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Soul's Desire

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The fire crackled and spit sparks up into the cold night air. It was the only sound breaking the silence, as even the winds had gone to sleep with the setting sun, and nothing moved around the small clearing where Geralt had made camp. He sighed softly, glad to let some of the tension in his shoulders go in this relative safety.

The smell of cooking pheasant tickled his nose, but he wasn’t hungry anymore, not keen on moving now that he’d finally settled down for the night. He’d eat anyway, in a moment. Keeping his strength up took precedence over his lack of appetite.

Roach snorted, off to the side, snuffling into a patch of grass she’d found under the thin layer of snow.

Geralt shot her a look. “Stop it,” he grunted, throwing a small piece of wood in her general direction. “You had a whole bucket of oats earlier, it’s not like you’re starving.”

She pranced in place and whinnied softly, bobbing her head up and down.

Geralt sighed. He got up with a soft grunt - winter and old battle wounds were a bad combination - and walked over to where he’d long-tethered the mare to a low tree branch. It was a symbolic gesture, really. Theoretically, she could get free whenever she liked, or needed to, but he knew as long as there was no danger, she’d stay put. Mostly.

He patted her neck and snuck her a piece of shriveled apple he’d saved from breakfast. “Spoilt,” he commented, voice soft.

Her ears twitched towards him and her soft lips wandered over his hands, looking for more of the delicious and unexpected treat. When she didn’t find anything, she nipped at his thumb, thick, yellowed teeth just shy of closing around it. He huffed and shoved her head back, grinning when she retaliated with a shove of her own, almost pushing him off his feet.

It had been Jaskier that had really brought out this playful side of her. He’d started giving her treats whenever he thought Geralt wasn’t looking, trying to get into her good graces by feeding her carrots and apples and by petting her long nose. Weird thing was, it had worked.

Roach wasn’t what anyone would call mean-spirited exactly, but she’d been trained to be a battle horse, a Witcher’s battle horse even, and the carefree days of her youth were long gone. And still, Jaskier had managed to forge a bond with her that was based solely on their mutual enjoyment of each other’s company, and Geralt had watched in blank astonishment as his cantankerous horse let herself be petted and sung to and cosseted as if she was a fair maiden and Jaskier her zealous suitor.

When the bard had left, Geralt had watched her wait for him every night they made camp. Her ears would prick at every sound, accusing eyes staring at him as if she knew that it had been him that had driven the bard away. Maybe she did. It wasn’t hard to figure out after all, even for a horse.

Thing was, Geralt waited too. It had come as a bit of a surprise to him when Jaskier managed to stay away for as long as he did, despite very well remembering the harsh words he’d spoken. Remembering them in vivid detail, in fact, whenever his thoughts were allowed to run idle. But it hadn’t been the first time he’d lashed out at Jaskier and it never before had kept the other man from returning after the sting had worn off. What had surprised Geralt was that even through the war’s turmoil and searching for and finally finding Ciri, Geralt’d had to acknowledge the fact that the bard’s absence was nagging at him far more than he’d anticipated.

Far more than Yennefer’s did, and wasn’t that a right punch in the gut.

He’d been prepared to be miserable for a while. Of course he had, what with the very direct words Borch had spoken, shattering his hesitant dream of finding something like peace in a happily-ever-after with Yennefer. In theory, she was everything he’d ever wanted, everything he’d ever dreamed of finding in a partner, and to be told right out that the threads of their destiny weren’t entangled, that he was destined to lose her…. well. It had felt like the ultimate betrayal from a life that hadn’t been very kind to him in the first place.

But in the years that followed that fateful mission to the dragon’s den, it hadn’t been Yennefer’s face he saw behind closed eyes on those occasions when killing beasts and spilling copious amounts of blood hadn’t been enough to keep the loneliness at bay.

Geralt sighed, slumping back down beside his small fire. Almost six years since he’d last laid eyes on his bard, and fuck if he didn’t still miss him every single day. Especially on nights like this, when the stars were bright and the air brisk, begging for a clear song to cut through the silence.

Something crashed through the woods, steps heavy, undisguised and far closer than he was comfortable with. Geralt whirled, drawing his sword - and let it sink almost in the same moment. Roach had her head up high, nostrils flaring in interest rather than fright and he trusted her instincts enough that he let his own guard down, too.

