As a minstrel, Jaskier had not expected his life to become so tediously eventful. Disastrously so, in his humble opinion. He once worried about singing ballads out of tune at court. About the odd drunken brawl or his coat getting ruined by vomit. Spreading the word of greater men through song and dance and all that was fun. Hardly a life-threatening sport. But there’s been a number of deadly encounters in recent times, not so much his fault but as a consequence of his choice of friends.
Well, one friend in particular.
The witcher Geralt of Rivia, butcher of Blaviken, his name continuously followed by a string of titles, of glory and gore. Their fateful meeting in a musty tavern was the best and worst thing to happen to Jaskier.
It makes for an exciting evening when Geralt’s about, sure. It’s just the prospect of death and demise that comes with being around witchers for any extended period of time.
But now after Rinde—or more precisely, after one Yennefer of Vengeberg saved his Djinn-cursed life, all while snatching Geralt’s heart and cock in the process—now Jaskier feels conflicted.
At first, the reason appeared simple enough. He'd thought Geralt dead in the witch’s collapsed tower. For those brief minutes sitting in the debris of broken stone and dust, Jaskier felt an inexplicable grief. A loss so profound, something he had yet to experience in his life. And then upon closer look, Geralt demonstrated to be just fine. Great even. In the arms of the crazed witch, showing exactly how alive they both were.
The bard went from mourning to cheering to screeching a mad cry inside his head. The lunacy of those two—the audacity.
An incredibly wide range of feelings experienced in such a short window of time must have shaken him to his core. And yet, damned if the bard understood why the sensation of twisted lungs persisted days after their farewells. It couldn’t still be the djinn’s doing. He’d been cleared on a successful recovery with no permanent repercussions. Although he’s never trusting a bottle again.
So as Jaskier walked the road up from Rinde to Tretogor, he began to think.
Geralt had saved his life. It was the witcher’s indirect fault in the first place with his nonsense djinn-bottle fishing, but Jaskier forgives him since Geralt rushed to his rescue the moment blood spurted from his lips. He should feel happy, grateful to know the witcher cared about him after all, even if the man will never say it. Yet a bubble of insecurity threatens this careful thought.
There are many things said about witchers, about their skills and their powers. But a lot more is said about their inability to feel for their human fellows. About their sole interest in coin.
Jaskier knows better, he’s witnessed otherwise from Geralt from the very beginning. That Geralt is uncaring or dispassionate is not his worry. Rather that he does not feel for him, but instead a sense of responsibility. He’d been the cause of Jaskier’s illness and sought to right a wrong. Was it obligation what pushed him to seek help? Or had he truly feared for Jaskier’s life? Geralt is his dearest friend and yet...Jaskier has no idea what Geralt thinks of him.
They’d parted ways so abruptly, with the witcher seemingly fleeing the scene. Hours after the tower incident, Geralt had looked Jaskier once over and deemed him fit and healthy to leave alone. He did not answer any of Jaskier’s following inquiries, nor rose to any gibes beyond grunting. Spared not a moment to ready his horse’s saddle and ride out of town, disappearing as quick as three blinks of an eye.
Jaskier regrettably stayed a while longer in the town for the Yennefer witch to interrogate him as to Geralt’s whereabouts. Before long, she too gave up and left, disappearing with comparably more flourish. So it seemed he was not the only one to suffer Geralt’s preference for reclusion. A weirdly comforting thought.
Whatever it may be, the witcher’s absence has left Jaskier in such unshakeable distress. He never got to express how glad he was that Geralt survived. Or how angry he got at the fool ass for letting the bard just sit in misery outside, thinking his best friend died when in reality he was fucking hard and napping afterward.
No amount of reasoning is helping Jaskier come to an encouraging conclusion. Quite the opposite.
So he plucked a few strings of his lute as he followed the road north, a sad melody coming to his mind. Of all things, he’s quite thankful his voice is with him, that the ordeal with the djinn did not leave his throat scarred. In times like this, Jaskier puts his woes aside and lives through the lives of kings and soldiers braver than him. Their ballads forever immortalized, whether they be true or embellished fiction.
The day passed uneventfully, all those deeper worries fading away with each strum of his delightful lute. This is why a minstrel’s best best friend should be their instrument. There’s not a problem in this world you can’t fix by tucking it under layers of bawdy lyrics and catchy tunes. A hint of bitterness might color that thought but Jaskier can just as well ignore it with more singing.
As he begins a livelier number to some nameless historic battle, Jaskier lifts his face to the cloudy sky and fails to notice the small band of cloaked men at the turn of the road. By sunset, Jaskier would have arrived at a small village, a calm stop before the big city noise. But as far as his luck is concerned, plans are meant to be ruined.
“Hey,” the voice came so suddenly, so harsh, Jaskier stopped mid-song. “Hey traveler.”
There were three of them, mouths hidden behind their cloaks. Jaskier raises his lute to them and strums it.
“Evening, sirs. Interested in tales of dastardly men of the North? Any ballads you’d like for a coin or two?"
He’s learned a lesson traveling through the Northern Kingdoms, and that is that minstrels are annoying. Thieves are less threatening when they know you sing for a living. Effectively, he could tell a couple of the strangers scowled at his proposition. Plucking a few strings with a smile and approaching them even had them step back.
One of them, the leader he presumes, doesn’t. In fact, the man retorts with a raised angered voice, “Ah, but these roads are dangerous, minstrel. You should stick to the king’s courts where you’ll be fat and still left wanting more.”
Another lesson he’s learned traveling the kingdoms is that, for some people, minstrels are a step beyond annoying and deserving of a beating. The delicate balance of reason is lost on Jaskier. It’s not like he’s actually the king, hoarding food.
Where most people simply throw fruit at him, however, the leading man pulls out a knife.
The bard grows tense and stops his little tune.
“Now, now, gentlemen. I-I hardly think that’s worth it. I’ve nothing to offer. Really! It’s—“
All of a sudden, one of the men grabs him by the arm and twists him around. The lute falls to the floor from the pain that erupts in his shoulder.
There’s not much he can do in his position other than beg they don’t kill him outright. What a fool’s way to go if it comes down to this.
