“Okay listen.” Jester’s voice is high with panic as she paces up and down the deck in front of the Nein, her tail swishing from side to side. Caduceus sits across from them, just behind Jester, his brows furrowed.
“We don’t have any diamonds left. Veth’s was our last.” Jester glares at Veth, half angry for her risky maneuver, half desperate. The rest of the Nein are looking down at their feet. No one knows what to say.
They hadn’t expected three deaths within the first couple of weeks of their travel. Fjord. Orly. Veth. It’s taking a toll on them. And the thought that the next death might be permanent... well, no one seems to want to entertain it.
When Beau looks up, Jester is sniffling, still pacing. She wants to get up and comfort her, but doesn’t dare to intrude. Instead she studies the rest of the Nein for their reactions, not ready to think about her own feelings on the matter yet.
Caduceus is folded in on himself almost comically. He’s the most accustomed to death, but its violence and frequency the past three days seem to have shaken him. Veth’s hands are clasped around her thigh, where the artery had been separated and she’d bled out mere hours ago. Her whole body is shaking. Caleb appears to be conflicted between staying with her and comforting Jester, but like Beau he seems to decide that leaving their cleric alone right now is the best course of action. He rubs Veth’s back and begins talking to her in a hushed voice. Fjord is staring out across the ocean. Beau would bet money that he’s flashing back to his own death a few days ago, like she still does to almost dying in Yasha’s arms.
Yasha is standing a couple of feet behind the group, arms folded. Her lips are pressed together, her eyes unfocused as they dance across their little family. Beau’s eyes meet hers, and she nods before immediately averting her gaze as if it could betray her thoughts.
This can’t be easy for her. Death has been so defining in her life, so devastating. She’s lost maybe the most out of all of them, and yet she’s here. Beau wonders if Yasha is relieved that they won’t be able to revivify anyone anymore. If that’s what she’s hiding. That she’s glad she won’t have to watch what they couldn’t do for Molly, couldn’t do for her wife. Maybe it’s better this way.
But Beau is afraid of dying. She’s afraid of losing any of them.
“Have you ever died?”
Yasha startles. Her head shoots around to find Beau standing in the entrance to her room.
She takes a few deep breaths to calm her accelerated heartbeat.
“No,” she says eventually. “Or - maybe, but I can’t remember.”
“Hmm.” Beau takes a couple of steps into Yasha’s room and points to the ground with her eyebrows raised. Yasha nods and Beau sits down.
Yasha feels weird being on the bed now. She slides down and sits across from Beau. “Why are you asking?”
Beau shrugs, fiddling with her sash. “Death is likely now, isn’t it? I want to be prepared.”
Yasha’s chest tightens, a slow ache washing through her. “Beau,” she says.
Beau looks up at her. “What?! It’s the truth.”
“We’ll protect you.”
Beau tilts her head back and grits her teeth. “I’m not afraid for myself, at least not just afraid for myself,” she says to the ceiling.
“Okay.” Yasha nods.
“Can you help me keep them safe?” Beau rushes out.
Yasha smiles. That’s what Beau’d come here for. There’s pressure collecting behind the bridge of her nose. “Of course,” she says. “I’ll do my best to keep you all safe.”
“Good.” Beau looks back at her and straightens her spine. “And we’ve got your back, you know? We’ll keep each other safe.”
“I know.” Yasha almost feels guilty for her decision to die for the Nein now, should it become necessary. But she’d feel worse if she let anything happen to them.
“Good,” Beau says again. “Good.”
Yasha waits for her to continue, but she just sits there, across from her in Yasha’s tiny room.
“I never said thank you for pulling me away from Obann,” Beau says after a few minutes.
Yasha looks up. A thousand answers spring to mind, I almost killed you that day. You wouldn’t have gone down without me. No problem. No big deal. None of them feel appropriate, some are blatant lies. Yasha isn’t sure she’d ever been so afraid of losing someone except Zuala. It’s an observation she stores in the little compartment she’s made for Beau in her heart, with so many others she isn’t ready to examine.
“So, I owe you my life already. I think we can keep the others safe. Together.” Beau’s lips are pressed into a thin line, her chin jutted forward. Their eyes meet.
Part of Yasha is hurt that it’s her life Beau is willing to risk in her endeavor to protect the rest of the Nein, but it’s hard to harbor ill feelings towards her over asking something Yasha is planning on herself. Death for Yasha might even be inconsequential. You’re easier to bring back, Obann had said.
But there’s someone else’s life Beau is putting on the line - her own.
“We can,” Yasha says. “Just don’t risk your life.” She leans forward, placing her hand between them. “Keep yourself safe.”
Beau gives a sharp nod. “You too,” she says.
Yasha averts her eyes.
The first time Yasha dies it’s for Veth. Rain is rushing down on them almost violently, their sight obscured. Yasha is the only one who sees the last archer, and how they aim. She runs, her blood cold with the realisation that this is it, this is the moment she has to face her decision.
Veth is barely standing when Yasha rushes by her and takes the arrow. It pierces her stomach and comes through the other side. For a moment she almost thinks she’ll stay up, then her knees give out.
The second arrow hits her in the chest, stopped from sinking deep by a rib.
The third arrow pierces her neck and everything goes black.
Yasha’s face is white, sprayed with bright red. The steady pulse of blood from her jugular has ceased, the wound gapes around the arrow’s shaft.
Beau forces herself to step closer. She remembers Yasha’s words from a few weeks ago. Maybe I should just die for every person that I’ve killed. What about her promise to stay safe? Had this been her secret? Had she planned it?
Beau’s fingers tremble, and she balls her hands to fists to still them. She looks down at Yasha. She doesn’t look peaceful. She looks like she’s been violently murdered.
Beau drops to her knees beside her, ignoring the pain that shoots up through her injured side. She takes Yasha’s hand and places two fingers on her wrist. It confirms what she already knew - Yasha is dead.
Jester rushes up next to her. Beau’s ears are filled with static. She can’t hear what Jester is saying. The Nein form a circle around Yasha, as they’d done with Fjord. Helpless this time.
Yasha is dead.
Beau won’t ever see her amused smile again, or the face she pulls when she realizes she’s said something weird. She’ll never sit in the grass with her again, just the two of them. Yasha’s voice soft, her throat bobbing with quiet laughter where an arrow sticks out now, her cheeks flushed with blood that has no heartbeat to get it there anymore. Beau will never get to tell her how much she’d missed her while she was gone.
And fuck, all these things are selfish to want, because Yasha has lost her whole future. She’s lost everything. The trajectory her life would’ve taken is erased from this point forward.
A sob fights its way up through Beau’s throat, raw as it leaves her. She realizes someone is saying her name. Hands on her shoulders. She tries to fight them off. It’s cold here in the storm, even now that the rain has stopped. Why hadn’t the Stormlord watched over Yasha? Beau hates him.
She’s pulled to her feet. She struggles, but the person behind her holds strong.
“You can hold her head,” someone says - Caduceus. Slowly the world is coming back into focus. “We’re going to cast revivify.”
That doesn’t make sense, Beau wants to say. But if they’ll allow her to stay with Yasha - with her body - for a little while longer over this then she can let them try.
She winds her arms out of the now loosened grip - Fjord’s - and stumbles towards Yasha’s head, drops. Then she gently takes it into both hands and scoots under it, so that it’s resting elevated in her lap. It’s heavier than Beau expected, the skin slippery with blood and rain water. It’s good to be doing something, futile as it may be.
“Please,” she whispers, part of her hoping it will work against her better judgement.
She remembers thinking about kissing Yasha, her fingers brushing her jaw. Now they rest on it, but it’s nothing but dead flesh and bone.
Beau retracts her hands.
She knows how this goes. Soon what she’s holding will be in the ground, organic matter. They’ll find her wife’s grave and lay them to rest together. Caduceus will touch her grave, like he had Molly’s, and then she won’t even be bones anymore.
Beau wants to scream.
Meanwhile Jester has situated herself next to Yasha. Her hands find her chest.
“Wait,” Beau says. She pulls the arrow from Yasha’s throat, dropping it next to herself. It’s red. Beau’s hands are red. The wound doesn’t bleed. Everything smells like iron and rain. “Okay,” Beau says. “Try.”
Yasha wakes to warm hands on her cold chest, several arrows sticking out between blue fingers. She blinks. Jester.
Her whole body aches. She takes a breath and almost starts crying. It hurts. She doesn’t usually mind pain this much.
“Yasha?” Jester sobs. “Yasha?”
“I’m okay,” Yasha tries to say, but no words leave her mouth. Her throat is dry.
Jester collapses on the floor next to her. “God, you’re alive, you’re alive! I was so sure it wasn’t going to work, but I had to try! You said you could be brought back easier and -“
A hand finds Jester’s shoulder, and Yasha’s eyes follow the arm up to Caduceus’ face. He nods at her, eyes kind. Yasha tries to smile, but it hurts. Everything hurts.
Maybe that’s good. She doesn’t think she’d be conscious without the pain.
Suddenly someone grasps her face from behind. She startles, but her body just aches; it doesn’t move when she tries to get up. Either way, the fingers are gentle as they find her jaw, trembling slightly. Not a threat. Yasha looks up. Manages to turn her head a little, under painful protest of her spine.
