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It was nearly nightfall by the time Geralt reached the shore, covered in filth and stinking like death itself. Some beast had been terrorizing the local villages - pillaging their stores and devastating the market. He’d made quick work of it, but it was a bloodbath. All he’d been able to think about since he collected his payment was getting out of these slimy clothes and rinsing off the stench of the beast all over him. The inn didn’t welcome him, but that was fine, he was used to it. 

Lucky for him, it was a fishing village, just a stone’s throw from a crystal-clear bay. The water looked like a dream as he cobbled Roach and laid out his things. The sun had all but disappeared behind the horizon, but he could see well enough. The spot he’d found was a grassy bit of shore that dropped right off into deep water, a perfect place to take a cleansing dip - much better than the sandy beach down a ways.

He’d stripped down to just a shirt and rolled-up trousers and was sitting with his legs in the cool water when he saw something break the surface a dozen or so yards away. Something that looked like a head. He reached for his sword, but he didn’t raise it. The head moved closer. 

His first thought was siren, but that didn’t feel right. There was no song and this head was alone - plus the scent was all wrong. Unfamiliar. Nothing he’d ever smelled before. He tightened his grip on his weapon, uncertainty fraying his nerves as the head advanced. 

Then it stopped, maybe six or seven feet away. Geralt focused his eyes on it and made out features of an almost human face - gentle sloping nose, round cheeks, full lips. The eyes and ears were the only indication that what he was seeing wasn’t human. Just under brown hair, he saw three points sticking out from its ears and the whites of its eyes were nearly swallowed by huge, blue irises. It didn’t look like it was prepared to attack. It didn’t even look nervous - just curious.

“Hello there,” he said quietly, trying not to frighten it. “Didn’t mean to impose.”

The head didn’t speak, tilting a bit to the side. Its brow knitted together in confusion. 

“You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” Geralt asked, not expecting an answer. Of course, it didn’t speak Common, whatever it was. 

But then its lips parted and - “He-ello.” It was slow, experimental. 

Geralt hummed, intrigued. “Do you understand that, or are you just mimicking?”

“Hello,” it said much clearer this time, a proud grin on its face.

“Ah, I see,” Geralt replied. 

It swam closer, close enough to touch, and rose a bit out of the water, revealing pale shoulders and patches of blue scales trailing down his arms. 

“Your name?” he asked, his mouth working hard on the pronunciations 

Geralt’s face took on a look of surprise and he let go of his sword. “Clever thing, aren’t you? Did you pick that up from the sailors?”

The creature looked confused again, but Geralt didn’t push him to answer.

“I am Geralt,” he said, pointing to his own chest.

“Ger-a-lt?” The creature tested out each syllable with an unpracticed tongue. Geralt couldn’t help the tiny upturn of his lips when he finished.

“That’s right. What’s your name?”

The creature turned his head to the shore, searching with his eyes. He seemed to find what he was looking for and swam over to the grass a few feet away. As he stretched out in the water, Geralt saw a blue dorsal fin protruding from his spine and the curve of what should have been his backside just below it - instead of skin, he saw a smooth surface covered in glistening scales. Just beneath the water, a shadow of something long, almost snake-like, with a wide, billowing fin at the end. It was a tail, and a big one by the looks of it. Certainly too big to be a siren. Or anything else he'd ever heard of.

The creature reached out to the shore with a webbed hand and plucked a yellow bloom from the grass - a dandelion. He swam back to where Geralt sat and held the little flower out to him.

“Jaskier,” he announced with a bright smile, revealing a mouthful of teeth just a bit too sharp to be human.

“Jaskier,” Geralt repeated, taking the flower. Their fingers brushed over the stem and he felt the webs and rubbery skin against his. 

Jaskier nodded excitedly. 

“Well, Jaskier, do you mind if I sit here awhile? Clean off my things?” Geralt asked politely. Jaskier didn’t answer, of course, but he didn’t seem deterred, continuing to smile and watch him curiously.

Taking his contentedness as a yes, Geralt dunked his filthy armor in the water and started scrubbing. All the while, he stole glances at his peculiar companion, cataloging his features for further study.

---

There was a sizable amount of work in the area - it appeared to be a hot-spot of sorts for monsters - so Geralt found himself doing something he didn’t often do. He stayed a while, and always returned to the bay where he found the strange creature.

Jaskier seemed more than happy to see him each time, swimming up to the shore and greeting him with an excited ‘hello, Geralt’. He was surprised the creature had worked out the meaning of the words so quickly, but that wasn’t all he knew. Jaskier knew the words for the sea and the land, knew the names of the flowers he could reach on the shore, knew how to say hello and goodbye. It was easy enough to repeat words if he had the equipment to produce the sounds - even some birds could do it - but he knew what the words meant and how to use them. Geralt knew it took high intelligence for a creature to learn human tongues and he’d never seen anything like it, at least not from a creature that couldn’t live among men. 

Though, Geralt had never heard of a creature like Jaskier at all. The more he visited, the more he noticed about him and he was at a loss for an explanation. Jaskier was covered in the most vibrant blue scales from his waist all the way down with a few sparse patches on his arms along with a trail of them up his back stretching to the nape of his neck. His too-big irises matched the color of his scales and almost glowed with the brightness of it. He had no claws or spines, though he did have an impressive set of fangs that retracted into his mouth (that gave Geralt quite a shock the first time he’d seen them).

Perhaps his most impressive feature was his tail. After a very confusing conversation and some hand-gestures, he allowed Geralt to have a look at it, floating on his back in the water so it would lay on the surface. Besides the frankly stunning color, it was huge - the size of a full-grown human at least. And it was strong, solid muscle, capable of carrying Jaskier across great distances (and crushing predators, Geralt imagined; one good swipe with that thing at full force would surely kill a man). Geralt ran his fingertips reverently over the smooth scales for a few moments before he realized what he was doing, pulling his hand back sharply. Jaskier only smiled mischievously and flicked the fin at the end of his tail, splashing water everywhere.

Geralt told himself he was observing, collecting information so he could work out what Jaskier was, but even he wasn’t quite convinced. Intriguing as Jaskier was, his novelty was barely half of the reason Geralt kept coming back. Truth was, he was pretty decent company. It was sad to say, but Geralt didn’t think anyone besides his own kind had ever been so happy to see him approach. He was used to scowls and sneers from all manner of folks - human or otherwise - but never from Jaskier. He always greeted Geralt with the brightest smile and, well, it was just nice to be the source of such excitement. 

He didn’t talk to others much, not unless they’d been paid well to endure him, but Geralt found himself filling what would have been silence with his own words. He told Jaskier what he’d been up to; what jobs he’d done, what things he’d seen. And Jaskier listened with rapt attention, seemingly hanging on to every word. He couldn’t be of course. He couldn’t understand more than maybe a few phrases, but he never let on as much. He would swim up to the shore and rest his chin on crossed arms and watch Geralt talk for as long as he was willing to speak. 

