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Their first meeting is remarkable only in the fact that they meet at all. Geralt sits in a dark corner of the tavern, drinking his swill, intentionally sat apart from the rest of the crowd. They cast him suspicious glances and hiss to each other about the Butcher of Blaviken, largely ignoring the bard except when they decide it’s time to throw food at him. The man in question only catches his attention when he stands at his table, rambling about something or other. If it were another day Geralt would ignore him or force him away under threat of violence. Something catches his attention, though. Under his bright clothes and puffy sleeves, Geralt can tell that there’s a whipcord strength hiding. The man himself looks exhausted but cheerful, with dark circles under his eyes as if he’s been up all night.

“Come on,” the bard says, tentative yet certain. Despite the many differences between them, Geralt recognizes the look in his eye— it’s one that says that he is not a man easily intimidated. “You don’t want to keep a man with bread in his pants waiting.”

 

 

“Unused, then?” Geralt asks. Jaskier slams his mouth shut and turns away in frosty silence, hearing the witcher huff out a laugh behind him. When Geralt goes off to hunt a bit later, Jaskier maturely sticks his tongue out at the witcher’s retreating back. He’s killed loads of people, okay, Geralt? For the first time, and not for the last, he curses the character he’s chosen. Why does he never play the tough guy?

“Oh, Roach,” Jaskier mutters some time later. He’s sitting above the horse’s head in an apple tree, buying her love by pulling the fruit down and offering her cut slices out of his hand. “Only you understand me.”

Roach huffs and tilts her head up to nibble at the knee of his trousers and he laughs quietly, offering her another slice. “Greedy,” he teases. “D’you know, I haven’t been able to climb a tree like this in ages. Nice to stretch the muscles once in a while. Almost makes me feel like a boring old human, stuck on the ground.”

They spend some time like that, horse and man, relaxing in the fading sun and sharing a snack until Geralt makes his way back with a brace of rabbits slung over his shoulder. Jaskier scrambles wildly and grips the trunk like he’s holding on for dear life just as the witcher turns to face him. “Oh, hello, Geralt!” he says with a squeak. “Lovely day to… be on the ground.”

The man looks at him for a long moment before closing his eyes in agitation. “Are you stuck,” he grumbles, barely a question.

“No,” Jaskier says hotly.

Geralt raises an eyebrow. Jaskier forces himself to blush. Geralt stares. Jaskier stares back. When the witcher finally rolls his eyes and turns away, Jaskier sticks his tongue out again before hollering, “I am capable of getting out of a tree, you know!” While he absolutely is for a number of reasons, he plays up the uncoordinated descent, crashing through the lower branches and falling loudly on his side in a way calculated to prevent bruising. He moans about it for half an hour until Geralt’s glares start to get a certain stabby edge to them and he's finally able to shut up.

 

 

When he looks away from the rooftops, Geralt casts his glance back over the alley. A dead man, a broken bottle of peppermint oil, and two daggers. The metal of them both shines in the moonlight as Geralt draws near, stooping to pick them up. He tucks his own neatly into the sheath at his hip. The other he ponders over for a moment. Made of silver and of decent quality, yet easily replaceable in a larger city, the dagger would have been completely unidentifiable had it not been for the tiny notch in the pommel. Geralt remembers it from when Jaskier clumsily shoved the knife back into his boot during the first of their travels together, scratching it on the buckle of his shoe. Despite the fact that he’d heard that Jaskier was in the area, the bard and the witcher do not cross paths. Word spreads of the dead man in the alley (“A wicked one,” he hears people saying. “Forced his own son to—”)  and the abrupt departure of the great bard Jaskier, too scared to remain after being robbed. When Geralt leaves the city, he takes the stolen dagger with him. 

 

 

Here’s how Jaskier gets his lovely new scar: a whorehouse owner hires him to kill a woman who’d stolen from him— not exactly high risk, high reward, but according to the man she’d seen fit to kill his daughter on the way out. Jaskier accepts the pay, tracks the woman down, and finds out that she’s pregnant and desperate to save the child, stealing only as a last resort to make her way out of Redania. A daughter, she laughs incredulously, ain’t never been left alive in that house. Jaskier, because he isn’t a murderous asshole and is only just a regular murderer, gives her his pay and makes his way back to the man who’d hired him. That is, the man who’d hired Jaskier.

