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maybe time running out is a gift

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Jaskier knows that Geralt loves him, in his way. 

 

Witchers don’t feel. In his darkest moments he repeats it to himself. He knows it isn’t true. He’s seen for himself just how much Geralt has the capacity to feel. It’s not that. 

 

It’s that whatever Geralt feels will never be as deep as what he does. It can’t. Even before they started doing this, whatever it is that they’re doing, traveling together, laying together, living together, he knew that much. There are words Geralt does not say, simple human things he does not do. He neither asks for thanks nor gives it, no matter the service, when speaking to humans. He does not smile to put people at ease, gives no heed to the judgment or opinion of those around them. 

 

But he cares, somehow, deeply and truly, for their safety. In each town, in each part of the continent they visit, no matter how low the reward, no matter how light the coin, he does what he can. As much as he can. 

 

A godling haunting a house in Novigrad. A drowner infestation in Velen. Jaskier sees warmth in Geralt’s eyes when he returns a pair of lost twins to their parents relatively unharmed in Oxenfurt, but no pride ever graces his handsome features. Exhilaration, satisfaction, sometimes sorrow, pure and cold, but never pride. 

 

He’s a witcher. He doesn’t show off, he gets paid in coin. He cares, Jaskier thinks, because perhaps he can’t help it. 

 

He knows Geralt loves him because there is no other explanation for the way he holds Jaskier, like he’s something gentle and treasured, like he’s precious. But he also knows Geralt is not human. Geralt has lived more than twice as long as Jaskier, and will live on for possibly centuries more. And, unlike Yennefer, Jaskier cannot be there with him forever.

 

And you love him. He thinks, watching Geralt oil his blades by the fire. God help you, you love him more than anything. 

 

 

 

Jaskier knows something’s wrong as soon as he sees Geralt’s distant form peaking the horizon. First, he’s back too early. A Fiend would take much more than an hour to locate and kill. Second, his gait is off, the straightforward march he usually employs is slanted, shifting, as though he can’t quite keep his footing. He’s half a mile off at least from their camp, barely illuminated by the setting sun, but Jaskier hauls himself up onto Roach and rides out to meet him, anyway. 

 

His shoulders are slumped, hair falling in cascades in front of his eyes, and he’s breathing hard, too hard for a walk through the Temerian countryside. When Jaskier drops to the ground, Geralt stops, looks away, posture slouching even more, and Jaskier realizes, belatedly, that he’s trying to hide his face. 

 

“What happened?” He wishes he could clear the concern from his voice but its impossible when Geralt won’t look at him. 

 

Wasn’t a fiend.” Geralt’s words are low, grating, and there’s something there Jaskier can’t identify, something he’s never heard before in the witcher’s tone. “Just a bear with a taste for humans. Killed it in two.” He doesn’t flinch back when Jaskier reaches out, but it seems a near thing, as though he’s forcing himself to stay still when the bards fingers splay over his breastplate. 

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“It’s nothing.”

 

“Please?” They’ve done this a thousand times, a thousand different ways, this dance, Jaskier pushing forward, trying to reach Geralt’s retreating form. This time there’s a pause, a pulse, and Geralt relents, glides forward, lets Jaskier pull him close and lift the curtain of his hair, and thats when he sees it. 

 

The fight is long over but Geralt’s eyes are pitch black, his veins dark and stark against his too-pale skin. His breaths are coming in heavy, weighted, and when Jaskier presses a hand to his cheek he’s cold as ice. 

 

“The potions?” He asks, and Geralt nods, slowly, eyes falling shut as Jaskier gentles a thumb over his jaw. “Does it hurt?” Geralt shakes his head. 

 

“No it’s just—“ He grinds his teeth and furrows his brow. “I can—I can hear the heartbeats in the village from here. I can smell the pack of wolves a mile west. I can feel every leaf move. I can—“ He swallows, thickly, and Jaskier can’t help but press closer, wind an arm around his thick waist, feels his chest clench at the way Geralt almost falls into his embrace. “I can feel—everything.” Jaskier slides his fingers up into that mess of white hair and pulls until Geralt’s face is pressed into his shoulder. 

 

“What do we need to do?” He asks, keeps his pressure firm where he’s holding Geralt, and the witcher’s hands hesitantly come up to cup his sides. 

 

“I—normally I swim.” Jaskier ghosts his lips across Geralt’s temple, encouraging, a push to go on, and Geralt obliges. “The water—it makes it easier. Shuts everything else out.” Suddenly, Jaskier understands. 

 

“The ice.” He says, and Geralt nods. He can’t swim when it’s this cold out, even a witchers body isn’t built for subfreezing water. “What else do you do?” 

 

“Sometimes—“ Geralt cuts off, ducks his head in what Jaskier is beginning to realize may be shame, and Jaskier tuts and shakes his head, tugs his hair until he can meet those pitch eyes again. “Sometimes pain—helps, it—it focuses me.” Jaskier’s mind flashes to the scars on Geralt’s arms he hasn’t been able to identify, the ones too smooth and clean to be made by beasts or monsters. 

 

“Absolutely not.” He hisses, jaw clenching against his will as he cups Geralt’s face. “Never that.” Searching, scrambling, trying to find something, anything, to give Geralt some reprieve from his warring senses, he pulls him down and kisses him, long and sweet, fingers splaying across the witchers handsome cheeks, thumbs stroking beneath his eyes, thinks let this work. Let me help him. 

