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The Stars are Gone When You Look Away

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The Stars are Gone When You Look Away
For the 2020 @witcherbigbang.
Thanks to @extasiswings and @givemeunicorns for promising I’m not a failure and the fantastic @dls-ao3 for the beautiful banner (above) and the gorgeous art (below).
“Rating:...

Jaskier had thought he’d known what heartbreak was.

He’d spent years watching Geralt chase after Yennefer (while pretending that wasn’t what he was doing), knowing that Geralt wasn’t ever going to… well. His heart was broken. But he could live with it.

Now the mountain, and the possible hope… and then Geralt had gone to Yennefer, yet again, and then had decided that oh no, being his usual sourpuss self wasn’t enough. He had to blame Jaskier for everything, too.

Jaskier wasn’t an idiot.

…okay he’d been unrequitedly in love with someone for two decades, he was a bit of an idiot, fine.

But he wasn’t that much of an idiot. He knew Geralt, and he knew that Geralt was just lashing out because he couldn’t yell at Yennefer and because he knew, deep down, that Yennefer was right to be mad about the djinn wish.

Geralt wasn’t really angry at him. Hadn’t Jaskier told him not to get involved with Yennefer? And to not speak up at the banquet? And to not abandon his child surprise?

But Jaskier was loyal, and Jaskier was there, so Jaskier was the one getting yelled at.

Fun.

Just because he knew Geralt didn’t really mean any of it, didn’t equal having to stick around and put up with it. And it did tell him something very important. Something he’d known since he’d woken up alone that morning, Geralt having gone off without him in pursuit, once more, of Yennefer:

Geralt didn’t care for Jaskier the way Jaskier cared for him, and he never would.

Not to say Geralt didn’t care at all. Geralt cared more than he would ever admit. He cared for humanity, for children, for animals, for his friends. For Borsch. For Yennefer. And, yes, even for Jaskier. Jaskier knew that.

But he couldn’t keep bashing his heart upon the rocks.

Time to go, then. War was brewing anyway. He should return to Oxenfurt, brush up on things, get ready. War was history, and history needed bards.

It was nice to be back in Oxenfurt. It was his only real home. Lettenhove didn’t fucking count. Cold halls and colder parents. A mother who looked at him like she might cry, or ignored him entirely. A father who didn’t say anything but didn’t need to.

Oxenfurt, though. Oxenfurt had been where he’d gone to study the liberal arts. History, music, art, all of it—it fascinated him. He’d been a terror to his professors, sure: he’d never studied, and he’d had a bad habit of hiding alcohol behind his geography textbooks (they were the biggest, he could fit a whole demijohn behind one). He’d been out at all hours, partying and playing (and sleeping around), and he’d written every single essay the night before it was due.

But he really had loved it. Still did. Oxenfurt was a community of scholars and artists, and it was the closest thing to a permanent place he’d ever had. And so he found himself circling back to it, even as he always inevitably left.

Jaskier was not someone who could stay in one place for long. He loved people but even as he loved them, he tired of them. Cities were a bit too crowded for him to be in forever. He liked nature, wide open spaces. It was why traveling with Geralt had…

Fuck’s sake!

He wasn’t going to think about Geralt. He was in Oxenfurt. He was a professor. He had duties.

And if sometimes, at night in his rooms (all professors got a set of them in one of the large managed houses by the city center) he wondered if Geralt was okay, if he’d found his Child Surprise… that was the sort of wondering left to those dark hours, and none other.

He had been back in Oxenfurt for a few months when he heard the news.

One of his students, a ginger-haired girl named Mira, crashed into his lecture. “Professor!”

“While I appreciate anyone who can make an entrance,” Jaskier interrupted her, “this isn’t your class, my dear carrot top.”

“But professor.” Mira was not to be stopped. “I was told—I just heard—Cintra has fallen.”

A horrible hush fell over the room.

Yorick, a student who was from Cintra, went pale.

“Impossible,” someone else piped up. “Queen Calanthe would never let Cintra fall.”

Calanthe would rather die than let someone take what’s hers. Jaskier hadn’t meant for that to be a prophecy. He’d known that there would be war, but the Lioness of Cintra hadn’t lost a battle in all her years.

Mira looked like it sickened her to share this news, blotchy red patches appearing on her face. “Queen Calanthe is dead. Queen Consort Eist, too. The—the whole capital’s in ruins.”

Yorick jumped to his feet. “P-professor.”

“Go. All of you who have family in Cintra, go.”

Several students, including Yorick, bolted from the room.

Jaskier took a deep breath. Princess Cirilla. Geralt’s child surprise. Had she made it out? Her destiny was intertwined with Geralt’s. If she died—what did that mean for Geralt? Had Geralt been there? Was Geralt…

No. He was in charge of these students. These children. Most of them were about sixteen, none older than eighteen. He had to be steady for them.

“The rest of you. I understand this is upsetting. If you have family or friends near Cintra, I suggest you write to them. But panicking is not going to help anyone. Do what you have to do, but remain orderly.” He took another deep breath. “There’s a reason we study history. You’re all about to learn why. We have a responsibility here. This story will be told, and we’re the ones who will tell it.”

Pale, solemn young faces all stared back at him, eyes wet. Poor things. Politics was something to complain about, philosophize over. It was all so far away for them, until now.

“Class dismissed.”

Everyone packed their things, some moving slowly as if in a dream, others scurrying like mice.

Jaskier waited until they’d all left before slumping down into a chair. Fuck. Geralt. Was he all right? Was he alive?

He’d give anything not to care. To stop the way it felt like he was bleeding somewhere deep inside. Perhaps he would indulge himself tonight, buy some flowers and soak them in wine. He’d been an odd child by anyone’s standards and around ten years old he’d started up a craving for flowers. He’d go out into the meadows and just… munch. The pollen was the best. Honey was delicious but not quite the same. Over the years, of course, he’d learned that most people didn’t eat flowers but nobody would be in his rooms and he really just wanted to—

Years with Geralt, and being alone on the road, had sharpened his instincts. He felt someone about to enter just before the door opened again.

Jaskier looked up.

Standing in the door way was Matthias, of all people.

Jaskier sighed. “No.”

Matthias had a bit of gray in his hair and beard now, but he still gave off the impression of being too young and too lazy for his own good. It was a carefully cultivated impression. He wasn’t as tall as Jaskier, but he looked it with his broader frame, and when his hair caught the light, one could see the auburn in it.

Jaskier was one of the few who knew that Matthias padded his clothes and dyed his hair.

“I’m not asking you to go home,” Matthias said, striding over.

“Smart man. But don’t think I don’t know better than to let you drag me into trouble again, Matt. We’re not students anymore.”

He wasn’t a carefree, stupid eighteen-year-old anymore.

“No, we’re not. I’m a… well. You’re a traveling bard. All over the Continent, you are. Making friends with Witchers and writing lullabies for Princess Cirilla.”

“Are you saying I’m in danger?”

“No. I’m saying I think I know where your sympathies lie, and it’s not with Nilfgaard.”

Jaskier stood, suspicion stirring in his chest. “What does it matter?”

“It matters to certain… associates of mine.” Matthias cocked his head, taking the measure of Jaskier. “Associates who could use some eyes and ears. A traveling bard is an excellent cover.”

Jaskier let out a breath. He’d always known that Matthias was… involved in things. A word spoken here, a letter sent there, and Matthias helped to shift the borderlines of nations. “I’m not a good spy, Matt.”

“You’d be the best one.” Matthias leaned in. “Julian. Think about it. Nobody would ever suspect you. You’ve got connections, you’re observant, good at memorizing—you were the best in our year and you didn’t even study for half of it.”

He glanced around, as if he thought even here, even now, they could be spied upon. “We can’t stand against Nilfgaard. Even Aretuza is scared. We need all the help we can get. Please. You know powerful people, are you telling me you truly can handle standing by and doing nothing? What has it all been for, if not this?”

It was for love, Jaskier wanted to scream. It was all for love. All his songs about the White Wolf, they were for stupid, painful, hopeless, bleeding, broken love. Not at first. At first, he’d just wanted to be famous. He’d been fascinated and excited. But oh, the more he’d gotten to know Geralt, the deeper in he’d sunk.

But Matthias—nobody—would accept the truth. The truth doesn’t get respect. He’d been a ridiculous prat at age eighteen but that—that was one thing he’d been right about.

Besides. It might be the only way to find out what happened to Geralt.

“All right. You want, I’ll be your little canary. On one condition.”

Matthias nodded, as if he’d expected as much. “Go on.”

“I won’t go to the Witchers. They don’t interfere in politics. They kill monsters, they protect common people. And after you’ve all been spitting on them for years I don’t think they’d be too keen to help you all anyway. I’m friends with them, and I worked hard to earn that trust. I won’t break it now.”

Matthias, again, didn’t look surprised. “We won’t send you to the Witchers. Fair enough. I’ll let my associates know you accept and I’ll stop by your place tomorrow night for a… a drink.”

He clapped Jaskier on the shoulder, then turned to walk away. “I suggest you get your affairs in order,” he called over his shoulder.

Jaskier realized he wasn’t breathing and forced himself to inhale. He shivered. He always ran cold (Geralt had grumbled about it many a time) but this had nothing to do with any breeze.

War was here. And he was a part of it.

 


 

Geralt had known that war was coming. He’d known even during the trek up the mountain, when the talk had turned to politics. But it had still all exploded faster than he could’ve expected.

Some had told him that abandoning Ciri was why this had happened. That destiny was punishing him for not listening, for defying and ignoring it. But if it was destiny, why punish an entire country? Why punish people who had done nothing wrong?

Fuck destiny, if that was the case.

At least he had Ciri now. She was safe.

“You should’ve asked me for the Law of Surprise anyway,” the man who’d rescued him said, when Ciri led him back to the house. They might’ve found each other but Geralt was still fucking limping, and his leg still needed proper cleaning and dressing. “Would’ve been her, apparently.”

Geralt pretended not to see the way the man’s wife cut her eyes away, the glances she kept giving Ciri, the quiet way she mashed herbs for a poultice.

There were plenty of orphans from the war. He was sure this woman would find herself a daughter.

He knew someone else who wanted a daughter, too. Something in him screamed that Yennefer wasn’t all right, that she was hurt—he could feel it inside of him, just as he would find himself subconsciously ending up in the same town as her over the years. It was the djinn wish, destiny, at work.

War was here now, and he had Ciri, had to get her safe, and then he had to find Yennefer, and then Jaskier—

Not that Jaskier would want to see him.

Wounded or not, he wasn’t going to waste time. Winter would arrive soon, it was already snowing, and he had to get Ciri to Kaer Morhen. He had to find his friends.

They left at first light the next day.

He took Ciri to find Yennefer first. Jaskier was always tumbling headfirst into trouble but at least he had the good sense not to fling himself into the center of a war. He was probably at some court or other, living the high life now that he was no longer trailing in Geralt’s dirt.

Yennefer, though. She was at the heart of it all, he could feel it. A feeling like fire ghosting across the inside of his chest—and then nothing.

It took him far too long to find her, and when he did, his heart, already far slower than a human’s, just about stopped.

The most powerful sorceresses on the Continent were hiding out, battered, barely alive. Triss was bandaged on her throat and chest, and couldn’t speak. Yennefer was fine, but exhausted, and Tissaia—a woman he’d never met but had heard plenty about from Yen—looked ready to toss Geralt out on his ear if he drained any more of Yennefer’s energy.

Yennefer took one look at Ciri, and her eyes flashed.

Ciri sat with Triss as Yen drew Geralt aside. “I don’t know what kind of magic’s inside her, but she’s powerful. Where did you get her?”

It seemed that Yennefer’s anger with him was being set aside in favor of the bigger issues at hand—namely the war. Or perhaps it was just that she was too tired to argue over anything. Geralt pretended not to see the burn marks on her hands, her cracked lips, the slow, stiff way that she moved. She wouldn’t have appreciated him commenting on it.

Geralt took a deep breath. “This is her. My Child Surprise.”

Yennefer looked at Ciri. The child was holding Triss’s hand. Ciri was so withdrawn in many ways, so cold, her face a mask, and yet—there was still softness in her yet. It comforted Geralt. His softness was long gone. It was his job to fight monsters to try and preserve the softness of others. And if he could help to preserve a little bit of Ciri’s… maybe he could be doing something right, after all.

“She looks remarkably like Princess Pavetta of Cintra,” Yennefer observed.

“She does,” Geralt agreed.

Yennefer looked back at him. “Geralt…”

“She needs training in her magic. I don’t know of a better tutor.” He paused. “And she needs women in her life. I need to take her to Kaer Morhen for the winter. For safety. It’s all men there. I hoped…”

He trailed off.

Yennefer stared at Ciri with a sad, hungry look in her eyes, like a starving woman with a feast placed in front of her, and then her hands tied so she couldn’t eat. “You don’t want me to train her. Or raise her. You know me, Geralt.”

“Of course I know you.”

Yennefer looked back to him, her eyes snapping. “Then you know that I am not the perfect goddess, and I don’t live on the pedestal where you so kindly placed me.”

Geralt could feel Triss’ eyes on him from the bed. Even if she couldn’t speak, her eyes had layers.

“I don’t want you to be…” Geralt swallowed. “You’re the most powerful sorceress I know. You know how to survive. You refuse to compromise. You bow to no one. Ciri needs that. She’s heir to Cintra and Cintra has fallen. She needs to be like you.”

Yennefer blinked. She seemed taken aback. She looked away, a vulnerable emotion seeping into the lines of her face. “I’m not so sure being like me is the best thing.”

Triss tried to sit up and Ciri startled. Tissaia moved forward instantly, going from where she’d been respectfully watching from the doorway—close enough to warn Geralt but not so close that she could eavesdrop—to take Triss and force her to lie back down.

“Don’t try to speak,” Tissaia warned. She looked over at Yennefer. “What does he need?”

“I need her in Kaer Morhen, to train my daughter,” Geralt replied.

“When are you leaving?” Yen asked, holding up a hand as Tissaia started to speak.

“As soon as possible. I have to find Jaskier.”

Triss and Tissaia looked confused.

Yennefer turned towards the wall, like she was considering banging her head against it, and then turned back to Geralt. “You have to find Jaskier.”

“Yes.”

“You don’t know where he is?” Yennefer sounded incredulous.

“No.”

“Who is Jaskier?” Tissaia asked.

“The bard!” Ciri perked up. “He’s quite famous, he sang at my birthdays.”

…of fucking course Jaskier had gone back to Cintra, even though Geralt had avoided it. He didn’t concern himself too much with what Jaskier did when he wasn’t with Geralt—that way lay madness. Jaskier was an adult who lived his own life, as did Geralt. He didn’t need to keep tabs on him, like Jaskier was a child.

Yennefer gave Geralt an odd look. “I thought you two would be leaving the mountain together. Have you not seen him since then?”

“Hmm.” There was no way he could answer this question without incriminating himself.

Yennefer sighed. “Well. Your plan is to find Jaskier? Go and find him. Bring him back here, and we’ll all go to Kaer Morhen together. I can’t leave the others just yet.”

She walked over to Triss and put her hand on Triss’ forehead. Triss inhaled sharply and fumbled up, grabbing onto Yen’s wrist, squeezing tightly.

Yen shushed her, stroking Triss’ hair. Geralt suppressed a hum. He’d known Triss for some years now and had never seen her allow anyone to touch her like that. Triss and Yen knew each other, of course they did, but they hadn’t been in the same class at Aretuza. He hadn’t been aware they were so close.

The idea of leaving Yen behind made his stomach twist. She was clearly weakened even though she didn’t want to show it, and the thought that she could be vulnerable here without Geralt to possibly help—

He had always known Yen to be someone powerful. More powerful, possibly, than anyone else he’d ever met. To see someone who was the definition of a firestorm reduced to mere embers… it concerned him.

But he couldn’t leave Jaskier alone, either. Whatever cushy court job he’d found, it wouldn’t be safe for long. Who knew what Nilfgaard would get up to, even with winter swiftly approaching? It wasn’t the first snow yet, and until that happened, there was still time for the bard to find himself in the crossfire.

“Hmm.” He looked over at Ciri. It was tempting to leave her behind. Her training could possibly start, and normally, she would be protected with such powerful women.

But leaving her here made this hideout a magnet for Nilfgaard. Geralt couldn’t put Tissaia and the other remaining magical practitioners at risk while they were all weakened and close to defenseless.

He’d have to take her with him.

“Ciri and I will return,” he announced.

Ciri immediately hopped up to her feet and walked over to join him.

Yen glanced at Ciri, a sad look flying through her eyes like a bird before she met Geralt’s gaze. “Very well.”

She fetched a xenovox and handed it to him. “Just in case.”

Geralt pocketed it. “Let’s go.”

Ciri trotted after him. “Jaskier is just a bard. Why would he be in danger?”

It wasn’t that Jaskier was important to Nilfgaard. It was that Jaskier was an innocent person, a good person, and he shouldn’t be another casualty. It was that Jaskier was human and vulnerable.

He didn’t know how to tell Ciri that.

“You’re with me,” Geralt replied, grabbing Roach. “Jaskier’s known for singing about me. For being my… he’s associated with me. They could grab him to get to me, to get to you.”

Ciri gave Geralt an odd look, like she was hearing something in between his words. Geralt ignored it and swung her up onto Roach, following after. Ciri, like Yen and Jaskier both, could see things about Geralt he didn’t like anyone to notice.

Unlike Yen and Jaskier, Ciri kept her mouth shut.

It was surprisingly difficult to locate the bard.

Geralt expected it would only take, what, a week or so? Depending on travel time. But Jaskier wasn’t in any of the courts. Geralt couldn’t find him in Posada, or any of Jaskier’s other usual haunts.

Oxenfurt was dangerously far, so he sent a letter rather than riding himself while he checked in with the Countess de Stael. The letter he got back explained that Professor Pankratz had indeed been at the university but had taken leave, saying that his chief role was as a traveling bard and that people would need cheer and music in these trying times.

Geralt might—might—have thrown the letter into the fire in a moment of frustration. Going right towards the danger, of course that was what Jaskier did. He’d followed a Witcher, the ‘Butcher of Blaviken’, without a moment’s concern for his safety. Geralt had once seen Jaskier eat a goddamn rose when the bard had thought nobody was looking.

That meant he now had to track the blasted man.

Luckily for Geralt, a great part of his training was in tracking things, and also luckily for Geralt, Jaskier tended to leave a trail behind him. Literally and figuratively.

Didn’t mean that he had any clue what he was going to do with himself when he saw Jaskier again.

It had been a year since he’d seen the bard. A year since he’d lashed out and turned Jaskier into collateral damage. A year since the bard had vanished off the mountain.

Geralt wasn’t good with words at the best of times. How was he supposed to fucking find the words now?

He and Ciri followed the trail of Jaskier’s songs. That was always the way to find the bard. It was like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples Jaskier’s music, and if Geralt didn’t know any better he’d say there was some kind of magic to it, to following that thread through to a tavern right on the edge of what people were beginning to call the no man’s land—the barren areas cleared out by villagers fleeing from the Nilfgaard army before it even reached them, anticipating the pain and getting out of the way before they could be killed and their belongings destroyed.

Geralt entered with Ciri sticking close to his side, her hood up and her head down. They tried to be careful where they could.

Immediately he could hear a familiar voice. Could see a familiar figure. The clothes weren’t as nice, and looked more travel-worn than the bard liked. His hair was a little shaggier. But it was him, singing around the tavern, earning smiles and cheers and praise.

Geralt’s heart threw itself against his ribcage with a lurch. Jaskier.

The questions threw themselves on top of one another in his head like clamoring griffon chicks. What was he doing here? Why wasn’t he in some court, rewarded, praised, spoiled, safe?

Geralt started to move towards the bard—but Jaskier’s gaze flicked towards him and for the briefest moment, the bard’s eyes became like chips of flint. He shook his head almost imperceptibly, no.

It reminded Geralt of the banquet, when Jaskier had caught his eye across the hall and shaken his head, just like that. No, Geralt. Please don’t insult a bunch of nobles, as useless and spineless as they might be.

Geralt had listened then. He listened now.

He subsided back, leaning his elbows against the bar, and kept an eye on Ciri as she ordered for them.

Jaskier finished performing, accepted his coin and his bows, and then slipped out the back, professing the need for some fresh air.

Geralt followed.

“What are you doing here!?” the bard hissed the second Geralt came around the corner. Jaskier grabbed him and hauled Geralt into a dark corner of the stables, ignoring the impatient stomping of hooves. “You’re supposed to be in Kaer Morhen! It’s almost winter!”

“There’s a war,” Geralt replied, his jaw clenched. “You shouldn’t be in the thick of it.”

“And why not?” Jaskier raised his chin stubbornly, his eyes gleaming with that look that he got when Geralt had said something he found insulting. “I can handle myself.”

“Jaskier.” Geralt loomed. They were of a height but he was good at looming, no matter what size the other person happened to be. It had always been effective with Jaskier before. “You shouldn’t be here. What. Are you. Doing. Here.”

“Oh, no, you don’t, Mr. Broody McBrooderson,” Jaskier snapped, his voice quiet to keep them from being overheard but his annoyance plain. “I am not going to let you just swoop in here and judge me. I’m doing perfectly fine without that, thanks. And really, Geralt, I don’t think that you should have to babysit me.”

“I’m not…” Geralt swallowed. “You need to come to Kaer Morhen.”

Jaskier blinked at him, and then something in him seemed to shift. He drew himself up. “Oh? I am, am I? And here I thought I was giving you life’s one blessing. Doing the one thing you wished for so desperately.”

Fuck. Geralt had hoped… he and Jaskier had snapped at each other a few times over the years (all right, more than a few times) and every time, they had just… forgiven each other. No words necessary. It was how they were.

He’d fucked up when he’d told Jaskier those things. He knew it the moment he said it—fuck, even while he was in the middle of saying it. He couldn’t yell at Yennefer, he was so full of self-loathing he was choking on it, and Jaskier was… Jaskier. He would always be there. He was never fazed by anything Geralt said. So he’d hoped that with some time, a little distance, Jaskier would realize that Geralt hadn’t meant any of it and would forgive him.

Seemed he’d been wrong.

Jaskier gave him a sardonic smile. “In any case, Geralt. I’m not going to Kaer Morhen. I would so hate to shovel more shit on you, as you so poetically put it.”

Geralt swallowed down the growl that threatened to spring to life in his throat. He didn’t want to start another argument. “You’re not safe here.”

“Oh? And I’m that much safer with a Witcher?” Jaskier’s voice was a bit cold, in a way that it never had been before. Jaskier had never spoken to him like that.

It felt like a slap to the face.

Geralt inhaled carefully, trying to catch Jaskier’s scent. There was no acrid taste of fear—Jaskier wasn’t scared of him, thank fuck—but if he wasn’t saying Geralt himself was unsafe, then what else could he mean?

“You draw danger to you like dead horseflesh draws flies,” Jaskier continued primly. “You can’t possibly think, Geralt, that I’m any safer with you than I am on my own.”

I would keep you safe, you idiotic lummox, Geralt thought, but he didn’t say that. “Kaer Morhen is the safest place on the Continent.”

“That ruin? Geralt, really.”

He didn’t know where this snobbery was coming from but Geralt would literally rather be bitten by a cockatrice. “Jaskier. You’re my… associate. People know you sing about me. And I’m… wanted. They could find you to get to me. In Kaer Morhen you’d be away from them.”

“Geralt.” Jaskier’s façade cracked just a little, his eyes warming, and he seized Geralt’s upper arms. “I can’t go with you.”

“Is this really because of what I said?” Geralt snapped, patience wearing thin.

Two spots of color appeared high up on Jaskier’s cheeks. “Maybe it is! Maybe—”

Jaskier was going to go off on what was sure to be a terrific tirade, but Geralt clapped a hand over his mouth as something, like a hook through his ribs, tugged at him.

Ciri.

He turned and hurried back into the inn, Jaskier hot on his heels. “Geralt what—”

Geralt opened the door, looking in, scanning the room.

Ciri was gone.

 


 

Jaskier watched Geralt’s face go pale. All of his determination to keep up his façade, to drive Geralt away through snobbery and insults to keep him safe, keep him from blowing Jaskier’s mission, melted away like snow in front of a fire. He’d never seen Geralt look panicked before.

“Geralt?” He laid a hand on the Witcher’s arm. “Geralt, talk to me. What’s wrong?”

“You saw the girl I came in with.”

“Yes.” Jaskier paused, then proceeded cautiously, “She looks almost exactly like her mother.”

Geralt nodded shortly. “She’s gone.”

Jaskier looked around—and saw that Geralt was right. There was no sign of the blonde little poppet anywhere.

Fuck.

Geralt inhaled deeply. Jaskier had seen him do this a few times—his enhanced senses helped him to track monsters, and his sense of smell was the strongest.

“She went this way,” Geralt muttered. “Come on.”

Jaskier really shouldn’t. He really, really shouldn’t. He had a mission to deal with. He wasn’t a bard, or at least, not only. He was a spy, and the war was too important for any cog in the machine to pop off and go rolling away on its own.

…but he couldn’t leave Geralt. His heart was soft and bleeding, even now.

“I didn’t see any Nilfgaard people,” he murmured, keeping his voice low enough that no human could hear it—but Geralt could. He followed Geralt through the inn and out the front door as Geralt continued to inhale sharply every few steps. “Nobody that would grab her for political reasons.”

That didn’t eliminate the possibility that someone would grab her because she was a girl, alone. A quick cold fissure of fear ran down his spine.

They went down the main street, through the mud—and then down an alley and out the back of the cluster of buildings, towards the woods.

Oh no. This was not good.

“Couldn’t be by force,” Geralt murmured. “She’d fight back.”

“Of course she would, she’s your daughter,” Jaskier replied.

The woods had looked like nothing in particular before. Now they seemed to loom up that much bigger, the trees thicker and more numerous, the plants swallowing up all light and sound, creating a dark passage.

“Doppler?” Jaskier whispered, still keeping his voice only barely louder than his breath. For all that Geralt said Jaskier never shut up, he had gotten good at speaking at a level only Geralt could hear.

 “Hmmm,” Geralt acknowledged.

He forged ahead, and Jaskier followed, lunging a little to lean down and yank his dagger out of his boot. It wasn’t much, but it was silver.

Silver for monsters.

The trees embraced them immediately, rising up on all sides like looming creatures, and Jaskier pressed close to Geralt.

“Not a doppler,” Geralt muttered.

“How do you know?”

“Dopplers don’t smell. This smells. Smells like—” Geralt cut himself off, then looked at Jaskier.

“What?” Jaskier asked.

The next instant Geralt’s hand was around his throat, pinning him to a tree. Jaskier gasped, lights dancing behind his eyes. “Geralt—Geralt what—”

You,” Geralt snarled. “It smells like you. Fallen leaves, apple cider.”

“It’s not me!” Jaskier kicked at him, grabbing onto Geralt’s wrist. “I’d never hurt Ciri, I would never hurt you, Geralt.” Anger rose up in him like yesterday’s lunch. “And if you think that I ever would, then you haven’t been paying attention these two fucking decades, Geralt, honestly, I should think that after all I’ve done for you—and I have done quite a lot even if you don’t believe it—that I would ever betray you.”

“You were acting wrong. You smelled wrong.”

“Because I’m a spy, you ignorant dolt!” Jaskier smacked at Geralt’s arm. Damn Witcher muscles, the stupid man didn’t even seem to feel the hit. “I’m spying against Nilfgaard, and you could have blown my cover! You were in danger talking to me, I was trying to—to hurt your feelings—because you do have feelings, don’t you dare lie to me and say you don’t, though gods know you’ve got no clue how to handle them—so that you would leave! So that you would be safe!”

Geralt dropped him, Jaskier’s feet landing hard on the ground, and he nearly stumbled, gasping for air. “Fuck you,” he snapped, pointing his finger in Geralt’s face. “Fuck you, Geralt! I’ve been nothing but loyal and you think I’d—fuck you.”

Geralt looked a bit stunned. “You’re spying?”

“Yes!” Jaskier waved his arms. “I do have a life outside of you, you know! I had to—do something, after I heard Cintra fall—I had to help. I know people from Oxenfurt, and I’m not a—a soldier or a general, or much of anything—but I’m good at getting people to talk to me, and being a bard I—I know people, I’m welcome just about anywhere—”

Geralt still looked like Jaskier had grown a pair of horns right in front of his eyes. “Then why does it smell like you.”

“I don’t know!” Jaskier shook him a little. He’d never been so furious, so angry, so—

Geralt grabbed his wrists and squinted at him as rage coursed through Jaskier’s veins. He felt like his very teeth were sharper with it.

“Hmmm,” Geralt said, in that tone that meant I have no fucking clue what’s happening right now but shit’s about to get fucked.

“G-Geralt?”

Jaskier turned—and saw Ciri.

She was standing in a circle of mushrooms. And she wasn’t alone.

 


 

Geralt’s blood grew frigid as he stared.

The smell wasn’t quite Jaskier. It was colder, sharper. It held none of Jaskier’s warmth. But he knew it, he knew Jaskier’s scent so well he could hunt him in pitch darkness, even if the scent was stale.

The person in front of him, the creature in front of him, was nothing like Jaskier.

They stood tall and slim, with skin like oak tree bark, long, thin, tapered fingers, and eyes glowing like dying embers. They had their arm around Ciri, hand hovering menacingly in front of her throat.

Ciri’s eyes locked on Geralt. She opened her mouth slightly, then closed it. Geralt understood. She couldn’t speak. Probably something to do with being in the fucking circle of mushrooms. The fairy circle.

The creature extended a hand towards Jaskier—wait, Jaskier? “You are needed.”

Jaskier bared his teeth. His very sharp teeth. Geralt had never seen them look like that before—except once in a while when Jaskier had laughed and they’d caught the light, but he’d always thought it was just his imagination—but then again he’d also never seen Jaskier so angry before, either.

“I don’t know what you want,” Jaskier snapped, “but where I come from, we don’t hold children hostage to get things.”

The image of Renfri, her sword to Marilka’s throat, flitted through his mind. Geralt banished it. Desperate people did desperate things.

“You are needed,” the creature repeated. Its voice was like the wind rustling leaves on the ground. “Come with us and the child will be unharmed.”

Us. Shit. There were definitely more of them around.

Jaskier straightened up—and Geralt grabbed his wrist. “Don’t.”

Jaskier glanced at him from the side. “I’m supposed to think you care about me now? After you thought I would hurt Ciri?”

He smelled like crushed roses and mint. The scents of sadness. Fuck. Jaskier hadn’t smelled like this even after Geralt had yelled at him on the mountain. “They’re fae, Jaskier. You can’t trust them.”

“Fae do not lie,” the creature replied. What sort of fae it was, Geralt didn’t know. “The child will not be harmed if the prince comes with us to our court.”

“Hold on,” Jaskier said, putting his hand up. “The what?

Yeah, Geralt was wondering the same fucking thing himself. He tightened his grip on Jaskier’s wrist. “He’s not going alone.”

“He must,” the fae countered.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, he didn’t see a way out of this. Fae were notoriously stubborn. They wanted what they wanted, and usually they got it. There was a reason that Geralt had never taken on a changeling contract, no matter how much the parents would plead with him.

Fae did honor bonds, contracts, promises, but what could he possibly say? He’s my bard? That wasn’t going to fly. What promise had he made to Jaskier, or Jasker to him, that could…

It was a wild, impossible, stupid idea, but Geralt was used to making those. This couldn’t be worse than the banquet where he’d gotten Ciri, anyway.

He slid his hand down from Jaskier’s wrist to his hand, intertwining their fingers. “You have to take us with you,” he replied. “We’re married.”

Jaskier flushed, then went pale, glaring at him. “Oh you stupid fucking—”

“Then this way,” the fae replied, and turned to walk through the woods.

Geralt felt the air around himself get heavier, as though it had taken on the weight of his words, the weight of his lie. The fae did not tolerate lies in their realm, but they weren’t in the fae realm right now. But once they were in the fae realm… they’d need to sell the lie and act as though it were true.

He kept a hold of both Ciri and Jaskier as he moved forward, following the fae. They didn’t have much of a choice. Fae rarely showed weaponry, because they didn’t have to. And he wasn’t going to start a fight when he’d have both Ciri and Jaskier to protect. Discretion was the better part of valor.

Geralt,” Jaskier hissed.

Geralt grunted. Not now.

A staircase appeared before them—or perhaps it had always been there, and they had simply never noticed it. It was apparently made of stone and overrun with moss—the one remaining piece of a fallen castle. Or perhaps it was wood that had grown in such an odd way that it only seemed to resemble a staircase.

The fae began to walk up the staircase, which made no sense, seeing as the steps led up to nowhere.

Ciri pressed herself against Geralt’s side, the only sign she was concerned. Jaskier looked like he was about to start objecting again, and they couldn’t have that.

Geralt couldn’t afford to piss of the fae on top of everyone else. “It’ll be fine,” he promised. He didn’t know which one of them he was talking to.

He walked up the staircase and into nothing.

 


 

Jaskier found himself standing in another forest. This one was filled with gold and red and orange, the leaves exploding with color. Everything seemed a bit brighter, and he struggled to adjust. It seemed to be sunset, that so-called golden hour when the sky was lit up like an artist had spilled his paints.

“Fuck.”

He turned and saw Geralt next to him, covering his eyes, his face screwed up as if in pain. Jaskier had seem him like that before—when mutagens made him too sensitive—and he batted Geralt’s hands out of the way, covering Geralt’s eyes with his own hands instead.

Geralt grunted in thanks and started searching through his pack. Jaskier could tell the difference in the potions by sight, now, but not by feel, not like Geralt could.

“Too bright?” he asked softly.

Geralt hummed.

“Mortals are usually fascinated by our land,” the fae who had taken Ciri replied. “It is a pity one such as him is… unable to appreciate it.”

“Indeed,” Jaskier replied, keeping his hands over Geralt’s eyes as Geralt downed a potion. “Your land is so fascinating that you must trick people into entering it—a sign of its greatness, I’m sure.”

He wasn’t good for a lot but he could play the court game as well as any noble.

Geralt’s hands wrapped around his wrists and gently lowered Jaskier’s hands. The Witcher blinked, his eyes landing on Jaskier.

Jaskier tried to ignore the way his breath caught. He hated that he was so weak for that look, for that face, even now—that scarred, weathered, golden-eyed grumpy visage that he’d worked so very hard to forget.

“What do you want?” Ciri demanded, and oh fuck, Ciri was here!? What was she doing here?

Only someone raised as royalty could have that imperious tone at so young an age, and in such a situation. Jaskier couldn’t be sure, but the fae staring down at Ciri seemed amused.

“It is not about what we want, little cub,” the fae replied. “It is about what we need. Your father’s little bard has a great destiny—”

“Oh my gods,” Jaskier blurted out as Geralt’s head shot up like a bloodhound.

“Whatever destiny you think to confer on Jaskier,” Geralt snarled, “you can shove it up your ass.”

“Geralt, please.” Jaskier would’ve laid a hand on the man’s shoulder, but Geralt was still grasping his wrists. “Let’s not tempt the universe yet again, hmm?”

“And why is Ciri here?” Geralt went on.

“She is yours,” the fae replied. “Bound by destiny to you. We could not separate you. It would not be in our natures to separate those who are honor bound.”

Great. All three of them were stuck in the fae realm now. Absolutely fantastic.

And Geralt had said they were married. Of all the stupid things. What on earth had possessed the ridiculous man to declare such a thing, especially when he’d just made it clear that he didn’t trust Jaskier?

“Please,” the fae said, gesturing for them to follow. “If you will.”

Jaskier reluctantly fell in line behind the creature. “What do you want me for?”

“All shall be explained when we reach court. It is not for me to say.”

Jaskier glanced at Geralt. Geralt had that stubborn look on his face—the one that said yes, he was going to meddle in the banquet, yes, he was going to save the sexy but insane witch’s life, yes, he was going to go on this mountain trek because of Yennefer, and no, he would not be dissuaded.

Damn it. Jaskier looked at Ciri, who pressed herself against Geralt’s side. She looked worried, but not like she was going to back down, either.

Of course she was just as stubborn as her father. Fuck’s sake.

“Come,” the creature said.

Geralt narrowed his eyes ever so slightly. “You’re from the Autumn court.”

The fae paused, as if this was a serious question they had to consider. “Yes.”

Jaskier had no idea what that meant. He knew that some fae were more dangerous than others, supposedly. He knew you shouldn’t eat anything that you had in their realm or you’d be stuck there. And he knew that they loved to trick you into deals and promises by exploiting loopholes. But that was about it. So little was known about them that even as a scholar at Oxenfurt and a traveling bard, even as a friend of a Witcher, Jaskier knew next to nothing.

“My name is Merridew,” the fae went on. “Please follow me, your highness.”

Ciri started to step forward, realized that the fae was looking at Jaskier and not her, and flushed slightly in embarrassment.

“Prince,” Jaskier echoed the fae’s words from earlier. “My parents…”

He didn’t even know where to continue with that sentence. His parents had always been cold and distant with him. There had been an expectation that he would take on the title of viscount and sure enough he’d inherited it when Father had passed five years ago, but even on his deathbed, there had been no words of comfort or encouragement, nothing of pride.

There was a reason he’d never mentioned his family to Geralt.

But if he was a fucking fae prince, either his family had been a lot more interesting than he’d ever realized, or he’d…

Jaskier’s blood went cold.

He looked at Geralt and was just in time to see Geralt putting together the pieces himself. Those golden eyes went wide and Jaskier felt a horrible, sick twist in his stomach.

If he was the prince, then his parents were the monarchs. They were fae. And so was he.

Were fae monsters?

Geralt had never mentioned the fae. Did he see them as a threat?

“Your highness,” Merridew repeated. “Time is of the essence.”

“Yeah, clearly,” Jaskier snapped, his default spitefulness and sass rising up and overcoming his fear. “Given that you just kidnapped a girl to get us to follow you.”

“They looked like you,” Ciri said softly to Geralt, her voice just quiet enough that the fae couldn’t hear her.

“Glamour,” Geralt said shortly. “Fae are notorious for it.”

Jaskier grit his teeth. “We don’t have much of a choice, do we?”

“Hmm.”

Jaskier knew that hum. It definitely meant ‘no, dumbass’.

Well, they were here because of him. Jaskier squared his shoulders and stepped forward. “All right then. I don’t suppose you’ll mind telling me what the fuck is going on here, then?”

“All will be explained,” Merridew replied.

