gotten closer, at which point she abruptly stopped. “Fjord.”

“Yeah?”

“There’s a kid.”

“Yep.”

“Is it lost?”

“Nope.”

“Do we have to keep it?”

“Only till the tours are over.”

“Thank god.” She walked around and sat next to him on the other couch. “So, are you stuck with her alone?”

“Jester’s here, she had to step away for a second to call her mom about something.”

“Everything alright?”

“I think so, she didn’t sound worried about it.”

“Cool.”

“Cool.”

Beau jumped and looked over at Kiri, who’d done an impressively gruff imitation of her voice. “Did she just- is that what I sound like?”

“Yeah she does that. It gets old real fast.”

“Real fast.”

Caleb and Nott were the next to join the group, getting the same explanation about Kiri. Nott took to her as readily as Jester did, trying to teach her different sounds effects and playing hide and seek, pretending she couldn’t find Kiri hiding behind the sofas. When Molly and Yasha arrived, neither of them seemed to know what to do and so they settled in on the edges of the group to just observe. When Kiri wandered over and tried to play with Molly’s jewelry, he distracted her with some tarot shuffling.

As they lounged around, working on or pretending to work on various assignments, Beau looked up in time to see a young woman in a long skirt and hoodie with straight black hair covering half her face come down to the lounge, look around, and beeline straight towards their group, hands clasped tightly in front of her. Beau quickly shifted position so her legs took up the remaining space on the couch. Seeing that, the others glanced over and moved their stuff to take up the remaining seats. As the hooded woman continued to approach, they all shifted so they could stare at her.

“Uhm, hi, I’m Calianna,” Her timid, accented voice sounded younger than she looked, “I’m looking for someone named Jester?”

“Ohmigosh hi!” Jester nearly vaulted over the couch to greet Calianna, “I didn’t realize you were already done!”

“I meant to text you but I stopped to talk to one of the professors one the way out and then I got lost so I stopped and asked for directions because I didn’t think to ask you even though it’s your job to show me around. Your dress is very pretty!”

“Thank you! Come come, meet my friends!” Jester linked arms with Calianna and led her over to the group who had dropped some of their hostility now that they knew she wasn’t some random person trying to invade their space. “This is Fjord, and Beau, and Caleb, and Nott, and Molly, and Yasha; Everyone, this is Calianna.”

“Hi, nice to meet you all.” They gave various greetings, some more half-hearted than others. “Are you all coming on the art tour too?”

As they started to decline, making excuses, Jester gasped and clasped her hands together, “You should! I want to show you guys the painting I’ve been working on! Come on, let’s go!”

“Let’s go!”

“Oh, Calianna, this is Kiri, I’m looking after her for the day. Kiri, say hello.”

“Hello!”

The party trudged along to the art building, following Jester up the stairs to the larger studios. Partially finished canvases lined the walls, depicting a variety of images. One showed a particularly grotesque troll, reaching out of the canvas towards them. Kiri made stabbing motions at it with a paintbrush. Jester’s painting was a portrait of a beautiful woman, turned away from the viewer, in a low-backed red dress that flowed out into curling red and purple tendrils. Her hair was dark, swept into an updo with strands falling out along her neck. She was looking slightly over her shoulder, lips curled upwards in a seductive smile.

“Damn Jester,” Beau said as Fjord gave a low whistle, “She’s hot.”

“Isn’t she? This is my mama!”

Beau leaned over to whisper to a suddenly awkward Fjord, “Jester’s mom has got it going on.”

They went down to the pottery studio next, as Calianna was particularly interested in working with clay.

“I’ve made a few bowls,” She said as they squeezed into the cramped space, “but nothing really great yet so I want to learn more. I’ve also done some papier-mâché, I made a pretty cool dragon mask one time, so I know a little bit about shaping things. I’m really looking forward to coming here, thank you so much for showing me around Ms. Jester!”

“Of course! I’m happy to help, I can’t wait to see you next year.”

“Can I keep texting you when I go home?”

“Absolutely, I’ll even give you my email so we can be pen pals.”

“I should probably get back now. It was nice meeting you all, bye Mr. Fjord, bye Ms. Beau, bye Mr. Caleb, bye Ms. Nott, bye Ms. Yasha, bye…Mr? Molly...”

“That’ll work, I’m not picky.”

“Bye Calianna!” Jester waved as she walked back towards where the tour groups were reconvening.

“There’s going to be two of them around next year,” Fjord said with dawning terror.

“I’m sleeping in your room,” Beau responded.

Chapter Text

“Hello Pumat-Sol!” Jester waved excitedly as the group wandered into the campus store.

“Why hello there! What can I do for you all today?”

“We heard that the new café person was here and wanted to come say hello. Also we needed to pick up a few things.”

“Everything’s been recently restocked so we should have everything that you’re looking for, let me know if you need any help. The new café runner hasn’t arrived yet but should be here any minute.”

As if summoned, the kitchen door of the café opened up and a gentle, gravelly voice said “Oh, hi there, I wasn’t expecting so many people to be here. If you just give me a minute to get all the boxes unloaded, I can come greet you properly.” The man in the doorway was as tall as Pumat-Sol, but much thinner. His hair and beard were dyed a bright pink, and his hair hung long over one shoulder while the other side was shaved down.

“Caduceus, is that you?” Molly came wandering out from the clearance section.

“Hi there, Molly, pleasure seeing you here.”

“And a pleasant surprise seeing you as well! How’s your family?”

“They’re doing just fine, Clarabelle decided to go up to Antarctica with a marine research team.”

“She certainly doesn’t do anything by half.”

“That she doesn’t,” Caduceus agreed with a chuckle. “Oh, pardon me, you must be the store clerk they mentioned.” He walked over to Pumat-Sol and held his hand out, “Caduceus Clay, pleasure to meet you.”

Pumat-Sol, who had been staring entranced at Caduceus, smiled and shook his hand, his larger one engulfing Caduceus’s slender fingers, “Pumat-Sol, a pleasure to make your acquaintance as well. I guess you’re going to be running the café then?”

“Yeah, the school worked out a deal with my family’s company.”

“Well it’ll be nice having some company around here. And if I might say, you’re already brightening the place up.”

“Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say, I look forward to working next to you as well.”

“If I may,” Fjord interjected, startling Pumat-Sol into finally letting go of Caduceus’s hand, “What kind of things does your family’s company sell?” He glanced briefly at Molly who grinned.

“We specialize in teas, but we do all sorts of things. Coffee, sandwiches, pastries.”

Jester gasped, “Do you have scones?”

“Of course, can’t have tea without scones. Speaking of, I should probably get back to unloading.”

“Y’know,” Pumat-Sol said, “I could give ya a hand with those if ya like.”

“Well sure, that would be just great.”

“We’d be more than happy to help you out as well, Mr. Clay,” Fjord added, getting a few dirty looks from his friends.

“Please, just call me Caduceus, come on behind the counter I’ll take you to the truck.”

As the group shuffled out, Pumat-Sol at the head saying “Y’know you don’t see too many taller folk around here, where are you from?” while Jester made suggestive eyebrows at Beau. If Nott strayed back and wandered over near the discount snacks area, Caleb certainly wasn’t about to say anything, and it seemed that Molly-who caught Caleb’s eye with a wink before striding ahead-was inclined the same way.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Fjord really had to question how he ended up where he was. Where he was, in this particular moment, was standing in the parking lot at 8am helping Jester close the trunk of the van Molly had borrowed from his dad. Well, technically he was helping, really he was closing the trunk while Jester held their camping gear in place with her superior strength. Yes, somehow they had been talked into going camping over Thanksgiving weekend, by none other than Mollymauk. The logic was that this was probably the last nice weather they’d have for a while, the holiday sucked anyways, and everyone should go camping at least once in their lives. There was a campground driving distance from campus that hadn’t closed yet and was never too crowded (according to online reviews) and cheap enough they could all pitch in for the weekend.

“Has everyone gone to the bathroom?” Beau asked, slinging her bag into the passenger seat. Fjord was driving (he’d driven large vehicles back home and was the only one reasonably awake enough to drive) and Beau had called shotgun. “We’re doing this in one straight shot, no stops until we get there.”

