Actions

Work Header

but i'm still trying to find it

Work Text:

Jester is naive, she knows she is, but she’s not stupid.

Jester knows sex. She knows men, and women, and those who identify as both or neither, and she knows sex.

Jester’s mother told her that people would want many things from her, different things from her, because a common trait among races is to want and to take. Sex, she told Jester, sex would be the first thing people would want, and the truth would be the second.

So Jester gives people what they want. The sex is the easy part, the fun part, because Jester likes sex, too. It’s a give and take, and Jester always makes sure that her partner gives as much as she does.The truth is more boring, because people don’t trust it. Her mother told her that it’d be harder for her to make people believe her, because people don’t trust tieflings, but Jester is naive and wants people to like her, so she keeps trying.

The Traveller, at least, always believes her. He keeps her company on the nights she hasn’t found her way into someone’s bed, and she is never lonely.

And then Jester meets Fjord, and he tells her some truths. Not all of them, but Jester can work with that-she knows men, she knows liars, and she knows how to gain trust. She is sure that she can gain his trust, wants it, wants him to tell her everything, because he doesn’t think twice about her being a tiefling or being alone, doesn’t judge her when she talks about the Traveller, and Jester has never had a friend before. That’s what Fjord calls her, his friend, and he smiles at her and blushes when she flirts and is always a gentleman, and Jester promises to help him get to the Soltryce Academy, because that’s what friends do.

Fjord is also very confusing, outside of the half-truths and the voice change, because she can’t tell if he wants sex from her or not, and for the first time Jester hesitates to offer it upfront like she normally would. He is not unkind, but he doesn’t respond to her flirting openly, just gently changes the subject or reminds her that it’s getting late when they’re getting ready to sleep, and she doesn’t know what to do with that.

It’d be frustrating if it wasn’t so sweet and endearing.

She doesn’t have long to worry about it, though, because a few weeks later they meet Beau, and then more strangers, and they’re all liars and full of half-truths and secrets, and Jester is having fun. She has friends, multiple friends, who want to travel with her and fight with her and seem to trust her.

Mollymauk is both like her and dissimilar, and that makes Jester consider the flirting more. He flirts, too, but seemingly with no intent, as if he’s trying to broadcast harmlessness, no matter what people will think of him being a tiefling. He doesn’t care what people think, that’s for sure, but he’s also very careful with his flirting. Jester doesn’t know what to make of it, and she doesn’t ask, because Molly probably will tell a half-truth to deflect, and that’s alright with her. She likes him, regardless of the secrets and the missing memories, but she doesn’t like that he makes her question her own flirting.

Ultimately it isn’t Mollymauk’s careful carelessness that makes her change, or Caleb and his different kind of awkwardness when faced with it, or even Beau and her no-nonsense viewpoint of life. It’s Fjord, how he continues to blush but ignore her advances, and Jester, well, she’s naive but not stupid. She’s learned to read between the lines, and Fjord does not want her. She wants him, but that’s not enough; all parties have to want each other, and Jester does not want to be in the habit of making her friends uncomfortable. If she makes him too uncomfortable she could lose him, and Fjord is her first friend, her most important one, and Jester can’t lose him, not when he means so much to her.

So she gentles her flirting, turns it more into fun teasing, keeps it playful, and Fjord still blushes but does seem to be relieved, like he finds it easier to handle, and Jester is relieved as well, because that means they can stay the same. He will keep being her friend, her best friend, and that’s better than sex by a long shot.

She tells herself that it’s easy to ignore the butterflies in her stomach when he smiles, how grateful she is when he trusts them enough to talk about his childhood and his tusks, how it makes her feel like someone is squeezing her heart when he lies and lies and lies. And if sometimes she has some privacy, and it’s his eyes and voice(s) that she thinks about when her fingers creep down between her legs, then she can leave that to the darkness of the night and ignore it in the morning, too.

Jester has friends, and as they continue to travel together, weeks bleeding into months, they turn into a family, and it’s more than Jester ever imagined herself having.

And with the familiarity of family Jester gets careless. She’s bored, one night in an inn they’ve stopped at, journal already full of her drawings for the Traveller and put away for the night. Beau and Yasha have excused themselves to their room with eyes only for each other, Molly and Caleb to theirs with smirks and flushed cheeks, and Nott had gagged at them but failed to hide her smile behind her mask as she looped arms with Kiri to turn in for the night, Frumpkin tucked under her other arm. Fjord is brooding, eyes looking through the mug in his hands, and Jester knows better than to try and coax him into conversation when he gets like this. He’ll either bring it up in the quiet later, not looking at her from his bed across their room, or he won’t, but she doesn’t want to sit here and wait for that.

So Jester is bored, and there’s a card game going on three tables over, and she’s got enough gold and silver in her purse that she could play a few hands. Most of her money is upstairs in the haversack, so she knows she really isn’t risking much. It’s all men at the table, but they’re drinking and joking with each other, and Jester loves a good time. She looks at Fjord one more time to check in, but he’s lost to her, some thought consuming his mind and eyes staring somewhere she can’t see, so she says nothing as she gets up from their table, careful not to bump him as she heads over to the laughter.

“So, what will it take for me to get in on this game? Do I need to buy in?” She smiles sweetly and rests a hand against the back of one of the men’s chairs, and then there are four sets of eyes on her, appraising and more alert than she had expected, but their body language stays relaxed, so she doesn’t worry about it. One of the men opposite her, a large human with beautiful dark skin, flashes a crooked smile and leans forward to rest his elbows on the table.

“Tell you what, if you buy a round, you are more than welcome to play with us.” Jester beams and nods, immediately heads to the bar to order the drinks, and when she comes back to the table with the barmaid behind her they’ve already pulled up another chair to the table. The woman passes out their ale and then heads off, and Jester drops into the empty chair with a wide smile, picking up her mug and raising it.

“To new friends!” The men all raise their mugs to her and laughingly cheer, and as they drink Jester takes the moment to quickly size them up. Two humans, an elf, and a dwarf, all in standard plain clothing, most likely merchants and shop owners. The most interesting is the beautiful human she’s been seated next to, his nose a little crooked, just like his smile, and he winks at her when he notices her looking. She winks back and offers her hand, voice bright as she introduces herself. “I’m Jester. Thanks for letting me join your game.”

“Braydford. Ready to show us if it was worth it?” The man’s hand encompasses hers, his voice playful as he gently squeezes, and Jester laughs when they let go, immediately reaching for her cards as the dwarf deals them out.

“I’m more ready than you, I’m sure.” She keeps the teasing gentle, wants to get the lay of the table before she commits on any strategy here, and so she doesn’t try anything the first two rounds. She loses the first but wins the second by pure chance, and the men keep joking with her, get her laughing and don’t care when she collects the little bit of money in the center of the table. Braydford is a warm presence at her side, his shoulder bumping hers as she keeps her cards close to her chest so no one can see them, and Jester hasn’t had the kind of company that his sly smile offers in quite some time.

This isn’t where the carelessness comes in. Jester stays careful through the card game, joking with these men as she cheats here and there, not enough to be suspicious but just enough that she’s winning back her money. They play for maybe an hour, and none of them are any the wiser as she cheerfully collects her latest winnings, putting the money in her purse and beaming around the table. “So, another game?” The dwarf groans and shakes his head, red hair filling the air as he reaches across the mismatched wood surface to pick up the cards.

“Not for me, I’m afraid. Early morning.” The other human and the elf both agree, finishing their drinks and smiling at Jester as they stand and excuse themselves. When she turns to her left Braydford is watching her, raising a hand to wave at his companions without looking away.

“I don’t have an early morning, and I’m not quite ready to sleep.” His voice is low, warm, and Jester bites her lower lip as a reflexive smile curls across her face. “Care to walk me home, Jester?” He drops a hand to her thigh, then, and squeezes gently, and Jester’s mind is already made up. She reaches blindly for her mug, turns her head and brings it to her mouth to finish the last of her ale before quickly standing. He’s still looking at her as she glances at him, and his full mouth is a small smirk as he watches her smooth out her skirts, and then the carelessness comes.

“I would love to, Braydford. Let me tell my friend so he doesn’t wait up for me, and then we can go, okay?” The man’s smirk widens as he nods, and he stands next to her, towering over her in a way that makes her mouth go dry. Jester blinks hard and then turns, walks back across the room to where Fjord is still sitting, one hand at his mouth and his gaze affixed to the fireplace now. Braydford heads for the door and waits there as she approaches Fjord, purposefully kicking a chair on the way to make noise so she doesn’t startle him.

“Fjord?” She rests a gentle hand on his shoulder, and he doesn’t flinch, but it takes him a long moment to blink and finally look up at her. Jester hates the distant look in his eyes, wishes she knew a way to make it go away, but he doesn’t want her and doesn’t trust her, and there is someone waiting who is at least willing to have her for a night. “I’m not coming back to the room tonight, okay?”

“What?” His voice is deeper than normal, and Jester has to work hard to suppress the shiver that shoots up her spine at the sound. She squeezes Fjord’s shoulder carefully and raises her other arm to point her thumb over her shoulder, watches his eyes flick over to the door and then back to hers. “Oh.”

“I’m, ah, going out for the rest of the night.” She feels cold at the fact that he seems to still be looking through her, tries not to let anything show as she smiles at him, but still he doesn’t respond, just stares with empty eyes and rubs a thumb against a slowly growing tusk, and Jester lets both hands fall limply to her sides as she takes a step back. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? I’ll be back for breakfast. I’ll bring pastries, okay?”

“Sure, Jess. Sure.” She turns and starts walking back towards the door even as he says her name, a hollow quality to his voice that she’s suddenly desperate to get away from, because it’s like he’s not really there.

Jester can feel the weight of Fjord’s eyes on her back even as Braydford holds the door open for her, and she wonders how that can be when he was looking at something so far away that she might not have even been in front of him.

She tries her best to put her friend out of her mind, looks up at the human next to her and smiles wide as he starts to lead her down the street. She’s going to have a good time tonight, Fjord’s mood be damned, even if she’ll be thinking about someone else’s big hands on her body when Braydford touches her.

“So, you’re just passing through?” He sounds genuinely curious, trying to make conversation before they get to their destination, and, well, Jester is good at giving people the truth when they ask for it.

“Yes. My friends and I, we just travel and look for work and adventures.” He nods and looks down at her, dark eyes flashing in the moonlight as his crooked smile pulls across his face again. Jester imagines kissing it, and impatiently pushes aside the thought of another crooked smile that she likes a lot better.

“And your friends include a half-orc?” Braydford’s voice changes when he mentions Fjord, and Jester almost stumbles, surprised at the sudden iciness that creeps into his tone as he turns his head to regard the street as they keep walking. She raises her chin and furrows her brow, head cocking to the side as she watches his profile, the smile gone from his face.

“Yes. He’s my best friend.” She states it plainly, watching intently as a sneer changes the human’s expression to something ugly, and she internally berates herself for not remembering that many people were raised with prejudices. The man starts to turn down another alley but spins around when Jester stops behind him, raising an eyebrow impatiently at her. She lets her voice turn accusing as she asks, “Why are you making that face?”

“Just wondering how a pretty girl like you finds herself in the company of a freak like that.” Jester frowns and crosses her arms, blood suddenly boiling in her veins as Braydford doesn’t let the sneer drop away and takes a step forward. “Listen, are you coming or not?”

“Or not, I think. I’d rather be in the company of a good man than someone who judges others.” The human frowns and takes another step forward, and Jester bares her teeth, dropping a hand to the sickle at her hip, and his eyes track her movement quickly before he stops.

“Fine, fucking fine. Go be with that fucking monster, I just wanted to see if tieflings were easy like they say. Guess you’re just a tease.” His words are pointed and vicious, but Jester takes the scorn and pulls her lips back farther, makes sure he can see her sharp canines as she feels her tail lashing behind her.

“Get fucked, you racist asshole!” Jester hisses it at him and holds her ground, watches as he throws his hands up in frustration and turns his back to her, stalking down the alley and mumbling insults under his breath. She watches until he turns another corner, and only then does she let her posture droop, tail falling limp and shoulders hunching in as she starts to make her way back down the street to the inn.

The Traveller does not answer when she says his name quietly to herself, and for the first time in a long time Jester is hit with the loneliness of her childhood.

Fjord isn’t in at the table anymore when she comes back in, and Jester can only pray that he’s already asleep so she doesn’t have to explain to him why she’s back. She walks up the stairs slowly, purposefully trying to drag out the time because it means he’ll be more likely to be sleeping, but even as quiet and careful as she is to open the door there’s still a sword in her face when she slips into the room.

“It’s just me! Fjord, it’s Jester.” She presses her back to the door as the half-orc lowers his falchion immediately, and it disappears altogether as he blinks at her, a frown stretched across his face that makes the pit in her stomach feel even heavier.

“Damn it, Jester! I could have hurt you. Thought you wouldn’t be back until morning.” He squints at her, trying to peer closer, and Jester immediately pastes on a smile, shrugging her shoulders as she steps forward and around him, taking off her cloak as she heads towards the bed her bag is by.

“So did I, but it turned out that the guy was more of a dick than I was willing to put up with just to get some of his.” She tries to make it a joke but it falls flat; the only sound behind her is Fjord’s bare feet scuffing the floorboards as he walks back to his bed. As the bed frame creaks under his weight Jester has sudden realization that she’s tearing up, and she’s angry at herself for it. Fjord may be her best friend, but he’s still just a man, and she doesn’t need him, no matter how badly she wants him.

“Sorry ‘bout that. Try getting some sleep. Should make you feel better.” It just makes her even angrier, how short Fjord sounds, like he’s annoyed that she woke him up, and it’s all she can do to just bite her lip and not respond. She pauses for a moment, looking down at herself, and thinks fuck it, it’s not like he’s looking at her. He never looks at her when she wants him to, Fjord, the perfect gentleman, and Jester is quiet but fast as she undoes her armor, nearly tears her dress on a horn getting it off, tugs her leggings off and strips away her breastband so she’s in just her smallclothes, and only then does she crawl into bed, emotionally exhausted and wanting nothing more than to sleep for twelve hours, easily deciding that putting on her nightgown isn’t worth the effort.

“Good night, Fjord.” Her voice sounds small, even to her own ears, and Jester’s horrified at the tears burning her eyes again, bites her lip again to stop them and tastes iron, curls her tail around her waist to try and comfort herself like when she was a child, but then a sob bursts out of her mouth. She presses her face into the pillow immediately, hopes she muffled the sound, but then another sob forces itself out of her throat and she’s trembling, she realizes, trembling on top of the blankets, and she’d promised her mother countless times that she’d never cry over someone not wanting her back but she can’t stop.

“Aw shit, Jester, it’s okay.” There’s a callused hand on her shoulder, suddenly, and a weight on the bed behind her, and Jester hiccups and tries to hold her breath but the sobs keep tearing out of her chest, harsh and ugly. The hand disappears, and Jester feels desolate, abandoned, until the weight on the bed shifts closer and then Fjord is curling up behind her, around her, one arm sliding under her head and the other hand reaching up to gently brush tears away, voice unbearably soft as he says, “Jess, it’s just a guy”, and Jester breaks.

She doesn’t know how long she cries for, only knows that Fjord holds her through it. He keeps talking to her, voice rumbling through his chest and against her back, warming her even when she can’t hear him over her own sobs, until finally her tears have dried up, just sniffles and hiccups remaining. She nudges into Fjord’s knuckles as they wipe away the leftover tears on her cheek and forces herself to focus on what he’s saying.

“There you go, sweetheart, you’re okay. He was just some dumb guy, plenty better of ones out there.” He presses a soft kiss to her shoulder, then, and sighs against her skin, and Jester has to swallow hard so she doesn’t start crying again. She takes a shaky breath and nudges into his touch before turning her head enough to kiss his knuckles, voice hushed in the dark of the room.

“Thank you. It wasn’t-I’m not crying about him, I promise. I wouldn’t cry over someone stupid like that.” She can hear his head shift against the pillow, sees enough movement out of the corner of her eye to tell that he’s nodding, and lets her head fall back down against his bicep. She sniffles quietly and rubs her cheek against his warm skin, slides one hand up to gently curl it over his forearm in front of her face.

“What’s it about, then? You know you can always talk to me.” His voice is just as soft as hers, and as he reaches up to tuck her hair behind her ear Jester’s hear twists painfully, because for the first time since they’ve known each other, she does not tell Fjord the truth.

“It’s nothing important, I promise. I’m just tired, and all my emotions hit me at once, you know?” He hums agreement behind her, and Jester is so glad that she’s facing away, can’t imagine that she’s any good at really hiding her emotions, is sure that the lie is plain across her face. He shifts, then, slides his hand down her upper arm and leans back, and her heartbeat speeds up with a sudden burst of anxiety. “Please don’t leave!” She blurts it out, loud and rushed, body frozen with tension that melts away the second she feels his chest press against her back again.

“Okay, yeah, I won’t go anywhere, I promise.” He squeezes her arm gently before stiffening, and Jester starts to twist around to ask what’s wrong, but he holds her firmly in place. She can just barely see his head tilted up, his eyes affixed to the headboard, and his cheeks are a dark green when he opens his mouth next. “Jester, um, I don’t want to offend you, but you’re pretty much naked, so where can I touch?” She can’t hold back her giggle as she gently reaches for his hand, carefully drawing his arm over her waist as her tail slides back to drape over his hips.

“Right here is okay, I promise. I won’t be offended, no matter where you touch me, Fjord.” She lets her head fall back down against his other arm again, mindful that her horn doesn’t scratch him, and rubs her cheek against his skin as she closes her eyes. Fjord is slow to relax behind her, and after a few minutes of  she’s about to tell him he doesn’t have to stay at all, starts to pull her tail away, but then his arm tightens around her waist and his body goes loose against hers, knees tucking behind hers and breath warm against the nape of her neck.

“Good night, Jess.” His voice is quiet, his arms warm against her skin and his shirt soft against her back, and Jester feels like she’s wrapped up in the best blanket in the world. She curls a hand around each of his arms and squeezes gently, can’t stop the smile creeping across her face when he squeezes her back.

“Good night, Fjord.” She breathes it out against his skin, eyes already drooping as the exhaustion hits her like a punch to the temple, and she hears him say something, voice muffled by the pillow, but she’s asleep before she can ask him to repeat himself.

Jester dreams of being a child again. She dreams of Nicodranas, of home, of being in her room with her mother singing to her and holding her close. It’s a familiar song, a lullaby that her mother sang to her almost every night, about being loved, and even as a child Jester knew that her mother never needed someone to love her.

But even as a child, even as a tiefling, her mother knew that Jester was someone who needed to be loved. Jester grew up with that lullaby, knowing that she was wanted and loved, and it warms her in her dream, the security of knowing that somewhere, no matter how far away, someone loves her.

The dream changes, shifts, and suddenly she’s her own age again, as old as she is outside of the dream, and she’s in a different room, a nondescript bedroom, just like the inns they usually frequent. Someone is still holding her close, but it’s a new voice singing the lullaby, and when Jester turns in their arms she sees it’s Fjord. He’s looking at her like he’s never looked at her when they’re awake, and that’s how Jester knows it’s a dream. He sings to her, the song about being loved, with the voice he used when she first met him, and Jester buries her face in his chest and wraps her arms around his waist to hold him back just as tight, because this is just a dream, and the Fjord she knows does not love her.

When Jester wakes up her face is wet and her bed is empty, and for the first time in her life Jester is cold.

She dresses quickly, desperate to stop feeling this way, but the chill is persistent even once she wraps her cloak around her shoulders and fastens it. They’re at the tail end of spring, nearly bleeding into summer, so Jester decides to go out and get pastries in hopes that the sunlight she can see through the shuttered window will warm her up.

Fjord opens the door just as she reaches for it, his hair damp and his shirt clinging to his chest, and when Jester looks over her shoulder she can see his armor piled on the foot of his bed. He’s staring straight at her when she looks back up at him, and Jester immediately tries to paste on a smile. It feels wrong, like it doesn’t fit, but she doesn’t know what else to do when faced with him after she cried, in his arms, about him, and then woke alone after dreaming about him loving her back.

