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Honey, Where Do You Think I Came From?

Chapter Text

It was little things at first. A glare on his face, narrowed eyes and frowning lips, or a comment a touch more cutting than it needed to be. All explained away with simple enough rational: a bad day, lack of sleep. No reason to suspect what truly lay beneath.

He was as human as any other. He ate, he drank, he fucked. No, he didn’t always pick intelligent fucks, but that was hardly Geralt’s business. Jaskier could choose as he pleased.

And he did. He could take a crying dame and turn her world around in an evening. Geralt had seen him coax their attention away from hands folded in a lap to smooth kisses in the dim corners of the taverns. A few gentle whispers from the poet’s silver tongue was all it took.

Looking back, the signs were there. But he didn’t look for what they meant. What the whispered sweet nothings shared in a corner but never taken to a bedroom meant. What the cutting glances and sharp words at an annoying lord meant. What the lack of a dagger tucked away in a boot meant.

In the beginning, well, he was a simple bard really. Talented, yes, but simple. And that was all.

---

“Geraallt!”

The witcher stared into the flames of the fire. Jaskier sat across from him, playing with his lute as he was wont to do.

“Geralt, which rhymes better with Philotimo’s threat: their fear beget or watch them fret? I simply can’t decide which way to take this couplet.”

“Hm.” Geralt shifted into a meditation pose. He might as well get some form of rest. The dull ache of his muscles would be gone by morning, but for now it was an irritating reminder that he could have been in a bed right now. Fuck, he could have been in a bath with freshly heated water.

“A man of few words as ever, my friend. Tell me, what rattles around in that brain of yours tonight?” Jaskier inquired.

Geralt had no answer to share with him. The truth was that he was irritated, resentful that the bard’s carousing got them kicked out of the inn. He just had to go for the innkeeper’s wife. And in the stable no less, where the innkeeper's nephew just so happened to be tending the horses and saw him steal the kiss from the crying woman.

It had been two months since Geralt had enough coin saved to justify a night in the inn. And within five minutes Jaskier ruined it.

Geralt remained silent despite the continued promptings and musings from across the fire. Because to speak would be to shatter the peace. So here he sat, in the woods, Jaskier continuously prattling about his music, the campfire crackling, his bedroll getting wet with the evening dew.

And he meditated.

---

Geralt returned to town the next morning to finish his business with the local apothecary. The townspeople were moving about running their morning errands. Men flocked to the blacksmith’s stall and the women to the farmer’s cart. Their tongues all raced with the latest gossips.

But silence fell when a woman walked out the front door of the inn and walked straight to the well. And Geralt knew just who she was: the innkeeper’s wife.

He finished his transaction with the apothecary, a delivery of herbs and tallows, and listened to the women nearby.

“Poor woman, that Muriel. Husband dropped dead last night.” The first remarked.

“They said he was screaming like a mad man, hollering about ghosts, and then just fell to the floor!” A younger lass said, eyes wide.

“That’s not what my Brennen said, and he was there!” A third chit commented. “He was shouting about a hound that was the size of a horse and black as the night.”

The eldest woman of the group scoffed. Her wrinkled lips pursed, grey strands of hair shaking with her head. “Please. It was a heart attack and nothing more. Get those fanciful ideas out of your head, and gather your wits. Muriel’s going to need help running that inn now, and if you’re smart you’ll get a son in there to do it.

“She kicked that nephew of theirs right out on his bum, sent him home to his mother. Maybe she’ll reteach him some manners away from that lech of an uncle. No more harassing the girls that show up to deliver their mother’s sewing jobs to Muriel.”

The innkeeper’s wife- Muriel- ignored them all. She sucked in a breath, clenched her jaw, and carried her burdens back to the inn.

Geralt followed her. He convinced himself it was to double check the claims of heart attack vs ghosts. He knew there was none there to be found, but he followed regardless.

She barely looked at him twice.

“We won’t be needing your business here, witcher. Take that bard of yours, and leave this town.” Her eyes remained focused on the bucket she was preparing to mop the floors.

“The women outside…” Geralt began.

“Vicious gossips, the lot of them.” Muriel interjected. “Aye, I heard them as well as I’m sure you did. Don’t need a mutant’s ear for that. My husband died of a heart attack, nothing more, nothing less. I don’t need you for nothing.”

“Hm. Last night, with the bard, you were crying. What was the nature of…”

He was cut off once again. “You ask a lot of questions about things that don’t concern you, witcher. I’ll say it once more, take your bard and leave this place. Don’t show your faces here again. The people of this town want nothing to do with that sort of business.”

“Have it your way then. Good day, ma’am.”

She never looked up from the floor where she scrubbed. Geralt still smelled the salt of her tears and the sour note of her fear.

He filled his waterskins, restocked rations for the road, and then collected his wandering bard. Jaskier couldn’t be trusted to not wander away after the next pretty thing in a skirt after all, and in this town at least, he had worn out his welcome.

Goods and musician in place, Geralt continued down the Path to the next town that claimed a monster problem.

Chapter Text

Geralt was tired. Bone deep, achingly tired. And covered in bloedzuiger bits. Again. He'd be spending another week getting it out of the nooks of his armor.

Jaskier wrinkled his nose as Geralt walked into camp. “Goodness me, Geralt, do you always come back drenched in monster fluids? Surely there’s a better way of dealing with such awful smelling creatures than covering yourself from head to toe.”

“Hm. You try dodging all the acid and guts when they explode.” Geralt bit out. “Smell it from my nose, bard. You’ll like it less still.” In particular, the stomach acid filled with half digested intestines added a nice touch to the odors invading his senses.

Jaskier was silent for a moment as he ruminated on the witcher’s words. He stared at his thoroughly- blood-and-guts-coated companion with his head cocked, hand on a hip. “Ah, well. I cede the point. Let’s get you to a bath, shall we?”

“Just came from the swamp.” Geralt glared. He couldn’t say it smelled any better either.

“Yeaaah, really not what I was going for. Follow me, White Wolf. We’ll find you a proper hero’s welcome. Just you wait.”

---

The Eager Thighs Brothel wasn’t exactly what Geralt had in mind, but he couldn’t say he opposed the extra attentions as he lay back in the tub. Skilled hands kneaded the muscles of his legs while another set of fingers massaged the soaps through his matted hair, gently tugging at the knots.

Definitely and infinitely better than an overused, blood-soaked rag in the swamp. He’d have to remember to give Jaskier a proper thank you in the morning. Geralt wasn’t quite sure how he managed it, but Jaskier had arranged for all of this.

He somehow passed them through the city gates, which sometimes Geralt couldn’t even manage, by handing over an understated scroll to the guard. The man had taken one look at the document, looked up to Jaskier’s face, and then gone pale as snow. Wordlessly he admitted them into the city.

Geralt turned to his friend, mouth open to ask what Jaskier had himself involved in and what message the scroll carried, but the troubadour merely smirked. He said, “You have your own mysteries, Geralt. Let a bard have his.”

With a clap to Geralt’s shoulder, Jaskier practically skipped through the Temple Quarter of Vizima.

When they reached their final destination, the Madam took one look at the bard, opened her arms wide, and planted a kiss on each of his cheeks. Jaskier cooed sweet nothings in her ear as he wrapped his arms around her waist. Then, before words were even exchanged about the bill, Jaskier called for a bath and the two best companions in the house. He pointed at his chosen two to come to him, and the rest he sent to fetch buckets of water. Geralt noticed a young girl no older than 15 among those hauling water up the stairs.

The madam watched the bard in amusement as he ordered about her staff. She didn’t argue it, just nodded at the girls flirting about the room. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Geralt ascended the stairs as well, led by a pretty redhead. Her pink painted lips smiled coyly at him on their trek to the bathing chamber.

In the end, two baths were drawn. The first, to rid himself of the dreaded acids and splattered guts. Feeling the muck and the blood wiped away by tender hands was almost enough to make up for the clusterfuck with Muriel the week before. He honestly wasn’t sure where his filth covered clothes ended up. Jaskier had come in after a while, verified Geralt was being taken care of to Jaskier’s own level of satisfaction, and had the young girl he noticed earlier whisk the dirtied garments away for cleaning.

“Right, Geralt, if you need me, I shall be downstairs discussing some business with the lovely Madam Ysemena. Have a wonderful night, my good man, and I shall see you in the morning. Ladies, try not to break him. I will be needing him back in the near future.”

Geralt raised a mug of ale to the sounds of musical laughter. “Enjoy it yourself.”

The second bath, this one was pure luxury. The red head decided to join him within the water as the brunette continued her ministrations to his hair. And he fully planned to enjoy the comforts of the night until dawn.

He definitely owed Jaskier.

---

Interlude

Jaskier settled onto the velvet chaise in Ysemena’s room. The brothel’s madam sat on the edge of her bed as she watched him with a knowing smile.

“It feels like an age since you’ve been here, Dandy,” she remarked with a husky voice. It was true that the Madam Ysemena was not a remarkable beauty. While not hideous, handsome was a generous word for her features. Plain some might say, though her honey brown hair was always immaculately kept and her face expertly painted. And standing bold despite makeup and a purposeful hairdo, the scar of their first meeting could be seen crossing from her ear and down her shoulder to the top swell of her breast where the generous mound of flesh pushed itself up from her corset.

And so it was not beauty that brought Jaskier back to the madam- and her bed- time and time again. No, it was rather something else all together.

To say Ysemena was a strong, bold woman would be putting things lightly. Like all madams, she kept herself armed and not just for show. The hair pin keeping her long tresses pulled to the side was sharpened to a deadly point. And in the tip of her shoe, a smart little blade coated in wolfsbane. But these were not her strongest weapons. Indeed, Jaskier would be rather surprised if most johns could even get close enough for her to need them.

Ysemena’s strongest weapon was her magic, strong and dark. A rejected pupil of Aretuza, the young Ysemena decided that the Brotherhood’s laws of sorcery were too restrictive. Rather, she searched for a new master of magic to teach her the ways of Chaos. She found one after a time, one who knew even goetia was simply child’s mockery of what could be accomplished. She found Jaskier.

Or rather, Jaskier found her. Bloody and struggling with a beast summoned from some other plane, nearly passed out in an abandoned warehouse by the docks of Baccalà. Jaskier dispatched the unfortunate creature and sat beside the crying witch. With carefully crafted words, he promised her a future they could build together. One where he shared the boundaries of mortal chaos, anything she wanted to learn, and he would keep her hidden from the eyes of the Brotherhood. All she had to do was say yes to one teeny, tiny little thing. So small she wouldn’t even notice.

A bargain struck. Broken and crying on the floor one moment, healed the next, with a scar the only reminder. And what Chaos they crafted together. She took to it like a selkiemore in water. Such beautiful, dark chaos.

He established a new identity for her in Vizima, bought the brothel, and buried the place in shielding wards. No one from the Brotherhood would come knocking, and he had useful ears in an important city. How beautiful it all worked out in the end.

“So sorry, Rosebud. I’ve been a bit busy keeping my witcher from too much trouble. You know how they get.” The nickname was an old joke. Ysemena had a talent for luring men in and then catching them with her thorns. And it played on his own moniker used in the supernatural realm of things.

She chuckled. “Awful quick to brandish a sword, the whole lot of em. Get one through here every so often.” Dark red lips pursed in thought. “Almost jealous of Liz and Molly up there. I enjoy keeping the ones with stamina for myself on occasion. Sides, it’s fun seeing what they can, or rather can’t, detect through the wards. My own game of cat and mouse.”

Jaskier rolled his eyes. “My silly little Mena. I love how you play with fire. What about that present I brought you last time? How did that turn out?”

“Swimmingly. The man was a wreck before the girls carted him off to Saint Lebioda's. Barely stayed alive long enough to spit the words out, but we got what we could. Here,” she said, handing him a roll of parchment. “It’s not much, but it seems interesting.”

His eyes scanned the document. “Hm. Interesting indeed. Good work.” He sucked in a breath and tucked the parchment away. “Anyways, the new girl. Who is she?”

“You mean Carmen? Reverend's daughter if you can believe it. Kicked her out when she got pregnant with her rapist’s get. Came crawling for food, and I didn’t have the heart to turn her away. Guess I’m getting sentimental in my old age.”

“Never old, dearest. You look as gorgeous as the day I found you, Rosebud.” He crossed the room to kneel before her. He traced his fingers down the jagged scar. “Just as alive, just as greedy for more of everything. So irrepressible. You’ve managed to surprise even me with the strength of your determination. So don’t think yourself old yet. We’ve got more years of chaos yet.”

She snorted. “Ever the poet, Dandy.”

“But, Rosebud, you crave it.”

She answered by wrapping her arms around his neck and dragging his lips to her chest. His fingers unlaced the fastenings of her corset and tugged it open, baring her flesh to the chill of the room. Their lips curved in a mutual smile as he pushed her back towards the bed.

Ysemena may never be the one to keep him, oh but how she loved his wild attentions while they were hers.

Chapter Text

In the end, the pair relaxed at the Eager Thighs for three nights. Geralt didn’t see much of Jaskier in that time. If they caught each other in the hall, they gave quick remarks or a wave. The bard kept disappearing into Ysemena’s room, and he’d be gone for hours. Geralt’s time was much the same actually. Between the two women, Lizbeth and Moll kept him quite occupied.

The second day he didn’t see Jaskier even in passing. At least, not until the late afternoon when half the whores were sleeping and the other half were beginning to prep for a new evening of entertaining their gentleman callers. Geralt himself was fetching a meal from the cellar and doing his best to dodge the prostitutes as they scurried around with makeup and cleaning objects and props.

It was on his way back to the bedroom when he finally heard signs of life coming from behind the madam’s door. Loud shouts and swears, groaning and panting. At first, he believed that he just caught on to a particularly vigorous round of sex. Then the bard cursed unpleasantly.

“Fuck, Mena! Gently please!” He could hear his friend’s labored breathing. It sounded… pained.

“Don’t play a child. It doesn’t suit you, Dandelion,” the husky voice of the madam replied. “Now hold still.”

Geralt raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t sure what trouble the bard could find in a closed brothel, but he also didn’t believe his companion’s tastes ran so extreme. Curiosity (and worry, though that wouldn’t be said aloud) won out, and he knocked on the door.

“What?” Ysemena spat loudly from somewhere inside the room.

“Is everything alright?” Geralt asked through the wood. He heard a whispered “Fuck” from Jaskier. The door cracked open ever so slightly. The scent of blood rushed through the open space and invaded Geralt’s senses. His concern heightened.

“Your bard is fine.” The glare on her face would have frozen a lesser man. “Go back upstairs, witcher. You’ll have him to yourself again in the morning.”

Geralt grunted. The pair stood there silently, just staring, or rather glaring, at each other. The standoff might have continued for an age if not for a pained Jaskier hissing in the background. Geralt attempted to lean around the door to see the bard to no avail. Ysemena pushed it closed another inch and stood taller.

“Geralt, my friend, listen to her please. It’s a bit of play; I’ll be right as rain in the morning. I’m sure -ah fuck- that was it Liz? Liz and Molly are waiting for - guh- you.”

“Hm. I don’t have to see you to know you’re bleeding, Jaskier.” Geralt called. “Cut the crap.”

Another groan escaped the bard. “Fucking witchers,” he muttered under his breath, but not quiet enough to hide from mutated ears. “Fucking damn it. Let him in, Rosebud.”

“Are you serious?” She turned, holding the door firmly in place. “You must be joking.”

An unamused chuckle reached his ears. “He might as well be a damned hell hound. He’s caught the scent already. Let him in before he kicks down the door to solve the mystery of the bleeding minstrel.”

Ysemena pulled the pin from her hair and thrust the tip under Geralt’s chin. “Try to hurt him, and I’ll kill you where you stand, witcher,” Keeping her eyes locked on the witcher, she released the door.

“Oh, calm down, Rosey. And hurry up. I’d like to get this shit over with if you don’t mind. I’m in fucking pain.”

“Such whining about a little knife wound.” The madam clucked her tongue as she finally returned to the bleeding bard straddling a chair by the fireplace. She took a moment to cast a final killing look at the witcher before tucking the hair pin back into silken curls. She plucked a curved needle from a basin of pink tinged water.

“Little?! A little knife wound? I thought I was a goner.” Jaskier cried out indignantly.

“Remember to breathe,” was all Ysemena said before plunging the needle through Jaskier's side. Geralt walked over to stand behind her, looking over her shoulders at the sutures. Damn it, he had to admit they were neat sutures. The wound was potentially troublesome. Long, but relatively shallow and clean. He’d be fine with rest and time so long as she continued her work and got the proper salves on it. Infection would be the largest concern. “You’re blocking the light. Shove off, mutant.”

He moved away with a displeased sound. “Well bard,” Geralt made sure to stress the word. He pulled a stool over to face Jaskier. “I’m waiting for my explanation.”

Jaskier sighed, his face twisting with each stitch made. “It’s not exactly a short- shit fuck damn it, woman!- tale, per se.”

“I’ve all night,” Geralt said dryly, “and now, so do you.”

