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Jaskier was relentless. He sat across from Geralt and said, not for the first time, “You should enter.” He didn’t specify what he was talking about; he didn’t need to. He’d been talking about the same thing for a straight week. 

He was talking about those stupid posters that were up all over town, talking of a competition to be held in the city to find the Continent’s best swordsmen. Geralt had no interest; he did not use his swords for fun, but for defending and hunting.

Jaskier knew that, but he wasn’t relenting. “But the prize - “ he reminded him, pulling one of the posters out of his bag. He spread it out on the top of the tavern table. “You wouldn’t have to work for months.”

He had a point, but Geralt still had no interest. “Jaskier,” he said. Jaskier opened his mouth, ready to argue, but he continued, “I will not take part in a competition meant only to entertain the wealthy and take advantage of the poor.”

Jaskier frowned, slumping in his chair. “But I thought - “

Geralt reached over and folded up the poster, “I have no interest. That is not changing.”

“I understand,” he said with a curt nod. “Morals and all, but you know what I don’t have?” Jaskier stood up, grinning cheekily. “Morals. I’ll enter the competition.” He paused for a moment before adding, “Can I borrow one of your swords?”

Geralt stared up at him. “Are you joking?” he asked in disbelief. “You wouldn’t get through one round, nevertheless fifteen.” He had never even seen Jaskier pick up a sword. “Secondly, you may not borrow one of my swords.”

Jaskier sighed dramatically, “Fine, I’ll find one myself.” 

“Wait,” Geralt said, standing up so fast his chair fell back. “You’re seriously entering?”

Jaskier leveled him with a look, folding his arms over his chest. “You should come and watch,” he said with an air of confidence he wielded like a weapon. He never would understand how he did it. “You might be surprised.”

Geralt frowned, looking down then up again. “Two days from now?” he asked, just to be sure.

“Mhm,” he confirmed brightly, reaching across the table to tap the tip of Geralt’s nose with his finger. He growled, but Jaskier just grinned like a fool, pulling his hand back. He never was very threatened by Geralt. He frankly had no survival instincts. “I should go,” he said. “I need to find a sword, and - “

Geralt was speaking before he could stop himself, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

He was worried. Of course he was worried; Jaskier was not very strong. Actually, he was pretty weak. He was thin and lanky, and again - the most important part - he had never even held a sword in all the years Geralt had traveled with him.

“I’ll be fine,” Jaskier said, again sounding way too confident. “It’s not like it’s a brawl to the death anyway,” he reminded him. “You can quit at any moment, like the poster says.”

Geralt nodded. He wasn’t going to forcibly stop Jaskier; he was a grown man. But he was going to be there, just in case anything went wrong and he needed help. 

*

After Jaskier found a sword - apparently the market was full of them, probably a result of the competition - they traveled to the city together and got a room at one of the local inns, cheap but clean. Geralt watched as Jaskier leaned his sword against the wall.

Jaskier placed his hands on his hips, “I’m going to win,” he said brightly. “You’re going to be blown away.”

“Mmm,” he hummed in reply, unimpressed and unconvinced. He assumed Jaskier would be out after the first round. 

Joining him on the bed, he leaned back against the pillows, rough and lumpy. “Seriously,” he said, unfaltering. “Don’t look away tomorrow,” he said, staring at Geralt. “You’ll be surprised.”

Geralt arched an eyebrow, “I’ll be attending,” he said, truthfully and simply.

“Good,” he said with a sigh, eyelashes fluttering. 

*
It was hours before the competition started and they all sat around the clearing after having signed up. Most of the competitors were practicing, with each other or others. Jaskier was not. Geralt kept glancing at him.

He knew Jaskier was not likely to kill any of the other competitors, but some of them looked gnarly, hard and tough. Not as forgiving as Jaskier.

“Do you want to spar a bit?” he asked gruffly.

Jaskier looked at him, his sword between his legs, sheathed and waiting for the start of the competition. “I have to say,” he started with a toothy grin, “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Geralt shrugged sharply, “I don’t think you’ll do well,” he said, brutally honest, “but I at least want you to not get your head chopped off in the first round.”

“Because you loveee me,” he sang, bright-eyed, and nudging him. Geralt shoved him, hard, and he barely caught himself before he fell off the bench. “But I told you, it’s not to the death or anything, Geralt. Calm down; I’ll be fine.”

"And what if you're not?" he asked, a bit too sharply. He wouldn't know what to do if he lost Jaskier; he'd gotten so used to having Jaskier there with him. Geralt had, without even realizing it, grown to depend on him in many ways. He'd never say it in so many words, but he'd be devastated if something happened to Jaskier, especially something he could've talked him out of.

Jaskier leaned heavily against him, "I'm going to be okay," he said. "Just watch."

Geralt grunted in reply, unhappy that he still wasn't quitting and the competition was going to start any second. Jaskier turned on the bench, straddling it, and leveled him with an unexpectedly intense look. 

"I mean it," he said, seriously, "Don't take your eyes off me, even for a second."

Geralt stared at him. Before he could reply, there was a horn followed by someone announcing the first round with a deep, smooth voice. Jaskier stood up and grabbed his sword, though he paused before he got too far. The competitors were being paired up, and Geralt worried for who Jaskier's first opponent would be.

"Will you?" he asked, "Watch me?"

Geralt nodded, "I will."

*

Jaskier's first opponent was, of course, one of the scariest looking men, tall and burly and thick. His sword was short and aged. Geralt knew he probably used it often, unlike Jaskier. But then Jaskier unsheathed his sword and something unexpected happen: he stood up straight and tucked one arm behind his back, holding the sword out with the other. Geralt watched, not sure what to think.