“You Drusilla?” the man asks. He peers at Jaskier suspiciously with his one remaining eye, looking him up and down. When his lips pull back in a grimace, dull, black teeth poke out.

Jaskier, fully cloaked and charmed to hide his face and figure, only inclines his head. His hands itch to hold a dagger but he waits. He waits politely to kill this man who, according to the fleeing whore, has done plenty to get a well-deserved murder himself. He’s inclined to believe her.

The man spits at his feet before sneering up at him. “I hired one of your men to knock someone off and ain’t nothin’ been done about it. Bastard ran off with his payment and ain’t come back. Now, I’m gonna kill that little bard when I get my hands on him but I think it’s only fair that I get my coin back, hm?”

They’re in the alley behind the whorehouse just before dawn when most of the world should be asleep, but when the man snaps his fingers, doors all around start opening. There is a moment’s pause when Jaskier is still, testing his senses. Eight or nine men, fairly heavy gaits, no sound of weapons. Though it can’t be seen, he lets himself smile. Then he jumps into action, throwing daggers into throats and eyes. When his hands come away from his sheaths empty, he goes on the defensive with the rest, knocking away hands and tripping up legs, dislocating joints and snapping bones. When the lackeys are dead or collapsed into the filthy brick below his feet, Jaskier turns his attention back to the man who’d hired him.

He had picked a poor position, truly, Jaskier thinks as he stalks forward. The man had willingly allowed himself to be tucked into a dead-end alley with an assassin, thinking that his untrained muscle stood even the slightest chance! The bastard, now white as a sheet, is holding one wavering hand out in front of him and pleading frantically. Jaskier approaches him slowly, drawing it out, relishing in the terror on the man’s face (he’d never pretended to be a good man). When Jaskier is within reach to snap his neck, the man lashes out suddenly with a dagger and slashes him across the forehead, narrowly missing the bard’s right eye. He grunts in pain (very Geralty) but the charm that covers his face blocks any sound. To the man who’d just attacked him, all he can see is his dagger sinking into darkness with no reaction. Jaskier disarms him quickly.

“Melitele’s tits,” the sack of shit is gasping. The whites of his eyes are flashing rapidly like a wild horse. “You ain’t got no face! You—”

Jaskier slits his throat, spits on his corpse, and leaves.

 

The cut’s all nice and healed by the next time he sees Geralt, despite the man’s silent fussing. When the witcher crowds Jaskier into the tavern, ignoring his rambling about what he’d gotten up to during their time apart, the hand clasped around the base of his neck is only at about eighty percent strength. He is absolutely calling that a win! There’s something a bit weird about the witcher’s eyes whenever he looks at Jaskier, though. Did he—? No, Jaskier tells himself firmly. He did not see through the charm.

Once they’re settled at a table and have both ordered their ale and dinner, the bard’s rambling is interrupted by Geralt abruptly tossing Jaskier’s dagger onto the table. He freezes for a moment but forces himself not to outwardly react with anything but confusion, letting his eyebrows draw together as he asks, “Is that—?”

Geralt grunts in affirmation and Jaskier lights up. “Where did you find it?” he asks happily, snatching it off of the old wooden table. “Oh, my beauty, I’ve missed you!”

“Found it in an alley,” the witcher says. Jaskier’s paranoia soars as he feels the man’s yellow eyes fall on his face. Work through it, he tells himself.

“An alley?” he asks in disgust. “Those people wouldn’t know quality if it bit them in the ass, even if this dagger did stab them in it.”

Geralt snorts quietly and Jaskier beams at him until he says, “It was used to kill a man.”

Jaskier lets his face go a bit tight as he looks at the dagger askance, dangling it between two fingers as if he’s afraid to touch it. “... I see.”

At that, Geralt laughs again. “What happened to no one crossing that dagger and living to tell the tale, hm?”

“Well,” Jaskier says haughtily. “Roach and I can both attest to its apple killing abilities.”

They drink. They kiss. They fall into bed.

