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to grow in adversity

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“So what are you doing after this?” Yennefer asks casually. Too casually. It makes Renfri look up and squint suspiciously at the witch who had run into her coincidentally two nights before.

“Why?” Renfri demands instead of answering, taking a dagger out of her bag to inspect for flaws so that she doesn’t have to look at Yennefer’s smirk.

“Well,” Yennefer drawls, leaning towards her, “I was thinking it might be fun to go hunt a dragon together.”

Renfri immediately looks up, just to check if there’s any indication that Yennefer has gone completely insane in the last five minutes. It is deeply unfortunate, however, that the witch looks entirely sane. Which makes what just came out of her mouth even worse. “Hunt a what? Why? What the fuck, Yen? Why?

Yennefer shrugs. “Girls night?”

“Oh no.” Renfri points the dagger at the other woman threateningly, “Hunting down a giant murder lizard is not girls night. Try again. Why, Yennefer, do you want to go hunt down a dragon?”

Yennefer shrugs again, “A dragon’s heart is useful in all sorts of spells.”

“All sorts of spells,” Renfri scoffs, “Yeah, no. If you wanted spell ingredients, you’d get your dumb Witcher boytoy and point him in the right direction. If you’re coming to me that means it’s under the table, which means it’s something else.”

Yennefer frowns, pursing her lips.

Renfri isn’t having that. “You know I don’t get into anything until I know what the fuck I’m in for.” She points out, and it even has the benefit of being true. Renfri is somewhat notorious in the underworld for information gathering before anything else.

(After all, she managed to find Stregobor even when he was actively hiding from her. Hunting down a mage who doesn’t wish to be found is more difficult than one might assume.)

“Can’t you just trust me?” Yennefer pouts prettily, batting her eyes.

“No.” Renfri deadpans, because she’s not in the habit of lying. She plays games, she misdirects, but she tells the truth when she’s able. Despite everything, despite the fact that on some level she likes Yennefer and her determination and ambition and fury, she doesn’t trust the witch.

It’s nothing personal. Renfri doesn’t trust mages - at least not brotherhood mages.

(There are two facts that Renfri knows. One, magic doesn’t work on her. Two, she lost time during her childhood whenever she visited the castle mage. There are things her own mind is protecting her from, and considering that she remembers that day in the woods with perfect clarity - Renfri doesn’t trust Brotherhood mages.)

“Fine,” Yennefer sighs, sounding put upon. As though Renfri is being unreasonable and not asking why she wants to go take on a giant fire breathing creature for funsies. “It’s for… that special project of mine.”

Renfri pauses, and then blurts out, “How the fuck is a dragon’s heart supposed to help you get pregnant?”

“It has fertility properties.” Yennefer says with dignity, only flushing a little when she sees the complicated gymnastics that Renfri’s face is going through, “It’s not a dragon child. It’s a child child. A regular child. It’s just going to… help fix me.”

“Nothing wrong with you.” Renfri says immediately, and then tilts her head consideringly, “Well I mean, there’s your whole personality, but I don’t think that can be fixed with a simple spell.”

“I have no idea why I thought you and your brother weren’t alike.” Yennefer says sourly, making Renfri smile. She actually loves being told she and Jaskier are similar.

“The sass gene is dominant, I’m afraid.” Renfri mock-confesses, holding a hand to her heart as she looks dramatically into the distance.

“I suppose you have that to look forward to when you have your own children.” Yennefer replies, and there’s that little bitter note at the end that has Renfri frowning.

“Hold up, time out here. I don’t know what weird herb you magic types smoke, but that’s a negative right there.” Renfri shakes her head, ignoring Yennefer’s sputtering protests about the emphasis she puts on herb, “I don’t know what gave you the idea, but me? I’m not having kids.”

“Why not?” Yennefer demands, looking taken aback.

“Well for starters? I don’t even know if I can have ‘em.” Renfri says easily, shrugging. “I have it on somewhat shady authority that I’m supposed to have internal mutations or whatever? So it’s not even a guarantee that I could get pregnant. But that’s besides the point, because even if I could, I wouldn’t. I don’t wantkids.”

“I don’t understand.”

Renfri can get that, kind of. Yennefer’s whole weird thing about having a kid is well documented between them. Hell, Renfri’s stolen some artifact or another that was supposed to help with it that never did. The dragon thing is a bit new, but not out of the realm of possibility. Of course Yennefer would be puzzled by the idea that someone could have the ability she so coveted and throw it away. Renfri looks at Yennefer’s confused anger and decides to take pity on her.

“Look at my life,” Renfri splays her hands wide, indicating their little camp. “I’m a thief and assassin, a criminal. I don’t have a house, or land, or stable employment. I don’t have family that has any of those either, fuck knows Jaskier would combust if he stayed in one place longer than a month.”

Yennefer nods warily in acknowledgement.

“Knowing all those things, why the fuck would I want to bring a child in on that? What could I give them?” Renfri demands to know.

“You could give them love.” Yennefer says, just a little bit petulantly.

Renfri throws her hands in the air, “And what use is love when you’re starving and on the run!”

“A lot of use.” Yennefer refutes, a stubborn tilt to her chin.

Renfri can only roll her eyes. Sometimes, Yennefer feels terribly young to her even though she doesn’t know the witch’s exact age. Most of the world feels terribly young to Renfri, on bad days.

She isn’t Jaskier. She doesn’t have sweet words and turn of phrases to soften the blow when he needs to tell someone what’s what. She is Renfri, and no matter how much she wishes Jaskier was here right now, Yennefer is conversing with Renfri, and that’s who she’s going to get.

“Yennefer.” Renfri says seriously, “Raising a child with love or whatever doesn’t do shit about your own awful shitty childhood. You can’t just, what, vicariously live out a happy childhood through some kid, okay? All you’re going to end up doing is push your issues on them and fuck up a perfectly good child.”

Yennefer draws herself up, offense on her face, “That’s not what I - ”

“I don’t care if that’s what you mean to do.” Renfri cuts her off decisively, and Yennefer flounders. There are precious few people who would dare cross a mage like Yennefer, after all. “But having a kid doesn’t take care of your own issues, and considering… your whole thing? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you’ve got several.”

Yennefer looks offended, and Renfri wishes Jaskier were the one having the conversation instead.

“What are you even going to do with a kid?” Renfri demands, “You going to get a little cottage? Settle down? Become a hedge witch for some little town while you raise some snotty brat?”

“Maybe I will.” Yennefer growls.

“No you won’t.” Renfri tells her simply, “You’re ambitious, Yennefer. You want the world at your feet, you want all the things that are most impossible to get. Someone says you can’t have something and suddenly you’re falling over yourself to prove them wrong. Is that what this is?”

“You don’t know me.” Yennefer snarls, eyes like a storm and magic flickering at her fingertips.

Renfri has been afraid of mages for a long, long time. That’s the only reason she doesn’t flinch - the fear is old and she is well prepared for it. “I know enough. I know you need to think about what you’re doing. Are you going to be a single mother, Yennefer? It takes two to tango. You going to seduce some pretty face into being a stay at home parent or do the do and ditch? You going to have your cake and eat it too? What about Geralt?”

“What about Geralt?” Yennefer demands, completely disregarding all of Renfri’s other equally valid points. Because of course she does.

“He’s a Witcher.” Renfri points out, because it should be obvious. Witchers and mages, two sides of the same horrible coin. “He’s sterile, same as you. You’d have to go elsewhere to find your magic baby daddy.”

“A dragon’s heart is plenty big.”

“Have you asked him?” Renfri asks incredulously, “You can’t just toss a magic elixir at his head and say ‘drink this to fix that pesky issue of shooting blanks and get over here you big witcher-y hunk’ for fucks sake.”

Yennefer snorts a little at the mental picture that Renfri just painted for her, before frowning at herself for laughing. Or showing emotion? Whatever, Renfri wasn’t reading her mind.

“It will be fine,” She waves her hand dismissively.

“Uh, no.” Renfri waves a hand, “Geralt doesn’t want kids? Even if he could have them?”

Yennefer gives her a pitying look.

“I’m not projecting on him.” Renfri manages not to shout, “But I mean, if the shoe fits and all that. Being a Witcher is fucking dangerous, and he lives the same nomad lifestyle I do. There’s no room for a kid in that picture, Yen.”

Yennefer is suspiciously silent.

“You can’t possibly think you can change him.” Renfri stares searchingly at Yennefer, who won’t meet her eyes. “Oh, for fucks - Yennefer. He’s not going to change just because he really likes doing the horizontal tango with you. Even if he’s convinced he’s in love with you or whatever, you know he’d just end up miserable if he was chained down.”

“Is that why you’ve never seemed interested in anyone?” Yennefer leers, obviously trying to change the subject. Or get the upper hand by making Renfri uncomfortable. “You’ve never wanted to be chained down?

“Yeah, we aren’t getting into my relationship status right now.” Renfri deadpans, refusing to feel uncomfortable about it. She’s had one night stands before. Hell, she’s done things she wishes she hadn’t had to in order to put food in her and Jaskier’s bellies and a roof over their heads. Her relationship with sex and romance in general is admittedly complicated, and not something she wants to get into knots over discussing with Yennefer when they’re this keyed up.

“Why not?” Yennefer scoffs, “You don’t seem to have any problem poking at mine.”

“Look, I’m not going to get in the middle of whatever you have going on with Geralt.” Renfri soothes a little, “I am a decidedly neutral party in this. I will, however, say this: when you see Geralt again, you should ask him about what happened in Cintra. And then, I think you should have a long talk about your future together.”

“What happened in Cintra?” Yennefer looks curious, eyes glinting at the hint. She’s never pried too far into the circumstances around Cintra - a wise choice considering it’s still an open wound and will remain so until Calanthe finally gets her head out of her ass.

“Ask Geralt.” Renfri repeats, shaking her head. “But, fuck Yen. Do you even love him?”

“He loves me.” Yennefer states confidently.

“That’s not what I asked.” Renfri shakes her head, sighing. “Just give it some thought, okay? Fuck. How am I the friend who ends up giving relationship advice?”

“Are we friends?” Yennefer asks, raising an eyebrow.

Renfri raises her own right back daringly. “I don’t know, are we?”

