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From the Wings Comes a Lover

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Jester trudged into the studio, dragging her pointe shoes on the floor behind her as she groaned from the door to her usual spot at the barre and promptly collapsed, cheek pressing against the ground and hair falling into her face as her body gave into gravity.

 

“Mornin’, Jes.” Beau’s voice came from above and just across the barre from where Jester lay. Only her feet were visible from Jester’s perspective, pressing up and down as she rolled through slow relevés. As she balanced, one foot reached out to prod Jester’s shoulder. “You dead?”

 

“Yes,” she grumbled. “It’s so early , Beau.”

 

“Jes, its 9:15. It’s not that bad.”

 

“It is though.”

 

“Company warm up’s been at this time for the past five years.”

 

“And it’s terrible every single morning.” 

 

Jester tucked her arms underneath her and pushed her torso up with dramatic slowness. Shifting her weight into her hands, she pulled her legs underneath her to sit on her shins. Running her fingers a few times through her hair, she began to twist the locks upward, grabbing pins out of a small bag and jamming them into the hairdo. Within a couple minutes, Jester had a perfect French twist perched at the back of her head, just as she did every terrible, horrible, early morning. 

 

Swinging her legs around in front of her, Jester placed the bottoms of her feet together and let her knees fall to either side in a butterfly stretch. Pressing her elbows into her thighs for a little extra resistance, she rocked slightly side to side in an attempt to loosen up her hip joints. As she stretched, she heard the patter of feet approaching. She glanced up to see Nott, and smiled. 

 

Bracing herself on the barre, Nott squatted, grimacing as some muscle or joint defied that action. She all but fell to sitting, catching herself somewhat on her hands before laying fully down. 

 

“I do not have a back,” she said, practically begging her spine to relax. “Yussah took it away in rehearsal yesterday and replaced it with pain.”

 

“Good lord, what’d he do?” Beau asked, joining the other two women on the floor. She grabbed a small rubber ball and placed it in the inner divet of her ankle, guiding it up into her calf and back down as she rolled out some of the more stubborn tendons. 

 

“There’s this fuckin shoulder lift, right, where Molly’s gotta flip me so my hips are on his shoulder and I have to arch my back way up,” Nott began.

 

“Like you did in Bluebird?” Beau interjected.

 

“Yes, exactly like I did in Bluebird! So Yussah knows I know how to do it, and yet we still spent fifteen minutes doing nothing but that lift over and over again. And now, I’m dead.” Nott explained.

 

“Oh god,” Jester whined, “I’ve got him for pas today. I can just tell he’s going make it miserable.”

 

“Wait, you’ve still got pas today?” Nott lifted her head to stare at Jester inquisitively. “I thought Fjord broke his whole leg or something.”

 

“It was just a twisted ankle,” Jester said.

 

“He’s at P.T. right now getting it assessed,” Beau added. “He might be cleared to perform if he rests for, like, a week.”

 

“Plus if he isn’t, I’ve still got to have someone to partner me. Even though I could technically do the whole thing as a solo, I don’t think The Director would let me.” Jester switched stretches as she talked, laying on her back and pulling first one knee, then the other, into her chest.

 

Nott shrugged. “I bet if your mom asked him, he’d let you.”

 

“No he wouldn’t , Nott!”

 

Nott raised her eyebrows suggestively, and Jester scowled at her. Beau reached out a hand to steady Jester as she hissed, “You know she doesn’t like those jokes.”

 

“Sorry,” Nott mumbled. 

 

Tension barely had time to fill the air around them before the door to the studio cracked open and every dancer was scrambling to their feet and giving a slight curtsy. Dairon had walked into the room, dressed in her usual blue jacket and matching pants. She set her bag against the wall, pulling out the small notebook in which she wrote her combinations. 

 

“Just a few minutes, dancers, then we’ll begin,” she said, eyes busy looking over the notes she had prepared for company warmup. 

 

Nott waved a quick goodbye to Jester and Beau before scuttling across the room to the wall where she typically stood. Caduceus soon filled her space, taking his place behind Jester and setting his giant thermos of tea on the floor at the foot of the barre. 

 

Fjord’s spot across from him, in front of Beau, was distractingly empty. Even as Dairon clapped her hands, signaling the start of class, Jester couldn’t keep herself from glancing at it. 

 

“We start facing the barre, first position with the feet. Take a forced arch on plié, and straight. To the left, and straight. Three flicks, switching feet, deep demi to tendu side. And close, and close, and close, and close …”

 

Dairon’s voice droned in the back of Jester’s mind as she gave the first combination, to which Jester mostly listened. Marking through with her hands, she thought about Fjord. He was just a floor down, in the PT studio, with his nasty swollen ankle that he had texted pictures of to Beau, who had then shown Jester over dinner in their shared apartment. 