 

Geralt kisses back with fervor, sliding his hands up to grasp at Jaskier’s back, gasping when the bard’s tongue slips into his mouth., breathes a broken ‘Jaskier’, nosing along his cheek, sniffing the column of his throat, the spot behind his ear. Jaskier feels him, hard against his thigh, feels the tense set of Geralt’s body against his own, thinks maybe it will.

 

 “The smell of you. Like—like dandelions.” Jaskier takes a chance, grinds his hips against Geralt’s, and he’s rewarded by an uncharacteristically racked moan which pours from the witcher’s chest. 

 

“Dandeions, hm?” Jaskier murmurs, and risks putting his hands on broad shoulders, levering himself up until Geralt has to hook his arms under his thighs, until he can wrap his legs around that thick waist. “What do I taste like?” He kisses Geralt deeply, slides his arms around his neck and threads his fingers back into his hair. 

 

“Honeywine.” Geralt burrs, nuzzling against his cheek, inhaling deeply. “White Myrtle.” He mouths at Jaskier’s jaw, his throat, tongue chasing the taste of him down to his collarbone. Jaskier sighs, tightens his thighs, breathes hot and heavy against Geralt’s cheek. Distantly, with whatever remains of his brain, he manages to grab one of the blankets from Roach’s saddle and toss it on the ground. Geralt lowers them shakily onto the forest floor, tears into Jaskier’s shirt to gain access to his chest. 

 

“Geralt,” He rasps, bucks his hips and begins fumbling with the straps of his armor, dropping plates and mail to the side in his rush to find Geralt’s skin. He’s rewarded when the witcher sits up, chest heaving with exertion, and methodically strips himself, baring that barrel chest to Jaskier’s searching fingers, and then—

 

And then he’s pushing down their trousers, and there’s nothing between them, and the night is so cold but even winter’s chill can’t penetrate the heat coming off their bodies. There’s nothing, nothing in the world, except the slide of skin against skin, the hot press of Geralt’s mouth against his throat, the sharp tug of Jaskier’s fingers in snow-white hair. 

 

“Darling,” He whispers, reverent, when Geralt slips lower, noses along his hipbone and mouths at his cock, eyes flicking up searchingly, a silent question. “Yes, my love, of course.” And then Geralt is taking him into his mouth and sucking him down like he’s starving and Jaskier is helpless to do anything but curse and buck into his mouth. 

 

Geralt is relentless, hands rubbing up and down Jaskier’s thighs and sides, tongue swirling around him, pulling off and jerking him until beads of precum begin to leak from his cock so he can lap them up. 

 

“That’s it.” Jaskier babbles, reverent, delirious, strokes his fingers through Geralt’s hair as the witcher sinks down to take him deep, throat constricting around him greedily. “That’s perfect, pup.” Geralt shudders, eyes fluttering shut at the endearment, and Jaskier tightens his fingers just slightly in his hair. “You suck me so well.” He murmurs, and Geralt moans, drags his lips over Jaskier’s cock and rubs his cheek against it wantonly.

 

He comes, hard, a few minutes later, rasping out praise with Geralt’s hand splayed over his belly, and Geralt swallows and swallows again around him, milks him until he’s oversensitive and keening. Geralt pulls back and there’s seed dripping from his lips and his pupils are blown wide over blessedly golden irises.

 

“Good boy.” Jaskier croons, tugs him up to kiss him he cradles his face in his hands, licks himself off Geralt’s tongue while he reaches between them to grasp the witchers hard, leaking cock. Geralt shivers, exhaling hard into his mouth.  

 

Jaskier.” He groans, breath hitching, and Jaskier opens his eyes, meets Geralt’s dripping gold gaze, slips his free hand up and thumbs over Geralt’s lip, presses inside his mouth, smears spit and spend across his cheek.

 

“Come for me, witcher.” He growls, and Geralt whimpers around his finger, hips stuttering, and does as he’s told, spilling across their chests, splattering his own chin. Jaskier gives in to temptation and ducks forward, licks it up and then kisses him sloppily on the mouth. 

 

Geralt slumps forward and buries his face in the junction of Jaskier’s neck and shoulder, humming softly when Jaskier begins to card his fingers through his hair. 

 

“Feel better, my love?” He murmurs, and Geralt nods, smooths his hand down Jaskier’s side, over his thigh. 

 

“Much.” He grunts, and suddenly sits up, lifting Jaskier with him and wrapping him in the blanket. They’re a little shaking standing up, but they manage. Gathering armor and clothing up as best they can and resigning themselves to an early morning search, they head back to the fire and collapse beside it, Jaskier barely having the forethought to steer them toward the bedrolls before he’s pulling Geralt back into his arms. 

 

“So that helped, then?” He asks, presses soft kisses over Geralt’s brow and tangles their legs together. Geralt nods, again, and sniffs at his cheek. 

 

“I just—focused on you.” He whispers, the world seeming small where they’re swathed in the blankets, and Jaskier smiles against his shoulder. “The smell of you, the feel of you, the—the things you said.” 

 

“Was it too much?” He can feel Geralt beginning to sag into sleep in his arms, but he has to be sure. Geralt grins lopsidedly and shakes his head, kisses Jaskier’s chin. 

 

“It was perfect, Dandelion.” He purrs, and Jaskier laughs and swats his shoulder. 