The horn blew again, and the man lunged at Jaskier, stabbing his sword viciously. Geralt leaned forward. 

Jaskier was light on his feet; he moved like he was walking on air, spinning and avoiding the man's sword with the practiced ease of a professional. It was both unexpected and breathtaking. 

But for the first few minutes he only dodged and Geralt frowned. He was fast and smooth on his feet, but there was no point to any of this if he couldn't also attack. 

Jaskier looked over at him for the briefest of seconds, eyes bright, and then he turned back and moved quickly, ducking down. When he came back up, the tip of his sword was pressed against the man's throat. He frowned and dropped his sword, and just like that it was over.

Jaskier had moved on to the next round. Geralt almost laughed in disbelief. Jaskier - the bastard - had been holding out on him.

He wanted to talk to him - ask him so many things - but things moved too quickly, as they often did with stuff like this, and before he knew it Jaskier was up against a woman. There weren't many women in the competition, but they hadn't been barred from entering. 

She was short and thin, probably not very strong but fast. Geralt wondered if he'd met his match.

But he won - again. He stood over the woman with his sword pressing down on her shoulder. He was announced the winner and Jaskier put his sword away, offering her a helping hand.

She spat in his face and stormed off. Jaskier smiled sheepishly at Geralt, who just snorted in amusement and rolled his eyes. 

But he was admittedly impressed; Jaskier was winning, and easily. He knew what he was doing, and he moved like he'd been doing it for years. But he hadn't; not for the last few years, at least. Unless he'd been sneaking away while Geralt was sleeping to do it, but he was doubtful.

*

Jaskier won again and again, and again, until finally there were only six competitors left. 

Geralt watched with bated breath as Jaskier was paired up with a huge man, brawny and thick but apparently that was all he had going for him. He was slow, and obviously not very familiar with the sword, and Jaskier outsmarted him quickly. Fools thought strength was all it took to wield a sword, but far from it.

When he won, he glanced at Geralt - again - with a bright grin. Geralt smiled back, unable to help himself. 

Then it was four, and Jaskier won against a woman with a permanent scowl that cursed Jaskier under her breath before leaving. 

Finally it was just Jaskier and the other competitor, a surprisingly short man, skinny and lanky. Geralt had been watching him; he was good, fast and sharp. But so was Jaskier, surprisingly, and he really didn't know what to expect.

The man was fast, spun on his heels, and their swords clashed. Jaskier looked a bit startled. He had obviously finally met his match, and Geralt leaned forward, unable to look away for even a second.

The fight continued for a long time, much longer than the others. 

People cheered, and jeered, and obviously had favorites. It was pretty evenly matched; lots of them cheered for Jaskier, and others cheered for the man: Ean. 

Geralt clasped his hands together, tight. "Come on," he grumbled. "Come on, Jaskier."

He didn't even care about the money - he had forgotten all about it, actually. He just wanted Jaskier to win. 

Jaskier fell with a thump but wiggled out from underneath Ean's blade at the last second, scrambling back to his feet. Something had shifted in Jaskier; he was moving clumsily, slower. 

Geralt snarled. Fuck, he knew that look: he was scared. Jaskier was losing himself. Ean was not. 

Ean knocked him down again, but he managed to get up before his sword touched him. 

"Fuck, Jaskier," he grumbled. Jaskier stumbled on his feet, and Geralt growled, cupping his hands around his mouth, "Jaskier!" he exclaimed, and the bard startled, though he didn't take his eyes off Ean. "Fucking do it!"

Jaskier suddenly squared his shoulders and charged forward. Ean smirked, obviously cocky. He spun, digging his heels into the dirt, and pressed up behind Ean.

It was silent. Geralt's eyes flickered to the sword pressed against Ean's neck. Jaskier's sword. But then his eyes continued down to Ean's sword, pressed against Jaskier's side. It was still silent.

"Unbelievable," the announcer said at last. "A tie!"

The crowds cheered, and the two men stepped away from each other, sheathing their swords. Geralt swallowed around the lump in his throat. 

*

Jaskier approached him afterwards with a pouch of coins, half the prize. He slumped heavily on the bench and settled his sword between his legs. "So." He pointedly didn't look at Geralt. "That was embarrassing."

"What?" he asked in disbelief. "Jaskier, that was - I never knew you had that in you, honestly."

Jaskier smiled slightly, "I took sword lessons, as a child. It's nothing."

Geralt snorted, turning toward him. He wasn't as brazen as to straddle the bench as Jaskier. "You did well," he said, meaning it. "And you still made a hefty amount."

"Yeah," Jaskier said, glancing at the pouch. "I was just - " He paused, sucking his bottom lip between his teeth. "I don't know. I was just hoping to impress you or something," he admitted quietly.

Geralt smiled and reached out, placing a heavy hand on Jaskier's shoulder. He winced, and Geralt removed it. Fair enough; he had been in Jaskier's position many times. "I'm impressed," he said. "Truly. You didn't have to win for that, Jaskier."

He peeked at him almost shyly. "Yeah?"

"Yes," he confirmed. "And lucky for you, I have some salve to help with that," he said, nodding at his shoulder. "Come on."

Jaskier stood up and they walked back to the inn together. 

"I hope you know I'll be expecting more out of you from now on," Geralt said with a smirk. "No more "Geralt, save me!" for starters."

Jaskier gasped dramatically. "Admit it," he said, "You love running to my rescue."

He didn't reply, mostly because he didn't want to admit Jaskier was right.