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Lay my curses out to rest

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When Yennefer arrives at the Marquess de Fellston’s estate and finds—among the bustle of servants preparing for the Marquess’ Midsummer celebrations and the guests arriving—a stablehand leading a familiar chestnut horse by the reins, a warm glow of anticipation settles in her chest. Yennefer knows little of horses, but the way the stablehand cradles the hand not holding the reins to his chest  and the nervous way he keeps glancing at the horse tells her that she knows this particular beast—and its owner.

She tamps down on her girlish swell of excitement. In the year since Rinde, she’s run into Geralt a half dozen times. She shouldn’t feel giddy just at the thought of seeing him again; it’s unbecoming of a sorceress of her age and life experience. There’s a reason she never used to keep lovers for more than a night or two, not since Istredd. But there’s something about Geralt that she just can’t shake.

Smoothing down her skirts, she makes her way towards the estate, dodging around servants and guests. The marquess’ estate, which is located on a cliff overlooking the sea far below, is constructed of bleached stone that seems to sparkle in the sunlight. It almost hurts to look at, so Yennefer averts her eyes in time to see a lanky, exhausted-looking middle aged man hurrying towards her.

“You’re Lady Yennefer?” he asks.

“Piotr, I presume.” She’s exchanged a half-dozen letters with the marquess’ steward over the past fortnight as they arranged the particulars of the three-day long Midsummer party. She’s here to provide the entertainment, both during the festivities and afterwards.

“A pleasure.” He bows over her hand perfunctorily, then straightens up. “We were hoping you would arrive yesterday.”

“I was delayed in Gors Velen.” Another lead in her search to regain her womb that proved fruitless, but Piotr doesn’t need to know that. “My apologies.”

“It’s no bother,” Piotr says in a tone that indicates that it was indeed a bother. “There’s just much to do before dinner tonight. We have upwards of forty guests arriving today, with twenty more arriving in the morning, and there’s the matter of the enchanted lanterns and the swans—”

“All spells I can cast within minutes, I assure you.” Yennefer can’t quite keep the irritation out of her own voice.

He blinks at her owlishly. “Of course. Imogene of Hagge recommended you highly.”

It takes Yennefer a moment to place the name, because she hasn’t thought of Imogene of Hagge since she left Aretuza. Imogene was a few years below her and Yennefer never cared much for the girl, who she found an empty-headed, simpering suck-up. “Imogene recommended me?”

“She’s a close personal friend of the marquess’ family. She’ll be arriving tonight.”

Which begs the question of why the marquess is paying Yennefer an exorbitant amount to enchant lanterns and swans and host a magical orgy at the conclusion of the festivities when he has a family friend who would presumably do it for free. But Yennefer isn’t one to turn her nose up at coin, so she smiles and says, “How delightful. I look forward to seeing her again.”

“Excellent,” Piotr says. “Now, if you’ll come with me, I can show you to your room and then we can get started with the preparations for dinner.”

“Of course.” Yennefer falls into step beside him and he leads her down a corridor and up two flights of stairs to her guest chamber, a luxurious room with a stunning view of the ocean and the courtyard below. She’s admiring the view when the sound of lute music floats upwards.

Yennefer lets out a long sigh. She should have known that if she saw Geralt’s horse, that meant that Geralt’s other uncultured, bitey beast would be in attendance. It’s not like Geralt would willingly attend a three day long Midsummer celebration on his own.

Glancing downwards, she sees Jaskier, dressed in an eye-scalding shade of green and sitting on one of the stone benches in the courtyard, serenading two giggly young noblewomen with a saccharine love song. As if feeling her eyes on him, Jaskier glances up. To Yennefer’s immense satisfaction, he’s so startled when he sees her that he bungles a chord. Face flushing, he returns his attention to the two dewy-eyed young women.

Behind Yennefer, Piotr clears his throat. “Lady Yennefer, if we could…”

“Of course.” Yennefer steps back from the window. She has a party to prepare for. She’s sure she’ll see plenty of Geralt’s bard in the coming days, whether she wants to or not.

***

Jaskier finds Yennefer while she’s in the ballroom, enchanting lanterns to glow different colors. She’s so focused on the task at hand that she doesn’t realize he’s coming until she hears a bray of, “I thought I felt the chill of a demonic entity in the air. What are you doing here?”

“What does it look like?” She doesn’t turn at his approach. “I should have known when you were in residence when I saw party guests bleeding from their ears.”

“Oh, you can’t blame that on me. Proximity to pure evil tends to do that to people.” Jaskier leans against the wall in front of her, grinning in that way that tells her he thinks he’s being far wittier than he is. It’s a typical expression for him.

“What are you doing here, bardling?” Yennefer enchants a lantern to glow a soft blue and puts it down on a table, where a servant immediately whisks it away to be hung in the proper place. “And is Geralt around, or has he finally seen sense and told you to fuck off?”

“I’m here to provide entertainment for the festivities, of course,” he says. “And the marquess hired Geralt to deal with a nest of harpies that have been mauling the occasional fishermen nearby. You haven’t been swooping around, menacing sailors, have you?”

“No, but I did hear some chicken-like squawking from the courtyard earlier.”

“Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself. With some proper vocal training, your voice may not sound like the screams of a thousand damned souls.”

“I can’t imagine you have much experience with proper vocal training, bardling.”

Jaskier puffs up like an outraged peacock, chin jutting out stubbornly. Yennefer isn’t sure what Geralt sees in this ridiculous little lordling who has followed him around for nearly two decades. Jaskier is silly, vain, a terrible flirt, and far too sure of his own talent. She can’t imagine he’s much help to Geralt on the Path, given that he reportedly faints at the sight of blood and once managed to catch himself, rather than a rabbit, in a snare. She’s heard he’s a good lay—though the opinions of sheltered, bored noble wives must be taken with a grain of salt—but there are plenty of good lays out there and most of them are far less of a bother.

“I’m surprised to see you, Yennefer,” Jaskier says. “I would think the longest day of the year would be terribly trying for blood-sucking creatures of the night.”

“I’m here to provide entertainment,” Yennefer says.

He frowns at that. “You’re not hosting the orgy I've heard rumors about, are you? Only, I was looking forward to that.”

“I am.” She smiles benevolently. “Don’t worry, if you manage to stay out of my way for the next three days, I won’t give you the ears and tail of an ass to match your personality.”

“I think I’ll refrain,” he says. “There will be other orgies not orchestrated by denizens of darkness.” 

“And other orgies that have lower standards about whom they admit.”

Jaskier draws himself up in offense, then catches sight of someone over her shoulder. His expression immediately softens. “Geralt! I have a new contract for you. The castle is under attack by a terrible beast with cloven hooves and horns.”

Behind Yennefer, there’s a sigh. “Hey, Yenn.”

Yennefer turns to find Geralt behind her, his armor crusted with dried saltwater and worse things. There’s a strong odor of dead fish in the air and the satchel in his hand is dripping on the marble floors. The servants who pass shoot him dismayed looks. Jaskier brushes by Yennefer, then hesitates, like he’s debating between pulling Geralt into a passionate embrace to prove a point to Yennefer or sparing his doublet. He compromises by leaning forward, keeping a foot of space between his and Geralt’s bodies while he presses a single, chaste kiss to the witcher’s lips.

“How was the hunt, darling?” Yennefer hears him murmur.

Geralt’s lips curl into a little smile. “Uneventful. Harpies are dead.”

“And you’re not hurt?”

“If I say yes, can I get out of this party?”

“You’re upright, so no.”

“Then I’m fine.” Geralt sighs theatrically, meeting Yennefer’s eyes.

Yennefer is surprised by how strongly she wants to close the gap between them and kiss him, saltwater and ichor be damned. Something in her always seems to settle when she’s in Geralt’s presence. If she were the romantic type, she would say something ridiculous like it’s because she feels at home when she’s with Geralt.

Luckily for everyone, she leaves the dramatics for Geralt’s bard.

“What are you doing here, Yenn?” Geralt asks softly, his gaze warm and intent on her face.

“I’m here on the marquess’ behest,” Yennefer says. “Enchanting lanterns and swans for the decorations.”

“And hosting the enchanted orgy.” Jaskier sounds aggrieved.

“Hm.” Heat flares in Geralt’s gaze.

Yennefer has the sudden and childish urge to stick her tongue out at Jaskier like a little girl.

“Master Witcher.” Piotr comes rushing up, looking even more stressed than he did when he greeted Yennefer earlier. “I was expecting you in my office, not…” He gestures around at the party decorations. “Please follow me, sir.”

Geralt looks a little surprised, like he’s just realizing that he brought a dripping bag of harpy heads into a ballroom. “Of course.” To Yennefer, he adds, “Will I see you later?”

“If you’re at dinner tonight, most likely.”

“I’ll be there.” His lips quirk into a smile before he turns away.

“Oh, of course.” Jaskier bustles after Geralt and Piotr. “When I ask you to be social, it’s all, ‘I’m a witcher, witchers don’t attend nice parties, Jaskier, because we’re dark and broody. Look at me brooding broodily in this corner.’ But when she asks you…”

Yennefer snorts and shakes her head, turning back to the lanterns so that no one will see the smile she can’t quite contain.

***

About an hour into the dinner that’s kicking off the Midsummer festivities, Yennefer has ascertained that the Marquess de Fellston, a stocky, florid-faced man in his mid-to-late forties, doesn’t have a single thought in his head that doesn’t pertain to horses, dogs, or wine. He at least has decent taste in wine, which is the only thing that keeps a smile on Yennefer’s face while she listens to him blather on about his prized stallion. She’s higher up the table than she would have expected, seated directly across from the marchioness. There’s an empty table setting to her left, which no one has commented on.