 

“Oh no, that is not catching on, there is no way—“ Geralt silences him with a slow, sweet kiss, and Jaskier forgets what he was complaining about. 

 

Oh, he thinks, how I wish we could stay like this forever.

 

 

Later, they will agree on how fucking stupid it was of them to go looking for a monster they couldn’t identify. The people of Crows Perch could only tell them that there was some beast in the river, devouring passersby in the night. One had said it could have been a snake, another an insect of some sort, but none seemed sure of their estimation. The only consistent part of each person’s story was that it had come so fast

 

And indeed it does. Geralt’s barely made it to the bottom of the bank when the water begins to churn, as if something is unfurling beneath it. He draws his sword and takes a ready stance, then glances back to where Jaskier stands behind a nearby tree. 

 

“This is the part where you run.” Jaskier scoffs and rolls his eyes. 

 

“This is the part where you win.” Geralt’s eyebrows furrow long-sufferingly, and he grips the hilt of his blade tighter. 

 

“Jaskier, come on--“ His testy reply is cut off, and, for a moment, to Jaskier, it’s as though he’s simply disappeared. It happens in an instant, one moment Geralt is glaring at him, mouth open, and the next he’s gone. Jaskier stares at the space where he just was in shock, and then wrenches his gaze to the river, where the churning has turned to a tempestuous brawl. Barely, amongst the splashing and swirling, Jaskier can make out a plated back, a long, thin body, a few jagged legs here and there. After too many seconds, long enough that Jaskier finds himself stumbling closer to the shore, Geralt surges up out of the water, arms straining as he holds apart two giant pincers which emerge from the beast’s head. 

 

His sword lies at the edge of the water, forgotten, and as Jaskier watches the creature twists its body about Geralt’s, slowly working its way up his legs and around his chest. Geralt releases one pincer and attempts to push away the slithering body, but it only squeezes him tighter, like some giant snake constricting its prey. Trapped in its embrace, Geralt’s movements begin to slow, his arms begin to give out. Jaskier stands frozen on the beach, watching in horror as he realizes that the witcher’s chest is heaving but he isn’t breathing. There’s a single moment, where Geralt’s eyes flash to the riverbank, where they meet his own and Jaskier sees a second of fear in that yellow gaze. 

 

Geralt’s eyes close. Jaskier cries out his name. The witcher’s arms falter and fall. The gnashing pincers close around his stomach and he is pulled beneath the surface, disappearing from view. Ears ringing, heart pounding, Jaskier doesn’t think. He hasn’t the time. He’s not a hero. He’s not a witcher or a warrior or even a very good thief when it comes down to it. 

 

Geralt of Rivia cannot die like this. He’s lived too long and has too much left to do, and even if Geralt doesn’t know that, Jaskier does. He pulls the sword (silver, for monsters), from the riverbank, hefting it with both hands, his arms straining. He charges forward, letting his momentum down the bank get him through the water, and collapses onto the creature, driving the sword between two of the plates on its back. It rears its head back, dropping Geralt from its pincers, and lets out and unearthly screech. The witcher falls like a ragdoll from its grip and hits the water with a dead splash, sinking below the surface. 

 

With a grunt, Jaskier jerks the sword out of the beast, and steps back, looking up at its hideous form. Easily fifty hands long, with sharp pincers and a thousand legs, all clacking together in anticipation as it hisses at the bard. He thinks of every monster he’s seen Geralt fell, every creature he’s ever watched the witcher tear apart, and sets his feet. The insect screeches again and lunges. Jaskier dives to the side, narrowly avoiding its pincers, and slams the sword down on its neck, sinking it deep into the unprotected flesh just below its beady head. The monster screams, and rears back, taking the sword, and Jaskier holding it, with it. 

 

The blade comes unstuck, and Jaskier tumbles down, straining to keep his senses as he rights himself and readies the sword again. The creature cries out, listing to the side, and lunges once more. Again, Jaskier moves away, and with a final swing, buries the sword deep in the fresh wound in the creatures neck and wrenches it to the side. 

 

The beast jerks, flails, its body shuddering around Jaskier’s blade, and then falls with a great splash back into the water, sinking below its slowly stilling surface. Jaskier whirls around, dives back into the pool and swims down, down, until there is no more light to be found, until all that can guide him is the shock of white hair which seems almost to glow in the murky depths of the lagoon. He grabs ahold of Geralt’s armor, and tries to swim up, panic rising in his chest as the witcher’s dead weight pulls them down. Fumbling with the straps, head spinning as the lack of air begins to overtake him, he pulls the armor off and abandons it, hooking his arms under Geralt’s shoulders instead. With a mighty heave, pushing off from the very bottom, he propels them up. Every movement of his legs is agony, and Geralt is far from light, but something, call it adrenaline or true love or plain fear, keeps him moving.

 

They break the surface with Jaskier gasping and Geralt unmoving, and the bard lets out a desperate sob as he drags the Witcher up onto the bank. Stumbling toward Roac Jaskier rifles frantically through the witcher’s bags, tossing aside potions and salves, seeking something, anything that will help, but there’s nothing. Only the black vials of Geralt’s witcher serums, useless unless he’s awake. He crawls across the ground, slipping on blood and holding back vomit when he realizes he can’t tell if it’s the creatures or Geralts, and slides to a halt beside him. 