 

He might be getting told that he’d be fine with ice and rest and he could get back to rehearsals next week and the show would go on as normal. Or he might be getting told that he needs 6 weeks of rest and that he was out of the show all together. Or, gods forbid, he might be getting told that he was going to be in rehab for a year and - 

 

“Chin up, Lavorre, stop staring at your feet.” Dairon’s voice cut through Jester’s thoughts as the teacher passed just behind her shoulder, startling her and throwing her off the beat of the music. “It would do you good to remember the combination as well.”

 

Jester nodded, lifting her gaze and watching the dancers on the far wall as she attempted to catch back up with the movement. The music faded out just as she did, everyone in the room holding themselves in dynamic stillness for just a moment longer. Dairon stepped towards a barre, the nearby dancers moving back to a respectful distance. 

 

“A slow three-four for pliés. Prepare the arms on seven, eight. Allongé as you take the demi and up, double demi and up,” she began, demonstrating small bends of the knee for her students to see. 

 

Jester tried her hardest to focus on remembering the steps. Having already been called out once for a shoddy memory, she was determined to be extra attentive for the rest of barre. No one wanted to be on Dairon’s bad side. 

 

Pliés bled into tendus, tendus to dégagés, dégagés to ronde jambes, and so forth until the music had faded from the left side of grand battements and Dairon gave the instruction to clear the barres for center.  Beau and Caduceus each grabbed a side of the barre and lifted up, carrying it easily to the back of the room to set against the wall. Jester gathered her pointe shoes off the ground and headed to the side of the room to slip them on. 

 

She yanked her slippers off and dropped them beside her, pulling the feet of her tights up and around her ankles. She wound a strip of athletic tape around her big toes and slid her toe pads on before pulling her tights back down. She shoved her feet into the boxes of her shoes, wiggling them side to side to get them in just the right spot. She wound the ribbons about her ankles, tying them in a knot and tucking the ends with a swift precision that came only from years of daily practice. Just as she was standing up, shifting her weight between the balls of her feet to loosen up the shoes, someone called her name. 

 

“Lavorre.” 

 

The Director was standing in the door to the studio, motioning Jester over with a hand. She threw a look over her shoulder at Dairon, who returned a silent nod of permission, and then approached. 

 

He motioned for her to exit, and shut the door when the two of them had made it into the hall. He reached for the towel he always kept around his neck, using an end to dab at the sweat on his temples. His near-constant sweatiness was one of the reasons Jester was always just a bit weirded out by him. 

 

That, and the fact that she was unfortunately aware of his year-long fling with her own mother a while back, when the two of them were both dancers in the Nicodranas City Ballet. Marion had since retired, and he had moved on from performing to his role as NCB’s artistic director, but knowledge of their romantic involvement still lingered in the studio. Rumors (that were wholly untrue) had also begun to fly that Jester’s promotion to principal had involved a … favor on Marion’s end, making Jester all the more paranoid every time she had a conversation with him that she would be accused of bribing her way through the company.

 

The Director cleared his throat before addressing her. “Jester, I’m sure you’re aware of Fjord’s unfortunate injury yesterday. I’ve just gotten the report from the on-site therapists. It’s not a terrible injury, but they say he should refrain from excessive jumping. And, as I’m sure you know, his role had quite a few of those.”

 

Jester nodded as he spoke, anxious with the direction the conversation was heading.

 

“Given that we’ve nearly a month until the show, we’ve opted for a bit of a recast so as not to utterly wear out our other Albrechts. Fjord will take the part of Hilarion, and swap his role out with Widogast. You’ll still be Giselle, so no changes there, but you’ll have to re-set the pas. Yussah’s already been informed about this change for your rehearsal today.”

 

“Understood!” Jester said, hiding the disappointment in her voice. “Thanks for letting me know.”

 

“Sorry to spring this on you so suddenly, but -”

 

“Injuries happen,” Jester butted in, eager to get back to class. She could hear the music beginning to play for the first combination and even though she had a perfectly good reason to leave, she still felt like she’d been gone for too long. 

 

“Exactly. Hope this isn’t too much of an inconvenience.” The Director flashed Jester a smile, wide and gleaming, but not reaching his eyes. “That’s all, Jester. Enjoy the rest of your day.” 

 

He gave her a slight nod before heading back down the hallway. Jester waited until the piano faded before cracking the door open and sneaking back into the studio.

 

Beau caught her eye across the room, shooting Jester a quizzical glance as Dairon began giving the adagio. Jester mouthed ‘Fjord’ as she marked through the combination. As the dancers split into two groups, both Jester and Beau made their way towards the back of the room. The piano picked up as they huddled together in the corner, hoping to keep their conversation away from Dairon’s eyes or ears.

