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don't tell me we've grown (for having loved)

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Day 1

Geralt wakes up to the sound of birds singing outside the inn's window—and, more importantly, the cacophony of several metal pots clattering to the ground and the unmistakable baritone of Jaskier's voice saying, "Bollocks!" with great feeling.

"I'm so sorry!" Jaskier continues. "Here, let me help—oh, gods, you have the prettiest eyes, like, erm—like roasted chestnuts!"

Geralt drags a hand over his face. The sun has risen decently in the sky; it's rare he gets to sleep in, especially when Jaskier's taken someone to bed—Geralt's started sleeping with his bags packed, just to expedite the escape process.

But Jaskier is playing at a banquet tonight and they'll be in town all day, unless Geralt can find a contract within a few hours' ride, and apparently Jaskier's bedfellow was, remarkably, not illicit.

Not that they fucked like it. Geralt aggressively shoves that particular auditory memory back down. If he's lucky, Jaskier won't try to wake him and he can go back to—

"Goooood morning, Geralt!" Jaskier enthuses, throwing open Geralt's bedroom door. "It's a beautiful day today, isn't it? Can we go to the market for breakfast? I wanna do some shopping before we stop by the tailor's."

Geralt pinches the bridge of his nose and growls, "Tailor's?"

"Well," Jaskier tells him, shutting the door and gesturing with disdain at the clothes Geralt slept in, "you're sure as Lilit not wearing that tonight. We'll get you something nice."

And by "we," Jaskier means himself. Gone are the days when Geralt's contracts were what kept them (barely) fed. He finds work easier than he did after Blaviken, or even before it—but Jaskier's generous advance for his performance tonight is what put a roof over their heads and grain in Roach's bucket.

It's probably a fair exchange, given the fact that Geralt will endure song after ridiculous song written about himself tonight. He still feels a familiar discomfort in his gut.

"Why do I have to go?" Geralt grumbles, sitting up in bed.

"Because, dear Witcher, the last time I picked out your clothes for you, you moped about all night and scared all the nobility." Jaskier rifles through their bags and finds a stash of coin, which he tucks into his pocket. "Even the ones who didn't want to castrate yours truly."

"That's just my face," Geralt deadpans. But he gets out of bed anyway—the path of least resistance when Jaskier gets into a mood.

Jaskier looks at his reflection in the grimy mirror, frowning at his distorted visage. "I can't see anything in this thing. How do I look?"

"Like you fucked the barmaid." Geralt spins him around by the shoulders and then licks his own hand to scrub at a lipstick stain on Jaskier's cheek. "Smell like it too."

Jaskier glares without heat, crossing his arms. "Be gentle with the money-maker, Geralt!"

"I'm always gentle with Roach."

"Ugh, horrible man! You smell like her—worse, actually."

Geralt smirks. "Better not take me to the tailor, then."

"Mm, very funny." Jaskier fluffs up his hair, which somewhat improves its appearance. Geralt feels the petulant urge to ruin it again. "Nothing's getting you out of tonight—you promised."

Geralt undoes the first two buttons on his trousers so he can tuck his shirt back in and asks, "What if I got kidnapped by bandits?"

"I'd simply use my masterful swordsmanship and unparalleled dexterity and grace to rescue you." Jaskier slaps both hands on Geralt's back and tries to steer him towards the door. "Next question."

Geralt plants his feet and leans his weight back. "I watched you fall into the river from a crouch two days ago."

"I didn't—gods, you're heavy, Geralt—I simply made the abrupt and completely intentional decision to go for a swim." Jaskier drops a shoulder and shoves with his full strength.

"Hm." Geralt steps to the side and watches Jaskier stumble forward with unhindered momentum, another smirk tugging at his lips. "My mistake."

Jaskier spins around, wobbling as he catches his balance, and crosses his arms with a childish pout. 

"Will you just come to breakfast?" he wheedles. "It's one day, Geralt! We'll be back in your beloved wilderness covered in guts in no time."

Geralt sighs, but he reaches down and buttons his trousers. After almost twenty years—a number that makes two of the fingers in Geralt's left hand go numb—he'd think Jaskier would've developed a taste for the wilderness himself. 

He hasn't. He still complains most of the way and sings stupid fucking songs for the rest of it, and groans dramatically and throws himself bodily against Geralt's side when they make it to a tavern. It is, like everything Jaskier does, histrionic. 

There must be something Jaskier genuinely wants out of it, underneath. Whatever it is remains obscured by bright silks and the glint of jewelry only a magpie or a bandit would want.

"Fine," Geralt says anyway. "But I need to look for work."

Jaskier claps his hands, spins on his heels, and leads the way out the door. "I asked around last night. There's a notice board in the marketplace."

Geralt hums and accepts defeat.

They stop to check on Roach around back, who's already been fed and watered by the staff. She still nickers and nudges Geralt in search of treats when he tells her good morning.

"Maybe Miss Roach would like to accompany me to the banquet," Jaskier teases, slipping her an apple slice that he got from gods-know where. "She'd be an excellent bodyguard and an even better conversational partner."

Geralt shrugs noncommittally; he hopes there'll be little need for him to be either tonight. 

"Ooh, what do you want for breakfast?" Jaskier asks, flitting away from Roach and tugging Geralt by the sleeve in the direction of the market. "I've had the worst craving for those—you remember those little pies we had that were stuffed with eggs? Were those in Redania somewhere? You know the ones, I think I described them as—"

"Aedirn," says Geralt. "Near Hagge."

"Damn." Jaskier turns around and walks backwards, tilting his head at Geralt. "Is it the eggs I want or the pie crust? Hmm. What do you want?"

Something with protein.

"I don't care," says Geralt. "Turn around before you trip."

"No." Jaskier grins and spreads his arms. "Catch me!"

Geralt purposefully stalks ahead of him instead.

"Someone's grumpy again." Jaskier does a half-jog to catch up and wraps both of his arms around one of Geralt's. "You're always grumpy after I've had a good fuck. Do you miss me, Geralt?"

“I miss the lost sleep.” Geralt's face is heating up in the sun. He tugs his arm free and keeps walking. "Have you considered that you're even more fucking insufferable after?"

"You suffer me gladly," Jaskier shoots back with unwilted cheer, "you lonely bastard."

They're at the market, which consists of a variety of temporary stalls nestled between the permanent shops on the row. Geralt ignores the pang of hunger and follows his nose to a bakery where there are freshly fried sweetbreads steaming on an open windowsill. 

"An excellent choice, my friend." Jaskier pats Geralt on the shoulder and darts into the shop, peering at all the different delicacies with the enthusiasm of a child. 

It's ridiculous. Jaskier is—how old is he these days? Closer to forty than thirty, maybe. Sometimes doing the math makes Geralt's stomach queasy. 

Jaskier is far from a child, these days, but time has done nothing to temper his excitability, nor clip the impulsive streak. Or, remarkably, Geralt misremembers how much of a fucking terror the bard was at eighteen.

"What's in these?" Jaskier is asking the baker, barely stopping himself from sticking a finger directly into what is obviously a plum tart. "Ooh, and these?"

The baker shoots Geralt a conspiratorially amused look, which he returns with a raised eyebrow. That's Jaskier's real talent—he makes himself such a fucking nuisance that sometimes people let Geralt be part of the background.

"Are you two in town for the banquet?" the baker asks Geralt, who brings up a generous basket of sweetbreads and pays for them with his own dwindling coin before Jaskier can notice. 

"Mm," Geralt confirms. He tilts his head towards Jaskier, who's espousing the pros and cons of sweet versus savory breakfast to a complete stranger who wandered into the shop after them. "He's performing."

The baker gasps, leaning over the counter to get a better look. "That's Jaskier, the troubadour?"

Geralt's mouth twists into a grimace bastardized with reluctant pride. "Yeah."

"That makes you Geralt of Rivia!" she says, which—fuck. "You slayed that manticore outside the capitol a few years back."

Geralt's grimace purifies. "Yeah."

"I can't take your money," says the baker. "Please, breakfast is my thanks to you."

Geralt turns his palms up and insists, "No, that's not necessary. I did a job and this is yours."

Jaskier, lured by the commotion, appears at the counter with more miniature fruit tarts than one human could possibly eat. "What's this about working?"

"Why did you touch all those?" Geralt scolds. "You don't even like strawberry."

"Is that what this is?" Jaskier asks, and takes a bite without waiting for a response. His nose wrinkles with distaste, which is somehow flattering on him. "Ah. Thought it was cherry. Here, Geralt, eat this."

Geralt takes the tart from him patiently. "She told you it was strawberry. I don't want a tart."

"You want sweetbread," Jaskier agrees sagely. He reaches into his pockets to search for his coin purse. "How much for all these delicious delicacies, love?"

He's addressing the baker now, who looks vaguely starstruck. Geralt resists the urge to roll his eyes.

"On the house," the woman says weakly.

"Nonsense!" Jaskier starts counting coins on the table. There are several other customers now—Geralt can feel their eyes on the back of his head; he hunches his shoulders on instinct. "Please, buy something to spoil yourself. What's your favorite stone? Emerald would compliment your complexion so nicely, I think."

Geralt mutters Jaskier's name plaintively. He wants fucking out of here.

"Oh, and please don't take my distaste of strawberries personally. They're the devil's fruit, is all, but some people go in for that," Jaskier chatters brightly. He shoves over a stack of coins. "Geralt fought a devil once! Have you heard that one? When a humble bard—"

Geralt scoops up all the purchases and flees into the street.

Jaskier emerges a few moments later and clucks his tongue at Geralt like he's chiding Roach. "Honestly, Geralt, you need to stop being so shy. The woman just wanted—"

"I'm not shy," Geralt grumbles. He stuffs the rest of the strawberry tart into his mouth and then hands the others over to Jaskier, who makes a face at having to juggle them all. "I don't like people staring."

Jaskier leans into Geralt's space to trill in his ear, "He says like those aren't the same thing."

Geralt knocks into him with a shoulder. 

Jaskier stumbles to the side one and a half steps before regaining his balance. He takes a bite from another tart—the plum one, which seems more to his taste. 

"Honestly, Geralt, you could be a little more gracious in the face of positive attention," he says, talking around a mouthful of pastry, which is an obnoxious habit he magically manages to quash in the presence of anyone besides Geralt. "It's good for our reputation."

"You mean mine," says Geralt. "They love you anyway."

"Do they?" Jaskier asks innocently.

Geralt finally tries his sweetbread; it's good. He grabs Jaskier by the doublet and tugs him out of the way before he walks directly into the path of an oncoming cart. "Will you ever watch where you're going?"

"I don't need to." Jaskier bats his eyelashes. "Not with you to look out for me."

Geralt looks away. "Next time I'll let you get run over."

"Empty threats are unbecoming," Jaskier tells him airily. "Ooh, jewelry. I need a new ring or two."

He's already wearing three. It's useless to point that out.

Geralt meets the eye of the craftsman—and immediately looks away from the scorn he finds there. He drifts further away, keeping an eye on Jaskier while he eats his breakfast, just in case.

Jaskier finishes off his tarts as he shares a brief conversation with the man, which resolves without a purchase being made—but Jaskier doesn't leave empty-handed.

Geralt watches Jaskier's deft fingers pocket a fine silver ring, quicker than most would be able to see. He tenses, waiting to see if the jeweler will notice, but Jaskier rejoins him free of scrutiny.

"There you are!" Jaskier says brightly. "Have you found the notice board yet?"

Geralt rolls his eyes and nudges Jaskier forward. "Thief."

"You're allowed to steal if the other person is rude, Geralt," Jaskier tells him, sounding remarkably offended. "Everyone knows that."

"Hm." Geralt carefully does not examine the feeling in his stomach. "Is that good for our reputation?"

"No one has to know," Jaskier says smugly. Surreptitiously to anyone else, he sneaks the ring into Geralt's pocket. "There—for you."

Geralt glances over at him with suppressed alarm. "I don't need a ring."

Jaskier wipes the grease off his fingers onto Geralt's shirt. "You'd say you didn't need water if someone tried to give it to you."

"No one needs a fucking ring," Geralt argues stubbornly.

"It'll complement your outfit," Jaskier tells him.

Geralt remembers the last of his breakfast. He eats it, mumbling, "We haven't picked an outfit."

"Anything you pick will be dark and boring, which will be complemented by silver," Jaskier says in a tone that suggests he thinks he's being very reasonable. 

Geralt doesn't like how silver looks against his skin when he's taken potions for a fight—all cold and pale. It's more useful than gold, though. 

And if they're lucky—which they often aren't—there won't be any fighting tonight.

It's a short walk until they find a tailor shop, which is busy. Mostly people picking up their newly-refitted clothes for the banquet, not doing last minute shopping like the two of them.

Jaskier immediately drags Geralt over to a selection of formal jackets. Nothing as stuffy as Jaskier's preferred type of doublet—something Geralt could wear open over a shirt. He chatters about colors and styles in a way that Geralt immediately tunes out, staring blankly at the jewel-toned fabrics.

"Can I help you?" a man asks—the tailor himself, judging by the needle and measuring tape on his person. 

"Yes, please, my good sir!" Jaskier says brightly. "We're interested in something you could have ready for my companion by tonight. We're travellers, you see, so there hasn't been time to get him something custom. But you'll probably need to take the jacket out at the shoulders, if you have the time, of course—almost nothing fits you off the rack, does it, Geralt?"

Geralt grunts noncommittally.

"Hmm, may I?" The tailor gestures at Geralt with his measuring tape.

"Fine," mutters Geralt.

He stays still while his measurements are taken, including the ones for his "lovely bottom," as Jaskier still insists on putting it. 

"I have a few things that won't require too many alterations," the tailor says at the end. "Luckily for you, many of my customers wanted to pick up their outfits a few days in advance, so most of my work is actually done."

"Oh, that's fantastic!" Jaskier tells him. "Thank you."

The tailor just shrugs and plucks out a few options. Jaskier rejects one of them out of hand and leaves Geralt with the other two.

The first outfit is a dark blue, like raw sapphire. A subtle silver pattern is embroidered along the edges of the jacket and the trouser pockets—something floral. It'd match the ring.

The second is more conservative, in a dark coal-gray with embellishments just a few shades darker. Geralt can tell the pattern is geometric, but it would take active scrutiny on the part of a human.

"Well?" Jaskier prompts. "Which do you want, Geralt?"

Geralt shrugs helplessly. "I don't care."

"Oh, no, no, no," Jaskier tuts, waving an insistent hand. "We are not playing this game again—I won't pick for you just so you can grouch me all night when I don't pick the one you secretly wanted."

The tailor huffs out a laugh.

Geralt glowers at Jaskier and points at the blue one—which is obviously the one Jaskier would choose—to spite him.

"Excellent!" the tailor says cheerfully. "It'll be ready for you by this evening. I do need half the payment up front."

"Of course," Jaskier agrees. He elbows Geralt in the stomach to get him out of the way and foots the bill himself. "How much did you say?"

Geralt looks around the shop, suddenly feeling squirmy. He hates the idea of Jaskier paying to dress him up like some kind of fucking doll. But it's not like he's the one who wanted the fucking clothes, anyway—like Queen Calanthe once said to him, he'd rather see the night out in armor.

"C'mon, then," Jaskier says. He squeezes Geralt's elbow as he steers him outside. "Let's find you something to stab."

Geralt furrows his eyebrows, looking behind them at the array of bright fabrics. "What about your clothes?"

"Oh, I picked up a formal outfit back in Tridam when I first got this offer," Jaskier says absently. "Ah, that's it up ahead, don't you think? Looks very notice board-y."

Geralt narrows his eyes suspiciously. "We were together in Tridam."

"And if I told you we were heading south for a banquet, would you have come?"

Geralt says nothing.

"That's what I thought." Jaskier peers at the notice board. "Ooh, they've got drowners. Drowners are a classic—you could do that in an afternoon."

Geralt fiddles with the ring in his pocket.

"On the other hand, fighting a garkain sounds a bit sexier, doesn't it?" Jaskier shudders exaggeratedly. "Hideous creatures. I haven't written anything about a vampire in a while. Actually, will you be able to find it during the day?"

Geralt takes the flyer for the drowner infestation and starts heading in the direction of the river. "You coming?"

"Eh, drowners are boring." Jaskier waves him off. "I'll socialize. Meet you back at the inn? We can share a bath—you need it."

Geralt regards him drily. "Stay out of trouble."

"Hmm," says Jaskier. "Nah. But have fun!"

He's off before Geralt can comment further, disappearing into a shop he probably picked at random to make a dramatic exit. 

Fucking little shit. At least he can't see the smile that Geralt's fighting to keep off his face. 

Geralt heads down to the river on his own, planning to follow it upstream until he finds where the drowners are congregated. He waits until he's a safe distance away from one specific pair of prying eyes, then slips the ring onto his pinky finger.

 

~*~

 

Geralt's not sure he would ever describe a hunt as boring. Complacency gets Witchers killed, and he's not actively interested in being dead. He would admit, privately, that dispatching a small colony of drowners isn't the pinnacle of cognitive engagement—he doesn't even take any potions.

Definitely nothing a bard would write a song about. Drowners aren't flashy monsters. They're not really sentient, which would make for a morally engaging tale, nor are they especially dangerous, which would make for a harrowing one. 

They just… are. Geralt kills them because they attack merchants and can't be talked into relocating, and because someone will pay him. He kills them quickly so they don't suffer. 

Afterwards, he brings the trophies and the flyer back into town and meets with the alderman, who is offering the reward on behalf of the town. 

The flyer advertised a reward of fifty crowns. Geralt isn't the mood to haggle when the alderman tries to take him down to forty; he takes the money and doesn't apologize for the muddy water he tracks all over the floor.

Jaskier is already back by the time Geralt trudges into the room, doing some warm up scales on his lute. He asks, "How'd it go?" without looking up.

"You should've come." Geralt wrings his hair dry. "The alderman short-changed me. I know you love threatening politicians."

Jaskier perks up like Roach being offered an apple. "It's not too late to go back."

"Hm," says Geralt. "Did you stay out of trouble?"

"I'm offended you would even ask," Jaskier answers, putting a hand to his chest, which could either mean 'yes' or 'no.'

Geralt pulls off his shirt and drops it to the floor; it makes a wet slapping sound that he knows Jaskier hates. "Bath?"

"Obviously." Jaskier tucks his lute away in its case and hops to his feet with a little stretch. "It's already drawn across the hall. I got your clothes, too—they're waiting in there."

"Thanks," Geralt tells him gruffly, following reluctantly. The closer this banquet, the worse he feels about going. He should've pretended the drowners took longer. Maybe faked a stab wound. Maybe if he gets blood on the new outfit Jaskier won't make him go.

"And anyway," Jaskier is babbling, his hands arcing through the air as he undresses, which means he's been talking while Geralt wasn't paying attention. "It's not like I knew she was the mayor's mother when I fucked her. I mean, that wouldn't have stopped me from a little consensual romp in the hay, but you can't blame me for hypothetical—"

"The mayor of this city?" Geralt asks, fixing Jaskier with a glare.

"Yes, Geralt, keep up." Jaskier shimmies out of the last of his underclothes and tests the water with one hand. "Ah, it's gone a little cold, can you do your thingy-thing-thing? But as I was saying, the banquet's being put on by the count, so the mayor can suck my cock with the same fervor—"

"Get in the fucking bath."

"—you get in the fucking bath, you flirt." Jaskier grins cheekily. 

Geralt dips his hand into the tub and casts Igni, heating the water to a relaxing temperature. He's still wearing his leggings; he strips out of those and then reaches for a sponge that he uses to rinse off the worst of the grime sticking to him. 

He doesn't look up, but he can hear Jaskier groan as he sinks into the water. It's an obscene sound, probably similar to ones he made while the mayor's mother sucked his cock.

Geralt hates that he knows that.

"Nothing like a good bath," Jaskier says. He splashes half-heartedly at Geralt, who steps out of the way without looking. "Join me."

"Give me a minute." Geralt finds soap and hair oil, both of which Jaskier had forgotten to bring over. "Unless you don't wanna get clean."

"Mm, my hero," Jaskier drawls. Geralt finally looks over to find him making grabby hands. "Gimme. Is that rosemary oil?"

Geralt sniffs. The one he picked up isn't, but one of the other bottles is. He swaps them and then joins Jaskier in the bath, setting the bottle on the rim of the tub and dunking the soap in the water.

"Want help with your hair?" Jaskier offers, which Geralt knows really means, 'I hate the way you do your hair yourself.'

"Fine," he answers anyway, slipping down to wet it in the bath.

Jaskier slides over in the tub and takes the soap. He runs his fingers through Geralt's hair first, untangling the worst of the knots. It's probably better than having to do it himself; Jaskier is always complaining that Geralt's too hard on it.

Geralt's not sure what the point of a gentle hand is. His hair will just knot up again tomorrow, and most of the time it doesn't even matter how it looks. 

"Under again," Jaskier tells him with a tap on his shoulder.

Geralt obeys, tilting his chin up to keep his mouth above water. He glances at Jaskier's face—then quickly away at the gentle smile he finds there. 

It unsettles him. 

"Okay," Jaskier says, clearing his throat. "Now, about tonight."

Geralt sits up, angling himself so it's easier for Jaskier to reach his whole head. "Anyone besides the mayor wanna kill you?"

Jaskier begins working the soap into Geralt's scalp. "Well…"

"Don't worry." Geralt smirks. "I'll break out the ox story again. Works like a charm."

"Regrettably," says Jaskier, frothing up the suds, "Valdo Marx has personal confirmation that I am in possession of my bollocks."

Geralt's eyes slip shut. "Valdo's coming?"

The massage Jaskier is giving Geralt's scalp turns a little aggressive. "He's not performing, the ponce, and thank Melitele and all the others for that. Never have I met a more pretentious, haughty—"

"You're the most pretentious person I know," Geralt rumbles. 

"Under." Jaskier keeps Geralt's head lower as he washes the soap clean. "And you haven't met Valdo fucking Marx. The man is the most arrogant pigskin filled with hot air excuse for a poet I've ever met! Do you know what he said to me the last time we spoke?"

Geralt sits up and patiently asks, "What did he say?"

"He told me I was derivative!" Jaskier flicks water droplets everywhere as he gestures, Geralt's hair forgotten. "He said my latest song was music without art! When I see him tonight I'm going to—"

"Maybe I'll ask him to compose a ballad about my next adventure," Geralt cuts in drily. "I've been looking to elevate—"

"I'll elevate you," says Jaskier, and dunks Geralt under the water.

Geralt lets him. He emerges with the soap scum dripping off of him and spits a mouthful of bathwater directly into Jaskier's face, who splutters dramatically and splashes him with both hands.

"Horrible! Horrible, disgusting little man!" Jaskier scolds with a laugh. "Absolutely the worst muse I've ever had! My next song will be about how badly your feet smell."

