It’s not easy to rescue Yeza, but they manage it, fleeing their pursuers into the tunnels they had emerged from only a few hours earlier.
Beau carries him most of the way. He’s weak despite healing spells, but after Caduceus had proclaimed that he would be alright after some recovery time, they had picked him up and started running. Nott, who is keeping to the shadows after blowing her last spell slot on a Silent Image to help them escape, hates the way his hands are shaking as he clutches the back of Beau’s robes so that she doesn’t drop him. She doesn’t say anything about it, though. She can’t bring herself to.
Instead, she pulls her hood up and maneuvers so she’s running just behind Caleb and out of view of Yeza. Caleb acknowledges her presence by grabbing her hand and pulling her faster, and she lets him pull her along despite the fact that she’s technically quicker.
Eventually, they lose their pursuers, and Caduceus proclaims that everyone needs a rest. Caleb nods and sits down in the alcove they’ve chosen, beginning to mutter his spell while Caduceus builds a small fire to make tea and Jester checks Yeza’s wounds once more.
Nott sticks to the edge of the radius Caleb designated for his spell. The air in front of her shimmers as the dome begins to knit itself into existence.
Eleven minutes pass and Nott doesn’t make a noise. The cavern is filled with sounds, however. The fire crackles softly as Caleb mutters arcane language. Beau, Fjord, and Yasha gather around talking strategy-- “They could follow us, still” “But Duces says we need to rest and I’m inclined to agree” “We’ll just do a perimeter when Caleb’s done with his spell, it’s not like they can get in here anyway”-- but Nott doesn’t linger on their words.
Jester is peppering Yeza with questions as she carefully inspects each of his wounds and offers him some food she’s summoned. She pays more attention to their conversation, keeping her head bowed and hood up as she hears Yeza say “so you’re the voice that’s been talking to me all this time?”
“Yeah! We wanted to make sure you knew help was on the way and it was also our super secret way of checking in on you and making sure you were still okay, you know? I could never introduce myself ‘cause I didn’t have enough words. I’m Jester. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Yeza laughs softly, and Nott can imagine the wrinkles in the corners of his eyes. She doesn’t turn her head. “Nice to finally meet you, Jester.”
Caleb’s muttering breaks off as the dome finishes and Nott immediately steps through it without a word.
It’s only when she gets far enough away from the hut that she knows they can’t see her that she climbs onto some rocks and curls into a ball.
She’s out of spell slots. She’s been imagining her reunion with Yeza ever since they started this journey. Playing it out in her head is how she managed to get this far, and yet…
She was never planning on hiding it from him. Not really. She knew he’d figure it out sooner or later, that she’d have to tell him the reason she had to go and couldn’t stay. But she’d planned on being Veth-- being herself -- when they first reunited, and telling him after.
Tears prick at her eyes.
She hasn’t even been able to look at Yeza, because she’s been trying to avoid him. She’s stolen glances, but…
The tears spill over, soaking the bandages across her face.
“Nott, are you alright?”
Caleb’s voice is sourceless but soft, and Nott jumps a bit.
A quick glance back to the orb reveals Caleb’s head and one of his hands poking through the barrier, the hand raised to his lips as if he’d just cast Message.
Nott fumbles for her own wire. “I don’t have any spell slots.”
“Message is a cantrip, it does not take-- oh. You did not mean for Message.”
Nott chews her lip. “I wanted our reunion to be perfect. ”
She can imagine the look on Caleb’s face even from here. “You would not ruin it by not looking like… before.”
“But I…” she sighs, and she’s unsure if the Message carries that across, but she doesn’t really care. “What if he-- what if it ruins everything.”
“It will not ruin anything. You know that.”
“Then why am I so afraid?”
There’s a pause on Caleb’s end as he searches for an answer. Then; “Nott… come back over here. I cannot leave the hut and I’m worried about you alone.”
She presses back into the rock. “I can’t.”
“Then may I send someone over to talk to you? Not him, of course.”
She hesitates for a long moment. “Fine.” She puts her wire away.
Caleb sticks his head back inside the hut, sighing to himself.
He looks over at Jester, who’s still talking to Yeza. He considers sending her over only for a moment, because doing so would call the most attention to Nott, and she doesn’t want that right now.
Instead, he points the wire still gripped in his hand towards Beau. “Beauregard?” he whispers into it. He can see her sit a little bit straighter. “Could you come over here for a moment?”
Beau says something to Yasha and Fjord and then crosses the hut so that she’s sitting next to Caleb. It’s not the largest space, but they’ve got a bit of space. He leans in close so that he can whisper to her. “Nott is on her own out there. I do not want her to be alone, but I cannot leave this hut, so can you go?”
Beau blinks at him a few times. “Why me?”
Caleb tips his head. “If you do not want to I can ask someone else, I was just--”
Beau cuts him of. “No, no, I mean, I’ll go, I’ll do it. Since you asked, you know. It’d feel wrong not to if you’re asking me specifically.”
Caleb stares at her for a moment. “Good,” he says.
“Okay,” Beau says.
“I’ll… go then.”
“ Ja .” Caleb folds his wire back up and puts it in his pouch.