 

There is blood seeping from his stomach, his shoulder, his thigh. His face is pallid and pale, his white hair plastered to his forehead. He is still as death, no crack of those amber eyes, no pinch of those full lips. Geralt is often tranquil, unmoving, but now, motionless on the ground, Jaskier thinks he’s never looked quite so still. 

 

“Geralt,” He whispers, cupping the the witcher's slack face between his hands, “Geralt, wake up.” He’s known fear many times in his life; the world is harsh, and cruel, and painful to a fault, but he has never felt it like he does, now. Panic and desperation push all rational thought from his brain as he pulls Geralt’s limp body into his arms, cradles his head against his chest, strokes his drenched hair. “Geralt, please.” Not like this, he thinks, prays to whatever may be close by and listening, please, don’t take him like this.

 

 

 

Something flashes to mind from his childhood, a boy from the village falling into the river and his frantic mother beating on his chest until the water came out. Desperate, tears pooling in his eyes, Jaskier wraps his arms around Geralt’s chest and heaves, once, twice, three times, slamming his clasped hands down again and again until water spurts from his mouth, until he jerks and wheezes and coughs up more. He’s shivering, his entire body trembling with the cold and the wet and the lingering touches of death which had snuck their tendrils into him, and Jaskier holds him as tight as he can, breathing heavily into his filthy hair. 

 

“Jaskier,” Geralt’s voice is like shards of glass, his chest is heaving. “Did you just kill a giant centipede?” He lets out some broken sound that resembles a laugh, and Jaskier feels laughter of his own start to bubble up from his chest. 

 

“I—I did.” Giggling hysterically, clutching to Geralt for dear life as he fights to breathe through his spasming lungs. “I absolutely did.” 

 

“I mean it’s—“ Geralt is shaking differently, now, great booming laughs working their way out of him, ones Jaskier’s never heard before, “It’s dead, you—it’s fucking dead! You.” He pokes Jaskier square in the chest. “You killed a fucking monster.” They sit there in this fashion, marveling hysterically at the bards handiwork and cackling, for a moment before they run out of air and collapse on the beach again, breathing hard. Jaskier pulls at Geralt's shirt, tearing the already ruined fabric until he can inspect the wound in his stomach, and Geralt runs his fingers over Jaskier’s ribs, his neck, his shoulders, checking for cracked or broken bones.  

 

“Alright, Dandelion?” He eventually asks, hands stopping cupped around Jaskier’s face, and the bard nods. 

 

“Think so.” He kisses Geralt’s palm, and Geralt hums. 

 

I would die, he thinks, I would die to keep you living. 

 

 

 

He should have known as soon as the creature kissed him that something wasn’t right. 

 

But he’s tired, and it’s been a long, hard day; a long hard ride with not a break nor pit stop to be had as they fled the outskirts of Blaviken, having stumbled upon it by accident. He’s in a foul mood, as is Geralt, though he thinks perhaps it’s for different reasons. Geralt’s angry because its brought back memories he’d rather leave forgotten. Jaskier’s angry because Geralt shouldn’t have to flee from anywhere. He’s setting up the fire while Geralt hunts and when he returns, empty-handed, Jaskier scoffs. 

 

“Some witcher you are.” He mutters, clacking the flint and steel until the little bundles of dry grass he’s had to substitute for kindling begins to catch. “Not even a rabbit? You’re losing your touch, Wolf.” 

 

Abruptly, and with no warning, he’s jerked away from the fire. Rough hands grip hard at his shoulders, hauling him off the ground, and slam his back into a nearby tree. He opens his mouth to speak, some jab about animals without manners on the tip of his tongue, but he’s cut off when lips claim his own. It’s hard, and biting, brutally different from what he’s come to expect from Geralt. He manages a startled ‘what—‘ between breaths before those hands come up to grip his face bruisingly hard, too hard, so hard he feels his skull may crack from the pressure. 

 

And then they grab his hips, flip him around, and tug at the band of his trousers. 

 

“G-Geralt—“ He tries, and there are fingers (rough, cruel fingers) undoing his belt and something thick pressing against him from behind and teeth (too sharp, too hard) biting into his neck. “Love, the oil—“ 

 

Shut up.” And they play, sometimes, they play at this, at the tense, hot thing between them, but they’re always safe, they have a word, and there’s venom in that voice, savage and vicious as his pants are ripped down, his cheeks spread. 

 

 

He’s not afraid of Geralt. He never has been, not since that first day in the bar, and not for a single second after. But now, in this moment, he feels cold dread coil in his belly, a thread of doubt within him. Fears, for the first and only time, the Witcher he has bound his destiny to. 

 

“Wait, no, don’t—“ He’s cut off as his face is slammed into the tree, bark catching, blood trickling from his broken skin. 

 

“Shut up—“  The hands move back to his hips, pulling them back, forcing something between them, and Jaskier can’t stop the sob that breaks its way out of him, can’t do anything but close his eyes and pray—

 

A whistling sound. A thunk, A grunt. The body behind him stiffens, hands bone-crushingly tight around his hips, and then falls away. He hears the heavy thump as it hits the ground but doesn’t look, doesn’t dare, just wrenches himself away from the tree and stumbles forward into the darkness. He yanks his pants back up as he runs, tears spilling down his cheeks, chest heaving but feeling as though no air has entered his lungs in some time. 

 

Someone catches him, stops his dead bolt for the darkness, drag him back against a thick chest, and he distantly hears himself scream. Suddenly he’s free again, and he staggers away, collapses against another tree, chances a look over his shoulder. 