 

 

He’d gotten caught up in his conversation with Mousesack at the ball, pleasantly surprised to have the chance to talk with his old friend again. Because of that, it takes him a while to remember to watch for Jaskier. When he casts his eye across the vast room, filled with people, he finds no brown-haired bard. His spine straightens a bit, remembering the confrontation from earlier, but before he becomes too alarmed he spots the man in question slipping back into the room from a servants’ door hidden in the wall. The man strikes up a song almost immediately, something dirty and full of his favorite limericks, just as Queen Calanthe re-enters, dressed in her finest gown. Geralt lets himself relax when Jaskier catches his eye and tosses him a wink, wiggling his tongue at a line about a loose woman. When Geralt turns back to Mousesack, the man is smiling.

“What?” the witcher grunts. If he were human, it would have sounded defensive.

“Nothing, old friend,” the mage replies. His eyes are laughing. “Be careful with bards, that’s all. They’ll put song in your ear as soon as they put poison in your wine, as the old saying goes.”

“Jaskier?” Geralt asks with a raised brow and a tiny smile. “He’d sooner poison himself.”

 

 

When Geralt and Calanthe cross swords, Jaskier shifts in agitation, enough to catch the queen’s eye. Although normal procedure requires the completion of the contract before the favor can be granted, he taps his forefinger twice against the side of his nose. Favor, it says. This one, it says. Stand down, it says. Calanthe knows him, knows his reputation, knows the cost of crossing a Friend of Drusilla. She grits her teeth, eyes aflame, and yells, “Stop. Stop !”

 

 

“Geralt,” Yennefer asks quite suddenly. He’s currently fighting off three drowners, so to say that he hadn’t expected her to step through a portal months after they’d met over the djinn is a bit of an understatement. “Where can I find your bard? I need his help with something.”

“Now?” he asks gruffly, beheading one of the creatures. Another shrieks and lunges at him. “Really, Yen?”

“Yes, now,” she says impatiently. If he’d time to cast a look behind him, he’s almost certain he’d catch her tapping her foot. “I need information and I’m told that he’s the one to ask.”

At this, he does look over. The woman is examining her nails in the scant light filtering through the dense tree cover, ignoring the drowner that lunges at her except to flick one wrist and send it flying back into the water. “What information could you need from a bard ?”

“That’s between he and I, hm?” She peers at him closely for a moment before saying, “Ah, the gala. Thank you so much for your help, witcher.”

She vanishes as quickly as she’d come and he swears under his breath. He hates when she sticks her fingers in his brain.

 

 

When the time comes to hunt an actual dragon, Jaskier oversleeps. He oversleeps because his brain has somehow rewired itself to trust Geralt to keep him safe whenever they’re together, something that isn’t necessarily suited to his current lifestyle of, you know, murdering people. Even despite the fight they’d gotten into earlier his brain refuses to do anything but trust the damn witcher.  And it hadn’t even been a fight, had it? Geralt had asked what Yen had wanted from him and Jaskier had declined to say and they’d stared at each other for a bit, moodily, and then fucked in the tavern before they climbed the mountain. They’d kept close on the way up, so close, with Geralt’s eyes rarely straying from the bard, and Jaskier had felt full up with love and absolutely sick with guilt.

Not for the first time he thinks about the hole he’s dug himself into, Jaskier and Jaskier, the man and the character both. They’re too far along for him to tell the truth, it seems, and that settles heavily in his gut while he scrambles up the mountain. Geralt has come to care for the outspoken bard who loves ardently and lives clumsily— could he love a murderer? A liar? He sprints past the dwarves, semi-frozen due to Yen’s magic, presumably, and reaches the peak in time to blowdart a man in the eye who’d been sneaking up on Geralt’s blind spot. The attacker goes down with the dart lodged firmly in his brain and hidden from sight. If Yen notices, she doesn’t comment, and he tucks his weapon away in time for the big fight, Yen’s dramatic exit, and Geralt closing the distance.

“The Coast?” Geralt asks, and Jaskier smiles. The sun on the hills is beautiful and the man he just might love is cradling his face and for the life of him, Jaskier swears he’s never felt like this before. Despite it all, he keeps his grip on Geralt’s wrists so that the man can’t run his hands over the bard’s back to pull him in close. While he craves the proximity, the hollow tube he used to kill a man moments ago is hidden there, just along his spine. Geralt’s thumb brushes over Jaskier’s cheekbone and he does what he does best— he acts happy.

