DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for tissvias as part of the Witcher Secret Santa 2020.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To scotangelina[at]yahoo.com
Outside under the purple sky, diamonds in the snow sparkle
Christmas Eve brings with it a heavy blanket of snow for the city to huddle beneath. White streets flash green and red from Christmas lights strung in every available window and between the lampposts to boot. The usual noises of the city are dampened by the snow, and by the fact that most people have finished work for their Christmas break. Christmas music rings out from shops and speakers, resulting in a cacophony of sleigh bells, heavenly choirs and Cliff Richard.
Tissaia De Vries sighs when another nauseating carol manages to permeate the inner sanctum of her office. She's expressly told her assistant, on a number of occasions, that if he insists on playing Christmas music, it is to be kept at an acceptable volume. Christmas is already an inconvenience with its enforced staff holidays and general slowing down of productivity as people spend too long at the kettle, comparing ugly Christmas jumpers. The last thing Tissaia needs is for her own concentration to be affected by Mariah bloody Carey screeching about wanting someone for Christmas.
Being the CEO of the largest architecture firm in Aretuza isn't a walk in the park. She's the one that is charged with keeping the place running and keeping these idiots in a job. They're not going to spend Christmas worrying where the next big contract will come from, but she will. She sighs again, picking up some paperwork she needs to give to Triss and stalks to the door, throwing it open.
Her assistant, Jaskier, looks up from his screen. He's wearing a ridiculous elf hat, complete with knitted pointy ears and a bell on the end that jingles when he moves.
"Turn that down," she says, as she passes his desk.
"Awww, but Tissaia, it's Christmas Eve," he whines. "Don't we all deserve a little bit of festive cheer?"
"Turn it down, or I will turn it off," Tissaia tells him without looking back as she arrives at Triss' office door.
The firm had been started by Tissaia's father and his partner, many years ago. Tissaia had joined the firm after graduating from uni with a First, and had insisted on starting at the bottom. That's where she'd met Triss, a capable and talented draughtswoman. They'd risen through the ranks together. Triss had a particular way with people, and had naturally fit into the client facing side of management, whereas Tissaia stuck with the more technical side of the business, even after inheriting the firm after her father's death.
Jaskier stands as she goes to twist the handle on Triss' door, holding both hands up in front of him. "Oh, I wouldn't go in there if I were y-"
She ignores him and opens the door, striding in and holding up the documents she'd brought. "Triss, this lot needs signed before-"
She freezes in place. Triss is sitting at her desk, eating a takeaway bowl of pasta. And perched on the edge of her desk is Yennefer Vengerberg.
Yennefer stands and wipes her hands on her jeans. She's wearing a Christmas jumper, but somehow manages to make it look good. It's a deep blue, decorated with white snowflakes, and it brings out the flecks of purple in her eyes. Neither of them speak, and Triss swallows her mouthful of pasta.
"Uh, Yen was just dropping something off." Triss shoves her lunch aside and pushes up from her chair, coming to stand between them, wringing her hands. "I thought you were on that conference call with New York till three?"
"I-" Tissaia forces her eyes away from Yennefer's. "They, uh, they cancelled. Some impromptu Christmas breakfast or other." She rolls her eyes. "Never mind the multi-million pound contract that still needs finalised when there are pancakes shaped like reindeer to be consumed, hmm?"
She tries to ignore the sound Yennefer makes.
"Oh, okay, well, I'll make sure these are dealt with," Triss says, taking the documents.
Tissaia nods. Her eyes flick over to meet Yennefer's once more. "It was...nice to see you, Yennefer."
"And you," Yennefer says, without smiling.
And with that, Tissaia turns and leaves the room, pulling the door closed behind her. She glares at Jaskier, stomping over to his desk and leaning across it.
"Why didn't you tell me she was in there?" she hisses.
"I tried," he protests, shrinking back in his chair, making the little bell on his hat ring. "You didn't stop and listen!"
"It should have been the first thing out of your mouth," Tissaia says, standing up straight. "I felt utterly ridiculous, and I'm sure so did she."
"Look, it's probably a good thing," Jaskier tries to reason. "You were bound to run into one another sooner or later. It's amazing you've managed to go a whole year without seeing her."
Memories of the previous Christmastime come crashing back in and Tissaia swallows. "Well, just try and be better at your job." She tuts. "It's bad enough that you're barely here-"
"Tissaia, my daughter's sick-"
"Yes, yes, and we have a policy that says I need to give you time off to deal with that, don't we?" Tissaia sighs. "Family friendly policies are one thing, Jaskier. But I won't stand for incompetence." She points to Triss' closed door. "Cause me embarrassment like that again and you'll find yourself out on your ear."
She turns on her heel and stalks back into her office. Her heart is racing and her stomach is rolling. She had done her very best to push Yennefer Vengerberg out of her mind, only to be confronted with her in her own building. The gall of the woman, really. A sharp pain goes through her abdomen and she winces, gritting her teeth until it passes. She grabs an indigestion pill from her handbag and pours herself some water from the cooler by the door, her hand shaking as she lifts the glass to her lips. She moves back to her desk, sitting heavily in her chair and closing her eyes. She holds the cool glass against her forehead.
A knock at the door startles her and she sits up, frowning when she hears a scuffle.
"What is it?" she calls.
The door opens and Jaskier practically falls through it, with Yennefer on his heels.
"Tissaia, I told her not to knock. I told her you were busy but-"
"And I told him I only needed a moment," Yennefer says, and lifts an eyebrow. "And that I wouldn't let you use his balls for Christmas ornaments for letting me in."
The edge of Tissaia's lip quirks at Yennefer's blunt humour. She lifts her chin, inhaling through her nose, and nods for Jaskier to leave. He walks backwards to the door, as if scared that he'll miss something if he turns around. Once the door is closed, Tissaia swallows and gestures to the chair opposite her desk.
"How formal," Yennefer says, with a smile, but she sits anyway.
"What- uh, that is to say-" Tissaia grimaces at her ineloquence. "I-"
"That was awkward as fuck just now, yeah?" Yennefer saves her from sputtering any further nonsense. "So I just wanted to, you know, make it less awkward. We should be able to speak to each other like normal people."
"Yes," Tissaia nods. Given that they were a couple for almost ten years, that shouldn't be difficult. "We should be able to manage that."
Yennefer gives her a tentative smile and a little nod. "Good." She sighs and her smile comes a little easier. "So, how are you?"
Tissaia shrugs, thrown by the question. Other than Triss, nobody ever enquires after her health these days. "Oh, you know me." The truth of that statement hangs heavy over the pair of them. "Just getting on with things."
"Hmmmm." Yennefer shakes her head, appraising her. "You look...tired."
"Thank you," Tissaia says, with a forced laugh. "That's very flattering."
"I was never one for flattery," Yennefer says, with a half smile.
"You look-" Beautiful. "-well." Tissaia shifts in her chair, linking her hands on the desk in front of her. "Did you go for that promotion?"
"No." Yennefer's shoulders slump almost imperceptibly. "I...wasn't in a great headspace." Because they'd just broken up, is what's left unsaid. "So I decided to leave it." She shrugs. "I like the hands-on stuff more anyway."
Words rise up her throat, wanting to tell Yennefer that she should be pushing herself to the next level, not just staying where it's easy. But that's not her place, not anymore. And perhaps it never was. So she just nods. "You're very good at what you do. I'm sure there are many people glad you've stayed in that role."
Yennefer's eyes brighten and she sits up straighter. "I- yeah, I suppose so." She presses her lips together. "It means I'm on soup kitchen duty tomorrow, as per usual, so-" She trails off, forehead creasing. "Do you, uh, have plans for tomorrow?"
Tissaia shakes her head. "I'm flying to New York on the 27th to try and finalise the contract I was talking to Triss about, so I...was planning to work on my presentation."
The light goes out in Yennefer's eyes, her smile fading. "Oh, right. Of course you are."
The words slam into Tissaia's chest, reminding her of how she felt when Yennefer had ended their relationship because of this very reason; she insisted Tissaia was too focussed on work.
"Well, I'd better be going," Yennefer says, standing up. "I've still got, like, five dozen bags of spuds to haul out of the boot of my car and up to the church, so-"
"Of course," Tissaia says, standing too. She comes out from behind her desk and folds her arms over her chest. "Well, it was genuinely nice to see you, Yenna." She winces. "Yennefer. Sorry."
"It's okay," Yennefer says, with a soft smile. "Old habits, eh?" She pauses, her hand on the doorknob. "Don't work all day tomorrow, yeah? Stop for a while and watch something cheesy on the telly."
"I'll try," Tissaia says, as Yennefer opens the door.
"Merry Christmas, Tissaia," Yennefer says, shoving her hands in her back pockets. "I hope it's a good one."
"Merry Christmas," Tissaia says, lingering in the doorway. She watches Yennefer walk down the corridor, leaning on the doorframe.
Jaskier comes to stand beside her, also watching Yennefer. He nods. "She's still got a fantastic arse." She glares at him, but he's unperturbed. "So, you know how you said we could leave at four instead of five today?"
"Yes," she says, pinching the bridge of her nose. "What of it?"
"I was just thinking, for people who've left their Christmas shopping until the last minute, four isn't leaving them a lot of time to find a present for their husband who has definitely got them something good that's been sitting under the tree for the last week." He waves his hand vaguely. "You know, just as a hypothetical example." He looks at her with what she imagines he thinks is an imploring expression. "So could we bring it forward to three, maybe?"
Sighing, Tissaia looks at her watch. It's almost two. Her mind does some quick calculations regarding the costs and she rolls her eyes. "None of you will be doing anything productive this afternoon anyway," she decides. "Let everyone know they can go at two."
"Really?" Jaskier frowns. "Is this a trick? Am I going to put out an e-mail and then you'll sack me or something?"
She stares him down. "If you'd like, I can revoke the instruction to leave at four and you can all stay here until five, which is when I'm paying you till."
"No! No!" Jaskier's already behind his desk, typing furiously. "I'm putting out an e-mail now." He shakes his head at the monitor. "Christ, maybe we should invite Yennefer over more often."
"That is inappropriate," Tissaia barks. "Now, get out of here before I change my mind."
"Yes, yes, I'm going," Jaskier says, tying a scarf around his neck and gathering things into his satchel. He looks over at her and smiles. "Thanks for this. It means a lot."
