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it's alright if you love me (it's alright if you don't)

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Beau spends so much time at Jester’s apartment she might as well live there. Jester’s offered to make it official a bunch of times, she’s got the spare room all set up and everything. Beau has to admit it’s a really nice place, way nicer than the apartment she shares with Caleb and Nott right off of campus. The sick apartment downtown is just one of the many perks of being the daughter of the Ruby of the Sea.

But accepting would be the worst decision of her life. Beau can barely keep her distance when she’s a frequent visitor, she can’t imagine having to keep it friendly when it’s all Jester all the time - Beau’s only so strong. Plus everyone knows that Jester essentially has zero boundaries. Beau can imagine Jester walking around half naked, constantly asking Beau to help her pick out clothes, Jester’s hips in those cute little sundresses she insists upon wearing.

Hell, that’s what it’s like being her non-live in best friend but at least then Beau can leave when it’s too much to handle respectfully.

Beau shakes her head and stops objectifying her best friend. She can’t even imagine the situation without turning into a horndog.

At this point Beau might as well admit she does her work better at literally any place besides Jester’s apartment but she’s never going to say no to Jester. She’s been staring at a mostly blank page for the last however long in complete futility. It really doesn’t help that she hates this class. If it wasn’t a requirement for her program she wouldn’t have chosen this in a million years.

Political economy is for the worst of the worst of political scientists. The weirdos who like graphs and hate having social skills. Beau would rather die.

Okay, a bit dramatic but not by much.

Beau started working on her PhD as a big fuck you to her father. There’s something really appealing about being tied up for five years in an academic program. It really helps Beau avoid the fact that her father wouldn’t let her inherit the family wine business even if she wasn’t making something of herself. So, might as well actually be successful so she can say fuck you to his face one day and be able to back it up.

The downside of going for her PhD is also being tied up for five years in an academic program so there’s that.

Life is full of pro’s and con’s.

Beau’s bored as fuck. This whole planned work session was Jester’s idea. Jester has a pitch idea due at the cute little boutique she works at and needed some time to finish up her samples. Beau has a huge term paper to write and offered to come and be productive with Jester.

Seems only one of them is actually on the right track and it won’t take two guesses to figure out who.

Beau sighs loudly trying to get Jester’s attention. She tries it like seven times without success before she gives up and stops being so passive.

“I don’t know where Dr. Thomas thinks I’m getting another ten pages out of this but it’s not gonna happen,” Beau shucks her laptop off of her legs. It lands with a little bounce on the couch cushion next to her as she rubs her eyes with the heels of her hands.

Jester hums acknowledgment even if she never takes her eyes off of the sample she’s sewing together.

“Why do I even have to take international political economy? I’m a comparativist, I compare. I do thematic studies. I don’t jack it to statistical models. I learned everything I needed to know about the global economy from the Wu Tang Clan,” Beau continues, indifferent to Jester’s lack of attention. “Cash rules everything around me, cream.”

“Get money, dolla dolla bill y’all,” Jester raps back to Beau, still not looking up. “Maybe just write that for the next ten pages. At least you’ll have something to turn in.”

“Now that’s an idea,” Beau picks up the tv remote instead of her computer and turns it on.

“Beeaaaau,” Jester whines, finally looking up at the sound of Beau flipping through the channels. “You promised to let me work for an hour.”

Beau looks down, Jester has one of the deadliest pouts in the entire world. She’s sure of it. The worst part is that Jester knows it. Even worse than that, she knows that Beau will do almost anything she says if she pouts at her.

Beau hates having obvious weaknesses.

She mutes the tv.

“It was like 52 minutes, that’s so close to an hour Jes - please stop pushing your lips out at me - ugh, fine,” Beau knows she’s been thoroughly beat. She turns off the tv and tosses the remote into the chair across the room.

“You win,” Beau begrudgingly picks up her laptop and tabs over to docs.

“I always do,” Jester rolls over to her stomach, facing away from Beau and starts kicking her feet playfully in the air as she works.

Beau makes an honest effort to concentrate on what she’s trying to do. She really fucking does. It’s a huge paper, basically half her grade for this particular seminar. One of four core requirements in her graduate program before she can start taking electives and actually enjoying her slow march to a PhD. The professor, Dr. Thomas, is an asshole of the highest order who hasn’t met an old white theorist he doesn’t want to go back in time and blow. Every single time Beau suggests a non-white critical theorist he acts like she didn’t even say anything.

She ought to tell him where he can shove his opinions but she can’t jeopardize her position in this program. It doesn’t take a genius to look around and see that she’s clearly not supposed to be at a nice school like this. 150 years ago she probably wouldn’t have been able to get into the university. Maybe as the help, she thinks bitterly.

Sometimes it feels like everything she ever does is at least twice the uphill battle that it is for everyone else. Most of the time Beau just says fuck it, fuck them, and blasts through whatever barriers are in her way.

Being a trailblazer is fucking exhausting, dude.

Beau gives up on actually writing the paper and instead pounds out a rough outline of what her paper might look like when she actually feels like writing it. Sometime this week. Maybe. We’ll see.

Feeling at least fulfilled enough knowing she didn’t do nothing with her time, she closes her laptop and splays out. When she was little her parents used to yell at her for her boundless energy, she never could sit still and be occupied. Even now, she itches to do something physical - push ups, sit ups, go for a fucking run or something. Her skin crawls with inaction.

Maybe Jester wouldn’t mind if she busted out a couple of sets while she finishes sewing. Beau peeks down at Jester who is still kicking her feet, tongue poking out of the side of her mouth as she squints in concentration. Beau follows the trail of that tongue as it tracks across Jester’s lips.

Not the point, Beau, not the point.

She needs to stop thinking about shit like that, it’s less productive than her ability to write a paper at this point. Maybe what Beau needs is the gym. She’s gonna call Fjord, fuck it.

“Hey Jes, I’m gonna head out,” Beau’s already throwing her laptop in her bag and grabbing her keys and phone.

Jester sets down her sample, “I’m being the worst aren’t I?”

“No no no,” Beau sprints to Jester’s defense. “No,” She adds a little less desperately. “You know how I get, I’m gonna grab Fjord and go lift or something.”

Jester’s eyes light up at the mention of her longtime crush. Beau bristles a little bit at the visible reminder of why she can’t sit around and think about Jester.

“Take some pictures of his abs for me,” Jester’s eyebrows are wiggling all over the place like the horny idiot she is.

Beau ignores the clenching feeling in her stomach. It’s not that deep, it can’t be.

“Not doing that, ya weirdo,” Beau’s forced smile drops halfway out the door, pretty much as soon as she’s sure that Jester can’t see her anymore.

Fucked is what she is. And never in the way she wants to be.

***

Here’s the thing, Fjord is legitimately her fucking bro. Beau loves that dude to hell and back and would never ever ever think anything bad about him. Okay, so sometimes he’s a real dumbass and he deserves the shade at that point. But that’s it, mostly he’s a really solid dude. The kind that she probably would have married if she hadn’t lucked out and avoided heterosexuality like the plague it is.

She met Fjord at the same time she met Jester at a pretty terrible brewery tour where they all got way too drunk. And, if anyone is wondering, yes they are still banned from said brewery thank you very much. Which is totally fine because the beer sucks ass anyway.

Sometimes when Beau is feeling weak or nostalgic or whatever you want to call it she thinks about the fact that she saw Jester first and sometimes she wishes that mattered. But Jester saw Fjord and Fjord saw Jester and the rest is the longest most annoying mutual crush in history. Beau’s just the odd woman out.

It’d be easier if they’d rip the bandaid off and do the inevitable march of dating for a reasonable amount of time before getting married and having a bunch of stupidly attractive children. Beau’s totally gonna get over this shit at some point and somehow stand as both their Best Woman and Woman of Honor one day.

Totally.

“Breauregard!” Fjord’s deep posh voice cuts through the haze.

“Fjord Tough!” Beau pulls him in for a dap and a chest bump. “My dude, you ready to get these gains.”

Fjord throws his arm around her shoulders and leads her into Pumat Sol’s, the local gym they’ve been going to together since shortly after they met. Sometimes if Fjord is busy Beau will slum it at the campus rec center but she figured out pretty quickly that place is better for picking up women than getting gains. So if she’s serious about her workout, it’s Pumat’s all day long.

As they get warmed up, Fjord catches her up on his week. He’d graduated with his Master’s in Marine Biology last year and his job at the local aquarium has him swamped lately. Beau takes a second to laugh in her head at her own stupid pun before tuning back in to Fjord. She’s barely seen him between her own academic bullshit and his crazy schedule.

“-not like I don’t like her, she stole my lunch. I’m allowed to be angry - you’re not listening at all,” Fjord pokes her in the nose to get her attention.

Beau flicks him in the forehead. “Sorry man, spacing out on my own shit. My bad.”

“It happens. Come on, let’s get the good deadlift rack before that douche who hogs it for hours gets to it,” Fjord grabs up his stuff and hers before practically sprinting over. Good call too, they barely beat out the aforementioned douche who glares at them all the way to the shitty deadlift rack across the room.

Once the actual workout starts they both click into a more serious mode. One of the first things they bonded over, other than their mutual appreciation of Jester’s friendship, was their mutual appreciation of fitness. When Beau first met Fjord he was a bit of a scrawny dude — he was also pretending to have a southern accent but that’s a different story for a different time. He noticed Beau’s muscles in a totally no hetero kind of way and Beau offered to help him bulk up a bit.

They’re just finishing a cool down when a lithe shadow looms over the both of them. Beau doesn’t even have to look up.

“Avantika,” Beau tries to keep the annoyance - and the lust - out of her tone.

“Beau... Fjord,” Avantika keeps looming because gods forbid she act normal. “How are my two favorite snacks?”

Now this one is all on Fjord. Beau’s flirted pretty hardcore with Avantika but she always had the good sense to not fuck her. There are certain people where you can sense the crazy from miles away. With Avantika it’s more like states away.

Fjord, however, always has a bit of a deficit of good sense aka thinks with his dick before his brains.

He stands up and uses a towel to wipe some of the sweat from his face and arms. Fjord puffs his chest out and Beau rolls her eyes. Here we go.

“I’d consider myself a whole meal but compliment accepted,” Fjord uses his ‘smooth voice’, who knows, maybe straight women actually like it but Beau’s too gay to take it seriously.

“Care to prove that theory,” Avantika walks forward and trails her finger down his chest, hooking on at the front of his shorts and pulls him closer.

Beau really is too gay for this.

They’re pretty much done anyway, by the time she walks back to her apartment she’ll be cooled down. She doesn’t need to stay and witness this slow moving train wreck. Fjord is a big boy, he can handle his own risky business.

“I’m gonna head out man, I’ll catch you later,” Beau pushes off the floor and starts walking off.

She makes it halfway home before she lets what really bugs her about the situation make it to the forefront. Beau can’t comprehend knowing you could just have Jester if you wanted to and screwing around anyway. Sure, Avantika is a regulation smoke show. Beau’s always understood it from that point of view.

But Jester is the total package: brilliant and sweet and the best friend anyone could ever have. Beau’s never actually seen her date anyone but she’s sure Jester is probably the best girlfriend too. The crazy thing is she’s there whenever Fjord is ready and he knows it. It’s a topic Beau’s avoiding without Fjord ever knowing it’s being avoided. She knows that the feelings are mutual but he keeps Jester at arms length and messes around with all of these bad decisions like Avantika. Beau doesn’t bring it up because she knows she’s going to slip up somehow arguing in Jester’s favor and then he’ll know she feels about Jester.

Beau’s smart enough to know that she’d rather keep her friendship with Jester and eventually get over her crush than lose Jester in her life altogether. Fjord is who Jester wants and Beau wants Jester to be happy.

Maybe Beau needs to suck it up and take the initiative to get Fjord’s head out of his ass. Wouldn’t that be something? Nah, Beau loves Jester she’s still a selfish asshole at heart. As long as Fjord is thinking with his dick and not his heart at least Beau can pretend.

Even if it comes to nothing in the end.

What an idiot.

Chapter Text

Fjord’s been texting Beau non-stop since he ditched her for Avantika at Pumat’s. He keeps arguing that technically she was the one that left but that’s only because if she didn’t leave first it was going to be even more awkward. All he wants to talk about is the weird sex stuff that Avantika gets him to do and he wants to act all blushing virgin about it but it’s no more than a humblebrag.

Normally Beau would be all for the kiss and tell, she loves a good bout of bro talk. Gods knows she’s engaged in more than her fair share after her various no name hookups. But something about this Avantika thing is starting to really rub her the wrong way. She leaves Fjord on read after a couple of days and makes up some completely valid excuses for why she takes her next few workout sessions alone at the campus rec.

The machines aren’t nearly as well serviced and they’re clogged up with undergrads doing the meat market dance. Sorority girls barely sweating as they hit a strenuous 2.0 speed on the treadmill and frat boys surely instigating future surgeries as they lift way too much weight to try to impress said girls.

Beau just steady does her thing and she manages to still pick up a cute graduate assistant from the softball team named Casey or Cassie or somewhere in that family of names and they end up fucking in the bathroom of one of Beau’s favorite dive bars. Usually she’d be all up in the chat with Fjord bragging about it but she keeps this one to herself.

It’s not that she’s avoiding Fjord as a person it’s just that she’s avoiding how Fjord as a person is making her feel right now. Something she would never admit out loud if challenged but if she’s being real. That’s what it is.

He notices because of course he does, that socially savvy fuck taught her almost all of what she knows about being a decent human being.

Fjord: Are you breaking up with Pumat’s?!?!

Beau doesn’t know whether to be thankful that he thinks it’s just a gym thing or mad that he won’t let her off the hook and figure the real shit out.

Beau: Nah dude, just too busy to make it over.

Beau: Class and shit, you know how it is.

Fjord: Oh okay. No problem. Can I count on you tonight? I wanna hit bench maxes and I need my best spotter.

There’s absolutely no way she’s going to Pumat’s tonight. It’s not like she has an actual verifiable reason other than ‘too awkward, I don’t wanna’ but she has a bunch of shit she can make up that sounds legit. Beau lets him sweat it for a couple minutes longer than it would normally take her to respond. A part of her feels bad but she quickly quashes down that part at the thought of Avantika and Fjord mashing uglies.

Beau: Sorry dude, this Econ term paper is still kicking my ass and I told the roomies I’d try to chill a little tonight. I’ll hit you up later.

Fjord doesn’t respond. Beau’s a little worried she’s hurt his feelings. She feels bad, she really does. But she’s gotta look out for herself first and she needs some space from the whole thing right now.

The only fucking downside is that now she actual has to work on that paper and hang with her roommates. Fjord will check, he’s that kind of dude.

Homeward bound it is.

***

Beau stands outside the door of her apartment and can already tell there’s some bullshit going on inside. Maybe she’ll get out of her lie on technicality alone. She pushes open the door and braces herself for whatever fresh hell awaits.

It’s just as she suspected. Fresh hell.

Caleb isn’t the worst roommate known to man. That honor belongs to Nott who, if Beau is being honest, might be the most recklessly dangerous person to not currently be in prison. Beau wishes somebody would pay her a few bucks every time she comes home to a strong chemical smell and smoke billowing from the kitchen. And honestly, that’s often the least of the damage.

When Beau first signed up to live with Caleb and Nott they were putting on their most angelic front. A quiet, bookish if not a bit too angsty German history grad student and his chemical engineer best friend. She should have known this was gonna be a wild ride when they suspiciously offered to cover more than their fair share of rent.

But Beau was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Plus, it’s not like her parents gave her a nice stipend when she flipped them the double birds on the way out of their lives. So cheap and slightly suspicious seemed a lot better than living in the squalor she could afford on her own.

Sometimes Beau isn’t sure her calculations add up.

“Dude, what the fuck did you destroy this time?” Beau uses the manila folder in her hand to clear the air around her. “Some of us want to, I don’t know, fucking chill in this house without cohabitating with the nuclear waste from Chernobyl.”

Instead of answering with words like a normal person Nott screams, high pitched and frantic. Her screams are only drowned out by the constant deafening trilling of the fire alarm. Caleb comes running from inside the smoky kitchen with his orange tabby cat, Frumpkin, clutched underneath his arm.

To his credit, Frumpkin acts like this is the frequent occasion that it is - mewling peaceably as Caleb runs. Or maybe he’s just a cat and cats don’t give a shit about anything.

Somewhere between rubbing his red-rimmed eyes and holding Frumpkin closer to his body, Caleb notices that he and Nott aren’t alone in this mess. He inclines his head towards her and gives her a truly pained looking forced smile. Beau’s always thought his ‘Everything Is Fine Don’t Worry Please Don’t Move Out’ face needs some work to really sell the mood.

“Ah Beauregard, no need to fret. A simple miscalculation is all. Nothing Yeza will not be able to reverse, uh, eventually.” In direct contradiction to his calm words and reassurances he hastens his pace and dumps Frumpkin safely in his room, slamming the door shut and stuffing dish towels from his other hand to clog up the gaps under the door.

“This is all very comforting,” Beau muffles through her shirt over her nose and mouth. Her eyes are starting to burn and water.

Just another day in paradise.

“What this time?” Beau continues. She pushes her way into the kitchen, which certainly has gotten the worst of it. Still using the folder to clear the smoke around her it takes a few healthy yanks but she rips the fire alarm off of the ceiling. It continues its trilling as she knew it would and honestly? She’s way too fucking tired to deal with this shit the healthy way.

So she takes some of the frustrations of her crappy week out on the innocent alarm and gives it a couple of whacks against the counter until it shuts the hell up. And if she imagines the alarm is Dr. Thomas or Avantika or the amorphous idea of having unrequited feelings for the most awesome friend in the world? Well, thinking violent thoughts isn’t too much of a crime.

Probably.

They take the next half hour to open up the front door and the door to the balcony and all of the windows. Beau hears the neighbors starting to yell and complain and threaten to call the landlord and get them evicted. It’s nothing they haven’t heard before and nothing they won’t hear again because Nott never takes the time to fucking learn from her mistakes. Or, as Nott always says, science is 95 percent catastrophic mistakes and five percent writing that shit down.

By the time the smoke has cleared - metaphorically and physically - Nott’s saint of a boyfriend, Yeza, has arrived to clean up the mess. He’s also a chemical engineer but apparently he took some of the safety courses a bit more seriously than Nott. As it turns out, this time Nott managed to burn a hole through a couple of Beau’s favorite and quite expensive anodized stainless steel pots and pans in pursuit of making some sort of toxic sludge. Yeza brings over some solutions that dissolve the sludge and apparently makes their living space slightly less toxic. Even still, he strongly suggests they find a place for the night - just in case.

Which, in Yeza language, means get the fuck out this shit might kill you and Nott is a reckless mess of a human. Beau will be the first to admit that’s a loose translation. She’s so fucking done. This isn’t quite as bad as the time Nott shot her in the ass with a shard of glass exploding off of one of her experiments. At least this time Beau can still sit down and doesn’t have to walk with a limp or explain to all of her professors and friends why she’s carrying an inflatable donut around.

God, that was one of the more embarrassing months of her life.

Either way, she grabs enough shit for a couple days because she’s gonna let the apartment be livable again and then take a few critical thinking days to think of ways to not want to kill Nott. She doesn’t have to think twice about who to call.

***

Okay, so maybe in retrospect she should have thought a little harder about who to call. Jester’s her number one go-to don’t even have to think about it person except Beau should have had more situational awareness.

So here’s the situation: Jester knows all about the whole Avantika situation and it turns her into the green-eyed mega monster. Jester, in general, could maybe be accused of being passive aggressive but overall joyful and easygoing. But when it comes to the whole Fjord and Avantika thing she’s just flat out aggressive aggressive.

Beau should have predicted it, she didn’t and she’s gonna take that big ol’ L but she should have.

“-and I wear way too much makeup and my hair is way too cool and those stupid cutoff jackets - which are really pretty actually, ugh,” Jester cuts herself off and shoves way too much chocolate croissant in her mouth. “Why does she have to be so cultured and sophisticated and gorgeous?”

Beau thinks really hard about something intelligent to say. Instead she says, “I think her mom is French or something?”

Jester flops back on the couch, a whole swath of crumbs scattering all over the place. She puts her hands over her face and screams. “This is so pathetic.”

“You’re not pathetic.” Beau puts her hand on Jester’s shin and gives a light squeeze.

Jester leans up and squints at Beau. “I said ‘this is so pathetic’ but thanks.” She rolls her eyes and flops back down. “I guess.”

Beau inches her hand back and crosses her arms over her body. All of a sudden she feels like a bigger moron than usual. If only she could find a way to say some of the right things at any of the right times.

Beau mumbles an apology and takes a croissant to pick at. Maybe if she has food in her mouth she can’t put her foot there anymore.

“Hey, maybe I’ll just go take Avantika off of Fjord’s hands and then everyone wins,” Beau regrets making the ‘joke’ as soon as she makes it. One, because she has absolutely no interest in Avantika outside of the obvious aesthetically pleasing qualities she possesses. Two, because Jester looks at her like that’s the best idea Beau’s ever had.

You know that feeling when you stomach feels like it’s on fire and someone’s grabbing your heart and trying to drag it out of your chest? It’s like that but she has to shove it down where Jester can’t possibly see it.

This is why Beau needs to stop using sarcasm as a crutch. She’ll get working on that.

Tomorrow.

“Beau!” Jester looks at her all happy and Beau wishes the reason wasn’t Beau offering to free up the object of her actual real life affection. “You’re really the best friend ever.”

For whatever fucking reason Beau makes finger guns and winks at Jester. If a giant hole was ever going to open up underneath her feet and drag her down to hell this would be the time.

Jester turns on the television in lieu of continuing the conversation and changes the input until it’s on her Apple TV. Beau doesn’t have to have been Jester’s best friend for years, been subject to the ups and downs of this Fjord crush to know what happens next. It’s no surprise when, after a few minutes of clicking, she’s staring at John Cusack and Ione Skye.

Say Anything is essentially Jester’s go-to ‘Fjord is making me mad and I need to believe in love again’ movie. According to Jester it’s one of those most romantic movies ever made. Ever Beau, she can hear in that lovestruck dreamy voice that Jester gets caught up in when she starts to imagine Fjord standing outside her window with a trench coat and a boombox.

Personally Beau doesn’t hate it, it’s fine. She’s seen it about as many times as Jester has at this point - give or take Jester’s pre-teen consumption. The Pre-Beau years as Beau likes to think of them. She gets sidetracked thinking about how Jester thinks of those years. Probably the Pre-Fjord years, Beau thinks. Which is fine, Fjord is a great dude. He’s kind of like a Lloyd Dobler type, sort of dumb and principled with a good heart and great biceps.

Beau can’t relate.

They’re three-quarters of the way through the movie when Jester sits up clutching a pillow over her stomach and snuggles into Beau’s side. Beau unconsciously picks up her arm and wraps it around Jester’s shoulders. She starts to stroke Jester’s shoulder in concentric patterns with her thumb. Jester sighs and gets even more comfortable.

Beau starts to trace letters into Jester’s shoulder, getting bored with the movie. She traces curse words at first because it’s funny and she’s gotta entertain herself somehow. She expects Jester to notice and be in on the joke but she’s so enraptured in the film that she lets it go. Then she starts to trace her own name because fuck it, why not. She starts with Beau. Jester doesn’t seem to notice the change so she gets a little more bold and traces Beauregard.

Her stomach ties up in these invisible little knots and Beau ignores the reason why. She takes severance in tracing each letter of her name, finishing with a dorky little flourish on the final letter. She smirks a little, like she’s winning a game that only she knows she’s playing. Then she starts to feel weird about that and stops thinking at all.

She stops tracing.

Jester hums in disappointment but doesn’t push her to start again for which Beau is immensely grateful. Her heart beats extra fast thinking of how bold she just was and in retrospect she feels like a full body cringe at her top level weirdo behavior.

Jester starts sniffling like she does every time they break up and then sighs all dreamy in Beau’s ear when they get back together. Like she does every single time without fail.

The final credits roll and Beau makes a weak excuse about having to use the restroom and bolts from the couch. She makes it to the powder room, tries not to slam the door but only half succeeds, and stares herself down in the mirror.

“Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you?” She asks her reflection as if it wouldn’t be the creepiest shit for it to answer.

Beau mutters ‘she’s my best friend’ under her breath like that’s something she didn’t already know and splashes some water on her face like they do in the movies. All that does is smudge her eyeliner and make her look like even more of a train wreck. She opens up the medicine cabinet and uses some of Jester’s makeup pads to fix her face and try to quell the disaster she’s becoming.

It must be a while that she’s in there before she hears a few soft knocks at the door. “Are you okay?”

Beau takes one long look in the mirror and opens the door to let Jester in. “I’m not feeling very well. I think I’m going to take my chances at home.”

“Absolutely not.” Jester grabs Beau gently by the bicep and pulls her out of the restroom and towards the guest room. “What do you need? I can Door Dash some chicken soup from that deli on the corner that you like that I can never remember what it’s called.”

“Big Tony’s.”

“Sure.” Jester’s already on her phone and ordering and like a boulder rolling downhill Beau’s stuck in this lie. Jester taps a few more fingers and sets down her phone. “It says 45-55 minutes but you know that’s always a lie.”

Jester pulls down the comforter on the bed and suddenly Beau’s being pushed down and shoved underneath the blankets.

“What else can I get you?” Jester’s fretting over her and Beau is torn between her usual ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me’ schtick and letting Jester continue on taking care of her. It’s pretty shitty if Beau actually thinks of it, pretending to not feel well to get attention from your best friend so she stops talking about your mutual best friend who you’re totally avoiding right now.

They’re basically an episode of a 90’s white sitcom at this point.

But Jester’s delicate fingers feel amazing checking Beau’s forehead for any signs of clamminess or major death causing illness. Beau sinks into the touch and allows her eyes to flutter shut.

“-must be the chemical fumes from Nott’s experiment. I’ll have to tell her to be more careful next time.” Jester’s rambling on but Beau’s still focusing on the touch that seems to be burning her up inside and out. “But I’ve got you, Beau, don’t you worry. I’ve got you.”

No, Beau thinks selfishly, you’ve got me and you don’t even know it.

Chapter Text

The thing about her fights with Fjord is that they usually ignore the problem and ease back into their usual routine. Beau would rather be wide awake for abdominal surgery than talk about her feelings and Fjord might be too aloof to know what feelings really are. It’s not like Beau makes it particularly hard for Fjord this time either. He shows up the night she leaves Jester’s with a six-pack of beer and a fresh pack of Mad Libs and that’s that. Fjord makes up the most ridiculous fucking stories in Beau’s opinion and damn that scrawny little bastard for knowing she can’t refuse a good booze and Lib session.

So they don’t talk.

They lift. They bro talk. They go out with Jester together once and it’s totally fine.

But they don’t talk.

It’s fine.

It’s totally fine.

***

If Fjord has questions about the weirdness he doesn’t have the boldness to ask them. She thinks that Fjord knows. Or at least Beau has very vivid nightmares about Fjord knowing. Each one goes a little different than the last which is fun? Yeah, fuck no dude. Sometimes Fjord knows and he’s totally cool about it. Sometimes he knows and he gives Beau that withering big brother pity look and Beau’s forced to yeet herself up into space. The worst one is when he knows and he goes after Jester anyway. Beau hates that one the most. It feels like losing her two best friends in one swoop.

Beau can’t do that. Logically she knows that she spent more of her adult life without Jester in her life than with her but now that she’s had Jester she doesn’t want to lose Jester. And Fjord? Her number one bro. Her brother.

She’s totally not crying. Beau wipes the corners of her eyes, the tears don’t quite come to fruition but her eyes well up all the same. It’s not her style at all. Beau is a fucking badass she doesn’t sit around fucking crying about this Catch-22 type bullshit.

And yet, here she is. Cuddled up with a friendly purring Frumpkin who she borrowed or maybe probably stole from Caleb because goddamnit Frumpkin is a great listener and Caleb won’t stop Nott from burning down the living room.

“It’s not fair,” Beau says to the scruff behind Frumpkin’s ears. “This is about to be some misogynistic fucking bullshit but I’m talking to a fucking cat right now so I’m giving myself a pass.” Beau pauses and frowns. “Don’t tell Caleb what I tell you.”

Did she mention there’s also been a fair amount of whiskey involved in this particular venture?

“Ok, I trust you.” Beau shakes Frumpkin’s front paw and then turns him back around so she can give scratches to his ears.

Frumpkin purrs again, Beau takes that as an invitation to keep talking.

“I feel,” Beau pauses and starts again. “I feel like to get over Jester I have to get under somebody else. But like, with my heart.”

Frumpkin rumbles again. Beau gives him a reward scratch.

“I know, I’m a genius.” Beau finds that some whiskey remains in her glass. She thus removes said whiskey via her mouth.

Frumpkin hisses. Which is just fucking rude actually.

Anyway, undeterred. “So to whom do I offer my newly found heart horniess? Fucking Avantika keeps popping into my mind but that’s an obvious no.” Beau pauses. “Right?”

No answer.

“Fuck. Am I just into Avantika because she’s into Fjord who Jester is in love with?” Beau stares off towards the Pam Grier poster on her wall. “I need to start saving for therapy now, Pam Grier.”

Pam Grier doesn’t respond but Beau knows she’s picking up what Beau’s putting down.

“That’s fucked up,” Beau mumbles under her breath.

Beau pulls her phone off of her nightstand. She opens up her Instagram and starts scrolling. Ever since she started her program she’s added so many different people that when she starts scrolling she can’t fucking remember half of them.

So then she spends the next hour deleting people who she’s never going to see again. Then she deletes people she remembers but wishes she would never see again aka the big fuck you Lorenzo purge.