“It’s not that straight,” Molly said, grinning as Beau flipped him the bird.

Fjord finally got the trunk shut, “Alright, everybody in!”

Caleb and Nott took the very back row of seats, Molly took the middle between Jester and Yasha. Everyone had their own thermos with their preferred morning drink, but it was still early for most people and half the van was asleep shortly into the trip. Beau was supposed to be the navigator in the passenger seat, she was slouched down with her (Yasha’s) hood over her eyes within the hour. She’d put a denim jacket over the hoodie as an extra layer but it was still clearly Yasha’s. Jester took over as navigator, leaning forward to talk quietly with Fjord. Caleb was awake but had headphones on and brought some books along, Nott was curled up against his side. Molly and Yasha were slouched against each other, his coat draped over them like a blanket.

Two hours later, as everyone was starting to stir, Fjord pulled into a gas station to fill up and let people stretch their legs.

“I thought we were doing this straight,” Molly teased, lightly kicking the back of Beau’s seat.

“Yeah we thought about it and decided we didn’t want to give you an aneurysm.”

“How considerate of you.”

“Y’all got ten minutes to get in and out before I drive off and leave you here,” Fjord threatened.

“What if there’s a line for the bathroom?” Beau asked, “I don’t know if you know this, but women’s bathrooms have the longest lines.”

“Bushes.”

Beau looked like she was about to protest, thought about it, then shrugged, “I’ve done worse.” As she and Molly crossed the parking lot, Beau glanced back at Fjord before leaning in, “Did you bring the stuff?”

“It’s in my backpack. I asked ‘duceus and he said it should still be alright as long as I’ve been keeping it dry.”

“Is he going to be selling that shit on campus now?”

“Unfortunately he has decided to stay strictly legitimate while running a family business. He did say he’d try to get me in touch with a new person, but that might take a while.”

“Damn.”

Chapter Text

Miraculously, after a 6 hour drive punctuated by a previously assembled mixed playlist (anyone horribly offended by anyone else’s choices was told to use earbuds and suck it up), an out-loud reading of one of Jester’s trashy romance novels (during which Fjord kept his eyes dead ahead on the road and Molly made too many very informed comments), and a round of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” that was only completed because they were all too stubborn to let it go, they arrived at the campground with everyone still alive.

“Molly, you’ve been here before, why don’t you and Yasha go scope out a place to set up while the rest of us unload the van.”

“I think I should help unload,” Yasha said, watching Fjord pretend not to struggle with one of the tents.

“I can go with Mollymauk,” Caleb offered hesitantly, “I don’t think I’ll be much help here.”

“Alright, let us know when you’ve picked a spot.”

Molly gave a mock salute, “Aye, aye, Captain,” Before turning and setting off, glancing back to make sure Caleb was following. He led the way up a winding path, staying in view of Caleb but otherwise keeping a fair distance between them. In fact, he’d been practically avoiding Caleb since that day in the library. Whenever they were hanging out with the group, Molly kept to the other side of the room and barely said anything to him. He certainly hadn’t said anything remotely flirty.

At first, Caleb had been relieved that Molly seemed to be listening to him, but then he started to realize how quiet things were now. Every now and then he found himself looking up from the circulation desk expecting to see a familiar bright spot of color somewhere in the library. He’d saved Molly’s number in his phone and had started and deleted more than one text. Nott commented one night that he was picking at his food, asking if everything was alright. He hadn’t known how to answer.

“Mollymauk?”

“Yes, Caleb?”

“Can we talk for a minute?”

Molly stopped abruptly and turned, “Here?”

“We can keep walking, but I would like to talk before we rejoin with the others.”

“Of course.” Molly waited as Caleb caught up then continued onwards, looking around for a suitable place to pitch their tents.

“We have not spoken in some time.”

“No, we haven’t.” This time it seemed more like Molly was deliberately not looking.

“Have you been avoiding me, Mollymauk?”

“I…”

It was rare to catch Molly speechless, and yet Caleb seemed to keep managing it. He picked up the pace to stand in front of Molly, ending up a little higher than him on the sloped pass. “I feel there has been somewhat of a misunderstanding, and while I am used to being on either side of such a situation, I would like to clear some things up. I was not happy when you bothered me at work, but that did not mean I wished for you to stop talking to me altogether. When I’m on the job I’m on the job; but that doesn’t mean that when I’m not on the job I want you to stop being Molly. Is that clear?”

Molly looked up at Caleb, tattered scarf and long hair blowing slightly in the wind, backlit by the sunlight streaming through the autumn leaves. “Yes.”

“Sehr gut. Los geht’s.”

They found their spot and Caleb sat down to claim it while Molly made his way back down to retrieve the others. Through a combination of strategic division of labor and sheer stubbornness, they made it up in one trip. There were three tents, one for Fjord and Molly, one for Caleb and Nott, and one slightly larger one for the other three. A spare tent had been packed in case one of the others was damaged but wasn’t needed. Since it was only early afternoon, they decided to split up into various groups. Caleb and Nott were content to hang out at the camp, make sure nothing walked away; Fjord, Beau, and Yasha headed out to pick up firewood; Molly and Jester took their art supplies off to find a place to sketch. There were some hiking trails around, according to Molly, but since they were spending the weekend there was no rush to explore the entire area. For now, they just rested.

Chapter Text

As they were settling in that night, making s’mores for dessert after a very dry dinner, Molly pulled a semi-discreet plastic bag out of his backpack and tossed it across the fire to Beau.

“Is that what I think it is?” Fjord asked, unsure if he needed to be concerned or not.

“Nope.”

“Are you lying to make me feel better?”

“Nope.”

“Are you lying to make me not tell you not to do it?”

“Maybe.”

“Hey Molly,” Beau interrupted, “What are you supposed to do with this?”

“Throw it back and try not to choke. You might want to have water on hand. There’s enough for three, anyone want to join us in a chemically altered state? Yasha?”

“I would, but you know it’s never really worked before, so I’ll pass this time.”

“Fair enough, anyone else?

Fjord and Jester said “I’m fine” and “no thanks.” Caleb just shook his head when Molly turned to him.

“Nott?”

“I’ve seen plenty of people get high, I’m good.”

“Just you and me, Beau. Cheers.”

“Cheers.” They popped the fungal crumbles into their mouths, took a big swig of water, and waited for the effects to kick in.

At first, it didn’t seem like anything was happening. Beau zoned out a little staring at the fire, but after a bit she started to notice that the embers seemed to be a little far from the fire. She blinked, it felt like she was moving in slow motion, and turned her head to look around at the little flecks of ash and light that were now dancing closer to her from the circle of the fire. Cautiously, she put her hand up to catch one, like she was trying to catch a snowflake, and her hand went through it; or rather, it went through her hand.

“Molly…are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“I have no idea what you’re seeing, but I’m having a great time”

“If I try to move right now, I might throw up.”

“That happens, it’s actually better not to sit still but don’t move too much either.”

The colors around them had started to fade a bit into shades of gray, and white, and black. Occasionally, Beau caught a glimpse of color from the corner of her eye: Molly and Jester’s hair, the fire, their tents, and she could hear chittering in the woods around her.

“Dude, I think I can talk to squirrels.”

“Oh good, you hear that too; this is exciting!” Molly clambered to his feet, “I’m going walking! Who wants to look for ghosts right now?”

Beau excitedly put her hand up and Molly helped her to her feet. The others, who had been silently watching and trading glances, all got up as well and prepared to follow.

“Should we stop them?” Fjord asked.

Yasha shrugged, “This is mild compared to some of the things Molly’s tried.”

“Guys,” Jester interrupted, “They’re going.”

“Shit. Jester, stay with them, Yasha, pass me a flashlight, someone stay with the camp.”

Molly and Beau walked along one of the paths, followed closely by Jester, and Fjord when he caught up with the flashlight. It was almost funny to watch as Beau occasionally swatted at the air, trying to catch something they couldn’t see. Molly was looking behind bushes and trees, softly calling to ghosts like he was calling a cat.

“You don’t think there are actual ghosts out here, do you?” Fjord asked quietly.