She nods, just as Triss comes out of her office. "Is this right? You're letting everyone go now?"
"Yes, including you," Tissaia says, forcing a smile. "Get off home to that wife of yours."
Triss grins and ducks back into her office. Jaskier's now ready to go and he darts over to Tissaia, pulling his hat off and yanking it onto her head before she can protest.
"Merry Christmas!" He flicks the stupid little bell, making it tinkle, and then he's off at a run down the corridor. Tissaia pulls the hat off and throws it aside with a scowl, looking up as Triss approaches, pulling her coat and gloves on.
"Are you okay?" Triss asks. "This is...unexpected."
"Well, if I kept them here, they'd just be finding ways to skive off on my time anyway." Tissaia shrugs.
Triss nods, tilting her head. "I- I'm sorry about earlier, about Yen being here. I really thought you'd be tied up until later, so I-"
"It's fine, Triss." Tissaia says. "We're adults. We can just about be in the same room as each other."
Triss has the manners not to point out that they've managed to avoid just that for an entire year. Instead she smiles. "Good." She pulls her scarf tighter, hesitating. "And, if...if you find you don't want to work through tomorrow, you know where we'll be."
Tissaia nods. Triss and her wife Sabrina help Yennefer every year at the soup kitchen. Tissaia used to do it too, before her father died.
"I'll be fine, Triss," she tells her with a firm nod. "But thank you for the offer. It's very kind."
"Merry Christmas, Tissaia," Triss says, grasping her arm and leaning in to place a soft kiss on her cheek. "Don't stay here too late."
"No. I shan't." Tissaia nods. "Go on, now. And tell security I'm still here and that I'll inform them when I leave."
With a few glances back, Triss heads for the lifts, leaving Tissaia alone in a silent office. She sighs and heads back to her desk, dropping heavily into her chair. There are documents she could be looking over, and a presentation only half finished sitting on her laptop screen. Instead, she reaches into the bottom drawer and pulls out a framed photograph.
Until last year, it had sat proudly on her desk. She props it up now, dead centre. It's a photograph of herself and Yennefer, taken a couple of Christmases ago. They'd spent the day at the Christmas markets, drinking mulled wine and buying overpriced wooden tree ornaments. In the evening, they'd met up with Triss and Sabrina to go ice-skating. The picture is of the pair of them at a bar afterwards. Their cheeks are pink from the cold, and their hair is in disarray. Tissaia's sitting in Yennefer's lap, their foreheads are pressed together, their eyes only for each other.
Her throat starts to throb and she tries to swallow the lump that's forming. She closes her eyes and presses her lips together. There's no point in crying over the past, that's what her father would say. That's what he did say to her when her mother died. She was eight at the time. She sniffs and opens her eyes, looking at the photo once more. She picks it up and brushes her thumb over Yennefer's face. Oh, how she misses that smile. She grew so used to it that she never appreciated how much she'd miss it when it was no longer directed at her.
With a sigh, she puts the picture back in the bottom drawer and turns her attention to the screen. Everything's blurry. She chooses to believe it's because she hasn't had enough coffee, rather than that her eyes are filled with tears, so she hauls herself up and goes to the coffee machine. She's almost there when the sole of her boot connects with something unexpected and spherical.
She idly wonders how she has the time to register all of this as she's falling, but then her world goes black.
She wakes with a pain in the base of her skull, and a stiff back from lying on the floor. With a groan, she sits up, rubbing at her head. Her blurry eyes land on that damn elf hat; the cause of her fall and possible concussion. She picks it up and throws it across the room.
"Happy fucking Christmas," she mumbles.
"And the same to you."
The voice comes from behind her desk, startling her. She turns, scrambling away as fast as she can on her backside. Her back connects with a cabinet and her stomach turns to ice when she sees the speaker.
It's Stregobor, her father's old business partner. He'd died years before her father did, but he kept both of their names above the door. Not for sentimental reasons, but brand recognition. Tissaia had done the same. But he's there now, sitting behind Tissaia's desk as if he still owned the place.
"Y-you're dead," she manages to whisper.
"Quite so," Stregobor says, getting up and moving out from his position. Only he's not walking. He's floating. A good few inches above the floor. And now Tissaia has a clearer view, she can see that around his neck he bears a wide wooden board, his head sticking up through a hole in the middle. Its weight seems to unbalance him and he holds it with both hands to keep it steady.
"Fucking hell, am I hallucinating?" Tissaia asks, squeezing her eyes closed and then opening them in the hope that the spectre will be gone. No such luck. He's still there, smiling his oily smile. "Am I still unconscious? Is this a stroke?"
"You'd do well not to find excuses to explain away my presence, Tissaia," Stregobor tells her. "In fact, you must embrace it as the gift it is."
"The gift?" Tissaia scoffs. "Yes, being visited by dead old men is amongst my favourite pastimes." She sighs, eying him warily. "What's the neck thing for?"
He sighs. "In life, I kept everyone at a distance, never allowing anyone to get close to me," he laments. "And in death, I am cursed to the same fate." He looks up sharply, his eyes piercing her own. "And the same fate awaits you, Tissaia De Vries, unless you change your ways."
"Wh-what are you talking about?" Tissaia asks, still pressed against the cabinet in her attempt to stay as far away from him as possible. "I'm a successful business woman. I have hundreds of employees who rely on me. I-"
"And you are alone. As I was. I died alone," he explains. "Unloved, uncared for. The only people who attended my funeral did so out of politeness. Not because they mourned me." He lifts his chin. "If your fall had resulted in your death, can you say your funeral would be any different? Would your passing make any difference in the world?"
"Well, it's-" She frowns. Triss would be a little sad, she thinks. But that would likely be it. And Triss cries whenever she sees a pigeon with damaged feet. "That's…" She hangs her head. "No."
"No," he agrees. "But I am here to give you notice of this fact, and allow you the time to change it."
"How?" Tissaia begs. "How can I change who I am?"
"Not who you are, Tissaia," Stregobor says. "But how you behave." He hefts his burden more fully onto thin shoulders. "You will be visited this night by three spirits, who will show you what must be changed."
"Can't you just tell me?" Tissaia asks. "I- I have a presentation to-"
"Three spirits," he repeats. "And you would do well to heed their stories, Tissaia. If you wish to avoid a fate such as mine."
"But- but how- when-"
The lights go out and when they come up again, Stregobor is gone and she is alone in her office once more. The only sound is her rapid breathing. She swallows with difficulty and gets to her feet, clutching a chair to keep herself upright. The back of her head is still throbbing and she gingerly runs her fingers over it, finding a large bump. She forces herself to laugh.
"Idiot," she mumbles. "Seeing ghosts. What nonsense."
The lights go out again, and stay out.
When the lights come back on, Triss is standing in front of her. After initially reeling back in fright to find that she's not alone, Tissaia lets out a sigh of relief, closing her eyes briefly.
"Triss, thank goodness!" She reaches out to grasp her friend's arm. "You will not believe what's just hap-" Her hand goes right through Triss' shoulder. Cold shoots up her arm and she retracts it, holding it against her chest and frowning. "That's...you're...you're not dead. Are you?"
"I am the Spirit of Christmas Past," Triss says, in Triss' voice. It's only now that Tissaia notices that she's dressed in a long fur lined cloak. And she's also floating. "Each of the spirits who will visit you this night will wear a familiar face." She smiles, without any of Triss' usual warmth. "If you were to see our true forms, you would be horrified."
"Oh." Tissaia swallows. "Well, I suppose that's...considerate." She must still be unconscious, she surmises. It's the only explanation. Perhaps she's near death and having an out of body experience.
"Come," Triss beckons. "We have much to see and our time together is short."
Tissaia frowns. "Where are we going? I have work to finish." She throws a hand out towards her laptop. "I assumed you'd just speak to me for a while, like Stregobor did, then leave me in peace."
The spectre shakes her head. "I'm afraid not."
Before Tissaia can respond, they're outside. A quick glance around and she immediately recognises the location. She looks at Triss. "This is where I grew up." She points to the house in front of them. "That was my house."
"Not just where you grew up," Triss says. "When you grew up." She nods to the window. "Go and see."
Tissaia shuffles through the snow to the window, concerned at what she might find there. The scene that greets her is one she's seen before. Her mother is sitting on the rug in front of the fire, smiling as Tissaia's younger self unwraps a present. Tissaia presses her face against the window, her heart clenching at the sight.
"Mother," she whispers, as little Tissaia shrieks with joy at whatever was in the parcel and throws herself into her mother's arms.
The room goes dark and Tissaia turns, pinning the spirit with her eyes. "No! How dare you bring me here and show me this, only to snatch it away! Bring her back! I want to see more."
Triss merely tilts her head. "You loved Christmas when your mother was alive." She clicks her fingers and the lights come back on to reveal little Tissaia sitting alone on the rug. "Your father never cared for Christmas, did he? Especially after your mother died."
Tissaia watches herself unwrap a book and then sigh. "I had already read it," she murmurs as the young girl looks up at a figure on the sofa.
"Thank you father," she says, dutifully. The scene flicks to the same day the following year, with the same sequence of events taking place, save for a change of clothes. And then the next and the next until Tissaia is a teenager and the room goes dark once more.
"Christmas became just another day for you, wasn't it?" Triss prompts.
"No," Tissaia swallows thickly. "It was a day I particularly dreaded. All my schoolmates would get excited about Christmas, and I'd rather have stayed at school than spend that dreary day without my mother."
The spirit hums beside her. "Do you remember when you started enjoying Christmas once more?"
Tissaia frowns and turns to face Triss. "When I-" Her face grows slack. "Oh, no. Please don't take me to-"
And just like that, she's at the company Christmas party ten years later. She spots herself, hanging out against a pillar, glass of champagne in hand.
She'd not long left uni, then. And when her father had insisted she join the family business, she'd said she would, but only if she could work her way up from the bottom. So she'd taken a junior architect position and was enjoying it well enough. Christmas, as always, had loomed in front of her, grey and foreboding. But her father had said it would be a poor show for his daughter not to attend the Christmas party, so she'd flung on a sparkly top and a pair of jeans and turned up.
Tissaia smiles as she casts her eye around the rest of the room and they land on the real Triss, ten years younger and snogging the face off the woman who would become her wife in the middle of the dancefloor.