 

“You heard about Fjord, is he ok?” Beau asked.

 

“Yeah, it’s not as bad as it could’ve been. He can dance, but they un-cast him as Albrecht.”

 

“What?”

 

“Too many jumps or something, I don’t know. But Fjord’s getting a smaller part and you’re not going to believe who’s taking over the pas with me.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Caleb.”

 

“No fucking way.”

 

“Yes fucking way, The Director just told me.”

 

“That’s so funny, holy shit , Jes.”

 

“It’s weird, Beau.”

 

“Nah, it’s hilarious. They always stick us together and we both hate it. I cannot wait to hear how it goes with you two.”

 

“I’ve got rehearsal right after class, so I’ll find out soon enough.”

 

The pianist ended his phrase then, the first group of dancers splitting center and scattering sideways. The second group ran forwards, Jester and Beau filtering into the back. They squeezed their legs together, standing heel to toe in a fifth position preparation. As the first notes filled the air, all thoughts fell from their mind, except awareness of their movements and the memory of which step came next.

Chapter Text

Caleb was already in the studio when Jester arrived, still breathing heavy from class, pointe shoes clacking on the tile of the hallway. She stepped through the door, shooting him a quick smile before placing her bag at the side of the room and throwing a shirt back on over her leotard. She shook her feet and leaned forward to try and pop her hips, twisted her torso about, swung her arms in a few wide circles, rolled her head back and forth, and pretty much anything else she could think of that would pass her nervous energy off as warming up.

 

She wasn’t weirded out by him or anything. Caleb was a perfectly nice guy, if a bit gruff. He had a nice accent, too. He’d been in the company with her the whole five years since she graduated from the feeder school, and they’d been on stage together in nearly every show. He had been getting quite a few roles with Beau lately, and even though Beau hated having to act all romantic with him whenever they had a pas, Beau liked him as a person. As did Jester, though she didn’t know him quite as well. So she had no real reason to be so anxious about this rehearsal.

 

“You’re stuck with me instead of Fjord, ja?” Caleb said from the floor, where he was sliding the warmup boots off his feet. “I’ll try not to be too much of an inconvenience.”

 

“Oh stop, it’ll be fine ,” Jester answered, hoping her voice stayed steady. 

 

She moved out into the center of the room and began to mark through the pas. Caleb’s words echoed in her mind. That was what she was so freaked about, she realized. It wasn’t being with Caleb, it was being without Fjord. Every pas she had done, even before joining the company, had been with him. They were always a pair, from the first press lift she had ever done to absolutely killing as Sugar Plum and the Cavalier in last year’s Nutcracker. 

 

She felt safe when she was dancing with him; she always knew what to expect, where his hands would be, and just how much weight she could give him without falling off her leg. He knew when to grab her waist during turns so that she could eke out a quadruple instead of a triple. He had a smile that matched hers perfectly, and every time they flashed each other grins on stage, she was able to fight off the burning in her lungs and scrounge up the last bits of energy she needed to finish the piece.

 

But like, she was sure she’d be fine with Caleb. He just wouldn’t be Fjord. 

 

As her mind wandered and her feet muddled through familiar steps, Yussah came into the studio. Jester stopped to greet him, as did Caleb. 

 

“You’re both warm, I presume? Good,” he said, in response to their nods. “Let’s get started. We’ve got a lot to do with this recast, especially you Widogast, though you got the role in part because I know you pick things up quick. We’ll begin with the first pas in Act Two. Lavorre, to your entrance please.”

 

Jester hustled to the right side of the studio, pulling the loose shirt off, standing near the wall and waiting for another cue from Yussah. She watched as he grabbed Caleb’s shoulder, guiding him to a spot at about quarter stage, and instructed him to kneel. 

 

“We know the story of Giselle, yes? Your lovely girlfriend here,” he gestured to Jester as he spoke, “danced herself to death to impress you, and now you’re leaving flowers at her grave. This is a very sad and tender moment. When her ghost first appears, you can barely believe it.”

 

Caleb nodded as Yussah spoke, taking his instruction to mind. Yussah kneeled next to Caleb then, drawing his hand across his face to hide it. 

 

“Like this,” he explained. “She’s going to sneak up on you.”

 

Caleb mimicked the position, earning him a grunt of approval from Yussah.

 

“Show me your first phrase, Lavorre. Ba dah dah dah, Ba dah dah dah, yes this is your entrance, good, good, dah dah,” he began, singing the score as he watched Jester step in from the side. 

 

She walked on the balls of her feet, light as a wisp, with her hands crossed at the wrists and turned up, just in front of her sternum. She kept her gaze down, trying to look as though she didn’t quite belong to this plane. 