 

 

At the foot of the mountain, Geralt pretends he doesn’t notice Jaskier slipping their last roll into the little girl’s pocket. When the bard makes his dramatic exit after passing over his ale, the witcher sits by himself and thinks. Something had been off with the bard while they’d made their way back down the mountain. Geralt had kept turning his head to check on him only to find the bard looking quickly away. He’d looked guilty, but the witcher wasn’t sure why. Maybe he blames himself for Geralt’s fight with Yen? Or maybe, it dawns on him, he feels guilty for not telling Geralt what Yen had wanted from him at the gala. They hadn’t had time to talk about it on the way up the mountain, surrounded as they had been by other people, and any time he’d thought to bring it up when they’d been apart from the group, Yen had miraculously cut in. Geralt watches the door for close to an hour until the owner’s sour glances grow in both frequency and duration. He pays their tab, climbs the stairs to their room, and settles down to wait for the bard’s return.

 

 

“Well, fuck,” Jaskier says to himself, abruptly exhausted.  Bodies lay on the cobblestone around his feet and he sways in place, half delirious. His eyes catch a man sprinting away, one of the damned lackeys of the damned whorehouse owner, one that he’d stupidly let live. Your boss killed our boss, one of them had said, so we’re taking our due. The others had been apprentices at Oxenfurt, the three tiny red stitches in the hoods of their black cloaks indicating their rank, a glaring example of how little the Academy values its students. And then the fighting and the stabbing and the— oh, that’s right! “I got stabbed?” he asks the corpses. They’d jumped him, hadn’t they? He wasn’t quite sure anymore. He should have known it was a trap. Stupid.

He stumbles away from the scene, heading vaguely in the direction of the inn, heading to Geralt. Geralt could help, would help, would kill anyone who hurt Jaskier. He smiles a bit at that thought and then rather abruptly passes out against a random storefront. He wakes an indeterminate amount of time later when the shopkeep throws a bucket of water over him and shouts him away. Someone screams from the direction of the square, so he doubts that too much time has passed. His dagger is still dripping, dripping… His insides seize when he realizes that people know that Jaskier and Geralt came together, that they’re sharing a room

He runs.

Once he makes it back to Geralt and he’s killed another man and they’ve escaped the town on Roach, Geralt stops them to make camp and forces Jaskier to sit against a tree so he can dress his wounds. Banged up fingers, stab to the abdomen, a broken nose, black eye, and a few bruises. “Nothing major,” Jaskier mumbles, half asleep with Geralt’s gentle hands on his skin. Even while mostly unconscious he can feel the witcher’s heavy gaze darting over his face. He won’t open his good eye because he knows that if he does he’ll find Geralt looking him over like he’s a stranger. The silence indicates that the other man is carefully deciding what to ask him and in what order.

“How long,” is what he settles on. It’s barely a question and even though Jaskier has been coaching him on emoting, he lets it slide.

“On my own? About a decade, give or take. I don’t usually count the apprenticeship,” he says. He decides abruptly that now would be the time to look, to see the disgust on Geralt’s face. When he cracks open his one good eye though, the witcher’s gaze is steady and overwhelmingly neutral. In many ways, that’s worse.

“Did you… want that?” Geralt asks carefully, and his eyes are glancing back and forth across Jaskier’s face like he’s trying to relearn him, put Jaskier and Jaskier together to see how they fit.

“I didn’t choose it if that’s what you’re asking,” he responds. His eye closes again, one small way to stay safe. “I could have left, though. I could have tried to run or let myself die during training—”

He cuts himself off when Geralt’s hand spasms against his side, clearing his throat against the pain. Geralt makes an apologetic noise and ties off the bandage before settling back on his haunches.

“The man in the alley,” Geralt says slowly. “That was you.”

Jaskier doesn’t answer. He doesn’t need to.

“The peppermint was a good idea,” the witcher says. When Jaskier peeks again, he’s smiling a little. “Good aim with the knife, too.”

“You don’t care that I killed a man in front of you?” Jaskier asks incredulously, fully opening his eye. “You don’t care that I’ve been lying to you basically the entire time we’ve known each other?” He realizes that he’s tearing up and he cuts his gaze away, trying to choke the emotion back down. 

One big hand brings his face forward again. “Stop,” Geralt orders, staring him down. “Stop acting.”