More profanity spilled from the usually silver tongued man. Geralt should have known he’d be a drama queen when injured. The put upon expression the bard sent him did little to sway his desire for answers.

“So you know when Triss was healing you after the whole striga bit? Well I-iiiiii, are you quite finished back there, Rosey? Melitele’s tits. Fuck it. I think I’m done.”

She confirmed that she had in fact finished her last suture. All that remained was to bandage the wound and for him to rest until it healed. She smiled fondly at the bard before curtly informing Geralt that Jaskier would not be joining him on any adventures anytime soon. He was to stay abed for an undetermined period. She sailed from the room with the bloody healing instruments.

Stretching to test the sutures, Jaskier mosied over to the wardrobe. He hummed a tune as he began shuffling through the garments. A rather large portion of the garments appeared to belong to Jaskier. Geralt could smell the slightly acrid and rain-like scent he associated with the bard wafting from the closet. He must have indeed spent some time here when not with Geralt. The thought sat stale in Geralt’s stomach. Jaskier plucked out a chemise and mumbled in discomfort as he pulled it over his head.

Geralt grunted as if to remind the bard of his presence.

“Yes, yes. Impatient man.” Jaskier planted his hands on his hips. “So anyways, you were unconscious when I got to the castle. I had to spend a bit of time entertaining dear Foltest while waiting for your precious sleeping self to awaken. He was in the mood for some new music, and after your daring heroics that saved the princess, well of course I had to compose you a new ballad. And good ol’ Foltest and I got to talking about how it all went down, and the conversation went here and there. Turned out he wanted someone with some certain skills.” He paused, contemplating his next words.

“And the pay was good. Really good, Geralt. It was an excellent contract by the time we finished composing it. I was so proud of myself. Seriously a thing of beauty. Pure art-”

“Jaskier.” Geralt intervened.

“Right. Regardless, since then, I’ve popped back in to visit him when I’m back in Temeria as he typically has a new project for me. I was doing a bit of snooping around last night, and this thug named Percheval took offense, the bastard. Caught me with some fancy knife of his. I made sure he didn’t keep it though.”

He picked a blade up off the table and tossed it to Geralt. The witcher cocked his head as he stared at the symbols on the hunting knife. Whatever they meant, they made his medallion hum. Magic. He looked back at the bard who was staring back at him intensely. “What do you make of it, witcher o’mine?”

“Not sure. I’ve never seen marks like these. They’re carrying magic of some sort.”

Silence held them for a moment while they pondered Geralt’s words. Jaskier held his hand out for the knife. “I suppose not. I haven’t seen them in Oxenfurt before either. Must be a dead language whatever it is. I’ll have to have Ysemena look into it.”

“Ysemena?” Geralt’s voice held a touch of skepticism. Alright, a fair amount of skepticism. Something about the way she hovered around Jaskier unsettled him. She was… clingy. “I could contact Triss instead.”

“Yes, Geralt. Ysemena. She’s a talented sorceress. Haven’t you been able to sense her magic the whole time we’ve been here?”

No. Damn it. Fuck. If she was a sorceress, she had this place warded to the nines to hide any traces of it. His medallion had laid silent at his chest from the second they walked in the front door and right up until the moment Jaskier tossed him that marked blade. And now that he had returned it, his medallion was still once more.

Such strong wards took time and plenty of Chaos. No mere hedge witch could cast them. So no, not just any sorceress, a powerful one. At the very least one with powerful friends.

And Geralt doubted the Brotherhood would be able to stand one of their own operating a place such as Eager Thighs, which meant she wasn’t just hiding from potentially dangerous clientele. She didn’t want the Brotherhood discovering her either. So powerful, dangerous friends. And then there is Jaskier all wrapped up in her charms.

Suddenly Geralt had more questions than answers. This whole trip had been one strange thing after another, starting with the odd death of the innkeeper and ending in a strange, possible ancient knife. And it all centered around Jaskier.

Fuck.

He was just supposed to be a bard, an easy decision in this shithole of a Path. A good friend when he needed one and gone when the witcher’s life demanded space. He was just supposed to fit perfectly, be the one choice Geralt made for himself. Couldn’t he just have this one fucking thing?

---

Interlude

Jaskier watched the confused witcher stalk from Ysemena’s chamber. He waved the white haired man off with a smile and a wish for a fulfilling evening. The smile quickly faded once Geralt was upstairs. He did feel a smidge of guilt at the intentional deceptions, but the man just wasn’t ready for the expanding reality of his world yet.

After encountering Percheval today, Jaskier knew things would be picking up speed soon. That the long-thought-missing knife had emerged was a sign of larger forces in play; the Blade of Hardouin was a demon killer, and kept hidden for a reason. Someone wanted him gone, and they were willing to go to great lengths to accomplish it. Which meant they also knew about the prophecy and that they wanted Geralt gone even more.

All he could do was prepare and protect his White Wolf as the storm came his way, keep him on the right Path. He hoped he was strong enough for them both.

Chapter Text

On his last day in Vizima, Geralt traveled about the city to restock his supplies and check for jobs. The notice boards didn't lead to any new contracts, but the time was not wasted. While wandering about the Temple Quarter, he had an interesting conversation with a sister from St. Lebioda's Hospital. The nun was elderly, her posture stooping and her skin as wrinkled as a particularly dried out raisin, but there was a cunning glint to her brown eyes. She saw Geralt traveling down the street and called out to him, using a small gesture to summon the witcher to her side.

As it turned out, there had been some strange activity in the Temple Quarter a few months previous. She claimed that evil forces were at work. The incident occurred late at night, but an unsettled nun-in-training was praying at the altar of Melitele. She had been kneeling there for some time, the old nun said, when there was a banging on the hospital doors. The novice had gone to answer the calling only to find a man near death on the doorstep. He had been delivered on a simple stretcher and then abandoned to his fate. The young sister could see no sign of those that had left him.

Lifting the sheet to examine the man, the nun discovered his skin had mottled into appalling shades of blues, reds and black. A result of internal trauma causing the blood to pool beneath the skin. What alarmed those that examined the body in the morning was that there were no apparent injuries that should have affected such widespread damage. No broken skin, no fractured limbs, no signs of struggle. And yet he bled. It was as if his veins had all just suddenly burst.

The man was muttering softly in between the moans. The sister couldn't quite hear him at first and so leaned down to put her ear beside his face. As she did, the man's eyes snapped open and he released a blood curdling scream. His final words were thus: “They are coming for the time of the sword and axe is nigh. There is no stopping the demons. Blood, so much blood they plan to spill. They are coming for her... the child of the white wolf.”

Geralt scoffed. “The prophecy of Ithlinne is an old wives' tale,” he dismissed her. 

The demons were a new touch, he had to admit. The notion that beasts, summoned via goetia, were planning an attack on the Continent was ridiculous to the witcher. They had no interest in this realm unless some fool summoned them here, and then they just destroyed whatever was in their path until they returned to their own realm. 

As for a child of the white wolf, he certainly had no children and nor would he ever. And that was assuming the white wolf being muttered about was Geralt. 

“Mark my words, witcher,” the old woman cautioned. “There are darker forces at play here.”

“Hm. Did anyone come to claim the body?” Geralt asked.

The crone shook her head. “No, but careful examination of the corpse revealed a mark not often found in the Northern Kingdoms: the Great Sun, branded a long time ago into the base of his skull. His hair would have covered the mark in his daily life.”

Now that was intriguing. What was an agent of Nilfgaard doing so far north? 

“Know this too, witcher: his was not the only body discovered that week. Some of the fishing lads out by the dike found one other where it washed up to shore. She was quite rotted away from exposure and the fish, but even simple villagers know a stab wound when they see it. Right between the ribs into her lung. She too bore a partial Sun on her neck.”

Very strange. Not one, but two Nilfgaardian agents? Both dead due to foul play in Vizima, much further North than either should have been. But it was a mystery for the courts of men. It was none of Geralt’s business. The squabbles of human kingdoms fell outside the realm of a witcher’s responsibilities. He thanked the old nun for her information and time and departed. He was prepared to forget the conversation entirely until he was eating lunch with Jaskier at The Old Narakort tavern.

He had stopped in for one last meal, and lo and behold the bard was already up and about picking at a plate of roasted chicken. So much for being grievously injured.

“Oh, Geralt! Over here!” He waved an arm high. Injured indeed. “Barkeep, a plate of food and an ale for my friend! You must have some of the vegetables here, my friend; they are drowning in this delicious butter sauce.” Jaskier raved. 

The witcher sat across the table from him and raised his brow. “I thought you were meant to be in bed.” 

“Oh pish posh. Mena’s just a worry wart. It was barely a scratch. Try this,” he said and shoved a fork loaded with potatoes in front of Geralt’s nose. He pushed it away. 

“Right. A scratch that required at least ten stitches.” Geralt remarked in a dubious voice. He tilted his head and gave the bard an indulgent stare. “I’ve never heard a man cry so profusely.”

Jaskier sucked in a breath and put his hand to his chest. “That is an exaggeration! It couldn’t have been more than five! And Mena put a salve on it. It healed right up after that.”

“She should have used her magic.” Geralt paused as the waitress arrived with his meal. “Why didn’t she use her magic?” The thought had been bothering him since the revelation the night before. Surely such a powerful sorceress could manage some basic healing spells.

“She’s rubbish at healing.” Jaskier waved his hand dismissively. “Much better at wards and oneiromancy such. Managed a smidge of it after you left to make the salve more time efficient.”

Hm. To say she was better at wards was an understatement. They were so complex he couldn’t even detect the damn things plastered on that brothel. And of course she was a mage that played with dreams. She was just the type to fuck around with people’s heads.

And that was when it clicked. Dreams. Magic. The bodies

“Have you tried the potatoes yet?” Jaskier rambled on, completely oblivious to the enormous realization his companion had made. “I think they might only be rivaled by the ones I found at some dingy little tavern in Cintra. Really Geralt, you have to taste them both and compare. I wonder if I could find it again?” 

“Did you know she plays with necromancy?” he put forth bluntly. 

Jaskier’s eyes narrowed for so brief a moment any normal human would have missed it.

“Who are you talking about, Geralt?” He tried to play it off, but Geralt would not be swayed. He would not back down again as he had last night. Jaskier… he knew. But how far into this mug’s game was he? He steeled his reserve. 

“Your fucking whore, Jaskier. She’s a necromage.”

“Ysemena? Now where would you get an idea like that?” The bard took a sip of his wine. “And you don’t have to be so rude about her. I don’t understand why you two keep hissing at each other like grumpy housecats. She’s my friend. So what?”

“Stop deflecting. She’s been performing the Blue Dream.”

He choked on his wine.

“That is a rather serious accusation, Geralt,” he spoke lowly, pointing a finger at the witcher. “What proof have you of that?”

Geralt’s teeth ground together. He leaned forward towards Jaskier before speaking in an equally slow and quiet voice. “You should talk to the nuns at St. Lebodia’s. I just had a rather fascinating conversation about two dead Nilfgaardians, one of whom bore the signs of death by Hanmarvyn's Blue Dream. A rather nasty ritual that kills anyone not a mutant by bursting all their blood vessels. It’s the only outcome for a human, and as a necromage she damn well knows it.” 

“And what makes Ysemena your suspect, witcher? What proof is there of that?” He flopped back into his seat and ran a hand over a suddenly tired face. He sighed.

“You. You mentioned her talent for dream magic. And I highly doubt there is another equally strong witch hiding from the Brotherhood in this town. It’s the only reason for wards so complex that even my medallion couldn’t detect them.” 

Jaskier closed his eyes and took another deep breath. Neither man spoke. The truth hung heavy between them. When the bard opened his eyes once more, he faced Geralt with pleading eyes. 

“Geralt, you are my dearest friend, and you are as smart as you are strong. How we all are guilty of forgetting that truth at times. Now I beg of you this one thing, as my friend, forget this conversation ever happened. Let Ysemena escape your mind. I don’t want to have to choose between you.” He reached out and put his hand on the witcher’s forearm. 

Geralt yanked his arm away, standing quickly, and his chair screeched across the floorboards. He tossed a few coins on the table. “For the lunch.”

And he left. 

He left the tavern, left Vizima, left Jaskier. 

He couldn’t stand to look at him right now. And if he saw her again, he would kill the murderous whore, consequences be damned. Nothing good happened from conspiring with black magics. Fucking bard. He should know better. Had he learned nothing from the years of traveling together? And he should just ignore that Jaskier was choosing a murderer over their own friendship? To set aside the moral code that kept a witcher on the right Path? He couldn’t. Not right now.

He did make a final stop at the stable outside of town. At least there was one friend in his life that never wanted more than he could give.

“Come on, Roach. It’s just you and me for a while.” She nickered and tossed her head into his chest. With a sad smile, he scratched her forehead and indulged her a handful of oats. “Let’s get going. Have to just keep moving, right ol’ girl?”

Chapter Text

The piss poor ale tasted well… like piss, and it was hardly doing its job of getting him drunk. Across the tavern, there was a piss poor bard trying to sing, and doing a piss poor job of it. And in the corner, brooding alone, a piss poor witcher sat drinking said piss poor ale and listening to said piss poor bard. 

Fuck. 

...

Fuck.

...

Fucking fucking fuck it all. 

He knocked back another large slug of the beer as the breeze filtered into the tavern through an open window. With it came a strong scent that made him close his eyes as if the action would block out the smell. 

The smell of air before a storm. 

Jaskier.

That scent had haunted him ever since he left Vizima seven weeks ago. Even here in a shithole tavern in Daevon. Every time he thought he had outrun it, it reemerged to remind him once more. 

Reminded him of devastated eyes, of an accelerated pulse, of pleading words asking him to come back. Geralt, wait, please. Let me explain. Geralt! Please! Geralt !

Melitele’s tits. He didn’t know what he’d do if Jaskier showed up in front of him again. ( If; please, he knew it was when.) He’d tried to rationalize the anger he’d felt for weeks to no avail. The problem wasn’t that Jaskier was sleeping with a mage: he was allowed to fuck whomever he pleased. He didn’t belong to Geralt.

And truth be told, it wasn’t that she performed dark magics either. He’s encountered other sorcerers playing at greater evils with their deeds if not by the specific type of magics used. And Geralt had moved on from them without thinking twice. Besides, what did he care about two dead Nilfgaardians, be they cult members or spies or basic citizens? Witchers did not involve themselves in the politics of man, unlike the Brotherhood.

(In the end, he realised, it was fear: fear for his friend, fear that he had gone somewhere Geralt could not follow. But right then, such a worry was a reality he couldn’t admit.)

And Jaskier did not have such neutrality. Rather, he had become an active participant of intrigue, a spy for the king of Temeria. And he was also apparently comfortable with murder. A bard that didn’t question the taking of life. Had Geralt been the one to taint him so? The notion churned his stomach.

(In the end, he would realize Jaskier had been tainted long before he ever met Geralt. That process began when a Wozgor child watched his village fall to the newly arriving Nordlings, and he prayed to Lilit for a savior. But Geralt didn’t know that. Because this wasn’t the end yet.)

He chugged the rest of his ale with a wince. Still tastes like piss. When the barmaid walked by, he caught her wrist. She glared at him but paused to see what he wanted.

“Vodka. Bring the bottle.” He pressed a few gold coins into her hand. She nodded stiffly and stomped away. The bottle was presented moments later with a loud slam into the table. Geralt ignored her. He had what he wanted already. 

It wasn’t technically a full bottle. But that was fine. If he cared enough about appearances to pour it into his stein, it would fill the cup close to full. So it would do the job. He took a long pull straight from the bottle, focusing on the burn as it slid down his throat. 

“You’ll kill yourself drinking like that, lad.” Geralt looked up. The words came from an older looking man, probably a farmer. He sent a concerned glance towards the witcher. 

“Hm. Take more than this to kill a witcher,” he informed the farmer. 

“Only one reason for a man to drink like that.” 

Geralt grunted. “And I suppose you’re going to tell me what that is?”

“When his hope dies.” 

Right. Hope. All a witcher could hope for was a decent death and fair coin before he got there. 

That was enough of that. Grabbing his bottle and his swords, Geralt made for the door. He’d rather drink with Roach than maudlin farmers. And at least then he might not hear the fucking ridiculous bard sawing at the strings of his viola. 

He’d made it about three steps outside the door when a pair of frantic children were suddenly grabbing at his armor. 

“Witcher! Witcher! You have to come! Please, they’re killing everyone! They got Mama and Papa!” The older of the two barely got her words out around all her hysteric crying. 

“Where and what?” He said gruffly.

The younger girl was surprisingly the calmer of the two. Tears ran down her face, but her voice was more or less level. “Huge and black with the face of the bat. And they have these terrible claws for hands.” She informed him. Fucking fleders. Lovely. “Over there!” She pointed where he saw people running. 

He took one last longing look at the bottle in his hands and sighed. He drank deeply and chucked the bottle aside.

“Stay here. I’ll be back soon.”

“But what if you don’t, mister witcher?” 

Well, if not... “Then I’m dead,” he said and walked towards where all others fled. 

