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Hearts That Beat The Old, Old tune

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Geralt trudged across frozen Velen swamp water, carefully feeling out for weaker ice in the deeper puddles because like hell was he going to get wet boots now, and otherwise didn’t much care where he put his feet. Roach snorted irritably, and she bumped her nose against Geralt’s shoulder, nibbling at his hair and jumping over a small riverlet that had managed to carve itself out of the watery mud.

He sighed, because gods fucking damn it he’d been looking forward to a winter in Kaer Morhen, sat in front of the hearth and rolling his eyes as he ate his soup while Vesemir told he and Eskel and Lambert all the stories he’d told a million times before. At least then he’d be warm, and not trudging through a frozen swamp with the midday sun cold and hidden overhead by the thick morning fog that had yet to lift, a frog frozen in the ice beneath his foot glaring at him while he stepped over it.

And all of it, he thought sourly, was just to take Dandelion to some performance he was going to give in Novigrad that would only pay him a pittance of a percentage of the place’s earnings.

Roach bumped his head with her nose again and Geralt pat her neck, kept fording and trudging and guiding her to the safer pathways while Dandelion clung to her back, nervously watching the Drowners eyeing them from deeper in the swamp. Dandelion shivered in the cold mist and blew on his hands now and then; kept a tight grip on Roach’s mane all the while.

“Not that I like saying anything against you, Geralt,” Said Dandelion, carefully adjusting his purple hat. “You are a witcher, after all, and this is your job most of the time - for all my many talents you would know better than I, after all. But, are you sure this way is safe?” He shifted in the saddle, the squeeze of his legs making Roach jump and startle, pulling against the reins in Geralt’s hand. “Ah, good Roach,” He said, holding fast to the pommel of the saddle.

Geralt snorted at him, calmed Roach with a blast of axii. “Safe enough,” He said. “There’s nothing bigger than a Drowner in three miles of here. And north-” Geralt pointed the way they were going, “Is a village with an inn. Only thing that might take a stab at us are the bandits on the roads, and we’re not on the road yet.”

”And those… Drowners over there? The ones watching us, they- I mean, they don’t look all that friendly, do they?” Dandelion frowned at where they were gathered, vague shadows in the thick fog. “You are sure they won’t attack, right?” He shifted in the saddle again, looked back the way they came. “Maybe - and I’m not saying anything against you, Geralt; I’d be the last person to tell you what to do - but maybe we should go back to the road. It’s longer, sure, but… I don’t know. This place is creepy.”

Geralt looked to the drowners - another one of the many, many reasons Geralt hated swamps was that he mostly only smelled rot and death and whatever animal’d had the back luck to drown and stayed preserved just below the lifeless water, so he didn’t bother trying to sniff out the drowners’ distinct stench - and snorted again, guiding Roach around a small pool. Its ice looked sturdy enough, but he didn’t want to take that chance. “Guarding some food,” He told Dandelion. “See how bloated they are? Long as we don’t go close we should be fine. Head down.”

Dandelion ducked below the branch, and just stayed there; clinging to Roach’s neck as Geralt walked her through the swamp, calming her ears nervously twitching back every now and then, and using a burst of axii to get her to hop from island to island instead of going around or trusting her weight on ice. Dandelion stayed quiet under the the drowners’ black eyes on him.

Slowly as they walked the fog burned away through the afternoon, but clouds gathered heavy and fat with rain so Geralt didn’t really judge it as a good trade. He turned his head, once, to a fiend’s roar sounding from deep in the swamp’s forest, far from the road they were picking their way to, but by the sounds of it, an answering roar shivering through the air, it was only a quarrel over territory, maybe with another fiend or maybe just with a chort.

Their fight would draw any necrophage who’d heard them, make them gather to feed on the loser and maybe even the victor if the fight had been a close enough match, so Geralt turned away from it and shook his head at Dandelion, told him, “Nothing we need to worry about,” Because it wasn’t. If anything it was a favour, keeping the way ahead clear while the fiends or chort fought it out and the monsters drawn from all across the forest fed on what was left.

Nothing jumped out at them, as Geralt knew they wouldn’t, and there was no danger as Roach’s hooves hit the road long hours later; shivering a little from the cold but staying obediently still as Geralt hauled himself up into the saddle in front of Dandelion and continuing on at a brisk trot. She even seemed a little cheered by Geralt back in his place on her back, or at the very least by the road making the going so much easier, though her ears folded back against the rain just starting to come down.

Dandelion, against Geralt’s back, sighed, his arms around Geralt’s middle squeezing a little. Geralt turned Roach down a road. “Alright,” Geralt said, “What is it?”

“What’s what?”

“Don’t,” Said Geralt, pushing wet hair back from his face. “Not in the mood. What’s bothering you? If you’re cold I’ll find an abandoned house to hole up in for a while, don’t like this weather any more than you do. If it’s something else just say it. Otherwise keep quiet, I need to focus.”