"Then wash my feet."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

Jaskier tries to push Geralt under again, but this time Geralt grabs his wrists and dunks him first.

He comes back up laughing, which ruins the effect of the glare he's trying to fix Geralt with. His hair is sopping wet and dripping in his face and his cheeks have turned bright pink from the laughter, Valdo Marx forgotten. 

His wrists flex against Geralt's grip, but he doesn't tug free.

Geralt drops the hold anyway. They shouldn't wrestle in the bath. Or at all, probably. They're comfortable around each other, fine—but it's… weird. Geralt's already a little hard from having his hair washed—not a big deal, just something his body does, but it'd be taking advantage to push it any further. 

"Come here, you boor," Jaskier tells him, already shifting back over. "We've gotta let the oil soak."

Geralt coughs lightly and hands him the bottle.

 

~*~

 

"Did we have to sit here?" Geralt mutters, eyes shifting as he takes in all the people surrounding them. He fucking hates sitting in the middle of a table and Jaskier knows that.

"Hush," Jaskier scolds. He reaches over and pats Geralt's knee. "I know how you get—the seating was assigned. Don't worry too much, you know I'll carry the conversation."

Geralt rips himself a chunk of bread with more force than necessary. "Until you perform."

"Don't worry," says a stranger—a sorcerer, judging by the thrum of Geralt's medallion—who takes his seat on Geralt's other side. "I assure you I'm easily pleased—in conversation, that is."

Geralt turns to look at the other man; he's of stocky build, with dark hair that has a touch of silver at the temples and a glinting smile.

"Natan of Prana," the man says, extending a hand. "Pleased to meet you."

Jaskier leans clean across Geralt's body to shake Natan's hand first. "Jaskier the bard, at your service—quite immediately, since I'm tonight's entertainment—and very interested in the ways in which you may be, erm, more challenging to please."

Geralt knows the spark of interest in Jaskier's eyes when he sees it. He kicks his shin under the table—haven't they learned their joint lesson about mages by now? 

"And this is my dear friend and travelling companion, Geralt of Rivia!" Jaskier adds brightly, still shaking Natan's hand and completely missing the point. "Don't mind his face, it just does that."

Geralt's scowl deepens.

"Good to meet you, Jaskier." Natan glances between the two of them. "And Geralt."

"Likewise," Geralt grumbles. He kicks Jaskier harder this time, which at least gets him to sit back down. "Do you advise the count?"

Natan laughs brightly. "No, no—I might hail from the area, but my position in court is elsewhere. I'm here as a citizen tonight. I'm assuming you are as well, or else this banquet won't be half as boring as I'm expecting it to be."

Geralt returns to his bread, which he smothers in butter that smells faintly of honey. "No one's hired me to be here. But I'm hardly Redanian."

"You're hardly Rivian either," Natan observes. "The accent is splendid though."

Geralt hides his flinch in the flick of his knife. He can't remember the last time someone spotted a flaw in his speech.

Jaskier, apparently noticing Geralt's discomfort, smoothly changes the subject. "Is that Rivian tailoring, then, Natan? The embroidery is flawless."

"Oh, no." Natan waves him off. "I created these, actually. The benefits of being able to harness chaos."

"Jaskier is chaos," Geralt says drily. "Maybe you could harness him."

Jaskier smacks him on the arm. "I changed my mind—I clearly can't leave you alone or you'll conspire against me."

"Okay." Geralt arches an eyebrow. "I'll have them tell Valdo he can perform instead."

"How dare you!" Jaskier huffs and snatches up Geralt's bread. "Honestly Geralt, I can't believe you—oh, speak of the fucking devil, hello, Valdo!"

A man with thinning hair and aggressively formal posture has approached them, standing with his hands clasped behind his back. Cooly, he acknowledges, "Julian."

"You're looking as wonderful as ever," Jaskier tells him in a tone that suggests it isn't very wonderful at all. "What brings you to such an esteemed function as this? Are you performing?"

Geralt's lips curve. He steals his bread back after a brief scuffle and takes a bite.

"Oh, no," Valdo says with a dismissive arc of his hand. "You know I prefer more… academic engagements. But I was so heartened to hear you'll be entertaining the masses tonight. You'll have the place dancing in no time, I'm sure."

"Thank you!" Jaskier says with exaggerated sincerity. "I do love playing a good jig. You know, I've always said, 'what's the point of art if it doesn't connect with people?'"

Valdo's pleasant smile twitches. "Well, we all know you have a talent for… connecting. Somewhat chronically, I've heard—the mayor's mother, really?"

"Just enjoying life," Jaskier says through a stiff jaw. "You should try it sometime."

Geralt gets the uncomfortable feeling that he should intervene. He can hear Jaskier's pulse quickening in an unpleasant fashion.

"Well, I suppose an older woman's one way to start acting your age, at least," Valdo says. "I've been talking with some of the old Oxenfurt bunch, and we've all been worried about how much time you spend on the road, Julian. It can't be good for your health."

Geralt's temper snaps like a twig underfoot. He curls his lip and growls, "This conversation won't be good for yours."

Valdo's heartbeat goes through the roof, but he backs up smoothly. The metallic edge of fear stings Geralt's nose.

"I better take my seat," Valdo says, his voice shaking. "Good luck tonight, Julian."

He flees to a second banquet table across the dining hall, where another man pulls out his chair for him and turns to glare at their group with a protective curiosity not unlike Geralt's own.

Humans have the stupidest fucking conflicts.

Geralt's happy to be rid of this one. He tears himself another chunk of bread.

"Wow," says Natan. "I'm thrilled they sat me here. Your lives are much more fascinating than mine."

"Geralt," Jaskier says calmly, "can I speak with you in the garden?"

Geralt frowns at Jaskier's empty plate. "You need to eat something. You're performing during the main course."

Jaskier plucks the bread out of Geralt's hands (again) and throws it down on his own plate. "Did you bring any of your potions with you?"

"No," Geralt says warily. "Why?"

"Because I need something with which to poison Valdo Marx," Jaskier informs him pleasantly, "to make it clear I did not just lose that argument."

Geralt looks between Jaskier and the other banquet table. "You won. He left."

"No." Jaskier rips off a tiny chunk of bread and chews it politely. He swallows and says, "You won by going all Witcher-y, and now it looks like I can't defend myself against a man who doesn't believe in dancing."

Geralt feels his irritation spike again. "You make me defend you all the time. I literally fight your battles for you."

"Because I can't decapitate a ghoul, Geralt!" Jaskier hisses. "Or—or punch a blacksmith who thinks I've—wait, no, context irrelevant—"

Fuck, he's really mad.

"—but I can trade insults with that sallow louse of a—a pompous arse myself."

Well, how the fuck is Geralt supposed to know the difference?

"You can't drag me here to protect you and then get mad when I do it," Geralt says.

Jaskier crosses his arms. "When did I ask you to do that, exactly?"

"You didn't have to," Geralt snaps. He gestures between them with a sharp flick. "That's how it always goes."

"Oh, of course, my mistake." Jaskier snatches up his lute, clutching it like a shield between them. "I forgot that I've never done anything for you. Geralt of Rivia, the lone fucking Wolf, selfless and long-suffering protector, whose clothes magically appeared on his person and hair washed itself!"

Geralt recoils like a mutt cuffed on the ears.

Jaskier's eyes widen—maybe as the words sink in for him, too. He cradles the lute with one arm to take up his plate in his other arm and says, "Um, I better—I think I need to warm up soon, so…"

He takes his leave, retreating with his food to the garden.

Geralt massages at his temples.

Natan whistles sharply. "That was quite the scene, friend."

"I'm not your friend," Geralt mutters. He reaches for another piece of fucking bread. "And that was none of your business."

"Mm, well, you did sort of make it everyone's business," says Natan. "Given that you had the lovers' quarrel in public. Everyone knows that means us busybodies get a fair shake at it."

Geralt scowls. "Not lovers. And not quarreling."

"He said some pretty hurtful things, honey," says the woman sitting across from them who Geralt's never fucking met.

"And he didn't even apologize," the woman next to her adds.

There's no butter left. Geralt eats his bread plain. What Jaskier really needs to apologize for is leaving him alone at this fucking gods-forsaken table.

Natan waves his hand and Geralt's bread is suddenly warm as if fresh from the oven, honey-butter melting invitingly on top. It takes so little effort from him that Geralt's medallion barely tingles.

Geralt flicks his eyes over. "Thanks."

"You're very welcome," Natan replies smoothly. His gaze settles on something over Geralt's shoulder. "He's really not a lover?"

Geralt turns—as expected, Natan is watching Jaskier in the garden. He's sitting on the edge of a prominent fountain, his lute propped up on one knee while he plays scales. Geralt can hear him from here, though he doubts anyone else could; his voice is steady.

Good. Geralt might have wounds to lick, but he's not vindictive enough to wish Jaskier a poor performance. 

"No," he tells Natan. "He's…"

A simple answer fails to appear. And Geralt's suddenly reminded that he hardly owes one to this sorcerer.

"We're fine," he says instead. "We'll both get over it."

"If you say so," Natan says skeptically. 

Geralt grunts, hopefully to firmly end the line of conversation. Or any conversation.

He gets his wish, for the most part. The two women across the table belatedly introduce themselves and begin to discuss local politics with Natan, a topic which Geralt is happy to stay uninvolved in.

The next time he looks over at Jaskier, their eyes meet. Geralt quickly turns away.

 

~*~

 

It isn't long before Jaskier sweeps into the hall and the main course gets brought out. There's a massive amount of food like there always is at these things; Geralt makes himself a plate and then takes a second one, which he piles up with a sampling of meats and vegetables that look like they'll keep the best.

Jaskier will be hungry after his performance.

It's a good set. Ones fueled by spite usually are, and Geralt's managed to give Jaskier a double dose of that. He watches with self-deprecating amusement as Jaskier avoids every single song he's ever written about Geralt over the course of an hour and a half long dinner. 

If anything, that's the apology. Geralt fucking hates it when attention gets drawn to him at a function like this. Bad track record.

Valdo Marx, for his part, appears to be sourly ignoring the music. 

"I thought you were his muse," Natan mutters to Geralt.

Geralt hums absently. He'd never admit it to Jaskier's face, but he likes this song. He likes how Jaskier looks performing it—brimming with youthful cheer, gliding through the room like he owns it.

It reminds him of the early days. Back then, he might've thought Jaskier would actually part ways with him over a disagreement like this. He might've wanted him to.

Geralt knows that isn't true now. He was convinced Jaskier would finally see sense and turn tail after the djinn, but he didn't. If that won't scare him off…

Maybe it should worry Geralt a little. This is what he was talking about with the lack of self-preservation. Of course he has to get involved sometimes.

He's still chewing on that when Jaskier finishes the first set. There'll be a break while people transition out of dinner, and then he'll play again so the guests can dance. 

Jaskier reappears at Geralt's shoulder, takes the plate Geralt made for him with a raised eyebrow, and then slinks away to pull up a chair between two young women instead.

Geralt snorts into his ale. Typical. He just wishes the people around him would stop shooting each other looks. It makes his skin crawl. Is his confidence misplaced? 

There's a peal of laughter down the table. One of the women is hanging off of Jaskier's arm and swatting at his chest. He gestures broadly, clearly telling one of his ridiculous stories. He's sitting just far enough away that Geralt would have to sharpen his hearing on purpose to eavesdrop, the little shit.

Desserts are laid out. Geralt's had his fill of sweets for the day, but he helps himself to the mulled wine being served alongside it. Jaskier seems to have the same idea, going steadily pinker-cheeked as he feeds bites of cake to the woman not in his lap.

Looks like Geralt'll get another night with the bed to himself—if Jaskier's fancy doesn't shift after his second set.

As if on cue, Jaskier bows graciously to his companions and takes up his lute again.

Natan nudges Geralt and asks, "Do you dance?"

"No," Geralt says.

Jaskier begins to play—just an instrumental at first, to warm up the crowd.

"I was hoping I could tempt you," Natan ventures.

Geralt glances over at him. He's handsome; if Jaskier weren't working, he'd probably already have Natan in a dark corner.

"I'm not easily tempted," Geralt says, turning his gaze back to the dance floor. "But flattered."

"And you have eyes for someone else," Natan agrees.

Geralt frowns faintly. Does Natan know Yennefer?

He can't still be fixated on Jaskier. Geralt made the nature of that relationship clear.

"No eyes for anyone." Geralt tilts his glass in a dry toast. "Except for a good night's sleep, which I probably won't get tonight. Functions like this always seem to last forever."

Natan chuckles.

Geralt takes a sip of his wine. He does enjoy spectating, on occasion. Watching the dancing is almost meditative, and Jaskier knows how to brighten the mood in a room.

"No need to keep me company," he tells Natan. "I'm sure you could find a dance partner elsewhere."

Natan shrugs, plucking a strawberry off the top of the half-eaten cake in front of them. "I'm not an easily intrigued man."

Geralt finds that doubtful; he's been plenty intrigued by Geralt's rudimentary social life. But he won't go through the trouble of telling the man off. 

A few songs pass. Jaskier starts up "The Fishmonger's Daughter," which makes Geralt groan involuntarily. This song can be played for seemingly infinite rounds, and Jaskier has been known to milk it accordingly.

"Why not just head home, if you're so eager for the night to end?" Natan asks him.

Geralt shrugs in Jaskier's direction. "Gotta keep him out of trouble. Nobles are petty—and he's fucked at least one man's wife today."

"Do you?" Natan asks, sounding bemused. "I seem to recall a conversation in which you were told to stay out of it."

Geralt grits his teeth, tapping his fingers on the table. The ring Jaskier gave him clinks against the wood.

"He didn't mean it."

"You seem sure."

Geralt drains his wine glass. He hasn't had nearly enough to get drunk on regular booze, but he'd admit to being slightly tipsy. 

"I am," he says.

Natan pours himself another glass, then gestures with an offer to fill Geralt's as well.

Geralt accepts, though he sets it back down without drinking. He wants to slow down a little.

Most of the table empties without them—first to join the dancing, then to head home as the flames dwindle low in the candelabras.

Jaskier plays anyway, laughing and twirling around the room with the guests. At one point he catches Geralt's eye and winks.

Even Natan eventually retires for the evening. He bows formally and bids Geralt goodnight with a tired smile.

Geralt waves him off and thanks him politely for the company, though privately, he would've been just as content alone. Not worth hurting someone's feelings over.

He fiddles with his wine glass, debating whether or not he'll need another to get through the rest of the evening, when Jaskier finishes what's apparently his final song.

Thank the gods. Geralt's fucking exhausted. Once he makes sure Jaskier is going home with someone who won't get him killed before morning, he can crawl into bed and sleep off this fucking shit day.

Jaskier makes his way through the dwindling crowd, accepts the rest of his payment from the beleaguered but satisfied-looking count, and then bypasses the two women from earlier in favor of depositing himself into Geralt's lap.

"Hi," Jaskier says. He tugs the glass out of Geralt's hand and takes a long drink. "I was very mean to you earlier."

Geralt raises an eyebrow. "So you're apologizing by stealing my wine?"

Jaskier taps his fingers against Geralt's collar bone, leaning languidly into Geralt's chest. "Mm, no. You're giving me your wine to apologize for being very mean to me."

"Okay." Geralt turns his face away to hide the smile spreading across it. He shifts in his seat and feels Jaskier sway dangerously—wraps an arm around his middle to secure him. "What do I get?"

Jaskier plants a wet, smacking kiss on Geralt's forehead. "Take it or leave it."

Geralt snorts. Performing either leaves Jaskier drunk on adoration or dead on his feet. "I'll take it. Couldn't find someone to take you home?"

Jaskier rests his cheek on his arm, which is draped on Geralt's shoulder, and says, "You get lonely after we fight."

He lifts his other arm and taps Geralt on the nose with a finger. 

Geralt glares half-heartedly. "Fuck off."

"Mm, let's go home first." Jaskier smiles against Geralt's shoulder. "'S illegal to fuck off in public in this city."

"Don't wanna know why you know that," Geralt says flatly, but he helps Jaskier to his feet. He keeps an arm around his middle just in case, but Jaskier seems steady enough.

Jaskier grins mischievously. He grabs his lute case off the ground—the movement immediately throws him off balance, and Geralt takes the case from him.

"I can carry it!" Jaskier insists, but makes no move to take it back.

"Hm," says Geralt. He steers Jaskier towards the exit with a hand on the back of his neck. 

Jaskier huffs, then launches into his classic post-performance rant as soon as they're out on the street.

"What did you think? Did people like the song choices? A lot of people danced. Did too many people dance?" Jaskier rolls his eyes when Geralt snorts. "I mean, maybe there wasn't enough conversation going on—oh, but you conversated! Did you have fun?"

Geralt shushes him when they make it back to the inn. "It was fine. Don't wake everyone up."

"You shush!" Jaskier scolds, putting a finger up to Geralt's lips.

Geralt fights the urge to bite Jaskier's hand, just to be a dick. He unlocks their room and ushers Jaskier inside. 

Jaskier's doublet came undone halfway through his first set. He shrugs out of it quickly, then strips out of his chemise and trousers too. Down to his underwear, he throws himself onto the bed.

Geralt sighs, taking off his own clothes and then crawling under the covers. "C'mere, you'll get cold."

"You do get lonely," Jaskier accuses, which makes no fucking sense. Geralt literally just said—

Oh. Jaskier doesn't just get under the covers. He wriggles over and lays his head on Geralt's chest and slings an arm across Geralt's middle.

That's not what Geralt meant. 

He stiffens for a moment, unsure how to—

"Don't worry," Jaskier murmurs. He pats Geralt on the ribs. "'M here, you grump."

And… there's no harm in this, is there? They've had a long day. And besides, they'll probably roll apart in the night and forget about it by morning. Especially Jaskier, after that last glass of wine.

Geralt exhales and says, "Okay."

 

Day 1

Geralt wakes up to birdsong and the sun casting pleasant tendrils across the bed. He hums to himself and stretches languidly; it's rare that he gets to sleep in, especially when Jaskier's taken someone to bed the night before.

Speaking of Jaskier, Geralt can hear him flirting with someone in the hallway. With any luck, he'll be preoccupied with that for a while and won't bother—

"Geralt," says Jaskier cautiously, opening the door to Geralt's room and slipping inside. "Something really strange is happening to me."

Geralt raises a sardonic eyebrow. "You finally pleasured a woman?"

"Very funny," Jaskier tells him, sounding distracted. He touches a hand to his cheek, scrubbing at a stain there. "Do I have lipstick on my face?"

"Yeah." Geralt licks his hand and waves Jaskier over. "C'mere, I'll get it."

Jaskier blinks at him. "Do you want sweetbread for breakfast?"

Geralt thinks about it. He furrows his eyebrows and sits up a little, giving up on the possibility of extra sleep. "I guess. Why?"

"Oh, good!" Jaskier sits down at the edge of the bed and cheerfully informs him, "Either I've had the most vivid, prophetic dream of my life, or I've lived this day before."

Fuck.

Geralt pinches the bridge of his nose and asks, "What the fuck did you do, Jaskier?"

"Excuse me?"

Geralt narrows his eyes. "If you're right, someone cursed you. Who did you piss off?"

"Oh!" Jaskier flops down against the mattress, his cheek nudging against Geralt's bicep. "It's hard to say, really. It was a busy day."

Geralt tilts his face to the ceiling. He was already dreading the banquet tonight, and now he has to deal with this shit. "Is this the first time you've had this feeling?"

"Oh, yes! Yeah, this is definitely the first time." Jaskier sits up again, leaving their arms pressed together. "You really don't remember anything? Let me see your hand."

"What?" Geralt asks, but Jaskier is already tugging at his arm. He relents, fingers curling reflexively when Jaskier traces over his pinky. "I remember getting into town last night and you fucking the barmaid while I tried to sleep."

Jaskier looks up, but his fingers stay wrapped around Geralt's wrist. "That should be two days ago. I gave you a ring yesterday. Geralt, I swear I remember the entire banquet. I remember coming back here drunk and falling asleep together!"

Geralt tugs his hand free, feeling his face heat up. "You did what?"

"The ring? To match your outfit." Jaskier stands up and begins pacing the room. "Geralt, do you really think I'm cursed? Is this a time loop? Or maybe the barmaid had the gift of prophecy! Was it a warning? Nothing that bad happened in the—"

"Maybe you just had a bad dream," Geralt grumbles. He feels like he's in one now. "That feeling where something's happened before. It could pass."

Jaskier looks skeptical. "Maybe. But what if it isn't that?"

Geralt sighs and gets out of bed. "Then we can deal with it. For now, the most important thing is trying to remember what happened. Especially anything you did to piss someone off."

"Right, but that's a lot of stuff, Geralt!" Jaskier marches over and straightens out Geralt's shirt for him, firmly tucking it into Geralt's trousers. "You know how controversial my existence is."

Geralt just raises an eyebrow.

"Anyway, if we're retracing our hypothetical steps, we need to go to the market," Jaskier tells him. "Baker, then jeweler, then tailor. Or was it jeweler first? No, I was eating a tart. Bakery first!"

"Tailor?" Geralt asks warily.

Jaskier drags Geralt towards the door. "You were just as enthusiastic yesterday. I'm making you pick your own outfit because you can't wear this and I'm not letting you grouch me all night when I pick something you don't like."

"I always hate the tailor's," Geralt points out drily. "Not exactly the pinnacle of prophecy."

"How's this for prophecy," says Jaskier as they exit from the back of the inn to the stables. "The baker will adore you and the jeweler won't. The tailor will have three outfits he can make ready by tonight and one of them will be hideous, and for some reason you'll pick the blue and silver one even though the gray one is clearly more to your exceedingly boring taste."

Roach has already been fed. Geralt still grooms her while Jaskier chatters, and smiles when she tries to stick her nose into his pockets in search of treats.

"Now you've spoiled that choice," Geralt says. He kisses Roach on the muzzle. 

"Whatever." Jaskier cranes his neck to look at the main road. "Can we go? We're behind schedule, I think."

Geralt follows him back onto the street. "Nothing you've said convinces me someone cursed you."

"Well, I did steal the ring," Jaskier says. "But I'm pretty sure the jeweler didn't notice. Oh! There's bounties out on drowners and garkains—you took the drowner contract and I fucked the mayor's mother."

Geralt smirks. "In front of the drowners?"

Jaskier shoves him. "Lovely woman. Do I have to fuck her again? It will be a significant hardship but I will humbly accept my duty."

The smell of freshly baked bread reaches Geralt's nose. "Is this the bakery?"

"Yes, it is—oh, wow, it's already crowded in there." Jaskier frowns. "We just barely beat the rush last time."

Or they've never actually been here.

But Geralt follows Jaskier inside anyway.