Knife-wielding man sneers. “Oh, but everyone’s got something to lose. Coin’s the usual trade, boys, but I don’t see why we can’t have a little fun with the pompous shit. Keep him still!” The leading man laughs as Jaskier’s captor snatches both his hands, a punch flying into his exposed stomach when he resists. It mostly catches him by surprise that they would actually beat him up and not go straight to murder.
At the next punch Jaskier coughs hard, everything moving fast. He struggles and tries to speak in defense, but one man has the bard tightly in his grip while another throws fist after fist at him.
Despite it all, Jaskier feels strangely fearless. Perhaps because getting walloped by thieves is hardly as terrifying as a djinn or a mad witch. This is quite a step down, actually. But fear is what makes people smart, and that’s why what Jaskier does next can only be categorized as downright stupid.
His assailant gets confident and kicks him in the ribs, and it hurts so much that Jaskier drops his weight, his captor coming down with him. It’s the briefest second but he’s free, and Jaskier doesn’t run, no. He kicks at the prick in front of him. Lands a solid hit.
Fighting back is a sure way to escalate things.
The man with the knife yells at him, slashing his weapon at the bard. It doesn’t strike the first time—quick instinct to protect his face—but the second? The second cut goes down, at his legs. And it hits true.
Jaskier shouts from the assault and forgoes everything to flee. His feet trip on the fallen man.
Winded, on the ground, Jaskier catches sight of where he’s been cut. Right under his left knee, and it’s bleeding something ugly. Trying to get up doesn’t get him anything but more pain, but he can’t just lay there either. They’re going to kill him.
The pack of men laughs at him as one voice, watching him fumble on his hands as he tries to crawl away from the road path. They kick him one more time for good measure. “You deserve that you little cockshit. Now we're really gonna hurt you.”
Now. Now he feels fear. Now he can’t even run. Jaskier realizes running should have been his first course of action, since the moment he saw these bandits. Then his treacherous mind betrays him and thinks, well if only Geralt was here.
“Hold‘im still, I’m gonna cut something else of his off—“ A noise interrupts the order, the rush of clopping hooves. Jaskier has a second to see where their heads turn to and glimpses a rider fast approaching. He can make out a white patch on the horse’s snout. A familiar pattern.
Jaskier is not given any time to utter a single word before the torso of a man splits in two and falls before him. Blood splatters everywhere. The remaining men scream, reading their weapons but of course it’s too late for them. They’re crossing blades with a witcher, a witcher who hates wasting time.
The horse, Roach, a beautiful whiny mare, rounds back and tramples one of the men still standing. Geralt hops off her saddle as she does and reserves no strength for his next strike. The bloodied knife gripped in the leader's arm clatters to the ground, along with the arm that held it.
Jaskier hardly recognizes the bandit by his voice, screaming and begging in such a high pitch. There’s a blathered apology somewhere in there but it ends abruptly with a second swing of Geralt’s great sword. They all die in less than a minute.
Well if only Geralt was here indeed.
Jaskier looks up, blinking rather dumbly as if he couldn’t believe this was real. That the witcher isn’t just an imagined fantasy rescue, like something out of a knight’s tale—though Geralt is as far from a knight as they come. The hard look in the witcher’s face shakes Jaskier free of his stupor. “Y-yes?”
“Jaskier, the fuck.”
Ah, and who can forget his decidedly un-knightly language? Such a way with words that knocks the fear right out of him. Though frustration is now all Jaskier has, tenfold.
The bard huffs in response and reaches to get up, wincing in terrible pain. It leads nowhere so he stops trying. “Well, it’s not like I wanted to get mugged on this fine day, let alone killed.”
That seemed to change the mad look Geralt wore for an upset one. Interesting how the man can express anything at all with such little eyebrow movement. Or maybe that’s Jaskier who’s spent enough time around him to read what’s on his face.
Apparently not long enough. Now that his friend is here and the nasty men are dead, however, he doesn’t feel any better. In fact, his previous doubts come back faster than ever. Jaskier sits up on the dirt, and seeing as Geralt isn’t offering him a hand up, he refuses to meet the man’s eyes.
"I’ll have you know I didn’t need any help, I had everything under control.”
The boots in front of him shift in place, and even that somehow comes off cheeky. “Sure, I didn’t hear them threatening to murder you for fun. And your leg’s perfectly fine I bet.”
Jaskier chooses not to answer.
The witcher shifts again and grasps under the bard’s armpit to lift him up, with no warning.
“Stop squirming and stand up on your good leg.” It’s like Geralt doesn’t understand how he asks for the impossible. “Let me see.”
Roach is kind enough to come to them and remain a sturdy lady for Jaskier to hold onto while Geralt leans down to inspect his injuries. His ribs are really starting to burn. Bruises spread hot over his stomach. The cut under his knee goes deep, but not over anything vital. There’s no artery torn open and no bone nicked or cracked. But the bard obviously can’t walk without five different wounds screaming at him.
He hears Geralt sigh as he straightens up and a knot forms in Jaskier’s throat. Shame rises to the surface.
He can’t think of what to say to make Geralt stop looking at him like he’s a pitiful creature. He’s a minstrel who doesn’t keep himself armed on the road, he knows. A dumb thing to do. It isn’t like he travels alone often. Road wagons, planned parties headed to big towns and cities, he’s familiar with all the steps to stay safe on the road. He just hadn’t stopped to consider it this time because of other things occupying his mind. Things directly related to the witcher in front of him.
And Jaskier doesn’t say anything for a long enough amount of time that Geralt looks at him strangely. “What. Is that silence coming from you? Did they cut out your tongue?”
It almost sounds mocking to his ears. “No, it hurts to talk.”
That makes Geralt pull another strange face. Is it odd that just a second ago he felt confident in what Geralt was expressing, and yet now he hasn’t the slightest clue? Does he truly know the man as well as he thinks?
Geralt steers his gaze away for a moment. Something in the bard's chest aches and he hopes that nothing’s torn out inside him. But the pain pales in comparison to Geralt suddenly hoisting him up by his bruised ribs onto Roach. He gasps as his entire body throbs like an open wound and Roach startles a little with the unexpected weight. Jaskier is hardly of sound mind when he feels a cool bandage wrap over his cut. Half expected to see more blood spurting out than see it was the opposite.
