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whisper a dangerous secret to someone you care about

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Geralt’s hair is a bit longer than usual, though Jaskier only notices because the other just pulled out the leather tie holding it back and started hacking off hunks of it with a convenient knife on the other side of their campsite.

“Oh my gods, Geralt, please let me do that,” he says, physically pained to watch. He’s seen Geralt do some merciless things to his hair before, but that’s merciless.

“Hn,” Geralt says. Jaskier takes the knife from him and eyes it dubiously. It’s sharp, at least. Doesn’t strike him as the ideal cutting implement for a haircut, though.

“First of all, we’re putting this away,” he says, finding the hidden sheath it came from and tucking it back into it. “I have actual scissors.”

Geralt gives him this look like he’s some kind of an idiot, and Jaskier sighs.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he says. “Come on, sit down and let me at it.”

Geralt sits. Jaskier retrieves his pack, then comes back over and stands behind him. Geralt is tense, probably because he doesn’t like people standing behind him, but Jaskier isn’t exactly a threat and expects it’ll pass soon enough. He pulls out his comb and pulls it through Geralt’s slightly-hacked hair, and Geralt makes an odd noise, turning his head.

“Mm?” Jaskier says distractedly, chasing a knot with his comb.

“You don’t have to do that,” Geralt says stiffly.

“Yes I do, otherwise it’s going to be all knotted-up and the cut won’t come out even,” Jaskier says disapprovingly. “Really, Geralt, you’re a grown man, don’t you know how to take care of your own hair?”

“Hn.” Geralt looks away. Jaskier combs out the knots, mollified by the other’s lack of protest. Geralt has rather nice hair, actually, given that he washes it with soap instead of shampoo and apparently only cuts it with knives. Maybe that’s a Witcher thing. The hair being nice, he means, not the cutting it with knives thing.

Probably the cutting it with knives thing is a Witcher thing, but Jaskier will hold out some hope for the rest of them and just assume Geralt’s a special case.

“How short do you want it?” he asks as he puts his comb aside.

“It doesn’t matter,” Geralt says. Jaskier raises an eyebrow, not believing that at all, but takes him at his word, gets out his scissors, and carefully measures. Geralt took off a good chunk, and actually not particularly crookedly, so Jaskier decides he’ll just work from there and starts snipping. He keeps it as long as possible, because really, long hair suits Geralt rather well.

No reason to spoil a good thing, after all.

“Give me the tie,” Jaskier orders when he’s done, brushing bits of hair off Geralt’s armor. Geralt hands it over grudgingly. Jaskier pulls his comb through his hair one last time, then starts braiding it so he’ll have an easier time dusting off the rest of the loose hair.

“What are you doing,” Geralt says.

“It’s a braid, Geralt,” Jaskier says. “You have heard of braids before, yes?”

“You’re an idiot,” Geralt says, leaning away from him. Jaskier barely keeps his grip on his hair.

“Hey!” he protests. “I’m being practical here, stop fidgeting!”

“Fidgeting,” Geralt says incredulously, turning his head just enough to stare at him. Jaskier shifts to the side so he can finish braiding without the damn thing ending up crooked.

“Yes, fidgeting,” he huffs, tying it off. “Honestly, be a little grateful for once.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Geralt says. Jaskier ignores him and dusts off the rest of the hair. The braid looks rather nice, if he does say so himself, so he doesn’t bother pulling out the tie. No reason to spoil a good thing, again.

“There we go, all done,” he says, satisfied with his work. Geralt glares at him.

“I cannot fucking believe you braided my hair,” he says. “Are you a damn child?”

“It looks nice, actually,” Jaskier says. Geralt stares at him. “What, it does!”

“You’re ridiculous,” Geralt says, and pulls it out. Jaskier makes a disappointed noise; Geralt glares at him again.

“Take a compliment for once in your life, why don’t you,” Jaskier says, folding his arms.

Geralt growls at him, then stands up and shakes out his hair before tying it back into the usual half-ponytail. Jaskier misses the sight of the back of his neck, which is a thing he will never say aloud ever, because he does have some survival instinct.

Geralt stalks to the other side of camp, as if Jaskier’s going to grab his hair again or something, and Jaskier sighs.

It really did look nice.

Geralt stays a full six feet from Jaskier for the rest of the night, which Jaskier finds mildly insulting but resigns himself to putting up with. Sometimes Geralt is less a wolf and more a cat, and all one can do is wait for him to get over whatever it is he’s fussed about this time.

He talks the other’s ear off in a little act of vengeance, and Geralt grunts and glowers a lot. Jaskier does not care in the slightest. It’s a night like any other, aside from the drastic increase in Geralt’s personal space.

Jaskier tries not to think about the back of his neck, but it’s . . . difficult.

Very difficult.

“Would you shut up already?” Geralt says from the other side of the campfire.

“Unlikely,” Jaskier says. Geralt growls at him, not for the first time of the day. “What, I’m just being honest.”

“I’m going to the river,” Geralt says, getting to his feet.

“In the dark?” Jaskier says incredulously. “What for?”

“Whatever I damn well please,” Geralt says, and stalks off. Jaskier sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He really doesn’t know what’s put the other in such a sour mood tonight. He was perfectly fine this morning.

Well, as fine as Geralt gets without involving ale or women or some combination of the two. But he digresses.

Geralt stays gone for a concerningly long time, and Jaskier begins to worry. Well, not worry—it is Geralt, after all—but something like it. Geralt absolutely would wander off and get attacked by something and then not bother coming back for an hour; that is exactly the kind of thing that Geralt would do.

Also, Jaskier is very bored now.

Very, very bored.

“Damned witcher,” he mutters to himself, and then Geralt walks into the campsite and Jaskier blinks at him in surprise. His hair is braided again. “Geralt?”

Geralt looks at him for a moment, then smiles.

Well. That’s definitely not Geralt.

“Jaskier,” not-Geralt says. Jaskier debates just running for it, but doubts he’d get far. They’re in a forest in the dark; he’d trip and break his neck for sure. There’s nothing smarter he can do, though, and Geralt’s smile widens in a distinctly predatory way, as if he already knows that Jaskier knows he’s . . . whatever he is.

Not Geralt, for certain.

“Why did you braid your hair again?” Jaskier says, just to see what not-Geralt will say. And who knows, maybe not-Geralt likes playing with their prey and it’ll buy him a minute or two.

“I like it,” not-Geralt says. He crosses the campsite to Jaskier’s side, and Jaskier pretends his hackles aren’t rising. “Jaskier.”

“That would be my name, yes,” Jaskier says, and not-Geralt reaches out with a hand to cup his face, which is just unfair of them, Jaskier thinks. They’re not even trying to act like Geralt. They’re not even pretending to try.

He’s absolutely going to die like this.

How embarrassing.

“Of course it is,” not-Geralt says, tipping his head back. Jaskier barely keeps his mouth from twisting. There’s definitely some kind of game here, and the moment he stops playing it he’s sure he’s getting a sword in his gut.

“I’m glad we’re in agreement, then,” he says with forced levity. Not-Geralt tips his head back even further and looks down at him with glittering yellow eyes, tracing a thumb across his cheekbone.

“We are, aren’t we, Jaskier,” not-Geralt says, smiling that predatory smile again.

Jaskier really wishes he had a blunt instrument.

Not-Geralt leans down and kisses him. Jaskier would knee them in the balls, but they’re wearing armor, of course. He almost just bites them instead, but in retrospect that would probably count as not playing the game anymore. It’s not a bad kiss, except for the part where it’s making him want to throw up.

Not-Geralt leans back just enough to smile at him. Jaskier expects a dagger in his stomach any second now.

“What was that for?” he says.

“I wanted to,” not-Geralt says tenderly. “Don’t you know how long I’ve wanted to?”

“Oh, fuck you,” Jaskier says, and shoves them back. Not-Geralt laughs, then lunges forward and grabs his wrists. They’re much stronger than him, which might be because they’re shaped like Geralt and might be because they’re some sort of horrible shapeshifter or illusionist or . . . whatever they are. Jaskier doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to play this fucking game.

“Is that all you’ve got, Jaskier?” not-Geralt taunts as Jaskier struggles—and fails—to pull out of their grip. Their smile turns into a smirk. “Not very impressive.”

“I don’t recall trying to impress anyone!” Jaskier snaps. “Let go, you bastard!”

“Haven’t you wanted her to hold you, though?” not-Geralt says, squeezing his wrists tight. It hurts a bit, actually. “You’ve thought about it so many times.”

“I really don’t see how that’s any of your business!” Jaskier says hotly. Honestly, if he’s going to get killed, at least they could just do it.

“This is the closest to that you’re ever going to get,” not-Geralt says in that tender voice from before. Jaskier thinks about headbutting them, and then they immediately do it to him, quick and sharp. Not hard enough to hurt, but definitely hard enough to convince him he’s not going to be able to think of a damn thing they don’t know he’s thinking of. “Took you long enough to figure that one out.”

“It wasn’t exactly difficult,” Jaskier says. Not-Geralt laughs at him, then shoves forward and pushes him off the felled tree he’s been sitting on so he hits the mast and dirt of the forest floor on his back. Not-Geralt follows him down, weighing him down into it, and Jaskier struggles again. “Get off!”

“Mmm, no, I don’t think so,” not-Geralt says, and kisses him again. This time Jaskier bites them, but they just laugh again. “Oh, Jaskier, you taste so sweet. Is it what you hoped for?”