"Hmm," Jaskier says, inspecting the various tarts while the baker helps another customer. "One of these is delicious cherry and the other one is the devil's fruit. Geralt, which one of these looks like strawberry?"

"Wait," says the baker. "Are you Geralt of Rivia?"

Several pairs of eyes land on Geralt at once.

"Uh," he says.

"He sure is!" Jaskier brightly confirms. "And I'm Jaskier, the bard. We're in town for the banquet."

The baker smiles eagerly. "You saved us from the manticore a few years ago, didn't you? We're in your debt."

Geralt grimaces. "No, you're not. I was just doing a job."

"Please, let breakfast be my treat," the baker insists. "As thanks."

Geralt glances over at Jaskier helplessly, who is gathering up an armful of miniature tarts and fumbling with a coin purse in his other hand. 

"No, please, we insist you let us pay you!" he says, dumping coins on the counter. A tart wobbles and falls; Geralt catches it before it splatters on the ground. "Thank you. Now, why don't you treat yourself to something nice, love?"

Geralt takes a step back towards the exit.

The tart he's holding is definitely strawberry. It's too late to put it back, so he puts it between his teeth and grabs a handful of sweetbreads on his way out the door, trusting Jaskier's generous coin pile to cover it.

Jaskier finds him leaning against the side of the building, having slipped behind a market stall into the alley. "I told you the baker would like you."

Geralt bites broodily into a fried liver. "And you made me go back anyway."

"You said to keep things the same!" Jaskier eats an entire tart whole and talks with his mouth full. "I didn't even take the free food. I did a good thing."

"You know I hate attention," Geralt mutters.

Jaskier pats him unsympathetically on the arm. "You could get used to the good sort, you know. Those people thought you were a hero."

Geralt pushes away from the wall and slips back into the street. "There's no good attention. I wanna be left alone."

"Yeesh. You're definitely in the same mood as yesterday." Jaskier knocks their shoulders together and stays there until Geralt nudges him away. "What's got you all grumpy, Geralt? Woke up on the wrong side of the bed without me?"

Geralt glances at him sidelong. "You're annoying me."

"I think you missed me," says Jaskier.

He's too busy fixing Geralt with a shit-eating grin to notice the cart heading straight for him. Geralt grabs him by the doublet and tugs him out of the way at the last minute.

"Will you ever watch where you're going?" Geralt complains.

"Don't need to." Jaskier turns fully around, walking backwards down the street. "You'll save me."

Geralt rolls his eyes and threatens, "Next time I'll let you get run over."

"I guess we'll see about that," Jaskier shoots back, then immediately stumbles over a patch of uneven ground and drops one of his tarts. "Oh, bollocks."

Geralt suppresses a laugh. He watches Jaskier scoop up the ruined tart, which landed filling-side down, and then toss it into the alley for the rats.

"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up." Jaskier bites into another one with a pout. "Anything to cheer you up, dear. Oh, shit, I think that was the jeweler. Turn around."

 

~*~

 

They go back for the jeweler, who scowls at Geralt like Jaskier predicted, and Jaskier steals the ring again; Geralt holds it up to his medallion, but finds nothing strange about the ring itself.

"That doesn't mean the man didn't curse you," Geralt warns.

Jaskier grabs Geralt's hand and slips the ring onto his pinky. "Does that mean you believe I'm cursed?"

Geralt tugs his hand away and shoves it in his pocket, uncomfortably aware of the strange weight on his finger.

"No," he says. "We've gotta keep looking."

 

~*~

 

Geralt is tempted to pick the gray outfit at the tailor's, just to piss off Jaskier, but he knows he can't. What the fuck would've possessed him to get this blue one, with all its embellishments? 

Jaskier is convinced the clothes are exactly as he remembers them.

Geralt starts to feel worse about the whole situation. If they've really lived this day before, what happened that doomed them to repeat it?

He goes to dispatch the drowners while Jaskier commits to the task of seducing a woman he's already slept with. At the alderman's house, Geralt drops the sack of drowner parts on the floor, slaps the flyer on the table, and says, "I'll take what I'm owed."

The alderman, a pale man who turns paler, counts out fifty crowns onto the table.

Geralt returns to the inn like they agreed and finds Jaskier waiting in their room, playing the lute.

"Did you fuck who you were supposed to?" Geralt asks him. He tugs his soaked shirt over his head and drops it to the ground.

"I did! She was just as engaging the second time, and even more impressed with yours truly." Jaskier puffs out his chest proudly. "One point in camp 'I've Lived Today Before.'"

"Hm," says Geralt. "But the alderman paid me the full bounty."

Jaskier frowns. "He was supposed to give you forty. Did you make a scary face at him? Maybe you made a scarier face today."

"It's just my normal face," Geralt says. "Can we take the bath now?"

"It's ready across the hall." Jaskier leads him there, carefully avoiding the puddle Geralt is dripping onto the floor. "Let me wash your hair."

Geralt must have let him last time. Or he's just taking advantage; Jaskier hates it when Geralt does his own hair.

It's not like this decision will help them figure out the curse. Geralt relents, watching Jaskier strip out of his clothes and then look through the modest collection of oils on a nearby table. 

"The water'll be cold," Jaskier tells him. He bends over to sniff a bottle, finds it lacking, and puts it back. "Can you heat it up?"

Geralt flicks his eyes away from Jaskier. He tests the water and, finding it tepid, uses Igni to bring it to a better temperature again. 

"So what happened with the woman?" he asks, unbuttoning his damp leggings and peeling them down his thighs. "Did someone catch you?"

"The mayor came over to bring his mother lunch." Jaskier sets the oil and soap on the side of the tub and then splashes Geralt with a flick of his hand. "He was not thrilled, to say the least. Which I expected, by the way, and I'll have you know that I had half a mind to climb out the window rather than suffer that again, but I did like you asked and let myself get caught."

"Congratulations," Geralt drawls. They both climb into the bath and Jaskier sidles up to him, a sponge in hand. "Did he seem like he wanted to curse you?"

Jaskier drags the sponge down the side of Geralt's throat, cleaning off the grime there. Fuck, Geralt forgot to rinse off before getting in the water.

"Of course he did, Geralt." Jaskier tilts his head, his tongue peeking out from between his lips as he washes Geralt off. "You seem like you want to curse me half the time. Wouldn't the mayor remember if he did it, though?"

The sponge drifts downwards, dampening Geralt's chest hair and brushing against one of his nipples. He shifts restlessly, sinking further down into the water.

"Not necessarily," he explains. Jaskier, apparently satisfied, sets the sponge aside and taps on Geralt's shoulder; Geralt wets his hair in the water before sitting up again. "Time loops are complicated. They tend to suck everything in, which is why only one person remembers. Someone incredibly fucking skilled could keep themselves out of it, but most of the time everyone besides the subject of the curse forgets."

Jaskier combs his fingers through Geralt's hair, gently tugging at the knots. It does feel better than when Geralt does it himself.

"That's fucking daft," Jaskier says. His fingers are soothing, working a lather into Geralt's hair. "Why would you risk dooming yourself to that fate to spite someone else?"

Geralt's eyes flutter half-shut. Under the right circumstances, he could fall asleep like this. If this really is a loop, he won't remember if he ever does.

"Exactly," he murmurs. "That's why they're so rare. I've been in one before, but it wasn't a curse."

Jaskier massages at Geralt's scalp. "Oh? Do tell."

"Mousesack, the druid," Geralt says. His chin droops towards his chest; he twitches back upright, blinking his eyes open. "He created a loop so he could find a cure for the plague without more people dying. Caught me in it on accident."

"Down," Jaskier coaxes softly. 

Geralt sinks under the water, feeling the warmth lap at his jaw as Jaskier rinses his hair of the soap.

"So you both remembered?" Jaskier asks. He squeezes the excess water from Geralt's hair and reaches for the oil. "No wonder you two are friends."

Geralt hums noncommittally.

"Maybe when this is over, you'll admit to being mine," Jaskier says lightly.

"If this is a loop," Geralt corrects slowly, "I won't remember anything besides the last day when it breaks."

Jaskier's fingers snag on a fresh knot in Geralt's hair.

"Right," he says. "Guess I'll mostly be on my own."

Geralt turns his head to face him—the earnest blue of his eyes, the plushness of his lower lip where he's been worrying at it with his teeth. He rarely admits to being afraid quietly.

"You won't be," says Geralt. "You'll come to me in the morning and I'll help you. Always."

Jaskier smiles, his eyelids drooping even as they crinkle at the corners, and says, "I guess we'll see."

 

~*~

 

"And there's nothing else I need to know about the banquet?" Geralt asks warily, tugging at his collar. They're in line to present their invitation to the guards.

Well, Jaskier's invitation. But he has assured Geralt that bringing a companion wasn't an issue the first time either.

"Nope, nothing!" Jaskier says brightly. "We'll suffer an interaction with Valdo, I'll avoid the mayor and perform some lovely songs—oh, you'll make a friend, but I won't spoil that for you. And we'll leave together at the end of the night."

Geralt glances over at him—he's fiddling with the corner of the invitation, wearing the sturdy parchment thin. "You're not leaving anything out?"

"I'm offended you would even ask!" Jaskier tells him, which could just as likely mean 'yes' or 'no.'

Geralt stares, unimpressed.

Jaskier becomes very interested in a prominent banner hanging over the building's entrance. "You and I may have had a teeny, teeny little spat. But we made nice by the end of the evening, anyway, and it's not like you cursed me! You certainly have more sense than to leave yourself at my mercy like that."

If he's fishing for a compliment, Geralt isn't biting.

It's as he said—Geralt would never subject himself to this willingly. The idea of Jaskier being at the helm of their fate makes him want to go back to the inn and drown himself in the bath.

This whole day has probably been a bizarre, travel exhaustion-induced whim. Tomorrow they'll wake up on the other side of it and Geralt will sulk until Jaskier apologizes for wasting both their time.

They finally make it into the dining hall, and Geralt bites his tongue when they're seated in the middle like Jaskier warned him.

Not that it stops Jaskier from gloating. 

"See!" he says, stealing the chunk of bread that Geralt is in the process of slathering with butter. "I told you we'd be here again."

Geralt grabs his bread back. "That doesn't—"

"Again?" asks the stranger taking his seat next to them. A sorcerer, maybe—Geralt's medallion thrums. "Forgive me, but I'm not sure I've seen either of you at court before."

Jaskier brightens. "Oh, hello! It's a funny story, actually. I think we're—"

"Just a figure of speech," Geralt cuts in. "My companion is a bard. We've travelled to similar engagements across the Continent."

"I see. Then you're new to Prana, I take it?" the sorcerer asks. "I'm Natan."

Jaskier elbows Geralt in the ribs; Geralt kicks him back.

"I'm Jaskier—tonight's entertainment, as my dearest and kindest friend is implying." He leans across Geralt's seat to shake Natan's hand with both of his. "And you look like you'll make excellent company."

Natan smiles, the wrinkles deepening around his eyes. "Thank you, Jaskier. And your… companion's name?"

"This is Geralt of Rivia," says Jaskier. He pinches Geralt's cheek. "He's been in a grumpy mood all day—don't take it personally."

Geralt smacks his hand away.

"I won't," Natan promises, laughter coloring his voice. "But forgive me—it's a little odd to meet a Witcher with a travelling companion. How did you two meet?"

"There's a song for that, actually!" Jaskier tells him brightly. "I'll play it for you when I start performing."

Geralt becomes very interested in his bread.

 

~*~

 

Jaskier trades barbs with Valdo Marx, like he said he would.

They have strawberry cake and mulled wine for dessert, like Jaskier said they would.

Geralt doesn't make a friend, but Natan of Prana does proposition him and he politely declines, which is probably what Jaskier meant.

At the end of the night, they go home together.

Jaskier lays down his lute in the corner, snug inside its case, and asks, "Do you believe me?"

Geralt folds up the beautiful jacket that Jaskier paid for and tucks it into his bag. He tugs his shirt over his head and folds that up too. Will he live this moment again? Will he remember the way Jaskier's eyes glinted mischievously when Natan asked Geralt to dance?

"I don't want to," he admits.

Jaskier is quiet for a blessed, terrifying moment. He climbs into the bed and burrows under the covers and says, "I guess we'll see in the morning."

"Yeah." Geralt strips out of his trousers and leaves them on the floor. "Or you will."

He joins Jaskier in bed, blinking up at the ceiling.

"We should come up with something I could tell you," Jaskier suggests. He shifts a little closer, like he often does when they share a bed; Geralt never mentions it. "Something that will prove we've been here before—so you believe me."

A secret, he means. Something Geralt wouldn't normally tell him.

Geralt thinks about the ring on his right hand, weighing him down against the mattress. He thinks about his head underwater and Jaskier's fingers in his hair, about laying on his back so that he takes up more of the bed. 

He says, "Tell me what I told you about Mousesack."

Jaskier rolls over onto his side, facing Geralt. His fingertips brush against Geralt's forearm. 

"Okay," he says.

 

Day 1

Geralt wakes up to birdsong and, more urgently, the sound of his door slamming against the wall when Jaskier throws it open.

"Goooood morning, Geralt!" Jaskier says brightly. Geralt curses at the irritatingly manic grin on Jaskier's face and lunges for his already-packed bags. "Oh, no, not that kind of good morning, but I admire your dedication to preventing my tragic castration. We've really got it down to a science!"

Geralt slumps against the wall, glaring with half-lidded eyes. "Then what the fuck do you want?"

"Well, you see, we might have a teeny little bit of a time loop situation," says Jaskier. He closes the door behind him and spreads his hands in a pacifying gesture. "And you can save the speech about 'what the fuck did I do?' because we've already discussed it and I've got no idea."

Geralt scrubs a hand over his face. "How do you know it's a time loop?"

"Well for one thing, this is the third time I've woken up on the day of the banquet," Jaskier reasons. "And if you don't believe me, last time you told me that you've been in a time loop with that Mousesack fellow and helped cure the plague. Or, I assume you cured the plague, since there's not a plague anymore."

Geralt is too fucking tired for this shit. He says flatly, "You could've picked up that story plenty of places. Like at Cintra. That doesn't prove it's a real loop."

Jaskier laughs with disbelief. "Are you serious?"

Geralt holds his gaze.

"Fine, tuck in your fucking shirt." Jaskier waves a hand at Geralt's outfit and turns on his heels. "I'll fucking prove it."

 

~*~

 

Geralt watches Natan of Prana slip a strawberry temptingly into his mouth.

Jaskier props his chin up on Geralt's shoulder and murmurs, "Do you believe me yet?"

"Fuck you," says Geralt.

 

~*~

 

Jaskier rolls onto his side to face Geralt in their bed, resting his cheek in his palm. He whispers, "Are you asleep yet?"

"No," Geralt mutters. If he falls asleep he won't be able to force himself to breathe.

"Tell me a better secret."

Geralt's chest tightens further. "No. That's not fair."

"Geralt," Jaskier says quietly. He reaches over and takes Geralt's hand—the one with the stolen silver. "I need you to believe me tomorrow. I can't do this without you."

What if they can't do this at all?

Geralt opens his eyes; Jaskier's face is closer to his than he expected, wide eyes fixed on Geralt's face. 

Almost twenty years of sleeping next to this. Almost twenty years of wondering when he'd wake up alone again.

He hasn't, so far. Not really.

Geralt says, "I never knew my father."

Jaskier says, "Thank you," first. And then, "I'm sorry."

Geralt closes his eyes. Jaskier's thumb traces over the ring until he falls asleep.

 

Day 1

Geralt wakes up peacefully. There's a patch of sunlight warming his face, birds singing outside the window, and…

Jaskier sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Goooood morning, Geralt!" he says brightly. "How are you today?"

Geralt hisses, "What the fuck, Jaskier?"

"Right, yeah, that's what you always say," Jaskier tells him, "but trust me—this is the best option I've found."

Geralt sits up a little, glaring harshly. "For what?"

"To break the news." Jaskier folds his hands neatly in his lap. "You see, we've—well, I've lived this morning something like ten times now. Or is it closer to fifteen? You got mad at me when I realized I wasn't keeping track, but by now it's too late."

Geralt considers smothering him with a pillow. 

"And anyway, you never believe me at first, even though I tell you things like, 'You never knew your father,' and, 'Your mother's name is Visenna,' and—the most recent one, 'Your hair was brown before the Witcher trials.'" Jaskier smiles toothily. "Which, for the record, I do think the white suits you best. But is that enough for you? Because I've got more."

Geralt considers smothering himself with a pillow. 

He takes in Jaskier's appearance instead—the smudge of lipstick on his cheek that Geralt itches to scrub off, the tired look in his eyes that goes unaccompanied by any physical sign that would indicate lack of sleep.

Has he been trapped in this place for weeks? Has Geralt really refused to believe him?

But it's Jaskier. He overreacts to everything. Geralt watched him fall into the river two days ago and he whined about it for hours.

"How do you know it's a time loop?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier's shoulders sag. "We'll start at the bakery."

 

Day 1

"Tell me your worst secret," says Jaskier.

Geralt blinks his eyes open. There's a patch of sunlight illuminating the pink-purple lipstick smear on Jaskier's face; birds are chirping outside.

"What the fuck?" asks Geralt.

"I don't know how else to tell you," Jaskier begs. His eyes are wet and desperate; he looks a little like he did when the djinn had just clawed his throat. "I've tried so many times, Geralt, and you never believe me until it's too late. And I get it—because Geralt at the end of the night believes me, and he never remembers what it'll take to convince him in the morning."

"Jaskier," Geralt says cautiously. He sits up in bed, feeling the frame creak under their weight. "What—"

"So I'm asking you now," Jaskier continues. "No, I'm—I'm begging you, Geralt. If you care about me, you'll tell me the most horrible, terrifying thing you've never told anyone in your life, and you'll let me tell it back to you tomorrow when you've forgotten all of this, because I swear to every god that's ever lived I don't know what else to do."

Geralt croaks, "That's not fair."

"I know," Jaskier says softly. He sounds very sorry. "I know it isn't. That's what you tell me every time I ask."

Geralt stares at his hands, fisted in the thin blanket. Something feels like it's missing, but they're the same as they always are.

Maybe Jaskier would know.

"How long have you been stuck?" he asks.

"I don't know." Jaskier laughs. "I know how much that bothers you, but I don't know. Should I make up a number? It feels like months. Maybe it's been a week."

He must know so much already. Months of watching Geralt fumble through this, of learning secrets that weren't even enough.

Is this enough? Does Geralt believe him now?

He doesn't know. It'd be easier to chalk it up to Jaskier being dramatic. He wants it to be wrong—doesn't want to believe what it says about himself, if it's true. 

And if that's the case, then—

"Come here," says Geralt.

"What?" Jaskier asks. He purses his lips together, blinking rapidly.

Geralt rasps, "It's not in words."

Jaskier wets his bottom lip. He shifts closer, so they're sitting side by side, watching Geralt's face carefully.

Geralt lifts his hand—the one that feels too light—and slides it onto Jaskier's back. Traces it down his spine until he hits the midpoint and presses with his palm.

Jaskier says, "Geralt."

Geralt says, "There," and drops his hand, and, "You should touch me there."

"I don't understand," Jaskier tells him. His eyes are wide and searching.

(They were young. Geralt can barely remember being young, but he knows that he was because he remembers when he had this.)

He turns away and says, "I will."

"Okay," Jaskier says. "I believe you."

It's more courtesy than Geralt's apparently given him.

Geralt stands up, still facing the window. He watches the birds flitting about, still singing obliviously.

"Can you wait another day?" he asks. "I need to be alone."

"Um, yeah. Yes, of course." Jaskier stands up too. The floorboards shift like he considers moving closer, but then the door opens instead. "Thank you. I'm sorry."

Me too, Geralt thinks.

 

Day 1

There's birds, and sunlight, and a knock on the door.

Geralt sits up in bed, narrowing his eyes. "Who is it?"

"It's me," says Jaskier.

What the fuck?

"Come in." Geralt rubs at a spot of tension on his brow. "Since when do you knock?"

Jaskier slips into the room; he's got a smear of lipstick on his cheek that Geralt immediately itches to scrub off and an unsettlingly apologetic expression.

The last time Jaskier made that face at Geralt, he had been about to dump an entire bottle of fiery disinfectant on Geralt's open wound.

"What'd you do?" Geralt asks warily. 

"Nothing yet," says Jaskier. He comes to sit next to Geralt on the bed, his legs neatly crossed and his fingers drumming rapidly on his ankles. "And you told me to do it, alright? You just don't remember."

Geralt's too tired for this shit. "Stop fucking around and tell me—"

Jaskier slips his hand onto Geralt's back and drags it down his spine, stopping right in the center where—

Where Eskel used to touch him.

(They were young. Geralt's hair was still dark and his hands would shake sometimes, and Eskel would be next to him. Eskel, pushing him forward when his feet wouldn't move. Eskel, pulling him back by the strap of his swords when his feet wouldn't stop. Eskel, pushing—)

"How?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier's hand falls away. He licks his lips and says, "I'm stuck in a time loop. I've lost track of how long I've been here and I have no idea how to get out and if this doesn't convince you—"

"What do you need me to do?"

 

~*~

 

"And that's everything I can think of," Jaskier finishes, flopping definitively onto the grass. He's dappled in shadows cast by the tree they're sitting under, eyes turned almost translucent in the sun.

"Hm. Long list of suspects." Geralt pops the last bite of sweetbread into his mouth. "That's what you get for being such a little shit all the time."

Jaskier smacks him on the thigh. "How dare you!"

Geralt glances at him sidelong, then back away. They've wasted a lot of time. Or, Geralt's wasted it, in previous loops. Stupid.

Jaskier, apparently used to this mood, pushes up onto his forearms and gentles his voice. "It's not that you wouldn't help me, you know. You always wanted to help me."

"But I didn't believe you," Geralt says flatly.

"No," Jaskier agrees, and then lies through his teeth. "But I wouldn't believe me either, if I'm being honest."

Geralt lets it pass. He watches travellers pour into the city from the main road that leads out of town, a parade of horses kicking up a cloud of thin dust. 

He wants to meditate. He needs the space to turn over everything he's learned, to figure out what to do next. 

It's already almost noon. They have fourteen hours left. Maybe closer to sixteen, if Jaskier can keep himself awake.

"I wish I could take it from you," Geralt tells him.

"I know. It's ironic, isn't it?" Jaskier brushes the crumbs off his trousers and blinds Geralt with a smile. "For once, I'm the one with all the time in the world."

Geralt's chest tightens. He looks away (he's always looking away) and thinks very carefully about anything besides the crow's feet that crinkle around Jaskier's eyes.

What did Jaskier say they did on the first day? A trip to the bakery, a stolen ring. Stuffy clothes that Jaskier loves and an easy contract for Geralt that rewarded him with a bath. Another insufferable banquet that they bickered at—but made up in time to fall asleep happy.

