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be hungry for me

Chapter Text

The solar is visibly glamourous--it's really a pity he can smell it. 

The heavy brocade curtain in front of him just smells of dust, and there's nothing untoward about that. But the bed reeks of a perfume so heavy it can almost mask the odors of sweat and sex. On the desk, the sharp, bitter stink of gout remedies emanates from tiny emerald-colored bottles.

Then there's a smell as if someone's rolled a spitted lamb through the entryway, and the baron clears his throat. He's as subtle as a fat pony on cobblestones.

"Witcher!" He spreads puffy, bejeweled hands.

Geralt dips his head minutely enough that it cannot possibly be taken for obeisance.

"I've got you a job. Horrible werewolf problem in the lower town. Many deaths. Incredibly tragic."

The way he chirps the word tragic, it's impossible to think he believes it.

"I'll do it." 

"Ah, ah, ah. I'm sure you're capable, of course, of course. This contract is contingent on a smaller, more, ah, personal favor."

Geralt would be out the door if the bulk of the baron's body wasn't blocking it so effectively. Since his escape route is unavailable, he resorts to speech.

"I don't do favors."

"Ah but this one--it's so easy, so very easy. I'm sure a man--er--creature, of your, ah, propensities, would understand perfectly. A delicate little matter. Hardly a minute of work for you, I'm sure."

"If it's a delicate matter and easily done, I can assure you that my propensities are neither useful nor needed."

The baron does not deflate. (Geralt's seen a half-elf witch literally deflate a man before, and he's never hated himself more for being unable to save her.)

"Useful to you, if you'd like the werewolf bounty." The baron still sounds jovial--his is the optimism of a man used to being obeyed.  "It's just a bard I'd like disposed of. Julian Alfred Pankratz. Calls himself 'Jaskier', like the flower, but he's rather more of a nuisance, I'm afraid."

Geralt's mind is made up. He shoulders past the baron, ignoring the unpleasant sensation of pudgy fingertips clutching at his arm. He turns at the threshold (well out of reach).

"I'm not a common sellsword, baron. I'll not get human blood on my hands for coin." He adds "good day," in a tone that leaves no doubt he wishes the baron a terrible day. And since the baron lacks discretion and sense, he likely will. Murdering musicians is the plan of a coward, and a clever coward would give the job to a serving girl with powdered poison.


Geralt does not step out into the streets intent on finding the bard. When he does anyway, he wonders if he's done it on some underlying instinct, motivated unconsciously from spite or pure curiosity. (He does not believe in destiny.)

The bard--Julian--Jaskier--is not what he'd expected. He hadn't been sure what to expect a bard with a price on his head to look like, but it isn't this. Jaskier's features are neither particularly elfin nor particularly rugged. In most ways he is unremarkable, except that the combination of his deep green doublet and cold blue eyes is reminiscent of a forest (if the forest was a shining mirage of fae magic meant to drag you down into ruin). 

It was this that had drawn Geralt's eye first, and then someone had shouted the bard's name and Geralt had realized that the forest-man was Jaskier. Instead of turning in for the night, he'd shifted further into the shadows with his ale. Let himself observe. It's an odd thing to do, perhaps, but Geralt's always liked forests.

It's hard to see Jaskier from his corner right now, but he can see two girls with cracked, red hands and baskets heaped with linen on their hips staring at him from the bottom of the stairs. Another girl places a cup of ale absently in front of Geralt and trots to join them, grinning. The trio looks utterly smitten. The question of how he has the women fawning is nearly as intriguing as the question of how he has the baron wanting him dead.

He understands a little better (the women, that is) when Jaskier begins to sing. His voice is expressive, cracking and swelling and fading in all the right places. Some of the songs Geralt knows--he likes these best. Some he doesn't, but the people listening seem to know every word, and they sing along (loudly over their mead, or under their breath with soft smiles). He realizes eventually that these are the bard's own songs, that Jaskier must be uncommonly popular. 

Nevertheless, it does not explain a baron willing to bribe a witcher. Could be the baron's just stupid. Could be Geralt is too, for letting himself get so intrigued.

He asks for the room right next to the bard's (he guesses, anyway--there's only one room that smells like sandalwood oil and apple wine). His guess is confirmed in an hour, when the sound of a husky feminine voice sobbing the word Jaskier echoes through the thin wall for what seems like an unusually long time. Geralt's lovers have never done this--he'd thought the concept of women gasping a man's name in the throes of passion only a braggart's embellishment. It probably helps to be famous. Could be this girl's been yearning after Jaskier for the better part of a year, humming his songs all day and night.

Geralt is not so honorable as to consider himself above supplying the needs of his body, and jerks himself off with a rough, practiced hand, imagining a pale woman with generous breasts writhing under Jaskier's lithe form. He's careful to make it last, to draw the moment out until the woman shrieks and he lets himself come messily into his hand. 

He should rest, but the thought that the baron's perhaps taken him up on his advice and sent a sellsword to collect Jaskier's head plagues him, and he only half-sleeps, listening for footsteps on the creaking stairs. He starts awake once (it must be past midnight) to the sound of Jaskier fucking someone, again. It's a different girl, Geralt can tell by the voice, muffled through the wooden walls but still easily discernible to his ears. He rolls his eyes, and wraps his head in his cloak.

Then there's nothing until morning, when he hears a knock across the hall, and he sits up, hand already on his dagger. He opens his door enough to see a woman in a velvet gown tap gently one more time at Jaskier's door, and nearly tumble into his arms when he opens it inward. 

It's a calculated maneuver, or it's enough like one that Geralt wrenches his own door fully open.

Jaskier's hands still on the woman's waist and he meets Geralt's gaze across the hall. Geralt knows the bard is not dangerous, not to him, no matter what the baron thinks, but there's something fey in those blue eyes.

Jaskier grins.

"Here to join us?" He's very rumpled, so clearly fucked that Geralt almost averts his eyes. Instead, he follows his instinct and grabs the woman's right wrist, twists until the silver blade in her hand clatters to the floor.

"Gods!" Jaskier jumps back, palms raised, and the woman takes a stumbling step into Geralt. 

"Your baron is a fucking fool. Tell him the bard was with someone and wouldn't let you in, and get out of here."

She does, velvet swishing on the stairs as she descends them. Geralt crouches to get the dagger and exhales heavily, suddenly exhausted. Intervening never comes without a price, and he's already paid enough by losing the baron's esteem. 

"That was truly exceptional," Jaskier says, leaning against the frame of his door. He sounds unnervingly cheery for someone who has recently and narrowly avoided murder. He looks--well, still rumpled, and judging by the satisfied tilt of his lips, smug. (Justifiably, Geralt supposes.)

"Do tell me, what might I do to repay this life-debt?"

"You might forget about it," Geralt says. "And amend whatever you've done to piss off the baron."

"I've pissed the baron off?" Jaskier rubs his hands together in front of him in the most comically delighted gesture Geralt's witnessed in his absurdly long life.

"Yes. And I'm tired of following you, so don't do it again." He realizes what a terrible choice of words this is as it leaves his mouth. He's not accustomed to saying more than he should, and the feeling does not agree with him.

"You followed me?" Jaskier sounds inordinately pleased. "What have you learned?"

"That you're something of a trollop." 

Jaskier gets off the doorframe and steps into the hallway. The smell of sandalwood and sex is abruptly more intense, but it's not strictly unpleasant.

"How indelicate of you," Jaskier says. "Though since you already think so, I'm inclined to let you take a few liberties. Maybe more than a few. Maybe as many liberties as you can imagine yourself taking."

Geralt does imagine a few, right then. It's perhaps because he's still not solved the puzzle of why Jaskier is supposed to be dead, or perhaps it's something else, but nothing about Jaskier is as grating as it should be. Jaskier is not well-versed enough in Geralt's habits to take his silence as a compliment.

"Is my promiscuity really a concern?" He sounds exaggeratedly hurt. "I can't imagine a witcher wouldn't be resistant to the pox."

"Can't imagine how you'd know."

