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Geralt is a careful man. Lambert once described him as “fucking meticulous,” which he took as a compliment at the time. He realized later that it was probably an insult, but Lambert’s an arsehole and Geralt has fewer scars than him.

When it comes to potions, it just makes sense. They poison blood, do strange things to your mind. They’d kill a human, which reminds Geralt that he isn’t one. And there are certain doses and combinations that are good to have prepared—Cat and Black Blood, to navigate a vampires’ den; Thunderbolt and Swallow, to keep his weaker muscle fibers from snapping when he cracks through heavy armor. 

He measures them out precisely into bottles of particular shapes, to recognize them by feel in his pockets in the middle of battle. There are stashes of bundled herbs in Roach’s saddle bags so he can brew more on the road. It’s necessary, unexciting work. 

Geralt likes unexciting. He’d prefer more of his life to be that way.

That’s not his lot, though, and today he’s brewing White Honey before he tracks down a kikimora.

Honeysuckle and Dwarven Spirit together, the sickly-sweet smell of them harsh on his nose. It should be fucking soothing, or something, based on what the potion does—flush out toxins.

That's not Geralt's lot either. The thing that cures him does it with more pain. It burns the death right out of him like a sword being reforged, sharp and clear again.

Geralt fucking hates White Honey.

He brews it anyway. It's the careful thing to do.

Then he takes Cat, to see underwater in the perpetually dark swamp, and Gadwall for regeneration. The Honey, along with reserves of Rook and more Cat and Gadwall, is tucked into his pocket.

The swamp is difficult to navigate on Gadwall. It kicks in faster than he wanted it to—or the kikimora is harder to find. Time blurs a little. If he's lucky, there won't be a nest.

There isn't one. The kikimora dies hard. It pins him underwater and almost drowns him, which is unfortunate. He gets the sword through its skull and listens to it shriek while the ichor spills, grimacing. 

He slogs out of the water to locate Roach, whom he'll need to bring the trophy into town. Near the bank, a fawn is dying slowly. Geralt slits the throat, so it dies faster. 

He finds Roach waiting patiently for him and severs a trophy from the kikimora. There's nothing left to do. 

Geralt reaches into his pocket and finds the White Honey. He stares at the death-white pallor of his hand. Considers the full-black of his eyes. No one will pay a man who looks like a monster.

The toxins flushing out feel like the kikimora's shriek did, and then all at once the haze drops. His hand moves with seemingly preternatural speed, arcing in front of his face and corking the empty bottle so the residue doesn't spill, and his pupils shrink briefly to slits before he re-dilates them in the low light. 

He's staring at the bloodied fawn's corpse, which hadn't occurred to him before. It feels like a loss, this crumpled body. It shouldn't. It doesn't on Gadwall.

Geralt takes a sharp breath, which is a mistake—he can smell the blood. His stomach feels thin, like anything he puts inside will chew back out. He slings the carcass over his shoulder and leads Roach away from the swamp to make camp. 

He eats most of the venison and saves the rest for the morning. The pelt is too small to be useful to him, but maybe he can sell it. That'll be good. 

It deserves to mean something.

 

~*~

 

Geralt meets a sorcerer and a princess. They each want him to kill for them, which he refuses to do. The words he says sit poorly with him. Most words do.

He hates the ones he says to Renfri in the forest the most. 

"Leave Blaviken," he tells her, "and finally live."

Where the fuck does he get off?

It's a good sentiment. He couldn't draw a blueprint of it, nor write a careful plan of attack to execute. 

Geralt isn't living. He's just not dying.

Maybe that's why she doesn't really believe him. Maybe he wouldn't have failed her, if he'd meant it.

He'll never know. He wakes up from a vision of her face in a cold sweat and bolts for the market.

It's not a careful decision. Careful would have been buckling together his armor and taking Roach into town, his bottles re-organized for the fight. He brings his iron sword and the first potion he thinks to grab, which is Wolf.

He un-corks it between his teeth on the way and breathes through his nose while he drinks it. 

Wolf is good for killing quickly, with precision. He wants it to go to waste.

 

~*~

 

It doesn't.

 

~*~

 

Geralt wanted to be a hero. He wanted to have a name that made him seem important; Vesemir called it pretentious and distracting. He shortened the name and learned the Rivian accent, which was a waste. 

No one cares where he pretends to be from. Pretentious, pretentious.

If Geralt can't be a hero, he wants to be an even ledger. He stops the slaughter in the market by spilling all the blood himself. He slits Renfri's throat and holds Stregobor at swordpoint to defend the body.

He steals her brooch and closes her eyes.

They stone him like she told him they would. It shouldn't hurt, but it's like this: 

Roach weighs fifteen-hundred pounds. She can feel it the moment a fly that weighs a meaningless fraction of an ounce lands on her haunch, and it bites and bites at her until it forces her to twitch her skin to shake it off. The fly can't hurt her, but it can control her. And losing control is worse than being in pain.

So Geralt leaves Blaviken and finds Roach where he left her, stamping her hooves to chase away the swamp flies. He rifles through his bag for the rest of his potions.

More White Honey would raze him down to normal. His wounds would heal slowly, and ragged, but the blood would run clean. He needs something, to get rid of the sharp sting of all his senses.

Gadwall, instead, would speed up his body's regeneration. The pain would be gone by morning, turned into scars, and the toxins would filter out of him with time. And it deadens what Wolf turns wild. It would blunt it all again, make the world feel closed in.

The regeneration.

That's why Geralt uncorks Gadwall, a flick of his thumb popping the cork clear across his camp. He takes it in one long drag and drops the bottle back in his bag, then pulls the brooch from his pocket when the sluggishness sets in.

Wolf is about identifying weakness—the most efficient place to strike. Even with the reduced coordination, that remains. Geralt stares at the blue-green veins in his wrist and knows, as instinctively as the watering of his mouth at a plate of food, the best place to slit each of them.

He turns the brooch in his other hand, unbothered by the thought. 

Beside him, Roach continues to stomp her feet. Her legs are covered in trails of blood, from the constant biting of flies.

 

~*~

 

Geralt stalks through the abandoned keep, his eyes fully black on the moonless night, blood dragging like sludge through his veins. It's an odd place for a bruxa to nest, but the bounty was clear in its description. He listens carefully for the sounds of the vampire, hoping to catch her before she rises to feed.

Work's been scarce since Blaviken. He needs to finish this contract quickly and get himself coin for a meal.

From somewhere deeper in the keep, a creature wails with ear-piercing grief.

"Fuck," says Geralt.

Who the fuck mistakes a bruxa with a fucking wraith?

They wouldn't. Unless both are here, or the contract was given maliciously.

Unfortunate.

Geralt slips a hand into his pocket, back pressed defensively against the wall. The wretched screams bounce off the stone around him—unclear how many there are. Wraiths are fast, difficult to hit. He didn't bring spectre oil. 

Stupid.

One appears beside him and slashes viciously at his armor before he parries the second blow one-handed, stumbling backwards. It vanishes before he can blast it away with Aard, the useless gust whooshing down the hallway.

Another—or the same?—bashes him from behind. Blood trickles down the back of his neck.

Geralt's not dying to some fucking wraiths on a new moon. It's fucking principle.

He has Blizzard on him, but more toxin would kill him just as well as the wraiths. He casts Quen to shield himself and quickly uncorks White Honey. A wraith claws at him ineffectually while he downs it; the shield holds as the world goes dark.

Geralt drinks Cat again first and then watches Quen shatter in slow-motion as he takes Blizzard, sharpening his reaction time to the crack of a whip.

There are two wraiths. He traps the first with Yrden, decapitates it, and spins around to blow back the second. It flickers away and teleports again, but by the time it reappears his sword is raised to parry. 

The wraith shrieks in his face, ethereal chains rattling. He ducks, jerking his sword free and swiping. It teleports before his blade connects—straight into the Yrden he casts to stop it.

The keep is quiet again. It won't stay that way unless he burns the bodies before morning. He finds them already rotted, intertwined together beneath a sheltered balcony, and faded bloodstains on the ground. No weapons left behind.

He drags them fully into the courtyard and uses Igni to set the fire, then sits by the blaze to warm himself.

It feels sudden, being outside. Almost like time is frozen around him, with Blizzard still running through his veins. He used the last of his Honey in the fight, so he'll be coming down naturally. There's a breeze, imperceptibly stroking the leaves of pinprick flowers dotting the blades of grass and carrying embers in lazy drifts through the air.

He knows that it must affect his body, that he has a body for it to touch. It happens so slowly that it feels like a lover stroking his face.

Wraiths are anguished spirits. They suffer an existence of endless pain and unbearable envy of the living. Time must feel meaningless to them, too.

Geralt picks a wildflower and plucks the petals free one by one, watching them drift to the ground at the speed of molasses. 

 

~*~

 

The night passes around him and gradually rejoins him in speed. He has to return to the village, if for no other reason than to get Roach—but he waits for the morning, when his eyes will pass for human. 

If he's right about the contract, it won't help. But maybe the townsfolk were just wrong about the monster. Heard something screaming from the old keep, assumed it was whatever would come hunt them. Besides, a bruxa would've put up a worse fight.

The townsfolk are neither spiteful nor satisfied, in the end. They insist that some blood-drinker must be involved, and that the corpses as detailed to them match the description of two disappearances that were suffered after attacks already began.

Of all the monsters that roam the Continent, vampires are perhaps most frequently misunderstood. There are many types, of higher and lesser classification. Some of them are peaceful. Geralt's own knowledge is incomplete, though he's encountered several before. 

But the people must be desperate if they'll weather the Butcher of Blaviken for another night to get a chance at ridding whatever plagues them, and they refuse to pay him for dispatching the wraiths. 

So he stays, meditating to ignore the hunger pangs that niggle at his attention. He could forage in the surrounding area—both for food and supplies to brew more potions—but the easiest path is to do nothing.

This time, he waits only for midday to return to the keep; if something else resides there, it's intelligent enough to hide from a Witcher and let wraiths do the heavy lifting. His best chance will be to surprise it while it’s sleeping, weakened by the sun—if it hasn't fled the area already.

Sometimes he catches himself hoping that will be the case. Not because he's afraid of fighting. He's tired of victories that end in death.

Even the death of a katakan, whose wings scrape against the ceiling when he shifts form, startled out of sleep, and slams Geralt into the wall before Geralt can reason with him.

The katakan’s teeth sink into Geralt’s neck above the line of his armor; he feels his poisoned blood gurgle and gush, and in his brief struggle to free a hand to cast with, he considers, as he has before, his death.

He considers crumpling to the floor, drenched in ichor-black and staring sightlessly. Would his blood become red again, when the potion evaporated? He considers the body being found one day. Would his eyes remain black or become golden at the touch of the sun? 

How much monster would he appear to them, in the end?

Geralt took Black Blood before the fight; draining his body would kill the katakan too. A fitting end—to become poison; monster kills monster. 

But the toxin weakens the katakan's grip, and Geralt blasts it with enough Igni to send him screeching backwards. He sweeps his sword back up and aims another blast, which connects. 

The katakan shrieks in pain, beady eyes put in sharp relief by the glowing fire. He looks afraid to die. If he is, he feels more than Geralt did. 

Geralt clashes with him, stumbling with blood loss. He feels disoriented, from both that and the sudden lack of toxin. He has no idea what will happen if he drinks another potion with this little blood left. 

After fumbling to drink Thunderbolt, he doesn't fucking care.

The katakan goes down quickly after that, and Geralt sinks to the floor beside it. When he touches his neck, the wetness comes away the strange color of umber soil. 

No fitting end today. 

It's an interior room, Geralt realizes. No sunlight to reach him, either. He can only focus in terrible bursts—an insect crawling out of a crack in the wall, the singed fur on the cooling corpse beside him. 

His body wants to be put somewhere useful. Useful, like this, means drawing blood. It's inconvenient to want something. It's a relief to only want one thing. 

It'd be better, if he could rest. He's so fucking tired. If he had to snap out of this, go back to town right now, he'd have to understand something besides death again.

Geralt rests his cheek on the cool stone floor and tries to understand nothing.

 

~*~

 

It's just logical, in the end. Brewing White Honey takes time and resources he doesn't need to spend. He can suffer the effects of his potions a little longer after a fight. He'll still keep some on hand for emergencies, like with the wraiths.

And he won't—

It's just logical.

 

~*~

 

Geralt makes his way back north in preparation of winter. He's stopped at a town in the foothills of the mountains, and the locals think a grave hag is robbing their cemetery. No one's been killed, but they worry it'll run out of bodies. There have been rumors of that happening before.

They go for children first. Or the elderly.

Geralt won't let that happen. He prepares as he always does, brewing his potions and sharpening his silver sword. Spends some of the afternoon gathering what herbs he can from the foothills to replace his stock. 

It's another new moon. That won't matter if it's a hag, but he's aware of the moon cycle anyway. Plenty you don't wanna fuck with at any given point in it. Geralt is careful.

He waits patiently, concealed in a grove at the edge of the graveyard. He hasn't taken anything except for Cat—wants to see what he's dealing with first, and doesn't want the effects to wane if nothing shows for hours.

In the end, he doesn't need anything at all. The graves are being robbed by a man from the next town over, hoping to fence the belongings the corpses were buried with. Geralt sends him away with a dead-eyed warning.

The sliver of moon is still high. The stars are more offensive with his pupils like this, glaring down at him with harsh, overbearing light. They should be lovely, perhaps even romantic. The wraith-lovers whose rotting bodies he burned two months ago probably went to the tower to map constellations.

Geralt doesn't get to find the stars beautiful. He gets to use them to illuminate desecration caused by a starving human. He gets to look at his own hands and see the same ghastly white as the bleached bones he destroys.

(And what of Renfri's bones? What of the pretty golden brooch in his bag? Which of these does he deserve?)

Pretentious. He's not a poet, not something designed to think about stars at all. What would he have been, if they hadn't bleached him like so many bones?

Geralt leans back against the bark of a tree and looks at the earth instead. He should make camp, go to sleep. Stop this useless thinking. 

He still has Gadwall on him—brewed extra just in case. There's no reason for it now, exactly, but.

He was planning on using it, wasn't he? It was already in the ledger. Preparations were made. It was meant to help him, and it—

It would, right?

No more thoughts of stars, no more discomfort in his chest. These thoughts, flooding him—they're not useful. Thinking of what he could be, what he could have been if only—

Geralt's not human. Why should he have to feel like one?

He opens the bottle and takes a half-dose, his eyes slipping contentedly shut as he pushes the cork back in. And it's… peaceful. The sluggishness, the languid confusion of his body as it tries to stitch together wounds that don't exist. If he cut himself, the flesh would reform. 

If he looked at the stars, they would still hurt.

So he doesn't.

 

~*~

 

Geralt delays returning to Kaer Morhen further and further. The snows have begun to fall by the time he finally pushes himself towards the mountain path, and it's only for Roach. She'd suffer through a winter of travel, and she doesn't deserve that.

She didn't ask to be his horse.

Sometimes he catches himself wishing she'd run away. He stops tying her at night, has half-dreams of her wandering off or being stolen while he sleeps. She's a fine mare; she'd do well on a farm or pulling a carriage, or even serving a knight. 

She'd have a better life than this. And then no one would need him.

But she never goes. He wakes up to her snuffling around in his bag or snorting in her sleep, if he jolts at something in the night. He's trained her too well, for her to stand calmly for something that startles a Witcher.

He still talks to her, undeterred by Renfri having called it sad. He figures it might as well be.

Right now they're camped out at the base of the mountain, a little way away from the Witcher's Trail, which he'll take up to the stronghold in the morning. No use being reckless. 

Geralt grooms Roach slowly, pausing to scratch at a spot near her withers that makes her nicker and try to groom him back, chewing at his hair. He lets her, the closest thing to a laugh he's felt in months huffing out between his lips.

There's a bad wind howling through the mountain pass. It'll be warm in Kaer Morhen. They'll have fires and stores of hay. 

If they're still welcome.

"At least you'll have somewhere, girl," he murmurs, his nose pressed into her neck. She smells deeply of dirt and sweat. "Would you miss me?"

Her bristled nose tickles at his ear before she bites down on the meat of his shoulder—which will leave a well-intentioned bruise.

"You shouldn't," Geralt tells her. Tentatively, his arms slip around her neck; she stops grooming him and paws at the ground, nuzzling her head against his side. It's been so long since anything's touched him. "Can I… tell you a secret, Roach? Sometimes I—"

"Oh, thank Melitele I'm not the only one who still does that," calls a familiar voice—Eskel, steering his own horse off the main road towards Geralt's camp.

Geralt stiffens; he's glad he didn't take anything tonight. He pats Roach's shoulder before stepping away from her and greets, "Eskel. Thought I'd be the last back."

"So did I, obviously." Eskel dismounts, tossing his horse's reins over their head. "I got held up on a contract—two fucking griffins. What's your excuse?"

Geralt perks up. "Royal?"

"Archgriffin," Eskel corrects, smiling warmly. "Fucking acid spitters. You couldn't've travelled by Ard Carraigh and helped me, hm?"

He nudges Geralt hard with an elbow.

Would you have wanted me to? Geralt wonders. 

He gives his brother a once-over instead. "Looks like you made it out fine."

"Not like this face can get any worse," Eskel jokes. 

Geralt forces a laugh, then sits by his fire. He watches, blandly curious, as Eskel untacks his horse and grooms them down—apparently joining camp for the night.

Not like there's much other place to be.

The silence is fine. Generally, anyway. But in it, Geralt starts to wonder—what Eskel's thinking, if he's heard about what happened.

"New horse," Geralt observes gruffly.

"Silva was getting tired," Eskel explains, patting the horse's haunch. "Gave her to a little farmgirl."

Geralt snorts. "Of course you did. Who's this?"

"You'll laugh," Eskel tells him.

"Hm," says Geralt.

"His name's Perch." Eksel holds up a finger before Geralt can respond. "He came to me that way! You can't rename a horse, Geralt, it's bad luck."

Geralt's lips twitch. "I renamed Roach."

"'Cause you've got no respect for the universe." Eskel sighs loudly, tying his horse up nearby before taking a seat across the fire. "You know, one day it's gonna—"

He cuts off.

So he’s heard, then. Geralt stares at his campfire, a strange hollowness in his stomach, and drily suggests, "Catch up with me?"

Eskel plucks a thin twig from the edge of the blaze, blowing on it to snuff the embers out. He drags it through the snow at the edge of the clearing Geralt had made.

"I'd wondered if we'd see you this year," he admits. The deep scars on his face are shadowed in the flickering light. "Geralt, what happened?"

Geralt keeps his eyes on the fire.

"It can't be as they said," Eskel prods gently. How the fuck is he so fucking kind? They were supposed to wring it out of him, like they did everyone else. "I know you."

Geralt looks up sharply, feeling his eyes flash. Eskel doesn't flinch, just raises an eyebrow in congenial challenge. 

What's there to say? It doesn't matter if the story is told honestly. It's told, and he feels the truth of it—that he's responsible, deeper than anything else that might belong to him, for the stench of blood.

Eskel reaches into his bag instead of pressing the issue, hiding something in his palm. "Wanna see something cool?"

Geralt hums, leaning closer cautiously.

Eskel reveals a murky crystal vial filled with something caustically green in color. He spins it between his fingers, demonstrating the viscosity.

It's clearly liquid, though denser than water. Coating the vial whichever way Eskel tilts it.

Geralt doesn't feel excited by much, lately. He feels something prickling at his fingertips that could be called interest, his body shuffling through the hard-packed dirt of its own accord to get a closer look.

"From the griffin?" he asks.

Eskel hums, smirking proudly. He opens the vial, which is stoppered with more crystal instead of a wooden cork. "From the acid glands."

"Shouldn't be possible." Geralt nearly reaches out but stops at the last minute, his hand curling back up into a fist. "It'd eat through—"

"Anything?" Eskel finishes. He taps the vial against Geralt's knuckles, encouraging him to take it. "I met a sorceress in the city—she enchanted this for me."

Geralt sniffs the acid cautiously; it smells sharply of both vinegar and rotten fruit, making his stomach turn.

"Good trophy," he agrees, handing it back over. "What'll you do with it?"

"No idea yet," Eskel says, sounding unbothered. He closes the vial and tucks it back into his bag. "But I knew I wanted to show you as soon as I got it."

Geralt blinks. They're sitting companionably close; he feels compelled to move away. "Why?"

Eskel shrugs, picking his stick back up and tracing more shapes into the snow. 

"'Cause I knew you'd like it," he says simply. Like a thing like that matters.

Geralt hums uncomfortably, shifting back to his previous spot near Roach. 

It's quiet again. The fire is waning slightly; Eskel reaches for Geralt's reserved firewood and adds another bundle of kindling. It goes up quickly. Geralt would've added a sturdier piece, but he lets it go.

"I'm glad you did, you know—" Eskel says quietly, not looking up. "Come home."

Geralt's throat tightens. He says, "Same as being anywhere else."

Eskel smiles sadly, in a way that Geralt can't fully parse. Lambert would say something biting in response and Vesemir would lecture him on the importance of kinship, but Eskel just smiles. And reaches for his bedroll, to prepare for sleep.

 

~*~

 

They make their way up the Trail together in the morning. When they were young, they called this path The Killer. It's still unpleasant, but Geralt hasn't been young in a long time. Sometimes he thinks he imagined it.

Vesemir and Lambert are already there when they arrive, which isn't surprising. They find them sparring in the courtyard, Lambert with one hand tied behind his back.

"There you fuckers are!" Lambert says, dropping his practice sword in greeting. Vesemir takes the opportunity to smack him on the back of the head. "We thought you— ow! We thought you eloped together."

Or both died, more likely. Two in one year would be unlucky, but sensical.

Eskel slings an arm around Geralt's shoulders and says, "Not this year, but he's coming around."

Geralt grunts and shrugs him off, feeling suddenly overwhelmed.

Vesemir is eyeing him carefully, in that frustratingly paternal way of his. He wasn't so fucking overbearing before the massacre—but now it's an obligation, as the eldest left behind, instead of a personality trait. Or maybe Geralt just notices it more the further he drifts away.

"What happened?" Vesemir asks him.

Geralt stares over Vesemir's shoulder, at a training dummy in the distance. The thought of looking him in the eye turns his stomach.

"You said not to be a hero," he answers.

They get birds, even up in the mountains. It doesn't make any fucking sense—they should fly south for the winter. Maybe Vesemir feeds them.

"Well," Vesemir says, over the sound of birdsong, "you never learned your lesson."

Geralt says nothing.

Lambert reaches behind himself and frees the trapped hand, which he uses to punch Geralt on the shoulder.

"Our reputation's even worse than the fuckin' Cats now," he jeers with a smirk. "Can't wait to rub it in the smug bastards' face next time I see one."

Geralt shoves him away, muttering, "Fuck off," under his breath.

"Oh, me? Me, fuck off?" Lambert shoves him back, more forcefully. "C'mon, don't be that way, sweetheart—what're you the Butcher of, my broken heart?"

"I said fuck off!" Geralt barks, and sends him staggering backwards with a blast of Aard.

He stumbles into Vesemir, who catches him by the arm and keeps a vice grip when he tries to lunge forward again.

"What the fuck is your fucking—"

"Why don't we all just take a second?" Eskel tries to placate.

"—problem, you shitstain? I'm trying to tell you—"

Geralt snarls at him and storms away, shoving Eskel back when he tries to stay him with a hand on his shoulder.

Whatever Lambert was trying to say, Geralt can't hear it. Can't hear it from any of them.

This—this idea that it could be fine again. That he can come back here and they'll act like a pack. Like he didn't destroy their reputation and watch—

He can't.

His room is untouched from the winter before, and freezing. There's a pile of firewood laid out for him next to the hearth in anticipation of his return, but he doesn't light it. He bars the door and drops his bag from his shoulder.

