Actions

Work Header

O, Empathy

Chapter Text

“Tell me,” said Geralt, through gritted teeth, “exactly how this happened. Was it a spell? A curse? Did you try to sleep with the wrong village witch?”

“Sorcerer, actually,” said Jaskier. “And you are in NO position to lecture me about sex with gorgeous magicians, Geralt, so don’t even start. And since you really want to know—”

“I don’t,” said Geralt.

“Ah, but you do,” said Jaskier, with a horrible smile. “I am for once entirely within my rights in saying I know that look.”

“I am not,” said Geralt, hands clenched into fists, “giving you a look.”

“You are!” said Jaskier. “That one,” he continued, pointing, “says, oh, he couldn’t possibly be that gorgeous, nothing is worth this— but he was, thank you! Tall, sharp, and dangerous, which is right up my—” he cut himself off, at once, but the hand stayed up.

“Put— stop pointing at me,” said Geralt. “I— you look like a fool.”

“Oh, I’m a fool, I like that,” said Jaskier. “Meanwhile you’re standing there like an absolute—” he recovered enough to shift from a point into wild gesticulation— ”ignorant idiot!”

“I’m what? ” said Geralt, doing his best to sound dangerous and coming up rather short.

“You’re going to ruin the line of the jacket if you keep… aggressively slouching!” said Jaskier. “I’m not— you can’t— it cost a month’s worth of work and it’s going to have permanent wrinkles!

Fine,” said Geralt, and tried to sit down in the room’s single small, wooden chair. His first attempt missed by several inches, expecting the seat to catch him just slightly higher than it did, and he ended up in a slouch only slightly less aggressive than his lean on the wall had apparently been. “How the fuck did you insult a sorceror this badly.”

“I may have,” said Jaskier, “possibly, sort of, called him by the wrong name.”

“That doesn’t seem so bad—”

“At a rather heated moment,” said Jaskier.

“Why were you arguing with a man you wanted to—”

“He had his tongue in my— my throat, ” said Jaskier. “As for arguing, honestly, as if I’d ever let a little thing like that stop me from pining—”

How did you manage,” asked Geralt, with infinite patience and only a desire to know the facts, and not at all a little meanhearted glee, “to insult a sorcerer while his tongue was down your throat?”

Don’t make me recount the entire sordid affair, Geralt,” said Jaskier, with a surprising note of desperation breaking through the gruff monotone. “I’m already having a rather shit day and all I’ve done so far is wake up.”

“In my body,” said Geralt.

“Yes,” said Jaskier, with the insolent cadence that was unmistakably Jaskier’s, but in Geralt’s voice, emerging from Geralt’s face and frame.

“And I’ve got yours,” said Geralt, from Jaskier’s.

Yes,” said Jaskier, clapping his— well, Geralt’s— well, temporarily his— hands, “that is, rather, the entire problem. Well done, you’ve cut right to the heart of it, sharp as always.”

“I can understand,” said Geralt, slowly, “why you’d be cursed for that—”

Unfair, really, Geralt—”

“But why am I,” said Geralt, “mixed up in this?”

“Oh, something about being heartless, I don’t know,” said Jaskier, waving his hands dismissively. Geralt couldn’t help but be distracted by his constant movement, thinking: inefficient— too much motion— if we get attacked and he’s not conserving his energy—?

“We need to figure out,” said Geralt, trying again for patience and betrayed by a grating hitch in his tone, “if there’s a curse anchor. Did he give you a spelled object? Anything strange?”

“An anchor…? No,” said Jaskier. He had begun pacing around their little room in what Geralt suspected was a way deliberately meant to annoy him. “After he was done yelling—”

“Yelling what? If you remember the words of the spell—”

“In common, Geralt, not Elder, I’ve traveled with you for years, I do know the difference. In any case, once he was done, he crushed a bunch of perfectly nice flowers and broke a vial over my head, and then he did yell something in Elder Speech, but my ears were ringing so badly I couldn’t make it out. Are you— is your hearing okay?” Jaskier asked suddenly, startled, voice rising slightly over a low growl. “Melitele’s arse, I’ve been so careful around loud noises, I can’t have this be the thing that ruins me—”

“I can hear you fine,” said Geralt, flat. “Then what.”

‘Fine,’” said Jaskier, somehow managing to pout, which was deeply disconcerting for Geralt to see. “‘Fine,’ he says, me with perfect pitch, and all he can manage is he can hear fine? Geralt, you don’t know what you’ve got, you should count yourself lucky—

Then what, Jaskier.”

“Then he opened a portal, and shoved me through it, and I was outside the door to our room, and then— well, you know the rest.”

Geralt did.

 


 

Yesterday afternoon, Geralt had met Jaskier on the road. Geralt had been traveling north, towards Novigrad; Jaskier was headed in the opposite direction. Geralt heard him singing before he saw him, which was usual for Witchers; Geralt generally had plenty of time and warning to avoid someone if he wanted to. But he stayed on the road, kept moving at Roach’s steady plod, until the tune was interrupted, with:

“Geralt!” said Jaskier, brightly. “What a pleasant surprise! Odd to see you here, this time of year. Usually I find you down towards the south, in some horrible backwater shithole, eating slop and drinking whatever passes for rye. I’ve just come from Novigrad’s annual spring festival of the performing arts, where of course I placed very highly.”

That was rather a lot of conversational openings. “Hm,” said Geralt.

“Where are you bound? I could use a drinking companion, because, you see, I didn’t actually win this year. I was only defeated because a small-time publisher was sponsoring the winner, some young brat of a know-nothing bard. Had the gall to put out a printed collection of his life’s work and he’s barely twenty-five! Called it 'A Decade of Poetry,’ can you believe the nerve. Even I’d wait at least another few years before I even considered it. Anyway, I think I’d better be in company for a while to drown my sorrows. So where to, Geralt?”

“Some horrible backwater shithole,” said Geralt, dry.

“Oh. Fair. Well. Are you heading out on a contract, then? Returning from one?”

Geralt looked at Jaskier, and then at the two nasty, bloody Katakan heads hanging from Roach’s much-put-upon saddlebags, and then at the blood on his own armor, and back again.

“Joking, Geralt, joking, you should try it sometime. Well, if it’s the next little nothing of a town this way, I passed it about an hour back, and that’s plenty of time to hear the story, so why don’t you just let me tag along?”

And Geralt did.

They made it into town, where Geralt strode straight to the alderman’s desk, and thunked both heads unceremoniously down. “There were two,” said Geralt, “mated pair,” and then, hearing the man’s pulse rise, and smelling his odious sweat: “and you knew. You owe me double.”

And hazard pay, for lying,” said Jaskier, with a dangerous lilt, and then he took entirely over. Geralt’s rough negotiation was very effective; he was a freelancer, after all, and he'd live and die not only by his sword, but also by his haggling. But Jaskier was just as good, in his own way, and people usually shook his hand, after. If they weren't begging him to please stay and sing or pushing a little tray of pastries on him, as a gift. Geralt sat back— well, moved his looming a little further away— and watched him go.

When he was done, they took the little purse, went straight to the inn, and booked a room.

“And a bath,” said Jaskier, “for you, Geralt, my treat. No, really, I insist! You are quite foul, just now, you know.”

Geralt bathed, and Jaskier bustled around the room asking him further questions about the hunt. Every time his circuit took him by the tub he'd pick a knot out of Geralt’s hair, or add more hot water, until it was nearly boiling and could probably have killed a garden-variety human, or simply pat him once on the shoulder before moving on.

Jaskier seemed— nervous, like he was building up to something, and there was a note of anxiety cutting through his smell, which was usually much more pleasant. Not that Geralt would admit it. But when Geralt gave him a clearly interrogative grunt, Jaskier only said, “Oh, nothing, nothing. Only— well. Later." and was back to babbling again. The easy chatter soaked into Geralt’s bones, doing him as much good as the bath, and maybe more.

After, they went down to the tavern for dinner. Jaskier asked where they might be headed next, and Geralt allowed that he might be heading east, tomorrow, to check on a rumor of an infestation of lesser vampires.

“Not north, after all?” asked Jaskier.

Geralt grunted, and said, “Don't need to, anymore,” and if Jaskier thought he meant because the contract was complete, well, that was also true.

It was a good meal: fresh-stewed venison and still-warm bread with the faintest taste of early honey. They skipped the rye, but the ale was surprisingly passable, too. The tavern was crowded, and the smell of magic was in the air. There was a knot of bright young people at the fanciest table in the corner, who must have been passing mages, mingling among the common folk with an air of slumming for the novelty of it. They were rare, and they were beautiful, and they were looking at Geralt and Jaskier. No, Geralt corrected, they had looked at him with the same curiosity they might afford to any other object of their studies, and he thought something vaguely rude about powerful fools just in case. But Jaskier they returned to, over and again; more than one glance from that table lingered on his bright clothing, on his hair, on his eyes. And as for Jaskier, well, he smelled— Jaskier seemed like something was missing.

They had finished their second ale, and Geralt was considering another. Something about this situation was troubling him, in a place deep under his bones.

"Geralt," Jaskier started to say, and for once, he sounded... hesitant, unsure. "There's something—"

But Geralt cut him off. “They're watching you,” said Geralt, nodding to the table across the way, and trying to put a note of encouragement into his growl. “You should go over. Before they turn one of us into a newt. Or something worse.”

“What, can mages really do that?” said Jaskier. He sounded entirely too interested, which was a little disturbing.

“Better not find out,” said Geralt. “Go on.” But Jaskier looked uncertain, and Geralt realized he hadn’t finished telling him the story of the pair of Katakans, for his next ballad, and that was definitely why he still detected a note of hesitance in Jaskier’s stance. Taking pity, he went on: “We'll leave after breakfast. Tell you the rest in the morning.”

So Jaskier went off with the bright and shining mages, and Geralt went up to the room, and drank a very nice bottle of Everluce, all by himself. He oiled his swords, and mended his gear, and tried not to think about how he was glad that he’d made Jaskier happy, by sending him off, but some mean and howling little part of his heart had wanted exactly the opposite thing.

Some horrible time after midnight, when Geralt had long since gone to bed, the door to their room had opened with a struggling clatter and a thunk. Geralt was halfway to standing before he registered that it was Jaskier, not only because of his dark-vision and the unique scent he’d reluctantly admit to himself he could recognize at half a mile away, but also because Jaskier announced it, thus:

“Geralt! Hey, hello, it’s me! Jaskier! Bit of a… bit of a tiff, nothing to worry about, but I’m back for the night after all!”

“It’s morning,” said Geralt, grumpily, his internal clock unable to bear this particular insult. He had been planning to rest for at least another undisturbed hour before rising for his early swordwork.

Jaskier seemed… off, somehow. Drunk, Geralt thought, uncharitably adding: sloshed, completely wasted, the fool. What if he’d wandered into the wrong room—? And had to cut himself off, because he was rather more upset at that thought than he wanted to consider in the wee hours of the morning.

Jaskier’s stumbling feet took him on a meandering circuit of their shared space, stumbling into Geralt’s armor and apologizing to it with his usual charm before he finally made his way to the bed, not bothering to undress before flopping down, boneless. Sometimes—often, Geralt’s traitorous brain corrected—they shared like this; Geralt slept as close to the dead as it was possible to be without actually joining them, and his slow heartbeat and still body made him an easy companion.

Except, Geralt had recently decided, they didn’t share when Jaskier came home—well, back to whatever space they might have clawed out of the unforgiving Path— like this: drunk, presumably, and still vaguely smelling of whoever he’d been with, earlier. Geralt told himself it was because Jaskier’s inebriation made him an inconsiderate bedmate, flinging arms and legs around in his sleep with wild abandon. Last time it had happened, he had slung an arm around Geralt’s chest, all unconscious, and Geralt didn’t want a repeat of that particular variety of being caught completely wrong-footed, not knowing at all what to do. So he wordlessly got out of the bed, taking with him a blanket and single pillow, and made himself a pallet on the floor.

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, “Geralt, it’s only me, where are you going?”

From his little nest, Geralt could see Jaskier casting searchingly around the room. For a second, despite the dark, their eyes met, and he had a horrible sense of vertigo, of vision doubled, a feeling of seeing Jaskier looking at him looking back at Jaskier. He was struck again by the feeling of something off, but simultaneously hit with a wave of fatigue so strong it for once entirely overwhelmed his better instincts.

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, queasily, “I don’t feel so well. I wasn’t going to because it’s, well, rather embarrassing, even for me, but perhaps I ought actually to tell you what—”

“You’re drunk. Go to sleep, Jaskier,” said Geralt.

“Well, if you say so!” said Jaskier, with a surprising reserve of cheer, and burrowing into the six remaining pillows on the little straw mattress, did just that.

Geralt snorted a little huff of resigned amusement, which was certainly not fond. On his chest, his medallion hummed lightly, but he was suddenly more tired than he’d ever been, and he really could not be bothered to sort out why, which was odd, but he couldn’t bring himself to care about that, either, his head spinning as it was. He turned over, his back to Jaskier, to face the door, settled in on the floor in relative comfort—

— and woke up in bed.

 


 

Which caught them up to now. It had been half an hour, maybe, since they woke up this morning— simultaneously, which ought to have been the first sign something was wrong, although the rest was obvious rather quickly after that. Neither had been willing to go downstairs, or to do much beyond yell (Jaskier) and wonder what rude gesture he’d made at Destiny lately, to deserve this (Geralt).

“You really don’t remember anything of the spell.”

No, Geralt,” said Jaskier, in a slow way that Geralt could tell was meant to sound patient, although how it actually sounded was wolfish and perhaps even mean. “I couldn’t hear the spell, on account of the vial broken over my head, so there was nothing to remember. I do have university training, for all you don’t care to acknowledge it, I could otherwise certainly remember some five or six words.”

“That short?”

“Oh, is that useful?” said Jaskier, perking up, which was an even stranger tone. “Yes, definitely, not longer than a sentence.”

“The vial,” said Geralt, switching tacks. His—well, Jaskier’s— well, if he kept thinking of it as Jaskier’s they would never survive this, so his— body itched in some antsy way, and standing and pacing seemed like it might help resolve the restlessness, so he did. “What was in it?”

Jaskier stared at him, eyes narrowed, but not enough to hide their golden color and pupils contracted down to thin slits in the morning light. The effect was, Geralt acknowledged, rather menacing. He didn’t often look at himself in mirrors. “Something wet, Geralt. How on earth am I supposed to know?”

“What did it smell of?” Geralt asked automatically, the question he’d ask any other Witcher, that Vesemir had asked them all a thousand thousand times in their training years.

“Like a glass breaking over my head,” said Jaskier. “We don’t all have a Witcher’s senses, you know— well, usually,” he continued, crossing his arms over his chest, “and I have to say, it is a bit much, isn’t it? How do you deal with this?”

“Years of practice,” said Geralt, grim. “Did you bathe?”

“What sort of question is that? No, of course I didn’t stop to bathe before I was thrown through a portal; I barely had time to get my clothes back on while the regular yelling was happening.”

“Where exactly,” said Geralt, “did the vial hit you?” But when he reached a hand up to the back of his head, he could tell- there was a spot that had been aching, vaguely, and while he’d chalked it up to a hangover the symptoms were also a solid fit for being hit over the head. “Ah. Here. What does it smell like?”

“Like an inn, but worse,” said Jaskier promptly. “I mean it, Geralt, this is overwhelming, there’s a stink of something out in the farmyard, and the dregs of whatever discards didn’t make it into the stew, the night before, wafting up from downstairs, and rather a lot of unwashed people, which maybe includes the both of us, actually, and I can hear my own pulse, Geralt, which is highly distracting! I’ve been doing my best to just— ignore it, but can you turn it off?”

Geralt sighed rather more dramatically than he’d meant to, though he had to concede that the effect was very good, and walked right up to where Jaskier was leaning against the bed. “Geralt,” said Jaskier, with what might have been caution, or might only have been gravel, “What are you—”

Geralt pointed again to the back of Jaskier’s—his— head, where the vial had broken. “Tell me,” he said, “what you smell.”

He turned around, so he couldn’t see Jaskier’s face, but even his human ears could make out the sharp intake of breath through Jaskier’s mouth. He was fully prepared to give a lecture on how the nose was a little more useful, actually, but before he could he heard it again, properly, a deep intake that went on for longer than he expected.

“Oh,” said Jaskier.

“What is it,” said Geralt.

“Oh, um. It’s… spicy? I think? A little sharp, like that herb that goes into pie fillings, sometimes, when they’re more savory than sweet.”

“Jaskier,” said Geralt, “what the fuck do you mean.”

“I don’t know, Geralt!” said Jaskier, and Geralt turned around to see him throw up his giant arms in frustration, narrowly missing hitting Geralt in the sternum, which would have maybe actually killed him, and wasn’t that terrifying. “It’s not— there’s kind of a lot going on, and I don’t know the names of any of it, and I wasn’t trained in the use of my nose like some sort of—”

Don’t say wolf.”

Hound, thank you very much, wolves aren’t trained at all. But it’s spicy, and sharp, and underneath it there’s— copper? Is that blood? Are you— am I bleeding?”

“Hm,” said Geralt, and raised a hand to the back of his head again. There was dried blood there, certainly, which again, fit with a broken glass— but underneath it, though he could feel the smoothness of new-healed skin, there was no wound. He told Jaskier as much.

“Are you positive, Geralt,” said Jaskier, “because, again, I— my body doesn’t have Witcher healing, if I’m bleeding you have to bloody well tell me so I can stitch it up!”

At this, Geralt gave him the most long-suffering look he could manage with all of Jaskier’s body’s years. Which weren’t very many, come to think of it. Was it thirty? More? What did that mean, for humans? Had it been a decade since they met? He could never quite keep track.

“Ah, well,” said Jaskier. “Okay, fair, maybe I deserve that. But if I can’t magically smell what the— the curse-slop was, then— do you have some kind of cure-all? Something that could counteract it? Where’s your bag of tricks—” And he turned to Geralt’s things, and unerringly pulled out the giant pouch of potions from exactly the right slot in the saddlebags— definitely a decade, at least, thought Geralt— and then he realized Jaskier was about to go digging through his potions.

Don’t touch that,” he snarled, and grabbed the giant, heavy bag out of Jaskier’s large and capable hands, and, unprepared for its heft, promptly dropped it on the ground.

Jaskier let out a small huff of laughter, startled, and then did it again, louder. “Oh,” he said between chuckles, “so you can laugh after all.”

“When it’s called for,” Geralt said grumpily, although it came out as snide. He settled himself cross-legged on the floor to take inventory. He knew before beginning that it was for naught; his mental list had to be perfect, so he knew what needed replenishing, so he wouldn’t be caught unawares and die because he thought he had a decoction when he’d used the last two days prior. But this wasn’t a case of the right potion being absent— rather, he had absolutely no idea what the right counteracting agent might be, and to quaff blindly was as likely to harm as to help. Far more likely to harm, considering Jaskier— considering he was human, and Witcher potions weren’t meant for humans at all. Still, he made himself go through the entire bag, vial by tiny vial, until he admitted: “There’s nothing here that could help.”

“Can I see?” asked Jaskier, already leaning over him. Up close, it was clear the medallion on his chest was shimmering slightly. The vibration increased when Geralt raised a hand up to it, to check, and he had a sense of vertigo so sudden and strong he quickly drew it back, fearful of somehow making things worse, of causing further damage or— entanglement.

“Has that been shaking this whole time?” he asked.

“Oh,” said Jaskier, standing back up, “does it not always do this? I thought it was like— a toy that I couldn’t figure out how to turn off, and I didn’t want to intrude on your admittedly limited remaining privacy by asking outright.”

No, Jaskier,” said Geralt, warningly. “It reacts to magic. And to some danger.”

“Don’t act so shocked, Geralt,” said Jaskier. “They can do marvelous things with magical alloys these days, at the specialist shops in Novigrad, I’m sure your Yennefer must have introduced you—”

Jaskier,” said Geralt, desperately, voice almost cracking, and then: “Oh. Yen.”

“What,” said Jaskier, suddenly leaning over him again: “does that mean.”