A moment later a man came stumbling into the ring of light his fire cast, crashing through the underbrush and stopping just short of the flame’s gleam.

Geralt stared. He knew that gait, knew it intimately, but he was sure his senses were playing tricks on him. Surely it couldn’t be…?

“Please,” a very familiar voice said, and Geralt ran, catching the swaying form just as their knees gave out.

Geralt went down with him, the angle too awkward for a smooth save, just managing to cushion the slight body from the worst of the fall. Breathing hard, from shock more than physical exertion, Geralt stared down at the ashen face of the man he’d just been thinking about, half-convinced to be dreaming. But the weight resting against him was real, and so was the faint scent of pine rising from the familiar chestnut-colored locks tickling his chin, and yes, there was no doubt.

“Witcher”, Jaskier murmured, voice coarse and rough in a way that reminded Geralt uncomfortably of the way he’d sounded after the Djinn attack. “I come to plead your assistance.” There was a no recognition in the fever-bright eyes squinting up at him and Geralt’s chest grew tight with worry.

He cleared his throat, maneuvering the bard so that the fire lit his own face. “What,” he grunted, “no song for an old friend?”

The man in his arms stilled. He blinked, grimaced, and then he pushed himself back, out of Geralt’s reach. “You made it perfectly clear we weren’t friends,” Jaskier croaked, after a moment of stunned silence where all they did was stare at each other.

Geralt very deliberately didn’t wince. “Jaskier,” he started, but Jaskier shook his head, holding up a forestalling hand.

“There’s no time.” He was breathing harder than he should. “Brecken, my village, it’s under attack by a foul beast, and I’ve been sent to acquire the services of the Witcher rumored to travel frequently through these woods.” The ‘I didn’t know it was you or I wouldn’t have come’ stayed unspoken but rang clear anyway.

A year ago, Geralt probably would have been able to ignore the sudden tension that had sprung up between them. It had never been hard for him, to conform to the common prejudices about Witchers, especially the one people most believed. Witchers not having feelings was a myth that had existed and prevailed since the first mutants had been created, even as it was as far from the truth as their rumored ability to shapeshift.

For a time, he’d even believed it himself. It had taken a loud-mouthed bard, a crazy mage, and a child surprise to clue him in to the fact that, yes, he, Geralt of Rivia, was indeed capable of love and commitment, of forging bonds outside of the battlefield. Didn’t mean that he wasn’t also capable of fucking things up, but at least he was trying not to.

Geralt pulled a face. Talking still wasn’t his forte, though, hadn’t been since being brought to Kaer Morhen all those years ago. “I tried looking for you,” he murmured anyway, searching for the right words. “After you left.”

“I,” Jaskier shook his head. Sweat was glistening on his forehead. “I find that hard to believe.”

Geralt opened his mouth, closed it again. He sighed. Words really weren’t his friends.
“A beast, you said?” He grunted, falling back to his default of gruff indifference.

Jaskier was watching him with a focus he wasn’t used to anymore. “Yeah. I actually got a good look at it and I’m pretty sure it’s a basilisk-”

Geralt was on his feet, interrupting him. “A basilisk? Did it scratch you?” he hissed, grabbing the front of Jaskier’s woolen coat and pulling him up, noting absently how functional it was for this time of year, how sensibly colored, all in dark browns, not a piece of silk in sight.

Jaskier glared at him. Gods, how he’d missed those eyes, even as they threw daggers at him. “Let me go.”

Under different circumstances, Geralt would’ve been impressed by the low-voiced fury, but right then he had other problems. “Show me,” he growled, desperation setting in when all Jaskier did was try to get free. “A basilisk’s claws are poisonous, Jaskier, and there are already signs of infection. Show me the scratch. Now.”

There was a split second where he thought Jaskier would actually try to fight him, but then he stumbled into Geralt instead and he saw Roach happily snuffling the side of the bard’s face, shoving him forward in her enthusiasm.

“Roach,” Jaskier said and the sudden smile on his face only made the earlier absence of it all the more obvious. He reached up to pet her between the ears and her eyes almost got cross-eyed in pleasure. She pressed as close to him as she could, as if she was a lapdog rather than a horse, and Geralt scowled at his unfaithful piece of roast meat.

