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"No," Yennefer says. "Absolutely not."

"But Yen," Jaskier whines, flopping over to prop his head up on her thigh. "Have you considered that it'd be really funny?"

Yen takes a sip of her third—or possibly fourth—glass of wine and then sets it on the coffee table. "No one would believe that I'm dating you, Jaskier. Let alone that I’d let you propose to me at someone else’s wedding."

"Right, yeah, so it'd be really funny."

"We have different definitions of that word," Yen says drily.

Jaskier grins. "No, we don't. I egged Istredd's car for you. Have you ever thanked me for that?"

"We were sixteen."

"And now we're thirty," Jaskier says, teeth stained dark with wine and still glinting at her. "So really, if you think about it, you owe me with interest."

Yennefer scowls. "When I told you to get over your ex, this isn't what I meant."

"Isn't it, though?" Jaskier sits up a little, fumbling for his wine glass. He hits the bottle instead and wraps a gaudily-decorated hand around the neck. "It's not my fault he invited me to the wedding, Yen, he knows me. You remember—fuck, it always tastes stronger from the bottle—you remember how he dumped me, don't you?"

By calling Jaskier a melodramatic, self-involved bastard, if memory serves.

Yen relents, "It'd be a little funny."

Jaskier laughs triumphantly and presses a smacking kiss to the inside of her wrist. "See, I knew it! You'll do it, won't you? You'll be the best bestest friend in the entire world and ruin a wedding with me?"

Yen purses her lips, feeling the tips of her ears go hot, and deflects, "Why don't you get your actual boyfriend to do it? What's his name—the one from the coffee shop?"

"Coffee Shop Guy is, regrettably, not my boyfriend—yet." Jaskier wriggles into a sitting position, slumping to tuck himself under the crook of Yen's arm. "One date featuring an extended conversation about horses does not a fiance make. My father would never approve of such a union."

"You told me last week that he was the love of your life," says Yen.

"Quite possibly," Jaskier says cheerfully. "And I'm not gonna scare him off by making our second date the most insane thing I've ever done, but thank you so much for the suggestion."

Yen rolls her eyes. "I can think of three things off the top of my head that you've done recently."

"Which is why you're perfect for this," Jaskier argues, batting his eyelashes at her in that way he should know almost never works. "C'mon, Yen, you know it's gotta be you. Otherwise it'd be too real. Who else could—"

Pretend they love you? Yen thinks.

Jaskier turns his head, the air heavy with his half-made bargain. His throat bobs when he takes another drink from the bottle, his eyes suddenly taking a new kind of glint in the light.

Manipulative bastard.

Yen closes her eyes and asks, "What's in it for me?"

Jaskier sheds his melancholy as easily as it came, pulling his feet up onto the couch and beaming at her with infuriating eagerness. "You'll do it?"

Yen really needs to stop looking at him when he gets like this. It's all in the eyes. 

"What's," she repeats stubbornly, "in it for me?"

"I'll use the proposal to repeatedly tell everyone how beautiful and perfect you are," Jaskier tells her. He sets the bottle down and then takes her hand, warm fingers brushing against her knuckles. No sense of personal space, as always—his nose practically brushing her jaw while he bribes her. "It's black tie and I know how you like getting dressed up. I'll buy all your drinks. It'll be really funny."

Yen tilts her chin up; he nuzzles against her throat, giddy and drunk on getting his way and shamelessly sensual even when she gives him nothing in return. 

"I get to pick the ring," she says, voice unwavering. "And keep it."

Jaskier huffs out a laugh. "I can't afford you."

"We'll get a fake diamond," Yen says. Slowly, her eyes fixed on the abandoned wine glasses on the table, she drags her nails down his forearm. "No one has to know."

"Mm," Jaskier agrees. "Will you kiss me?"

Yennefer turns her head and finds his mouth, bitter with wine. He chuckles, fingertips grazing her knee.

"I meant at the wedding," he murmurs.

Yen's cheeks sting. She says, "I know, idiot. This isn't a good enough answer?"

"The best." Jaskier kisses her again, warm, neither chaste nor crude. "You're the best. My best friend."

Yennefer looks away, eyes casting over the messy flat. 

"I know," she says. "Don't forget it."

Jaskier sighs happily and resettles with his cheek propped on her shoulder. "Never."

 

~*~

 

Yen presses her lips together to smooth out her lipstick application and then leans away from the mirror to take in the final look. Her hair falls in artful curls, partially obscuring the glittering earrings dangling from her lobes, and the wine-red lip is in stark contrast to her neutral eyeshadow and champagne dress. 

Her darkened mouth quirks. She looks the part.

Not that it will matter if Jaskier makes them miss the whole thing. Yennefer rolls her eyes at the music still blasting from her bedroom where he's presumably getting dressed, putting her makeup away in the vanity and then fisting her skirt in one hand so it doesn't drag on the floor while she walks barefoot.

"How is it," she asks, sweeping into the bedroom and finding Jaskier predictably trouser-less, "that I can get dressed and do my hair and a full face of makeup in the time that it takes for you to put on half a tuxedo?"

Jaskier looks up from his phone. "Is that rhetorical, or?"

"Give me the phone," says Yen.

Jaskier crosses his arms, arguing petulantly, "But Essi needs fashion advice!"

Yennefer holds out her hand, unimpressed.

He relents, pouting dramatically as he snatches up his trousers and hops into them.

Yen unlocks his phone and clicks over to his conversation with Essi, who is apparently torn between several pairs of shoes. It's a crisis easily dealt with; Yen doesn't even bother clarifying that it's not Jaskier texting anymore, though it's probably noticeable from the syntax.

"Bollocks," says Jaskier. He's frowning at his reflection, a bowtie held limp in his hands. "See, I would've had to wait for you anyway."

Yennefer snorts. "What makes you think I know how to tie a bowtie?"

"Well, erm—"

"Answer carefully."

"Because you're good at everything, obviously!" Jaskier says cheerfully.

Yen tosses his phone onto the bed and complains, "I can't believe you did those insufferable chorus concerts for our entire childhood and never learned how to do your own tie."

"Ah, but you forget," Jaskier says, wagging a finger at her. "Not knowing how to do a bowtie is the best way to get your crush to do your bowtie for you."

"Idiot," Yen mutters, dragging him forward by the burgundy jacket to frown at his collar. "That never actually works."

"Doesn't it?" Jaskier teases. 

She can feel his eyes on her hands, bright and playful, as she loops the tie under his collar and starts with…

Well. Obviously the first thing is to—

"You don't know how to do one either!" Jaskier gleefully accuses. 

"Shut up!" Yen snaps hotly. She tugs the butchered knot free and starts it over. "Obviously I know how to—"

 

~*~

 

Three YouTube videos and a shot of vodka each later, the two of them are climbing into a cab and heading for the ceremony. Jaskier opens Yennefer's door for her and loops their arms together as they head up the steps.

"Forcing me to set foot in a church should constitute attempted murder," he mutters under his breath, glancing up at the building. "Do you smell smoke?"

Yen snorts. "Let's sit near the window. If you catch fire I'll toss you into that pond there."

"I knew there was a reason I'm marrying you," Jaskier teases. He leans over to kiss her cheek. 

It's a pretty building, at least. Strong aesthetic choices, which might be why Valdo picked it. Yen knew him decently well at the time, but they haven't seen each other in years—since the breakup. She never cared for him.

There are assigned sides of the aisle based on which groom they're the guest of. Valdo's side is closer to the interior wall, which has Jaskier leaning over to giggle conspiratorially in Yennefer's ear.

