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when the night falls

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Jaskier jumped when he heard the familiar pop of a portal opening behind him.

“Bard,” Yennefer said, stepping into the middle of his inn room from somewhere that looked dizzyingly high. Her cloak swung dramatically around her ankles as she removed her hood, her hair looking appropriately wind-swept and her cheeks flushed from the cold. Infuriatingly beautiful, as always. 

“Witch,” Jaskier clipped, carefully putting down his quill as his eye flicked to the exit behind her shoulder. Blocked. “I would ask how you found me, but …” He sighed as his gaze focused on her. “You know this is the equivalent of barging into someone’s bedroom without knocking, right? You’re lucky I’m decent.” 

“Yes,” Yennefer said dryly, “I had suspected there was a not-insubstantial probability I would walk in to find you with your hands down your pants.” 

Jaskier barely bit back the temptation to say something that would give Yennefer cause to turn him into a newt. Not that he suspected she needed much excuse. Warily, he kept his eye on her her as she stepped around the room, inspecting his clutter of books and papers. 

“If you’re looking for Geralt, he’s not here,” Jaskier said stiffly. 

“Another spat?” Yennefer asked, turning to him, then waved off his answer as soon as he opened his mouth. “Nevermind. I don’t care. I came for you.” 

Normally, when a beautiful woman said that while Jaskier was alone in a room with her, it would be the prelude to some vigorous lovemaking. Jaskier thought rather dismally that this likely wasn’t where this situation was going. 

“Remember the favor you owe me, bard?” Yennefer asked, crossing her arms over her chest. 

“How could I forget?” Jaskier rolled his eyes. In truth, he owed her more than one, for the times she had saved his life from one magical mishap or another. He had been wondering when she would come to collect. “What do you want?” Jaskier asked with resignation in his tone, “to use me as bait for a monster? To test some vile potions on my body? To carve me up for parts?”

“Perhaps later,” Yennefer smiled thinly. “For now, I need you to pull on something decent. None of your usual foppish airs, please. Something respectable.” 

“Hey!” 

Now,” Yennefer snapped, her tone brooking no argument.

Jaskier was still grumbling when Yennefer yanked him after her through the portal, swallowing down his disorienting nausea by focusing on how very, very much he despised the witch in this moment. 

Foppish. Really.

When Jaskier came to, he was dry heaving on a tiled floor, his limbs as weak as water and just barely holding himself up with a hand upon the wall. Fucking portals. 

“… was wondering where you got to!” 

Jaskier felt his surroundings swim into focus as he pushed himself to standing, blinking when he saw that he was on a balcony above a grand ballroom. Floating lanterns rotated lazily in the air, casting a warm white glow onto the revelers, who, Jaskier realized with alarm, were mages and royalty from all across the Northern Kingdoms. 

Beside him, Yennefer was speaking with someone, a blonde-haired woman who’s eyes flicked over Jaskier’s rumpled form with a curious gleam. 

“Yes,” Yennefer said coolly, “my companion had a bit much to drink.” 

Her what? Jaskier felt dizzied anew as Yennefer yanked him towards her, entwining her arm through his own. Though her body was soft and her scent sweet, he still had the strangest sensation that she was pressing a knife to his ribs. 

“Funny,” the blonde said with a sharp smile. “I could have sworn I felt the ripple of a portal being opened.”

“Jaskier Alfred Pankratz, Viscount de Lettenhove,” Jaskier introduced himself loudly, offering the woman a stumbling bow. “It is all my fault, I confess. I pleaded with Yennefer to fetch me a potion for my head. I am,” he added with a helpless smile, “light to drink and equally an amnesic. I can never remember how much wine I’ve consumed once I start.” 

The blonde seemed torn between suspicion and reluctant admiration. “Sabrina Glevissig,” she murmured, sinking into her own curtsy. “Advisor to King Henselt.” She turned to Yennefer. “I thought to let you know,” she said coolly, “the festivities are soon to begin.” 

Yennefer inclined her head with a strained smile as Sabrina departed. Jaskier, because he was only human, watched the swing of her hips under her clinging dress with great interest until Yennefer snapped her fingers in front of his face.

“I would praise you for your quick reaction, but as usual you follow up with something deeply annoying,” Yennefer grumbled, her arm tightening like a snake around Jaskier’s elbow as she began dragging him towards the large curved staircase which opened to the banquet hall. 

“Maybe I wouldn’t need the quick reaction if you told me what was going on,” Jaskier hissed, a little unsettled by her proximity once more. She was surely using her magic on him ... else why was his head dizzy with her scent, his heartbeat rising with the soft brush of her hair against his arm? “Your companion for a banquet?” He tried to focus on his frustration. “That’s what you dragged me here for?” 

To be fair, it was a better deal than being monster bait. But, considering this was Yennefer he was dealing with, perhaps not. 