Roach trotted along quite happily for a long while, avoiding the puddles muddy in the cart tracks dug in deep in the road and startling a little at the too-quiet all around - she wasn’t used to the winter hush that fell across the world in places that weren’t Kaer Morhen, whose valley she knew at least as well as her stable there. Dandelion was still quiet at Geralt’s back so he stayed silent, too; listening intently for bandits staking out the woodland all around, or wolves howling too close for comfort about an upcoming hunt, or an interruption in the steady whoosh of Dandelion’s breathing at his back.

Nothing moved. Dandelion sighed again. Opened his mouth now and then, made a wheezy little squeaking sound like what he wanted to say was being strangled and shut it again. Played with the hem of Geralt’s gambeson padded warm against the cold, tracing the tough leather and delicate chainmail armour over it, stopped and sighed again, harsher, as he looked over Geralt’s shoulder.

“Geralt,” Dandelion murmured eventually while Geralt guided Roach out of the woodland and into the wide, empty fields the swamp bordered. “I’ve been wondering….” He dug his chin a little into Geralt’s shoulder, turned to look at the fields all around. “I mean, thank you. For taking me to Novigrad. I know you wanted to go Kaer Morhen this year.”

Geralt spurred Roach into a canter, not wanting to go at a full gallop just yet and wear her out but just as unwilling to go so slowly either. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. I’ve made the journey midwinter before, it’s not so bad.” He sniffed the air and smelled the biting cold, stroked Roach’s neck. “Seems a mild enough winter so far, and Roach’ll be fine climbing the mountain. She knows where to go.”

“Yeah, but-” Dandelion breathed out, short and sharp. The picking rain came down a little more, icy cold where it slipped beneath Geralt’s armour and gauntlets. “That’s not what I meant,” He said. “I...”

“Then what did you mean? You know I don’t like guessing these things.”

Dandelion ducked his head against the rain, forehead pressed dull and warm against Geralt’s back. His hands fidgeted again, feeling along the edge of the swordbelt diagonal across Geralt’s chest. “Nothing,” Dandelion said, slipping his thumb beneath the belt and feeling out an iron buckle. “It’s rare, I know, but I’m being stupid.”

He sat up, squared his shoulders; Geralt could almost see the too-bright grin on Dandelion’s face, forced and uncomfortable. “Never mind, do you want to hear the song I’m going to perform? It’s a shame it’s not about you this time,” He added, which Geralt supposed was a relief in its way - he really hated being sung about. “I composed a fantastic new one about you the other day, I mean really spectacular. But I don’t have my lute.”

“I’ll live,” Geralt said. “Save it for- Stay quiet.”

Dandelion shut up, hand going tight around Geralt’s sword belt, as Geralt pulled Roach to a stop; searching where Geralt was looking. He froze when he noticed the bandits, two on horseback and more on foot, idle on the frozen hill to their right and watching them right back. Geralt spurred Roach into a slow walk, keeping her steady with another blast of axii when she tossed her head and snorted, ears pinned back.

The one on the largest horse - a huge beast of a horse, black coat all the darker against the frost and ice and cold, the shifting mist all around making the whole group shadows too vague to see properly - tipped his head to the other rider, unslung the axe on his back and looked over the blade. Laughed, the sound of it loud and thin. His friend answered in something close to a reedy shout, but they were too far for Geralt to make out what it was he said that was so funny that the entire group joined in on the joke, cackling loudly.

“Geralt-”

“I see them. Stay quiet, head down.”

Roach jumped into a trot, ears twitching, when Geralt tapped his heels to her sides. He kept her steady, turned his head to watch the bandits on the hill. The rider of the largest horse tipped his head to his friend again, who shouted something to the men; whatever it was made them unsling crossbows and unsheathe axes and swords.

Dandelion pulled at Geralt’s belt. “Geralt,” He murmured, and trembled a little. “Geralt, what are they doing? Geralt they’re coming closer, do something!” He hissed, pulled on Geralt’s sword belt again.

“I see them,” Geralt repeated. He grit his teeth as the bandits started idly making their way down the hill, reassured by Roach’s easy pace; Geralt thought that they were aiming to block the road, or at least the men on foot were. The riders guided their horses to the road behind Roach, a sword hissing from its sheath. “Left saddlebag, the biggest one; there’s a crossbow and some bolts. Take it and load it, but don’t shoot.”

Don’t -!”

Stay quiet, Dandelion,” Geralt said. “I know it’s impossible but don’t draw attention to yourself.”

He pretended not to notice as the two riders sidled up either side, the smaller with his sword leaned casually on his leg and the larger not even trying to hide the intent behind the huge axe hefted up in his hands, its head turned just so to catch the weak light, gleaming down its rain-wet edge. The black stallion snorted, snapped at Roach who pinned her ears back at him, murmuring unhappily.

Dandelion went very, very still against Geralt’s back, heart racing like a rabbit’s in a snare; his hand white from how hard he was holding on to Geralt’s sword belt.

Geralt looked to the stallion’s rider; large man, heavy, jowls hung lower than his jaw like a fighting dog’s, but unbalanced in a seat not made to fit him. The stallion and his tack stolen, then - easy to convince into bucking with a little touch of axii to his mind, and even easier for that bucking to unseat the bandit. “Evening,” Said Geralt, coldly.