Great. Fantastic.

They followed the fae through the forest. The trees and plants were wild here in a way that Jaskier had never seen before. Ciri didn’t seem all that impressed, but Geralt was still watching everything through a squint, like even with a potion he couldn’t quite take all of it in.

It was only when Jaskier squeezed Geralt’s hand in reassurance that he realized they were, in fact, still linked that way. He started to tug his hand away, a hot curl of embarrassment in his throat, but Geralt gave a very slight shake of his head.

Right, they were married. Supposedly. And now they were in the fae realm.

Pulling off a lie like this was going to be insanely difficult. So long as they were in this realm, they couldn’t lie. Not outright. He’d have to sell the stupid, stupid thing Geralt had said while still telling the truth the entire fucking time.

He was starting to get a headache.

The foliage pressed close around them, almost as if the trees were leaning in to get a better look at them, and Jaskier glared at the plants.

The plants retreated.

Huh.

“Here we are,” Merridew said, and Jaskier swallowed hard.

Rising up among the trees, not-quite-ruined but getting there, was a large castle. Green ivy crawled up its walls, morning glories lurked in between the stones, and trees in the colorful grip of autumn bent low over the roof to make a cover in place of the empty slats where wood and stone had once been.

There seemed to be no formal guards, but Jaskier got the impression that didn’t matter. That this castle was still in fact greatly protected.

Each of the windows was made out of stained glass, depicting scenes he couldn’t quite decipher, that made his head hurt, but it wasn’t until he stepped inside the castle that he felt the full effect.

The setting sun streamed in through the windows, creating a kaleidoscope of color that exploded all over the floor, in the air, making Jaskier feel as though he was bathed in it. He grinned, unable to stop himself. He’d always loved colorful things, just look at his outfits for crying out loud, and he loved that he was currently standing in a rainbow. He was literally saturated in it.

Jaskier turned, still grinning, and saw Geralt staring at him. He had no idea what the expression on the Witcher’s face meant. In fact he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen that look before. Geralt’s eyes almost gleamed.

“What?”

The corner of Geralt’s mouth twitched. “Hmm.”

Despite the appearance of the castle, the inside was pleasantly warm and felt insulated. Jaskier found himself surprised at how… comfortable he felt. Like there was an itch inside of him, one that had been lurking in his chest since childhood, since he’d realized his parents didn’t love him, that had at last been scratched.

As if detaching themselves from the trees and stones—and perhaps they were, who knew—various fae emerged and encircled them.

“This one carries steel and silver,” one of the fae hissed.

Jaskier didn’t move, but glanced over at Geralt.

Geralt finally let go of Jaskier and Ciri and put his hands in the air—an action that Jaskier well knew the Witcher hated to do.

“He’s bound to his highness,” Merridew said quickly.

“He’s a Witcher.”

“And as your highness I rather don’t appreciate you talking about him as if he’s not there,” Jaskier said quickly.

All eyes turned on him.

“That’s what I am, isn’t it?” he said. For once, his defense mechanism of ‘just keep talking’ seemed to be working in his favor. “Unless you’ve got an extremely bad case of mistaken identity in which case, I certainly don’t blame you for it, but you might want to pop us back into the, ah, human realm since we are rather in a bit of a rush to go—somewhere—”

Geralt elbowed him.

“There is no mistake,” one of the other fae said. He stepped forward and smiled. He looked disconcertingly human. That was the only way to describe it. He looked human in the most unsettling way possible. “You are the son of our queen.”

“Ah, not that I’m calling any of you, well—everyone knows the good gentlemen of the hills are honest folk.” Jaskier tried to smile in that way that he knew was charming, knew disarmed people, but his teeth felt too sharp and clumsy in his mouth. It felt like he’d aimed for suave and it came out threatening. “But I rather don’t think my father would’ve let me inherit his title if he’d had any other options available. He did as good as kick me out at fourteen to pack me off to Oxenfurt so…”

“Title!?” Geralt blurted out.

“I’m a viscount,” Jaskier explained. “Please don’t ever mention it again.”

“You’re a what.”

“He’s the Viscount de Lettenhove,” Ciri said. “Everyone knows that. Haven’t you ever been to a banquet?”

Geralt looked like he was seriously considering banging his head against a wall.

“I would love it if we just pretended that wasn’t a thing,” Jaskier repeated.

 “Your father had no choice,” the fae continued. “I would know, for I was the one that helped to change you.”

“…change me?” That didn’t sound… all that great.

Geralt’s eyes went a bit wide. “You’re a changeling.”

The last word was spoken as if it was a curse. Jaskier winced, his stomach twisting. Great. So he was a monster.

“You—you ever dealt with them?”

Geralt shook his head. “Sometimes parents try to pay a Witcher to get their child back. Redo the swap. A wise Witcher always says no.”

“What happens if they don’t?”

The fae around them all smiled. Their teeth, Jaskier realized, were pointed. Sharp. Oh gods.

“Ah. Well then.” Jaskier cleared his throat. “How am I… if I’m your… surely you’d want to, ah, keep me… close?”

“My apologies your highness,” the fae said. He gave a half-bow. “But it was felt that you would not make an ideal ruler. Your mother hid her pregnancy and your birth. I was one of the very few to know of you. Upon the moment of your birth, I was dispatched to place you with a family of noble birth, and bring their human child back to be one of our…” The fae paused. “Cupbearers, is the colloquial term.”

Geralt looked impatient. “Supposedly, human children are raised as a combination of servant and pet. They’re taught to sing, to play music, to entertain and to serve.”

“They’re treated well.”

“They’re playthings.”

Jaskier had not often seen Geralt so upset, but then, once—during a very long and exhausting hunt—Geralt had told him that young boys were dropped off at Kaer Morhen, abandoned there by their families, and then raised to be weapons. Geralt hadn’t gone into further detail, and he hadn’t needed to. Jaskier had seen the scars in his eyes.

He could understand why Geralt was so furious at the idea of changelings.

“And what of me?” Jaskier asked. “Why was I not good enough?”

To be rejected by one set of parents, great, but now a second had rejected him? And from birth? Yeah this was real fun.

“Forgive us. It was only that your father was… a rather enchanting troubadour with whom our queen had spent some nights before he returned to the mortal realm. As a half-human it was felt that you would not be truly fit to rule.”

Jaskier wasn’t sure which was worse, Geralt not looking at him, or Ciri staring at him with open sympathy. He wanted to crawl into a hole and die, thanks.

“But circumstances have changed,” the fae finished. “And we have need of you.”

“Let me guess,” Geralt said, taking a step to his right. It was a small step, but it was just enough to suggest to the fae that Geralt would put himself between them and Jaskier if they got threatening. “The queen never had another kid.”

The fae bowed. “You are correct. And your highness, if you would accept, we would deeply appreciate you standing in as our interim ruler until we can vote on a suitable replacement.”

Part of Jaskier was hurt that they wouldn’t even consider him as a permanent ruler, but the rest of him was too busy being fucking relieved that he wouldn’t be stuck in this realm forever. It did feel oddly comfortable to him to be here, and he did love the beauty of it, the strange ruined-yet-not atmosphere. But it wasn’t his home. He wanted to go back to the Continent, to Oxenfurt, to all his friends he’d made over the years.

“And you are?” he prompted.

“Rapuntium,” the fae answered. “I was one of your mother’s chief advisors, along with Merridew whom you’ve already met, and my other council members here.”

The other fae all gave their own half bows to Jaskier. He was well aware what they were saying with this level of prostration—they were showing him respect but not as much as they should towards their leader and ruler.

He gave them all a half bow in response. No need to piss anyone off, but he also wasn’t going to afford them more respect than they’d given him. It would put him in a lower position.

Rapuntium nodded at him. “We are known for our honesty, but I cannot say that we are known for our forthrightness. But desperate times call for desperate measures and we do not have time to play games by withholding information.”

Jaskier noted that didn’t preclude playing games through different means.

“Our queen, your mother, was murdered by Nilfgaardians after we refused to ally with them.”

Jaskier’s stomach dropped.

Geralt moved Ciri behind him instinctively, even though Jaskier doubted there were Nilfgaardians currently about. But what if there were? What if the fae had just used Jaskier’s heritage to lead Ciri into a trap?

“We suspect that Nilfgaard has approached the other fae courts as well,” Rapuntium went on. “Summer and Spring are… somewhat dependable. I do not think that they will consciously try to undermine us but if they ally with Nilfgaard—or if their leaders have also been deposed—”

“And there is the Winter Court to think about,” another fae added. “If they learn that we are leaderless they will try and overcome us. It would not be the first time they have attempted such a thing.”

“So you need me to stand there and look pretty while you figure out what the fuck to do to keep your enemies at bay,” Jaskier surmised. “But what’s in it for me?”

The fae all looked at each other. They seemed confused. “What do you mean?”

“He means you’ve turned him into a sitting duck,” Geralt growled. “Any assassin, human or fae, will be coming for him. Why should he put his head on the block to help you?”

“It’s your heritage,” Rapuntium said.

“Bold of you to assume you have a choice in this matter,” Merridew said.

Everyone, Jaskier included, stared at them. Merridew shrugged. “I’m only speaking the truth. We’re not giving him a choice, are we? We’re making him be our king and we’re crowning him whether he likes it or not.”

“Good to know,” Geralt grumbled. “At least one of you is stating things how they are.”

So they were stuck, in the fae realm, with no choice but to stay here. They hadn’t eaten or drunk anything, yet, but that didn’t mean that they’d be able to leave of their own free will if they tried.

Jaskier could see Geralt’s fingers twitching. The Witcher’s ‘tolerance for bullshit’ levels were never very high, and he was reaching the end of them. As tempting as it was, there was no way that Geralt’s methods would work.

Not that Jaskier thought Geralt was just a brute. Far from it. He knew how smart and surprisingly diplomatic Geralt was. But Geralt hated nobility and the games they played, and wasn’t that what fae did? Just with more magic involved?

Jaskier put his hand on Geralt’s elbow, squeezing gently as he looked over at Rapuntium. He seemed to be the one in charge of the others. “We’ll help you. But not without establishing a proper deal.”

Rapuntium smiled. His teeth were sharp. Fae loved deals.

Well. So did Jaskier.

He matched the fae with a smile of his own.

 


 

Triss watched Yennefer as she moved around, helping everyone. The only person on her feet as much was Sabrina, despite both Tissaia and Yennefer telling her she also had to rest.

“It’s my fault,” Sabrina said once, her voice quiet but tense and warm in a way that Sabrina’s rarely was. “I was the reason they got in. I hurt people.”

Triss didn’t agree with that, but she could see, as Tissaia and Yen could, that there was no changing Sabrina’s mind. Controlled by Fringilla’s magic or not, Sabrina saw herself as responsible, and eventually there was nothing to do but respect her choice to be up and helping the others.

Secretly, Triss was glad for it, even though she knew it was selfish. Sabrina up and about meant that Yennefer could sometimes get a rest. Yen had always pushed herself. When Triss had first gotten to Aretuza, she’d admired Yennefer so much. Determined and bold and powerful, a firestorm, Yen had been everything Triss wasn’t.

Now she was older, much older, and she saw the cracks in Yennefer’s ferocity. She just wanted Yen to learn to take a fucking break when she needed it.

The woman herself sat down in the chair next to Triss, wincing slightly as she flexed her fingers.

Still a bit stiff? Triss signed.

Her throat was mostly healed, but Tissaia had told her not to push it. Healing magic took a lot out of both the subject and the person casting, so it had to be done in stages and natural, regular medicine was used when possible.

Yennefer nodded. She held out her hands to show. “I’ve never channeled that much power before. All at once.”

What was it like?

A triumphant gleam slid into Yennefer’s eyes. “Amazing.”

Triss smiled at her.

“You could do something like that,” Yennefer noted.

Triss shook her head. Nobody was powerful like Yennefer. Not even Tissaia. There is power in small things.

The ability to fix a broken cup, to pinpoint the hole in a heart, to draw a splinter out of a finger—Triss had found joy in finding the small things and fixing them. Small things led to big things. For want of a nail…

“…the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost, for want of a rider the message was lost, for want of a message the battle was lost, for want of the battle the kingdom was lost…” Yennefer smiled. “And all for want of a horseshoe nail. Yes. I know the story.”

Triss took Yennefer’s hands in hers. Yen was so much more than a horseshoe nail.

The tea in Triss’ cup evaporated as she poured flexibility and elasticity into Yennefer’s fingers. All magic had a price.

Yennefer yanked her hands away. “Triss! You’re supposed to be resting.”

It was nothing. Really. Yennefer’s hands were needed. Triss’ throat was not, at least not right now. You need to leave and train the girl.

Yennefer sighed and rubbed at her forehead. “She’s got power. You could feel it?”

Triss nodded.

“Geralt wants me to go to the home of the Witchers and train her,” Yennefer continued in a lowered voice.

Ah. Geralt of Rivia. The White Witcher. Triss considered him a friend and she deeply valued his compassion and sense of justice, even if he would protest until his last breath that he had neither.

She hated herself for the sour twist in her gut that now accompanied his presence, or talk of him. After all, it was hardly Geralt’s fault that Yennefer wanted him. Of course Yennefer would pick someone who was the ice to her fire, someone who was prickly and taciturn just as Yennefer was, who went his own way and said ‘fuck you’ to everyone else, just as Yennefer did. They were so alike. Yennefer would never look twice at Triss.

But gods, she could be the flowers springing up after Yen’s wildfire, the seeds that sprouted only after being exposed to the flame. She could be the gentle spring rain. If only Yennefer would let her.

Yennefer never would, though, so. Triss had decades ago resigned herself to try and be satisfied with looking and yearning.

She could be the daughter you want, Triss signed.

It was a risk to bring up such a sore spot with Yennefer, especially when the sorceress was feeling so raw. She could invite Triss further in, or she could lash out at her. You never knew with Yennefer of Vengerberg. But she had never lashed out at Triss, not in all their years of knowing each other, and Triss had handled spoiled childish kings for years. She could handle one cranky friend.

“I know,” Yen admitted wearily. “But I don’t know if I can let myself. After all this time… and she’s Geralt’s child, not mine. His child of surprise.”

So? Triss signed. Sounded like it was all working out nicely for Yennefer. The man she wanted, the child she wanted, all in one neat package.

Yennefer glanced around, probably to make sure Tissaia couldn’t overhear. “The passion I felt for Geralt was always strange to me. It was like a fever burning me up. I didn’t feel in control and I hated it. But the thought of losing him was just as painful. I didn’t know what to do. I kept telling myself, maybe this is what love is really like. Maybe you’ve just never felt it before, not truly, and you’re scared of the power it has over you.

“But then Geralt admitted that he used his djinn wish to bind our fates together. And all djinn wishes come out in a way you didn’t intend. I wasn’t in love with him. It was the djinn, forcing us to come together time and again or suffer the consequences. To be in pain if we didn’t meet up. Always bringing us together no matter how much we clashed and no matter how much we got in each other’s way.”

Triss stood up, anger taking root in her heart in a way it rarely did. He’d bound Yennefer’s fate to his without her consent. She never would’ve thought Geralt would do such a thing. She was going to find him and—

“Peace, Triss.” Yennefer took her hand and tugged her gently back to sitting again. “I’m no longer angry with him. Only tired. We’ve had our ugly words over it.”

Do you… Triss’ fingers trembled as she signed the words. …do you not want him?

“No. I don’t. I will always feel drawn to him. I can’t help that. I don’t know that the djinn wish could be broken. I could barely manage to break his first wish, one that nearly killed that bard of his, and I still don’t know how the man didn’t die. He should have died, any mortal should have…” Yen paused.

Triss knew where her mind had gone. Any mortal.

Yennefer waved her hand. “The bard’s nature is unimportant. He’s a fool no matter whether he’s a dragon or a human or, gods forbid it, a fae. What matters is I could barely save him. I acted as though it was nothing. I wanted to impress this famous Witcher. And you know as well as I do that Aretuza teaches us not to show weakness.”

She smiled at Triss and squeezed her hand. “Except for you, our darling exception.”

Triss was well aware of the reputation that she had, the soft among the strong, and she was glad of it. She’d worked hard to cultivate such a reputation. But sometimes she wanted to scream, because she could be Yennefer’s exception, too, if only the woman would care to pay attention.

“But it was hard.” Yennefer released Triss’ hand and sighed. “I don’t think I could break this djinn wish. And so our paths will cross and cross again. But now I know what it is, and once you know that magic is upon you, it no longer feels as it once did. I can’t stop it, but it doesn’t feel real to me anymore. Which leaves me with…”

She paused, then gave an elegant shrug. “Well. I care for him. But I don’t know what we are and I’m not in love with him and my only remaining fear is that he is still in love with me.”

You’ve broken hearts before, Triss pointed out. More hearts than Yen knew.

Yennefer gave a sardonic laugh. “No heart as good as his. For all his mistakes and blunders, Triss, he’s a good man. You know that as well as I do.”

Triss wanted to scream, and what about my heart? Is mine as good as his, too?

But that was childish. She simply nodded and smiled in support.

“You’re so easy to talk to.” Yennefer’s smile gentled. “Thank you. It means a lot.”

Any time.

She meant it.

 


 

Geralt kept Ciri up against his side as they were led further into the castle. The further in they went, the less ruinous and more put-together the castle became. Other fae appeared, as if out of nowhere—or, no, that wasn’t quite it. It was more like they had always been there, but Geralt hadn’t been able to see them before.

If the Autumn Court was worried about Nilfgaard, and they found out who Ciri was, they could use her as a bargaining chip or a weapon. He had to get her out of here.

He also needed to get them some help. Jaskier was—apparently—a noble, but even if he hadn’t been, he had still gone to Oxenfurt. He’d studied poetry and rhetoric and he was the one who routinely found himself in courts. That was all well and good. It would keep them alive, somewhat.

But they needed power. And out of all the sorceresses on the Continent, there was only one he knew of who had ties with the fae realm.

“We’ll show you to your chambers,” Rapuntium said. “Once you are settled, we can begin the crowning ceremony. We must act quickly.”

“Or Nilfgaard will suspect they really have weakened you by the assassination,” Jaskier replied dryly. “Same with the Winter court.”

Rapuntium inclined his head in recognition. “Merridew?”

The fae who’d led them into the realm stepped forward. “I’ll show you to your rooms. You’ll have fresh clothes and some food.”

“We’re not eating,” Geralt replied.

The fae all looked like a combination of annoyed and uncomfortable. Geralt didn’t give a flying fuck. If they consumed anything in the fae realm, they could be stuck here forever.

“Your husband is one of us,” Rapuntium said, his hands up in a placating manner. “He can come and go whether he eats of our food or no. You are a Witcher. We will not anger your people by keeping you here.”

Geralt tried to tell if the fae was lying. Fae didn’t lie, at least not directly, but that didn’t mean they didn’t delight in finding other ways to trick people. They found it a sport, almost. It was considered a mark of ability to get the upper hand over someone else by telling that person the truth and winning through loopholes, omissions, or rhetoric rather than by falsehood.

And yet… unlike humans, he couldn’t get a fucking read on the fae. Geralt couldn’t tell if someone was lying, exactly. But he could smell fear, and bravery, he could smell lust and hate. He could detect general emotions, in other words. And he could easily use those to figure out if someone was lying to him.

But he couldn’t get anything off of these fae, nothing at all. Their smells were completely foreign. He didn’t know what indicated hate or fear or happiness.

Shit.

Geralt carefully used a slight of hand trick to palm the xenovox Yen had given him into Ciri’s hand. “Fine. But you’ll let my daughter return to the mortal realm. Children don’t fare well in fairyland.”

Several fae chuckled knowingly. Merridew glared at them all in a chastising manner. “Fine.” They looked over at Rapuntium, as if for confirmation.

Rapuntium nodded.

Geralt nudged Ciri, who jolted and looked up at him. “You can’t be serious! I need to stay with you!”

“You need to be safe,” Geralt replied.

He squeezed her hand, which made Ciri squeeze the xenovox. He wasn’t sure how much of her reticence was an act and how much of it was her very real fear at being alone again, but he needed her to get out of there. A xenovox wouldn’t work in the fae realm. And obviously he had to stay here with Jaskier. Both to protect him and to maintain their new cover.

“Fine.” Ciri glared at him but stepped back, letting go of his hand. Her own hand slipped into the pocket of her cloak.

Good. Once Ciri explained to Yen, Yen would know what had to be done.

“Take the staircase down,” Merridew cautioned. “Do not stray from the path. Do not eat anything. Do not pay attention to whatever you hear. And don’t look behind you.”

Ciri flushed but nodded. She’d been on her own through enemy territory, and she’d survived. She could do this.

Geralt watched the child he hadn’t even been sure he wanted disappear into the foliage and too-bright trees.

His heart ached.

“Follow me,” Merridew said.

Geralt looked at Jaskier. Jaskier looked back at him and raised his eyebrows. Geralt couldn’t recall a time when the bard had been silent for this long.

Jaskier gave his lopsided shrug, the one that meant might as well, Geralt.

Geralt nodded at the fae, who began to lead them down through a side corridor—one that Geralt was sure hadn’t existed a few minutes ago.

Space and time were strange in the fae realm. You could spend what you thought was only a night there, only to return and find it had been two decades. You might wander for hours circling the same small patch of woods. He didn’t know the rules, only that they weren’t the ones that humans played by, and that put an itch between his shoulder blades that he couldn’t scratch.

The corridor twisted this way and that, up and then down, the only consistent thing the frozen sunset outside the stained-glass windows. It had been sunset this whole time.

At last, they stopped in front of a large and thick wooden door. That would be serviceable. Defendable. There was no metal holding the door in place or even for a handle. Instead the handle was of a finely polished dark red stone, perhaps garnet, and the door used interlocked wood in place of metal hinges.

“These chambers are yours,” the fae indicated. “They are not… the usual chambers for our leaders, but we thought that perhaps… some rooms apart from the rest of court might be useful. We know how mortal couplings usually go.”

Geralt resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. Don’t ask, don’t ask, don’t ask…

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jaskier asked.

Merridew wrinkled their nose. “You’re very loud.”

Geralt had not been aware that Jaskier’s face could turn that shade of purple.

“He is,” Geralt agreed, deadpan.

Jaskier turned a betrayed look to Geralt, his teeth sharp. Geralt had always only thought that to be a trick of the light, but now—now he knew that it wasn’t just his imagination. Jaskier’s teeth really did get sharp when he was feeling aggressive.

Oh, shit, he was feeling aggressive at Geralt.

What? He’d overheard Jaskier with his paramours many a time. He knew what the bard was like. He was a talker, his voice running up and down the scales, swearing and begging and cooing compliments.

…okay, so maybe he’d listened in on more of Jaskier’s escapades than was strictly necessary. And maybe he’d thought about Jaskier’s bed habits more than he should have. What of it?

“I shall leave you.” Merridew bowed. “The evening is yours, your highness. We will prepare for your coronation. I apologize that it will be hasty but…”

“But I’m only an interim ruler and you don’t want me anyway,” Jaskier replied, his tone mild but his eyes glowing unnaturally.

“…but,” Merridew went on, their voice gentle but firm, “time is of the essence.”

“Who will take my place?” Jaskier asked. “Once all this has been dealt with.”

“All the council members—whom you just met—wish to take the throne.” Merridew made a movement that might have been a shrug. It was hard to tell. “But nobody is prepared for violence. So they will vie for your favor so that you will pick them as your heir when you leave.”

“No pressure,” Jaskier said with sarcastic brightness.

“Indeed. Please rest. You will need it.” Merridew paused, then spoke in a lowered voice. “And trust no one.”

“Does that include yourself?” Geralt asked.

Merridew flashed a smile. “Autumn leaves change in an instant. So too do we.”

The fae opened the chamber door for them, and then was gone.

And Geralt was left alone with a bard who was not just a bard, his human who was not just a human, and his husband who was not his husband at all.

Fuck.

 


 

Ciri kept her eyes forward.

The path out of faerie was longer than it was when they’d been entering. She could’ve sworn they’d gone up the staircase and just appeared right outside the castle. But now, she had been walking down the path for what felt like an hour.

“Ciri!”

She kept her eyes forward.

“Ciri!” It was Geralt. He sounded desperate. “You have to come back. You have to stay close with me. I shouldn’t have let you go alone.”

“Cirilla!” It was Grandmother. “Cirilla… I survived… I’m here… come to me… my granddaughter, my darling Cirilla…”

“Ciri!” The dyads. “What are you doing here!? How lucky we ran into you. Come with us, we’ll keep you safe.”

“Princess Cirilla.” Enemy voices she did not know. “How… fortunate… that we should run into you. And all alone, what a pity.”

“Ciri!” Geralt again. “Ciri turn back! Turn back!”

She just had to keep her eyes forward. She couldn’t look back, she wouldn’t answer, she wouldn’t, just keep her eyes forward—

The staircase!

Ciri ran for it, down the steps, dead brown leaves sashaying away from her feet as she hurried across the broken stone. The air compressed and her ears rang, almost like the air when she unleashed her scream, and then all the color went out of the world.

No. No, the color didn’t leave. It was just back to normal.

Ciri blinked. There was no staircase. Nothing. Just the dull, quiet, autumn woods.

Her hands shook as she drew out the xenovox. She’d known what Geralt was saying when he’d pressed it into her hand—she had to call to Yennefer.

She’d never used one of these before, but their operation was fairly simple. You opened the box—which looked like a rather ornate snuff box—and spoke into it.

“Lady Yennefer?” she whispered. “Lady Yennefer! It’s Ciri. I hope you can find where I am. We’re just to the east of No Man’s Land. Jaskier and Geralt have been taken by the fae. Apparently Jaskier’s their prince? Or their king now I guess. He’s a changeling. I don’t know what they’ve got planned but Geralt said I needed to contact you right away. We need help. I’ll wait for you here.”

The box was silent. No response. Was that how it was supposed to work? She didn’t know.

Well, she couldn’t go back to faerie. She just had to wait.

And trust.

She took a deep breath. All along her journey to find Geralt, she had found help in unexpected places. People both young and old, powerful and helpless, who had risked themselves to stand by her side. Some had died for her. There were good people in the world. People worth trusting.

Ciri took another deep breath.

She could do this. She could trust, one more time.

 


 

Jaskier had to admit, these were some really fucking fancy chambers.

There was a massive bed up against the left-hand wall, with a massive stained-glass set of doors just beyond, leading out onto a stone balcony.

Jaskier walked over, peering through the glass to see the forest spread out before him like a patchwork quilt, the trees all shades from green to red and everything in between. The sunset bathed them all, right up until the far end where he thought he could see whiteness, or darkness, or perhaps both.

He got the impression that everything the light touched was a part of the Autumn realm. His, technically. But only technically.

Not that he wanted it anyway.

“You need to leave.” Jaskier turned to face the room again.

It really was a nice room. The huge fireplace on the wall across from the bed, the tapestries that hung against the stone to provide insulation, and the beautifully carved wooden furniture all made this a set of chambers truly fit for royalty. Jaskier could understand why humans that came into the fae realm were tempted to stay.

Was that what this was? Making the place attractive so that Jaskier would be lulled into a false sense of security?

You can’t trust anything in faerie, he reminded himself.

Geralt was already in the process of putting his swords under the bed. He always put them there, although this time he wouldn’t be taking them back out again. It would be a huge diplomatic incident to have a Witcher with steel and silver on his back standing among fae.

He looked up at Jaskier’s words and blinked. Most people looked openly surprised—they would widen their eye, their eyebrows would shoot up, their mouths would shift or even drop open. Geralt just blinked.

Jaskier hated that he still prided himself on being able to read Geralt’s micro-expressions.

“Why.”

God forbid Geralt ever use inflection on questions like a normal person. “Because you aren’t safe here, you dingbat.”

“You made a deal.”

“A deal we can’t trust! No matter how airtight we think we made it, Geralt.”

The council had sworn not to harm Geralt, and that none of them would raise a hand to Jaskier, and that in turn Jaskier and Geralt would not raise a hand to harm any of them. Jaskier turned the words both sets of people had spoken over and over in his mind, like river stones, but he couldn’t trust them. There had to be loopholes, there had to be. And as long as he operated under that assumption, maybe he’d be ready when the attacks came.

Jaskier walked over to join him as Geralt stood up. “You’re a Witcher, Geralt. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Witchers tend to hunt monsters to protect people. That’s your job. Protecting people. And the fae tend to do the opposite of that. You’re not going to be all that well liked by the fae here and I don’t want—this is my problem. My issue. Not yours. You’re under no obligation to stick around and defend me just because you think it’s your job.”

Especially not when Geralt had just proven that he didn’t trust Jaskier. The mountain had hurt, of course it had, but Jaskier had known it was just Geralt trying to fling his anger at someone who wouldn’t walk away. But thinking that Jaskier would ever try to hurt a child? To betray Geralt and hurt his child surprise?

Jaskier didn’t know where that had come from, but he wasn’t going to stand for that kind of mistrust.

Geralt got that mulish look on his face that meant he was silently cursing, and started—stripping off his armor and moving to put it on the bed that motherfucker—

“What in all the Continent—Geralt.” Jaskier spread his arms wide, stopping the Witcher from moving forward. “You are the most stubborn, stupid, frustrating man I have ever had the misfortune of meeting and calling a friend.”

Geralt inhaled slowly. “I’m not leaving, Jaskier.”

“This isn’t about—all right, yes, it is.” Jaskier took a few deep breaths of his own. “The point, Geralt, is that you just threw me against a fucking tree and demanded to know what I’d done with Ciri—as if you thought I could possibly—ever hurt her, and that—you can’t think I’d ever hurt her. And then you go and tie yourself to me? In the fae realm!? I’ve gotten mixed messages before Geralt but this takes the fucking cake. And the pie. And the whole buffet table.”

Geralt’s forehead wrinkled, as if Jaskier had just told him that vampires sparkled, and then his brow cleared. “Jaskier. You—you smelled like the fae.”

“Yes, thank you for reminding me, I’m half fae, excellent. Just what I needed to be reminded about right now, my complete and total identity crisis.”

“I thought…” Geralt cleared his throat. “I thought that meant you weren’t really Jaskier. That you were a fae glamouring yourself.”

Jaskier’s brain stuttered to a grinding halt. “What?”

“I thought you were an imposter,” Geralt emphasized. “I know you would never—” He made an impatient sound and looked away.

“Oh.” The word came out very soft and small. “So you… do trust me.”

“Yes.” Geralt looked back at him. “You’re infuriating, on every level. You’re a rogue, Jaskier. But you’re a…” Geralt’s face spasmed like it hurt to say it out loud. “You’re a friend. You’ve always had my back. And I know you wouldn’t hurt a child.”

“Well. That’s. That’s—very all right, then, I suppose, isn’t it? Yes. Um. Very nice to hear.”

Geralt sighed and reached out, wrapping his fingers around Jaskier’s arm. They had always been a bit tactile—well. Perhaps that was the wrong word for it. Too soft of a word. They’d always been shoving each other, yanking each other around, elbowing each other. Jaskier could admit he’d often treated Geralt like a convenient tree when a bear is spotted, while Geralt would treat Jaskier like a blind puppy in danger of stumbling off a cliff.

But they hadn’t touched, really, not since… reuniting.

Geralt squeezed Jaskier’s arm with much more gentleness than usual. “Jaskier. You can’t trust anyone in this court. Neither of us can. You’re a puppet.”

“Thanks, Geralt. You always know just what to say.”

Geralt glared at him. “I’m trying to…” He gave an exasperated hum. “I’m trying to tell you. You can trust me. I trust you, Jaskier. With Ciri, and with—myself. And I want you to know—you can—I’ll have your back in this.”

Well. It was a far cry from the hopes he’d once harbored of having his feelings returned, but—Geralt’s trust wasn’t lightly given. Far from it. It was yanked out of him, slowly. Jaskier had seen the man be more casual about vampires and torture devices than about this. To know that Geralt trusted Jaskier, in this pit of vipers, a world where Jaskier’s skills were possibly all that could keep them safe, his witty words and charming smiles the thin, fragile shield against all of fae magic and fae trickery—

It meant—a lot. Quite a lot indeed. More, Jaskier thought, than he could actually find the words to say.

“What about the lie?” he asked. “We can’t say a falsehood while we’re here, Geralt.”

He knew his cheeks were burning but he ignored it.

“We’re not married,” he hissed, lowering his voice. “And we can’t lie about that!”

“No,” Geralt acknowledged. “But we are bound together. It’s by friendship and not by marriage but I’m not leaving you alone to deal with this. And that’s exactly what they’ll do if they find out.”

“But we can’t lie!”

“Are you a bard or not!?” Geralt snapped.

That brought Jaskier up short.

“Your job is words,” Geralt said, taking Jaskier by the shoulders. “You’ve talked yourself into and out of more situations than I can count. All we have to do is touch each other the way couples do, and say things that are true but could be misinterpreted. You’ve pulled off far more outrageous things than this.”

Jaskier blinked at him. “That was actually inspiring. And was several sentences strung together. Who are you and what have you done with Geralt?”

Geralt glared at him as though he was seriously considering shoving Jaskier onto the bed (and not, alas, in a sexy way) when the door to their chambers began to open.

To Jaskier’s shock, Geralt wrapped an arm around his waist and yanked them against each other. Jaskier’s hands landed with a slap on Geralt’s chest and he instinctively reached up and tugged on Geralt’s hair to irritate him. “What—”

The door finished opening and a fae stepped in, her hair like red vines, her eyes the pale, soft blue of autumn mornings, but without pupils. In her hands was a tray laden with food and drinks.

“Oh, your highness. I didn’t mean to interrupt.” She hurried to set her tray on the long table against one of the walls. “I was sent to bring you food. Please, enjoy. I promise it will not bind you or your Witcher here.”

Jaskier’s face was on fire. He had his hand in Geralt’s hair while Geralt had them crushed against each other. He could feel Geralt’s warm breath ghosting across his neck, and he couldn’t suppress his shiver in time.

Geralt nudged him. Right. He was supposed to talk.

“Um, yes, well. Thank you. I appreciate it.” Should he ask what her name was? Should he add something else?

Geralt nudged Jaskier’s ear with his nose. “Relax,” he breathed.

“Difficult to do,” Jaskier replied. He dug his elbow into Geralt’s ribs.

Damn Witcher didn’t even grunt.

“I’ll leave you,” the fae said. She bowed and then hurried from the room, closing the door behind her.

“She didn’t knock,” Geralt observed.

“No. She didn’t.” It was a small thing, but still. It could mean nothing. It could mean quite a lot.

Geralt’s arm was still around his waist.

Geralt seemed to realize their continued position at the same moment that Jaskier did, because he stepped back so quickly that Jaskier nearly fell over and Geralt had to put his arms on Jaskier to steady him. “I’ll try the food first.”

In case it was poisoned. Witchers had a resistance. How they built up that resistance, Jaskier didn’t want to think about. If he thought about anything regarding Witcher training, he grew so sad it passed right through the other side out to fury.

But he also couldn’t argue with that logic.

“We’re going to have to keep doing that,” Jaskier pointed out. “Touching. Pretending.”

Geralt carefully took a bite of everything, then nodded at Jaskier that it was okay to eat. Jaskier started to join him, but Geralt just brought it all over and put it on the bed for them.

Jaskier narrowed his eyes. “We’re not getting crumbs in the bed.”

“Hmm.”

“Geralt, I’m serious. Are you all right with this? With acting… you know. Especially once Yennefer gets here.”

Geralt hummed in a questioning manner.

“Well, we need her. To help with the fae. And you two haven’t… um… I just can imagine it’ll be rather hard for you, Geralt, and it won’t be any easier given that we now have to pretend that we’re together, and don’t get me wrong Geralt, it’s not a hardship exactly, I fancy myself to be rather good at this whole acting thing, being a bard and all, but let’s be honest here, you are not known for being good at anything other than—well your favored form of honesty is blunt—”

“Jas.”

Jaskier was so surprised by the nickname that he stopped. Geralt hadn’t called him that nickname (or any nickname) since before the mountain.

“It’ll be fine.” Geralt grabbed some bread. “And Yen’s not here to help us with the fae.”

Jaskier blinked a few times in surprise. “Then—then why are we having Ciri get her?”

“We’re not having Ciri get Yennefer. We’re having Ciri tell Yennefer we need help with the fae so that Yennefer can bring Triss to us.”

That brought Jaskier up short. “Triss!?

 


 

Yennefer had, to be honest, expected to hear some message from the xenovox at some point. She didn’t know Ciri well and yet already the girl seemed to have more sense in her than Jaskier and Geralt combined, and Yennefer unfortunately knew both men very well—well enough to know that when they were together, somehow their collective intelligence went down to zero.

What she didn’t expect was that it was Cirilla who called through it, and what she said.

“Lady Yennefer?”

Triss paused where she’d been making tea and looked over her shoulder at Yennefer, who hastily pulled the xenovox out of her pocket.

“Lady Yennefer!” The girl sounded scared, but like she was trying to hide it. “It’s Ciri. I hope you can find where I am. We’re just to the east of No Man’s Land. Jaskier and Geralt have been taken by the fae.”

Triss dropped her tea cup and it went clattering into the wash basin. Yennefer looked up, locking eyes with her.

The fae? That wasn’t good. That was never good.

“Apparently Jaskier’s their prince? Or their king now I guess. He’s a changeling.”

“What!?” Triss shrieked.

“Your throat!” Yennefer warned.

“I don’t know what they’ve got planned but Geralt said I needed to contact you right away. We need help. I’ll wait for you here.” Ciri’s message ended.

Yennefer stared at Triss, who stared at the xenovox.

“You can’t,” Yennefer blurted out. Triss still needed to heal. She had only just been able to talk again.

Triss shook her head. “You heard the girl. Geralt and that—that bard are stuck in the fae realm. Even being a Witcher won’t save Geralt if they draw the ire of the fae. They need me.”

Yennefer was one of the few, along with Geralt and Tissaia, who knew about Yennefer’s ties to the Spring and Summer courts. Triss had once confided to Yennefer, decades ago, that she had some fae blood in her and that she suspected there was a changeling in her ancestry, or that one of her ancestors had an affair with a fae. Triss had made it clear, although not in so many words, that she was telling Yennefer because Yennefer had her elf heritage and would possibly understand.

How Triss had then developed a relationship with the Seelie fae was unclear. Triss had never explained, and Yennefer had never asked. They all had their secrets after so many years manipulating kings.

