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Silver and Copper

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Extract from the letters of Witcher Rilandrus of Lettenhove, Griffin School, to Witcher Vesemir of Kaer Morhen, Wolf School, Summer of 1229.

...If by now you have forgiven me for not having written in the past few years, I hope you would indulge me with a moment of reflection, one teacher to another. Every five years I let my brothers have the run of the remains of Kaer Seren and make my way to a small fief in Redania, called Lettenhove, where you know I stay with a family dear to me and have made myself a home of sorts. This year I’ve come very early. I’ll spend til Spring with them, I’ve missed them terribly. Their children are growing, and the viscounts fourth son gambols among them this year. He runs wild with the village children, always begging for the details of my stories, and I’ve tried to teach him all that I can about anything he cares to hear. He has a wonderful ear for stories, and I must admit, it is wonderful to spend time among humans who care for me. The little one is so persistent. I will hold his memory close.

Ah, Vesemir, we are old now. My Olga looks my age, and her hands are starting to fail her some, but she still stitches so beautifully. She’s taken to putting little griffins in spots on my clothing, so I might run my fingers over the rise in the fabric and feel her there with me always. I will miss her deeply when she is gone. Adrian has already passed just this winter, and the loss of him cut me deeply. They tell us not to love, and I must tell those boys not to love, but. Well.

Love truly does conquer all, this still I know. Even old Witchers who are more scars than battle readiness can be conquered by children bringing them dandelions as payment for monster stories.

I miss you, old friend. Write soon, I’ll be here.

Rilandrus

PS: I nearly forgot. One of my apprentices, Coen, ran into one of your brothers. He is uncomfortable at Kaer Seren for many reasons- might I tell him he would be welcome to winter with you? I understand he’s already met your young Lambert and likes him for some reason, if that helps you in your decision making.

oOo

Thursday.

Jaskier is holding court.

Darkness.

He walks into the keep with Johann at his side.

Torches light the way.

He’s tired. He’s so tired. His limbs feel like they’re lead weighted.

“Master Witcher?”

The family wing.

He has to go back to the master bedroom.

Fuck, he’s so tired.

“Master Geralt!”

Geralt blinks. Johann is hovering over him in the dark side corridor leading toward the entry to the servants stairs, and Geralt himself is on the floor. The stone is cool against his skin, and he slowly sits up, blinking. Johann shifts anxiously and bends to him.

“What happened?” Geralt rasps.

“I don’t know,” Johann says, looking down the hall. His eyes are wide, worried. “You just slumped over and fell, I didn’t see anything hit you.”

Geralt rubs at his forehead. Exhaustion and a migraine are waging war to see which can claim him first. The curse had started tugging at his strength when he woke, and he had nearly cut himself with the bread knife in the kitchen. The energy seems to be slowly sapping from his lungs, and Geralt slowly pulls himself back up, taking a deep breath. The world spins, and for just a moment he thinks he feels hands coming to steady him. He blinks, and it’s just Johann in front of him.

“Let’s go,” he says, and Johann makes a worried little noise before they slip up the servant’s stairs together.

By the time they reach the hallway Geralt’s breathing hard and his hands are shaking from the strain of holding himself together. He has to grab at the wall to keep himself upright. Johann offers him a shoulder, and Geralt takes it, keeping one hand on the wall to try and brace himself. The hall is dark and cold, the dust and cobwebs quietly mocking.

Johann fumbles the key into the master bedroom lock and pushes the door open. Geralt follows him in, his steps slow and unsteady as he takes in the room. There's no visible difference from the first time he was here, the detritus of lost lives still scattered around, but somewhere in this mess is the key he needs. Hopefully.

"The other room," he tells Johann, voice rattling in his chest. "The sitting room. Look for anything with blood on it, but don't touch it if you find it."

Johann nods, and after a moment's hesitation goes into the sitting room. Geralt sways on his feet, looking around the bedroom. He should check the wardrobe, the bedside tables, all the little nooks and crannies. He knows he should.

Instead, Geralt sits down hard on the bed and buries his face in his hands.

He’s so close. He knows he’s close, he knows it in his bones, but the curse is wearing on him harder than it ever has before and he just desperately wants to leave it all behind and go kill something. Anything. He’ll even take nekkers. Drowners. Some shitty awful goblin beasts. He just wants this done. Give him an honest bruxae over curses any day.

Geralt of Rivia hasn’t cried in a long time. He thinks the last time was over Gweld, once he was tucked away in a corner of the woods for no one to see or hear but squirrels and the trees. It had been a quiet day, just more traveling from place to place, and the grief had finally slipped up behind him to stab him in the throat for his troubles. He’d been in no rush then. There had been a brook nearby, he thinks. Quaking aspens like there are here. Fuck, he might even have been in Redania then.

The first splash of hot tears is almost a surprise.

Almost.

He makes no sound as they drip down his face, leaving hot tracks in their wake like brands against his skin. He’s long since learned to keep silent through even the most gruesome of pains, and this one doesn’t even have the decency to have clawed his chest open to injure his heart in the process. The curse has done its work very well, he thinks as he draws in a slow, rattling breath. His throat is tight. The salt water drips from his face onto his knees, and Geralt folds in on himself, wrapping his arms around his torso in a broken parody of comfort. He permits himself one faint, barely there sob as the tears splash onto the dusty stone floor.

There is no comfort to be found here. Just a bed where a monster took his children and brutalized them, for surely there would be no other reason for this bed to be the recipient of the blood marking. Geralt doubts the bed itself will fit for any of the keys, but it remains a cruel reminder of Jaskier’s pain, his siblings pain.

Fuck, he wants to burn it to the ground so Jaskier never has to face this shit again.

He’s on his feet before he realizes he’s moving, hands gripping the ruined fabric to rip the covers away and reveal the human shaped blood stain on the right side of the bed. The blood has spread wide along the linens, and if he has to guess, it’s sunk deep into the mattress to make it stink so severely of the blood. Now his nose is attuned to the smell of Jaskier’s suffering, he can smell the depth of the rot.

He’s breathing hard, running hot somewhere between rage and despair. How fucking dare? How dare that gods rotted shitheel of a murderer ever lay a finger on his children, how dare he rot them from the inside out, how dare he treat them like nothing more than trash to be discarded? 38 dead children, another three of his own get, and his own fucking wife, all tossed on pyres or buried six feet under to rot, killed for nothing but the pleasure it got him.

Geralt furiously wipes away at his tears, huffing hard as he feels the despair try and fail to swamp him. No. NO. He will look at this disgusting, awful bed, and if he is so lucky as to put it to the torch when this nightmare has run its course he’ll be grateful.

His legs give out then, forcing him to sit back down, and he takes a deep breath before starting his examination.

Geralt carefully runs his hands over the stained fabric. It shouldn’t bother him, it really shouldn’t fucking bother him with as much awful shit as he’s touched in his life, but the thick stains make his stomach twist as he feels for any oddities. Halfway up, about where the human heart would sit, he feels a lump too hard to be the bed. There’s a small, finger wide rip in the fabric, so thin as to be barely noticeable.

With hands that tremble, he carefully pulls a ring from under the bloody rip.

It’s silver, he notices faintly, and a simple design. It’s very old. The band is wide, but the face is flat and has some sort of five petalled flower carved deep into it, probably the de Lettenhove arms- a cinquefoil flower. It’s also stained with blood and a little tarnished on the outside. The interior is smooth though, and he looks at it for a long moment. Jaskier’s silver rings make more sense, a way to subtly hide one of the keys in plain sight.

One for the land…

A signet ring to give him command over the land. And, Geralt thinks with a sense of bitter, ugly dread, Jaskier probably meant for it to be a sick joke about plowed fields with it buried in this disgusting, blood soaked bed. He closes his eyes again at the thought, breathing shallow through his mouth. The rage snuffs out, leaving only disgust and misery behind.

It doesn’t help.

Suddenly, all he wants is to be off of this awful bed. He levers himself up, and feels his stomach flip over as he sways. Phantom hands steady him, and he unconsciously bats them away.

“Johann,” he calls hoarsely, and Johann hurries in from the other room. “Found it. Need your shoulder.”

Johann gives it to him, and together they make their way out of the bedchambers and down the hall to the servant’s stair. Johann’s a good head shorter than Geralt, not that that’s hard, but he’s got strong shoulders from kitchen work. The gloom of the hall weighs on them both, the darkness echoing back their breathing. Geralt thinks he can hear the rustle of silk somewhere- perhaps Jaskier got done early with his court.

Or Geralt might be losing time again.

The thought sends an icy finger of dread down his spine, and he shudders.

“Geralt, where are we going?” Johann asks, looking up at him as he pulls open the servant’s door.

“Day garden,” Geralt says, because it’s as good a place as any. Johann nods, and then Geralt’s mind whites out a little.

He comes back to himself under the overhang covering the walkway that surrounds the day garden, standing on his own and watching Johann check the other doors to be certain they won’t be disturbed. Geralt catches his swaying form on one of the pillars, and looks up and around, trying to see if there’s any old hooks he can hang the ring from to hide it. He finds one about halfway up, hidden in a bit of a niche in the stone. Jaskier won’t come here, not if the pattern holds solid. He hangs the ring on the hook, hidden in just enough shadow that it’s mostly invisible unless looked for.

Three keys down, two to go. With the ring and the whip hidden, Jaskier won’t be able to renew the curse, so he’ll have to move fast.

Another wave of dizziness reaches him, and Geralt falls to his knees, knocking his head against the stone wall of the garden boundary. He hears Johann coming, the noise of alarm, but he looks up to see three vague, translucent shapes looking down at him.

He can smell lobelia, hellebore, and foxglove.

“I’m trying,” he rasps to the dead children. “I’m trying.”

One bends down. Hellebore- Natalia, then. He can vaguely make out a more feminine shape in the darkness. There’s the faintest pressure of something that might be a hand gently stroking over his hair, and Geralt closes his eyes. They aren’t true ghosts, just… echoes of Jaskier’s pain, bound up in the curse along with him. Once Geralt was added to the curse, the echoes must have realized he was something new and interesting, and started to follow him around.

“Master Witcher- Mother Melitele preserve me,” Johann gasps, and Geralt opens his eyes to see Johann drop to his knees, eyes welling with tears as he looks up at the echoes. “My Lady Natalia.”

The incorporeal hand leaves his hair, and Geralt watches as the shade of Natalia walks to Johann and stops in front of him, the shadow of her flickering back and forth. Johann reaches out a tentative hand, and Natalia’s shade mimics him, touching their hands together. Johann’s eyes spill over and he clamps a hand over his mouth to keep from weeping too loud as he crumples in on himself.

“I’m sorry,” he gasps out between ragged, hitching breaths. “Oh, Natalia, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I did everything I could, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t even there for you at the end, I’m so sorry, I burn candles for you still.”

Geralt pushes himself up against the wall, feeling a bit lightheaded. “You knew her,” he says, quiet.

“I did,” Johann chokes out, bowing his head to his hand. The shade passes through it, but he doesn’t seem to care. “I loved her. I did everything I could to sneak food to her that wasn’t spoiled with poison. I tried, Master Witcher, I tried so hard to keep her alive. She was so kind, so beautiful.”