Fjord takes care of that decision for her when he smiles back at her, relief painted across his face.

“Good morning, Jess. You feeling better?” He raises a hand to rub one of his tusks after asking, and Jester reaches up to swat his hand away without thinking. He catches her hand with a laugh, eyes crinkling at the corners, and just like that Jester’s smile turns genuine.

“Stop that! Let them grow. And yes, much better, thank you.” He’s still laughing even as he lets go of her hand after a gentle squeeze, and he nods and steps around her, walking over to his bed and grabbing his armor. “I’m going to go get pastries now, I’m all out. I’ll see you downstairs when I’m back?”

“Yeah, sounds good to me. Saw Molly in the washroom, and he said Caleb’s already down there. Everyone else’ll probably be up by the time you’re back.” He grins over his shoulder at her, and Jester’s heart does something funny in her chest. His smile follows her out of the room and down the stairs, and it makes a home in her mind even as she waves at Caleb across the room and leaves through the front door in search of the bakery she thinks she saw the day before.

It isn’t until she’s sitting between Nott and Kiri, a bag of pastries on the table before her and Fjord’s feet nudging against hers underneath it, that Jester realizes she stopped being cold before she even stepped outside.

--

Summer is beautiful, especially as she is exploring parts of Wildmount still untouched by war with her family, and it goes far more quickly than she’s ever experienced a season. Soon it’s almost fall, and with the hint of changing weather they find Kiri a new home, somewhere she will be safer, somewhere with an address that they can write to and send money to. It’s painful, saying goodbye, but Kiri is happy, and that’s what Jester keeps telling herself as she cries in the back of the cart with Nott as they ride away, Frumpkin warm across their laps as they hold each other.

They all drink more than usual that night, and normally Jester would try to keep an eye on Nott’s intake but tonight her heart feels heavy, so instead she just takes the flask every time it is offered to her. Everyone seems to forget that the goblin’s flask does not get empty, and by the time Caleb comes around the campfire to take it from them, Jester is well and truly drunk. The wizard sighs at them both, smooths a hand over Nott’s head where it’s pressed against Jester’s arm before reaching up to gently squeeze the tiefling’s shoulder, and she almost starts crying when he stoops down to scoop up the snoring goblin.

“Wait, I don’t-I don’t want to be alone tonight. Can’t she sleep next to me?” Her voice wavers but she holds the tears back, swaying slightly on the log she’s been sitting on and blinking hard so that there’s only one Caleb who stands up in front of her. Her friend’s face is sad as he looks down at her, and Jester’s heart hurts because Nott was his friend first. She’s about to take it back when he adjusts the goblin in his arms and opens his mouth.

“When Nott gets as drunk as this, she prefers to wake up next to no one. I’m going to put her on her camp pad near me, so she still sees me when she wakes, but when she’s as hungover as she will be tomorrow she hates being close to people.” Jester nods, knows her face looks miserable but tries to change her expression so she doesn’t make Caleb feel bad. It must not work, because the human sighs above her and carefully lets go of Nott with one hand to snap his fingers, and suddenly Frumpkin is in her lap, purring loudly and pressing his face against her stomach, and Jester can’t hold back the tears this time.

“Thank you,” she gasps out as she hunches over, trying not to squish the cat, but Frumpkin just keeps purring and butts his head up against her chin once her head is lower. She feels a gentle hand rest briefly between her horns, but it’s not until Caleb is already walking away that his words register to her brain.

“I love you, kleine schwester,” little sister , he called her, and Jester tries to sniffle back the tears as she stands slowly, balances herself carefully with Frumpkin clutched in one arm as she tries to lay out her bed roll with the other. The cat climbing up to her shoulder makes it a little easier, and it’s only when she reaches up to take off her cloak that Jester thinks about someone being on watch. She looks around, rubs a hand over her eyes to try and clear her vision, and then sees Yasha to her left, seated on the cart and weaving a small crown of flowers.

“I’m first watch. Go to sleep. You’ll be safe.” It takes her a minute to comprehend what the other woman is telling her, but Yasha’s face is not unkind as she stares. Jester nods in understanding and reaches up to take Frumpkin off her shoulder, and the barbarian’s face is sad but she offers a small smile before looking away, and Jester sees Beau walking over on slightly unsteady feet to hop up onto the cart next to her girlfriend.

She glances across the campfire, looks to where Nott is curled up into a small ball under her blanket only a few feet away from where Mollymauk and Caleb are pressed close together, sees Fjord stretched out on his own bed roll not far from them, an arm over his eyes and his chest moving steadily, and she sinks down onto her bed roll gracelessly. She squeezes her eyes against hot tears and blindly pulls her blanket up over her head, holds her breath in a drunken attempt to keep from crying, but then Frumpkin makes a soft sound and crawls up from near her chest to press his forehead against her own, and Jester lets go.

She bawls into the soft fur of his stomach, careful even in her drunkenness to not squeeze the cat too tightly, but all he makes no moves to get away, just meows quietly and presses his small head against hers like he’s trying to comfort her, and eventually the tears run out. Jester tugs the blanket down to her neck when she becomes aware of how hot she is, pulls her face out of the fur to breathe in the cool air deeply, and Frumpkin starts to purr, then, curls up in front of her face and licks her cheek before tucking his nose under his tail, and her heart lurches with how much Kiri loved when Frumpkin did that. The fire crackles behind her, and just beyond that she can hear Yasha’s steady voice, and when Jester looks up all she sees is a sea of stars.

She doesn’t remember falling asleep, but she dreams of Kiri. She dreams of still being the age she is now, but she’s back in her childhood room, holding Kiri and singing her favorite lullaby. The kenku smiles up at her, singing different parts of the song back to her, and Jester can’t stop smiling at the little girl, hugs her even closer and kisses the top of her head before starting the next stanza. The door opens behind her, and Jester turns quickly, excited about introducing her mother to Kiri, but it’s Fjord walking across the threshold, a soft smile on his face, and she falls into him when he opens his arms, presses herself and Kiri against his chest, and he picks up the lullaby where she leaves off.

Jester is startled awake by a hiss, and in the second it takes her to process that words are being spoken she realizes that her face is damp with tears again.

“Stop that, you damn thing! I’m just checkin’ on her.” Fjord’s voice is hushed but frustrated, and Jester opens her eyes to see Frumpkin hiss again, one paw held up with claws out, and as she rolls onto her back she can see the half-orc crouched on her other side, brow furrowed and a frown firmly set against his face. She sits up slowly, reaching a hand out to pet Frumpkin’s head clumsily as she squints at her friend against the headache that began pounding the second she moved.

“Fjord? Is everything okay?” His expression relaxes into something more concerned as he locks gazes with her, and he reaches up to cradle one of her cheeks, thumb rubbing against the wetness there.

“Yeah, we’re all good. It’s my turn on watch, and you were crying in your sleep. Just wanted to come over and check on you, but I guess I startled Frumpkin.” He keeps his voice low, careful not to wake anyone else, and Jester, still half-asleep and brain feeling foggy from the hangover, nuzzles into his hand. He makes a soft sound, caught somewhere in his throat, before exhaling quietly. “Are you okay?"

“I feel like dying, but that’s just from the alcohol. I’ll be okay.” She stops petting Frumpkin to reach up and gently curl her hand around his wrist, rubs her thumb over his pulse and smiles at him in thanks, and Fjord’s mouth ticks up in an answering smile.

“Can’t you do somethin’ about that, being a cleric and all?” He says it gently, and Jester is grateful for the reminder, shifts her weight so she can keep holding onto his wrist and uses her other hand as she murmurs the restoration spell under her breath, and the relief is instant, has her grinning even wider at her friend. “There you go. Now, why were you crying? Bad dreams?”

“Not bad, no. Just dreaming of Kiri, is all.” It’s not a lie but it’s not all of the truth, and Jester watches closely as Fjord takes it in, barely holding in a sigh of relief as he just nods in acceptance. “It will hurt for a while, I think. But I’ll be okay.” The half-orc nods again, his thumb smoothing over her cheek once more.

“Yeah, it’s gonna be a sore spot for all of us. But we’ll get through it, with each other.” He leans forward, then, and rests their foreheads together, and Jester’s heart does the funny thing that’s been happening so frequently around him lately that she barely even notices anymore. His eyes are locked on hers and his breath is warm against her face, and for a dizzying moment it takes everything in Jester not to close the small gap between them and kiss him.

“Do you want me to keep watch with you?” is what she asks instead, because she is scared of ruining this friendship that is the most precious one she’s ever had. He smiles warmly, eyes crinkling up at the sides just how she likes, and shakes his head, pressing their foreheads more firmly together before rocking back on his heels.

“No, I’m okay. And Molly’s got last watch after me, so don’t worry about that either. Go back to sleep, Jester. We’ll all be here in the morning.” She nods and squeezes his wrist again, turns her head and kisses his palm without thinking, and then lies back down, heart threatening to beat out of her chest as she rolls away from him and curls both arms around Frumpkin. There’s no sound but the fire from behind her, and Jester is mortified, tucks her head down and presses her face into Frumpkin’s fur and tries to breathe steadily, as if she can convince Fjord that what she just did was nothing. After a long moment she hears leather and cloth shifting behind her, and a gentle hand curls around the blanket where it had pooled at her waist and pulls it up over her shoulders. “Good night, Jester.”

“Good night, Fjord.” She pulls her face away from Frumpkin as she says it, voice quiet but hoping that he can still hear her. He tucks her hair behind her ear in response and hums soothingly before pulling away, and she listens hard to hear his boots kick the dirt as he walks in the direction of the cart. Frumpkin curls closer to her chest and starts to purr, and that sound, combined with the knowledge that her best friend is watching out for her, lulls her back to sleep in no time.

She doesn’t dream again, and Jester wakes up to the sound of Nott throwing up a dozen feet away. She can’t do anything about her own broken heart, or the newly empty place in their family, but this she can take care of, and that’s what she reminds herself as she scoops up Frumpkin while carefully standing. She’s a cleric, her family’s cleric, and this is nothing that a restoration spell and a cat can’t fix.

--

A few weeks later they’re in another town, in another inn, their dinner plates stacked in the center of the table as they all write letters to Kiri. Jester is the last to finish hers, adding a quick doodle next to her signature and blowing across it to make sure it dries before she folds the parchment up. She stands and rolls her neck until she feels it crack, flexing her fingers as she smiles around at her friends.

“Okay, everybody give me your letters, and I will tie them all together with a bow and go find a courier.” Nott stands on her chair and reaches across the table to hold out her letter, a wide smile across her face, and Jester giggles as she takes the parchment from her, happiness bubbling up inside her as she collects everyone’s letters.

“Here, wait, let's send her some coin, too,” Beau pipes up, and she pats herself down before triumphantly holding up a leather pouch. The monk quickly drops some money in it before handing it off to Yasha, and slowly they pass the purse around the table, everyone carefully hiding how much they’re putting in until it reaches Jester, and she laughs in delight when she feels the weight of in in her hand.

“Oh, I love you all very much,” she steps back as she says it, turns and heads for the bar without waiting for a response, adding some gold of her own to the purse before pulling the strings closed. The innkeeper gives her directions for how to get to the courier station, and Jester uses her tail to flick one of Molly’s ears as she skips to the door. “I’ll be back soon, I hope!” she calls out over her shoulder as she steps outside, and the cool temperature just heightens her good mood as she starts heading further into town. It’s a quick walk, and Jester stays focused on her task, doesn’t let herself get distracted until she’s handed over their bundle of letters and the coin purse and paid to have them sent to Kiri; she also sends one that she’d written the night before to Cali, promises that hopefully she’ll soon have an address for her to send one back to.

On her walk back to the inn Jester lets herself look around at the shops and carts she walks past, smiles at anyone whose eye she catches and ignores the distrust that lingers in most gazes. She can feel the weight of stares on her as she moves slowly through the streets, but it’s a small town, and Jester has grown used to this kind of behavior by now. She’s a tiefling, and she will probably always be met by this kind of attention, by mistrust and wary looks, but the Mighty Nein makes it easy to ignore, because they love her not in spite of her infernal heritage but because of it.

Something hitting one of her horns shakes Jester out of her thoughts, and she turns towards the alley to her left just in time for something sharp to catch her right in the cheek. Jester can’t hold back a yelp of surprise, raises her hand and feels blood under her fingertips as the rock drops to her feet. There’s three teenagers huddled together a little ways into the alley, probably expecting the lack of any torches to hide their features, but she can see that their faces are twisted up into cruel smiles as one of them raises their arm to throw another rock. Jester’s able to dodge out of the way, and she thinks about holding her ground, but they look bigger than her, and she thinks that her friends would not appreciate her getting into a fight.

She runs, instead, along the front of the building until she can duck into the alley on the other side of it, and she quickly casts Disguise Self, changes into a tall elf with farmer’s clothes, and comes back out onto the street in time to nearly run into the small group of adolescents.

“Hey, did you see a tiefling run this way?” One of the elvish boys is sneering as he asks her, a rock clenched in his fist, and Jester wants to claw the expression off his face. Instead she steps to the side and points towards the opening at the other end of the alley, changing her accent to sound like theirs.

“Aye, devil nearly knocked me over. Bolted down here and took a right at the corner,” and they go racing off before she even finishes the sentence, and Jester doesn’t stop to watch them, just ducks her head and pulls her hood up to cover her hair as she hurries back to the inn. She’s there in just a few minutes, and she drops the spell just before entering, grins at her friend’s laughter that she can hear as soon as she walks in the door. She makes her way to their table eagerly, and doesn’t realize that’s she forgotten about the cut on her cheek until Nott’s face falls the second they lock eyes.

“What happened to your face? Are you alright?” The goblin’s voice cuts right through their group’s chatter, and Jester slaps a hand over the cut, averting her gaze as she sinks into her seat between Beau and Fjord, very aware of the sudden weight of everyone’s eyes on her.

“Oh, I’m fine!” She mumbles a spell under her breath and pulls her hand away with a flourish to reveal the healed skin, wiggling her fingers and grinning brightly around the table. “See? Everything is okay.”

“No, Jess, everything is not okay.” Fjord reaches up to gently rub the leftover blood off her cheek with his thumb, his frown is concerned as his eyes find hers, and Jester has to look away as shame forms a knot in her stomach. “How’d you get cut?”

“And how’d you get dirt on your horn?” Beau’s fingers brush off whatever is on her horn, and Jester can’t look at her either, twists her fingers together under the table and wishes they would just let it go, because she wants to forget about those stupid kids and pretend she never saw them.

“Some neighborhood troublemakers were throwing rocks at her.” A new voice comes up over her shoulder, and Jester almost gives herself whiplash twisting around to see who’s talking, because she doesn’t know the voice but she recognizes the accent. It’s a woman, a tall half-elf with deeply tanned skin, a look of concern on her face as she glances down at Jester. “You alright, honey?”

“Some people did what?” Jester looks back at the table, sees the calm fury on Caleb’s face and immediately looks to his left as Molly shifts in his seat, but his expression is even worse. There’s just sad recognition in his eyes, and she knows immediately that he’s been through it, too, knows that between them there are many shared experiences like this, and she has to glance away, avoids the rest of her friends’ gazes and turns back over her shoulder.

“It’s okay. I got away from them, I’m alright. Did you see?” The woman nods absently, her eyes tracking across Jester’s face, seemingly looking for any signs that she’s still hurt. She must not find any because her posture relaxes, and a slow smile creeps across her face.

“I did. I then proceeded to head them off and give them an earful about how we treat strangers in this town, and then I came to find you and see if you’re okay.” Her smile is satisfied as she tucks curly black hair behind her pierced ears, and Jester smiles back up at her, offering a hand over the chair. “Figured you’d be at this inn. The other one’s on the other side of town, wrong direction from where you seemed to be heading.”

“Thank you so much! I’m Jester.” The woman takes her hand without hesitation and shakes it firmly, smile warm as her eyes, and the tiefling finds herself a little reluctant to let go.

“That all you can do with kids like that ’round here?” Fjord sounds annoyed next to her, and Jester looks over at him in confusion, sees his brow still furrowed and tries to convey with her face that he shouldn’t be rude to this woman. It doesn’t work, because he doesn’t look at her, but the half-elf only smirks when Jester looks back up at her.

“No, it’s just the first warning. Tomorrow morning I’ll go ’round their houses and tell whichever parent is home what they were doing to Jester here tonight.” The smirk becomes a wide grin as she says it, and Molly laughs a little from across the table.

“Now that sounds more like it. Well, anyone looking out for a friend ours is a friend to us, so pull up a chair. What’d you say your name was?” Jester immediately shoves her chair against Fjord’s and pushes Beau’s away with her foot, making just enough space for the woman to drag a chair away from the table behind them and sit between the two of them.

“I didn’t, but you can call me Lyssa.” And immediately Jester is completely at ease, because the half-elf turns a charming smile towards her when she says it, and it’s a half-truth, Jester can read it in the woman’s dark eyes just like she can with Fjord, and Jester knows how to handle herself around liars.

“Well, Lyssa, thank you for watching out for our friend.” Yasha nods at her and offers a small smile, her arm resting on the back of Beau’s chair as the human leans into her girlfriend, and as the half-elf looks over to them Jester tries to look at Fjord out of the corner of her eye. He’s still frowning a little bit, staring down at his hands on the table, and Jester wishes she could pull him away for a minute, knows that he must have noticed at the same time as her that Lyssa sounds like she’s from Port Damali, that she has the same accent that Fjord had when they first met.

“I wasn’t going to just watch them hurt her. I haven’t lived here long, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to just stand by. What kind of a person would that make me?” She’s cheerful as she says it all, and Jester looks back at her to see her slowly regarding everyone around the table.

“One we definitely wouldn’t let sit with us.” Caleb’s words are firm, final, and then Nott pushes her mug across the table, Mollymauk’s grin spreading wide across his face, and the half-elf relaxes back into her chair even as she picks up the offered ale and holds it aloft.

“Then here’s to not being that kind of person.” Beau immediately raises her mug with a cheer, Nott laughing as she holds up her flask, and Jester claps her hands as the rest of the table joins in on the toast.

Lyssa is charming, and funny, and eventually even Fjord seems to shake away his thoughts and joins in on the conversation. Jester notices that he speaks just a little bit slower than normal, seems to be enunciating his words more carefully, but she’s not going to say anything in front of everyone else. The Nein talk about spending maybe another day here, laughing when the half-elf tells them that it’s not worth it, that they’d be better off hitting the general store for any supplies they might need first thing when they wake up and then moving on.

Jester isn’t quite aware of the time passing as they all keep talking and laughing, too distracted by the sidelong glances Lyssa keeps giving her, and Jester quickly comes to the conclusion that she is more than willing to take the woman up on whatever proposition she has in mind for evening activities.

Yasha is the first to stand after some time, rolling her shoulders back and adjusting her shawl as she nods once to Lyssa. “Storm’s coming. I’m going for a walk.” She ducks and brushes a kiss to Beau’s cheek, offering a soft smile before stepping back. “I’ll be back, promise.” There’s a deep sincerity in her voice, and Jester is glad for it, for how long Yasha has stayed with them this time around. Beau stays relaxed even as the barbarian walks away, and she just smiles across the table at Nott.

“I’m gonna go get ready to sleep. I know we got a few rooms for the night, but what d’you say we do a girls’ room like old times?” The goblin’s face lights up as she nods in agreement, capping her flask and sliding down off her chair to stand on the floor.

“I think it sounds like a great idea!” Her voice is excited and her eyes are bright, and Jester’s heart feels full of love for her family as she looks around the table, sees Caleb smiling fondly at his best friend and Molly grinning next to him, hears Fjord chuckling next to her as Beau gets up and starts up towards the stairs.

“Why don’t we do a boys’ room, too?” Mollymauk’s smirking when she looks back at him, his tail flicking playfully behind him, and Jester giggles at Fjord’s mock exasperated sigh.

“As long as y’all keep your hands to yourselves, then I suppose I’d be alright with that.” His drawl is warm, and Jester watches as he fails to keep a smile off his face, and she’s so distracted by looking at him that she misses Lyssa leaning into her space until she’s whispering into her ear.