It’s a warm, humid night, made bearable only by the cool breeze coming from the ocean, which makes the enchanted lanterns hanging above them sway softly. The swans that Yennefer spelled to be utterly docile and to sing beautifully gambol around, their white feathers glowing in the blue, pink, purple, and green lights. It’s a lovely set up, which almost makes up for the fact that Lord Szimon is an utter bore.

Jaskier and Geralt are far down the table, seated among a cluster of noblewomen, whom Jaskier appears to be attempting to charm out of their skirts. Next to Jaskier, Geralt is doing a poor job of concealing his misery in a silver doublet that complements Jaskier’s bright blue ensemble. Every time Yennefer glances their way, she catches one or both of them staring at her. Whenever she catches Jaskier’s eye, she flashes a smile that shows all her teeth, knowing it will scare him shitless. Sure enough, he flushes and looks away.

“Do you have a horse, Lady Yennefer?” Lord Szimon asks Yennefer.

She takes another sip of her wine. “No, I’m afraid not. I find portaling a more reliable form of transportation.”

She doesn’t have to look down the table to sense Geralt’s incredulity at that.

“I’ll have to take your word for that.” The marquess chuckles, then looks up with a smile. “Ah, Imogene, you made it!”

“Apologies, my lord,” a girlish voice says from behind Yennefer. “I lost track of time. Hello, Yennefer. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

Yennefer turns around in her seat. When she knew Imogene of Hagge at Aretuza, she was a tiny, sandy-haired thing with a freckled face. Now, Imogene is a petite, delicate-boned woman with hair that’s more gold than sandy and a dewy complexion that’s completely devoid of freckles. With her unnaturally large, bright blue eyes and rosy, heart-shaped face, she looks almost doll-like.

Imogene sweeps over to kiss Yennefer on both cheeks, enveloping her in the scent of vanilla and lavender. “It’s been far too long.”

“Has it?” Yennefer wants to ask, because she never had the impression that Imogene liked her any more than she liked Imogene when they were in school. Instead, she asks, “What brings you to Fellston? Last I heard, you were in Verden.”

“I’m an old friend of his lordship and his family,” Imogene says. “I’ve taken a leave of absence from Verden to help out with a family matter.”

Well, Yennefer supposes that explains why she was hired to deal with the party when there’s another sorceress in residence. Imogene seems to be otherwise occupied.

“But I’ve been so looking forward to catching up with you since Szimon told me he had hired you.” Imogene lowers herself into the chair next to Yennefer, not seeming to notice her slip up. At her use of the marquess’ first name, the marchioness goes thin-lipped and gestures for a servant to pour her more wine. It’s the first sign of emotion Yennefer has seen from the marquess’ wife all night.

“Tell me what you’ve been up to since Aretuza,” Imogene says.

Yennefer smiles wryly. “I’m sure all the interesting bits have already made their way through the Brotherhood rumor mill.”

“Oh, I don’t listen to gossip.” Imogene waves one dainty hand, if she wasn’t the most gossipy little snitch Yennefer had ever met in their Aretuza days. “Though I would love to hear why you left Aedirn so suddenly. Especially with how hard you campaigned to be sent there instead of Nilfgaard. Poor Fringilla’s never recovered from being spurned so publicly by Virfuril, you know.”

Yennefer’s gaze flicks down the table. Geralt is watching as Jaskier tells some story that involves a lot of dramatic hand gestures. Only the fact that he has his head cocked slightly to the side, a furrow in his brow, tells Yennefer that he’s most likely listening to her conversation, not Jaskier’s.

“I’m afraid there’s not much to tell.” Yennefer takes a quick sip of her wine. She won’t entertain Imogene and the marquess with a lurid tale of assassins and dead queens, especially not with Geralt listening. She doesn’t want him to learn of her greatest failure this way. “But tell me what you’ve been up to, Imogene. How fares court life in Verden?”

Luckily, some things haven’t changed—Imogene is still only too happy to talk about herself. As Imogene launches into some tale about the Verdeni king, Yennefer tunes her out as easily as she tuned out the marquess’ babble about horses earlier. The only thing she can’t tune out is the feeling of Geralt’s gaze on her.

***

After dinner, Jaskier begins to perform. Despite her barbs to the contrary, Yennefer has to admit that his voice is decent. If it belonged to any other performer, she might even say ‘good.’ His mellifluous voice floats across the garden as couples dance together, the lanterns swaying above. The musical swans have been herded away by the servants, but the occasional stray feather still floats across the grass. Yennefer can feel Geralt still watching her as she moves through the crowd. She’s wondering how she could dance with him without drawing too much attention when a hand touches her shoulder.

She turns to find the marquess standing behind her. “My lord,” she says, dipping into a curtsy.

“How are you enjoying the festivities, Lady Yennefer?” he asks.

“They’re delightful.”

“You outdid yourself with the decorations.”

“I’m so glad they’re to your liking.”

“If I could have just another few moments of your time.” Lord Szimon glances around. “I have a matter I’d like to discuss with you in private.”

Yennefer smothers a sigh. She should have known that it was too much to ask to be paid a king’s ransom to enchant some lanterns and host an orgy. Of course there would be some complication that he wants to discuss with her privately—be it an inconveniently pregnant mistress or an heir that bears a startling resemblance to the steward (not that Piotr seems like the type to carry on a torrid affair with the marchioness, but one can never be sure.) Or he’s about to make a pass at her and she’s going to need to turn her employer into a snail.

“Of course, my lord,” she says. “I’m at your disposal.”

Across the garden, she catches Geralt’s eye. He raises an inquisitive eyebrow and she gives a single shake of her head. If the marquess is up to something, Geralt and his swords won’t solve the problem. She’s almost relieved when she sees Imogene detach herself from the lordling she’s been dancing with—smiling prettily and apologizing all the while—and cross the garden to join Yennefer and the marquess.

“I thought we were going to wait until after the party tonight, Szimon,” she says, taking the arm the marquess offers her.

“Time is of the essence, my dear.” Lord Szimon pats her hand. “There’s no use delaying.”

“Delaying what, my lord?” Yennefer asks.

“It’s easier to show you,” he says gravely. He suddenly looks much older and more tired than he did at dinner, without a single trace of the jovial man who yammed about his horses and his hunting hounds.

Yennefer follows Imogene and Lord Szimon as they lead her from the gardens and across the sprawling grounds of the estate, until the sound of Jaskier’s singing fades into the distance. No one says a single word. Yennefer can feel her patience waning as they walk through the gates of a graveyard, past rows of marble tombs. As they approach a tomb with a statue of a woman gazing up at the sky serenely, her hands clasped to her chest, atop it, Yennefer stops in her tracks. Malevolent magic emanates from the tomb.

“You feel it?” Imogene asks.

“How could I not?” Yennefer swallows back the urge to back away. “Marchioness Lizbeth Henrietta Karoline Piotrski Demaz de Fellston,” the name on the tomb reads. Tiny animal bones—birds, squirrels, rabbits, and rats—litter the ground around it. Yennefer wonders if one brush against the marble of the tomb was enough to kill them.

“My great-grandfather’s first wife,” Lord Szimon says. “She and my great-grandfather were married for nearly twenty years, in which they tried and failed to conceive a child. When she caught a chill and died one winter, my great-grandfather remarried the day his year of mourning was complete. My grandfather was born nine months later.”

Yennefer hums noncommittally. It’s a common enough story.

“Lizbeth’s sister, Lillian, was an Aretuza-trained sorceress,” Szimon continues. ‘She accused my great-grandfather of having had Lizbeth killed.”

“Did he?” Yennefer asks.

Lord Szimon looks affronted. “Of course not. By all accounts, he was a good and honorable man.”

Yennefer manages not to laugh at that. “I take it Lillian didn’t agree?”

“She cursed my family,” Lord Szimon says. “She told my great-grandfather that his family line would die out within a hundred years. He didn’t take her seriously, but he, my grandfather, and my father all only had one child each, and all died before their fiftieth birthdays, either from illness or accidents. I’ve been married to dear Gertrude for twenty years now and the gods haven’t blessed us with a single living child. I fear the curse is behind it.”

“How long has it been since the curse was cast?” Yennefer asks.

“It will be exactly a century the day after Midsummer,” Imogene says softly. “In three days, the marquess’ family line will die out forever. We fear that means that Szimon…” She trails off, looking at the marquess worriedly.

Yennefer had a feeling the answer would be something like that. “And Lillian? It’s been ninety-nine years. She may be willing to let go of old grudges and undo the curse.”

Lord Szimon grimaces. “When I was a boy, my father contracted a witcher to kill her, thinking that would undo the curse. The witcher brought us her head and my father dropped dead of a brain bleed right in front of him.”

“Some curses die with their caster,” Yennefer says. “Others only become stronger.”

“So Imogene has told me.” Lord Szimon smiles wanly at Imogene.

“Curses of this nature always have an anchor of some kind.” Imogene nods to the late marchioness’ tomb. “We believe that the anchor for this curse is the statue of Lizbeth.”

Yennefer glances up at the serene statue. “Then you need to destroy it.”

“I’m afraid it’s not so simple,” Imogene says. “Take a look.”

Yennefer has no desire to take a look, but she also refuses to look like a coward in front of Imogene. Tentatively, she takes a step forward, reaching out with her own chaos to examine the dark magic encasing the tomb. It feels like sticking her hand in what she expects to be lukewarm water and find it boiling. With a cry, Yennefer stumbles backwards. The marquess puts a hand on his back to steady her, but she shakes him off.

“How many mages have died trying to destroy that statue?” Her voice wavers as she forces herself to remain upright.

Imogene doesn’t bother denying it. “Three. And I was nearly the fourth.”