The shade drifts aimlessly around Johann as he buries his face in his hands. She doesn’t seem upset, or even confused about where she is. She just drifts, unconcerned and calm. Her dead brothers drift to Geralt’s sides, nudging lightly against him to urge him up. Geralt grits his teeth and reaches up for a handhold on the ledge to lever himself up. Piotr appears in front of him, trying to urge him up, and Geralt gently pushes at the shade to give him space.

“I’m fine,” he tells them, and the brothers drift around him in a mockery of care, their forms flickering. “I’m fine.”

Johann uncurls slowly, looking up at Geralt with undisguised grief. “Is she...Is she trapped here?”

Geralt sighs. “No,” he says, keeping his voice gentle. “She’s not… this isn’t your Natalia, Johann. This is just a memory of her, not a true ghost. She’s a shade, just… an echo of how she was when Jaskier was with her. Just like these two.”

“Not a ghost?” Johann begs, wiping at his eyes. “Just… memories given form?”

“That’s right.”

Johann bites back a fresh sob, looking up at the shade of Natalia. “So… she’s not trapped. She got out? She’s free?”

Geralt’s chest hurts. He leans against the pillar with the ring hooked on it, letting it take the brunt of his weight. “She’s free. She may have passed on, and that death might sting, but she wasn’t trapped here to live through more tortures.”

Johann nods, a shuddering sigh of relief escaping him. He slowly gets to his feet, rubbing his eyes clear and sniffling a little. Natalia sways in front of him, staring blankly. He reaches out, gently touching the curl of hair draping over her shoulder. His fingers go straight through it. Natalia watches him, expressionless.

“I miss you, my lady,” Johann whispers. “I’ll always miss you. I’ll keep your memory alive.”

His hand falls, and he turns away. Geralt holds out his arm, and Johann helps lever him up. The shades cluster together, turning into a tangle of dark shadows. They’ve almost made it to the door before a half whispered voice breathes, “Geralt.”

Geralt stops dead, looking back at the shades. It’s Lorenz that spoke, he’s pretty sure, but the voice is sexless. Johann trembles against him, eyes saucer wide as fear-scent spikes in the air. The shades sway, breaking apart and clustering again before drifting back over to join them.

Geralt,” one of them says again, and Geralt’s stomach sinks.

“What do they want?” Johann whispers. “Why...why are they calling for you?”

Geralt watches the shade of Lorenz drift, Piotr following in his wake. The shades are leaving the ring alone, much more interested in Johann and Geralt, and he’s not certain that’s a good thing. “You used my name earlier,” he says, his lips numb. “In the hall. They heard you say it.”

“They were there in the hall?” Johann watches with wide, alarmed eyes. “Invisible?”

“Must have been.” Geralt’s heart stutters. “Fuck. We have to leave now, get me to the stables. I’ll have to ride Madeline out, I don’t think I can get to the village like this. Get me there and go find Karris to help me, I’m going to need you to get me some ingredients after.”

The shades peel off to go towards the Great Hall as Johann helps Geralt hobble to the stables. Geralt has him leave him propped up against the post in the center, and closes his eyes against the stink of blood as Madeline whickers at him. Time… passes. He doesn’t have any clear idea of how long it’s been before Karris is shaking him, big eyes wide in the dark.

“Johann says you need to ride Madeline?”

Geralt nods, limbs like lead. “Is.. is he still here,” he mumbles out as Karris heaves him up.

Johann’s face pops into view, eyes very wide in his pale, doughy face. “I’m here. What do you need?”

Geralt leans heavily into Karris, shuddering as his legs try to give out. The curse is sapping his strength even worse than he expected, and his stomach churns. “Johann, listen close. Lobelia. Hellebore. Foxglove. Dandelions. Thyme. Rosemary. Lavender. Heather. Salt. Black pepper. Put it all in a small bag, preferably cotton. I need both flowers and leaves from the plants. I have the rest of what I need in my bags. Repeat it.”

Johann nods. “Lobelias, hellebore, foxglove, dandelions, thyme, rosemary, lavender, heather, salt, black pepper, flowers and leaves both, put it all in a bag. Would a bag for tea leaves work?”

“Perfect,” Geralt says, groaning as Karris helps him heave awkwardly onto a very patient Madeline. The mare stands very still for him, only flicking her ears in annoyance when his clumsy fingers accidentally tug at her mane. “Sorry, girl. Have to bathe with it at noon tomorrow, get it ready tonight.”

“Bathe?” Karris demands, baffled. “What’s a bunch of flowers going to do?”

“Long story,” Geralt mumbles, and falls forward along Madeline’s sturdy neck. She doesn’t seem to mind. “Gotta tell everyone all together. Need everyone at the Dancing Dove at dawn tomorrow, spread the news. I mean everyone. It’s important.”

Karris nods, and Johann runs off to go and tell the castle staff as Geralt wraps his arms around Madeline’s neck and lets Karris lead them from the stables.

The world goes black.

oOo

“Geralt.”

He’s tired.

He’s so tired.

He rolls away from the voice, hand reaching out for… someone. Nobody in the bed with him. Why is he alone?

An ache opens in his chest.

“Geralt, you have to wake up.”

Firm voice. Female.

He opens his eyes slow and-

“Visenna?” he mumbles. There’s red hair and pale skin, a dress of dark green. He blinks, and the image clears to reveal Antonia instead, looking very worried. He sighs, relieved and disappointed all at once. “Antonia.”

“It’s almost dawn,” she says, reaching over to brush his hair away from his eyes. Her hands are so small compared to his. “You asked me to get you up last night.”

“I did?” he mumbles, and some vague memory comes swimming back up through the clouded haze. “Oh. Meeting.”

Antonia nods, biting her lip. Geralt likes the way her dress rustles as she shifts her stance. It’s cotton, probably, the sound of it smooth-scratchy and pleasing to his ears. “Yes, everyone’s here that can be. You don’t look well, will you be able to get up? Should I call for someone to come and help you?”

Geralt huffs, and slowly pushes himself up on shaking arms. His back twinges, the curse’s tie tugging at him insistently and making him dizzy. He groans, choking as his stomach tries to heave. Antonia catches him as his arms buckle, and Geralt pants as he feels his strength start to sap away. In a few more hours he can start the uncrossing, but he’s going to have to put up with the curse eating his strength until then. If left unchecked, he thinks he’d have another day at most before the curse crystalized in his blood and started truly stealing his life force. This has to end quickly.

“Help me up,” he says, and Antonia helps lever him out of bed. He’s slept in his clothes, apparently, and he doesn’t want to think about how terrible he must smell. “Let’s go.”

The entire village is packed into the Dancing Dove, and part quietly as Antonia helps him to a chair at the front of the room. Every eye in the place is fixed on him, expressions running the gamut between fear and concern. Most of the children have sat cross legged on the floor, but fearless little Melita stands up to come and sit right next to him with a pitcher and a cup in her hands. He gently ruffles her hair, taking the cup and draining it.

“You don’t look well,” Herrin the huntsman says, keen eyes taking him in.

Geralt nods. “I’ve become part of the curse.”

A noise of horror ripples through the room, people shifting and leaning in. There’s a few cries of alarm, and he holds up his arm to quiet everyone, though it takes a decent amount of his effort to do it.

“It wasn’t intentional, but the curse is strong,” Geralt says. “And there isn’t one curse on Jaskier, there’s two. The first was placed by Jorgan, your old lord, and Jaskier himself laid the second one to keep himself alive. He’s cunning, your Lord, and it’s that cunning that’s kept him alive. Problem is that he’s stuck inside the curse now, and the rules to breaking it are… complicated. It’s tied to different objects, like keys, and only when all the keys are together and the rest of the curse’s requirements fulfilled will it break.”

One of the older women pipes up, “But, Master Witcher… with you in the curse, does… does that change things?”

“Well,” he says simply, “I don’t break the curse, I’ll die, and Jaskier won’t be far behind me. Worse still… Jaskier has been possessed by the spirit of Lord Jorgan, and has been fighting for two years to keep you all safe from him. He’s running out of energy to keep him down, and we have to break that. No man deserves the tortures Lord Jorgan inflicted on him.”

A murmur runs through the crowd. Melita looks stricken, Antonia sickly, and Johann starts to tremble. Karris, standing at Olga’s side, reaches down for his grandmother’s hand as a tear silently trickles down Olga’s face.

“There will come a point when all of you must come to the keep, and I do mean all,” Geralt rasps. “Every man, woman, child, no matter how old or young. If you aren’t all there, I don’t know that the breaking will take. It’ll be soon. Today or tomorrow at most. Melita, can you sing the chorus?”

Melita nods, standing up. She sings the chorus to The Tower and the Wyvern, her voice clear and sweet, and when she’s done the room is quiet. Geralt can see heads turning, the rules of the curse latching onto each mind as they realize.

“The last lines,” Guardsman Yakob says slowly. “That’s… that’s us. We’re the love that conquers all, and all of us have to be together to help?”

“All of you, me, Jaskier, and the keys,” Geralt agrees. He slumps a little as the curse tugs, breathing shallowly as he feels his legs lose their strength. Melita hurries to pour him a new cup, and he drinks it carefully. The exhaustion is getting old fast. “And it has to be done soon. I have three of the keys so far, I should be able to find the fourth and fifth today. Johann has helped me put together something to help ease the curse off of me for a little while, and Karris will help me with it later when we go up to the Reach. Don’t stray far from the village today and tomorrow, stay as close as you can. We need everyone there for this to work.”

The Alderman, Haryse, nods and straightens up. “We’ll make certain of it. We’ll bring the herds in and keep them here for a day or two, and keep the children near.”

Geralt looks up at him. “Thank you,” he says, with full sincerity. He looks around the room, meeting the eyes of the people looking back. “Thank you, all of you. Without you to care for him, Jaskier would never have survived so long. You are as much the pillars of his rescue as I am, each and every one of you.”

Shoulders straighten, eyes brighten. He can see the words pass through them. They may not be versed in the arts of monster hunting, but not a one of them wouldn’t lay down their life for their young Lord, and Geralt can see that devotion as strong as daylight.

“Thank you,” he says again, and this time he means something different.

It has been a long time since he’s had any faith for humanity’s love, but the people of Lettenhove have balmed his wounds and left him once again whole.

It takes Antonia a good bit of shoving, but she manages to get him onto Roach for Karris to help him up to the castle. The day is damp, a fine drizzle coming down, and Geralt’s bones start to ache with it as soon as they cross the drawbridge into the security of the Reach’s walls. Madeline is thrilled to see another horse, and Roach seems fine with the dancing palomino, so they leave the two side by side in box stalls and Karris helps Geralt hobble his way to the night garden, Geralt’s pack on his free shoulder.

Johann has already been and gone, leaving the bag full of neatly snipped flowers and the salt and black pepper grinders in sight. Geralt flops to the ground next to it, breathing heavy, and gestures at the satchel Karris carries. It’s approaching noon, the sun just visible through the cloud cover, and he feels as if he’s been run over by a particularly nasty monster. “In there, a small bag with some roots.”

Karris fumbles the straps open and digs in the bag before pulling out the dried Devil’s Root. “These?” he asks, looking at the stringy plants.

“Those,” Geralt confirms. “Not poisonous or bad for humans. Take out two for me.”

Karris gingerly pulls two of the roots out and passes them over for Geralt to stick in the bag.

“Anything else?” he asks, nervous.

Geralt nods. “Little cone of spice, front right pocket. Human safe too, but clean your hands if you touch it. It has hot peppers in it. There’s a bottle in there too, need that with it.”

