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Scales and Song

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Geralt had always known that something about Jaskier didn’t quite add up. When he had come to his table all those months and years ago Geralt had tensed, one hand instinctively hovering over his silver sword when the bard came close, his medallion warm against his chest. When he had followed Geralt out to deal with the ‘devil of posada’ Geralt had been sure that Jaskier meant him harm. He had played along, letting the bard prattle away to himself and listening for hints at what manner of creature he was. Looking for anything in his words that could show the shape of the threat Jaskier posed. 

Then of course the elves had come and things were very fast for a while. It didn’t matter what Jaskier was because whatever he was it wheezed pitifully when he was kicked in the ribs. Whatever it was he wasn’t using it to defend himself even as Geralt smelled blood. Jaskier seemed to accept the elves claim that he was human, despite the smell of the ocean clinging to him even at the edge of the world, even through the blood on his teeth. Geralt wanted to question it, but there were bigger problems and the elves might forgive a human bard and a witcher better than a witcher and something else. 

When they left the elves, Jaskier delightedly plucking at his gifted lute even as he besmirched the reputation of the giver, all Geralt could think was that whatever Jaskier was he was young, and excited to see the world. His silver sword remained firmly sheathed and he spent the journey back to Posada gently heckling Jaskier over his choice of words and more importantly his choice of muse. He could see that Jaskier’s mind was made up, and by the looks of things he would have time to figure him out. 

In the intervening years Geralt had continued to not mention it, confident that if it became an issue Jaskier would bring it up. He seemed to bring up every other minor inconvenience in his life after all. Instead he made it something of a game against himself, trying to work out which of Jaskier’s quirks were due to his hidden nature and how many of them were completely mundane in origin. 

Jaskier’s dedication to music was almost certainly something he had picked up whilst living among humans, Geralt knew of no creature with a predisposition for the lute and his songs were imperfect for a long time before Jaskier shaped them into something he was happy to sing. There was no easy perfection to be found there, no instinct. Jaskier would turn his hand to any kind of song he came across with varying degrees of success. It was something he worked hard for, and Geralt was sure it was something he had learned. 

A predisposition to find trouble is common in many sentient species, humanity chief among them, but Geralt was sure that Jaskier must be drawn to it somehow; like a moth to a flame. How else could his uncanny ability to find Geralt right as destiny was about to catch up with him be explained. He didn’t think the bard was doing it on purpose, as he seemed just as likely to fall in the way of destiny’s ire as Geralt himself.

He was sure that the shimmer on Jaskier’s cheeks when he laughed had the shape of scales, but it was there and gone so quickly every time that even with his vision it was impossible to tell. Jaskier's habit of wearing shimmering makeup across his cheekbones complicated the matter further, for all he knew for sure it could be a trick of the light. Geralt's surety came from the quieter moments on the road, days away from civilisation when Jaskier would sing to himself, pushing himself outside his vocal range and laughing when he found the notes he couldn't reach. There would be no need for shimmering makeup then, and his cheeks shone silver blue anyway. 

More by chance than any conscious effort Geralt ended up with a solid theory after the first time they encountered a deep pool at the bend of a river. It looked perfect, so much so that Geralt had to have a quick glance around for signs of a trap, and Jaskier’s reaction was immediate. He looked from Geralt to the water and back again like a child waiting for his minder to leave. He was a picture of boyish excitement and Geralt found himself admitting that it was a good place to camp but that getting wood might take a little longer than usual. He wasn’t even out of earshot before he heard the splash and though he spent all of the remaining daylight away from the pool Jaskier’s hair was still wet when he returned. 

Between the love of the water, the almost certain scales and the joy Jaskier seemed to find in every bright part of humanity Geralt was confident that Jaskier was a mermaid. It was a logical theory, mermaids coming to the surface as human wanderers was common enough, though they usually returned to the sea after a matter of months. It had been years since he met Jaskier. 
Even with that discrepancy Geralt was sure.
Until very suddenly he wasn’t. 

It had started out like any contract, something had been stealing the sheep and getting closer to town and the worry was that it was going to start taking more than sheep. Things had come to a head when whatever it was had taken a farm dog and a witcher had been sent for. There were no witnesses, and nothing left of the sheep except for a few drops of blood and deep clawed imprints in the earth like something had landed only for a moment before it and the sheep were gone. Whatever it was, it was quick and it flew. 