“GERALT!” Jaskier yells.

“She’ll never give it to you, you know,” not-Geralt says, squeezing his wrists tighter again. “She doesn’t have it in her.”

“Get off, get off, get off!” Jaskier says furiously, struggling harder. He hates how this feels, the helplessness of being pinned down on his back like this like a damn butterfly on a board, and especially hates how obviously not-Geralt is enjoying it.

He doesn’t even know what they’re talking about.

Not-Geralt kisses him again, letting go of his wrists to grab at his body instead, and Jaskier tries to shove them off to no avail. He bites their mouth to the blood, and they shove their hands inside his doublet and under his shirt and fucking laugh.

“Don’t worry, Jaskier. I’ll give you what you want,” they tell him gloatingly, and Jaskier absolutely despises them, whatever or whoever they are. He tries to shove them off again and they weigh him down heavier and smirk at him with Geralt’s face and he swears if they do that for one second longer or touch him one more place he’s going to scream

Then their back bursts into violet flames, and then they’re the one screaming, throwing themselves into the dirt in an attempt to smother the flames. Jaskier jerks up, gasping for breath, and finds a bemused-looking Yennefer standing on the edge of the clearing in a long velvet cloak, one hand held up. Not-Geralt is still screaming and thrashing and burning, but Jaskier can’t quite . . . focus, he thinks.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Yennefer demands.

“I don’t know?” Jaskier manages inanely.

“Not you, Jaskier!” she says. Not-Geralt pants in pain on the ground, the flames on their back sizzling out. Jaskier can smell cooked meat.

“Yen,” not-Geralt tries, and Yennefer’s expression darkens.

“Never mind,” she says. “I don’t care.”

Fire bursts out of her outstretched palm and not-Geralt goes up in flames. Jaskier screws his eyes shut against the too-bright intensity of it, and also against seeing Geralt’s body convulsing in agony like that. He can’t keep from hearing Geralt’s voice screaming, though.

He keeps his eyes shut until the screaming stops.

It takes a while.

“You can look now,” Yennefer says eventually.

“I’d rather not,” Jaskier says, still feeling distant and strange.

“There’s no body left,” Yennefer says.

“That isn’t comforting, Yennefer!” Jaskier hisses, but he does open his eyes. There’s smoke in the air and ash in the dirt, but Yennefer wasn’t lying; there’s no body.

“What was that thing?” she says.

“I was really hoping you’d know,” Jaskier replies weakly.

“Where’s Geralt?” she says.

“I don’t know,” he says, trying to get to his feet. He feels almost like he’s drunk, and barely manages it.

“Dammit,” Yennefer says, turning her back on him and vanishing into the trees with a swish of her cloak. Jaskier rushes after her, an irrational panic swelling in his throat. He just—he needs to keep her in his sights. “Where did he go?”

“To the river, he said,” Jaskier says, resisting the very stupid urge to cling to Yennefer’s cloak. He’s not a damn infant. “It’s west.”

“He’d damn well better not be dead,” Yennefer mutters, and they head west. Jaskier feels nauseous and dizzy and a bit lightheaded, which is really . . . which is a lot. He’s had much closer near-death experiences, but somehow he feels much worse than the usual aftermath.

“Yennefer,” he says. She stops and looks back at him with a strange expression. If he didn’t know better, he might think it was some variation of concern.

“What did it do to you?” she says.

“Nothing,” Jaskier says, like there’s not blood on his mouth and his clothes aren’t a rumpled mess and . . . and . . .

“Keep up,” Yennefer says, then grabs his arm and drags him after her and the rest of the way to the river, where there’s no sign of Geralt. “Geralt! Where are you?!”

Jaskier looks around. Yennefer looks more aggressively. There’s still no sign of him, but—

“Do you hear that?” Jaskier asks. There’s some sort of . . . growling, or grunting?

“Yes,” Yennefer says, and drags him towards it and back into the heavy shadows of the trees.

They find Geralt tied to a tree with a bruised forehead and a gag in his mouth, struggling against the ropes holding him. His expression sharpens when he sees them and he struggles harder.

“Geralt!” Jaskier says in relief as Yennefer lets go of his arm, tension he hadn’t realized he was carrying flowing out of him.

“Good, you’re alive,” Yennefer says, leaning down to untie the gag. Geralt spits it out.

“There’s a—” he starts.

“Scary shapeshifting thing, yes, we know,” Jaskier says. “We’ve met, more specifically.”

“It’s dead,” Yennefer informs him, and Geralt relaxes. At least, as much as Geralt ever relaxes.

“They looked like you,” Jaskier says as he kneels next to Geralt and pulls out one of the other’s hidden knives to start hacking at the ropes with, which is a bit of a stupid thing to say because who else would they have looked like, exactly? “Which I find ridiculous, since I can’t imagine a shape less likely to earn your mercy.”

"You’re bleeding," Geralt says, tensing again. Jaskier just concentrates on the ropes.

“It’s not my blood,” he says.

“On your mouth?” Geralt says. Jaskier concentrates very hard on the ropes.

“I bit them,” he says.

“What?” Geralt says. The ropes fall apart and fall off him. Jaskier puts the knife back in its holster for him, then wipes at his mouth.

“It attacked him,” Yennefer says. “I found them fighting at your campsite. Well, as much as the bard can fight, anyway.”

“Excuse me for not having deadly magic flames on hand,” Jaskier mutters, shooting her an irritated look. Although she did save him, so he should probably thank her for that.

He’ll do it later.

“What are you doing out here, anyway?” he asks her.

“Travelling, obviously,” Yennefer says. Jaskier gives her an incredulous look. What kind of a lie is that?

“You can make portals,” he says.

“Are you hurt?” Geralt says.

“She’s fine, they didn’t touch her,” Jaskier says dismissively.

“Are you hurt, Jaskier,” Geralt repeats, sounding briefly exasperated.

“Oh,” Jaskier realizes. “No, I’m fine. Minor bruising at worst.”

“How minor?” Geralt asks. Jaskier shrugs.

“Minor,” he says, pushing up one of his sleeves to look at his wrist, which is . . . actually not the most minorly bruised it could be, actually. “Er.”

Geralt hisses. Yennefer sighs.

“Well, at least I don’t have a head injury,” Jaskier says, slightly defensive. “It’s fine. Barely anything.”

“It was trying to assault you,” Yennefer says. Geralt’s eyes flash.

“It’s fine,” Jaskier says again, though it sounds stupid even as he says it. “Really. You killed it before it did anything.”

“It kissed you,” Yennefer says, and Geralt’s eyes flash again. Jaskier shoots her a dirty look. She didn’t have to just say it like that.

“It’s fine,” he says. He’s been kissed by unpleasant people before.

“I let them get the drop on me,” Geralt says tightly.

“They snuck up on you?” Jaskier assumes. They were so bad at acting, so he doubts they could’ve—

“No,” Geralt says. “They looked like you.”

Jaskier . . . has no idea what to do with that, frankly. Though this is definitely not ending up in any songs, he knows that.

“Sorry,” he says.

“It’s my fault,” Geralt says.

“Seems to be,” Yennefer agrees.

“They’re dead now, so does it really matter?” Jaskier asks. He’d rather move on from this topic before anyone starts doing things like wondering why the . . . whatever-they-were thought kissing him would be such a good idea. Or anything similar. “Also, can we get back to camp already? We don’t all have magic eyes, and it is very, very dark out here.”

“Yes, let’s do that,” Yennefer agrees, glancing back the way they came.

“Fine,” Geralt says as he gets to his feet. Jaskier feels an irrational spike of nervousness at his closeness and stomps down on it. Oh no, he is not going to let that whatever-it-was influence anything he thinks. They’re dead, and this is the real Geralt.

“I don’t understand, though,” he says as they start walking. “Why didn’t you just kill them?”

“They looked like you, Jaskier,” Geralt says.

“Well, yes, but they weren’t,” Jaskier says. “I mean . . . they weren’t exactly a skilled thespian, let’s put it that way.”

“Dopplers can read minds,” Geralt says. “They know everything you know.”

“Yes, I noticed that,” Jaskier says. “Assuming that a doppler is our unpleasant shapeshifting friend, that is. But they still weren’t you.”

“Attacking you is a bit out of character for Geralt, yes,” Yennefer says dryly.

Obviously, yes,” Jaskier says in exasperation. “But it was obvious they weren’t him from the start.”

“You could tell right away?” Geralt asks, an odd note in his tone.

“Like I said, it was obvious,” Jaskier says. “Couldn’t you?”

“I figured it out when they hit me with a rock,” Geralt replies flatly. Jaskier winces, glancing at the other’s bruised forehead again.

“Ow,” he says. What on earth were they doing that Geralt didn’t notice how wrong they were, though?

Then again, maybe they’d brought out a higher class of acting skills for the one with the swords. That seems like a likely option.

“Oh, Geralt,” Yennefer says with a sigh, and they step back into camp. There’s no smoke in the air anymore, but there’s still ash on the ground. Jaskier skirts it. Widely.

“Fucking bastard,” he mutters to himself, kicking at a half-burned leaf.

“It’s my fault,” Geralt says.

“Is this how you apologize?” Jaskier asks. He’s not sure he’s actually seen him do it before. “It’s fine. You’re not the one who pinned me down and started talking about strange women.”

Geralt’s expression turns . . . odd.

“Women?” he repeats.