Sometimes Jaskier would repeat words and phrases back to him, parroting best he could. It always brought the tiniest of fond smiles to Geralt’s lips, listening to him try to speak. It made him wonder how he communicated underwater to his own kind (he assumed there had to be others). He wished he could ask about them. Alas, it was impossible. So Geralt just corrected Jaskier’s pronunciation, exaggerating the movements of his mouth and tongue a bit so he could see, and moved on.

“I talk to you more than anyone in this realm, and you don’t even understand what I’m saying,” Geralt told him one evening while he scrubbed his boots, interrupting his retelling of a particularly gruesome job.

To his great surprise, Jaskier replied with relative clarity, “Do understand.” Geralt couldn’t help the huff of amusement at the creature’s very offended expression.

“Suppose you are catching onto some things,” Geralt conceded. Clearly all his talking was serving some purpose after all.

“Do understand,” Jaskier grumbled once more.  

“I do understand,” Geralt corrected.

“I do understand.” 

“Good.”

Jaskier’s grumpy face melted away, replaced with a prideful grin.

“Tell more?” he asked hopefully.

“You want to hear the rest of the story?” 

“Want to hear-” then Jaskier stopped himself, concentrating hard. “ I want to hear.”

“Very good,” Geralt praised, eliciting another bright smile. He really was learning fast. “You’ll speak it like a land-lubber before long.”

He ended up telling a few stories that evening, unable to turn down Jaskier’s requests to ‘please tell more’. 

---

Geralt was walking down the shore towards the usual place a few weeks later when he heard a familiar sailing song coming from near the water. He almost turned back, assuming someone else had chosen this place to waste time today when he realized that he knew that voice. He’d never heard it sing before, but it wasn’t difficult to hear the similarities. Jaskier wasn’t half bad.

The singing stopped once Jaskier spotted him and he gave his usual grin and greeting.

“Where did you learn that?” Geralt asked, settling down on the grass.

“Sailors,” he replied.

“Can you hear the dock from here?” Geralt pointed off into the distance where the few dots that were the docks were just barely visible.

Jaskier nodded in affirmation and Geralt added that to his list of things to remember about this curious creature. His hearing must be phenomenal to pick out individual voices from that far away - even Geralt could only hear a faint hum of noise in the distance. 

“They tell stories too,” Jaskier told him. 

“Don’t expect me to start singing you stories now.”

“I like your stories better.”

Geralt hummed in response and Jaskier returned to his song, intent on finishing it now. As he did, Geralt marveled at how fast he was learning. His Common was much better now, good enough to hold a simple conversation. The more he learned, the more he wanted to talk, even if he couldn’t vary his speech much. Now he was singing. Geralt felt a pang of melancholy at what he had to tell him.

“Jaskier,” he said once he finished his song. He looked up at him expectantly and Geralt paused for a moment under his gaze. Sometimes having Jaskier’s big eyes on him was startling in a way that made his lungs do something funny; he wasn’t used to having anyone’s attention, much less that of someone like Jaskier. Someone who… cared. He shook away the odd feeling and finished, “I have to go away awhile. I have to travel somewhere else.”

“Why?” Jaskier asked, face dropping like a stone. Geralt felt almost guilty for upsetting him (and almost glad - glad that he cared enough to be upset).

“I need more money,” Geralt told him. It was true; the work here had finally dried up and, if he was honest, he had put off leaving for more plentiful pastures longer than he ought already.

“You will come back?” Jaskier had a pleading look in his eyes. Geralt’s lungs were doing that funny thing again.

“I will. In a few weeks,” Geralt promised. “I’ll bring you another story.”

Jaskier seemed cheered at that, though his usual bubbly excitement was subdued for the rest of the evening. Before they parted, he told Geralt to wait and dove down into the depths with a splash. When he resurfaced, Jaskier presented him with a spiraling shell, no larger than his palm. He didn’t have the words to explain his meaning, but Geralt understood anyway. He tucked it safely into his pocket with a grateful hum and watched Jaskier disappear back into the sea. Now it was his heart doing the funny thing - and he spent the rest of his night trying to get it to stop.

---

More than a month later, Geralt found himself back at the bay and far more excited than he had any right to be. He’d been able to smell the salt in the air for many miles now and every step he took since left him feeling a bit lighter. The roads had been less kind than usual these past weeks - at least he thought it had been. Truth be told, he couldn’t be sure if it was really worse or if he’d just grown too used to being around someone who was always happy to see him. Either way, he was eager to see a (real) smiling face again.

As he drew nearer, he heard a familiar voice and an unfamiliar tune drifting through the air. Then he saw Jaskier on the shore, leaning back against the grass with his arms behind his head. Geralt held back a smile and called out, “You really should be more careful in broad daylight.”

“Geralt!” he called back, spinning around with a splash and a smile so wide, Geralt wondered if it ached. He felt that funny feeling in his chest again at the sight.

“I’ve never heard that sea shanty before, where did you hear it?” Geralt asked, kicking off his boots so he could put his feet in the water.

“I didn’t hear it,” Jaskier told him as he sat. “It’s mine.”

“You made that up yourself?” Geralt asked with an unmasked tone of surprise.

“Made it up myself,” Jaskier affirmed, a prideful look on his face.

“Impressive.” And he meant it. “Your Common is getting much better.”

“You helped me,” Jaskier said, and his smile softened into something gentler, fonder.

Neither of them spoke for a few moments, watching each other carefully. Geralt was the one to break the silence.

“Finish your song,” he told Jaskier, “and I’ll tell you a new story.”

---

“I have to go away again. Much longer this time,” Geralt said, legs crossed in the grass. The water was much too cold to dangle his feet in it now.

“Why?” Jaskier asked, the same disappointed look on his face as the last few times Geralt had had to travel.

“Winter is on the way. I have to go home and keep warm.” He’d put it off, but Geralt knew that if he waited any longer, he would never make it through the mountains. 

Jaskier didn’t say anything, just looked down solemnly at his hands where they fiddled with a blade of grass.

“You won’t stay here, will you?” Geralt asked, disliking his silence. “Don’t you go somewhere to keep warm?”

“South,” Jaskier replied. “We go South when the ice stays. Will you go South?”

“North.”

“It’s not warm North,” Jaskier said, brow creasing in confusion.

“It is at my home. I live in a castle in the mountains.”

“Castle?” An excited grin appeared on Jaskier’s face. “With towers, like my song?”

He had taken to making up songs about brave knights and towering castles as of late, one of which included a tower that reached the clouds. Geralt thought of his home and it’s crumbling walls. It was nothing like the grand palaces Jaskier had crafted in his joyful tunes, but Geralt couldn’t bring himself to puncture his fantasy.

“Yes, with towers,” he said.

Jaskier beamed at that, but then his smile started to fade, replaced by a frown that just didn’t look right on such a cheery creature. Geralt felt a conflicting pang in his chest. He didn’t want Jaskier to be sad and he didn’t want to leave (whatever he told himself), but at the same time, it felt good to know he would be missed. He wasn’t sure he’d ever been missed by anyone besides his brothers; no one else seemed to care much where he went or when he left so long as their job was complete. It had taken some getting used to, but he found that he liked it. It was a strange thing to like - the fact that someone else was sad - but he couldn’t help it. It was nice to know someone was thinking about him even when he wasn’t around. Nice to be wanted.