 

“Aaaaaaaaarabesque, slow, slow,” Yussah continued, as Jester’s leg began to rise behind her. “Run, run, run, stop, turn to him,” he lilted, fitting the words to the melody of the music. “Daaaah, good balance hold it, don’t be laaaaaaaaate, run, ba dum, you’re in, fifth now.”

 

Jester marked through the rest of her opening solo, moving about Caleb in a circle with a repetitive phrase of développé écarté, step, fouetté to arabesque. As she made her way back around him and took her final steps away, Yussah clapped. 

 

“That whole bit, Widogast, you sit there and don’t move.”

 

“Got it,” Caleb said. 

 

“Good. At this next phrase, right on the downbeat, you lift your head up from your hand, very slow, and turn to look at her. Rise to b plus, wait a minute, and run.” 

 

The rehearsal continued like this, Yussah singing as Jester marked through the parts she had already learned, Caleb catching up. The first two minutes of the pas had no actual partner work, it was all Albrecht running after Giselle’s ghost. When they had set that much, Yussah walked to the corner of the room where the audio system lay. Flipping through tracks, he reached the correct number and hit play.

 

“Places please, top of the pas. Lavorre you can mark but I want Widogast full out.”

 

Jester rushed back to stage right just in time to walk on, and Caleb dropped back down to the knee. They went through their parts, Giselle moving through air, like air, and Albrecht chasing after her, always a moment too late. Yussah watched in silence, nodding approvingly. To Jester’s surprise, he did not call for them to stop because Caleb apparently made no mistakes. 

 

“Good, wonderful, both of you. Let’s go on shall we?” Yussah moved towards Caleb, ushering him out of the way as he took the younger dancer’s spot. “Take your piqué, Lavorre, and step step to me, very good, now hold.”

 

Jester was but inches from Yussah, one leg out in tendu in preparation for the next step. Her body was frozen as Yussah turned to Caleb and began explaining.

 

“We go into a press lift now, very straightforward. She’s pretty much horizontal above you. Get this hip first,” he said, placing a hand on Jester to demonstrate the correct position, “then this one as she begins to rise. Show me.”

 

Yussah stepped away then, Caleb filling his spot. He planted his hands on Jester’s hips in the same spots. His grip was firm, but not harsh. Given his typically dour demeanor, Jester would’ve expected it to be a lot harder than it was. 

 

“Good, good. Do the full lift now. Take the preparation again,” Yussah said, and Caleb dropped his hands to allow Jester to step back. 

 

She took her balance, falling backwards and stepping into Caleb as his hands found her hips yet again. She pushed off the floor as he pressed her upwards, extending his arms until she was well above his head. With her legs in a slight coupé and her arms extended daintily en haut, Jester held her body taut. She looked down over Caleb’s back as he held her aloft. She hated lifts where she faced the ground, like this one. 

 

“Good, bring her down,” Yussah called, to Jester’s relief. 

 

Caleb began to lower her, and Jester brought one of her legs down to help guide the landing. 

 

“We go on,” Yussah said, stepping back into Caleb’s position. “Take a bow, let her go, do it again.” He demonstrated the movement to Caleb, marking through the lift with Jester. “We split center, you pull over here, prepare in fifth. Pull sus-sous, then tombé, pas de bourrée, cut assemblé.” Jester did the step, travelling across the floor for Caleb to see as Yussah spoke. “Three times, switching side, the lady always in front.”

 

“Ja, okay,” Caleb said, marking through the steps himself for memory. 

 

“The fourth one is different, so let’s stop there. Any questions? No? Good, take the whole thing from Giselle’s entrance.”

 

Both dancers nodded curtly, returning again to their opening positions as the music began to play. The familiar violins strained and Jester let herself get lost in the movement, transforming into the lost soul of a broken-hearted woman. That was not Caleb kneeling on the ground, but her true love, and she desired nothing more than to be reunited with him. 

 

As she danced, she let her arms pull just a little bit further towards him, her gaze linger on him just a fraction of a second longer as she ran past. She let her brow furrow in sadness as she moved around him, convinced that he was unable to see her ghostly form. 

 

When Caleb got up from kneeling, his dynamic fit into Jester’s perfectly. He moved slowly and warily, reaching out for her form even after she had left the space. His typically somber face grew darker and more troubled as he searched for the ghost of a love he could not find. 

 

They finally touched in the press lift, Jester sailing high above Caleb’s head. He carried her so gently that she barely noticed she was moving. Fjord would have thrust her up, leaving her high in the air for show. She would have trusted him not to drop her of course, but it would have been sharper. When Caleb lifted her, it was like a single breath, soft and graceful. He was bringing her down as soon as she was up, because Albrecht couldn’t stand having Giselle so far from him. Landing a little early, they fudged the counts and Jester sunk deeper into the bow, her arms trailing lovingly around Caleb’s neck until the phrase was finished. 