---

He stopped when he reached the vampires’ hunting ground: a building near the outskirts of Daevon. Inside of it he could hear the screams of what were presumably the girls’ parents. He didn’t have much to imagine. He already knew what he would see. Two people pinned to their floors or beds with at least 4 sets of claws piercing through their bodies as the mouths of their torturers ripped apart their flesh to better the blood flow.

He pulled the vial of Black Blood from the pouch on his hip, chugged the revolting contents, and waited for the effects to take hold of him. It began as it always did with a throbbing pain in his gut and then spread outwards as the potion turned his blood into dark poison. He shivered as he felt it mix poorly with the alcohol already in his system. 

He shivered, drew his silver sword, and slipped beneath the half-torn-away door.

So engrossed in their slaughter, the fleders didn’t notice his presence until he severed the first head from its body. Three others turned to hiss at him. The bodies of the victims squelched as claws withdrew from their flesh. Their cries quieted. Either they had finally given up or were finally entering shock. Geralt knew he would not be able to save them. He turned his full attention to the vampires. 

A small hut made for poor battlegrounds. The confined quarters made dodging difficult. The thatch roof and floors also meant he would not be able to use Igni, at least not without burning down half the town. Floating ash and embers would light up every grass- covered roof they reached.

He managed a spinning strike in the direction of a second fleder which screamed as the silver blade sunk into its neck. He kept his momentum to attack the third, and managed to sever the arteries and tendons below its hand. It pushed a furious howl towards him, jaws wide with its anger. Geralt readied for the next advance.

But that was when the forth struck. He heard the movement of the air behind him a second too late, moved a fraction too sluggishly. It shoved its bladed hands through his shoulders and pushed him to the floor. It screamed a victorious cry before two eager mouths descended, one on his arm and the other on his side.

Geralt’s head spun. So this was it. His death scene. At least he’d be taking the bastards with him. The fiends screamed in pain as the poisoned blood filled their stomachs. It would slow them enough for the city guard to finish them off.

There was a ringing in his ears now, and black spots filled his vision. As he succumbed to the liquor and the wounds, he thought he heard an intense barking and the clink of nails hitting random stones in the dirt floor. It carried the smell of air before the storm.

“Good dog,” he joked to himself and he knew no more.

---

Light streamed through the window, hitting the face of the waking witcher. He clenched his eyes against it and moaned. 

“Waking up now, Geralt?” a cool voice bit out. He knew that voice well.

“Jaskier.” He briefly cracked an eye to evaluate the bard and closed it again. How a face managed to be simultaneously blank and glaring was something Geralt would never answer, but that was the attention the bard watched him with now. He looked whole and healthy, the witcher noticed.

He smacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth a few times and licked his lips. A cup was brought tilted against his lips, and the water calmed the dryness of his mouth and throat.

“Mind telling me about that stupid stunt you pulled last night?” Jaskier asked, his voice still as flat as before. He pursed his lips.

“Had a job.” 

The bard scoffed at him. “So you go get absolutely smashed before all your contracts and then down some Black Blood to top it off? Make sure the toxins kill you if the monsters don’t? You didn’t even have a single White Honey or a Swallow in your bag, Geralt. You could have died!”

“Fuck off. Why the hell are you even here, bard?”

He let out a frustrated noise. “Spare me the drama of witchers. Why, Geralt? Why am I here? That’s what you want to know? Because like it or not you’re my friend, you asinine man, and that means I care about you.”

He had no response, so Geralt glanced out the window. A pair of goldfinches flitted through the air, chirping loudly at each other, and settled into the oak tree. He watched them bounce around their nest.

Jaskier sighed. “I think we have some things to discuss, you and I.” His voice turned tired. “The mayor is lending you this room until you’re healed. I’ve had Roach brought to the stables here, your things are just over there, and I took the liberty of restocking your potions. When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be staying at the inn.” 

Geralt let out a small hum, keeping his eyes on the birds. Jaskier frowned and stood. He turned at the door, one hand on the knob and his eyes lingered on the injured man.

“I’ve missed you. Best wishes on a fast recovery, Geralt. See you soon.”

Then he left, and Geralt was alone with his thoughts.

---

Interlude

Jaskier sat by the window as he worked on his correspondence. A peek outside revealed the same scene he always saw in this depressingly dull town, bleak people going about their bleak lives. His eyes roamed the crowds for a head of white hair atop black armor, but his hopes went unanswered. 

It had been five days since he left the silent witcher lying in his sick bed. The mayor owed Jaskier a favor and was paying it back by caring for Geralt as he healed. As far as repayments went, Jaskier thought this one rather easy for the man, and he had made sure to stress the fact while the healer had attended to the unconscious witcher.

A blocky head sat itself on his leg beneath the table, disturbing him from his thoughts, and he gave it a scratch. 

When he had felt his connection with Philotimo flare that night, Jaskier panicked. Yes, he had sent the hell hound to follow Geralt until he returned to Kaer Morhen for the winter. No, he hadn’t expected the beast to have to actually save Geralt’s life and stand guard until Jaskier arrived. It was just supposed to be a paranoid precaution. 

Except it wasn’t paranoid if Geralt almost died, now was it? And make no mistake, if Jaskier had arrived at the scene five minutes later, the witcher would have bled out where he lay, mutant healing powers be damned. He was also lucky Ysemena was feeling generous enough to portal him the potions he needed that the witcher hadn’t bothered to replenish. He wasn’t sure if he was lacking materials or just hadn’t remembered. With Geralt, they were equal possibilities.

He gave the invisible hound one more surreptitious pat, enjoying the hum of contentment flowing through their bond. It was calming to have the beast so close again. 

He looked up on reflex when the door to the tavern flew open. A page from the mayor’s house stood there, fiddling with a small rolled up paper, his eyes furiously searching the crowd. They fell on Jaskier and he crossed the floor to hand over the parchment. 

He tipped the lad and waved him away. He quickly unrolled the note to see Geralt’s careful scrawl.

I’m headed to Kaer Morhen before winter settles in. I’ll meet you in the spring. Be in Novigrad.

It wasn’t quite what he was hoping for, but... it was. Hope, that is. This was a chance. Geralt would come around. Maybe, with enough time, he’d even accept the truth about Jaskier.

It was hope.

Chapter Text

When he arrived at Kaer Morhen, Vesemir met him at the gate. There was a frown on the old witcher’s face. But in the way of witchers, he said nothing beyond, “Eskel’s already here. Stable your horse, and then a bowl of soup is waiting in the kitchen.”

A grunt answered him, the only answer needed amongst the weary soldiers.

He kicked Roach forward. He was ready to be warm again, and it was good to be home.

---

Lambert arrived a few days before the first major snow blew in and closed off the path. He brought with him a ragged looking Coën. Before, it had been quiet with just the three older witchers. Now mocking sword fights and crass insults rang boldly against the stone walls. Everyone was a target when Lambert was in a mood for mischief. 

He was a right rude bastard when he felt like it, and it made for some awkward moments Eskel and Geralt tried to avoid. He loved Lambert as a brother, he did, but the younger witcher took the annoying little brother role to the extreme at times. Before he had completed his trials, the lad had taken a shining to Geralt and Eskel. He used to trail after them with that twinkle of awed wonder children were known for.

The trials did their best to kill that. For years after he acted as though the older witchers had betrayed him by allowing him to complete the trio of mutations. He came around after several years on the path, his humor turning snarky and sharp as the reality of a witcher’s life settled in.

One thing that remained constant: his need to interject himself between Geralt and Eskel. 

So it was on a sunny morning mid-winter. Eskel and Geralt were sparring in the courtyard to cure their boredom, and that was when Lambert struck, Coën at his side. Geralt’s only warning to the impending attack was the halting of Eskel’s fighting sequence. His gaze carried over Geralt’s shoulders half a breath before his arms were both captured in the grip of a smirking Lambert and Coën.

“I’ve caught you now, dreaded White Wolf!” he exclaimed. 

“What do you want, Lambert?” Geralt asked with a gruff voice.

It was Coën that answered. “Well you see, we met up in Vattweir on our way here, and decided to travel the rest of the way to Kaer Morhen together. From there, we made our way through a town you're well acquainted with called Daevon.” 

Shit. Shit . They were less than a fortnight behind him in traveling. Not nearly enough time for other stories to have taken over that fiasco with the fleders. 

“Get off of me.” He tried to shrug them away. Coën might have let go, but Lambert shook his head and held tighter.

“You’ll never guess what we heard at the tavern, Ger.” 

“Eskel! Grab Lambert, would you?” 

His eyes wrinkled as he shook his head. “Brothers, can’t we behave? Lambert, Coën, take your hands off. Geralt will stay here while we discuss whatever it is you’re bringing up. Right, Geralt?”

The white haired witcher glared at his adopted family, grabbed his cloak with newly freed hands, and made for the woods behind the keep. He didn’t want to deal with this. 

“There was a letter for you there!” called out Coën. He hesitated for a moment, but he kept moving. 

“Shall I read it to you, White Wolf? The pretty words left for you by some pretty damsel, perhaps?” Lambert mocked at his retreating form.

Eskel cut the younger off with a sharp reprimand of his name. “That’s enough. He’ll be back.” Gerallt fancied the slapping sound was that of Eskel’s hand at the back of Lambert’s head.

He continued out into the forest, eyes trained for carefully hiding wildlife or preying monsters. Most didn’t come this far up the mountain, but there were enough that moved beyond the trail known as ‘The Killer.’ With any luck, he could bring back a hart or goat for supper, and all talk of Daevon would be forgotten. 

He had no desire to speak of the fall’s events with his brothers. He had no desire to talk about Vizima or that whore of a madam or his conflict with the bard or that he essentially ran away. Twice. And that the second time he hadn’t even gone to look Jaskier in the face as he did escaped. He just left. Again.

He even retreated from Kaer Morhen just now, unable to stand the harassment there. 

Witchers weren’t made for friendships, they didn’t have feelings like everyone else. And yet… Jaskier was his friend, and he did care. 

It was a problem.

It was a problem because of how easy it was to admit those two facts: Jaskier was his friend, and he did care. 

And he wanted to know what that letter said. The thought was niggling around his brain. Jaskier must have responded to his own note, the three pathetic lines written by a coward. One who would rather get drunk and retreat halfway across the Continent than confront the emotions the bard raised in him. 

They had welled up in him, growing and growing until it felt as if they gripped him by the throat. He had felt as trapped as the snow hare that struggled in Vesemir's trap. He felt a sense of sympathy for the creature as he snapped its neck, the first on his string of game meat for the day. 

He wandered the mountainside for the afternoon, enjoying the brisk air and quiet peace. There was no one to disturb him here, no one to bring up topics he had no interest in thinking about. No music to make him remember things best forgotten until spring. No corousing or mocking voices that sounded like something a certain bard might say. Just the whistle of birds and the swaying of the trees.

He returned to the keep at dusk with a handful of small creatures. They would do for the evening meal and breakfast the next morning. 

He and Vesemir worked in the kitchen to prepare the creatures for cooking and preserving. He felt the weight of his mentor observing him. They didn’t speak. It was the way of witchers who knew a conversation needed to be held. Both of them would rather ignore the need until the end of their days, but Vesemir broke the silence with a heavy exhalation.

“Your brothers told me a concerning story this afternoon,” he began.

“It won’t happen again.” Geralt spoke quietly. He wondered how the story was spun amongst the villagers. How much truth remained and how much was fantasy. Which version had the other witchers heard and which had they relayed to their teacher?

“I don’t like that it happened at all,” Vesemir grumbled. “You took on a horde of vampires drunk! Were you aiming for suicide or are have you forgotten all your common sense? ” 

“There were only four, and I wasn’t that drunk.” Geralt tried to defend himself.

“So that’s why some random bard brought you broken and bleeding to the healer? Lambert spoke to the healer, and he said you should have been dead.”

“But I’m not. Can we end this now?” He scratched his forehead. He fought the urge to leave yet another conversation.

“I taught you a better Path than this, boy! What’s gotten into you? For a student of mine to engage in such folly, I shudder to think. Is it a woman as Lambert says?”

The notion made Geralt laugh dryly. “Oh yes, a woman. Because women want a sterile son of a bitch who fights monsters for a living and only feels a whisper of emotions.”

The grizzled witcher set his fist to the table. “Something is wrong with you. We can all sense it. Tell us what, and maybe we can help you solve it.”

“Coën and Lambert said there was a letter for me. Where is it?” Geralt deflected.

“Eskel took it for safekeeping. Is there going to be anything in it we need to know about?”

“Not at all,” Geralt threw over his shoulder, finally giving in to the urge to leave the kitchen. He had a letter to read after all.

He made his way up the stairs and to the room his brother had claimed. He didn’t bother knocking before he entered. Eskel wordlessly pulled the item from a drawer and handed it over while staring at Geralt intently. “Lambert said…”

“Fuck Lambert.” 

Eskel gave him a flat look. “Listen, Geralt, we just want to see you safe on your Path. If there’s anything we can…”

“There isn’t,” Geralt cut him off. He held the letter up in a wave and departed for his own room. He’d had quite enough of the concern of witchers.

The parchment was a fine one, some might make the distinction of vellum, and was sealed with a dark red wax pressed with a flower. Some of the yellow petals were still caught in the seal. A dandelion. And it carried that scent to him, the smell of a strong thunderstorm, both electric and ashen.

Jaskier.

Sitting on his bed, he broke the wax and latched his eyes on the message that had haunted him all afternoon.

My Dearest Geralt,

Of course I shall wait for you. I travel to Oxenfurt for the winter, and I will happily find you in Novigrad when the new life bursts forth from the earth.  

I know that I have angered you, and instead of apologizing here in Daevon, I spoke in anger myself. So have my apologies here, friend,until I can say them in person. I am sorry for Vizima and for scolding you so last week. You did not deserve my terseness then, and I know what I asked of you in Vizima was quite difficult for you. If you so desire, we will not speak of it or her again.

You vex me as few can, Geralt. And yet I find myself wishing for your presence beside me.  I am quite impatient to see you again. Here is to hoping for an early thaw. 

Rest and be well, Geralt. 

Your Faithful Travel Companion

He lay back on the pillows and tucked the note into hiding. The words had calmed something within him even though he recognized not all was magically fixed between the pair. They would need to discuss what had passed, but now he thought he was ready to face it. He too was  eager for spring.

Chapter Text

The remaining winter had been awkward to say the least. His conduct in Daevon became an almost taboo subject, and other witchers treated him as though he might break if pushed too far. They all went through the motions of a standard winter together, but even Lambert let the topic go, his barbs all around less sharp. It was like they were treating him with kids gloves.

It rankled him, made him watch the landscape for signs of the thaw. He was ready to move on. His bard was waiting. Each new snow delayed his departure by another few days.

Eskel seemed to sense how antsy he had become, and was the only one willing to push him from his comfort zone. He watched Geralt with steady eyes and made sure to include him in conversation when his white haired brother would rather sit in taciturn silence. He dragged him out on hunts, just the two of them. Sometimes they talked quietly about any random thing that crossed their minds, memories from their youth, hunts they had been on, or whores they had fucked. Other times they traversed the woods without saying a single word. 

It was a comfortable camaraderie, one that had existed since the day Vesemir brought a small Geralt to the intimidating keep and said, “Eskel, this is Geralt. Keep an eye on him for me.” They had been brothers since that day, whether the eldest witcher had intended it or not. 

And in true brother fashion, Eskel was going to crack Geralt whether he was ready or not. 

There were about two or three more weeks of snow on the trail if Geralt had to make a guess. He was brushing down Roach one morning after they completed some conditioning routines when Eskel made his move. 

The horse was still breathing deeply, pushing his hand up and down as he worked the grime from her coat. She nickered at him and nibbled at the ends of his ponytail. He patted her flank and inhaled the calming equine scent. 

“Sorry old girl. You’ll have to ask Jaskier for a sugar cube when we get to Novigrad. You’ve eaten them all.”

“Who’s Jaskier?” a nosey voice asked outside the stall. Geralt turned to smirk at the harshly scarred witcher where he leaned on the stall door. 

“An idiot,” he snarked back.

Eskel raised his eyebrows. “An idiot who is apparently fond of spoiling the fearsome war horse of one grumpy Geralt of Rivia?”

Geralt snorted in amusement and shook his head. “He’s the bard that made the song.”

“And which song is that? Bards are known for writing songs.” Eskel teased him. The white haired witcher shook his head with a grin.

“Careful with the jokes; I might start calling you Lambert.”

“I’m wounded, Geralt. Really.” His tone was mocking but gentle, not like aforementioned Lambert’s who tended to take the gruff humor too far. “Who’s the bard, and what’s in Novigrad?”

The white wolf grunted as he debated his answer. “He wrote Toss a Coin, the song that’s been keeping us all fed and in good armor, and he follows me around like a pup. He’s annoying and he feeds Roach too many sugar cubes and he gets us kicked out of nearly every town for trying to sleep with the innkeeper’s wife. He’s slept with every wrong cunt. He’s... a friend,” he finished a tad lamely.

“All that and then just a friend?” The question was posed softly if a bit skeptical.