The last of the potions left over from his final contract of the year clink against each other when he sets it down. There's a fine tremor in his hands when he reaches into his bag and pulls one out, staring at it with flat eyes.

It's easier. So much easier, just to uncork the bottle. He doesn't deserve easier, probably—he deserves suffering through this sharp gutted feeling in his chest, for what he's become. 

But he's become a coward, too—so he drinks.

 

~*~

 

The rest of the winter passes without much further conflict; they all quickly learn to leave it alone. Eskel's over it by the next morning, dragging him by the neck out to the courtyard to spare and trade stories of their hunts from the previous season.

Lambert takes three and a half years to forgive him, and only then because they both end up chasing the same rumor of a manticore outside of Carrera. It would've been a pain in the arse to take down alone, so they split the job and the coin.

Lambert hugs him when they part ways. It's the first time he's touched anyone besides Roach since the winter, wrestling with Eskel over something or other in the kitchen. 

The realization rattles him so badly that he heads straight to the nearest brothel.

Voices are bubbling in the dimly lit building, working women draped in sheer fabrics lounging as they converse with their patrons. Geralt bypasses them all and goes to the back where the bawd is surveying her domain.

She surveys him too, taking in his bloodied armor and swords, and guesses, "You're the Witcher who slayed the beast outside the gates?"

Geralt nods. He opens his coin purse and lays a generous sum on her table. "I'll lay with anyone who isn't afraid of me. Or I'll leave."

"Anyone?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.

Geralt inclines his head. 

It appears to be idle curiosity; the bawd shares a brief nonverbal conversation with someone over Geralt's shoulder, and then a woman with skin like soft clay and pretty dark eyes appears at his side.

"Interested in a night?" she asks, her fingers playing with the fringes of a green shawl which covers her temptingly.

Geralt considers her—not her attractiveness, which is obvious. But her heart rate, which is elevated without being frantic, and her scent—modestly perfumed and lacking the metallic tinge of fear.

"Yeah," he says, feeling an uncomfortable mix of relief and foreboding. "Lead the way."

She does, wrapping sturdy fingers around his wrist and guiding him to one of the upper rooms. They don't speak until she's unlocked her door and left it conspicuously unlatched behind them, which doesn't bother him.

"Your name?" he asks, watching her bend at the waist to add another log to a fire burning low in the hearth.

"Agata," she answers, striding back to him with a cloying smile. It's unsettling; no one looks at him this way. "And yours?"

He hasn't touched anyone like this in four years. Not since Renfri. He wishes he hadn't come here.

"Geralt," he says. "But you knew that."

"Some people like to pretend," she says softly. "Do you?"

Geralt swallows, watching her hands deftly divest him of his swords, work at the buckles on his armor. "I'll tip extra if you kiss me."

Her eyes crinkle at the corners as she taps him on the nose. "You're a sentimental one, are you? I thought you might be, from the look of you." 

Geralt's brow furrows.

Agata cups his jaw and presses her lips to the corner of his mouth, murmuring like it's a secret, "I'll kiss you for free, sweetie."

He lets her. She knows his way around his armor, making quick work of it. Familiar with knights and soldiers as clientele, then, or perhaps there's someone in her personal life.

Not that it matters. He touches her carefully, over the shawl. Sometimes there are rules about that. 

She's not so modest, palming his swelling cock through his breeches and pushing up onto the balls of her feet to deepen their kiss.

"So reserved," she teases, nipping at his bottom lip. "Are you always so shy?"

Geralt hums and curls his fingers in the thin fabric. He's… concentrating. Trying to remember what it's like. Was he shy, before? Is that what this feeling is, like he'd crumble if he tried to become solid?

"I think I know what you need," she whispers, a hint of smugness in the tone as she flits away. 

He blinks slowly. His pupils are under-dilated on purpose; he likes the hazy feeling. She's unlocking a chest that he hadn't given much thought to before, but apparently contains a variety of useful aids in her profession.

She retrieves a sleek length of rope that makes his medallion, still hanging around his neck, thrum slightly.

"Enchanted so it won't hurt your wrists," she explains, laughing softly at his expression. "As important for your line of work as it is mine."

"You want—" Geralt's voice gives out with a rasp. He realizes his back is still pressed to the door. He doesn't move away. "To tie me?"

Agata traces a finger along the rope. "Do you want me to?"

Geralt watches the drift of her hand. His heart, he knows, beats slower than a human's. The comparison means nothing to him—it's the only one he's ever had. It feels horrible and quick in his throat, this disgusting rush of blood.

"Sometimes it's nice," Agata coaxes, "to not have to be in control."

It is. It would be. He wants it so fucking badly. He'd give anything to not be so fucking careful anymore—to stop gathering herbs and forget the phase of the moon and the things he's done and if Roach has enough grain and the things he's done and the things—

"No," he says. "Put it away."

Agata's face is careful too. She does as he asks, shutting the chest with a gentle click, and holds her palms up to him from across the room.

"That's alright." She quirks her lips. "Why don't you tell me what you want, then?"

She still doesn't smell afraid. 

Geralt feels his pulse settle slightly with relief. He moves away from the door, slow and cautious; she mirrors him until they're both standing near the foot of the bed.

"Just," he says, fumbling, "regular?"

Agata laughs. Never unkindly, but frequently. If it's affected, he can't tell—too unused to it.

"Regular means something different to everyone," she tells him. "I'm gonna need a little more, honey."

Geralt feels the tips of his ears heat up. It's the damn fire, lapping greedily at the log Agata added to the blaze. His body has a hard time regulating the heat—his heart beats too slow.

"Wanna fuck you," he says bluntly. "On top."

Agata smiles playfully, finally letting her shawl fall to the floor. "I think we can manage that."

Her body is beautiful, especially by firelight. Modest breasts for her size, dappled skin that's been gently scarred by growing too well, likely in her youth. Geralt's muscles left similar marks behind, though The Path has covered him with more prominent ones.

After his moment of reflection is over, Agata steps forward and gently tugs his shirt over his head. She hums appreciatively at the sight of his chest, dragging her nails through the hair there.

Geralt dips down to kiss her rather than entertain the ogling. He has no particular connection to his body; no sense in forcing her to dote on it.

She takes the redirection willingly, kissing with an easy confidence. It quickly overwhelms him again, all the touch. Asking for this was a mistake. It's been too long. His body can't remember it.

But she teases at his cock again, then unbuttons his trousers to slip her hand underneath his underwear. Her hand is warm on him; other people's hands always are.

"Should we get in bed?" she offers.

Geralt nods, watching her pause for a beat before she crawls onto it, draping herself invitingly amongst a nest of pillows. He crawls after her, bracing himself above her and blinking down at her face.

She reaches up and brushes her knuckles across his cheek. "You don't have to be so afraid to touch me. What do you think will happen?"

Geralt flinches.

"Shh, it's alright," she soothes, grabbing his wrist. "See?"

She places his hand on her collarbone, then gently guides it to her breast. Her skin is soft all over, especially here.

It's too much. He squeezes gently, tracing his thumb over the edge of her nipple. Why did he come here?

Agata combs her fingers through his hair, which is dirty. She doesn't seem to mind and it feels good to get the knots worked out. It feels good, being touched, touching someone.

It starts to get easier, like the glide of a whetstone over his sword as he works up the rhythm. Stroking her breasts, the side of her ribs in a way that makes her giggle pleasantly. He's still hard, which seems distant and unimportant.

When was the last time this ended well for him? When was the last time it happened in a bed?

"You want to do a good job, don't you?" she asks him.

Geralt glances up sharply. He can feel his eyes trying to dilate, with arousal and the low light, but he fights against it. 

He doesn't want to see her too clearly; he doesn't want to look at any of it too long.

"I'll tell you what I like," she offers. "So you can be sure."

He won't be anyway; he paid for this, for her to treat it like it was good. 

"And you'll tell me if I hurt you?" he asks. His throat feels sore.

There's a little fear, then—in the pulse at her throat. But she tilts her head and says, "Yes."

He nods, then, and kisses her again. She has a nice mouth, confident. Her hands are good too—they know not to linger on the scars. He hates it when people do that.

Agata takes his hand, still touching at her hip, and brings it down to her cunt.

"Here," she murmurs, guiding his thumb to draw circles over her clit. "Let's get me nice and wet for you, hm? Shouldn't be too hard."

Geralt hums, keeping the pressure light like she shows him. He can smell her arousal start to deepen before it smears against his fingers—heady and earthy. He wants to taste her, feel the soft heat of her parting around his tongue.

He could ask—the point of coming here is so he can ask. But she said she'd tell him what she likes and when he opens his mouth to speak it's too hard to make anything come out. 

He turns it into a kiss, suckling against the underside of her jaw, when she tells him to slip a finger inside her.

Geralt's fingers are thick. Rough from the work, even though he wears gloves when he can. He teases at her briefly, an improvisation, before gently pressing inside.

Agata moans, wriggling against his hand, and bites at his earlobe. "That's so nice. I bet your cock'll feel even better, honey."

Geralt hums again, working his hand slowly. 

"Are you ready for it?" she asks. Her hand cups the back of his neck, toying with wisps of his hair. "You can."

Geralt pushes up into her touch, pulling his hand out of her so he can line himself up. She wraps a leg around his waist to encourage him, smiling crookedly at his expression.

Fuck, it feels so good. Nudging up against her, feeling the easy slide into her heat. He wonders if he feels cold to her. She purrs in his ear, rocking against him, and he closes his eyes.

It's… he doesn't know. Her hands feel like they're everywhere. He brings himself off sometimes, of course he does—efficiently, to help him sleep especially if he's coming down wrong. He very carefully thinks of nothing while he does it.

Careful, careful.

But this enveloping heat, her tongue lapping playfully at his ear, the effort it takes to hold himself up and be good and not think about it—to not think about it—

And it's been so long. No one would touch him like this if he didn't pay them. Is she afraid? Her heart is beating so fast. Does she still want it? It feels so good. Don't think about it.

Renfri, pushing him down into the dirt.

(Don't think about it.)

Her knife above his groin, wet blood (don't think about it) dripping down into his pubic hair.

(Is it over?)

Agata coos at him and no one would ever touch him, that's why he came here. Maybe no one ever will again. What would make him deserve it?

"Geralt," Agata is saying. "Look at me, sweetheart."

He's on his back, staring at the ceiling. She's laying next to him, propped up on one elbow, touching gently at the wetness on his face.

Fuck.

Geralt rolls away, hiding his stinging cheeks. He's not hard anymore; he doesn't think it's because he came.

"It's alright," she soothes. "It's more common than you'd think."

Which part? he means to ask. He feels himself shudder through it instead. 

"It's like you went somewhere else," Agata tells him—he flinches, but she quickly adds, "You didn't hurt me, it's okay. It's okay."

Geralt closes his eyes again.

"What was it?" she asks. A tentative hand brushes at his jaw. "Was it…?"

"Good," he grits out. 

"Oh," she says softly. There's a heavy silence, broken only by the fire spitting and the sounds of fucking in the other rooms, which she probably can't hear. "Geralt, what do you really want?"

Nothing. It has to be nothing.

Someone is moaning in the room to their right; someone is cheering over a game of cards downstairs.

"You're paid through the night," Agata tells him. "You're welcome to stay."

Her heartbeat is slow; Geralt likes focusing on it.

"If I leave, would you get another patron?" he asks. 

"Nope," she says lightly, rolling onto her back. "I'd just lay here until I fell asleep. And I enjoy the company."

"Hm," says Geralt. He turns to face her, finally opening his eyes. "You're a bad liar."

"And you're very rude," she teases back, prodding his chest. "Denying a lady her whims."

Geralt frowns skeptically.

"Stay, you stubborn man," Agata threatens, "or I'll refund your money. And I know you don't want that."

Geralt's throat tightens; he whispers, "Stop."

She furrows her eyebrows at him and asks, "What?"

"Pretending to be kind to me," he says.

Agata frowns more deeply, reaching out to tweak his nose. "I'm not pretending."

"That's worse," Geralt rasps.

He regrets it immediately, watching the way her face crumples.

Coping with her pity isn't easier.

"Fine, you horrible good-for-nothing bastard," she says instead, but her tone doesn't change. "Stay or I'll—I'll steal your horse or something. Do you have a horse?"

Geralt's lips twitch despite himself. "Yeah."

"You smell like it," she tells him. "Go the fuck to sleep."

There's this… something, in his stomach. A lightness he can't explain that tangles up in his ribs and makes everything tight and strange. And he should go anyway. He thinks he should go.

She deserves her money. She deserves a better lay than this, for her kindness. Geralt thinks he probably ruins kind things, but he's not sure he's met enough of them to know.

Maybe in the morning he'll ask about putting his mouth on her, or let her steal Roach. 

Agata apparently interprets his silence as agreement, which it is. She pulls a blanket out from underneath them, smacking him gently on his flank to make him lift his hips, and then drapes it over them both.

Geralt closes his eyes, intent on sleeping—then stiffens when Agata sidles up next to him and lays her head on his chest.

"Is that okay?" she murmurs. "I'd like to."

Geralt feels, humiliatingly, on the verge of tears again. He doesn't understand what the fuck is happening to his body—what could be betraying him. 

There's too much to fight. He breathes out with a shudder against the crown of her hair.

 

~*~

 

Agata does let him pleasure her in the morning, but she refuses to let him pay extra. It's the strangest argument he's ever had with a whore, which he tells her—she tells him it's the stupidest argument she's ever had with a patron, and that she'll take a promise from him to come back the next time he's in town instead.

Geralt keeps his promise. He keeps it several times over the next five years, and stops crying during. She's not the only one he's had since—men, women, sometimes ones he didn't even have to pay—but he'd admit she's his favorite.

"I'm flattered," she drawls, snatching a damp cloth out of his hands and cleaning his stomach off herself. "Are you staying tonight?"

"Can't," says Geralt. "Contract."

Agata wipes her hands clean and then tosses the cloth to the side. "You could come back after."

Geralt looks at her sidelong. "Pay your damn bills."

"You pay them," she shoots back, grinning lopsidedly.

He shakes his head, hiding the twitch of a smirk. "Contract's not that good."

Agata throws herself down onto the bed dramatically, leaning her head over the edge to look up at him when he stands to get dressed. She's gotten more playful over the years. He doesn't worry she's afraid anymore.

"Not even for your favorite whore?" she teases.

Geralt looks away. "Meant it as a compliment."

"I took it as one," she assures him. "You're my favorite customer, you know."

A muscle twinges in Geralt's chest. Flatly, he asks her, "You tell that to everyone."

"That would make me dishonest," she says.

"That'd make you good at business," he corrects drily, bending down to lace his boots. 

The sound of her footsteps is comforting as she goes to retrieve his armor for him. He's used to putting it on himself—had it specifically crafted to be a one-person job. All Witchers do.

But it's… nice. Watching her do up the straps instead.

"One of these days I'll get you to believe a compliment," she tells him, patting him on the chest when the job is done.

"Say something believable, then," he deadpans.

"Hmm. You have a very… above-average jaw," she tells him, then tweaks him on the nose. "And your hair is a pretty color, when it isn't covered in guts."

Geralt furrows his eyebrows with good-natured exasperation. "If you say so."

Agata rolls her eyes and walks to her dresser, where she begins rooting for a new outfit. "Alright, handsome, what color should I wear downstairs?"

Geralt remains silent, until she turns around to look at him in confusion.

"Sorry," he says. "Were you talking to me?"

"Ugh." She throws a shawl at him.

He folds it neatly for her on the edge of the bed. 

Agata settles on a different one to artfully drape over her figure, then shuts the drawer. She stares at it for a prolonged moment and then quietly says, "Geralt? I've had a thought, but I worry it'll make you uncomfortable."

"Nothing makes me uncomfortable," Geralt answers.

"Now who's being dishonest?"

"Hm. Just say it."

Agata turns to face him again. "I was thinking—maybe we could write to each other? I just think it'd be nice, for you to know someone's thinking of you."

Geralt blinks. "You think about me?"

"I do," she says gently. "Does that surprise you?"

Of course it does. He barely thinks of himself.

He wants to reject the idea immediately. It's impractical, firstly. And what good would it do either of them, in the end?

Saying so would just piss her off.

"I'm not good with… words," he says instead.

"Really?" she teases. "I hadn't noticed."

Geralt eyes the door. If he walked through it, closed it again with them on opposite sides, he'd still exist to her. If he never came back here again, she'd wonder what happened. He hates the thought of it so intensely that all he can say is—

"Okay."

"Okay?" she repeats, sounding as shocked as he is.

"You should send them to Yspaden," Geralt tells her. "I'll stop there on my way to where I spend the winter. And when I leave."

Agata nods. "And you can write to me here."

Geralt frowns and asks, "What will I say?"

"You can tell me about your adventures," she suggests, smiling warmly. "I've never seen the world, really, you know. And if you need someone to confide in…"

"Adventures," Geralt says gruffly. "I can… try."

Agata glides across the floor to kiss him on the cheek. "I'm sure you will. Take care tonight."

"Hm," says Geralt. He shoulders his swords and heads for the door.

Agata stays in her room, locking it behind him. He wonders when he leaves her mind.

When the lock finishes turning? When she hears him settle his tab with the bawd downstairs? Maybe when she takes her next favorite customer up to the room.

She doesn't leave his mind while he collects Roach and rides south of the city, or as he sharpens his eyesight with Cat to look for the rolling of fog in the distance. 

It's distracting. He's only hunting a Foglet, but he needs to be careful. Focused. He can't think about the light scent of perfume clinging to his undershirt. The idea that she might—

But she doesn't. It's good business. She's smart; he likes her. He shouldn't fucking like her, it's pathetic.

Gadwall's not good for Foglets. They're fast, annoying little bastards he'll need to be quick enough to trap. 

Geralt needs to stop thinking more than any of that. He uncorks it and drinks it all, feeling the comforting burn on the way down. 

The fog rolls in closer. Geralt thinks sluggishly of buying parchment paper, and then of drawing his sword.

 

~*~

 

Agata—

Took me a while to find something worth writing about. I visited Posada recently. I don't usually travel so far east because it's hard to find work again travelling back the way you came. The architecture is interesting here. They build towering buildings connected by bridges across cliffs.

All the flat land is used for farming. They used to call this place Dol Blathanna—Valley of Flowers. Most of the flowers have been dug up to grow more wheat, but you can still find some species that you can't find anywhere else. I put some cuttings in the envelope. Not sure what state they'll be in by the time they get to you. 

I thought I'd be worse at writing, but it helps me organize my thoughts. I still don't know what you'd want to hear though. The wheat here grows better than anywhere else. I know why, but I don't think you'd be interested in that part. But it's pretty. It almost has a different color, like

Geralt frowns, looking up from his parchment. His eyes fall on Jaskier, who's sitting across the fire from him and strumming Filavandrel's lute.

"Hey," says Geralt. "You're a poet."

"I am," the bard says cheerfully, sitting up a little straighter. "Thank you for noticing!"

Geralt glances up at the treetops. "How would you describe the wheat here?"

"Ooh, is that what you've been brooding about over there?" Jaskier asks eagerly. "Well, you could go several different directions with it. Perhaps it's like a field of sunlight—no, golden sunlight! Or the color of a fair maiden's hair. Are you writing to a girl? Or a man, I certainly don't judge. Do Witchers have lovers? The color of a fair lover's—"

"Nevermind," says Geralt.

It's pretty. 

Met a really fucking annoying bard. Ignore any songs you hear about me.

Geralt.

 

~*~

 

Geralt sends the letter off in Guleta. He tries to send Jaskier off in Guleta, too, but he's harder to shake. The stupid song actually earns them a bit of coin, though—Posada supplies the entire region with crops, and it turns out people don't like starving.

Neither do elves. It joins the list of things Geralt prefers not to think about.

He can't think about anything when Jaskier won't stop fucking talking. It's incessant. He's talking from the moment he wakes up to the moment he falls asleep. Sometimes he talks in his sleep.

At least he never expects Geralt to answer him. Unless he's asking questions about a monster, taking copious notes. Geralt has an abbreviated bestiary in one of his saddlebags—a gift from Vesemir when he first set out on The Path. He doesn't need to reference it anymore; the bard would probably delight in it.

He doesn't mention it.

Jaskier frustrates him too much. He doesn't wanna do anything to encourage him to stick around. He's tried everything he can think of in the opposite direction—punching him, leaning into the Butcher name, as much as it makes the bile rise in his throat. 

Everything except returning to camp covered in monster ichor, his skin grotesquely pale and eyes blackened by Cat.

Geralt steps on a twig at the edge of the clearing, making Jaskier jump and whip around to face him wielding a dagger (where the fuck did he get a dagger?) and then… smile at the sight of Geralt's face?

"Ah, Geralt!" he says pleasantly, tucking the weapon away into the folds of his unbuttoned doublet. His eyes trail up and down Geralt's hulking form; he licks his lips. "Stay right there. This is a fantastic look on you. Is this how you always look when you hunt at night?"

Geralt is woozy with toxicity. He scents the air, looking for the stench of fear, but it's just Jaskier, same as always—a heavy-handed dose of cologne and a hint of musk underneath. 

Maybe stronger than usual. They haven't been able to afford a bath recently.

Geralt sits down heavily on his side of camp, head still spinning sluggishly. There's something—

He can't pick at himself like this. He fucking hates it when he's not on anything and now it's even worse, why is he even trying—

Jaskier is still fucking talking. He never stops working his mouth. When he's not talking he's staring at Geralt with his stupid tongue poking out while he writes things, or he's eating or snoring or pursing his lips like he's about to speak. 

"—or maybe the mystery and strength of the night, which do you prefer? I just think if we try to leverage—"

"Shut up," Geralt snaps, and something about his tone makes Jaskier actually listen. "Why are you still here?"

Jaskier blinks. "Well, you're the one who picked our camping spot. I voted to spring for the inn."

"Not like that," says Geralt. His head hurts. "With me."

Jaskier, who had been pacing the clearing with his songwriting notebook in one hand, sits down on his bedroll.

"Oh," he says, tilting his head. "Genuinely?"

Geralt hums tersely.

"I'd very much like to be famous," Jaskier tells him.

Geralt observes him from across the fire; their eyes briefly meet and Jaskier's heart rate spikes.

"And somehow that involves me," Geralt says, "and my reputation?"

"Well, I might as well take you up with me."

Geralt frowns, breathing methodically. "Why bother?"

"There's two answers to that question, Geralt of Rivia," says Jaskier. "The truth and what you'll believe."

"Fine. What will I believe?"

"That it's what I owe you, for the adventure."

Geralt reaches for his bedroll and spreads it out on the very edge from the clearing, as far away from the fire as he can make it.

"What's the truth, then?" he asks.

Blessed silence. Roach is grazing near her saddle, ears flicking with the changes in the wind. 

"I think," Jaskier answers slowly, "that you're a better man than I am. And I'd like it to be for something, in the end."

Geralt's eyes are still darkened. He can see each leaf in the canopy above them, hiding the stars and the moon. 

"Move your bedroll over here," he says.

"What?" Jaskier asks. "Why?"

Geralt breathes out a puff of air. "I'm not jumping over the fire to save your arse if something attacks you."

Jaskier gathers up his things. "Right, yes—but what if something attacks you in the middle of the night, hm? Shouldn't I get a head start?"

"Anything that can kill me," Geralt says, smiling threateningly, "can outrun you."

"That is so comforting!" Jaskier says brightly, dumping his bedroll right next to Geralt's, which isn't at all what Geralt meant. "Thank you so much."

Geralt closes his eyes. "Plenty of space near Roach."

"Roach snores," says Jaskier.

Geralt growls at him.

"Shh, Geralt, I'm trying to sleep!"

Fucking bard.

 

~*~

 

They do eventually part ways, when winter comes. Geralt leaves Jaskier in a town just west of Carrera, then visits Agata—who teases that she might as well have kept the letters she wrote him, if he was gonna stop here first. 