“Tell you what,” Geralt started, drawing Jaskier’s attention. “I’ll be back by the time the dandelions bloom.”

Jaskier’s eyes softened and he leaned in just a hair. “With stories?” he asked.

“With stories,” Geralt promised.

---

“You’re sure it isn’t a siren? What does it look like?” Lambert asked, flipping through the pages of a monstrous tome set on the table before him.

They’d been in what was left of the library for hours this day and many days before, combing through it for any mention of creatures like Jaskier. Geralt had arrived home a few weeks ago and as soon as everyone had had a proper rest, he regaled them with the information he’d collected over the past year. The others were just as stumped as he was.

“He’s too big to be a siren,” Geralt replied with a huff. “His tail is at least six feet on its own and thick, built for strength, not speed. And it’s blue, blue scales up his back and his arms. His fingers are webbed but there are no claws. And he has a dorsal fin.”

“Teeth?” Eskel cut in, looking up from his own pile of dusty volumes.

“All wrong, sirens have needles for teeth. His are sharper than a human’s but he has fangs - big, retractable ones.” Geralt used his fingers to demonstrate the size of the teeth.

“What about the eyes?” asked Lambert.

“Irises are bigger, but they’re blue, like human eyes would be.”

“And he says there’s more of them?” asked Eskel.

“He said, ‘ we go South’ for winter.”

“Wait,” Eskel said, with an incredulous tone. “He speaks Common?”

“Yes,” Geralt replied. “Well. He does now. He’s been learning. I talk to him.”

“Then he’s intelligent?” Eskel shot back.

“Very,” Geralt grumbled. It felt like he’d repeated these facts a hundred times. “He speaks full sentences now. He even learned to sing from passing sailors.”

“Remarkable,” Eskel murmured to himself. Then the door swung open and Vesemir walked in, eyes trained on an old book he’d fetched from his own collection. Eskel looked up and asked, “What do you think, Vesemir?”

“I think your little friend is merfolk,” Vesemir said, taking a seat beside Geralt.

“Those are legends,” Lambert told him doubtfully.

“No more than dragons are.” Vesemir pointed to his book where it now rested on the table between the four of them. His finger poked a hand-drawn illustration of a creature who was human from the waist up and had a long tail in place of legs. It wasn’t an exact match - no pointed ears or webbed hands for instance - but it was closer than anything else they’d found.

Vesemir continued, “They’re cousins of sirens, without the bloodlust and far more intelligent. Old stories say they built underwater utopias and used magic to walk on land. Supposedly, they were hunted out of existence centuries ago, their tails were worth a fortune. Teeth too.”

Geralt’s stomach churned violently at the image placed in his head. “You think they went into hiding?”

“Seems so,” Vesemir confirmed. “Kept away from the shores, replenished their numbers. It’s been so long, they must have forgotten to be afraid, or at least this one has.”

Geralt hummed in acknowledgment while the others flipped through the book. 

“You might do well to keep him out of sight,” Vesemir told him quietly while Eskel and Lambert were distracted. “The last thing his kind needs is for greedy men to get a look at him.”

The image of a bloody, blue tail and sharp fangs hung up at the market place still imposed at the forefront of Geralt’s mind. He contained his grimace and nodded. He felt a wave of something primal and protective sweep over him. That image would not become a reality, not if he could help it.

---

As quickly as it came, winter turned to spring, and Geralt returned to his travels well fed and rested. He should have looked for work right away; he knew it, Roach knew it, and his coin purse most certainly knew it. But as he descended from the mountains, watching the early blooms of the new season, He found himself turning in a very familiar direction. There would be work on the way. Probably.

By the time he reached the bay, he was a few (but not enough) coins richer and the grassy shore was covered in bright yellow flowers. He cobbled Roach and grinned to himself for keeping his word.

Gazing out across the water, Geralt was settling himself down for a wait, when he saw something stirring below. The water rippled from the wind, obscuring his view but he lowered his head to the surface and focused. It could almost be fish but it was much too large. It was wriggling all over, whatever it was, but it didn’t move from its position. He thought it was blue but it was hard to tell.

The wind stopped for a moment and the water stilled. He saw it clearly. A blue tail shimmering in the sunlight. And crisscrossing over the scales, dark, thin cords. A net. 

Geralt saw red. His armor and boots were off in record time and he tucked his dagger into his waistband. As soon as his head broke the surface, he was overwhelmed with the sound of a high-pitched cry, pulsing out from below. He shook his head and tried to block it out. Focus.

It took nearly all his strength to get to the bottom of the bay and the closer he swam, the sicker he felt at the sight before him. The net was tangled around Jaskier’s tail trapping one arm to his side and plumes of red clouded the water around him. Blood . Thin cords dug into his skin and under his scales, cutting deeper with every frantic movement. 

Geralt gripped Jaskier’s free arm firmly in an attempt to soothe him before he got to work on the net. He cut the cords as quickly as he could but it was slow progress. Jaskier was clearly trying to be still but as the net loosed, it dragged through his wounds and he couldn’t help but recoil. 

It was nearly off when Geralt started to feel dizzy. His mutated lungs had held him over longer than an average man, but he still had to breathe. Spots danced in front of his eyes. He needed air and he needed it now. He gave Jaskier’s arm a squeeze, praying he understood that he wasn’t being abandoned before he pushed off the sandy floor and scrambled for the surface. 

He emerged with a splash and hauled in lungfuls of air. Jaskier could probably free himself now, but he wouldn’t be able to swim with those gashes in his tail. From what Geralt had seen, at least a few of them had to be stitched up. He would have to bring him onto land to get a good look, but where? Not back to Roach, it was too open, anyone could see them. He scanned the area and saw a thatch of trees a ways down the shore where the sandy beach was. It wasn’t perfect, but it ought to be enough to conceal them. With his mind made, he took one last deep breath and plunged back below the waves. 

He’d been right about the merman being able to free himself from the net, and right about his wounds being too great to swim. When Geralt reached the bottom of the bay, Jaskier was propped up on his good arm, trying to move and getting nowhere. Gently as he could, Geralt slid an arm around his waist and secured the uninjured arm over his shoulders. He planted his feet on the seafloor once more and pushed off. 

It was a long and difficult swim from there.  Geralt was strong, stronger than most, but even he had his limits. He was still wearing most of his clothes and fought against their added weight on top of the extra being - and he was heavy. Jaskier’s tail was solid muscle and the size of a whole man on its own. He did his best to help, flapping it weakly behind them; it was better than nothing, but Geralt wished it were more.

Trudging to shore was even worse than the open water; there at least Jaskier could aid a little, but with the land beneath them, he was useless. Once the water dipped below their shoulders, Geralt had no choice but to scoop him up and carry him the rest of the way. 

The thin fin at the end of Jaskier’s tail dragged in the rough sand as he walked (stumbled) over the beach and into the trees. Thankfully, there was a little clearing with what looked to be soft grass a few steps in. Geralt dropped to his knees and laid his friend carefully on his good arm. 