Karris fishes out the cone, and Geralt crumbles a bit of it off into the bag before passing it back to him. He grinds out the appropriate amount of salt and pepper into the bag, and pinches some dirt in his fingers to write the rune for activation. Karris watches with wide eyes.

“What is that?” he asks as Geralt finishes up. “Is it magic?”

Geralt nods, pausing in his work to catch his breath. “S’called an uncrossing in Nazair, I think you call it break-lock here. Won’t fully break a curse, but if I activate it and bathe with it, it’ll help loosen the curse on me. Salt for cleansing, pepper and spice for added power, dandelion for transformation, lavender to soothe, heather for protection- you can use sage instead, but sage is rarer here, thyme for time, rosemary for cloaking, devil’s root for the actual breaking. The lobelia, hellebore, and foxglove are to try and get a bit of luck on my side. Plant magic isn’t a Witcher thing, it’s Druidic. Learned from a friend. The bottle though, that’s all Witcher stuff. It’ll help the break-lock take.”

“Huh.” Karris looks at the ground. “My, um. My Grandpa Rus- that is, Rilandrus, he showed me a lot of herb medicine. You kinda remind me of him, all that kind of knowledge. And the hair, Oma Olga loved it long when it went silver so he always wore it long.”

Of all the things to say, Geralt thinks as his throat closes up. “I’m honored to compare,” he manages to get out. “Seemed like a good man.”

“He was.” Karris huffs a sigh, and holds out his hands. “You need to bathe, right? In the waterfall?”

Geralt takes his hands, and lets himself be helped up. It takes some doing to get him over to the waterfall, and Geralt does his absolute best to not feel embarrassed when Karris has to help him with his boots. The pants and shirt he manages himself, once he’s shooed the kid away, because while he’s not body shy there’s something uniquely embarrassing about being this weak in front of humans. Once he’s bare of all but his medallion, he hauls himself into the pool and shakily stands up under the waterfall. The water is brutally cold, and Geralt groans as it pounds on his sore body. He has to clutch the rocks to stay upright. He hates cold water on the best of days, and this is not one of those.

It would be so easy to lay down. So easy to just… sink to his knees. Lay down in the water. Let go of the rocks holding him up, rest his head in the pool. He likes soaking. Soaking is good. His hair feels so soft in the water, always loose and comfortable.

Maybe it would be warmer if he submerges in the pool. He could open his mouth, let the water flow in. Cold water is always best...

As he’s dropping to his knees his hand scrapes against the rocks, and the small jolt of pain wakes him up.

“Oh, fuck off,” Geralt hisses at the curse, shaking his head hard to clear it.

The spell bag and Black Blood are waiting for him by the side of the pool, and Geralt grabs both with a hand still shaking from the bitter cold water. It must be fed from a spring deep in the ground, which is good for Geralt’s purposes but also very uncomfortable. The bag is drenched instantly, and he says the words for the initiation of the actual spell. The bag fails to do anything so mundane as glow, but there is a faint stink of post-lightning strike air and lavender, so he knows it’s taken. He pops the top on the Black Blood and chokes it down, hissing as the toxins in his blood spike, and gives himself a moment to breathe through it. When he’s ready, Geralt opens the bag, pulling out a handful of the spelled mix, and starts at his hair. It’s slow going, the flower petals and salt getting everywhere. He takes his time with it. There’s no point rushing magic, as Eskel has long since drilled into his skull, even if he rarely uses the homemade kind.

With every slow inch of his skin he covers, more and more he feels his strength returning as the curse loosens its hold. His breathing eases, the low level false panic dissipating with each swipe of flowers and spices. When Geralt reaches his feet he almost feels like himself. The still sore mark on his back stings with the curse tie, but that’s something he can live with if he can finally function on his own again.

It’s not broken, not in the least, but the ritual has managed to unhook the worst of the curse’s claws in him. He feels clear headed and energized, even if he’s not up to full strength. His stomach churns from after effects of Black Blood, but he just growls and forces himself out of the water to dry off and dress again.

Karris politely averts his eyes until Geralt’s dressed again, and only squeaks a little when he catches sight of Geralt’s all black eyes. “Uh, you- you’re-”

“Potion side effect,” Geralt grunts, fishing out the White Honey. The Black Blood has done its job and he’s more than happy to get it out of his system. He opens the bottle and drains it, grimacing. “Ugh. That should clear it. I don’t have that much time before it comes back full force, maybe two days at most. Gonna have to break the curse in that span.”

Karris blanches. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Geralt sighs, rubbing his forehead. “I need a shovel. And once I have one, you need to go to Madeline. This is something I need to do alone.”

Karris nods, and runs to go find him one. Geralt makes his way to the ledge of the half wall that encloses the garden to sit, and breathes in the sickly scent of too many flowering plants. The garden has been tended with firm care; Geralt is willing to bet that Jaskier has used it as his focus to keep from going completely mad in his isolation. The beds are orderly, the gravel walkways clear of plants, and each bush and flower has been placed and trimmed with exacting precision. It's arguably the most beautiful poison garden he's ever seen.

Fitting place for a burial.

Karris reappears with a long handled shovel that apparently belongs in the day garden with the head gardener, and hands it over with wide eyes.

"What are you going to dig up?" He asks as Geralt takes it from him and stands.

Geralt hums, looking out over the flowers. "A soul or a heart. Dunno which yet."

Karris stares. "...a literal heart?"

Geralt shakes his head. "Probably not."

"Would really prefer a definitely not."

Geralt's startled by the bark of laughter that jolts out of him. He smiles, clapping Karris on the shoulder. "You and me both. Away with you, I've work that needs doing alone."

Karris nods, and takes a deep breath as he squares his shoulders. He's so young, barely on the cusp of manhood. Geralt feels a stab of homesickness looking at him. He has that same stubborn jut to his lip he's seen on Lambert a million times. Fuck, but he misses his brothers.

"Thank you," Karris tells him, quiet and sincere. "Good hunting, I suppose."

"Thank you," Geralt says, and Karris leaves.

He stands for a moment under the overhang before settling himself to calm determination and stepping out. The buttercup and primrose corner sits waiting for him, and the plants are unresisting in the soft earth as he gently digs them free of the grounds hold with his own hands, careful to leave the roots intact to replant them later. The plants have done nothing wrong. They deserve their place here, growing and thriving, and he sets them aside with care.

The hollow they leave in the blood stained earth leaves an ache in his chest.

He looks to the flowers, gently waving in the faint spring breeze and watered with blood. Set aside like the cover of a mausoleum, they seem to be anticipatory, waiting to see how he'll find their charge.

“Melitele,” he says to the empty air, because it pays to be polite to gods, “you’d better forgive me for digging up one of your believers’ graves, if you’re listening.”

The shovel bites into the earth like a beast hungry for blood, and Geralt starts to dig.

The lute case is painted black and buried three feet down, and when he pulls it from the ground the leather creaks in complaint. The earth has eaten at it in spots but it’s stayed solid, and Geralt carefully undoes the ties holding it closed. The rain patters out into nothing as his fingers struggle with the dirt clogged knots.

The lute inside is undamaged, wrapped in a black silk shroud.

It’s a student instrument, battered and dinged, well loved. When he gently lifts it from its coffin, it feels like Jaskier. He can picture every moment Jaskier spent bent over it, all the hours of chords and singing, his voice lifting to the sky. This lute is as much Jaskier as his own physical body, perhaps more so. There’s no taint of his father attached to it, and Geralt cradles the wood in his arms as though it were a child.

“Hello, Jaskier,” he whispers to Jaskier’s soul. “I’ve got you.”

One for the soul…

He doesn’t want to think of Jaskier, wracked with sickness and grief, wrapping up the only thing that might be left of him to bury early. Once possessed, Jaskier would have died, but his body would have stayed living for a new inhabitant. There would never have been a true funeral for Jaskier, only a sham of a life, his body ridden by the very beast that had so damaged it in the first place.

Geralt holds the lute tighter to his chest and presses his head to the fingerboard, breathing in the smell of bloodied earth and wood polish. It’s lingered even after all this time, and he closes his eyes against a stab of wounded anguish.

“It’ll be over soon,” he promises the lute, voice ragged. “Soon, I promise.”

There’s a small paper square in the bottom of the case, and he pulls it out when he’s a little less overwhelmed to find precious steel strings that must have cost Jaskier a small fortune as a university student. He knows the vague placement of each one, the thicknesses marching along the neck of the instrument. His fingers are clumsy, but it’s important, he knows it’s important, and he carefully strings the lute back up and gently plucks at them to make them sing.

It’s a soft, mellow noise. He’s listened to enough tavern bards to know what each string should sound like, though, and he carefully twists each nob until the instrument gently sings with the pass of his hand. The weight eases from him, just enough to make breathing easier, and he picks up the lute to cradle it again in the sunshine.

“We’re ready,” he whispers to the lute, and feels the weight of those words sink into him.

With the fourth key freed, he’s as prepared as he can be for their confrontation. All he can do now is wait, as the final key is one he won’t be able to collect until the moment of.

After all, the last key is Jaskier himself.

oOo

When Geralt wakes up the next morning and walks down the stairs to start making bread with Antonia, he finds her already awake and pulling a loaf out of the oven. It’s a thick, lumpy thing, but there’s a lovely sheen to the top of it and the scent is so familiar it reaches into his chest and leaves a hollow in his heart.

“You… how?” he asks, as Antonia carefully sets out Lambert’s favorite peasant bread on a spot to cool. “When?”

Antonia smiles apologetically. “The other night when they brought you back you were near delirious. You insisted on giving it to me and wouldn’t relent until I wrote it down. So… I did. I thought it might be nice to make it for you.”

Geralt looks at the loaf, this innocent thing, and gently picks it up to press his face close. His eyes close as he inhales the scent of home, the soft honey and sunflower seeds, the tang of yeast and wheat and the dense heft of it. He’s almost there if he keeps his eyes shut. He can almost hear the sounds of the great length and depth of the Kaer Morhen kitchen in late afternoon, all the cooks running around and barking orders, Lambert’s first winter back from the Path, pounding out his frustrations and laughing as the head of baking chewed him out over technique while Geralt sat and listened to him and stole bits of food, because Lambert didn’t give a shit about Geralt being double-Trialed and wouldn’t rake him over the coals for not being what they expected. He can almost feel Eskel’s arm around his shoulder, hear the crunch of him eating an apple, the barking roughness of his laughter as he ribs Lambert for something.

He opens his eyes to a quiet kitchen in Redania.

Gently, he places the bread on the counter and turns to pull Antonia into a hug, burying his face in her hair. She jolts, but wraps her arms around him to return it, strong and steady.

“Thank you,” he says, voice rough. “Thank you.”

He eats the bread with good butter and fresh honey, and when he walks back upstairs it’s to the taste of home still on his tongue.

The room is quiet when Geralt shuts the door, and clean. His bags are packed. He will fail or succeed in the next few days, and he needs to be prepared either way. His notes have been gathered and added to his journal, Jaskier’s journal and it’s translation set neatly on the desk.

Geralt takes his time putting his armor on. He checks each strap with careful fingers, checking dented bracers and scored leather, studs fallen out or damaged, and checks his gear. When he finally swings his swords onto his back and fishes out his medallion to rest on his chest, he feels the weight of it for the first time since it was placed around his neck. The spotted mirror in the corner of the room shows him the silver of his hair, the warped shape of his face and the gleam of his medallion and swords.