“It’s some kind of magic. She ought to be able to help figure it out.”

“And you can’t? You can do magic, Geralt, I’ve seen it, with the—” and Jaskier shaped his hand into a surprisingly decent aard, and thrust it out, and Geralt was too slow in this body to do more than watch it happen, terrified, and—

— and nothing. Geralt sighed in relief. Of course, he thought; form isn’t function; Jaskier wasn’t trained in the way to power a sign, had only seen the motions, so they wouldn’t have to deal with his potions being blown to bits after all. Or the inn’s furniture, though that was so flimsy already that it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

“Witchers,” Geralt said slowly, “are not trained as sorcerers are. We have a few practical pieces of magic. We don’t build spells. I don’t know how to take one apart.” It was an old argument, this nuanced distinction, and one he himself had a particular interest in, his heritage being what it was.

“So,” said Jaskier in a low growl, “we find someone who does, okay, with you there. But does it have to be… her?”

“Well,” said Geralt, wry, “we could go ask the man who did this in the first place.”

“Ah,” said Jaskier. “Ah, actually, no, we can’t. I don’t know where he lives.”

“Why not, Jaskier.”

“He portaled in late, after you’d left, and then later, portaled us out of the bar, to his home. I didn’t stop to ask where the portal was anchored. It was all very romantic.”

“So romantic you forgot his name?”

Geralt, ” said Jaskier, turning the full force of his sharp gaze to bear: “please don’t.” It was surprisingly sincere.

“Fine,” said Geralt. “Yen it is.”

“How do you propose we find her, exactly?”

“I know where she is,” said Geralt, digging around in another pouch in the saddlebags. The buttons, he noticed, were oddly tricky to manage; he hadn’t considered that he might be using some of his strength to slip them through too-small holes, until it was gone, and he found himself struggling.

“That one always sticks,” said Jaskier, absently, and reached over him and undid it easily. “Oh. Oh. Not for Witchers, it doesn’t.”

“Hm,” said Geralt, as he pulled out a letter, blinked, squinted, stood and walked to the light from the window to read it. The tone was, as he recalled, imperious and rude. But he also remembered it smelling of lilac and gooseberries, of Yen, and now it was— there was nothing. Or rather, there was only the vague stink of men in the field too long without bathing, but even that was muted. Was it a relief? He wasn’t sure.

“You’re writing her,” said Jaskier, exasperated. “Me you have to rely on the vagaries of fate to run back into, but Yennefer you— what, you schedule a time to sleep with, even on your precious Path?

“It’s not like that,” said Geralt.

“Then what is it like?” asked Jaskier. “I can’t possibly fake it convincingly if you don’t tell me.”

There was a note of... something in Jaskier’s voice. Geralt didn’t know if he'd have noticed it if it weren't for how this body wanted to mirror what the other was doing. He shifted into the same posture almost unconsciously, picked up on how it resonated in his own body with in frustration and… something else.

“We’re not going to fake it.”

“Would you rather explain this? To her?”

“Hm,” said Geralt. “Fair. More than, actually. Worth a try.” And, when Jaskier gestured for him to get on with it, then, Geralt continued: “We’re… colleagues.”

Sure,” said Jaskier, wry, in so close a mimic of Geralt’s own tone that it made him startle, disoriented.

“She tells me when she’s going to be nearby. Sometimes we share a meal. She talks about Tissaia, about the courts. I listen.”

“Melitele’s lovely arse, you're not sleeping together, it's worse, you're friends,” said Jaskier, affronted. “Of course you’re not friends with me, not really, but the sorceress who nearly killed us both, who you had dramatic and frankly unfairly beautiful sex with in a collapsing building, her you make time for? You share lunches and gossip? And I’m supposed to pretend that’s okay? Well, I suppose it’s not much beyond grunting, which I can manage, but if I have to sit there and listen and not ask for details about the latest royal disaster, I don’t know if I can manage—

“Jaskier,” he said, desperately, and was unprepared for how high his voice could go, with that feeling behind it, of please don’t push. “Just— we’ll meet her, you’ll ask about a spell to clear curses, for prevention, and we’ll leave. It will be fine.”

It was, of course, anything but.

 


 

According to her (short, rude) letter, Yennefer was only a few hours’ walk away. Geralt insisted they wait until the sun was high before heading out— not proper noon, which could be as tricky as midnight in its own way, another boundary line, but the sun would be up, and the forest way would seem a little less dangerous. Which was dangerous in and of itself, in fact, as things that looked safe often weren’t, and things that looked dangerous were sometimes— well. Geralt looked at Jaskier, broad-shouldered and sharp-toothed, and shook his head.

They used the interim time to get as ready as they could: Geralt packed a basic, small medicinal kit and hefted a dagger consideringly before strapping it on. Jaskier looked at the pile of armor on a chair. “Well,” he said, “this is going to be a challenge.”

“You’ve helped me with my armor before.”

“Yes, Geralt, and you’re welcome, by the by, but I’ve never tried to put it on—” he gestured— “front-wards, and it’s rather a different animal.”

Shit,” said Geralt, realizing at once how much of the motions were automatic, for him, after decades, and how difficult it would be to reverse them, let alone heft every component with Jaskier’s lessened strength. “Shit. Fine. It’s not far. And if she can fix this—” he gestured at the both of them, surprised again by how light his arm felt, how expression seemed to be this body’s default, rather than something he had to argue it into— “then we won’t have to deal with it at all. But,” he continued, and pointed at the swords, “you’re taking those.”

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, slowly and gravelly, “you once told me a man with a sword he can’t use is a danger only to himself.”

“Did I?” said Geralt, narrowing his eyes with suspicion. “Seems… wordy.”

“It was at that banquet for the marquess, who’d hired you for what she thought was an imp infestation and turned out to be a hairless cat. Remember? Her horrible son was bragging about his very nice new rapier, waving it about like a flagpole, and you muttered that under your breath, and then he managed to stab his own left foot. I was laughing so hard we had to leave before the second cheese course,” Jaskier finished, and his rough face, although aiming for wistful, landed somewhere between consternation and constipation.

“Something Vesemir used to tell us,” said Geralt, “didn’t think you were listening,”

“Well, what else would I do?”

“Anyway,” said Geralt, ignoring that, “this one time— one time, Jaskier— the symbol matters more. People are less likely to… antagonize… a visible Witcher. So, swords.”

Jaskier buckled them on. Geralt tried not to react, but the sight of it was jarring. His swords were him, in a very true way, the tools he’d live and die by. They were also a symbol for danger, which made the whole situation jarringly real, and a little terrifying, all at once. So, too, did the sight of Jaskier with them, a situation he’d privately vowed could never, ever happen— because it meant the worst had come to pass, and Geralt had failed, and because it was too intimate, somehow. And this awful, dire situation managed to be a little bit of both.

Fortunately, Jaskier pulled a face and swiveled the straps such that both swords almost fell from their scabbards at once, ruining the moment. “Geralt,” he said, “this leather itches. You’ve lived five lifetimes—”

“Not that old,” said Geralt, in protest, and then, considering: “Maybe three.”

“—and you never once thought, hm— oh, I see why you do that all the time, it is quite fun, isn’t it— hm, maybe I’ll add a little padding?!” His mimicry of Geralt’s tone was very good, although perhaps it was cheating, when the voice was already the same.

Geralt decided to ignore this unfair ribbing, and said nothing further, only picked up the much smaller bag he’d packed with bandages, checked the dagger strapped to his hips, and left the room.

“Ger—” Jaskier started to say, and turned it halfway through into ”— bard, wait—” and rushed after.

“Room’s paid up,” said Geralt to the innkeeper, sliding another quarter-mark across the bar. “For one more day. Back later.”

She looked between the coin and Geralt, in confusion. “Aye, sir,” she said. “Will you be wanting dinner later, then…?”

“No,” said Geralt, but “Yes,” said Jaskier, standing behind him. Well, looming, really; for all that Geralt’s body wasn’t much taller than Jaskier’s, its sheer width and presence made any other descriptor rather inadequate.

“Fine, then,” she said, vanishing the coin with a swiftness magicians might envy. “And I’ll see your horse is fed, too.”

“Thank you, darling,” said Jaskier, and Geralt whipped around to glower at him just in time to see his eyes widen a fraction as he realized his mistake. The innkeeper gave an extremely nervous laugh, and then Geralt was pulling Jaskier by the arm out of the inn. Or rather— Jaskier was letting himself be pulled, he suspected, having done the same thing more times than he was willing to admit.

Once outside, he let go and turned to take the westward path, towards Yen, and hopefully, a swift solution.

“Roach…?” asked Jaskier, hopefully.

“Absolutely not,” said Geralt, and they were on their way.

 


 

They reached the tavern Yen had named without incident; the road was packed with other travelers, and if any of them thought it odd to see an angry, striding bard followed by a suspiciously jaunty Witcher, they knew better than to comment. Outside, and well out of earshot, Geralt stopped Jaskier for a final reiteration of the plan.

“Don’t talk,” he said. “At all.”

“Really, Geralt,” said Jaskier, hands on his hips, “You want to try to pretend your way through this without my help? How do you, the bard, expect to explain that you need a catch-all curse-lifter without her figuring out why?”

“Jaskier,” he said, patiently, “she is essentially immortal, and if you say one thing wrong, she will know, and you will truly never hear the end of it.”

“Ah,” said Jaskier, “yes, got it, a valiant attempt at deceit it is. Just because I generally choose not to doesn’t mean I can’t do strong and silent. But what makes you so sure you can be me?”

“You’re different around Yen,” said Geralt.

“Maybe once,” said Jaskier, “But we have run into each other a few times, and it turns out we do have a few things in common—”

“Like what? ” asked Geralt, in a high-pitched, distressed squawk. But Jaskier deliberately ignored him, steamrolling on:

“—and while yes, we’re still a little catty, it seems like we might one day be able to be catty over a shared drink, instead of an attempted murder-by-djinn.”

“You’re still— subdued. It’s easier.”

“Ugh,” said Jaskier, one hand pinching the bridge of his note in protest, a feeling Geralt was only too familiar with. Only usually it went in the opposite direction. “Fine. Fine! I will remain perfectly silent and watch you absolutely butcher my reputation. Not a peep. Just—” and then, before Geralt could react, Jaskier was in his space, and wasn’t that disturbing, how quickly it seemed to happen. Jaskier tapped Geralt’s arms, which were crossed over his chest. “Don’t stand like that.”

“Wrinkles,” said Geralt, “right.”

“Not just that, Geralt,” said Jaskier, “you look— closed off, and when you— when I stand like that, it messes with my brain. You just stand open, and do your best to talk in sentences of longer than three words, and I’ll be dead silent, and we’ll be fine.”

Geralt put a hand on the doorknob.

“Ah,” said Jaskier. “Perhaps I ought to go first, though…?”

 


 

Yennefer barely acknowledged them as they entered, except for a brief pause in her work, one hand on a letter, the other sorting through a large pile of waxen seals. The tavern was empty, except for a single woman tending the bar, who nodded as they crossed the floor, and then withdrew. Geralt wondered where everyone had got to, and then decided it was possibly better not to know.

“Geralt,” said Yen, once they reached their table, and Jaskier sat down across from her. “And I see you’ve brought your bright little pincushion with you, how lovely—”

Jaskier made a noise like a strangled, indignant, yelp, and Yen looked up, sharp. “Geralt,” she said again, slowly, and Jaskier closed his mouth hard, and crossed his arms over his chest, while Geralt did his best to stand open and easy behind him, as he’d been shown, but his hands couldn’t help clenching into nervous fists at his side, his knuckles going slowly white with the force of it.

She looked back and forth between the two of them, and narrowed her eyes, and Geralt remembered all at once her talent for skimming surface thoughts. “Yen,” he said desperately, at which point her eyes opened wide, and he realized his mistake but couldn’t stop himself from continuing: “don’t—” but there was a tickle at the back of his mind, and at once she burst out laughing.

“You,” she said finally, breathing in short gasps between peals of bright, shining laughter, “ and he— and you were going to try to what, bluff your way through this? As if I wouldn’t notice that he knew nothing about the court records you were supposed to help me sort out?”

Geralt, having entirely forgotten why he was meant to meet Yen in the first place, before this extremely minor complication, grunted. “I didn’t—”

Gods,” said Yen, “it would have fallen apart the second you talked.”

“That,” said Geralt, “is what I was trying to tell him—”

“No,” said Yen, cutting him off with a wry smile. “Not your bard—”

“Not my bard,” said Geralt, automatically.

Yen laughed. “You’re right, of course,” she said, with devilish glee, “you are, temporarily, his.”

“So it is temporary,” said Jaskier, relief in his voice, and Geralt hadn’t even considered that it might not be— and all at once, his life flashed before his eyes, and it was dangerous, and it was short, and it was Jaskier’s, if he stayed, and he had to clamp that vein of thought entirely shut before it bled him straight to death.

“Yes,” said Yen, distractedly, “and I assume you came to me for help, and I assure you that I can, although you’ll now owe me double, for leaving me to deal with this on my own. But I meant the second you spoke, Geralt. He’s a performer, and aside from a pathological inability to let an insult to his dignity go without retaliation, he seems to have a pretty solid handle on your whole,” she gestured vaguely, “thing.”

“He had better not,” muttered Geralt, under his breath. Jaskier laughed, and Geralt realized again he’d forgotten which of them was in possession of his hearing.

“You, on the other hand,” Yen said, almost tenderly, “cannot stop trying to project the aura of the most dangerous thing in the room. It's very dear, actually. Like a kitten roaring.”

“Oh, a kitten, that's good,” said Jaskier. “I was thinking dog on a very short leash, but that's even—”

Yen cut him off by putting a hand over his mouth. Her hand, Geralt's mouth, Jaskier's lilting tone, suddenly stilled. Jaskier was pinned under it, but so, too, was Geralt, in an extremely unanticipated way.

“There's an antidote,” said Yen, either entirely unaware of the effect this was having on Geralt, or extremely and deliberately aware, but it was difficult to tell with her permanent state of well-deserved swanning preen. “Well, not an antidote, but a potion that should disrupt the lingering resonance of the spell enough to snap you back. There's a true cure, of course,” she continued, almost absently, “But I don't think it would take; it’s not the sort of thing you can fool.”

Her hand was still on the jawline that usually belonged to Geralt, and underneath it even his human eyes could see Jaskier starting to sweat. Geralt felt… angry, he realized, frustrated in his bones in a way that was much closer to the surface than was usual. His skin felt hot and entirely too small. He wasn't sure whether the upset stemmed from Yen touching someone else or Yen touching Jaskier, but either way, he could feel his own sweat starting to gather.

Yen cast him a glance that pinned him through the heart, as if he were an open book, as if she could read him that easily— and he realized rather belatedly that between the years of their acquaintance and her light telepathic gift, she almost certainly could.

“Although,” she continued, slowly, “with you two… maybe... well. Let me make up a list of what you’ll need,” she said, taking her hand away from Jaskier, reaching for a quill and clean sheet of paper.

Jaskier rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth. Mine, thought Geralt, and my mouth, he clarified to himself, in the privacy of his own head, only because it was important to be clear, and not at all in case he had an eavesdropper.

Jaskier opened his mouth to speak, but— “Don't distract me,” said Yen, cutting him off. “I need to think carefully about this. It's been years.”

“Has this,” Geralt said slowly, “happened to you?”

“Never by accident. Or by malice, I’m guessing, in your case…?” she half asks, not looking up from her writing. “But I'm not having this conversation with you right now. It's fairly easy to protect against; once...cured, it can’t happen to you and anyone else. Only… sometimes there are lingering... aftereffects. But it’s probably nothing to worry about.”

Jaskier made another indignant noise, and Yen held up a single finger. “Please hold your very useful protests,” she said, dry, “I’ve almost got it... and, there,” she concluded with satisfaction, drawing a line under her final written instruction. “Five ingredients, one combination, fairly straightforward. It’s a neat little fix. Only— it has to be mixed under the new moon, so be sure to get it done by then. You’ve got three days, not counting this one. Should be plenty of time.”

“What happens if we don’t?” said Jaskier. “I thought you said— will it be permanent?” he continued, with as much of a squawk as he could muster, which was barely a small uptick in tone.

“No,” said Yen, with a slow, dangerous look, “you’d just have to wait another month until the next one. And I’d hate to think what could happen then.” Jaskier looked slightly uncomfortable, and probably felt substantially more so. Geralt, meanwhile, physically shuddered, which was new, but matched the sense of prey that his hindbrain helpfully offered up when she’d looked at him that way. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, but it was novel, the way for once, his interior experience and exterior expression aligned.

“Geralt,” she said as they were leaving, and when both of them turned around, “Ah, good, you’re practicing already. Do let me know how it goes? I shall be waiting on tenterhooks to hear.”

And she smiled with all her teeth and waved a hand to usher them on their way.

Chapter Text

As they made their careful way back to their inn, Geralt looked over the list of what they’d need for a cure. It was, as Yennefer had promised, rather neat and straightforward: common grave dirt, ripe strawberries, linseed oil infused with white myrtle, the fresh liver of a drowner, and a sprig of mountain hollyhock, all to be combined in a silver basin under the first light of the new moon. They had to split the mixture evenly and drink it simultaneously, but he was certain they could manage that, even in their highly unusual reversed circumstances. Of the ingredients, the hollyhock might be the trickiest, growing only in higher altitudes as it did. But, Geralt realized at once, the liver might be worse, since it had to be relatively fresh, and that meant they would probably  need to somehow kill a drowner to get it. But still.

“Lucky,” said Geralt, absently.

“What’s lucky?” asked Jaskier, gruff and dull. Despite all his earlier advice, he was walking with his arms crossed over his—Geralt’s—broad chest, and Geralt had to allow that it did make him look rather closed-off. It was funny— Jaskier had been oddly quiet, and something felt wrong about that. Geralt didn’t know when he’d shifted from actively resenting conversation to noting its absence, and from there to treating silence like a problem. But right now, he felt his voice didn’t have to travel quite as far as it usually did, to make it from his mind out into the world, so he indulged the impulse to comment. 

“Most of these,” said Geralt, in something close to Jaskier’s usual bright tone, “we can buy, or find, or take, within a few days’ travel of here. If we pack right up,” he said, gesturing down the road towards the inn, “and leave at once, we can get a start today and be done in plenty of time.” 

“You’re not going to check for contracts?” asked Jaskier, sullenly. “That lesser vampire infestation you mentioned?”  

Geralt shot him a look. His swords had shifted again, out of easy drawing distance; Jaskier kept pulling on those straps, aiming for comfort, and giving himself a disadvantage in the meantime. He wasn’t armored, and Geralt himself was barely armed. The look tried to convey all of this. 

“Ah,” said Jaskier, who had had years of practice in deciphering Geralt’s looks, and the additional advantage of knowing the face they were currently filtered through very well. “Right. Well. I suppose the town can wait a few days. But after…?” and he trailed off, hesitant, but Geralt wasn’t sure what question he was asking. 

“Depends,” he said, deciding to take a rare turn to try and lighten the mood by provoking Jaskier into picking up his end of the conversational thread: “on whether I get my body back in one piece.” 

Your body—” said Jaskier, indignant, and Geralt smiled to himself at his success. “What about mine? You keep slouching, and throwing rocks, and you’re going to absolutely ruin my hands.” 

Had he been throwing rocks? He supposed he had. It was an old exercise, for sight-finding, and while it had been years since he’d needed to do anything as mundane as check his aim, the habit seemed to have kicked back in. “Hm,” he said. 

“My hands are my livelihood, Geralt—”

“As are mine.”

“—and if you break my lute callouses, then who’s going to earn us enough coin to stay in another inn?”

“Certainly not me,” said Geralt, automatically, more of his tease showing through in his voice than he’d meant. 

“Right, yes, certainly not as we currently are, so.” said Jaskier. “So. Let’s deal with this, then, and get back to… to whatever happens next.” 