“Well, one woman,” Jaskier replies distractedly, going over to his lute to pick it up and check for damage. The fact he’s only just now thought to do that is . . . probably not a great sign for how well he’s handling this, actually. Ugh. “I have no idea who, though. There’ve been a lot of women in my life, after all.”

“But they mentioned one specifically?” Yennefer says with a frown. “Why?”

“Hell if I know,” Jaskier says as he sets his lute back down and brushes himself off, straightening his rumpled clothes in the process. “They were talking about—well, frankly I don’t know what they were talking about. First they were doing a terrible job of pretending to be Geralt, then they started talking about some woman, then they decided to feel me up as rudely as possible.”

Geralt’s expression flashes pained, which is strange to see on him when he hasn’t recently been hit. Jaskier isn’t sure what to think of it.

“That shouldn’t have happened,” Geralt says, his hands curling into fists.

“Well, you shouldn’t have gotten hit with a rock, either, but unfortunately our doppler friend did not agree with either of those sentiments,” Jaskier says, folding his arms.

“Hn,” Geralt says.

“Pack up the camp,” Yennefer says. “I’m not interested in sleeping out here.”

“Where else are we supposed to sleep?” Jaskier asks.

“I make portals, don’t I?” Yennefer replies, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Oh, now we acknowledge that,” Jaskier grumbles, but they do pack up the camp. He doesn’t particularly want to hang around out here either, honestly. Yennefer opens a portal and they end up outside a small town, which lets them in after some back-and-forth at the gate. Yennefer gets some strange looks, probably for wearing velvet on the road, and Geralt gets some strange looks probably for being a witcher, and Jaskier gets some strange looks probably just for the company he keeps, but such is life.

It’s late, but the innkeeper is up. They stable Roach and rent a couple of rooms, then head upstairs. Jaskier expects Geralt and Yennefer to take one room and to have the other to himself, but Geralt hesitates, looking from one door to the other. Jaskier tilts his head, not understanding.

“Do you really think the bard’s going to get in trouble one room over?” Yennefer says.

“. . .” Geralt says.

“You do!” Jaskier says, insulted.

“Oh for gods’ sake,” Yennefer says with a sigh, rolling her eyes before sweeping into one of the rooms. “Fine, but don’t expect me to wait up for you.”

The door closes behind her. Jaskier gives Geralt an incredulous look. If he didn’t know better, he might think they had another doppler on their hands. Since when does Geralt turn down time with Yennefer for anything, though?

“You realize that I am perfectly fine and you’re just missing out on getting laid right now, right?” Jaskier says. Geralt says nothing. Jaskier throws his hands up in the air. “Suit yourself.”

He heads into the second room, and Geralt follows him in. The back of his neck prickles, and he stomps down on the reaction again. Again, he is not letting that damn doppler affect the way he acts around Geralt, much less the way he feels around Geralt.

“Was it really that obvious the doppler wasn’t me?” Geralt asks as Jaskier sets down his lute and pack in the corner. There’s only one bed, because of course there’s only one bed.

“They’d braided your hair again,” Jaskier says. Probably because he’d liked it that way, though he doesn’t mention that part, for obvious reasons. “Also they smiled at me sober. So, you know, pretty much.”

“Mm.” Geralt looks around the room, then sets down his own pack next to Jaskier’s. Jaskier likes the look of them together, even though they look nothing like each other and certainly don’t match. He sits down on the bed to take off his boots and Geralt prowls around the small space like he’s expecting a monster to pop out from behind the nightstand.

“Really, you could be in bed with Yennefer right now,” Jaskier says as he sets his boots aside. “She’s probably waiting.”

Geralt ignores him and takes off his cloak and weapons, then starts stripping out of his armor. Jaskier finds something else to look at. Maybe they should’ve just gotten one big room, he thinks wryly. He’s a heavy sleeper.

Geralt comes over to the bed, stripped down to just his shirt and pants, and Jaskier forces himself to look exclusively at the other’s face and nowhere else. Geralt’s hair is ruffled, which makes him think about either combing it again or ruffling it up a whole lot worse. Neither option is something he should be thinking about.

“She’s probably naked,” Jaskier says pointedly, taking off his doublet to hang on the most convenient bedpost and then scooting back to the far side of the bed—the one against the wall. Geralt likes being closer to the door, presumably because he likes being the closest person to any potential attack and doesn’t want to be tripping over anyone else if something happens.

Geralt looks down at him for a long moment, then asks a very strange question.

“What did they say about the woman?”

“What?” Jaskier blinks at him. “Not much. Just a few odd little things. Why?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Geralt says, then blows out the lamp, gets in bed, and lays down with his back to Jaskier. Jaskier frowns at his shadow. He lays down too, though, because what else is he going to do?

Geralt is silent. Jaskier wants to say something, but . . .

But.

He lays there awake a long time before he can finally sleep, and sleeps restlessly when he does. It’s difficult to sleep at all. There’s a weight bearing him down, the blankets are too heavy, there’s a body claustrophobically close to his, he can’t breathe, there’s—

Jaskier feels a hand around his wrist and wakes up with a jolt and yanks it back, heart pounding.

“You were having a nightmare,” Geralt says.

“Ah,” Jaskier manages, trying not to think about said nightmare. “Yes. Well. Those happen.”

“Mm.” Geralt is turned towards him in the dark. Jaskier feels . . . a lot of ways about that.

He wishes Yennefer were here. It’d be a good time for a distraction.

“I’m fine,” he says, and makes himself close his eyes again. The blankets are still too heavy, and Geralt’s still too close, but he doesn’t say that. It’s a bed, for fuck’s sake; there’s going to be blankets, and there’s only so much space.

He doesn’t go back to sleep. Geralt might, but it’s hard to tell.

He wonders what woman that doppler was talking about.

In the morning, Geralt gets up when sunlight slants in through the window, and Jaskier supposes that’s a good enough time for him to get up too. He sits up in bed, feeling vaguely nauseous from lack of sleep and really wishing last night hadn’t been such a shitshow. Drowsy and stupid, he watches Geralt put his armor and weapons back on and tie his hair back.

It’s not comforting, exactly, but it’s a restoration of the world as it should be, so Jaskier decides he’ll take it that way.

Geralt goes to take care of Roach. Jaskier grabs his doublet and goes downstairs for breakfast. He doesn’t particularly want to be alone.

Unfortunately, the best option for not being alone turns out to be Yennefer.

“You look like shit,” she says. Jaskier sighs, sitting down across from her.

“And you’re wearing too much eye makeup,” he says.

“Like I trust your opinion on makeup,” Yennefer snorts. “Did you even sleep last night?”

“Yes,” Jaskier says, because he did, technically. Just . . . not very well. Or very long. Or . . . whatever. “I’ve decided I hate dopplers.”

“They’re certainly irritating,” Yennefer says, folding her arms on the table.

“I suppose they did cock-block you rather effectively,” Jaskier says. Yennefer rolls her eyes.

“Where’s Geralt?” she says.

“Roach,” Jaskier replies. “Didn’t he come out this way?”

“Must’ve used the back door.” Yennefer shrugs.

“Hm.”

The server brings them both breakfast. Yennefer eyes her with mild disdain, but picks at it. Jaskier puts all his attention into devouring his. It’s something to concentrate on, so he’s willing to concentrate on it.

“Did you ever figure out who the woman was?” Yennefer asks.

“What?” Jaskier pauses mid-bite of a sausage, then swallows it quickly. “No, I didn’t. Does it matter?”

“I don’t know,” Yennefer says. “What did the doppler say about her?”

“Very little,” Jaskier sighs, putting down his half-eaten sausage. Of all the things for Yennefer to care about . . . “‘She’ll never give it to you, you know. She doesn’t have it in her.’ Or something like that.”

“‘It’?” Yennefer tilts her head.

“I have no idea,” Jaskier replies frankly. “Frankly I was more concerned with being molested by the bastard than with what they were talking about.”

“Hm.” Yennefer takes a sip of her drink. Jaskier goes back to his breakfast.

Eventually, Geralt turns up and sits down with them. Yennefer wrinkles her nose.

“You smell like horse,” she says. “And you smell like dirt, bard.”

“Sorry for being a bit too preoccupied to bathe yet today,” Jaskier says dubiously.

“I’m going to have the innkeeper get a bath around,” Yennefer says, getting up and going off in presumable search of said innkeeper. Jaskier sighs.

“Well, apparently we’ll be here for a bit,” he says.

“Hn,” Geralt says.

“I suppose there’s worse things than a bath,” Jaskier says. Maybe it’ll help him wake up a little more; he really does feel exhausted.

“Did you sleep?” Geralt says.

“Yes,” Jaskier says, because technically that’s still true. “How was Roach?”

“Fine.”

Geralt doesn’t say anything else, and Jaskier’s not sure what to say himself. He feels oddly awkward and honestly more like laying his head down and going to sleep right here than anything else. Probably not the best idea, but a tempting one all the same.

Yennefer comes back and sits down again. Jaskier assumes the innkeeper is busy arranging things for the bath, or possibly has been hypnotized into doing who knows what. Who knows, with Yennefer.

“Jaskier still doesn’t know what woman the doppler was talking about,” Yennefer says. Geralt stiffens slightly.

“Does it matter?” he says.

“It might,” Yennefer says. “Did it mention a woman to you?”

“No,” Geralt says.

“What did they say?” Jaskier asks, unable to help the curiosity even though it might lead to more questions about what the doppler said to him.