"For a talentless wastrel who panders to the masses, I am rather well-studied. I've written several treatises on elements of folklore. And witchers--well, witchers are an excellent bit of folklore."

He traces the edge of Geralt's jaw with his fingers. Geralt allows him to. 

"Couple years ago I'd have followed you right out of the town for a story." He taps his thumb on Geralt's chin. Would you have let me, though?"

That's not the question he's asking, and Geralt knows it. 

He doesn't sleep with men. He's wanted to before, but never indulged. He'd always assumed the desire to be a side-effect of the mutations that make him too much of everything, too capable of violence, too capable of lust. This doesn't feel the same, though, or maybe he's just never had an opportunity present itself so clearly.

Jaskier's eyes spark like he can see into every grimy, perverted corner of Geralt's soul. He leans forward, whispers into Geralt's ear, "I think I owe you, witcher."

Their bodies are almost touching. 

Jaskier reaches out with narrow, beringed fingers, touches the sides of Geralt's neck. Geralt can feel the blue weight of his eyes. If he lowers his brows, or shifts backward even a fraction, Jaskier's hand will move away. 

He doesn't even breathe.

Jaskier moves slowly closer, like a hunter stalking a deer. He nips ever so lightly at Geralt's jaw, leans back to examine his face, searching for a reaction. Satisfied by its blankness, he winds his hands underneath the loose linen of Geralt's shirt. His fingers press against Geralt's ribs as he bites into the side of his neck, then drag down to his hips.

"Well? Are you fond of creating a scene in the hallway, or are you going to come in?"

Chapter Text

"Hells below, you're a quick study."

Geralt doesn't reply. His mouth is occupied. Jaskier's clever fingers are twisted in the sheets, knuckles whiter than the fabric. To be fair, the fabric has probably not been white for a long while.

"Fuck, Geralt."

Jaskier pleading his name makes him feel a low satisfaction despite himself. Lovers don't speak his name. Mostly they don't know it. They know he's a witcher, and that's enough.

Not for Jaskier, though, who is greedy by nature (based on Geralt's limited observations). He is determined to wring the greatest possible enjoyment out of every moment, and wringing information out of Geralt seems to constitute enjoyment.

"What do I call you, oh my noble champion?" he'd asked, and normally Geralt wouldn't have been inclined to answer, but he'd been so close, and it was a small price to pay to get Jaskier's mouth back where he wanted it, and he had wanted it, had hardly ever wanted anything like he'd wanted Jaskier.

"Geralt," Jaskier says, and it's very nearly a whine. Geralt pulls away from his cock in time to watch his face contort as he comes. It's almost impressive, since this is at minimum his third round tonight.

Jaskier hunches up on the pillows to look at him with soft, post-orgasm eyes (and to wipe the spend off his stomach with what Geralt hopes is not his shirt). Abruptly Geralt remembers that this isn't even his bed, that he should go back to his own. This one is so small that even kneeling at the foot of it he hardly fits.

Jaskier reaches across the space between them, (a valiant effort, considering he's still trembling a little) and takes his hand. Geralt looks down at their interwoven fingers. It's an odd sight. More intimate than anything they've already done, or maybe it's just that he's never fantasized about holding a man's hand.

Jaskier tugs, ineffectively, and Geralt realizes he's trying to pull him down. He complies, because he's tired, and finding his pants seems an unwelcome task, and pulling them on even less so.

Jaskier doesn't touch him (any more than he's forced to, because this bed is not meant for one person). He only stares up the ceiling, breathing hard. Eventually, he grabs for Geralt's hand again, but only to put it on his damp forehead.

"Feel that. Disgusting."

Geralt smiles despite himself.

"Hmm."

"Hmm? What's that supposed to mean?"

Geralt turns then, to give him a look of wide-eyed innocence, and Jaskier laughs, tosses his hand back down, and falls asleep with a rapidity Geralt can only envy. He stares at the bard's long eyelashes and parted lips until his vision grows hazy and he falls into a doze.

 

He wakes to the sound of thunderous knocking.

It's still half-dark, and there's not a fucking chance this is going to go any way but poorly.

"Fuck," he says, in Jaskier's general direction, in case he isn't already awake, and stumbles out of bed, blessing his past self for bringing his weapons with him and bolting the door. He's been incautious and suffered for it in the past, and it's been a lifetime now since he's fucked without his swords at arms reach.

"Here," Jaskier says, and tosses a dark clump of fabric at his head--it's Geralt's pants (he hopes the bard is blessed by all the gods). Geralt wrestles them on, glances back over his shoulder to check that Jaskier's clothed enough to run if they have to.

Then he throws the door open, sword in hand, lifts the point of it to the neck of the man who'd been hammering on the door. Four, no five, men behind him draw their weapons.

"What's this."

"Baron's orders. He's looking for a bard." Geralt would laugh if he was the sort to laugh. Arresting and beheading citizens under false pretenses paves a smooth road for usurpers. Titles are more easily stolen in the name of restoring justice. The baron's more a fool than he'd thought.

"He's not here." He says, hoping Jaskier will take this as the hint it is.

"Then you won't mind if we come in."

"I would mind. I've got company." He jerks his head in the vague direction of the bed behind him, hoping it's too dark for a human's eyes to tell that it's empty, hoping that Jaskier's got the sense to hide himself.

The guard looks at him, noticing his state of half-dress, probably, and seems to deem this an acceptable excuse. More likely he just doesn't want a fight, doesn't like his chances even with better numbers.

Geralt shuts the door, slowly, and bolts it. He's still looking for the bard when Jaskier rolls out from under the bed, groaning.

"Melitele's left nipple."

"Pack your things."

"What?"

"We're leaving."

"We're leaving? Is this a marriage proposal? Because while I am flattered, I'm--"

"Leave with me, or stay here and have your head put on a spike."

"Well, when you put it like that, it's a little less romantic."

"Put this on."

"Gods, you're in a demanding sort of mood. This has the lowest thread count of anything I've ever touched, do you really wear--"

"Meet me in the stables before a quarter-hour passes, and keep the hood on." Geralt throws his pack across his shoulders and is out the door before Jaskier can say anything else (anything else he has to listen to, at least).

 

Geralt can saddle and bridle Roach and lace his packs securely with great speed if he's in a hurry. He's in a hurry now, and has been standing in the aisle with Roach fully tacked for what feels like lifetimes, Jaskier still nowhere to be seen. He's got half a mind to hand Roach's reins to the stable boy (the one who seems the least like he's got straw for brains) and finish Jaskier off before the baron can do it.

He gets as far as the door of the stables, where he finds Jaskier having an animated conversation with a pretty, curly-haired boy. With his hood off. And this is why, this is the reason Geralt doesn't get involved, because now this twit (albeit a very appealing twit, with a lovely singing voice and a lovelier cock) is his responsibility. He'd like to think he's got somewhat discerning taste in bedmates but it's by now obvious that he's inexorably drawn to the potential for trouble.

"Bard." He'd cuff someone for this sort of idiocy normally, but he's slept with Jaskier, and that seems to make the option more violent by contrast. He settles for gripping him by the shoulder and hauling him bodily along, Roach following gamely at his right.

"If you were half as intent on surviving as flirting, you might have kept your head down."

"Not in my nature," Jaskier says, casually. "I've got far too exceptional a head to keep down, it would be rather a waste. And I told that lovely man I was heading north, so now we have our choice of the other three directions and a bit more time."

Geralt can only grunt approval at this. Perhaps he's not attracted to lack of sense after all, perhaps he's old enough to know better.

"Can you mount behind me if I leave you the stirrups?"

"For the chance to sit behind that arse all day I'd imagine there's little I can't do. You'll have to hold my lute while I attempt it, I'll sacrifice my tailbone to the cobblestones before I have it crushed to splinters.

The escape runs rather more smoothly than Geralt had let himself hope for. The gates are minimally manned, and can't very well be closed on them at midday, when there's more or less constant traffic. He's sure their passage is marked though, and is sure to ride north until he's out of sight from the towers.

