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Geralt wakes up warm, peaceful, and utterly content, which is how he knows that something is severely wrong.

The source of the warmth, at least, is immediately evident: someone is asleep in the bed alongside him, nestled into his side and entirely obscured underneath a stack of blankets. Geralt breathes in – buttercups and the worn-in scent of clean clothes, it’s Jaskier, he’d know him blind – and the recognition is comforting for a split second, until he remembers the fact that Jaskier wasn’t with him when he fell asleep.

Jaskier wasn’t anywhere near him. Jaskier, last Geralt saw him, was on a dragon’s mountain, looking entirely tragic and entirely as young as he is, and now, months later, is, for all Geralt knows, as likely dead as he is warming some married noblewoman’s bed.

The thought twists unpleasantly. Geralt ignores it in favor of sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed to attempt to divine something useful about his surroundings.

For a trap, Geralt’s initial and prevailing impression is one of general comfort. It’s a one-room dwelling, the bed where he finds himself set in an opposing corner from a wooden table, the whole place arranged around a fireplace that holds only embers. Not particularly luxurious, not close to particularly luxurious, but there are furs and quilts and the odd brightly coloured trinket strewn about. Someone lives here, and they have made it their own.

If Geralt listens, he can hear water in the distance. Can practically taste the salt in the air.

Not a very good trap. He’s not even restrained. No guards in sight. He can’t recall being physically brought to this place, no matter how he tries. So: magic, then. Obvious conclusion. Someone has transported him here, and they’ve brought Jaskier along too, clearly still under the mistaken impression that they’ve been travelling together when they haven’t for months, not now that Geralt’s been on the run from Nilfgaard with-

“Ciri,” he realizes out loud, and it comes out like the first desperate breath after a blow, disbelief that it took this long for him to remember mixed with the realization that there’s not even the faintest trace of Ciri anywhere he can sense.

“Ciri!” he barks, calling out this time, in case his senses are mistaken. They aren’t. He looks around in vain for his swords – nowhere; fine, he thinks, his lip curling, if whoever’s brought him here has touched Ciri he’ll tear them apart with his bare hands – and only peripherally registers the noise of Jaskier stirring behind him, the bed dipping as Jasker pulls himself up to his knees. He will want to hear precisely nothing that Geralt has to say. There is nothing that Geralt could possibly say to him anyway, not after the way they parted. He’ll get them out of here, minimize the amount Jaskier has to be in his presence, and be done with the whole affair. Then-

“Good morning, my dearest,” Jaskier says, voice bright, if still hazy with the remnants of sleep. “You’re looking rather brooding and grumpily handsome today, for a change.”

He softens the sarcasm by dropping a kiss to the top of Geralt’s head like it’s nothing, and Geralt, utterly confused, turns to either glare at him or make sure he hasn’t been hit on the head. It doesn’t end up mattering, because he catches sight of Jaskier for the first time and, in one swift motion, is on his feet, gripping Jaskier’s neck and pinning him one-handed to the nearest wall.

Months, it’s been, since they’ve seen each other. Not nearly long enough for Jaskier to have changed this much. He’s older, decades older, than Geralt’s- than the Jaskier he left on the mountaintop. His hair’s still doing the stupid swoopy thing it does, but it’s speckled grey, more than it could’ve gotten since they parted, and he’s got a beard – well groomed, because Jaskier’s never not – and laughter lines creasing the corners of his eyes. Those are particularly pronounced, given that he’s half laughing now, his whole face crinkling into a lazy and vaguely lecherous grin, even with Geralt crushing his windpipe.

“Eager, aren’t we?”

It sounds exactly like him. An unnervingly accurate illusion, save for the age.

“What are you?” Geralt snarls, then, upon reflection, “And what am I doing here?”

The false Jaskier makes a face, squirming against Geralt’s grip. Even his smell is familiar, even the way he blinks. “Sorry, what?”

Geralt squeezes. He can feel not-Jaskier swallow, hard, against the palm of his hand.

“Right, okay,” not-Jaskier says, a little breathily, now. “Answers, in order: ‘Jaskier, widely renowned bard and your beloved companion’ and ‘currently holding me against a wall in what I initially assumed was the promising beginning to a morning romp but am rapidly realizing may be a teensy-weensy misunderstanding’.” He lifts a hand, tugs at Geralt’s fingers in a pointless attempt to gain breathing room. “Are you alright?”

Geralt could snap his neck in a second, less, and he’s asking if Geralt’s alright.

“You’re old,” he grits out.

Not-Jaskier looks scandalized, mouth dropping open into a perfect O. “There’s no need to be rude ,” he complains, voice scaling up about three octaves, nearly musically, the way it does when he’s offended. “It’s certainly nothing you haven’t seen before, Mr. ‘I went grey before my voice dropped’.”

He tilts his head, considering, as if the thought’s just occurred to him. “What did you sound like before your voice dropped? Or were you just a gravelly-voiced tiny child, I can’t decide if that’s horrifying or adorable-”

Death, monsters, and bards not knowing when to shut the fuck up.

Geralt cuts him off. “You weren’t old before.”

“How philosophical of you, darling,” not-Jaskier says idly, then, when Geralt raises his arm, lifting him further up, he backtracks hastily, toes scrambling for purchase on the ground, “Ah, ah, let’s not- do you look younger? Not the point, sorry, would you mind letting go of me so I can-”

“Talk,” Geralt orders. He does not let go.

Not-Jaskier looks impatient. Still not scared. “Look, you’re apparently not the Geralt with whom I went to bed, and I suppose I’m to understand that from your perspective, I’m not the Jaskier with whom you went to bed either, right?”

“We didn’t-” Geralt starts, then snaps his mouth shut.

“Right,” not-Jaskier says, in the way he thinks is placating and usually only emerges when he’s trying to talk his way out of something he’s talked himself into. He sounds exactly like that, like the real Jaskier. “Right, so you think I’m an imposter, which is understandable, but I can assure you that I’m me, and based on your extremely impressive grip strength you appear to be you, meaning that this-” He gestures vaguely at Geralt’s grip on him, “is simply a result of you ending up in our cottage when you aren’t supposed to be here, which means we’re both equally confused, which means that we,” he taps Geralt’s wrist, triumphant, “are on the same side.”

He looks quite proud of himself for putting it together, continues without even pausing for breath. Also exactly like the real Jaskier. “So, Geralt, why don’t you quit trying to strangle me, I’ll fetch us some tea, and we can figure this out together, how does that sound?”

There’s a frankly horrifying amount to digest, there – ‘our cottage’, he said, which, nope, not touching that with a ten foot pole – but Geralt settles on the obvious.

“I wake you with a hand around your throat and you’re offering me tea?”

“Well, it’s only you,” not-Jaskier shrugs, like that has any right to be a remotely comforting sentiment, utterly and unconditionally trusting of Geralt of all people, beyond all reason.

Fuck, it really is him.

Which means-

Which means-

“Hm,” Geralt grunts, then lets go of Jaskier’s neck, turns, and walks out of the cottage.

---

Geralt was right about the water – he strides out the door and finds himself atop a grassy cliff, overlooking the sea. There’s a pronounced chill on the wind, the sort that promises winter, and it whips Geralt’s hair into his face, undoing any tenuous order it might have had as he steps closer to the cliff’s edge.

He’s nowhere that he recognizes. There’s what appears to be a small village at the bottom of the cliff, clustered little houses, spackled white like the cottage behind Geralt. There’s a winding path leading down, several similarly painted homes dotted alongside it, so Geralt follows it. He feels unsettled without his swords, but no danger presents itself. No monsters. Not even the faintest traces of monsters.

He slows his steps when he comes across a woman on the path. She’s dressed simply, standing outside one of the little houses and scattering feed for hens while a child dances around her skirts, high-pitched giggling that Geralt can hear from a distance.

He means to veer off the path and find an alternate route – best case, this woman will clutch her child and run inside her house at the sight of him, worse case, she’s some nefarious creature planted by whatever brought Geralt to whatever this place is – but the woman catches sight of him, waves, and smiles.

“Morning, Geralt,” she calls, friendly. “You’re looking well today, did you do something to your hair?”

Geralt stares.

He… would have been more comfortable if she was a nefarious creature.

He forces himself to take a step closer. This woman, if she is what she appears, seems to know him, same as the Jaskier back at the cottage. Not something to trust, but perhaps something useful.

He doesn’t dare ask if she’s seen Ciri directly – the fewer people know of her existence, the better. “Nilfgaardians,” he says instead, and the woman doesn’t react properly to that either, tossing another handful of feed to her chickens, unconcerned.

“What about them?”

“Where are they?”

“Erm…” she looks confused. “Nilfgaard, I’d assume?”

Her daughter has been skipping towards Geralt, making her way across the path and right up to him, close enough that she touches the hem of his shirt and tugs. “You’re wearing black?” she asks.

“Yes,” Geralt says. He speaks softly so he won’t frighten the child as is wont to happen, not that she looks remotely scared. She looks, more than anything, bemused, like his outfit is funny somehow.

Her mother extends a hand, beckoning. “Don’t bother Geralt, Sofija, they’re waiting for him, come along.”

‘They’, when Geralt continues down the path, coming to the base of the cliff and what appears to be a small harbour, turn out to be a dozen or so fisherfolk, all with sun-beaten skin and sea-soaked clothes, hauling in full nets and crates from a small hoard of docked sailboats.

One man, perhaps in his forties, looks up to wipe his brow and catches sight of Geralt. “Ah, decided to come help, has he?” he calls, grinning as he straightens up to meet Geralt’s eyes. It draws the attention of the others in his company, earns Geralt a chorus of “Took your time!” and “He’ll still haul more than you, Niklas,” all punctuated with laughter.

The first man who spoke claps Geralt on the back on his way past, and Geralt stiffens, ready to thwart the next blow when it comes, to hit back; only realizes after that it was the sort of comradely gesture he’s only ever received from Jaskier or within the walls of Kaer Morhen.

“Here you are, then-” Geralt turns just in time to have one of the wooden crates thrust into his arms. It’s some sort of trap, judging by the lobster peering up at him through the slats.

“I’m not,” he starts, then thinks better of it. He shuts his mouth, grits his teeth, and joins the trail of people carrying crates like his away from the shore.

It’s hard, toiling work, for anyone but him. He can carry as much in one trip as four of the others, so Geralt does, helps with hauling nets of fish as the fisherfolk joke and even, at one point, sing in unison to some shanty that Geralt doesn’t recognize.

They all know him, here. Geralt gets the impression that this, him helping with the fishing, is a daily occurrence in these people’s minds, and isn’t that just fantastic, an entire fucking village full of people who seem to have taken their cues from Jaskier and decided to both stop being afraid of him – misguided – and to go so far as to joke around with him – deeply, deeply misguided.

There is no talk of war. No mention or even hint of a thought of Ciri or monsters or witchers or- anything. Even when Geralt leaves the villagers and walks along the beach where the pebbles give way to sand and the sea is as calm as a pond, scarcely a wave to speak of, it is like no illusion that he has ever encountered, beyond even Yennefer’s abilities.

It’s real. All of it, here, is real.

He recognizes the footsteps as Jaskier’s as he’s approaching from down the beach. Doesn’t turn to watch him draw near, and doesn’t react as Jaskier sits down next to him. Geralt sits too.

Jaskier digs his toes into the sand, and for a few moments, they sit in silence.

“So, just checking, we’ve both put together at this point that you’re from the past, have we?” Jaskier asks eventually.

“Hm,” Geralt agrees. It’s the only conclusion that fits.

“Right,” Jaskier says. “Fantastic. Very cool and normal. Any idea how this happened?”

Geralt gives him a look, obviously not , because if he had any idea why he was here, he’d be gone by now.

“Right,” Jaskier says again. “And you’ve accepted that no one here is embroiled in a sinister and far reaching conspiracy to kill you?”

“Would be a first,” Geralt says, dry, and it makes Jaskier grin, and the whole thing, the two of them sitting here caught up in some bullshit new disaster, is so familiar that it hurts.

Jaskier looks good, Geralt realizes with a pang. Not- he’s handsome, obviously, Jaskier’s always been objectively handsome, and the beard does wonders for making him look like an actual adult, but it’s more than that. He looks happy , rested and clean and utterly relaxed as he smiles at Geralt, not a single trace of the betrayal that was on his face the last time Geralt saw him in his own time.

Geralt thinks of Jaskier at his shoulder the way he is now, thinks of why don’t we leave tomorrow and we could head for the coast and the way Jaskier’s heart was racing as he worked up the nerve to ask; thinks of himself taking the words and everything behind them and throwing them in Jaskier’s face.

He has forfeited, completely and deliberately, any dubious right he had to lay claim to the way Jaskier is smiling at him now.

And yet, in his future, Jaskier is here.

“Come talk somewhere warmer?” Jaskier offers.

Geralt swallows his guilt, pushes to his feet, and follows.

---

Tendrils of steam from the tea climb into the air, disappearing before they reach the roof of the cottage.

“Ciri,” Geralt says, at once, because he can trust Jaskier with her existence, he knows that much.

“Safe,” Jaskier says, setting down two cups of tea and perching on the edge of the table. “Safe, happy, kind and noble and entirely more lethal than you, which you’re, frankly, weirdly proud of, and- oh, yeah, now he smiles, beautiful coastal love nest with the stunningly handsome bard, nothing, but finds out about his murder daughter and he’s thrilled. It would be heartwarming, truly, if I weren’t so wounded.”

He doesn’t sound wounded. He sounds teasing, which, what else is new, but he sounds fond as well, which-

“You know her,” Geralt says, a question.

“Yes,” Jaskier nods, stirring approximately a ton of sugar into his own tea. “Of course I-” He breaks off abruptly, the tip of his tongue poking out of his mouth as he thinks. “Would it horribly fuck up everything if I tell you about the past, I wonder? Or- my past, your future?” He rambles on without bothering to give Geralt a chance to answer. “Because you might act differently if you know what’s to come, which would make it not come in the first place, although then we’d never have this conversation in which I tell you what’s to come, so we’d wind up trapped in some sort of recursive… time… foldy thing?” He gestures with his spoon, winds up flicking a wrinkled, wet leaf at Geralt’s face.

Geralt wipes it off with the back of his hand, too used to Jaskier’s bullshit to bother with more than a half-assed dirty look. “How did I get here?” he asks instead. If whatever brought him here doesn’t want him fucking with time, it shouldn’t have fucked with his.

“By ‘I’, do you mean-”

“Me,” Geralt says, then, only belatedly realizing the potential dual meanings of his question, “Currently. Not your me.”

“You’re him and he’s you, love,” Jaskier says, not missing a beat; then, “Again, see, you did this earlier, too, you winced when I called you lo-”

“Don’t,” Geralt cuts him off, curt.

The ensuing silence sinks between them like a stone.

They woke up curled in bed together. Jaskier called him ‘dearest’, now ‘love’. Even for him, with his stubborn disregard for normal boundaries, that is more than he’d have dared.

“You said ‘our cottage’,” Geralt says.

“Yes,” Jaskier says, then, slowly, “When you’re from, you and I are not yet…”

Geralt shakes his head, throat strangely dry.