“And I suppose you were hoping I would be the fourth instead?”

“There must be a way around the spell,” Imogene says. “Surely a mage of your skill could manage it.”

“Is that what you told those three dead mages?”

“None of them had half the skill of Tissaia de Vries’ favorite student, Yennefer.”

Yennefer’s lip curls. “Flattery won’t convince me to die to undo this curse. Neither will goading me. We’re not girls at Aretuza anymore and this isn’t a game of Truth or Dare.”

“You’ll be compensated for your troubles.” Lord Szimon looks lost. All the color has drained from his face. Yennefer gets the sense that she was his last hope and she would feel sorry for him in any other circumstances.

“I have to be alive to collect my payment,” Yennefer reminds him, forcing her voice to gentle. The marquess seems like a bit of a fool who cares too much for horses and lets his head be turned by a pretty sorceress, but he doesn’t deserve to die for the sins of a great-grandfather he never knew.  “I am truly sorry, my lord. When the very act of trying to undo the curse would kill anyone who attempts it before they can succeed, there’s nothing to be done.”

“Of course there’s something to be done.” Imogene’s dollish features go hard and cold. “For the right price, anything is possible.”

Yennefer bares her teeth into a smile. “If you truly believe that, Imogene, then it seems you learned nothing in your time at Aretuza.”

Lord Szimon steps between them, putting a conciliatory hand on Imogene’s arm. “It’s alright, my dear. We knew it was a long shot.” To Yennefer, he adds, “I understand. I suppose I was hoping for a miracle. A childish hope, I know.”

Imogene visibly collects herself, her sweet smile returning. “Of course. My apologies, Yennefer. I was… overcome.”

Yennefer nods her acknowledgement, but doesn’t offer either of them any comforting words. Platitudes won’t save the marquess’ life and his family line. If Lillian’s words were true, nothing will.

***

“What did the marquess want earlier?” Geralt asks much later, watching with sleepy eyes as Yennefer pulls on her dress.

“He wanted assistance with a family matter.” She turns so he can see her lace up her dress in the front, enjoying the way his gaze tracks the movement of her hands. “Unfortunately for him, what he wanted me to do can’t be done.”

“And how did he take it?”

“Well enough.” Seeing the concern in his expression, she adds, “He didn’t threaten me, if that’s what you’re worried about. He doesn’t strike me as the type. And I think he knew it was a long shot before I even got here.”

“Lots of people can become the type to make threats if they feel cornered,” Geralt says.

The show of concern would make Yennefer bristle if it were coming from anyone but Geralt. “All the threats in the world won’t make what he wants possible and he seems to realize that. The only danger from this weekend is that I may portal myself into the sea if he keeps talking about his damn horse.”

“What’s wrong with talking about a horse?” Geralt looks wounded.

Instead of answering, Yennefer leans forward and kisses him, slow and sweet. When she pulls away, she says, “He strikes me as about as dangerous as Jaskier. I don’t think I have anything to worry about.”

“You never know.” Geralt’s lips twitch. “Jaskier can be dangerous. He managed to knock out a bandit once. Accidentally, but he says it still counts.”

Yennefer snorts and goes to look for her shoes.

“You could stay the night,” Geralt says carefully.

Yennefer pauses in the middle of pulling a shoe on. “Won’t your bard object?”

“He’s off with some baroness. I doubt he’ll be back tonight.”

Yennefer glances around the room. It’s a good deal smaller than her guest chamber and without the ocean view, but it’s still a perfectly serviceable room, with a comfortable mattress and a window overlooking the grounds. Geralt’s armor is drying in the windowsill, along with a buttercup yellow doublet of Jaskier’s. Toiletries are scattered across the bedside table, along with a few empty potion bottles. A pair of Jaskier’s smallclothes lie on the ground and his notebook is open on the table, one of Geralt’s gloves used as a placeholder. Everywhere she looks, there are signs of a life spent together.

She should have invited Geralt up to her room, but it seemed impolitic at the time to traipse through the hallway together. She’s not ashamed of her relationship with Geralt—whatever it may be—but she has no desire to have it become the center of party gossip.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says, realizing that he’s still waiting for the answer. “I believe there’s boating in the morning. Will you be there?”

Geralt snorts derisively. “Unfortunately. Though I don’t know what the marquess wants with a witcher on a sailing expedition.”

“Possibly to fight off all the sea monsters that Jaskier wakes with his high notes?”

Geralt’s lips twitch.

“Why accompany him if you detest these things so much?” Yennefer asks. “A three-day-long party must be your nightmare.”

Geralt shrugs. “It was important to Jaskier. And I just felt like I should be here.”

“To stop him from losing his balls to a jealous husband?”

He lets out the long sigh of a man who has had to deal with far too many jealous husbands and Yennefer laughs, eliciting a smile from him.

Geralt stands to cup her face in his hands, his calloused fingers gentle against her skin. “You’re not happy to see me?”

Yennefer casts a pointed look at the rumpled bedsheets. “What about that told you that I wasn’t happy to see you?”

His lips twitch. “Don’t want to get in the way of your work here.”

“Enchanting swans and administering magical aphrodisiacs? How could you interfere with such important job duties?” She brushes a kiss over his lips. “I’m always glad to see you.”

“So am I.” The words are so softly and earnestly spoken that they make something inside Yennefer clench.

“Goodnight, Geralt,” she says, kissing him one last time before she turns to go. He doesn’t try to convince her to stay again, but she feels his eyes on her back as she slips out of his room and makes her way down the hallway, back to her own bedchamber. For a moment, she considers turning around and spending the night in the warm circle of his arms, but she shakes the thought away. She doesn’t want to spend the night in the room he’s sharing with Jaskier.

When she reaches the staircase, she finds Jaskier coming down the stairs, humming to himself. He hasn't noticed her yet and he's wearing a tiny smile, either reminiscing about whatever lady's bed he just left or anticipating the witcher's bed he's returning to. His chemise is unlaced indecently low, showing off a good deal of chest hair and a livid love bite on the hollow of his throat. His hair is rumpled, like someone has been running their fingers through it, and his eyes are sleepy and content. It's a rare, unguarded moment, without the bard's usual winking pretension, and Yennefer suddenly wishes she hadn't seen it.

And then he looks up, catching sight of her at the foot of the stairs, and the mask slides back into place. “Yennefer! Fancy seeing you here. And so far from the sewers, too.”

Yennefer doesn’t give him the satisfaction of an eye roll. “Tonight’s paramour grew tired of you already, I see.”

“Ah, Agnes.” He claps his hands to his chest. “A true jewel. We spent several hours of brilliant passion together and would have spent more, but her betrothed’s father is a generous sponsor of Oxenfurt Academy, so it seemed wise for me to not be seen leaving her bedchamber.”

“Naturally." Yennefer brushes by him and starts up the steps. "How fortunate for her that she was spared more of your company.”

“And you’re slipping out early,” Jaskier says, falling in behind her. “I thought I was going to have to sit in the hallway and listen to you yowl. I do hope that your quick departure doesn’t mean Geralt has been turned to stone under your gaze?”

She glances dismissively over her shoulder. “No, it means I grew tired of looking at your smallclothes strewn across the floor.”

“Would you rather see them on me?” He waggles his brows.

Yennefer arches an eyebrow. The bard usually doesn’t have the nerve to stare a little too long, never mind flirt. “I would sooner lose my eyeballs to a flesh-eating fungus.”

“Probably for the best. I would hate to end up with another knife to my balls.”

“The night’s still young.”

“Yennefer, you flirt.” Jaskier bats his eyelashes.

Yennefer pauses at the top of the stairs. “What are you doing, bardling?”

“Walking you up to your room. Naturally.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s the gentlemanly thing to do.”

She snorts indelicately. “You’re about as much of a gentleman as Geralt’s horse.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Roach is the picture of good manners and chivalry when she knows she’ll get a carrot out of it.”

“I have no need for your chivalry, bardling,” Yennefer says. “And I’m more than capable of walking myself to my own room.”

She turns and starts down the hallway, thinking that will be the end of that conversation. To her consternation, Jaskier follows.

“It’s occurred to me,” Jaskier says. “That Geralt does things for me that he doesn’t want to do all the time.”

“Well, I know he does you regularly.”

“And he damn well enjoys it, thank you. I mean, he comes to parties like this and bardic competitions and the like. He hates it all, but he does it because it’s important to me. And you’re important to him.”

“Do you have a point, or do you just relish the sound of your own voice?"

“Both can be true, Yennefer," Jaskier says primly. "It seems that if Geralt is willing to subject himself to noble parties and dancing for me, then I should be willing to subject myself to your company for him."

"What?" Yennefer turns on him. He's smiling at her magnanimously, like a prince who just bestowed a single copper on a street urchin and will spend the rest of the day feeling like Lebioda himself.

"Geralt is very fond of you," Jaskier says. "I'm not sure why. In fact, I'm quite concerned that you may have scrambled something when you took control of his mind and forced him to commit a hanging offense. But I digress. Geralt cares for you, I care for Geralt, and it's Midsummer, a season of joy and charity. So I'm willing to put aside my completely rational dislike for you, Yennefer, and attempt to be your friend."

Yennefer stares at Jaskier. Jaskier smiles back at her beatifically. With a sigh, Yennefer turns away. "Goodnight, bardling."

"Most people do like me, you know," he says, softly, like it's a secret. "You would too, if you got to know me."

"Would I?" Yennefer whirls on him and crosses the scant distance between them, enjoying the nervous way his throat bobs at her sudden proximity. "And what is it they like about you? Is it the songs filled with jokes about cocks and breasts? The doublets that you seem incapable of buttoning up correctly? The entirely unearned arrogance?”