 

She circled back around and he lifted her again, just as gentle, but waiting a bit longer at the peak so as to stay on the count. They split, darting to opposite sides of the stage to begin their travelling jumps. 

 

“Look at each other, you’re supposed to be in love,” Yussah called as they turned towards each other and moved to cross each other. 

 

On the next pass, they caught each other’s eyes. A small, sad smile pulled at Caleb’s lips, and Jester couldn’t help but smile too. It wasn’t like Fjord’s smiles, it didn’t push her on towards the end of the piece. But it did tug at something in her heart - or rather Giselle’s heart, since that’s who Jester was right now - and it made the way she pulled across the stage for Albrecht feel a bit more sincere. 

 

They finished the third pass of jumps, and Yussah clapped his hands again, signaling for them to stop. Jester’s movement faded into minimal mark as she waited for the music to cut out, while Caleb simply relaxed, not knowing what came next. 

 

“Good, very good,” he said, “wonderful dynamic here. You’re very good at looking tortured, Widogast.” 

 

“Danke.”

 

If it was a joke, Caleb didn’t laugh. Jester did though, hiding a small giggle behind her hand. 

 

“Going on,” Yussah said, and stood in front of Caleb once again, leading him through the next few counts of eight, then calling Jester back to add her part on top.

 

And so the rest of the rehearsal went, Caleb picking up the movement quickly and Jester layering what she had already learned with it. There were no more lifts for the rest of the piece, it was more chasing and Jester throwing flowers for him to pick up (though they didn’t have the props with them at that exact moment). Soon, their time was up. 

 

“That’s all for today, thank you dancers, keep that in your head for tomorrow. Take five, Lavorre, then meet me back in here for your variation.”

 

“Yes Yussah, thank you,” Jester said, curtsying to him as he left the room for water. She turned to Caleb, walking backwards towards her bag to grab a sip of water. “That wasn’t too bad, don’t you think?”

 

“Ja, I think it went well. How’d my partnering hold up?”

 

Jester rolled her eyes. “Don’t compare yourself to Fjord, Caleb. Just because the two of us are the power couple of the company doesn’t mean you’re not good too.”

 

Caleb laughed at that, a short huff, and got close to a smile.

 

“Besides,” Jester continued, “your style actually worked really well for the scene.”

 

“Ah, thank you,” he said. He moved towards his things, gathering them in his arms and heading for the door. “See you tomorrow, then. 9:30 class, ja?”

 

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Jester moaned, slumping dramatically, earning another laugh out of Caleb as he reached the door. Jester wiggled her fingers in his direction as she sang, “Byeeeee, Caleb!”

 

“Goodbye, Jester,” he said with a slight nod, and slipped out into the hall.

Chapter Text

Beau and Jester sat on the floor of the studio, legs splayed out to the side in a casual second position stretch. Their elbows were on the floor, chins propped on their hands as they chatted in the soft din of the minutes before class.



“Oh, and you totally forgot to tell me about your rehearsal with Yasha yesterday, so you like, have to do that now, Beau,” Jester said, voice hushed and eyes occasionally darting over to the tall, built dancer stretching across the room. 

 

“Shhhhhhhhh,” Beau shushed, before continuing at the same volume as Jester. “It was fine, or whatever, nothing really happened. We’re just sharing a part, it’s not like we really do all that much together. But she was wearing that low back leotard which I think is new, so like. That was nice.”

 

“OooOOOooOO!” Jester snaked her head side to side like a middle schooler. “You notice all her new outfits, huh, Beau?”



“She just usually wears really plain ones, so it’s noticeable when she has a fancy cut!” Beau whined defensively.



“And you like staring at her back muscles.”



“Well, maybe I do, but that’s not pertinent to this situation.” Beau actively avoided Jester’s eyes.



“It’s pertinent to the fact that you’re totally in love with her ,” Jester teased, leaning sideways and resting her head awkwardly on the floor to catch Beau’s gaze again.



Beau simply rolled her eyes, while Jester made kissy faces.



“Speaking of which, how was your rehearsal with Caleb?”

 


Jester stopped making kissy faces. “Eh. Fine. He’s not Fjord or anything but he’s a good partner. I think we work pretty well together. ”

 

“You’re not totally in loooove with him ?”



Jester’s answer came in the form of an annoyed monotone, complete with scowl and crossed arms. “No.”

 

“But you had a rehearsal together! You must be soulmates!”

 


“Ugh, fine, Beau, I get it. You know I was just teasing about Yasha, though, right?”