At dusk, they make camp in a dip the scrubland. It's cold without shelter from the wind or firewood, but Jaskier appears to be warmed by the same relentless energy that powers his mouth. He shuts it for the first time when Geralt hands him a strip of dried meat, and Geralt's finally able to admire him. In the silence, it's plausible to imagine he isn't any sort of fugitive, only a handsome man Geralt has no obligation toward.

"So. I'm afraid I must admit some ignorance as to our actual direction," Jaskier says, mouth still half full. Geralt can forgive it. Fantasies are by nature fleeting.

"Away from the baron."

"Certainly. In a non-northerly direction. There's no more, er, defined plan?" Jaskier shifts back on his cloak and lifts the corner to brush a pebble out from under it, then spreads it back out over the ground.

"Not yet. Anywhere you want to go?"

"Right now I would like to go to sleep in a proper bed." Jaskier places a tender hand on his lute, as if he's worried for its sleep as well. "A coastal town is preferable, to be sure, but anywhere would be better than... this."

"Seems you shouldn't have provoked a baron."

"Perhaps he provoked me."

"Hmm."

"Very well. Since you won't do me the courtesy of asking. I'm sure his--displeasure--with me is merely due to a familial grudge. A long-running sort of thing. I may have added to the original slight by having a dalliance with his niece in my youth, but she still got a very advantageous offer from a marquis, so I'm sure that's not what's upset him. It's more likely to be the subtle implications of my latest composition, but it might be about anyone, really. If he doesn't want his rule criticized he ought to consider--"

"Seems there's little provocation you haven't attempted."

"Well, when you put it that way, I suppose these things do add up. I am a man of many gifts, and so I accept my many failings without resentment."

Geralt cannot help but recall particular gifts, at that moment, but the idea of indulging in Jaskier's considerable talents is less enticing on a chilly spring night with only a cloak between bodies and scrubland.

Jaskier must see the lust in the press of Geralt's gaze. He presses the tip of his tongue to his upper lip as if he's putting great consideration into how any filthy acts might best be accomplished.

"I really think if we just--both our cloaks--we could easily--"

Geralt (despite significant interest in the subject matter) stops paying attention. There's something off, something he's at the edge of sensing consciously. He shifts forward, presses a thumb vertically across Jaskier's lips. Jaskier might have quieted if asked of course--this is an indulgence. He's becoming very self-indulgent, these days. He looks intently at the horizon, listening, until he determines that the minute patter of hoofbeats is not his imagination.

"Horses," he says, in case Jaskier is wondering about the hand on his mouth. He takes it away before Jaskier can do something drastic, like suck on his fingers.

Jaskier looks disappointed.

"How do you know they're coming for me--us?"

"I don't. Tell me this, could your most recent composition be considered a mechanism for inciting rebellion?"

"That was partly the point."

Geralt glares at him sharply. It's no good. Jaskier will feel no remorse now if he hasn't already.

"Well, the baron rather deserves to be overthrown. The working conditions at the iron mines--if you knew the atrocities--"

"I do. You couldn't sing about them from a safe distance?"

"Revolutions don't begin with cowardice."

"Fuck." Geralt rubs a hand across his face and gets to his feet. Roach lets out a disgruntled snort when he tosses her saddle on, just as exasperated as he is with the brevity of their rest.

Jaskier gathers their things while Geralt is tightening cinches. When the tack is finished he is ready, and begins handing them to Geralt one by one. It's gloriously efficient, really (though without Jaskier, he wouldn't be fleeing a baron at all--so maybe it isn't).

"Why now?" Jaskier huffs, throwing the last bag at Geralt.

"Because the baron couldn't very well send half his armed guard after a bard in broad daylight. Perhaps they thought us foolhardy enough to start a fire."

"Can't you wipe out a few guards with one flick of your mighty sword-arm?"

"I can use my sword in both arms."

"Can't you wipe out these guards with your general might and brawn?"

Geralt swings onto Roach's back instead of replying.

"Hand me the lute and get on."

Jaskier grins up at him.

"Being an enemy of the state has its perks."

Chapter Text

"Jaskier."

"It's in my way."

"And you're in mine."

There is no sound of acknowledgment from behind him.

"Hands to yourself, Jaskier."

Strands of Geralt's hair continue to be sharply tugged as Roach navigates a terrain that is lumpy with sprouting mounds of grass.

"Jaskier."

"Gods above and hells below, Geralt. I am almost--almost done. Ha. There."

The tugging ceases, and Geralt feels what must be a plait of his hair thump against his neck. 

"Much better. I'm sorry for my clumsy fingers, but I don't regret it."

Geralt only grunts. He'd like to say he regrets meeting Jaskier, but he's not a liar. He's had worse rides in the dark than this one, which features the mildly pleasant addition of Jaskier's arms wrapped tight about his waist (when he isn't fucking with Geralt's hair, or the way the saddlebags sit). 

He pulls his hands a few inches toward him, and Roach, well-trained, steps to a halt. It's a simple enough thing to throw a leg over her neck and dismount without hitting Jaskier. He sets the reins on Roach's neck and takes a few steps away, far enough that her soft huffing doesn't overwhelm his hearing. (Far enough that Jaskier's scent, rich and unmistakably male, doesn't prevent him from smelling anything else.) 

The moon is a thumbnail in the sky and it's too dark to see anything more than a few feet away, but it doesn't matter. Their pursuers are far enough away not to be audible, which is a welcome development. And to the east, there's the faint scent of humanity. By Geralt's reckoning of directions, a village is not far.

He takes careful steps back to Roach and Jaskier, who's dismounted to water the nearest clump of grass. He checks the tack while he waits for Jaskier to lace his pants, makes sure the saddle isn't rubbing Roach raw on the withers. It never does. His saddle-blanket is better quality fabric than anything he wears himself.

"Is she alright?" Jaskier's steps rustle the grass. He places a cautious palm against Roach's neck, looks sideways at Geralt, who is checking the (perfectly adequate) tightness of the saddle girth. "It must be heavy for you with both of us, hmm?"

Against his will, Geralt's chest tightens.

"She's okay. Carried heavier loads over rockier paths." 

Jaskier nods. 

"If we go to Gors Velen," Geralt asks, surprising himself by talking twice in a row when Jaskier hasn't said a thing. "Will they know you there?"

Jaskier wraps himself in his arms, makes a low hum.

"Some people might if they really look at me. Whether or not they do depends on how loud I am, of course. And I'm often rather loud."

"You are. Harder to find a loud man in a city than in the wilderness, most often."

"I've got a signature sort of loudness."

Geralt smiles (it's too dark for Jaskier to see him do it). 

"Then don't be loud."


There's only one hostel in the village with the lamp still lit, and predictably, it's seedy. Jaskier drags Geralt bodily out of Roach's stall in the stable next door, which Geralt would gladly inspect all night. It's too poorly swept not to have some hazardous object hidden on the floor. 

"By the hour's upstairs," says the grizzled man who lets them into the inn, "forty Oren a night for the main room. There's a private one for eighty, but you lot don't look as if you've got it."

Geralt doesn't, but Jaskier says, "we'll take it," and presses the coins, procured from the depths of his jacket, into the innkeeper's hand. He opens the door gallantly for Geralt, then bolts it primly.

"Well?"

Geralt corners him against the door before he can ask any other foolish questions.

"You've been a great deal of trouble," he whispers in Jaskier's ear, close enough that his lips brush the warm skin of it.

"That's my specialty," Jaskier says, low and husky and half-laughing, and palms him through his trousers. He's a maddening tease. "How much more trouble would you like tonight?"

"Fuck me," Geralt growls in his ear, and feels Jaskier shudder, "and then ask again."

Jaskier does. He comes with an obscene groan and his forehead pressed into Geralt's shoulder blade, and then he asks again.

"Lots," Geralt answers, and flips Jaskier underneath him. 

Jaskier talks directly to the ceiling, as if watching Geralt's face contort as he thrusts is altogether too much stimulation.

"You know, I've always--I've always wanted to be railed by a witcher. It's a childhood dream--ah, no--more of an adolescent--dream. Yes, Geralt. Fuck."

