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your head tilt back, your funny mouth to the clouds

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i.

It takes time to get used to Jaskier. Less time than Geralt would ever admit, maybe even to himself, because the bard has a strange kind of charm to him that seems able to get under even the toughest of skins. Geralt considers his skin fairly fucking tough. 

It takes time, but Geralt takes to the strange little man. Boy, at first. When he thinks to ask the boy how old he is, some weeks into their… travels (“adventures,” Jaskier insists, “I’m sticking around for at least a few more ballads,”), Jaskier sputters, hands curled defensively around his instrument, and says “I’ll be nineteen soon. Two months--less than! Which is basically twenty.”

Geralt has a bit of a crisis about it. Kind of. Pushes it down, because, however young he is, he is an adult. Geralt can barely remember being thirty, let alone eighteen. Fuck. 

It takes time--to get used to the singing, and the talking, and the questions, and the sound of someone walking behind him without the intent to harm. Most disconcerting is the lack of fear. He knows what Jaskier’s fear smells like, courtesy of their first “adventure” together, rope woven around them both, Jaskier pressed so closely against his back that he could feel how fast his heart was racing. When they are alone again, alive, Jaskier is no longer afraid.

Not afraid to be alone with a Witcher.

Fucking idiot. 

Geralt does not understand it. Does not understand Jaskier, who sings his praises and smiles at him when he does it, sends a wink his way as he performs that stupid Toss A Coin song that seems to have spread everywhere like a damn plague. 

He does not understand it. But perhaps, maybe, he appreciates it.

They are riding between towns, one day, when suddenly he hears Jaskier stop moving--actually, he first notices the sudden lack of noise behind him. Silence, coming from Jaskier, is practically unheard of. 

Geralt stops, urging Roach to stop as well, and turns to look behind him. Jaskier is standing stock still, staring out at nothing. At the sky? 

“Jaskier,” Geralt says, remarkably patient, “What the fuck are you looking at.”

Jaskier does not even look at him. Just hums vaguely, which is universally known to be Geralt’s thing.

“The sunset,” the bard says after a moment, an unspoken obviously tacked onto the end.

Geralt didn’t even notice that the sun was setting, too focused to doing math in head, judging how far much distance still lies between them and the next town. If the sun is going down, they might have to make camp in the woods for the night.

The quiet drags on for a moment longer than expected. Geralt can’t tell if Jaskier is expecting Geralt to continue the conversation, or if he’s really that interested in the damn sunset. One sunset among a million others; Jaskier stares at it as if it’s the most interesting thing he’s ever seen.

Geralt sighs, deeply, and takes the bait. “Why?”

Jaskier finally deigns to look at him, glancing at him briefly. “Look at it yourself,” he says simply, “It’s lovely. They don’t always have colors like this.”

Geralt frowns. “Jaskier. Do you know how many sunsets I’ve lived through?”

Jaskier huffs a laugh, softer than Geralt’s heard up to now. 

“Yes, yes--I’m sure you’ve lived through a million sunsets, and are sure to live through a million more. But I’ve only lived through, hm, a few thousand? So they’re still new to me,” Jaskier smiles, then, and his smile is also softer than anything Geralt has seen from him. Jaskier smiles a lot--he is a performer, as he is so fond of saying--but never this… gentle. Sad, almost. It’s disconcerting. “I don’t think I’ll live quite long enough to adjust to the sight of them.”

Geralt does not quite know what to say to that. Human lives are short and fleeting; he knows this. Somehow, he’s never really associated this fact with Jaskier. Jaskier, sometimes, seems to flit about like something magical. Something eternal, like he’s been here longer than anyone else, with his stories and songs, and will be here long after everyone else has gone. 

He won’t be. If Geralt is lucky--if he is competent as a Witcher--Jaskier will die long before Geralt does.

Witchers do not have feelings, but for a moment, Geralt’s heart does this awful little twisting thing, like it’s clenching and unclenching and turning in his chest. What the fuck.

He pushes this feeling down. Jaskier is young, he reminds himself. If he is lucky, and learns to keep his fucking trousers on, he has many years left in him. 

Somehow, the silence becomes unbearable. Geralt loves silence. Only Jaskier could make him want to hear some annoying stream of endless babble. He thinks, again: what the fuck.