“Probably not, there aren’t even bears out here, I checked when I told Mama we were going camping so she didn’t worry. We can always bring a Ouija board next time if you really want to know.”

“Nope.” Fjord shook his head, “Nope, I’m good, we don’t need to do that.”

Jester leaned in close, “Are you scared of ghosts, Fjord?”

“I have a very healthy aversion to Ouija boards or anything else used to directly and deliberately contact the dead.”

“Guess I brought my séance kit for nothing then.”

“You’re joking, right?” Jester just skipped on ahead, catching up to Beau and Molly who were about to round a corner. “Jester?” Fjord looked around, swinging the flashlight to illuminate the woods. In the near distance, he heard the hooting of an owl, and the light reflecting off the eyes of something in the leaves. “Jester! Wait up!” He turned and ran up the path, not daring to look behind him.

Chapter Text

On their last full day camping, Jester surprised everyone with what she called a Traditional Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Due to packaging reasons, she hadn’t been able to bring ice cream for the milkshakes but in her side cooler (which she’d been very mysterious about and also had threatened bodily harm upon anyone who tried to peek) there was yogurt with various toppings and jellybeans kept cool to prevent melting and sticking. They rigged up a pot holder out of sticks to get the popcorn going and started toasting the bread on one of the pans.

As they were settling in, they heard the sound of running footsteps and a backpack being bounced on its owner’s back. The group rose cautiously to their feet, Beau picking up a stick/staff she’d found earlier, Fjord and Yasha picking up hefty sticks. Molly walked towards the trail, leaning out to get a glimpse of the person coming up. A stout woman, large pack on her back, unlit cigarette falling out of her mouth, came barreling up the trail, stuttering to a halt when she saw the group.

“Uhm…” There were shouts from the direction she’d come and she started, retreating from them so fast she almost tripped over her feet. “Son of a dick. Ok look, my name is Keg, these creeps are following me, please at least pretend to be my friends until they go away.”

“Get behind us,” Molly said immediately.

“Thank you!”

Keg moved to the other side of the camp, as far from the path as she could get. Beau and Yasha both moved up closer, forming a protective line with Fjord.

“What’s the plan here?” Fjord whispered as they waited for the creeps to catch up.

“Scare them off or beat them up,” Molly responded, picking up two sticks of his own. “I wish I’d brought my swords with me.”

“You have swords!?”

“I’ll explain later, we have company.”

Five people came from around the turn, three women and two men. The man in front was tall, taller than even Yasha, his face an unhealthy ashy color. He was bald and his head was covered in tattoos, with scars breaking up some of the dark lines. The other man was short and weaselly looking, his hair and goatee looked like they needed to be washed. One woman was lanky, with a blonde pixie cut, one tall with greasy hair that might have been blonde, it was hard to tell, and the third had dark hair cut short, and a slightly crazed look in her eyes.

“Where’d ya go Keg?” The tall man asked in a voice dripping with false friendliness. “Did you find those ‘friends’ you were lying about.”

“She sure did,” Molly stepped up, twirling the sticks in his hands, “Something we can help you with?”

He ignored Molly and scanned the area. When he found Keg, his lips curled up in a menacing grin, “There you are. Come on, Keg, that’s no way to treat an old friend.”

“Fuck off, Lorenzo, we are not friends.” She was trembling but her fists were clenched and her voice was strong.

“Is that so?” Lorenzo made a move towards her but Molly held out a stick to block his path.

“I believe the lady told you to fuck off.”

Lorenzo looked down at Molly and sneered, “And what are you going to do about it?”

Without breaking eye contact, Molly said “Nott, call the rangers, tell them to call the police.”

“On it.”

The dark-haired woman stepped forward, “We can take them, Lorenzo, let’s get her!”

She sprang towards Keg. Beau stepped forward, planted her staff in the ground, and used it to vault herself over and kick the woman square in the jaw. She dropped to the ground, out cold. Beau turned to the rest and held her staff in a defensive position, pointed right at them.

“Leave. Now.”

Fjord, Yasha, Molly, Jester, who had grabbed the pan out of the fire, and Nott, who was now tossing a rock in her hand, all stepped forward. After assessing the situation, Lorenzo motioned for the rest of his group to head back.

“Ruzza, Wohn, get Dwelma.” He pointed at Keg, “This ain’t over, mark my words. And you,” He looked at Molly, “You’ll be seeing me again.”

“My heart will yearn until we do.” Molly waved them off with one of the sticks, “Ta-ta.”

Once the aptly described creeps were deemed far enough away, the tension broke as Jester rushed to save the popcorn.

“Thank you,” Keg said, taking deep breaths, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me. You,” She looked at Beau, “You were amazing.”

“I mean,” Beau shrugged, leaning on her staff as she tried to look casual, “I’ve had some training. It’s pretty cool. Who were those guys?”

“The biggest mistake I ever made.” Keg scowled, kicking at the dirt. “I used to be part of their…gang,” she admitted, “Before I realized how deep the shit went. They didn’t come after me when I left, but they said if I ever told anyone anything, they’d make me pay for it, and those fuckers don’t bluff. I’m sorry for dragging you all into this.”

“I’d say we dragged ourselves in pretty well,” Molly said, “I know a thing or two about what you’re talking about, and I know how to take care of a couple overgrown bullies. Now, enough depressing talk, let’s eat. Keg, there’s a spare tent over there, pitch it and get your butt by the fire for dinner, we’re kidnapping you for the night.”

“I…ok?” She was confused but started setting up while the group pulled out plates and cutlery for dinner. Beau helped her get the tent up, trading innuendos that ranged from subtle to practically an invitation.

The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Dinner was well received by all, with no complaints about the slightly singed popcorn. Jester also revealed the extra s’mores ingredients she’d brought, anticipating they’d need more for the last day. As the sun set and the moon came up, the stars sparkling to life around it, some turned in for the night, anticipating the early morning ride back, while others stayed around the dying fire to tell ghost stories and old campfire tales. When Keg got up to go to her tent, she shared a heated look with Beau, who followed shortly after. Jester looked at Molly, the other person still awake, and traded a few lewd gestures before they too retired to their tents.

In the morning, Beau was briefly roused by a not very quiet Keg trying to sneak out. She opened one eye and watched with a faint smile as Keg stepped out of the tent, catching her foot a little but not tripping, and slowly zipped it back up. There was a note in the tent near Beau but she left it for later, rolling over with a chuckle to go back to sleep. An hour or two later, they all roused and broke camp, heading sleepily down the mountain to return to campus.

Chapter Text

“You’re late, Beauregard.”

“I know, I know, sorry, Dairon.”

“Is there a reason you wasted my time or do you just not care?”

Beau crossed her arms and hunched her shoulders in in a defensive posture, “I had to drop something off at a friend’s room and got lost looking for it. Someone gave me a bad direction.”

“You couldn’t have waited until after our lesson to do it?”

“I didn’t expect it to take so long, I thought I had time.”

“You shouldn’t be allowing yourself to get distracted by such things in the first place.”

“What, friends? Or returning things in a timely manner instead of being a dick?” Beau decided to ignore the fact that she’d already been holding on to this particular item probably longer than she should have. She also decided to push aside for now the fact that Dairon was starting to sound a little like Ikithon.

“Watch your attitude, Beauregard. Now, show me what you remember from the last lesson.”

For the next hour, Dairon drilled Beau with more intensity than usual, probably disciplining her for showing up late and being “distracted.” Beau left sore and bruised (in a much less pleasant way than usual) and running Dairon’s words through her head, as well as Astrid and Eodwulf’s. Maybe it was time for an overdue conversation.

When Caleb met up with Beau later, in a more secluded part of the library, he was surprised to see Nott there as well. She was fiddling with her flask but not drinking from it, more from habit than nerves.

“Hallo, is everything ok?”

“There’s something I want to talk to you about, and I asked Nott to come so you didn’t feel cornered.” Beau was staring at the table, arms crossed, brooding expression on her face.

“What is this about?” He sat down slowly, looking back and forth between them. Nott just shrugged, Beau didn’t look up.

“What happened with Ikithon?”

“Was?”

“The way you talk about him, you’ve had a class with him before, but you never talk about what happened in that class. When I went to the luncheon, I met some of his old students, and the way they talked about him made him sound as sinister as you do.”