She kept the dead flowers, and the bracelet he bought for her in Hagge. He comes with his face pressed into her neck and wakes up to her humming "Toss a Coin" in his ear.

"Fuck," Geralt mutters.

"See you in the spring, sweetheart."

 

~*~

 

Geralt's the first back that winter, except for Vesemir, who doesn't count. He helps cut firewood and cure the last of their smoked meat for the season, and winces when Lambert comes breaking down the front gate with the announcement, "Someone wrote a fucking song!"

Fuck.

Geralt panics and says, "Hm?"

"Think it's about Eskel," Lambert continues, leading his horse into the keep. "Or Coen. Sure as fuck isn't about a Viper or a Cat."

Vesemir is sewing a patch onto one of their training dummies. "Does the song not specify?"

"Only heard the chorus," Lambert says. "Part of the last verse, maybe? Some street urchin threw a fuckin' oren at me in Temeria."

"Is it good?" Geralt asks. "The song."

"It's fuckin' obnoxious. I'm gonna strangle the bard who wrote it," says Lambert. "Good for our image, though. We're 'friends of humanityyy' now."

He drags the lyric out into a terrible falsetto, making all three of them wince.

Geralt says, "Maybe it's about Eskel."

 

~*~

 

Eskel arrives a week and a half later, hands Perch's reins to Lambert, and smacks Geralt on the chest. "Who did you fuck?"

Geralt takes a step away from Lambert.

"What're you talking about?" Lambert asks.

"You didn't hear the song?" Eskel asks. "'Toss a coin to your Witcher, o' Valley of—'"

"Please don't sing it," Geralt mutters.

Lambert narrows his eyes. "You mean it's about him?"

"Yeah, absolutely." Eskel looks between them. "You didn't hear the first verse?"

Lambert hands Eskel his horse back, taking a deep breath.

"Uh," says Geralt, then ducks when Lambert tries to put him in a headlock.

"You're fucking unbelievable!"

"Get off."

"Why does everything interesting happen to you?"

"It's not even true—"

 

~*~

 

At least he'll never have to see the bard again.

 

~*~

 

"Ooh, what're you doing?" asks Jaskier, who is currently sticking his face directly in Geralt's mortar.

Geralt shoves him away, hard. "Making potions."

"Like the ones you drink before a hunt?" Jaskier asks eagerly. He shuffles closer again, propping his chin up on Geralt's shoulder. "How do they work?"

Geralt grumbles and tries to shrug him off, but it's no use. He's been even more obnoxious than he was last year, since they ran into each other in Carrera. Should've seen that coming.

"Herbs," he explains, adding more emulsifier to the bottle. "Sometimes monster parts. Compounds in them interact to give different effects."

Jaskier's cheek is warm, brushing against Geralt's neck while he blinks owlishly at the oozing mixture Geralt's forming. "Fascinating. And what's this one?"

"Cat," says Geralt. "To see in the dark."

"Ooh, so if I drank this, my eyes would go all cool and black like yours?"

"No," Geralt answers drily. "You'd die. My potions are toxic to humans. Never touch them."

Jaskier, apparently not entirely lacking in self-preservation, finally scoots away. "Ah, I see. So then it's your… Witcherly-ness that allows you to use them?"

Geralt crushes another handful of herbs. "Yeah."

"And they don't negatively affect you at all?"

Geralt hesitates. He’s been careful not to take too much of anything around Jaskier—at least not where he can see. If he comes back blunted from a hunt, or on edge, that’s easy to blame on the fight. No reason to say when or why he took what he did. 

“No,” he says.

“Well that’s lucky!” Jaskier says brightly, apparently used to Geralt’s silences. "Have you memorized how they're all made? Could you teach me?"

Geralt says, "No," again. He sniffs the potion; not strong enough yet.

"To which part?" Jaskier asks.

"Guess," says Geralt.

"Oh, come on, Geralt!" Jaskier wheedles. "I could be helpful! I could make them for you when you're busy, or at least look for ingredients or something, couldn't I? We're friends! A team!"

Geralt stiffens. "We're neither."

"Yes, yes, you're a big scary loner, I know," Jaskier says, patting him forcefully on the shoulder. "Tell yourself whatever you need to, dear."

Geralt growls low in his throat.

"Love that sound." Jaskier props an elbow up on his knee, batting his eyelashes. "I bet it drives all your bedpartners wild, am I right? Or are you more of a gentle, sensual—"

"Jaskier."

The bard is busy unpacking his quill and ink. "Just give me a few details, Geralt! Now that we're talking about it, I really do think promoting your sexual reputation should be the next step in my character rehabilitation plan. Now, if you had to describe your love-making style in three words or less—"

"No," says Geralt.

"Hm? Do Witchers take a vow of celibacy?"

"You'll be forced to if you don't fuck off."

"Don't flirt with me right now Geralt, I'm working."

Geralt curls his upper lip into a snarl. There's apparently not enough heat behind it, because Jaskier just flashes his teeth in return and licks his thumb before flipping to a fresh page.

At least he's quiet for now. Maybe tomorrow Geralt'll give in and let them stay at an inn—get a little space from all this.

 

~*~

 

It takes them three days to make enough money for a room. The town they wind up in has a giant centipede problem and a single inn; Geralt can only fix one of those things.

He's fucking exhausted from the fight, numbed out on a potion cocktail he barely remembers taking, and actively bleeding onto the dirt floors while the innkeeper tries to refuse him a room.

"We don't want you here, Butcher," the man spits. "Take your coin and go."

Geralt pushes away from the bar, swaying for one drawn out second, and moves to leave.

Jaskier stops him with a hand on his chest.

"Terribly sorry if my friend wasn't clear," Jaskier tells the innkeeper sweetly. "But seeing as we've taken care of your monster, which I assume was significantly impacting your business—I mean, who wants to travel through the town with the giant man-eating insect? Does Dun Tynne have a giant centipede? I don't think so, and now neither do you—seeing as we've greatly benefited your business, and done so by brutally slaughtering something much scarier than you—am I being clear?"

Geralt stares blankly at him.

The innkeeper clears his throat and asks, "One bed or two?"

"Whichever is more convenient for you, my good man," Jaskier says cheerfully. "And three portions of whatever you have grilling over that fire—it smells delicious, thank you so much."

The innkeeper fumbles for a key that he sets on the counter, then edges backwards towards the kitchen, keeping his eyes firmly on Jaskier.

"What a delightful little town," Jaskier says, maybe to Geralt. "I think I'll perform tonight. What do you think I should open with?"

Geralt opens his mouth to say something involving at least one curse word. His tongue is too thick. 

"C'mon, dear Witcher," Jaskier coaxes, dragging him by the wrist. "Let's get you upstairs."

Geralt stumbles after him. He frowns at the blood smearing against a chair—wants to point out something they should do about that. Is pushed firmly onto the bed by both shoulders before the thought finishes forming.

Fuck, he can't do this.

"Geralt?" Jaskier is crouched at eye level, his lips pursed. "Is everything alright? You're not, like, internally bleeding, are you?"

Geralt ignores him, fumbling in his pockets instead. Fuck, he fucking hates this. If he were alone this would be pleasant, he could just—

"Geralt," Jaskier repeats. He smells metallic. Has he always smelled metallic? "Please say something."

Geralt wheezes when the White Honey tears through him, his lungs suddenly purifying the air instead of tainting it with toxin. Fuck, it hurts. It's suddenly so bright, so clear, the people here fucking hate him and he's terrifying Jaskier and his blood is ruining the fucking bedspread and they should've left to sleep in the fucking dirt.

"Fucking look at me, you arsehole." Jaskier slaps Geralt on both cheeks, which stings. "What did you just take?"

Geralt closes his eyes and inhales deeply. He opens them, looking at the pale panic on Jaskier's face.

"What happened to rehabilitating my image?" he asks.

Jaskier blinks rapidly, reassessing. His gaze flicks between Geralt's hands, which are flushing with healthy blood again, and his clear-eyed face.

"Can't win 'em all," he says brightly, waving Geralt off with one hand. "If they're gonna be afraid of you, might as well make it useful."

"Hm," says Geralt skeptically. "I need to meditate."

Jaskier pats him on the non-bloodied shoulder. "I'm well-aware that that's code for 'leave me alone, Jaskier,' which I will gladly do once you have dinner with me."

Geralt opens his mouth to argue.

"Seeing as I, your dearest and only friend, did indeed barter this lovely room for us, I think you can spare me this one teeny, teeny little—"

"Fine," Geralt grumbles, wincing when he pushes to his feet. "Don't fucking blackmail me."

"Such an ugly word, 'blackmail,'" Jaskier answers, grinning cheekily as they make their way downstairs again. "I am an efficient organizer of human resources."

Geralt hums again. He retreats to the back corner of the inn before Jaskier can force him to sit somewhere more exciting, and luckily isn't given any pushback.

The bleeding is slowing down. He should probably drink Swallow to stem it completely, but he can't afford anymore questions from Jaskier. The pain is tolerable.

A pretty woman with a ruddy complexion sets three plates down in front of them. Jaskier smiles charmingly at her when he asks for two glasses of whatever wine might be as sweet as she is—which seems to work; she blushes slightly before moving away. 

Geralt rolls his eyes and cuts into the plate of meat—some kind of bird, probably turkey—to separate out the different parts. He dumps half of it onto the furthest plate, which he nudges towards Jaskier.

"What're you doing?" Jaskier asks.

"You like the white meat," Geralt mutters. 

Jaskier tilts his head. "But which do you prefer?"

Geralt blinks. "I don't care. Meat's meat."

"Yes, of course," says Jaskier, in a tone that's too serious to be genuine. "You're Geralt of Rivia—you don't care about anything."

Geralt scowls at a collection of roasted vegetables.

Jaskier drops a turkey leg onto Geralt's plate. "Here, you big oaf. I know you save them for last."

Geralt's skin itches. Feeling petulant, he snatches up the leg and takes a bite of it before anything else. 

"Brat," Jaskier accuses. "You do need a nap."

Geralt needs a half dose of Gadwall and an empty room. He grumbles, "Meditation's not—"

"Here you are, loves," the woman says, sliding two glasses in front of them. "Hope it's to your liking. Can I get you anything else?"

"Just one more thing, erm—terribly sorry, love, I don't know your name," Jaskier says.

"Hilda," she answers.

"Hilda," says Jaskier, resting his cheek in the palm of his hand. "All I need is the name of your favorite song, so that I may serenade you."

Ridiculous. Geralt focuses on his food, which is decent. The legs are the part he always saves for last. He picks at his vegetables while Jaskier isn't looking.

Hilda giggles her answer, which is an older song that even Geralt recognizes. Jaskier eats quickly and then brandishes the damn lute.

"Duty calls," he says, patting Geralt on the good shoulder. "Will you be alright?"

"I'll survive the singing, yeah," Geralt comments drily.

"Rude and hurtful." Jaskier prods Geralt's jaw. "Go take your nap. If I don't come back tonight, assume I've died a glorious death between Hilda's thighs."

Geralt smirks and tips his wine in a toast. "Gods willing."

"Ah, right, thank you." Jaskier bites at his lower lip, taking a step back and crashing into an empty table. He swears, stops a chair from tumbling over, then glances back at Geralt with widened eyes. "Yes, I'd better—mhm?"

He flits away after that, back towards the center of the room.

Geralt frowns. He'd only been bantering—that was hardly the harshest threat he's ever made. Maybe Jaskier is still on edge from the situation before. 

By the time Jaskier warms up, though, he's back in full obnoxious form. His original songs may still be hit or miss, but Geralt's not stupid—he knows the bard has a talent for performing. 

Not that he'd ever say it. 

Geralt listens to the first two songs while he finishes eating; he leaves some of the vegetables and a bit of the meat for Jaskier, in case he's hungry after his performance, and retreats to their room.

The music is still easy to hear from the second floor, even without sharpening his hearing on purpose; he can smell more food roasting in the kitchen, too. 

Geralt strips out of his armor, which he'll need to get repaired in the next town. The wound in his shoulder is acid-scarred and still oozing blood.

Jaskier starts leading the tavern in a drinking song.

Geralt's too fucking tired to care. He pulls his shirt off, wads it between the injured shoulder and the bed, and tries to sleep.

 

~*~

 

He wakes up, disoriented and startled, to the sound of a door slamming and Jaskier announcing, "Good evening, Geralt! Time to go!" with frantic cheer.

Geralt sits up quickly, adjusting his pupils to glare at Jaskier in the low light. He winces when his shoulder, halfway through scarring over the muscle, pops. 

"What the fuck did you do?" he asks—somewhat rhetorically, since Jaskier is fucking naked.

"You remember Hilda?" Jaskier asks. He's tossing clothes out of Geralt's pack at random, maybe looking for something specific. "Lovely woman. A very generous—"

There's a violent banging on the door, which Jaskier at least had the foresight to latch. 

Jaskier is hopping into a pair of Geralt's underwear.

"I want you and that fucking whoreson out of my inn, you fucking mutant!"

Geralt massages his temple. "Innkeeper's daughter?"

"Wife, actually! But I agree, she has remarkable skin. Had no idea at the time, I swear." Jaskier winces when someone slams against the door. "Erm, you may want to hurry it up?"

Geralt tugs his shirt back on with a growl.

"Unless you plan on fighting that lovely man for my honor?" Jaskier asks. He grabs Geralt's one pair of leggings that lace at the hips instead of buttoning, tying them as tight as they'll go.

"Maybe I'll let him keep you," says Geralt, but he reaches for his armor.

"Out the window, then?" Jaskier suggests. He darts over and starts helping Geralt with the buckles, which he's so bad at doing that it actually takes longer than if Geralt had done it himself.

Geralt raises an eyebrow. "I'm not letting you ride Roach if you break an ankle."

"Maybe just make your scary face at them." Jaskier pats Geralt on the neck. "You know, the one you're making at your only friend right now."

Geralt sighs deeply, reaching for the rest of his things. He stuffs his clothing back in his bag, except for a shirt that he tosses to Jaskier. 

He fucking hates using Axii on people. Makes him feel like shit. 

Not much time to wallow in it, since the innkeeper and two of his friends manage to bash the door in, then immediately stop short when Geralt casts on them.

"You want us to leave peacefully," he says, feeling another twinge in his shoulder when the sign settles. Fuck.

The three men nod, clearly dazed. Jaskier gapes at them as Geralt drags him by the back of the shirt down the hallway.

"You are vastly underutilizing the potential of whatever that was," Jaskier tells him.

"Shut the fuck up," Geralt snaps. "Where's your lute?"

"Bollocks," says Jaskier, then bolts back down the hallway to a room at the very end. A woman shrieks at the intrusion, but he scrambles to Geralt's side with the lute slung over his shoulder.

"Let's go," Geralt tells him. He can already hear confused murmuring from their room—he's fucking exhausted and clearly didn't cast it well. "Before it wears off."

Jaskier hurries down the stairs, gets halfway to the exit, then says, "Ooh, wait one moment!"

"No," Geralt scolds. "What the fuck—"

Jaskier is already vaulting over the bar to rifle behind the counter.

"This isn't a game!" Geralt hisses. There's a shout from upstairs.

"So sorry, you're absolutely right, let's be off!"

Jaskier climbs back over the counter and finally follows Geralt out the door. They grab Roach from the stable and flee through a back alley to the other side of town, then double back through the woods. 

Geralt doubts the townspeople would put that much effort into tracking down a single cuckolder, but then again—

"That was fantastic! I mean, that whooshing thing you did with your hand? Very impressive. Why don't you use that all the time? Why didn't you use it to get us a room in the first place?"

—Jaskier is pretty annoying.

Geralt's too tired to argue with him. He does a cursory job of scouting a perimeter for their camp and then collapses into the dirt.

"Um," Jaskier says hesitantly, "should we make a fire?"

"Fucking make one yourself," Geralt mutters.

"Eh." Jaskier sits down next to Geralt in the dirt. He looks fucking ridiculous in Geralt's clothes. "It's warm tonight."

He smells a little like what Geralt must smell like, too, when he's clean anyway. Something sharp and vaguely of herbs—nothing like how that woman smelled. Except for the lingering musk of arousal that's Jaskier's own.

It's… fine. Geralt closes his eyes. He hasn't even spread out his bedroll.

"Geralt," Jaskier says in a sing-song voice. "Can Witchers get drunk?"

Geralt cracks one eye open suspiciously. "Not easily. Why?"

Jaskier is grinning wickedly. He reaches into the waistband of his leggings and pulls out a sealed bottle of liquor. "Not even on a brand new thingy of vodka?"

"Jaskier—" Geralt pushes up onto his forearms. "You stole that?"

"Oh, please, Geralt—the man was a bigot and, I have on very good authority, a piss-poor lover. But mostly the bigot part." Jaskier crosses his arms over his chest. "That's why I fucked his wife."

Geralt coughs lightly with surprise. "You said you didn't know she was his wife."

"Did I?" Jaskier asks innocently. He sticks out his tongue and tries to work the bottle open. "Bollocks, gimme a hand, will you?"

Geralt takes the bottle and pries it open with a grunt. His shoulder pops again; the bleeding had stopped, but he feels something wet seeping through his shirt.

"Fuck."

"What's—oh, fuck, that looks absolutely disgusting. Turn around so I can get a better look."

Geralt knits his eyebrows together and obeys.

"Fuck, Geralt, I think it's infected." Jaskier sticks two fingers in the wound, making Geralt hiss. "Should your blood be black?"

"What do you think?" Geralt grits out.

"I think you should be nicer to the man with his hand inside your shoulder. I thought you had magic healing Witcher powers. Alcohol disinfects things, doesn't it? Gimme." Jaskier wrenches the vodka out of Geralt's hands and unceremoniously dumps a measure of it on the wound. It hurts like fucking hell. "There we go. Bloody giant centipedes, am I right?"

Geralt shoves him away. "Fuck you."

"You are in no condition for that tonight." Jaskier takes a swig from the vodka bottle. "Do you have a potion for this? I'll get it for you. Wow, that's good stuff, here, try it."

He hands the vodka back and gets up to grab Geralt's bag.

Geralt, resigned, takes a drink. It's pretty good.

Jaskier comes back with the bag. His left hand is covered in blood, and there's a smear of it on his cheek. 

Geralt suddenly feels woozy; the alcohol is probably a mistake with his metabolism working to fight the centipede venom. 

He takes another drink.

"That's the spirit," Jaskier tells him; he takes the bottle—which is bloody too—back and has another drink. "Whew! Which one of these cute little bottles will fix you up?"

Geralt squints up at him. He reminds Geralt of one of those ridiculous songbirds—the kind that chatter incessantly and flit about from branch to branch like they'll die if they sit still.

His heart is racing. He still smells like Geralt.

Geralt gestures to be given the bag. Jaskier, for once, listens, and Geralt finds his last bottle of Golden Oriole. He'd thought he took some before the fight—maybe one dose wasn't enough.

Or maybe he forgot—took something else instead? Something to feel—

Stupid. So fucking stupid. Careless.

"Cheers," Geralt says sardonically, clinking the bottle to Jaskier's vodka, and downs it before he can change his mind.

The potion tears through him, especially his shoulder, and he's left feeling wrung-out and distant afterwards. Or—so there that it no longer feels real. No blur to his vision, a dull ache of muscle pain instead of the sting of poisoned blood.

Geralt blinks slowly, staring at his hands.

"Did it work?" Jaskier asks. "Oh, that is a much more normal color of blood! That's nice. I'm going to go vomit into a bush."

"Hm," Geralt agrees.

Jaskier sits down instead, apparently having just been indulging in histrionics. He drinks from the bottle again, then nudges it against Geralt's hand.

Geralt grunts in denial.

Jaskier shrugs and leaves his wrist resting on Geralt's thigh.

The sun's nearly set over the horizon. Geralt listens to the crickets emerging from their burrows, the faint rustling of small creatures in the undergrowth.

He snorts with sudden disbelief.

"What is it?" asks Jaskier.

"You fucked a man's wife for me," says Geralt.

Jaskier huffs out a laugh. "Don't give me too much credit—it was hardly an imposition. The woman had this most wonderful trick she did with—"

"Don't ruin it," Geralt tells him.

"Of course I fucked a man's wife for you," Jaskier says instead. "I'd do much worse."

The blood is drying on his cheek. His eyes are sparkling in the dying golden hour light and his tongue flits out to wet his bottom lip, already damp with vodka.

Geralt looks away. He brushes his knuckles against the vodka bottle and says, "Because you're a fucking bastard."

It's comforting, in a way. Knowing that he's not something Geralt can ruin.

Jaskier hums agreeably in response, then seems to transform that into humming the bars of some song or another. It's a good melody, peaceful. A little like how Geralt imagines a lullaby would go.

His voice sounds better, when it's clear.

 

~*~

 

Geralt wakes up late the next morning to the smell of a dead fire and a giant pile of various herbs and wildflowers stacked up out of Roach's reach. Jaskier is strumming his lute quietly, muttering lyrics under his breath.

"What the fuck," says Geralt.

"Mm, you're right," Jaskier says nonsensically. "The forced rhyme's a little… too forced."

Geralt ignores him. He sits up slowly, mindful of the shoulder, but finds it better today. "Did you pick these?"

"Oh, erm, yes." Jaskier sets his lute down. "I just thought—well, I could try to be helpful, you know. And I didn't really know what to get so I just picked everything that looked useful and I figured you can toss what you don't need, or Roach will find it tasty or what have you."

Geralt blinks slowly; he's definitely awake. He picks through the massive pile, which isn't even organized by type. All the different flowers are just thrown together as they were picked and most of them are medicinally useless.

There's chamomile, at least, which they can put in their soap.

Geralt's chest feels tight. He says, "C'mere."

"Are you gonna punch me again?" Jaskier asks warily, though he's already shuffling closer. "'Cause I'm not really in the mood for that."

"No." Geralt unties the bag he stores his herbs in from Roach's saddle, spreading the different types out in the grass. "I'm gonna teach you."

Jaskier sits down on the ground, crossing his legs and staring expectantly up at him.

Geralt sits too, clearing his throat. He grabs the first bundle and runs his thumb over the notched petals. "This is celandine. I use it for a lot of things. It grows yellow or white, but you can recognize it by the petal shape."

"Okay," Jaskier says softly. 

"And these are hellebore petals. They grow on bushes, usually by the roadside." Geralt shakes the bottle he keeps loose flowers in. "And, uh—most of my potions are emulsified with alcohol, so the next time you feel like stealing something…"

"Geralt, stealing is bad and wrong," Jaskier says indignantly, a hand to his chest. "What kind of alcohol do you need?"

Geralt reaches over and smacks him on the arm.

 

~*~

 

Agata—

Not sure if you're a fan of spirits. Found some pretty good vodka in Toussaint, which is weird because they're known for their wine. I sent a package with some of the latter—hope it arrives in one piece. 

I keep getting this song stuck in my head. It's Jaskier's fault. He sings it when he's bored. I only write to you when he's sleeping. You tried to tell me I could confide in you and I should've let you. I don't know what to say. I hope you like the wine. 

Geralt.

 

~*~

 

Agata—

What I said in my last letter came out wrong—it's not because I'm embarrassed by you. We visit brothels together sometimes. I don't want him to know how often I write about him. He'd get the wrong idea.

He picked out the wine. We kept a bottle for ourselves and his mouth was stained red all night. Whenever I think about fucking anyone I think about you.

Geralt.

 

~*~

 

Geralt's chest is heaving by the time the last kikimora goes down. He's dripping wet and splattered with ichor to match his eyes and high on Thunderbolt and Wolf—thought there'd be a nest. There was, but they were weak and starving. Easier than the lone one he killed in Blaviken.

Easier than Blaviken, too.

He can think about that now, like this. It doesn't matter. He sways on his feet, staring at the bodies. Wishes they'd get up again, so he'd have somewhere to put himself. Thinks distantly about putting himself in the water.