Yennefer glanced away with an expression Jaskier had never seen before on her face. Was it … embarrassment? “Not a banquet,” she said tightly. “A wedding. I would not have bothered to attend if it was merely a banquet.” 

“Ah,” Jaskier said dryly. “And I suppose Geralt lacked the necessary … qualifications for the honor.” 

Yennefer snorted. “The manners? Yes.” She looked rueful. “And at the moment we are not quite speaking.” 

Jaskier blinked, “So when you asked if I and Geralt were on the outs, that was because-” 

“There are far more pleasant things to talk about than Geralt,” Yennefer said firmly, and Jaskier dropped the subject. He was surprised that he felt no triumph at Yennefer’s admission. True, Jaskier still maintained that he believed Geralt and Yennefer to be terrible for each other, but that didn’t mean he disliked the witch. 

Melitele’s tits, what manner of magic had she performed on him? 

The feasting was uneventful, though the layers of petty etiquette reminded Jaskier most unfortunately of meals he had taken with his parents. Also, the bard hired for the party was dreadfully pedestrian. 

Since they were seated near Sabrina and other dignitaries from the Kaedwen court, Jaskier made sure to play the adoring escort, fawning over Yennefer at every opportunity, grabbing for her the most sumptuous morsels off of passing plates and inventing more and more ludicrous pet names every time he had cause to address her. It was more for his own amusement than to play into Yennefer’s charade, and the deathly glares she slid him promised dire punishment later. 

Presently, the floor was cleared for dancing, the tables swept away and the tittering partygoers wandering towards the musicians at the front of the room. 

“May I have this dance?” Jaskier turned to Yennefer, bowing grandly as he held his hand out for hers.

“They’re not watching us any longer, bard,” Yennefer said, narrowing her eyes. “You can give it a break.” 

“I asked you to dance because I wished to dance,” Jaskier said easily. “But if you don’t believe yourself up to the challenge …” 

Yennefer scowled, and it seemed that she knew exactly what Jaskier was attempting to do but could still not stop herself from taking the bait. Roughly, she grabbed his hand and pulled him towards her. 

“Fine,” she said primly. “Let’s see if your footwork is as inspired as your mouth.” 

“You think my mouth inspired?” Jaskier murmured in Yennefer’s ear, and received a jab to his side that made him yelp. 

They stepped onto the floor in the midst of a crowd of twirling couples, blending into their rhythm with little effort. Jaskier might have asked Yennefer to dance as an extension of his teasing, but soon, he found, to his surprise, that he was enjoying himself. 

The sorceress who always seemed larger than life, a tempest in a bottle … Jaskier never dared to imagine how well she would fit in his arms. An agile dance partner who responded to his subtlest touch, skillful enough that Jaskier had to summon all he remembered of his youthful tutoring in an attempt to keep up. She was also soft, lithe and fragrant, and his skin warmed dangerously where it was pressed against hers. 

Too late, Jaskier remembered Yennefer’s ability to read minds when she glanced up at him with a startled, uncertain expression. 

“You look like you want to eat me,” Jaskier muttered nervously, trying to break the spell between them. This strange, fragile mood which was just … dangerous. Preposterous. 

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Yennefer cut away her gaze, and almost seemed as unsettled as he. 

The song changed, and Jaskier dropped his hands, expecting Yennefer to wander away. Instead, she pulled him closer, and-

She was leading him now, one hand on his wrist, the other on his hip. Yennefer smirked at his look of surprise, her hands firm and sure where they gave him direction. It made his knees weak, just a little bit, when she pushed him away and drew him back as they spun gracefully through the rainbow of revelers on the dance floor. 

If she sought to unseat him, however, she was mistaken, for Jaskier followed just as well as he led. The follow was, after all, the painting to the lead’s frame. And Jaskier was nothing if not excellent eye candy. 

“You are better than I thought you would be,” Yennefer said at last, when they paused, stepping off of the dance floor to catch their breath. Or, at least Jaskier needed to catch his breath. Yennefer remained cool and collected, not a drop of sweat on her brow, and Jaskier was never more envious of her magic than in that moment. 

“Thank you,” Jaskier said graciously, grabbing flutes of champagne for the both of them from a passing server. He drank half of his in one gulp. “You were not too bad yourself.” 

Yennefer made a noncommittal noise, inclining her head as she looked upon him with something approaching … softness. To his surprise, Jaskier felt an answering throb in his own chest. 

When their eyes met, both glanced away hurriedly.

Dancing was dangerous, Jaskier decided. 

However, the suggested alternative - taking a turn about the garden in the cool night air - was about to prove more dangerous still. 

Jaskier felt heat prickling his collar as he and Yennefer passed yet another giggling couple cavorting drunkenly in the bushes, the noises of their moans ringing awkwardly in the quiet. He was suddenly quite aware of how he and Yennefer appeared in that moment … anyone who saw them from a distance would judge them to be a couple intent upon an assignation within the lush summer garden when it … couldn’t be further from the truth.