“Hm.” He didn’t have a ready response. His hand went to the letter carefully tucked into his armor. It had been unfolded and folded so many times the creases had started to become fragile. “He’s important.”

“And would he have anything to do with what happened in Daevon?” Eskel inquired, finally crossing the unspoken line in the sand. “Lambert said it was a bard that saved you then and that he was gone before they got there. They wanted to thank the man who cared enough to heal a witcher. I suppose traveling with you was what gave him the knowledge to save your life.”

Geralt sighed. “We exchanged words last summer. We didn’t part on the best of terms.” He paused, furrowed his forehead. “I guess he was trying to catch up before I returned to Kaer Morhen. Don’t know how else he would have been there. Left him in Vizima almost two months before Daevon.” He turned his attention to Roach’s mane. It had picked up leaves and twigs during their exercise through the trees. It reminded him of buttercups and dandelions carefully braided in as the summer sun beat down on two thirsty travellers.  

“He was there when I woke up after the fleders. He yelled, I ignored him, he left. Told me to find him when I was ready.”

“And?” Eskel prompted gently.

“And I left. Sent him a note to meet in the spring and came to Kaer Morhen.”

“Ah. Would it be safe to assume that the letter Lambert and Coën brought you was in fact his reply?”

Geralt nodded. “It was.”

“And he said…?” He let his words trail off.

“He apologized for his part and agreed to wait for me in Novigrad. He normally goes to Oxenfurt for the winter if he isn’t shacking up with some countess.”  

“I see. Are you ready now then? To see him again? Apologize for being a brute to him? You’ve been watching the skies like a bird longing for home after a long winter.” A steely glare was directed at Eskel, and he visibly shifted. “What?”

“It…” he growled in frustration, seeking the words to explain. “It wasn’t me. He was the one who…” He halted his own words, unsure if he was ready to share the truth with his brother in arms. 

“Geralt? Tell me what happened.”

He played with the brush in his hands, turning it over. He could feel the words trying to push themselves out, but something twisted inside of him when he thought of saying them aloud. He took a deep breath, practiced moving his mouth in the shape of the words he wanted to say. 

The wooden tool became his anchor as the events of the past year poured from his lips. He couldn't look his brother in the face while he spoke, but speak he did. Everything from the innkeeper’s wife Muriel and through their brief one-sided conversation in Daevon. He did his best to include everything. The words were heavy in his mouth, and his brain told him to silence himself, but he let it all spill out. He often felt he overreacted but he felt betrayed by Jaskier all the same.

When he finished, Eskel stayed quiet. The stables were still but for Roach shuffling her feet and pushing her body against Geralt, trying to make him continue his attentions. Eskel came to stand beside his brother, put one hand on his shoulder, and knocked their heads together. 

“So, shall Lambert and I go cut his balls off?” The question jarred the quiet peace, and Geralt snapped his head to look Eskel in the face. The scarred witcher laughed at him. “I’m only joking. Mostly.”

And like that the serious moment was gone, two men giggling laughing in a manly fashion in the stables of Kaer Morhen, just like the day they caught a giant bumblebee.

---

Spring finally came for Kaer Morhen. Coën left first for Poviss. Geralt was not far behind. The next dawn he had his bags repacked and Roach saddled. Vesemir sent him on his way with a wave and a fresh loaf of bread. 

Watch yourself. There are enough dead witchers out there as it is. The parting words came as close to sentiment as the pair could handle after the awkward winter, and they sat heavy in Geralt’s mind as he traveled. So too did Eskel’s from the evening before. The other witcher knew Coën’s departure was the signal for the white wolf’s, that Geralt was unwilling to be cooped up any longer.

You can both fix it if you both want it. Neither of you were perfect or completely innocent. But I think you’ll be able to figure it out.

Geralt thought so too. All he had to do was make it to Novigrad and find his bard.

He made his way to the Lixela, a tribute river that began in the Blue Mountains and fed into the Pontar. The lumber industry was already taking advantage of the spring thaw. The extra water swelled the rivers, allowing them to better carry the huge rafts of tree trunks downstream to the mills. He booked passage on a barge in exchange for protecting the lumberjacks that traveled with the rafts. Drowners and water hags commonly preyed on the floating workers, and it made it difficult for the lumber barons to draw in new employees.

Mostly it just involved a lot of standing around on the barge and staring at the men standing on the logs on the river. He winced occasionally when a log rolled unexpectedly and a man’s leg would be critically injured. They’d haul the man on board to determine whether the limb could be saved or if it required amputation. 

In the week he’d been on board he’d seen one man lose his foot and another his whole leg. The second man had been pulled down between the massive logs and suffered not only the amputated leg, but cracked ribs and a shattered hand. They healers on board debating severing that too. 

Aside from that, there was only one instance of drowners cropping up. He’d dispatched them easily. He only took the vial of Swallow as a precaution. The constantly moving rafts added a degree of difficulty, but he corrected it by moving to the banks of the river. The loggers had scrambled to the boat, and the drowners came to him. He made sure to loot the brains and acids. It was always good to have alchemy ingredients. 

From Flotsam he found a small passenger rig headed to the city of Foam in the Pontar Delta. It was another uneventful journey sans occasional drowners. 

Melitele’s tits, he hated extended water travel. It was dull. But it was the quickest way to reach Novigrad. Once he reached Foam, the Malatius and Grock Company hired him to accompany a load of cargo to Novigrad, and in two days, he’s there. 

The city smelled foul, as was standard for every city. Too many people crammed together with improper hygiene and a lack of proper waste disposal. Fish was an overwhelming scent as well before he left the docks. 

He did his best to ignore the wretched odors and pushed on to The Spearhead, a particular favorite joint of Jaskier’s. It would be the easiest place to begin looking for him. If he wasn’t there, the tavern keeper had probably seen him recently. And sure enough, he walked through the door, and sitting at a table by the window, a familiar dandy hummed, twirling a feather quill between his fingers. 

The barkeep noticed him first. “Witcher. Welcome back to Novigrad.”

“My thanks,” he replied, and pushed the hood of his cloak back just as Jaskier’s head snapped to the door. 

“Geralt.” The breathy voice exalted. He jumped to his feet, the chair falling to the ground behind him. “You’re here.”

Chapter Text

“You’re here.” Intense blue eyes locked on Geralt. “I have to admit I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

“I said I would,” Geralt grumbled and examined the scuff marks on his boots. The leather could use a waxing. It was starting to get chapped.

“Yes, you did say that. My noble witcher, a man of his word.”

“I’m not… that.” His forehead wrinkled. The words didn’t apply to him.

“Noble? Oh Geralt, of course you are. Come, sit and eat. We can discuss whatever you wish over lunch.”

He could smell the roasted pork and potatoes. And he hadn’t had a solid meal since yesterday. But he didn’t think he could sit trapped at the table while this conversation happened. He tilted his head towards the door, and Jaskier lifted the corners of his mouth slightly. 

“Ah yes, just tear the leech right off the wound. The witcher way of dealing with things. How could I forget?” the bard said with a touch of sarcasm. He didn’t mean it to be cutting- Geralt was sure he was aiming for witty and funny- but it stung. Geralt frowned and crossed his arms, beginning to doubt this could be a productive conversation. 

“Jaskier.” He did his best to keep the growl from his own voice. 

“Hm,” the bard parried. “Let me put away my things, and I shall be right with you, Geralt. Won’t take but a moment.”

Geralt shifted his feet as he watched the other man meticulously pack away every note and quill. It felt as though he was intentionally drawing out the process, making the witcher wait. He took a breath to settle the tightness in his chest. He was a witcher. These emotions Jaskier managed to evoke were ill advised on the path. 

You vex me as few can, Geralt  he wrote in his letter. As if Jaskier himself wasn’t one of the most frustrating men the witcher had ever known, and there had been several. He spent so much of the winter lamenting his own reaction he momentarily forgot how irritating the bard could be. He was one enigma wrapped in another, capable of switching from charmed smiles to vicious attacks without a moment’s notice. Like a feral tomcat that loved to soak in the sunlight, deceptive in it’s calm and inviting appearance but ready to claw you the moment you tried to touch him.

“Alright, got that taken care of. Let us absorb the beauty of the market in spring, my dear fellow. The fresh air awaits!” The smile was firmly back in place. It was almost alarming how quickly he could turn it on or off.

The pair stepped out into the sunlight, Jaskier in the lead. To his surprise, the bard did not take them to the market as he said, but towards the coast away from even the fishing docks and where fewer people roamed. A hawker of fishing equipment and another of curious potions sat near a beach that was equal part rocks and sand. There were several people walking along the waterline or casting out a line, but overall it was much calmer than the city proper would have been. 

They joined the groups of walkers along the trail before Jaskier spoke. “I wrote you a letter, you know, but I had to leave it at the inn in Daevon. It probably was thrown away. Everyone said there was no chance of getting it to Kaer Morhen. I suppose it was wishful thinking that you might read it.” 

“I got it.” 

“Oh, I’m glad. I do want to apologize for my behavior last year. You are within your rights to be angry with me though I am not above asking your forgiveness.”

Geralt grunted, withholding his judgement until his questions had been answered. Then he would decide.

“What is it?” the bard inquired, placing his hand on Geralt’s elbow.

“I just… Why her, Jask?” The question had bothered him ever since Vizima. “What is so important about a whore that kills people? And for reasons you don’t seem to care about?”

The bard frowned, dipping his head. “Ysmena and I, you have to understand, Geralt. It’s complicated.” 

He scoffed. Complicated. The word men used when they didn’t feel like explaining properly. He thought Jaskier was above that. “Right. That says everything.”

Hands snapped to hips. “What do you want me to say? That we’re lovers? We are on occasion. That I love her? Of course I do. That we have history? More than I think you could cope with. Did I know about the Blue Dream? Yes, I did. I asked her to do it after all, and they were both Nilfgaardian scum hiding secrets I needed to know. Does that satisfy you?” 

His nostrils flared, that burnt smell of a thunderstorm clouding his head. “No.” 

Jaskier emitted a loud frustrated shout. He hissed, “You’re an infuriating bastard, Geralt of Rivia!” 

Both of them ignored the scared stares of the people around them and who quickly made themselves scarce. No one wanted to be caught in the crossfire when the white haired witcher was angry. “The butcher,” they whispered fearfully before bundling away their loved ones. 

“I’m not the one hiding corpses in my wake!”

They stilled, bodies facing each other, anger twisting their faces. Jaskier kept his hands on his hips while Geralt tightened his own into fists.

“No, I suppose you aren’t hiding your corpses,” Jaskier said coolly. “You just cut their heads off and bring them to town to collect some coin before you do it all over again. It’s truly a more honorable cause.”

“I never claimed to be noble and honorable or any of that rot. I think I’ve told you not to call me that, bard. I’m hired to do a job, and I do it well. I’ve always been honest about myself and who I am and what you’ll get.”

“Have I ever lied to you, Geralt?” He pushed forward, edging his body into Geralt’s space. His already-impossibly-strong scent swelled to overwhelming levels. He ground his teeth, trying to tamp down the anger. 

“You’ll have to answer that one on your own. Reckon I don’t know what’s true about you anymore.” 

The words caused Jaskier to stagger backwards as if Geralt had landed a physical blow. “You…”

“I what, Jaskier? You’ve been hiding secrets from the beginning. I’ve just finally started to realize how many.”

He watched the bard’s throat bob up and down as he swallowed. He deflated, the fight leaving the bard’s body suddenly. “I’m protecting you. I... I promise you, Geralt, when it’s time, I’ll tell you everything.” He hovered his fingers above the witcher’s cheek, like touching him might send the man running away again. Well the more fool him. Geralt wasn’t going anywhere this time. 

“Just not yet, right? I’m supposed to believe you despite all the evidence telling me not to? Lies of omission are still lies, Jask.” He took a step back to separate them and scratched his forehead. He needed room to breathe, time to regroup. 

“I’m sorry to have broken your trust so deeply. But what I said in Vizima is still true: I consider you the dearest friend I have ever had. And I will continue to keep you safe. If that means bearing your anger until you can accept me as I am, I will face all the hate you hurl at me. No power on Earth could stop me.” The words rang deeply like a pledge turned sacred bond. Geralt examined Jaskier’s face and could find nothing in it but sincerity.  

“I am also sorry that this is the second time I have botched an apology to you. I hope you might allow me to travel with you again anyways.” He laughed sardonically at himself. 

“And if I don’t say yes, you’ll trail behind me in secret like you last fall?”

Jaskier tilted his head. “Like I did last…” Suddenly his eyes widened. “Ooooh yeees, something just like that. Right.” 

Geralt quirked an eyebrow but let it go. He had had enough of the fighting and the arguing for the day. Jaskier couldn’t outrun the consequences of his secrecy for long, but he decided that was a problem for another day. Right now he wanted an endless mug of ale and an endless plate of food. He also figured that with just the right amount of posturing he could sate his hunger on Jaskier’s coin. On account of those two botched apologies. He’d do it. 

“Let’s turn back. I could use lunch after all.”

“Now he wants food! We could have been eating this whole time Geralt but no! You had to go outside.”

“Jaskier.” Geralt warned.

“Yes, Ger?”

“One, never call me that again. Two, shut the fuck up.”

“Such rude manners! You know, I heard about this thing in Cidaris the other day. It could be a job for you.”

And so it went for the summer, the two of them carefully ignoring the fact that Jaskier wasn’t telling Geralt everything as well as the fact that now they both knew Geralt knew Jaskier wasn’t telling Geralt everything.

It all came to a head after the betrothal banquet of the beautiful Pavetta, sole daughter of Queen Calanthe of Cintra.

Chapter Text

They worked their way south. Quite literally in fact. Every town seemed to have heard of some other monster in the next town over, and almost always that town was south. Geralt, naturally, didn’t notice until he was already in Cintra and covered in selkiemore guts, the peasants singing “Toss a Coin.”  And then Jaskier asked for a “teeny, teeny weeny little favor.”  

Really, Geralt should have known better by now. But after a summer of carefully ignoring the fact that Jaskier was hiding secrets, he had almost forgotten to question everything his friend did. Like having his clothes sent away for “washing.”

“You’re not going tonight as a witcher.” Jaskier said with a cheeky grin. Geralt clenched his jaw.

“What?”

The bard bounced back to pick up a hideous doublet off a chair. 

“Come now Geralt, I had this specially made to contain all those frankly huge witcher muscles of yours. It should fit perfectly, and you’ll look like a ravishing merchant.”

“Fuck off, Jaskier.” The little shit had been planning this for months. No other way he just had custom clothes to fit a witcher.

“Oh, hush now, it’ll be fine. Like you said, you aren’t even going to kill anyone tonight.” He went to hang the coat behind the screen. Geralt watched him shuffle about various clothing garments between the cracks.

“There’s a special place being made just for you in Hell right now,” Geralt grumbled.  

The bard’s frame stilled, but he turned his head to smirk. He turned away again, but Geralt could have sworn he saw his eyes darken. It’s just the poor quality of the mirror , he told himself.

---

The night remained strange, something not quite right at the edges of Geralt’s senses. Jaskier appeared as vapid and clueless as he ever did in public, but there was something sharp in the manner in which he stared at the back of the head of lord who now believed him a eunuch. Oh, he played the crowd well like he always did. His songs seemed to sway even the most taciturn of partygoers into clapping their hands or tapping a toe. 

Maybe it was just what he thought he saw earlier. Jaskier’s eyes had appeared black in the splotched reflection of the tin mirror. It stuck in Geralt’s mind even as he swore it was nonsense. Just poor reflections made by a subpar surface in a small inn. No man, creature, or beast had eyes that turned black at will. Well, besides a witcher, that was. But then, even a witcher’s black eyes were the result of a potion, not a physical feature like the third eyelid of an owl, one that could be turned on and off at will. He drank the potion, they came. The potion faded, they left. And Jaskier was no witcher.

( But he had a different idea, one that he wanted to ignore. Just a little longer. )

Seated here beside the feared and beloved Queen of Cintra, he pretended to convince himself of it. He wished he could say that he still thought the bard was just a bard. But, just like the eyes, he knew that illusion had been broken. Too many layers upon layers of secrets and bodies and wrong friends. Too many crying maids like Muriel, the strange incident with the guard in Vizima, dead Nilfgaardians. No, there was something more sinister about his bard. 

Like why he apparently needed Geralt at this feast when he was also apparently more than capable of protecting himself, blade or no. Geralt hadn’t even seen him carry the strange knife covered in runes.  What man can leave a trail of bodies in his wake with no visible weapon? 

Sorcerer was the only answer Geralt could summon, the only one he wanted to think of. Witcher maybe, if he was a truly skilled actor.

(Really, he knew the proper answer, read in a half decayed book in the musty remains of Kaer Morhen’s library oh so many winters ago. Vesimer asked where he found it and then hid it away, claiming it to be full of fantasies.)  

He half carried his attention to the queen’s conversation. He too desired the comfort of his armor. Anything involving Jaskier this night was sure to end in bloodshed, the man’s promises be damned.