Geralt wasn’t having Ciri call for Yennefer’s help. He was calling Yennefer to bring Triss to the fae. Because out of any of them, Triss alone could possibly protect Geralt and Jaskier from the intrigues of the Seelie and Unseelie courts.

Yennefer drummed her fingers on the table. Of course she would go at once. The fae were no small matter and everyone was healed enough that they could defend themselves here.

But should Triss come with her?

“You know that you don’t have to,” she said.

Triss stared at her. “Geralt asked for me. Not in so many words. He obviously didn’t trust the chance of the fae learning who I am. But you have no connection to the Seelie courts.”

“I don’t need one.” Yennefer allowed a small crackle of lightning to appear between her fingers, even though the action hurt.

That damn wildfire had caused damage to her hands. It hurt to do magic now. Tissaia said that it would simply go away with time and patience, and that her body needed to get used to unleashing her full magical strength.

“Blisters form before calluses,” her mentor had said in that knowing tone that drove Yennefer mad.

Pain or no, though, she could still whip up a lightning storm enough to make any fae flinch if they tried to kill Geralt. Or even Jaskier, annoying though the bard was. Yennefer would miss trading barbs with him, although she’d never tell him so. There were so few people in the world who dared to insult her like they were schoolgirls. It was fun.

Triss shook her head. “Yennefer, the danger in the fae is not their power head-on. It’s in their binding magic. If they trap you in a deal you are bound to that deal no matter what. You couldn’t break Jaskier or Geralt from it any more than you could break a djinn wish.”

Yennefer flinched involuntarily. Knowing that a sorceress as powerful as she had been bound to someone else through a djinn wish, and she hadn’t even realized it until ten years later? And then found herself unable to break the damn magic binding her and Geralt together?

It was embarrassing. Humiliating.

Fortunately, Triss knew her point was made and let it pass. “You all need me. I know that you like to do things on your own, Yennefer. And I don’t begrudge you that. But this is my area of expertise.”

She said it so simply, so quietly, that for once, Yennefer couldn’t be insulted. It wasn’t Triss trying to one-up her. It was Triss simply stating a fact.

Yennefer exhaled slowly. “All right. Let’s get those idiots out of this jam.”

Triss bit her lip. “I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily their fault. If Jaskier really is the lost prince…”

“He was lost!?

“Well. Officially there was no heir. Queen Aurora never took a consort, which wasn’t so unusual in and of itself. The fae take promises seriously, so they don’t break a marriage bond, which means they rarely enter into one in the first place. But she had no children, which was concerning. There were rumors, a few decades ago, that her preferences… strayed towards humans. And that there might have been a child from one such affair. But nothing was ever proven.”

“But it seems that Jaskier is that child.”

“And now the fae courts have him, and they will use him.” Triss’ voice was grave. “A half-fae in an Unseelie court. With a Witcher. That is not going to go well.”

“A very loyal Witcher,” Yennefer added.

Triss inclined her head. “Perhaps. Geralt never mentioned the bard to me.”

“Geralt doesn’t mention what he had for breakfast. He let that wastrel trail after him for two decades, drops everything—literally—to protect him, and didn’t so much as look at me until after the bard was healed.”

“If I didn’t know the man was in love with you, you’d make me think he wanted the bard.”

“He isn’t. In love with me. He only thinks he is.”

Triss snorted. That took Yennefer aback. Sarcasm was not Triss’ way.

“What Geralt and I have is not real, Triss. You need to understand that. If you’re going to see us interacting I want that clear.”

Triss gave her an odd look, one that Yennefer couldn’t decipher but made her stomach tighten. “Right.”

“Right.” Yennefer stood up. “There’s no time to lose, then.”

They had to cut this fae plan off at the knees.

 


 

Ciri wasn’t sure if she should expect Yennefer within minutes or days. Geralt had explained that Yennefer could portal, but the sorceress had been far from her full strength when they’d last seen her.

In the meantime, she hunted down a rabbit, set up a fire, cooked it, and ate it.

Geralt had been teaching her things.

She was just sucking the last of the meat off the bones when a portal opened in front of her and Yennefer stepped through, Triss right behind her.

When Ciri had last seen her, Triss had been in bed, bandaged, unable to speak. Now she was walking on her own and dressed in a lovely pale pink dress.

Yennefer was dressed in flaming red and gold, and didn’t look pleased about it.

Ciri jumped to her feet. “Lady Yennefer! And Lady Triss, what are you doing here?”

It had been so long since she’d met someone and felt instantly safe. The last person had been Geralt, and she was still getting used to that. And then it had been used against her, that fae pretending to be Geralt to lure her out into the forest and use her against him and Jaskier.

The fae had been so good at it. Even better than the doppler. Ciri felt like she should’ve been wise to that sort of trick by now, and thoughts of stupid, stupid, stupid ran through her mind all day while waiting for the sorceress. But Geralt was there for her, Geralt represented safety, and she’d gone without a second though, no worries until she’d stepped into the circle of mushrooms and suddenly Geralt hadn’t been Geralt anymore.

It made her feel hollow and cold inside.

But with Yennefer’s appearance, Ciri felt safe again.

“Geralt needed her,” Yennefer replied, answering Ciri’s question. She held out her hand. “Come then, little one, time is short.”

“The path is this way—” Ciri started, but Triss shook her head.

“We’re not going to the Autumn court right away,” she said.

“Then where…”

“The Spring and Summer courts.” Triss smoothed out her dress. “I need to smooth the way for Jaskier.”

Ciri’s head was practically spinning, but Geralt trusted both these women, and she trusted Geralt.

She took Yennefer’s hand. “I like the colors on your dress.”

“They’re colors of Autumn,” Yennefer grumbled. “I have to show my allegiance, apparently.”

She gave Triss a pointed look. Triss winked at her, and then held up her hand, palm up, and blew on it.

Flowers in pale pink, blue, and purple appeared and flew from her hand, falling slowly through the sky in front of her. As they fell, they tinkled like tiny silver bells.

And in front of them, where Ciri was certain there had been no path before, a path now stood. It was green, made of clover.

Triss lowered her hand. “Stay on the path. No matter what.”

Ciri was familiar now. She gripped Yennefer’s hand tightly. Yennefer squeezed her hand reassuringly.

They followed Triss down the path.

 


 

Geralt could tell that Jaskier was seriously rethinking this whole pretending to be married thing.

He could understand. He’d basically given Jaskier no choice in this matter. But he’d known of no other way he could ensure he’d get to stay by Jaskier’s side and protect him. Still, it had to be wildly uncomfortable for Jaskier to pretend to be romantic with someone… well.

Jaskier flirted with everyone. And everyone flirted with Jaskier. The man was a complete failure at flirting in Geralt’s presence, for some reason, but the moment Geralt was somewhere else (or Jaskier thought he was), bam, the bard turned into an annoyingly smooth and charming motherfucker. He was never without a bed partner if he wanted one.

So if he’d wanted Geralt, at any point in time, Geralt was pretty fucking sure he would’ve noticed.

Sometimes, looking back, he was fairly sure Jaskier had been flirting with him when they’d first met. The bard hadn’t realized he was Geralt of Rivia until a few lines in into their conversation and why else would he have trotted over?

But even if that was true and Jaskier’s eighteen-year-old idea of a good line was you don’t want to keep a man with bread in his pants waiting, those feelings had long passed. Jaskier had realized who Geralt was, and from that moment on, he’d wanted to be Geralt’s barker. He’d seen them as an artistic partnership (and, yes, eventually, friends).

So yeah, that ship had long sailed. Not once since then had Geralt noticed Jaskier flirting with him. And oh, gods, was Jaskier obvious when he was flirting with someone.

He’d heard so many puns. So many. So. So many.

The point was—the point was that Jaskier wanted just about everyone on the Continent except for Geralt, and just about everyone on the Continent wanted Jaskier. Geralt had honest-to-Melitele once heard another bard tell Jaskier not to bother trying with a particular lord because “he’s straight” and Jaskier had replied “for now.”

Needless to say, Jaskier had spent the night in the lord’s bed.

Not. Not that Geralt really paid attention to the people that Jaskier slept with. Because he didn’t. That was Jaskier’s business.

Anyway.

If Jaskier had wanted Geralt, he would’ve made it clear, and he could have anyone he wanted. To go from that to being forced to act romantically with his friend, the friend who had insulted him when they’d last spoken and then accidentally implied he didn’t trust Jaskier…

It was unfair, honestly. Geralt didn’t know what to do to make it better. He couldn’t make it better. Because they had to sell it for their own protection, and that meant he was going to keep putting the both of them in uncomfortable situations.

He could only hope that their already-fragile friendship would survive it.

Neither of them slept. For one thing, the constant sunset outside of the window was disorienting. Geralt kept waiting for the sun to go down, but it never did. It was only intensifying that itch between his shoulder blades, the one he still couldn’t scratch, and it was just about driving him mad.

Jaskier set about exploring the room. “Do you think we could climb down from the balcony?”

“I wouldn’t advise it.” Space, like time, was strange in fairyland.

“All right then.” Jaskier moved away from the window and began picking up the various colorful vials on one of the tables. “What do you suppose all of these are?”

“Things you shouldn’t be touching.”

“You’re really no fun, Geralt, honestly.”

“Sorry, next time I’ll let you just open a bottle and unleash a djinn again,” Geralt snapped.

Jaskier glared at him, and Geralt’s stomach went cold. For a horrible second, he was… not terrified, exactly, since he didn’t feel fear the way that normal humans did, not anymore, but… the discomforting feeling that was the closest he could really get to fear. For that second, he was scared that he had hurt Jaskier, that he had gone too far again and said the wrong thing, and that Jaskier was going to retreat into himself again—but instead Jaskier lit up like oil thrown onto a blazing fire.

Thank fuck. Jaskier was the only person in the world who dared to get angry at Geralt, who didn’t give a fuck, who truly didn’t even seem to consider the fact that Geralt was three times his weight and could fuck him up even without his Witcher powers. He’d yell at Geralt all he damn well pleased, because he knew Geralt wouldn’t ever hurt him.

At least, not physically.

Geralt winced inwardly at the thought.

“I wasn’t the one who unleashed that djinn, if you’ll recall, Geralt, which one of us did it give its wishes to, hmm?” Jaskier planted his hands on his hips. “In fact a less gracious person would demand that you kill Valdo Marx for him since his djinn wish did not, in fact, come true.”

“I’m not killing him for you. You’re so determined to kill him, you can do it yourself.”

They’d had this conversation many times before regarding the potential murder of Valdo Marx.

“My point, Geralt, is that it is not entirely my fault that the djinn was unleashed, nay, I would say it is at least fifty percent, if not seventy-five percent your fault, since you were fishing for the djinn in the first place—”

“I can see why the fae thought you’d make a good ruler.”

“Oh, shove it,” Jaskier snapped, flipping him off and heading for the massive wardrobe. He flung it open with a flourish. “They don’t, they just need a puppet on the fucking throne until they can finish backstabbing each other for it.”

The bitterness in Jaskier’s tone was evident and Geralt walked over to him, something hot and protective tugging in his chest. “Their loss.”

Jaskier paused and gave Geralt an odd look. “Did you sample one of those potions when I wasn’t looking?”

“No.” Geralt stared at all the outfits in the wardrobe. “I’m not changing.”

Jaskier laughed. “Oh, no, my dear Witcher, you are going to keep looking as intimidating as possible in black, thank you. Even if you can’t wear your swords. The fae would have a fit if they saw you strapped up with two weapons of the few types that could kill them. You just do that brooding angry thing—yes! That’s the exact expression!”

Geralt glared at him. Sometimes Jaskier really needed to learn to keep some of his comments to himself.

“I suppose they want me to dress up for this fucking thing…” Jaskier grumbled. “What the fuck am I even supposed to wear? Something that indicates the royal colors… what means autumn…”

“Red,” Geralt blurted out without thinking.

Jaskier had looked good in the red doublet he’d worn on the mountain. He’d always looked good in red. He looked good in a lot of colors.

“I do wish I didn’t have to bother but you know. First impressions and all.” Jaskier sighed and started flinging clothes about.

Oh gods. Geralt knew how this always went. He was going to make himself scarce until the whirlwind that was Jaskier in primping mode subsided.

“I’m going to take a bath.” Fancy places like this had bathtubs permanently installed in either the main room itself, off to the side, or in a separate room. They were made of better material than wood, too, so they held in the heat of the water better. A quick blast of Igni would take care of that.

Jaskier waved him off. “Do you need me to wash your hair?”

He’d always done that for Geralt out on the road, but honestly, Geralt was done taking advantage of Jaskier’s friendship. Gods, Jaskier had just thought that Geralt thought he would help kidnap Ciri. Geralt wasn’t going to take the bard for granted anymore, and that started with not letting Jaskier act like Geralt’s servant.

“No.” He realized that sounded harsh and course-corrected. “No, thank you.”

Jaskier nodded, getting that same look on his face that he’d had when Geralt had said I don’t need anybody, and the last thing I want is someone needing me.

Geralt shoved that thought away and headed for the bath. He needed to get his head on straight and focus on preparing to act publicly in love with Jaskier.

Publicly. In love.

…maybe Yennefer had a point about his decision-making skills.

 


 

Jaskier frowned at the red doublet before he put it on. It was far finer than anything else he’d ever worn. All of these clothes were. And—well, he would never presume to call himself a tailor, but he did fancy himself somewhat of a connoisseur of fabrics at this point, having taken great care in his clothes from a young age (the fae loved the finer things in life, dainty sweets and soft fabric, baubles and jewels, was that a part of his fae heritage?) and he didn’t recognize the feel of these fabrics at all. They were luxurious, to be sure, but they weren’t cotton, or silk, or muslin.

Yet another reminder that they were no longer on the Continent.

Melitele’s sake, could it be any more obvious that Geralt didn’t want intimacy when others weren’t around? Jaskier knew that Geralt hadn’t meant it this way, but the refusal to even let Jaskier wash his hair—something Jaskier had always done for him—made it plain that to compensate for how much more intimate they would have to be in public, he needed more space when they were alone.

It was just another reminder that Geralt would never—that no matter how much they performed in front of others, it would always be just that, a performance.

And fuck, it had to be a good performance.

Jaskier cleaned himself up, put on the outfit—which looked like layers of red leaves, something which should’ve been ridiculous and gaudy and yet managed to be stately—and poked his head into the other room. “You should probably get out now.”

This tub was much, much larger than the ones they were used to in taverns. It was made of stone and carved into the floor, sunken in, with room for half a dozen people. Geralt had sunk down almost completely into the tub so that only his eyes, like gold coins, could be seen above the water. The pupils had turned into slits and his eyes were narrowed, like a contented cat. Jaskier saw enough steam coming off the water that it would probably scald him if he got too close.

He sighed. “Come on, Geralt, get out.”

Geralt made a noise under the water that was probably a discontented growl. Honestly. Big bad Witcher, his ass. Geralt was just an oversized house cat underneath it all.

“I mean it. Get out. You can soak more later.”

Geralt rolled his eyes but stood up and oh fuck, yup, it had been a while since Jaskier’d seen those miles of scarred muscle on display. His mouth went dry and he fumbled for a towel to throw at Geralt so that the Witcher could start getting out and Jaskier could stop staring like a moron.

Except.

“That one on your thigh is new,” he blurted out. Because he was a dumbass.

Geralt looked down at the still-pink scar on his upper left thigh. “I was alone. I got stupid.” He paused, the towel hanging limply in his hand. “I told Roach it was a fitting end.”

He looked up at Jaskier and took a deep breath, one that had Jaskier determinedly looking Geralt in the eye. He wasn’t about to ruin this with one of his usual jokes, for once.

“Sometimes you push me too far,” Geralt admitted. His voice was rough and stilted. Like he was having to come up with this on the fly and hating it. “And I need you to. Give me space. But I shoved you away on purpose. And Yen, and Ciri. So I was alone and I nearly died from a—a fucking ghoul bite of all fucking things—because I’d shoved you all away. So.”

That was more than he’d ever expected to get from Geralt, to be honest. They’d had their little spats over the years but they’d always sort of made up without talking about it.

Perhaps that was a habit they needed to break.

“I understand, I know I’m… a lot.” Jaskier shrugged. “The Countess de Stael and quite a lot of others would probably give you that as the reason we’re not dating anymore. I know you don’t let a lot of people in and I’m honored, Geralt, that I’m one of the few. I’ll try and be more aware of when you need me to… back off with my questions and… energy.”

Geralt started drying off his hair, giving Jaskier an odd look. “I thought you broke up with people.”

Jaskier burst out laughing and gestured for Geralt to come over so he could work the tangles out of Geralt’s hair. Perhaps the stubborn Witcher would finally let Jaskier braid it for the coronation. “Oh, I assure you, I’ve gotten my heart ever so lightly broken from time to time.”

He worked his fingers through the tangles until they were all smoothed out while Geralt dried himself off.

“Only lightly though, I assure you, Geralt.” There was only one person who’d broken his heart deeply, and that had been a slow, quiet thing.

In all the songs, heartbreak was a loud crash, a bang, a shattering of glass. But in real life, Jaskier had found it to be one of the softest things in the world, and it was all the more horrible for it.

Geralt could never know that, though. It wasn’t his fault.

“Why are you braiding it.”

“You need to look nice, hush.” Jaskier continued fixing up Geralt’s hair. “I do think it’s best that you don’t talk, Geralt, and it has nothing to do with your manners. I think the fae would appreciate your bluntness. I just—we have to be careful.”

“I know, Jas. I know magic.”

“But I know courts, Geralt, and you’ve made it quite clear that you don’t and that you also don’t care. Which I admire about you, truly, you’re a breath of fresh air. Even if not literally.”

“Hmm.”

He couldn’t see Geralt’s face, but he knew the tone of that hum. The Witcher was smiling.

“So just. Don’t say anything and you can’t stumble into some diplomatic incident.” He tied off Geralt’s hair and politely stepped back for Geralt to put his clothes back on.

“You want me to just stand around and look intimidating?” Geralt asked.

Jaskier flushed a little as he realized the Witcher was teasing him. “More like stand around and look pretty,” he shot back.

There was a knock at the door to the main room just before it opened. “Your highness?”

It was Merridew, the fae from earlier. Their ‘guide’, for lack of a better term.

Geralt took Jaskier’s hand and brought it up to his mouth, kissing the knuckles just as Merridew walked in. “Whatever you say,” Geralt rumbled quietly, looking Jaskier right in the eyes.

His lips brushed against Jaksier’s knuckles as he spoke and Jaskier was certain his knees had turned to water.

“We can have other clothes made up,” Merridew said, hovering in the doorway. “For one of your stature.”

“We would appreciate that,” Jaskier said. He knew Geralt would hate to be separated from his armor but they couldn’t have him looking like a bodyguard all the time. If he was going to go up against Nilfgaard and the other fae courts, then they would need to recognize immediately that Geralt was important, too.

“You look acceptable,” Merridew said to Jaskier, looking him up and down. “Your mother often chose red as well.”

Jaskier resisted the urge to look over at Geralt. “What was she like?”

“Impressive,” Merridew replied. “Pragmatic. Some would say to a fault.”

“If she’d been pragmatic, she wouldn’t have had an affair with a human,” Geralt pointed out.

Jaskier glared at him. I thought we agreed you weren’t talking.

Geralt raised an eyebrow right back. We’re not in the court room yet.

“We all have our weaknesses. And she chose to give the child up. That was a pragmatic choice. A halfling would have been in danger here. To send his highness away was to keep him safe.” Merridew bowed. “Please follow me.”

Jaskier knew he should tug his hand away from Geralt’s, that he shouldn’t take advantage of this situation, but he couldn’t help it. He held on tightly. Geralt was all he had, all that he knew. Geralt was true, he was steady, he was never anything other than himself.

Had his mother wanted him? Had she chosen the smart thing even though it had hurt her? Or had it been easy? Had she never felt anything for him?

At least he always knew where Geralt stood. Geralt would always protect him.

And to his surprise, as they followed Merridew out of the room, Geralt didn’t just hold his hand tightly in return. He squeezed it reassuringly.

Jaskier took a deep breath. Somehow, they would get through this. They had to.

 


 

Geralt didn’t know what to fucking do with the fae.

He didn’t know what to do with noble courts in general, but the fae were a whole other level.

As they walked into the great hall, Jaskier squeezed Geralt’s hand harder and harder, the only sign that he was worried. He’d left his lute behind in their room, which made the bard look… empty. Like something was missing. But otherwise he looked amazing. The red brought out the oceans in his eyes (we should go to the coast, he’d said) and the mahogany notes in his hair.

He looked like royalty.

Geralt stared around them at the assembled fae. Some looked mostly human, except with something a bit off, like eyes with no pupils, hair that moved like vines, or elongated fingers. Others didn’t look anything near human, with bark-like skin, spines on their shoulders, and goat’s legs.

The hall they were taken to was not as crumbling and abandoned-looking as the entrance hall where they’d met with the council. This had a floor of smooth, polished marble done in a pattern of reds and greens and golds, with tall ivy-colored columns that held up an arched ceiling, and the ever-present stained-glass windows along the walls depicting what seemed to be important scenes in fae history.

Jaskier had looked utterly fae when he’d stood in the light from those windows earlier, the rainbow of colors caught in his hair and gliding off his skin. Utterly fae and utterly—

Geralt shut that thought away.

Up to the left was a raised dais on which were several chairs, leading up to two thrones in the middle. One was larger than the other, and both were made of delicately carved dark wood, leaf motifs scattered across the material.

Rapuntium stood in front of the thrones, smiling. He clapped his hands once as they entered and the quiet murmuring among the fae, like shuffling leaves, went silent.

It was eerie. Like a forest going quiet because a monster was near.

“Gentlefolk, please, welcome our interim majesty of the fallen, of the changing, of the transforming.”

The fae all murmured something Geralt couldn’t quite make out, something he could only assume was in the fae language, and then they all sank to one knee as Merridew tugged Jaskier by the elbow.

Jaskier let go of Geralt’s hand, and he forced himself not to snatch it back. He stepped away and waited to the side as Jaskier was directed to kneel before Rapuntium and repeat phrases in fae—phrases that Merridew helpfully translated under his breath to Geralt.

The clever fae either knew, or had figured out, that Witchers had keener senses than most.

“He’s pledging not to betray the interests of this court and to put the interests of this court above all else so long as he is the ruler,” Merridew whispered. “That he will keep us safe from outsiders and humans, from greedy magic users, that he will dispense justice and be fair-minded in his rulings.”

This all seemed like a hell of a lot to expect of some random person you’d plucked from their usual life just to serve as your cover-up until you picked a real successor, but then, Jaskier apparently wasn’t just a bard. He had gone to university and was a nobleman’s son. He must know a bit about ruling. And if nothing else he had to have picked up something from all the courts he visited.

When Rapuntium finished, he placed a crown on Jaskier’s head—one that seemed to have been grown rather than made, the metal (was it even metal?) taking the shape of delicate vines. Tall, thin clear crystals shot up from the crown like thorns, and when they caught the light, they refracted it, sending rainbows everywhere just like the stained glass.

Geralt’s throat went tight. It suited Jaskier well.

Jaskier was guided to stand, and to Geralt’s surprise, Merridew nudged him forward.

Geralt stepped forward. “Kneel,” Rapuntium told him. “As prince consort, you must swear loyalty as his majesty has.”

“I’m a Witcher.” Geralt allowed his canines to show, just a little. “We swear fealty to no country. No court. No people. We’re neutral. It’s the only way people can trust us not to be turned into mercenaries. We protect everyone. We are not hounds to be set loose on chosen prey.”

Rapuntium bristled, but Geralt stared him down. He wouldn’t break his oaths. He wouldn’t disappoint Vesemir or his brothers of the wolf, the order to which his life had been given. He was angry with his mother for just dumping him, angry about how he was treated and how Witchers were viewed, angry about the things those at Kaer Morhen did to young, fragile boys. But he would never stray from his Path.

“Geralt.”

Jaskier took Geralt’s chin in his hand and turned Geralt’s face to his. “You’re loyal to me, right?” He looked at Rapuntium. “If he’s loyal to me, then that should be good enough, won’t it? I am your monarch, and I swore to serve this court and these fae. So if Geralt serves me, he is serving you all.”

Geralt swallowed. This was part of their subterfuge. Their lie that had to be truth. He had to convince them all, this entire court, that he was so deeply in love with Jaskier that he would stay loyal to him no matter what.

Quick, what did people in love do? Besides the obvious. He’d never been one for open affection. Not even with Yennefer. Feeling emotions was difficult enough, but showing them? And where others could see? No dice.

He had to now, though. And couples… couples were physical. Touchy. And verbal—they had nicknames for each other.

“Little lark.” He made his voice loud enough that the others in the court could just hear it. Quiet enough they thought it was intimate, not meant for them, but loud enough that they would know what he said. “Of course I’m loyal to you.”

He took Jaskier’s hand as he had earlier, only this time he kissed Jaskier’s inner wrist. It felt more intimate than the knuckles.

Jaskier’s breath caught and his cheeks went a lovely shade of pink. If it was for show, it was impressive, but Geralt suspected it was more that Jaskier was genuinely knocked off-guard by the affection.

He looked Rapuntium dead in the eye again. Challenging him, like a wolf. “Witchers were created to protect people. That’s my job. And that’s what I’ll always do. Protect people. Especially Jaskier.”

Rapuntium flashed his sharp teeth at him. Geralt just rolled his eyes. The fae didn’t scare him. If any fae tried anything to hurt the bard, they’d have to deal with Geralt. Nothing of what he’d said was a lie or even an omission.

The fae backed down and nodded, then faced the crowd, spreading his hands. “Our majesty and his consort have sworn loyalty to this court. May they keep us strong as the fallen leaves strengthen the soil.”

All of the court that had been on one knee at last stood, and bowed as one.

“Let’s go away to the coast, you said,” Geralt deadpanned.

“I’ll drown you in the bath,” Jaskier replied, just as dry.

 His hand found Geralt’s again, though, and Geralt wasn’t sure if it was to keep up the show or simply because Jaskier needed the support—but either way, he squeezed back.

 


 

After the coronation there was, of course, a banquet.

Not like they had bad luck with banquets or anything.

Jaskier could admit that normally, he loved being the center of attention. And there was still a part of him that preened inside as all of the fae paid attention to him. It was just in his nature. But the rest of him couldn’t shake the feeling of being prey. He’d been on enough of Geralt’s monster hunts to know what that was like.

The food presented was delicious, that was for sure. Jaskier just about lost his mind when he saw the other fae openly eating flowers.

“This explains so much,” Geralt said, watching as Jaskier shoved some foxglove into his mouth. “You know that’s poisonous, right?”

“Not to me.” Jaskier grinned at him, and realized his teeth felt sharp again.

Geralt, thank Melitele, didn’t seem at all alarmed by more evidence of Jaskier’s inhumanness. He just rolled his eyes.

“How you didn’t realize you were fae, I don’t know.”

Jaskier took a sip of wine. It was really quite excellent wine, although not made from grapes. Hmm. Some other sort of berry. He couldn’t place it.

It was so odd to just be sitting and eating. At every other banquet or festival he’d been to, he would be the one performing. He was on his feet all night and only sat down for brief periods so he could eat while others made toasts.

Now, it was others who were performing and dancing. The fae music was unlike anything he’d heard before. It was like music you heard in a dream, and then forgot about when you woke up except for the feelings that it gave you.

Geralt nudged him with his elbow. “Jask.”

“Sorry.” He looked over at Geralt.

“You all right?”

“Just listening to the music.” He shrugged, feeling yet another bout of inadequacy sweep over him. “Wishing I could write something like that.”

Geralt looked confused and glanced over at the musicians. Jaskier took another sip of wine. Wow, this was really good. Also very strong. He was feeling a little lightheaded already.

“Your music does sound like this,” Geralt said. He looked back at Jaskier. “Not all of it. But when you’re composing. Then you mutter to yourself for an hour and change it so it sounds more conventional.”

Jaskier squinted at him. “Careful, Geralt. I think there was a compliment hidden in there.”

Geralt glared at him.

Jaskier grinned. “Oh ho ho, there was. I thought my songs were like—what was it you said? Something about a fillingless—”

Geralt shoved a bread roll into his mouth.

Jaskier laughed around the food, taking a bite out of the roll and trying to shove it right back at Geralt. The Witcher caught Jaskier’s wrist, eyes gleaming, thwarting Jaskier’s attempt.

“Rude.” Jaskier tipped his head onto Geralt’s shoulder. What, it was allowed. They were pretending to be married.

Also he was feeling very warm. Had the room gotten warmer?

“Don’t sound so surprised.” Geralt pushed him back up to sitting, but gently.

Jaskier grinned at him. The heat was rising inside of him and he wasn’t quite sure why, but he also, somehow, didn’t care. He had more wine—it was really very good—and wondered if Geralt would murder him later if Jaskier kissed him.

He wanted to kiss Geralt a lot of times, usually when the man was being sassy and playful and pretending that he wasn’t, because Geralt would rather die than admit he was ever anything other than dead serious. But now he couldn’t remember why he didn’t. What all the reasons not to were.

“Geralt?”

Gods he was handsome. Why Yennefer had wanted to give him up, Jaskier had no idea.

As predicted, Geralt looked at him, an eyebrow raised questioningly.

Jaskier kissed him.

 


 

Geralt froze for a fraction of a second. Thank fuck for Witcher reflexes—he quickly relaxed into it, even as his mind raced.

They were trying to pretend they were married, but there hadn’t been anything to prompt Jaskier kissing him. No fear of discovery. Jaskier hadn’t even been talking to anyone, although Rapuntium had been more than happy to try and steer the conversation constantly.

Jaskier kissed softly, more softly than Geralt would have thought, and the needy noise he made against Geralt’s mouth shot straight through Geralt like a bolt of lightning. His blood buzzed like a swarm of bees. He hated himself for it, but he didn’t have to pretend to like the kiss just for the sake of anyone watching. There was nothing pretend about it.

At least not on his end.

Geralt took Jaskier’s face in his hands and pulled him back. Jaskier’s eyes were glassy. Something was wrong.

“Jask.” Geralt felt the bard’s forehead. Hot. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Of course, Geralt, I feel fine.” Jaskier smiled at him and then took another sip of wine.

His blood was still buzzing. The temptation to ignore the warning signs and just coax Jaskier into another kiss was heady and strong, but he pushed it aside. Whatever crisis was going on in the back of his head could wait. If Vesemir had taught him anything, it was how to ignore distractions to focus on a hunt.

“I need more of this,” Jaskier went on, refilling his cup. He giggled to himself, as if stating that was a private joke.

Geralt frowned. Jaskier loved his wine, just as Jaskier loved all the finer things in life. Geralt had never seen what was wrong with a good ale—although he rarely got to drink anything that he could call ‘good’—but Jaskier enjoyed wine, and was picky about his stews (he’d scoop out the celery and put it into Grealt’s stew, and Geralt would pretend not to notice), and he could list all the different types of pastries in Cintra.

But just because Jaskier loved his wine didn’t mean he was a lush. He knew how to hold his liquor, and when to stop drinking, especially in a place where they couldn’t relax, a place with enemies.

Now, though, Jaskier was flushed pink, and giggling. As if he’d had a full bottle of wine, when Geralt had been watching him and he couldn’t have had more than two glasses…

“Geralt—Geralt, hey!” Jaskier protested as Geralt seized his wine glass, sniffing it. Hmmm.

He took a sip. It tasted the same as his own wine. Smelled the same.

Geralt took a sip of his own wine as well, just to be sure. Yup, the same. Except…

Now that he was paying attention, in both glasses he could taste an underlying sweetness that shouldn’t have been there, something foreign to the actual alcohol. He took another sip, swirling it around in his mouth. He knew this taste, if he could just remember where…

Jaskier leaned against Geralt’s side, practically purring, and pressed his nose to Geralt’s neck. “You smell so good, Geralt.”

And that was when it clicked.

“Fuck,” Geralt said.

He hadn’t encountered this… ever, really, except at Kaer Morhen when they were training on different potions and drugs, so they could recognize them (and build up immunity). Not all fae were wild about sex, although that was sort of the stereotype. But they were the best makers of lust potions.

And they’d spiked the fucking wine with it.

Around him, he could see the fae starting to get a little… less stiff. They were starting to touch each other more, relaxing, and he thought he could even see a few of them smiling. Shit. Geralt was not going to let Jaskier be around for this impending orgy (although the bard would probably be pissed that this would be the second orgy that Geralt had stopped him from fully enjoying, first because of the djinn wish that was killing him and now for political propriety’s sake).

Luckily, so far Jaskier had failed to notice that everyone else around him was starting to get a little touchy. Although that could’ve been because he was actively nuzzling Geralt’s throat now.

Geralt grabbed Jaskier by the back of the collar. “Let’s go, time for bed.”

“But Geralt… I don’t feel tired at all.” Jaskier gave him a slow smile—one that Geralt knew well, but one he’d never found directed at him before. “I feel rather the opposite.”

“That’s it.” Geralt stood up and literally hauled Jaskier along with him. “We’re retiring,” he said, raising his voice so he could be heard.

A few quizzical glances were thrown their way—but did he see suspicion in the gaze of a few others?

Damn fae, he couldn’t smell their emotions, couldn’t tell who had ill-intentions.

If nothing else, at least, he was getting Jaskier out of here. He didn’t know what the purpose of this lust potion was—to make Jaskier look bad, to use the cover of an orgy to try and hurt Jaskier, to try and fuck Jaskier to get an heir out of him so they could kill him off—who knew and who the fuck cared. Geralt didn’t trust it and he wasn’t letting anyone in this court anywhere near the bard until this had worn off.

“Is everything all right?” Merridew asked. Their eyebrows knitted together in what seemed to be genuine concern, but it could be a lie. Geralt hated being unable to tell. It was like having his nose stopped up.

“Fine,” he replied. They were supposed to be married, right, fuck.

He released Jaskier’s collar and wrapped an arm around Jaskier’s waist instead, tugging the bard against his side. Jaskier sighed happily and pressed himself against Geralt even harder, his hand sliding over the Witcher’s chest.

Geralt tried to keep from slapping Jaskier’s hand away. This wasn’t Jaskier’s choice, he was just grabbing the person nearest to him. It didn’t mean anything.

…did Geralt want it to mean something?

“Just taking him to bed,” Geralt said. He forced a leer into his voice. He’d never had to think about sounding turned on before. He wasn’t really one for public displays of any emotion, never mind lust.

Merridew bowed. If they were at all embarrassed by the implications, they were too polite to show it. “Then I wish you a lovely rest of your evening, your majesties. I will be calling upon you at the third cock’s crow. The delegation of winter fae will be arriving.”

“Excellent.” He had no fucking clue whether that was excellent or not. “Sleep well.”

Merridew arched an eyebrow as if to say that nobody would be getting much sleep that night.

Geralt kept his arm around Jaskier until they got out of sight of everyone else—during which time the bard had started pressing kisses down his throat and what the holy fuck—and then he picked Jaskier up and slung him over his shoulder.

“Ow—Geralt!” Jaskier slapped at Geralt’s shoulder blades. “Put me down! I was rather enjoying where I was, you know!”

“You could barely walk.”

“Then you could very well carry me in a manner better suited for lovemaking.”

“No, because we’re not doing that.”

“What!?” Jaskier sounded absolutely, one hundred percent offended. “Geralt, why ever not? You—you just said—”

“I said I was taking you to bed, and I meant it literally. We’re not having sex.”

Sadness seeped through the lust in Jaskier’s scent, like moss on a stone, the air by a river. Geralt set the bard down in front of their chambers and opened the door. Jaskier’s mouth was downturned in an unhappy mew. His cheeks were still pink, his blue eyes practically glowing.

“Geralt, you can’t just—leave me like this.” Jaskier grabbed onto the front of his shirt and pressed a soft kiss right to the hollow of Geralt’s throat.

Geralt’s entire body tightened. He knew the lust potion hadn’t affected him, but he felt heat seeping into him all the same. Jaskier was just—very warm and pliant, and the pleading tone in his voice did more to Geralt than the Witcher wanted to admit to himself.

Jaskier didn’t budge when Geralt tried to move him, planting his feet. “Geralt, please.”

Damn stubborn fool. Geralt crouched and swept his arm underneath Jaskier’s knees, taking the bard’s legs out from under him and picking him up, then stood to his full height again and unceremoniously carried Jaskier across the room to plop him onto the bed.

Jaskier looked absolutely delighted for all of ten seconds, until Geralt started walking away and he realized that Geralt wasn’t, in fact, carrying him to bed to ravish him. A low, helpless whine escaped Jaskier, one that Geralt was fairly sure another human couldn’t have heard. A hot, desperate instinct to turn around and cover that whine with his mouth curled in his stomach and Geralt firmly ignored it.

He’d been aware of the fact that Jaskier wasn’t… that Jaskier was actually more appealing than he made himself out to be. That for all of his flourishes, his putting on a show, his muttering about his hair being styled exactly right, there was genuinely a good-looking, surprisingly broad-shouldered person underneath all of that. Geralt wasn’t always sure why Jaskier preferred to flirt with over-the-top compliments and behavior rather than just letting his natural talents shine on their own, but it wasn’t his place to make judgments.

The point was. He knew Jaskier was pretty. Just like he knew buttercups were yellow. But he’d known Jaskier when the man was eighteen, still a child in most ways, and seeing as the last eighteen-year-old he’d slept with had then tried to run him through with a sword…

He hadn’t really let himself think about how Jaskier looked, was the point. Even as Jaskier sprung up a final inch, putting him at just about the same height as Geralt. Even as Jaskier finally got the ability to grow a beard, when it suited him (it rarely did). Even as his legs toned from walking all over the Continent and his chest got hairier and his voice started to actually match his looks.

Jaskier tumbled everyone from Posada to Skellige. He was Geralt’s friend. Geralt had never held any intention of combining those two facts together. He’d known what would follow. Best not to acknowledge there was anything to think about in the first place, then.

Except now, now Jaskier was desperate, and wanting, and bright-eyed, and Geralt was having to slice off the head of every tortuous thought he’d never let himself have as they all raised themselves up from the fog of his subconscious like a hydra.

“You can’t possibly be leaving me like this,” Jaskier said. He tried to get up from the bed only to trip over his own feet and nearly go crashing to the floor.

Lust potions tended to make people clumsy and uncoordinated.

Geralt didn’t dignify Jaskier’s question with a response. He simply crossed back to the door and closed it firmly behind him, then locked it—and posted himself in front.