It's not until Jaskier's been exhausted into silence that Geralt remembers his hair is still in the godsdamned braid. He can't be bothered to take it out.


"We need somewhere else to stay," he tells Jaskier in the morning, bending to take up their packs from where they lie on the floor. Jaskier is still in bed, smirking wickedly at Geralt's arse.

"Yes, this sort of expense is a calculated indulgence," he says, stretching out long like a cat and winking. Geralt looks away. 

"Roach is going to throw her right rear shoe any moment." He won't be distracted by such blatant coquetry when they've got armed men on their trail. It's not practical.

The bed creaks as Jaskier writhes in the sheets, and Geralt spares himself a glance, jaw clenched. Jaskier, now lounging back on the pillows like a debauched princeling, licks his lips pointedly. It might have been bearable were he not nearly naked, with the purple-red mark of Geralt's teeth bright on his shoulder. 

Geralt sighs, and puts down the bags in his hands. 

The sun is a white coin above the eastern horizon by the time they leave the inn. The blacksmith they find is a broad, swarthy man with wiry black hair and a full beard. He's quiet, which Geralt likes, and he mutters softly to Roach as he fits her shoes, which Geralt likes also. He's got a boy (eleven summers, Geralt thinks) with the same dark hair and skin, who trots about bringing him nails and sundry items. 

Then Jaskier, who was meant to stay out of sight in the alley, wanders whistling into the forge. Geralt, holding Roach's reins for the smith, can only glare. The boy stops with his hands full of worn horseshoes, mouth half-open. 

"Jaskier?"

Jaskier grins at him, and the blacksmith looks up sharply, hammer in hand. He sets Roach's foot down quickly and stands, wiping his hands on his leather apron. 

"Well, I never." His eyes flash with delight as they wander over Jaskier's face. Then his smile fades, and he looks down at his boy, who is vibrating in place as if he might explode with excitement. "Go fetch your mother away from the garden."

The boy scampers off, dust scuffing under his feet.

"I'd hear how the bard Jaskier comes to be traveling with a witcher," he says, voice deliberately low. 

Jaskier steps close enough to Geralt to set a hand on his shoulder.

"Geralt of Rivia has been saving my life once an hour for the last three days."

"So that's how you're still breathing, then. Can't imagine the baron's too happy with you." His voice becomes a rough whisper, "The patrol wouldn't even come through the town yesterday. Too afraid, by now. Half the village is ready to storm his villa and tear him to shreds. Ah, Isaura!"

A tall woman with a braid halfway to her thigh is standing in the door at the back of the forge. She looks at Jaskier, and then at Geralt, jaw taut, and gestures for them to follow her inside.

"Go on," the smith says, taking hold of the reins above Geralt's hand. "I'll see to this good lass."

Jaskier trots through the door before Geralt can stop him. It's not a trap, most likely, but Geralt's been lured into more sinister dens than he's been invited into generous households, and his shoulders tense instinctively in the enclosed space. Behind the door is a low ceilinged room partitioned by curtains into smaller spaces.

Isaura turns around to face them.

"So you're the bard Jaskier." Her voice is grim.

"We're honored to meet you," Jaskier says, with a flourishing bow, and a smile flickers across her stern face. It's gracious of him to speak for them both, gods know Geralt's got no stomach for formalities.

"Likewise, sir. Though you've certainly stirred up a mess."

"Ah." Jaskier looks suddenly very serious. "I'd hoped the baron might be called to account, and it appears I'd not foreseen the extent of the reckoning." His face tightens. Isaura reaches out, grips his forearm with her a hand that is square and blunted by work. 

"Hear me. My father was crushed to death in the mines, and my mother dropped down of the plague at her plow and oxen. My sister was carried off by bandits and no patrol was sent for her, no matter how I pleaded at the baron's seat." She releases his arm, her face bright. 

"The nobles in their plush houses will take our harvests for their taxes and our farmlands for their iron, and they will give us nothing but empty promises in return. Insurgency or no, someone will bleed, and the baron should bleed beside them."

Isaura gives them eight loaves of bread for the road (would have given them twenty, if Geralt had been willing to add another bag to their packs). Geralt gives her a long, bone-handled knife from his pack, or tries. She won't take it, tells him it's too fine a thing for her to accept for warmed wheat-and-water. He places it behind the oil-jug where she'll find it later.

For his part, Jaskier insists it would be rude not to play for hosts before he goes. Geralt, intently curious, listens to the song with a knitted brow.

In the springtime did young Robrecht go
To the market through the rain and snow
And then home he came with a breeding sow
And a chicken and a milking cow

In the summer Robrecht picked his corn
And he rose each day in the early morn
And he fed the sow and he fed her brood
And he fed his sons mere scraps of food

In the winter came the baron's troops
And they took the stock from the sties and coops
And the lords were fat and the nobles fed
And young Robrecht with his sons fell dead

And the baron drinks your cherry wine
And the baron eats your suckling pig
And the baron asks his serving maids
How ever did I get so big?

To the market did young Layla run
For a spool of flax that was finely spun
For a ribbon for her copper hair
For a honeycake for her lad to share

In the market did the baron's eye
Fall on copper hair and a head held high 
And the baron said to his steward, there
See the lass I will have for to get my heir

In the market gathers all the town
For to watch the bride in her silken gown
And a copper head is bent low and meek 
And a tear shines brightly on Layla's cheek

And the baron sends your boys to war
And the baron takes your girls to wife
And the baron asks his serving men
Do they not wish to live his life?

From the tune, it's only another cheery tavern ditty, but when he strikes the final chord, Jaskier's blue eyes are flinty and dangerous. Geralt is reminded of the man staring at him across the hallway. 

Those eyes had dared him forward, and he had gone.

Chapter Text

They meet no patrols on the journey to Gors Velen. They have their fill of fresh bread, and Jaskier is near-silent. All things are what Geralt would have wished for, were it given to him to wish. 

It is an unsettling kind of peace, and Jaskier's breathing is heavy on the silence. Each hour of trouble expected and not met rubs at him until he is blistered by the anticipation. (Or perhaps it is a darker instinct--he is not meant to be hunted, but to hunt, and his blood cries out for the release of slaughter.)

They reach an inn inside the gates without trouble all the same. They are not hailed. No one recognizes Jaskier, who has seven days of stubble coating his face, and seven days of dust layered over his fine clothes. No one notices Geralt's unearthly features or the shine of the medallion on his breast. Among the rabble of the lower town, sick and greedy and covered in filth, two cloaked men on a muddy horse are not noteworthy enough to look for details.

The inn, like most in the cities, is an assault on Geralt's senses. His ears ache with the noise of it, and he breathes carefully through his mouth from habit (he will spare his nose the scent of drunkenness and all the bodily fluids that follow it, if he can). Conversely, Jaskier seems to brighten, to shed a veil of dirt and despair. He saunters over to the first woman his eyes light on, and Geralt sees her lean in close to hear him, hand drifting to rest on his arm. She's lovely, with hair the color of fire and a splash of freckles over her cheeks. He briefly dislikes her. 

"I suppose I ought to ask you if we've got any sort of understanding," Jaskier had asked, when Gors Velen was only a spot on the horizon.

That had surprised him. He had not suspected Jaskier would consider what they had done worthy of the question. It was certainly not a question he'd asked himself. Perhaps Jaskier's array of romantic entanglements had made clarity in such matters important to him, then.

"No."

He and Jaskier have no understanding of any sort, and for this reason, the woman does not concern him. He settles in the quietest place he can find and lets his eyes drift to the middle distance, tries to sink into a meditation that will mute the pounding in his head. He's successful until an argument on the merits of Temerian over Cidarian steel begins at the table nearest his.

Jaskier does not turn, even when a bronze flagon is swept off the table behind him and clatters over the bench to the floor. The woman with the red hair is laughing, and Jaskier's hand lingers on her waist as she lifts her cup to his lips.

Geralt can only smile wryly and search the crowd until he catches the eyes of a woman whose blood-red bodice is artfully half-laced, her breasts close to spilling out the top.