They look at each other for a few tense heartbeats, and it’s Yennefer who looks away. “Are you coming on a dragon hunt with me or not?”

Renfri shrugs helplessly. She can tell Jaskier is heading up that way, and knowing him he’s probably going to get embroiled in this drama one way or another. And where Jaskier is, that stupid Witcher will probably follow. At least Renfri knows the conversation will probably happen sooner rather than later? “I’ve got business in Redania. I can go that far with you. Jaskier is up north as well, you can always ask him to go questing with you.”

Renfri hopes the implied and also fucking talk to Geralt comes across properly.

“Jaskier?” If Yennefer tries to sound not condescending, she isn’t succeeding.

“Haven’t you heard?” Renfri flips her dagger up and over in her hand, a trick that according to her brother made her look ‘badass’, “Music soothes the savage beast.”

“Right. You’re uninvited.” Yennefer immediately claims and Renfri snorts at her own sense of humor.

The silence between them is less tense, edging its way back towards the easy sort of equilibrium that they usually share.

Renfri breaks it, “Do you have a backup plan, or are you going to wrestle a dragon with your bare hands?”

Renfri is pretty sure that dragons fall into the category of ‘magically resistant’ creatures in a bestiary. She could be wrong, but that’s Yennefer’s problem now.

“I think I’m going to seduce a knight.” Yennefer muses thoughtfully.

Renfri snorts in laughter, and Yennefer grins. Renfri smiles back and thinks, yeah. They’re going to be alright.

 

---

 

“I’m weak, love, and I am wanting.” Jaskier croons, fingers catching on the strings of his lute. Geralt is off fighting a monster, which is always the best time to compose his sappier songs, the ones full of longing and heartache and wanting what he can’t have. He can’t be for sure that it helps - his magic is unpredictable at best - but he does it anyway. “If this is the path I must trudge. I’ll welcome my sentence, give to you my penance, gorgeous garroter, jury and judge...”

He pauses, frowning down at his lute. There’s something not right about that last line. Something that makes the melody sour in his stomach. It’s not something that happens often, but it does happen.

“Lovely garroter...? Gorgeous… garroter?” Jaskier tries, but that doesn’t seem quite right either. He feels his face twist into a frown. Words always seem to pale when he tries to hold them up to his Witcher. Geralt is so much more than gorgeous, than lovely, than a million other silly little adjectives. Geralt is… indescribable. Noble and beautiful and beloved.

But hey, even if Geralt is gone he still technically has an audience. Even if he’s been ignoring the two men for the better part of a few hours, oops.

In Jaskier’s defense, they are terrible conversationalists. Really, Jaskier switching to composing was the best thing for everyone. But he is stuck, and he’s always been open to criticism. Just ask Geralt!

Geralt can certainly vouch for Jaskier’s eagerness for constructive criticism. It’s partly the Witcher’s own words that got him the lovely accompaniment of Jaskier, after all.

“Which one do you prefer?” Jaskier calls out to Roach, because really the men were just ugh, his fingers plucking one of the lute strings in a nervous tick. The same note, repeated over and over. “Lovely? Gorgeous?”

Roach snorts, and Jaskier bites back a smile. Roach is, by far, his favorite critic. Never afraid to give him a nip when she’s sick of listening to him go on, but dare he say she’s grown fond of him over the years.

(Geralt hasn’t mentioned that Roach is getting on in years but still looks young and healthy. Jaskier takes the opportunity to sing the Ballad of Roach as often as possible to keep it that way. Despite himself, he’s grown inordinately fond of the Witcher’s other loyal companion.)

“Is the whole metaphor landing, or is it too cerebral?” Jaskier asks Roach, though he supposes the men likely assume him talking to them. Frankly though, he cares more about the horse’s opinion. But hey, he’ll take what he can get at this point.

Or maybe the men don’t assume he’s talking to them, because they ignore him. Or, perhaps, they could just be ignoring him?

“It’s been an hour.” One of the men says anxiously, and Jaskier has to fight to keep himself from rolling his eyes.

Geralt has been gone for far longer, and anyway, he’s fine. Jaskier charmed the fuck out of his armor yesterday while cleaning it - which had been sorely needed after someone insisted traveling at night through a village that happened to be infested with drowners a week prior.

Jaskier turns his attention back to his lute, unconcerned as he tries to figure out the tricky wording. He likes the alliteration of gorgeous garroter, but maybe it’s better if he drops the adjective entirely? But then how would the audience appreciate the loveliness of Ger - the garroter.

“Let’s get on before the beast gets hungry again.” The man says.

“But we made a deal.” The other says, shifting uneasily.

It’s the response of - “We made a deal with a living Witcher. No sense in hanging around to pay a dead one.” -that has Jaskier looking up from his instrument, just in time since when he does he sees the man with his hands on Roach’s saddlebags.

“Bollocks. No! No no no, stop that!” Jaskier immediately exclaims, getting to his feet. He can see Roach shuffling in her I might turn around a kick this man in the head sort of way, and since Geralt isn’t often overly fond of killing humans unless it’s warranted he should. Probably try and defuse this.

“You stop that! Or I, I’ll uh - ” Jaskier stutters, wondering if he has a song that will convince them all to get along.

“Or you’ll what?” The man scoffs, which has Jaskier considering if braining a man with a lute counts as excessive violence. “Sing us to death?”

Roach snorts, and Jaskier hears a rumble. For a moment he thinks it’s his own magic, trying to give him the words to a new song like it often does. But then there’s a voice from behind him. “Perhaps you did not hear the man.”

As the man steps in front of Jaskier, the rumble increases in volume. It makes Jaskier stagger back, just a little bit. It’s like - it’s like listening to the ocean in a storm. The crash of waves upon the rock, the ebb and flow beating like a heartbeat.

If this man isn’t magic of some flavor, Jaskier will eat his doublet. The nice red one he’d only just bought, something inside of him pleased with the raised ridges that reminded Jaskier a little bit of scales.

“Yeah!” Jaskier quickly recovers. He’s never been one to look an unexpected gift horse in the mouth. Maybe - maybe this is one of his sister’s many acquaintances? “Perhaps you didn’t - sorry, who are you?”

“Move along, old man.” One of the men threatens.

The old man is quickly accompanied by two gorgeous women, and the rumble builds louder. He doesn’t hear any words, but the man’s music is deep and old. Much older than he looks. Maybe Renfri wasn’t the one who sent him. Maybe Yennefer did?

He doesn’t - he doesn’t feel like Stregobor. He feels - ancient, and unshakeable. Stregobor is a selfish and cowardly worm, his magic slippery as a snake. This man, he’s not that.

“Do as the bard asks, or I’ll be forced to draw my weapons.” The old man states serenely, as though he’d really rather not fight but if he has to he wouldn’t hesitate.

Jaskier shifts uneasily. He doesn’t know this man, and one lute does not a bard make. Jaskier isn’t - he shouldn’t be recognizable. He’s famous, yeah, but people don’t usually know him by face - only reputation.

Jaskier doesn’t see weapons, either. Or at least, not those of steel and iron. He hums nervously under his breath, and hears a rumble of interest from the man’s magics in response. Despite the lack of physical weaponry, Jaskier has no doubt that this man is deadly under any circumstances.

“What weapons?” The man scoffs, and the little trickle of deep magic withdraws its attention from Jaskier to bristle. The rumble turns into a growl. “I see no steel here.”

And then the man makes the mistake of leaning forward to push this dangerous hostile magic source, and instantly the women react. One kicks the back of the man’s knees out, the other catches the mystery man. And then with a sharp crack the foolish would-be-thief is on the ground, dead.

“Woah!” Jaskier yelps involuntarily from where he’d been humming low back in his throat and trying not to draw too much attention to himself. There’s something here that just screams danger to every nerve in his body, like he’s a rabbit laying witness to wolves circling a wounded deer.

“Steel won’t be necessary.” One of the women sneers, voice colored by an accent that Jaskier can’t quite place.

The man’s magic curls around him, letting out a satisfied hum and reaching a tendril in Jaskier’s direction. As though to make sure he’s alright.

He is. He’s fine. Just very freaked out and would very much like Geralt to be back here right now actually.

As though summoned by the thought, a monster head is tossed down unceremoniously to thud to the ground in the middle of their little party. Jaskier can’t help but breathe easier when Geralt comes into view, and the baritone magic croons at him as he relaxes a little.

Geralt pauses when he sees them, as well he should. There’s a dead man and three extra people, after all. His eyes flick to Jaskier, then to Roach, and then back to the remaining man. The man who still has Geralt’s bags over his shoulder. “I believe those are mine.”

Jaskier has never been so glad to hear the Witcher’s voice, “Geralt! Geralt they, with the - this woman just killed a man with her bare hands for trying to steal your horse!”

Jaskier points accusingly, and tries not to feel like a child tattling to a teacher. But he’s admittedly feeling a little bit shaken, especially because the man’s magic is the weird magic equivalent of really handsy. Or really loud? Is loudness a function of age?

“Maybe she’ll make a better travel companion, then.” Geralt deadpans, as he picks his way down towards them.

Jaskier doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t. If the little murder party wasn’t there, he’d shoot back about how he’d been just about to defend Roach’s honor, thank you.

(But it stings. Just a little. Geralt is bad at people though, so Jaskier forgives him for things like this.)

“I’m sorry.” Jaskier says, swinging around to look at the new people instead of making a scene over, “Who are you exactly?”

The man steps forward. Towards Geralt that is, his back is facing Jaskier. Some little part of Jaskier that he blames on Renfri bristles, and he shifts his footing and wonders if the two women have clocked his boot knife yet. Then again, much like this man, Jaskier has never needed steel to be dangerous. He tightens his grip on his lute and hums, rocking back on his feet.

“I am Borch Three Jackdaws.” The man finally announces. A bit of a pretentious name, if you asked Jaskier. “These are my companions, Téa and Véa. I’ve been looking for you, Geralt of Rivia.”

Téa and Véa step forward as well, presenting their backs to Jaskier. Jaskier can’t help but raise an eyebrow in the background, though no one notices. Is this what Renfri feels like, all the time? Discounted and underestimated for her pretty face? Though when she has her armor and sword on, it did help on the underestimation front. A little.

