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The Cat that Caught the Canary (and Other Incomplete Tales)

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The house that Yennefer had taken in the city was barely up to her usual standards, but given the tight timeline of her stay, she’d had to make do with what was available. It wasn’t entirely hopeless, of course. Furniture made of dark wood chased with brass filled the common rooms, and heavy curtains of deep gray fell thick around each window. Upstairs were bedrooms with comfortable furnishings, if not at the level of elegance she would have best liked, but the man most suited to her suggestive enchantment had proven to be a prosperous merchant rather than a petty lordling. Still, it was perhaps for the best.

She’d met the witcher and the bard before in filthy roadhouses and dank taverns many times over the years since their first meeting in a particularly ill-fated house, so this was certainly a step up from the usual. They certainly seemed unperturbed by their surroundings. Geralt stood with his arms crossed over his chest, his face drawn into a frown, while Jaskier lounged across an overstuffed couch, fingers laced behind his head atop a plump pillow, and watched the two of them snap and snarl at one another yet again.

"Absolutely not," Geralt growled. Yennefer’s smile in response was sharp enough to cut.

“It is the simplest way. There will be no better opportunity than tonight,” she said tightly, waving her hand in a brisk, dismissive gesture.

“You can’t possibly be concerned about any perceived slight to your manhood, or whatever,” she snapped, rapping her fingernails sharply on the top of the small table at the arm of her chair. The witcher grimaced.

“The last thing you want when trying to pull off a theft is to be the center of attention. If you wander into a party with me on the end of a leash, you’ll attract attention for all the wrong reasons. Fear will cancel out most of even your powerful allure, Yen.” Geralt paused for a moment, and Yennefer could tell he was trying very hard not to grind his teeth. “Why aren’t you just finding someone willing to wear your leash for the evening, anyway?” Yennefer pursed her lips and flicked her gaze away from Geralt’s, her expression turned annoyed.

“I need a partner, not a lovesick puppy. There’s no one I can trust not to be more trouble than they’re worth, and someone magicked to obedience, even willingly, tends to stick out.”

At that Jaskier sighed deeply, and both she and Geralt turned on him with a glare.

“You know, you could ask. I’m not saying I’d say yes, you understand, but you could ask, it’s all I’m saying,” Jaskier said lightly.

Geralt fixed him with a somewhat dubious expression, while Yennefer froze for a moment before unfurling a sharp smile once more across her face. She stood from her chair, sauntering over to the couch to kick his boots off the cushions, and tangled her fingers in the front of his jacket. He huffed in annoyance but offered little resistance as she pulled him up into a half-sitting position and fixed his gaze with her own.

“Jaskier, dearest, will you accompany me to Lady Agnieszka’s masquerade tonight at the end of my leash so that I might steal away her most precious possession out from under her nose?” she said, the sickly-sweet cadence to her voice doing a poor job of hiding her deep and brimming frustration. He quirked an eyebrow at her and–with surprising gentleness–detangled her fingers from his jacket’s lapel and raised them to his lips for a fleeting kiss, peering up at her through his lashes as Geralt made a noise on the other side of the room that was just as likely to be a pained grunt as a laugh.

“Of course,” he said softly, affecting a sort of breathy quality to his voice that widened Yennefer’s eyes a fraction, and then managing a crooked half-smile, even as she began to wonder just what she’d done.

“That’s settled then. As it happens, I have some thoughts on what I might wear, and something of an idea for how the evening might go…”

When Yennefer had approached Geralt with her plan, his appearance in the city–even dragging the bard along behind him, as always, it seemed–had seemed incredibly fortuitous. There were few she could trust to have her back when it came down to it, and if their relationship was an unexpected and contentious one, Yennefer never doubted that Geralt would help her when she faced trouble; it wasn’t even as if he hadn’t accompanied her to a party before, however much he hated the things. But his objection to being her…toy at a party such as this had surprised her, even as she’d realized–grudgingly–that he was not wrong in his objections. Her entrance with the bard at her side attracted admiring glances, and more than a few that might have been covetous, but not more unusual attention than that.

The notion of taking Jaskier along, however, had not even occurred to her until he’d batted his eyelashes and offered himself. Given their…complicated past, she hadn’t guessed he would be willing, and yet–

“You’re thinking, and not at all like the cat who caught the canary,” purred an amused voice at her shoulder. Yennefer glanced sidelong at Jaskier, seeing his downcast gaze in profile as well as the crooked smile pulling at his lips below the white, black and russet feathers adorning his mask. She laid a hand on his shoulder, fingertips toying with the golden collar she’d placed around his neck.

“And yet,” she said, echoing her earlier thought. “Here you are.” He tilted his head then, suddenly very much like the songbird his mask was meant to evoke, and the small crooked smile turned pleased.

