Beau says, “Hey, Nott?”
They’re on watch together, keeping an eye toward the road for unwanted company and an eye on the forest for the same. The moons are both full overheard, and the larger of the two casts a soft glow that filters through the treetops to splash against their campsite. It is, all things considered, quite the serene picture, but something in Beau’s casual tone prickles at the back of Nott’s neck. It’s too forced - like she’s pretending not to give a shit instead of actually not giving a shit.
“Yeah?” Nott says. Her hand tightens almost unconsciously on the handle of the dagger she’s sharpening.
“You remember when Caleb cast that Suggestion spell on you? Back in Nicodranas?” Beau is playing idly with her staff, poking the end through the grass and giving it an occasional twirl in the air in front of her.
Nott remembers. She’d have rather he’d asked first - and she hadn’t enjoyed the sinking realization that she hadn’t been nearly as brave as she’d thought - but it wound up being the right call. Caleb would almost certainly have died in that tunnel if she hadn’t been there to bring him back with a healing potion, not to mention the hits she’d managed with her crossbow. “What about it?”
Beau hesitates, and the prickly unease itching at Nott’s skin spreads over her shoulders and down her back. Beau doesn’t know how not to say whatever’s on her mind, especially if it’s to rag on someone. “It’s just...” Beau pushes her goggles up on her forehead with the back of her hand and rubs at her eyes. “That was pretty fucked up, right?”
Nott just shrugs. A lot of very fucked up things had happened in very quick succession, and Caleb’s enchantment barely registers on the list. “You do remember we killed like… a lot of people right after that, right? And Fjord chopped a guy’s hand off?”
“That was also fucked up,” Beau agrees. “But that guy was an asshole, and so were his bodyguards probably. The point is, we did that stuff to assholes, not to each other. You’re not an asshole, Nott.”
Nott blinks at her. “I’m not?”
Beau rolls her eyes. “I mean you are, but you’re our asshole, y’know? It’s different when it’s one of us.”
“It’s not like Caleb chopped my hand off,” Nott says. She tosses her dagger from hand to hand for something to do with the buzz of nervous energy being on watch always brings out in her. “I was holding things up, and Caleb fixed it. He didn’t hurt me.”
“You’re not mad that he messed with your mind?”
“No,” says Nott. “I trust Caleb to make the right decision.”
Discomfort twists on Beau’s face, the firelight deepening the frown lines in her forehead and around her mouth. “I know you do,” Beau says, the “even when you shouldn’t” implied in her tone. “But Caleb’s not perfect, you know? He makes bad calls sometimes.”
“I know,” Nott snaps defensively, though she’s hard pressed to think of an example right off the top of her head. Before they’d met, maybe. She had met him in jail after all. “We got into the Sluice, we dealt with Algar, problem solved.” She tests the tip of her dagger against the pad of her thumb, drawing a tiny bead of red that she licks off.
“But he didn’t have to cast a spell on you!” Beau says, only belatedly remembering to keep her voice down so she doesn’t wake the others. They both whip around to look, but no one stirs. “You don’t think that crossed a line?”
Nott hesitates just long enough for Beau to catch it. “He didn’t hurt me,” she says again firmly. “He wouldn’t hurt me.”
Beau blows out a breath. “Still,” she says, jamming her goggles back down onto her eyes. “He shouldn’t have done it.”
It’s quiet, save for the crackle of the fire, the distant calls of night birds, the faint snoring of their friends. Nott looks down at her hands, covered as usual in layers of dingy, off-white bandages that conceal too much green. Suggestion is hardly a dangerous spell, especially compared to all the things she has seen Caleb do, all the things she knows he will do.
“Do you really think so?” Nott says finally. The words taste like betrayal, making her gut twist uncomfortably, and she swallows it down.
Beau heaves a sigh and leans back, bracing herself on her elbows and looking up into the sky. “All I know is you can’t trust shit in this world, so you should at least be able to trust your own mind. Caleb should know that better than anyone.”
Nott bares her teeth reflexively and hisses, but Beau doesn’t even flinch. “What are you implying?” she demands, the point of her dagger aimed towards Beau almost unconsciously. How dare Beau suggest Caleb could be anything like the monster who’d hurt him, who’d broken her boy. Caleb would never hurt her like that, wouldn’t even dream of it.
Beau sits up and puts her palms out placatingly, though Nott catches one hand juke towards her staff before she thinks better of it. “Look, if you really think it wasn’t a big deal, then fine, it’s not a big deal. I’m just saying that calling someone on their bullshit doesn’t make you disloyal or whatever.” Her mouth contorts slightly - it’s probably supposed to be a reassuring smile, but Fjord’s lessons on not being an asshole haven’t been nearly as effective as she might have hoped. “Maybe I’m full of shit. Probably am, actually. But just because you care about someone doesn’t mean you have to be okay with everything they do. I care about Jester, but I can still bitch when she runs out of spells in a fight and can’t heal us.”
“That’s different,” Nott says, but she puts the dagger away. “Besides, now that Clay is with us, Jester doesn’t have to save her spells for healing.”
Beau does another twisty thing with her mouth. “Just think about it, okay?” She pushes herself to her feet and stretches her arms over her head, and something in her spine pops. “Not having boundaries doesn’t do Caleb any favors - he doesn’t want to hurt you, right?”
“He doesn’t want to hurt anyone if he doesn’t have to,” Nott says. “He’s a good man.”
“So don’t make it easier for him to do it on accident,” Beau says. “You gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere, even if it’s not right here.”
She steps around Nott and makes her way toward where Fjord is sleeping on the other side of the fire. She leans down and pokes him in the middle of the forehead a couple of times and then stage whispers, “Rise and shine, boat boy; watch is all yours.”
Nott climbs back into her own bedroll, tucking herself into the space behind Caleb’s knees. She listens to Caleb’s even breathing, to Frumpkin purring on his other side, to the low tones of Fjord waking Jester and the higher tones of Jester protesting.
Green peeks through the bandages on her wrists, and Nott tugs the wrappings back into place. She doesn’t begrudge Caleb the Suggestion spell, not when it let her be in the right place to save his life, but he does get things backwards sometimes, like he forgets that Nott can take care of herself.
Nott leans over the side of her bedroll and drags a finger through the grass, scraping dirt up under her claw. There’s a little furrow left behind, a jagged line that mars the ground and sends an errant beetle scurrying away.
There is a line. It’s drawn so close to herself that it might as well be part of her. She knows there is always a chance Caleb will trod across it someday, trampling her underfoot by mistake because he doesn’t know where it lies.
She trusts him not to.