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Geralt slams down tankard number three, Lambert sitting across from him while Jaskier looks on in bemusement. He takes the brief pause between songs as an opportunity to adjust one of the pegs on his lute the barest bit.

He doubts anyone else has even noticed the slight off-tune of it, but it’s bothering him, and that’s what really matters. Besides, he has two witchers in his crowd tonight, and Jaskier never knows what they can pick up with their perceptive senses—it’s often much more than Jaskier would like. The first time Geralt had called him out on smelling aroused, he had about fainted. With that warning in mind, he wrenches his eyes away from Geralt and launches into his next song.

When he dares to look again, Lambert is dumping something from his flask into Geralt’s drink and pulling out his gwent cards. Jaskier barely contains his eye roll. He swears Geralt pays more attention to curating his deck than he does to Jaskier.

His set ends about half an hour later, but Geralt and Lambert show no signs of slowing down, slapping down cards on the weathered table with just as much vigor as when they had started. Jaskier walks over to them, picking up Geralt’s tankard to steal a sip before smelling the sharp acridity and thinking better of it. “Having fun?” he asks lightly.

Geralt turns around and squints at him, standing up and clutching onto Jaskier’s shoulder, mumbling something inaudible. Lambert guffaws and pulls Geralt back down to the table to continue their game, whispering something that makes them both laugh.

Jaskier thinks Lambert might be a bad influence.

“I’ll see you upstairs,” Jaskier says, but he’s not sure whether either of them heard them. Jaskier sighs and heads to bed, figuring Geralt will join him later and just hoping Lambert doesn’t take that as an invitation. He doesn’t need two smelly witchers collapsing into his bed.

He tosses and turns, finding it uncomfortably difficult to fall asleep without listening to Geralt’s steady breathing beside him.

He’s staring at the wall and finally just about asleep when he hears a key scraping against the lock. The door bursts open, and he rolls over to look at Geralt’s silhouette blearily.

“Jaskier,” Geralt slurs, and he sounds—choked up?

“What’s wrong?” Jaskier rubs the sleep out of his eyes and sits up.

He finds himself with a lap full of Geralt, and suddenly the main place his blood is going isn’t to his brain.

Geralt tugs a hand through Jaskier’s hair. “Lost you.”

“I’m right here?”

“Your gwent card,” Geralt hiccups, frowning.

*

Jaskier knew, of course, that there was a gwent card with his likeness on it. It wasn’t the best depiction of him in his opinion, the art not capturing his true essence, his beauty. Geralt, on the other hand, insisted that it looked exactly like him, particularly the smug expression on his face.

When Geralt first won the card a few weeks back, he would point out whenever Jaskier made ‘the face’, as if to prove a point.

For Jaskier, there is no love lost over the damnable game piece. But, now there’s a drunken witcher in his lap, he’s starting to realize it’s worth beyond a bit of press.

Geralt presses his face into Jaskier’s neck and lets out a long sigh. “Took ages to win that card. D’you know how. How rare you are?”

“I’ve only been telling you since the day we met.” Slowly, as if not to spook the drunk witcher, he wraps his arms around his middle. Hopefully get him to stop wriggling around. Otherwise this might turn into a different conversation all together. “Surely you can find another? Or play Lambert again?”

“He-- hm,” Geralt’s breath is warm, but Jaskier’s skin nearly breaks out in goosebumps. Gods preserve him. “Won’t play anymore. Says he got what he wanted. Fuckin’. Prick!” And to Jaskier’s horror, he hears a small sniff.

“Are you--?” But asking if Geralt is crying is surely going to make the other man pull away. Jaskier can’t have that. He must comfort his dearest… friend. No matter what a fool he is for being so dramatic over a little card game. “Geralt. Geralt, look at me.”

Finally, the witcher pulls away and faces Jaskier. His breath absolutely reeks of alcohol, more than Jaskier has ever smelled on him before. “I understand that the card--”

Your card.”