Jaskier’s fingers ghost across his lute, wondering not for the first time why so many people ignore a weapon in plain sight. Even discounting his magic, it was sturdy and wooden and Jaskier had used it before to bludgeon a man, as he would likely do so again.

“You’ve found us.” Jaskier sing-songs, magic humming against his back teeth. One of the women looks at him over her shoulder dismissively, but Borch - well, Borch’s magic - extends a curious rumble. “What do you want?”

“Shall we go to the tavern to talk further?” Borch offers gracefully, eyes still locked on Geralt.

“Hmm.” Geralt grunts, but his eyes seek out Jaskier which sends a lovely little thrill down Jaskier’s spine. Noticing his gaze, Borch finally turns to look at Jaskier as well.

Jaskier tilts his head, feels the deep double drumbeat that makes Borch’s magic unmistakeable, and he looks over this strange trio who have invaded his life.

“Well you know me.” He says, offering Geralt a dazzling grin, “I never turn down a free drink. You are paying, right Borch Three Jackdaws?”

The name doesn’t taste quite right in his mouth, and it comes out just a tiny bit sharp. Just a hint of that’s not your name that makes Véa and Téa stiffen. But Borch inclines his head, a friendly smile on his face.

“Then lead the way!” Jaskier cheers, strumming a cheerful chord on his lute.

 

---

 

“This is where I leave you.” Renfri says, rolling her shoulder back to loosen them.

“Is the lady sure she must proceed ahead alone?” The idiot Yennefer has half-seduced asks, looking at Yennefer with concern in his eyes.

“Please,” Yennefer laughs off with a wave of her hand, “I cannot put my handmaiden into danger merely so that I might have some creature comforts. No, she will be safe enough here. Now please, Sir Knight, give us some privacy that I might bid her farewell as I have become incredibly fond of her over her years of service.”

“Of course my lady!” The man says, tripping over himself to give them space.

As soon as they’re alone, Renfri turns to Yennefer. “I’m going to kill you for this. One day. Sleep with one eye open, Witch.”

“Come now,” Yennefer teases, “It can’t have been that bad.”

“I genuinely can’t tell if he’s criminally stupid or just ignoring the obvious.” Renfri hisses, “I’m carrying a sword. What kind of handmaiden beheads a bandit?”

“A very loyal one.” Yennefer offers, but she’s trying way too hard to keep a straight face and Renfri can see the smile she’s doing her damnest to contain.

“You’re lucky I didn’t kill him in his sleep the fourth time he started extolling your virtues for taking an ‘unpolished peasant’ under your wing.”

That makes Yennefer break face and give a most unladylike snort that she covers with one dainty hand. “You know,” She says, laughter still in her voice, “I wouldn’t need him if you just agreed to go with me.”

“If this is you trying to annoy me into going on an adventure with you, the answer is no.” Renfri immediately states. “Need I mention the last time you talked me into going monster hunting for you? There was a fucking manticore nest, Yennefer.”

“You enjoyed yourself, admit it.” Yennefer smiles with a flip of her hair.

Renfri presses her hand together and then presses them to her lips like she’s about to start praying for Yennefer to get some sense in her empty, empty head. “You are literally insane. You know that right? Stark raving mad.”

“And you’re not?” Yennefer’s eyebrow goes up into amused-judgemental territory on her forehead.

Renfri kind of hates that fact that she can read emotion into an eyebrow raise. The eyebrow raise of a mage. That certainly wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Look.” Renfri says firmly, “I’ve got business in Redania, but let’s be real, a kidnap-ransom won’t take that long. Tell you what, if you and your… boytoy survive this, I’ll head up your way when I’m done and we can meet up.”

Yennefer sighs, “You’re just saying that because apparently Jaskier is up there as well.”

Renfri shrugs. She’s not going to apologize for loving her brother. Besides, no matter how much Yennefer complains about him, she’s undeniably fond of the bard. Like Renfri observed all those years ago, Jaskier is good at getting under people’s skin and making them care about him. Like stockholm syndrome, really.

“I’ll see you after.” Yennefer says confidently.

“Yeah, if you aren’t run out of town by a mob with pitchforks and torches.” Renfri pauses as Yennefer scoffs before adding a purposeful, “Again.”

“That was one time.” Yennefer complains, “It wasn’t even a big mob!”

Renfri rolls her eyes. “Yeah yeah, whatever. You just stay alive. Don’t let a dragon roast you or anything.”

Yennefer waves a hand, “Yes yes. And good luck with your… kidnap ransom?”

“Just a little one.” Renfri says, holding two fingers just a tiny bit apart, “Barely even a kidnap, really.”

“I don’t want to know.” Yennefer’s eyes soften, just a tiny bit. From sharp amethyst towards sunset purple, “I’ll see you later, then.”

“See you.” Renfri waves over her shoulder as she walks away. She’s got a crime to plan, and needs to find somewhere that sells rope. And maybe a new knife?

Hopefully Yennefer (and Jaskier) would still be in one piece by the time she found them.

 

---

 

Jaskier is in love. He didn’t notice before, because of the whole holy-fuck-just-killed-a-man vibe and potential-enemy energy that they’d been giving off. But now that they’re potential allies it’s another thing.

Jaskier, unfortunately, has a type. Well. Debatably has a type. He likes a lot of different people. But here, now? His type is incredibly strong people who could literally snap him over their leg like a toothpick. Usually that niche is filled by pining for Geralt, but. Well.

Téa and Véa. Their muscles. Honestly, walking behind them? Jaskier could write odes to those shoulders, woof.

“This is a first for me, and that’s saying something.” Borch says as he leads them into the tavern, “I’ve very few firsts left.”

Jaskier narrowly manages to avoid rolling his eyes. The men who say things like that are all too often fools of the highest caliber. If Borch is a mage, and the fact that he has magic points to yes, it’s impossible to tell how old he is. He’s grey around the edges, but as far as mages go that describes anything from a hundred to ‘older than god’ depending on the vanity of the practitioner. Yennefer still looks like she’s in her twenties and he has no idea how old she is.

“But to dine with Geralt of Rivia! Your adventures are legend!” Borch says brightly, and Jaskier can’t help but preen at the nod to his own talents.

“You’re welcome.” Jaskier says smugly, as he signals to the barkeeper for a drink.

“I suppose you want me to tell you why I’ve sought out such an accomplished monster hunter.” Borch leads them to a table.

“Don’t trouble yourself on my account. I just want food.” Geralt says gruffly, but Geralt is always gruff. Jaskier can’t help but smell a job in Borch’s strange manner, though something that Borch himself can’t take care of… and that Téa and Véa can’t take care of… Jaskier isn’t sure he trusts that.

“I knew I’d like you. That’s the first reason.” Borch smiles, all cheer as he turns and gestures to the barkeeper, “One of everything you have, and keep the ale coming!”

Ooh, Jaskier appreciates that. He sits down, and so do Téa and Véa and he can’t help but be distracted by that. They’re both so beautiful. Their proven lethality does nothing to deter him. Renfri did always say he was attracted to danger.

(Which is why Jaskier so often found himself in trouble, it seemed.)

“The second reason is this.” Borch says, and Jaskier can’t help but turn an ear towards the older man. “A green dragon landed across the border in King Niedamir’s mountains.”

Jaskier was totally right. This is a job proposal. For a dragon! He knew a dragon job was coming up, called it! The dragon mountains? Why would they be called that, if not for the fact that they had dragons?

“I know what you’re thinking. Impossible, dragons are so rare.” Borch leans back in his seat, “But it’s true. Locals spotted it and went after it in search of treasure. Of course, they succeeded only in wounding the creature and angering it so righteously that it swooped down from its lair and set half a hillside ablaze.”

Oh fuck those guys. Whoever purposefully went monster hunting not because of any danger of anything but because of greed deserved to have a dragon burning their hill down.

The ale came, and Jaskier reached for a cup eagerly to pass across the table. Without his permission he found himself making eyes at the gorgeous murder twins across the table from him. He found himself all but ignoring Borch’s exposition. It was unlikely Geralt would take the job, with the humans being the aggressors. Though admittedly Jaskier had been wrong before.

“You have the most incredible neck.” Jaskier blurted out as Téa took a mouthful of ale. The two women stared him down, and Jaskier could feel part of his soul shrivel up and die. “It’s like a… a sexy goose.”

Yeah, that attempt at clarification didn’t go any better. He winced at his own fumbling, glancing at Geralt who seemed to be content to let Jaskier make a fool of himself.

How is it that Jaskier could charm any noble he pleased but if you put him in front of someone who could break him he suddenly went all tongue-tied? It was simply unfair.

“Guzzling.” Jaskier managed, which was in fact even worse. He kind of wanted to ground to open up and swallow him whole as he added yet another thing to the Renfri can never know list. He spares a second for a thank you that Renfri isn’t here, as she would never allow him to live this down.

(He was also lucky, years ago, that Renfri wasn’t there to hear the ‘bread in his pants’ line that Jaskier had bestowed upon Geralt. What is it about hot dangerous people that makes his brain leak out of his ears?)

Borch goes on to talk about a King, and a marriage contract, an organized hunt for the dragon, and vassal states that Jaskier only half listens to because he’s very very busy stewing in his own mortification, thank you very much. He does, however, hear Borch’s declaration.

“I want you to join my team.”

 

---

 

Yennefer is tired, but she’ll be damned if she lets it show as she sweeps into the tavern like a conquering queen. It’s the way she walks everywhere, like the entire world should be bowing before her and begging for mercy beneath her feet.

In her darker moments, she revels in it. All sharp smiles and a bitterness that goes soul deep as she remembers the feeling of mud between her fingers and the grief that came with knowing that no one would speak up for her. In her kinder moments, well. Those are in short supply these days.

She is the conquering queen, and she’s come to conquer a dragon. She will reach into the bowels of magic and twist until it obeys her will and rights every wrong that has been done to her. Until it gives back what was stolen from her.

And then she sees white hair from the corner of her eyes and -

Geralt. And Jaskier. Not unexpected, Efi had mentioned her brother being around these parts and it seemed where the bard was the Witcher could often be found as well. She just hadn’t expected to run into them so soon.