But then she stumbles upon PurpleReanWarrior and her attention quickly snaps from half brain dead deletion to carefully measuring every breath to ensure a solid lack of creeper likes.

Fuck. Beau searches her alcohol addled brain for a name. She knows the face, the smattering of cute freckles on each cheek. There’s a particular picture of the woman in a revealing dress at what seems to be a house party - how could Beau forget a name like hers?

That’s the kind of person Beau’s heart should be horny for not best friends who are spoken for in all but name and action. Just look at all of her special qualities:

1) She’s not Jester and will never be Jester, so. That’s really sick.

2) More than likely she’s never seen Fjord meaning she couldn’t possibly be in love with Fjord. Very rad.

3) Number one and number two, rinse and repeat.

Beau doesn’t think. The whiskey is wearing off just enough for her to be able to compose the least horny DM of her existence. She takes a deep breath and holds back every eggplant emoji, every iteration of ‘u up’, and leads with ‘sup’ complemented by a peach emoji.

Never let it be said that Beauregard Lionett doesn’t know how to romance a lady.

The hook’s been thrown out into the shallow pond, all Beau has to do is let it reel back in.

***

The morning hits her like a brick in the face. It starts with Caleb pounding on her door shouting in German. Beau doesn’t speak any German but she speaks Caleb so she must have fucking gotten drunk and stolen his cat again. Sheepishly she returns Frumpkin to his rightful master and once Caleb sees her puffy eyes and matted hair he lays off of the obligatory admonition with eyes that say he’ll be circling back for a talk about this later.

Great.

Everything smells like it’s going to kill her or make her hurl so she buys herself the largest coffee to ever be made on her commute to campus. There’s a man on the bus who smells just enough like fish that Beau feels her stomach roil and her face pales. By the grace of whatever being is looking over her she doesn’t puke and make it so that she can never ride this line again.

She takes a few gulps of coffee every two stops and by the time the bus stops she’s at least partially human again. There’s this stand on campus halfway between the bus stop and her office that sells the best damn banana bread Beau’s ever eaten. She grabs two slices and a sausage and egg biscuit to get some grease and fat in her stomach. A known and proven hangover cure.

Her office is at the top of the only big hill on campus which gives her some of the best views of the city on a normal day but in this particular case fuck that hill. Beau feels sweat dripping from her forehead as she approaches the top. She showered this morning but she still smells like that post-bender alcoholic sweat. Great. The only thing better than a feelings fueled bender is not being able to hide it the next day. It’s basically a given at this point that she won’t be lucky enough to be alone in the office. That’s the way things are going for her.

When she gets to her desk she places her food gently down on the surface and tosses all of her bags messily onto the floor. Her cubby mate Dairon damn near snaps her neck to glare at Beau. So, off to a really great start. She and Dairon have what Beau would consider a hate-annoy-almost affectionate type relationship. It’s a real tightrope to navigate - especially after Beau tried to hook up with Dairon at a particularly rowdy department holiday party. Not one of her sharpest moments.

Beau sits and nibbles at her breakfast. She checks her texts and sees she already has one from Caleb that just ominously says ‘later’. One from Nott asking if she can borrow one of Beau’s shirts which means Nott has already borrowed one of her shirts and she’s covering her bases. Then there’s one from Jester. A picture of her posing in front of one of the street performers dressed like Spongebob captioned ‘Soak up all the knowledge today’. That one makes the corner of Beau’s mouth tick up to the side. A few crumbs fall out of her mouth in the process. She takes a quick look at Dairon to make sure she doesn’t notice but Dairon is very pointedly not paying attention to her.

Beau doesn’t agonize over what to send back. Okay, Beau agonizes the tiniest amount over what to send back. Is an emoji too little? A whole excited paragraph too much? Beau never used to think so hard about it. Jester is easy, everything with Jester has always been easy from day one. This feelings shit is messing up the entire rhythm of her life.

In the end she sends back a random keyboard smash of heart emojis and ‘I will’ with a very pointed and thought over exclamation point at the end. Beau doesn’t even stress over the wording of her papers as much as that one basic ass text.

Speaking of papers, she pulls out her notebooks, her readings, and her laptop and starts working on the outline of her Political Econ paper.

“Can you stop clicking your pen?” Dairon snaps.

Beau stops. She didn’t even realize she was doing it. She looks down at the stack of papers on her desk and realizes she’s been underlining the same paragraph of her reading for the last 15 minutes. “My bad.”

“My bad.” Dairon repeats incredulously under her breath.

“My bad.” Beau repeats and tries to refocus on the economic impact of natural disasters on developing nations - the paper says third world but that shit is racist as fuck so Beau always corrects to developing nations. Though, now that she knows Dairon is paying attention to her. “What’re you doing?”

Dairon mutters something under her breath that sounds suspiciously like ‘why me’.

Beau leans over into Dairon’s space. “Ouch, that’s a massive stack of papers you’ve got there.”

“It is.”

“What class is it?” Beau abandons her pen on her own stack of papers.

“Pol 202, Intro to International Relations. The honors sections.” Dairon flips the paper she was working on over onto its title page to show Beau. “These are their midterms, worth 30 percent of their grade and 100 percent of my effort. So, if you’ll excuse me.”

Dairon puts AirPods in their ears and turns so the swivel chair back is to Beau. Beau knows a brush off when she’s hit over the head with one a couple of times so she backs off.

At some point in her life Beau remembers she loved to read. Her parents used to buy her all kinds of nerdy shit for Christmas and birthdays. She once had an excitable meltdown over receiving pencils and erasers for Christmas that is, honestly, looking back on it one of the top 10 most embarrassing things she’s ever done. But reading in grad school? That shit’ll make you think you don’t even like words. Who told academics they had to be boring, barely comprehensible, and fucking snooty as hell in their writing in order to get published? Would it fucking kill them to use some buzz words? To spice up the narrative a little bit? Fucking dry ass, stat adhering pompous motherfuckers.

Beau forces her focus on her stack of papers and tries not to do any of her many tics and habits that annoy Dairon. It’s not like Dairon doesn’t like her. In fact, Beau knows that Dairon has a soft spot for her. It’s obviously awkward for the aforementioned reasons but when Dairon isn’t pissed off at her she’s been something of a mentor. Hell, even when she is pissed off at Beau she’ll take time out if she sees Beau really needs it. It’s a delicate quid pro quo but a quid pro quo all the same.

Even through the hangover she finally manages to figure out her topic and craft a thesis. Turns out, if your topic is shitty you won’t be able to find a thesis statement for that shit. No wonder she’s been stalling on writing this damn thing for weeks. Now she’s writing about the economic impact of colonial resource extraction on the contemporary economies of West African nations. Way more interesting than trying to map the impact of natural disasters on local southeast Asian economies. Well, if you’re a political scientist. Otherwise all those words are just plain boring as fuck.

Point is, for the first time in a month Beau feels like she has a clear focus in this damn class.

Her phone buzzes on the table, she picks it up and swipes the Instagram notification banner.

“Oh no,” Beau mumbles, sliding open her DMs. “My actions do have consequences.”

Chapter Text

Beau always begged for the weirdest pets. She’s asked her parents for, in order of ridiculousness: a rat, a snake, a tarantula, and finally a fucking real life bat. Their reaction always ranged from that’s not ladylike dear to what is wrong with you to, Beau’s favorite, ‘I told you Thoreau, she’ll never be ready’. That last one really sticks with her like her own private imposter syndrome.

To her mother’s credit, Beau never feels ready. Not for the terrible things that happen to her. Though, she’s found a rhythm for dealing with all of that shit in a way that gives her the strength to keep waking up every morning. Hell, she’s come to expect that a certain amount of bullshit is going to happen to her because karma doesn’t fucking like her.

Somehow she feels even less ready for the good things. Maybe it’s all the time her parents told her she didn’t deserve the right to their family name. Maybe it’s all the times she reached and tried her hardest and did her best but nothing could make them proud of her. But when something good happens to Beau she stops breathing so deep. She starts checking over her shoulder and around every corner just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

There’s always another shoe. In everything she’s ever done there’s always a catch, some kind of bait and switch that knocks her back on her ass at square one.

Beau breaks every rule of common sense to go meet Reani for drinks. She lets Reani pick the bar - a little dive called the Tumbled Tankard that Beau wishes she knew about sooner. It has this cool little former cop bar turned renegade bar feel that Beau wouldn’t peg Reani as the type for. The walls are covered with old police propaganda covered up with biker insignia, sports jerseys, and flags.

“Oh my gosh, you made it!” An excitable voice ambushes Beau from the side.

Beau turns to her right and forgets how to use words. Reani is everything she is in pictures but in Retina 5k super high definition. You know when you see a picture so sharp that you have to fiddle with your vision until your brain processes it as real? Beau’s there but like in real time.

It’s pretty much like the thing that happens in romantic comedies except in the movies the music plays, time slows down, and it looks sick. In real life Beau looks like a fucking moron and a little bit of a creep. She’s definitely staring. There’s no drool because she has some self control but she’s staring like a weirdo.

Reani pushes on like Beau is a functioning human being and hooks their pinkies together. She leads Beau to an out of place booth in the mood lit back corner of the bar. It’s the only booth in the entire establishment, everything else is either at the bar or little worn wooden tables occupied by rough looking patrons.

“This is kind of like my spot, no one will bother us.” Reani slides into the booth first and looks back expectantly at Beau.

There’s a choice to make here. There’s a way to do this where Beau leaves a whole seat between them and there’s a way to do this where Beau starts all up in Reani’s business. How much time is passing? Beau stands there for what she knows is an incredibly short amount of time but in her mind it feels like she’s just fucking standing there.

She flicks her eyes to Reani who is starting to look at Beau with what resembles amusement. Beau stares a little longer.

Reani suppresses the smile that’s forming at the corner of her lips and taps the worn leather directly next to her. “I don’t bite.”

Beau practically tosses her body into the seat. She bangs her knee on the bottom of the plastic table and barely suppresses the curse that wants to bubble up. She’s cool, she’s tough. Way tougher than a fucking table that’s for damn sure. It’s just a flesh wound.

The half formed smile on Reani’s face blossoms into a full blow grin. Beau knows it’s cheesy as fuck but it makes their secluded corner of the room feel like it’s glowing a little brighter.

Wow Beau, why don’t you chill the fuck out.

“Did you find the place pretty easily?” Reani asks as she flags down the big burly bartender.

“I walked by it a few times. It’s not exactly what I was expecting.”

“Not for a girl like me in a place like this?” Reani jokes, waving her hands down her body making light of her white empire waist dress that’s starkly out of place in a dive like this. She’s paired the white dress with a gold chain across her chest and, from the smell of it, a real flower crown woven into her hair.

Beau looks down at her sleeveless dark blue button down shirt, black skinny slacks, and worn black boots and suddenly feels underdressed. It’s ridiculous. She saw a dude in his 50’s wearing a biker jacket with no shirt underneath sitting at the bar.

Focus Beau. “Something like that.”

The bartender’s gruff face slowly softens as he approaches them in the corner.

“I don’t usually make house calls,” Up close the bartender looks even larger than he did from far away. His face softens but only when he looks at Reani. “Who’s your friend?”

“This is Beau!” Reani bumps Beau with her shoulder. Beau waves awkwardly. She immediately regrets it when he gives her a weird look. “We’re catching up, we had class together last semester.”

Oh fuck, that’s right. It’s all coming back to Beau. Last semester she was feeling almost completely burnt out on her required seminars and wanted to do something different. She searched the graduate school catalogue outside of her program and found an awesome class on the politics of crime film and television. Okay, so she didn’t let the apple fall too far from the tree of her political science program but at least they got to watch movies.

Reani sat next to her and they swapped insta’s on the second day. Reani gave Beau her handle and Beau never says no to a pretty woman. It’s kind of like her core weakness.

They sat next to each other every class. Reani invited Beau out to the bars but Beau always said no because she already had plans with Fjord and Jester. For almost half the semester she would ask Beau to grab lunch after their seminar and go over the notes and collaborate on essay topics. Beau always said no because she met Jester for lunch downtown every single day that semester. Beau always said no and eventually Reani stopped asking. They sat next to each other in class, Reani was always nice - exceedingly nice like one of the nicest people Beau had ever met. But she stopped asking.

Fuck.

Beau really is such a fucking asshole. What is she even doing here? She doesn’t deserve a second - or fucking tenth - chance with this woman.

“For you? I’ll bring ‘em to the table myself,” Beau comes back to the conversation completely unaware of what Reani ordered. She’s really breaking all the first date safety rules.

He leaves them alone.

Reani turns so her body is facing Beau. “Tell me everything. How’s your program going? Did you finally tell those jerks to shove it?”

Beau nods dumbly like there’s rattles in her head.

“Are you okay?” Reani follows up. “Is it the bar because we can totally go somewhere more mainstream I just thought this seemed like your thing.”

“No no, I’m good. I’m being an ass.” Beau apologizes. “The program is the program. Seminar discussions are still an exercise in white male privilege. My advisor is still a Kissinger worshipping jackass who rejects all of my prospective dissertation topics as ‘radical theory hogwash’. But other than that, everything’s Gucci. How about you?”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Reani squeezes Beau’s hand and lets her fingers linger across Beau’s palm as she pulls back. Beau tries not to shiver at the surprise intimacy of that move. “My Master’s Thesis is almost done. I think I’m reaching a place where it’s as defensible as it can be and anyway if my thesis is the best thing I ever write I’ve failed somewhere.” Reani laughs.

Beau’s transfixed by the way her eyes crinkle and how there are the faintest laugh lines just starting to form at the corners of Reani’s eyes.

The bartender brings back their drinks. He slams Beau’s beer down on the table a little harder than necessary and glares at the place where Reani’s turned so far that her thigh is pressing against Beau’s thigh.

Beau scoots away a half inch.

“Thanks Umi!” Reani calls after him as he leaves.

“Umi,” Beau laughs under her breath. “Well that’s not so tough.”

“He’s not so scary once you get to know him. He’s protective of me that’s all,” Reani reaches over and takes a sip of Beau’s beer. “Just checking.”

“Checking?” Beau squints between Reani and her beer. “Checking for what?”

“Don’t worry about it. He likes you,” Reani sips her own drink and turns the full force of her attention back on Beau.

Beau drinks her beer. It’s bitter and harsh at first but smooths out with some warm cinnamon and chocolate notes. Legitimately this is one of the better beers she’s ever tasted. This beats half the shit she’s had in one of the many microbreweries around the city.

Neither of them say anything for the next minute. Reani drinks a little and sneaks looks at Beau from the corner of her eye. Beau notices because she’s doing the exact same thing.

Reani keeps looking at her, taking in a breath like she’s going to speak and then not saying anything. Beau watches her do this a couple of times before her curiosity kills the Beau.

“What?” Beau softens the question with a self conscious shoulder shrug, tacitly acknowledging Reani’s stares. Fjord’s always told her that she can be a little bit abrasive at times, even when she doesn’t mean to be. This is one of the ways he showed her to not come across so defensive all of the time.

“I just...I wanted to ask - this is so stupid,” Reani shakes her head and looks down at her fingers interlocking on her lap.

“Just say it,” Beau tries her best to look open and earnest. She doesn’t like the idea that whatever interactions they’ve had in the past has made Reani gun-shy about speaking her mind to Beau.

“Why now?” Reani mumbles towards her hands.

Beau furrows her brow and nods her head at Reani like go on.

Reani rushes to clarify, looking Beau in the eyes this time. “I was pretty obvious about asking you out last semester and you shut me down every time. You stopped liking my stuff months ago and I figured I would never hear from you again. And then you slid into my DM’s with a peach emoji out of the blue. It’s a little hard to trust, ya know?”

Beau lets the line ‘Well I’m in love with my best friend who is in love with our best friend and you’re the person who I want to get under to get over her but like with my heart’ float around her brain. It sounds fucking insane at best and fucked up at worst. Is this the time for honesty? Does ‘I was really drunk, scrolling through Instagram, and your thirst traps are highly effective to the whiskey soaked mind’ sound any better?

“I’m sorry,” Beau blurts out. She takes another drink to lubricate her throat. “I think this is the second time I’ve had to call myself an asshole and it’s only the first drink. I completely blew you off last year.”

Reani purses her lips together but her eyes have an openness to them that encourages Beau to keep going.

“I have this friend group, we’re basically attached at the hip, and last year that was really really true,” Beau admits. “I didn’t even think about you like that.”

Beau hears that last part in her head and blurts out. “Not like I didn’t ever think about it because you’re like whoa, you know it I know it.” Reani gives her a look like she’s mad that this is charming her but she’s charmed. “It’s this whole intense thing.”

“What makes now different?”

Jester, Beau thinks, it’s always Jester.

Reani reaches out and holds Beau’s hand again. Beau wishes she wouldn’t do that because it makes it really hard to focus on logic or reason. Reani’s hands are soft and she does this thing where if she’s touching you she’s always making little patterns, trailing her fingers around like boundaries aren’t a thing. It’s soothing in a way where Beau feels like she wants to melt into the seat.

Intimacy is the word, Beau thinks. There’s an intimacy to Reani that’s so casual it’s disarming but also intense in a way that scares Beau if she thinks too hard about it. Beau’s always been a hit it and quit it type of person with exceptions few and far between.

When you only allow for one night you don’t have to deal with the way your heart pulls towards another person when they do something so simple as hold your hand. Beau realized pretty early on that’s what really fucks a person up. Sex is sex. Beau likes sex. She likes having sex with different women who bring different things to the table. But from one woman to another she doesn’t miss what makes them special, she can replace sex with sex.

But intimacy? Intimacy is so specific to that person. You can’t replace the way one person makes your chest seize up when they touch your hand with someone else. Something will always be missing.

Beau looks down at where Reani is touching her. She can feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing up as goosebumps form.

Reani runs her thumb in a circle over the pad of Beau’s thumb. “Beau?”

“I guess I want to see what’s out there in the world for me.” Beau thinks that’s as close to honest as she’s been with someone who isn’t named Jester or Fjord that she can remember.

The hand tracing patterns on Beau’s palm trails up her forearm, drags purposefully over Beau’s collarbone on its journey to rest on Beau’s chin. Beau feels like she’s holding her breath. Reani leans in slightly and waits. She makes eye contact with Beau, her eyes searching. Beau reaches with the hand that’s not resting on her own thigh and runs her fingers through the end of Reani’s hair.

It’s so soft, Beau notes as she feels herself pushing closer. She gently twirls a piece around her finger and moves to tuck the piece behind Reani’s ear.

She leans in further.

Her hand continues its exploration over Reani’s shoulders, finally resting on the back of her neck. Taking care not to hurt her, Beau guides Reani closer. From this distance she can see the deceptively golden quality of the smattering of freckles brushed across Reani’s cheeks and forehead.

From this distance they’re almost sharing breath. All Beau has left to do is press their lips together. She stops just short and feels Reani’s impatient huff reverberate up from her hand and spark through Beau’s entire body.

“Is this okay?” Beau’s voice rasps and cracks at the lowest parts of her register.

“Yes.” Reani whispers and presses insistently on Beau’s chin.

Beau closes the distance. She tries to take it slow, pressing her lips softly against Reani’s and pulling back. Changing the angle as she leans back in.

Reani’s lips taste like lip gloss but not the cheap retail store brands. This is some professional, high class shit that’s not watermelon or cherry or some generic bullshit but like dragon fruit or exotic yuzu or some shit like that. Beau’s obsessed with the way it makes their lips stick together but glide and slip against each other.

Thank god it’s not lipstick. Beau’s kissed enough wax for a lifetime.

It’s a good thing they’re tucked into the back corner because Reani doesn’t seem to be satisfied with slow and searching. She pushes her lips insistently against Beau’s, she takes a small bite at Beau’s bottom lip but before Beau can feel the pain she swipes her tongue over the same spot soothing the burn.

Fuck.

Beau doesn’t know how long they do this. Long enough that by the time Reani pulls away, chest heaving in a very aesthetically pleasing way, Beau can feel the intense glare of a man she’d rather not piss off.

“That was-“

“What you were missing out on.” Reani cuts Beau off, still a little breathless but clearly emboldened.

Beau nods.

“I was gonna say fucking hot but yeah, that works.” Beau looks down and realizes that somewhere in there Reani threw her leg over Beau’s legs and Beau’s free hand is tucked between the place where their thighs meet.

It hits Beau then that she didn’t think about Jester once the entire time she was kissing Reani. As far as Operation Jester Crush Death is concerned that’s a really promising first step. Even if that operation name needs a metric fuckton of work.

Beau goes to move her hand because now that they’re not kissing it feels forward. Taking a cue, Reani moves her leg and takes back her own personal space. Both Beau and Reani take a moment to finish their drinks and get their breath back.

“Umi!” Reani shouts once she empties her glass.

He returns to their table, glaring harder at Beau than he was earlier. Umi doesn’t even look at Reani, he’s so busy glaring at Beau.

“Can you put this on my tab?” Reani keeps talking like she doesn’t notice. “Pleeeaase.” She draws out the word like she knows it’s this guys biggest weakness.

He finally breaks his death glare on Beau and turns towards Reani with a smile. “Got it.” He turns back on Beau. “Get home safely.”

“Catching up, my ass.” He grumbles under his breath.

Beau feels the implied shovel talk in his steely glare as he slowly backs away from the table.

Reani turns back to Beau, as chipper as she was when she first saw Beau. “Come home with me!” She fixes Beau with a look that’s full of promise. “Please.” Her voice loses that excitable veneer and Beau sees the cracks in her confidence.

Her mother always told Beau that actions speak louder than words. Granted, her mother meant that no matter how much Beau claimed she was worthy of taking over the family business her actions would always say otherwise. But in every piece of malignant advice from her parents, Beau’s been searching her whole adult life to find the positive application.

She stands up from the table and holds out her hand. Reani’s smile threatens to split her face from ear to ear as she takes Beau’s hand and lets herself be led to the exit.

***

“You’re creeping me out,” Fjord drops two 45 pound weights on the soft foam of the weight room floor. He reaches for his already sweat soaked white towel and dabs the sweat off of his forehead and the back of his neck.

Beau finishes the last four reps of her set and carefully places down her own 30 pound weights. She looks at herself in the mirror and sees bright eyes and a wide smile staring back at her. It’s funny, she knows that’s her face. She’s seen it a hundred times before but she looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognize the creepy smiling weirdo staring back at her.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Beau goes over to the wall and grabs a gray resistance band from the hooks.

Fjord follows her over to the the pull up bar, dragging a flat bench behind him. Beau loops the gray resistance band over the middle of the pull up bar and kneels down with her right knee on the bench leaving her left knee parallel to the floor.

“What’s that thing on your face? Is that a smile?” Fjord continues, needling at her as she does her band lat pulls. He puts a pretend phone up to his ear. “Hello? Doctor? Yes, mhmm, oh that’s interesting. Hey Beau?”

“What, asshole?”

“The doctor wants to speak to you.” He holds out the invisible phone in his hand and won’t put his hand down until Beau pretends to take it and put it up to her ear.

“Mhmm. Yep. You know that’s what I thought too.” Beau pulls the pretend phone away from her ear. “Hey Fjord?”

“Yes?”

“The doctor diagnosed you with being a fucking dumbass.” Beau dodges the resistance band Fjord whips towards her thigh. “She says it’s fatal.”

Fjord makes a show of ripping the invisible phone back from Beau. “Oh? I see? That’s so unfortunate.” He forces a look of pity onto his face. “Hey Beau?”

She just stares at him as she does another set.

“She says they switched up our names in the file. Turns out you’re the fucking dumbass. What’s that?” He pretends to talk into the phone. “I’m sorry, stupid fucking grin-wearing dumbass.”

He pretend hangs up the phone and stares Beau down with a knowing look.

“What?” Beau infuses all of her natural defensiveness into her voice.

“Who is she?”

Fjord crosses his arms over his chest, pushing out his chest and flexing his biceps at her. What an insufferable braggart he is. Beau steps down off the bench and allows Fjord to step up.

“Why is my happiness automatically tied to a woman? How normative of you, Fjord. I’m very disappointed in you. Maybe I’m just killing it in my program.”

Fjord rolls his eyes. “I know and you know that you aren’t swaggering around over your program. You’re always killing it in your program whether they appreciate you or not.”

Beau turns away from the mirror so he can’t see her blush at the unsolicited compliment.

“I’m just killing it right now, bro,” Beau turns back once she can feel the heat dissipate from her face. “It’s not anything specific.”

“Doubt.” Fjord fires back, miming pressing the ‘X’ button on a controller.

“Doubt right back.” Beau mocks him.

Fjord goes through another set quietly. Beau thinks, for the time being at least, he’s going to leave her alone. He finishes his final set, cleans up the bench, and leads her back over to their abandoned dumbbells.

They go through another set of squat presses.

“Let me state my case for the court,” Fjord blurts out as he puts away both sets of weights.

“Not again,” Beau shakes her head.

She and Fjord walk over to their favorite deadlift rack and glare at the dude who is currently hogging it. Fjord starts bouncing his chest muscles and the guy scurries off to the slightly shittier deadlift rack.

“Nice bro,” Beau gives Fjord a dap, momentarily distracted from whatever ridiculous line of thought he’s on now.

They take a moment to set Beau’s warmup weight on the hexagonal bar and make sure the mat is free of obstructions. Beau settles inside of the hexagonal bar and Fjord gets behind her to spot.

“My first piece of evidence: you’ve been in the wind for weeks now,” Fjord’s hands hover just behind her back. “You started ‘going to the campus rec’ and not texting back. I had to track you down with Mad Libs. Mad Libs! Jester told me how you couldn’t get out of her place fast enough when you stayed the night after Nott’s latest disaster.”

Beau sets down the bar on her last rep and steps out of the hexagonal. She keeps her back turned to Fjord and takes a deep breath. It all plays off as part of her workout routine but she can’t look at Fjord yet. For the first time in the week since she started talking to Reani her smile feels fake when she turns back around.

For a master of human interaction, Fjord is constantly missing Beau’s cues. “Evidence two: I talked to Caleb and he told me something interesting.”

“What’s that counselor?”

“He told me you haven’t come home three nights this week,” Fjord looks smug and proud of himself. “Evidence number three: I checked with Jester as per my last bullet point and she told me that you haven’t slept over at her house at all this week.” Fjord looks at his pretend jury of medicine balls and metals bars. “Curious and curiouser.”

“Thus,” Fjord dramatically points his finger at Beau. “Your honor, with the evidence laid out and the gotcha look on the defendants face I would like to find Beauregard guilty. Guilty of sneaking around and not telling her friends she has a bae.”

Beau glares at Fjord. “First of all, and I can’t stress this enough, never use the word bae again.”

“It didn’t feel right when it came out, that one’s on me.”

“Secondly, I haven’t come home for days because I’ve been pulling all nighters at the library trying to finish this fucking paper I’ve been writing for the last month.”

Here’s the thing: Beau really does feel bad about lying to Fjord. She does. But she wants this thing with Reani to be something that’s just hers right now. Something that doesn’t have Fjord or Jester or even Caleb and Nott all over it. The nights she’s been spending at Reani’s have felt like an alternate universe.

With Reani she’s not the third amigo in the three amigos. Reani treats her like a first priority. Reani wants to be around her and wants to be about Beau and only Beau. She doesn’t know or care about Beau’s friends. Beau knows that sounds narcissistic like she only wants Reani because Reani wants her. That’s not even close.

Beau knows this doesn’t sound evolved or whatever but they haven’t even had sex every time she’s stayed the night. Beau’s only ever done that with her high school girlfriend, Tori, and with Jester. But Jester doesn’t really count, does she? Best friends have sleepovers and sleep in the same bed. Even adult best friends.

When she’s with Reani she doesn’t have to be the daughter her parents wanted or the best friend that Jester deserves or the bro that Fjord needs. She’s just Beau, whatever the hell that means. She’s still trying to figure it out.

So she lies to Fjord but it’s not because she doesn’t love him and doesn’t want him in her life. She means what she said to Reani at the bar, it’s not a line. For too long Beau’s been one prong in the trident but not like the important middle stabby part - that’s Jester, clearly that’s Jester. She’s one of the periphery parts. Growing up she was the disappointing daughter. As an adult she’s one of three. Beau doesn’t really know who she is outside that and clearly it’s been fucking with her head.

Maybe she doesn’t have feelings for Jester. Maybe that love she thinks she feels is born out of a friendship that’s borderline codependent. Reani doesn’t care about any of that, she just wants to know Beau. And maybe Reani is the healthy boundary Beau needs to set to get her head right. So she can come back with a sense of self ready to be the friend Jester deserves.

She’s spent enough time dwelling and wallowing on what can never be hers. Beau looks up at Fjord. She examines his handsome face, the bit of salt and pepper starting to creep into his neatly cropped beard. His hair made heavier by the sweat and tussled by their exertion falls messily over his eyebrows, freed from its usual gel hold.

Beau looks at herself in the mirror. She looks back at Fjord. “Case dismissed.”

Chapter Text

One of the perks and benefits of being a rich kid is the cool shit you grow up having in your house. She didn’t super love having house staff once she got old enough to realize that was some capitalistic bullshit but there were still a couple of perks. Beau’s favorite perk was their extensive library.

Thoreau Lionett pulled himself right up from his bootstraps all the way to Brown University. Now that she’s an adult she understands that Brown is considered one of the lesser Ivy’s - which is some hierarchal bullshit but that’s a different story. Knowing that about her father explains a lot of the performative successful person shit he does with his life.

One of those things is the library in her childhood home. One of the bigger rooms in the house, covered wall to wall in dark mahogany bookcases, the corners of the room outfitted with stuffy looking yet surprisingly comfortable reading chairs. The centerpiece of the room is a large hand crafted desk topped with all of her fathers awards and achievements. Perhaps starting as a way to overcompensate for his perceived inability to measure up to his competitors who had - gasp - gone to Yale or Harvard nevertheless he filled the library with one of the most extensive rare book collections in the state. Should her father ever become moderately more successful it’s surely a candidate for state takeover upon his death.