There’s no use putting it off. The sun is rising, and he runs his fingers over the leather cover of Jaskier’s journal for a moment before he steps outside. His gloves he leaves, the leather of them far too damaged to be of any use anymore. Antonia watches him go, Herrin at the bar nodding to him.

The sun is high in the sky by the time he starts the walk through the village of Lettenhove to the Reach. He watches as clouds scuttle across brilliant blue, the laughter of playing children ringing in his ears. Somewhere a woman is singing high and beautiful, a warbling melody that rises and falls with each turn of phrase. The wind makes the trees rustle, singing through the branches and bringing the scent of growing things, of lives being lived. Lettenhove Reach is golden before him, the stones brilliant in the late morning light.

Jaskier may die today.

Geralt has failed before. He failed in Blaviken, he’s failed on the Path, there have been times when there was simply no easy way out and people died. But Jaskier cannot be one more in a long line of failures. He can’t bear the thought of Jaskier’s blood on his hands, Jaskier’s body cooling on the floor of the castle where all his worst memories are. He cannot kill Jaskier in the place his father unmade him. He cannot kill Jaskier in the place his siblings bled and died for him, where his mother was thrown on a pyre, where he was ripped apart and left to rot in the ashes of his former life.

Gerald crosses the threshold of Lettenhove Reach, and steps into the dark.

The scent copper leads him to the Great Hall. He waits at the archway as his eyes adjust, and finds Jaskier standing in the center of the room, only a little copper in his scent. He’s dressed in all black, and Geralt can see the ancient marks of early blood stains on the simple shirt he’s dressed down to, just a shirt and pants and his boots, bandages on his wrists and no embroidery to be seen.

“Jaskier,” he says into the dark.

Jaskier looks up at him. His heartbeat is too fast for what it should be, the copper dulled against Geralt’s senses. It’s old, but the silver rings he wears are strong. Silver and copper, blood staining metal.

“I’m up early,” he says, his voice breaking. “I don’t… I don’t remember how I came to be here, Geralt.”

Geralt freezes, and Jaskier shudders, wrapping his arms around himself. He folds in, making himself small.

“You know, then,” Geralt says.

“Yes,” Jaskier says, voice cracking with misery. He straightens, and walks towards the entryway to the Great Hall. “They told it to us, because he forced them to. They didn’t want to. It won’t be long now.”

“I’m sorry,” Geralt says as he reaches him. They stand together, waiting on opposite edges of the doorway. “I should have warned Johann.”

“Blood and a name,” Jaskier says, looking away and taking a shaky breath. “Not good, White Wolf.”

“I know.”

“And you’ve taken the keys,” Jaskier says, looking back at him. “I can’t refresh them. Things are growing unstable, White Wolf. I’m not… I can’t keep calm. There’s not much time left. Too much emotion. I’ve gotten very good at a steady heartbeat, but it’s noon, and I’m full of emotion, and I can’t keep calm.”

“I know,” Geralt says. He hesitates for a moment before saying, very quietly, “Jaskier, I failed someone before. I can’t live with another loss like that. I can’t. The princess I lost had all of her choices stolen from her, and I can’t live watching it happen to someone I care about again.”

Geralt reaches out, gently cupping Jaskier’s cheek. His skin is so cold, so fragile, and Jaskier’s mouth wobbles. Jaskier reaches up to cover Geralt’s hand with his own, holding him there with the most delicate of touches.

One for the heart in the palm of your hands.

“Will you trust me, Jaskier?” Geralt asks. He can feel the faint rush of blood, see the cracks in Jaskier’s lips where they’ve split and bled. Those watered down blue eyes meet his in the dark. “Can you meet me halfway?”

Jaskier smiles, but it’s a shaken thing, a bare bones frame of what a smile might be. “Is there any other way to meet?”

Geralt steps forward, into his space. They’re almost of a height, barely any bending needed. Geralt looks him over, looking for any signs that this isn’t the right thing, that Jaskier truly isn’t ready. But all he sees is steel under the fear, quiet acceptance. Jaskier’s hand trembles on his, but he doesn’t pull away, doesn’t look away.

“It’s time to wake up, Jaskier,” Geralt says, and kisses him.

Jaskier melts into him as they kiss, and Geralt tastes copper on his tongue, the lingering splits dotting hints of old pains as he holds Jaskier close. He’s painfully fragile, but there’s still some strength as his free hand comes up to cup the back of Geralt’s neck with the sort of tenderness Geralt has never once expected from a partner. It’s a good kiss. There’s an ache to it, a soft kind of passion waiting to grow to something bigger, and Geralt deepens it as he feels Jaskier sigh against his mouth.

The hand drops suddenly, and Jaskier steps back as if burned.

Geralt opens his eyes, and his heart sinks.

“Ah,” Jorgan de Lettenhove says with his son’s mouth. “Thank you, witcher, for setting me loose.”

Geralt’s hands clench into fists. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what? Do you think I’m lying? I’m disinclined to lie about something so trivial,” Jorgan says, waving a careless hand. “I presume you’ll be staying to see just what I do next.”

Geralt hears footsteps in the hall and turns to see Ridgelock, the castle steward, step into view. He freezes when he sees the pair of them, looking back and forth between the two. Jorgan glances at the man and dismisses him casually.

“Ah, witcher… you won’t go anywhere,” Jorgan says, smiling. Geralt hates that smile on Jaskier’s face. Jaskier has never been cruel, doesn’t have this streak of casual brutality. “You’ll stay. You need to know how it plays out, after all. You have to see how this little story he made you the hero in ends.”

“Fuck you,” Geralt says, soft and sincere.

“Oh, he wants to,” Jorgan says, the smile growing bitterly evil. “My disgusting little whore of a son has no taste to speak of. Fitting for you, I suppose. And I really should thank you for wearing him down so effectively for me. Hatred he could make cold, fear and pain he could snuff out, but ordinary lust? Wanting, desire? He was never any good at those. He was quite the disgusting little slattern, even after all of my hard work.”

He takes one step in, cocking his head to the side in a parody of that first time Geralt spoke with Jaskier alone in the garden, eyes going innocently wide. “Should I tell you, mutant, about what he was like in bed?”

Geralt knows that he will have nightmares about this moment for the rest of his life.

“I’ll see you dead twice over,” he promises, low and murderous.

Jorgan laughs. “Oh, will you, Witcher?” He gives Geralt a mocking smile and turns his back on him, entirely unafraid.

The steward looks at Geralt, ash pale. Geralt gives the barest nod. “Now,” he murmurs, too soft for Jorgan to hear. “Fast.”

Ridgelock nods and vanishes into the keep, walking as fast as he dares without being obvious about it.

They have to be here anyway, he thinks as he watches Jorgan fuss with the throne before sitting on it. He just wasn’t expecting it to be a fight with Jorgan himself so clearly in charge, just thought it might be Jaskier helping him through it.

So be it. It’s his own damn fault anyway.

He kneels, taking a slow breath, and lets himself sink into meditation. He has perhaps half an hour before everyone is here, and Jorgan seems disinclined to do anything in the meantime. Meditation will help him recover a little more strength and organize his mind, if nothing else.

As it turns out, it’s almost exactly half an hour before he feels footsteps approaching and opens his eyes. Jorgan is still sitting on the throne, watching him and apparently simply enjoying being in command of Jaskier’s body. Geralt rises to his feet and turns, walking into the hallway and down until he reaches Ridgelock leading the entire village of Lettenhove.

“Is this everyone?” Geralt asks. Alderman Haryse, at the head of the pack, nods.

“Everyone, down to the smallest child and Widow Olga, Master Witcher.”

Geralt nods, and takes a slow breath. “All of you, no matter what you see, unless I tell you to go, stay in the Great Hall. If I do tell you to go, go fast. Antonia, Karris, and Melita, I need you here.”

The three are close to the front and come up to him. Geralt looks them over. “Karris, there’s a whip in Madeline’s stall. Antonia, there’s a lute in a case in the weaving room. Melita, there’s a ring on a hook in the day garden, first pillar from the main door. The whip needs to go to Antonia, the lute to Olga. I’ll tell you when to run and get them. At some point they need to be given to Jaskier. Do you understand?”

The trio nod, and Geralt nods back.

“Well,” he says, looking up at the group of villagers. “It’s time. Let’s go.”

Geralt turns, and leads them into the Great Hall.

Jorgan straightens as he sees the group come in, watching with greedy eyes as they spread out along the back walls, everyone doing their best to cram along the sides with the columns and keep away from the halfway point and Jorgan.

“I see you’ve brought my people to me,” Jorgan says, and Geralt sees some of the people jolt. “What, oh White Wolf, did you want them to understand the depth of your shame to more effectively stone you? Or are they perhaps a gift to get into my good graces? I’m certain by now you’ve told them that their true lord has returned at last to his faithful, precious flock.”

Jorgan’s smile on Jaskier’s mouth is a mockery of kindness.

Geralt says nothing.

“What do you want me to say?” Jorgan asks with Jaskier’s mouth, lounging on the throne. “Well, Witcher? You’ve failed. My triumph is complete. Be gone about your business, and I’ll address my people properly.”

Geralt thinks of the calluses worn off of Jaskier’s fingers, the lute buried under his own name, the blood in the soil. Tenderly buried, like one would a child, in a special case and wrapped in silk. Jaskier, the only one there to bury himself tenderly and witness the death, as there would be no body to lower into the ground upon his own passing.

“Jaskier,” he says, and he feels the weight of it as he steps forward. Jaskier’s heart shudders, the drumbeat of it off kilter. Jorgan shudders, face twitching with pain. “Jaskier.”

“Julian is gone,” Jorgan snaps. “Leave this place. You have failed.”

“Jaskier,” Geralt calls again, and this time, he pushes Aard out to slam Jorgan back against the throne. His face twists, and Jaskier’s eyes blaze.

“GERALT!” Jaskier shouts, face twisting in panic. “Go!”

“I won’t!” Geralt yells, and hears the chaos of the room start to well as people shuffle and stir, terrified. There’s screaming all around him. He slams Yrden onto the throne, trapping Jaskier and Jorgan within.

“Karris, Antonia, Melita,” he roars over the noise, and like a dream, they’re there. Karris is trembling, eyes wide, Antonia already sobbing but determined, and Melita just looks up at him with fierce loyalty. Geralt has never once thought that this would be how it would end, but now… now he knows it has to be like this. “Run.

They run.

Geralt slams more power into Yrden, fishing out Cat one-handed from his pocket and drinking fast. He feels his eyes blow wide, making the dingy light of the Great Hall much more bearable. The glass of the bottle crashes to the ground and shatters as he drops it, and at that moment Jorgan stands up in the ring of Yrden and shrieks.

The sound rattles the ceiling and the stones, dust shaking loose as the room groans, and Geralt’s tenuous grasp on Yrden fails. He curses, trying to call it back up, but Jorgan roars with a cruel laugher and spits out “Geralt, stay.”

His name binds him fast as the chaos of the room spills into outright danger, people pressing the children back as cries ring out. Jorgan steps off of the throne, pulling the short knife from what must have been a sheathe at his back, flipping it easily through his fingers before gripping it and rushing forward with a manic grin splitting his face into something completely unrecognizable as Jaskier’s.

And then the squall of a child distracts him, and Geralt’s blood turns to fire as he sees Jorgan’s eyes flick with feral hunger towards the sound.

