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a twist, a braid (one, two, three)

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Yennefer is yanking the brush through her tangled hair and swearing up a storm - she isn't used to the more physical fights, although she can deal a surprising amount of damage with a blade (more than Jaskier can) - and he's so very tired of hearing it. Jaskier pulls out the fat-toothed comb he uses on Geralt's hair when it's full of slime and monster parts, and offers it to her without a word.

"What is this, bard?"

"I thought you were supposed to be cultured and refined, witch. It's a comb."

She looks at it like it might be poisonous (he's cleaned it after Geralt's last battle, so no, it isn't). "I know that, you complete idiot. Why are you offering it to me?"

"As funny as I might find it for you to stroll around half-bald, I don't think our Witcher would enjoy it as much." Our Witcher, he can say now. He wouldn't have said it a few months ago, but this bond between himself and Yen has been growing in fits and spurts.

Yennefer raises one perfect brow. "Are you offering me your services, bard?"

Jaskier gives her his most deliberate flirty grin, the one she can always see right through and likes to laugh at. "Well, combing out tangles is easier done in the bath, Yen. If you're inviting me, how can I refuse?"

She looks at him with those gorgeous, uncanny eyes. Jaskier's well aware this is a line they don't cross, which is what makes it funnier. "I promise to only say complimentary things about your tits," he adds, turning the grin somewhat lascivious.

Yennefer just stares at him a while longer, and then reaches out to pluck the comb out of his hand. "Come along, then," she says, like a queen to a servant but with a soft smile added on. "I expect excessive compliments, though."

Jaskier's frozen for a moment, afraid of his good luck. And it isn't seeing Yen naked - not that he won't enjoy that - it's the trust in it, the fact that he's invited to help her, to take care of her. No one takes care of Yennefer of Vengeberg -- and yet there are the soft touches they share sometimes, lingering looks, gestures of kindness between them.

He thinks about declining, saying this is too much, saying it's dangerous.

Instead he says "I'll get my oils," and heads for his pack.

Jaskier pulls out the screen that separates the tub from the doorway for privacy. By the time he turns around, Yennefer has dropped her robe and has one hand out, muttering something that fills the tub with steaming water, well-scented. She steps in. There’s still a tension about her, but it fades as she settles into the bath and dunks her hair under. She comes up streaming water, lovely and honest.

Jaskier pulls the stool behind the tub and reaches for her hair. “You have a lot of hair,” he tells her as he pours oil into his palm and begins to work it through the tangled ends.

“Is that the best compliment you can think of?”

Jaskier laughs out loud, and starts working the comb through the ends, gently and slowly. “I’m simply warming up, you utter disaster.”

Yennefer sinks a bit deeper into the water. “Where did you learn this?” she asks after a time.

“I’ve doted upon many lovers,” Jaskier declares. Then, realizing what that sounds like: “And also, Geralt. He’s come back with things in his hair that could kill a child, Yen. Someone needs to do it.”

Their Witcher. Jaskier wonders whether Geralt realizes the way he and Yennefer have, without speaking, decided that Geralt belongs to the both of them now, for better or worse. Probably not, honestly. If Geralt can’t even tell Jaskier has been in love with him for years, there’s no way.

“Does he let you put in oils and braids?”

“I don’t give him a choice.”

Yennefer laughs, this time free and clear like a bell. “I would like to see that.”

“Next time,” Jaskier tells her. He’s worked oil through until the bottom hands-width of Yen’s hair is smooth and tangle-free. He leans over to pour a bit more oil into his palms, rubbing them together and then working it through the next bit of her hair.

They continue in comfortable silence. Tension is leaving Yennefer’s body the longer she soaks, and Jaskier knows the water certainly isn’t cooling off (magic is weird). He’s made his way halfway through the length of her hair, and it’s starting to get to him - not just the scent of the bath salts and the oil, but the knowledge that Yen is relaxed in this tub beneath his hands. At this point apparently he starts tugging at the roots of her hair, because - Yen lets out a subtle gasp that - he wouldn’t have heard unless he was listening for it - and Jaskier buries his oil-slick hands in her locks and pulls, gently but firmly.