“Nothing,” Geralt says. “Just—nothing, really.”

“They said nothing and you still thought they were this chatterbox?” Yennefer says, raising an eyebrow. Jaskier scowls at her.

“Hey!” he says.

“It’s a valid question,” she says, and Geralt sighs.

“They just . . . talked,” he says. “Nothing important.”

“So it said something you don’t want to tell us,” Yennefer says. Geralt stiffens again, then just . . . sighs, his shoulders slumping.

“They were reading my mind, Yen,” he says. “Of course I don’t want to tell you.”

“Really, that’s fair,” Jaskier says, speaking as a man who also does not want to tell anyone exactly what the doppler said to him either. Yennefer gives him a look.

“You’re both hopeless,” she says. “Fine, keep your secrets.”

“Look, you got to burn them to death before they said anything fucked up to you,” Jaskier says. “We were not all that lucky.”

He still really hates them for making him hear those things in Geralt’s voice.

“Men,” Yennefer huffs. Geralt’s mouth thins. “Fine, if you don’t want to know what it wanted . . .”

“Apparently to kill us,” Jaskier says.

“It didn’t kill Geralt,” Yennefer says, which . . . is a point, actually. Hm.

“Okay, well . . . then I have no idea,” Jaskier says.

“They were going to kill you first,” Geralt says. “So they could show me what they’d done to you before they slit my throat.”

“That sounds horribly sadistic,” Jaskier says.

“So did they,” Geralt says.

“Unpleasant,” Jaskier says.

“You’re both welcome, by the way,” Yennefer mentions, raising her eyebrows at them. “You’re lucky I have good timing.”

“You’re right,” Geralt says. “Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you, I suppose,” Jaskier grumbles, making a face. “I do prefer being alive.”

“You’re welcome,” Yennefer replies pleasantly. “Now you owe me.”

Excuse you!” Jaskier protests, and she smirks at him. Geralt sighs again.

“Yen,” he says, and she smirks wider.

Eventually the bath’s ready, and they head back upstairs and back to their room. For some reason, Yennefer follows them. Jaskier can’t figure out how to make her stop.

“Are you seriously doing this,” he says after she walks into the room after them.

“What, got something to hide?” she asks in obvious amusement, taking a seat on the bed. Geralt’s already taking his swords off, but Geralt’s of course already been seen naked by this woman and never had her threaten his physical well-being.

“Maybe!” Jaskier says defensively.

“Get in the bath, Jaskier,” Geralt says in exasperation, like he’s the irrational one here. Jaskier scowls at him; Geralt ignores him and takes off his armor. Jaskier scowls harder.

Geralt is a very beautiful man, unfortunately, and difficult to argue with. Those things aren’t technically related, but it doesn’t exactly help. Jaskier hasn’t been naked around him too many times, despite the reverse not holding true, and he’s not exactly thrilled about that either.

“Fine,” he grumbles anyway, shrugging out of his doublet. Yennefer smirks at him, which is very unkind. “Could you at least pretend not to be staring, witch?!”

“Who’s staring, bard?” Yennefer replies mildly, still smirking. Jaskier seriously considers throwing his doublet at her, but she’d probably set it on fire and he likes it.

Then Geralt’s naked, which distracts him from sassing Yennefer and distracts her from being terrible. Jaskier considers actually getting in the bath with . . . all that, and isn’t entirely sure he won’t boil the water if he tries.

Geralt gets in the bath, and leaves obvious room for Jaskier. Jaskier curses his fate and finishes undressing, then follows him in. The water’s very hot, mercifully. Normally they don’t share like this, they take turns, but normally Yennefer isn’t watching from the bed like they’re a show just for her, so . . . hell with it.

Jaskier really would prefer her staring a little less, though.

“Everything is terrible,” he says, glancing down at the bruises on his wrists and hating the fact that they’d line up perfectly with Geralt’s hands.

“It’s a bath, Jaskier,” Geralt says dubiously.

“I more meant the repressed trauma,” Jaskier says, putting his hands below the water and doing his best not to look at the other’s chest or stomach or . . . anywhere lower than that.

“The what?” Geralt says.

“Nothing. Sorry.” Jaskier keeps his hands firmly under the water, though he supposes that’s only so helpful, given that it’s not soapy or anything yet. “How’s the head?”

“Fine,” Geralt says.

“Good,” Jaskier says, pretending said “fine” means anything. Geralt would say he was fine if he were actively bleeding to death.

“Did the doppler kiss you too, Geralt?” Yennefer asks. Geralt turns towards her. Jaskier can’t see the expression on his face, though it makes Yennefer tilt her head. “Just asking.”

“It hit me with a rock,” Geralt says.

“So no, then, or . . . ?” Yennefer asks.

“No,” Geralt says. “They didn’t.”

“That’s merciful,” Jaskier says.

“I was more concerned about them planning to murder you,” Geralt says, looking back at him.

“Really?” Jaskier can’t help asking. It’s not that he doesn’t know Geralt would save him, given the need—obviously—but it’s just . . . well . . .

He doesn’t know, exactly, what it is.

“Yes,” Geralt says, looking annoyed. Jaskier wants to put his hands on his chest and kiss him stupid and completely forget what the damn doppler’s mouth and hands felt like, but he’s not idiot enough to try.

“Huh,” he says instead. Yennefer gets up and comes over to them, and Jaskier eyes her warily. She leans over the bath and touches Geralt’s bruised forehead; he grimaces faintly.

“Let me see your wrists,” she says, eyes flicking to Jaskier.

“They’re fine, thank you,” Jaskier says.

“Then let me see them,” she says. Jaskier makes a face, but grudgingly lifts his hands out of the water and makes a show of flexing his aching wrists. The bruises are much darker than they were last night, though he’s sure he’s had worse. Geralt looks at them with a strange expression, and Yennefer hums consideringly.

“Happy?” Jaskier asks.

“Ecstatic,” Yennefer says. Jaskier glowers at her and puts his hands under the water again, where he intends to leave them until he needs to scrub something.

Yennefer reaches into her sleeve, pulls out a little bottle, and uncorks it. It smells flowery and sickly-sweet, and Jaskier eyes it warily.

“What is that,” he says.

“Useful,” Yennefer says, then dumps the whole bottle in the bath without preamble. It sparks brightly against the water and Jaskier recoils reflexively, bumping into Geralt in the process, which is . . . very distracting. Geralt just frowns. “It promotes healing, if you must know.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Geralt says.

“Well, it’s done, so live with it,” Yennefer says. “Besides, it smells a lot better than horse and dirt.”

“You could’ve told us what it did before you set the bath on fire!” Jaskier hisses. Yennefer snorts, tucking the empty bottle away.

“You’ve seen me set things on fire, Jaskier,” she says dryly. “That was not it.”

“You’re the worst,” Jaskier says feelingly.

“Oh, I’d never take your crown,” Yennefer says. Jaskier wants to throw the soap at her, but it’s out of reach.

After that, they actually get around to bathing. Geralt starts to wash his hair with the soap, the horrible man, and Jaskier sighs and takes the bar away from him.

Please use the actual shampoo, Geralt,” he says. “Just once. That’s all I ask.”

“Let me,” Yennefer says, pushing up her sleeves and stepping up behind them. Geralt blinks at her.

“Let you what?” he asks. She gives him a wry look and picks up the shampoo. “Oh.”

“Yes, ‘oh’,” Yennefer says, pouring the shampoo into her hands and then lathering them up. She puts them in Geralt’s hair, and Geralt lets her. Jaskier remembers combing it last night and feels a little . . . “jealous” isn’t the right word, but he wants to be doing the same thing she is.

Yennefer washes Geralt’s hair and Geralt sits still for it. Jaskier watches them, not sure what exactly he’s feeling. It still doesn’t seem like jealousy, but he also still wants to reach out and insert himself in the situation, somehow.

“Hm,” Yennefer muses, drawing her fingers through the sudsy ends of Geralt’s hair and rubbing it between them. “Your hair’s usually rougher than this. Did you cut it differently?”

“Jaskier had scissors,” Geralt says.

“He was trying to use a knife,” Jaskier says, and Yennefer snorts.

“Of course you were,” she says. She rinses out Geralt’s hair, and the suds drip down his chest. Jaskier does not watch them. Really. Then Yennefer dumps water over his head and he sputters, nearly choking on it.

“Hey!” he protests.

“Hush,” Yennefer says, pushing her hands into his hair. It takes him a moment to realize she’s washing it too, which is so baffling that he doesn’t even know what to do with it. She drags her nails against his scalp, which feels unfairly good, and spends longer at it than the length of his hair can really justify.

Jaskier glances over at Geralt, who’s slicked his wet hair back against his head and apparently finished scrubbing up. Again, Jaskier doesn’t look anywhere he shouldn’t be looking, tempting though it is and as little as Geralt seems to care about who sees his body. Yennefer dumps water over his head again to rinse the shampoo out, which is probably for the best. Jaskier really shouldn’t be looking at Geralt right now. Just . . . not at all.

Geralt gets up and gets out of the bath, all dripping wet skin and beautiful muscle and—

Jaskier does not look.

Yennefer does, of course, and hums approvingly.

“You always clean up well,” she says.

“Hn,” Geralt says. Jaskier glances heavenwards. He expects they’d already be fucking if he weren’t here. Yennefer drops a towel on his head as Geralt starts getting redressed, pulling his shirt back on.