She smiles to herself as she sits at the bar.

A conquering queen should have herself a king, after all.

 

---

 

Jaskier feels like taking a risk. There’s a buzz under his skin and he feels like doing something monumentally stupid. Maybe it’s because Yennefer’s showed up.

Historically, Yennefer has never been very good for Jaskier’s health. One time he asked her for help stealing a horrifically cursed book from a castle and she’d spent the entire time draped across any object she could find feeding herself grapes instead of actually helping him.

Including the entire time he’d had to hurriedly serenade an entire pack of hounds that had been previously baying for his blood. Yennefer had just been laying across an ornate bench with an air of detached interest about her.

He hates her sometimes, but damn if he doesn’t admire her style.

But Yennefer’s showed up, and he shouldn’t be so jealous that Geralt’s attention immediately zeroed in on her, but he is.

And so when everyone is introducing themselves it’s so very very easy to just…

“ - and my name is Julian Alfred Pankratz - ”

And it’s brushed off. His entire history, his entire secret packaged into that one quick fact and it’s brushed off. He hasn’t said his birth name in… in decades. Somehow he feels it should have garnered more attention.

But then again, what would dragon hunters care if someone claimed the name of a prince who had been declared dead more than fifty years ago?

He doesn’t know if it’s a relief that no one cares. He doesn’t know if it’s a relief that he spilled his entire secret identity and Geralt… walked off to pet Roach like it didn’t matter. But did it matter? Julian Alfred Pankratz was a stupid little princeling with no idea of what the world was like. His name was Jaskier, and it was given to him by his sister.

Yennefer’s sharp voice cuts through his thoughts.

“How is it that I’ve walked this earth for decades without coming across a witcher, and then the first one I meet I can’t get rid of?”

For Yennefer, it’s practically a declaration of love. Her eyes seeking Geralt’s, intent and purposeful. Geralt looking back at her, away from Roach even which is honestly a feat at times.

And Jaskier likes Yennefer, he does when she’s not being a complete and utter bitch - which is often, for the record - and he knows that Geralt deserves happiness no matter where is comes from, but… he’s petty. And irritated. And he just spewed out something very important on a whim and no one even paid any attention.

“I’d say something strange was afoot,” He interjects snarkily, “But then again, Witchers are bound to run into monsters eventually.”

Yennefer’s eyes leave Geralt’s face to meet Jaskier’s own baby blues. Jaskier smiles at her, a little bit mischievous and a lot poking fun.

Her eyes narrow slightly, and he can see her preparing her own bitchy volley. “Jaskier.” She greets him, giving a little sarcastic laugh, “The crow’s feet are new.”

Jaskier’s hands shoot to his face, gasping with absolute outrage. Yennefer fucking knows he isn’t aging, and that Geralt doesn’t exactly know about Jaskier’s whole magic business. She knows that! How dare she draw attention to the fact, when Geralt is right there and could put two and two together!

Then again, historically Geralt hadn’t exactly been observant. Case in point: Jaskier literally just revealed his secret identity and Geralt didn’t even listen.

Fucker.

“Yeah, well - ” Jaskier sputters, unable to think of a snappy comeback when his brain had smacked the panic button with maximum force, “Your jokes are… old.”

Yeah there’s no recovering from that. There’s nothing he can do here.

Jaskier decides retreat is the better part of valor and does just that, ignoring Yennefer’s snort of laughter and the fact that the tips of his ears have gone entirely red.

Absolutely perfect. He can just tell that this trip is going to be fantastic.

 

---

 

As a rule, Jaskier doesn’t hold much stock in gods. Maybe it’s because his life was defined by unfortunate humanity, both the good and the bad of it. Maybe it’s because his life was changed forever the moment Renfri took his hand in her own - slick with blood but warm and so very human - and told him to run.

Maybe it’s because Jaskier has seen so much evil carried out in the name of so-called Gods. Has seen people spit at Geralt and curse him and perform terrified little cleansing rituals as he walks past. As if Geralt is something that stains them, as if Geralt is something bad.

So no, Jaskier doesn’t put much stock in gods. But he is from a Northern kingdom, and so he can’t help it when they’re climbing a mountain and there are steep drops to either side of the path and out of his mouth falls a quick - “Melitele preserve us.”

There’s a song down the mountain side. Desperate notes that if Jaskier strains his ears he can hear the aching words - “Your belly aches, do you hunger for this? Hunger for this? Hunger for this, bled white with avarice?”

“Ladies, you look famished!” Jaskier tacks onto the end of his rambling. He hasn’t really been paying attention to what he’s saying honestly, but either way his newest muses haven’t seemed impressed so far.

He figures he’ll approach it the way he did with Geralt. Wearing them down with his delightful conversational skills.

“Allow me to wander aimlessly into this thicket and retrieve for you, uh, a tasty afternoon treat.”

He isn’t sure how, but he’s pretty sure he can feel the psychic energy of Téa and Véa rolling their eyes at him. They don’t even have any magic, he definitely shouldn’t be able to sense anything off of them, but somehow they accomplish it.

But Jaskier can’t care about that right now, not when his stomach is twisting just listening to the plaintive notes curling up from the mountainside.

He’s almost too busy listening to the music to hear the whimpers, but he looks down and - oh those are some big eyes. Some very not-human eyes.

“There’s something down here!” Jaskier calls out, and he spares a half second on a bitter thought wondering if Geralt will even stop. “It sort of looks like a faun.”

But there’s the answering growly “Jaskier…” that indicates a deep set disappointment but not surprise.

“Aw, he’s kind of cute!” Jaskier calls back, making a kissy face at the creature. Certainly it was cuter than most of the monsters that Jaskier faced by Geralt’s side.

And then it stands up.

It’s song turns sickly sweet, the magic reaching and grasping for Jaskier like seaweed dragging across his skin. Uncomfortable and more than a little terrifying.

“Corrosion seeps like a rotting seed - eat me, oh, feed me, with you belching foul breath.” The magic croons to him.

For the second time that day, Jaskier decides that retreat is looking like a very attractive option.

“Geralt!” Jaskier yelps, scrambling away from the (hungry, so hungry) creature, “It’s one of your friends again!”

This was officially not a Jaskier problem. Monsters and creatures and whatnot were Geralt’s wheelhouse. He had a responsibility. And yes, maybe Jaskier had been the one to go poking his nose into trouble, but the point remained. Geralt was constantly telling Jaskier to not get into monster trouble!

(The banshee thing had not been his fault.)

But really he was just obeying Geralt. First time for everything, right?

“It’s a hrikka.” Geralt says simply, “It’s probably starving, sheathe your weapons.”

Okay, so not too dangerous. And Jaskier can vouch for the starving aspect. He feels like his own stomach is folding in on itself just listening to the beastie.

He’s reaching into his pockets for the berries he’d grabbed when Yennefer’s weird knight man stalks forward with purpose and Jaskier can only watch with horror as the man hacks the creature to pieces.

The song abruptly stops. The creature, who had done nothing but be hungry on a mountain, is dead. It hadn’t even attacked them.

Yennefer rushes forward to pat the knight down, and she looks back and meets Jaskier’s eyes even as her lips move in automatic scolding reassurances.

Something passes between them, a silent understanding. The hrikka hadn’t done anything. But it was monstrous, and it was existing, and so it had been killed. And there was Yennefer, with her purple eyes and terrifying magic. And there was Jaskier, with his throat full of impossible songs. And there was Geralt, with his snow white hair and eyes of gold singling him out more than any silver medallion at his throat.

(There were the dwarves, sneered at and looked down upon by the humans. There was Borch, with his heavy drumbeat magic always in the background of their travels. Half their party was made up of so-called monsters.)

“If we’d fed it, it would have gone away.” Geralt states, his judgement heavy in the air.

But people were so very good at ignoring Geralt in the same way they ignored the barking of a dog. It made Jaskier bristle, his eyes still holding Yennefer’s with a challenge.

She looks away, and Jaskier doesn’t know if he’s disappointed or not.

Geralt had said it best the first day they’d met. They had to constantly shave pieces of themselves off, play themselves down and make themselves harmless in the eyes of humanity. Adapt or die.

Jaskier just wishes that things were different.

 

---

 

Yennefer’s escort is dead, and it feels like an absolute waste. Efi wouldn’t have died on her like that.

Then again, Efi wouldn’t have murdered a creature, ate inedible meat, and then had to go shit in the woods thanks to said meat. She would have been so much more efficient, honestly.

But Geralt is there, asking her what she wants.

All that’s in her mind are Jaskier’s sister’s words. Does she love Geralt? She feels her eyes scan across his face, taking in his lovely jawline, the shape of his brow. His hair that she’s combed her fingers through in shared baths.

Does she love Geralt?

She loves the way he looks at her. She loves the way he outright tells men that she would have no problems murdering them, that he doesn’t feel the need to play white knight for her all the time. She loves the way he looks at her, intent and sharp in a way that makes her feel powerful.

“Why are you here, Yennefer?” Geralt demands to know.

This is her least favorite Geralt. The demanding one.

“I’m here for the dragon.” She tells him, which is almost honest of her. But she feels the ghost of Efi’s disapproval over her shoulder, lecturing her about communication, which compels her to add, “There are certain healing properties it’s rumored to possess.”

“I thought…” Geralt’s voice is awkward, “I thought your transformation healed all parts of you.”

Healed, is the word Geralt uses, and Yennefer feels some part of herself bristle. Healed, as though she’d merely been sick as a child. As though she’d been a victim of some plague instead of it being a matter of how she was born.

“At the cost of others, yes.” Yennefer explains shortly.

There is anger bubbling under her skin, the same anger that always does when she remembers what was taken from her. When they’d told her she needed beauty to be powerful, as though she hadn’t been able to hold lightning in her hands before they’d ever carved into her spine.

Geralt smiles like she’s told a joke. “Yennefer, don’t tell me you’ve come all this way for made-up fertility cures using fresh dragon hearts.”

“They’re not made up.” Yennefer denies instantly, because she has to. She has to hold onto this hope.

“They are.” Geralt says, which would have been enough, but then he has the audacity to tack on, “And you? A mother?”

Her blood freezes like ice in her veins. “You think I’d make a bad one?”