“Yes, okay, my card,” Damnable thing that it is. “Is important to you. We’ll get you another one.”

Geralt sighs, a full body movement before pressing against him more fully. With all the armor he insists on wearing, Jaskier feels himself tipping backwards, into the passable mattress. “Impossible. S’impossible.”

As much as Jaskier likes the image of being under Geralt, he can’t fucking breathe. He rolls the completely ridiculous man over. “I thought by now you would spit in the face of impossibility. I certainly do.” Jaskier doesn’t mention how often that gets him in trouble. He doesn’t need to either, as Geralt is often the one pulling him out of trouble. A wonderfully symbiotic relationship. If frustratingly platonic.

But that’s besides the point.

His witcher needs him now. That, and a bath.

“You stay here. Drink some water. Eat… I don’t know. That disgusting jerky you promise me is edible.” And because Jaskier is a veritable saint, he fishes out the jerky himself and lays it beside Geralt’s head. “Don’t you worry now. I’ll get the card back.”

“Jaskier.” Geralt says, his voice muffled by the blankets.

“What?”

“The Jaskier card.”

“Oh, for the love of—” Jaskier turns on his heel and decides not to be jealous of a bit of paper that does not share his likeness. Instead, he’s going to do what he does best: charm the fuck out of someone.

He stands at the top of the stairs and scans the lingering crowd until he zeros in on the smuggest witcher he has ever seen. And he’s seen Geralt after beheading a griffin with one clean blow.

Jaskier smiles and prepares to lay it on thick. This may be his toughest challenge yet. “Ah, Lambert!” He says. “I was just looking for you.”

*

"Listen, bard," he smirks, "I know what you're doing here and it's not going to work, so don't even try. Geralt lost that card in a fair match and I'm not going to just give it back to him because he's sulking."

Jaskier pouts, but the expression has no effect and Lambert just (downs the rest of his drink).

"I'm sure we could work something out," he hums, leaning over the table and smiling up at him. His cheeks get sore before Lambert even deigns to acknowledge him and then, it's only to mutter a sharp, no, before returning to his beer.

Lambert's found someone new to play against, and Jaskier considers his opponent for a moment. He's young, impressionable, could probably be persuaded away if Jaskier tried hard enough. And he's going to need Lambert's full attention for this. He slips into the seat next to the young man, leaning in a little too close and peering at his cards.

"Show me how to play?" he asks and the man grunts, but when he looks up at Jaskier, his frown shifts into a smile.

"Fennec," he smiles, and lifts an arm to make room for Jaskier to scooch closer and Jaskier smirks across the table at Lambert.

"Jaskier. A pleasure."

Jaskier pays little attention to the tutorial, then, when it's finished leans in to whisper in the man's ear. He feels a little bad for leading him on like this, but it's for a good cause.

"Meet me upstairs in five minutes. Third room on the right." The man tucks his cards back into their case, then slips from his seat, dragging a hand across Jaskier's shoulders as he goes. Jaskier waits until he's gone, then stares dead across the table at Lambert.

"So," he says, "about the card."

*

The game isn’t all that complex, when it comes down to it.

Three rows, ten cards to use across three rounds, one leader card. Goal: to get the most points in a round. Best two out of three. Simple.

He’d watched the game from before carefully, and the strategy seemed straightforward. Don’t use up all your cards in the early rounds unless you know you can win both of them. Be careful of laying down the highest value card or your opponent might scorch them. Get as many cards in your hand and on the board as possible.

Jaskier is a master of the Seven Liberal Arts, a professor from Oxenfurt, and a bard famous across the lands. He is an intellectual. This is a game that drunkards played for fun. Jaskier is confident that he can beat an already tipsy witcher.

He’s at a disadvantage, he knows, using basically no more than a starter deck. “It was my first,” Lambert says, sliding the cards across the table. They’re worn at the corners, some of them fraying. “Picked it up in Kaedwen off of some guy I beat in an arm wrestling contest.”