"They're onto us," he whispers.

Yen shushes him, a smile tugging at her lips.

There's live instrumental from a man with a violin in the back—probably a friend, but Yen doesn't recognize him. It really is a lovely atmosphere, which she hates admitting.

She hates admitting to liking any of it—the pomp, the overwrought declarations of love and undying commitment, the fact that it should all be too saccharine for anyone to honestly believe and yet everyone else seems fooled.

That maybe if there is a delusion, it's that she'd told herself that this couldn't exist because she'd never have it for herself.

Yennefer learned young, and learned it painfully. After a childhood with a crooked spine, after Istredd, after Geralt. Six months bedridden after they rearranged her bones and still the ache will never fully leave her shoulder blades.

She leans over and mutters, "I hate weddings."

Jaskier's voice is thick. He says, "I love them."

Yennefer takes his hand and squeezes.

 

~*~

 

The reception is at a nearby hotel, where a large ballroom is impeccably decorated. They mingle through a cocktail hour and then take their seats at a table that could loosely be described as the "Valdo's friends from uni" group. 

This is a problem, because apparently Jaskier forgot to clue Essi and Priscilla, both of whom he's actively still friends with, into a single part of their little scheme.

"I'm sorry," Essi accuses, leaning over to jab Jaskier with a finger, "but how long have you been hiding this secret relationship from me?"

"I thought you knew!" Jaskier tells her innocently. "I talk about Yen all the time."

Yennefer kicks Jaskier in the shin.

"And besides, it hasn't been official for that long anyway, right, darling?" Jaskier continues, draping an arm over the back of her chair and pinching her arm. "Almost two months?"

"But it feels like so much longer," Yen answers sweetly, batting her eyelashes.

"Well, it's a long time coming if you ask me," Priscilla chimes in. She smiles at them over the rim of her wine glass. "I always kinda thought you two would end up together, being honest."

Yennefer blinks. "You did?"

"Oh, dude," says Shani. "He would never shut up about you. It used to drive Val up the wall in uni."

Jaskier says, "Yen doesn't wanna hear—"

"But then, I mean, nothing ever happened," Shani continues. "I guess it wasn't the right time, huh? I mean, did you know the whole time that—"

"Not exactly," Yen says. 

"You know me!" Jaskier says cheerfully. Yen can feel where his hand almost brushes her shoulder. "I'm a little bit in love with all my friends. It took me a while to realize I wanted something different—" he pauses, turning to look at Yen with—with something— "Or that she could want it too."

Every bit of it wooden. A pretty speech beside a pulpit. But the way he looks at her—

She hates him. Violently, suddenly, in the way that will pass. She kisses him so she doesn't have to watch it go.

It's ridiculous, of course. She's thought about fucking him; she knows their tastes are compatible, that for all his bluster he'd probably be if not good at least trainable in bed. But she's never wanted him to love her. 

His hand is on her thigh. They've always had chemistry, a handful or two of drunken snogs that were more about having something to do. He knew her before the surgeries and stayed for the after—refused to let them drift apart even after she studied abroad for college, trailing after her with cheerful inevitability.

Would he have loved her?

They separate. The rest of the table is staring at them with expressions ranging from fond to good-naturedly annoyed. It makes Yennefer's lip curl.

She hides it in her wine glass. Out of the corner of her eye, she watches Jaskier chug his.

At least they both have the right idea on that front.

"So, what did it?" Essi asks, leaning her elbows on the table. Her hair is pulled back in a bun, but her long bangs are still flopping in her face in a way that manages to be enduringly charming. "How'd you two get together?"

"Wine," Yennefer deadpans. "So much wine."

Jaskier laughs. They didn't exactly rehearse a backstory—mostly because Yen refused to invent one—but he says, "I don't think much even had to change, did it? You've always been my partner in crime."

"Who else would put up with you for this long?" Yen teases. 

Jaskier presses a quick kiss to her jaw. "No one worth knowing."

Yen reaches for a bread roll. 

"But enough about us!" Jaskier continues. "Shani, Jakob, catch us up! What's it like being boring and married?"

“Did you know that if you own a house, you’ve gotta fix the house yourself?” Jakob gripes. “Facebook keeps trying to sell me power tools now.”

“The shower curtain fell off mid-shower the other day,” Shani adds. Yennefer snorts, spreading a generous helping of butter onto her roll. “Did you know a shower curtain could do that?”

Jaskier snatches Yennefer’s bread roll right out of her hand.

“Oi!” she scolds, smacking his wrist. “Get your own.”

He leans out of reach, complaining, “But Yen, it tastes better when it’s yours!”

“Julian, give it!”

“Learn to share! We’re in love now, we’re supposed to share!”

Yen lunges for him with a scowl, which throws her weight off-balance and sends her chair toppling over—she certainly does not yelp when she pitches forward and tries to save herself by falling into Jaskier’s lap.

In the version of events that exists in Yennefer’s head, obviously she wouldn’t fall. But bearing that, her partner would surely catch her in a perfectly nice, if not slightly cliche, gesture. 

Jaskier shouts, “Cock!” and tumbles to the ground when Yennefer claws at his arm.

There’s butter in Yennefer’s hair. She rubs at a spot of carpet burn on her elbow and bares her teeth as Jaskier starts to laugh.

“Oh—my— god,” he wheezes, clutching at his stomach. Both of their chairs are upturned and half the room is staring at them; Jaskier is hunched over, the high back of his chair propped against the back of his head like a cage. “Are you—are you alright? Oh, bloody hell, your face.”

“Stop it!” Yen hisses. “It’s not funny!”

Tears are forming in the corners of Jaskier’s eyes. He looks at her, cheeks turning pink with laughter, and asks, “Are you sure?”

Yen looks down at her dress, which doesn’t seem torn anywhere, and then at the bread roll, which has been flung under the neighboring table. She can feel a bruise forming on her arse and a hysterical bubble of laughter rising through her chest.

“Absolutely not,” she says, pursing her lips to contain it. “You’re the worst.”

“But you love me,” Jaskier declares, a shit-eating grin firmly intact. He shrugs to knock the chair off his shoulders and reaches for a cloth napkin, wiping the grease off his hands before he offers one to Yen. “I’m your lover.”

Christ, he looks so goddamn pleased with himself. So proud. Of her—of being—

Yen digs her nails into his wrist when he helps her up, her lip curling half-heartedly. “You’re enjoying this too much.”

Jaskier’s grip loosens as soon as she’s on her feet. His smile turns lopsided, losing the gleeful edge.

“Just playing the part,” he says blithely. “I thought you’d be flattered.”

Of course—he’s a performer, after all, even if the big break seems perpetually forthcoming. It doesn’t do anything to ease the odd tension in Yen’s stomach as she smoothes out her dress. 

She smiles tightly and uprights her chair. “You should know it takes more than that to impress me.”

“Ah, but the night is young, my dear.” Jaskier straightens out his bowtie before taking his seat, fussing with his scattered silverware until it’s back in place. “I’ll just have to up my game.”

“I am begging you not to,” says Yen. She shakes out her napkin and lays it back in her lap. “You’re already insuff—”

She pauses when she looks up, caught off guard by the pointed expressions worn by the rest of the table.

“What?” Yen asks irritably.

Essi blinks at her. “Are you guys, like, okay?”

“Obviously not!” Jaskier answers cheerfully. “Does anyone want anything from the bar?”