He smiles broadly, though there's a flicker of something that may be nervousness in his eyes. "You have two more days to find out."

"Geralt cares for you, though I think that may be evidence of too many blows to the head. Out of respect for that, I haven't portaled you to the middle of the Korath Desert and left you for the vultures. That doesn't mean I have any desire to be your friend, bardling. This is one sacrifice you don't have to make for love."

For a moment, she thinks that Jaskier might actually be hurt. But then he ducks into a little bow. "Ah, I suppose it's probably for the best. Too much time in your company and you may drain me of my youth and beauty."

"I think I'm about a decade too late for that, bardling."

"Oh, Yennefer." He smiles sweetly. "I would ask if I'll see you at breakfast, but I don't think the kitchens here serve the tears of the innocent."

"Nor do they serve stale bread that's been shoved into pants."

His jaw drops. "Geralt told you about that? That swine."

Yennefer doesn't tell him that Geralt never told her anything of the sort. Jaskier, wide-eyed and eighteen, fumbling nervously as he said, "You wouldn't want to keep a man with bread in his pants waiting," is a memory that always makes Geralt smile. She's heard him think of it every time he watches Jaskier eating a piece of bread. His thoughts are always particularly loud when he's thinking fondly of his bard. 

“Just go back to your room, Jaskier.” She takes the last few steps to her room, resting her hand on the doorknob. “Geralt will be pleased to see you.”

She can picture it—Geralt sitting up in bed when he hears the familiar tread of Jaskier’s steps in the hallway, the little smile that will curl his lips when the door opens and his bard comes sauntering in. Jaskier will throw himself dramatically down on the bed, no doubt complaining about how unbelievably cruel Yennefer was to him, and Geralt will run his fingers through his hair and hum occasionally to show he’s listening.

Jaskier gives her a strange look and she wonders if her expression has revealed too much. “Sleep well, Yennefer. I take it the marquess has provided a lovely coffin for you to sleep in?”

Yennefer steps inside and closes the door in his face.

***

Yennefer gives out tonics for hangovers at breakfast the next day, which nearly all the guests partake in. Lord Szimon, who looks distinctly worse for wear after what Yennefer imagines was probably a sleepless, anxious night, takes two doses of tonic for himself. Jaskier doesn’t take one, even though Yennefer overhears Geralt urging him to take one.

“You just said your head was hurting,” Geralt tells his bard from the other end of the table. Yennefer wouldn’t be able to hear them without magical assistance.

“Yes, but I have a long day of performing ahead of me and I don’t trust her not to have put something in it to ruin my voice.”

“Why would I waste magic on something so unnecessary?” Yennefer asks him telepathically, making Jaskier squawk and drop the butter knife he was just using to spread marmalade on a scone. Geralt gives Yennefer a quelling look, though his lips twitch in amusement.

After breakfast comes the sailing, which the marquess begs off, claiming a queasy stomach. The rest of the nobles pile into a pair of large sailboats captained by local sailors. Yennefer calls dolphins to swim alongside the boats, leaping and twirling in the water to the delight of the guests. Jaskier is there, providing background music on his lute while a pretty little redhead who must be his baroness from the night before gives him cow eyes. Geralt stands at the railing, keeping an eye on the horizon for any sign of trouble, though Yennefer sees him stealing fond looks at Jaskier.

Imogene joins Yennefer at the stern, an absurd hat perched on top of her golden ringlets. “I feel like I should apologize for last night,” she says.

“Whatever for?” Yennefer barely spares her a glance, focused on the dolphins leaping out of the water.

“I was needlessly unkind.” Imogene leans over to peer at the dolphins. The hat must be magically affixed to her head, because it doesn’t go flying into the waves. “I’m sure you would help if you could. I just hoped you would see something I hadn’t, that maybe I’m too close to it and so I’d overlooked something obvious.”

“There’s nothing to overlook. The curse is very powerful and very simple. You try and undo it, you die.”

Imogene nods grimly. “Szimon is… very dear to me. It will be terrible to lose him.”

“I’m sorry.” Yennefer is surprised that she means it, just a little. She doesn’t like Imogene, but she doesn’t wish her grief.

“I’ve known it was coming for years,” Imogene says. “And now the day I’ve been dreading is nearly upon us and I find that I’m not ready at all.”

“It’s hard to be ready for something like this.”

Imogene sighs. “I suppose you’re right. Up until last night, I hadn’t even let myself consider that we wouldn’t find a way to fix the curse.”

Yennefer has nothing to say that will be helpful, so she stays silent.

“Love makes us foolish,” Imogene says with a wistful little smile. “I’m sure you know how that is, Yennefer.”

Yennefer glances over her shoulder and finds Geralt watching her and Imogene, his expression impossible to read. The wind is ruffling his long white hair and with the sea and the blue sky behind him, he looks like the romantic hero of a ballad. Jaskier is watching Geralt, a look of unabashed tenderness on his face as he croons a love song.

“No,” Yennefer lies. “I’m afraid I don’t.”

***

Yennefer spends the rest of the day on alert, just in case Imogene recovers from her brief moment of being almost sympathetic and decides to heap some unpleasantness on her. It never comes. When they return from sailing, there’s a luncheon, followed by a tour of the marquess’ portrait gallery and a ride around the grounds. That evening, there’s dinner and dancing in the atrium. It’s a cloudy night, but Yennefer has enchanted the glass ceiling to sparkle with stars, so bright and vivid that they look close enough to touch.

In addition to Jaskier playing, there’s a band, which gives the bard opportunities to mingle with the other guests. Yennefer watches him dance with a matron who is easily twice his age, flirting outrageously until the woman is smiling and blushing like a schoolgirl. Yennefer will never understand how many people are charmed by the bard’s peacocking. His flirtations are clumsy and overwrought, and yet they seem to work on a surprising amount of his targets.

“Having fun?”

Yennefer startles at the sudden appearance of Geralt at her side. She didn’t even notice his approach. “I’m bored out of my mind. You?”

He snorts. “What do you think?”

Yennefer looks at him sideways. Tonight’s ensemble is a deep blue with gold embellishments that match Jaskier’s own doublet. “You didn’t enjoy the festivities today? Sailing? Gazing at portraits of the marquess’ long dead ancestors?”

His lips twitch. “The ride was fine.”

“Your beastly horse bit three other horses and a viscount.”

“She bites a viscount at least once a week. She’s used to it.” Geralt casts a pointed look at Jaskier.

He’s a viscount?” Yennefer frowns as Jaskier dips the matron dramatically.

“The Viscount de Lettenhove.”

Yennefer pauses with her glass of wine halfway to her lips. “Lettenhove is one of the wealthiest holdings in Redania.”

“Hm.”

“And he’s a bard?”

“Says the noble life isn’t for him.”

Yennefer watches Jaskier, shining in his golden doublet, looking entirely at home among the fine lords and ladies on the dance floor. “Your bard makes no fucking sense, Geralt.”

Geralt snorts. “Tell me about it.”

Yennefer takes a sip of wine as the song ends and Jaskier bows low to his dance partner.

“You’ve been watching him all night,” Geralt says.

Yennefer turns to him. “Pardon me?”

Geralt’s face is inscrutable. “And you were watching him on the boat.”

She feels caught out, even though she knows she hasn’t done anything wrong. “I’m simply making sure that he doesn’t ruin the party with his buffoonery.”

“Hm.”

“Unless you want me to read your mind, you’ll have to decipher your hums for me.”

“You two would probably like each other if you tried,” he says.

Yennefer laughs, short and sharp. “Leave the jokes to your bard. They suit him more.”

“You have more in common than you think.”

Yennefer briefly considers never letting this man into her bed again, then remembers the marvels his tongue is capable of. “Like what?”

“Beautiful, stubborn, passionate about the things you care about, a fondness for Est Est.” Geralt nods to the glass of wine in her hand.

She takes another sip, because she’ll need it to get through this conversation. “Everyone whose taste buds haven’t been ruined by witcher potions has a fondness for Est Est.”

Geralt shrugs, as if conceding the point. “I just think you’d both be surprised if you got to know each other.”

“The most surprising thing about Jaskier is how absurd he can be on a daily basis,” Yennefer says acidly. “Part of my role during this party is to make sure that everything goes smoothly. Given Jaskier’s tendency to stick his cock where he’s not supposed to and cause diplomatic incidents, keeping an eye on him is just good business.”

Geralt hums again—most days, she finds his hums endearing, but they are getting on her nerves right now—and glances back towards the dance floor. “Ah, fuck.”

With a suspicion that her point in being proven, Yennefer follows his gaze and says, “Fuck.”

Jaskier is dancing with Imogene, smiling down at her a little dazedly. Imogene is wearing a deep purple dress with a plunging neckline and silver detailing that looks like stars. She’s peering up at Jaskier through her lashes, smiling prettily. The marquess, who is seated at the table and appears to be entirely ignoring his wife, is watching them with a furrow in his brow. He doesn’t seem angry, not yet, but he doesn’t look entirely happy.

“I’m starting to think your bard must have a magical ability to find the worst possible person for him to fuck and immediately start trying to fuck them,” Yennefer says.

Geralt nods. “He’s been fucking me for a decade.”

“A rare moment of good sense,” Yennefer says, surprising both of them. The song starts to draw to a close and she hands Geralt her glass of wine. “I’ll handle this.”

“Yenn—”

“Don’t worry, Geralt, I’ll make sure his balls stay attached.” Yennefer crosses the dance floor, weaving around the swaying couples. She reaches Jaskier and Imogene just as the last notes of the song play. “Bardling, it’s almost the end of the night and you owe me a dance.”

Jaskier blinks at her stupidly. “What?”