“Evenin’? Closer to nighttime, eh Weasel?”

“Aye,” Said the skinny rat on Geralt’s other side, grinning wide enough he showed all nine of his crooked teeth.

“An’, well,” Said the first bandit, eying Dandelion. “Me an’ the lads’re wonderin’ what two humble trav’lers are doin’ out this time a night. T’ain’t safe, see. Mighty unsavoury folk out after dark, ya know.” He shook his bald head sadly. “Lotta folks scared to be out on a walk ‘round their own villages, let alone these back roads.”

He wheeled the stallion in front of Roach, made her skid to a stop and stomp her foot in aggravation, lips wrinkling back from her teeth as she snapped at the bigger horse. Geralt smoothed his hand down her neck, said nothing as he looked to Dandelion’s hand tight around the little witcher crossbow and nodded at him.

Weasel laughed at Roach, jabbed her with the point of his sword and laughed again when she snapped at his hand. “Aye Boss,” He said. “Lots’a things sends them runnin’ home these days. Things haunt the dark, ye see. Ain’t safe fer the peasant folk - they’re afeared to even to say their names.”

Geralt made a fist against the itch to go for his sword, tapped Dandelion’s hand to remind him to let go of the belt across his chest. Just in case.

”Now,” Said the boss, rolling his shoulders and idly running his thumb down the edge of his axe’s head. “I sees you one of ‘em witchfolk,” He said, gesturing to Geralt and smiling nastily. “But there’s more’n just drowners and bats and... basimalisks hauntin’ these lands, an’ this one-” He jabbed his thumb at Dandelion, who flinched hard into Geralt’s back, “-Well, maybe you can save ‘im from some manticore, but even one o’ you freaks can’ do naught to keep him safe from those folks in the hills. So, a deal; two hundred gold, an’ me an’ the lads’ll keep you safe from harm. ‘Till the next village, anyway.”

The boss’ small, hungry eyes eyed Geralt’s coin pouch, though he’d be disappointed if he snatched it. Geralt tapped the hunting knife strapped to his thigh, just below the coins, his nail making the steel ring a little. “Done just fine this far, haven’t I?” Said Geralt, shrugging. “My friend’s not complaining. You alive back there?”

“Yes!” Dandelion squeaked. He cleared his throat, and the arm of Geralt’s small crossbow jabbed into his back. “Yes, perfectly fine! No complaints from me. Excellent service, I highly recommend hiring a witcher on any jaunt through charming Velen countryside!”

The boss bared his yellow teeth, couldn’t quite help the way he looked to the side when Geralt smiled too; showing his own teeth, werewolf’s jaws cramped into his human mouth and the same lethal threat in their gleam, pointed and sharp as the blades on his back. Something curled high in his chest, viciously happy because oh yes, this freak was as nonhuman as they came.

Geralt grinned wider, that ugly smile that even Dandelion looked away from; a few of the bandits coming close, closing off the road ahead, drew back, looking at their swords in sudden despair, and at their boss because surely he wasn’t stupid enough to pick a fight with a witcher? Even if there was only the one witcher, guarding his purple-doubleted friend who couldn’t lift a sword without hurting himself.

“So no,” Said Geralt slowly, pulling his steel sword from its sheath on his back and flourishing it, easy and loose in his hand. “My friend and I will take our chances, I think.”

The boss shrugged, raised his axe and crossbow bolts skated off the golden quen Geralt called up, the huge shield sparking as Geralt leapt from the saddle and fell into the familiar stance; kept quen up while the boss’ axe thudded deep into it, hard enough it shattered and the shards embedded themselves in the boss’ arm, stinging and sparking along his rusted armour until he flinched away and cursed. Geralt easily dodged a bolt, gathered the strength for an axii and had to draw his sword up for a parry before he could loose it; punching the one footbandit and swinging his blade deep into the neck of another, the weight of it gliding through and Geralt dodged back, needing the room to see as the body and head thudded to the wet ground.

The group fanned out, circling; unwilling to draw closer to a witcher growling from deep in his chest, that wolf’s-threat rumbling through the ground loud as a fiend’s roar a neat match for his bared teeth and the snarl rising high in his throat, and just as unwilling to run when their Boss shouted, “There’s more of us, fuckwits! Get ‘im!”

But these weren’t wartime soldiers, trained to fight even if they were only the bodies thrown at enemy walls; they were peasants, stupid and greedy and the sword unfamiliar in their hand, the axe a little better but swung like they were felling trees, wide and slow - too slow for Geralt easily stepping back from the sweeping blades as his sword skated off a wooden shield splintering under the blow. They weren’t even nekkers; clever enough to attack all at once.

Geralt stabbed through the gut of one and ripped his sword out through the side, the splatter of blood making a second coming up on his side jump back with a retch and leaving the third - hatchet clumsy in an overhead swing - clear for the blade to thud deep into his side, hacking deeper when Geralt pulled it free and swung it back, steel grinding against bone. Quen took the Boss’ axe again, and axii made the black stallion rear and buck, biting and chomping and pulling at the bit.

