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Geralt had planned to leave Jaskier in Barefield. Like most—no all, all of his plans—it had gone awry. He should be used to that by now.

Anyway, he was going to leave Jaskier in Barefield, but Jaskier had insisted they stop at one of the outlying villages.

If he's being fair (and he doesn’t want to be) replenishing their supplies eventually was unavoidable. Stocking up on hard bread and dirty tubers could stretch a few bites of game into several days of stews and soups, and food is one of few comforts he finds truly motivating. A frustrating vestige of mortality he retains. Less frustrating though, when it's Jaskier who does the bartering, mingling nonthreatening dramatics and dogged haggling with grace. He's always been good at charming people out of their coin. Geralt would have paid twice the amount for half as much.

Just as well, since it's Jaskier's damn fault they'd stopped at all.

Which again—really isn't fair. Geralt has to eat too, he just resents interacting with what passes for village society. It's exhausting to guess at what the reaction to him will be (and no, he can't stop guessing, he's lived too many decades of worst case scenarios for that.) He dreads it, quietly. Dreads how people will look at him. (Frightened hostility? Open hatred?) Dreads finding somewhere to sleep. (With Roach in her stall, and a stable boy glancing at him warily from the aisle? On the dusty floor of an old widow who accepts his coin with shaking hands and nervous, desperate eyes?)

Jaskier had helped with that too, talked a sympathetic farmer into putting them up in what is actually a very nice barn. Then again, the farmer was the one who had told them about the echinopsae in Hengfors.

Which is fine, good even, since Geralt's always short on coin. What’s not fine is that heading straight there without going anywhere near Barefield made sense. As much sense as spending another week on the road with someone you've fucked and aren't going to fuck again can make. Geralt couldn't just leave Jaskier in the near-wilderness, where he’s liable to piss someone or something off and get himself killed, so it is what it is.

It’s not about fair, anymore. He’s going blame the bard.

Jaskier's not just a bard, and you're a terrible liar, Yennefer purrs from the velvet shadow of conversations past.

And since when is she his fucking conscience?

Are you fucking Jaskier, Geralt? Memory-Yennefer asks, her face too knowing to make it a real question.

He wasn’t, though. And he isn't. Anymore. They haven't even touched, except accidentally, for the last few days. Geralt hadn't realized how often they had been, before. How often Jaskier had let their limbs brush, leaning to claim the best coals in the fire (as if a careful toasting would transform his stale bread into something far finer). How frequently he had placed an absent hand on Geralt's shoulder (as if they were boyhood friends, grown up laughing over the same stories). How he would adjust the clasp of Geralt's cloak whenever they were in public (as if a slightly different drape would make him charming and likeable. Though, to be fair, villagers are less wary of him after they've seen a laughing bard dote on him like a housewife.)

He'd been less wary of himself too, he knows now. It's hard to feel like a monster when someone with with bright, fearless eyes is constantly invading your personal space.

Had Jaskier known that? Was it deliberate, his insolent insistence on existing inside the sphere that's meant to separate Geralt from the things he can hurt? Was it an instinct?

Geralt will never know, because he isn’t going to ask.

And Jaskier doesn't ask him anything either, at least not about the lack of touching, or the lack of sex. (He asks about food pretty often, and where the next village is, and which word rhymes best with this or that.) Geralt is grateful for that, and if he can hear Jaskier in the dark, taking heavy, uneven breaths, hand shifting under his cloak—he elects to gracefully ignore it. Though maybe it doesn't count as graceful if he's hard, but he doesn’t care. Nothing further happens, and he’ll count that as a victory.

 

*

 

They're a day out from Hengfors, and Jaskier is quiet. The only sound is the swish-crunch of hooves in the tall, dry, grass of the track, which will soon become a road, and then a street. Geralt ought to be satisfied.

He isn’t anything like satisfied. They’ve been giving each other a wide berth, taking turns on Roach, not because Geralt cares, anymore, if they ride together, but because he knows Jaskier’s hand along his hip and Jaskier’s breath across his neck will have him gritting his teeth hard enough to make his skull ache. Even the feet between them now might as well be inches, made hot and inviting by the knowledge that the space separating them will soon become leagues.

For awhile, at least. Their paths have crossed far too often (and remained parallel for far too long) in the past years for him to imagine it’s coincidence. He’s not in the business of lying to himself. Jaskier finds Geralt, and Geralt lets him do it, over and over, and he’ll let him do it again.