"That's not who we're here to see," Spirit Triss tells her. "Although they do make a striking pair."
Tissaia sighs. "I know who we're here to see." She turns back to herself and sees that her attention is caught by a figure at the buffet table. She remembers it like it was yesterday. She'd never seen anyone as beautiful, or as effortlessly stylish. Tissaia had watched as the woman in question devoured canapes and finger food, all with the grace and poise of a model.
"She captivated you from that first moment," Triss comments.
"I wondered where she was putting all that food," Tissaia says with a smile. "But yes, something about her...drew me in. Or I'd never have approached her the way I did."
As she says the words, she watches herself push away from the pillar and walk over to the buffet table.
Young Tissaia clears her throat, and Tissaia remembers the butterflies she'd been ignoring in her belly. The woman looks up and swallows whatever's in her mouth. "Oh, sorry, did you want something I'm hogging?" she takes a step back and gestures to the table, brimming with food. "Go for it."
"No, no." Tissaia shifts her glass to her left hand. "I just didn't recognise you, and I know everyone who works for the firm. Are you here with someone?"
"Oh, yeah, I came with a friend. Like a mate date, kind of thing so she didn't have to come alone." She nods to the dancefloor, where Triss and Sabrina are still engaged in a very intimate embrace. "She was too chicken to ask that girl out, so I did it for her." She grins. "And now I'm congratulating myself on a job well done by taking advantage of all this posh food and drink." She picks up two glasses of champagne, one in each hand, and clinks them together. "Merry Christmas to me"
"Ah, I see, you're a friend of Triss'." Tissaia smiles. "Well, it's nice to meet you-" She leaves a pause.
"Yennefer." She puts down one of the glasses and holds out her hand. "Yennefer Vengerberg."
Tissaia shakes her hand. "Tissaia De Vries."
Tissaia watches the exchange with a melancholy smile, knowing what is to come next.
Yennefer frowns. "De Vries? As in the name on the big sign outside the building? You own this company?"
"No," Tissaia laughs. "My father does." She rolls her eyes. "Half of it, anyway."
"Oh, shit," Yennefer puts down the remaining glass she's holding. "I didn't mean- I wasn't, you know, just nicking all the free food or anything. I just-"
Tissaia shakes her head, putting a hand on Yennefer's arm. "Don't worry about it. They put all this on to show off once a year, instead of giving people proper wage increments. Take advantage, please." She looks around. "In fact-" She dips behind one of the tables and grabs a bottle of champagne from a fridge. She holds it up and lifts an eyebrow. "Care to join me?"
Yennefer had smiled, then, and Tissaia's stomach had twisted in a most delightful way. It still does.
"I was never the same after that smile," Tissaia mumbles.
"No, you weren't," Triss agrees.
"Lead the way, Tissaia De Vries," Yennefer says.
In a flash, Triss takes her to the roof and she finds herself and Yennefer where she knew they'd be. They're perched on an outcrop, a secret little ledge whose only purpose is to allow a beautiful vantage point of the city below. Her father had put it there for her mother, when they'd been newly married and they were planning the structure he and Stregobor would build together for their up and coming architectural firm. This tiny part had served no functional, nor aesthetic purpose. He'd put it here for love.
Tissaia watches as they pass the bottle of champagne back and forth between them, her chest tight with longing for this time, when everything was less complicated.
"So you're a rebel, eh?" Yennefer wipes her mouth with her arm after taking a swig of champagne.
"Not really. If I were a rebel, I'd never have joined my daddy's firm. I'd have gone off and worked somewhere that made a difference." Tissaia wraps her arms around her knees, laying her head on them to look at Yennefer. "I'm a conformist, it seems."
"Oh, I dunno," Yennefer says, mirroring her position, the bottle dangling from her fingers. "You nicked a bottle of champagne and brought someone you don't know up on the roof to kiss them. That's pretty rebellious."
Tissaia feels her own lips twitch into a smile, just as they had that evening. "You think I plan to kiss you, do you?"
"I fucking hope so," Yennefer says, with a grin. "Otherwise I'm freezing my tits off for nothing."
Tissaia laughs and takes the bottle from Yennefer, setting it aside. She leans in slowly, watching Yennefer's face until there's no space between them and she has to close her eyes, her lips finding Yennefer's with no trouble. Yennefer lets out a contented hum and sits up further, her arm curling around Tissaia's waist to drag her closer. Tissaia smiles and goes to pull back, but Yennefer follows her, prolonging the kiss.
It had been a while since Tissaia kissed someone. Not because she's against kissing people, per se, and not from lack of opportunity. But it was never an activity she entered into with abandon, like some of her peers. Rita, her uni flatmate, seemed physically unable to refrain from kissing anyone she found the slightest bit attractive. They'd go to a club and quite often Rita's lips would be attached to someone else's - generally someone she'd just met and didn't know the name of - within the first ten minutes. Tissaia had always been more reserved, and less drunk, than that. Kissing was fine, but not mindblowing, in Tissaia's experience.
"Until she came along," Triss comments.
"Yes," Tissaia says, smiling as her younger self shifts into Yennefer's lap without breaking their kiss.
She closes her eyes and tries to bring back the feeling of being in Yennefer's arms. That night had been the beginning of the most important and wonderful relationship of Tissaia's life. The scene before her starts to blur and she shakes her head, turning to Triss.
"No. Please," she begs. "Let me stay just a little longer." Now that Yennefer is lost to her, she doesn't want to leave this memory, where everything is new and there's nothing in front of them but possibility.
"As I said, our time together is short," Triss says, but she sighs and waves a hand. "But you can have this."
Tissaia spins to see a screen appear in the sky, playing out scenes from Tissaia's time with Yennefer. Their first date, which had taken place between Christmas and New Year following their meeting at the Christmas party. They'd gone for dinner and Yennefer had spilled red wine all over herself, which they'd both laughed themselves silly about. Tissaia finds herself laughing now as she watches it play out.
The scene changes to another year at Christmas - they were having dinner with Triss and Sabrina and Yennefer had convinced Tissaia to sneak away from the dinner preparations for a kiss under the mistletoe. One kiss had quickly become many and it was only when Sabrina's shrill voice interrupted them that they returned to the kitchen with red cheeks and kiss swollen lips.
There's a snippet of the Christmas morning when Tissaia had shaken a grumpy Yennefer awake and surprised her with two plane tickets to Paris. Yennefer had blinked at her and asked when the trip was. Tissaia had nodded to where their cases were sitting, packed and ready to go. They'd flown out early that morning and spent a magical few days in the city of lights.
Another Christmas evening, snuggled up together on a single armchair by a roaring fire. It had been the first year Yennefer had run the soup kitchen and they were both exhausted. Yennefer had fallen asleep and Tissaia had held her close, grateful for the life they had after seeing such deprivation.
And then it's off to the Christmas she'd been reminiscing about earlier. She watches as they spin around the ice, hand in hand, as if they had nothing else to do but be with each other.
"Oh Yenna," Tissaia whispers.
The screen goes blank.
"It was after that year that everything started to go wrong, isn't it?" Triss asks. "After your father died."
The screen lights up, but instead of the bright Christmassy scenes that had been playing, the setting is a graveyard. Mourners huddle in small groups on a grey morning. Tissaia inhales and forces herself to watch as the coffin is lowered into the deep, dark hole in the ground. Her eyes flick to herself, standing by the grave, a single white rose grasped in her fingers. Yennefer is there, holding her other arm, stroking it, trying to bring comfort. Tissaia watches her past herself shrug off Yennefer's hold and step forward, dropping the rose into the grave. She stands for a few seconds, then turns and walks away, leaving Yennefer and the rest of the funeral goers behind.
Tissaia closes her eyes. That was the moment. That was the turning point. She had known it in her heart, but seeing it broadcast in glorious technicolour only serves to confirm it.
A click of Triss' fingers takes them back to Tissaia's office, where she sees herself seated behind the desk, typing furiously on her laptop.
"You started working more. Going to the office early. Coming home late." Triss says.
"I- I had a business to run," Tissaia protests. "I was thrust into a position where I was in charge of dozens of people's livelihoods. I had to devote my attention to that."
They move again and Tissaia finds herself in her own living room. Yennefer is there, by herself, sitting in an armchair. She looks at the time on her phone and sighs, pulling her knees up and hugging them.
"You started ignoring her," Triss says, as if Tissaia needs it to be pointed out.
"I- I never meant to," Tissaia says. "There was just always something needing my attention."
"She needed your attention," Triss says, with a click of her tongue. "But you weren't there. And you grew more and more distant."
The room swirls around them and changes to another day. One Tissaia would rather forget.
She turns to Triss, her eyes stinging with tears. "I know what happens here. I don't need to see it again."
Triss says nothing in response, and behind her, Tissaia hears the beginning of the conversation that was the end of her relationship.
"Are you seriously working on a Sunday morning?" Yennefer asks. "Christmas is in a couple of days. I thought we could go out somewhere. Do something together for once."
Tissaia closes her eyes, steeling herself, and turns to watch. She's seated at the kitchen table with her laptop open and paperwork strewn around. Yennefer is getting coffee, still in her pyjamas. They have little robins on them and Tissaia remembers how soft they felt against her cheek.
"I have things to do, Yennefer," her past self says, not lifting her eyes from the screen. "I have important meetings next week that I have to be ready for."
"And that means you have to work on a Sunday morning?" Yennefer brings her coffee to the table, dropping heavily into one of the chairs. "You worked all day yesterday. I never see you anymore."
Tissaia sighs, glancing over the top of her laptop. "We live together, Yennefer. You see me every day."
"Seeing you is a far cry from spending time with you." Yennefer shakes her head. "When was the last time we spent a decent amount of time together? When did we last do anything fun? All you care about is your multi-million pound contracts these days. Where's the girl who drank champagne with me on a roof? Where's the girl who wanted to change the world for the better?"
"I am changing the world. The clients I work with-"
"The only thing you're changing is your bank balance, Tissaia, and you know it."
"And don't pretend you don't benefit from that," Tissaia had snapped. "Could you afford those boots you're so fond of or the car you drive on your own salary? I don't think so."
"How dare you." Yennefer stands, slamming her hands on the table. "I've never asked you for anything that involved you spending money on me. That car was you assuaging your guilt for missing my birthday."