“I’ll go with you,” Priscilla offers. “I wanna see what they have.”

Essi tugs on her sleeve. “Ooh, can you get me another Old Fashioned?”

“I hate you on principle,” says Jakob.

Jaskier kisses the top of Yennefer’s head. “Anything for you, love?”

She swats him away. “The stiffest martini you can possibly conceive of.”

“I think that’s just straight gin,” Shani offers.

“Can I get it dirty and eat all your little olives?” Jaskier asks eagerly.

Yen rolls her eyes and relents. “Fine.”

"Told you we're meant to be," Jaskier tells her with a grin, and then he's off to the bar with Priscilla.

He looks so unlike himself, Yennefer thinks, staring at his back—all prim and proper in his tux, even if he went bold with the color. He's meant to be camp, or at the very least wearing something in a floral print that flashes a bit of chest hair.

And that's the difference between them: Yennefer never looks like herself. She's always being it—to a fault, she's been told by people who wanted her to be weak. But she never looks it. 

"Okay," says Essi, wrenching Yen from her brooding. "Let's get this over with. Are you in love with him?"

Yen, suddenly realizing the entire table is yet again staring at her, blinks incredulously. "What?"

"Oh, sorry, we're doing the whole 'I'll break your kneecaps if you break my best friend's heart' thing," Essi tells her casually. "You know, how you're normally the one striking fear into the hearts of whoever Jaskier's dating? I figured someone should step in."

"I usually do it nonverbally," says Yen. "You're making it overwrought."

"I'm a writer," says Essi.

Yen rolls her shoulders back. "It's none of your business."

"Guys," Jakob says while his wife is visibly texting, "maybe we should—"

"See, it kinda is," Essi says. She leans forward to brace her elbows on the table with a determined thump. "'Cause I like you, Yen. I like being your friend. But Jaskier has never, ever hidden someone he's dating from me—not since he came out."

And he never will again, because Yennefer will kill him.

"Do you have a point?" she asks tersely.

"I'm worried about him. I mean, I think it's pretty clear that he's in love with you," Essi says. "And he's afraid of the same thing that I am—that you don't love him back, and pretty soon you'll get bored."

Yen swallows the burn in her throat. It worms its way down through her sternum, lodges under her heart with a spit of smoke that makes her nostrils flare.

"That's what you think of me," she says, voice rasping at the edges. "No mention of all the people Julian's been in love with for a few weeks before something shinier caught his attention. Yennefer the heartless slut and Jaskier the hopeless romantic."

"You know, we're all just a little drunk," Jakob says. "I mean, whew, that cocktail hour, right? I'm sure Essi didn't mean—"

"She did," says Yen.

Essi's mouth, set in a determined frown, wavers. "No, Yen, I didn't—I was just trying to say—"

"Don't worry, you have a way with words." Yen smiles unpleasantly. "You've made yourself perfectly clear."

"I'm really happy for you!" Essi insists. "I mean, I wanna be, I just—I don’t wanna see anyone get hurt.”

“It is a little weird that you didn’t tell anyone,” Shani points out, still not looking up from her phone.

Yen says, “That wasn’t up to me.”

Before anyone can respond, Jaskier and Priscilla come back with their drinks in hand. Jaskier sets down Yen’s martini—overladen with extra olives—and does a double-take at the table’s collectively dour expression.

“Yeesh, what’d I miss?” he jokes. 

Yennefer snatches up her drink and downs half of it, breathing harshly through her nose, and then stands sharply. “Nothing.”

Jaskier says, “Yen—”

Yen ignores him. She stalks towards the exit, steady on her heels, and hunts down the nearest washroom. 

There’s no one in any of the stalls. Yen braces her hands on the countertop, curling her fingers against the lip of the nearest sink. It’s granite—cool against her skin. She glances up at her reflection and sees the smoothness of her face, glowing cheekbones and eyes that are still pretty when they’re burning. 

Of course it’d be believable—that Jaskier is in love with her. He said it himself—that he’s a little in love with everybody. That doesn’t make her special.

They understand each other. He’s her friend. They get wine drunk together and book couples’ spa days for the extra perks and he touches her even when there’s no reason for it, when there’s nothing to want.  He knows that she’s greedy and selfish and he’s those things too and the most fucking annoying person she’s ever met, and she doesn’t love him back.

So what does she care if Essi doesn’t think she’s capable of it? She doesn’t want to be.

The door swings open; a stranger walks into one of the stalls.

Yen spares a final glance on her reflection—still as immovable as it was—before she leaves.

Jaskier is waiting in the hallway, playing on his phone. He looks up when the door shuts behind her and just stares.

“You really fucked me over by not telling them anything,” Yen tells him.

He smiles wryly. “Does it make you feel any better to know that Essi chewed me out over it as soon as you left?”

“No,” Yen lies.

“I’m sorry,” Jaskier says earnestly. He pockets his phone and crosses from the far wall he was leaning up against, closing the distance between them. “I didn’t—I couldn’t think of how to say it, and I thought Shani’d probably try to talk me out of doing it because I am aware that I’m being insane, and then it got weird because it was too close to the day and I thought, erm, lesser of two—”

“Ugh.” Yen smushes a hand in his face. “Save it.”

Jaskier grabs her lightly by the wrist, drawing her hand away. He quirks his lips in a peace offering. “I was gonna tell them the truth afterwards. Want me to go do it now?”

Yen thinks about it. Something is still hot in her throat— defiance, she thinks, is the word. She doesn’t want to admit to shit.

She wants to win.

“No,” she answers. She turns her hand in his grip and tugs him closer. “Might as well get to see the look on their faces during the big finish.”

Jaskier laughs; his other hand comes to rest on her hip. His eyes spark with mischief before his mouth finds the shell of her ear as he whispers, “I was hoping you’d say that. I think that makes us shitty people, love.”

Yennefer’s eyes cast over his shoulder, tracking the movement of caterers bustling in and out of the ballroom. 

“At least we’re interesting,” she says. "I wanna get drunk."

“God, I love you.”

Yennefer drags him back to the ballroom without further comment; they waylay at the bar to get a fresh round to save a trip and Jaskier beams at her when she asks for extra olives in her martini. 

Back at the table, the conversation trails to an uncomfortable halt when Yennefer sits back down and eyes Essi over the rim of her martini glass. 

Essi says, “Look, Yen—”

“You were right about one thing,” Yen says. She pauses, setting her glass down, then allows her lips to quirk. “I would’ve done the same in your shoes.”

Essi’s posture sags considerably and she half-jokes, “You’d be way better at it. You sorta give off that vibe where you could, like, unhinge your jaw and swallow someone whole.”

“Thank you,” says Yen.

Essi stabs a forkful of salad—which must have been brought out while Yen was in the washroom—and chews casually. “Welcome.”

Jaskier steals a skewer of olives from Yen’s half-drank martini and pops one in his mouth, cheerfully proposing, “Anyway, who else wants to get absolutely sloshed?”

“A-fucking-men,” says Shani, who holds out her wine glass in a toast. 

Yen leans a little out of her seat to touch glasses with everyone and scoots her chair over when she resettles, pressing her and Jaskier's thighs together. He hums, draping his free arm over her shoulders.

It's… nice, she'll admit. His callused fingers brush across her bare arm, tickling up goosebumps. 

Fuck, it's been too long since Yen's gotten any, that's all. She downs the rest of her first martini and rescues a lone olive that slipped off the skewer—shiny and damp, held gently between her fingers.

