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Negotiate with a mare

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Jaskier tries desperately to keep his balance, but his feet go straight out from underneath him. He flails, and just manages to grab the banister before he completely loses his footing and goes head over heels down the stairs. The barmaid glances up from behind the bar. “Bit too much to drink last night?” she asks.

Jaskier drags himself back up by the banister, making sure his feet are properly beneath him before going down the rest of the stairs at a much steadier pace. “My dear,” he says, straightening his doublet once he’s on surer ground. “You haven’t seen my witcher this morning, have you?”

“Ah, of course. You’re the White Wolf’s bard.” The barmaid props a tray on her hip. “Jennie filled me in.” She winks at him. “Warned me not to let my hands wander.”

Jaskier laughs. “I don’t know if she meant me or him, but either way, probably sound advice. Now, have you seen him this morning?” He’d woken up earlier when Geralt had slipped out of bed, but Geralt had just tucked the blanket back around him and Jaskier had burrowed back into the warmth to go straight back to sleep.

“He came through, asked for some hot water for his girl,” the barmaid says. “I think he went out to the stables?”

“Thank you kindly,” Jaskier says, and he heads for the door. It opens onto a world of white.

They’re getting further and further north each day, and winter is beginning to creep in. It’s the first time Jaskier has seen snow for months. There are already footsteps criss-crossing the street, but it’s early enough that the snow hasn’t been cleared yet, and most of it is still pristine. Out of the window upstairs, the snow across the meadows and the nearby woods was dazzling, making Jaskier immediately reach for his notebook and write a few phrases down before Ciri had woken up and gasped as soon as she looked outside.

The stables are warm, and Jaskier scratches the noses of a few horses as he walks down to where Roach is stabled. Geralt is there, murmuring something to Roach as he brushes pieces of straw out of her mane.

“You know,” Jaskier says, draping himself over the stable door, “if I put this into a song, nobody would believe me. I would get shouted off the stage if I wrote about the White Wolf saying sweet nothings to his horse.”

Geralt turns around. “Jaskier,” he says, his voice a low rumble as it curls around his name. “Is Ciri-”

“Upstairs, waking up slowly like all teenagers do.” Jaskier reaches out and tries to grab Geralt’s shirt, which Geralt easily sidesteps with a smirk. “Geralt,” Jaskier says, putting on a pout. “I’m cold.”

“Kaer Morhen is going to be colder.” Geralt steps closer, setting the brush in his hand down on the stable wall. “Much colder.”

“Well, good thing I have a witcher of my own to keep me warm.” Jaskier manages to snag Geralt’s shirt, and tugs him closer. “Are we leaving today?”

Geralt hums. “Yen is waiting in the next town over, but I need to go to the apothecary this morning, and look into the nests up on the cliffs. The path to Kaer Morhen should stay open for a few weeks more before the snows come in.” He lets Jaskier tug him closer, and then cups his face with warm hands to lean down and kiss him. Jaskier hums eagerly into it, tilting his head to deepen the kiss, pressing as close as he can with the stable door still in the way. Geralt’s hand settles on the back of Jaskier’s neck, his fingers pushing through his hair.

Jaskier has noticed how much Geralt likes to run his fingers through his hair, often when he thinks Jaskier is sleeping. He certainly doesn’t mind, and leans into the touch now, grinning against Geralt’s lips. “So,” he murmurs. “If we don’t have to leave this morning…”

Geralt pulls back slightly, but only so he can press soft kisses along Jaskier’s jaw, down into the hollow of his throat. “What are you after?” he asks, his breath ghosting across the crook of Jaskier’s neck.

Jaskier is starting to regret the solid stable door between them as Geralt’s teeth just barely catch against his skin. “You are very distracting, you know,” he murmurs. “When you- ah, when you do that.” He can feel Geralt’s smile against his skin. “You’re not going to distract me forever,” Jaskier warns, even as his hands clutch at Geralt’s shirt and tries to pull him closer. “Or keep me quiet.”