Geralt's lived a long time; he's seen what happens when people start to drown. It takes less control to try and survive it than to let yourself die, the way instinct takes over. A woman almost scratched Geralt's eye out once, trying to keep her head above water while he saved her. 

He can hold his breath a long time. 

Jaskier is back at camp. Geralt crouches in the muck and hews off a trophy to bring back to the town in the morning. Something rises in his throat. It's fine. He can think about it.

It's earlier than it was supposed to be when he smells the fire again, hears Jaskier's voice drifting through the trees. It's—

He loses the thought, watching a moth flutter through the air. His fingers twitch, wanting to grab it. Can only want one thing at a time, can only feel—

"And if I could choose my last breath—"

Geralt turns his head back towards camp, breathing evenly. Wants—

"Ah, fucking— Geralt! You're early." Jaskier fumbles with his lute, finally dropping it to rest between his knees where he sits on a fallen log. "Did everything go okay?"

Geralt tilts his head, watching. Jaskier stares at him, cheeks going a little red, heartbeat kicking up. His eyes glint in the firelight. Pretty. He bites at his bottom lip and fingers nervously at his lute, but he doesn't smell afraid.

"We really need to get you a bath," Jaskier tells him, laughing thinly. "You look—"

Geralt knows how he looks. He looks like what he is. He listens to the fire crackling and considers putting his hand in it and he wants it, needs to put himself somewhere, anywhere that—

"—at me? Geralt?" Jaskier asks.

Geralt turns back to him at once, when he hears it. Somewhere to be. He licks his lips and says, "Jaskier."

"Yes. Yeah. That's—" Jaskier swallows thickly, mouth wobbling all wrong because he's not afraid, is he? Geralt can't want—and it takes the wind changing for him to understand.

Jaskier smells like celandine and cologne, like Geralt and himself, and like he's half-hard in his trousers.

Geralt's hand begins to tremble.

"—me?" Jaskier finishes.

Geralt almost walks directly through the fire, before he remembers. There's… something. Like a hand tracing down his spine on the inside, threatening to break it. Fuck, it's terrible, he wants his sword, wants to feel something crumpling underneath him—

Drops to his knees between Jaskier's legs.

"Oh," Jaskier says softly. 

Somewhere to put himself, something to be. Something useful and clean of purpose.

"We shouldn't," says Jaskier. "I shouldn't. Geralt, look at you—"

Geralt stares up at him. Smells the arousal rolling off him, mouth-watering—useful, useful, good—

Jaskier plucks his lute by the neck and moves it to the side. His eyes look wet and he keeps biting, biting his mouth until it's red and plush. "Do you… want it?"

Geralt feels his body twitch. He scents the air with his lips parted—herb, fire, cologne, want. Does he want it? Can he want anything? A place to put his teeth, Agata's knuckles touching his face, his face against a cold stone floor, blood in the dirt.

Blood on Jaskier's mouth, under a tooth.

"Bollocks—bloody—" he licks it away, still staring at Geralt. "I want you too much, do you understand? I told you—you're a better man. Can I put my hands in your hair?"

Geralt reaches for the buttons on Jaskier's trousers. Shudders, misses a clasp. Thick fingers massaging against his scalp, helping him forward. Here, here. He nuzzles into the thick hair at the base of Jaskier's cock, shuddering still. 

Jaskier trembles underneath him.

Geralt noses up the line of his cock, feeling his bottom lip brush against the soft skin. He fumbles, trying to take Jaskier into his mouth—hands, his hands are gripping Jaskier's thighs—and Jaskier helps him, a gentle two fingers tilting him by the chin and feeding it in.

Fuck. Fuck, this is—

"I've got you," Jaskier murmurs. "There—there, Geralt. Okay? You're— ah. You're alright, darling."

Geralt suckles greedily, letting him slip further into his mouth. A sharp drop of precome on his tongue, the rich musk underneath. Hands, hands fisting in his hair.

Geralt knows what his body looks like. He knows what it does, what it wants in horrible release when he isn't looking, when he isn't careful. What his ribs do when he lets them curl towards his heart.

None of that, now. Nothing that needs a name.

"Geralt," Jaskier whispers. He sounds hoarse, like he's the one with a cock down his throat.

He's warm. Geralt notices that. Quieter, gasping for air like he could cry. Hips stuttering sweetly like he's trying to control them.

Geralt's the one in control. He sucks Jaskier down to the root and feels a hot trickle of satisfaction when Jaskier jerks forward with a sob. A fist tight in his hair, the pain outside his awareness.

When was the last time something hurt? When was the last time he looked?

His focus shrinks down further. He feels like he could smother himself here, with this—like keeping his head underwater.

Jaskier scrapes against the bark, sliding down off the log into the litter of leaves. Geralt follows, catching him around the waist. Useful. Is it good? Is he—

"I'm gonna come," Jaskier pants. He scrabbles with his heels kicking into the dirt and Geralt's black eyes gliding up along the heave of his chest, his pretty bobbing throat. "Oh, I can't— oh."

Geralt watches his face twist up, the delicate human flush of pink soaking his cheeks, as the come splashes into his mouth. He swallows, lapping at the underside of Jaskier's softening cock.

"Well," Jaskier tells rustling trees. "You've thoroughly ruined me for anything else. And also my doublet."

Geralt swallows again. He moves to sit up and feels a flare of—

It hurts. Fuck, it hurts, did he ruin it? Is he—

"Geralt? Hey—" Jaskier braces on an elbow and cups a dirty hand against Geralt's cheek. "Melitele, it's hard to tell what you're thinking when your eyes are like that. Will you talk to me?"

The fire, the gentle decay of the forest, the smell of come when he licks his lips.

"No," says Geralt. His own voice sounds strange, hollow.

"You—I can't even insult you, that's what I'm reduced to." Jaskier thumps his head against the floor. "Can I—I mean, did you…?"

"No," Geralt rasps again. He can hear Roach grazing and creatures rustling in the underbrush and Jaskier's steady heart and the oozing creeping back into his brain.

His fingers drift towards the fire.

"To which part, dear?" Jaskier coaxes gently.

His doublet's undone, a smattering of chest hair peeking out from underneath his white chemise, and he's still half-tucked into his trousers with his spit-slicked cock resting against the delicate fabric. 

Geralt wants it to all go away again. He can't—it's in his chest again, his throat—it hurts, why does it have to hurt, he can't—

The gentle sound of his name, barely a whisper.

Geralt watches his hands slide down from Jaskier's knees to his thighs, coaxing them to spread apart again. His face nuzzling against Jaskier's hip, pressing an open-mouth kiss to his cock.

He just—wants it back. Wants it good again, wants to be someone—something—

"You want to stay down there?" Jaskier asks gently. "You can stay, dear Witcher."

—understood.

A thin, needy sound escapes from Geralt's throat. His head's too cloudy to be embarrassed by it, to feel anything that complex. He feels the rumble of Jaskier's voice, the ebbing of fear exhaling from his lungs.

"Let me get comfortable, darling," Jaskier coaxes, shifting briefly away. He keeps his fingers brushing against Geralt's jaw while he fumbles for their bedrolls with his other hand, resting one against the log so he can recline against it and tucking the other under Geralt's knees. "There, that's better, isn't it? A nice little nest for us."

Geralt blinks numbly, shuffling forward again. His vision's starting to blur as the Cat finally bleeds out of him, leaving him peacefully muddled when he searches for Jaskier's cock in the dark.

"There we are—" Jaskier soothes, guiding Geralt's head to pillow it high on his thigh. "Ah, rest on this side, love, we don't want to hurt that shoulder. Don't think I haven't noticed you favoring it."

Geralt hums distantly. His eyes flutter shut as Jaskier slips his cock back into his mouth, thumbing affectionately at his bottom lip. Nothing could matter beyond this. All he has to do is be good, be good at this one thing, and then…

 

~*~

 

Geralt drifts. He rouses, once, from a drowsy meditation with Jaskier growing hard again in his mouth. Sucks dutifully, his jaw aching and cheeks hollow, until Jaskier sighs out a name that must not be Geralt's, must belong to something better—something human. Something that doesn't break.

It's okay. Geralt forgives him. He listens to the warm thrum of Jaskier's sleeping heart and forgets the rest.

 

~*~

 

Geralt wakes with the sun next, and birds in the trees. He's hugging one of Jaskier's thighs with the other leg draped over his back, trapping him in an undignified embrace.

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck. Geralt listens closely—steady heartbeat and even breathing. The quiet snuffling of someone still on the peaceful side of sleep.

Slowly, Geralt extricates himself from the tangle and sits up. His head is pounding and he still feels dizzy, but he—

Of course he remembers. He couldn't even be blessed with that much.

The sun glints off Jaskier's hair and casts fluttering shadows on his cheekbones. He looks almost Elven in sleep—dangerous and timeless.

Fuck.

Geralt ruined it, didn't he? He can't do this. He's so fucking tired and sometimes people don't call him Butcher anymore because of this man he fucked in the mud in the woods and he's—

Terrified. That no one will ever really forget. That everyone will. 

They'll all die and the worst thing he's ever done will be a ghost story, but he'll know. He'll know. And he'll have to choose over and over—beg them to hate him or be a liar.

Geralt can't do this.

He fumbles in his bag for a potion—something, anything. Not too much, just to—to manage. Until Jaskier wakes up.

He finds Gadwall and drinks a quarter of the bottle before—

"Geralt?" Jaskier mumbles. "What're you doing?"

He stretches from behind Geralt, arching his back with an audible crack.

"Nothing," Geralt says, carefully replacing the cork. "Checking inventory."

"Mm, that's boring." Jaskier shuffles over and drapes himself over Geralt's back. "Pay attention to me."

Geralt stiffens at the contact, how easy—

"Sorry, I—" Jaskier pulls away. "Are we not—?"

How easy it was given. How easy Jaskier makes it to take.

Geralt stares at his hands. They aren't meant for this.

"I'm not a man," he says.

"What?" asks Jaskier.

Geralt sets the bottle back into his bag. "I can't be a better one than you."

Jaskier is quiet—still a rarity. He clears his throat and says, very brightly, "Someone hasn't had his breakfast. You stay right there and I'll fix something up for us both. Do we still have that horrible rabbit jerky you made? Ooh, I think I kept some cheese from that last inn in my bag—cheese and jerky. Actually, I changed my mind, don't stay there—can you do some Witchering and find us a stream? I am parched."

The potion is starting to kick in. Geralt feels it blunt the edges of him, the parts that make his chest seize up. He looks over at Jaskier and feels his fingers twitch at the sight of his mussed hair.

"Geralt?" Jaskier looks down at his outfit. "Is there something on my face? Why are you—"

"Don't go anywhere," Geralt tells him. He reaches for their canisters, which are all nearly empty. "I'll be back."

"... I know," Jaskier answers, smiling softly. "You'd never leave Roach."

Geralt stares off in the direction of the faintly gurgling stream. No, he wouldn't.

 

~*~

 

Dear Geralt,

It's actually a bit weird trying to write this knowing you won't see it for almost a year! But I can tell you about my week anyway, I think. I went to the market with some friends two times this week, which was nice. Actually, does it unsettle you to think about me going about life outside the brothel? Some customers have told me that before; I guess it's a little like seeing your former schoolmaster at the tavern. I have a feeling you won't mind, though. I think I might get a cat, but an older one. My hours are too irregular for a kitten. I'll probably have decided by the time you read this or I'd ask for your opinion.

Now that we've established some normalcy with the pleasantries, I can say what I really wanted to to begin with. You don't believe my compliments in person, but maybe you'll believe me now that I'm going out of my way to do it. The truth is that 

"You're always re-reading those," Jaskier observes, coming to sit next to Geralt by the fire. He tries to sneak a peek and Geralt scowls, folding the paper jealously. "Do you have a secret lover I don't know about?"

Geralt tucks the letter back into his bag. He can feel Jaskier's eyes on him. Winter is creeping up on them; the first frost found its way onto the trees two nights ago. 

"Prostitute," Geralt mutters.

"Oh," says Jaskier, a hint of salacious delight tinging his voice. "Geralt, are they naughty letters?"

Geralt shoves him lightly. "Not most of them."

"But some of them." Jaskier scoots closer again, undeterred. "What're the rest about, then?"

Geralt scoots to the edge of the log.

"Oh, don't be grouchy." Jaskier follows him, pressing their thighs together. "I think it's sweet. Is this who you've been sending presents to?"

"It's not sweet. Fuck off."

"It is." Jaskier rests his chin on Geralt's shoulder, chattering right in his ear. "Can I read one? Do you ever talk about me? What's their name? Ooh, we should visit together, wouldn't that be fun? Gimme—"

He lunges forward suddenly, snatching the bag at Geralt's feet. Geralt barks with surprise and tries to yank it back, but he doesn't want to ruin the bag or dump Jaskier in the mud—or he'll complain all night.

Jaskier smushes a hand in Geralt's face to keep him at bay while he reads.

The truth is that you're a good man, Geralt. You'll say that I can't possibly tell, but I can. Being a good judge of character is important in my line of work, and I know you won't insult me by denying that I'm a credit to my profession. So I know. You're right that I work with a lot of soldiers. Some are vengeful and some are prideful, and some are like you.

I know that you're tired. I know that you think what you do isn't worth anything. I hope one day you'll see that it left something good behind, that it mattered.

Thinking of you,

Agata.

Ps: Did you know someone's written a song about you? It's good!

Jaskier wets his bottom lip and folds the letter back up carefully, tucking it into the bag where it belongs. Quietly, he asks, "You don't believe a single word, do you?"

"No," says Geralt.

"Not even the post-script?" Jaskier asks jokingly.

Geralt's lips faintly quirk. "No."

Jaskier gasps with mock-affront and shoves Geralt on the shoulder. Geralt punches him on the bicep in return.

"Best to keep reading them, though, right?" Jaskier tells him. "Just in case."

"Hm," Geralt answers.

A chilled autumn wind whistles through the trees; Jaskier shivers in his fine clothes.

They haven't really touched since that night in the woods.

Geralt shrugs out of his cloak and drapes it over Jaskier's shoulders.

Jaskier slips his hands into the too-long sleeves and asks, "Geralt?"

"Hm?"

"Where do you go, in the winter?"

Geralt stares at the fire, contemplating adding another log. "Somewhere you can't follow."

"I would anyway," Jaskier tells him. 

It's awful. Geralt tolerates the phantom stab of venom in his shoulder and the protest of a hip tendon Renfri nearly severed clean without complaint, and he'd rather let this kill him than endure it.

"Where do you go?" he asks instead.

"Northwest, back to the coast," Jaskier answers. "Places we don't reach together, so I can perform more, I suppose. My family's out that way too, but I didn't visit last year."

Geralt doesn't ask why not—he wouldn't want to get into it, if their roles were reversed. He'd make a terrible bard; too afraid of stories.

"I guess I've always felt like a disappointment to them, is all," Jaskier continues unprompted. The cold made him maudlin last year, too. "And I keep trying to convince myself that maybe it was in my head and they'd—they'd accept me, at least, if not be proud of me if I went back, but it's so easy to just… take the road going somewhere else."

Geralt tilts his gaze up to the treeline, stopping before the glittering sky can come into view. "Worried they won't approve of your travel companion?"

"Oh, sweetheart." Jaskier laughs, removing a hand from his cocoon to pay Geralt on the knee. "For someone who thinks so little of himself, you really do manage to always make it about you."

Geralt knits his eyebrows together in confusion.

"I've been disappointing my family long before I met you," Jaskier says softly. He hasn't removed his hand; his thumb soothes gentle circles into the edge of Geralt's thigh. "You are, though, perhaps the most worthwhile."

Right. They'll be famous together, won't they? The bard's great ambition.

It's the least Geralt could give.

"Yspaden," he says 

Jaskier asks, "What about it?"

"It's the first place I go," Geralt explains, "when the snow thaws. You could—"

He cuts off, something catching in his throat.

"I could," Jaskier agrees anyway. "Is that what you want?"

Geralt inhales sharply, flicking his eyes away towards Roach. She looks up from her grazing, feeling his eyes on her, and snorts warm breath into the evening air.

"I want nothing," Geralt says—feels the way his throat strains in the cold.

"I know, dear Witcher," says Jaskier. "I know."

He pats Geralt on the knee one last time and stands, drawing Geralt's cloak tighter around himself as he goes. Their bedrolls are already spread out next to the fire; he crawls into the warmer of the two and closes his eyes.

People say the forest is more peaceful in the winter. They can't hear it like Geralt can—the constant thrum of heartbeats, delicate creatures getting ready to shiver and suffer through to the spring thaw. 

He rests his forearms on his knees and watches over the camp.

 

~*~

 

Geralt leaves Kaer Morhen a week early that year. He endures the jabs from Lambert about their company not being good enough for him and the quiet disappointment from Eskel that they won't walk the Trail together like they always do.

It's just—

Geralt thinks about Yspaden. He's not sure what he wants to find, or avoid. The itch under his skin won't go away unless he chases it out with a drink and he's running out of herbs.

Jaskier is already there. 

Geralt can hear him singing in the local tavern from the street—some new song he must've written while they were apart. Not the one Geralt heard fragments of that night when—

He doesn't have much coin for a drink, but he stumbles into the place anyway, practically not of his own volition. 

Jaskier stops right in the middle of his performance when they lock eyes—he's standing on a table, singing without accompaniment in favor of holding a tankard of ale aloft in one hand.

Probably drunk, then.

"Geralt!" he cheers, clambering down off the table and practically launching himself across the bar to wrap his arms around Geralt's neck. "I told them I knew you! You're early! Well, I'm earlier, so I win! It occurred to me that the frost might not thaw at the same time in Oxenfurt as it would here, so I figured I better pack up to make sure I didn't miss you! I've been here three days and I've made so many new friends, you won't even—"

Definitely drunk.

Geralt pats Jaskier awkwardly on the back twice, feeling an uncomfortable heat spread up his spine, and then extricates himself from the largely one-sided embrace. He retreats to the back corner of the room before anyone else can try to touch him.

Not that they would. 

He'll admit that this crowd is uncharacteristically passive towards him, a few sets of eyes even regarding him with something approaching benign curiosity—probably thanks to Jaskier's bizarre companionship. Yspaden is used to Witchers, being so close to Kaer Morhen, but used to them being alone.

Geralt sympathizes with their confusion.

Jaskier doesn't seem to find any of it strange. In fact, he's soon gathered a few other patrons to join their little table and is regaling them with greatly exaggerated stories of Geralt's exploits.

Geralt orders himself an ale and a plate of whatever's warm and doesn't speak.

He stays for a while, though, enjoying his meal well enough despite having to endure Jaskier's incessant talking. Geralt's heard more out of the bard in two hours than he heard from all his fellow Witchers the entire fucking winter, and it's all just as filthy.

It's impossible to tell who Jaskier even wants to fuck, the way he's flirting with anything that wanders by. Geralt wouldn't call it particularly effective—Jaskier has moments of decent wit, Geralt will admit, but he's just as likely to glance over at Geralt's unimpressed face and lose his train of thought entirely.

Geralt's pulled from this irritated reverie when Jaskier slips his hand onto Geralt's thigh.

He jumps slightly, lip curling in confusion, before he recognizes the key being tucked into his pocket.

"I know you're dying to get out of here," Jaskier murmurs in his ear, leaning over to steal the rest of Geralt's ale. "Second on the right upstairs. I'll be in late."

If he's in at all.

The tips of Geralt's ears feel hot. He is feeling overwhelmed, with the crowd. He keeps a hand over the room key through his pocket and squeezes his way free of the table, making his way up the stairs.

Jaskier's things are strewn all over the room; he must have stayed here at least a few days already. 

Geralt lights a fire in the hearth and undresses down to his underwear, anticipating how well the room will heat. 

Plus, there’s just a single bed. That's not particularly unusual for the two of them, especially when they lack coin and Jaskier is whining about what will happen to his "delicate human bones" if they spend another day making camp.

It's just been a while. 

Geralt lays in bed, shuffling over to leave free the side Jaskier prefers. It's strange to know that about a person. Agata claims to have no preference.

Probably won't matter tonight. Jaskier's bound to find someone willing to bed him eventually. Which is fine. Geralt can keep the room to himself and get one more night of gods-damn peace before three seasons of constant companionship.

He does feel foolish, though. Having been so anxious about coming here when Jaskier's priorities are just as well put elsewhere.

There's a lot of cheering downstairs. Geralt hasn't had to sleep while tuning that kind of noise out for a few months; the first night in an inn is always a little jarring.

He meditates a little instead of sleeping, relaxing his body, and is roused when the door creaks open an indeterminate amount of time later.

It is later, though. It's quiet downstairs.

Jaskier latches the door and sheds his clothes quietly, a consideration he immediately makes pointless by throwing himself onto the bed and wrapping around Geralt from behind.

Geralt tenses immediately, shrinking away with a low rumble in his chest.

"Oh, shush. You can't pretend you didn't miss me," Jaskier mumbles. "You came here early for me."

He smells heavily of sex. Especially his mouth, which is brushing against the shell of Geralt's ear and provides Geralt a detail he didn’t need to know. His fingers are splayed over Geralt's bare stomach.

"I was trying to avoid you," says Geralt.

Jaskier laughs, unbothered. His breath smells like wine and someone else's arousal, musky and uncomfortably pleasant. "You can't lie to me, Witcher."

Geralt shifts, kicking the thin blanket down to below their waists—already too hot. It makes Jaskier huff and nuzzle closer, which doesn't help.

The fire has died down some. Geralt always feels too warm, his slow heart trying desperately to rescue him from something it doesn't understand.

Jaskier's heart is human; it beats against Geralt's back in brilliant quarter-time. He's probably cold in a way Geralt can't feel—needs things Geralt can't need.

Geralt reaches behind himself and tugs the blanket up again, draping it over Jaskier's goosebump-covered skin. It falls diagonally across them, leaving Geralt mostly uncovered except for where they touch.

Jaskier hums appreciatively, lips brushing against the edge of Geralt's jaw, and drifts to sleep.

 

~*~

 

They're travelling further west than Geralt likes to be in the North; last year they took a path nearly due south until Jaskier begged to see Toussaint, and even then Geralt felt the prickle of something on the back of his neck the closer they got to the port towns. 

They tolerate him, in the east. They think of Posada when they hear his name there.

Blaviken's ships go all up and down the coast.

But they caught wind of a rumor saying there's a city out this way under siege from the inside—some monster, or group of monsters, they can't get out. The water supplies have been partially cut off and the deaths are slower but not prettier.

"You know they'll be starving," Geralt mutters to Jaskier, sharpening his eyesight to spot the soldiers controlling the gates in the distance. "They won't be able to pay us."

"Like that's ever stopped you before, you sap." Jaskier brandishes his lute. "Besides, my ballad will pay us afterwards. Consider it an investment in your reputation."

"Hm," says Geralt.

They approach the main gate to the city and, as Geralt expected, are stopped by an armed man. The group here seem more like a militia than an official guard, on closer inspection, but that could still mean trouble.

"The city's closed to travellers," the soldier tells them, tilting his head up to look Geralt in the eye. "You'll have to turn around. There's another town half a day's travel northeast of here that should accommodate you."

Jaskier replies, "We're not normal travellers. I'm Jaskier, a troubadour of exceptionally well-renown—"

Mild renown is more accurate.

"—and this is Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf. An accomplished Witcher here to save you from your monster."

The soldier turns to share a glance with one of his fellows manning the gate. He looks back at Jaskier and says, "Our mayor's given strict orders. No one enters the city, it ain't safe."

Jaskier smiles disarmingly. "Allow me to persuade him, then? We're very patient—happy to wait while you summon him. You and your people are suffering, aren't you? Surely you won't refuse our help."

Another exchanged look. One of the men leaves his post at the gate and retreats into the city.

Jaskier shoots Geralt a smug look, which he doesn't return. They haven't been granted entry yet.

The mayor arrives at the gate and, notably, does not leave his city's borders. He's a tall man with light hair and a sallow complexion, and smells mildly of fear.