Her other hand cups Jaskier by the jaw, turning him towards her with easy submission and a half-formed sentence dying on his tongue.

"Open," Yen commands.

Jaskier offers a strangled, nervous laugh instead.

That's more like it.

Yen smirks and slips the olive into his mouth, delightfully smug about the way Jaskier laps at the pad of her thumb as she pulls away. He chases her all the way into a kiss, which she indulges. The taste of brine is still on his tongue, tempered by the sickly sweet cocktail he likes to drink.

"It's gonna be a long night, isn't it?" Shani says loudly.

Jaskier shifts, possibly to flip her off, knowing him, and kisses Yen once more.

 

~*~

 

They've endured the first speech and eaten the—admittedly excellent—first course. Everyone is several cups deeper and Yen is creeping a hand up Jaskier's thigh.

He hums scoldingly, but makes no move to discourage her teasing.

Yen hits the ring box in his pocket. She presses her palm against it meaningfully and murmurs, "When are you gonna do it?"

"Mm, when I sober up a little," he answers, shifting to nibble on her ear. "'ve gotta get the speech right."

"You'll miss the whole wedding," Yen argues. She pinches him through his trousers. "You should've done it before the speeches."

Jaskier bites harder. "I'm sorry, whose nefe—nefar—whose evil plot is this?"

"Hey, lovebirds," Essi gripes. "Get a room."

"Some of us are trying to eat dinner," Priscilla adds.

Yen perks up. "There's an idea."

Jaskier tilts his head. "Dinner?"

"Not exactly." Yen presses her mouth to his jaw, keeping her voice low. "The catering staff keep timetables on the whole wedding."

Jaskier cups her cheek to bring her closer; she can tell he's careful not to disturb her hair. "I think I like where this is going."

"I've always said I wanted to go to a wedding where two of my friends ignored me to snog and whisper at each other the whole time," says Jakob.

"They could help us pick the moment for it," Yen tells Jaskier. She caresses his thigh, squeezing low near his knee. "Maybe do the 'ring in the champagne' stunt."

"You said that was trite and uninspired!" Jaskier accuses, leaning away to pout at her.

Yen pats his cheek. "You're already being cliche, darling. Might as well sell it."

"Fine." Jaskier huffs. "I'll go do recon."

Yen grabs his wrist. "Oi, you mean we'll do recon. It was my idea."

"Uh, love, don't you think it'll be a little suspicious if—" 

Yen successfully divests Jaskier of rational thought when she kisses him thoroughly, her nails pricking at his pulsepoint as she licks into his mouth.

"Right," he murmurs, his breath hot against her cheek. "Whatever you want."

Yen hums smugly, pulling him to his feet.

"Thanks for making my wish come true, guys," Jakob says.

"You're welcome," Jaskier says absently, and Yen drags him away.

She leads him into the hallway, where they pause to look around.

"Hm," Jaskier says. "Where do you think the kitchen is?"

Yen rolls her eyes. "Let's just go ask the front desk."

"No, no, that's boring!" Jaskier argues. "Let's—Yen, let's have an adventure!"

"An adventure," Yen repeats drily, but she's already preparing to humor him.

Jaskier obviously senses this—he claps his hands excitedly and bolts for the lobby.

Yen follows at a reasonable pace; she's really too old for this shit. He waits in the entryway for her and immediately begins chattering away as soon as she catches up.

"It's probably on the ground floor, right? You don't think they have more than one kitchen, do you? Do the caterers even use a kitchen or is it all heated up somewhere else?" Jaskier cranes his neck to peer at a sign even as he blows past it. "I guess we'll find out. Oh, maybe we should've trailed someone, like in the—"

"Jaskier," Yen cuts in impatiently.

"What's that?"

She smiles, against her better judgement, fondly. "You'd make a terrible spy."

“But a fantastic Bond girl," Jaskier says.

Yen leads him out by the wrist, glancing behind them. "You know how often those women die."

"Yeah, but what a way to go," Jaskier answers dreamily.

"Ugh." Yen rolls her eyes. Across the way, from the direction of their ballroom, a caterer emerges wheeling a trolley stacked with plates.

"I was right," Jaskier whispers triumphantly. He smacks Yen lightly on the arm. "Let's follow them."

Yen mutters, "You're ridic—"

"Shh." Jaskier puts a finger to her lips. "We're being sneaky."

"Are we?" Yen says drily, but she ducks behind a pillar with him anyway. They keep their distance from the caterer, who wheels their trolley down another hallway and takes a right.

Jaskier giggles—he stops Yen from turning the corner, an arm wrapped around her waist, and then peers cautiously around it. Yen leans back against his chest and nips at his jaw.

"I think the coast is clear," Jaskier says. 

Yen takes this as the cue to keep moving. She sneaks around the corner, feeling Jaskier's fingertips skim along her middle as she slips out of his hold, just in time to see the caterer vanish through a set of double doors at the end of the hall. 

And, because no one else is around and Yen is still drunk, she decides to play along.

"C'mon," she urges, grabbing Jaskier's hand. "We're losing them."

They hurry down the hall, making half-hearted attempts to silence their footsteps, and then bump into each other when Yen stops at the doors and glimpses through the windows.

"It's the kitchen," she announces triumphantly. "Look."

Jaskier hooks his chin over her shoulder to do so—pressing into her space, the whole length of his front brushing against her when his arm finds her waist again. She feels her breath catch; feels him notice, fingers scrunching in her dress.

"We did it!" he says, exuberant as ever and in stark contrast to the slow smolder of heat low in her belly. "I told you I'd make a good Bond girl."

Yen turns and flips them, pushing him against the wall next to the doorframe. His wrists are pinned low by his sides, flexing with surprise under her palms, and he grins lopsidedly at her with a pliant glee.

“Oh,” he says roughly. “Alright then.”

Yen’s teeth find his bottom lip and he shifts against her, slumping lower with a languid offer to put himself beneath her. She takes it—pushes against his wrists for leverage, kissing hungrily, rubbing herself off on the growing bulge in his trousers. He’s a broad man, bigger than her, but he never kisses her like it. She should kiss him more. 

She always wants to fuck him when she gets too drunk; the booze gets her horny and he’s always there, touching her, offering but not asking. He’d be a good fuck and insufferable if she told him that, and then she’d have to live with it. 

That she uses things up. That he does, too—careening into obsessions before he abandons them like a child forgetting their toys. Essi was half-right, after all—they’d consume each other. And then they’d get bored.

But fuck, if he isn’t a good kisser.

Yen moves down his throat, bites at the place it meets his stupid full collar. He gasps with stuttering hips and—

A voice that Yen hasn’t heard in years says, “Hey, you can’t be back here,” and Yen looks over her shoulder at a man in a caterer’s uniform who looks disturbingly like—

“Geralt?” Jaskier asks.

“Shit,” says Yen.

“Fuck,” says Geralt.

“What the fuck are you—” Yen cuts off, turning back to Jaskier with indignant horror. “Wait, how do you—”

Jaskier is turning an unflattered shade of beet red.

No. No, no—Jaskier said he was a sweet but reserved older man, talked about nothing but horses on the first date…

“Coffee Shop Guy is my ex-boyfriend?” Yen demands. She smacks Jaskier on the chest—hard. “You’re fucking my—”

“In my defense—”

“You two know each other?” Geralt asks.

“—I didn’t know it was him!” Jaskier insists.

Yen gestures at Geralt’s face. “His name is Geralt. How many ‘Geralts’ do you know?”