“I’ll be waiting outside for the next few minutes, if you’re looking for company for the night.” She’s up before Jester can even turn her head back towards her, and the half-elf smiles at the men around the table, raises a hand to where Nott is waving from the stairs as she follows Beau. “It’s been a pleasure, but I should be heading home, too. It was very nice meeting you all, and good luck with your travels.” She nods once before turning and heading for the door, and Jester watches her go before turning back to her remaining friends. She opens her mouth to make an excuse, but Molly cuts her off smoothly. 

“I’ll tell Nott and Beau not to wait up for you, shall I?” He says it with a wink, standing and stretching his arms up over his head, and she can only laugh in response, standing as well and stepping back to push her chair in.

“I would appreciate it, yes. I’ll see you in the morning-don’t go leaving without me!” Caleb grins when she points at him, tapping his fingers on the table as he gets up.

“No promises.” He says it playfully, and Jester is hit by a wave of pride that he’s able to be this way, that he’s come so far from when they first met, and she has to dart around the table and hug him quickly before making her way towards the door. She squeezes Fjord’s shoulder on her way past him, looks down and makes herself smile like everything is normal, but his eyes are distant when he smiles back up at her, and Jester’s heart twists painfully in her chest.

She feels the weight of eyes between her shoulder blades as she walks away, but figures it’s probably just Caleb making sure she isn’t attacked the second she steps outside. When she looks back over her shoulder, though, they’re all walking away, her two brothers and her best friend that she’s in love with, heading up the stairs, and it’s their laughter she carries with her as she steps out into the cool night.

“I was hoping you were coming.” Lyssa’s voice is warm and low, and Jester looks to her left to see the half-elf leaning against the side of the building. Her eyes are hooded as she slowly looks Jester over, and the tiefling bites her lip and winks, taking a step towards her. This, at least, she is sure of.

“Well, I’m not yet, but I have a feeling you’ll make sure I do.” The other woman laughs and pushes off the wall, nodding in agreement as she starts walking down the street. Jester looks up to see clouds starting to roll in, but none of them are blocking the full moon yet, and she smiles as she follows Lyssa.

“Oh we’re going to have fun, you and I.” She stays close to Jester as she leads her further into town, continuously bumping their shoulders and brushing their hands together, and the tiefling feels warm all over by the time they make it to a small store. She doesn’t bother reading the sign above them as Lyssa unlocks the door, figures she’ll have a chance to look it over on her way out tomorrow morning, and she follows closely behind the other woman as she leads her through a spacious interior to another door on the back wall and through it into nice living quarters. She turns to Jester, then, and her smile is slow as she takes one of her hands.

“I hope you don’t mind if I start and end the tour of my place in the bedroom.” Jester laughs at that and squeezes her hand, steps closer into her space and tilts her head up to maintain the eye contact.

“That sounds quite like the kind of tour I prefer.”  Lyssa winks and nods once, squeezing Jester’s hand back before tugging her towards another door to their right, and when she opens it the first thing the tiefling’s eyes are drawn to is a bed illuminated by moonlight coming in through the windows, black satin sheets that Jester knows she’s going to look good against, and she slips in past the half-elf easily, already undoing her armor.

“Want me to light a lamp?” Her tone is conversational, and Jester looks over her shoulder when she hears the door click shut, sees Lyssa watching her with those dark eyes even as she reaches for the hem of her own shirt, and she shrugs in response, dropping her armor to the floor and crouching to take off her boots.

“Only if you want to close your curtains. I’ve been told I look very good in the moonlight.” She says it just as casually, and when she stands the half-elf already has both her shirt and breastband off, and she shakes her head with a predatory grin that has heat collecting between Jester’s legs.

“I think we’ll leave those curtains open, then.” She crosses the room quickly and curls her hands around Jester’s jaw, tilting her head up even as she ducks down, and her lips are soft even as she kisses Jester firmly, and Jester immediately palms her waist, slides her hands up her ribcage to brush her thumbs against the undersides of Lyssa’s breasts, and she swallows the sigh the other woman lets out.

The rest of their clothes come off quickly after that, and Jester can tell by the way Lyssa can’t stop staring down at her that she looks just as good against the sheets as she thought she would, pinned by the hand around her throat that she’d begged for and squirming with three long fingers curling in her wet cunt.

She closes her eyes when she’s on the edge of her orgasm, hears the half-elf’s accent in her ears as she keeps murmuring praise, and the second she thinks of Fjord talking to her instead she comes with a wail.

Jester gets Lyssa under her after that, pins her hips to the bed and gets down between her legs, winks up at her and tells her, “You can hold onto my horns if you want,” before licking into her, and it’s so good, the half-elf’s cunt slick and hot under her tongue, the hands that curl around her horns and tug her head wherever Lyssa wants her, the directions and praise she keeps giving Jester until her thighs try to close against her forearms as she whines and comes.

Jester crawls up her body to share a messy kiss once the other woman finally relaxes, and then she rolls onto her back next to her, stretching out lazily and humming contentedly. She looks over at Lyssa to see the other woman smiling up at the ceiling, can’t help but giggle at her expression and shift so she’s pressed up against her side.

“Now I wish I hadn’t told you all that this town isn’t worth spending another night in.” Jester giggles again and ducks her head down to nudge her nose against Lyssa’s cheek. “How old are you, Jester?” The half-elf says it without any intent, wraps an arm around Jester’s shoulders and sighs contentedly when the tiefling presses a kiss to her jaw. She hums absently and shrugs, kissing her warm skin again before raising her head.

“Definitely old enough for this,” she winks at Lyssa, rests a hand on her stomach and feels pleased with the laugh it gets her, “why?” The other woman slides her hand up into Jester’s hair, scratches gently at her scalp and laughs again when the tiefling melts against her.

“You just seem a little young to be in love, is all,” and Jester freezes against her, holds her breath and snaps her head up to meet patient eyes. Lyssa doesn’t stop moving her fingers, nails gently scratching up to the base of a horn, just waits for her to slowly relax. “The one from Port Damali, the half-orc?”

“Yes,” she admits it out loud for the first time, voice quiet and eyes sliding away, blurting out before she can stop herself, “he used to sound like you.” The half-elf hums in acknowledgment and doesn’t say anything else, but she doesn’t push Jester away, either, and that makes her relax even further. “I’m sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for, hon. You’re not the first person I’ve slept with who thought of someone else. Hells, I’ve thought about other people when I’m being fucked, too.” Her voice is sincere, kind, and Jester pushes herself up to kiss her slowly, nudges their noses together when she pulls back enough to look down at her.

“Thank you.” Lyssa shakes her head and gently tugs Jester into another kiss, and when she lets her pull away she’s smiling up at her, a little wicked, and it’s the only warning the tiefling has before the half-elf rolls them over so Jester’s flat on her back.

“You can thank me after I fuck him out of your mind for the night, alright?” One of her hands is already sliding down between Jester’s legs as she says it, her voice warm, and this time Jester doesn’t close her eyes until they’re spent, bodies covered in cooling sweat.

She wakes up to a crack of thunder, sees a bolt of lightning far away through the window, and Lyssa is talking in her sleep; the accent makes Jester ache so much that she slips out of bed. She’s quiet as she gets dressed, doesn’t put on her boots as she goes out into the living area to look for some parchment and a quill. She finds some after a few minutes, scrawls out a small note thanking Lyssa for the fun and sneaks back into her room to leave it on the empty pillow, and it’s not until she’s back out in the storefront that she pulls on her boots. It’d be cold outside for any of her companions, but after she closes the door behind her Jester takes a moment to just enjoy the rain.

Lyssa’s store is farther than the courier station had been, and Jester doesn’t see anyone else on the streets for the first half of her walk back to the inn. As she’s rounding a corner, though, she literally runs into a pair of Crown’s Guard coming her way, bouncing off the armor of one and stumbling backwards, barely catching herself.

“Oi, what’re you doing out here? You’re breaking curfew!” The man’s voice is harsh, accusing, and she has to force herself to stay calm as she looks up at them. It’s a man and woman, two humans, and their faces are hard, cold, and Jester is so tired of this, wishes she had cast Disguise Self again.

“I didn’t know there was a curfew, I’m sorry. I’m heading back to the Claybrook Inn.” She curls her arms around herself as she says it, hunches her shoulders in and tries to make herself look smaller. The guards glance at each other, faces still stony, and when they look back down at her Jester almost takes a step back at the hatred in their eyes.

“Well we’ll just walk you back, shall we? Make sure you get there okay.” There’s no concern in the woman’s voice as they step apart, make a space for her between them, and Jester suddenly realizes that she’s chilled to the bone as she steps forward.

“Okay. Thank you.” She keeps her voice small, looks down at her feet as they shoulder in against her and start walking. Her breath forms a cloud in front of her face, and Jester shifts to cross her arms more tightly, hands curling around one of her biceps and in her cloak on the other side.

They’re almost to the inn before one of the guards breaks the silence. “You got anyone waiting up for you?” The woman’s voice is just as cold as the rain, and Jester doesn’t trust for a second that she’s asking out of any sort of innocent curiosity.

“No, they all thought I’d be out all night,” and it’s the wrong thing to say, Jester realizes immediately that she should have lied, but she doesn’t even get a chance to brace herself before the guard to her right drops back and the one to her left shoves her hard into the alley they’re passing.

“So no one will be missing you until morning? Good.” Jester slams into the wall and coughs as she gets the breath knocked out of her, hears air moving behind her and barely stumbles out of the way of a gaunleted fist that slams right where her head had been. She can’t even say a spell to defend herself, struggling for air just as another hand grabs her shoulder and yanks her around to look at the guards again.

“Fucking demon,” is what rings in her ears as a fist slams into her face, and Jester feels her nose break, loses the little breath she’d just gotten back as a knee is jerked up into her stomach and she goes down hard, lands on her back in a puddle and has just enough sense to roll away from a foot swinging towards her ribs. It catches her in the thigh instead, and as pain blooms bright and the blood from her nose drips into her gasping mouth, Jester is suddenly furious.

She twists around onto her back and is able to catch the next foot coming at her, tugs it closer while kicking her heel up as hard as possible, and there’s a sick sounding gasp above her as she connects with the groin of the male guard. She lets go of his foot and shoves even harder with her own, manages to knock him off balance to fall back against his companion, and as she scrambles upright she finally sucks air back into her lungs.

“This fucking demon fights back!” She hisses it at them before quickly casting her Blindness spell, and both guards jerk back as it takes hold. The woman drops the man and takes two quick steps forward, swinging out blindly for Jester, but it’s easy for her to duck out of the way before driving her foot into the outside of her knee as hard as possible just as the woman steps down. It snaps with a sharp sound, and Jester immediately punches her in the mouth to muffle her scream. The woman drops to the ground, swearing loudly as her weight lands wrong and there’s another snap from one of her wrists, and Jester looks over to the other guard quickly, sees that his mouth is moving but thunder drowns him out, and then she looks back down and raises her foot.

She brings it down as hard as possible once, twice, three times, until the woman is still, and then she runs down to where the still blind man is crawling the wrong way and kicks him over onto his back. He opens his mouth but Jester drops her knee into his chest and closes both hands around his throat before he can shout again, and she squeezes hard, takes the hit to her cheek and keeps squeezing, winces as his hands close around her wrists and he tries to pry her hands away, but she just digs her claws into his neck and bears down as much of her weight as possible until his hands fall away and his eyes roll back, and then she’s up and running without bothering to check if he’s still breathing.

There’s no one behind the bar when she bursts in the door of the inn, and Jester is grateful for it, a stitch developing in her side as she goes barrelling up the stairs, and she’s gasping for air as she starts knocking on the door of one of the rooms they’d rented, praying it’s one they’d decided to use. She hears faint movement beyond the door and almost bursts into tears, stops knocking and tries to keep her voice down so no other occupants of the inn wake up.

“It’s Jester! Open up, please, we have to go!” She doesn’t even have to wait a full thirty seconds before the door is yanked open and Molly is staring at her, shock growing across his face the second he sees her.

“What the fuck, Jester? Who did this to you?” He reaches out for her and she wants to cry, just shakes her head and falls forward against his warm chest, allows herself a brief moment of being held before pulling away again.

“It was two guards, and I don’t know if I just knocked them out or killed them, but I told them where I was staying, so please, we need to go!” It all comes out in a rush, and she’s amazed she keeps her voice so quiet, feels panic clawing at her chest and just tries to breathe through it. Molly takes her arms and pulls her into the room, nodding as he sets his jaw.

“Alright, I’ll go wake the girls. They’ll get your things. Fjord, Caleb, get dressed and get Jester out to the cart. Don’t wait, we can all meet there.” He reaches up to gently cup her face and kisses her wet forehead, eyes sad as they find hers for a moment before he slips out of the room, closing the door behind him. She turns to see the other two men already in motion, Fjord pulling on his armor and Caleb shoving things into his bag. She sucks in a shaky breath and tips her head back to stare at the ceiling, and almost immediately doubles over and starts coughing when blood trickles down her throat from her nose.

“Woah, hey, what is it? Where’re you hurting, Jess?” Suddenly there are hands on her shoulders and a comforting voice in her ears, and when Jester opens her eyes she sees Fjord bent over looking at her. She shakes her head and reaches up to press a hand to his chest, forcing herself to breathe in time with him. He brings up one of his hands towards her face but hesitates, like he’s not sure if he can touch her, and Jester can feel the warmth radiating off his skin and aches for it. She shakes her head again and takes her hand away from him instead, straightens up and reaches up to her own nose, gently touching it and murmuring a healing spell before answering him.

“I’m okay. Are you packed? We really need to go.” She winces as her nose sets back together under her touch, and her voice is muffled by her hand but Fjord nods and steps away, going back to the bed to pick up his pack. For a moment the only sound in the room is water dripping off her hair and dress, and then the door opens behind her and Jester turns to see Mollymauk come in, his eyes flashing in the dark.

“They’re all just finishing packing. I need to put on real clothes and then I’ll be set, but go on without me. I’ll meet you at the stables.” He squeezes one of her shoulders as he walks past her, and Jester quickly grabs one of his hands and casts Blessing of the Trickster. The other tiefling squeezes her hand tightly and looks at her with those sad eyes again before letting go and walking past, nodding at Caleb as they step around each other and the wizard comes towards her.

“Let’s go.” His voice is hoarse from sleep but his eyes are sharp, and as Fjord comes up behind him Jester pulls up her hood and turns to head out the door and towards the stairs. Caleb curls a gentle hand over her shoulder once they’re on the first floor, tugging at her carefully to make her stop. “Hang on, let Fjord or I go out the door first. If any guards are out there, I don’t want them seeing you.” She nods and steps to the side, lets Fjord and Caleb both get in front of her.

“Wait, let me give us a little more help with this.” She closes her eyes and reaches down to her belt to curl her hand around her holy symbol, says a quick prayer to the Traveller before murmuring the incantation for Pass without a Trace. She opens her eyes to see the two men watching her, concern blatant across their faces, and tries to offer them a smile, can only nod instead when her mouth won’t cooperate. “Okay, let’s go."

Fjord is first out the door, one hand held behind him to signal them to stay back as he checks out the street. He waves them forward after a long moment, slips out carefully and waits for them to crowd up behind him before he starts leading them towards the stables. The three of them keep to the shadows, moving quickly through the streets, and Jester says a prayer of thanks that the rain is reducing visibility even further when they reach the stables without seeing anyone. She immediately joins Caleb in getting the horses out and bringing them around to the cart as Fjord keeps watch.

Just as they finish hitching the horses to the cart the half-orc gives a low whistle they both recognize, and Jester sags in relief against one of the horses as Caleb jumps up into the cart, both of them quiet as they watch the rest of the Nein come around the corner of the building. Beau and Nott both look murderous, but Yasha hushes them when they open their mouths, just nods at Jester and holds out the haversack to her when she gets close enough.

“Not now, any of you. Time for talk when we’re out of this blasted place.” Mollymauk’s voice is low but it carries as he and Fjord come up at the rear of the group, and Jester climbs up into the cart quietly, sitting down at the back of it and setting the haversack to the side. Everyone else climbs in quickly, Fjord joining Caleb at the front and taking the reins. He looks over his shoulder once to check everyone’s sitting, locks eyes with Jester briefly, and she curls her hands tightly in her lap when she’s hit with a wave of longing to just be wrapped in his arms. She nods to him instead, tries to smile reassuringly, and he nods back, shoulders relaxing slightly as he turns back around and starts the horses going.

Nott slides a hand into one of Jester’s as she scoots closer to her, and the tiefling squeezes it tightly when she realizes the goblin is shaking next to her. Jester doesn’t look at anyone as they ride, just keeps staring at the little hand curled in hers and thinks about her mother in an effort to not start crying.

“What’re you humming?” Nott’s voice is soft but it still startles Jester, and when she looks up she can only see the winding road between Fjord and Caleb. As she glances around the inside of the cart she can tells that they’ve been travelling for a bit, because everyone seems at least more settled in their skin, Beau leaning into Yasha against one side of the cart and Molly braiding his hair as he sits against the other side. “Jester?” She looks down at the goblin, then, and tries to smile, squeezing her hand gently.

“A lullaby my mother used to sing to me.” Nott nods and squeezes her hand back, but she doesn’t smile in response, and Jester sighs heavily, rubbing her thumb along the younger girl’s knuckles. “Do you want to know what happened?”

“I think we all do. But first, let me take care of the blood on your face, okay?” Yasha is already moving towards her as she talks, scooting closer and bringing the haversack with her. Beau slides over until she’s pressed against Jester’s other side, and as Yasha pulls the healer’s kit out Molly ties off his braid and crawls closer to sit next to the aasimar.

“Okay.” Her voice is small even to her own ears, and she watches Yasha pull out some gauze and her own canteen to wet it, closes her eyes when the other woman takes her chin and starts to wipe at her mouth and chin. The barbarian’s hands are warm and gentle, and Jester has tears in her eyes when Yasha finally stops and she looks up at her friend. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now, can you tell us?” Her voice is as gentle as her hands were, and Jester takes a deep breath to push down the urge to cry and nods, looking between Yasha and Mollymauk to stare at the back of Fjord’s head.

“I was coming back from Lyssa’s, and I ran into two Crown’s Guard. They said I was breaking curfew, and that they’d walk me back to the inn. When we were almost to the inn they asked if anyone was waiting up for me, and when I told them that nobody was, one of them said that was good, that no one would miss me until morning, and then they shoved me in an alleyway and started trying to beat the shit out of me.” She watches Fjord’s back straighten and his shoulders grow tense as she talks, but she can’t look at anyone else.

“What’d you do to them?” Nott sounds like she’s trying to keep anger out of her voice, but she’s still squeezing Jester’s hand tightly, and Jester keeps rubbing her thumb over the goblin’s knuckles, doing her best to soothe both herself and Nott.

“I used a spell to blind them, then I broke the female guard’s knee, and once she was on the ground I stomped on her head until she stopped moving. The male guard was already on the ground, so after I took care of her I got to him and kicked him over so he was on his back, and then I choked him until he stopped moving. I don’t know if they were just unconscious or if I killed them.” Her voice wavers at the end, and Jester claps her free hand over her own mouth, forces herself to keep breathing steadily and not break down in tears.

“I hope you killed them.” Beau’s voice is firm, controlled, but Jester knows if she looked over there would be murder all over her friend’s face. She hears Yasha hum agreement, flicks her eyes over to Caleb when she hears him snap his fingers and sees he’s already looking at her, tears on his face, and suddenly there’s a warm weight in her lap next to Nott’s hand. It’s Mollymauk, though, who finally breaks her.

“You didn’t deserve that, Jester. ” He says it firmly, and then he takes her chin and turns her head to lock eyes with her, those red eyes seeing straight into her soul as he repeats himself in Infernal, the words just for her, “You didn’t deserve that. You deserve better.

I hate it, Molly, I hate it so much.” She lets go of Nott’s hand and all but launches herself at the other tiefling, Frumpkin falling out of her lap as she knocks their horns together and her weight sending him off balance, but he holds on tight to her even as his back hits to the floor of the cart, holds on tight as she bursts into tears and presses her face to his chest, holds on tight as her hands curl into fists in his robes.