Jaskier would let anyone fuck him right now. If someone wanted to cause a diplomatic incident or get themselves pregnant with an heir for the Autumn Court, this would be a fantastic way to manage that. Geralt would have to keep an eye on the door (and an ear on the window in the bedroom) so that nobody could try it. He wouldn’t let anyone take advantage of Jaskier while he was like this.

Not even himself.

“Geralt!” Jaskier sounded appalled, disbelieving, and genuinely hurt. How the man managed to cram so many emotions into a single word, Geralt would never know. “Geralt please, you have no idea—it’s burning and I have to—I need you.”

Geralt’s mouth went dry. It would be easy, so incredibly easy, to give Jaskier what he was asking for. To go back inside and make sure that nobody got to Jaskier by being the one with Jaskier. To pin the bard down and kiss his mouth raw, taste his skin, see how many different pitches of screams he could wring out—

Fuck.

Twenty years he’d done a good job of not letting himself think about Jaskier like that. To not let himself consider the bard in a sexual light. And it hadn’t been easy, damn it. But he had managed.

Now he couldn’t think about anything else. The door, although thick and wooden, did nothing to disguise Jaskier’s noises or Jaskier’s smell, not to a Witcher’s senses. And Jaskier was pure desperation right now. Gods he smelled good, like everything that could possibly make Geralt’s mouth water, the usual scent of sweetgrass and crisp leaves that Jaskier held turning darker, headier, turning into hot apple cider and pine trees. His verbal begging was almost inconsequential—he was already begging with his scent.

Not that the verbal begging was going unnoticed.

Jaskier banged on the door at first, yelling obscenities and begging by turns, but eventually gave that up and flung himself on the bed. His voice was a little muffled by the pillows at that point, but Geralt could still hear him—could hear every moan and every please, Geralt, please that Jaskier let out.

He’d rather have his fingernails pulled out, honestly, than have to keep listening to this, to know that Jaskier was begging for him but being unable to do anything about it. The knowledge that Jaskier would thank him in the morning was cold comfort right now as he had to listen to Jaskier’s fevered cries.

Geralt had never been in the grip of a lust potion himself, but he knew what the symptoms were. Jaskier would be burning up and the release of chemicals when he orgasmed would be the only way to… well. Thinking about the, ah, practical applications just made it worse. The point was, Jaskier would be desperate for sex, for the touch of another person, and for release. And Geralt was denying him two out of three.

He wanted to help him. To hear Jaskier begging over and over and ignoring him felt like Geralt was tugging against a hoard of ropes trying to yank him back in the opposite direction. He had always leapt to attention when Jaskier would say his name, ready to protect the bard from whatever nonsense he’d gotten himself into this time. Now, to go against that—it felt wrong. His whole life, no matter how reluctant or annoyed he was, when someone said ‘help’ he answered. Now he couldn’t.

Geralt swallowed hard and looked down the corridor as Jaskier moaned and started undoing his clothes. There was nobody headed their way. Geralt couldn’t smell anyone else, couldn’t hear any footfalls. Fae were sneaky bastards but he knew their scent now and that was the one thing they couldn’t glamour. They were truly alone.

Thank fuck for small mercies, then, he thought as Jaskier started to—well it was hard to tell, seeing as Geralt couldn’t see, but he was pretty fucking sure Jaskier was just rutting against the bedsheets. Fuck.

The image that conjured was one Geralt really shouldn’t have dwelt on. Jaskier, flushed with that pretty mouth open, lips slick and red from biting, his bright eyes closed, lashes fluttering. His hands gripping the sheets as he fucked himself into the mattress, spread his legs wide, too desperate to even get a proper hand around his cock, just reduced to animal movements.

Geralt wanted to be in there. He wanted to be in there with him. He wanted to press his palm against Jaskier’s lower back and hold him in place. He wanted to make soothing noises and leave little marks on Jaskier’s neck, quenching Jaskier’s fire and his own possessive, growling inner wolf. He wanted to slide inside of him and fuck him until Jaskier couldn’t even manage to moan Geralt’s name anymore.

But that would be—selfish. It would violate Jaskier’s trust. Jaskier didn’t really want Geralt. After watching the man sleep with every person of every gender that he could (including quite a few he should’ve known well enough to leave alone), Geralt was pretty sure he would’ve noticed if Jaskier was interested in him in… that way.

It wasn’t an insult that Jaskier wasn’t. Most people weren’t. Or at least—it hadn’t felt like an insult because Geralt hadn’t been thinking about it. But now he was thinking about it, damn it, and he couldn’t help but feel—Jaskier was willing to sleep with everyone else, why not… and Jaskier had always viewed Geralt differently, he was never afraid of Geralt, so…

For fuck’s sake, Geralt snarled to himself. Pull yourself together.

Vesemir would have his hide if he ever found out that Geralt was having a crisis over Jaskier like this. Although, after Yennefer, Vesemir probably wouldn’t be too surprised.

He shouldn’t want Jaskier to really want him this way. It was complicated and would ruin the friendship they hadn’t even truly begun to repair.

On the other side of the door, Jaskier’s scent spiked and he whimpered as he came. Geralt’s legs felt like water and he had to lean back against the stone wall. Fuck.

With a horrible, aching selfishness lodged behind his breastbone, Geralt inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of Jaskier’s pleasure and satisfaction. Lust potions lasted a while. This orgasm was just going to be the first of many.

Geralt braced himself for a long night.

 


 

Ciri was not a fan of fairyland.

She could see how children were enticed. Once upon a time, she might have been enticed too. Especially in the Spring and Summer realms, the land of the Seelie Fae.

Everything was brighter here, just like in the Autumn realm, but it was also softer. The colors in the Autumn realm had been jewel tones and highly saturated. In the Spring realm, it was pastels and softness.

Ciri stuck close to Yennefer. The sorceress was not the gentle type, but then, Calanthe hadn’t exactly been known for her snuggly nature, either. As for Geralt—well. Ciri knew how to see through a rough exterior by now, how to see the moments of softness in the cracks.

It was in the way that Yennefer let Ciri press herself close, the way Yennefer stroked her hand through Ciri’s hair silently, even when she was looking somewhere else or speaking with Triss, the way Yennefer glared protectively at any of the fae that came near Ciri.

Ciri appreciated it. She didn’t want to be coddled. She knew she was young, but she was no longer a child. That had been ripped out of her with steel and blood and loss. Yennefer gave her comfort and protection without being condescending.

Once, Ciri overheard something, a snatch of conversation between Yennefer and Triss.

“You’re good with her.”

“I’m really not.”

“No, but you are.”

“I only… try to do what I would’ve wanted. When I was her age.”

Ciri didn’t know Yennefer’s past. Geralt didn’t know much of it, although he’d sounded unhappy to admit it, like it was a failing that he hadn’t been trusted with more information. It was hard for Ciri to imagine someone as powerful and sure of herself as Yennefer needing comfort and support.

But then, Grandmother had Eist. She’d needed him, even if she’d been loath to admit it at times and she’d certainly downplayed it in public.

“You’re not tempted?” Yennefer asked her as they walked through the open-air rooms of the Spring palace. “It’s a beautiful place here.”

Ciri shook her head. “I’d rather have reality.”

“Smart girl.” Yennefer gave a small smile. Yennefer rarely smiled broadly, but all of her smiles were meaningful.

Underneath that Ciri could hear the unspoken I like you.

That was fortunate, because she liked Yennefer, too. Yennefer reminded her of Calanthe and Geralt, the two people who loved her most in the world. And, just a little bit, Yennefer reminded Ciri of herself—of who she wanted to be, someday.

Yes, Ciri liked Yennefer very much.

 


 

Jaskier woke up with a pounding headache.

He felt like a bruxa had sunk her claws right behind his eye sockets. A bit indulgent he might have been, but he hadn’t had a hangover like this since his first days at Oxenfurt.

With all the grace and agility of a nimble performer, Jaskier managed to half-crawl, half-drag himself over to the side of the bed, reach around for the bedpan, find it, and throw up in it.

His mouth tasted like dead rats. What the fuck had he—

Oh.

Last night came flooding back to him, as if his retreating nausea had made room for it in his mind. Fuck. Something—in his drink, he thought. That had to be it. And then nothing but an unbearable heat in his body, climbing up and down instead of him like tongues of flame. He’d needed—he wanted—so badly. It was like stumbling around in a fog. He’d never been so damn turned on before.

And gods, all he’d wanted was Geralt.

Well, to be perfectly honest, and all poetic license for his songs aside Jaskier did pride himself on his honesty, his forthright and trustworthy nature, and in the interest of pure, undiluted truth, he could admit that he had wanted sex. He’d wanted to touch, and to be touched. He’d wanted to fuck and be fucked. He feared, in those hazy moments, he might’ve let just about anyone do it.

But settling for ‘anyone’ wasn’t the same thing as what he’d truly wanted, had craved, and what he’d wanted and craved was Geralt.

Much of last night once the… spell? Whatever it was, took over, was a bit foggy and disjointed. But he could remember begging Geralt, pleading with him in a manner that was frankly quite embarrassing—and Geralt refusing him.

Geralt had left him to his own devices, and had left the room.

Jaskier swallowed, sickness of an entirely new kind rising up in his throat. Shame sat heavy on the back of his tongue. He’d made such a fool of himself last night. If Geralt was in any doubt before of Jaskier’s embarrassing crush on him, those doubts had fled now.

All of Jaskier’s doubts, small as they had been, that Geralt would never feel the same had also fled. It couldn’t have been more obvious. Geralt had looked appalled when Jaskier had asked him to stay. If there had ever been a moment for Geralt to have Jaskier—if he wanted them—last night had been that moment. Jaskier had been eager, desperate, begging. He would’ve had Geralt again and again, all night long.

Geralt had said no.

Well. A definitive answer was… nice?

Jaskier still felt sick.

The door to the suite opened gingerly, so much so that Jaskier was surprised when Geralt slipped in. Geralt never did anything gingerly in his life. Especially not where Jaskier was concerned.

It must’ve been last night. He didn’t want to be around Jaskier, did he? And who could blame him? When a friend in whom you had no romantic interest flung themselves at you the way Jaskier done to Geralt, who wouldn’t feel a bit of trepidation at the prospect of seeing them again?

“Geralt!” Jaskier tried to infuse his tone with its usual cheer. “Did you, ah, sleep well?”

Geralt gave him an odd look, as if he could tell that Jaskier was trying to cover for himself. But he walked over all the same, and pressed the back of his hand to Jaskier’s forehead.

“Fever’s broken,” he noted, matter of fact.

He pulled away and walked over to the side table, pouring Jaskier two fingers of… some kind of alcohol, Jaskier couldn’t tell. However he could tell that Geralt added a pinch of some herb or other to it. He was hungover, not stupid.

Geralt walked back over, handing Jaskier the drink. Knowing it would be useless to argue that he was fine, Jaskier downed it.

Well, at least now his mouth didn’t taste like something had crawled inside it and died last night.

“So.” He fiddled with the glass, avoiding Geralt’s eyes. “I suppose I owe you an apology, Geralt. You know how much our friendship means to me. I would never want to make anything awkward that would—put a rift between us.” He winced. “Again.”

“You were under the thrall of a lust potion, Jask.” Geralt took the glass from hm and set it aside. “You’re not responsible for what you said or did.”

Oh. Well. He supposed that was a relief, in a way. Geralt thought that the begging and all that was just Jaskier under the spell, rather than Jaskier simply losing his inhibitions and openly asking Geralt for what he wanted.

Wait.

His head shot up. “What did I do!?”

Geralt looked pained. “Nothing.”

“Geralt.” Jaskier clambered out of bed and followed the Witcher as he tried to busy himself with cleaning his armor. “Nope, no, nope, Geralt, you are not going to ignore me, what—oh fuck!”

He wasn’t wearing anything.

Jaskier dove for the covers again. “You couldn’t have warned me!?

Geralt seemed surprised. “No?”

Jaskier could understand the confusion. He and Geralt weren’t exactly modest. What was the point when you were constantly sharing a small room together at taverns or camping out in the woods? It didn’t make sense to bother with hiding from each other. Add in Geralt’s frequent injuries and Jaskier bandaging him up, the clothes swapping, the sharing a bed when money was tight or a bedroll in the woods when Jaskier got cold… they’d seen each other naked more times than Jaskier could count.

But never before had it been the night after Jaskier had made an idiot of himself trying to fuck Geralt while under the effects of a lust potion. That kind of threw all the usual rules out the window.

Geralt sighed and tossed Jaskier some pants. Jaskier did his best to fumble into them while still keeping himself under the covers. It was… somewhat successful.

He could feel Geralt thinking that he was overdramatic but fuck off, stupid Witcher senses not being affected by potions.

Once he was sufficiently clothed, thank you, Jaskier got out of bed again. “Geralt, seriously, did I do anything untoward? I know that I’m rather—well you yourself have heard many a time, and not just from me but from others, so I hardly think it’s bragging, really, to say that I can be quite amorous, and so I really, honestly hope that I didn’t—”

“You were fine, Jask.” Geralt began his usual routine of cleaning his armor.

Geralt had been calling him that since they’d reunited. Jas. Jask. The two shortened variations on his name that Geralt had so rarely called him before now seemed to be the Witcher’s default. Why was that? Was it part of Geralt’s sincere but aborted attempts to make amends?

And yet it seemed as though the Witcher wasn’t aware he was doing it.

“No, obviously I wasn’t, or you wouldn’t have that pinched look on your—yes! That one!” He pointed. “The one where you look constipated.”

Geralt stood up, abandoning the armor. “I do not look—”

“I’ve seen you eat just about every variant of mushroom under the sun, White Wolf, I know that contrary to popular belief you do not simply consume meat raw and bloody and I know what you look like when—”

Geralt strode forward, looming over Jaskier. They were of a height, and Jaskier was surprisingly (or apparently surprisingly to his various lovers which really did prick at his pride a bit seeing as it wasn’t like he was hiding half his body or anything) broad in the shoulder, which was how they were able to so often share clothes. But Geralt had about fifty pounds of pure muscle on Jaskier, and he was very, very good at looming and making Jaskier forget that Geralt did not in fact have a foot of height advantage over him.

“You didn’t do anything unwelcome,” Geralt said. His tone was careful and emphatic. “You didn’t take advantage of me. All right?”

They were in the fae realm. They couldn’t lie.

Jaskier nodded, swallowing. That was good, then. “You said that sometimes I push too far. I didn’t want—I would hate to—your friendship means a lot to me, Geralt.”

Geralt hesitated, and then put his hand on Jaskier’s shoulder, right where it sloped up to meet Jaskier’s neck. It was a grounding touch, and that was probably what Geralt meant it to be—not something that sent Jaskier’s heart rate spiking.

“I know.”

Well, that was progress. A year ago, Geralt wouldn’t have touched him, and would’ve just hummed instead of speaking, trusting Jaskier to translate all of that. He really was trying. It wasn’t his fault that Jaskier wanted more than friendship.

Jaskier quirked his lips up and—was it his imagination? Or did Geralt’s gaze drop down to his mouth for just a moment?

A knock sounded at the door before he could pursue that thought, and Merridew poked their head in. “Your majesty. The council has been summoned so that we can best discuss how to handle the threats to this court.”

“Of—of course, right, one moment.” Why was Geralt still staring at him?

Geralt’s hand dropped away from Jaskier’s shoulder and he stepped back, which caused Jaskier to realize that they’d been standing only an inch apart. Fuck. He needed to get his head on straight.

Merridew looked unimpressed as Jaskier hurried to dress himself. “I could send for some servants to attend to you, if you would like.”

“Ah, no, I left that all behind when I went to Oxenfurt and I’m quite grateful for it.” Jaskier hurriedly threw on some proper trousers and then hunted about for a top and boots.

“If you’ll follow me,” Merridew said once Jaskier was presentable, and they led them to yet another room he and Geralt had yet to discover (this castle seemed to have an infinite number of rooms and hallways and Jaskier was a little terrified to try and go off on his own).

Merridew put a hand up as Geralt tried to follow. “The consort is not permitted in meetings with the council.”

Jaskier paused.

He’d be alone with the fae. Fae who had apparently gotten him drunk on lust potion last night, although if his hazy recollections served him right, everyone had gotten drunk on lust potion and it had been a general celebration thing rather than an attempt to make him look like an idiot.

At least that seemed to be one thing he had in common with that side of his heritage. Ha.

But the point was—would he be able to handle himself without Geralt there to glower and look intimidating? Geralt had been the one to come up with the fake marriage to keep them together. Geralt had been the one challenging the fae and keeping Jaskier safe. Without Geralt, would Jaskier really stand a chance?

“Hmm.” Geralt looked like he did when they were at Pavetta’s betrothal banquet and he’d been about to verbally eviscerate a bunch of noblemen arguing over minotaurs.

Jaskier, as he had back then, shook his head slightly. Please, Geralt, don’t start a fight.

Geralt had a low rumble in his chest, but he didn’t argue. Then, to Jaskier’s surprise, he tugged Jaskier in, wrapping an arm around his waist the way he had yesterday when the servant had come in with their food. Well. If Jaskier's behavior last night had made Geralt uncomfortable at all, Geralt was doing an admirable job of ignoring that for the sake of their, ah, position.

Geralt nosed at Jaskier’s throat, inhaling deeply—breathing in his scent, Jaskier realized.

Jaskier wanted to hold onto him in return—and then realized that he could. They were in front of other people. That was why Geralt was doing this. He was… scenting? Was that what he was doing? Well, either way, Geralt was doing this to publicly remind everyone that yes, they were very married, ha, ha, totally one hundred percent married yup.

And, knowing Geralt, it was also a way to warn the fae, once again, what would happen if they crossed a Witcher by hurting or trying to manipulate Jaskier.

Jaskier gripped Geralt’s biceps, squeezing gently. Geralt made an odd noise, like he liked it but was surprised by that, but he didn’t pull back.

“Don’t start any bar fights, little lark.” Geralt’s voice was fond in a way that Jaskier had never heard it, and his tone was just loud enough that the fae could hear it if they cared to eavesdrop, which Jaskier was sure they did.

“How could I?” Jaskier replied. His heart was beating a frantic staccato. “You’re not around to get it started.”

Geralt rolled his eyes but stepped back, releasing Jaskier. Jaskier cleared his throat, tried not to think about how much his neck still burned from the Witcher’s touch, and then went to take his place at the table.

“Your majesty,” Rapuntium said. He seemed to speak for the entire council—whether the council liked it or not. Jaskier could see some disgruntled faces among the bunch.

Hmm.

“Our first order of business is the Winter court.”

That brought Jaskier up short. “With all due respect, I thought our main business was presenting a strong front to Nilfgaard.”

“Our main business, yes, but not our first,” one of the other fae spoke up. “The queen will see that we’re weak and will try to attack. They’ve been after our court for years.”

“They think we should unite, Unseelie against Seelie,” another fae said, rolling her eyes. “As if that nonsense means anything.”

“…does it mean anything?” Jaskier asked.

“It means that the Summer and Spring fae will kill you with a smile,” the fae replied. “And we’ll kill you but warn you first.”

…well then.

“Recently, the queen of the Winter fae has suggested that only under her united banner could we hope to stand against Nilfgaard,” Rapuntium explained. “We will have to deal with her first, since in the event of a ruler’s death and a new ruler’s ascension, the other fae rulers must, of course, meet their new compatriot.”

“The Summer and Spring courts can’t be counted on to support a king who’s half human,” another fae spoke up.

Triss will help us, Geralt had explained. She knows the Seelie fae. They trust her.

“Actually,” he said, standing up again, “I think we might expect more help from the Seelie than you might think. Let’s arrange to meet them before the Winter fae. See if we can… find some way to delay her so she arrives a day or two later. Nothing too obvious. But fae are known as tricksters. I’m sure you can come up with something.”

There was murmuring among the fae.

“If you can get me to talk to the Spring and Summer courts alone, I can get them to support me, and support us allied against Nilfgaard without Winter ruling us,” Jaskier said.

He had to believe in this. This couldn’t be a lie. Words were bonds in the fae realm. If he said this, he had to carry out his promise or he’d suffer consequences he didn’t even want to think about.

“I can do this,” he said, and he could feel his words turning into magic. He took a deep breath.

This was all right. He was a bard.

His words were magic anyway.

 


 

As soon as the doors closed behind Jaskier, Merridew pulled Geralt away into the shadows. “Hurry.”

Geralt felt the steel dagger he’d hidden in his boot. It wasn’t much but it was better than nothing. “Hmm.”

Merridew wove their fingers through the air, and the shadows around the two of them seemed to lengthen and darken, hiding them better.

“There are eyes and ears everywhere,” Merridew warned. “Duplicitous and cold.”

“Are you saying the court can’t be trusted?” Geralt growled. Should he have left Jaskier alone!?

“Let me ask you this. Do you truly want to protect the halfling?”

“His name is Jaskier. And yes.” He had failed Jaskier’s friendship once. He had failed everyone he loved. He wouldn’t do it again. He’d do better, be better, and take care of all of them.

Merridew leaned in, their eyes glittering like beetle shells. “Then don’t trust anyone.”

Geralt had always found the best method to be the most direct one. He grabbed Merridew by the throat and pinned them to the wall. “That include you?”

Merridew gave him a fanged smile. “I’m not an advisor. I’m not on the council. I wouldn’t be next in line if I hurt your bard.”

“But if you allied with, say, Nilfgaard, then they could appoint you the ruler and bypass all those pesky rules.”

“You think I trust whatever those fanatics would promise me? I am a true fae. I do not make deals with mortals that put me at their mercy. I am no lackey. No true fae is.”

Geralt could smell no lies on him—but he couldn’t smell anything properly with the fae. It had been such self-indulgence, scenting Jaskier in front of everyone. Sure, he could lie and say it was just for the role but it had been such a relief to brush his nose against Jaskier’s skin and smell again.

He’d just have to trust that there was no omission, no twisting of words, that meant Merridew was pulling the wool over his eyes.

“I think I don’t trust you, or any other fae,” he replied, finding a loophole in Merridew’s phrasing.

Merridew’s smile grew. “You are a sharp one.”

“Hmm.”

“They all think you’re a brute. That’s all Witchers are to them. That the bard keeps you around because you’re a bodyguard. Use that.” Merridew’s eyes flashed. “How do you think the assassin got to our queen?”

“I want statements.” Geralt squeezed the fae’s throat. “Not questions that can be interpreted however I like.”

“They all want the throne,” Merridew replied. “And a few of them will do whatever it takes to get it. There’s a statement for you. Protect the bard. He’s half-human. He has no idea what he’s getting into.”

“Jaskier’s smarter than you think.” Geralt released Merridew.

Their eyes flashed again. “But he is not one of us. They will feel no loyalty to him. Protect him.

Merridew waved their hand again and the shadows retreated, no longer cloaking them. The fae bowed, and then strode away.

Great. Just fucking great.

 


 

“Are you envious?” Ciri asked.

Yennefer startled out of her doze. “What?”

She turned to look at the little princess, who was lying curled up on a bedroll. Yennefer knew it was rude but she didn’t trust fae hospitality, thanks, so she and Ciri had opted to camp out while Triss dealt with the Spring and Summer fae, asking them to recognize Jaskier as their equal.

What could she possibly be envious over?

“Triss,” Ciri said. “She’s getting all this attention from the fae.”

It was true that Triss was quite… popular with the Seelie courts. Yennefer hadn’t realized. Of course, Triss was the kind of person who made friends everywhere, that was obvious. But she hadn’t expected Triss to be… flirted with. Yes, that was the thing. Triss having friends wasn’t unexpected. Fae tripping over themselves to speak to Lady Triss, Lady Merigold, Sorceress of Flowers, what the fuck—

“I think you’re just as beautiful, Lady Yennefer,” Ciri went on. “I wish I was beautiful like you. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

Yennefer blinked in surprise. “I’m not envious of Triss, little one. I don’t want to be in her place.” She paused. “And I think you’re very pretty.” She smirked. “My pretty little ugly one.”

Ciri stuck her tongue out at her. Yennefer didn’t know what to do with a child. All she had as a guide was her mother, who’d loved her but hadn’t stood up for her, and her father who’d hated her, and then Tissaia—and that was a whole mess and a half. But she looked at Ciri, and she wanted to try.

“Well. I wanted to ask.” Ciri shrugged. “You were glaring a lot when we were talking to the fae.”

So what if she’d been glaring a lot? They were fae, they weren’t to be trusted. The Seelie loved to claim they were the more benevolent lot, and that could be true, but they were also pranksters and tricksters. At least the Unseelie were straightforward. Sure, their policy tended to begin and end with ‘murder’ but they were honest about it.

The Summer court was on the water, in houses made of marble, fields stretching as far as the eye could see with a blue, cloudless sky and boats on the river. Spring was housed in the trees, the buildings apparently grown out of the wood itself instead of simply carved, the resulting creations so delicate that Yennefer felt like a stiff breeze would blow them down. It was always dawn in the Spring realm, and the forest floor was blanketed in flowers.

She didn’t trust any of it. You couldn’t trust beautiful things. She was evidence of that.

“That’s because you can’t trust fae, little one. At the best, they want to toy with you for entertainment before sending you home. At the worst they want to make you a pet.”

“But you only glare when one of them touches Triss or flirts with her.”

“Someone has to be protective of her,” Yennefer replied, the comment bringing her up short.

Perhaps she had felt a flash of… something in her chest when one of the fae would place their hand so familiarly on Triss’ arm. Or when they would give one of their silver-bell laughs at something she said. They all seemed so… familiar with her. And there was nothing wrong with that. Melitele knew that Triss deserved some attention and to be in the spotlight for once, seeing as she was always sort of off to the side in Aretuza matters.

But did the fae have to look at her like that? Like they wanted to take her to bed? Triss deserved better than fae games. Triss was so warm and steadfast, and she deserved someone who was the same in return. Someone who respected her but could protect the softness in Triss, who wouldn’t take her for granted, someone—

Oh fuck.

Ciri squinted at her. “Are you all right, Lady Yennefer? You look like you got hit with a bag of shit.”

“Have you ever seen anyone get hit with a bag of shit?”

Ciri grinned.

Yennefer shook her head. This girl was a wild little thing, full of unexpected childishness and enough sharp edges to cut an army. She understood now why Geralt had wanted her to help the girl. “Go to bed, little one.”

Ciri settled back down again among the flowers, and Yennefer kept watch. You couldn’t let your guard down for even a moment in the fae realm, not when you had a child with you.

Did she? Want to be with Triss? Why would she? She wouldn’t be jealous of the other fae, there was no reason. Yennefer was never jealous, because nobody could ever steal a lover from her. They were hers to discard, not hers to lose. But Triss wasn’t hers, no matter that she’d been supporting Yennefer this whole time and was helping Geralt and Jaskier without a second thought despite only just recovering from her injuries and she smiled at Yennefer in this secret way like it was a smile just for the two of them…

Yennefer glared at the small fire she’d conjured up, as if the flames were taunting her. She had just dealt with the mess that was Geralt. She didn’t need to suddenly realize that the shy bookworm a few years behind her at magic school had gone ahead and turned into a beautiful, graceful, talented woman that Yennefer really wanted to—she didn’t need this bullshit.

Fuck!

 


 

Jaskier stepped out of the meeting and looked around immediately for Geralt.

There was a reason he’d never wanted to be a viscount, had never wanted to take on the title. Let his ridiculous cousin Rupert handle the entire estate and run it into the ground for all Jaskier cared. Politics were worse than anything.

Geralt had never asked him why Jaskier didn’t take one look at him and see a monster the way others did, but if he had, Jaskier would’ve told him—he knew that true monsters often hid between pretty faces and pretty lies and pretty voices.

Speaking of pretty voices, who was talking?

“You’re a real Witcher, in our courts.” It was a fae, perhaps a woman, Jaskier could never be sure of gender around here and he had a feeling some of the fae liked it that way. “We haven’t had one of your kind here in centuries.”

“Hmm.”

Jaskier bristled at the fae’s tone. Whatever the creature, he knew a flirtatious comment when he heard one.

He stealthily rounded the corner (see, Geralt, he could be quiet when he needed to) and saw one of the fae who’d served them at the banquet last night, swaying on her feet in front of Geralt and looking up at him with a hungry gleam in her too-blue eyes.

“I was wondering…” The fae woman reached out to touch him and Geralt lightly batted her hand away.

“I thought you fae took promises seriously. Promises like marriages.”

“Oh, well, but you’re not fae.”

“And yet, I made a promise.”

Jaskier watched as Geralt did that thing, the thing Jaskier had once called ‘looming’ and Geralt had glared at him for. The fae woman bristled a little.

“I’m here for Jaskier. Save your pretty touches for someone who cares.”

It was a testament to fae power that she wasn’t cowed by Geralt the way most humans would have been. Instead she just turned on her heel and slid off in a huff, the scent of crisp autumn leaves trailing behind her and turning sour like rotting apples, showing her displeasure.

“You’re popular,” Jaskier commented, walking up.

“Fae like unusual things. Oddities.” Geralt gestured at himself.

Jaskier felt that hot brand of protectiveness in his chest that he always got when Geralt spoke of himself like that. “You’re not odd. You’re handsome. Fae are just smarter than humans so they can see it.”

Geralt gave him an odd look and Jaskier barreled forward before the Witcher could start to put two and two together. Jaskier didn’t need to be embarrassed today, thanks. “Anyway thank you for saying no to her.”

Geralt blinked at him like a startled cat. “Of course I did.”

Jaskier couldn’t see them, but he could feel eyes on them. He quickly draped his arms over Geralt’s shoulders, pressing them together. Geralt didn’t stiffen in surprise, so Jaskier figured the man’s keen senses had picked up on the spies as well.

“My loyal wolf,” Jaskier said, and he didn’t have to fake or force the appreciation in his voice, the hint of adoration that he always tried to keep such a stranglehold on around Geralt.

“Hmm.” Geralt rubbed the small of Jaskier’s back, then leaned in to press a kiss just under Jaskier’s jaw. It put his lips close enough to Jaskier’s ear to whisper, “I’m here to protect you, Jask. That includes keeping up the pretense. Besides.” Geralt’s nose twitched slightly. “I wouldn’t have said yes anyway.”

That made something in Jaskier’s chest loosen. “Well. Good to know, then. Um, shall we?”

Geralt shook his head and then tightened his grip on Jaskier, dipping his head lower to scent Jaskier’s neck again. “They got their stupid fae perfume all over you in there.”

He sounded genuinely put out, and Jaskier had to laugh. “You realize, I am fae, yes? I will smell a little like them.”

“Hmm.” Geralt pulled back. “There. Now you smell like mine again, little lark.”

Jaskier really needed him to stop doing that or he was going to melt into the floor—and then leap out a window because it was all for show. None of it was true. Geralt was playing the possessive Witcher mate, the way the fae all expected him to. That was all.

Still. He couldn’t resist a soft kiss against Geralt’s cheek before he stepped back, allowing them to continue down the corridor.

The entire time he could feel those eyes on them, and he knew—and he knew Geralt knew, without even asking—that this just now had been a test.

And they’d managed to pass it without lying.

For now.

 


 

“We need a plan,” Jaskier whispered.

They lay in bed together, as they so often had over the years. Geralt had never given a thought to it at first. It was about saving money, and staying warm. Then it was, well. It was the only damn touch he could get regularly. He didn’t even mean sex, just—nobody wanted to touch a Witcher, not even in a friendly manner, nobody except for Jaskier.

Curling up with Jaskier at night was the only time he got to hold someone, got to have someone pressed against him, got to sooth that ache in his chest that craved human contact. He hadn’t realized how much he would miss it until Jaskier was gone.

Ciri, at least, had no problem curling up with him. She’d needed it, to feel safe and chase nightmares away. Geralt had been happy to hold her through the night.

He hoped Yennefer was holding her at night. They both needed that. He hoped she’d found Yennefer at all.

No. He’d know if something was wrong with Ciri. Since meeting her their destined bond had strengthened. He would know if she was in danger.

“Geralt.” Jaskier poked him. “I know you’re awake.”

Geralt forced himself back into the present. “Hmm.”

Jaskier was so close to him, their faces barely an inch apart, his hair and face and the curve of his body lit up by the golden sunset. Geralt wanted to wrap an arm around him and bury his face in Jaskier’s neck, inhale Jaskier’s scent, warm Jaskier up because the stupid bastard always ran cold.

The inch between them might as well have been a mile.

“Where did you go?” Jaskier whispered. “What’s wrong?”

Where to even begin with that sentence. “Ciri. You. This mess.”

“Ciri’s going to be fine. Yennefer will protect her, if only because she knows Ciri is dear to you.” Jaskier paused, and Geralt saw the guilt in his eyes. “I’m sorry you’re dragged into this mess with me, Geralt, really.”

“I literally asked for it,” Geralt pointed out. “I didn’t mean—you’re not the mess, Jaskier.”

He almost said little lark and had to stop himself just in time. That was for show, not for just the two of them. Jaskier wouldn’t want it.

To his horror (and pleasure, not that he’d admit that), Jaskier moved closer. “Can’t have people overhearing.”

Right, the fae could be spying on them.

“Here.” Before he could overthink it, Geralt flipped Jaskier over and pressed himself to Jaskier’s back so that his mouth could be right by the bard’s ear. He could speak softly and Jaskier could still hear it, and Jaskier could keep his voice quiet enough that only Geralt’s senses could pick it up.

Jaskier went stiff, probably alarmed by the intimacy of it, but then he relaxed and pressed back into Geralt, nodding for Geralt to continue.

“Your coronation banquet was disrupted by a lust potion. We still don’t know what the purpose of that was.”

“I think it was just to have an orgy.”

“And we can’t trust anyone. I just…” It was still so hard to say it, so hard to reveal his emotions and be vulnerable, to leave himself open to attack. “I worry. About you.”

Jaskier gave one of those small, incredulous smiles, the ones that crinkled up the corners of his eyes. “I know I’m safe with you.”

Geralt hoped Jaskier couldn’t hear the way his heart beat loudly, echoing in his eardrums. He once again was grateful for the mutations that meant he didn’t blush.

To distract himself, he said, “I don’t trust the head of the council.”

“Rapuntium? Oh no.” Jaskier shook his head. “No farther than I could throw him and I can’t even pick him up.”

“Hmm.”

“But we don’t have any proof he’s nasty. We’ll just have to keep on our toes.”

“He reminds me of an advisor to a king I knew once.”

“Oh? What was the man like?”

“He created the striga.”

“…oh.”

Jaskier snorted a little, as if it was funny, but also tragic at the same time, and Geralt felt so—so fucking comfortable. Every time he was with Yennefer there was the fear and the knowledge that she would leave. He felt like he had to always impress her to keep her from moving on to someone else, and that if he said or did the wrong thing it would be over.

But with Jaskier he could just relax.

It didn’t feel so much like an enchantment as it did coming home.

“We do still need a plan,” Jaskier said. His voice was so soft. Jaskier was soft, and Geralt wanted to preserve that. He didn’t want Jaskier to become all sharp edges and angles like the other fae here.

“Hmm.”

“I don’t think we’ll win this going about it the way another fae would,” Jaskier said. He wound a lock of Geralt’s hair around his finger, apparently absentmindedly. “I think we need to go about this like humans. How do humans beat the fae?”

“Rarely.”

“All fairytales come from somewhere, Geralt.” Jaskier smiled, and his teeth were sharp. His skin glittered in the dying sunlight.

Geralt had a sudden feeling he wasn’t going to like where this was going.

 


 

Triss had never been to either Unseelie court before. She had grown up leaving offerings to the fae at the spring equinox and summer solstice, her mother guiding her, and in time the fae had come to her just as they’d come to her mother, and her mother before her, and her mother before her.

She could still remember the first time she’d stepped onto the Path and gone to the fae realm. The colors had been so bright they’d hurt her eyes. She’d smelled things and heard songs she’d never even imagined before.

Over time that wonder had faded and she’d come to see the poison in the flowers, the shadows lurking behind the bright colors, the sharpened curve in the smiles. But her mother had taught her to be respectful and loyal to the fae, and they had been kind to her in return.

It was a magic, a pact, just as old as Aretuza, just practiced differently.

But although she had come to earn the respect, perhaps even the friendship, of the Seelie fae, that all meant nothing to the Autumn and Winter courts. And now Jaskier, a human (or half-human but really, human in culture and upbringing), was caught in the middle of it. With Nilfgaard sweeping across the Continent.

It was… a lot.

Queen Maeve of the Summer court and King Robin of the Spring court agreed to the Autumn court’s wish that they all assemble to recognize ‘Julian’ (apparently Jaskier wasn’t his real name which—if it wasn’t the most cliché fae thing to name one’s self after a flower, Triss didn’t know what was) as an equal ruler. Triss had her hands full prepping them to know who Jaskier was, the situation, asking for them to be patient, and it wasn’t easy, especially since Maeve had her own assassination attempt against her thwarted and was keen to go to war immediately against Nilfgaard and didn’t much care if the other courts were ready or not.

Despite all of her work, though, Triss couldn’t help the buzz of anticipation as they entered the Autumn realm. It was all so new. A different side of this world she knew so well.

Yennefer watched her fondly as they walked. Triss tried not to preen—she had chosen this dress specifically, trying to impress Yennefer. If she and Geralt weren’t together anymore, then damn it, Triss was going to finally throw her hat in the ring. When would she get another chance?

The dark purple of the dress and the gauzy fabric both suited her well, Triss thought—if she did say so herself. She kept seeing Yennefer sneak peeks at her when she seemed to think Triss wasn’t looking. The flowers were, of course, in keeping with the Seelie fae fashion. Triss was a representative of these courts, after all.

It took everything in her to play it cool and not to simply fling herself at Yennefer’s feet like an idiot teenager acting out a love ballad. This is all yours, I’m all yours, if you want it. Please want it.

The forest here in the Autumn realm was thicker and darker than the ones in Spring and Summer. The colors were saturated, dark, and warm. Leaves crunched underfoot and there was a slightly smoky scent to the air.

“Triss.”

Geralt’s voice was a relief, and Triss let herself pull ahead to pick up her pace and clasp his hands in greeting. Behind him stood Jaskier, wearing a crown (which was going to take some getting used to) and a retinue.

“He insisted on greeting them himself,” Geralt said quietly, indicating Jaskier.

“Where’s Winter?” Triss asked, whispering in return.

“Not here yet. Jaskier got some fae to delay her. He wants to talk about an alliance against the Winter court, present a united front.”

“That won’t be easy. He has to also prove himself as a leader.”

Geralt eyed Jaskier with a look that was a combination of respect and wariness. “I think he’s cooked up something. He’s cleverer than people give him credit for.”

