Caleb misses Molly.
Which is not wholly unusual, because Caleb always—somewhere, in the back of his mind—misses Molly. The twice-late tiefling has a permanent residence in Caleb's subconscious for a variety of reasons—guilt, grief, nostalgia, anger—Caleb can flip any emotional coin he'd like and it'll always come up with Molly's signature smirk.
Presently, however, Caleb misses Molly because he's fairly certain if the tiefling were still around, at least someone would be having a good time, because it certainly isn't him. Or any of the Nein, really, who seem to have all wordlessly agreed to put enough space between them and Caleb that passerby they encounter on the road have taken to glancing at him as though searching for whatever disease he must surely possess to explain the fact that his party is a strong thirty paces away from him at any given moment.
"It isn't like I hurt her," Caleb snarks, downing most of his waterskin in one pull. "And despite your best efforts, no one's died."
Beau heaves a very put-upon sigh, like listening to Caleb wrestle with his very real and pressing crises is bullshit. It seems she'd drawn the short straw in keeping pace with him, since it had apparently been decided—and really, who is making these decisions for the group, is there a suggestion box he doesn't know about?—that Caleb clearly can't be left alone and needs a babysitter.
"Dude, it's just weird," she says, to which Caleb rolls his eyes so hard he thinks he nearly dislodges them because—yeah, fucking tell him about it. She shrugs, says, "I don't know—you and Jester, it's just...it's you and Jester."
Caleb says, "We are indeed the two people involved," so dryly he has to take another drink, and Beau sighs again.
"I don't know what you want me to say," Beau says, because she's helpful like that. She eyes him. "And shouldn't you be, like, talking to her about it?"
Caleb's eyes swivel to her—Jester Lavorre, his wife, somehow—where she stands the designated ten or so feet ahead, walking between Caduceus and Fjord. She's making grand gestures with her hands—at one point she flings an arm out so dramatically she nearly clocks Fjord straight in the nose—clearly in the middle of an elaborate retelling of some story.
Beau bumps into him roughly—gods, that monk has broad shoulders, no wonder she never wears sleeves—and he dutifully glances back at her, eyebrow raised expectantly.
"You could just say my name. That's how most people try and get the attention of the person they want to talk to," he reminds her, only-half serious. He knows it's just her nature—she's tactile, not touchy-feely—but he also knows he has bruises up and down his arms from all the times she's punched him just to ask him for the time.
Beau hisses, "You're staring at her," like he's a misbehaving dog embarrassing her in front of her friends, and Caleb scowls back.
"I'm fairly sure I am allowed to look at her, Beauregard—"
"Not when your eyes go all like, soft and emotional and—"
"I am not, nor have I ever been, soft or emotional, you take that back—"
Beau does that laugh she has where she sounds vaguely like a wounded bird. "You are absolutely the softest, most emotional person—"
Caleb slings an arm out to catch around her stupidly broad shoulders and uses every scrap of his extremely unimpressive strength to yank her closer so he can thoroughly fuck up her hair with his free hand. Beau squawks in indignation at the assault, clearly caught off-guard, and shoves Caleb away with one steady push containing so much force that Caleb is fairly certain it might have dislocated his shoulder—
"Hey." Yasha is suddenly there—appearing between them with unnerving silence and zero warning, as she's wont to do—and Caleb stiffens out of instinct, arms dropping rigidly to his sides, the shoulder Beau'd shoved throbbing painfully beneath his coat. She gazes down at him, and Caleb's helplessly caught in her mismatched gaze. "You should be walking with Jester."
Beau says, "Exactly. Thankyou, Yasha," with exaggerated agreement, and Caleb shoots her a withering look because they both know damm well that she would have agreed with absolutely any suggestion that had come out of Yasha's mouth, even if it had been, like, "you should polymorph Beau into a beetle."
Beau catches sight of his glare and shrugs unapologetically as she fixes her hair.
Caleb says, "I don't think Jester wants to walk with me, presently," through teeth so tightly gritted he wonders faintly if they'll actually crack. Yasha just gives him a puzzled glance.