They draw their hands, and Lambert lays down the first of his bright green cards with a predatory grin.

Gwent, it turns out, is not as easy as it looks.

Jaskier feels confident through the first round, matching Lambert card for card. He’s thrown when Lambert sets down some sort of archer and immediately rummages through his deck for a matching one - “Muster,” Lambert says with a tweak of his eyebrow - but otherwise he feels like he’s keeping up. He saves his higher point cards, knowing he needs to be conservative. They get three cards deep each, Jaskier only one point behind, and Lambert says, “Pass.”

Jaskier blinks at him.

“That means it’s your turn.” Lambert is looking at him with an expression of triumph on his face, even as he takes another swig of Gull-spiked ale. He shouldn’t be allowed to look so smug when he’s clearly buzzed, Jaskier thinks. He grumbles as he cautiously lays down a four point close combat card, winning the round.

He feels like maybe it’s not the victory it seems like.

Jaskier tries to press his advantage, trying to win the second round so he doesn’t have to spread his last cards over two more rounds. His strategy quickly falls apart, however, when Lambert steals the spy card that Jaskier lays down on his side and plays it back at him, and then pulls out more of those damnable muster cards again. His deck is simply better, and he knows the cards in a way that Jaskier doesn’t. He flounders, and ends up passing with only two cards left over.

Lambert has spent all but two of his own cards to catch up to him, though. It could happen, Jaskier thinks desperately. If Lambert has a shit hand, Jaskier can win and get Geralt’s stupid fucking card back. Now that he’s so close, he realizes he really wants to. He doesn’t want the card, doesn’t even understand why Geralt wants it back so badly. But he thinks of how upset Geralt sounded, pressing his damp face to Jaskier’s chest. How genuinely hurt he’d seemed at the idea of losing the card. Jaskier’s card.

He wants it back. He wants to win.

He lays out his last two cards quickly, hoping against hope. Lambert lays out his first - a six pointer, but not enough to overcome Jaskier’s two fours. He holds his breath, waiting, and then he looks up. And Lambert is smiling, an eat shit grin that makes Jaskier slump in defeat even before the card is laid down.

His own face looks back at him with that insufferable expression.

“I win,” Lambert says, as smug as Jaskier’s likeness on the card he’s just played.

*

Jaskier weighs up his options, for a moment. He could wrestle the card from Lambert’s grasp: if he’s quick, he could simply launch himself across the table, and--

And what? He’s no more of a fighter than he is a gwent player, and Lambert has him beaten on both counts.

Yet… there’s plenty of other areas in which Jaskier has the upper hand.

“Fine,” says Jaskier, with a dramatic sigh. “You win. Loser buys the next round, I assume?”

Lambert peers at him. He’s already tidying away his deck, sliding away Jaskier’s card, that slappably smug look still on his face.

“Not going to chase after Geralt?”

Jaskier shrugs. “He’s… indisposed. I’d like to take this chance to get to know his brother without him…” he licks his lips, letting his gaze linger, “... breathing over us.” He pauses. “Honestly? Gwent doesn’t interest me.”

Lambert’s eyebrows rise, and for a moment Jaskier thinks he’s seen through him. But he smirks again, shoving the deck into an inner pocket.

“Alright,” he says, leaning back. “Your round.”

*

There’s a sharp, stabbing pain throbbing below Geralt’s left eye, sneaking up his forehead. On the pillow beside him are a few strips of the meat jerky. The smell makes his stomach lurch.

He swings himself up, and his head spins.

Jaskier. He’d been there a few minutes ago, but now he’s gone. The loss is like an ache in his chest, and for a moment he can’t remember why it hurts. He fuzzes through his memories, trying to find a place to hang that pain.

Jaskier. His soft, mumbling words. Ale, and white gull. Lambert. Gwent. Losing--

The card.