A guard crossed across Geralt’s chest caught the longsword of the second, the whistle of a bolt and Dandelion’s shout telling him fourth was fallen beneath Roach, killed somewhere between hooves crushing his skull and the fletching poking out of his ribs. Another swing from second, an overhead blow and Geralt slipped to the side because he knew his sword, witcher-sharp; a pirouette, momentum carrying the blade and right to trust its edge because it cleaved clean through second, splitting him in two. Quen buzzed through Geralt’s armour when he made the sign, humming along the chainmail links and sparking against the bolts sliding off it one, two, a third interrupted by Geralt dodging behind fifth, the bolt thudding deep into fifth’s back.

Weasel was just as easy; fallen to the ground by Dandelion’s shot, a lucky hit through his throat, and a stab through his gut kept him from the fight.

Fallen from his horse the boss wasn’t quite so comfortable as he stepped over the dead, lifting his axe - the stallion snorting and rearing far into the field he’d come from. Geralt ducked under the axe’s swing, dodged back from the boss trying to punch Geralt’s head before he could land a blow and dodging again but shit; ground made muddy by blood and rain, Dandelion’s yelp and Roach’s scream a distraction and the haft thudded deep into his guts, flinging him across the road.

But a lifetime of fighting monsters had never failed him and Geralt landed on his feet; cast a sign and drew back, the yrden purple on the ground interrupting the boss’ mocking-wide swing, made him stumble as Yrden’s hungry sapping of his strength made him slow. Geralt’s blade cut deep, swinging clean through his fat neck; the body fell heavy into the mud, its severed head landing just beside it to stare at the sky.

Geralt looked to the two last bandits, bared his wolf’s teeth and snarled louder. Folded his fingers into aard, the power of the sign thrumming in his hand but not loosed in its sweeping arc, not yet.

Maybe a little cleverer than their friends dead on the ground, or maybe their fear, sour on the cold wind, made them cleverer, but the last few bandits looked to the blood dripping from Geralt’s sword, looked to yrden fading at his feet and the gleam of his monster’s teeth, the glow of his yellow monster’s eyes, and ran.

Dandelion; slumped over in the saddle, white-faced and clutching a bolt deep in his leg.

Geralt growled low in his throat, swallowed it and breathed out the anger tight in his chest because now wasn’t the time for that, and took the crossbow from Dandelion’s limp hand, put it away. “Leave the bolt in,” Geralt told him, quietly. “It’ll the slow the bleeding, I promise. Hold it still.” Dandelion didn’t move, shivered quietly to himself, so Geralt took his hand and wrapped it around the bolt, careful not to jostle him too badly. Growled again because shit, and forced himself back to calm when Dandelion’s eyes flicked to him, made dull and dead by pain and shock. “You’ll be fine, I know what I’m- keep holding the bolt,” Geralt said, wrapping Dandelion’s hand back around it. “Good. I know what I’m doing. Hold on.”

Geralt led Roach down the road at a slow walk, and slower again when Dandelion hissed and swayed in his seat, jaw clenched. He turned Roach down a small track, overgrown with weeds; up to the small farmstead whose cowshed was fallen in on itself, the house thick with ivy but still standing; a shelter from the rain at least, and a shelter that smelled like old dust and decades of decay was better than no shelter at all.

Dandelion needed help getting down from Roach, couldn’t walk on his own so Geralt carried him inside and set him down on a chair still stood in front of the hearth. Breathed in the smell of the place, just to make sure, and found that it really was only dusty; no one had been inside any time recently. Good - Dandelion would be safe to leave alone for a few minutes - so Geralt dumped the saddlebags inside the door, found a blanket and wrapped it around Dandelion’s shoulders, lit the fire in the hearth, and went out to get Roach settled in the barn still surviving.

-:-

Geralt healed Dandelion as best he could - cleaned his wound with alcohest and bandaged it tightly in clean rags, took off his rain-damp doublet and trousers so he wouldn't catch a chill on top of everything else - but fever set in anyway and so Geralt sat beside him those long days and longer nights; tucked their blankets and cloaks tight around him because Geralt didn’t trust the pallor of his skin, his fluttery pulse. He meditated for long hours, ears trained on Dandelion’s heartbeat, his breathing; didn’t trust even more the Velen backwoods they were stuck in, or their abandoned shack that might prove tempting to any number of people desperate enough to take their chances with a witcher.

A part of him wanted something to break the steady drum of rain against roof and muddy ground, an animal that wasn’t Roach snorting to herself while Geralt whiled away the days keeping watch or bandit stupid enough to test his fraying witcher’s nerves as he clumsily patched Dandelion’s trousers. Wanted a smell that wasn’t bad weather or dust or Dandelion’s sick-sweat beaded on his brow. But there was nothing; only checking Dandelion’s pulse now and then, pressing his ear to Dandelion’s chest to listen to his breathing, and then going back to meditating. Circuits of the farmhouse, then the farmstead when that cursory check didn’t calm his itching nerves. Went back to meditating, or making food, or keeping Roach happy and fed on hay that wasn’t completely mouldy in the loft above her stable, slapping away the shake in his fingers against the meat of her neck when he pet her because Roach would never use his fear for his friend, faint on the air, against him.