 

Geralt crouches, hands hovering uncertainly, yellow eyes wide and bright in the dark, and behind him—

 

Behind him, Geralt lies on the ground, a crossbow bolt protruding from the center of his back. He watches, dumbstruck, as the second Geralt’s body begins to shiver and shake, skin shifting and peeling away, bones cracking and flesh splitting until it no longer resembles the Witcher he knows and loves. Until all that remains is pale, almost translucent flesh and beady, sightless eyes. 

 

Panting, head swimming, he lets his gaze fall back to the remaining Geralt, the one slowly inching toward him, and Geralt never looks afraid, per say, but there’s something halting, tentative in the way he moves toward Jaskier, now. He stops a few feet from him, settles down onto one knee but leaves his hands up, yielding. 

 

“What—“ Jaskier can barely register his own words over the pounding of his pulse in his ears, “What—“ 

 

“Doppler.” Geralt’s voice is soft, gentle in a way it rarely ever is, but Jaskier can hear some sort of contempt, some hidden strain of fury in it. “Caught his trail on my way back, came as fast as I could." His hands are still hanging in the air between them, seemingly unsure if he should give space or reach out.

 

“He—it—“ Jaskier swallows, tries to calm his breathing. “It smelled like you.” He shakes his head, torn between throwing himself at Geralt and running again. "It tasted like you.” 

 

“You were afraid.” Geralt blurts, jaw tight. “I smelled it. You’ve never smelled like that before.” He shakes his head, eyes beseeching, voice pleading. “You knew you should be scared. How did you know?” 

 

“I—I don’t know, I—“ He’s scrambling, trying to put his thoughts together, but he can’t get the feeling of those hands out of his head. There’s blood seeping where his face scraped against the tree, his hips ache where they’d gripped him, his head throbs. Geralt shifts just a bit closer, just close enough for his fingertips to brush against Jaskier’s cheek, and it clicks. “It was how he touched me,” he says, with sudden clarity, “like—like he wanted to hurt me. Break me.“ He shakes his head. “You’ve never—never touched me. Like that.” 

 

“Never.” Geralt grits out, all but vibrating, now, and Jaskier can see the effort it’s taking to stay still, to tamp down the decade-ingrained instinct to check him over for injuries, to gather him close. “Never, Jas, I—“ He cuts off, almost pained, and Jaskier crumbles, throws himself forward against Geralt’s chest. 

 

Those arms encircle him, those hands cup his sides, his hips, his cheeks, soft and careful and achingly tender as they press and smooth over him, seeking abnormalities in a body the curve of which has long since been memorized. He buries his face in Geralt’s neck and lets himself feel that touch, lets it sink into him until all he knows is the almost reverent skim of Geralt’s fingertips over his skin, the warm hand on the back of his neck, the soft lips pressed to his forehead. 

 

Geralt is murmuring, lowly, faint whispers into his hair, his temple, grazed across his lips. He thinks he catches his name, a hushed Dandelion, the press of sorry into his skin. Closing his eyes, he listens to that voice and thinks it will have been worth it. 

 

All of this, everything, will have been worth it for one moment with you.

 

 

 

The sun is rising, the floor is covered in blood, and Geralt roars at the sky. 

 

They had tried. He had tried, Jaskier had watched him. He had done everything he could, kept the Striga trapped in her catacomb until the sun rose, kept his swords sheathed and only used his fists to keep from killing her in his fight to stay alive. He had done everything right. 

 

But Geralt had no control over how the girl fell when dawn came. She had lived through half a decade of full moon hunts and armed soldiers, a night of tooth and nail fighting with a trained witcher, but when it came down to it, when her body turned back from that of a monster to that of a girl, her head hit the stone corner of the tomb. Her neck snapped instantly, there was no pain, no suffering. Jaskier knows this because he watched through the window of the crypt as Geralt sealed himself within the tomb, watched her stumble and fall, watched her limp form hit the stone floor. 

 

And now, hidden outside the sepulcher, he watches as Geralt shifts the lid off the coffin, as he crawls out from beneath it, as his eyes land on the girls body, the awkward angle of her neck, her empty, sightless gaze. For seconds that stretch on for miles Geralt stares at her, frozen in place, amber eyes flashing in the darkness. Slowly, achingly slow, he steps around her, releases the binding on the door, stumbles into the early morning light. 

 

An animal noise escapes him, something Jaskier doesn’t think any human could produce, and he falls to his knees, fists cliched, eyes flaming. Geralt screams and roars and gnashes his teeth, and when he’s done he collapses forward, catches himself on his hands, his shoulders trembling. 

 

It’s then, when the rage, the pain, have subsided, when the animal part of him has exhausted itself, that Jaskier moves forward. He sinks down behind Geralt and drapes himself across the witcher’s back, wraps his arms around that broad chest and nudges his nose into the gap in his armor just above his shoulder. 

 

“You did your best.” He whispers, feels Geralt tense and growl beneath him, but instead of bucking him off, Geralt reaches up and grips his forearms, keeping him close, keeping his hold tight. “It’s not your fault. Geralt.” He hisses, when another harsh, broken sound emanates from the witcher’s chest, digs his fingers into his ribs and forces him to pay attention. “It’s not your fault.” 

