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a broken pot can still hold water

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Damn it, Jaskier! Why is it whenever I find myself in a pile of shit these days, it’s you shovelling it?”

The words were still ringing in his head as he left the mountainside where Geralt sat and brooded as the sun set.

It hurt. It really did. And Jaskier isn’t going to kid himself and try to cover his unfortunate feelings towards the Witcher with false cheer. He is, despite the popular belief of the common folk, very in touch with his emotions. It takes a well-educated, observant, sensible man to make a good poet and an excellent bard. And he fancies himself one of those, after all, and furthermore, by default, he is all of those things. So yes, Jaskier was well aware of his pining woes no matter how much they inconvenienced him daily. He is also well aware that the hurt he feels in the moment will be much worse than it is during his miserable walk to the nearest town, with his lute dangling from his hand and his footsteps dragging through the gravelly dirt, in the morning.

But for now, the keen loss is only a dull pain in his chest – it feels like there is a heavy weight sitting upon his ribcage; like his lungs are constricting but he can still breathe regardless as if it is a mercy. And that is, admittedly, good, because he can’t afford to be distracted on his arduous trek. This distraction he fears due to his unfortunate inclination towards bad decisions. If there was even the slightest chance that a moment of hesitation was to present itself, it might be enough to send him stumbling over his feet back to Geralt’s side. So no acknowledged pain for the time being.

Eventually, he reaches the nearest town. It is a small settlement on the bank of a river that courses furiously around boulders that have separated from the mountain and rolled off its face to live a life of their own years prior. Much like Jaskier – except Jaskier had been removed from his mountain’s side rather forcefully.

No, none of that. He scoffs at himself, entering the town’s inn. He needs a good night’s sleep and some food before he goes about waxing poetic pathetically to himself. He feels drained as he coughs up the last of his coin to the innkeeper, feels like he weighs more than he actually does.

Must be the emotional baggage, he decides as he climbs the rickety stairs to the room he’d rented. He hopes that he doesn’t dream of the Witcher. He hopes that his brain gives him a reprieve for tonight if not any other night.

He drops the lute at the bedside table carelessly and kicks off his boots. He crawls under the flimsy and rough blankets and closes his eyes; curling in on himself he falls asleep, he wishes for a better tomorrow.

Despite what his outward code of conduct would have you thinking, Jaskier knows when he is not wanted.

He allows himself the exact amount of three days of wallowing in that small town before he packs his meagre possessions and hits the road like nothing happened. In those three days he sings and dances for his food and drink, fucks the pretty barmaid and sleeps off the hangover before heading out in the morning of the fourth day. He travels alone for the first time in a while but it’s alright.

It’s not as if he’d been travelling with Geralt for the entirety of his bardic career, no. He knows how to handle himself on his own. Geralt always had everyone believing that Jaskier was inept at keeping his head about him but that wasn’t true. He knows which roads to avoid and which travelling troupes are always looking for an extra set of hands to play an instrument. He can hold a tune and spin a tale and in these dark times, entertainment is a sought-after luxury that many hold dear. It’s just that – well, travelling with the mighty Witcher had allowed him for some time off. He didn’t always have to be vigilant or on the lookout if Geralt was already doing that for the both of them and thus he had gotten sloppy and earned himself Geralt’s disdain. But that’s all over now; he has to make do on his own again.  

So he does so and makes his way down one of the more well-travelled routes, heading towards Novigrad as his final destination where he thinks he might settle down for a while. He’s always wanted to be an author – maybe he writes a scripture of his travels with the Witcher, maybe he doesn’t – depending on how he feels about the whole thing by the time he reaches the city on the coast.

A few weeks into his travels, on the border of Redania, in Tridam to be exact, he runs into Yennefer.

He’s singing at the court of the local Baron, his daughter’s betrothal banquet is in full swing and no matter how much he thinks about it in the recesses of his mind, he won’t admit that it reminds him of his time in Queen Calanthe’s court on that fateful day.

He’s hopping from one table to another, going down the list of the familiar hits he used to play for the noble folk before he’d gotten sidetracked by Geralt and the call to adventure. It’s going swell, not a mishap in sight and really, Jaskier definitely isn’t the one that called forth the shitty luck Geralt’s had for most of their travels – it was the White Wolf himself that was to blame, him and his stubbornness. And he knows that, everyone knows that – everyone except for the Witcher himself.