“Ah,” Jaskier says, and it’s wholly written on his face as his mind is racing, the way everything he feels is. “So this is all- right, so, yeah, I can understand how this might be disconcerting to you.”

Disconcerting, Geralt thinks, is certainly one word for the realization that he’s apparently shacked up with his bard and retired to a cottage by the beach, yeah. He didn’t think Jaskier was one for understatement.

Jaskier keeps talking, something deliberate about how cheerfully casual he sounds. “Well, worry not, we’re excellent in bed and as much as it pains my prodigious sense of modesty to say it, observation would suggest that you positively dote on me. You – my you, I mean – seem altogether very happy here, although I suppose you never really know, but I’m quite the expert on interpreting your silences and facial expressions by this point. I considered writing it down, actually, a sort of translation manual for future students of mine and companions of yours, but you forbade-”

“Roach,” Geralt interrupts, because he knows from experience that Jaskier will slip into a monologue with no prompting, and Geralt doesn’t have the time, cannot allow himself to slip into bickering and pretending that any of this is normal.

“It’s Jaskier,” Jaskier says. “Julian, if you’re feeling-”

“My horse, Jaskier,” Geralt says, impatient. “Where is she?”

“Er,” Jaskier scratches the back of his neck, making a face. “How to put this delicately- so, Roach lived to a ripe old age and is now prancing contentedly around the heavens with all the other ghost horsies.”

“Horsies,” Geralt echoes, flatly, and Jaskier sighs.

“Look, there’s no good way to tell a man his horse has kicked the bucket, I followed my gut.”

Geralt takes a moment to mourn for the latest Roach; though, he realizes, if he’s as far in the future as would be suggested by Jaskier’s appearance, odds are he hasn’t actually met the Roach that Jaskier is talking about. Which means that he should probably also be mourning the Roach he does remember, and all intervening Roaches.

This time shit is hurting his head.

“A different horse, then,” he presses on, determined.

“There aren’t any,” Jaskier says, then, at the incredulous look that Geralt gives him, “It’s a small island, more of an isle, really, this is the only village. The traders will sail in from the continent at winter’s end and usually anyone who wishes to leave goes then- where are you going?”

Geralt’s already out of his seat, tea untouched and abandoned on the table. “I’m not sitting here and waiting for whatever sent me to reveal itself.”

“So, what, your plan is to go for a stroll and happen upon a conveniently located deus ex machina, is that it?” Jaskier says, all snippy. His attitude is, as usual, unhelpful. Geralt heads for the door. “You can’t walk anywhere from here, you stubborn- Geralt .”

Geralt gets all of two seconds of blessed silence once he’s out of the cottage before Jaskier is scurrying after him.

“What the fuck exactly do you think ‘island’ means, I’d so just love to know.”

“I’ll get a boat,” Geralt says, without breaking his stride.

“Right, because it’s not like the humble fisherfolk use those for their livelihoods, or anything,” Jaskier calls from a few paces back, then, because he wasn’t joking about being able to interpret Geralt’s silences, “Geralt, you are not stealing someone’s boat.”

He most definitely is. “Apologize to them for me,” Geralt says.

“Oh, no, no no no, not even close to happening,” Jaskier orders, sounding slightly out of breath with the effort it’s taking to keep speed with Geralt down the winding path. “If you think I won’t follow you you’re sorely mistaken.”

“Jaskier,” Geralt warns. A mistake, because now Jaskier jumps on the opportunity to elaborate on his threat.

“I will,” Jaskier says, “I’ll follow you anywhere and I won’t shut up the whole entire time and, I warn you, I have a tendency to get violently seasick. Violently, Geralt.”

Geralt stops in his tracks, wheeling around just abruptly enough that Jaskier walks straight into him, and then they’re nose to nose.

“You’re supposed to get less annoying with age, bard,” he snaps.

“Artists thrive on the subversion of expectations, witcher,” Jaskier says, far more grandly than the statement warrants. “The bucking of convention, the forging of a brave new path forward.” He tilts his head, waves a hand dismissively. “Metaphorically, I mean. There is no real path, because, cannot emphasize enough, literal island.”

Geralt looks skyward, trying not to snap. “What do you suggest, then? I leave Ciri alone in a forest with armies trying to kill her?”

“Maybe my Geralt is there with her,” Jaskier says. “Maybe it’s- a switch, maybe you switched, or- or maybe time is frozen, there, or-”

Why ?” Geralt demands, frustrated and at a loss and thoroughly sick of both sensations. He’s useless, here. “Why would anyone bother sending me here, there’s fuck all for me here.”

“Oh please, it’s not that bad,” Jaskier says indignantly, but relents, grabbing Geralt by the elbow before he can turn away again. “Look. I’ve sent for help-”

“How?”

“Magic mirror,” Jaskier says. “Fun, right?”

Geralt’s life is a fucking joke.

At the look Geralt gives him, Jaskier relents, hastily, “Alright, so not fun per se, but I sent for help nevertheless, and tomorrow we can visit with the local alchemist. Perhaps we won’t even have to. Perhaps you’ll wake up in the morning back whenever you were, and I’ll wake up and have – er – you back.”

Geralt squeezes his eyes shut, hard. He has no better plans. He doesn’t even have a fucking weapon. When he reopens his eyes, Jaskier looks like he already knows he’s won the debate.

“One night,” Geralt says.

“You’ll almost certainly be gone by morning,” Jaskier agrees, but then he grins, right up close. “I forgot how much of a dick you used to be.”

“You’re the dick,” Geralt retorts, and it comes out woefully childish. He does not blush – he will not blush, gods damn it, even though Jaskier’s eyes brighten like Geralt’s retort was the funniest thing he’s ever heard and it makes Geralt’s breath catch – and instead shoulders past Jaskier and makes his way back up the hill, looking determinedly anywhere but at him.

It’s not the worst evening Geralt’s ever had, objectively? But it certainly passes the slowest. He looks over Jaskier’s so-called magic mirror – dull glass, the sort that Geralt’s seen enchanted a time or two, but Jaskier talks into it and not a thing happens – then walks the top of the hill, establishing a tenuous perimeter. Still so signs of anything dangerous or even vaguely exciting, which is probably for the best, because he can still find no weapons to speak of. Closest thing is a paring knife, which he tucks into his belt, feeling mostly pathetic about it. Not pathetic enough to risk being caught unawares without a knife.

The sky darkens. Jaskier disappears for a while, returns with two full dishes of some sort of fishy stew from the tavern further into the village. He chatters away while Geralt eats – “Marete’s food is the best, she’s a bit of a busybody, to be honest, but we’re obviously the most interesting ones here, so you can’t blame her, really, can you?” – as though this is all entirely normal.

Geralt studies Jaskier’s mannerisms, seeking out some flaw, some error in translation that will reveal this for a farce. He finds nothing. Jaskier is still prone to accompanying his words with dramatic gestures, even altering his posture if the emphasis of a certain sentence demands it, the performer’s instinct that he’s had as long as Geralt has known him. If anything, the only hint of a difference aside from the greying hair and beard is the way that he acts around Geralt: he’s always been tactile, but now it seems that a hand on Geralt’s arm, a knee bumping against Geralt’s are as a second nature.

Geralt shifts his arm out of the way. Tucks his knee back onto his own half of the table.

“Coin?” he asks, eventually, when Jaskier is tossing another log onto the fire. It’s early, but he doesn’t want to be conscious for more of this than is necessary.

“What?”

He nods toward the bed, knows that Jaskier will get the message. They flip for it, usually, if they can only afford one room. It works out fairly enough, even though Jaskier’s not above cheating and Geralt’s not above threatening to dangle him out a window when he inevitably catches him cheating.

“Don’t be silly,” Jaskier says, dismissive. They’ve shared before, bedrolls and cramped rooms at inns and, on a few particularly miserable occasions, a cloak spread on a forest floor, and it was nothing, commonplace among travelling companions; but here, now, when this Jaskier is so clearly accustomed to sharing a bed with Geralt in a decidedly more-than-companionable fashion, the thought of crawling under the blankets and cozying up next to him makes Geralt want to blush like a virgin. Which-

Not a fucking chance.

“I’ll take the floor,” Geralt says.

“Geralt,” Jaskier says, somewhere between admonishment and plea, and Geralt abruptly cannot bear to face the look on his face, the same as on the mountain, hurt but always, always hopeful, like he thinks that Geralt’s about to turn and announce that it was all a joke.

Jaskier should hate him. He would be justified in hating him. Geralt tried, actively on purpose tried, to make Jaskier hate him. He doesn’t understand how he doesn’t, how they went from parting like that to together in a place like this.

“I’ll take the floor,” Geralt repeats, gruffly, and for once, Jaskier doesn’t argue.

Geralt has slept in far worse conditions. He’s comfortable enough, once he stretches out in front of the fireplace, even has a pillow for under his head. He discards the blanket Jaskier offers – the fire warms every corner of the cottage, casting flickering shadows across the ceiling.

Jaskier tosses and turns, spends ages moving pillows around and adjusting the blankets over in the bed. Geralt tries not to watch.

“You’ve hardly aged a day, you know,” Jaskier says, into the quiet. “Not a day.”

“Hm,” Geralt says. He knows.

“Mm,” Jaskier echoes, then, through a yawn, “I could tell, though.” His eyes find Geralt’s, glinting in the firelight. “You’re different than you will be.”

Geralt rolls over onto his side, his back to the bed.

He hears Jaskier exhale, soft. Neither of them says anything more.

Geralt listens to the crackling of the fire, to the distant, rhythmic lapping of water against the shore. The stillness is oppressive. No signs of magic. No signs of anything.

He cannot fathom a future in which this life belongs to him. Cannot fathom a version of himself that sleeps in the same bed every night and is woken with kisses on the head.

He hopes, for Jaskier’s sake as much as for his own, that he will wake up in the morning back in a damp forest fleeing for his life from an evil empire with Ciri at his side. That, stakes of life and death, makes sense to him. This… he doesn’t belong here, that much is abundantly, painfully clear.

---

The thing is-

Geralt has known for years, since the first instant they locked eyes, that Jaskier is infatuated with him.

That’s not saying anything, really, because Jaskier has always fallen for people the same way normal people breathe air. More persistent, perhaps, with his feelings about Geralt than about the usual objects of his idolatry, but that was only because Geralt has, steadfastly and for twenty-two years, refused to give any sign of awareness of those feelings. Has never even seriously considered acting on them beyond a passing consideration, at first because Jaskier was a literal teenager; then because he was the most comprehensively annoying fucking person on the planet; then because, not that Geralt would ever admit it, Jaskier was his friend, the only person in the world who seemed to, genuinely and without pretense, obligation, or self-preservation, like him. Friends are not something he has ever had in excess, certainly not something worth throwing away for a self-indulgent fuck, because that’s what it would be.

It couldn’t be anything else than that. Couldn’t be anything at all, really, not in any permanent way, because even if Geralt did occasionally allow himself to consider Jaskier as something other than a friend, hypothetically, he was never stupid enough to imagine that any sort of romance between them would end in anything but pain. Either Geralt would die violently, or, more likely, Jaskier would die of sickness or some stupid accident or the slow decay of time or any other of the miserable fates that await humans.

Geralt is no stranger to pain. He doesn’t fear it. He is, however, logical enough to do what he can to avoid it, when it can be avoided.

A human and a witcher make no sense. That was – is – that. Geralt stayed deliberately ignorant of any of Jaskier’s hints and flirtations. Got his release at whorehouses or with people seeking the thrill of bedding a witcher. Knows that Jaskier had no shortage of lovers, either.

Geralt hurt him by falling for Yennefer, he thinks, all the same.

She’s more like him. More jaded, even, maybe, which is rare.

She’ll outlive him a hundred times over. A thousand. Geralt will be dead and buried and rotted to nothing before he has to worry about loving and losing her. His wish made sure of that.

Though- he fought with Yen too, that trip up the mountain when Jaskier asked him to come to the coast with him. To run away together.

Geralt thought about kissing him, when he said it. Just for a moment. A stupid, weak, idealistic moment of idiocy where he allowed himself to entertain the idea of indulging Jaskier’s ridiculous crush, and then he forced the feeling down, met a golden dragon, and decisively and deliberately broke Jaskier’s heart.

He’s not deluded enough to pretend that it was purely selfless. It was, though, for their mutual benefit. Jaskier would get over him and find someone more suitable, Geralt could go after Yennefer, and they would both be better off without each other.

That was the plan. It was a good one.

Not good enough, apparently, to keep some future version of himself from leading on the both of them, him and Jaskier, into deluding themselves that they were the sort of people who could pleasantly settle down together.

Fuck.

---

The fire died out at some point in the night, is the first thing that Geralt realizes when he wakes; the second is that he is still in the cottage on the cliff. Still in the future. He’d hoped somehow that this would resolve itself, that things would, for once, be easy.

He can’t hear or smell Jaskier, and when he sits up and looks around, both the bed and the cottage are empty. Intentional, he knows, because years of travelling together has taught him that Jaskier would sleep in ‘til mid-afternoon, if Geralt allowed him.

So: he’s still trapped in the future, and now Jaskier is off gods know where doing gods know what. Geralt briefly considers worrying, but decides against it. This Jaskier is silver-haired and looks at least mostly respectable enough to stay out of major trouble, or he would, if Geralt didn’t know him so well. Not like there would be many on this crumb of an island for him to cuckold, anyhow.

( Not that he’d need to look elsewhere for a bedmate, anymore , reminds an irritating voice in the back of Geralt’s head, which he ignores, because fuck that, his future self’s lack of self-control is not his problem yet.)

He checks on the magic mirror again – nothing – then, because his clothes smell like fish from yesterday and like a muddy forest from the day before, opens the trunk at the foot of the bed. It’s mostly stuffed full of Jaskier’s ridiculously colourful clothing, because the bard apparently hasn’t grown less fond of pretentiously soft fabrics and puffy sleeves in the years absent from Geralt’s memory. Geralt digs around. Manages to find a few weather-beaten white shirts and faded greyish pants that are broad enough that he assumes they’re his. Future his.

The clothes fit, and they don’t smell like fish. Geralt takes the win where he can get it.

He heads down the winding path again, before the sun’s properly out. Finds the same group of fisherfolk as yesterday, this time apparently just getting ready to head out in their boats. Gets greeted again, with smiles and waves.

“Geralt!” The same ruddy-faced man as yesterday gives him a grin. “Coming out with us today?”

“How far can we go?” Geralt asks.

The answer, he learns, is ‘not very’. He was hoping to sail out far enough that he could catch a glimpse of the continent, perhaps of a larger, more seaworthy vessel that he could swim to and hitchhike a ride from. There’s nothing, even when the island is out of sight and the little wooden boat is surrounded by nothing but water.

“How long have I been here?” Geralt asks the boat’s owner, a last-ditch effort to salvage some useful information from this excursion.

The man, Niklas, looks thoughtful. “Couple summers?” he offers, then, turning to one of his fellows, “Cadmus, when was your oldest married, was that two summers past or three?”

It quickly devolves into reminiscing. Geralt refrains from sighing, but only just. He misses Roach. Better conversationalist than all these people combined, that horse.