"You're married," she says, so flatly and obviously Caleb feels himself blush like a fucking idiot, but Yasha doesn't seem to notice. Or care. It's hard to tell, sometimes. "You have a duty to each other—as friends, as members of this party, and now, as husband and wife."
Behind Yasha, Caleb watches Beau wince so spectacularly that he can only imagine what his own face is doing. It's painful, whatever it is.
"Right," he blurts, the paragon of charisma that he is. "Ah. Duty. Okay. Ja. I'll just—" and he very quickly strides away because if he ever has to hear Yasha say husband and wife in that quietly intense way of hers while staring at him like she knows every secret he's ever had ever again, it will be too soon.
But Yasha catches him by the arm, pulling him back—somehow managing to be more gentle than Beau despite easily outmuscling the other woman—shaking her head like Caleb's already fucking up this whole being a good spouse thing. Which, like, considering he'd been drunk during the wedding ceremony, he feels less like he's stumbling at the first hurdle of marriage and more like he'd missteped so badly out of the gate that both his femurs broke off and rocketed into the sky.
"You don't act because of duty," says Yasha, in avoice that is as patient and nurturing as it is blatantly screaming do not fuck this up. "The duty is just there—it exists. It's," she fumbles, here, for a moment, broad hands gesturing uselessly. "It's a fact, you know, not a reason."
Caleb stares at her blankly for exactly four seconds before looking over her shoulder to Beau for an explanation.
Beau says, "Don't go to Jester because you have to—go to Jester because you want to," like she's got the wisdom and authority of a decades-married woman and not like she's a train wreck of a bachelorette who had likened marriage to a cult less than twenty-four hours ago. She then has the audacity to tap her temple with one finger, giving him a smug look like she's some wise old monk on a mountain dispensing knowledge to those who seek it.
"If I could punch you and you could feel it," Caleb tells her seriously. "I would be doing it right now."
Beau laughs—delighted by threats of violence in that charming way of hers.
Somehow, when he thinks about it in his head—it being his literal, lawful marriage to his closest friend and party member and object of his extremely suppressed and one-sided affections, for those following along at home—it still seems like a distant, make-believe problem. It can't really be real, surely. It's the same way he'd felt when he'd learned that he and Jester had danced at Hupperdook—the times that his flawless memory fails him are so few and far between that when an event occurs and he cannot immediately recall it, his instinct is to dismiss it as fantasy.
But with Yasha staring at him like that, with her saying you're married with that same, deadly serious cadence she speaks about everything else—from her trial with the Storm Lord to how terrible Nott's cooking is—Caleb is reminded, rather forcefully, that it is indeed, a very, very real situation.
Isn't it funny, his bullshit, traitor subconscious that always sounds like Molly for absolutely no reason other than Caleb's own inability to compartmentalize, drawls, that all of these silly little "fantasies" always happen with Jester?
A hand on his shoulder—Yasha again.
"Hey," she says, her tone a shade softer than it had been before. He glances up, finds her looking down at him with a face of earnest determination. "She's still her. And you're still you."
Zuala, Yasha's wife had been called. He remembers the reverence with which she'd spoken it—so careful and soft and delicate. He wonders—shame burning high in his cheeks—what all this talk of marriage and love is doing to her, what memories it's bringing up. He still flinches when Jester and Beau mention their parents—some wounds won't scab over, eternally raw, until you just learn to live with them.
But Yasha just offers him a very small, very sad smile, like she knows exactly what he's thinking.
"So like," Beau drawls from Yasha's other side, her voice painfully loud and aloof after Yasha's hushed words. She lolls her head to the side, casting Caleb a look. "Is Jester like...Jester Widogast now, or?"
Caleb jolts—he had not thought of that, actually, it had not crossed his mind in the slightest but now he can't not think about it and no, okay, stop it, this is not helpful—
"Widogast isn't his true name," says Yasha, because discussing each other's most closely guarded secrets casually out loud like this is something the Nein just, like, do now. She glances at him, head titled in consideration. "Jester Ermendrud, yes?"