Armed with this knowledge Geralt had headed into the neighbouring woods, Jaskier following behind, such a familiar presence that his protests about danger had felt more like a routine than anything he expected to hold weight with Jaskier. The creature had been attacking only during the night so the two of them had headed into the woods in the early morning, looking more for information than anything but ready for a confrontation should it arise. It was peaceful and Jaskier was bemoaning the fact his lute was still sitting on his bed in the village when the birdsong tailed away to silence.

Geralt held his hand up to signal Jaskier to stop, and gripped his sword, ears straining for any sort of sound. There. A rattling series of clicks in the branches above him gave him half a breath of warning before it descended. The creature dropped like a stone onto his shoulders. Talons ripped through armour and scraped the flesh below. His stomach lurched as the weight on his shoulders was suddenly pulling him upwards. He swung his sword up blindly towards it and the creature made a sound like a banshee as it connected, dropping him back down to the floor. 

Pain shot up Geralt’s leg as his ankle rolled before he did and he winced as he stood, finally turning to face the creature. It was perched in the lowest branches, serrated hind claws clearly built for gripping tight and not letting go. The tips were already glistening with Geralt’s blood. Its withered body and sharp hooked beak vaguely resembled a vulture but the huge leathery wings reminded Geralt of nothing more than a bat. It chittered menacingly at him and he stood as firm as he could with one good leg, staring the creature down.

The creature screamed, high pitched and disjointed and deafening. Geralt flinched. In the split second it took him to recover the creature dived, still screeching. He lunged forwards, aiming to pierce the creature as it dived but instead the blade pierced empty air as the creature hit the ground in front of him. He went to stab down, point of blade a hair's breadth from the back of it’s neck. Then pain. It had his leg in its beak and it was pulling him off balance. The pressure of the beak against his armour was tight, harsh, painful. He hit the floor dazed, and then he was moving again. The creature shook its head from side to side like a dog with a rat and the world became a blur of green, blue, brown, and then suddenly pain as he hit the trunk of a nearby tree. He groaned as the impact knocked the breath from his lungs. Felt his sword from his hand. It hit the roots of the tree and slid further from his grasp.

The creature bit down harder and he hissed through his teeth even as he was reaching down for his sword. Before he could reach far enough it tossed its head back and he was flying, landing hard a few yards away. The world was spinning. There were no potions to quicken his reflexes, dull the pain. There was only the weight the creature landing on his chest and staring down with beady eyes. Needle sharp points of pain burst where the claws gripped tightly. The beak opened slightly and Geralt could smell rotting meat and feel warm breath as it leant down towards his face. He did not close his eyes.

Then, something new. 

Where there had been no sound in the clearing but for the rush of blood in his ears and the infernal chittering of the creature, suddenly there was something sweet, gentle, safe curling around the trees. It lifted him, whispered promises of home and rest and the sort of contentment that a witcher could only dream of. It felt too good to be true, which probably meant it was. He had heard something like this once before, muted by a thick layer of wax. He fought to come back to his senses, the world around him taking shape again. The weight of the creature on his chest, claws in his armour, powerful wings braced to take flight, but still. The creature was silent. A few yards away Jaskier, and when had he got so close, was bending down to pick something up. 

Geralt watched, pinned and struggling to think through the song as Jaskier held Geralt’s sword like it might burn him if he wasn’t careful. As Jaskier turned to face him, Geralt could see the bard was the source of the sound and somewhere in the back of his mind, beyond the reach of Jaskier’s voice Geralt kicked himself for missing the signs. Jaskier listened to music like it was a puzzle, pieced songs together like a game. Of course music flowed through him like blood in his veins. The rest of him could only watch and listen, helpless as Jaskier walked forward, mouth constantly moving to shape the song with no words. 

The song grew louder as Jaskier drew closer and Geralt fought a fresh wave of enchanted calm as Jaskier readjusted his grip on the sword. Distantly Geralt noted that it was a poor grip for fighting but that it would do just fine for killing something that couldn't move. Jaskier looked down at him for a moment, and his eyes looked so bright and so sad. Then they turned even brighter and the song became more again, and it was impossible to think. 
There was a warm spray of blood and for a moment Geralt was sure it was his own. Then the weight on his chest changed, slid to the side and landed with a meaty thunk on the floor. As soon as the creature hit the ground the song stopped with a choked breath and there was Jaskier, standing above him, sword in hand. 