He’s halfway through the chorus of The Fishmonger’s Daughter when he spots her and her beady little purple eyes staring at him across the hall. He trips over someone’s foot sticking out from the bench they’re sitting on but recovers quickly, playing it off as a change of cords as he improvises a chorus that has the men and women in the court roaring with cheer. He takes a bow as he reaches the middle of the wide room.

“Thank you all, you’ve been lovely and I shall be by in the morning to collect my coin! But the humble bard must retreat for the evening!” He bows again with flourish as some of the people in the hall protest at his sudden and hasty departure. Oh, the fat bastards of the court are never satisfied! He’s been there for the entire night already, it’s about time he packed up and got a good night’s sleep in lest he lose his voice. His retreat has nothing to do with Yennefer leering at him from the corner of the room, surrounded by feeble men attracted to her like flies to a fresh pile of horseshit.

He makes haste towards the exit of the castle, careful not to drop the bottle of wine and his lute on the way down the worn, stone steps. He’s so busy trying to balance his belongings and thinking that he’d gotten away from her vengeful gaze that he doesn’t realize he’s walking right into her until it’s too late and – damn it, he’s dropped the wine!

“Oh, not the wine, mercy please.” He watches the cracked bottle leaking with sad eyes. He should have known better.

“Julian.” She clears her throat like he hadn’t seen her already.

“What do you want, you wretch? I, for one, wanted that bottle of wine and yet here we are – a bottle broken and an uncomfortable encounter on my hands instead. So, what is it?” He picks up his lute before the wine can get to it and slings it over his shoulder. He’s not nearly drunk enough for this confrontation – if he were, well, then he’d preferably be passed out in a ditch somewhere.

She looks at him funny then; one of her impressive eyebrows quirked and her jaw set like she’d expected a warm welcome or something. She stays silent, though, furthering Jaskier into irritation.

“Well?” He waves a hand out impatiently. He’d rather be having this conversation somewhere else – or not at all, really.

“You – you’re doing well for yourself.” She says like it’s a surprise, like she expected something else entirely. Like she expected him to mourn.

And maybe it is a surprise. It’s not like she knew him from before he’d been travelling with Geralt. She never bothered to know him even then; she was too busy being a powerful sorceress, was too busy sucking co-

“Yes, I was. But then I saw your puckered little face shooting daggers in my direction and my night got progressively worse. And I still don’t have any wine to drown my woes in.” He points a finger at her accusingly. And he knows that he may be coming off as an absolute dick but he’s a little angry. He’s – he’s not bitter with her or the situation, not when he knew he never stood a chance, but he is angry that she’s given herself the liberty to speak to him like she knew him as anything other than Geralt’s faithful puppy.

“No, I mean. All things considered?” She shrinks in on herself then, some of her deeply-rooted insecurity leaking to the surface and Jaskier straightens up his back, crossing his arms over his chest, taking advantage of her lapse in posture.

Which things considered? Considering that I’m travelling on my own again or that Geralt had decided to blame Destiny on me? If it’s both, I’ll have you know, I was doing fine before him and there’s no reason why I should be any worse off without him.” He huffs with a roll of his eyes and tries to move past her but she grabs his wrist, stopping him in place. A shudder goes through him at her cold touch and he looks back, eyes squinted in suspicion at what more she could possibly want.

She’s holding a bottle out for him as if it’s a peace offering and his mind halts, anything vile that wanted to spill from his loosed lips dries up immediately at the tentative offering. There’s something oddly open in her gaze as she implores him to take the wine.

He grabs the bottle reluctantly, popping it open and sniffing before taking a swig. Well, if she’s poisoned him, it’s too late now anyway. He may not be an idiot but his self-preservation instincts are very minimal.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what? The wine? You fixed that. For assuming I’m an incapable buffoon? I don’t blame you; I didn’t give myself the best reputation during our brief ventures together. For the insults hurled at me every time we met? Well, nothing to it, you’re always half right anyway.” He snorts, only slightly ashamed of his rambling – especially the bit about his travels with the Witcher. He’d loved travelling with Geralt, loved the security that came adjacent to travelling with a Witcher despite the messes they’d gotten into. But he was a fool to let himself act the way he did, he was an idiot chasing coin and skirt and Geralt’s shining eyes. He knows better now; knew better back then, too, but was blinded by Geralt’s sheer presence and his striking features.