Caleb really thinks he might die. Like, for real, dead forever, no take-backs, right here on the open road. He coughs to disguise the fact that his stomach is staging a revolution in his gut.
"Ah," says Caleb, stupidly. "I, ah, think Caleb Lavorre would be the better choice." Because, for one thing, it objectively does sound better, and for another, Lavorre has the benefit of being a name Caleb can say out loud without wanting to curl up in a ball and remain unmoving for the next three to seven years while he reflects on what an absolute shitty excuse for a human he is.
Beau hums, like she's considering it, while Yasha just fixes him with a look that informs him he chose incorrectly. Caleb dutifully ignores her gaze. Gods, and he thought Caduceus could play the disappointed parent well. Between the two of them and Nott, Caleb feels like he's more than covered in that particular area.
They make good time, arriving at the inn Beau had circled on their map before they'd left Xhorhas just before dusk.
"We're still a good ten miles out from Nicodranas," she explains, tugging idly on her goggles where they dangle from her neck, "but we'll definitely make it there tomorrow."
Nott, meanwhile, has collapsed on the ground with more melodrama than a creature her size ought to possess, in Caleb's own opinion.
"More walking?" she complains, flopping back in the dirt. "Ugh."
Jester says, "I already talked to Mama—she'll be expecting us tomorrow." She links her fingers, twisting her hands, then opens her mouth like she wants to say more before quickly closing it.
Her eyes dart to Caleb's, then swiftly away. He pretends not to notice.
Nott carries on her one-goblin show, unaware of—or, more likely, in spite of—the somewhat awkward energy.
"You'll have to carry me," she croaks, reaching up with one trembling hand. Caleb rolls his eyes.
"Perhaps we'll put you in Jester's Handy Haversack," he suggests, glancing at Jester with a raised brow. "She'll probably fit, ja?"
A smile blooms across Jester's face, like nothing would delight her more than stuffing their very dear friend into an extra-dimensional space. It tugs at Caleb, a little, the way it probably would have even if he wasn't wearing a gold ring on his left hand.
She's still her. And you're still you.
"We can't do that," Fjord protests. "There's like—" he eyes the bright pink bag at Jester's hip like it's liable to bite him "—bones and shit in there."
Jester says, "Nott likes bones," with supreme confidence, and Caleb elbows Beau to keep her from making whatever juvenile joke is on the tip of her tongue.
They all shuffle inside, eventually—partly because they need to get to sleep, partly because their conversation about Nott's alleged bone preferences had escalated somewhat and people were starting to stare—
"How're we gonna split the rooms?" Fjord asks, glancing sideways at Caleb, who meets his stare with an arched eyebrow.
"I'd imagine the same way we always do," says Caleb, diplomatically, thumbing the too-large wedding ring on his finger where his hand is tucked in his pocket. He can't place the root of Fjord's mood—Caleb knows he takes on the troubles of his party members as though they're his own, such single-minded empathy is honestly admirable—but there's some sort of...something simmering just below his normal brooding.
Beau hip checks him, needlessly aggressive. "Really? Normal setup?" She waggles her eyebrows ridiculously. "Thought you and Jess were trying to sell this thing."
Caleb rolls his eyes. "To who?" he grouses, waving a hand irritably at their surroundings. A dwarf is bussing tables in the corner, whistling tunelessly, and a pair of tabaxi are having a very enthusiastic conversation in a language Caleb doesn't recognize.
When Caleb glances back to Fjord, his expression is throughly shuttered. Well. Nothing like a wedding to bring people together.
Caduceus rubs at his jaw. "We are out of the Dynasty's territory," he muses. "I suppose it's a bit of a moot point, eh?"
Caleb smiles thinly, pleased as fucking punch that everyone is getting their two-cents in on just how he and Jester ought to conduct themselves in this sham-of-a-marriage-that-is-still-technically-legal-in-some-parts-of-the-world-maybe-and-therefore-not-really-a-sham-at-all.
Yasha joins him at the counter while the rest of the Nein settle at a table. Jester is looking at him in that pointed way again—like she's either trying to read his mind or will him to read hers—and he turns away before he can think too hard about the implications of that.
