Geralt awoke with a start, breathing laboured. He felt cold sweat dampen the back of his shirt. Darkness still clung to the corners of the room, but to his left candlelight flickered, the flame nearly burnt down to the wick. His amber eyes glowed faintly in the dim light as they darted around, in a desperate and senseless panic. When his eyes fell upon her still form, he held his breath until he saw the sure rise and fall of her shoulders as she took a breath. Only then did he let out his own quiet sigh of relief.
Her wild raven curls had fallen across her face, one which he had come to know as certainly as he did the constellations in the night sky. Turning gently on his side, and mindful not to disturb her rest, Geralt tucked the offending lock behind her ear. As she stirred at his ticklish touch, he was met by a comforting waft of lilac and gooseberries.
He felt his heartbeat slowly returning to its regular rhythm: one beat for every four of an ordinary man’s. It didn't take much, just the comforting presence of her. She had that effect on him; smoothed his wrinkled brow, eased the tension in his shoulders, pulled the corners of his lips up into a witcher’s approximation of a smile. Undoubtedly, there were times she was just as capable of doing the opposite, driving him near mad with how deliberately difficult, obstinate and quick to temper she could be.
But he had a sneaking feeling that those qualities were precisely what drew him to her, like a foolish moth to a burning flame. So enchanting was her fierce spark and sharp beauty that he knew he would fly into the storm, over and over again, if only to feel her electricity once more before falling back down to earth.
“Didn't anyone teach you that it’s quite rude to stare?” Her voice, usually clear and melodious was hindered by the early hour, coming out husky. She spoke without cracking an eyelid open.
Geralt’s lips twitched with amusement and he withdrew his hand, content to stare a moment longer. “Hmm, don’t recall reading about it in Vesemir’s dusty old tomes.”
Yennefer snorted softly, then fell silent, likely succumbing to sleep once more. Listening closely to her steadied breaths confirmed his suspicion.
Geralt was deeply grateful he hadn't woken her properly, for he was well acquainted with the famous temper that accompanied her being unwillingly woken before the noon bell. He cast a long, final glance at his sleeping love, before carefully climbing out of the bed.
He slipped quietly out of their bedroom, through the still foyer of the manor, and into the early dawn. The crickets and morning birds greeted him with their song. Despite the hour, the sun had already begun to peek over the very tops of the mountains. Time moved slowly in Corvo Bianco, like oozing honey. The days passed in a blissful haze - the sun warm on his face, tongue sweet with fruit and local wine, and his heart full with the woman of his dreams. Like a dream, indeed.
But beneath the bliss and warmth, a seed of doubt tugged at his mind. How long would it last, this dream? How long before it was cruelly snatched away? When would some nefarious force come to claim his happiness, to fulfil the destiny that no witcher shall die old and contented in his bed? In spite of the contentedness he felt during the day, he couldn't help the errant thoughts that wandered into the deep and dark crevices of his mind, where the nightmares clawed at him in the night, denying him his rest.
Some nights, he relived Vesemir’s death, again and again; other nights it was Eskel or Lambert, the last remnants of his wolf family. Every time, he would be too late, too far to save them. Some nights he dreamt that Ciri had never returned after defeating the White Frost, sacrificing herself to stop the great evil that would destroy worlds. Their fates were always out of his hands, which terrified him. The vivid memories brought a sharp pang to his chest even now, as he sat down heavily on the chaise longue under the tree that Yennefer so adored, his chin resting upon a white-knuckled fist.
But the worst nights – nights like these – came when the flickering flames of the pyres visited his sleep. He would be forced to watch helplessly on as they shackled her with dimeritium, dulling her vivid violet eyes. They would strip her of her dignity, leaving her beaten and broken to within an inch of her life for being an aberration, an extraordinary creature. And once her dignity was stripped bare, and her tormentors had grown bored of crushing fingers, wrenching fingernails, shattering bones, she would be dragged to the wooden pyre, her will to fight seeping into the bloodied ground. There, the faceless crowd would cry out, baying for blood, fanatics demanding sacrifice for the fear that plagued their miserable lives.
He would scream until his throat was raw, struggling fiercely in vain against the indifferent, unmovable force that held him in place, to make him witness her suffering until the very end. As the flames danced, greedily swallowing up the dry timber and laving her body with its heat, her shimmering eyes (from the smoke, or tears, he could never determine) would meet his enraged, helpless ones, and offer her final confession of love, gifting him with undeserved forgiveness. For he could not stop them, could not save her from the monsters. He, the famed White Wolf, whose fearsome tales spread far across the Northern Realms, could not even raise a fist to defend the woman he loved. Fate, some would say, is a cruel mistress.
Geralt feared that he couldn't fathom what he would do if he ever lost her. Or perhaps he feared that he could. Perhaps he feared that when that great evil came to plunge his unnatural heart into never-ending darkness, it would beat him down to the unfeeling, cold, and merciless killing machine he had been sculpted to become. Perhaps it was his fate, his destiny, to watch those he loved suffer and pass. Perhaps a creature like him deserved no happiness in the world, one that killed for coin, without conscience. Whomever he was now could not change who he once was, the deeds he had committed.