Jaskier,” he shouts, and Jaskier’s dragged to the surface, pulling himself to a halt with a bitten off scream.

“Get the children back!” Jaskier yells, and his face shifts once more to Jorgan’s monstrous howl of fury.

“Eyes on me, you son of a bitch,” Geralt snarls, and flicks a burst of Igni at him to get Jorgan’s attention. Jorgan’s head snaps to him and he rushes forward, deadly fast. Geralt barely gets his arms up in time for the first slash of the knife to be caught on his bracers, forced backwards as Jorgan moves in a rush of whirling danger, the blade dancing in the light. The smell of copper is overwhelming, the thin cries of children weeping and people calling prayers in the darkness pressing in on his ears. His Cat augmented eyes make the knife blade near luminous in the dark, the flash of it catching and sparking every time it clashes on his bracers or armor studs.

Jorgan forces him back, the pair of them chasing back and forth in a figure 8 around the room. Geralt knows it’s been precious little time, but it feels like an eternity. He can’t get Jorgan still enough to cast Yrden afresh, and Aard on Jaskier’s fragile bones and skin could prove deadly. He spits Jaskier’s name to get a moment's reprieve, and as Jaskier shudders to a halt for a moment he feels the brutal twinge in his back as the curse drags on him, slowing him down even worse.

“Fuck,” he breathes, and meets Jaskier’s eyes for just a moment. They’re turning black, the scalera already turned and leaving Jaskier’s blue iris the only color in his face in the gloom.

“Wolf,” Jaskier gasps out, and then Jorgan is back, grinning and slashing forward.

Geralt jumps back just in time, and then Jorgan pauses, stepping back.

“Not that this isn’t very diverting,” Jorgan drawls, eyes fixed on him with unhinged glee, “but oh, I’ve made this much harder on myself than it needs to be. Natalia. Piotr. Lorenz. Teodori. Hold him.”

Phantom arms latch on tight around Geralt, and he looks around in shock to see the shades clutching him, their ghostly forms given weight from the power in Jaskier’s vocal chords. Four shades, he realizes, not three. Four. The last must be Jaskier’s mother, and as the shades start to weigh him down, he hears the rustle of silk. Geralt struggles against the shades, managing to pull them all towards the door.

And then they start to speak.

Please, Natalia begs, No more, no more, I don’t want to be sick-

No, father, I don’t want to be nothing, Lorenz whispers, and Geralt can almost feel the breath of it against his ear. I won’t be nothing, I have to live for them, I won’t go back to bed-

How many times are you going to bring me back to life? And that must be Piotr, bitter and cold, up against Geralt’s back. No matter how much I have, you always bring me back…

Teodori says nothing, just leans in hard and takes deep, rattling breaths at Geralt’s ear as she bears him down to his knees. They slam hard on the floor, and he groans as he takes the hit. Bent this way, Jorgan has free access to walk up to him.

“Thank you, pets,” Jorgan says, and reaches out with Jaskier’s hand to drag the silver sword free from its sheath. “Silver for monsters, isn’t it? And certainly the Butcher of Blaviken must count as a monster.”

Jorgan puts a booted foot on Geralt’s chest and kicks hard, slamming him down to the floor. He’s on him before Geralt can even breathe, a parody of intimacy as he straddles Geralt’s waist and raises the sword up. The shades gather on his arms, moaning their stories as they hold him down, their forms flickering in upset as the curse keeps them bound to Jorgan’s orders.

Geralt fumbles mentally for his tie to the curse, finds it, and holds on tight as he shouts, “Natalia, Lorenz, Piotr, Teodori, off!”

The shades dissipate as the sword swings down, and Geralt shoves Axii into Jorgan’s face. “Jaskier!”

Axii takes, and Jorgan vanishes. Jaskier yanks his left hand away, falling forward and crying out as his palm scrapes on the floor and starts to bleed. His right arm is still holding the sword, the point of it resting at the hinge of Geralt’s chest and shoulder.

“Geralt,” he breathes, choking on it. “It’s too late. It asks too much.”

“It doesn’t,” Geralt insists, heart hammering as he feels Axii struggling. The tenuous grip he has on the Sign is already failing, worn out too fast. “It’s not too much.”

Jaskier shakes his head, eyes fixed on Geralt’s. They’ve gone fully black.

“I do not love you for your blood,” Geralt says, feeling the power gathering on his tongue as Jaskier trembles, arm raised with the sword tight in his hand, holding back Jorgan with all he has left. He’s falling into the cadences of prophecy and magic, swept along whether he likes it or not. He can’t bring himself to care. “I do not love you for your lands. I do not love you for obedience.”

“Then how will you ever love me, my lord,” Jaskier rasps, and once more there’s magic in his voice, power to bind them and hold them fast. Geralt grasps his silver sword and cuts his hand on it, and grabs Jaskier’s bloody fingers to mix the two, to add his blood to Jaskier and give him just a bit more strength, some power to draw on. Jaskier gasps, black tears welling up to drip down his face.

“I will love you for who you will one day become,” Geralt swears. “Who you have been, and who you are now. You have never been without love, and you never will be again.”

He squeezes, hard, and groans as the silver punches through his armor to burrow into his shoulder. He breathes heavy as Jaskier curses, hand shaking on the blade as he tries to keep it from going any further.

“Look around you, Jaskier,” he whispers. “Look at how your people love you. You were never alone. They are your blood and your heart too, and they know the truth. They’ll stand with you til death, and sing for you when you are gone. Fight, Jaskier. You’ve always had the power.”

Jaskier’s black tears drop down to sizzle against his cheeks, and Geralt realizes how much the same they must look, their eyes both burned black by the toxins in their veins. Slowly Jaskier raises his head to look at his people, their fear and their hope. They aren’t running, they’re staying even as they shake and tremble and pray together.

“Jaskier,” Geralt breathes, “Jaskier. It never had to be romantic love. You brought us all together, and made them a whole in the fight to free you.”

Jaskier gasps, a bit of black blood darkening his mouth.

Geralt leans up, groaning as he impales himself further on the blade, and for the first time since before the Trials, sings. His voice is cracked, long since wrecked, but the tune remains. “Love conquers all, this still I know. Bring us together, make me again whole.

For a moment the world is perfectly still, every breath caught and held as Jaskier trembles and the sword in Geralt’s shoulder reverberates with the fight he’s waging against Jorgan. And then-

Jaskier screams, so loud that the stones themselves shake with the power of it. A golden beam of light rises from his gaping mouth as he does, tendril wisps of power shoving themselves out as the binding curse thrashes under his skin, the hooks of the curse boiling his blood. His skin stretches and bulges as the blood fights inside him. The sword falls to the floor with a crash, ripping from Geralt’s shoulder as Jaskier grabs his throat with both hands, the shriek gaining in volume and power as his head tips back to the ceiling. Black pours from his eyes, leaving streaks on his cheeks. Dust is falling from the ceiling, the very ground shaking.

“Please,” Geralt says, gentle. He reaches up to cup Jaskier’s cheek with one hand, tender. It’s the hand cut to mix their blood, and leaves streaks on his skin. “Jaskier, sing for me.”

The shriek fluxes, coalesces, and becomes a perfect, warbling note that pierces through all in hearing range. The villagers are trembling, and then-

Another voice, in harmony.

Geralt turns to see Melita harmonizing as she sings with him, eyes fixed on Jaskier, and the others start to join, their voices raising in a choir so smooth and rich with rising sound that Geralt can barely breathe for the power in it. The sound wells up and spills over to flood the room with power, a call and response as each voice lifts and buoys the soloist wailing before them. Geralt’s too slow heart is near human fast for the sheer weight of the power held in that impossible, beautiful chorus.

And then-

The birds begin to pour from Jaskier’s mouth, endless black feathers flying to the ceiling as he stays tipped back, nightingales and ravens and finches and every songbird under the sun until the last lark flees his throat and Jaskier falls to the side to start heaving rotted blood. The villagers scramble back, the air filling with screams and prayers as the rot begins to take shape and Geralt realizes exactly what’s happening.

“Fuck,” he breathes, but it’s too late.

Jaskier howls in agony, pitching forward as he begins to cough out endless streams of rotted blood. The black pool begins to spread around him, and Geralt scrambles back and to his feet as he sees a clawed hand start to form, splashing out of the darkness and scrambling against the stone. The sound is like iron on stone, screeching and rasping.

“Back!” he roars at the villagers, dragging his steel out of its sheath and wishing not for the first time that his ability to use Signs was anything like Eskel’s. He casts Quen around the edge of the crowd as Jaskier finally stops heaving, and steps back to watch the nightmare unfold.

With each moment more of the beast starts to take form, a misshapen pseudo skeleton of bubbling rotted blood and too many jagged edges and misbegot limbs with too many joints. It steams faintly, copper and rot tinged with despair as it shudders and thrashes in its pool, building itself up as it rises. The spine hunches, dripping and viscous, and at last the head pulls free with a sound like rending fabric.

The crawling, heaving beast of blood straightens, scent of copper in the air, and Jaskier grabs the silver sword from where it lies on the floor and stumbles to his feet as he faces down his nightmares. His face is a smear of black and red, but his eyes have cleared, and they seem to glow in the torchlight. The sword is too heavy for Jaskier with as weak as he’s grown, but he keeps it in his hands as the thing that was once Jorgan de Lettenhove steps towards him on one unnatural leg.

The gaping maw of the beast opens to release a gutteral snarl of fury and desperate want. The sound rattles against the stone, and Geralt readies his steel.

“No,” Jaskier says, his hands shaking, but his voice is clearer than Geralt has ever heard it. “No, you don’t get another chance! I speak it and make it so! Jorgan Lorenz Pancratz de Lettenhove, murderer, rapist, absolute fucking asshole, you are dead!

The word rings with the power of a thousand pealing church bells, and the beast shrieks at Jaskier and lunges forward.

Jaskier shouts, “KNEEL” and every knee in the room buckles. The beast shrieks in rage, flailing as it’s forced to his knees, scrambling at the tiles of the Great Hall to try and pull itself forward. Geralt struggles to his feet, and Jaskier tosses him the sword in a beautiful throw. Geralt catches it, but he’s unable to walk forward, still held by Jaskier’s voice. He finds his connection to the curse, and by extension Jaskier, and yanks. His feet are freed, and Geralt lunges forward to slam his steel sword through the back of the beast, hard enough that the steel drives partly into the floor.

“I write the ending,” Jaskier snarls, and the power in his words make it so. “I am the master of Lettenhove. I am the one bound, I make the law and the decree, I am commander of my own fate and you will never keep me from own agency! I choose! I decide! I alone!”

The beast’s screech of incandescent fury intensifies as Geralt drives the sword down harder through its chest, keeping it pinned as Jaskier sits upon the throne, his hands a bloody mess and his clothes Witcher black. He’s inhumanly beautiful, lit from inside with rage and power, command in every line of his body.

Jorgan’s bloody form writhes and shrieks, reaching and scrambling, but Geralt pulls out his second sword and holds it to his neck to keep it still, casting Yrden for a cage. Out of the corner of his eye he can see half-formed shadows hovering at the edges to watch the spectacle. The shades have come to take their freedom.

A shout alerts him, and he turns and sees that Karris there, eyes wild but determined. Karris nods at him.