Geralt stumbles to his feet, and the floor suddenly heaves below him like the deck of a ship. He flings his arms out, steadying himself, then staggers out of the room. The stairs at the end of the corridor are a near-impossible challenge, but he somehow manages them, thinking only of the card. He needs to get Jaskier back.

He nearly misses the last step, crashing into a terrified looking drinker, and scans the dimly lit room.

There. Lambert, in the corner, that smug fucking expression on his face, swigging from his flask… and Jaskier. Jaskier, draped across him. Jaskier sitting in his lap, one of his dexterous hands placed against his chest, his fingers sliding beneath the hem of Lambert’s jacket, his bottom lip trapped between his teeth. As Geralt watches, unnoticed by both his bard and his brother, Jaskier laughs, and Lambert wraps an arm around him.

The card seems suddenly unimportant. Geralt remembers Lambert’s bragging after he’d refused to play again - I’ve got what I want, Geralt - and his words twist, taking on new meaning. There’s a sharp, sudden pain beneath his ribs, like his lungs are being crushed. The room is too loud, now, the floor swaying again. He’s pushing his way through the crowd before he can stop himself, and then he’s outside, the night air stinging against his flushed cheeks.

*

It’s nearly too easy to get Lambert drunk. Jaskier rarely finds himself having to encourage the witcher into another round. One detour to the bar and he has the barmaid convinced to make sure his own cup stays full of something far less strong while Lambert continues to lace his own with that homebrew the witchers somehow tolerate. Most of them at least, Geralt seemed to have been struggling.

When he returns to the table with yet another round, Lambert pulls Jaskier down into his lap and chuckles, going on about the first cockatrice he and his brothers faced. Jaskier can’t help but think of when Geralt had told him the story and how it wasn’t nearly as colorful.

As the night wears on, Jaskier slowly lets Lambert get used to his hands on his chest, his fingers inching towards the inside pocket, towards the deck of cards, towards his prize. All the while he keeps an eye on Lambert’s face, remotely wondering if all witchers are this stunning or is it just the Wolves.

For a moment, Lambert’s eyes slide from Jaskier’s face, then he’s back, smirking into a joke that Jaskier would actually find fairly amusing had he not just managed to slide his fingers into that inner pocket. A hand wraps around his wrist and suddenly the glazed amused look Lambert had been wearing falls away, replaced by that same smug look he had had when Jaskier approached him about the card in the first place.

“Ah ah, bard. Not so fast. Try it and it’s going to cost you,” his smile isn’t exactly what Jaskier would describe as unkind and there is something like satisfaction in the way Lambert tilts his head.

Jaskier’s stomach drops, a feeling of being caught that has nothing to do with the card that he can’t quite name but he can still feel the edge of the cards against his finger tips. “Name your price, witcher,” he shoots back, hoping he doesn’t reek of absolute anxiety.

“I don’t know if you’re willing to pay it,” Lambert releases his wrist but doesn't push Jaskier from his lap, his arm around his hips holding him securely.

“What is it, Lambert,” Jaskier huffs, still not pulling his hand away from the cards. He has no chance of actually getting them from the witcher he knows, but at least he could say he tried.

“Jaskier, if you want that card back so badly, you’re going to have to pay me,” Lambert raises an eyebrow, his prize well within reach it seems. “You’re going to have to tell me the truth.”

Jaskier nearly laughs, though from fear bubbling up in his throat or from the ridiculousness of it all. “The truth?” He nearly chokes.

“Why do you want that card so badly?” Lambert leans into his space now, the wolfish grin on his face predatory.

“I… what? I don’t? It’s for Geralt.” Jaskier pulls his hands back as if he’s been burned.

“And really think, bard, and think hard before you answer, why do you think that is?”

Jaskier looks away, looking back at the steps for a moment, thinking of Geralt, shaking his head in confusion. Why indeed?