“Not a million sunsets,” he finally offers, voice gruff with something he does not think about, “I’m not that old.”

Jaskier sighs, and then laughs--real, this time, or maybe fake. Geralt doesn’t like the fact that he isn’t able to tell.

“Not yet,” the bard teases. Things settle back into place, and so Geralt scoffs, as he usually would. 

“Are you done sightseeing?” he asks.

Jaskier blinks, like he’s surprised that Geralt is taking him somewhat seriously.

He watches the bard take one last, long look at the colorful sky, and then turn away.

“If I must be,” he sighs dramatically, “I suppose we can keep going.”

Geralt hmms. Considers. 

“I suppose,” he says slowly, “that we can stop for the night.”

Jaskier lights up, a sunrise. “Really?”

Geralt hmms again. Jaskier must interpret this as a resounding yes, because he raises his arms in some sort of strange victory pump, and smiles wide. 

Geralt sends him off to collect firewood while Geralt himself hunts down their dinner--Jaskier complained about it the first time, and then stopped after he spent the night huddled up as close to the fire as he could without getting scorched and realized having wood for a fire was a good thing. That, and Geralt stared at him, silent, until Jaskier gave up and went to “collect the damn firewood, fine!” 

He rushes through it, getting half of their usual supply, and then waves off Gerald’s annoyance to sit a few feet down the hill, spread out in the middle of the grass and the little yellow flowers the litter the ground, notebook open on his lap, and watches the sun until it sets, head tilted up to soak it in as if it’s the last thing he’ll ever see.

Geralt, quietly, watches Jaskier watch the sky. He watches him pick absently at the flowers as he does it, humming something soft. He looks at home, and at peace. Like he belongs there, among the flowers and the grass like some sort of nymph of legend. Some forest sprite, maybe, a little bird taking human form.

Jaskier. That’s a flower, right? A little yellow one.

No wonder, Geralt thinks, a flower among flowers, and makes himself look away. 

 

ii.

Jaskier, though Geralt would never admit it to his face lest his ego get big enough to crush them all, has a pretty face. There is something delicate in it, just as there is something delicate about his hands and his fingers and his pretty silk clothes that get drenched in the rain and stick to his skin as he shivers hard enough that Geralt is forced to drape his cloak over his shoulders so he doesn’t freeze to death. 

He has the body of a musician, and the face and hands and mouth of one to go with it. 

Geralt doesn’t know if Jaskier isn’t aware of the way people look at him, or if he knows and doesn’t quite care. Hell, maybe he enjoys it, the vain little thing. He disappears with enough people, women and men alike, for him to have some idea. He must. 

Geralt just wishes he wouldn’t flaunt it so much. He wishes Jaskier wasn’t so… open to everyone who gave him the time of day, wasn’t so excitable and vulnerable. Because that’s what he is, when he sings loud and prances around and winks at everyone who smiles at him—even the sleazy ones. 

Still. Whenever he gets the opportunity to perform, Jaskier will meet his eye across the room where Geralt sits in the corner, and he’ll smile that smile that he seems to have reserved only for him. The fact that he knows the subtle nuances of Jaskier’s Smiles is concerning. He wishes he didn’t know these things. But he does, and Jaskier is a magnet, even when he tries not to be—a loud, charmingly annoying magnet with pretty blue eyes and ridiculous blue pants and a pretty little voice to tie it all together. 

He saunters over to Geralt’s table, once he’s finished for the night. Or at least, he starts to saunter over, before Geralt notices the lack of music and the lack of Jaskier and looks up to see the bard backed against the bar, somebody’s hands braced on both sides of him. 

For a moment, Geralt thinks that he’s found another quick lover for the night, until he takes in the bard’s uncomfortable body language, the way he stands like he’s trying to melt into the wall, and, most prominent, the faintest tang of fear in the air. Geralt knows, keenly, what Jaskier’s fear smells like. 

He stands up. 

Jaskier is babbling, of course, the way he does when he’s nervous, and he’s smiling the way he does when he’s nervous and doesn’t he know better than to smile at a man trying to come onto him? 

“—I really have to be going—very tired from, you know, the monster hunting and all—“

“Thought the Witcher was the one who fought ‘em.” Even the man's voice is sleazy. 