His heart raced and his chest heaved. His arms screamed in pain, trembling though the weight was gone. Geralt looked down at his hands and the water dripping from them was red. Blood stained his soaked clothes and the grass around him. It looked purple against the blue scales. 

He’s bleeding. Needs stitches. Right. 

Against his body’s very loud complaints, Geralt shook himself back into action and made to stand. Before he could raise an inch, rubbery fingers were clawing at his arm.

“Don’t go. Please don’t,” Jaskier whimpered. He was shaking like a leaf and his pupils were blown, swallowing the usual ocean blue. 

“I’ll be right back, I need my bag so I can help you.” Geralt brought his captured hand up to Jaskier’s face and brushed away the terrified tears on his cheek. 

Jaskier’s hold didn’t loosen. Geralt could hardly blame him, cold and frightened and most certainly in shock. But he needed care and he couldn’t provide it without his things. Then an idea struck him. He reached up with his free hand and yanked the chain around his neck up and over his head. He pried a webbed hand from his wrist and pressed the silver medallion into Jaskier’s palm.

“You hold onto this, it will keep you safe. I have to go, I’ll be right back, I promise.”

Jaskier held the chain aloft and frowned at it doubtfully, but after a moment of consideration, his eyes softened and he looked back to Geralt.

“P-promise?” he muttered.

“I swear , I’m coming right back.” Geralt didn’t waste another minute, taking off into the trees.

He was true to his word and led Roach back through the woods within minutes. But when he returned to the clearing where he’d left his friend, he didn’t see a bleeding merperson with a six-foot blue tail. In his place was a man clutching a silver chain to his chest. He was shivering from the cold and soaking wet with gashes and cuts up and down his legs. His hands were web-less and there was no fin on his back, but patches of blue scales blended into his skin here and there. 

And when he looked up, Jaskier smiled a pained but familiar smile (sans the fangs) and said, “You came back.”

Geralt blinked away his surprise and knelt down beside his friend.

“Of course I did.”

---

Geralt’s first order of business had been clothes for them both. Jaskier didn’t seem to be bothered by his nudity (which made sense, Geralt supposed, he never wore clothes anyway) but his lips were turning blue from the early spring chill combined with the wet. He helped Jaskier maneuver his injured arm into one of his own shirts and laced it up a bit to keep it from slipping off his shoulders. Trousers were out of the question until his wounds were dealt with, but he gave him his spare blanket for now. Once Geralt’s own sopping articles were switched out with dry ones, he laid his thick winter fur down on the grass and helped Jaskier onto it.

Most of the cuts were superficial, thank the Goddess, but Geralt noticed as he cleaned them that some looked older than others, like they had healed a bit. His gut dropped.

“How long were you trapped in that thing?” he asked.

“I think, five days,” Jaskier replied.

“Five days? You must be starving.” Geralt turned to dig through one of his packs and pulled out a few pieces of dried meat. “It’s not much, but it’s something.”

Jaskier held the strip precariously between two fingers and sniffed it. Evidently, he did not like what he smelled, jerking it away from his face and wrinkling his nose dramatically. Geralt couldn’t help but grin.

“I don’t blame you. But five days is a long time without food. It’s not as bad as it smells.”

The merman gave the meat a dubious look but his stomach must have agreed because, after another sniff, he nibbled off a chunk. His resulting scowl drew an honest-to-gods laugh from Geralt (and earned him a swat on the thigh).

“I said it was better than it smelled. Still pretty bad though.” Jaskier nodded in agreement but still took another bite. He must have been ravenous.

After the smaller cuts were cleaned and covered, Geralt moved onto the bigger gashes; luckily there were only three, all on the same leg. While he worked, Jaskier talked. He’d returned from the South more than a week ago and every day he swam up to the grassy shore to look for dandelions. The ones that would signal Geralt’s return. Five days ago, Jaskier had come to look and been delighted to find a few of the yellow flowers. He swam to the bottom of the bay so he could surprise Geralt as soon as he arrived and that’s where he found the old net. He hadn’t known what it was, had never seen such a thing before, and Geralt’s heart ached just a bit for his naive little friend. Jaskier was curious, as always, and by the time he realized what danger he was in, it was too late. He called out for hours, but he’d strayed too close to the shore - no others would dare venture so far. No one heard him and no one would think to look for him here.

Geralt stayed silent throughout the story, not trusting himself to speak. He thought of Jaskier laying on the seafloor in pain and alone, not sure if anyone would ever find him, and struggled to hold down his breakfast. Even worse, he imagined what might have happened if the water had been cloudier or there had been no sunlight to catch the shine of his scales. Or if Geralt had come a week later. Or if someone else had happened across the spot before he did. That was a thought he’d had before: what if someone else had come by the water the day they met instead, someone meaner? Jaskier was too curious for his own good, too trusting. He would have swam right up to them, just like he did to Geralt and he would be a wall-hanging by now.

No no no no no, it was too much, too terrible to bear thinking about. He was here now, that’s all that mattered. Geralt came back to himself and realized Jaskier had stopped talking. He looked up from the wound he was closing and found blue eyes staring back at him, watching him. 

“You’re upset,” Jaskier observed, blunt as ever.

Geralt swallowed hard. “I’m fine,” he said stiffly, and before Jaskier could press the matter further, “Did you know you could do this?”

“Have feet?” he asked and Geralt nodded. “No. We have old stories about having feet but they’re just stories.”

“Apparently not.”

“Apparently not.” Geralt felt warm in spite of the chill at the familiar mimicry. He’d missed it during the winter.

He finished the last of the stitching while Jaskier rambled on about his winter in the south and helped him into the trousers. He’d giggled like a child at his legs, fascinated at their ability to move independently of each other in the process. Geralt set about making a fire as the sunlight waned and Jaskier watched him with rapt attention, all chatter ceasing at once. When it sparked to life, Geralt had to suppress the urge to laugh at the little gasp he heard from beside him. Jaskier was still staring at the fire, watching it dance about when Geralt broke the silence.

“I don’t think you should turn back until your wounds heal,” he told Jaskier, looking over to catch his eye. “Your tail is much bigger than your legs. It’ll stretch out the stitching and make them worse.”

“Will you stay here with me?” he asked.

“I can’t stay here that long, I’m penniless. You… can come with me, if you like.”

“On adventures?” Jaskier grabbed his forearm and practically vibrated with excitement. His face lit up like the sun, drawing a grin from Geralt. 

“Just a few,” he said with a placating hand on Jaskier’s, “until you’re healed. We’ll have to work on your walking.”

He just beamed, as if he was too happy to do anything else. Suddenly, Geralt was very aware of how close their faces were. Close enough for him to notice that Jaskier had a light smattering of freckles across his nose. Close enough to notice how long his eyelashes were as they swept over his cheeks. His wide smile softened into something gentler and his eyes fluttered, for just a second, down…

“You should rest,” Geralt murmured, leaning back (he hadn’t realized he’d been leaning in ) and breaking whatever spell had fallen over them. 

They lay down on the furs, Jaskier between him and the fire where he’d be warmest. Geralt left as much space as he could between them while still sharing the blanket and tried to pretend he hadn’t seen a shadow of disappointment on Jaskier’s face.