“Come on. There’s a village further up the road.” Geralt lifts himself onto Roach behind Jaskier next, and Roach settles better with him at the reins.
“Yes yes, I knew that,” Jaskier grits out through his teeth.
It’s somehow worse on all his bruises riding like this on a horse. It is a better alternative than walking—limping, if he's honest—to the village inn, which was still a good ways away.
And he’s riding with Geralt, the best man to have on your side on this half of the continent. A solid arm keeps Jaskier from slipping down Roach, the limb wound around his right side to keep hold of the horse’s reins too. Geralt is silent during the ride as well as Jaskier, as it honestly does hurt him to speak.
There’s comfort here, atop Roach. Even as the day passes to dusk and then night, the cold doesn’t hit him at all tucked into the seat, his back in contact with Geralt’s front. It isn’t quite that warm, but the cold doesn’t seep in either.
The adrenaline has long passed through his systems. Aches hurt deeper, and Roach's steps shake him hard at times. Still Jaskier falls into a lull. He’s not sure when he falls asleep. That Geralt is here is enough to help him get there. He would trust Geralt with his life, regardless of what the man thinks. It is enough that for him, Geralt is his friend.
Jaskier comes to slowly, unhurried as sweet sleep still clutches at his mind. He is slouching backwards, and the pain of the angle creeps up as consciousness fades back in.
“...Jaskier.” There’s a whisper in his ear and breath tickles his throat. His heart leaps for a second, only remembering the thieves from the side of the road. He takes a sharp inhale and it sends him coughing—and shit does that hurt worse than the beating. Jaskier holds his stomach tenderly, just trying to control his breathing again. A second hand holds him steady before he goes and falls, a hand covered in black leather—oh. Geralt.
The bard raises his eyes to meet Geralt’s shining just over his shoulder. They look troubled.
“I didn’t want to shake you awake. You good?”
Jaskier scoffs at that. “I am most definitely not good.” Everything hurts so much worse than before. His muscles grew stiff as the night air cooled and nothing could possibly make him get down from this horse when the idea of moving is an agony in itself. “You better not pull me down from here or I swear.”
One of Geralt’s chosen eyebrows rose high. “You swear...what? That you’ll drive me insane with songs?” He smirks to himself as Jaskier turns away, indignant. "We’re at the inn.”
True to his word, they were in front of an old wooden structure with a painted sign that spelled ‘INN’ in asymmetric letters. Roach stood happily by a trough full of hay, chomping on some without a care. It was dark, and few lanterns lit the interior from what he could see.
Jaskier rubs his ribs, feeling a ghost-ache in them.
As he does, Geralt pauses to dismount, careful not to accidentally spook Roach and throw Jaskier to the ground. “You’re gonna need to get down anyway. You wanna do it on your own?”
“Um,” Jaskier clenched the seat’s horn hard without the extra support of a man behind him. There is no way he could get down on his own.
“Yeah I thought so. Come on.” Jaskier prepares himself for another world of pain, but surprisingly, Geralt doesn't manhandle him off his steed. The witcher goes to Jaskier’s good side and sets the bard’s foot in the stirrup, tells him to push himself up. “Grab my shoulder.” He does as told and eases down to the ground, bruises complaining all the while, but not as seriously as he’d imagined.
His bad leg is still very weak, can’t handle his weight beyond a quick limp, so Geralt keeps an arm on him as they walk through the inn’s door. It’s easy from there to ask for a room to spend the night.
The innkeep apologizes multiple times. “I’m sorry, we only have single beds available.”
Geralt shakes away the concern. “It's fine, bed's for him. I don’t need one."
Getting up the stairs is unbelievably not worth the trouble. Especially since he’ll have to come down for food at some point tomorrow. Or to just leave.
True enough, Geralt sets him on the bed and practically orders him to go to sleep before the man sits his ass on a chair to meditate. Jaskier’s seen him fall into a meditation trance before, but he hadn’t really given it much thought. The way Geralt just…shuts off. Like blowing a candle out, quick and simple. Jaskier’s entire being is still one bad time but there’s nothing he can really do about it. It’s hard for him to fall asleep after waking up too. So he stares a little longer at Geralt’s stern face somehow frowning even in this relaxed state.
He lays back fully on the bed. It’s itchy with awful quality thread-count sheets. But his heart warms. Geralt’s saved his life once more. Only this time, it’s from a mess Jaskier got himself into. Perhaps Geralt doesn’t think much of it but it means a lot to Jaskier that he did so without question. That he had rushed to his side like a summoned specter and carried his sorry beaten ass to a safe place. He likes to think, if he were capable, that he would do the same for Geralt.
The frown tucked in between Geralt’s brows smooths to something neutral, and Jaskier smiles. It endears him more to know Geralt might bother to relax around him. To joke at Jaskier's expense and still treat him with the care his injuries require.
That night, Jaskier goes to sleep with a strange emotion swelling in his chest.
A persistent beam of light ruins Jaskier’s good sleep. He wakes up blinded at sunrise, his wits scrambled once again. This time, it is without throbbing pains, of any kind actually.
The drowsy bard sits upright with some trouble. There is a suspicious lack of physical stimulus to guide him in the attempt. It’s as if his limbs fell asleep at some point in the night, all four of them, and that may worry him more than the discomfort of too many bruises.
He spots Geralt at the chair in the same pose as last night, but Jaskier doesn’t want to wake him up yet—if wake up is what one calls disturbing someone’s meditation. Part of him doesn’t wish to really wake up either. The sun just involuntarily did that for him.
Being awake does seem to help him regain feeling in his arms and legs, though. Soon enough, Jaskier goes from sitting on the edge of the bed to standing up on wobbly knees.
The window is beside the bed, and from this part of the inn, he can see right into the stables. The horses are quiet at this hour. Only children are out to play on the street, slapping their small fists into mud and giggling when they catch a bug. A woman watches over them from a corner, a ways away. Her face is a blur from this distance, but the bard can tell she checks the children often.
Jaskier feels his face start to pull into a grin. The whole scene is so charming, so innocent. Hard to believe a gang of thugs camped nearby.
“Well isn’t this a quaint little village,” he finds himself saying.