They stay out until Niklas decides they’ve caught enough. Once they’re back in the harbour, trickling in with the other boats, Geralt helps with hauling nets and crates, same as yesterday. The villagers make a few more jokes at him, but seem accustomed to not receiving responses.

It’s unusual – usually when Geralt is exerting himself it’s because something is trying to kill and eat him. This, physical labour without danger or Vesemir grumbling orders, is a novelty.

“See you tomorrow, Geralt?” one of the fisherwomen asks as he’s leaving.

Geralt doesn’t bother to respond to that, either.

He recognizes Jaskier’s presence before he sees him, by the sound of lute music floating down the path. Nonetheless, once he hikes up the cliff, it is more of a relief than it has any right to be when Geralt catches sight of him. He’s entertaining, in every sense of the word: it’s not particularly warm out, a hint of winter in the air the way Jaskier mentioned, but there is a circle of people, children and just-past-children, mostly, seated on the grass, all watching intently as Jaskier plays a tune on his lute. He’s playing slowly, more deliberately than usual, obviously demonstrating rather than performing.

He looks up at Geralt’s approach, meets his eyes and strums a few bars of one of his dozens of white wolf ballads. Geralt takes it for the greeting it is, musters up a curt nod, and detours to take a seat nearer to the cliff’s edge, to avoid having to interact with any of the other visitors.

It’s comforting, listening to the faint strains of Jaskier’s music, from a distance. Geralt will never admit it, not at knife’s point or pain of death, but he enjoys Jaskier’s playing. It’s been the soundtrack of most every peaceful moment he’s had for the two decades they’ve known each other. Though- longer, now, he supposes.

He wonders if the version of himself stupid enough to settle here has told Jaskier he enjoys his music. The thought is embarrassing. Add it to the fucking list.

The lesson lasts perhaps another half hour, until the sun is cresting in the sky, the clouds seeming to melt from around it.

“Feeling better?” Jaskier asks blithely as he walks over, as though Geralt is going through a moody spell rather than being forcefully yanked out of his own time and place.

“Those were your students?” Geralt asks, instead of doing pleasantries. He can’t encourage this more than necessary.

“Ha, my school is the open road, I laugh in the face of institutional education,” Jaskier declares, then, toying absently with the fabric of his shirt over his heart, “That’s not true, I’ve been offered numerous professorships at extremely prestigious bardic academies. Alas, there’s nothing so formal in our chosen locale, but there are fine people with an appreciation for story and song, which I am more than happy to facilitate.”

He sighs happily. “I understand their feelings. Something about the sea just begs to be made a song, doesn’t it?”

Geralt reluctantly has to agree. Humans react to anything vaster and more permanent than they are with poetry. Coping mechanism, maybe. He can see the appeal of this place to Jaskier, to any romantic, for that reason alone.

He clears his throat. “What do we-” Nope. “What do you do here all day? Other than teach?”

Jaskier both takes his meaning and is an asshole about it, both of which Geralt predicted. “Well,” he muses, “we play cards, sometimes, and we talk, and we have a lot of sex.”

Geralt shoots him a look, seriously, Jaskier?

“You asked ,” Jaskier holds his hands up, the picture of innocence. “I’ll put my lute away, we’ll visit the alchemist?”

The relief at the chance to do something actually productive for getting back to Ciri quickly gives way to more disappointment. The village alchemist is a portly old woman scarcely more magical than the jars of ingredients cluttering her home. She doesn’t appear to follow Geralt’s description of his circumstances, but does offer him and Jaskier a vial of a deep red liquid that she declares to be the world’s most potent aphrodisiac.

“That was useless,” Geralt grumbles after Jaskier’s excused them and they’re on their way back to the cottage.

“Well, she’s short a few marbles, but she does try,” Jaskier says, then, very beneficently, “Bless her.”

An absolute waste of time, just like the trek up this fucking cliff path which, for the fourth time in a day and following hours of hauling heavy nets, is even wearing on Geralt.

“New plan?” Jaskier asks.

“Working on it,” Geralt says, and he’s still working on it by the time the sun is down, while still being no closer to thinking of any solution. If he’s been sent here by someone, he has no hope but to wait for them to show their hand; if he was sent here by fate or destiny or some equivalently bullshit abstract magic thing, he’s at a complete loss as to what their – its? – aim is.

He moves to stretch out on his makeshift bedding by the fire, but Jaskier stops him.

“Bup-bup-bup,” Jaskier tuts, planting himself in Geralt’s path as if Geralt couldn’t pick him up and toss him out of the way, if he were so inclined. “My turn.”

Geralt fixes him with a flat look. “I’m not taking your bed, Jaskier.”

“It’s yours as much as it is mine,” Jaskier says. Geralt tries to muster up an argument, but the semantic nuances of time travel elude him, and Jaskier must be able to tell, because he pats Geralt’s arm. “Fair’s fair.”

And so it is that Geralt finds himself, for the second night in a row, settling down to sleep in the little cliffside cottage, this time in the bed in which he first woke up here. It’s an assault of sensations – thickly knit blankets, soft with use and washing; a pillow that smells like Jaskier and also like himself, stronger than the scent would be after only one night. Jaskier is right: it is his bed. Their bed.

It’s a small bed. They’d have to sleep close, practically overlapping, to both fit.

Don’t think about it, Geralt orders himself, and it mostly works.

“You’ll be gone when we wake up, I reckon,” Jaskier says, from where he’s silhouetted against the fireplace. Wishful thinking, at least it would be if he had any sense.

Geralt grunts an affirmative. Considers demanding that Jaskier hate him properly, the way he was supposed to have been hating him for years. Instead falls into a restless sleep listening to Jaskier’s breaths, to the sea, to the way they eventually merge together, like a song.

---

The third day passes much the same way as the second, and the fourth passes the same as the third, and by the end of the week, Geralt stops keeping track.

He learns that the weather changes fast, here, Northern winds bringing snow and rain in intervals. He leans that even when it’s too cold for fishing, he’s apparently something of a handyman for everyone in the village, which he suspects is the result of both being taller and stronger than most of them, or of being stubborn enough that he’s unwilling to be bested by a leaky roof or escaped chicken.

Those are his days, a dozen banal tasks, and his evenings consist of trailing Jaskier to the tavern down in the village and trying to scarf down a meal before the locals swarm Jaskier begging for stories. He is adored here, it’s obvious, somewhere between a favourite uncle and a beloved grandfather, not that Geralt knows what the fuck it’s like to be or have either of those things.

Jaskier laughs when Geralt says as much. “They just enjoy having someone to listen to who’s actually seen the world,” he says, the closest he gets to something approaching humble. “I mean, not that it would matter if I hadn’t, they’re literally my captive audience until the traders come in spring.”

He sounds delighted by the thought, enough that the corner of Geralt’s mouth curves up into a smile, entirely without his permission and before he can hide it. Jaskier notices, of course he does, and lights up like the fucking sun.

Geralt forces himself to look away, pretends not to see the disappointment on Jaskier’s face.

It’s too damned easy to forget himself, here. He enjoys Jaskier’s company, the way he always has; finds himself growing accustomed to the patterns of this life. It is natural as breathing, when he’s lying awake at night, to let himself imagine. Jaskier is reticent with details about the years between Geralt’s time and now, but from what he does mention, Ciri enjoys visiting here. Geralt can picture it, all tinged with a rosy glow, taking her around the island and showing her the waves while Jaskier sings something happy and probably ridiculous to make her laugh. He doesn’t have to content himself with dreaming of summertime, either, because the coming winter is dangerously tempting as well, the way his world narrows to a roaring fire and the space between the four stone walls of the cottage and between him and Jaskier.

He learns details, as the days pass. Some new things, like the way Jaskier’s apparently picked up the habit of reading before bed, and some familiar things, like the way his hands never stop moving, or the way that his shirt falls askew, revealing a faint trail of hair, the edge of scarred tissue across his chest. Those, the scars, are new too.

Geralt forces himself to look away while he undresses.

“It’s nothing you haven’t seen before,” Jaskier says one night, teasing, and Geralt snaps the kindling he’s carrying directly in half.

If it is destiny that brought him here, she’s a crueler bitch than Geralt could have imagined.

This is what he was actively trying to avoid by yelling at Jaskier, hurting him the way he did. A life with a human is a farce, and his future self is apparently too selfish to care, but Geralt – this Geralt, him – won’t let himself be. Can’t.

He needs Yen here to talk sense into him. Possibly just to slap him in the face a couple of times to clear his head of cobwebs. As is, he has to keep reminding himself, this is not your life, he loves a version of you that doesn’t exist yet, this cannot happen .

They still alternate between the bed and the floor every night. Some time in Geralt’s third week, Jaskier stops asking if he wants to share. Stops with the casual touching, too, and mostly with the pet names. Geralt catches him watching when he thinks that Geralt isn’t looking, shooting him these wistful looks with his massive and frankly rudely expressive blue eyes. The worst part is Geralt doesn’t even think he’s doing it on purpose.

They are edging around each other on eggshells. It’s unlike them, certainly unlike Jaskier. Geralt swallows down the guilt. He refuses to feel settled here. Witchers do not feel settled in cozy seaside cottages. Witchers do not do permanence.

“Gone by morning?” Jaskier asks, as they settle in to sleep across the room from each other.

“Hm,” Geralt agrees, and he’s not meant to hear Jaskier’s little sigh, he doesn’t think, but he hears it, all the same.

---

The steady pulse of rain against the roof is louder than it ought to be, more ice than water. The wind hammers against the stone walls.

It’s as ugly a storm as Geralt has seen since he woke up here. Makes him claustrophobic, restless the way he gets when he has to be pent up somewhere the way he and Jaskier have been all day and night. They’ve each found something to keep themselves occupied, Jaskier scribbling in his songbook and muttering fragmentary lyrics to himself while Geralt uses his paring knife to peel potatoes.

It’s mind-numbingly boring work, and Geralt is considering going to bed just to spare himself the tedium, when he hears someone coming. They’re on the path outside of the cottage, and – Geralt frowns – their heartbeat is racing, they’re panting for breath. Something’s wrong.

“Geralt?” Jaskier asks, his brow furrowing as Geralt’s chair screeches against the floor.

Geralt’s already on his feet as the door flies open to reveal Niklas, drenched to the skin and clearly having run all the way here. He’s got a trident strapped to his back.

“Please,” he gasps out, “It’s Cadmus, his boat was swept out and then- we don’t know what it is, it came out of the water-”

Cadmus, Geralt thinks, and places the name: he’s a quiet man, married to Marete from the tavern. Too old to be out in a storm like this.

“Geralt,” Jaskier says again, more urgently this time, but Geralt is pushing past Niklas, on his way out.

The wind is strong enough to bend him over as he runs for the bottom of the cliff, the sleet coming at him from all directions. There’s a group of villagers clustered at the harbour, a few of them clinging to blunt-looking swords or a few more tridents like Niklas’. Less than useless, from this distance, and against the creature out on the water, silhouetted against the steel-grey sky.

It’s some kind of sea serpent, Geralt can tell that much, and that it’s big, and that, based on the way it dwarfs the tiny wooden boat bobbing up and down next to it, Marete’s husband will be dead within minutes.

He doesn’t waste time thinking, jumps directly to action, the familiar adrenaline of the hunt taking over. “Get me a boat,” he shouts to be heard over the storm, but Niklas grabs his arm, shaking his head forcefully.

“It’s no use, the wind’s too strong!” He’s right – any vessel still tied at the harbour is half-full of water, either capsized or close to it, their sails worse than useless.

Fuck , Geralt thinks resignedly, then grabs the trident out of Niklas’ hands and belts it to his back, pulls the strap tight as he takes a running start, and dives into the sea.

The water closes over his head like a tomb, an instant of silent numbness before it occurs to Geralt to regret the fact that he doesn’t have his usual potions. If he were human, he’d be lost and drowned, the waves are so fierce; as it is, he’s buffeted around for one panicked second before instinct takes over. He’s been idle, but his training for survival is muscle memory, and he cuts through the waves in clean strokes. Slow progress, but progress nevertheless.

He processes each instant in slivers, the way he always does during a hunt: he surfaces and treads water, close enough to hear shouting. He spies the pitiful figure of Cadmus clinging to the boat’s mast, sees the whole scene illuminated by lightning as the serpent rears up out of the water and brings its tail down like a whip onto the sailboat. The sickening crack of splintering wood is swallowed by the noise of the storm.

Geralt uses the moment of distraction to lunge at the creature. It’s more snake-like than eel-like, he realizes quickly, which is useful in that it has slightly-raised scales for Geralt to cling to in his attempt to grapple it, but also decidedly un-useful in that its body is a ring of lithe muscle, which tenses up as it realizes Geralt is there.

He only has a split second to brace himself, gasping in a breath as the serpent rolls, plunging him back underwater. Geralt clings with all of his strength, manages to find a handhold on the rough edge of the serpent’s scales and inch further up the body as he breaches the surface again. He can scarcely see for the sea and rain, and the creature is thrashing wildly, but he manages to cling, one-armed, just long enough to grab the trident, rear back, and heave it at the serpent’s fanged head.

Not his weapon of choice, but his aim is true: the serpent lets out a final strangled shriek as the trident pierces its target, impaling it through its gaping jaws and protruding from the back of its skull. Geralt doesn’t linger for longer than it takes to confirm the kill, dragging his hair out of his face, scanning the water for the debris of Cadmus‘ boat, then diving towards it.

The sea is dark, water churning around him. Geralt can only just make out a limp human form sinking slowly, almost gracefully. Too far for him to get to expediently; he sticks a hand behind his back and casts Aard, propelling himself forward with the resultant burst of energy. Once he’s within reach, he clutches Cadmus – heart still beating, good – and kicks to the surface.

He barely manages to take a breath before Cadmus is spluttering for air, choking. His elbow catches Geralt in the face as he convulses and coughs.

“Hold still,” Geralt orders, kicking to keep them above water. He ends up with most of a wave in his mouth for his effort, and the saltwater is bitter with serpent blood, but the innkeeper apparently gets the message, because he lets Geralt swim them back towards shore.

His muscles are screaming by the time his feet touch the muddy ground. He stumbles for his footing, but stays upright, hauls Cadmus with him out of the water.

“They’re down the beach, look!”

Geralt hands Cadmus off to the approaching crowd of villagers, takes a step back and spits out saltwater onto the ground. Everyone around him is talking, voices blurring together. They may well have been in the sea as well, they’re so thoroughly soaked by the rain.

A voice cuts through the chatter. “Oh, thank you,” Marete sobs, flinging her arms around Geralt. “You saved my husband, thank you, thank you-”

Geralt pats her, once and very awkwardly, on the back, before pulling her off of him and turning so he can catch his breath.

Jaskier’s footsteps are notable above all else, and when Geralt looks up at him, he’s standing a few feet away, utterly drenched, and – Geralt has to do a double take – he’s holding Geralt’s swords, the ones Geralt had given up as lost to him forever.

Geralt remembers, a second later, to breathe.

For once, Jaskier doesn’t bother with elaborate excuses and friendliness when the two of them, by wordless mutual agreement, leave the group. Geralt can hear Jaskier’s heart racing with fear, though he was in no real danger.

It’s the first beast Geralt has slain in weeks.

He can’t remember the last time he went so long without killing something.