“You know something about that,” Triss pointed out. She would never forget how Geralt had been on the hunt where they’d met, how he’d displayed a level of intelligence and compassion far beyond what she, or anyone, had expected of him.

“Geralt!”

Ciri ran forward and hugged the Witcher, who lit up and hugged her tightly in return, to Triss’ utter shock. She’d never seen him so animated. “Hello, cub.”

Jaskier stepped forward, smiling. Triss didn’t know the bard well, but she recognized a performer’s smile anywhere, even if this one seemed more genuine and intimate than most. Then again, Jaskier was famous across the Continent. He had to be better than most. She was surprised that his crown was the only sign of royalty he wore. His clothes were red, to signify Autumn, but they were rather simple. He wore no other jewelry, and he had his lute slung across his back. He was dressed merely like a well-paid bard, in other words. Not like a king.

What was he playing at?

“Your majesties. It’s a great honor to have you here recognizing my right to the throne, temporary though it may be.” Jaskier bowed to Maeve and Robin, more deeply than he had to seeing as he was technically now their equal. “I know I’m but a humble bard…”

Geralt had a look on his face that indicated Jaskier had never been humble a day in his life.

“…but I hope my acceptance of my birthright will allow us to present a strong, united front against the threat of Nilfgaard.” Jaskier straightened up. “Forgive my meeting you and escorting you myself. I know it seems forward. But I wanted to give myself a chance to get to know you personally outside of court rituals.”

…so Jaskier had made a point to get the two other rulers alone, away from the prying eyes of the fae court. And he’d arranged to delay the arrival of Diana, the queen of Winter, if only for a short while.

What was he up to?

“I think it’s a marvelous idea,” Triss said, stepping forward. She curtsied to Robin and Maeve. “Your majesties, you know my council and you know that Geralt of Rivia is a trusted friend of mine. To spend more time with an ally of the Autumn court, the three of you, could only be beneficial.”

Maeve arched an eyebrow and looked imperiously down her nose at Jaskier, despite him being taller than she was. After a moment, she gracefully held out a hand, palm down. “If you will lead me.”

Jaskier fit his hand under hers politely and immediately began to chat about a lovely lookout spot with a perfect view on the kingdom, as if they were all off on a picnic.

Triss saw Yennefer fall into step on Geralt’s other side. “What did you two come up with in those perogies of yours that you call brains?” she muttered.

“You’ll see,” Geralt murmured.

“Jaskier can’t play them as a fae,” Triss whispered. She hated to admit it, but it was true. “He’s lived his whole life as a human. He can’t match them.”

“Hmm.”

They reached what was, indeed, a beautiful lookout point, revealing the sweeping forest and the sunset that bathed it all.

“Oh,” Triss gasped, unable to stop herself. “What a beautiful sunset!”

“No, it’s not,” Geralt and Jaskier both snapped at the same moment.

“Oh. Um.” Triss cleared her throat. “My mistake. Rubbish sunset.”

“Quite a view, isn’t it?” Jaskier asked.

Triss watched the faces of her two rulers carefully. As Maeve and Robin gazed out over the trees, she saw them notice what she had.

The line of frost appearing at the edge of it, spreading like an arrow shot out of a bow.

Winter was coming.

“It is said,” Jaskier spoke quietly, “that even with the Winter court, a human can gain favor, if the human in question rises to a challenge and conquers it. Would such a human gain favor with the Spring and Summer courts as well, if he tamed Winter’s lion?”

“No such human exists,” Robin replied, without looking at Jaskier.

Triss held her breath. Spring was known for being soft, but it was a temperamental season, with sudden rainfalls that caused floods and mudslides. It came in on Winter’s coattails.

“Even Winter has honor, and holds to bargains,” Jaskier said. “If I can beat her, will you follow me? I’m not asking as a fae or a king. I’m asking as a man who’s seen what Nilfgaard does and knows this is bigger than all of us.”

He looked over at Geralt, as if he was seeking reassurance. Triss was surprised to see that, and surprised even further to see Geralt nod at him in response.

Very interesting. She’d thought Geralt was still head over heels for Yennefer. And she’d underestimated the level of connection between these two. It was like an entire conversation passed between them with just those looks, those slight head movements.

“I’m not here to rob you or rule you,” Jaskier went on. “I’m here to help you.”

Maeve and Robin looked at each other. Triss bit down hard on her tongue, and when she saw Yen start to speak, she stepped on her foot. Trust me. Fae didn’t like to be pushed.

The two rulers looked over at Jaskier. “If you can beat her,” Maeve said, “we will stand by you.”

Triss exhaled slowly. It would all be on Jaskier now, and whatever plan he’d cooked up.

 


 

Jaskier didn’t know what to expect when it was time to host the banquet for the other fae courts, but he sure as fuck hadn’t expected to be so intimidated.

Queen Maeve and King Robin both looked like they could crush him with a pinkie finger. Maeve was the epitome of sophistication and wore robes in the richest jewel tones, with actual jewels and a great deal of gold sewn in. It radiated against her dark skin, and Jaskier felt like the rest of the room was darker when she stepped into it, like she was the sun. Robin appeared softer at first glance, wearing pastel colors and silken fabrics, his long shining black hair carefully styled in an elaborate updo, but Jaskier saw the lightning flashing in his eyes and the hard set of his jaw and knew he couldn’t trust that mask of elegance and decorum to remain if the chips were down.

He was actually surprised by how human they all looked. The various fae were all differing levels of humanoid, some more otherworldly than others, but the rulers at least seemed to prefer to put on a human appearance. He wondered why.

And then there was Queen Diana.

Summer and Spring were barely settled when a chill announced her arrival. Forget having a day to arrange things—Jaskier was glad he’d chosen to meet Maeve and Robin outside the court, otherwise he never would’ve had enough time to get their promise to support his plan.

His wild, irresponsible plan, according to Geralt. But it was all they had. Jaskier was a bard. He knew fairytales. He could do this.

The queen of Winter wore white furs and velvets, a corset of the palest blue, and diamonds in her blonde hair. She had the face of a fox, Jaskier thought, and was probably just as cunning as one. Her nails were long enough to be talons and snowflakes coated patches of her skin.

“King Julian.” She smirked at him. “You must forgive my court’s delay.”

“There is nothing to forgive.” Jaskier bowed to her. He still had his lute on his back, and he placed his fingers on the warm wood of it. He wasn’t a king, but he was a bard. He could do this. “Please, take your seat.”

He took a deep breath. “Your majesties, I am not a king or a fae. I’m merely a bard, and I was raised among humans, and so all I know how to do is speak plainly.”

This was the plan that he and Geralt had come up with, especially after Geralt had whispered to him about the warning from Merridew. He could still feel Geralt’s warm breath against his neck, hear Geralt’s voice low and intimate right in his ear, feel his chest expanding and contracting with each deep, slow breath. Jaskier had tried not to shiver at the time, or now at the memory.

Sharing a bed with Geralt had been par for the course over the years of their friendship and Jaskier had gotten used to stuffing down his feelings like he was trying to fit those last few doublets into his trunk, but the year of absence had worn down his defenses. It had taken everything in him not to melt against Geralt, not to turn his head and kiss him, not to beg for more.

He’d known he was lucky to get even that much, after all. Sharing beds had been for saving coin, for keeping them (mostly Jaskier) warm, and for satisfying the need for touch that all people inherently had. It didn’t make Jaskier special. It never had. He was aware that the moment a better option presented itself Geralt would prefer that, and it was the same now. Only with the added bonus of needed to cuddle to foil potential spies.

Honestly, what was his life?

But trying for fae subterfuge wouldn’t work. They couldn’t beat the fae at their own game, and the fae wouldn’t appreciate it if Jaskier tried to be as subtle and sophisticated as they were and failed. So it was time to swing hard in the other direction. Play upon his humanity and humility. Act like he was just another human who’d stumbled into the fae realm and had to make a bargain.

“Nilfgaard is a threat, and they are coming for us. They killed my mother, Queen Aurora, and I’m sure they’ve tried to kill you. We have to be united.”

Jaskier looked Diana dead in the eye. “Because Autumn bends the knee to no one.”

Diana’s smirk turned into more of a snarl.

“So here is my offer.” Jaskier took off his crown and swung his lute around to rest against his chest in the ready position. “The fae like challenges. And they like music. It’s a common habit, is it not, for fae to procure favorite musicians as pets, to keep them performing for them for all time?”

He strummed his lute.

“The usual bargain is if the musician can play until dawn, he wins his freedom.” He kept looking Diana in the eye. “But I don’t need that. If I play until dawn, your majesty, will you align with me and not raise a hand to usurp the other courts?”

The room grew colder, frost creeping across the stones. “Nobody dares speak so plain to me,” Diana said, her words like snapping icicles.

“I do,” Jaskier replied. “Learned it from a certain Witcher.”

He could hear Yennefer snort.

Jaskier strummed his lute again. “If I can’t play, I’ll cede the Autumn court to you.”

“How will we tell it’s dawn?” Diana asked. “In this perpetual sunset?”

“We have with us a child,” Jaskier announced.

The winter fae all stirred and whispered among themselves as Ciri stepped forward. A child, a human child, in the fae realm.

“She’s a child of humanity,” Jaskier said. “She knows when dawn is. She knows her homeland.”

Children possessed a unique memory of their home. It was part of why they never did well in fairyland. Adults could forget, or be made to forget. Children couldn’t.

Diana fixed the princess with a look. Ciri stared her down like Diana was a bug under her foot. If nothing else, the girl knew how to hold her chin up.

“You cannot lie in the fae realm, girl.”

Ciri cocked her head. “Who says I need to?”

Jaskier strummed his lute a third time. “Well, your majesty? Or will it be known that a fae couldn’t accept a challenge from a human?”

Robin and Maeve exchanged alarmed looks, but Diana laughed. It was a cold, harsh sound. “Go on then, bard.” She gave an imperious wave of her hand. “Play. Until dawn.”

Jaskier looked at Ciri, who nodded. He looked at Geralt.

Geralt didn’t look happy about it, but he nodded as well.

Jaskier grinned. Performing. This was what he was good at. “I think I’ll start with the White Wolf’s favorite.”

Geralt’s groan was almost loud enough to drown out the opening notes.

 


 

Geralt watched carefully as Jaskier played. Triss had to stay with the Seelie fae, so as not to give away the friendliness between the three courts, but Yennefer had no alliance with anyone. Geralt could sense the other fae watching her warily as she moved through them to stand next to Geralt.

“Can he do it?” she asked in a low voice.

“I don’t know,” Geralt answered honestly. “I told him not to risk it but we saw no other way.”

Yennefer glanced at him. “You sound worried.”

“Hmmm.” Of course he was worried. If Jaskier ceded the Autumn court… who knew what Diana would do to ensure there was no retaliation or second chances. Or what the other Autumn fae would do for revenge.

“I mean that you’re showing your worry.” Yennefer thumbed the wrinkle in his brow. “You never would have done that before. Not where he could see it.”

Geralt shook off her touch.

“Did you ever tell him?” Yennefer asked, relentless. “Did you ever tell him why you saved my life? About your guilt? About what he meant to you?”

“Have you told Triss you’ll rip off the hand of the next fae who touches her?” Geralt shot back.

He knew what Yennefer’s possessive looks were. And he saw them directed at Triss. He couldn’t blame her. Triss was supportive and kind. And her looks to Yennefer, looks of longing and adoration, were rather obvious.

Yen glared at him. “I hear tell that you’re his prince consort. I’m offended I wasn’t invited to the wedding.”

“Fuck off.”

“If he loses, will you start a war over him?”

“I’ve started wars without meaning to. Why not do it on purpose this time?” Geralt blurted out without thinking.

For fuck’s sake. Every time, he said more around Yen than he meant to.

Yennefer smirked. “I hope he knows that. Such devotion shouldn’t be wasted.” She paused, and her voice gentled. “As it was on me.”

“I’m… I shouldn’t have made that wish. I was… off-kilter.” Exhausted, sleepless, terrified by his fear over nearly losing Jaskier, and seeing an easy solution in Yennefer. A solution to his loneliness, to being unable to find a partner he wasn’t scared of hurting, to everything.

“We’re painfully alike, aren’t we?” Yen noted. She tilted her head, watching as Jaskier played. “He suits you. He’s soft in different ways than you are.”

“Hmm.” Geralt didn’t think of himself as soft. He elbowed Yen. “Sure you aren’t talking about yourself?”

Yennefer glared at him.

“She’s been in love with you for years,” Geralt added.

“I could say the same.”

Jaskier was still playing, still performing, as Ciri kept her eyes closed, her brow furrowed, focused on feeling the time. How did he have so much energy? It had been hours. Geralt wished he knew what fucking time it was so he knew how much longer Jaskier had to keep this up. His voice had to be aching, to say nothing of his fingers.

“Jaskier can have anyone he wants.” If Geralt had been one of them, Jaskier would’ve said so, years ago.

And then Jaskier started playing something else. A song Geralt hadn’t heard before.

“The fairer sex, they call it, but her love’s as unfair as a crook…”

Geralt blinked. What?

Jaskier sang about a woman, one that was beautiful and charming but unfair, but then—then Jaskier seemed to change who he was speaking to.

He started out with ‘she’ but then said ‘you’ when asking his ‘love’ how it was just. So who was his love? The woman? Or someone else?

Then the chorus started and oh, fuck. It wasn’t about Jaskier. It was about Geralt. And Yennefer.

Fuck.

Geralt winced as Ciri actually—oh for fuck’s sake—hummed along with the song. So did Triss. Shit, did everyone know this song? All about his unhealthy relationship with Yennefer?

He glanced over at Yen, but she didn’t look insulted. Instead she looked intrigued. Her eyes were narrowed as she stared at Jaskier, like she was seeing the answer to a puzzle and almost wanted to roll her eyes at how obvious the solution was.

Geralt wanted the floor to swallow him up.

The song built to an emotional crescendo, and Geralt had to admit, it was a well-done song. He thought he saw some fae dabbing at their eyes.

For fuck’s sake.

“But the story is this, she’ll destroy with her sweet kiss…” Jaskier’s voice soared. He was getting to show off his range with this one.

As with all the other songs, Jaskier gave only a moment’s pause so that everyone could appreciate the feeling of the song before launching into another one. It was a delicate balance, giving each song its due while also making sure nobody thought it was because he was tired.

Geralt wanted to give him a glass of water, something to eat, a moment’s pause, anything. He’d seen Jaskier perform for twenty years and never had he seen the bard go on and on and on like this without a rest. It was affecting him more than Geralt had thought it would, his nails digging into his palms as he strove to keep himself still. Jaskier was hurting, and all for this stupid court that was basically holding them hostage. It wasn’t right.

Jaskier gave a melancholy smile and strummed his lute. “This one’s new,” he announced. “So go easy on me.” He winked at Triss, because he was a flirtatious asshole until the end but even he knew better than to wink at someone who might take it seriously when Jaskier was supposedly married to Geralt.

“It’s a tale that’s softened with time,” Jaskier sang. “Like moss upon a stone…”

Geralt could see Jaskier’s fingers bleeding as he strummed his lute, the well-worn calluses at last cut open after a whole night’s worth of performance, but the bard didn’t flinch. And his voice didn’t waver.

“She dared to love, and doomed to love, the fiercest beast that roamed…”

Geralt blinked, surprised as he registered the lyrics. He’d never heard this one before either. Normally Jaskier tended to get his inspiration from their hunts. Even that blasted song about the mermaid that wasn’t at all accurate was based on a real time with Geralt.

But this didn’t match any hunt they’d had. A woman who fell in love with a hideous beast? A beast that believed no one could love him?

Possibly, just possibly, it was based on the striga he’d freed with Triss, and then given a romantic bent and a gender swap but even that was stretching it…

Jaskier’s voice did begin to waver, but not, Geralt suspected, from exhaustion. He’d heard the bard when he was tired. This was more like when Jaskier was singing one of his sad songs, like his song about the black sun princess. His voice was wavering from emotion.

“As sure as the sun will rise in the east, and yet an eternal surprise, the beauty will fall in love with the beast, for love is pure but far from wise…”

It was a sad song, and yet, Geralt couldn’t for the life of him figure out why. The song was about a beautiful woman who was wanted by many suitors who saw her looks but not her heart, and how she wandered into a ruined northern castle (Geralt was ninety percent sure this part at least was based on Kaer Morhen because really how many other ruined castles had Jaskier been to) only to stumble upon a beast trapped there, a beast reviled and forgotten by the rest of the world.

The beast was, well, an asshole to start out with. But it was clear that he was an asshole because he was determined to reject people before they rejected him. He was lashing out from pain. And the beauty stayed, and snapped at him and argued with him, but she did stay, and, well. The refrain said it all.

The beauty will fall in love with the beast, for love is pure but far from wise.

Geralt was sure that was where the sad part came in. Was it that the beast didn’t love her back? But how could he not? Geralt didn’t understand.

…he also didn’t understand why Yennefer, Triss, and Ciri were all now staring at him.

“What,” he asked Yen, since she was the closest to him.

“Oh my gods,” Yen replied. “You fucking idiot.”

Why the fuck was everyone staring at him!?

 


 

His fingers hurt, his wrists hurt, his feet hurt, his throat hurt, his shoulders hurt—all of it hurt. His tongue was going to be numb after this. But he was singing his final song. He’d planned his song list carefully, knew how long each song lasted, how to keep his audience entertained, and he knew, without even looking in Ciri’s direction, when dawn would come.

He’d never sung this song in public before. Not even to his colleagues at Oxenfurt to get their opinions. It had been too close, too painful.

Geralt wasn’t a beast, no matter what the rest of the world said, but that was how Geralt saw himself. And Jaskier had his insecurities but his looks were not one of them. He hoped Geralt wouldn’t figure out the parallels in the song, but he’d had to write something down, he’d had to try and purge his feelings in some way. Her Sweet Kiss had been about Yennefer, about Jaskier’s own terrible envy, about Yennefer and Geralt’s unhealthy dance and Jaskier’s helplessness to do anything about it.

This song didn’t even have a name, but it didn’t have bitterness in it. It wasn’t about Yennefer or Geralt’s hunts or the rest of the world. It was just about Jaskier realizing the one person he wanted was not the rich, handsome person he’d always idly imagined himself ending up with, but rather someone the rest of the world saw as a ruin, an outcast, a beast. And how he’d become a better person for it, and he’d hopefully, through his friendship, helped Geralt a bit in turn.

It was just about them.

Jaskier let the last notes of the song fade, his mind racing. Ciri hadn’t called time. Had he miscalculated? Did he need another song? He couldn’t play a repeat. Was there another song he knew, was there—

“Time!” Ciri yelled. In her eagerness she clambered up onto the table. “It’s dawn! It’s dawn! Jaskier wins!”

The court went wild. Jaskier’s legs felt numb and he struggled to stay standing. He wasn’t going to collapse immediately after winning. He was going to hold his head high and make sure Diana and the rest of the fae had no idea how close to the brink he’d been.

Diana herself rose, along with Maeve and Robin, and the noise died down at once.

“You played successfully.” The words sounded like they tasted ashy in her mouth. “No wonder you’re so well known on the Continent. Very well. A bargain is a bargain. You played until dawn without missing a note. You have my allegiance. Winter will follow Autumn’s lead against Nilfgaard.”

“And?” Jaskier prompted. He felt giddy, lightheaded, and had to resist the urge to scream in triumph and exhaustion.

Diana’s face twisted. “And we will not attack the other courts. Winter will have its place.”

“We will follow Autumn’s lead as well,” Robin said.

“And so will we,” Maeve added.

Jaskier really might faint. Not even Pavetta’s betrothal banquet had been this insane, at least for him. That had been all Geralt, Jaskier had just been a bystander. Now he was the eye of the storm.

A fae servant moved forward. “Your majesty, your fingers.”

Jaskier turned towards him—looked down—oh, yes, his fingers were bleeding. He’d played right through the calluses. Now that he was aware of it, he could feel the pain. Ow. He wouldn’t be able to play the lute like that for a week or so.

“Here…” the fae took Jaskier’s hand…

Jaskier felt a pain in his inner wrist, right at the base of his palm—and it was so odd, but it was almost like he didn’t feel it at all. Or at least he didn’t feel it when it happened. He was aware that something had happened, and then afterwards, that was when the pain hit.

It radiated up his arm, and his blood seemed to be on fire, everything spinning and lurching, and he heard someone yelling his name in a low, rasping voice, and everything went black.

 


 

Geralt saw Jaskier’s face go white. “Jaskier!”

The bard’s eyes rolled back into his head and his knees buckled. Geralt darted forward, catching him, making sure Jaskier fell against Geralt’s chest. He pressed two fingers to Jaskier’s pulse—fuck, it was barely there.

Geralt looked up at the fae, a snarl already contorting his face. The fae tried to move—and found he couldn’t.

Yennefer stepped forward, her arm still extended, her fingers curled into claws.

For a moment, everything hung suspended, and Geralt was reminded of when Pavetta had screamed, all those years ago—how she and Duny had hovered in the air together, the eye of the storm, peace amid the chaos. Everyone froze and stared, and the only real thing seemed to be Jaskier in Geralt’s arms, Jaskier’s skin burning hot, his breathing stuttering and shallow.

And then, like shattering glass, chaos erupted.

Fae were leaping up, screaming, magic was flying everywhere. Triss was somehow in the center of it all, magic pouring out of her like sunlight, and it took Geralt a moment to realize that she was protecting someone—no, two someones: the king of the Spring court and the queen of the Summer court. Triss was literally pulling her magic in half as she created a shield of some kind around them, a shield of pure light.

Bolts of lightning began to crackle, Geralt smelled ozone—and he picked Jaskier up, diving out of the way as Yennefer exploded, going after the assassins who were trying to get through Triss’s magic.

But in the process, Yen let go of her hold on the first assassin.

Geralt saw the person’s form shimmer and realized they were using fae glamour, or rather, someone was using their fae glamour on the person.

“Geralt!” Ciri had crawled under the high table and was now crawling out of it, grabbing onto Jaskier. “I’ll take him!”

The idea of leaving both Jaskier and Ciri alone together without him to protect him made something snarl and claw at the inside of his throat, but what choice did he have? “Scream if you have to,” he told her.

Ciri nodded, tugging Jaskier away from Geralt. It took him a moment to realize it was because he still wasn’t letting Jaskier go.

Geralt forced himself to step away, turning and inhaling deeply. He had the bastard’s scent. Even in this chaos, he’d find him.

He didn’t have his silver, but he did have his steel dagger in his boot, and he drew it out as he launched forward, searching frantically. There, heading for the door on the far side.

Geralt leapt through the crowd, almost like his moniker, chasing the scent. The assassin looked different, no longer fae, and out of the corner of his eyes he could see other people being rounded up by Triss and Yennefer. They all looked different as well, no longer fae but human…

Nilfgaard. Of course the empire would have fanatics indoctrinated enough to go on a suicide mission to kill fae rulers. And to get them all in one fell swoop…

It would be a crippling blow for the fae and would undoubtedly make the successors to the thrones more likely to bend the knee to Nilfgaard, if the assassinations were pulled off. But it looked like Triss and Yen had the situation in hand.

But this one—the one who had hurt Jaskier, who’d tried to kill Jaskier, the one who’d dared to lay a hand on him—this one was Geralt’s.

Geralt braced his hand on a table and vaulted over it, landing on the other side and using it as momentum to jump, crashing into the assassin as he tried to get out the door and sending them both rolling on the floor in a tangle. He got on top, twisting the dagger in his hand so that he had a backgrip on it and plunged it, unthinking, nothing but pure feral rage, right into the man’s heart.

“No!” Yen yelled, distantly. “Geralt, we need them alive!”

He didn’t care. His blood was roaring in his ears, and he twisted the knife, literally. The assassin choked on his own blood, lips stained crimson, his body twitching and convulsing once, hard, before sinking to the ground and going limp.

Geralt yanked the dagger out. Part of him felt—sick, the idea that he had been so enraged, was still so enraged, killed without even thinking—but the rest of him was roaring in triumph, the rest of him felt deeply, darkly, satisfied.

The rest of the battle had died down, and he turned to see Triss on her knees, breathing hard, while Yennefer finished conjuring some chains to hold the remaining living assassins. The various fae were snarling, or trying to clean up, or simply in shock, depending.

Geralt vaulted over the table. “Triss—Jaskier—”

He reached out a hand and Triss accepted it, letting him haul her to her feet and following him to where Ciri crouched over Jaskier like, well, a lion cub.

Geralt gently took Jaskier from her and hauled him up as Triss pressed her hands to him. “Thank the gods he’s half human,” she said. “This poison was designed for fae, his human side’s slowing it down. He should’ve been dead in an instant.”

Geralt’s heart was slower in general, thanks to the mutations, but right now it felt like it had stopped completely. He inhaled carefully, trying not to let his panic show. “Can you cure him?”

“I’ll have to draw the poison out.” Triss looked a little pale, but resolute.

“Do it.”

Once again, Geralt found himself laying an unconscious Jaskier on an ornate bed. Only this time, it wasn’t his fault. At least, not directly.

He should have sensed the danger. He should have known. His whole point for being here was to keep Jaskier safe in this den of vipers and he’d failed at that. Jaskier would have died if not for a trick of biology and it would’ve been because Geralt hadn’t stopped it in time.

Geralt hadn’t saved him.

Triss sat down on the edge of the bed and ran her hands in the air over Jaskier, her fingers moving like she was playing an instrument. Around them, the candles spluttered and the light seemed to dim.

Ah, yes. All magic came with a price.

Yennefer strode in, Ciri at her heels. “Merridew and a few others are restoring order.”

Ciri crossed right to Geralt and wrapped her arms around his waist, as if she could sense his distress. Perhaps she could.

“This will take a while,” Triss said softly. “You’re the prince consort. You should go deal with them.”

Geralt wouldn’t even know where to begin with that.

Yennefer, oddly, looked angry at Triss. “Geralt’s useless. I’ll deal with it.” She paused, looking as though she might say something more, but then she snapped her mouth shut and went back out the door in a whirl of skirts.

Now what the fuck was that about?

Yen was someone he often felt he knew better than himself, and then other times, like now, she was the biggest puzzle he’d ever encountered.

Geralt gently detached Ciri from him. “You still have your dagger?”

Ciri nodded.

“Good. Go to bed, keep it under your pillow.”

“I already was,” Ciri pointed out, scoffing as if the idea that she wasn’t ready to fight at all times was ludicrous. But she went anyway, giving Jaskier a long, considering look—one that wasn’t quite sad, but close to it.

Ciri didn’t let herself get sad. Geralt had noticed it, recognized it as something he did, and sometimes he still cursed himself for not doing things differently, for not making it so that Ciri didn’t have to lose everyone she’d loved so brutally.

And then it was just him and Triss and the silent Jaskier.

Geralt felt awkward just standing there, but he didn’t want to leave. He could go interrogate the prisoners, but he didn’t trust himself. It was rare that he let himself be so harsh with humans. But sometimes—like in the case of a man who cursed the woman he claimed to love and unleashed a striga upon the kingdom—he couldn’t help himself. There were limits.

Triss glanced at him as she worked. “Change into something more comfortable,” she said. Her voice was soft. Triss was soft in general, but this was different. Her eyes glittered a little too brightly.

“You should stop,” Geralt said, speaking as the realization rose in him. “You’re draining yourself.”

“I might not be as powerful as Yennefer, but I am no conjurer of cheap tricks,” Triss replied. “I can do more than simply grow flowers.”

“We need those who can grow flowers as well as those who unleash wildfires,” Geralt pointed out. “Triss. Jaskier will never forgive himself if you kill yourself healing him.”

“It won’t be that bad,” Triss replied. “It takes more than that to kill me. Go and change, Geralt. This will take some time and you can’t just stand here like a statue. Wash up and come sit next to him.”

If Geralt could’ve blushed, he probably would have. It was one of the moments he was actually grateful for his Witcher biology. “Triss…”

She gave him a sly yet firm look, cutting him off, which was good because he had no idea what he would’ve said. “Go. Then come back and sit with him.” She smiled. “I promise I won’t tell.”

He thought of objecting, of lying, but—they’d always had an understanding, he and Triss. A friendship. A simple one—simple in that he had never had to explain himself, and she had never kept expectations for him. It had never been complex or wrapped in failure or death. They simply liked one another as people, and that was that.

It was blissfully easy.

If there was anyone he could relax around, it was Triss. So Geralt nodded, and went to do as he was told.

By the time he came back, washed up and in just a tunic and pants, Triss was still working. Jaskier still lay there, horribly still, but when Geralt put the back of his hand to Jaskier’s forehead, the bard was no longer burning up. His breathing was a bit deeper, slower, and his skin was more like his usual color.

Geralt sat on the other side of the bed and carefully brushed some of the hair out of Jaskier’s face. He looked so fucking human like this. Just another fragile mortal. Of course he wasn’t. Jaskier was far from fragile in many ways, even if he had been fully human, and he wasn’t. But gods, it was still so easy for him to die. So easy to lose him.

A mighty temptation seized him to take Jaskier’s hand in his, but if the bard woke up and was uncomfortable… Geralt wouldn’t cross that line, even with Jaskier asleep. He kept to his own side of the bed.

“He doesn’t know?” Triss asked. She had dark circles under her eyes now. How much had she recovered from the battle and the injuries she’d suffered? Should she really be doing this?

He wasn’t going to test her patience by inquiring after her powers a second time, though.

“No.” Geralt watched Jaskier’s chest rising and falling. “And he won’t ever know.”

“Oh, Geralt.” Coming from anyone else, that would’ve sounded condescending and he would’ve bristled, but from Triss, it just sounded compassionate. Like she could feel what Geralt was feeling.

“Hmm.”

“You burn so quietly,” Triss said. “I think some people forget you burn at all. Like the sun. If you stand outside too long it burns you but… people always forget that.”

Geralt hummed again. He didn’t want to be having this conversation. Ever. “Witchers don’t feel like other people, Triss. They take that from us.”

“Bullshit,” Triss said, her voice quiet but firm. “You feel, Geralt. I’ve known that since I met you. You nearly died saving that little girl’s life.”

“She wasn’t a girl.”

“But she was, and only you saw it. You could have just killed her. It would’ve been easier. But you saved her life. Nobody else, not any hunter or sorcerer or knight that I know would’ve done that. It was extra work, extra time, done on a wing and a prayer and it nearly cost you your life.” Triss’s hands kept working over Jaskier but her entire body was leaning towards Geralt. “Geralt you cannot say you don’t feel. I won’t allow it.”

“Sweet Triss Merigold.” Geralt smiled, but it felt more like a baring of teeth. “I think people forget how deeply you burn, too.”

“Well.” Triss looked away. “They try to strangle all of that out of you, at Aretuza. Sabrina. Yennefer. Fringilla. You grow into ice, or lightning, or stone. They teach you—without ever saying it, mind you—that strength is like a sword. Like the hurricane. The firestorm.”

A light came into Triss’s eyes that had nothing to do with magic, and she smiled down at Jaskier, as if the two of them were sharing a lighthearted secret. “But I grew up in a home full of flowers. I know that you can be strong without sacrificing the… the delicacy, the softness. The earth is strong, too. The gentle breeze wears down rocks the same as the ocean storm.”

“Not everyone can do that.”

Triss looked up at Geralt, then looked back down at Jaskier, as if to say, he can.

Geralt was well aware of that. Even if it had taken him a while to appreciate it.

“I am sweet,” Triss said. “I don’t think people realize how much work it took me to stay that way.”

“Hmmm.”

The conversation died after that. Geralt watched as the color slowly returned to Jaskier’s face, as the poison rose to the surface and slid out of him, black and horrid, and was burned in the air between Triss’s fingers, like shadows before sunlight.

I’m sorry, he thought, although he knew he could never say it. I’m sorry I failed you.

 


 

Jaskier’s eyelids felt immensely heavy.

He wasn’t hungover. He knew that feeling well, was quite familiar with it. So at least he hadn’t made a fool of himself over Geralt again. That was good. But once again he was having to pick up the pieces of last night and rearrange them into a picture that made sense.

He ached all over. And felt strangely empty.

“You’re awake.”

Jaskier turned his head (it took more effort than he expected) and saw Ciri peering down at him.

“Hello little cub.” His voice was scratchy.

Ciri immediately fetched him some water. He tried to reach up, but Ciri firmly put his hands back down and helped him herself, gently guiding him into sipping the water slowly.

“You have to rest,” she ordered when he’d finished, setting the cup down. “Triss just about collapsed getting the poison out of you. You nearly died.”

The—oh. Oh. That was what that pain had been. He’d been poisoned, injected into his wrist, and then—had that been Geralt yelling his name? Just before everything had gone black?

Surely he’d imagined that. He couldn’t imagine Geralt sounding so concerned for him. Out loud. In public.

“Is Triss all right?” he asked.

Ciri nodded. “She and Yennefer had a fight about it but they’re okay now.”

…Jaskier was glad he’d been unconscious for that one. “And… Geralt?”

Ciri beamed, and jerked her chin over towards Jaskier’s other side.

Jaskier turned his head. There, lying on his side on the bed, his arm tucked underneath his head as if he’d fallen asleep looking at Jaskier, was Geralt.

Jaskier’s heart skipped a beat.

“He killed the man who did it,” Ciri whispered. “He leapt on him like—like a wolf. And stabbed him, just like that. I’ve never seen him do that.”

Jaskier would’ve reached out to touch her, to comfort her, if he could’ve moved his arms. “Did he scare you?”

The set of her chin was stubborn. “Geralt would never hurt me. But he doesn’t do that.”

“No, he doesn’t.” Geralt didn’t murder.

“It was fair, though,” Ciri added. “He should’ve done it. I would’ve.”

Jaskier considered debating the merits of mercy, then decided that he was still too damn exhausted for it. “I’m honored.”

“Hmm.” Ciri sounded so much like Geralt that Jaskier would’ve laughed if his ribs would let him.

He felt the mattress shifting and turned his head enough to see Geralt’s eyes opening with a slight start. Geralt’s hand stretched out, his fingers stopping just short of Jaskier’s elbow.

Gods, please, touch me. He yearned for Geralt to close that final half an inch and actually touch him, to feel Geralt’s warmth. It wasn’t even fucking sexual, gods, he was so pathetic, he just wanted Geralt to touch him.

But Geralt kept his hand where it was. “You’re awake,” he said. He sounded as exhausted as Jaskier felt. “How’re you feeling?”

“About as bad as you look.”

Geralt glared at him. Jaskier grinned, and then immediately regretted it when it made his face hurt and his head pound.

Geralt sat up, concern flashing across his face. “Jas.”

“I’m fine. Just… ah. Not quite up to leaping about, just yet. Reschedule my afternoon orgy, would you?”

Geralt looked like he was considering smacking Jaskier upside the head for that joke and ultimately decided against it. His gaze slid over to Ciri. “You should be with Yen.”

“Can’t!” Ciri said cheerfully. “She’s busy with Triss.”

“You need to go… check on the court.” Jaskier yawned.

“Merridew has it well in hand.”

“Mmm. ‘M sure. But.” He was slipping into sleep again. “Geralt?”

“Jas?”

Keep calling me that. “’M sorry. Ciri tattled. You killed a man for me.”

“Jaskier.” He couldn’t see Geralt and he realized that he’d closed his eyes again. But Geralt sounded distressed. “You don’t—don’t apologize.”

“But you don’t… only monsters…”

A hand slid through his hair—surely he was imagining that. “Some men are monsters,” Geralt said, very, very quietly. Then, even quieter still, “And he hurt you.”

Don’t say things like that, it gives me hope, he thought, but then he was asleep again.

 


 

Triss stumbled back into the rooms that she and Yennefer had graciously been given.

She couldn’t feel her hands. Healing Jaskier after conjuring those shields to protect Maeve and Robin had taken everything in her. Thank the gods that Diana was a ferocious magic-user in her own right and had her own guards to protect her. Triss couldn’t have stretched her magic far enough to shield all three.

She’d never used magic that much before, except at the battle of Sodden. Fuck. She was shaking.

“Triss.”

Yennefer grabbed her and hauled her further into the room. “What the fuck is wrong with you? You look dead on your feet.”

“The poison was… I think Fringilla’s work. Never seen anything like it. Infused with a lot of magic. Tailored to fae, his human blood…”

“Yes, yes, very ironic, seeing as it was his fae blood that saved him when that stupid djinn took up residence in his throat.” Yennefer sat her down on the bed. “You shouldn’t have overexerted yourself!”

Triss managed to raise her eyes up to meet Yennefer’s. “If I hadn’t, he’d be dead. You want to explain that to Geralt?”

The Witcher had looked like the incarnation of cold, dreaded death as he’d plunged his dagger into the assassin. And the desperate care with which he’d held Jaskier after—no, no, Triss would not be the one to tell Geralt that there was no saving his bard.

Their marriage might be fake, as Ciri had explained it, but whatever Geralt felt for Jaskier was painfully real. Even if—judging by those last two songs of Jaskier’s—the bard didn’t realize that was the way the wind blew.

“Geralt is not the only person of importance,” Yennefer snapped. “Neither is Jaskier. You’re important too, Triss. I know—” To her surprise, Yen looked guilty. “I know that you were often overlooked. You were sent to a court up in the mountains, a country with no importance. Everyone thought I was crazy for selecting you to be the one to hold the gate at Sodden. But Triss, you could have died.”

“And that would have been my choice!” Triss snapped. “You aren’t the only one allowed to unleash your magic, Yen, even if mine looks very different than yours. You can’t baby me!”

“I’m not trying to—I’m—” Yennefer took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I’m only trying to—I don’t want you to be hurt. Geralt inspires great loyalty and he deserves it but you—you were—”

Yennefer crouched down, taking Triss’ hands in hers. “You were lying there and I couldn’t help you. You would have died on my orders.”

“They were your orders, but I chose to follow them. I’m no less of a sorceress than you are. These are my choices.”

Yennefer ran a hand through her hair in apparent frustration and stood up. “Of course. I’ll just—I’m sorry. You should rest. I’ll draw you a bath.”

Triss stared at Yennefer all but ran from the room. She’d hoped, given Yennefer’s glances, that perhaps the other woman was starting to reciprocate at least a little but—what on earth had that been?

She was too tired to ask about it or argue further. Yennefer returned a few moments later, and Triss realized she’d closed her eyes and started to list to the side.

“Up you get.” Yennefer’s voice was gentle, as if she too had tired of the argument and just wanted things to be back to normal between them. If there even was a normal between them, now.