There are no noises other than her harsh sobs and Molly’s soothing sounds, the rest of the Nein silent, and Jester doesn’t care if they’re all pretending to ignore them or staring right at her, she can’t hold it in anymore. Mollymauk doesn’t let go of her, rubs her back and cradles her head, laying in the cart without a single complaint, and eventually she realizes that he’s humming the same tune she was before, her mother’s lullaby, and that’s what finally calms her.

Did you ever teach her Infernal? ” She shifts so her head is against his shoulder and she’s not speaking into his chest, but she still says it as quietly as possible, hoping he’s the only one who will hear with the rain still beating down on the canvas of the cart, hoping he will know who she’s talking about without saying names. He squeezes her shoulders and keeps her close, the humming coming to an end.

No. She doesn’t know Infernal, and I don’t know Celestial. We wanted to keep some things for ourselves.” He says it just as softly, for her only, and Jester unclenches her hands from his robe, slides one under it to press against his heart through his shirt, and Molly takes his hand out of her hair to cover her own, pressing it even more firmly against his chest.

I don’t want to be like this anymore .” Molly makes a wounded sound above her, and Jester squeezes her eyes shut tight against another wave of tears, focuses on his heartbeat under her hand and tries to tuck herself further into his side.

Please don’t say that.” He sounds so sad that Jester wants to apologize, looks up at him only to see him already staring at her, eyes wide as he squeezes her even more tightly. “Jester, I love you, we all love you, just the way you are. Kiri loves you, just the way you are. You bring so much good into this world.” She can’t look away from those red eyes but still shakes her head, swallowing around the lump in her throat.

But I don’t love me the way I am, anymore. I used to, before I left home. I never should have left.” It’s his turn to shake his head, hands tightening on her as he opens his mouth, but Jester pushes forward and cuts him off. “I’m not strong like you, Molly. I don’t know if I can keep doing this.” He sits up, then, pulls her with him and keeps her tucked under his arm, ducking his head to maintain eye contact.

You’re not just talking about being a tiefling, are you? ” His voice changes, goes from sad to gentle understanding, and Jester can’t lie, nods and spreads her fingers against his chest so his slot between hers. “You’re talking about being in love with him, too.” She nods again, sighs shakily and closes her eyes, resting her cheek against his shoulder as he curls their hands closed against his heart. “If I let it go now, will you promise me that we’ll talk about this later?

I promise.” She means it, too, squeezes his fingers and wraps her other arm around his waist, and Molly makes a gentle sound and presses a kiss to her forehead.

“If we keep traveling through the day, we can all take turns catching up on sleep.” He says it in Common, voice raised just enough that everyone in the cart will be able to hear him, and Jester hears several murmurs of assent.

“Everyone back there, you go ahead and try. Me and Caleb will swap out with two of you when we need to.” Fjord’s voice is steady when it comes floating back to her, and it sets Jester even more at ease. Molly squeezes her gently before pushing her up a little, and she opens her eyes to see Nott holding out both her hands.

“Only if Jester gets in the middle.” Beau and Yasha both hum agreement, already pulling out the bed rolls from the corner of the cart they keep them in, and with some careful maneuvering the five of them get enough rolled out to cover the floor of the cart. They all take off their armor and shove it to the sides, and then Jester is unceremoniously tugged into the middle.

Nott curls up above her head, one hand in Jester’s slowly drying hair, and Molly’s chest is against her back, one of his arms and his tail over her waist; Beau’s hand is a warm weight on her hip where she’s facing Jester, Yasha pressed against her back and reaching over her to rest a heavy hand on one of Jester’s arms. Frumpkin curls up in the small space between Beau’s chest and her own, and his purring, along with the rolling of the wheels under them and the slow rumble of thunder in the distance, lull Jester to sleep much more quickly than she had expected.

She dreams of her friends, her family, her Mighty Nein. They are in her childhood room, all of them sitting in a circle on the floor she grew up playing on, and she is a child again, they all are, young and short and nothing but laughter. She sees them all without scars or piercings or tattoos, no one hiding behind scarves or painted porcelain or cloaks.

Mollymauk, not Lucien, is to her right, smile bright and tail curling around her wrist as he reaches for Caleb on his other side, a few teeth missing from the boy’s grin under wild red hair, and Nott is there next to him, lips turned up and no mask in sight as she plays with a familiar kitten, and then Yasha next, giggling as she flexes skinny arms for the human at her side, Beau laughing as well, eyes lively and fingers unbandaged where she’s clapping, and then there’s Fjord to Jester’s left, tusks curving over his upper lips and one hand curled around her own.

Jester teaches them her mother’s lullaby, a song about being loved, and all of their voices sound beautiful together when they sing it back to her.

Jester wakes up with tears on her face and strong arms holding her close, her hands fisted in a shirt and a warm voice in her ear.

“Hey, sweetheart, you’re okay. Whatever it is, it’s just a dream.” Fjord’s voice is gentle, and when she opens her eyes his face is only inches away and his eyes are locked on hers, his body nearly flush against hers on the floor of the cart. It’s not moving anymore, and she can’t hear anyone else in here with them. The half-orc slides one hand up her back and over her shoulder, brings it up to brush away a tear on her face, and Jester’s heart cracks open wide. “There you are.”

“I’m sorry.” It slips out without her even realizing she’s spoken, barely more than a whisper, and she uncurls one hand from his shirt to press it against his chest, feels his heart beating steadily against her palm. Fjord frowns in confusion, brow furrowing as he smooths his thumb over her cheek again.

“For what, Jester? You ain’t got anything to be sorry for, as far as I’m concerned.” His voice is soft but firm, and Jester can only sigh and nudge into his hand. His eyes are bright and present, and he’s looking straight at her, not through her, and she aches as she swallows hard.

“Crying, again, and waking you up, I’m assuming.” She can’t raise her voice any louder, is sure that if it was still raining he wouldn’t be able to hear her at all, but when his expression shifts and he shakes his head she knows he can.

“No, you don’t have to be sorry for either of those. You never, ever, ever have to be sorry for crying, you hear?” He pauses, eyes still locked on hers, doesn’t say anything else until Jester slowly nods, and then he offers her a crooked smile. “Good. And I don’t mind being woken up, okay? I’d rather be woken up, so then I can wake you up, too. I don’t want you staying in whatever dreams are making you cry.” Her cheek is dry under his thumb, now, and Jester speaks without thinking.

“Thank you, Fjord,” and he smiles even wider at her, “you’re a good man.” His eyes shutter, suddenly, and his smile slips for a moment before his lips curl up again, but she can see how fake it is.

“Well, we’re not talking about me right now. You okay? Wanna talk about it?” He doesn’t stumble in his words, tone honey smooth, but Jester refuses to let him block himself away from her.

“I wouldn’t be best friends with someone who wasn’t good.” She presses her palm even more firmly against his heart, other hand still curled in his shirt, but then he starts to pull away, still gentle even as he lets go and sits up, finally breaking eye contact to look at his feet as he draws his knees up and rests his forearms on them.

“You don’t know me, Jess.” He doesn’t say it meanly, sounds almost sad, but it hurts Jester deeply, and she pushes herself up to kneel at his side. She raises her hands to touch his arm but stops when he tenses up, and that hurts even worse, makes her curl her arms around herself reflexively.

“Maybe not as much as I’d like to.” It’s hard to admit, but she forces herself to keep staring at the side of his face, swallows around a sudden lump in her throat when he just keeps his eyes fixed on his boots. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell that you’re the best man I know.” She stands as she says it, hissing as her knees pop and taking care to keep her head down so she doesn’t tear the canvas with a horn.

He says nothing as she stares down at him, body stiff and head bowed, and after a long moment Jester just gives up, bites her lip against a sigh and steps around him to jump down out of the cart.

There are still clouds in the sky, so Jester can’t guess the time based off the sun, but by the tightness of her stomach she thinks it’s probably a little past noon. She immediately looks to her left when she hears laughter, and her heart feels a little lighter when she sees the rest of her family seated in a loose circle on the grass of the clearing they’ve stopped at. She’s barely taken two steps towards them before Caleb catches sight of her, and his smile nearly splits his face.

“You’re awake! Good, now come get some food, you need to eat!” He waves her forward and Jester comes gladly, smiling and sinking down next to Beau. The monk bumps shoulders with her and shoots a grin her way before looking back down to where she’s carefully wrapping her hands.

“Here! I grabbed the pastries out of the haversack when we all got out.” Jester looks up as Nott tosses the bag across the way to her, grinning wide from where she’s sitting between Yasha’s legs, the barbarian braiding flowers into her hair. Jester catches the bag with a laugh and opens it up to grab a donut, stretches her legs out in front of her and throws the bag at Mollymauk, laughing again when he catches it without opening his eyes from where he’s lounging with his head in Caleb’s lap.

Okay? ” He leaves his eyes closed as he takes a croissant from the bag, body loose against the grass, but he asks it in Infernal and his tail is moving too much for Jester to believe even for a second that he isn’t listening as closely as if he was right next to her.

No. But not until we have privacy, okay?” The other tiefling hums agreement and takes a bite of the croissant, and Jester tears off a piece of her donut, knocks her feet together and pops the pastry into her mouth, chewing slowly to savor the taste.

“Fjord still sleeping?” Beau flexes her hands as she asks, and Jester keeps chewing slowly, gives herself a minute to come up with something, and when the other woman looks at her Jester’s able to put a convincing smile on her face as she shakes her head.

“No, but he had a couple cramps he wanted to just stretch out.” Her voice is even, light, and the monk just nods and curls her hands into fists to stretch the bandages. She twists at the waist until her spine pops audibly, and Jester takes another bite of her donut before asking Nott to toss over her journal from the haversack, content to just enjoy the presence of her friends.

After maybe ten minutes of writing to the Traveller while listening to the gentle chatter between Nott and Caleb, Jester sees Yasha’s eyes flick up from the goblin’s hair and focus on where the cart is behind Jester and Beau. She takes a deep breath and crosses her legs under herself to straighten her back, tries to make herself appear as calm as Molly, but when Fjord comes into her peripheral vision she can’t help but look up at him.

He doesn’t even glance her way.

“Get all those cramps and knots out, Fjord?” Molly’s voice is casual, and when Jester looks to him his tail is flicking lazily as he finally opens his eyes and turns his head enough that when he opens his eyes he can see the half-orc.

“Yeah, uh, ’m all good now.” He rolls with Jester’s lie with only the briefest stutter, and she almost laughs at it, instead just looks back over at him as he sits down a few feet from Beau, closer to Yasha and Nott and across from Caleb and Molly. He sets his pack down next to him and pulls out rations, and peaceful quiet falls across their group for another few minutes.

“So, what now?” Jester looks up from her journal to see Nott going through her one of her collections, the goblin not looking up as she sorts through shiny buttons as she poses the question.

“Well, we’re close to Rexxentrum. Fancy finally getting Fjord here to the Soltryce Academy?” She feels Beau stiffen at her side at Molly’s words, sees Nott whip her head around to look at Caleb, but when Jester looks at the wizard he only nods slowly, a book in his lap now that the other tiefling is sitting up.

“Ja, that was our original destination, all those months ago. We should.” He’s calm, steady, and Jester sees a determination in his eyes that doesn’t quite match with what they’re talking about, but she’s not going to question it. Next to him Mollymauk pulls a card out from his deck and looks down at it, and Jester watches as his brow furrow, his lips ticking down at the corners.

“If y’all don’t mind, I’d really appreciate it. And I mean, there’s no guarantee I’ll even get in,” Fjord’s looking slowly around their circle when she turns her head to listen to him, and she doesn’t miss the way his eyes slide right past her like she’s a ghost, “ but if I don’t, we can just look for some work. Big city like that, shouldn’t be hard to find something good we can do.” She sees the monk next to her slowly nod agreement out of the corner of her eye, the human looking across the circle to Nott, but Jester just keeps watching Fjord.

“Rexxentrum it is, then.” Yasha says it with finality, and Fjord’s mouth spreads into a slow smile that has Jester holding her breath so she doesn’t make any sounds that would get Beau’s attention. She holds her air in for a long moment before quietly letting it out, watching as the half-orc ducks his head and starts eating again.

Jester looks around the circle slowly, sees her family alive and together, and thinks to herself that she never thought she’d have this many people she loves, never thought she’d have this many people who would love her back. It’s enough.

It has to be.

--

Two nights later Molly asks her to take watch with him; Jester agrees easily, appreciates his patience in putting off their talk and knows that it needs to happen sooner than later. They take second watch, sitting together on a log, and it doesn’t take long for Beau and Yasha to fall asleep.

Mollymauk doesn’t make her wait much longer.

You’re in love with him.” He curls his tail around hers when he says it, voice quiet in the still night, and the Infernal is just as comforting as the action. She leans into his side and nods, reaches out for one of his hands and slides her fingers between his.

Yes. I wanted him as soon as I saw him, but feelings started developing very quickly after that. I thought it would just be a crush. I was wrong.” She rests her temple against his shoulder as he squeezes her hand and stares into the fire before them.

You shouldn’t be afraid to tell him. He looks at you, when you’re not paying attention. He sees you.” There’s nothing but honestly in Molly’s voice, no lies or half-truths, and Jester lets out a shaky sigh, squeezes his hand back.

I can’t. I’m afraid, yes, but it’s more than that.” His tail curls more tightly around hers in response, and he just waits for her to put the words she needs together. “He looks through me, sometimes. And he lies, and he says I don’t know him. I know he’s a good man. But he doesn’t think so. And even if he does want me, I don’t know that he’d let himself do anything about it.” It comes out a rambling mess, and they both freeze when something in the campfire pops, but none of their companions stir, and Molly lets go of her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders, pulls her closer as they both relax.

You might not have much time left. We’re not that far from Rexxentrum, and Fjord is good. He’ll probably get into that academy, and then who knows how much free time he’ll have for us. ” His voice is gentle and he squeezes her tightly to take the sting out of his words, and Jester nods in acknowledgment.

I know. ” She sounds miserable, and Molly falls silent next to her, tail still curled around her own as he ducks his head down to kiss her forehead, thumb rubbing her shoulder. “ I love you, Mollymauk Tealeaf. Promise me that when we get to that big city we won’t separate. Promise me we’ll stay together. ” The other tiefling kisses her forehead again before straightening, and Jester tips her head back against his shoulder to look up at him, sees him looking back down at her with damp eyes.

I promise. Whatever happens, whatever anyone else decides to do, I promise you that I will not leave you.” Once again there is only honesty in his voice, and Jester starts welling up, tries to smile up at him and shifts enough to slide her arm around his waist. “I love you too, Jester Lavore. I promise.” He squeezes her close again and hums soothingly when she rests her cheek against his shoulder again, lets them both take the moment to breathe.

He doesn’t bring it up again, and they spend the rest of their watch in comfortable silence, only speaking briefly to agree that in the next town they get to, the only one between them and Rexxentrum, they’ll send another letter to Kiri, telling her where they’re going and that they’ll send word when they have somewhere she can send them mail back.

When their watch comes to a close Jester goes to wake up Nott as Mollymauk goes to his lover, kneels down at the goblin’s side and gently shakes her awake, and she can’t help but hug the girl when she stands and gives the tiefling a tired smile. Nott makes a surprised sound but hugs her back, pressing their cheeks together before pulling back.

“Frumpkin’s under my blankets, but he’d probably rather sleep with you than alone.” Nott balances herself to quickly slide her shoes on, and then she makes her way to the log where Caleb is already sitting, pulling his coat on and blinking slowly at the campfire.

Jester lifts the blankets on Nott’s bed roll and Frumpkin comes right out, meowing quietly at her and jumping the short distance to Jester’s. The tiefling laughs softly and takes her shoes off, sits on the blankets to undo her armor before crawling under them to lay on her back, waiting for the cat to do the same before she lets them fall down onto them both.

For a brief moment she thinks she sees Fjord looking at her from across their circle, but when she blinks and looks again his eyes are closed. Jester feels Frumpkin purr against her side as she looks up at the sky, and she falls asleep to Nott and Caleb’s quiet conversation as she looks for constellations.

If she dreams, she does not remember them when she wakes up.

In the morning everything feels normal, Caleb smiling at her and joining in Yasha’s attempts to make her eat something other than baked goods, Beau doing her push-ups with Nott on her back as the goblin playfully insults her. Mollymauk stays close to her as they eat and get ready to leave, keeps winding their tails together and watching her, but he seems reassured by her smiles and does not say anything about last night.

Fjord laughs when she says she wants to ride one of the horses, and just like that Jester knows that everything between them will be okay.

They travel for only a few hours before they reach the next town, but they don’t stay long, just take enough time to give the horses a break and find a courier station where they can send Kiri the letter that Molly and Jester had talked about the night before. The Nein push on from there, taking turns eating lunch in the cart and steering the horses as they keep going for the rest of the afternoon.

When they stop for the night Jester sits next to Fjord after he starts the fire, and he smiles at her, doesn’t shift away when she leans into him, and as long as he’s still her best friend she’s going to be okay.

--

The next three days are just travel, exactly as they’re used to, and on the third day they reach Rexxentrum, around midday, but Fjord insists that they should just find an inn to stay at, says he’ll go to the academy first thing in the morning. 

Jester is pathetically grateful that she’ll have at least one more night with him where everything is normal.

They find stables, first, somewhere to keep the horses and the cart, somewhere sturdy looking and well-kept, because they can afford the price of boarding but can’t afford anything being stolen. They take their packs and the recommendations of the owner of the stables, set out towards the inn he gives them directions to, and find it to be fairly nice and not too far away.

They get three rooms, go up to leave everything but the haversack, and then reconvene to get a meal downstairs. It’s good food, hearty,and Jester agrees when Mollymauk says he isn’t surprised that a city like this isn’t affected by the war.

“So what should we do for the rest of the day?” Nott’s words are muffled slightly by her mask, but she’d eaten quickly and her ears are hidden by her hood and no one has looked at her too strangely yet.

“I need parchment and ink,” Caleb smiles sheepishly at their friends as he says it, “and I’d also like to look for some books, if no one minds me going shopping.” He laughs with the rest of them, but Jester can see a wild quality to his eyes that she isn’t sure she likes.

“I need a new journal, mine is nearly full. I’ll go with you,” and she watches the wizard carefully as she says it, sees his expression flicker briefly before his smile returns, but even though it’s smaller it’s still genuine, and she’s relieved at that, grins back wide and toothy.

“Sounds good to me. Anyone else need anything?” He looks down at Nott and gently adjusts her hood before looking around their table again, quirking an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I’ll come with. I want to get a feel for this city.” Fjord’s voice is casual but his eyes are sharp, and Jester carefully slides her foot across the floor to nudge his, furrowing her brow and cocking her head to the side when he looks at her, silently asking if he’s okay. The half-orc shoots her his crooked smile, her favorite one, and when he nods she relaxes back against her chair.

“Me too. Biggest city I’ve ever been in, I’m down to start exploring sooner rather than later.” Beau stands as she says it, curls a hand over Yasha’s shoulder and squeezes briefly before stepping back to push her chair in. “Let’s get going.”

“If you find any good magical wares shops, try to remember where it is and give me directions when you get back. I’ll go out tomorrow.” Molly curls his tail around Jester’s and tugs gently, smiling up at her before letting go and pulling out his tarot deck. “Nott, fancy a reading?” The goblin immediately nods, eyes lighting up, and the other tiefling grins and stands. “Let’s go up to our room then. Yasha?” The barbarian smiles and nods, pushing her chair back, and they all get up, the three staying in heading towards the stairs and the rest of the Nein making their way towards the door.

“Oh! I’ll ask the innkeeper for any shops we might be interested in.” Jester nods as Caleb doubles back towards the bar, and she smiles wide as she steps outside, breathing in the chilly air and turning to see Beau pulling her poncho more tightly around herself.

“Fucking cold here.” She can’t hold back her laugh as the human grumbles, and she feels good, winds her tail around one of her own legs to keep it from waving excitedly and hitting someone on the busy street. Fjord comes out behind Beau and immediately steps to the side, reaching up absently to pick at one of his tusks as he looks around.