As soon as the image of Yennefer’s curvy thighs linked around his waist passed through Jaskier’s mind, he shoved it away violently. He was already in enough trouble with the witch without her lifting that from his mind. 

They paused before a large marble fountain, which seemed to be the only portion of the garden free from shaking bushes and giggling.

“So,” Jaskier said, to break the silence. “Do you enjoy dancing?” 

“I do,” Yennefer said evenly, and Jaskier turned to see her gazing quietly at the fat cherubs and blank-eyed nymphs upending jugs of never-ending water into the fountain below. “I don’t often have the chance though.”

“I can see that,” Jaskier said ruefully. “Geralt does not seem like much of a dancer.” 

Yennefer barked a short laugh. “You can say that.” 

“You’ve a graceful step,” Jaskier said, and wondered if it was the most earnest compliment he had ever allowed Yennefer. 

“Thank you,” Yennefer muttered, and seemed surprised that the words came from her own lips. She looked at him then, with an unusually vulnerable set to her mouth. “It was not always the case, you know. We had a dance instructor in Aretuza who took one look at the way I was then and told me that I didn’t need to bother trying at all. I had to work twice as hard as the other girls to appear respectable.” 

Jaskier nodded mutely, though he did not entirely understand what it was she spoke of. It seemed to be an embarrassing reveal, however, for Yennefer turned away after she inadvertently let it slip, stepping out of her shoes without another word. 

Then, under the open eye of the moon, Yennefer waded into the cold fountain, her skirts hiked up to her thighs, her long, dark hair swinging down her back. And there she stood, an obsidian obelisk in the darkness, her eyes staring somewhere far away.

She was more beautiful in that moment than she had ever been to him, and Jaskier was surprised to find himself winded by the realization, transfixed by the strength in her narrow shoulders, the wildness in her gaze. 

“Are you just going to just keep staring?” Yennefer asked in a low voice, but before Jaskier could apologize, she inclined her head. “Join me.” 

“Isn’t it cold?” Jaskier asked with a laugh, but his fingers were already falling to the laces of his boots, pulling off his hose. 

“Sing something sweet, bard,” Yennefer said dreamily as he stepped into the fountain and gathered her close. 

There, in the midst of the labyrinthian garden, surrounded by the scent of late summer blossoms in the air, under the white moonlight, they danced as Jaskier hummed quietly in Yennefer’s ear. A song for her alone. 

Yennefer opened a portal for Jaskier at the end of the night, and he was equally relieved and disappointed that she made no move to follow him through. 

“You were quite an amusing escort, bard,” she said, her voice back to its usual coolness, though Jaskier thought he could hear an undercurrent of affection. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking. 

Jaskier cleared his throat, hesitating at the foot of the portal. “If you need more … companionship. For another wedding, or … or anything.” He slid his eyes to her. “You don’t need to extort me. You can just ask.” 

Yennefer looked surprised, just for a beat, until a smile quirked her lips. “What if I need you to be bait for a monster?” she asked with a deceptive sweetness.

“Oh, you’ll still need to extort me for that,” Jaskier said dryly, and Yennefer laughed, waving him through.

Jaskier was in the middle of being lost, bickering with Geralt about the last fork in the road, and whether they should have taken the left, like Jaskier told him, when. The familiar pop of a portal opening. 

“Bard,” Yennefer said, stepping from somewhere near the coast. She was wearing something dark and shiny, which pooled at her feet with a hiss as she moved. Her mouth was curved into a smile which made Jaskier’s heart skip a beat.

“Witch,” he said, struggling to hide the fondness in his tone. He pushed the map into Geralt’s chest as he walked to her. 

Geralt’s eyes flicked between the two of them with incredulity. “What’s going on?” 

“I’m borrowing your bard,” Yennefer said loftily, settling her fingers in the crook of Jaskier’s arm. 

“He’s not my bard,” Geralt said immediately.

“Good,” Yennefer said, patting Jaskier on the shoulder with satisfaction. “Then I’ll take him.” 

“Wait,” Geralt said, a note of plaintiveness entering his tone. “You can’t just take him! What do you even need him for?” 

“You heard the lady. I’m hers now,” Jaskier shrugged as Yennefer opened the portal behind them. “I’ll be back soon. Maybe.” 

“Can you at least tell me how to get out of this fucking forest?” Geralt called as Yennefer stepped through the swirling vortex, pulling Jaskier into a sunny beach and a pounding surf, the smell of the sea bringing back a rush of nostalgic memory.

“You should have taken the left,” she said over her shoulder, and Jaskier couldn’t help crowing, 

“I told you so!” 

Before the portal zipped closed behind them.