“Who were they?”

“What happened?”

Now Beau was looking at him, staring him dead in the eye as he stared at her nose. Caleb rubbed absent-mindedly at his arms, and Beau realized somewhere in the back of her head that she’d never seen him in short sleeves. He either always wore his coat or he was in long-sleeved shirts.

“I knew Trent Ikithon, once,” Caleb whispered, “Several years ago, when I was first attending school here. I was studying much like you are, wanting to be able to know everything. There were three of us at the head of the class, and the only reason we were not always trying to take each other down is because Ikithon forbid it. He did not want us to be distracted by things that would not help us advance. However, he also did not want us to be distracted by becoming friends. We formed a tense alliance, never showing any signs of weakness but not avoiding each other outside of class either. Sometimes we even studied together.

“Ikithon was…merciless. He accepted no excuses for anything less than exactly what he wanted. Any limitations we had, we had to overcome; any distractions we got rid of. For three and a half years, I dedicated my life to my lessons here and to the work that Ikithon was training us for. During my final spring semester, as I was preparing to go into the master’s program that had been personally designed by Ikithon, I received a call from home…”

Here Caleb paused and ran his hands over his face.

“…something happened, something I am not ready to tell you yet, but I got out. I ran away and did not look back for many years. I do not know why I chose to come back here when I decided to start over, but here we are.”

Beau kept watching Caleb for a moment before looking away, unprepared for what just happened and not sure how to respond. Nott shifted over so she could lean against him, offering silent support.

“Astrid and Eodwulf,” Beau finally said, “they warned me about Ikithon.” She got up and left the library without another word, briefly putting her hand on Caleb’s shoulder as she passed him.

Chapter Text

The last thing Yasha expected when she walked into the café to meet up with the others was a not-really-that-panicked “Yasha, run!” from Nott who was watching Jester try to trap Beau under a fake branch.

“Watch out Beau, the mistletoe is going to get you!”

“Fjord, help!” Beau dove out of her seat, trying to totally disappear behind Fjord.

“Wait, what?”

Jester stuck the branch over Fjord’s head, “Uh-oh, you got caught under the mistletoe Fjord! Now someone has to kiss you to get you out.”

“I mean, if them’s the rules,” He looked around Jester to Molly, “Wanna give me a hand here?” He asked jokingly.

“I can give you more than that.”

“Nope. Never mind. Jester, I would love to accept your kiss.”

“Well maybe I don’t want to give it to you now,” She flipped her hair, pretending to be offended, “Maybe you should accept Molly’s kiss.”

“Jester, I most humbly apologize, would you do me the honor of freeing me from this leafy prison with your kiss?”

“Well when you put it like that…” She leaned in close, till their noses were almost touching, then pecked him on the cheek and darted away giggling.

Beau, in the meantime, had crept out from behind Fjord’s chair and sat down on the opposite end of the table from Jester where she had the best shot at getting away.

“Are you not a fan of mistletoe, Beau?” Yasha asked as she sat down.

“I have a lot of mixed feelings about like, the social expectations it creates, because my parents were, y’know, kinda shitty and tried to force them onto me.”

“So why don’t you tell Jester you don’t want to participate?”

“I dunno, I guess it’s kinda fun to turn it into a challenge, see who wins. Keeps me on my toes and gives Jester a game.”

“I see. Has she been putting it up a lot?”

“Nah, pretty much just carrying the branch around and trying to catch people under it.” Beau jerked a thumb over her shoulder, “I did help her put that one up, though.”

Yasha turned and saw a sprig of mistletoe, tied with a bright red ribbon, hanging over the division between the café and the bookstore. “Is there a particular reason for it?”

“Just wait.”

Jester took a break from her mistletoe games when Caduceus brought over their food and drinks, chatting happily with him about recipes and colors and anything else she could think of. Since the café was empty except for their group, Caduceus seemed content to hang around the table and check in on all of them.

Then again, Caduceus always seemed pretty content. The only time they’d seen him even close to losing his temper was when a group was trying to work on their project and one member seemed was being especially difficult. It had taken one, calmly spoken “Pull. Your weight” from Caduceus to spook the guy into helping his team.

About fifteen minutes later, around 12:30 when people generally take a lunch break, Pumat-Sol put an OUT TO LUNCH sign on the register and headed over to the café. In the past, the bookstore had never fully closed, with Pumat-Sol tending to eat a quick lunch in his back office before returning to duty. These days, he’d been coming over to the café at least a few times a week. Just as he was about to cross the threshold, Jester, Beau, Molly, and Nott held up their hands and told him to stop. Everyone’s attention was drawn to the mistletoe that Pumat-Sol was now standing directly under.

“Uh-oh, looks like you’ve been caught,” Jester said cheerfully. “Now you need a kiss to break free.”

“I uhhh…”

“Here,” Caduceus said, standing up from where he’d leaned down to talk to Nott, “let me help you out with that.”

Beau and Molly shared a discreet fistbump and Jester and Nott excitedly held hands as Caduceus walked over to Pumat-Sol.

“With your permission, of course,” Caduceus said.

“Well, respectfully, I would hate to skip out on a beloved holiday tradition, however I would also hate to impose.”

“Not at all, I’m happy to help.” Caduceus reached out and took Pumat-Sol’s hand, gently lifting it up so that he could kiss the knuckles like a gentleman at a dance in a period piece. “There, that should do it. Come on, I have your lunch ready for you.” Without letting go of his hand, Caduceus led Pumat-Sol behind the counter to retrieve a premade meal.

Chapter Text

Snow came early this December, settling over the campus in a puffy white blanket. It wasn’t enough to cancel school, that area was prepared for such weather, but it still managed to bring joy. When Fjord walked out of his last class, bundled up against the cold like any good Texan, the snow had started falling again in thick flakes, covering up areas that had been previously been shoveled or trampled. Across the lawn, he could see people building snowmen, making snow angels, and…building forts?

Catching sight of brightly colored hair and clothes, he made his way around some other people’s creations to find Jester and Molly using beach buckets to make snow bricks and build them up into a wall.

“Whatcha doin’ there?”

“Snow fort,” Molly responded.

“Duh,” Jester added.

“Ok, why are you two building a fort?”

“To hide from them,” Jester pointed over to where Beau was working on her own fort.

At first it looked like she was the only person there, but after a moment Fjord saw Nott poke her head up from behind it and make a face at them. Jester made a face back, sticking her tongue out as she did. Molly and Beau settled for making rude gestures at each other.

“Y’all declare war or something?”

“Snowball fight,” Molly held up a previously constructed ball.

“Right. Well, I’m going to go find someplace warm and dry to stay out of the crossfire. Godspeed.”

Fjord saluted them and their opponents before heading off to the dining hall for coffee and food. It was on the way there that he noticed the missing members of their group. Caleb and Yasha were standing by a low wall, scooping snow off the top and shaping it into little humanlike forms.

“Whaaat are you two doing?”

“We’re making snowmen,” Caleb responded, adding a little head to the body.

“That’s uh, more of a literal take than most people do.”

“We’re going to make multiple sets around campus, maybe a few in the windows.” Yasha was carefully making arm and leg markings into hers.

“…y’know what, I’m not gonna ask, I’m just gonna leave you to it and ask that you please not put them out anywhere near my dorm because I get up early when it’s dark and don’t particularly feel like getting spooked by your little snow man army. And don’t give Molly any ideas!” Fjord added as Yasha and Caleb both looked pensive.

“Alright,” Yasha nodded, “we won’t put them near your dorm, and we won’t tell Molly.”

“Ja,” Caleb agreed, “we will keep your dorm snow-man free.”

“Much obliged. I’ll see you guys later, try not to get frostbite.”

Once Fjord had walked away and was well out of earshot, Yasha glanced over at Caleb, “You’re going to tell Nott, aren’t you?”

“And you’re going to tell Jester and Beau?”

“And one of them will probably tell Molly.”

“Alright,” Caleb nodded, “Glad to know we’re on the same page. I think we’re good here, ja?”

“Ja, let’s go put some on the cars in the parking lot.”

Chapter Text

“Achoo!”