"Three rooms, please," Caleb requests, placing his hands flat on the counter. The firelight catches on his ring and he forces himself to leave it there
The innkeeper—who has been doing a phenomenally unsubtle job of looking Yasha up-and-down appreciatively—reluctantly turns her gaze to Caleb.
She works her jaw for a bit, searching his features lazily, before frowning.
"Mighty Nein?" she asks, and Caleb's entire skeleton snaps to attention.
"That would," says Caleb, slowly, fingers twitching on the countertop, "depend on who is asking."
Yasha's gone tense beside him, but the innkeeper just nods once, ducking below the counter to pull out a key.
"Your room's already been paid for," she explains, passing it to Caleb. "It's the nicest one here, too, so like. Cheers."
He lets the key drop into his hand, staring at it like he's never been presented with such a complex contraption in his life.
"Ah," he says, blinking once. "What?"
The innkeeper shrugs, looking keenly disinterested in speaking to him when Yasha is her other option.
"Take it up with the guy who bought it for you," she says, shrugging. "Not my fucking business."
Caleb frowns, because it is, quite literally, exactly her fucking business, but Yasha intervenes.
"What guy?" she asks, all low and intense. "What did he look like?"
The innkeeper's eyes gleam, and she props her chin in her hand, smiling coyly.
"Skinny, tall, built like an elf, but I didn't see his ears," she flutters her eyelashes, like describing a potential stalker to his potential victims is, like, the height of allure.
Caleb says, "Name?" and the innkeep glances at him, idly annoyed, like she'd forgotten he was there.
"Essek," she drawls, drawing out the name carelessly and ending it with a click of her teeth. She arches an eyebrow. "Weird guy. Didn't stay long." She looks back to Yasha. "Not really my type."
Caleb purchases two other rooms before the innkeeper just decides to haul off and jump Yasha, and she smiles sunnily at the barbarian the entire time.
"We're being followed," Caleb reports to Fjord when he returns to the table, passing him one key and handing the other to Beau, who frowns at the news.
"Empire or Dynasty?" she murmurs, doing that thing where she talks without moving her lips, eyes dark and serious in the firelight.
"The latter, I think," says Caleb, resisting the urge to glance over his shoulder. The Nein have packed in tighter at the table—he's sandwiched between Caduceus and Fjord, while Nott's head is barely visible around Yasha's bicep. "Essek was here before us, or someone posing as him anyway."
Yasha says, "He paid for Jester and Caleb's room," and suddenly everyone is staring at him like this is somehow his fault even though he literally just explained that this was someone else's doing—
“They must be serious about, well, you two being serious,” Caduceus says, almost sounding impressed which, like, if Caleb gets a vote, is not what he would consider to be the appropriate response, exactly.
”It ain’t any of their business—” Fjord begins, but Beau waves him off.
”They’re suspicious of us,” she hisses, which, considering they’re all sitting shoulder-to-shoulder whispering suspiciously, Caleb feels is at least a little fair. “If we fuck up something as small as this, they’re never going to trust us with anything big.”
Caleb opens his mouth to protest her assessment of what is and is not big in the current situation, because he’s wearing a fucking wedding ring and—
"Okay," says Jester. Her shoulders bob in a shrug. "So we just room together for tonight. That's not a big deal," her eyes meet Caleb's from across the table. "Is it?"
Caleb's throat audibly clicks.
"No," he says, hoping he means it. "Not at all."
Jester is uncharacteristically silent as they climb the stairs up to the room—their room, as in shared, joint, collective—and that suits Caleb just fine. He's sort of forgotten how to talk, presently.
He fumbles for a moment with the key to the door—his hands are shaking gods why are his hands shaking—and Jester just stands patiently at his side, bouncing idly on the balls of her feet, glancing around curiously as Caleb tries to remember how doors work.
Eventually—through sheer force of fucking will—the lock turns and Caleb stumbles in, Jester flouncing over the threshold behind him. He studies the room around them, idly cataloguing the windows, the door to the bathroom, the closet, the mirror, the chest of drawers, the bed—
"I've never slept with someone before," says Jester, suddenly.