Yennefer makes another sound like this is the best massage she’s ever had and Jaskier lets his fingers come up to rub at her scalp. It’s superlatively strange, but he finds he likes the idea that the first time he gets to see Yen totally relaxed is at his hand. He doesn’t even want anything more — this thing between them encompasses and exceeds the sort of base things he might try with a woman who doesn’t matter.

Because Yennefer matters. It’s a strange situation, sure, and more complicated than Jaskier is used to bothering to deal with, but: they’re worth it. Both of them. Individually, and together. Geralt and Yennefer together are incandescent, and it may make Jaskier’s heart ache, but he wouldn’t be anywhere else.

The way she moves her head into his hands is beautiful, a thing of poetry. Jaskier has a method for sensually washing the hair of his many beloveds — but Yennefer is different, and she deserves a bit of actual luxury like he’d learnt in Oxenfurt. He wouldn’t admit it out loud, but for Jaskier, it’s something he can offer, to keep all of them safe and comfortable on their awkward, erratic, but unarguably joint Path.

“Okay, fine,” Yennefer breathes. She shifts in the bath and her breasts break the surface of the water for a moment, but weirdly enough, Jaskier is looking at her face. “Where did you learn this.

Jaskier laughs. “Yen, darling, I’ve studied the Seven Liberal Arts, as you know. But I’ve also studied a number of things outside of that professionally recognized repertoire.” His thumbs dig into the stress in her neck and Yen actually groans, a gratuitous noise he never would have expected her to make. “Someone who travels as a singer and a teller of tales needs to carry other skills as well. As such, I’m also a masseuse, and I can sew and bandage wounds that aren’t too serious, and I know how to use herbs and oils in ways even Geralt doesn’t know.”

The noise that comes from Yennefer is a laugh, but it sounds a bit tight. “Jack of all trades,” she says, and if it’s a hiss it’s likely due to her comfort level rather than any animosity. “Master of none?”

“Master of seven,” Jaskier corrects her, but then — corrects himself: “A self-noted master of three, only, although I can make a reliable stand in any of the seven if I must.”

“Of course you can,” Yen says, ducking her head under the water again, wetting strands that had dried out. “And yet you’re meant to be working out all my tangles, no?”

“I can leave you with this,” Jaskier threatens.

The door is thrown open, slamming into the stone. “Jaskier?” Geralt calls. “Yennefer?”

They both look at each other and snicker. They’re hidden behind the screen that’s meant to separate the bath from the views of both the doorway and the rest of the room, but Geralt should know they’re both there. “Jaskier!” Geralt yells, seeming perturbed. “Yennefer!”

“Here,” they both yell from behind the screen, and they both hear Geralt’s staggered steps towards the screen — and they both feel the Witcher’s reluctance to interrupt their privacy. As if neither one of them is following him out of the bare love in each of their hearts.

“Jaskier is caring for my hair,” Yennefer yells. It’s somehow monotone and suggestive at the same time, and Jaskier finds he’s just trying to hold back laughter at the delivery.

“Jaskier?” Geralt asks, louder than before.

“Yes, Geralt, this abhorrent witch has convinced me to apply my superior hair-managing skills to her own horrible tresses. I’m sure you remember the procedure, yes? We might still be a while.”

They both dissolve in snickers as Geralt shifts outside the screen and makes a few noises which mean he hasn’t really yet figured anything out. His confusion is nearly audible, and Jaskier wants to sigh loudly at him: Geralt is a talented man but he can also be one entire idiot on occasion.

“I promise not to kill him very much,” Yennefer calls, and Jaskier snorts.

The bemusement is thick in Geralt’s voice when he finally says, “I’m taking Ciri to get dinner.”

“And we will attend on our own time,” Jaskier says, “once I have dealt with this fantastically ugly bird’s-nest.”

“I may still kill you a little,” Yennefer says, tilting her head back to smile at him as Geralt leaves the room. Jaskier smiles down at her, suddenly and infinitely fond, and if Geralt hasn’t realized the many ways they’ve softened around each other then he really is incredibly stupid.