“Ahh, there it is, that’s the right look,” Jaskier murmured, low and rough, and something in Yennefer’s chest warmed just a little in response, strangely enough. She squashed the feeling briskly and gave his collar a final tug before turning away, just in time to bestow a slow and elegant nod on their host, Lady Agnieszka. The lady of the house had descended from her little raised dias at one end of her manor’s hall, trailing a pair of dutiful masked attendants, one each in black and white, and paused near the corner where Yennefer had paused to scan the room while Jaskier stood by at her elbow.

“Lady Yennefer! I am so glad you could accept my invitation and attend! Your gifts have made so many of my events delightful and quite memorable,” Agnieszka laughed. Yennefer smiled thinly.

“I’m here to enjoy myself tonight, not work. If you wanted my magic to lend just the right sort of…air to the festivities, you’d have needed to pay.” Agnieszka only tutted softly, apparently entirely unoffended by Yennefer’s frank response.

“Of course not. No, I think things will be quite interesting enough with so many fascinating assortments and arrangements of guests, no magic necessary,” she said with a magnanimous wave about the room, glancing about before resettling her gaze on Yennefer, and then sharpening on Jaskier.

“Speaking of which, who is your companion this evening?” she asked inquisitively, her smile broadening. Yennefer scratched her nails lightly over Jaskier’s shoulder, taking pleasure in his small shiver, and settled her hand on the back of his neck again comfortably.

“Oh, my little songbird? A very old friend, to be sure,” Yennefer replied. “Introduce yourself, little bird.” Jaskier cut a bow with elegance that surprised her a little, but kept his eyes downcast until he glanced up at Yennefer with a soft, even soppy smile.

“I’m but a humble songbird, as the lady says, tonight, but in certain circles you might know me as Jaskier,” he said in a nearly-breathless delivery that had Yennefer biting her tongue. Somehow Jaskier managed to seem both over-awed and entirely besotted, something she’d never before seen even when he was singing the most soppy of love ballads to dreamy young ladies. She rewarded him with a pleased smile and a gentle scratch of her fingernails along the nape of his neck and he let out an unsteady breath edged with a groan, even as Lady Agnieszka’s arched up high over her mask.

“Jaskier? The Jaskier? Bard and companion to that infamous witcher?” Agnieszka said with an air of delight.

“That would be the one,” Yennefer sing-songed. “Isn’t that right, darling?” Jaskier looked up at her then with a warm, admiring glance, and then his gaze caught over her shoulder and widened comically.

“Th-that would be the one!” he gasped out in shock (he really was a born performer, Yennefer had to admit) and she whirled to see Geralt come striding through the crowd, a snarling gray wolf’s mask on his face doing little to hide the expression terrifying every guest that scurried to get out of his way. As he joined their little circle, Agnieszka’s face was lit with a mixture of delight and a little fear, but she didn’t move even a half-step away, too caught up in the drama of it all to shy from a little danger. Yennefer, on the other hand, stopped Geralt in his tracks with an outstretched hand on his chest.

“Oh come now, wolf, you can’t begrudge me one night with your little bird,” she childed him, wrapping her arm more closely and possessively around Jaskier. Geralt’s golden eyes narrowed.

“You know our arrangement,” Geralt’s voice rumbled ominously, as everyone in the room hung on his word. “We share,” he said curtly, and with one firm hand, grabbed Jaskier’s free shoulder and tugged him away from Yennefer’s arms into his own. Yennefer could read the awkwardness in his movements and the wariness in his widened eyes, but she was quite certain that to the room full of party-goers Geralt was a textbook jealous partner causing a dramatic and intriguing scene.

Jaskier, on the other hand, might be playing his part to the hilt, but he didn’t seem to be particularly bothered by the manhandling, either.

And despite the utter lack of invitation extended to Geralt, Agnieszka was nearly aglow with the drama of it all, holding a hand to her mouth and affecting an expression of shock that couldn’t begin to dim her delight as soft gasps and buzzing murmuring filled the room.

“For a man with your ability to bend, you’re not nearly flexible enough about this,” Yennefer said to Geralt with a sigh and a hint of a suggestive leer. “Very well. I’ll count the moments until I can have you back, little songbird,” she said with a chuckle, running a fingertip along Jaskier’s chin and stepping away. “Another night, perhaps,” she said to Agnieszka with a smile and a one-shouldered shrug as she slipped into the crowd that had once more begun to mill and move about once the source of potential conflict had eased, though they all eyed the tall, silver-haired witcher and his pet with pointed interest.

Even as she slipped from the room, Yennefer wondered if this plan was going to work at all. If Geralt had the faintest notion of how to act in this situation, she’d eat Roach’s saddle without sauce. Of course he could walk through an orgy unaffected, or skirt the edges of a royal court’s celebration with decorum, even amusement, but to be the center of attention for this? If Jaskier wasn’t–with eyes downcast and a low, buzzing pitch to his voice–enjoying every minute of gently prompting Geralt to perform, she’d follow up the saddle with all four of Roach’s shoes for dessert.