“Bring them,” Geralt calls, his voice shredded from yelling and forcing himself to sing, and the people part. He turns just enough to look at the three women bringing in the keys. It’s a stretch, he knows, but the three are symbolic of more than just the people of Lettenhove’s love of their Lord. Maiden, Mother, and Crone- not crone, the other one, he amends hastily in his head with a frantic well of panic induced humor, it’s an old magic to have added to the curse breaking. He nods to Melita. He can feel the magic in the room. The curse will give them the right words.

Melita nods back, shaking, but she walks with firm steps up to the dias, where Jaskier meets her eyes with his own blue ones. She has the ring cupped in her palms, and she curtsies before walking up to slide the ring onto his finger.

“Your people, Lord Jaskier, not your lands,” she says, and bends to kiss the ring before stepping lightly away and off to the side.

Antonia approaches the dias, the whip held in her trembling hands as she skirts wide around the hissing, struggling blood beast of Jorgan. She bows as she passes it to Jaskier, but her face is set and determined.

“Your strength, Dandelion, not your obedience,” she says, and steps away.

And last is Olga, old and slow, who walks up and hands him his lute, looking up into his eyes.

“Your love, Julian, not your soul,” she says quietly. “Play well, our beloved child.”

“Thank you,” Jaskier says, with the softest of smiles, and takes up his lute with trembling hands. He pulls the signet ring from his finger and places the silver on his tongue, pulls the whip from his lap and lets it drop to his feet to step on it. He pushes the ring into his cheek, and arranges his fingers delicately on the lute.

“Sit a while, father. I sit on respect, not cruel power,” Jaskier says, looking at the creature on the floor writhing before him. “And I will sing you the song of your death.”

In the future, when Geralt thinks of this moment, all he can remember is the feeling. The words are impossible, a masterwork that will never be written as the magic bound up in Jaskier pours out. He knows what it is- It is Jaskier’s story, every ugly detail, the wound lanced and made visible and Jorgan’s crimes put on display before his people. The ending must find its truth before the rewriting can begin, and there are too many secrets in these halls for anyone to bear them any longer. It may have lasted ten years, or two seconds. It may have been major or minor key, may have been wailed or sung in perfect harmony. Geralt doesn’t know. All he knows is the power, the pain, the joy, the rage, the glory and the triumph as he closes his eyes and feels his heart explode.

Silver tongue for monsters. Steel strings for men.

Jaskier kills the legacy and nightmare of Jorgan de Lettenhove with both.

Jaskier sings, and sings, and sings, until the world is full of light and power, binding it together and releasing the magic that bound him to Lettenhove. It falls apart in a physical wave, the magic washing through Geralt and making him stagger a little with the power of it. The shades have vanished, dissipated by the breaking curse. He can feel tendrils lingering, but the worst of it has passed. The final notes linger in the air as Jaskier looses the last notes, and lets his bloody fingers drop. He’s played them raw.

The creature is still, Jorgan de Lettenhove looking up in silence from his cursed hold. Yrden glows around him, holding him fast.

“Master Witcher,” Jaskier says softly. His voice is ragged from the singing and the birds. It echoes in the hall, the reverberations of the song underneath. “I understand that you kill monsters.”

“I do, my lord, as all Witchers do,” Geralt says, just as soft. The room is completely silent, everyone too stunned by the reverberations of the music against their hearts. “Have you a contract for me that needs doing?”

“I do,” Jaskier says. “A monster of the worst kind that needs slaying. And what will you ask in payment?”

“I will take whatever my lord will give. Monsters such as these I am happy to end.”

Jaskier meets his eyes, and Geralt feels the weight of that gaze, every day and night of pain that’s lead to this moment, every conversation and confrontation. Secrets, hopes, dreams, tears shed, it’s all come to this.

“A kiss, freely given,” Jaskier says, “if you will meet me halfway.”

His eyes fixed on Jaskier’s, Geralt swings. His steel meets the barest resistance as it cleaves through the blood.

A simple death. Efficient. Nothing to sing about, no glory, no honor. Clean.

Jorgan’s horrible form falls, the magic that had been holding him together dissipating to splash the blood all over the floor in a horrible wave of rot. There’s a desperate, roaring wail from the crowd.

Jaskier stands, setting his lute gently onto the throne, and steps off of the dias.

His eyes widen ever so slightly, and Geralt barely makes it to his side as he falls as though his strings have been cut. His shoulder screams but Geralt ignores it as he finds a seat on the dias, leaning back against the throne with Jaskier sprawled across his lap. He can feel the rabbit beat of Jaskier’s heart, and Jaskier looks up at him slowly. The pale curve of his skin is harsh against the black of his shirt, and Geralt can see his pulse moving under the flesh.

“Geralt,” Jaskier says, mouth barely moving. He reaches out, and Geralt takes his bloody hand. “One more key.”

Geralt feels for the curse and feels the last tenuous threads of it still sunk into him. His heart stops.

“What did I miss?” He whispers, horror racing through him.

“Nothing,” Jaskier says, and takes a deep breath. It’s wet and ragged from his ruined throat, but his eyes are firm when he meets Geralt’s eyes. “You know how, Geralt.”

Geralt thinks about it, mind racing, and then looks up. Karris runs to them when he sees Geralt’s eyes find him.

“Gather everyone,” Geralt says, and take hold of Jaskier a little tighter. “We have to join hands.”

Karris nods, and bit by bit, everyone joins hands. Alderman Haryse takes Jaskier’s right, and Olga takes his bleeding left. The room is quiet in comparison to the chaos, and everyone is avoiding the puddle of rotted blood. Jaskier looks around at everyone, all of them still in the darkness, and smiles.

“Here you all are,” he whispers. “My heart, in the palm of my hands. Thank you.”

If the first breaking was a crashing wave, this is ripples on a pond. Jaskier closes his eyes, and Geralt feels his breath catch as a slow wash of golden light spills out of Jaskier’s chest and travels down his arms, spreading along through every man, woman, and child in the uncoordinated circle. The glow lights up the dark, revealing the scared and dazzled faces of the people around them, and slowly wells up like a bubble to pop, sending sparks of golden light drifting through the air. Geralt feels his tie to the curse disintegrate like ash, a weight on his heart easing. One of the babies reaches out, breaking the silence with a little coo as she grabs tiny hands at the specks of golden light.

Everyone is silent for a while, looking at the golden magic dancing, and slowly, with each hand let go, they fade.

Which is when Jaskier’s eyes roll up in the back of his head and he collapses back against Geralt’s arms.

“Open the curtains halfway,” Geralt calls, trying to keep the panic out of his voice, and the villagers of Lettenhove run to drag them back, everyone scrambling. Someone runs for water, another person calling for someone to find cushions and smelling salts.

The light burns Geralt’s too-wide eyes as the curtains open, and he rips off a portion of his shirt to bind it around Jaskier’s eyes and blindfold him. It will take a long time to undo the damage of living in the dark, but for now, he can feel the sunlight on his skin. Jaskier has suffered enough, but he’s not out of the woods yet. Geralt’s no fool, he knows that with the sheer amount of blood loss Jaskier has suffered his heart may yet fail and he’ll pass from exhaustion. Jaskier shifts a little in his arms, stirring.

“The curse is gone?” He mumbles, mouth falling open as he drags in breath after breath.

Geralt’s eyes widen a little.

“There might be some side effects, but it’s broken,” he says tightly, looking at the silver sheen to Jaskier’s tongue. The signet ring has disappeared from his mouth. He is now very literally silver tongued, and Geralt shudders to think what he’s going to do with the sheer amount of power a name like that will bestow on him.

“Oh,” Jaskier says faintly. “Alright then. That’s fine. He’s gone, isn’t he? I didn’t dream that?”

“Very gone,” Geralt promises, and bends to kiss his sweaty forehead. “Nothing left of the fucker. The curse is lifted, you’re not bound anymore.”

“Oh, that’s good.” Jaskier clutches at his arm, breathing shallow. “Help me up.”

Geralt does, carefully cradling him in his arms so Jaskier can see his people through the worn-thin fabric, every relieved face. Most of them are crying, some kneeling in prayer, all of them watching him with devoted joy.

“Thank you,” Jaskier says, and clear tears began to fall down his cheeks from under the mask. “Thank you for saving me. I love you all.”

There isn’t a dry eye in the place as Jaskier slumps back in Geralt’s arms, turning his head to rest against his unbloodied shoulder. The feather light weight of him makes Geralt’s heart twist, his too-thin limbs birdlike as he curls into Geralt’s hold.

“I think I need some sleep,” he says, and Geralt nods, kissing his forehead again.

“We’ll keep you safe,” Geralt promises, just loud enough for Jaskier to hear him. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“Mmm. You’d better remember a better waking kiss this next time, Geralt,” Jaskier says, and smiles as his head falls back against Geralt’s chest and his eyes close in sleep behind the blindfold. His heart slows to true, resting sleep, and his hands go gently lax.

Geralt sighs, leaning back against the wood of the throne and looking out at the light spilling into the hall.

“You’re a hopeless romantic,” he murmurs, and smiles as he passes out.

oOo

Jaskier sleeps for three days and three nights, stirring only to be coaxed into eating gruel and using a chamber pot, and Geralt doesn’t leave his side for any of it. Lettenhove Reach is swarming with people, everyone frantically cleaning and pulling back the curtains. Two years of accumulated grime and dust are being scrubbed away, the library put back to rights and everyone not needed for the fields filling the halls and corridors if only so that should Jaskier pass after all, they won’t have been far from him. Lettenhove Reach is full of love and worry.

They make up a former storage room with a small window to be his recovery room, and bring in a comfortable but plain bed for him. Geralt keeps his lute within arms reach or on the bed, knowing that the amount of energy it holds will help resonate in Jaskier and help him recover.

When he wakes up on the morning of the fourth day, Jaskier slowly sighs, stretching out inch by inch, and Geralt bends to gently kiss his lips.

The smile he gets is blinding.

“You kept your word,” Jaskier murmurs, his voice raspy from sleep.

“I try to.”

Jaskier’s fingers find the blindfold, and Geralt catches his hand before he can undo it.

“Don’t,” he warns. “You haven’t seen full sun in two years, you’ll blind yourself permanently if that comes off too soon. We’ll start with torchlight. The weavers are going to make you a veil of sheer black so your eyes can adjust slowly, and the alderman has sent to Vizima for black glass lens to help. Your pupils aren’t used to dilating so much anymore.”

“Thoughtful of them,” Jaskier mumbles. His stomach growls, and Geralt’s mouth twitches as he tries to hold back a smile. “Fuck, I’m starved.”

“Literally, yes, you are. Stay still and I’ll go get food.”

“Anything but gruel,” Jaskier groans. “Salad, meat, anything but oats.”

Geralt smooths a hand over his head through the sweaty hair there. “No oats,” he agrees. “Someone will help you wash, I’ll go get food sorted.”

Jaskier hums happily, leaning into the touch, and it’s a lot harder than Geralt expected to step away and go to the kitchens. The cook loads him down with solid food that’ll be good on Jaskier’s stomach and a few chunks of beef to help with the recovery, and even hands him a very delicious turnover that Geralt wolfs down in two bites. Her eyes widen and she gives him another five.

Once Jaskier is actually eating again he starts regaining his strength. He’s still kitten weak, but Geralt stays with him and they start taking slow walks up and down the corridor until Jaskier doesn’t have energy and Geralt carries him back to the room. Geralt’s always reluctant to leave his side, and Jaskier doesn’t seem particularly upset about this.