It might not be enough, though. Probably, they will only meet by true accident, and Jaskier will give him the brash smile he puts on for unpleasant audiences, a quick, hollow greeting; will disappear back into the crowd.

“Geralt?” Jaskier’s looking at him oddly, and Geralt realizes he’s frowning, has to force his brow smooth again.

Geralt's been fucked ever since the mountain. He'd known that. Intellectually. Now he can feel it, looking at Jaskier’s concerned face; there’s a sourness back of his mouth and a roiling in his stomach.

He’s ignoring this so intently that he picks up the scent of the echinopsae later than he otherwise might have. And negotiating prices be damned, he needs somewhere to send the energy smouldering under his skin, pulling every tendon in his body bowstring-tight.

He looks at Jaskier, and the man can’t possibly smell the monsters, but he knows Geralt too damn well, must read his plans in the lines of his back or the set of his brow, because he reaches over and tugs gently on Roach’s reins. Roach is a traitor, and stops.

“Geralt. I’m coming.”

“No.”

Jaskier, for once, does not speak. The exasperation in the way he tips his head to his shoulder says enough, though.

“One more time, Geralt.”

Gods, he’s really going to cave.

“Fine.” He swings off of Roach’s back and he’d hand Jaskier the reins, but Jaskier is already holding them. “Watch the ground. The spines look like grass. And they shatter inside you, and then they kill you.”

And just as he says it, something long and sharp soars past his head, and if Jaskier had an ounce of good sense he’d be wheeling Roach and getting the hell out of there, but he twists and digs out a tiny black vial out of the saddlebags with his inhumanly clever fingers, presses it into Geralt’s free hand.

Geralt tips it into his mouth even as he unsheathes his sword with his other hand, and then his focus narrows, and he becomes Death.

Killing is very nearly a trance, cutting swathes through the spiked, snarling beasts, writhing to avoid the spines they launch at him, and he steals too few glances back at Jaskier, too few, until he’s dispatching the last echinops and Roach screams a high terrified whinny.

By the time he turns Jaskier is kneeling in front of her, blood on his hands and wrists, and Geralt’s heart won’t fucking beat.

He can’t even curse, can’t do anything except toss his sword down into the grass and run. Jaskier turns his head; his face is white, and his shirt is rust-colored across the shoulders—he’s wiped his hands on it, probably. He’s shaking, holding his pretty embroidered doublet tight around Roach’s leg.

“I got it out,” he says,”before it could burrow in, I promise it’s out, she’s going to be fine.” And his hands, his fucking hands, his entire livelihood, his dreams, maybe, are bright with blood.

“Fuck,” is all that Geralt can say, until there’s more words, suddenly. “Your hands, Jaskier.” And of course this would happen, this is why, this is why they can’t be, because Jaskier creates, and Geralt ruins.

Geralt tries to haul him up, and it doesn’t work, because Jaskier’s an idiot and won’t let go of Roach’s leg. He doesn’t until Geralt rips a strap out of the saddlebags and ties the not-bandage tight; then he stumbles back a little, stretches to his feet, pressing his hands to his thighs.

“Your shoulder,” he says, like his hands aren’t bleeding black into the pale green of his trousers.

“Come here,” Geralt says—or growls, maybe—and Jaskier complies, lets Geralt examine his torn hands. They’re not as bad as Geralt feared. His fingertips have a few small cuts from gripping the spine shards, and there’s a long gash on his palm, but most of the blood is Roach’s. Geralt prays silent thanks to whatever gods might exist as he blots them, dabs them with salve. It should sting badly—he knows it does, he’s used it on himself, but Jaskier’s too high on adrenaline to do anything more than inhale sharply as Geralt winds long strips of cloth around his hands.

Geralt was never meant to need anyone, and this is why.

“Your shoulder,” Jaskier says again, breathy. He starts unbuckling Geralt’s armor with blunt, bandaged fingers before Geralt can tell him to fuck off.

There’s a—a flap of skin, on the side of his arm, apparently. It’s painful, not excruciating; the spine must only have skimmed him. He tolerates Jaskier pouring alcohol across the border of it, then shakes him off.

“We need to get Roach to the city.”

For once, Jaskier does not argue. Brave, stupid Jaskier, who has just sacrificed his hands for Geralt’s horse. Because Geralt loves Roach, and Jaskier loves Geralt, and no offering is too great for him to make. What could have happened—what will happen, eventually, is unthinkable.

And Geralt thinks about it, lets the gory visions sink savage teeth into his imagination, because how else will he be able to leave?