 

It's not a good fuck. The woman is lovely, of course--Geralt can appreciate her remarkable proportions, and the view of them he is afforded. Regardless, his mind wanders, and when he closes his eyes, it's to see Jaskier's lips shaping his name silently in the cold night, breath clouding in the air. The arcing length of Jaskier's spine, beaded in sweat, his fists knotted in off-white sheets.

 

He pays her quickly with the few groats he has left in his purse and waits for her to go before he rises from the bed. He descends the stairs with his mouth ashen and his stomach roiling as if he's swallowed a vial of potion.

Below, things have quieted somewhat; the worst of the drunks have fallen asleep across their tables or wandered up to their rooms. It's still smoky and crowded. Geralt can feel the filth of it on his skin. (Or maybe it's only a film of sweat still clinging to him like the feeling of the prostitute's hands on his back.)

Jaskier is easily found. Predictably, his hood is off, and he's draped over a table with his forehead pressed into his arms. Geralt shakes him by the shoulder, and he groans as he twists his neck to look up into Geralt's face.

The smell of blood hits Geralt a moment before the visual of Jaskier's face. There's a line of crimson drool running from the corner of his mouth to his hands, a dried smear of red across his chin, a wide trickle from his hairline. 

"Fuck."

Jaskier grins. "It happens."

Geralt takes the bard's face in his hands, feeling across his jaw for swelling. A broken jaw isn't hard to come by in barfights, and it's worse to recover from by several months than a broken nose or tooth. 

"How was that girl, by the way? I hope you didn't despoil our room." Jaskier leans over to spit on the floor. 

Geralt leaves that question untouched, lifting Jaskier's hair from his forehead to examine the cut there. It looks like he'd had his head slammed into a hard surface, and the mental imagery makes bloodlust boil in his gut.

He hauls Jaskier to his feet with a fist in his doublet.

"Augh, witcher," Jaskier pushes back against him, weaving on his feet. So he's in his cups as well as probably concussed. "Fuck off. You're not my mother."

Geralt doesn't let go. 

"Tell me the same tomorrow and I'll gladly leave you to take your knocks." Today, your life is still mine to guard, he doesn't say. And Jaskier is in too poor a condition to put up a fight. 

Geralt oils his sword while Jaskier undresses and washes. (He is not so intent on the task that he does not how Jaskier winces when he writhes out of his shirt, or the how the skin beneath his ribs has bloomed in patches of violet and indigo). 

"What happened," he asks, when the words have clawed his throat bloody trying to escape.

"Nothing I didn't deserve," Jaskier says seriously, perching on a wooden stool with his lute (and without his shirt). It's a peculiar kind of torture, since Geralt isn't sure whether he'd best like to kiss him, wrestle the lute away before he can begin to make noise with it, or forcibly bandage his brainless head, from which a slow trickle of blood is still oozing. 

And fuck, because Geralt had promised himself it was the last time, last time. It always ends the same way. He's dragged underwater by a fragile mortal only for them to drown anyway and leave him gasping on the banks.

"You've spent a fortnight sharing my bed and bread, Jaskier, and it seems we are still strangers."

"That's because you want us to be, Geralt. Reckless I might be, but even I know better than to put my heart where it isn't wanted." His fingers flicker over the strings, and the song that comes away from them makes his Geralt's own heart ache.

"I'm a nobleman's son, Geralt, did you know?" He does not look up from the lute, keeps his head bent down, though his hands move too gracefully for Geralt to believe they need the assistance of his eyes. "Isn't that deliciously hypocritical? What a noble thing it was, leaving to make my own living, with an education from the finest university and pockets packed with inherited gold. Young and ever so courageous, convinced that a countess breaking my heart made me marvelously unique and artistic and interesting."

He doesn't speak for a while, and Geralt watches his hands as he plays, how the strings bite into the pads of his fingers. His knuckles are torn--Geralt had not noticed this before, had not considered that the bard might have defended himself, might even have been successful.

"My anger was righteous, and my sorrow was beautiful, and when I had an affair with the baron's cousin, it was only justice, a salve for my all-important heart. I could have disgraced her if she'd been with child. I ought to have married her anyway, and it's only luck that the Marquis still wanted her." 

He shakes his head, lips twisting into a bitter half-measure of his usual smile.

"That should have shamed me into a better man. Unfortunately, I am as resilient to wisdom as I am to hardship," he laughs wryly, "and instead of causing disruptions with torrid romances, I caused them in other ways."  He looks up into Geralt's eyes, face expressionless. "Of course, I still had plenty of torrid romances. Anything else would have been quite a waste of my talents. I was considerate of neither my own feelings or anyone else's, so as you can imagine, there was an unending flow of poetic sorrow."

Geralt has never witnessed a bald confession of narcissism and does not know how to respond to one. It's lucky Jaskier does not seem to expect him to say anything at all.

"I thought myself so clever, turning things this way or that in the courts, having my way in all sorts of things with no one the wiser, exposing everyone's faults and telling myself it was justice. And do you know why I stopped? Not because I grew sick of myself, but because I was bored. I became a teacher for a while, which was also boring, and then after that, I became a man of the people. Wandering the countryside, for once being hated when I deserved it."

The music of the lute continues alone for some time, Jaskier's head bent over it so that Geralt cannot see into his eyes.

"A baron is a minor vassal, with an insignificant fiefdom. How large must be an uprising--" 

Jaskier's hands still on the lute, and the silence is crushing. 

"How brutal must the slaughter be, for news to reach Gors Velen in seven days." Geralt's slow heart stops, and he tries not to think of it, a village filled with smoke and corpses, Isaura and her husband and her son with his arms full of horseshoes.

"Their deaths are not on your head," Geralt says, and his thoughts are far away from the village now. He is in Blaviken, and a woman with wide, beautiful eyes is bleeding over the cobblestones in his hands. He is in fields and cities and caves and courts, and there is blood on the crops and pavements and gravel and lovely mosaic tiles. "You are a poet, not a soldier."

"If that was true then I would have let myself be killed for my part in it." Jaskier lifts his torn knuckles to the light, and Geralt can imagine a man throwing Jaskier to the floor, eyes blazing in grief and rage. Can imagine kicks punctuated by butcher, and coward, and filth. Can imagine Jaskier's body twisting in agony until it's too much to be borne. "It seems that even I can fight when I'm afraid of dying."

"Good," Geralt snarls. "You can't save everyone."

"I don't think you believe that," Jaskier says, and the gut-punch of his gaze turns Geralt's stomach.

"Death is my trade, Jaskier."

He looks down at his hands, sword-hardened, soaked in the blood of the innocent and the guilty alike. Jaskier had held those hands, not knowing, or not caring that they had done things unimaginably more terrible than his own. 

(Which is worse, he isn't sure.)

"Things die."

Chapter Text

Geralt does not sleep, since he cannot close his eyes without seeing Renfri's, staring dead and aimless at the grey sky. Jaskier is still, but in the near-silence of the earliest morning, Geralt can hear his heartbeat and knows that he also is not sleeping. 

He shifts onto his back to glare at the rotting planks of the ceiling, and Jaskier stirs at his side.

"Can't you sleep?"  

Geralt does not give a reply, and Jaskier does not wait for one. He alights and goes to the window, throws aside the shutter. It clatters against the wall and he fastens it there with its hook. (Geralt can smell that one of the scabs on his knuckles has split, blood oozing out over his fingers.)

Moonlight made pink by the clouds falls into the room and a summer breeze follows it, carrying in little smells of the city: refuse rotting in gutters, herbs growing in windowsills, horses in stamping in stables.

Jaskier raises one arm to lean against the frame, looking down onto the night. He is lovely. His eyelashes cast dark shadows over his cheeks, and his long linen night-shirt flutters in the breeze. He's only wearing his smallclothes under it, and his thighs and calves look like smooth marble in the low light.

He looks at Geralt, wets his lips as if he's going to speak, and then his gaze lifts again to the towers and parapets and banners on the high horizon.

"Why did you do it? Why did you take me with you?"

"Perhaps to spite the baron," Geralt says. (It's a lie, but he doesn't know what the truth is.)

