Traveling with a companion was… different. Especially one as boisterous and flamboyant as Jaskier.
Decades of wandering the Continent with nothing but Roach by his side, Geralt had to admit he was not quite used to another set of lungs pestering him with senseless banter.
Then again, no human had dared tag along for as long as Jaskier has.
It had been around a year, by his best approximation, since the bard declared himself the witcher’s barker and stuck himself to the witcher’s side like a spectacularly persistent kind of leech.
“Don’t leave the campsite.” Geralt grunted toward the relaxed form of Jaskier reclining against a fallen log, the dancing campfire casting his flawless skin in shades of amber.
“Yes, yes, my dearest witcher, I won’t move.” Jaskier waved a hand at the other man in a flippant gesture before tugging his lute into his lap and grinning as though that would lend aid to proving his innocence. “Wouldn’t want to be pulled apart by a mutated chicken lizard-“
“-yes, that’s what I said.” The bard smoothed his red doublet in an attempt to look mildly offended. “Really, Geralt, I’ll be fine. It’s a full moon tonight anyway; I can see really well so nothing will get the jump on me.”
Geralt was anything but convinced, but with most things pertaining to Jaskier, he just heaved a sigh and let it go. If the bard needed his help, all he had to do was shout.
“I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Jaskier simply waved his hand once more dismissively and proceeded to begin strumming something lively and upbeat, turning his attention to the instrument of his livelihood and relaxing where he as sitting against the fallen log.
And with that, Geralt lumbered into the forest.
Stupid fucking villagers. After all the fuss they made, there was not even a basilisk plaguing their town.
No, it was a baby cockatrice. A baby cockatrice that was blind and altogether helpless, no sign of its mother anywhere within the unkempt nest. It was an easy kill, yes, but a part of Geralt felt guilty cutting the newborn down. Still, it was better than letting it slowly starve to death, so with the head in hand, he followed the sound of a lute as he ambled back to the campsite-
Only to find Jaskier prancing around in a circle with a group of Bruxae around the campfire, belting out a song that sounded more like nails on glass than anything else.
What the fuck.
“Geralt!” The bard cried happily when he noticed the stunned form of the witcher at the edge of the wood. “These lovely ladies decided to join me and help with my song! They’re- no, put your sword away, dear, they’re harmless.”
Five gleaming eyes stared at Geralt as the Bruxae stopped dancing around the fire to lock eyes on the intruder, and despite himself, Geralt felt his slow heart speed up just a bit in something akin to panic.
If the Bruxae wanted to, any one of them would be able to get to Jaskier before he could rush to defend him; they could tear the poor human apart with their long talons-
“Alright my lovely ladies, thank you so much for your contribution to my song! You all have such beautiful voices!” Jaskier shouldered his lute and offered the five vampires a grin that split from ear to ear in genuine happiness. “I hope we run into each other again. Stay safe and stay away from villages!”
And with that, the five Bruxae simply wandered back into the woods as though they had never been there in the first place.
“What the fuck,” Geralt hissed once they were far enough away. Was this mortal absolutely off his rocker? Was he truly lacking that much in self-preservation? “Why didn’t you call for me? Why didn’t you hide? Why did they-“
Words seemed to fail him (as they so often did), when he realized with a start that there were no traces of fear coming from the bard. No burnt sour smell obstructing the man’s natural flowery essence.
The bard was not the least bit apprehensive about singing and dancing around a campfire with five beings that could tear him to shreds in an instant.
“They wouldn’t harm me, Geralt. They were actually very pleasant.” Jaskier offered in a matter of fact tone before gesturing to the perfectly cooked rabbit roasting over the fire. “Now, please tell me you’re hungry after that hunt of yours because I would be loathe to waste this food!”
Traveling at night was never a good idea.
Correction: it was never a good idea when traveling with a human who was clearly missing a few marbles, but unfortunately, they did not have a choice.
The bard would not stop bitching about one of his lute strings snapping earlier that evening. Jaskier wouldn’t stop to listen to Geralt when he went wandering away from their campsite to where his best approximation of a village would be, and what was Geralt to do but follow and make sure the man didn’t hurt himself?