A week. A week and Geralt was about ready to kill Dandelion himself if he didn’t wake from the fever soon, and he clenched his hands against his knees and tossed a log to the fire burning in the hearth even though it didn’t need it because he didn’t know what to do, and he didn’t want to leave Dandelion alone for even a minute to get someone who did, and he hated it! Grit his teeth against the indecision tight in his chest, aching with every beat of his heart, because he wasn’t made to be indecisive; he was a witcher. Witchers knew that Dandelion was in danger, for all that Geralt did his best to keep him comfortable - a wet rag on his brow to take the worst of the heat from him and stubbornly refusing to let him kick away the covers - and that he’d probably be safe to leave alone for half a day to find a herbalist. They would take that chance because Dandelion might be doomed either way and the risk was better than to do nothing.

But Geralt couldn’t - he wouldn’t - so he meditated instead, one ear always trained on Dandelion mumbling beside him in front of the fire because if nothing else Geralt would throw him over Roach’s back like a sack of grain and gallop to the nearest village for help.

-:-

The fire had sunk low when Geralt came out of his meditation, the howling night wind hissing through cracks in the walls, and Dandelion stirred when Geralt fed it a log to chase away the cold. “Geralt?” He said, charmingly sleep-muddled but wonderfully clearer than when he’d fallen unconscious.

“Yeah?”

Dandelion struggled to sit up, hissed as he jostled his leg. “Ow!” He complained, and frowned down at his lap. “So I didn’t dream it, you...” Dandelion swallowed, rubbed his face, his mouth; stared at his hands clasped at his knees as Geralt moved their saddlebags to his back for him to lean against. “Well,” He said, looked to Geralt sat beside the fire with a smile. “That’s another mark on the tally for all the times you’ve saved me, Geralt. Thank you. And for everything else you’ve done for me, too,” He added, grinning. “I don’t tell you half as much as I should how grateful I am you put up with me.”

Geralt handed him a waterskin, watched him drink. “No need,” He said, shrugging. “You’re my friend. Just glad you’re not dead. The fever looked bad for a few days.”

Dandelion grimaced. “But I should,” He insisted, handing the waterskin back. He sighed, rubbed his mouth again. “How long have we been friends, Geralt? All these years I’ve known you and all I do is get in trouble, and make your life difficult, and I don’t pay any of it back. I… Thanks is the least I owe you.”

“You’re my friend, Dandelion. You don’t owe me anything.”

I don’t-! You can’t think that Geralt!” Dandelion cried, suddenly fierce. “ Everything you’ve done for me and I don’t… you can’t mean that.”

Geralt watched him, for long enough that Dandelion deflated, sank back down and looked to his hands in his lap. “Is this why you’ve been weird lately? You’re worried I don’t, what - I don’t like you? And I’m keeping you around until you pay off some debt to me?”

Dandelion looked away. Shrugged.

“Dandelion, you’re an idiot,” Said Geralt. “Yes, you annoy me sometimes, but if I didn’t like you I wouldn’t be here.” He growled at himself, showed his teeth because fuck, Geralt was the bigger idiot of the two of them, clearly. “Damn it, I’m no good at this. Having friends.”

Having human friends, anyway. With witchers it was easy - an offer of food if there was any spare, a space at camp out on the Path, a seat at a table an invitation for a drink at an inn. Usually everyone already knew everyone - maybe not friendly but at least safe, never afraid to sleep at each other’s fires because they all knew the dangers of their lives too well to not offer that one respite from it. But humans were different, expected different things. There were rules more complicated than ‘don’t kill each other’, and always different for different people. It was confusing.

“You’ve been a good friend to me,” Said Dandelion. “Better than most people would be, I think.”

Geralt shook his head. “I’m not,” Said Geralt, growling from deep in his chest because how could he tell Dandelion that Geralt was going by witcher rules, by monster instincts ingrained deep in his head and heart that said protect and pack, had no idea of how to go by different rules, by human instincts? He snarled at himself, “Damn it, I’m not good with feelings. Telling them.”

Dandelion picked at loose threads and fuzz on his blanket, quiet under Geralt’s watching gaze. Geralt grimaced, looked away. He wasn’t good with his heart, but Geralt knew the rhythm it beat when he looked at Dandelion in the right light, knew the fear stuck like a dagger between his ribs all those times Dandelion had been in danger, when he'd clutched a crossbow bolt in his leg and unfathomably lucky it hadn't hit anything important. He knew the shapes of the things he wanted, not very many with names, true, but those instincts still familiar.

He could be honest, for Dandelion; force the words out because Dandelion deserved to hear them, even if only just this once. “I thought you knew,” Geralt said, and caught Dandelion’s eyes because he had never been afraid of their glow, the bits and pieces of monsters Geralt was made of obvious in their wolf-yellow shine. “That I care about you.” He scratched his knee, head low under Dandelion’s gaze heavy on him, blue eyes blown wide in surprise. “That I...”