“It stinks, is what.”
“Of all the —” Jaskier is lucky he had rested his elbows on the window’s frame or else he’d have collapsed onto the floor from the startle that gave him. He wouldn’t have had the time to fall regardless, because Geralt stood at arm’s length behind him ready to catch Jaskier. He’d spoken beside the bard’s ear, the damn feather-footed ass.
And Geralt has the gall to stare at him in confusion.
“You startled me! This is a perfectly normal reaction to sneaky witchers. I thought you were sleeping!”
Now Geralt looks even more confused. “I was awake the whole night. Just meditating...what? Don’t look surprised.”
Jaskier straightened up and turned to face Geralt directly. “How can I not? You tell me surprising things.”
“It’s nothing.” For a moment, Jaskier thinks Geralt looks embarrassed from the attention. “And you weren’t resting that much either. Had to go to the innkeep to buy medicinal salves. There’s a good herbalist here apparently. I, uh, might have used too much.”
“Oh.” It’s true, now that he’s looking at himself. His shirt is unbuttoned, parts of his chest covered in strips of cloth. His injured leg also shows off a new thick wrapping. Whatever that salve is about, it works magic. He literally can’t feel a thing.
“Oh,” Jaskier says again quite dumbly. “I...thank—you?”
It turns into a question at the end because looking up brings his face a bit too close to Geralt’s own and dear spirits of the world why is the man standing so infernally close, Jaskier physically cannot move back any further other than by shrinking in on himself awkwardly. So Jaskier puts a hand on Geralt’s chest to give him a hint to move back, except. Except the bard doesn’t put any force into the move, and his pulse beats quicker as he understands that Geralt had to partially undress him to apply the salve. That Geralt actually didn’t sleep at all last night for him to be comfortable.
Jaskier curses himself for ever doubting Geralt’s friendship, their friendship. He isn’t prepared for the wave of gratitude, the adoration he feels for this obtuse, brute of a man incapable of sharing anything remotely personal.
“I’m—honestly my dear friend, I thank you. I do feel much better.” He smiles brightly at this friend, redoing the buttons on his shirt. “Or should I say I don’t feel much of anything anymore? Truly you went overboard with that remedy. What if you accidentally killed me? I’ve known people to die for less!”
“Jaskier,” the pure exasperation in Geralt’s voice doesn’t deter the bard’s newfound excitement.
“I’m teasing. Don’t frown, not before breakfast! Come on, use that nose of yours to find us some food, I’m famished.”
It’s funny how Geralt’s closeness no longer bothers him.
The tavern had plenty of food and drink, and Jaskier, a man of the people, glowed under the gathering hungry crowd. He spent and gained coin like a road merchant, jesting with the patrons as well as giving honest praise for their meat. Geralt, for the most part, kept to himself in a corner. There was no need for a witcher’s service in this town, not at present.
That didn’t stop Jaskier from singing his ballad to the White Wolf, and plenty in the crowd joined in with merry drinks in hand. A couple of young folk even asked him if he really met the Wolf in the flesh, to which Jaskier laughed at far too loudly. He made brief eye contact with Geralt, which made him go into another fit. The youngsters didn’t pick up on it, but Geralt’s dark glower was priceless.
With the day’s progression, company and cheer dwindled. People got off to work, to tend their fields and their cows, and their stores. Jaskier calmed down, sat inconspicuous by Geralt’s corner to rest his leg. The aches were coming back, but it was manageable. Geralt had passed the bard the salve for him to keep should he need it.
He hadn’t expected the witcher to start a conversation then. “You know. People actually run up to me now for a monster problem. Common folk mostly. That’s new.”
“Hmm.” Jaskier swept his thumb rhythmically over two chords. The start of a new song. “You’re welcome.”
By the end of the tune, Geralt was gone from the tavern. Jaskier hadn’t noticed when he’d left, but back in the stable, Roach was gone too.
So it seemed the witcher ran off for no good reason other than habit, again.
Jaskier did not take it to heart this time.
It would be months before they once more crossed paths.
Jaskier found himself further up north in winter, near a stray range of snowy mountains. Not dragon mountains, but fearsome enough for him to stick to the roads. He happened to be traveling alone, the first time since the bandit fiasco, and he was shivering under his warm woolen coat. Really, these clothes were made to handle worse.
The bard is rubbing his hands under his armpits when a horse rider catches up to him on the path.
“Jaskier? The fuck?”
The sound of Geralt’s growly voice is the farthest thing he expected to hear in the middle of nowhere, and yet there is no mistaking the witcher’s silver hair and silver swords.
Jaskier gestures wildly at his friend, truly excited to see him. “Ah, Geralt! Is that you? Come to join me in this freezing weather?”
The witcher rolls his eyes and guides his horse to ride slower. “It’s not snowing.”
“And yet look at all the morning snow we have to trample on.” Jaskier demonstrates by stepping out of the road for a second, his boots disappearing under a heavy pile of snow. In truth, it’s deeper than expected. Which is why when the bard tries to get back onto the road, he stumbles and ends up with more snow on himself.
Geralt remains impassive, though his lips pull back as if amused. Roach is much kinder, snorting on Jaskier’s head as if to tell him to stop floundering. She looks delighted to see him. He gives her snout a soft pat in greetings.
Geralt shakes his head at the weird exchange, which is rich coming from him. Geralt is the one who has long, unprompted conversations with the horse.
“Alright, I get your point, minstrel. What are you even doing out here, alone? Didn’t you learn your lesson?”
Jaskier laughs, keeping with the mare’s pace. “I’ll have you know you caught me on the one time I decided to take a short stroll by myself since our parting. And you’re one to talk! Out of the two of us, I’m not the reckless one.”
“You calling me reckless? You, wearing the short collar woolen monstrosity in, what did you call it, ‘this freezing weather’? Did the other practical winter coats look too ugly for you?”
“Oh that’s not fair. It was a good purchase! And it’s very good quality wool! A mangy-looking cloak worth less than a dozen copper coins hardly befits my position in noble circles. I’d become a laughing stock! Maybe you might not see the value in a fashionable—”
“Shut up,” he cuts Jaskier short by throwing something extremely heavy over his head. It smells like a barn, but the bard’s hands immediately clutch the thing before it falls. The chilled air does not penetrate it. In fact, it gets warm quite quickly under the thing.