It was the work of moments for Yennefer to conceal herself in a nearby servant’s hallway, and make her way to Agnieszka’s library without unwanted attention. The witcher and the bard had just become the center of attention and the mark for every eye in the party; even an inveterate gossip would hardly be interested in her retreat. She spared a small touch of her powers to gently probe Geralt’s thoughts and then Jaskier’s in turn, enough to feel the former’s strained tension and mix of discomfort and possessiveness in his every action, and the latter’s amused and contented playfulness.

But it wasn't just the tension of performing that was sticking Geralt's spine straight and drawing down his brows. There was just a whiff, a faintest edge of something he tried to hide from her, certainly aware as he was of her small glimpse of his thoughts. While the audience wasn't doing him any favors, it wasn't the playing that bothered Geralt at all. For all that he could rest his hand gently and possessively on Jaskier's shoulder and mean it, fondness and protectiveness he might not even be aware of in the motion, it was Geralt who would have preferred the steadying hand. Who needed it. The realization nearly brought Yenenfer to a standstill, but the need to see her mission through kept Yennefer going through her well-planned motions.

If she knew either of them, they would never talk of this again after tonight, except in fanciful references in a bard’s song and a particular sort of strained sigh that might pass Geralt’s lips once a year or so at the memory. It was a shame, really, Yennefer thought idly as she poured out a small bottle of elixir to burn away the simple spell securing the library and finally got her hands on the slender tome Agnieszka prized but Yennefer needed. Such a wasted opportunity.


When they made their way back to the townhouse hours later, Yennefer was already slipped out of her finery into a loose gray dress, sprawled comfortably on the same couch Jaskier had vacated hours before with the book open on her lap and a cup of wine at her elbow. She spared a glance as they slipped through the door, Jaskier waving his bird’s mask to illustrate some point he was making while speaking entirely too fast, Geralt not even bothering to grunt in response. The bard was flushed a little, partially drink and partially high spirits, to her eye, and Geralt seemed more than a little stunned; just about what she had expected. Yennefer forced herself to look back at her book–too much direct attention would be telling, just now–and kept her voice light.

“How was the rest of the evening?”

“You know, she’s not really a bad hostess at all? I know you don’t much like her, Yennefer, but it was not the worst party I’ve attended by any means–” Jaskier began before Geralt cut him off.

“The book?” he growled. Yennefer rolled her eyes and looked up, tapping the book with her forefinger.

“Right here, and I was cleanly away. Did it all on foot, too, no portals to hire a mage to chase, and none of my mage signature on anything to offer any proof, even if she might suspect. Honestly, I doubt anyone will be aware of the theft for days, at least.” Geralt jerked his chin down in a nod and began to turn away.

“Thank you,” Yennefer said. “You did very well.” Jaskier smirked, then, and something passed over Geralt’s face, just a flicker, that sparked something just a little hungry in her, but it wasn’t enough.

“Come here, Geralt,” she said, holding out her hand and beckoning, curling her fingers.

“We’re done with this, Yen,” he said, but he turned back and approached her all the same.

“Are we? Did you have fun, the rest of the evening? Any at all?” she asked with a smile before sliding her gaze sideways to Jaskier.

“He’s quite good at the game, isn’t he?” she said, pitching her voice low, but clearly enough for the bard to hear. He tapped the mask in one hand against the other and bowed a little, amusement still in his expression, but a little wariness, too.

“Performance is my gift,” Jaskier said airily.

“But it wasn’t entirely to his tastes, tonight, was it?” she asked, still keeping her gaze on Geralt, who frowned and looked sideways to Jaskier before re-fixing his gaze on Yennefer, brows drawn down.

“Well,” Jaskier began with forced jollity, “we’ve long established that his tastes are…” he trailed off, unable to even finish the usual sort of joke.

“It’s not everyone’s sort of game, Yennefer,” he said after a moment’s pause.

“I think it’s not the game that Geralt objects to, at least not entirely,” Yennefer replied, taking Geralt’s hand and pulling him down beside her–not to the couch, but to his knees just before it. “In fact, I think the game intrigues him, but maybe it’s the way the pieces are arranged that isn’t quite what he wants.”

“Yen,” Geralt said, half warning, half plea, even as he sunk to his knees without resistance. Yen held out her other hand and curled her fingers toward Jaskier.

“Come here, Jaskier,” she said, a smile curling the corner of her mouth. Jaskier sauntered over, easing gracefully down next to Geralt with a laugh, even as Geralt let out an unsteady breath.

“Well, aren’t you pleased with yourself?” the bard said, smiling.

“And why not? I think it’s more than a canary I’ve caught tonight, after all.”