“Bless you,” Jester said for the umpteenth time in the last hour.

In the aftermath of the snow, Jester and Fjord were the only ones of their group to survive unscathed. Molly, Yasha, and Nott had sniffles they were trying to keep from developing into something worse; Caleb and Beau had come down with minor colds and were being tended to by their roommates, who were having two very different experiences with their patients.

“Jesteeeer,” Beau moaned, bordering on a whine, “I’m booored.”

“I have more books you can read, or I can read them to you.”

“I want to mooooove.”

“I knooow but you can’t go to the gym or you’ll get other people sick.”

“Fuck ‘em, they can deal with it.”

“Tell you what, if you take your medicine and finish your tea, I’ll let you walk around.”

“That’s not fair, you know that stuff’s bitter.”

“Oh well, guess you’re stuck in bed then.”

Beau stuck her tongue out and grumpily settled in to sip at her mug. About a half hour later, after she’d gotten through half the mug, she was passed out and snoring softly into her pillow.

Jester texted Fjord, ‘Tell Caduceus his sleepytime cold cure was very effective 😉 ’

‘Glad to hear it, hope Beau feels better soon’

At the apartment, Nott had had no problem getting Caleb to take the medicine Yasha had dropped off for them and was currently rummaging around the kitchen trying to find something to make the tea in as well as food that might provide at least some nutrition. Caleb tried to get up to help once, but had meekly returned to the couch nest when Nott looked up and silently pointed her finger at the small pile of cushions and blankets; now he sat quietly sucking on ice cubes to soothe his throat while Frumpkin purred on his lap.

Once Nott was finally able to get broth and tea heated, she brought the mugs over to the couch and settled in at Caleb’s feet, sipping her own mug of tea.

“You’re going to get sick,” Caleb said, passing her one of the blankets he wasn’t using.

“I’ll be fine. Drink the broth first, the tea apparently makes you really sleepy, it’s some kind of Caduceus concoction.”

“Do I need to be worried about getting loopy and thinking I can see ghosts and talk to squirrels?”

“I don’t think so, Yasha said that Molly said that Caduceus isn’t selling that kind of thing on campus…and I checked with Jester after she used it on Beau and she didn’t report any weird side-effects.”

“Beauregard willingly drank tea?”

“Based on how Jester worded it, I think it took some convincing.”

“I should probably go in to work tomorrow, since I’ve already missed two days.”

“If you’re not better they’ll just send you home. I can pick up some extra shifts at work.”

“You shouldn’t have to do that.”

“It’s not a problem, we’ve been getting busier in the afternoons so they need the extra hands anyways.”

“I’ll try to pick up some more work when I’m better, so you can take some time off afterwards.”

“It’ll be fine, Caleb, we’ve been in worse situations, at least this time we’re together.”

After Caleb had drifted off, Nott rearranged his blankets, checked his temperature, and took the dishes to the kitchen before heading out to recycle the bottles and cans she’d collected.

“Keep an eye on him, Frumpkin, I’ll be back later.”

Chapter Text

“You are cordially invited to attend the Soltryce Academy’s Annual Winter Festival and Ball.
Ball attire is requested to be formal. Each attendee is permitted one off-campus guest. Any attendee over the age of 21 is required to bring their ID in order to purchase a wristband with two tabs redeemable for alcoholic drinks.”

Caleb hadn’t planned on attending, he never did why would he? But Jester had invited Nott and promised a girls’ night to get ready and Nott was so excited he couldn’t say no to coming along as well. This was how he found himself hanging out with Fjord and Beau in his least tattered clothes as they waited for the other room to come get them. The group had been separated into “personal grooming from the neck up” and “personal grooming from the neck down” which was how Molly and Beau had ended up in each other’s rooms. Thankfully, Caleb had had the foresight to bring along a book to keep himself occupied. Beau and Fjord had finished dressing, her in the vest and tie combo from the luncheon, this time with her sleeves rolled up to show off wide leather bracelets; Fjord wore a nice jacket and pants with his favorite bolo tie, and had cleaned up his boots for the occasion.

“How much longer do you think they’re gonna be?” Fjord asked.

Beau groaned, “Who knows, I’m just glad I had Jester touch-up my buzzcut before anyone else got there, otherwise I would’ve been stuck in the room with them. Jester had like, bags of shit I didn’t recognize. I think most of it was make-up.”

“You think she had bags of make-up?” Fjord looked at her skeptically.

“I know how it sounds, but trust me, women hoard that shit, and make-up companies know it. They’ll release the same product with like one minor change to instill doubt and trick women into thinking that just maybe they need it. Next thing you know you have five eyeliners that you’ve maybe used once, and one that you’ve been using for five years and aren’t about to quit now.”

“That reminds me, I meant to tell you your eyeliner looks nice.”

“Thanks, I picked it up two years ago when I thought I needed blue and just opened it tonight.”

When the other group finally showed up, it was a very glitzy and glamorous affair. Jester’s dress was a cross between a tutu and a ball gown skirt, with a lacy scalloped neckline; it was bubblegum pink and glittered when she twirled. She’d let her hair down from its usual bun and let it hang freely down her back in curls, one braid wrapped around her head like a headband. Nott wore a dark green dress that had a higher neckline, slimmer fit, and was covered in sparkling sequins. Her hair had been pulled up into a top bun, showing off her matching earrings. Yasha’s dress was a grey so dark it almost looked black, very simple with a draped neckline and a shimmer when she moved. Her hair was the thing that drew the most attention, with its various braids and ribbons and jewelry. She was outmatched, however, by Mollymauk, of course. Molly’s curls were tastefully arranged to be out of his face (with one draped across his forehead) while still managing to not look too styled, and his head glittered with jeweled beads and gold decoration. He wore a dark, berry colored evening gown with off-the-shoulder sleeves and a tall slit up the side. All four of them had complementary shawls to protect their arms and shoulders from the early December chill.

“Evening boys, and Beau,” Molly grinned, “Are you our escorts for the evening?”

“I think we’re a little out-numbered,” Fjord said, looking between the two groups.

“That just means one of you gets to be the lucky dog who walks in with two of us on their arm. Let’s see here…” Molly walked over to Jester and gave her a twirl, sending her giggling towards Fjord. He gave Nott a twirl as well, passing her to Caleb. “Well Unpleasant One, think you can handle both of us?” He leaned against Yasha’s shoulder, leg just peeking out from his dress.

“Fuck you, Obnoxious One, I can handle anything you throw at me. If you break an ankle in those heels, though, your ass is limping to the hospital.”

“Fair enough. Away we go!”

Chapter Text

Despite her biting words, Beau offered Molly a sturdy arm and kept an even pace, watching out for uneven breaks on the sidewalk. The group piled into Molly’s van, Fjord taking the driver’s seat again, so they could get across campus without freezing their asses off. The banquet hall had been decked out in icicle lights, blue and white streamers, fake snow, and large snowflake glitter. A photobooth had been set up near the entrance for couples and groups, the buffet table lined one wall, and a disco ball sparkled over the dancers on the floor.

Jester insisted on dragging everyone over to the photobooth first, wanting to get pics before hairspray started wearing off and outfits started getting wrinkled. They managed to get one serious, professional looking, posed shot before devolving into weird faces and goofing off. Molly insisted on taking Nott out onto the dancefloor, whirling around with her in an uncoordinated sort-of dance. Jester pulled Beau and Fjord out with her, the three of them forming their own little grooving circle. Caleb and Yasha claimed a table in the corner, putting shawls across chairs to make sure no one else tried to join them. Nott needed to sit down after the first dance so Molly dropped her off at the table and spirited Yasha away, promising Caleb with a wink that he’d get his turn too. Beau, Jester, and Fjord took a break after the next song, grabbing food for the table. The crowd went wild when the Electric Slide came on, and everyone but Caleb and Nott jumped up to join the crowd.

About an hour into the night, the DJ announced that the first slow song was coming up so couples get your partners. Jester turned to ask Fjord to dance, but he was already standing and holding out his hand to her, blushing a little. Beau turned to Yasha and silently held out her hand with a slight bow, fighting the urge to fist pump when Yasha took it and walked out with her onto the dance floor.