He refused to have any more human lives on his conscience.
“Do you absolutely have to get strings at this very moment?” Geralt sighed once again from atop Roach, feeling her huff in agreement to his exasperation against his legs.
That was apparently a question so offensive that Jaskier whirled around from where he was leading the charge and fixed Geralt with an affronted look. ”Of course it is, Geralt! Do I ever do anything I don’t believe is absolutely urgent?”
Geralt chose to let silence be his answer on that one.
Jaskier sniffed in offense. “Right. Well, no matter what you may think in that frankly unfairly gorgeous head of yours, I-” Jaskier cut himself off with a start before turning on his heel and tearing into the forest to their right without another word, leaving Geralt to prompt Roach to gallop after him.
Why was the bard so fucking fast? Branches whipped at his skin as he tore after his traveling companion, Roach’s chest heaving under his thighs with the effort until they came upon a scene Geralt couldn’t recall ever having come across before in all his years of life.
The brightly colored bard was crouched beside a Katakan who was trapped under a sizable boulder, whimpering and tittering in pain as it struggled to free its leg. It was obviously pinned; if it did not get free before daybreak, the sun would slowly burn it to death.
“Don’t get too close,” Geralt rumbled, dismounting Roach in one swift movement and approaching the pinned being with his hand reaching behind his back to grab his silver sword. It was a mercy kill; there was no way he could move that boulder. Given the size of the mountain behind them it must have rolled down from, the chunks of earth looked immobile. “Go look after Roach, I’ll-“
Words left him in a rush when Jaskier, who had previously been ignoring his presence in a way he never really did (really, did the man have to insist on keeping watch while he was bathing in their rented room for the night?) gave a soft huff with his hands on his narrow hips before engaging in a staring contest with the Katakan, both beings completely still for a few moments before Jaskier shook his head and broke eye contact. “He’s not hurt too badly, just pinned.” He announced. “Should be right as rain as soon as he’s free.”
Ignoring how the bard came to that conclusion, Geralt sighed and unsheathed his silver broadsword. “If it can’t get out, then the broken leg will kill it more slowly. If it can’t hunt, it can’t live.”
Roach pawed at the ground behind him as though in agreement, a snuffle coming from her great chest as she stared at Jaskier.
“Nonsense.” Was the response he got for his instruction, the bard squatting beside the boulder just enough to brace himself against the hard stone, baby blue trousers bunching against his deceptively thick thighs as he grounded himself. Whatever the bard thought he would accomplish with trying to move it, Geralt wasn’t sure, but he didn’t want to have to listen to the man complain about having a sore shoulder later on, so he took a step forward to yank him back by his doublet collar when, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the boulder shook and let out a loud groan as it rolled off the trapped katakan to settle on the grass by its side instead.
“There we go!” Jaskier straightened himself and dusted off his hands in a show of nonchalance, not moving an inch as the katakan pushed itself to its feet and shook itself free of dust and rubble. “Now, go home and let your love know you’re safe! I’m sure she’s worried sick.”
The vampire stared at the bard in silence for a moment before reaching into its fur and pulling loose a ring that had been adorned to its side in a show of status. It twiddled the jewelry in its large clawed hands a moment before offering it to Jaskier, who took it with a delighted gasp.
As soon as the ring was out of its grasp, the katakan turned and ambled back into the forest, carefully avoiding putting too much weight on its sore leg.
“What a nice fellow.” Jaskier hummed as he worked the ring onto the middle finger of his left hand before waltzing past Geralt toward Roach without a word, giving the stunned witcher a pat on the shoulder on his way.
At this point in their travels, Geralt really shouldn’t be surprised anymore.
Jaskier was an enigma just as much as he was an open book. The things he did didn’t make sense most of the time, but his medallion didn’t make so much as a peep when around the man, so Geralt put the coincidences out of his mind. It wouldn’t do to dwell on things like that when instead he could pay attention to the warm feeling in his chest whenever his bard would grin at him or brush a friendly hand across his arm while they walked, his affections given freely and without hesitation.
In hindsight, he should have known acquiescing to Jaskier beg him to go into the village they were camping outside of for some Est Est would result in something headache inducing.
