“They had three rooms,” Beau says, returning to the table where they’re already getting settled.
“So we got three!” Jester chimes in.
That suits Fjord just fine. “We can do the usual arrangements. You two, Caleb and Nott, and Deuces and I.”
“Actually,” Caleb says, with a slight raise of his voice that still gets everyone to listen, “I think that Caduceus and I would prefer to room together this evening. There are a few things we’d like to… discuss.”
Three pairs of eyes all widen at Caleb, then swing around to look at Caduceus, patiently waiting to order food at the bar with his usual placid expression. Nott, the only one who does not react in shock, pipes up first.
“Well, that’s easy enough, we can just swap bunkies!” Everyone’s attention snaps back to her, as she obviously intended. “I wouldn’t mind . Do you, Fjord?”
He has no time to answer before Jester cuts in. “Well, we could switch around again, iffff you really want.” She talks slowly, like she’s trying to make the conversation happen faster around her. “You”—she points at Nott—“could bunk with me, and I guess Beau could room with Fjord—”
“No, no, no, it’s fine. Besides, I never room with Fjord. We’re probably missing out on some quality time, right?” Nott looks up at him, and even though her face and her voice are as innocent as possible, Fjord is certain that underneath it she is thinking of everything she can possibly do to get a rise out of him.
Fjord sighs, and turns the corners of his mouth up in what might pass for a smile. “Should be alright, Jess.”
Jester turns back to fight Beau for the key to their room, and Fjord looks over to Caleb, who mouths a silent thank you . Sure. What the hell, right?
Fjord turns in after one drink, well ahead ahead of everyone else. He sits up in bed in his shirt and trousers, reading a book that Caleb lent him, which is slow going because the book is technical and the print is very small. For once, however, it seems easier to think about a book in the evening than to sit up with everyone and think about Caleb or Caduceus. Or Nott for that matter.
Nott herself clatters in after what seems like a long while, throwing off her boots and bags and letting them lie where they fall. She pulls herself up onto the bed, and sets to unbraiding her hair. “Are they next to us?” she asks.
Fjord turns a page, and pretends he didn’t understand the question immediately. “Who?”
She gives him a disgusted look. “Like you didn’t check.”
For that matter, Fjord had checked, and Caduceus and Caleb are in the room to the other side of them, the side that the bed isn’t on. He grunts, and gestures that way.
"So you weren't listening in?" She taunts.
"Not even a little bit?"
"Well you're no fun," she says, with that smile and shake of her head that makes her so impossible to deal with. She's silent for a minute, before she pitches her voice into a reedy version of Caleb's Zemnian rasp. "Oh, Mester Clay, come on and ram me with that great big co-"
"Would you cut that out! Gods!" He slams his book shut and throws it down on the bed. "There! I'm looking at you now, that's what you want, isn't it? Someone to pay attention to you all the time?"
"Why, Captain," she says, her voice back to that sickly-sweet charm. "I had no idea you cared."
"I mean it! Why bother sticking with us if you're just looking for attention? Why not stay back with your—your 'huns-buns' if you're going to be like that?"
She looks at him like he'd slapped her, and for a moment he wishes he had instead.
"You know what?" he says, moving to get up. "This was a bad idea. I'll go find Beau, and get her and Jess to switch with us."
A noise comes from her throat that could have been a laugh. "Better you than me," she sing-songs, the grin already creeping back to her face.
"What’s that supposed to mean?"
"They went up right before I did," she says, smiling. "You’ve seen how they’ve been doting on each other, haven’t you? They were holding hands."
That sends a cold chill from the top of his skull down his spine, though he wouldn’t lay a finger on why. "But that's just Jester, she's you know, rather affectionate—" He'd know, wouldn't he? He'd have noticed something…
"You sure about that? They share a room a lot."
"So do you and Caleb.”
She looks at him incredulously. “That’s...not what I would call a good counterexample.”
“Oh.” He sits down at the edge of the bed, a foot of space between the two of them. He’d known that , hadn’t he? Assumed, maybe? “But, I mean. I thought they were just… friendly. Sisterly." Though even in the house, where they had all that space, they’d be sharing, hadn’t they? Could so many things have been going on that long, in his crew, without him noticing?
"Well, I'm sure I don't know," she demurs, pulling out a half-tarnished silver comb and running it sharply through her hair. "I just care about myself, don't I? Just that and getting others to notice me."