He watched them reconnect, trying to push back the urgency he felt. Jaskier had made it this far, he’d probably not collapse in the next two minutes. “She was pissed-off for weeks”, he murmured.

He’d once told Yennefer that she made him say more in five minutes than he otherwise said in weeks, and while that was true, he’d come to realize that Jaskier’d had the same effect on him. The difference was that he’d never regretted a single word he’d ever said to the bard.

Well, except for the rude ones.

Jaskier’s hand didn’t stop his slow, circular movements. “Who, Roach?”

Geralt nodded. “After you left,” he paused, grimaced. “After I sent you away, she wouldn’t eat for two whole days. Couldn’t get her to stop snapping at me either.”

Jaskier’s mouth twitched. “I always knew she had better sense than you,” he murmured.

“I’d’ve probably missed you, too, if you’d fed me treats every day.”

Snorting, Jaskier murmured to Roach: “I never rubbed chamomile onto your bottom, though.”

Geralt cleared his throat, sensing a moment, but dreading it all the same. “What I said, on the mountain,” he said, forcing the words out, even as they wanted to crawl back down his throat. “I regretted it the moment you were gone.”

Jaskier made a small noise, and though he stayed silent, Geralt noticed that some of the tension in him drained away. “Melitele preserve us, you’re an idiot, Geralt,” he murmured finally.

Geralt said nothing. He was very aware of his shortcomings.

With one last pet for Roach, the younger man turned back to him. “Poison, huh? Explains why I’ve been feeling rotten ever since the attack.” He glanced up at Geralt’s face, his own unreadable, and then he opened his coat, pulling up the hem of the grey cotton shirt he wore underneath.

The bandage looked semi-fresh as he peeled it off. Geralt’s superior eyesight made the ugly scratch easy to see. It spanned Jaskier’s belly from navel to waist, a shallow cut that would have already begun to heal if it weren’t for the poison slowly spreading outwards in faint greenish lines.

“The thing barely got me, though,” Jaskier murmured, grossly understating the severity of the injury.

It was so unlike him, and yet Geralt had seen this side of him before. For all his bluster and endless complaining, Jaskier was actually quite resilient when it came down to it, more than capable of dealing with life on the road – even when he’d looked like a fucking rooster doing it.

Geralt stepped closer, hm’d, and pressed a finger gently into the inflamed flesh. Jaskier hissed and flinched, and Geralt pushed his free hand onto his shoulder to keep him still. “You’re lucky to be alive,” he said finally, noting with concern how Jaskier’s breathing was still so shallow and quick, as if it hurt to take in bigger gulps of air. “Poison’s still mostly contained to the wound.”

Jaskier snorted. “Terrific. Not enough that I’ve been maimed, now I’m probably going to sprout some new tumors on my belly just for the heck of it.”

Geralt felt his lips twitch. He leaned Jaskier against Roach, murmured a quiet, “don’t move” to the both of them and moved away to where he’d stowed the saddle bags.

“Great,” he heard Jaskier mumble, warmth blooming in his chest at the familiarity of it. “See, he can’t even face me now, Roach. Must be bad then. Real bad, if even the White Wolf is turning away from it. I’ll die a horrible, painful death with lots of vomiting, I presume, or, or, maybe my inside’s will turn to liquid. That’s it, isn’t it, Roach, oh, I can already feel it happening, my belly’s all squishy-“

“You’re not dying.” Geralt pressed a small bottle in Jaskier’s hands, thought better of it when he saw how much they were shaking, and pulled the little stopper himself. “Drink,” he ordered, pressing the vial to Jaskier’s mouth.

“Will it grant me a quick death?” Jaskier asked in a low voice, lips moving around the bottle’s rim.

“No. But I will, if you don’t do as I say,” Geralt growled, trying not to stare to where a pink tongue was testing the dark potion.

Jaskier pulled a face. “Tastes like ass.”

“You would know.”

He watched the joke fall flat and grimaced. Jaskier had always been a lover rather than a fighter, and that the bard chose to love people of all genders had never bothered him.

Geralt was no stranger to the occasional tryst with another man himself, even if he did usually prefer women.