“Oh, don’t tell me you don’t have the time,” Yennefer says with a pout. “I’ve been looking forward to this all night.”

Imogene laughs, high and tinkling. “Oh, we can’t disappoint dear Yenna. It was a pleasure to chat with you, Jaskier.”

Jaskier looks between them like a rabbit that’s found itself caught between two foxes. “The pleasure was all mine, my lady.” He presses a kiss to Imogene’s hand.

She dips into a curtsy. “Enjoy your dance.”

“Yennefer,” Jaskier says carefully as Imogene slips away.

“Shut up and start dancing.” The music starts up again and the couples around them start to dance. Of course it’s a Toussainti-style dance, one of the ones where the partners have to practically be entwined together through the song. Yennefer was hoping for a nice Skelligan stomping dance, which would only require the occasional touch of their hands.

With visible trepidation, Jaskier puts one hand on Yennefer’s waist while taking her hand with the other. “I’m not sure whether to be flattered or threatened right now.”

This close, it’s impossible to ignore how much taller the bard is than Yennefer. She always pictures him as a much smaller man than he is in reality. Just another thing to add to the long list of the ways in which he’s irritating. “Bardling, I mean this as a genuine question, but are you really enough of an ignoramus to get cozy with your employer’s mistress, who is a sorceress to boot?”

Jaskier makes an outraged noise. “I wasn’t getting cozy with her, Yennefer. She asked me to dance. We were having a very pleasant conversation until you—”

“She was toying with you, like a griffin with a horse,” Yennefer snaps. “She wants something from me that I can’t give her. I don’t know what she thinks dancing with you would accomplish, but strategy has never been Imogene’s strong point. There’s a reason she was sent to Verden, where nothing more exciting than the occasional attack by dryads happens.”

“Or perhaps she’s enjoyed my music, sees how dashing I look in this outfit—don’t roll your eyes like that, witch, you know I look good—and wanted a dance with a handsome, talented man.”

“Then why was she dancing with you?”

Jaskier laughs as he twirls her around to dip her. It occurs to her that he could drop her if he were feeling petty, but he doesn’t. “Thank you for swooping to my rescue so heroically, but I had no intentions of doing more than dancing with Imogene tonight. For one, I already have my arrangements for this evening worked out.” He casts a pointed look at the redheaded baroness. “And for another, I know by now that sorceresses are far more trouble than they’re worth.”

“Have you?” Yennefer spins around to press her back to his chest. One of his hands comes to settle on her torso. When she turns her head, she can feel the silkiness of his doublet against her cheek. “You seemed to be enjoying your dance with her quite a lot.”

Jaskier clears his throat. “Well, she is delightful company and was very complimentary of my music. It is nice to know that some sorceresses can appreciate the arts.”

“When you start producing art, I promise I’ll appreciate it.” Yennefer breathes in hard through her nose, reminding herself of her objective. Jaskier smells of honeysuckles. “She may seem sweet and smiley, but she’s as cutthroat as any of us who graduated from Aretuza. If she wants something from you, then you need to be careful.”

To her relief, the dance requires Jaskier to turn away from her. They dance back to back for a moment, the back of head pressed between his shoulder blades.

“And what about you?” Jaskier asks.

“What about me?”

“You saw me dancing with a sorceress who you suspect of having ill intentions towards me—though if we’re being honest, I think you may just be projecting—and you rushed over here to my rescue, even though you haven’t been shy about how much you dislike me. So, what exactly do you want from me, Yennefer?”

They turn again to be face to face, one of Jaskier’s hands settling on Yennefer’s waist while she rests a hand on his shoulder. There’s barely a hair’s breadth of space between them.

“What would I want with you?” Yennefer asks, annoyed with how far she has to look up to meet Jaskier’s eyes. Surely there’s a way to spell him shorter. She’ll have to look into it.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.” His eyes drop to her lips. “Because I can’t think of a single other reason you would come rushing to my rescue.”

Her mouth is dry. Now that she thinks of it, she doesn’t think she’s had any water in hours. “I did it for Geralt.”

“Magnanimous of you.”

“If keeping you breathing keeps him happy, then I’ll do what I can until you inevitably get into trouble that no one can get you out of. Like fucking the wrong sorceress.”

“Oh, please.” Jaskier’s lips twitch. “Like she’d be any match for you.”

Yennefer blinks, taken off guard by his easy confidence in her. She knows that she could cast circles around Imogene, but Jaskier has no way of knowing that. When someone clears their throat loudly, Yennefer realizes that she and Jaskier have stopped dancing, holding up the part of the dance where the dancers are supposed to promenade around the dance floor, spinning together. The other dancers shoot them puzzled looks as they move around them.

Jaskier laughs, sounding a bit strained. “Toussainti dances are far too complicated for my taste. Who can keep track of all those steps?”

“The Toussainti, allegedly.” Yennefer releases his hand and steps back. “Just don’t be stupid, bardling.”

He flashes a tight-lipped smile. “I think it might be too late for that.”

Yennefer turns and stalks away as the last notes of the song plays. Geralt is waiting exactly where she left him, still holding her glass of wine. His eyebrows have crept up so high that they’ve nearly disappeared into his hairline.

She takes the glass of wine from him and downs it in one gulp. “Meet me in my room in twenty minutes.”

“Hm.” Geralt’s eyebrows suddenly creep higher.

“Don’t even start,” Yennefer tells him and sweeps away, party forgotten.

***

Geralt comes to her room as instructed and they fuck against the wall hard enough to send a painting crashing to the floor. Afterwards, she fucks him with a wooden cock until the headboard begins to creak ominously under his grip. They don’t talk about the marquess, Imogene, or his damn bard, which is exactly what Yennefer needs from him.

She thinks about asking him to stay, but she doesn’t. He presses a kiss to the corner of her mouth before he slips from the room and returns to his bard.

***

The next day is relatively uneventful, given the busy day before. Besides a hunting expedition in the afternoon, which Yennefer isn’t expected to join, there’s nothing to do until dinner that night and the orgy afterwards. She appreciates the opportunity for a few hours of rest; she slept restlessly the night before and is feeling groggy today. The heat and humidity of the day isn’t helping.

She was contemplating inviting Geralt to spend a lazy afternoon in bed with her, but when she seeks him out, she finds him saddling up Roach.

“You’re going hunting with the others?” she asks, surprised. A hunting party with a band of nobles who can most likely hold a rapier doesn’t sound like Geralt’s forte.

Geralt wears the expression of a man being marched to his execution. “There have been sightings of a pack of wolves in the area and the marquess is worried it’s wargs. He wants me along for extra security.”

“What about Jaskier?”

“He gets to stay here, the lucky bastard.”

Yennefer snorts. She’d like to lean in to kiss him, but they have an audience in the stablehands who are rushing about, saddling up the nobles’ horses. “Look at the bright side. There could be a warg attack, which might cut things short.”

Geralt’s lips quirk into a smile. “It’s not like you to be an optimist, Yenn.”

“I do try.” She brushes her fingers along the curve of his wrist. “At least there’s tonight to look forward to.”

The look he gives her is full of heat. “You’re going to participate tonight? Figured you’d just sit back, like you did in Rinde.”

“There was no one in Rinde I wanted to participate with.”

“Hm.” He also looks like he wants to kiss her, but he holds back. “Guess this party isn’t that bad then.”

“You just need to get through hunting with a bunch of nobles first.”

He grimaces. “Once spent two days trapped by an overly friendly rock troll. This can’t be worse.”

“You underestimate nobles.” She lets her hand brush his one last time and returns to the castle.

***

Yennefer gets an entire two hours of peace. She’s taking a nap in her chambers when a rap on her bedroom door has her jerking awake, disoriented.

“Lady Yennefer?” It’s Piotr, sounding even more harried than he usually does.

“Just a moment.” Yennefer takes a minute to smooth down her hair, adjust her dress, and make sure there’s no drool on her cheek—sorceresses aren’t supposed to drool or get bedhead, after all—before she goes to open the door.

Piotr stands in the hallway, wringing his hands. “Apologies for the interruption, Lady Yennefer, but you’re acquainted with Jaskier the Bard, correct?”

“Unfortunately.” Yennefer already dislikes the direction this conversation is taking. “What’s happened?”

“I’ve been trying to locate him for an hour,” Piotr says. “His lordship has hired a troupe of dancers to accompany Jaskier’s singing this evening. The dancers are here to rehearse and Jaskier is nowhere to be found.”

Yennefer frowns. “And he’s not in his room?”

Piotr shakes his head. “The last anyone saw him was at breakfast. Could he have accompanied the hunting party?”

“I doubt it.” Yennefer remembers all of Geralt’s stories of Jaskier growing faint at the sight of blood. “He’s not much for hunting. The baroness, the redheaded one, is she around?”

“Lady Agnes?” Piotr blinks owlishly. “She and her grandmother skipped the hunting expedition. They’re in the gardens, I believe.”

“Good,” Yennefer says. “I’ll look into it.”

Piotr looks so relieved that she worries he’s going to start weeping on her. “Thank you.”

Yennefer heads down to the gardens, where she finds Lady Agnes sitting on a bench while an elderly woman throws morsels of bread to the ducks that float in the pond.

She wastes no time with niceties. “Have you seen Jaskier?”

The baroness’ eyes go wide for a moment before she darts a glance at her oblivious grandmother and adopts a look of offended dignity. “The bard? I’m not sure why I would.”

Yennefer barely manages not to roll her eyes. If the girl wants to sneak around behind her betrothed’s back, she’s going to need to get better at lying. “You don’t have an angry father or brother who may have found out what you’ve been getting up to the last two nights?”

Agnes’ face turns a mottled red. “I don’t know what you’re implying.”