 

*

 

It’s far after dark when they’re finally walking on cobblestones instead of dust, and by the time they reach an inn with lamplight still visible in the windows, Geralt is exhausted. He’s not sure how Jaskier is able to move at all.

He unties Jaskier’s half of their packs from the saddle and hands them over, and it’s probably too dark for Jaskier to see, but Geralt can see Jaskier’s eyes blazing at him, hot, hot blue.

“Let me fix it.” Jaskier says, because he’s always been good at bargaining, because he knows Geralt won't be able to stitch his wound himself. And Geralt wants to say yes, to go up to some tiny lamplit room, to let Jaskier bind him up with his clever hands. To fall asleep with his face buried in the sandalwood-sweat scent of Jaskier's arm, the one he doesn't pillow awkwardly under his thoughtless head.

He could forgive himself a vague wanting, but longing for something so vivid is inexcusable when he knows it can't be. Has just proved that it can’t.

“I’ll move on. Find a place for Roach.” It’s a poor excuse, since they’re between a stable and an inn right now, but it’s all he’s got.

Jaskier floats on his feet for a moment, like he's about to turn away, and then he grabs the reins where they swing below Roach's chin and Geralt can see his soft, lovely features become rigid.

"Is it Yennefer?" He asks, his light tone saying the opposite of the muscle knotting under his jaw. "I would understand, honestly. It's not much of an assault to my ego, being eschewed in favour of the most powerful sorceress on the Continent. There's a good song in that, somewhere."

Geralt doesn't know what to answer, because mostly, it isn’t. It’s that Geralt cannot love, or if he can, his love is a broken, destructive thing. An iron chain for Yennefer, who hates him, and an open wound for Jaskier. Jaskier, who loves him far too much to ever be safe.

“Forget me.” Geralt says. It’s an ugly plea to make.

"I’ll remember whatever I like, and sing about it too. How else will I survive eternity? We are plagued by fears of oblivion, as the poets say, and I, for one, refuse to be obliviated." There’s a cord of steel in that tone that wraps itself around Geralt’s ribcage, and for a moment he can’t breathe.

He can't breathe.

Jaskier looks at him for an ocean-blue eternity and then nods, and Geralt cannot turn away from those eyes himself, but he can twitch the reins in a numb hand, and let Roach limp around between them, and turn to follow her up the street.

 

*

 

He shouldn't be able to track Jaskier with the scent of the city muffling it like a blanket of depravity, but he does anyhow.

And yes. He’s tracking Jaskier. Mostly with his ears, so far, listening for the remnants of songs in the mouths of grooms and sellswords and barmaids. He’s not far. It’s only been a month since they’d parted at Hengfors, in the dark morning hours. Roach’s leg has healed, and Geralt’s purse is still fat with the price of the echinops spines (which probably will not be used ethically, but Geralt’s given up on expecting ethics of men, by now). Geralt's arm-wound itches, though, a messy, weeping thing that refuses to heal, and it makes his thoughts itch with it.

let me fix it and my heart’s already broken, and someone will remember us

He’s doing the only thing he can, and hunting the itch back to the source. If Jaskier hates him, there will be nothing left to itch, he's sure. And no one has ever left him wanting for hate before.

Right now, though, there are a thousand things he knows about Jaskier in his head, grains of memory gathered each time their paths have crossed. And when he enters on the east side of the city, Jaskier's too-loud, too-lovely voice rings in his head.

Too posh. The minor politicians in a city where all the politics is minor—they'll hire someone pretty to play at their house parties for pennies. Odd, isn't it, that the common folk are more generous with their coin.

And he goes on, until the streets become black with mud and waste and the walls of the buildings are uneven and derelict, and memory-Jaskier murmurs darkly at them.

No. Not enough coin among these folk even were I the best of bards. I am close, by the way, but I'm sure there are musically inclined elves who've had a few decades more to practice.

The word decades hooks a sharp talon under Geralt’s sternum, and he digs his knuckes against the bone, and lets Roach amble on, eyes flicking over every surface.

The art is in the details, you know, Geralt. A man can't very well just begin writing about the breadth of love or the courage of heroes. You’ve got to start with the gritty bits, or no one will feel it.

So he looks at them, and eventually the sky is dark blue on top and bright orange on the edges, and he's pretty sure he's in the right neighborhood, at the right tavern.