“I’m sorry about Geralt.” She releases his wrist but he stays. He doesn’t know why because he doesn’t have any reason to, but he does anyway.

“Why? You didn’t send me on my way; you didn’t make him say what he did. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, Yennefer.” He shakes his head, contemplating downing half of the bottle in his next sip.

“No, but I’d made him angry and he took it out on you when you didn’t deserve it.” She shrugs, bundling up in her coat like she’s trying to stave off something other than the cold.

He scoffs, “Stop – stop whatever this pity party is, Yennefer. You might have made him mad but I’d allowed myself-” He shakes his head and stops speaking before all of his problems become real. “He did what he did and it was for the best. I’d become dependent on him for safety and for my inspiration. It was time for me to move on and he’d just opened my eyes to it. I should be thanking you.” He clears his throat, trying to lighten up his tone. “Besides, Geralt is a grown man who should have respected your wishes to be left alone. He should be apologizing to you for his beastly ways.”

This time, it’s her that laughs – a brittle and bitter little thing as she shakes her head, dark hair falling over her face. “I can’t believe – I envy you, Jaskier. Look at you – you’re doing so well and I’d been worried for nothing all along.”

Bollocks were you worried!” He laughs at the notion; like they’d ever even been more than a weird sort of rivals for Geralt’s attention let alone friends. He was but a speck of dirt on her field of vision, something to make fun of and look down at with pity in her violet eyes as he pined silently when Geralt shared her tent and her bed.

“I was. I know it’s hard to believe but yes, I was. I know now that it was for naught because you certainly are stronger than you seem.” She praises him and this gives him pause.

He feels his cheeks heat a little under the attention and he clears his throat weakly. “Why should you envy me? I’ve nothing to my name except a lute, a bag of coin and a destination in mind. A couple of songs under my belt and the ability to charm the skirt off any maiden. Actually, never mind, that’s quite an impressive list. Especially that last part, let me tell you.

“I envy you because it took me much longer than I’d like to admit to get over what Geralt and I had than it had taken you. I’d heard tales by the fifth day of you already celebrating at some Lord’s hall with a troupe of his local troubadours.” She smiles thinly and Jaskier notices the lines of worry around her eyes that weren’t there the last time they’d met.

He looks away, unsure of how to proceed. It’s not like he’d mourned a lover lost. It’s not like Geralt had given him grief about anything actually possible. Sure it still hurts on some days – like when he turns to say something to the Witcher only to find him not there, but he gets over it quickly. So she’s not entirely correct in her assumption, he’s not over it, not fully. He’s just – better at suppressing feelings than even perhaps the Witcher himself. No sense in crying over spilt wine, as they say.

“What you and he had was a much deeper connection than that of a Witcher and his travelling bard. What you and he had was real.” He says in the calmest voice possible, still not willing to admit how jealousy had cut a path down his chest that scarred him from the inside every time Geralt had gone to her instead of spent a night under the stars by the fire with him. She might know the depths of his plight but he will not outright admit it.

Yennefer tilts her head and places a hand on his chest gently; she closes her eyes and smiles timidly. “I’d underestimated you, Jaskier.” She admits with a lilting tone. “You are much stronger than both I and Geralt combined. Maybe not in a physical sense, but in here, where it matters.” She pats his chest and then steps back.

“Well, that’s good to hear. I think?” He blinks at her, baffled at the sudden genuine turn of phrase coming from her painted lips.

“I hope that despite our differences, you don’t think of me in a bad light. I wish you the best on your travels and that you don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any help.” She procures a small, round, metal box adorned with intricate detailing seemingly out of nowhere and lifts it towards him.

“That’s not going to blow up in my face if I touch it, is it?” He pokes at the box curiously and she chuckles. He startles at the sound and pulls back, much more alarmed now than he was before.

“No, it’s a xenovox. It’s a long-range communication device that’ll give you a direct line of contact to me if you should need it.” She holds it out again insistently and he takes it, still surprised and slightly doubtful.

“I – thank you, Yennefer, you didn’t have to.” He puts the object into the satchel on his hip with care.

“I didn’t, but I wanted to. Be careful out there, Jaskier, it’s a full moon tonight.” She pats his cheek in a friendly manner and turns back, walking up the stone steps and disappearing behind the corner before he can think of an appropriate reply.