Geralt growled, trying to fit his tongue around words that lodged in his throat, catching on all the roughness of his voice because he wasn’t a bard, couldn’t think of a rhyming couplet about his heart witcher-slow missing a beat when Dandelion said his name that way he did, familiarity with its growl and the click at the end like Geralt’s swords pulled from their sheath, the smooth hiss and the catch of the tip against the mouth of the scabbard. Couldn’t say that he didn’t really mind being kept from Kaer Morhen this winter because yes, Dandelion could have hired a mercenary to take him to Novigrad, but at least if Geralt did it himself he knew Dandelion would be delivered safe and sound.

“Oh,” Said Dandelion, because Geralt didn’t know how to say any of what he was feeling but maybe something was showing on his face, or maybe Dandelion just knew him well enough to know what his love was, instinct and years of friendship muddied together in his heart. “ Oh, you… You love me.”

Geralt looked away. Nodded, because he wouldn’t lie to Dandelion about most things and definitely not about that, not when it was personal.

It wasn’t even hard to love Dandelion because yes, he was a pain in the ass sometimes, but he was never afraid of Geralt; didn’t look twice at his wolf’s teeth, his too-pale skin, the white of his hair; didn’t care about the witchers’ oddities they were all made with, the growls and grumbles and snarls, the guarding of food and the eating anything not immediately lethal. He liked Geralt, and that was rare enough on its own that Geralt loved him for it because Geralt was familiar with being kept around as a sword against monsters, a quick round of sex because Geralt couldn’t leave a woman with a child even if he wanted to, but they never wanted to keep him, and that…

That was pathetic, really - even in his own head. But it was true; Geralt loved him because Dandelion wanted to keep him, had smiles bright and happy for when they came across each other, a good morning and a good night when they travelled together, kept eyes from him wherever they went because who would look to the witcher bodyguard sullen in the shadows when there was a purple bard strumming his lute and singing songs at the top of his lungs?

And Geralt loved him because there were instincts telling him to, the monsters in his mutated blood that hummed, pleased, whenever Dandelion’s smile said that Geralt had done well pretending to be even a little bit human; that made him still under Dandelion’s hand on his arm, leaning into the touch, the way he couldn’t for anyone else; that told him it was good, it was right that Dandelion never looked twice at his swords, the knife on his thigh, because Dandelion should never, ever be afraid to sit, wounded, in a shack in the middle of nowhere with him. That they both knew those blades would never, ever be turned on Dandelion.

“It doesn’t have to change anything,” Geralt told him, because it didn’t. Geralt was good at hiding things, when he needed to. It would go away, maybe, or Geralt would always carry it and get used to the ache in his heart - it wouldn’t be the first time he’d fallen in love and his love didn’t want him, and it wouldn’t be the last, either.

Dandelion’s face twisted a little, sympathy and discomfort and bewilderment. “It always changes things, Geralt,” He said. Rubbed the back of his neck with an awkward little laugh. “Look at us!” He said. “I should have an answer for you, shouldn’t I? I always have an answer, and when I don’t I wax poetic until I do. But…. of all the things I expected it never even crossed my mind that you were even interested in me, I mean-”

“It doesn’t have to change anything,” Geralt insisted. “You’re my friend, if you don’t. I won’t die without you.” He scratched the stubble on his jaw, looked away. “Just because I… It doesn’t have to change anything, alright? It doesn’t matter, forget it.”

“-And I mean it’s not like I haven’t thought about it,“ Dandelion continued blithely. ”You seem to think your mutations makes you some hideous monstrosity like in those books they write about your kind, but you really aren’t.“ He gestured hugely, grinning. “You’re a very handsome man, you know. And I know for a fact I don’t tell you that nearly as often as you deserve.”

“Now you’re just being nice.”

Dandelion waved that it away. “I’m always nice, Geralt. And especially to my dearest friends. Which includes you. I think it’s your eyes - once I got used to them glowing in the dark I’ve always thought of them as very striking. You’ve got a very noble face, too.” He looked to the ceiling and closed his eyes with a sigh. “Oh, you and I in an inn somewhere, after you’ve finished saving a beautiful woman from a monster and you turned her down to come to bed with me, confessing your ever-living love against my lips as you kissed me and said you couldn’t go another hour hiding your feelings. After cleaning off all the blood. And in Toussaint, of course - oh, I could go for a glass of Fiorano.”

“We’re not in an inn.”

Dandelion inclined his head. “True,” He allowed, “And we’re not in Toussaint either, and you’re terrible at confessing your feelings - it does put a bit of a damper on things, doesn’t it? Never mind - I’m sure that I can put that fantasy aside for now; love in all its circumstances is the most important thing, after all. Well, and friendship. And wine. But mostly love. After all,” Dandelion grinned, “There’s nothing stopping you from coming over here, is there? This bedroll is awfully empty.”

Geralt snorted as he pulled off his trousers and tossed them to a corner, sliding into the warm bedroll beside Dandelion and letting the blankets fall across his bare shoulders. “And suddenly I understand why so many women fall into bed with you,” Geralt said, trying to get comfortable and trying even more not to jostle Dandelion’s wounded leg on the far side of the tiny bed.