“Must you go?” he asks, his voice soft. Jaskier reaches out to lightly touch his hand, still drained, five days after the curse is broken. They’re sitting together in the day garden, Jaskier’s new favorite place.

“Have to,” Geralt says, reluctant. “I’m meeting my brother in de Damavire lands in a few weeks, and it’ll take at least one to get there.”

Jaskier hums, the sound melodic. The scar on his throat has vanished, and he half sings most everything now that the magical damage has disappeared. He’s finally started to put on weight again now that he’s not literally puking his own rotted blood out. The color is starting to come back to his body. The gardeners slather him in sun cream every four hours but they all let him soak in the sun in the day garden as much as he likes, and let him rest as much as possible between feeding him and his walks with Geralt around the gardens or the halls.

His old clothes have all been burned. Olga and some of the other seamstresses in the village are making new suits of clothing for him, and embroidering charms into all of them. No one has said anything, but Geralt has seen the fabric, all of it such loud and vibrant colors his eyes almost hurt to look at it. No one ever wants to see Jaskier in black again, and he doesn’t blame them. For now he’s been mostly wearing a plain white robe, too weak to dress in anything more complicated.

“You’d think I’d have died after all, all this white they’ve been putting me in,” Jaskier grumbles, huffing a sigh. “Geralt, please. Stay. Until you can’t stay any longer, stay.”

Geralt hesitates, and Jaskier meets his eyes through the strip of Geralt’s old shirt that’s still acting as his blindfold.

He folds. “Alright.”

Jaskier smiles and hums, self satisfied. “Good.”

He hums a few bars of a piece, and abruptly drops off as he falls asleep. Geralt smiles to see it, and goes to fetch the large sun shade. He’ll still get plenty of light but won’t burn with it over him.

Antonia pins him down the next day after he leaves Jaskier to nap in the makeshift bedroom, and it takes all of about two seconds before Geralt has been very effectively frozen in place by firm brown eyes. Antonia has been acting as a secondary steward, keeping people in line and making certain the Reach is being cleaned properly, and no one has dared argue with her about anything.

“Just where do you think you’re going?” Antonia asks, with measured patience.

Geralt considers rushing past her, and decides not to risk it. “They made me a bedroom. Gonna sleep.”

“Yes, that’s what I thought. You turn right back around and go hold your man, Geralt. You both need some bonding time.”

Geralt’s relatively certain he lost the ability to blush when his heart slowed, but his ears certainly feel warm. “Antonia…”

“Two years,” Antonia says, looking him square in the eyes. “He shouldn’t be alone like that. No one should. And he’s a friendly thing, he needs some affection. He needs to be spoiled and loved on.”

“I’m a Witcher,” Geralt says, helpless.

“And you are the only person here who may have even the faintest understanding of what my lord has been through,” Antonia insists. “He trusts you. He cares for you. He’s a good sight more than halfway in love with you already, and you with him. More than that, he understands who and what you are, and will love you anyway. You only have a little time left, Geralt. Be happy to take it, and help him heal. Physical touch, warmth, gentleness, those all heal the soul much faster than the body, and if his soul is strengthened enough to fight again he will be more resilient. Yours needs healing as well.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Geralt groans, looking at the flagstones. They’re clean, because of course they are with all the staff frantically doing the place up again. The stone masons are still arguing about how they’re going to replace the floor in the Great Hall. “I have to leave eventually.”

“But you don’t have to leave now,” Antonia says, in tones that brook no argument. “Go. Hold him. Let him know what it is to be cared for properly, by someone who wants nothing from him but his company. Besides, you need to sleep properly, and I know you won’t unless you know he’s still safe. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you only nap when he does, and lightly at that.”

Geralt looks at her, helpless, and Antonia reaches up to gently pat his cheek before firmly shoving him back towards the door to Jaskier’s makeshift bedroom. She has surprisingly strong arms for such a small woman. Geralt obediently goes because she’s unfortunately right and he doesn’t actually make a habit of fighting people who know better than he does, no matter what Eskel might say.

Jaskier’s eyes open halfway to look at him when the door opens, and he smiles a little. He’s on his side in the bed, where he’s been for some time now. “Hello.”

Geralt nods to him. “Can...can I join you?”

Jaskier’s eyes light up. “Please.”

That’s enough invitation for him. Geralt pulls his boots off and climbs into the bed, staying on top of the blankets for propriety's sake- because while Jaskier may have plenty of feelings for him, he is still fragile and has an entire horde of villagers ready to take Geralt’s head off if he pushes for anything. Which is sweet, really. No one’s tried to give him a shovel talk, on account of him being a good head taller than most everyone and also a fucking Witcher, but he can see them eyeing him. He drapes an arm over Jaskier’s waist and exhales heavily before sniffing surreptitiously.

Jaskier chuckles a little. “Go ahead,” he murmurs, and tilts his head a little.

Geralt’s a weak man. He shoves his nose into the crook of Jaskier’s neck and just breathes, pulling in the smell of soap and clean skin, freshly laundered cotton and linen. No copper. No silver. No sourness of bad blood or sickness. Jaskier makes a happy little noise and settles against him, a melodic rumble tugged out of his throat. Geralt purrs instinctively in response, and relaxes.

“That’s new,” Jaskier says, sleepy and content. “The purring.”

“It happens,” Geralt says, not really minding. He noses at the soft skin of Jaskier’s throat for a moment before settling back to rest his head on the pillow. Jaskier doesn’t seem to mind. He reaches out with a hesitant hand, and gently runs his fingers through Jaskier’s hair. Jaskier shudders, going boneless, and leans back against him even harder.

“Once upon a time, a king lived with his queen in a beautiful castle far to the North,” Geralt begins softly, and the scent of heady, wonderful happiness rises from Jaskier’s unbroken skin.

His voice doesn’t break, but his heart kicks up a beat. When Jaskier sleeps once more, Geralt gathers him in his arms and holds him close, heart aching with something between baffled joy and the memory of pain.

They stay this way for the next two weeks. Geralt is at his side most of the time, and in his bed whenever it’s time to sleep. Jaskier has nightmares, but when he wakes up screaming it only wobbles the pain in Geralt’s chest a little. There’s definitely lingering power on his new, silver coated tongue, but it doesn’t seem to be tied to pain any longer. They spend hours in the gardens, Jaskier tending to the plants as best he can or sleeping sprawled on top of Geralt in the divan when he can’t. He pesters stories out of Geralt, and tells him some of Rilandrus’ stories to take back to Vesemir in the winter. He starts playing his lute once his fingers heal, planning to build up his calluses once more. It’s a quiet life, filled with good food that Jaskier has begun devouring with glee, good company in the people of Lettenhove, and good sunshine to fill his bones with warmth.

“I’ll be back in a year,” Geralt promises the day he leaves.

Jaskier nods, fiddling with his fingers, and sighs. Neither of them particularly want him to go, but Eskel is certainly almost to their meeting place and Geralt needs to reach him. He looks great in the new spectacles, the dark glasses much easier for him to manage as they’re fitted to his face. He can stand to take them off at dusk now, and he’s starting to get closer to a healthy shade from the sun. Wolves in white have been embroidered in a pattern around the open collar of his bright red and blue shirt. They have golden eyes- Olga’s work.

Geralt’s new shirt has a small patch of embroidered flowers hidden in the black, a small thing for him to run his fingers over and know he’s cared for. All of his new clothes have flower embroidery hidden somewhere on them. He’ll have to learn, so he can replicate it when his clothes wear out.

“I’ll miss you dreadfully,” Jaskier admits. “We’ve had so little time together.”

“Can’t say I won’t miss you, too,” Geralt admits. “And Lettenhove.”

“Lettenhove loves you,” Jaskier agrees, his voice soft. “And so do I.” He holds up a hand when Geralt starts. “Don’t say anything. You’ll be back in a year, and if we feel the same then, we’ll talk about what it might mean for us.”

Geralt feels a bit of a smile tug at his lips. “I don’t know if that’s meeting halfway,” he says, teasing just a little.

“Allow me my selfishness, my lord, as I allow yours,” Jaskier says tartly, but he’s smiling. It fades as he looks at the ground. “Will you write me?”

“As much as I can.” Geralt steps forward, cupping Jaskier’s face in his hands and bending a touch to kiss his forehead. He lets it linger, breathing in his scent. No copper. No silver. Just human skin, warm from the sun. “Look for me in a year, Jaskier Silvertongue. No goodbyes.”

Jaskier’s hands come up to gently hold his bracers, long fingers wrapping solid around them. His breath is deep and shuddering, and Geralt closes his eyes as they stand together. There’s the faintest scent of salt in the air, a few tears escaping to fall down Jaskier’s face and wet the ground.

Finally, Jaskier steps back, letting him go. Geralt lets his hands fall, and meets his eyes.

“Captivity is no life for something loved,” Jaskier says quietly. “I’ll see you in a year, Geralt.”

“A year, Jaskier,” Geralt agrees quietly.

He climbs onto Roach, and rides out of the gates without looking back. If he does he knows he’ll never leave. The guards are all at the gate to see him off, and call encouragement and wishes for safe travels as he passes over the drawbridge he’s walked over too many times. The long earth ramp that leads down to the village and the split off to the fields is gentle to Roach, and he makes his way to the road that leads down to the valley and the passage beyond. He said his goodbyes to the people there earlier, and baked one last set of loaves with Antonia early in the predawn light. He gave her the recipe for Lambert’s peasant loaf in exchange for her sweetbread.

Geralt turns Roach and follows the road that leads away from the village, passing on into the great swell of greenery beyond. The pollen is gone, the time for it passed, so it’s a peaceful ride as he reaches the clearings for the harvest. He rides through the fields of the valley, seeing the spinning girls at their work in the shade of the forest, safe and happy. They wave to him as he passes, calling greetings of, “White Wolf, safe travels!”

Geralt has a feeling the name is going to stick.

He passes through the valley to the other half of the forest, and the dappled leaves of the trees shade him as Roach makes slow, easy work along the trail. The aspens leaves shiver in the breeze, their musical chorus as beautiful as any voices. The Path doesn’t feel as heavy as he thought it might. He’s not leaving Jaskier for good, after all. Just a year, and then they’ll see where they stand as people. It’s a good thought.

When he reaches the border into the de Mattrin lands, Melita is waiting at the signpost. Geralt clicks Roach to a halt, and Melita comes over to him. Her feet are dusty and bare, as callused as Jaskier’s fingers will be one day, and she lifts up a small, sturdy basket full of acorns for him.

“Thank you,” he says, heart softening. After a moment’s hesitation he swings off of Roach, and Melita thumps hard against him to hug him tight, pressing her face against his chest. He hugs her back, cradling her head.

“Do you have to go?” she asks, pulling her head back enough to look up at him.

“I do,” he says, but he’s gentle about it. Melita sighs but nods, putting on a brave face. “There’s more monsters out in the world that need killing, and blades get dull sitting over mantles. I’m meant to be out on the Path, not staying home. But I promise you, I will come back. Maybe not every year, maybe not even every five like Rilandrus, but I will come back.”

Melita nods, and thumps her forehead against his chest again. “I’m gonna hold you to that,” she mumbles, a bit quiet. Geralt hums, gently stroking her hair, and when she takes a deep breath he gently lets her go.