"Well, you didn't tell me to send it back." Tissaia returns her attention to her work, but Yennefer slams the laptop lid closed. Tissaia looks up with a frown, and finds Yennefer glaring down at her.
"I'd give the car back in a heartbeat, for one day with you."
Tissaia throws her hands up. "Yennefer, we've been over this. I have responsibilities in my life that don't revolve around you. I've given you all I can give. What more do you want?"
"What more do I-" Yennefer trails off. "I want you, Tissaia. That's all I've ever wanted. To see you. To spend time with you." She wipes at her eyes. "I wanted to spend my life with you. I wanted us to think about starting a family together. I wanted-"
"Wanted?" Tissaia hears herself say.
Yennefer sighs, walking over to the window, her arms folded. She turns back around. "I don't know anymore. I've tried, so hard, to get you to understand." Yennefer moves around the table and kneels beside Tissaia's chair, looking up at her with large, shining eyes. "Give me a reason, Tissaia. Give me a reason to stay."
"Say something," Tissaia whispers to her other self. "Tell her you love her. Tell her you want her to stay."
But her counterpart says nothing of the sort. And when her eyes stray to the closed laptop and paperwork, Yennefer nods and stands.
"There's my answer," she says, and Tissaia's heart breaks all over again. Yennefer walks out of the room, and out of Tissaia's life. Tissaia watches herself stare at the door.
"For God's sake, woman," Tissaia rages at herself. "Go after her! Show her you feel something."
But Tissaia of the past just opens the lid of her laptop and goes right back to work.
Tissaia turns away, shaking her head and closing her eyes against the sting of tears. "Take me away from here," she whispers. "Stop torturing me with these visions."
"I told you that I would show you the events of your past, Tissaia," Triss says. "They are what they are. Do not blame me for your past actions. Or inactions."
"Take me home." Tissaia looks up at the spirit. "Please."
In a blink, she is back in her office, seated behind her desk. Triss is nowhere to be seen and the room looks as it did earlier. The only change is that the photograph she had placed in her bottom drawer is now back in its previous place on her desk. She picks it up, her heart hurting even more than it had earlier now that she has been treated to the memories playing out before her very eyes.
Before she can contemplate further, the lights go out. Tissaia sighs.
"Here we go again."
When the lights come back on, her office has been transformed into some gaudy nightclub or other. There are flashing lights, blaring music, strange leather sofas and shockingly tacky Christmas decorations. She covers her ears and closes her eyes in the hope that this is a mistake, that they've sent her the wrong spirit. But when she opens them again, a figure has appeared, lounging on one of the sofas and drinking a lurid cocktail of some sort.
"Oh, God. Why you?"
Jaskier turns to her with a smile and clicks his fingers. The music, thankfully, stops.
"Well, Tissaia, I assume it's because I'm the jolliest person you know!" He waves a hand and streamers flutter from the ceiling. "And I am also the Spirit of Christmas Present." He winks. "I'm the fun one. Just wait till you see who's coming next."
He stands and Tissaia catches a glimpse of what appears to be a red jumpsuit trimmed in white fur before his cloak, similar to Triss', falls into place. A drink appears before her on her desk. It has a little paper umbrella in it. She pushes it away.
"Look, let's just get this over with. I've already seen all I need to see to learn my lesson," Tissaia says, standing and moving around her desk.
"Have you, indeed?" Jaskier asks, tilting his head. "Are you sure?"
"Yes!" She stands, throwing her hands out. "I see now that Yennefer was right. I was too focussed on my work and I did let our relationship break down."
"And you think that's all you have to learn, do you?" Jaskier asks. He tuts. "Oh, no, no, no, my dear Tissaia. Your eyes need to be opened quite a bit more, I'm afraid."
She huffs. "Fine. But can we hurry? I'm fairly concerned that I'm lying unconscious somewhere with a bleed on my brain."
"Your body is fine." He appraises her, eyes drifting down to her feet and back up. He wrinkles his nose. "Well, you're not my type, but I can see why people might fancy you."
"Let's just get this over with," Tissaia says, moving to stand next to him. "Where to first?"
"Oh, we're staying here for now," he tells her, clicking his fingers. The light changes, signalling that it's daytime. They both turn and Tissaia sees herself sitting at her desk, tapping away on her keyboard.
"It's Christmas Day, and you're here," Jaskier says. He leans in close, lowering his voice. "Now think of those visions you saw earlier this evening. Would that woman believe that she'd end up spending Christmas day, alone, at work?"
Tissaia shakes her head, watching herself. "That woman assumed Yennefer would always be there."
"And took her for granted," Jaskier says.
"And very much took her for granted," Tissaia agrees.
"Let's visit someone else you take for granted," Jaskier says.
In a swirl of lights and a burst of music, they leave the office and Tissaia finds herself in another familiar location. She's in Triss and Sabrina's kitchen. She's spent a lot of time in this house over the years of their friendship. Long evenings playing cards or monopoly and arguing over who was cheating. Late nights drinking wine and laughing until their sides hurt. It feels warm and safe here, in a way her own home hasn't lately. She turns as someone enters, seeing that it's Triss, but she doesn't seem happy.
"Please, can we not talk about this today?" Triss says, pouring coffee into two cups as Sabrina follows her into the room. "It's Christmas morning, can't we just have one day where we don't argue over this?"
"Argue?" Tissaia frowns, looking at Jaskier. "Are they having problems?"
"Watch and see," Jaskier says, offering her popcorn from a bucket he's acquired somewhere. She declines and turns back to the scene playing out.
"Babe, I just want what's best for you," Sabrina says. "And staying at that company is not what's best for you."
Tissaia gasps. "Triss is thinking of leaving?" she whispers.
Jaskier grins, his eyes wide. "Scandalous, isn't it?"
"I've told you a number of times, I- I can't leave Tissaia in the lurch like that," Triss says. "We've both worked really hard to get where we are and-"
"And what do you have to show for it?" Sabrina asks. "She's the one who gets all the plaudits, she's the one with all the money. You're a glorified HR manager when you should be a director, or COO. She doesn't appreciate you, Triss."
"She does," Triss says, but her voice falters a little. She shrugs. "She's just not good at-"
"At being a human being?" Sabrina asks, shaking her head. "All the more reason to get out now."
"She wasn't always this way," Triss says, quietly. "And you know that. She was your friend too."
Sabrina scoffs. "Oh, I think she was always this way. It's just that when her father was around, he was worse and she looked good in comparison. Since he died, I think we've been treated to the real Tissaia, and it's not pretty."
"No, that's not-" Tissaia shakes her head, turning to her friend. "Triss, you know that's not true."
Triss, of course, can't hear her. "Please Sabrina-"
"Look, fine, we'll leave it for today, because it's Christmas and I don't want it to be spoiled." Sabrina takes Triss' hands in her own. "But just think, if you take that job, we'll have enough money to try IVF again. Isn't that more important than loyalty to someone who's shown you none? Isn't our family the most important thing?"
"Of course it is," Triss whispers, letting go of Sabrina's hands and cupping her face. "Oh, 'Brina, you are the most important thing in the world to me. Please don't ever think differently."
Sabrina hums, leaning in for a kiss. She pulls back and lifts an eyebrow. "I'm sure that's what Yennefer thought too, at one point."
Tissaia steps back, as if she's been physically struck. She wraps her arms around herself.
"Hurts, doesn't it?" Jaskier whispers, by her ear. "Seeing what other people think of you. Especially when it's the truth."
She scowls at him. "Yennefer is-" She hesitates, realising her mistake. "-was the most important thing in my life. How can you or Sabrina claim to know what's in my heart?"
He widens his eyes, staggering back in a ridiculously exaggerated manner. "Your heart?" He shakes his head. "Darling, I wasn't sure you had one."
"Are we finished here?" Tissaia asks. "I've got the gist. Triss wants to leave me, like everyone else."
"Let's put the action where it belongs in that sentence, shall we?" A blackboard has appeared from somewhere, and Jaskier has a pointer. "Say it with me now, Tissaia. 'I pushed-'" He frowns. "Come on, you wanted to get this over with didn't you?"
"I pushed Triss away, like I have done with everyone else." Tissaia dutifully reads, just to get out of this place.
"Indeed." He widens his eyes and claps. "Now, it's time to go and see your most underappreciated and most handsome employee."
"Oh, God." Tissaia groans and covers her face. But it doesn't hide the rainbow smoke that erupts all around them. When it clears, they're in an unfamiliar house, but it soon becomes clear who lives here.
By the really quite garish Christmas tree, a trio of people sit on the floor, opening presents. Tissaia steps closer. She recognises the little girl from the photos on Jaskier's desk, but she hadn't realised how tiny she was. She must be four or five by now, but she's so slight, she could be a toddler.
"Something else you've not paid attention to, perhaps?" suggests the spirit version of Jaskier.
Cirilla's struggling to rip the wrapping paper off a present, so Geralt, Jaskier's husband, helps her. It's a little foam sword and this seems to thrill the child.
"Dad! Now I can stab you when you're being a dragon!" She struggles to her feet on legs that don't look strong enough to hold her and thrusts the sword at Geralt's chest. He rolls over and pretends to be stabbed, holding his chest and grunting.
The girl looks to Geralt. "Come on, Daddy!"
"Oh! Yes, sorry!" Jaskier flutters his eyelashes, linking his hands in front of his chest. "Oh, thank you brave knight! You have bested the dragon and rescued me, a prince, from the tower I have been trapped in since I was but a scrap of a boy!"
"And now we can have 'ventures!" Cirilla announces, holding her sword up. "And be happy ever after!"
Jaskier's smile fades. He pats Ciri's head and stands, making some excuse about checking on the turkey. Spirit Jaskier gives Tissaia a knowing look and the next thing she knows they're in the kitchen and Jaskier is bent over, his face hidden in his arms on the counter. His shoulders are jumping in sobs.
"W-what's wrong?" Tissaia asks the spirit.
The spirit with Jaskier's face shakes his head. "Even the jolliest of smiles can hide heartache, Tissaia. You might know that if you'd paid attention."
Geralt comes into the kitchen and places a hand on Jaskier's back. "C'mon. She'll wonder where you've got to."
Lifting his head, Jaskier wipes at his face. "I can't bear it, Geralt," he whispers. "Knowing this could be the last Christmas we have with her." A sob catches in his throat. "It's too hard. I can't-"
"Her last Christmas?" Tissaia whispers. "No, that can't be."