"A noble motive now more than ever. I think it's because I sucked your soul out through your cock and you couldn't bear to part with me." Jaskier's mouth lifts in a smirk, and then his face tightens. "And yet when I asked, you could think of no reason to keep me for any longer than this."

"You don't know anything about me," Geralt breathes wearily. It's not an accusation for Jaskier, but for himself. You don't know who I am, or what I've done.

"You think because you haven't told me that I haven't guessed? Maybe you aren't as wise as your years ought to make you, Geralt. I am a viscount, not a king. Do you think I don't know what it is to be at the beck and call of the wealthy and the powerful? There are neverending webs of conniving and schemes, and there is murder and fraud and adultery." His mouth twists in disgust. "I know because I wove some of them myself."

Jaskier paces to the foot of the bed and Geralt lifts himself up on his arms to meet his gaze.

"I do not care what you have done, except that you have saved me." His voice is quiet, but his eyes are wild. "I am not asking that you be blameless. I am asking that you be mine," and that last word is heavy with want.

"I cannot be anyone's."

"Is that what you think, or only what you wish you thought?"

"Don't try to manipulate me," Geralt growls, "I'm not one of your bloodsucking courtiers."

There is a pause, and he watches Jaskier's chest rise and fall with his rushed breaths. Then he speaks again, voice forcibly calm.

"I am not a good man, Geralt, but I spoke to you in good faith, and using my honesty against me is contemptible."

He walks away into the darkness, and there is a rustling of fabric and leather, and then Geralt can see him briefly outlined in the doorway with his lute slung over his back. 

Geralt turns his face away and listens to the door thump closed against its frame. His breaths echo loudly in the empty room, and in the dark he can recall that lovely face too well, blood staining the brow.

He catches Jaskier before he makes it down the stairs. 

"Fuck off Geralt," Jaskier hisses. "You want to own me and reject me both and I won't fucking let you do it."

Geralt wraps a hand around the nape of his neck and kisses him, and Jaskier returns the kiss brutally. He bites down on Geralt's bottom lip hard enough to draw blood, or maybe it's only Jaskier's blood Geralt tastes, the cuts reopened before they can heal. Geralt hauls him closer with a heavy, possessive grip and then Jaskier pushes back, palms braced against him. Geralt lets him break away.

"Is this a thing for you?" Jaskier asks, panting, his mouth wet and stained crimson. "Exhibitionism? Hallways?" He drags the back of his hand over his mouth, and even in the dark Geralt can see the smear of blood that comes away on it. "Fuck you."

Then they are stumbling back through the open door, and there's a series of bumps and curses as Jaskier pries off his boots, puts down his lute, and searches in the dark for the vial of oil at the bottom of his pack. They remove their clothing hurriedly, and since Geralt already has less of it he inconveniences Jaskier by dragging him relentlessly toward the bed as he struggles out of his own.

Jaskier pushes Geralt down and crawls over him, licking and biting as he goes, and Geralt briefly wonders if there will be bright stripes of blood down his torso in the shape of Jaskier's lips and tongue.

Then Jaskier sits up, straddling his thighs, and wild lust rolls over his body like a wave, even as his teeth clench at the sight of Jaskier's bruised abdomen.

"I can't understand you," Jaskier says, and his eyes are like lit fires, the blue at the bottom of a candle flame. "I've rarely met a person that I did not love, or else hate, and you don't even seem to know if you like me."

Jaskier's fingers scramble for the vial of oil he'd tossed carelessly into the sheets before, and Geralt's throat tightens as he fills his palm with it, rolls it across his fingers with his thumb. Then he reaches around behind him, and Geralt runs rough palms up to grip his hips, feels Jaskier buck as he rocks back onto his own hand.

"And now, even I can't even fucking decide." Jaskier hisses, almost pained, then growls, "But I'm almost sure I hate you, Geralt. I think I hate you." Geralt's slow heart is beating so violently his veins could rupture.

"Fuck," he grits out, and drags Jaskier forward, closer.

"The alternative," Jaskier says, shuddering as he sinks down onto Geralt's cock, "is so much worse."

He stills for a moment, head tipped back. Geralt can see his throat bob as he swallows and rocks a little farther down. His whole body tenses, and Geralt burns. It is nothing like anything he has ever felt, and is that because Jaskier is a man, or because Jaskier is Jaskier?

He loses this train of thought when Jaskier begins to move, torturously slow, his breath coming short and sharp. Geralt's hips stutter, and he digs desperate fingers into Jaskier's thighs, bunched taut under his hands, catches a shouted curse between his teeth. Jaskier hisses something, maybe fuck, and strokes his own cock.

Geralt growls and wraps his hand around Jaskier's, waits for his fingers to loosen and slip away. Then he moves his fist in time with Jaskier's rhythm, slow, even strokes. 

"Fuck," Jaskier says, and lets out a raspy laugh, "I can't hate you." His thighs are trembling under Geralt's palms, and sweat sparkles in his hair. 

He bends lower, changing the angle, bracing himself with a hand placed somewhere behind Geralt's head. He's still moving, head bowed over his chest, droplets of sweat from his hair scattering across Geralt's skin.

"Whatever you've ever done," he says and then gasps, catches Geralt's jaw in his free hand. His fingertips are wet with the blood that drips from his knuckles. "Whatever you've done, I absolve you of it," he laughs, breathy. 

He's only jesting, making the joke that Geralt's fucking is good enough penance for any transgression. Or maybe he's half-serious, and that's why his eyes are dark with resolve, why he drags the pad of his thumb across the seam of Geralt's lips like a ritual blessing (or a blood sacrifice). Geralt's vision nearly whites out at the coppery taste on his tongue, and he grips the curve of Jaskier's ass, pulls him down until their bodies are flush together.

Jaskier whispers, "Gods, Geralt," and shudders to a halt; underneath him, Geralt shatters.

He is still disoriented when the warmth of Jaskier's body withdraws. Geralt can hear him cross the room to the basin by the open window, dash a bit of water on his face, dampen a rag in the water to wash with. 

Jaskier comes to the foot of the bed when he's finished and tosses Geralt the cloth. He catches it, wipes Jaskier's spend off his right hand, and sets it down beside the bed.

They are exactly as they had been before, staring at each in the soft light. I am not asking that you be blameless. 

Geralt is supposed to say something, he knows. He is reeling. What feels like a chasm has been carved out under his ribs. I absolve you of it. Would innocent jest or sincere naivety be worse? He's not sure.

"That's the last time," he says.

"Right," Jaskier replies, and bends to pick up shirt from the floor. He gathers his things in the dark with the practiced efficiency of a man who has done it before, and Geralt looks down, loathing himself and unwilling to watch. 

Over his heart is a sticky vermillion smear in the shape of Jaskier's mouth.

Chapter Text

"Sir? Will this place suit?" 

The serving girl is looking at him with wide eyes. That might be because he's glaring at her. He forces his face into an expression he hopes is neutrally pleased.

"Yes. My thanks."

"Is there anything else you require?"

Geralt looks down at the low couch in front of him, heaped with embroidered cushions.

"A drink, if you've got it." She scurries off obediently, leaving Geralt to his fate.

The couch is too low to sit on, of course. It's meant for lounging, and this, this is why he doesn't attend these horseshit parties. 

He settles tentatively in the center of it, which is draped with heavy velvet and a large white pelt that looks incredibly expensive. He's got no fucking idea what to do with the cushions, so he pushes them all to one side and crosses his legs in front of him, feeling uncomfortably like a Kaer Morhen trainee listening attentively to his elders. He grimaces and glances around the atrium at the other guests.

The attendees are a particularly fashionable set, Geralt guesses, noting an abundance of strange fabrics and accessories. One of the ladies has a dark tattoo that winds up her arm, bared completely in a daring dress pinned by brooches at her shoulders. Two of the men have sparkling jewels dangling from their ears. Most of the guests are relaxing, leaning back into their piles of opulent cushions like born nobility.

They probably are. The youngest children of wealthy lords who already have an heir and a spare, the spoiled progeny of royal consorts and courtesans. And a witcher, finally bereft of his dignity. 