Jaskier crosses his arms over his chest and argues, “I assumed two! And yours was supposed to live in a different country.”

“You could have at least checked!” Yen snaps. “By, I don’t know, telling me his name?”

“Right, so you could be all—” Jaskier shifts his voice into a nasally falsetto. “‘Ugh, Jaskier, you absolutely can not date a man who has the same name as my ex, it’s just weird!’”

“I do not sound like that! Geralt, tell him I don’t sound like that!”

Geralt says, “Uh, so… you two are dating?”

“No!” they both snap.

“But you were making out in my kitchen,” he says.

“Right, okay,” Jaskier says, laughing nervously. “It’s kind of a funny story.”

Yen scowls. “Is it?”

“We’re not actually dating,” Jaskier explains, his voice going characteristically high-pitched. “We’re just pretending to be for, um, reasons?”

“We’re trying to ruin a wedding,” Yen adds matter-of-factly.

“You’re just pretending,” Geralt repeats flatly.

Jaskier nods vigorously as Yen confirms, “Yes, that’s what we said.”

“By making out in my kitchen,” Geralt says. “Where no one can see you.”

“We do that when we’re drunk sometimes,” says Jaskier brightly.

“Get out of my kitchen,” says Geralt.

"What a spectacular idea!" Jaskier says. He grabs Yen's hand and tries to pull her along. "Definitely for the best. Let's just forget this ever happened and I'll call you next week and it was great to see you? You look great in that uniform, by the way, it really—"

Yennefer plants her feet in annoyance. "Oi—not for the best. We need his help, remember?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," says Jaskier.

Geralt, the predictable idiot, perks up like an excited puppy. "You need my help?"

"With the wedding ruining," Yen reminds Jaskier. "Which was your idea."

"Right, okay, I can see how we might come to that conclusion." Jaskier laughs nervously. "But I really don't think—"

Geralt asks, "What do you need help with?"

"Nothing, see, it's just—" Jaskier drops Yen's hand to gesture manically. "Geralt, I really like you, is the thing, and none of this really paints me in a first-impression light, or a second-impression, or really any impression, and I'd prefer you didn't witness this is the point so if we could just pretend none of this ever happened and I'll call you tomorrow?"

"You'll be hungover tomorrow," Yen reminds him.

"I'll call you on Monday?" Jaskier corrects, slightly hysterically.

Yen's sternum itches with annoyance.

"His ex-boyfriend is one of the grooms," she tells Geralt. "We're pretending to date so he can pretend to propose to me and spoil the wedding. You're going to hide the ring in a champagne flute for us. Maybe right before the mother-son dances—I'm assuming they're saving that for after dinner?"

"Yen," Jaskier hisses.

She shrugs, unrepentant. She has no patience for Jaskier's frenetic attempts at impression management—and besides, she knows Geralt. He'll approve or he won't, and he'll show up for coffee next week when Jaskier asks.

"Oh," Geralt says, looking at Jaskier. "The ex who made you not wanna date again for a while?"

Talked about nothing but horses Yennefer's arse.

"Um, yeah," Jaskier says, wringing his hands together. "That'd be him."

Geralt frowns. "Which groom is he?"

"Valdo," Jaskier says.

"Hm," Geralt says in a tone that suggests Valdo Marx is not particularly polite to the help.

Yen lifts an eyebrow at Geralt. "So you'll do it then?"

Geralt eyes her skeptically. "No, Yen, I'm not helping fuck up my employer's wedding. But good luck."

"It's really no problem!" Jaskier says brightly. "Probably it's stupid and I won't even do it, I mean, who knows? Anyway, we should let you get back to work, talk to you later!"

"What the fuck is wrong with both of you?" Yen demands. 

"Yen," Jaskier begs, his voice suddenly cuttingly sincere. "Let's just go."

Yen glances at him and catches the flash of earnestness on her face. She sighs, then loops her arm through his. "Fine. See you around, Geralt."

"Uh, sure," he says; the double doors swing shut behind him when he flees.

As soon as Geralt is gone, Jaskier tugs his arm free and starts walking ahead. "Why did you do that?"

Yen follows after him, snarking, "You'll have to be more specific. I just did a lot of things."

"Why did you tell Geralt what we're doing?" Jaskier demands. He glances back at her with exasperation. "I told you I didn't want to!"

"Because you're being an idiot," Yen says hotly. Her heels click on the floor as she lengthens her stride to match his pace. "Acting all high and mighty all of a sudden, like you weren't getting off on this as much as—"

She cuts off, stumbling over the tip of her hand.

Jaskier doesn't seem to notice. He's too busy arguing, "I'm not, I just didn't want—I told you how much I like him, Yen, and now he must think—"

"What, that you're a petty bastard?" Yen supplies haughtily. "Because you are. He'd find out eventually—I'm doing you a favor."

"You're taking whatever you're cross about out on me," Jaskier snaps. "None of that was for my benefit, Yen, don't bother."

She comes to a halt right before the hallway spills into the lobby, her hair whipping around her face when she turns to face him.

"This entire pathetic night was for you," Yen hisses, and watches in gratification when he shrinks a half-step back. "And you're throwing all that away so you can take my ex on a second date. Even after knowing what he did."

Jaskier's eyebrows furrow gently, something changing in his face.

"What you both did, Yen," he says softly. "And I didn't know."

Yen's chest is heaving. She flares her nostrils wide, to breathe. "You didn't want to."

"I meant it when I said I could love him." Jaskier purses his lips. "You know I could love him."

Geralt could love Jaskier too. Christ, he could really love him. Not that it always counts for much.

Yen fucking hates crying. She can feel the wetness building behind her eyes, stinging and blurring her vision—no better than smoke. There's so much lodging in her throat.

"Please don't ask me for this," Jaskier begs her. He reaches out and his eyes are wet too—his hand keeps hovering like he doesn't know where to put it, before she steps forward and he finds her arm. "You know I'd give it to you. Please don't ask me."

Yen closes her eyes and tilts them to the ceiling. She inhales slowly, looks at him on the exhale. 

"Fucker," she says. "You'll owe me for this."

Budding laugh lines crinkle by the corners of Jaskier's eyes. He throws himself at her in a crushing embrace and enthuses, "I'll owe you forever. I've been indebted to you since the day I was born, in fact, in anticipation of this moment."

Yen fixes her gaze on the ceiling, thankful that he won't be able to see her blush. She wriggles free from his grip and sighs loudly.

"Let's just go back in," she says.

Jaskier links their arms together again and heads for the ballroom.

 

~*~

 

They're back in time for the main course—possibly thanks to having delayed Geralt outside the kitchen. There are a few more speeches; they make more of an effort to converse with the rest of the table.

Yen can feel the ring box in Jaskier's pocket, when she brushes a hand up his thigh. She doesn't think he'll go through with it anymore.

The DJ announces that it's time for the mother-son dances. These things always leave a bitter taste in Yen's mouth; there's no one who'd dance with her. There's no one who would've believed her capable of it.

Jaskier is a crumpled ball of tension—his hands restless in his lap, the way his mouth keeps folding over like there's something to say. He watches Valdo take the floor with a distant look in his eyes, fingers spinning an old tarnished ring around a knuckle.

Yen shifts the angle of her chair, wraps her arms around his middle and pulls him closer. He leans back into it with his shoulder blades collapsing against her chest.

Jaskier says, "I thought I'd marry him one day."

Yen hooks her chin over his shoulder and says, "I know."

Jaskier is still watching the dance floor. "He never thought he'd marry me."