“I’m going to undress you.”

“Mmm.”

“You sound like Geralt.”

“No, no Geralt is…” Triss pitched her voice down. “Hmm.”

Yennefer laughed as her fingers made swift work of the buttons on Triss’ outfit. “You look good in purple,” she added softly, as if it was an afterthought.

“Purple’s your color.” Triss paused. “Eyes.”

Yennefer laughed again. “You’re adorable when you’re tired.”

She got her arms around Triss and helped her into the bath. The water was that perfect level of heat to make her shiver, and Yennefer had put something sweet-smelling in it, lavender and rosemary and… yarrow.

Triss hummed and let her head fall back against the side of the tub. Yennefer swirled her finger through the water.

“Careful with your own magic,” Triss mumbled. “You were injured at Sodden, too.”

Yennefer didn’t like to talk about it, but Triss was allowed to be worried over her if Yennefer was going to insist on being worried over Triss.

Sure enough, Yennefer opened her mouth as if she was going to object, and then paused. “I have enough for this,” she said quietly.

Triss could feel the magic snaking through the water and melting into her body, strengthening her better than any herbs ever could.

Her eyes were closed again. She couldn’t find it in herself to open them. “Don’t let me drown.”

Gentle fingers, lightning fingers, carded through her hair. Did Yennefer know only she was allowed to do that?

“Never,” Yennefer whispered.

 


 

Triss was apparently still resting, and Yennefer was guarding her door with all the sweetness and charm of a rabid hyena, so Geralt sent Ciri to spy on the fae courts and find out what was going on while he watched over Jaskier. If any of the fae tried anything, Geralt was sure he’d know by the piercing scream and resulting collapse of the castle.

The bard rested for most of the day, as he had with the djinn. How was he so resilient and so fragile at the same time? Singing for hours and hours, playing the lute, on his feet, charming and full of energy—and then collapsing in an instant, pale and clammy, full of poison.

Merridew stopped by to check in on things and informed him that Rapuntium seemed to be handling most of it.

Hmm.

“Whose idea was it to bring the fae together?” he asked.

“It was only natural that we bring them together to discuss Nilfgaard,” Merridew replied.

“That’s not an answer. The Autumn court could have chosen to stand up to Nilfgaard alone. Who said we had to deal with the Winter court?”

“You’ll have to ask him,” Merridew said, nodding at Jaskier. “I wasn’t in the room when the council met.”

“That doesn’t mean you don’t know.”

“It also doesn’t mean I can say,” Merridew replied. They bowed. “Whether you believe it or not, White Wolf, I am on your side. But there are many sides and I can only watch so many at one time.”

Jaskier began to stir. Geralt moved over to give Jaskier room to stretch as he blinked his eyes open.

He smiled at Geralt so softly that Geralt’s heart ached. “I love the way you just sit there and brood.”

Geralt snorted. And because Merridew was there—because he had an excuse—he reached out and brushed Jaskier’s hair out of his face. “You’ve flirted better than that.”

“Mm, not with you, ‘m terrible at it with you.” Jaskier pressed up into the touch and Geralt indulged himself further, moving his hand down to cup Jaskier’s cheek and stroke his thumb along the soft skin.

He was the right temperature again, thank fuck.

Jaskier, still looking a bit dazed, reached up to wrap his hand around Geralt’s wrist. Like he was making sure Geralt was solid.

Merridew coughed. Jaskier started, then his eyes slid over to see Merridew there.

Had Jaskier not known the fae was there before?

“I’ll take my leave,” Merridew said. “Your majesty, if I may say so—I’m glad you made it through. You handled it well back there. You caught Queen Diana off guard. She was expecting fae politics.”

Jaskier gave a tired smile. “Thank you.”

Merridew bowed again and slipped out of the room.

Carefully, Jaskier sat up. “I feel better—ooh. Hungry.”

Geralt passed him the tray of food. “Take it easy.”

“I’m fine, Geralt.” Jaskier scarfed down the fruit and bread that had been left for him. “Honestly. I feel so much better.”

But you weren’t. You nearly died. “You still have to be careful.”

“I’m not helpless, Geralt.” Jaskier sounded irritated and climbed out of bed. “I need to get dressed.”

His knees gave out and Geralt caught him. Jaskier felt good, felt right, with his back pressed to Geralt’s chest like this. Sharing a bed with the bard had never been so difficult before, the past few nights an exercise in frustration.

To Geralt’s surprise, Jaskier shoved him away. “I’m fine, Geralt, all right? I just performed all night and I won, I don’t need to be—I won’t be a burden.”

“You’re not.” Geralt didn’t even know what they were arguing about. “You heard Merridew. You did well.”

Very well. He’d single-handedly defeated the Winter court. He’d forged an alliance by playing his music. Just like the fairytales.

“Maybe…” Geralt hated himself for saying this. “Maybe you should stay. Stay on as. Their king. You’re good at this.”

Jaskier’s eyes glowed, his teeth sharpened, and oh, Geralt had never seen him look so furious before. “If I’d done what I should do, I would never have left Lettenhove,” he snapped. “I don’t want to be here, Geralt.”

“Why!?” The word burst out of him like one of Ciri’s screams. “You have—everything you could want here. Food, women and wine. Fine clothes. Fine music. People who—appreciate your singing.”

“I could get that at any court in the land,” Jaskier scoffed. “War or no.”

“Then why don’t you?” Geralt didn’t understand. He never had. “You could’ve had a court position years ago, Jaskier. You were offered some. I know you were. You never took them. Why?”

“Because—because of you, you absolute mongrel-bitten flea-ridden pile of idiotic mud-for-brains!” Jaskier shouted.

On the side table, the cut glass vials vibrated dangerously in response to Jaskier’s voice.

Geralt stared. Because of him? Because… Jaskier wanted to keep recording Geralt’s deeds? Was that fame more important than the cushy jobs of court?

“Court isn’t… you’ve seen it for yourself, Geralt,” Jaskier continued, forcing his voice into a low, calm tone. He’d probably noticed the glass vibrating, too. “This place is full of—lies and ambitions and tricks and double meanings. Every other court is the same. And I’m sick of it. Not only would I be absolutely bored out of my mind but I’d hate everyone. I hate not knowing who’s being honest and who likes me just for me.

“But you… you’re true, Geralt. You fuck up, you really do, but you’re honest about it. You don’t speak your thoughts but you don’t lie. You’re as honest and true as any man I’ve ever met and I will take that honesty and a dirty bedroll in front of a campfire a hundred times over the lies and jewels in a king’s hall.”

It wasn’t a love declaration. Geralt wasn’t stupid enough to hope for that. But it was that… that thing that Jaskier did. Where he would praise Geralt, and look at Geralt with shining eyes, as if there was some kind of heroic glow around Geralt’s head.

Geralt hadn’t known what to do with it when Jaskier first met him and looked at him like that, and he sure as fuck didn’t know what to do with it now. But Jaskier was now chewing on his bottom lip, sharpened teeth digging in, and peering up at Geralt through his lashes—he did that whenever he was nervous, like a baby animal instinctively trying to make itself cuter so that you wanted to protect it.

Geralt trapped the feelings fluttering around in his chest and stuffed them into a jar, like butterflies. “If that’s really what you want, then… then yes. That is.” He swallowed. “Of course you can. Come with me. Travel with me. When this is… over.”

Jaskier beamed at him, as if Geralt had laid a mountain of gold at his feet. Geralt saw what was coming and braced for it just in time as Jaskier threw himself at Geralt, wrapping his arms firmly around the Witcher’s neck.

“Thank you.” The bard’s voice was soft and right up against Geralt’s ear, only slightly louder than the rabbit-quick beat of Jaskier’s heart.

Geralt gave Jaskier’s waist a squeeze, one he hoped was interpreted as friendly and not—not the longing-laden touch that it actually was. He closed his eyes.

“Don’t mention it,” he said, and when Jaskier pulled away, Geralt nodded roughly.

So this was what it would be like. Worse than Yen. Having Jaskier’s deep and abiding friendship, his loyalty and admiration, right up close where Geralt could brush his fingers against it—but not Jaskier’s love. So close, and yet, miles apart.

Heroism and heartbreak, indeed.

 


 

It was deceptively simple, really. Crowning a new ruler meant that the other fae monarchs would come to parlay and assess their new compatriot, so they would all be in one place at the same time and assassins could strike, taking them all out at once.

Rapuntium had been the one to say that Jaskier needed to deal with the Winter court before dealing with Nilfgaard and had been the one to push all of this. He was also clearly the one who led the rest of the council and probably thought he had a clear shot for the throne.

Sometimes Jaskier wanted to laugh at how people were all the same, and almost all of them stupid in the exact same ways. But right now he couldn’t find the humor. He was just tired.

Yennefer, Triss, and Geralt were all at his back—literally—as he summoned Rapuntium. To his credit, the fae seemed to know immediately what was up.

Jaskier suspected that Geralt and Yennefer’s glaring at something to do with that.

Triss still seemed tired but she stood tall and shook off Yennefer’s attempt to help her stand so, clearly there was something going on there and Jaskier wasn’t about to get into it, thanks.

“I think you know why you’re here,” Jaskier began.

“There are many possible reasons,” Rapuntium replied.

“Look, I’m not for playing games.”

“Oh, you’re not?” Rapuntium smiled, showing off his sharp teeth. “You’ll play up your humanity, play up being just a simple bard, to win over the other rulers and catch Queen Diana off her guard, but oh no, you’re not one for playing games.”

“You got the Nilfgaard assassins in here,” Jaskier snapped. “And I think you know what happened to those assassins when they got in the way of two sorceresses and a Witcher. I don’t exactly have patience right now.”

“And you really thought we’d let a human rule for us? Even one that was half fae? Even for a short while?” Rapuntium’s eyes flashed. “You were nothing but a way to get all the monarchs in one spot. You were always disposable.”

Jaskier stood up, hands curling into fists the way they so often did when he was about to get into a bar fight. I say, sirs, stand and fight if you claim to be as good as a Witcher! Put your fists and honor behind your words!

Geralt always called him dramatic and would haul him off, saying that it wasn’t worth it, but this time Geralt, and the two women, stayed put.

Just like earlier when he’d been angry with Geralt, Jaskier could feel… something stirring underneath his skin. He’d sometimes noted that the weather seemed to get cloudy or windy when he was angry and once he’d hit a high note while fooling around in practice and a glass had shattered, but he’d put those all down to coincidences. After all if he’d had magic someone would’ve noticed by now. Those who had recruited him to be a spy certainly would’ve taken advantage of it, even if no one else did.

 Speaking of which, how was that going without him…?

The point was, he hadn’t thought there was anything to think about. But then he’d noticed all of the glass vials on the side table vibrating that morning as his anger had grown, and he’d thought… oh.

He could feel that same something now, like a thunderstorm was under his skin and beginning to swirl in the air.

Rapuntium noticed it too. His eyes glowed but he seemed… scared, almost. Like he hadn’t expected Jaskier to be able to do something like this.

“I’m still your king,” Jaskier snapped. His voice felt like glass shards in his mouth. “And that means I can still make a ruling. What would your fellow council members think, I wonder, if they knew what you’d done?”

The council members, whom Jaskier had asked Merridew to round up, stepped out from where Merridew had used shadows to hide them (with some help from Yennefer).

Rapuntium glared at all of them. “I would’ve been a good leader.”

“A fae who bows to humans is no true fae,” Merridew replied.

The other fae rustled their wings, if they had them, and a few made clicking sounds, almost like insects.

Death. Jaskier wasn’t sure if they were actually saying it, or if he could just sense it from them. Death, death, death, death.

But he’d made a deal when this all started. He would not harm any fae and none of them would raise a hand to him. Rapuntium had found a way around that, just as Jaskier had suspected one of them would. Now it was Jaskier’s turn to make his own loophole.

“Banishment,” he pronounced. “To the mortal realm. Since you so dearly want to work with Nilfgaard, perhaps they’ll take you in.”

It was opening the door up to Rapuntium being a problem for others, or even for them further down the line, but Jaskier couldn’t condemn someone to death. He just… couldn’t.

To his shock, Rapuntium didn’t even get a chance to say anything. One moment he was there, the next moment he—he wasn’t.

Jaskier gaped.

“What the fuck?” Yennefer said.

“Fae rules,” Triss explained. “Jaskier’s the king. He banished someone. That person is now banished.”

Geralt hummed.

Jaskier grinned at him. “Don’t worry, I won’t go mad with power.”

“You’re already mad with power.”

And, well, they were in front of the entire council, so Jaskier had an excuse to rest his arm on Geralt’s shoulder and then place his head on his arm, looking up at him through his lashes. “You think it’s cute.”

“Hmm.”

Yennefer muttered something unintelligible.

“Nilfgaard will come,” Merridew said, interrupting them.

Jaskier turned to look at him. “Then we’d better get ready for them.”

Merridew smiled sharply, but it didn’t feel like a threat.

It felt conspiratorial.

 


 

“You and Geralt seem to be getting along rather well,” Triss noted, frowning at herself in the mirror. “Better than I would’ve expected.”

“Geralt’s a little busy realizing he’s in love with Jaskier,” Yennefer replied. “Your magic’s fine, Triss.”

“I just want to get this right,” Triss mumbled.

“It’s up to Jaskier to get it right, frankly.” Yennefer couldn’t believe everyone was relying on the bard of all people, and that she actually thought he might be able to pull it off.

“I just thought that you two would still be, you know.” Triss turned away from the mirror, obviously in need of a distraction. “You might not be a couple anymore but you two never seemed to—well you always like to have someone in your bed, that’s all.”

“Yes.” Yennefer ran a hand through her hair. “I’m realizing that might be part of my problem. Just finding someone to distract myself so I don’t have to be alone with my thoughts. Or instead of finding someone who would actually make me…” She waved her hand. “A better person.”

“Tissaia’s been lecturing you.”

“Maybe.”

“Well, your relationship problems with Geralt never seemed to translate to the bedroom so I just could see why it would be tempting to resume that, that’s all.” Triss shrugged.

“Geralt is rather…” Yennefer quirked her lips up into a smirk. “He’s not as adventurous in sex as I am.”

“Oh?”

Yennefer glanced over, and she might have been imagining it, but Triss was looking up at Yennefer through her lashes, her lips slightly parted—was she—flirting?

“Let’s put it this way,” Yennefer said. “I’m well aware he put up with some of my more outlandish ideas because he knew they’d make me happy, not because he much cared about doing them.”

“People don’t think I’m up for much,” Triss said. She averted her gaze, and Yennefer recognized the red in her cheeks not as embarrassment or flirtation, but shame. “Quiet Triss. Good Triss. Sweet Triss.”

“People love to make their assumptions,” Yennefer acknowledged. “But I think only a fool would dismiss you, no matter what the situation.”

Triss glanced back at her, and there was that look again. Yennefer’s heart sped up a little. Because Triss was sweet and good. She could have nearly anyone, just through the simple fact that she was the sort of person everyone liked. Upright and principled, compassionate and even-tempered. Yennefer didn’t know a person in the world who disliked Triss Merigold.

Why on earth would Triss want her?

She was used to having just about whoever she wanted, she was used to taking and having, but Triss was one of the few people in the world who saw Yennefer’s flaws and weaknesses. Yennefer wasn’t a goddess to Triss. Nor was she a harlot, or a weapon, or a shiny toy. She wasn’t any of the things that she was to most people. Only the sorceresses who’d studied in Aretuza with her, and Tissaia herself, knew Yennefer as she was: a flawed and fallible human. Still lonely, still lost, still looking for something that gave her meaning.

How could Triss know all of that and still be looking at Yennefer, of all people, with pink cheeks and bright eyes?

Geralt had seen her as perfect. And oh, how part of her had craved that. It was lovely to be looked at the way he’d looked at her. It had been so long since someone had seen good inside of her.

She didn’t want to be seen as perfect anymore. She’d been shown the dangers of that. But to be seen as herself… the idea that someone would still want her… it simply made no sense.

“Lady Yennefer?”

Yennefer jumped. Shit, how much of their conversation had Ciri heard? “Yes, little one?”

“Geralt and Jaskier are arguing again.” Ciri was half in, half out of the room, hanging off one of the doors. “Can I come in?”

Ah. Geralt was not fond of Jaskier’s plan since it put everything on Jaskier’s shoulders and Geralt didn’t want Jaskier to be in such a vulnerable position again. Yennefer could appreciate Geralt’s fear, given what had happened the last time they’d had a party, but she also would’ve thought that after dating her, Geralt would know better by now than to try and tell someone to be careful and play it safe.

“Idiots,” she declared. It was a pity they were in the fae realm and Ciri couldn’t just wander around on her own. “Come here, I’ll teach you how to lift a rock.”

“Oh gods,” Triss said and moved out of the way.

Teaching Ciri, training her, fulfilled something inside of Yennefer that had been screaming ever since she was born. She hadn’t even had a name for it until another woman had said to my baby, I’m her whole world.

It was also draining as fuck because Ciri was a stubborn child and sometimes Yennefer wanted to strangle her, and dear gods she was going to have to apologize to Tissaia wasn’t she.

Triss watched it all with a small, warm smile on her face, but Yennefer noticed that Triss wasn’t watching Ciri. She was watching Yennefer.

Yennefer of Vengerberg was many things, but an idiot was not one of them. She knew what it meant when someone looked at her like that.

It was just the first time in a long time that she didn’t know what to do with it.

Triss stayed quiet until Yennefer sent Ciri back to Geralt to assure him she was alive and well, before the Witcher started worrying she’d gotten devoured by trolls or something.

“Let’s hope those two figure out their relationship,” she noted to Triss, cleaning up the supplies she’d used with Ciri. “Before they bring this castle down with the sheer power of their mutual pining.”

“You’re one to talk,” Triss pointed out, her voice quiet but firm. “Judging Geralt when you’re just as bad as he is.”

“I am not as bad as he is,” Yennefer scoffed, even as she felt something in her stomach squirm. “That bard’s been in love with him for a decade and the fool doesn’t even realize.”

“Ah, of course.” Triss looked out the window, the sunset painting her in shades of gold. “You are well aware when someone has feelings for you, you just choose not to act on it because you’re convinced that you’re not good enough for them and their emotion has to somehow be misplaced.”

The thing squirming in her stomach went cold. “That’s not—”

“That’s what you did with Geralt, isn’t it?” Triss turned and looked back at her. “You decided to never give him a chance. To run away from him. Even before you learned about the djinn. Because you were scared of being loved by someone.”

“What Geralt and I felt wasn’t real.”

“And you’re so relieved by that, aren’t you?” Triss’s voice rose. “What about me, Yennefer? It’s been years. Decades. Since you were at Aretuza. I admired you so much. You were so rebellious, you always spoke your mind, and I was just a scared little girl.”

“You. Admire me.” Yennefer felt like laughing. “Triss. Look at yourself. You’re the one person Aretuza didn’t break. You stayed soft.”

Aretuza beat the softness out of you. Some of them, like Sabrina, never had any softness to begin with. It was easy for them. But for Fringilla, for Yennefer herself, for so many others… it was a fight to suppress, to break off, to kill, everything that wasn’t ice.

Except Triss.

“And you think you aren’t?” Triss asked. “Is that why you’re convinced you can’t be loved? All this time you talk of wanting a child, of wanting to mean something to someone, and then a man comes along and you mean something to him, and a child comes along and you mean something to her, and you reject them both. I know the hunger in your eyes when you see Ciri. You want to train her, you want to raise her, why deny yourself?”

Yennefer couldn’t recall a time she’d been so backed into a corner. She felt seen, and it terrified her. “What have I done that deserves love, Triss?”

“You don’t do anything to deserve love!” Triss snapped. “You just exist. Your existence means you’re worthy of it.”

“Then why has nobody ever loved me simply for existing?” Her throat felt tight. “It was always my power, or my beauty, or both. My potential as they molded me into another magical weapon. I was immortal and powerful, so they could love me because I would never die or grow old! That was why I was loved! No one has—”

“And I’m saying I have!” Triss cried out, her voice breaking.

She crossed furiously to Yennefer, grabbing Yennefer’s hands and falling to her knees, like the weight of it all was too much and now that she’d admitted it, she could only collapse.

“Shy Triss, sweet Triss, Triss who waits and waits and you can think whatever you want of yourself or anyone else but you will not insult me, or how I feel, by rejecting or invalidating it. If I say I find things in you to love and I have all this time then you are not allowed to say I’m wrong or delusional. Reject me, say you don’t want me, but don’t you dare say that I’m not allowed, that I’m wrong!”

Yennefer squeezed Triss’ hands, her knees trembling. “It’s all right, it’s all right, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I didn’t know, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Triss said, her voice quiet again. “Just accept it. I’m not asking you to feel the same way, I’m just asking that—you accept that you’re loved. That you’re worthy of love. Not because of what you look like or what you do just… who you are. Flaws and all. Mistakes and all. Even if you don’t know what to do with your life or where you’re going. Even if you don’t have it all figured out yet.”

Yennefer twisted her wrists, taking Triss’ hands off of hers and gently pushing them away, and Triss let out a small, helpless sob—and then she fit her fingers under Triss’ chin and gently pressed upwards until Triss was obliged to rise to her feet again.

Geralt was a good person. Ciri was a good person. Triss was a good person. She didn’t understand how these people stood by her.

“I’ve never done anything to earn you,” Yennefer admitted. She stroked Triss’ face, and Triss’ eyelids fluttered.

“I’m not a prize to be won. You simply were yourself.”

“You said it yourself—things said in faerie must be truth. What we say here has weight. Do you really want to bind yourself like this?”

Triss didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

She pressed closer, a flash of daring in her eyes. Yennefer didn’t dare to touch her harder, but her fingertips drew along Triss’ jawline, her cheekbones, her throat, the curve where her neck turned into her shoulder. Her thumbs brushed along Triss’ collarbones and Triss’ lips parted on a sharp inhale. Her eyes closed, her lashes sweeping over the curve of her cheek, and then opened again, dark and yearning.

Triss was good. A good person. And Yennefer wanted but was still so scared of not deserving—

But Triss had her choice. She’d made it.

“I know what I’m getting into,” Triss promised, her voice a spring breeze. “You’re not on a pedestal, I promise, if you want me then please, please have me—”

“Don’t.” Yennefer closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Don’t think that I don’t want you.”

Yennefer wanted a good many people. And she had them. But she couldn’t be worldly and biting with Triss. She had to let herself be—be soft. Be vulnerable. And that scared her. Triss knew her, and that scared her. Triss saw her ugly edges and still wanted her.

But gods, wouldn’t she truly be stupid to reject it? She didn’t have to understand it in order to accept it.

Triss leaned in, inch by careful inch, looking up at Yennefer through her lashes, pausing, waiting, before moving in just a little bit more. Yennefer would’ve laughed, but the hysterical noise was caught in her throat. Yennefer of Vengerberg, who always took who she wanted, who unerringly wanted her partners to submit—hesitant and tentative with someone?

She couldn’t help it. She had never been hesitant. She had never paused, never waited to be sure. She had plunged into everything with ferocity and no regrets—and she’d messed a lot of it up. Triss deserved gentleness. Surety. Care.

Yennefer leaned in, carefully, slowly, each inch like a mile until their lips brushed together.

Triss let out a sound that was half a sigh of relief, half a gasp of desire, and Yennefer leaned in again, her hands finally settling firmly on Triss’ skin, sliding down and across to grasp Triss’ shoulders.

A sharp inhale, a tilt of the head—one or both of them, Yennefer didn’t even know, she didn’t even feel like a separate person to Triss anymore.

Triss fisted her hands in Yennefer’s dress, pulling her in, fierce and yearning like she was scared Yennefer might still pull away. Yennefer made soothing noises and slid her hands down to Triss’ waist, pressing them together. Triss was firm and soft, her curves pressed up against Yennefer’s and fuck, it had been about a decade since she’d been with a woman, just long enough to forget and be thrilled all over again by the sweep of the hips, the crush of breasts against breasts, the higher pitch of the sighs.

She tasted so sweet. Like summer berries.

“Please.” The word was breathed against Yennefer’s lips. “I know what you’re thinking and I want—I want—don’t hold back with me, please—”

Yennefer felt like a bow drawn taut. Geralt was… admittedly not quite as kinky as Yennefer. He would put up with just about anything because the poor man still struggled with the concept that he deserved to make demands, that he was allowed to ask for what he wanted, and that he didn’t have to swallow his own discomfort and just do what everyone else asked all the time. But doing something because he knew she liked it was not the same as wanting it himself, and Yennefer would never make him grin and bear it. Not for any of her lovers. So she would reign herself in, and occasionally, allow Geralt to indulge her wilder tastes.

She didn’t want to hold back now. She was tired of holding back. But…

“I know,” Triss blurted out. Her chest was heaving with anticipation, her fingers trembling as they grasped Yennefer’s dress. “Sabrina told me what the two of you got up to, sometimes, the things you would do to her—I’ve heard all the stories, all your exploits—”

Sorcerers were a gossipy bunch.

“I want it, please.” Triss’ eyes were wide and pleading, not a trace of deception in them. “Please.”

“Are you sure.”

Tying a partner up was one thing. She’d done that with many partners. But if Triss knew what she’d done with Sabrina, with Istredd… then she knew that Yennefer sometimes used magic on her partners. Magic of which Tissaia most certainly did not approve.

It was something Yennefer didn’t like to do unless her partner was also as trained in magic as she was. She just didn’t ever want something to go wrong. She wanted her partner, although submissive, to be able to end it if they wanted to and that meant they had to be as equal as possible. Like tying Geralt up—he could literally rip free of any ties she put him in, so she could strap him down as she pleased.

Triss tightened her hold. Her gaze was clear. “Yes.”

She leaned in and brushed her lips against Yennefer’s jaw, the curve of Yennefer’s cheek, Yennefer’s mouth. She pressed herself completely up against Yennefer’s front, eager, begging with her body as if she’d given up on words and was trying to show instead of tell.

And, well. Yennefer was the opposite of a good person. Ask anyone—except Geralt, not him—all right, ask almost anyone. There was only so much she could take.

She wrapped her arm around Triss’ waist and pinned them together as she claimed Triss’ mouth properly, and Triss gasped, opening for her at once. Yennefer swore she could smell flowers blooming.

Triss shook wildly as Yennefer kissed her open, teasing at first with just the tip of her tongue, sliding it along Triss’ bottom lip and then replacing it with her teeth, nipping, nibbling, until at last she slid her tongue in all the way and Triss sucked on it eagerly.

“Did you dream about this?” Yennefer asked, pressing her words in between kisses like flowers between pages. “When we were in Aretuza? Did you fantasize about me slipping into your room at night?”

Yes.” The word was hissed out with desperation. “Yen, please—”

“Shh, shh, you’re so desperate already, we have time.” That was one thing they did have. And if Yennefer was going to reward however many years of pining, she was going to do it properly, damn it.

Geralt had won her with a djinn wish a day after he’d met her. Triss had waited for decades.

She trailed her fingers up and down Triss’ neck, across her collarbones, down to the swell of her breasts as they pressed against her bodice, and Triss shuddered.

“Going for the older bad girl, Triss Merigold,” she mused, reaching around to start undoing the buttons on the back of Triss’ dress. “Whoever would’ve thought?”

“Going for the sweet young thing, Yennefer of Vengerberg,” Triss shot back, kissing worshipfully down Yennefer’s neck. “Who could have possibly guessed?”

Yennefer laughed. “Fair enough.”

The next few moments were concerned with stripping each other until there was nothing but smooth skin for Yennefer to run her hands and mouth over.

“You want to really be desperate?” she asked, lightly pushing Triss so that Triss fell onto the bed.

“Possibly.” Triss got up onto her knees and when Yennefer got close enough began planting kisses like snowdrops along Yennefer’s stomach, up to her breasts.

Yennefer tipped her head back, her hands on Triss’ shoulders, and relished the sweet, soft, sucking pressure, the flutter of Triss’ tongue, the sharp pleasure that spiked through her when Triss used her teeth.

“Somebody taught you well,” she noted, breathy and only partially teasing.

Triss looked up at Yennefer through her lashes, coquettish as anything. “You asked if I wanted to be desperate?”

Yennefer stroked Triss’ cheek. The smell of flowers intensified. “It seems like I have quite a few years of pleasure to make up to you, so… I could make you mad with wanting it. And unable to be satisfied until it works through you.”

She slid her finger down between Triss’ breasts, lower, tracing patterns right below Triss’ navel, close to where she could smell the other woman’s desire rising, but not close enough to sate anything. Triss looked like she was seconds away from seizing Yennefer’s hand and shoving it between her legs.

“So I don’t… orgasm?” Triss sounded eager but confused.

“Oh, you will.” Yennefer let a smirk play across her lips. “It won’t be enough. You’ll need another.” She kissed her on the shoulder. “And another.” She kissed her on the nose. “And another…” She pushed back Triss’ hair and kissed her just behind her ear.

“…until you can’t even beg for it.” She kept her lips right by Triss’ ear and slid her hand down to cup Triss between her legs.

Triss moaned.

“Is that what you want?” Yennefer asked.

“Is that what you want?” Triss replied. “Is that how you want me?”

The idea of Triss spread out in front of her, begging and whimpering, aching for more and more and more, letting Yennefer play with her for hours… gods, yes.

She was tempted to say something like what do you think, but she was trying—difficult as it was—to let herself be—soft. As Triss had just pointed out. She couldn’t be with Triss and still keep herself behind walls. She had to at least try.

“Very much so,” she admitted.

Triss nodded, grinning, and maybe there was some fae in her after all, because Yen swore her canines were sharper than usual. “Then what are you waiting for?”

Yennefer snorted, but she kissed Triss anyway. Maybe, just maybe, she could let herself have nice things. Soft things. Maybe she could have better things while in the process of becoming better herself.

She fetched the vial she wanted from one of her bags, and then carefully poured its contents out in a thin river onto Triss’ skin, moving it over her in patterns until the shining purple liquid was a glowing series of magical symbols on Triss’ chest and stomach.

For a second the liquid shone there, and then it began to sink into Triss, absorbed by her skin, until it was gone and there was just a slight sparkle left behind.

Triss inhaled sharply, her eyes going wide. “Yen...” Her voice was needy and breathless. “Oh gods...”

Yennefer kissed her. Triss squirmed, her fingers curling and clenching around nothing. “I know.”

Triss moaned, looking like she was two seconds away from combustion. Yennefer couldn’t help the flush of pride and pleasure that spread through her as she slid her hand between Triss’ legs and earned herself a sob of relief from Triss.

Gods, the woman was wet. Yennefer’s fingers were quickly soaked as she slid them through Triss’ slick folds, teasing her, circling her clit.

Triss whimpered and arched up, trying to kiss her. Yennefer leaned back. “Nuh uh. Not yet.”

“Yen...”

“I know.” She slid a finger inside of Triss, then pressed the pad of her thumb to Triss’ clit. “Let’s take that edge off, shall we?”

She rubbed her thumb in tight circles and drew Triss’ breast into her mouth. Fuck, she’d spent a lot of time staring at these and getting to play with them was as good as she’d hoped.

She scraped her teeth over Triss’s nipple and curled her finger as Triss ground frantically against Yennefer’s thumb—and Triss came with a cry and a shudder.

It didn’t take away her desperation.

Triss panted wildly, flushed everywhere. Yennefer smirked, unable to help herself. Triss was just so pretty like this. Controlled, calm, unflappable Triss Merigold, shaking with desire and begging for Yennefer. It was a gorgeous picture.

“You need another?” Yennefer asked innocently.

“Please, please, please,” Triss begged, trying to shove herself down onto the single finger Yennefer still had inside of her.

Well, Yennefer did need Triss nice and worked open so she could use her toys on her. And this wasn’t about denying Triss. At least, not yet.

She slid a second finger into her, pumping her fingers in and out. At this angle change she could press the heel of her hand to Triss’ clit, giving her more to work with. “Go ahead. Whenever you want.”

Triss’ eyelids fluttered and her mouth fell open as she came a second time, grinding against Yennefer’s hand. Yennefer let her keep at it, whining and gasping, coming a third, a fourth time, Triss’ gaze glazed and unseeing.

Yennefer pulled away after the fifth, as Triss sobbed, still needy. “Yen, Yen—”

“Shh,” Yennefer soothed.

Now she could tease, just a little.

Yennefer kissed up Triss’ body slowly, savoring each inch. Triss squirmed and pleaded, begging to come again, begging that Yennefer not tease her. But the potion wouldn’t work itself through Triss’ bloodstream for hours yet. Yennefer had no intention of giving into Triss’ demands without having some fun herself. Besides, the woman did sound so very lovely as she sobbed Yennefer’s name.

She left marks on Triss’ thighs, scraping her teeth along the skin before drawing it into her mouth and sucking. Every soft curve and plane of Triss’ body was sampled, up to her breasts again, to her neck where Yennefer left a rather prominent hickey.

What? Now all those fae staring at Triss would know not to bother.

Yennefer draped her own leg over Triss’ thigh, grinding down onto it, squirming until she found the angle that was just right. Gods, yes, now she could chase her own orgasm, something to take the edge off as she licked the sweat from Triss’ jaw.

She was going to indulge them both until the candles burned down to the base.

Yennefer shuddered to completion, feeling that sweet inner coil of pleasure unwind inside of her with the speed of a whip, and pulled her hand away from Triss at last.

Triss whimpered, unable to cry out anymore.

“Beautiful,” Yennefer promised her.

And she grabbed the dildo she’d set aside.

A tiny little spell to make sure the device was properly slick, and Yennefer nudged it between Triss’ legs.

Triss spread her legs, oh gods did she spread them, and power thrilled through Yennefer. She smiled down at Triss, sweaty and keyed-up, and Triss looked so happy to see it. Like she was truly glad for it, and never in her life had Yennefer seen someone look like that when she’d orgasmed with them. Proud, sure. Pleased that they’d done that to her. But just… glad? Like it didn’t even matter if they came, so long as they got to do that for her?

Never.

She’d forgotten, or maybe never known, that sex could be joyful. But that was just who Triss was.

Yennefer watched eagerly as she took her time working the dildo into Triss, listening carefully to Triss’ breathless begging, waiting for the moment Triss started asking for it harder, faster, please, and waiting just another few moments to really ensure that edge of desperation before giving in.

Of course, there was a particular reason this toy was a favorite of Yennefer’s.

She moved into position and economically worked herself open, enjoying it but not lingering too long, biting her lip as she teased herself with a few passes over her clit. With a long exhale, she spread herself with two fingers and sank down onto the other end of the toy, filling herself up until her hips were flush with Triss’.

Triss gasped and inhaled sharply, her eyes wide and black. She was a sweating, gorgeous mess, and Yennefer wanted to just sit and stare at her.

But—fuck—she also felt so full, and the potion hadn’t quite worn off yet. One last, strong orgasm should do it, and Yennefer had every intention of giving Triss just that.

Yennefer pushed herself up and then back down again, the movement of her hips thrusting the dildo in and out of Triss just as it moved it in and out of Yennefer, their bodies working in tandem. Fuck, it had been months, no, a year since she’d had anything resembling satisfying sex.

She braced a hand on Triss’ stomach and Triss’ cries increased in pitch, apparently Yennefer using her like that increasing Triss’ pleasure.

Fuck that was hot. Yennefer moved faster, working both of them, and then slowed down, then sped up again, slow and fast, until Triss couldn’t even speak to beg and could only stare up at her, openmouthed and wide-eyed, flushed everywhere.

The stretch and burn was sweet, honey dripping through her, and Yennefer moved her hands to either side of Triss, wrapping them around Triss’ wrists and bracing herself so that she could kiss Triss as she ruthlessly chased their orgasms.

Triss smiled as she came, like Yennefer made her happy. It was adorable.

It was adorable.

Yennefer untied Triss and gently massaged her sore muscles. They had to be screaming at her after being in the same position for so long.

“You were so good,” she praised, and Triss nuzzled her like a cat, skin hungry and happy.

“You were too,” Triss murmured, her voice scratchy. “You’re… you’re good, Yen, so good…”

She didn’t understand it. She didn’t understand this woman calling her good, being so happy with her, wanting Yennefer to be happy, too, wanting to love Yen in spite of, or even because of, all the ways she’d fucked up.

But it was of her free will, and it was of Triss’ free will. It wasn’t a wish, it wasn’t destiny, and it wasn’t putting her up on a pedestal. And if she couldn’t reward Triss’ patience and loyalty, if she couldn’t give her a chance, then who could she give it to?

Maybe, if she let herself have this, if she made Triss happy (and oh, did she realize she wanted to make Triss happy, very much so), then she’d become okay with letting herself be happy as well.

 


 

“You’re glowing,” Jaskier noted the next day as they got ready.

Triss pointed at herself. “Literally?”

“No, metaphorically. You look like—” Jaskier paused, then narrowed his eyes.

Triss grinned.

“I don’t want to know,” Jaskier decided. “I really, really don’t want to know.”

“Weren’t your first words to Yennefer asking if you two’d had sex?”

“And I immediately regretted it and every other thing I’ve ever said to her or in her presence, moving on.”

They had to operate under the assumption that Nilfgaard had some way to know that the plan to assassinate everyone had failed, either by Rapuntium tattling, through other spies, or through Fringilla’s magic. Triss, as a sorceress that Fringilla would know was fair-minded and trustworthy, had been chosen to reach out to Nilfgaard and offer an opportunity for a fair parlay with the four fae courts.

Yennefer had demanded to know why she couldn’t be chosen as the point of contact. Triss had pointed out that Fringilla and Yennefer had never gotten along and Yennefer had kind of given her the middle finger when she’d stolen her post-school assignment. Yennefer had said that was all years ago and Fringilla should be able to move past that to focus on bigger things. Triss had said that was exactly what Fringilla did and that was how they’d ended up with a Nilfgaard empire marching across the continent.

Then they’d made out.

Nilfgaard had agreed to send a diplomatic envoy to the Autumn court to see if an alliance could be worked out. And that was where Triss came in again, but in a different way.

There was only one fae in the court that Jaskier trusted, and that was Merridew. The fae had tried to warn Geralt of the danger, and that meant Jaskier would be trusting Merridew with the task of glamouring him. Triss was perfectly capable of glamouring herself, thanks.

“Try not to look too cheerful as me,” Jaskier noted. “And you should have more buttons undone on your doublet.”

“Jaskier if you have all the buttons undone what even is the point of wearing the doublet? You don’t see me with my chemise just hanging out.”