"You honestly think that they're…” An image pops into his mind, uncalled for: Jester's back arching off the bed, her face twisted in ecstasy, Beau's fingers deep in her cunt. Think of something else, think of something else—
"I’d have thought it would put your mind at ease." She jerks the comb through a tangle at the ends. "You didn't seem to like her running after you. Seemed like you had eyes for somebody else.”
“I—” He rests his elbows on his thighs and looks at his palms. It’s true, he has been hanging on to every word from Caduceus for… months now. He’d thought he was being subtle, or showing his interest as something platonic, just two guys who follow the same god comparing notes, but he hadn’t realized just how much of a crush he’d been nursing. Not until this trip, when he couldn’t help but notice Caduceus and Caleb starting to fall into line together as they were moving, when he turned back at one point and saw Caleb smile.
Fjord, the strategist, was glad Caduceus and Caleb might be taking up together, as it lessened the chance that Caduceus would leave them suddenly, as Fjord still worried he might, even when they needed him so badly. Fjord, the man, was heartbroken. “I thought I did.”
“So what, you’d stop going after him just because he’s roomed with Caleb this once?”
“I think it’s a pretty fair sign he’s not interested, don’t you?”
She shrugs. "There's nothing stopping him from being interested in more than one person at a time."
"Him? I don’t think so." Paradoxically, one of the things he likes best about Caduceus is his one-track mind. He’s so easy, so uncomplicated. But it has been so slow-going coaxing real connection, affection, out of him that Fjord has little doubt that he missed his chance on this one.
"Well, anything's possible. I think it's easy to start to like someone who's already hanging on after you, 'specially if you're lonely." Has he been doing that? Hanging on to Jester as a safe bet? On paper she’d certainly qualify as his type, but after everything that’s happened in the last year—after Molly, after Avantika—well, he was after something slower. Only to find out that he was moving too slow, even for a giant.
"Well, at least everyone else is having fun," he says, setting the book on the stout little table next to the bed.
Nott tucks the comb back into a pocket. "You know," she says thoughtfully, “the real question is that if everyone else is, why aren't we?"
“Why aren’t we… oh." He might have expected he was being set up for something dumb like this. The only surprise is that she didn't try for a bigger audience for the joke.
“Y’know.” She's even smiling in-character, like she knows where the joke is going.
"You’re joking.” It's obvious, but it's the only thing he can think of to say. Playing along is out of the question, not when he's just been so honest with her.
“Why would I? You’re a very nice-looking man, and I, well.” She examines her clawed hand. “I have a lovely personality.”
“You’re making fun of me again, and it’s not funny.”
“I assure you, I most definitely am not.” The mirth in her voice makes it impossible to tell if that last word is a denial or a bad pun.
“Nott.” This is too far, even for her.
“I’m not.” She’s almost giggling, but if it’s from nerves or anything besides delight at his distress, he’s sure he couldn’t tell the difference.
“You know what? Fine.” And before he can think of anything else to do, he leans down and kisses her.
Her lips are dry and taste of whiskey, which he might have predicted if, at any time in his life before this, someone had asked him what he might’ve thought it would be like to kiss Nott, the Brave. What he wouldn’t have predicted even thirty seconds ago, is that from the way she leans into the kiss, she wasn’t joking.
And Fjord doesn’t think he was either.
When they break apart, her eyes meet his. “You see?” she says, her voice a little unsteady. “Completely serious.”
“Do it again,” she says, and he does.
And again. And again.
On the fifth kiss he nips at her lip, and she sinks needle-sharp teeth into his.
“Fuck,” he says, pulling away. He runs his tongue over his lip and tastes blood.
“Sorry!” she squawks. “I wasn’t thinking -”
“No, it’s… fine,” and he’s not sure why, but he kisses her again, and bites her lip again, and when she tentatively responds in kind, he doesn’t break away.
“Kinky,” she murmurs against his mouth. And it stirs in his memory, and he thinks, Yeah, maybe.
She goes for his neck next. “Wait,” he says. “Not—not that high.” He's learned better than to try and remind Nott of the rules being broken, because the thing with Nott isn’t that she doesn’t see the rules, it’s that she sees them and decides to crash through them at breakneck speed anyways. It’s not up to him what she does or doesn’t do behind her husband’s back. But he’d rather not wear the evidence of what they've been up to above his collar.
Unlike some people, Nott doesn’t make a joke about him being embarrassed about her, or wanting everyone to know how much she cares. Instead she nods, and pulls the neck of his shirt down so that she can get at his collarbone, and he shivers at the feeling of her mouth on his skin, her sharp nails tracing gently over his chest. The scar from his sword still feels raw and new in the center, flanked by an older scar on each side.