And here Jaskier was, using Geralt’s Gwent deck to challenge a fucking Alp to a game of cards.
“Oh, you sly witch. If I didn’t know better, I would accuse you of cheating.” The alp seated across from Jaskier simply huffed a laugh through a mouthful of sharp teeth, long claws carefully setting down card after card onto their makeshift game board made from Geralt’s bedroll. His sudden appearance seemed to throw her for a moment, nervous eyes flicking between his hulking form and Jaskier’s concentrated face, his tongue peeking out from the corner of his mouth for a moment before he slapped a card down onto the fabric. “HA! Beat that! I’m not as good at this blasted game as Geralt, but- oh! Hello dear heart!”
The alp idly smoothed her dark hair from where she was sitting cross legged on the ground, not bothered in the slightest about her nudity as she watched them with an air of amusement.
“Geralt, this is Laira! She’s quite the Gwent master, if I do say so myself.”
Nothing Vesemir taught him could have prepared him for this. There was most certainly something wrong with the bard mentally. Perhaps he had been hit in the head one too many times with stale bread, or possibly dropped from a significant height with nothing to break his fall but his skull.
It wouldn’t be the most outlandish conclusion.
The alp seemed to have had enough of Geralt staring at her in stunned silence, for she pushed set her cards down and pushed herself to her feet despite Jaskier’s whining that he was winning and she was just a sore loser. Still, she offered her opponent a gentle smile that would have looked stunning on a mortal without a jaw full of razor-sharp teeth. She mumbled something in a language that sounded like a combination of glass breaking and wind chimes in a storm before Jaskier’s pout turned into a good natured grin.
“Quite right, Laira! Now, I’ll be taking your forfeit as a victory for me, so don’t be a sore loser and give me any nightmares or I’ll be having a talk with your mother.”
And with that, Laira brushed some old flaking blood off her naked chest and spared Geralt one last glance before disappearing from their makeshift camp site.
Unable to do anything other than stare, Geralt simply leveled a look at Jaskier and fought a bewildered smirk when the bard gave him a pout not unlike a ruffled bird. “Don’t give me that look! I’ll have you know I studied in Oxenfurt; languages come as easily to me as hunting comes to you!”
Bringing Jaskier to Kaer Morhen had been a long time coming.
Songs about the White Wolf were sung in almost every corner of the Continent; his brothers would have to be hard of hearing to not have at least caught some part of the songs in taverns and brothels.
Still, that didn’t stop them from treating Jaskier with suspicion the first time he stepped through the decrepit and crumbling fortress. At least Vesemir seemed mostly disinterested in the newcomer.
Lambert was the first one to approach the vibrantly dressed bard, his dark and muted clothing a stark contrast to the vivid gold doublet Jaskier had chosen to wear for this very occasion. “so,” he began, a grin that would rival a wolf curling his lips, “You’re the lark Geralt has been allowing to follow him around the Continent.”
A hum was the only answer the younger witcher got from the bard settled at the dinner table beside him.
“I gotta say, you’re not what I thought you’d be.”
That got Jaskier’s attention as well as Geralt’s from the human’s other side. “Is that so?” Jaskier hummed as he tuned his lute, content to push his leftovers toward his white-haired companion and focus on his music as soon as their meal was over.
“Lambert’s got a point.” Eskel pointed out from across the table, using his fork to point vaguely at their guest. “The Path isn’t an easy one. It’s a miracle in and of itself that you haven’t been hurt.”
“Oh, I’ve been hurt plenty.”
Lambert and Eskel stared at him for a moment before the younger witcher snorted and leaned back in his chair to cross his arms, an attempted air of nonchalance betrayed by the twinkle of mischief in his catlike eyes. “Oh, I’m sure Geralt is rough with you, little lark. He’s not talking about your preferences in bed though.”
Geralt felt his fork snap in his hand as he gripped it in a tight fist. Vesemir merely sighed and excused himself silently from the table with an expression that said he knew exactly what was about to happen but didn’t care enough to stop it. As soon as the eldest witcher had left the dining area, Jaskier turned in his seat to give his antagonist his full attention. “Lambert,” he began, a tight smile on his face as he shouldered his lute. “I’m sensing you don’t like me very much. Because if you did, you wouldn’t be such an asshole.”