It is all the tense silence of the last weeks combined, once they’re in the cottage, side-by-side in front of the fire.

Geralt, stripped out of his soaked clothes, has one of Jaskier’s nightshirts on, a woven blanket around his shoulders, and his swords balanced across his lap, a familiar weight. It’s a bizarre dualism – he feels more himself with them in his grip, but they’re out of place, here, things from a life that feels both immeasurably distant and, tonight, all too present.

“You gave them to me when we chose this place, to put away,” Jaskier says. “For safekeeping, you said.”

He doesn’t embellish his words. They both know it for the act of trust it was. The act of- of something that Geralt cannot allow himself to think. He may as well have written a fucking sonnet.

Geralt smooths his fingertips along the edge of the polished steel. He feels Jaskier’s gaze on him, heavy. Meaningful.

“Your heart is still fast,” Geralt says, curious. It is. It hasn’t stopped going a mile a minute since they found each other on the beach.

“You haven’t provided me with new material for an adventuring ballad in some time,” Jaskier says, then, picking up speed, “A perk of semi-retirement is forgetting the unique brand of panic that results from watching someone that you care for running- or, swimming, I suppose, headlong at something that wants to eviscerate him. Clearly, one of us is doing better at the whole retirement thing than the other, just saying.”

He’s doing the thing he does, rambling nonsense to deflect.

Geralt, who can respect any endeavour to deflect emotions, indulges him with an argument. “Witchers don’t retire.”

“You told me that before,” Jaskier acquiesces. “Of course, you also told me-” He lowers his voice in a rugged and wholly ridiculous impersonation of Geralt. “ Witchers don’t need anyone, Jaskier, I have no feelings, Jaskier, I am a lump of solid rock in the shape of an extremely sexy man, Jaskier , so, you know, I tend to take you with a grain of salt.” He tilts his head. “The drenched and heroic look is absolutely working for you, though, darling, don’t get me wrong.”

Geralt meets his eyes, at that, the ‘darling’, just for a moment before looking away. Jaskier’s always been a flirt, near compulsively. Nothing compared to the way he is now, the sheer ease with which he makes a pet of Geralt.

It’s back, then, the way it has been, the weighty distance between them.

Geralt can feel Jaskier’s eyes still on him. A twig snaps in the fire. “And I’ve frightened you again.”

Geralt frowns at him, reproachful. Jaskier couldn’t frighten him if he tried.

“Yeah, I have.” Jaskier rebuts the unspoken argument, a small crease appearing in his brow. He looks- not guilty, exactly. Apologetic, sincerely so. “I do try not to, with the names and the touching and whatnot, I know you don’t want that, I just- I got used to it, and I have to keep reminding myself to be unused to it, now, and then you could have died tonight and- sorry. Just. Sorry.”

He looks so suddenly pathetic, like a kicked dog, all doleful blue eyes and hair still hanging wet and limp in his face and blind, unearned loyalty, that Geralt cannot help but ache at an unasked for stirring of guilt, at the realization that he is not the only one being fucked over by the rearrangement of time. Unfathomable as it may be, Jaskier loved a version of him, had him, and lost him in favour of- of this him, of someone who can scarcely meet his eyes for guilt. A sorry replacement for whatever domesticated thing he will become.

“It’s fine, Jaskier,” Geralt says, intending to have done with it, but Jaskier shakes his head, holds Geralt’s gaze, as near as he gets to seriousness.

“I wonder, though,” Jaskier says. “I wonder if it is, because I can’t help but notice that even when I do wonderfully at platonic manly banter and all of that shit, you seem-” He catches his bottom lip with his teeth, clearly searching for the word. Geralt does not focus on the plush pink of his mouth. “You seem more distant than I was accustomed to, even back when we were still pretending you hated me,” Jaskier finishes finally. He doesn’t sound angry, just curious. “Why are you being careful around me, Geralt?”

Without meaning to, Geralt’s grip has tightened on the hilt of one of his swords. His knuckles have gone white.

It is one thing to drive away the only person who cares about you and consign yourself to being hated in the heat of the moment, on a mountainside, in your own time. It is another to ask for hatred in a time and place like this.

But then- He gave his swords to Jaskier for safekeeping. Jaskier has taken him in, without question, and done what he can to help Geralt with only his usual levels of complaining. He has earned Geralt’s honesty, by now. That, at least.

“We aren’t speaking,” Geralt says, quietly. “When I’m from.”

“The mountain,” Jaskier says. It’s not a question.

Geralt shuts his eyes. “I hurt you,” he says, gruff. “I said-”

“I remember what you said,” Jaskier says, then, no hesitation, “You didn’t mean it.”

“You remember it still,” Geralt asks, looking at Jaskier, now.

“Yes.” Jaskier offers a little smile, not as if anything is really all that amusing. “When you follow someone for twenty-two years and they tell you that the greatest blessing life could provide would be to take you off of their hands, it tends to stick.”

“Jaskier,” Geralt starts, and Jaskier shakes his head, firm.

“Worry not, love, I had my revenge, at least three songs’ worth.” He hums a jaunty, nearly festive tune, sings, “ The witcher deals a mighty blow, compensating for what he lacks below - oh !” He finishes with a flourish, adding on a suggestive thrust of his hips. “How do you like it?”

“Not your best,” Geralt says, drily, and this time, Jaskier’s smile is more real, the way it should be.

“Blatant lie, as well, not that I knew of your well-endowedness from anything save the odd rumour at the time,” he says, good-humouredly reflective, and he holds Geralt’s gaze, painted golden in the firelight as it glints off the silver in his hair. It must make Geralt’s eyes look like something animal, but Jaskier doesn’t look away.

“I know that this situation is spectacular levels of fucked up, even by our standards,” he says. “And I know that you don’t- that this isn’t where you want to be. But I was your friend then, and I am now.” He shrugs his shoulders, a small, quick gesture. “Always will be.” He nudges his knee against Geralt’s, teasing. “Even when you try to scare me away by being more of an absolute ass than usual.”

It takes Geralt a moment to process. Of course, Jaskier saw through him on the mountain. Sees through him, and through the fact of their inherent incompatibility, and through even what Geralt is blind to.

Geralt looks into the fire. He doesn’t deserve him. This. “I’m no good, Jaskier,” Geralt says. No good for you , he wants to say, and Jaskier’s hand drifts to his own heart, hovering there just for a moment.

“You just dove into a fucking monster-infested sea during a storm to save a man you don’t remember knowing,” Jaskier points out. “Again, Geralt, grain of salt with the shit self-esteem, maybe.”

Geralt huffs a breath, and Jaskier continues. “Stop feeling guilty,” he orders. “We’re stuck here together, just- I’m not asking you for a betrothal, here. Be my friend, let me be yours, save us both the misery of pretending otherwise, alright?”

“Forgive me,” Geralt says. For the mountain, for spending twenty years trying to make you like me less, for showing up here and ruining your happy life.

“You are long since forgiven,” Jaskier says, simple, for once. He makes an aborted movement as though he means to reach for Geralt’s face, to lay a hand against his cheek. Geralt pretends to convince himself that he’s not disappointed when Jaskier stops himself and instead offers his usual grin. “Also, this counts as an admission that I’m your best friend, and now we need never speak of it again, except for me, if I want to gloat, which, uh, will be happening as long as you’re here and after, thank you very much.”

Geralt sighs, long suffering, but doesn’t argue. Doesn’t even fully manage to stop a smile, just a hint of one.

Jaskier settles back at his side, bumps their arms together.

Geralt lets himself bump him back, gently. Lets himself, for the first time since he woke up here, truly exhale. It’s very them, it taking a monster hunt to help them find comfortable ground.

Friends. He can do friends, he decides. Fuck, he’s stuck here anyways, he can do friends.

It’s a million bad ideas, letting himself feel relaxed in this future. He does that anyways, too.

---

The luxury of routine is strange, something Geralt can’t recall having since witcher trials. It almost doesn’t bear making the comparison, so entirely foreign is the routine he falls into with Jaskier.

It’s abjectly embarrassing, how much Geralt finds that he likes being liked. He still half-expects it to be a prank every time, a sorcerer’s illusion making townsfolk greet him with jokes or Sofija and her mother waving at him every time he walks past their house.

He helps around the village. He and Jaskier dine together in the tavern, or struggle through cooking for themselves. He lays his swords on the shelf next to where Jaskier keeps his lute, next to where his so-called magic mirror sits, silent and useless. In sight, but untouched since the serpent.

“Do you miss hunting monsters?” Jaskier asks, once, curious.

“No,” Geralt says, then, more honestly, “I don’t know.”

He remembers-

Once, a few years into travelling together, he and Jaskier passed this little shack, this ancient old couple seated outside. Jaskier had cracked some joke about the miserable drudgery of domesticity, but the image of them had stayed fixed in Geralt’s mind for weeks after, something melancholy about it. They may well have been rooted in place, that old couple. It was- appealing.

Geralt has never known what to do with stillness. He finds himself enjoying the process of learning. Routine feels like a luxury, and constancy like something to be held carefully in clasped hands.

And:

Walks become a habit for them, when the weather is deemed by Jaskier to be tolerable. On this particular occasion, they stroll along the beach as far as it goes, heedless of the beginning flurries of snow. No one else is in sight, though Jaskier provides enough noise for a whole company: ever since he came to the realization a few days ago that Geralt has no memory of being told most of his childhood stories, he’s been regaling him at every opportunity. Geralt complains, mostly just a habit as well, because whether due to Jaskier’s talent for storytelling or genuine curiosity, he’s found himself enjoying the tales of Julian Alfred Pankratz causing trouble at home and school and everywhere else he went before leaving for good to cause trouble elsewhere as Jaskier.

“-and I don’t know how they expected me to know that she was getting married in the morning, because really, that’s the sort of thing you’d expect a lady to mention, wouldn’t you?” Jaskier finishes the most recent story, his fur-lined cloak swishing about his legs as they walk. “Ah, well, we would’ve had to leave town anyways because-”

Geralt gives him a hopeful look, but Jaskier breaks off. “Nope, past, details, not doing it.” It’s the one resolution from which Geralt hasn’t been able to sway him. It makes sense, Geralt supposes, not wanting to risk undoing this future by telling Geralt something revelatory and altering his decisions, though its validity as a strategy relies on the assumption that Geralt will ever be sent back to his own time, which, at this point, is looking less than promising.

There would be worse places to stay stuck, than here.

Geralt kicks a little pile of sand. “Why did you and I stop travelling?” he asks. It’s the biggest question, aside from how he got here, that’s been bothering him. “Why this place?” He watches Jaskier weighing how much is safe to tell him, watches him make his decision.

“We ran into some trouble with a nest of ghouls,” Jaskier says. “Fluke of an accident, really, but you and Yennefer were surrounded and one looped around to where I was waiting. And, I mean, the teeth on those things, I tell you.” He tugs aside his cloak, the collar of his shirt, just enough to reveal the ragged edges of three defined scars. Like bite marks, Geralt realizes with a chill, like one of the venomous creatures tried to gauge out his heart.

Geralt kills for duty, mostly, practicality rather than any sense of enmity for the creatures. He knows, though, certain as anything, that his future self relished every second of suffering he inflicted on the ghoul stupid enough to harm his bard.

Jaskier pulls his cloak back across his front. “I was less durable than I used to be, I suppose,” he says, nearly detached, as if telling one of his stories, though his hand lingers over his heart for an extra moment, a habit of his, Geralt has noticed. “Regardless, I think it frightened you, because once I was healed up, you told me I couldn’t travel with you anymore.”

“You followed anyways,” Geralt guesses. Doesn’t really guess. Knows.

“Which you really should have predicted, Geralt, honestly,” Jaskier chides, nudging their shoulders together. “In any case, our travels led us here, at which point you said some boring nonsense about defensibility and sightlines that I pretended to listen to, but really, you were so clearly fond of the place that I had to take pity on you and stay, even though I’ve never been the sort to settle down.”

Geralt scoffs. “And I am?”

“Yes,” Jaskier says, without hesitating for a second. “Yes, entirely, not that you’d ever admit it to yourself.”

“Witchers don’t,” Geralt says, and Jaskier fires back, quick, turning to face Geralt while walking backwards.

“Admit things to themselves?”

“Settle down.”

“You used one of three infinitely powerful wishes to ask for someone in your life forever, Geralt,” Jaskier says, and his voice is teasing, still but his eyes soften, sounding nearly endeared. “You’re- loyal? That sounds like a word for a dog, but you’re that. Steadfast.” It’s a compliment. Not his usual flippant sort, either. Geralt’s not ready for it, the sincerity of it.

So: he was the one who decided they should stay here. Geralt can trace his future self’s mental calculus, putting it together that Jaskier would stay on the hunt with him or die trying, coming across this place, compulsively peaceful, with its singing fisherfolk and scenery worth songs, and choosing it as a place for them. Geralt wonders if that version of himself was embarrassed about it as well, caring for someone in so obvious a way.

“You chose well,” Jaskier offers, like he can tell that Geralt is lost in thought. “This place feels like us.”

It’s a strange thing to say. Geralt understands what he means. The rhythm of life here reminds him of when they were on the road between jobs, trudging along little-traveled paths or no paths at all seeing no one but each other for weeks, sometimes. It was quiet, but not lonely – they were always comfortable in each other’s company, either occupying themselves or tracing out the well-worn treads of familiar arguments.

“Besides,” Jaskier says, like an afterthought. “I’d always wanted to visit the sea.”

“I know,” Geralt says, and Jaskier somehow looks surprised, as if he didn’t expect Geralt to remember. As if Geralt hadn’t replayed Jaskier’s offer in his head every night since he left him, why don’t we leave tomorrow, we could head to the coast .

He made the right choice in not listening to Jaskier, then. Or- the smart choice, in any case. Can’t help but feel grateful to the version of himself that found this place for choosing differently, all the same. Geralt wishes-

It would be a nice thing to choose, if it was his choice, this life with Jaskier.

---

And:

They play cards sometimes, oftentimes, to while away the increasingly frigid evenings, and on this particular occasion Geralt’s had enough ale to be mildly tipsy, and Jaskier’s been matching him drink for drink, which means that he’s three sheets to the wind, just completely giggly and ridiculous. Also somehow better at cards than he is when he’s sober, which is just incredibly aggravating.

“You’re cheating,” Geralt insists, tossing down his cards when Jaskier bests him again.

“I’m just good ,” Jaskier says, gathering up the cards and shuffling them easily. His hands are always steady and sure, even drunk. He starts dealing again. “Winner gets the bed for a week,” he declares. “Any game, I’ll even let you choose, go on.”

“Fine,” Geralt says, then plants his elbow onto the table, offers Jaskier his hand to arm wrestle.

“Oh, you dick ,” Jaskier says, jabbing a finger at him. “Unsporting, Geralt, very unsporting and unfair and rude, frankly, really.”

“You said any game,” Geralt says, innocently, and Jaskier’s gestures instantly increase in drama by approximately fifty times. Geralt enjoys making him do that.

“With the cards , which you knew , I know you did and so I win by default, have fun on the floor, witcher.”

“You’re insufferable, bard,” Geralt informs him, fond, as he narrowly avoids being hit in the face by Jaskier flinging his arms all about.