Another thing you should know about Beau is that she didn’t really have friends growing up. Hell, she’s sure that there’s portions of her childhood that she didn’t even have people who liked her. While other girls were learning their manners and figuring out how to float through life at a certain social station, Beau had books.

Books kept her company when no human would. She devoured any piece of knowledge she could. Filling her mind with goals and dreams and useless shit that makes her the go-to person at the trivia table. But what books could never do was fill that gap in her socialization.

That’s why it was so awesome that she, Jester, and Fjord were forced together like magnets. From day one being friends with those two was like diving into her favorite book - Gore Vidal’s Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, if anyone cares. In a lot of ways it was easy. The only way it could have gone smoother was if Beau had actually read dossier packets on Fjord and Jester and them on her.

Reani feels like discovering a new book that she knows has the potential to be her new favorite. The kind of book you read word by word, folding different pages down at the corner for reference, putting it down between awesome lines so that this experience never ends.

It’s scary as fuck, dude.

Beau is a really good learner is the thing. She devours knowledge, always has. Especially when gathering said knowledge feels like a new challenge and a deserving reward all at once.

Reani hates coffee but she rewards Beau with kisses if Beau goes down to Reani’s favorite Indian restaurant and brings her back hot chai. She’s mostly vegan but can’t quite quit baked goods and yes, she’s beating herself up over that moral failing. Reani drags Beau down a rabbit hole of 90 Day Fiance level terrible reality tv which leads to the revelation that Beau can easily distract Reani from said shows.

Beau also learns that she’s a little spoon but Reani radiates space heater level heat. Whenever Beau falls asleep at Reani’s she wakes up to measured breaths on her neck and an arm wrapped tightly around her waist. Sometimes their fingers are intertwined and that’s when Beau feels something dangerously close to affection.

Maybe that’s a bridge she’s already crossed but right now they’re just talking. That’s despite the fact that she’s seen Reani more days than not. She’s slept over at Reani’s more times in the last two weeks than at her own place.

Beau makes a note to try and cut down on the overnight stays. Not because she hates it. It makes her feel like a real chump to know she might actually like this touchy feely stuff. It just so happens that Caleb is a shifty observant motherfucker and apparently also a snitch. Beau’s had multiple daydreams during the classes she TA’s about shaking Caleb down and yelling ‘snitches get stitches’ but she knows he mostly means well and Fjord is really hard to say no to.

Still, she’s been sloppy.

She’s been so invigorated by cataloguing every single detail. Every iota of Reani feels exciting and challenging. Beau doesn’t want to miss her latest revelation and her daily dose of understanding.

Reani tightens her hold on Beau. Beau wriggles back into the pocket of warmth. She closes her eyes and tries to clear her mind. She feels a kiss on the back of her head and feels the rumble of words being mumbled into her neck. Then another kiss on her neck. Reani kisses all the way up to her earlobe before Beau turns around in her arms.

“Sorry,” Beau turns her face towards the pillow. “Morning breath.”

Reani chases Beau’s lips. “I don’t care.” Beau doesn’t know how she does it but Reani’s lips are always soft. Beau is running a very thorough and completely scientific study with the methodology of kissing Reani and the results are astounding.

Beau feels Reani starting to run her hand over her shaved sides and knows she has to pull back. “Wait,”

“Nah uh,” Reani mumbles. “Who let you get dressed?”

“Pants are evil and evil needs to be destroyed.” Reani fiddles with the drawstring of the pajama pants Beau’s borrowing. “I’m banning pants effective immediately.”

“Mhmm,” Beau lets herself get drawn in. Reani’s frustration boils over on the drawstring.

“Can you?”

“Yeah, hold on,” Beau reaches down to help. She unties her own bow and Reani starts to work the pants down past her hips. “Make it quick.”

“Yes ma’am.” Reani laughs and slides Beau’s pants over her ankles. “Morning sex Beau has an attitude.”

“Morning sex Beau has brunch with her best friends who are suspicious as fuck and nosy by - oh fuck,” Beau cuts off, grabbing for something to hold on to.

Reani looks up at Beau. “Talk later?”

Beau nods vigorously. Fjord and Jester will understand if she has a few commute delays.

***

Jester looks up every time the door opens and gets more and more jittery every time it’s not Beau. Her nails click in a noticeable pattern on the table. The pattern gets more and more manic the longer she stares at the door. What started out as a dull tap tap tap escalates to a full blown sonata.

Fjord looks up from his phone. “She’s coming.” He looks back down and keeps checking his texts. “Or so she says.” Fjord gives her the pointed What Do You Know face.

Jester’s nails grind to a halt. She reaches for the small appetizer plate next to her coffee and picks up her only salvation at the moment. She chews nervously on the remains of a pumpkin scone. One of the best things about fall is all of the new delicious seasonal pastries. Jester always tries to eat them all and Beau is always right by her side.

Except now Beau is late. Again.

“I’ve barely seen her. Should we be worried?” Jester stares at the door.

“Yeah,” Fjord says distractedly. Avantika wants to meet up during her lunch break and if Beau doesn’t show maybe he can make it.

“Fjord!” Jester yells and he sets the phone down on the table face down.

“What?” He draws out the word way too long.

“She’s been acting so distant lately, don’t you think,” Jester kicks Fjord in the ankle underneath the table.

“Of course I do. She’s missing out on bro time, she went radio silent, Caleb says she’s been keeping weird hours,” Fjord sticks out another finger on his list he’s ticking off. “But she’s an adult and we have to trust that’s she’s not out there freebasing coke.”

“Oh my gosh, do you think she’s on drugs?” Jester’s voice reaches a fever pitch as she clutches Fjord’s shoulders. “Fjord, Beau’s on drugs.”

“She’s not on drugs.” He says wiping off the crumbs Jester got on his shirt. “That was just an example of the things she isn’t doing.” His phone buzzes again and he picks it up to check the notification.

Jester peeks over Fjord’s shoulder. She fakes a gagging sound.

“Don’t read over my shoulder,” Fjord glares at Jester and puts his phone away.

“Stop being such a himbo then,” Jester crosses her arms and leans back in her chair with a little pout. “Beau’s probably out there overdosing as we speak and you’re trying to fit in a booty call before lunch.”

“What’s a himbo?” Fjord protests. “And Beau is not on drugs, stop it.”

Jester rolls her eyes at him and turns her attention back to the door.

At that moment it slams open and Beau comes storming in.

“I am so sorry!” Beau says way too loud, earning her shushes from at least full three tables in the tiny bistro.

“We thought you were dead,” Jester fixes Beau with a manic look.

“We did not think you were dead,” Fjord grumbles as he stands up to give Beau a hug before she sits down.

“Well here I am. Super alive.” Beau leans in to give Jester a side hug. “Well, as alive as any of us if you really think about it. Are any of us really living?” She settles into her seat and absentmindedly gives Fjord a fist bump as he sits back down. “This is galaxy brain shit.”

“Anyway, you wouldn’t believe the traffic,” Beau grabs the extra menu off of the table even though she knows she’s just going to order extra crispy bacon with a side of more bacon and a scone. And maybe some pancakes. She’s been burning a lot of extra energy lately.

Maybe a coffee. She’s fucking drained.

“Really?” Jester looks back between Fjord and Beau. “Fjord? Did you have any trouble getting here?”

“Jester,” Fjord says in that half flirty, half dad voice that Jester likes so much. “She’s here now, let her live.”

“Huh,” Jester gets right up in Beau’s face and stares her down. “I’ve got my eyes on you.”

Beau holds eye contact with Jester. It’s weird, she’s always this close to Jester. Jester gets up in her face all the time, it’s one of their things. Beau always laughs it off. Flicks Jester in the forehead, pretends to catch her nose and turn it upside down so when it rains Jester will drown, you know - cute shit.

But now Beau takes a moment to study. Her brain feels alive with all of the learning it’s been doing. She notices the cupids bow and the way it swoops and compares that to the smooth arch of Reani’s upper lip. Beau takes a moment to wonder how different that might feel to kiss.

She takes the next moment to kick herself for even thinking about stuff like that when she’s so clearly moving on.

Thinking any further about the shape of Jester’s lips seems too dangerous so she slips the plastic menu between them. Jester leans back into her seat but not without squinting at Beau suspiciously all the way back.

Beau puts down the menu and steals a drink from Jester’s coffee. “I overslept so I probably hit that late rush hour traffic. That’s it, Jes, I promise.”

Beau’s never lied to Jester before. Not about something that matters anyway. Feels real bad but it has to be the right call.

Right?

Jester’s clearly not buying it but Beau isn’t offering anything more. Beau’s enjoying having someone that hers before she belongs in the hearts and minds of anybody else. A person she can grow with and get comfortable with before everyone jumps down her throat.

They’ve never really seen her with anyone serious. Not outside of those three really awkward months she and Yasha tried to do a real relationship and only succeeded in fucking each other up even more. It has taken literal years for them to come to a place of comfortable friendship again.

Because of that - and other mitigating circumstances that may or may not involve Beau’s feelings - her whole friend group is going to be really weird about this.

Beau doesn’t want to have to mix the world she’s in when she’s with Reani with this world.

Not yet.

At the same time she feels like a runaway train barreling towards a brick wall but she forgot her magic cartoon paint. Something’s got to give.

“Hopefully you don’t hit that same traffic on Saturday because trivia starts at 7 and if you aren’t on time I just know they’re going to ask all of the geography questions before you get there,” Jester flags down the waitress to take their orders. She turns back to Beau and glares. “Caleb needs a win right now.”

“I know.”

Caleb hates his birthday for reasons that he barely talks about but have something to do with his parents. Beau has a general policy of not diving into the weird family shit of her friends because she absolutely does not want them scuba diving into her garbage. The only way they’ve been able to persuade Caleb to let them celebrate is trivia. This yearly event is basically the Super Bowl of their friendship and Jester is the only person who takes it more seriously than Beau and Caleb.

“No Jester, I will not be missing the most magical time of the year. Don’t be a jerk, it’s too early.” Beau steals another sip of Jester’s coffee.

“Do you want your own coffee?” Jester snaps, swatting Beau’s hands away.

“Nope,” Beau grabs the mug back. “You know yours always tastes better.”

Jester blushes a little and looks away but doesn’t snap at Beau again about the coffee.

“Are you two finished going through all five stages of grief,” Fjord butts in.

“Shut up, Fjord,” Jester says in a way that Beau knows means she really wants him to ask why she’s mad at him this time. “Why don’t you stay quiet and keep texting Avantika.”

Jester drags out Avantika like it’s a curse word.

“Maybe I will,” Fjord fires back.

“Do you two need some time,” Beau smiles as the waitress comes over to their table and she orders her regular dosage of cholesterol and fat plus a little extra.

Fjord and Jester start to bicker and Beau finds herself fading into the background.

***

When Friday night comes Beau finds herself at Reani’s for Netflix and chill.

“I don’t fucking get it.” To be fair, Beau’s much more focused on trying to leave a discrete mark on Reani’s collarbone. But also, what the fuck is even happening on the screen.

“It’s beautiful. She’s being reclaimed by nature.” Reani explains. “See, the plants wrapped around her scars and absorbed her into the environment thus-“

“Mhmm, I get it now,” Beau’s found the perfect spot to work on.

Reani tugs on the back of Beau’s top knot. “You’re such a jerk.”

Beau takes the opportunity to quickly kiss Reani. “You like it.”

Reani scratches her nails down Beau’s neck and returns her attention to whatever weird fucking movie she picked. Annihilation? Maybe? Beau only agreed because of Tessa Thompson but it’s like halfway and Tessa Thompson is a leaf statue or fuck if Beau knows.

It’s not the type of movie Beau’s accustomed to being forced to watch. There’s a love story but it’s weird and she’s pretty sure Oscar Isaac removed himself from the sun for months before filming this role. Natalie Portman too. There’s nothing sexy about it unless vague eco-horror is what gets you going.

The music never swells, the romance quite literally dies, and Reani is transfixed anyway. Jester would hate this shit.

Reani passionately explains to Beau that this movie is visually transfixing and morally stimulating.

Beau kinda just wants to fuck but to each their own.

The credits roll. Reani releases a deep breath and lays back, taking Beau with her. Beau rests her head on Reani’s chest and settles in.

One thing she’s learned to read in such a short time is Reani’s constant apprehension. Beau can physically feel Reani holding back from saying something from her spot on Reani’s chest. She does this from time to time. Beau sort of gets it and then sometimes she really really doesn’t.

It’s like Reani is afraid to be too real with her and that sucks. But she can see how Reani would be scared to get too serious with Beau, it’s not like anyone has ever wanted to get serious serious with Beau and she definitely doesn’t look like the staying type. Or at least that’s what she’s been told. Then again, it’s not like Beau has ever let anyone in for too long.

Beau feels like it’s her move.

“Spit it out,” She finally says because she’s beauty, she’s grace, she was raised in a barn.

“Why are you like this?”

“I’m the G.O.A.T,” Beau softens her initial tone with a pun that only makes sense if you have access to her inner monologue. For a moment Reani looks at her like she’s not sure what Beau’s problem is but she’s happy to figure it out and then as quickly she looks sad again.

“You’re a goof,” Reani starts absently stroking Beau’s abs.

Reani gets quiet again. Beau occupies herself fiddling with their interlocked fingers.

“What are we doing?”

“I think it’s called cuddling,” Beau’s long held avoidant commitment-phobia has her running halfway down the street right now, calling a Lyft as she runs. She feels those old instincts fighting their way to the surface. Her fight or flight instinct is screaming flight so loudly it feels like it physically hurts.

Beau forces herself to be still.

She closes her eyes and counts up to ten and back down to one.

This is where it starts to get complicated.

This is where Beau has to make a choice.

Conversations such as these only have two possible endings:

1) Reani asks Beau what they are to each other, they define the relationship in some sort of mutual, consensual, and exclusive way and voila, you’re rolling downhill and be careful, you’re going fast as fuck.

Or;

2) Beau chucks up some deuces, says it’s been a sick time but lets not ever call or chat again and high tails it the fuck out of here before she has to make a hard decision.

Those are her options as far as Beau can tell. In theory she’s willing to admit her one night stand policy has left her vulnerable to lack of knowledge and practice in this area. But in practice, she think she might be having a panic attack.

Because here’s the weird thing, right? The scary thing here isn’t that Beau wants to chuck and run like she always does. The thing that really has her fucked up is the fact that she’s scared as fuck, sure, but she wants to try.

Trying is scary. Trying is opening yourself up to failing.

It’s so much better to not try. If you don’t try at least you’re settled in whatever space you’re in. You’re not succeeding but you’re there.

You’re not failing.

Or what if she’s read this all wrong? What if Reani is trying to break things off with Beau? Fuck. A whole new class of panic settles on the center of Beau’s chest.

“Never mind,” Reani says finally when Beau doesn’t fill the silence with anything productive.

Beau disentangles her body from Reani’s grasp and sits up. She moves so she’s at the corner of the couch.

Reani sits up as well.

The music on the menu screen loops through a couple more times before Beau reaches for the remote and mutes it.

“You should say it if you want to say it,” Beau says mostly to the hardwood floor.

“No, I really don’t think I should. I think this was a mistake,”

“I knew it,” Beau’s shoulders slump. She starts picking at the loose frayed threads on her distressed jeans.

“Knew what?” Reani asks.

“It’s fine, it’s whatever. I had fun, you had fun but it’s not like this is a thing. We never said anything. It’s cool.”

Beau pulls especially hard at the thread and unravels inches and inches of thread. She stops pulling.

“Don’t do that passive aggressive crap,” Reani’s quiet and mostly talking to the floor as well but she has authority in the way that she holds herself. “I hate that whole manipulative act. I had an ex-boyfriend, Sam, who would always tell me what to do and what to think and how to see the world. I just... that’s my boundary, okay?”

Beau turns to look at Reani and sees her shoulders turned in towards each other, her back slumped as she picks a little at her nails. She knows a fuck up when she sees one and if there was a mirror in the room Beau would look a fuck up right in her eyes.

She reaches her hand out towards Reani and moves so she’s within touch range if Reani wants that.

“I am legitimately and completely sorry. I’m sorry that happened to you and I’m sorry that I brought it up by being such a dick,” Reani won’t make eye contact with Beau so Beau continues. “Fjord usually calls me out when I’m being an asshole and sometimes when I don’t have him around I forget that I should be the one that calls me out too.”

Reani looks up at her then and finally takes Beau’s outstretched hand. “Apology accepted.”

Beau goes to thank her but Reani gives her hand a little pulse squeeze and Beau keeps her mouth shut.

“But I’m serious. That was a really shitty time in my life and I don’t want another relationship where I feel like my emotions are being controlled,” Reani looks Beau in the eyes.

“I promise,” This is a test that Beau intends to pass. She holds out the pinky of her free hand. “I offer the highest of promises in all of the Bro and by legal extension the Lesbro code - the pinky promise.”

Reani looks skeptical when she reaches out to accept Beau’s pinky. Beau feels like shit but Reani keeps their pinkies interlocked and that gives her a weird sense of calm.

“Thank you,” Reani kisses their pinkies and then lets their hands fall back onto the couch.

Beau lays back and invites Reani to lay on her for a change of pace. Somehow she feels like Reani might need to be held and she really hates that she was the one to bring that up.

Reani turns on her side as she lays down so her head rests on Beau’s chest and her free hand is playing with the belt loops of Beau’s jeans.

“The floor is yours,” Beau takes shallow breaths. As it turns out its a lot of pressure having the responsibility of someones comfort on your chest.

Reani exhales.

“I haven’t been seeing anybody else,” Reani says into Beau’s chest. It’s not mumbled just muffled.

“That’s good.”

“Have you?” Reani gets quieter.

“No.”

“Do you want to?” Reani somehow gets quieter but Beau still hears her.

“No.” Nobody is more surprised than Beau concerning how quickly that slipped from her lips. That scary panic feeling starts creeping back in.

Reani rolls over so she’s laying all the way on top of Beau. Beau shifts so they don’t roll off the couch.

“Really?” Reani looks hopeful and Beau feels a creeping sense of dread. She swats that thought back to hell where it belongs.

“Yeah, I think so,” Beau says softly.

Reani breaks her eye contact. “I’d like to hear a little more certainty.”

“Hey,” Beau risks their precarious couch placing to gently turn Reani’s face back towards her. “Maybe it’s not so certain but it’s true. I’m not.” Beau stops to rework her argument. “This isn’t something I do but it’s something I want to do.” Beau makes sure Reani’s really hearing her. “I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it but I want to try. I’m sorry I can’t be more sure but I don’t want to lie to you.”

“I appreciate that.”

“That doesn’t seem like a great start,” Beau finishes.

“You’re right,” Reani kisses Beau on the forehead and it makes Beau nervous.

Beau loves being right. Being right is perhaps her anti-drug. But right now it feels like she’s not right about the right thing. God that’s an awful thought both structurally and literally.

It feels like Reani is going to give up on whatever this is and Beau goes to panic.

Reani kisses her on the lips before she can.

Soft lips is all Beau can think for one blissful second and then it’s gone.

“I really want to try with you.” Reani says finally.

Beau doesn’t know what to call the feeling she’s feeling. It feels like a tiny boxer using her stomach as a punching bag but in a really good way. It feels entirely different from the little swoop she gets every time she sees Jester but it’s good different. Promising different.

Beau makes a decision.

“Come with me tomorrow to trivia,” Beau kisses Reani and commits this feeling to heart. “I want you to meet my friends.”

Chapter Text

The Laughing Hand is not a conventional bar. It’s not even a conventional building. It sticks out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood it’s inhabited for the last 50 years with it’s dramatic wood paneling, heavy natural wood doors and oddly shaped windows. Once conceived as a comedy club slash organized crime haunt it has been gentrified to become the premier bar of choice for nerdy young professionals with taste and at least one snob in their friend group.

Caleb would be the snob in their particular group.

Now instead of middling stand up and an unfortunate homicide decades ago The Laughing Hand is known for its elite trivia competition. Once a week the nerdiest of nerds converge to prove they are the most worthy of them all.

Once a year their friend group converges to persuade Caleb to smile on his birthday.

And kick some fucking nerd ass. Can’t forget that part, winning is everything contrary to what your high school coaches tell you.

This year, however, Beau is stalling. There’s no appreciable difference between the outfit choices that Reani keeps taking on and off nor any personal dissatisfaction with the fact that Reani lets Beau ‘help’ her change every time.

Beau knows they have a time limit she’s simply determined to cut as close to that limit as possible. She’s been panicking for the last ten hours. What the fuck is she doing bring Reani - unannounced by the way - to Caleb’s sacred birthday ritual. But she can’t back down now, can she? Not without blowing things up with Reani. And however much she’s panicking she know that’s not an option she’s cool with.

This is why Beau doesn’t lead with her heart. It gets her in trouble no matter what.

“I promise this is the last dress I just want to impress your friends,” Reani comes out in a dark green long sleeve maxi dress that features a very generous slit up the leg. It is bordering on inappropriate for trivia. It is certainly inappropriate for the creeping chill that comes with the beginning of fall.

It’s also hot as fuck so Beau convinces Reani to wear a sweater and be willing to borrow Beau’s jacket.

After a few minutes of back and forth Reani agrees.

Beau pats her lap and Reani comes over to sit across her thighs. Beau wraps an arm around Reani’s back to keep her steady.

“They will like you,” Beau assures Reani. More than likely she’s not lying. If Reani is nothing else, she’s likable. That’s not the problem Beau anticipates.

Beau’s got to face the fact that she’s been lying right to Jester’s face. Granted, not for the longest time anyone has ever lied to Jester but lying to Jester for any amount of time seems wrong. She looked Jester plain in the eyes and lied to her at brunch.

That’s enough to tie anyone’s stomach into sailor’s knots.

Reani kisses her. “I really hope so.” She pushes off of Beau’s lap and grabs her purse. “Let’s go before we hit the ride surge.”

Here we go.

***

Reani is the type of person who talks to the Lyft driver which is great because it gives Beau more time to panic in silence. While Reani’s getting Todd’s life story, Beau formulates strategy. Should she text Jester right now and let her know so Jester at least gets a few minutes to process?

Oh Gods, Yasha.

Does she have to text Yasha to avoid that whole blindside? The last thing Caleb needs is for Yasha to fall into one of her emo rages and storm off. Not that Beau blames her after all that she’s been through and all that Beau put her through personally when they were together. But this is not the time.

This is the exact type of messy Reani loves in her tv but has told Beau she never actually wants to live out in real life - especially after Sam, Beau assumes. That’s the fun, she told Beau during a particularly stressful episode of 90 Day Fiance, it’s safe from that distance.

Oh man, Beau did this all wrong.

She pulls her phone from her pocket and finds her message thread with Jester.

“Reani,” Beau looks up from the flashing blue cursor. She forgets she’s interrupting something one second too late.

Reani flashes Beau ‘you are being rude and we will be talking about this later’ eyes. “Sorry Todd, I’m sure your grandma is proud of you. Give me a second.” Then to Beau with an irked smile. “What do you need?”

“What do I call you?” Beau glances back down at the screen. “Are you my girlfriend? Are we seeing each other - are you the woman I’m seeing? Is that how I say it? Gal pal? Gal about town, no that’s-“

“Please stop,” Reani turns as much as she can with her seatbelt on. “You’re getting all weird again. Are you sure this isn’t too fast for you?” Reani puts her hand over Beau’s. “I won’t be mad if it is. I want to go as fast or as slow as you want to go. I want to meet your friends but if you’re freaking out, you can drop me off at home and go alone.”

Beau sees a clear exit straight ahead but finds she doesn’t want to take it anymore. She takes a deep breath. Reani has this way of alleviating Beau’s anxieties in a clear, straightforward way. Who knew being open and honest was a good thing? The things you don’t learn when your parents are assholes.

“I was definitely doing the thing again,” Beau admits. She locks her phone so the glare stops blinding her in the dark car. “I’m not nervous about us. I didn’t tell my best friends that I’m bringing you and really I haven’t told them about you at all and I’m freaking out because I don’t lie to them.”

The last part rushes out in what seems like one long breath.

Reani asks Todd to pull over and let them out at the next intersection. She gives him a big tip and wishes him well. Once they’re on the sidewalk she returns her attention to Beau. “We’re close enough to walk the rest of the way and you sound like you need some fresh air before we get there.”

“You’re right.” Beau acknowledges as she starts to take off her jacket. “But if we’re walking, you’re wearing my jacket and I’m not taking no for an answer. We had a deal.”

Reani makes a show of being displeased but huddles into Beau’s jacket and looks happier for it. Just for extra measure she loops her arm into Beau’s for extra body heat.

“So you feel like you’re springing me on your friends and they’re going to be mad that you lied,” Reani picks up where Beau left off. “Did I get that right?”

“Yep.”

“So instead of saying something you were planning on?” Reani trails off at the end like she expects Beau to fill in the blank.

“Having a panic attack,” Beau answers. “I think.”

“Doesn’t sound very productive does it?” Reani guides them around a group of people clogging up the sidewalk.

“Not really.”

Reani stops and moves them off to the side so they’re not like the jerks they just had to navigate around. “Beau, I’m serious. If you’re not ready, I’m not mad. I don’t want you to be freaking out when this is supposed to be fun.”

“You were freaking out earlier over what to wear,” Beau points out.

“That’s different, I wanted your friends to think I’m hot,” Reani jokes. Beau stares her down. “Fine, I might be freaking out a little bit too. Maybe I also need the air to clear my mind.”

“Ha!” Beau kisses Reani on the cheek. “Gotcha.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Reani brushes Beau off with a smile. “So, what are we gonna do? I can still call a Lyft home.”

Beau shakes her head. “No.”

“Then what?”

Beau thinks about it. In a way it helps to know that Reani is freaking out too. When she thought she was alone in her fears it felt like she had to deal with it alone too. In the short time she’s been with Reani she’s starting to learn that she can share the load with someone else.

That feels like a dangerous thing to grow accustomed to.

But Beau’s feeling braver and braver every day.

She leads them down the sidewalk again.

Not too long passes and sees that their contemplative meandering has led them to the front of The Laughing Hand.

“Decision time,” Reani declares softly.

“I guess so.”

“Last chance to back out.”

There’s no time like the present. Beau opens the heavy wooden door and waves Reani in out of the cold.

“After you.”

***

The bar is packed, as always, so Reani ends up wrapping her arms around the back of Beau as they shuffle through the crowd towards the front. Jester insists that they sit right in front of the quiz master like that might earn them some extra points. It never does but every year Jester insists - the very definition of insanity.

Beau sees her friends before they see her. They’re finally out of the crowd but Reani is still wrapped around her. Beau takes a moment to scan the table.

Cad sticks out first, his vibrant pink undercut and hoop nose ring only serve to complement his huge frame. He’s wearing a big fuzzy neon green sweater that looks supremely huggable. Next to him is Yasha, as always, with her Doc’s kicked up on the bars underneath the table - chair tipping back precariously. In contrast to her edgy style, she’s currently got her head tipped back laughing at Cad’s not-so-subtle under his breath shade directed towards the rest of their friends.

Nott and Caleb are bent over the trivia answer booklet, no doubt conspiring against the visual round. Standing behind them, tucked in between their heads, and plotting with Nott is Jester. Jester’s wearing one of Beau’s favorite outfits - a blue and white sweater dress that goes to about mid-thigh paired with black leggings and boots. She’s wearing her thick black rimmed fake glasses that she claims makes everyone afraid of their team because she looks so smart.

“Beau,” Reani cuts in.

“Right, sorry,” Beau keeps them moving forward. Reani peels off of Beau’s back and returns to her side as they approach the table. Reani’s grip on Beau’s hand is making her hand numb but that’s okay. She only needs the one.

“Did I miss the memo?” Fjord’s voice comes up from behind them.

“Here we go,” Beau whispers to Reani. “Ignore him, he thinks he’s hilarious but he’s not.” She says much louder.

“And she thinks she’s much more clever than me. She’s sorely mistaken.” Fjord steps around so he’s between them and the table. “Who’s your plus one?”

“Someone got a thesaurus,” Beau deflects.

Fjord, the master of withering stares, delivers another. “Beauregard.”

“I’m Reani!” Reani rushes right past the cordial handshake phase and skips straight to a big bear hug.

“We’ve been seeing each other for a couple weeks,” Beau adds quickly. Courage is a terribly addictive drug.

Fjord manages to look shocked, impressed, and betrayed at the same time. It’s a really good start.

“Reani, was it?” Fjord is already pulling Beau away. “Can I borrow her for the tiniest second?”

Fjord takes her just out of Reani’s eavesdropping range. “Are you out of your brilliant, beautiful mind?”

“I am so so so sorry,” Beau whispers low and harsh. “I really like her, bro.”

“On any other day I would be over the moon for the two of you while still being pissed off you lied to me but on this day?” He stops with emphasis. “On. This. Day.”

“Jester’s gonna lose her shit.”

“You? Lying? To her? On the very sacred trivia day?” Fjord nods like she’s a small child grasping a concept. “Jester is going to lose her shit.”

“There’s no going back.” Beau holds firm.

“Oh shit,” Fjord steps back and looks almost impressed. “You really like her.”

“That’s what I fucking said, dude. I thought we had at least three years before you started acting like an old man.” Beau looks back at Reani and sees her getting more and more self conscious by the second. “Lets go rip off this bandaid.”

“Don’t forget we’re definitely circling back around to how you lied to me and broke my heart.” Fjord claps her on the shoulder.