The girl comes back with his drink, and he takes a long swallow without even looking at it, wincing at the tase. It's like nothing he's ever tasted, thick and dark and heavily spiced--truly an odd drink for summer. He examines the chalice as if it will hold some clue to the contents, but it's just as bizarre, some kind of heavy grey metal, with dark gems inlaid around it.

Gods. He can't even have an ale for his trouble. His own fault for not specifying.

Then he sees Jaskier, and his throat is suddenly dry. He tips more of the black liquor into his mouth, tries not to stare.

Jaskier has rings sparkling on most, maybe all of his fingers, and he's only wearing a chemise with his trousers. It's obviously intended as outerwear, since the material is an opalescent purple-blue, but it's still semi-opaque enough to pose a danger to Geralt's sanity. There's sapphire-colored kohl at the outer edges of his eyes, and fuck, Geralt's been looking for too long.

It must have been obvious, from the faint smile on Jaskier's face, which is now turned in his direction. Jaskier begins to stroll toward him, and Geralt can already smell him, sandalwood oil and a whisper of sweat underneath it. He clenches his teeth and blows a breath out through his nose as Jaskier stops beside his couch, almost close enough to touch.

"How did you get here, White Wolf?" He leans down to pick up one of Geralt's abandoned cushions by a tasseled corner, examines it dryly. "And this somehow defective? Or do floral motifs at close proximity interfere with your masculine aesthetic?" 

Geralt ignores the second half of the question.

"I have certain friends."

"Of course," Jaskier says, sounding bored. "When they arrive perhaps you can introduce us." He drops the cushion on the floor. "A more illuminating question might be: why are you here?"

"Not because I want to be," Geralt snarls, and this has got to be the worst way to have an argument, sitting in a plush nest of fabric while a bard wearing lingerie towers over him.

"You want to grovel?" Jaskier asks, and Geralt is getting damn close to regretting that he'd come.

Jaskier doesn't wait for him to answer.

"Well, groveling is really all I'll allow, so send for me when it seems agreeable. Kristof?" A boy comes running, his bare feet slapping against the tile floors. Jaskier gestures with rounded fingers like he's holding a glass chalice.  "Will you bring this man a more boring drink? He won't like this one."

And with then he wanders away--more accurately, he wanders to the couch of a man with long honey-colored hair, who is sprawled across his cushions wearing no shirt at all. Geralt watches him laugh as Jaskier pushes him over to make enough room for himself and grits his teeth, cursing his own folly.

It's been three moons (almost exactly) since Jaskier had left him in Gors Velen--though, that phrasing places more blame on Jaskier than he deserves. Geralt had scrubbed Jaskier's come and blood off his skin thrice over, found the strange void in his chest gaping larger than before, and attempted to outrun the strangeness of his emotions by taking a contract in the closest thing to the wilderness he could find.

It hadn't worked. (If it had he wouldn't be lying on a fucking couch in public.)

How had he been brought to his knees so easily? (He's dimly aware that returning to Jaskier three months after baldly rejecting him perhaps does not count for easily. All the same.) His sexual encounters have been profoundly unsatisfying, but he could have ignored that. Whatever Jaskier's done to him is something worse, and that's not even taking into account the six songs he can't get out of his head. It's something like hunger, difficult to ignore, impossible to escape. 

In the center of the room, beside the shallow pool that collects rainwater from the open skylight, a harpist begins to play, and Geralt is shaken out of his thoughts.

"Sir?"

It's the serving boy, Kristof, with a large mug of clear amber liquid. Ale. Right. 

Jaskier is fucking intolerable, thinking he knows best. Unfortunate that in this case he does. Geralt takes the mug, grateful for its solidity in his grip and looks up for Jaskier, who is doubtless either gloating or just ignoring him. 

The golden-haired man is alone. Shit.

He rises, tries to stroll unobtrusively across the atrium. Enough of the other guests are standing, in small circles of two or three, or indulging in licentious activities on their couches, that he can't possibly be the most eye-catching item, but heads turn to follow him anyway. He catches no glimpses of Jaskier in his shimmering indigo, or of Jaskier at all (since there's a nonzero possibility he's been shedding clothing).

Fuck.

He casts about for the serving-girl who'd brought him in and finds her filling the chalice of a woman wearing more jewelry than clothing from a bronze pitcher. He waits for her to turn and catches her eye, praying to whatever gods exist that she will see him, that people will stop looking at him, that this day will end.

She does, and glides over to him gracefully, looking a little sympathetic. Gods. He's like a lost lamb.

"Sir. Is there anything I can do for you?"

He pauses, because he hasn't fucking thought this through, and her face shifts.

"Oh. Oh! I--of course, sir. Though, I can have other company sent to you! Or if I--if you think me preferable, I can--I'm perfectly willing."

Great, he's scared the shit out of her. Again. He lifts his hand halfway as if to touch her arm comfortingly, then thinks better of that utterly brainless idea.

"Not that," he says. "Will you show me to a privy?" 

Her shoulders relax.

"Of course." She sets the pitcher down on a table laden with fruit and meat, and leads him past a variety of potted trees, under a heavy satin curtain, down a hallway paved with patterned tiles. 

"Wait."

Her face when she turns is wary, which in retrospect, is because he's just lured her into a deserted hallway. Gods above.

"I want to find the bard Jaskier. Do you know where he is?"

She exhales, smiles gently.

"Are you here to see him?" she asks, like this is a common occurrence, and of course it is, this is Jaskier. 

"Yes. I'm an old friend." It's--not completely a lie. 

She looks at him skeptically, like she can see the truth on his face, can look into his mind at Jaskier straddling his hips and painting his skin with bloody kisses. He stares back, praying she thinks him stubborn enough to be worth placating.

Her voice drops to a whisper. "Sometimes he goes to see the duke's daughter, but I... I don't think he'll want to be disturbed." 

The absolute muttonhead strumpet. He pinches at the bridge of his nose, and maybe this is what convinces her he's on Jaskier's side after all, or maybe she's just given up on getting rid of him.

"I'll point you in the right direction."

The hallway is narrow and grows dustier and dimmer as he walks down it, the lamps sputtering sadly for want of oil. It's not where he expects to find a duke's daughter, and there's a brief moment where he wonders if the serving-girl is a liar, but he can hear the faint sound of voices, and so continues.

At the end of the corridor on the left is a room with wide double doors, both open, and it's from there that the voices grow louder from there as he approaches.

"So you can't attack from the mountains." 

"You can, you'll simply have to resign yourself to losing your entire company like the three generals who tried it before you." 

Soft, female laughter.

"Perhaps if they'd thought to bring more than a week of rations and sent some cavalry around to divert the opposing forces it wouldn't have gone so badly." 

"I think you're missing my point. Three generals, Eline." 

It's Jaskier's voice, and the hollow hunger that's been haunting Geralt all these weeks intensifies at the sound of it. 

Eline laughs again in reply.

"You ought to be studying grammar instead, you know twice as much history as the steward himself and six times more than you ought to."

"That's less fun, since my father approves of it."

"And that's why you won't learn music either. I'm going to rescind my tutelage."

"Only once you read my rhetoric assignment. It took me at least an hour."

"Gods forbid, an entire hour." 

Geralt is at the door now, can get a glimpse of Jaskier from around the edge of it. He's wearing a bronze-colored doublet over his chemise and twirling a long quill pen in his hands. 

He takes another step and looks into the room. Jaskier is siting with his heels propped up on a desk in front of him. There's an enormous brown globe on the desk, with an abacus and an astrolabe beside it, and the whole space is filled with shelves and countless stacks of paper, some half-heartedly bound into volumes. A library, maybe, or an archive. Eline is sitting on a table by the one window, surrounded by dusty scrolls and gripping a leather-bound book that looks to be half her weight. She's--very young, maybe fourteen, and wearing the feral grin that makes girls her age positively terrifying. 

Feeling suddenly intrusive, he clears his throat.

Jaskier snaps his head toward the door. Eline narrows her eyes and grips her book slightly closer to her chest.