Yennefer wants to shake her. She forces herself to smile. “I don’t care who you’ve been bedding, my lady. That’s none of my concern. My only concern is if Jaskier is either being buried in a shallow grave as we speak or is somewhere facing the threat of imminent castration.”

“Of course not.” Agnes looks back at her grandmother, who is humming one of the songs Jaskier sang last night as she feeds the ducks. “I’m only here with my grandmother as a chaperone, and her mind isn’t what it used to be. She wouldn’t notice my… dalliances if I were having them right in front of her.”

“Thank you,” Yennefer says and turns on her heel without another word, returning to the castle. Could Jaskier have gotten into genuine trouble? Or did he just find a sunny corner to compose somewhere and fall asleep? But that would be unlike him. The bard might be a feckless fool, but he wouldn’t have earned his reputation as a bard if he slept through rehearsals and vanished on his employers.

“Fucking hells, Jaskier,” she mutters to herself as she starts up the stairs. She’s going to have to check Geralt and Jaskier’s room, just in case Piotr missed something. “What have you gotten yourself into?”

She doesn’t notice anyone behind her until cool fingers press to the back of her neck and chaos jolts through her like a lightning bolt. Yennefer just has a moment to think, of fucking course, before everything goes dark.

***

Yennefer comes awake with a gasp. She looks around wildly to find her wrists shackled in front of her and the statue of Marchioness Lizbeth towering over her, smiling serenely up at the sky.

“I’m sorry, Yennefer,” Imogene’s girlish voice says. “I didn’t want this to be necessary.”

Someone whimpers in response.

Yennefer sits up, blinking sleep from her eyes. Imogene stands in front of her, well away from the cursed tomb, flanked on either side by two burly men with swords. These aren’t the polished, uniformed castle guards, but men with the bearing of trained mercenaries. On his knees in front of Imogene, a sword at his throat, is Jaskier. He’s bound and gagged, wearing the buttercup yellow doublet that she saw drying in the windowsill of his and Geralt’s room the other night. Blood stains the gag and the neckline of his doublet. There’s an ugly bruise on his cheek and his nostrils are crusted with dried blood.

“Yennefer,” he says through his gag, blue eyes enormous with fear.

Yennefer snarls and throws out her hands, a spell on her lips. Nothing happens.

Imogene smirks and nods to the shackles around Yennefer’s wrists. “Dimeritium. We’ll remove them if you cooperate.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Yennefer demands.

“I hoped that coin or compassion would sway you, but you’ve forced my hand,” Imogene says. “Destroy the statue to break the curse, or your lover dies.”

Jaskier cries out against the gag and Yennefer glances around to ascertain that Geralt isn’t kneeling nearby with a sword at his throat. “What are you talking about, Imogene?”

“Don’t play stupid.” Imogene’s lip curls. “It doesn’t suit you. I saw the bard walk you to your room the other night. I saw the love bites you left on his neck and smelled your perfume on his sheets. I saw the way you looked at each other when you were dancing last night. I know what you are to each other.”

Yennefer can’t help it. She tips back her head and laughs like she hasn’t laughed in years. When she’s able to breathe again, she says, “What you know wouldn’t fill a thimble, you ninny.”

Imogene’s mouth drops open in a little o of outrage. “You—”

“Does Lord Szimon know you’re doing this?” Yennefer assumed that the marquess wasn’t the type, but it wouldn’t be the first time she miscalculated.

“Of course.” Imogene sniffs.

“But he doesn’t have the stomach to do it himself? He needs to leave you to do his dirty work?”

Imogene’s face turns red with anger. “It would draw too much attention if we both missed the hunting expedition.”

Yennefer tries another tactic. “You’re making a mistake. What do you think Geralt will do if he returns from the hunting expedition and finds that you’ve taken his bard? They used to call him the Butcher of Blaviken for a reason. Do you need a demonstration of why?”

The mercenary with his sword to Jaskier’s throat throws Imogene a nervous sidelong look.

Imogene smiles prettily. “The witcher won’t be a problem.”

The smugness in her expression sends a wash of cold fury through Yennefer. “What did you do?”

“Let’s just say that he’s going to suffer a terrible accident on the hunting expedition. It’s unfortunate, given what useful creatures witchers are, but necessary.”

Jaskier makes a wordless noise of anguish and Yennefer feels the bottom drop out of her stomach. Swallowing back her growing fear, she meets Imogene’s too-blue eyes and says levelly, “If a single hair on Geralt’s head is harmed, I promise you, there isn’t a single place on this Continent where you’ll be safe from me. If he’s dead, then so are you.”

Trepidation flashes across Imogene’s features. “If you make a single move against me, then the bard is dead.”

She’s right, Yennefer knows. Even if they remove the dimeritium cuffs, Imogene could snap Jaskier’s neck before Yennefer manages to cast a single spell. “I already told you, Imogene. There’s nothing to be done. If I could break the curse, I would, but I’ll be dead before I finish my attempt and your curse will remain unbroken.”

That dollish face shows not a single flicker of mercy. “I believe that if you start undoing the spell around the tomb, then I’ll be able to finish what you started.”

Yennefer barks a laugh. “So I die and then you get the glory of undoing the curse yourself?”

“It’s not about glory for me, Yennefer.” Imogene’s mouth works. “It’s about love. I wouldn’t expect the likes of you to understand, if you’re about to let the man you love die on your behalf.”

“The bard is nothing to me,” Yennefer bites out. “He’s not my lover, he’s not my friend. He’s nothing but a pest.”

Imogene’s lips pinch together. “Fine, then. Kill the bard.”

Jaskier chokes as one of the mercenaries grabs his hair, jerking his hair back, while the other draws back his sword to strike. He stares up at the sky with shock and terror, chest heaving with his frantic breaths, bound hands trembling in front of him. Yennefer isn’t trying to read his mind, but an image pops into her mind as if he’s screaming in her head. It’s Geralt, standing in the doorway of the room he’s sharing with Jaskier, looking immensely put upon.

“I’d rather get eaten by wargs than watch a bunch of lordlings use their hounds and falcons to hunt and take all the credit.”

“Don’t be silly, Geralt. Their servants use the hounds and falcons to hunt and the lordlings take all the credit.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Well, no, but there might be a warg attack to give you a break from all the nobles. And you’ll get to spend time with some new horses. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

In the memory, Geralt smiles. “The marquess does have some fine horses.”

“There you go! Ignore the nobles, lavish attention on the horses.”

“That would make Roach angry.”

“Roach is far too sure of her place in your affections. Some uncertainty would be good for her.”

There’s so much love in the memory, so much longing, grief, and terror. If Geralt has fallen victim to Imogene’s trap because Yennefer underestimated her and Lord Szimon, then she owes it to him to keep his bard alive. And if Geralt did survive and he returns to find that Jaskier has died because of a stupid misunderstanding, it will crush him. Yennefer can’t let that happen.

“Stop!” she shouts.

The sword arcing towards Jaskier’s exposed throat pauses mid-swing. Jaskier sags, shoulders shuddering.

“I’ll do it,” Yennefer says through gritted teeth. “I’ll most certainly die in the attempt, you’ll fail at your attempts to finish my work, and this will all be for nothing, but I’ll do it.”

“No!” Jaskier yells through his gag, startling all of them. “No, Yennefer, don’t!”

Yennefer is taken aback. She expected Jaskier to beg for his life, to plead and cry for mercy. He’s always struck her as a consummate coward, always ready to hide behind Geralt at the first sign of danger. But despite the terror in his eyes, he keeps going.

“Don’t do it!” He shakes his head vigorously and the gag slips down over his chin. “Yennefer, you know that when you’re done, they’ll just kill me anyway. Just run. Find Geralt and—”

“Enough,” Imogene snaps and one of the mercenaries drives the hilt of his sword into Jaskier’s cheek. Jaskier’s head snaps around with a pained cry.

Fury rises up in Yennefer, hot and sharp. “Do not fucking do that again,” she tells the mercenary, who takes a step back from her, eyes going wide.

“Yennefer, please.” Jaskier’s voice cracks. “Don’t die for me. You don’t even fucking like me. You’ve never showed even the tiniest inclination for self-sacrifice before, so why would you start now?”

Imogene seizes him by the chin, forcing him to look at her. “Bard, if you say another word, I will have my men cut your tongue out.”

Jaskier looks up at her, eyes bright with defiance. “Just to clarify, will I still get the rest of my payment for the party? Because if you cut out my tongue, I really can’t be held responsible if I can’t fulfill my end—”

She shoves the gag back into his mouth and whirls on Yennefer. “I’m going to take your chains off now. Remember, if you try anything, we’ll kill the bard.”

Yennefer meets Jaskier’s gaze. He doesn’t cry out, but he shakes his head, eyes silently pleading. She looks away from him and holds out her bound wrists to Imogene. “Let’s get this over with.”

***

Yennefer flexes her hand as she stands in front of the tomb, looking up at the statue. The woman in the statue looks impossibly young, her expression smooth and untroubled. She has her hands spread out, palms facing upward, like she’s trying to catch something falling from the sky. Mindful of the tiny animal bones surrounding the tomb, Yennefer doesn’t touch it as she circles around it, examining it from all angles.

“Come on, Yennefer,” Imogene says. “Let’s not take forever. I’d like to change before dinner.”

Yennefer grits her teeth. “It will take however long it takes.”

“I hope you aren’t planning on stalling for time. That won’t end well for Jaskier.”

“And this will end well for him otherwise?”

“Of course,” Imogene says. “If you do what I say, he’ll be free to go. We’ll even pay him extra for the trouble.”

Jaskier snorts loudly.