“Oh, do you have to?” Yennefer says with a little smile. Geralt looks at her. Jaskier looks at both of them, ruffling his hair dry with the towel.

“Jaskier’s here,” Geralt says.

“I don’t mind,” she says, smile widening.

“Jaskier might,” Jaskier says warily, mostly because he’s not entirely sure what they’re talking about.

“I find it extremely unlikely that you would,” Yennefer says, tracing her fingers across his shoulders. Alright, then, probably they just want to have sex, and admittedly Jaskier’s seen them do that before and it wasn’t exactly an imposition. “It’s been a stressful day or so. Seems like the time to unwind.”

“I don’t want to right now,” Geralt says. Yennefer looks mildly surprised. Jaskier is also surprised, to be honest. It’s not often he sees Geralt turn down Yennefer. It’s basically been . . . well, last night and right now.

“Are you feeling alright?” he asks, genuinely concerned.

“No,” Geralt says, pulling his pants on.

“That thing really upset you, didn’t it,” Yennefer says, dropping her hands away from Jaskier’s shoulders and crossing the room to Geralt.

“It was just a doppler,” he says, not looking at her. So . . . yes, yes it really upset him. Clearly.

“What was so upsetting?” Jaskier says. “We’ve had closer near-death experiences than that.”

“They attacked you,” Geralt says.

“That’s . . . happened before?” Jaskier says skeptically.

“Not like that.” Geralt straightens his shirt, not looking at him either. “And they—said things.”

“Yes, you’ve implied,” Jaskier says. “You don’t actually have to supply the details, but it’s getting a bit concerning now.”

Geralt is silent. Jaskier glances at Yennefer without quite meaning to; she looks back at him and shrugs.

“You can tell me,” she says, putting a hand on Geralt’s arm. “I won’t care. I doubt Jaskier will either.”

“You’d care,” Geralt says.

“I really can’t see how,” Jaskier says. Geralt looks at them both, then just shakes his head. Jaskier frowns.

“I’m going downstairs,” Geralt says. “You should sleep, Jaskier.”

“I’ve slept!” Jaskier protests. It’s still technically the truth.

“What do you care what some damn monster said to you?” Yennefer says with a little laugh, shaking her head. “What, is it just because they said it with Jaskier’s voice?”

“That seems unlikely,” Jaskier says even as his bruised wrists remind him how sore they are in the exact shape of Geralt’s hands. Still, Geralt hardly cares what he says. He can’t see what the doppler could’ve said to bother him so much.

Geralt doesn’t say anything; just shakes his head again and walks past them and out of the room. Yennefer frowns after him, looking annoyed. Jaskier would follow him, but, well . . . he’s not exactly dressed to do it.

“What did you do?” Yennefer says suspiciously.

“Nothing!” Jaskier says. “The damn thing was reading his mind, who knows what it said to him!”

“Something that was worse in your voice,” Yennefer says.

“You’re just assuming that,” Jaskier says. Yennefer huffs at him, then sweeps out of the room after Geralt. Jaskier . . . sighs, and gets out of the bath and dries off. Fine, if they’re going to be difficult, then they can be difficult. Maybe he will sleep.

He gets dressed again and lays down on the bed, and the moment he closes his eyes he thinks about that nightmare and decides that no, he’s definitely not going to sleep right now. At least, not without someone around to wake him up if he has another one. It really was unpleasant.

He stares up at the ceiling and tries to think about other things, even if they’re not the smartest things to be thinking about. It doesn’t really help.

Eventually, he gives up and leaves the room to find . . . well, whichever of the other two he finds first. He’s not going to be picky this time.

It’s not actually very complicated, because it turns out they’re having a fight outside the stable. Rather loudly, in fact.

“Obviously it’s upsetting you!” Yennefer snarls.

“I don’t want to talk about it!” Geralt snarls back.

“Am I interrupting something?” Jaskier asks. Geralt snaps his mouth shut; Yennefer glares at him. He wonders how long they’ve been out here. “Apparently yes.”

“Shut up, Jaskier,” Yennefer says. He folds his bruised arms.

“You’re having the exact same conversation you were having upstairs,” he says. “What exactly makes you think you’re getting anywhere with it?”

“Didn’t I say to shut up?” Yennefer says irritably.

“You should be in bed,” Geralt says.

“No thank you, I’ve had enough bad dreams for one day,” Jaskier says. “Are you two done yet, or would you like to keep shouting down the stable?”

“We’re done,” Geralt says.

“We are not,” Yennefer says. “Don’t lie to me!”

“I’m not lying,” Geralt says. “I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Ah, romance,” Jaskier mutters. The other two keep arguing circles around each other, and he watches resignedly, waiting for them to finish. It’s the most he’s heard Geralt say at once in . . . possibly years. It may be the most he’s ever heard Geralt say, in fact.

Well, Yennefer apparently brings that out of him.

“I don’t understand why you’re being this difficult about this!” Yennefer says.

“Leave it alone, Yen!” Geralt snaps in reply. “It’s nothing!”

“It is so clearly something!”

“It’s not!”

“It is!”

Jaskier rubs at his temples. He thinks he might be developing a migraine. Maybe that’s the lack of sleep catching up.

Maybe he should just go wait with Roach until they’re done.

“You wouldn’t understand,” Geralt says tightly.

“You’re not giving me the chance to,” Yennefer says. “What could possibly be so bad? What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Geralt says. Jaskier can think of a couple things, actually, but probably Geralt is not thinking about things like “abandoning my child surprise” right now.

“Then what’s the problem?” Yennefer demands. “You haven’t done anything, but you don’t want to admit to anything. Be a damn man and tell me what’s going on!”

Geralt’s eyes flash, and his mouth snaps shut again. Yennefer bares her teeth at him. Jaskier . . . continues to be the awkward third wheel who should be waiting with Roach, probably.

“Fine!” Yennefer fumes. “See if I godsdamn care, after I saved your life! You can sit and stew in your own misery and self-loathing like always!”

She whips around and opens a portal and goes straight through it without hesitation, not looking back for a moment. It closes immediately behind her, but Geralt wasn’t trying to follow anyway. Jaskier winces, and Geralt just . . . sighs, and deflates.

“Fuck off, Jaskier,” he says, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.

“It’s not—” Jaskier starts, and Geralt glares at him.

“Fuck off, Jaskier,” he repeats sharply. “I don’t want to hear it.”

When does he ever?

“Fine,” Jaskier grumbles, and heads back inside. He does understand Geralt not wanting to admit his darkest innermost thoughts, but he also understands Yennefer being upset that he’s just suffering in silence, again. But it’s Geralt, of course, so what else would he do?

He orders a drink and sits down at the bar, and gets through two ales before Geralt comes inside. Jaskier shoots him a pointed look; Geralt just sits down beside him and doesn't say a word. Jaskier sighs to himself and passes over his half-empty ale. Geralt drains it.

Jaskier waves down the innkeeper for another round, for obvious reasons.

“Assuming Yennefer didn’t come back?” he says, which he belatedly realizes may get him punched. Geralt just grunts uninformatively and picks up his new drink, which is probably the best case scenario. Jaskier decides to keep his mouth shut, at least for the moment, and they drink in silence. Geralt seems determined to get drunk as quickly as possible, and Jaskier isn’t going to begrudge him the process.

This really hasn't been the best couple of days.

Well, such is life, he supposes. And it's been better than dying.

Geralt is definitely out-drinking him, but Jaskier isn't really trying either; he's sipping where Geralt’s chugging. Geralt is definitely getting drunk, and it's mid-afternoon but again, Jaskier isn't going to begrudge him.

"Do you actually have the money to be drinking like this?" he does hint eventually. Geralt gives him a bleary, dissatisfied look and sets his purse on the table with a jingling thump.

So . . . maybe.

Jaskier decides to count the other's money before they end up in an inconvenient situation, and fortunately Geralt does have more than enough to cover his tab, at least for the moment. They possibly should stop drinking now, though.

"All right, that's enough for the moment," he says. Geralt glowers at him. "Don't give me that look, you're already going to regret this in the morning."

"Fuck you," Geralt says.

"Yes, yes, I'm terrible," Jaskier says, counting out the necessary coins for their collective tabs before getting to his feet and tugging at the other's arm. "Come on, get up.”

Geralt does not get up. Jaskier nearly overbalances.

Bastard.

Alright, that's definitely enough alcohol for both of them.

"Come on, come on," Jaskier says. Geralt glowers at him some more, expression blurry and sullen, but this time when Jaskier tugs he follows. So . . . small favors, Jaskier supposes. “There we go, follow me.”

He has to half-drag Geralt and the other isn’t walking quite straight, but they get to the stairs and get up them. Geralt leans heavily into his side for a moment, nearly smushing Jaskier into the wall, and Jaskier tries to ignore his scent and the feel of his body and just concentrate on the smell of alcohol and the act of being smushed. It . . . works, sort of.

They get to the room. Jaskier opens the door and Geralt stumbles through and goes straight for the bed. Jaskier follows him, because that sounds like an excellent idea right now. Geralt collapses heavily onto the mattress without so much as taking his swords off, and Jaskier sits on the edge.

“If you’re going to lay down, you could at least leave the pointy objects on the floor or something,” he says. Geralt grunts at him without lifting his head. Jaskier sighs and starts unbuckling the other’s weapons belts. He’s probably not going to be able to get him out of his armor, but at least this is something.