But Jaskier’s feelings for him had always been complicated, and while Geralt had never been averse to some carnal relief between the two of them, he’d also known that it wouldn’t have been fair to get Jaskier’s hopes up.

In his opinion, getting it on with a human for more than one night was never a good idea. It just wasn’t worth the hassle. Humans were vulnerable, and aged so quickly, and most of them had no idea about what it meant to be with someone like him. A Witcher, a loner, a man that largely preferred his horse’s company over most others, someone who had no chance at a normal life because he’d spent his formative years outside of normality.

Kind of like an exiled princess, he supposed. Or a bard.

Huh.

Shoving the thought away, Geralt focused on Jaskier again, noting how the fever-flush on his face had deepened in embarrassment. His eyes flitted away from Geralt’s and he took the vial from him, shoving his steadying hand to the side. “So, what is this then? Some sort of healing drink?”

“Antidote.” Geralt watched Jaskier swallow the, admittedly, foul potion and handed him some water to rinse the aftertaste away. He began to gather his stuff then, biting back a grin at the soft gagging he heard from behind him. “Don’t throw it up, it’s the only vial I have.”

“Hey, wait, what?” Jaskier exclaimed when he could breathe again, stumbling towards where Geralt was dousing the fire. “The only one…? Why did you give it to me then? What if the basilisk gets you, too, huh? How am I supposed to live with myself, if I’ve taken the only fucking vial of antidote-?“

“I won’t need it,” Geralt growled, feeling a headache coming on. It’d need some practice to getting used to Jaskier’s presence again. Not even Ciri talked that much.

Jaskier huffed in indignation. Already he looked better, even if he still kept a hand pressed to his wounded side. “Oh, because you’re so infallible. No beast will ever touch the mighty Witcher, that it? Or-“ he stopped short.

Geralt looked up at the stars, then down at Jaskier. “What?” he grunted. “No more theories?”

Jaskier was shaking his head. “You are coming, right? To my village, I mean. Because the people there really need your help, Geralt, it’s not even about me.”

Geralt packed the roasted pheasant away and loaded Roach with the saddlebags. “Does this look like I’m not willing to help?”

“It looks like you’re packing.”

“Right.”

Jaskier continued to look at him.

Geralt sighed. “Yes, I’m coming with you.”

Jaskier nodded, relief etched so clearly into his face that Geralt felt a pang of envy going through him. Looked like Jaskier had finally found a place he could call home. “Then why did you say the thing about not needing the antidote then?”

“I’m immune.” Geralt turned back to Roach to pull her cinch tighter. She tried to pump her belly up, but he thumped her right in the side and with something that sounded a lot like a put-upon sigh, she released the trapped air. “Mutant, remember?” He didn’t say that he would have given Jaskier that antidote anyway. Wouldn’t want the man’s head to burst, after all.

“Oh.” Jaskier nodded, pushing a hand through his wild hair. “Right.”

Your village, huh? How’d that happen?” Geralt asked a few minutes later, when they were finally on their way. He kept his voice flat, in an attempt to disguise how interested he was in the answer.

Jaskier shot a look down at him. Thankfully, it hadn’t taken much to convince Jaskier to get up on Roach’s back, even as Geralt insisted on walking himself. “They took me in when the war started. Not much need for a bard at the courts these days, never mind a travelling one.” He shrugged. “Turns out I’m not half-bad at carpentry, so there’s that.”

It was then that Geralt noticed something about the other man that he should have right at the beginning. “No lute?”

Jaskier’s face grew still. “I had to sell it,” he said softly, shrugged. “It’s been a hard year.”

Geralt nodded, not quite knowing what to say. It had been a hard year for all of them, but for Jaskier to give away his lute… He hadn’t had much time to think about anyone else since the war had started, too busy with taking care of Ciri and not dying himself. But in the few stray thoughts he’d allowed himself, he’d always imagined Jaskier tucked away at court somewhere, living a life of leisure as he played and sang for the highborn. Looked like he’d been wrong on more than one account.

“So,” Jaskier said, obviously trying to change the subject. He swayed a little more with Roach’s steps than Geralt liked and he kept a close eye on him, just in case he was about to take a nosedive. “How have you been, Geralt? Find anything important lately?”

Geralt shot him a narrowed look.

Jaskier grinned.