Her head is resting in Beau’s lap. Beau doesn’t say anything. Her fingers are cold against Yasha’s skin, her face pale. The storm has calmed.
Someone kneels down to Yasha’s other side. She turns her head again - already less painful than the last time - and sees Fjord.
“We have to get these arrows out,” he says. “So we can heal you.”
Yasha nods - attempts to - and closes her eyes. Beau’s hands leave her face and she feels her move, then a piece of fabric touches her lips. She opens her mouth and allows Beau to position it between her teeth before biting down. Then Fjord pulls.
Yasha tries her best to stay silent. She almost passes out with each pull. Her teeth grind against the fabric. There’s three arrows in total, plus the one they’d apparently taken from her throat before casting Revivify. Yasha shifts in and out of consciousness. Warm blood is spreading beneath her already caked hard clothing. Everything is fuzzy. She tries to open her eyes but her lids barely even flutter. She thinks Beau says something, then large hands are placed on her chest and she can breathe again.
She opens her eyes. “Thank you,” she mumbles, finally audible. Her throat must’ve healed.
It’s already easier to deal with the residual pain. The compartment she has for physical discomfort in her brain is back in service.
“Let’s get you to your room,” Caduceus says. “Nothing keeping us here.”
Fjord opens his mouth to protest, but immediately shuts it again. Yasha nods.
It takes Caduceus and Caleb’s help to get her into a sitting position, and Beau vanishes as soon as her legs are freed up. Something in Yasha shifts into dullness.
She gets up with her remaining friends’ help, and Veth leads her down the stairs. She’s avoiding Yasha’s eyes.
“It’s okay,” Yasha says, trying not to trip from the shake of her knees as they descend. “You need to get back to your family.”
Veth’s chin is jutted forward. She doesn’t respond.
The second time Yasha dies it’s for Jester. She’s fighting a tentacled mass of flesh, wheezing and stumbling. She’s out of spells if her use of cantrips is any indication.
Yasha keeps one eye on her while she fights off two other creatures, finally decapitating the last one. She storms over just as the beast is about to hit Jester and blindly stabs into the writhing mass. It turns to her. Despite her slashing, more and more arms wrap around her, growing tighter and tighter.
Her sword clatters to the ground. She looks at Jester and their eyes meet. Jester’s are wide. The tentacle around Yasha’s waist tightens painfully. She hears a crack and her lower body goes limp. She looks down. She doesn’t feel it. She smiles at Jester, hopefully reassuring. She can taste blood in her teeth. Then another tentacle wraps around her neck and she’s back to fighting for her life.
Until she runs out of breath.
Yasha’s body looks wrong. It’s bent in places it shouldn’t be, thick purple stripes stretching across every visible inch of skin.
Her eyes are open this time, dotted red and vacant. Somehow that makes it worse.
Beau tries not to panic. Jester is sitting shivering next to the creature’s heavy corpse, boots and knees stained with black ink. Caduceus is hurrying towards them, Fjord on his heels.
“Heal her,” Beau orders Fjord, pointing at Jester. Caduceus kneels down by Yasha. Fjord gives a sharp nod and helps Jester up, glowing energy passing from his hands to her elbows as she clings to him.
She’d killed the beast while it was distracted by a struggling, dying Yasha, aided by a few poisoned bolts that had disappeared somewhere in the mass of its body.
Beau wishes it had suffered more.
She helps Caduceus turn Yasha onto her back. They have to untwist bones where no joints are, and Beau tries not to give the implications of where the breaks are too much thought. They can heal her once they’ve gotten her up. If we get her up.
She shakes her head to get rid of the thought. This time she won’t panic before she knows Yasha is lost. Her heart is beating out of her chest.
Caduceus stops her from arranging Yasha’s arm further, and Beau takes her hand instead. She places two fingers of her other hand against her jugular.
The skin there is visibly pressed inward, Yasha’s throat crushed. The red spots in her eyes are echoed amidst the lilac bruising. Beau shivers and waits.
What if it doesn’t work? What if the other time was luck, or the Traveler, or some other variable they’re missing now?
Beau squeezes Yasha’s hand one last time before reaching up and closing her eyes. She can’t bear to look at them anymore. Instead she looks at Caduceus, who fumbles for something in his bag. Her whole body is thrumming with nerves.
“Just do it,” Beau hisses, and Caduceus looks up at her. Then he gives a nod.
He places his hands on Yasha’s chest, like Jester had done, and casts the spell.
For a few moments Beau is sure it hasn’t worked. Panic starts to rise through her throat, her chest constricted by it.
Then Yasha’s ribcage visibly inflates. A faint, rapid pulse appears under Beau’s fingers. She lets out a breath of relief.
This time Yasha can’t open her eyes. The pain is there again, flooding her. Someone places a hand just below her navel and warmth flows through her. Then there’s more pain. Her legs are back.
She hears voices, a mish mash at first. Then her brain begins sorting through them, filtering for each of the Nein. Beau is there, talking to Jester. Jester’s voice is meager, she’s crying. Yasha attempts to open her eyes again, but it’s as if her lids are held down by rocks.
She hears Fjord ask something. Caduceus answers. She wants to ask for Caleb and Veth, but her mouth won’t open either. Her lips feel dry. She can taste blood.
She wonders if she would’ve been okay with dying if they hadn’t managed to defeat the creature within the time limit. More okay than with Jester dying, she decides. More okay than with any of them dying. They have so much waiting for them.
She finally hears Caleb and Veth.
Hands grip her arms and legs to lift her, but they don’t seem to be able to. After a few minutes of tugging she feels herself suspended in the air, presumably by magic. They bring her down to her cabin, like the last time. She wants to protest as they lay her bloodsoaked, dirty self down on her clean bed, but she doesn’t manage.
The next morning is cold. Yasha’s lids are heavy, and she has to blink back sleep. She sits up and panic rushes through her. She moves her foot. Okay. Deep breaths.
She places her hand on her chest, above her heart. It beats.
“You could’ve warned me,” Beau says a couple of days later over breakfast. The others have already gotten up, but Yasha has barely touched her food.
“I could’ve,” Yasha agrees.
Anger coils into a hot ball in Beau’s stomach. “Instead you said fuck all and got yourself killed. Twice.”
“Yes,” Yasha says. Beau watches as she pushes her oatmeal around in her bowl, infuriatingly calm.
“You could’ve at least told us we could bring you back without diamonds.”
“I didn’t know.” It’s almost inaudible, and for the first time in the conversation Yasha’s calm facade crumbles. Her eyes are pleading when she looks up at Beau, her shoulders pulled up. She looks like a child expecting a scolding.
Beau wants to shake her. Instead she digs her fingernails into her palms and remembers Fjord’s lessons about staying calm. “You got yourself killed without knowing if it’d be permanent.” The words sound hollow.
“I knew it was going to be easier to bring me back,” Yasha says. “Just not the specifics.”
When Beau doesn’t say anything she eats what barely qualifies as half a spoon of oatmeal. It’s cold clumps by now. Beau doubts she’s enjoying it.
“Okay,” Beau finally says, attempting to keep her voice steady. “I mean not okay but - just stop fucking risking your life, alright?!”
Yasha stares into her bowl and shakes her head.
“No?” Beau asks, not able to keep the angry tremble out of her voice any longer.
“No,” Yasha confirms.
Beau can’t believe her. She says it as if it’s just her decision, as if it isn’t affecting them at all. She can feel her bottom lip begin to quiver, not sure if it’s from anger or fear anymore. “You can’t mean that.”
Yasha’s expression softens. “It makes sense, Beau.”
And that’s it. Beau stands abruptly, her chair scraping over the wooden floor. “Like hell does it make sense,” she presses out.
“Beau...” Yasha’s eyes are wide.
The third time Yasha dies she thinks she’s going to be used to it. But she’s still terrified of the nothing she knows now will come. For the first time she has long enough to think as her head is pressed beneath the water’s surface. She thinks about Zuala. How cold the metal on her neck must’ve been. Her eyes as she pleaded with her to save herself. The scream and low thud as Yasha ran. Yasha will never forget the sounds.
Right now she only hears static. Her ears ring and her lungs burn when she finally relents and takes a breath in. It doesn’t take long for the heavy, salty liquid to fill up her lungs and suffocate her.
Beau is fiddling with the lock on her shackles behind her back, her eyes occasionally meeting Veth’s who is doing the same. Veth’s eyes are wide with panic, although her hands have stopped shaking as hard as soon as Yasha had taken Caleb’s place. Beau hates her just a little bit for that.
The captain is pressing Yasha’s head under water, her hair swimming around her like a crown. She’s not struggling, but her knuckles are white against the edge of the basin. Until her body goes limp and they aren’t.
Beau redoubles her efforts. Why isn’t Fjord casting underwater breathing? She searches for his eyes. “Anti magic,” he mouths, rattling his shackles for emphasis. Beau curses.
She expects the panic from Yasha’s first death, because it doesn’t seem like they’ll have the chance to get one of the clerics to her within a minute. Instead all emotions wash from her. She feels empty.
When her shackles click open she runs at the one who’d monologued about making an example of one of them immediately. Because that example won’t be Yasha if Beau can help it, like Yasha wouldn’t let it be Caleb.
She wakes coughing up salt water, to Caleb mumbling how stupid it’d been to take his place, how they almost hadn’t gotten away with her body.