Geralt plants his feet like he’s getting ready for a fight. There’s not a single ounce of hesitation in his voice when he says - “Definitely.”

Yennefer doesn’t know about Geralt’s memories of magic and herbs. Doesn’t know a woman with red hair and a brown haired son who had pretended to slay dragons with a bucket for a shield and a broom for a sword. She doesn’t know about Geralt’s relationship with witches who chose to have children.

But if she did, she might not even care. The fury in her bones is too strong.

“Yen… A child? What do you want with a child?” Geralt presses.

“They took my choice.” Yennefer feels her face curl into a snarl as she hurls the words like javelins, “I want it back.

She searches Geralt’s face for a hint of understanding. They’re supposed to be the same. Children taken and thrust into roles the world hates them for and needs them in. Geralt is a Witcher and she is a Witch and isn’t that supposed to mean something? Does he not want to tear down the world for what was done to him?

How is he not furious?

But he isn’t. He just looks resigned, maybe a little confused.

(Jaskier’s sister knows fury. Efi breathes fury, something powerful and bone deep pressed into her spine and lighting up her eyes. Efi is righteous and powerful and scorned. She might not understand Yenenfer’s motivation to have a child, but she has never once questioned Yennefer’s anger.)

“I didn’t expect you to understand.” Yennefer says, as though speaking the words can make the disappointment sitting in her stomach like a rock vanish.

“I didn’t choose to become a Witcher.” Geralt says, stepping closer to her. “Listen. The people who made us, they made us sterile for a lot of reasons. One of the kinder ones is because this lifestyle isn’t suited to a child.”

Yennefer doesn’t even know what she says next, Efi’s words playing in her ears and looking alarmingly like the ones spewing out of Geralt’s mouth.

She turns to storm away when -

“ - would rather use my child as bruxa bait than subject it to this life!”

Yennefer whirls around. “What did you just say?”

Geralt looks at her with round eyes, almost as shocked as she is. As though he’s shocked by what’s come out of his own mouth. Because he couldn’t have just said -

“You have a child surprise?”

And she can’t have a conversation with him after that.

She walks away.

 

---

 

Geralt is off with Yennefer, groveling for mercy probably considering the way she’d stormed through camp, and Jaskier sits outside on the ground alone. His fingers dance across his lute, but he plucks no sound from the instrument for the moment. There are a thousand songs on his lips, of jealousy and longing and heartache, and if he lets any of them out into the world he might crumble into a million pieces.

He thinks of the song he’s been struggling to compose, and something slots into place. It’s not a love song, not quite.

It’s a song of yearning.

He’d thought, when he first realized that his love for the Witcher was something more than a passing admiration, that he would get over it with time. That his love would soften, become something fond and gentle and more like friendship. He was half right - his love is fond enough, rolling its eyes with teasing and laughter instead of only producing pretty words and prettier gestures.

It isn’t fireworks and the earth shifting beneath his feet, not anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time. Instead it’s making outraged faces and loud declarations while pretending he doesn’t see Geralt’s amused smiles. It’s prodding Geralt in the ribs when he’s being too sour and watching him very purposefully not flinch, because he’s secretly a bit ticklish there. It’s leaning against Geralt in the cold winter evenings and trying to stick freezing hands against warm Witcher skin while Geralt does his best not to automatically toss Jaskier into the woods.

It’s being able to steal Geralt’s ale from his hands with a mischievous smile, even though they both know it only works because Geralt lets it.

Jaskier is so deep in thought, too concerned with keeping words trapped behind his lips and feelings between his teeth, that he almost doesn’t notice Borch come over.

Almost.

It’s difficult to miss Borch, honestly. The heavy drumbeat of his magic follows in his wake, not quite matching the genial smile and harmless appearance that he tries too hard to give off.

“Jaskier, isn’t it?” Borch greets Jaskier with cheer. He’s alone, which is strange, but his two lovely bodyguards must be busying themselves elsewhere for the moment. Honestly, Jaskier isn’t even sure why Borch has bodyguards - judging by his magic, well. To say the least, if Borch and Yennefer went toe to toe, Jaskier wasn’t sure he’d be betting on Yennefer.

“I am.” Jaskier confirms with a smile.

“I must say, I am burning with curiosity.” Borch sits on a stone, putting his hands on his knees and massaging them as though they pain him. “What business does a bard have following a Witcher?”

“What business does a bard have at all?” Jaskier lifts his hand from his lute to wave it flippantly. “Writing music, of course.”

Borch’s eyebrows climb up his face, “I would have thought it a bit dangerous, that’s all.”

Jaskier shrugs, “Dangerous to travel alone as well, my friend. As you should know!”

Borch gives a small nod, conceding the point. “I thought it an odd thing is all, to chase after adventure so willingly as to dive headfirst into potential death.”

“I don’t chase adventure,” Jasier corrects with a careless shrug, “I chase him”

Understanding lights up Borch’s face, “Ah.” He says, and then doesn’t continue. But his face takes on a pitying sort of quality, as though he can see right into Jaskier’s soul.

Jaskier isn’t much sure he likes that look at all, as his life is nothing that should be pitied. He has good family, and good friends, and a love that deserves to be heard around the world.

“Do you think you can change him? A Witcher?” Borch sounds politely skeptical.

“No,” Jaskier denies immediately and ferociously. His lip draws up in a snarl and he can see Borch lean away from it in surprise, “I’m sick and tired of people wanting Geralt to change. No, I want the whole damn world to change.”

Borch raises his eyebrows in interest.

Jaskier’s fingers dance across his lute, a quick bust of complex melody as his face contorts into a frown. “All his life, he’s been trained to protect. To defeat the monsters that humanity can’t be bothered to face itself. And for this protection, what is he paid with? Scorn and fear and hate. You see, it’s not Geralt that needs to change at all.”

Borch hums, “Toss a coin to your Witcher?”

Jaskier can’t help but feel relief - the old man understands. At least in part. He nods his head, “I want the world to love him.”

“As you love him.” Borch says quietly, the drumbeat of his magic adding weight to his words, “But love is not something that can be made with magic.”

All the books Jaskier has ever stolen, ever borrowed and bought and bartered for, has said the same thing. Lust can be summoned. Curses can be crafted around the concept. Control of the body can be taken. But love, real love? Love powerful enough to break curses? It cannot be created by magic, cannot be artificial. Love is something that must grow, naturally and carefully tended to.

Jaskier’s talents lay in emotion, in manipulation, in swaying the feelings of a crowd with word and song. It was the first skill his magic touched, and his magic would forever be colored by that. Jaskier, who loves so boldly but cannot make other people experience it. The man who falls in love at the drop of a hat, but who has never been someone that people want for keeps.

“I will take admiration and gratitude and respect, if I cannot take love.” Jaskier replies quietly, “I want - I want his life to be easier. Doesn’t everyone want that? To ease the burdens of those they love?”

“You are a strange creature, Jaskier.”

The word creature hangs heavy in the air between them, and Jaskier tilts his head. If he listens, he can hear a noise like scales sliding against one another, a whispering accompaniment to the echoing drumbeat. “As are you, Borch.”

The older man’s eyes flash, and he tilts his head in polite interest. “Oh?”

“I have traveled the world, from kingdom to kingdom. I have faced monsters and men of all kinds, have seen miracles and curses and everything in between.” Jaskier pauses, staring directly into Borch’s eyes. He swears, for a second, they flash gold. “But I have never met someone like you.”

“Because of my philosophy - ?” Borch starts, but Jaskier cuts him off.

“I don’t know what you are.” Jaskier says firmly, quietly, and he has all of Borch’s scattered attention focused on him like a laserbeam. It’s almost uncomfortable, under those eyes, like a rabbit standing before a wolf.

But Jaskier has spent many years traveling at the side of a predator. Too long to be scared of the one in front of him, no matter how stupid that might make him.

“You found Geralt and you asked him on this hunt. He came, not because of your dragon but because he saw someone he loved going into something stupid and decided that if they were going to do so, he might as well come along to soften the blow.” Jaskier informs the man simply. Though even he could tell Geralt that Yennefer did not need help, and that she was fully capable of getting herself out of (and into) trouble at her own pace. “He’s not a soldier for hire. He’s a protector.

Borch is silent, still watching Jaskier carefully as though if he moved Jaskier would startle off. Fat chance of that, Jaskier was too stubborn for his own good.

“He’s a protector.” Jaskier says again, firmly, “But when it comes to watching his own back?”

There are words trapped behind Jaskier’s teeth, gritted back like sand in his molars. A fight song, a warning song, a battle cry.

“He has a trigger happy witch on his side. And he has me.

“I see no weapons here.” Borch says quietly, an echo to what was said to him when they had first met. Before a man had died with a snapped neck right in front of Jaskier’s eyes.

“Weapons can be more than steel, Borch Three Jackdaws. As well you know.” Jaskier replies, and then very purposefully places his hand against the body of his lute and taps with his fingers, matching the drumbeat of Borch’s magic.

Immediately, the man’s - if he is a man - magic responds, surging forward with the same whisper of scale against scale as it taps against Jaskier’s skin in pleased acknowledgement. On his part, Borch starts as though he’s been given a static shock, leaning back and widening his eyes in surprise.

“You’re a man of firsts, and you say you’ve run out of them in your long life.” Jaskier tells him, teeth bared in a smile, “But I guarantee, this is the first time you’re meeting something like me.”

“What are you?” Borch asks after a few beats of silence, as his magic reluctantly unwinds from Jaskier and retreats back into itself when Jaskier’s fingers still against the side of his lute.

“If you figure it out, let me know.” Jaskier offers with a shrug, leaning back and allowing his sharp smile to soften into something more natural and kind. “I only know this: I am Jaskier.”

“That is not your true name.” Borch says with a frown, tilting his head.

Jaskier tilts his head right back, “And what is not true about it? You are correct in that it is not the name my mother gave me, but you of all people should know, Borch Three Jackdaws, that names are a gift. My sister gave me this one, and it is the one I have chosen. If that does not make it true, I do not know what does.”