"You have to, Jaskier," Geralt hisses. "If this is to be her last Christmas, then we need to make it the best Christmas ever for her." He lifts a hand to the back of Jaskier's neck and rubs gently. "We need to put aside what we're feeling. For her."
"You're right, of course," Jaskier says, wafting his hands in front of his eyes. "I can do this."
Geralt smiles, but there's a tremble to his chin. "We can do this." He leans in and kisses Jaskier's lips. "Come on. I left her stabbing a teddy bear but she'll get bored of it not making the right sounds before long."
They head back through to the living room, and Tissaia turns to the spirit. "She can't really be that sick, can she? She's just a baby."
"They don't know. They're yet to get a diagnosis, they only know it's a neurological condition and that her condition is deteriorating." Spirit Jaskier shakes a smile back onto his face. "But you're not particularly bothered about all that, are you? You want to see what's going on with your sexy, terrifying ex-ladyfriend."
"Of course I'm bother-"
But the multicoloured smoke surrounds them again, making Tissaia cough and splutter. When it clears this time, she doesn't recognise the location, but going by what the spirit had said, she takes it that it must be Yennefer's flat. She had learned from Triss that Yennefer had spent a few weeks staying with her and Sabrina following the split before finding somewhere of her own. It's a very nice flat going by what she can see of the living room - modern and stylishly decorated. But bare. There's very little of Yennefer in the place. There aren't even any Christmas decorations up.
"Where is she?" she asks.
Just at that, Yennefer walks in. It looks like she's recently woken up. Her hair is tousled and she's wearing a fluffy dressing gown that Tissaia recognises. She's carrying a cup of coffee and looking at her phone. Just seeing her this close sets Tissaia's heart racing and she watches her come and flop into an armchair. Spirit Jaskier moves to stand behind her, he lifts his eyebrows and snaps his fingers and Tissaia is suddenly standing beside him.
"Look what's come up in Lady Yen's memories," he says, pointing at Yennefer's phone.
Tissaia leans in to see better over Yennefer's shoulder. The faint scent of lilac and gooseberries reaches her nose and she closes her eyes briefly, the scent viscerally taking her back to the many, many times she had her nose against some part of Yennefer's soft skin. Jaskier clears his throat and she opens her eyes to focus on the phone.
Yennefer is looking at the same photo Tissaia had stashed in her desk drawer. Tissaia's breath catches as Yennefer stretches the photo so that only their faces remain on the screen. She presses her thumb to where their foreheads touch. All of a sudden she sits up straighter, shaking her head.
"Stupid," she mutters, navigating away from the photo and closing the app.
"No, it's not stupid," Tissaia tells her.
Of course, Yennefer can't hear her. Her thumb is still working on the screen and Tissaia watches as she opens up another app. Her stomach plummets when she sees it's a dating app. She covers her mouth as bile rises up her throat.
"What?" Jaskier asks. "You're surprised that someone who looks like that might not want to sit around by herself for the rest of her life?"
"No, of course not," Tissaia says, watching in rapt fascination as Yennefer declines a number of interested women and men. "I just...hadn't considered how that would make me f-" She stops because Yennefer's taking a longer time to decide on one of her matches. Her thumb moves back and forth between the options and then grey, swirling smoke obscures her view.
"No! Wait! I need to know!" Tissaia beseeches Jaskier.
But he seems as surprised as she does at their sudden departure. He looks over at her, his eyes wide with concern. "Listen, I've kept you too long already. The next one's already here."
"The next one?" Tissaia asks. "What more can there be to learn? How much more can I stand?"
But he's gone.
And this time, there's no respite of a few minutes back at her office before being taken out into the night. She looks around and finds she's in a cemetery. It's cold, and foggy and she wraps her arms around herself, rubbing at her arms. She turns around and finds that she's alone.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" she calls out, her breath hanging in the air.
A figure appears out of the gloom. It's wearing the same hooded cloak as the other two, only this one has the hood up, concealing their face. As the spirit draws closer, Tissaia notes that there's an unusual design aspect to this one's cloak. A small, oval section is missing at the chest, revealing a fairly impressive cleavage beneath.
"You know who I am, I presume?" The spirit's voice is cold and emotionless.
"Sabrina?" Tissaia whispers, dipping her head to see under the hood.
A sigh comes from beneath the hood. "Well, no. I'm the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come." The hood is yanked down to reveal that Tissaia's right. "But I am wearing this face. And I was going to do a dramatic reveal later."
"Well, I'm sorry, but-" Tissaia's eyes dip to Sabrina's chest briefly, and when she looks up, Sabrina is smirking.
"Yeah, well, question your own subconscious there," Sabrina says.
Tissaia nods and lets out a sigh. "So, you're going to show me my future, are you?"
Sabrina lifts an eyebrow and smirks. "I'm going to show you a future. Whether it's your own is up to you."
"Why bring me here?" Tissaia asks, gesturing at the gravestones surrounding them.
"It's far more efficient," Sabrina tells her. "The majority of what you need to see is here." She throws out an arm and a screen appears in the night sky, like the one Triss had shown her.
"I fear these scenes will not fill you with as much joy as those," Sabrina says, reading her mind.
The screen displays her building, but there's a for sale sign up nailed above the door.
"What?" Tissaia gasps. "I sold the company?"
"Not through choice," Sabrina explains. "Your refusal to change meant that your staff started leaving your company and going to work for your rivals, meaning that you lost contract after contract because you just didn't have the talent and innovation that other firms did."
Closing her eyes, Tissaia feels the sting of tears. "So Triss did leave, then?"
Sabrina's face hardens. "Not Triss, no." She nods and the scene changes again. This time it's to Triss in a small flat, feeding a cat. "Triss' loyalty to you became too much of a point of contention between her and Sabrina. They divorced."
"Divorced?" Tissaia shakes her head. "But they're...they can't-"
"And that led to the breakdown of your own friendship with Triss," Sabrina explains, unmoved. "She blamed you, quite rightly, and your relationship - both working and personal - soured." Sabrina smirks. "Ironically, she ended up leaving the company anyway."
"This is terrible, Spirit," Tissaia says. "I don't need to be shown anything else. I've seen the error of my ways over the course of this awful bloody night."
"I decide when you've seen enough," Sabrina tells her, and Tissaia could swear she sees fire flash in her eyes. A blink and the screen is gone, leaving them in the silent graveyard again.
Sabrina nods over Tissaia's shoulder and she turns, her heart seizing painfully in her chest when she sees Geralt crouched in front of a white marble grave. "No," Tissaia says, backing away. "No. Tell me it's not true."
"I'm afraid so," Sabrina says, and in a flash they're directly behind Geralt and Tissaia can read the inscription.
2015 - 2021
The little lion with the big roar
Always in our hearts
Tissaia clenches her eyes closed, pushing away the thought of that beautiful little girl, lifeless and cold in the ground. "Stop this. Take me home."
"Not yet," Sabrina says. "There's more to see here."
A figure approaches in the fog and Geralt stands, dusting some snow off the top of the grave. He bends and kisses the marble.
"Sleep well, little one."
He nods to the other man as he leaves and Tissaia frowns when she sees it's Jaskier.
"They're not together either?" she asks.
"The strain of losing the child grew too great and it was painful for them to be around each other," Sabrina explains as Jaskier sits himself down on the ground, resting his back against the gravestone.
"Hello poppet," he says, clearly trying to sound upbeat. "I'm sorry I didn't manage to get down to see you last week. I'm still looking for a job and the trains are expensive." He sniffs and wipes his nose with his sleeve. "I see your father was visiting. That's good." He tilts his head. "He's looking thin. I bet that witch isn't feeding him properly." He catches himself. "Sorry! I'll be nice." Reaching into his satchel, he pulls out a children's story book. "I'm going to read you your favourite." His chin trembles and he closes his eyes. "The one you love before bedtime, so you can sleep tight, okay?"
Tissaia turns away as he starts to read a story to his dead child. "I can't stand this."
"These people have lived through it, Tissaia," Sabrina scolds her. "You're getting a quick summary." She shakes her head, like Tissaia is somehow a disappointment to her. "Our time together is almost at an end, but we have one more thing to see."
The mist swirls and they are at another graveside. This one is fresh, the grave still open. Tissaia is hit with a vision of her father's grave, deep and dank as she stared down at his coffin and she takes a step away. It's then she notices the lone mourner standing by, holding a white rose.
It's Yennefer. Tissaia's heart speeds up and she steps closer again, squinting to make out the engraving on the stone.
Tissaia De Vries
1979 - 2021
A hard worker
"No! I...I'm young! And healthy!" Tissaia turns to Sabrina. "How could this have happened?"
Sabrina lifts her eyebrows. "Perhaps you should get that niggling stomach pain looked into, hmmm?"
There's no time to respond, because her attention is drawn back to Yennefer who places the rose on top of the gravestone, her hand lingering on the stone briefly. She shakes her head. "I wish I had been enough for you," she whispers.
"You were. You are!" Tissaia moves forward, reaching for Yennefer only to step right through her, making Yennefer shiver and leaving an unsettled feeling in her own stomach.
"She can't see you or hear you." Sabrina scoffs. "Have you learned nothing?"
"But I need to tell her!" Tissaia beseeches. "I need to tell her that she is everything to me. I see that now."
"Pity you're dead, isn't it?" Sabrina says, nodding for Tissaia to turn around. "Keep watching."
Leaning down, Yennefer kisses the top of the gravestone and turns away, wiping at her eyes. Tissaia watches as she moves back to the path, where there's a figure waiting.
"Geralt?" Tissaia whispers.
Yennefer folds herself into Geralt's side and he wraps an arm around her, kissing her forehead.
"Ready to go home?" he asks and she nods.
"What?" Tissaia starts after them as they head away into the mist, but stops when it becomes too thick to see through. She spins back to face Sabrina. "No! No they can't be...Yennefer doesn't-"
"Yennefer doesn't what? Love him?" Sabrina prods. "No, she doesn't. And he doesn't love her. But circumstance has brought them together and it seems they've decided to settle." Sabrina meets her eyes. "Neither of them will have a happy, nor fulfilling life."
"But that's- that's awful. I don't want that for Yennefer. For any of them!" Tissaia wrings her hands and turns to the spirit. "What can I do? How can I make this better? There must be something."