Molly turned to Caleb, still sitting down so they were eye to eye, “May I have this dance, Mister Caleb?”

“Of course, Mister Mollymauk.” Caleb took Molly’s hand with more confidence than he felt, noting that Molly had kicked off his heels and they were now the same height again.

I'll always remember the song they were playin'
The first time we danced and I knew
As we swayed to the music and held to each other
I fell in love with you

Beau and Yasha looked a little like awkward middle schoolers, trying to keep a polite distance between themselves, until Beau took a chance and adjusted herself so that she was in the following position, switching the hands they were holding and putting her other on Yasha’s arm. Jester, meanwhile, was pressed close to Fjord, resting her head against his chest as they gently swayed. Molly had his arms resting on Caleb’s shoulders, hands loosely clasped behind his neck. That close, Caleb could see the lights reflecting off all the jewelry in Molly’s hair, and the glitter on his cheekbones.

“Du strahlst wie ein Star, Molly.“

“I’m not sure what you just said, but it sounded lovely. Thank you, Caleb.”

I'll always remember that magic moment
When I held you close to me
As we moved together, I knew forever
You're all I'll ever need

Chapter Text

The gang ducked out early, when there was still enough going on at the dance that most of the attention of supervising faculty and campus security was directed at the banquet hall. They stopped by the dorms first, changing into warmer, darker clothes, and shoes that they could walk in. Snow started falling slowly as they crossed the parking lot to a shadowy corner where Molly had parked. They grabbed the bags, being careful not to make too much noise, then set out into the night, following the partially covered light from Molly and Yasha’s flashlights.

It wasn’t far, what took the most time was going the stealthy route. Molly and Yasha knew at this point where motorists (such as cops) could see them from the road, and where there were houses with noisy dogs that could alert someone to their presence. With the snow still steadily falling, there were a couple moments where someone slipped and had to be quickly helped and stopped from making a sound. Unable to speak, both from concern about being heard and the general eeriness of the area, various gestures were exchanged along the way. Some were trying to be helpful (Yasha and Fjord), some were rude (Beau and Molly), and some were just weird (Jester and Nott).

The flowers in the park were all gone till January when the carefully planted snowdrops would start to emerge, but the snow lay fresh and unmarked in the moonlight. The small river nearby was rushing on, the only sound to be heard. The trees cast shadows, dark lines of their bare branches creating shapes on the glittering ground. There was one bench, if you knew where to find it, and they’d also brought some of the camping chairs (another hazard to stealth but preferable to a soggy bottom as Molly had gleefully pointed out).

Molly was the first to step forward across the snow, leaving boot prints in his wake. He walked a circle around the tree before heading down to the river, retrieving a package, and crossing back into the circle to set up his chair. The rest followed, huddling together under the partial protection provided by the towering pine. From the package pulled from the river, Molly passed around what had been carefully wrapped ciders, chilled by the water.

“A little something to warm our insides, get us started. Those stuffy, sanctioned events never have any good alcohol.”

“I mean,” Beau shrugged as she popped the top with the bottle opener on her key chain, passing it down the circle, “It’s not like we’re drinking high quality shit here ourselves.”

“It’s strong, and it’ll get the job done, that’s good enough for me.”

“Amen to that,” Fjord held out his bottle to clink against Molly’s, “I don’t mind a nice party, but if you can’t let loose a little, it’s not really much of a party.”

“I meeeean…” Jester started, twirling her bottle of regular cider, “It’s not like the disco ball was switched out with something that had been rigged to open up and drop glitter on everyone after we planned to leave.”

“Yes,” Nott agreed, “Who would have done such a thing?”

The group slowly turned to look at them.

“How,” Fjord finally said, “In the fuck, did you two do that?”

“Did you set up a way to record it?” Beau asked.

“It’s being recorded,” Jester said, “But that’s all I can tell you.”

How,” Fjord repeated, “In the fuck¸ did you switch out the disco ball?”

“We wore gloves,” Nott said.

“And we wiped it down afterwards,” Jester added.

“None of what you have said has in any way answered my question.”

“I meeeean, if you really want to know all the details then I guess I can tell you, but you have to promise not to say anything if campus security starts asking questions.”

“…nevermind.” Fjord sat back and took a long swig of his cider. Beau held out hers to clink with Jester.

They stayed at the park until the wind started picking up, biting through their layers. It was a little harder walking back now that tiredness and alcohol had set in but enough people were coherent enough to keep everyone on track. The group split up when they got close to campus, trying to avoid drawing attention. Nott was still sober enough after only two ciders to get her and Caleb back to the apartment safely. Yasha helped Molly get Fjord back to their room before going her own way. Beau leaned on Jester a little as they walked, mostly for warmth.


 

The next morning, everyone woke up to a text from Jester with a link to a video showing the discreet camera footage of the disco ball opening up, dumping rainbow glitter everywhere, and blasting “Never Gonna Give You Up.” There was also an email from campus security asking anyone who knew anything about the vandalism to come forward with information. Pictures started circling on social media of the aftermath, both condemning and praising the deed.

Talk in the dining hall during the lunch rush was that they still had no leads. Everyone who had been on the committees for the ball was brought in for questioning but nothing came of it. A few pointed glances were directed towards Molly, on general principle, but there was no proof and he seemed as clueless as everyone else. Later in the week, a cleaning company had to be brought in to help take care of the mess.

Chapter Text

“Come on come on!” Jester bounced excitedly in the hall as she waited for Beau to finish getting ready.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Beau hopped out, still pulling on her other boot. “It’s not like it’s going anywhere, Jes.”

“But we have to get there while it’s still good, once too many people show up it stops being fun too quickly.”

“Jester.” Beau locked the door forcefully. “It is 6:00 in the fucking morning, no one is going to be there but crazy people like us. The sun isn’t even awake yet.”

“If you want to wait until a bunch of other people with a bunch of little kids show up then we can text the others and go back to bed.”

“No, I’m already up. Just get me coffee and let’s go.”

They met up with the others at the campus store/café. Pumat-Sol had established a consistent 6am opening time and Caduceus had been more than accommodating. He’d been comically surprised by how many students thanked him profusely when they stopped in before their too-damn-early classes.

When Beau and Jester walked in, the rest of their group was standing almost in the way, just staring into the campus store.

“What’s going on?” Jester asked, trying to gently push her way through.

“Yeah what the fuck guys?” Beau elbowed through a little less gently and froze when she saw what everyone else was staring at.

“Hey Primus, did we get more of those little keychain things everybody liked?”

“Twain’s unloading a box of them now.”

“Got it right here.”

“Alrighty. Trey, do you need any help setting up that display?”

“If it’s not too much trouble, thanks Quartus.”

It was Fjord who finally broke the silence, “Y’all are seeing this, right?”

Stunned, the others could only nod silently as they stared at the four Pumat-Sols roaming around the campus store. One of them, presumably Trey, looked over, noticed the group, and waved, “Hello there! Sorry about the mess, we like to do restock on Saturday mornings when fewer people tend to come in.”

“Not a worry,” Mollymauk said, apparently delighted by this development, “I don’t mean to pry, but have there always been four of you?”

“That’s right,” The one who’d responded to Quartus said, “We tend to only work one at a time, and generally go by our last name so as to avoid confusion.”

“Are there only four of you,” Beau asked, “Or do you have a secret fifth brother somewhere? Like the fourth Jonas Brother.”

“There are four Jonas Brothers!?” Nott said.

“I mean, I just heard, I never actually cared.”

The one apparently called Twain laughed, “No, there’s only four of us.”

“Does Caduceus know?” Jester asked.

“Know what?” The café owner stepped out from the back kitchen area, ducking his head a little. “Oh hello, I see you’ve met all the Pumat-Sol brothers. What can I get for you on this lovely morning?”

“How long have there been four of them?” Fjord asked instead of answering.

“Well I would imagine since they were born. It really makes you impressed by what their mother went through.”

“So, wait,” Beau started moving over into the café away from the quadruplets who were still weirding her out because fuck, man, it was way too early for this kind of shit. “How long have you known?”