 


 

It was a relief, back at the inn, to see that dinner had been left on a tray outside their room. Geralt certainly didn’t feel up for speaking with anyone else, just now, and he didn’t relish the thought of watching Jaskier navigate it, either. But luckily, there was no need: they could eat, gather their belongings, and be on their way. 

Jaskier yanked their door open with rather too much accidental force, and held it for Geralt while he carried their dinner inside and divided it up. They ate hastily, one-handed, while packing up their things, instead of lingering over a table and an ale as they might have were time not of the essence. 

Despite the speed, Geralt… appreciated the bread, and the stew he snuck bites of, more than he usually might. It wasn’t… his usual sense of taste was fine—better, actually, than most, given his sense of smell— but he’d grown so used to hare charred over an open flame being a perfectly adequate meal that something in him just didn’t see food the same way. But Jaskier— he wondered, at once, how much of this was body, was neurochemistry, and exactly what had been swapped, to feel things so differently. Mind? Spirit? Whatever the reason, the meal was… nice. He felt like Jaskier ought to know. 

“This is—” he began, just as Jaskier said, “Is your tongue always this… dull?” And then his eyes widened in surprise, as he heard what he’d said. “Gods, Geralt, I didn’t— I mean—”

“The stew tastes better,” said Geralt, taking pity on him. “Or, it’s not that— I do know how things taste. But it doesn’t usually seem to matter.”

“That’s what I was wondering,” said Jaskier. 

Instead of going on as he might usually, though, that was it. They finished dinner in silence. The armor they packed, instead of attempting to wrestle onto Jaskier. They didn’t have far to go that night; they were aiming for a campsite they’d passed earlier, which Geralt had just cleared of monsters a few days before. The armor could wait until tomorrow. Which, without the hope of a quick fix from Yen, was rather more of a threat. Still— not a problem for today.

Lugging their gear to the stables was a challenge in and of itself. Geralt tried to heft the armor, but barely budged it, and when Jaskier growled, “Here, let me,” Geralt reluctantly allowed him to add it to the pile he was already carrying. They made it down eventually, Geralt taking it in turns to hold the doors for Jaskier on the way. 

When they reached Roach, there was a bit of a staredown, until she gently headbutted Geralt.  This delighted him more than he’d care to admit. “Ah, so you do know me,” he said, and turned to grin at Jaskier, who looked surprisingly embarrassed. 

“What, Jaskier,” Geralt asked, warily. 

“Ah,” said Jaskier, as Roach headbutted him again. “I might have— there might be—” And then Roach attempted to stick her entire head into one of the pockets of Geralt’s stupid doublet (“Roach, no, the stitching—!” said Jaskier), and Geralt reached a cautious hand inside it, and pulled out a handful of sugar cubes. 

He hadn’t noticed them, hadn’t smelled them, he realized, and still barely could, even though they were sitting right there on his small palm. An absence was by its nature difficult to catch, but this evidence of his diminished senses was impossible to ignore. 

“We’ve been building a rapport,” said Jaskier, sheepish, as Roach gently lipped the sugar from his hand. When she’d finished, she turned and gently nudged Jaskier, who gave her a hesitant, gentle pat in return. 

“Fine,” said Geralt, through gritted teeth. 

“Fine what, Geralt,” said Jaskier, still patting Roach as he carefully cinched the straps of her saddle into place. 

“You can ride. Only—” he continued, hastily, made petulant by the sudden joy on Jaskier’s face, and a twinge of guilt that it had been so rare, before— “I— you— I have to sit in front, or I won’t be able to see around you.” 

“Yes,” said Jaskier, clapping his hands— “Yes, I knew it, if there’s one good thing to come out of this mess, I at least get to rest my feet. Well, yours. Well— let’s not get into it.” He leapt easily into the saddle, automatically, surprising both of them. “Huh,” he said. “Muscle memory, I guess…? Well, come on—” and he reached a hand down, and after a moment’s hesitation, Geralt grabbed it and climbed up after. 




 

The ride was... manageable. It wasn't ideal, not with how Jaskier kept twisting to ostensibly adjust but mostly only fiddle with his sword belts, and how he kept bumping into Geralt's back in the process. And especially not with how that kept reminding Geralt of their very close proximity, which was a whole other level of distraction. Mostly, though, it was the scrabbling sound of the shifting sword belts that worried him. Definitely only that.

When Geralt finally worked himself up to glance back over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t actually in danger of losing his swords entirely, his initial worry was replaced instead by a fresh rush of concern at spotting Jaskier giving his lute case a hasty, furtive look.

It was the same look Jaskier got when he saw a particularly fine meal being eaten by some rich noble two tables over, while they had only enough coin for a stew. Far more rarely, it was directed at Geralt; he’d turn back to Jaskier from whatever fight he’d been carefully observing, in the corner of whatever tavern they were in, to see something far away in his eyes. When Geralt prodded him, it always turned out to be only that he was reminiscing about some faraway lord or lady; something or someone he had known he ought not to go for but couldn't help himself, anyway. Sometimes Geralt had even been there, for the aftermath and rescue, and didn’t remember the connection seeming as strong as Jaskier made it out to be, but who was he to say. In any case, it was a look that Geralt was gearing up to have to do something about, because he truly couldn’t handle the thought of someone seeing a witcher strumming as they rode.

Geralt turned back to face the road ahead. He couldn't see the look anymore, riding in front as he was, but he could feel the way Jaskier's whole body went all tense, except for his strumming hand, which was doing rather a lot of fidgeting. After a moment, that hand snuck into Geralt's peripheral vision to make a grab for the lute case, but:  

"No," said Geralt.

“Oh, come now, Geralt,” said Jaskier, with a little lift in his growl, “You've got a far bigger handspan than I do, I'm certain I could do some truly innovative chordwork, I absolutely need to know—”

"No."

"Geralt, really. Can I not even try? Come to think of it," Jaskier said, with a dangerous note under the general gruffness, "What are you going to do about it, stop me?” And he reached again.

Geralt turned entirely around in the saddle, and nearly fell out, overbalancing. Jaskier abandoned his reach for the lute to grab him around the waist, instinctively, and then Geralt was nearly in his lap, glaring. Which he had been all along, actually, but it was harder to ignore, like this. He did his best to try, and to turn up the glare as far as it would go, which, on Jaskier’s face, wasn't any great distance, really. But it must have worked, because Jaskier threw his hands up and said "Fine, fine, you horrible old barbarian," and fell back into sulky silence, crossing his arms over his great bulk. It read as a little more glum than he'd probably meant.

A little way further down the road it hit Geralt, the magnitude of the problem: it was peaceful. Or rather, it sounded peaceful to him, which was bad, because a road was never peaceful. There were always wolves in the forest, drowners in the stream, nekkers a few miles down the road whose scent was a waving red flag to those who could catch it. But that category, currently, did not include Geralt. And Jaskier seemed entirely unbothered, although he was still unusually quiet, which read somehow as sad.

There was only one solution. But it was challenging to figure out how to frame it, and worse, it was embarrassing, so it took him another dangerous, horrible league of quiet, slow going  to manage to bring it up.

“Jaskier,” Geralt said, finally, gritting it out. “I need-”

“Oh, this should be good,” said Jaskier. 

“I can’t,” said Geralt, frustration showing in the tightness of his voice, “tell what’s going on, around us. There’s danger, and I can’t smell or see or hear it— but you can. If you let me know what you’re sensing, even if you don’t understand it, I can pick out the parts that matter.” 

“So, what,” asked Jaskier, warily, “does that mean, exactly?”

“You have to tell me,” said Geralt, looking over his shoulder to emphasize how serious this was, “everything.” 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, with a slow, wolfish grin that did something horribly dangerous in the general area of Geralt’s hindbrain. “I thought you’d never ask. ” 

 


 

An hour later, Geralt had almost settled into the rhythm of it. Jaskier, taking Geralt at his word, listed everything he noticed, by smell, sight, or hearing, a constant flow of speech that wasn’t quite under his breath but was rather softer than Geralt expected. 

“And there’s a note of something almost sweet, like— like honeysuckle, or maybe one of those smaller gold flowers, you know the ones? Bit early in the season, maybe, but I swear it’s there. And that way, under the trees, I hear— scuffling? Scuttling? Something with a lot of legs—” at which Geralt sat up straighter, chastising himself for drifting into a less-alert, but more comfortable position, which had possibly involved leaning back against Jaskier, though you’d never hear it from him. But: “No,” Jaskier went on, “several somethings with a normal amount of legs. Well, normal for rats. Geralt, is it always like this?”

“Like what,” said Geralt. 

“So much,” said Jaskier, and Geralt could feel him gesturing in a big broad arc, because of how his chest moved behind him, and carefully didn’t think about that. “Because I feel I should also be telling you about the horn call somewhere well behind us, down the road, and the smell of— boats? Something like tar on the water, a ways away, north, and how the sun shines on that hawk’s feathers above us, and the sweet new brightness of the green on the leaves, and—” 

“Save me from poet Witchers,” Geralt muttered, and Jaskier laughed, fond. “You learn,” Geralt went on, “to filter down to what matters.” 

“What matters? Geralt, how could any of this not matter? By Melitele’s dripping—”

“Jaskier.” 

“— tears, Geralt, it’s a sorrowful profession, goddessing— who are we to decide what’s worthy of attention, that the way the dust shimmers on the road is more important than the smell from that tree-bank of— of— hm,” he said, more slowly, trailing off. “Actually, Geralt, what is that? It’s like… I saw a hog butchered once, and it’s not that, but it’s like… a few days later, I walked past the same square where it was done, but it wasn’t properly cleaned, and something lingered—Geralt, what are you doing, what is it?” 

Geralt was already urging Roach off the road, away from the tree-bank ahead, to the slightly higher ground of the hill beside them. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, with rather more urgency, “This goes both ways. You have to tell me what’s going on.” 

And he was right; Geralt’s mind— spirit— whatever it is that was him hoarded all his learned knowledge of his long years of training. He couldn’t assume that Witcher in this case meant what it usually ought, that Jaskier could parse corpse-rot-stink even into its most basic level of danger. “Nekkers,” said Geralt, tersely; “corpse-eaters. Should try to avoid them, if we can.” 

They had another moment before it became clear that avoiding was not an option, after all. 

Because the world was sometimes kind, it was not nekkers, but nekker, a rare singleton, but because no kindness came to Geralt without a backhand, it crawled straight out of the copse of trees where it had been hiding and right onto the road below. There was no way around it; their hill backed up against a river, and the recent rain meant it was rushing too hard even for Roach to forge. They could double back, but time was rather precious, just now. 

“Hm,” said Geralt, climbing clumsily off of Roach to consider and take inventory. It hadn’t come after them, yet, which was a mercy; the wind was in their favor. But something prickled at the back of his neck, making him slow, a feeling so unfamiliar it took him a long, precious moment to name it as fear. And then Jaskier’s arm was out in front of him, not doing anything but simply there, between him and the thing on the road, and he was startled all over again by how much that simple action helped. 

 “Could we… bomb it?” asked Jaskier, but Geralt shook his head. 

“Have to take Roach over the road after, and the shards would harm her. No,” he said with finality, deciding all at once, “You’ll have to stun it. Then run it straight through. With the sword,” he clarified, and then further: “the silver one, that’s important.” 

“Stun it how,” said Jaskier, “with my mesmerising singing voice? Only I don’t have it at the moment, Geralt, you may have noticed, and I’ve never heard you carry a tune—” 

Aard,” said Geralt, trying to be patient, although Jaskier had begun to fidget with the straps of his swords, and it was more than a little distracting. “You had the hand motion right, this morning. You just have to— reach for the background magic of the world, to power it.” 

“Reach,” said Jaskier, dry. “Right. Simple, straightforward, only I haven’t the first fucking clue what you’re on about, Geralt, as I spent my boyhood years learning etiquette and scales, not how to link into the very core of the world! What on earth does that mean, reach?”

Geralt knew the connection so well that if he ever had words to describe it, they had long since faded. He thought of the way Jaskier had made it atop Roach’s back with unconscious easy grace, instead of his usual scramble; form wasn’t function, but maybe if the one was correct, the other would follow. So: 

“Like this,” said Geralt. He took Jaskier’s hand from where it had been nervously reaching for entirely the wrong sword, ignoring the small noise of bewilderment he made, and formed it into the necessary shape, aimed at the nekker on the road below. “Palm out. Fingers spread and folded like this.” He let go of Jaskier’s arm, and mimicked the motion himself. “And then you reach.” 

“Reach for what, Geralt,” said Jaskier. The nekker had turned its rotting head vaguely in his direction, and seemed to be sniffing the air, and probably, Geralt reminded himself, that was what had put the strangled note into Jaskier’s voice, and not anything else, like how very close the two of them were standing.

“You just,” said Geralt, trying to find the words, and instead finding the memory of what it felt like, hand shaped just so, mind straining towards a connection and an outlet, all at once, “reach—”

And as Geralt reached, a wave of force blasted out of his palm, which was usually Jaskier's: small and human and lacking in any Witcher training or even a hint of magical ability. This, understandably, quite stunned them both.Though not so much as it stunned the nekker, which dropped quite obligingly to the ground. 

“Ah,” said Geralt, after a moment of staring at the nekker, silent, and then: “sword, Jaskier.” 

And Jaskier drew his sword, the correct one, and strode down the hill, Geralt following behind him as quickly as he could. 

Jaskier reached the nekker first, and stood above it for a moment, sword raised, hesitating. He held its hilt like— a broom, Geralt realized, or a rake, some farmyard tool— his hands one atop the other, clenched so tightly that they’d tremble if he were human. 

“Just— aim straight down,” said Geralt, quietly, and Jaskier plunged the sword into the vague area of its horrible rotten chest, and then let go of the hilt and leapt a full yard back in shock when the nekker screamed and crumbled into dust. 

“It wasn’t dead?” said Jaskier, breathing fast, for a Witcher. 

Geralt picked up the sword. It was much too heavy, and he winced, but kept his grip. “Did you think you had to run it through with silver for fun?” 

“What if it— Geralt, those are fast, I wrote a song with a swarm of nekkers in it once, what if it had gotten up again?” 

“Then,” said Geralt, “I’d have cast another aard and knocked it back down.” But Jaskier was still standing there, glowering at him, and something else seemed to be called for, and he wanted to hear his voice again, and that particular want was a little ambiguous, but he continued: “You’d have been fine.” 

I’d have been fine? Between the two of us, I am currently the one with all the bulk and subtlety of a brick shithouse—”

“Rude.”

“—and you think I’m worried about— fine,” said Jaskier, cutting himself off and throwing his hands in the air. “Yes, lovely, thank you, even like this you’re the dangerous one, glad we cleared that up.”  

“Hm,” said Geralt, and held out his hand. Jaskier looked at it, for a moment, then back at Geralt, with a look in his eyes that could be panic, or confusion, or… dehydration? Geralt wasn’t sure.

“Cloth,” said Geralt, clarifying, “second pouch from the right. Need to wipe down the sword.” At this, Jaskier’s look shifted into— not relief, but... wry understanding? If it were on Jaskier’s usual face, he’d have thought—self-mockery— but Witchers were, it turned out, difficult to read.

It was a relief, he allowed himself to acknowledge, as he sat on a rock by the side of the road and wiped down the sharp edge of the blade, to at least retain the signs, simple though they were, to still have this one thing that was his. He hadn’t realized how strong the background buzz of fear had been until it left him, and he was desperately grateful to have a tool in his arsenal to push back against the what if—? that had been building in his head since they set out. 

Absorbed in the work, Geralt hadn’t noticed Jaskier had left until he returned, striding out from under the trees with face twisted in a grimace and a small cloth pouch in his hand. He tossed it gently to Geralt, who barely managed to catch it in time. “What—” he started to ask, but then the smell hit him, too, and he coughed. 

“Fetched us some lovely grave dirt,” said Jaskier, “From where the nekker’d been… ah, snacking. Truly foul, Geralt, really, I don’t know how you manage to mix your potions, if everything is as overpowering as this. That’s one thing down, anyway, four to go. ”  

“Ah,” said Geralt, and then, “...thank you. You did well.” 

Honestly, Geralt,” said Jaskier, exasperation and fatigue making his voice less gravel and more avalanche, “if you’re going to try to be nice about my general uselessness by praising me for picking up some poor dead man’s gritty leftovers, I’d almost rather you went back to saying as little as you generally do.” 

“No,” said Geralt, “You did well, with the sword. My first time, I didn’t run one through all the way, and it did get back up, later. Still have the scar,” he finished, pointing to where it was, on Jaskier’s arm. 

Geralt stood. Jaskier was watching him… cautiously, like a deer startled in its hide, and something about that stance was so unmistakably Jaskier that it made him smile, all unwilling. He tried to lift the sword again, too fast, but felt a strain in his shoulder, and winced. “Can you—” he asked, and Jaskier was there, carefully taking it from his hands, and sliding it back over his own shoulder, into its scabbard, where it belonged. 

They stood there for a moment, not far apart, and then Jaskier shook himself and said, “Well then! Let’s be going!” in a tone that at least approached his usual bright lilt, which was odd, but also a relief. 

And then he clapped Geralt on the shoulder, very hard, which was meant to be cheering, but fuck if it didn’t hurt like anything, and Geralt couldn’t hold back his sharp intake of breath. Jaskier realized at once and said “oh, FUCK—” and squeezed that same shoulder in worry, which was worse, and might actually bruise. 

Jaskier,” said Geralt, slowly, “let go. Please.”

Jaskier did, raising his hands and backing a few steps away. “Shit, Geralt, I’m sorry,” he said, desperate and strangled, a truly horrible look in his eyes of real, actual fear. “I didn’t— I didn’t think—” 

“It’s fine,” said Geralt, “but you have to be careful.” 

“In a fight, sure, I wasn’t planning on accidentally murdering someone in a tavern brawl, but— what, always? Any time you even— any time you touch someone at all?”

Geralt only looked at him. 

“But you’ve— Geralt, I know you’ve slept with people—” and Geralt let out a small huff of laughter, because of course this was an understatement; it was something he and Jaskier had in common, an appreciation for the relief of even fleeting physical intimacy and connection.

“Mostly sorceresses,” said Geralt, then considered. “...Or Witchers.” He considered again: “...other nonhumans. It’s... easier.” 

“But still,” said Jaskier, “You’ve never really hurt— even when I first met you, even before we were friends—” 

“Still aren't,” said Geralt, automatically, but his heart wasn’t in it. 

“—and you took umbrage with my misuse of your previous unfortunate nickname— I mean, you could have killed me! But instead now I find out you’re like one of those, what are they, forest birds, that show off really dangerous plumage colors to say OH NO, I’m poisonous, don’t approach me, and inside you’re this big softy—”

Forest birds?” said Geralt, through gritted teeth, and then his brain caught up with his ears, and he shifted instead, strident and shrill, to: “ soft?!”

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, “don’t deny it, you do care,” and very slowly, telegraphing his approach in large, steady movements, he laid a hand on Geralt’s other, unbruised shoulder. Geralt very carefully reminded himself that this was Jaskier, and didn’t flinch away. He allowed himself a brief moment of gratification when Jaskier’s eyes lost their tinge of terrified wildness before shaking the hand off with a huff and turning back to Roach. 

“Come on,” Geralt said, roughly, “campsite’s a little further on.” He tossed the bag of grave dirt back over his shoulder. 

Jaskier caught it, and followed after. 

 


 

They reached the site Geralt had marked a little before nightfall, and just in time; Geralt had been debating whether to light a torch or trust to Jaskier’s night-vision, and had been thinking himself in circles, trying to decide which was the safer choice. They set up for the night in practiced silence that felt comfortable— Geralt giving Roach a rubdown and a picket; Jaskier collecting a bundle of kindling and building a small pit for a fire. Once things were mostly settled, and snares set up that ought to produce at least some dinner, and yrden cast in warding all around the edges of their little carved-out space, Geralt allowed himself to lay out his bedroll and finally, finally sit. 