A snorted laugh hidden in a cup of White Gull from Eskel has Jaskier smiling viciously even as Lambert sputters over being called out. “Now, dear witcher, if you would be so kind as to show me a little more respect, I could do wonders for your reputation.” He emphasized this with a flutter of fingers over the strings of his lute. “Just ask Geralt. My fingers have brought much good fortune to his image as well as other parts of him.”
The grin he gave Lambert was just a tad too sharp, canines on the side of too pointy to be comfortable. Lambert, for once in his life, thankfully shut the fuck up when Geralt leveled him with a death glare from over Jaskier’s shoulder, just daring him to say something.
The younger witcher wisely looked away as the upbeat strumming of a lute filled the room.
Kaer Morhen was a home just as much as it was a reminder of the pain and suffering every witcher had gone through during their changes, but Geralt couldn’t deny the good the mountain air does him.
The sky was as clear as it gets this far into the mountains, the temperature perfect and sun beating down on his shirtless torso as he sparred with Eskel.
That was the other thing; being with his brothers was a relief. Knowing they have survived another year on the Path and are still honing their skills lifts a weight off his shoulders. So few of their kind were left that it was almost a novelty to be surrounded by the three remaining School of the Wolf witchers no matter how many winters he returns.
He knows the extra mutagens that were pushed onto him made him that much faster and stronger than his brothers, but he was always more than happy to spar with them to keep everyone’s instincts sharp.
After all, a slow witcher was a dead witcher.
“What’s got you so in your head, Geralt?” Eskel asks as his chest heaves in effort, his dagger once again deflected by Geralt’s own. They had been sparring for what had to have been an hour by now, both drenched in sweat and relishing the ache in their muscles from a battle that was almost evenly matched.
“He’s thinking with his other head!” Lambert crows from the dodge of the sparing area, busy sharpening his weapons with his whetstone and more than content to watch what he refers to as ‘The Pissing Contest’ Eskel and Geralt always get themselves into.
Eskel’s scarred lips curl up in distaste at the mental image before shooting Jaskier an apologetic look over his shoulder where the bard is sprawled out on a flat rock with his notebook spread across his lap. Jaskier simply shrugs a shoulder and offers a glimpse of a smile through pearly white teeth.
“You sound real pent up, Lambert. Maybe you should go to your room and sort it out?” Jaskier snarks just to entice the youngest witcher into harmless bickering to pass the time.
Geralt stifles a soft smile at the sight of Jaskier getting along with his brothers just long enough to deflect another lunge from Eskel, barely casting Aard in time to protect himself from the dagger the other man threw at him.
It was common practice for them to use sparring daggers made specifically for this purpose, but after a grapeshot bomb went off accidentally and burned all their practice ones (Lambert was suspect number one,) they had to resort to using the real deal.
And because of this, Geralt didn’t even think about the possibility of the dagger changing course until it was headed directly toward Jaskier.
”Jaskier!” Geralt roared in warning, heart in his throat as sharp steel glinted in the sun before it sunk into his companion’s shoulder, drenching the soft pink chemise he was wearing a deep red.
From there, everything was a blur. Geralt nearly trampled Eskel in his haste to get to Jaskier’s side, the scent of blood sharp and wrong in his nose as he skidded to a halt in front of the bleeding man. “Jask,” He whispered, carefully inspecting the area the dagger cut into while the bard gingerly held his arm, baby blue irises swimming with unshed tears. “It doesn’t look bad. Missed any major arteries and organs.”
“What the fuck guys,” Lambert spat as he stomped over, his scent the same worried musk that surrounded the other two witchers.
“It was an accident,” Eskel murmured as he moved to stand behind Jaskier to hold him still when they inevitably had to pull the dagger out.
Getting stabbed wasn’t exactly a fun experience.