“That wasn’t weird at all. I might be losing my mind.” He says out-loud to himself just to check if he still has a voice or if she’d somehow taken it with her.

“If that wasn’t the weirdest thing-” Shaking his head, he makes his way down the cobblestoned path and into the servant’s quarters where he’ll be staying the night.

Out of all the things, he muses as he lies down to sleep, the bottle of wine forgotten next to the low bed.

A few months down the line, several detours and many a night spent well-fed on someone’s court, he finds himself in a small town a day’s worth of ride outside of Vizima. He finds himself there due to necessity because, as it were, he is bleeding out from a nasty gash on his leg and a stab to his side. It was only right that after a few months of peace and quiet on his travels, Yennefer’s well wishes would wear out and he’d get jumped by a group of bandits looking to fuck over anyone that crosses their path. Today, that happened to be none other than Jaskier.

“If I die I want my body buried in Dol Blathanna.” He whines as whoever is taking care of his wounds, digs deep into his side to try and pluck out the broken tip of a sorry excuse for a knife one of the bandits had wielded.

“You’re not going to die,” The gentle voice belonging to the curly-haired woman soothes but it’s no use, he feels like he’s on fire.

“And I never even got to write my memoires! I was going to become famous – ah, fuck!” He almost bites through his lip trying to contain the scream that wants to escape him. “I was going to become rich! Everyone’s always asking me oh, humble bard, for what adventures have you seen in your time! And I – fuck, shit, that’s a lot of blood.” He feels faint as he watches her exchange the soaked rag with a clean one, staunching the blood flow again.

“Hold still, you imp!” She hisses impatiently as he tries to wiggle away from the pain at her touch.

“Can’t you knock me out? Please? It would save the both of us a lot of trouble.” He whines pathetically.

He should be thankful, he knows. He’d be dead already if it weren’t for her. He doesn’t even know her name and she’s got her fingers in his wound because there’s still that pesky bit of knife stuck in there and oh how he wishes he was out cold!

“Oh, Dol Blathanna was beautifully deserted! Fuck!” He yelps as she pulls out the metal tip from his side, this is going to take ages to heal properly! “No bandits! No stupid townsfolk asking me where – only Filavandrel and his merry band of Elves to hear my songs!” He laments sadly, pretty certain that he is shouting. “Oh! Oh, that hurts! Oh, when a humble bard-” He wails to distracts himself from the agony spreading through his entire left side.  

“It’s a miracle you haven’t passed out from the pain yet – wait.” She finally meets his eye, eyebrows raised into her hairline almost. “You’re Jaskier? The Wi-”

“I am no one’s bard!” He grits out with his eyes shut and his fists clenched because he knows what she was going to say – he’s been hearing it for the past few months.

This is precisely why he’d gotten into this situation as well. He’d gotten tired of the safe paths because everyone he’d come across would immediately ask where his Witcher was. ‘Oh, the Butcher of Blaviken! I’d like to see the beast with my own two eyes, where is he, bard?’ they’d ask. Or: ‘The White Wolf of Rivia! My, what an honour it must be to travel with him, where is he?’ they’d implore. And he’d gotten tired of it after the first three times but people just kept assuming and when he’d say that he was on his own they would either look at him with pity in their eyes or try and slander Geralt for leaving him behind. And he was having none of that.

“I’m sorry.” The woman, places a hand over his wound before digging through the bag next to her, clinking vials of something together until she locates the one she apparently needs. “I’ll need you to come back with me to Vizima. This will hold for now but you need to rest before you can continue with your journey.”

He grunts but chooses to keep his mouth shut. He watches her soak a bandage with the sweet-smelling potion and then wrap it around his leg, and around his waist. The pain lessens almost instantly, the whole area becoming numb.

“Come on, up you go.” She helps him stand and then he watches with fascination as she opens up a swirly portal out of thin air and guides them both through it. A sorceress, of course, just his luck. He hopes she’s less mean than the other one he knows. Though, he supposes him and Yennefer are on neutral grounds now.

“What – your name, I need to know who to write my odes to once I am saved.” He tries to grin as she deposits him into a soft bed.

She shakes her head with a small smile, “Triss Merigold, at your service, bard.”

“Just Jaskier will do.” He sighs as he lies down, staring up at the vaulted ceilings. It’s warm in the room but maybe that’s his body protesting the potion she’d dipped into his blood. Either way, his life is now in her hands entirely.