"I know," says Yen.

They both limped home after university to lick their wounds. Jaskier's flat has a row of pathetically large bottles of wine that trademarked the first two months, before Yen got tired of tasting grief every time she went to a company party. 

The dances are simultaneous; at least they only have to suffer it once.

Afterwards, the DJ opens up the dance floor to all the guests. Yen pushes away her empty dinner plate and tells Jaskier, "Let's go."

Jaskier beams at her. "I didn't even have to beg—you must really love me."

Yen rolls her eyes with a huff. "I'm just saving us both the time and effort."

Jaskier is too busy shrugging out of his tuxedo jacket to answer; he drapes it over the chair and smiles warmly when Yen tugs his bowtie loose for him, folding it neatly on the table, and undoes the first three buttons of his shirt. 

Then she kicks off her heels and they're hand-in-hand, dodging pulled out chairs and catering staff clearing empty plates to make it to the floor. 

The first few songs are upbeat—classic, bright love songs to lure people into the deeply embarrassing endeavor that is dancing at a wedding. Yen hates herself for participating, let alone suggesting it, but it's blasted the melancholy straight off Jaskier's face, which she thinks makes her an excellent fake girlfriend—ostensibly still the point of the evening.

And it's not all bad. She can admit to it being sort of fun, in an unbearable way.

Jaskier takes her hand and spins her around, laughing brightly—very nearly tossing them both into Essi and Priscilla who have also taken to the floor, until Yen takes control and starts leading.

He accepts it with grace, their hands loosely linked as Essi reaches over to smack him on the back of the head. Laughter bubbles up Yen's chest, spilling between them, and she can feel it reflecting in Jaskier's eyes.

And then the song changes.

Yen falters a half-step, suddenly woefully off-tempo, before Jaskier's hand finds her waist. It's a slower, tender thing—not so much that people are shuffling awkwardly apart, but enough that lovers might shift a little closer.

Jaskier is watching her with that same blue spark, but with the curve of his mouth a little softer, a little less casual. Her chest hurts, suddenly, and then she's tucking herself against his.

She's still leading. Jaskier presses a kiss to the top of her head and the ache beneath her breast changes shape—turns to something knocking on her ribs, grabbing at handholds. It feels like anger; her hands want to be fists, or claws. Her teeth want something familiar to cut themselves on.

It's not fair.

This sham of softness, the press of fingertips into the small of her back. Yen nudges her nose against his throat and steals the lingering scent of his cologne. There's cruelty in it—that she could want this badly enough to fool herself into wanting it with him.

Jaskier doesn't have to know any of this. He has his own reasons for the way he's holding her—for the way he's murmuring along with the song in her ear, their dancing turned to swaying in place with her breath tickling his bare skin.

She deserves to take a little of what she wants, doesn't she? He owes her.

Yen closes her eyes. Her cheek fits against the crook of his neck, the collar crumpling beneath her.

Glass shatters somewhere to her left.

They both startle; Jaskier pulls Yen back with him, away from the source of the noise—which appears to be an entire tray of used glasses and plates dropped by a caterer.

Valdo, who is standing next to the caterer and rubbing his jaw, shouts, "Are you bloody mental?"

The caterer is a young woman—late teens, at most. She stammers out what Yen assumes is an apology.

"Just save it! Are you going to get someone to clean this up?" Valdo snaps. "We're not paying to clean this carpet. Where's your boss? This is coming out of your paycheck."

The caterer bursts into tears.

"Right," Jaskier mutters. "Remind me why I wasted my university years on him again?"

Yen scowls. She tugs free of Jaskier's grip, fully intending to march over and provide immediate karmic justice—but Geralt beats her to it.

He touches at the young woman's arm, a kind furrow in his brow, and sends her away. She hurries off, scrubbing fiercely at her cheeks, and a terse conversation between Geralt and Valdo follows.

Music is still playing, though strangely hardly anyone seems interested in dancing right now.

Given how often she had him on his knees, Yen forgot how imposing of a figure Geralt can cut when he wants to. She's sure it's making an impression on Jaskier, who will be disappointed to learn this ability does not transfer to the bedroom.

He'll adapt.

Valdo's husband comes to rescue him, leading him away from the mess, and two more employees arrive to help Geralt clean the shattered glass. 

When that's taken care of, Geralt locks eyes with Yen and Jaskier in turn and makes his way over.

"Oh, Geralt!" Jaskier greets, as if he hasn't been staring at the man for five minutes straight. "Is everything alright? Your friend didn't cut herself or anything, did she?"

"Give me the ring," says Geralt.

Yen smirks.

Jaskier says, "I'm sorry?"

"I'll put it in the champagne," Geralt says. "They're supposed to cut the cake in ten minutes. That work?"

"Oh," Jaskier flounders, "um."

"Yes, that works," Yen says calmly. "Jaskier, go give it to Geralt in the hallway."

Geralt says, "Okay. See you out there," and leaves.

"Right," Jaskier says again. "So we're—we're doing the thing I said I wasn't gonna do anymore."

Yen turns his cheek towards her and presses a kiss to it. "Do you want a drink from the bar, love?"

"God yes," he says faintly, and still doesn't move.

Yen gives him a shove.

Jaskier blinks at her, then heads for the hallway like he's supposed to.

Yen rolls her eyes at his retreating form and walks across the room to the bar. She gets them each a glass of wine—no more hard liquor is a smart idea—and then goes back to their table, where Jakob and Shani are still sitting.

"Never a dull moment, huh?" Jakob asks when Yen sits down.

"Classic Valdo," Shani adds.

Yen hums in agreement. She looks up when Jaskier rejoins them, taking his seat with a heavy thump.

"Alright?" she asks him.

Jaskier's leg is bouncing rapidly. "Mhm! Right as rain. Why? Are you alright?"

"Yeah," Yen says drily. "I'm surviving, somehow. You're not gonna pass out, are you?"

"I haven't decided yet," Jaskier says brightly, "but thank you so much for asking!"

Yen nudges his glass into his palm. "Drink your wine."

"Are we… missing something here?" Shani asks.

"You've got all the information I do," Yen says.

Jaskier grabs her hand under the table and runs his thumb anxiously over her knuckles, back and forth and back and forth.

The current song ends and the DJ comes over the speakers to announce, "Okay, everyone, please turn your attention over to the cake cutting! Wow, isn't that thing gorgeous?"

Following the cue, Priscilla and Essi return to the table in a fit of giggles. Essi takes one look at Jaskier and asks, "What's your problem?"

"Global warming," Jaskier says absently, and then Geralt is setting a glass of champagne down beside Yen's wine.

"Didn't we do all the champagne stuff earlier?" Priscilla asks curiously.

Geralt shrugs, backing away politely.

Yen nods thanks him, reaching for her glass with a feigned casualness, trying to find the best way to pretend to notice—

"Holy shit!" Essi says, which circumvents that issue.

Yen allows herself to look at the glass directly—the ring is there, surrounded by a swirl of fizzing bubbles, catching in the light, looking exactly like it did when she picked it out for this whole scam. It puts a stupid little thrill in her stomach anyway.

"Oh my god," she says. A few neighboring tables are staring. "Oh my god," she says again, louder.

Someone clinks on a glass, possibly to draw attention, but Yen can't tell who. She's too busy watching Jaskier drop to one knee.

"Yen," he says, gazing up at her. "I—' he blinks, wetting his bottom lip nervously. "Erm, should I be holding the ring?"