“Tell me, how does a witcher find himself at my daughter’s wedding feast dressed like a…” She trailed off with a mocking chuckle. Moronic bards who get involved with all the wrong women and all the wrong plots and manipulate their witcher companion into attendance was the long answer. He gave her the short one an unaware person might believe.

“I’m protecting the bard from vengeful royal cuckolds.”

“Hm. Idiots, the lot of them.”

Geralt agreed completely. He just wasn’t sure who was the larger idiot, the cuckolds whose wives and mothers may or may not have actually slept with the bard, or Geralt himself for following along with whatever plan Jaskier was scheming.

---

What a fucking mess. Bodies everywhere, grand declarations about destiny being thrown about, weddings being declared, and apparently an uncontrolled enchantress with immense power who can throw them around like rag dolls. And the knight wanted to pay him back for this disaster. 

“Fine, I… claim the tradition as you have. The Law of Surprise. Give me that which you already have, but do not know.” He didn’t know what he was expecting. Surely not crops or puppies. Calenthe’s protests weren’t supposed to amount to anything, after all. It was supposed to be ironic. “Don’t worry. Destiny can go f-”

And then the girl vomited across the floor.

“Pavetta are you?” Calanthe cradled her daughter's face.

“Fuck.”

---

“I’m getting out of here. Alone.” He informed Mousesack. If anyone else tried to follow him, they were likely to end the night with his fist in their gut, Jaskier included. Actually, Jaskier especially .

“You’re bound to this now Geralt, whether you like it or not.” The druid warned him. 

“I’m not for changing. You know me better than that.”

“But you can’t outrun Destiny just because you’re terrified of it. It’s coming, Geralt.”

Calamities be damned. Destiny be damned. He didn’t want any bonds with any child, law of surprise or not. This was why Jaskier wanted him here. The bastard knew this was going to happen tonight. Geralt didn’t want to know how he knew, but he wasn’t going to sit here while Destiny pushed itself at him. It was horseshit. 

“I’ll take that chance.” With a final caution to stay safe in the Cintran court, Geralt turned and left the castle. He made it as far as the stables before the smell of rain storms caught up with him, the sound of fancy boots hitting the cobblestone.. “Walk away, Jaskier, or I might stab you myself.”

He had the audacity to chuckle the fucking asshole. Like Geralt had no right to be pissed at him. Like this shitfest was hilarious. Geralt seethed.

“You can’t hurt me that way, Geralt.”

“By yelling at you or stabbing you?” He kept his voice as even as possible.

“Oh have some fun! You’re going to have a child now, Geralt! Where’s your sense of excitement, of adventure? I personally think you’d look quite fetching with a toddler in your arms, their baby curls getting in your roguish face. The ladies would love it.”

“My sense of adventure is exactly where you keep the dagger you use for protection. But that’s right- it doesn’t exist.” He tightened the buckles on Roach’s saddle. “You brought me here for this, Jaskier. Don’t play dumb with me. I told you I wanted no one needing me, and instead of listening, you let Destiny fuck me over.” He slipped the harness over his mare’s head and adjusted the bit in her mouth. He still didn’t look at Jaskier. 

“I gave you nothing, Geralt of Rivia. A push in the right direction perhaps, but this path was determined long ago by forces greater than you or I.”

“Destiny is for fools.” He snarled. 

“You don’t even believe that, darling. But that’s alright. I’ll protect you from your folly.” He practically cooed at the surly witcher. “One day, you’ll come to realize what you started here tonight, and I’ll be there to put you back on the Path you’re meant for.”

“Go to hell.” Don’t let it be true, don’t prove this right, don’t let it -

Blue eyes flashed to pitch black orbs. “Oh honey,” he gave a pouting smile and paused for effect, “where do you think I came from?” 

And he damned them both with the truth.

He made for the silver sword already fastened to the horse’s tack. His fingertips barely grazed the hilt before he was suddenly pushed into the wall. Jaskier stalked towards him. 

“My, my, Geralt, how pretty you look stretched out in front of me. I’d devour you in a heartbeat.”

He let the taunt go. “You’re kind abandoned this world.” 

Pink lips curled upwards. “Some did. Most just went into hiding. Too many witchers and hunters about. Can’t make any contracts with a predator on your tail,” he confessed.  “And then the Brotherhood forgot how to summon us, calling goetia the practice of calling demons. The fools forgot what true demons are, and we became but a distant memory.” Jaskier gripped him by the chin, the fingers of his hands curling up Geralt’s face. “But a war for this world has begun, and we demons have come back to see it through.” 

There wasn’t a speck of whote to be found in the field of black staring up at him. He didn’t care about wars. He didn’t care about Destiny. He didn’t care about demons. Not except for the one standing before him.

“Tell me one thing.” 

“Anything you'd like to know. ” he confirmed.

“Was any part of you real? Are you even Jaskier?”

The demon looked affronted at first, then moved his hand to Geralt’s hair, his facial features softening, becoming more indulgent once again. “Of course it was, and I am Jaskier. I always have been. It’s like I told you in the spring: I’ve never lied to you. Jaskier isn’t the only name I have, but I’ve always been the bard at your side. I’m your friend. 

“I’ll even offer you a deal to prove it.” He poked Geralt in the chest. “On the table, I present one night of complete honesty, free of charge. One little kiss to seal the contract, and I’ll be duty bound to tell you anything you want to know. Well, within reason.” He added as an afterthought. “There are a few things I’m not allowed to say.”

“Let me guess, all you want is my soul.” His voice was flat, tired even to his ears.

He scoffed. “ Ugh. Souls. Souls are boring, Geralt. Could you imagine if I had to go hunting down all those people after their contract was up? I’d never have any fun. Just no. Not every soul is even suited for hell. Some turn into lovely demons, I grant you, but all of them? It’s enough to give me nightmares. Besides, I said tonight was free of charge. No favors, no catches.”

“Just let go of me.”

Jaskier raised his arms up in the sign of surrender and backed away. The pressure holding Geralt up disappeared, and he nearly stumbled on his feet. 

“What do you say?”

“I say leave me the fuck alone. Come on, Roach.”

“Hmm. Nope.”

“Nope?” Geralt repeated incredulously.

“Nope, you aren’t leaving. I won’t let you. I let you walk away from me twice in the past year. I think that was rather kind of me. But if I watch you walk away now, the next time I see you is when you’ve done all your witcher research because you realized there is another monster in play and you’ve rallied your witcher brother together to hunt me down. And that is an encounter I’d rather avoid, darling. So yes, nope.” 

“In fact, you’ll be coming with me.” A portal opened behind them, and Jaskier motioned him to pass through. “After you, Geralt.”

“I’m not going through that.”

“Unfortunately for you, you are. Now we can do this the easy way where you accept the fact and move on your own, or we do the bit where I force you through. Choose quickly please. There’s a lovely hot spring waiting for us.”

The quiet standoff lasted for about fifteen seconds. Jaskier sighed, and the next thing Geralt knew he was waking up in a strange bed, moonlight trickling in the window.

Chapter Text

Geralt sat up, and looked around the room for any clues to his location. Even in the dim moonlight, he could tell it was fully furnished with elaborate details. There was even a head to toe mirror made with a blemish-free single pane of glass. It was tucked in the corner by what looked like a rather large bathtub. Another equally high quality looking glass hung above a dressing table. 

The bed he woke up on boasted a down feather set of mattress and pillows. He suspected that had it been cold, or even remotely cool, a down filled blanket would complete the kit. But it was in fact quite warm. Summer nights often were even in a place like Kaedwen. What he found interesting was a lack of a fireplace anywhere in the room. It suggested a warm climate year round, a land of eternal summer.

Large windows dominated the outer wall, and they were all flung open. There was also a set of glass doors that led to what looked like a large balcony. Curtains danced in the breeze which carried with it the briny scent of the sea. He went outside, and rested his hands on the railing. Jagged cliffs rose around the manor which sat adjacent to the beach. What he realized were palm trees swayed with the wind, and the waves lapped at the sandy shore. 

What he didn’t notice however, were any of his things. He had been stripped of his armor and his weapons. Reduced to his pants and linen shirt. Even his boots and socks were missing. 

Jaskier. It was the only possible explanation.

“Hm,” he grunted.

The sound of a whining dog at the door answered him, but he couldn’t identify the source. It seemed to come from within the room, and yet there was no beast. All he could find was the scent of bitter ozone lingering in the air. There also wasn’t any creature on the other side of the door when he opened it. (He was slightly surprised that it was unlocked but then again, all the windows were open as well. He could climb down from the balcony if he needed to.) 

He stared down a long hallway which connected to a staircase. Numerous pieces of artwork were displayed both on the walls and display stands. Such a wide collection could only belong to an old and wealthy family. Which still didn’t answer the question of where exactly Jaskier had brought him. He wondered if they were even on the Continent.

A yipping bark brought his attention to the top of the stairs. He still saw no creature to emit the noise. 

He turned to go back to the room, but this time there were two sharp barks. He shook his head. He didn’t know what game Jaskier was playing, but he wasn’t following imaginary animals into unknown territory. Jaskier could come to him instead. 

He was about to shut the door when an invisible force knocked him to the ground. Something that felt like paws sat on his chest. 

“What the fuck?”

There was a whining growl and hot, rotten smelling breath hitting his face. Then the pressure left his chest and was replaced by a large force against his ribs. 

“You aren’t going to let this go, are you?” he said to the air. “Alright fine, I’m going.” 

Satisfied yips and the gentle clicking of nails on the floor guided him throughout the elaborate manor he found himself in. The end destination was apparently a dining room. There was an ornate buffet set against a wall, and it was piled high with meats, cheese, and fruits Geralt had never even seen in person before. The long banquet table was set for two, dishes and linens placed at opposite ends. 

The head (?) of the invisible animal pushed him once more, this time towards the spread of food. Once he had filled his plate and sat down, the tapping sounds retreated out the door. 

He tucked into the food and debated his options. So far, everything in the house was open and available for him. The doors were all unlocked, and priceless artifacts were ready for the taking anywhere he looked. He was sure many of them were also magical in nature; his medallion vibrated if he stood too close to many of them. But Geralt was not a sorcerer and fuck if he knew what any of them did.

Ancient weapons rested higher up on some of the hallway walls, but most looked like they would fall apart at the first strike. The more modern blades reeked of warding magic. They gave him a foreboding feeling when he approached them. He wasn’t sure what would happen if he actually tried to touch one. Likely nothing good.

He could probably just walk out the front door, but he had nothing to take with him. More importantly, he still had no idea where he was. He was at Jaskier’s mercy until he could find his own belongings. 

“Good evening, Geralt,” the droll voice chimed as he strolled in to sit at the head of the table. The air felt heavier with Jaskier’s arrival, both of them unwilling to let go of their unresolved conflict. “Philotimo informed me you were awake. I hope you slept well.” He snapped his fingers and his plate was covered with the bard’s- demon’s- favorite foods. “This is quite good,” he said around his first bite. “Really, Calanthe needs better cooks. For being a royal banquet, the food was a touch terrible last night.” 

And it was night once more, so he had been out for an entire day.. “Can’t say I ate much of it.” Geralt remarked with a frown. 

“Make sure you fill up then. Your last proper meal was before the selkimore hunt, and you slept the day away,” he confirmed. A fork laden with mince pie disappeared between Jaskier’s lips. “Now I imagine you have a few questions.”

“One or two, yeah.” He clenched his fork a little tighter. 

Jaskier frowned and laid down his utensils. “Are you going to make this a confrontation again, Geralt? If I’m being honest, I’m quite tired of arguing with you.” Geralt didn;t understand how knocking him unconscious and forcing him to some mystery locale was a great plan for avoiding an argument. 

“I have no idea if you’re being honest. You claim to be my friend, but you’re a demon.”

Jaskier steepled his fingers and rested them beneath his chin. “The two things are not mutually exclusive. Yes, I am a demon, and yes, I am- and always shall be- your friend. I’m here to support you, believe it or not. I’ll find a way to prove it to you eventually.”

“Going to offer me another deal in exchange for some dark catch?”

Jaskier pouted in disappointment. “Alright, I admit that was not my best plan. But there wasn’t going to be a loophole. If I’m under contract, I can’t break my word or contradict what we signed on. If we bargained for honesty, you would have had it.”

“You said something about a kiss. What was that for?”

“It’s just how we finalize a contract.” He shrugged. “Don’t really know why or how the magic is bound to it. Just the way it works.”

“You don’t know how your own magic works?” Geralt frowned.

“I know it all but the origins of the kiss part. You’d have to ask the bossman. Err, bosswoman. Lilit can get a bit temperamental though. I don’t really recommend asking pointless questions.” He waved a hand in circles as if to emphasize the fact.

“Lilit? As in the goddess?” 

“Ummmm, yes? You can call her a goddess if you want, but she doesn’t really claim the title. It’s probably not far off though. She makes the rules, not me. Mostly I just do what she says and try not to piss her off. Ogemar did that once, and the results were… terrifying.” He shuddered with his whole being. 

“Lilit is your boss.”

“Yes. I thought we established this. Anything else I can clarify?”

They had barely scratched the surface of all the things Geralt needed to ‘clarify.’ He decided to go back to a simpler inquiry.

“How many of us are here?”

“Just you and me and Philotimo. Oh, and Roach is in the stable. So that makes four of us.”

“And Philotimo is who exactly? That’s the second time you’ve said his name.” Actually, Geralt thought he had heard it before, but he couldn't place it.

“Huh, I thought you would have been able to see him by now. At the very least while you were here. Might have to look into a potion or a spell... “ he trailed off and then shook his head. “Anyways, Timo’s my hellhound.”

“A hellhound.”

“Hm, yeah. He’s descended from Lilit’s prized beast, but he was the runt of the litter, and his siblings pushed him out. So I raised him myself.”

So much for starting with small questions. Every answer demanded more explanations. “Where is he now?”

Jaskier chuckled. “At your feet begging for scraps. It’s adorable. He’s all hunkered down with his head on his paws and looking at you with the puppy dog eyes. He’s even wagging his tail for you.”

The hellhound wanted… table scraps. And was a dog. Jaskier had… a puppy from hell. 

He must have mumbled under his breath because the bard-demon informed him, “More like a jackal than a dog really. Just bigger and all black. And you know, magical.” He wiggled his fingers and bounced his eyebrows. 

Of course. Jaskier had a magical demon- jackal companion that was invisible and… he didn’t know how to finish that thought. “What’s he good for exactly?”

“Don’t talk about him like a tool, Geralt.” He tutted. “He’s a good dog. Though the breed is known for tracking and hunting. They say that once a hellhound has your scent it can always find you. Philotimo’s also got quite the sense for detecting magic as well.”

“And what happens when he finds his prey?”

Jaskier went back to eating with a shrug. “Depends on what I need him to do. Watch, capture, kill. He tracked you across the continent for me last year.”

A thumping sound came from the floor. He could imagine a tail wagging and hitting the hardwood.

“I thought you said you were following me.”

“I said it was something like me following you to Daevon,” the demon-bard interrupted. “Philotimo was my eyes on you while I had to work on some other things. I couldn’t leave you without any protection after all, Geralt.”

“So you stuck a vicious beast on my tail?”

“Vicious beast? Such slander! He’s a good pup.”

“It’s a hellhound.”

“Who I raised from a pup. Who’s a good boy, Timo? Oh that’s right, you are.” He used that irritating voice noble ladies used against their own lap rats and stared at the ground to Geralt’s left. The thumping sound got louder. “Besides, it’s a good thing I had him follow you. If he hadn’t been there, those vile fleders would have killed you before I could get there. I barely arrived in time to stop you from bleeding out as it was. Speaking of which, no more monster hunts while you’re drunk. I forbid it.”

“You forbid it?” He made sure to let the disbelief slip into his voice. Jaskier couldn’t forbid him to do shit. 

“Yes, I do. I’m sure Vesemir agrees with me. I haven’t had a chance to speak with him in a few years, but I’m sure your death would be quite painful for him. You are one of his favorite pupils after all.”

Jaskier knew Vesemir. The sudden realization froze him to the core. Jaskier knew Vesemir. He had spoken to him about Geralt. Vesemir knew about demons and who knew what else. He must have known about this grand plan Jaskier was orchestrating. And the bastard just kept eating like he hadn’t shattered Geralt’s worldview with a single declaration.

“Geralt?” He asked around a mouthful of pie. 

“Shut up. Just- shut the fuck up.” 

It was all he could do to regulate his breathing and not through the dinner knife across the room, to clear off the table after that. His fingers flexed around the silver utensils. 

Had his entire life been a lie? His own mother lied when she said she loved him. She abandoned him, left him to the Trials and consequently the Path and whatever fortune such tortures held. Vesemir raised him, but apparently he was in on this farce too. He didn’t train and nurture a valued witcher. No, he brought up a sheep for slaughter for this supposed war for the world Jaskier kept yammering on about. The one that Geralt was meant to be part of alongside his child surprise. As for Jaskier himself, well, he was one of the orchestrators of the whole fucking shitshow. He could call himself Geralt’s friend all he liked, but friends didn’t sacrifice each other to a fucking war effort, didn’t seek out their mentors before they ever met themselves.