“Of course, Jes. I’m also fucking with you.”



“Yeah, I know.”

 

Jester straightened herself back up, switching so she had one leg extended behind and the other folded in front of her, as a modified lunge stretch. A silence fell between herself and Beau. 

 

Beau broke the silence almost immediately. “For real, though, how was it? I’m actually really curious. I’ve been stuck with him since we were both fifteen in that tiny ass studio, it’s a little weird to see someone else with him, you know?”



Jester just shrugged. “I don’t know, I don’t think it’s all that weird. I mean, we both kind of had usual partners, but, you know. We’re a big company. Casting gets switched sometimes. It’s just like that.”

 

Beau gave a noncommittal hum. She had hoped to do a little more gossiping about her old classmate, but Jester clearly wasn’t into the conversation, so she let it fall once again. Jester switched her lunge to the other leg.  Silence once again filled the space, followed quickly by the low sounds of other conversations.

 

“JESSIE!” Nott’s voice shot across the room, followed shortly by her body as she scrabbled, half-standing, towards where Jester and Beau were sitting. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME YOU WERE PARTNERED WITH CALEB?”

 

Jester immediately groaned and slumped sideways onto the floor, crumpling onto one hip and mashing her hands over her face. 

 

“Because I didn’t think it was worth making a big deal out of, Nott!” she mumbled into the floor. “I don’t know why everyone wants to talk about me doing this pas with Caleb.”

 

Nott pressed her lips together, having clearly pressed on a sore spot she wasn’t aware existed.

 

“Wait a minute, Jester, you’re doing this pas with Caleb?” Caduceus hummed, having apparently moved up to the barre while Jester was busy hiding in her hands from Nott.

 

She lurched off the ground to a sitting position as she yelled, “Yes! God! I’m doing a pas with Caleb, and you know what! I don’t care! I don’t care about Caleb!”

 

She huffed loudly, smacking her hands against the marley floor to accentuate her statement. The sound caused a small gasp to emit from a startled Caleb who, Jester noticed, had very much heard what she had yelled and was staring at her from where he sat, shoe halfway on, beneath the side barre. 

 

“God, sorry, I didn’t mean it,” Jester rushed, hands waving frantically in Caleb’s direction to signal a retraction of her words. “It’s just - It’s early, I’m tired - You’re fine - I like you - God, that’s so bad - Just - Shit - Sorry, Caleb.”

 

“It’s okay,” was his only reply. He turned his head, brow furrowed, slowly away from Jester’s gaze and back to the ballet slipper he was pulling on. 

 

Jester buried her face in her hands, again, pulling slowly down over her cheeks as she groaned at the three dancers crowded around her with pure, unadulterated, regret. 

 

“Smooth,” Beau noted, with little tact.

 

“That escalated rather quickly, and I apologize for my part in it,” Caduceus added, with significantly more tact.

 

Jester laughed. “No, Caddy, you’re fine, really.” She sighed again. “Sorry, I’m … frazzled. I don’t know why. But like. It’s just casting. It’s parts. In a show. That’s it! That’s all it is! Stop making it a big deal!”

 

Beau and Nott shared a harried glance, as Caduceus squatted down in front of Jester and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.



“Are you worried that if people make this into a big deal, it’ll become a new standard and you won’t get to dance with Fjord anymore?” he murmured. 

 

Jester looked up at him, face still red and eyes now barely beginning to water. She nodded limply, fearing another outburst if she tried to respond verbally. 

 

“Now, now,” Caduceus said, rubbing small, rhythmic circles into her skin as Jester’s breathing slowed and her face un-reddened, “there’s no need for worry. You and Fjord work very well together, the company knows that, and once he’s back to full health you’ll be able to work with him again, I assure you.”

 

“Thanks Caduceus,” Jester muttered, and took a final deep breath before standing up to stretch her hips on the barre. Caduceus gave her a reassuring smile before moving back into his own place behind her. 

 

Just as Nott and Beau had whispered their own apologies, the door to the room cracked open and Yussah stepped in, clapping his hands one loud time to catch everyone’s attention for the start of class. 

 

 





Caleb gave a slight parting nod to Nott, who had been wrapped up in some excited and giggly conversation with Jester ever since they split into groups for center, and made his way towards the studio door, slipping between dancers littering the floor. A few feet shy of the door, he heard the patter of feet quickly followed by a small tug at the back of his shirt. He turned around, expecting Nott, but was instead met by the still-flushed, oddly concerned face of Jester.



“You’re really sweaty,” she said, wiping the hand that had pulled at his shirt on her tights.

 

“Ja, you know, that does happen to me a lot in ballet class.”



Jester stared at him for a few seconds, unable to tell from his monotone voice and unchanged expression whether or not that was a joke she was supposed to have laughed at. 