Yasha nods. She feels clearer than last time. Maybe suffocating when you’re barely wounded is a kinder way to die than being crushed to death or pierced through by arrows.
Beau is leaning against a mast off to the side. Maybe this is losing its novelty, Yasha thinks. Maybe they’re getting used to it.
But Jester’s cheeks are tear stained when she looks up, her eyes rimmed dark purple. Caduceus’ hand is trembling on his staff. Veth isn’t looking at her. Fjord casts lay on hands again, leaving her throat a lot less raw. She smiles at him. Beau turns and hits the mast so hard it shakes, then storms off.
Yasha finds Beau in her first mate’s cabin a couple of hours later. She knocks and opens the door when Beau doesn’t answer, and there she is, sitting on the bed. “Are you okay?” Yasha asks. Her voice sounds like she spent yesterday screaming.
Beau glares at her. “Am I okay?”
“God.” Beau presses the balls of her hands against her eyes. “When did you decide that you wouldn’t even give us a chance to fight our way out? That you’d just kill yourself?
Yasha tilts her head. She doesn’t think that that’s what she’s doing. She doesn’t think Beau believes it either.
“When I asked you to help me protect the others?” Beau swings her legs out of the bed to fully face Yasha. “Or even earlier, when they told us we didn’t have any more diamonds?”
“That’s so fucking stupid. I -” Beau stops.
“I’m not trying to die,” Yasha says, not sure if it’ll make a difference.
Beau looks at her. “Well, you keep fucking doing it.”
Yasha doesn’t know if she should apologize.
“Fuck you,” Beau says.
Yasha takes a few steps backwards. Beau watches her. She leaves.
The fourth time Yasha dies on their journey, it’s for Fjord. She’s tired. Beau isn’t speaking to her. She’s distracted when the ambush comes.
All of them are barely sleeping, but Yasha feels the exhaustion deep in her bones. She’s sluggish when she moves, her head hurts. She still fights as best as she can. And when the time comes, when Fjord barely staggers back to his feet, she does what she did for Jester. She draws the sea spawn’s attention.
This one bites, and it feels more violating than her previous deaths. What feels like hundreds of teeth sink into her flesh, again and again, not letting up. She can’t help but simply wish for it to be over.
Her wish is granted shortly thereafter.
Caduceus is still sitting over Yasha when she draws her first rattling breath. Beau watches from the room’s corner as Yasha blinks up at him, her features twisting in pain with a couple of seconds delay. Jester heals her, her trembling hands trailing over countless gaping bite wounds. She only halts to remove the tooth stuck in one of them. Yasha flinches. The wounds are dark red on the edges, the same pattern over and over. Beau feels sick.
No one else is even here. None of them can take this anymore.
Beau’d heard Caleb and Veth talk yesterday. About how Yasha’s actions make sense. About how they wish she wouldn’t take them.
Yasha looks up at Beau over Jester’s shoulder. Beau averts her eyes. She can’t see what Yasha’s have to say.
She hears Jester apologize for Fjord’s absence.
It’s a sunny day when Yasha joins Fjord on the bow of the ship, looking out over the ocean.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“No. Thank you.” He doesn’t look at her.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
He nods. Shakes his head. “It was easier to rationalize when you weren’t sacrificing yourself for me.”
She nods, understanding. “It’s the same,” she clarifies nonetheless.
Yasha leaves it hanging in the air between them, not sure how to respond.
A breeze dances around her nose. Sunlight hits her arms for the first time in days. It’s going to be over soon.
They’ve almost reached Nicodranas when Beau hears the sea spawns. They climb their ship, fast like squirrels, their ugly little hands splashing onto the railing. She runs and rings the bell.
The Nein rise like zombies, accustomed to it all by now. Half expecting a death. They haven’t had this many. Ever. And most of them were of Yasha.
She’s the one that arrives on deck first. Her head snaps around, looking for Beau. Her eyes are unfocused. Beau takes her staff and whacks it down on one of the creatures’ fingers before it can join its companions on the deck. Once. Twice. It plummets. Then she runs over to Yasha.
It hurts seeing her up close. The scars on her neck are still pink, her eyes bloodshot. Her hair is tousled from sleep. She’s wearing a loose, sleeveless top as a substitute for her own, which hasn’t survived their previous fights. Beau would compliment her on her arms if she were feeling anything besides dread at seeing Yasha here.
“Go downstairs,” Beau hisses, knowing she won’t.
And Yasha shakes her head.
“Your choice,” Beau says, then she runs back to the railing and begins to fight. She’d rather drag Yasha downstairs and lock her in her room, but she doubts that’d stop her, and she doubts the Nein would make it without her sword. The best Beau can do is to make sure no one gets even close to falling unconscious.
Soon she hears Yasha scream with rage on the other side of the ship, and metal clanging against metal. Slowly but surely the rest of the Nein join them.
They’re pushed further and further into the middle of the ship as the minutes go by, their backs to the mast.
Beau catches one sea spawn in the eye and it pops, red and white goo. The next one’s throat is crushed. She bumps into someone. Yasha, her hair flying, her sword a silver trail in the air. She’s sweating, her arms trembling. That’s not how it usually is this soon into combat.
An arm shoots down, the blade hitting the mast as Beau ducks and runs into the creature. He stabs into her back and she takes it, running him off the side. He sinks. Good.
When she turns back, Jester is staring at her with wide eyes, blindly sending a ray of light towards a group of creatures. Beau is fully separated from the Nein, a wall of sea spawn blocking her way back.
She dashes towards them without giving it a second thought. The situation is only going to get worse if she waits. Veth shoots several bolts to clear a path for her, Caleb lights a few of the creatures up. All of the Nein take attacks to help Beau. She feels blades nicking and slashing her skin as she runs and blindly swings her staff.
Then she’s there. It smells sickly in the middle of the ship, like blood and intestines. She coughs, out of breath. Caleb immediately turns away, concentrating back on the creatures in front of him. Jester calls out something Beau doesn’t understand. She can barely see Fjord and Caduceus. Veth is still firing.
Beau turns to get her back to the mast and hisses when the stab wounds on her back hit the wood. She looks over at Yasha, who is trembling all over but keeping the creatures in front of them at bay for now. Their eyes meet for a split second. Beau takes a deep breath, then she steps forward and takes a swing with her staff. A bone cracks beneath it, probably the thing’s nose. Beau brings the other end up for a hit against the temple but in that moment, to her horror, Yasha pushes off the mast and runs straight into the mass of sea spawn.
She’s running, and then she’s flying. For a moment everything seems to slow down, every single person and creature on the ship transfixed. Yasha’s back is glowing white. Feathered wings sprout from her back as she unleashes a battle cry, then descends on their enemies.
It’s a bloodbath.
When Yasha returns, Beau is clutching a wound at her side and they’ve almost made it through. Just a few enemies left. Yasha looks awful. She’s taken the brunt of the attack it seems, hundreds of cuts and bruises curling around her arms like absurd tattoos. Her back is still faintly glowing.
And then she’s on Beau, enveloping her in her arms, her wings shooting out and flickering one last time as the spear pierces them.
Beau feels it enter her stomach and barely hangs onto consciousness. Yasha’s torso is pierced through. Beau tries to hold her up, but she goes down. Beau attempts to go with, but the spear head still slides out of her stomach. She groans. Blood fills the wound and flows over. She scrambles to her feet. Wobbles. Then she starts hitting creatures again, over Yasha’s limp body.
“I was just unconscious,” Yasha says.
It’s been six days since the battle on the ship. She’s sitting propped up in a bed at the Chateau and Beau is forcing her to eat soup. It’s still a little too hot.
“I know.” Beau looks down at her hands. She’s sitting on a chair next to Yasha’s bed, soft light from the one big window of the room playing with her hair.
Yasha eats a spoonful of soup, slurping on purpose so Beau knows she’s eating even without looking. For a while that’s the only noise in the room.
“I thought we’d lost you for good,” Beau admits after a while. “We fought for way longer than a minute after you went down.”
Beau looks up. “What for?”
“Almost leaving you behind.“ Yasha feels heat rise to her cheeks. “I know I’m not - you know what, it doesn’t matter.” It does matter, but Yasha can feel the pain spreading through her chest like an infection at just the thought of not being able to promise Beau she’ll stay. Dying has taken much more of a toll on her than she expected, the full risk she’d taken only clear in hindsight and with the fog of exhaustion slowly retreating. But there is something she can promise. “I want you to know that I want to stay,” she says.
“You’re not doing a good job at trying,” Beau says.
Yasha sets down the bowl next to herself, slowly because her whole body feels sore. It wobbles on the mattress. “I guess not. I don’t know. What was I supposed to do?”
Beau reaches for the bowl and sets it down on the nightstand, still avoiding Yasha’s eyes. “Try to survive?”
“Then someone would’ve died who we couldn’t have brought back. You might’ve died, or someone you love.” Yasha stares down at her hands.
“I love you,” Beau says.
Yasha’s head shoots up. She can feel her heart speed up.
“We’re a family,” Beau continues. “And if we’d been too slow...”
And ah. Of course. That makes more sense.
“I’m pretty sure it would’ve worked, still,” Yasha says. “Maybe not after a really long time, but a day or so would’ve been fine.”