“What I can do to stop you talking isn’t suitable for out here in the stables,” Geralt says against his neck.

Jaskier shudders. “Oh, you are wicked.” Reluctantly he pulls back, pressing one last kiss to Geralt’s lips. “I did want to ask you something, though.” Geralt arches a brow, and Jaskier presses on. “It snowed last night.”

Geralt hums. “It does that in winter.”

“Oy, you.” Jaskier pokes at his shoulder. “Ciri told me that she’s never been out to properly ride in the snow.”

Geralt snorts. “It snows in Cintra.”

“You know what I mean. She’s never gotten to take a horse out and just run it through the snow. It’s the best fun!” Jaskier leans his chin against the stable door, looking up at Geralt in a way that he knows makes his eyes look even bigger. “So…I thought I could maybe go out with her? Take her on a proper ride? You said we’re pretty safe this close to Kaer Morhen, and the nests would only take a couple hours. You can’t exactly take Roach up there with you, so maybe I could borrow her?” He pouts at Geralt when he doesn’t answer. “It’ll keep Ciri busy, so she doesn’t worry about you whilst you’re gone.”

Geralt sighs. Roach, obviously upset at being neglected, comes over and sticks her muzzle in Jaskier’s face. “See, Roach agrees with me,” Jaskier says, rubbing at her face and trying not to grimace when she leaves a line of saliva across his sleeve. “She needs exercise, doesn’t she? I promise I’ll be careful.”

Geralt sighs, and just like that Jaskier knows he has him. “Make sure you put the-”

“The grease on the bottom of their hooves so the snow doesn’t ball up and make them slip, I know.” Jaskier grins. “I’ll tell Ciri. We’ll stick close to the town and be back by lunchtime, promise.” He presses a kiss to Geralt’s lips. “Thanks.”

“Be careful,” Geralt mutters, but Jaskier can see the small smile curling the corner of his lips. Jaskier kisses him one last time, just because he can, and then heads back towards the tavern, the snow crunching under his feet.

Ciri obviously had nightmares, but she seems to forget them as they ride out across the meadows. He challenges her to a race along the edges of the woods, the snow flying up in great clumps around them as the horses surge through the drifts. Ciri is laughing, her hair streaming out behind her as her hood falls back and she pushes her horse ahead, and Jaskier feels suddenly overwhelmingly grateful to have done this. To be able to give her a little bit of normalcy and fun in amongst all the horrors she’s seen.

Roach is prancing underneath him when they get back to the town, white plumes of breath from her nose as she snorts. Ciri is still laughing at her, cheeks flushed and red with the cold and the exertion, as Jaskier dismounts and Roach nearly bowls him over. “She loves me really,” Jaskier tells her, pulling the reins over her head and leading her into the stables. “Don’t you, darling?”

“She must be deaf, then, to put up with all the singing,” Ciri says from behind him.

Jaskier gasps, staggering and clutching at his chest. “Such betrayal! Oh, the heartbreak! First Geralt, and now you follow in his footsteps. How shall I ever recover?”

“I’m sure it’ll be so difficult.”

Geralt is leaning against Roach’s stable, watching them with a small smile curling his lips. He pulls the stable door open as Jaskier leads her inside. “You look like you had fun.”

“I beat Jaskier in a race,” Ciri says proudly. She leads her horse past and into the next stable. “My fingers are freezing now, though.”

“Roach was in a right mood,” Jaskier says as he slips her bridle off and undoes her girth. “Prancing all over the place. But yes, it was great fun. I take it the nests were not rabid monsters threatening everyone’s lives?”

Geralt hums. “Just some big birds. And she is a mare.” Jaskier gives him a questioning look, and Geralt shrugs. “Mares tend to be moodier than geldings. There’s that old saying. Tell a gelding, ask a stallion, negotiate with a mare.” He rubs the bridle marks away on her face, Roach butting her head into his hand.