“And yet you suffer me still,” Jaskier retorts, then, because Geralt is not as good at schooling his face as he used to be, “Aha, a smile! I’ve done it!” His eyes light up, and his mouth drops open. “A song, I just had an idea for the most fantastic song about this.”

“You’re not serious,” Geralt groans, but Jaskier is already scrambling to his feet, leaning on Geralt’s shoulder for leverage.

“You, Geralt of Rivia, are a heretic in the presence of musical genius,” he says, haughty, as he removes his lute from the shelf, toying with the strings even as he speaks. “But an excellent muse.” He nods toward the other side of the room. “Fetch me my songbook, go on.”

Geralt rolls his eyes, but gets up and does as he’s told, retakes his seat next to Jaskier at the table and settles in to finish his drink and watch him alternate between scribbling down lyrics and toying with a melody. Geralt likes the predictability of it, the little patterns that Jaskier has always fallen into when he’s creating a song, playing sections over and over, editing himself in real time. It comes as naturally to him as swordwork does to Geralt.

It’s late, nothing in the world but the two of them and Jaskier’s lute and the crackling of the fire. Geralt gets lost in the elaborate card playing metaphors, enough into the drink that he gives up on attempting to pay attention, enough that he’s taken aback when Jaskier holds out a hand to him, expectant.

“What?” Geralt asks. For one absurd moment he thinks that Jaskier is inviting him to arm wrestle again, but Jaskier just gestures, impatient, so Geralt sighs, scoots forward, and lays his hand in Jaskier’s, lets him tug it to the neck of his lute. His goal is immediately obvious. “I’m not your student,” Geralt says. He doesn’t pull away.

“No,” Jaskier agrees. “That would be pretty hugely inappropriate.” He says it absently, thoroughly focused on where their hands are tangled together as he positions Geralt’s fingers where he wants them on the strings.

Geralt bites back whatever mocking comment he was about to make, distracted by the feeling of Jaskier’s fingers on his. They’re the only thing not soft about Jaskier, his fingertips calloused from a lifetime of coaxing sound from strings. The rest of his hand tells just as much of a story, veins more prominent along the back than they were when he was younger, the hair from his arm peeking out of where his sleeve is rolled up. It’s a good hand, capable and quick in its movements, touching Geralt with a sort of proprietary ease.

Geralt clears his throat, feels suddenly tight around the collar as Jaskier finally seems content with his position and beckons for Geralt to strum the strings. Geralt does, painstakingly conscious of every millimetre that their hands are pressed together, and the sound that emerges is a recognizable chord, simple and melodic.

Jaskier looks marvellously pleased. “Tell me that doesn’t move your soul,” he says, all but a whisper.

“You’re piss drunk,” Geralt informs him, endeared in spite of himself, and flexes his hand when Jaskier finally lets go of it.

“Am not.”

“Go to bed, Jaskier.”

Jaskier leans in so their noses are almost touching. “Make me,” he says, a dare.

Geralt raises an eyebrow.

He and Jaskier are nearly of a height, and Jaskier’s always had a deceptive amount of lean muscle on him; it’s hardly a task at all, even still, for Geralt to lift him and toss him over one shoulder like a sack of grain.

“This is undignified,” Jaskier says, muffled into the fabric of Geralt’s shirt, but he’s clearly at the ‘sleepy idiot’ phase of Jaskier drunkenness – Geralt’s favourite, he knows and has witnessed them all – so he doesn’t struggle, just lets Geralt carry him across the room.

He looks adorably ruffled when Geralt drops him none-too-gently onto the bed, his hair sticking up in a hundred directions, his shirt all askew. Looks younger than his years, though he will never not look young, to Geralt.

Jaskier pats the space next to him on the bed.

Geralt blames the copious amounts of ale that he’s imbibed for the fact that he lays down next to him, folding his arms behind his head. “Only because I can’t be arsed to flip you for it,” he says, half-heartedly and mostly for his own vanity, because he knows Jaskier won’t believe him for a second.

“Mm,” Jaskier hums, clearly not believing him for a second. He props himself up, chin in a hand. “Do you think anyone back in your time would believe me if I told them how goofy you are?”

“Goofy,” Geralt echoes, incredulous. He thought he was long past being surprised by Jaskier’s vocabulary. “You’re the only fucking person on the continent-”

“We’re not on the continent,” Jaskier informs him, smug.

“Fuck off,” Geralt informs him right back, then shoves a pillow at Jaskier’s face when he opens his mouth to retort; can’t do anything but laugh at Jaskier’s indignant spluttering. “Go to sleep, lightweight.”

Jaskier lays his head down on the pillow obediently, yawns big enough that Geralt can see all of his teeth. “Stay on your side, now, don’t get any ideas.”

“You’re a shit,” Geralt says, and he knows that Jaskier will be able to hear the fondness in that, as well, even as he’s drifting into sleep.

It takes less than half an hour for Jaskier to end up mostly on top of him, his leg flung over Geralt’s and his beard tickling Geralt’s arm where he’s pressing his face into skin, as if seeking the warmth. It’s somehow still soft, Jaskier’s beard, the only thing on this isle not coarse with saltwater.

It’s not something Geralt has ever gotten used to, people being willing to sleep near him. Ciri did, the first night they found each other, just curled up at his side and slept while Geralt came to the unfortunate realization that he would die a thousand excruciating deaths to protect this child, his child. Yen closed her eyes while resting her head on his chest, that night on the mountain, though Geralt fell asleep before she did. Jaskier did first, the night after they were freed by Filavandrel, stretched out on the ground next to Geralt and talked until Geralt had to bury his head under his rolled-up cloak to drown out the noise.

It feels… good. It’s just a good thing, being trusted. Something Geralt probably doesn’t deserve, but something he wants to earn, being safe enough for someone like Jaskier to wrap himself around without even questioning it. He remembers, unwittingly, the old couple sitting outside their shack.

Geralt shifts, carefully, just enough to get an arm around Jaskier’s back. He’s snoring softly, warm and pliant against Geralt as he sleeps. That part is good too.

Even though he absolutely fucking cheats at cards.

---

And:

What must be the entire population of the village is crowded into the tavern. It’s a celebration of some sort, though Geralt doesn’t know what for and doesn’t plan on socializing enough to find out – Jaskier brought him here for food, he’s going to eat then get the hell out.

“Solstice activities are fun , Geralt,” Jaskier pesters, and Geralt gives him a skeptical “hm”. He chose a seat with his back to the wall, so no one will be able to surprise him. Habit, but also practicality, because the townsfolk started dancing ten minutes ago and Geralt may be vaguely and reluctantly domesticated now, but fuck no.

He’s seen the same thing play out time and time again during their travels, as Jaskier’s fame grew: Jaskier pretends to protest when people start clamouring for a performance, though he’s already swinging his lute to his front and testing the strings.

“Really, I don’t know what an old man has to entertain you all,” he says, and offers Geralt a sly grin as the shouts and cheers grow louder. Geralt shoves him forward, which serves the dual purpose of getting Jaskier to cut the bullshit and making everyone take their eyes off of Geralt so he can eat in peace.

He pays attention to Jaskier’s performance. Of course he does – for all his talk, Jaskier is a master at what he does, as good as Geralt remembers him and better. He plays the old crowd favourites, a few that Geralt doesn’t recognize, transitioning smoothly from captivating the room during a wistful ballad to having to lift his voice to be heard over the clapping of hands and stomping of feet as he plays a roaring dance number.

Geralt thumps his tankard on the table a couple of times to join in the applause when Jaskier withdraws after multiple encores, bowing, “Thank you, thank you, I’m here all winter.”

One of the other musicians, a girl Geralt recognizes as one of Jaskier’s students, takes over as Jaskier pushes his way through the dancers to get back to Geralt. Geralt scoots over to make room, not that it matters, because Jaskier slumps back against him, clearly tired but just as clearly self-satisfied. “Still got it,” he declares, swiping Geralt’s drink and taking a swig.

“And humble, too,” Geralt deadpans. He stretches his arm along the back of the bench behind Jaskier, luxuriates in the familiar weight of Jaskier at his side, the novelty of having nothing in the world to worry about. It’s warm in the room, stuffy with the heat of bodies. Neither of them pulls away from the other.

It takes him a moment to recognize the tune being played, because whatever aspiring musician is performing has upped the tempo, and it sounds different on the flute than on Jaskier’s lute, but-

“That fucking song,” Geralt murmurs in Jaskier’s ear, and Jaskier cackles delightedly as the omnipresent strains of ‘Toss a Coin’ fill the tavern. Geralt’s going to willingly live out his days on this middle-of-nowhere island and still not manage to escape this damned song.

There’s a tug at his sleeve; he looks down to see Sofija, her face flushed with exertion. “Can you dance with me?” she asks, sweetly.

“…No,” Geralt says, because he doesn’t dance. Never has, never will. Sofija’s face falls, and Geralt thinks, shit , but Jaskier springs up from his seat, extending a hand to the child while sinking into a deep, courtly bow.

“Ah, my dear lady fair,” he says, lowering his voice into a stage whisper, “my friend is too embarrassed to say, but he’s the worst dancer on the continent or off; I, however, would be delighted to have the honour.”

Sofija is laughing before Jaskier’s even done speaking, taking his proffered hand and letting him tug her into the crowd of dancers. Another thing that hasn’t changed since he was young: any hint of tiredness from his performance is gone now that Jaskier is dancing, all boundless enthusiasm and energy as he twirls Sofija around and does no small amount of twirling himself.

Ridiculous bard , Geralt thinks, fond, and, because there’s music and dancing and no one is paying attention to him, he doesn’t bother hiding a smile.

---

He’ll give this to Yennefer: she has always known how to make an entrance.

One moment they’re sitting around doing nothing, confined to the cottage by the latest snowfall, Geralt sprawled on the bed with his eyes shut while Jaskier uses his stomach as a pillow, humming the same few bars to himself again and again the way he does when he’s composing; the next moment, a portal is open above the fireplace, stirring up a wind that sends things flying off the table.

Geralt lurches bolt upright, sending Jaskier tumbling off of him with an indignant ‘hey!’; he’s at the shelf, his sword drawn and ready in an instant, though he lowers it as he realizes that he recognizes the figure that emerged from the portal.

Yennefer straightens slowly, tossing her hair and brushing dust off of her dress. She looks around appraisingly, meets Geralt’s eyes for only a moment – his heart skips – before skimming right over him and settling her gaze behind him, on the bed.

“Jaskier,” she says. “You’ve let yourself go.”

Jaskier props himself up on an elbow. “Does being a miserable hag ever get boring, Yen, or is it the sort of hobby that becomes more rewarding the more you practice? Just curious.”

Geralt waits for Yennefer to vaporize him. She doesn’t. She smirks .

Geralt feels, for the first time in a long time, the full reality of how very much he is not in his own time, here. Last time Yennefer and Jaskier interacted, that fateful trip up the dragon’s mountain, they’d bitched at each other, which, sure, they’re still doing, but now Geralt doesn’t think he’s mistaken in detecting some kind of affection to it. The sort of fondness born of long acquaintance.

Jaskier doesn’t look all that surprised to see Yennefer here, is the next thing Geralt realizes, and he puts the pieces together slowly. “The magic mirror,” he says, then, at Jaskier’s nod, “That was months ago.”

“I don’t come when I’m called,” Yen says, affronted, which, yeah, Geralt knew about her.

Jaskier jumps in to explain. “Yen was generous enough to leave magical means of communication last she visited,” he says. “I sent word back when you first appeared, of your arrival.” He frowns. “Departure?” he tries, before settling on, “Spatio-temporal oopsie. I figured if anyone could shed light on your magical predicament, who better than the witch who’s been ruining our lives with magic for decades, even though she apparently decided to take her time -”

“Your voice,” Yennefer interrupts, “It’s like flies in midsummer, just endless droning on and on-”

“I loathe you,” Jaskier says, prim. “Drinks?”

“Obviously,” Yennefer says, and Jaskier hops off the bed cheerfully, chattering away.

Geralt looks at Yen. She shrugs a shoulder – she’s enjoying this, everyone Geralt cares about is a dick – then turns to continue her conversation with Jaskier.

Slowly, extremely slowly, Geralt sets his sword back on the shelf.

He dislikes feeling at a loss. Feels that way now, at the revelation that the only two people he’s ever actually cared about romantically are apparently friends, and at the jarring realization that he’s forgotten, these past weeks, how badly he was supposed to want to find a way back to his own time. He didn’t realize how much he’d grown accustomed to existing with Jaskier in their own world until the real world in the form of Yennefer appeared. Geralt feels strangely guilty, which is just- it’s bullshit, really, because he and Yen are bound together until the day they die, but they never promised each other anything. Not that he and Jaskier are anything, currently. Not that- even if they were-

Geralt blinks, startled to attention as Yennefer snaps her fingers. “Come on, then,” she says, beckoning him forward.

She sits him down at the table to look at him, a hand on his chin as she tilts him this way and that as if conducting some sort of examination. Geralt lets her move him where she wants him. Does not fixate on her hand, soft on his skin as she mutters to herself. He feels her magic probing at his mind, doesn’t try to resist.

Yennefer sighs, eventually, and draws back. “You’re not cursed,” she says. “Not charmed or enchanted or drugged.”

“So?” Jaskier asks, from where he’s perched cross-legged on the table behind Geralt.

“So,” Yennefer says, and Geralt gets the distinct impression that she knows, or at least suspects something more that she’s not saying. “Something put him here. I expect it will put him back when he’s done what it wants.”

“That’s it?” Geralt asks, unsure whether to be relieved or disappointed, and Yennefer fixes him with a look.

“My apologies,” she says drily. “You’re clearly suffering gravely.”

Jaskier snorts. Doesn’t look even remotely apologetic when Geralt shoots him a dark look, just leans forward. “Give me news of the wide world,” he requests.

Yen slides into the seat next to Geralt’s. “Same miserable shit as always,” she says, then, “some bard wrote a song about Ciri.”

Jaskier gasps and claps his hands, clearly thrilled. “Tell me everything , I need to know rhyme scheme, chord progression- how does it compare to my work? Don’t tell me if it’s better, actually, I can’t deal with that emotionally-”

Geralt doesn’t know who he’s supposed to look at as the conversation progresses. He ends up staring between both, keeping his mouth shut.

It occurs to him, as Jaskier and Yen are trading barbed insults for maybe the tenth time, that he might have a type.

Definitely keeping his mouth shut.

---

He and Yen walk together as the sun starts going down, wandering off the path, away from the eyes of villagers who would have questions about the appearance of a stranger when no boats have arrived from the continent in months.

It’s cold out, but Yennefer flicks her hands, makes a glowing ball of light that radiates enough heat to melt a patch of grass for them to sit on. She kicks her shoes off as they do, these spike-heeled, miserable-looking things. It’s as if she’s shedding armor.

Her voice is different when it’s only the two of them, the way it generally is. “You hardly know me at all, do you?” she asks, then, without waiting for an answer, “When are you from?”

Geralt has to put effort into not casting his gaze down at his feet, because Jaskier didn’t hold a grudge, but everything he knows about Yen would suggest that she will. “We argued,” he says.

“Be more specific.”

“On the mountain.”

