“You can stop looking.”
Yasha pauses, her fingers still tangled in damp weeds. From her crouch, she looks at Beau, but their eyes don’t meet. Beau is staring up at the sky, one that drizzles a sodden grey - lacking even the comfort of thunder, to make up for the dreary weather.
“Flowers don’t grow in this fucking town.”
They have less than a day in Kamordah, all told: an evening of anger and bad memories come to life, a night in a rundown inn, and a plan to leave in the morning. It’s not enough.
So, for the first time in a long time, Yasha picks up her things in the middle of the night, and leaves without a word.
The narrow alleys surrounding the inn lead to broken-down streets, paved with cracked earth and mud and little else worth speaking of, lined with equally broken-down houses. The air is hot - sulphuric - hard to breathe - and Yasha walks, and there’s no one awake to bother her, or who dares to approach when they spy her looming shadow in the dark. Either possibility is fine, so long as she’s left alone.
At night, all things are grey to Yasha’s eyes, but even the sun would not have brightened the vacant colours of the town. Scrub brush and weeds, sorry attempts at garden boxes in the windows of little homes, roots that died for lack of light to feed them: all are painted grey in the mist of the perpetual rain, and in the belch of geysers, breaking the soil and spewing their poisoned fog into the air.
Beau was right. No flowers grow in Kamordah. But she searches anyway, until she can search no more. Then Yasha slips back into the space between Jester and Beau, before the light of day can betray her absence to more human eyes.
The first spot of colour comes as they pass through the outskirts of town. Yasha catches a splash of violet among the dirt and brambles, and without pausing for thought, she leaps to the ground, and darts to the side of the road. One by one, horses whinny at her back as each of the Nein turn and halt, noticing her absence. Yasha digs her hands into the thorny brush, and though her fingers are soon marred with scrapes and cuts, not a single drop of blood spills onto the petals of the flower she plucks.
It’s a bluebell: shriveled and sickly, but miraculously clinging to life.
Yasha sits crosslegged, right in the centre of the road, and pulls out her book.
“Well, what do you know.”
There’s Beau. She stares at the flower over Yasha’s shoulder. No light in her eyes. No wonder or astonishment in her voice.
If anything, she sounds... angry.
“You really going to keep that one?”
“Yes,” Yasha says, and carefully tucks the withered petals between two pages.
Beau scoffs, face already turned away. “We should get a move on.”
And they do, and Yasha watches Beau all the while, wondering, and wondering, but without the courage to ask the question on her tongue.
Yasha wakes to the sound of snuffling. She cracks her eyes open as her hand moves to the sword at her side. It doesn’t sound like the groans of the husks, or the cackle of a witch’s rage, but they’re still so close to Isharnai’s hut. Who knows what kind of spies she might have sent after them, if Jester’s magic didn’t hold.
But all Yasha sees against the dim orange glow of the bubble is one solitary shadow, bent in on itself, and quaking.
Yasha sits up slowly, then crawls over Fjord and Caleb, and nearly puts a hand in Jester’s hair, but she makes it to the space behind Beau without waking any of the others. At the last moment, Yasha grinds her palm into the dirt, and lets out a sharp breath: enough to make her presence known. The body in front of her sits up. A hand furiously scrubs across its face. Yasha waits until the hand is lowered again before she settles down at Beau’s side.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Beau says, husky and cracked, as broken as the streets of her hometown. Yasha shakes her head.
“Someone’s got to keep watch.”
They don’t, she wants to say, we’re safe in here, but even if that’s true, it doesn’t feel like it. So she says nothing, and waits for Beau to speak again.
“How long have you been awake?”
There’s another question lingering beneath: how much did you hear?
“Not long,” Yasha says. Too much, she thinks.
“Good,” says Beau. “Good.”
Don’t do that again. Fjord spoke to her tonight, tried to convince her to stay.
Don’t go. Caleb, too. He’d said his piece.
And Yasha had said nothing.
Nothing at all.