---

Walking was an adventure in and of itself. 

Geralt found a pair of shoes smooshed down at the bottom of his bag, old and worn, but they would do. Jaskier hated them. According to him, they stuck to his feet and rubbed his scales the wrong way. He almost refused to wear them, but after Geralt described the manor or things that could stick in his feet on the road, he resolved to settle for the shoes.

Once the shoes were comfortably laced (or as comfortable as they could be), it was time to stand. First Geralt demonstrated, going through the motions slowly. He never thought he’d be teaching a grown man how to stand up, but life was a funny thing. Jaskier watched him carefully, a thoughtful crease between his brows. When he was ready to try it, Geralt squatted in front of him and let Jaskier grip his forearms. He didn’t manage it the first time and he nearly broke his ankle the second, but on the third, he was up on shaky legs (and already breaking a sweat). He was tall, maybe an inch shorter than Geralt. He didn’t know how he felt about that; for some reason, he thought he’d be smaller.

Jaskier took to the walking with surprising ease, shuffling a bit at first and before either of them knew it, waltzing about the clearing unaided. He was immensely proud of himself and Geralt couldn’t deny, there was a bit of pride blooming in his own chest.

They started out less than an hour later and Jaskier practically skipped ahead. Geralt watched him go in his too-big clothes and too-big smile and found that he was more than a little excited for what lay ahead.

---

Jaskier hadn’t had a chance to bother Roach last night, but he more than made up for it in the first few hours of their journey. He was fascinated by her, running his fingers over her coat, stroking her mane, rubbing her soft nose. He had at least a thousand questions about her - if she had a name, if she could swim, what she ate, if he could feed her an apple later (and if he could try an apple later). Geralt had worried at first. She didn’t usually take to strangers, but for Jaskier, she seemed to have an abundance of patience.

It didn’t take Jaskier long to burn through all his bouncing energy, which was far from shocking considering their breakfast of two (admittedly old) dried meat strips each, but when he fell a few steps behind, Geralt knew he ought to investigate.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, looking back at Jaskier’s frowning face.

“I feel dizzy,” he grumbled. 

Geralt stopped dead in his tracks and turned to face him, stomach churning with dread. “Fuck. Do you think you’re turning back?” What would they do if he was? Geralt couldn’t carry him that far, and what if someone saw them? 

“I don’t know,” Jaskier said, worry tinging his expression. “My mouth feels dry. My throat is… scratchy.” 

“Are you fu-” Understanding dawned and Geralt stopped himself before he could say more. Not his fault, not his fault, he thought. Deep breath. “You’re thirsty, Jaskier.” He dug his waterskin out of his pack and handed it over.

Jaskier guzzled down at least half of the skin and wiped his lips dry with the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt.

“Better?” Geralt asked, taking back the skin.

“Yes, much better!” he replied with a grin.

Crisis averted. For now.

---

Geralt had hoped to make it to the next village before nightfall, but their pace was too slow. Jaskier had tired quickly due to their meager meal and was wincing before long as the movement tugged on his stitches. If Geralt was honest, he could use a rest himself. He wasn’t used to this much walking in one day and his feet complained accordingly. 

They found a shady place to make camp near a bubbling stream just before the sun started to set. Jaskier was eager to help, collecting wood for the fire and fetching water from the stream while Geralt hunted down dinner. By the time he returned with two skinned rabbits, Jaskier was sitting on the laid out furs before a poor imitation of the woodpile he’d set up for them last night. Geralt chuckled to himself lightly before he came closer.

Geralt set the rabbits down in front of the fire and fetched his cooking materials. He turned back around just in time to see Jaskier give a curious sniff to a raw rabbit and open his mouth for a bite.

“Stop!” he shouted, leaping across the space between them and clutching Jaskier’s arm.

“Why?!” Jaskier dropped the meat immediately and his eyes were wide with surprise.

“You can’t eat it yet, it has to be cooked,” Geralt told him. Jaskier just stared at him, an eyebrow raised in question. It took a moment before it all clicked in Geralt’s mind. He’d never cooked anything before.

“On the fire. We put it on the fire and cook it,” Geralt explained, releasing his arm hastily. 

“I eat fish like this all the time.”

“That was when you were a fish. You’re a man now and if you eat raw meat, you’ll be ill.” In all honesty, Geralt had no idea if that would happen. Merfolk eating habits could very well be different in their human forms, but the pair of them knew fuck-all about it for certain and he wasn’t prepared to risk it.

“Fine,” Jaskier grumbled, giving a longing look to the rabbits. 

---

It was about a week before they came across a village that would have them. The one Geralt had been hoping to stop in was a dead end - or at least he’d assumed so. They’d walked into town and purchased a few essentials, but he could hear the whispers and see the looks and smell the fear. Jaskier had been completely oblivious to it, too intrigued by all the items in the market and the people around him to notice much else. 

Geralt found himself thinking about what would happen if they were thrown out. He’d explained that he was different from other humans before, but he didn’t think Jaskier understood exactly what he meant by it. It was one thing to hear, but quite another to see with one’s own eyes. He was so unbelievably innocent, so curious about everything he saw. Geralt didn’t want his experience to be tainted, not on his account. So he’d decided not to bother trying at the inn. Just wasn’t worth the risk. They’d made their purchases and left promptly, leaving the prospect of a warm bed behind. 

A farmer on the outskirts of the next village had some work for Geralt, enough to secure them a room and a meal in town while he dealt with their pest problem. He was pretty sure it wouldn’t take him long, that he’d be back in time for a decent night’s sleep, but for that to happen he would have to actually leave the inn. And his companion was making that more difficult than it ought to be.

“I want to come,” Jaskier announced for perhaps the hundredth time. He sat on the bed, arms crossed stubbornly while Geralt continued to prepare.

“I already told you, it’s too dangerous,” Geralt told him, digging through his bag for potions. 

“You let me come before.”

Geralt rolled his eyes. “Before, it wasn’t even a monster, it was a rabid dog. This is different.” He turned around and captured Jaskier’s gaze. “You could get hurt.”

“You could get hurt,” Jaskier parrotted but his eyes held something grave. 

“But I won’t because I know what I’m doing,” Geralt assured him. “I won’t be gone long. You have to stay here. And by here I mean here , in this room with the door locked. It isn’t safe, not just for you, for anyone alone who doesn’t know the area.”

Jaskier seemed to consider this before fixing him with a glare. “You have to tell me the story when you come back.”

“I will,” Geralt promised with a grunt of amusement. “But only if you stay. Here. Understood?”

“Understood.”

---

Geralt was right about the job - it didn’t take long at all. He didn’t even need his potions and for that he was grateful. He wasn’t sure he was ready for Jaskier to see him like that and the potions took hours to wear off. He was ready for a warm bed now .

As he trudged back to town and the inn, he saw light in the windows despite the late hour and heard all manner of cheering and frivolity. It seemed a lively night for the townsfolk. He felt a pang of guilt, thinking of Jaskier upstairs all alone listening to the merrymaking below. Geralt was considering bringing him down for a bit to enjoy the impromptu festivity when he opened the door to the inn and felt every inch of his body go rigid with shock.