 

“Uh, anyways,” she started, “I just wanted to apologize again for this morning, I -”



“Oh, no. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” Caleb turned away from Jester and began picking his way around groups of dancers and towards the hall once again.

 

Her voice piped up from behind him. “No, but like really, Caleb, what I said was mean and I feel really totally bad about it and also we’re going to the same rehearsal so I’m just gonna walk with you okay?”

 

Caleb said nothing, but waited outside the door for her to catch up with him. As soon as she neared his side, he began to pull down the hallway, letting her trail beside him, pointe shoes clacking slightly on the tile and voice chattering just above his shoulder.

 

“For real though, I shouldn’t have been as rude as I was, I think you’re a really good dancer and a good partner, at least from what I’ve experienced so far, and I shouldn’t have said that I didn’t care about you because I do care about you, and I’m really sorry for being testy, it was just early and I think the whole company knows how much I hate mornings, and then also I was actually upset about something else which Caduceus helped me figure out -”

 

“Ah, yes, he is quite good at that sort of thing,” Caleb said, cutting off the single sentence which had followed him all the way to the far water fountain. 

 

“Yeah he IS Caleb! Like this morning, he just took one look at me, and he totally knew that I was actually worried about never getting to dance with Fjord again - not that I don’t want to dance with you, but I’ve been with him for like ten years now, and that’s kind of a really hard bond to break, you know?”



“Mmm.” He waited for a second, and when Jester did not pick up again, he continued. “I do know. I’ve been dancing with Beauregard for just about as long as you have been with Fjord. Although, I must say, I think the two of us dislike the romantic parts significantly more than the two of you.”

 

“Oh. Yeah.” Jester’s voice grew significantly quieter as she considered the fact that Caleb was as much out of his routine as she was. “But also, just saying, even though Fjord and I have made out like one or maybe six times while we were drunk, we’re really just friends , neither of us get into the lovey dovey pas stuff all that much either.”

 

Caleb’s eyes widened, despite his best efforts, as Jester burst back into her usual speedy conversation. “I was mostly referring to the fact that Beau is not attracted to men.”

 

“Oh, yeah, well,” Jester spluttered, realizing she had just seriously over-shared, “I guess that’s also kind of a roadblock, isn’t it.”

 

“Ja.”

 

Caleb stepped back from the fountain, water bottle filled, and Jester made no move for it so he motioned silently for the two of them to head back down the hall to their next rehearsal. Jester obliged, taking the first few steps backwards to make sure Caleb was keeping up. Her shoes still clacked on the tile.

 

As they neared the door, the clacking stopped, and a hand tugged at Caleb’s shirt again.

 

“Sorry you’re missing Beau,” Jester said, a sad half-grin pulling at her mouth.

 

“I didn’t say I was missing her.”

 

“Yeah, but I know you are.”

 

Caleb laughed, a matching half-grin now crossing his face.

 

“She’s like a sister, Caleb, I get it. You don’t spend every day for ten years busting your ass to exhaustion with someone and not get close with them. Plus I know how exact you like being and I’m sure having to partner me when you’re used to Beau isn’t making that easy. I know I’m kind of a weird dancer to figure out. But you know, like Caduceus told me, everything is definitely going back to normal after this season is over.”

 

“I appreciate the concern, Jester. And yes, I do miss dancing with Beau, but it’s not like she’s left the company. I still see her every morning, because she actually gets here on time.” Jester stuck her tongue out at that. “And you are also very nice to work with. I think we’ll manage for this show. That is, as long as we get inside that studio before the rehearsal starts.”

 

Jester jumped slightly, panic spreading over her face as she span and skittered towards the door. She turned the handle and yanked at it, but stopped it just open enough to peer inside and make sure Yussah was not waiting for them. He wasn’t, so she quickly shifted to check the clock. There were a good fifteen minutes left before the rehearsal was set to start.

 

“Don’t SCARE me like that Caleb, God!” Jester cried, swinging the door fully open and stepping inside. 

 

“I thought it’d be funny,” he said, chuckling a little as he followed her in.

 

“It was,” she admitted, defeat apparent in the giggles she was trying to hide. 

 

Tossing her things lazily along the side wall, Jester began to bounce on her toes, making sure her feet and shoes were still warm. She would’ve waited until maybe five minutes before rehearsal, but she was pretty sure that Caleb was the kind of guy to want to walk through things full out before they started. And if he asked, she wanted to be ready. 

 

It was really the least she could do for Caleb, to try and maintain that semblance of routine for him. Plus, it would also be good for her own memory - there were enough subtle time and spacing shifts between Fjord’s version of the pas and Caleb’s that she couldn’t just go on muscle memory anymore. Jester’s attention slowly turned back to the room from her own thoughts, and she realized that Caleb was already in the center of the room, kneeling in his starting position and staring at the floor as he counted to himself.

