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it takes a little time to figure these things out

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She’s been thinking about it for a long time. Since it happened, really, and constantly for a while after that. and then, at some point she can’t quite place…she had thought less and less about Fjord kissing her.

Saving her life?

Saving her life via kiss.

The thought had come back in a big way for reasons she’s not ready to think about yet so here she is—standing with burning cheeks and trembling hands in Fjord’s room, waiting for his answer.

He was clearly polishing his sword—not a euphemism, though now that she thinks about it she giggles. The laugh takes on a hysterical note and that’s what gets Fjord up on his feet, breaking out of the stunned fish look. With a flick of his wrist, the new sword is gone and he crosses the room in a few long strides. Hesitates for a second before settling his hands on her shoulders.

‘Hey,’ he says, so gently, so kind, in the way he always is when it is just the two of them, 'What’s wrong?’

She shakes her head. ‘Nothing. Just—you can say no, if you want, I just thought—‘

Jester,’ Why does he sound sorry? Pitying? Is she pitiful for asking? His hands are calloused, warm, as he lifts them to her cheeks. ‘You have to give me a second to catch up. You want—‘ He flushed a little. ‘You want me to kiss you?’

‘I—‘ She leans forward until her forehead knocks against his sternum. Enjoys the way his arms settle around her shoulders, hug her. There’s something not quite right about it, he’s being too careful about it like he’s not sure he’s doing it right, or that he should be, and it makes Jester itch all over. Is it too much to ask that she can be held? Hugged? Kissed? Why does it never feel right? ‘You saved me,’ she says. It’s easier when she can’t see his face. ‘You kissed me.’

‘I—yeah. I did.’

‘Were you just saving my life? Or were you kissing me?’

She can almost hear his heart, beating away steadily beneath new muscles. Maybe that’s why it feels wrong. She knew him, met him, when he was slimmer, less muscular, and she wonders if that’s why it doesn’t feel quite right. If it’s something she has to get used to again.

‘I was saving you,’ Fjord says. ‘I couldn’t let you drown. You—we’ve been a team from the start, Jes, i couldn’t.’

Jester nods.

Fjord’s hold lightens a little as though he expects her to leave. When she doesn’t, he hugs her a little tighter and that feels better. More comfortable. She shifts so her cheek is pillowed on his shoulder and sighs.

‘I think…I knew that.’

‘Are you upset?’ he asks quietly.

‘A little, maybe.’

‘Okay. Can I…do something?’

‘Answer a question?’

Fjord’s hold tightens a moment, then relaxes. ‘Yeah. Anything,’ he says, and he sounds like he means it. Really means it. It can be hard to tell with Fjord but even as Jester thinks that, she realises that she trusts him with the deep, unshakeable faith she allows for very few people.

‘Do you want to kiss me? Do you want...‘

‘...Do I want you?’ Fjord asks when her own words trail away. She knows what the Wildmother sees in him; the warmth, the gentleness of the waves on the beach. The sting of salt in a wound. ‘Not like that. I love you, Jester, I—I hope you know that, I hope I’ve done well enough to show that. But no. I'm sorry.’

She has a lot of questions but mostly they boil down to: do you want someone else? Or do you just not want me? But she hasn’t the energy to ask it, hasn’t the fortitude now to hear the answer. It isn’t that she’s upset that Fjord doesn’t want her—which is new and novel of a thought, because she was sure, sure that she loved Fjord in those big grand romantic ways and to feel very little more than disappointment is…confusing. She’s just tired. Tired of not being wanted.

‘Okay,’ she says, and hugs him tighter.

‘Okay?’

‘Yeah. Okay.’

It takes a little while but eventually the tension runs out of Fjord like a tide, pulling away bit by bit until it reveals the covered shore and she thinks despite the faint hurt and disappointment she might be happy with what she has found in its place. Happy with the Fjord that hugs her tight and presses a kiss to her hairline, gentle and full of a love Jester thinks she’ll always need.

Eventually, she steps back. Wipes at her cheeks where a few tears have spilled over. Fjord offers her a handkerchief—‘Such a gentleman,’ she teases, and accepts it.

‘You want…tea? Or a nap? Or…’

Jester smiles, not quite her typical brilliant smile but a good one nonetheless. ‘No, it’s okay. I’m gonna…I’m gonna go read under the tree or something. Draw something for the Traveller.’