“Ah, yes, when you informed me that you bound me to you via djinn,” Yennefer says. Curt, but not especially angry, Geralt doesn’t think.

“I’m sorry,” he says anyways, sincerely.

“I know,” she says, and the only reason for her to sound so calm about it is if-

“I apologized already,” Geralt puts together.

“Decades ago and at great length,” Yennefer says, nearly suggestive. Most everything she says is, that or vaguely threatening or both. “You were already with Ciri before you woke up here, then?” Geralt nods.

“You know her?”

Yennefer gives him a look. “She’s as much mine as she is yours,” she says, and Geralt doesn’t even get a chance to attempt to untangle the complicated and fierce surge of happiness in his chest at that before she continues, “Jaskier was with you too?”

“No,” Geralt says. It’s unpleasant to speak about, even though Jaskier forgave him. “I sent him away. I hadn’t seen him for months.”

“Hm,” Yennefer says, and it’s the same as before, the feeling that Geralt gets. She has an idea, a theory about all of this.

“What?” he asks her, laying one hand flat on the newly-visible grass as he leans back.

“What, what?”

“You know something.”

Yennefer purses her lips. “Hardly.”

“You think something, then,” Geralt pushes. “This doesn’t happen, Yen, how could I be here?”

Yen sighs. “You’re still questioning the power of destiny in getting its way?”

Geralt pushes his fingers into the dirt, considering the suggestion. It has occurred to him that destiny might be the answer for why he’s here. He can’t fathom why, though. There was no invocation of the law of surprise, no wish for a glimpse at his future. He’s stopped denying the existence of destiny – Ciri is proof enough – but he can’t fathom why it would meddle so opaquely. Besides, destiny sending him here would suggest that it’s sending him to Jaskier, which wouldn’t make sense, no matter how much Geralt might want it to.

“My destiny is you,” he says. It’s not any sort of declaration, more a statement of fact. For better or worse, he made his wish in Rinde; he is Yennefer’s and she is his and he doesn’t know how living the rest of his days like an old married couple with Jaskier is compatible with that.

“Your destiny is me,” Yennefer agrees. “And your destiny is Ciri, and your destiny is to save all the people you’ve saved and kill all the people you’ve killed, and any semblance of choice you have in the matter is an illusion, Geralt, is that what you’d like to hear?” She fixes him with a piercing look. Maybe something close to pity. “If you’re still holding out on admitting you love the bard, it’s your own doing.”

“Yen,” Geralt says, throat suddenly dry. He doesn’t know what he means to say, to apologize, maybe, but Yennefer cuts him off.

“Tell me you’re not egotistical enough to expect us to fight over you,” she says, then, at the look on Geralt’s face, “Oh, please, you can’t think I’ve never had other lovers.”

“Jaskier’s not-” he starts then stops. He isn’t sure what the fuck Jaskier is to him, anymore. This Jaskier, or the one from his time, or- fuck, any of them. Him. Geralt doesn’t know what the fuck he’s allowed to want, not on his own and certainly not in light of whatever bullshit is being pulled by destiny.

Yennefer sighs, understanding him without words. “I don’t begrudge you this, Geralt,” she says, frankly. “I think it’s fucking delusional. But I don’t begrudge it.”

Geralt makes a sound of disagreement. “If I’m on this island, destiny will keep bringing you and I together here,” he says. “How can you be alright with that?”

“Maybe your bard has grown on me,” Yennefer shrugs, nonchalant, or trying to be. “Maybe I find your mutual blind devotion endearing. Maybe I’m the love of your life and you’re the love of his, I don’t know.” She curls her toes in the grass. It makes her look younger. Human.

Geralt lays a hand on the small of her back, touched in spite of himself. That’s the thing with Yen, those rare little moments of sweetness – in spite of herself , he thinks – that he knows are hidden from mostly everyone. He knows how much it means to allow someone to see you without armor.

He allows himself, just for a moment, to contemplate what she’s telling him. That maybe he was wrong all along about the lack of future available to a human and a witcher, that this future, this kind of permanency, of home , might be something he’s allowed to have.

“Besides,” Yennefer says, airily. “He’s got, what, a couple of years left? You and I have all the time in the world.”

Geralt frowns. He knows human lifetimes are insignificant to mages, but Jaskier’s hardly ancient, even by their standards. “He’s not that old.”

Yennefer’s eyes flicker to his, and for a moment, it looks as though she’s going to laugh at him, and then her face twists with realization.

It’s a shot of ice water through Geralt’s veins.

A couple of years. She said it with absolute certainty.

“You didn’t know,” Yennefer says, quietly. To her credit, she looks sorry, as abashed as Geralt has seen her. “Geralt-”

He’s already on his feet, stalking across the grass and snow. His heart is pounding loud in his ears, the world around him nonexistent. The door to the cottage shakes on its hinges when Geralt shoves it open.

Jaskier’s seated at the table with one of his books, and he looks up when Geralt enters, a smile on his face. Geralt cuts him off before he can speak.

“You’re dying.”

Jaskier’s smile is slow to fade. His hand drifts, as if of its own accord, to his heart, to where Geralt knows the skin under his shirt is a mess of mangled scars. Ghouls , Geralt remembers, too late, the kind of connection he should have made instantly, would have made instantly if he hadn’t let himself grow complacent here.

“The venom,” he says, a question, and Jaskier nods.

“Yen was able to isolate it,” he says. Not panicked at all, just matter-of-fact. “To- not stop its spread, but to delay it.”

“You’re dying,” Geralt repeats, a question, though he knows the answer.

Jaskier hesitates, but nods, just once, and Geralt takes a step back, staggers like he’s been hit.

He can’t breathe . “So- what?” he says, and it comes out practically a snarl, angrier than he thought he was. “I sit here with you playing human until you wither away and then I’m supposed to- to return to normal, like you never existed, that’s it?”

“No, Geralt, don’t be ridiculous,” Jaskier says, then, “Well, actually, yes, that’s pretty much it.”

He’s making jokes. He’s slowly dying with every beat of his heart, and he’s making fucking jokes about it.

Geralt has been such an idiot. He bought, willingly as a fool, into the illusion of permanence of this place, and he’s known- of course he’s known that Jaskier cannot live forever, but Geralt was so fucking happy here that he let himself entertain the idea of decades ahead of them, decades of something like a home here, the two of them. He- fuck, he was making plans , and now they’ve been snatched away from him as surely as though they were never there by the poison biding its time in Jaskier’s blood. A couple years left, Yennefer said, at most. A blink of an eye, barely even that, and then Geralt loses this.

“Fuck that,” he spits the words, harsh and deadly. “Fuck this.”

“Geralt,” Jaskier says, and he doesn’t finish rising from his seat before Geralt is out the door, slamming it behind him.

Geralt doesn’t know where he’s going other than away, as far as he can get. It drives him forward, forward, out of the village and past anywhere he’s been before. Jaskier was right about the village being the only sign of civilization on the island – Geralt walks and walks and sees nothing but snow-covered ground and a few thin, bare trees. It’s cold, bitingly so, and grows colder still as night falls around him.

Geralt isn’t paying attention: his foot lands on a patch of ice, skidding, and he has to catch himself on the nearest branch to avoid falling. It’s the first time he’s paused, and the lack of forward momentum explodes inside him. He snaps the branch right off of the tree, hurls it as far as he can ahead of him, then rears back and hits the tree itself. The bark splinters under his fist, the trunk of the tree groaning warningly as it sways, showering Geralt with snow.

His breath comes out ragged, inhuman.

He hates him, is his first coherent thought in hours, furious and wild, he hates Jaskier Julian Viscount of Whatever the Fuck and the audacity of him to walk into Geralt’s life and make himself important enough to hurt leaving it. Hates him for knowing that he’s been dying the entire time Geralt’s been here and not saying a fucking word about it.

He’s a liar as well as a fool, is Geralt’s second clear thought, because he’s never been able to muster up the ability to hate Jaskier. Not even close. Not even once. They’d both be better off if he had.

Destiny shouldn’t have brought him here. Not for this, for putting him face to face with what’s been looming over him since the first moment he realized Jaskier wanted him, since the first moment Geralt entertained the idea of wanting him back.

It is wrong, instinctively wrong like a poorly played instrument, the idea of Jaskier dying. Everything inside Geralt rejects the idea. Jaskier is too vital, too loud and exuberant and willing to sincerely romanticize the bullshit contrivances of life to be dying. Death is Geralt’s world, not his.

Jaskier would stay, if it were Geralt with a handful of years left to live. Jaskier would plant himself at Geralt’s side and make some extremely tone-deaf jokes about witcher funerary customs and the thought of leaving wouldn’t even cross his mind.

Not even close, not even once.

Geralt’s not him. Geralt is a coward, as well as a liar and a fool, because he doesn’t know what the fuck would possess his future self to choose this, to know perfectly well that Jaskier would live at best another handful of years and still decide to settle down and make a home, to sit vigil at his long, slow death. It’s not a choice Geralt would have ever made, it’s a choice he’s actively fought against, hell, that was the entire purpose of leaving Jaskier in the first place way back on the mountain, to spare himself the pain of wanting someone with such a finite amount of life. Nothing could make him want to expose himself to that much hurt.

Nothing, he realizes, except, perhaps, foreknowledge of the happiness that would precede it.

He can’t fathom choosing to watch Jaskier die. Equally unfathomable, though, is the idea of, having seen this life, a cozy cottage and a village of people unafraid of him and Jaskier sharing his bed and his confidence, choosing to deprive himself of it.

“Is that it, then?” he asks aloud, shouting at no one. “You bring me here, you show me this so I’ll choose it still?”

Destiny, predictably for abstract forces that fuck with people’s lives, does not answer him. The echo of his voice disappears into nothing. Above him, the night sky stretches out to the horizons, littered with stars.

Geralt sinks to his knees in the snow, abruptly exhausted.

Ciri told him before that he was brave. Brave like a knight , she said, and Geralt hadn’t had the heart to dissuade her. He used to think himself brave, as well.

He’s never, not in a century of staring down beasts out of nightmares, had to ask this much of his bravery, to love and lose, to knowingly choose a path leading to that much joy and pain.

It isn’t fair, he thinks, absurdly and petulantly, then wants to laugh at himself, almost hysterically.

Some fucking witcher. Whining about fairness. As if life gives a fuck about fair. As if he’d deserve it if it did.

Jaskier does. Jaskier deserves fair and better. More than he’s got.

Jaskier would stay at his side, no matter what.

The wind blows, ghostly and constant, through the trees.

---

The sky is the pale grey of early morning by the time Geralt makes it back to their cottage.

The warmth inside is shocking after a night in the woods – he’s grown soft, spoiled in his time here. Vesemir would laugh at him endlessly. He shakes his head, and a tiny icicle falls from his hair and shatters on the floor.

Jaskier, standing at the other end of the room, watches him.

Geralt watches him back.

Jaskier breaks the silence.

“Yen left,” he says, staying where he’s stood. “She said to tell you bye.” He makes a face. “Well, she didn’t, but I assume it was implied. You two have an extremely strange dynamic, you know, it’s like, you love each other, you hate each other, you’re bound by fate, everything’s very grand and tragic and sweeping. I could write an incredibly moving epic about it.”

Rambling. Deflecting.

His gaze doesn’t waver as Geralt approaches, something very nearly wary about the look in his eyes. Cagey. It feels wrong, him looking at Geralt like that. He never has before. Geralt can hear it when he swallows, like he throat is dry.

“I thought that you were gone, you know,” Jaskier says. “Back to your time, and that my Geralt hadn’t been returned, and that I was left on my own.” He’s saying it casually, lightly, but it’s strained, and his voice nearly breaks when he repeats, “I thought that you were gone.”

“…I’m not,” Geralt says.

Jaskier’s laugh is humourless. “I can see that.” He’s looking at Geralt hard enough that Geralt wants to back away – he doesn’t – as Jaskier takes a step closer, shaking his head. “I don’t know why I’m even relieved you’re back, you’re such a dramatic fuck .” He moves suddenly, so that Geralt expects to get hit. Instead, he’s yanked into a hug, desperate and clinging.

Even as upset as Geralt can recall seeing him, Jaskier’s default is affection. Geralt has known no one like him, not in more than a hundred years.

He is no stranger to touching and being touched by his bard, by this point: he recovers from his initial stunned stiffening and brings his arms around Jaskier’s back, leans into the crook of his neck and holds on just as tightly. For a long time, neither of them moves.

“Don’t go away from me,” Jaskier says into Geralt’s shoulder, quiet enough that he’s nearly inaudible. “Not without letting me follow.”

“Seems like a double standard,” Geralt says, fingers tightening unwittingly where they’re holding a handful of Jaskier’s shirt. He can feel Jaskier’s heartbeat against his chest, where the jagged scar over his heart presses against him, a reminder.

Jaskier draws back and glares .

“Yes, Geralt, I’m so very sorry to have disrupted your famously sunny worldview with the news of the inevitability of my sooner-than-optimal demise,” he says, sarcastic and deeply bitchy, so mostly normal, for him.

He goes on, picking up steam, “As fond as you and Yen are of marvelling at the intricacies of human mortality, though, I don’t plan on dropping dead in the immediate future, so what say you we continue on in the grand tradition of everyone ever and live as well as we’re able until such time as dying becomes a more pressing concern.”

Geralt glares right back. “You’re too flippant about your own life.”

“Pathologically, yes,” Jaskier agrees without a second’s pause. “That’s what I have you for.”

Geralt’s instinct is to argue, but, he realizes, in some twisted way, Jaskier is right, or at least not wrong. He’s followed Geralt into hundreds of impossibly dangerous situations, and has had to be rescued from more creatures than Geralt could count, but Geralt has also saved him just as many times from jilted suitors or jealous partners and other messes of his own making. It’s not impossible to suggest that he’s lived longer than he would have otherwise, thanks to his relationship with Geralt.

Not long enough. He won’t be here long enough, not by centuries, not even compared to most other humans, and he doesn’t realize what he’s asking of Geralt, to stay here at the end of him, to go on with life after him.

Geralt sighs. It comes out coiled tight, rough, but it defuses whatever tension remained, leaves them standing face to face, no animosity left. For all of their bickering, they don’t truly fight often. Certainly not over what essentially amounts to ‘I care about you too much to contemplate losing you’, unspoken but, Geralt suspects, mutually understood.

That’s what it comes down to, Geralt figures, and the conclusion roots him in place, grounds him. He doesn’t want Jaskier to fear that he’ll leave. He won’t leave, he realizes, not by choice, not ever again, because at some point, in spite of his hopeless attempts at breaking things off between them, selfish and selfless in turns, they’ve become essential to each other.

As long as he can have this, Geralt wants it, regardless of what comes next.

Slowly, gently, Jaskier lays a hand against Geralt’s cheek. The calloused pads of his fingers brush Geralt’s jaw. Geralt wants to put his mouth to them.

“Forgive me, love,” Jaskier says, and for once, Geralt doesn’t bother to correct the term of endearment.

He wants to laugh. Instead, he has to swallow around the lump in his throat. “For dying?”

“Yes,” Jaskier says.

Geralt closes his eyes, leans into Jaskier’s palm. It’s broad, sturdy, for something so fragile.