Beau goes to stand up, but Caleb stops her with a quiet “Beauregard?”
She nods once. “No problem,” she says, rubbing the back of her neck.
“Still, I am grateful.”
There’s a pause. Beau breaks the tension. “Cool.”
“Cool,” Caleb echoes.
Beau ducks out of the dome without another word.
A minute passes before there’s the sound of dirt crunching under feet and someone sits next to Nott. She doesn’t look up to see who it is.
“Uh, Nott?…” Beau’s arm wraps around her shoulders a little awkwardly as the monk pats Nott’s back. “Are you alright?”
Somehow, Nott isn’t surprised that Beau is the one who Caleb sent out to her. She pulls her legs closer to her chest and says nothing.
Beau’s arm falls away. “Right. Uh-- I’m going to take that as a no. Look… I get it if I’m not your first choice of people to talk to. Jester’s your best friend and Caleb’s your… whatever Caleb is, and Caduceus would probably be a lot smarter than I am about things but… well, we’re all here to help each other out, right? So I guess what I’m trying to say is… if you need to talk about it, or need some help with something…”
Nott looks up to see a shrug of Beau’s shoulders as she offers an attempt at a comforting smile. If Beau notices Nott’s tears, she doesn’t mention them.
“I didn’t want him to see me like this right away,” Nott finally says, voice barely a whisper. “I know it’s stupid and I can’t hide forever or anything but I thought that at least our reunion, you know? But I already ruined it because I’ve been avoiding him since we rescued him, and I don’t know… I’m not brave enough for this.”
“Nott,” Beau says. “You’re one of the bravest people I know.”
Nott laughs. “Maybe when I’m drunk. When I’m not I’m just a coward. But Mr. Clay said I needed a clear head for this. So I’m trying.”
Beau shakes her head. “It’s not that.” She settles back on the rock next to Nott. “Even with alcohol, you spent three months at sea after what happened. That’s not cowardly.”
Beau frowns. “What about the giants? The lava?”
“You mean when I almost died?”
“You charged straight across a river of lava guarded by two giants on your own,” Beau says. “That’s brave.”
“I didn’t really have a choice.”
“It’s still fuckin’ brave , Nott. You tell yourself so much bullshit, and trust me I do it too, but that’s what we’re around each other for, you know? So we have someone to call us out on our bullshit when it’s bullshit.”
Nott smiles slightly. “I could tell there were about three more curses you held back there,” she says.
Beau smiles back but raises an eyebrow. “Nott.”
Nott sighs. “What do I even say to him?”
“Cut the bullshit and tell him the truth,” Beau says. “That’s what I’m trying to learn to do.”
Beau sighs. “Look. I’m not gonna force you. I’ll sit here with you-- you can take your time or whatever. But when you’re ready, we’ll all be with you. ‘Cause that’s what we’re here for.”
Caleb sighs as he settles down inside the hut. He’s still worried about Nott, but there’s not much he can do at this point.
He snaps Frumpkin onto his lap. “Go keep an eye on them, ja? If one of them runs off or anything, come let me know.”
Frumpkin slips through the magical dome. Caleb sighs again.
“Mind if I join you?”
He jumps, suddenly becoming aware of Yeza standing in front of him. The halfling has Jester’s green cloak wrapped over his shoulders like a blanket.
Caleb can see Jester talking to Caduceus over Yeza’s shoulder. He’s not sure when their conversation ended. He realizes that Yeza’s still waiting for a response, and quickly nods. “Of course,” he says, gesturing to the space next to him.
Yeza settles down next to Caleb quietly.
Caleb is starting to wonder if Yeza had a purpose in coming over here, or if he just wanted to get away from conversation for a little while, when he finally speaks up. “You’re Caleb, right?”
Caleb blinks a few times, not sure where Yeza caught his name.
Yeza smiles. “Jester told me,” he says.
“Oh,” Caleb says.
“You’re close with her, aren’t you?”
Caleb stiffens. “H-- her? Jester? She and I are friends, that much is--”
Yeza shakes his head. “Veth,” he interrupts. He turns to meet Caleb’s eyes, cutting him off before he has the chance to say anything at all. “It’s her, isn’t it? Jester wouldn’t tell me her name when I asked, she distracted me by asking if a wound she’d already healed hurt.”
Caleb looks at his lap.
Yeza takes that as an affirmative. “She’s avoiding me.”
“Nott--” he begins, but quickly corrects himself. “Not everything about her situation is simple.”
“I figured,” Yeza says. “She started sending letters, but she didn’t come back.”
Caleb picks at a fraying edge of his coat. “She is not… she wants to, you know.”
Yeza takes a deep breath. “I just want to talk to her again,” he says. “I… I saw you grab her hand when we ran. And so I know you’re--”
“It is very much not like that,” Caleb interrupts quickly, finally looking over at Yeza again. “The two of us, I mean. Me and her are nothing like her and you. She is…” He struggles for a minute to find the words to exactly express who Nott is to him. Finally, he sighs. “She is my greatest friend. She is like my-- We look out for each other. But it’s not…” he gestures to Yeza. “You know. She hasn’t had anyone like that. You.”