Geralt swats halfheartedly at him, but doesn’t stop him. Jaskier swats back on principle, then lays aside the weapons and lays down beside Geralt. He doesn’t really want to sleep, but . . .

Well. He doesn’t know, really. Laying down just seemed like the thing to do.

“You really are terrible about her,” he says, folding his hands on his stomach and looking up at the ceiling.

“Shut up,” Geralt mutters.

“How long have we known each other now?” Jaskier snorts. Geralt has managed to shut him up very few times in their relationship. “I mean it. You’re sulking about her.”

“Fuck her,” Geralt says, and Jaskier looks at him in surprise. He’s never said anything like that about Yennefer before, that’s—“And fuck that fucking doppler for bringing her up.”

Oh, Jaskier realizes.

“Wait,” he says. “You know what woman they were talking about?”

Geralt’s eyes snap open, and he stiffens. Jaskier blinks at him.

“You really do have awful luck with women, don’t you,” he says, wondering who’s broken Geralt’s heart this time and why on earth the doppler brought her up to him. Geralt looks at him for a moment, then laughs bitterly.

“Yes,” he says. “Awful luck.”

There’s . . . something odd about the way he says it.

“You really don’t have to tell me, but—” Jaskier starts.

“I’m not telling you,” Geralt cuts in.

“Alright.” Jaskier looks at his face for a long moment, feeling . . . very stupid, mostly. Of course it’s some other woman who’s broken Geralt’s heart. Of course it’s someone else.

It always is, after all.

Gods, he’s a stupid man.

“What’s she like?” he asks, as the eternal glutton for punishment that he is. Geralt looks at him, still bleary and blurry. “Or what was she like, I suppose.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Geralt says.

“Doesn’t it?” Jaskier looks at him for a moment longer, and Geralt’s mouth twists.

“She was . . . wrong,” he says. “Didn’t belong. Shouldn’t have existed. A freak.”

“So basically exactly your self-image issues,” Jaskier says. Geralt twitches, then just shakes his head.

“She really shouldn’t have,” he says.

“Hm.” Jaskier rolls that one over for a moment, wondering very badly about the details. Not another princess, clearly. Not some simple farmgirl or merchant’s daughter or the like either. Maybe she was someone he’d ended up having to hunt.

“I swear to fuck, if this is for a song . . .” Geralt says warningly.

“Not everything is a song, Geralt,” Jaskier says. The doppler didn’t make it sound that way, but . . . “Did you kill her?”

“Yes,” Geralt says, his eyes flashing.

“Unfortunate,” Jaskier says.

“Happens all the time,” Geralt says, looking away from him.

“Are you talking about Blaviken?” Jaskier guesses. He knows enough about Blaviken that it might fit, given how that situation had apparently ended.

“No,” Geralt says, still not looking at him. “Not Blaviken.”

“That really is awful luck,” Jaskier says. He supposes Geralt’s lived long enough that he can fit in a few more heartbreaks than the average person, though.

“Yes,” Geralt says, exhaling heavily. Jaskier ignores the urge to reach out and touch him. Geralt’s not soothed by that kind of thing, or at least he doesn’t let himself be soothed by that kind of thing. And really, what does he think, he’s going to comfort a hurt that deep? He’s not that stupid.

He lets the silence hang between them, and Geralt turns his face into the pillow, hair falling across it. Jaskier remembers the doppler saying they’d liked the braid, and idly wonders if that was just because he’d liked it or maybe . . .

No, it was definitely because he’d liked it.

“She really shouldn’t have,” Geralt says after a little while, voice low and loathing. Jaskier’s never heard him sound so hateful.

“I’m going to assume she didn’t have much choice about it,” he says. Something about the way Geralt says it just gives him that impression.

“No,” Geralt says. “She didn’t.”

Jaskier looks at his face, because he’s a weak, weak man. Geralt’s eyes are closed. He still wants to touch him; still wants to soothe that hurt. Still is stupid enough to think that maybe, maybe, if he just did it right . . .

It’s not going to happen.

“Did you really think Yennefer would care about you killing someone?” he says.

“She would if she knew the details,” Geralt says. “So would you.”

“Geralt,” Jaskier says, faintly exasperated. “I knew about you killing people before I knew you.”

“Not about her,” Geralt says. “No one knows about her.”

“No one?” Jaskier asks, not sure how he feels about apparently being the exception to that rule. “Really?”

“No one,” Geralt says. “Really.”

“Except evil dopplers, I suppose,” Jaskier says, and Geralt snorts, cracking open an eye to look at him. Jaskier ignores the stupid little thrill that goes up his spine. “Well, they’re dead now, so it’s fine.”

“You’re still bruised,” Geralt says.

“So are you,” Jaskier says, glancing at the other’s forehead. “Getting hit with a rock’s a little worse than someone squeezing your wrists a bit too hard.”

“Hn,” Geralt says.

Jaskier wonders how the doppler even got that close, come to think of it. Geralt had been keeping so far back from him last night. They must’ve said something really good. Or bad. Or . . . both, maybe.

He doesn’t know, really.

He supposes he could ask, but that might involve things Geralt doesn’t want to talk about, and he still doesn’t want to push too much on that kind of thing in case it occurs to Geralt to push him. The absolute last thing he wants to do is discuss, say, why the doppler decided to kiss him, which Geralt has mercifully failed to ask about so far. He doesn’t want to talk about the fact it happened at all, actually; he’d much rather forget about it entirely.

“How did they get close enough to hit you, anyway?” he asks, because he’s a prying idiot. “You weren’t letting me near you last night.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Geralt says.

“Alright.” Jaskier searches the other’s face for a moment, then looks back to the ceiling. It’s a very boring ceiling, but it’s better than staring at Geralt too intently.

They lay there in silence for a while again, Jaskier trying to keep his mind from racing as Geralt lays much too close to him. He doubts Geralt’s even thinking about how close they are to each other, of course. In fact, he’s very sure he’s not.

Why would he be, after all?

Jaskier, meanwhile, is hyper-aware of Geralt’s scent and body heat and weight in the other half of the bed, and it’s making it very hard for him to settle down. He’s going to blame the alcohol, because it’s convenient. Never mind the fact that he didn’t really drink all that much when all was said and done; it’s definitely the alcohol’s fault.

Geralt falls asleep, eventually. Jaskier doesn’t even notice when it happens. One moment Geralt’s holding himself tense and stiff and still and the next he’s out. Even asleep he only relaxes so much, but it’s better than nothing. He shifts slightly in his sleep and all of Jaskier’s senses go off at once, but in the end he doesn’t even move.

Geralt is much too good at getting him to react to nothing, Jaskier thinks.

He wonders about that woman, again, and makes himself keep watching the ceiling. He’s not tired at all, but he knows if he moves it’ll wake Geralt. Sometimes he still can’t believe Geralt can sleep around him at all, even as lightly as he does. Normally that’s an achievement he’s proud of, though he’s fairly sure it’s really just because he’s so little threat. Right now, though . . .

Well. He doesn’t know, right now.

That’s happening to him a lot today.

Geralt sleeps. Jaskier stares at the ceiling. Yennefer sweeps in the door in her long velvet cloak like she never stormed out at all, because of course she does. Geralt’s eyes snap open, and Jaskier startles.

“Are you drunk?” she says, eyeing them dubiously.

“Not particularly,” Jaskier says. “Did something happen?”

“No,” she says. “Move over.”

“. . . why?” Jaskier gives her a mystified look. Geralt moves, though, of course, and then he has to move too, and even with that they still end up pressed together . . . very closely, it turns out.

Argh.

Yennefer takes off her cloak and gets in bed with them, wrapping an arm around Geralt. Jaskier eyes said arm warily, not sure what to think.

“That wasn’t actually an answer,” he says.

“That would be because I didn’t answer you,” she says.

“You were just fighting,” Jaskier complains as he’s forced to resettle to avoid being pressed too intimately against Geralt. “Why am I getting crushed against the wall because of you?”

“Shut up, Jaskier,” Geralt says, putting a hand over his mouth. Jaskier scowls at him.

“Rude!” he says.

“I figured out who the woman was,” Yennefer says, tracing her free hand through Geralt’s hair, and Geralt stiffens.

“You didn’t,” he says.

“Didn’t I?” she asks.

Jaskier looks back and forth between them, not sure about the meaning of the look of dread on Geralt’s face or the look on Yennefer’s that is oddly . . . not soft, because Yennefer has literally never looked that, but something similar.

“Yen,” Geralt says, still holding himself tense.

“Geralt,” Yennefer says. “Or is there something else I should call you?”

Geralt sits up immediately and practically scrambles out of the bed. Jaskier blinks in confusion, sitting up too. Yennefer seems unbothered.

“No,” Geralt says unevenly.

“Are you sure?” Yennefer asks.

“Yes.”

“What the hell are we talking about?” Jaskier says bemusedly.

“Nothing!” Geralt snaps. Yennefer’s just watching him, laying on her back and still wearing that practically-sympathetic look. It’s very unsettling, actually.

“There’s no such thing as a female witcher, is there,” she says. Geralt gives her a wild-eyed look, looking like he wants a sword in his hand. Jaskier remains bemused and would really like some explanations now, please. Just one or two; he’s not a demanding man.

“Geralt?” he says. Geralt’s eyes snap to him and he takes a step back, like . . . like Jaskier doesn’t even know what. Geralt’s never stepped back from him once in their lives.