The whole bottom floor of the inn was packed to the brim with townsfolk, all drunk and smiling, singing along to a popular shanty. Some danced about, others sat and stamped their feet, but all of them had their attention on one person, standing on a bench and leading the chorus. Jaskier .

He’d laced his shirt up high and unrolled his sleeves to cover the scales that still clung to his skin. No one seemed to be suspicious, in fact, everyone was having a grand time, tossing coins into a stein on the table beside him. He looked so happy. His eyes were bright and he smiled so wide as he sang. 

Geralt was jolted back to reality when the song came to an end and the room erupted into cheers. He clung to the edges of the room and made his way around while the townsfolk chattered. Jaskier spotted him as he approached and started apologizing before Geralt could open his mouth.

“I’m sorry, I really am, I know I wasn’t supposed to, but they were singing and I knew the song. I just wanted to sing for a while. I even sang one of my songs, they loved it!”

Geralt’s words of reprimand died in his throat. Even through his apologies, Jaskier couldn’t stop grinning, he was practically buzzing with excitement. Geralt’s chest was doing that funny thing again.

“And they were nice,” he continued, turning to hold up the stein. “Look at what they gave me!” It was a hefty sum, a few jobs worth for Geralt.

He took a steadying breath before he spoke. “No one gave you any trouble?”

Jaskier shook his head.

“No one… saw?” Geralt gestured to his shoulder where he knew scales still lurked.

“No, I was careful,” Jaskier assured him.

“Alright then.”

“You’re not upset?” he asked, looking relieved.

“No. I’m not upset,” Geralt said and it was true. How could he possibly be upset when Jaskier was this happy? “We’ll have to find somewhere for you to spend your coin tomorrow.”

“I could get boots and my own pack!” he said excitedly.

Geralt placed a placating hand on his arm. “Yes, yes, but you have to promise me you will never do this again.”

“But I-” he began, but Geralt didn’t let him finish.

“I know, they were nice this time, but you may not be so lucky next time. It’s a dangerous world for normal people, even more so for you.” Happy or not, they couldn’t take such risks.

Jaskier looked down glumly at his shoes. “I liked singing for people.”

Geralt hummed consideringly. Perhaps there was a compromise here. “We’re staying an extra night. I’m sure there’ll be more singing. Tomorrow, I’ll be here and you can sing. But you have to promise you won’t try it by yourself again. Deal?”

“Deal,” Jaskier repeated, grinning once more.

---

As promised, they rose the next morning and took to the shops with his coin. Luckily for them, this town had quite the marketplace, equipped with everything a traveler might need. Geralt insisted on the essentials first: a pack, his own waterskin, a purse for the coin, some good boots, his own blanket. There was still a good amount left to spend, so the tailor was next.

Jaskier’s eyes widened into saucers when they entered the shop, raking reverently over the many colorful fabrics. The tailor was very helpful, showing him the ready-made options he could afford. Unsurprisingly, he kept to the colors, but he seemed particularly mesmerized by the reds, unable to take his eyes off of them.

In the end, Jaskier purchased a shirt with silky fabric that he just couldn’t stop running his fingers over, a bright red doublet with a raised swirly pattern, and a pair of trousers to match. When he was all dressed in his new things, spinning a bit with a cheerful ‘What do you think?’, Geralt didn’t have the words to respond.

He looked so… different . Now that he was wearing clothes that fit him properly (and accentuated his toned figure very well, much to Geralt’s private dismay), he looked like a real person rather than a poor imitation of one. He wasn’t pulling up a too-big shirt over his shoulders or shuffling over floppy old shoes. Now he was put together, walking with purpose and his head held high. No longer a sheep in wolf’s clothing, to twist a common saying. He looked like he might belong here, in Geralt’s world. With him. 

Geralt shook himself internally before his chest could start doing that infernal fucking thing and gave Jaskier an approving nod. He practically danced all the way back to the inn, looking more comfortable in his skin than Geralt had seen him since his transformation. 

By the time they returned, the room was already filling up with patrons, many of whom recognized him and had come to hear his songs again. Jaskier was more than happy to oblige, retaking his place on the bench. And all the while, Geralt felt a bloom of warmth under his skin, stubbornly clinging to him no matter how many drinks he downed.

---

After that, things continued on rather smoothly. They were no longer pressed for coin, not with the funds they’d collected from that first town, so Geralt worried less and enjoyed more. Enjoyed listening to Jaskier chatter to him and himself and Roach with his rapidly expanding vocabulary. Enjoyed listening to him come up with new songs, though he pretended not to care for them. Enjoyed watching his incredibly vivid expressions as he tried all manors of land-lubber food. Enjoyed seeing him so happy when he sang and people cheered.

Each night Geralt would check on his wounds, making sure they were clean and prodding them carefully. The smaller scratches healed quickly, but the ones he’d stitched up were slow-going and sure to leave scars. At least, he thought they would. Maybe Jaskier’s scales would cover them up when he turned back.

Turned back. The prospect weighed on Geralt more than he knew it ought to. Jaskier didn’t belong up here, even if he did seem to fit in more and more with each passing day. Surely he had friends and family in the sea, people who were probably worried sick for him and missing him terribly. And Geralt knew he missed the water too, though he tried not to show it. This was always supposed to be temporary, he knew that. Still, as Jaskier’s cuts healed, Geralt felt a hint of melancholy hanging over him. He did his best to push it away and enjoy what time was left.

But something was bound to burst their bubble eventually. This particular something, Geralt knew he should have anticipated. 

They’d spent a day trudging through the rain when they stumbled across a tiny village with a tiny inn. Geralt should have been paying closer attention, should have noticed the signs. But he was too focused on getting the three of them out of the rain (and more than a little concerned about the effects of water on Jaskier). They’d barely walked through the door before he heard the ring of steel in the air.

“You’re kind aren’t welcome here, Witcher,” boomed the voice of the man holding the sword in question. 

There were others there too, hands on their weapons but not going as far as to draw them yet. Geralt didn’t even have time to respond before Jaskier was pushing out from behind his protective arm. 

“How dare you!” he shouted back, drawing all eyes to himself. “We need shelter from this storm.”

“You’ll find none here. Best be on your way,” said the sword-holder taking a step closer and raising his weapon. 

Geralt opened his mouth to speak, but Jaskier beat him to it. 

“I’m not afraid of you.”

Then he heard chair-legs sliding against wooden floors and more metal as weapons were drawn. There were at least a dozen of them, too many to fight. He reached out and dragged Jaskier back by his collar, putting himself between him and the gathering mob. 

“Apologies. We’ll see ourselves out,” Geralt said, backing him forcefully towards the door.

“See that you do. Or we’ll find out if you beasts bleed like the rest of us.”

Geralt rushed them out the door and back into the rain without sparing another second. He heard Jaskier suck in a breath to speak, but he whipped around, fixing him with what he knew was a vicious scowl. Jaskier snapped his mouth shut and let himself be pulled away towards the stables. They didn’t speak again for a while, not that they had the opportunity. Geralt helped him onto the saddle and got up himself, securing his arms around his waist before spurring Roach onward. He hated to make her carry so much weight, especially after such a long day and in the rain, but he had no choice. He wanted to put a good bit of distance between them and this village in case the disgruntled locals changed their minds.