Jaskier fumbles with it for a moment, trying to decipher what Geralt’s decided to throw his way, and it dawns on him that it’s the witcher’s own coat. Dark matted fur that smells like a goat or a sheep used it for a bed. But it's so pleasant to burrow into, Jaskier can spare his nose the complaint.
“What...there’s,” he’s not sure how to respond. “There’s better ways to shut me up.”
“Oh.” He is. He was. Now, covering himself with the large furry coat, he is no longer shivering. Jaskier looks up to the witcher. “That’s...but what about you?”
Geralt doesn’t meet his gaze. “The cold doesn’t bother me.”
Jaskier wrings his hands into patches of fur. His ribs healed a long time ago and yet it feels as if they ache from fresh bruises. He remains quiet, contemplating the gesture and the words, his feet moving him forward without really thinking. It’s another one of those moments where Jaskier comes to realize how little Geralt expresses with words, when his actions speak volumes.
Before long, they’re at a fork in the road and Geralt whistles for Roach to continue east.
“Stay out of trouble.”
Jaskier blinks. “Wait, shouldn’t I be telling you that?”
Geralt kindly flips him the bird.
Too late Jaskier realizes he forgot to ask where Geralt was headed for. It hadn’t occurred to him they’d be parting ways so quick. It saddens him a bit. But if he’s betting on it, this won’t be the last time they run into each other.
And he was right. Not a month later, in a different part of the region, they very much run into each other. Literally.
The way it happens, Jaskier is in the middle of composing a new ballad on the road and it is going terribly. All the words sound off, there’s not enough 'oomph' to the acts. Today, he’s having trouble thinking of rhymes, his damned specialty.
The bard is considering starting from scratch when a clamor catches his attention. Shouting coming from the underbrush of the forest.
“Ah, hello?” Jaskier hesitates to approach, but the shouts get louder and closer. Accompanied by a frightening chorus of barks.
Jaskier is about to call out again when something metallic clangs onto the ground and a person flies through the bushes, landing squarely on him. But the person, it seems, was prepared for the flight and it is only Jaskier who crashes to the ground inelegantly.
The impact had his vision swimming, but he spots the madman who knocked him down sprinting back into whatever fight was being had. Jaskier thinks he can make out monstrous dogs with glowing red eyes and by all that is sacred in this world the bard has never stood up faster than he does in that second.
A sword cleaves the heads off of two beasts and the rest of the pack attacks the offender. Who Jaskier registers to be none other than Geralt of Rivia. How predictable. There is just no one else in these roads for the bard to bump into but the one witcher who rids himself of the pack of animals easily, though he does look a little winded at the end. And sweaty.
Geralt tilts his head at the bard, a surprised look in his dirty face. “Ah, it’s you.”
“What, no ‘how do you do’?”
As it turns out, Geralt came up here to take care of a warg pack treading inside the lands of a lord willing to pay to have that issue resolved. They’d been killing merchants and travelers on these roads, and isn’t that just wonderful to hear from the witcher post-combat instead of local authorities beforehand. The bard is even headed to that same lord’s town.
His luck is either the absolute worst, or enviable, running into Geralt when he did.
“How many times am I gonna find you travelling alone like a stubborn mule headed for danger?”
Jaskier hums, taking a bite of the cooked deer leg Geralt’s prepared. He insisted on setting up camp at dusk since the witcher still needed to make sure the land was clear of wargs. And Jaskier was not about to be handed to a pub like a child needing supervision.
Roach was absent, being cared for by stablehands while her witcher worked. It is better that she isn’t here. Her soothing presence is still missed.
“You know, I love venison.” Jaskier takes another chewy bite of leg. “Wish we had some seasoning.”
“Are you...criticizing my cooking?”
A growl interrupts Jaskier’s smart response. A beast in the bushes that has Geralt rising with sword unsheathed.
Jaskier can’t even see the fight by the glare of the campfire in his eyes but he’s wise enough to hide behind the log they’d been using as a stool. By the sound of it, the surviving wargs of the pack arrived. Perhaps attracted by the smell of fresh blood. That or they saw what became of their brethren and hunted Geralt down.
The bard is afraid he’ll spot a pair of glowing eyes behind him but a sliver of hope tells him Geralt will handle it. He is capable of the impossible, and wargs are no real threat to him. If anything, Jaskier must believe in the witcher. He must believe for his own sake.
One of the creatures lunges at the witcher and it bites down on his sword hand. In the fight, they moved closer to the fire and Jaskier can see blood dripping from that warg’s maw. It refuses to let go, its teeth piercing deeper into the flesh beneath. Geralt keeps a strong grip on his sword, but the act limits his movement. Jaskier realizes it’s costing him to wrestle the smart beast. Another warg joins the fray and slams into the witcher’s flank, and Jaskier recoils from the shout that follows.
It’s terrifying to witness, as they slowly wrest Geralt’s sword to the ground and him, a useless bystander unequipped to help. But then Geralt growls something furious and drives his fingers into the warg’s eyes, drawing it to whimper and release its hold on him. He then thrusts his other hand forward and the beasts circling the man fly back a few feet, pushed by magic. Jaskier can feel the force of the spell in his face, blowing his hair back. The very air turns crisp.
He knows that the tide turns there, as Geralt retakes his sword and cleaves through muscle and bone with bloodthirst in his eyes. Jaskier stares in awe as Geralt dispatches the wild creatures wish such ease, such precise movements, even with his sword hand mangled.
Slowly, Jaskier rises from his hiding spot, compelled to watch with eyes wide open as the last of the beasts is slain. There is blood soaking into the ground. A myriad of dismembered parts decorates the ground, and Geralt stands in the middle of it all, breathing through his nose like a raging bull.
The title of butcher quite fits him right now.
Geralt drops his sword and checks his wrist. “You good?” he rasps at Jaskier, grimacing something fierce. Jaskier takes that as his sign to get up.
“Well, I have all my limbs attached and my priceless lute is undamaged.”
