"You’re not going to keep a man with… “ his hand flexes, motioning towards his breeches, “bread in his pants waiting, are you?”
“I’m here to drink alone.”
It’s a familiar dance, posing as prey to lure a man in, a delicate play of hard to get, just enticing enough. And the viscount, so young, so foolish in thinking he’s so ready for the world, so trusting, falls into the trap without hesitation.
“Good… yeah, that’s good.” He sits down in front of him, sipping his stolen drink. “I know you, you’re a witcher, Geralt of Rivia, mercenary, and —”
“Fucking Butcher,” the traven door opens, slams against the wall in the force. Geralt hums, his lips twisting with discomfort as he takes another draw of his piss-poor ale.
The men bound up to him, disgust clear on their faces. “We don’t welcome the likes of you in this town, murderer.” The witcher downs the rest of his ale, wide blue eyes staring at him as he stands.
“Well? Are you coming?” Geralt asks, a thrilling moment of truth to see if he’s caught his prey or if this’ll have to be done the hard way. Like a lark lost to a daydream, unaware that its foot is caught in a trap, the viscount follows after him.
They walk well into the night, the viscount working on his song, a promise to get humans to leave the Elves alone, but also the better the name of witchers, of one in particular: The White Wolf.
Geralt lets his mind wander from where he sits atop Roach.
He’d been surprised to smell the scent of tears. The viscount (-turned-unsuccessful-bard), smelt nothing of fear, though he could feel agony radiating off him in waves. Jaskier’d been kicked in the chest, called slurs and called worse, but his head had only hung, as if in shame, his lips pressed tight together, telling by the absence of the smallest sound from him.
The witcher’ll be the last to ever admit it, but he’s rather miffed. Jaskier’d only cried out in pain when his lute’d been smashed, but even then, hadn’t gone on the offensive, trying to convince Filavandrel that they could take back what humans, Jaskier’s kind, had taken so cruelly away from them.
“I am ready to die if you wish it,” he had said, so solemn, so calm, so unlike a bard, or a viscount for that matter, “for no amount of death could make up for your losses; but if you truly wish to enact revenge, then you must rebuild, and then reclaim.”
Nonetheless, nobles are nobles, greed in their icy hearts— and out here, it was every man for his own. A bounty was a bounty.
Jaskier trusts too easily, he finds. Turns his back to the witcher when they make camp for the first time in two days. Geralt’s given him breaks, to eat, drink, but never for more than an hour, and there’s only so long humans can survive without sleep. “I’m going to go get some water, watch after my lute, will you?”
And he leaves him there with his most prized possession, his moneymaker. And the way he bares his neck when Geralt steps into his space to help him with the rabbits he’s managed to hunt, and the way he curls up on his bedroll with a murmured goodnight, no blade in sight.
Trusts him far too easily.
It makes Geralt’s job only easier.
He tries to meditate, the viscount’s snores more obnoxious than Lambert’s, somehow, passing the night with great patience as Geralt lives through the noise.
“Where’re we going?” Jaskier asks come morning, fingers so irritatingly coaxing music out of his lute, humming under his breath as he waits for Geralt’s answer.
“Wherever the path takes me.” They’re headed for Lettenhove, quite a ways away. It’ll take at a month, maybe more if the viscount keeps walking so fucking slowly. He can’t imagine why his parents want him back; he’s the most annoying thing Geralt’s met. He grits his teeth and urges Roach into a trot, leaving the viscount in the dust as the man scrambles to catch up.
“Geralt! Hang on, wait—”
He’s out of breath and panting when he finally catches up to him. Serves him well, stuck up viscounts need to get their exercise in, all the riches making them oh so fat. He ignores the fact that Jaskier is pin thin, well on his way to starving.
So what if he’s being cruel? Jaskier has probably done ill to many in his days as Julian.
The alderman says they’ll only be let into town if Geralt takes care of the beasts stealing their cattle and their young. A fuck-all deal, but Jaskier manges to coax a small pouch of coin from the man.
Geralt only growls.
They make camp as evening approaches, wait for nightfall. The idiot had insisted on coming with him on the hunt, lute over his back, composition notebook in hand. He’s going to get hurt, but Geralt doesn’t much care as long as he doesn’t die. “Stay back,” he grunts for good measure, knowing full well he won’t. It’ll be worth it for the coin, he tells himself, the reward for the bounty.