She laughs, genuinely—her fingers coming up to press against the sound. "I don't know how to get it out."

"Okay. Right, that's alright." Jaskier laughs too, high in his throat, and seeing him down there is— "We can get it—I'm sorry, I had—I practiced this quite a lot, actually, but now I'm just looking at you and it all feels—lacking."

Is that true? It must be part of his script. The perfect staging. 

"I told you if I did this that I'd make sure everyone knew how beautiful you are. That I'd—" he laughs again. It's hard to fake a laugh like that. "I'd sing your praises. But, um, I don't know how to do that, because I don't understand how anyone could look at you and not already see what I do."

Yen shakes her head at him.

Jaskier reaches up, clasps one of her hands. His voice grows steadier as he goes. "You're stubborn, and brash, and terrifying when you're cruel. And righteous, often, and so kind, and dozens of things you'd kill me for saying in public because you've fought too hard to keep them."

There's a buzzing under Yen's skin, an intoxicating discomfort. She wants a fucking drink but she can't pull her hand away.

"You're fiercely loyal. You love so well that other love looks small. You've been my partner in crime since—oh, do you remember when we were fifteen?" Jaskier beams at her from ear to ear, his stupid perfect teeth and shining eyes, and her smiles are always a little crooked from her jaw. "We stole half a bottle of my father's gin, and I know that's why you still drink martinis and I think that's when I fell in love with you, but it might've been sooner."

It might've been sooner. Christ, he means it. His collar is crooked like her mouth and his hand is clutching hers like one of them is in a hospital bed and he means it.

"So it's been a long time, for me," Jaskier says. His smile droops and softens. "But I don't mind. I just thought… I could ask."

They were thirteen. Yen said no one would ever want to kiss her and Julian said, I do, but he didn't count. He took her to the winter formal every year and danced with her until the lights came on, but he didn't count. 

He's asking her to marry him and it doesn't count.

"Yen," someone whispers. Maybe Priscilla. "Say something."

"Yes," she croaks. "I'm sorry."

She watches his smile falter. He still looks wrong in a tux, but she could like him kneeling. She could like him as a lot of things, which is probably why she feels sick.

Yen fumbles for the champagne and chugs it—the ring hits her teeth. She plucks it out of the glass and dries it off, and hands it over so he can put it on her. It fits perfectly, of course; the attendant at the counter measured her size.

Some people clap, but probably not Jaskier's ex-boyfriend. Yen kisses Jaskier in a daze, grips his hand when he sits back down next to her. They announce the cake cutting for a second, feeble time and Yen walks out of the room.

Jaskier doesn't try to follow her. 

There's a patio area overlooking a garden connected to the ballroom. It's still early evening, which is jarring, but so is everything. Yen brushes the dirt and leaves off of a wooden bench and sits with her ankles neatly crossed. Her feet are still bare and the dirt is cool against her heels.

Half a minute later, the doors swing open and light briefly pours over the stone before they click shut.

Geralt joins her on the bench.

His hair is a different shade of silver than when she knew him, but his roots are the same messy tell. It's pulled back in a high bun that she always refused to admit was attractive.

"Nice ring," he says with a nod.

Yen holds it out for him to admire. "It's fake."

"Hm," says Geralt. "Looks pretty real from here."

Yen's nostrils flare in a silent laugh. She turns to look out over the garden. "So you live in London now."

Geralt says, "Been here about a year."

"Must've missed your call," Yen says.

"I didn't think you'd wanna hear from me," he answers. She glances at him, but his eyes are fixed straight ahead. "My life's pretty different now. I have a daughter."

"Jaskier mentioned." Yen purses her lips. "I thought you didn't want children."

"I didn't," Geralt says. He smiles. "I love her, though. You would too."

Yen uncrosses her ankles. "I'm sure."

There's silence, except for the muffled chatter from inside the hotel. An aeroplane passes overhead somewhere in the distance.

"He told me he was polyamorous before he asked me out," Geralt says eventually. "He also told me he was single. But I was kinda prepared, I guess."

Yen bristles. "What does that matter?"

"So you know that I'm not standing in your way," Geralt tells her. Then tilts his head wryly. "Not that I could anyway."

"There's nothing for you to be in the way of," Yen says.

Geralt says, "Yen, I know you. If you already knew what you wanted, you'd be doing it."

"So you came out here to what?" Yen snarks. "Counsel me?"

Geralt hums noncommittally.

Yen turns away from him, gazing at the row of neatly trimmed hedges demarking the garden.

"You don't always have to do everything alone, Yen," Geralt says quietly. "You can talk to me."

She snorts, pursing her lips. "That's rich, coming from you."

"I know," he says.

A breeze picks up, cool in the darkening night. Yen hates the waver in her voice when she asks, "What if it can't last?"

"Like we didn't?" Geralt asks.

She says nothing.

"You left me, Yen," he reminds her. "A lot."

"You left first," she shoots back, spinning to face him. "How was I supposed to trust you after that? To think you really—"

She cuts off. Her heart is kicking up in her chest and it's disgusting, that he can still do that to her.

"I loved you," Geralt tells her, his voice low with conviction. The ever-present wrinkle on his brow that she used to smooth out while he was sleeping. "I was fucking terrified, Yen. I couldn't convince myself I deserved you. I didn't get how badly that hurt you, but now I do."

Yen's chest aches. She says, "You should care about how it hurts you."

"Hm. My therapist keeps telling me the same thing," Geralt says wryly.

Yen shakes her head in disbelief. "There's a sentence I never thought I'd hear."

"You could make it last." Geralt quirks his lips at her. "You're Yennefer. When you want something, you get it."

The doors swing open again; Jaskier's silhouette appears backlit in the glow.

Yen whispers, "I couldn't get you."

Geralt stands slowly, his hands sliding up his thighs to punctuate the motion. He says, "You had me, Yen," and walks away.

The ache pangs.

Yen says, "My number's the same."

Geralt looks back at her with a smile, soft in the weak light. "Good."

He keeps walking. Jaskier murmurs something to him as he passes and he reaches out to touch Jaskier's arm. 

Jaskier covers his hand with his own, and watches for a moment as Geralt vanishes back inside.

Yen looks away.

"Brr!" Jaskier says brightly, coming to sit next to her. "Bit of a chill in the air, isn't there? It's nice, after that stuffy ballroom. Are you cold? I could get my—"

"Julian," Yen says. "I'm tired."

He goes quiet. Save for his fingers tapping on the bench, dull thuds against the wood.

"That's really why I didn't tell the others, you know," he says, unprompted. "I knew they'd tell me it was a horrible idea and that I'd be too obvious about it, heart on the sleeve and all that, but I had to know what it'd be like. Just to see, you know. But it doesn't really change anything, I mean—I'd never wanna make you uncomfortable and I swear that I can be—"

"Oh, for fuck's sake," Yen says, and kisses him.

He melts against her, a muffled gasp giving over his mouth to hers. His hands cling to her dress, at her hip and between her shoulder blades, and she can feel it. She can feel him loving her.

It's horrible. She wants him to do it forever.

"I love you too," she mutters. "Idiot."

Jaskier laughs, then kisses her again. He kisses the corner of her mouth, the line of her jaw over the makeup-covered scar, down the side of her neck where he hides his face in her throat.

"We probably shouldn't start with the ring," Yen muses. She slips her left hand into his hair, watching the cheap crystal glitter in the light from the hotel. "But I did tell you I wanted to keep it."

Jaskier says, "I'll get you a real one, one day."