He was exhausted. This body, it seemed, wore its needs closer to the surface, and he felt tired, and sore, and frustrated, and magic-spent, an ache in his bones after only a single day that he hadn’t felt since— well, ever, in living memory, not without real reason, like a fight, or a week without food, or a snowstorm. But his muscles hurt, and his head was fuzzy, slow with fatigue, and—

—Jaskier handed him, wordlessly, a little jar. 

Geralt sniffed it, instinctively, but of course that told him nothing, so instead: “What’s this,” he asked, and he could hear the fatigue in his voice. 

“For sore muscles,” said Jaskier. “It’s been a while since I’ve ridden. That usually helps.” 

“Hm,” said Geralt, and wriggled out of Jaskier’s pants to try it out. 

Jaskier made a strangled noise. Geralt looked up. “Nothing!” said Jaskier, “Nope, no, nothing, don’t mind me, hope it’s useful, I’ll just go get more firewood—” and he was off. 

Geralt looked after him, confused, for a moment, but then shrugged, and scooped a little of the ointment into his hand. It tingled slightly as he rubbed it into his calves, but it did feel nice, relieving, and then he moved onto his thighs, which were smaller than he expected, and then he remembered they were Jaskier’s. It was shockingly intimate, somehow far more so than the occasional baths and beds they’d shared, when coin was tight. Far more often than that, actually, but who was counting. 

“Hm,” he said again, but finished applying the cream and shuffled back into Jaskier’s pants and chemise. On further consideration, he picked up and carefully folded the doublet he’d earlier thrown off without a thought, tucking it away neatly by their shared packs. 

Jaskier, returning with a surprisingly neatly-skinned hare and enough stacked cord to last through the night, seemed to notice this, if his blink and double-take were anything to go by, but he said nothing of it. Geralt lit the fire, and they watched their meal roast, cozy. Jaskier hummed a little, absently, under his breath, and it took Geralt a minute to realize what that deep sound was. He didn’t ask him to stop. 

After, when they’d devoured their shares down to the bones, Geralt caught himself yawning, which was new. The feeling of sleepy fog wasn’t entirely unpleasant, which was maybe the most dangerous thing about it; it wouldn’t do to be complacent. “Need an early start tomorrow, to keep the pace up,” he said. “But there could be creatures in the forest. Should post watches.” 

“Geralt, you’ve set up more ward-sign around this camp than you’d need for an entire castle—” said Jaskier. 

“Not true,” said Geralt, lying down against his better judgment.  “Kaer Morhen takes a lot more warding than this.” 

“—and if it makes you feel better, I’ll stay up for an hour, and I promise I’ll wake you should something make it past the first layer, but I see you’ve added a second, and a third, which is probably why you’re absolutely wiped.” 

“I’m fine,” said Geralt, pulling a blanket up to his chin, “just— wake me in an hour, we can swap—”

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, and his voice was fond, “I do need a real, actual, full night of rest in general, you know, and right now, so do you. Go to sleep.” 

And Geralt was ready to argue, but it was, actually, nice to be under a blanket. Still, he ought to complain that Jaskier had given him too many of their shared pile of furs, and that wasn’t right, Jaskier would probably be cold, humans being fragile as they were— but his eyes were very heavy, and it could probably wait until morning, so he only made a single grumbling noise in protest, and then the world went soft and deep, a fire snuffed out all at once.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Geralt came awake slowly. It felt off, this softness between states of consciousness, the way his dreams might have pulled him back down, but it took him a minute to parse exactly how, and then another to remember why, and that was enough to send him sitting sharply up again. And yes, his body was still immediately, obviously different, the hands too small and graceful, his legs a little too lithe, his strength absent. He hadn’t actually expected a little thing like a good night’s sleep to end a curse, of course, but all the same he could feel worry rising in his chest in an unfamiliar way, and then his brain was worried about that, and wasn’t this a horrible little spiral, so alien that he didn’t know the first thing about how to break it—

—But luckily, it was broken for him when a chunk of bread and jerky hit him in the chest with a soft whap. For a moment, this was a perfect distraction, only then he realized he hadn’t seen it coming, and was ready to be worried all over again, about the threat of it, about another three entire days of this, about how they’d make it through alive. 

Fortunately, though: “Sorry!” Jaskier called from across the remains of their firepit, breaking his spiral again. “Sorry, Geralt, I’ve been practicing underhand throws but it may have been a bit much, all the same. Only you looked— hungry,” he finished, and that didn’t seem like what he’d meant to say, but it was also true: Geralt was. 

He tore through the little breakfast, which Jaskier must have retrieved from Geralt’s store in their saddlebags. It was what he thought of as the better jerky, the one he generally saved for Jaskier, as opposed to the roughly-salted leftovers he usually considered fine for himself. And it was passable, he supposed, but it made him think longingly of the stew at the inn, the day before, and he was— sorry, a little, that he hadn’t known what a difference there was for normal humans, between food that was adequate and food that was good. Geralt could tell, of course, but it hadn’t seemed to be important, before. Something in his face must have expressed at least a little of this complex mess, because Jaskier snorted at him, somehow affectionate. 

“Oh, it’s not as bad as all that,” said Jaskier, “and anyway, the one you usually eat is far worse. I don’t know how you stand it. Only I suppose,” he said, lightly, “it’s all fuel, isn’t it, which is what matters, to a Witcher, eh?” 

“Yes,” said Geralt, but still felt a little sorry as he finished his breakfast, all the same. 

They broke camp with surprising ease, despite having to swap which of them was in charge of the heavier lifting. Geralt knew how to tie up a bedroll and pack it away in Roach’s saddlebags, but so did Jaskier, so for once, learned knowledge and muscle memory aligned. They were just about done when Jaskier held up a hand, said, “Oh! I almost forgot—” and dug in the side pouch that was still mostly his belongings, although they’d been traveling together for so long, off and on, that the distinction didn’t quite make sense, any more, and handed Geralt another little jar.

“I don’t need more liniment,” Geralt said, which was surprising to realize, after a day of riding; the rubdown last night must have helped more than he’d thought it would. 

Jaskier laughed. “It’s for your face,” he said, smiling, “So it doesn’t dry out, trekking over dust roads as we’re going to be. I’m not in my twenties any more, Geralt,” which Geralt knew, of course, but it caused him a little twinge of pain, somewhere fragile under his ribs, to hear it said out loud, “and it does take some care to stay looking this good.” 

Geralt snorted, but didn’t argue, and opened the little jar, squinting down at the bright lotion before tentatively dolloping a little onto his cheek. Jaskier let out an indignant squawk (“It’s expensive, Geralt, and by the love of all that’s holy, tap, don’t smear!”), but Geralt ignored it, as usual. It did feel good, he admitted to himself; there had been a tightness in his skin that this lessened, a little. “That’s… nice,” he said, and, closing the jar, tossed it back. 

Jaskier caught it, looking surprised when Geralt gestured at Jaskier. “What, on this?” said Jaskier, pointing to his—usually Geralt’s—face. “Geralt, among the many unfair gifts of Witcher beauty— oh, stop, don’t give me that look, I know, horrible cost and all that—”

“Jaskier,” said Geralt, warningly. 

“Only you’ve never deigned to tell me what exactly your trials entail, so it’s your own fault if I don’t understand— but you can’t deny that I’ve never seen your skin do so something as mundane and human as have a breakout. It doesn’t crack for anything less than a scythe.” 

“Hm,” said Geralt, and when Jaskier threw the jar back, he only flubbed the catch a little before tucking it in a pocket, just in case. And then they were on their way. 

 


 

The course Geralt had plotted would take them east through a few more villages, for the linseed oil and strawberries on Yen’s list— and for better food, though he wouldn’t admit it— before turning off the marginally safer roads down into the wetlands, for the drowner liver, and finally up into the mountains, for the rare higher-altitude hollyhock he’d left for last. 

The first town they passed through was one Geralt had been to only a few months before. He had solved a lesser haunting there, by convincing a rowdy young godling to relocate to the nearby deep forest, and with the disruption gone and their peaceful sleep returned, the villagers had been surprisingly grateful. So their reception was better than average, on returning; nobody outright ran, on seeing the double-swords and gold-bright eyes, and a few braver souls even offered them a nod of thanks as they stabled Roach. Well— Jaskier, currently in possession of the swords and eyes, received a few careful nods; Geralt, with only a lute and a slightly-dusty set of otherwise court-appropriate clothing, got a few actual, genuine smiles, which was so novel and shocking he almost turned tail and left. But regardless: it seemed they weren’t unwelcome. 

“Looking for the market,” said Jaskier, in a passably gruff tone, and pulled a heavy purse from their bags with slow, exaggerated, movements that were carefully calculated to say: it’s okay, I’m safe. 

A small, messy child, of indeterminate age, barely more than an animated sprawl of dirt, approached them in response. Approached Geralt, really, who was quite surprised when the little hand tugged on the edge of his jacket. He automatically fell into a squat, dropping his shoulders and making himself seem as small as possible. If he didn’t do these things, children saw him as a threat, usually. Which was understandable, and probably good for their long-term survival, but it was less than pleasant for Geralt, personally, all the same. Now, though, the effect was comical, and made more so when the lute case on his back overbalanced him, and he sat down hard in the dirt. 

The kid laughed, and when Geralt let out a small huff of surprised amusement, laughed again, harder. A door in his heart opened up, and it was painful, and he was glad. 

“It’s this way,” they said, and turned to dash off down the streets, while Geralt watched, still smiling. A shadow fell over him, but it was only Jaskier, his face doing something complicated that Geralt couldn’t quite make out, offering him a hand. 

Geralt took it, and pulled himself up, surprised at the creak in his knees as he rose. He brushed off the the seat of his pants, as best he could— “Sorry,” he said under his breath, to Jaskier— “That might stain—” and then they followed after. 

They found the linseed oil easily, in a stall full of painting odds and ends that Jaskier eyed with surprising hunger. Something in the set of his hands warned Geralt that he was about to launch into an animated discussion with the shopkeeper about pigments and preservatives, and he elbowed him gently in the ribs to try to stop it, worried about revealing that something was off, here, that they were vulnerable, however polite the villagers had been. When that didn’t work, Geralt realized he may have overcorrected, and did it again, much harder. “Oh,” said Jaskier, “I felt that one—” and then, seeing Geralt’s glare, dropped back into a usual gruff register and went on— “Right. Three bottles, here’s payment, goodbye.” 

The strawberries took a little longer. “Can’t you smell them?” asked Geralt, frustrated, and accidentally landing on a petulant tone that was very Jaskier indeed. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, quietly, “I can smell the tavern, and the dust on the street, and what that man, right there, had for breakfast, yesterday. Which was trout, by the way, dried but going bad. I couldn’t possibly pick out one single fruit smell! Anyway, they’re out of season, so they’d have to be preserved with magic, and that means expensive, and are you sure our purse can— oh,” he said, cutting himself off as Geralt gestured at the medallion on his chest. “ Oh. Right. Yes. It still hasn’t ever stopped completely, but it is a bit louder, this way, so—?” 

Following the trail of magic lead them eventually to a slightly gaudy stall, which did have out-of-season strawberries, and the price was very dear, but they couldn’t afford not to, just now. Geralt ate one, which he told himself was only to test that they were in fact fresh, which Yen’s list of counterspell ingredients carefully specified. The taste was so good that he had a second immediately, without thinking. Jaskier snorted, and leaned over his shoulder to grab another, chest pressed close against Geralt’s back. 

He was warm, and Geralt wondered if he was always warm, and realized that this was more bodily contact than they’d had in the entire past day. Which was unusual; Jaskier tended to rely more on touch even than your average human, in Geralt’s experience, and was always tapping his arm, or gently patting his leg, or brushing their hands together as he passed over a bandage, or a potion, or a mug of ale. And then he saw the look on Jaskier’s face as he ate the berry slowly, right down to the leaves, and found that train of thought to be entirely short-circuited. As was Geralt’s entire brain, really. It was rather a lot to parse. 

“Mm,” said Jaskier, with longing. “Can we get another carton...?” 

So Geralt opened their purse again, and did. 

By that time he was hungry, which was definitely why he felt slightly fuzzy and flustered. Their market quest was over, and by rights they ought to have picked up Roach from her stable and continued on down the road, but they’d passed a tavern advertising fresh-roasted boar, and when he turned them back in its direction, Jaskier didn’t complain.






The meal was hot, and the tavern’s ale was good, and it was surprising, how much better Geralt felt for spending a little time and coin on what he usually thought of as a rare indulgence. As they finished eating, Jaskier looked up, sharp. It took Geralt a minute to spot what he’d noticed: a young, dark-haired woman, her hands twisting in her apron as she approached them from across the room. She was hardly more than a child, and she was desperately anxious, her tension clearly visible even to Geralt’s merely-human senses.

“Witcher,” she said, and then slightly more politely, “Bard. I have a contract.” 

They hadn’t discussed how to handle this. Geralt had been distracted, on the road from their camp into town, by Jaskier’s ongoing litany of everything around them, not only by watching its contents for any actual danger but also by the fact that he enjoyed it. Or— was it enjoyment? He wasn’t sure. He had felt more relaxed, hearing it. Maybe some of that was some ground-in pathways in Jaskier’s brain, but he also allowed that he had missed it, yesterday, when Jaskier was sullen and silent, that sometime along their long and winding way his initial annoyance at excess chatter had turned familiar had turned— fond, he thought, surprised despite himself. But then Jaskier had casually dropped “oh, and that, bright copper-smell?” casually into his listing, and they had needed to turn off the road and skirt carefully around what Geralt had been sure was fresh-spilled blood, but was only a fallen bangle, after all. Anyway. He had been distracted, and they hadn’t planned for this, for what to do if someone tried to hire him—them— for any actual Witchering. 

“Can’t accept it, said Geralt, but “What is it?” asked Jaskier, louder, and when Geralt kicked him under the table, hard, the only thing he got in response was a look. This particular look meant something like, can’t hurt to listen, and Geralt tried to send back a very clear actually, it can hurt rather a lot, but he must have missed his aim, because Jaskier only shrugged and turned back to the woman before them. 

“Something has been... taking people,” she began, slowly. ”There’s a deep forest, with tall trees, where folk usually go out hunting, but these past months, some of them haven’t been coming back.”

“They might,” said Geralt, carefully, “be only leaving…?” 

But she shook her head. “One of our horses came back bloody,” she said, quietly, “and the blacksmith’s boy saw the creature drop out of the trees, behind it. Big, he said, wings like a bat, but much too large.” 

“Fleder,” said Geralt, too quietly for her to hear, but Jaskier picked it up, and repeated his words.  “A starving one. Don’t go into the trees. Send in a sheep or two, if you can. That should buy you a week, and then we’ll be back. You have to hold out until then.” 

“You can’t kill it now?” The young woman asked, more fearful than indignant. Jaskier shifted on the bench beside him, uncomfortable, and before he could fully consider it, Geralt laid a cautious hand on his arm. 

Jaskier froze. This was surprising, to Geralt; Jaskier rested a hand on his arm all the time, as a note of diplomatic warning, or encouragement, or far more rarely, of solidarity and comfort. From his usual perspective, it hardly registered; it was barely a pressure. But like this, the motion felt both easier and far more dramatic; Jaskier’s arm radiated heat underneath this hand in a way he couldn’t ignore. 

“We can’t accept the contract,” said Geralt. “Already on another one. Witcher code says we have to finish that one first.” He realized belatedly that he’d let Jaskier’s usual silvery voice fall into a monotone, by default, and heard how harsh and strange that sounded, and found he didn’t like it, not one bit. “But,” he continued, attempting to modulate at least a little,  “in a week, it’ll be done, and we’ll come back.” 

“Well,” she said, disappointed, as she pushed back her stool to leave. “We’ll try it. And I’ll look for you then.” 




 

After she left, Jaskier turned to him, unhappy. “I know there’s no code,” he said, roughly, “you rubbed it in my face, when I tried to work it into a ballad, how you make it all up as you go. Could we not at least try—”

“Absolutely not,” said Geralt. 

“But Geralt,” said Jaskier, “Your reputation demands that we make an attempt! I should know, I wrote it. And we handled that nekker! Handily!”

Barely.

“Well, it might have been close, but I do actually know how to handle a sword, and how much harder can a single flutter be?”

Fleder,” said Geralt, “it’s a subspecies of lesser vampire. There’s never only one. And no, you do not, I saw how you held mine.” 

“You said I did well,” said Jaskier, who seemed genuinely sad. So Geralt let out a grunt that allowed, yes, maybe he had, all things considered, at which he perked up again. “Anyway, I do so, it’s only that I’m not used to longswords. I am, in fact—” and here he paused for dramatic effect— ”a classically trained fencer! Studied the rapier at Oxenfurt for three entire years! So what,” he concluded, leaning back on the bench and grinning at Geralt in a very disarming way, “do you say to that?!”

“Which school,” said Geralt. 

“Pardon?”

“Which school,” said Geralt, “of fencing were you trained in? If fleders see a marquis-de-sade style parry, they’ll take it as a personal insult, and you can’t have that while you’re fighting to stop them from tearing your guts out through your throat.” 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, slowly, squinting at him. “Was that a joke.” 

Geralt huffed. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, “It was, wasn’t it? I could tell because your voice went up at all the funny bits. Normally,” he continued, “you just have this— delightfully growling monotone, which, don't get me wrong, is great, really does it for me, but I am never sure if you're joking. But you are, aren't you? All the fucking time?!”

“I don't growl,” said Geralt, who was only currently not growling only due to misbehaving vocal cords, and not for lack of trying.

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, fondly, “You absolutely do. It's all grrr this and hrmmmm that, and then when you get very serious, which is usually my fault, sorry, your voice goes down even further,” and he demonstrated: “like this.” 

And that final sound shot right down Geralt's spine, bypassing his brain entirely, to do something highly unexpected and uncomfortable to a whole collection of nerves and parts of Jaskier's anatomy he'd been trying to ignore, out of some sense of— decorum? Respect for Jaskier? Which was a foolish idea from the start. Anyway, he was abruptly half-hard, because of some unforeseen neurological error, possibly a kind of fear-crossed-wire, a horrible combination of danger and being well and truly seen .

“A sheep is big enough to sate it,” said Geralt, trying desperately to lead them out of the treacherous waters of whose voice did what for whom and into the much safer territory of horrible ravenous monsters. “If they stay out of the woods, they’ll be fine for a week, until we can collect the rest of the cure, fix—” his loose hand-wave did its best to encompass the two of them, the situation, the whole infuriating damn world “—all this, and pass back through.”

“Oh,” said Jaskier, his voice gone soft. “You did mean it, when you told her it was ‘we’ who’d be returning? I didn’t think—”

“Unsurprising,” said Geralt, dry. He drained the last of his ale only as punctuation, and not at all to buy himself more time. “Didn’t think what?” 

“Well,” said Jaskier, carefully, “you are seeing rather a lot of me, just now, and I thought… I assumed, after, that you’d need… space. That you’d want me gone.” 

And that was fair; he certainly would have, if this had happened soon after they very first time they’d met. Somewhere along these past few short days, though, Geralt had realized that he hadn't seen Jaskier in too long— entire months, maybe, and when did that get to be too long, measured across the years? — and despite the situation, it had been... he hadn't minded having him along. There are, he thought, worse people to be body-swapped with.

Jaskier let out a startled laugh, which rang straight through his bones. And then Geralt realized that because he'd had quite a large ale with his lunch, and also because he’d forgotten that right now he didn’t have his usual witcher's tolerance, he'd said that final thought out loud.

Chapter Text

Geralt wanted to keep their travels in relatively safe territory for as long as he could. More than wanted: it was imperative that they pick their battles as carefully as possible, and for the vast majority of circumstances that meant avoiding them entirely. He was glad to retain his use of the signs, even though Jaskier currently had all his other Witcher assets, but he wasn’t sure signs would be enough to get them through anything more than a single, underfed nekker, and when he thought about asking Jaskier to actually fight, he felt a little twinge of pain somewhere under his ribs that he didn’t care to examine. So: the route towards the mountains he had planned out kept them on well-established paths for the afternoon, with the goal of an inn at the end of it, where they could rest and recover.