“I didn’t want to lie,” Jaskier chokes out. Tears tumble down his face and his cheeks burn in embarrassment— he’s abruptly aware that Geralt has never seen him cry. One hand reaches out and stops short, unsure if the touch would be welcome. Geralt grabs it and tangles their fingers together. “I didn’t want to but that’s the game. And then I had to keep you safe, once they figured out I’d gone rogue.”

“I know,” Geralt says nonsensically. He leans forward to bring their foreheads together, allowing them both to just exist in a shared space. His thumb brushes over Jaskier’s cheekbone, its favorite place to be, slow and calming. “I believe you.”

Jaskier screws up his face and then takes the plunge. “I love you,” he says, and Geralt kisses him in the next moment.

A few weeks later, Jaskier tucks a note under the neck of Geralt’s tunic, weaves a few yellow flowers into Roach’s mane, and sets off to burn the bardic order to the ground.

 

 

“A favor?” Yennefer had asked with a laugh. “What shall it be, bard? Wealth, beauty, eternal life?”

Jaskier swayed in place as she watched, shaking his head a bit to pull himself together. He’d done well— shockingly well. He’d killed nearly a dozen men guarding a supposedly abandoned fortress, some almost thrice his size, and had kept them quite occupied while she worked her magic to break the spell that had been cast over the place. Of course, she would have been able to handle it herself, but she did hate when her dresses tore during a fight. Besides, the bard had been a work of art in the field, a blur of motion she’d only seen before from witchers and elves.

“Though,” she went on, “I suppose you won’t be needed any assistance with the length of your life, hm?” He shot her a glare and she stared evenly back. “The favor?” she asked again, impatiently.

“Geralt claimed the law of surprise some time back,” the bard had said. She’d been taken off guard enough to raise a brow, just slightly. “When the time comes, he’ll need help collecting it.”

“Can he not collect it himself?” she’d asked curiously. She remembered the discussion she and the witcher had had in the bedroom of the mayor’s home (“Just a friend, I hope?”) and watched Jaskier a bit more closely.

“If Cintra falls,” the bard said doggedly, color slowly coming back to his skin. “He will need your help to claim the law of surprise. That is what I ask of you.”

She considered him for a long moment before nodding her head slightly. He exhaled as if he’d expected a fight. “And when shall I be expected to do this?”

“You’ll know,” he said with half a smile. “And I’m sure Geralt will be there as well. He does attract trouble.”

Her lips quirked and she gave a quiet little laugh. When he stood from the table, testing whether or not his legs will hold him, she had conjured a bottle to pass over and opened a portal. “Until next time, little flower.” He shot her a sour glance that made her laugh again before giving a jaunty salute and passing through. When the portal closed, she stared at the space where it had been, thinking.

 

 

While Geralt makes his way back to Cintra, back to claim the child surprise, he hears news of a plague. Not one of boils and fevers but one of quiet deaths in the night. Peasants and royals alike fall asleep and do not wake up, whether due to blade or poison or something unknown. None seem to have any connection to each other whatsoever. The latest and most curious, perhaps, is the headmaster of Oxenfurt Academy, known for his work in training a new generation of bards in the classical arts. A good man to have as a friend, people whisper as Geralt passes through town after city after town.

“I hear he had a nasty temper,” a barmaid says to him one night. She’s leaning in close, obviously hoping to take the fabled Geralt of Rivia to bed. When he only grunts in response, she leans in closer. “People say he could make ‘is apprentices disappear if they weren’t up to snuff.”

At that, he raises his gaze. Pleased to have caught his attention, she rushes on. “He’d send ‘em half across the Continent. Never allowed ‘em back in Oxenfurt and never seen again, people say!”

“Oxenfurt?” Geralt asks.

“Oh, yes,” the woman says with relish. “Same place that bard Jaskier trained, I hear!”

 

 

Nilfgaard marches on Cintra and Yennefer knows that the moment to pay off her debt has arrived. Before she’s able to summon a portal, a carrier pigeon flies through the window of her shop in Vengerberg and lands with a coo on her outstretched hand. She unties the note and waves her hand to shoo the bird out before unrolling the message. In horrific handwriting, Jaskier tells her what she already knows: Cintra will fall and her favor is due. Below he has drawn a crude dandelion next to a small rune written in Elder. When she pressed her finger to it, his voice echoes in her head. He’s sorry, he says, but he, too, has performed a favor long past due. Her sister Fringilla has been killed under contract to Queen Calanthe, having forced mages into servitude, having been practicing black magic. She shivers and closes her eyes for only a moment.