‘Okay.’ Fjord opens the door for her, walks her out to the landing. He starts down, toward the kitchen, before stopping a few steps lower than her. ‘Jes?’

‘Mhm?’

‘What—made you come to me? And ask?’

Can I kiss you? Jester remembers saying to him, almost frantic with the request. It had felt like life or death in that moment, like she was chasing after something vital, something she needed.

Jester’s eyes slide down past him, down to the room where she had been before. The training room, packed down hard with sand, and the training dummies. Where she had been watching Beau fight with potent focus, where she had sat beside her friend, and where they had somehow been drawn closer and closer on the bench as they spoke and plotted how to prank Nott or maybe Caduceus, since he’s such a solid good sort, in an effort to get Yasha to laugh—or Maybe smile, Jessie, Beau had said, with an awkward tilt of her head, seeing as laughter might be, like, step two. Break the proverbial emotional ice with some light smiles first. The smile Beau had offered up was small and sweet and ripe with mischief as she talked about what a really bad fucking idea it’d be to prank Caleb, and Jester hadn’t been able to look away. How had she not noticed—

‘Jes? Did something happen?’

Jester’s attention darts back to Fjord, looking like he’s about to climb back up to her.

‘Nothing bad,’ she tells him. ‘I don’t think.’

‘Do you wanna talk about it?’ he offers, scratching at the back of his neck. ‘I don’t know if I'm the right person for it but—‘

‘Would you be upset if I asked someone else?’

Fjord’s expression shifts quickly—the concern washed away by surprise, and then a momentary dark glimpse of something she can’t place, so quick that Jester thinks it hardly belonged to him at all. Finally, calm settles and she can see nothing but curiosity glinting in dark eyes, like light off capped waves. He smiles a crooked smile, the tip of a tusk peeking above his lip.

‘Someone got you in a tizzy,’ he deduces. ‘And you came to me.’

Guilt hits her like a tidal wave and Jester grips onto the bannister, pulls her bottom lip into her mouth to worry at it.

‘I—yes, but I didn't know, I didn’t realise—I wasn’t using you, Fjord, I wasn’t—‘

‘Jester,’ he cuts her off, ‘I know.’ He loves her too. She can see it. The deep affection, the adoration, has never been more obvious. ‘I don’t think you’re capable of that. Nah, that’s not true. You could do anything you wanted. But I reckon you’d never do it.’ He appraises her silently, then adds, ‘I’m here for you. Whatever happens.’

Jester smiles, this one trembling. ‘Thanks,’ she says, a little choked.

//

She gets a peaceful half hour or so in the garden before someone raps on the door, presses it slowly open. She’s only a little surprised to find that it is Beau peeking into the space, blue eyes lighting up when she spies Jester seated by the Traveller’s shrine Cad had made for her.

‘Hey. Missed you at dinner. Fjord told us you were up here, didn’t want to be disturbed.’ She steps in cautiously, ready to leave the instant Jester asks her to. ‘I brought up something—just some stew, it’s weirdly good, Cad’s a great cook. And,’ with a flourish she produces something that looks like a blueberry but is the size of an eyeball. ‘Xhorhassian sweet. It’s a berry, I think.’ She looks at it a little nervously, before shrugging. ‘I’d offer to try it first, but I’m immune to poison and shit like that. I can make Nott eat one first, if you want.’

Jester laughs. 'I’ll risk it,’ she says, and beckons Beau over. It only occurs to her when Beau is approaching that maybe it isn’t a good idea when everything is so close to the surface of her thoughts. But Beau is already sitting and handing her the bowl. She lays down next to Jester, easy and relaxed, folds her hands behind her head and stretches her legs out long, sighs happily.

‘I love these lights,’ she admits. ‘They’re beautiful. And not just because everyone else around here can’t figure out what the fuck we were on when we grew a tree outta the top of the house.’

Jester grins. ‘Yeah.’ She glances down, eyes flicking over the play of the light over Beau, over her oddly serene face, over her lovely brown skin, the shining flicks of brocade to her new uniform. ‘Beautiful.’

Beau tenses.

Jester lifts her eyes to see her friend watching her intently, but though the tension doesn’t ease, Beau says nothing.

Jester eats. Pretends to doodle in her journal, trying to decipher the warmth in her gut at feeling Beau beside her, the warmth of her skin, the slow even breathing, the occasional odd murmur as she shifts, pulls an annoying pebble out from under her back.