Jaskier laughs, high and nervous, “Well yes, but I can’t get the material for my songs without witnessing them first hand—I’m very serious about my—craft—“

He cuts himself off with a yelp, a flinch, the man’s hand between his legs, Jaskier’s fingers around his wrist, trying to get the hand out from between his legs. Something hot and angry twists in Geralt’s stomach, and, instinctively, he puts a hand on his sword.

“I can tell,” the man breathes into Jaskier’s neck, “You got a pretty voice, little songbird, bet you’d sound real nice singing for m—“

“Geralt!” Jaskier gasps when he sees him approaching, all high and relieved and breathy. 

The man looks up as well. Doesn’t remove his hand from between Jaskier’s legs.

“Witcher,” he says, looking him up and down as if Geralt doesn’t tower over him; Geralt smells alcohol on the man’s breath—liquid fucking courage, “The one he sings about, huh?”

Geralt doesn’t care to answer. “I suggest you remove your hands and fuck off for the night. He’s not interested.”

“He was plenty bloody interested earlier,” the man says hotly, all ale and angry arousal that makes Geralt’s nose twitch in disgust, “Winkin’ and actin’ all loose.”

Jaskier flinches, minutely. Flushes and glances away from them both. 

“I-I’m sorry if you got the wrong impression,” Jaskier stutters, “but I’m quite tired, quite taken for the night—“

“What, you off to fuck your Witcher?” the man spits, leering, “That why he keeps you around? Listen, I’ll even pay—how much for a night?” He addresses Geralt this time, far too casually and far too fucking cocky. 

Geralt tightens his grip on his sword, “He’s not for sale.” 

The man frowns, annoyed, “It’s good money. Little bird was practically beggin’ for it—oi!”

He cuts himself off with a surprised yelp as Jaskier knees him between the legs, seemingly finding his courage. He man growls and grasps at him, but Geralt pulls him off by the back of his shirt and shoves him into a table. The legs screech across the floor, and the tavern goes silent. 

“He’s not for sale,” Geralt says again, voice low and dangerous, “And he's not interested. Fuck off.”

The man seems to consider his options. He glances around, sees that no one is coming to his aid, and makes his first good decision of the evening: he mumbles a half-assed apology and walks away. 

The tavern is silent for another moment or two, everyone holding their breath, until Jaskier exhales, laughs, and says, “A simple misunderstanding! Nothing to worry about, please don’t let it ruin the fun.” 

The noise starts up again, and the two of them escape to their room. 

“What the fuck was that?” Geralt snarls as soon as the door slams shut behind them.

Jaskier crosses his arms and has the gall to look offended. 

“Well, to me it seemed like a drunk with wandering hands followed by an unnecessary altercation.”

“Unnecessary?” Geralt repeats, “You’re always getting yourself into trouble with no thought of how to get out of it.”

Jaskier scoffs, the flicker of hurt in his eyes, and says, “I appreciate your help, Geralt, but I didn’t need it.”

Geralt just stares at him for a moment, disbelieving.

“Would you rather me have sat there and watched.”

“Gods, of course not! But it’s not the first time I’ve—I would’ve dealt with it.”

“How? By standing there and letting him—?”

Jaskier inhales sharply, but doesn’t look away. “I would’ve dealt with it. Sometimes it’s easier to just…” 

“To just what?” Geralt says, low, something warm prickling under his skin and the scent of Jaskier’s anxiety in the air.

“To just,” Jaskier huffs, “Sometimes it makes it worse! Sometimes telling them to fuck off is the right choice, and sometimes it’s not. You can’t always—make a scene like that!”

For a moment, Geralt can’t quite process what he’s hearing. Jaskier takes this silence as a judgement.

“Obviously, I would’ve told this one to fuck off,” he adds, as if that’s the part of it that Geralt has a problem with. 

“Jaskier,” he starts, and then stops. He is very acutely aware that he is not equipped to unpack this. Something angry and hurt and protective curls in his chest, and he is not equipped for this at all. For a moment, he wants to ask, wants to demand who exactly would he not tell to fuck off, and then decides he does not want to hear the answer. He’s been around long enough that he can gather the answer himself—the rich, of course, those with power; nobles, lords and ladies and royalty. Bards gain their reputation in court. Wouldn’t want to mess that up. 