“Well maybe you should, Yennefer would love it.”

Triss obligingly undid a few more buttons on the doublet for the glamour. “There. Good enough?”

Jaskier tilted his head to look at her. “This is very disconcerting.”

“How do you think I feel?” Triss looked down at herself. “I don’t have breasts. And you’re all leg. Why are you all leg? You’re nothing but legs, like a chicken.”

“Excuse you, I worked hard for those legs, do you have any idea how much walking a traveling bard does!?”

Triss turned to look at herself in the mirror and nearly did a double take. She really did look like Jaskier. The person staring back at her had his height, his pale skin, his surprisingly hairy chest, his annoyingly long legs, his floppy brown hair, his blue-green eyes.

It wasn’t fae glamour, it was magic they taught all sorceresses, but it worked similarly. To everyone, she would look like Jaskier, so long as she kept up her concentration on the spell.

The door opened and Yennefer peered in. “Oh gods, there’s two of you.”

“Hi, darling,” Triss said.

Yennefer stared at her, blinked, and then announced, “I’m going to have a nightmare about this.”

“She’s amazing, isn’t she?” Jaskier bounced on the balls of his feet. “This is amazing. My own mother couldn’t tell us apart. Or, well, maybe that’s not the best possibility, my mother hated me, now we all know why, I was the fiend that replaced her precious baby. Geralt! Geralt couldn’t tell us apart!”

“You sure about that,” Yennefer mumbled.

“Oh, right, with his sniffy-sniff-sniffing thing.” Jaskier nodded.

“Yeah,” Yennefer said. “That’s definitely why.”

Triss just managed to swallow her laugh in time.

Yennfer looked at her. “Are you sure about this?”

Triss nodded. This was what she could do for the fae, for her friends, this was the part she could play to keep Nilfgaard from gaining even more power. They had to be driven away from the fae forever, otherwise they’d just keep trying to access fae power. And fae power in the hands of an advancing army intent on claiming the entire continent for its fanatical ideals…

No. She had to do what she could. And that meant she had to be flawless in her performance.

Yennefer sighed and drew herself up, then looked at Jaskier. “Time to get you all done up.”

Jaskier groaned but went obediently. Yennefer took Triss by the wrist and kissed her cheek, through the glamour, so that it went onto her real skin. It was simply an illusion after all. She wasn’t really suddenly in a taller, male body.

“I’ll be right there,” Yennefer promised. “I know—I know you can handle yourself. But I’ll be there, too.”

Triss nodded. “I know.” She squeezed Yen’s hand. None of the people Nilfgaard would send could beat Yennefer of Vengerberg.

When Jaskier returned, he now looked completely different. His hair was blond, and longer than before. He had a beard to match, and wore even more colorful clothing in purple and green. He grinned and bowed. “What do you think?”

Merridew, who accompanied Jaskier, rolled their eyes. Or maybe they didn’t. It was hard to tell sometimes with fae.

“You’ve managed to make yourself look even worse,” Yennefer commented.

Triss elbowed her. “You don’t look like yourself at all,” she promised him.

“Thanks. I’m going to go horrify Geralt with this.” Jaskier skipped off and Merridew hurried to follow, advising him.

Yennefer let go of Triss’ hand. “Go get ‘em.”

Triss nodded and stepped out down the hall to greet her, or rather Jaskier’s, guests.

 


 

Jaskier watched from the musician’s stage with the other performers as Triss, glamoured to look like him, opened up the banquet. Of course the Nilfgaardians wouldn’t be stupid enough to eat something that a fae provided for them. Everyone knew the rules about fae and having their food and drink.

But a human…

The food looked delicious—the kitchens had really gone all-out—and as he played he could see the Nilfgaardians starting to look hungry.

Yennfer was keeping herself scarce, so nobody would be alarmed, but Jaskier knew that she was casting a low-level spell, nothing strong enough for any magic user in their ranks to detect, but a simple little spell that would enhance the hunger they were feeling, making it sharper, bigger, something they couldn’t ignore.

Jaskier waited. Triss was doing an admirable job of pretending to be him. Actually she was doing an admirable job of making Yennefer jealous by flirting with Geralt (who was also having fun making Yennfer jealous and if the Witcher got out of this evening without his ex-girlfriend killing him for flirting with her current girlfriend, Jaskier would be shocked) and by acting like an actual king. Better than Jaskier actually would, anyway, seeing as Triss had all the poise that Jaskier lacked.

Not that he didn’t know how to act in a court, but there was a reason he did better as court bard than as court nobility. There was too much wild in him, too much putting his foot in his mouth, too much, ah, falling in love with every single person he talked to and not really caring about who they were related to or to whom they were married.

Maybe it was the fae in him.

But Triss was holding in all down marvelously.

Jaskier waited until there was a pause in the music, and then he made his move.

There were several members of the Nilgaardian ambassadorial party, and Jaskier had no doubt that, metal banned or not, they had several weapons smuggled on their persons. He had to be careful.

He gathered food on a tray as he walked along, smiling, making nice, acting just enough unnerved that the Nilfgaardians would notice and realize that he was pretending to make nice to the fae. When he reached their table, he held out the tray.

The first, a man, shook his head. “We’re not eating anything.”

“Ah, I know, I know, fae and all that.” Jaskier picked up an apple and bit into it, chewing a bit exaggeratedly. The Autumn court did have amazing apples, he could grant them that. “But ah, don’t know if you’ve noticed, but all of the musicians are humans. Got lured here in one way or another and couldn’t get out. So if a human offers you food, then it’s not bound by fae laws, is it?”

He wasn’t lying in any of those statements.

Jaskier held the tray out further. “Listen, I get it, you’re suspicious. But I know what it’s like, okay? And you have to be starving.”

“What’s your name?” another one of the Nilfgaardians asked. “And why would you be kind to us?”

“I’m Dandelion.” It had been one of his nicknames in Oxenfurt so, technically, not a lie. “And I’ve heard kindness is rewarded with kindness, favors with favors. If you catch my meaning.”

“You want us to get you out.” Just as he’d hoped, they had jumped to the conclusion he’d been leading them towards.

Jaskier bowed.

The Nilfgaardians looked at one another, then looked at all the other fae.

Queen Diana was occupied. King Robin was looking confused (and angry because of his confusion) as Triss (still looking like Jaskier) flirted with him—something that had Geralt glaring at Triss-as-Jaskier and undoubtedly had Yennefer, somewhere, losing her absolute shit. Queen Maeve was listening to another fae animatedly tell a story.

None of the rulers were paying attention.

“It’s the way the fae are,” Jaskier explained. “They have their revelry, and you need to participate in it. There’s revelry before deals, and there’s revelry after deals. Nobody’s watching you.”

It was true. Nobody needed to watch them. This was Jaskier’s responsibility.

The Nilfgaardians looked at one another again, then nodded, and took the food. They ate it quickly, furtively, keeping one eye on the fae. Honestly, none of them would make good spies. You had to be nonchalant and act natural, confident, like you were supposed to be here and doing what you were doing. People assumed that if you acted like you belonged somewhere, you obviously really did belong there. Guilt was sniffed out faster than smoke from a wildfire.

Jaskier waited until they’d finished eating, and even helpfully gave them some wine.

Then he set his tray down. “Triss, if you’d stop making my darling Witcher want to kill himself to escape this party, that would be lovely.”

 “Oh, thank Melitele.” Triss stood and her glamour fell away.

Jaskier didn’t feel any different, but he knew from the horrified faces on the Nilfgaardians that Merridew’s glamour on him had also faded.

 “You need to watch your words around here, mortals. I never said that I was human, did I?”

He smiled. His teeth felt sharp.

 


 

Geralt had been fucking miserable all night.

He was flirting with Triss, for whom he felt nothing but brotherly affection, while she looked like Jaskier, the person he wanted to be with but couldn’t have, in order to keep up appearances while his ex-girlfriend (who was now dating Triss) glared at him about it from wherever she was hiding. He couldn’t see Yen but he sure could feel her glares.

It was giving him a headache.

At least Ciri was enjoying herself. She was seated under the table at his feet so that she wouldn’t be seen by the Nilfgaardians but he could still keep an eye on her. Last time he’d peeked down there she’d been stuffing herself on more sweets and tapping her feet to the music.

And then Jaskier made his move.

Triss stood up, the glamour falling away from both her and Jaskier in the same moment. Geralt felt an odd twinge of relief in his chest. He hadn’t liked Jaskier looking like someone else. He liked Jaskier as he was, just dorky enough that his charm felt genuine, just pretty enough that his handsomeness was unique, just rough and feral enough that his polish was earned.

The Nilfgaard envoy all stood up, drawing weapons—bone, Geralt realized, since they couldn’t use metal—and obsidian, a stone that could be sharpened to a deadly point. The shining black and creamy white of the blades made a stark contrast to the exploding color of the fae hall.

Jaskier moved away from them, more towards the center of the hall, as the other three fae rulers stood.

“You ate food and drink given to you by a fae,” he mused. His performer’s voice was useful now, filling the hall without sounding like a shout or grating on the ears. “And now by the laws of the fae you are bound here, unless I choose to release you. Dear, dear. Very lax of you.”

He pivoted to face them. “You didn’t really think any of us would parlay with you after you tried to kill us not just once, but twice? Did you think we were that frightened of you?”

Queen Diana’s skin was now pure ice, like she had been carved from snow, her eyes glittering. Queen Maeve’s skin was like stone, her eyes completely black. King Robin’s cheeks were tinged green like poison and the scent of cloying, choking pollen hung thick in the air around him.

“And do you think we’re frightened of you?” one of the Nilfgaardians, foolhardier or perhaps simply more fanatical than the others, spat at Jaskier. “We have our own powers, and we know all about you, Viscount de Lettenhove. You think your little ditties and your friendliness with Cintra went unnoticed? Did you think your spying passed under our noses? We knew you passed in here, and we knew what to do with you when we learned you were placed on this throne. We’ve been following you since before this realm. Who do you think gave your advisor the idea to spike everyone’s drink with lust potion? If your stupid brute hadn’t been immune to it and kept watch over you we could have spirited you away with the entire court incapacitated.”

Geralt honestly wasn’t sure who was angrier in this moment—the fae who were learning their fun little celebratory orgy had been planned to kidnap their king, himself for not suspecting more nefarious purposes to the lust potion, or Jaskier for having to hear someone call Geralt a stupid brute.

As any bartender could tell you, you insulted Witchers at your own peril when Jaskier the bard was around.

“You’re a halfling,” the man sneered. “You have no fae powers. And you’re of the Autumn court. The only one of you with anything to match us is Winter.”

Jaskier looked at Queen Diana, who tipped her head as if to silently give him permission to continue.

He’d certainly earned her respect with the playing-all-night trick. Geralt had to admit to that, even if he would never trust her. Or any other fae, really.

Maeve and Robin both moved as if to protest that they, too, were deadly and worthy of fear, but Jaskier held up a hand.

“Oh,” Jaskier said. He nodded, as if conceding a point. “You’re quite right, it’s the winter fae we should all be fearing. The Winter queen, the queen of death.”

He tilted his head to the side, and Geralt knew, even if the rest of the court didn’t, what that look meant.

The bard was about to go fucking feral.

“For what is winter, if not death?” Jaskier waved his hand in the air, a deliberately showy movement. “What is it if not barren trees, snow on the ground, no plants, no flowers, no babies, darkness and cold?”

Jaskier’s teeth were sharper, now. Perhaps sharper than they had ever been. His nails were curving, longer, almost claw-like. His eyes glowed.

“And yet… it’s so strange… it’s almost as though one has nothing to fear from the dead. Ask any undertaker. Any butcher. Any soldier. It’s not what is already dead that you should fear. There is nothing to be found there. It’s just cold and lifeless.”

Jaskier seemed to be taller, the shadows cast by the candles in the court to be longer, and if Geralt had seen anyone, anyone else, doing this, he would have his hand on his sword and he’d be leaping to his feet.

But it wasn’t anyone else. It was Jaskier. He had to trust him. After all of their fights, all of their issues and mistrust and miscommunication—Jaskier had earned Geralt’s trust. He stayed seated. He waited.

“What you should be fearing,” Jaskier went on, “is the moment of death. That second the neck snaps, the last desperate gasp for air, the pain of the blade as it sinks into your flesh. It’s the moment of thinking, not yet, not yet, I still have things to do.

All of the fae seemed even more inhuman than before. Their eyes held no pupils. The hot-cold winds of autumn seemed to waft from the fae themselves, the scent of wet, dying leaves, the sensation of watching over your shoulder for an attacker.

They were following the lead of their king. Jaskier was sharpening his claws, and so were they.

I still, came a melodious echo, like the whisper of leaves as they rustled along the forest floor. I still, I still, I still.

It was like a refrain from one of Jaskier’s songs.

“What you should be fearing is not death,” Jaskier snapped, “but dying. And the moment of death is not winter. Winter is that moment long past. Winter is a corpse. Autumn is dying. Autumn is the moment the life leaves your body, autumn is the moment it all bleeds away, the moment your heart stops beating, the moment you can’t breathe, autumn is the moment death comes for you and I am Autumn.”

Jaskier seemed to fill the entire room, his eyes glowing like burning blue, his smile splitting his entire face, his teeth like daggers.

“I am Autumn,” he repeated. “And I am Death.”

The whispering of the refrain stopped. Everything went silent.

Even the Nilfgaardians, Geralt realized. They weren’t breathing.

Geralt got up, patting Ciri on the head to reassure her it was all okay, and then walked over to Jaskier. “Jas.”

He was pale, paler than ever before, but burning hot when Geralt touched him. Geralt gently grasped his elbow. “Jask. They’ve learned their lesson.”

Jaskier inhaled sharply, as if he was breaking the surface of a lake, and all the Nilfgaardians collapsed, coughing as they began to breathe again.

Geralt squeezed Jaskier’s elbow and then let go.

“Swear,” Jaskier snapped. “Swear that neither you nor any other leader or agent of Nilfgaard, no part of your campaign, will raise a hand against the fae. You will never attempt to rule them, to conquer them, or to make them your allies in your quest to convert the Continent. Swear it and your debt will be paid.”

One by one, the Nilfgaardians swore.

“Break this promise,” Diana warned, “and you will be cursed. All of you.”

Maeve smiled. Her lips were stained red. “I think you all have heard enough fairytales as children to know what sort of curses we lay on mortals.”

“We are united in this,” Robin added. His voice cracked like a whip and Geralt could feel the sting of it.

“Get. Out. Of my realm,” Jaskier snarled.

The Nilfgaardians scrambled to their feet, still struggling to breathe, and fled the hall.

For a moment there was silence as everyone waited, unsure if there would be retaliation, unsure if it had actually worked.

“Fucking finally,” Yennefer drawled, emerging from wherever she’d been and snagging a glass of wine. “Can we have some proper music now?”

The hall erupted into joyful chaos.

Jaskier turned to Geralt. He looked completely human. “Thank you. I sort of lost myself there.”

“Hmm.” Geralt understood. “Didn’t know you had that much power.”

“I was bluffing,” Jaskier admitted, his words coming out in a whispered rush. “Geralt, I was bluffing like I’ve never bluffed before and then it was all true, everything I said was true, I could feel it, like I had made myself that powerful just by saying I was.”

Of course Jaskier’s powers were in his word-weaving, his voice-dancing. Always.

“You did good,” Geralt assured him. He squeezed Jaskier’s shoulders. “You did.”

Jaskier beamed at him, and then threw his arms around Geralt’s neck, hugging him tightly.

Well, they were supposed to be married, after all.

Geralt hugged Jaskier back, breathing him in. He smelled happy, the apple cider scent stronger than usual.

He was going to miss this. He was going to miss being able to touch Jaskier however he wanted, getting to bury his face in Jaskier’s neck, getting to pull him in to speak in his ear, getting to be tactile and receiving smiles and touches in return. The temptation to take further advantage and turn his face to kiss Jaskier was awful, but he wouldn’t do that to Jaskier. He wouldn’t cross the line into discomfort just so that he could selfishly take.

“Jaskier!”

Ciri, the little shit, had somehow escaped from under the table and grabbed him to join in the dancing, her eyes lit up.

Well, she so rarely smiled like this, Geralt supposed he could let her have her fun. And Jaskier was sort of the guest of honor right now.

The fae were dancing like leaves swept up by the wind, like a flurry of falling flower petals, and even Geralt with his better eyesight could hardly keep track.

Triss came to stand by him. “I seem to recall this particularly grumpy Witcher who insisted he didn’t care about anyone. That he wasn’t a hero, or honorable. That he didn’t need friends.”

“Hmm.”

“Would you mind terribly if I said I told you so?”

“Only a little.”

Triss laid a hand on his arm and smiled. Her gaze then slid past him and her smile grew. “Ah, that’s my cue.”

Geralt was about to ask what she meant when he heard his name be called and he turned to follow the sound.

Jaskier stumbled away from the whirlwind of fae, laughing, his face flushed, and tripped over his own feet until he was right up in front of Geralt. He held out his hands.

Geralt shook his head. He didn’t dance.

“Oh, come on, don’t be so sour.” Jaskier seized Geralt’s hand in both of his and tugged on him. “I just defeated Nilfgaard, Geralt, how many people can say that? I think I deserve a little dancing, hmm?”

Geralt sighed. He was the king’s consort. He needed to actually look like he was enjoying himself with his husband.

Which. He was. Just not—just not in front of everyone else like this.

And not when Jaskier didn’t feel for Geralt the way that Geralt felt for him.

Jaskier was friendly, he was fun and relaxed and affectionate, of course he liked to dance with people. Of course he thought nothing about dancing with any of his friends, and the fact that it also kept of their cover was just a bonus.

Geralt let Jaskier pull him to his feet and tried to swallow down his bitterness. It wasn’t Jaskier’s fault that he didn’t feel the same. Just as it wasn’t Yennefer’s fault the whole mess that had happened based on Geralt’s on stupid wish. He was just so tired of falling for people he lost, or people he couldn’t keep.

“We are not dancing like they are,” Geralt pointed out, indicating the insane whirling going on in the middle of the dance floor.

“We can dance however you like,” Jaskier said, and he sounded incredibly earnest.

Geralt remembered their argument, remembered yelling at Jaskier that there was only so far he could push, so far Geralt could stretch himself, and felt a wave of relief that Jaskier was trying. Jaskier was listening.

“Here.” Jaskier guided Geralt’s hands into position. “I know Yennefer taught you how to dance. You just do whatever she taught you.”

“Even if it doesn’t go with the music?”

A mischievous light came into Jaskier’s eyes and they glowed, literally. “We’re in fairyland, Geralt, the music is whatever you want it to be.”

Geralt snorted—but sure enough, the music had suddenly shifted. Not for the others. They were still whipping around like a bunch of spinning tops. Triss was laughing as Ciri got herself right into the middle, a look of delighted abandon on her face that Geralt had rarely seen, while Yennefer surveyed it all with the same boredom that he’d seen on Queen Calanthe’s face all those years ago.

But for him, in his ears, the music was slower. Less wild, with an easier beat to follow. Just the right pace for the basic partnered court dancing that Yen had taught him.

Sometimes, Yen had wanted to dance. She’d grown disillusioned with court life but she’d liked and missed the dancing, and Geralt had obliged her, of course he had. Now he followed the rule she’d taught him.

Jaskier looked absolutely delighted as Geralt raised his arm and Jaskier raised his to match, their arms arcing up over their heads and across the space between them, mirroring each other. Their lower hands reached across, joining, fingers intertwining, anchoring them to each other as they began to step diagonally, crossing their feet over each other to turn them in a circle.

It was one of those dances that people could use to get flirtatious and touchy if they wanted to. If you wanted—the tradition was to get touchier as the dance went on, to make it until by the end, your hands and those of your partner were all over each other.

Yen had said it was great foreplay. Geralt had said why the hell not, he’d had crazier foreplay before. But he hadn’t really felt the tension of it until now, wondering if Jaskier would want him to bring that element into it, staring into Jaskier’s eyes and wishing he knew what the man was thinking—and equally scared what he’d find if he did.

“We used to call this the courting dance,” Jaskier pointed out. “Where I grew up.”

“It’s the only dance I know.”

“Oh, I’m not surprised.” Jaskier grinned wickedly. “Yen had one thing in mind when she taught you this.”

It wasn’t necessary to intertwine one’s fingers—one could simply curl one’s fingers and have the partner do the same so that they hooked together—but Geralt had done it instinctively and now he didn’t want to switch it back.

Jaskier didn’t seem to mind.

“Would you say I really was a success?” Jaskier asked.

That was the last possible thing Geralt had expected him to say. “Hmm?”

“I mean—well. They’re all celebrating now but. What if I’ve only set them up to be hammered harder by Nilfgaard later? What if I should have done it differently? Will I really have made—”

“Jas.” This was how the bard got when he finally finished a song and then decided that it was all wrong and horrible and that he should just start over. “What’s done is done.”

“Says the man who claimed the Law of Surprise and bound a woman to him through a djinn.” Jaskier was smiling, but his brow arched up in a challenge.

“You said the same things about half the songs you’ve written. And people love them.”

“Did you just admit that people like my songs?” Jaskier asked. He turned, his back now facing Geralt, as they executed the turn that would bring them closer together—if Jaskier wanted that.

Once Jaskier was facing Geralt, he didn’t pull back to restore their previous distance. He stayed close.

Now Geralt had only one choice: join their upper hands together. He linked his fingers with Jaskier’s and Jaskier squeezed in response, beaming up at Geralt like Geralt had just handed him a brand-new elven lute.

“I didn’t admit anything,” Geralt replied.

“You so did.”

“Just because other people like them doesn’t mean I like them.”

“You do like them though.”

“Hmmm.”

“Don’t you give me that.” Jaskier took another step, this one a little more forward than diagonal, making it so that now they were literally stepping over each other’s feet to keep the dance going. “I’ve heard you humming my songs before.”

A bout of guilt hit him like a sudden arrow to the chest and he ducked his head down a little. “I didn’t mean it.”

“What, you didn’t mean to hum my songs?” Jaskier laughed softly.

“About your voice. About your singing.”

Jaskier looked completely confused, and then his face cleared. “Geralt!” His laugh was chilling and warm at the same time, like bells and magic. Truly fae. “You needed to sleep, I knew you were in a mood. How many times had we gotten into little spats? I knew you didn’t mean it. I’d just been dumped, I was in a rather terrible mood myself.”

A vice he hadn’t even had around his heart loosened.

“Being friends with you is really an exercise in futility if one only listens to what you say, Geralt.” Jaskier’s voice was softer now. “I learned long ago to pay more attention to what do you did. In fact…”

A shadow passed over Jaskier’s eyes and he looked away.

Geralt couldn’t have that. As they did the turn and Jaskier faced away from him again, Geralt took a chance, sliding his hands over Jaskier’s waist, turning Jaskier so that as he resumed the circular steps facing Geralt, Geralt could press their foreheads together. Luckily they were the same height, so unlike with Yen, Geralt didn’t have to practically stoop to accomplish it.

Jaskier’s throat bobbed and Geralt heard the bard’s heart rate spiking.

“Jas.”

He watched Jaskier swallow and resisted the urge to say spit it out.

“There was only one time you really hurt me, Geralt. With what you said.”

He didn’t have to ask which time Jaskier meant. He knew.

Before he could speak, Jaskier hurried on. “The thing is—I know that you weren’t really angry at me, Geralt, not truly, I was there and Yen wasn’t and you simply wanted someone to—to unleash it on, I understand that, but it still—it was unfair, Geralt, it truly was and I know that we tend to simply argue and then not talk about it and we assume it’s all forgiven but I have been there, Geralt, I have been there for you every time and—”

Geralt released Jaskier’s upper hand, breaking the arc and grabbing the back of Jaskier’s head, keeping their foreheads pressed together and grounding Jaskier. The bard’s breathing was fast, close to panic, and Geralt gently ran his fingers through all of that soft hair until Jaskier’s breathing started to even out again.

Somehow, through pure instinct perhaps, they kept stepping in time with the dance.

“I told you not to go on the hunt with Yennefer,” Jaskier whispered. “I told you not to save her. I told you to stop looking for the djinn and talk to me about what was wrong. I told you to hold your tongue with Calanthe, I told you—I kept trying to help you and to hear you act as though I was actively encouraging you into choices that brought you pain when all I’ve ever wanted to do was help you—it hurt, Geralt.”

“I know.” He didn’t know what else to say.

Jaskier smelled like moss on a stone. Sadness.

“It was my fault the djinn tried to kill you,” Geralt admitted. “I wished for you to shut up and it—it was my fault. That was why I wanted to save Yen. Because I killed you and she brought you back. I owed her your life.”

He couldn’t have heard the catch in Jaskier’s breath unless he was a Witcher.

Geralt very carefully, his fingers still interlocked with Jaskier’s, drew his arm around Jaskier’s waist. Jaskier’s arm was now pinned lightly behind his back, their hands joined, Geralt holding him.

As if in answer, Jaskier’s free hand came up and mirrored Geralt, fingers tangling in Geralt’s hair and cupping the back of Geralt’s head.

“You didn’t deserve what I said. You deserve… better.” Better than me.

“I’m not perfect either,” Jaskier pointed out. “You were right, the other day—or was it a week, honestly, time in this blasted fucking realm—when you said that sometimes I pushed you too hard. You’re right, I do, and I poke and I prod and I never leave people alone. You—you deserve better too, Geralt. From others.” He paused. “From Yennefer.”

Now that was a whole separate pile of worms. Geralt didn’t know how to explain the conversation he and Yen had had, how they had come to an understanding. Maybe he had deserved better from Yennefer, in some ways. But she had deserved far, far better from him.

It was a testament to Jaskier’s loyalty that he could say Geralt deserved better from her.

“Hmm.” Geralt didn’t know what else to say.

It felt as if the rest of the world wasn’t there. He had to actively focus to hear any music at all. The floor beneath his feet as he continued the steps seemed to be the only solid thing besides Jaskier himself.

Jaskier, Jaskier who was looking at him with his bright eyes and flushed cheeks, this expression on his face as if… as if he was waiting for something.

He was half-fae and nobody could doubt that in this moment, with his skin glowing in the light, looking almost translucent, his teeth sharpened, his eyes gleaming and kaleidoscopic, the scent of cider around him like an invisible cloud.

But he also looked terribly human. Terribly open. Terribly young, like he was still that eighteen-year-old, as if suddenly they were back on that road in Posada and Jaskier was a random, barely-graduated bard begging let me come with you. Let me make you famous.

Geralt didn’t know what to say. Well. He knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to ask if any of the touches, any of the affection that Jaskier had given him, the looks, the—the things he’d said, all under the guise of their fake marriage—if any of it held even a grain of truth. He wanted to ask if there was any hope, any hope at all, that despite his faults and his mistakes, he could turn this into something real.

But he didn’t know how to get those words out. If those words were even welcome.

Were they?

For a moment, or five, or ten, Geralt didn’t know, it was just the two of them dancing like that, close and combined, intertwined, and it felt like all the emotions he was told he didn’t feel had risen up inside of him at once, choking him.

He wondered if the world would end if he kissed Jaskier.

“We’re free,” he noted instead. “You can leave now. You just have to choose a successor.”

If Jaskier still wanted to leave. He’d said he hated it here and had begged Geralt to let him go with him, but what if that had changed after all of Jaskier’s triumphs? After he’d battled the winter fae and Nilfgaard both on his own and had won? What if he felt some sort of responsibility towards the Autumn court, his brethren?

But Jaskier smiled in relief. “Yes. We can leave. And we’ll—you’ll—” He paused. “Where do you plan to go?”

“To Kaer Morhen.” He always wintered there. “Ciri needs training. Yennefer’s coming too.”

“Oh.”

Jaskier stopped dancing. They swayed, still connected. Still touching.

“You know I wish you luck with her,” Jaskier said. His voice was a little tight. A little too light, the way it got when he was nervous and trying to hide it. That sad smell was back.

Geralt released Jaskier’s head in surprise, his hand falling to Jaskier’s shoulder as his other hand pulled back from Jaskier’s waist. They were still holding hands there. “Yennefer and I had… ah. We worked… things, out. We’re friends, now.

“She wants a daughter. And Ciri wants her. Ciri needs her. So she’s coming with us. But Yen… I think she wants Triss.”

“What, and people can’t be with more than one person if they want to?”

“I think Yen prefers Triss,” Geralt corrected.

“I can’t say I didn’t see it coming,” Jaskier said, sounding a bit dizzy, “but also I’m rather concerned that the world’s gone topsy-turvy.”

“What, that Yen chose someone like Triss?”

“Triss isn’t exactly Yennefer’s usual type. She likes them dumb and malleable.” Jaskier grinned. “With one notable exception, of course, my darling Witcher.”

He patted Geralt on the chest, and Geralt swallowed, as if a burr was stuck in his throat.

So. That was that, then. Jaskier thought Geralt still wanted Yennefer, and when he was corrected he didn’t say anything. He made a joke. He laughed. But… nothing.

Geralt swallowed again. “We’ll want to leave as soon as possible. I’m going to retire.”

Stupid of him to get his hopes up. Stupid of him—and he’d already gotten more of a family than other Witchers. He’d already been given a daughter, a brilliant powerful daughter, he had friends, he had so much, why would he be greedy and think—

He pulled away, and now Jaskier just seemed even more confused than before. “Oh, well, all right then, Geralt, if you had a—a headache or anything you should have said so—we’ll deal with my successor in the morning then?”

Geralt nodded. He could put his shields back up in the morning and prepare for the disappointment. Then he remembered Jaskier’s plea.

Just because Jaskier didn’t feel the way that Geralt did, didn’t mean that Geralt didn’t have his friendship. Jaskier had begged Geralt to let them journey together again. He wouldn’t take that away from Jaskier.

“You’re welcome to come with us.”

Jaskier looked over at him. “To Kaer Morhen?”

Geralt nodded. Jaskier had been once before, years ago. He’d gotten on well with Vesemir and Eskel. Lambert had been… Lambert.

“Oh. Well.” Jaskier smiled brightly. “I’ll think about it, of course.”

He’d think about it.

“Really Geralt, if you’re tired, go to bed, you’ve done your consort duties, been at the celebration and all that, nobody will be insulted. You’ve done… quite a lot, this entire time. I know this whole courtly, politics business rather isn’t your thing—in fact I think it’s the opposite of your thing—and I know you’d have preferred to run screaming in the other direction than deal with all of this nonsense. So really—I don’t know if I’ve said it enough, but thank you. For all of this.”

“Hmmm.”

Well, what else was he supposed to say in response to that?

Jaskier shook his head. “I know, I know, off with you.”

Geralt rolled his eyes and did just that, ignoring the cold hard lump forming in his stomach.

Right. He’d tried to… put himself out there, in his own way, and he’d been hoping, and instead Jaskier was just friendly. And all this was coming to an end. Every excuse to touch Jaskier, to hold him, to look out for him, to look at him—it was all being snatched away.

Geralt would get used to it. He always got used to it. He’d seen this coming, had known for however long it had been that Jaskier didn’t feel… that this was about his lack of appreciation for Jaskier’s friendship, nothing more.

It would be fine.

 


 

Jaskier watched Geralt go, his heart beating messily in his chest.

He had been on fire the entire time, dancing with Geralt. Shaking, alight, feeling like a candle flame in the wind, shivering at every touch. He had been sure that Geralt could feel it, that even a normal human without added Witcher senses could feel the nervousness and need bubbling up in him.

Jaskier hadn’t done a courting dance like that in… years. Not since he’d left Oxenfurt. Not that there were many opportunities for dancing so formally at university but when there were, people were always taking advantage of the chance to touch each other and get as physically close to one’s crush as was socially acceptable.

And then in court, when it was done, Jaskier was busy playing the music.

The point was he hadn’t done that dance in over a decade but he was fairly certain the last time he’d done it, no matter how into the girl he was doing it with (or was it a man? He couldn’t recall) it wasn’t anything like the tension he’d thought he’d felt while dancing with Geralt.

Gods, he’d wanted to do that forever. Geralt wasn’t the best dancer but he’d obviously done this enough times (thanks, Yennefer) to lead Jaskier well in it and not trip over either Jaskier’s feet or his own.

And when he’d pressed their foreheads together, when he’d wrapped his arm around Jaskier’s waist, tucking Jaskier’s arm around his own back and putting Jaskier right against him—Jaskier had hardly dared to breathe.

He’d hoped, hoped like he’d forgotten how, that just perhaps—just maybe—

But then Geralt had spoken about Yennefer, and now Jaskier was just completely confused.

Geralt and Yennefer were friends? All right. But that had been all. He’d—said that he had to leave after that. If Geralt had been ready to confess his feelings for Jaskier (if such feelings even existed and Jaskier was quite firm in his belief that there were not, he had many examples ready for citation) then that would have been the perfect moment but… nothing.

He really shouldn’t have let himself hope. Geralt had worked himself up and apologized properly, at last, for the mountain and his hurtful words. He had proven himself time and again in this matter of the fae to be a loyal and loving friend. He had kept Jaskier safe—even if Geralt himself didn’t believe it—and he’d been someone Jaskier could trust and lean on. Someone he could be vulnerable around. The private moments in their bedroom were ones that Jaskier would forever treasure. A port in a storm. An anchor keeping him from floating away.

To ask more of Geralt was pure greed.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Jaskier literally jumped a good few inches into the air as Yennefer spoke from directly behind him. He landed with a stumble and turned around. “Ah! Yennefer! Hello! What—you’re very light on your feet, has anyone ever told you that?”

Yennefer just smirked.

“What are you doing over here anyhow, don’t you have a lovely sorceress who wants you to eat her alive?” Jaskier gestured vaguely in Triss’s direction.

“Triss knows to be a good girl and have patience,” Yennefer replied, which—Jaskier never wanted to hear that tone out of Yennefer again, or any information about Yennefer’s sex life with Triss, thank you very much.

Or Yennefer’s sex life with anyone, honestly.

“My question to you is far more important,” Yennefer went on. “What are you doing staring sadly after Geralt like a baby cow when you should be following him?”

“I’m… letting him go to bed?” Jaskier ventured, already sensing it was the wrong answer.

Yennefer looked like she was wondering what it would cost her if she very lightly slapped Jaskier with lightning. “So that’s it. After all of the ridiculous pining and dancing around one another you two have been doing—and after you both just did a courting dance in the middle of the floor while everyone else is busy doing a different dance entirely—off in your own little world like the two biggest sappiest pair of lovestruck buffoons from one of those florid romance plays—after all of that, and the rest of us suffering through it while knowing the truth about you, you’re not going to go after him!?”

Jaskier gaped at her. “Yennefer, please understand when I say—and if you’re offended then I would like you to recall that I am rather well-liked by both your girlfriend and your adopted daughter—when I say this it’s with the utmost respect, but are you off your fucking tits? What are you talking about?”

“Gods above.” Yennefer looked up at the ceiling. “I’m almost insulted that he went from me to you. Or I would be, if I wasn’t aware that you just single-handedly fended off two armies.” She looked Jaskier in the eye. “How you’re simultaneously so accomplished and so fucking stupid, the both of you, I don’t know. Jaskier. Are you still laboring under the uniquely idiotic impression that Geralt doesn’t like you?”

“He does like me, he’s been kind enough to stick his neck out and admit we’re actually friends. It was very big of him.”

“I dearly want to strangle you,” Yennefer noted.

Jaskier waved his arms in the air. “Yennefer, please. Get to the point.”

“I am getting to the point. Triss got to the point. Ciri got to the point and is dancing on it! All of the fae here are quite firmly standing on the point, because they think you two are actually already married!” Yennefer’s eyes were flashing quite… dangerously. Uh oh. “The only two people who are still avoiding the point is you and Geralt. He’s in love with you, quite madly and stupidly so, and I for one would appreciate it if you would just tell him how you feel so I can stop having a headache from watching the two of you!”

Jaskier opened his mouth and held up a hand to contradict her, then paused. “Ah. Um.”

Yennefer raised an unimpressed eyebrow.

“You’re… he’s… no, no, you must have… haven’t you?”

Yennefer shook her head. “I can feel him, whether he likes it or not. And I know Geralt in love.”

She seemed to soften for a moment, and Jaskier had the unique experience of realizing that Yennefer was trying to be kind to him. Not for his own sake, he wasn’t stupid enough to think that, but for Geralt’s.

“Falling for me was easy.” Yennefer gestured at herself. “Immortal, powerful, beautiful. I was safe.”

Jaskier needed some damn alcohol for this. He headed for the nearest table and seized a goblet. “You’re the least safe person I know, Yennefer.”

Yennefer smirked, evidently taking it as a compliment. “I was easy for him to love, Jaskier. Of course he would love me, who wouldn’t? And he never had to worry about protecting me. He never had to worry about my dying. We drifted in and out of each other’s lives and he could pine the way he loves to, and he could have me and not have me at the same time. He could love someone and punish himself for it at the same time because Geralt is allergic to letting himself be happy.”

Jaskier drained the goblet, then picked up another. Yennefer took it from him and sipped it herself.

“Let me elaborate further,” she went on. “Since Geralt will never tell you. You’re difficult to love, Jaskier—and please don’t scoff at me in that ridiculous manner of yours, it’s not because you’re special. It’s because you’re someone he actually has to put the work into loving. You demand things of him. You’re not perfect. You fuck up and you argue and you love him in an annoyingly loud way that he can’t ignore. You’re up close and messy and the poor man can’t stand that.”

He had not consumed enough alcohol for this. He reached for another glass and Yennefer slapped his hand.

“Ow! Yennefer, really—”

“Shut up.” Yennefer finished her goblet and set it down. “You’re the only proper relationship of any kind that Geralt’s ever had, Jaskier. I should know, the only proper relationship I ever had is with a woman I end up arguing with every single time we meet.”

“Triss…?”

Yennefer shook her head. “You don’t know her. She’s…” She winced. “I suppose ‘mother’ would be the closest word. It doesn’t fit but—I can’t think of any other.”

“She must be an unholy terror if she raised you.”

“Oh, she is.” Yennefer sounded proud. “A pillar of ice is warmer than Tissaia. But my point is, Geralt can’t—he wasn’t raised to understand family. To understand relationships. He was raised to hate himself and to keep everyone at a distance. And then you come along, with no sense to be scared of him, and you insinuate yourself into his life, and he can’t get rid of you. And now he has to deal with you. And it’s messy and complicated and real.”

Yennefer’s expression broke for a second and she blinked rapidly, looking off into the middle distance. Then she turned back to Jaskier. “You’re more real to him than I ever was.”