Everything was silent for a moment, the space between one heartbeat and the next. Geralt could see the blood running down his blade, the shake of Jaskier’s shoulders, the frantic widening of those inhumanly bright eyes. 

Then the moment passed and the sword slipped from Jaskier’s grip as he turned to run. Geralt lurched to his feet, uneven on his injured leg. He grabbed his sword from the floor before he gave chase, not even taking the time to sheathe the blade. 

He caught Jaskier by the arm before he could find his stride, spinning him around so he could see his face. Jaskier looked less human than Geralt had ever known him. The faint shimmer on his cheeks was now clearly defined scales following the line of his cheekbone and disappearing into his hairline. His teeth, just visible as he panted, were too sharp to belong to any mermaid, a double row of perfect white points. But Geralt wasn’t truly focusing on anything other than his eyes. They were the same blue they had always been but now the blue seemed to fill the entire eye, broken only by the strange double shape of his pupil. Jaskier did not break eye contact as he tilted his head back, exposing his throat and the barest hint of gills on the side of his neck. 

It took Geralt a moment to recognise the gesture for surrender, and a moment longer for the guilt to wash over him like a wave. Jaskier expected Geralt to kill him. He was waiting for Geralt to take the silver sword that he only now realised he was still holding and run it across his exposed throat. Jaskier wasn’t even going to fight him. 

Geralt dropped Jaskier’s arm and took two steps back, putting the sword back into its sheath before any further damage could be done. Jaskier watched him without moving, everything about him still but the rapid rise and fall of his chest and the flare of his gills. He didn’t stop baring his throat. 

“Jaskier-” Geralt started, unsure of what he wanted to say but knowing he couldn’t let this continue a moment longer. It didn’t matter as Jaskier started moving, running as fast as his legs could carry him away from Geralt. Geralt, already lucky to catch him once on his injured leg, could only watch as Jaskier broke the treeline and leapt into the air, his shape blurring as a long tail seemed to form from mist behind him. The sharp wings of a siren opened with a snap and a rush of air. Geralt watched him take flight and kept watching until the blue of Jaskier was indistinguishable from the blue of the horizon.

Geralt returned to town later that day bloodied and exhausted, carrying the head of the creature in one hand and his regret in the other. He waited at the inn that night with baited breath and no real hope of Jaskier returning, treating his injuries and washing away the filth more as a way to pass the time than because he felt like it mattered. When morning came and Jaskier still hadn’t returned Geralt packed up his own supplies first and then turned to the bard’s. 

Jaskier hadn’t been travelling with much this time, a few outfits and a small pouch of luxuries like gentle soaps and a spare jar of fine quality ink. His half-filled songbook and quill were exactly where Jaskier had left them the previous morning, resting on his bed next to his lute. 

Geralt packed the lute first, stowing it in its sturdy case and securing it to the side of Roach’s saddle with more care than his own swords before stashing the rest in his saddlebags. Before he left town he cast one last look over the skyline for any hint of blue.

Tracking a creature that flies isn’t an easy task, not even for the most skilled of hunters, but as Geralt rode along in the direction Jaskier had disappeared he took comfort in the fact he had several advantages. 

Firstly Geralt was not a skilled hunter, he was a witcher. His recent rise to fame may have come at the hands of Jaskier but if he hadn’t the skills to back it up the songs would never have been half as successful. Jaskier was not the first flying quarry he had had to track, and this was more important than any harpy.

Second, he had the supplies to keep moving for a few weeks without stopping. When it had become apparent that Jaskier wasn’t returning Geralt had weighed his need for coin against his obligation to Jaskier and found that coin was easy to replace. As a result his saddlebag was fat with travelling supplies and energy dense rations he wouldn’t usually bother with, preferring to take the time to hunt and forage rather than waste the coin. If all went to plan, he would be able to move swiftly without stopping for any longer than roach needed for as long as it took to find Jaskier.