“Well then, Jaskier, it’s time to rest.” She closes a hand over his eyes and just like that, his consciousness is no more.

He doesn’t know how long he’s spent out cold but when he wakes, it’s night time and Triss is sitting by the bed in a cushy armchair reading something from a thick book. He looks at her curiously, at the way she’s poised gracefully in the chair and the blue dress that’s contrasting with her tan skin prettily. If he weren’t sure Geralt had already tried something with her, he would have attempted to at least flirt his way into her bed – but under better circumstances, certainly. If this even is her bed? Where was he again?

“Oh, you’re awake.” She sets the book down and comes to his side, busying herself with checking on his wounds that feel much better at the moment than he last remembers. “Do you know where you are?”

“Hm, somewhere nice, I’m sure.” He tries to grin but coughs as he finds his throat parched.

She chuckles and brings him a cup of water that he downs eagerly. “Easy there, you’ve been out for a while now. Three days, I’m afraid. The knife didn’t nick anything important but it was still a deep wound.”

“Thank you.” He says, hoping that he can somehow repay her for the act of kindness.  

 “Nonsense, all in a day’s work.” She waves him off with a grin.

“No, no. I must repay you somehow. I have no coin on me or my beating would have been worse but perhaps a song to soothe your soul? Maybe a dance if I’m up to it or perhaps a poem to your name? Oh, what shines brighter than silver and gold but the smile of Triss by the name Merigold? No, that was terrible, I’m sure I’ll come up with something better once I’m at my best!” He rambles, pulling himself out of the bed, eager to leave the bed and Vizima altogether but stopping when she waves him back in warning.

“He was right, you do talk a lot.” She stares at him in contemplation for a moment before offering him another cup of water. He drinks this one slower, buying himself time before he has to respond.

“Yes, well, he was always rather adamant about voicing that opinion.” He shrugs and then pokes at the cloth where the wound in his side is. He winces as the tender flesh protests under the bandage.

“He’s an oaf but he usually means well.” She tutts and bats his hand away.

He grunts, a sound very uncharacteristic for him, annoyed at her presumptions. How does she know? Has she spent much time with the Witcher? It’s unlikely. Geralt doesn’t spend much time with anyone – except for Roach but that’s a given. Aside from that, Jaskier was possibly the only one that stuck around for more than a couple of nights with the Witcher. A mighty feat, sure, but what good has it brought him?

She tilts her head at his non-response, studying him much like Yennefer always did. Like he’s something fragile to be looked after and pitied, studied like a rare flower. It furthers his silent anger despite his usually sunny disposition.

“You’re not what I imagined when he’d talked about you.” She finally says, peeling off the bandage to show a sliver of a still-red scar where the puncture wound used to be. She moves on to his leg and he realizes that he’s very nearly naked in bed – it would be an entirely welcome situation were it not for the swirling pit of emotions opening up in his stomach. Geralt talked about him? No, he probably complained about me. He doesn’t have words of kindness to spare for the likes of me. He doesn’t have words to spare, end of statement.

“Well, people do change all the time.” She finishes for him, saving Jaskier the trouble of responding.

“I don’t suppose you want to hear what he was here to do? You know, for one of your new songs.” She continues idly, tilting his leg to the side to check the deep gash that was once there as well. He hates to admit it but she’s exceptionally good at this whole healing thing and he owes her his life so maybe he should be nicer to her.

And alright, maybe he’s itching to ask her about Geralt, about what he said but he won’t stoop so low. Blindly searching for Geralt’s words of approval is beneath him, he’s decided a while back. He’s moved on from being Geralt’s faithful bardic companion and despite the feelings that still linger – and will probably continue to linger – he refuses to give into the need for praise.

“Curious indeed.” She chuckles lowly and turns around to fetch something. When she turns back, she’s holding a new outfit for him, something not covered in blood and dirtied from days on the road. His eyes widen as he takes in the deep navy of the fine material.

“You know, when I said you talk a lot, I didn’t mean for you to stop.” She hands him the clothes and he sits up slowly. “I feel as though I’m talking to a wall and not the famous Bard that managed to clear up the Butcher of Blaviken’s name!”