“Oh I’ve known since the first week, they all came over to restock on a weekend. Although, I’d kind of started to figure it out.” Caduceus gave that lazy little smile of his that showed he wasn’t trying to brag, he was just stating things the way he saw them. “Spending all day working side by side with people, you tend to notice when their personality changes a little bit.”

“Wait!” Jester darted back over to the shop, “Which one of you got caught under the mistletoe?”

Trey coughed a little and blushed as Quartus elbowed him in a brotherly way and the other two pointed at him with that gleam in their eyes of siblings delighting in embarrassment.

“And if I understand it correctly,” Primus said, “You, Jester, had a bit of a hand in that.”

“I meeeean, you can’t prove anything,” Jester replied with a cheerful wink.

“There definitely aren’t any cameras around here that might’ve caught the whole thing,” Twain agreed, smile belying any actual threat.

“And I definitely didn’t manage to get in a position where you just barely can’t see me not putting up any mistletoe.”

“Well if you know who did do it, or you find out, give our thanks wouldya? It’s been nice not having to listen to this one pine all the time about Mr. Brightens-Up-The-Room over there.” Quartus dodged his brother’s attempt to whack him on the arm.

“I shoulda never told you I said that.”

“Too late now. But it all worked out.”

“Yes it did,” Caduceus agreed, setting out the to-go cups for the few in the group who’d actually placed an order. He smiled over at Trey, making him blush even more.

Chapter Text

Once everyone had finally gotten their drinks, including whatever sugary, over-caffeinated abomination Molly had had Caduceus construct, they headed out to the parking lot and piled into Molly’s van. Jester offered to drive but she was gently relegated to the passenger seat to give directions to Fjord. It wasn’t a very long ride to that specific park but getting there took a little bit of maneuvering. Jester and Beau had found it about two months ago when they couldn’t sleep and so set out on a 3am walk. Later, Jester had gone out during the day to find the way again, specifically because as soon as she’d seen the hill she knew they had to go sledding when the snow was right. She’d brought back her old sleds after Thanksgiving Break that she thought they could still use, and Molly had managed to find some at home as well.

When they reached the park, the lot was empty except for the plow that had just finished. Jester made Fjord pull over so she could hop out of the van and flag down the driver to offer him cookies out of the tin she’d brought. He happily accepted and honked the horn on his way out.

Most of the sleds they had were saucer shaped ones that spun around wildly as you went downhill, but Molly had managed to find an actual toboggan that two people could fit on, three if they squeezed. Jester insisted on taking at least one ride down with each of them, Beau calling dibs. Caleb needed a little more persuasion but did finally agree to taking his one ride. It ended up with them rolling at the bottom and Jester almost elbowing him in the groin, but they were both fine and smiling (or at least, Caleb wasn’t not smiling). Nott challenged Beau to a race, certain that the fact that she was able to fit completely in the saucer and reduce drag would make her victorious. Beau opted to perch precariously on the edges of the saucer and use it to surf down to the bottom.

It turned out, Nott had concealed a snowball in her sled and threw it at Beau when it looked like she was getting ahead. In her effort to dodge, Beau ended up crashing into Nott and they went flying over a snowbank at the bottom of the hill. The group rushed down to make sure no one was dead and found the two of them lying on the ground, laughing and making accusations of cheating as they tried to throw snow on each other. This of course gave Beau an idea for a new game: she and someone else would sled down the hill and try to avoid snowballs being thrown by the others. Jester, Nott, and Molly were absolutely on-board, Caleb and Yasha silently watched as Fjord tried to talk reason into the others. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your view), when Beau stood up she discovered she’d twisted her ankle, and kids were starting to arrive now that it wasn’t the break of dawn. So Jester got Beau up into a piggy-back ride and they all headed back to campus. They went to the café again since it was definitely the warmest place on campus and Caduceus even helped Jester wrap up Beau’s ankle, since she refused to go to the health office. Caduceus gently disapproved of her decision but seemed to recognize it was a losing battle and didn’t push the issue. They stayed until everyone else who had gone out to enjoy the snow started coming in to get warm as well.

Chapter Text

Hello!

You are most cordially invited to join me, Jester Lavorre, as a special guest in my dorm room for a super special tea party! There will be tea and tasty treats provided but you can also bring more if you want to share. There is no dress code because dress codes are for boring people so feel free to wear a dress or a suit or pajamas or just anything really cute! I also have large hats available if you want to be a little fancy but I don’t have a lot so you’ll have to beat everyone else to the one you want. ALSO, if you have any kind of pillow or small stools or something that can be used to create a nice sitting place for you please bring it because I have a lot of pillows but we could always use more. Let me know if you’re coming!

Love,

Jester

“This,” Fjord said, looking down at the light blue paper in his hand, “Is one of the most sparkly things I’ve ever seen, and that’s including the thing you made for the Halloween play.”

“Isn’t it?” Molly said, looking over his own invitation with a smile, “Excellent craftsmanship. I will admit, I’m having some trouble with the cursive, can you read it?”

“Mostly, the glitter turns it into a bit of an optical illusion. Is that,” Fjord held the paper up to his nose and sniffed, “Is that Jester’s perfume?”

Molly took a sniff as well, “It’s scented, how very Elle Woods of her. As to whether or not it’s her usual perfume I couldn’t say, haven’t really noticed that.” He grinned over at Fjord who slowly held up his invite, pretending to be rereading it, trying to hide his blush and not look too much like he was smelling it again.


 

“Caleb! Isn’t this invitation lovely?”

“Ja, very sparkly. Would you like to hold onto mine as well, I fear I would probably lose it amongst some other papers and ruin Jester’s hard work.”

“Of course, thank you. She offered to come over and help me fix up some of my dresses, would you like her to repair your coat when she does? It gives you time to go through all of your pockets and clean it out.”

“I will think about it, thank you for letting me know.”

“We’re going, right?”

Caleb looked up from his book at Nott’s hesitantly excited expression. “Ja, of course we’re going.” He reached over and ruffled her hair, “Bring Tupperware, I’m sure Jester will insist on sending us home with some of the leftovers.”


 

“Hey, Yasha!”

Yasha turned to see Beau running to catch up to her, “Hello, Beau.”

“Hi. So. Are you coming to Jester’s tea party?”

“I think so. I’m not sure yet if I’ll be free that afternoon but I’m definitely hoping to.”

“Cool cool cool. Um. She brought this one hat from home, it’s got like a huge brim on it, and it’s this really shiny gray material, and I was wondering if you wanted me to like bring it over or something so that you could match your outfit? I hear that’s a thing that people do so I just thought,” She made a couple forcibly relaxed gestures, “I dunno, it sounded like something you might like to do.”

“That’s very nice, Beau, I would like that. Thank you.”

“Yeah cool no problem. I can drop it off later today.”

“I’ll see you later then.”

“Yeah, cool, see you later.” Beau turned and walked away, waiting until she had turned a corner to give herself a fist pump.


 

The day before finals started, Nott and Caleb knocked on the door to Jester and Beau’s room and were greeted with a very excited Jester in a very poufy, very sparkly dress, with an equally extravagant hat. She ushered them in to a room decked out in bows and garlands. The beds had been stacked and the furniture pushed to the edges of the room to maximize floor space. On every available surface were plates of various cookies from wedding cakes to gingerbread, as well as scones and cupcakes and doughnuts. Beau, Fjord, Yasha, Molly, and surprisingly Calianna.

“Come in, come in. There’s plenty of tea and pastries for everyone!”

“Where did you get all of this?” Nott asked.

“She’s been baking almost non-stop for like three nights,” Beau said. “Caduceus let her use the big ovens after hours. The doughnuts we had to cater because we couldn’t get access to a deep fryer.”

“It’s all very good Ms. Jester!” Calianna said, taking a big bite of cupcake. “Hi Mr. Caleb, hi Ms. Nott!”

“Hallo Calianna.”

“Hello, what are you doing here?”

“I happened to be passing through when Ms. Jester sent me a text asking if I could come so I’m here and I get to spend the night! We’re having a slumber party!”

Jester gasped, “We should do a girls’ night! Molly, you should come too, we can do our hair and nails.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Yaaay,” Beau said quietly under her breath. “I have to get up early tomorrow,” she said out loud, “So no staying up past midnight.”

“Yes, Ms. Beau.”