He had calculated this direction yesterday with a view towards the practical, the relative efficiency of talking through a plan of attack for the final, most challenging ingredients conducted over a cozy, well-lit table later this evening, instead of drawing in the dirt. Now, though, his eagerness for the inn at the end of their day was just as much because sleeping on the ground had been— fine, but the bed had been better, which he had noticed even through that first, startled moment of figuring out what, exactly had happened to them, yesterday. So it must have been a substantial difference indeed. 

There had certainly been an uptick in the number of aches in his bones—well, Jaskier’s bones, in Jaskier’s body, which he was only temporarily borrowing— this morning. Of course he had known that the two situations weren’t same, and Jaskier’s constant patter certainly circled back often enough to his longing for a featherbed, a straw-tick mattress, a second pillow, anything— but he did it the way he talked about the weather and the stars, as if it were a constant he accepted, a thing he took on as a given, part of the life they led. 

Just now, that patter was rather more inclined towards the physical aspects of their surroundings: the shade under the trees, the swift movement of some small creature darting for cover, the flowers by the roadside that were bright, appealing, but that Geralt knew weren’t quite what they were looking for, for the oil infusion they’d need to make as part of the counterspell.

The trail split, and the way they needed to follow, east, turned rockier. Geralt pulled gently on the reins, with a light touch, and in unspoken agreement, they both dismounted: Jaskier first, with easy grace. After landing, he turned back to offer Geralt a hand.

“I can manage it fine,” said Geralt, haughtily. His own voice couldn’t generally manage sounding haughty, even when people around him deserved it, which was quite often, actually. He rather enjoyed it.

“Well, sure,” said Jaskier, with Geralt’s usual deep, rolling gruffness, “but just because you can doesn’t mean you must. I know, I know,” he continued, as Geralt swung his leg over and clambered down with a huff, “Witchers need nothing, but honestly, Geralt, it is nice, sometimes, to accept ease when it’s offered.  Or to go after things because you want them. Some people even make a habit of it.”

Geralt mis-aimed his feet and stumbled on the landing. Jaskier didn’t laugh, but only raised a single eyebrow at him, which was completely unfair, really, though Geralt did it to Jaskier all the time. 

They made their way along the increasingly rocky path. Roach picked her footing carefully, and she could probably have managed to do so with both of them astride her, but Geralt was inclined to be thoughtful of mortal creatures, just now. Also, being closer to the ground made it easier to keep an eye out for white myrtle on his own, instead of waiting for Jaskier to point out every flower they were about to pass. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Jaskier to find it, exactly; more so that he didn’t trust himself to give a good enough description. Clarity in subtle shifts of language had never been his strong suit. It was certainly one of Jaskier’s, though Geralt, with an eye towards his inflated ego, would never tell him so, but it didn’t seem to have been magically passed on, literal voice or no. 

So instead Geralt simply kept an eye out for the flower that looked— well, the way white myrtle looked. He’d know it when he saw it. Jaskier’s eyesight was very good, for a human, but Geralt had been worried that the distance above the ground and the distracting motion of the ride, meant he might miss it, although it was common enough, in this stretch of the world. That was definitely the major distraction he’d been worried about, the ride, and certainly not the knowledge and feeling of Jaskier, warm behind him. Either way, it was better to be walking. 

For his part, Jaskier had gotten better at filtering the constant flow of information from Geralt’s inhumanly sharp senses, and his constant chatter had leveled out into pointing out only novel inputs, sounds or scents or sights that had changed. Still, though: “You don’t need to tell me about every rock that shifts, Jaskier,” said Geralt exasperated. Then, considering: “Unless it sounds... big. Could be a troll.” He considered again: “Or an elemental spirit. Not sure which is worse.” 

The slowdown in urgent safety information meant there was room for conversation, which Jaskier quickly filled. 

“So,” Jaskier asked, “I don’t like that you couldn’t take that hunt on, for the fleder, but I understand it, circumstances being what they are. But usually, though. Would you have otherwise accepted it? Was that brief talk enough to go on?”

“Hm,” said Geralt, “To begin, yes. To hunt it— no. Would need to speak to any survivors, try to find its tracks, confirm that it actually was what they thought.” The rhythm of this was familiar, and he allowed that it was pleasant, for a moment, to fall into their usual pattern, the slow exchange of words over miles of journey. But he was surprised by the more immediate effect of how the ground felt less harsh, each uphill step less stressful, for the conversation. 

“Right,” said Jaskier, “More information, sure, for something as dramatic as a vampire, it was awfully short on details— and how do you usually coax people to tell you what you really need to know?”

“I don’t usually have to, when you’re there,” said Geralt, which was true, but also odd to say out loud. He didn’t think he would have, usually. But it was easier, just now, to speak his mind; some second layer that filtered all his thoughts for utility before deigning to allow them to continue into speech was— not missing, but it felt like an active effort to turn it on, instead of having to push back against it, always. 

“When— hm,” said Jaskier, in a tone that started sharp and took a quick turn into rough and thoughtful. “I suppose I never considered that— well, I’m changing the circumstances just by being there, aren’t I? No such thing as an invisible observer.” 

“Certainly not in this jacket.”

“Oh, Geralt, don’t be such a mule about my clothes, red looks well on me.”

Geralt rolled his eyes, but didn’t deny it. 

“And what about when you don’t have me? Is it more of a waiting game? Do you just sit there and silently let them stew until they talk? Or is there a special Witcher trick, that might be useful—” but although on the surface, this was a fair question, Geralt could tell Jaskier’s posture was shifting into what Geralt privately thought of that damned composing stance. In this state, Jaskier’s eyes took on a faraway gaze, and sometimes he’d absently bite at his knuckles, which was very distracting, for multiple reasons that Geralt could not even privately fully articulate, or tap his fingers against his elbow, which was merely annoying in the usual way. In any case, Geralt saw the signs of this starting up, and couldn’t handle the indignity of watching his body do something so clearly Jaskier. So: 

“Jaskier,” said Geralt, cutting him off with what he’d meant to be urgency, but came out too warm for any real harshness. “This is not going into a song.” 

“Oh, I don’t know, Geralt,” said Jaskier, lightly, “it’s a little bit early to make that call. It rather depends on how it all turns out.” 

“Does that matter?” asked Geralt. “You usually just make it up. Thought you didn’t care for actual history.” 

“So you do listen to my lectures on writing…!” Jaskier said, with an excited rumble. Geralt winced, because again, ego, but at the same time, he felt a pleasant buzz, somewhere around his stomach, at the unmistakable happy note in his gruff voice. “And yes, that’s true,” Jaskier went on, “but still: all the best stories—”

“Lies.”

“— have a kernel of truth. There has to be something there,” and here Jaskier’s voice took on a gentleness that seemed forced, somehow less easy, “that you want to remember, in the first place. That you think is worthy of memorializing for— well. For as long as the song goes on.” His eyes were unfocused again, but Geralt couldn’t tell whether this one was music or wistful. Either way, he’d better cut it off. 

“Jaskier,” Geralt said, without any real bite, “Stop it. Eyes on the road.” 

“Right, and out for the flowers, sorry, yes. Not much going on, just now, thought I heard a howl a few miles off, but it hasn’t repeated, so we’re fine. This is an odd use of your talents, isn’t it, flower-hunting…?” 

“Not that odd,” said Geralt, absently wondering about the howl, and dismissing it, because there wasn’t anything they could do about it besides continue on and hope for the best. “Have to do it for potions all the time.” Although— when he traveled with Jaskier, his careful stock of herbs would sometimes be mysteriously replenished, which was a thing he’d just accepted, and never really thought to ask after how Jaskier had learned which herbs were useful to a Witcher, or when he’d made the time to do so, or why. “ But,” he acknowledged. “That’s still… part of a job. Not usually this... personal.” 

“No,” said Jaskier, “of course it wouldn’t be, you need to make a living just like anybody else. I do know that, Geralt, I wrote a whole song about it. Actually quite a popular little ditty,” he continued, with a note of gentle ribbing, “I made a decent amount for a written copy of the sheet music, and bards who’ve never even met you are singing it, these days—” 

“Spare me,” said Geralt, with an overacted yearning look at the sky, and Jaskier laughed, and Geralt felt that warmth again, and smiled. 

“Well, anyway, you have to get paid. Do you ever take on contracts you’re not paid for, though? I don’t mean the way you undercut your own worth, for parents of lost children, or villages even more starving than average— don’t deny it, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it— but I mean, work as a way of showing— well, with a different motivation than somebody’s told you that you must.” 

“No,” said Geralt, automatically, but then, in the following silence, he took a moment to actually think. “Well. Used to compete to bring the biggest dracoling heads in, back in training. So, yes, for Vesemir, or Eskel, maybe. Out of— not for payment,” he finished, unable to pin the feeling down. 

“Hm,” said Jaskier.  

After another few dozen steps, Geralt realized: of course it wasn’t limited to only his distant childhood. He’d hunted down plenty of creatures for their meat, if Jaskier was with him, even when he had a decent stock of rations; he knew Jaskier couldn’t easily digest the hardtack that was Witcher standard. Or for their fur, in years when Jaskier found him in the earliest days of spring, and it was clear he was cold. On one memorable occasion, he’d ripped apart an entire manticore because Jaskier had snapped a string on his lute, and Geralt had heard once that their guts made good replacements. He’d found a buyer for the head, and kidneys, but that wasn’t why he’d actually decided to track it down. But this was a little much, to be confronted with, and to parse, and fortunately, the world provided him a distraction: a little patch of white myrtle, just ahead, a little ways off the road. 

“Jaskier,” said Geralt, delighted, and grabbed at his arm without thinking, pointing with his other— “there.” 

“What?” said Jaskier, in a higher-pitched, startled growl, looking at the hand on his arm, and then, following Geralt’s gaze: “Oh. Oh, look, the leaves are shaped like little fiddleheads, you could have just told me that, we passed the same plant hours ago!” 

This was infuriating, but Geralt refused to let his good mood be put off, just now, so he ignored it. Letting go of Jaskier, he walked over and picked a few of the flowers, and then a few more, for safety. He whistled for Roach, who trotted over with gratifying haste, though whether it was for the noise or the hope of more sugar cubes, he wasn’t sure. He fed her a couple anyway, just in case. 

He dug a little mortar and pestle out of her saddlebags, along with the tightly-wrapped jars of linseed oil. He started to grind the flowers down, but when his wrist grew tired, and Jaskier wordlessly lifted the setup out of his hands and took the work over, he let him, without complaint. 

When the petals were rendered down into pulp, Geralt added them carefully to each jar in equal measure. “There,” he said with satisfaction, closing the last jar up again, and packing them all back away, close to but not mixing with the strawberries and grave dirt. “That’s three down. Two days to infuse; should be ready just in time. ” 

“You know, I’d forgotten for a second that we’re going to have to drink all this,” said Jaskier, “and while the flowers smell quite nice, actually, I did get the barest whiff of that— that horrible skeletal mud, when you opened the pouch, and even that hint was overwhelming. I don’t know how you quaff your potions like it’s nothing, Geralt, and I think if I have to ingest this mix with your senses it will really, truly kill me.”

“Could be worse,” said Geralt, shrugging. 

How,” said Jaskier, with a growl.

“Something else might kill us both before we get the chance.” 

“Well, when you put it that way,” said Jaskier, wry. 




 

They made good time, rocky trail considered, but they were still a good hour away from the village when Geralt heard the first note of actual concern in Jaskier’s voice. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, rough growl made rougher with worry— “there’s— hm. Remember that howl, from a while ago? It’s back, but it brought friends.” 

“How many?” asked Geralt at once, trying not to let his own worry show through in his voice. 

“I couldn’t possibly— oh, no, look at that, I can tell, they’ve got different voices. What a song it is, too—”

“Jaskier.”

“—Sorry, right, four of them. Maybe three? No, four, but they’re all higher-pitched, a little reedy. What’s that mean, Geralt?” 

They’re underfed, thought Geralt, scrawny, hungry, which meant dangerous, for them. Wolves wouldn’t usually attack humans— or humanoids, anyway— but their walk had been peaceful for hours, which meant no other people in shouting distance, which meant that to a pack of starving wolves they might seem easy prey indeed. And the trail was now too broken to be able to leap back on Roach and flee, and an hour was too long for him, in Jaskier’s body, to be able to run, especially picking his way over treacherous ground, where he’d already almost fallen several times, just from the general confusion of a slightly-off center of gravity. 

“Gonna have to fight,” he said, shortly, leading Roach off to the side of the trail, casting around for a patch of relatively flat terrain where they could make a stand. “It’ll be fine, but I need to think through it. Tell me when they get within half a league.” 

He took stock of their resources, as best he could. His strength obviously wasn’t what it usually was, and neither was his ability to tap into the background magic of the world, with as much as he’d drained that, the previous night. He could manage another partial yrden, cast on the ground, blocking off a few modes of entry so at least they’d know which way the wolves would come from. He guessed that he could hold an axii on two of them, keeping them disoriented and out of the fight. 

That still left two hungry wolves. They had wrestled Geralt’s armor onto Jaskier, eventually, so if worse came to worst, Jaskier could probably bludgeon one to death while it bit ineffectually at the only parts of him it could reach. Which still left one to Geralt. He considered explosives, but that was as likely to maim as kill, and a wounded animal was far more dangerous still. He had a crossbow, but certainly not the strength to draw it, and Jaskier didn’t know how to aim it properly, so that was entirely out. He wanted so badly to hold a sword in his hands, but he knew he couldn’t handle the weight, and it was far more likely to drag him down than to aid at all. So: a sword for Jaskier, two daggers and a quen shield for him, and it ought to be fine, really. But he could feel his body tensing up, and there were quite a lot of unknowns between them and safety. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, and Geralt could hear them now, too, circling and howling around them, “they’re close. Tell me how I can help.” 

“Yeah,” said Geralt, “Yeah, okay,” and, gathering his strength, cast the yrden. He guided Roach towards the relatively safer back of the semicircle, which she knew better than to try and cross. He pulled out his daggers, pressed the steel sword into Jaskier’s hands, and explained his plan, such as it was. 

“So you hold two, and I kill one of the ones still moving,” said Jaskier, slowly, “by… fencing at it until it stops.” 

“Or you could punch it. Just hold the teeth away from your face. Everywhere else is protected, should be fine.”

“Sure,” said Jaskier, “Anywhere but your lovely face, fine, I’m on board. And meanwhile you, what, menace the last one to death with those two toothpicks?” 

Jaskier sounded deeply, genuinely worried. More than that: Jaskier sounded worried about him, and Geralt couldn’t have that, so he put on his best mimic of Jaskier’s easy, confident, smile, and countered with: “Not just the toothpicks,” and cast a perfectly-formed quen, a little golden sphere that sprang up around him and sparkled for just a moment before fading into a barely-visible shimmer of safety. 

Jaskier snorted, then laughed. “Gods, that’s— wow,” he said. “I— You look truly, insufferably smug. Sometimes I don’t know why you put up with me.” 

“I wonder the same thing all the time,” said Geralt, because his heart was in his throat, and he had more important things to worry about than his usual filter, “but here we are—” and then the wolves were on them. 

He was able to hold the quen, and the yrden, and cast the axii true, so that was good, two down, two left. And the third went straight for Jaskier, which was— not fine, exactly, but he’d planned for it, he’d be okay. And the fourth one hesitated, at the open mouth of their trap, and that was better than fine, it gave him a moment to try to take it out without it ever having the chance to harm either of them. 

Geralt hefted a dagger, sighted, and threw it in a confident arc, but while his aim was true, his strength and speed  were not. The dagger buried itself in the wolf’s shoulder, instead of the eye he’d aimed for, and that broke the wolf out of its hesitation— it sprang at Geralt, and tackled him to the ground. 

His shield held for long enough to protect him from the worst of its gnashing teeth, and it burst only just as he thrust the second dagger through its heart. It gave a last, futile snap of its jaw as it died, and Geralt shoved it off him as fast as he could, which was much more difficult than he’d expected.  His own heart was beating fast and hard against his ribs, his hand shaking as he pulled the dagger out again and stood with difficulty up to back away. 

Jaskier had taken his own wolf down, while Geralt was occupied; one hard strike straight through its side as it had feinted and lunged and circled him, no bludgeoning required. So that was good, too. But then Jaskier turned to look at him for instruction, eyes wide, and he was forgetting something important—

“The others,” Geralt said, voice coming out in a strained, high-pitched gasp, “The last two. Quickly, while I can hold the sign.” And Jaskier looked as if he was about to protest, but Geralt said, “quickly,” through gritted teeth, and he went, and stabbed them where they stood frozen, and then, that fast, it was done.

Jaskier returned at a run, back to where Geralt was still just standing, shaky, over the body of a wolf, dagger still clenched tight in his hand. 

“You’re hurt,” said Geralt, looking at where Jaskier’s leathers were torn straight through, at the calf, and he could see dark blood oozing out from underneath, and an open wound.  

“You interminable idiot,” said Jaskier, with a pained growl: “So are you. Sit, before I knock you down myself.” And he pushed down on Geralt’s arm, gently, until Geralt did. 

Geralt kept staring at the wound on Jaskier’s leg, as Jaskier patted him once, gently, on the back, and then rushed away to Roach. He wasn’t quite able to parse what Jaskier meant. He wondered briefly if this was what shock felt like, this sense of dissociation, of being out of touch with his own body. Then he realized how absurd a concern that was, given their current circumstances, and almost laughed, but decided against it, as it would probably only worry Jaskier. He was frantically digging through their saddlebags for something— probably bandages— and Geralt didn’t want to distract him. He could see the gash on Jaskier’s calf already closing, even as he moved around, the blood slowing and clotting with a far greater speed than he’d ever seen on Jaskier before, the few rare times something had gotten around Geralt, to him. 

There hadn’t been many times that had happened, across the years. Geralt remembered all of them. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, “talk to me.” 

“I’m fine,” said Geralt, “not gonna pass out over a little scrape.” Though actually, he supposed he might; he’d seen plenty of non-Witchers do exactly that. He would have worried, but the shock was fading, and he was beginning to feel surprisingly okay, actually. He put a hand up to his left shoulder, where he finally remembered that he’d felt the wolf’s claws, just as the shield had shattered. It was wet with blood, but it felt more like a day-old wound than a fresh one. Or what he imagined those would be like, for humans, anyway. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, using the same voice Geralt used for Jaskier, when he was hurt, which any other time, he would have laughed at in sheer surprise. “I have to take the jacket off, to clean the shoulder before I bandage it. Okay?”  

“Sure,” said Geralt, less fuzzy already, “But I think it’s gonna be fine. Just a scratch.” 

Jaskier finished peeling off the jacket, and paused. “Geralt,” he said slowly, “it was much worse than a scratch. I could see the muscle, underneath.” 

“Oh,” said Geralt, “Well. Explains the pain. Can you not, now?” 

“No,” said Jaskier, exasperated, “it’s already closing up. Like wounds always do, on you. What does that mean, Geralt? Am I in danger of bleeding out?!” 

“No, look,” said Geralt, and pointed at his leg, with a hand that had mostly stopped shaking. “That’s clotted over, too.” 

“I thought,” said Jaskier, “that healing was part of the whole mutations package, which I seem to have gotten the bulk of, so why the fuck is it with you? Did your spirit drag that over, along with the signs?”

“Dunno,” said Geralt. “...Maybe? We can draw on ambient magic as a boost, for healing, if things are really desperate. Mostly unconsciously. But it might be connected.” 

Might be—”  Jaskier said with a low, dangerous, growl.

“Jaskier,” Geralt said, “this wasn’t exactly covered in our training. I don’t know what’s going on any more than you, but if it keeps you alive, I’m not going to argue.”

“Keeps me—” and Jaskier threw his hands up in the air in frustration. “Fine! Fine. I’m going to dress it anyway, I’ve done it on you often enough, even if you insist you don’t need it.” And, as threatened, he pulled out the bandages, and spirits, and a little poultice, and set about cleaning the wound. Geralt hissed in discomfort. He usually experienced concentrated disinfectant as little more than a fizz, but it turned out it did burn human skin, and rather badly, at that. 