Geralt growled.

The grin widened.

“Fuck,” Geralt muttered. “How’d you know?”

“That you found your princess?” Jaskier shrugged. “I didn’t, really. It was more of an educated guess. I mean, it was pretty clear from the start that you wouldn’t be able to outrun destiny forever, so…”

Geralt huffed, grunted, and then he shifted his weight until his shoulder touched Jaskier’s knee as he kept pace, making sure that the contact lingered. “Yeah,” he murmured, studiously not looking up. “I guess there’s something to say for destiny after all.”

He heard a sharp intake of breath, but Jaskier said nothing. Unsure how he felt about that, Geralt heaved himself into the saddle behind him. Ignoring Jaskier’s startled sound, he reached around him for the reins and, clicking his tongue, he urged Roach into a slow trot. They’d have to make up some time if they wanted to reach Jaskier’s village before dawn.

They rode in silence for a while. Jaskier did his best to keep some space between them, holding himself as stiff and bent forward as he could. He’d never been body shy with Geralt before and it was a startling change. Geralt didn’t like it, liked even less the rising suspicion that everything that was weird between them now ultimately boiled down to him having been a horse’s ass to someone who’d ever only wanted to be his friend.

Or more, really, but that one he’d never even allowed himself to fully acknowledge, not when letting someone close always resulted in disaster, be it of the death or the betrayal kind.

Ciri had changed that, had forced him to let someone in, because after everything she’d been through and everything she’d lost, she had needed him in ways he had never been needed before. Emotional commitment, essentially raising a child… it had opened doors in Geralt’s heart he’d thought forever closed. And now he had found Jaskier again and already he was dreading having to leave him.

But if what Jaskier said was true, then he couldn’t stay. If word of his presence in these parts had travelled already, then it was definitely time for him and Ciri to move on. She’d be sad to leave the tiny holding they’d made their temporary home for the last couple of months, but even after almost a year since the attack, Nilfgaard was still hunting for Cintra’s princess and it wasn’t worth the risk to stay. Especially when he had to leave her for ever longer periods of time to find work and keep them in coins.

He was deep in thought, so Geralt almost didn’t notice the first hesitant touch. It was only because the scar on his wrist was relatively new, the raised skin still sensitive, that he did.

A Botchling had taken a bite out of him at some point, barely something to be concerned about, and he’d almost forgotten about it. But the slight brush of Jaskier’s fingertip over that sensitive flesh sent sudden shivers down his spine and Geralt kept himself from pulling back by sheer force of will.

“We’ve both lived some since we last met, huh?” Jaskier said, softly.

Geralt shrugged, letting Jaskier feel the gesture. “I survived,” he answered. “Lived? That’s debatable.”

“Yeah,” Jaskier sighed. “I feel the same way. Hey, uh, remember what the Countess of Stael said, about destiny being the embodiment of the soul’s desire to grow? Think she was onto something?”

“Hm,” Geralt confirmed.

Jaskier sighed again and finally, Geralt felt his body start to relax, and he sank back gradually until his head was tucked under Geralt’s chin. They rode the rest of the way in silence.

 

* * * *

 

When they finally made it to Brecken, the sun was just about to peek over the horizon. It was the perfect time to hunt for the nocturnal basilisk as it would be at its weakest after a long night of hunting.

Hunting for fools like Jaskier, Geralt thought, grim. It had been sheer luck that he’d even made it as far as he did without ending up as a basilisk snack.

Geralt growled under his breath, vowing to himself that he’d have a long talk about acceptable risks and self-preservation with a certain ex-bard as soon as he’d taken care of business.

Unwilling to waste any more time, Geralt dumped Jaskier off at the local tavern, noting with interest how he was welcomed here. People gathered round him, touching him, talking excitedly. They were glad for his safe return and thrilled about the Witcher he’d brought. He was obviously well-liked and highly valued, but there was no pretty farmgirl vying for his attention – nor a pretty farmboy, for that matter.

Jaskier seemed to have no more personal bonds holding him here than he’d had at any court he’d stayed at over the years.

It filled him with deep satisfaction that he didn’t try to think about too much as he got ready to head out. From the stories he’d heard from the townsfolk, he had a pretty good idea on where to head to.