“I’ll bring the duct tape and put you back together again, buddy,” Beau does her best 1980’s cheesy action hero impression.

Fjord hates that impression.

“You’re such an ass.” Fjord stomps away like the dramatic old man he is.

Beau reunites with Reani and uses their last moment before stepping into the unknown to reassure Reani that everything is going to be fine.

Caleb sees them first. His eyes widen immediately. Beau has no doubt that with his brains he’s already seen the train wreck looming ahead. “Ah Beauregard, so good to see you made it.” He pauses, a small smirk creeps up on his lips. “With a friend.”

Nott chips in. Loudly. “I knew Beau would ruin this.” She turns to Caleb. “Didn’t I tell you she would.”

Beau files that away for later ass kicking but for now she’s focused on Jester. Jester is many things. She is a chaotic prankster, she is a brilliant designer with a unique eye, she is the loudest person in the room, she is a sworn romantic.

She is staring at Beau. She hasn’t said a word. Jester is many things but she’s always got something to say to Beau. At the very least they’ve always had that.

“Fuck off, assholes,” Beau fills the silence. “This is Reani, we’ve been seeing each other.” She pauses to glare at Nott. “She’s really awesome and we’re all going to be very cool. Are we clear?”

“Ay Ay, Captain!” Nott salutes Beau sarcastically which is as close to a promise as Beau is going to get.

Beau can visibly see Jester putting on her you can cry when you get older face. The mask descends and Jester forces a smile onto her face.

“Oh my gosh, you’re so pretty!” Jester pulls away from Caleb and Nott. “Reani is such a pretty name, is it short for anything?"

“Reanminere, actually,” Reani answers with a big smile, sufficiently charmed by Jester as everyone is. Jester comes around the table to give Reani a big hug. Jester gives Beau an undefinable look over Reani’s shoulder.

Beau’s never seen that particular face before, it’s nothing like what she’s seen from Jester in that past. It’s fascinating and terrifying all the same to encounter something new to learn about Jester. The feeling is intoxicating even if its connotation is negative.

“Hey Jes, you look great,” Beau voice breaks, her only tell as Jester pulls away from Reani. Beau takes the opportunity to embrace Jester with a familiar hug. Jester doesn’t resist and Beau whispers in her ear. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Jester whispers back but the way she doesn’t linger in the hug or flick Beau in the nose or any kind of playful prank on the way out of the hug speaks louder than her words.

Jester tells Caduceus and Yasha to slide down one seat so Reani and Beau can sit in the two seats between Jester and Caduceus. They follow Jester back around the table to get to their seats. Beau sits next to Jester’s seat and puts Reani next to Caduceus. He’s the best option anyway.

“How’s it going?” Caduceus says with a little wave. “This is really something, huh? Good times, good times.”

He’s also always and oh so reliably high off his fucking ass so that helps. Caduceus can be relied on when nobody else can to be peaceably oblivious to tension. That’s one of the many things Beau’s always loved about him. She sees him take Reani under his wing and breathes a sigh of relief.

Her attention snaps to Jester. She’s not surprised that Jester hasn’t stopped staring. If Beau’s being completely honest she felt Jester staring at her the entire time it’s taken them to settle in and for Caduceus to start chatting Reani’s ear off about the environment and veganism.

Beau meets Jester’s stare. That same strange look is on her face. Jester isn’t stupid by any stretch of the word and Beau figures right about now she’s figuring exactly how deep the lie goes. When Jester’s eyes narrow, Beau knows she’s figured it out. Beau’s evasiveness over the past couple weeks, her erratic schedule, how tired she’s been.

Beau breaks the stare to check on Reani. She’s doing fine, waving her hands passionately about something as Caduceus vehemently agrees. Good, Beau thinks, at least that’s working.

She looks back and Jester’s even worse. Angry Jester is a sight to behold. Angry Jester is an act of all of the gods come together to show the world a true force of nature. What Beau wouldn’t give to see Angry Jester when it’s not directed at her, that is. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Jester’s entire demeanor shifts again and suddenly everything is fine again. She turns aways and throws herself back into plotting with Nott and Caleb.

Beau gives a second thought to trying to get Jester’s attention to talk it out. She tunes in to the sound of Jester’s voice and can hear the forced quality. The way her voice is imperceptibly higher than normal. The manic quality to her voice that indicates to the finely tuned ear she’s not okay.

All Beau wants to do is make it better.

Reani laughs at something Caduceus says. “Babe, Caduceus tells me you’re not a fan of mushrooms.” She laughs harder and Caduceus shoots Beau a lazy shit-eating grin.

Fucking Caduceus, he’s such a shady little high ass punk.

“First of all,” Beau launches into a defense of the time she accidentally poisoned herself trying to impress their hot nature guide on a guided nature walk. It’s enough to distract her from Jester for the time being.

It doesn’t last.

Reani’s fitting in perfectly. She bonds instantly with Caduceus - Beau even sees them exchange numbers after the first round. Illegally, she might add. Their careless use of phones almost got them kicked out.

Beau takes trivia rules very seriously.

So does Caleb who glares at them until they get the hint and stop.

“I don’t think he likes me,” Reani whispers to Beau during a conversation lull with Caduceus.

“Who?” Beau’s focus is on the questions and maybe a little bit on Jester.

“Caleb?” Reani says unsure if she’s used the right name for the right person.

“Nah,” Beau says and then leans over to whisper the answer to the question to Caleb before she gives half of her attention back to Reani. “He just hates birthdays and losing and losing trivia on his birthday.”

“Oh.”

Reani enters back into her Caduceus conversation that Yasha, predictably bored with trivia, joins in. It’s weird that it isn’t weird between Yasha and Reani. Beau overhears part of their conversation and it turns out they are both members of the Aasimar tribe and hears them start to discuss the sad state of the different reservations they’ve visited.

Beau didn’t even know that about Reani.

It’s really cool to see her getting along with everyone. Especially with how nervous they both were. That part of it makes Beau smile and search out Reani’s hand underneath the table.

Reani doesn’t hesitate to latch on. Beau absently plays with the jewelry on Reani’s fingers as she keeps answering questions like a fucking boss.

They win.

Of course they do.

They’re a huge group which matters even if half the group isn’t paying attention. They all answer their one content specialist question correctly while Beau and Caleb compensate for the rest.

There’s a particularly difficult pop culture question where Jester temporarily turns into a superhero and saves their ass. Beau shines on the final question, securing them the win. The group jokingly maybe not-so-jokingly offer to carry her out on their shoulders.

Regardless, the 50 dollar first place gift card covers most of their bill so everyone leaves the bar happy. She even sees Caleb crack a small smile as he recounts the way he recalled the correct answer on a particularly tricky history question.

Beau leads Reani out of the bar as they flow with the rest of her friends and a majority of the crowd.

“Did you have fun?” Beau asks once they get out onto the sidewalk.

They’re the first ones out so they have a moment to themselves.

Reani pulls Beau closer by the pockets of her pants. “I had the best time,” Reani rests her chin on the top of Beau’s head. “Your friends are seriously cool. I think I’m gonna go foraging with Caduceus sometime soon,” She pauses. “Unless you think it’s weird for me to hang out with them alone?”

“No,” Beau flashes to the idea of Reani and Jester hanging out alone. The thought troubles her and she doesn’t know how to categorize that feeling. “I think it’s really awesome.”

“Good!” Reani kisses the top of Beau’s head and releases her hold as the rest of Beau’s friends file out.

They stand there for a couple minutes chatting idly as they all wait for their ride shares and the walkers head off as the temperature continues to drop.

One by one as they file out there’s a chorus of ‘Nice to meet you’s’ and ‘See you later’s’ until it is only Beau and Reani left with Jester and Fjord.

“It really is nice to meet you,” Jester says to Reani. Fjord huddles closer and closer to Jester as they stand out in the cold longer and longer. Beau finds herself fixated with the rapidly closing distance between them.

She sees the slight red flush on Jester’s cheeks and speculates on how much of that is the cold and how much is Fjord’s presence.

“Are you two going home together?” Beau interjects as Reani goes to speak.

“Yes,” Jester stands up straighter. “We’re having a movie night.”

“I didn’t know about movie night.”

Fjord jumps in. “We just decided on it before you arrived. It wasn’t planned.”

“You were pretty late,” Jester adds.

“No, no, it’s fine. I’m tired anyway. Aren’t you tired, babe?” She looks at Reani.

“I could sleep,” Reani agrees with a yawn.

The way her nose scrunches up distracts Beau for just long enough that Jester notices. Beau feels eyes boring into the side of her head again.

“Well that sounds like a really fun time for you guys I hope you have so much fun. So much fun,” Jester trails off and looks towards the street. “Fjord that’s our car!” She says way too loud for the conversation. Beau wants to reach out and say something but nothing comes out.

Fjord looks down at his app and confirms the license plate and make and model of the car as it approaches. “It checks out.” He walks over to Reani first and gives her a warm hug. He slides over to Beau and lifts her off the ground with his hug.

“We’ll talk later,” He says with a pointed look towards Beau as he sets her back on the ground.

Jester walks most of the way to the car before she freezes in her spot, turns on her heels, and power walks back to Beau. She gives Beau a tight hug and waves goodbye to Reani before power walking back to the car and getting in after Fjord.

Reani wraps her arms around Beau’s waist and leans her head on Beau’s shoulder as they wait for their car. “I like her.”

Beau leans back into Reani’s warmth. “It’s hard not to.”

True to her word, Reani falls asleep on Beau’s shoulder on the drive home.

***

Beau wakes up to a phone full of texts.

So many, in fact, that her phone buzzed off of the table she left it on last night and is now laying on the floor. Thankfully it’s a journey that didn’t crack the screen because Beau really can’t afford that.

Most of the texts are either administrative from her advisor and Dairon or friends saying how much they like Reani and are happy for Beau. Caduceus thanks Beau for dating somebody with taste and class which is a Caduceus compliment of the highest order while Yasha’s text is a bit longer but more or less gets to the same point with a hint of being really happy they worked back to a place where Yasha can be happy for Beau.

That’s a hard won victory that Beau takes a moment to give the appropriate respect.

Caleb’s text is short, positive, and to the point but the fact that there’s a text at all speaks novels. Nott simply tells Beau that Reani is too good for her which is also as close to affection as she gets with Nott.

Those aren’t the texts that worry her.

Fjord says they really need to talk and Jester says the same thing in a hell of a lot more words that somehow seem to say nothing and everything.

Beau feels her stomach drop and impending doom washes over her. Something doesn’t feel right and Beau’s not sure if she’s ready to know why that is.

Reani’s starting to stir behind her. “Why are you up so early?”

“I have to go,” Beau answers as she pushes the covers off and puts both feet on the ground.

“But it’s a Sunday.”

“I know,” Beau lays across the bed to kiss Reani and then sets out to find her clothes around the room. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“You better,” Reani says with a pout.

Beau tries very hard to resist the effects of the pout. She’s starting to find that harder and harder to do.

Reani gets up and throws on a long shirt that Beau recognizes as one she’s left behind for when she stays over. She follows Beau to the door.

“I’ll call you later,” Beau can’t resist kissing Reani one more time on her way out. It grounds her, in a way - takes away that doomed feeling.

Reani closes the door and Beau sets out down the sidewalk. She waits until she’s walked a few blocks before she whips out her phone and calls Jester.

No answer.

She calls Fjord.

No answer.

What the fuck, Beau thinks as she directs herself to Jester’s apartment on autopilot.

One of the handy things Beau has in her arsenal is a key to Jester’s apartment. Given to her as an incentive to move in as well as a security measure for when Jester goes back to Nicodranis to visit her mom. Beau’s a pretty safe bet to be in town even on holidays considering her parents hate her. Beau gets a place to escape her roommates and Jester always stocks the fridge with food so Beau doesn’t eat too much takeout and die. So that’s worked out pretty well for the both of them.

Jester lives far enough from Reani that it feels like a chore but close enough that Beau doesn’t think everything through.

She uses her key to open the door.

There’s nobody in the living room but it looks like a mess. There’s snacks still open on the table and remotes scattered on either side of the couch. Beau sees a half empty glass of milk and another smaller plate covered in crumbs. Next to it two opened bottles of beer, one finished and one still mostly full.

Her feet carry her past the kitchen and down the hall to Jester’s door.

Her mind sends up red flags but her stubborn hand still pushes the door open from its cracked open state.

“Oh,” Beau’s voice feels more like pushed out air than her actual voice.

Her eyes must be lying to her because there’s no way that she sees Fjord shirtless and Jester cuddled up on his chest.

Fjord is messing around with Avantika.

They’re her best friends.

Why does Beau feel like she’s caught inside of avalanche being buried alive?

Beau goes to back out. She miscalculates and slams into the door frame behind her.

Jester blinks open her eyes and sees Beau trying her very best to stumble out of the room.

“Beau, wait!” Jester calls after her, sleep still making her early morning voice raspy. Beau used to love that raspy sound now all she can see is Fjord and Jester burned into her mind and that voice being the first thing she hears.

Beau ignores Jester's repeated calls and the murmured turmoil and crashes in the room as they both rush to dress and chase after her. She scrambles the rest of the way out of the apartment, picks a direction, and walks.

She doesn’t answer one of the many phone calls.

She doesn’t answer one of the many texts, she feels them but she doesn’t look.

Chapter Text

Terrible things always come in threes.

When Beau was a little girl she loved Aladdin. The genie, three wishes, the whole idea of becoming someone when nobody thought you were worth anything. Somehow that resonated with a girl who wasn’t quite anything to anyone. But the one thing Beau learned about three wishes is that it’s a tragedy dressed up as a curse. There’s not a person in this world who has access to everything they want and the ability to handle having it. You can have one or the other. Never both.

Maybe that’s what drew Beau to the social sciences. Her endless fascination with why humans do the things they do. Why do humans stick themselves in endless cycles of hate and poverty and strife? That’s why humans create things like gods and superstitions and beliefs. Something to explain the unexplainable.

Beau thought a lot more would make sense by now. It seems the longer she lives the more questions she has.

Beau doesn’t like to talk about it but she has a baby brother. That’s right, much to her parents delight she’s not an only child. One day when she was doing her undergrad, she got a letter in the mail - in a formal announcement of all things. If Beau closes her eyes she can still see it: to the daughter of Mr and Mrs Thoreau Lionett. They couldn’t even address her by name.

Thoreau Lionett II. Yes, the second instead of junior, styled like the son of a king because that’s the kind of guy Thoreau Lionett is.

There’s not a day that goes by that she doesn’t think about what that kid is like. She’s never met him, he’s more than likely been indoctrinated against her by now. It hasn’t mattered for years, not since she found Fjord and Jester. Not since she found her wonderful group of misfits.

She doesn’t need biology when Fjord’s been a brother who loves her for her. She’s never sought out her little brother because she finally found the big brother she always wanted. She knows Fjord always has her back. She’s never needed it but she knows Fjord would drop everything to protect her.

She knows Fjord slept with Jester.

Beau swallows the nauseating bile stirring in her stomach. She can’t lift her head for fear of throwing up and besides that her limbs feel like she’s dragging them through quicksand. She blinks once, twice, and surveys her surroundings. Pam Grier stares back at her but fuzzier then normal.

She’s at her apartment.

Beau blinks.

She searches her brain for any clue about the last however many hours. Where’s her phone? Beau pats the covers around her and swipes her hands beneath both pillows. She forces her eyes open all the way.

Her vision is still fuzzy but she doesn’t see her phone in the direct area. Fuck. That means she has to muster up the energy to stand and look for it. It feels like a full blown workout but she gets out of bed. Okay, that’s an overstatement. She manages to sit up.

“How much did I fucking drink last night,” Beau’s throat feels like sandpaper. She regrets even opening her mouth. She lifts the front of her cutoff up to her nose. Gods, she smells like garbage. “Fuck.”

She clears her throat. Maybe she should drink some water too.

She just needs a minute.

Her mind may be foggy about the what but despite trying to drown it in liquor she can’t burn the why out of her eyes. It would be the first thing she would do if she had the ability.

Fjord. Jester. Fjord and Jester.

A perfect pair. Good things come in even numbers. Nobody ever says three is better than two. Two is even. Two makes sense.

Fjord. Jester. Beau. Fjord and Jester and Beau.

It doesn’t feel as natural as it used to.

Blindsided. That’s the word that keeps floating through her mind. She feels blindsided by the whole thing. For some reason she thought they were going to do this dance around each other forever and ever until the end of time. Always a flirtation, never a thing. Like everyone else, Beau thought it would remain a piece of friend trivia.

Hey guys, remember that time Fjord and Jester had crushes on each other. So glad we got past all that.

The bile roiling her stomach is becoming less of an insistence and more of a pressing need. She sprints to the bathroom just in time to make it to the toilet. Looking at herself in the mirror she looks like a pathetic sight. Her eyes are bloodshot, her face flushed red from a combination of dehydration and the vomiting, her hair matted against her scalp.

Beau needs a shower, grease, fat, pain killers, and reset button. Maybe not in that order.

But definitely shower first.

She lets the hot water run down her face and chest first before she turns and lets it run over her back and hair. The hot water feels good on her tired, aching limbs. Instantly she starts to feel a bit more human. Normally she would take the most economical shower possible to save the environment but right now she needs to feel the scalding hot water burn her skin.

Beau imagines Jester letting her know she’s stealing water from the whales. She ignores the guilt.

The shower gives her the energy to put on clothes and continue to search for her phone. She does two full apartment sweeps before she realizes her dumb drunk ass lost her phone. This might be the first time she’s lost her phone she’s actually thankful for it. If she had to take her best guess, Fjord and Jester are blowing up her phone with texts and calls.

Hell, they’ve probably moved on to social media messages in an effort to exhaust Beau into talking to them. At least this way Beau can remain ignorant. It allows her to keep some semblance of dignity because gods knows she can’t stay mad at them. She knows that given enough time they’re going to give up on calling and texting and direct messaging and track her down.

Beau has never been more thankful to have an ace in the hole. She packs a small duffle bag full of essentials, packs all of her shit for school in her backpack, and walks the whole way to Reani’s. It’s further than she would usually walk, specifically carrying a bunch of shit but she needs to sweat off the rest of her hangover before she shows up.

She tries to ignore the slow thrumming panic that tries to guide her feet to Jester’s. Beau’s not ready to deal with it yet.

Beau took a peek into Pandora’s box, she’s still not ready to deal with what she saw.

***

“You had me worried,” Reani greets Beau as she ushers her inside. She takes a quick look at Beau’s bags and pinches her eyebrows together. “Is everything okay?”

Fjord and Jester hooked up behind her back but only after Beau lied to them about being in a new relationship and also about the fact that she’s mostly jealous that Fjord got to be with Jester and Beau didn’t.

There’s only that.

“It’s all good,” Beau says with a shrug. “You can never be too prepared. Girl Scout code.”

“I find it hard to believe you were ever a Girl Scout,” Reani takes the duffle bag off of Beau’s shoulder and shuts the door behind her.

“Would you believe I dated a former Girl Scout and she had a thing for reciting the code?” Beau tries her best to look cute and disarming.

“That seems like a more likely story,” Reani looks willing enough to take the bait, swayed by Beau’s rough appearance. She’s earned herself at least a few hours of grace to try and sober up. Beau passes out on the couch within the hour cuddled up to Reani.

After Beau wakes up, Reani orders them mission-style burritos from the taco shop down the street and runs out to get them. Beau slowly sips the Pedialite Reani keeps in her pantry for special hangover emergencies.

Reani has her shit together and Beau is what? Beau would love to know what Reani thinks Beau brings to this relationship because it’s beyond her comprehension. She’s eye candy at best and in her current state not even that. She feels like she can hear Reani’s voice in her head telling her to stop being self-deprecating as a defense mechanism.

Nott’s right, Reani is way too good for her. Any moment now she’ll figure that out.

“They threw in extra salsa verde because I told them you look like shit,” Reani kicks the door closed behind her. Beau pops up to take one of the bags out of Reani’s hand so she can lock the door. “I also got carne asada fries.”

“You light up my life.” Beau says to the bags in Reani’s hands but also to Reani. It’s 60/40.

“Always happy to be a bringer of light,” Reani laughs as she flops down onto the couch next to Beau. “Take your burrito and maybe after that explain to me why your phone is going to voicemail and you look like hell. With a lack of information, my mind can only jump to the worst possible conclusion.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“Not a single good conversation in history has ever started with ‘It’s not what you think’ just FYI,” Reani looks at Beau like she’s a fool.

“You right,” Beau acknowledges.

“Eat,” Reani points to Beau’s food. “We’ll talk after.”

Beau takes her burrito and eats in silence. She uses seven little plastic cups of salsa verde as she pours more and more on smaller and smaller bites. Beau wishes she could turn on the tv or some music or something. Being silent with her thoughts isn’t so appealing.

She rip through the burrito, picks up a fork and starts to destroy the carne asada fries. She’s burning through her food even though being done eating means talking and Beau doesn’t have the slightest idea what to say.

There’s no way to explain exactly why she’s so fucked up without saying something completely fucked up. How do you tell a woman you really like that you really like somebody else much more? How do you tell her that there’s a chance that could change someday but maybe it won’t? How do you tell her that you’ve never felt so much pain as when you opened that bedroom door?

How do you tell her that she didn’t cross your mind?

You don’t.

You formulate an acceptable half truth, not a lie, never a lie. A bandaid on a bullet hole - a placeholder until Beau sorts out her feelings. Then Beau will be 100% with Reani and it won’t ever matter that there was a time that she wasn’t. It’s almost half a plan.

It’s as much of a plan as she’ll ever have. It’s not a lie. It’s an augmented pathway to a better future.

Beau always could bullshit with the best of them.

“What happened?”

So Reani wants to cut straight to the point. Beau’s come to expect that from her, she doesn’t know why it surprises her now.

“I went to go meet Jester and Fjord after I left your place yesterday,” Beau takes a deep breath. Rip off the bandaid. “I got some weird texts from the both of them and I knew they wanted to talk to me so whatever, I decided to head down there.”

Beau keeps her eyes on the tv. Reani’s so perceptive that Beau’s afraid eye contact might reveal everything.

“Neither of them were answering their phone, which is weird but it happens right,” Beau loses all of her steam and embarrassingly starts to feel her eyes start to itch and water. She holds back admirably. “Jester and Fjord hooked up behind my back.”

She skips about ten parts of the story but as soon as she started reliving that moment she felt the air flowing through her lungs start to labor. A persistent feeling of dread that characterizes any thought of Jester and Fjord over the last 24 hours.

“I’m new so I’m not sure what the whole dynamic is so don’t think I’m denying your experience but I guess I’m confused,” Reani says after a long pause.

Is this not a normal reaction? Beau scrambles to think if this is already too revealing.

“They did it behind my back,” Beau explains like it’s obvious.

“Isn’t this the first time?” Reani sounds more careful than usual. Beau hates that she’s so easy to read.

“Yeah.”

“When were they supposed to tell you?”

Beau knows that Reani isn’t judging her but she feels defensive anyway. Even if she doesn’t have a good answer.

“I don’t know? Before?”

Reani scoffs.

“Can I offer you my opinion?” It’s a offer sitting out there and Beau knows that Reani would be happy for her to take it or not. She respects that Beau needs to have freedom to acclimate to new ideas as she feels comfortable.

“Go ahead.”

If Beau’s standoffish its only because she doesn’t know how to be open to Reani when her biggest wounds are bared open for everyone to see. They’ve made a lot of progress but Beau doesn’t know if she can be raw in front of Reani yet. Beau needs her armor to function and in the short time they’ve been dating Reani’s already made a few significant punctures.

“I think you’re upset because you feel guilty for lying to them about me,” Reani pauses until she elicits a reluctant nod from Beau. “So you’re injecting a sense of betrayal into their act. That way you feel better about the way you feel like you betrayed them.”

It’s the half truth Beau dreamed up served to her on a platter.

“Am I close?” Reani adds after enough of a pause for Beau to feel how nervous Reani is to be so forthright about something she doesn’t have full knowledge on. Beau admires Reani’s willingness to take some blowback to try and help Beau move forward.

Kind of, Beau wants to say. But that opens up doors that Beau doesn’t want to open.

“You should have been a counselor,” Beau teases instead, clearing her throat as she tries to match what she thinks Reani needs to see.

“Then I couldn’t be the environmental superhero I am today,” Reani jokes. “Back to serious for a minute. You have this whole thing going on right now and we’re not at the point where you’re letting me in.”

“Reani, I’m not holding back it’s too many layers of history and bullshit to explain when I barely want to talk about it.”

“That’s fine,” Reani rushes out. “The fact that you came to me when I know you have so many other places you could’ve gone - all I’m trying to say is.” She cuts herself off. “Your actions tell me all I need to know.”

“You came to me.” Reani adds, her voice lilts in a way that reminds Beau dangerously of Jester.

Reani cuddles up next to Beau and lets the conversation lull back into silence.

***

It’s three blissful days before she finally relents and replaces her phone. Even then its only because Dairon corners her in the office and tells her to answer her goddamn texts or they won’t be helping anymore. Dairon may be terrifying but their mentorship is quite literally saving Beau’s academic life. So, on the third day, Beau says let there be phone.

Her week goes downhill from there.

Three blissful days. Three days she pretends her life revolves around school and Reani and the campus rec center. Three days she almost stops the bleeding.

Terrible things always happen in threes.

Where she could shut out Jester and Fjord she’s now accosted by their digital presence. She can’t bring herself to block their numbers, the principle of it feels dirty and wrong. What she can do is put her phone on do not disturb and set Reani and Dairon as her two safe numbers.

It’s easier that way.

It turns out without having to keep up with her friend group or electronics her productivity shoots through the roof. She takes three days to finish the paper she’s been meandering over for months now. It’s as she expected, international political economy feasts on the pain of innocent grad students. She has enough to go around.

It’s one less thing to worry about.

Beau starts to pack up her things for the evening. Reani’s been texting her all day about the curry she’s made with homemade naan. Beau can fuck up some naan so she’s trying to cut out a little bit early and catch it while it’s still warm and fresh.

She pops in her AirPods and backs through the door that leads out to the back pathway.

She’s somehow surprised to see that Jester’s leaning against the tree outside the exit. She knew it would happen. She knew at least one of them would get tired of being ignored and take the initiative to track Beau down.

Still, it’s a shock to see Jester on campus. She almost never comes here.

Beau takes a moment to drink Jester in. Fall is sweater weather and nobody has a larger collection of soft sweaters than Jester. Her leggings are red today, bold and unavoidable, paired with a subdued black cowl neck sweater. She’s rounding out the look with red fingerless gloves and a black and red knit toque.

She still takes Beau’s breath away but now there’s something sour like the bile roiling in her stomach. Not so terrible you couldn’t live with it but enough that you can’t leave it alone.

Beau never wants to feel poisoned by Jester. It’s so incongruous with rational thought that Beau can’t mentally process it. Even if her body reacts differently.

“Please don’t make me chase you because I have very little shame and I will do it if you make me,” Jester says all in one breath. She looks like she’s readying her body to get between Beau and whatever escape route she may choose. Beau doesn’t put it past Jester to chase her down.

“Can we at least get out of the cold?” Beau asks.

“Only if you promise not to run away. That’s all I ask,” Jester says. “If you agree I am willing to buy you pancakes from Charlotte’s Kitchen. Extra chocolate chips. Extra whipped cream. Absolutely no strawberries.”

Her pathetic stomach betrays her and growls audibly. Beau’s head doesn’t want to trust it and her heart doesn’t want to be hurt any further. Her feet carry her towards Charlotte’s Kitchen at Jester’s mercy.

Then again, when is she not.

***

Halfway through their silent walk Beau remembers to text Reani that she won’t make dinner after all. Reani’s understanding. She’s been exceedingly patient with Beau as she promised she would be. Beau’s too cynical to think this is something that’ll last, everyone seems to get tired of her at some point.

But for now Beau lets it be the relief that it is.

Jester’s drawn into herself. Beau can feel the waves of manic energy flowing from her body.

“Can you chill,” Beau says when it feels like that energy is going to send her over the top as well. It’s already enough that she doesn’t know how to act, she doesn’t need her anxiety kicking in as well.

“Fjord is meeting us there,” Jester blurts out instead.

The energy vanishes.

“Oh.” Beau recovers from being knocked back on her heels. One ambush she can handle but two? She can only blame herself. She should have expected they’d be coordinating.

“You’ve been avoiding us both and we said that if one of us managed to actually convince you to be near us we’d bring the other one in,” Jester rambles. “Though now I feel like maybe that wasn’t a good plan.” She shakes her head. “This is all wrong.”

“At least we agree on that.”

They lapse into silence again. Beau wonders if it’s too late in the game to sprint back to Reani’s where she has curry, naan, and safety waiting for her.

Fjord’s already waiting by the time they get to Charlotte’s. He’s sitting in a booth which creates a whole ordeal from the start. Who sits where? Jester already has a guaranteed seat Beau thinks sarcastically. But Beau? She slides in across from Fjord, giving Jester the final choice. Jester looks at Fjord and then Beau then Beau and back to Fjord again.

“Can we get a table?” Jester physically grabs the first waitress who walks by.

The waitress looks startled for a moment. “It’s self seating.” She points to the otherwise empty restaurant. “I’d say take your pick.” She removes herself from Jester’s grasp and continues towards the kitchen.

“Super!” Jester turns back to them. “I think I’m in a table mood, how about you guys?”

She asks but moves to the table directly to the right of the booth Beau and Fjord are staring at her from. They have a stand-off for a solid minute before Fjord relents and joins Jester. Beau takes a moment to absorb the visual. This is how it’s going to be. Jester and Fjord plus Beau.

She moves to sit with them.

“So, this is pretty fucked up,” Beau draws the different syrup options closer to her and starts playing with the push tabs on top.