"I don't care about that," she tells him.

He laughs, warm against the goosebumps on her collarbone. "Yes, you do. But you'd still have me like this, and that's more than enough."

Yen's lips brush against the top of his head.

Jaskier looks up at her, cupping her cheek with his hand. His eyes are so earnest, so perpetually the child who followed her around with her books in his arms.

"Will you say it again?" he asks.

Yen thumbs at his bottom lip. "I'm in love with you."

A smile spreads across his face. He says, "I love you too."

They kiss once more, softly. Yen is still tipsy and a little light-headed with it. She can't wait to kiss him sober.

"We should probably leave the wedding," Jaskier murmurs eventually. "Before someone figures out how to throw us out."

Yen hums wryly. "Let's get our stuff."

They head back inside. Jaskier heads straight for their table, where everyone else is still sitting, but Yen touches at his arm and indicates the dessert table. He raises his eyebrows and lets her go.

Yen takes three plates of cake with her, carefully balanced on her arm. Jaskier trades two of them for her clutch when she joins him at the table and asks, "Are you still cold?"

"A little," Yen says, and he drapes his jacket over her shoulders. She snorts. "You just don't wanna carry this."

"And it looks better on you," Jaskier confirms, leaning over to peck her on the cheek.

"Aww, you guys are leaving?" Shani asks drily. "Are you sure you don't wanna announce a pregnancy or something first?"

Jaskier wrinkles his nose. "Please do not manifest that for us."

"So, I'm still confused," Essi says, pointing between the two of them. "Is the whole relationship fake, or just the proposal?"

Yen raises an eyebrow at Jaskier that says, You told them?

He ignores her, answering Essi cheerfully, "The whole thing was fake, but now it's not, except the proposal still is!"

"I'm legally allowed to kill you," Essi says flatly.

"So is Valdo," Priscilla says. "Who's… heading this way? Yeah, yikes, you should probably go."

"Yup, that's our cue, love!" Jaskier says brightly. "Shall we?"

Yen just drags him off.

They escape the wedding unscathed, stolen cake and all. But rather than calling a cab, Yen steers them towards the kitchen.

"Love that for us," Jaskier tells her.

The catering staff is still bustling about, busy cleaning up after the dinner. Yen and Jaskier slip to the side near an unused bit of countertop to stay out of the way. Geralt is across the room, holding a clipboard and talking with a few other staff members.

"God, I love a man in uniform," Jaskier says dreamily. "Especially without the imperialism."

"You're so fucking weird," Yen tells him fondly.

He bumps their shoulders together.

Geralt flashes a poorly concealed smile when he sees them. He leaves the clipboard hanging from a peg on the wall and comes to stand across from them.

"You're still not allowed back here," he says.

"Oh, get over it," Yen teases. She holds out a plate. "We come with a bribe."

"Chocolate," Geralt says approvingly. 

Jaskier raises his eyebrows playfully. "Oh, so you have a sweet tooth, do you?"

"Hm," Geralt says, clearly dodging the question. "Be right back."

Jaskier glances down at the plates in his hands, the frowns and observes, "You know, we should've stolen some forks or something." He shrugs, passing one of them to Yen. "Eh."

Yen takes the plate and watches with amusement as Jaskier scoops up the cake with his fingers, immediately making a mess of himself while he eats.

"Oi," Yen scolds exasperatedly. "I can't take you anywhere."

Jaskier shrugs, unrepentant even when Geralt catches him in the act. At least he's not so worried about putting on a face anymore. 

Geralt says, "Uh," and holds up three forks, which are clearly what he'd gone to go get.

Yen plucks one from his hand and takes a neat bite.

"You know, I've already committed to this method," Jaskier tells Geralt cheerfully. "But thank you so much!"

Geralt shrugs and sets the other fork aside. 

There's a brief moment of respite, and then a young woman—the same one from before who dropped her tray—comes careening into Geralt's side in what Yen cannot possibly imagine is a kitchen-safe manner.

"Heyyy, Dad?" she asks, which is a very strange way for Yen to watch someone address her ex-boyfriend who she smoked a lot of pot with in college. "What would you say if I said I had a date tomorrow?"

Geralt raises an eyebrow at her. "I'd say you've got work tomorrow."

"Only until eight!" his (apparently adopted) daughter argues.

"Mhm." Geralt appears unphased. "So you're gonna go out at, what, ten on a school night?"

"Yeah, exactly."

Geralt sighs. "Ciri, how'd you even get a date in the last hour?"

Ciri says, "One of the wedding guests—ugh, don't make that face, she's my age! Dad, please?"

Geralt stares at her.

"Think of it this way," Ciri argues, snatching the cake from Geralt's hands and taking a bite. Yen smirks. "If I'm outta the house, you can have that cute guy from the coffee shop over, 'cause honestly it's getting kinda sad, Dad. Haha, sad-Dad."

Geralt clears his throat, which does nothing to hide the blush rising to his face. "Ciri, these are my friends, Yennefer and Jaskier."

Ciri turns and appears to notice them for the first time—she looks between Yen and Jaskier and says, "Oh, hi! You're really pretty. Why are you eating your cake like that?"

Jaskier is grinning insufferably. "I've lost control of my life."

"Mood," says Ciri. "Were you at the wedding?"

"We were," Yen says. "You're in better spirits than the last time we saw you."

"Oh, yeah." Ciri takes another bite of cake. "That guy was a prick, but I always cry when customers yell at me. It makes 'em feel really bad about it."

Jaskier says, "You're a little bit my hero."

"Dad, I'm Jaskier's hero," Ciri wheedles. "Heroes get to go on dates."

Geralt's attempt to look serious is severely undercut by the warm smile creeping onto his face. He relents, "Fine. Make sure all your homework's done and text me where you are."

"What if I do my homework on the date?" Ciri asks innocently.

"You were right," Yen tells Geralt. "I love her."

Ciri takes a triumphant bite of cake.

"So, Geralt," Jaskier asks, licking the frosting off his fingers. "Do you run the whole company?"

Geralt says, "I co-run it."

As if on cue, there's a commotion at the doors as two men burst through.

"Alright, motherfuckers," the first man—a redhead who Yen immediately recognizes as one of Geralt's foster brothers, Lambert—announces, "guess who charmed the bartender outta the last bottle of champagne."

"I did," says Eskel, the other brother. 

"No," Geralt says sternly. "We've still got work to do."

This is possibly an inside joke, because the entire staff immediately bursts into a rousing chorus of boos and several people begin passing around champagne flutes.

Even Ciri gets a glass, though after popping the bottle, Eskel only pours her a taste.

Lambert announces the toast and declares, "Here's to the worst wedding we've ever catered!"

Yen snorts, elbowing Jaskier affectionately.

"And to Ciri, who—in a vital food service rite of passage—broke her first ever plate!" Eskel adds, reaching over to ruffle Ciri's hair.

There's a round of cheers.

Yen leans forward to clink glasses with Ciri, Geralt, and Eskel—who blinks at her in shocked recognition—before she turns to Jaskier.

He's already looking at her, of course. His eyes are bright, so unabashed in their affection that her throat closes up in the face of it, and there's still a smudge of chocolate frosting on the corner of his mouth.

"It's all been quite the mess, hasn't it?" he asks her, his voice rough with warmth.

She's not sure what he means—the wedding or the whole night, or possibly the last twenty years. But she knows that he's right, and that it was worth it, as she finally brings the glass to her lips.

It's pretty good champagne.