Caleb nods without even telling his brain to tell his head to do that because gods help him he is gone he is done stick a fucking fork in him he is useless.
"Right." He feels like he's not even in his own body, like all of this is happening to someone else somehow even less fortunate than he, and wonders if some part of his subconsciousness is trying to cast magic jar and just forcibly eject his soul onto the astral plane and leave his husk of a human body behind. Caleb doesn't know much about the astral plane and vaguely recalls a lot of risk being associated with that spell but if it gets him out of this room he is all in.
"Well, you aren't sleeping with anyone tonight, either," Caleb tells her, his hands itching to do something so he whisks off the top blanket on the bed. It's sweltering here after their time in Xhorhas and Jester doesn't get cold anyway. He pauses, realizing that sounded dangerously like an order.
"I mean—if you want to sleep with someone, that's entirely your business and I'm not going to stop you—I wouldn't stop you, and that assumes I even could, which I can't, but most importantly I won't and—"
Jester is staring at him, and he forces a hard swallow.
"Anyway." Gods but Ikithon would flay him alive if he saw his student fumble for words so spectacularly. And probably because Caleb betrayed him. A combination of both, perhaps.
Jester's head bobs in agreement. "Anyway," she agrees, like she's waiting for more, but Caleb has fully lost control of his higher functions and just stares back at her, blanket dangling limply from his hands.
An awkward silence rolls by. Caleb hardly notices.
"I meant like…sleep sleep," Jester tells him, a curious note in her voice Caleb frankly doesn't have enough brain power to decipher at the moment. "Snore sleep. Bedtime sleep. Not sex." She pauses, here, as Caleb's entire chest heaves before remarking, blithely, "I've never done that, either, but I didn't think that's what you would be thinking about."
There's a steady flush crawling up Caleb's neck, and he keeps clutching the blanket like it's his last shreds of sanity. It very well might be—it's certainly tattered enough.
"We could try that," Jester ventures, like she's trying to peg his mood. She peers at him, tilting her head to the side, horn ornaments catching on the firelight. "You kinda look like you're gonna have, like, a stroke though."
Caleb feels like he is several steps past having a stroke at this point,but makes a valiant attempt to pull it the fuck together.
"Right." He straightens, face going blank. A mask of carefully-fixed indifference slides across his features. "We are either going to sleep together in this bed—actual, real, unconscious sleep—or I'll sleep on the floor." He tosses the blanket back on the bed, stuffing his hands in his pockets to fight the urge to run them through his hair and, likely, end up ripping it out. "Whatever you're most comfortable with."
Jester's head tilts again—the other way this time—and the new angle casts a shadow across her features. Her brow creases with a frown.
"Why is it up to me?" she asks, the playful edge her voice had held suddenly dulled.
Caleb splays his hands rather uselessly.
"Well," he begins, with absolutely no idea of how this sentence is going to end. Gods, he's been alone with Jester for ten seconds and he's already lost the ability to string six words together. Truly, marital bliss. "I just—I know we talked about selling this but—I feel responsible, obviously, and honestly—I can go bunk with Fjord and Caduceus, we can make up some story to the Kryn—"
He snaps his jaw shut when it finally dawns on him that there is no end to this sentence and he's going to pointlessly run his mouth until he physically removes that option, and stands looking down at her, ensuring his expressionless mask holds.
Jester says, "Ugh," with a truly admirable amount of enthusiasm and disgust, and flings herself onto the bed. Caleb feels like that's kind of fair.
He blinks, still looking down blankly at the place she'd stood before glancing sideways to where she's face-planted into the mattress.
"Shut up," Jester grouses, voice muffled by the mass of blankets she's at least surely somewhat suffocating in. She flops over, scowling up at the ceiling. Caleb takes a seat on the edge of the bed, replaying his words, trying to find the issue—
"I hate when you do that," she murmurs, and Caleb frowns, glancing over with concern.
"Jester?" he tries again. She isn't looking at him, instead picking at loose threads in the wool blanket.
"Make your face go all blank." There's an unhappy set to her jaw, and it dawns on Caleb that this is the most upset he's seen her since they woke up married. And it isn't even about waking up married. "When I said we could have sex."