Geralt knows what his answer will be before he speaks.

"I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding," he says, carefully avoiding Geralt's eye in favor of Jaskier. "We're not in need of a Witcher here."

Jaskier tilts his head, which Geralt has found to be useless in determining the genuineness of his confusion.

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry," he answers. "You see, we've heard rather upsetting rumors that your water systems have been disrupted by some creature. And seeing as this is the first city we've come across that's unable to accommodate travellers—"

"Perhaps you and I could speak… more privately," suggests the mayor.

Jaskier turns to Geralt, who shrugs.

The gate opens to welcome Jaskier—and just Jaskier—inside. Geralt scowls with worry; there's no doubt he could easily fight these men if need be, but if Jaskier is attacked on the wrong side of a gate—

It won't help to linger on that thought. Geralt instead observes the details of the city walls, trying to figure out the best way inside. Axii would likely be the smoothest path.

He'd do it for Jaskier.

The mayor leads Jaskier just out of sight behind the stone walls; Jaskier must know that Geralt can still hear their conversation from this distance, but the other man doesn't seem to consider this possibility, from the change in his tone.

"Look, I'm going to be frank with you, son," the mayor is saying. "I'm not going to admit a mutant into my city, and especially not while we're in this state."

"You'll have to help me understand something," Jaskier says. Geralt can imagine the furrow in his brow. "You do have a monster, but you don't want my Witcher—who I assure you is very skilled in the art of dispatching such beasts—to help you?"

"Your—" the mayor cuts off. His tone gentles once again. "I see. I suspected—you're the bard, then—the one who's written those songs? You seem very… young."

Jaskier's tone is stubbornly upbeat. "Why, thank you! I have to be, to keep pace with my dear travel companion. You wouldn't believe the kind of ground we cover in a day."

"Can I give you some advice, son?" the mayor asks, then fails to wait for a response. "It's not too late to free yourself. Right now you are, at worst, considered naive, and reputation is a very valuable thing. Don't tie yours to that Butcher. Your taste for adventure won't do you any good once you're dead."

There's a pain radiating up Geralt's jaw. He tries to swallow, but he can't free his tongue.

"You're right," Jaskier says slowly, pleasantly. "Reputation is very important. How would you like me to ruin yours?"

A beat of silence. The mayor says, "I beg your pardon?"

"Well, it's just that there are so many vices to choose from, and as my respected elder, it's only fair that I give you some say in the matter!" Jaskier explains. "Are you married, sir? Adultery is very trendy these days. And of course, skimming from the government coffers is a classic. Or perhaps—"

"Have you gone mad?"

"Oh, quite possibly. But perhaps you'd prefer the truth?" Jaskier pauses. Geralt pictures, with his familiar muddling of awe and horror, the charming smile on his face. "That in your cowardice and bigotry, you damned your people to terrible, slow deaths rather than accept another man's underserved kindness?"

The mayor is silent. Geralt restlessly urges Roach upwind, trying to free himself from the stink of fear.

"And what if instead," the mayor asks, "I become the fool who let the Butcher of Blaviken into his city and allowed his people to be slaughtered?"

"Then they'll die faster," says Jaskier. "Can you point us to the nearest inn? Our horse is weary."

The gate opens.

Geralt, for one disgusting second, considers galloping in the opposite direction.

Leaving Jaskier to a better future, these people to their own fate. Himself to somewhere nothing will find him and no one can need him. He's tired of smelling blood in the air. He's tired of drawing it.

Tired, in the shape of a sob.

Then Jaskier appears at the gate, a broad smile on his face. He waves Geralt through, and Geralt follows.

The inn isn't far into the city, Jaskier says. Geralt still has to listen along the way. Endure the furtive glances, the whispers of fear and confusion. Is he here to kill them? They say he cleaved a body right in two. 

There are some that are kinder. Maybe he'll save them. The mayor finally saw reason.

But he's the Butcher. Why is that bard following him? Maybe he's some kind of changeling himself, some other kind of mutant. We're already dying.

They stable Roach and Jaskier charms their way into getting a room, where Geralt flees immediately. He sits heavily on the bed and listens for Jaskier's voice as he asks if a bath can be drawn—it can't—and what food could be brought to their room—none, until the innkeeper's husband returns from the market.

He should take off his armor, or else go talk to the citizens to gather information. He does neither, and looks up wearily when Jaskier slips into the room.

"Well, this place is in horrible shape, I tell you," he says with the same level of distress he uses to discuss unfavorable weather. "It's a good thing we got here when we did. The innkeeper was telling me they've already lost—"

Geralt stops listening. His skin is crawling, watching Jaskier flit about the room for no fucking reason while he talks. The mayor was right—the bard is young. Foolish, and clumsy—tripping over his lute case when he sees Geralt staring at him.

How long before Geralt gets him killed? How long before Geralt turns him into something no one else can recognize?

(Pretentious, says Vesemir's voice.)

"Geralt?" Jaskier asks cautiously.

They've never even kissed. That seems important now.

"So you heard what that vile man said," Jaskier gently guesses, moving closer. He has color high on his cheeks—pretty, and young. "I don't believe a word of that garbage, Geralt. I'm not naive, nor your prisoner. And you are a good man. A man."

Geralt wets his bottom lip, staring at the plush sincerity of Jaskier's mouth. He needs—something. A potion to settle him. He feels so—

But he can't. He can't. It wouldn't be careful. Jaskier can't know. The only person who sees him—

Geralt's hand is on Jaskier's cheek.

He could… do this, couldn't he? It was nice before. Steadying. And Jaskier—he enjoyed himself, didn't he? Geralt could make him come again, could be of some use.

"Geralt?" Jaskier asks thinly.

Geralt wets his bottom lip. "Could I—"

"Yes."

"Didn't say what yet."

"Yes," Jaskier says again, and steps between Geralt's legs. He cups Geralt's face in both hands and dips down to press their foreheads together, his breath already coming short. "You foolish man. Don't you understand?"

He doesn't. He can't. They're kissing, Jaskier's mouth soft against Geralt's teeth.

"Here," Jaskier murmurs, bringing his fingers down to undo the clasps on Geralt's armor. "Let me."

Geralt puts both hands on Jaskier's hips, fingers tightening when his armor clatters to the floor.

"Sorry," Jaskier says, but he doesn't sound it. He pushes Geralt down onto the bed and straddles him, sleek hair falling into his face when he smiles. 

Are they happy? Geralt's trying so hard to be nothing.

It's a good nothing. The kind that unbuttons a lover's doublet without trembling, the kind that accepts a warm touch against bare ribs without a shudder. 

The kind that forgets what the voices are whispering about downstairs.

Jaskier is good for that. He's a loud spot in Geralt's brain, like pressing a hot iron to a wound to burn away the bleeding. Like taking something in just the right dose.

He kisses at Geralt's neck, rubbing a hand over his cock through his trousers to coax it hard, murmuring a lot of nonsense. He must believe it all, or he's a fantastic liar. It could be either. 

Geralt shifts a thigh so that Jaskier can rub off against it, turning his head to kiss him again. Jaskier moans into his mouth, rocking his hips in a greedy rhythm. The idea of that feels better than the hand he's got teasing Geralt's cock.

He's easy to touch. Warm, pliant, pushing into it with an encouraging gasp against Geralt's stubbled jaw—it almost makes Geralt embarrassed. When he fucks Agata, or has the occasional romp with someone else, it's never like he's the one doing a favor. How desperate must someone be, to want Geralt this badly?

Geralt squashes the thought. It's not—that's not fair. Jaskier isn't—

"—so long, Geralt. But it isn't true," Jaskier is saying with conviction. He keeps a hand pressed firmly against Geralt's jaw, mouthing a line of kisses up to his ear. "I'm right here, sweetheart. Are you listening?"

Geralt realizes how tightly he's gripping Jaskier's hips. He releases him, dragging his hands down over the curve of his arse instead, squeezing gently.

It wasn't meant as an implication, but Jaskier sucks Geralt's earlobe into his mouth and then murmurs, "You can, if you want to."

Geralt turns his face into Jaskier's neck, scenting him. It's almost cloying, how strongly he smells of arousal, how quickly he floods the room with it. Is it his age? Or just who he is?

Is it Geralt?

"Fuck," Jaskier pants, "maybe something faster."

He slips out of Geralt's grasp and sheds the rest of his clothes on his way to his bag, which was abandoned near the door. Geralt fumbles out of his trousers, feeling the disoriented rush of heat to the pit of his belly when Jaskier turns to face him, flushed and hard.

"Will you—" Jaskier starts, biting at his lower lip. "Gods, Geralt, you're—you're fucking beautiful."

Geralt pushes up onto his forearms; the sudden change in position dizzies him. "Some poet."

"Sonnets later," Jaskier says, straddling him again. They kiss, Jaskier's teeth tugging at Geralt's lip. "Sex now."

Geralt hums and flips them, creaking the bed when he pins Jaskier to it. It works—Jaskier gasps, baring his throat in pleasure.

He's the beautiful one, blue eyes and a tender mouth. Something human, something purposeful.

If it could be the only thing Geralt thinks about again—

"Wait, I had—I had an idea," Jaskier protests breathlessly, holding up the oil between them. "Indulge me?"

Of course. What else would Geralt do?

He takes the oil, running his finger over the stopper, and frowns with gentle confusion when Jaskier twists beneath him to lay on his side.

"Lay with me," Jaskier tells him.

Geralt obeys, pressing himself along Jaskier's back and dropping a kiss to the back of his shoulder.

"Like this?" he mumbles.

"Exactly like that." Jaskier reaches back and traces his fingertips along Geralt's thigh, then takes the oil back. He pours some onto his hand, carefully sets the bottle on the spare pillow next to them, and then slicks Geralt's cock with a few teasing strokes.

The oil smells like chamomile. Geralt twitches pleasantly at the touch, his eyes already threatening to close.

Jaskier smoothes the rest of the oil against his own cock, and then coaxes Geralt's to nudge between his thighs.

It feels…

"Good, right?" Jaskier asks with a teasing laugh when Geralt rumbles deep in his throat, face tucking into the crook of Jaskier's neck again. "And simpler."

Geralt shifts his hips experimentally, feeling the easy slide of it, the way their bodies seem to slot perfectly against one another. He can smell Jaskier's sweat, the clean scent of warming oil against their skin.

"It feels good to you?" he murmurs.

"It does," Jaskier reassures him. He takes Geralt by the wrist and brings Geralt's hand around to his cock. "And if you're feeling generous…"

Geralt takes Jaskier's cock in hand with a low hum, using the momentum of his lazy rocking to fuck Jaskier into his fist. It's all slick from the oil, the gentlest hint of friction. Different from the natural wetness he's used to with a woman, or a rushed job in the hay.

"Oh, that's so good." Jaskier moans, turning his head. His lips brush against the corner of Geralt's mouth. "That's—oh, Geralt."

Geralt kisses him, chest aching. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply, the richness of this moment, the ease of it. He wraps his free arm around Jaskier's chest, holding him tightly there. Like they'd be entwined—

He could never ask that. The thought of it would make him sick, if he meant it. But as this passing thought—fucking Jaskier's thighs, scenting at his neck and then drawing up to lick into his mouth again—

It's no different than the image of Renfri's brooch in a vein, is it? Than uncorking a bottle of Gadwall and drinking until he can stand the sight of his own hands again. 

He's surviving with it. It's a nicer fantasy, the thought that this could last.

"Geralt," Jaskier pants. He wriggles against Geralt's touch, barely gasping for air. "I'm so close, are you—"

"Yeah." Geralt's own breath stutters, suddenly overwhelms him. His body wants this so badly—aching, twisting up with the desire—that he thinks his heart could stop. He'd rip it out, he'd let— "Jaskier."

He'd let—

Jaskier spills over Geralt's fist with a harsh sob, turning his head to muffle it into the pillow. His breathing is irregular, racing—he sounds like his lungs will burst, like he's dying.

Geralt comes to the thought of it, too numbed by the pleasure to be horrified. He feels the heat of Jaskier's thighs, the press of a shoulder into his mouth.

Jaskier doesn't die. Geralt doesn't rip out his heart. Their come cools between them and becomes tacky and greasy, where it mixes with the oil, and Geralt gets up first to find a cloth to wet with water.

The feeling lasts him through interviewing the townsfolk that evening, all the way until he falls asleep.

 

~*~

 

Geralt jerks awake in a freezing sweat, sitting up with a sudden dread wrapped around his spine. Staying in this town—what if he can't help them—what if they—

Jaskier shivers in his sleep and grumbles something, maybe Geralt's name. When Geralt moves to cover him with the blanket again, his eyes blearily blink open and he repeats, "G'ralt?"

"Yeah," Geralt mutters quietly. "Go back to sleep."

"Then c'mere." Jaskier reaches out and squeezes Geralt's bicep, tugging ineffectually—but Geralt follows dutifully, sliding back down the pillows until Jaskier can nestle his head against his chest. "That's good."

Breathing carefully, Geralt slips an arm around Jaskier's middle.

"Can't sleep?" Jaskier murmurs. He trails a hand down Geralt's stomach when Geralt hums in response. "Y'know what helps with that."

Geralt's not hard, but he's easily brought there. He tucks a hand between their bodies and returns the favor, feeling the tension seep back out of him.

It's a sloppy, fumbling thing. Geralt focuses on their breathing, on the half-asleep beat of Jaskier's heart, and forgets for a little while longer.

 

~*~

 

Geralt keeps forgetting. After they rid the city of the contamination in their wells and it still isn't enough to make the mayor look him in the eye, after the next hunt a week and a half later when the monster isn't one at all and he can barely break the curse. 

Sometimes he stumbles back to camp like that first time, eyes blackened by Cat and his mind muddled by something else, and Jaskier doesn't ask a single word of him before they fall together.

It helps. When it doesn't, Geralt slips a bottle into his pocket and drinks it in the woods, out of sight. That helps too.

 

~*~

 

Agata—

Jaskier is hiding something from me. It's a song that he's been working on. He only sings it when I'm not around, but sometimes I hear him when I'm coming back from a hunt. I think he's been working on it for almost a year, which is far longer than it's taken him to write anything else. He composed the stupid coin song in an afternoon. I haven't brought it up. I'm hiding something from him too. I guess this makes it fair.

Geralt.

 

~*~

 

It's the cusp of fall the next time they pass through Carrera. Geralt runs his thumb over Roach's reins, which are wearing thin, and looks over at Jaskier.

"Do you wanna meet her?" he asks.

Jaskier tilts his head. "Sorry?"

"Agata," Geralt says. "She works here."

"Oh!" Jaskier widens his eyes. "Erm, do you mean meet her, or…?"

Geralt shrugs.

"Either way," Jaskier says, mirroring the gesture with a smile. "Absolutely."

Geralt hums, urging Roach to continue down the road towards the brothel. There's a strong chance he'll regret this, but—it's been a while since he's seen Agata. And it seems… weird. To leave Jaskier behind entirely. Maybe they'll end up with separate rooms, anyway.

It's early evening during the week, so the brothel isn't particularly busy; most of the girls are downstairs talking amongst themselves, although a few patrons are lingering about.

"Geralt of Rivia!" the bawd greets him when Jaskier shuts the door behind them. "Aren't you a sight? Agata's busy, but she should be down soon."

"Thanks. I'll wait," Geralt tells her, setting his swords down against the wall. 

He likes it here. Some of the workers still keep their distance, but none of them are afraid of him anymore. It's a welcome change, and he's content to simply watch the room.

Jaskier, in contrast, has wasted no time in attaching himself to a trio of women trading Gwent cards at a table. 

"—never played before," he's saying, which is a blatant fucking lie. "You'll have to teach me."

Geralt rolls his eyes and tunes the conversation out. No one approaches him while he waits; they all know who he's here for. 

Eventually, a stocky man covered in scars, though dressed in plainclothes, comes down the stairs followed closely by Agata, who is draped in a rich blue shawl. Her eyes flash when she catches sight of Geralt; he nods to her respectfully.

Agata's previous customer pays the rest of his tab and leaves. As soon as the door closes behind him, Agata glides across the room and wraps Geralt in an embrace.

"Geralt!" she says, kissing him on the cheek. "It's been too long!"

Geralt returns the hug, resting his chin on the top of her head. "Sorry."

She pulls away slightly to look him in the eye. "It's good to see you."

"You, too," he tells her, then glances over at Jaskier, who remains absorbed in his Gwent lessons. "You open to a third joining?"

Agata follows his gaze, then breaks out into a grin. "Is that him?"

"Ugh." Geralt leans his head against the wall. "Don't say it like that."

"You can bring him. Ola'll work out the payment details with you after." Agata turns back to Geralt, touching lightly at his arm. "Will you stay the night?"

Geralt quirks his lips. "If you're free."

"For my favorite customer?" Agata teases. "Of course I'm free."

"Do you need a minute first?" Geralt asks.

Agata shakes her head. "I can take you up now."

Geralt slings his swords back over his shoulder and calls, "Jaskier."

Jaskier, who is leaning into the touch of a woman petting his hair while he shuffles cards, does not respond.

Geralt whistles sharply instead, smirking when Jaskier's head snaps up immediately.

"Hey," Geralt tells him, tilting his head towards the stairs. "You coming?"

"Ah—oh! Yes, one— bollocks—" Jaskier extricates himself from the women clumsily, then manages to smack his lute into the table when he picks it up, almost knocking the whole thing over and dumping half a Gwent deck onto the floor. "Ah, fuck, let me—"

The women shoo him away, giggling and shooting each other amused looks, and he stumbles to Geralt's side with a dark blush creeping up his neck.

"Er, hello," he tells Agata. "I'm Jaskier. Lovely to meet you! I don't suppose you saw all of that?"

Agata raises an eyebrow at Geralt, then innocently asks, "Saw what?"

Geralt rolls his eyes and slips a hand onto the back of Jaskier's neck to steer him up the stairs. "Can't take you anywhere."

Jaskier, miraculously, says nothing, just clears his throat.

"Here we are," Agata says, likely for Jaskier's benefit, as she unlocks her room. The fire's burning low in the hearth, but she only adds a thin log—remembering Geralt's preference.

"Wow, this is a lovely room," Jaskier says, wandering slightly further into it. "You know, I have to say that this is one of the best brothels I've ever visited."

"Thank you," Agata says with a hint of smugness. "Did you boys have anything specific in mind?"

Jaskier looks between the two of them. "Erm, not really. I'd thought to defer to Geralt, but then again—"

He gestures to Geralt with a flourish.

"I don't care," Geralt deadpans.

"Thank you, dear." Jaskier's gaze falls on the chest in the back of the room. "Ooh, what's this?"

Agata retrieves the key from the top of her dresser and unlocks it for him. "Various toys. Feel free to look through them."

"I revise my previous statement," Jaskier says, eagerly digging through the chest like a child at a sweet shop. "This is the best brothel."

Geralt sets his swords down and then leans against the door with his arms crossed, watching with amusement. 

"Well, at the risk of giving Geralt an ulcer, we could just start without a plan," Agata suggests, remarkably watching Jaskier ruin the careful organization of her work items without so much as an eye twitch. 

"Witchers can't get ulcers," Geralt mutters petulantly.

"Thank Melitele," Jaskier says, brandishing an obnoxiously large glass phallus. "You'd be even more cantankerous."

Agata laughs good-naturedly. "Well, most men who come here together prefer to have me in the middle."

Geralt frowns. It seems like a lot of work for her.

"Ooh, no, put Geralt in the middle," Jaskier suggests in a light tone, haphazardly stacking items back into the chest. "You know how he likes to be responsible for everything."

"That's true," Agata agrees with a glint in her eye. "How does that sound, Geralt? You wanna be good for both of us at once?"

Oh.

Geralt swallows thickly. There's a prickle of heat on the back of his neck, made worse by the fact that his hair's down. He moves to pull it up out of the way, then realizes he's lost the tie on his wrist.

"Uh. Fuck," he says, gesturing to the door with the other hand. "I'll just—"

"Oh, don't be silly," Jaskier tells him, holding up his own wrist. "You know I've got one for you."

He walks back across the room and spins Geralt around by the shoulders, combing his fingers through his hair.

"Half up or all the way?" Jaskier asks, gently tugging at a knot.

Geralt clears his throat. "All."

Jaskier hums agreeably, tying a full ponytail before tickling his lips against the side of Geralt's neck.

"Looks like I have two boys who like being helpful," Agata drawls. "Lucky me."

Geralt turns back around to frown lightly at her, allowing Jaskier to lean back against his chest. 

"I…” Jaskier says, pausing when Geralt's cheek touches against his temple. "Suppose that's true."

Agata is looking at the two of them with something approaching amusement, or satisfaction. It makes Geralt's skin itch; he moves away from Jaskier, towards the bed.

"Did you want a go at it before we get Geralt between us?" Agata asks Jaskier. "I'd hate to deprive you."

"Oh," Jaskier answers with surprise. He looks to Geralt, who shrugs. "Um, yes? Please?"

Geralt makes for a plush-looking armchair in the corner, which he now assumes must be there for situations like this—but Jaskier stops him with a hand against his chest first.

"Let's get you more comfortable, hm?" he says, working at the buckles on Geralt's armor. "You'll burn up in this."

Geralt waits, somewhat self-consciously, as Jaskier makes inefficient work of taking his armor off. 

Agata, who is very familiar with the fastest and simplest way of dealing with Geralt's clothing, raises an eyebrow at him that seems to be questioning his patience. It's quickly becoming Geralt's least-favorite expression of hers.

Geralt says nothing. He accepts the kiss Jaskier presses to the corner of his mouth, then turns his head for a full one. No use in grappling for pretense.

Jaskier hums happily, pushing up into it before patting Geralt on the cheek and pulling away.

"You won't be jealous, will you?" Jaskier teases.

Geralt blinks. "Of who?"

Jaskier laughs and steals another kiss before flitting away.

Geralt settles into the chair, still in his undershirt and breeches. It'd make more sense to finish undressing, but Jaskier left him like this. He watches Agata drop her shawl to the floor and Jaskier bite at his bottom lip, taking in the inviting curves of her body.

"I'm sure you are regaled for your beauty all the time," Jaskier tells her as she unbuttons his doublet. "But I feel compelled to do so anyway."

"You're sweet," Agata answers, smiling easily. She works at his trousers next, gently teasing them down his thighs. "And I have… an educated guess, about you."

"Oh?" Jaskier asks. He pulls off his chemise, apparently eager to help her along. "Do tell."

Agata drags her nails down Jaskier's thigh, roughly enough that Geralt can hear the scratch of them through the hair.

"Oh, um—that—yes?" Jaskier stammers, suddenly flooding Geralt with the smell of his arousal, which— "Wow, you really are, um—a good judge of… character?"

Which is—

Agata gasps dramatically, peering around Jaskier to look at Geralt. "You showed him my letters?"

Geralt's mouth is dry. He swallows and mutters, "Not willingly."

Agata slips a hand underneath Jaskier's underwear, groping playfully at his arse. "Did you read any of the naughty ones?"

Jaskier shakes his head, stumbling forward when she tugs him there. "Erm, no, I—"

"I'd actually love your professional opinion," Agata says. She walks herself backwards onto the bed, sitting at the edge with her legs spread in invitation. Jaskier follows her and kneels at her feet, looking up at her expectantly. "I've been thinking about writing erotic novels—you know, once I retire from this."

It reminds Geralt, rather jarringly, of the fact that she will age. That Jaskier will too—is already aging, losing some of the roundness in his cheeks. He tries to push the thought from his mind, tries to focus on—

"—my own," Jaskier is telling her, pressing a kiss to her knee. "I'll let Geralt keep some secrets."

"Mm, I have a draft of something I could show you," she muses. "Maybe later."

"Yeah," Jaskier agrees, gesturing between her legs. "In the meantime, may I?"

Agata braces on a forearm and slips the other hand into his hair. "You may."