His ears filled with the sound of his own blood rushing, of his escalated heartbeat. His eyes lost focus, saw but didn’t observe. A sudden touch to his shoulder caused him to violently flinch. “Don’t touch me.” He snarled. “Do it again, and I’ll… Fuck .” There was nothing he could do.

Jaskier was the master here, wherever the fuck here was. He held all the cards, all the power. Meanwhile, Geralt didn’t have a single usable strategy. This whole situation was a monster he didn’t know how to fight, let alone a demon that wasn’t supposed to exist. What the fuck was he supposed to do? What could he do?

“Do you believe in Destiny now? ” Eist’s question from the banquet whispered in his head. Geralt had no answer.  

Chapter Text

Interlude

“Shut up. Just- shut the fuck up.”

It was more of a growl than it was words. The witcher didn’t so much as twitch a muscle. It was as if his body had turned to stone. The only visible sign of life was the roaming, unfocused gaze of his eyes. Jaskier sharpened his own hearing, honing in on Geralt’s heartbeat and breathing at his end of the table. Both were quicker than a witcher’s should be, much quicker. 

Most serious conversations with Geralt didn’t go well to put it lightly. They ended with yelling and growling and stomping away. Usually during these moments, he could see the wolf lying in wait inside of Geralt, snapping its jaws in anger, wanting to rip, to shred, to tear. And then Geralt would leave to control the wolf, to rebalance the two conflicting sides of himself, that which wanted to destroy and that which wanted to protect. His moral code was remarkably centered on good. 

In this moment, the wolf was very much present, but it was dwarfed by something else. This wasn’t the battle of destruction versus preservation. This was something that was wrong, something broken. His witcher was hurt.

He came around the table. He didn’t think Geralt could even sense him, too caught up in the swirling chaos of his internal conflict. He attempted to jar the witcher from his conflicted thoughts by placing his hand on his shoulder. What an awful idea it turned out to be. It sent the witcher further into his internal trauma, recoiling his body as far as the confines of his chair allowed.

“Don’t touch me. Do it again, and I’ll… Fuck.” The last was uttered so brokenly and jagged it tore into Jaskier. Desperate fingers clenched and unclenched around the silverware, but still Geralt sat there.

Philotimo whined and licked Jaskier’s palm.

“I don’t know, pup,” he whispered. He was bitten in response. “Ow, what the fuck, Timo?” He brought his hand up to survey the bloody mess of his hand. The hellhound stared at him accusingly with his red eyes and sent feelings of incredulousness and petty satisfaction through their bond. If the beast could talk, Jaskier was sure he’d be pointing out something Jaskier had done or said and calling him an idiot. 

He replayed the conversation in his head, looking for where it started falling apart. In reflection, Geralt seemed a bit dazed the whole time through. Jaskier had dumped quite a load of information for his perusal, but he hadn’t shut down until he… 

Until he implied that Vesemir, the closest thing Geralt had to family, was disappointed in him and that the elder witcher was preening Geralt for a destiny he wanted nothing to do with. 

Fuck, indeed. Philotimo was right. Jaskier was a complete and total imbecile, a right and proper tit. He kneeled on the ground at Geralt’s feet. 

“Geralt,”he said quietly, “I need you to listen to me. You don’t need to look at me, but I need to know you can hear me. Are you listening to me, Geralt?”

The slight nod of his head was subtle, but it was enough. 

“I know what you must be thinking right now, about destiny and Vesemir and the lot of it. If the only thing you pay attention to the rest of the night is what I’m about to tell you, that’s fine. But I need you to know that I am being utterly honest with you when I say that Vesemir doesn’t know about the war coming. He doesn’t, at all. He and I met so long ago; I haven’t seen him in at least fifty years, possibly longer. I’ll admit I’ve lost track. 

“The only thing he knows is that demons exist, and in exchange for helping the wolves out on their Paths occasionally, he keeps our secrets. There are so few of you left, and he loves you as only a father can. He wants you safe. Frankly, he’ll be quite angry with me when he finds out I took you to the banquet on purpose.” 

The sound the white wolf made could only be described as wounded . He took a deep, shuddering breath to steel himself before cold, unfeeling eyes finally focused on Jaskier. 

“Just tell me why.” His inflection was so flat it sounded lifeless despite the violently raging emotions Jaskier could sense were coursing through him. The uncaring facade was too deeply ingrained in him after years of being forced to hide. 

“I’ve told you there is a war coming. Your child surprise is going to be at the core of it. And they need you to help them through it, to guide them. Your moral compass points so far into good it fascinates me, and if you don’t want this world to end, you are what will save them from the darkness that will attempt to consume them.”

“What’s a demon care about saving the good in the world?” He aimed to be dismissive, but all Jaskier could see were the years of defenses trying to protect the witcher in this moment. His poor Geralt.

“Like I said, you fascinate me. And I wasn’t always a demon you know. I’m one of the oldest now, but I was a boy once. One that loved climbing trees in summer and the comfort of his mother’s arms and the sweet taste of berries on my tongue. Call it nostalgia, but I don’t really want all that to disappear.  A more blunt answer is that a world in its end life stages doesn’t offer much to fuel us demons, no deals, no entertainment, no life. The world dies, and we’ll die with it. I’m rather fond of living.”

He chanced placing his hand on Geralt’s knee. The man just blinked at it and kept to his thoughts.

“Have you eaten enough, or are you still hungry?” Jaskier asked, intentionally changing the subject. Geralt has had quite enough talking for one night , he thought to himself. Anymore might break the poor dear even further. We’ll try again in the morning.

“No appetite.” The white wolf sulked at his plate of half-eaten food. Jaskier flashed him his most brilliant soft smile. 

“That’s alright. Timo will gladly finish that up for you, the silly beast. Fun fact, he doesn’t actually need to eat food at all per se. He just likes it.”

He bounced to his feet and clapped his hands together. “Now, I believe I promised a certain white wolf a bath in the hot springs. If you’ll follow me downstairs, I have quite the treat for you, darling witcher.”

Geralt perked up slightly at that, so Jaskier held the door open with a slight bow, gesturing with his arm down the hallway. 

“Ultimate luxury awaits you. Wait until you see the delightful invention I made for my favorite witcher!” He winked before taking off. Geralt was going to love this.

Chapter Text

Geralt followed Jaskier through the elaborate chaos of the manor. Even to a witcher it seemed to be an almost unmemorable labyrinth. Stone stairs led them downwards to cool air and an even saltier scent of the sea. 

He wasn’t sure why he was complying with a demon’s requests. Logic told him to return to his rooms, to get away. Hell, he should be getting out of here entirely. But then Geralt had never been lauded as being a logical person. While out on a hunt, he was able to make reasonable conclusions based on the evidence collected. His personal matters were another story. Right now just followed that pattern, he supposed. 

And quite frankly, he was too tired to fight it at the moment. One night of rest. That was all he needed. Then he would see about finding Roach and getting the fuck out of here.

The demon stopped off into what he called a ‘modest’ wine cellar. Geralt estimated he saw nearly 2000 bottles. Jaskier puttered amongst the shelves, picking up bottles in no order Geralt could understand before returning them. Once he was finally satisfied with one, he grabbed two glasses from a rack and summoned Geralt forward. 

“Now the inspiration for what you are about to see comes from the ancient elves, before the arrival of the Nords even. The Aen Seidhe destroyed everything they could after the blockheads started invading and plundering. I was lucky enough in my demonic youth to be able to experience some first hand before they were all demolished.

“It is rumored that they’ve been rebuilding some in their hidden realms, but none of their new ones have access to the sea water like this.  And I added my own personal touches to it of course. Welcome, Geralt, to our private bath house.” Jaskier flourished the glasses and bowed. 

Geralt walked in front of him, and was temporarily taken aback by the sight before him. The opulence of the room shouldn’t surprise him at this point; the rest of the manor exuded lushious indulgence. But the marble that lined the walls and floor was pristine and bright as it reflected the light cast from golden, firelit sconces. Four massive stone pillars supported the ceiling where it was flat. Within the area created by the pillars, the ceiling rose in a gentle arch, adding a sense of openness to the basement room.  A gentle incense burned, mixing in the air the scent of musky sandalwood with brine. 

Because sunk into the floor was a massive bath, already filled with gently roiling salt water. 

Jaskier chuckled behind him. “Go rinse off in the shower first. It’s behind that screen over there. There’s also a bench and hook for your clothes and a towel. Just press the rune on the wall and stand underneath the water. Trust me,” he said to Geralt’s questioning face. “You’ll love it.”

And love it he did. The water was warm as it cascaded down him. It reminded the witcher of standing in a waterfall, but much, much warmer. He stood beneath the spout for longer than was necessary, enjoying the sensation of running water over taut muscles. Another press of the rune halted the flow of water.

Jaskier was already lounging in the pool when Geralt padded over, wet feet smacking against the floor. He slid in, using the seating ledge to prop up one foot as he leaned against the wall. The bubbling water rivaled the springs of Kaer Morhen. He thought that perhaps this could be a place he could be at peace. Here he could escape the carousing of Eskel and Lambert. Though he had traded them for a demon. He wasn’t sure what was worse.

He tilted his head back and closed his eyes. The verifiable orgy painted on the ceiling was slightly off putting. He especially made sure not to notice the bright blue eyes staring down at him, the ones that matched Jaskier’s stare. 

“Wine?” the bard-demon mused and held out the bottle. Geralt grunted and shook his head at first. He didn’t see much appeal in wine, preferring hard liquor and ales. 

“Probably poisoned. Or drugged.” The banter seemed to escape Jaskier.

He scoffed at the dry remark. “Oh please. Give me some credit. Everyone knows it’s pointless to poison a witcher. You’re only going to piss them off. I plan for your time here to be as enjoyable as possible. Now, would you like a calming glass of wine?”

After a pause, he sat up and reached for the offering. He might as well try to get drunk with a demon.  He supposed it wasn’t the first time. Just the first that he was aware of it while it was happening. “Not like you can’t just knock me out with magic again if you want.” He said obliquely. 

Jaskier began to stammer out an apology until he caught a glimpse of Geralt’s smirk. Then his mouth gaped repeatedly like a fish. “Oh Melitele’s tits. Geralt of Rivia just made a joke. You’re joking.” 

Geralt sank a little deeper into the water. It lapped over his shoulders and rewetted the tips of his hair. He sighed in contentment. 

“The rune for your…thing.” The word Jaskier had used stuck to the tip of his tongue.

“The shower?”

“Hm. Shower.” He turned the word over in his mind. He supposed it fit the experience. “That’s a Wozgor rune running it.” 

“Most of the runes I use are Wozgor in origin,” he replied. “It’s older magic, mostly forgotten. The elves stopped teaching what they deemed dangerous magic to the Nords after they virtually laid waste to the Continent. There were a few renegades that kept on of course, but it hasn’t been used by anyone else in a few hundred years. The Dauk and Wozgor were the last ones to properly learn most of what I use.”

“Is that firsthand knowledge or what the demon history books say?”

Jaskier sipped his wine. “A bit of a mix to be fair. The Dauk and the Wozgor lived on the continent for almost a thousand years before the Nords arrived, but I wasn’t born until after the Nords started terrorizing the place.”

“So you were human once.” Geralt realized. 

“All demons were human at one point. Lilit turned the first of us into what we are. When I was growing up though, I happened to train in magic under our clan’s shaman. I was actually terrible at it if you can believe. I thought the old hag was going to kick me back to my mother several times over.

“Not many of us were very proficient with this world’s chaos. It wasn’t part of the Wozgor home world, and the few people that the elves were willing to teach had a difficult time connecting to it. Each clan was lucky to have one or two individuals that could harness the power properly. I was in competition with a girl to take over as our next shaman. Do you know I can’t remember her name anymore?”

“Did she win?” Geralt cracked an eye. 

Jaskier stared into his glass with a frown. “She probably would have if she hadn’t been killed. And before you ask, yes it was the Nords and their obsessive need to rule over everything. They were rather fond of raiding our camps and killing as much as they stole. They’re the ones who established all the kingdoms over territories that had never been seriously disputed. 

“We only took what we needed, moved place to place, and everyone- elves, dwarves, and the rest included- kept to themselves except when survival demanded we cooperate. The monsters were a fun addition, but they only killed for basic need. We learned to live with that. The world was relatively balanced. The Nords were what ruined it all.” He grimaced at the water.

“How did we get on such a maudlin subject, Geralt?” He consumed the rest of his wine. Geralt shrugged.

“Just asked about the shower.”

“Ah. Right, sorry for the rant. It’s been a while since the topic came up.”

“Hadn’t heard history quite that way before.” He shrugged the apology away. “Can demons even get drunk?” He nodded at the empty glass.

“Hah! No, but it’s nice to pretend sometimes. And this vintage tastes divine. I got it from a particularly poncy Temerian prince back about 400 years ago. I bargained him an engagement with the lass he wanted in exchange for half the year’s production at his vineyard. I really got the better end of that deal. She slowly poisoned him to death about three years into their marriage. Poor sod thought he was just getting sick.”

“Why’d she kill him?” Geralt inquired.

“Well that’s the best part. You see he only wanted her for her money and her uterus. She came from a well-to-do noble family, and was rumored to be sleeping with a stable boy. It was the worst kept secret in Temeria at the time. The prince himself was as gay as could be, and knew that if his father found out he’d be disowned. So I arranged a perfectly convenient marriage where they both got what they wanted. She got to keep her peasant lover and he got a crown and heir.”

“Except the part where he died three years later.”

Jaskier blinked at him. Then he laughed. “Geralt, you are a genuine gem.”

Geralt cinged, and Jaskier laughed harder.

All things considered, he supposed the day could have ended worse.

Chapter Text

They settled into a routine over the next two weeks. Geralt’s days consisted of exercising Roach and then wandering the manor. The bath he visited frequently in the evenings. He also eventually found the library, and he spent several afternoons exploring the books and scrolls held inside.

Jaskier would be strangely absent from his outlandish, and solitary, home for most of the morning, appearing for a few hours in the afternoon, and then leaving what Geralt believed to be an island for the night. Occasionally his medallion would hum when the demon’s portals opened close enough to Geralt, signalling either his departure or arrival. 

Geralt however, was stuck here. When he did ask after their location, Jaskier only told him, “We’re across the Great Sea, far to the west in our own private paradise! Isn’t it wonderful?”

Geralt wasn’t sure this place even had a name actually. No one had ever crossed the Great Sea and lived to tell about it. The coastal ships of the Continent could not handle the deep waters. 

The coast line here was heavily covered in sandy beaches, but further into the island it turned more to dirt and then to rock. Palm trees were a common sight closer to the shore and became a dense jungle of giant trees and thick vines. A single jagged mountain rose at the back of the horizon, tall and dark. Nothing grew at the peak, and what thrived at the base appeared from a distance to be a mossy, green fuzz. 

And the air. By Melitele’s tits was it humid. Every day the moisture threatened to suffocate him, competing with the continuous rain that threatened to drown him. He had to ensure he didn’t overwork Roach during their morning rides. Slow walks became the norm rather than the runs and complex exercises they both favored at Kaer Morhen. More than once her breathing had turned heavier than he liked, signs of foam hinting at her nostrils and her sides heaving as she struggled for enough air. Neither of them were prepared for the extreme humidity of this place. He felt his own body working harder to maintain equilibrium, and he knew it could only be worse for the mare.

But still, every morning she greeted him with a toss of her head and rushed to leave the stall. They had found a few paths carved out of the jungle, and they took to them in an attempt to scratch their itch to leave. It was… peaceful. Almost too peaceful for a witcher.

There was a surprising lack of monsters here. He thought he would have seen some sign, a selkimore or a leshen. Anything really. Alas, the creatures here were brightly colored birds and frogs and these small animals with long tails and limbs that looked like a human’s in an abstract sort of way. A book that looked to be written in Jaskier’s hand called them lemurs, a relative of monkeys that lived only here in this place. Indeed, the only monster to be found on the mystery island was the demon that kept him locked away. 

Geralt was no longer willing to play along with this captivity. And he was a captive, make no mistake. He was forced here against his will and made to stay. Two weeks of investigations proved there was nowhere and no viable plan to escape. Jaskier didn’t need any security or spell to force him to stay. An entire ocean separated him from the rest of humanity. He doubted this was even connected to the Continent.

He couldn’t swim an entire ocean. Building a raft wouldn’t be effective. Who knew what storms would emerge across the sea. Gods above knew how much rain poured down here on the land, let alone in the open water. He could only imagine the size of the waves that could emerge above what must be hundreds of meters of ocean depth. There were no bridges, no trade caravans. Nothing and no one. There was no one to even realize he was missing. Not that they would be able to find him if they did.

His only way out was a portal, and the only being here able to create one was the very demon keeping him here. 

“Can I leave yet?” he asked stiltedly at lunch one day. Jaskier didn’t even look up from his plate. 

“If I take you back, are you going to let me live? Or will I be constantly looking over my shoulder to see if the mighty monster hunter, the famed Geralt of Rivia, fiercesom White Wolf and the Butcher of Blaviken, has finally caught up with me?”