It wouldn't be the worst thing to relive, would it? Geralt wishes he could remember it.

"What did we fight about?" he asks.

"Something stupid, as always," Jaskier dismisses with a wave of his hand. "I wanted to fight my own battles and you practically made Valdo Marx piss his pants. You know how I get when I don't eat before a show."

Geralt hums in agreement. He plucks a thick blade of grass from the ground and begins peeling it apart into little strips.

"You know the loop usually has some kind of lesson you're supposed to learn, right?" he says, laying the strips out on his thigh. "Or something you've gotta fix."

"If you're implying it's our petty squabbling, I'll have you know that I'm well over it," Jaskier says. "I forgave you instantly. I always do."

Which is a separate problem. But unlikely to be the source of the curse.

"I was referring to the constant adultery," Geralt remarks drily. "And thievery." He brandishes the ring sitting snugly on his pinky. "Seriously, have you ever tried not stealing this?"

"Of course not." Jaskier puts a hand to his chest, genuinely offended. "It's perfect for you!"

Geralt snorts to mask his discomfort. He spins the ring around on his finger, looking at the understated engraving—a single galloping horse.

"And besides, moral lessons are wasted on me!" Jaskier declares. "I was born to be a horrible little bastard and I refuse to change this. It's the balance of the world, Geralt. We need men like me just as much as we need men like you."

Geralt doesn't ask what kind of man that would make him. It's just more of Jaskier's nonsense.

He says, "Tell that to your curse."

"The curse can eat my arse," Jaskier says primly. "And for the record, the mayor's mother was a widow. Or, actually, her husband may just be away on business? Do you think we should find that out?"

Geralt scrubs a hand over his face. "Sure."

"Great!" Jaskier hops to his feet, using Geralt's shoulder to steady himself. "Where should we start?"

"We should be systematic about it." Geralt accepts the hand Jaskier offers to help him up. "Investigate each potential source of the curse. You can update me on what we've learned every morning."

Jaskier frowns. "And what if we still can't figure it out?"

Then Geralt hopes Jaskier likes Prana.

"We'll start changing shit," he says. "Maybe something'll stick."

"Alright. I guess the mayor's the most likely, isn't he?" Jaskier tilts his head in the direction of the city. "Maybe we can start there."

Geralt nods and starts walking.

"Geralt," says Jaskier. When Geralt turns to look, he hasn't moved from under the tree, his hands wringing together—but he smiles when their eyes meet. "We're gonna figure it out. We'll be okay."

Geralt's not the one who needs reassurance. He'll only ever have to do this once.

"Yeah," he says. "We will. Let's go."

Jaskier follows.

 

~*~

 

"Do you have to… touch me, tomorrow?" Geralt whispers. He's staring at the ceiling, listening to the way Jaskier's heart stutters and quickens at the sound of his voice.

Jaskier shifts in the dark, rolling onto his side. His fingertips brush against Geralt's arm. "No, not if—if you don't want. It's the only way I've found to make you believe me right away. But now that we've made a plan—"

"You should do it," Geralt tells him. 

He won't leave Jaskier alone again.

 

Day 1

"Next time I'll let you get run over," says Geralt.

"No," Jaskier says softly. "You won't."

 

Day 1

"He's really not a lover?" Natan of Prana asks.

Geralt spins the silver ring around his finger and says, "No."

 

Day 1

"You've never fought the garkain before," Jaskier points out, tapping on the flyer with one finger.

Geralt frowns. He doesn't have supplies for vampires on him. "Why would that matter?"

"Well, I never go with you for the drowners." Jaskier shrugs, looking over at him, and then breaks into a suggestive grin. "Maybe we're meant to be together."

Geralt tears the flyer off the notice board, feeling his face heat up in the afternoon sun.

 

Day 1

Geralt wakes up when his door flies open. He jumps half a foot and reaches for his swords before he realizes it's just Jaskier, standing in the doorway and—

And crying.

Geralt resettles on the bed. "Jask, what's—"

The door slams shut.

"—wrong?"

Jaskier scrubs his face and then covers his mouth and makes a sound Geralt hasn't heard him make since his grandfather died and circles the bed like he's approaching a wounded animal.

"Jaskier," Geralt repeats. His brain feels addled with sleep and a helplessness that makes his tongue heavy. "Say something."

Jaskier climbs onto the bed. He walks forward on his knees until they bracket Geralt's hips and then settles into Geralt's lap, still staring without blinking. 

"You're here," he says.

Geralt swallows thickly. Jaskier's fingers come up to trace the column of his throat, feather-light, and he tries to swallow again.

He can't.

Jaskier has lipstick on his cheek. Geralt licks his hand and scrubs it clean, feeling the barest hint of stubble scrape against his fingertips, and Jaskier sobs again and kisses him.

Geralt falls back against the headboard in shock; it digs into the base of his skull, catching on his hair, and he gapes instead of kissing back. "What—"

Jaskier kisses the edge of his jaw, down the side of his neck. His hands come up to grip Geralt's shoulders—they're shaking, even when his fingers curl.

"Don't fight the garkain," Jaskier begs. "I don't care, I don't care, I'll stay here forever, just—"

"What? Garkain?" Geralt tilts Jaskier's chin up, trying to get him to talk sense. "I wasn't planning—"

It just makes Jaskier remember Geralt's face. He takes it into his hands and kisses him again, breathing harshly, barely forming words. And it's—

"It's a time loop," he says, resting his forehead on Geralt's brow. "It's a loop. You're still here. It won't—I swear I won't let it—"

"A loop?" Geralt repeats. "How do you—"

Jaskier laughs. Touches his lips to Geralt's nose, presses them to the corner of his mouth. Says, "You always ask. You pretend you don't want sweetbread and you wear the ring I buy you and you pull me out of the way when the cart comes and you have a spot on the center of your back—"

Geralt flinches.

"I won't touch it," Jaskier soothes. He thumbs at Geralt's cheek and kisses the question out of Geralt's mouth before it finishes forming. "You won't remember, but I won't touch it. I watched you die, Geralt."

Geralt can barely think. His hands are on Jaskier's waist. When did he put them there? Maybe it's a dream. Maybe this is a nightmare.

"You thought I died in Rinde," he says. He's trying to hold still, to be something steady, but his fucking body keeps drifting up into the places they touch. "Didn't kiss me then."

"I watched a house collapse." Jaskier's tongue traces over Geralt's bottom lip. "The garkain ripped out your throat."

The image should disturb him. It disturbed Jaskier.

But he's alive. His hands are brushing against the warm expanse of Jaskier's ribs, his cock is swelling with some confusion under Jaskier's weight. Nothing bloody about him has found its way out yet.

Geralt asks, "I won't remember this tomorrow?"

"No," says Jaskier.

Geralt shifts his hips. "But you will."

"I'll remember all of it." Jaskier chokes something down, or out. "Oh, gods, Geralt, I can't forget it. Please, please I need—I need to forget it. Don't leave me like this."

Geralt cups his face in his hands, feeling the hot dampness of his cheeks. 

It hadn't occurred to him that he'd be mourned.

"Okay," he rasps, and flips them on the bed.

"Geralt," Jaskier gasps. "What—"

Geralt tugs Jaskier's shirt free of his trousers with his face pressed into Jaskier's neck. He smells like the barmaid and the clean salt of grief, and a squirming spike of arousal. His stomach flexes when Geralt's hand slides up it.

"Oh," he breathes. He pulls his shirt off and lifts his hips when Geralt unbuttons his trousers. "You really—you don't have to."

Geralt looks up at him. "Do you want it?"

"Yes." 

Geralt finishes stripping him down, tossing the rest of his clothes off the side of the bed. 

Jaskier lays his head back against the pillows, wetting his bottom lip when their eyes meet. His cock is hard and weeping against his stomach and his eyes are still shiny with tears.

He's beautiful. Geralt's avoided that thought for almost twenty years. Always fixated on what he'd lose. 

It'll slip away tomorrow. Will this version of himself be less dead than the one that bled out in the dirt the day before?

Does it matter?

Geralt plants a series of open kisses from Jaskier's chest to his navel, scrunching up his nose when the hair tickles at it, then detours past his cock to mouth at his hip bone. 

"Oh, that's—" Jaskier wriggles against the sheets. "Are you sure you're not the one in the time loop? How'd you—"

Geralt props his chin up on Jaskier's thigh with a smirk. "You're loud in bed. Picked up a few secrets through the walls."

"Fair's fair," Jaskier says faintly. 

Geralt doesn't look at that too closely. He scrapes his teeth over the spot that makes Jaskier shiver and then nuzzles at the inside of his thigh.

"We've never done this before?"

"It didn't occur to me that you would."

Geralt glances up from under his lashes. "Sorry."

"Oh, it's alright." Jaskier pushes up onto his forearms with a wry quirk of his lips. "Unrequited… affections… are a poet's bread and butter, you know."

Affection. That's what this is, then? Geralt feels…

He just wants Jaskier to be happy. He doesn't know how to do it another way.

Geralt kisses the tip of Jaskier's cock, then uses one hand to help guide it into his mouth. He feels Jaskier's thighs tremble and his knees draw up, hears the sound of toes curling against the sheets.

It's been a long time since he's done this—sucking cock. Sex with women seemed safer. Didn't remind him of being fresh out of Kaer Morhen, a familiar hand pressed between his shoulder blades before they parted ways.

Jaskier doesn't seem to mind. He reaches down and tangles a hand in Geralt's hair, gripping lightly with a gasp. He's talking, Geralt realizes. 

Hopefully nothing important.

Geralt's too focused on the slide of heat in his mouth, the sharp tang of precome occasionally dripping onto his tongue. His awareness whittles down to nothing beyond it. A heel presses into his shoulder and Jaskier's hips arch off the bed.

Geralt chokes; the hand in his hair pets him apologetically, which feels so nice he almost chokes again on purpose.

He doesn't pull off. He can breathe through his nose. He can press his nose into the wiry hair at the base of Jaskier's cock and breathe in the heavy musk of arousal instead of air. His eyes are closed and he can hear Jaskier's heart pounding like a sparrow taking flight when he swallows around the dick in his throat.

Jaskier says, "Geralt," which he hears. And, "Good," and, "Close," and something that sounds like, "Fuck," without breath.

Geralt pulls off halfway, so he can taste it when Jaskier spills into his mouth. 

"That," Jaskier says like a full sentence. Geralt looks up, softening cock still in his mouth, and finds him with his other arm thrown over his eyes. "You are fucking incredible."

Geralt sits up, which dislodges the hand in his hair. He wipes the spit off his chin with the back of his wrist and asks, "Better?"

"Than what?" Jaskier shifts so he can peer at Geralt with one half-lidded eye. "Actually, it doesn't even matter. Yes. Geralt, it's—"

He cuts off suddenly, his throat bobbing. It reminds Geralt that his own is sore.

"It's you," Jaskier finishes unsteadily. "You horrible, foolish man."

Geralt is hard in his trousers. He folds his hands in his lap and rasps, "Okay."

"You're here." Jaskier sits up too; his eyes are turning misty again. "Oh, gods, Geralt, come here."

Geralt swallows. He crawls up the mattress and allows himself to be laid down against the pillows, Jaskier propped up on one arm and brushing his knuckles across Geralt's jaw.

"You're here," Jaskier whispers again, as if in wonder.

Geralt's not sure in what way he means. Alive? With the taste of come behind his teeth? 

With affection?

It'll be gone tomorrow. This fear bubbling in his stomach, this horrible urge to nuzzle at the underside of Jaskier's jaw and beg to be held like a child.

What if this breaks the curse?

Geralt presses his lips together. Can he live with this version of himself?

"Was it better?" he murmurs.

"Was what better?" Jaskier asks. He's tracing teasing circles into Geralt's chest through the shirt, brushing over a nipple incidentally. "Than what?"

His hand trails lower, almost questioningly. Geralt shifts his hips, lifting them in invitation.

"Than… me," he says slowly. "Is this—how you want me?"

Jaskier's clever hand pops open the buttons on Geralt's trousers and tucks inside. He noses at Geralt's cheek with a sad puff of breath. "Oh, sweetheart. I don't want you a certain way—lovers, friends. I just want you."

Geralt hums; his brow tries to furrow, but then Jaskier starts working his hand over Geralt's cock and he forgets.

"Except dead," Jaskier amends, a little dark humor. "I don't want you that way."

Geralt succumbs to the lingering urge—tips his chin and presses a needy kiss to the top of Jaskier's throat. "I'll try not to die."

"That's good," Jaskier agrees. His words turn a little thick again. "That's good, I—" he buries his face in Geralt's hair. "I'm sorry. I remembered. I'm sorry—"

Geralt cups his jaw and kisses him. It's gentle, a little wet with the flick of Geralt's tongue and a stray tear dripping down. They don't part until Geralt spills over Jaskier's hand—and still not after that.

 

~*~

 

Jaskier's stomach rumbles loudly. He whines and shoves his face more soundly into the crook of Geralt's neck. "No."

Geralt rumbles from deep in his chest, still drowsing. "No?"

"Not moving," Jaskier complains. He tightens his arm around Geralt's waist. "I don't wanna do it today."

Geralt hums sympathetically. He presses a kiss to the top of Jaskier's head, curling into their embrace, and points out, "Maybe we broke the loop."

"D'you think so?" Jaskier asks, shifting to prop his chin up on Geralt's chest.

"Dunno," Geralt admits. "But if we did, you don't wanna run out on the banquet."

"No more logic," Jaskier grumbles. He sticks out his bottom lip in a pout. "Just kisses."

Geralt stretches exaggeratedly, partially dislodging Jaskier from his chest. "I'll kiss you after breakfast."

"Bribery!" Jaskier accuses, reaching up to pinch Geralt's cheek. "Bribery of the highest order."

"Yeah. Is it working?"

Jaskier lays his head back down. "Five more minutes."

 

Day 1

Geralt wakes up to the sound of birds singing. He stretches and rolls onto his stomach, feeling a beam of sunlight hitting the back of his neck. There's a knock at the door; he turns his head in drowsy confusion and asks, "Who is it?"

"It's me," says Jaskier.

"Come in," Geralt tells him, frowning. "Since when do you knock?"

Jaskier slips into the room. There's a weird expression on his face—like he looks after they leave a town he particularly liked, which makes no sense. They're here for another full day.

"What's wrong?" Geralt asks. He smirks, trying to lighten the mood. "Barmaid kick you out before you could go another round?"

Jaskier huffs out a laugh and comes to sit next to him on the bed; he folds his legs under himself and Geralt pushes up onto his forearms.

"Nothing quite so easily remedied, I'm afraid," Jaskier says. He reaches out as if to touch Geralt, then folds his hands together instead. "I think… there's something I need to tell you."

There's nothing more unsettling than Jaskier without theatrics. Geralt sits up fully and shifts to face him on the bed, feeling his stomach clench.

Jaskier wets his bottom lip, then inhales deeply as he looks up. His eyes are bright and earnest when he says, "I'm in love with you. I have been for a long—a very long time. And you don't have to—"

"No," Geralt blurts.

Silence. Geralt's ribs feel like they're cracking under the weight of his chest. He can't stay here, he can't—

"I—no?" Jaskier asks. There's a smear of lipstick on his cheek and, gods, Geralt wants to wipe it off. 

"No," he says again. Fuck, he feels like he's losing blood. "You can't be."

"I don't understand." Jaskier reaches out, pleading, "I thought—Geralt, please talk to me."

Geralt climbs out of bed and walks backwards until he hits the wall. There's a faint whisper of something in his brain—the child that wanted a fancy name, that wanted the world to need him. It's battered into silence by the panic.

You'll ruin him. Look what happened with the djinn. Look what happens to the things you want.

He can't subject Jaskier to this life no more than he could his Child Surprise.

"It's not supposed to go this way," Jaskier is saying wetly. "It's not. Geralt, look at me and tell me you don't want me at all. I love you, look at me—please."

Geralt clenches his jaw and keeps his eyes on the ground. He grabs his bag and swords, slinging them both over his shoulders, and walks out the door.

 

~*~

 

Roach has already been fed. Geralt grooms and tacks her quickly, shoulders drawn in a hard line. Behind his eyes, the scene plays and stutters and restarts—Jaskier finding him here, touching his arm, begging him not to go.

Is it a fear or a wish?

But no one comes. Geralt rides out of the city until he can no longer see its walls. The forest is bright and sticky with humidity; there are clouds turning dark on the horizon, maybe a quarter-day's ride to the west of here. 

Geralt dismounts and leads Roach off the main road. There's a clearing not too far away; he remembers stopping here with Jaskier to have a late lunch the day before. 

Jaskier—singing some inane song about mushrooms and faerie rings and sudden summer downpours, his clever hands slicing up an apple to share with Roach even though she pinned her ears and tried to kick him just hours before.

Fuck.

What has Geralt done?

He leaves Roach to graze at the edge of the clearing and lays down in the grass, his hair splayed out around him and tangling in the dirt.

No, this is—it was better, right? Because he can't—he can't do this. He shouldn't do this.

What would love even feel like? He thinks about Yennefer, their handful of meetings over the past few years—he ran from her, too, in Rinde.

She doesn't love him. He barely knows her, though part of him wants to. Part of him hopes for—

For it to grow into something. To know from her face when something's wrong, to recognize her voice from behind a closed door and not expect her to knock. To share lunches and laugh over ridiculous nonsense jokes that aren't even funny and lay in bed at night next to her and know he won't be waking up alone.

But he's not alone, really. Almost twenty years and he's been waking up knowing someone would find him.

Almost twenty years. How many do they have left?

Geralt doesn't understand what Jaskier could want from him.

It made sense in the beginning—an ambitious bard fresh out of Oxenfurt, both naive and reckless, looking for adventure. He'd said it himself—real monsters would make better stories, and who better to show him them?

But Jaskier's fame stretches across the Continent now. He'd probably have a real fortune, too, if he stopped turning down gigs like the banquet tonight in favor of following Geralt around instead. 

There's nothing he needs from Geralt anymore. There's nothing he should want. And yet… he does.

The sun filters through the trees; sweat beads on the back of Geralt's neck. He wants—

What does he want?

Geralt wants to take a bath. Maybe Jaskier would wash his hair for him—he hates the way Geralt does it himself, always complaining that Geralt's too hard on it.

Geralt wants to go to the fucking banquet and suffer through the whole thing. He wants to make sure Jaskier is safe and happy, and then he wants to go home and lay on his back so their arms have to brush together to fit on the bed and listen to Jaskier snuffle in his sleep.

He wants, in the shape of a bright-eyed kid with his only friend's hand on his back to guide him forward, to try this day again.

There's no way to do that, of course. But he can be back in time for the banquet if he hurries.

A breeze tickles at Geralt's hair as he tacks Roach up again and leads her back onto the road. The rain doesn't look like it'll overtake the city by tonight, but it's definitely on the horizon; Geralt can smell it.

He hasn't ridden very far before the sound of hoofbeats appear behind him.

"Hello, there!" calls a regal-looking man. He rides an elegant black horse and waves with a gloved hand. "You're not travelling to Prana, are you?"

Geralt encourages Roach to slow her pace; he's not in the mood for conversation, but his medallion is humming against his chest. Bad time to piss off a sorcerer.

"I am," he says. "And you?"

"I'm attending the banquet tonight," the man confirms. He brings his horse up alongside Roach and leans over to offer Geralt his hand. "Natan of Prana. It's a pleasure."

Geralt accepts the handshake. "Geralt. That's my business in the city too."

"Not monster-slaying?" Natan asks. He laughs at Geralt's raised eyebrow. "Sorry—the wolf medallion, the two swords. I made an inference."

Geralt shrugs with one shoulder. 

"A man of few words." Natan smiles. "I respect that. Do you usually travel alone?"

Geralt would prefer to be travelling alone now. His thoughts are still muddled and he wants to organize them before he finds Jaskier.

"No, actually," he says, and finds it strange to realize it's true. "I'm rejoining my—companion in the city."

"How fascinating," Natan muses. "From what I know about Witchers, your lot tend to be—pardon the turn of phrase—lone wolves. Am I misinformed?"

Geralt subtly urges Roach to increase her pace. "My lot are already considered an oddity. Perhaps I'm doubly so."

Natan hums. He allows his horse to fall behind slightly, but then keeps pace. "You're not a fan of my questions."

"Sorry." Geralt keeps his eyes on the road ahead. "Lot on my mind."

"I'd be happy to lend an ear," Natan offers, maybe a little too eagerly. It makes Geralt flick his eyes over suspiciously. "Oh, I understand—I'm a stranger, you can't trust me. But consider this—with your line of work and my position in the Rivian court, it's not like we'll ever meet again."

True enough. Geralt softens his expression, at least.

"You'll practically be talking to your horse," Natan continues. "A very bored, somewhat meddlesome horse who wants to pass the time with intelligent conversation."

Geralt sighs. Roach, at least, is unobtrusive company. But he's not going to be left alone, and he still doesn't know what to do beyond keeping his promise to attend the banquet.

"You're a sorcerer, aren't you?" Geralt asks.

Natan hums in confirmation.

"Then I'm sure you were taught, as was I," Geralt says, "that a life like ours isn't meant for… long-term companionship."

"Define long-term," Natan replies lightly.

Geralt grits his teeth, feeling strangely frustrated. "Something with attachment. Someone… you make promises to."

"Ah, yes." Natan makes some gesture, the fabric of his traveling cloak rustling, but Geralt doesn't turn to look. "Highly frowned upon. Some of my peers would go so far as to call it foolhardy."

Geralt asks, "Why do you think that is?"

Natan urges his horse forward again, shifting to look Geralt in the eye.

"Because we're all infatuated with power, Geralt. Absolutely drunk on controlling ourselves and everything else," he says. There's an impassioned, if not pretentious, cadence to his voice. Jaskier would adore it. "And loving someone means giving that up."

Geralt breaks their gaze, instead turning to sharpen his vision and watch for the city walls which peer over the horizon.

"That's your dilemma," Natan guesses smugly. "Which will you choose?"

Geralt remembers how this goes. It's a hot brand against his throat, dripping down to the pit of his stomach.

He still says, "I won't."

 

~*~

 

They finish the ride together mostly in silence, though Natan speaks a little of other topics. The state of affairs in Rivia, how droll he finds banquets like these after so many of them.

Geralt listens politely. He's used to that, with Jaskier, though for some reason he finds it less pleasant right now. 

The banquet has already begun by the time they arrive in town, their pace slowed by conversation. Geralt unclenches his jaw long enough to instruct the stablehand on how to care for Roach and follows Natan to the main entrance.

Jaskier was the one with their invitation. If Geralt's lucky, Jaskier will have left Geralt's name with the guards at the door. If not…

"I'm Natan of Prana," Natan says, holding out his invitation. "And Geralt of Rivia will be my guest this evening."

