“That was the worst joke I’ve ever heard.”
“Wow, really?” Beau mimed a wince. More blood gushed from her split brow. “The absolute worst? That’s pretty harsh, considering the puns we’ve heard come out of Fjord’s mouth.”
“Okay, fine,” Jester amended, trying very hard to keep her voice from trembling. “Fine, maybe second or third worst because Fjord’s jokes are pretty bad.”
“Now, that’s not quite fair.” Fjord’s voice was trembling, low and shuddery, and it was so unlike him it made Jester even more frightened than she already was. “The heart of a good joke is all about timing, all right? And this is so not the fucking time, Beau.”
Here his voice broke into jagged pieces. Jester realized, with a numb, unpleasant jolt in her chest, that he was crying. She was too, of course, she’d been crying for the past hour, but somehow Fjord crying made it all so much worse. They were both kneeling on the ground, Beau lying on her back between them, purple sunset reflected in her eyes. Jester was afraid to touch her. Beau was barely more than a pile of oozing wounds and broken bones and crass words, trying so hard to comfort the two of them even now. She wasn’t crying.
They had no spells, no potions, no nearby Caduceus, and Beauregard wasn’t crying.
“Aw, come on, man,” she said instead. “Pull it together. The Raven Queen comes for us all. Some of us just have the skills to make her come a little faster, amirite?” Beau tried for a raunchy smirk, but the effect was ruined by red-brown blood smeared across her teeth.
“You are such an asshole.” Jester managed a wobbly, watery smile. “But you’re our asshole. You’re not allowed to just fucking leave!”
Fjord grabbed Jester’s hand, squeezed it tight, laid his other shaking hand on the bandages she’d wrapped around the gaping wound in Beau’s torso. They were already soaked through.
“What Jessie said. You won’t get off that easy, first mate.”
Beau chuckled; it was unbearably weak, brittle. “Heh, you… you said ‘get off.’”
“You’re bloody fucking impossible, and disgusting,” he laughed through his tears. “So, please, be impossible and disgusting here with us, all right? Captain’s orders.” He sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. “It’s only… it’s only a few cuts and scrapes, after all. You’re a badass monk, so—so shake it off, dammit.”
“It’s okay, you guys,” Beau murmured. Her voice grew fainter with every word. “’M not scared or sad, or anything. Always knew it’d end this way.”
Jester was crying so hard she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get the air to flow into her lungs right, and she was gripping Fjord’s hand so hard she was scared she would break his fingers. But she couldn’t let go because if she let go, she’d fall apart entirely, and she couldn’t do that to Beau, not now, not when she—
Carefully, shakily, Beau took Jester’s other hand. She lifted it to her lips, and Jester didn’t even care she was smearing blood and dirt all over her knuckles.
“I told y’all from the very beginning, didn’t I?” Beau whispered. “I said I’d lay down my life for you guys.” She sighed, smiled. “’M so fucking glad that was one thing I could follow through on.”
“You always followed through, Beau,” she said, tangling their fingers together. “Fucking always.” Jester was the one who couldn’t fucking keep her promises. She promised she would heal her back, and here she was—useless to the end, watching Fjord cry and Beau bleed out, helpless to do a thing about any of it.
Fjord gave Jester’s hand another aching squeeze, like he could read her thoughts, like he forgave her. But he kept his eyes trained on his first mate.
“Don’t talk like throwing away your life is doing us any good,” he said fiercely. “Jester needs you. I—I fucking need you, too.” He clenched his teeth, bared the tusks they’d convinced him to grow out. “I can’t punch ghosts like you can, Beau. So if you die, I’m—I’m not long for this world, either, you hear me? I’ll be obliged to come after you so I can kick your bony ass, ghost to fuckin’ ghost.”
“I’m not gonna get left behind by you two bitches,” Jester cut in, sniffling. “That’s so fucking unfair, oh my god. You know I have really bad FOMO.”
“Holy shit,” Beau mumbled. “You guys are so fucked up. The absolute worst jackasses.”
“But you still love us, right?”
“Yeah.” Her eyes fluttered shut. “Yeah, I do. Guess that makes me the jackass queen, huh?”
She lowered her hand still twined with Jester’s, letting them fall against Fjord’s hand resting on her blood-soaked stomach. Brown, blue, green all tangled and twisted together on a pool of dark red. A wild, delirious corner of Jester’s mind wondered if she even had enough paint colours to draw this in her journal.
They stayed there like that, locked together and choked with grief until the final rise and fall of Beau’s chest. Until Beau’s hand grew cold, and Fjord’s tears dried crusted on his face, and Jester’s knees screamed from kneeling in the dirt for hours and hours. Fjord unfroze first, and when he pulled his hands away and got unsteadily to his feet, the empty, yawning pit of loss that hollowed out Jester’s ribs finally became real.
He stepped toward her.
“We’re gonna be completely fucking selfish about this, aren’t we?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
No matter what Beau insisted, they would not let this be the end.
Fjord placed two gentle, bloodied palms on Jester’s shoulders. Gradually, painfully, she relearned how to breathe.