“You stop that!” Jester darts around Beau and grabs his wrist, tugging his hand down from his mouth, and Fjord blinks down at her in surprise, eyes flashing with something she doesn’t understand before he smiles.

“Sorry, Jester. Thanks for catching that.” He twists his arm to loosen her grip, slides his hand into hers for a moment and squeezes gently before letting go, and Jester’s heart skips a beat when his eyes crinkle up at the corners as his smile just grows.

“So, Thardin was very helpful, and I’ve got one bookshop for us and two potential magical stores.” Caleb’s voice is pleased, and Jester turns to see him fixing his scarf as he steps out the door, glances further over and sees Beau watching her with narrowed eyes and a smirk, and she sticks her tongue out quickly before backing away from Fjord.

“Alright then, lead the way.” Jester falls in next to Fjord as they follow Caleb, Beau staying at the wizard’s side, and she can’t stop looking around at this massive, beautiful city as they move through bustling streets.

The bookstore is the closest, and Jester is surprised at how large it is when they step inside. Caleb looks delighted, immediately makes a beeline for the older halfling woman behind the counter and begins asking about any spell books they have. Jester starts to follow him, tail flicking behind her, but pauses when Fjord closes a gentle hand around her upper arm. Both he and Beau are raising an eyebrow and failing to look stern when she looks over her shoulder at them, and he carefully catches her tail with his other hand.

“That kind of movement always spells trouble for us.” He can’t keep the smirk off his face as he says it, and Jester winks and grins wide, curls the tip of her tail over his knuckles.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She says it playfully, and Beau raises a hand to muffle a snicker as Fjord just shakes his head, biting his lip against a laugh that she can hear rumbling through his chest. He lets go when she starts to pull away, and Jester winks again before turning  and heading over to the counter. Caleb is thanking the shop owner as he back away from the counter, and he flashes Jester an excited smile before he ducks down an aisle.

“And how can I help you?” The woman’s accent is thick and warm, and Jester feels her smile grow even wider as she sees streaks of gray through her hair.

“Do you have any journals?” The halfling smiles back at her and nods, indicating to the front wall to the right of the counter. “Wonderful! And how about any smut?” She makes her voice as innocent as possible as she asks, making her eyes wide and winding her tail around her leg to keep herself still as she hears Fjord choking on a laugh behind her.

“We have that too, dear. Back wall, left corner.” The woman gives her a wink and points over Jester’s shoulder, not scandalized in the slightest, and the tiefling can’t hold back her giggles.

“Thank you!” She immediately makes her way to the back of the store, just like the shop owner said, and finds an entire bookcase tucked into the corner. She grabs one book to flip it open and is thrilled when the page she looks at is pure filth, quickly shelves it and picks up another to repeat the process, giggling delightedly at a cheesy line a character is delivering to win his way into someone’s bed.

Jester looks through a few books until she finds two she likes, and she spends a little time starting to read one before she gets to a section that she decides she’d rather save for later. She makes her way up to the front and grabs a journal with a pretty cover before stepping up to where Beau and Fjord are making idle conversation with the shop owner, smiles widely and places the three items on the counter.

“Find everything you want, then?” The woman winks as she says it, pulling the books closer to look at the titles, and Jester feels her grin grow as she nods before looking over at her two friends, laughing as they shake their heads and smile at each other.

“Oh yes, thank you.” The halfling nods and pushes the books and journal back towards her, telling her how much they’ll cost and quickly taking the gold that Jester gladly puts into her hand. The tiefling looks up at Fjord as she places the journal into the haversack and slings it over her shoulder before tucking the books under an arm, making her expression as unassuming as possible. “Caleb’s not done yet?”

“Of course not. He’d be happy to spend the rest of the day in here.” The half-orc says it fondly, but he’s looking down at Jester curiously, and she lets her mouth curl into a smirk as she winds her tail around his wrist.

“Then I guess I’ll have to tell you two about these books to kill the time.” Beau groans as Fjord’s cheeks darken, but Jester just reaches out to grab the monk with her free hand and tightens her tail around Fjord’s arm to tug them both further into the store. Beau makes faces and Fjord blushes, but they let her tell them about the plot points of the books that she’d been able to gather from skimming through them. After another half hour, though, she starts to get restless, feels her tail twitching behind her, and she pushes the books into Beau’s arms.

“Sure, I’ll hold these, no problem.” She takes them even as she makes the sarcastic remark, adjusts her hold so she won’t drop either, and Jester smiles gratefully as she steps back.

“You okay, Jess?” Fjord’s frowning in concern when she looks up at him, and she quickly nods, holding her hands up placatingly.

“Yes, but if we stay here any longer I’m going to start rearranging the shelves, and then we can’t come back, so I’m going to get Caleb so we can move on to the next store.” Beau and Fjord both chuckle as she grins mischievously, and they start walking towards the door as she starts wandering through the aisles to find their friend.

Caleb has two books under his arm and is slowly flipping through a third, but he agrees easily enough when Jester asks if he’s ready to buy. He has a faintly manic look in his eye as he thanks the halfling woman and pays for the books, but Jester just holds out the haversack for him to place them in before slinging it over her shoulder and tucking her arm through his as they walk out to join their friends.

It’s a bit of a walk to the first magical shop the innkeeper recommended, and it’s smaller than the bookstore but its shelves are full and it smells like high quality incense when they walk in, and Jester laughs as Caleb practically drags her up to the counter that no one is behind.

“Hello?” His voice carries in the store, and almost immediately she hears rustling fabric from behind a curtain to their left.

“Apologies! I was working on an enchantment and didn’t hear you come in.” It’s a lovely voice, a little melodious, and the first thing Jester sees when the woman emerges from behind the curtain is horns, and she lets go of Caleb to dig her claws into her own hands because it’s a tiefling walking towards them.

She’s a beautiful shade of pale green, hair short with bangs falling over one of her bespectacled eyes and horns covered in jewelry, and Jester is sure her mouth is agape but she cannot stop staring. The tiefling smiles at them and steps up behind the counter, her eyes running over them until she meets Jester’s gaze, and then she stops still, eyebrows shooting up in surprise.

“Well now, who are you, then?” Her voice isn’t unkind but Caleb presses his arm against Jester’s, and she can hear Beau shift her weight, feels Fjord press up against her back and curl a heavy hand over her shoulder, like they’re all getting ready to come to her defense.

“Jester,” her voice comes out softer than she means it to and she forces herself to relax her hands before drawing blood, takes a deep breath, “Jester Lavore.” The woman’s face is inscrutable for a long minute, and then she smiles, bright and beautiful, and Jester sags back against Fjord in utter relief.

“Well, Jester, welcome to The Portal. I’m Saorla.” The tiefling holds her hand out and Jester is quick to take it, smiles at her as they shake and straightens up again. “Sorry for the strange look, it’s just been quite some time since I’ve seen another tiefling.”

“You’re telling me! One of our friends we travel with is also one, but he’s the only other one I’ve seen since I left home.” Saorla laughs softly and pulls her arm back to rest her hands on her hips, eyes flicking around the group again.

“Shame you didn’t bring him with you. Three tieflings is quite the party.” She winks as she says it, and Jester laughs with her, senses her friends relaxing around her. “So, what’s everyone else’s names, and what brings you to my shop?”

“I’m Fjord. This here’s Caleb and Beau, and we’re here in part for Caleb to get supplies, in part to just look at anything interesting.” His voice vibrates through his chest against Jester’s back, and he slides his hand along her shoulder, rubs his thumb against her neck, and Jester has to stifle a sigh as she feels her tail wrap around one of his legs.

“Alright, Caleb, what’re you looking for?” Saorla smiles charmingly at the wizard, and Jester glances over to see him smiling back.

“Parchment and ink, please, for spell use.” The tiefling nods and tells them she’ll be right back before heading through the curtain again, and Jester twists around before the fabric has even fallen closed.

“Another tiefling! She’s amazing! She owns a store, here, in this big city!” She grabs for Fjord’s hand that isn’t on her with one of her own and reaches for Beau with the other, leaning all of her weight sideways into Caleb so he puts an arm around her waist, and she can’t stop smiling or keep the excitement out of her voice.

“It’s pretty cool, Jester.” Beau looks over her face for a moment before smiling back at her, and the human squeezes her hand back even as she glances at Caleb. Jester turns her head to look up at him, catches him shake his head slightly at Beau before he looks down at her, but he’s smiling too, and Jester is too excited to try and understand what they’re communicating.

“Alright, here we are! Figured you probably needed a lot, but you don’t have to take it all, or conversely I have even more if this isn’t enough.” Beau and Caleb both let go of Jester to pay attention as Saorla comes back into the room, but Jester takes another moment to look up at Fjord, who hasn’t let go of her shoulder or her hand, who hasn’t pushed her tail off his leg, who is staring back down at her with a soft look on his face that she hasn’t seen before. He smiles when their eyes lock, squeezes gently where he’s got his hands on her, and her voice is a whisper when it comes out.

“Fjord?” He blinks at the sound of his own name before shaking his head, almost like he’s clearing a thought from his mind, but then he smiles and Jester’s heart skips a beat.

“Later, promise.” His voice is almost inaudible as she tunes out the sound of Caleb and Saorla talking prices to pay attention to the man in front of her, and he squeezes again before using his hand on her shoulder to turn her back around. Caleb is handing over gold as the other tiefling sets the parchment and ink on the counter, and the wizard looks satisfied as he picks them up.

“Alright, then. That may be all you came for, but feel free to look around and see if anything else catches your attention. I have plenty of interesting items in here.” Her three friends say their agreements and break away, starting to walk around the shop, but Jester just leans forward against the counter as Saorla turns her sparkling eyes on her. “You don’t want to check for anything?”

“Not really, no. They’ll tell me if they find something I might like.” The other tiefling nods and smiles, resting her elbows on the counter as well and leaning in a little bit, and Jester can’t help blurting out, “What’s it like, owning your own shop? Do you like it here? Are people nice to you?” Sarola laughs warmly and grins wide, not seeming perturbed by the sudden question.

“It’s quite amazing, honestly,” and she answers Jester easily, keeps answering the stream of questions that Jester has, and by the time her friends have reammassed at the counter Jester is laughing at story the other tiefling is telling her. Saorla grins and looks around them, pushing herself upright. “Find anything you like, then?”

“We did, and we were also wondering if you have any healing potions.” The tiefling nods and ducks down under the counter for a moment before coming up with a row of variously covered vials.

“I do. Got quite a few regular ones, some Greater, and two Superior.” Fjord and Beau both place items on the counter, and Jester is still so enchanted by Saorla that she doesn’t really pay attention as they ask for details and prices, just watches as money exchanges hands and the other tiefling keeps smiling. Caleb comes up on her left, bumps their shoulders together, and she turns her head to see him smiling fondly at her.

“Ready to go?” His voice is warm, and she nods because she knows they can’t stay here all afternoon, takes the haversack off her back and opens it, turning away from the wizard to offer it to Beau and Fjord.

“Here, you can put everything in here. We’ll divy up the potions when we get back to the inn.” They both smile at her and agree, taking their purchases and carefully placing them into the bag. She slings it over her shoulders again and smiles at Saorla as the other tiefling leans against the counter again.

“It’s been a pleasure meeting you all. Feel free to come back anytime, if you’re staying in town for a bit.” Her voice is warm and Jester finds her smile growing even wider as she nods.

“Been a pleasure meeting you, too. I’m sure we’ll be back.” Fjord’s voice is friendly, and he’s smiling as he turns away to head towards the door. Jester starts walking backwards as her other companions follow him, and she waves once she gets to the door.

“Goodbye! Thank you!” Saorla waves back as she calls out to her, and Jester can’t stop smiling as she turns and walks out to where her friends are waiting for her. They’re all smiling back at her, and as she steps up to complete their little circle Beau shields her eyes with a hand to look over to where the sun is.

“We’ve still got a little bit of time before it gets dark. Did you still want to check out the other shop, Caleb?” She looks over to him as she asks, hand dropping back to her side, but the other human shakes his head, a satisfied smile on his face.

“No, I have everything I wanted, but I’m happy to if any of you want to.” Jester shakes her head, sees Beau and Fjord doing the same, and the half-orc glances around briefly before looking back down at them, mouth still up-turned.

“Nah, let’s head on back and show everyone what we got.” Beau hums in agreement and rolls her neck out before bumping shoulders with Caleb, turning a smirk on him.

“Think you can get us back to the inn without getting us lost?” Her tone is playful, no bite to her words, and the wizard laughs, body loose as he starts walking down the street.

“Follow me and find out.” They all laugh with him, falling in together and slowly making their way with the flow of traffic. Caleb doesn’t falter once, and after a while they reach the inn. The sun is just starting to set, and Jester feels the stirrings of hunger, but she’s content to wait until they have all their things in their own packs and tell their friends about their afternoon.

They head up to Molly, Caleb, and Nott’s room, can hear laughter as they approach, and Jester can’t hold herself back, darts to  the front of their small group and bursts in through the door.

“Molly! Molly! I met another tiefling! She owns the magical wares shop we went to!” She’s loud, and both Nott and Yasha look startled at her entrance, but Mollymauk just grins wide from where he’s got his legs crossed under him on one of the beds.

“You did?” He sounds just as excited as her, eyes bright and tail waving behind him, and Jester sets the haversack down, hopping across the floor to take off her boots so she can crawl onto the bed next to him.

“Yes! Her name was Saorla, and she was green, and she was so nice,” and Jester can tell that she’s rambling on about the other tiefling but Mollymauk doesn’t seem to mind, just listens to her with bright eyes as he absently shuffles his cards. She can hear everyone’s voices, assumes they’re talking about the bookstore as well and what they bought, that they’re getting their things out of the haversack, but she doesn’t stop talking about Saorla and everything the other tiefling told her for about a quarter of an hour.

“Now that sounds like someone I want to meet. Care to take me back there tomorrow?” Molly’s grinning as he asks, and Jester takes a deep breath and laughs while nodding.

“Yes, I’d like that very much.” He hums with satisfaction and looks down as he flips a card, and his mouth doesn’t move but she can see the emotion in his eyes change, concern filling them before he tucks it back into the deck and looks over to the rest of the room. Jester frowns at him but turns her head as well to check on their friends.

Caleb and Beau have joined Nott on the bed, the two girls sitting on the edge as they reach down to add small braids in Yasha’s hair; the barbarian is smiling and talking to Fjord where he’s sitting in the chair, arms folded loosely over his chest. Caleb is looking through one of his books, a small smile on his face, and Jester’s heart feels full even as she looks back at Molly with worry.

Everything okay? ” She softens her voice as she asks it, says it in Infernal so no one else will understand even if they do hear her, but it takes Molly a long moment before he looks back at her, smile finally falling away from his face.

I don’t know.” He’s being honest, she can tell right away, and his mouth quirks into an apologetic smile. “Sorry I don’t have a better answer.

It’s okay.” She reaches for one of his hands and squeezes gently, smiling back at him before looking over at their friends again and raising her voice as she switches back to Common. “Anyone else ready to eat?”

“Yes!” Nott’s head shoots up as she drops the braid currently in her hands, and they all laugh at her response, standing and pulling boots and shoes back on as they make their way to the door. Bea and Fjord break off to go drop off their purchases in their rooms as the rest of the Nein makes their way downstairs, but they’re quick to meet them once they’re seated.

They’re a lively bunch at the table that night, laughing as they order their food and making jokes as they wait, and if there’s a nervous energy emanating from Fjord then no one says anything about it. It’s not until after they’ve eaten and played a few rounds of a card game that anyone brings up the Soltryce Academy.

“So, are you excited for tomorrow?” Yasha’s voice isn’t loud but they all can hear her, and they fall silent as they look to Fjord. Jester has to actively stop herself from winding her tail around his wrist when she sees the far-off look in his eyes.

“I guess so. Almost doesn’t feel real, to be quite honest.” He’s not seeing anyone at this table, even though he seems to be looking back at the barbarian, and Jester isn’t sure if she should touch him or not, doesn’t know if it would even bring him back to them.

“Well, I’m sure you will do good. Your talent has only grown since we’ve known each other.” Caleb’s voice is warm and honest, no bullshit in his tone, but there’s still something a little off that has Jester feeling uneasy. She looks over to see Nott staring up at him, but she can’t read her face behind the mask, and when she glances to the right of him Beau’s face is just as impassive.

“It’s getting late. We should get to bed, you’ll want to be well-rested for whatever tests they might put you through tomorrow.” Mollymauk’s tone is light but he looks just as concerned as Jester feels when she turns to her right to see him, and they share a worried look before getting up in unison.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Fjord stands as well, and that sets everyone into motion, pushing their chairs in around the table and heading upstairs as a group. Molly, Caleb, and Nott’s room is first, and they say their good night’s before ducking inside. Beau and Yasha slip into their room across the hall with wishes of good luck, and then Jester follows her best friend into their room. 

Fjord makes his way to the bed on the right and starts taking his armor off after he lights the lantern by the bed, and Jester feels restless but does the same. She leaves her armor in a pile on the floor and takes off her boots as well before looking over her shoulder, and Fjord’s just leaning against the edge of the bed, feet bare against the floor and his shirt held in his hands as he stares at nothing. 

“Fjord?” She closes the space between them without thought, and when he doesn’t react she reaches up to gently rest her hand one of his cheeks, says his name again until he blinks and focuses on her; the bed is raised, and he still has to look down at her a little bit. “Are you okay?” He nods carefully, doesn’t dislodge her hand, and sets his shirt on the bed next to him. 

“Yeah, just thinking about tomorrow. Don’t quite know what to expect, and that makes me a little nervous.” The corner of his mouth turns up in half a smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes, and Jester can feel her brow furrow.

“It’s okay to be nervous, but you heard Caleb. You’re so good with magic, Fjord. We’ve all seen it.” She says it honestly, means every word, and relaxes as his expression changes, the smile small but evident across his face.

“Thanks, Jester. That means a lot to me.” He sounds sincere and she can’t help but smile at that, finally lets her hand drop from his face and blinks in surprise when he catches it with own of his before it can fall back to her side. “Hey, earlier in the shop, when I said I’d tell you later? I just wanted to say that I’m happy you got to see someone like you doing so good. You deserve that kind of happiness, too, Jess. However it happens for you.” His eyes are soft and he rubs his thumb over her knuckles, and Jester involuntarily steps closer, right between his legs; Fjord doesn’t even blink, just keeps looking at her with a gentle smile on his face.

The dam finally breaks.

“I love you,” and she couldn’t hold the words back if she tried but she doesn’t even want to, “so much, Fjord.” His thumb stills but he doesn’t let go of her hand, eyes tracking across her face as if he’s looking for something.

Jester has nothing left to hide.

“And it’s okay if you don’t feel the same way. I’ll be okay. I just needed you to know.” Fjord nods imperceptibly, just to himself, and then he squeezes her hand, reaches up to cradle her jaw with his free one, and slowly ducks down towards her.

Jester doesn’t realizes what he’s doing until his warm mouth is pressed against hers. She’s frozen for a moment, staring at his closed eyelids and holding her breath, but then his thumb brushes her cheek and his nose nudges hers, and this is real.

She lets go of his hand to reach up, curls one hand around the back of his neck and slides the other into his hair, and her eyes flutter closed when he wraps his arm around her waist to pull her even closer. She can’t help the soft sound that escapes when he parts his lips a little, and an answering one comes rumbling out of his chest as he licks over her lower lip. Jester opens her mouth for him immediately, curling her fingers in his hair a little bit, and Fjord makes the sound again as he slides his tongue into her mouth.

She doesn’t know how long they keep kissing, only knows that he holds her tight against him, hands hot on her skin and through her dress, only knows that she keeps making little noises that she can’t control but seem to make him try to press her even closer, only knows that when she slides her hand down from his neck to press against his heart it’s beating hard and fast.

Jester finally has to pull away to gasp for air, but Fjord doesn’t let her get far, and his pupils are blown wide, his breath hot on her face as he brushes his thumb over her cheek and lets it rest against the corner of her mouth. She flicks her tongue out against it out of instinct and he exhales slowly, gaze dropping down to where her lips feel swollen, and she gently drags her nails out of his hair and down his neck, turns her head enough to get his thumb in her mouth and suck gently.