Geralt snaps his head up.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Natan says, waving him off. "The plus one would go to waste otherwise. Simpler than tracking your companion down inside."

"No," says Geralt flatly. "I didn't tell you where I was from."

Natan's eyes flick away; he smiles sheepishly and says, "Oh, well—that's embarrassing."

Geralt drifts slightly, putting more space between them while they walk. "Explain."

"Well, it's just—I recognized you instantly." Natan removes his cloak and vanishes it with a wave of his wrist. "The songs are quite popular in Rivia, you know. I'm somewhat of an admirer, but… well, I thought you'd be uncomfortable."

Geralt relaxes, though he comments drily, "You're right—this is much more comfortable."

Natan rubs the back of his neck. "I'm sorry. Might we start over?"

Geralt shrugs. He'd prefer not to linger in his sour mood.

Natan bows somewhat formally as they walk, extending a hand. "Geralt of Rivia, I've heard songs of your exploits, and I'd be thrilled to get to know you personally."

"Then you should put in a request or two tonight," Geralt side-steps, smiling as they reach the dining hall. The music has already started, and Jaskier's eyes flash brightly when he catches sight of Geralt in the entryway. "I hear this bard knows them all."

"I may do that," Natan agrees, glancing at Jaskier with amusement.

They take their seats while Jaskier continues his performance. Geralt makes a plate for himself and then one for Jaskier, piling on bits of different meats and vegetables that look like they'll taste the best when cold.

Knowing Jaskier, he hasn't eaten, and he'll be starving during the break between sets.

"Worked up an appetite?" Natan asks him, indicating the second plate.

Geralt spears a beet with his fork. "Something like that."

 

~*~

 

Jaskier finishes his set as dessert is brought out; he plops down into an empty chair next to Geralt and immediately begins inhaling roasted carrots.

"Hi," Geralt tells him drily.

Jaskier opens his mouth, still full of carrot, to retort—then seems to remember himself and finishes chewing first.

"You're back," he says simply, a tentative curve drawing up his lips.

"I promised," says Geralt. "Sorry I'm late."

Jaskier shakes his head minutely. His lute is resting carefully in his lap; he plucks faintly at one of the strings. "Does this mean you…?"

Geralt's hands feel restless in his lap. He looks up when a server places a neatly decorated cake on their table, with bright red strawberries on the top.

Jaskier hates strawberries. Hopefully the inside is plain.

"I don't know," Geralt admits slowly. "I… wanna try again—talking about it."

Jaskier's smile is wistful, out of place with the rest of him. He's been like that all day—like he's hinting at things Geralt can't see.

But, "We can," he says, and his hand is warm through the thin fabric of Geralt's shirt. "In the morning."

The morning.

That'd be good. Geralt can get his thoughts together by then. He's grateful that Jaskier is patient enough to give him a little more time.

"What're you doing?" Jaskier asks suddenly, startling Geralt from his reverie.

Geralt blinks, glancing at him curiously.

"Your hands," says Jaskier, looking down at them pointedly. "You just, um—I don't see you fidget very much."

Geralt looks down too. He's been rubbing his thumb over his right pinky finger, a little like when Jaskier fiddles with one of his rings. There's nothing on Geralt's hand, of course—he doesn't wear jewelry unless his medallion is being counted.

"I… don't know." He frowns. "Just… restless, I guess. Didn't seem that weird."

"No, yeah. Right." Jaskier turns back to his food, this time helping himself to a bite of chicken breast. "Sorry to draw attention."

Jaskier is never sorry to draw attention.

Geralt's frown deepens. He leans a little closer, keeping his voice low. "Jaskier, what's wrong?"

Jaskier glances over, smiling tightly. "Nothing! Erm, I just—it was a long day, without you. I'll be happy when it's over."

Chastised, Geralt looks away. Of course Jaskier would be upset after the way Geralt abandoned him. 

He picks at the remnants of his dinner and says nothing. 

 

~*~

 

They both trudge home exhausted. Geralt barely peels out of his clothes before collapsing onto the bed and crawling underneath the thin covers, trembling with a strange combination of anticipation and relief.

Jaskier climbs in next to him and breaths out a slow stream of air.

"This is okay?" Jaskier asks. "I'm sure I can find—"

"Yeah," says Geralt.

Jaskier settles slightly, his hand falling palm-up so the edges of his knuckles brush against Geralt's arm.

Geralt closes his eyes. "Should we talk?"

"In the morning," Jaskier tells him. "Can we just…"

His fingers trail up Geralt's forearm, tickling at his elbow where the sleeve is rolled up.

Geralt takes him by the wrist and tugs before his throat can close up.

Jaskier rolls over and wraps himself around Geralt, an arm going tight around his middle. His nose is pressed into the curve of Geralt's jaw and he has one leg hooked over Geralt's thigh.

Geralt hums—half a question. He doesn't know what this is, or what he wants it to be. There's an ache in his jaw; he tries to rest.

"I'll do better next time," Jaskier whispers in the dark. "I'm sorry."

Geralt falls asleep before he can ask what that means.

 

Day 1

Geralt wakes up to the sound of birds singing outside his window and the low murmur of Jaskier flirting with someone in the hallway. Good—it's rare that Geralt gets to sleep in, and if he's lucky, Jaskier will be preoccupied with this latest potential conquest and leave him alone.

Remarkably, it works. Geralt listens to Jaskier's footsteps retreating down the stairs, and then the birdsong blessedly resumes being front and center.

Geralt rolls onto his stomach, right into a pleasantly warm sunbeam, and falls back asleep.

 

~*~

 

A polite knock at the door rouses him some indeterminate amount of time later. He pushes up onto his forearms and calls, "Who is it?"

"It's me!" says Jaskier. There's the sound of a cloth bag rustling and the faint smell of fresh pastries. "I come bearing gifts."

What the fuck?

"Just come in," Geralt tells him, rolling into a sitting position. "Since when do you knock?"

Jaskier slips into the room and kicks the door shut behind himself. He's carrying one of their knapsacks stuffed full of what Geralt assumes is breakfast.

"I can knock! I thought I'd let you sleep in," he says as he climbs onto the bed and spreads out an array of miniature fruit tarts—complimented by a pile of fried sweetbreads, which make Geralt's mouth water.

But Geralt looks up first, eyeing Jaskier suspiciously. "What'd you do?"

Jaskier blinks with alarm. "What? Nothing! I haven't—honestly, I'm offended at the very implication—"

"You never let me sleep in," Geralt says. He looks down at the food again, fingers twitching. "Or bring breakfast."

Jaskier crosses his arms defensively. "Well that is simply—surely a few times over the past two decades!"

Geralt hums skeptically. 

"Just eat your sweetbread," Jaskier tells him, plucking a tart from the pile. "And stop looking a gift bard in the mouth."

"The sweetbread's mine?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier bites his tart in half. "Of course. I mean, you're welcome to anything, I just—erm, had a feeling?"

It does sound perfect. Geralt picks a large one and pops it into his mouth. There's a strange itch under his skin—not quite discomfort, but more unpleasant than contentment. 

Why did Jaskier go out of his way to do this?

"And anyway, maybe I'm just buttering you up," Jaskier says conversationally, grabbing another tart. "Since we've gotta stop by the tailor's today." He takes a bite and immediately wrinkles up his nose. "Ah, ick—how do I mix these up every time? Here, eat this."

He drops the half-eaten tart—strawberry, apparently—into Geralt's lap.

"I don't want a tart." Geralt takes a bite anyway, though. No sense wasting food. "Tailor's?"

"For tonight!" Jaskier tells him brightly. "You can't show up in that, anyway, and I know how you get when I pick your clothes."

"Relieved I didn't have to suffer the process myself?" Geralt asks drily.

Jaskier rolls his eyes. "And yet somehow very broody when I inevitably choose the wrong thing. If I've learned anything recently, it's that you're surprisingly hard to please for someone who claims to want nothing."

Geralt frowns. "What's happened recently?"

"Er," says Jaskier quickly. "Nothing? I mean, just an expression."

"Hm." Geralt narrows his eyes as he finishes off the tart. "You're being weird."

Jaskier smiles broadly. "What's new? Please just eat breakfast—we're on a timeline here!"

Geralt shrugs plaintively and goes back to his sweetbread. Much better than the tart, even though he doesn't have the same global distaste for strawberries that Jaskier does.

"So you're saying," he teases, flicking his eyes up with a smirk, "if I eat slowly enough, we'll miss the tailor?"

Jaskier gasps and reaches over to smack Geralt on the hand. "Naughty! Horrible Witcher. If you eat slowly you won't get to go fight your precious drowners, that's what."

Geralt freezes in his attempt to grab Jaskier's wrist in retaliation. "What drowners?"

Jaskier freezes too, his eyes going a little wide, before he waves Geralt off with a broad, dismissive hand and says, "I passed the town notice board while I ran my errands, and they've got a drowner problem, and I know you're just probably dying to go all stabby-stab on something to blow off steam before the banquet, so I thought, you know, probably you could do that after the tailor's, but not if you don't eat your fucking breakfast."

Geralt stares at him.

"Eat your fucking breakfast," Jaskier repeats, his voice sounding a little strained. "Please?"

Something's definitely wrong. 

It puts a bubbling unease in Geralt's stomach. Is Jaskier okay? But he's being avoidant, which is—maybe even more concerning. If something was wrong, why wouldn't he ask Geralt for help? Doesn't he trust him?

Maybe Geralt did something to upset him. 

He lets the conversation go, finishing his food in silence while Jaskier, apparently relieved, goes off on a typical rant about absolutely nothing important.

Geralt tunes him out, privately relieved that at least that much hasn't changed—and thinks back on the last few days. They've been travelling south through Redania on Jaskier's insistence, which Geralt learned just last night—ten minutes before Jaskier disappeared to fuck the barmaid—was because of the banquet.

Geralt had gotten pissy about that, obviously. He fucking hates banquets, weddings, funerals—anything to do with nobility. He doubly hates it being a surprise, which Jaskier knows.

But he'd just—well, been normal pissy. Nothing that would keep Jaskier from asking for Geralt's help with whatever minor crisis was causing the end of the world this week. And Geralt complains, yeah, but he also always helps.

Does Jaskier think he wouldn't help?

It bothers the fuck out of him all the way through the visit at the tailor's shop. He's so distracted that he panics when presented with the two outfit choices and just picks the one he thinks Jaskier would like—a dark blue jacket with silver embroidery.

Then it's to the notice board, which is even further away from the inn than the tailor shop was. Geralt narrows his eyes at it, then looks back at Jaskier.

"What errands did you run this morning?" he asks.

Jaskier tilts his head. "Erm, I saw to Roach, like I told you, and got us breakfast, and stopped by a jeweler's—oh! That reminds me, I got you something!"

"I—you did?" Geralt watches in confusion as Jaskier fishes something out of his pocket. "What're you doing?"

"Hush." Jaskier tsks. "Just hold out your hand."

Geralt obeys with a furrowed brow that only deepens when Jaskier drops a ring into his palm.

It's silver, which Geralt doesn't really like—it makes his skin look even sicklier when he's taken a potion or two. On the small side, clearly made for a daintier hand than his—perhaps a woman's, though it'd fit on his pinky, maybe. There's a galloping horse etched into the metal.

Geralt has to clear his throat before he can rasp, "What the fuck?"

"I just thought it suited you!" Jaskier tells him. "It'll match your outfit."

Geralt frowns, turning the ring between his fingers. "You bought it this morning."

"I knew you'd pick something suitably dark and boring," Jaskier answers dismissively. "Honestly, Geralt, you're a very specific combination of enigmatic and predictable."

Geralt hums reluctantly.

"Oh, don't make that face," Jaskier scolds. "I didn't even steal it. That, my friend, is a gift come by honestly."

Another strange detail. Geralt's wearily familiar with Jaskier's penchant for petty thievery, especially when he has a dislike for the person he's stealing from—but why would he feel the need to highlight that now?

"You know that just makes me think you did steal it, right?" Geralt asks flatly. He slips the ring into his pocket for safe-keeping. "You can tell me the truth."

"It really isn't stolen!" Jaskier insists. "Why are you so suspicious of everything today? Yeesh! You're so grumpy after I've had a good fuck. Are you jealous?"

Geralt feels his cheeks heating up. He turns back to the notice board and counters, "Have you considered that you're even more insufferable after?"  

Wait, the notice board.

"Hey," says Geralt. "Where was the jeweler?"

"Hm? You're not gonna go ask him if I bought the damn thing, are you? Because that's weird, Geralt." Jaskier puts a hand on his hip. "It's back down the road—he's got a stall set up for the market."

So there's no reason Jaskier would've been down this way today. Unless he stopped by the tailor shop in advance, which is possible—but the tailor didn't seem to recognize them.

What the fuck is going on?

Whatever it is, Jaskier is trying pretty fucking hard to cover it up in the most absurdly out-of-character scheme of his entire fucking life. At least, the half of it Geralt's known him for.

He doesn't dwell on that number.

He grabs the flyer for the drowner bounty off the board and says, "Fine. Guess I'll see you later."

"I'll meet you at the inn!" Jaskier confirms. "We can take a bath before the banquet."

Geralt nods and takes the road leading towards the river—then slips behind a building on the corner and waits.

Jaskier doesn't seem to notice. He adjusts his chemise and starts walking further into town.

Geralt resolves to give him a half-block lead before following. He slips his hand back into his pocket, absently turning the ring over between his fingers. It's good quality; it was probably expensive. Pure silver is useful in a pinch, even if it's small.

The horse is nice.

Geralt slides the ring onto his finger and strides back onto the main road. Jaskier is easy to keep track of even without Geralt's enhanced senses—he's clearly not expecting someone to be tailing him, and his doublet is a rich shade of green that flashes in the crowd.

He follows Jaskier to a different part of the market, where he seems mostly interested in chatting with random shop owners and impulse-buying snacks. That's until he manages to walk directly into an older woman, knocking them both to the ground and dumping her groceries into the dirt.

Geralt snorts with amusement. This, at least, is typical Jaskier. He watches as Jaskier helps her gather up her things, dusting them off with a handkerchief he produces from the inside of his doublet, and offers her a hand.

She's pretty, with graying hair and a stern but not unkind demeanor. Geralt knows Jaskier well enough to guess what will happen next.

Sure enough, Jaskier is touching her arm and sharing a brief conversation marked by warm smiles and a bit of laughter. He inclines his head in what looks like an offer; the woman nods and hands him half of her packages. The two of them begin to walk together, Jaskier gesturing broadly with his free hand.

Geralt doesn't… really need to see this, does he? 

But Jaskier is still up to something—he'll probably return to it after this distraction. Geralt doesn't wanna lose the trail. 

The house Geralt follows them to is well-maintained and modest, with a functional garden out front. Geralt watches the woman unlock the door and welcome Jaskier inside. 

Once the door closes, Geralt creeps closer. Just to make sure he can see all the potential exits.

The woman pulls back curtains from one of the rooms on the first floor and then throws the windows open, a breeze ruffling the fabric. It looks to be a sitting room; Jaskier sets his packages somewhere out of sight and, following a brief exchange of words, sits in an armchair just barely in view.

The woman bustles in and out of sight, carrying packages with her, until she finally reappears with two steaming mugs of what might be tea. She hands one to Jaskier and then takes a seat herself.

Geralt waits for something else to happen. The flirtation to resume, Jaskier to end up with a lapful of older woman—or the inverse. It's certainly happened plenty of times in taverns and brothels.

But they just… talk. Sometimes seriously, sometimes with laughter. Geralt, perplexed, sharpens his hearing to eavesdrop. There's nothing remarkable about it at all—which is, ironically, what makes it out of the ordinary for Jaskier. He's normally made a fool of himself or gotten his partner into bed by now—often both.

Instead, Jaskier drinks from his mug and chats pleasantly with the woman until a younger man—maybe in his early thirties—approaches the house carrying a basket filled with food. He knocks but, finding the door unlocked, lets himself in immediately.

The woman greets the man with a warm hug, and introduces him as her son to Jaskier. The three exchange some pleasantries and then Jaskier takes his leave. The woman's son doesn't so much as cast him a suspicious glance, let alone try to chase him out with a cane—which is how these situations usually end.

Geralt scrubs a hand over his face. He would've preferred to watch Jaskier fuck an ill-advised lover. At least that would've been—

"Sweet Melitele's fucking tits, Geralt!"

Fuck.

Geralt winces, reluctantly glancing up. "Uh."

"Did you follow me? How long have you been here?" Jaskier places one hand on his hip and gestures angrily with the other. "I mean, do you do this every time?"

"What?" Geralt blinks. "Every time?"

"Fucking—" Jaskier sighs. "Nevermind. What are you doing here?"

Geralt spins the ring around on his finger; Jaskier seems to track the movement. "You've been… acting weird."

Jaskier crosses his arms defensively. "I haven't— you've been acting weird! Maybe you're the one hiding something, hm?"

Geralt inclines his head with a raised eyebrow. "Didn't say you were hiding something."

"It—you implied it!" Jaskier splutters. "I don't—and I don't appreciate your tone, mister Witcher, sir. I mean, I'm your oldest friend, Ger—"

"Mousesack is my oldest friend."

"I am your most dedicated friend, Geralt, and you don't trust me?"

Geralt frowns. "That's not why."

Jaskier begins marching back towards their inn. "Then what is it, hm? Trying to keep me out of trouble?"

"I…" Geralt follows after him. "Will you wait a second?"

"No, I will not, because I have shit to do," Jaskier replies testily. "Wouldn't you prefer to stalk me from fifty paces away, anyway?"

Geralt grabs him by the arm, tugging him around so they're facing each other. Jaskier opens his mouth with some protest, but whatever he sees on Geralt's face quells it.

"I thought you were already in trouble," Geralt tells him. He purses his lips and drops his gaze, down to the scuff marks on Jaskier's well-worn travelling boots. They'd been a present from Geralt after one long winter—how many times have they been recobbled since? "I thought maybe you… I wanted to help."

"Oh." Jaskier clears his throat. Geralt is still holding him by the elbow, but he makes no move to pull away. "That's… not what I expected."

Geralt lets him go. He glances up, at the raw flash of Jaskier's eyes, and then quickly over Jaskier's shoulder instead.

"Did I do something?" he asks. "Why did you think I wouldn't help you?"

Jaskier bites his bottom lip and says, "I have a lot to tell you."

 

~*~

 

"How do you know it's a—"

"I swear to every god, Geralt!"

 

~*~

 

Geralt leans his head back against the wall. "So this is the first time you've tried to do it alone?"

Jaskier is curled up on their bed, his bare feet tucked under himself. He confirms, "Yes, and it went splendidly, thanks for that."

"You're welcome," Geralt deadpans, then tilts his head. "So why now? After everything else we tried."

Jaskier wets his bottom lip in that anxious way of his. "Something… happened… yester—last time. And you were gone for most of the day, so I was on my own. And at the end of the night, you did something strange. I thought maybe the curse was breaking, but clearly it didn't—but it was almost like… I was close."

Geralt frowns. What would keep him away all day? The drowners?

"Why was I gone?" he asks.

"Doesn't matter," Jaskier dismisses. "Something else I tried that didn't work."

"But how do you know—"

"It didn't work," Jaskier snaps. "Just—drop it, alright?"

Geralt hums reluctantly.

"The point is," Jaskier says, "I thought that maybe—maybe the point was to rely on you less. To… I don't know. You said these things usually have some kind of lesson attached to them. And maybe it was to stop—"

He cuts off. Geralt waits patiently, which is usually enough to get Jaskier to restart, but he doesn't.

"What is it?" Geralt prompts.

Jaskier looks out the window. He looks younger in profile, the light casting a glow over his cheek. 

"To stop taking advantage," he says softly.

Geralt's stomach aches. It occurs to him he never ate lunch—did either of them? He says, "You don't take advantage."

Jaskier laughs quietly. 

"I thought maybe you and I…" he says slowly, still not looking. Twirling a ring around his finger. "That we took care of each other. That it was some kind of—of mutual care. You know, the specifics weren't—it didn't matter, really, but that it was—you'd choose it. You weren't just tolerating me."

Geralt swallows thickly. He'd thought it was understood.

Almost twenty years. Almost twenty years, and he hasn't even been able to show that much.

"I'm not," he rasps. "I'm not just tolerating—"

"Please don't patronize me, Geralt," Jaskier says ruefully, though there's a wetness to his voice. "You won't have a conscience to assuage in the morning either way."

Geralt falls silent again. He doesn't—

What does he want?

"Jaskier," he says. "Why was I gone?"

Jaskier's eyes flutter shut. He takes an alarmingly deep breath—the kind he uses to settle the nerves he pretends not to have before he performs.

"I told you I was in love with you." Jaskier turns his head very suddenly, fixing Geralt with a shattering expression. "And you ran like I set you on fire."

Geralt wants to run now.

Fuck. He wants to—this tightness in his lungs, like he's pinned underwater. Love. To be in love with something like Geralt—

"There it is again." Jaskier laughs darkly and waves a hand in Geralt's direction. "You know, it's—bracing for it doesn't even help, that's disappointing, but I'm not—I swear, I'm not trying to guilt you. I didn't really expect it to be reciprocated, I just—running out's a little undignified at our age, isn't it?"

Jaskier runs out all the time. From angry spouses, indignant parents or children or even both simultaneously. Geralt's found him climbing out of second story windows, darting through dark alleys, and—on one notable occasion—even up a tree.

But never from Geralt. And most of the time towards him.

Geralt doesn't consider himself a coward. He feels something like adrenaline in his throat and the tremble of his hands. How could this other version of himself—this failed iteration—flee when today he's spent all his effort trying to get closer again?

"You know," Jaskier says lightly, "I'm not sure the statue routine is less hurtful than the bolting horse, but I appreciate that you're making an effort."

Geralt jerks back to himself—and brings with him the realization—

"I came back."

Jaskier's knees are drawn up to his chest. He says, "What's that?"

"I—you said that yesterday, you saw me at the end of the night," Geralt says. He wets his bottom lip, forcing himself to hold Jaskier's gaze. "Does that mean… did I come back?"

Jaskier's expression softens; it somehow looks more mournful. "You did. You told me—"

"I promised," says Geralt. His knees feel weak; he presses more of his weight into the wall. "It wasn't enough. To fix it."

"In your defense," Jaskier tells him gently, "the game is rigged. Given more time…"

"You don't need more time," Geralt says hoarsely. "You just know."

Jaskier's silence is answer enough.

Geralt sinks to the floor, his forearms propped up on his knees with his head hung low. He asks, "What else have I done?"

Jaskier says, "I don't understand."

"Yes, you do." Geralt closes his eyes. "You said it's been over a month. I know how these things work. I was in one—"

"With Mousesack, I know."