They take some time moving their camp, seeing as the last one is horrendously ruined with new carcasses, and in the process Jaskier makes sure to clean up and sheathe Geralt’s silver sword for him. His wrist is apparently nothing serious, though it looks gruesome. Geralt poured a disgusting-looking potion on the wound before drinking the rest of it, and with the faces the witcher made, Jaskier could swear the medicine was worse than the bite. The bard insists on wrapping a bandage around it and it is a miracle Geralt allows it.
Geralt is confident that the second pack of wargs was the last of them. He still remains vigilant as Jaskier prepares to sleep.
At the witcher’s insistence to meditate through the night, Jaskier prattles on about everyone needing a good night’s rest after an intense evening and that if there really was any danger left then they should be sitting at arm’s length so as to warn each other more efficiently instead of shouting across the bushes—
“Shut up already. Move over.”
Geralt sits right in Jaskier’s chosen sleep spot, his thigh pushing Jaskier slightly off-center. “You said so yourself, in case more wargs appear. Now go the fuck to sleep. I’ll meditate right here.”
They are much closer than at arm’s length like Jaskier suggested. The bard is lying on his side, feet tucked close to his butt while Geralt settled cross-legged behind him. A knee rubs Jaskier’s lower back, that is if either of them shuffle too much. In hindsight, it’s a good position to quickly alert each other if something goes wrong.
Jaskier smiles, closing his eyes to sleep. “Whatever, Geralt.”
Geralt looks confused but doesn’t question whatever that means.
They have met many times, in many crossroads. All of them by chance and a turn for the better for Jaskier. It may be true that, had they never met at the river near Rinde, Jaskier would have never gotten cursed by a djinn. But if not for Geralt, the bard would have died to a bunch of thieves not a week later. Or if not then, to the cold in the mountains. Or to wargs on a road he’d assumed safe.
Jaskier is not only incredibly lucky to have Geralt in his life, but he is lucky all the times since meeting him.
And this time is not so different, except. Perhaps it is Geralt who is lucky to have him.
The sun hovers high in the sky as Jaskier enjoys a nice stroll through the woods, a reprieve from the noon heat. He is waiting for a caravan headed for Novigrad to come into town, although a fellow warned him to be indoors by sunset. There’s a monster in these parts, and everyone has pitched in to hire a witcher.
That got the bard’s attention, so he decided to stay for a couple days to see if he ran into him, whoever it may be. Jaskier is not actually expecting it to be Geralt—there’s more than one witcher yet left in the world. It would please him to meet his friend nonetheless.
Every person he’s talked to says the same thing, that the monster hunter keeps to himself, in the woods. Understandable, if that is where his target hides. Knowing witchers and how people treat them, Jaskier has a feeling it’s more to do with them wanting to avoid trouble. And that won’t do. Everyone needs company, so Jaskier wanders the forest humming a simple melody under his breath.
After a moment, the bard clears his throat and attempts to continue the song, but his mouth feels awfully dry and it becomes an uncomfortable task. He goes to fetch his waterskin from his travel bag and at most he earns a spoonful of water. Really, how did he not notice he was running out before?
Luckily there’s a creek along the trail he’s taken, so Jaskier can just gather some fresh water there and drink his fill. He crosses a patch of grass taller than himself to do just that and finds himself staring at Geralt. Bathing in the stream. In all his naked glory.
“Ah,” Jaskier interjects eloquently.
The witcher turns at the voice and immediately groans to himself, seeing who it is. “Can’t I wash myself in peace?”
Geralt does, in fact, wash himself in peace as the bard bolts back through the grass and shouts a whoops! in apology.
It’s silly. He’s seen the witcher naked before, just not in broad daylight. Hardly any difference besides the pronounced radiance of skin and the clearer outline.
As Jaskier sits in the hollow remains of a tall wood, he thinks it’s not fair that Geralt is so damnably pretty. Not handsome. Too many beasts and modifications have beaten the civility out of him. Jaskier would be surprised if Geralt even remembered court manners, or how to sound like a decent human being instead of a growly adult raised feral in the wild. At least he’s witty with his insults and jokes.
But his long hair, platinum against the sunlight. His cat eyes which carry an unnatural edge, yet never fail to remind Jaskier of tame house pets. Scars and stubble and all, it paints a pretty picture.
Jaskier could just about throw himself against a rock, face first, if it would get his thoughts to stop revolving around Geralt. Oh, I’m doomed.
A hard snort near his ear startles the bard, his head jumping up from his gathered hands with a touch of fear. He eases back against tree bark when he notices its Roach, her face curiously pushing at his shoulder.
“Hello, my lady. Sorry, you spooked me there!”
She shakes her head and the reins looped over her back jingle.
“No no, it’s my fault,” Jaskier adds as the mare’s dark eyes peer into his own. “I’m just an idiot.”
“Well I can agree with that.”
That has Jaskier falling over completely, his heart leaping up his windpipe as if searching for an escape route. “Geralt, you’re going to kill me!”
“What.” Geralt comes up through the tall grass outfitted in his usual witcher dress. He looks wholly at a loss as to what Jaskier means.
Now Jaskier isn’t so sure if he’s the idiot, or if it’s clearly Geralt who continues to see nothing wrong with revealing his presence to ordinary folk who don’t have superhuman hearing, sight or smell.
Their reunion turns into another one of those where they catch up over a campfire, mostly Jaskier oversharing and Geralt grunting in acknowledgement every few sentences. The witcher does reveal that the monster he is contracted to kill is a fiend, and that it is indeed dangerous of Jaskier to stay past sunset.
“—Or any time of the day, I’d say. Fiends are territorial, and they’re not exclusively nocturnal. People forget that not all monsters strike at night.”
“Um, right.” The bard tests a few strings of his lute. He’s been meaning to tune it and there’s no time like the present. “Question. What’s a fiend...?”
Geralt sighs, but obliges anyway. “It’s a large beast, like a buck but the size of two bears. Sometimes three. Extremely hostile when provoked. I would say its horns are the worst part of it, but pretty much all of a fiend is the worst. Fuck, it can even hypnotize its prey into a docile stupor. I’ve seen other witchers die to them because of it.”
“Sounds positively dreadful,” Jaskier chimes in with cheer.
“Yeah. Which is why you shouldn’t be here.”