It's not clean, but there's a thick, citrusy smoke wafting through it that overwhelms any foul smells. (It also wipes out any possible trace of road-sweat and sandalwood, and stings Geralt's nose, and makes him want to shake whoever had thrown half-dried cedar in the fire). Lanterns hang chained from the ceiling, with panes of colored glass(or dyed horn, more likely) in deep purples and blues. This he doesn't dislike, it hides the grime in the grain of the tables, and the filth in the corners, and it hides him too, as much as he can be hidden.

Then he sees Jaskier.

There's a woman pressed up against him, and he's sitting on the damn table because the man has some sort of personal vendetta with seating himself in any but the least appropriate of places. And he’s beautiful, and Geralt’s heart is a wounded wild animal with savage, tearing teeth. He’s felt like this before, standing on the windy cusp of a mountain, watching Yennefer disappear. The agony is not less now. If humans feel this too, it’s a wonder their frail mortal bodies can contain it.

A crescent on the edge of his mind is shocked that nothing changes in the crowd, that no one shouts or runs. That they do not smell the heat rolling off his skin, they do not see the black blood oozing out of the snapping, wounded beast trapped under his ribs.

Then Jaskier sees him.

Geralt waits, waits for his eyes to harden into blue steel and flicker away, but they only widen.

"Geralt! I thought I might never see you again," here he shrugs off the woman at his waist, takes a swaying step, and then laughs at himself. "And here you are. What did you forget?"

Jaskier doesn’t hate him, and Geralt doesn’t know why, or how to say I forgot you. Doesn’t what to do except follow when Jaskier pulls him through the smoky blue of the tavern and halfway up a winding wooden staircase, and drags him into a kiss by the clasp of his cloak. Jaskier’s mouth tastes like honey, and in Geralt’s mind the beasts of his emotions hiss and writhe and break their chains underwater. The memories of why-he-came and why-he-left are too far to reach when Jaskier is so close, pressed hot against his chest, where his slow beating heart is fanged and hungry.

“We should fuck,” Jaskier says, into his neck. He’s always been subtle.

“You’re drunk, bard.”

“A little,” Jaskier admits, and laughs, heart-rendingly beautiful when by all rights he should be sloppy and pitiable.

No, by all rights he should not be here at all. He should hate Geralt, and he doesn’t. Because he’s stubborn, and maybe because Geralt had planned for him to, and Geralt’s plans always go awry.

“Where’s your room, Jaskier?”

Jaskier turns, and leads him up the rest of the stars, and down a hall into what might have been a pleasant space, before it had been desecrated with an article of Jaskier’s clothing on every flat surface.

Jaskier stumbles ahead of him, starts peeling off layers with the casual air that Geralt has only ever seen on the truly drunk. He smells like whore's perfume, and something tangy and unmistakable under that, that makes Geralts teeth grit instinctively.

"Where are you bleeding from?"

"Right, well, I ended up in a situation” here he flaps his doublet at Geralt, as if this clarifies some detail, “which I did not escalate, by the way, and it ended—a bit poorly. Nothing big though."

He gives Geralt an achingly innocent look (he practices, it probably), and his eyes are a little red at the edges. and Geralt wonders exactly what he's been drinking, or maybe he hasn't, maybe this is a big enough city for him to procure the little jars of dark sticky liquid that send you into blissful waking dreams. He's distracted from this disconcerting thought when Jaskier rips a bandage off somewhere on his ribcage and starts bleeding profusely.

"Shit. These are my best pants, I—fuck."

"They aren't anymore," Geralt bites out, before he can stop himself.

"If you aren't going to say anything nice, you can stay quiet, Witcher. You don't own me. You made that perfectly clear the first time you stomped off with your pony like a spoilt nobleman's daughter. If you're going to leave me among the rabble, accept that I'm going to thrive without you."

It's meaningless babble, and Geralt ignores it in favor of peeling Jaskier's chemise off his abdomen to see exactly to what extent exactly he is thriving. There’s a gash running diagonal to his ribcage, and Geralt tries to determine the depth of it, but Jaskier insists on squirming around like a trout, for some reason.

"You dragged me upstairs to tell me you don't like me," he says, to distract him into holding still.

"Maybe. That, or sex." Jaskier looks at him with wide, flirtatious, drunk eyes.

"No."

"Ah, and you didn't even have to think about it. Why did you come galloping back to me, then?"

Geralt's got no answer for that, but he doesn't need one, because Jaskier's swaying on his feet, and the cut is not too bad to leave until tomorrow, when Geralt hasn’t ridden so many miles. Geralt half carries, half throws him into bed, strips off half his own clothes, and collapses into it beside him.