*

The card's a poor likeness and Geralt treasures it more than he cares for Jaskier most days but it's...it's important to him. Geralt likes gwent, he likes his gwent cards, it only makes sense Geralt would be upset about losing it.

"It's gwent," Jaskier says carefully, as if that explains it. Lambert heaves a very put-upon sigh.

"Do you really think it's just about gwent, bard?" He quirks an eyebrow, hands settling pointedly on his hips to squeeze gently. Abruptly, Jaskier realizes what he's insinuating.

"Oh, oh, Lambert, it's not—" he gulps hard, shifting a little uncomfortably, "it's not like that," he finishes softly.

"Isn't it though?" he asks, his expression teasing but also more serious than it's been all night. "Would he have cared this much about any other card?"

"He...might...have..." he says slowly, knowing even as the words leave his lips they aren't true. He's seen Geralt lose matches before, seen him lose cards. It's usually no more than the shrug of a shoulder or a grouchy glower. On one memorable occasion, Jaskier remembers him full on pouting, but not...not anything like how he'd been when he burst into their shared room near tears.

"Really?" Lambert asks, disbelieving, "how can you both be this thick?"

"Excuse me, I—"

"No," Lambert says, hands tightening on Jaskier's waist, "no. He would not have been this upset over another card and you know that. Why, Jaskier? Why does it matter?"

"It's not like that," he bites out. Momentarily he hates Lambert, both for winning the card and for pushing this fool's fucking agenda. Nothing's going to come from this, it doesn't mean anything, even if Jaskier wishes it did.

"Alright," Lambert sighs, hard, "alright. I'm only gonna do this once, so listen," he sits up a little straighter, fishing his deck out of the inner pocket of his jerkin and tugging that fucking card free to wave in Jaskier's face. "Geralt cares because it's you."

"But that doesn't mean—"

"And he came down the stairs maybe ten minutes ago, saw you here," he tugs gently at Jaskier's hip where his other hand still rests, "and looked like I'd kicked his puppy before he rushed outside."

"What?" That doesn't...that doesn't make any sense. "He wouldn't have—"

"He wouldn't have what, bard? Wouldn't have cared?" Lambert just looks frustrated now. "If you'd had to listen to him every winter you wouldn't even question it. He's fucking hopelessly gone on you, you idiot."

"What?" Lambert blows out a heavy breath and tips his head back to stare at the timbers of the ceiling.

"Gods, you're both killing me." He levels Jaskier with a look, tapping the card along his own thigh, "he never shuts up about you."

"He—he what? Lambert, are we talking about the same Geralt?" That at least pulls a smirk out of him, something distinctly amused.

"Right? You'd think he'd brood all silent about it. It's fucking insufferable. It's always Jaskier this, Jaskier that," he lowers his voice in a mocking imitation of his brother, "You'll never guess what Jaskier did this year." Jaskier has to bite back the laugh that bubbles in his throat at the poor imitation.

"That sounds nothing like Geralt." Lambert just shakes his head.

"He's like this every winter, Jaskier. Put us all out of our misery, eh?" He hands the card to him, held gently between index and middle finger. Jaskier takes it gingerly, studying the shoddy artwork.

"What if you're wrong?" he asks, barely louder than a breath. He knows Lambert can hear him anyway.

"I'm not," he says firmly, "but if he's a dick about it, you can always sleep with me tonight." He wiggles his eyebrows in a manner Jaskier's sure is supposed to be enticing, but only makes him laugh.

"I'll keep that in mind."

*

Moonlight washes over Geralt’s skin. The street is deserted and he’s grateful for the cool air filling his lungs as he leans against the hard wall of the tavern, the sounds of muffled conversation and raucous laughter spilling from inside.