Clenching his jaw, Geralt vehemently refused to tumble back down into the seductive pit of self-pity and self-loathing. He had grown, and come so much further than that. It would be an utter slap in the face to both Yen and Ciri, who had patiently lifted and guided him from those depths with the force of their love, and most of all himself. Truly, for as long as he lived, he had never given into that force that people called destiny, at least not willingly. And he was not going to fold to it now. He had fought against it, tooth and nail, even against his Child of Destiny, who had eventually become the biggest pride and joy in his life. He refused to let it shake him now, to let it loom over him and taint his rest and retirement. He had paid his dues.
The sun crowned the mountain top before him, its tranquil morning light spilling slowly across the land. Geralt rose with a grunt, brushing his sweaty palms against the seat of his trousers. Satisfied that his troubled thoughts had settled enough not to alert Yennefer’s keen mind, he made to return to her.
Evidently, they hadn't been quiet enough when he left their bed. To say that he was surprised she had managed to sneak up on him would be a lie - he’d heard her soft footfalls approaching - but in his absentminded state, he hadn't noticed her until she was but a few paces behind him.
Her hands, cool and electrifying as ever, came to rest upon his chest as she pressed the length of her body to his back. He felt her head against his shoulder blades, and her ear between them, where he guessed she was listening to his heartbeat. She had always been captivated by the slow, steady thump-thump of his witcher's heart. Her tenderness brought a small smile to his face.
He wished the world outside Ciri and himself could witness this side of her for themselves, the Yen that often remained guarded beneath the mask of the ice queen, and yet he couldn't help but cherish that she reserved this part of her just for him and their daughter. Slowly, he brought his hands up to cover hers. There they stood for a spell of silence, content to enjoy the nearness of each other.
In the distance, Geralt watched the sun continue its leisurely journey into the lightening sky, painting tones of pastel pink and blue onto the canvas of the picturesque Toussaint landscape. Still, he couldn't say how long they had stood there when she finally broke the spell.
“Was it Ciri this time?”
Geralt hesitated before shaking his head. He knew she understood then in the way her fingers gripped his chest just that bit tighter, and by her sharp intake of breath.
“Why didn't you wake me?” A sharp reprimand. Geralt gently pulled her hands from his body, holding them loosely as he turned to face her. Her jaw was tight, eyes bright. He wagered a joke wouldn't fly well with her in this moment.
“Didn't want to worry you,” Geralt replied, brushing a thumb over the back of her small hand. “You know I hate to see you worry.” He knew that her affronted demeanour was just her worry manifesting. He met her conflicted gaze with his, honest and loving, and saw her anger subside, ebbing like the Skellige tide.
He hummed in response, and decided to change tack. “What are you doing up? Isn't it still the middle of the night for you?”
Geralt watched her grapple with pursuing her line of questioning, or indulging him this time. Retirement had most definitely softened her edges, but the early hour likely contributed more than a little to her grudging mood for compromise.
“Oh, don’t act as though it’s some big mystery and not entirely your fault,” she huffed. Despite her half-hearted jest, at the sight of the guilt flickering across his amber eyes, her heart twinged with regret and she softened. “I missed you and your warmth dearly.”
A smile crossed Geralt's face, almost imperceptible to one who wasn't looking closely, and in his eyes gleamed a note of playfulness. "Here in Toussaint, where the weather is so dreadfully warm that you would abandon your black and white for off-white and pea green?”
She knew he was trying to distract her from her own feelings of guilt at being a cause for his restlessness, and felt a surge of affection for the deeply compassionate man standing before her, that so many ignoramuses believed to be barren of emotions. Oh, how little they knew.
Yennefer rolled her eyes, mirth tugging at the corners of her mouth. “When the world is finally bereft of all its idiots, I may consider it.”
“Hmm, and even then, in a world without idiots, you’d not give off-white and pea green your full commitment? Just your measly consideration?” Geralt raised his eyebrows.
“My poor Yen, you’ll be waiting a few eons before you get the chance to don such lovely colours.”
He got the reaction he was after when at last the stony dam broke, and Yennefer chuckled, smiling fondly at her ridiculous witcher. She reached a hand up to his cheek, gently tracing the scar running down his left eye. With the other, she wound loosely around his neck, teasing the soft hairs at the base of his skull.
“I seem to recall that without my ‘measly consideration’, we wouldn't be standing here together.”
Geralt’s hands encircled her shapely waist. “And what about my measly consideration? That must count for something.”
A twinkle lit her brilliant violet eyes. He adored everything about her, but her eyes had admittedly always been his downfall. “What with your wishing upon a djinn, I believe you skipped right over measly consideration, and jumped straight to full commitment.”
“Hmm, I don’t regret a thing.” As Geralt lowered his forehead to hers, nudging her slightly too-long nose with his own, Yennefer’s arms found their way around his neck.
“Never, witcher,” Yennefer whispered, the intoxicating scent of lilac and gooseberries enveloping him in her warm embrace. When her lips tenderly met his, he let out an unsteady breath.
“You've earned it all, my love.”
She spoke the words that he had turned over and over in his mind, fearing that he did not truly deserve their weight. He had been carrying them with him these recent days like a mantra, half out of determination to believe, half out of dogged rebellion against his lingering disbelief. But in that moment, he believed beyond a doubt, fates be damned.
In her, he believed, always.