“It’s not that bad.” Jaskier was quick to assure the three fretting mother hens, his eyes not leaving Geralt’s for even a moment. “I’ll heal without issue. Besides, I heal fast!” Before anyone could think to stop him, the man wrapped lute calloused fingers around the hilt of the dagger and yanked it out without a sound, carelessly dropping it to the ground once it was free of his person.
A wounded noise ripped its way out of Geralt’s throat before he could stop it. “We need to stop the bleeding,” Large sword calloused hands quickly applied pressure to the steadily bleeding wound, the instinct that years of mending wounds gave him taking over as his brothers made sure to stay out of his way, one watching with an expression wracked with guilt while the other covered his worry with a mask of anger.
Geralt didn’t realize his hands were shaking until a familiar hand gently covered his own, long pale fingers brushing past scarred knuckles until the trembling stopped.
“I’m fine love, don’t worry.” Jaskier offered, eyes gentle and loving. “It would take much, much more than a measly dagger to tear me from your side.”
This was all his fault.
If he hadn’t been fighting the arachas poison currently wreaking havoc in his bloodstream, he would have noticed the band of brigands surrounding their camp before it was too late.
But of course, he was barely able to lift his head in time to see four archers with their bows pointed at them, six more bandits descending from the woods and brandishing swords at them.
“Gentlemen,” Jaskier greeted them from where he was crouched by Geralt’s side with open arms and a disarming smile. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”
The particularly grungy looking bandit leader sauntered his way in front of his men, keeping his hand on the pommel of the heavy mace he had at his side as he took in the campsite and its inhabitants. “What a lucky find!” He crowed when his eyes landed on Geralt, clearly incapacitated and struggling to stay conscious where he lay on the grass with his head propped up on Jaskier’s bedroll.
“It’s not every day we com’ cross a witcher! And not just any ol’ witcher; the Butcher of Blaviken!”
“Bet that there medallion would fetch a pretty penny or two,” One of the archers called out.
“Thought I saw a bounty ‘round here somewhere for his head,” Called another.
“Now gentlemen-” Jaskier began before he was cut off by the sound of an arrow whizzing by his ear to embed itself in the tree just behind Geralt.
The bandit leader grinned through what looked to be a mouth full of rotten teeth. “How rude of me. We have another esteemed legend in our midst! Julian Alfred Pankratz, Viscount de Lettenhove,” the leer Geralt caught the man giving Jaskier made his blood boil and heart pound twice as fast. “Got a client that would just love that pretty lute of yers. Possibly even yer head.”
“Valdo Marx?” Jaskier hazarded a guess, carefully shuffling so his body was between Geralt and the brigands.
“Pretty and smart, are we?”
Bright purple clothed shoulders gave a nonchalant shrug. “Not hard to guess. The knobhead isn’t exactly known for being my biggest fan.”
Genuine amusement danced in the leader’s eyes as he took in the deceptively scrawny bard. “Maybe I won’t kill ya. Yer mouth seems much more useful.”
“Oh?” Cornflower blue eyes narrowed at the thinly veiled threat. “Is that because yours has as many teeth as a babe? Or because you smell so putrid even ladies of the night won’t touch you?”
The tense but jovial mood surrounding the camp quickly turned sour and sharp as fury flickered across the dirty face of the bandit leader, cracked lips turning into a sneer as he leveled a look at the archers and gave a sharp nod.
“N-no-“ Geralt gurgled, fear and agony making him choke as he fought tooth and nail with limbs that refused to listen to cast Quen and protect Jaskier, helpless tears welling in mutated eyes when his fingers remained still and the sound of an arrow piercing flesh rang like a shot through the clearing.
Every inch of Geralt’s body cried out in heartbreak as four arrows pierced Jaskier; one in his upper thigh, the second in the same shoulder he had been pierced with a dagger so long ago, the third in his torso, and the last one in his neck.
No mortal could survive injuries that grave. Fuck, not even many monsters could heal from that, let alone sorceresses or sorcerers. They would be finished the second that arrow hit their neck.
Every memory of besotted smiles sent his way, every laugh, every gentle touch filled with love and adoration and care, every song sung about him through kissable lips flashed through his minds eye. Then came the years upon years of traveling alone, a solitary wolf on the Path with nothing but his own loneliness and misery to accompany him.