“I am wounded, Geralt!” Dandelion shouted, scandalised but with too much of a laugh in the faint creases at the corners of his eyes for it to be genuine, as he slid fingers through Geralt’s long hair, marvelling at the fur-soft feel. “Didn’t your master witchers at Kaer Morhen teach you not to mock dying men, Geralt? Tsk,” He said, grinning, “I’ll have you know I’ve used up all my charm trying to get you to stop panicking about talking about your feelings-”

“Gods, shut up,” Said Geralt, pushing Dandelion down and kissing him, again when Dandelion spluttered at the indignity of it.

“I will not!” He said. “It’s perfectly normal to talk about your feelings, Geralt. The fact that you’re so bad at it-” Geralt kissed him, rolled his hips against Dandelion and nosed into his throat, mouthing over the thin skin where his pulse beat steady, hot against Geralt’s lips with Dandelion’s sudden blush, “- Won’t stop, ah… Won’t stop me… Oh, fuck it all.”

Geralt wasn’t surprised that Dandelion kissed so sweetly, hand to his chin to hold Geralt’s face steady; tilting his head this way and that as the whim took him because Geralt didn’t much like being manhandled - even Dandelion’s gentle grip an ache in his spine that said he wanted to twist away from it - but feeling indulgent enough to go with it, enjoying the friendly slide of his mouth against Dandelion’s too much to want to stop.

It was nice - it was always nice when Geralt got sex that was gentle, Dandelion sighing softly when Geralt got a hand to his dick and gave him a long, slow stroke, because most people didn’t have sex with a witcher wanting him to be gentle. They felt the meat of Geralt’s arms, his shoulders, as Dandelion did, squeezing and and admiring his strength deceptive in his wolf-lean frame, and they wanted him to use it; throwing them up against walls and fucking hard.

Dandelion wouldn’t like that, or at least he wouldn’t like that right now; arching up into Geralt’s grip as best he could but not demanding for harder, tighter - eyes glittering as Geralt rocked against him just as slowly, took the both of them in hand. Maybe someday he would want it, would ask Geralt for it, and Geralt would give it because he did like it, but gentle was good. There was too little of it in Geralt’s life.

He laughed into the hollow of Dandelion’s throat, pressed the crown of his head against Dandelion’s palm where his hand rested in Geralt’s hair, because what must they look like? Geralt more monster than man scraping his wolf’s teeth across Dandelion’s leaping pulse, beast eyes closed to listen to the racing heart inside Dandelion’s ribs? Dandelion holding onto Geralt’s shoulders, nails digging into his back, at each touch of Geralt’s teeth and tongue and kissing mouth, gasping as Geralt fucked himself a little more roughly into his fist, squeezing a bit too harsh around the both of them, and unable to help the animal noise that was dragged from his throat when Dandelion got the idea to bite back in a wonderful shock of pain singing across Geralt’s nerves?

Not how it looked to Geralt, how it was, and Geralt laughed again, pressed his mouth against Dandelion’s soft hair.

Oh,” Said Dandelion, wonder and surprise and a sharp gasp as Geralt gave up and just put his hands to the floor either side of Dandelion’s head, the rhythm of his cock fucked across Dandelion’s rougher, messier, better without his hand. “I didn’t know you could laugh.”

“I can,” Said Geralt, closing his eyes against Dandelion’s eyes shining up at him, and at their shack tiny and dusty and chilly, air biting cold at his shoulders, his too-hot skin. “I just don’t.” He forced himself to still, stroked his hand up Dandelion’s ribs and kissed the little patch of fluff on his chin, nosed into the fleshy underside of his jaw at the join of throat to head where the smell of him, hot with the desire making his heart race, was strongest. “I- do you want fuck me? I’ve got oil if you want to, but- your leg.”

Dandelion stroked Geralt’s back, fingers bumping over the points of his bones stabbing through his skin, as he hummed thoughtfully. “It can’t hurt to try, can it?” He asked, tracing the shell of Geralt’s ear, the sharp line of his jaw. His mouth twisted, gave Geralt a kiss, long and slow and deep. “Why not? Help me up, would you?”

Geralt pulled him up and steadied him when Dandelion wobbled a bit, testing the weight on his knees; he very obviously leaned to his uninjured side, but he pushed Geralt away when he tried to get Dandelion to lie back down so Geralt got the oil for him, clear and slippery in its flask, because he insulted Dandelion about a lot of things, but he wouldn't insult him about this. Pulled the stopper from its throat with his teeth and spat away the cork to let it go rolling away into the dark, wetting Dandelion's fingers as he lay back, leaned on his elbows to watch Dandelion - caught more by the gleam in his eyes made dark by desire, his lip bitten between his teeth, the sharp, heady smell rising from his skin when his fingers shoved deep and Geralt rode that bladed edge of pleasure-pain deep in his guts, than the dull feel of him settling inside.