Third, and by far the most important, Geralt knew Jaskier. Jaskier may have been hiding his voice and his wings from Geralt but he had made no attempt to hide who he was beneath. Jaskier was a man who loved people, the rush and bustle of a busy place where he could simply listen and experience their stories. He enjoyed the small luxuries that came with being in a big town so Geralt skipped past a few small farming villages on his travels. He knew where he was headed. Whenever things seemed overwhelming Jaskier’s thoughts always turned to the same direction- the coast. In better times he had been known to invite Geralt to accompany him there. Geralt was pushing time to beat him to the sea before he returned to the waves and was lost to Geralt forever. 

When a large river town finally came into view almost two weeks into his chase Geralt couldn’t help but sag in relief. If Jaskier could be found anywhere, it would be here. He set up camp beneath a rocky overhang a short way outside of town, his empty coin purse putting a stop to any thoughts of staying within the busy port. He left Roach and headed towards the town gates, leaving everything but his swords behind in the shelter of the rock against the golden light of the late afternoon. 

As soon as he was in town Geralt started asking around if anyone had heard tell of a bard stopping in town, only to be met with blank looks. It was only after the third confused local that Geralt paused to consider Jaskier’s lute still sitting among his own belongings and changed tact, instead asking after a man of Jaskier’s description and making no mention of singing or storytelling at all. After a few frustrating hours this approach finally bore fruit as a sailor staying in town pointed him to the docks, letting him know that somebody matching his description had been bartering passage with his captain the day before. The sailor said that while he hadn’t met him personally, the captain had seemed pleased enough and they had a couple of empty beds aboard so he would be surprised if Jaskier hadn’t been afforded passage to the coast with them. Geralt felt dread pool in his stomach as he asked the sailor when they planned to depart and was told with a gap toothed grin that they would be leaving the following morning with the dawn. 

Geralt made his way to the dock, something that might have been panic biting at his heels as he looked for the cargo ship the sailor had described. He found it with little trouble, sitting low in the water as the final few crates were loaded in the fading light. He watched the men loading the ship, looking for any way he might be able to slip past them and find Jaskier. He was so focused on the ship that when there was one less set of footsteps moving around the dock behind him it slipped his notice until Jaskier spoke. 

“Geralt.” Jaskier breathed, his voice barely there but clear enough to Geralt’s ears. Geralt spun around to find him standing a few paces behind him. Jaskier took a shaky breath before he continued. “I don’t want to fight. Please just let me go.” He sounded small, sadder than Geralt had ever known him to be and his eyes kept jumping between Geralt’s own and the swords strapped to his back. He looked rough, bags beneath his eyes as if he hadn’t slept well in weeks and the illusion of humanity seemed thinner than before, or maybe it was that Geralt knew where to look. Jaskier shifted his weight from one foot to the other awkwardly and Geralt realised, belatedly, that it was his turn to speak. 

“You didn’t need to run-” He started, wincing as the words came out wrong, “Don’t.” he corrected himself, “You don’t need to run.” This time he felt more sure in his words and he continued, making a point of keeping his feet firmly where they were and his hands relaxed by his sides despite everything in him screaming to move towards Jaskier, to make sure he was real and that he was okay. 

“You’re in no danger from me Jaskier.” He said, praying to whatever god would listen that Jaskier would feel the truth of his words. Jaskier smiled at him and it was a smile like he hadn never seen before from the bard. It was small and cold and didn’t reach his eyes, a bitter ghost of the smile he was used to. Jaskier stepped forward and Geralt carefully didn’t react, scared to spook him into running again. 

“I’m not now,” Jaskier agreed, “but how long can that last Geralt?” Geralt felt like Jaskier had punched him, a slight whimper leaving him as the words hit. Jaskier continued, his voice still sad but anger starting to colour the edges. “I’m dangerous Geralt, and now you know that. How long could you really-”

“You saved my life.” Geralt bit out, stopping Jaskier mid sentence. “You’ve travelled with me for years and you’ve never once been dangerous.” 

“I have now.” Jaskier shot back stepping forwards as he spoke, a rumble in the words like distant thunder. “I could have killed you!” There was barely a step between them now. 

“You didn’t-” Geralt said, “You wouldn’t.” 
“But I could, and if I decided I wanted to could you really stop me?” The thunder in Jaskier’s voice was growing louder, a perfect storm surrounding them. There were tears threatening to spill over Jaskier’s eyes. 