Julian. Jaskier. Dandelion. A name was something freely given, but like all gifts it was on the receiver to accept or reject it. There was no shame in taking a gift that had outlasted its purpose and throwing it away, no shame in outgrowing a shirt given in childhood upon hitting a growth spurt. Jaskier has always found the entire concept of a true name stupid. Julian was not his name, not anymore, and the idea that it had some sort of power over him, had any more truth to it than Jaskier was a laughable one.

“Would you like my name?” Borch asked, voice even and measured.

“Only if you are willing to give it.” Jaskier shrugs.

Borch is silent for a long while, deep in thought. Long enough that Jaskier’s fingers return to plucking out a tune on his lute, a deep steady sort that makes Borch’s magic rumble as the two tunes of magic interact. “Is your Witcher kind?” The old man asks finally.

“Geralt is one of the kindest men I’ve met.” Jaskier answers immediately.

“You do not think he would kill a dragon.”

“What has the dragon done to deserve this witch hunt?” Jaskier responds, “Burned a hillside? Perhaps, but only after men came and wounded it for some fabled treasure that they didn’t have any claim to to begin with. Do you want my honest opinion?”

“I do.” Borch says, serious as the grave.

Maybe it’s disloyal, to tell the man who hired them that the job won’t go down the way he might think. But Borch is not human, and Geralt so often warns before he kills, and Jaskier thinks the Witcher would not begrudge this effort to make Borch see sense. “Geralt is a protector. If it was a mercy, he would kill a dragon. If it was a necessity, he would kill a dragon. If it was not - ”

Jaskier thinks of a hillside and a friendship not yet forged and Geralt’s voice entreating an elf king to make a life away from the humans, of being spared because Geralt had warned away a creature instead of simply drawing his blade. Jaskier thinks of a man who looked like a beast and of a Queen who ordered his death for the crime of being cursed, and the way that Geralt didn’t hesitate to place himself between a dozen swords and what he thought was right.

“ - I hope you are prepared to face down both a Witcher and a dragon.” Jaskier finishes softly.

Contrary to expectations, instead of frowning or scowling or expressing any sort of anger, Borch breaks into a smile.

“Would I also be facing down a bard?” Borch asks, but there’s a light and teasing quality to his words that wasn’t present before, as though the man is somehow relieved by Jaskier’s assessment of Geralt’s character.

Jaskier doesn’t have many weapons of steel on his person, not since Geralt confiscated his belt knife after Jaskier took offense to someone calling his Witcher a monster anyway - which Geralt had then used to stab the man when he called Jaskier some uncomplimentary things that would make a sailor blush, because Geralt loves a double standard.

Jaskier strums out a chord and listens to Borch’s magic rumble in response. He sharpens his smile again, making direct eye contact as he offers the only response he can give.

“Of course.”

 

---

 

Borch is dead, probably. Jaskier can’t hear the thunderous heartbeat of his magic anymore. He didn’t even realize how much he’d tuned it out until there was nothing but silence to greet him.

Téa and Véa are gone as well.

Geralt is staring off into the distance the way he does when he’s brooding and blaming himself. Jaskier catches himself walking over before he pauses and looks around for Yennefer. Shouldn’t she be the one trying to pull Geralt out of his funk?

Though then again, they’d been short with each other all day. Jaskier doesn’t know what happened between them and is actually kind of afraid to ask.

But even if Yennefer is Geralt’s… something, Jaskier is still his friend.

He sits on the rock next to the Witcher.

“You did you best.” Jaskier says softly, “There’s nothing else you could have done.”

Geralt doesn’t even look at him. Doesn’t even acknowledge his existence.

Jaskier shuffles in place, thinks about the events of the day, thinks about the way Yennefer has been exuding furious don’t touch me vibes left and right ever since her and Geralt were alone. “Look. Why don’t we leave tomorrow?” He offers, then gives a little self-deprecating huff of laughter, “That is, if you’ll give me another chance to prove myself a worthy travel companion?”

That gets a soft hum from Geralt at least, which is a relief.

The slight positive feedback gives Jaskier some momentum. “We could head to the coast. Get away for a while. Sounds like something Borch would say, doesn’t it? ‘Life is too short, do what pleases you… while you can.’”

“Composing your next song?” Geralt asks, and Jaskier can’t help the tiny smile that leaps onto his face at actual words from his Witcher.

“No, I’m just uh. Trying to work out what pleases me.” Jaskier says, and then, in a tiny fit of courage, “Maybe we can meet up with my sister. At the coast, I mean.”

“Hm?” Geralt sounds interested by this train of thought.

“She’s important to me. You’re important to me. I figure… the two most important people in my life should probably, uh, know one another.” Jaskier stutters through the end there. After all, technically Geralt and Renfri do know each other. Just - not as Geralt-Jaskier’s-Witcher and Efi-Jaskier’s-sister.

Geralt shifts, looking over his shoulder towards Yennefer’s tent.

And Jaskier is feeling generous. He’s feeling… sad, and mushy, and without the constant thrum of Borch’s magic he can only hear the high sweet notes of Yennefer’s in the distance. They might snipe at one another, but he does genuinely enjoy the witch’s company.

Not that he’d admit that under pain of death.

“Why don’t you ask Yennefer to come with us?” Jaskier suggests before he can stop himself. Geralt looks over at him which just makes Jaskier’s traitor mouth move faster, “Look, whatever happened between you two… you love Yennefer, Geralt. She makes you happy. She should… at least have the option to come with us. If going to the coast is something you want.”

Geralt hums, getting to his feet which Jaskier assumes is agreement with his plan of action.

Jaskier’s heart does something funny, watching Geralt walk away towards Yennefer’s tent.

He feels like he’s witnessing the end of something.

 

---

Yennefer wants to ignore Geralt when he walks into her tent, the same way she ignored him earlier when he’d followed her.

“What do you want, Geralt?” Yennefer asks, and she’s so tired. She’s so tired.

“You.” Geralt says, with such awkward honesty.

Yennefer thinks of another boy and his awkward honesty, telling her stories about elves and showing her old magics. The same boy who had spied on her and used her heritage against her, the same boy who was the reason why Yennefer had to make her choice to sacrifice in haste to avoid a fate of being chained to Nilfsgaard.

“Do you love me, Geralt?” Yennefer asks, stepping back from him.

“...Yes.” Geralt says, but he says it reluctantly. Like the answer is being dragged from him unwillingly. Like there’s some sort of shame about loving her.

“Why?” Yennefer asks, genuinely curious, moving towards her (maybe a little ridiculous) queen sized bed to sit.

Geralt shuffles awkwardly. “You - the thing I dread most is when you leave. When your scent fades away, and I’m left with nothing.”

“You left me first.” Yennefer points out softly, but an undercurrent of steel in her voice. “I woke up in that house alone, and you were gone.”

“Forgive me.” Geralt asks, almost pleads if he could ever be described in a pleading way.

“I don’t think missing me when I’m gone is the basis for any kind of love.” Yennefer says softly instead. “They say Witcher’s can’t feel human emotion, but that’s not true, is it?”

Geralt shuffles his feet, and she can’t read his face. Could she ever? “They say whatever justifies despising our kind.”

Our kind. Like they are the same. Like they aren’t human.

(Once when she’d run into Jaskier, she’d furiously complained about humans in an almost attempt at solidarity. Jaskier had shot her down, had told her that he was as human as the rest of them.

“For all the good and bad that means.” Jaskier had said, fingers absently strumming his lute, “I get angry, I make impulsive choices, I love too freely and covet too jealously. You, me, Geralt - people might call us monsters because we’re different, because we have these powers. But my magic is something I do, not who I am.”

“We’re different from them.” Yennefer had said defensively.

“Are we?” Jaskier had looked at her, “Or do we just have different choices? It’s easy to look down from a pedestal, to assume that our power makes us above everyone. But I met a man who could carve these incredible wooden figures in like, ten seconds. I met a girl who could make you cry with a lyre. I met a woman who wakes up before the sun to make the most delicious pastries you’ve ever tasted. We’re all different, Yen. We all have our skills, our talents, our powers. What makes us so different from them?”

“Why would you want to be human, after everything they’ve done?”

Jaskier had raised his brows, “My sister spent almost her entire childhood living in terror because a mage decided he had a right to her. We aren’t different at all, Yennefer. We are capable of great good, and great evil, and to say we are somehow different and above that is to fall into the same trap. Do you understand?”)

“We’re human.” Yennefer says, thoughts still thinking of Jaskier.

“Maybe once, but not anymore.” Geralt refutes.

Yennefer shakes her head, “Do you regret it? Becoming a Witcher?”

“It’s hard to regret something you didn’t choose.”

Yennefer feels her face twist into something sympathetic, and she pats the bed next to her. She hadn’t had much choice about being a mage, either.

Geralt sits next to her, and she remembers a mirror and shards and blood. Remembers the snarling furious thought that she had power over one thing in her life, and she would use it. And then the realization that she really had no power at all over anything, not even her own death.

“Did… did you always want to be a mother?” Geralt asks, hesitant, “Before becoming a mage?”

Yennefer stares at the ceiling of the tent, the smooth white cloth. Her life before her magic wasn’t exactly something she liked to reflect much as well, but she wanted to be honest. “I dreamed of becoming important to someone. Someday.”

The dream of a little girl rejected by everyone around her. The dream of a girl who desperately longed for someone to love her, for anybody to love her.

Geralt covers her hand with his own rough one, prompting her to look over. He looks uncommonly serious.

“You’re important to me.”

Yennefer flips her hand and entwines their fingers, pulling his hand to her mouth to press a soft kiss against his knuckles. “Thank you, Geralt.” She whispers against his skin, “But I still find myself wondering… is that enough?”

Geralt blinks at her, “What do you mean?”

“We’re so different.”

“No we’re not.” Geralt refutes, shaking his head and withdrawing his hand. His brow furrows in the way it does when he’s frustrated. Yennefer can read that much, at least.

“Look at us.” Yennefer spreads her hands out, “Look at our arguments. No one can deny there is passion here, but look at the difference in our goals. I want children, Geralt. I want - I want this entire life that you don’t want at all.”

“I could.” Geralt shakes his head, “Don’t speak for me. Maybe I do want it.”

Yennefer laughs, but it isn’t kind. “I think you made yourself clear earlier about what you thought of my goals. What was it you said? That I would be a terrible mother?”