“Speaking of bites,” said Jaskier, lightly, in a way Geralt suspected was meant to distract him, but he wasn’t going to complain, “I nearly chomped right through your tongue, yelling, when that last one went for your throat. You’ve got very sharp teeth, Geralt.” 

“Mm,” agreed Geralt, trying hard to focus on Jaskier’s voice, and not the warmth of Jaskier’s hand on his back, and the extremely gentle care with which he was wrapping his shoulder. 

“You say mutations all the time, but you never talk about what that means, exactly. What the particular genetic cocktail that makes up a Witcher is.” 

“Little bit of everything,” said Geralt, trying for wry, and pleased that his voice sounded almost normal again. Well, normal for Jaskier, anyway, with the strained, shaky note mostly gone.  

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, “are you part vampire. You have to tell me if you are, because it was really— I mean, I noticed the— I wouldn’t quite say fangs, but the sharpness, earlier, eating, but it’s one thing for stew and another to realize I nearly bit a hole in your tongue! Several holes, actually!”

Geralt shot him a look which said something like: that’s a very foolish question, or possibly, is this really, right now, your biggest worry?  

“That’s not a denial, Geralt,” said Jaskier. 

Geralt only huffed in response. 

“There,” said Jaskier, tying up the bandage. “Very nicely done, if I do say so myself. I don’t think your hands would be much for fretwork after all, you’ve had decades to develop exactly the wrong kind of calluses, but they are very dexterous all the same—” He cleared his throat, sharply, for no reason Geralt could tell, and shifted gears: “and we’ll just check that at the inn, later, we can change the bandage then.” 

“What about your leg?” asked Geralt. 

“Oh, this? Scabbed over in the time it took me to work on yours, just like you said,” said Jaskier, casually. “Handy, that.” 

And it was handy, Geralt allowed, and a little better even than that, to not need to be worrying about Jaskier in such a visceral, immediate way. To know that whatever else might happen, whatever mess they were currently mixed up in, Jaskier wouldn’t get an infection from a stray wolf tooth and die just because he’d chosen to spend his time at Geralt’s side. 

Well. This particular mess was absolutely Jaskier’s fault. But still. 

Geralt shrugged Jaskier’s jacket back on, with a silent wince at its giant tear, and they took Roach and set back off down the road. 

They passed by the body of the final wolf, a little way along. Any other day, Geralt would stop, to make what use he could from their flesh and bones, but there just wasn’t time. Jaskier kept looking back over his shoulder at it, though, even after they were well past. 

“What,” said Geralt. Jaskier only looked at him. 

“What is it?” asked Geralt, perhaps going a little bit overboard in his attempt to show that yes, he did understand how questions worked, he could make his voice rise and fall too, even if he didn’t usually choose to. “You keep looking back at the wolves.”

“It was different,” Jaskier said, carefully, “from the nekker. That was— eugh, just thinking of it feels unnatural, but wolves are— they’re like big mean dogs, they’re just living their lives.” 

“So are nekkers,” said Geralt. 

“We have a very different idea of dogs, Geralt. But sometimes you have to kill things that aren’t- aren’t as clearly, visibly monstrous. And it was hard, Geralt, for a second I didn’t think I could. What makes you able to do it, over and again?” 

“When I know what will happen if I won’t,” said Geralt, “and there isn’t any other choice.” 

“Right. Well. Mostly I mean— that feeling wasn’t any different, than it’s been, the few times I’ve actually managed to hunt for our supper. But the funny thing, the very different feeling was— I know any other day— well, any day except the last two— I would have just frozen. You know, how your body gets worked up, but your brain can’t decide if you should stand your ground and fight or run the fuck out of there, so you just stick there, caught?” 

“I don’t run,” said Geralt. 

“Yeah,” said Jaskier. “That.” 

Geralt felt he owed him more of an explanation, in case it happened again. “It’s an adrenal gland alteration,” he explained, “and modified receptors, in the neural pathways that it would normally feed. Witchers get the boost of clarity, but not the worry over which choice is better.” 

“A long, fancy way of saying you’re a stubborn idiot,” said Jaskier. “If you don’t think to run, if that’s not even an option— what happens if you face down something meaner than you?” 

Geralt laughed, shortly, which was novel. And then he realized Jaskier was, in fact, serious, and was waiting for an answer, looking at him with concern and something else. 

“Oh,” said Geralt. “Well. Then I die.” 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, slowly, “you can’t just say that. You can’t casually declare that you’re going to fucking die and leave me.” And Jaskier looked genuinely upset, and Geralt wasn’t sure why, because surely he knew that was how all Witcher stories ended? But oh, right, Jaskier temporarily fell under the category of Witcher, so it made sense, that it would hurt, to remind him of that right now. 

“Obviously,” said Geralt, doing his best to sound reassuring and falling rather short, “We’re going to be careful until this situation gets resolved. Not going to take on anything more than we absolutely have to. You’ll be fine.” 

“That’s not what I—” said Jaskier, but he froze, and his face did something complicated, a series of quick, small movements of distress in his eyes and brow. 

Geralt was actually quite good at reading human emotions, usually. He’d had a long time to practice, and with the extra layer of information gathered by his extraordinary senses of smell and sight and sound, there wasn’t much he couldn’t follow. It was useful; being able to tell who was upset, and who was stressed, and who was probably both, and lying. Emotion was often the biggest clue he’d get, for what was really going on behind a contract’s carefully stilted phrasing. He hadn’t realized how much he missed it, how truly blind he was without it, until just now, seeing something going on with Jaskier and entirely unable to parse exactly what it was. 

“Jaskier,” Geralt began, but: “Never mind,” Jaskier said, cutting him off, short and sharp. “Let’s just— I’m tired, let’s get on to town.”

He turned, leading Roach, to go. And something about that was off, too, because Jaskier shouldn’t be tired, not after a little skirmish like that, but Geralt was plenty tired enough for the both of them, so he let it go, and followed after. 

Chapter Text

They reached the inn they’d been aiming for just as night fell, and paused outside it, to assess. They didn’t look… too awful, all things considered; a little beaten up, and Jaskier’s jacket was very roughly mended indeed, as Geralt had only given it a few quick stitches, on the road. But they still read as the proper side of safe, for a town like this, and they probably wouldn't be hurried away, as their coin was good. 

Jaskier had been quiet the entire rest of the walk, subdued and entirely silent. Except once, when he’d stopped Geralt to point straight up above them, where the setting sun shimmered on something flying out of one cloudbank and into another. “Wyvern,” said Geralt, “they only hunt at dawn, it won’t come down.” 

“No,” said Jaskier, and his gravelly voice sounded bone-tired, or worse, “I know that. Only— it looked rather lovely, don’t you think?” 

Geralt had grunted an assent, and they’d continued on. 

And now they were here, and there was light streaming through the windows of the inn, and warm noises pouring out of its door. Geralt couldn’t quite make it out, just yet, with human ears,  but it must have been promising, because Jaskier perked up. He shook himself all over, like a— don’t say wolf— like a dog casting off the last water from a bath, and clapped Geralt very gently on the back, careful of his shoulder, and said “Shall we—?” and was off through the door. 

It was early evening yet, but there was already a bard setting up to play— two, actually, a pair of young women, human and part-elven, all easy smiles and brightness. At least, they were until they saw Geralt— well, Jaskier, who was difficult to miss, with his current bulk, and then they leaned to look around him, and then saw Geralt, and they startled all over again. 

Oh!” said the elven one, leaping up— “Oh, sirs, it is Jaskier, isn’t it? And the wolf-witcher? If we’d known— won’t you play a set, even a short one, before we begin? I’ve been dying to hear your new ballad, I know it took second in the Novigrad festival, these two weeks past—” at which Jaskier folded his arms over his chest and huffed, and the young woman finished nervously: “and it would be such a delight to hear it, do you think you might…?”

And then she fell silent, and looked at Geralt, and Geralt realized with a start that she was waiting for his reply. 

They hadn’t discussed how to handle this, either: what to do if someone wanted to hire Jaskier. Geralt flashed back to the witcher contract they’d had to turn down, a few short hours ago, and wished with his entire desperate soul that they were only dealing with that again, and not with two hopeful faces, and a tavern around them, needing him to be a bard. Because he couldn’t, not even like this; he didn’t have that easy grace and diplomatic charm; the world hadn’t let him build it, and he was out of his depth, here. 

He looked at Jaskier with panic in his eyes, drowning, but Jaskier only raised an eyebrow. “I—” said Geralt, and coughed. There was nothing for it. He’d have to turn it down, but he was worried of ruining Jaskier’s reputation in the process, “I—”

But Jaskier took pity on him. He winked at Geralt, actually winked, there and gone so Witcher-fast he thought he’d imagined it, but: “Hurt his throat,” Jaskier said, with Geralt’s rough growl. And then, when the bardlings turned to look at him, because he couldn’t resist, Jaskier went on: “Took a hit fighting off a siren. Saved my life. It was,” he said, with a dramatic pause, ignoring Geralt staring daggers at his traitorous face— “the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.” 

“Oh,” said the human one, clutching her partner’s arm with both hands, “How long ago did it happen?” She sounded utterly delighted by the drama and the fresh gossip both, and Geralt knew in that moment that he’d absolutely never hear the end of this. “I heard your voice was off, distracted or troubled somehow, at the festival, and that’s why you didn’t win...?”

“It was a recent battle,” said Jaskier, with a dangerous look in his eyes— well, on Jaskier it would be dangerous, a sign of oncoming poetry, but on Geralt it just looked strange— “but siren wounds reverberate down a timeline, through the past and future, affecting the very soul, so it might well have been the cause. In fact, it probably was!” They had left believable Witcher in the dust, at this point, and Geralt could see definitely a magical problem here fast approaching, so he elbowed Jaskier in the gut, before he could spread any more monster misinformation. “Ah— yes.” said Jaskier, reluctantly taking the hint, and trimming his sentences down again, to something more like Geralt’s usual fare. ”It’s bad. We’re working on a cure.” 

“Oh,” said both bardlings together, “how romantic.”

Geralt made a horrible, strangled, cut-off noise, which probably helped to sell the story of the tragic wound to his throat.

“Please don’t let us keep you, sit and have a rest,” the elven woman went on, “your voice must need it. Can you not speak at all?” 

“A little,” said Geralt, hastily, before Jaskier could mute him for the evening. “Can’t sing, though.” 

“Terrible,” said the human, face falling in a veneer of earnest sympathy that did little to mask her relief that they wouldn’t be competing for tips. “Truly terrible to hear. Oh, I know— sweetheart,” she said, turning to her partner, “What if we only play Jaskier’s songs, tonight? In tribute?” 

“Yes, absolutely,” said the elven woman, clapping her hands in delight. “Start with the ballads? Work our way up to the good ones? I mean—” she went on with sudden horror— “they’re all great, but some work better for a crowd, you know?”

“Yes,” said Jaskier, through sharp and hard-set teeth: “Right. Basic environmental knowledge, that. But really— all the ballads— are you sure that’s—?” 

But they seemed to be waiting for something from Geralt, so he smiled and said “Lovely, ” and maybe a little bit of his own dangerous aura had translated after all, because they were gone in a flash, back to setting up before he could blink. 

Jaskier went off to see about a room, which of course they’d share, both because it was cheaper, and simpler, and because if anything happened they’d need to both be there to fight it off together. Geralt claimed them a table in a corner, and he didn’t even have to glare at anyone to get it; people had heard that little drama play out, and smiled, and were very nice about leaving him a walking path. People generally got out of his way, to be fair, and they were certainly clearing out the space between Jaskier and the innkeeper, now, but that was out of fear, bard’s tame witcher or no, and this was something different. Fondness? Basic human decency? Geralt tried very hard not to get used to it. 

Once everything was settled, the innkeeper sent them over a very nice dinner, and a very nice wine to go with it, something from one of Toussaint’s better vineyards. And then the bards began playing, and if the ballads were a little maudlin, they were also devastatingly, bone-breakingly earnest, at least the way they played them. They kept casting significant glances in Geralt and Jaskier’s direction, too, and Geralt couldn’t figure out who they were meant for, and he decided that the only way to deal with this was to get a little drunk, so he did. 

Geralt did his best to look interested and approving. The meal was genuinely delicious— a rich, toothsome potato soup, replete with little mushrooms and onions just this side of burnt— and he was, surprisingly, overall enjoying himself,  but he couldn’t help wincing a little from time to time. The fiddle the human woman was playing, sweet and slow, was a little mistuned— no fault of her own, but the notes kept sounding sour and off. He didn’t know how he knew that. Nobody else seemed to be bothered. He turned to Jaskier, keeping his voice low to keep up the charade of injury and asked, “Can you..?”

“Yes,” said Jaskier, almost absently, “The string for her A is a little too old, likely to split soon, that’s why it sounds like that.” Jaskier had seemed… uncomfortable during several of the ballads, the ones that came with a higher proportion of meaningful looks from the bards, and he’d been unsuccessfully attempting Geralt’s own trick of making himself look small. Geralt didn’t see why these particular songs had had that effect. They were all about the distant moon, or the untrodden mountain snow, or a particularly sorrowful one about longing for Temeria’s abandoned, war-torn, shining, golden fields of wheat, that had started out like propaganda and ended with barely a dry eye in the house. But he was distracted from his musings by Jaskier, who went on: “You have a decent ear for music, Geralt, I could pick that one out, too.” 

“I don’t, though,” said Geralt. 

“Ah,” said Jaskier, brightening, “so you admit that you have no taste at all, and that’s why you don’t like my singing—!”

“No,” said Geralt, “Don’t much care for it in general. Could never quite hear the tune. Don’t mind yours, though.” Because it’s you, singing, he thought, but didn’t say, having stayed successfully just this side of a little drunk, this time.

“Really?” asked Jaskier, interested. “Tone-deafness…? It seems fine, to me, I can follow it quite well. There’s a whole host of interesting undertones to the vibrato that I can make out with your ears, actually, I wonder if I can—” 

Don’t,” said Geralt, cutting Jaskier off just in time. “Anyway. I could never have heard that, before.” 

“Strange,” said Jaskier, and they both fell quiet for a while, considering. Geralt swirled the wine in his glass, and thought about mixes, and separation. About what a spirit might look like, and where, exactly, it might reside; somewhere between neurochemistry and memory, physiology and practice, form and function. 

That was a little more philosophical than his dinner-table thoughts tended to be. Which probably meant he was a little more than a little drunk, but also that it was already too late to be worried about that particular problem in any useful way, and if that was the case, he might as well pour himself another generous glass of wine. So he did, and the bards played on.  

 


 

Some soft-edged, indeterminate amount of time later, Geralt was drawn back to himself by the screeching sound of a room’s worth of chairs and benches scraping back across the well-worn wooden floor. It seemed that the bards had followed through on their threat of playing each and every one of Jaskier’s ballads, and having completed their final lament, required a break before shifting into a rowdier set. All around the tavern, people were taking this as an excuse to to find a handkerchief, or crowd the bar for another drink. Several of them even took the chance to cautiously approach Geralt and Jaskier— well, Geralt— to wish him well for his injured voice, and congratulate him on his almost-win at the recent festival, and ask if he was working on anything new. Geralt nodded, and smiled, and pointed apologetically to his throat, and decided that the only possible way to deal with this was to get extraordinarily drunk. So he did. 

One of his well-wishers was a very nice young man. Well, several of them were very nice young people, but this one leaned over the table, and lingered, flirting shamelessly. “I can’t believe you’ve already placed in Novigrad, at your age!” he said, breathlessly. “How old are you, anyway—?”

“Older than I look,” muttered Geralt, dry, under his breath, and Jaskier snorted into his glass. 

“What?” said the young man, and when Geralt shook his head, and pointed to his throat, “Oh right, sorry.” But despite this apology, he continued, undeterred, for quite some time, Geralt nodding or shaking his head and growing more tired by the second. This went on until Jaskier finally stopped it, by placing a hand on Geralt’s un-bandaged right shoulder, leaning across the table, and grinning a horrible grin. 

“My injured friend,” Jaskier growled, “is tired, I think,” and he smiled again, with all his teeth— Yen would be proud— and his hand slid down to Geralt’s back, protectively.

It was very warm. Geralt was also feeling very warm, between the second bottle of wine and the hand on his back, which was very heavy, and large, and while it wasn’t actually holding him down, at the same time, it was.  

“What? Oh, yes, sorry,” said the nice young man, “I’ll just— I’m over there, but I’ll just go—” and he was gone, and they were alone again. 

“Phew,” said Jaskier, rough but kind, his hand still there, which felt—unexpectedly nice, actually. “Sorry, can’t disappoint the public. I would have stepped in earlier, but you should have seen the look on your face wait,” he said abruptly, “Geralt. Your face. Are you blushing?”

Geralt hadn’t blushed in eighty years. Longer, maybe. “Witchers don’t blush,” he said, despite all the evidence against him. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, “you absolutely are. And all it took was some very inexpert flirting! I think you must blush all the time, and it just doesn’t usually show.” 

Jaskier’s thumb was moving in absent circles on Geralt’s temporarily small and bony shoulder blade. Geralt could feel his ears getting hot, which was hugely embarrassing, which only made it worse. 

“Wait,” said Jaskier suspiciously, and he took his hand away, which Geralt almost actually protested aloud. “Is that— can you—” and he tilted his head to the side, listening. “Something’s up. With your blood vessels. And your heartbeat. Melitele’s tits, are you sweating?”

Geralt put his head in his hands. 

“I mean—” said Jaskier, hasty, “Sorry I scared him off, you didn’t seem— Look, if you want to that badly, he’s right over there, staring at you still, you should go for it. I probably would.” 

Something was off about Jaskier’s voice. Other than the obvious, that it was Geralt’s. There was a furtive, guilty hitch in the back, under the deep rough growl, like he didn’t really mean it, towards the end of that particular ramble. But Jaskier seemed to notice it, too, along with how he’d hunched over in the chair, large hands fidgeting in his lap, and he sat back up, recovering gracefully, determined to lighten the mood. So: 

“Just be careful with my cock, Geralt,” said Jaskier, all gruff cheer again. “I am going to want it back.” 

“Jaskier,” Geralt gritted out through his teeth. 

“You don’t have to choke it to death the way you do yours, is all I’m saying, use a light touch, have some mercy on me.” 

Jaskier!” growled Geralt. It was a bit muffled around his hands, but he felt it was still a pretty good threatening noise, all things considered. 

“Yes, Geralt?” said Jaskier. 

“You can’t go one fucking day without—”

“It’s been two days, Geralt!”

“Not even a day and a half,” said Geralt, lifting his head up with a look of horrible hangdog sorrow. He was too old to be embarrassed, and they’d seen each other bare plenty of times, over the years, but he hadn’t tried it, had barely even peeked. And of course he’d had to piss, and do his best to clean off the dirt of the road, and there was, of course, the liniment. But he’d tried not even to look, over-much, out of some kind of, again, foolish idea of respect for whatever boundaries they had left. But also because then he would know, and he sometimes thought it was all that stopped him, not knowing what Jaskier would look like, like that. It was a final, desperate defense he’d built himself, even in this unusual intimacy, against having to confront it, to look too closely at how he felt. 

But he did have an idea, after all. He could admit it, some uncounted large number of glasses in, that of course he’d thought about it, what Jaskier might look like— what it might be like to see him breathless and know it was because of him. And some treacherous voice that sounded an awful lot like Jaskier’s chimed in that it wasn’t just that, was it? It would be easier if it were only lust, but lust wasn’t what woke him up at night, or broke his meditations, worrying about how many years they might have together, about how long this fragile thing might last.

But it didn’t matter, anyway: Jaskier didn’t feel the same way about him. Oh, certainly Jaskier had been aroused around him, Geralt had smelled it in a way he couldn’t ignore, but: he was like that with everyone, Geralt could sense it on him all the time, so it wasn’t— it was nothing about Geralt, it was just Jaskier, who loved as easy as breathing, who wanted so much that it would break a lesser man. And so, the few times Geralt had allowed himself to think about it, briefly, painfully, it was only in the context of reminding himself: This is not for you. Let it go, or you’ll push away the only good thing you know.