“Yes, Ms. Beau,” Molly repeated, grinning and catching the cookie Beau threw at his head.

“Nott, Yasha, what about you?”

“I have work,” Nott said.

“I have to do the thing I was supposed to be doing now,” Yasha said.

“We’ll try again next semester,” Jester promised. “Fjord, Caleb, no boys allowed.”

“What about-” Fjord started to point to Molly, then saw Molly’s grin, “Nevermind.”

Chapter Text

“Kill me.” Beau said for umpteenth time since they’d all gathered in a quiet corner of the campus to study.

“No,” Caleb responded calmly for the umpteenth time, not even bothering to look up from his notes.

“Jester-” she started.

“Nope.”

“Fjord?”

“Only if you kill me too.”

“Deal.” She leaned over and shook his hand, ignoring the exaggerated pout from Jester. “Hey Molly, you want in on this?”

“While a very tempting offer, those types of deaths tend to result in some spectral lingering and I’d rather not spend the rest of my afterlife on this campus.”

Beau grimaced, “Damn, that’s a good point. Fjord, I think I’ve reconsidered my position on dying.”

“Yeah ditto on that, there’s probably enough spooky stuff hanging around the old buildings here, I’d rather not meet them.”

“Are you sure about that?” Molly leaned forward, “I hear the basements around here are some pretty good spots for a ghost hunt.”

“That sounds exciting!” Nott said, “Fjord, doesn’t that sound exciting? We should totally all go there sometime and look for ghosts!”

Fjord turned to her with an unimpressed look. “No.”

“What about you, Jester?”

“Hmm, I’ll have to bring my Ouija board from home, and the séance kit.”

“I can bring the tarot cards,” Molly offered.

“What about,” Beau asked, “Those stick things that ghost hunters use to ask yes or no questions?”

“Dowsing rods,” Molly said, “Sadly I think I lost mine. I can look for another set over break though.”

“Sweet. I’m totally getting a headlamp.”

“Hang on,” Fjord help us his hands, “Y’all aren’t serious, are you?”

“I mean,” Molly shrugged, “I was mostly kidding but this is starting to sound fun.”

“Riiiiight.”

“I don’t think I’ll bring the Ouija board,” Jester said, “We might accidentally release something on campus, and I don’t want to have to deal with that. I’m still bringing candles.”

“Do you really have a Ouija board, Jester?” Yasha asked.

“Mm-hmm! I found it in an antique shop. I made sure to burn sage first before I used it!” She added. “Besides, I never had anyone to use it with so I didn’t actually activate it. I did pretend sometimes. I would move the little triangle thing around the board and act like there was someone sitting across from me talking to me.”

“Like dead famous people?” Beau asked.

“Not really. Mostly I pretended it was this one guy I called the Traveler. He was so cool you guys. He’d been all over the world and had seen really cool stuff and met really cool people and he would tell me all about it. I was his most favorite person in the whole world, so he always made sure to come back and see me. That’s the reason I started drawing, I wanted to show him all of my adventures. I even drew him one time, but I wasn’t really sure what he looked like so it’s not very good. I think I’ll redraw him, I kind of miss him sometimes.”

“I mean,” Beau shrugged, not really sure how to respond, “It sounds like he was a pretty important person to you. Lots of kids have imaginary friends, it’s normal.”

“Yeah.” Jester smiled, “But you know, I haven’t missed him as much recently.”

“If you see him again,” Fjord said, “Make sure you tell him about all the cool adventures you’ve had now.”

“Definitely.”

Chapter Text

“Oh Caaaaaleeeeeb!”

His name, followed by a short burst of honks, drew Caleb up from the couch to the window, scooping Frumpkin up from his lap as he went. Outside, down below, he saw Molly’s van, Fjord’s truck, and Jester’s jeep in the parking lot. Jester waved from where she was standing on the driver’s side, door wide open and letting the cold air in to a very grumpy Beau.

“We have packages for you! Get ready to let us in!”

She was yelling loud enough the neighbors could probably hear. Caleb gave her a thumbs-up and sighed, ready to just get this over with. Nott came in from the bedroom, rubbing her eyes and yawning, “Is that Jester? Why is she yelling?”

“Apparently they are coming up with packages.”

All of them?”

“They’re all outside.” He passed Frumpkin to Nott as she moved over to the window and went to the buzzer to wait for Jester’s call. An obnoxious series of buzzes came through the outdated comm, Caleb waited till it had been quiet for a few seconds before responding, “Did you just play Jingle Bells on my door buzzer?”

“Happy Holidays!” She called back.

Beau’s voice butted in, “It’s cold, buzz us in or I let her play Carol of the Bells.”

“I could disable the comm and let you freeze your butts off waiting.”

Her voice got lower as she threatened, “Buzz us in or I let her bother all of your neighbors and tell them all it’s your fault.”

Caleb counted to ten, very slowly, before finally buzzing them in. He stood by the door, listening to the sounds of shuffling and voices, and managed to open the door right as Beau was raising her hand to knock.

“You waited to buzz us in.”

“Yep.”

“Because I complained it was cold.”

“Yep.”

“Asshole.”

“Yep. You would have done the same thing. Please leave your shoes by the door.”

The whole gang crowded into the apartment, all carrying armfuls of bags and packages. They made their way into the kitchen and living room to unceremoniously dump everything on whatever surface was closest. For a moment, everyone stood in silence, looking at all the stuff that now inhabited the already cramped (while still being fairly spartan) apartment.

Nott finally broke the silence, “What is all this?”

“Feliz navidad,” Molly responded, grinning widely, “We weren’t sure what you two celebrated, if anything, but didn’t want to go away for winter break without dropping off our various holiday gifts. This is the stuff we cleared out of our fridges before we defrosted them, stuff that people were getting rid of, fresh groceries for the week, and various other things we thought you might need. And before you try to tell us you can’t accept it: we’re not hauling it back to the cars so you’re stuck with it and it’s your problem.”

“How,” Fjord asked, “Do you manage to be insufferable even as we’re dropping off Christmas gifts?”

“Just one of my many talents,” Molly winked at Caleb.

“This can’t all be Christmas gifts!” Nott exclaimed, trying to gesture at the bags while still holding Frumpkin.

Beau shrugged, “I mean the rest of it was probably going to end up going to waste so we figured we’d pass it on to the only people we know in the area.”

“We also have slightly selfish reasons for coming over,” Molly admitted as he dug through the nearest bag. “Ta-da!” He held up a bottle of an amber liquid, “This stuff is the cheapest shit we could find and it was on sale. If you’re up for it, I propose we toast the end of the semester with a little game, since here we don’t have to worry about any authority figures crashing the party as long as we’re careful.”

“That’s rich coming from you,” Caleb responded. “Nott?”

She shrugged, “I guess it could be fun.”

“Excellent! Let’s clear the center of the room and get started.”

Fjord and Yasha helped Nott put away the food while Beau and Jester pushed the furniture to the edges of the room. When everyone was settled in a circle on the floor, Molly passed around the shot glasses, giving five to each player. Since Fjord, Jester, and Yasha planned to drive after, they each got hot sauce in theirs to make it fair for the people who were drinking. It was after much deliberation (a couple rounds of rock-paper-scissors) that they settled on Truth, Dare, or Drink.

For the better part of an hour and a half, they learned more details than they ever wanted to know about Molly’s sex life, each had a turn licking Frumpkin (much to the poor cat’s displeasure) as well as various other things in the apartment, drank strange concoctions, and shared embarrassing childhood stories. Very few people opted to actually drink for the purpose of the game, usually doing it as an excuse to drink rather than get out of a truth or dare. Jester downed one of her hot shots just for the hell of it, not bothered in the least after growing up around various cultures that all liked to add some extra spice to their cuisine. Fjord tried to do the same, and almost choked it right back up. Rather than try to drag it out until only one person had drink left, they called it as people started running out of ideas.

As they were cleaning up and resetting the living room, Yasha happened to glance at the window and instantly stopped what she was doing to go draw up the blinds. “Guys, you might want to come look at this.”

The group flocked to the window, and took in the heavy fall of snow that had already coated the parking lot and didn’t show any signs of stopping.