Sabrina lifts her chin. "Here? You can do nothing. Your fate is sealed, as are the fates of the people you've seen." She tilts her head. "In the other world, this has not yet come to pass, so you have an opportunity to change your fate. Heed this warning well, Tissaia, or you will damn yourself for all eternity."
"I will, Spirit, I swear. I'll change. I'll treat people better. I'll take the time to get to know them. I'll pay attention. And I'll give, Spirit. I'll give what I can to help others."
"How noble of you," Sabrina comments. "All to avoid an unmourned death."
"No!" Tissaia shakes her head. "If I still end up here, then so be it. But before I go, I'll make the world a better place."
A clock chimes in the distance and Sabrina cocks her head. "Our time together has come to an end, Tissaia De Vries." She smiles, but it's cold. "I trust our paths will not cross again." And with a flick of a single finger, Tissaia finds herself falling backwards, into the open grave. She scrabbles for purchase against the sides, but the soil crumbles in her hands.
She screams as she falls further and further into darkness.
The impact never comes.
Tissaia wakes with a gasp, finding bright light where there was only darkness before. It takes her a moment to orient herself and realise that she's lying on the floor of her office. Slowly, she sits up, rolling her shoulders and groaning as her back protests. A quick glance at her watch confirms that it's after 3am. She must have been unconscious for hours. Her hand brushes against a piece of fabric and she looks down to see Jaskier's ridiculous hat. She had stood on the bell and fallen, she remembers. She picks up the hat, making the slightly dented bell jingle.
She puts the hat on, flicking the bell. A laugh erupts out of her chest at the ridiculous sound that somehow seems to represent hope.
It's Christmas day and she's sat on the floor of her office, alone, but alive. And with a second chance. She can make things better. She can make things better for a lot of people.
The thought exhilarates her and she scrabbles to her feet, quickly moving over to her desk. She shakes the mouse and the screen comes to life. Shutting down the New York presentation, she opens up a blank document. Thinking for a moment, she types out a title.
De Vries & Stregobor - An Ethical Employer
And she starts writing. Her youthful idealism floods her thoughts, reminding her of all the ways she wanted to make the world better, before her father drummed into her that profit came above everything else. Well, not anymore. People should always come before profit. And acting in a way that brings the greatest good to the greatest number of people can only benefit the whole of society.
She types and types, paragraphs and bullet points flow out of her like water. When she next looks at her watch, it's coming up for 6am and she's written the first draft of an ethics policy for the firm. She saves the document with a smile.
Without questioning herself too much, she sends an e-mail to the client in New York, with a request to reschedule their appointment until the new year. Once that's done, a slight niggle in her stomach reminds her to set up an appointment with her doctor, which she does via their online booking system.
While she's in the web browser, she quickly makes several donations to local charities, including the one Yennefer works for.
She sighs. It's not enough. She can do more.
She heads down in the lift and smiles at the security guard sitting behind the front desk. She checks his name badge as she draws closer.
"Good morning, Istredd," she says, and sees the surprise in his eyes at the greeting.
"Morning Ms De Vries," he nods.
She leans on the desk and tilts her head. "Tell me, Istredd, do you have a family?"
He shifts in his seat, the lines on his forehead deepening as if trying to work out if this is a trick question. "I do, Ms De Vries. Two little boys. And a wife."
"And would you not rather spend Christmas morning with them?" Tissaia asks.
Again, the question seems to confuse him. "Well, yeah, of course." He rubs the back of his neck. "But, I'm on shift, Miss, and I- I don't know what you-"
"Lock the building up. Ensure the cameras are operating and set the alarms." She smiles. "And go home. If you hurry, you'll be there for your children waking up."
"Leave the building unattended? But- I can't!"
"Yes, you can. It's my building. I'll take responsibility." She shrugs. "I doubt anyone is going to be robbing us on Christmas day in broad daylight, are they?"
He goes to answer and she waves away his concern. "Go home. I insist. If it makes you feel better, you can arrange for someone to come back on shift for when it gets dark later on today. But enjoy the day with your family."
"Thank you, Ms De Vries. Really. Thank you."
She nods, an unusual lightness filling her chest, allowing it to expand. "Merry Christmas, Istredd."
He smiles. "And a very merry Christmas to you."
She drives home as the first rays of sunlight start to illuminate the fallen snow, making it sparkle. The roads are empty and silent and she makes it to her house in good time. She hurries inside, throwing her coat off and darting upstairs to quickly shower and get changed into jeans and a Christmas jumper that Yennefer must have left behind.
Forcing herself to wait until a reasonable hour before implementing her plans, she busies herself by going up into the loft and finding the boxes they'd brought over from her father's house after his death. She sorts through the garments, picking out winter coats and warm jumpers and folding them back into boxes, which she carries down to her car, quickly filling the boot and having to move to the back seat. Then, without giving it much thought, she goes to her own wardrobe and throws it open. She has far too many clothes, so she yanks a couple of suitcases out and fills them as well.
She's breathless and sweating when she finally manages to close the backdoor of the car. Checking her watch, she decides it's late enough so she grabs what she needs and climbs back into the car, setting out once more on the snowy roads after setting her satnav to the relevant address.
She crawls up an unfamiliar street, lined with modest housing, until she spots the number she's looking for. Her stomach churns, slightly, aware that people do not often receive uninvited visitors on Christmas morning, but she hopes to make up for it. She inhales slowly and gets out, heading up the path that's been thoughtfully cleared of snow, and rings the bell.
She waits, hearing some muffled shouting from inside the house, and steps back once she sees the doorhandle moving. Jaskier's smile freezes when he sees her, his face falling. He quickly glances over his shoulder and then back at Tissaia.
"Oh for fuck's sake, Tissaia. Christmas Day, seriously?" he hisses. Throwing his hands up, he rolls his eyes. "What have I done now? Forgotten to empty your coffee maker? Left a yoghurt in the fridge in the kitchen? What can I-"
"Can you try being quiet for once in your life, Jaskier?" Tissaia says, but she's smiling. She reaches into her pocket. "You left this, which I wanted to return-" She hands over the hat with the slightly crushed jingle bell. "And I wanted to give you this." She hands over a Christmas card.
He takes the items, warily, as if they're going to bite him. Pulling the hat on, he opens the card. A business card falls out of it and drops to the floor, so he stoops to pick it up. He frowns as he reads it.
"Neurosurgeon?" he tilts his head at her in question. "Is this some very elaborate comment on how brainless I am?"
She ignores his question. "I heard you were in need of- I mean, I heard about Cirilla-" His face hardens and she rushes to continue, pointing to the card. "He's a friend of an old family friend, and a renowned specialist in the field of paediatric neurology in particular. I've set up an appointment with him for the day after Boxing Day for an initial consultation."
As she speaks, understanding dawns on Jaskier's face. "Tissaia, that's- that's very kind. But there's no way that Geralt and I could afford-"
Tissaia holds her hand up. "There's no need to concern yourself with that. I will meet any costs you encounter."
"Wh-what?" He shakes his head. "But that's-" His eyes fill with tears and Tissaia's throat clogs with emotion at the sight. "But why?"
"Because you need help," she explains. "And I am in a position to provide it." She smiles. "And it's Christmas."
Jaskier barks out a laugh that's half sob, and covers his mouth, staring at her in disbelief. Thankfully, a tiny girl barrels into the back of Jaskier's legs, puncturing the emotion of the moment.
"Daddy! Come and see-" She grabs Jaskier's trouser leg and holds on, having noticed Tissaia's presence. She frowns up at her and Tissaia's heart seizes at how small and slight she is. Jaskier picks her up and kisses her cheek, rubbing at her arms to keep away the chill. "Who's that?" Ciri asks.
"This, my little lion cub-" Jaskier says, grinning widely. "-is Mrs Claus."
Ciri takes this in and looks Tissaia up and down. "Where's your red dress? And white hair?"
Glancing down at her fairly boring outfit, Tissaia falters. "I- ummm-"
"Mrs Claus has an appointment once a month at a very expensive salon so that all of her white hair is covered up," Jaskier whispers loudly against Ciri's ear.
Tissaia's hand instinctively rises to the front of her forehead where the grey always starts. "I don't think that's-"
"Anyway," Jaskier continues. "We know she's Mrs Claus because she's brought us the very best present of all."
Cirilla's piercing blue eyes light up. "A puppy?" She twists her head from side to side, looking for the present. "Where is it?"
Laughing, Jaskier shakes his head. "No, not a puppy, darling."
He holds up the business card for her to see. She takes it from him and turns it over, examining it on both sides before wrinkling her nose. "That's not a very good present, Daddy."
Tissaia laughs and Jaskier joins in, kissing Ciri's cheek. "Oh, but it is. I promise you that."
Looking up, Tissaia sees Geralt approach the pair from behind. He nods a greeting at her, clearly confused as to why she's standing on his doorstep on Christmas Day of all days. He rests a hand on Jaskier's back and Jaskier takes the card from Ciri, holding it up for Geralt to see. He reads it, his frown deepening.
"Tissaia's set up an appointment," Jaskier tells him, his voice rough. "For Ciri."
"But we can't-" Geralt begins, then stops, his jaw working. "We could never afford-"
"Please, don't worry about any of that," Tissaia tells him, holding up a hand. "I will take care of it." She winks at Ciri. "And I'll keep that puppy in mind for next Christmas, yes?"
With a gasp of delight, Ciri claps. "Yes please!"
"What?" Jaskier shakes his head. "No, that's-"
"That we're even able to think about next Christmas is a gift," Geralt says, quietly. "She can have all the puppies she wants."
"Can I have ten?" Ciri asks, swivelling to face Tissaia, eyes wide.
Tissaia laughs and moves down a step. "We'll see, hmmm?" She smiles at the little family. "But now I must go. I have a lot of people to see today."
"Okay," Ciri says, waving her small hand wildly. "Bye Mrs Claus!"
"Bye Ciri!" Tissaia turns to walk up the path.
She turns to find just Jaskier left, following her up the path in his bright green and red Christmas socks, no doubt soaking them in the process.
"I-I can't thank you enough," he says, and it's the most genuine she's ever seen him. "Seriously. Just even to have this hope is-" He closes his eyes. "Like Geralt said, it's a gift." He smiles. "I don't know what's brought this change of heart on, but I'm very in favour."