Yennefer can’t help but share his skepticism, but there’s nothing she can do but try to survive the curse breaking so she can get him to safety. And then hopefully find a still-living Geralt and save him too. Tentatively, she reaches out to the curse with her own chaos, shuddering as it immediately starts to suck at her magic. That’s how it will kill her, she knows. It will eat through her chaos and then her life force, leaving her a hollow husk just like the little bones on the ground. Behind her, Jaskier whimpers. She can’t tell if the sound is from pain or fear.

She’s not sure why she does it. Maybe in what’s probably the last moments of her life, she decides that the company of an irritating bard is better than being alone. “You know, if you refrain from being obnoxious, she might let you live,” she tells him silently. “Imogene isn’t a natural-born killer.”

Jaskier recovers from his shock at the voice in his head quickly. “Yenn, don’t do this. You don’t even like me. I’m pretty sure you loathe me.”

“I’m not doing this for you.”

“Then what, for Geralt? He wouldn’t want you to do this either.”

Yennefer says nothing.

“Yennefer, seriously.” He sounds desperate, even in his mind. “If you die for me, I’m going to have to write a nice song about you. Don’t do that to me.”

He’s trying to joke, but the thought is too laced with dread for it to be effective.

“You can just change the lyrics of the one about the violet-eyed she-demon who eats men’s souls. That will do nicely as a funeral dirge.” Yennefer grits her teeth as the curse fights her. Already, she can feel her knees wobbling under her. “Since when do you care if I live or die? I would think you’d be glad to get rid of me. Less competition for Geralt’s affection.”

Jaskier is deep in thought for a moment; she can feel his conflict. Yennefer doesn’t look into his mind. Finally, he tells her, “I never disliked you because Geralt loves you. He and I have always taken other lovers. It’s just that sometimes I think he loves you more than he loves me and it makes me want to curse you with an unfortunate skin condition.”

Yennefer swallows. “He doesn’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do.”

She doesn’t want to put it all into words, so she shows Jaskier. She shows him the way that Geralt watched him last night while he danced, the softness around the witcher’s eyes that he shows so few people. She shows him the way Geralt always picks up scented soap for Jaskier whenever he passes through a market, even if he has to go out of his way to get it. She shows him the way he shakes his head at street musicians, always finding them wanting compared to his bard.

“You’re always near the forefront of his mind,” she tells Jaskier. “He’s always thinking of funny anecdotes he’ll need to tell you, or thinking about how you would love a pastry he’s eating if you were there with him. You have a life together.”

She tries not to add the, “A life that doesn’t include me,” but she fears it slips through her mental walls.

Jaskier sighs audibly. “He thinks of you all the time too.”

He shows her the way Geralt closes his eyes, breathing in deeply whenever they pass a lilac bush. He thinks of Geralt’s eyes tracking a dark-haired woman through the crowd, his expression falling when she turns around to reveal a pale, heart-shaped face with dark eyes. He shows her Geralt, his hair slick with his sweat and his eyes out of focus, clearly under the effects of some horrible venom, calling out her name while Jaskier clutches his hands and tries to soothe him.

“It took me years to get him to call me his friend.” There’s such exhaustion in the thought that Yennefer can’t help but feel a swell of pity. “And barely a year after knowing you, he’s in love with you. I don’t know how you do it.”

“It’s just lust, bardling.”

“You can look into his mind. You know that’s not true.”

“Just because he thinks it’s love doesn’t mean it is.” Blood trickles from Yennefer’s nose and the hands hovering in front of the statue tremble. It takes her a moment to remember that they’re her hands.

“It won’t last,” she adds. “It never does. He’s not the first man to believe himself in love with me. They eventually realize that I’m not the dream woman they’ve put on a pedestal and they turn on me.”

Istredd, Virfuril, so many others. It’s happened time and time again. But she knows it will hurt most of all when it’s Geralt turning on her.

“Geralt’s not like that. When he cares about someone, he doesn’t just stop. He tries so hard to act like the big, tough witcher, and it’s entirely nonsense.”

Yennefer tries to laugh, but she doesn’t have the breath for it. “Anyone who’s seen him with his horse could tell you that.”

“You know, I think you’re right. I’ve spent all this time worrying that it’s you he loves the most when in reality, it’s Roach who is the threat.”

“I’m less interested in biting your fingers off.”

“To her credit, she’s never held a knife to my balls. Though I think that’s more because of a lack of opposable thumbs than a lack of desire.”

Yennefer can feel the curse starting to weaken under the force of her magic. Maybe this will work. Maybe she’ll be able to get both of them out of this alive.

Her vision is starting to go blurry. The statue is suddenly much taller. With a jolt, she realizes that she’s fallen to her knees.

“You can still run,” Jaskier tells her, sounding desperate. “You can still save yourself.”

For the first time, she glances back at him. He’s still kneeling there, face pale and eyes too wide and bright. There’s a sword at his throat and Imogene stands directly behind him, certainly ready to use him as a human shield if Yennefer tries to attack her.

Suddenly, Jaskier cries out in agony, back arching in a way that human backs aren’t supposed to arch. Yennefer sees Imogene holding out a hand and demands, “What the fuck are you doing?”

“You’re distracted, Yennefer,” Imogene says icily. “I can tell the two of you are communicating when your focus should be entirely on the curse. Should I remove the distraction?”

“If you kill him, you lose all the leverage you have on me.” Yennefer’s voice doesn’t come out as forceful as she’d like. She’s having trouble focusing on Imogene. “And I will kill you.”

“So then I won’t kill him. Maybe I’ll just break his back. He’ll never walk or hold a lute again, but he’ll live.”

Jaskier moans, face screwed up in pain.

“Imogene, stop.” Yennefer tries to lurch to her feet, but she can’t. She crumples to the ground, barely managing to catch herself before she falls into the tomb. “Listen, you twat, I’m trying my hardest and I nearly had it before you started making threats. If you’d like to kill us and take over, be my guest, but then you’ll die finishing what I’ve started and we’ll all be dead.”

Imogene’s jaw works, but she releases Jaskier from the hold of her chaos. He sags into the grass and curls up into a ball, heaving with pained breaths.

“Jaskier?” Yennefer thinks.

Jaskier raises his head from the grass to look at her. His eyes are blazing with tears as the mercenary lays his blade against his throat.

“When this is over, you owe me a song,” she tells him and turns to throw everything she has at the cursed tomb.

***

Yennefer can tell that she’s dying. She can feel her heart stuttering erratically in her chest, her lungs working too hard to suck in too little air. She hurts like she hasn’t since the Ascension, her body suffused with a bone-deep agony that won’t let up, not even for a moment. She won’t be conscious for much longer, she knows. She would welcome unconsciousness if it didn’t mean failure. The curse is breaking apart under her magic, but not quickly enough. She’s dying far faster than the curse.

Behind her, Jaskier is yelling through his gag, still begging her to stop. Imogene has given up on trying to threaten him into silence.

Yennefer wonders how long it’s been. She wonders if it matters. She wonders if Geralt still lives. Maybe if he’s dead, his spirit is here somewhere, watching her fail his bard.

Behind her, there’s a howl of pain. Yennefer wrenches herself backwards, away from the tomb, and turns around. The mercenary who had his sword to Jaskier’s throat is clutching at the bloodied stump that was once his hand. Said hand lies in the grass a few feet away with the mercenary’s sword abandoned next to it, another, far finer sword sticking out of the ground.

If Yennefer were the crying type, she might burst into tears of relief. She’s not the crying type—nor does she have the energy left to cry—so she gasps, “Geralt.”

The second mercenary turns and charges Geralt comes vaulting over one of the nearby tombs, his silver sword in hand and a grimace of pure fury on his face. It’s a pathetically quick fight before Geralt decapitates the man with one swing of his sword and turns to face the surviving mercenary. Sobbing with pain, the one-handed man snatches his sword off the ground and lurches towards Geralt. Geralt backhands him so hard that teeth fly from his mouth as he goes to his knees, then drives the hilt of his sword against the mercenary’s temple. The man crumples, unconscious.

With a snarl, Geralt whirls on Imogene.

“Don’t come any closer!” Imogene shrieks, one hand wrapped around Jaskier’s throat as she hauls him backwards. Jaskier lets himself be dragged across the ground, eyes wild with panic.  “I promise, witcher, I will kill him if you come near me.”

Geralt freezes, his eyes flicking between Imogene, Jaskier, and Yennefer. “If you hurt him, you won’t leave here alive.”

Imogene bares her teeth. “I’m just trying to save the man I love, but I wouldn’t expect a beast like you to understand that.”

“You have no idea how well I understand that.” Geralt glances over at Yennefer. She must look truly pathetic, because horror flashes across his face.

Imogene takes advantage of his moment of distraction, raising her hand to throw a spell.

Yennefer snarls and throws her own hand out with the last bit of strength she has left. Imogene shrieks as she’s lifted off the ground, jerking away from Geralt and Jaskier. She flies through the air, kicking and screaming, and lands against the cursed statue with a resounding crack. Both Imogene and the statue crumple to the ground. Imogene stares at Yennefer blankly, her eyes vacant and her neck hanging at an impossible angle.

“Yennefer!” Geralt comes rushing towards her. He must have cut through Jaskier’s bonds, because the bard stumbles after him, yanking the gag out of his mouth.

“I’m fine,” Yennefer tries to say, but words aren’t working right now. Her cheek is pressed to the grass, but she has no conscious memory of deciding to lie down.

“Hey, Yenn.” Geralt gathers her head into his lap. His hands are shaking. “Hey, you’re okay.”

“I’m not a fucking horse, Geralt,” she wants to say. Much to her consternation, words continue to not work.

“What happened?” Geralt asks Jaskier.