He was just about to mount, when a voice sounded from behind him. “I’ll come with you.”

Geralt threw a glance at Jaskier, noting his sideways lean and the exhaustion hooding his gaze. “No.”

Jaskier frowned, eyes narrowing. “You can’t just- damnit, Geralt. That’s not your decision to make. You can’t just come back after all these years and assume that everything’s still as it was and I will not fucking stay back like some gods-be-damned damsel in distress anymore-“

Geralt had seen the rant coming, could still recognize the signs, and he stopped it in the only way he thought would actually work. He stepped closer, taking Jaskier’s face in both of his hands, cradling it. “Stay,” he rumbled, and Jaskier stilled, lips falling open as if to speak, but he didn’t, couldn’t, because Geralt was leaning in.

The kiss was close-mouthed and brief, more of a promise than an actual one, but the sound Jaskier made was desperate and Geralt couldn’t help but pull him closer until they were pressed together from chest to hip, sharing the same breath between them. “Stay”, he murmured against Jaskier’s lips, “until I’m back, and then I’ll take you with me to Ciri.”

Jaskier’s hands sought to find purchase against Geralt’s chest. “Oh.” He swallowed, eyes resting on the Wolf medallion. “And what, what if I don’t want to go?”

Geralt sighed, pulling back a little. He couldn’t fault Jaskier for deciding not to put his trust in him again, for wanting a different life than the one Geralt could give him. “Then I’ll understand.”

Jaskier looked up at him, assessing. “You could, uh, stay? Maybe? Here, uh, with me? The both of you, I mean. The people here are good, decent. They’d help protect Ciri as if she were their own.”

Geralt shook his head, regret biting the back of his throat. “I can’t.” He was surprised at how much he wanted to give a different answer.

“Because of the search order?”

He inclined his head. “We’d put everyone in danger. Nilfgaard’s king is still on the hunt for her-“

“And staying anywhere for too long would make it too easy for them to find you.” There was understanding in Jaskier’s voice, but his eyes flitted away from Geralt’s.

“I’ll come back here,” Geralt said, on impulse. “To you. Every chance I get.”

Jaskier’s mouth fell open and he looked so deliciously stunned, it was all Geralt could do not to ravish him then and there. “Are you sure that’s what you want? Cause last time we spent any length of time together-”

“I didn’t know what was important then.”

“And now you do?” There was doubt in Jaskier’s voice.

Instead of answering, Geralt kissed him again, couldn’t resist the temptation of those soft lips, and then he pulled away before he lost any sense of responsibility. “I do,” he growled against Jaskier’s ear, grinning at the full-body shiver he could feel against his own. “So, first, I’ll kill that damn basilisk, then I’ll get Ciri so you two can meet, and then,” he gave the other man a long, lingering once-over, “then I’ll take my time showing you how sure I am.”

This time, the flush on Jaskier’s face had nothing to do with fever at all.

 

* * * *

 

Things with the basilisk didn’t quite go according to plan. How could they, when Geralt’s thoughts were all sorts of jumbled, his attention split between the beast who was doing its damnedest to chew off his head, and the earth-shattering revelation that yes, he indeed wanted to have Jaskier by his side, songs, chatter, and all, for as long as the gods gave them.

Huh.

He’d planned for a quick, clean kill using a chicken as bait, but ended up having to chase the basilisk back into its lair where, in the ensuing fight, he’d chipped his sword on the rock wall and was now backed into a corner by the enraged beast.

Above him, he could hear the chicken, which had not ended up as basilisk fodder like planned and was instead sitting on a rock ledge, cluck at him, sounding irritated. It had escaped his grip while he’d been distracted by feelings, and now he regretted all of his life choices.

The basilisk roared, and Geralt had no more time to think. It came at him, full strength, using his wings to get some leverage even in the tight space of the cavern. He grunted, pushed snapping teeth away from his face, cursing as his sword went flying, clattering to the ground all the way at the other side of the cavern, near the entrance.

A quick Aard pushed the beast back enough for him to be able to take a breath. He ducked, rolled, tried to get to his sword, but then the basilisk was on him again and he felt a sharp pain slice through his side. Claws. He’d forgotten about those. Shit.

With a grunt of effort, Geralt used the beast’s momentum to throw it over, onto its back, wings temporarily useless as it struggled to get back on its feet.