As they rode, he felt Jaskier’s arms tight around him and his face pressed into his shoulder, warm breath brushing his neck. His heart was pounding against Geralt’s back and he trembled just a bit. He hadn’t actually been on Roach until now, which of course meant that this was the first time he’d ridden a horse at all. Riding for the first time could be nerve wracking at the best of times, much less in a storm after you’ve just damn-near had a mob assemble against you. 

Geralt thought about giving Jaskier’s hand a squeeze, just to reassure him, but then he remembered his face back at the inn, after he’d silenced him with a single glare. He’d looked frightened. Frightened of Geralt. His senses were dampened by the deluge, but if he focused, he could smell it now, souring the usual salty sweetness. It revolted him, so much that he could feel his face twisting in disgust. Disgust at the scent and disgust at himself. He should have known it was only a matter of time. Whatever illusion Jaskier had built in his head of him and who he was would be shattered now. He would see him for what he really was, just like the villagers did. Frightening. Beast .

He drove them on until he was sure poor Roach couldn’t go much further. Geralt dismounted and led them off the path and into the trees, searching for somewhere dry enough to sleep. They came across a thicker bit of forest where only a few drops were penetrating and stopped them. This would have to do. It was too close to the trees for a fire, but it was almost dry. He helped Jaskier down from the saddle, carefully avoiding his eyes, and started unloading. 

Jaskier was silent all the while, perched on an old fallen tree with his knees drawn close to his chest and eyes staring off into the distance. He didn’t ask to help like usual, leaving Geralt to do it himself which he supposed he deserved for upsetting him. No matter. After he unburdened Roach (and fed her their last apple in thanks), he found a space between the trees wide enough for them and laid out the blankets. It would still be a tight fit. He wondered bitterly if Jaskier would even tolerate sleeping next to him now.

When Geralt finished, he made his way back to Jaskier’s log and looked down at him. Might as well get it over with. 

“Are you alright?” Geralt asked in as gentle a tone as he could muster.

Jaskier didn’t say anything for a while, just kept staring off and fiddling with his silky shirt as he so often did. His face twisted into a confused grimace and he looked on the verge of tears. Fuck, Geralt had really done it now.

“Why were they so mean?” Jaskier asked thickly, looking up at him. “I… I don’t understand. Did we do something wrong?”

Geralt felt his own stern expression crumble and all his worries fell away, replaced by entirely new ones. He lowered himself to sit right beside him. “Jas...,” he muttered. “No. We didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just…”

“Just what?”

Geralt was taken aback by his eyes, just like he used to be. So expressive, so intense, even in their human form. He was sad and shaken and trying so hard to understand. Geralt wished so badly that he had a better explanation.

“Remember what I told you about my kind? That we’re different?”

Jaskier nodded slowly.

“Some people don’t like us,” Geralt told him. 

“Why?”

“Because we’re us.”

Jaskier’s expression twisted further, this time in anger. “But- But that’s not fair!” he stammered. Frustration burned behind his eyes.

“I know. But that’s the world, sometimes.” Much as Geralt disliked it, it was true, and Jaskier was going to have to learn sooner or later. This world was just shit sometimes. 

The words hung between them for a few moments, harsh and heavy. Geralt opened his mouth to speak, to suggest they rest and leave this horrible day behind him, but he was cut off by a sudden movement in his direction. Jaskier embraced him, arms wound tight around his neck and body warm against his chest. Geralt was shocked still for a second, but Jaskier just held on tighter. Geralt brought his own arms up and hugged him back, a bit awkwardly.

I like you,” Jaskier murmured in his ear.

Any response Geralt might have had was trapped behind the lump in his throat. That feeling was back in his chest, stronger than ever, aching with how full it was with feeling for the man in his arms. How remarkable that such a simple phrase, just three little words, could elicit such a response. He hugged Jaskier tighter, closer, and let himself be held in return for the first time in a lifetime. 

Gods, he was fucked .

---

Things were different after that night, like some invisible barrier had been lifted. Jaskier touched him now, all the time. Walking closer than he used to so their shoulders would brush. Snuggling up to him in the night and blaming the cold, though the air got warmer with each passing day. Taking his hand by the fire or at a tavern table and fiddling with it, running his thumbs over Geralt’s knuckles and tracing the lines of his palms. 

He did it like it was casual, like it was easy, like it took nothing from him. Like such affections were free. In his world, perhaps they were. It wasn't a world Geralt had ever been a part of. In his world, he had to pay for every morsel of contact - every stroke and caress cost him dearly. But not with Jaskier. His touch came with no tags or demands. No prices. Just warmth.

It was almost as if he was trying to prove his words from that night, prove that he meant them.

I like you.

Prove that Geralt deserved them. 

Geralt couldn’t quite bring himself to return those effortless touches, but he didn’t pull away from them either. He let Jaskier bump his shoulder as they walked, he put a tentative arm around him while they slept, he allowed himself to relax and be content when he felt long, delicate fingers on his. He worried that it wasn't enough, but Jaskier didn’t seem phased by it, like he could see right through him and he understood.

In the evenings when Geralt checked on his stitches, he was almost able to return Jaskier’s affections. He touched his skin carefully, always one hand tending the wounds and the other rested on his knee. Once he was satisfied with their state, he used ever-so-gentle fingers to apply a salve to fend off scarring and covered them with fresh bandages. 

Before long, it was time to remove them. 

Jaskier tried to be brave but Geralt could see the anxious look in his eyes and the nervous tension in his shoulders. Stitches were no picnic to remove, anymore than they were to sew in.  So Geralt did his best to be comforting. He had Jaskier lay on his good side facing him and placed a gentle hand on his hip.

“It won’t hurt much,” he promised. 

Wide blue eyes stared back at him and he waited patiently. Jaskier gave a curt nod, an ‘I’m ready’ nod, and Geralt got to work. Snipping the thread was the easy part, but still he felt tiny tremors at every little ‘snic’ . Then came the difficult part. Geralt set down the little clippers and held up the tweezers so Jaskier could see them. His whole body tensed up tighter than a bow string.

Jaskier never said as much, but Geralt suspected the stitches reminded him of the net. Putting them in had been relatively easy, what with the shock of the incident and the transformation and all. But the longer he had to think about it, the more apprehensive Jaskier got about them. There was something dark in his expression when he looked at them. Geralt could almost see the vision playing back behind his eyes, of thin cords cutting into soft flesh.

Geralt reached down with the tweezers to start pulling the threads, but frantic hands clawed at his other hand, pulling it away and holding it in a white-knuckled grip. He looked down at Jaskier and sighed, setting the tool down. He was so scared, his face that was so well suited for smiles twisted in fear. 

Jaskier didn’t appear to have any intention of letting his hand go, but that was alright. Geralt could work with this. He shifted his position, turning his body so Jaskier was facing his side. Then he cupped a hand behind his knee and pulled his thigh onto his lap. This way he had a better angle, good enough to finish the job with one hand.