To that, he had no answer. Geralt hadn’t decided yet. 

He still had yet to learn how to even begin fighting a demon of Jaskier’s ilk. Jaskier had been right when he scoffed at the Brotherhood’s definition of a demon. They knew nothing, and so Geralt would likely not be able to learn much there even if one would share access to the libraries. He might be able to convince Vesemir to give him the one he found in the keep’s library, but he doubted it. If the old bastard really wanted to keep the knowledge hidden, he had likely burned it. 

But the presence of one such book suggested that another might exist. If he could find it. 

Nine years of companionship was difficult to ignore. Maybe it was madness, but part of him clinged to the idea that someone other than his brothers might care if he lived or died. And that was the crux of the problem. He might eventually find a way to dispose of demons, but did he want to?

Jaskier took the long silence for his answer. “Until you realize I am here to help you and you promise not to kill me, you shall stay.”

“Why should I promise you anything? And if you say because we’re friends, I will stab you with this fork.”

Jaskier cocked his head in a manner Geralt would label annoyed. 

“I’ve given you plenty of time and reasons to trust me.”

“Hm. Lying to me for nine years about what you are, why you bothered introducing yourself to me, manipulating me into a war that hasn’t even come yet, and then kidnapping me and holding me hostage an ocean span away from the next nearest human being? Those are reasons to trust you?”

The demon scrunched his nose. “Well when you put it like that, it sounds terrible.”

“Jaskier!” 

“Alright fine! Here!” He snapped his fingers and a book appeared next to Geralt’s elbow. “Read away and then come find me when you have questions. I’ll be seeing Ysemena tonight. We’ll revisit when you’re less cantankerous about the whole thing.”

A portal opened suddenly and Jaskier walked through, abandoning Geralt in the desolate manor once again. The magic closed with a gentle whooshing sound. 

He glared where it used to be open, idly wondering if there was a way to sneak through one without Jaskier noticing. 

A sudden pressure on his thigh pulled away his attention. Hot breath pushed through his linen pants. 

“You’re master’s a fucking prick,” he informed the hellhound. The beast yipped, and Geralt took it as agreement. It licked his hand. Definite commiseration, Geralt decided. Good dog… er jackal.

He sighed and picked the ancient looking tome up from the table. It was a thin thing, almost more of a pamphlet than a book. Ten or fifteen pages neatly stitched together between two hardened pieces of leather. It was all so yellow and frail looking Geralt thought turning the pages would cause it to turn to dust.

The padding of paws followed him back to his bedroom. Once there, he pulled the chair that looked the most padded to the windows and propped his feet up on the sill. The breeze this afternoon was a welcome respite to the heat and humidity. 

A bottle of whiskey seemed to float through the air before landing in his lap. He heard a short bark.

Impressive beast.

He held out a hand and felt invisible fur run over his palm as the beast head butted into the appendage. 

Geralt flipped open the cover of the book, stared at the first page, and wrinkled his brow. He sat forward, quickly flipping through the rest of the pages before slamming the damn thing shut. It was all written in Wozgor runes.

Fucking Jaskier. Fucking useless. 

“I repeat, your master’s a fucking prick and a moron on top of it.”

A gentle huff was his only answer.

“Right. Know of anything more helpful than a journal written in a dead language?” 

There was an excited tug at the hem of his pants. Must be hellhound for yes, he thought to himself. “Lead on then.”

And then he was following an invisible creature that was literally from hell through an otherwise empty house in the middle of who the fuck knows where. Fantastic really. He gripped the back of his neck. What a shitshow.

Chapter Text

Philotimo guided Geralt to a very specific section of wall on the ground floor. Geralt wasn’t sure what he was meant to see. There was a shelf with random artifacts that ranged in ages from the Wozgor tribes to the modern era. Interesting perhaps, but unrelated to anything at present. He walked on but was quickly herded back with invisible shoves to the same portion of the hallway. 

“What?” he snapped (perhaps a touch impatiently) at the hellhound behind him. The beast huffed, and Geralt felt a wet nose nudge his hand towards the shelf before leaving. He watched a small statue- it was perhaps fifteen centimeters high and invoked the shape of a particularly voluptuous woman- slide backwards. The hound yipped again.

Taking it as his cue, Geralt lifted the totem from the shelf, and a staircase appeared in the hall’s floor. Geralt pondered the figurine and placed it back on the shelf. The stairs vanished. He picked it back up, and the stairs reappeared. A yip journeyed up from the bottom of the steps. 

And because this was his life now, he hearkened the call. 

He emerged in a study of sorts. There were several bookshelves and a desk covered in Jaskier’s scattered research and correspondence. On the left wall sat a small lab table with equipment Geralt didn’t know the exact purpose of. Another yip came from in front of the cabinet of potions. 

Behind the glass doors stood a vast array of bottles of various sizes, shapes, and colors. One bright red concoction bore a small tag that read, “ Revealing Potion; Have Geralt try this one .” 

“I’m not drinking that,” he informed the hellhound flatly. Philotimo disagreed apparently: he bit Geralt. “It’s not happening.”

The hellhound pushed him bodily into the cabinet. The bottles within shook violently. 

“No,” he said firmly. Teeth wrapped around his hand and dragged it upwards. “Fuck you’re as stubbornly needy as Jaskier.” 

He flung the door open and gripped the bottle labeled with his name. “Is this the one?” A confirming yip. “Fine. If I die, I’m blaming you.” 

The beast panted happily in response. He uncorked the vial and swallowed back the potion. The concoction could only be described as abhorrent. Slimy and simultaneously too sweet and tasting of rotten eggs. He squeezed his eyes shut and longed for anything to chase the taste from his mouth. 

He opened his eyes. Before him stood Philotimo. The hellhound stood nearly two meters tall with fur as black as night. Red eyes stared back at him while a pink tongue flopped out of the side of his pointed muzzle. 

“Holy shit,” Geralt mumbled. The hellhound tilted its head to the side, and Geralt tilted his in return. Tall ears twitched and the beast shifted backwards, its tail beginning to wag violently. “I can see you.” Philotimo bounced . It was the only word for it. He barked twice, lowering his chest and head to the ground.  

Then he turned tail and went back upstairs. He stopped at the landing, turning to stare at Geralt with a cocked head as if to ask, “ Coming ?”

Geralt studied the now empty bottle in his hand before deciding he had already gone this far. He might as well keep going. 

As they ventured, Geralt began to notice the signs of magic throughout the manor, small twitches of the light, a glow here or a vibration there. In a few cases he saw written wards over doorways or guarding certain items. There were even more weapons that appeared on the walls, carefully hidden to standard human eyes. The runed dagger Jaskier had shown him at the brothel was locked to the wall under heavy wards.

In a mirror, he looked at his eyes. They had turned completely black, the pupil and sclera totally encompassed. It wasn’t dissimilar from the effects of the Cat potion, but the pulsing black veins hadn’t emerged and the sting remained pleasantly absent. If not for the visual confirmation, there would be no signs he had consumed a potion at all. It was strange to say the least, and he didn’t know whether to trust it or not. He was still waiting for the toxicity to take effect, for the pain to start thrumming through his body, but they never appeared.

Philotimo happily pranced through the manor to a destination Geralt had become quite familiar with: the library. He kept turning around, checking to see if the witcher was still following him. He pushed open the library door and moved directly to the shelf he wanted. It wasn’t one Geralt had seen before, hidden beneath another set of wards. Philotimo nudged at a specific tome wrapped in blue leather.

Geralt withdrew it from its spot. The cover was plain but for a pentagram gilded in gold. It wasn’t nearly as old as the small thing Jaskier had given him before running off to his precious Ysemena, but he was sure it could be labeled as antique. 

This book proved to be much more helpful than the other as well. Written in the modern alphabet of Common Speech, he was able to study the text in depth. The pages detailed demons as they related to Jaskier. It didn’t describe the capture or effective methods for killing one, but he spent the rest of the afternoon flipping back and forth through the pages, comparing and contrasting the information within. 

Perhaps the most interesting information however, was how demons were created. Most religious figures and sorcerers would tell you that Chaos is the source of magic, and this account agreed with that. It argued however, that Chaos was also the spark of life itself. Every person on the Continent was made of three parts: a physical body, a soul, and the Chaos that combined the two into a living, breathing person. The degree to which their Chaos could be harnessed later in life varied. It explained how some people had an innate talent for manipulating Chaos but others could learn with enough practice.

Then inevitably a person will die, and each of the three components had a destination. The Chaos was to be released back to the metaphysical earth, and the body to be returned to the physical earth. Death came to collect each soul, to guide it through the process of separation. In a sense, everything was reused in some form or another, recycled and made new. Nothing was created, and nothing was destroyed. The text even speculated that the souls were wiped clean and sent back to live life again. It was a balanced system. 

Demons broke this cycle entirely. They began as humans, living and dying as any other individual. Then their souls met with Death, but instead of walking with her through the veil where their energy would be released, they turned back or were prevented from moving on. They clung to their Chaos even while their physical body decayed. This is when another demon would collect the soul, take it to Hell, and carefully warp it into the newest abomination. The new demon then needed a human host for its twisted soul to walk the Continent again.

In breaking the cycle, the demons essentially only delayed the inevitable. One soul was not meant to exist for so many centuries. After subsisting for so long, the already damaged soul would decay into insanity and eventually collapse into nothingness if something wasn’t done to repair it. Their Chaos needed to be replenished, the original spark only able to support so many years of life. 

That was how the deals began. Originally, a bargain could be struck in which a favor was given in exchange for a shortened life span. When the terms of the deal came due, the demon absorbed the person’s extra Chaos for itself, thereby expanding its own lifespan and delaying the madness. 

Like most things do, the deals evolved from the aforementioned basics. Many still operated according to the original schema, a necessity for a demon’s continued existence. A few deals created new demons, and some had nothing to do with souls and Chaos at all. Like the one Jaskier offered for his honesty, Geralt supposed. Still some others were a favor in exchange for another favor. 

He wondered what Jaskier’s deal was, the one that turned a frightened young man into the demon Geralt knew. Did he live out his human years? Was he immediately turned into one, sans the years of torment and warping of Hell? He said the invasion of the Nords made him call out for a savior, for power. How was that desperate plea answered?

How much of his story did Geralt still not know? 

It was tempting to try summoning Jaskier back to the manor. There was a spell in the book. He could probably find the ingredients it called for in Jaskier’s hidden lab, and the book said anyone could perform the ritual because everyone has at least a spark of Chaos within them. But something held him back. 

It wasn’t that Jaskier said he would be with Ysemena. He wasn’t above admitting it would bring him petty joy to interrupt that particular soiree. 

But he wanted to take the night to become as informed as possible. He wasn’t sure when the potion would wear off or if there was more. This was his chance to research without Jaskier’s hovering influence.

 When he was finished with his first read through of the blue book, he plucked another from the shelf. It was about magical theory. It could be useful he supposed, but he quickly returned it in favor of finding another text more directly related to the topic at hand. Namely, learning everything a witcher needed to know to make an informed opinion about demons.

He was able to find two more books. He became so focused in his studying he failed to notice the proper passing of the time. He didn’t notice the hunger until his medallion began to vibrate against his chest. Looking at the window, he noticed the pink glow of a sunrise just beginning to appear against the stars.

The door to the library cracked open, and Jaskier appeared. He snapped his fingers and the buzzing of his medallion ceased.

“Here you are. What are you doing in the library so early in the morning?” He stepped lightly to the table and grabbed one of the books Geralt had collected. “How’d you find this old thing?”

“Your hellhound is a particularly adamant beast,” Geralt said dryly, and chucked the empty potion bottle at the demon’s head. Jaskier caught it easily with one hand. 

“I take it it worked then?” he grinned cheekily. “Philotimo’s always been a smart one.” 

The hellhound lifted its head off the rug, finally waking up to realize its master was home again. He ambled over to sit and lean against Jaskier’s side. His head was almost equal to the height of Jaskier’s shoulder. He lost a bit of the terrorizing effect when Geralt could actually see how much he acted like a pup. Then again, he did destroy three fleders on his own.

“I can see your demon beast and all the wards you have slammed all over the place if that’s what you mean.”

“Hmm,” Jaskier hummed. “Security measures. Can never be too safe after all. Humans might never show up here but that doesn’t mean another demon couldn’t follow me home. They’d love to find any number of the artifacts Lilit had me hide here. I have the magic tuned so I’m the only one that can see past the wards”

“Then why could I see them?” Geralt inquired.

“The potion had a few drops of my blood in it. More effective and lets you see more that way.”

“Right.” Geralt squinted his eyes at his companion. 

“Anyways, how did the reading go last night? Needed more, I gather? I suppose the musings of a young, bright eyed demon weren’t necessarily the research you were hoping for.”

“You talking about this?” Geralt brandished the old, tiny thing Jaskier had given him before leaving. Jaskier nodded. “Couldn’t read a word of it. Can’t say I’m fluent in Wozgor runes.”

“What?” Jaskier scrunched his nose. “It’s not in runes. Let me see.” He snatched the book up and examined it. Understanding dawned on his face and he grimaced. “So sorry about that. Forgot I didn’t apply a translation spell to it. I’ll get that taken care of by dinner.”

“Huh. What time is it?”

“Nearly dawn. You never answered my question earlier. Have you been in here all night?”

“Kept finding new books. When’s the potion going to wear off?”

He bit his lip. “Ummm, not sure really. Never had anyone use it before. I wasn’t exactly sure it would work. That’s why I hadn’t brought it up yet. I should think it would be wrapped up by the end of the day at least. Why don’t you go have a lie down and I’ll walk Roach for you this morning?” He grabbed Geralt by the shoulders and used the hold to manipulate Geralt towards his bedroom. “We’ll talk more later. I promise.”

“You realize I’m a witcher?”

“Yes, yes, witchers can go days without sleep and all that rot. I know . I’m a demon myself. Sleep is pretty optional for me. That doesn’t mean it’s not a nice luxury to have. Go enjoy your silken sheets and a cool breeze, and I’ll see you at a more respectable hour of the morning.”

“Cool breezes don’t exist here. Never been so damn hot in my life.”

“Of course that’s what you catch on to. Go to sleep, witcher.”

He insisted on watching Geralt climb into bed. With a snap, the sheets tucked themselves in around Geralt and felt about five degrees cooler. 

“Good night, Geralt.” 

The witcher grunted and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

The journal was a welcome distraction for a time- Jaskier had given him the translated version the next day as promised- especially because it detailed the time shortly after his transition into demonhood. He still smirked when he recalled that Jaskier’s human name had been Julian and was replaced with Dandelion of all things. 

Ysemena was the only person Geralt knew that called him such, but it was amusing to him that a demon was named after a flower. He couldn’t decide if it suited the slightly insane bard, who enjoyed the soft comforts of life but carried quite a dark aspect to himself. The journal contained a three-page-long rant about wanting to be called Buttercup instead, that at least the flower was poisonous whilst being pretty. But the other demons latched onto Dandelion. Jaskier had decided it was just to irritate him, and that the demons claimed it was because he liked to fly about like the seeds of a dandelion. 

This morning, Jaskier joined Geralt and Roach for their morning ride, ambling beside the pair like he did while they journeyed the Continent. He was prattling on about an adventure he had with Vesemir shortly after they first met, back when the older witcher thought Jaskier was human too. Geralt had to confess he was only half listening to the tale which involved a greased piglet, a ring, and an unfortunate noble lad that was eaten by a swamp creature that wandered to close whilst diving for the slippery hog.

“And I’m sure that’s exactly how it happened, wasn’t it, Buttercup,” he said just to see the demon’s reaction. He wasn’t disappointed. He had to twist his torso to look at Jaskier’s wide open jaw and blinking eyes. He had stopped dead in his tracks behind Roach. “I’ve heard you’ll catch flies that way.” 

Jaskier clenched his mouth shut and flailed his arms towards the sky. “You actually read it!”

“That is generally what one does with a diary. And I have to say I have plenty of time on my hands.” He nudged Roach’s flank and she resumed her slow amble across the path. 

“A diary! Try an incredibly accurate and detailed historical document.” 

“It’s a diary. And I could call you Julian instead?”

He actually glared. “Absolutely not. I haven’t been called that in over 400 years, and I’m perfectly content to let it stay that way.”

“Pretty strong reaction for someone who wanted to be called Buttercup and somehow ended up as Dandelion and Jaskier.” 

Jaskier grumbled under his breath. “Didn’t catch that,” Geralt teased. 

“They’re all related!’ he said exasperatedly. “Jaskier and Buttercup. It’s just a translation. Lilit picked Jaskier for me, and it translates to Buttercup in Common. Everyone just started calling me Dandelion instead. Said it was a better name because I’m whimsical and a dandy. They even had the audacity to say I wasn’t a dangerous demon!

“Well piss on them because buttercups are pretty and poisonous, and so am I. Bastard’s aren’t going to know what hit them when the war starts. Just because I like to work more subtly than them and their heavy handed deals. See how many people want to make contracts with you when you are sicking hell hounds on them after 10 years. Not very many, let me tell you,” he huffed. “Brutes with no class, the lot of them.”