He flinches, minutely, which is stupid because he and Jester are both adults and her mother is a damned courtesan so it isn't like—
"I wasn't, like, you know, propositioning you," she says, and Caleb's head swims at the normalcy of her tone. He and Jester are talking about propositioning. Right. Of course. She isn't even blushing. "I was just saying."
"I'm sorry," says Caleb, reflexively. She's upset and he needs to apologize. It doesn't even require conscious thought. There's a piece of thin silver wire in his fingers, suddenly—he hadn't even realized he'd fished it out of his pockets. "I—it's an old habit. It happens when I feel overwhelmed."
He can feel her gaze on him as he toys with material component to his alarm spell, and he tenses when she sighs. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches as she pushes hair back away from her face, off her forehead, before letting it fall back into its usual charming disarray.
Jester says, "You don't need to feel overwhelmed," and gods has her voice always been so small? She glances up at him—thankfully not the devastating from-under-her-lashes look but the gentle, happy glance she sometimes sends him when the Nein are packed in at a crowded tavern, or when they're swapping watch duty in the middle of the night. A soft, simple, tired little smile for no apparent reason other than she felt like giving him one.
Caleb's stomach swoops, abruptly.
"We're a team," she continues. "You and me—we're like, y'know, partners in this. There's no reason to feel overwhelmed, right?" She offers him another smile—smaller this time, he thinks—but it's gone before he can fully examine it. "You said we're going to fix this, right?"
Caleb nods once, not trusting himself to open his mouth.
She brightens, slightly, perking up. "Then we'll fix it! We always do." She knocks shoulders with him companionably, and Caleb can't stop the smile it pulls from him.
She's still her. And you're still you.
Could they really pull this off without it...ruining everything?
So long as you don't let slip that you're embarrassingly in love with her, Molly's voice drawls in the back of his mind, and Caleb frowns rather pointedly.
"Are you mad?" Jester blurts out, charmingly inelegant as always. She worries her lip, searching his eyes like they're going to tell her everything she wants to know. Like she can draw the truth out of him. Caleb isn't totally unconvinced she can't do that, actually. "You seem mad."
Caleb isn't mad. Not at Jester, anyway, and he doesn't think he's any more mad at himself than he usually is, but then it's always sort of hard to tell. When your baseline for self-evaluation is yeah, sure, I could stand to be absolutely and completely eviscerated today, that's fine, that tracks it can be difficult to discern little nuances.
"I'm not mad, Jester," he says, just to please her.
Her whole face scrunches up the way it does when she's thinking and Caleb marvels, a bit, at how she swings between open book and locked drawer. She telegraphs every emotion she's feeling the moment she's feeling it, but when he takes a closer look, suddenly she's hidden all her telltale features away—traded it all for a silly smile that betrays nothing.
Then—because he is a creature of acute anxiety—Caleb blurts out, "Are you mad?"
She hadn't seemed mad but Caleb's never been terribly skilled at reading Jester when she doesn't want to be read (see above re: locked drawer) but Jester quickly shakes her head, charms on her horns clinking delicately.
"I'm not mad!" she tells him. A pause. A very obvious one, actually. "You definitely seem mad though."
They both stare at each other. Caleb wonders if they can develop telepathy through sheer force of will.
Jester flops back down on the bed, reaching for the wool blanket again. Caleb lets her organize her thoughts as he twists the wire into abstract shapes. He's ruining it for use in the spell, but—he hasn't cast alarm in a long while. He wonders if this is what, like, living is like.
"I mean, I guess if I had to pick someone to marry in our group," says Jester, picking at loose threads in the blanket, "it would be you."
High praise, thinks Caleb, fairly genuinely, watching as she accidentally tugs on the wrong thread and half the blanket unravels in her hands. She curses and hastily casts mending but nothing's really broken so the spell fizzles at her fingertips and after a moment of deliberation she shoves the whole handful of unbound wool under another blanket, smoothing it over like nothing had happened.
Well. At least they have similar problem-solving skills.