“You sound almost jealous.”

“Perhaps in a way I am. But. Geralt has no idea what to do with you, Jaskier. And he will never, ever say how he feels. Saying he loves me is easy. I’m on a pedestal. I’m safe. I don’t challenge him. But you do. You have to be the one to say it.”

Yennefer shrugged. “And if that’s too difficult for you, well. You don’t deserve him, then. Now, thank me for graciously explaining Geralt to you and for informing you that your ridiculous love is in fact requited, and then go and tell him you’re madly in love with him and have been for years, and you can go off and bugger each other silly while I get a well-deserved fucking break from your nonsense.”

He really wasn’t drunk enough for this. “And what if… you’re wrong?”

“I’m not.”

Jaskier pushed a hand through his hair. “Right. I’ll just go and… yeah. Have a lovely evening, Yennefer, I’ll thank you in the morning if you turn out to be right.”

“I expect a song to be written in my honor.”

“Don’t.” Jaskier pointed at her. “Don’t push your luck.”

Yennefer simply laughed.

 


 

He found Geralt sitting on the edge of the bed, facing the window. He could recall the first time they’d seen the room, and the disconcerting view, and how Geralt had grumbled something about damned fae.

The Witcher had taken off most of his clothes and was now simply wearing his pants, frozen, looking out the window as if he’d stopped halfway, seized by a thought he couldn’t shake.

Jaskier approached carefully. Not quietly, because he could never be so quiet that Geralt wouldn’t hear him, but… respectfully.

“Thought you might be asleep,” he admitted.

“Hmm.” Geralt kept staring out at the perpetual sunset.

Jaskier crossed over to him, flicking his tongue across his lip—a bad habit leftover from chewing on his lip as a child, and one that emerged when he was concentrating or, in this case, nervous.

He felt hyperaware of every movement of his body. Every beat of his heart, every breath that he took, the very smell of him. All of it had to be screaming at Geralt how he felt. Of course he’d thought the Witcher didn’t love him. How could Geralt love him and not show it or believe that Jaskier was indifferent when he had to be able to feel it coming from every part of Jaskier—the sheer, embarrassing emotion that poured out of him?

Had he truly underestimated Geralt’s self-loathing so much? Had he not understood Geralt’s issues and his pain?

“Yennefer just gave me a very interesting lecture.”

Geralt looked up at him. “Hmm?”

Jaskier leaned against the bedpost. “She said that you were in love with me, and that if I didn’t tell you that I was in love with you as well, she’d… well she didn’t say what she’d do but I get the impression she’ll do something a damned sight more unpleasant than shove a djinn into my throat.”

Geralt raised an eyebrow, but Jaskier thought he could see alarm flit through the Witcher’s gaze before he crafted himself his usual neutral scowl.

“The thing is, Geralt,” Jaskier went on. He had to keep talking or he’d never get it out. Words, words, words, he was full of them, except when it came to being… direct. He was a poet, a writer, a singer. He spoke in metaphors and art, he didn’t just… bald honesty was terrifying.

Maybe it was because he was part fae. Maybe it was that part of him that knew the truth was binding, knew he couldn’t ever fully be comfortable with lying.

“The thing is,” he repeated, “I thought that you must know. Obviously you must know. You can tell when someone’s lying. You can hear our heartbeats. You can smell out our fear, our anger, our happiness. I’ve seen you do it. So I thought, of course, that this whole time you knew how I felt and you were politely abstaining from commenting on it.

“And over the course of this entire, well, rather unpleasant and messy affair, sometimes I did deign to let myself hope—but of course not too much, because you have to understand in my mind I’d put myself quite far out on a limb several times over the course of our friendship—”

He was babbling, and he knew it, but the one time he wanted Geralt to interrupt him, the man didn’t, so he simply ended up bursting out with,

“For the sake of the gods, Geralt, what did you think my offer to take us to the coast was!?”

Geralt stared at him. “…I thought it was… meant in friendship.”

“It was meant in a great deal more than that. Honestly Geralt, could you never smell it on me? You can smell lust, you’ve told me so, but don’t—”

In a fit of madness, he seized Geralt’s shoulders, coming to kneel down in front of him. “Geralt, do you not realize what love smells like?”

Geralt’s head tilted slightly. “It smells different on different people.”

“…what?”

“Love is.” Geralt looked out the window again, then back at Jaskier. “It’s like the person’s natural scent but… I can’t explain it.”

Jaskier thought back to when Geralt had said he smelled like fae, so he’d thought Jaskier was an imposter. “What do I normally smell like, to you?”

“Autumn leaves,” Geralt said promptly. “Sweetgrass. Warmth. And a lot of—not all the time but. Cider.”

“What do the fae here smell like? In this specific court, I mean.”

“Autumn leaves.”

“Merridew said I smelt of sweetgrass as well. They said it was the human part of me. So tell me, my darling Witcher, if my natural human scent is sweetgrass, and my fae scent is autumn leaves, and Merridew never mentioned cider to me, then what do you think that final scent indicates? To borrow your infamous catchphrase: Hmm?”

Geralt looked down at him, his eyebrows knitting together. Jaskier pushed himself up, right until their foreheads were barely an inch apart.

“Can’t you smell it?” he whispered. He dared to take Geralt’s hand, pressing it to his chest. “Can’t you feel it? My heartbeat picks up every time you get close, Geralt, and gods, maybe it’s because you always sense it when I’m around you think it’s just my natural state of being but I swear to you, on my lute, on every song I’ve ever written, it’s not. It’s you. I don’t have a djinn wish to bind us and prove it, all I have is myself, but please, Geralt. I know you might not believe my words, you don’t believe many people’s words, but you believe their hearts and you believe their scent so read mine.

“I’m—I’m in love with you. I’ve been in love with you since—I don’t even know. I wanted you in Posada, before I knew who you were—the second I laid eyes on you, I thought—well.” A strangled laugh emerged from his throat. “You probably don’t want to know. But at some point I—I’ve been dropping hints for years, Geralt. I hate to tell you this but somebody does need you, Geralt, they’ve needed you for over a decade, and that someone is me.”

Geralt inhaled deeply, and a long, low rumbling noise sprung up in his chest, like a wounded animal trying to hide its pain. Jaskier dared to press himself closer, to lay his hands on Geralt’s thighs, to rest their foreheads together.

“I know it’s the last thing you said you wanted,” he whispered. “But I’ve needed you all this time. My heart, my smell, my songs, it’s all for you, that’s always who it’s been for—”

Geralt closed the distance between them with a desperate combination of a snarl and a keen, and sealed his lips over Jaskier’s.

Jaskier would deny until the end of his days that he sobbed in relief, but that was exactly what he did as Geralt hauled him up into his lap. Jaskier spread his legs immediately, digging his knees into the sheets on either side of Geralt’s hips, settling over those broad thighs he’d spent far too many hours staring at over the years.

All right, so he might have to compose a song for Yennefer as a thank you, seeing as she had probably been the person to help teach Geralt to kiss like this. Yennefer settled for nothing less than the best in her sexual experiences, after all.

He dared to think it was all right to touch, so he slid his hands up to Geralt’s hair, speared his fingers through as he had during their dance, as he had many times before while washing Geralt up after a monster hunt, only now it was without hesitation or holding back.

Jaskier would be lying, dreadfully, if he said that he wasn’t in hope that he might finally get to fuck Geralt tonight. But this, kissing each other, holding each other—after all of this time, getting to cross that line was amazing. It felt like the next natural step, the culmination of all the baths, the bed sharing, the touches, the sharing of their lives and bodies they’d done with one another over the years.

Geralt kissed with a single-minded determination and relentlessness, with all the same intensity and focus that he used to hunt monsters. Jaskier found himself melting, feeling like flames were licking up his spine, and he sucked hungrily on Geralt’s tongue. Gods, he never wanted to stop—and to his delight, Geralt seemed to agree. Every time Jaskier would pull back to breathe, Geralt would let him inhale and then dive back in again.

Stupid Witchers and their stupid ability to hold their breath for longer.

Geralt’s teeth scraped across Jaskier’s bottom lip and Jaskier whimpered, squirming in Geralt’s lap. And oh, hello, very nice to meet you. Either Geralt had a dagger hidden in an odd place in his pants or he was very happy to see Jaskier.

He tugged on Geralt’s hair, kissing him even more ferociously and grinding down rhythmically against the erection he could feel pressing up against him. Geralt growled in response and began to yank at Jaskier’s clothes.

Jaskier recalled the look on Geralt’s face when he’d seen Jaskier in this outfit, after Jaskier had changed out of his sort of court disguise and looked like himself again. He hadn’t known what to make of that looked, but he knew now, because Geralt had the same look on his face every time they pulled apart for air.

It was lust. Geralt thought he looked good like this. He wanted Jaskier like this.

It was intoxicating. Jaskier had always thought that Geralt never really cared for how someone dressed themselves up. Yennefer was like Jaskier, she always cared about her appearance and made sure to make herself the most fashionable person in whatever room she stepped into, but Geralt wouldn’t have cared if Yennefer wore a burlap sack.

Or so Jaskier had thought. But to know now that Geralt did pay attention, and he did like what Jaskier wore.

Although right now the poor man seemed far more interested in getting those clothes off of Jaskier. Jaskier grinned and pulled back a little. “Here, let me.”

He swiftly undid his various buttons and shoved off his doublet, then tugged his chemise up and over his head. Geralt’s hands slid up his bare back, the pads of his fingers digging into the muscle there, a small contented sort of growl coming out of him. He nuzzled Jaskier’s throat and then—oh fuck—bit down.

Jaskier grabbed onto Geralt’s biceps and braced himself on them, his head falling back as Geralt sucked at the spot he’d bitten. Gods, yes, that felt good. He should’ve known that Geralt would be into biting. Not that Jaskier was complaining.

He dug his nails into Geralt’s arms, rocking his hips down. His own pants were starting to feel rather tight as his cock swelled, aching for touch, for the feel of Geralt’s cock against his.

Geralt finally pulled away from Jaskier’s neck, apparently satisfied with the mark he’d left, and moved downward, his teeth and tongue scraping over Jaskier’s skin. His hands moved south, gripping Jaskier’s arse, and pushed Jaskier up, pinning Jaskier’s hips against Geralt’s stomach as Geralt tugged one of Jaskier’s nipples into his mouth.

A rather embarrassing moan escaped Jaskier as his vision blurred. Fuck, gods, fuck yes, that sent pleasure zinging through him at lightning speed. He had no idea what Geralt was smelling right now, but it had to be an absolute cloud of desire. Jaskier wanted him like he’d wanted no other person in his life.

Everyone else, Jaskier got to have them. But Geralt—his hunger had been growing and growing until he couldn’t handle it anymore, he was starving.

Geralt moved over to the other nipple, lapping at it with his tongue before drawing it into his mouth and biting down, and Jaskier whimpered helplessly. The drag of his cock against Geralt’s stomach was driving him to madness, and Geralt’s mouth… fuck, who could’ve guessed that he’d be so skilled with it given that the man hardly said more than ten words at a time?

“Wh-what do you—ah ah, Geralt!” He tried to speak, but found himself gasping and squirming as Geralt continued to mark him up. “Are you—are you trying to spell out ‘property of the White Wolf’ in bruises!?”

Geralt chuckled, right against Jaskier’s heated skin.

“In—in all seriousness, Geralt, please, oh, oh, I just—can we move onto the main—main event before I spontaneously catch on fire?”

“Hmmm.” Geralt kissed slowly along Jaskier’s shoulder, getting to his neck again where he found where Jaskier’s pulse was fluttering just below the surface and sucked.

Jaskier tugged viciously at Geralt’s hair. “Geralt. Please. I need you to fuck me.”

Geralt pulled back then, almost abruptly like he’d been surprised, and he looked up into Jaskier’s face. His eyes were huge and black, the gold a thin rim around them, like the last snatches of light from the sun just before it sank over the horizon and night swallowed the world.

“Are you sure?” he asked, his voice even rougher and lower than usual.

Jaskier had to blink a few times as he ran over those words in his mind, making sure he’d heard them correctly. “Are you—Geralt. Of course I’m sure. Do you have a cold? Have you gone blind? I’m wild for you, I want you to fuck me until I can’t walk, I want—”

Geralt kissed him, shoving his tongue into Jaskier’s mouth as if he wanted to steal the words away before Jaskier could even finish voicing them. There was something desperate in the kiss, something that made Jaskier wrap his arms around Geralt’s neck and return it with as much softness as he could—reassuring Geralt even if he didn’t know why.

“I’ve learned…” Geralt murmured, his lips brushing against Jaskier’s as he spoke, his eyes downcast, “not to assume, with bed partners.”

Oh, his darling Witcher. Jaskier took Geralt’s face in his hands. “I’ve seen every inch of you at one point or another, Geralt.” Thanks to sharing rooms and baths and patching the Witcher up after hunts gone wrong. “I know what I’m getting into. You’re not going to send me screaming from the room.”

Geralt snorted, a glint of amusement in his eyes. His gaze raked over Jaskier’s form, as if double checking to see that there wasn’t any part of Jaskier that was tense or lying.

“Besides,” Jaskier added, playfully tugging on Geralt’s ear. “I’m not that dainty, Geralt, we are rather the same size.”

Geralt made a pleased noise, his hands running up and down Jasker’s back as if in silent agreement. “In most areas.”

It took Jaskier a second to realize what Geralt was referring to. “Are you suggesting—Geralt! I am of a perfectly adequate—nay, more than adequate—size, I’ll have you know, I have in fact been complimented many a time on—”

“I thought size didn’t matter, but how you used it?” Geralt asked.

“You’re a horrid tease and I’ll show you just how—”

Geralt seized a handful of Jaskier’s hair and yanked him down into a filthy kiss. Jaskier moaned, all of his thoughts flying out of his head as Geralt kissed him like he was going to crawl inside of Jaskier.

Jaskier wouldn’t have minded if he did.

Geralt at last pulled back and let Jaskier even the odds a bit where their clothes were concerned, undoing his various layers until the both of them were naked. Jaskier was grateful that Geralt wasn’t in his armor. He had gotten quite good at undressing Geralt after a hunt, taking care of the armor that was covered in blood and guts and all other manner of unsavory things while Geralt would soak in a tub—but that didn’t mean that he wanted to have to deal with all of that tonight. Tonight, he wanted to hurry up and get what he’d been dreaming about all these years.

He laid kisses all over Geralt’s face, just a little bit frantic, trying to convey what he needed, what he wanted, for once at a loss for words. Geralt chuckled, smiling as Jaskier trembled in his arms. He was enjoying this, the bastard, enjoying how he was driving Jaskier to the brink.

“We have all…” Geralt paused, and Jaskier knew he had been about to say ‘night’ and then realized that technically there was no night here. “We have time.”

Jaskier laughed. He did love this land, there was something in him that clicked into place while he was here—but there was also something in him that felt like he was floating out of time, out of place. Like he would stop being who he was if he stayed for too long. Like he would start to forget.

He was eager to get home and get back to a place that felt solid.

Geralt took advantage of Jaskier’s moment of distraction and flipped him over, turning him so that Jaskier laid flat on his back on the bed. Oh fuck, all of Geralt’s weight was now on top of him, between his legs, pinning him to the bed, and Jaskier found himself literally panting with need. He was taller and bigger than most people realized, and he’d found precious few lovers over the years that could scratch the itch that sometimes rose up in him, the need to be manhandled and fucked until he could only whimper and take it.

But Geralt—Geralt was more than capable of that.

And, it seemed, more than willing.

Geralt kissed down Jaskier’s throat, his hands sliding up and down Jaskier’s thighs, squeezing handfuls of Jaskier’s arse on occasion, like he couldn’t get enough of Jaskier’s skin and body. Jaskier arched up, dragging their cocks together, and a moan knocked around in his throat as he felt just how big Geralt was, the hot press of him right up against Jaskier’s own cock.

Fuck, he wanted that in his mouth, in his hand, in his body. He wanted it spreading him, spearing him.

He cast his hand about, trying to find something they could use to open him up. Where the holy fuck was the oil?

“Geralt—where—your pack—”

“Hmm?” Geralt pulled away from Jaskier’s throat and stared at him for a moment in confusion, then smirked in realization.

The Witcher pulled away, the golden-tinged light from the window highlighting the man’s truly breathtaking physique as he strode over to his pack and pulled out one of the jars of oil they used for massaging Geralt’s wounds. If it was good enough to use on recently-sewn-up wounds, then it could be used inside Jaskier safely. And it was better than his other idea, which was perhaps warming up his rosin.

…he’d been rather adventurous in Oxenfurt and sometimes proper salves hadn’t been at hand.

Geralt turned around, holding up the jar of oil, and Jaskier couldn’t help but gape a bit. He had seen Geralt naked many a time over the years, but this was the first time he was truly allowed to look, to bask, to let his gaze linger over the broad, twisting muscles, the huge thighs and arms, the broad chest—and the scars, everywhere, covering almost every inch of him.

Jaskier knew the story behind almost every one. He’d been there for when Geralt had gotten a lot of them. He’d composed songs about a few, gently massaging over them as he’d eased the aches out of Geralt’s body after a long, hard fight, composing in his head. Sometimes, when it was late and both of them were struggling to sleep, Jaskier would trace the scars with his fingers, asking Geralt to explain how he’d gotten them.

They’re your stories, Geralt, and I want to know your story.

Now he could trace those scars with his tongue.

There was also the small matter of Geralt’s cock, full and heavy between his legs, making Jaskier’s mouth water. That, he’d never seen like this. Sure, there was the whole morning wood deal, but they would always politely ignore it. It was biology, nothing to make a fuss over. He’d glimpsed Geralt’s cock a few times during baths or when sewing up an injury and he knew the general size of it but gods, it was so different now to know that Geralt was hard, Geralt was wanting—for him.

Geralt was also smirking knowingly. He strode back over to Jaskier, opening the jar of oil and pouring some into the palm of his hand, setting the jar on the nightstand. “Look at you,” he murmured, his voice low and smooth, almost a purr.

Jaskier ran his tongue across his bottom lip, spreading his legs. He didn’t want Geralt to think for even a second that he was hesitant about bedding him. He knew Geralt would never hurt him, would never be the brute that others claimed all Witchers were.

Well. Not unless Jaskier asked him to be.

Geralt’s eyes darkened even further, black pools of heat, and he knelt between Jaskier’s legs, his hand wrapping around Jaskier’s aching cock.

Jaskier whined, gripping onto the bedsheets, watching as those sword-callused fingers rubbed up and down the underside of his cock, working the foreskin down until Jaskier was panting, each breath inciting fire in his lungs. “Geralt.”

Geralt swiped his thumb over the slit of Jaskier’s cock, and Jaskier’s hips jerked helplessly. Gods, this wasn’t the time for teasing, not after so long. “Geralt, please, you can—fuck—you can take as much time as you want later, please just—please, please fuck me.”

A low growl escaped Geralt and he squeezed the base of Jaskier’s cock—just to be a cruel tease, Jaskier was certain—and then he reached down, sliding his oil-slick fingers over Jaskier’s hot, sensitive skin, massaging with the pads of them.

Jaskier’s head fell back against the pillows as he felt Geralt start to slip his fingers inside. Geralt kept massaging around the rim, teasing, dipping his fingers in and then out again, more and more until he was in to the first knuckle, stroking Jaskier with a steady speed.

“Fuuuuuck yes,” Jaskier encouraged, pushing himself down onto Geralt’s fingers. He wanted more, damn it, wanted it to reach that edge of too much, that edge of desperation—

Geralt sunk his two fingers in all the way and a Jaskier strangled itself in Jaskier’s throat. Yes, yes, yes, that was what he wanted, it had been so long since he’d slept with anyone, least of all a man, and he couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been touched like this. He wanted more, even more, please, give it to him, give it all to him, he wanted to take Geralt inside him and be claimed and consuming at the same time.

He propped himself up on his elbows, reveling in Geralt’s look of intense concentration, like nothing was more important than getting Jaskier ready for him. Like taking care of Jaskier was all that mattered.

It made his heart stutter.

“Geralt,” he said, his voice soft. Geralt looked up, his fingers pausing inside of Jaskier.

Jaskier inhaled shakily. “Fuck me, please.”

Geralt, for once, listened to him.

He slid his fingers out and gathered more oil to slick up his cock. Jaskier shivered with anticipation, feeling like he might actually have his skin melt off from how hot he felt. “Don’t hold back,” he begged as Geralt lined himself up. “Don’t you dare. Not after all of this time.”

They could do slow, sweet fucking later. Right now, he wanted the marathon of hot, raw, vibrant fucking that he’d been dreaming of for months.

Geralt eyed Jaskier, as if double checking that Jaskier was serious and not lying out of some form of false bravado, and then nodded slightly. He gripped Jaskier’s thighs for leverage, and Jaskier exhaled shakily as Geralt began to slide inside.

“Fuck,” he blurted out. Geralt really was huge, and he’d known this, but oh gods he could feel it, every single thick inch of him. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Geralt was breathing hard, his fingers leaving marks on Jaskier’s thighs as he seemed to struggle to get himself under control. Jaskier grabbed his wrists. He didn’t want Geralt in control. Not right now.

Geralt looked up at him, eyes gleaming, and Jaskier dug his heels in, flexing, contracting around Geralt’s cock and pushing himself down onto it—his eyes locked with Geralt’s the entire time.

That seemed to do it. Geralt pulled out and then slammed back in, and Jaskier cried out. It felt like Geralt was in him everywhere, right up to his throat. He clawed at Geralt’s arms, dug his nails right in—because he could be rough. Geralt could take it.

Geralt didn’t hold back now that he had started. He shifted his hips slightly on each thrust, going in so hard that Jaskier’s teeth rattled, until he found—oh fuck.

Jaskier made a rather embarrassing noise, tearing at the sheets, and he could feel his blood singing, could hear the glass in the window vibrating as his voice reached a dangerous pitch. That was just the right angle, fuck, yes, it felt so good, so very good, that was perfect.

 Geralt made a pleased sort of rumbling noise and thrust even harder, faster, like he was doing his damned best to make Jaskier come as fast as possible, Jaskier could only stare in awe, his mouth falling open, as he watched Geralt’s body moving in the sunset’s rich light.

He had seen Geralt in action countless times over the years, but never naked, and never in this context. Geralt’s body was a work of art, and if he could’ve gotten away with it, he would have written odes and odes to it.

Alas, those sorts of songs were only possible in a brothel. Not that Geralt would ever let him share them with the public anyway.

He moaned, feeling like an animal caught in a trap as Geralt held him in place and fucked him, over and over, holding Jaskier’s thighs so that Jaskier couldn’t move at all, even if he’d wanted to (and he certainly didn’t want to). He tried to push up into Geralt’s thrusts, to fuck himself down onto Geralt’s cock and get even more of it, but he could hardly manage it between Geralt’s grip and how overwhelmed he felt. Geralt was hitting that sweet spot every single time, and it felt so unbelievably good, Jaskier was sure the entire court could hear the noises he was making. He couldn’t have been silent if he’d tried.

Geralt’s eyes were like a cat’s, black and huge, swallowing Jaskier whole as he stared at him, like it wasn’t so much Jaskier squeezing his cock that was getting him off as it was Jaskier’s noises, Jaskier’s face, Jaskier’s reactions.

He stood no chance. It felt so good, he—fuck he couldn’t, he needed—and then Geralt wrapped his hand around Jaskier’s cock and Jaskier’s vision went white. He cried out, arching, not even sure what to name the sound that came out of him, somewhere between a melodious scream and a banshee’s wail, and he heard the bedsheets rip as his sharpened nails dug into them, flooded with pleasure. So much, so much, too much—fuck.

Geralt sped up, getting messy, fucking Jaskier right through his orgasm and out the other side, prolonging it, giving him aftershocks that had Jaskier trembling uncontrollably. It was that edge of too much that he loved and so rarely got, and he whimpered and whined as Geralt fucked him harder, harder, harder, until Geralt grunted and spilled over inside of him.

Ohhh yes. Jaskier was a sucker for the mess that came with sex. The sweat and slick, the bruises and spit. Sex was dirty, and frankly people were lucky it felt so damn good otherwise nobody would ever bother doing it—why not indulge and enjoy in that messiness? Why not revel in feeling filthy and debauched?

He relaxed into it, stretching luxuriously in the feeling of his own slick sliding down his stomach, Geralt’s leaking out of him. Geralt groaned as if Jaskier had taken his cock into his mouth (mmm… now that was an idea) and slid out of Jaskier, crawling up to bury his face into Jaskier’s neck and inhale deeply.

He was smelling him. Fuck. He was smelling Jaskier’s pleasure, Jaskier’s orgasm—smelling the mingled scents of himself and Jaskier—no, more than that, his scent on Jaskier—and Melitele preserve him, that was possibly the sexiest thing Jaskier had ever seen.

Geralt, oddly, didn’t seem all that inclined to simply fall to the side and rest, though. Jaskier was feeling pleasantly satisfied and was quite happy to take a break before going for more, but Geralt was still kissing along his throat and making those rumbling growling noises, as if… as if…

Jaskier chanced a look down.

He knew that Geralt had come. He’d just felt it happen, he had seen it happen, the evidence of it was still sliding out of him even now.

…but Geralt was hard again.

Jaskier tugged on Geralt’s hair. “Um, Geralt.”

“Hmm?” Geralt raised his head to look Jaskier in the eye.

“Are you… ah. So. Witcher stamina. The various jokes I’ve heard—those wouldn’t, by any chance… be true, would they?”

Jaskier could well remember a few snide and pleased remarks Yennefer had made at him over the years, and the noises he’d occasionally overheard, and how when Geralt had spent the night in Yennefer’s tent, the candles had been glowing inside long into the wee hours of the night. But he’d never dared to come right out and ask. It would’ve been a particular brand of masochism, one that even Jaskier wasn’t inclined to indulge in.

Now, though. Now he could ask, and it was the opposite of masochism. It was highly relevant to his current situation.

The grin that Geralt gave him was pure sin.

Jaskier’s mouth went dry. “How long—or how many—”

Geralt shrugged. “Want to find out?”

Oh, did he ever.

He grabbed Geralt and dragged him up into a filthy kiss.

 


 

Geralt wanted to bury himself into Jaskier and never fucking emerge again.

His bard was so very sweet and desperate as he clawed and begged and tried to shove himself down onto Geralt’s cock, to take even more of Geralt inside of him as if that was even physically possible. Geralt knew what it was to have a demanding lover—Yennefer fit that bill perfectly—but Yennefer had always been in charge. Not that Geralt had minded that, not at all. But it had been what Yennefer wanted. Yennefer dictated things.

Jaskier simply wanted whatever Geralt gave him, and asked for more of it. He didn’t have specifications or demands. He just embraced whatever it was that Geralt decided to give.

Geralt wanted to have him over and over until he lost count and the world blurred.

He smirked as Jaskier’s face went slack with shock, his eyes wide, his gaze darting back and forth between Geralt’s face and his swollen, erect cock.

Geralt reached down and stroked himself, toying with the foreskin, sort of showing himself off for Jaskier’s hungry expression. He’d never really… he wasn’t someone that others thought of as good looking and he certainly didn’t really like his looks. He knew there was a certain odd appeal to him, something of the exotic that people could be drawn to, and he knew that his obvious physique could override whatever other objections about his looks that people might have.

But he did so like teasing Jaskier. And Jaskier had called him handsome. Jaskier had called him gorgeous. He didn’t agree with the bard, but he also wasn’t going to stop himself from taking advantage of Jaskier’s opinion of him to drive his bard just that little bit insane.

Jaskier flicked his tongue out, running it over his bottom lip. Did the man have any idea how insane that drove Geralt? How insane it had always driven him?

Well, now Geralt could do something about it. He cut Jaskier off as Jaskier stared down at his cock, mouth opening to say something, and took that clever, sly tongue into his mouth.

Jaskier made a delicious, small noise at the back of his throat, and melted, giving over to the kiss instantly.

Geralt could still smell Jaskier’s satisfaction, and Geralt’s own, sinking into Jaskier’s skin. The mingled scent of orgasm and lust and happiness was like a drug, making Geralt’s blood buzz. He felt almost high off of it.

Underneath that, though, was the growing scent of desire and hunger, starting to come off Jaskier in renewed waves. Geralt smiled into the kiss, feeling like a wolf scenting a lamb.

A very willing, very naughty lamb.

Jaskier slid his fingers up into Geralt’s hair with one hand while his other hand snuck down to wrap around Geralt’s cock, stroking it experimentally, testing it out, seeing what he could do to make Geralt react. There wasn’t even a hint of fear about him.

So many times, Geralt had seen fear flashing in the eyes of the whores he hired. He could smell it off them even when they kept their expressions neutral, ever the consummate professionals—but they couldn’t hide how they felt from a Witcher’s senses. He would always do what he could to circumvent their fear, to have them do only what made them comfortable.

Jaskier wasn’t scared, though. Jaskier smelled… delighted.

Geralt wasn’t sure if he should actually fuck Jaskier again, because, well, he didn’t want to make the man sore. But Jaskier looked absolutely betrayed when Geralt made to simply take their cocks in his hand and stroke them together, and Geralt himself was rather powerless to resist the idea of sliding back into that sweet embrace again.

(And again. And again. And again.)

Jaskier whined and whimpered and moaned until Geralt was pretty sure he heard a few of the glass vials shattering, whispering one more, one more, I promise I can take it, Geralt, please, and each time Geralt had to, he just had to, he couldn’t resist when Jaskier wanted it so badly, when it felt like he’d been going mad the last few days as years and years of feelings he hadn’t let himself even consider crashed over him like a wave.

The last time, Jaskier straddled him, letting gravity do most of the work for him as he pushed himself down onto Geralt’s cock. His whole body was covered in bite marks. “Are you trying to give me a hickey for every scar you have?” he asked at one point.

“Hmm.”

Jaskier’s movements were slow now, his stamina finally wearing down, and he kept making these little ah noises, his body fluttering around Geralt’s cock and making Geralt feel like sparks were going off inside his blood.

Jaskier braced himself on Geralt’s chest and pushed himself up until he was almost, but not quite, off of him, and then slid back down all the way. He let out a moan, his cock jerking, and Geralt grabbed Jaskier’s hips to press him down further and extend the noise.

Fuck.” Jaskier shuddered, slick sliding down the shaft of his cock, his whole body flushing. His eyes were glowing, and had been for some time, a bright, luminous blue.

Sometimes, when the lighting was just right, he thought he could see the ghost of wings coming from Jaskier’s back.

He tightened his grip on Jaskier’s hips and moved Jaskier up, then down, and Jaskier let out a low keen as he realized that yes, Geralt could move him just like this, no effort from Jaskier himself required.

Jaskier panted, his breathing taking on that desperate quality that Geralt was quickly learning meant he was about to come. “Fuck, Geralt—”

He wished he could fuck Jaskier right through his orgasm, through to the other side, prolonging it and fucking him while Jaskier was in that place of stunning oversensitivity, whining and writhing, but he simply couldn’t hold himself back. His orgasm hit him like a final blow in a boxing match and he let go of Jaskier, the bard slumping onto him and promptly squirming like he was trying to rub the evidence of their activities into his skin.

Geralt closed his eyes and listened to Jaskier’s breathing, smelled the contentment and love wafting from him like a cloud. Sweetgrass, cider, fresh bread. Even if Jaskier never said it, Geralt would always know by his smell that Jaskier loved him. He would never have to doubt or guess or wonder. Never again.

Jaskier’s hand came up and started carding through Geralt’s hair. “You’re purring.”

“You’re glowing.”

“Fair enough.” Jaskier settled his head on Geralt’s shoulder and silence fell for a while. Geralt sank into the warmth, the contentment, the feeling of Jaskier gently playing with the strands of his hair.

There was so much still to worry about. They had to get home, to Kaer Morhen. They had to protect and train Ciri. There was still a war raging. But for now, there was this. There was them. And that was better than Geralt had hoped to ever earn.

“I owe you an apology,” Jaskier said quietly.

“Hmm?” What on earth did Jaskier have to apologize for? They had worked out their issues in their relationship time and again over the course of this insane fae business. What could possibly be left?

“I know what you are, Geralt.” Jaskier’s fingers continued to lightly brush through his hair. “You’re a man of few words and you’re a man who feels deeply—and don’t, no, don’t you dare say that you don’t. Accept that sometimes others know you better than yourself, please?”

Geralt, who had tensed up and inhaled when Jaskier had first spoken, decided not to argue about it—just this once—and let Jaskier finish.

“But you’re not really a man of words,” Jaskier explained. “I’m the… the talkative one. And I should have told you how I felt.”

Geralt propped himself up onto his elbow, dislodging Jaskier’s hand from his hair. “Jas. You. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have appreciated it.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes you don’t know you could feel the same until the other person declares their feelings.” Jaksier’s eyes glowed slightly as he stared up at Geralt. “But I kept waiting for you to say something and that’s not how you are and that was unfair of me. I should have spoken up. We could have avoided so much hurt if I’d only…”

Geralt took Jaskier’s chin in his hand, his thumb pressed against Jaskier’s lips to silence him. Jaskier flicked his tongue across the pad of Geralt’s thumb, playful, but the look in his eyes was earnest.

“You could have said something,” he agreed. “You are the wordsmith. But I could have shown you the appreciation you deserved. I could have made it… I could have… made sure you saw… that I cared. We both fucked up.”

Jaskier drew Geralt’s thumb into his mouth, sucking on it slightly, and Geralt felt a bit of heat stirring in his limbs again.

“I suppose I’m glad that I’m fae, then,” Jaskier whispered. “Otherwise I might fear for all the time we wasted. But now I know we’ll have decades.”

“Hmm.” Geralt wasn’t so sure. Witchers didn’t get decades. They got too slow. Too weak.

But then again, Witchers didn’t get families. They didn’t get involved in wars, in the affairs of men, in destiny. Who was to say that Geralt wouldn’t go against convention in this, too?

He was grateful for Jaskier’s fae heritage, though. He didn’t want to watch his bard grow old and frail, not while Geralt was still strong and hale and hearty.

“You’ll come to Kaer Morhen with us?” he asked instead.

“I asked if I could follow wherever you led,” Jaskier pointed out. “That hasn’t changed. I know sometimes we might find ourselves headed in different directions, but wherever you go, I want to go. I want to be by your side.”

He would never understand why Jaskier would choose a life of hardship with Geralt instead of a life of pleasure and praise at a court or at Oxenfurt. But he was a selfish bastard in some ways, he was finding, and he would keep Jaskier for as long as Jaskier would let him.

Perhaps he wasn’t as bad at emotions as he had been raised to believe. But he still didn’t know what to do with all of the feelings cramming up in his throat, the hot, liquid thing uncurling in his chest, spiraling through his body faster than he could rein it in.

He couldn’t say what he was feeling. It was all just—too much. So he pulled Jaskier in instead, cupping his cheek. “My little lark.”

He had come up with the name on a whim for their cover, to sell the fake marriage to the fae (and thank fuck they didn't have to worry about lying or tripping up on that count anymore), but he found that he liked calling Jaskier by that name, at least in private, in such velvet-wrapped moments as these.

Jaskier smiled like Geralt had given him the stars from the sky. “Yes.”

Geralt kissed him, knowing that even if he didn’t say it all, now, at last, Jaskier understood.

 


 

He did have to name a successor before he left.

It wasn’t as though the fae realm had done a complete about-face and now saw him as a fit ruler. He had helped protect them but he was still half-human and none of them wanted that around for long. Jaskier, frankly, was too relieved that they wanted to let him go to bother himself with feeling rejected.

Who cared about his blood? His heart was what mattered, and that had a home.

For the first time in his life, he didn’t care about his parents. He didn’t care about the fae woman who’d birthed him and given him away. Those people might not have chosen him as their family, but Geralt had. Through Geralt he had Ciri, he had Kaer Morhen, and perhaps even, just a bit, he had Yennefer. He got great joy out of sparring with her, at least, and he suspected she did as well. He had Oxenfurt, he had friends. He was not lacking in love.

And he never would be again. Fuck his parents. Both sets of them.

He made sure to make his announcement in the great hall, before all of the fae, so that none would have the chance to plot against his choice ahead of time.

Jaskier took off his crown and tried not to fiddle with it. “As I’m sure you’ve all expected, I’m abdicating my position as king of the Autumn court. But I will not be leaving you leaderless. There is someone here who has been a guide and friend, who has been a true fae, and who has been the one fae to support us in our stay here.”

He raised his voice a little. “I’d like to summon Merridew to the throne, please.”

Merridew looked hesitant as they stepped forward. “Your majesty, I’m not even on the council.”

“Well, good thing there’s a vacancy there, then.” Jaskier waved for him to kneel.

He repeated the things he’d said to become king, only now from the opposite side of it, prompting Merridew to promise to protect and serve this realm in the fae world.

When he placed the crown on their head, he felt a huge sweep of relief run through him. And a little bit of loss. He was never going to be fae.

But he was so much more.

All of the fae took the knee to Merridew, and rose for them, just as they had for Jaskier.

“Take the Path,” Merridew told them. “And don’t stray from it.”

“I can lead,” Ciri said.

There was a moment when he worried, as they stepped down the staircase, that the fae realm wouldn’t let them leave. That they’d end up right back where they started with no real way out. But then the colors dulled (Geralt growled in relief) and the air changed and Jaskier felt more… grounded. More human. Whatever had been letting more of his fae side show was gone.

They were back on the Continent.

Yennefer was taking Triss aside to create a portal for her. While Yen would be going with them to Kaer Morhen to train Ciri for the winter, Triss would be going back to Tissaia to help her protect and prepare the other sorceresses against Nilfgaard.

Yennefer had actually been looking happy lately. It was unnerving. Jaskier had no idea what to do with it.

He looked at Geralt and smiled with utter relief. “I never want to do that again,” he announced. “I like being just a bard.”

“You’re good at it.”

Jaskier coughed and looked away. “I like being your bard.” His voice was quiet.

Geralt glanced over to make sure the women couldn’t hear. “You’re good at that, too.”

Jaskier looked back at him.

Geralt wasn’t smiling, but his eyes were warm. They wouldn’t be as… publicly affectionate now, since they had nothing to prove and Geralt wasn’t that type, but Jaskier didn’t need that. Geralt could smell how he felt, and he could read it in Geralt’s eyes.

“Does that mean you want me to sing something?”

“No.”

“One of my famous ballads?”

No, Jaskier.”

Ahead of them, Ciri laughed.