"—exactly. And I don't remember telling you." Geralt looks up, but not at Jaskier. "I left you once. I haven't been able to help you. You've seen countless versions of this day—of me. I must have hurt you. You must know things—"

"And yet here I am," Jaskier interrupts. He smiles shakily. "Every bit as in love with you. If not more."

Geralt hides his face again. 

"... Do you want me to tell you," Jaskier asks, "what I've learned about you, Geralt of Rivia?"

Geralt lifts his head—and is immediately transfixed by the conviction in Jaskier's eyes.

"Okay," he says.

Jaskier pats the spot next to him on the bed. "Come here."

Geralt pushes to his feet and crawls onto the bed. He settles against the pillows, staring at the thin blankets, and forces himself not to tense when Jaskier takes his hand.

"When you see me in the morning," Jaskier tells him slowly, "the first thing you do is wipe the lipstick off my cheek. When we go to the market, you pull me out of the way of a cart coming down the street even though I'm not even really going to be run over. You told me once that you never knew your father."

Geralt tips his head over and rests it on Jaskier's shoulder.

"You always, always let me wash your hair, even though you pretend not to care. One time you fell asleep like that and I skipped the banquet because I couldn't bear to wake you." Jaskier brings his hand up now, and begins to comb his fingers through Geralt's hair. "You have never once refused to help me, even if you didn't believe me at first. You resent your mother for leaving you but you don't know what you'd do if you saw her again—I know, that's a hard one. I'm sorry. She had red hair. I promise I won't tell anyone."

Geralt closes his eyes. The terror doesn't abet, but he can stay still for it.

 

~*~

 

"You'll have to practice your bluff," Geralt says that night. "If you wanna try this on your own again."

"My bluff," Jaskier says primly, "is excellent. You are incredibly stubborn."

"Hmm."

 

Day 1

"Why are you hiding something from me?" Geralt asks in the bath. "Don't you trust me?"

Jaskier sighs and sinks down into the water.

 

Day 1

"Don't you trust me?" Geralt asks in the tailor shop.

 

Day 1

"Don't you trust me?" Geralt asks in garden outside the banquet hall, and Jaskier throws his hands up in the air.

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" he snaps, tipping his head back in exasperation. "I give up!"

Geralt frowns. "You—on what?"

Jaskier laughs. There's a hysterical tinge to it that unsettles Geralt enough to reach out to steady him by the arm.

"Jask," he says. "Talk to me."

Jaskier pulls away and goes to sit at the base of the fountain. He pats the empty space next to him and Geralt obliges, sitting with his forearms resting loosely on his thighs.

"So," Jaskier says carefully, and reaches over to rest the palm of his hand on the center of Geralt's back. "We're in a time loop."

Geralt draws away from him in a flinch.

How long's it been since someone touched him there, really? There's no way Jaskier would guess, and Eskel wouldn't—

"I know. I'm sorry," Jaskier tells him. "It's the only way you believe me. Unless I'm in tears, which, believe it or not, I can't do on command."

Geralt forces his muscles to untense. He stares through the open doors to the grand hall and asks, "So this isn't the first loop?"

"Far from it, I'm afraid." 

Jaskier sighs. He sounds tired—not dramatic, 'we've been on the road for three days and my feet hurt, Geralt, massage them for me!' tired. Definitely not a pleasant, post-fuck tired where he crawls back into their bed smelling like a stranger's arousal.

Just tired.

That's what had clued in Geralt in the first place. Jaskier hadn't been tired last night when he was fucking the barmaid loud enough for Geralt to hear every word. He hasn't been tired like this since his grandfather died and Geralt had to travel with him to the funeral to make sure he made it in one piece.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Geralt asks.

"I used to," Jaskier answers. "This is a recent strategy. I thought—we've exhausted a lot of options, Geralt. I thought maybe the point was I needed to rely on you less or—or something."

Geralt frowns. "Why would—"

"I don't know," Jaskier cuts in tersely. He sounds like this is an old argument. "And it doesn't matter, because if that's what it'll take to break this fucking horrible fucking loop, we'll be stuck here forever."

Geralt looks over at him in confusion.

"Because you won't keep your fucking nose out of it!" Jaskier tells him, on the edge of another laugh. "It doesn't matter what I do or how I try to hide it—you always realize something's wrong, and you won't leave me alone!"

Geralt looks down. 

Of course he won't. Why wouldn't he want to help Jaskier?

"Which is fucking rich, honestly," Jaskier continues, working himself up into one of his rants. "Because if I tell you I want you, you fucking run for the hills! And if I try to—to do this without you, you want me to need you! So what is it, Geralt? What do you want from me?"

Geralt gets the familiar feeling that Jaskier is thinking on a different level than he's speaking and expecting Geralt to make the leap. But Geralt doesn't always understand him on the best of days, and he definitely can't do it when he's on the wrong end of a fucking time loop.

Fucking poet. 

"That's not fair," Geralt argues roughly. "That's not—I don't know what I've done to you, Jaskier. I don't know what you're so upset about. I can't imagine running—"

He cuts off.

There was Yennefer, in Rinde. His Child Surprise in Cintra. 

Oh. So maybe it's like that.

"Yes," Jaskier says softly. "You can."

Geralt spins his ring around his finger—the ring Jaskier gave him. He doesn't even know why he put it on. He hates silver; he doesn't wear jewelry. 

"I'm sorry," he says.

"Yes," Jaskier says again. A little fond, and so fucking tired. "I know."

Geralt swallows thickly. "Do I always leave?"

"I've only tried once," says Jaskier. "Besides like this. You came back for the banquet. You said you—"

"Promised."

"Yeah. Yeah, of course you did."

Geralt wets his bottom lip, feeling the fear and shame grappling in his stomach. He doesn't remember. He remembers the barmaid, how angry he was when Jaskier sprung the banquet on him—how he let himself get roped into going anyway. 

He remembers twenty years of music and a lot of misery before them.

"Let me try again," he says.

Jaskier shifts, his voice turning faint. "What?"

Geralt turns to look at him with an ache in his chest. "I know I won't remember. I know you must have been… patient with me, to still be here after so long. Not just in the loop—before it."

"Geralt," Jaskier says wetly.

"Let me try again, Jask," Geralt begs. "If there's a version of me that doesn't run, I wanna be him."

Jaskier turns away, gazing at a flower bed in fresh bloom. His eyes are an unearthly color in the moonlight, but he's still painfully, woundedly human.

"Alright," he says. "In the morning."

 

Day 1

Geralt wakes up to the sound of birds chirping outside his window. He can hear Jaskier flirting with someone in the hallway, which might be good luck—maybe Jaskier will be preoccupied and let Geralt sleep in for once.

It seems like Geralt actually gets his wish—Jaskier's footsteps echo down the stairs and then fade away.

Geralt rolls onto his stomach, directly into the path of a warm sunbeam, and falls back asleep.

 

~*~

 

He awakens again some time later to his door creaking open. It's Jaskier, carrying one of their knapsacks filled with what smells like baked goods.

Fuck, is that sweetbread? Geralt's stomach rumbles.

He smirks, confused but pleased. "Since when do you bring breakfast?"

Jaskier nudges the door shut behind him and lays out the spread on the bed. "Bribery of the highest order—I'm dragging you to the tailor's later."

"Hm." Geralt sits up fully and stretches, careful to avoid jostling the food. "What if I reject your bribe?"

"You won't," Jaskier says confidently, plucking a miniature tart from the pile. "I'm a master briber. One of my many talents."

Geralt folds his hands in his lap and pointedly does not eat.

"I could also threaten you," Jaskier adds lightly. "If you make me go to the tailor's alone, I'll pick out the most hideous outfit you've ever seen."

Geralt grabs a fried sweetbread and pops it into his mouth. "Why not save money and lend me some of your clothes, then?"

Jaskier gasps dramatically and chucks a tart at him. "Horrible, naughty Witcher!"

Geralt catches the tart—strawberry, which Jaskier hates. He bites into it himself, though it's not as good as the meat.

"I'll have you know that my fashion sense is impeccable," Jaskier continues in a huff. "I received several flattering comments on tonight's out—erm, when I had it made, I mean."

Geralt frowns. That phrasing's a little odd. What was Jaskier about to say?

It's probably nothing.

"Anything else you should bribe me for today?" he asks half-jokingly, finishing off the tart. 

"Not exactly," Jaskier answers. "But I do have, um, something to say."

He sounds uncharacteristically serious about it. 

Geralt eyes him suspiciously. "What'd you do?"

"Nothing!" Jaskier insists. He reaches into his pocket. "Nothing like that. You have no faith in your dear friend."

"I have plenty of faith," Geralt teases. "That you'll do something stupid."

Jaskier says, "Not sure I can argue that," and pulls out a ring. "I got this for you."

Geralt frowns, taking a closer look. It's pure silver, and on the smaller side—it'd probably only fit his pinky. There's a galloping horse etched into the band.

"You…" Geralt pauses. "Bought me a ring?"

"Technically I stole it," says Jaskier. "Give me your hand."

Geralt obeys, dumbfounded. He feels the warm curl of Jaskier's fingers around his wrist as Jaskier tugs him closer.

"Why?" he asks.

"Will you promise me something, Geralt?" Jaskier asks instead.

Geralt watches the ring slide onto his finger, feels the strange weight of it. "What?"

"Just don't—" Jaskier clears his throat. "Don't run away, alright? You can answer me however you want and I'll accept it, but please don't—don't leave again."

"Again?" Geralt repeats. He glances up at the melancholy smile on Jaskier's face. "I don't understand."

Jaskier's thumb runs over the face of the ring. He says, "I got this for you because it made me think of you. Because I thought it was nice and that you might like it, and I—I want to do things that make you happy. I want to be someone who makes your life better."

Geralt can feel his breath quickening—an uncomfortable pressure at the base of his throat. "You…"

"I love you, Geralt," Jaskier tells him softly. His eyes are shining in the mid-morning sun. "It's alright if you don't feel the same. I just… hope you'll let me."

This is—

Why now? Why like this? What could Geralt possibly give him—

He wants to get out of here. He needs space to think, he needs to snap Jaskier out of this. It's for his own good—Geralt can't subject him to this life.

What kind of fool would want it?

"Geralt," Jaskier says wetly. "Please don't go. Please just don't go."

It's the one thing he wants. 

Well, and the tailor shop, and the banquet, and another twenty years of companionship.

But it's all the same, isn't it? Stay here. Don't run away. Walk beside me.

Geralt doesn't know what to call this feeling in his chest. He doesn't know what keeps trying to crawl up his throat or why Jaskier thinks Geralt could ever leave him. He knows that there's a smudge of lipstick on Jaskier's cheek that he wants to wipe clean.

So he does.

He licks his thumb and rubs it gently over the prickly line where Jaskier's stubble is growing in, and Jaskier's breath is warm and small when he leans into Geralt's palm, and Geralt is kissing him.

Jaskier forgets to kiss back for one long, awkward second—and then his arms are wrapping around Geralt's neck and he's straddling Geralt's lap.

Geralt hums with surprise, reaching to shove their food out of the way and then wrapping that arm around Jaskier's waist. Fuck. Fuck, is this what it's like to kiss someone who's in love with you? He'd forgotten. He can barely remember—

Jaskier pushes him down onto the bed with a laugh. He braces over top of him, a grin splitting across his face, and says with disbelief, "You're here."

Now that he's done it, Geralt can't imagine being somewhere else. 

He slides a hand into Jaskier's hair and pulls him into another kiss. Jaskier sinks his weight down with a questioning sound and Geralt lifts his hips to meet him, shuddering when they rut together through their clothes.

"Fuck," Geralt mutters.

Jaskier kisses a trail across Geralt's jaw and sucks his earlobe into his mouth. His teeth tug experimentally and Geralt's hand tightens in his hair with a moan.

"Shirt," Jaskier breathes against Geralt's ear. "Off?"

Geralt sits up to shrug out of his shirt; Jaskier slides back into his lap and grinds his hips, mouthing wetly at the side of Geralt's neck instead of helping with the clothing situation.

"Fuck," Geralt says again. He tries to unbutton Jaskier's doublet, but he can't get the angle right without dislodging him. "You've gotta—I can't."

Jaskier bites the meat of Geralt's bare shoulder.

A thrill runs up Geralt's spine. "Jask."

"Geralt," Jaskier answers conversationally. One of his hands comes down to unbutton Geralt's trousers. The other digs a thumb into the bruising bite mark. "Do you have concerns?"

"You," says Geralt.

Jaskier's hand tucks into Geralt's pants and palms his cock, even as he continues rocking his own hips into the friction. "Yes?"

"Naked."

"Taken into consideration." Jaskier licks into Geralt's mouth and tips them back against the wall; Geralt hits the headboard with a rumble from deep in his chest. "I want you to come like this."

Fuck, Geralt is so hard. Jaskier's hand is so warm. Human hands, imperfect human teeth. 

"Should've known you'd be bossy," he murmurs, and bites back a smile when Jaskier tugs gently on his hair in a huff. "Do I get to pick how you come?"

"If you're good," Jaskier teases. 

The smell of his arousal is almost overwhelming—settling over Geralt like a pleasant fog. He'd recognize it anywhere, from years of being around while Jaskier fucked his way across the Continent. But this—to taste it in his sweat, the flick of a tongue in Geralt's mouth.

How long has Jaskier wanted this? How long has Geralt half-ached for it in the terror of his spine and squeezed the want out of himself before it could take root?

Geralt wants to be good. He wants to make this have been worth it.

He bucks his stuttering hips into Jaskier's fist. Tucks his face into the crook of Jaskier's neck and scents him with an open mouth, panting.

"Fuck," Jaskier breathes. "Fuck, can you smell—"

"Yeah."

"—how much I want you, sweetheart?"

Geralt shivers. Scrambles to press himself closer, his bare chest scraping against the buttons of Jaskier's doublet, arms wrapping tightly around Jaskier's back with his hands fisted in the fabric.

Jaskier's lips are at Geralt's temple. Kissing him so gently while he works him over with a wicked twist of his wrist. Geralt can feel the brush of Jaskier's cock against his stomach, weeping through the fabric. Wants to get his mouth around it, wants to taste—

"Gods, Geralt." Jaskier gasps sharply. "I can't tell you how—how badly I've—"

Geralt hums. Has he—

Has he always wanted this? Has he been looking at Geralt and aching for it, for the press of Geralt's mouth to this vulnerable place on the side of his throat? 

Why.

Who could want something so terrifying?

"Don't think so hard," Jaskier whispers. He tilts Geralt's chin up and kisses him soothingly. "I love you. Don't go away."

Okay.

Geralt kisses back, fingers creeping upwards to card through Jaskier's hair. He's close; he can feel it building under his skin like the thrum of his medallion. 

He comes slowly, his breath catching in his throat and eyelids fluttering, Jaskier's smug smile brushing against the underside of his jaw when his head tilts back.

"There we go," Jaskier soothes. "There you are."

Geralt slumps down against the pillows, feeling the unpleasant sensation of come seeping into his underclothes. "Fuck."

Jaskier adds to the mess by wiping his hand off on the already-stained cloth and raises a dismissive eyebrow when Geralt grumbles. "Eh, you cover yourself with much worse on a regular basis."

No argument there.

Geralt's attention falls to the bulge in Jaskier's trousers. He licks his lips and asks, "Can I?"

Jaskier finally moves to unbutton his doublet. "How do you want me?"

Geralt clears his throat. He feels come-drunk and dizzy, something swimming around in his brain and the possibility of panic breathing down his neck. He wants to drown it out—wants to do what Jaskier wants.

"You could—" Geralt's voice fails him. "You could fuck my mouth."

Jaskier swallows down a startled sound. "Melitele's tits!"

Geralt sits up straighter again. "Is that—"

"Yes," Jaskier says quickly. "Gods, Geralt."

He shrugs out of his doublet and then pulls his chemise over his head, his chest now fully on display.

Geralt drags a hand up through the hair there, feeling the thick curl of it between his fingers, and strokes a thumb along Jaskier's collar bone.

"How do you wanna arrange it?" he asks, feeling the warm tremble of Jaskier under his palm.

Jaskier smiles crookedly and thumbs at Geralt's bottom lip. "I want you to be comfortable."

"I don't," Geralt says—without really processing. Heat crawls up to the tips of his ears when he realizes, wondering how he can—

But it's Jaskier. His eyes glint delightedly and his smile sharpens.

He says, "Then get on your knees."

Geralt scrambles off the bed and hits the floor hard. He should've taken his trousers off—too late now. 

"Fuck." Jaskier sits on the edge of the bed and unlaces his own trousers without looking, too focused on Geralt. "You look so good down there."

Geralt wets his bottom lip. He slides his hands up Jaskier's calves, over his knees, and helps Jaskier wriggle out of the last of his clothes. Then it's Geralt's hands on Jaskier's strong thighs, the sight of Jaskier's cock pink and hard against his hip.

It's been a long time since Geralt's sucked cock. 

Jaskier shifts even further forward, so his feet brace on the floor, and tangles a hand in Geralt's hair. "How's this?"

Geralt nods—tugging against the grip on the back of his head. And that's…

Yeah.

"Alright." Jaskier taps his fingers on his knee twice in quick succession. "Do that if you need me to let you up, alright?"

Geralt snorts. It's not like Jaskier could keep him here if he didn't want to stay. But he mimics the gesture anyway.

Jaskier says, "Alright," again. He pushes Geralt forward with the hand in his hair and takes his dick into the other, squeezing gently to bead a drop of precome at the tip. "Open up, sweetheart."

Geralt does, tongue darting out eagerly. He feels a sting of embarrassment at that, but Jaskier bites his bottom lip as he feeds Geralt his cock—so Geralt forgets.

"Oh, fuck." Jaskier drops that hand to the bed, leaning back with his eyes fluttering shut. "Oh, it's so—do you need a moment?"

Geralt hums in the negative and shifts forward to prove it, taking Jaskier deeper. It feels good, the stretch in his mouth. The hand keeping him there.

"You'll kill me," Jaskier says weakly. Then clears his throat and adds more firmly, "No moving yourself—that's against the rules. You'll be good, won't you?"

Geralt nods quickly. He will. He wants to.

Jaskier doesn't warn him again before he pulls Geralt by the hair.

Not far at first—just pushing an inch or two in and out, a hot slide against the flat of Geralt's tongue. It's still exhilarating—staying put and being used.

"So wet," Jaskier says softly. "Oh, it's— look at you, Geralt. I wish you could see yourself."

Geralt closes his eyes. 

Jaskier pushes in deeper, working up a rhythm while he makes Geralt take more and more until his cock hits the back of Geralt's throat. It catches Geralt off-guard—he chokes a little, breathing in harshly through his nose, feels the sharp perfect pain on the back of his head when Jaskier pulls him off by the hair.

"Sorry," Jaskier soothes. His hand is still in a fist. "Are you okay?"

Geralt opens his eyes and looks up pleadingly through his lashes.

"Oh." Jaskier's cock twitches on Geralt's tongue. "You want it harder?"

Yeah. Geralt nods. When he breathes all he gets is Jaskier's arousal—cloying, wrapping around his throat. There's distant embarrassment. A vague urge to hide his face, to stop admitting how badly he—

Wants it.

But Jaskier won't judge him for this. Geralt's heard the kind of sex he has. Has envied Jaskier and his partners in equal measure, depending on the day.

And it's—it's Jaskier. His clever fingers, his lilting voice when he warns, "Here we go, then." 

He means it. Geralt widens his eyes at the way Jaskier fucks into him—hand tight on his head, a confident snap of his hips. No more of that fumbling tenderness he used to slip a ring on Geralt's scarred finger.

No, that's—that's not true.

It's in his eyes still. Even with his pupils blown out and the flash of hunger. Geralt tightens his grip on Jaskier's thighs, fingers clinging to the muscle like a lifeline.

From which—the gentle thing or the cock down his throat?

"You look so good," Jaskier says, voice trembling. "Oh, fuck, Geralt, you feel— you have no idea. I can't believe I have you."

Geralt swallows, breathing desperately through his nose. Wants to watch the pretty flush creeping up Jaskier's chest and onto his cheeks almost as badly he needs to hide from the wanting.

There's a strange echo in his head— which will you choose?

Neither—because Jaskier comes with a strangled curse and pulls Geralt off of him by the hair to spill onto Geralt's face, hot strips of it marking Geralt's cheeks like so many new scars, the sharp scent dripping into Geralt's waiting mouth.

"Oh, fuck," Jaskier gasps. "Oh, look at you."

He sinks to the ground right in front of Geralt, putting them at eye level, and wipes at a streak near Geralt's mouth with the same care Geralt gave the lipstick.

Geralt turns his head and catches the thumb in his mouth, sucking it gently clean.

"Oh, darling. Fuck." Jaskier's gaze drops to Geralt's throat. He reaches with his other hand and caresses up the column of it and something goes distant in his eyes, causing his bottom lip to tremble. "You're… you're here."

Geralt's knees hurt. His throat feels dry and sore and his crotch is itching where his come has turned tacky and cold.

"Where else?" he rasps.

 

~*~

 

Geralt reheats the bath water with Igni again. They've been hogging the tub jealously all morning, long scrubbed clean and the stench of sex replaced by lavender tickling at Geralt's nose, but no one's come to knock on the door and throw them out.

Jaskier hums appreciatively at the refreshed heat and tips his chin up to press a kiss to the side of Geralt's neck.

"Gonna have to move eventually," Geralt reminds him.

"Mm, fuck you," Jaskier answers smugly. His lips brush a smile into Geralt's skin. "Again."

Geralt says, "Okay," and kisses the top of his head.

But Jaskier sighs and sits up properly, though he doesn't untangle their legs. "I guess I should… tell you one more thing."

"What," Geralt jokes, "you're using me to get to Roach?"

Jaskier huffs out a laugh. Then turns serious again, with his wide eyes and a subtle pout, and says, "Forgive me."

Geralt frowns. "For wha—"

Jaskier slides a hand onto Geralt's back and gently flattens his palm on the midpoint of Geralt's spine.

Geralt flinches away, water sloshing over the rim of the tub, and demands, "How did you—"

"Time loop," Jaskier says tiredly. "It's the only thing that works. I'm sorry. No, I don't know how long we've been here and no, I have no idea how to break it. We've tried everything."

Geralt swallows thickly. "Even this?"

Jaskier sinks lower into the water, up to the tip of his chin. "Well, only sort of. It went… poorly, the other time."

Don't leave again.

Oh.

Geralt feels sick. That these thoughts he's had—his fears—have been stronger than his courage. 

Were they right to be? Is he making a mistake?

"Why try again?" he asks.

Jaskier's smile is wistful. "You wanted me to."

Geralt feels the weight of the ring on his hand. He asks, "Do you think this'll break the loop?"