Fjord growls, and Jester realizes just how wet she is, immediately drops both hands to the waistband of his pants and can’t hold back a whine when he pulls his thumb out of her mouth and unwraps his arm from her waist to grab her wrists and keep her still.

“Wait.” His voice is low and it sends a shiver down Jester’s spine, and she’s sure how much she wants him is written all over her face.

“Why?” He squeezes her wrists gently when she asks, tugs her hands up to rest on his stomach instead, and Jester tries to step back but isn’t able to get back when his grip is so tight. “Is it too much? We can stop! I don’t want to do anything you don’t want.” It comes tumbling out of her mouth, and she curls her tail anxiously behind her, but all Fjord does is let out a dark chuckle and shake his head, thumbs rubbing against her pulse points.

“No, sweetheart, we ain’t stopping.” His drawl is thick and Jester shivers again, relaxing at his words and swaying back into his space, pressing her hands against firm muscle again. “I was just thinking that you’re wearing a lot more clothes than me, so you should probably get those off first, or I’m gonna rip ‘em trying to get at you.” He lets go of her, then, and Jester doesn’t hesitate.

“You should get naked too, then.” The words are muffled by her dress as she pulls it up over her head, but as she tosses it to the ground she sees he’s listening to her, slowly unlacing his pants but watching her intently. It’s heady, his attention focused solely on her, and normally Jester would try to make a show of it but she’s too desperate to touch, shoves her leggings and smallclothes down together before squirming out of her breastband, nearly catching it on a horn before flinging it somewhere in the direction of the other bed.

“Fuck.” Fjord’s pants are precariously low on his hips but he doesn’t take them off, instead reaches out and grabs Jester’s waist to pull her back in between his legs, and she gasps at the feel of his hands on bare skin. He slides one hand around to her lower back and reaches up with the other to palm a breast gently, eyes intent on her face, and Jester grabs his hand to make him use more pressure, moans when he does and leans up to lick into his mouth.

His mouth is eager and his hands are rough, and Jester presses herself as flush against him as she can get, sucks on his tongue and feels slick dripping down her inner thighs when he moans into her mouth. She trails nails down his sides until her fingers find his waistband, and this time he doesn’t stop her, lets her push his pants down until they fall on their own, and he throws his head back with another moan when she curls her hand around his dick.

“Gods, Fjord, what do you want?” She rubs her thumb over the head of his dick to smear his precome down the length, squeezing carefully, and the half-orc jerks his hips against her, hands tightening on her breast and back. Jester leans in and presses her mouth against the hollow of his throat, flicks her tongue out and murmurs against it, “I’ll do anything,” and she can feel the vibrations under her lips when he answers.

“Want to fuck you, sweetheart.” He rubs his thumb over her nipple and slides his other hand up her spine to curl fingers in her hair, tugging her head back to look down at her with those yellow eyes that make her lose her breath. “You want that, too?”

“Yes,” and it comes out a whimper when he tightens his hand in her hair, makes her arch into his other hand and let go of his cock grab at his sides, licking her lips and pressing her claws against his skin, “please.” Fjord groans and pulls her into another kiss, tongue fucking into her mouth as she tries to press even closer. She whines he drops both hands to her hips to push her away, tries to hold on tight and resist, stops when Fjord makes a soothing sound.

“C’mon, Jess, gotta let go so we can get on the bed. Then you can touch me as much as you want, I promise.” She lets go as soon as he says it, waits for him to do the same before stepping around him and crawling up onto the bed, turning to find him kicking off his pants and reaching out to her.

“How do you-oh,” he rests a hand on her sternum and pushes her flat on her back as he crawls up onto the bed after her, effectively answering her question, and there’s a predatory look on his face that has Jester aching with want. She spreads her legs as he kneels between them, and he settles down over her, slides one hand up to cradle her jaw and braces the other next to her head to keep some weight off of her. Jester draws her knees up enough to brace her feet on the bed and then rolls her hips up, and Fjord groans against her mouth when his cock slides against her cunt.

“Fuck, sweetheart.” She bites his lower lip as he says it, and the half-orc growls low and settles more heavily against her, his weight pressing down into the cradle of her hips, and she whines and tries to grind up against the hot length of him pressed against where she’s wet. He kisses her hard, hand on her jaw holding her head in place, and Jester whines again, grabs his sides and tries to hitch her hips up. “Want to get my mouth all over you.”

“Yes, I want that too, please,” and she’s never been reduced to begging this quickly but she doesn’t care, slides her hands up along his back and squeezes his hips with her thighs, “Fjord, I’ll do anything, just please,” and his eyes go impossibly darker, pupil nearly overtaking the iris, the color left more deep gold then bright yellow at this point.

“I got you, sweetheart.” He sucks on her upper lip briefly before ducking his head to start kissing down her neck, tusks dragging against her skin and tongue flicking out, and he shudders when she reaches up to hold his head in place, his mouth against the junction between her shoulder and neck.

“Fjord, please, I want to see your marks all over me tomorrow.” He bites her before she even finishes the sentence, sucking on the skin and rocking his hips down against her, and Jester whimpers, squirms under him and curls her fingers tighter in his hair. “Yes, that’s perfect, please,” and when he pulls away from the spot he drags his mouth along the freckles on her shoulder before biting again, harder but without breaking skin, and Jester can’t hold back a moan.

He shifts his head over to the other side of her neck and leaves three more lovebites before pushing himself up enough so he can look down at her, and Jester knows she already looks a mess, hair splayed out across the pillow and cheeks flushed, but Fjord just licks his lips and exhales slowly, “So fuckin’ pretty, damn,” and Jester blushes even harder as he ducks back down to nip at the top of a breast. “Tell me what you like.”

“Teeth are good, very good, and touch me hard, and-” she loses her words when Fjord’s tongue laves over a nipple, whines as he sucks it into his mouth and shifts his weight to pinch the other one. Jester drops one hand to clutch at his shoulder and arches into his touch as he rolls her nipple between his fingers and scrapes his teeth over the other one. After a few minutes he switches sides, tugs on the nipple he’d had in his mouth, and Jester lets go of his hair to press her hand against her mouth in an effort to muffle the loud moan she lets out.

“What’d you go and do that for?” Jester shivers as Fjord says it, hot breath moving over sensitive skin, and he lets go of her breast to reach up for her wrist, tugging her hand away from her mouth and down to his, nipping at the heel of her hand. He raises an eyebrow when she looks down at him, squeezes her wrist and repeats the action, and Jester squirms.

“I didn’t know if you were okay with other people hearing. Some people prefer quiet.” Fjord squeezes her wrist again before letting go, and he slowly trails his fingers down Jester’s sternum towards her stomach, smirking up at her.

“I ain’t one of those people. I want to hear, I like it.” He keeps moving his hand as he talks, and Jester whimpers when he slides his fingers through the curls of hair at the top of her cunt and then presses one against her clit, and she moans when he rubs it in a slow circle. “Besides, I didn’t tell you to stop talking. Tell me what you like, or I’ll stop.” Jester squirms again at his firm tone and nods, unable to look away from Fjord’s intense eyes.

“Start slow, and then put your fingers in me, please.” He hums approvingly and keeps rubbing her clit slowly, steadily, finally breaks eye contact to duck his head and lick over a nipple, and Jester mewls, sensitive in the best way, arching her back and sliding her fingers back into his hair. He keeps just the right amount of pressure until Jester is trembling, pleading, “Fjord, please, want something inside me, please.”

“Damn you beg pretty.” He doesn’t slide his fingers down through her folds like she expects, though, takes his hand away entirely instead, and Jester’s about to protest when he shifts further down the bed to settle between her legs, and she whines when his breath hits her cunt. “Told you, I’m gonna get my mouth all over you.” He presses one hand to a thigh and pushes it up, and when her hips hitch up involuntarily he laughs against her, eyes dark when he looks up at her and lays his other arm across her hips to pin them down. “I don’t think so. You’re not in control this time, sweetheart.” She can’t hold back her moan when he says it, shudders violently, and then Fjord’s mouth is on her and Jester is lost to sensation.

“Oh, yes, love this, Fjord, please,” and she’s babbling but she doesn’t care, one hand clutching his wrist and the other grabbing in the sheets, her tail curling over his forearm, and he’s holding her hips so firmly that she can’t even squirm, can only take whatever she gives her. He licks through her folds, drags his tongue over her clit to make her whine, and then licks back down, fucks his tongue into her, and Jester can’t contain any of the sounds falling out of her mouth. He doesn’t hold back, eats her out with the same intensity he uses his magic in battle, and Jester trembles under him, digs her nails into his arm without meaning to, and she’s about to gasp out an apology when he growls in response, and it just pushes her closer to the edge. His nose keeps nudging her clit, his tusks pressed against sensitive flesh that only ratchets up how fucking hot it all is, and after a few minutes Jester is desperate, reaches down to tug on his hair, trying to pull his head up. Fjord immediately turns his head to nip at her thigh, growling again as he looks up at her.

“I told you, you ain’t in charge right now. You want somethin’, you tell me.” He digs his finger into her thigh briefly as he says it and Jester moans, pressing into his grip.

“That, I want that, want bruises, please.” Her voice is a high whine and Fjord hums approvingly, tightens his hold on her and ducks his head back down to lick through her folds, and Jester almost sobs in frustration. “No, I’m so close, need your mouth on my clit, Fjord.” He moans against her and drags his tongue up, seals his lips around her clit and sucks, and Jester whimpers, head falling back as she tightens her fist in the sheets and hears them rip under her claws, but she can’t bring herself to care. He maintains suction and keeps flicking his tongue against her clit, and she can feel the pressure building, so close to breaking. She raises her head off the pillow to look down at him and sees that he’s looking back up at her; Fjord moans when they make eye contact, like he’s enjoying this just as much as her, and Jester comes hard, tries to close her thighs around his head as she wails.

He doesn’t let up, keeps her pinned and and licks her clit until she’s pawing at his head, almost too sensitive, and only then does he pull away, lets go of her thigh and braces both hands on either side of her hips to start pressing wet kisses up the soft curve of her stomach. Jester shudders and and curls both hands around his shoulders, tries to tug him up, and he comes willingly this time, crawls up her body to stare down at her, her slick smeared over the lower half of his face. He licks his lips slowly, still maintaining eye contact, and she whimpers, pulls him down to drag her tongue over his chin and then kisses him hard, chasing her own taste on his tongue.

“Fuck, Fjord, want you in me,” she gasps it against his mouth, squeezes his shoulders and draws her knees up to bracket his hips with them, and then she realizes that she can touch too and reaches down immediately, curls her hand around his cock, and Fjord groans loudly against her mouth. He ducks his head to bite her jaw as she slowly strokes the length of his dick, and when she slides her thumb along the head he grunts, hips jerking and tusks catching against the soft skin right under her jawbone. It’s a sharp little pain that she doesn’t think twice about until Fjord flicks his tongue out and suddenly pulls back, reaching down to knock her hand away before bringing his hand up to tilt her head back.

“Shit, Jess, I’m so sorry.” He sounds upset as he gently rubs his thumb under her jaw, and she can feel a little bit of wetness smear against her skin, immediately tilts her head back down so he’s looking at her instead of her neck. “I’m not used to them being in the way, I should’ve been more careful.”

“It’s okay.” She smiles up at him but his face doesn’t change, mouth turned down and brow furrowed, eyes unreadable as the lantern flickers, and Jester reaches up slowly, telegraphing her movement, until her hand is on Fjord’s chin as she rests a finger against one of his tusks. “You’ve been plenty careful. We just need to practice some more.” His face relaxes a little but his shoulders are still tense, and Jester braces her other hand against the bed to push herself up, shifts her fingers to his cheek as she kisses him softly and nudges their noses together. “Do you want to stop?” She says it against his mouth, eyes locked on his, and for a long moment the only sound in the room is their soft breathing.

“No,” he admits quietly, eyes dropping to her mouth before finding hers again, thumb still gently pressed against the small cuts under her jaw, “but I don’t want to hurt you, either.” Jester kisses him again, drops her hand from his cheek to his heart, and then nips at his lower lip, smirks against his mouth.

“Fjord, I was asking you to leave marks on me earlier. I was encouraging you to bite me and bruise me. Did I make you think I didn’t like any of that?” She waits until he shakes his head and then kisses him again, letting her eyes go a little hooded before she tips her head back and bares her neck to him. “Good, because I like it. I like some pain, and a little blood has never bothered me, either. Now, if that’s something you’re not into, then we just will be more careful with each other. But if you’re worried about hurting me, please don’t be. I can take it, and more likely than not I’ll even want it.” He keeps staring at her, eyes moving across her face like he’s trying to read her, and Jester doesn’t try to hide anything, just keeps holding her hand to his heart and starts counting the beats.

Fjord must find an answer, because after thirty seconds he kisses her hard before sliding his hand down from her neck to her collarbone, applying just enough pressure that she realizes what he wants and lets herself fall back down against the bed. He follows her quickly, ducks his head down to lick over the blood he’d smeared against her skin, and Jester shudders, slides her fingers into his hair with a sigh as he licks again before raising his head just enough to look at her. “You were saying somethin’ about wantin’ me in you?” His drawl is low and thick, eyes sharp and present, and Jester shudders again, nods immediately. “You need my fingers first?”

“Based off what I just held in my hand, definitely.” She says it with a wink, smirks up at him a little bit in an effort to provoke a blush, but even though his cheeks darken Fjord smirks back down at her and rolls onto his side next to her, slides one arm under her neck and reaches down with his other hand to rub his fingers through her folds with a slick sound that has them both moaning. Jester squirms when he presses just one fingertip into her, tries to cant her hips up and clench down, but Fjord just moves his hand with her, infuriatingly attractive smirk still on his face. “C’mon, Fjord, what are you waiting for? You want me to beg again?” Her voice is a high whine that she can’t control, hips hitching up again, and Fjord just grins slow and dark.

“Yeah, darlin’, I think I do. You did it so nicely before.” He ducks down and kisses her hard, fingers sliding up through her folds again, and Jester wraps an arm around his shoulders to keep him close, sucking on his tongue briefly before opening her eyes to stare straight at him, sees him already watching her.

“Please, Fjord, want your fingers so bad, need them,” and she’s not lying about any of it, not exaggerating, just using the truth to get what she wants, “want you to get me ready so you can fuck me, Fjord, ple-ah!” He slides one finger straight into her, cutting her off, breathing speeding up a little bit at her words, and Jester clenches down, moans and rolls her hips down against his hand, demands, “Give me another, I’m good, I promise.”

“Yeah, Jess, you’re good alright,” and as he leans up a little he pulls out his finger completely; Jester opens her mouth to protest but lets out another moan when he twists two fingers into her and Jester grabs his bicep with her free hand, can only hold on as he starts to fuck her with them. Fjord watches her, a predatory look on his face as he keeps just moving his hand steadily, and Jester braces her feet on the bed more firmly to rock her hips up to meet it, clenches down around his fingers and carefully does not dig her claws into his arms. It’s barely been a few minutes before she starts squirming, because it’s not enough, but the half-orc apparently can read her better than she can read him, asks “You ready for another?” before she can even open her mouth.

“No, I want your cock, want to feel the stretch.” Fjord hums contemplatively and crooks his fingers inside her, drags them over a spot that makes her cry out and arch her back hard, and he does it again, again, again, until she’s spitting curses at him in Infernal and fucking herself up onto his fingers eagerly, eyes squeezed shut like she can hold herself together.

“Fuck, Jester, you want to come like this?” He sounds just as wrecked as her, and Jester opens her eyes to see him looking down at her like he wants to devour her, and she doesn’t want him to stop but she’s desperate for him to finally be in her, has wanted it for too long to put off anymore.

“No,” she can barely gasp it through the pleasure making her brain hazy, forces herself to still her hips, “please, want you to fuck me, Fjord, don’t make me wait, please,” and she’s begging again, can’t help it, but he listens, pulls his fingers out of her slowly, dragging them over that spot one more time to make her squirm before he shifts over her once more, bracing one arm next to her head and reaching down with the other hand to line his cock up against her cunt.

“Okay?” His voice soft, hushed against her mouth, eyes burning bright, and Jester has never been more present in a moment, slides both hands up to cradle his jaw and raises her head up to kiss him slowly. He kisses her back, achingly sweet for this moment, and then she lets herself relax back down against the pillow, thumbs smoothing over his cheeks as she nods, and then he slowly starts to press in, and Jester is lost.

He rocks his hips slowly, carefully, stretching her open on his cock, and Jester takes it, hitches one of her knees up over his hip and mewls when his cock sinks in deeper, hands sliding restlessly over his back until their pelvises are pressed flush together. She feels so full she can hardly breathe, and Fjord presses their foreheads together and stops moving, eyes closed and breath damp out against her face as his chest heaves against hers and he slides his free arm under her, curls his hand over one of her shoulders. She rocks her hips against his after a moment, moans softly and does it again as he hisses out air between his teeth, and then Fjord opens his eyes.

“Can I?” For a moment Jester can only see the ocean in his eyes, unfathomably deep and expansive and beyond her comprehension, and then he blinks and it’s just his intense focus, staring straight into her soul as he waits for permission, muscles tense under her hands as he holds himself still for her.

Jester doesn’t make either of them wait.

“However you want,” and she means it, slides a hand up into his hair and doesn’t look away, and neither does Fjord as he slowly pulls halfway out before rocking his hips to slide his cock back into her, and it’s an easy glide, she’s so fucking wet for him. He settles into slow rhythm, always pressing into her fully with each roll of his hips, and Jester hasn’t felt this connected to another person in a long time.

She loses herself in the headiness of it, but it isn’t long until she wants more, needs more, she’s already so wound up from his fingers, and she starts rocking her hips up against his, hands curling into fists against his back, and Fjord nips at her mouth, stops moving altogether. “Told you earlier, you want somethin’, you tell me,” voice dark and dangerous, and Jester is hit with dizzying wave of lust.

“Fuck me, please,” and she’s barely done speaking before he starts moving again, pulling out until his cock is barely in her before thrusting in hard, and Jester moans loudly, leg tightening over his hip, and his feral grin is the only warning she gets before he starts doing exactly what she asked. He sets a fast pace, fucking into her with snaps of his hips that have her whining and clutching at his back, clenches down around his cock every time it sinks into her and their breath is hot in the short space between them but she won’t let him pull too far away, desperate to keep this closeness.

Fjord doesn’t let up, makes her take it, and Jester can feel her hair sticking to the sweat at her temples, feels him shift his weight a little and then his cock is dragging against the spot up in her cunt again and she whimpers, can feel pressure to build low and lets go of him to squirm a hand down between them. She moans loudly when she gets fingers on her clit and Fjord swears against her mouth, fingers digging into her shoulder.

“C’mon, sweetheart, get yourself there, want to feel you come around me, want to feel you get even tighter,” and he punctuates it with a particularly hard thrust that makes Jester feel like she’s going to crawl out of her skin with how good it is; she starts rubbing her clit hard, fast, mindlessly chasing her pleasure, and Fjord just keeps encouraging her, voice low as he leans his head further down to speak right into her ear. “Jester, I got you, just let go, sweetheart,” and then he ducks his head down to bite her shoulder, hard enough that she feels skin break, and Jester’s gone.

She comes hard, nails digging into his back as she cries out, and Fjord grunts against her skin but doesn’t stop, fucks her through orgasm, and even when she finally shudders and relaxes under him, reaches her hand up from between them to palm his side and slides the other one up into his hair, he keeps going, thrusting steadily into her. Jester takes it, loves it, lets him use her body as he licks the blood off her shoulder, and after a few minutes he starts to lose rhythm, body tensing over her, and so she curls her hand in his hair and tugs his head up from where he’s been panting against his neck. He shudders violently when she does, growls and pulls against her grip, arm shaking a little bit next to her face.

“Fuck, Jess, I’m close,” and he sounds wrecked in the best way, eyes wild as he stares down at her, “do I need to pull out?” She shakes her head and clenches down around him on his next thrust in, tightens her leg over his hip and squeezes his side.