“Fine?” Beau finally looks at her, incredulous. She gets up and starts pacing, rubbing the shaved part of her head.
When she continues her back is turned to Yasha, her front facing the window. “What if it hadn’t been? We could’ve lost you, Yasha. For good.”
She turns back around. Tears are collecting in her eyes, her cheeks flushed. “I thought you were gone that first time. I thought I was never going to talk to you again. Never get the chance to -“ She stops.
Walks back over to her chair by Yasha’s bed. “It was stupid Yasha, okay?”
Yasha doesn’t agree, but she nods. She reaches out for Beau, and her fingers make it to the edge of the bed before she has to rest them there. Her arm muscles burn. Beau leans forward and takes her hand into both of her own. She doesn’t seem to realize what she’s doing as she lets her thumbs wander over the back of Yasha’s hand, her knuckles, down to her wrist. Yasha has goose bumps.
“Look, Veth might’ve made it,” Beau says. “She could’ve dodged at least the arrows that came after the first. Jester... she was out of spells, but she was doing good at keeping her distance. You just ran right in there. And then Caleb - we had to escape our shackles and finish the pirates in under a minute. We could’ve - I don’t know, tried to talk long enough to free ourselves and attack them together. To be honest, I was almost sure we wouldn’t make it in time, that we wouldn’t be able to bring you back. Do you understand that, Yasha?” Her grip around Yasha’s hand tightens for a moment. “We were all so afraid for you. Of you. Of what you would do.” She sets Yasha’s hand back on the bed and looks down. “I still am.”
“Because you might do it again. You said you realized you dying wouldn’t help anyone, back before the peace talks, and then you went and died. Over and over.”
“I have no reason to, now. It wasn’t about punishing myself, it was about trying to protect you all. You have so much waiting for you.”
Beau laughs, bitter. “Now you sound like me.”
Yasha smiles reluctantly, her lips tight. “You’re right.”
Beau presses the balls of her hands to her eyes, then she shakes her head and gets up. “You should have more soup. It’s getting cold.”
She forgets to give the bowl back to Yasha before leaving.
“Yasha!” Jester jumps to her feet the second she sees Yasha standing in the doorframe, running over to her and hugging her tight.
Yasha pats her back a few times, but she doesn’t let go.
When Jester finally pulls back she’s still smiling, but her eyes are watery. “I’m so glad you’re okay!” Jester says. “Come!” She takes Yasha’s hand and pulls her towards where Caduceus is sitting in front of a row of diamonds of different forms and sizes.
“We all came together,” Caduceus says. “This is great.”
Yasha can feel herself tear up as well.
“Look, we have nine!” Jester says, pulling Yasha down with her as she sits. “These two are for Beau, because she’s always up close.” She points to a bigger and a smaller one at the far end. “These two are Caleb’s because he’s squishy.” Another two. Jester proceeds to point to each one, telling Yasha who it’s for.
It’s bittersweet. On the one hand Yasha is glad to have additional insurance. On the other hand, this is probably the most macabre thing she’s witnessed in a while. It’s like death is inevitable.
And it is - but not right now. Not when they’re all still so young. Jester and Beau especially.
She forces herself to smile at Jester. “That’s wonderful.”
“Is it?” Beau says from behind them.
“This is nice,” Yasha says, trailing her fingers over the bark of the Xhorhouse tree.
“Yeah,” Caduceus says.
“Thank you for letting me help.” She looks at the flowers they’ve planted between the roots over the past few days. Most of it is loose earth, but in a few places green is budding. It’s already beautiful.
“You know,” Caduceus says. “I think you upset some of them a lot.”
“By dying. Or by not talking about it.”
“Oh.” It’s been weeks.
“Just be mindful of how you handle them. They don’t understand.”
“And you do?” Yasha can’t help the defiance in her voice.
“Well,” Caduceus sits down. “I think they’re all too afraid of death. But I also think it’s quite harrowing to experience it and be brought back.”
“So take that as you will,” Caduceus says.
Yasha studies him for a while. Then she decides to tell him.
“Beau asked me to protect them.”
“Is that why you did it?”
Yasha shakes her head. “I did it because I love them. I’d almost decided before.”
“The last drop,” Caduceus says, without further explanation.
“I don’t know what that means,” Yasha says.
“It means that Beau probably thinks she’s responsible for this, because, I’ll say it, she thinks she’s responsible for every single bad thing that happens to her, when in fact, you probably would’ve decided to risk your life for them anyway.”
“I would’ve,” Yasha says. “But maybe... I don’t know. Maybe it was stupid. At least half of the times they could have made it, probably, it just wasn’t worth the risk of letting them try.”
“It had nothing to do with you wanting to repeat the pit fight in the real world?”
“No.” That Yasha is certain of.
“Good.” Caduceus nods. “It’s still a risk not everyone would’ve taken, especially the first time. You have to examine how you think about your future, and your worth.”
Yasha wants to protest, but he’s right.
“Thank you,” she says instead, then excuses herself. She needs to be alone.
Yasha rushes past Beau on her way to her room, a small, forced smile all the greeting Beau gets before the door closes behind her.
For a moment Beau contemplates following her. Or waiting before her room.
She decides to go to the training room instead. They’d never found the time to install training implements before now, but Beau has spent the past few days on doing so and she’s quite proud of herself.
She also really needs a distraction.
On her way down the stairs it begins to rain. Thick drops splatter against the glass of the windows she passes. She wonders if that has to do with Yasha, but maybe not everything’s about her.
Beau enters the training room. She sits down on the ground and carefully wraps her hands. One knuckle, the next, around. She stretches her fingers. The next hand.
She’s worried about Yasha. No, she’s been worried about Yasha ever since her first death. And angry, and disappointed, but mostly really fucking scared. And it won’t leave her alone. The feeling sticks to her, thick like honey, preventing her from enjoying anything she tries to distract herself with.
Beau gets up and practices a couple of kicks. Then punches. She uses their new dummy to practice hitting pain points, but it doesn’t comply with the movements she’s trying to perform, so it turns mostly into her cursing it out. She goes back to kicking. The top of her foot hurts from the continuous impacts, but she doesn’t let up. For a while she imagines the captain, and the sea spawns, and the fucking archer in its place, but that switches from motivating to devastating pretty fast. So she goes back to mindless movements.
Beau is drenched in sweat when she stops. Thunder roars, and a few seconds later blue light illuminates the room for a split second. A shiver runs through Beau. Yasha won’t leave her alone. Her thoughts skip through images of her. Her smile yesterday when Jester had given her the first of a batch of cookies. Her straining muscles when she wields a sword. Her silent bittersweet expression when Beau had looked for her yesterday and found her staring at the field of wildflowers on her wall. Beau had left without disrupting her.
The images change. Yasha’s head resting on a pillow at the Chateau, skin as white as the linen. Yasha’s always pale, but not usually sickly, not with red rimmed eyes that have dark shadows under them. Not with pink scars lighting up everywhere on her body, as if to remind Beau how she’d failed. Yasha with a crushed throat, Yasha with fresh bite marks - Yasha dead.
And all Beau had done was blame her. She’s not sure she would’ve done anything differently in her position, but something about Yasha making the decision makes anger coil in her stomach, hot and uncomfortable. And it makes her chest ache, in ways she hadn’t expected.
Beau hates Yasha, just a little bit, for how important she’s become. Their flirting was meant to be casual, but she’s taken a part of Beau and never given it back, a tether between them. And sure Beau is terrified of what loving her could mean, of what she might expect, but she’s more terrified of losing her.
It’s ironic really, that she’s picked the woman she’s most likely to lose to fall hard for.
The thunder outside crackles, and Beau sits, in the middle of the room. More lightning. Her breaths come fast, the sweat clammy on her skin. She rests her face in her hands, her elbows on her knees. She loves her. She fucking loves her and she hates her for making her so dependent.
Caleb turns the book from side to side, examining it.
“What is it about?” Yasha asks.
He looks up. They haven’t spoken much since the ship journey ended. “Arcane means of baking.”
“That’s certainly… a choice.”
He smiles. “It’s not for me.”
Ah. “That makes more sense.”
“Do you have anything you want to buy here?”
Yasha looks around. She’s been meaning to get something to read, but the book store is giant and it’s overwhelming. “No,” she says. “I think I’m good.”
“Then let me just get this.” He holds the book up. Yasha nods.
While Caleb goes up to the shop owner she looks at some of the books closest to her. Most of them are about using the arcane to accomplish everyday things. She’s not sure that that’s worth it, not when those powers could be used to heal. Or bring someone back from the dead. She shudders involuntarily and moves on to another shelf.
Caleb rejoins her a couple of minutes later. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” Yasha says. “Let’s go.”
They walk side by side, Caleb leading them back to the pre-agreed meeting spot. Rosohna is uncharacteristically lively, a strange image with the night around them. Yasha isn’t even sure what time it is anymore, with how long they’ve been here.
“You’ve been quiet since we got back,” Caleb says after a while.
Yasha tilts her head. “I’ve always been quiet.”
“Touché.” He turns the book over and over again in his hands. “Thank you for what you did. On the boat. For Veth.”
“No problem,” Yasha says, the lie much easier with him than with Beau.
“I wish you would’ve talked to us about it before. We need to trust each other.”