“Also, Yen,” his voice says. “I might need one last favor.”

 

 

He takes her to Kaer Morhen, perhaps the only place where she might be safe from the war. Cirilla is nervous, surely, to be in a new place surrounded by strangers, but what she’s seen on the road during their travels has hardened her. Where she may have been outspoken like Jaskier once (He’s safe, he thinks, he must be safe), now she is nearly silent, a ghost walking the halls. She says please and thank you, yes and no. The only question she asks outright is if Geralt will teach her how to fight. She asks with her eyes stuck to the tips of her boots, refusing to look up. He agrees and doesn’t ask why— he knows already.

It’s been almost a month since they arrived at Kaer Morhen, nearly a year since he’s last seen Jaskier, when he steps out of the dining hall and hears Yennefer call his name. He’s off like a shot, smelling blood in the air, and as he rounds a corner he sees her standing in front of a closing portal, holding Jaskier. The bard is slumped against her side, bleeding freely from his mouth and from the several arrows protruding from his torso. He’s there in a moment, a moment that takes too long, and presses his hands desperately to Jaskier’s face, tilting his head back. He smiles with bloody teeth before his eyes roll back in his head and he falls unconscious.

“Geralt,” Yennefer says. It’s probably not the first time she’s uttered his name. When he tears his gaze away, she pins him down with her eyes. “The arrows first, then the healing.”

Together, they carry Jaskier down one hall, two, three, Geralt damning the size of the place every moment, until they finally arrive at the infirmary. He clears a table with a sweep of one arm before lifting Jaskier gently to lay him atop it. The bard’s head rolls loosely and he wheezes as if the djinn has come back for another attempt on his life. The arrows are oddly designed, smooth at the tip rather than topped with a traditional arrowhead, meaning that Geralt only has to pull them back out rather than push them through. Despite the pain, Jaskier makes no sound on the table except for his ragged attempt at breath.

“Geralt?” Ciri asks from the doorway, concerned.

“A bucket of water, Ciri,” he asks. If he were more aware, he would recognize that it sounds like a plea. Yen flicks her wrist to start a blaze in the fireplace as Ciri dashes off and is back in what seems to be only a moment.

“I want to help,” the child says stubbornly. She does not look down at her boots. She looks him straight in the eye and she asks, “What can I do?”

 

Later, when Jaskier’s most grievous wounds have been healed, when he’s safely asleep and after Yen has left for Vengerberg once more, Ciri and Geralt sit against the door to Jaskier’s room, closing him in from the world.

“He used to come to court,” Ciri says out of nowhere. Geralt leaves his gaze on Jaskier’s chest, rising and falling. “He was always nice. He’d play knucklebones if he had the time.”

Like that, the dam that has held the girl silent seems to break. As they watch him sleep, Ciri tells Geralt of the times that Jaskier would visit Cintra. The pranks they played on lesser nobles, how she would sometimes catch him singing and dancing with the servants in the kitchen, the time when a man had tried to kill her and Jaskier had shielded her with his own body. From there she talks about her grandmother and her friends. They trade stories about Mousesack, and as Ciri laughs softly for the first time since he’s known her, all Geralt can do is offer her a smile.

“He wrote me a song once, too,” she says, just on the edge of sunrise. She is heavy with sleep and leaning into his side and he carefully does not move.

When she doesn’t go on, he asks, “What song?”

She laughs softly and presses closer. “The Wolf and the Lion Cub.”

 

Two days later, Ciri calls his name. Her voice echoes loudly through the halls, as does the heavy wooden door to Jaskier’s room banging open. When they meet in the hall she laughs. “He’s awake! Go see him!”

Geralt sweeps into the room to see Jaskier’s furrowed brow, heartbreakingly familiar, and when the witcher reaches his side, he smooths a hand over his forehead. He kisses the scar under his eye. They speak only for a minute before Jaskier is pulled back to sleep, one hand still tangled in the witcher’s hair. Geralt presses closer to Jaskier’s pulse point, breathing him in, finally home after home has been gone for so long. He brushes his thumb over Jaskier’s cheek. He breathes.

In the silence of the room, he says, “I love you, Jaskier.”

Ciri, hiding at the door, smiles.