Geralt watches as Jaskier kisses a line up the inside of her thigh, gently guided by her hand. His skin is lightly covered by goosebumps, either from the dying fire or anticipation, and flushed. It's pretty on him, and a good contrast against the beauty of Agata's darker complexion. 

She moans softly when Jaskier finally reaches her cunt, tightening the hand in his hair enough to make him whine.

Fuck. Fuck, the way she handles him is—

Nothing he didn't say he wanted. There's no reason why Geralt's pulse should be thin in his throat, why his hands should be suddenly gripping the chair. And from the swell of Jaskier's cock and the unbearable scent filling the room, he's definitely not in need of rescuing. It's just…

The heat in Geralt's stomach feels guiltier, but no less strong. Watching Jaskier squirm against her grip as she tells him to work a little harder at it, his knees no doubt bruising against the floors. He's never asked Geralt for this. Is he afraid to? Does he think Geralt wouldn't give it?

He tries to imagine it, somewhat hazily. The idea of being rougher with him—gripping him tighter, teeth sinking into his neck instead of scenting him, claiming—

No. No, Geralt would hurt him. He'd never—if he left a bruise Jaskier didn't want and Jaskier finally looked at him and knew what he was—

Agata moans again, flopping down against the bed and drawing up her feet. 

"Good," she's telling Jaskier, still gripping him by the hair. He scrambles halfway up onto the bed to lick back into her, a hand joining his mouth between her thighs—Geralt can't tell what for, at this angle. "Yeah, that's good, honey."

Geralt suddenly feels overwhelmingly hot. He struggles to free himself of his shirt and unbutton his pants without tearing his eyes away from them—isn't sure what he wants. If he should focus on the pleasure on Agata's face or the way Jaskier's cock drools onto the blanket. If he should touch himself or wait for someone to tell him. 

Should it matter? It's easier to let them want from him instead, when it's time. He drifts into an almost-meditative state, watching them—focusing on the sight of their bodies moving together, on the thick blend of arousal filling the air. He stops considering himself at all, until—

A calloused hand on his cheek, the sharp taste of Agata's pleasure slipping into his mouth. "Alright, love?"

Geralt blinks slowly, covering Jaskier's hand with one of his own, and rasps, "Yeah."

Jaskier doesn't look any more lucid than Geralt feels, his eyes thin slivers of blue around the pupil and a lopsided grin on his face. He's—has Geralt ever told him? That he's pretty, that his mouth looks good when it's shiny and wet.

It wouldn't be right. Geralt shouldn't lure him into—

"You can come to bed now," Jaskier coaxes gently. "If you still want to."

Geralt closes his eyes to steady himself, feeling the soft stroke of Jaskier's thumb against his cheek. "Yeah."

He allows himself to be led to the bed, where Agata and Jaskier strip him out of the rest of his clothes with gentle kisses pressed to his skin. They arrange him against the pillows, smiling knowingly at each other in a way that unsettles him slightly.

"Now then," Agata says, tweaking Geralt's nose. "There are a few possible arrangements here."

Geralt looks between the two of them and says, "I, uh. Don't care."

Jaskier reaches out and adjusts Geralt's hair so the base of the ponytail is no longer pressing into the pillow, but off to the side—it relieves a pressure on Geralt's skull he hadn't realized was there.

"Well, neither do we," Jaskier says airily. "So you may as well pick."

Did they have some conversation while Geralt was… unfocused? He doesn't understand the look on Jaskier's face—like he's getting away with something.

"Think about what you want, Geralt," Agata coaxes. She trails her fingers down his chest, stopping above his belly button. "We'll give it to you, won't we?"

"Of course," Jaskier agrees. He's reclined on his side, legs curled up with his cock peeking out between them. The hair on his chest and stomach is dark and inviting; Geralt wants to comb a hand through it, wants to hide his face there and not have to—

That's not the kind of request they're hoping for. It doesn't give Jaskier anything in return. 

What could Geralt give him? Something he hasn't had, something that would make him—

"You could fuck me," Geralt tells him. His voice sounds hoarse, unused. "If you…"

"Oh," Jaskier says softly. He looks like he wants it, with a startled smile and then his tongue darting out to wet his bottom lip. He smells like it, too, dizzying Geralt with the urge. "Oh, I—Agata, do you—?"

"Check in the nightstand there," Agata says. "Choose whichever oil you like."

Jaskier touches Geralt's arm before turning to dig through the drawer. He uncorks several bottles, tickling Geralt's nose with the different scents of flowers and herbs.

"Where do you want me?" Agata asks, tilting Geralt's chin towards her. "Or maybe I should watch?"

"No," Geralt rasps. He doesn't want her to leave him with this, with the idea of— "Can you…?"

"Can I what?" Agata teases warmly, her hand drifting lower, just barely brushing against his cock. "Do you want me to touch you?"

Geralt shakes his head. "Want you to come again."

Jaskier huffs out a laugh—not derogatory. Just… laughing. 

"I'll hardly turn an offer like that down," Agata says. "Do you wanna put your mouth on me?"

"... Yeah," says Geralt.

"Then maybe we should—"

"Good Goddess, is this rose oil?" Jaskier asks, gesturing with a bottle.

Agata turns her head with a smirk. "Yeah."

"Best. Brothel. Ever." Jaskier brings the bottle with him and sits next to Geralt again, squeezing his arm. 

"We make it ourselves," Agata tells him. "I'm sure our bawd would sell a bottle."

Jaskier's eyes light up. "Really? Do you think—"

"Maybe we could work the details out later?" Agata suggests, smiling wryly. She's a patient woman, or at least a good pretender. "I think there might be a more pressing…"

"Right, yes. Right!" Jaskier laughs. "How should we arrange ourselves, then?"

"Mm, putting Geralt on all fours might be the easiest." Agata tweaks Geralt's nose again. "Although like this could also work, maybe with a pillow under you, handsome. A little more adventurous?"

Geralt tilts his chin up, thinking about it—calves hooked over Jaskier's shoulders, Agata riding his tongue. It sounds—

Well. It's not like they could actually trap him, even like that. And Jaskier likes adventurous.

"Like this," he says. "If that's okay."

"Of course," Agata tells him. "Let's get you warmed up."

Jaskier seems to take that as a cue to slink down Geralt's body, bringing a pillow with him. He tucks it under Geralt's hips, patting him on the flank much like he would Roach. The kiss, though—pressed to Geralt's knee—is different.

"You're familiar with this?" Agata asks.

Jaskier looks up from uncorking the oil. "Who are you asking?"

"Well, either of you," she says.

"I am," Jaskier answers. "Geralt?"

Geralt's face begins to warm.

"It's not an issue," Agata tells him, brushing some loose hair away from his face. "But if you're not sure what to expect—"

"I am," he cuts in roughly. What should embarrass him about this? It's just—

Jaskier furrows his brow and smiles, resting his cheek against Geralt's knee, and what Geralt's about to let him do is…

Something he hasn't done in a long time. Since he was young and fumbling, trying to be something the world could love. 

But it's just an act. A form of giving or taking pleasure. Geralt is good at action.

He spreads his legs a little further.

"Alright, dear. You know, this looks much nicer than what I buy." Jaskier pours a generous helping onto two of his fingers, then traces both of them over Geralt's hole. "I'm a bit jealous, I must admit."

Geralt rolls his eyes, breathing out in a long huff when Jaskier teases the first finger inside. His body tenses momentarily, but the familiar brush of Agata's lips against his mouth soothes him.

It quickly becomes enjoyable instead, once he remembers how to focus on the sensation. The slow slide of Jaskier's finger inside him, a knuckle brushing at the rim. Jaskier is patient, gentle. Unlike his general demeanor, which is impulsive and brash. It's amusing. 

"What're you so smug about?" Jaskier scolds, smacking Geralt on the thigh with his other hand. 

There's a genuine nervous edge to his voice. Geralt placates, "Nothing. Just in awe of your sudden composure."

"Oh, you rude, rude man," Jaskier huffs, but his playful tone is back. "I am—I'll have you know that I can be perfectly composed, at any given—"

He breaks off mid-sentence with a stammer, his mouth failing to close.

Geralt's smile drifts off his face. "What?"

"Nothing." Jaskier clears his throat and pulls out to add more oil. "Ready for another?"

"Yeah," Geralt says. "You know my body heals, right?"

Jaskier's hand stutters as he rights the bottle and corks it again. He looks up, something discordant on his face, and says, "That doesn't mean it should have to."

Geralt frowns, glancing at Agata for clarification; she carefully looks away.

He doesn't understand—Jaskier's knees are already turning a hint of purple and blue, like Geralt suspected they would. What's the difference supposed to be?

But it passes, and Jaskier slips two fingers inside Geralt with another kiss lingering on Geralt's lower thigh.

Agata tilts Geralt's chin up and licks gently into his mouth, humming when he drags his teeth over her lip. She scratches lightly through his stubble, brings a hand down to his chest and plays with one of his nipples. 

He twitches restlessly, caught between sensations. The easy stretch of Jaskier's fingers, the rhythmic caress of her thumb. Fuck, it's already so much. What will more feel like?

Jaskier crooks his fingers and presses on a spot that makes Geralt's toes curl reflexively, something hazy settle in his stomach.

"Ah," Jaskier murmurs smugly, nipping at Geralt's thigh. "There we are, darling."

Geralt rumbles in his throat, twisting half-away—Agata catches his cheek when he turns it into the pillow, her eyes twinkling at him. He feels a little like something that wandered into a trap, resists the urge to bare his teeth.

"I think he's getting restless," Agata observes. She sounds further away than she did a moment ago. Is there a third finger in him? Jaskier is grinning like there is. "Geralt?"

Geralt blinks slowly, fighting the arousal threatening to dilate his pupils. He doesn't—if he had to really look at them—

"—fuck you now, sweetheart." Jaskier soothes a hand up and down Geralt's ribcage. "Are you going away for a while?"

Geralt nods. Thinks about nodding. 

It must work. He feels Jaskier pressing inside him, slick with oil. The smell of roses, like the bushes outside the brothel.

"Do you want me, Geralt?" Agata asks. Her hand is turning his cheek, so he looks at her. "It's okay if it's too much."

No. Geralt shakes his head, his hand finding her hip. He wants her to feel good, wants to be—

Jaskier moans softly, barely rocking his hips. Is the angle bad? Geralt shifts, trying to hitch his legs up.

"Ah, down," Jaskier tuts, tapping on Geralt's left hip. "That's the bad one, love, remember? Don't strain it."

Geralt rests that side against the bed. 

Jaskier kisses at the other knee, which is draped over his shoulder. "There we go."

"Okay, honey," Agata tells him. She straddles his chest, slowly walking forward on her knees. "You tap me like this if it's too much, okay? Show me."

It's… hard. He can feel Jaskier, smell them both underneath the sweetened oil. He mimics the rhythm she tapped onto his arm.

"Good," she coos. That makes something in his chest stir. "Good, handsome. Here we are."

Geralt's eyes flutter shut when he tastes her. That first morning after—

No, not that. Maybe the second time. Or the fourth. Her cunt smearing arousal over his mouth, tickling his nose. He can feel her thighs trembling when he laps at her clit—brings his hands up to support her.

"Oh, Geralt—"

"Geralt, you feel—"

"—that's it, honey—"

"—so good, fuck—"

Good.

Good.

No.

He isn't, is he? Are they lying?

He hopes they aren't lying.

Is he hard? He licks back into Agata's cunt, breathes sloppily through his nose. Lifts his hips to take Jaskier deeper. Trying to do the right thing. He's—he has to. Give something back. Has to control it—what? Everything, before it crumbles.

Are they lying?

Agata is laying on her back, next to him, an arm draped over her eyes. Jaskier crawls forward, slips himself back inside, puts his lip between Geralt's teeth. His skin is a furnace, the fire Geralt keeps wanting to plunge his hand into. Is he happy?

Jaskier sobs, hiding his face in Geralt's neck. Stutters about coming, about some nonsense Geralt doesn't understand. He needs to be held, or Geralt needs something to hold.

Are they lying?

A pair of hands wiping away the tears from Geralt's face, a kiss on the underside of Geralt's jaw. He thinks about coming back, but it's nice where he is.

 

~*~

 

Geralt's eyes flutter open in what feels like the middle of the night, but can't be—someone's recently fed a log to the fire.

It was Agata, who just now crawls back into bed and draws a blanket up around her; Jaskier and Geralt are sharing another. Mostly Jaskier, who snores softly on Geralt's other side.

"There you are," she says quietly, touching his nose. "Thought I might not see you before morning."

Geralt clears his throat. "Been right here."

"Have you?" she asks lightly. 

He hums, glancing up at the ceiling. Nudges at things at the edge of his awareness, trying to get them away again.

"What're you thinking of?" Agata asks.

"How grateful I am for the size of your bed," Geralt drawls.

"Let's not lie to each other, Geralt." Agata smiles in the firelight; he knows without having to look. "We've cared for each other too long.*

Geralt hums again, this time in resignation. He listens carefully to Jaskier's breathing—too deep and even to indicate anything but a sound sleep.

"His song," Geralt admits. "And what I know of it."

"Which is?" she prompts.

Geralt's never been able to carry much of a tune. He repeats in prose, "'If I could choose my last breath, I'd save it for your name.'"

Agata prods his cheek. "That's it? I'm sure you could easily sneak up on a lowly bard and spy for the rest."

"... Wouldn't be right," says Geralt.

"Sounds like a love song to me," Agata tells him. "I can't imagine why he'd be hiding it from you."

Neither can Geralt. 

He tells the ceiling, "I do believe one thing, now."

"What's that, honey?"

Geralt's throat feels tight. "That you're not pretending to be kind."

Agata smiles sadly, toying lightly with the medallion at his chest. "Is that still worse?"

Jaskier snuffles in his sleep and rolls over, nuzzling his face into the crook of Geralt's neck.

"I don't know," Geralt whispers.

Agata presses her lips to Geralt's forehead and urges him to sleep.

 

~*~

 

Geralt and Jaskier travel east and then north again, riding out the dying autumn. Jaskier has taken to writing Agata letters with feedback on her novel—apparently Geralt's succinct review of, "it's good," was sweet but insufficient.

They prepare to part ways in Yspaden, Jaskier hoping to catch a second letter from Agata before he goes west for winter.

"I don't know if I can leave early again this year," Geralt tells him. "My brothers gave me a hard time."

Jaskier taps his fingers on Geralt's knee under the table. "I'll wait for you."

Geralt raises an eyebrow. "You'll have the coin for that?"

"I think so." Jaskier worries at his bottom lip. "I think… I'll see my parents this year. Save some money, first of all, and—"

He hesitates.

Geralt waits patiently.

"Maybe they're worried about me," Jaskier says eventually. "I mean, I kept meaning to write, but then it seemed awkward because it had been so long, and I think they've probably heard some of my songs but there's no telling if they know it's me, and if they're worried, shouldn't I—I mean that would be worse, right? It'd be awful of me."

"Worse than what?" asks Geralt.

"Than if they aren't worried at all," Jaskier answers, uncharacteristically subdued. "And I won't be able to pretend anymore."

There's a flare of something in Geralt's chest. He hates feeling violent. He wouldn't be, really—but the thought is there.

Mostly at himself, for being unable to say any of it. Not, I worry all winter. Not, I'd bring you up the mountain. Not, If I were allowed to have anything I'd give myself you.

He does say, "See you in the spring," and Jaskier says, "Stay one more night, just to see," and they do.

There's still no letter from Agata in the morning, but Geralt can't delay further. 

He looks back, once, and watches Jaskier wave in response.

 

~*~

 

Not only does Geralt not leave Kaer Morhen early, he travels to Yspaden with Eskel in tow. Not exactly willingly. He, Lambert, and Eskel all take the Trail down the mountain together, and Lambert decides to head southeast first. Eskel declares he's heading west, and Geralt can't just—

Well, he could. But he won't leave Jaskier waiting longer than he has to.

Besides, Eskel is a good traveling companion. And… a friend. They understand each other, at least somewhat. Hopefully he'll understand this.

In Yspaden, Eskel beelines for an inn down the road from the town notice board and says, "Wanna stay here for the night?"

Geralt perks his ears and listens—it's faint, but he can hear Jaskier singing further into town. Probably the same place Geralt found him last year. 

"Somewhere else," he says, tilting his head in the direction of Jaskier's voice. "For me, anyway."

"What?" Eskel follows with his horse led by the reins. "Why?"

Geralt doesn't answer, just makes his way to the tavern the singing is coming from. He stables Roach, giving her a kiss on the muzzle, and then nods to Eskel when he pushes the door open.

Jaskier is playing his lute this time, leading the tavern in a drinking song. His smile widens at Geralt's arrival, but he finishes the round before tossing himself in Geralt's direction.

"You're here!" he says brightly, with something else creeping in at the edge. He has new clothes again—nice ones. He sounds tired. Must have been performing a lot over the past few days. 

Carefully avoiding Eskel's gaze, Geralt wraps his arms around Jaskier and squeezes gently. "Hey."

Jaskier lingers in the embrace without further comment, which is unusual. Geralt shifts uncomfortably, finally pulling away when he feels the tension in Jaskier's shoulders loosen.

This should be the part where Jaskier starts babbling Geralt's ear off, especially with Eskel standing right there with an eyebrow raised.

Instead, it takes a second too long for Jaskier to smile again.

"Geralt, when were you going to introduce me to your handsome friend? Though by the looks of your medallion, you're probably used to him, aren't you?" Jaskier bows with a flourish, which is more like his usual self. "Jaskier the troubadour, at your service! And you might be?"

Eskel smiles with amusement. "Uh, hi? I'm—"

"Ooh, wait!" Jaskier claps his hands together, steering them to a table in the corner with a hand on Geralt's back. "Let me guess! Can I guess?"

Eskel shoots Geralt a pointedly baffled look. "Sure?"

Geralt just shrugs at him and accepts the determination with which he's manhandled onto a low bench on the side of the wall, Jaskier plopping down right beside him. Their thighs are nearly touching.

Eskel takes a seat across from them, steepling his fingers on the table. From the way he's looking at the pair of them, Geralt is fucked.

He did bring Eskel here.

"So you're Geralt's bard, huh?" Eskel asks. Geralt stiffens at the phrasing, but if anything, Jaskier seems to preen, propping a cheek up with one hand. "Thanks for the songs. They help out all of us, you know."

"You are very welcome!" Jaskier tells him, smiling widely. "And that settles it for me—you're Eskel."

Eskel laughs with surprise, leaning back in his chair. "What gave it away?"

"Well, Vesemir would be too old," Jaskier reasons. "And Geralt said Lambert was a prick, which is obviously a high bar coming from this grumpy-grump, and—"

"Ugh," says Geralt.

"—you seem very kind."

Eskel leans over the table to ruffle Geralt's hair. "Aww, you talk about us?"

"Not really," Geralt mutters. "Sometimes."

Eskel sobers slightly, clapping Geralt on the shoulder once before he settles back into his seat. He's probably thinking the same thing Geralt is, which is that talking used to be easier.

It still is for Eskel, who smoothly changes the subject by asking Jaskier where he learned to play the lute.

Geralt's heard this story before—several times, actually, because it's one of the countless things Jaskier won't shut the fuck up about.

"Oh," Jaskier says. "My parents sent me off to university and I picked it up there. I thought it'd probably be easier to gain renown as a bard, rather than just a poet."

He finishes speaking, tapping his fingers on the table. Geralt blinks at him with unease.

"Oh, that's nice," Eskel tells him. "So how long—"

"That's not the story," Geralt blurts. Immediately flinches with regret, leaning back against the wall.

Jaskier turns to him with furrowed eyebrows. "Yes, it is?"

Fuck. But there's this shifting feeling in Geralt's stomach.

"That's not how you tell it," Geralt insists. The back of his neck feels hot. "They wanted you to be a historian. You wrote your first ballad about the Conjunction instead of composing an essay. Why aren't you telling it right?"

Jaskier's frown softens. He tilts his head and attempts a smile that—that's it, that's what's been wrong all night—doesn't reach his eyes.

"You do listen when I talk!" he says brightly. "Excellent, that's the first test. Next you'll have to—"

"Eskel," Geralt says, reaching into his purse for a few coins, which he sets on the table. "Can you go get us a round?"

"Uh, sure," Eskel says carefully. "They look really busy, though. I'll be a while."

Geralt listens for the sound of his footsteps retreating towards the half-empty bar, his gaze still fixed on Jaskier's face. He's not sure what he's expecting it to do.

Jaskier says, "Geralt—"

"What happened?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier looks down, no enthusiasm or histrionics. There was a time when Geralt would've considered it a fucking relief. What the fuck is happening to him?

"I think I'm a horrible son," Jaskier tells Geralt's knee, steady next to Jaskier's, which bounces under the table. "I can't help thinking that it was worse after all. I wish—I wish that it'd hurt them. That they wondered where I was. That someone cared—"

Geralt is failing him. It's all he can think about, which fails him twofold. He can't—he should be able to say it. He should be the kind of person someone would want to hear it from. 

"—or what I'd done. I mean, they should care, shouldn't they?" Jaskier blinks at him with wet eyes. "Geralt? Are you—won't you say something?"

Everything Geralt tries dies on his tongue. He slips his hand onto Jaskier's knee and squeezes.

Jaskier looks down. Tentatively, he covers Geralt's hand with his own, a calloused thumb stroking along a finger, and smiles faintly.

"I…" Geralt tries. Swallows and starts over. "Thought about delaying a few days. Because of Eskel."

"But you didn't," Jaskier says softly.

Geralt shakes his head.

"Thank you."

Geralt says nothing.

Jaskier glances up at Geralt's face again. "They did send me off with a lot of coin, though. The one constant of nobility, I suppose."

Geralt represses that piece of information for later. "Hm?"

"Mhm." Jaskier pats Geralt on the hand and cheerfully informs him, "I'm treating you to a bath tomorrow."

Geralt frowns. "Treat yourself to something."

"You smelling like something besides onion for a few days will treat me."

"I thought I smelled like heroics."

"You smell more like heroics when you've had a bath," Jaskier says, grinning cheekily.

Geralt rolls his eyes. Pulse in his throat, he tugs his hand free to wrap that arm around Jaskier's shoulders instead and urges him closer—presses a furtive kiss to his temple.

"I'll take that as agreement." Jaskier leaves his head resting on Geralt's shoulder. "And perhaps an invitation to make it a bath for two?"

Geralt squeezes his hip. "Your money."

"Yes," Jaskier agrees, giving Eskel a little wave to rejoin them. "I suppose it is."

 

~*~

 

Jaskier does perk up over the course of their evening. Not to his normal self, but an improvement. He neglects to revise his bardic origin story, but subjects Eskel to several other tales instead. All ones Geralt's heard before—which he doesn't mind.

It's easier, the familiarity. Geralt feels off-balanced enough as it is, with Jaskier pressed against his side and feeling this urge to cheer him up. That's not really Geralt's wheelhouse. What could he possibly offer?

Eskel drinks and eats with them for a while before craning his neck out the window to check the position of the moon.

"Getting late," he observes.

"Yeah," Geralt agrees. Jaskier is still under his arm; there should be something to do about that, one way or the other, but there isn't. It's just where he is.

It's just. Something else unusual; Jaskier loves socializing in town, especially when there are pretty women and men around, which there are tonight. He hasn't stopped sleeping with strangers, especially ones he'd get a beating for fucking if he got caught, and Geralt hasn't asked him to. But maybe Geralt's getting in the way of that tonight, sitting so close.

He prods Jaskier's side and murmurs, "No plans to cheer up with some company?"

Jaskier lolls his head back on Geralt's shoulder, blinking up at him. "You'll cheer me up, won't you?"

Oh. He… will?

"Sounds like my cue to turn in," Eskel says. He stands with a contented grunt. "I think I'll find lodging down the road—seems like this place is gonna be… loud."

He winks when he says it. Geralt scowls at him.