Jaskier presses a quick kiss to Geralt’s lips. “And what does one do with a witcher, then?”

Geralt gives him a look that makes Jaskier grin. “I’m sure you can come up with something.”

Jaskier finishes brushing down Roach as Geralt goes and helps Ciri untack her horse and brush him down. He can hear her reminding her how to check his legs for bumps or cuts, to wipe the mud off the sensitive skin around his fetlocks, and a small smile is on his face without him even thinking about it as he listens.

Geralt takes the saddles out and is wiping them down quickly as Ciri finishes looking after her horse. Jaskier glances at him, and then at the few inches of fresh snow on the windowsill of Roach’s stable.

He catches Ciri’s eye, and holds one finger up to his lips. The snow bites at his hand as he scoops it up, but he bites his lip and tiptoes across Roach’s stable, nudging the door shut and quietly sliding the bold shut behind him. “Geralt,” Ciri says innocently. “Can you see if this small cut on his hock needs looking at?”

Geralt turns towards the stable, his back to Jaskier. Jaskier eyes the distance, gives Ciri a quick grin, and then launches himself at Geralt. He shoves the snow straight down the back of Geralt’s shirt.

Geralt actually yelps. “Run!” Ciri cries out to Jaskier through a laugh. “Save yourself!”

Jaskier darts away as Geralt turns and lunges for him, his fingers just failing to close on Jaskier as he sprints for the door. “Mercy!” he yelps, skidding out of the stables and around the side, heading for the snow-covered meadows. He can hear a low growl behind him and he speeds up, sprinting flat out across the slick cobblestones. His feet hit crisp white snow and he makes it onto the meadow, snow flying up in plumes around him.

He doesn’t risk slowing and looking over his shoulder, not when he’s sure he can hear Geralt right behind him. Fingers snag at his jacket and he just manages to twist out of the grasp. “Ha! It’s not going to be that easy- oomph.”

A weight knocks into him from behind. Jaskier goes flying through the air. He barely has time to see the snow coming straight before him before he goes face-first into a drift and the entire world goes white. He scrabbles for purchase against the arms wrapped around him, kicking out blindly until he connects with something solid and the hold loosens, just enough for him to twist around.

Geralt is on top of him. His hair is wild around his face, a breathless grin curling his lips as he studies Jaskier trapped underneath him. “Mercy?” Jaskier tries.

“You started this,” Geralt growls, and then he shoves a handful of snow down the front of Jaskier’s shirt.

Jaskier absolutely does not shriek. “Oh, you bastard,” he hisses. Geralt’s weight is securely on top of him, pinning him down, but Jaskier didn’t grow up with siblings for nothing. He picks up a handful of snow and flings it in Geralt’s eyes. Geralt jerks back instinctively, and Jaskier grabs his elbow with one hand, pins his legs with his, and heaves with all his might.

Geralt lets out a surprised grunt as Jaskier flips him over into a new patch of snow. “Got you!” Jaskier crows, doing his best to pin Geralt’s shoulders as he tries to sit up and throw him off. “No, don’t you bloody dare!”

Geralt gets one hand free, despite Jaskier’s best efforts. “You are going to regret that,” he growls, grabbing Jaskier’s jacket and using it as leverage to pull himself up. Jaskier realises too late but tries to drop his weight forwards anyway and push Geralt back down into the snow. He just ends up pressed against Geralt’s chest, that solid warmth seeping into him. Jaskier leans in and kisses the grin on Geralt’s face, kisses him until they’re both breathless.

There’s a sudden swooping sensation and suddenly he’s on his back, snow flying up around him. Geralt hovers over him. “Don’t think you’re going to distract me like that,” he says, his eyes gleaming.

Jaskier arches underneath him. “Oh, was that distracting? I wasn’t even putting any effort in.”