"Who would you rather be married to?" Jester is suddenly staring up at him—eyes bright and defiant and Caleb blinks in surprise because, well, nobody?
It occurs to him then—in a dull, sort of abstract way—that he has not once made it clear that this is a series of events he does not completely hate.
"Jester." He drags a hand through his hair, not even wincing as it catches on knots because of course he isn't upset at being married to her he might as well have been declared the fucking Emperor for as high and dizzy and drunk on his own self as it makes him feel but that doesn't change the fact that it was a mistake and it needs to be fixed—
Jester is back to fiddling with the blanket and Caleb makes a mental note to teach her some basic knitting techniques before she ruins all their blankets in the dead of a Xhorhasian winter.
"I'm not mad, Jester," he tells her again, softer, and she looks up, something searching in her eyes.
A beat of silence passes, then another. Jester tilts her head, curious.
"You don't remember it, do you?"
Caleb goes very, very still. Says, "what?" very, very carefully.
Jester peers at him—and she's been doing that a lot, lately, hasn't she? Caleb idly wonders what she's looking for.
"The night we got married," she says, absurdly patient. As if there's anything else of even remote interest she could be referring to. "Your memory—you can't remember things that happen when you're drunk. That's why you barely remember Hupperdook."
Caleb stiffens, because he has never once indicated in any way that there are faults in his memory. Every time the Nein need him to find something, to recall something, to journey back to some exact moment in the past, he has done so with blistering clarity. He has never failed—never.
"Do you remember?" Caleb asks, suddenly on-edge. The idea of Jester having a full recollection of whatever had transpired that night…does something to him. His stomach flips, once, the way Fjord sometimes flips his falchion before plunging it into the chest of a soon-to-be dead creature.
His throat bobs.
Jester stares at him evenly, like she's weighing her response.
"Tell me what you remember," she says instead.
He eyes her warily—he can't discern her tone and it's driving him absolutely mad—but she's asked for something and he's inclined to give it to her.
"We were drunk," Caleb begins, slowly. He cuts a sideways glance at her. "Like, really, impressively drunk."
Jester's head bobs in agreement. "I told you I don't get hangovers and I think you took it kind of personally," she offers. "You kept saying, a true scholar tests his theories."
That does, Caleb admits, chagrined, sound like something he might very well say while intoxicated.
He sets his jaw and honestly thinks—exerting actual effort to recall a memory isn't something he's terribly familiar with. It usually, just, like, happens, with minimal effort.
"Give me a moment," says Caleb, frowning hard at the mirror sitting atop the room's vanity, idly bothered by his reflection. "Just—I have a few pieces, let me think on it."
Jester nods slowly. "Okay," she agrees.
So he thinks on it, for all the good that does him. Recalling a memory he doesn't, like, actually remember goes about as well as one might expect, so after a few moments of pointless brooding—something he's actually really good at—Caleb switches tactics and thinks back to the chalice that's being carried by Caduceus because he's the only person Caleb had trusted not to break, lose, and/or steal it.
Part of the marriage ceremony, Olios had said—but how the fuck would that even come up? Caleb's never even thought about marriage—not in a personal context. It's just something that he occasionally uses to categorize couples who are married. Those two men are husbands, ergo, a marriage happened. That's about as deep as he gets with that particular institution.
Likely, Jester suggested it—which isn't accusatory because, like, obviously he'd fucking agreed—so the question is: how did she pose it? What had they been doing? Where did they get the chalice? The venue? The—
"The rings," Caleb blurts, and Jester goes stiff beside him. He glances at her. "There was—we won the rings, didn't we? It was like..." he trails off—thinking, thinking, thinking—
"Caleb. Caaaaaaaleb," Jester tugged on his sleeve so hard he thought she might have ripped it. He forgot to check. "I know this game."
He nodded, wondering why his head felt so heavy. Maybe all the knowledge? "I know," he said back. "Crick Queen's Call."
He hissed out the s of Queen's a little too long, but nobody seemed to notice. Least of all him. Jester pouted though, eyebrows furrowing in displeasure.