“Forgive me,” Jaskier says again, quietly now, and Geralt nods his assent. They’re standing close, still in each other’s space, and Geralt watches Jaskier come to that realization in the same second that he does. For the space of one breath, then another, neither of them moves. The moment teeters on a cliff’s edge.

“Friends again?” Geralt asks. Some stupid attempt at normality.

Jaskier lets out this breathy little laugh. Takes his hand from Geralt’s face quickly, folding in his fingers. “Friends,” he agrees, and Geralt returns his smile, pretends not to be missing the warmth of his touch.

He’ll have to miss him, one day. For now, though, they have this. Worth the promise of pain. Worth, Geralt thinks, anything at all.

---

The depths of winter here are not what they were at Kaer Morhen, nothing close, but Geralt can’t help but be reminded of his time in the witchers’ keep all the same.

Home, in his experience, is a warm place to lay your head and no one immediately trying to kill you. He is meeting both criteria now, in spades, spending his days like any other normal person and his nights in a bed that has begun to feel like his.

Jaskier still steals the covers. They’re good at sharing, anyways. Geralt grows accustomed to the warmth of another body, to the hushed sound of Jaskier’s snoring in his ear, to Jaskier’s hand curled into the space between Geralt’s shoulder blades. To the quiet conversation when they’re bracketed into each other and Geralt listens to whatever comes into Jaskier’s head that night.

“Did you know,” Jaskier says, on one particularly cold night, “did you know that my you grows a beard, sometimes?” He always makes the distinction, now, before saying anything about their romantic relationship. ‘My you’, ‘my Geralt’. ‘Not you’, is what Geralt understands.

“Hm?” Geralt prompts.

“Yes,” Jaskier says, then, waggling his eyebrows, doing this ridiculous low voice, “It makes me positively weak in the knees.”

“What doesn’t, Jaskier?” Geralt says, and has to swat Jaskier away when he hits his chest.

“I will have you know that I have incredibly discerning taste,” Jaskier declares. He flicks Geralt right in the chin, fearless, while Geralt rolls his eyes and wraps his arm tighter around Jaskier’s waist.

The snows fall and fall. They play more cards. Geralt goads Jaskier into arm wrestling him, once, and subsequently has to put up with Jaskier teaching his students an incredibly petty song about a witcher “slamming the hand of an innocent bard practically through the kitchen table, honestly”. Still preferable to ‘Toss a Coin’.

Geralt chops firewood to keep them warm, then chops more for the people living around them. They take their meals at the tavern, horrifying amounts of pickled fish. It’s peaceful, consistently enough that Geralt stops expecting monsters to emerge from the water, allows himself to return claps on the back from the fisherfolk.

He surprises himself with his ability to talk. Albeit, only to Jaskier, but still- Geralt didn’t know he had so much to say. There are no secrets between them, not anymore.

“You and Yen are alright?” Jaskier asks, the two of them under the blankets like a little cave.

“Yes,” Geralt says. “I think.”

“I used to be horribly jealous of her,” Jaskier says, which, yeah, Geralt was there, it was obvious.

“Until when?” he prompts.

“Until she saved my life,” Jaskier says, tapping his chest. “She gave us this time. I’m grateful.”

Geralt taps Jaskier’s chest as well, just with one finger, just once.

“I’m glad you have her,” Jaskier says, and Geralt makes a sound of disbelief, because Jaskier is deeply and fundamentally good, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a possessive bastard. “I am . If you ever tell her I respect her I’ll kill you, but I do, there’s no one else I’d trust with you after I’m gone.”

This time, Geralt’s scoff is only endeared. It’s so very nearly a very nice moment before Jaskier adds, deliberate, “She’s also an excellent kisser, I wouldn’t deprive you.”

“You-” Geralt is fairly sure that his eye twitches at the concept of Jaskier and Yennefer kissing, of the way they’d look wrapped around each other, every fantasy Geralt’s ever had tied up in one beautiful and infuriating package. “You don’t know that.”

Jaskier raises an eyebrow, innocent. “Don’t I?”

Geralt narrows his eyes at him. “You’re fucking with me.”

“Am I?”

Geralt doesn’t know who to be jealous of.

He is, though. He’s jealous at the idea of Yennefer, of anyone getting to kiss Jaskier. He’s stopped lying to himself about that, which is good, probably, except that the days keep passing and it turns out that honesty is better in theory than in practice, because it means that acting normal when Jaskier is chatting at him from in the bath is, uh, a challenge.

Still one secret between them, perhaps.

“Think how long we’ve known each other,” Jaskier says, skimming a hand along the surface of the water. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

Geralt is ostensibly reading, or trying to, but he humours him. “Are we the sort of people to do nostalgia, now?”

“I made a living off of nostalgia, for your information,” Jaskier says, no heat behind it. “People love nostalgia, it’s fun, you miserable old fuck, now let me reminisce.”

“We got tied up and almost murdered by elves,” Geralt reminds him. “That was fun?”

“More fun than I’d ever had before that,” Jaskier says. He’s not even joking. Geralt ducks his head to play off a smile. Jaskier notices. “What?”

Geralt shrugs a shoulder. “You were so annoying,” he says, the truth, if not exactly the answer to Jaskier’s question. It was like whiplash, going from being herded out of a village with pitchforks to approached by an obnoxiously friendly bard in an equally obnoxious outfit.

“I was eighteen ,” Jaskier laughs, but doesn’t argue, because even he’s not enough of a liar to suggest that he was anything but an endlessly-horny nightmare of a youth. His smile softens as he meets Geralt’s eyes, shaking his head. “You were the best thing I’d ever seen, just- the best.”

His eyes look dark like the ocean in this dim light; for a moment, Geralt is drowning in them, and then Jaskier gives a quick little shake of his head, as if waking himself up. “Right,” he says, in response to nothing in particular, then gets his hands on the side of the tub to heave himself out.

Geralt catches just a glimpse of Jaskier’s hips emerging from the water before he looks away, down at the safety of his book without processing a single word. He listens to Jaskier’s wet feet on the floor – he’ll forget it and leave Geralt to towel up the water later, when he’s emptying the tub – and doesn’t lift his gaze until he hears Jaskier sit down in front of the fireplace to dry off.

With Jaskier facing away, Geralt can look his fill. He does, greedily takes in the planes of Jaskier’s back, the way his hair is getting shaggy enough to fall further down his neck. If Geralt’s eyesight were human, he wouldn’t be able to make out the details at all; as it is, Jaskier is more silhouette than anything else, soft-edged against the fire’s orangey glow. From this angle, obscuring his face and his scars and any obvious signs of aging, he could be himself from any of the nights Geralt has known him, transported out of time just like Geralt has been.

He’s the best thing Geralt’s ever seen. Just the best.

Geralt’s breath catches at the realization.

He has not one for impulse. He has never been one for impulse, so he doesn’t cross the room and wind a hand in Jaskier’s damp hair and kiss him and kiss him and kiss him, but he wants to.

He wants to.

---

Wanting someone, as it turns out, and admitting to yourself for the first time in a decades-long acquaintance that you want them, is generally a pretty fucking terrible experience. Worse if they don’t want you back.

It’s just that Geralt thought-

He assumed-

It’s stupid. The Jaskier he left back in his time spent multiple decades flirting with him at every possible opportunity, and there were all the pet names and things when Geralt first woke up here, so Geralt was arrogant enough to assume that it all meant that this older Jaskier still felt the same; and he wasn’t completely wrong, because Jaskier makes no secret of having feelings about the version of Geralt that was here first, but he also makes absolutely no indication that those feelings apply to Geralt-Geralt, current Geralt, extremely fucking kicked-on-his-ass-by-formerly-repressed-feelings Geralt.

Geralt listens, waits almost desperately, but Jaskier offers no more ‘love’ or ‘darling’, has not once tried to touch him in any more than platonic way. Geralt could almost laugh at it, if it weren’t so abjectly miserable: Jaskier either thinks Geralt doesn’t want him yet, or he doesn’t want Geralt yet, and the end result in both cases is Geralt feeling, ridiculously, jealous of his future self.

He doesn’t know how the fuck he would’ve made Jaskier aware of his feelings. He must have, at some point, for the two of them to end up here, but the mere thought of actually admitting things makes Geralt want to throw himself off the fucking cliff. Facing down an army would be preferable.

He tries, in increments. They’re walking back from the tavern and Jaskier is complaining about the gusting wind, acting like he’s about to be blown off the path, and Geralt doesn’t even think before shrugging out of his cloak and draping it around Jaskier’s shoulders. He doesn’t look half-bad, in Geralt’s colours.

“Oh,” Jaskier says, blinking all surprised. “Oh. Thank you.”

Geralt withdraws his hands from Jaskier’s shoulders faster than if he’d been burnt. “Yeah,” he says, and keeps walking, face burning, leaving Jaskier to tug the cloak tighter around himself and jog to catch up.

Maybe , Geralt thinks, maybe, maybe, maybe , this persistent thread of hope, and it lasts until that night at the tavern, when Jaskier plays a softer song than usual, this helpless, longing thing.

“I’m weak, my love, and I am wanting,” he sings, the entire place captivated as his voice breaks artfully, and Geralt’s thread of hope snaps.

He had twenty-two years to act on Jaskier’s crush, and now that he feels safe enough to consider actually doing it, Jaskier’s hung up on his future self. Maybe this is why destiny brought Geralt here, for a laugh at his expense.

He bullies Jaskier into coming for a walk on the first warm day in ages. Deceptively so, maybe – there’s still a patchwork of snow on the ground – but the sun is out, and Geralt feels better in the open air. Jaskier being Jaskier, he gets distracted chatting with Sofija’s mother as they pass their house, and the conversation drags enough that Geralt wanders off, further down the path.

Just off the stone, where the snow is melting and grass is poking through, there’s a tiny buttercup, reaching up for the sun. It’s a bright little thing, most likely doomed to be trampled, but obstinately optimistic nevertheless. Geralt kneels down and picks it before doubling back, clutching the stem as delicately as he can. Once he makes it back and Jaskier is still talking, Sofija skips toward him.

“Is the flower for Jaskier?” she asks, because all children are nosy and borderline prescient little bastards.

“No,” Geralt says, embarrassed. “Shut up.” Then, feeling guilty for telling a six year old girl to shut up, “You take it.” He shoves the flower at her. Along the path, Jaskier throws back his head and laughs at something Sofija’s mother is saying. The laugh carries, nearly melodic.

This is a nightmare. Geralt doesn’t even know what the fuck he’d want to happen even if he had, hypothetically, given the flower to Jaskier, like, I know I’m a pathetic and infinitely grouchier version of the person that you’re in love with, but here, have this pointless and barely-blossomed wildflower because, surprise, I also apparently have the courting abilities of a twelve year old girl . That’ll fucking do it, Geralt.

He’s so, so shit at doing all of this… feeling. He can’t comprehend how Jaskier did it for so long, travelling with him while being infatuated, living day to day with this, this- yearning , this gaping ache for someone and the paralyzing inability to do anything about it.

“Fuck,” he says out loud, and Sofija, halfway through picking the petals off of the flower, looks at him. So- fantastic, now he’s taught a little girl to curse. Her mother is going to kill him. “Don’t repeat that.”

“Repeat what?” Sofija asks. “Fuck?”

This , this is why Geralt doesn’t do feelings.

…Fuck.

---

Niklas agrees readily enough to let them take out his boat. Not for any functional purpose – Geralt rows them just far enough that they can feel alone out on the water, the sea lapping up against the boat’s sides in a distinctly friendly way, like even the waves know that it’s nearly spring.

They talked, for a while, and now they’ve lapsed into silence. Well. Geralt has lapsed into silence. Jaskier is humming. Not anything that Geralt can recognize. He shuts his eyes to listen, rocked this way and that with the water. If he were to turn his head just the slightest bit, his lips would touch Jaskier’s. Instead, he contents himself with letting the back of his hand rest against the gold trim of Jaskier’s shirt as they lay in opposite directions, feet at either end of the boat and heads side by side in the middle.

“Do you miss him?” Geralt asks, once he’s got up the nerve. “Me, who was here with you?”

“You are here with me,” Jaskier says. Geralt gives him a look, come on , and he sighs. “Yes,” he relents. “Yes, every day. You establish quite a few inside jokes, you know, in twenty years.” He offers a little smile, and Geralt understands it for the sad thing it is. “It’s nice having you here too, of course,” Jaskier adds, as if as an afterthought, and Geralt’s heart leaps, but then he goes on, “I missed having someone to win arguments against.”

Geralt’s heart sinks back through the bottom of the fucking boat. “You’ve never once won,” he retorts, instead of admitting anything. He doesn’t intend to push the conversation any further – he’s adequately convinced of his own apparent lack of appeal compared to his future self, thanks – but Jaskier hums thoughtfully.

“I have a question too,” he says, and Geralt turns to look at him again. “It’s weird.”

Geralt raises an eyebrow, everything you say is weird.

“Shut up,” Jaskier says, then, nearly a blurt, “Do you still hate it here?”

“Jaskier,” Geralt says, taken aback by the question – he hasn’t been miserable here in months, even then was mostly forcing himself to be out of fear of what he thought he couldn’t have. Jaskier is already shaking his head, sitting up so he can peer down at Geralt.

“Not- I’m not asking whether you care about me or enjoy seeing me safe and happy, I know you do,” he clarifies. “It’s only that my Geralt always seemed perfectly content here, but seeing how hard it was for you to adapt to this life, and not knowing if we’ll ever find a way to get you back to your proper time, and knowing that you don’t feel-” He breaks off, meets Geralt’s eyes just for a moment before finishing, his cheeks tinged pink, “I know you aren’t mine yet, but you are my closest friend, so please, tell me truly, are you unhappy here?”

The boat rocks gently as Geralt sits up too. He keeps his face neutral as he rolls Jaskier’s words over in his mind, the finality of them. My closest friend.

That’s it, then. He’s Jaskier’s closest friend, that’s how Jaskier sees him. Not mine , he said that, too.

“I’m not unhappy,” Geralt says, too gruff and ages too late, though it’s enough for Jaskier, judging by how he lays back down, head on Geralt’s thigh, this time.

Friends , Geralt thinks, friends, friends, in time with the movement of the boat. It’s more than he thought he’d have. How greedy has he become, to feel that that is not enough? He’s Jaskier’s friend, Jaskier is Geralt’s friend, and that’s enough, for two people meeting in a time they aren’t supposed to, that has to be enough.

Friends, thinks Geralt like a mantra as he’s wading through the shallows, tugging the boat back to shore; friends, he orders himself, as he and Jaskier wash down their supper with bitter ale; friends, as they settle in at their cottage for the evening, passing the time in each other’s company the way they always do.

It’s the first night in a long time warm enough that they can afford to be lazy about the fire, letting it burn smaller than usual. They sit on the floor, on folded blankets, close enough that their arms brush every so often. The way they always sit. Jaskier’s got one leg stretched out, the other bent close.

He indulges Geralt’s lack of conversation for only minutes before speaking, the way he always does.

“Your ponderous angsty silences sound different from your normal silences,” he informs Geralt, conversational instead of prying. Very intentionally, Geralt would wager. Jaskier nudges their knees together. “Tell me what you’re thinking so I can tell you to stop thinking it.”