 

They stay there like that until the sun has fully risen over the horizon. Jaskier gentles Geralt’s hair, his cheeks, whispers reassurances in his ear as the sky turns grey, then celandine, then blue. 

 

“I love you.” He says it for the first time in that bloodstained graveyard, breathes it over and over, like a mantra, because he can’t, can’t think of anything else to say. “I love you, Geralt, I love you.”

 

I will love you no matter how many times you fail. 

 

 

When it happens again, its so much worse. 

 

Normally, it wouldn’t happen at all. Normally, Geralt would smell the difference between Jaskier and a doppler, see it in the minutia of his behavior, sense it, in the way he spoke. Normally, Jaskier wouldn’t leave camp alone, and most certainly not if Geralt was injured. Normally, Geralt doesn’t drop his bag en route away from a monster. 

 

But tonight isn’t normal. Tonight, Geralt’s been bit by a basilisk. Tonight, he lies delirious by the fire, cold to the touch but sweating buckets, purple spreading through the veins in his arm where the creatures teeth had sunk in. Tonight, in his hurried escape, he’s dropped one of his pouches, most inconveniently the one containing his last vial of white honey. 

 

And so tonight, Jaskier is scouring the woods with Roach and a torch, desperately searching for a needle in a foliage haystack, when the Doppler comes. 

 

He won’t learn until later what happens while he’s gone. It’ll take days before Geralt can tell him about how it had snuck up from behind, about how gentle it had been at first, how it had stroked his hair and whispered in his ear. How its touches had turned cruel, painful. How it had bound him on the forest floor and hurt him in ways he’d been hurt before, but never by someone he trusted. Never by Jaskier. 

 

Instad, he rides back to camp to find Geralt chained to a stump and himself standing over him, pressing the flat of a hot blade against his chest. Geralt is strong, the strongest man Jaskier’s ever met, but he’s poisoned, his blood is pumping toxins into his slow-beating heart. He’s weak, and vulnerable, and as his skin sizzles and bubbles beneath the knife, he screams, a horrible, grating sound from deep in his chest that make Jaskier’s heart hurt and his bones ache. 

 

He doesn’t stop, doesn’t process, just digs his heels into Roach’s side and urges her forward until they can barrel into the doppler, sending it stumbling off of Geralt and onto the ground. Without hesitation or any semblance of a plan he takes a leap off of Roach and lands on top of it, unable to think of anything but making that sound stop, making sure he never hears it again. He knows very little after that, beyond that his fist hits its face over and over, until his knuckles are red with both their blood, until the thing’s head isn’t shaped right anymore. 

 

At some point the haze of rage and fear clears and he wrenches back from the disfigured corpse, which now no longer looks even passably like him. His right hand aches, he’s pretty sure he broke something laying into its skull, but he ignores it, turns around, crawls toward Geralt with the potion bag still clutched in his left. Geralt’s eyes are listing shut, he’s bleeding sluggishly from a series of savage cuts to his chest and arms that Jaskier can’t bear to look at, his torso is mottled with bruises and burns. Jaskier swallows a sob and pulls the faintly glowing vial from the bag, uncorks it with his teeth and reaches out with bloodstained hands to tilt Geralt’s head up and urge him to drink. Geralt’s eyes open and then widen at the sight of him, and he feebly tries to move away, but he’s still chained, and even his great strength can’t overpower Jaskier in this moment. 

 

He fights through the instinct to move away, to give him space, to unchain him and let him run into the woods away from the face that just tortured him. The fear in Geralt’s eyes is almost too much, almost pushes him over the edge, but he grits his teeth and carefully cups the back of his head and eases the potion into his mouth. Geralt resists for a moment but gives in when the taste of the honey hits his tongue, drinks it down and swallows without argument. 

 

When he’s finished, Jaskier moves almost mechanically, feeling as though he is no longer connected to his body as he picks the lock on the chains which spiral up Geralt’s arms, wrist to shoulder. They’re so tight that they’ve bitten into his skin, and Jaskier instinctively starts to rub at the indents. 

 

With a jerk, Geralt flinches away, rolling across the ground in spite of his wounds and lands in a shaky crouch. His golden eyes are wild, feral, his teeth bared. Beaten, burnt, and bloodied, Geralt hunches his shoulders and prepares, weakened and weary as he is, to fight with his last breath, and Jaskier—

 

Jaskier collapses back onto his ass and lets the tears overtake him. His chest seizes, his lungs clench, his shoulders shake and heave with each wracked sob. He would have been taken by that doppler a hundred times, a thousand, if it had meant this would never happen to Geralt. Any pain or humiliation, any violation the world could have offered him he would have borne with pride to keep Geralt from ever knowing what this felt like. He cries because he failed, because this will change everything, with the unshakable knowledge that Geralt will never love him the same way, again. That he was too late to fix this. That he was too late to help. 

 

But then—

 

Trembling fingertips press his elbow, his arm, his shoulder. A soft nose presses into his hair, inhaling deeply, processing, remembering. He’s afraid to lift his head, afraid this will be some panicked dream, as he feels hot, heavy breath on his forehead. But, in spite of the fear, something within him urges him to look up anyway. 

 

And Geralt is there, Geralt is right there, right in Jaskier’s space, amber gaze fixed on him, brushing his cheek with worn knuckles, suddenly steady and still as the air at dawn. Jaskier can’t help himself, can’t even think, just reaches up and cups those beautiful, perfect, bleeding cheeks between his hands, strokes his thumbs over that strong jaw. 