Geralt is shaking his head, but Yennefer presses the point. It hurts, like pressing on a wound to staunch the bleeding.

“You laughed, Geralt. This is something I’ve wanted since long before I met you. Why do you think I wanted the wishes? This is something that’s important to me. And you laughed.” Yennefer says, and the softness between them is fading away as the embers of anger that are always present within her are kindled.

“You don’t need a child.” Geralt says, and Yennefer sees red.

“It’s easy for you to say, you who has a child and has thrown it away.” She hisses standing suddenly and facing away from the Witcher. She can’t even look at him right now, or she might hurl him from the tent with a bolt of magic.

Geralt doesn’t have anything to say to that.

“What happened in Cintra, Geralt?” Yennefer pushes, and almost feels pleasure when she watches him flinch.

“Come with us to the coast.” Geralt says suddenly, and the topic change is so sudden that Yennefer swings around just to stare at Geralt in absolute bewilderment. When was the coast even a topic? And who was we? Him and Jaskier?

Had Geralt still not figured out that Jaskier was horribly and irreparably in love with him?

“We can talk about this in the morning.” Yennefer says finally, suddenly tired again. Geralt’s topic change had managed to take the wind right out of her sails. “But we are talking about this, Geralt.”

Geralt hums, and Yennefer closes her eyes to wish a moment of patience on herself.

And tomorrow she can find out what happened in Cintra.

 

---

 

When Jaskier wakes up, everyone is gone. The dwarves, Yennefer, and even Geralt. He is entirely alone, abandoned, he has been ditched.

“Oh, come on.” He says aloud.

Predictably, no one answers him.

 

---

 

As Jaskier walks up the path, he hears it. The steady beat.

It sounds less like a heartbeat and more like war drums, but it is unmistakably Borch’s magic. Borch, who is dead.

Except for the fact that he isn’t.

Apparently he missed a lot. Téa and Véa are alive. The dragon is dead. There’s an egg? Borch is a dragon?

That explains the magic at least.

Mind you, no one has actually bothered to explain any of this to Jaskier. This is just what he’s put together out of weird context cues and everyone’s weirdly shifty behavior. That, and that fact that there’s an egg with the same drumbeat magic, sounding more and more like a heartbeat the longer he listens to it.

He stays a bit of a distance away from Yennefer and Geralt and Borch, giving them space. And giving himself an opportunity to bring out his lute, strumming a few experimental chords. He’s outside the cave, but he can still hear the magic from the egg. He can still hear the magic from Borch.

It’s easy to find a simple tune, flowing in between the steady drumbeats.

“ - you abandoned your child.” Yennefer’s loud voice reaches him, and when Jaskier glances up he sees her looming over a seated Geralt with anger on her face.

“A child is no way to boost your fragile ego, Yen.” Geralt snarls back, and Jaskier winces. Bad move there, Geralt.

“I’ll take advice from you about children as soon as you take responsibility for the one you bound to you and then abandoned!” Yennefer hollers back.

Jaskier is too far away to hear what Borch says that cuts them off. But he can see the look on Yennefer’s face, he can see the moment she decides to cut her losses.

He can see the heartbreak on Geralt’s face as Yennefer’s magic opens a portal between them that she steps through without an ounce of hesitation. And with that, she’s gone.

Borch exits stage right as well, and Jaskier decides to take that as an opportunity to approach. Geralt is going to need him after… whatever that was. Especially since he’s turned away to the scenery in his classic brooding pose.

“Phew!” Jaskier exclaims exaggeratedly, just as a warning to let Geralt know he’s approaching, “What a day, huh? I imagine you’re probably - ”

He isn’t prepared for Geralt to whirl around, snarling, “Damn it, Jaskier! Why is it whenever I find myself in a pile of shit these days, it’s you, shoveling it!”

Jaskier takes an automatic step back, away from the furious Witcher.

(He’s never stepped away from Geralt before.)

“That’s not fair.” Jaskier denies automatically, “I wasn’t even here - ”

“The child surprise,” Geralt snarls, “The djinn, all of it! If life could give me one blessing, it would be to take you off my hands.”

“Her name is Ciri.” Jaskier says, mouth seemingly on autopilot because the rest of him has frozen. There is ice in his veins and in his heart and Geralt is - he’s…

“What?” Geralt snaps, turning back.

And Jaskier’s mouth has already run away with him. In for a penny, in for a pound.

“Your child surprise.” Jaskier says, and watches Geralt’s face darken, “Her name is Ciri. She’s smart, and beautiful, and she’s perfect.”

Geralt stares at him, and Jaskier can almost hear the and how would you know?

He’s gotten good at reading Geralt, over the years. But apparently not well enough if this is what he’s managed to walk into.

“I didn’t make you claim the law of surprise.” Jaskier says, “I didn’t make you fish up a djinn. I didn’t make you fuck Yennefer. I’m no genie, but I can grant you your wish. I can take a hint. I know when I’m not wanted.”

Geralt is silent.

“Goodbye, Geralt.” Jaskier says finally when it becomes apparent that Geralt isn’t going to take any of that back. When it becomes apparent that Jaskier has misread this situation entirely. When it becomes apparent that he is an idiot. “I’ll see you round.”

And then Jaskier walks away. He doesn’t look back.

If he did, then Geralt might see his tears.

 

---

 

When the door opens, Renfri turns around with a lazy grin on her face and a little worm of worry in her heart, but she knew that Jaskier would never lead Geralt straight to her no matter how irritated he might be with her at the moment.

Except the smile freezes on her face and she manages to stand just in time to fold Jaskier into her arms. He stuffs his face into the crook of her neck and lets out a sob that makes the heart that Renfri swears up and down she doesn’t have ache.

“Jaskier, Jaskier what happened.” Renfri demands, automatically rocking back and forth on her heels, swaying her little brother in her arms. She sends fearsome scowls over his shoulder towards any nosy patrons who dare look their way.

“Oh, Jas.” Renfri sighs, gesturing to the woman she’d been sitting beside and getting a nod.

Renfri briskly rubbed a hand down her brother’s back, mourning the fact that she couldn’t just lift him into her arms these days and run away like she’d done when they were younger, and Jaskier was as gangly as a spring colt.

They stand there for a minute, before Renfri’s companion gets her attention. Renfri nods in confirmation and sways in place, “Come on, Jas. Let’s sit down. Let’s get you settled, and you can tell me what’s wrong, eh? Tell your sister what’s wrong.”

Somehow, she gets them across the room. It’s not graceful, with Jaskier still sobbing in her arms. It’s a hybrid of a shuffle and a waddle, but it gets the job done. Renfri gets them across the room to the cleared out booth in the corner.

“Thanks Kain.” Renfri says, smiling gratefully at the woman as she collapses into one side of the booth, dragging her brother after her. At her companions raised eyebrows, she mouths a quick my brother and gets an efficient nod in response.

With that taken care of, Renfri turns all of her attention towards Jaskier, patting him down gently to check for wounds. He has none that she can see, or feel, but then Jaskier’s most easily wounded parts have always been invisible to the eye.

He’s always been such a trooper, her brother. Always strong, when it counted.

She can only think of one thing that might have upset her brother this much. “Jas, dandelion, is Geralt…?”

Somewhat contrarily, Jaskier’s sobs break for a moment and he draws his face up to look at hers with bloodshot eyes, “Oh, Renfri.” He whispers her true name to her, quiet enough that no one but the two of them can hear it, “I’ve been such a fool.”

Renfri reaches up a hand to cup her brother’s cheek, “You’re always foolish.” She tells him softly, “But you’ve never been a fool. What happened?”

“He doesn’t want me, Renfri. He’s never wanted me.” Jaskier gives her the most watery smile she’s even seen on him, and she can’t help but pull him into her arms and squeeze him. “I’ve been such a burden to him.” He whispers into her ear.

“You’ve never been a burden to anyone, Jaskier.” Renfri declares fiercely. “Don’t you dare say that, you hear me?”

“I do cause an awful lot of trouble.” Jaskier says softly.

Renfri squeezes him again, not quite sure what to say to that. “I don’t care.” She says finally, “You’re worth every bit of it, and more beside.”

She must have said something right, because Jaskier squeezes her to within an inch of her life before drawing back and giving her another slightly less watery smile. “I love you, too.”

“Don’t go soft on me, now.” Renfri warns, teasing. “Now tell me what happened.”

And so Jaskier does. In halting words and more than a few tears, and with every passing moment Renfri feels her fury mounting. Not towards Jaskier. Never towards him. Towards the fool of a Witcher she’d ever thought worthy of her trust, who she had ever thought might be an alright sort.

She was Princess Renfri of Creyden, born under a black sun and prophesied to bring about the end of the world. She was an apocalypse given human form, and for the very first time she felt it.

Renfri smoothes Jaskier’s hair from his face, and gives him a smile, and then she stands up.

“Efi,” Jaskier says, clutching at her hand. Renfri can’t help leaning down again to press a kiss to his forehead.

“I have to do something.” She tells him, fierceness leaking into her voice and giving it fire. But Jaskier is her brother, and he doesn’t even flinch. He just gives her a searching look, and then nods.

“Don’t take too long.” He whispers. “I need you.”

“I won’t.” Renfri assures, “And you won’t be alone, anyway. My colleague will take care of you while I’m gone, won’t you Kain?”

The colleague in question had been standing a respectful distance away and started at the address.

“Hello, Kain.” Renfri hears Jaskier say, as she strides towards the door, “Why don’t you take a seat?”

“I’d love to.” Is the last thing Renfri hears, before she’s out the door and gone.

 

---

 

Kain is a short woman, with a kind face and quick and nimble fingers that tap against the table when she tries to sit still. She has a kind face, and Jaskier wonders if she has siblings of her own as she’s very good at making soothing noises and looking sympathetic until Jaskier finds it within himself to quit sobbing.

“I’m alright now.” Jaskier sniffles, offering up a wobbly smile.

“No you’re not.” Kain scolded, filling up Jaskier’s mug again from the pitcher. “And it’s alright to not be alright, you know.”