"Oh, it's you." He shoves back the chair and turns to Eline. "It's fine, Eline, Geralt is just an extraordinarily stupid acquaintance of mine. I'll see you to your rooms before I bother with him."

And so Geralt finds himself following Jaskier and the duke's daughter up a tower staircase to what is apparently Eline's chamber. He watches with a strange tightness in his chest as Jaskier opens the door for her, bowing gallantly. She laughs, and he tells her to do her bloody geometry and closes it softly behind her. 

He glares at Geralt for a moment before starting down the stairs again, shrugging his way out of his doublet as he goes. 

"Don't say anything until I've had a drink," he says, starting across a passage that must lead back to the party (Geralt can hear the sound of the harp, and over it, the buzz of conversation). "I'm not at all happy to see you, though watching you suffer so openly was certainly a balm." 

He brushes aside a curtain that Geralt faintly remembers and they're back inside the atrium. It's less distasteful now that everyone's well and truly drunk, and less of them are staring at him. He can almost appreciate the elegance of the space, with its numerous potted plants and the pink light of sunset reflecting up from the pool in the center. 

Jaskier drapes his doublet casually over a couch and saunters over to a table to pour himself a goblet of the revolting black liquor. Geralt watches him sip it, frowning. Jaskier snorts a laugh into the drink, and Geralt follows his eyes across the room where the golden-haired man is lying, stark naked and asleep.

"Since I'm sure you want to ask who that is: he's the latest in my string of lovers. Would you like me to wake him up so you can challenge him to a duel?"

"I'm sure that would make a fine song."

"It rather would," Jaskier smirks, shakes his head. "Well, what have you come here to do, Geralt?"

"Talk to you."

"That is certainly a first. I'll indulge you since I'm unable to curb my instinctive magnanimity."

Geralt looks around the atrium. Several other attendees are asleep, and some occupied, but a few meet his eyes with sultry smirks, unabashed. Jaskier seems to hear his thoughts.

"Ah yes, let's go somewhere more private. We've already gathered a bit of interest, but that's only the nature of things when one of the parties is handsome, and the other is uncommonly brawny."

Jaskier strolls back toward the curtain, goblet still in hand, and Geralt trails after him. He winds past what had been Geralt's couch, and bundles the white fur under his arm, winking at the servant girl who catches him at it.

"I suppose the duke's daughter isn't what you were expecting," he says, sweeping back the tapestry that leads out into the hallway.

"No." Geralt ducks under the curtain, and it's mostly unintentional that he brushes Jaskier's shoulder. The touch burns him even through his clothes.

"Her brother's a foolish twat, and a cruel man on top of that. I hope he drinks himself to death before his father dies so she can manage the estate. She'd do a much better job of it even without the lessons."

"Hmm. Back to playing political games?"

Jaskier lowers his voice so fractionally he might not have bothered.

"I'm not going to assassinate him personally, but I'm not above peddling the idea he should be sent on campaign somewhere particularly dangerous." 

He's talking treason far too casually for someone strolling up a dim staircase, and Geralt is seized with the urge to clamp a hand over his mouth. Jaskier takes a sharp left off the stairs before he can do it, and they're walking through a room, Jaskier weaving nimbly around furniture in the low light. Halfway through it the ceiling ends, and they're out under the open sky, a warm breeze ruffling Jaskier's hair as he strolls to the edge of the terrace and drapes the fur over the wide stone parapet. Geralt stands beside him and looks down on the courtyard below.

"What if your meddling goes to shit?" It comes out sharper than he'd meant it to. 

"Then I've done my best. I've been reflecting and well--better to try for a bit of justice than live like this." Jaskier gestures vaguely with his goblet, then sets it down sharply on the ledge. "The excess is unbearable."

"It is. Surprised it was so easy for you to rejoin the high-born."

Jaskier leans over the wall on his forearms, toys absently with the rings on his hands. "Certainly easier than I expected. Apparently a vague association with the overthrowing of a baron is a perfectly forgivable crime as long as one is modestly wealthy and titled. A little scandal is even fashionable, with this sort." He pauses and looks out into the lilac-colored dusk, his face suddenly grim. "Did you know that the baron was gutted in the square? Not much comfort when most of the revolutionaries probably met a similar end, but it's some." 

Geralt's chest is tight, tries to fight him as he speaks.

"I'm sorry."

"What?"

"I left you." That's not right, it was Jaskier who had left, but it's true all the same. "I should have stayed."

"Because you feel responsible for protecting me from my guilt as well as from my enemies?"

He breathes in, slow. Out, slower.

"Because I wanted you to stay."

There's an aching, unbearable pause, and then Jaskier laughs, softly.

"Better groveling than I'd hoped for, though if you'd gone on your knees it might have been more poetic."

"Hmm."

"There's still time for you to." Jaskier turns to look at him over his shoulder. His eyes are warm and trusting and so, so bright, and gods, Geralt hadn't realized that Jaskier had been holding back, had been waiting for him to be worthy of what flickers unspoken in that gaze.

The hunger that's been aching in his chest for weeks makes his veins white-hot with want, and before he's conscious of moving he's crowded Jaskier against the parapet, pulled his spine flush against the front of him.

Jaskier lets his head tilt sideways, hair brushing Geralt's nose, and Geralt sets his mouth against the skin where his neck meets his shoulder, bites down until Jaskier groans and turns in his arms to kiss his mouth.

"Always so impatient," he says smugly, hand skimming against Geralt's half-hard cock. "I suppose you can't help yourself. Not quite a hallway, this, but it's nearly as likely someone will see us."

Geralt glances over his shoulder at the room behind him.

"Gods, I'm teasing. It's perfectly improbable that anyone will find us because we aren't supposed to be here. Don't look at me like that. The duke's away, or his cockhead of an heir wouldn't be throwing such extravagant parties, and the hallway sentry owes me a favor. Now hold still."

Geralt complies, watches through half-lidded eyes as Jaskier dips his index finger in his chalice. He presses it into the hollow of Geralt's neck, paints a line up his throat to his lower lip, and then follows it there with his tongue; kisses Geralt on the lips, featherlight.

"See, I'm becoming tainted by affluence," he laughs softly. "Just another lordling, dabbling in debauchery to break up the boredom of my easy existence." 

"Hmm."

Jaskier presses another whisper of a kiss against his lips, and sighs.

"I'd dearly like to fuck you over this parapet, Geralt, but it's too high to be really practical." He sounds so sincerely disappointed that Geralt almost laughs. (He can't even remember the last time he's wanted to.)

"Settle," Geralt suggests, and Jaskier's eyes sparkle with wickedness.

"It won't be the first sacrifice I've made on your account." He drags the pilfered fur off the parapet and spreads it gracefully over the floor. "Lie down." 

Geralt takes off his shirt and boots and stretches out on it obediently. He sinks gratefully into the luxurious softness of the hide as Jaskier follows him down, straddling him with the casual ease of someone who's done so before and will do so again. 

"I'm not sure if I should appreciate your foresight or resent your presumption, lordling." 

Jaskier is preoccupied with the fastening of his pants and does not answer immediately. 

"Geralt of Rivia," he says finally, peeling off his chemise and tossing it aside, "if you can sincerely tell me that you attended willingly attended this party without any hope of sex--" 

He pauses, a look of intense concentration crossing his face as he starts on Geralt's laces, "then and only then will I apologize for bringing this fur to fuck you on. Now please get on your knees."

Geralt laughs. (He feels so fucking light).

 

When they're finally settled beside each other on the fur, sweat cooling on their bodies in the warm night, Geralt turns to Jaskier.

"I heard there might be work in Aedirn."

"That would be the harpy problem in Hoshberg." Jaskier spins the ruby ring on his thumb, studies it shrewdly with his tongue pressed between his lips. "The count ought to have hired a witcher a bit sooner, but he's been using the taxes to pay for his third mansion, so I hear." He looks at Geralt from under his eyelashes. 

"Shame if someone were to write a song about it."

"Shame indeed," Jaskier whispers, smiling.