 

“If—“ His voice sounds like gravel over rocks, hoarse and harsh and painful to the ear. “If I’d gotten back sooner—“ Before he can finish Geralt makes a pained, guttural sound, and suddenly he’s not still, anymore. It’s as though Jaskier’s words have broken some rising tension within him, some bowstring-tight thing that’s kept him away. 

 

He all but tackles Jaskier, lurches forward and wraps thick, unrelenting arms around his waist, reaches up to cup the back of his head, fingers threading firmly into his hair. Jaskier chokes on his own breath and throws his own arms furiously tight around Geralt’s neck, buries his hands in that pure white hair and presses feverish kisses to his forehead, cheek, chin, everywhere he can reach. 

 

“My darling,” he rasps, buries his nose in Geralt’s cheek, kisses him as deep and fierce as he can muster. Geralt shudders, arms tightening around him. “My love.” Runs his fingers across the edges of new wounds which will soon make new scars and shakes his head desperately. “I wouldn’t. I-I couldn’t.” Geralt’s trembling in his hold, his breaths coming out ragged and uneven. Jaskier feels a hurt sound bubble from his chest. “Gods, Geralt, I’d never.” It feels like a shallow echo of the words Geralt had said to him all those months ago, but to Geralt’s ears it must be the right thing to say because he burrows closer, sniffs along Jaskier’s throat and shoulder, scenting, memorizing, confirming. 

 

Geralt doesn’t speak that night, doesn’t make much sound at all beyond  the soft grunts and hisses he emits as Jaskier cleans his wounds, dabs ointment on his burns, wraps his cracked ribs. When he’s satisfied that nothing’s going to get infected, Jaskier smooths his palms over Geralt’s shoulders and arms, the planes of his chest, gentle, careful. He pulls Geralt to lay in his lap on the bedroll, cushioned from the cold, hard ground, uninjured side resting on his belly, head on his chest, and combs his fingers through snow-white hair until the witcher’s breaths slow and he slips into unconsciousness. 

 

Jaskier does not sleep. He sits back against the trunk of a great oak, bracketing his witcher with his legs, fingers pressed to that dull, slow pulse, and keeps vigil through the night, eyes tracking through the shadows, coiled and ready to spring. 

 

This will never happen again. 

 

If I have to die trying, I will keep this from happening again. 

 

 

He’s always wanted to see Skellige but he never thought it would be like this. 

 

They’ve been on Ard Skellig less than a day when an old friend of Geralt’s gives him a contract; a succubus gone rogue in an abandoned mill, villagers disappearing from around Kaer Trolde. 

 

They travel together, because Jaskier’s never met a succubus before and Geralt’s getting worse at saying ‘no’ when he insist on joining. It’s a long trek but it only takes an hour or so on horseback, and when they reach the mill the sun’s only just starting to set. 

 

It happens so fast, Jaskier will remember later, and wonder when that became a regular part of his vocabulary. 

 

They’re two steps inside the mill when the doors, previously hanging off their hinges in various states of disarray, slam shut. Geralt draws his sword immediately, drops into a crouch. 

 

“No need for the theatrics, Witcher.” A voice, smooth and sultry as smoke drifts through the mill, and out of the darkness before them a creature slithers forward. The torso and face of a beautiful woman bled into the body of a great scorpion, its clicking legs reminding Jaskier with a lurch of his stomach of the river creature they had fought at Crows Perch. “You haven’t much time, I’m afraid, so you may want to make the most of it if you want to save your little bard.” 

 

“What are you on about?” Geralt demands, and she laughs, a harsh, cruel sound. 

 

“It’s simple.” She drawls, and a bottle appears from seemingly nowhere in her clawed hand. “One of you may live, the other will die. But either way, I must feed.” She twirls the bottle around her fingers, and grins. “Love sustains us all, doesn’t it? So ask yourselves. Who has more to give?" Tossing the bottle in an arc across the room and winking when Geralt catches it, she continues. “The potion will protect one of you from my powers. Always fun to watch lovers torn apart.” Her spiked tail hovers behind her, her eyes glow red and hungry. “The drama is exquisite."

 

Geralt stands still for a moment, worrying the bottle in his palm, and then turns, wordlessly, and shoves the potion into Jaskier’s hands. Mouth working soundlessly, Jaskier shake this head, and Geralt growls. 

 

“Jaskier, take the potion.” 

 

“Absolutely not, that makes no sense.” He shakes his head, presses it back into Geralt’s hand. “Why would I take it?” 

 

“Jaskier if you don’t swallow this right now—“

 

“It’ll be feeding on love, right?” He curls his fingers in the front of Geralt’s armor and tugs. “Right?” 

 

“Yes, but—“

 

“Then you have to take it.”

 

I’ll be fine, Dandelion, please—“

 

“It’ll take longer to finish me.” He says, evenly, reaches up to stroke a lock of hair away from Geralt’s forehead. “You’ll have more time to kill it.” 

 

“Why the fuck do you think that?” Geralt growls, frustrated desperation coloring his tone. “What are you talking about."

 

“You know why.” Jaskier murmurs, traces his jaw. “We’ve always known, darling, it’s alright.” 