“Geralt!” He heard someone yell and from the corner of his eye, he saw his sword fly towards him. He snatched it out of the air, turned and in the same instant the basilisk opened his mouth to roar at him, Geralt shoved his blade into the beast’s guts, slicing it open from top to bottom. It shrieked, reared up and died, falling towards him. A gush of foul-smelling basilisk juice burst out, soaking him in what seemed to be the beast’s parting shot and then it dropped to the ground with a squelching sound that made his stomach roll.

Geralt gagged a little, and then he cursed as the chicken chose that moment to flutter wildly about his head, losing half its plumage in the process, squawking at the now-deceased basilisk mockingly. He snarled at it, making it cluck and flap away in a huff.

As he followed its path with his eyes, Geralt stopped short. Jaskier was standing in the cavern’s opening, illuminated by sunlight, armed with a – was that a paring chisel?

Geralt saw him blinking into the darkness and he huffed. “You threw a sword at me blind, didn’t you,” he growled, a statement rather than a question.

Jaskier cleared his throat, moving his hand in a ‘maybe yes, maybe no’ gesture. “I may have only seen a vague Witcher-shaped outline when I did it?” He sounded much better, his voice almost back to its usual clear timbre now that the antidote had taken care of the poison. “It worked, though, right?”

Geralt sighed. He got the worst of the gunk off his face and slowly walked towards the younger man. “I told you to stay in town.”

Jaskier shrugged. “You also told me to not feed Roach anymore peppermint hard candy because it’s bad for her teeth, Jaskier-“

Roach, off to the side, nibbling on some low-hanging leaves, snorted.

Geralt’s eyes narrowed.

“…and I totally listened to you, and did not, in fact, bribe her with one earlier,” Jaskier finished weakly.

Geralt stepped into the light, their eyes met and just like that, it was as if the last decade hadn’t happened. That familiar half-smile bloomed on Jaskier’s face, the one he’d worn so often in those early days and which had been largely responsible for many a fast-beating heart.

“I knew you’d need help,” Jaskier stopped, looked closer, sniffed and pulled a face. “Ugh, and a bath, obviously. Say, are those chicken feathers clinging to that lovely goo you’ve got all over you? You, my friend, actually look like you’ve been tarred and feathered.”

Geralt growled under his breath.

Jaskier guffawed. “Oh, I see now. The plan didn’t go quite so well, huh? I told you it was a stupid idea to use a chicken, but oh, no, don’t listen to the man with the years of experience in playing bait-“

And then Geralt had enough and he grabbed Jaskier round the waist and pulled him in, ignoring the man’s protests about basilisk goo and woolen coats that weren’t made to withstand goo of any kind, and shut him up in a way that pleased them both, goo and all.

 

* * * *

 

It was when they walked into town, Geralt leading a sugar-rushed and tactile Roach, trying to keep her from accidentally ripping out anymore of Jaskier’s hair in her eagerness, that the younger man turned towards him. “I’ve decided to go with you, by the way,” he said, matter of fact.

Geralt stopped short, his chest growing tight. He tried to take a deep breath, but something was blocking his airway and it felt like he’d just been kicked in the ribs. In a good way. He hadn’t known that there was a good way to be kicked in the ribs. “You did?” he asked, low-voiced.

“Yeah.” Jaskier looked nervous but determined, a very familiar combination. “I mean, if that’s alright with you, and, uh, Ciri, I guess.” He swallowed, growing a little pale. “Oh no, what if she hates me? Kids usually don’t like me much, for some reason.”

Geralt shook his head. “Ciri will not hate you.” He was sure of that. There was no way she’d not be charmed by Jaskier’s special brand of imprudent exuberance. “When did you decide?”

Jaskier shrugged. “I hated watching you ride away, and that was when I knew you were coming back. I didn’t expect it to bother me so much…” He cleared his throat, looking away as he did. “Anyway, that’s when I started thinking about maybe not staying in Brecken, but I didn’t really decide decide until that moment in the cave.”

He was very deliberately not looking at the spot on Geralt’s side where the basilisk claws had left a bloody gash. It wasn’t a bad wound for a Witcher, hardly worth mentioning really, but Jaskier had taken it unto himself to clean it up and bandage it, and he’d been pensive ever since.