Tissaia lifts her chin and flicks the bell on his hat. "Let's just say I found the Christmas spirit." She sobers. "And I plan to live it all the year round, Jaskier. Things will be different when we return to work, I promise you that. I will make sure that everyone is treated and paid fairly. And that people are happy at their work."
"Well, fuck me," Jaskier says. He takes his hat off and puts it on her head. He winks. "You better take that, Mrs Claus."
She rolls her eyes, but she's smiling. "I'll see you in January, Jaskier."
"But, we're due back on Tue-"
"January!" she calls over her shoulder as she heads back to the car. "And not a minute before!"
She gets into her car and pulls away, smiling at his stupidied expression as he stands in wet socks in his snowy garden.
She gets out of the unfamiliar area onto a road she knows well. With each passing mile, the nerves in her stomach grow worse, but she doesn't give in to the temptation to turn around and go home. She needs to do this, she needs to take a chance and put herself out there. Or she'll regret it for the rest of her life. However short that may be.
Pulling into the small car park, Tissaia turns off her engine and attempts to steady her breathing and slow her heart down. It's no use, so she gets out anyway and grabs some of the bags from the back seat. When she gets inside the blessedly warm church, the first person she encounters in the foyer is a colleague of Yennefer's that she vaguely remembers from the last time she was here. She's bent over, sorting through boxes of clothing.
"Fringilla, yes?" Tissaia says, to get her attention.
Fringilla turns, her eyes going wide. "Oh...umm-"
"Tissaia." Tissaia supplies her name to spare the woman.
"No, I know, I just didn't know we were expecting you today." Fringilla glances through to the main part of the church. "Yennefer never mentioned anything about you coming."
"She doesn't know," Tissaia confides. "It was a bit of a spontaneous decision." She drops the bags she's holding at Fringilla's feet. "I've brought these to donate. I hope you can use them."
Fringilla picks up one of the bags and rummages through its contents. She looks up at Tissaia. "This is really good stuff. Like really good stuff."
"I tried to pick out warm things," Tissaia says. She holds out her keys. "There's more in the car if you'd like to get someone to bring it in." She clears her throat. "Or I can do it after I've...attended to a few things."
"No, no! I'll get someone to do it." Fringilla says, opening the next bag up and pulling out one of Tissaia's father's coats. "This is more than generous. We're really short on winter coats, so these will be brilliant!"
After a moment's consideration, Tissaia shrugs out of the coat she's wearing. After taking her phone and wallet out and an envelope out of the pockets, she holds the coat out to Fringilla, who shakes her head.
"No, I can't take that," Fringilla says.
"Please. I have more at home." Tissaia shakes the garment at Fringilla. "Someone is in more need of it than I am."
"This is-" Fringilla takes the coat from her, her eyes shining. "This is amazing. Thank you."
"You're very welcome," Tissaia smiles, shoving her things into the pockets of her jeans. "I hope you have a very Merry Christmas."
She swallows down the nerves that have resurfaced and carries on through into the church hall. There are rows and rows of tables set out, with mismatched chairs and a hodge podge of crockery and cutlery. She spots Triss and Sabrina laying one of the tables in the far corner. A quick glance around the room confirms Yennefer isn't there, so she makes her way over to the couple. Sabrina spots her first, her nose wrinkling like she's smelt something bad. Not that Tissaia can blame her. She watches as she nudges Triss and nods in Tissaia's direction. Triss' face lights up with a smile and she drops what she's doing, rounding the table and approaching Tissaia.
"You came!" She grasps Tissaia's arms and leans in to press a kiss to her cheek. "I can't believe you came! I-" She shakes her head. "Merry Christmas, Tissaia."
"Merry Christmas," Tissaia responds. She tilts her head to look around Triss' shoulder. "And Merry Christmas to you, Sabrina."
"Mmmhmm. To what do we owe this honour?" Sabrina holds up a butter knife in a vaguely threatening manner. "And think carefully before you answer, because if you so much as mention anything work related to my wife on Christmas day, I won't hesitate to tell you to elf off."
"Sabrina!" Triss scolds. She turns to Tissaia. "She's kidding."
"I'm not," Sabrina puts in, her eyes boring into Tissaia.
"It's nothing work related, I promise," Tissaia assures both of them. "I came to speak to Yennefer about-" She swallows. "I just need to speak to her briefly." She takes the now crumpled envelope out of her pocket and holds it out to Triss. "But before I do, this is for you." She smiles. "Merry Christmas."
Triss returns the smile, but there's a questioning crease between her eyebrows as she opens the envelope. Her eyes grow wide when she pulls out its contents. "Ti-Tissaia, what is this?"
"A Christmas bonus," Tissaia tells her as she hands the cheque over to Sabrina, her hands shaking. Sabrina gasps. "An overdue one. And when we return after the break, I think it's time you and I spoke about your entire package, yes?"
Shaking her head, Triss takes the cheque back from Sabrina. "Tissaia, this is too much. I can't accept-"
"Yes you can." Sabrina snatches it back and folds it up, sliding it into her cleavage. "As Tissaia said, it's long overdue." She slides her hand around Triss' hip, pulling her close. "And you're more than worth it."
"Sabrina," Triss whispers, cupping her wife's cheek. "We can pay for another round of IVF with this!"
Sparing Tissaia a small smile, Sabrina nods and presses a soft kiss to Triss' lips. "Whatever you want."
Triss squeals and throws herself at Tissaia, hugging her tightly. "I can't thank you enough. We can't thank you enough."
Patting her back, Tissaia feels her cheeks fill with heat. "Please, as Sabrina says, it's no more than you deserve." She extracts herself from Triss' embrace and clears her throat. "So, is...Yennefer around?"
"She's in the kitchen," Sabrina says. She lifts one eyebrow. "Please don't upset her. We've got to eat dinner with her later and we spent most of last Christmas watching her cry over you. It's quite a downer, I'm sure you can imagine."
Tissaia's throat aches at the thought and she blinks rapidly as Triss hushes Sabrina.
"I don't intend to upset her," she says, quietly.
Triss nods, giving her an encouraging smile. "I'm glad the two of you are on speaking terms again. And, if you'd like to have dinner with us lat-"
Sabrina clears her throat loudly and nudges Triss. Tissaia smiles.
"That won't be necessary, but thank you for the offer." She squeezes Triss' hand. "Sincerely." She turns to Sabrina, glancing at her chest. "Be careful not to lose that cheque in there."
She gives Triss' hand a final squeeze before turning and heading to the kitchen. She smiles when she hears Sabrina's voice behind her.
"Did she just make a remark about my tits?"
The kitchen is small and crowded, but she can't see Yennefer anywhere. She asks one of the people where she is and they tell her that she stepped outside for a breath of air, indicating the back door. Tissaia can understand why, it's steamy and uncomfortably hot in the small, bustling room. Squeezing her way past various bodies, she makes it to the door and steps out into the cold air.
Yennefer is a few feet away, sitting on the stone wall that surrounds the churchyard. When her eyes land on Tissaia, she stands, her mouth dropping open. She takes a few steps forward, snow crunching underfoot, then stops.
"I- Tissaia-" Yennefer laughs self-consciously, shoving her hands into the pockets of her coat and scuffing the heel of her boot through the snow. "What are you doing here?"
Tissaia closes some of the distance between them, but stops a good few steps away from Yennefer. She looks so beautiful, her dark hair and dark coat standing out in stark contrast to the snowy landscape. Tissaia smiles.
"I came to speak to you."
"Oh." Yennefer seems at a loss with what to do with her hands. "What about?"
"I came to say that-" She stops, suddenly unsure if Christmas day is the best time to unload a whole lot of relationship baggage on someone uninvited. But if she doesn't do it now, she might never have the courage to do it. "That I'm sorry, for everything," she finally says. The apology comes easier than she had feared, and she thinks it's because she genuinely means it. "I'm sorry I became obsessed with work. I'm sorry I let us drift apart. I'm sorry I didn't listen to you when you tried to tell me what was happening." Her voice catches and she hesitates, trying to get it back under control. "And most of all, I'm sorry that I let you walk away. That I didn't fight for you, for us."
Yennefer is looking at her in confusion, but there's some hope there too. She swallows and shakes her head. "Wow." Her voice is a little rough, and it makes Tissaia want to go to her and hold her. "I can't tell you how often I've fantasised about you coming and saying all that to me this past year." She blows out a breath. "And in those fantasies, I just gave you a dirty look and walked away."
"Is that what you're going to do now?" Tissaia asks, holding her breath.
"Clearly not," Yennefer says, with a roll of her eyes. "But- Shit, Tissaia, I have no clue what I'm supposed to say to that."
"Nothing," Tissaia says, quickly. "I'm not here looking for absolution or forgiveness." She tries to smile. "I know I don't deserve either. But I wanted to acknowledge what happened and- and to let you know that I'm going to try and be better." She lifts her eyebrows. "I wrote out a statement of ethics this morning, for the firm. It includes a pledge to provide pro bono consultancy and labour to charitable organisations for social housing and social good." She tilts her head. "I'm going to try and make that difference I always wanted to."
Yennefer takes a step closer, smiling. "That's...that's really great, Tissaia." She laughs, softly. "You haven't hit your head or anything, have you?"
Tissaia laughs at that, running a hand over the back of her head, feeling the fairly large bump there. "I did, as a matter of fact. But that's not why I'm doing this." A cool breeze passes over the back of her neck and she shivers, rubbing at her arms to warm herself up.
"Why aren't you wearing a coat?" Yennefer asks, like she's just noticed this. "It's bloody freezing out here."
"Oh, I-" Tissaia bites her lip. "I...gave it to Fringilla."
Yennefer tilts her head, one side of her mouth turning up. "You gave away the coat off your back?"
"I know that seems patronising," Tissaia rushes to say. "I brought other things as well. It was just- Fringilla said winter coats were particularly in demand and-"
"Hey, it doesn't sound patronising," Yennefer assures her, with a soft smile. "It's...very generous."
"Yes, well-" Tissaia coughs. "I've said what I came to say, so I'll leave you in peace. I know you'll be run off your feet here shortly and that you have plans with Triss and Sabrina later, so I don't want to keep you."
She starts to leave, but Yennefer's hand on her arm stops her. She looks up into those deep blue eyes she knows so well. Yennefer seems torn.
"Where will you go now?" Yennefer asks.