“I’ve found that when one has nothing of import to say, one should not say anything at all.” He hates to admit it but that’s one of the rare lessons that’s stuck with him from his time with Geralt. In just a few short months he’s become the silent and resilient type of traveller he’d always scoffed at. He hates to admit it but it has helped keep him out of trouble.

Maybe Geralt was right all along. Oh how he despises to admit that he’d become bitter and lonely. The Witcher might no longer be the Butcher of Blaviken but he certainly is the Butcher of Jaskier’s Spirits.

Gods, he hates how testy he gets whenever Geralt is mentioned. He’s not that bitter – he’s not.  

“Yennefer had some words to say about you as well.” Triss politely turns away as he dresses.

He pauses, hands on his hips and brows arching. “Do you all just gather around a big hearth and gossip like the commoners or do you exchange letters? Perhaps it’s by xenovox?”

She turns around with a smile on her face as if she’s accomplished some great feat. “Now how did you come into possession of one of those?”

“Um, Yennefer gave me one in case I wanted to contact her.” He admits, not sure if he’s supposed to or not but – it’s not like it is some big secret. Or is it?

“Curious, yet again! During our last encounter she’d failed to mention this.” Her eyes twinkle in the firelight and Jaskier wishes he could look into her mind to know what she’s thinking. She seems like a complicated person. Much like any other magical being he’d encountered.

“Maybe she likes people staying out of her business.” He mutters under his breath, shakily doing up the buttons on the silk shirt.

“Don’t worry, unlike Geralt’s complaints, Yennefer had only words of praise for you. Though, the common theme was their uncharacteristic worry. Odd for the both of them but somehow more-so for Yen.” Triss reassures him and yet, this only serves to make him feel worse. To know that the both of them care about his well-being still and that despite it, Geralt had chosen to send him away.

“It’s insulting that they think I can’t take care of myself.” He scoffs and she raises an eyebrow at him, motioning down to his newly-acquired scars. He clears his throat, “This incident notwithstanding.”

“I can see why you’d think that. You seem to have done well for yourself. I do not know you, Jaskier, but why the both of them would ever think you weak is beyond me.” She declares firmly and he gulps down a panicked laugh.

His time away from the Witcher has certainly opened up his eyes to a few things. For one, he’s now more aware that he had acted like a damn fool around the magical fucker. He has no one to blame for his situation but himself. And Geralt. He’s still reasonably sure that he can blame Geralt for at least a few things.

An alarming amount of responses runs through his head and what ends up leaving mortifies him. “Well, love makes us foolish, does it not?”

Her gaze darkens a little at that, straying away from where she’d caught Jaskier’s own. Her shoulders slump and she nods like she knows exactly what he’s talking about. Is it possible? Is she another one of Geralt’s pining beaus that were never anything more to him than a quick fuck? Oh, Jaskier knows just how highly possible this is. After all, he is probably the only fool that fell in love with the man without even getting a taste of him.

“Yes, it certainly does.” Triss agrees and shoots him a feeble smile that he knows far too well. “At least now it makes sense.” She pins on to the end and now, well, now he’s just confused.

“What does?” He asks huffily, cursing the way that everyone skirts around sensitive topics like they’ll get bitten by a basilisk and die if they so much as broach them.

“Why he was so adamant to know if you were doing well.” Her smile is still brittle as she moves closer to the large table in the corner of the room that holds stacks of books and bottles of various colors. “You see, he had me put a tracking spell on you of sorts. Not the kind that shows your location at all times, no. But the kind that lets me know if your blood is being spilt in a violent way. It’s how I found you. The spell leaves much to be desired but it helped in the end. It was what he chose as his payment for his last job here.”

Jaskier’s entire body freezes over, cold dripping down into his stomach from an unknown source. He shivers at the feeling before his body erupts into indignant flames not visible to the human eye because, despite feeling very real, they are but a metaphor. He tightens his fists at his sides.

“He-” Taking a deep breath, he closes his eyes. “Why did he do that?”

“Because he’s worried about you, Jaskier.” Triss leans back against the table, observing him with narrowed eyes again.

“He’s worried that I will cause him trouble or tarnish his name, is what it is.” He scoffs, looking around the room to try and locate his belongings. “He doesn’t have any right to be worried about me because – take the spell off, I don't want it. If I am to die by the age of twenty five then so be it. I don't care.” He rounds on her, stance firm and demanding.

“Jaskier, come on-” She stands, trying to reach out to him but he’s made up his mind.