 

“Known what?” Geralt’s fingers are white-knuckle around the hilt of his sword, his amber eyes burning fire-bright, and Jaskier feels his cracked heart shatter as he realizes that maybe he doesn't

 

“That I love you more.” He whispers, thumbing Geralt’s temple. “That I love you most.” Geralt’s mouth works but no sound comes forth, he’s struck dumb by Jaskier’s words, and Jaskier can’t help but lean up and kiss that handsome cheek. “Don’t be thick, Geralt, I’m human. You couldn’t love me like I love you if you tried.” He whispers, and abruptly, Geralt pulls back. 

 

“Bullshit.” He hisses, and Jaskier blinks in surprise. 

 

“What?” 

 

Bullshit.” Geralt drags him close and crushes Jaskier to his chest, fingers threading into the short hair at the back of his head. “Bullshit you love me more. How could you?” He shakes his head, his voice ragged, and Jaskier makes a noise not unlike a growl. 

 

“Don’t fuck with me, Geralt, we haven’t the time—“ 

 

“I love you knowing I’ll lose you.” Geralt blurts, and his lips are against Jaskier's ear, his arm is snaking iron-tight around his waist, his heartbeat is almost the speed of a normal man’s. “Every morning I wake up and wonder if today will be the day you die. Every evening I fall asleep praying I can keep you another night.” He shakes his head, swallows, thickly. “I have to cherish every second I have with you because one day I won’t anymore. Because no matter what I do, how long I can stave it off, whether by the sword or the slow decay of time, you will die.” Pressing his nose against Jaskier’s temple, Geralt closes his eyes. “Witchers don’t feel like humans do, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel, Jaskier.” They’ve been talking too long. Jaskier can feel his body weakening already, can feel the pull of exhaustion on his bones, and he leans into Geralt. 

 

“I can’t lose you.” He whispers, and Geralt is uncorking the bottle with his teeth, Geralt is pressing it to his lips. Geralt is murmuring into his cheek, a plea, a prayer;

 

“You won’t.” The potion tastes like red wine and ocean air, sea salt and clove, and he feels dizzy but rejuvenated when it slides down his throat, feels it prickle its way through his muscles as Geralt kisses him, just once, softly, and then lets him go. 

 

It’s like time slows, as he stumbles back and sinks against the wall. He watches, stunned, as Geralt rears up, silver sword glinting in his hand, eyes flashing liquid gold, as he moves forward, each coiled movement deliberate, each practiced step a statement. The creature hisses hisses, unfurls her winding tail, and lunges with a shriek. 

 

Geralt is a miracle in motion. It’s always a pleasure to watch him work, but this is something else. The sheer grace in his footwork, the savage wrench of his sword, the relaxed set of his shoulders are altogether new. He is not tense. He is not afraid. 

 

He knows a love like no other and it makes him strong.  

 

The thing lashes out and Geralt rolls to the side, lands in a crouch and thrusts his free hand forward, igni bursting from his fingertips, charring and blackening the creature’s side. It screeches, inhuman and piercing, and lunges with its tail, but Geralt is faster. The blade sings, the creature screams, and its tail falls limp to the ground, blood spurting from the open wound. 

 

Geralt rolls, again, posture stilling for the briefest of moments as quen surrounds him, the golden glow of the shield glinting off his eyes, and then lunges forward, burying his sword to the hilt in the center of the creature’s chest. She shudders, shakes, mouth moving soundlessly as air tries and fails to escape her ruined lungs, and then collapses, Geralts sword still sunk deep in her abdomen. She falls to the ground with an almighty thump, and Geralt wrenches his blade from her body and stands triumphant, soaked in crimson blood, hair shining in the moonlight and breathing with all the power of a conquering god coursing through him. 

 

He strides toward Jaskier with that power thrumming in his steps, hooks an arm around the bards waist and pulls him in, kisses him long and deep and hard with his hand splayed over Jaskier’s back and a hum building in his chest. Jaskier lets out a strained sound and clings to him, fingers tracing his face, burying in his hair. 

 

“How could you.” Geralt growls, drops his sword and grips Jaskier’s face with his free hand. “How could you think that?” There’s anger in his eyes, fury in his amber gaze, but theres something deeper, something scratching at his voice, and now that Jaskier’s heard it once he knows what it is. 

 

“I’m sorry.” He rasps, kisses Geralt again, holds that perfect face in his hands and cradles it like the precious thing it is. “I didn’t know. Darling, you must believe me, I didn’t know.” 

 

How.” Geralt’s breaths are ragged, his body is a hard line against Jaskier’s. “How did you not know, did you think—“ He shakes his head, swallows, thickly. “All this time you thought I didn’t—“ 

 

“I knew you did.” Jaskier cuts him off, kisses his nose, his brow, his cheeks. “I always knew that, but darling you’re not human. I know witchers feel but I didn’t know how much.” 

 

When I feel something,” Geralt hisses, his hold on Jaskier so tight its almost crushing, “It’s strong. It’s why I have to be so careful around humans. Because what I feel for them, it’s—“ He shakes his head, buries his face in the crook of Jaskier’s neck. “Everything.” 

 

“My darling,” Jaskier gasps, draws him up and kisses him soundly, strokes his jaw and cradles him close. “I love you so.” 

 

I love you.” Geralt snarls into his mouth, his cheek, his ear. “Dandelion.” Jaskier shudders at the growled petname, sinks his fingers into Geralt’s hair. “I love you.” 

 

I will love you until I am dead.

 

I will love you until I am dust.