"I don't like that name," she told him. She tugged on his sleeve again, and that time he was sure she'd ripped it. "Caleb, I don't like it."
Well, Caleb couldn't very well ask the Empire to stop calling them Cricks—he drunkenly entertained the idea of drafting a fake decree as King Bertrand for a moment before sense returned to him—and fell back on his usual habits.
"They call them that," said Caleb, straightening up, like he was some kind of professor. A very, very drunk professor. "Because of the noise their armor makes."
Jester didn't look even a little impressed. Caleb resolutely rattled his brain for a more interesting fact.
"Like it makes them…less." Jester said, frowning over at the table where the Kryn were playing. "Not a person."
Caleb nodded, cold with the sudden punch of sobriety. "It dehumanizes them."
Jester chewed on her lip, still watching the game, while Caleb watched her. Her eyes darted between the players, picking up all the tics in their expressions, the way they held the cards, the curve of their smiles—
She grabbed his tankard which—she had a nearly full one of her own but he wasn't about to point that out—downing it in one ferocious gulp.
"Okay." She slammed it down, rattling the table. The smile she gave Caleb was tipsy as fuck but still positively feral. "I wanna play."
Caleb nodded—content in the fact that he had probably lost the ability to say no to her entirely. He wasn't bothered. Like, at all. He'd give her anything she asked for—
Jester won't look him in the eye, exactly, which doesn't necessarily give him a sense of, like, overwhelming accomplishment.
"Technically," says Jester, lightly. "I won the rings."
Caleb glances down at his, head still ringing with the fractured memory of that night. "Is that why it doesn't fit right?"
She huffs at his comment, but it doesn't seem to hold any heat. She's definitely not looking at him, content to twirl her own ring on her own finger.
Caleb says, "Jester."
"What aren't you telling me?"
She swallows, hard, throat bobbing with the effort and then she's looking at him again—that same look from the tavern downstairs—like she's begging him to figure out what she's thinking without her having to say it—
The door bursts open, and Caleb doesn't so much rocket to his feet as he disappears sitting and reappears standing, blocking Jester from view as he splays out a hand, fingers curling in the somatic gestures of fire bolt, the verbal component on the tip of his tongue—
Beau and Nott come charging in, nearly bowling over each other in their haste.
"Why're you holding a blanket?" Nott demands, like bedding is the height of suspicion.
Caleb snaps back, "We're knitting," with more indignation than is probably warranted, and Beau cocks an eyebrow.
"Is that code?" she asks, looking to Jester. "Has he kidnapped you? Jester, blink twice if you need to be rescued."
Jester laughs, but Caleb can see her smile's strained at the edges. She's bothered. A lot.
"You guys," she scolds playfully, rolling her eyes and gods, she's so good at this—better than Fjord and his Mask of Many Faces, better than Beau and her Cobalt Soul training, better than him—
The three fall into rapid chatter—well, Nott and Beau seem to be doing most of the talking, but Jester is easily keeping pace with them, her smile bright and cheerful and believable—
He edges towards the door, but of course she notices.
"Caleb?" she asks, bubbly and easy, like nothing's wrong. She smiles—locked drawer.
"I'll, ah," he nods helpfully to the door, like he's going to leave the room any other fucking way. "I'll bunk with Fjord and Caduceus, ja?"
Beau shoots him a look. "Dude, we were just having some fun. We're not really trying to crash your party."
Nott nods. "We actually went downstairs—Beau wanted to pick up the innkeeper, and Fjord wouldn't be her wingman—but it went terribly and we actually ended up breaking some shit so we were just hiding out here for a bit—"
"It only went terribly because you tried to steal her fucking gold," Beau snarks, folding her arms and scowling.
Nott spreads her fingers, clearly unrepentant. "I'm a rogue—bring Caduceus next time if you're gonna get all uppity about, like, personal property."
"Bring Caduceus?" squawks Beau. "That'd be like bringing my dad—expect, you know—a dad I actually like."
Caleb smirks—gods above and below, but he really does love these people—and glances at Jester.
She isn't looking back at him.
Well. Never let it be said that Caleb Widogast can't take a hint.