Geralt doesn’t get to do this.

“No, no. If he were really and truly worried he would have – I don't know. Probably done nothing because it’s Geralt we’re talking about here and we both know he’s thicker than swamp mud!” He waves a hand around frantically, still trying to locate his bag and finally spotting it, along with his muddy cloak, hanging off one of the antlers mounted on the wall. He makes the strides across the large room in record time and plucks his things from the antler-hooks.

“He means well.” She repeats her earlier words and Jaskier bites out a loud laugh, cruel-sounding and unbecoming of him.

“You say that but does he really? I don't think he means anything at all anymore. He goes on his merry way saying things and I'm supposed to fork through them and pick out the ones that mean something? No, I'm done doing that. I’ve been fine so far and I’ll be fine again.” He throws the cloak over his back and heads for the door. “The spell better be lifted by the time I leave the city.” It’s an empty threat and Triss knows this as well but she nods all the same.

The town is bustling even during nightfall and he should have probably waited for the sun to rise but he’s too angry for that. He needs to leave and he needs to leave at once, Vizima’s never done anyone any good and the people here are miserable anyway so why should Jaskier be any different? He could possibly hunker down in a tavern or an inn for the night but they’d take one look at his lute and his face and demand songs of the great White Wolf and then he’d have to sing lest he give himself a bad reputation and – well, not tonight.

His body is still stiff from lying prone for three days but he powers through the pain, looking for the nearest door out of the city. He’s never been more determined to reach the Free City of Novigrad than he is now.    

He fumes on his way out. Fumes all the way down the stone streets and across the muddy puddles as he approaches one of the large gates and crosses the bridge there. Geralt needs to stay out of his business. Jaskier, to a certain extent, understands why Geralt had sent him away – and he has accepted that. His heart may still long for the boorish man’s company but his mind has made peace with the dismissal. He just wishes Geralt would decide if he cares or not before he gets Jaskier’s hopes up again for no good reason.

“And I was so close to Novigrad, too!” He whines as the xenovox starts making noises at him.

Hello? Jaskier?” Yennefer voice comes through the line a little creaky and hushed but he hears it all the same. Sighing, he brings the contraption closer to his face and inspects it.

“How does this thing work? Do I just yell at it?!” He raises his voice, startling his borrowed horse into a protesting neigh.

Don't yell, you idiot, I can hear you fine!” She hisses at him and he pulls his face away from the box.

“Well, if you can hear me fine then answer me this: what do you want?” He huffs, tired from the day’s travels and not in the mood to talk to Yennefer.

She clears her throat very deliberately like she hates to speak the words but she’s going to say them anyway. “I haven’t heard a word from you since Tridam, I'm – as you say – 'checking in' on you.”

“Hm,” He’s well aware that he sounds startlingly like Geralt when he’s tired – another bad habit he’d picked up from the Witcher that he hasn’t been able to shake. “Well, I’ll have you know that I'm still doing well for myself, as you put it. Almost a year on my own and I’ve not died yet.”

Except for that time in Vizima,” She snorts inelegantly, “Where are you now?”

“Somewhere between Rinbe and Oxenfurt.” He shrugs to himself, he’s about a day away from the town where he’d gone to university but he’s sure that he’ll bypass it entirely for a couple of weeks in Novigrad. “Probably closer to La Valette than Rinbe.”

Hold still.” Her voice cuts out and he stares at the box incredulously. Hold still?

He sees a swirling of air and dirt appear in the crisp spring air and the sudden wavering of the horizon before another scene entirely appears and then Yennefer is stepping out the circle and next to his little campfire. He’s sure he looks like a gawking idiot but he’s not seen this type of sorcery be performed before – it serves as a good reminder of how powerful Yennefer really is.

She looks around his campsite and even looks decently impressed by what she finds.

“Where’d you get the horse?” She asks, taking a seat on a fallen log opposite the one he’s leaning against.

“It was a gift.” It was.

“Charmed it out of a young noblewoman’s grasp, I'm sure.” She nods as if in approval.

“Nobleman’s actually. Why are you here, again? And how?” He stows the xenovox into his bag again and leans forward slightly, “I’d offer you refreshments but I'm afraid all I have is water and some oil decidedly not for nutritional purposes.”

She scrunches up her face before giving him a deadpan look. “I told you, I was worried.”      