“Don’t you dare, I know a cantrip,” she tugs him down closer to her, so his breath is huffing out hot against her face, and she nudges their noses together, briefly sinks her fangs into his lip, “and I want to feel you fill me up,” and it’s like she’s cut a wire.

Fjord growls her name against her mouth and fucks into her hard, leaves their pelvises pressed against her and just grinds into her as he comes, and she shudders, holds him close and keeps watching him until he finally relaxes over her, panting and pressing their foreheads together, hand loosening on her shoulder as he blinks slowly.

“Sweetheart,” his voice is gravely and she shudders again, tips her chin up to catch his mouth in a kiss, licks his mouth open to suck on his tongue, and Fjord hums with pleasure and kisses her back. She lets him pull back after a minute, smiles up at him softly and lets him finish whatever he’s trying to say, “Jester, you good if I pull out?”

“Yeah, just slowly, please.” He nods and kisses her again before shifting his weight, pulls out carefully until his cock slips free of her cunt, and Jester sighs at the feeling, wrinkles her nose a little and stretches under him before letting her body go loose again. He hums softly and ducks his head to kiss her shoulder before looking up at her and raising an eyebrow, voice fond as he takes in the satisfied expression she is sure is on her face.

“That cantrip, Jess?” She laughs a little and nods, reaches down between them to rest a hand on her lower abdomen as she murmurs the familiar words, and Fjord nods when she’s done, the corners of his mouth turning up in a smirk. “I’m glad you know that, but just in case, I should help out.” She furrows her brow in confusion, opens her mouth to ask what he means, but then the half-orc shifts down her body quickly until he’s settled in between her legs, exhaling against her cunt.

“Oh fuck.” Her voice is weak to her own ears as she stares down at him, and the smirk on Fjord’s face grows as he braces his hands on her inner thighs and uses his thumbs to spread her folds apart, and Jester clenches down around nothing on instinct. He drops his eyes to look at her cunt, then, and she can just feel his come start to leak out when he leans in and licks into her.

The room is full of nothing but her harsh breathing and the messy sounds of Fjord’s mouth on her cunt as he licks and sucks his seed out of her, and Jester can’t catch her breath, can only whine out his name and tremble against the bed, hands curling in the sheets. It’s not long before he raises his head to close his mouth over her clit, satisfied with his clean up job, and Jester sobs, almost too sensitive, but the half-orc keeps his tongue soft, and almost immediately she’s mewling, thighs shaking under his hands. After just a few minutes he makes a noise, low in his throat and vibrating out of his mouth, and she comes silently this time, mouth opening around no sound and body tensing up.

The second her body goes lax Fjord lets up, smooths his hands up to squeeze her waist gently and licking up over the crease of her hip before crawling up her body. Jester curls her arms around his neck and draws him down, presses their mouths together and lets him feed her the taste of their come mixed on his tongue until it’s gone.

“D’you want anything else?” She slurs it out against his mouth, can feel her eyes trying to flutter shut, and Fjord just laughs softly at her, shakes his head and shifts his weight to sit next to her, leaning over and blowing out the lantern so that the only light is the moon coming through the shuttered windows. She can still see the warmth in his eyes when he turns to look down at her, and smiles at him helplessly.

“No, darlin’, but thank you. How d’you want to sleep?” She scoots closer to the wall and rolls onto her side to face him, reaching up to gently pull on his shoulder until he shifts to lie on his back next to her, and she immediately cuddles into his side, pressing her cheek against his chest and resting her hand on his sternum.

“This okay?” He hums agreement, the vibrations under her cheek making her giggle, and wraps an arm around her shoulders, warm hand curling over her bicep; Jester melts under his touch and finally lets her eyes slide shut. “Good night, Fjord.”

“Good night, Jess.” He squeezes her gently, thumb rubbing circles against her shoulder, and Jester falls asleep listening to his steady heart beat.

--

Jester wakes up in the middle of the night, feels movement against her and raises her head to see Fjord trying to slides away from her. She lifts her arm off of his waist immediately and scoots back the few inches to to press her spine against the wall, raising a hand to rub her eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Shit, sorry for waking you. Go back to sleep.” His voice is husky, like he just woke up too, and she lowers her hand to see him staring in her direction as he sits up, but his eyes are distant, and her heart does something painful in her chest.

“S’okay. Is something wrong?” She reaches out to slide her fingers over his hand planted on the mattress between them, and he starts a little, raises his other hand to drag it down his face, and when he drops it she can see that he’s looking straight at her now, eyes clear and focused.

“No, ‘m fine. Just gotta go to the bathroom.” He smiles a little sheepishly as he says it, and Jester smiles back up at him, relaxing against the bed in relief. “Try and get back to sleep, I’ll be back, okay?” She nods and pulls her hand back, lets him slide out of bed and watches as he ducks to grab his pants.

“M’kay.” She presses her face into the sheets as she says it, stretching out languidly before curling up, turning her head when she hears him laughing. “Something funny?”

“No, you’re just cute.” He pulls on his pants and laces them up, and Jester feels her eyes growing heavy again. Fjord sighs softly at whatever expression is on her face when he looks back up at her from where he’d tied the laces, and she hums happily when he steps forward and ducks down to kiss her cheek. “Go back to sleep, sweetheart.” He murmurs it against her skin and tucks her hair behind her ear before straightening up, but Jester catches his hand before he can walk away.

“Love you.” It’s more of a mumble than anything, but Fjord hums acknowledgment and squeezes her hand before letting go, and she falls back asleep smiling.

The next time she wakes up she’s alone, and the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes is dried blood and seafoam on the corner of the pillow. Weak gray sunlight is streaming through the shutters and the sheets next to her are cool to the touch, and Jester take a deep breath and does not cry.

She leaves the mess on the pillow and slides out of bed slowly, unwilling to break the stillness of the room as she collects her clothes from where they’re scattered on the floor and pulls them on. She can faintly hear the sounds of the city outside the window, voices and carts in motion, and she doesn’t want to think about how long Fjord has been gone.

Jester checks the washroom first, but it’s empty of anyone; when she catches her reflection in a mirror she sees the bruises from Fjord’s mouth, dark and noticeable against her skin, and she reaches up to press one to make sure this isn’t a dream, feels forlorn when there’s a bright burst of pain from it. She makes herself walk slowly downstairs, praying that the half-orc will be eating breakfast at one of the tables, but among the other patrons of the inn she only recognizes Yasha and Mollymauk. They both have empty plates in front of them, and as she gets closer Jester can see that the other tiefling is doing a card reading, tail twitching in agitation behind him.

“Have either of you seen Fjord?” She doesn’t mean for it to be the first thing she says but it comes out anyway as she sits down next to the other tiefling, and as they both look at her Jester wrinkles her nose. “Sorry, sorry, good morning.” Molly shakes his head and looks back down at the cards in front of him before quickly shuffling them back into the deck, but Yasha nods at her once.

“Yeah, he was finishing eating when I came down. Said he wanted to get to the academy early.” Her gaze finds the marks on Jester’s neck quickly, slowly trailing up to her face; when her eyes meet Jester’s they’re sad, and the tiefling can feel her shoulders and tail drooping.

“Oh, okay.” She tries to smile as she says it, can tell that neither of them believe her but pushes on. “Is everyone else still asleep?” Yasha’s eyes get even sadder and it’s her turn to shake her head as she looks down at her hands on the table.

“Oh no, they’re awake. Those three wanted to have a private conversation in our room, so I excused myself to come down here.” Molly sounds stressed, his tail still lashing around behind him as he starts to lay cards out in front of him again. “They’re planning something, and they don’t trust us.” He’s aiming for casual and missing by a mile, just sounds hurt instead, and Jester reaches out with her tail to gently catch his, curling them together.

“Oh.” They’re all silent for a long moment, Yasha staring at her hands that have curled into fists, Molly at the five cards lined up in front of him, and Jester feels sick to her stomach, wishes they had never come here, that they’d just tried to keep outrunning the war and their demons. A barmaid comes over after a few minutes, asks Jester what she wants, but the tiefling can only shake her head, and the three of them are stay still after she leaves, lost in their own thoughts. After a few more minutes Molly makes a sharp sound and gathers up his cards carelessly, claws scratching the table as he shoves them back into the deck.

“Fuck this. Fuck them. I’m not waiting, I need to get out of here or I’ll go mad.” He pulls his tail free of Jester to reach it over, wrap it around Yasha’s arm, and Jester can see it squeeze until the barbarian finally looks up at them. “Want to come check out the magical goods shop they found yesterday? Jester’s going to introduce me to the tiefling who owns it.” Yasha nods once, mouth twitching as if she thinks about smiling but gives up instead, eyes still sad.

“Yes. I think I could use a good distraction.” Molly nods decidedly and stands, tail not letting go of Yasha’s arm as he looks down at Jester. He reaches down to gently pluck at her cloak, not stopping until she gets up, and then he drops his hand to curl around one of hers.

“Let’s go, then. We all need to get out of our heads.” He’s trying so hard to be calm, but Jester can read the tension in every line of his body, and she feels the worry crawl up her throat, looks over to see Yasha standing as well, and the barbarian’s body language is full of concern as she reaches up to gently tug Molly’s tail off her bicep.

“Okay. Let me leave a message with the bartender, in case the others come asking after us.” Jester nods and doesn’t let go of the other tiefling’s hand as she leads him out of the inn and into the street, and only a minute later Yasha comes up on his other side; out of the corner of her eye Jester can see the aasimar pressing her side flush against Molly’s, and she hopes this will be enough. She chatters mindlessly as she takes them towards the store, pointing at interesting buildings she’d passed the day before with their other friends and pausing at several bakeries to buy pastries she isn’t interested in, but as they slowly make their way to The Portal both Molly and Yasha seem to relax more, and when they laugh at a dirty joke she tells them Jester can’t hold back her grin.

“Here it is!” She feels genuinely excited when they pause in front of the store to look up at the sign, and she barely gives them a moment before she tugs Molly through the door, glancing over her shoulder to see him laughing and grabbing one of Yasha’s hands to pull her with them; the other woman is smiling fondly, and it’s small but it reaches her eyes, and that’s all Jester can hope for. She turns back around to see a half-elf with long blonde hair standing behind the counter, and when she looks up from the book she’s reading the woman smiles at them and waves them forward.

“Hello! You must be who Saorla was telling me about. I’ll go get her.” She leaves her book open as she turns to head through the curtain to their left, and Jester squeezes Molly’s hand, turning to smile excitedly at her friends.

“You’re going to love her so much!” The words are barely out of her mouth before there’s footsteps behind her, and she spins back around to see the green tiefling coming towards them, pushing her bangs aside and smiling widely.

“You’re back! And you brought more friends.” She’s just as warm as the day before, and when she reaches them she immediately extends her hand towards Mollymauk. “I’m Saorla.”

“Hello, Saorla. I’m Mollymauk, but you can call me Molly. We’ve heard a lot about you.” He lets go of Jester’s hand to shake Saorla’s, and Jester leans against the counter to watch, sees her friend smile wide and genuine, and feels the last of the worry drop away. Yasha offers her hand when the two tieflings release each other’s, and Saorla takes hers just as readily, smile not wavering in the slightest.

“I’m Yasha. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The barbarian sounds just as genuine as Molly had, and Jester feels warm, glad that they could all leave their troubles behind in the inn, even if just for a few hours.

“You as well. Well, as you can see we’re not very busy, so you’re welcome to take a look around my store, or I’m more than happy to tell you about the city if you have any questions like Jester here did yesterday.” She smiles playfully at Jester as she says it, no malice in her voice, and Jester can’t help but laugh, curls her tail around Molly’s so it doesn’t knock into anything in her good mood. “This is my wife, Teila, and she’s more than capable of running this store without me.” Her smile softens as she looks at the half-elf behind the counter, and the other woman smiles and waves at them before looking back down at her book.

“If it’s not too much trouble, some conversation would be wonderful.” Molly’s smiling just as wide as Jester, and he accepts when Saorla asks them to come join her in her sitting room for tea. Jester falls in next to Yasha as they follow the two tieflings, and as they head through the curtained doorway she curls her tail around the barbarian’s wrist; Yahsa laughs softly and twists her hand around to gently catch it, smiles down at Jester, and this, for now, will be enough.

They spend the next two hours talking with Saorla, asking her about the city and telling her about their travels, and it’s so nice, listening to the tiefling tell them about her normal life, her wife, the story of how they came to own the shop, and when Jester’s stomach loudly growls she tries to ignore it, doesn’t want to leave.

“You didn’t eat breakfast. We should go get food.” Yasha’s voice is no-nonsense, even with the fond smile on her face, and Jester pouts but nods, sighing softly and looking back over at Saorla, about to thank her for hosting them when the other tiefling opens her mouth.

“Why don’t we all go to lunch? I can take you to my favorite place.” The green tiefling smiles at them, tail waving lazily in the air as she sets down her tea cup, and Jester lights up as she looks over to her two friends, sees them both nodding back at her.

“We would be delighted.” Molly stands as he says it, smiling widely and fixing his sleeves, offering his arm to Saorla as she stands as well. She laughs and takes it, guiding the three of them out into the storefront. She tells her wife that they’re going out, promises to be back soon to relieve her for the half-elf’s lunch break, and then leads them out into the city. She takes them away from their inn, further east, pointing out a few interesting shops as they pass, and after maybe fifteen minutes they enter a small tavern, the inside clean and well lit.

It’s after they’re seated and have ordered based on Saorla’s recommendations that their moods take a turn for the worse again.

“So, I don’t think I’ve asked yet, but what brings you to Rexxentrum?” It’s an innocent question, their new friend just trying to learn more about them, but Jester immediately feels her shoulders droops, tail falling limp against the floor.

“Oh, well, Fjord, the half-orc who came in with me yesterday? He’s trying to get into the Soltryce Academy.” Jester tries to say it cheerfully, but she’s surprised as the green tiefling’s body language changes; Saorla’s eyes shutter and she sits up a little straighter, hands folding in front of her. Jester looks to her side, sees Yasha and Molly watching the same thing she just did with sharp eyes, and feels a kernel of fear plant itself in her stomach.

“Have you heard anything about the Academy, having been here for so long?” Molly says it casually, smile still charming, but Jester knows when her friend is running a con, and she looks back to Saorla, waiting for her answer.

“I’ve heard lots of things about it.” It’s a careful response, one that Jester doesn’t miss, and she exchanges glances with her two friends before leaning in.

“Tell us. Please. I don’t want Fjord getting in trouble.” The green tiefling purses her lips and rolls her neck out, looking a little unsettled before she smooths out her expression, eyes sliding over the three of them with intent.

“Like I said, I’ve heard a lot of things about the Soltryce Academy. Your friend, is he a good man?” Saorla curls her tail around one of her own wrists and keeps her face impassive as she regards the three of them; out of the corner of her eyes Jester can see Molly and Yasha exchanging glances, as if they are weighing up the truth. The blue tiefling has no time for calculated answers if she can learn more about where Fjord is trying to go.

“Yes. He does not always think so, but he is.” Her tone is firm, offering no room for disagreement from her friends, but thankfully they don’t raise one. Jester stares at Saorla, and for a moment it’s like the other tiefling is looking straight into her soul, and then she leans in, lowering her voice and glancing around at the three of them again.

“There are many things that been said about this academy. A lot of whispers have come by my ears.” She taps her claws on the table slowly, looks down at them before looking back up, and her eyes are worried. “People come out of there doing great things, and that’s the truth. But they also come out of there completely changed, and some just...disappear. They leave in the middle of the night, or maybe they don’t, but some people you just never see again after they start to attend this academy. And I’ve heard rumors of terrible deeds done by the men, women, teenagers,” and she spits that word out, quietly angry, “who are trained there. I don’t know if it’s the kind of place you want a friend of yours to go.”

“Oh.” Her voice is small in her own ears, and she looks over to see Molly’s eyebrows raised high and Yasha’s mouth a grim line. She turns her head back to see Saorla watching them with sad eyes, and she nods once, curls her tail around Mollymauk’s for comfort. “Well, thank you for telling us that.”

“I wish I could tell you more.” The green tiefling’s eyes are sad, but then their food comes, and Molly changes the subject smoothly. The conversation evens out, academy dropping to the backs of their minds, until they’re saying their goodbyes outside of The Portal, Saorla telling them to stop by again soon before heading back inside.

Yasha, stoic, unshakable Yasha, is the one who talks on their walk back to the inn. She stays a steady presence between Molly and Jester, brushes her hands against their arms and lets them curl their tails around her wrists and tells them all about the first time she saw a yellow flower. She pushes on when they do not respond, and she does not falter as they navigate the streets. It isn’t until they’re entering the inn and their four friends are at a table near the far wall that she falls silent.

Fjord’s back is to them, and Jester’s heartbeat picks up, the kernel of anxiety from Saorla still heavy in her stomach.

Molly leads the way over to the table, weaving past other patrons and not saying a word; Jester follows after Yasha, and she sees how the rest of their family, for all their normal distrust and watchfulness, do not notice their approach, all leaned in close and keeping their voices under the general noise of the bar.

“So, how’d it go?” Jester blurts it out once they’re at the table, too nervous to not say anything as she crowds up against Yasha’s back to reach for Fjord’s shoulder. The barbarian steps out of her way, starts to follow Molly around the table towards empty seats, and out of the corner of her eye she registers Caleb and Beau’s surprise at them being there, sees Nott’s shoulders slowly relaxing from where she’d tensed them up at the sound of of Jester’s voice, but then the tiefling can only focus on Fjord as he looks at her over the shoulder her fingers curled over, and-

His tusks are gone. Jester hears a quiet sound, and it isn’t until she catches herself reaching up towards his mouth that she realizes it came out of her; she immediately draws her hand back to her side and swallows, looking up from Fjord’s mouth to meet his eyes, and it’s like trying to stare into the ocean, everything in there threatening to drown her.

Jester would let him drag her under.

“It, uh, it went.” He coughs a little awkwardly as he says it, and when he opens his mouth she can see the chipped stubs of teeth where the tusks were last night. She doesn’t want to think how long it must have taken him to file them down, if he ever even came back to bed, swallows down a sudden wave of tears and drops into the chair next to him. “I’m, um, not really sure.” He’s hesitating,  holding back, and Jester is so tired of the lies and half-truths and secrets.

She looks around the table to see Molly’s face carefully closed off, Yasha just as blank next to him; they don’t hide their eyes from her, though, and she sees the same turmoil within them, sees Molly’s tail wound tightly around Yasha’s bicep’s, sees how stiff they’re sitting so as to not touch their partners. Next to them Beau and Caleb are wearing masks just as fake as Nott’s, painted on smiles and forced relaxation in their seats. The goblin is hiding under her hood and mask, but her knuckles are pale where’s she’s holding onto her flask like a tether.

Jester aches under the weight of the things no one is saying.

“I’m done,” Jester says it clearly, carefully, lets the words roll of her tongue as she stands and smooths out her skirts, “with all of this. I am going upstairs, to my room, and in ten minutes I’m going to cast Zone of Truth.” She looks around the table slowly, stares every one of her friends in the eyes, and keeps her voice calm. “I would like it if all of you were there. I’ll be happy if at least one of you is. The spell lasts ten minutes, and if no one else is there with me when that spell ends, I am leaving.”

There are several voices trying to talk at once, several pairs of surprised eyes on her, but Jester just holds up a hand and shakes her head, lets her tone get sharp. “We are a family. I love every single one of you, but I cannot watch us get torn apart because of secrets and lies. I thought we were finally starting to get over that.” She takes a deep breath and nods, lets her hand drop and takes a step back. “I don’t know what’s going on with that academy, but I know a few of you do. I want answers, and if I don’t get them, then I need to go.” She turns and walks away, heads upstairs with the weight of eyes on her back, but she does not stop until she is in her room.

For a moment she feels like her heart is going to beat out of her chest, but she doesn’t have the time for that right now, no time for the shortness of breath in her throat or the tears burning her eyes, so she just starts packing the little she’d gotten out back into the haversack. Fjord’s bed, she notices, is made, and the pillowcase is gone.

She sits on her bed and does not look over at his again.