He gathered Dandelion up when his wounded leg started to fail him, because it was Geralt's job to make him not hurt himself accidentally and he liked the feel of Dandelion in his arms, his soft mouth pressed against Geralt's cheek in a kiss clumsy around the groan pushed out from deep inside his chest when Geralt put heels to his back and pulled him in. Damn whatever pain went lancing up his spine - Geralt shoved his shoulders hard against the ground and arched up, growled into the cold shadows in the corner of their shack, "Move," And couldn't help but to nip when Dandelion didn't, groaning against Geralt's cheek again. "Damn it, move," He snarled, which at least made Dandelion get some of his scattered wits back.

Gentle, of course; braced as best he could with a knee he couldn't lean on and distracted by the feel of Geralt's chest under his palm, ribs shifting inhuman-slow beneath his fingers, he rolled his hips slow and sweet and deep, grinding deeper and laughing when Geralt whined at the stinging pleasure. Geralt pushed back and pulled away and did both at the same time because he liked it, but he didn't know if Dandelion did, and Dandelion just kept doing it, stroking Geralt's scars, his flank, stroking his cock a little and rolling his thumb across the leaking head, laughing again as Geralt twisted up into it with an animal snarl.

Oh, he loved Dandelion, and he closed his eyes and bared his throat because he wanted that sharp pain of a bite, wanted to be ridden like a stolen horse and driven frothing into the ground with an ache twisting high in his back making him writhe against the pleasure hot in his gut, leaking over his dick and Dandelion's fingers where they were wrapped tight around him. Showed his teeth because he didn't want that, even his heart aching because he liked the gentleness, liked Dandelion watching for a wince or a whimper, the rhythm of sex slow as summer days. He grabbed at Dandelion's long hair, put his mouth over that tiny patch of fluff on his chin and arched up, turning his head from the kiss because Dandelion made him off-balance, wobbly like a miss-timed dodge and hit head-on by a shaelmar, and he hated it and he loved it and Dandelion just kept fucking him.

The rhythm quickened, Dandelion's head low between his shoulders as he worked; snapping instead of rolling, sharp and quick and yes -that was what Geralt needed, the familiar hot twist in his gut drawing tight like a bowstring, pleasure a bolt loaded into his crossbow and he clawed at Dandelion's shoulder, put his teeth to his throat with a groan rumbling deep in his chest because the drawing of that bowstring wasn't there yet, needed to be pulled back just a bit more, just a bit - fucked his cock up into Dandelion's clever-tight grip to make it draw.

Dandelion sucked air between his gritted teeth, his fucking made clumsy by his wounded leg but not stopping him, not slowing him; a hard stroke of Geralt's cock made the bolt click into place, the harsh twist at the head pulling the trigger and Geralt snarled into Dandelion's throat, pleasure loosed sharp through his guts and he clawed and bit and dragged Dandelion along with him, blood bursting hot and coppery over his tongue.

Geralt came down slowly, stretching out his legs and back and loving the burning pull in muscles that had cramped. Licked away Dandelion's blood bright on his teeth and patched him up while he shivered with the aftershocks against Geralt's side. Alcohest to clean it, a clean rag to bandage it and another to clean the both of them off, and Geralt was forgiven for the bite; pulled against Dandelion's side, all tangled together against the winter cold in their shack.

Geralt pressed his mouth against the hollow of Dandelion’s throat, feeling his racing pulse slow beneath his lips. Squeezed a little closer, obeying the vague need to do it because why should he hide what the monsters in his blood made him into? Dandelion wouldn’t laugh just because Geralt liked being close, Dandelion’s arm pillowed under his head, legs knotted together beneath the blankets. And so what if his mutated blood, monster instincts deep in his head and heart, mean that Geralt liked Dandelion stroking his hair, kissing his forehead while Geralt breathed in the mingled sex-smell of them, a hand stroking his flank, his back - long, broad sweeps petting him? He’d never pretended to be anything other than that animal thing he'd been made into, at least with Dandelion.

“I suppose,” Said Dandelion slowly, giving up on Geralt’s hair to stroke the soft skin of the fleshy meat behind his jaw, down across his neck to his shoulders. “We should talk about what this means for us. If anything of what I understand about witcher hearts is true then this-” He gestured between the two of them, “-it… Well, it might be a little different for me than for you, I think.”

Geralt shut his eyes, settled down into the warmth of Dandelion’s body against his. “It can wait. I’ve gotta find a healer for your leg at least, and we’ve lost a week getting to Novigrad.”

“Geralt,” Dandelion murmured.

“Leave it alone, Dandelion. Don’t… Don’t make a big thing of this just because I love you and you don’t love me back, alright?” He sighed, harsh and short, and rubbed his thumb across the comfortable give of Dandelion’s belly, the trail of dark fluff soft. “Leave it be. Please. If all it’s ever going to be is a bit of fucking whenever we meet up then I’m happy.”

Outside the shack the night continued on, wind howling as it slipped past the eaves and whistling through the cracks in the walls. Even Roach asleep when Geralt strained his ears to listen, not even the sharp squeak of a mouse as a hunting owl snatched it up. "You know," Dandelion murmured, "I do love you too. I have for a while, I think," He added, and said nothing more; settled down too, making himself comfortable inside the curl of Geralt around him while the fire burned on, banked low and long to last the night.