Geralt snorted at him. “You’re ridiculous.” 

“I am not!” Geralt didn’t need to see him to know his hands were plastered to his hips, possibly one hand on a hip with a finger pointing at Geralt’s back. “There is some degree of trust that needs to be had to build a reliable reputation as a demon. Eeking around the edges and loopholes of a deal just makes you look non-credible. Hardly a successful image for one whose continued existence depends on making new deals. They’ll realize I’m right eventually. Lilit agrees with me.”

“Who actually trusts a demon?”

“I was hoping you.”Jaskier had the nerve to sound wounded. Geralt turned Roach around. The demon’s hands were on his hips (ha! He was right) but his shoulders were dropped and his head was tilted down. Geralt could still see pearly white teeth gnawing on his lower lip.

“You don’t trust me yet either, or else I wouldn’t be here. You said so yourself. You built our friendship around a lie and secrets, manipulated me at every turn. The trust I had in you is broken.” 

“So you finally admit we’re friends?” He sounded almost hopeful. Geralt felt slightly guilty about crushing that hope. 

“Maybe we were once.” He ignored the sharp protest. “But Jaskier, I refused to be cooped up here much longer. I will find a way out if you don’t let me fucking go. You’re holding me fucking hostage after years of playing me like a pawn, and that won’t be forgiven easily.”

“Not easily means there’s a chance you will.” Blue eyes hardened, and his chin jutted upwards. “I will make you trust me again, and you will call me your friend.”

Geralt shook his head in amazement. “Get me home, and I suppose we can start to talk about it.”

---

 

The monotony of the island was grating fiercely on Geralt’s nerves. He wanted… needed to hit something. It was going to be Jaskier’s head if he didn’t start giving Geralt more to work with. Everything was too calm, too peaceful, too routine: wake up, exercise Roach, eat lunch, visit the basement baths or train (sans weapons because those were still hidden), eat dinner, sleep, repeat. Day in and day out. 

Even the weather was beginning to appear like it was acting on a loop. Four days of rain, one or two without, and then another four days of rain. About every other cycle came with a violent storm, thunder and lightning and violent winds. It was unsettling to realize.

Any attempt at learning how to combat demons or learning anything more than what he found in the hidden books or diary were met with deflections For a man that wanted Geralt to trust him, Jaskier had a baffling way of showing it. 

As an experiment, he had mentioned wanting to go for an actual run with Roach. He wanted to see how that request would be met. The bastard created a whole training ground whilst Geralt slept. It proved to Geralt that while Jaskier could give Geralt anything he asked for, like the seeing potion, he was choosing not to. 

He began to ask for more. Expensive brews and liquors, artisanal chocolates, new tack for Roach, better armor, a rare book about monsters. Their daily meals, already more elaborate than Geralt normally could afford, escalated to lavish feasts. Jaskier even attempted to gift him the illusion of an evening companion once. Red curls and voluptuous curls, he made sure to include all of Geralt’s favorite points. But she didn’t speak and while he could touch her, he couldn’t bring himself to. The entire concept of an artificial companion was too strange. He awkwardly left her in the hallway, unable to pleasure himself or even sleep with her in the room.

It seemed as though Jaskier was attempting to placate the witcher. Or lure him in with ‘the finer things’ of life. He didn’t know Geralt as well as he thought if he actually believed this act would suddenly endear him to Geralt. 

So imagine his surprise when Jaskier suddenly left the manor mid afternoon after a strange quake shook the manor. When he returned, he brought with him an angry and confused Eskel.

Chapter Text

“Geralt,” Eskel nodded at him. “Jaskier, I believe you promised us a private room to speak in.”

The demon nodded. “Geralt’s bedroom should suffice. I have business on the Continent I need to attend to, so you have the place to yourselves.”

“Take your dog with you,” Geralt said. “No point in you not being here if you leave him as your spy.”

Jaskier gave an exasperated sigh and threw up his hands. “Alright, alright. Have fun boys. I’ll be back in a few hours.” He opened a portal, and Geralt discerned the image of The Eager Thighs Brothel in the background. He heard the clacking of Philotimo’s nails on the hardwood as he followed Jaskier. Then the streets of Vizima disappeared silently as the portal closed.

“Alone with you at last,” Eskel said and threw something at him. Geralt caught it on reflex and stared down at the new medallion in his hand. “Put it on. We had Triss design it as a sort of shielding charm. She wasn’t positive it would actually work against a demon knight’s magic, but it’s better than nothing.”

“Hmm. C’mon, room’s this way.” He jerked his thumb in the general direction of his chambers, and the two began their journey. “Where’d you learn he’s a demon knight? He’s never said anything about their being different types.”

“Well, you’ve been gone for nearly two years, Geralt. We’ve had a bit of time to do our research.” 

“What?” Geralt snapped to look at Eskel. “No, it’s only been a few months. Six at the most.”

Eskel shook his head. “When you didn’t come home last winter, we thought you were just having fun with your bard after a cheery reunion. Then when we asked around in the spring, no one had seen you, either of you. We searched the whole summer, but nothing really came up. Nothing except the banquet in Cintra. We found out about your child surprise too. She was born last year. Name’s Ciri by the way. Convincing Calanthe we weren’t coming for her grandkid and actually leaving again was a mess and a half, by the way. Lambert says you owe us a round or five at the tavern. Anyways, your trail was completely cold after that night.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. I don’t exactly have a calendar, but I think I would notice two years of my life going by.”

“I don’t know, Geralt. I’m not a master of magic. But it’s 1251. The last time anyone saw you was Pavetta‘s banquet in 1249. When we found out your bard went missing with you that night, we took all the info we could get to Vesemir. We figured foul play of some kind. You should have seen his face when we gave him your bard’s aliases. We knew you called him Jaskier, but once he heard Dandelion… it was like he had seen a ghost.”

“Yes,” Geralt murmured. “Jaskier had mentioned they worked together in the past.”

“Apparently they traveled together for a while as well. Vesemir said he thought they were friends, but then you came to Kaer Morhen. That’s when Jaskier revealed why he was really there. Vesemir tossed him out when he realized he was a demon and spent the next fifty years tracking down as much information on the bastards as he could and doing his best to keep you apart. We spent the whole winter going through every book and scrap of paper he had. We recruited Triss this spring once we realized getting you away from him was going to be a bastard of an ordeal.” 

“And what was the plan? You’re probably stuck here with me now. According to him we’re across the Great Sea on an island. Only way on or off is through one of his portals.”

At this Eskel boldly brandished a… scrap of leather? Geralt cocked an eyebrow. “Well with any luck, Triss will be able to find us with this tracking charm,” he said.

“Doesn’t look like magic.” Geralt said sarcastically. 

“Exactly. It had to be something he wouldn’t suspect. If he asked, I was going to say it was a new tie for your hair. Figured after two years yours was probably destroyed.”

“But it hasn’t been two years. The banquet was a few months ago.” Geralt reiterated.

“We’ll have to ask Triss. How long was he gone when we summoned him to Kaer Morhen?” Eskel inquired.

“You summoned him? To Kaer Morhen?”

“We summoned him into a devil’s trap! One of the books had the instructions for different ones with various levels of power. We even went with the strongest one. It’s a pentagram you paint on the floor or ceiling. They can walk in, but they can’t get out. He wasn’t going anywhere until we had a finalized contract.”

And you made a contract with him? Who gave you lot that brilliant idea?” Fools, Geralt thought bitterly. What had they bargained away in exchange for bringing Eskel here? What could they possibly have that Jaskier would want? And for what? A plan that relied a fuck load of maybes.

“It was Lambert’s idea at first. We thought the same thing as you do- that it was crazy-, but then Triss thought about it and pointed out he was right. We were never going to find you without Jaskier. Either he had to bring you back, which was the lesser likely option, or he would need to bring one of us to you and we’d figure it out from there. The contract gave us parameters he had to work within, gave us a fighting chance.” 

“So you’re winging it.” Geralt said, making sure to let how entirely dumb he thought this plan was to slip into his voice.

“Yeah basically.” Eskel laughed. “We’re putting a lot of trust in Triss right now. She made sure the contract was as iron clad as she could get. She and Vesemir spent the whole night negotiating and editing the damn thing.”

“Did you bother with a plan B?” Geralt inquired. 

“Half of one. If Triss can’t get to us with her own portal, we’ll just have to put our combined witcher skills to use and push him into our own devil’s trap here somewhere.”

Geralt pinched his nose. “He can toss us around the room with the wave of a hand and pin us to the wall with a snap. We aren’t going to get close enough to push him into anything.”

“Then we get sneaky. Where is his bedroom? We can put it under the bed.”

Melitele’s tits. This was what they came up with with three brains working together over the entire winter. 

“He’s a demon. I don’t know if he even uses the damn bed. And that’s if we could even put it there without him noticing. And what are we going to do with him if we miraculously catch him in one?”

“Force him to let us go. We all go free or no one does.”

Geralt really doubted the functionality of this plan. However… “He has a secret study for research and whatever the hell else a bored demon does. There’s a desk for writing at. We might be able to hide something on the bottom of the chair.”

“Lead the way then brother o’mine.”

They set out and made sure to listen closely for signs of any other occupant in the house. But Jaskier and his hellhound stayed gone. When Geralt moved the idol on the shelf, Eskel muttered a quiet, “Creepy.”

It was then Geralt realized something of his own. “What the hell are we supposed to paint this trap with?” 

“Triss said they were most effective when made with blood. At Kaer Morhen, we used a deer we caught for dinner. Figured if nothing else, we could stand to poke a finger if we couldn’t find ink of any kind. And if we do find some, which I imagine is quite likely in a study, we can mix a few drops of blood in with the ink. We don’t know for sure how powerful he is. Might need all the strength we can get.”

And this was his rescue team. 

In the end, they do use the pin hidden as part of Eskel’s belt buckle to prick their finger tips and add a few drops of blood to the inkwell they nicked from the desk. Once the sigil was laid out on the underside of the chair, Eskel questioned, “How likely is he to know that we came in here?” 

Geralt shrugged. “Chances are good that he’ll notice something out of place, and he knows I know about the study. I’ve been through the potions cabinet down here before.” 

“Anything useful in there?”

“Odds and ends. Not sure what most of the concoctions are.”

“Hmm. We need a reason for him to think we came down here. Write out a decoy plan on some parchment. We can half burn it in the fire place and leave just enough for him to find it.”

Eskel read the incredulous look on Geralt’s face. “The books weren’t sure if they had super senses or not. He might be able to smell it.”

Geralt snickered. As if Jaskier had super senses. “I doubt he could, but Philotimo might be able to smell us down here. That hellhound is smarter than any mutt has a right to be.” 

“A hellhound? You mentioned a dog before…”

“Supernatural beast. Looks like a giant black jackal. Sharp teeth, red eyes. Also invisible. They have some sort of psychic connection with each other, so he would be able to tell Jaskier we were messing around with stuff, I suppose.”

“Then I was half right. Sit in the chair, write some fake shit, and we’ll burn it. Give reason for the ink and the chair to be disturbed.”

After they finished their plan, riddled with holes though it may be, they went out to sit with Roach and wait. Either Triss would get them out of here quickly, or they would wait for the fallout of Jaskier coming home to a trap.

Chapter Text

Time seemed to progress at a crawl. Geralt alternated between pacing and failing in attempts at meditation. This is a terrible plan. If Triss was coming for them, she should have been here by now. And who says Jaskier is even going to sit in that blasted chair anyways? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. 

Eskel appeared to feel the same tension. He fiddled with a dagger and any attempt at conversation fell flat as the two witchers lingered in the stable. Even Roach scuffed at the ground with her hooves and repeatedly tossed her head. 

If Jaskier didn’t come back soon, the waiting might just finish Geralt off first. 

It was perhaps his... fifth? sixth?... who cares? attempt at calming himself, when he began to feel as though they were being watched. An unknown pressure seemed to settle on the back of his neck. He cleared his throat to catch Eskel’s attention. When the other’s amber eyes landed on him, Geralt tapped the medallion that sat calmly on his chest, the gesture an unspoken notice to be alert, that something was present. 

“I’m going to get some ale. Want anything?” Geralt asked. A high, whimsical voice interrupted before Eskel could answer. 

“No need for paranoia or searching the shadows, boys. I’m right here.” A woman stepped through the barn door. She was short, her head leveling with Geralt’s chest, with white blonde hair and stunning sapphire-blue eyes. Her high-necked, white dress clung to subtle curves, and her face was beautiful both in features and in the cosmetics she wore. It was the fierceness in her gaze, however, which Geralt found himself most drawn to. Despite the casual stance she held- hands clasped at her stomach, head tilted and hips cocked- he could sense the otherworldly power that emanated from within her. She radiated ‘sorceress’ or perhaps the more likely option, ‘demon.’

“And who are you?” Eskel asked, settling into a fighting ready stance, both hands near his weapons but not quite touching them.

She looked amused at his presumption. “A friend of sorts.” 

“You’re not the first demon to say that to me,” Geralt commented. “And I doubt you’ll be the first to actually follow through on what it means.”

Her eyes flashed to black with a sadistic grin. “Well well, I suppose you are smarter than you look. You’re the whole package. A bit of brain to go with that brawn, and  Jaskier left out what a gorgeous face you have.  What gave me away?”

“No one else would be able to find us here. Humans can’t cross the Great Sea, and Jaskier has this place too heavily warded against outsiders. So either you have the power to circumvent them, or you’ve been here before. Only people able to do that would be other demons.”

“Humans can’t cross the Great Sea? What has that go to do with…?” She blinked and then laughed. “You mean he didn’t tell you where you really are? I knew he was fond of this island when we were training, and used it as his model for building this place, but really. I suppose I always knew Jaskier was an idiot. He’s outdone himself this time.”

“Care to share the joke?” Eskel said calmly. Geralt noticed he kept his hands near his weapons, prepared for anything. Geralt didn’t have the heart to tell him how pointless it likely was. If her powers were equal to Jaskiers, they would be her playthings before he could pull the blade from its sheath. 

“You’re in Hell, darlings.” Her amusement provided the perfect foil to Geralt’s dread. And honestly, he shouldn’t be surprised anymore. How didn’t he see this one coming? It should have been obvious. Hell. For fucks sake.

“Why are you here? Why do you care if we stay or not?” Geralt inquired. 

“Like I said, I’m a friend. You can’t fulfill your role stuck here in Jaskier’s private domain. You’re needed on the Continent.”

“And you’re going to take us there? What’s the price?”

“I will. I have no dramatic demands of you. I just need you to forgive Jaskier for being a fool. He’ll find you again eventually, even with that pendant hanging from your neck. You’ll need each other, and I need you to accept him as your companion when he comes to you.”

“That isn’t something I can promise.” 

She rolled her eyes. “You needn’t be genuine for my sake. Just let him follow you when he reemerges. Forgiveness is really just a bonus. Might also have the added benefit of convincing him not to kill me when he eventually finds me as well.”

“And is that how this benefits you? You didn’t really mention that part.” Eskel demanded.

Her face settled into a glare. “I’ve given my answer. Now, you can accept my help to get back to the Continent, or you can stay here and wait for Jaskier’s response to your hair brained scheme I found in the house. He won’t agree to letting you go. Not willingly.”

“I don’t trust you.” Geralt warned her.

“And you shouldn’t. Shall we go White Wolf? He’ll be back anytime.”

The demon and the witcher evaluated each other for a moment. Eskel looked to Geralt for his decision. 

“What do I call my rescuer?” Geralt finally spoke.

“Laurel will do for now.” A piece of parchment appeared in her hand. “Read this quickly and sign it. It will bind us both to completing the terms of our arrangement.”

Eskel took the document before Geralt moved for it. He skimmed the document and then held out his hand for a quill. “A few changes first. Some wording needs to be clearer in section 4a, points three and five. Also, I’m completely striking out section six. That wasn’t agreed to.”

She thrust a quill at the outreached palm. “Make it quick, witcher. I can’t say I want to be standing here when Jaskier arrives. I plan to be far away when he realizes you two made a jailbreak.”

“Section 5b says you’ll return Geralt’s witcher equipment to him. Where is it?” Geralt reads the text over Eskel’s shoulder, and damn, he was right. Geralt had almost given up on getting his own things back; he thought he’d need to have new weapons forged and new armor crafted. The thought of getting the originals back… well he was looking forward to it.

“Jaskier has them locked away in a vault on the Continent. I’ll have to get those after I send you home. And he’s going to know I was the one to go get them, which means he will then know I’m the one who busted you out of here. Which I want him to find out later rather than sooner. He will be on a warpath when he realizes it was one of his own that rescued you both. So if you are quite finished…?”

Eskel hmms. “I suppose that is as tight as I can make it on short notice. Sign it, Geralt, and let’s get the… well I’d say get the hell out of here, but I suppose we’re trying to get the witchers out of hell.”

Geralt shook his head, re-skimmed the contract, and signed. A few seconds and a portal later, he stood in the courtyard at Kaer Morhen, Eskel and Roach at his side. He took a deep breath of fresh, clean, arid mountain air. It was good to be home.