And something about that reminder, this time, whether it was this body, or this neurology, or simply the pent-up weight and stress of not even being able to protect what he couldn’t have, was too much. Geralt snapped, but he did it quietly, and he only pushed back his bench from the table, and stormed away up the stairs. 

 


 

Jaskier followed behind him, of course. As he always did, unerringly, heedless of danger or thoughts of his own safety. Which was part of the problem. 

“Geralt,” Jaskier said, something anxious in his hoarse voice. “As I keep saying, you have to talk to me.”

“I did not,” said Geralt, and he meant to snarl, but it came out petulant, almost desperate, “want this.” He kept stomping up the stairs, and didn’t further specify. The stairs didn’t creak under his weight as they might usually, but Jaskier’s boots had a little heel that made a satisfying clonk on the wooden tread, so that was something.

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, and reached out with surprising swiftness, and caught him by the wrist. Delicately, as if he might break. Which, Geralt supposed, given everything, he might. “You can’t just—”

“Can’t just what?!” said Geralt, snarling, and whirled around, and leaned in. He was angry, his pulse still hammering hard, and he was standing over Jaskier, thanks to the height of the stairs. They were very close. Jaskier opened his mouth to say something, he didn’t know what, and at the same time Geralt did, to cut him off. For a second Geralt’s vision doubled again, probably because of the treacherous second bottle of Everluce, and he wasn’t sure whether he was standing above or below. 

He slammed a hand on the wall to steady himself, and so did Jaskier, and to do that he had to let go of Geralt’s wrist. Geralt almost missed it. 

“Wow,” said Jaskier, “Huh. For a second there, I was almost—”

“What,” said Geralt, trying to hold on to his anger, instead of letting it become something even worse. “Afraid of me?”

“No, Geralt,” said Jaskier, voice soft and hurt, underneath the growl. “I’ve never been— you couldn’t possibly believe—”

But the hurt was too much to hear, and Geralt conceded: “No. I would have smelled it. You never do.” 

Jaskier made a sharp noise and breathed in deep through his nose. “Is that what this is?” he asked. “The entire tavern reeks, it’s been this— sour, awful stink ever since we got here. Well, me. Since I got here. And even you, for a second— Geralt, are you afraid of me?”

Geralt wasn’t, of course he wasn’t, but he was scared of what might happen, of admitting what he might need, and of what it would cost, to hear it out loud denied. But he couldn’t have that conversation, either, so: “I’m just— I’m not used to your intolerance for drink. And,” he continued, realizing it was very true indeed: “I really need to sleep.” Maybe that was why his emotions were all over the place, why he couldn’t figure out what would be best to do, what it was about this that felt so devastatingly dangerous to the delicate equilibrium he’d built up. 

“Hm,” said Jaskier, and when Geralt looked back at him, his eyes were laughing. “I seem to recall a man who had an elegant, practical, straightforward solution to that very problem. Do you suppose if we found another djinn, that it could fix—”

“Absolutely not,” said Geralt, who hated to be reminded of that particular misadventure, and what it had done to Jaskier. Following that thread seemed even worse than bending, a little, than allowing the tension to ratchet down, so he went on: “Very funny. Just for that, what if I go take your lute back downstairs, and announce a miraculous recovery, and sing, badly—”

“You wouldn’t—!” said Jaskier, horrified, but that was enough to distract him from exactly how much Geralt could usually smell, and what he might suspect, because of it. So that was good. Nothing had to change. They could go on as they were, and Geralt wouldn’t have to bring it up, what he might want and couldn’t possibly have. 

They made it back up to their room, and Jaskier insisted that they change the dressing on Geralt’s shoulder before he could collapse into bed. Geralt’s eyes felt physically heavy, which was awful, but it would be worse to let Jaskier continue to needle him with that undercurrent of worry, so he shrugged out of the jacket and undershirt, and allowed him to unwind the bandages to see. 

Jaskier made a sharp intake of breath, looking at his shoulder. “What,” said Geralt, surprised, “is it actually bad…?” It hadn’t hurt for several hours, he realized now; he had felt a vague itching that he usually associated with fast-regrowing skin, but had assumed was merely the annoyingly elaborate embroidery on this particular doublet. 

“No,” said Jaskier, “it’s gone.”

“Huh,” said Geralt, and reached up to gingerly poke at it. It was. So too, when they remembered to check it, was the gash on Jaskier’s calf, which was at least a little more in line with how that body generally handled, and was also a relief, to Geralt. Larger than that immediate relief was the vague thought that wouldn’t it be nice, if Jaskier recovered this easily as a default, to know that if he got hurt, he would at least spring back. Maybe then he could— but Geralt quickly reminded himself that it went both ways, and Jaskier didn’t want him, after all. That was a hard thought, and he didn’t want to keep thinking about it any more, so it seemed a perfect time to go to sleep. So he crawled into bed, and did. 

Or he tried to, anyway, but his mind was worrying over details, a dog at a bone. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like this. Normally, he could fall asleep or into meditation anywhere, after years of training and habit— if you don’t know when you’ll be able to rest next, you had better rest now, he could hear Vesemir say, clear as day— but it wasn’t working. He was still upset, and without a proper outlet, it was a mean little spiral, branching off into a thousand other things. 

“Jaskier,” he said. “Need to remember to restock the cheroot.” 

“It’s fine,” said Jaskier, taking off his boots. “I did that two days ago, back  in town, when I saw you were running low.” 

“Oh,” said Geralt, but his brain still wouldn’t let him go. “Swords,” he went on, fuzzily, “Have to oil them down. In the morning. Will you?” 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, patiently, as he climbed into bed next to Geralt, “I did that earlier, after I got the room. When I took all our things upstairs, while you were busy eating the entire first course of dinner. Surely you remember?” 

“Rude,” said Geralt, and tried to push Jaskier out of bed, in revenge. But he miscalculated, and of course he couldn’t manage it, and when his underwhelming shove failed, he let his hand rest where it had fallen, wrist brushing against Jaskier’s side. He meant to make another protest, but the sheets on this bed were soft, and it was a nice distraction, how they felt against his skin. He could appreciate that, even if he couldn’t sleep. They were a little thin, though, and he was chilly. He tried a few breathing exercises, but his thoughts keep leading him back to the same old place. 

“Jaskier.” 

What, Geralt.” 

“Your arm,” he said, from some great distance. “Before, in town, and again, in the tavern, tonight. It was— do I always run that hot?”

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, fondly, “Go to sleep.” And he threw that arm over Geralt’s shoulders, and it was warm, so Geralt did.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Geralt woke early. Squinting through half-closed eyes, still groggy with sleep, he could see that there was breakfast laid out on their room’s little table; Jaskier, it seemed, had woken earlier.

“Ah, Geralt!” said Jaskier, turning from their belongings with some scraps of paper and a little map of the surrounding area held delicately in his large, capable hands. “You’re awake at last!” He’d managed to get himself into Geralt’s armor all on his own, which was impressive, and definitely not disappointing, the idea that Geralt wouldn’t need to help buckle it on. 

Jaskier spread his notes out on the table, beside the bread and cold meats and cheese. These things were all very appealing, but so was the idea of another little while lying comfortably in bed. Geralt considered pretending he was still asleep, but then he remembered it probably wouldn’t work, and sat up with a groan. He reached automatically for the little leather tie he kept  by the bedside, to pull back at least part of his hair, and then remembered, and ran a hand through the shorter length that was usually Jaskier’s. It was surprisingly tidy already, which was truly unfair. 

“Oh, don’t muss it up, Geralt, it should hold for another day,” said Jaskier. “Dress, eat, then we’ll get to it. And no complaining that you’re tired, you slept like the dead, straight through some decently fair renditions of my bawdier works. Only they did tend to flub the endings, that pair, and their mid-verses lacked intensity, and if I were their teaching master, I don’t know that I would have unleashed them on the world quite yet, charm or no.” As he talked on, Geralt dressed, and ate, shrugging on the outfit Jaskier must have laid out while he was still abed. He meant to shove the food into his mouth hurriedly, so they could get to work, but the little roll was hot, and it was good, and instead he lingered over it, sitting back at the table and letting Jaskier’s litany wash over him until he was done. 

“So,” said Jaskier, tapping the last two ingredients on Yen’s carefully written little list: “Let’s talk about drowners.” He had made some notes in the margins, in a truly fascinating mix of Jaskier’s usual graceful script and Geralt’s practical, cramped little scrawl. Some people would give anything to study that, thought Geralt, you could build a whole lecture series on the interaction between learned movement and muscle memory— but shuddered at the thought of what that studying might entail, and drew his attention back to the task that lay ahead. 

The mountain hollyhock would be, as he’d anticipated, the most difficult ingredient to reach, as it paradoxically thrived only in the thinner air of higher altitudes. They’d have to trek further east still, up into the mountains past Ellander, to reach its nearest likely patch. But Geralt still suspected the drowner liver would be the worst to actually claim, and had given them this entire day to collect it, just in case. They’d have all of the following day to go climbing after flowers, and there was a little campsite he remembered at the top of the mountain, where they could mix up the cure tomorrow night, under the new moon, and then it would be done. 

Alchemists wouldn’t stock drowner livers, which was fair; they were not only toxic to the touch, but gave off a seeping miasma that would ruin the potency of nearby ingredients unless handled with greatest care. The safest thing they could do, really, would be to hire another witcher to collect one, but there was no guarantee they’d find one in time for this month’s deadline. Or for the next half-year, for that matter. Geralt thought about another week of this, another day, and almost had to lie down on the floor in despair. 

He explained all of this to Jaskier. Well, except for the last, which he kept solidly to himself. 

“What,” said Jaskier, a faint note of horror in his gruff voice, “that toxic, and they go in your potions anyway ? This is something that you regularly quaff ?!”

“Well,” said Geralt, “not unadulterated.” His voice—Jaskier’s voice— litlted up in a way that amused him, and he wanted to hear it again, so he went on: “Usually on the rocks. Maybe with a slice of lemon, if you have one to hand.” 

“Oh,” said Jaskier, “I see how it is. I notice one joke, and suddenly you just can’t help yourself? We’re not going to only have to deal with sharp-clawed, poisonous, slimy beasts, but also the far greater threat of a Witcher comedian— ?” But he was smiling, and his voice was fond. 

They planned it out carefully. Drowners didn’t have great hearing, so they’d be able to scout out an area of the wetlands beyond town in relative safety, and ideally find a single one alone. There were several promising bends in the river that fed the swamp that would give them a place to lay out traps, magical and otherwise, to force the creature where they wanted it, away from its fellows. And if it was reluctant, for whatever reason, to leave the safety of the water, they could bait it with the little jar of deer entrails that Geralt had been saving, just in case. He brandished this at Jaskier, partly to demonstrate which jar it was, which was important, because he had rather a lot of similar jars of guts, but partly to see the look on his face, because the smell was truly horrible. He did his best not to get anything nasty on Jaskier’s doublet in the process, and had a moment of genuine regret when he noticed the top of the jar was loose and he’d extravagantly failed. 

Jaskier patted him on the shoulder that wasn’t covered in deer guts. “Oh, it’s fine,” he said, cheer showing through his low tones, “I’ve only been giving you the out-of-fashion ones anyway, just in case.” 

Geralt couldn’t help but laugh. 

 


 

The walk out of town was easy, a low and sloping path down towards the wetlands. Roach led, in her confident, plodding way, and the pair of them followed behind her. Things felt better, this morning. The tension of the previous night had dissipated, or Geralt had regained the energy to forcibly ignore it, anyway, which was basically the same thing. Jaskier chatted about the bards’ performance they’d witnessed, though he skated away from any mention of the ballads. He moved on to ramble about his own training, in Oxenfurt, and his plans for returning to Novigrad next spring, refreshed, to battle and reclaim his bardic crown. The talk made the travel easy and Geralt’s feet feel light, and it was, overall, not an unpleasant way to spend the morning.

A little ways down the road, in a rare lull, Geralt heard something that sounded like a rumble of distant thunder. But when he looked at Jaskier, sharp, to ask if there was some unnoticed danger, he realized that the noise was coming from him, that Jaskier was using his deep voice to hum, under his breath. That was surprising, but more surprising still was that it was a tune that Geralt recognized, something in his memory connecting up with Jaskier’s ability to tell apart tiny variations in timbre and tone; an old folk tune he hadn’t heard in 20 years or more. 

“I know that one,” said Geralt, quietly, the admission startled out of him, between the novelty and the way this voice wanted to be heard. 

“Ah,” said Jaskier, cutting himself off, “was I humming that aloud…? Sorry, I’ve been trying not to— I’ve never heard you sing, and cheating like this wouldn’t be fair, I’d so much rather earn it.” 

Something in his gaze was so naked and bare that even though it wasn’t directed at him, exactly, Geralt had to look away. 

“Hm,” said Geralt. “Deeper than my voice usually goes, though.” 

“Range starts from your very breathing, Geralt,” said Jaskier, with the ease of long-practised lecture. “It’s not just about teeth and tongue,” he concluded, grinning, open and easy. 

Geralt was transfixed. By how sharp that smile was, but also by the way it didn’t look dangerous, with Jaskier’s intent behind it. Or, well. Not menacing, regardless of the dangerous effect it was having on Geralt. Jaskier’s own bite was, in contrast, nothing much to speak of; Geralt traced his tongue over his own borrowed canines and found them to be only human. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier. 

Geralt hooked his littlest finger into his own mouth, absently, and ran it along the blunt edges of Jaskier’s teeth.

Geralt,” said Jaskier. “Get your— please take my hand out of my mouth, you don’t know where it’s been.” 

Geralt did, startled. Jaskier was looking at him intently, and something about that look made him recall, all unwilling, what it had felt like, to have a solid hand on the small of his back and know that it was Jaskier’s, a rush of feeling that made him shiver all over, despite the warm day. 

Jaskier tilted his head. Geralt, alarmed, saw his nostrils flare slightly as he sniffed the air. 

“Stop it,” said Geralt. 

“Stop what?” asked Jaskier, with blunt confusion. 

“Don’t— don’t smell me,” said Geralt with a strangled squeak, realizing even as he did how unfair the request was. 

“That’s you, what I’m smelling?” said Jaskier, astonished. “It’s the same as back at the bar, when that young man— when you— Melitele’s ample ass, is it always like this, for you? Do you just— do you always have this unending stream of a whole other layer of information not just about the world, but about how people feel ? It’s overwhelming, Geralt! And it’s— can you always fucking tell when I—” 

“It’s just— background noise,” said Geralt, high-pitched, worried, and reedy. “You learn to filter it out. And right now, I can’t—” he said, with horrible dawning realization, seeing that Jaskier had gone completely still and frozen, his face immobile, giving him absolutely nothing to work from. “I have no idea what you’re feeling. Usually I can make a decent guess. But if you don’t tell me—” 

“You absolute horse’s ass,” said Jaskier, in a dangerous, low growl. ‘Why the fuck do you think I’m always after you to speak to me? ‘Witchers don’t have feelings,’ Melitele’s tender tits, and meanwhile you’re all running around with unfettered access to exactly what’s going on in everyone else’s heads, because you can sense a pulse, you can smell fear, you can hear thoughts—”

“I absolutely can’t hear thoughts,” said Geralt, with a note of desperation that was closer to a whine than he’d like. “I’m not a sorcerer. It’s not like that. It’s just— it’s chemical shifts, and physical reactions. There are lots of reasons someone might—” he continued, increasingly aware of how close Jaskier was standing, in his anger. That sense of vertigo was back, increasing, and Geralt let himself believe that that was why he had to swallow, thickly, that it wasn’t because of his treacherous brain imagining Jaskier, qua Jaskier, standing over him with menace, and the little flip his stomach did, to picture him that close. “There are lots of reasons,” he finished weakly, “why someone’s body temperature might go up, or their pulse might race.” 

“Yeah?” said Jaskier, growling. “Name two.” 

They stood there, silent, breathing heavily, Geralt’s dizziness getting worse by the second, until Jaskier whirled, and stomped away to walk ahead with Roach. 

Geralt remained standing, breath still catching in his chest. With each passing moment, he was sinking further into the mud of the road, which was absolutely going to ruin Jaskier’s bright and cheery and entirely un-sensible shoes. But he couldn’t bring himself to move, so there he stayed, frozen, hating every awful second that he was stuck there alone. 

 


 

The rest of the walk passed in uneasy silence. Jaskier didn’t speak to him directly, except to mention something moving through the underbrush, but it was only a startled deer, which on seeing them, immediately fled. Along the way, Geralt plucked a likely-looking fallen branch from the ground, and spent his time trimming off twigs and roughly sanding it down. By the time they reached the border of the wetlands, the trees thinning out and the ground soggy under their feet, he had made a passable light staff. 

They went over their careful plan one final time, in short, clipped sentences, as they set up their fighting ground. Geralt built a semicircle of their physical traps, and another of yrden, just in case, and Jaskier found a likely spot, with a single isolated drowner, and laid a trail of their bait back to their ambush. And then they waited. 

There was nothing, for a while, long enough for Geralt’s hands to grow slippery on his staff with sweat and nerves. And then all at once Jaskier picked his head up, and there was one drowner, but following close behind it were another two, and then one of them stepped into a trap, which fired off entirely wrong, and everything was suddenly substantially more complicated than their hopeful, foolish plan.

The misfired trap sent shrapnel slicing everywhere; the trigger must have been off, and that was probably Geralt’s fault; he wasn’t used to working from the height and weight from which he’d laid it down. His quen caught most of it, and he didn’t even notice that a shard had clipped his collarbone until Jaskier looked away from punching the first, fast-moving drowner in its horrible  teeth to bark “Geralt—!” but it wasn’t bad, so: “I’m fine,” said Geralt, casting another quen and taking a better grip on the staff, “don’t stop.” 

Geralt had to think about the steps of this dance in a way he hadn’t in decades. Meanwhile, Jaskier finally remembered to pull out his silver longsword, and something in his fencer past must have helped, after all, because he was holding one off fairly capably while Geralt tried to cast an aard to throw back the other two. It was challenging, holding the yrden and quen all at once; maybe he hadn’t slept as well as he thought, and he could only blast aard infrequently, instead relying on his staff to knock away the ones that got too close. But he held his shield, and Jaskier turned from the first to dispatch the second, and then the last, and it was done. 

For a minute they stood there, Geralt panting and leaning on his branch, Jaskier staring down at the bloody sword in his hand. “Livers,” said Geralt, finally, still struggling for air, “have to cut them out, before they burst.” 

“Right,” said Jaskier, “Yes. Livers. Only, where is that, exactly…?” and Geralt gave the day’s second doublet up for lost, pulled on a too-large pair of leather gloves, and squatted down, dagger in hand, to dig them out himself. 

The first liver had burst, after all; perhaps he’d managed to jab it with the staff harder than he thought, reduced strength and all. The second was old, and withered, and wouldn’t work, but the third would do just fine. So he sliced it out, taking great care not to let any of it drip on his bare skin, and packed it away in a doubly-insulated pouch, and it was done. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, short and sharp. “Something hit you, during the fight. I smelled blood.” 

“Hm,” said Geralt, and peeled back the neck of his shirt to reveal the slice on his collarbone, where the shards of metal from the trap had grazed him. But: “Already healing,” he said. “Remember? You don’t have to worry about your body. It’s fine.” 

“Yeah,” said Jaskier, gruffly, “Right. That’s the main worry, here.” He was assembling a poultice out of their supplies, and brought it over to Geralt, not meeting his gaze. 

“I can manage it,” said Geralt, and took it out of his hands, and did.

Jaskier only looked at him. For a second, Geralt allowed himself to appreciate that it did feel— warm, to be the focus of Jaskier’s attention in that particular way. But it didn’t mean anything, he reminded himself, quickly; after all, Jaskier was like this all the time, with everyone, and he couldn’t let himself consider for even a second that it was at all about him. 