And the thing is: Geralt wants to. He wouldn’t have ever before, wouldn’t have even dreamt of it – Witchers need no one and want no one needing them , he told Jaskier, once, a lifetime ago – but now he’s gotten a taste, he’s wanted and gotten and found that he can enjoy both of those things. He wants to be able to want things, to want them and ask for them when he does. He wants this life, all of it.

“You said,” Geralt says, slowly, haltingly. “I’m your closest friend.”

“Always,” Jaskier says, earnest as ever, then, when Geralt looks at him, he continues, voice slightly higher-pitched, “Of course we’re friends, we’re like brothers, practically-” Geralt blanches, and Jaskier stumbles, “Nope, that’s terrible, we’re not- we’re friends, yes. Best friends.”

They both look away, Jaskier at his feet and Geralt into the fire. He steadfastly ignores the flicker of hope in his chest, just forces himself to breathe, in then out.

“And that’s all I can hope to be?” he asks, finally, turning to meet Jaskier’s gaze, searching. “Your friend?”

Over a century, he’s been alive, and the space between two breaths has never once lasted longer than it does right now, as he’s willingly making himself vulnerable, laying himself bare.

For the first time in Geralt’s memory, he cannot interpret the look on Jaskier’s face. He opens and shuts his mouth a few times as Geralt watches him, as though deliberating over what to say. It’s odd seeing him anything but certain.

When Jaskier speaks, it is as restrained as Geralt has ever heard him. “Geralt,” he says, careful. “You aren’t…” he flaps a hand, searching for the word, “beholden to me because of something you’ll decide in decades.” His throat visibly bobs as he swallows. Geralt can hear his heart racing. “You haven’t chosen this yet.”

“I would,” Geralt blurts, not giving himself the chance to back out. “I do.” He turns where he’s sitting so they’re facing each other. “I know that I’m not the version of me you care for in that way, but I… like this.” It comes out more gruffly than he means it to, the way he’s picking the words out one at a time, because he wants to say them right.

“Being here. Like this.” He reaches up, thumbs at Jaskier’s collarbone to make his meaning clear. “With you.”

It’s incredibly hard to say, feels like serving up his heart on a platter and leaves him abruptly and severely embarrassed. He scowls and bites his tongue, literally, to stop himself rambling on.

Jaskier, because he’s physically incapable of not being an irreverent little shit for five fucking minutes while Geralt’s trying to have an emotional revelation, raises an eyebrow. “Keep it in your pants, Geralt, I’m supposed to be the wordsmith here.”

Geralt glares at him, sharply, and moves to withdraw his hand, but Jaskier catches him, holding Geralt’s wrist with both hands. “Sorry, sorry, I’m only teasing.”

His eyes seek out Geralt’s again. Geralt lifts his chin, defiant, and Jaskier’s gaze softens. “This is truly hard for you, isn’t it?” he asks, with a little sigh. “I’d forgotten how repressed you were when you were this young, it’s both adorable and deeply inconvenient.”

Geralt’s indignant retort dies on his tongue as Jaskier squeezes his hand. “You’re right, you aren’t the Geralt that lived with me here,” he says, matter-of-fact. “You are, however, the Geralt that I followed for twenty-two years. If I’ve been reticent in any way it was for your sake; if you think my affections for any version of you are fragile enough to be shaken by some minor temporal inconsistencies, you’re more dense than I thought.”

His words are softened by their punctuation: he brings Geralt’s hand to his lips, presses a kiss to his knuckles, chaste, fleeting, before he lets go. Geralt’s mind is a tumult, every inkling of a coherent thought giving way to the sensation of Jaskier’s lips against his skin, like a brand. He’s saying- it sounds as if he’s saying-

Jaskier folds his arms atop his leg and rests his chin there, too, lips curving up in a grin. “But please, my darling dearest witcher, if you’d like me to play hard to get, I certainly will, feel free to continue wooing me with your words of-”

Geralt tugs Jaskier in, one hand on the back of his neck, and kisses him.

“Words of- mmph-” Jaskier says against his mouth, and Geralt kisses him again, thoroughly and deeply, until Jaskier parts his lips for him, sighing instead of speaking, his hands fisting in Geralt’s collar, pulling him ever closer, closer.

It is not like any kiss Geralt remembers. Not like any in a hundred years.

“I’m not young,” Geralt says when they break apart for breath. They’re pressed together from their foreheads, along the bridges of their noses. Nothing else exists. Nothing else could, not with Jaskier half in his lap, his fingertips warm through Geralt’s shirt.

Jaskier scoffs, a breathless sound. “I said continue with wooing , not pedantry about the vagaries of time travel,” he scolds. “Impossible man.” He catches Geralt’s lips again, kisses the corner of his mouth, the arch of his cheek, before drawing back enough to meet his eyes. “I love you too,” he all-but-whispers, fervently.

Geralt’s fingers tighten in the hair at the nape of Jaskier’s neck, unwittingly. “I didn’t say I love you.”

“You will,” Jaskier says, eyes alight, hands braced on Geralt’s shoulders. He looks precisely like he did the first day he approached Geralt in Posada, like Geralt is something he’s been searching for without knowing. Smiling, smiling, smiling. “At length and with surprising frequency, for years and years until I’ve no choice but to stop doubting it, and every time you do, I’ll actively have to fight the urge to burst into song and actively fail to fight the urge to spend the rest of my life composing ballads and hymns and sweeping orchestrations to express my eternal gratitude to the gods and anyone else who’s listening for allowing a humble bard to love and be loved by Geralt of Rivia.” He breathes out, half a laugh. “What a thing.”

He’s so fucking dramatic. Geralt could live a dozen lifetimes and not deserve him. “Jaskier,” he says.

“Hm?”

“Shush.” And this time Jaskier is laughing when he kisses him, his lips curved into a smile against Geralt’s, Geralt’s doing the same. It’s probably not his best work, objectively, but he doesn’t care. Geralt has no room in his mind to be objective, not when he’s finally allowed this, unadulterated happiness that feels like it’s humming through every bone in his body.

Neither of them bothers going slowly, because they’ve done their waiting, almost twenty-three years or maybe hundreds, if they’re going by the actual dates of things – Jaskier’s hands are roaming, exploring impatiently, so Geralt moves to shrug out of his shirt to make it easier on him.

“Allow me,” Jaskier says, and Geralt stills obediently, raises his arms to allow Jaskier to pull off his shirt. It feels like something important, something both ritual and mundane when Jaskier lays a palm flat against Geralt’s chest, feeling his heartbeat.

“Nothing you haven’t seen before,” Geralt echoes Jaskier’s own words back at him, dry, and Jaskier shakes his head, eyes shining.

“Not something one gets used to,” he counters. “You’re unfair, did you know that?” He pushes at Geralt’s chest, and Geralt allows himself to be pushed backwards, pillowed by the blankets spread on the floor. Jaskier swings a leg over his so he’s straddling Geralt properly, and his eyes are hungry, so obviously so that Geralt has to grin.

“You’re bossy, bard,” Geralt says, a laugh rumbling its way through him.

“Are you even remotely surprised, witcher?” Jaskier asks.

“No,” Geralt says, and that’s the thing, he’s not surprised at that or at most of what happens next, because he knows Jaskier, like the back of his hand and in ways he’s never known anyone he’s lain with. And there’s something to it, he has to conclude, to loving your best friend, because it means that Jaskier knows him and his body, can touch him confidently, and that Geralt can smile teasingly when Jaskier nearly fumbles the little vial of oil and soaks Geralt as he’s trying to open himself up, and that, when they finally come together, it feels like something Geralt has always known.

Oh ,” Jaskier gasps, like something reverent, as he sinks down onto Geralt’s cock, brilliantly tight and obviously knowing what he’s doing. “Oh, I missed this, I did.”

Me too , Geralt almost says, nonsensically, and instead rocks his hips upwards to make Jaskier fall forward, braced over Geralt on his forearms, so that he’s back within kissing distance. Geralt’s whole face is going to be scrubbed raw by Jaskier’s beard, and he loves it, the edge of pain, something to focus on to avoid falling apart embarrassingly quickly at the sight of Jaskier, still in his shirt, moving faster and faster against him.

“Geralt,” he’s saying, panting. “Geralt, if you could see yourself, you have no idea how long I’ve been wanting -”

Geralt can’t help the growl that escapes him, this less-than-human, desperate thing – Jaskier doesn’t look scared, he never looks scared of him – as he surges up and flips them over, bending Jaskier’s leg and pressing him down into the blankets. From that point on, Geralt has no sense of time, is aware of nothing except the heat between their bodies, the way Jaskier’s fingers are always moving against his back, constantly fidgeting as if on lute strings, as if he’s already committing this to song.

“Do you know,” he says, breathless into Geralt’s ear, “Do you know what’s only just now occurred to me?”

Geralt stills, taking all the restraint he’s got. “Hm?”

“The first time,” Jaskier says, “in my memory, that is, the first time we did this, ages ago, I thought, by all the gods, this man must be psychic, you were that good. And here I was all these years, questioning my superiority as a generous lover, and all the while you had the advantage of knowing from experience precisely what pleases me.”

Geralt shifts, gets a hand under Jaskier’s chin to tilt his head up. He knows a dare when he hears one.

“Show me,” Geralt says, low, thrilling in the way it makes Jaskier’s breath catch, “what pleases you.”

And he does.

---

They do make it to the bed, eventually, once the fire has flickered down to nothing. They both lay on their sides, facing each other and whispering like children, because – shock of shocks – Jaskier apparently enjoys talking after sex as well as during.

“We should celebrate,” he declares.

Geralt watches Jaskier tracing out the scars on his torso. “Celebrate what?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Jaskier shrugs a shoulder. He looks ridiculous, his hair sticking up in all directions, even his beard dishevelled. “Mortality? Music being the food of love? You should catch me a fish.” He taps right over Geralt’s heart.

“Alright,” Geralt says, fighting a smile as he lays his own hand flat against the scars over Jaskier’s heart. Scars that led them here. “I’ll catch you a fish.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.”

“For a pet,” Jaskier clarifies, and Geralt makes a face.

“We’re not having a pet fish.”

“We could-” Jaskier starts before dissolving into laughter, clutching his stomach and shaking the bed with it, and he only barely manages to say, “Geralt, we could name it Roach,” before falling apart into giggles again.

Geralt can’t but laugh as well, hopelessly and helplessly fond. “I’m not fucking you in front of a fish named Roach.”

“That’s quite alright, dearest, I’ll do you instead,” Jaskier says, then, when Geralt pinches his hip, “ Ow , I will make you sleep on the floor again, don’t think I won’t.”

“We’ll flip for it,” Geralt says, then Jaskier makes a face and tugs on a strand of Geralt’s hair so Geralt has to wrestle him until he’s pinned – “Get off, you unromantic bastard” – and then it takes them forever to get comfortable again, but they do.

Jaskier presses a kiss to Geralt’s neck, comfortable like habit, before cozying up. Hogging all the covers, while he’s at it.

Geralt watches him drift off into sleep, listens to his breathing slow and even out.

He’ll catch Jaskier a fish tomorrow, he decides. Something huge and unwieldy to make him splutter and scold about how disgusting it is, serves him right, and Geralt will be able to say he told him so, and knowing Jaskier, he’ll write some petty song about it that will get stuck in Geralt’s head for weeks.

Geralt presses his face into the top of Jaskier’s head and smiles. It’s a new sensation, anticipating the future. A pleasant one. He kisses Jaskier’s forehead, barely a touch. A promise. Tomorrow .

He falls asleep that way, warm and peaceful and utterly content, with Jaskier at his side, the reason for all three.

---

---

---

Geralt wakes up cold and alone, which is how he knows something is severely wrong.

No , he thinks desperately, no , aware in slow motion of the noise of the forest around him, of the damp maple leaf stuck to his face. The smell of dirt.

He fell asleep here, a lifetime ago, the night before he woke up in his future.

He’s back.

The jolt of longing that hits him feels like being stabbed and twisting the knife. Jaskier is – will be – still asleep in their cottage, but the arms around him will belong to someone Geralt won’t be for years. It’s almost too much for his mind to fathom, his memory holding a life he hasn’t yet lived, months gained and no time at all having passed. He doesn’t know where Jaskier is, and after months of being glued to each other’s side day and night, the empty space beside Geralt feels like losing a limb.

The space beside Geralt is empty. It’s only that realization that could jolt him from his mourning.

He sits up, Ciri’s name on his tongue, and sees her before he has to bother speaking. She’s already awake, sitting a few feet away, next to Roach, looking precisely how Geralt remembers her. She’s safe. Too skinny, still, and scared like prey, but safe. Watching him, now, almost thoughtfully.

“You should have woken me,” he says. His voice feels hoarse from lack of use.

“You looked happy,” Ciri says. More lethal than you , Jaskier told him, will tell him about her, but for now, she’s only a girl with no one else in the world but Geralt, looking confused because his happiness is uncommon enough to be notable. “What were you dreaming about?”

Geralt doesn’t answer, sitting up more comfortably and scraping his hair back from his face. His clothes are the same. Nails still filthy with mud and blood.

Jaskier is somewhere far from here, convinced Geralt doesn’t want him around. Geralt had nearly managed to convince himself he didn’t want Jaskier around, when he fell asleep here one night and a lifetime ago. He fully intended never to see his bard again, to spare himself the pain of losing him later. He was so blind. Blind and scared and stupid, but not anymore – he’s had his reminder from destiny, and Geralt intends on taking it to heart.

Resolve hardens in him, determined. He has to collect himself. This, on the run with Ciri, is his life for the foreseeable future. He is a witcher, and he has been for more than a century: enduring is what he does. It’s enough to know that he’ll have Jaskier back one day, that they’ll cross paths or Geralt will search for him at some point, and he’ll apologize and finally say it back, I love you , and spend the rest of their short shared time making Jaskier believe it. He has had more than he ever expected. He will have that again. That knowledge has to be enough.

He rolls out his shoulder, lays a hand on his swords where they rest at his side, blades crusted with dried blood. “Why are you awake so early?” he asks, trying valiantly to feel grounded where he is. He can wait. He can wait and want, he owes Jaskier that much.

Ciri holds her fingers over the embers of the campfire. “I heard singing,” she says.

Geralt freezes mid-breath.

“Nothing close to us, I think it came from the road.” Ciri sounds nearly wistful. “He had a lovely voice.”

Geralt doesn’t realize that he’s getting to his feet until he’s already standing, half-posed to run toward the dirt path. These are not roads traveled by bards, not by any bards smart enough or with enough self-preservation not to spend their lives following witchers.

It’s Jaskier. He knows, certain as anything, it’s him.

“Geralt?”

Ciri looks confused when Geralt spins to look at her, like she’s unsure whether or not to worry about him.

“When?” he asks, suddenly breathless. “When did you hear the music?”

“Not too long ago,” Ciri says. “Not long at all, why?”

Geralt laughs aloud, helpless, and wants to laugh again at the utterly bemused look it puts on Ciri’s face. The soft light of dawn is filtering down through the trees, and Geralt can feel it warming him, can feel it like the hand of destiny reaching out, beckoning him to the future.

Geralt reaches back, and makes his choice.