She isn’t a good person, or a brave one. But why can’t she at least do that much?
What does she have left to lose?
It’s a swampland, but even here, there’s some life. Yasha plucks a reed from rushes at her feet. Pussywillow. She twirls it between her fingers, and says… nothing.
“You going to press that one too?”
“No,” Yasha answers. She can speak, it seems, but only when spoken to.
“...Why did you bother with that stupid flower?” Beau’s voice grows angry again. Yasha doesn’t think the vitriol is really meant for her. “I know you like collecting them, but that one was a piece of shit. You could have waited a day. There were a bunch of better ones in the mountains.”
Her answer is simple, and true. “I wanted that one.”
“I wanted to remember where we were, when I found it.”
“What… Kamordah?” Beau laughs harshly. “Why would you want to remember that shithole? Hell, I grew up there and I don’t want to remember it.”
She gives more honesty than she could usually bear. What else is there left to do? “Because it’s where you came from.”
“So?” Anger, again. Yasha has never wanted to make Beau angry, but it’s better than being left with only despair in her eyes: once lively and bright, now dead-
In her dreams, always dead-
“I don’t want to be remembered for that place. I don’t want that place, that fucking town to have anything to do with me. I don’t want-”
Beau sucks in a breath.
Maybe she forgets that Yasha’s eyes aren’t human - that she can see in the darkest night, and can see what’s happening. Maybe Beau just can’t help the tears, now they’ve started. Maybe-
(When Yasha was with Obann, her tears were the only thing left that still felt like her own thoughts. Now that she’s herself again, the tears don’t come. She’s not sure they ever will again.)
“Did I ever tell you, why I collect flowers?”
Beau swallows, but shakes her head. Not a sound, even as the tears continue to fall. It doesn’t seem right, that she should be so quiet, with so much grief still held inside. Yasha would have screamed her pain to the sky, until the clouds broke and the lightning stole the rage within her chest.
That is, if Beau had been allowed to scream. Thoreau seemed to prefer pain of the silent kind.
“I want to bring them to my wife’s grave. I want to show them to her, one by one, and say what they mean to me. All the things we couldn’t share in life, I want to share with her now. Every beautiful thing-”
Yasha takes in a breath.
“Every beautiful thing, Beau. I want to share them all.”
She can’t tell if Beau hears her, but she can’t say it plainer. She doesn’t have the words to even try.
But she tries. She tries.
“I want to tell her how brave you were. How you stood in front of your father and told him he was wrong. How you went back to your home, even though it terrified you, because Nott needed you and you would never let her down. How you told me no flowers grow in Kamordah, but one did. One still did, and I-”
Beau’s hand shoots out and grabs Yasha’s wrist, squeezing so tight the bones shift beneath her skin.
“I want you to come with me, so she can see that I- that I’m not alone. That she doesn’t have to worry about me. Because I have you, Beau. I have you, and the others, and even when I want to give up I can’t let myself, because I still have to tell her-”
Yasha’s words fail, and just like in battle, whenever she falters, Beau finds her strength again.
“Tell her what?”
It’s a whisper, but it’s there.
“Tell her what, Yasha?”
How much longer can she wait? She’s already lost herself once. She might never make it to Zuala’s grave.
When will she ever speak, if not now?
“How beautiful you are.”
The chattering of the wind grows silent, still as the breath on Yasha’s cheek. The fingers around her wrist slip away.
Beau is leaving. Pulling away. If she goes now, she may never come back, and Yasha can’t be the reason. She can’t.
So she says what she couldn’t bring herself to say before, in front of the others. She says what she means, and nothing more.
The head that falls onto her shoulder is heavy with the weight of exhaustion, and so much more, and Yasha holds her own head high for a lingering moment, before letting it come to rest on the soft hair below.
“I’m not going anywhere, Yash.”
Yasha closes her eyes, relief burning as bright on the question on her tongue, now answered.
Are you alright?
No. But I will be. I will be.
Someday soon, I’ll be alright again.