Jaskier sits up a little, which only serves to nestle him more firmly against Geralt's side, and asks, "Will we see you in the morning?"

"Sure," Eskel agrees. "We can hunt up some breakfast. One last time for the year, eh, Geralt?"

Geralt nods. "Yeah."

Eskel jerks his thumb through the door. "Will you walk me out, though? We better split our supplies now, just in case."

Geralt narrows his eyes; that makes no sense, if they're meeting in the morning anyway. But he's not dumb or stubborn enough to make it an argument.

"I'll meet you in the room," Jaskier tells him, standing at the same time he does. "First on the left."

"Okay," says Geralt. He watches Jaskier retrieve his lute and head up the stairs, then follows Eskel outside.

Eskel is feeding Roach something—maybe a bit of vegetable leftover from dinner. 

"Your bard seems like a good man," Eskel says, not turning around. 

"Not mine," Geralt corrects stiffly. "That what you dragged me out here for?"

Eskel leans against the stable wall, glancing at Geralt sidelong. "I wanted to see if you were kidding yourself, which you are, and tell you I'm happy for you anyway."

Geralt's not even happy for himself.

"Why?" he asks.

"Why what?"

"Now," Geralt deflects.

"'Cause I know you," Eskel says. He smirks, scar tissue tugging up to reveal a chipped tooth. "And I don't want you to be freaking out about it all night."

Geralt's not panicking, is he? It hadn't occurred to him. Is that this tension in his shoulders?

"He's not mine," Geralt repeats. "We're just—"

He can't finish the sentence. 

"Look," Eskel says eventually. "I know we've… drifted a little. Since Blaviken. But whatever we're calling what I saw in there—thanks for showing it to me. Try not to talk yourself outta it."

Geralt swallows, staring out at the middle distance, carefully avoiding Eskel's face and the pinprick starlight above them alike.

"See you in the morning," he says.

Eskel laughs softly, his head shaking with it, and leads his horse out onto the road. "Yeah, see ya."

Geralt watches him go.

He makes it ten, twenty yards away before Geralt calls, "Eskel."

Eskel turns his head.

"You're still my brother."

"I know, Geralt."

He turns back again, Perch's hooves kicking up a faint layer of dust as they go. Geralt's not sure why he feels compelled to watch, what he thinks will happen once he looks away. But Eskel vanishes into an inn down the road and leaves Geralt with his shaking hands and the hollow feeling under his breastbone.

Jaskier is waiting upstairs.

Waiting for—for what. Something Geralt is supposed to give him? What can he do, at the end of it? 

Fuck, it's suddenly overwhelming. Thinking about what Eskel said, what he's implying. Were they—did they seem happy? Was it good? Maybe that's what it should feel like—the part in the middle, when Jaskier told the story about running from that innkeeper in Toussaint and he left out all the parts about Geralt's poisoned blood and nearly passing out, so it was just funny, and Geralt almost laughed. 

All Geralt can think about when he laughs is that not-laughing comes next. 

Jaskier is waiting upstairs.

Fuck, Geralt's so stuck in his head. He's failing still—going to fail. He just needs—

The bottle in his pocket, half-empty from last time. He just needs to take the edge off again, calm down enough to be there. Put himself where he needs to be, so Jaskier can use him. 

He drains the rest, gives it one, two minutes for it to work. Tucks his hand back into his pocket with the empty bottle, ignoring a slight tremor.

The tavern is still lively, but Geralt finds it less grating than he did before. He makes his way up the stairs and slips into their room, locking it behind him while Jaskier looks up, rubbing at his eyes.

There's something wrong about that. The blotchiness of his complexion, puffy circles under his eyes. It slides off Geralt's brain; he comes to sit beside Jaskier on the bed.

"Oh, let's get your armor off," Jaskier tuts, smiling thinly. "Get you comfortable."

He reaches out, but Geralt brings his own hands up to the buckles. "I'll get it."

"Um." Jaskier folds his hands into his lap. "Right, sorry."

Geralt makes quick work of his armor, which is good. Jaskier wanted it off, now it's done faster. He looks over and finds Jaskier watching him with his teeth dug into his bottom lip.

Jaskier shouldn't look like that. Jaskier treats not-laughter like it's about to be laughter. 

Could Geralt… say something? He feels too blurred-out for that. He's not—that isn't what he's good for, anyway. Not what he came up here to do.

"Geralt?" Jaskier asks, with his cheek leaning into Geralt's palm. "What're you…?"

Geralt blinks, watching his thumb caress a high point of color on Jaskier's face. "Cheering you up."

"Oh," says Jaskier. He bites his bottom lip again. "I—alright."

Geralt leans in, fighting a strange flare of confusion. He doesn't—should he have taken more? Maybe that's the problem. But Jaskier kisses him, both hands coming up to card through his hair. 

And it's fine, isn't it? He's—he's doing good? Helping Jaskier out of his clothes, helping him lay back against the pillows and taking both their cocks up into his hand. He'll take care of everything. 

He just wants—

What Jaskier wants, right? Jaskier wants his hands on Geralt's back. Geralt wants Jaskier's hands on his back. Jaskier wants to kiss again. Geralt wants to kiss again. Jaskier wants to hide his face in the pillow. Geralt wants—

 

~*~

 

Is it helping?

 

~*~

 

The sun rises; a rooster crows. Probably farther away than Jaskier can hear, but he's awake already, so it doesn't matter. Geralt sits up in bed, letting the covers slide down to his waist.

Jaskier is busy packing his bag up, gathering items that had been discarded around the room over the course of his stay. 

"Uh," says Geralt. His mouth feels dry and strange. "Morning."

Jaskier looks up, smiles fleetingly, and looks back down.

Geralt asks, "How are you feeling?"

"I think you took something last night," Jaskier says lightly, instead of answering. Or maybe in response. He shoves a chemise into the bag. "I think you take something a lot of the time, actually."

Geralt's chest goes tight. He wants to take something right now. He says, "Yeah, I do."

Jaskier purses his lips and looks up earnestly. "Why?"

Fuck. Fuck, he can't lie. Does he know the truth anymore?

"It… helps," Geralt says.

Jaskier's voice cracks. "It helps you have sex with me?"

"No," Geralt rasps. He looks at Jaskier's hands, at the lute that goes with them, at his own hands which belong with something worse. "It helps… like sex does. When I can't… when I can't…"

Jaskier shakes his head, big eyes shining. "Is that why you do it?"

"Which part?" asks Geralt.

"Does it matter?"

Geralt says nothing.

"Alright," Jaskier says. He tightens the drawstring on his bag and slings it over his shoulder. "That's alright."

"I'm sorry," Geralt croaks. He means to stand, to cross the distance, but he can't. "Jask—"

"Don't be." Jaskier smiles; it reaches his eyes in the wrong direction. "I told you, didn't I? I'd do much worse for you."

Geralt begs, "You shouldn't."

Jaskier crosses the room and crouches down, cupping Geralt's jaw. He's so gentle. So careful, like Geralt hasn't been.

"You can't stop me, Witcher," he whispers, a ghost of breath against Geralt's transfixed mouth. "I'm not something you get to take a potion to control."

He pulls away, making for the door. The sun is tickling his hair, darkening the bags under his eyes. He looks beautiful.

"I should let you go," Geralt tells him.

Jaskier smiles, flashing his teeth.

"You'd have to admit you have me first," he says, a little like it's a challenge. "Come on, darling. I'm sure Eskel is waiting."

Geralt obeys numbly, feeling the hot rush of panic under his skin. What is he afraid of? That Jaskier will leave? That even this won't drive him away? He has no right to want either.

The sun continues to rise while he considers it, dressing slowly; Jaskier waits patiently by the door. A deer bounds through the underbrush while he half-heartedly watches Eskel hunt. He carries the carcass back to their day camp and determines the answer in retrospect, when Jaskier looks up from writing a letter and something loosens in Geralt's chest.

He sets the carcass down by the fire and then sits next to Jaskier on the ground, watching him mutely.

"You're staring," Jaskier tells him, licking the point of his quill.

Whatever the thing was, it lodged in Geralt's throat. He swallows twice, conscious of the blood smeared across his neck. "You're here."

"And I'm still dragging your arse to the bath later." Jaskier smiles faintly. "No amount of theatrics will get you out of that."

"I'm not theatrical," Geralt mutters.

Jaskier prods him with the quill, smearing ink over his forearm.

"Geralt," Eskel calls from across the clearing. "Can I get some help with this thing?"

Geralt pushes back to his feet, glancing behind himself once as he skirts the cooking fire. Jaskier returns to his letter, humming something under his breath.

It's an old song of his. Geralt knows it well enough to catch the tune.

 

~*~

 

Breakfast with Eskel turns into a day's travel with Eskel. They part ways a little after sundown, when Eskel decides to keep going and make camp on the road instead of joining their quest for a hot bath.

Geralt is a strange mix of disappointed and relieved. Of course it was an inevitability; walking The Path together is inefficient. There's too much ground to cover and Eskel is more than capable of handling himself. Better to get the farewell out of the way.

But still.

The hug goodbye is nice; Geralt looks back at Jaskier with misplaced alarm when, after they part, it occurs to him that being held for that long no longer fills him with an aching dread.

Jaskier mouths, 'What are you doing?' at him.

Maybe not misplaced. Maybe it's—

Well. Geralt follows him to his inn of choice anyway, and allows himself to be steered into the bath. Doesn't grumble when Jaskier pays extra for a sachet of herbs that tickle Geralt's nose when they steep in the water, or when Jaskier insists on washing his hair with a soap that smells decidedly floral.

He thinks about the hug, about how easy it is, even on his worst days—and, Melitele, does he have days that aren't his worst days now?—to accept fingers carding through his hair. About Eskel telling him, in more patient words, to not fuck it up.

Jaskier is humming to himself, like always. He's doing Geralt's hair before his own. Geralt doesn't deserve it, but maybe he should act like he could.

"I was afraid," he says, startling Jaskier into dropping the sponge. "Last night. That's why I…"

Jaskier rescues the sponge, which he uses to wash the soap from Geralt's hair. "Of what?"

Geralt stares at the bag of herbs as it drifts through the water.

Jaskier is behind him, allowing Geralt to recline between his legs. He wraps his arms around Geralt's middle, abandoning his hair half-washed, and waits.

And waits.

"I just wanted you," Jaskier says. "Do you understand?"

"No," says Geralt.

"To be there for me." Jaskier's arms tighten. "To listen."

Geralt listens to the murmur of voices downstairs, to the thrum of Jaskier's heart. 

"I was afraid of failing you," he says. "And I did."

"Of course you did." Jaskier punctuates it with a soft kiss to the shell of Geralt's ear. "And I'll fail you, too. Like I failed my parents and they failed me and like I'm sure you and your brothers have all failed each other."

Geralt shifts restlessly, halfway to bolting from the tub. "What the fuck, Jaskier?"

"Shh, let me get to my point. You know I'm long-winded."

Geralt snatches the sponge out of the water and digs his fingers into it.

"It matters who we forgive," Jaskier tells him quietly. "Who we try to not fail so spectacularly next time and who we decide to trust with all the useless bits of us. Who we let love us when we don't feel like enough."

The water sloshes gently in the tub, from Geralt's burst of panic. It's growing cold; he heats it with a timid flash of Igni, watching the faint glow of his hand under the water.

He considers how easily it could scald them. How much safer it would be to let them both begin to shiver. 

Let Jaskier shiver, he means. 

"Can I wash your hair?" Geralt asks. "And… try again?"

Jaskier shifts in the water, trading positions with him. "To listen? About my family?"

"Yeah," says Geralt. He reaches for the soap.

"You can," Jaskier says, his voice strangely shaky. "... Thank you."

Geralt clears his throat, wets Jaskier's hair with warm water, and tries.

 

~*~

 

Geralt keeps trying. For Jaskier, anyway—not for himself. He's clear-headed when Jaskier needs him, even when it sets his teeth on edge, even when it feels like he could—

It doesn't matter.

But the rest of the time—

Geralt limps back to the inn, listening to but not feeling the foreboding twang of a tendon near his groin that's barely clinging together. Was this already his bad hip? He can't remember. Jaskier would remember.

Jaskier.

There's probably a lot of blood. Geralt glances down to check and immediately looks away—he took Wolf, a mistake. Confuses his own body with something to dismantle. Taking something to stop the bleeding would be better.

So Jaskier won't worry.

There's too much toxin in Geralt's system. He took Black Blood, for the vampire nest. Lower vampires aren't clean killers. There was nothing left of the man Geralt was sent to save. It doesn't matter.

He uncorks Gadwall with his teeth before the leg decides to give out. Props himself up against a building in an alley and concentrates on the feeling of his muscles stitching back together, on the fog settling back over his brain. Lets his focus go blank.

It's good they paid for the room already. The innkeeper smells like fear now. 

Even Jaskier's heart rate spikes when he looks up from his papers.

"Oh, fuck, Geralt," he breathes, eyes fixed on Geralt's shredded armor. "Are you—"

"Healing," Geralt says. He can't—his tongue is numb. "Can…?"

Jaskier stands and goes to him, fingers tripping over the buckles that are left. "What, Geralt? What can I do?"

Something to be—somewhere? Somewhere for Geralt to be. Something he can touch that doesn't mind the blood.

Geralt's fingers dragging up the sides of Jaskier's face. Jaskier's teeth flashing in the candle light, biting into his bottom lip. 

"That's what you need?" Jaskier asks. 

Geralt's hand flattens, cupping Jaskier's jaw.

Jaskier says, "Okay."

Kissing, walking Jaskier backwards until his thighs hit the bed. His breath coming up short when Geralt mouths at his throat, scenting him. Fuck. Fuck, Geralt needs—

"There," Jaskier says, unlacing Geralt's pants. "There we go."

Geralt strips off Jaskier's chemise, tugs his underwear down his thighs. Kneels down at the foot of the bed, breathing open-mouthed against an artery. He knows how to open it. He drags his lips upwards instead, nuzzling against the base of Jaskier's cock.

"Geralt," Jaskier says with his voice trembling. "Would you—do you want to fuck me?"

Geralt's head snaps up hungrily, his tongue darting out to lick his lips. Would he?

His eyes are still black. He can see in perfect detail, sitting still—the bloody pink of Jaskier's skin, the burned-bone white of Geralt's hand on his hip. It blurs when he tilts his head, his body sluggish and pawing for focus that catches and then slips free like oil on water. 

"Fuck," Jaskier say softly. "Fuck, let me—my bag."

Geralt waits, still kneeling. Watches Jaskier kick free of his underclothes and retrieve the bottle of oil, which he brings with him when he flops against the pillows.

"Here we are," he says, wetting his bottom lip. He's flushed all over, especially his cock, which is leaking against his stomach. "Are you just going to stare, love?"

The idea of it is… appealing. It feels strange to move. Jaskier's body is a good sight. Close to Geralt's in height and filled out over the years. Especially his thighs, from chasing after Roach while he lugs the lute around.

He looks good. Healthy. Geralt can still imagine six or seven ways for him to die.

No. Not now, not here, he doesn't want to think—

"With me, Geralt," Jaskier says gently. "Come back to me."

Geralt blinks, trying to push the image away. Jaskier is in front of him, toying absently with his cock, living. Waiting. He's been so patient.

Geralt climbs up onto the bed and brackets Jaskier in by the hips, swaying over him. It's… he feels—this thing in his blood. Is he still bleeding? 

"Geralt, are you alright?" Jaskier's fingers are brushing the thick gash on Geralt's hip, which has sewn itself shut. "Do you—do you still wanna do this?"

Does he?

Geralt brushes his knuckles across Jaskier's cheek, down to his mouth, trying to find the words. It should be simple, he thinks. To turn this feeling in his body into a sound someone else can understand. 

It's like he's forgotten—did they take this from him? Was he born with a useless tongue?

Jaskier kisses the back of Geralt's hand, then loosely wraps fingers around Geralt's wrist and turns it to press his lips to the palm. His eyes are blue, raw things.  

Then, he folds the bottle of oil into Geralt's hand and kisses the curve of his thumb. He draws his knees up, shifting so they press gently into Geralt's ribs.

Geralt looks at the bottle, wiggles the stopper free. Is hit with the scent of rose oil, sweet and lulling, reminding him of Agata. Of—

He pours it onto his fingers, already warm to the touch. Traces down the line of Jaskier's cock first, which makes it twitch temptingly. His mouth waters at the thought, pulled back to the first night in the forest. Skitters further back, over the black of his eyes, the flat urge to plunge his hand into the fire. 

Forward again, the slow pulse of blood in his veins, the thought of pushing inside Jaskier and feeling the slick heat around him, the oil warming between their bodies. Shuddering, crying like the first time he fucked Agata, being welcome somewhere he doesn't belong. That the price is having to claim something as his own. 

"It's too much, isn't it?" Jaskier prods quietly. "You don't want this."

Geralt blinks down at him, the gentle smear of oil down his inner thigh. 

"Geralt, I know it's hard for you—finding words." Jaskier tilts Geralt's chin up. "But I do need a few of them now. Because it—I'd never live with myself if you—"

His bottom lip quivers. Geralt feels a distant pang of shameful panic even through the fog—of being something that destroys.

"It matters if you want it," Jaskier tells him instead. "Do you believe me?"

Geralt's arm feels numb. That isn't where he was injured. Is he breathing? Does he want to?

"What do you really want, Geralt?" Jaskier asks gently.

It has to be nothing.

No. It isn't. No, he wants—

Geralt corks the bottle. Carefully sets it aside. Shrinks slowly, barely moving, until his cheek is resting against Jaskier's chest. His arms curl around Jaskier's middle, twitching with confusion. Draws his knees up to tangle their legs together in a twist of blanket and drying blood.

It hurts. Geralt closes his eyes.

"Oh, darling." Jaskier's voice cracks. "Oh, Geralt, I'm—I'm here. I'm so sorry. I'm right here, love."

Something leaves Geralt's throat—maybe a sob. He holds Jaskier tighter, tucks his face in closer with another desperate exhale.

Jaskier wraps an arm around Geralt's back and brushes his lips against his temple. Brings the other hand up into his hair, tugging it free of its tie—cards his fingers through it gently.

A shudder runs up Geralt's spine. He rests.

 

~*~

 

Geralt's eyes are clear when he wakes. Jaskier sleeps soundly curled around him, a protective hand still holding Geralt's head to his chest. 

Geralt rouses him to murmur, "I'll be back," just in case he'd otherwise wake alone. He snuffles and resettles as soon as Geralt tucks him back in, clutching a spare pillow in his arms in Geralt's absence.

It's early in the day. Geralt prods at the fresh scar tissue across his hip; the potion healed it well. It crossects the scar Renfri left him, new against old. An overwhelming majority of his body is streaked with blood—not all his own—that must have soaked through his clothes.

He glances over at Jaskier, whose hands and neck are similarly stained, and who will no doubt complain about it as soon as he wakes up for good. For now, Geralt dresses in his dirtied clothes and heads downstairs.

The innkeeper pales at the sight of him, which he endures. The alderman pays him fairly, despite the dead brother, and weeps openly the entire time. Geralt endures that too.

He stops to see Roach before going back inside, wrapping his arms around her neck. She nuzzles at his ribs, looking for sugar or to comfort him; he digs through the saddlebags to find a treat for her and pauses when he finds the book.

It's the pocket bestiary he's had for most of his life—a good book. Geralt used to enjoy studying it. When was the last time it got to make someone happy?

He slips Roach a palmful of sugar and brings the bestiary with him.

Jaskier is still sleeping—Geralt hides the book under a pillow and goes back downstairs to ask for a water basin, no need to warm it. He brings it up to the room and, heating it with Igni, scrubs the worst of the blood from his skin while Jaskier rests.

His head is quiet, manageable. Unpleasant at the edges, like it usually is. The water helps, and then Jaskier stretches awake with a dramatic yawn.

"You're back early," he remarks, watching Geralt drag the cloth over his stomach with lazy interest. 

Geralt's lips twitch. "You slept in."

"Did I?" Jaskier asks, unbothered. He sits up, yawns again, and tilts his head. "Are you—how are you?"

Tired. Trying to ring out the shame. He says, "Check under there."

"Hm? Under where?" Jaskier pulls up the blanket, wrinkles his nose in a way that suggests there's dried blood on his lower half too, and then flips all the pillows. "Oh, what's this?"

The book is unmarked, bound in sturdy but simple leather. No need to get fancy with it, as long as it's useful. Jaskier has already taken to flipping through it by the time Geralt figures out how to answer.

"It's a Witcher's bestiary. Given to me when I first started on The Path." He clears his throat. "I… don't really need it anymore. Some of it's probably outdated. But I—you used to ask about the things I fought, so I thought maybe you'd like it."

"It's remarkable," Jaskier says softly, tracing his fingers over a traced illustration of a basilisk. Whoever made the original is dead now. "You've… had this the whole time?"

Geralt drapes the washcloth over the side of the basin. He stares at the bloody water, darkening to the color of rust. "I was afraid you'd stay. And that… I'd want you to."

"Well, I love it," Jaskier tells him warmly. "It was worth the wait, Geralt. Thank you."

Geralt hums. He digs in his bag for a fresh set of underclothes, suddenly pointedly aware of his nudity.

Jaskier shuts the book, setting it aside, but makes no move to leave the bed. "Geralt, why give this to me now?"

Geralt pauses with a shirt pulled halfway over his head. Keeping his arms extended aggravates his shoulder; he steadies himself with a breath and tugs the shirt the rest of the way on.

Jaskier is staring patiently, an expectant crease in his forehead.

"I…" Geralt wets his bottom lip. Takes a step closer, suppressing the urges to bolt or dive for the book in equal measure. "Want you to know."

Jaskier laughs softly and teases, "Know what, dear? About monsters?"

Geralt shakes his head. It's—

The song he keeps hearing, Jaskier smiling sweetly at a man he's about to verbally eviscerate. A hand running through his hair and holding him close, safe, like he deserves to be safe, like he deserves any of it.

"You're more," Geralt tells him. "The sex was more. I don't want it to—I don't want you to think you're just… medicating me."

Jaskier's breathing is shallow. He touches at his lips, draws his hand back at the taste of blood, presses knuckles into his mouth instead.

"Will you come here?" he asks wetly. "You're so far away. Will you—please?"

Geralt obeys. He folds himself up right on the edge of the bed and lets Jaskier take his face in both hands.

"Jaskier?" he rasps, feeling something disquieting bubble in his chest. 

Jaskier tucks a strand of hair behind Geralt's ear. "What is it, love?"

Geralt closes his eyes. "Why are you still here?"

"There's two answers to that, Geralt of Rivia."

Geralt opens his eyes again, taking in the fond smile on Jaskier's face, and asks, "What's the truth?"

"That I have met every version of you, including the man you've been trying so hard to bury—who is scared, and gentle, and is so, so capable of feeling hurt and pain and love." Jaskier thumbs at Geralt's bottom lip. "And I am going to buy a fucking shovel and dig for him, because he's mine now. I won't let you kill him."

Geralt hair is falling back into his face.

He swallows and says, "Tell me what I'll believe."

Jaskier smiles, which draws attention to a smear of blood on the edge of his jaw, and brushes a gentle kiss against Geralt's forehead.

"No, darling," he whispers so, so warmly. "Believe the truth."

Geralt's shoulders sag, like his body is chasing Jaskier's retreating, gentling touch. He looks up from under his lashes, a little like he does when he has Jaskier's cock in his mouth. 

"I'll try," he says, a little like he means it.

 

~*~

 

They leave this town and pass through several others, looking for contracts. Most of the money Jaskier took from his parents is still stashed away, just in case, though Geralt suspects that Jaskier has been padding his tips with some of the coin.

Either that, or they're becoming famous. 

There's been money for an inn at every stop lately. Geralt, personally, almost misses camping. They still do it sometimes, when the distance between towns is too long or they're hunting for something that's lurking too far from the city. But taverns are noisy and filled with people who want to look at him, in one way or another.