‘Can I kiss you?’ Jester blurts out after she has finished her dinner and set it aside.

Beau’s knee jerks in her surprise and then her abs are bunching and she’s sitting bolt upright. She opens and closes her mouth a few times and then says simply, ‘Yeah.’

‘Yeah?’

‘If that’s what you want.’

Jester frowns. ‘What do you want?’

Beau looks like she doesn’t know what to say again. Her shoulders press back—less of a shrug than a nervous shift. ‘I want…you to be happy.’

Beau.’

‘I’m serious. I’d—do a lot to make you happy, Jes.’

Jester ducks her head, unsure of what exactly she’s feeling. Happy that she got a yes, but everything else Beau says makes her wary of taking it. It isn’t quite appeasement, but…

‘I’m not good at talking,’ Beau says. Shifts not closer but so she’s turned toward Jester. ‘I’m—not great with wanting things. I’m kinda…a selfish asshole.’

‘Beau, that is not true,’

‘I mean, it kinda is though.’ Beau puts her hand over Jester’s mouth so she can’t disagree. It’s silly but all Jester can think is that even this small contact is right, is good, is terrifying but in this weird, nice, bigger-than-nice, fizzing, and did she mention terrifying kind of way. ‘Hold on, I’m trying,’ she continues, and Jester forces herself to settle. Beau kinda looks like she’s going to puke, or maybe panic. ‘I’m—fuck, okay, I guess we’re doing this—I'm into you, Jes. In a big way. And I’m okay with having that in, in whatever way you want. I’ll be your best friend, your roommate, your—protector,’ she says in an oddly stilted, awkward way Jester realises is shy. It makes Jester want to scream all of a sudden because she doesn't know what this is, where all of this is coming from, how she didn’t know that Beau could be like this, be so endearing and warm and noble. She wants to scream because it feels like too much and too little all at once—Beau is right there but it feels like she’s too far away, like there is this great yawning chasm between them and Jester doesn’t know how to close it, how to cross it.

Jester reaches up, slowly, and peels Beau’s hand from over her mouth. Turns so they’re seated alike, cross legged, knees to knees.

Beau looks like she’d rather be anywhere else, holding herself so firmly in place that she’s buzzing with the effort of it. She looks peaceful and terrified, and it’s strange to see her own feelings reflected in Beau, who sometimes seems entirely alien—brave and strong and brash and, and lovely.

‘I don’t know everything I’m feeling,’ Jester whispers.

Beau nods quickly. ‘Yeah, yeah, of course, it’s fine, I’m okay with—‘

Jester doesn’t know what she’s okay with because she sets her own hand over Beau’s mouth. ‘I’m not finished.’

Beau rolls her eyes. Settles. ‘That’s fair,’ she says, words muffled.

‘I don’t want—‘ Jester gulps. ‘To ruin anything.’ She thinks about the Chaos Crew and girls night and late nights with Beau in their room and reading her romance novels together and shopping and thinks about Fjord and— ‘Can I kiss you anyway?’ she asks, feeling the bite of being selfish instantly, and Beau’s eyes lose that little bit of tension in the corners, go sky blue with warmth.

Jester’s breath catches in her throat as Beau lifts a hand and instead of taking Jester’s hand away as she had done, Beau holds it close for a moment, kissing Jester’s palm before she lifts it away. The touch of it feels like a burning brand, like somehow her hand is buzzing with life, with energy, like Beau has made it—Jester’s brain stutters over the analogy for a second, because it’s too big and too much, surely, but the words come anyway. Beau’s kiss makes her feel divine, worshipped.

Jester is still trying to wrap her head around that when Beau leans in, traces her fingers down Jester’s cheek.

‘Yeah?’ she asks, holding back.

Jester nods. Closes the distance. So that’s how she does it, she thinks, and then she is kissing Beau—Beau is kissing her—and this, this feels… This feels. She can’t say right, she can’t say too much, she has nothing to compare it to, the way her heart feels to beat too fast and stop altogether, both at the same time. The way she goes hot and cold, and all her world closes down into where she is touching Beau and being touched by Beau. a hand on her cheek, the still-burning kiss on her hand, her own hand on Beau’s neck, the skin so soft and the short wispy hairs that escape from her top knot tickling against her fingers, and Beau is kissing her.