“Agreed.” Fjord chimes in.

“We haven’t been the best friends lately,” Jester adds.

The table lapses into silence like all three of them are waiting for someone else to really dig into it. Nobody wants to be the first one. They’ve acknowledged the obvious but that’s easy. It doesn’t take an insider to figure they’ve been massive fuck ups. They’ve been horribly shitty friends lately, there’s no debate.

If Beau’s practicing some of the emotional honesty Reani’s been training her on, she can see a way that this is all her fault. She’s the one who started pulling away first. Changing gyms at random, breaking routines, breaking schedules. She stopped going over to Jester’s as a reflex and replaced one reflex with another - making herself at home with Reani.

That was a choice. This is all a choice. She provided the vacuum, she forced Jester and Fjord to fill the space Beau used to occupy with something big enough to plug the gap.

Then again, if all it took for them to hook up was Beau fucking off for a few months it was gonna happen anyway. The space only accelerated their timeline. Fjord and Jester, an inevitable storm.

Beau looks up. During her distraction, Fjord and Jester have been quietly chatting to each other. Too quiet for Beau to eavesdrop but words aren’t needed for Beau to feel the worn in intimacy. They fit. They make sense. Beau feels like the square peg in this exceedingly round hole.

The waitress emerges from the kitchen, approaches their table, and takes their order. Once she leaves Fjord clears his throat.

“We should talk about this like adults,” He hesitates. “We are all adults, correct?”

“From what I’ve seen,” Beau snarks before she can control herself. “I’ve seen way too much at this point.”

“At least we planned on telling you,” Jester interjects.

Oh okay, the gloves are off.

“Did you guys plan it or were you so pissed off at me you decided to fuck each other?” Beau spits each word like it’s poisonous.

“Does it matter?” Jester throws her hands out in frustration. “Maybe we should have avoided you and pretended everything was fine and then sprung it on you out of blue and expected everyone to be so happy that they forget you’re a liar.”

“If I didn’t use my key I probably still wouldn’t know.”

“We texted you!” Jester fires back. “There was clear intention to tell you. But you never gave us the chance.”

“How was I supposed to know?” Beau’s exhausted with this. She hates fighting with Jester, it makes her skin crawl.

“I don’t know!” Jester crosses her arms over her body.

“Stop it.” Fjord says firmly. “Yelling isn’t going to make it better.”

“I don’t even want to hear from you,” Beau grumbles.

“That’s your choice.” Fjord’s frustratingly adult when it comes to big talks. He makes everything more irritating with his refusal to lower himself to anger and harsh words.

Beau works best when confrontation is heated and frenzied. Fjord forces everything to calm down. Beau’s not the best at finding rational logic when she’s upset. That’s the very nature of being upset, in her opinion. Irrational, passionate, raw.

“Beau, I’m sorry you walked in on me and Jester in bed together. I know it’s cliche but it really did just happen,” Fjord’s understanding sibling voice does weird things to Beau’s heart. “I know you well enough to know you think that’s bullshit but it’s the truth. You know I’ve been hooking up with Avantika,”

“Can we not,” Jester cuts him off.

“It’s important to the story,” Fjord places a hand on Jester’s thigh to calm her. Neither of them seem to realize he’s done it or realize he’s not moving his hand. It’s the only thing Beau can focus on. “Where was I?”

“Fucking Avantika.”

“Right.” Fjord glares at Beau. “I guess this is all to say that the movie night was planned without you but what happened between me and Jester wasn’t the plan.” His hand squeezes Jester’s thigh.

“He’s telling the truth. We were riding the high of trivia and it just happened.”

“Neither of you can actually say you had sex, huh?” Beau cuts in. “You had sex. With each other. This changes everything whether you want it to or not. If you can’t say it you probably shouldn’t have done it.”

“Yeah well you’ve been having sex with Reani all this time and your two best friends didn’t even know she existed,” Jester’s voice raises an octave.

“Are you two dating?” Beau asks point blank.

Fjord and Jester look at each other and then back at Beau. Fjord looks like Beau dropped a ten pound weight on his pinky toe and Jester looks like Beau broke into her house and burned all of her swatches in a dumpster fire.

Fjord takes a deep breath. “We’ve decided to give it a try.”

Beau feels like the universe has a hand around her throat. It starts to squeeze.

“It’s something we would have told you earlier but you blocked us.”

“I lost my phone,” Beau absently strokes her neck. She takes a few sips of water in front of her but everything still feels dry and cut off.

“I told you,” Jester says to Fjord just loud enough that Beau can hear it.

“We don’t want to do this without you,” Fjord pleads, sounding needy for the first time.

“I’m not really into the whole polyamory thing,” Beau deflects.

“Is now really the time for jokes?” Fjord sighs.

Beau wholeheartedly disagrees. When you’re avoiding the slow slogging heartbreak coming your way, every moment is the opportune time for jokes.

“Are we going to be okay?” Jester’s says in a small voice. She looks specifically at Beau who can see now that Jester’s eyes have started to water. “I really need us to be okay, alright? You’re my best friend. I need you.”

It’s a bunch of words that Beau knows and wants to hear but doesn’t want to hear and doesn’t want to know. Everything abnormal hurts, everything normal hurts even worse. Beau has a couple choices here but none of them are ideal. There’s ways to drag this out, extract the maximum amount of pain from the situation, and come out the other end without her two best friends but with her principles intact.

Beau doesn’t want to lose them.

Beau doesn’t want to lose herself in the process of not losing them.

There’s no good options here but that’s okay. Beau takes the least bad option.

“I need you too, Jes,” She reaches out her hand and Jester meets her halfway to snatch it. Beau looks at Fjord. “I need both of you.”

I guess I’m just afraid you’ll be so into each other you won’t need me is what Beau doesn’t say with her head. It physically pains me to see you with him even though he’s my brother and I have someone and I never stood a chance anyway is what she doesn’t say with her heart.

Fjord grabs her other hand. They look like a bunch of fucking nerds holding hands in a triangle. The waitress treats them as such when she brings them their food. They drop their hands.

“How do we make this work?” Jester asks through a huge bite of pancake.

“Communication,” Fjord says. “An excessive amount of communication.”

“We have to make time for each other again,” Beau adds. “Otherwise you two go to your corner and I’ll go to mine.”

“Stop that,” Jester cuts in. “This isn’t a fight. Me and Fjord don’t have a corner, you don’t have a corner. We have like a - a giant beanbag couch and we’re all laying on it. We’re all in this together, Beau.”

“Slow it down, High School Musical,” Fjord laughs and takes a huge bite of sausage.

“Fine,” Beau relents. “I’m willing to try this.”

“And be honest with us too?” Jester adds. “You really hurt me at trivia. I’m your best friend, I want to know things before you know.”

“That might be hard.”

“You hurt me too,” Fjord chases his words with a sip of orange juice.

“I’m sorry,” Beau says genuinely. “I was trying to figure it out by myself and I guess in the process I shut you guys out.”

“We’re a Cerberus,” Fjord’s excited by this metaphor, Beau can already tell. “Three heads on the same monster. Where you go, we’ll always follow.”

“You can’t get rid of us,” Jester piggybacks.

Beau wants to cry. She’s not going to cry right now but she definitely will later. She can’t let something so temporary as feelings take away the very special thing she has with these two.

They are a Cerberus. Three dumbass heads on the same dumbass body.

“Where you go, I go,” Beau says to both of them but finds herself looking at Jester.

“Ditto,” Jester says with a big smile.

Chapter Text

Beau’s been up since the crack of dawn and it feels like most of that time’s been spent chopping vegetables and peeling potatoes. Her fingers are stained with potato juice and her eyes burn constantly from all the fucking onions.

“Rean?” Beau calls from her station at the chopping board. “Did you buy the whole store? Are there any onions left in the city?” Beau pauses. “Why are we making two types of potatoes?” She wipes her eyes carefully with the outside of her forearm. “I have so many questions.”

Reani peeks around the wall that connects the living room and the kitchen. “Less talking, more chopping.”

“But you like talking.” Beau teases.

“Not on Friendsgiving,” Reani wipes an imaginary speck of dirt off the wall. “We’re so behind it’s stressing me out.” Reani pins Beau with a hard stare. “The turkey just got in the oven - an hour late, by the way, thanks to your stupid sexy abs. I haven’t even started on the tofurkey.” She moves into the kitchen a step. “I see the sweet potatoes haven’t hit the oven yet.”

“Sorry boss,” Beau sets the knife down and holds up her hands. “I’m sure we can work together to figure out my punishment.”

Reani almost cracks, Beau sees it. Beau holds Reani’s gaze, curls the right corner of her mouth in a desperate attempt to look sexy. It’s not her fault that Reani’s turned into a Friendsgiving dictator and Beau’s forced to use her body as a weapon. She’s sexy and she knows it and she knows Reani knows it. Plus if Beau has to deal with another potato - sweet or otherwise - she’s gonna lose her fucking mind.

“Don’t you dare,” Reani warns, backing out of the kitchen for her own protection. Beau gets it, she’s a magnetic force. It’s nearly impossible to resist her. “Don’t you dare try to fuck your way out of food prep. I won’t fall for it.”

Reani sounds confident but the way she’s backing up tells Beau the real story. Beau moves forward to advance on Reani but forgets a moment too late about the brown paper bag full of peels at her feet. She trips over it, falls into the refrigerator, and gets potato stains all over the freezer door.

“See, now you have to clean the fridge and get the sweet potatoes in the oven,” Reani laughs. “Sex is a Friendsgiving sin.”

“Beau will remember this,” Beau says as she walks to the sink.

“Beau is a weak ass punk who can’t resist all of this,” Reani responds as she turns the vacuum on.

She’s totally right, damn her.

The vacuum drowns out Reani’s voice. Beau washes her hands even though she’s only going to get them dirty again. She cleans the freezer and surveys the kitchen. It’s her prerogative to complain but a part of her can’t believe she’s here. She can’t believe she’s this person. Beauregard Lionett has a steady girlfriend and they’re hosting a Friendsgiving together.

The world isn’t ending and Beau’s hosting an event with her girlfriend. If Beau from literally any other point in the past arrived in a time machine she would definitely kick Current Beau’s ass. Take a look at me now, Beau thinks as she takes a fork and starts stabbing a bunch of sweet potatoes. The oven is already working on the turkey so Beau tosses the sweet potatoes on the top shelf and removes an item from her mental list.

One less thing to worry about.

There’s not much to worry about these days. It feels like the cheery happy music montage in a romantic comedy. She can’t help but flash to the fantasy of her and Reani flirting in a spontaneous rain storm and kissing on the swings of Beau’s childhood lawn. Not that Beau had swings in her childhood lawn but that’s why it’s a fantasy. Beau’s standing on the spot where the triumphant music swells. Maybe a couple of months ago Beau would feel like this is the calm before the storm - the treat before the trick.

“I don’t hear chopping!” Reani yells over the vacuum’s loud roaring.

“Yes ma’am,” Beau mumbles under her breath, she doesn’t fight the smile that spreads across her face.

She knows Reani isn’t really mad. Beau’s been integral and dare she say crucial to the execution of Friendsgiving. She’s taken on all kinds of shit, not just meal prep.

The decorations are Beau’s pet project. Reani provided the guidelines but Beau’s the one who goes all out. She’s never actually decorated for something like this before because she’s never really had a reason to do it. Jester always goes back to Nicodranis but otherwise they’re a weird bunch of orphans not particularly inclined to event planning. So not for lack of love but maybe lack of willpower, they never organized something like this before.

It’s probably because the person who would be most inclined to do that is the only one who leaves town. Beau figures the rest of them would only function at 50 percent or less if they didn’t have Jester in their life.

Not that any of them like to think about not having Jester.

Fjord and Jester remain oblivious in their little honeymoon phase. In the spirit of the Charlotte’s agreement Beau asks Jester to break tradition and come to Friendsgiving because she’s fucking trying, okay?

Maybe a little part of her asks hoping Jester will decline and Beau gets participation points for trying.

Jester says yes.

Beau flips the fuck out and spends over 100 dollars at Party City.

So maybe she’s not coping as well as she’s previously let on. But she’s trying her best and any day now hopes to be completely cured.

Beau stands there and admires the silk tablecloth and the flock of paper turkeys she’d thrown into the cart in a manic rage and was too embarrassed to put back. Not even when the cashier offered her a cowards way out and accidentally forgot to scan a few of them. Beau made two separate transactions.

Yes.

This is her masterpiece.

Three sharp knocks on the door alert Beau to the first of many guests.

It’s showtime.

***

The apartment feels like it’s bursting at the seams with their friends. There’s at least five separate conversations going on and at least three more side conversations. Beau keeps close to the back wall. All the people here and not the one she’s looking forward to see.

Jester said she was coming.

Beau didn’t do all of this for Caduceus and a bunch of Reani’s friends who are really nice but that’s all Beau knows about them. There’s only so much small talk she can have about what she does, what she plans to do with that, wouldn’t it be better to do something in tech, blah blah blah. The same bullshit over and over again until Beau can’t separate one person from another.

She needs Jester. Or rather, she needs her both of her best friends. It’s not unlike Jester to be late because she always has to look perfect but Beau didn’t think she would be as late as she is.

Reani comes over to lean next to Beau on the wall. Beau’s seen Reani nurse a glass or two of red wine. White wine is safe, it makes Reani sleepy but red wine makes her flirty and a little wild. She currently seems somewhere between the two. “Five more minutes and I’m starting.”

“They’ll be here,” Beau assures them both.

“I can fix them a plate,” Reani offers.

“They’ll be here.”

“Okay,” Reani says quietly, backing away.

Beau checks her phone. How long before she starts calling emergency rooms and, fuck, who else do you call? She looks through her text threads with Fjord and Jester, both of them have the address. Fjord can be pretty stubborn so maybe he ignored the directions and now they’re lost.

Male pride is a hell of a thing.

Fours minutes.

Three.

Two.

There’s frantic knocking at the door. Beau rushes past everyone through the living room to open the door.

“Fjord got us lost I’m so sorry I should have never let him guide us,” Jester says in one breath. She pauses only to tackle hug Beau in the next moment.

“I knew it,” Beau says to herself.

“Knew what?” Jester asks as she pulls away.

“Nothing.” Beau turns her attention to Fjord. “Good job, bro, you almost missed the fruits of my labor. I suffered for this meal, I bled for it.”

Fjord steps in and closes the door behind him. “Telling people you bled in their food is not as appetizing as you might think it is.”

“Don’t make me eject you from Friendsgiving.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Fjord says with a smile as he leans down to hug Beau.

He steps back and takes Jester’s hand.

Jester looks past the crowd at the table. “Those decorations are so pretty!”

Beau blushes.

Reani pops out from the crowd. “Let’s eat!” She inclines her glass towards the ceiling. Beau has a mini-heart attack as she watches the wine slosh perilously towards the brim of the glass.

Forgetting Jester and Fjord for the time being she rushes over to her girlfriend before she has to replace her carpet.

Reani is the kind of person who makes everyone go around the table and say what they’re thankful for. She goes first and says she’s thankful that after feeling so alone, she’s glad she’s able to fill her home with family and love.

She turns and looks specifically at Beau when she says love. Beau feels her body temperature raise five degrees. That’s a thing that’s been happening more often, these little moments where Reani pauses too long before speaking, stares at Beau just a little too long, studies her face for something that she hasn’t quite seen yet because she always pulls back disappointed. Not enough that anybody else would know but Beau reads Reani like her favorite book.

One of her favorites.

Reani takes a big sip of wine and looks pointedly at Beau.

Beau takes the hint and stands. “Right, uh - fuck I’m not good at this shit.” Beau shifts her weight from side to side. “Sorry for saying fuck.” She pauses. “And shit.” Jester looks at her like she’s crazy. “Also for saying them again when I apologized for saying them.”

She sees the moment Jester mentally facepalms.

“I’m here all night,” Beau mutters self-deprecatingly. “Something I’m thankful for.” She trails off. “This year is full of things to be thankful for.” Beau turns towards Reani. “I’m thankful for Reani, the whole reason I’m here.”

Reani sighs and soaks up the moment, blushing when her friends give her knowing looks.

“Believe me, I mean that in so many ways,” Beau’s bordering on uncomfortably open but the words keep spilling out of her mouth. She turns towards Jester and Fjord again. She sees them both but her focus is only ever on Jester. “I’m so thankful for my friends who I couldn’t live without. Jester, thank you for staying here with me when you could have gone home.”

Jester mouths ‘you’re welcome’ and Beau follows the movement of her lips for just a fraction too long. She feels curious eyes on her neck and at that moment remembers observant fucking Caduceus sitting to her left.

“Last but not least thanks Cad and Fjord for being here I love you guys - cheers!” Beau rushes out and downs her wine before anybody can say anything to her. She forces herself to only witness Jester’s blinding smile in her periphery.

She looks away and then Reani’s passing her the sweet potatoes she labored over and the moment’s gone.

***

After dinner the majority of the crowd filters out, some going home while others are working the Friendsgiving circuit. Beau respects the hustle and she doesn’t hate having a little more space. The crush of people around her makes her anxious if it lasts too long.

Caduceus reminds Reani of their dinner date because that’s a thing and then he claims he has other places to be and leaves.

Everyone follows quickly from there, they filter out one by one until it’s only Reani and Beau left with Fjord and Jester. Fjord’s debating calling it a night when Reani, now three glasses in and feeling fun, suggests they stay and play games. Fjord’s reluctant but he eventually relents after Jester begs him.

Reani doesn’t whip out the hardcore games. Everyone except Jester is way past the alcohol limit for reading rules and figuring out strategy. Even Beau’s starting to feel the effect of her whiskey as warmth spreads through her limbs. She can feel the warmth of Reani’s skin heating up her own.

Beau’s thinking about the logistics of pulling a quickie in the bathroom, how she would distract her best friends, how they’d explain it all away when Reani pulls a card game from underneath the table and starts reading the brief rules and Beau realizes what she’s pulled out.

“Babe, no.” Beau reaches out for the deck of cards but Reani’s quick to pull them out of Beau’s reach.

“Babe yes,” Reani mimics Beau’s cadence. In her hand is a card game that Beau grabbed and threw into the cart as a joke during their last trip to the game store. Reani wanted to buy a bunch of dice for the D&D session she runs with a couple of her work friends so Beau made it her mission to find a stupid, racy game. She gifted it to Reani as a joke.

Talk Flirt Dare was Beau’s choice because the box had nice graphic design and Beau loves a good glossy black box. Here’s how the game works. There are three types of cards that represent three levels of danger: talk, flirt, and dare. Beau feels like its pretty self-explanatory after that. You get into teams of couples and then house rules take over from there. You could probably make it an innocent party game with just the talk cards. They’re mostly benign questions on par with Would You Rather games.

Flirt and Dare, quite obviously, are where the game claims things get spicy. Beau works up the courage to protest again but Jester suddenly looks enthusiastic.

“This looks like so much fun,” She turns to Fjord and he doesn’t look half as thrilled. He looks like he’s on the same page as Beau. He gives Beau a ‘help’ look but she just shrugs. She’s not under any illusion she’s calling the shots here and she would hope Fjord is smart enough to know the same is true for him. The best Beau can do now is keep their glasses full and hope disaster doesn’t strike.

Beau tops off her whiskey.

They pull a few talk cards back and forth. Answering dumb questions like ‘which one of your partners outfits is your favorite one’ and ‘if you and your partner quit your jobs to become bloggers what kind of blog would you write’. It’s a snore fest, Beau feels a yawn coming on.

“This sucks,” Beau lets go and yawns. She feels her shoulders droop afterwards. The whiskey is starting to drag her down.

“Maybe we’re not playing it right,” Reani pulls the directions out and searches for whatever it is they’re missing.

They let Reani search and get frustrated and then read the same four paragraphs over and over again before she finally gives up and starts flipping through the cards.

“These are all really stupid,” Reani says, tossing them to the side in disgust. “What a waste of 10 bucks.”

Jester reads a couple of the flirt and dare cards. She rolls her eyes. “These are so boring, I mean, come on. You couldn’t do better than this? At least try.”

“I bought it because it looked stupid not awesome,” Beau crosses her arms over her chest. That’s the last time she gives Reani a joke gift.

Jester sighs. “Why don’t we just play truth or dare?” She perks up. “Oh my gosh, guys, it’ll be just like a sleepover. I always wanted to have sleepovers but - that’s not the point. Can we?” She looks between Fjord and Beau. “Please?”

She pokes out her bottom lip.

They’re both goners.

Beau feels the night slowing coming unhinged now that they’re sitting around with cups full of alcohol in Reani’s apartment about to play truth or dare. Beau thanks the gods that more people left otherwise she might find herself in bizarro world playing spin the bottle and kissing Reani’s cubicle mate or something.

“Who wants to start?” Reani asks, looking excited and a little tired but mostly excited. “This is so cool, I never got to have sleepovers either. We should make a pillow fort.” She shakes off her own idea. “Later, later.”

“I’ll start. Beau, truth or dare,” Fjord cuts her off sounding tired of this before it even begins.

“Dare,” Beau says, knowing he’s the least likely of them all to do something risky. Plus, if she banks her dares now she can claim she’s been brave when they challenge her to do something that really scares her.

“I dare you to do five push ups with Reani on your back.”

Thank the gods for Fjord.

“Bro,” Beau fakes hurt. “Only five?”

Reani giggles and touches Beau’s bicep. “Put your money where your mouth is.”

Jester and Fjord ooh and ah and point their fingers. Beau gets down on the floor, directs Reani into position, and gives her instructions on the signal to sit. “Ready?”

“To literally ride you like a bull for eight seconds?” Reani scoffs. “I’d volunteer if I wasn’t already voluntold.”

“Get a room,” Fjord drolls.

Beau gives Reani the signal to sit on her back and pumps out six push ups as sweat trickles down from her hair line. The last one exists only to show Fjord up and show off her impressive skills. That’s what her strict ab regime gets her - party tricks.

“We’re circling back to this,” Reani’s voice is breathy and she immediately takes a drink of her wine as she sits.

“Anyway,” Jester cuts in sharply, she looks like right at Beau and then back to Fjord. “Fjord, I dare you to kiss me.”

Fjord laughs nervously.

He leans over and kisses Jester on the lips. It’s only a second but Beau notices everything. The way his lips dwarf hers in size, Jester disappears behind his large presence. The stillness of their lips until Fjord adds the lightest pressure. Jester is so grand with her personality that Beau sometimes forgets how tiny she really is. Fjord makes it completely obvious.

Fjord leans back. “I think you’re supposed to say truth or dare first.”

“Oh,” Jester says with mock concern. “I guess I must have forgotten.”

“It wasn’t even your turn,” Beau searches Jester’s face but her face is a mask. Beau wasn’t fast enough.

“It’s just a stupid game,” Jester crosses her arms over her chest. Fjord places his hand on her forearm but she subtly pulls away.

So much for the honeymoon phase.

“My turn.” Beau looks at Jester. In her selfish, irrational mind she has a theory. She looks at Reani. “I dare you to kiss me.” She pauses and looks at Jester then back at Reani. “With tongue.”

Reani shakes her head. “Do you guys not know how to play truth or dare?” She scoots closer to Beau anyway and whispers. “You’re lucky I like the dare.”

Reani teases Beau’s lip, chasing them once, twice before coming back the third time with enough pressure. Beau leans closer and feels Reani’s tongue swipe across her lips. Beau lets Reani take charge. In her periphery, she sees Jester focusing on them with startling intensity. Reani rubs her fingers over Beau’s earlobe in the way she knows make Beau weak.

Beau forgets to test her theory.

Jester’s clearing her throat, Beau hears it through the haze.

“We’re still here, just in case you were wondering,” Jester glares at Beau.

Reani deescalates the game and gets really into daring them all to do pranks. Actually, for a while it becomes less of a game of truth or dare and more Reani telling them to do stuff. They have a lot more fun once they’re not testing the limits of their tenuous peace.

After a while they get bored with Reani telling them what to do. Beau doesn’t know how that leads to Reani pulling out her dice collection but now Reani and Jester are talking at an extremely high octave about how the dice are so pretty.

“Can I roll this one?” Jester holds up a purple and pink iridescent d20 die.

“Go ahead,” Reani pushes the dice tray towards Jester. “What are the stakes?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s bad luck to roll dice for no reason,” Reani says slowly. “I thought everybody knew that.”

“Oh,” Jester says like she gets it. “Those stakes, yes, uh huh why didn’t you say it like that the first time.”

They take turns shouting out stupid things to roll for. Fjord asks the dice if he’s going to get a promotion anytime soon and then later cracks and asks it if his supervisor, Vandren, will ever be proud of him. The dice give him the answers he wants and he leans back on the couch. Reani and Beau keep shouting out options for Jester and soon enough they look over to find Fjord’s fallen asleep.

“Boo,” Reani dismisses him. “Men can never hang.”

Jester laughs then covers her mouth and looks guilty.

“Do you want some wine?” Reani asks Jester since her water glass is finally empty. “I know you don’t really drink but it’s a holiday.” She stops in her tracks. “Sorry that was really peer pressure-y, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“It’s my family wine,” Beau adds reluctantly. “We - well, I, thought it would be funny to buy a bottle and serve it to everyone.” Beau looks at Jester’s blank expression. “I guess it’s funnier in my head.”

Jester looks at Beau for a second too long before turning back to Reani. “I’ll have a glass.” Reani says she’ll be right back and walks to the kitchen. “Don’t overfill it!” Jester yells at Reani’s retreating back.

Beau takes advantage of the moment they have alone. “Everything good?”

“Yeah?” Jester looks around the room. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“I don’t know, that whole thing with Fjord was a little weird,” Beau keeps her voice hushed.

“Me and Fjord are dating, we kiss and do other stuff too,” Jester adds as an afterthought.

“Other stuff.”

“Other stuff,” Jester reiterates with a sharp edge that tells Beau to back off because there’s danger down that path. Beau relents.

“Anyway, I’m glad you guys came and I’m really glad you’re staying and hanging out,” Beau leans her forearms on her knees. “I know you gave up time with your mom and I know how important that is to you.”

Jester looks touched like she doesn’t know what to do with that. She looks away from Beau towards the kitchen. To Beau it looks like she’s pleading with Reani to come back.

“Mama totally understood,” Jester looks back at Beau. “She knows we’ve had a rough time lately and she knows how important you are to me. She told me it would be wrong if I didn’t stay,” Jester shakes her head and wipes the corner of her right eye with her wrist. “She always knows what to say.”

“I wish I had that skill.”

Jester looks up and meets Beau’s eyes. “You do.”

Beau doesn’t break the stare, there’s some kind of current crackling around them that seems to have sprouted up from nowhere.

“Bad news guys,” Reani walks out of the kitchen, already putting on her jacket. “I need to run to the corner store real fast to grab another corkscrew because I just got ours stuck.”

“By yourself?” Beau turns away from Jester, she feels the energy die down around her.

“Babe, it’s on the corner,” Reani’s already halfway out the door. “I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“I call the FBI at eleven minutes,” Beau warns.

“Do what you must.” Reani shuts the door with a bang. Beau looks over at Fjord but he’s still fast asleep, in fact, if she listens he’s starting to snore - loudly.

“He does that,” Jester says to no one in particular.

Beau hates any and all allusions to Fjord and Jester’s bedroom activities. She does her very best to strike that comment from her mental records.

Jester starts playing with the dice again.

“Are you trying to curse yourself?” Beau asks when Jester rolls the d20 over and over again without clearly stating what she’s hoping to find out. Beau can tell there’s clear stakes involved but she’ll be damned if she knows what they are.

“I don’t believe in curses.”

“You don’t have to believe in things for them to be real,” Beau adds. “Like Reani creates all of these educational modules for global warming awareness classes and her whole teaching has to revolve around this idea that you can see something, know something, and still not believe it exists.”

Jester’s nodding along with what Beau’s saying but it feels like she’s staring straight through her.

She stays that way for a while, long enough that Beau starts to feel awkward. Just when Beau gives up, Jester speaks.

“What do you feel when you kiss Reani?”

Beau shuts her mouth.

Jester waits.

Beau opens and shuts her mouth.

Jester waits.

“Jest-“

“Forget I said anything,” Jester cuts off a fake laugh. “What a weird question, it’s late. We should probably go.” She turns to wake Fjord.

“Fucking confident and awesome and safe,” Beau says to the air. Jester stops reaching for Fjord and looks back to Beau. “Like I’m the biggest badass in the world,” Beau sounds like a tool but something compels her to keep talking. “It’s cool, man. All that shit I used to laugh at and make fun of.”

Beau sees the part of Jester who loves princesses and castles and dragons and princes but she’s trapped behind the quiet, contemplative Jester who nods silently. It’s like Jester is filing away this information for later dissection. It occurs to Beau what she said, she makes herself smaller on the couch.

“Huh,” Jester says quietly under her breath. It barely qualifies as audible but it’s something. She stares at the deep blue brass d20 sitting in the dice tray and picks it up. “1 through 10 or 11 through 20?”

“11 through 20,” Beau answers automatically. “What are you rolling for?”

“You’ll find out,” Jester starts rolling the die between her fingers. She closes her eyes and blows on it once. She starts shaking it in her hand. “Or you won’t.” She rolls the die into the tray.

Natural 20.

Jester stares at the face of the die for a really long time. Long enough that Beau considers asking what’s wrong but at this point she’s tired of asking. And, to be honest, she’s curious enough about whatever the fuck this means that she’s willing to play along.

It feels dangerous like playing chicken in the parking lot of her high school on Saturday nights with her low life friends. Because what’s cooler than spending your Saturdays at school trying to kill each other?

Jester turns and starts to shake Fjord. Hard.