This conversation is steering into uncomfortable territory, especially in such a public place, but she doubts anyone’s paying attention to more than their human appearance. Still, Yasha tries to keep her voice down. “It made sense, Caleb.”
“On a purely theoretical level? Yes.”
Yasha sighs. “Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same if you were in my place.”
He sighs as well. “I can’t. I think that’s what bothers me.” He looks down at the book he’s fidgeting with.
“Bother you? In how far?” Yasha tilts her head.
“Watching you abandon all caution for a cause you believed in and what it did to all of us was an uncomfortable mirror.” Their eyes meet, his steadfast, hers weary.
Yasha slows her steps. “I never meant to burden you.”
“It’s a reality you have to face, Yasha.”
“I’d rather that than face losing any more of my loved ones.”
“I understand,” he says. “But you’re among our loved ones. Jester, Beau, and Fjord were incredibly affected. You hurt them with your actions, even if you were trying to protect them. You can’t turn back time, but you need to be aware.”
Yasha doesn’t know what to say to that. She’d rather be guilty of hurting them than of letting them die when she had the chance to prevent it. And she does understand that she is guilty of hurting them, more and more each day by seeing the way they act around her.
Caduceus is like a shadow to her most days, not leaving her side. Beau barely talks to her, often either stares or leaves the room when they’re in each other’s vicinity. Jester almost forcefully includes her in fun activities, as if Yasha just needs to experience enough joy to decide to hang onto this life. Fjord is the most pragmatic of them, but Yasha suspects he is still working through his own death and his guilt for being the one the sea spawns were after. Yasha can’t imagine if one of the Nein had been killed when they’d gone beneath Bazzoxan, on a quest for her. She still feels guilty they’d been hurt at all.
“I am,” Yasha says belatedly.
“Good.” Caleb’s hands finally still around the book. A few steps more. “You don’t have to sacrifice yourself, you know?”
Yasha doesn’t answer. She wonders how he’s come to that conclusion, and if it counts for him as well.
They’ve had five weeks of down time, more than needed after the constant intensity of their ship travel, the peace talks, and Traveler con. But now they have a new job. The tension in the group is palpable, their preparations quiet and meticulous.
Yasha doesn’t have much to prepare, so she stands in the hallway, watching the others rush by and talk about which magical items they will need, if there’s something they should get. Jester talks about getting more diamonds, and Caleb has to convince her that they have more than enough. Yasha lowers her gaze, the guilt buzzing in her stomach.
Beau sits down on the stairs, almost across from Yasha. Their eyes meet from time to time. Beau playfully rolls hers when Caduceus comes down from his tower with a large rucksack he wants to put in the bag of holding, and Yasha can’t help but smile as the relief washes through her. Beau isn’t going to be distant forever.
They travel for four days, not yet trusting enough of Essek to ask him to teleport. They have horses, another batch. Yasha would never admit it, but she’s getting attached to the one she’s riding this time. Her name is Erna, and she’s a roan, tall and nimble. Erna doesn’t much like Veth’s pony, and Veth’s pony absolutely despises the warm blood Fjord is riding. It’s quite fun to watch the two of them bicker about it at the front of the group, from a safe distance to keep Erna calm.
Beau and Caduceus ride next to her, but Caduceus is the only one making conversation.
On the second day, the group grows quieter, their mood noticeably more gloomy. Yasha briefly wishes it came easier to her to brighten people’s days. Luckily they have Jester. She passes around baked goods and has to be stopped from giving some to the horses.
On the third day, right as the relentless midday heat is subsiding, Beau rides up next to Yasha.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
Yasha tries not to look too happy that she’s talking to her of her own volition. “Good,” she says, without thinking. Right in that moment it isn’t even a lie.
“You sure? This’ll be our first fight since… you know what.” Beau rubs her neck. Letting go of the reins for a moment looks effortless when she does it. Yasha tries and almost loses balance. Beau looks amused. “What are you doing?”
Yasha smiles. For a moment normalcy breaks through between them.
“Nothing,” she says, unconvincing. “And it’s fine. I’ve been fighting my whole life. I look forward to it.”
Beau nods. The last part of Yasha’s answer has brought her frown back, and she presses her lips together for a moment. They’re light from lack of circulation when she re-opens her mouth to speak. “You’re not gonna do something stupid, right?” Yasha shakes her head. What qualifies as stupid to Beau? “Not gonna get yourself killed for no reason at all?”
“Beau.” That’s too much. She has to know that’s a lie.
“Sorry,” Beau mumbles, averting her eyes. “I’m just really fucking angry at you. Doesn’t bring out my best side.”
Yasha thinks of Caduceus advice, She’s blaming herself, and of Caleb’s, You’ve hurt them. Maybe neither of these is the issue with Beau. Not alone, at least.
“What are you angry about?” Yasha asks. A safer bet than guessing.
Beau looks at her and raises her eyebrows, as if to ask, you don’t know? But then she answers. “You said you’d stay safe, even while trying to protect them. I trusted you.”
“So you’re mad at me or yourself?”
“Both.” Beau makes a sudden movement with her foot and has to reign in her horse when it reacts by diverting from their path. She takes a moment until she’s next to Yasha again.
“I didn’t actually answer when you asked me to keep myself safe,” Yasha says. She only realizes how shitty that sounds when the words are leaving her mouth.
“Wow, you’re pulling out technicalities now? You could’ve just said no.” Beau raises her eyebrows, her eyes glimmering with anger. “So you’re saying I’m the stupid one for trusting you?”
“Of course not,” Yasha says, as calm as possible. They ride in silence for a minute or so, their eyes trained on the road. “I’m sorry,” Yasha finally says. “That silence was deliberate, because I knew you’d disagree with me.”
“To put it mildly,” Beau says. She looks at Yasha. “It’s scary, because I care about you a lot, and losing you would be…” She sighs, looks up at the sky. “It’d feel like everything was incomplete.”
Yasha doesn’t know what to say to that. Her hands are sweaty against the reins, her heart beats fast. She doesn’t look at Beau, and she doesn’t think Beau’s looking at her. She feels sick from guilt.
“And like, your life or whatever, but even just while you were with Obann I -“ Yasha turns to her, and she’s still staring at the sky, blinking. “I listened for thunder almost every night. It never came. It didn’t storm without you, and I didn’t realize I liked storms that much until then.” Beau finally looks at Yasha and shrugs. “Do with that what you will.”
I missed you too. I hated fighting you. I wish I could’ve made the promise that day in my room on the ship. There is so much Yasha wants to say, and in the end she doesn’t say any of it.
Beau seems indignant at having revealed so much and getting nothing in return, but she stays by Yasha’s side for the rest of their journey.
I love you, Beau. You deserve better, but I still love you.
Jester, Fjord, and Caleb discuss their formation in hushed voices. Yasha doesn’t remember the group ever placing this much importance on it, but she waits patiently. Beau looks like she’s about to jump out of her skin with the urge to fight. Caduceus is feeding something to a beetle on his staff while Veth silently imitates retching. They’re hiding between trees, waiting to attack a band of goblins. It’s not going to be a hard fight, but it’ll be a good introduction back into the game.
Beau turns to Yasha and rolls her eyes. She shrugs, and just barely manages not to smile. Beau imitates falling asleep against her staff. Yasha grins. Beau grins back.
“Okay,” Caleb says, finally. They all huddle around him. He’s drawn something on a piece of paper. They’re separating the clerics and splitting into three groups. Yasha and Beau will attack directly and draw their attention, then the non melee fighters will send bolts and spells from the sides. Jester looks infinitely unhappy with the plan, and Fjord keeps shooting Yasha glances. When they part Caleb pats her shoulder and leans in. “Don’t die.” Yasha flinches.
Once everyone has taken their positions Beau and Yasha look at each other. Beau raises a hand and mouths along with the count she’s showing on her fingers.
And then they run.
Beau is fast, and Yasha feels the impact of her feet hitting the ground travel through her shins to her knees as she tries to keep up with her. They’re noticed almost immediately. Yasha catches up and takes the brunt of the damage, already raging and barely affected by the arrows that hit her.
Still, she has to pull a nasty one out of her left shoulder when they come to a halt in the middle of the open space. A quick shake of that arm shows that it still works, but it’s bleeding. Yasha heals it to avoid significant blood loss, then growls and throws the arrow in the direction of the melee fighters that are running at them.
When the first enemies get into range Beau and Yasha turn so they’re back to back as they’re inevitably surrounded. There’s no more arrows flying, but the goblins around them attack furiously. They reciprocate. Yasha hears Beau’s staff make contact over and over, and her kiai when she uses her fists. The Skingorger carves through the small bodies with little resistance, and within seconds the first goblin head rolls.
It’s exhilarating, and yet Yasha feels fear pulse through her veins. She stabs one of the goblins a little too often, misses another that she shouldn’t have. From time to time her and Beau bump into each other’s back, and Yasha keeps turning her head to see if Beau is doing well.
The goblin’s high pitched screams are interspersed with occasional groans from Beau or Yasha when they get hit. Small enemies in large numbers are a challenge, constantly taking swings at the backs of their knees or their feet. Yasha makes sure to keep moving so she doesn’t get nailed to the ground with a dagger through her foot.