Fuck. Shit. What the fuck.

Jaskier looks at him, blue eyes hard and tired and shining, holding none of their usual open mirth. Mirth that the man downstairs held against him.

“You shouldn’t act so…” 

“So what?” Jaskier demands immediately, shoulder drawing up tight, “So loose?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“It’s what you were thinking. A bard is barely a step up from a whore, isn’t that right?”

If Geralt were not Geralt, he would’ve flinched at the venom in Jaskier’s tone; he’s heard him angry before, but never like this. This is something he’s never seen. (Who has said this to him, he wonders, and how many times must he have heard it?)

“Jaskier,” he says, firm, “Calm down.”

Jaskier looks even more offended, “Fuck you! Don’t call me a whore and then tell me to calm down.” 

“Jaskier,” Geralt barks, struggling to articulate, “I didn’t call you a—I’m just—I’m… worried. For you. I won’t always be there to… help.” 

That seems to draw Jaskier up short. The tension drains from his body, and his anger seems to evaporate into an air of exhaustion.

“Oh,” he says, voice small; for the first time in a while, Geralt is reminded of how young Jaskier is, compared to him. “That’s… nice of you. But it’s fine. I’ve made it this far, yes?” He tries for a smile; it doesn’t sit right on his face.

Geralt gives an unconvinced hmm, suddenly feeling just as exhausted as Jaskier looks. 

Jaskier wets his lips nervously, fingers twisting in the fabric of his opposite sleeves. “I’m tired,” he says, effectively ending the conversation. They should probably talk about this, Geralt knows, but he is self aware enough to know that he doesn’t have the faintest clue how to navigate that kind of conversation, besides trying to pry out every name of every person who has—who has taken advantage of his friend’s kind smiles and gentle nature. 

“Then you should sleep,” is what he says. 

Jaskier sleeps. Geralt tries not to watch him. 

The next day, Geralt goes to the blacksmith and fashions Jaskier a dagger, something small, and then takes it to jeweler’s to get the handle prettied up, sticks on some rubies and nice colored stones that he knows Jaskier will appreciate, vain little thing that he is. 

When he shoves it at him later, with a rough “Take it,” Jaskier blinks down at it for a moment or two, and lights up—the second sunrise of the day—and suddenly it’s like last night never happened.

“Oh, it’s lovely!” He coos, like he’s holding a newborn baby instead of a small weapon, “Thank you, my friend! Though, you do know I carry a dagger already, right?”

Geralt did not know this. Jaskier laughs at the look on his face, and pats him on the arm. “This one is much better,” he assures him solemnly, “I’ll carry it with me always.” 

Geralt hmms. He spoke more words last night than he has in a while, and it wore him out. Jaskier smiles, soft, like he knows, and says, “Thank you, really.”

Geralt nods. Jaskier nods back, sharp, and turns to march over to Roach, seemingly content with it. Geralt watches him slip the dagger under his doublet, hold it there for a moment, for two, and then leave it to pet the horse instead.

 

iii.

While the idiot can’t seem to stand up for himself to save his life, he seems to have no problem getting in quarrels for Geralt’s sake. There is one memorable moment where he threw a bowl of soup at a man who addressed Geralt as ‘it’ and then called him a beastly motherfucker when his back was turned. 

This time, Geralt has just returned from an unremarkable hour putting down a few unremarkable drowners; Jaskier had been convinced to stay behind, mostly because he had just bought a pretty new blue silk shirt and had “enough experience with those nasty motherfuckers to last a lifetime, thanks,” in reference to the time he nearly got dragged to the bottom of a lake by one of them. It made dispatching them easier, without Jaskier running around making noise; it also made him strangely uneasy, without Jaskier running around making noise. Hm. 

He is setting Roach up in the stables for the night, when there is a loud crash from the inn he left Jaskier in, followed by the general drunken yells of a bar fight. He is halfway there before he even thinks about it. More yelling--this time, he can hear Jaskier’s voice among them. Of course. 

Geralt bursts through the door and takes in the scene. 

The scene is this: two men, one broad and the other tall and lean, and Jaskier, thrashing in the broad one’s arms and spitting like an angry cat; the lean man’s nose is bleeding, Jaskier’s knuckles bloody, and Jaskier’s pretty, blue silk shirt stained red from his own bloody nose. 