He wakes up in a huff and puff of nonsense Briticisms and then seems to realize where he is.

“I feel asleep?”

“It’s time to go,” Jester’s moving through the room collecting all of their stuff. “I’m really really tired.”

“Wait,” Beau scrambles up. She has no idea how Jester got from a Nat 20 to flight risk but Jester’s moving too fast for her to catch up.

Fjord’s big sluggish body takes longer to get going but Jester’s waiting by the door and she can’t look at Beau for more than three seconds at a time while she waits for Fjord to get his ass in gear.

Beau catches the flush on Jester’s cheeks but that can easily be attributed to her growing impatience with Fjord.

“Fjord,” Jester snaps one last time.

“It was a lovely night. Tell Reani she has a beautiful home and thank you for inviting us,” Fjord hugs her as Jester drags him out the door. Beau can hear Fjord scolding Jester until they get out of her earshot. She keeps the door open and watches them until they disappear.

“Our pleasure,” Beau says on autopilot way after the fact.

What the fuck was that?

She goes through the motions of attempting clean up. Thank the gods Beau decided to do the dishes right after dinner. If she had to do them right now she might explode. Her body continues on as its programmed to do but her mind is all over the place.

A few minutes later Reani comes home, takes one look at the empty apartment, and gives Beau a questioning look.

“Fjord wanted to go,” Beau lies. She doesn’t know why she lies, it doesn’t feel like she should be lying but at the same time it feels incredibly important that she lies.

“That’s a bummer, I wanted to build a pillow fort.”

“We don’t need them to build a pillow fort.”

“Did something happen?” Reani asks.

Beau grunts her response and busies herself with cleaning. After her question gets blown off, Reani helps Beau quietly. Once they get the room to a place where it’s not stressful to think about Beau lets Reani lead her to bed. For one of the first times Reani tries to initiate sex and Beau is genuinely not into it.

She tells her as much and Reani says she understands. Beau knows that can’t possibly be true when Beau doesn’t even understand.

Reani holds her instead. Beau waits until she feels Reani’s breath slow to a steady rhythm. Beau stares at the walls, she catalogues the cracks and shapes and stains. She thinks of Jester and mystery and the book she could fill with the things she doesn’t know.

Beau should know better than to trust the high point, the only thing you can do is fall.

Chapter Text

Jester refuses to talk about what happened so adamantly that Beau believes she dreamed it all up. They all had a fair amount to drink that night, not enough to get fucked up but enough that things clearly got a little weird.

Maybe Beau’s making a big deal out of nothing. It could be a completely innocuous incident. It’s the lack of the knowledge that kills Beau. If she only knew something one way or the other she wouldn’t be obsessing about it. Every time they hang out Beau tries to get Jester alone. All she wants to do is get some information. Once she knows that it’s nothing she’ll stop obsessing.

But Jester is actively avoiding being alone with Beau. That should be a flashing sign that says it was a genuinely weird moment. Why else would Jester be avoiding alone time? Beau and Jester used to spend so much time alone and now it feels like they might never have a moment to themselves again.

Fjord is an easier nut to crack. As long as Beau wants to lift with him and is still actively talking to him he’s fine. He doesn’t press the issue. In fact, they don’t talk about Jester much at all. Beau doesn’t make it an official rule so that’s all down to Fjord’s natural intuition.

She hopes he doesn’t have any intuition about Friendsgiving. The question Jester asked about what Beau feels when she kisses Reani, it almost felt like Jester was looking for a certain answer. From Jester’s reaction Beau can’t tell you if she found what she was looking for. Fjord doesn’t act like anything’s wrong so Beau has nothing to go on. It feels like torture.

This drags on through the holiday season. Beau finishes out her semester, somehow passes, and decides to stay in town for the holidays with Reani. The in town part was never in question but with Reani feels like a huge step. At this point Beau comes to the terrifying realization that she’s getting serious with Reani.

They put up a tree. It’s real and makes Beau sneeze but Reani wanted a real tree so a real tree she gets. They decorate it with multicolored lights and hang the few ornaments Reani has. It’s not the best tree Beau’s ever seen but now it’s her favorite Christmas tree.

Beau’s never had a girlfriend to buy a Christmas gift. She thinks about asking Jester to go shopping with her but begs off at the last minute. She asks Caleb instead which is an ordeal. Nott invites herself and has clearly been day drinking when she meets up with them. They end up getting thrown out of the best Barnes and Noble in the mall and banned for life all because Nott decided to try to play a prank on Caleb and ended up knocking down three stacks of bookshelves - one nearly injuring an elderly seasonal worker.

Safe to say Beau doesn’t get Reani’s gift that day. She has to do her best without any help. She feels like she’s floating in the middle of the ocean on a broken wooden plank. Before long Christmas Eve comes and Beau’s filled with anticipation.

“Let’s open presents,” Reani’s very much a Christmas person. The excitement rolls off of her in waves. Beau can’t help but be swept up in it.

“Are you sure?” Beau asks. “You don’t want to wait until tomorrow? We won’t have anything to open.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Reani argues.

“Uh huh,” Beau pretends to look like she’s thinking it over but to be honest she’s been dying to see Reani’s face when she opens her gift.

Reani takes a big bite of gingerbread cookie and tries to talk around the crumbs. “Please, please, pretty please Beau.” She drags out the vowels in Beau’s name.

It’s endearing even with the crumbs on her lips and the rest flying onto the couch. Beau feels tingling that starts in her chest and radiates through her stomach. She’s been feeling that more and more lately. It’s a feeling without a name.

“I don’t know,” Beau teases.

“Say yes,” Reani kneels in front of Beau and presses her hands together. She holds them hands out pleading. “Say yes, and make me the happiest girl in the world.”

Beau feels that funny feeling again. “You got me.”

Reani stands up from the floor and perches on Beau’s lap. “I know.”

Beau feels weirdly nervous as she sits there with a carefully wrapped box resting on her lap. Reani ran to her room to grab Beau’s gift but it’s been a few minutes. Beau starts to overthink things. What if her gift is too basic? She’s agonized over it but she didn’t have any help. Beau’s never been the most thoughtful person but she wants to do this right.

“That took forever,” Reani complains as she emerges from the hallway. “I might have forgotten where I hid the gift but not to worry,” She pauses shift the item in her hand. “I found it.”

“Awesome.”

Reani motions for Beau to come sit in front of their tree. Beau takes her gift and sits cross legged in front of Reani, their fuzzy socks are touching as they sit across from each other. Beau’s not much for social media but she feels like this is a pretty postable picture.

“Who goes first?” Beau asks.

“Doesn’t matter, either way.”

Beau doesn’t love that answer because it puts the choice back on her. If she goes first she rips the bandaid off and gets it over with.

She holds the present out. “Merry Christmas.”

Reani compliments the wrapping paper that Beau specifically picked out because it reminded her of Reani. Who does that? She even took the time to wrap it herself.

As Reani carefully peels the tape from the paper and opens the box without any rips or tears Beau starts to get nervous. She went way overboard, this is probably way too much. How’s she supposed to know? She’s never done this before.

Reani pulls a medium sized blue box out of the wrapping paper. “Beau,” She says with a hitch in her voice. “Are you kidding me?”

She lifts open the blue box and laying flat on black velvet is a thin rose gold chain with a small engraved bar hanging from the end. Reani covers her mouth with her hand.

“It has your birthday engraved in Roman numerals,” Beau offers.

“Beau.” Reani’s muffled from behind her hand.

“It’s weird. It’s weird, right?” Beau looks down at the floor.

“Shut up,” Reani laughs through a little sob. “You’re not ruining this beautiful moment.” Reani pulls the necklace out of it’s box, hands it to Beau and turns around on the carpet. She slides back so Beau’s cradling her. “Put it on me.”

Beau’s hands shake as she reaches up to gently brush Reani’s hair around her shoulder. She exposes Reani’s neck. She trails her finger down Reani’s spine, stopping at the collar of her shirt. “Hold your hair.”

Beau wills her hands to stop shaking as she tries and tries to release the tiny clasp. She has nimble fingers, she’s coordinated, why is this so fucking hard. She doesn’t want to break it.

“Do you need help?” Reani asks after thirty seconds pass.

“I got it,” Beau keeps stubbornly working the little eye hook until she gets it open. “Fucking finally.” She mumbles under her breath.

Her hands won’t stop shaking as she reaches around Reani’s neck until her hands meet again at the back.

“Beau,” Reani puts her hand on Beau’s arm and squeezes. “Relax.”

Beau takes a deep breath.

She clasps the necklace on Reani’s neck in one try. Reani turns around until she’s straddling on each side of Beau’s knees. “How does it look?”

Beau looks at where the bar falls at the top of Reani’s cleavage. That weird feeling tears through her chest and Beau has to look away.

“It’s perfect.”

Reani clasps one hand behind Beau’s neck and uses the other to reach behind her to grab her own carefully wrapped present. “Full disclosure, I paid for gift wrapping when I bought this so feel free to rip the paper.”

“How do you know I didn’t pay for mine?”

“It was perfectly imperfect,” Reani answers automatically. “Just like you.”

Beau turns to hide her blush. Reani uses the hand on the back of Beau’s next to make Beau look at her. “Don’t hide from me.” The moment feels too heavy so Beau reaches for her gift with grabby hands. Reani laughs and it breaks the suffocating tension.

It’s got a bit of weight to it. Beau examines the shape and comes to the conclusion its a book. With Reani’s permission she tears off the paper and tosses it over her shoulder. Reani laughs at the mess Beau’s made.

Beau stops. She looks up at Reani and sees Reani break off her laugh nervously.

“It’s not fancy but I remember you talking about it a couple times,” Reani rambles. “You said you lost your copy when you moved into your apartment and you never got around to replacing it.” Reani trails off and looks at Beau. “It’s silly.”

“No.”

Beau examines the book with awe. *Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace* is her favorite book. She vaguely remembers telling Reani about her loss but she didn’t expect Reani to file that away and do this. It’s nothing close to new - the spine and pages are old, worn and beat down. Whoever the previous owner was must have loved this book as much as Beau does.

It’s so thoughtful Beau doesn’t know what to do with all of the feelings she’s feeling. It makes her want to burn her whole life down to only focus on this. She feels like fire exposed to oxygen, flaring out with reckless abandon.

There aren’t words. Beau carefully sets her book down to the side and wraps her arms around Reani, pulling her in so their bodies melt into each other. Beau tucks her head in Reani’s neck and breathes in.

“Beau,” Reani mumbles into her neck.

“Hmm.”

There’s a long pause.

“Reani?”

“I don’t want to say it.”

“Say what?”

“Forget about it,” Reani turns her head so her face is tucked all the way into Beau’s shoulder.

Beau pulls away.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Reani admires her new necklace, she takes advantage of the fact that Beau’s holding her to run her fingers over the engraving. “You amaze me every day.”

“So do you,” Beau says. “I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much from one person. I’m so glad you haven’t given up on me.”

Reani looks past Beau. She looks far away and Beau lets her work out whatever it is she needs to work out. “Stop.”

“I’m not doing anything,” Beau squints and tries to decode Reani’s face.

“You’re making me fall in love with you,” Reani says in one quiet run on sentence. “Against my better judgement.” She adds looking directly at Beau.

Beau opens and shuts her mouth a few times. Reani keeps her eyes on Beau fueled by the outside of reality feel of the holiday season. Nobody has ever told Beau they love her and technically Reani still didn’t but she said that she’s falling in love with Beau. That feels like a lot of responsibility that Beau doesn’t know she’s ready for.

“I think I’m falling for you too,” Falls out of Beau’s mouth before she can filter.

“Good,” Reani says softly.

“Good,” Beau leans back, taking Reani with her. For once she’s the big spoon as Reani lays on Beau’s chest. Eventually they fall asleep in front of the tree.

Beau marks this down as her best Christmas on record.

***

Beau’s been living for three days in a world that she doesn’t quite understand but enjoys all the same. They say I Love You for the weirdest stuff just to say it. Beau takes out the trash, I Love you. Reani cooks dinner, I Love You. Beau yells at the neighbor kid to stop doing ollies with his new skateboard in the hallway, well, you get the picture. All Beau wants to do is share this with her best friends but Jester’s still being weird even after her trip to Nicodranis.

There’s no way Beau ends the year feeling this distant from Jester so she takes things into her own hands and shows up at Jester’s place. She doesn’t use her key, hasn’t used it since that day. Instead she knocks like a normal person and waits patiently until the door finally opens wide.

“Hey,” Beau says for lack of anything better.

“Hi.”

“Can I come in?” Beau edges into the doorway.

“Sure.” Jester steps out of the way and closes the door behind Beau. Beau still feels at home, it’s a reflex more than a state of being. She plops down on the couch and stretches out.

“How was home?” Beau asks.

“Home’s good.” Jester sits in the armchair next to the couch. Beau misses the times when Jester wouldn’t hesitate to invade Beau’s personal space. She hates this cold war they’re waging.

They sit and make idle chatter. Beau prods more into Jester’s home visit and finds out that Fjord drove down the coast for a day to see Jester and Marion. Beau tells Jester about Christmas with Reani. Jester hangs on every word of the gift exchange story but her excitement seems hollow. Finally Beau stops because she can’t take it anymore.

All she wants is for her best friend to freak out with her. A woman, a real adult woman, is falling for Beau and Beau is sure she’s falling right back. Beau’s never really wanted to hold hands and jump up and down but if there ever was a time. Jester’s not giving her anything to work with.

Beau sighs. “We can’t keep going like this.”

Jester looks out her front window, it’s not much of a view but it seems to have Jester’s attention. “I’m sorry,” She looks back at Beau. “I am very excited for you, I promise. I’m just distracted.”

“What can I do?” Beau feels desperate already. She sits up straight and looks at Jester even though Jester won’t look at her for more than a few seconds at a time. “It feels like everything I do and say is the wrong thing.” Beau allows Jester to see her desperation. “I want everything to be easy like it used to be.”

“You haven’t done anything,” Jester insists. “Not since you lied but you apologized for that and didn’t do it again.”

“Then what?”

Jester gets so closed off when she shuts down. It’s the one wall that Beau has trouble breaking down. She looks like she’s carefully considering how to say what she’s going to say. Jester starts and stops twice before she sighs and in one breath says, “When did everything get so complicated?”

“That’s the question of the year,” Beau answers. She wishes she had even one answer. She doesn’t need all of the answers, but even a single one would be nice. Beau fidgets with the bottom of her shirt, fraying the loose threads along the bottom. If she keeps up this level of anxiety next year she’s going to need a whole new wardrobe.

“Please talk to me,” Beau sounds too desperate for her own taste. “I don’t know how to not be checking in with you every day to tell you the stupid shit that happened or the funny prank I pulled on Dairon or fucking, I don’t know, everything.”

“I miss those things too.”

“Then why can’t we just go back to normal?” Beau pleads. She has everything she wants except for this. All she wants is this and then her life makes sense.

Jester turns back. She blinks once, twice, and then her eyes turn sad. “How do you know when you love someone?”

Beau pictures golden freckles, light brown eyes, and platinum blonde hair then pretty dresses, buns that look like coiled horns, and the feeling of coming home. “I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask.” Beau looks back down at her shirt. “What does Fjord think?”

“I haven’t asked him.”

Two and two aren’t adding up to four.

“Are you guys fighting?” Beau looks up and risks Jester’s wrath but it doesn’t come.

“I don’t think so,” Jester says softly.

“You’re not sure?”

Jester stands up suddenly and starts pacing in front of the tv. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Beau tracks Jester’s movement with her eyes. “There could never be anything wrong with you.”

Jester stops and gives Beau a curious look. “Why do you do that?”

“What?” Beau suddenly feels like an interrogation light is shining in her eyes.

“Say things like that to me.” Jester says with a look Beau’s only seen a few times. She’s never known what it meant, it’s the one look she never catalogued.

Beau shrugs. It doesn’t feel like Jester wants her words.

“I want and I want and I want,” Jester continues talking to herself out loud. “Then I get what I want and then I want and I want some more.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Beau cuts in.

“I’m never satisfied.” Jester says slowly. She stops and looks at Beau intently. “I keep reaching the finish and then moving the line to a different spot.”

Beau speaks Jester fluently but none of this is translating to anything that makes sense. She’s starting to feel worried when Jester stops and sits down on the couch next to Beau. Beau’s heart starts beating hard for a completely different reason.

“Do you want to know what I rolled?” Jester asks as she turns her entire body to face Beau.

Beau wants to say no. Beau knows she should say no. Something doesn’t feel right but Beau can’t put her finger on what.

“Yes.”

Jester puts her hands on Beau’s shoulder and manipulates their upper bodies so they’re facing each other. Beau lets her do whatever she wants, her brain stopped functioning the moment she said yes. It’s still in her skull but Beau’s turned the volume down to zero. Her heart takes the reins and steers them towards certain danger.

Jester stares deep into Beau’s eyes to the point where Beau feels the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Static fills the air, Beau does nothing to stop it. Jester’s eyes flicker between Beau’s eyes and then down to her lips. They do this a couple of times.

Beau holds her breath.

Jester leans in. Beau forces her eyes to focus on the spot in the middle of Jester’s forehead. She’s not encouraging this, whatever this is, if she’s just sitting here. She’s not leaning in. She’s not moving. She’s reacting, plain and simple.

Jester has something she needs to work out and Beau’s never abandoned Jester in a time of need.

Their foreheads press together and for the first time Beau knows what it’s like to share the same air as Jester. It’s like a drug, Beau’s mind clouds and she glosses over why this is a terrible confusing thing to do. This is Jester’s show, Beau’s only playing along.

Beau closes her eyes.

She hears Jester talking under her breath but she can’t understand any of it. She keeps her eyes closed.

Beau feels Jester’s lips press against the corner of her lip. It’s so innocuous it would pass for a kiss on the cheek if Jester didn’t do the exact same thing to the other side. It’s not too far, Beau thinks, it’s friendly. Friends kiss each other’s cheeks all the time. Anything extra is an accident. Jester’s upset, it happens.

Jester leans back so Beau takes the opportunity to open her eyes. Beau takes one look at the expression on Jester’s face and panics. She feels like she’s been flattened by a semi-truck. There’s nothing friendly about this, Beau’s so fucking stupid.

Reani. Reani doesn’t deserve this and Beau doesn’t want be the kind of person who would do this. Beau doesn’t need this when she knows she loves Reani. She’s winning, mission accomplished. Chalk up another sortie. She’s so close to getting out of this mess with everything she cares about intact. She can’t trip up now. Whatever this is, whatever Jester’s doing? Beau can’t risk ruining their friendship over curiosity.

“Not like this,” She pushes away from Jester and scrambles to the other side of the couch. “I wanted things to be less weird.”

Jester’s tearing up, Beau resists the urge to wipe the tears from her cheeks. That would be a mixed signal. “That’s what I want too.”

“You almost,” Beau doesn’t even want to say it. Saying it means that it almost happened and Beau can’t function in a world where that’s reality. Beau’s finally got everything packed in its own perfectly packed box. This doesn’t fit in any of those tidy boxes.

“Let’s forget it ever happened,” Jester says hollowly as she moves back to the chair. She looks back to Beau. “I don’t want to take this into the new year, I just want my best friend back.”

Beau has a strong feeling that they’ve long passed the exit for them to go back to normal no matter how many times they all claim it’s what they want. Sometimes the universe decides these things for you.

“I have to go,” Beau says quietly. She heads for the door and doesn’t turn back, not even for Jester’s pleas and soft cries. She almost fucked up the best thing that’s ever happened to her, the only uncomplicated and unequivocally good thing she’s ever done and she nearly blew it up for a long shot. A long shot who’s dating her other best friend.

Nice Beau, good one.

When she gets back to Reani’s she walks straight past her and takes a shower. Whatever that was feels like something she needs to scrub off her skin before she touches Reani. She tosses and turns that night until she finally removes herself from the bed and moves to the couch. She doesn’t sleep there either but she doesn’t feel like she’s tainting what she has with Reani from this distance.

The next night she kisses Reani at midnight in a crowd filled with their closest friends. She closes her eyes and wills all of this to stay in the past, she opens her eyes and sees Reani smiling back at her. She turns her head and sees Fjord and Jester finishing their midnight kiss. As if she senses Beau, Jester pulls back and looks at Beau.

Beau looks away.

Chapter Text

“I was wondering when you’d show up,” Caduceus says as he fiddles with the worlds tiniest screwdriver.

“Dude, what the fuck are you doing?” The tiny screwdriver in Caduceus’s hand is barely visible. He’s got a tiny finger-sized skateboard in his hands that he’s currently tightening the trucks on. In front of her there’s an entire skate park - to scale - made of wood and plastic features.

“You come to my house, clearly in desperate need of guidance, and judge my hobbies?” Well when Caduceus puts it like that, it’s a dick move.

“It’s not every day you see a grown man finger boarding is all,” Beau explains as she sits down at the table across from him.

“It’s not every day you see a grown woman make a complete mess of her life,” Caduceus fires back calmly. He has this way to cutting you down without even raising his voice. It’s why Beau chose him out of everybody else. If anyone will tell her about herself it’s Caduceus.

“I both resent and resemble that,” Beau says. “So you know why I’m here?”

“It’s not for finger boarding,” Caduceus raises his eyebrow at Beau.

“I need help,” Beau picks up one of the tiny spare wheels and starts rolling it around her little area of the table.

“I can see that.”

Beau glares at Caduceus.

“Stop me if I’m wrong,” Caduceus offers. “This is about the love square you created.”

“I created?” Beau asks defensively before her brain catches up and realizes Caduceus really does know exactly why she’s here that giant observant fucker.

“She has absolutely no idea, I’ll have to modify this talk,” Caduceus says out loud to himself like Beau isn’t right in front of him. “Yes,” He says slowly like Beau’s a small child. “Your actions have consequences.”

“I don’t think you need to start that far back, I already knew that.”

“Interesting, that makes your behavior even more confusing,” Caduceus says as much to himself as to Beau.

“How about we skip the lecture and go straight to the part where you help me?”

Caduceus looks horrified. “The lecture is the most important part.” He sets down the board he’s working on and carefully placed the screwdriver on top of the grip tape. He grabs the pipe next to him and a lighter. “Wanna hit it?”

Beau almost says no then she thinks about three little words and near misses and accepts the pipe. She inhales way too much too fast and has to suffer the indignity of Caduceus clapping her on the back until she stops hacking up her lungs.

“Fuck,” Beau rasps when she finally stops coughing.

“Fuck, indeed.”

Beau goes back in for a second hit. She doesn’t make a fool of herself this time. “Please,” She waves her hand. “Continue to tell me about myself.”

“I’m not sure what to say if you want to skip the lecture,” Caduceus is the master of guilt. Sometimes Beau wants to take a pilgrimage to whatever backwoods shack Caduceus emerged from and learn his secrets. 

“Give me the abridged version,” Beau compromises.

“Alright,” Caduceus considers it for a moment. “You made a big mess.” He stops and smiles, proud of himself.

“Not that abridged, you jerk.”

“Oh,” He smiles lazily. “You got it.” He picks up the screwdriver and starts fixing the finger boarding again. “What we’ve got here is a self confidence issue that manifests itself as self-destruction.”

“But I’ve been doing so well,” Beau feels the weed start to kick in as she says that. “I’m kicking life in the ass.”

“Are you?” Caduceus looks like that sassy Thor meme, Beau can’t help but laugh at him.

“I thought I was.”

“Fascinating.”

“What do you mean?” Beau gets up into Caduceus’s face. He doesn’t flinch.

“A shocking lack of self awareness,” Caduceus says more to himself than to Beau. Then to Beau. “Sit back and relax, we’ll be here a while.”

Beau gets out of Caduceus’s face and lets herself sink in the chair. “I’m ready.”

“Close your eyes,” Beau complies with Caduceus’s direction. “Picture the person you were six months ago.”

“Got it.”

“What’s she like?”

“A bad bitch but you already knew this.”

“Mhmm,” Caduceus agrees. “A bad bitch in love with her best friend.”

“Hey!” Beau opens her eyes to protest.

“Shhhh,” Caduceus cuts her off. “Eyes shut, this only works if you let it.”

“Fine.”

“Where was I?” Caduceus trails off. “Ah yes, a bad bitch in love with her best friend.”

“I never confirmed that.”

“You didn’t have to,” Caduceus drawls. “Now think about who are you right now, tell me about her.”

Beau thinks hard and tries to be honest. “A bad bitch with a fucking sick girlfriend who is winning at life.”

“And?” Caduceus leads her.

“And?”

Caduceus sighs. “In love with your best friend.”

Beau snaps her eyes open again. “No I’m not.” She leans in so Caduceus can see she’s serious. “I love Reani, we say that to each other now it’s pretty awesome.”

“You do love Reani - lovely girl by the way, good and bad choice,” Caduceus gives her a look of knowing pity. “But you’re not in love with her.”

“Yes I am.”

“No you’re not.”

“You don’t know more about me than I do.”

“I don’t?” Caduceus sounds genuinely confused. “One word: Friendsgiving.”

Fuck, Beau thinks as she closes her eyes again.

“Not only was I there,” Caduceus pauses, presumably for dramatic effect. “But you’re not the only person who thinks I’m their therapist.”

Fuck.

“Keep those eyes closed,” Caduceus reminds her. “Now comes a choice, that’s all life is. Just a series of choices.”

Beau thinks about all of the choices she’s made. The choice to let feeling develop for Jester, the choice to focus those feelings on Reani, the choice to never really do the work to get over Jester. Beau doesn’t know how to categorize any of those things as good or bad. They simply exist.

“It’s up to you now,” Caduceus continues.

Beau feels defiant all of a sudden, maybe it’s fear - it’s definitely fear. But she doesn’t want to lose what she’s built. Maybe Caduceus is right, maybe she isn’t in love with Reani but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t be. And fuck, she knows she still has feelings for Jester. Friendsgiving and their near kiss more than proves that. But that doesn’t mean she has to blow up her entire life to act on it.

Beau is an adult and she is making the very adult choice to listen Caduceus but ignore his implied advice.

“I have to go,” Beau stands. “Thanks.”

“Reani is a really cool person, I’ve enjoyed getting to know her,” Caduceus says instead of goodbye and goes back to focusing on his finger boards full time. 

Beau takes that as her cue to leave.

***

Beau doesn’t intentionally ignore Caduceus, it just sort of happens that way. Maybe she’s selfish - she’s definitely selfish, but it never feels like the right time. She’s happy with Reani, they work well together and Beau works really hard on being in love with her. She feels like that’s the least Reani deserves after essentially teaching Beau how to love someone in a healthy way.

Beau avoids anymore weird situations with Jester and they don’t talk about the one’s they’ve had. She aggressively makes sure she’s rarely alone with Jester and that works out for the most part.

It allows everything to go back to as close to normal as possible. Maybe they needed a weird moment in their friendship to be the swift kick in the ass that gets them back on course. Mostly anyway, they can hang out in groups and that’s good enough. It’s hard enough when Beau feels Jester staring her down in a group setting. If anyone thinks it’s weird they don’t hang out alone as much anymore, they attribute it to getting older and being in relationships.

Everyone grows apart a little bit when they’re in their first big grown up relationship. That’s the nature of the beast, Beau tells herself. Slowly Beau pushes the incident to the back of her mind and stops thinking about it every day. She thinks about it once a week until she only thinks about it once a month. Then she doesn’t think about it at all.

Winter fucks off and with it the comfy, cuddling months phase into long weekend walks around the city gardens with Reani making plans for the future. Beau starts to move more and more of her stuff into Reani’s place and it starts to feel like she’s wasting her money paying rent.

She’s never done so well in her program. Gone is Dr. Thomas and his stupid fucking political economy boner. She’s finally taking classes that relate to the skills she needs to write her dissertation and she’s almost got a dissertation topic set in stone. With their own mouth, Dairon says they’re proud of how much Beau has matured. It takes everything Beau has that day to not make a fool of herself running across campus and shouting from the rooftops.

Beau feels more mature. She walks around with her chest out, back straight. People peel away from her on the sidewalk as she walks. She’s the boss and she’s starting to show it. Confidence is a hell of a thing and she’s got it in spades.

Beau shifts in her chair as she watches her advisor, Dr. Jacobs, search the bookcase next to her desk. It’s their semester check in and for the first time in the two years they’ve been doing this Beau feels like she’s where she needs to be. Her advisor finally finds the piece the piece of paper she’s been searching for and holds it up triumphantly.

“I knew I put it somewhere,” Dr. Jacobs mumbles as she sits back in her executive chair and clicks on a couple links on her computer. She reads between the paper and the computer screen for a few minutes because she focuses her attention on Beau. “It looks like you’re on track to start your dissertation writing seminar at the beginning of next year as well as any thematic studies that might be useful.”

Beau knew she was on track but it’s a completely different thing to hear it from someone in an official capacity. “Just like that?”

“Just like that. You’ll be considered all but dissertation at the end of this semester,” Dr. Jacobs is already flipping to the next page of her planner. “Congratulations Beau, you’ve made it this far.”

“Thank you, Dr. Jacobs,” Beau says as she grabs her bag and stands. She starts backing towards the closed door, reaches behind her, and turns the knob. “See you later.” Beau says as she quickly opens the door and gets out of there. She doesn’t want to give Dr. Jacobs a chance to read anything differently and take away this opportunity.

Beau practically sprints to Pumat Sol’s. She beats Fjord there so she rushes to change and come back out onto the floor. Avantika glares at her from the adduction machine but Beau ignores her. Nothing is bringing her down. She’s all but dissertation, fucking ABD baby. Who would have thought she’d make it this far?

There’s this dangerous part of her psyche that wants to call her parents and throw it in their face. She wants to tell them to go fuck themselves and their new perfect heir to the throne. Beau feels guilty for that thought, she has no idea if her baby brother is a fucker like their parents - she keeps assuming it’s the case but there’s a small chance he’s not.