“I know.” Jaskier says, a tad defensively, as he swipes his mug away. He doesn’t drink any of it, just cradles it against his chest. “But really, it’s okay. It hurts, I won’t deny that. But it’s like any hurt. It will fade, eventually.”

“Not every hurt is like that.” Kain says quietly, “If they don’t heal right. Sometimes even when they do.”

Jaskier smiles, a little more sincerely this time, and reaches across the table to grab Kain’s hand in his. “Don’t worry so much about me.” He gives her hand a little comforting shake, “I have… I have so many good times to look back upon. I’ve been so lucky, you know.”

Kain squeezes his hand, “He never deserved you. You know, I’ve heard the songs. They’re sung across the continent, and they’ve - they’ve so much love in them. Love and respect and admiration, for a man who can’t be bothered to see what’s right in front of his nose.”

“He loves Yennefer - ” Jaskier starts.

But Kain cuts him off, “And you have stood beside him all these years as a friend, and would you ever speak to a friend as he did?”

Jaskier pulls his hand back, to tuck both his hands into his lap as he stares down at the tabletop in thought. “Maybe, if I was hurting terribly and I wanted the world to hurt as well.”

“But would that make it right?” Kain demands, trying and failing to catch his eye.

Jaskier just stares at the table, and does not answer.

“Your feelings matter, too.” Kain tells him firmly, making Jaskier look up with a watery smile.

“You don’t even know me.” He says, “And yet here you are, comforting me.”

“Your sister asked me to,” Kain informs him, a sparkle of mischief in her eyes, “I dare not disobey her. She’s terrifying, you know. Not in the usual way, well. That too I suppose. She’s a dab hand with that sword of hers. But, when she’s angry, even when she’s miles away from her sword? I fear a bit for your Witcher, her storming out the way she did.”

“If she dies again, I’m going to kill her.” Jaskier grabs his mug and takes a deep swig from it.

Kain nods slowly, looking a tiny bit puzzled but also not willing to question it. After all, a woman like Renfri has obviously had close calls before. All one had to do to notice that was look at her throat, and the scar.

“I wish she was here with me. Instead of out there.” Jaskier whispers, “But I know her. She’s my sun girl. She burns so brightly. I forget, sometimes, that the sun’s gifts are rarely safe. She burns in everything she does. In fury, in love, in grief. She is made of fire at her core, and that means she’s bad at some things.”

“Like comfort?” Kain asks, raising her eyebrows.

It gets a laugh out of Jaskier at least, “Oh, her version of comfort is a few awkward hugs and then the heads of my enemies on a pike.”

This time it’s Kain’s turn to laugh, and then they’re laughing together. Even though it isn’t really funny, even though Jaskier starts crying a little bit in the middle of it.

“She loves me so much.” Jaskier hiccups, turning his head to look out the window, “She sacrificed so much. Even when I’ve got nothing else in the world, I know I’ve got her. And she’s got me. We’ve got each other.”

Kain smiles, “Sounds nice.”

“We traveled a lot, as kids.” Jaskier tells her, scrubbing at his face a little bit. “We never really had a home-home, the sort with the roof over your head and the warm fuzzy feelings. I remember after we left our parents. I asked Effee if she’d miss it, all the memories we made there.”

“What did she say?”

“She said no.” Jaskier’s face is fond and soft as he remembers, “She said that the memories we made didn’t live in a building. They lived in our hearts, and we’d carry them with us wherever we went. So we could carry all the good times, and let go of the bad, and keep moving forward.”

“She sounds awfully wise.” Kain says softly.

“Awfully practical, perhaps.” Jaskier laughs, “But you know what? She was right. My time with Geralt is over, and I’m allowed to grieve for it. But I can remember the good times, and forget the bad, and keep moving forward. I’ve written so many songs for Geralt, about our adventures and experiences together. They’re immortalized in song. But they aren’t the only songs I have in me, they aren’t the only music I have made.”

“You’ll find a new muse.” Kain says approvingly, but Jaskier shakes his head.

“I’ve never been in the business of having a single muse.” He laughs, “I find inspiration everywhere. I find love everywhere! Why, just ask Ger -”

Jaskier cuts himself off in the middle of the name, face screwing up and making Kain reach across the table again. She pats his hand in comfort, “Why don’t you sing me some of them, then. The non-Witcher ones, that is.”

Jaskier’s face brightens like a sunrise.

“Winter’s kiss has some enthralled, so they keep their fires bright,” He croons for his audience of one, voice still a little husky with the tears both shed and unshed, “But my breast is lit with flames to shun the dying of the light. Oh, blow the wind, and come the rain, and take my heart again…”

 

---

 

Renfri doesn’t know how, but she knows exactly where her target is.

She is incandescent with rage, something inside her chest burns and howls in fury, and all she can think about is the picture of Jaskier’s face streaked with tears and the sound of his voice as he told her that he wasn’t wanted.

Which was possibly the stupidest thing she’d ever heard in her life.

Jaskier? Unwanted?

From the moment he’d been born, Jaskier has been a shining star. He had never been unwanted. The beautiful prince, the heir to the throne, the jewel of Creyden with a voice as high and clear as a bell and a smile for everyone he met.

Jaskier was beloved by all, which was the only reason he’d gotten away with so much. Which was the only reason he could sneak in to see his monster of a sister, because no guard could resist his sincere smiles and bright baby blues.

Jaskier had been so very very wanted and yet, when given the choice, he’s chosen to run - for her.

Renfri knew what it was to not be wanted. Knew the bone deep sear, the furious desolation of knowing that you are fundamentally unwanted. She had known it, when her mother died and she’d been stuffed into a black dress screaming for comfort of arms that would never hold her again. She had known it, when she had tugged at her father’s hand but he only had eyes for his new bride.

Renfri knew. She had been branded a monster, she had started losing time, starting waking up with blood on her hands feeling hollow inside. Like all that was good and kind in the world had been carved away with a dull spoon.

And she remembers when her brother was born. She remembers standing over his crib and trailing her fingertips across his tiny delicate forehead. She remembers reaching out, and her tiny perfect brother reaching back. Wrapping tiny delicate fingers around her own and kicking his tiny legs with enthusiasm.

And then, even though she was a monster of a child that watched the people with too dark eyes and a face carved from stone, even though she unnerved even the guards, even though she grew more and more monstrous by the year, she learned the sound of uneven steps against the castle floor and the shriek of laughter as her perfect, beautiful baby brother careened down the hallways away from the nursemaids in search of her.

So yes, Renfri knows the joy of being wanted. She knows the way it burns, the way it almost hurts. The way it’s so much better than the emptiness.

And now she knows her brother’s face, the desolation and agony and emptiness that he was made to feel and she is furious. Some sort of price must be paid. Some sort of vengeance must be wrought.

She is going to claw Geralt’s eyeballs from his skull.

She strides up the mountain, a woman on a mission. The townspeople had taken one look at her face and practically leapt from her path. Very wise of them, considering she wasn’t exactly feeling merciful and the fact that she had one hand ready to draw her sword in a second.

And then Renfri draws to a halt, because that right there is a very familiar horse.

And Renfri draws closer and gently offers a hand and watches as the horse whuffles against it gently. She doesn’t have to scour the mountain in search of her target, not when she had possibly the only thing she knew he would return to right in front of her.

“Hello Roach.” Renfri says, smiling wickedly, “Where’s your Witcher?”

 

---

 

When Geralt finally began his descent, he’d calmed down a little. He felt - he didn’t know what he felt. He felt hollow. And tender. Not in the way a wound felt tender as it knitted itself together, or how bruises twinged before they faded.

It was - sharp. Between his eyes and under his ribcage. He had stood there, unable to watch Jaskier walk away, until the feeling had… not gone away, but gotten more distant. More bearable.

He was a Witcher. Witchers healed quickly. It shouldn’t take too long, for even this nebulous feeling of hurt-not-hurt to go away. He just needs some peace and quiet. Some time alone.

Except there is someone standing by his horse.

From a distance, he can’t make out too many features. He thinks it’s Jaskier, and feels a lightning bolt of anger flit through him. But then his eyes catch on the silver glint of metal, and he knows.

A sword. Jaskier does not carry a sword.

Then, he realizes it is not a man at all. He draws closer, and realizes that it is a woman who cradles Roach’s face in her hands. He draws closer, and can hear the mystery woman crooning under her breath.

“ - not a glance of reproach, for none would dare - to insult this mare, the great and mighty Roach!”

It’s Jaskier’s song. His Roach song. The one he’s constantly adding verses onto for each of their adventures, with more outlandish claims than even the ones he puts into his outrageous Witcher ones. According to Jaskier, Roach is the true mastermind behind all of their plentiful victories.

It’s Jaskier’s song, the one he sings on the road as he trails behind Geralt strumming at his lute with a clear voice and high spirits. The one he doesn’t sing at the taverns. The one this woman should not know.

He does the only thing he can. He draws back his shoulders and roots his stance and calls out, “What are you doing?”

His tone is severe, and it’s been known to make people flinch or flee. But the woman, who still has her back to him, only pauses in her song and in her petting. Much to Roach’s displeasure, as Geralt’s usually loyal companion leans forward and headbutts the stranger.

“I’m singing a song, Witcher.” The woman’s voice is high and clear and somehow achingly familiar. “I did not realize that there was anything wrong with that.”

Geralt stares at the woman’s back, as she still hasn’t turned to face him. The only thing he can think of to say is - “That’s Jaskier’s song.” And his voice does not have a slight growl in it, a slight accusation.

The woman goes still all of a sudden, and Geralt hadn’t even noticed she’d been gently swaying with Roach’s movement until she stopped. It looks unnatural, that stillness, and makes all the hairs on the back of Geralt’s neck prickle with instinctive alarm.

“And Jaskier is my brother.” The woman says, and Geralt feels her words like a physical punch to the chest, “So if anyone has a right to sing it, I suppose that would be me.”

“Effee?” Geralt ventures, and his voice is - hesitant. Wary and concerned. Jaskier’s sister showing up the moment he sent Jaskier away? Why is she here?

And then the woman turns around and it’s not a punch to the chest, it’s a knife.

“No need for such a silly childish nickname.” The Shrike stares at him with a smile that is not so much a smile as it is a baring of teeth, “Please, Witcher. Call me Renfri.”