 “And that’s very kind of you but haven’t we established that you didn’t have to be worried about me?” He plucks at the lute in his lap idly, strumming a near-silent tune.

“It’s hard not to be worried about you when Geralt’s hounding me for information all the time.” She rolls her eyes so hard that Jaskier’s surprised they haven’t vacated her skull yet.

“I hope you haven’t told him anything. Let him stew.” He plucks a particularly bad note and winces, quieting the strings with his palm.

“No, I haven’t. Triss told me about your wishes of remaining unseen by his Witcher-y eyes.” She chuckles and procures for herself a cup of wine out of thin air – now that’s power.

“Thank you, for respecting my wishes.” He nods at her, once again unsure of where the conversation is going.

“It’s just funny how – well, how insistent he is that we keep tabs on you. I tried telling him that you’re doing well on your own and that you don’t need a nursemaid but-” She shakes her head and chuckles. “It’s funny.”

“It’s bloody well annoying, is what it is.” He grunts and bats away the rabbit trying to nibble at the bedroll he’s sitting on.

“Look, Jaskier...”

“Oh, no. Not that tone!” He brandishes the look as a judge would a gavel in her direction.

“I will not have you make excuses for him or in his stead. Triss went on about how he means well but does he really? I'm sure you know what I told her and I stand by it. Meanings and actions are very different in reality, Yen. Actions hurt people and meanings can remain unseen by others. I don't want him to know where I am because I'm tired of him treating me like a child!” He almost smacks the lute into the ground but stops himself short of actually doing it like a petulant sprog would.

Something akin to understanding crosses her features and her entire demeanor goes soft. “Oh, Jaskier.” She croons with a loving smile like a mother looking at a particularly unruly offspring. “Geralt doesn’t know any better. Imagine being told your whole life that you have no feelings, that you don't need anybody and that you never will. And then suddenly that proves to be wrong. How would you feel if someone suddenly took your voice, how did you feel when someone almost did?”

He sits back, looking into her violet eyes and contemplates. The Djinn encounter was terrible. He hated not being able to talk and he hated the fact that he wished he’d die rather than lose his voice. It had been truly one of the lowest, most heart-wrenching moments of his life.

“Terrible, it felt terrible.” He looks away and into the fire. It’s been almost a full year since they’d parted ways and Jaskier had been composing hollowed poems about beautiful men and women that did nothing more than make him feel alone. He’s sure that Geralt’s doing well,though; going about his business of monster hunting but with the occasional detour to ask about Jaskier and his travels – like he cares.

“He doesn’t care. You should tell him to stop pestering unsuspecting sorceresses about me. I don't want him looking out for me anymore.” He tosses a few short branches into the fire – it’s warm enough to sleep without it but it wards off the wolves he’s found so he keeps it lit.

“What do you want him to do, Jaskier? I know that he is sorry for what he said without him having to even say it because he looks miserable every time we cross paths. I don't like seeing him hurt and knowing that you’re better off without him seems to make it worse.” She pinches the bridge of her nose. “I told him of our encounter in Tridam, about how well you were doing. I was impressed, I still am, Jaskier, but he was – well. Maybe he’d gotten used to the idea of someone needing him, after all. So – what do you want him to do?

“I want him to grovel.” He sneers. “It’s beneath him to be broken up about what he did. He’s always going on about consequences and whatnot so he should have known better. I'm doing fine, yes, but that doesn’t mean I'm not hurt still. I want him to grovel and beg because it’s his fault.”

She seems taken aback, the wine in the cup sloshing as she flinches. “Huh. I didn’t know you had it in you, little bard.” She tilts her head this way and that, from side to side as she thinks his words over. “If I can talk him into grovelling, will you take him back?”

“I never had him in the first place.” He crosses his arms over his chest.

“Oh, you’ve had more of him than you even realize, buttercup.” She grins, sharp and confident again, back to her old self mostly. “If I can convince him – no underhanded strategies, don't give me that look – where can he find you?”

“I'm not ready to face him yet. I'm going to Novigrad where I’ll – I don't know, loiter around for a few months until I make enough coin or I manage convince some naive nobleman to buy me a cottage on the coast.” He leans back against the log, closing his eyes. “I was thinking about somewhere near Gors Vellen.”

“How long do you think it’ll take? For you to be ready, I mean.” She asks again.

He hums, a smile curling at his lips. “Let him stew.”