Either way, she wants to brag. She wants to show off. She wants them to be proud of her.

It’s stupid, Beau thinks as she shakes it all off. That last part particularly. She’s thriving on her own, she doesn’t need their money and she certainly doesn’t need their fucking pride. The only reason it’s something she wants is because she’s always had this sick fantasy that one day she’d be able to hurt them as much as they hurt her. She wants to take their pride and throw it right back into their faces.

How much would it hurt for them to finally see her as worthy only for her to tell them they’re the ones who don’t deserve her. She’s spent a lot more time than she’d like to admit with her eyes closed picturing this exact scenario. Beau’s logical, she knows it wouldn’t hurt them and she tries not to let that hurt her too much. They are who they are. Beau’s getting better at accepting that about people.

Beau pulls her phone from her pocket and checks the time. Fjord’s ten minutes late which isn’t like him, not when it comes to lifting time. Not since they scattered all of these egg shells beneath their friendship. It doesn’t make any sense but Beau’s willing to allow for an emergency.

She starts going through the motions of warming up, rowing on the machine until she starts to sweat. He’s still not there by the time she starts doing band work to activate her muscles for the lifts. She stops and checks her phone again. There’s no texts or calls. Band work takes maybe five minutes so Beau decides to give him that long to show otherwise she’s going to start to worry.

He doesn’t show. Beau walks past the front desk and steps outside onto the sidewalk. The street isn’t as busy as it can be but there’s still a fair amount of people crossing her path. Beau finds herself a quiet alcove to the right. She goes to favorites and calls Fjord.

The call takes a hot second to connect but once it does it rings four times, Beau sighs and readies herself to leave a coherent voicemail when Fjord picks up. He sounds out of breath so, of course, Beau’s mind immediately flashes to the worst possible scenario.

There’s a long pause as Fjord gets his breath back.

“Bro?” Beau says after a few seconds.

“I lost track of time,” Fjord blurts out.

“No worries,” Beau lies.

“Yes worries,” Fjord says quickly. “We were supposed to do our maxes today. I can still make it, give me 10,” Beau hears a voice in the background yell something. “15 minutes.”

“Is that Jester?” Beau’s curiosity gets the better of her. It’s not like she doesn’t know they spend time alone but some part of her needs confirmation that Jester is why Fjord’s running late.

“It is,” Fjord says cautiously.

“Cool,” Beau says in a clipped tone.

“We fell asleep watching a movie and I left my phone in the bedroom so I had to run to answer it,” Fjord explains even though Beau didn’t ask.

“You don’t have to explain it to me,” Beau lies for the second time.

“It feels like I do,” Fjord sounds like he’s on the edge of his nerve.

“Well, you don’t,” Beau says finally. “Quit being weird, bro, just get your ass over here. I’m still warming up.”

Fjord drops his issue and changes the subject back to a safe zone. He says he’s on his way when he hangs up. Beau goes back to warming up and tries not to think about the weak feeling she has in her stomach. It’s a feeling she doesn’t get nearly as much anymore but when she does feel it, it’s intense.

It’s strange because she knows what it is, the faint thread of hope her heart insists on harboring for Jester despite the fact that her heart is filling with something just as deep for Reani. It’s stubborn and inconvenient, Beau wishes she could get rid of it. She thinks back to her discussion with Caduceus months ago, the defiance she’d left his house armed with.

The only problem is that the feelings aren’t getting weaker, if anything they’re getting stronger. The only balance is that she feels them less and less. Beau doesn’t think that’s the way it’s supposed to go.

It doesn’t matter. Fjord shows up a few minutes later already changed out. They get down to it but there’s definite tension there that hasn’t been there for a while.

It all comes to a head over military presses. Beau dares to critique Fjord’s shittier than usual form and he snaps. “Can I do anything right?”

“Whoa,” Beau holds her hands up between them. “I was just trying to make sure you didn’t hurt yourself.” She takes a step back. “My bad.”

Fjord puts the bar down on the foam padding beneath their feet. “No, it’s my bad.” He says using a terrible impression of Beau’s voice. Beau feels like she stumbled on a trigger that’s never existed before.

“Dude, what the fuck?” Beau doesn’t know to process Fjord being a dick to her. He’s a dick to other people when he wants to be but he’s never a dick to her. He’s always good for a hug and maybe some sage advice but he doesn’t mock her. She’s not Nott.

“What the fuck,” He says under his breath like it amuses him. “I’ve been asking myself the same question.”

They’re starting to make a scene. Beau notices people peeking at them from the corner of her eye and pretending to work out but really watching them implode.

“You know, these days it feels like I’m always wrong,” Fjord’s voice lowers, he’s probably noticed they’re being watched and seems to care at least a little.

“I didn’t want you to get hurt,” Beau repeats.

“That’s ironic,” He says snippily. Fjord can be so dramatic when he’s upset, Beau gets the sense this is one of those times. “You know, I’ve been getting the strangest feeling lately.”

“Fjord, let’s take this outside at least,” The fellow patrons in the gym have given up on pretending they aren’t staring. Beau looks between Fjord and the gawkers hoping he gets the picture.

Fjord looks conflicted like he wants to keep going when he’s gained the courage to say what he’s clearly been meaning to say for quite a while. But he looks up and sees that Pumat is one of the people staring at them and he looks disappointed. There’s nothing Fjord can stand less than disappointing someone he looks up to.

“I could use a drink,” He finally suggests. “Let’s walk to Bryce’s.”

***

Bryce is an old friend of Fjord’s who used to host the best apartment parties. Finally they got tired of doing all of the work for no pay and opened up their own bar. It’s basically Fjord inviting her to home base.

“Hello old friend,” Fjord greets Bryce with a handshake. “Two whiskeys, neat.”

Bryce gets their drinks quickly and they take their drinks to a table on the left side of the bar. It’s late enough in the afternoon that the happy hour crew is starting to roll in so there’s enough crosstalk that they won’t be overhead.

Beau breaks the silence. “What’s going on? You snapped on me over nothing. I correct you all the time and you’ve never had a problem with it.”

The short walk looks to have done some good on Fjord’s sense of calm. At the very least he doesn’t look ready to explode anymore.

He drinks his whiskey and then speaks. “I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that.” He tips his head down. “I apologize for that.”

“Apology accepted.”

They lapse into silence again. Beau takes baby sips of her drink but it tastes more bitter than usual.

Fjord downs his drink in one go. “I think Jester wants to end our relationship.”

Beau feels a lot of things at once. So much so, in fact, that it blends into one big feeling that doesn’t fit into any known category. That feeling fades and she’s left with lingering nerves and anxiety.

“Did she say something?” Beau thinks of a natural 20, two near misses, and the space between.

“She says a lot of things but,” Fjord cuts himself off and gets out of his chair. “I need a refill so that will have to wait.”

Beau watches him take a shot at the bar and then come back with a full glass. He takes his old one off of the coaster and pushes it to the edge of the table.

“What is she saying specifically?” Beau asks.

“I think she’s stalling because she doesn’t want me to hate her,” Fjord says instead of answering her question. “I could never hate her.”

Beau doesn’t say anything, he’s not responding to her questions either way. He continues to drink and rant in between drinks. While he talks she tries to match this version of Jester with the glimpses she’s gotten over the past few months. It’s not much to go on because they haven’t been alone but Beau starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Jester’s questions, her confusion, the way she reacted to Reani’s existence. Beau can’t believe this is a thing that’s happening to her. She considers herself a decent enough person. Sure, she’s human. There’s so many things she could be doing for her fellow man that she isn’t but all in all she’s doing the best she can.

What exactly did she do to deserve this? There’s no way the three of them get out of this intact. Something has to give and Beau’s afraid that when it breaks there won’t be pieces big enough to put them back together again. Fjord keeps talking about all the different ways Jester makes him feel like he doesn’t measure up to some invisible ideal. About how Jester never seems like she’s happy even though Fjord’s never felt happier.

Beau feels her stomach sink, she feels sick, she feels like she wants to throw up. She flags a waiter and asks for a water. Alcohol won’t solve her problems and she doesn’t need any more than she already has. A hangover won’t wipe away any of the mess she’s made.

Wherever Caduceus is she’s sure he just received an alert that he’s right. Beau’s sure he loves that.

Though Beau can’t figure out what exactly she did to cause this. She had no chance, that’s what she told herself all that time. When she sought out meaningless one night stands, when she found Reani and decided to move on. Jester couldn’t feel anything for Beau, not when Fjord was right there. So Beau moved on.

It never occurred to her that she could have been wrong about the core assumption of her mission. She reframes every interaction she’s had with Jester for the last year. It feels like looking under the couch and finding the missing last piece of a 1000 piece puzzle. It feels like the world caving in on her as the ground tremors beneath her feet.

This is so incredibly fucked up. Why couldn’t Jester have figured this out before there was so much collateral damage involved? Because life doesn’t work that way, Beau thinks bitterly.

Beau doesn’t know what to say to Fjord. He’s probably right about his relationship and that’s shitty as fuck and Beau doesn’t know what she can do about it. It’s starting to feel like no matter what, they’re never going to be the same again.

After his fourth whiskey Fjord starts getting philosophical. “Do you ever wish you could go back in time and change one thing?” Fjord’s leaning hard to the left now. Beau’s worried he might tip out of his chair. “One thing only, no cheating. What would you change?”

Beau thinks about kissing Jester and telling her how she feels.

“I’d make my parents into decent human beings,” Beau tells a half truth.

“I’d never let myself give in to curiosity and sleep with Jester,” Fjord answers his own question. “That was a mistake.” His face drops and he looks away from Beau. “Everything was so much better when we were friends.”

Beau doesn’t disagree so she does Fjord a favor and doesn’t say anything at all. It’s better than lying.

***

Jester breaks up with Fjord on a Thursday which seems like a really random day to break up with someone. It sends shockwaves through their friend group. It’s not automatic but people gravitate towards natural sides which doesn’t make sense, they were all one thing before Fjord and Jester dated. So why do they have to pick sides now?

Everyone except Beau who stubbornly refuses to pick a side.

They start hanging out in shifts that reflect these new divisions, you can hang with Jester or Fjord but never the two at the same time. It’s so exhausting they start planning less and less until it feels like they never see each other anymore. May rolls around and Beau finds that she spends more time with Reani and her friends than she does with her own friends.

She doesn’t mind it so much because when she’s with her own friends Jester keeps giving her these weighted looks. Beau ignores them because as long as she ignores them she doesn’t have to acknowledge the elephant in their friendship. Jester doesn’t let up and so Beau drifts further and further away.

Beau’s always been a fast runner. If she wasn’t so hellbent on being defiant her whole damn life she could have gone somewhere with her high school track career. She could have at least parlayed it into a scholarship so she could carry around less student debt as an adult. But high school Beau wasn’t super interested in setting herself up for the future.

The point is, when Beau wants to avoid something she’s as good as it gets. It helps that for the first time in her life she feels like she has somewhere to go. Beau learns to organize the careful set of lies she has to keep locked away to keep balancing on this house of cards.

Reani is her future, Beau convinces herself, there’s no use letting the past derail that.

Chapter Text

Thoreau Lionett was always a superstitious man. Apparently he had his tea leaves read when he was younger and they showed him bad omens. Or whatever, Beau’s not really too sure about the details and to be honest she doesn’t give a fuck. He decided to live his entire life based on the word of a scam fortune teller at a carnival. All he ever thought, all he still thinks about is running away from the inevitable. Beau hates to think that she’s anything like her father.

She doesn’t think she can avoid it anymore.

Beau keeps waiting for things to go back to normal. She keeps waiting for Fjord and Jester to slowly slip back into their old friendship. It doesn’t happen. Some things do get better, they’re slowly able to be in the same room together without conflict. But without conflict doesn’t necessarily equal without tension. The group slowly drift back together but each of them with their hazard lights on.

It’s a difficult dynamic to negotiate.

It’s less difficult for Beau because she refused to pick sides in the first place. She didn’t have to come back, she never left. Not that it feels like it matters so much.

Time passes on.

Summer means most of them are either on summer vacation or working more flexible hours. Somebody has the brilliant idea for a weekend trip to the beach, Jester suggests Nicodranis and it’s all downhill from there. Jester has the hookup at the swanky hotel she grew up in, The Lavish Chateau, so she gets them comped rooms for the weekend - courtesy of Marion Lavorre, lady in residence.

None of them say it out loud but this feels like a friendship rehab trip and not a second too soon. There’s the distinct sense that a lot is riding on this going smoothly. Beau just hopes they don’t crack under pressure.

Beau’s only done the drive to Nicodranis a few times and most of those times she’s been the passenger. She’s driving this time, they rented one of those big Suburbans to drive their crew down considering none of them actually own a car. She catches herself before she slips up and asks Fjord how he made this trip in the winter. That would have ruined things before they even got started.

It’s beautiful. Beau’s not sure how the water gets so blue down here but it’s pretty fucking cool. She imagines little Jester looking out over the beaches from her room in the Chateau, dreaming about getting on them one day. The isolated aspect of their respective childhoods is one of the many things they’ve always understood about each other.

Beau looks up into the rearview mirror and catches Jester’s eyes looking right back at her. Beau quickly gets her eyes back on the road. They’re not far away or so her GPS claims, Beau just needs to hold it together. See, the one thing she hasn’t been thinking about is the fact that Reani couldn’t make it. She’s going to present at a conference on the way she’s revolutionizing educational modules by building using different integrated tools, Beau is very proud of her even though she only kind of knows what that translates to.

The point being, this is the biggest test of Beau’s resolve since the snow melted off the ground and she doesn’t have Reani as a crutch. She shouldn’t need a crutch, Beau kicks herself for even thinking that. She should be unfailing in her knowledge that she can make it through a weekend without having a charged moment with her best friend.

If Beau was a good person she would see that as the answer she’s been searching for. But she skims right on past that to the next thought. Beau’s looking forward to drinks with too much sugar and an umbrella - not relationship drama.

Can she have one fucking weekend?

They arrive at the Lavish Chateau and Jester directs her towards the valet line.

“Are you paying?” Beau jokes.

“Duh,” Jester answers like Beau’s slow on the pickup. “Mama set it all up, don’t worry about anything this weekend.”

“All expenses paid?” Caleb chimes up from the very back row. He’s still wearing a turtleneck and Beau knows he didn’t pack a bathing suit. If they’re lucky they might be able to get him to strip down and float in the ocean. In fact, she makes that her personal goal.

Jester says something back to Caleb that Beau doesn’t catch. She drives up to the valet and fights all of her instincts to burn down this late stage capitalism hellscape. She can park her own damn car, thank you. But Jester insists. Handing over the keys takes two tries and Jester physically taking them from her hand and giving them to the confused looking young man.

“She’s usually so normal, I promise,” Beau catches Jester whispering to the guy.

Marion’s waiting for them once they get inside the spacious marble lobby. If Beau hadn’t seen it before she’d be knocked off her feet. It’s not like she never went to nice places growing up, her parents did like to show off their wealth. But the character of Nicodranian architecture is nothing like what Beau had ever seen before.

Jester drops her bags at Beau’s feet and runs to hug her mom. Marion buries her face in Jester’s neck and breathes her in. “My little sapphire,” She pulls back and caresses her hands over Jester’s cheek. “You look beautiful as ever.” She looks over her shoulder at Beau. “Thank you for getting her here safely.”

Having the direct attention of the Ruby of the Sea is always overwhelming but Beau does her best to manage it. She’s almost sure she’s blushing. “Yes ma’am,” She salutes Marion with two fingers. “My pleasure.”

Marion smiles at her like she isn’t making a fool out of herself. That kindness is greatly appreciated.

“I don’t want to keep you too long and I have a performance tonight so I must rest my voice,” Marion doesn’t move from her spot next to Jester, she barely even looks away from her daughter. “I’m sure Jester’s told you that anything you want is yours. Any friend of Jester is a friend of the Chateau.”

They all thank Marion and she excuses herself back to her room to get ready.

Jester goes to the front desk and collects all of their keys. “We have three rooms so we’ll have to share.”

“I’ve got Caleb,” Nott yells behind an armful of pool floats as if being near the ocean itself puts her at risk for drowning.

“I’ll go with them,” Yasha says quietly.

“Looks like it’s me and you then Caddyshack,” Fjord takes the key from Jester’s hand, looks down at the number on the top and starts walking. Caduceus follows.

“I guess that leaves you and me,” Jester’s suddenly shy, she won’t look Beau in the eyes. She snaps out of it. “Unless,” She pauses and looks to the front desk. “I could probably sleep in mama’s room or pay for my own room.”

On instinct, Beau reaches out and places a finger on Jester’s lips to shut her up.

Jester freezes.

Beau freezes.

It’s something she used to do in another life like a boop on Jester’s lips when she got too riled up. In another life Jester might stick her tongue out. Beau would make a big show of being disgusted and Purell the fuck out of her finger in mock protest.

If Jester stuck her tongue out right now Beau imagines she would have quite a different reaction. She retracts her finger slowly and wills them both to forget it ever happened. At the same time Beau doesn’t have the willpower to tell Jester this isn’t a good idea. She’s not dumb enough to think they don’t both know that.

“Like old times,” Beau says instead for some idiotic reason.

“Yeah,” Jester says softly. She smiles and it reaches too much of her eyes. Beau has to look away to avoid getting caught up in it.

“Do you mind if I meet you up there?” Beau asks suddenly. She needs to be grounded. “I promised Reani I’d FaceTime her when we got here.”

“Okay,” If Beau doesn’t acknowledge Jester’s disappointment then that disappointment isn’t happening. Then nothing is weird. Then Beau isn’t playing relationship chicken. It’s a stretch worthy of a yoga class. Jester gives Beau their room number and tells her to knock when she’s ready.

Beau ducks into the business office of the hotel and takes a deep breath.

***

Reani’s on the couch in her hotel, Beau can hear the low volume of the tv in the background. Her hair’s thrown up in a messy bun and she looks to be typing on her computer even though she answered the call.

“Should I call back later?” Beau asks.

“Answering email,” Reani says as the clicking of her keyboard gets louder and louder. It gives Beau a chance to examine her. Reani’s been working her ass off lately, she’s been doing some cool shit with the platforms she works on. They’ve seen each other a decent amount but her work has been taking more and more of her time.

“Are you sure?” Beau asks after another pause.

The clicks on Reani’s end get faster and faster until she finishes with a flourish. “There!” She says semi-breathlessly. “All done.”

“Praise the gods,” Beau jokes softly. She looks at Reani smile back at her and wonders how much longer she can keep this up. She wonders if this is how Jester felt as she fought against her own feelings to try and make it work with Fjord. Beau doesn’t think it’s the exact same situation but there’s a similar theory.

Beau’s seen how Fjord and Jester’s friendship has devolved since they broke up. They can barely tolerate the weight of being around each other and that’s with their previously solid base. Reani wasn’t even her friend before this all started, an acquaintance maybe but nothing more than that.

When Beau is being honest, she knows she loves Reani so much she can’t imagine not having her as a friend but she loves Jester too much to not hurt Reani someday. Day after day passes and it starts to feel like a when not an if. If there’s a lesson to be learned from Fjord and Jester it’s that there’s no good way, no good time, no good reason you can give someone for breaking their heart.

“Are you still with me?” Reani asks with a laugh. If only she knew, Beau thinks.

“Tell me about the conference,” Beau changes the subject.

Reani goes on for twenty minutes about the poster session she attended in the morning and the fascinating talk she went to in the afternoon that was being run by one of her academic crushes. She tells Beau that the professor had actually heard of Reani’s work and was looking forward to attending her session over the weekend. Beau’s presented at her fair amount of conferences so she knows what a high honor that is.

This is the kind of woman Beau should be sure about. Reani’s the kind of person any sane person would be sure about. For once Beau wishes she could conform.

“So then I got up on stage and took my top off,” Reani sounds teasing.

“Huh?” Beau rewinds that sentence in her mind. “Wait what?”

“You zoned out when I was telling you about Dr. Finn and her Institute for Global Food Security,” Reani explains patiently.

Beau remembers something about an institute and then she started thinking about her own personal Sophie’s Choice.

“So I’m assuming you didn’t hear the part where she said she might have a position available for me?” Reani says carefully.

“I thought you liked your job,” Beau imagines the future where she and Reani are a high powered academic power couple. Reani is the head of a state of the art environmental institute and Beau’s the head of a center for civil justice. With respect to the global climate crisis, they abstain from having their own children but set aside the cost of what it would take to raise a child in the United States and donate that to the applicable charities. They give keynote speeches at conferences together until they die and their respective institutes get named after them.

Happily ever after.

“I do,” Reani says quickly. “But this would open up a whole new world of opportunities, I could help so many more people than I do making modules for college classes.”

Beau feels more than sees the giant cartoon hammer hanging over her head. “I can hear the catch.” Beau trails off and waits for Reani to fill the silence.

Reani doesn’t fill the silence, not immediately. She looks off camera and for the first time Beau sees the crack in her veneer.

“The institute is at the University of Uthodurn,” Reani mumbles.

Beau tilts her phone dramatically. “That’s across the fucking continent?” She looks at Reani as her eyes look anywhere but Beau. “You’re tempted.”

“It’s not a formal offer,” Reani injects defensively. “It’s not anything to worry about until it’s time to worry.”

“But it could be,” Beau argues.

“It could be,” Reani admits as her body visibly deflates. “Beau,” She starts with a careful tone. “I know you, don’t read too much into this. It’s just a thought.”

It’s too late, Beau’s spiraling. She thought she was coming to Reani for stability but she feels like the rug’s been yanked from underneath her feet. “I still have at least two years.” She says apropos of nothing.

“Beau,” Reani trails off with nothing else to say.

“I’ll enjoy my weekend, you enjoy your conference,” Beau unlocks her phone so she can see the red end call button mocking her. “We’ll talk when we get back home.”

“Beau,” Reani says again, pleads with Beau to stop making a mountain out of a mole hill.

“We’ll talk,” Beau reiterates, she’s already trying to plan her escape plan from this conversation. All of a sudden her steady plan doesn’t seem so steady. If Reani’s actually considering this offer that puts a time bomb on Beau’s decision. If Reani goes, Beau can’t follow and they both know it.

“I don’t even know if I want to go.”

“You do.”

“Don’t put words in my mouth,” Reani says firmly. Beau pulls back a smidge, she’s upset but she doesn’t want to upset Reani any more than she already is. “I think you’re right, I need time to process things.”

“I’m sorry,” Beau tries to patch over the bullet hole with a bandaid.

“I know but I think we both need some space,” Reani doesn’t back down from looking at Beau as she chips at the cracks in their relationship.

“Like space, space?” Beau’s scared to look way from Reani but she’s scared to see the expression on her face sag.

“Just the weekend,” Reani reassures her. She opens her mouth and closes it, she tries again. “I love you,” It comes out so softly Beau has to concentrate to hear.

“Love you too,” Beau says and means it. In whatever way she means it, she fucking means it.

Reani hangs up before they have a chance to hurt or heal any further. Beau thinks that’s probably for the best. She feels like she got thrown a curveball and she doesn’t even own a bat. She’s spent so much time focusing on herself that she never thought to check if Reani was still on the same page. It’s not a stretch to say that Beau’s cleaved distance between them by circumstance alone. Beau should have learned by now that any space gets filled with a need.

When she left space between her and Jester that space was filled, however temporarily, by Fjord. Her own reluctance to deal with her messy Jester shit forced her into pulling away from Reani, so now Reani’s going to force something that’s not Beau into that space. Reani’s always been a smart woman, maybe she sees the writing on the wall.

That’d be something special considering Beau hasn’t even written it yet.

***

Jester answers the door so fast the wind blows Beau’s hair back.

“Whoa,” Beau steps past Jester and tosses her bag on the bed closest to the air conditioner. Jester knows her so well she took the bed closest to the wall without fuss.

“I know you get hot when you sleep,” Jester offers.

“Thanks.”

She feels Jester’s eyes following her wherever she goes in the room. Beau unpacks her clothes from her duffel bag and puts them in the wooden drawers. She’s still in a trance over the fight Reani blindsided her with. Though, to be fair to Reani, Beau’s pretty sure she’s the one who made it a fight. Reani just wanted to share her good news.

Beau is a shitty fucking girlfriend, Reani deserves better.

“Do you want to order room service?” Jester breaks the silence. “If they know it’s from me the kitchen will give us so many extra pastries.” Jester rambles faster than most people could keep up with. Beau is not most people. “I’ll race you to a sugar coma!”

Beau can’t even begin to meet Jester’s enthusiasm. The way Jester deflates at Beau’s lack of response she’s not even sure Jester can meet her own enthusiasm. She’s so tired of playing a character with her best friend.

“Just chill out,” Beau can hear how tired she sounds.

“Sorry.”

Jester lays down on her bed facing the ceiling. Beau lays on her own bed and gets on her side facing away from Jester. After a few minutes she hears a low pitched sound as the tv comes on. She hears Jester flip through every channel, stopping on E! and Bravo for a few minutes each before deciding she wants to watch House Hunters.

Beau closes her eyes and tries to ignore the first episode. She’s off in her own world about the prospect of the end of her relationship. There’s really no choice. Beau’s finishing her program, Beau has at least two years left. She can’t go anywhere even if Reani asks. And what? Are they going to go long distance? At this point Beau doesn’t even know if she can last a long weekend without questioning everything. Trying to go long distance would only ensure they could never be friends, it would get ugly.

“You can paint walls!” Jester yells at the screen. “Some people are really too stupid to live. I hate to say it but it’s true.”

Beau turns over on her back and props herself up on some foam pillows.

“He’s an airline pilot, she’s a stay at home mom. One child - a son. He’s actually stationed in Miami but they’re buying a home in rural Georgia near his parents,” Jester explains. “You would think he’d let her pick the house she likes because he’ll be off cheating on her nine months out of the year.”

“But he’s a man and needs 15 acres to teach his son how to be a manly man?” Beau finishes the story.

“Exactly.” And that’s how Jester ropes Beau into a House Hunters marathon.

They watch three episodes in a row and slowly Beau allows herself to be drawn into their old rituals. Beau makes Jester laugh with her impressions of the husbands who always pretend they’re Bob the fucking Builder while their wives roll their eyes. She imagines half of those houses never have a single piece of work done to them.

Hell, she’s pretty sure half those men couldn’t operate a hammer if given the right end to hold.

“Look at that master bathroom,” Jester says in awe. “I love my clawfoot but if I had that soaking tub,” She trails off with a satisfied moan. “I’d never feel stress again.”

Beau thinks she might never know what it’s like to feel calm again.

“And the garden?” Jester continues as the tour moves outside. “I’d grow my own vegetables and be one of those mommy bloggers who only feeds her kids things she grows and thinks chicken pox are sent by the devil.”

“You had me in the first half, I’m not gonna lie,” Beau says to cover up the fact that Jester really did have her. She can picture Jester in the soaking tub and not even in a sex way, though not exactly pure of mind either. She can see Jester soaking as she tells Beau about her day at work, she runs the jets as she vents about her male coworker who always tries to steal her designs. Beau would sit on the edge, she wouldn’t even care if Jester keeps getting Beau’s pants wet. Jester blows bubbles at her and Beau laughs.

Beau doesn’t recognize the calm, assured person she is in this fantasy.

“Oh shut up,” Jester brushes Beau off. “If you had your way you’d live in a modern design box house with a smart assistant that would eventually turn on you and kill you.”

Not if you’re not there, Beau thinks before she can stop.

“Does Siri continue to help me to the bitter end?” Beau asks before she goes too far down that path.

“Forever and ever,” Jester looks at Beau in that weird way that gets them in trouble.

Beau loudly declares she’s exhausted from the drive and forces herself to turn over and pretend to fall asleep.

She feels Jester’s eyes on her until she actually starts to drift off.

***

Beau keeps tamping down the reflex to call or text Reani every time a moment gets too intense between her and Jester. Reani asked for space and Beau’s determined to respect that. Even if the space only serves to exacerbate Beau’s problems.

Sharing a room is unavoidable but during the day Beau uses her time to try and glue the pieces of her friend group back together. They all rent paddle boats and Beau forces Fjord to be her partner. When they’ve paddled out to the very edge of the safety zone, Beau stops peddling.

“I’m not a big fan of being swept out to sea,” Fjord grumbles sarcastically. “In case you were wondering.”

“I’m not a big fan of Fjord’s Excellent Emo adventure. So I guess you could say we’re both having a good time,” Beau can snark with the best of them. He’s being pissy but Fjord still acknowledges that she’s got skin in the game.

“Please paddle,” Fjord paddles his side and turns them around in circles.

“Please be my best friend again,” Beau counters.

Fjord sighs and stops paddling too.

“I really want to do that.”

“Then do it.”

“I said I really want to,” Fjord restates. “Not that I’m ready to do it.”

Beau turns to look at him. “Why not?”

Fjord gets quiet and looks over at the paddle boat where the odd couple of Jester and Nott are seeing how far they can go past the safety zone before they die. Or at least from this distance it’s what it seems like they’re doing. Beau wouldn’t put it past them at the very least.

“Because we’ll need to go save them soon?” Beau acts obtuse.

“Maybe,” Fjord plays along. “But you and I both know that’s not what I meant.”

“I don’t really know what you’re thinking these days.”

They lapse into silence during which Beau obliges Fjord and paddles them a little closer to safety. She knows he gets a little weird about being on the water despite that being a huge part of his life. Once they’re far enough from the edge of the safety zone Fjord shrinks into himself.

“Neither of us really had a choice, did we?” Fjord keeps up his cryptic act.