“Cursed tomb.” Jaskier grabs Yennefer’s hand, pressing his fingers to the pulse point on her wrist. “Imogene tried to force her to undo the curse, even though it was going to kill her. Fuck, I told her not to, Geralt.”

Geralt’s jaw works. “You’ll be okay,” he tells Yennefer. “You’re both okay.”

Yennefer opens her mouth to tell him that she knows that, thank you, but then darkness begins to cloud her vision. The last thing she’s aware of before unconsciousness steals over her is the fact that the cloud of malevolent magic from the tomb is gone.

***

Yennefer wakes to a horse chewing on her hair.

“Ugh.” She tries to push away its snout, but her arms are too weak. “I will turn you into a coat.”

“No, she won’t Roachie,” Jaskier calls. “Keep up the good work, girl. You’re doing great.”

“I have room in my wardrobe for two coats, bardling.”

“I have to say, your threats are more… threatening when you’re fully conscious.”

Yennefer leverages herself up onto her elbows to glare at him. “I’m conscious enough to skin you alive, you—”

“Jask, stop giving Yennefer a hard time.” Geralt appears out of nowhere, tugging Roach away from Yennefer’s hair.

Jaskier sniffs. “Fine. I suppose she did save my life.”

“A mistake I won’t make again.” Yennefer rubs her bleary eyes and forces herself to focus on her surroundings. Jaskier is sitting on the other side of a crackling campfire, lute slung across his lap. It’s full dark and they’re in the middle of the woods. Around them, insects hum.

“How are you feeling?” Geralt crouches down beside her, handing her a waterskin.

“Like shit.” She accepts it gratefully, taking a long sip. When she’s drunk her fill, she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and asks, “Where are we?”

“About two miles east of Fellston,” Geralt says.

“That close?” Yennefer doesn’t like the idea of being within easy riding distance of the marquess' estate.

“Didn’t want to ride any further, not with you unconscious. And they’re too busy at Fellston to send guards after us. The marquess is dead.”

“What?” Yennefer remembers the sudden absence of the curse. “How?”

“We didn’t get the full story,” Jaskier says. “Because we only stopped by the estate long enough to grab our things and get the fuck out of there. But it sounds like the marquess noticed Geralt leaving the hunting expedition, must have realized Geralt was onto him, and came galloping back to the estate to warn his lady love. Only, he got thrown from his horse and broke his neck instead.”

Yennefer lets out a hoarse laugh, letting her face drop into her hands. When she looks up, she finds Geralt and Jaskier both looking at her with concern. “It was all for nothing. Jaskier and I nearly got killed, and the marquess would have been dead and the curse completed before I managed to undo it.”

“I’m not crying any tears for him.” Carefully, Geralt tucks a strand of her hair behind her ear. “I could tell he was up to something as soon as we left on the hunting expedition. He was nervous, kept trying to keep me distracted.”

“I’m glad,” Yennefer says. “Because there was a trap for you somewhere along the route. You were supposed to die in a terrible accident.”

Geralt doesn’t look particularly surprised by that revelation, just resigned.

“We’re all alright.” Jaskier strums a chord on his lute. “That’s what matters.”

Geralt hums in agreement, looping an arm around Yennefer’s shoulders. She leans her head against him, letting her eyes fall closed. He smells unpleasantly of horse and onions, but he’s alive. She can feel his witcher slow heartbeat beneath her cheek.

It would be a perfect, peaceful moment, if not for the damn bard.

“There’s a song in this, I think,” Jaskier muses aloud. “Tragic lovers who know their days together are numbered because of a generational curse. But their love becomes something dark and eventually, their attempts to undo the curse get both of them killed. It’s almost romantic that they probably died within minutes of each other, don’t you think?”

Yennefer sighs. “They don’t deserve one of your songs, bardling.”

“Yennefer, that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.” She can hear the smile in his voice. “Just for that, I’m going to make the song I’m writing for you my best work yet.”

Yennefer’s eyes snap open. “You are not writing a song about me.”

He shoots her a shit-eating grin. “You asked me to.”

“Yes, because I thought I wouldn’t be alive to have to listen to it.”

“It’s too late.” Jaskier strums a few notes on his lute. “It’s already well underway. It just needs a few more stanzas and maybe some fine-tuning.”

“Bardling, I swear on all the gods—”

“I’m sorry, Yennefer, I can’t hear you over the sound of my composing.”

“Geralt,” Yennefer growls. “Please remind your bard of how mortal and easily killed he is.”

“Geralt, please remind the witch that there are people who pay me hundreds of crowns to write songs about them and she should be honored to be getting one for free.”

Free? I nearly died for you, you pissant.”

Geralt starts shaking under Yennefer’s cheek. It takes her a moment to realize that he’s laughing at them.

“Going to go catch something for dinner." He drops a kiss on Yennefer's forehead and rises to his feet. He's still laughing, eyes crinkled with the kind of unabashed mirth Yennefer rarely sees him display, until he disappears from sight in the trees.

Jaskier and Yennefer stare after him. Finally, Jaskier asks, “Is he alright? He didn’t hit his head during his valiant rescue of us, did he?”

“Not that I noticed.” Yennefer shakes her head. “And I don’t think Imogene hit him with a spell.”

“No, I don’t believe so. He’s been acting perfectly normal up until now. Perhaps he’s just overly tired.”

“That must be it.” She studies the bard, taking in the shadows under his eyes, the ugly bruise on his cheek, and the rubbed raw skin around his wrists. “Are you okay?”

“Never better.” His answering smile is far too wide. When he sees she’s unconvinced, he sighs. “I thought that I was going to watch you die and then they were going to kill me too to get rid of the witness and that Geralt was either going to die alone in the woods somewhere or come back to find us dead.” His voice cracks. “Fuck, I was scared shitless.”

“So was I,” Yennefer admits.

Jaskier puts his lute down to scrub a hand over his face. “Thank you for not letting them kill me. But next time, just let them kill me. Don’t nearly die for me again.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she says. “Next time, I will absolutely let you die.”

He looks at her with an expression that’s far too serious for his normally ridiculous face. “No, you won’t.”

She feels strangely exposed under his gaze. “I saw the way you looked at each other when you were dancing last night,” Imogene said when she was issuing her ultimatum. “I know what you are to each other.”

That makes one of us, Imogene, Yennefer thinks. Jaskier is an arrogant, pompous, vain peacock of a man who loves the sound of his voice far too much. He’s a bother and a pest. He’s utterly insufferable.

He also begged Yennefer to save herself, rather than save him. The sight of a sword at his throat scared her like nothing has in a long time.

“What you said earlier,” she starts to say.

Jaskier grimaces. “In my defense, I thought I was going to die. We’re all allowed to be a little melancholic when faced with imminent death.”

“Geralt does love you,” Yennefer tells him before he can get overly dramatic. “You make his life better by being in it. I don’t know how or why, but you do.”

A tiny smile flickers across his face. “So do you. He smiles more since he met you. Sleeps better too. I also don’t know how or why, but you seem to bring him peace.”

Yennefer’s throat feels too tight. She looks away.

“He needs both of us,” Jaskier says. “I think the loss of either of us would hurt him greatly.” He pauses. “My loss would hurt more, of course—”

“Bardling.”

“I’m sorry, Yennefer, but I’m feeling very warm and fuzzy towards you right now and it’s making me uncomfortable. They did hit me quite hard in the face back there. Maybe I’m concussed. Maybe my brain is bleeding and I’m dying.”

“A brain bleed could only be an improvement for you.”

“Fuck off.”

Yennefer laughs. A moment later, Jaskier joins in. They laugh for a long moment, the sound bouncing off the trees around them, for far longer than the conversation called for.

Finally, Jaskier calms down enough to ask, “Was Geralt right? Are you and I destined to be friends?”

“Gods, I hope not,” Yennefer says, only half-lying. “But if he is right, we can never tell him.”

“Well, of course not. He’d be insufferable.” Jaskier taps a finger against his lute. “That being said, if we are friends, I’m going to have to write you more than one song.”

“That’s really not necessary.”

“I’m afraid it is. That’s just how I show my love for my friends.”

“I take it you don’t have many friends, then?”

“Rude and uncalled for, witch. I didn’t say all the songs had to be complimentary.”

“That’s a lovely lute you have there. How would you like it if I turned it into something more useful? Like a carrot for Roach?”

“Don’t you… you wouldn’t dare… Geralt!”

***

Yennefer falls asleep not long after eating the squirrels Geralt brought back for dinner, regrettably before she works up the energy to turn Jaskier’s lute into a carrot. When she wakes, the fire is banked, the night has cooled considerably, and Geralt and Jaskier are asleep next to her. Yennefer is curled against Geralt’s side with her head on his shoulder, one of his arms wrapped around her waist. On Geralt’s other side, Jaskier snores loudly, the sound barely muffled by the fact that his face is squished against Geralt’s bicep.

She studies both of them for a moment, feeling far too full of two many things. Tomorrow, they’ll have to get far from Fellston. Conversations will need to be had. She’ll have to find a way to distract Jaskier from his songwriting goals. Perhaps by feeding him to a wyvern, though that would make Geralt grumpy.

Jaskier snorts and reaches across Geralt, his hand settling on Yennefer’s waist. She goes still. His hand is a heavy and strangely familiar weight. She can feel the rasp of his calluses through the thin fabric of the chemise he leant her to sleep in. It’s odd, she thinks, that he would reach out for her in sleep, like her presence comforts him.

She shrugs his hand off. A moment later, he grumbles in his sleep and his hand lands in the same spot.

Yennefer sighs and cuddles closer to Geralt, resigning herself to dealing with clingy bards for a night. She can always kill him in the morning.

***

She doesn’t kill him in the morning.

***