His friend sounds adamant about it, which is fair. Jaskier doesn’t seem to be taking the threat seriously. Quite the contrary, it is only that Geralt keeps neglecting to consider that, “Ah, but you’re here too, and I would argue that the safest place to be, with such a monster on the loose, is by a witcher.”
Geralt opens his mouth in retort, but no words come through. He just glares daggers at the bard.
Jaskier tallies that as a victory.
It’s a few seconds before Geralt’s face lifts, like he’s thought of something snarky to say—and it’s such an endearing expression, Jaskier wouldn’t mind whatever cost to his pride the taunt is worth—but then it changes just as fast into something...distant. His eyes staring a bit off-center as if focusing on something else. The bard’s good mood dissipates, a trickle of anxiety setting in.
“Stay. It’s close.” Without pause, the witcher rises and readies his sword.
“I said Stay.”
Jaskier says—or rather he wants to say that he knows not to put himself in harm's way, but the way Geralt said Stay floats in his mind and glimmers, like a reflection in the water. The bard mumbles something incoherent, nonsense of thought that his lips cannot translate. He feels caught inside a large bubble, trembling in the wind. But all bubbles burst eventually.
Jaskier can sense the delicate veil dissolving as time drags on.
The image of Geralt before him dims as the bard’s eyes remain fixed on a single point. Hours seem to pass before magic’s hold on him weakens. Once it’s completely gone, Jaskier gasps hard, brought back into himself in full force.
The fire died out with no one to tend to it. His eyes are well-adjusted to the dark, so it must have happened some time ago. Yet the moon lingers in the sky, casting its ominous light through the high foliage.
Jaskier stumbles upright. He’s not sure which is a worse choice, waiting for Geralt to come back or searching for him. But something’s not right. Too much time has passed.
Roach, who had been tied to a branch for safekeeping, pulls at her restraints nervously.
The bard ultimately decides that he’s waited long enough, involuntary though it was.
“Wait right there, girl. I’ll go find him.” She looks no more relieved than he feels. He turns his back to her and hopes she’ll be alright by herself.
The forest is daunting, his only help against the darkness the light of the full moon. Every sound scrapes against his ears, every crunch beneath his boots far too loud for his liking. Jaskier doesn’t wish to attract any attention to himself. He’d been listening to Geralt when he was describing the fiend, truly, but the bard didn’t need much convincing to know he fairs no real chance if he runs into the beast. He’ll be dead where he stands.
And where’s Geralt? Jaskier is afraid to move too fast through the underbrush, even as urgency climbs up his throat like a withheld scream. Where is the witcher? He wouldn’t take too long slaying a monster, unless there was more than one. And he really hopes it’s just the one, that Geralt chased it far into the woods and got turned around coming back to the campsite. Maybe, if he’s optimistic, the man is already back and Jaskier’s made an ass of himself going on this mad little search for his friend.
As he comes upon a shallow stretch of the stream, Jaskier hesitates, lending power to his thoughts. Geralt has hunted monsters all his life. He has tactics, magic, and a paraphernalia of weapons on him. A fiend won’t be the end of him.
“Come on, Jaskier,” he whispers to himself reassuringly, “He’s alright. You’re the one being a fool.”
He’s turning back the way he came when a splash stuns him in place.
Jaskier eyes dart to the creek, and there, on the other side stands Geralt. All his worries are shed in an instant.
“Oh, Geralt, goodness be.” The man is covered in leaves, fur and blood, but it’s not the worst he’s seen from him. At a distance, Jaskier can’t tell if it’s his blood or the fiend’s, but if the witcher can walk, he’ll recover.
Jaskier crosses the water to meet him halfway, readying for a strong conversation about bewitching friends out of their minds, when something about the way Geralt is standing tips him off. He doesn’t have his sword with him, which is strange. And there’s no fiend head to carry back to Roach as a price for the townspeople’s coin.
“...Geralt?” The man does step closer at his name, suddenly in Jaskier’s personal space. “Ge—”
A hand wraps around the bard’s throat with such strength, such ferocity that he’s thrown into outright silence from the shock. Then his back connects with bark and it knocks the air right out of him.
Jaskier tries to breathe in panic but the pressure the witcher’s hand exerts becomes tighter and tighter, until Jaskier is left choking, wrestling for precious air. Clawing at his friend’s arm for purchase.
His fingers slip over wet blood, it is a futile pursuit.
Jaskier has been afraid for his life many times. He’s never been afraid of Geralt before, of what he’s capable of doing to a human with his bare hands.
“Ge—Ger’lt,” Geralt’s eyes are so close, so wide. His face slack, devoid of emotion except for a dreamy glink in his mutated pupils, and Jaskier understands why when a hulking mass moves through the trees into the clearing of the creek.
The eye. The fiend’s eye, a hypnotic trance that spirals and swallows the world whole. Everything, the stars, the trees, the moon morph into one dazzling, fiery light—
Jaskier shuts his eyes hard before the beast takes him too.
There must have been a brutal fight—squinting, Jaskier sees splotchy patterns in the foul creature’s fur, the silver sword buried in its loin as it limps across the water—and somehow, Geralt fell for the fiend’s wicked gaze. I’ve seen other witchers die to them because of it, he had said. Jaskier can barely see through tears now, can barely draw a whistle of air into his lungs.
But he must try his hardest to rouse his friend from the death spell.
“Geralt, please.” It burns to speak, but as the beast draws near he’s overcome with terror. It will kill him. It will kill Geralt. “It’s—it’s me. You’re—hurting me—!”
Something in the witcher’s face changes, like a drop of water in a pool, but instead of pulling back he draws both hands to the fragile neck before him. Jaskier resists one last time, thrashing in the superhuman grip, and there, with the fiend rearing its head above the witcher, the spell breaks. Geralt’s arms turn rigid, his face pale as if awoken from a nightmare.
Air rushes into the bard’s lungs and he crumples under the tree that had been his prison. He doesn’t know precisely what happens next, only that a bloodcurdling scream rings in his ears and fire erupts out of nothing. A magic that blinds him to the scene before him.
Jaskier will suppose he fainted for a minute or two. Because where he’d seen the monstrous fiend towering over them now stood Geralt, sword hacking into a burnt, grisly hump, over and over, the blade brought so ruthlessly down onto a thick hide. The bard hears the sick squelching of flesh giving.