Geralt looked back down, squeezing with his now occupied hand and waited once more. Jaskier forced himself to breathe slowly - in, out, in, out . He closed his eyes and nodded. Geralt picked up the tool and gave Jaskier’s thigh what he hoped was a comforting stroke before he began.

Jaskier whimpered a bit at first, barely audible but still there. Geralt didn’t think it was the pain that bothered him; after all, he’d survived far worse. No, he knew it was the action, the feeling of thread through his skin - far too similar to the cords of the net that did this to him. He shushed Jaskier gently and did his best to work quickly so it could all be over (not just for Jaskier’s sake, but for the sake of his other fingers, which were starting to go numb).

Once all the threads were free, Geralt dabbed his skin with a damp cloth, wiping away the little dots of blood and pressing lightly until the tiny holes clotted. He didn’t put on any bandages, deciding to let the wounds breathe. He lifted Jaskier’s leg up and carefully placed it atop the other and it was over.

The hold on his hand didn’t loosen. Geralt looked over and Jaskier’s eyes were still squeezed shut, mouth fixed in a thin line. Geralt could hear his heart still hammering and how he forced his shaky breaths into an even rhythm. It was his turn to provide the affection now. 

Geralt felt his own heart speed up as he shifted his body back into its original position, but a bit nearer to Jaskier’s head this time. He reached over with his free hand and let it hover there a moment while he braced himself. How silly it seemed to be so fretted over something so simple as a touch, something Jaskier gave away without a second thought.

Deep breath.  

And Geralt lowered his hand, brushing a lock of hair away from Jaskier’s eyes with his fingertips. Tension visibly leaked out of him at the tiny gesture. His breaths slowed, just a hair. Geralt reached out again and brushed his hair gently from his forehead. Another visible response. His own heart skipped a beat. He was doing it right. 

He repeated the motion again and again until the grip on his hand relaxed and blood flowed back to his fingers. Until Jaskier’s face softened into something closer to comfortable. Until his heartbeat slowed and his breaths steadied naturally. Until blue eyes opened and looked up at Geralt, heavy-lidded with exhaustion but still so warm.

They didn’t speak again that night. Not when Geralt laid down beside him, so close he could feel breath on his skin. Not when his hand slipped down to Jaskier’s jaw and his thumb ran back and forth over his flushed cheek. Not when Jaskier turned his face into the touch, just a hair so Geralt could feel soft lips against his palm. Not while he watched Jaskier in the flickering firelight, falling slowly asleep in his hold.

---

It was time to head back to the bay. With the stitches removed, there was no real reason to keep on. While Jaskier brightened as they neared the sea, Geralt struggled to keep a sullen expression off his face. 

Though it had been a difficult adjustment in the beginning, he’d grown used to his companion. Used to hearing chatter during meals. Used to gentle humming or outright belting on the road. Used to a warm body cuddled close while he slept. Used to blue eyes and kind words and sweet smiles and tender touches. 

Geralt tried to see the bright side, for all the good it did him. He wouldn’t have to hunt for two anymore… though he would miss the fascinated stares at the fire while he cooked. Roach wouldn’t have to carry extra weight… though she had come to have quite an affinity for their guest. He would be allowed five moments of peace and quiet strung together… though he would be alone. He would miss Jaskier’s voice, his hands, his face.

It was almost striking as he realized it - how much he knew he would miss Jaskier. Geralt had been alone a long time. He had grown used to it, content with it even. He didn’t need anyone and nobody needed him. And maybe it would be a stretch to say that Jaskier needed him or that he needed Jaskier. But Geralt wanted him, in more ways than one. 

And despite his best efforts to ignore it, he had a niggling, hopeful feeling that Jaskier wanted him too. The affectionate way he treated Geralt and the way he looked at him when they stood and sat and laid just a bit too close; calm and soft but with something else underneath that almost reminded Geralt of the curious look Jaskier gave new things - like he wasn’t sure what to do with it but he was so eager to learn. 

By the time they were near enough to smell the sea air, Jaskier was practically skipping along, radiating the most elated energy. Geralt couldn’t help watching him and he couldn’t help the warmth that washed over him at the sight. As they arrived at the shore, the sun was beginning its evening decent, hanging low in the sky.

They stopped at the grassy edge and Jaskier turned to face him. He was still buzzing with excitement but there was a hint of sadness behind his eyes. Even so, he gave Geralt a close-lipped smile, bright as ever. Neither of them spoke for a few long moments, content to stand and stare and soak up this little time.

“I suppose it’s time,” Geralt said softly. 

Jaskier didn’t respond, just nodded and took a small step back. He undressed carefully, folding each item and placing it in his pack with the rest of his things, until he was down to his small clothes. He set down the pack and faced the water. A few deep breaths - in, out, in, out, in - and he stepped gracefully off the shore, plunging into the bay with a light splash.

Geralt kneeled at the edge Jaskier had just vacated and stared down into the water, watching for any signs. For a moment there was nothing, just the rustle of wind in the long grass and ripples over the bay. Then, movement, something billowing up to the surface. His shorts floated up, torn beyond use. A laugh bubbled up in his chest, one of relief. 

Not a second later, a very familiar face emerged, strikingly large eyes and pointed ears returned at last. Jaskier smiled wide with his too-sharp teeth and placed his webbed fingers on the shore. 

Geralt opened his mouth to speak, but the words turned into a strangled shout in his throat as rubbery fingers grabbed the collar of his armor and yanked him forward. He hit the water headfirst and it felt like ice, filling up his clothes. His head emerged from the water, probably looking to all the world like a drowned cat, and the first thing he saw was Jaskier, laughing so hard that his fangs popped out just a bit.

“Jaskier!” Geralt sputtered, struggling to keep his head up under the weight of his armor. “I swear to fucking-”

And then there we warm, wet lips smiling against Geralt’s, swallowing up his words. He felt Jaskier’s arms wrap securely around his waist, holding him up effortlessly. It was overwhelming - the feeling of being held and the sound of their heartbeats side by side. Geralt had hardly adjusted to it before he was pulling away.

“You kissed me,” Geralt gasped. He was fully aware of how foolish a thing that was to say, but what the fuck else was he supposed to say?

Jaskier just laughed, bright and full. “I did.”

“That’s not something you do to friends,” he told him. It was entirely possible that Jaskier hadn’t realized what the gesture was for. Surely that was the explanation. Surely. 

But then he said, “I know what kissing is, love.”

“You… you want to kiss me?” Fuck, he sounded like such an idiot. But Geralt couldn’t make sense of it. How such a beautiful creature could want… him.

“Of course I do,” Jaskier replied, like it was the most obvious thing in all the world. He pulled Geralt closer against his body, bumping their noses together gently. 

“But…” Even now, wrapped up in Jaskier’s arms, Geralt couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t fathom it.

Jaskier didn’t let him doubt it for another second, leaning in once more and capturing his lips in another kiss, deeper this time. Geralt lost himself in it, relaxing in the water and letting Jaskier hold him up. Letting himself be cared for. Letting himself be loved.