 

“Wait, wait, I’m going with you,” Jester called, already half-shuffling on the balls of her feet to take her space in the studio.

 

“Hm? Oh, I didn’t think you’d want to.”

 

Jester waved a hand dismissively. “It’ll be good for me.”

 

“From the top, then?” Caleb asked, already moving to hide his face in imaginary mourning. 

 

“Mhm!” 

 

Jester nodded and smiled brightly, letting herself settle for a moment in preparation before she began to step out into the room, slow, deliberate, and ghostly. She stopped a few feet short of the figure, kneeling at her grave, and let out a shallow breath before beginning to raise her leg to arabesque. He did not look up at her, and he had no reason to. She was supposed to be dead. The only acknowledgement that she was there at all were the muttered counts Caleb was giving her.

 

She dropped her leg, placing her hands on her hips and turning back into Jester with a huff. 

 

“You have to sing it, Caleb.”

 

“Oh, I do, do I?” Caleb’s head lifted to look at Jester, eyebrows raised in indignation.

 

“Yuh-huh, how else am I supposed to get into character if there’s no music?” She pursed her lips and sat into one hip to stare at Caleb judgingly. 

 

His hands flew up in surrender as he shook his head side to side. “I’m afraid I cannot sing.”

 

“Ugh, fine, I’ll do it,” Jester said, already walking back to the right to take her entrance again. 

 

“Ba da da da, ba da da da da, ba da da da,” Jester hummed as Giselle tip-toed back to Albrecht’s side. “Hmmmm, hm hm, hmmm, haaaa, baaaaaa, da da, daaaa, daaaaaaaaa.”

 

“You’re very good at that,” Caleb commented as Jester raised her balance to relevé, and then faillied through to run past him.

 

“Thaaaaaaaaaank you veeeeeeryyyyyyyyyyy muuuuuuuuuuuch,” Jester replied, not breaking the rhythm of the piece as she continued moving. “Deee da dooo, daaaa, daaa, and I thiiiink you staand up nooow.”

 

Sure enough, Albrecht was rising to his feet behind Giselle, hesitantly reaching for her undead form for the first time. She skirted around him, still humming for the both of them, always barely out of his mortal reach. As she took her piqué, and stepped backwards into his waiting hands to be lifted, a second voice joined hers.

 

“Aaaand a one, two, threee, aaaand a four, five, six,” came the counts, barely audible, but matched to the tune Jester was singing. She grinned at him as he lowered her from the lift, meeting her in a deep bow before she pulled away again. 

 

“Heeeeey, you’re doooiiiiiing it,” she giggled as she arced up, then down for the second time in Caleb’s grasp.

 

“Ja, I guess, five six,” Caleb said, face remaining grief-ridden at the sight of his dead true love. 

 

Jester flashed him a smile over her shoulder as they split center, before returning to ghastly melancholy as as she took a suspended sus-sous in preparation for the jumps sequence. Each pass, she heard the thunk of her assemblé landing just a moment before Caleb’s and took a mental note to go over that bit later. 

 

She flitted out of his reach, leaping and tossing imaginary flowers over her shoulder for him to pick up and cherish, humming the whole way through. Even after Albrecht fell back to his knees to pray at her graveside once more, she still heard Caleb’s melodic counts mixing with her own voice, though they had grown slightly quieter now that he was no longer dancing with her. As she bourréed, another out-of-character smile crossed her lips, one that did not fully fade as she took her final leave of the stage.

 

She waited to the side, watching as Caleb stood and took his final lap of the room, searching for a non-existent sign of Giselle’s soul, before running off for his own exit. His counts trailed off as he approached Jester, whose hands were back on her hips, and whose small grin had grown fuller and smugger. 

 

“See, that wasn’t very hard, Caleb.” She stuck her tongue out at his eye roll. “You know, I said earlier that I was a weird dancer to figure out, but you seem to be doing a pretty good job. Run through went well and you sang with me.”

 

“Thank you, Jester. But there is still a lot about each other we have left to figure out, I think.”

 

Jester shrugged. “You mean like how you jump for so long ? I keep landing before you in that one bit.”

 

“Mmm, ja, I noticed that too. I’ll try to jump lower, but also are you accenting the up or the landing?”

 

“The landing.”



“Ah, I see, okay …”

 

They continued talking through notes and counts together in the last few minutes until Yussah opened the door with two solid claps, signalling a formal start to the rehearsal, when they’d go back and re-fix the things they’d already fixed, before adding more things to be fixed tomorrow, and Yussah would do the singing so Jester and Caleb didn’t have to.