The door hits the wall loud enough that the room falls silent, all eyes on him--including Jaskier, and the two men. In three long strides, Geralt is close enough to grab Jaskier bodily by the arm and yank him out of the broad one’s arms.

“Geralt,” he says, voice soft and oddly embarrassed.

“Whatever he’s done,” Geralt says to the two men, ignoring the bard’s indignant squawk behind him, “I'm sure he didn’t mean it.”

The lean man scoffs, “Little fucker sure meant to hit me.”

Jaskier scoffs right back, “I sure did, you son of a--”

“Jaskier,” Geralt warns, at the same time the innkeeper stomps in and says, “Witcher! Control your bard or the two of you can pack up and leave.”

He hears Jaskier inhale, ready to say something to the innkeeper that will surely get them kicked out, so he shoves a large hand over the bard’s mouth and says, “We’ll take our leave for the night.”

Jaskier makes an offended noise under his hand, but allows Geralt to drag him up the stairs, flipping the two men off over his shoulder as he goes.

Geralt releases him once the door swings shut, and he suddenly feels as though they’ve done this very same thing before--instead of the scent of Jaskier’s blood in the air, it was the scent of his fear. Jaskier looks much angrier now than he did then, crossing his arms and dropping down to sit on the edge of the bed.

His nose is still bleeding, though sluggishly. Geralt has the urge to reach out and wipe it away. He clenches his hand into a fist so that he does not do this. 

Jaskier does it himself, anyways, drags the back of his hand across his face like it’ll do any help and just ends up smearing it everywhere, the idiot. Geralt rolls his eyes and stands to grab a bucket and a washcloth.

“Here,” he says, interrupting Jaskier’s attempts to paint the rest of his face dark red. Jaskier blinks and then takes them with a smile. 

When Geralt turns to go find something to busy himself with, Jaskier clears his throat lightly.

“Would you,” he starts, sounding strangely nervous, “Would you, um, mind?” 

He holds the bucket and towel out like a tentative peace offering, bloody knuckles and bloody teeth and bloody new shirt. Geralt sighs, deeply, and sits back down. 

He dips the washcloth into the water, and holds it to Jaskier’s nose, gentle as he can. Gentleness is like a foreign language, to him, but from the way Jaskier sighs and leans into it, he supposes he must be doing something right. 

“Why’d you punch the guy?” He finally asks.

Jaskier scrunches his nose up at the question, and then winces.

“Does it matter?”

Geralt raises an eyebrow, “We almost got kicked out.”

Jaskier mutters something under his breath about how it was hardly his fault, and sighs in defeat. “He was just… they were having a laugh about—about you. Saying some ridiculous, uneducated shit about Witchers and about you and implying that you were going to make off with the mayor’s coin in the night or some shit.” 

He’s nearly ranting by the end of it, arms gesturing wildly. The silence stretches on for a moment once he’s done, and Geralt dips the cloth back into the water. The blood is nearly gone, leaving damp skin in its place. The words take a moment to sink in.

“Were you… defending my honor?” Geralt asks, a hairbreadth away from teasing, and he enjoys the way that Jaskier flushes and huffs, putting his hand on his hips and shaking his head, like Geralt is just unbelievable

Unbelievable!” he says, “See if I ever do it again, asshole! Ugh, I ruin my lovely new shirt in your name and this is how you thank me for it?”

“No one asked you to start swinging,” Geralt points out, even as something in his chest goes warm; no one’s ever defended his honor before, like he’s some noble knight or fair maiden. He is neither of those things, thank the gods, and yet…. something in him warms. Fond.

Jaskier seems to deflate, a soft frown, and that doesn’t quite sit right with him. Geralt sighs, “I… appreciate it.”

Jaskier perks up again, “You do?”

“Mm,” he nods, “You’re the first.” 

Instead of going off on another tirade, as he usually does, Jaskier’s face falls, just a bit. He looks at him, eyes sharp in a way Geralt isn’t used to. Smiles again.

“Well, that’s a shame,” he says airily, “You have much honor to be defended. Now!” He sticks a finger in the air before Geralt has time to disagree with him, “I think you owe me a new shirt.”

“I owe you no such thing.”

(Two towns over, Geralt buys him a new shirt.)