“No.” Geralt admitted. The song had been like nothing he had ever experienced before and while he thought he could probably shake it off with anyone else, Jaskier knew him as well as he knew Jaskier. He was confident the bard could keep him down. Jaskier was staring at him, mouth parted slightly in shock. 

“No Jaskier,” Geralt repeated, “I probably couldn’t stop you if you really wanted me dead,” The first tear fell down Jaskier’s face even as the rumbling grew louder. Geralt continued. “But I trust that you wouldn’t.” 

“But what if I-” Jaskier started before Geralt cut him off.

“But nothing! Damn it Jaskier! You knew I was a witcher before you even introduced yourself to me. You trusted me at every step not to kill you even though I knew, I knew you weren’t human.” Geralt paused and tried to reign himself in but the combination of the storm of Jaskier’s making and the thought that he might hurt Jaskier were making it hard to keep his voice in check. His hands clenched at his sides. “I’m not asking for things to be the way they were, just let me trust you the same way you’ve trusted me since the beginning.” Jaskier hadn’t moved, but the tears were flowing freely now. Geralt knew, the same way he knew the weight of his armour on his shoulders and the feel of the road beneath his feet that whatever he said next would decide things.

"I trust you." He said, "You're my friend." Jaskier's breath hitched, and the storm broke. 

Geralt unclenched his hands, wanting to reach for Jaskier but unsure if he could. Jaskier made the decision for him, leaning forward and closing the last foot of space between them as he leaned on Geralt's shoulder and the deep rumbling he had been making gave way to quiet, shuddering sobs. Geralt rested one hand against his back, holding him close. 

"I didn't want to go." Jaskier admitted, voice muffled against Geralt. "I just couldn't hear you tell me to leave." 

They stood like that for a moment longer before Jaskier straightened up and looked at the docks around them sheepishly. Only a few minutes had passed but the ship was almost fully loaded. 

"I should probably-" Jaskier gestured awkwardly at the ship behind him and Geralt tried very hard not to flinch. Jaskier noticed anyway and his hands flapped as he spoke. "No no no I'm not leaving but I should probably let the captain know and all. That is if you're okay?" Jaskier trailed off, looking seriously at Geralt. 
Geralt took a moment to weigh his options, on one hand it would be very rude to leave without telling the captain he would be one passenger short the following morning. On the other hand Geralt didn't actually care about manners in the face of two weeks of searching finally coming to a close. 

He caught Jaskier's hand in his own and led him out of town, happy to listen to everything that had happened to Jaskier in the time they had been apart as they walked. When they made it back to the rocky overhang where Geralt had left Roach he was surprised to hear Jaskier trill with happiness and dart forwards, dropping Geralt's hand in his haste. The surprise faded quickly as Jaskier opened his lute case and checked for damages, smiling brightly up at Geralt when he found nothing wrong. 
Things weren't perfect between them, but they were good and that was all that mattered. 

Months later Geralt caught himself thinking on Jaskier and his many many quirks, still trying to sort them into which were due to him being a siren, and which were due to him being Jaskier. 

The love of music, of singing but not Singing, was definitely unique to Jaskier. Jaskier looked at music like a puzzle he could solve if he worked hard enough at it and sometimes he even succeeded. The song he was born with was probably the one he sung the least, though when they were far enough from civilisation sometimes Geralt would sit and it would wash over him like a wave, calm and safe and Jaskier down to the core. 

The knack for finding trouble wasn't a known trait among sirens, though it could be argued it was among witchers. Jaskier laughed when he brought it up, blamed Geralt for his life of excitement before smiling, curling his wing over Geralt's shoulder and murmuring something about only needing to follow Geralt to find exactly the right amount of trouble anyway. 

The bright shine of scales when Jaskier laughed was more frequent now, and now he knew what to look for Geralt could also see the too sharp teeth as Jaskier laughed about this, that or the other.

Most importantly, whenever they found clear water now Geralt would stay to watch as Jaskier disappeared into it, his form rippling as it changed. Jaskier was beautiful in all his forms but when he breached the surface, fins and wings flaring in the water as he grinned up at Geralt it was always just too easy to follow him into the water and kiss him.