Not even two minutes after she’s left the table there are footsteps coming down the hall, and Jester holds her breath until the door opens and Molly and Yasha walk in, giving her small smiles. Yasha closes the door behind them and Jester does not let herself droop, just watches the barbarian grab the chair from the corner and bring it over to sit right next to the bed. Molly finishes unlacing his ridiculous boots to climb onto the blankets next to her, curling their tails together immediately and pulling out his card deck.

“The others?” She’s horrified when her voice cracks, immediately clears her throat and drops her gaze to where her hands are clutching each other in her lap; for a moment the room is still, and then there is a comforting hand on her knee.

“Needed to talk about their decision. Molly and I did not.” Yasha’s voice is as warm as her palm, and she squeezes gently, smiles again when Jester looks up at her. She senses movement to her right just as Molly’s blunted claws catch her chin, and she turns her head to see the other tiefling smiling at her as well, eyes intense.

“I promised you, Jester Lavore. I’m not leaving you.” His voice is firm, and Jester has to swallow around a lump in her throat when Yasha hums agreement and squeezes her knee again. “If you go, so do we.” She frowns, then, and looks between the two of them, brow furrowing, but Yasha cuts her off before she can voice any questions.

“We love Beauregard and Caleb. We do.” Her voice is calm, steady, but when Jester looks back at her she can see the storm of emotions in her eyes. “But it’s like you said-we don’t want to be torn apart by secrets and lies. We deserve better than that.” Molly curls his tail even more tightly around hers, drops his hand to her other knee, and and Jester covers both of their hands with her own, squeezes them tightly and turns her head between them to make sure they both see her smile.

“Three is still pretty good for a family.” She lets go after a moment, and so does Molly, the other tiefling starting to slowly shuffle his deck of cards in front of him on the bed. Yasha leaves her hand on Jester’s knee, though, and as the tiefling slowly counts in her head she looks up to see the barbarian just waiting, head tipped back and eyes shut.

Molly pulls a card when Jester hits the eight minute mark in her head, but she doesn’t say anything out loud, just watches him stare at the back of the card and waits for him to flip it, frowning slightly when he doesn’t. She peeks out from under her bangs to see that Yasha is watching the other tiefling as well, brow furrowed slightly and lower lip caught between her teeth in what Jeste knows to be a nervous tic, and her heart sinks as she glances back to Molly and sees he hasn’t looked at the card yet.

Jester keeps counting, hits the nine minute mark, and still the other tiefling does not flip the card. His tail tightens around Jester’s, and his hand, she is surprised to notice, is trembling faintly, his back straight and shoulder tense. She flicks her eyes over to Yasha when she hears the chair creak, sees the other woman leaning forward to shift her hand from Jester’s knee to Molly’s, and when she looks back at him he’s still just staring at the card.

“Mollymauk.” Yasha says his name just as the ten minute mark passes, and there are more emotions in that one word than Jester can keep track of, the other woman’s voice soft in the quiet of the room. Jester watches as Molly looks up at her, nods, and flips the card; he immediately drops it to the bed for all three of them to see.

The Hanged Man.

Jester casts her spell. The bedroom is small, and the spell can encompass almost the entirety of it, which would be useful if there was anyone else there. Neither Yasha nor Molly resist, she feels it just wash over them, and she starts counting in her head again, tries to stay calm because they are still sitting there with her.

“So, Jester, where to next?” Mollymauk is still staring at the card, hasn’t looked up, but his voice is just as soft as Yasha’s had been, and his posture has relaxed slightly.

“Nicodranas. I’d like to introduce you both to my mother.” It’s the truth, and she looks up to see Molly and Yasha exchange glances, their eyes softening and their mouths quirking up slightly, like they can tell that she’s not resisting the spell either.

Someone knocks on the door at three minutes. Jester’s breath catches in her throat, and she’s frozen suddenly, unable to open her mouth. Molly’s tail squeezes hers, and Yasha slides her hand over to cover her knee again. Out of the corner of her eye she sees the aasimar open her mouth, and even if she could talk she couldn’t begin to say how grateful she is.

“Unless you belong to the Mighy Nein, go away.” She calls it out plainly, tone open and not holding anything back, and Jester can sense Molly’s shoulders shake against hers in silent laughter. She hears the door open and is suddenly too afraid to look, turns her head to stare at Yasha instead, trying to read her face. She hears different pairs of footsteps enter, counts them as they do, one, two, three, four, and her heart does something painful in her chest as Yasha’s expression transforms in relief.

“Jester?” Fjord’s voice is uncertain, and that’s what makes her look over; their four friends are standing there, body language a little closed off, but they’re here, and that’s what she asked for. Jester frowns as the spell bounces back to her off of them, and she raises her chin, scans across them to look each of them in the eye.

“This won’t change anything if you’re resisting the spell. I don’t-I don’t want you here if you’re going to resist the spell. You know I can tell when you guys do.” Their expressions all turn guilty, Nott’s ears flattening to her head, and Jester feels her heart sink again, lets her shoulders droop, and then she slides off the bed to sink to her knees of the floor, opens up the haversack, and reaches in to start pulling out everything she can think of that they have come to collect as a group. “I’m taking the haversack, because I bought it, but I’m not going to take your things.” She hears the chair creak again, and then there are two pairs of feet on either side of her.

“We’ll go pack our things, then.” Molly ducks down and picks up his boots as he says it, and Jester hears a sharp intake of breath, raises her head to see Caleb looking gutted, Beau’s dismayed face just over his shoulder.

“Wait, you’re all-you’re all really going to go?” Caleb sounds out of breath, and Jester feels a vindictive little pang go through her, is immediately ashamed of it and looks back down, keeps pulling out weapons and money and potions.

“Yes. I’m in love with you, more than I ever knew I could be, and every god out there must know how in love with Beau Yasha is. But, darling...” Molly sounds so sad that Jester’s heart hurts, but when he falters Yasha is there to pick up what he’s suddenly become reluctant to say.

“We deserve better.” Her voice is just as sad, and Jester can only imagine the raw expression on her face. “Molly’s not wrong. But sometimes love isn’t enough.” There are only five minutes left in the spell, and Jester looks up when she hears shuffling, sees Nott reaching up to take Caleb’s hand and squeeze it; she holds her breath, because there is a war of emotions across the wizard’s face, and then he looks down at the goblin and nods.

“I will tell you. I do not blame Nott and Beau. They were just keeping my secret. But you are right. You all deserve better.” He sounds firm, decided, and he walks over to the other bed, sits up on its edge, and Beau and Nott follow immediately, sitting on either side of him, the goblin immediately taking one of his hands again. The resistance is gone from all of them, and Jester feels something like a smile beginning to form on her face before she senses the bounce back from near the door again, and she looks back to see Fjord still standing there, head bowed so she can’t see his face and body one long line of tension.

“Fjord?” He doesn’t move, doesn’t respond, and Jester swallows hard against the sting of tears in her eyes, curls her hands into fists so her claws dig in and she can viciously use the pain to push the sorrow down. “Please?” The word comes out before she can stop it, voice small and cracking, and just like that his shoulders slump, and she can feel the fight leave his body.

“You haven’t used any other spells today?” He raises his head to look at her, eyes present and focused on nothing but her, and when she shakes her head he sighs slowly, takes a step further into the room. “Then cast the spell again, when it runs out, so you can trust that we’re still being honest. I ain’t gonna fight it. I promise.” He walks across the room slowly, stops in front of her and offers a hand, and she lets him pull her up, looks up at him and loses her breath when he lets go of her hand to tuck her hair behind her ear, voice dropping so his words are just for her. “I promise.”

“Okay.” She steps back, hops up onto the bed and curls her legs up under her, and Molly drops his boots to the floor again before coming over to sit next to her. Yasha nudges the chair towards Fjord before sitting up on the bed on Jester’s other side, scooting back to lean against the wall. Fjord drops into the chair and nods, looking over at the other bed, where their three friends are leaning into each other, staring back at him with mixed emotions on their faces, but she feels no resistance from anyone in the room.

“Caleb, you want to go first?” Fjord’s voice is gentle, as if he’s offering himself up instead, but the wizard takes a deep breath and nods, knuckles whitening where he’s gripping Nott’s hand tightly in his lap.

“Ja, I will.” He looks down briefly before raising his head again, and Jester is alarmed at the tears in his eyes. “I’m going to tell you the story of how I murdered my parents.” Jester feels Yasha’s leg twitch where it’s pressed against hers, hears Molly’s sharp intake of breath, and the wizard’s face transforms with shame, but he doesn’t look away from the tiefling at her side as he begins to talk.

Jester casts the spell again when the time is up, quietly so as to not interrupt Caleb, and there is only raw honesty in his voice as he tells them about the Soltryce Academy, about Eodwulf and Astrid, about Trent Ikithon, about murder and fire and losing his mind. She expects him to stop there, but he pushes on, tells them about Trent Ikithon being in Zadash, about his interest in Yasha, and Jester feels cold fear run down her spine. He talks through the duration of the spell, and it fades just as he falls silent, shoulders rising and falling with his heavy breathing, like he’s been fighting an enemy instead of just reliving memories; Jester thinks it probably feels the same.

“Cast the spell again, Jester.” It’s Beau who speaks up this time, voice firm and shoulders set, and she waits until Jester says the incantation before nodding. “I’m going to tell you about our plan to stop him,” and she does, spills everything that her and Caleb and Nott have been plotting together since they started heading towards Rexxentrum. It isn’t until she admits that a lot of their plan hinges on Fjord getting into the academy and catching Ikithon’s attention that her attention drops from them, and they all look at the half-orc to see his elbows braced on his knees as he stares at the door, intensity on his face that usually shows up in high moments of stress before a battle. “What do you think the chances of that are?” The monk’s voice grows unsure, then, and Jester just watches as Fjord takes a deep breath and nods.

“Well, I got in, so I’d say we’re already halfway there.” Jester feels a grin break out over her face, feels Molly relax against her side and looks over to see Caleb looking relieved, Beau satisfied, Nott’s toothy smile. “Jess, can you cast the spell one more time?”

“Several more times, if you want.” She turns gaze back on him, sees that he’s already looking at her, and he nods again, leans back in the chair and exhales slowly.

“You should. I want-I feel like most of you already trust me. I don’t think I deserve it, but I want to.” He keeps watching her, waits until she casts it again, and then he looks down at the floor. “There are some things I’m still not ready to tell y’all. I don’t know if I ever will be. But I can tell you everything you want to know about this.”

“What was it like? How did they test you?” Nott’s voice is sharp, not angry but looking for answers, and Caleb makes a sound; Jester looks up to see him let go of the goblin’s hand to smooth his own over her hair, sees the goblin look up at him and flatten her ears back briefly before she sighs and nods, looking back over at Fjord. “Sorry. Just, we need to know. It’s really important.”

“It’s okay, Nott. I understand.” He tells them what Jester hopes is everything, then, about the tests they put him through, and she can sense through the spell that he isn’t resisting, at least, that he’s not lying. He talks slowly, careful in a way that puts her at ease, because she doesn’t think he’s trying to evade the question, just trying to give them as much information as he can remember. “The told me to come back tomorrow. That it’ll be official then,” and then he falls silent, information they needed given freely, but no more offered.

“You gonna resist if I ask about your magic?” Beau’s voice is a little off, and Jester looks over to see her looking calculated, fingers tapping on her knee rhythmically, and frowns, opens her mouth to tell her to leave it alone.

“Yes. Please don’t.” Fjord’s voice is apologetic, and Jester can’t see it all over his face, but he also looks set on his answer, and Beau nods, offers him a small smile, and Jester watches as he relaxes back in the chair. “So, what now?” He looks straight at Jester as he asks, and she curls her tail around Molly’s, looks down at the Hanged Man card still in front of him.

“We go through with their plan. Together, as a family, all seven of us.” She looks around the room as she says it, catches everyone’s eye, sees them looking fierce and determined and ready, and she nods to herself, closes her eyes briefly and sends up a prayer of thanks to the Traveller for giving her this.

The spell fades. Jester does not cast it again.

They stay up late, discussing Beau and Caleb and Nott’s plan, expanding it for them to all have a role, amending it with ideas from the three of them that had been kept from the truth of all of it. Jester ends up on the floor, putting everything back into the haversack slowly, failing to hide her smile even as their discussion stays serious. Eventually Molly slides off the bed, though, taking his cards with him and sliding them into their pouch before picking up his boots, and he crosses the room to hold his other hand out to Caleb.

“We need sleep, all of us, if we’re going to start putting this into action tomorrow.” His posture is relaxed, his tone easy-going, but Jester can see his tail curled around one of his legs, just like she does when she wants to keep herself calm. She can’t help but let out a sigh of relief when the wizard takes the tiefling’s hand and steps down off the bed to stand in front of him, mouth turning up in a small smile.

“Okay.” Mollymauk sways forward slightly, like for a brief moment he’s thinking about kissing Caleb in front of all of them, but then he takes a step back instead, gently pulling the human with him; she’s surprised when Caleb steps forward to close the distance between them, tilts his head up and presses a kiss to Molly’s cheek, a faint blush on his cheeks but the smile still on his face when he pulls back from the unusual display of affection in front of them.

“I think I’ll run downstairs and get my own room for the night.” Nott scampers off the bed as she says it, hugs Caleb’s legs and then Molly’s before casting Disguise Self and darting out the door as the little halfling that none of them have seen in a long time. Jester doesn’t worry, though, because she saw the relieved smile spread across the goblin’s face before she left. Yasha slides off the bed just as Molly and Caleb make it to the parted door, still holding hands, and the barbarian walks over to the bed where Beau’s face is a myriad of emotions. The barbarian stops just in front of her, and her voice is gentle as she reaches out to take one of Beau’s hands.

“Are you okay?” The monk’s face crumples briefly, but she ducks her head and takes a deep breath, raising her free hand to rub over her mouth before she looks back up, and her eyes are a little damp looking, but no tears fall.

“I feel like I’m the one who should be asking that question. And that I should also be asking if we’re okay.” Her voice is smaller than Jester’s ever heard it, and she immediately looks to Fjord, tries to give her friends the illusion of privacy; the half-orc is already looking at her, and she can see him holding his breath just like she is.

“We’re okay, Beau. Come to bed.” There’s the faint sound of fabric moving, then two feet hitting the floor, and Yasha hums soothingly; Jester looks out of the corner of her eye to see Beau smiling up the barbarian, sees Yasha cradle her cheek briefly before dropping her hand to take the monk’s, and she leads her to the door before looking over her shoulder. “We’ll see you in the morning.” It’s not a question in the slightest, and Jester’s heart feels light as she nods. They slip out the door, then, closing it behind them, and Fjord finally gets up from the chair, crosses the room to lock the door behind their friends before he turns to look back at Jester.

“Jess,” and she holds her breath at the sound of his voice, the look in his eyes, the way he takes a step towards her with, but then he seems to catch himself, reaches up to rub a hand over the back of his neck and sighs, “we should get some sleep, too.” Jester feels her tail fall limp against the floor but she nods, stands up and start undoing her armor.

“Right.” She tries not to let the disappointment seep into her voice, thinks it might anyway when his shoulders slump as he walks over to the other bed, shucking his armor as well. She’s unashamed as she undresses, sees him watching out of the corner of his eyes as he slowly removes his own clothes, until he’s just in his pants and she’s down to her breastband and smallclothes. Fjord clears his throat just as she’s ducking down to grab her nightgown, and Jester straightens up when he crosses the distance between them to stand right in front of her.

“Can you-can you cast the spell one more time?” His voice is soft, hesitant, and Jester feels her heart break at the war of emotions in his eyes. She nods immediately, says the incantation quietly, and can’t help the way her lips twitch up when it covers them both and she feels no push back. “I told you that you didn’t know me, and that’s my fault. I want you to know me. I’ll answer any question you ask. What do you want to know?”

“Everything.” The answer is reflexive, slips out of her mouth almost too fast, and they both laugh a little. Fjord takes her one of her hands, thumb rubbing over her knuckles, and gives her that crooked smile that she loves.

“Well, go ahead and ask. I’ll tell you.” He sounds a little uncomfortable with the idea, but there is no lie or reluctance in his voice, his eyes bright and present as they stare into hers, and that’s what cements Jester’s decision.

“No.” His brow furrows in confusion and he cocks his head to the side, and Jester shakes her head, offers him a small smile. “I’m not going to ask anything you’re not ready to share.” Fjord makes a quiet sound, exhales it out between them, and then he ducks down and kisses her, lets go of her hand to bring both of his up to cradle her face. His mouth is soft against hers, this kiss achingly sweet, and Jester kisses him back just as gently, raises her hands to curl around his wrists, fingers resting over his pulse points.

“Please, Jester. Just one question. I need you to.” He says it against her mouth, his nose nudging hers before he straightens up again so they can look at each other properly, and Jester nods, squeezes his wrists gently and takes a deep breath.

“Okay. Fjord,” and her heart starts beating faster, because she knows that the answer to this question could easily ruin her, “do you love me?” He blinks twice, surprise showing plain across his face, and Jester swallows hard, keeps staring up at him, does not let the knot of fear in her stomach control her, does not look away from his fathomless eyes. Time feels stretched out, immeasurable, either just a few seconds or an eternity sitting in the silence between them, and then Jester can see Fjord break, sees his walls shatter as he closes his eyes.

When he looks back down at her she can see the answer, and a smile breaks out on her face before he even opens his mouth.

“Yes,” and his voice is so warm, thumbs rubbing over her cheekbones as he smiles back down at her, “of course I do. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t fall in love with you, sweetheart.” Jester squeezes his wrists before reaching up to curl a hand around the back of his neck, tugs him down into a kiss, because there is nothing but honesty radiating from him.

Later, after they’ve kissed and kissed and kissed, after they’ve lost the little clothes they had left on and messed up Fjord’s well made bed, after the sweat on their bodies has cooled and they’ve blown out the lantern, after they’ve finally gotten in a comfortable position for sleep, Fjord rubs a hand down Jester’s back.

“What’re you hummin’?” His voice is soft with sleep, and Jester presses her smile to his chest before raising her head to look at him. His yellow eyes almost glow in the dark, and she feels nothing but comfort at the sight, curls her tail over his waist and hitches her thigh up over his.

“A lullaby. My favorite one, that my mother used to sing to me every night.” Fjord nods and rubs his hand down her back again, mouth curling up into smile that takes her breath away for a moment.

“Will you teach it to me sometime?” He splays his hand between her shoulder blades as he asks, and even though the spell has been long faded Jester can still hear the honesty in the question; her smile grows even bigger as she nods. “Thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me for that,” she laughs softly as she says it, slides her hand up from his ribs to rest it on his chest and prop her chin on it, the tip of her tail starting to trace an absent design over his side. Fjord twitches slightly and catches it with his free hand, squeezing gently as he huffs out a brief laugh before his face grows serious.

“That’s not what I’m thanking you for.” He doesn’t look away, eyes staring straight into her soul, and Jester can’t say anything for a moment, can only lean forward and press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. Fjord turns his head to brush their lips together, hand on her back keeping her close, and they share the space, breathing each other’s air; Jester can feel his eyelashes on her cheek, they’re so close, and even though her eyes are already shut she squeezes them even tighter, holds her breath and prays for a lifetime of moments like this.

Fjord loosens his grip on her after a minute, tilts his head up and kisses her forehead, and Jester relaxes back down against his chest, opens her eyes and smiles at him, “I love you,” and it’s the easiest thing in the world to admit. His answering smile warms Jester to the core.

“I know, Jester, I promise. I love you too.” She nods and shifts her hand to splay over his heart, rests her head on his shoulder carefully so she doesn’t scratch him with her horn, smiling even as her eyelids grow heavy. “I’ll still be here in the morning, I promise. And if you sleep in, I’ll wake you up before I go.”

“Thank you,” and she means it both for that and so much more, can only hope that he can hear what she isn’t saying. Fjord squeezes her gently, covers her hand over his heart and presses down so she can feel how steadily it’s beating, and Jester knows that he understands.

Jester falls asleep in Fjord’s arms, and wakes up in them, and if she dreams she does not remember. Jester wakes up with a dry face and a heart that is beating for her, and as Fjord begins to stir under her Jester is hit with the realization that she is unspeakably happy.

It is more than enough.