Yennefer blinks away first. Jaskier turns to pick up his comb, separating out a thick handful of Yen’s hair to begin his real task.

After a moment, Yennefer says, “Geralt allows you to do this?” Her voice is — soft, something tentative. For all that they never talk about Geralt, they’re always talking about Geralt.

“Yennefer, darling,” Jaskier tells her as he combs knots into silk. “That implies that I give him a choice in the matter. I am, on occasion, a bit of a bully when it comes to the kinds of smells Geralt brings to the table.”

“Hm.” Her eyes flutter shut at the attention. “You say that as if Geralt isn’t the world’s stubbornest man, Jask.” Jask. Yen. These quiet ways they relate to each other now. “He chooses to allow you.”

It catches in his throat, awkward and off. “I wouldn’t - perhaps - I can also be quite stubborn, you know.”

“Oh, I know,”’ says Yennefer, her voice rich with laughter. Jaskier drops his newly-combed lock of hair and starts another. “Do you massage him as well?”

Jaskier - sputters - of all the - does he - “No,” he spits out eventually, once his tongue untangles. “I mean, yes, occasionally he - this is none of your business whether I—”

Yennefer tips her head back to give Jaskier a wink that does far more to his stomach than necessary. He suddenly remembers that beneath the water, Yennefer is naked. “Not like that,” she says, laughter still in her voice. “Although it is particularly loathsome the way you blush—”

“You, my dearest enemy, are the one who has actually slept with the man.”

To his surprise Yen’s face softens and stills. “He allows you to — to take care of him.” Her sigh is poignant, sad. “That’s not… an intimacy we have shared.”

“Funny,” Jaskier says quietly. “The shifting scale of intimacies. How does one value each of them, like currency? We always want what we do not have.”

Yennefer looks away. “Stop writing your terrible songs and get back to my hair, bard.” It’s still hushed, and fond, and Jaskier thinks maybe they’ve come to a new place, with this.

He continues gently combing through her tangles. “I do,” he admits in this stillness. “I wash his hair. I scrub off the muck and the grime and the blood. I massage away the pain, and I bandage what needs it, and I—” His voice breaks, but he’s finally going to say it, he’s going to drop it into this well like a wish. “I love him, Yen, and I do everything he lets me.”

Yennefer’s eyes close, and Jaskier smoothes out the stress-line that appears on her brow with his thumb. She smiles at the gesture. “We both love him, Jaskier, and it is never enough.”

“It is for me,” Jaskier tells her, his hands gently framing her face. His thumbs trace her cheeks as he looks down at her, face reversed and still so very lovely.

Her eyes open, so bold and so deep, the violet his synaesthetic mind associates with Yennefer in all her power. “Is it?” she asks, so very softly.

Her eyes flicker to his mouth, and Jaskier is full of feeling. So their first kiss is this: upside-down, a brief press of misaligned lips, Geralt like a breath between them.

Yennefer’s eyes flutter open; Jaskier had not realized they were closed.

“Yes,” she says, and as inexplicable as it is, it somehow makes sense. Something restless in Jaskier settles, like leaves falling in autumn.

He finishes combing her hair in comfortable silence. Something new is sparkling in the air, and he takes his careful time, rinsing the oils out. Yennefer remains, pale and calm and nude, her eyes closed as Jaskier works her hair into a series of plaits: a twist, a braid. Two strands entwine, sometimes three. He ties it off using one of the soft leather strips he uses for Geralt, and lets the silken weight fall from his hands.

He finds her robe as she stands, streaming water like a statue of a goddess, and she catches his eye boldly, as if inviting to look. So he does, even as he holds her robe open so that she can step into it. She’s beautiful, Yennefer. She always has been.

They share one last look before Yen’s lips tilt upwards in a smirk. “You haven’t complimented my breasts, bard.” It still sparks like something new, a secret between them.

“Excuse my silent mouth,” Jaskier tells her, in his most flirtatious voice, the one that’s so over-the-top it always makes her smile. He grasps her hand and brings it up to his mouth, pressing a kiss to her knuckles. “I’m sure I will.”

The promise lands between them, bright and warm like a candle.