Fjord doesn’t think of himself as a man who rushes into things, but he can’t pretend this is the first time he’s looked around him and realized that the craziest of decisions were already made five minutes ago, and that there’s no way he didn’t have a hand in their doing. The teasing might have belonged to one of them or the other, but kissing made a pact, a secret that they have to share now. And if there are secrets to be had—well, might as well be hanged for a dragon than for an egg.
He grabs one of her breasts through her shift, and his thumb rubs over her nipple. She never draws much attention to her figure but there’s plenty to her. Her skin feels thick and sturdy like his, how long has he gone without touching skin that wasn’t so soft to the touch?
She begins to pull his shirt up, and he pulls it off over his head. Her hand reaches the thick twin scars on his chest, and he sees a question trembling on her lips, but then she swallows it, and strokes her thumb over each.
Common wisdom amongst certain sailors in the Menagerie Coast is that if such a sailor is careful with his wages, it takes two years to save enough to pay a surgeon, and three years to pay a good surgeon. It took Fjord two and a half, and he’s still not sure which one he got.
Jester would ask if it had hurt. (It did, it hurt like a motherfucker, and he was down and out for the better part of a month. When he was healed, his old ship already left and he had to sign on with a strange crew.) Nott, who knows more about wringing pleasure from pain, gives him one of her laughs and finally says, “Does it...feel better, though?”
He knows what she means, and he nods and says, “Yes. Yes it does.”
She climbs onto his lap, straddling one leg. Her knee rubs very close to his groin.
“Can I, uh…?” She moves her hand towards his trousers cautiously, looking at him for approval, and Fjord nods again, another yes. Dragons, eggs, nooses, et cetera.
She finds him already wet and slick, and she drags her skinny finger back, rubbing delicately over his clit, his cunt. The weight of her suddenly feels heavy against him, or maybe he feels wobbly, but he lies back slowly, bracing himself on one arm. She kneels above him a moment.
“I don’t understand why you all have to be so tall ,” she mutters as she settles down on top of him.
“Why do you have to be so short?”
“I happen to be a very sensible height,” she maintains. “The air you breathe makes you all dizzy.” Her hand reaches his clit again, and a moan escapes from his lips. He pulls her close to him, his hand cupping her ass.
It’s so easy to relax into it, to want and be wanted again, and she obviously relishes in how he shakes underneath her touch. The nails on her other hand dig into his back, but the hand she has on him remains a delicate touch. Her eyes are steady on him, pupils wide like a cat’s. His free hand grasps the bedsheets, twisting with the motions of her hand.
“You know," he says between breaths, "the last two people I slept with are dead."
"Well, so am I," she says. She kisses his neck, careful, light. “So that’s already taken care of.”
And slowly she works him undone, fingers steady on his clit and her mouth leaving a map of growing bruises over his chest. When he comes he holds her close, moaning into her hair until she moves her hand off of him, trailing one finger over the top of his thigh.
I’m lying in bed with Nott and she just jacked me off , Fjord thinks, as if he were explaining it to another person, or himself a few hours ago, who basically amount to the same thing. It’s not that he doesn’t like Nott—he is, at the end of the day, always glad to have her around. It’s more that it had never entered his mind that she might at all be interested in him, beyond… joking around. That’s an idea he’s going to have to get used to, and before he can get used to it, he does still happen to be in bed with her.
“You have a big mushy look in your eyes,” she says, as all this is flashing through his head.
“You have a big mushy look in your eyes.”
“I do not. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”
“You should at least let me… reciprocate."
“Only if you’re insisting.”
“I’m not insisting, but—I would like to see you naked, and I could"—his eyes flick down to the lower half of her dress—"...you know?” He doesn’t know why it slips out, but as he says it, he doesn’t regret it; he does want to see her.
“Okay,” she says, hesitantly. “But you have to promise not to run screaming from the room.” She might mean it as a joke, but Fjord does not laugh.
She pulls off her dress quickly, as if she’s worried about losing her nerve, and throws it to the wayside with everything else, followed by her smallclothes. There is no romance in the gesture, no seduction, just plain purpose. She moves over him to the headboard, throwing herself down against the pillows, and reclines back, legs spread invitingly.
He’s never seen her fully naked before, not as herself. In the daylight he might have worked up to calling her striking. Now, he sees her in total. Her focused eyes, her pert breasts, her thin hands (her hands that left that tingling still deep in his loins, sharp as anything but so careful). And the scars—gently-healed scrapes from their recent battles, but they’re overshadowed by what must be older wounds, from before she was traveling with a healer. A spiderwebby acid splash on one arm. Knife wounds. Lashes curling around her back.