Geralt growls, and pulls him in for a fierce kiss. His hand tangles in Jaskier’s hair and Jaskier grips him back, humming low in his throat as Geralt bites at his lower lip, pulls him flush against him. He doesn’t even protest when Geralt rolls him over, pressing him into the soft snow to trail kisses across his jaw and down his neck. “We’re going to get- ah, you can’t do that and expect me to form sentences, Geralt!”

Geralt pulls back and Jaskier absolutely does not whine at the loss. “We’re going to get what?” he asks.

“Can’t remember,” Jaskier says immediately, even though he can feel the snow melting underneath him and seeping into the back of his jacket, the bite of it on exposed skin. “Come back here.”

Geralt obliges. His body is bracketing Jaskier’s, pressing him down into the snow. Geralt pulls back after a few moments, just staring down at Jaskier. He brushes Jaskier’s hair back away from his face, fingers tracing gently across his skin, and something falls into place deep inside Jaskier’s chest.

“Oh,” Jaskier says softly.

Geralt hums. “Oh?”

Jaskier can’t help the smile that comes over his face. He’s not sure quite how obvious the emotions are on his face, but Geralt makes a low noise and leans down to kiss him, so they must be there. “I’ve come up with an answer,” Jaskier murmurs against Geralt’s lips, uncaring of the snow seeping into his jacket, uncaring of anything but the solid warmth of Geralt above him, the press of his lips on his own.

Geralt pulls back. “Answer to what?” he asks, and the look in his eyes makes Jaskier feel like he’s melting straight into the snow.

“Tell a gelding, ask a stallion, negotiate with a mare,” Jaskier says, staring up at Geralt. “And then my question about witchers. I’ve got an answer to it now.”

Geralt hums, and arches a brow when Jaskier doesn’t say anything else. “Ask me,” Jaskier says. His hand brushes down Geralt’s side and Geralt shivers underneath his touch.

“You’re going to make me ask you,” Geralt says, his voice a low rumble.

“Yep.”

Geralt sighs. “What do you do with a witcher?” he asks.

Jaskier reaches up and loops his arms around Geralt’s neck. “Why, that’s easy,” he just says. “You love him, of course.”

Geralt stares at him. “Jas,” he whispers, his voice suddenly wrecked. He clears his throat, his eyes searching Jaskier’s face. A whole host of emotions flicker over his face, too fast for Jaskier to catch. “Well,” he says, his voice rough. “I know what you do with a bard, then.”

Jaskier hums. He reaches up and tucks a stray strand of Geralt’s hair back behind his ear, leaving his hand to cup Geralt’s cheek. His thumb smooths down across his jaw. “And what is it you do with a bard, darling?”

Geralt’s expression is so tender, and Jaskier can’t look away. “You love him back,” he says simply.

“Oh.” Jaskier breathes out through the sheer joy he can feel starting to run through him. He grins up at Geralt. “That’s convenient, then.”

Geralt snorts. He sits back, rocking up to his feet and pulling Jaskier up with him in one smooth movement. “Convenient?”

The cold air hits his soaked back and Jaskier shivers. Geralt tucks him into his side as they start tramping through the snow, back towards the stables. “I might take that back,” Jaskier says. “We are both many, many things, darling, but convenient has never been one of them.”

Geralt huffs a laugh, his breath shimmering in the cold air. “Come on. Roach needs more hay.”

“Oh, I see how it is,” Jaskier says. “I can tell who’s really important in this relationship.”

Geralt hums. His hand smooths up and down Jaskier’s side absent-mindedly. “Roach pulls her weight more than you do.”

Jaskier gasps. “Excuse you! I am the life and soul of our little group and you know it.”

Geralt hums again. His arm tightens around Jaskier’s waist. Jaskier presses into Geralt’s side and rests his head against his shoulder as they walk. Geralt leans his cheek against the top of Jaskier’s head, just for a moment.

“I feel so loved,” Jaskier says.

He’s telling the truth. He does.

finis