Geralt shook his head. He let Roach go, sending her a warning glare as she immediately pranced away. His attention, though, was on Jaskier, and Jaskier alone. “I want you to come with me,” he murmured. It wasn’t as difficult as he’d have thought, voicing those feelings. “I want you to be with me.”

The smile he got for that was new, one he’d definitely never seen before, and then Jaskier was the one leaning in. It was the first kiss he’d initiated, and Geralt had been waiting for this, but all rational thought fled the moment their lips met, and all he could do was feel.

In his life, he’d shared many kisses, with many different partners. Some of them had been good, some bad, some had been sort of meh, and a lot of them had meant absolutely nothing.

As he sank into Jaskier, into that connection he’d spent so long denying, he let them all go.

Cradling the younger man’s face with both hands, he deepened the kiss, letting his touch say everything he felt but couldn’t articulate. Jaskier made a surprised little noise and then he was trying to climb into Geralt’s skin, pushing as close as he could until their bodies were pressed fully together, surprisingly forceful in his desire.
Geralt groaned, his body definitely interested in what was going on, but then he gentled the kiss before things could get out of control. He could hear a few teasing cheers and someone with a deep voice booming, “way to go, Jask!”, and in the next moment they were pulled apart by celebrating townspeople. Geralt managed to keep hold of a stunned-looking Jaskier, keeping him close as the alderman shook his hand and then pressed a coin pouch into it.

It wasn’t much. The village was small and the people just this side of poor. But they’d scraped together a respectable sum, of which Geralt took half. “That’s for taking your carpenter away,” he murmured when the alderman tried to press the rest on him as well.

The man grinned widely. “Ah, that’s alright. Our Jaskier here was a boost for morale and will be missed greatly for that.”

Geralt nodded gravely. “Not so much for the carpentry, huh?”

“Hey!”

They shared at grin at Jaskier’s affronted shout, and then Geralt went with him to pack up his few belongings, freshening up while he had the chance. There wasn’t much for the younger man to pack, just a few clothes he haphazardly threw into a travel sack – Geralt did see some silk there – a couple of notebooks and something that looked like a set of whittling knives.

Not even an hour later, they were on their way. Geralt let Jaskier sit on Roach again, choosing to walk alongside them for the first stretch of the way. He only half-listened to the man’s incessant ramblings, counting the silver coins in his pocket by letting them run through his fingers, one by one.

They’d have just enough to feed them for the couple of days it’d take them to get ready for the road, and to get provisions. Ciri didn’t have proper winter clothes anymore since her growth spurt, at least not ones that were fit to travel, and from the looks of it, Jaskier was missing some essentials as well.

He would have to dip into his emergency stash, but maybe, if he pushed back getting a new bridle until after the next job, he’d have just enough…

“Oof, Geralt, you should see the face you are making right now. Ho boy, if I didn’t know that Witchers aren’t afflicted by human ailments, I’d guess constipation is kicking your butt in a very literal way.”

“This, I didn’t miss,” Geralt mumbled to himself.

“Oh?” Jaskier had reigned Roach to a halt and it was a testament to the fact that she really liked him that she even pretended to obey his clumsy request. As it was, she took her cue from Geralt, who indicated that it was alright to stop by angling his body slightly into her path.

“Hm.” Geralt said.

“So, there were things you did actually miss?”

Rolling his eyes, Geralt shot a glance up at him. “The only thing I missed about your company was the blessed silence when you finally went to sleep.”

As Jaskier huffed and puffed, complaining about “if not literal, then for sure emotionally constipated Witchers”, Geralt turned his face away to hide the smile spreading his lips.

There hadn’t been much to look forward to in the years since that day on the mountain. Finding Ciri had been the first thing to pull him out of his self-inflicted isolation, and now that he had Jaskier by his side again, he felt his priorities shift and change to accommodate those new circumstances.

They were pretty simple still. Keep Ciri safe, don’t fuck things up with Jaskier again, and, perhaps most importantly, make the best of the time he was given with either of them.

And the first chance he’d get, he’d buy a lute.

He listened to Jaskier trying to convince Roach to run away with him and grinned into the weak midday sun. A soul’s desire to grow, indeed.