"I'm going to go back to the office."
Yennefer sighs. "Tissaia-"
"No!" Tissaia hurries to assure her. "Not to work. I- I have some things to put in place for my staff. Christmas bonuses to start with. And, when we return, wage increases, better benefits and the like." She stamps her feet to get some feeling back in her toes, and Yennefer brings both of her hands to Tissaia's biceps, trying to rub warmth into her. She smiles up at her in gratitude. "That will be my Christmas present to them, but I want it to last all throughout the year. I'd like to get it down on paper while it's still fresh in my head. After that I'll go home and watch something cheesy on the tv, like you suggested."
Yennefer nods. "Can-" She bites her lip. "Would it be okay if I called you? To...I don't know, talk about that stuff you said?" She lets go of Tissaia and takes a step back, wrapping her arms around herself. "Seeing you yesterday was- I'd- I'd really like us to try and be friends or something, you know?"
"I'd like that very much," Tissaia says, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. This feels like a chance, a beginning. "Thank you."
"I've missed you," Yennefer whispers. "Those five minutes we spent together in your office yesterday...they reminded me just how much I-" She closes her eyes. "I'll call you, okay?"
Taking a chance, Tissaia closes the distance between them. She touches Yennefer's forearm and goes up on her tiptoes, placing a soft kiss on her cheek. "Merry Christmas, Yenna," she whispers.
Yennefer tilts her head forward, so their foreheads are resting against one another. "Merry Christmas, Tissaia."
They stand that way until another chill runs through Tissaia and she shivers, the movement shifting them apart. Yennefer's eyes are closed and she opens them slowly, but her smile quickly falls into a frown. She touches Tissaia's nose with her fingertip.
"It's too cold for you to be out here without a coat on," Yennefer says. "A couple more minutes and you'll be Tissaia De Freeze." She winces. "Shit, that was awful." She laughs, rubbing at the back of her neck. "Can we pretend I never said that?"
"Said what?" Tissaia plays along. "But you're right, it is too cold to stand here much longer. I need to head off anyway." It's a good juncture to take her leave; their conversation has been more successful than she could ever have dared imagine. "I look forward to hearing from you."
Yennefer nods. "Soon. I promise."
With a final smile, Tissaia turns and heads back to her car. She chances a look over her shoulder and finds that Yennefer is watching her leave. She lifts a hand to wave goodbye and is gratified when Yennefer returns the gesture. She slides into the driver's seat, noting that the keys have been left in it - she's too happy to even care about the lack of security - and starts the car up.
She turns on the radio and easily finds a station playing Christmas songs.
By the time she pulls into the office car park, she's screeching along with Mariah.
Tissaia allows herself a few hours to figure out what everyone in the company should be given in terms of bonuses and salary increases. She saves the spreadsheet and e-mails her head accountant and the payroll team to let them know of the changes. After a moment's consideration, she also sends an e-mail to the client in New York, requesting to delay their meeting until the new year.
She's just reading over the ethics statement she wrote that morning when there's a knock at the door. She looks up as it opens, expecting it to be the security guard checking on her. Her heart quickens when she sees Yennefer standing in the doorway. She smiles, tentatively, and holds up a bottle of champagne. Nodding to the ceiling, she lifts her eyebrows.
"Care to join me?"
They go up to the roof to what had, over the years, become their spot. Too late, Tissaia realises that she is once again without an outer layer of clothing on a very cold night, but she's not going to interrupt the flow of what is potentially a romantic moment to go and find a jacket. They're sitting close enough for their shoulders to be touching, and she can feel the warmth of Yennefer's body.
Yennefer pops the cork and manages not to spill any of the fizz, catching it with her lips. She takes a drink and holds the bottle out to Tissaia, who does likewise, enjoying the spread of bubbles on the back of her tongue.
"How was dinner at Triss and Sabrina's?" she asks, passing the bottle back to Yennefer.
"Yeah, it was nice." Yennefer takes another swig. "Triss is, of course, in raptures at the thought of me coming here tonight."
Tissaia smiles as she accepts the bottle for her turn. "I assume Sabrina advised against it."
Letting out a quiet laugh, Yennefer nods. "To put it mildly."
"I can imagine." Tissaia offers the bottle back but Yennefer shakes her head, so she sets it to the side and looks out over the city. "I'm glad you didn't listen to her."
Yennefer leans closer, bumping their shoulders together. "Me too."
"So," Tissaia says. "Am I enough of a rebel for you yet?"
"You were always enough for me, Tissaia," Yennefer tells her with a sigh. "You were everything to me. I was just- I grew less and less sure of what I was to you."
Tissaia nods. "I know." She drops her head to her chest, looking down at the stone beneath them. "I took it for granted that you'd always be there and I allowed myself to be-" She stops and shakes her head. "No. It was my doing. I pulled away from you. I stopped putting any effort and expected you to put up with that." She shakes her head and looks up at the moon. "Somewhere along the way, I forgot that nothing in this world mattered to me as much as you." She turns to look at Yennefer, finding her already looking back. "Nothing, no business deal, no contract, could ever come close to the way you make me feel."
Blinking rapidly, Yennefer smiles. "Really?"
"Really." Tissaia looks away. "And I'm ashamed that I ever gave you reason to doubt that."
Gentle fingers touch her chin, turning her face back around. Yennefer's lips quirk at the edges.
"So, am I freezing my tits off up here for nothing?" Yennefer grins. "Or are you gonna kiss me, Tissaia De Vries?"
A sharp laugh escapes from Tissaia's throat before it clogs with emotion. She leans in and presses her lips to Yennefer's, softly at first, but when Yennefer responds there's a shift in her chest, like her heart has been set back to its proper rhythm after beating out of time for over a year.
Unwilling to push her luck, she pulls away, dabbing at her eyes and sniffing. She laughs. "You're freezing your tits off? I'm the one with no coat on!"
"Well," Yennefer says, urging Tissaia to move and sit between her legs. She wraps her open coat around her, and then her arms. "That's what happens when you give away all your worldly possessions to the poor." She drops a kiss on Tissaia's neck, the tip of her nose delightfully cold when she drags it up behind her ear.
"Oh, this is what happens, hmm?" Tissaia leans back into Yennefer's warm embrace, closing her eyes. "I should have become a philanthropist years ago."
"You're making up for it now," Yennefer mumbles. "Triss told me about the cheque you gave her. And Jaskier's been all over our group chat, singing your praises." Her lips turn up against Tissaia's neck. "Literally, at one point. He replaced the 'Caroline' in Sweet Caroline with Tissaia." Tissaia laughs. "I'm not kidding! I muted the chat when he started on Cecelia."
Tissaia shakes her head, unable to help her smile. "He's going to be insufferable when we go back to work."
"And-" Yennefer says, squeezing Tissaia gently. "A little birdie told me that a very large donation had been made, anonymously, to our homelessness appeal."
Frowning, Tissaia sits up, shivering as the cold air hits her now warm body. She turns so that she can see Yennefer. "This isn't-" She swallows. "None of that was conditional, Yennefer. It wasn't some scheme to lure you back. I just-"
"I know," Yennefer assures her. She reaches for Tissaia, drawing her back into their previous position. "I know that. You did a good thing. A lot of good things. And I'm really proud of you."
Tissaia nods, and closes her eyes. "Is this-" She bites her lip, afraid to ask the question she really needs to ask. "I mean, this is lovely, just to be here with you like this, but-." She wiggles her hand out from under Yennefer's coat to cover Yennefer's own. Yennefer links their fingers together and it gives her the final boost of courage she needs. "Is this a second chance for us? A fresh start?"
She feels Yennefer inhale against her back. "I want it to be." Her head drops to Tissaia's shoulder and she sighs. "But I-"
"You need to be sure this definitely isn't the result of a head injury," Tissaia suggests, with a smile. Yennefer's torso lifts as she laughs.
"Yeah, basically." She presses a kiss to Tissaia's neck. "I realise now that it's a bit rich to ask you this after dragging you up to where we first kissed and proceeding to kiss you senseless but...I'd like to take things slow, if that's okay?"
Tissaia sits up again, turning to look at Yennefer. She brushes her knuckles down her jaw and smiles. "Of course it's okay, darling." She shakes her head in wonder. "It's far more than I deserve. But, Yennefer, I do intend to prove to you that this isn't some whim."
"Good," Yennefer says, her eyes dipping to Tissaia's lips. "I really want that."
Leaning in, Tissaia brushes their lips together, barely touching. She pulls away, smiling at Yennefer's pout. She places a finger over her lips.
"Slow, you said," Tissaia murmurs when Yennefer kisses her fingertip.
Yennefer wrinkles her nose. "Yeah, but...maybe we can start the slow bit tomorrow?" She tilts her head, leaning closer. "I forgot how much I like kissing you."
"Did you? Well, we can't have that," Tissaia says, just before their lips meet again.
Something cold lands on her nose and she jerks back, looking up. It's starting to snow. She closes her eyes and tips her head back, smiling when the snowflakes land on her cheeks.
"As aesthetically pleasing as this is," Yennefer begins. "I think we should probably move inside before you really do get frostbite somewhere unfortunate." She stands and offers her hand to Tissaia, grinning down at her. "I'm pretty fond of some of your extremities and I don't want them falling off."
Tissaia accepts the hand and gets to her feet. They head back to the stairs hand in hand. Tissaia glances over at Yennefer, frowning at a memory.
"Yeah?" Yennefer holds the door open for her.
"You don't-" She clears her throat, feeling ridiculous for asking this now. "You don't harbour any romantic feelings for Geralt, do you?"
"Geralt?" Yennefer shrieks. "Uh, no, Tissaia. No, I do not." She follows Tissaia inside and lets the door close behind them. "Why on earth would you ask that?"
"I don't know," Tissaia says, her cheeks flushed from cold and embarrassment. "I was going to head home soon. To watch some cheesy television. Perhaps eat some chocolate." She looks up at Yennefer, almost shy. "Would you like to join me?"
Yennefer smiles. "Yeah. I'd really like that."
The relief and happiness that floods Tissaia's entire being is familiar and comforting and wonderful. She laughs and cups Yennefer's cheeks, dragging her down into a kiss.
"Merry Christmas, Yenna," she whispers.
And when Yennefer returns both the good wishes and the kiss, Tissaia sends up a silent thank-you to any spirits who may be listening.
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