Yeza blinks a few times as he processes Caleb’s interruption. “I didn’t think that, don’t worry,” he says finally. “I just mean… well, she won’t talk to me. So if you could pass a message along for me…”
Caleb fumbles quickly for his wire. “ Ja , I could do that. I can do that now. I have… it is a different version of what Jester used to contact you. For shorter ranges.” She knows it too, Caleb almost adds, but doesn’t.
Yeza breathes out a sigh in relief. “Thank you, Caleb,” he says. “Can you just… tell her that whatever it is won’t matter to me? And ask her to come back and talk?”
Caleb nods. “One second.” He pokes his head and hand out of the bubble again. He points in the direction he knows Nott is. “Nott,” he whispers into the wire. “I have a message for you.”
Nott’s voice comes back in the form of a tentative “from who?”
“Your fellow. None of us told him, but he is very clever.”
Caleb worries for a minute that she’s not going to answer. He’s debating messaging Beau to make sure something bad hasn’t happened in the darkness when her reply reaches him. “He knows.”
“He wants you to know that… whatever reason you are avoiding him will not matter to him. He’s asking that you come back and talk.”
Nott hesitates. Caleb hears a murmur of voices through the darkness, like she and Beau are talking a bit. Finally; “You’ll be there?”
Her reply surprises him a bit, but he nods quickly before he realizes she can’t see it. “If you want me to be.”
Caleb pokes his head back into the dome and meets Yeza’s hopeful eyes. “She is coming.”
Saying she’ll go back and actually going back are two different things. Beau helps her up, and Nott hesitates in taking the first step.
Beau puts a hand on her shoulder.
Nott takes a step.
And then another.
And then all too soon she and Beau are stepping through the arcane barrier which shimmers around them, the space going from dark to warmly lit by magic.
Nott has her hood up and her head bowed. She hides her hands in her cloak and stops just inside of the dome. Frumpkin is suddenly twisting around her ankles, making sure to rub against her.
Yeza’s feet come into view as he walks up to her. “I’m sorry,” she says softly as a greeting.
Yeza reaches out, his hands carefully gripping each side of her hood. “May I?” he asks softly.
Her nails dig into her palm as she makes herself nod.
She doesn’t look up as she feels her hood be pulled back. She doesn’t dare let herself see the look on his face when he sees her.
Yeza’s hands linger on her hood as he sets it on either shoulder. The only sign of his reaction is a soft exhale of breath.
She nods again, not trusting her voice. She vaguely registers that all other conversation inside the dome has died off.
His hands gently lift her chin. She avoids looking up until the last moment, when her eyes finally flick up to catch his--
-- and her eyes meet his as they pull away from a kiss. They’re both standing up to their knees in the river, soaked and already drying in the summer heat. His smile sits in the corners of his eyes as he brushes her wet hair from her face and starts to say--
--”I love you,” he says, and she knows it’s the truth as deeply as she knows the truth in her echo of his words. He squeezes her hand and opens his mouth to say something more and--
--”marry me,” he says, so suddenly that she doesn’t quite believe he’s said it at first. But as she turns and looks at him, she sees the way his eyes are shining with starlight and she knows that she didn’t mishear him, that--
--”you’re going to be a mother,” he breathes, and she’s never seen a look on his face that quite matches the way he melts when she answers with “and you’re going to be a father,” and then he’s laughing and spinning her around and--
--he’s holding Luke to his chest, not bothering to hide his tears. “You’re going to have the world,” he tells their son, and she feels her heart swell. “Me and your mommy, we’re going to give it to you. Luke. Luke”--
--”take Luke and run,” she says, pressing Luke into his arms. Luke mutters something weakly. “You can’t--” he begins, but she cuts him off. “Keep him safe.” And she kisses him like it’s the last time she ever will, because it might be, and something heavy slips into her pocket. “Come back to us,” he says when he breaks away. She pulls the vial of acid from her pocket. "I'll see you again," he says, and she answers with a sad smile and a whisper of “I love you both.” Tears spill down his cheeks. He lets her go. “I love you,--”
“Veth,” he says again, and a thumb brushes the tears off her cheek. “There you are.”
“I’m sorry,” she chokes out.
A sad smile sits in the corners of his lips. “So that’s why you were afraid,” he says, and then he’s hugging her so tightly she wonders if he’ll ever let go.
“I’m sorry,” she says again.
His hands ball into the back of her cloak. “You came back.”
“I’m not-- this is-- why aren’t you-- I don’t--” she clutches him back tightly for fear of realizing he’s just an illusion.
All of a sudden, Caleb’s voice is there in the back of her mind. “Breathe,” he tells her gently. “You have time.”
She looks up over Yeza’s shoulder to see the wire clutched in his hands.
She takes a deep breath. Her hands open, fingernails no longer digging into her palms. She lays them flat against his back for a moment, and then clutches the back of his shirt like he’s clutching hers.
And she just breathes against him until his breathing matches hers and they both silently remind themselves a hundred times over that this is real .
“I love you,” she says.
And she doesn’t let go.