She’d probably shove him off the bed if he told her as much, but, gods help him, by some catch of the lamplight or the clearest sight imaginable, she’s beautiful.
He bends over her, shirtless, trousers undone. He starts with another sharp kiss on her lips, but keeps going on down, past the coarse hair above her cunt. He nips at the rough skin on her thighs, and she runs her fingers through his hair. He licks at her exploratorily, and she inhales sharply, letting it out as a slow, quiet breath.
“Is that good?”
“Yes, keep doing it,” she says impatiently.
He’s never heard her be this quiet, except when she was trying to hide. If he hadn’t noticed, all this time, that she and Caleb were doing more than sharing a room, perhaps that’s just how she is.
As if on cue, a loud, high-pitched moan comes through the wall behind the headboard, and even Fjord has to admit that that does not sound like any sort of sisterly sleepover going on. Nott nearly doubles over with restrained laughter, her knee knocking dangerously close to the side of his head.
“I told you,” she manages.
“Are you planning to give them a run for their money?”
She shivers, but holds firm. “I don’t need to show off everything I do.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” he murmurs, sinking his mouth back down to her cunt. He wouldn’t call himself experienced, especially not with someone of her size, but he’s been told (in voices he’d rather not think of right now) that he’s not without a bit of skill. Nott seems to agree, her low, shaky breaths continuing and her comments at a lull.
He sucks marks into the side of her thigh and she is quiet. She is quiet as he fucks her with his tongue, as he rolls his tongue over her clit and slides a finger into her. She is quiet while she tugs at his hair and thumbs over the sharp tip of his ear. When her cunt tenses and tenses and tenses and then relaxes around his finger, there is a long absence of breath and then the quietest of sighs.
He rolls onto his back and she slides down next to him, breath still shaking. He stares at the ceiling, noticing just how much he's had her in his line of sight, and asks the first thing on his mind.
"Did you plan on this?”
“I think I planned on asking you,” she says, unsteadily. “I didn’t plan on what I’d do if you said yes.”
“I don’t know if I would have planned on saying yes. But for what it’s worth, that was… nice?”
“Yeah. Yeah it was nice.”
He might have had something else to add, but she curls up and turns over, away from him, and the words die in his throat. In a minute, he can hear her breathing fall into a low snore. He watches her bony shoulder rise and fall as he drifts off to sleep.
When Fjord wakes up in the morning, he’s aware of her already up and moving about the room. He doesn’t rise or stir, just watches her through half-lidded eyes, as she goes about picking up the trail of possessions from last night. He waits until she leaves to get up.
“Does this change things?” Fjord asked, a different morning.
“I mean...kinda has to. Somewhere or other.” Molly said. “But I think we can put the ‘how’ on the backburner for a while.”
But he wouldn’t know how things changed for Molly, because Molly was dead less than a fortnight after that. Would all of them still be here a fortnight after this?
On top of his pack, he finds a small glass jar with some kind of salve, accompanied by a note in blocky, cramped handwriting:
“For your lip.”
His lip has indeed scabbed prominently in the night where she bit him. He puts a little of the salve on it, examining himself in the slightly tarnished mirror. It does seem to lessen the impact a bit, and he applies it to the bruises that dot his chest and shoulders. True to her word, she didn’t cover anywhere that would show above his shirt or armor.
He should probably feel guiltier about this, her being married and him being in love with someone else—someone elses? He considers apologizing to the Wildmother, but he can’t see her having too much of an opinion on the matter. She’s no goddess of the marital bed. Besides, what would he say? She is a force of nature like unto yourself, and my lady I am but one man.
Dressed, hair slicked back with a bit of water, he makes his way down to breakfast tentatively, where he finds everyone else already digging in. Nott is holding court in her usual fashion, talking through bites of toast. She gestures towards him as he approaches.
“This one—he sleeps like a log, Caduceus, I don’t know what you’re doing giving up on the quietest bunkmate on this whole team.”
“Well, I must say,” Fjord says, squeezing into a seat. “It’d take a heavy sleeper to put up with all that snoring of yours.” The table around him bursts into laughter, even a quick smile from Caleb. Nott flashes a wink at Fjord, and he laughs too.
And no one says anything about his lip, but then again, he doesn’t ask Jester when she started keeping her claws so short, or try to figure out if that mark on Caduceus’s neck is a mole he hadn’t noticed before or a blooming bruise. They’ve got plenty else to get on with in the day ahead.