Beau assumes he’s talking about Jester. He’s had a noticeably harder time than Jester after the break up. Even with the shifts and this whole friendship bandaid mission he’s been struggling. Outside of lifting, Fjord’s been scarce. They’ve talked a little about the breakup back when it was raw but not since the dust has settled.

“You can’t punish yourself for taking a risk,” Beau throws out there. “It didn’t work out but you’ll be friends again. I know it.”

Fjord turns his head and Beau looks at him for the first time. The lines on his forehead are prominent but the laugh lines at the corners of his eyes are also active. The best Beau can describe it is resigned with the tiniest hint of mirth.

“I hope so but it’ll never be the same,” Fjord’s laugh lines settle onto his face and the resignation fades. “I’m not stupid, you know.”

“That makes two of us.”

Fjord sighs and releases his entire body to sag. “I didn’t figure it out, not at first. I was so wrapped up in not being enough that I missed it.”

Beau feels her heart skip a very crucial beat. She feels it race to catch up to her normal rhythm but overshoots and sends her into a full on panic. She feels sweat break on her brow. How far is she from shore? Could she swim that far? Beau looks out onto the rippling surface of the water and knows the time has finally come for her to stop running from her problems. Try as she might even she can’t walk on water.

“Jester is anything but subtle,” Fjord says so fondly that Beau feels bad for him all over again. “It’s my own fault.”

“No it’s not,” Beau rushes to reassure him as she always does.

“It’s okay, I’ve thought about this a lot so let me say it,” Fjord looks past her to the ocean. “I took her for granted. I took for granted that she’d be there when I wanted. It’s not your fault you’re you and I’m me.” He pauses. “And you’re who she wants. Not me.” He looks back at her. “You’d have to be an idiot not to see it.”

Beau goes to speak but he holds up his finger to stop her.

“You’re no idiot,” Fjord gives her a pointed look.

“A lot of people would disagree,” Beau circles around the point.

“Beau,” Fjord’s long suffering voice stops her in her tracks.

“Why are you being so cool about this?” Beau feels her confusion cloud her better judgement.

“Cool?” Fjord’s eyes flash with anger quickly and then just as quickly it’s gone. “This is tearing me up to even think about let alone to say. If I didn’t love you both so much I’d watch you two suffer until you make the same mistake that I made with her,” He reins himself in. “Believe me, you don’t want to miss out on her.”

“I’m happy with Reani,” Beau parrots because it’s become the party line.

“I know that’s true but you won’t be able to describe how you feel when you have the full force of Jester,” Fjord says wistfully. “There’s not a word that describes it.”

Beau feels like she’s slipped into the twilight zone. Surely she’s hit her head and this is some id manifestation that’s telling her exactly what she wants to hear. Shit doesn’t work like this, pieces don’t slide into place at the exact right time. Things don’t work out the way they should, not for her. Not for Beauregard Lionett, barely regarded daughter of privilege.

“I can’t hurt Reani like that,” Beau throws out her strongest arguments but they fall weakly from her lips.

“Loving Jester isn’t a thing you do, it’s a thing you are,” Fjord says. “Believe me, I know,” He adds as an afterthought. “You’ll never be able to give Reani all of you and eventually she’ll realize it.”

Beau can count on one hand the number of times she’s gotten this version of Fjord. The sage older brother steering her towards a safe port. The sheer selflessness to do it knowing how much it’ll hurt him is another level. Beau’s never loved or trusted another man more than Fjord. Not that there’s staunch competition but weighed against every man in the world, Fjord has to be the best one.

“I love you,” Beau says suddenly and recognizes the warm feeling she has in her chest as love. She’s always felt it but she’s never come out and said it like this. It never felt like the tone of their relationship. But this is an act that sends them over the edge into family territory.

“I love you too,” Fjord leans over in the boat to give her a hug. Water sloshes onto their pants but they hang on tightly to each other. If they fall overboard and drown they’re going down together.

***

Beau can’t stop looking at Jester, not like that’s anything new or unique or interesting. At this point it’s a universal truth, a known variable. Gravity keeps us planted on the ground, what goes up must come down, and Beau can’t stop thinking about Jester. What a fucking mess.

Fjord keeps shooting them conflicted looks that he thinks are subtle but Beau’s looking. After their talk on the water Beau’s been walking around in a trance of possibility. She has access to everything she knows she wants she just has to ruin everything else first.

Jester looks back and smiles softly. Marion’s performing, fucking beautifully by the way, Beau’s met her but never seen her sing - it’s a sight to behold. Jester turns her attention back to her mom but Beau’s eyes stay put. She’s been living with Fjord’s begrudging approval for only a few hours but she’s quickly become consumed by it.

Has the whole thing been so obvious? Beau feels like the universe got tired of her fucking around and started to club her in the head with bitter truths.

Reani has to know, there’s no fucking way she doesn’t. Beau turns away from Jester at the thought. She feels sick to her stomach. Marion’s voice continues to dominant the background but Beau feels like she’s floating further and further away.

Oh fuck.

Fuck.

Like a processing delay it all hits her like a brick. Beau needs to get out of here. She needs air. There’s too many people, too much heat, too much everything. Beau excuses herself and ignores the frustrated guests she has to push past to get out. Her chest feels like it’s constricting, she stumbles to the wall outside and tries to remember how to breathe.

This is all so fucked up.

Beau wishes her brain was a computer so she press a few buttons and scan her brain for specific memories. Fuck, she wants to know every single time someone saw right through her, through the both of them. Hell, the whole city probably knows, why stop there? They’re probably taking bets.

Beau wonders if any of her friends won any money on it? She hopes so, at least someone’s a winner in this.

Beau examines every moment with Reani since her talk with Caduceus. After all, isn’t that the exact moment when she made the active choice to be selfish and try to have it all? That’s what she did, clear and simple as that.

The walls feel like they’re closing in even though the lobby is so large it would be impossible. Beau puts her elbows on her knees and tries to regain some composure.

Suddenly Beau is so exhausted, she’s so tired of lying to herself and everyone else. She’s the queen of bullshit, the empress of the excuse. Call it whatever you want, Beau’s been addicted to a certain kind of bullshit - now she’s neck deep in it.

Chapter Text

Beau keeps to herself on the last day of their trip. She’s not really in the mood to run around the beach or whatever it is that they’re all doing. Jester worries about her and tries to stay behind but Beau asks her to go and have fun. Jester respects her enough to not push the issue. It’s not like Beau even pretends to be in the mood to be pushed. She’s just not.

She gives them a time limit and has all of her shit packed and ready to go in the lobby. Reani hasn’t texted or called or reached out in any way since she said she needed some space and Beau’s become that anxious person who locks and unlocks her phone every thirty-seconds.

Nothing.

Beau knows to expect nothing but she was kind of hoping Reani would break down and reach out. That hasn’t happened. Beau should have known she’d stand firm, that’s who she is.

The group trickles back into the hotel covered in sand and god knows what else.

“What happened to you guys?” Beau yells across the lobby.

“Can’t explain,” Caleb says quickly. “Must shower.”

They’re all laughing and hanging off each other. Beau’s glad they had fun even if it sets her timeline back by an hour. By the time they shower and come down ready to go, Marion’s waiting to send them off in the lobby.

“It’s been a pleasure to have you all here,” She surprises Beau with a hug. Beau allows her arms to slowly lift and wrap around Marion. She’s not sure what to do with affection from a parental figure. It might come as a shock to just about everyone but Beau wasn’t hugged much as a child. “Please don’t hesitate to visit again,” She pulls back from the hug and looks directly at Beau. “I love to see my Jester surround herself with such good people.”

Beau doesn’t respond to that comment and anyway having Marion’s direct attention is a lot to deal with. She steps back and lets Jester have a moment alone with her mom. Beau doesn’t eavesdrop but she sees a couple watery smiles and can get the gist.

Marion hugs Jester tightly and lets them leave with a wave and a smile.

The car ride back is at least pleasant and lively. For whatever they’ve lost in the past year, the beach trip brings some of it back. Beau even notices Jester and Fjord share a brief joke. Maybe there’s a way things can work out for the best or as best as things can be when there’s so much collateral damage.

Beau definitely speed demons down the highway on the way back home. She needs to talk to Reani and she doesn’t want to stretch it out any longer. She’s been selfish and indulgent, she’s tried to have her cake and eat it too. Reani doesn’t deserve being strung along like this, not anymore than she already has.

Beau’s going to tell the truth and deal with the consequences like she should have done months ago. Probably. No, definitely. Something will definitely be dealt with.

Beau knows that Reani’s home from the conference when Beau calls her to break their long silence.

“Hey,” Beau doesn’t really know how to do this knowing everything she knows.

“Hi,” Reani says softly.

“Can I come over?” Beau tests the waters.

There’s a long pause. She hears Reani breathing into the speaker, it’s the only thing that keeps her from pulling the phone away from her ear to check to see if the call dropped. It hasn’t. There’s just this space between them.

“Yes,” Reani ends the pause but doesn’t sound any more confident than before.

“I’ll be right over,” Beau says as she hangs up. Truthfully she’s been pacing a few blocks away from Reani’s building up the confidence to call and ask since she dropped the Suburban off.

Beau power walks the rest of the way to Reani’s. She knocks on the door when she gets there, she doesn’t really feel comfortable using the key. The key feels like a step too intimate at this point.

Reani opens the door.

Fuck, Beau can’t do this. Her chest constricts and she starts to feel like the world is caving in on her again. Reani sees the look of panic in Beau’s eyes and closes the short distance to pull Beau into a tight hug. Beau lets herself sink in to Reani’s warm embrace, she buries her nose in Reani’s neck and breathes deeply.

Beau feels her entire body sag and relax.

Reani steps back after she feels Beau relax. “Come in.”

Beau follows her to the living room and sits down on the couch. They sit quietly in familiar silence for a few moments.

“How was Nicodranis?” Reani asks.

“Really good,” Beau’s got everything else on the tip of her tongue. “I had a really good talk with Fjord. I think he’s going to be okay.”

Reani looks at her expectantly but Beau chickens out at the last second. She has time, she wants to ease into this.

“How was the rest of the conference?” Beau returns the favor of Reani asking about her weekend.

“It was fantastic,” Reani can’t quite look at Beau when she says that. “For the first time since I’ve been presenting at these things I finally felt like I belonged in this world.” Reani looks up at Beau and waits.

“That’s awesome,” Beau feels hollow saying it but she means it. She really does. All she wants is for Reani to be happy. She loves Reani, she only wants the best for her.

“Dr. Finn made the offer official,” Reani says hesitantly. “Effective Augst, she wants me as a fellow with the opportunity to advance pretty quickly if I take to it.”

“You will,” Beau says without hesitation. If there’s anything that’s not in doubt it’s Reani’s competence. She deserves every second of this job offer. “That’s,” Beau cuts herself off, feeling tears prick behind her eyes. She looks up and to the right to try and blink them away before Reani notices. “I’m really proud of you, Rean. I mean that.”

“I know you do,” Reani says quietly. She moves closer to Beau and intertwines their hands. Reani’s always been the more tactile of the two of them. She’s dragged Beau kicking and screaming into so many healthy behaviors. “But we both know you’re not going to follow me to Uthodurn.”

Whoomp, there it is. In typical fashion, Beau came here to end things with Reani and yet, Reani still beat her to the punch. After all, there’s only so much you can learn from the master. At the end of the day, the master always bests the student.

“Reani,” Beau feels like she’s teetering on the verge of collapse and the only thing holding her together is what she’s about to lose. “I’m so sorry,” Beau’s never cried over a breakup before, she’s never really had breakups other than Yasha and Tori. Those were both painful in their own right but it didn’t feel like this.

This feels like someone is stretching her on a rack, pulling her from stem to root, tip to tip, violently ripping her body apart. And she expected this one, so why does it hurt so much?

“Why are you sorry?” Reani’s fighting through tears now too. She’s not even trying to hide them.

“I love you,” Beau says instead of a logical response. “I don’t want it to end like this.”

“I love you too,” Reani leans her forehead on Beau’s and closes her eyes. “I love you so much.”

Beau closes her eyes as well. She wants to sink into this moment and never leave. Neither of them did anything wrong, Beau’s side is pushing the limits of that argument but it’s still no one’s fault. They’re going in different directions and where one goes the other can’t follow.

Even if Reani asked, Beau can’t go with her for reasons that have to do with school before they have to do with Jester. But Beau doesn’t want to take the easy route. She could, Reani’s doing a good enough job of ending things so Beau could keep her mouth shut. She doesn’t want to do that.

Maybe it’s all of the months of radical honesty she’s been practicing with Reani. Maybe it’s her overall desire to keep Reani in her life but she doesn’t want lies between them. She doesn’t want to blindside Reani if things go the way that Beau’s pretty sure they’re going to go with Jester.

“I have feelings for Jester,” Beau blurts out as she pulls back.

Reani smiles like it physically pains her to do it. “Why do you think I haven’t asked you to follow me?”

“You knew?” Beau feels like an absolute piece of shit. “Why didn’t you, I don’t know, fucking kick me to the curb a long time ago?”

“Because I’m greedy,” Reani laughs through the tears and wipes some that are starting to fall down her face. “And you’re loyal. I knew you wouldn’t cheat on me, I don’t know!” She cuts herself off and looks away. “I just wanted as much of you as I could get. The part of you that’s mine is a really really good part.” Reani looks down.

“I’m such a fucking asshole,” Beau offers as an apology like she has anything else to say. How is she supposed to deal with the fact that Reani knew and stayed anyway?

“A little bit.”

“A lot bit.”

“Sold,” Reani’s voice is tinged with such a deep sadness that Beau wants to split off into an alternate reality where this is a thing that works. Jester and Fjord worked out and they go on stupid double dates. Beau is Jester’s maid of honor and Beau is Jester’s. Roll credits.

This is not that reality.

“So are we like - are we,” Beau trails off for lack of something to fill those spaces.

“Breaking up?” Reani’s braver than Beau to the very end.

“Yeah.”

“I think so,” Reani says softly as she moves even closer to Beau and cuddles on her shoulder. Beau extends her arm around Reani’s body and pulls her as close as possible.

They sit like that as Reani cries and Beau lets herself do the same. It feels like she’s losing a piece of herself that she really really needs. Before Reani she was a fucking mess, full stop. No arguments. Now?

Now she feels like a functional, communicative person who says the right thing more times than now. She knows how to love someone and it feels like a really shitty thing to do to take all of what Reani taught her so she can apply it to someone else. 

The sun moves across the sky and Beau finds that they eventually drift off like that. She wakes up with a knot the size of a tennis ball in her neck and her arm is asleep from Reani’s body weight.

Reani starts to stir and looks at Beau with sleepy eyes. “Did we fall asleep?”

“Mhmm,” Beau mumbles.

Reani visibly tries to get her bearings back as Beau silently memorizes the lines of her face. The face of someone Beau wishes could be enough, who should be enough. She’ll be enough for somebody one day and that person will be one of the luckiest people in the world.

“Reani?” Beau tries to wiggle her fingers on her right arm and gets that fuzzy feeling in her limb. “Can I have my arm back?”

“Oh,” Reani sits up immediately. “Yes.”

“It’s okay,” Beau doesn’t know what to do. Does she get up and start packing her things? Is that rude? Is Reani going to pack her things for her? How does this work when you’re ending a relationship like this? “What do we do now?”

Reani thinks for a minute. “We can take it slow?”

“What do you mean?” Beau feels curious about Reani’s uncharacteristic hesitation.

“Take it slow,” Reani explains. “Break up in stages. I don’t leave until mid-July.”

Beau squints and tries to figure out where Reani’s going with this. “That’s a month away.”

“Right,” Reani agrees and puts her hand on Beau’s thigh. “We slowly disentangle everything until it’s over.”

“Won’t that get messy?” Beau doesn’t know if she wants to drag this out. The longer it drags on the more likely they won’t be friends. Or maybe that’s not how Reani works at all? Maybe this is what Reani needs to slowly pull back and be okay? Beau thinks if anyone deserves to have something go their way, it’s Reani.

“Maybe but probably not,” Reani admits. “It’s my turn to be selfish.”

Beau knows she’s talking about Jester and gives her that without argument.

“Okay,” Beau agrees. “I don’t know what the fuck this looks like but I’m willing to learn.”

“We both will,” Reani agrees firmly.

Beau agrees to stay the night but only if she and Reani work together to start packing up Beau’s stuff together. Beau isn’t entirely sure about how this whole thing works but knowing what she’s put Reani through she’s willing to try.

***

As soon as she wakes up she rushes over to Caduceus’s house to sort this out in her brain. Caduceus woke up on the shady side of the bed this morning.

“You are one of the smartest people to ever be the dumbest person I know,” Caduceus prunes another branch on his little bonsai tree.

“Thanks?” Beau takes the backhanded compliment in stride, it’s to be expected with Caduceus.

Oh and Caleb is here for some reason that Beau doesn’t want to ask about. So she doesn’t and tolerates his unexpected presence.

“I don’t understand, Beauregard,” Caleb interjects. “You guys are breaking up, ya?”

“Ya,” Beau parrots back.

“Instead of doing that immediately she’s allowed guilt to make it a process,” Caduceus continues his roast of Beauregard Lionett.

“You always tell me grief is a process,” Beau argues back.

“It is,” Caleb agrees.

“Sure,” Caduceus agrees with them both. “But they’re just putting things off.”

“So what if we are?” Beau gets more and more fired up.

“Jester, for one,” Caduceus throws in her face. “You know you want Jester and she’s moving, why drag it out?” Caduceus shakes his head and prunes another branch. “I’ll never understand you Beau, not as long as I live.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand myself,” Beau agrees. “So at least we have that in common.”

Caduceus won’t stop shaking his head disapprovingly and Caleb won’t stop giving her pitying looks. She leaves Caduceus’s apartment with as much support as she came in with.

She gives it all some time and finds that it’s not so bad. Beau wants to tell Caduceus and Caduceus only that he can suck it. There is nothing wrong with a structured break up, as it turns out. Not if you’re both super chill and mature which she and Reani are, in case that wasn’t clear.

It’s been great. Beau’s got a lot of her stuff out of Reani’s and she’s cutting back on the nights she spends over there. As they’re getting Beau’s shit out they’re also packing all of Reani’s. One day in a fit of mania, Beau offers to drive Reani thousands of miles out to Uthodurn. Perhaps knowing that wouldn’t be healthy for either of them, Reani declines.

Sometimes she catches Reani looking at her like a sad puppy but those instances are getting fewer and further between.

Beau doesn’t neglect Jester during this transitory time but she keeps her at arms length. She talks about the break up with Jester but they don’t go any further than that. They’re still on  opposite sides of a floor full of broken glass, Beau doesn’t want to step on it any more than she needs to until she’s tied everything up with Reani. Once she closes that door with a nice bow on the top then she can start that painful journey.

The only real boundary set in the structured break up is they’re not sexually intimate anymore. They have a long messy conversation about it but in the end Beau agrees that it’s the best thing for them. They can’t start to reorganize roles in their heads if they’re still crossing that line. There’s so many barriers in the road already, they need to avoid the ones they can control.

They keep in this holding pattern until Beau’s all the way moved out and Reani packs her final box.

“So,” Reani trails off.

“So,” Beau clears her throat and tries to keep the emotion out of her voice. There’s a moving truck downstairs and they’ve got a ton of shit to carry in the punishing heat of the July sun. “We should probably get started?”

“Yeah,” Reani agrees with a weird hitch in her voice. Beau supposes it isn’t actually weird to be sad this is it. She’s sad but she still isn’t the best at showing she’s not chill at the time.

She’s better than she used to be and it’s mostly thanks to the woman who’s about to be on the other side of the continent.

Beau didn’t notice Reani having this much stuff when it was filling an entire apartment but now that she has to carry it she’s starting to rethink things. Reani’s doing more pointing and directing than carrying and perhaps this is how she punishes Beau for breaking her heart. If this is as bad as it gets, Beau’s willing to take the heat.

It takes hours on top of hours and the sun is thankfully setting as Beau loads up the bed frame and posts. She walks up to check the apartment one last time. Beau leaves her key on the counter next to Reani’s key for the landlord to pick up in the morning.

The walk down the stairs feels like it takes a lifetime. Part of that could be jello legs from repeated trips throughout the day but Beau has the emotional maturity to know better. She looks up and sees Reani playing with the keys to the truck. In the hazy glow of the sunset Beau drinks Reani in, her heart does this weird wobble. It takes Beau a moment to shake off.

Reani sees her, smiles, and waves her over.

“So,” Beau says again as Reani spins the keys slowly around her pointer finger and stands on the curb across from her.

Reani rapidly closes the gap between them and pulls Beau in for a long kiss. It’s not like their other kisses full of passion or familiarity and love. It’s something different, sad but also hopeful. It feels like a goodbye to one part of them but it’s not goodbye forever. Beau sinks into it and takes this for herself as well. The keys start to dig into Beau’s back and it hurts but she doesn’t want to break this moment.

Beau can see the end in sight, she refuses the instinct to trip at the finish line. She has to see this through.

“I would say I’m gonna miss you,” Reani says as she pulls back. Her smile crinkles the corner of her eyes and Beau feels the full force of her affection. “But I’m not letting you go anywhere, you’re stuck with me for life.”

“I suppose I’ll have to deal with that,” Beau responds with a smile. “I love you and I can’t wait to see all of the awesome things you’re gonna do. I can’t wait to be able to name drop you.”

“Not if I name drop you first,” Reani jokes and wipes at the corner of her eye with her wrist. “I love you too, I think I’m always gonna kind of love you if that’s okay?”

“I’ll find a way to deal with that,” Beau smiles.

“You’ll survive,” Reani trails off and looks at Beau so earnestly for a moment that it nearly knocks her back. Beau resists the urge to shift from foot to foot. “Anyway,” She snaps out of it. “I guess I should be going?”

“The truck won’t drive itself,” Beau jokes but her voice cracks and gives her away.

“Damn it, you’re right,” Reani says through a watery smile. “I guess this is my cue.”

Beau hugs Reani so tightly she’s afraid she’s going to hurt her. But Reani hugs back even tighter. They don’t really say goodbye, it’s more of a see you later.

Beau watches Reani drive all the way down the street until she turns towards the highway and Beau can’t see her anymore. Only then does Beau let herself break down and truly start to mourn.

It feels like she just finished a huge chapter in her life and now she’s expected to have the emotional energy to push on to the next one. Beau’s not sure she believes she’s strong enough to do that. In all of the ways that she was a distraction for Jester in the beginning, Reani became someone that Beau will never be able to thank enough.

And this is how it ends?

Beau thinks of Reani’s final words to her. It’s not ending, not really. It’s changing, transforming itself entirely to fit the next stages of their lives. Beau’s not going to screw up this next phase, she’s determined to be a better friend to Reani. Better than she ever was as a girlfriend, she’s able to realize that now.

She’s smart enough to understand how lucky she is that Reani is who she is.

The pang of loss weakens in her heart.

But then she thinks of the way Jester’s eyes crinkle when she laughs, truly laughs or the way she holds her hands clasped in front of her chest when she’s about to cry during a movie. She thinks of that one unruly hair that won’t stay in Jester’s bun so it’s always falling in her face and the way Jester’s lips felt when they brushed the corner of Beau’s lips.

Her heart flutters with something else entirely.

Beau thinks of all these things as she pulls herself together and finds the strength to start walking. Her feet carry her home but her heart’s in a fancy apartment downtown waiting to be claimed.

Chapter Text

As a general policy, Beau doesn’t like to follow the rules. Though, now that she’s thinking about it that way it feels like having a rule to not follow rules makes zero sense. That’s not the point, the point is Beau wishes there was some sort of written protocol for her situation. She hates doing her readings but she would pull an all nighter for an article on how long to wait after a painful breakup before you make a pass at your best friend. She would pay an arm and a leg in journal fees to unlock that secret.

Beau spends a month sending charged texts to Jester that never quite follow through on any one thing in particular. They’re emotionally edging towards something but neither of them takes that final leap. Beau teeters the closest one night after she and Reani have a little fight over text but she pulls herself to safety at the last minute. She doesn’t want to start like that, not out of bitterness or a sense of feeling rushed.

Jester comes over to Beau’s one night when Caleb and Nott are out with Yeza. She shows up with a box of donuts and a DVD copy of An Officer and a Gentleman. “I’m not doing this anymore with you,” She pushes her way into the door. She places the food on the counter and puts the movie in the DVD player that Beau’s pretty sure she only has for Jester. She even has a fucking VHS player in her closet for the rare times when Jester wants to watch her old Disney tapes.

No wonder everyone and their mother could tell, Beau is about as fucking whipped for Jester as a person can be. It would be embarrassing except for she’s pretty sure there’s not a person out there who wouldn’t understand. Jester has an aura, stepping too close is like having the attention of the sun. It’s inescapable.

Beau is powerless to resist. So, this a thing they do now too. They watch movies. Some Beau’s seen so many times she could put them on as a one-woman play. During those their focus fades from the action on the screen and shifts to the tension on the couch. Jester tests the boundaries and Beau lets her push. They start with a cushion between them. Every two movie nights Jester moves a couple inches closer.

By the time they get to 10 Things I Hate About You, Jester’s pressed against Beau’s side. Her head on Beau’s shoulder, Beau’s arm around her back holding her close. Jester looks at her warmly during the scene where Kat breaks down and reads her poem to Heath Ledger. There’s a moment where Beau thinks Jester is going to cross the bridge over the mess they made, the mess that they’re slowly healing as time passes. Beau lets her eyes flicker closed for a moment but she opens them just as quickly.

Jester looks away and the moment slips away.

Things with Reani get better after the initial fighting. Reani settles into her roll at the institute so she gets less and less time to talk to Beau. It’s okay because it gives them space to fill the gaps in between them with something other than pain. Caduceus wasn’t right but he isn’t wrong either. Drawing out the break up was the best thing at the time but distance only gives them the time to pick at the cracks.

They do the processing they should have done instead of the easy, self-indulgent way they left things. But after the mess something actually beautiful starts to blossom. As it turns out, they can be friends. They slung all the mud in their satchels and came out the other side clean.

Beau finds peace in the state they’re in.

They move forward.

Things between her and Jester move forward as well. Jester starts to spend the night on movie nights. First, on the couch the night they stretch the limits of the human constitution to try and watch all of the Harry Potter movies in one day. Then, Jester slips on some ice and bruises her tailbone really badly. That night Beau pulls out her laptop and they binge watch The Crown as they lay side by side on their stomachs. Beau falls asleep during the whole Lunch Club situation and wakes up the next morning to Jester snoring softly in the crook of her neck.

Beau closes her eyes and goes back to sleep.

The norm keeps moving further and further away from friendship until finally one of them slips. Not like Jester on a sidewalk but they finally break the holding pattern.

Winter hits with full force after that first little storm and it’s somehow colder than last year. Beau remembers sitting in front of a warm fire and exchanging promises, she remembers it fondly now. It’s a stepping stone to where she is now. Huddled behind a snow drift bunker, staring across a field of soft powdery snow. The cold cuts through the thick material of her gloves as Beau bends the snow to her will.

“Jesterland forever!” Jester yells as she peeks over her own snow drift bunker and hurls snowball after snowball at Beau. Beau feels the chilly trickle of powdered snow falling on top of her head and shakes off the initial shock.

“You better take yourself to the Breauregard City where the grass is green,” Beau parodies as she hurls her own barrage of attacks in Jester’s directions. “And the girls are pretty.”

She hears Jester squeal and start shouting out some modified curses directed at Beau. Beau cackles. Her last attack must have been a direct hit. Beau turns her back and slides back down the bunker. That should give Jester a moment to think twice about attacking Beau again.

Beau should never have forgotten that Jester is a wild card. What a foolish thing to do.

Beau blinks once and the world is fine, she blinks again and her world is wet and cold and did she fucking mention cold? “Jester!” Beau yells as she uses her fingers like windshield wipers to clean her face. “Jester, I’m gonna be able to see again in a second and then, oh and then I’m going to kill you.”

“No you won’t!” Jester declares triumphantly.

“Oh yes I will,” Beau assures Jester as she starts to regain her power of sight. She gets a full picture of the world again and finds Jester’s face a mere foot from her face. Beau’s seen this look on Jester’s face so many times now. A few times here and there in the beginning but as things have progressed she sees it more and more until finally Beau starts to see it a little bit every single day.

“You won’t,” Jester says softly, pushing an inch further into Beau’s space.

“Why not?” Beau matches Jester’s volume and watches her movement with barely constrained awe. The cold starts to seep into her neck and shirt but her body blushes and starts to feel warm.

Jester gets closer. “Because you love me too much.”

Jester stares her down, Jester dares her to say something else, to refute the claim and end this elongated game of chicken. Beau surges into the remaining space and rests her forehead against Jester’s forehead. Beau would like to think she’s an exceptionally chill person, that being said, she feels decidedly unchill in this very moment.

Her breath hitches. “I know you are but what am I?”

Jester breaks their intense gaze and smiles, Beau can feel the barely imperceptible shaking of Jester’s head against her own. She doesn’t know how to describe the feeling of Jester’s skin on her own. Her forehead feels like all of the nerves in her body have rushed to that singular spot. Beau feels everything.

She looks back up. “I have a feeling I’ll never be bored.”

“I can promise you that,” Beau looks earnestly into Jester’s eyes.

“What else can you promise me?” Jester asks as her eyes flutter close.

“Whatever you want,” Beau closes the distance and captures Jester’s lips in a kiss. It’s, it’s - Beau cuts herself off and lets her brain shut off for once. She doesn’t have to sprint to learn, she doesn’t have to know everything now. For once, for truly the first time she doesn’t have to see the future. She doesn’t have the manic feeling that everything is going to collapse before she finds out.

Beau feels like she’s got time.

Beau knows she has Jester.

Beau finally feels like she has enough.