“Do you want to tell him?” Yennefer asks. Geralt’s jaw tightens. He doesn’t say anything. “Alright. I won’t.”

“I would like to know, actually!” Jaskier protests. What on earth is she talking about?

“Too bad,” Yennefer says, sitting up and putting her feet on the floor. “It’s alright, Geralt. I don’t care, and I’ll burn down anyone who does.”

“No,” Geralt says, senselessly, then flees the room. Jaskier can’t call it anything else.

“What is wrong with you?” he demands, glaring at Yennefer. He might not know what’s going on, but he knows who set it off.

“I figured out some things,” she says. “Haven’t you?”

“Obviously not!” Jaskier says hotly. “Forgive me for not being a mind-reader!”

“I didn’t have to do any mind-reading. I just had to think about it,” Yennefer says. She stands up, smoothing her dress, and picks her cloak up off the floor. “Tell Geralt I’ll see him soon.”

“Tell him yourself!” Jaskier snaps, but she just walks out the door without looking back. He has no idea what to think. He also has no idea what to do, given Geralt just ran away from them. It’s not exactly a familiar occurrence.

For lack of a better idea, he leaves the room too and starts looking for Geralt. The other can’t have gone far, he thinks; he left his weapons behind, after all. He checks the bar—no luck—and asks the innkeeper and the servers, but gets nowhere. He stops and thinks for a moment, then goes out the back door to the empty stable.

He finds Geralt with Roach, standing in her stall and looking this close to wrecked. He doesn’t know what to think.

“Yennefer’s gone,” he says. Geralt says nothing. “She said she’d see you soon, so . . . take that as a promise or a threat, I suppose.”

Geralt still says nothing. Jaskier fidgets. Roach nickers, pushing her face into Geralt’s hands.

“You don’t have to tell me what she meant,” Jaskier tries. “I mean, obviously. That is, I’m not going to try and make you talk about it.”

Even if it’s officially killing him not to know.

“You should leave,” Geralt says quietly, stroking Roach’s nose.

“What?” Jaskier says.

“The doppler was talking about me,” Geralt says. “I’m the woman they meant.”

“. . . what?” Jaskier cocks his head, sure he heard that wrong. He’s clearly misunderstanding something here, but . . . “I thought they didn’t make witchers from women.”

“They don’t.” Geralt’s staring very intently at Roach and still stroking her. “I was a mistake. I shouldn’t exist.”

“You should absolutely exist,” Jaskier says immediately, because he’s not misunderstanding that. Geralt snorts, shaking his head in disgust.

“No. I shouldn’t,” he says. “If they’d known, they would’ve thrown me out. Given me away. Something.”

“I still don’t understand,” Jaskier says, stepping up to the door of the stall and flicking his eyes down Geralt’s body. He certainly doesn’t look like a woman, but . . .

“Just go, Jaskier,” Geralt says bitterly. “Leave me alone.”

“I would really prefer not to,” Jaskier says. “Look, Geralt—wait, should I call you something else?”

“No,” Geralt says.

“Alright,” Jaskier says carefully, putting a hand on the door of the stall. “So . . .”

Geralt keeps staring at Roach. Jaskier keeps trying to figure out what to say. It’s not exactly easy.

“You’re a woman, then,” he says. “Is there a reason you don’t act like one?”

“I act like myself,” Geralt says, sounding briefly annoyed.

“Fair,” Jaskier says. “Alright. So you did like the braid.”

Geralt glowers at him. Jaskier is going to take that as a “yes”.

“You know I don’t have a problem with that, right?” he says. “I mean, I know it hasn’t exactly come up before . . .”

“You don’t have a problem with it,” Geralt echoes.

“No, I don’t,” Jaskier says.

I have a problem with it, Jaskier,” Geralt says, which is . . . fair.

“I adore you,” Jaskier says, like an idiot. Geralt’s expression turns strange, but he keeps going. “Truly. You’re wonderful no matter what you think of yourself.”

“I’m a disaster,” Geralt says.

“Everyone I adore is a disaster,” Jaskier says. “I myself am especially a disaster.”

“Hn,” Geralt says.

“Let me braid your hair again,” Jaskier says instead of anything actually useful, because he is, again, an idiot.

“No,” Geralt says.

“Please?” Jaskier tries.

“Why would you want to?” Geralt says.

“It suited you,” Jaskier says.

“It looked stupid,” Geralt says.

“Geralt, you didn’t even see it,” Jaskier says in exasperation. “Trust me, it suited you. Why do you think the damn doppler was wearing it?”

Geralt looks away. Jaskier simmers with . . . not frustration, but something similar to it. He wants to fix this, but it’s not exactly a thing to fix. He forces himself to stay in place and stay silent, and Geralt keeps not saying anything and not saying anything and not—

“Why don’t you care?” Geralt says. “Look at me. I’m a joke.”

“I look at you all the time,” Jaskier says.

“That’s not an answer,” Geralt says. Jaskier tries to figure out how to put it.

“Just because I didn’t know doesn’t make you any different,” he says. “You’re yourself, aren’t you?”

“I said so, didn’t I?” Geralt says shortly.

“And I’m your friend,” Jaskier says. “So I don’t care.”

Geralt looks at him, his mouth twisting. Well . . . her mouth. Jaskier’s going to have to get used to that, apparently.

It’s a very nice mouth, either way.

“Really,” he says. “I don’t.”

“Why did the doppler wear the braid, then?” Geralt says, and Jaskier flushes. Dammit.

“Um,” he says. Geralt just looks at him, and he fumbles uselessly for words. “Because . . . I mean . . . oh, for fuck’s sake, Geralt, why do you think?”

“I don’t know,” Geralt says, as literally the only person in the word with a low enough opinion of himself—herself—not to make that connection.

“You’re hopeless,” Jaskier says feelingly. “I said it, didn’t I? I adore you.”

Geralt looks at him with a deep frown, like that’s some strange thing to hear, and he sighs. Of course.

“I mean it,” he says. “I adore you. I don’t follow you around singing your praises for my health. And I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman or whatever else you might be.”

“You should,” Geralt says.

“Why?” Jaskier asks.

“Because.” Geralt looks back to Roach. “I’m a freak.”

“Yes, well, you’ve thought that for as long as I’ve known you, and I never agreed with you then either,” Jaskier says. “If you’ve somehow forgotten.”

Geralt falls silent again, apparently fascinated by Roach’s mane. Jaskier itches to do . . . something. Anything. He can’t imagine that what he’s saying is really having that much effect on Geralt’s self-image, but he hopes it’s at least convincing her that he really doesn’t give a damn about this. He would’ve liked to know sooner, certainly, but it’s not a bad thing.

“Geralt?” he says after a few minutes. She looks at him. “Come upstairs with me?”

“. . . fine,” she says, dropping her hands away from Roach. Jaskier steps back from the stall door, and Geralt steps out of it and does, in fact, go back inside with him. Yennefer’s sitting on the stairs in her velvet cloak.

“Hm,” she says, just looking at them.

“We’re going upstairs,” Geralt says, walking past her.

“Was that an invitation?” she asks, arching an eyebrow.

“Hn.”

“It was not,” Jaskier says, and Yennefer smirks at him. She follows them upstairs. Jaskier sighs and grudgingly refrains from closing the door in her face. It wouldn’t work anyway.

“You two talked?” she asks, smoothing the lay of her cloak.

“Yes,” Geralt says.

“About?” She tilts her head.

“You know what,” Geralt says. Yennefer hums, then walks over to her and tugs her down to be kissed. Geralt makes a startled noise, her eyes widening.

“I did say I didn’t care,” Yennefer reminds her. “Jaskier?”

“What about Jaskier?” Jaskier says warily.

“Well?” Yennefer gives him a look. “Do you care or not?”

“Of course I don’t,” Jaskier says, scowling back at her. She raises her eyebrows at him. “What is that look, witch?!”

“Get over here and kiss her, you stupid man,” she says.

“Oh,” Jaskier realizes lamely. Geralt’s mouth thins.

“Yen—” she starts.

“Hush,” Yennefer says, putting a hand on her arm. “You’re just going to say something self-loathing again and I’m going to have to get annoyed about it.”

“Probably true,” Jaskier says. He heads over to them, wary again. Geralt doesn’t step away, so . . . that’s a thing, isn’t it. “Do you actually want me to kiss you? Because I’m very willing to but I don’t want to presume.”

“Jaskier,” Yennefer says, exasperated.

“It’s a reasonable question!” Jaskier protests.

“And when does Geralt ever say yes to wanting something?” Yennefer asks him dryly. “More than, say, ale or food or directions to the nearest whorehouse.”

“. . . point,” Jaskier says, glancing at Geralt, whose mouth is still that thin line.

“Just leave it alone,” Geralt says.

“Do I have to keep telling you I adore you?” Jaskier says, putting his own hand on the arm Yennefer isn’t touching. “I’m willing, again, but it seems like it might get repetitive.”

“You don’t,” Geralt says.

“Then I’m going to kiss you,” Jaskier informs her, and does. Geralt stills, and Jaskier squeezes her arm. Geralt stays still for another long moment, then kisses back. Jaskier, not being an idiot, takes full advantage of that fact to deepen the kiss, his free hand reaching up to cup her face. Geralt makes a very quiet noise and Jaskier internally thrills. Yennefer makes a mildly interested one, which is . . . less of a thrill, to put it mildly.

Well, it is Yennefer.