"I don't know," Jaskier answers, sounding strained. "I was so sure the first time, but now… maybe this isn't it. Not that I'm not happy, I mean, I just—"

"The curse could be something else," Geralt agrees. He looks over at Jaskier's face, which is clouded with worry. "So talk me through what we've tried. We'll figure it out."

Jaskier smiles, the water lapping at the edge of his mouth. "Alright."

 

~*~

 

They lay in bed that night, Geralt tucked in the cradle of Jaskier's arms and nestled against his chest. They've left the curtains pulled back and the full moon is casting a glow over the room, but Geralt's eyes are already shut as he drifts to sleep.

Jaskier whispers, "I love you," into the crown of Geralt's hair.

Geralt feels a flare of fear stumble up his throat. He swallows it down and says, "Tell me again in the morning. If the loop doesn't break."

Jaskier tucks a strand of hair behind Geralt's ear. "And if it does?"

Geralt brushes his lips against the soft hair of Jaskier's chest. "Tell me then, too."

 

Day 1

"I'm in love with you," says Jaskier, and Geralt bolts for the stables.

 

Day 1

"I'm in love with you," says Jaskier, and Geralt fucks him in the garden.

 

Day 1

"I'm in love with you," says Jaskier. "And you never say it back."

 

Day 1

Jaskier hides his face in Geralt's neck and mutters, "I don't wanna do it today. I'm so tired, Geralt."

Geralt hums sympathetically, dropping his chin to press a kiss to the top of Jaskier's head. 

"It's the same food, the same people over and over!" Jaskier flops onto his back dramatically. "The same weather. Do you know how long it's been since I've seen the rain, Geralt? I miss it. I miss weather! Do you know how insane I sound?"

"Yeah," says Geralt drily. "I'm listening to you."

Jaskier smacks his bare chest. "Indulge my suffering."

"Okay," Geralt says. "Where should we go?"

Jaskier pushes up onto his forearms, looking over at Geralt with confusion. "I'm sorry?"

Geralt rubs a thumb over Jaskier's knuckles. "Let's take a vacation. Plenty of places within a day's ride of here. Not sure if we can find rain, but we can try—weather's volatile near the coast."

"I…" Jaskier purses his lips around a smile. "You'd do that?"

Geralt's not sure where the twist in his stomach comes from—that Jaskier doubts him, or that he wishes he doubted himself.

"Yeah," he says. "You need a break. Gods know we've got time."

Jaskier's entire… everything changes. A beaming grin splits across his face, his posture perks up like he's being pulled by strings and his hands are suddenly dynamic through the air.

"Oh, thank you! Melitele, I'm so fucking sick of Prana I don't even care where we go!" Jaskier hops out of bed and immediately goes digging through their bags—maybe looking for a new outfit, considering the state they left the old one in. "Should I get a horse? We'd move faster if I had my own horse."

Geralt climbs out of bed more slowly, enjoying the soreness pulling at his thighs. "Sure. Find one you like. I'll get the rest of our supplies."

"Like what?" Jaskier asks, hopping into a pair of underwear. 

"Food, mostly," says Geralt. He takes the set of underclothes Jaskier hands him and starts getting dressed. "Anything you want?"

Jaskier pulls on a chemise with particularly intricate embroidery around the collar and sleeves. "Surprise me."

"Hmm." Geralt peers at him over the edge of a shirt. "Is that possible anymore?"

Jaskier winks at him. "Guess we'll see."

 

~*~

 

Geralt parts ways with Jaskier outside the inn, a heavy bag of coin in his pocket. Jaskier's coin, but it's not like it'll matter much—nothing they do today will last, except in Jaskier's memory.

According to Jaskier, they almost always go to the market that's been set up for the banquet. Geralt turns the opposite way down the main road, looking for another district he can buy food in—better chance of finding Jaskier something new.

He wanders into a shop tended to by an older woman with gray-black hair frizzing out of a bun on top of her head. Hard cheeses and cured meats are on display, which will both keep well for a trip. 

The woman turns when a bell rings on the door as Geralt enters. Her eyes drop from his face to his medallion in recognition, but she smiles pleasantly and asks, "How can I help you?"

Geralt steps further into the shop, clearing his throat. "Can you prepare a spread, like for a day trip?"

"A leisurely meal?" the woman asks, eyes twinkling.

Leisurely feels… quaint. Aggressively normal in a way that's never applied to anything about Geralt's life—and especially not anything about today.

He nods.

The woman ducks down under the counter and procures a length of thin cloth, which she lays out on the counter. "For how many?"

"Two," says Geralt.

"Ooh." The woman smiles at him. "Someone special?"

Geralt's thumb drifts over the ring on his pinky. "... Yeah."

"The best kind of meal," she tells him. "Any requests?"

Geralt shrugs.

The woman begins the work of slicing meats and cheeses and arranging them to be folded into the cloth. She adds a loaf of bread, too, with the kind of hard crust that Jaskier always breaks off and tosses to Geralt instead.

It looks good. It's not something Geralt knows anything about.

The woman appears to finish. She looks up and asks, "How's this?"

"Sure," says Geralt. "Thanks."

"A skein of wine?"

Geralt thinks, unbidden, of Jaskier's flushed cheeks—the way his mouth stains red, even his teeth, and he laughs and tips right into Geralt's lap without fail when he's on his third glass.

"Yeah." Geralt smiles. "He likes it sweet."

The woman smiles back; Geralt is struck by how odd that is, but she's strolling into a back room—he supposes where the wine is kept.

Maybe it's not odd. Maybe it's just nice. Geralt still hates when people pay him too much attention, but if a woman he's never met can be decent to him without stinking of fear—

One more thing to thank Jaskier for.

He pays her for the food and drink, and five extra crowns on the counter when she turns her back. She won't remember, but it'll make her happy today.

Errands run, it's back to the inn to meet Jaskier. Who's walking suspiciously briskly towards Geralt with a white gelding in full tack behind him and gesturing emphatically towards the tree line.

Geralt sighs; he adds the supplies to Roach's saddlebags and then carries the saddle under one arm while leading her on foot.

"Hey," Geralt tells Jaskier once they're on the edge of town. "What's the point of stealing the horse? We won't need the money."

Jaskier grins broadly. "The thrill, obviously!"

Geralt rolls his eyes. He tacks Roach quickly and hops on. "You know, if you tried hard enough you could get yourself cursed twice. Might be some kinda record."

"Ooh, you might be onto something!" Jaskier mounts too, taking up the reins in his hands, and points his horse west. "What happens if you get cursed in a time loop within a time loop? Do they stack? Would breaking the first one break the second, or is it, like, sequential?"

Geralt snorts, urging Roach forward. "Don't suggest it to Yen—she'd try it."

"Believe me," says Jaskier, "I have no plans to give that terrifying woman any further incentive to curse me. Although I suppose certain, erm, recent events may contradict that particular goal."

Geralt hums reluctantly. There's a path through the forest with good shade up ahead that Jaskier seems to be heading for. "Should we… talk about that?"

Jaskier grimaces. "After we break the loop. That's not exactly a conversation I'd like to have more than once."

"Me neither," Geralt remarks drily. 

"But you and I," Jaskier says tentatively, wetting his bottom lip. "We'll be alright, won't we? Even if you want to be with her, too?"

Geralt turns his head to watch the forest drift along with them as they walk; birds rustling the trees when they hop from branch to branch, a rabbit burrowing in the underbrush. 

Whatever he has with Yennefer, it's volatile and thrilling. He gambled with dangerous magic to prevent losing her the first time; he doesn't want to have to face that choice again. 

The thought of the choice being opposite Jaskier—

"We'll be fine," Geralt says. "If you'll have me."

The smile that spreads across Jaskier's face makes Geralt's heart clench. 

"I'm pleased to inform you that I've had you several times recently," Jaskier says cheekily, which should ruin the moment—but doesn't. "And again tonight if you're good."

Geralt quirks his lips. "Fuck off."

"Little tricky while on top of the horse." Jaskier winks. "But if you took the reins—"

"Ugh," says Geralt.

 

~*~

 

They ride well into the afternoon; Geralt's about to give up on his stubborn desire to find Jaskier a change of weather when he scents the rain on the horizon.

Sure enough, they're riding on a collision course with dark clouds that are moving in fast from the west. They dismount and pick their way through the forest until they find a suitable clearing with grazing for the horses nearby.

They see to Roach and Jaskier's borrowed gelding, whom he's been calling Pegasus, and then Geralt tells Jaskier to wait on the edge of the clearing with his eyes closed.

"Geralt?" Jaskier asks, hands over his eyes with a playful grin underneath. "What're you doing, you scamp?"

Geralt doesn't answer, too busy rustling in the saddlebags for the food and wine.

"You know if you leave me, I'll just find you in the morning," Jaskier says lightly.

Geralt knows that happens sometimes; Jaskier told him on the ride here. He's glad Jaskier can't see him wince.

"Not leaving," he promises, glancing up at the sky. The storm is gonna outpace their lunch at this rate; he can hear the horses stamping their hooves. "Just be patient for once."

"Hmm, nah, I don't really go in for that." True to his word, Jaskier peeks through his fingers while Geralt's still arranging the food on the cloth. "Oh, Geralt! It looks amazing. What a spread!"

Geralt starts to scowl, but he's knocked out of his crouch by an armful of bastard before he can finish. "Ugh. I said wait—"

Jaskier kisses the corner of his mouth. "It's perfect."

Geralt nuzzles his nose against Jaskier's cheek. "Yeah?"

"Yes." Jaskier kisses his lips next—first chaste, then decidedly not. "Mm, you know what I'll never get tired of?"

Geralt lays down on the grass and pulls Jaskier on top of him, looking up with a lopsided smile. "Salted pork?"

Jaskier bites at Geralt's earlobe. "You being sweet to me, you hopeless sap."

Geralt runs his hands up the backs of Jaskier's thighs and says, "Then eat your fucking salted pork."

"What's the rush?" Jaskier asks, then immediately scrunches up his nose when a fat raindrop lands on the back of his neck. "Bollocks."

Geralt's laugh is a startled, embarrassing and opened-mouthed thing—he endures the taste of rainwater before he can compose himself, choking on his surprise. The rain picks up in a sudden rush and splatters into the loam, stirring up little rivulets of mud within moments.

"Fuck, shit, Geralt, the—" Jaskier flails through a wheeze of laughter. "The food! Your precious salted—"

Geralt tackles him into the nascent mud and casts Quen over them both, catching their food under a shimmering shield of gold.

Jaskier is grinning impishly, a splash of dirt on his cheek where the lipstick was this morning. The rain patters on the translucent roof above them; Geralt is surrounded by the smell of crushed clover and summer storm. The man underneath him is the best—

Geralt swallows and sits up, suddenly aware of the water seeping through his breeches.

(The best thing he's seen.)

Jaskier sits up too, crossing his legs, and scrubs at his cheek. "Nifty little spell. Let's see—you know, most of this is actually fine. Hydration is important, anyway."

Geralt rolls his eyes. Jaskier is right, though; they moved fast enough to save the food, except maybe the bread, which might be soggy. More importantly, the wine skein is intact.

"Will the horses be alright?" Jaskier asks, grabbing eagerly for the wine when Geralt uncorks it. "I mean, I know they won't remember or anything, but—"

Geralt smiles. "They'll be fine. Don't drink it all—I want some."

"Do you, now?" Jaskier asks, raising a teasing eyebrow. He slinks forward and drags his teeth across Geralt's bottom lip. "Are you sure you don't wanna ply me with the whole thing?"

"Hm." Geralt's hands come up to grip Jaskier's hips automatically. "Don't think I need it. You're kind of a trollop."

Jaskier bites him harder.

"Gods," Geralt murmurs, thighs falling open so Jaskier can fit between them. "Were you this insatiable at eighteen?"

"For anyone," Jaskier confirms. He presses the skein to Geralt's lips; Geralt tips his chin and drinks. "Now, just for you."

The wine is sweet. A stray drop rolls down Geralt's chin and Jaskier laps it clean. 

Geralt swallows again. "You fucked the barmaid last night."

"Mm, and I'd fuck her once or twice more. Or the innkeeper's son, or the mayor's mother." Jaskier presses a line of kisses up Geralt's jaw and then whispers, his breath tickling Geralt's ear, "But I'd fuck you forever, darling. Do you understand?"

"No," Geralt says hoarsely. "Why me?"

Jaskier sits back on his heels. His hair is half-wet, frizzing even as it sticks to his forehead.

"You won't believe a word of it," he says. "And you'll forget in the morning. You'd forget even if you woke up and remembered the rest."

Geralt watches the rain rolling down their thin shelter. Quietly, he asks, "Could you tell me anyway?"

Jaskier's mouth makes a strange shape. Something that wanted to be a smile and tried too hard. He turns around and leans back against one of Geralt's knees and reaches for the nearest slab of cheese.

Conversationally, he asks, "Would you say that I'm a particularly easy person to love?"

Geralt frowns. Then opens his mouth when Jaskier feeds him a bite of cheese. 

"I'm not," Jaskier says softly, filling the silence. "Tell me why. And be honest—it's nothing I haven't heard before."

Geralt leans his head back against the shield. "You're… loud. You never shut up. You're pretty weird and you hate staying in one place. You're a bit of a bastard on a good day and a dick on a bad one. Everything you say and do is three times as dramatic as it needs to be."

Jaskier huffs out a laugh. He turns and presses a kiss to Geralt's thigh and feeds him another bite of food.

Geralt takes it between his teeth, staring intently.

"Tell me what you like about me," says Jaskier, and Geralt closes his eyes.

The constant sound of a lute over a crackling fire, countless rhymes for claw and blood and all the words Geralt's never had. A hundred stupid jokes no one else would understand and an irrational hatred of strawberries and spitting outrage at the door being slammed in Geralt's face when he's too empty to muster any of his own.

A fresh-faced kid in Posada following the Butcher of Blaviken to the edge of the world.

"You think I'm funny," Geralt tells him roughly. "You've followed me all over this fucking Continent and you're not tired of me. When I can't… feel like a person, you do it for the both of us."

Jaskier's eyes are wet. There's a fine tremor in the hand he has wrapped around Geralt's calf.

Geralt wets his bottom lip and rasps, "I haven't been alone in twenty years."

"You won't ever be," Jaskier swears fiercely. "I won't let you."

The fear punches out of Geralt's throat.

"You'll die."

"I'll haunt you."

Geralt grabs for Jaskier's hand, clutching it tightly. His mouth is open, throat burning like there must be something to say—some sound forcing its way out.

There's nothing besides a sharp strangle of breath.

He thinks, for a dizzying moment, that the Quen he cast has fizzled—realizes that the wetness on Jaskier's cheeks, on his own, is from the tears.

"Geralt," Jaskier says shakily. "What if we stayed here?"

Geralt purses his lips together. "Shield won't hold."

"Here," says Jaskier. "In the loop."

Together. They'd go to the market some days. Ride out of the city on others. Jaskier's crow's feet would never deepen, his hair would never turn gray.

Every morning Geralt would wake up and realize someone loved him.

Would the world rot around them? Would anyone ever know?

"I'll forget," Geralt says. "Over and over."

"I'll remind you," says Jaskier.

The storm settles in around them with a patient aggression. Geralt feels the stroke of Jaskier's thumb over the side of his palm reverberating in his gut.

They wait, suspended, for one to call the other's bluff.

The shield bursts; the deluge drenches them at once, Geralt's hair plastering to his face and Jaskier's muddy cheek absolved in a rush of weeping sky.

Geralt kisses the water out of Jaskier's mouth. Takes his warm face in always-cold hands and feels the rain stinging against his fluttering eyelids.

Jaskier brushes Geralt's hair back for him and gasps for air, pressing their foreheads together.

"You don't really want it," Geralt murmurs. "Not like this."

"I know," Jaskier whispers. They're clinging together, knees sinking into the softening earth. "I know, I just—Geralt, I—"

He sobs quietly.

Geralt kisses his temple and waits.

"I don't wanna leave you." Jaskier's hands tighten in the back of Geralt's shirt. "I want someone to love you like this forever."

"I'll remember," Geralt promises. "When it's over."

Jaskier kisses him again. Holds him steady and is held, his fine clothes sticking to his skin and the hair on his chest darkening in the rain. 

Geralt loses his sense of time—of scope. He wonders how long it feels to Jaskier. If it feels like anything.

Is this the best version? Geralt wonders. Did you love some of me better than others?

Would Geralt choose this day again, if he were in charge of wiping the slate?

Jaskier pulls away and asks, "Do you wanna know a secret?"

Does Geralt have secrets left?

"Yeah," he says.

"We've been here before," Jaskier tells him. "We've never—we haven't had this conversation. But I knew we'd find rain. I knew if I said I was tired, you'd let me rest."

Geralt's jaw begins to ache.

"I know you hate it," Jaskier says softly. There's a crease on his brow that Geralt wants to smooth. "Not being the one in control of this. I'm sorry I haven't gotten us out."

He does hate it. There's a curl of nausea in his stomach—the fear that he's handed too much of himself away. There was so little of him to begin with.

And Jaskier has been endlessly, disgustingly patient. They spent the ride here talking about it—Jaskier telling Geralt everything he knew. Each piece of Geralt's memory handed back to him with Jaskier's fingerprints smudged all over it. 

Like a stolen horse or bit of silver.

Geralt doesn't know what he was like in all the iterations that came before. Not really, anyway. He doesn't know why sometimes he runs and sometimes he wants to chain himself to Jaskier's feet, why he always craves sweetbread in the morning but has only once admitted to still longing for his mother.

But he knows who he wants to be today.

"If it's been like this," he says. "I've been happy."

And Jaskier beams at him, and then—

Something tugs. Geralt feels it in his medallion first, buzzing against his wet skin—then deeper in his chest, like it's wrapped around a rib. 

Geralt reaches out blindly, magic nipping at his fingertips, and tugs back.

The voice echoes in the back of his skull.

Your lives are much more fascinating than mine.

We're all infatuated with power, Geralt.

"Geralt?" Jaskier asks worriedly. "What's—"

Which will you choose?

"—wrong?"

Whatever Geralt has in his fist wriggles free. He blinks, refocusing on Jaskier being drenched in the rain right in front of him.

"Fuck," says Geralt.

Jaskier presses the back of his hand to Geralt's forehead nonsensically. "Are you alright? What just happened?"

"We've gotta go." Geralt stands up and hauls Jaskier to his feet. "I know who cursed us."

 

~*~

 

They ride hard back to the city. The rain fades into the distance behind them as they rewind into a threatening pre-storm humidity. Geralt can feel the water steaming off Roach's coat, his own hair frizzing horribly in the setting evening sun.

The banquet's already begun by the time they arrive. The stablehands take their horses and a disapproving guard herds them through the door.

"He might not realize we know," Geralt warns Jaskier in a quiet mutter. "Let's not give too much away."

Jaskier slips his hand off Geralt's lower back. "Alright. I have just the thing for making him talk."

"What's that?" Geralt asks with mild amusement.

"We're going to threaten him with something any man in his right mind would be afraid of," Jaskier answers with a grin. "Yennefer of Vengerberg."

Geralt tilts his head, impressed.

There's music coming from the banquet hall, which is strange. It's purely instrumental and more maudlin than what Jaskier would choose to play at a function like this.

Judging by Jaskier's expression, the opportunist playing a lute near the head of the table is Valdo Marx.

"'Academic engagements,' my arse," Jaskier grumbles—but he follows when Geralt steers him by the back of the neck to correct course.

Natan of Prana is seated in the middle of the table, holding a pleasant conversation with two women sitting across from him. Geralt hasn't met him in this loop, but Jaskier indicates him easily enough.

"Hello there!" Jaskier says cheerfully. "We have the honor of speaking with Natan of Prana, am I correct?"

Natan looks up with moderate confusion. 

The two of them must be a perturbing sight—dressed in ruined clothes and still half-drenched to the bone. Geralt ignores his growing discomfort with the looks they're being given.

"Yes, that's me," Natan says. "And who might you be?"

Jaskier extends his hand with a flourish. "Jaskier, the bard, pleased to make your acquaintance. And this is Geralt of Rivia, my travelling companion."

Natan remains seated, but shakes both their hands. "The pleasure's mine, I'm sure. Would the two of you care to join us? It seems your trip here was… eventful."

"Actually," Jaskier tells him. "We're in a bit of predicament, ourselves, and sorely in need of your talents—but the matter is delicate. Might we speak with you in the courtyard?"

Geralt smells a faint metallic tinge of fear. 

Natan smooths the fabric of his formal attire and stands smoothly. "Of course—I'd be happy to help."

"Thank you!" Jaskier says brightly. He claps his hands together and leads the way.

Geralt brings up the rear, raising a dry eyebrow at the back of Jaskier's head. 

Out in the garden, the moon is peering at them over the high walls. Jaskier's eyes are particularly bright in the silver-blue light—though, Geralt thinks wryly, it could also be from the excitement of laying an excellent trap.

"So you see," Jaskier is saying in an innocent rush, "Geralt and I have run into an issue of a magical nature, and I've heard that you mages can communicate with each other over long distances. Geralt's very close to Yennefer of Vengerberg—"

Another spike of fear. Geralt conceals a smirk.

"—and we're sure she'd be able to help us if we can get in touch!" Jaskier continues. "You wouldn't happen to be able to reach her, or know someone who can play the middleman, would you?"

Natan says, "Erm—"

"It's alright if you can't, of course," Jaskier tells him sweetly. "I'm sure we can find someone in the surrounding area who can help. That woman talking to the countess when we walked in, Geralt—she's a sorceress, isn't she?"

Geralt hums.

"Ah, if you're as close to Yennefer as you say," Natan says stiltedly. "Then you know she's disavowed from the Brotherhood. I don't think that anyone knows where she is or how to contact her."

"Oh, that's a shame." Jaskier clucks his tongue and glances sidelong at Geralt. "Should we keep asking around, then?"

Natan clears his throat. "Perhaps I could offer some assistance in another manner? I certainly can't claim to be as powerful as Yennefer, but I do have a few areas of expertise."

"Oh?" Jaskier asks. He looks to Geralt for confirmation, who nods. "What do you know about time loops?"

Natan seems distinctly unsurprised by the subject. "Oh, a little—they're quite rare and difficult to break. They take a fair amount of power to cast. I've never encountered one myself."

"Damn." Jaskier runs a hand through his hair, pushing it off his forehead. "I'm sure that Yennefer told us she's broken one before, didn't she, Geralt?"

Geralt is watching Natan's face. "Mm."

"You're not—" Natan turns to Geralt, his eyes going a little wide. Odd. "You're not in one now, are you?"

Geralt smiles threateningly and inclines his head towards Jaskier. "He is."

The blood seems to drain from Natan's face. He looks between the two of them warily, then takes a half-step back. He asks Jaskier, "I'm sorry, did you say— you're in a loop?"