Tonight, Jaskier drapes himself over the side of Geralt's chair after performing "Toss a Coin," and plucks the ale right out of his hand.

Not that Geralt can complain; some woman only bought it for him because of the song.

"I'll be finished soon, love," Jaskier murmurs, patting him on the shoulder. "Did you take anything tonight?"

Geralt glances at him sidelong. "No, why?"

"Good." Jaskier kisses his cheek briskly. "Don't, if you can, please."

*... Okay?" Geralt says, but Jaskier's already gone, launching into a greatly exaggerated ballad about a fight with a kikimora.

"Hm," says Geralt, to no one. He drains what remains of his ale and goes to wait in their room; the crowd is starting to fray his nerves.

It's better upstairs. Geralt flips through some of Agata's old letters while he waits, idly contemplating what to write to her next. He found a fine leather cat collar at the last market Jaskier dragged him to that he plans to enclose.

Jaskier, true to his word, which is frankly rare, only plays a few more songs before appearing in the doorway, flushed and happy. He gives Geralt a kiss, packs his lute away for the night, and then hides something from his bag behind his back.

"What're you doing?" Geralt asks warily, narrowing his eyes.

"Now, you can of course say no," Jaskier begins instead of answering, which isn't encouraging. "But I hope you'll consider it and not tell me to fuck off right out."

"Fuck off," Geralt says immediately. "Just tell me."

Jaskier reveals what he's hidden with a typical dramatic flourish to display—

A looped length of rope, which looks to be made of dyed hemp and makes Geralt's medallion thrum faintly. A lot like—

"You talked to Agata," Geralt says, feeling strangely defensive. 

"I consulted Agata on an idea i already had." Jaskier crosses his arms. "Don't underestimate how well I know you. I do, don't I?"

Geralt draws up his shoulders, but his tone becomes more resigned. Jaskier does know him—knows how to find the softest bruises. So, "Why this?"

Jaskier takes the question as an invitation; he comes to stand between Geralt's knees, resting the rope on the edge of the bed, and loops his arms loosely around Geralt's neck.

"So you can let go, Geralt," he says gently. "Without having to lose yourself, too."

Geralt swallows, looking up in matched earnestness. "I'm not… it hasn't been…"

"Geralt," Jaskier says, stroking a thumb along the side of Geralt's neck. "When's the last time you can really remember coming? Not that it happened—what it felt like. What I did to get you there?"

It—

Does he? He must.

"Because you're not there with me, love." Jaskier's eyes are drooping, melancholic. His mouth seems heavy with something. "You go away."

Fuck. Geralt can feel it happening now. The blurry feeling on the edge of his awareness, the way he wants to shrink away.

"Pushing something down isn't the same as being free of it," Jaskier urges. One of his hands cups Geralt's cheek. "I've watched you break enough curses to know that."

But it hurts. Doesn't he know that? Doesn't he see the way silver burns before it lifts?

"I'm not ready," Geralt croaks. "I can't."

Jaskier's face falls, but he kisses Geralt's forehead with determination, then presses a softer kiss to the tip of his nose.

"When you are," he says, folding the rope into Geralt's hands. Then smiles ruefully and amends, "If you are."

Geralt looks down at the rope, digging the flat edge of his thumbnail into the fiber. It's a lush green in color, like a wood in early summer relief, before the heat sets in. It was probably expensive; another indulgence on the list of things Jaskier likes to spend his parents' money on. 

"Shall we head to bed, then, love?" Jaskier asks, already shrugging out of his doublet.

Geralt flicks his eyes up, taking in the sight of him. He paid for this room, for Geralt's dinner. For a new pair of gloves when Geralt came back with torn and bloody calluses after a fight. 

"Yeah," Geralt says. "Will you… hold me?"

The way Jaskier's face lights up makes the embarrassed heat crawling up the back of Geralt's neck worth it.

"Always," he answers. "As long as you want me to."

Geralt doesn't answer that, too busy tucking the rope into his gear bag. For when he's ready.

 

~*~

 

There's nothing special about the day it happens.

Geralt doesn't weigh heavily on the idea of epiphany, or sudden inspiration. Those are concepts that belong to Jaskier, with his artistic and dramatic sensibilities.

No, Geralt… trudges. Through the years, from contract to contract, despite the clawed hand gripping his ankle, until one evening the flash of green in his bag doesn't put his heart so far up his throat that he can't grab the rope.

Jaskier finds him sitting on the bed with it in his hands, still tightly knotted as if brand-new.

"Oh," says Jaskier, sounding skittish. "Erm."

Geralt looks up, his tongue already feeling too thick. He watches Jaskier fumble to try and lock the door without taking his eyes off of Geralt. 

"I feel good today," Geralt tells him. "So… maybe—it's a good time."

Jaskier finally latches the door. "Are you sure?"

"No."

"'No,' as-in 'Nevermind,' or 'No,' as-in 'The closest you'll ever get so better do it anyway?'"

Geralt pulls his shirt over his head.

"Right! Yes, alright. We can—" Jaskier begins unbuttoning his doublet, obstructed by the fact that his lute is still slung over his shoulder. "Bollocks, I—" he leans it against the wall. "There we go."

Geralt frowns, listening to Jaskier's pulse kick up uneasily. "You're nervous. We don't have to."

"I am—" Jaskier's voice muffles as he wriggles out of his chemise. "Moderately— moderately flustered. I come home to find my incredibly handsome Witcher waiting for—"

"I fluster you all the time," says Geralt. "This is different."

Jaskier sighs in the same tone he uses when Geralt scolds him for thieving from rude townsfolk—annoyed he's been caught and unrepentant. He leaves the first button of his trousers undone and comes to rest his forehead against Geralt's, fingers toying with the wispy hairs at the base of Geralt's neck.

"It has suddenly and violently occured to me," he says slowly, "that I could fail you spectacularly at this. And it would, without rivalry, be the worst thing I've ever done."

Geralt feels the familiar twist in his stomach—that base instinct to shrink away. He rests his hands on Jaskier's hips instead, and whispers, "I'd forgive you."

Jaskier's smile brushes against the bridge of Geralt's nose. "Would you, dear Witcher? You trust me that much?"

"Yes."

"I'd like to know how you determined that."

"So would I."

Jaskier huffs out a laugh, which blunts the worst of Geralt's nerves. He takes the rope from Geralt gently and urges, "Back against the headboard, please."

Geralt's still in his trousers, but he obeys. Jaskier follows him, flitting around the side of the bed, and rearranges the pillows to support Geralt's back, fluffing the one under his right shoulder.

"Alright, what do you think—hands above your head?" Jaskier asks, tilting his head. "It's lucky this is sturdy wood."

"Uh." Geralt puts his hands up, crossing his wrists. "Not sure I should pick?"

"Oh, well, if you don't want to?" Jaskier wets his bottom lip, his eyes trailing down Geralt's body before snapping back up. "I didn't—well, I didn't want to assume you wanted me to—" he makes a forceful grabbing motion with one hand. "—all of it, you know?"

Geralt quirks his lips. "It's better to commit."

Jaskier clears his throat and revises with more confidence, "Hands above your head, then. A little lower—I want to leave you a while and I know how—"

"My shoulder gets," Geralt finishes drily.

Jaskier places a hand on his hip. "You are in a good mood today, and frankly being very mean to the man who's about to tie you up and do whatever he wants to you."

A shudder wracks through Geralt's body, catching the air in his throat. A hot flick of his eyes, taking in Jaskier's suddenly flushed face.

Jaskier swallows, wetting his bottom lip, which is already turning red from the press of his teeth, and asks faintly, "Too much?"

Slowly, obediently, Geralt lowers his wrists further down the headboard.

Jaskier uncoils the rope.

"Stay still," he instructs, clicking his tongue. Winds the rope in a sturdy pattern, impressively comfortable and immobilizing. Did he learn from Agata? Someone else?

Asking feels like it would break the charge in the moment, Jaskier's tongue peeking out from between his lips as he concentrates on completing the knot. And it doesn't matter, in the end. Geralt is here, allowing himself to be bound. 

"Now, it comes with a safeword," Jaskier says, patting the rope where it meets the headboard. "Commitment or not, I better tell you that."

"Sure."

"'Radish.'"

Geralt's medallion buzzes against his sternum as the rope twists in an impossible fashion and releases his wrists, slithering to the floor.

"Bollocks," says Jaskier. "I suppose I should've—"

He's interrupted by a fit of giggles, cupping a hand over his mouth to contain them.

Geralt feels his lips twitch without his permission. "Don't feel bad, Jask. It's a very common—"

"No."

"—condition. If you get a drowner bladder—"

Jaskier smacks Geralt on the bicep in mock outrage. "You rude, naughty—I'll show you premature—"

Geralt snorts, startling himself so much that he barks out a half-laugh that he smothers into his palm. 

He freezes, a shocked heat touching the tips of his ears.

When was the last time he made a sound like that?

Jaskier, abruptly sobered, must be wondering the same thing. His eyes are crinkled with something that could be considered melancholic, the way a wetness is pricking at the corners.

It goes unmentioned. 

Jaskier clears his throat and collects the rope, pausing to press a gentle kiss to Geralt's cheek, and says, "Right, shall we try that again?"

Geralt nods and lifts his arms, feeling suddenly exposed. More so than before, like something was peeled away. 

Jaskier reties the knot, tapping his fingers against the side of Geralt's palm after he secures it to the headboard, and then kisses down from Geralt's temple to the corner of his mouth. He hums when Geralt turns his head, searching for him.

"Here we are," Jaskier murmurs. He climbs onto the bed and brackets Geralt in, his knees pressing into Geralt's hips. "Why don't you test that, love?"

Geralt tugs at the bonds experimentally; his full strength could probably snap the headboard if he scrabbled for leverage, but it'd be difficult to do on accident. He tilts his chin up for another kiss and glowers when Jaskier tuts and pulls away.

"Oh, don't pout, darling, I'm only teasing." Jaskier smiles, though, hovering just out of reach. "Did you want another kiss?"

Geralt frowns at him. Wasn't it obvious?

A sharpness to the smile. "Ask me."

Geralt raises an eyebrow. "What?"

"Tell me you want it," Jaskier says, tilting his head, and, fuck. Fuck, Geralt should've known he'd take to this so well, the fucking bastard. "You do, don't you?"

But if that's what Jaskier wants…

"I do," says Geralt. Takes a steadying breath. "I want you to kiss me."

Jaskier obliges him, slipping the slightest hint of tongue into his mouth. Cups his jaw, sinks down to gently rock against Geralt's crotch. Neither of them are hard yet, but it's almost nicer. That it's from the very beginning.

"What do you think I'll do to you?" Jaskier purrs, petting at the hair falling in Geralt's face.

"Don't know," he answers.

"Does that scare you?"

"Yes."

Jaskier bites at Geralt's bottom lip, laughing when Geralt's hips twitch underneath him. "What are you afraid of, Geralt?"

Geralt's wrists tug against the rope.

"You can tell me," Jaskier coaxes. His fingers trail up to the edge of the knot. "Is it this? Not being in control anymore?"

"Yes," Geralt says. "No. I don't…"

"Because you're not, are you? Not nearly as much as you pretend to be." Jaskier brushes the hair away from Geralt's face. He's delighting in this, isn't he? He looks beautiful, getting ready to dismantle him. Geralt never should have fucked a poet. "Wouldn't it be nice to stop trying? To rest."

It would. It would—to just—

Geralt closes his eyes.

"So why don't you, Geralt?"

Geralt shakes his head.

"What're you afraid of?"

"It hurts," Geralt rasps. He blinks his eyes open in shock, staring numbly at the raw ache on Jaskier's face. "What if it hurts?"

Jaskier wets his bottom lip. Strokes Geralt's cheek, his knuckles gently tracing the edge of Geralt's jaw, and asks, "What if it doesn't?"

Laughing and not-laughing. Living and not-dying. 

"Let go, Geralt," Jaskier whispers. "Let me take care of you."

He must not understand. It already hurts. It's already under Geralt's skin, crawling up through him, saying this was a mistake, he's a coward—

"I've got you," Jaskier promises. "Stay. Please, stay with me. Let me give you something that makes it worth it."

Geralt tugs himself back forward, fumbling with his tongue on the back of his teeth. He's trying, he's trying—

"You are."

Jaskier worries at his bottom lip. "I don't understand, love."

"Better," says Geralt. "Than numb. I'd—"

The rope slips against the creak of his bones.

Jaskier breathes very quietly.

"I'd pick you," Geralt tells him. 

Jaskier purses his lips together, his eyes sparkling. "Then want it, Geralt."

"Touch me," Geralt begs roughly. "Take it away."

"Okay," Jaskier answers, his voice even softer than the hand trailing down to the buttons on Geralt's trousers. "I've got you."

Geralt watches him, the appreciative flush on his cheeks, the cleverness of his hands as they undress him. Geralt's hands are strong, dexterous enough to cast signs or sew minor repairs into clothing; he trained them that way.

Jaskier has a musician's hands. Long, nimble fingers and calluses that are indicative of dedication instead of unbecoming. The perfect size to hold his lute or wrap around Geralt's cock, like they were crafted for it. 

Is it because Geralt's watching him, that his body seems like it just appeared this way? Maybe it's just Jaskier.

"Lift your hips, love," Jaskier says, tapping on an exposed sliver of Geralt's thigh. "There we go. Let's get these off you."

Geralt cooperates as best he can without straining against the tie too much. He likes the feeling of it—being kept in place. Maybe too much. He's naked now, his trousers and underwear tossed somewhere onto the floor. He'd have to crane his neck to see.

"Wait right there," Jaskier tells him, then laughs at his own joke. Geralt feels a flare of panic—doesn't wanna be left— "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Don't worry, dear, I'm just getting my bag."

Okay. Geralt resettles with a heavy exhale through his nose. 

Jaskier brings the entire bag over, then sorts through it while sitting on the edge of the bed. He holds up the bottle of oil, smiling temptingly.

Geralt swallows. What will he do?

The sweet scent of rose oil wafts through the air as Jaskier pours some into his palm. He props himself up on an elbow, smirking down at Geralt with amusement, and then takes Geralt's half-hard cock into his hand.

He's gentle. Toying with him a little, shifting his grip like a curious bird flitting about. Geralt squirms, listening to the bed creak.

"So restless already," Jaskier teases, rubbing his thumb over the head. "I wonder how much I can make you blush."

Geralt shakes his head, feels a foot kicking out on instinct. "Don't."

"Don't?" Jaskier sticks out his bottom lip. "But you're so pretty like this, Geralt. I thought I got to do what I wanted."

Fuck. Fuck, Geralt leans his head back, gritting his teeth against a whimper bubbling up from the pit of heat in his belly.

It bares his throat—provoking a soft, "Oh, thank you," from Jaskier, who drags his lips up the column of it. Sucks, gently, where it meets the tender underside of his jaw.

"Jask," Geralt begs. He's so warm. Is he dying? Did they open a window?

"I know," Jaskier soothes. His grip tightens, sliding up the shaft. "I know, it's terrible. You're doing so well."

Geralt shudders. He can feel it bleeding up his spine, the pleasure. The sick want—no, need. He needs it, needs this, needs to make it stop. His fingers flex and curl ineffectually against the air, twisting to grab the rope, slipping with sweat. 

"Careful, Geralt," Jaskier warns gently. He slows his pace, kisses Geralt's jaw. "Stay here."

Here. Stay here? He can't, he can't, it's—

"Too much." A squeeze at the base of his cock, the heave of his chest. "Please—"

"Trust me."

Geralt closes his eyes. Feels his eyelashes fluttering. Bites his bottom lip, considers chewing through it. Would it stop then?

"Can you feel me, Geralt? Do you like it?"

Warm oil, his cock practically aching. Perfect hands. Jaskier's hands.

"Too much."

"It isn't." Jaskier turns Geralt's head, steals his mouth away from his teeth. "It isn't. You can bear this. You can want it."

He does. He does want it. It's choking him.

Jaskier twists his wrist in a slow, fluid motion. Gently, which is the worst part. It'd be easier to take if it wasn't so kind. Almost—

Like love. Is that what this is? Love, coaxing Geralt's cock to twitch and throb. Love, stroking a thumb across Geralt's cheek.

Geralt sobs. Ugly, wracking, the rope going slack when the fight leaves him. He can't, he couldn't let—

"Stay here, Geralt," Jaskier urges. His voice from farther away. His hands, still hot and kind, doing the real worst thing they've ever done. "Stay here with me, you won't leave me, will you?"

No. Yes. He can't. 

Geralt blinks his eyes open, feels tears rushing free in a humiliated plea. They're hot against his skin.

"Did I—" he cuts off when another wave of pleasure ripples through him. It's in his body, under the skin. He can feel it, the heaviness of himself, the rope cutting into him at the edge of the place he exists. "Ruin you?"

Jaskier's cheeks are wet too. They're smudged with arousal and emotion, swelling when he laughs sadly.

"No, darling," he says, wiping at his eyes. "How could you?"

Geralt can barely breathe. He might be dying. His whole body is twitching, a knee drawing up or his shoulder twisting to pull him away from the hand on his cock. 

"Is it—" he swallows. Presses his lips into a line, trying to contain it. "Is it okay to?"

Jaskier brushes away the hair stuck to Geralt's damp brow. "To do what?"

"Want you," says Geralt.

Jaskier exhales shakily. Laughs, but like it sticks to his tongue. 

"I hope you do," he whispers. "Oh, I want you to have me, sweetheart. I told you I want it to mean something."

Geralt's eyes flutter shut again. He's close, can feel it building. It does, it does mean something. He wants to say it. Useless, broken tongue.

"Are you gonna come, sweetheart?" Jaskier asks, speeding up a little. "Will you let me make you?"

"Yeah," Geralt grits out. His throat bobs with the effort. "Yes."

Jaskier kisses him. Holds him there, a hand half against his jaw and half-pressed against his throat, a sweet tongue flicking against the sore spot Geralt bit into his lip. His other hand soothing Geralt's cock through it, when he tries to shy away.

He comes, spurting onto his stomach. And it feels—

Like terror. Like blood dripping down his thigh. Like someone who might love him, who sunk his hands into the loam to unearth him and didn't call it a corruption. The smothering, gentle scent of a flower unfurling into bloom.

Geralt sighs. His entire body droops towards Jaskier's touch wiping him clean, twisting against the rope. 

"Geralt?" Jaskier asks. He's untying the knot by hand now, checking the skin on Geralt's wrists. 

"I'm here," Geralt murmurs. Freed, and with his eyes dropping shut, he curls up and nuzzles his cheek against Jaskier's thigh. Still clothed, the smell of arousal thick through his trousers. "I stayed."

"You did," Jaskier marvels, carding fingers through Geralt's hair. "Thank you."

Geralt nuzzles closer. "Want you to come."

"Oh, let me take care of that, darling," Jaskier says. His other hand, smelling of oil and Geralt's come, begins to unbutton his trousers. "I want you to rest."

Geralt hums, a slight furrow in his brow—but obeys. He's exhausted, so close to sleep in a way he hardly ever actually feels. Is it okay to drift, now? Like this?

He does. Half-listening to the soft gasps Jaskier makes as he touches himself and the friction of skin against skin, his eyelids growing heavier and heavier. 

Jaskier breathes out Geralt's name when he comes. It's the last thing Geralt hears before he sleeps.

 

~*~

 

Geralt's shoulder is stiff when he wakes later that evening. His head is still in Jaskier's lap, though somehow Jaskier has gotten his lute while Geralt slept—he must have roused, briefly, and resettled when Jaskier came back to bed. 

There are candles lit around the room, enough that Jaskier can see while he plays. It's his private composition, the one Geralt's not meant to hear.

Geralt makes a show of grumbling awake.

Jaskier just smiles, lifting his hand from the strings to pet Geralt's hair. "Hello there. Would you like to hear it?"

Geralt blinks up at him. "You've been hiding it from me."

"Mm, I'm bored with that." Jaskier quirks his lips. "But it's not finished, so don't judge me too harshly."

"Okay," says Geralt.

Jaskier nudges the side of his head. "Scoot down so I can hold this properly."

Geralt wriggles down the bed, resting near Jaskier's knee instead. 

"Thank you."

Jaskier begins to play from the beginning, which Geralt has only caught snippets of. 

It's the story of a reluctant muse, slipping away from the narrator through a fog. Something beautiful and fleeting, always changing shape. Jaskier's voice is lilting and confused, at times tripping over notes as the narrator gives chase.

The search takes him through a haunted wood, with massive tree roots that seem to appear from thin air, and into a crowded city with voices that call out the narrator's name and beg him to stay—but something greater waits for him, if only he would run a little farther.

Geralt watches Jaskier's fingers dance over the strings, feels the vibrations through the air.

If you never caught me, asks the muse, would you still love me yet?

"'Yes,'" sings Jaskier, his eyes shining down at Geralt's face. "'And if I could choose my last breath, I'd save it for your name—'"

Geralt lays still.

"'—so to be remembered by who I was to you, and in death, follow you the same.'"

The final chord trembles in the air.

Geralt's throat is tight. He swallows thickly, trying to clear it.

"It's not finished?" he asks.

"I don't know," Jaskier answers softly. "Do you think the muse should be caught?"

Tentatively, shakingly, Geralt reaches with one crooked-knuckled hand. Finds Jaskier's gentle fingers and laces them with his own, blinking slowly.

Jaskier sets his lute to the side, bending down to press a kiss to Geralt's forehead. Murmurs, "Perhaps I'll keep that part to myself."

Geralt nudges his nose against Jaskier's cheek before he pulls away. "Will you help me find something tomorrow?"

"Of course, love. What is it?"

"Honeysuckle."

 

~*~

 

The night is thick with summer humidity, but the skies are clear. Roach is grazing nearby, ears flicking contentedly, and the fire is crackling and spitting as a log crumbles to give them warmth. Jaskier flips a page in his book. The sharp scents of honeysuckle and pure liquor mingle in the air.

Geralt is brewing White Honey. He used the last of it tonight, when he trudged back to camp with his eyes pitch black and the world tilting around him and Jaskier held him through the burning of it, murmuring gently in his ear. 

Geralt fucking hates White Honey. He hates that the thing that cures him does it with more pain, that he holds it carefully in between his fingers and considers, considers. He bears it like the trace of venom in his shoulder, the twitch of his hip.

"Geralt," Jaskier calls excitedly, rustling their bedrolls when he sits up. "Do archgriffins really spit acid? That's fascinating!"

Geralt smiles, and corks the bottle.

"Yeah," he says. "Eskel fought two at the same time once. You should ask him about it the next time we see him."

"Fucking brilliant. That's a ballad in a making, is what that is. Oh, you won't be jealous, will you?" Jaskier flops back down on the ground. "Two of them! Oh, Melitele, the sky is beautiful tonight."

Geralt rolls his eyes fondly.

"Geralt," Jaskier says again. "Do you know much about constellations?"

Phantom pain, fluttering his eyelids shut. "Not really."

"Well, I do. Come here." Jaskier pats his thigh. "I'll show you my favorite—The Manticore. You can see the whole thing perfectly from here, it's bloody amazing. You picked the most wonderful camping spot, love."

Geralt wets his bottom lip restlessly and obeys, giving the fire a wide berth. He sprawls out on the ground, his head propped up on Jaskier's thigh and tilted to watch his face.

"Beautiful," he says.

Jaskier smacks him on the arm. "Not me, you ridiculous charmer. Look up—there, see? That big one, a little greenish, that's the tip of the scorpion tail. And if you…"

Geralt follows the path Jaskier traces with his finger, feeling his pupils shrink to take in the glittering light. The sky is dark and lovely, brimming with countless incredible sights. 

The silhouette of a manticore begins to take shape under his gaze. He feels clean, and clear. Feels the grass scratching against his bare arms and the way Jaskier's entire body shakes with a laugh.

It doesn't hurt.