Life after Jaskier would kill him. He wouldn’t survive it.
Soul crushing agony ripped through him with a force he hadn’t felt since he realized his mother left him alone with nothing but a bucket and a school of wolves expecting him, loss tearing him to pieces as he cried out in anguish.
“That was rude.”
The melodic voice that had sung him to sleep countless nights sounded calm and cool, completely unbothered as Jaskier remained standing between Geralt and the bandits rapidly growing pale as the bard began tearing the arrows out of his own body without a sound. The one in his neck was last, a spray of arterial blood covering the grass around him as he carelessly tossed the weapon to the ground and leveled the trembling soldiers with what Geralt could only assume in his shell shocked state was the most terrifying expression they had ever seen.
From there, Geralt couldn’t tell what happened.
Witcher eyesight was twenty times more sensitive than a human’s and more attuned to movement that would otherwise be invisible, but even with the mutagens that warped his body, Geralt couldn’t see Jaskier as man after man were thrown to the ground in what he could only describe as a massacre. Chests were torn open and spilling innards. Limbs were torn off and one bandit even had such a large chunk of his throat taken out that his head was barely hanging onto his body by a piece of sinew.
Only when the clearing was absolutely silent did Geralt catch sight of Jaskier.
Or, what he thought was Jaskier.
Gone was the face of the man he loved, replaced with a form Geralt recognized in an instant. Once rounded ears were now pointed and sharp at the end; carefully trimmed nails were long and covered in gore; pearly white teeth were replaced by lethal fangs, and the wounds bathing the bard’s purple doublet were gone, leaving behind only ripped silk and a shade of red Geralt never wanted to see on the bard again.
“Vampire.” Geralt gasped as another wave of pain lanced through his limbs, eyes squeezing shut as he fought to come to terms with what he was seeing.
The sound of gentle footsteps approaching him met his ears, the crunch of leather shoes on crisp grass a soothing sound after the horror he had just witnessed. The presence sitting beside his torso soothed his fears like it was nothing. “Geralt,” Jaskier breathed, remorse and heartbreak invading his scent so strongly that the witcher had to force himself to not sneeze at the putrid combination. It was all Geralt could do to force his eyes open and take in the form of the man he loved with all his heart, back to his normal human appearance despite the blood smearing his person like he took a bath in it. “Geralt, I-“
“Gods, Geralt, I’m so sorry,” The adrenaline seemed to leave Jaskier in a rush as the dam broke, tears carving their way down a bloodied face and landing on Geralt’s chest. Human hands curled themselves into the sweat stained black shirt he wore, trembling as their owner leaned over him and pressed a bloody forehead against his collarbone. “I-I didn’t want to tell you, didn’t want to ruin what we have by me being a monster,” Jaskier sobbed.
Geralt’s heart broke once again for an altogether different reason.
“You’re not a monster,” The words were soft but laced with pain, the last wave of the poison fighting his mutated body making him hiss in pain. The poultice Jaskier had applied to the bite in his calf did just enough to take away some of the sting. “You’re Jaskier.”
A blubbering laugh was muffled against his chest hair, the medallion against his sternum warming for a moment at the exhale of breath. “You’re truly magnificent, you know that? All our years traveling together and that’s the best thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Watery blue eyes met his gaze as a shy smile graced the lips he had kissed so many times. “You don’t hate me for lying?”
“Didn’t lie.” Geralt denied, finally able to feel a tingle in his fingers again. “I never asked. Just assumed you’re mortal.”
“Lying by omission is still lying, dearest.”
“Don’t care, just glad you’re safe.” Geralt breathed, finally able to raise his hand enough to bury his fingers in Jaskier’s silky hair. The knots covered in clumps of flesh and whatever else were studiously ignored.
That admission brought another round of crying from the man pressing wet kisses to the underside of his stubbled jaw, a bright smile pressed against his skin.
“I love you so, so much, dear heart.”
Geralt felt himself smiling as the last dredges of the arachas poison were filtered out of his blood. “And I love you just as much, little lark.” He paused for a moment before huffing a laugh. “Regis is never going to believe me.”