“Goodbye for now, Witcher Geralt of Rivia,” she says, and sweeps a very pretty curtsy.

Geralt smiles, and bows back. “Goodbye, brave Melita of Lettenhove, who loved her Lord enough to face a Witcher and monsters with only her voice to keep her safe. Live well.”

When Melita looks up there are tears on her face, and Geralt gently wipes them away before climbing back on Roach and clicking his tongue to send her forward. They climb the rise of a hill, and look down into a new valley, sprawling and wide, a river like a glittering ribbon within it. It’s beautiful.

He turns back in the saddle.

Lettenhove Reach is a spot of golden stone in the distance. Melita stands at the crossroads, still looking up at him, the forest beyond her and the fields beyond that, the town where Antonia is certainly starting the afternoon cooking and Olga is at work teaching seamstresses their work nothing more than a dotted collection of houses. Karris is riding Madeline free as a bird down a road somewhere, Herrin setting traps, Ianto laughing with his fellow guards, Johann in the kitchens laboring over a new masterpiece. Alderman Haryse is likely in the fields toiling with the others, the spinners singing as they work. A thousand tiny intersections, little lives doing little tasks, all of them safe from the darkness for now.

And Jaskier.

If he closes his eyes, he can almost see him, bathed in sunlight in the golden glory of the day garden, hair a halo of waves and the flowers straining to reach him as if he’s the sun himself. He can almost smell the blossoms, taste the rich green of dandelion leaves on his tongue, see the blue of his eyes and hear the gentle singing of a lute and a voice sweet and warm as sunlight itself.

Jaskier, golden, free of copper, crowned in silver and song.

Geralt turns to the Path, and takes the first step onward.

OoOoO

It’s spring when he returns to Lettenhove, a year and 5 days after Jaskier was cleansed of his curse.

The flowers are fully in bloom, great yellow blossoms of tulips growing wild on the roadside, sunflowers and daffodils and a million other yellow things springing up here and there. When he reaches the leveled grounds for planting he finds the fields springing up with new green life, birds flying overhead. Everything is golden and glorious, the land flourishing. Lettenhove Reach in the distance has yellow pennants flying from her towers, and Geralt feels a rare stirring of genuine joy at the sight of it.

He also sneezes because of the damn pollen, and Roach whickers as if she laughs.

When he reaches Lettenhove township, the children spot him first. Tiny bodies come running out of doors, shrieking, “White wolf! White wolf!”

Geralt swings out of the saddle and is immediately drowning in children excited and happy to see him. He scoops the littlest ones up to keep them away from Roach’s hooves, letting the older children trot along at his side. One of them makes him bend to put a crown of dandelions lopsided in his hair, pulled from their own head.

Shopkeepers and homebodies spot him next, shutters flying open and calls of, “Master Witcher! Welcome back!” are a shock to hear. Antonia comes from the Dancing Dove at a run, skirts hiked up, and Geralt has to blink back a few sudden tears as she hugs him hard, mindless of the children hanging off of him.

“Oh, Geralt, it’s so good to see you well,” she says in a choked up voice. “Lord Jaskier will be so relieved to see you. He’s home on break now, he’s up at the castle tending the renovations with Johann and Haryse. We’ll expect you for dinner.”

“You will?” Geralt says helplessly. The children hug his legs.

“Please?” One of them, a little girl with big blue eyes and blond ringlets begs. “Please, White Wolf?”

Geralt has always been terribly weak and fond of children.

“Very well,” he says, and the kids all cheer, hugging him harder. The little one in his arms wraps his arms around Geralt’s neck and hugs tight.

It takes a while to get divested of the littles, and once he does he climbs back into the saddle and rides for the castle. As he goes, he notices that every single house in Lettenhove has buttercups of some kind planted in front of their house. Trailing down from window boxes, springing from the ground, planted in half-barrels, the town is a riot of yellow. Some people have even painted their shutters the buttercup color. Olga waves at him from her window, smiling brightly, and he bows back to her. She looks to be reading one of Rilandrus’ journals, the worn leather volume in her hand open and inviting.

When he reaches the stretch leading up to the castle, he can’t help himself. Geralt urges Roach into an easy lope, and she takes the long ramp road with ease, body surging underneath him. The guards call a greeting as he rides up, grinning at him when they see the dandelion crown clinging to his hair. He slows Roach to a trot, and the first guard steps forward with a wave.

“He’s out in the garden, Master Wolf,” Uldred says, and Geralt feels a stab of fondness for these humans. “He’s been waiting for you.”

“Anyone going to mind if I leave my horse in the stables?”

Yakob laughs. “Not a one, Karris will see to her.”

He leaves Roach with Karris in newly refurbished stables once he’s been hugged fiercely again, gives Madeline a good pat, and makes his way through the castle. All of the curtains have been thrown back, the black drapes gone and replaced with yellow and blue instead. Sunlight streams through the windows onto the stones, lighting everything with a soft glow as it bounces around the rooms. It’s a beautiful place in the daylight, Geralt thinks as he wanders the halls, taking in the new art, the banners with the de Lettenhove cinquefoil crest, the vases full of flowers scattered here and there. He pauses in the Great Hall, now blazing with light and beauty. The floor has been tiled with a beautiful pattern of cinquefoil flowers in yellow on a blue background, winding around a massive centerpiece flower where Jorgan met his end. On the dais the great old throne chair has been replaced with a simple short couch strewn with pillows, and a table beside it holds stacks of sheet music. A lute sits in an open case, as if just set down. This lute is new, and a very nice one at that.

He wanders down the hall towards the sound of hammering and sawing. He finds Melita sitting in a patch of sunlight in the open door leading out to the day garden, carefully reading with her tongue out. The book is a familiar battered copy of children’s tales. Even from the distance, Geralt can see Lorenz’s carefully drawn knight fighting off a dragon.

“Any good stories in there?”

Her head jerks up and Geralt smiles as her face lights up in delight. She scrambles to her feet and slams into him to hug him tight, curls askew and skirts flying.

“Master Geralt! You’re back! We missed you!”

“I missed you too,” he says, and he’s surprised to find that it’s true. He has missed them, all their oddities and quiet lives, their joys and sorrows. He gently pats her hair until she decides to let him go, beaming up at him.

“My lord is adopting me,” she tells him in delight. “Formally. I’m to be the heir when I’m old enough, but I get to stay living with Herrin! And he’s said when I’m to be 18 and of marrying age, I won’t have to marry anyone I don’t want to, and I’m learning how to run a house, and Herrin’s teaching me to make traps and Lord Jaskier’s teaching me to manage the poison garden since some of them are good for medicines and not just killing. And Karris is going to teach me to ride Madeline!”

Geralt ruffles her hair, fond. “Good. Riding’s a good skill to have.”

Melita grins at him. “Are you going to see Lord Jaskier?”

“Going to surprise him. He doesn’t know I’m here yet, I just said I’d be there about the year mark.” He fights a smile as Melita makes a wild noise of delight. “I’ll be at Antonia’s with him for dinner.”

“Yes!” Melita hugs him harder before letting go to gather her book. “I’ll go help her get the rolls made. We’ll make the braided bread and the Lambert bread for you!”

Geralt can never let Lambert know that there’s an entire village in Redania who’ve named a bread after him. He’d be insufferable.

Melita runs off with a merry wave, and Geralt quietly steps the door to the day garden.

Once again the yellow flowers are in full bloom. There’s a half built gazebo in the corner now, scraps of lumber strewn around where people have been working. A few chairs sit under the overhang, a table with a pitcher of water waiting for the workers. The flowerbeds are bursting with golden blooms, dandelion heads poking out from the brush and buttercups mingling with moss roses. There's a small group of people in the greenery, Jaskier among them with his back to Geralt as he looks over some plans on a rigged up sawhorse table.

Johann spots him first and grins, grabbing Ianto’s hand and sneaking away past him, Alderman Haryse following with sparkling eyes and an exaggerated wink. Geralt waves them off, all of them slipping past him with grins as they spot his crown of dandelions. When the door silently closes, Geralt steps down into the garden and sniffs.

There’s not so much as a trace of copper in the air.

“Johann, could you hand me the-” Jaskier turns and stops dead. Geralt hears his heartbeat stutter in his chest. “Oh.”

Geralt’s heart catches in his own chest. It’s the barest breath of a sound, that oh, and he feels it in his bones. Jaskier’s hair is near golden in the spill of sunlight creeping into the garden as noon light splashes the new tiles and over the gazebo’s bones. Jaskier’s dressed down in brown trousers rolled up to expose his bare calves and dirty feet, his loose white shirt shoved up to his elbows. He looks soft. Comfortable. There’s dirt under his nails, and lute calluses on his fingers.

“Hello, Jaskier,” he says quietly. “Been a while.”

“You’re late, White Wolf,” Jaskier says, walking up to him. There’s a smudge of dirt on his cheek, a leaf in his hair. He smells of sun warmed skin and clean sweat, dandelion sweetness lingering on his breath. He must have been eating them. Geralt half wants to lick the taste from his mouth. “A while indeed, such an understatement. You don’t write, you don’t send word- a man could think he’s been forgotten. Terrible, I tell you, that feeling.”

Geralt smiles slightly as Jaskier’s fingers find his and lace their hands together. They both know full well that Geralt has been writing as much as possible. “As if I could forget you. I love you.”

Jaskier clucks his tongue, his cheeks flushing brilliant red. He’s thrumming with good health. “Oh you bastard, you can’t just say that to me. So anticlimactic, you are. How was the road?”

“Clear and easy.” Geralt rubs his thumb over the ridges of Jaskier’s fine fingers, heart light. “Easy traveling this year. Easier knowing I was coming to you. I’ll stay through your break and accompany you back to Oxenfurt, drop you off.”

“Sap,” Jaskier says, stepping into his space and tipping his head up. His glasses are lighter than they were when Geralt left, and he knows that some days Jaskier can even bear to have them off at full noon now, for a short time. They’ve exchanged quite a few letters.

Geralt hums, mouth twitching in a smile.

“It won’t be too long now,” Jaskier says, abrupt and firm. His eyes are blue, blue, blue, and Geralt can feel the ties that bind them strengthening, the world righting itself with a sigh of relief. A broken bone, snapping into place to heal. “Two years more, and then I’ll be off to adventure. And if you think you can leave me behind for safety’s sake, you have another thing coming.”

“Jaskier…”

“You won’t ever be rid of me,” Jaskier says, and just for a moment Geralt can see him as he will be, in all his splendor and come into the power he’s been gifted. A golden, sparkling thing, full of light and joy no matter the mess he finds himself in, power in his very voice and bones. “I mean it. You pulled out the dark from in me and killed it, and that kind of debt needs paying. On my heart, Geralt of Rivia, I will take the Butcher of Blaviken and kill him dead with my words. And in time only our strong White Wolf will remain where he stood.”

Geralt’s throat tightens as he feels the power in those words bind them.

“Very well,” he says, a promise accepted. “I’ll hold you to it, Lord Jaskier Silvertongue.”

He reaches out, careful, and Jaskier steps in to rest his face against Geralt’s hand. Geralt lets him, and Jaskier reaches up to gently pull his lenses from his face and set them aside on the ledge.

“Come now,” Jaskier whispers, eyes flashing ocean deep as the sunlight hits them, just for a moment. “Please. Allow me to repay you, Geralt, with all my love freely given.”

And Geralt bends to meet him halfway.

FIN