Blood sprays into his travel pants and he heaves, gagging at the carnage before him. His abused throat tears itself raw coughing until it hurts so much fresh tears come to his eyes.
There’s a hand on his shoulder and he scares at the touch. Those very hands had tried to kill him and his body is not quick to forgive. Jaskier wants to curl up and sleep, to remember his trust in the witcher, but his mind has been robbed of that peace.
“Stop.” It’s Geralt’s voice, and Jaskier tries really hard to listen but his heart beats a deafening cacophony in his ears and he very much doesn’t want to handle anything complicated right now. “Stop...Jaskier, stop being scared of me."
Everything—his restless thoughts, the fear, the sores and hoarse pain, stops at the plea. Jaskier blinks through weepy eyes and sees Geralt kneeling in front of him, distress indiscernible if not for the way his voice trembles.
Jaskier tries to utter something reassuring, that of course he doesn’t fault his friend for hurting him when he wasn’t in control of himself, but the effort backfires on him spectacularly with another coughing fit. Geralt overreacts, shushing him every time the bard tries to speak.
He’s never heard the witcher say so much at him in one breath. Geralt spews out a plethora of curses, at the fiend, and Jaskier, at himself. At the whole damned forest and the townspeople who paid him good coin. And it slowly dawns on Jaskier that Geralt of Rivia, butcher of Blaviken, slayer of one bitch of a fiend, is afraid.
He learned a lesson about fear a long time ago. Fear is what makes people smart.
Fear can also reveal what some people are utterly incapable of expressing, and in Geralt’s case, it is any amount of regret, and his special brand of love.
They hobble back to Roach where Geralt sets him down to gather a salve from the mare’s saddlebag. He tells Jaskier that it should ease the swelling, rubbing it generously over the handprints growing ever more visible on Jaskier’s throat. There’s still the fiend’s head to bring back to town, and after all the trouble it’s caused, the witcher’s not leaving that thing behind for some jackass to claim responsibility over. Geralt orders him to stay put—no magic mind-trick involved—while he fetches the obscenity to strap onto Roach’s saddle.
Jaskier takes that time to contemplate where they stand. Because Geralt is his dearest friend, and it is difficult to tell what Geralt really thinks of him. But he’s gotten closer to unveiling that mystery with every new encounter.
As Geralt returns and prepares their departure, he raises the bard to ride with him on Roach. A familiar arrangement, the bard at the saddle horn as the witcher rides behind. He loops an arm over Jaskier’s side to hold the reins.
They look haunted, two men covered in blood and guts, smelling doubly disgusting. Someone will suffer a fright back in town, but that doesn’t matter. Jaskier feels well enough to talk about something important, something he believes is worth risking the perfect recovery of his voice.
“Do you let friends ride Roach?”
“What?” Geralt could just tell Jaskier had been winding up to ask something, and he had prepared himself for something upsetting. He’d never expected it to be about Roach. It’s so far from everything that’s happened.
He indulges the bard anyway.
“Uh...No? Roach only listens to me.”
At that, Jaskier nods. He’s beginning to understand. “Do you also give your friends your clothing to protect from the cold?”
At that, Geralt scoffs. The mood becomes more lighthearted the more Jaskier speaks. “That was because you’re annoying when you complain.”
Now Jaskier is smiling, teasing even though his voice is a raspy mess. “And do you cuddle with them to keep wargs away?”
Geralt tenses behind him. If Jaskier could cackle right now, he would never stop.
“That didn’t happen.”
This rather feels like poking a hornet’s nest, which is never a bright thing to do. Fear is what makes people smart, goes the familiar phrase, and that’s why when Jaskier tilts his head a certain way, a gentle way, to kiss Geralt on the lips, it can only be categorized as the stupidest move of his life.
It begins as a soft press against Geralt’s mouth, anxious should the kiss not be well-received. But the thought disappears as the hand that comes up to hold his neck grasps tenderly where there is no pain, where no bruise will form. Jaskier’s heart grows infinitely more, in every direction, until his fingertips tingle with an indescribable warmth.
Only now has Jaskier realized that he’s fallen with all his heart for a man who seldom few could ever fully understand. A man of very few, very powerful fears.
It still leaves Geralt profoundly confused when they separate. “...What’s that about?”
Jaskier supposes that, with loving Geralt, he’s gotten himself into a battle destined for defeat. How is he to communicate that which is in his heart? That for him, Geralt is not the hero of the story, but the muse which inspires men to commit heinous acts in the name of love? That if Jaskier were a prince, he would give Geralt his own piece of kingdom. The man would never need to face another danger in his life, not for as long as Jaskier loved him. And still he would seek peril, Jaskier knows, because Geralt is not a man who takes the easy road, no. He takes the most impossible one, the one with a fire-breathing dragon at the end who promises both riches and losses.
Then his brain stops conjuring metaphors and allegories, because he is the minstrel full of words and ballads and tragedies, but that is not how Geralt sees the world. He wanders the earth through absolutes, through defined objectives. He remembers the suffering, the wars, the petty squabbles of kings and queens because he was there to witness them. For the witcher, there are no beautiful confessions and happily-ever-afters, just the here and now.
And in his here-and-now, Jaskier is stroking the inside of his hand—the one busy guiding Roach—while the other studies the silver studs in his armor. Here and now, their lives intertwine.
It comes to him then, as Jaskier’s smile stretches to a giddy grin. “You may not think of me as a friend, but I think of you as my best."
And whether Geralt knows it or not, he is Geralt’s best, because to Jaskier, he is not a monster or a monster hunter. He is just a big, ridiculous, pretty man with a big sword, and no amount of terror and gore will change Jaskier’s opinion of him.
Geralt raises one sardonic eyebrow. “So is this how you treat your friends?”
This time Jaskier is the one to utter a “shut up,” and the laugh that comes unbidden through Geralt’s lips is another charge that tears ecstatically through Jaskier’s jaded senses.
The witcher laughs. He laughs like he needs a hug, so Jaskier hugs him because Geralt cannot—will not—ask for one out loud.
Yes, for his witcher’s happiness, it is enough that he is Geralt’s very best friend.