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when all is crumbling

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It was late when Fjord jerked awake from his nightmare. It was a nightmare he sometimes had, where he relived the shipwreck that robbed him of his mentor and his crew, except it wasn’t the bomb that destroyed the ship, it was a massive sea serpent with giant yellow eyes that tried to swallow him whole, and he couldn’t fight the current, he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t do anything-

As the half-orc struggled to catch his breath- reminding himself that he was nowhere near the ocean, he was okay- he looked up. The night sky was an unforgiving dark, clouds swallowing the stars. He could smell rain in the air, not far off from where he and the Nein resided in their camp. The protective bubble Caleb had made earlier still hung over them, shielding them from the elements.

Before Fjord could try to make sure he hadn’t awoken any of his sleeping friends with his own waking, he heard soft speaking coming from across the bubble. He looked over towards the sound and saw Jester sat up, only facing him halfway, gazing out into the barren Xhorasian landscape. She was talking quietly, so as not to wake anyone else while on her watch. He caught the tail end of what she was saying.

“...and I’m thinking of you!”

She counted each word on her fingers and paused after, waiting for the reply to her magical message. After a few beats, he watched her eyes crinkle as she smiled, a breathy laugh escaping her. Another moment passed, and he saw her grip tighten on her symbol of The Traveler, and she began to speak and count on her fingers again.

“Hi mama, I hope everything’s okay with you. We’re still in Xhorhas. Helping Yasha figure some stuff out. I’m still writing. I miss you so much, I- damnit!

She’d gone over her word limit. Fjord knew how much it frustrated the young tiefling, especially when talking with her mother. He sat in silence as she held her breath and waited for the response.

It must’ve been a whole thirty seconds where nothing happened. He could see the anxious energy build in Jester as she tensed, her eyes growing more and more glassy. Fjord could feel the dread creep into his mind. Probably Jester’s worst fear was something happening to her mother- an issue expressed across all of the Mighty Nein- and she had spent many days and nights worrying over her. The stress had taken its toll, and even though it wasn’t so obvious, Fjord could see it on the cleric’s face the mornings after late nights of these worryings, the bags under her eyes and the ever so slight dull quality that plagued her usual chipper demeanor. He couldn't even fathom the pain she went through.

After those thirty seconds, Jester’s breath hitched. A moment later, the air finally left her lungs as she sighed through a small smile, her eyes shutting and her hands covering her mouth as she sniffled.

Fjord sighed right after, relieved at the affirmation; Marion was alive and at least okay. Jester would be okay, too.

As soon as he sighed, Jester sat up straight at the noise, head swiveling in his direction. He froze, locking eyes with her over a sleeping Caduceus in between them.

Neither of them moved for a moment. Fjord didn’t know what to do. He watched as Jester kept breathing heavily, the stress of the ordeal and the shock of not knowing he was watching written across her face. Her purple eyes were still shiny and wide.

She tried to smile and say something to him, but as soon as she opened her mouth, the tears streaked down her blue cheeks.

“Fjord,” was all she could get out.

At the sound of his name, Fjord got to his feet and stepped over the sleeping firbolg.

She sounded so broken, so small. He couldn’t just sit there.

Fjord knelt down on her bedroll where Jester had been keeping watch and gathered her in his arms. As he sat down on the ground and hoisted her into his lap, she wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face into his shoulder, the sobs wracking her small frame.

As if on instinct, Fjord reached a hand up to the back of her head and just stroked her hair, running his fingers through her soft blue locks.

“I- I’m here, Jessie,” his kept his deep voice as quiet as he could without whispering. “I’ve got you.”

He felt her nod and he squeezed her tighter. He sat there with her, ready to let her weep into him for as long as she needed.

It was almost like a part of him was hurting, as if this was an injury sustained in battle, something the warlock would look for her to heal in his time of need.

But that wasn’t it now, it wasn’t her job to fix him now. He needed to be there for her, to soothe her pain as best as he could. So he just held her to himself while doing his best to keep watch, hoping this would suffice for now. He could barely notice one of her horns digging into him. He couldn’t care less.

Jester cried for what seemed like a lifetime. Fjord wasn’t sure how her small body could hold so many tears, so much sadness. It ached in every corner of his soul.

Eventually, her sobs began to quiet, and she moved from his neck, covering her face in her hands. She leaned back into his arms, allowing herself to be almost cradled to Fjord’s body. He shifted to accommodate her, adjusting however she needed. He let the tears dry on his neck and clothes.

The sobs had now become the occasional sniffle and pained sigh. Fjord looked down to her.

Jester, as if sensing him, pulled her hands from her face and met his gaze. Her eyes were red, and he could count the tear tracks that lined her flushed cheeks. Her lips pulled downwards, trembling ever so slightly. He could feel her body trembling as well. This person he’d come to care for, maybe even to treasure, experiencing so much pain, it just-

“Hey,” he said softly, interrupting his own thoughts.

“Hi,” Jester’s voice was a whisper.

Fjord had never been more aware of how hot his face felt.

“I- I’m sorry for listenin’ in on your Sending,” he looked away from her. “It- it’s none of my business-”

“Fjord.”

It was barely a whisper. He looked back to her, his yellow eyes meeting her lavender ones.

“Don’t get all awkward on me now,” she said, her mouth quirking ever so slightly.

Fjord smiled softly.

He noticed the tear tracks again and brought a hand to her face, wiping a few away one at a time with his thumb.

She was warm, warm and soft.

She closed her eyes, leaning slightly into his touch.

After a few moments of tracing her tears and possibly counting her freckles, Fjord cupped his hand to her cheek and propped her up a little bit, leaning Jester’s head between his collarbone and neck. He leaned down, resting his cheek on the top of her forehead, clear of her horns.

He felt her hand reach to cover where his hand rested on her face, as if to hold it there, to make sure he stayed. He ran his thumb over the line of her cheekbone.

Jester’s breathing slowed and evened out as she drifted off in his arms. Fjord continued to hold her there. It was only when Caduceus arose next him to take the final watch of the night that he moved. He laid Jester on her side, and after only a second of thinking otherwise, slid down facing her on her bedroll. Both of their hands lay in the space between them near their faces, and Fjord gently locked his fingers in between her’s.

His eyelids drooped heavily as he took in the sight of Jester sleeping easy next to him. After fighting the drowsiness for just a little too long to relish in this, to relish in her, Fjord finally closed his eyes, allowing rest to take him, perhaps with a better dream awaiting him this time.