 

*

 

The morning is bright. Geralt wakes up, and he's sprawled across the bed, sheets tangled around him.  He's slept well, he can tell, by the cloudiness of his thoughts, by how badly he doesn’t want to move. Jaskier must have been beside him, since the sheets smell of blood-sweat-alcohol-sandalwood. He breathes it in and lets his eyes open halfway.

Jaskier’s standing at the window in a clean chemise, one arm wrapped around his ribs, the other folded against him, thumb pressed to his lower lip. The breeze that slinks in where one of the small square panes has shattered flutters the white linen at his wrists, pushes the scent of sandalwood and soap toward Geralt. The light turns Jaskier’s hair golden and wildflower yellow at the edges, and Geralt watches the sun in rise in that halo through half lidded eyes.

Then Jaskier turns to look at him, and he realizes that this is not his room or his bed, that the deep sleep that still aches sweetly in his head is stolen. He sits up too quickly, sheets wrenching from where he's thrashed them into a heap, and Jaskier rounds the bed to stand beside him in slow graceful strides.

"Good sleep, Witcher?"

"Mm.” Geralt rubs a hand across his forehead, willing the residue of it out of his mind. “You?"

"Not remotely. You really can't keep your limbs to yourself." Jaskier exhales a long sigh, but he’s smiling, and he’s beautiful and Geralt's still just on the border of being fully awake, and it's hard to feel guilty for sleeping so well.

"Why are you here, Geralt?"

He doesn’t answer.

Jaskier sighs again. "It's actually lucky for me you're such an incredibly violent person to sleep with," here he slits his eyes at Geralt, who is not above a smirk, when the situation warrants it, "because I had time to think, this morning."

He lifts his hand to cup Geralt's jaw, looks down at him with bare yearning in his eyes, and Geralt's not sure why until his eyes fall on the stack of bags carefully piled beside the door, and something turns inside him.

"You were a very noble love. One can't fault themselves for wanting what is good. Wanting what you can't have," his voice drops to a whisper, "is the stuff of songs, after all." The words are too honest for most people to say in the bright light of morning. Jaskier is not most people.

He brings his hand back to his side, leaving a wide patch of sparkling dust motes between them, and Geralt can feel the last thread of something that was once steel-strong between them pull taut and trembling, and when Jaskier turns and goes it will snap, and that was what he wanted.

Was.

He reaches forward to grab Jaskier's wrist, and holds him firmly in place at his side, slackens the slender line before it can snap.

"Geralt." Jaskier says, his face stern, and Geralt lifts the wrist to grasp at the slender, calloused hand, and presses a slow, soft kiss into the palm.

Jaskier looks at him with something like alarm, and it almost knocks the wind out of him, so he presses another kiss into the wrist, his lips catching on the soft linen cuff. He bites a little at the skin, pale gold with indigo veins leaping through it and then tugs Jaskier forward again, bites another, harder kiss into the inside of his elbow. Jaskier makes a strangled noise, and shoves him backwards into the bed.

Geralt's half undressed already, but Jaskier’s wearing that stupid wisp of a shirt, and it’s in the fucking way. He has to bite down through it into the round muscle of Jaskier's shoulder, lick at his collarbones through the thin, coarse material, while Jaskier groans and grinds down on him.

Geralt wants this now, but Jaskier will not be rushed, pins Geralt’s wrists down under his knees and trails kisses from the hollow of his throat down to the fabric of his waistband, and then back up and over his forearm to where it’s still torn, and ugly.

"Geralt," Jaskier scolds, leisurely voice at odds with the way his hand is stroking Geralt into a frenzy through his pants. "This is going to heal hideously."

Geralt grunts, and snaps his hips up into Jaskier's. Hoping that this conversation will end, and knowing it won't.

“I—know—what you're doing,” Jaskier says, mouth damp against his neck. “Stop rushing, and admit that you should've just let me do it.”

"Yes,” Geralt growls, tugging fruitlessly at the stupid godsdamned shirt. Jaskier will not lift his arms.

"I'm not that easy,” Jaskier teases, but he's out of breath.

"I should—“ Geralt has to stop, because Jaskier is thumbing at the head of his cock. And he doesn't know how he was going to finish that, doesn't know why he's saying anything at all.

"I should have let you."

Should have let him fix it. Should have let him stay. More than that.

"I should have let myself," and then, because he’s not a fucking coward, “love you.”

Jaskier's eyes blow wide at that, and then he laughs, and says, "you beautiful moron," and finally, finally wriggles out of his shirt.

Geralt slides grateful palms up over his shoulderblades, and loves him.