She barely realizes when exactly the spells start hitting. She splits a skull right down the middle when insects burrow into the wound and Caduceus steps into her field of vision. Then a scorching ray blazes through the already diminished group of goblins, and a lollipop comes down on them and crushes one with an uncomfortable crunch sound. The fight ends fast, the fleeing goblins diminished by Veth’s bolts and Fjord’s magic. It leaves Beau and Yasha breathing heavily in a lake of charred and prematurely decayed bodies, small spots of blood soaking through their pants and Yasha’s shirt where the arrows had hit.
Yasha looks over her shoulder and sees Beau grinning at her. Then Jester is there and floods them with healing, bringing them both back to full health with several spells. Yasha shivers with the warmth.
For the first time in a while a fight hasn’t ended with cold, hard pain, with fear freezing her bones. She’s not sure how to explain the feeling of relief that floods her, because it contests with the thoughts of, this was an easy fight. The next time could be different, and she can feel her chest tighten.
“Let’s find an inn close to here,” Fjord suggests, interrupting Yasha’s thoughts. “And send a message that we’ve eliminated the thieves.”
“Are you finished?”
There’s only one wash basin in their room, and Beau has graciously offered for Yasha to go first. Jester is using the one in Caleb and Veth’s room. Veth refuses to wash up anyways and they only have to share between two people each this way.
Yasha dries off her face. “Yes.” There’s still a little blood in her hair, but the basin is too small to wash it.
“Better?” Beau asks, walking up to Yasha.
“Do you feel better?” Beau clarifies.
“Than what?” Yasha doesn’t mean for it to sound so flippant, but her heart is still beating fast, and the cold water has done nothing to distract her from the blood making red clouds in the basin.
Beau stands next to her, her hand hovering above her shoulder, then drawing back. “I saw you shivering the whole way here.”
“I guess I’m just -“ Yasha is shocked by how shaky her voice suddenly is. She raises a hand and pinches the bridge of her nose.
“Okay, come on.” Beau leads her to the bed and sits her down on it, taking a few steps back. Yasha trembles. Breathing is hard.
“Is this about the possibility of dying?” Beau asks.
“It hurt.” Yasha’s voice is small as she says it. She knows it’s not what Beau wants to hear. It’s not what she wants to say. Beau’s eyebrows are drawn together, her lips apart.
Yasha begins to cry. She’s sitting alone on her bed, cold air surrounding her, and remembers the arrows, and the tentacles, and salt water in her lungs, and teeth penetrating her flesh. She knows how to deal with pain, has even reveled in it in the past, but dying and being resurrected had been different. She doesn’t know how to say that she didn’t want to go, but that being brought back to life had been even worse.
So she just cries. Like a little child.
She hasn’t cried like this in a long time. Beau watches. This is unfair to her, but it’s like a dam has broken, and now Yasha can’t stop the sobs.
She misses Zuala. She’d known this side of Yasha, the most vulnerable one. The antithesis to her rage. Yasha loves Beau, but this is one facet of herself she thinks Beau is not capable of dealing with. She’s not sure any of her friends are.
She remembers Zuala kneeling before her, her hands resting on Yasha’s knees. Her thumbs stroking, melodic whispers of reassurance barely reaching Yasha’s brain. She could’ve been with her again by now. God, how much she misses her.
The little things - the scrunch of her nose when they kissed, the look in her eyes right before. The way her eyes narrowed when she aimed on hunts, the way she used to sing while doing menial work. And the way she talked to Yasha, their own language, one that is lost now. Yasha knew her, and she knew Yasha, and they both knew their us.
A hand finds Yasha’s shoulder. “Hey. Yash.” It’s Beau. Yasha almost freezes, but the tears continue to stream down her cheeks. She must look horrible. She hiccups.
Beau sits down next to her and removes her hand.
Then they just sit. Beau doesn’t talk to her, but she stays close, she’s there. And when Yasha reaches out for her, she takes her hand into both of her own, holding it just tight enough that Yasha doesn’t feel constricted.
Over the next few minutes, Yasha’s tears slowly subside. Beau waits silently.
Maybe Beau can handle this. Differently than Zuala, more clumsy because they don’t know each other as well, don’t have their own rhythms and movements and words yet. But handle it.
“Thank you,” Yasha says finally, through a hiccup. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Beau says, sounding like it is not okay at all.
Yasha laughs. It’s short and wet, and she almost starts crying from it again.
“You could’ve talked to us about it.”
Yasha looks at her.
Beau frowns. Opens her mouth, closes it. Opens it again. “Me. You could’ve talked to me about it.”
Could I have?
Beau squeezes Yasha’s hand. Yasha squeezes back. “Thank you,” she says over her doubts.
Beau’s tongue darts out to nervously wet her lips. “I barely even did anything.”
Yasha nods. “I’m still thankful,” she says truthfully. “You stayed with me through all of the times I -“ Yasha stops. Beau clenches her jaw. “And you didn’t coddle me today. You trusted me. So thank you.”
“I didn’t trust you,” Beau says. “But I haven’t been able to stop you so far.”
Yasha feels the pain of the statement in her chest. She deserves that. Still, “I meant it when I said I wanted to stay.”
Beau tilts her head and clicks her tongue. “Maybe. But you’ve never actually managed to stay with us for long. It’s not what you do, even if you have the choice. And lately it seemed to me like dying was just another way for you to leave.”
Yasha looks down at the hand resting in her lap. Her other hand is still in Beau’s.
“C’mon Yash, you’ve got to admit that that’s true.”
Yasha can feel the tears rising again. She doesn’t want for it to be true, but maybe there’s something to what Beau is saying. Maybe leaving, even if it’s just for a while, is easier than dealing with being with the Nein. Than seeing Jester laugh, or Fjord and Beau train, and Caleb and Veth cling to each other after a fight. And she knows none of them have had it easy, some arguably much worse than her, but it’s particularly hard for her to stand all the closeness, all the gentleness, all the love.
Part of it, Yasha thinks, is that she’s only slowly beginning to feel a part of it all. Because she’s not actively running for the first time. Part of it is that it’s healing, and she wants that, gods does she want it. But she also knows she won’t get back to where she was before it all started. She can’t go back to her tribe, and the Nein will never be them, and Zuala is still dead. Even if Yasha comes back from all of it, who and what she has lost won’t come back to her.
It’s hard letting go. Maybe hard enough that giving up, with a justifiable reason, is preferable to seeing recovery through. “You’re right,” Yasha says.
Beau presses her lips together.
“But I’m afraid,” Yasha admits.
“What of?” It sounds like a challenge out of Beau’s mouth. Yasha loves her for not being coy about what she wants to know. It makes it easier to talk to her.
“Staying,” she says. “Getting better. Everything being different. Losing what I had before all this.”
“But haven’t you lost that already?”
The question stings a little too hard, and Yasha buries her face in her hand. Beau holds her other hand tight. It takes Yasha a while to resurface. “Yes,” she says. “But I guess as long as I don’t fully move on, as long as I hold onto it, and the guilt, I can’t lose it all. The memories.” She shrugs, but it fails to feel like a convincing deflection of how serious the statement is. She can feel Beau’s eyes on her. “And how is it fair for me to get better when I took the chance of it from so many others?” she adds. A new tear rolls down Yasha’s cheek, and she licks it away once it reaches her lip. It’s salty.
“It’s not fair,” Beau says. “But it’s the only way you’re going to live your life. Otherwise you can just give up now.” She shrugs.
That’s exactly what I’m doing, Yasha wants to say. She doesn’t.
“If you decide to stay we’re here for you, okay?” Yasha nods. Beau’s expression hardens, her grip around Yasha’s hand tightening almost painfully. “But if you’re going to give up then just tell me now.” Her fingers relax. “I don’t want to get more invested.”
For a while they sit in silence, Beau’s words hanging between them. Next to each other on a bed, their thighs almost touching, Yasha’s hand cradled in both of Beau’s and pulled into her lap. They might as well be oceans apart.
“Fuck it,” Beau says. “I’m already invested, Yasha.” She turns to her, lets go of her hand. Yasha awkwardly pulls it back, not wanting to keep it on Beau’s thigh without her holding it there. She immediately misses the contact.
Beau places her hand on Yasha’s shoulder instead, right where it flows into her neck, as if she’s an instructor preparing to give a student a scolding. Then nothing like that at all. Her eyes widen, pleading. Her thumb lines up with Yasha’s jugular, pointing up to the scar that is still pink, fading to white. Yasha’s breath stutters. Beau takes a breath. “Please stay, Yasha. Choose to live.”
“Okay,” Yasha says softly. Their eyes are locked together. Again, firmer this time. “Okay.” It’s like there’s electricity running between them, and Yasha can’t breathe anymore. She shouldn’t be thinking it right now, but Beau is beautiful. Her eyes flicker to her lips.
“Good,” Beau says. Her fingers relax against Yasha’s neck. Her arm twitches, as if she wants to retract it but thinks better of it at the last second. Yasha places one of her hands above Beau’s, holding it close to show her she’s welcome. It’s warm against her skin, Beau’s palm growing damp as the seconds go by. Yasha watches as Beau’s eyes search her face, not sure what she’s looking for.
She almost let’s go. Then Beau bites her lip. She holds herself up with one hand behind Yasha as she leans closer. Yasha’s heart is beating out of her chest. This is what she’s wanted for so long, but suddenly it’s scary. And she still wants it.