Their original plan had been to return to the inn that night, and travel back up the mountain in the morning, but the fight had gone faster, although worse, than they’d anticipated. And Geralt didn’t think he could bear another night sharing a bed, like this; not only with the horrible intimacy of their… situation, but with Jaskier upset and angry in a way he couldn’t parse, couldn’t begin to understand.

“We should go on,” said Geralt, finishing applying the poultice and shrugging the thoroughly ruined jacket back on. “We can manage the hollyhock today. There’s a patch where it grows, another couple hours east, up into the foothills. Need to get there while the light is good, though. Have to be able to spot it, and I can’t see well in the dark, like this.” 

“So I’m always telling you,” said Jaskier, short and gruff. He loosed Roach’s bridle from her picket, and strode on ahead, and Geralt followed after. 

 


 

Whatever was troubling Jaskier, it lingered the whole climb up the mountain. Geralt could tell, from the slump in his shoulders, and the way he’d gone dead-quiet, not even talking to Roach, who plodded along beside them in her usual steady way. 

Halfway up, the air thinned, a little, and they saw the first signs of alien vegetation— unusual grasses, too springy and tough for the fields below. And at this point, hours in, Geralt managed to acknowledge that he was upset, too. The way his thoughts chased each other in desperate, sorry spirals had been a significant clue, but he also felt it in his very bones, somehow, and in his racing heartbeat, too fast to be due to the walk alone. So much of his training had focused on tuning it out, what his body was trying to tell him. Young Witchers kept only the connections between physicality and emotion that were useful, for battle, and deliberately, repeatedly discarded any that got in their way, until those circuits withered from disuse. It was troubling, to dwell on what he might have missed because of it, over the years, so he did his best to instead focus only on the climb. 

It was a low mountain; larger ones surrounded it, going on into the east in a distant range. Geralt spotted a few glassy chunks of rock, but he couldn’t, with Jaskier’s senses, pick up on any other signs of what kind of mountain it was, or what it might once have been. He was surprised, then, when they reached the top, and found it to be a sprawling caldera, a vast, strange bowl. And in that bowl: 

“Oh,” Geralt said, unwillingly, his mouth moving before he remembered that Jaskier was angry with him, for reasons he didn't fully understand and was frightened to try to unpack.  “Jaskier, look—”  

He had expected a little patch of wild mountain hollyhock, from his memory of the conditions up here; he hadn’t expected an entire field, carpeting the sloping ground below from rim to rim. He remembered how a little frisson of a shimmer had moved down his spine when Jaskier showed him the wyvern in the sky, and this was like that, writ large: the flowers, the blue mountains, and the late-afternoon sunlight breaking through the mist of the clouds, all combining into one great feeling of awe. He felt all that, and wanted to share it, and— 

Jaskier leaned past him, and plucked a single flower from the edge of the bowl, and stripped its petals off with efficient speed, dropping them into a little leather bag and tying it tightly shut. “There,” Jaskier said, voice flat, “Got it. Where’s the campsite.” 

And, that easy, it was done. All five ingredients, collected, and managed with a full day to spare. The new moon was tomorrow night, and in the morning they could rest, and nurse their wounds, any that remained, or go back down the mountain, to civilization, so Jaskier could leave him as quickly as he needed to, after they’d mixed and quaffed it and were returned to their usual selves. Geralt would go back to that village, alone, and take their contract. Once it was done, he would travel on south, and it would probably be months before he’d cross paths with Jaskier again, or longer, if Jaskier avoided him, after this, and that was… he was a Witcher, and that was the way of his life. It was fine. 

Geralt led them a little way around the rim, to where the campsite had been promised, and there it was: a little dug firepit, a nice patch of ground, and a buried cache of stores marked with Witcher-sign nearby. They made camp in silence. The silence wasn’t easy, but the motions were practised, automatic. Roach wandered off to eat a couple of the rare and precious flowers, so at least someone was enjoying them. Geralt didn’t like the monotony of building up a fire; he preferred to be moving, so he bustled around with the other necessary chores. He laid out their two separate bedrolls, and set up the snares, and strode a little ways away to set the signs of warding. He was tired, again, in both body and mind, with the effort of it. The sun was starting to dip below the mountains, so they could sleep, soon, and he wouldn’t have to be conscious to worry any more. 

But then he turned back to the camp, and the last rays of sunset caught Jaskier, lining him in gold. Jaskier, who was building up a careful scaffold of tinder and kindling, Jaskier, who had collected enough fuel to easily get them through the night. And it wasn’t that sight, exactly, as much as it was the realization: that Jaskier always did this, even though his usual hands had entirely the wrong callouses for dragging and breaking down branches to a manageable size. Because he knew that Geralt didn’t want to, that Geralt preferred the other necessary tasks of making camp, even though Geralt had never once in memory said any of that out loud. 

And all in a rush, he realized how very many things Jaskier did for him, and how much work and trouble and care they took, even though they were difficult, and he was only human, and small, measured against the harsh vast wildness of the Path. The restocked cheroot, when he had forgotten, and without Geralt’s years upon years of practice recognizing herbs, and when Jaskier wasn’t even the one for whom it might do any good. The easy way he took over Geralt’s negotiation, so they could stay in towns a little longer. The hand on his arm, grounding him; the oiled swords; the softness with which he talked to Roach. The baths, and the hair-washing. The hitch in his voice when he’d said— you can’t just fucking die and leave me. How he’d been heading south, three long and stretched-out days ago, how he’d known that’s where Geralt would be, this time of year. The look on his face, back on the stairs in the tavern, and the way he’d held him close that night. And those songs— the ballads, all that pent-up longing and metaphor that was barely hidden, wasn’t actually veiled at all, it was only that Geralt hadn’t dared to believe. 

“What,” said Jaskier, shining in the fading rays of the sun. “Why are you staring, Geralt? Have I got something on your face?” 

And that was absurd, and endearing, and very Jaskier. Geralt saw it all laid open, bare, and his own fragile heart broke wide open, too. But he couldn’t possibly tell Jaskier everything he was feeling, didn’t even know where to begin, so instead, he asked, quietly, “Is that what I look like, to you?” 

And Jaskier could read him perfectly, even like this, with everything they knew reversed. Jaskier, in a foreign body, hampered by senses he couldn't properly use and burdened by the weight of swords that he couldn’t properly wield, whatever he said about fencing — Jaskier still saw him with bright and terrible clarity, read between the lines and understood what Geralt really meant, which was: What am I, to you?  

“Oh, you great fool,” said Jaskier, soft and low. “Don't you know ?” 

The question was gentle, and it made his voice sound almost like Jaskier's, and in that moment Geralt missed hearing it, horribly, achingly, with all his body and spirit and soul.

“But you’re like that with everyone,” said Geralt, confused. 

Jaskier made that face again, the same one from the tavern, when he’d put a hand on Geralt’s back, and in the fight, when he thought he’d gotten hurt. Geralt walked back towards him, right up to the edge of the campsite, between the barren mountaintop trees, so he could get close enough to see it properly. But he still wasn’t sure, exactly, so he did his best to explain: that Jaskier always smelled, a little bit, of longing, that it was so pervasive it was just part of his background personhood. And that he would leave, for a while, with one partner or another, and come back smelling of— oxytocin, of warmth and comfort. So whatever was missing, whatever he needed, he was finding it somewhere else. 

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, aiming for patience and quickly sliding into outrage, “you can’t possibly— it’s only— you’re the one sensing that, Geralt. There’s no such thing as an invisible observer! By the time you see me, by the time you can smell me, which, by the way, creepy— I know I’m coming back. To you. So yes, you idiot, you think I’m always like that, because, in fact, I am always like that around you. ” 

“Oh,” said Geralt, and then, again: “oh.”

They were standing very close together. Geralt raised a hand to Jaskier’s jawline, to try and tilt his head down, to better understand the look in his eyes. “Is this narcissism?” he asked, almost absently, and Jaskier laughed. The note of it resonated down his arm and into his very bones. 

“Well,” said Jaskier, “I would never claim I don’t think highly of myself, you’d know in a second I was lying, apparently, anyway. But, no, Geralt, I want you any way I can have you, and if this is the only option, I’ll still take it. I ought to calibrate how deep of a heartbreak I should prepare to feel, after, though, for the song if nothing else, so: is it only the fond familiarity of your own dear face? Is that what this is for you?”

“No,” said Geralt. “I want—” but then he trailed off, because the sentiment was so large, and terrifying, that he couldn’t possibly contain it in a word. 

“What, Geralt,” said Jaskier. They were standing very close. Geralt's perception was starting to double again, and he had that sense again, of seeing himself looking at Jaskier looking back at him. It all seemed horribly complicated and magical, and Geralt was very worried he was about to fuck something up irreperably, but the new moon was tomorrow night, and at least if he was misreading it he wouldn't have to worry long. He could send Jaskier away, or leave him off at some inn, safe and sound, and if he was wrong maybe they could someday be friends again, even if this was something they couldn’t keep— and his brain was spiraling, again, caught in a loop of its own making, a snake eating its own tail—

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, with patience, but also with a dangerous, sharp, electric undercurrent that set something deep in Geralt’s gut alight. “Tell me what you want.”

Geralt leaned in, leaned up, and kissed him.

Jaskier let out a short, sharp breath, a huff of air right into Geralt's lungs, and then his mouth fell open and he leaned in, pressing his body against Geralt’s, kissing him right back. His arms were around Geralt's shoulders, or maybe Geralt's were around his, fingers tracing the back of his neck, moving up to cup the base of his skull with gentle tenderness, twining through his hair. 

It was hard to tell whose hands were whose. The feeling of vertigo was back, accompanied by a rush of something warm and tickling. Geralt’s nerves were on fire in the expected way, but also with a hint of something magical and strange. At some point he leaned back against a nearby scraggly tree, for support, or for the feeling of Jaskier needing to follow, to let his swords fall to the ground and press desperately up against him, in the process. 

The medallion, crushed between their chests, was humming louder than ever. Geralt was desperate to avoid it, to ignore it, to not let it ruin this, but it was increasing, the heat and dizziness both. So, obviously, the best solution was to lie down on a bedroll, for support, and to drag Jaskier down with him. And then Jaskier was above him, biting at his lip, holding his shoulders— well, one, the uninjured one, and one wrist- down, with impossible care, which was important, because despite all these points of anchor, Geralt still felt like he was going to fall off the face of the earth entirely. He had a moment to wonder if he’d made their curse worse, somehow, if the end result was to lose a body entirely, to be just a spirit, lost, and there was a last, great, sharp, shock of electricity, and he jerked his head back, and for one horrible second his vision went entirely blank— 

And then Jaskier was smiling up at him. It was Jaskier's warm face, smiling, and then his eyes went wide with shock, and he laughed, startled but easy. “Geralt,” he said, in his own, soft voice. “Hey, Geralt. Geralt, hi. Look, you’re back, and I'm back, it's me.” 

And it was true; Geralt could feel the weight of his own large body, the strength in his bones, its familiar size and structure. But— Geralt had missed Jaskier so much, hadn’t even understood that, the degree to which it was lacking, and he had to take a moment just to drink it in, the sight and sound of him. 

“Geralt,” Jaskier said, a little hesitant, “Are you alright? I’d— I’d understand if you didn’t, that was a bit much, heat of the moment and all that, only, do you still, maybe, want to—?” and then Geralt kissed him again, hungrier than before. After a moment, Jaskier broke away, laughing, and asked: “Geralt, did Yennefer fucking know ?”

It took Geralt a minute to process. To be fair, he was very distracted, because Jaskier was clearly hard underneath him. Some part of his disbelieving brain had been worried Jaskier might not have been into it, even after all he’d said, but the state of his own cock left nothing really in question. But then his brain caught up, and he remembered what Yen had said about a second possible cure, and he growled under his breath.

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, with a deep note of want, and he smelled of lust and longing, and Geralt made a small, strangled rumbling noise deep in his throat. Jaskier paused, froze with his hands still twisted in Geralt’s hair, and Geralt remembered all at once, what it had been like, to not have the extra layer of information, of meaning. So, drawing on his deepest reserves of verbal eloquence, Geralt elaborated: 

“I like it. When you say my name.” And then, after consideration: “Will you do it again?”

Geralt,” said Jaskier, agonized. “You are absolutely going to kill me. We can't survive a fucking murderous curse, I can't bludgeon a drowner to death with the hilt of your sword, I can’t spend years pining after your horrible, silent, massive, ham-pile bulk only for you to all at once learn not just how to talk, but how to tease me straight to death.”   

Geralt gave a rumble of warning.

“Oh, don't call me overdramatic, I know you like it, you find me endearing, And also, you deserve it. Years, Geralt, and I'd only just worked up the strength to ask you about it straight to your face, and then all this— ” Jaskier waved a vague hand to encompass the mountain, the journey, the past three days— “interrupted me!”  His other hand dipped under Geralt’s armor, under his thin shirt, to trace over his hip bones. It was a little chilly. Geralt didn't flinch, would never flinch away from Jaskier, but he must have made some minute, fleeting microexpression that Jaskier unerringly picked up on.

“Ah,” said Jaskier, “right, yes, fire, I was getting to it, only someone distracted me. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, I’ll just—” and Jaskier put out a hand, signed igni like it was automatic, like he’d not only learned the hand sign but the connection, too, and to Geralt’s absolute shock, the campfire ignited. 

Geralt panicked, wondering if he’d lost his signs entirely— it would be worth it, whispered some dangerous part of his mind— and he signed igni, and the fire went out. And just to be sure, Geralt did it again, and the fire obligingly surged back to life. So that was … fine. 

“Huh,” said Jaskier, who was still staring at his hand. “That’s new. Do please leave it on, I can’t actually see that well this time of day, as you now well and truly know. Had about a second there to go through all five stages of grief, thinking I had stolen your signs from you, in switching back, but it seems you have them, too, so I suppose it’s just… actually, Geralt, I don’t suppose, I don’t know what it is, I can’t do magic! What the fuck is going on?!” 

“Absolutely no idea,” said Geralt, dry. “Do you otherwise feel… okay?”

Jaskier laughed, with a light note of hysteria, which was probably deserved, given everything. “Okay, he asks, am I okay?! Geralt, you can feel the state of me, I have truly never been better, curse and all. Did that fucking sorcerer intend this, is what I want to know?!”

Geralt growled, thinking of someone else’s hands on Jaskier, someone else’s tongue. And then he growled again, because he had forgotten that it felt nice, when his voice reverberated in his bones. From the way Jaskier laid a hand on his chest, where the medallion at last lay still, it worked for him, too. 

“Whose name did you call him?” asked Geralt, remembering, and Jaskier went softer, somehow. 

“You absolute fool, you overgrown child of a man,” said Jaskier, fond: “of course it was yours.”  

Geralt rumbled with pleasure, at that. And then, when Jaskier shot him a look that said use your words, plain as day, Geralt went on:  "...Good. I'm... glad. That you did."

"You're glad ? Really, Geralt? Glad you were cursed to spend three— well, two and a half, really, but I'll have to make it three for the ballad—”

“Jaskier.”

“—Melitele’s pillowy bosom, I missed that growl. But no, don't worry, of course I’ll anonymize it,  that's neater anyway. But really: you're glad? That you spent three days as me, helpless thing that I am?” And Jaskier sat up to shrug out of his doublet, and used that height to mouth at the base of Geralt’s neck, which was quite unfair.

“You're not helpless,” said Geralt, and Jaskier bit him with gentle tenderness, right where his neck met his collarbone, which made Geralt writhe and groan, interrupting his thought but quite proving his point. “I meant, I'm glad to... I don't completely understand. But I got to see you in a new light. Have a better sense, now, of what's going on in your head.”

“Usually, Geralt, people just take a cooking class,” said Jaskier, soft and warm. “And how am I supposed to go on calmly undressing you if you keep saying sweet things like that? No, don’t interrupt me, that was rhetorical, maybe if you’d studied at Oxenfurt instead of your crumbling, decrepit castle you’d understand.” Despite this complaint, his hands were at Geralt’s side, undoing the buckles of his armor with practiced speed. This meant rather more to Geralt, knowing the challenge it was, reversed. “And anyway,” Jaskier went on,  “I've been telling you exactly what's in my head for years.”

“You left out some important things,” said Geralt. He pushed his weight forward, onto his arms, so he could shift his hips and straddle Jaskier’s legs with his own. He didn’t want to make the very important work of undressing both of them as swiftly as possible any more difficult, but Jaskier did make a very gratifying noise when he ground their hips together, so he did it again.

“Well, look who's talking,” said Jaskier. “I thought you knew how I felt, and didn't feel the same.”

“No,” said Geralt, aching at the thought of all those wasted years. “No, I didn't know at all.”

Jaskier looked at him, for a long moment, then caught Geralt’s wrist with his hand. He held it there, for a moment, feeling his pulse. “Ah,” said Jaskier, “about half of mine, which is what, twice normal, for you? Geralt, you do care.” Geralt grumbled, but didn't take his hand away. “Yes, you're right,” said Jaskier, smiling, “It is only fair, thank you very much.”

“I liked it,” said Geralt, “How gentle your hands were. I'm still thinking about them. ”Jaskier's heartbeat jumped in his chest, a startled rabbit, and Geralt smiled, a predatory, feral, grin. “You like that,” said Geralt. “To know I’m thinking of you.”

“Yes,” said Jaskier, “I really, really do.”

“I know,” said Geralt, still smiling. “But it's nice. To hear you say it.”

Jaskier covered his face with both his hands. “By all the stars above,” he said, muffled through his fingers, “I can't believe a kiss was all it took. I would have jumped your bones day one.”

Not just a kiss, thought Geralt; Yen had said it couldn’t be faked. But maybe that was a conversation for another day, because they'd have those, a whole unbroken sequence of tomorrows, and also because Jaskier was still hard underneath him, and it was really very distracting. 

“Really,” asked Geralt, with an interested rumbling purr. “The first day?”

“Well,” said Jaskier, “Maybe day two. I was a little busy, day one, trying to winnow down the entire other world of things that you can see and smell and hear into only the things that mattered.” 

Jaskier’s capable hands removed the very last of Geralt’s heavy armor, laying him bare. His breath caught in his throat. Underneath the dust of the road, Jaskier smelled of want and lust and yearning, and buried further still, of clean linens and fresh-warmed bedsheets, lute strings and sunny rosin and the smallest hint of crushed white myrtle. It felt like home. 

“I don't know if I would ever have figured it out,” Geralt said, honestly, with regret that it was true, that he might have lived and died not knowing.

“It's alright,” said Jaskier, smiling, and reached up to lace his fingers through Geralt’s hair and pull. “You just go on being strong and beautiful; I’m smart enough for both of us.” Geralt made an indignant noise, and Jaskier laughed and went on: “Oh, Geralt, stop, you know you're one of the cleverest people I've ever met, but you weren't exactly wise, about this.” 

“I—” said Geralt, and couldn't continue, around the lump caught in his throat. But something in his eyes must have said it for him, because Jaskier smiled. 

“Oh, I know,” he said, soft. “You are lucky to have me. And you do, you know. You have me.”

And that was really too much, and Geralt couldn’t handle it, so he leaned down to kiss Jaskier again, mouth open in want. 

But Jaskier broke away, with a dangerous glimmer in his eye, and said: “You had me from the start, in fact! But because you never learned how to talk, because all of you Witchers just sit around smelling how everyone feels,”  

“We don't—” said Geralt in protest, and then considered how few words were exchanged, winters at Kaer Morhen. More importantly, he considered whether he really wanted to pick a fight right now, with Jaskier’s delicate fingers tracing up along his ribs, to his collarbone, and then turning to head the opposite direction, down, and shut right up again.

“Instead of sorting it out right then,” said Jaskier, “and having some perfectly, respectably nice sex in an inn somewhere, we had to fight wolves and drowners and absolutely wreck two of my best doublets and climb a whole mountain and ruin some lovely flowers by shredding them into oil. What the fuck are we going to do with three oversized bottles of oil, Geralt?”

“I can think of a few things,” said Geralt, in a deep, low growl.

Really?” said Jaskier, with a bright and deadly smile. “Name two.” And he rolled them over to pin Geralt gently down.