Jaskier kisses Geralt for another long moment, then leans back and looks at her. Her eyes are heavy and warm, and her mouth looks well-kissed. It’s a view he could get used to.

“Jaskier,” she says, voice very quiet. Jaskier drops his hand away from her face and resists the urge to kiss his name out of her mouth. “Yen.”

“Yes?” he asks.

“Yes?” Yennefer asks.

“You should care,” Geralt says.

“Really still don’t,” Jaskier says as Yennefer snorts.

“Why?” she says disdainfully. “Because other people would think we should? Because you can’t handle being accepted as you are?”

“Just . . .” Geralt hesitates. Jaskier squeezes her arm again. She doesn’t finish whatever she was going to say, though.

“Well?” Yennefer says.

“You just . . . should care,” Geralt says.

“We don’t,” Jaskier says. “As we’ve said.”

“Definitely not,” Yennefer agrees, then tugs Geralt down into another kiss, wrapping her arms around her neck. Geralt kisses her back, her expression faintly pained. Jaskier wonders if she looked like that kissing him, too. Yennefer kisses her harder, and Geralt wraps her arms around her in return and kisses back hungrily. Jaskier feels like he should feel excluded or bothered just standing here, but he really doesn’t.

It’s . . . odd, in a way, but he doesn’t mind it.

He watches them kiss, and keeps feeling that odd way he’s feeling. They keep kissing for a little longer, then slowly break apart, both breathless and flushed and looking at each other with heavy eyes.

No, he definitely doesn’t mind this.

“Well, that was lovely,” Jaskier says frankly.

“Hm, was it?” Yennefer says with a faint smirk. Geralt kisses her again and she laughs, tightening her grip on her.

“Obviously,” Jaskier says. He’s not above a little voyeurism, if they’re not above the matching exhibitionism.

They break off the kiss again, Yennefer humming in satisfaction as she lets Geralt straighten up. Jaskier leans in and kisses Geralt’s jaw, and she turns towards him and kisses his mouth and, well, he’s not going to turn that down, now is he.

They kiss and Yennefer laughs, low and carrying. Jaskier would normally be annoyed on instinct, but that’s really not a thing right now. Geralt’s mouth is sweet and warm against his and so, so much better than that damned doppler had tried to make him think it was. She puts her arms around his neck and he puts his around her waist and feels warm all the way through.

It’s very, very good.

Eventually he needs to catch his breath, which is regrettable, and Geralt kisses his cheek and face and back behind his ear and it’s all very distracting and still very, very good.

“Well, you’re overwhelming,” Jaskier manages, turning his mouth into the perfect curve of Geralt’s jaw again and tightening his arms around her.

“Can’t keep up, bard?” Yennefer asks in amusement.

“I’m working on it,” Jaskier says.

“Are you, now?” Yennefer says, and Geralt kisses him again and distracts him from further sniping. Yennefer laughs again.

Eventually they do stop kissing, though Jaskier immediately regrets the stopping. Geralt licks her lips, which is . . . something, definitely. Something that’s going to be burned into his brain until he dies, more specifically. Yennefer sat down on the bed at some point and has obviously been watching them, but since Jaskier did the exact same thing he can’t exactly hold it against her.

“Feeling better, Geralt?” Yennefer says.

“Hn,” Geralt says.

“I’m going to hope that means ‘yes’,” Jaskier says, loosening his arms around her. She drops her own away from his neck, putting her hands on his shoulders. Her mouth is even more kiss-bruised than before. “You’re gorgeous.”

Geralt flicks her eyes away. Jaskier touches her face again.

“Absolutely gorgeous,” he says. “Come over here, will you?”

He leads her to the bed, and she follows. He guides her to sit on the floor and sits on the bed behind her, carefully tugging the tie out of her hair.

“What are you doing?” Yennefer asks as Geralt ducks her head. Her ears are just barely pink, which is also gorgeous.

“A minor adjustment,” Jaskier says, combing his fingers through Geralt’s hair and then starting to braid it.

“You’re an idiot,” Geralt says.

“Ah, but aren’t my ideas wonderful?” Jaskier replies, dropping a kiss against the bared back of her neck.

“Your ideas get you kidnapped by elves,” Geralt mutters.

“My ideas got me in this bedroom,” Jaskier corrects, tying off her braid. “Frankly I should have more ideas, I’m clearly a brilliant man.”

Yennefer rolls her eyes, and Geralt reaches back hesitantly and touches the braid.

“What do you think?” Jaskier asks, and Yennefer hums.

“It looks ridiculous,” Geralt says.

“I think it’s rather flattering, actually,” Yennefer says. Geralt’s ears turn pink again. “It’ll probably keep your hair out of the way better, too.”

“Hn,” Geralt says. Jaskier smooths a hand over the back of her neck, and she turns her head just enough to look back at them. The braid really does suit her.

“You’re lovely,” he says.

“You’re an idiot,” Geralt repeats. Jaskier huffs at her.

“Rude,” he says. “I’ll have you know I am an expert in humanoid beauty, and you, Geralt, are an excellent example of it.”

Geralt gives him a dubious look. Jaskier strokes her neck again, because he’s hopeless.

“I mean it,” he says. “Truly excellent.”

“Not to vindicate the bard, but . . .” Yennefer shrugs lightly. “You are.”

“Fine, I’ll leave the damn thing in,” Geralt says with a sigh, and Jaskier brightens.

“Well I definitely feel vindicated now,” he says.

“Now he’s going to be unbearable,” Yennefer sighs herself, shaking her head. “I’m not dealing with him, I hope you know.”

“He’s not going to be any less unbearable if I take it out,” Geralt says.

“Just because that’s true doesn’t mean you have to say it,” Jaskier says, tugging lightly at the braid. “It really does suit you. If you want, I can do it again sometime.”

“Only if you don’t bother me about it,” Geralt says.

“I absolutely will,” Jaskier informs her. “All the time, in fact.”

“You’re a problem child, you know that?” Yennefer says, reaching out to stroke Geralt’s hair.

“So I’ve been told,” Jaskier says, thinking idly about buying Geralt something nicer than the leather tie she’s using. He doesn’t know if Geralt would actually appreciate it, but it seems like a good idea at the same time. It doesn’t seem like something she’d do for herself, and she doesn’t have to wear it if she doesn’t like it, after all. “Do you feel better, Geralt? We could kiss you some more, I’m sure Yennefer wouldn’t mind.”

“I’m fine,” Geralt says dryly. Yennefer smiles and leans over to give her a peck on the cheek. Jaskier decides that’s a good idea and does the same to the other cheek. Not to vindicate Yennefer, obviously, to borrow her own phrasing. “Hn.”

“You’re welcome,” Jaskier says. Geralt eyes him and he gives her his best charming grin.

“If you’re going to start treating me like you treat all your flings . . .” she says warningly.

“I am your very best friend in the whole wide world, Geralt,” Jaskier says with a huff. And he doesn’t treat his flings badly, just . . . temporarily. Geralt is definitely not temporary. “Also you’d kill me.”

“Yes, I would,” Geralt says. Yennefer chuckles, leaning back on her hands and crossing her ankles.

“Oh, let me watch, Geralt,” she says.

“It’s not happening!” Jaskier says indignantly, shooting her a scowl. She smirks at him.

“Don’t spoil my fun that quickly,” she says.

“The two of you should know better than this,” Geralt says.

“Hm?” Yennefer tilts her head. “Should we?”

“I really don’t think so, no,” Jaskier says. “Assuming you’re talking about yourself again, anyway. I have literally never known better than to be around you.”

“I’m . . . not normal,” Geralt says, looking at the wall.

“Yes, because we certainly are,” Yennefer says dryly.

“Because we certainly care,” Jaskier says. “Normal” is the last thing he’s interested in. He didn’t run off to be a bard and romance strangers and follow a witcher because he wanted normal.

Geralt keeps looking at the wall. Jaskier leans over to catch her eye; Yennefer does the same. Since they’re doing it on opposite sides of her, it doesn’t really work, but at least they can both see her face now.

“You worry too much,” Yennefer says.

“You definitely worry too much,” Jaskier says.

“Hn,” Geralt says, still looking at the wall. Jaskier debates what to say and settles for pressing a kiss to the other’s temple.

“You’re wonderful,” he says sincerely. “And we don’t care about anything else.”

“. . . hn,” Geralt says, eyes flicking not quite towards him.

“And again, I will burn down anyone who disagrees,” Yennefer says. Geralt snorts, shaking his head. “No, I absolutely will.”

“You’re both wrong about this,” Geralt says.

“We’re both telling you that you’re wrong about this,” Jaskier says, wrapping his arms loosely around her neck from behind. “And there’s two of us, so you’re outvoted.”

“That’s right,” Yennefer hums, brushing an ankle against Geralt’s thigh. Geralt glances between them, then sighs, shoulders slumping.

“That’s . . . alright,” she says quietly, putting a hand on Jaskier’s forearm. “Alright.”

“Good,” Yennefer says.

“Very good,” Jaskier says, pressing another kiss to Geralt’s temple. He doubts they’ve really done anything about Geralt’s self-image or other issues, still, but as long as she believes them at least a little bit, well . . . that’s really all that matters, isn’t it? It’s something to start from.

Jaskier’s alright with settling for that, all things considered.

“I really do adore you,” he says.

“I know,” Geralt says, and Jaskier smiles against her temple.

Like he said, it’s something to start from.