She can feel Beau’s breath on her lips when she halts. “Okay?” Beau asks.
A thousand thoughts. Yasha nods. And then Beau is leaning again. Their noses bump. Yasha can’t help but smile. Beau grins, eyes teary. Her hand slides to the back of Yasha’s neck, applying the slightest bit of pressure.
Their lips meet. Just so. Then again. It’s nothing like Yasha imagined. It’s gentle, and Beau’s lips are soft, and she tastes like iron and something else Yasha can’t quite figure out. She feels herself smile into the kiss when their lips meet for the third time, all her nerves tingling. And then she tastes the tears on their lips, and she doesn’t know if they’re Beau’s or hers, but Beau is smiling too, so does it matter?
She opens her mouth on the fourth kiss, just slightly, an invitation Beau doesn’t have to take. But she does. Her tongue is warm and wet and it vibrates with the gentle strain of pressing against Yasha’s as they figure out how to position themselves to deepen the kiss. When Yasha tries to pull Beau closer with her hand on the small of her back Beau instead scrambles onto the bed, kneeling to be on Yasha’s eye level. She slides both hands into Yasha’s hair as she presses closer.
Their next kiss is almost too much, teetering on the edge of too sweet, too intoxicating. It leaves Yasha breathless.
When they break apart this time, Beau sits back onto her heels. Her cheeks are tear stained, her lips red from their kisses. “Wow.”
Yasha doesn’t know what to say. “That was…”
“I didn’t know you -“
“But it was okay, right?”
Yasha’s cheeks burn. “Do I look like it wasn’t?” She laughs, short but clear. She hasn’t heard herself laugh like this in a long time. A tear drops from her chin. Beau reaches between them, the space just enough for her hand to rest. Yasha intertwines their fingers and begins gently drawing calming circles with her thumb.
“You’re crying,” Beau states.
“So are you,” Yasha counters.
“Oh.” Beau reaches up to touch her cheek, and her fingertips come back wet. The same fingertips that had been in Yasha’s hair a few seconds ago. “But I’m fine,” she says. “I just didn’t think I’d get to -“
“We almost lost you.” Yasha wants to say something, but Beau continues. “But I want to believe you. That you’ll try to stay.”
“That’s all I can ask.” Yasha hates what she’s going to say next. “But I can’t promise that I’ll always manage.”
Beau closes her eyes. Her nose is red, and for a moment she looks small, fragile. Then she opens her eyes again, her gaze hardened.
“But I can promise that I’ll always come back,” Yasha says.
Beau swallows. “Okay,” she says. “I can live with that.”
Yasha can’t sleep that night. A storm is roaring outside. Beau had gone and asked Jester to sleep in a room with Veth, and now they have their room to themselves. Beau is curled up into Yasha, her breaths even and spaced out. Yasha’s arm is slung across her waist, their hands intertwined in front of her stomach.
Beau is warm, but it isn’t uncomfortable. Even the guilt Yasha expected is almost silent. Right now the world belongs to her and Beau, and the world is this room.
Still, she can’t sleep. Rain is drumming against the window. Beau smells like soap now that she’s cleaned up, and a little like sweat from their physical closeness.
Lightning lights up the room.
Yasha sits up, careful. Beau stirs, but her eyes stay closed.
Yasha slowly pulls her legs out from under the covers and winds her hand out of Beau’s. Then she tries to climb over her without waking her, out of the bed. Her feet hit the cold wooden floor and she shivers. She sneaks to the door.
She turns around, relaxing into her standing position. Beau is propped up on her elbow, her voice rough with sleep.
“Leaving already?” It doesn’t sound half as casual as Beau is trying to look, all in greys in the almost-darkness.
Yasha shakes her head and comes back to the bed in a few fast steps, kneeling down next to Beau’s head so they’re on eye level. “I was just going to go outside for a bit,” she says.
Beau visibly relaxes, plops onto her back and stretches her arms above her head. Another flash of lightning illuminates her features. She’s beautiful. Rough around the edges, scarred, beautiful.
“Mind if I come?”
Yasha smiles. “Of course not.”
“Okay.” Beau groans as she sits up, rubs her eyes, then swings her legs out of the bed. Her hand twitches. “Give me a sec.”
She walks over to the singular chair in the room that they’ve slung their outerwear over and grabs her coat. She holds Yasha’s cloak up, too, but she shakes her head. Instead she grabs the Magician’s Judge.
They make their way down the corridor together, sneak down the stairs. It’s cooler than Yasha expected, but not uncomfortably so. The tavern room downstairs is dark and empty. Yasha wonders if it’d be okay to take Beau’s hand.
The cobblestone street in front of the inn is dark with wetness, most of the torches extinguished.
Beau turns to Yasha. “Where did you want to go?”
Yasha shrugs. “I didn’t have anything specific in mind.”
She shivers. Rain spray is hitting their shins, and her trousers are already damp.
“See, you’re cold already.” Beau frowns.
“I’m -“ Yasha stops. She’d been about to defend herself, but maybe, just maybe, it’s okay now to throw some of Beau’s flirtation back at her. “Do you want to, you know -“ Beau raises her eyebrows, waiting. “Huddle together for warmth?”
Beau’s eyes widen, then a grin spreads across her face. “Sure, but you know, my coat is making me soooo warm…”
Yasha laughs, despite herself. “It doesn’t have sleeves.”
“Hey, that’s the best thing about it!” Beau glares, like she’s ready to fight anyone who disagrees with the statement, and adjusts the lapel with her chin raised.
Yasha raises her eyebrows. She certainly doesn’t mind Beau’s arms being exposed. Beau looks up at her, her expression softening. For a few seconds they just stand there, in the doorway of the inn, not breaking eye contact. Yasha’s stomach flutters. She wants to kiss her again.
Instead she holds out the arm closest to Beau, an offer to get closer. Beau doesn’t hesitate. She wraps her arms around Yasha’s waist and leans into her. Yasha puts her arm around her shoulders. Having her close as they’re standing here in the slowly subsiding rain is a feeling she can’t quite describe. It’s a closeness she’s only allowed Zuala before, something she once thought would be reserved for her for the rest of their lives together. But now it feels right for Beau to be there. She’s missed it, has wanted to be close to Beau since very early on in their travels, earlier than she’s allowed herself to admit until now.
It doesn’t mean that she didn’t love Zuala, Yasha tells herself. Or that she’s forgetting her. It means that she lost Zuala and is allowing herself to love someone very different now. And Beau is wonderful. Zuala would’ve liked her.
“You want to walk or are we just standing here?” Beau asks.
“Walk,” Yasha says simply, and they step out into the last drops of rain, arm in arm. Yasha feels for her sword and adjusts the hilt.
The road is deserted. Only occasionally do they pass a window that still has candles burning behind it. The cobblestone dissolves into gravel as the road narrows.
“What does this,” Beau gestures between them with her free hand, “mean to you?”
Yasha tilts her head. Everything. “In terms of what?”
Beau takes a deep breath, her hand on Yasha’s waist tightens. “Does this mean we’re a couple?”
“I don’t know,” Yasha says. “There’s a lot -“
“Yeah, yeah,” Beau interrupts her, nodding in agreement to something Yasha hasn’t said. “It’d be too much right now.” She pulls her arm out from behind Yasha and stares at her hand.
Yasha stops and turns her so they’re facing each other. “Beau.”
Beau shifts from one foot to the other, rubs her nose with the back of her hand. Then, “Fine.”
“I want to be with you, okay?” Beau averts her eyes, her jaw clenched. “But I’m not - I don’t know.”
Beau looks back at her, eyebrows furrowed. “You’re not what?”
“Are you sure it’s what you want, too?”
“Yasha.” Beau takes her hand and looks her in the eyes before earnestly saying, “That’s such a stupid question.”
Yasha would laugh if this wasn’t so serious. “It’s not the wisest decision right now. We’re both - I don’t know, we’re both dealing with a lot.”
Beau looks down at her feet and bites her lip. She looks like she’s swallowing words. Her hand is sweaty in Yasha’s, but cold.
She looks up again. “We are.” She steps closer, until their bodies are almost in contact. She has to crane her neck to not break eye contact, “But I don’t want to lose this so soon.” She twists a strand of Yasha’s hair around her finger. “Or this.” She pulls Yasha’s hand up to her neck and Yasha’s head down with the other, stopping for just a short moment to check that Yasha is okay, her eyes darting back and forth between Yasha’s.
This kiss is harder than the one last night, more demanding, as if Beau has something to prove. Yasha’s knees grow weak as she struggles to keep up. Her hands slide around Beau’s waist and tilt her head up further, while Beau slowly walks them towards the closest wall until her back collides with it. Beau’s hands are in Yasha’s hair, on her jaw, wandering down her arms and back. It’s restless and desperate and breathtaking.
When Beau pulls back her lips are kiss-swollen, her eyes glazed over. Her breaths are coming hard and fast.
Yasha just looks at her, shivering in the cold night air, trying to calm her own heartbeat down. She wants Beau close forever, she wants to talk to her and figure her out and kiss her and make love to her but - there’s also cold fear deep in her bones, memories of a dead wife, a dead friend, almost killing Beau, her own deaths. Yasha takes a step back. Her hands tremble and she cards her fingers through her hair to occupy them.