Jaskier's composure falters. He glances over at Geralt, who frowns.

"I am," Jaskier confirms warily. "It's been months. Do you know how exhausting it is to go around—"

"Shit," says Natan, and moves as if to open a portal.

Geralt has him pinned to the courtyard wall before he gets the chance.

"Geralt," Jaskier whines. "I was being so patient."

Geralt ignores him, too focused on the growl rumbling out of his throat. He spears Natan under his glare and demands, "What the fuck did you do?"

"It was supposed to be you!" Natan blurts, turning his face away. "I meant to curse you. I don't know how this happened."

"Oh, fuck," says Jaskier. "Geralt."

Geralt loosens his hold on Natan enough to turn his head and look at Jaskier, who is staring with a hand cupped over his mouth and a haunted expression on his face.

"It's not my curse," Jaskier says with wonder. "I haven't—it's not my curse?"

Geralt turns back to Natan. "How'd you do it?"

"Your wine," Natan says. He isn't struggling against Geralt's grip, which is almost more disquieting. "I knew you'd notice if I hit you directly. It shouldn't have affected anyone else."

Geralt flicks his eyes to Jaskier. "Did you drink it?"

"Shit, fuck, I don't—" Jaskier throws his hands up. "It was so long ago, Geralt, I—I told you, we fought and I got drunk and I—oh, shit."

Geralt closes his eyes and says, "Fuck."

"I'm sorry," Jaskier says. "Fuck, I'm so sorry, I—"

"Don't," Geralt grits out, surprising himself with the conviction. "It's not your fault."

Jaskier falls silent. Maybe disbelieving, but Geralt can deal with that later.

For now, he shoves Natan more firmly into the wall and growls, "Tell us how to break the curse."

"Come now, Geralt not-of Rivia," Natan says softly, making Geralt flinch. "You know better than to try to cheat a spell like that. Struggling just tightens the noose."

Geralt's grip turns bruising on Natan's arm. "Wanna prove it?"

"Geralt," says Jaskier. 

A moment of hesitation. Geralt releases Natan and takes a full step back, angled protectively between the sorcerer and Jaskier.

Natan brushes the crumbling stone dust off his robes. He looks between the two of them and says, "It was supposed to be a gift."

Jaskier barks out a laugh. "I changed my mind, Geralt, hold him still—"

"So that you may choose the life you want to live," Natan says gently. "Before you waste any more time."

Geralt blinks. 

The taste of rainwater spilling into his mouth, a melodious voice ringing out when the door to his room is thrown open in the morning, I've been happy.

"I did," he says.

Natan smiles ruefully, says, "If that's true, then I'm sure we'll never meet again," and walks calmly into the banquet hall.

Geralt watches him go.

There's still the pull of magic in the air, pinching Geralt's chest. Shouldn't it be broken?

His stomach turns over uneasily, shifting to look at Jaskier. His muddied, beautiful clothes and the questioning shine of his eyes. 

"Let's go home," says Geralt.

Jaskier follows.

 

~*~

 

They stable their horses at the inn for the night and retreat to the room, where Geralt sinks heavily onto the bed. Jaskier sits next to him and rests a hand high on his back, other hand propped lightly on his own thigh.

Geralt shoves his fingers through his hair and says, "Fuck."

Jaskier asks, "Do you think we've broken the loop?"

"No." Geralt squeezes his eyes shut. "Fuck. I'm sorry. Jask, I've been—"

"Don't you dare," Jaskier cuts in firmly. He moves to cup Geralt's jaw, forcing him to meet Jaskier's eyes. "Don't you fucking dare say you've failed, because you haven't."

Geralt clenches his jaw helplessly. "I don't know what else I can do."

"You'll think of something." Jaskier presses their foreheads together, tender fingers brushing at Geralt's hairline. "You always do."

Geralt curls his hands in the back of Jaskier's doublet. The drying mud cracks under his palms. "In one day?"

Jaskier hums, faith unwavering. 

How does he do that?

"What can I learn in one day?" Geralt asks. His shoulders sag, collapsing him into Jaskier's arms. "How can I know—"

"Shh. You're not alone, remember?" Jaskier presses a kiss to Geralt's temple. "I know it's not much, but you have me."

He does. He wants to. Has his fingers grasping it hard enough to crush it. 

"You're…" Geralt tries. Feels it all smashing on the back of his teeth, like he always does. "I know it's you. It has to be."

Jaskier's fingers find the band tying Geralt's hair back and tug it free. It falls heavy against Geralt's neck, damp and tangled from the storm.

"I'm sorry," Geralt says again. "I don't know what else to give. What life I'm supposed to—"

"You listen to me," Jaskier cuts in. He runs his fingers through Geralt's hair, gently coaxing the knots undone. "It's a nonsense bullshit fucking curse, made by a sad and lonely man who thought he understood something he knew nothing about. I love you. I have loved you since you gave every coin you had to your name to a starving king and I will love you if you never, ever have an answer."

Geralt begins to shake. "Why?"

"I told you in the forest."

Geralt smiles in mourning. "I forget."

"You answer me every day." Jaskier kisses the top of Geralt's head. Tilts his chin up and kisses the tip of his nose. "When you eat the damn strawberry tart and tell Valdo Marx to piss off and pull me out of the way of that stupid cart, and especially when you run away."

Geralt swallows thickly and asks, "Why then?"

"Because you come back," says Jaskier, his smile every bit as sad as Geralt's own. "The most terrifying thing in the world to you happens and you come back for me."

Geralt uncurls his hands from Jaskier's doublet. He rests one over Jaskier's where it lays on Geralt's cheek and says, "You've learned a lot about me."

"I have," says Jaskier.

"Things I didn't want you to know."

Jaskier smiles again. "I'm not so sure about that."

"What terrifies me?"

Jaskier kisses him. A soft press of lips, which is an answer, and a gentle tug of teeth, which is the next question.

Geralt guides Jaskier's hand down to his shoulder, the base of Geralt's neck. 

"I'm sorry," Geralt murmurs.

The tips of Jaskier's fingers slip under the collar of Geralt's shirt. "For what, this time?"

"That I'll forget."

"I'll tell you everything," Jaskier promises. "Did you think I'd get tired of it?"

Geralt shrugs out of his shirt. A warm hand on his naked spine, high between his shoulder blades. 

"Would you have been happy?" he asks. "If none of this had happened."

"Yes, love." Jaskier kisses the corner of his mouth. "I was very happy."

Geralt nuzzles against his cheek. "Are you happier now?"

"I'm happy I get to tell you that I love you."

"And if I said it back?"

Jaskier huffs out a laugh. "Would you mean it?"

His hand slips a little lower on Geralt's spine. Not all the way. He knows what it means—showed Geralt this morning when he revealed the loop and then touched him everywhere else like an apology.

Another damn echo in Geralt's brain: like tightening a noose.

He cups a hand on the back of Jaskier's head and says, "I'll tell you when the loop breaks," and takes them both down onto the bed.

Jaskier laughs when his back hits the mattress, a lopsided grin spreading onto his face. There's dirt and mud smeared all over the blankets now, where they'll sleep tonight. His fingers dig into the side of Geralt's spine.

Geralt reaches for Jaskier's arm with his opposite hand, fingers wrapping loosely around his elbow and guiding him down the expanse of Geralt's back.

"Oh," Jaskier breathes. He flattens his palm over the midpoint of Geralt's spine and rubs his thumb over the spot soothingly. "You know, this may be… the one thing you haven't told me."

Geralt hums questioningly, his head dropping to bury his face in the side of Jaskier's neck.

"You never told me what it meant," Jaskier says softly. "Just that you'd know it."

Geralt shudders. He feels pinned in place, though it'd be so easy to roll free. Feels the ache from somewhere it's lived in the memory of his body—where he dragged himself to die, to become small and unwanted, and instead was nursed with tender breath.

He draws a ragged one now and says, "When I was—"

"Don't," Jaskier soothes. His hand presses harder and Geralt's knees buckle above him, collapsing their bodies together in a knocking of bones. "It's yours. You've given enough."

And he has. He has, but the sob that chokes out isn't fear, or weariness, or resentment.

It's like going limp.

"There's nothing," Geralt murmurs. His breath on the edge of a collarbone, his ribs pressing against Jaskier's when one of them inhales. "Nothing I wouldn't let you have. You kept it all safe."

Twenty years of choices. Twenty years of fingerprints lingering over a life that Geralt refused to wipe clean.

Jaskier jams a knee into Geralt's hip; the thread wails and snaps apart.

Geralt breathes out.

Jaskier shifts again, freeing his legs. He wraps one of them around Geralt's waist and rocks up into him like they're already fucking, a thin moan pressed to Geralt's ear.

Does he know? Did he feel it?

Geralt kisses the crook of Jaskier's neck as they frot together, sucking back gently. He asks, "Can I leave a mark?"

"Strange thing to ask," Jaskier teases breathlessly. "Considering."

"No," Geralt tells him, "it's not."

Jaskier gasps and wraps his arms all the way around Geralt's back. He presses them even tighter together, his breath hot on Geralt's cheek. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Geralt answers.

Jaskier nips at the shell of Geralt's ear. "Do it."

Geralt marks him—sucks a loving bruise into the curve of his shoulder where Geralt likes to tuck himself away. The aching scent of him smothering everything else into the background. 

Jaskier makes a desperate sound and slips a hand into Geralt's hair. He tightens it, holding Geralt steady, his breath coming up short.

"Can you—" he tries, cutting off when Geralt bites down. "Can we—"

"Mm," Geralt agrees.

"I haven't asked." Jaskier digs the heel of his foot into the small of Geralt's back. "You ridiculous man."

Geralt does it for him. "Will you fuck me?"

"Fuck," Jaskier breathes. His cock jerks against Geralt's stomach through his trousers. "Oh, fuck, don't say it like it's such a hardship."

Geralt smiles against the blooming bruise. "Like it when you tell me it isn't."

"Naughty," Jaskier scolds. He wriggles out from underneath Geralt and starts unbuttoning his doublet. "Impish, horrible little man."

Geralt unbuttons Jaskier's trousers for him. "Be kinder to yourself. You're also a nuisance and an irredeemable bastard."

Jaskier laughs and smacks him on the arm. "Oh, Melitele, I love you. I love you, Geralt, how do you want it?"

Geralt strips out of the rest of his clothes and sprawls on the bed on his belly. 

"Oh," says Jaskier, voice tinged with wonder. "That's new."

Is it? Hadn't occurred to Geralt. 

It makes sense, with his back.

Jaskier retrieves the oil on the nightstand, left there from this morning, and then drapes himself over Geralt's back. He kisses the edge of Geralt's shoulder blade and along the curve of his spine, a hand splayed warmly on Geralt's arse. 

Geralt tucks his face against his forearms as Jaskier spreads him open, a feather-light thumb tracing over his hole. He breathes in slowly and feels his blood singing. 

Jaskier squeezes Geralt's arse and then pushes a slicked up finger inside, humming reassurances. "There we go. Relax for me, darling. Oh, so good, aren't we?"

Geralt's body twitches and shudders under the attention. His cock, already half-hard, swells with the gentle coaxing of Jaskier's touch and the smug praise.

"Feels so good just to touch you," Jaskier tells him. "I love you, Geralt. Oh, goddess, look at you. I wish you could see how beautiful you look like this, all laid out for me."

Geralt closes his eyes, face pressed into the mattress. It's not—

Jaskier fucked him this morning. Bent him in half and slapped a hand over his mouth when he growled playfully and laughed when Geralt nipped at his palm. 

What makes this feel different? Why does Geralt tremble when Jaskier adds another finger and Geralt pushes onto his forearms?

Because he'll remember? Because it's something they'll both keep.

Jaskier presses at an angle that makes Geralt's head fog over with pleasure. The slow curl of it, his back tensing and rolling in a languid shift. He feels desperate for it. Does he look desperate?

Maybe it was easier. Getting to hand everything back at the end of the night. Not having to face the places he stripped himself raw.

"Are you alright, love?" Jaskier asks, stroking his free hand up and down the side of Geralt's hip. "I know you like to go quiet."

He'll live with it. This is the version of himself he'll carry. He thinks he'll be proud of it.

Something leaves Geralt's throat like a whine. Fuck, it feels so good. Jaskier's fingers fucking him, holding him open. His breath coming deep and open through the stretch in his body.

"Are you ready?" Jaskier asks, and Geralt draws up onto his knees. Bent over like he's praying—supplicating. 

He's facing a splintering wooden headboard and thinning pillows stuffed with runaway feathers. A hand slides up the small of his back and pushes him back down onto the bed.

Jaskier covers him with his body, a kiss dropped to his shoulder. He lines himself up, nudging in slowly, and murmurs, "Like this."

Geralt nods again. He closes his eyes, angles his hips back greedily.

Jaskier notices; he huffs out a laugh and gives Geralt another kiss. Then rocks forward a little as he slips further inside.

"Oh, fuck, Geralt," he says. "Oh, it's—do you feel good? Is it…?"

Geralt's tongue feels thick. He mutters, "'S you," into the crook of his elbow.

Jaskier slips in another inch. "I can't hear you, love."

There's something buzzing at the base of Geralt's skull. He's trying to lift his head, but it's—there's so much. The heat of Jaskier pushing inside him, the gripping scent of his arousal against the slick oil. 

Gods, Geralt will remember it.

"You," he says, trying to rock back against Jaskier's cock. "It's you."

"It is," Jaskier agrees. His hand slips through the sweat pooling on Geralt's back and pins him, making him squirm. "I'm here. You want it, sweetheart? You want me?"

Geralt twists, vying for friction. He could roll away, could push back with his knees underneath himself. He could tell Jaskier to stop.

But what he wants—

To be in someone else's hands. Jaskier's hands. To be held in place, I've got you, Geralt, I'll always want to have you, I want someone to love you like this forever, to believe it, to believe it.

"Please," he whispers.

"Oh," Jaskier says softly. He brushes the hair plastering to Geralt's neck away tenderly, tucking it out of the way. "You have me. Do you feel me? I'm right here."

Geralt settles. His hips press into the bed, his shoulders quake with the effort of staying still. 

Jaskier pours more oil over his cock and pushes back in with a low moan that makes the tips of Geralt's ears feel hot. "Oh, fuck, you feel amazing. I've said that, haven't I? I could stay like this forever."

Geralt muffles a laugh into a pillow.

"I know." Jaskier rocks his hips and Geralt whimpers with relief. "Too soon? Oh, you do want it, don't you? Fuck, Geralt, if I didn't think it'd kill me I'd make you beg."

Geralt's hips jerk against the mattress.

"Maybe tomorrow," Jaskier allows. He nuzzles at Geralt's neck, bites down hard on his shoulder with the next thrust. "I dreamed of this, you know. I used to lock myself in the room while you were—ah, fuck— off on a hunt and I'd touch myself like it was you."

Geralt used to press his cheek against the bark of a tree and shove a hand down his breeches and imagine—

Does Jaskier know that?

He'll tell him in the morning. Fuck, in the morning, in the morning when Geralt's sore and there's a half-crescent ghost of human teeth haunting his skin and he can press his face into the crook of Jaskier's neck and smell the way they made love.

Geralt's cock is trapped against his stomach. Jaskier fucks him hard enough for his whole body to shift, for him to angle his hips and hump the mattress. The way Jaskier moves inside of him—Jaskier taking him, drawing him back into his body. 

"Jask," he rasps.

Jaskier pants, "Ger?"

"Harder."

Jaskier's fingers tighten on Geralt's hip. "Grab the headboard."

I'll break it, Geralt thinks. Is already gripping the wood with his head bowed.

"Good," Jaskier coos. Then, "Oh, shit, that's not sturdy at all, is it?"

Geralt whines, rocking his hips back.

"Alright, it's alright, who cares?" Jaskier shifts to keep one hand on Geralt's hip and the other pressing into his back. "Ruin it, sweetheart. Oh, fuck, Geralt, I'm almost forty. I don't know if I can—"

He snaps his hips anyway.

Geralt rocks forward with it; the headboard creaks in protest. 

"You're helping me cheat," Jaskier accuses. He fucks Geralt harder, driving into him with a sharp exhale, and Geralt doesn't know—what he makes happen, what happens to him. "Oh, I don't— ah— care about that either. Oh, Mel-Melit—fuck it. I won't last, love."

He slips forward, hand dragging through the sweat. 

Geralt flexes his shoulders and braces and breathes, doesn't breathe, breathes again. Their bodies together, like an instinct. If there's somewhere else he could've been—

There was. There was, and he chose this. 

"—more poetic," Jaskier is saying. Rambling, probably. Loud and dramatic. Geralt's bard. "Shouldn't I? But I can't—fuck, Geralt, I just fucking love you, the rest is—"

Geralt breaks the headboard. 

It snaps and sprays splinters all over their bed and Geralt comes with a shock onto the sheets, grappling for purchase against the pillows when he falls forward.

"Fuck," Jaskier hisses. He laughs and spills inside Geralt with pulse after pulse of thick heat and laughs again, braying and too joyful and pressing his forehead between Geralt's shoulder blades.

Something wet seeps against Geralt's palm. Probably blood, from the shattered wood.

He laughs too. It rattles through him like it has no business to and knows it. When was the last time he laughed this much?

"Fuck," Jaskier says again. He pulls out and moves off to the side, still wheezing with laughter. "That was—oh, fuck, you're bleeding, c'mere and let me—you're really bleeding, oh, sweetheart."

Geralt holds his palms up for Jaskier to inspect. There's a relatively shallow laceration low on his hand, near his wrist, bleeding worse than the damage really is—nothing a potion won't fix by the morning—and a few thick splinters stuck under the skin that'll bleed too when he picks them free.

It hurts like a motherfucker.

Jaskier starts to giggle. He covers his mouth with one hand, which only seems to make him laugh harder.

Geralt scowls without heat. His lover proving useless, he pulls the splinters out himself.

"Oh, Geralt," Jaskier wheezes. "We really—we really cocked it up, didn't we? Fucking bollocks, we can't sleep here."

Geralt takes in the state of the bed. The headboard is completely destroyed—he thinks to the point that they've warped the frame too. There's blood splattered on the pillows and shards of wood wherever there isn't mud or blood, and there's mud or blood wherever there isn't come.

And more come leaking down the backs of Geralt's thighs, also onto the bed.

"You were tired of Prana anyway," he says, "weren't you?"

"I stole a horse," Jaskier whispers. "Geralt, I stole a fucking horse—there's a fucking stolen horse outside. Oh, Goddess, we trashed the inn and I stole three hundred crowns from the count and I—oh, your hair is so bad right now."

Geralt raises an eyebrow. "Really?"

"We've gotta go." Jaskier jumps off the bed and flails an arm in Geralt's direction. "Get dressed, we're skipping town."

"I'm bleeding," says Geralt.

"I love you so very much. Suck it up."

Geralt picks up Jaskier's discarded chemise and tears himself a long strip of cloth to make a bandage.

"I saw that, you brat," Jaskier says, which is untrue; his back is turned. He flings a fresh shirt directly into Geralt's lap with surprisingly good aim. "You're the one who broke the headboard, which is the hottest thing I've ever seen in my entire life so actually now that I'm saying it out loud, I forgive you. I don't know which goddess I saw but it was definitely one of them. Fantastic tits. Oh, Lilit help me, where the fuck is my lute?"

Geralt wraps his hand and pulls on the shirt. There's something fluttering and twisting in his chest that he can't explain.

It could be the orgasm, or the minor blood loss.

"I'm never setting foot in this fucking town again." Jaskier finds his lute under the bed. "At least we got your ring."

Geralt looks down at the ring; there's a bit of blood smeared on it. 

"Where'd you get the horse?" he asks, reaching for his trousers. "We could give him back."

"He was Valdo's."

"Keep him," says Geralt.

Jaskier is dressed, ironically, in the formal outfit he'd clearly gotten for the banquet tonight. It's a startling teal with red accents—not unlike the brash outfit he was wearing when they met, though much higher quality. 

He puts a hand on his hip and asks, "Are you ready?"

Neither of them are wearing shoes. Geralt tilts his head towards the window and wryly suggests, "Should we go out that way?"

"No, but we will in the song I write." Jaskier seems to notice Geralt's bare feet. "Shit, put on your fucking—where are my fucking boots?"

 

~*~

 

They take the stairs. Geralt tacks their horses and loads their gear, even strapping his armor on for the road. At least the moon is full and bright tonight, so Jaskier can see in the dark.

There's a clearing in the woods not too far outside the city, the same one they stopped at for lunch the day they first got to town. Jaskier lays out their bedrolls side by side while Geralt checks the perimeter; it's warm enough that they won't need a fire. 

"First time camping in ages," Jaskier says wistfully. He sheds his doublet again and reclines on his bedroll. "I guess it hasn't been that long for you, hm?"

"Long enough," Geralt says. He makes quick work of removing his armor and joins Jaskier in their bed, humming contentedly when Jaskier immediately rolls into his arms. "Did you miss it?"

Jaskier hums too. "I missed seeing places with you. It's like you said—trouble keeping still."

"Good thing," Geralt tells him. He kisses the top of Jaskier's head.

Jaskier plays with Geralt's medallion, running his thumb over the ridges of it. His eyebrows are lightly furrowed in thought.

Geralt coaxes, "Hm."

"It'd be pretty embarrassing," Jaskier says slowly, "if we woke up in Prana again tomorrow, after all this fuss."

"Not for me," Geralt deadpans. "Enjoy explaining this one."

Jaskier's laugh is a little wet.

Geralt lets it pass. He tugs Jaskier more firmly into their embrace, wincing when he puts pressure on his injured hand. Should've taken that potion, but he doesn't wanna get up now.

A breeze tickles at Geralt's hair; it smells like rain. With the luck they've been having, the storm will hit them before morning and drench them all over again.

Jaskier snuffles quietly; Geralt listens to his heartbeat, which is settling gently into the relaxed pace of sleep, and smiles.

 

Day 2

Geralt wakes up to the sound of birds singing in the trees above him—and, more importantly, Jaskier's gentle snoring as he drools a damp patch into Geralt's shirt.

There's bright sunlight filtering through the canopy, shadows of leaves dancing in a dry breeze; the storm must have fizzled and left them behind in the night.

Roach and Jaskier's stolen gelding are both awake and grazing where Geralt tied them the night before. There's a familiar silver weight on Geralt's right hand.

He remembers.

When Jaskier gets up, there's a lot they'll have to talk about. Where they're going next, how to manage the inevitable blow to both their reputations after last night's disasters. 

The fact that Geralt loves him.

It's rare that they get to sleep in. Geralt buries his nose in Jaskier's hair, takes in the scent of sex and dirt and rain, and lets him rest.

For once, Geralt has plenty of time.