What he’d seen is still playing in slow-motion in his mind. He can’t quite believe it — he’s managed to lose Jaskier entirely to Lambert’s sticky hands. Ugh. He’d tried his best to keep him, to treasure him like he deserved, to save him from grabby hands who’d only smudge his edges and stain his face—

He’s also lost human Jaskier; real, master-of-the-seven-liberal-arts Jaskier. His bard. Geralt had been so focused on keeping the only version of Jaskier he thought himself deserving of, he hadn’t even realized his brother’s intentions, nor the bard’s. Seeing them pressed together, all wandering hands and easy smiles, only poked at that part of him that wondered if he’d ever be enough, if Jaskier would ever settle for him — seeing his brother and his friend wrapped around each other had been answer enough.

Geralt presses his forehead against the cool stone wall. Maybe he can still go in there, maybe he can convince Jaskier— the bard likes grand gestures, doesn’t he? He’s always calling Geralt heroic, and chivalrous — maybe he could check if there were any children trapped in a well? Any damsel waiting to be rescued? Maybe he’d be just in luck tonight and stop an assassination, a fire, a—

And for what? Jaskier’s already made his decision. Lambert will be better for him, anyway. Geralt reaches into his back pocket, where a small flask with the last of this season’s White Gull sits, and downs it with a wounded grunt. Oh, what will he do now? How is he supposed to be happy for his brother, to play the part and act supportive, if he’s taken all his hope away? He’ll have to move on quickly, avoid them at all costs, bury himself in as many contracts as he can — whatever it takes to forget the blue of Jaskier’s eyes, the pink-red of his cheeks, the way he smells when he’s happy and excited, the gentle sound of his heartbeat.

“Fuck,” he mouths at nothing.

Maybe, now that Lambert has the real one, he can get his card back — argue that it’s too valuable and should be sold, and that, if Jaskier will be traveling with him instead, Lambert won’t need the money anymore. If he gets the card back, it won’t be in his deck anymore — he’s not losing Jaskier twice — but he’ll keep it hidden away, instead. Safe and sound, as he should be.

It’s too much loss for one night. He can feel the drunkenness slowly edge away, and he considers going back inside and getting properly, thoroughly smashed, as is custom when one’s heart is broken and turned into dust — aside from catastrophically losing his hand to a rookie like Lambert.

“Ugh,” he says, kicking a pebble so hard it lands on the pond across the street. He sighs. “Stupid Lambert. Stupid game. Shouldn’t’ve come here— should’ve ridden straight into a river and just, just— floated down until I reached Skellige.”

He inhales deeply and, with a decisive grunt, turns around and heads for the tavern door. There are many bottles of wine waiting for him inside, and, if he’s careful and quiet, maybe he’ll avoid seeing his brother and — ugh — his brother in law.

He’s got his hand around the doorknob, about to march in and head for the bar, when the door opens abruptly.

*

Jaskier freezes in the doorway.

“What’re you doing here?” Geralt is swaying on his feet under the moonlight, looking pale and dizzied, his eyes stricken as he glances over Jaskier’s face, then away. “Don’t you have to get back to Lambert?”

“I got this for you,” Jaskier says, a sudden, tentative hope unfurling in his chest. He steps outside, letting the tavern door swing closed after him as he pulls out the card, seeing Geralt’s eyes focus blearily on it.

“How?” Geralt demands, reaching for it, only for Jaskier to pull back.

“You wouldn’t believe what I had to do for this,” Jaskier says ruefully, and Geralt’s expression grows dark.

“I’m gonna kill Lambert,” he growls.

“It was all me,” Jaskier says, shaking his head. “I couldn’t stand how sad you were, but now…” he glances at the card. “Now I think I’m a little jealous of it, after all.”

“Why?” Geralt asks, confused, and Jaskier thinks that it’s time to be a little bold, to call his bets and show his hand.

He closes the space between them, his fingers alighting tentatively on Geralt’s jacket, sliding the card into the small pocket just under his heart.

“Because that’s where I want to be,” Jaskier confesses quietly.

“Oh,” Geralt says, and Jaskier can see the exact moment when understanding dawns on his face.

Their first kiss under the moonlight makes Jaskier feel like he’s won it all.