“Beau,” she says. “I need a straight answer. Do you want to be with me? It’s not going to be easy.”
“Yes.” Beau juts her chin out, but then her gaze falters. “Unless you...?”
“No.” Yasha is by her side again with a couple of quick steps, enveloping her in her arms. She’s shivering. Yasha holds her tight. Beau presses up to her as if she’s afraid she’ll let go if they aren’t connected in every possible place. Yasha presses a kiss to her hair.
“God, I’m already doing really badly at this, aren’t I?” Beau laughs nervously, the sound wet against Yasha’s arm.
“No, you’re not. Or we both are.” Yasha shrugs. “And maybe it’ll be like that for a while. But I’m here, and I’ve got you.”
She has her. She’s allowed to be the one to take her hand now, and the one to hold her when she’s scared. She can’t believe it. She bends down and kisses a tear off Beau’s cheek, then she buries her nose in her hair.
Somewhere a horse whinnies. Yasha takes a deep breath, inhaling Beau’s scent. A breeze makes them both shiver.
“God, I don’t think I want to move,” Beau says. “I haven’t cried this much since - well, since we visited my dad, but that was very different.”
“Hmm,” Yasha makes. It hurts thinking of Beau in that situation, of seeing the pain on her face while her father was blind to how he caused it. “Do you want to tell me about that?” Yasha asks. “Not now I mean, but one day.”
“Yeah,” Beau says, “I think I’d like to.” She shivers again. “But now I’d like to get back into a warm bed.”
The next morning comes cruelly bright, with Jester bursting into their room and shouting, “Wake uuuhup, Caleb said we can try to roast bobas!”
She stops in her tracks when she sees the two of them in one bed, on their sides facing each other. Yasha rubs her eyes and groans. Damn Rosohna for weaning her off sunlight. It’s barely standable without constant blinking. Next to her Beau is burying her face in the pillow.
“We’ll be right down,” Yasha says.
Jester shoots her an elated grin, then hops out of their room.
They sleep for another half hour.
Beau wakes for the second time that morning with her head on Yasha’s chest. She can feel it rise with her breaths, and for a while she just listens. She’s drooled during the night, the corner of her mouth dry with it. Yasha’s skin is warm through her clothes, the room bright with sunlight. Somehow it feels like it’s always been this way and like it’s just a dream all at once.
“Are you awake?” Yasha asks softly.
Beau hums affirmatively.
Yasha’s fingertips begin to draw up and down her arm. “Don’t you have a morning workout?”
Beau groans. “It’s comfortable.”
She can hear the smile in Yasha’s next words. “We need to get up either way.”
“Ugh, fine!” She scoots closer to Yasha and kisses her, still a little hesitant. She’s rewarded with another smile, this time against her mouth, and it gives her the motivation to get up.
They’ve slept in their clothes, so there’s not much to do other than collect their things. Yasha washes her face and brushes through her hair with her fingers, and Beau lets down her own messy topknot to have something to do during. It could use a redo.
“I really like your hair. It’s the first time I’ve seen it down.” Yasha has stopped what she’s doing and is looking at Beau.
Beau’s cheeks grow hot. “Thank you.” She quickly arranges it into a knot again and ties her hair ribbon around to secure it. “Ready?”
She turns around, and there Yasha is, standing tall. She looks nothing like the woman that had dissolved into tears yesterday, but Beau knows that about her now too, and while it’d hurt to see her so upset it had only strengthened what she feels for her. She wants to know so much more. And hopefully we’ll have time.
They arrive in the tavern together, the rest of the Nein discussing something at a table in the corner. The village is small, and this early in the morning the tavern is empty except for them. Beau suspects visitors are rare.
“Yasha, Beau!” Jester perks up when she sees them.
Fjord mumbles something along the lines of, “Took you long enough,” Veth makes a suggestive hand gesture, and Caleb smiles at Beau and gives her a nod. Well, that certainly makes things easier.
The ride back to Rosohna is uneventful. Now that Beau knows, she’s urgently aware of how often Yasha checks for her swords and turns her head. She’d watched out for all of them for weeks, ready to die, and it’s taken its toll. Gods, Beau wishes she could’ve taken some of that burden off her. She still hears her quiet, It hurt from the night in the inn, and she keeps close to her for the first couple of days of the journey. She’ll have to check in on her after fights for a while.
On the third day Caleb asks to speak to Yasha. She looks puzzled, but falls back with him so they can talk in private. Every few seconds Beau throws a glance over her shoulder.
She doesn’t realize Caduceus is right next to her until he says, “Beau,” and she almost falls off her horse.
“Yes, Caduceus?” she asks, trying to keep an angry tremble out of her voice. She’s fairly sure he hadn’t almost given her a heart attack on purpose.
“Yasha,” he says, and she perks up. “She doesn’t have anyone else to do this for her, but I have sisters and while she isn’t one she certainly is as important.” He pauses, and Beau throws another glance back. Caleb and Yasha are fine. She’s confused. What are they doing? “So if you plan to treat her right that’s just great, and I’m happy for you. But if you don’t…”
Beau almost laughs, the threat sounding so unnatural out of Caduceus’ mouth, but she manages to keep a straight face. “I promise I’ll do my best not to hurt her,” she says.
“That’s all any of us can do,” Caduceus says with a smile.
In that moment Caleb and Yasha catch up with them. Yasha rides up to Beau and leans over. “I think Caleb just threatened to murder me.”
It’s been another two weeks, and they’ve just come back from a job that’s taken them the better part of those. Now they’re all in the happy room. Jester is trying to train Sprinkle, Veth and Caleb are sitting at the table with their notes, and Caduceus is cutting the cake he’s made into slices. He passes the first piece to Fjord, then makes his rounds.
Beau gladly takes a slice. Yasha declines. Beau is sitting on her lap, Yasha’s head resting on her shoulder. “This is nice,” Yasha says.
“Yeah,” Beau mumbles around her first bite of cake. She audibly swallows. “I love traveling with you guys, but being here is just…”
“Home,” Yasha supplies, and Beau nods.
They watch the group chatter and laugh and at some point they all draw closer together, until everyone is sitting at the dinner table.
“There’s something I think we need to talk about,” Fjord says. Now that Yasha thinks about it, he has been silent tonight, but he’s been quiet for a few weeks now. She’d always assumed it was him processing the things that had happened at sea.
Everyone turns towards him, the voices dying down until only Sprinkle is chittering. The atmosphere in the room swings from warm and homely to colder, more serious.
“Yasha.” Fjord turns to her. She doesn’t break eye contact, but she’d rather be anywhere else right now, the center of attention. Beau’s hand finds her thigh and squeezes it reassuringly. “When we were on the boat you did things that I’m -” He stops.
Beau looks like she wants to interject, so Yasha whispers, “Wait,” into her ear. She stills reluctantly.
“You did things that I’m grateful for, but you also broke our trust.” Fjord looks at her, serious. Yasha doesn’t know how to respond. The rest of the Nein are silent.
“She fucking died for you!” Beau says in that moment, a little too loudly, her hand meeting the table top with a bang.
“Yes,” Fjord says calmly. “And you can’t tell me you weren’t angry she didn’t communicate that to us.”
“You could’ve died,” Yasha finally says from behind Beau, who is barely still sitting in her lap, ready to pounce.
“You did,” Fjord counters.
Yasha sighs and rests her forehead against Beau’s shoulder. Beau’s breaths are fast. She looks up. “I was easier to bring back,” she says.
“We didn’t know we didn’t need diamonds. It was lucky that we tried.”
“I didn’t know either, Fjord.” The strain is apparent in her voice now. She wishes she could keep that whole travel in the past, together with all the hurt she’s caused and experienced.
Jester gasps at her words, an almost inaudible, “Yasha!” escaping her. Yasha presses her lips together.
“It was incredibly risky and I want you to communicate these things with us beforehand, and to tell us if you need breaks. As your captain.”
Yasha grits her teeth. “We have nine diamonds now, I doubt we’ll get in a similar situation any time soon -“ Beau’s head snaps towards her, her eyes wide. “Never,” Yasha corrects quickly, “we won’t let it happen again. So it won’t ever be necessary again.”
“Okay, good,” Fjord says. For a while the room is silent. “And thank you. We wouldn’t have made it without your sacrifices.”
Yasha gives a sharp nod, then she buries her face in Beau’s neck. Beau’s hand comes up to caress her hair.
The group disperses.
“You really didn’t know?” Jester asks later that evening.
“No, I didn’t. I knew it was going to be easier, though. I figured it was something like this.”
Jester almost pushes Yasha over as she wraps her arms around her, tight. For a moment tentacles flash before her eyes, but then Jester is back, and the dry warmth of the room, and the way Beau joins into the hug from behind, leaning against Yasha’s back. One by one the Nein come and hug Yasha. Veth around her knees, Caleb with barely more than an awkward pat, Caduceus pressing a kiss to her hair. The last one to join is Fjord, his brows furrowed. Yasha smiles at him, and relief washes over his body, the tenseness dissolving. He pulls Caleb closer as he joins in, and Jester laughs through her tears, the sound reverberating through Yasha’s ribcage. Beau presses a kiss against Yasha’s spine.
It’s going to be okay.