Surprisingly enough, Jaskier does stay back, and equally surprising, it’s not one barghest, but a pack. He’s well into the fight and his armor’s torn, his leg bleeds from a nasty gash in a trio of claw marks, and his calf bleeds with dagger-sharp teeth biting into it, nearly through it. He could ask Jaskier to throw him Wolf, but that would mean trying to speak as he fights the demon hounds, and it’s not as if Jaskier can see too well in the dark, and his potions are back in the clearing with Roach.
Another barghest lunges at his arm, only to be hit in the face with a heavy rock, not nearly enough to kill it, but enough to stun it, at least. The pack’s attention turns to Jaskier, who stands a little ways behind Geralt, and picks up another heavy rock and chucks it at another beast, “Hurry up, Geralt!” He yells, yelping as he scrambles up a tree.
With the barghests distracted, it’s easy enough to kill the last of them. The witcher falls to his knees, muttering a small fuck as he passes out before he faceplants into the mucky forest floor.
Geralt’s awoken to someone at his leg, hands against his bare skin, some sort of cloth being wrapped over them. He acts on instinct, kicking at whoever’s there, listening to a telltale oof as whoever’s sat there is kicked away. Human.
The witcher’s eyes are well open as he watches Jaskier stand, one arm slung over his stomach. He hadn’t heard a crack; his ribs are bruised at worst. “What the fuck, Geralt? Kick the nice young man trying to help you into a tree— and what were you thinking, just because you’re mutated doesn’t mean you’re invincible, Geralt! For Melitele’s sake, I was so fucking worried, you just fell flat on your face and didn’t—”
“I’m fine,” he grumbles, ignoring the viscount as he prattles on. He can imagine it now, Jaskier tugging an unresponsive witcher through the woods. Though, he doesn’t understand why he hadn’t just left him there and figured Geralt’d make his way back on his own, or even just take Roach and leave him for dead.
What kind of man was Jaskier? So far, he’s seen sympathy, excitement, joy, and care from him, trust, too. It makes no sense. Jaskier is human, and above that, Jaskier is a noble, important enough to the family image that he has coin on his head.
And yet, he is kind?
Geralt shudders. Must be some sort of ploy.
By the time Jaskier comes back with an armful of firewood, the witcher’s passed out again.
When Geralt wakes again, the camp is packed, Roach ready to go. Geralt stiffens as he realizes that he’s not alone, unaccustomed to the viscount’s presence yet. He watches as Jaskier braids wildflowers into Roach’s mane, humming something so quiet that even Geralt has trouble picking up on the sound. He stalks over to him and grips his wrist mid-comb, the viscount looking up at him in a question.
“Don’t. Touch. Roach.”
They set off on the road, Jaskier chattering away as if he hadn’t been caught trying to win his horse over.
“Another one, Master Jaskier! Please, before mummy comes back, please!”
“Alright, alright, hold your horses, now let’s see…” He tunes his lute just to make sure (though it is always impeccably tuned), and strums the opening chords for Toss a Coin.
The child sat in Geralt’s lap bounces in excitement, the smallest hands the witcher has ever seen clapping with energy as her brother sings along with Jasksier.
Geralt has to admit, for a viscount, Jaskier is quite… considerate. His songs have kept the humans away from elves, and have actually bettered the treatment of witcher-kind. He’s nothing like nobles who try to trick him out of coin, the viscount always fair, spitting fire in the face of injustice.
The child in his lap shifts, leaving Geralt frowning as she tries to climb onto his shoulders, only to keep slipping back down. He picks her up and carefully sets her behind his neck, holding her legs to make sure she doesn’t fall as her brother spins, singing along with Jaskier at the top of his lungs. The town they’re staying in has no inn, and Jaskier’s managed to charm his way into a widow’s house for the night, though her two children seem to be just as curious as Jaskier was when they’d meet a week ago.
He sees that Jasksier isn’t cruel, even as a ruler, he most likely wouldn’t be, but there’s still a bounty on him and coin is still coin, no matter how Geralt feels about it. He ignores the pang in his chest as Jaskier winks at him, falling into a swooping bow for his audience, the siblings cheering as the witcher resolutely refuses to meet Jasksier’s eyes. If the viscount notices, he says nothing about simply putting the children back to bed before returning to the guest room, curling up on the cold floor and leaving Geralt the bed.
Geralt doesn’t sleep that night as the first tendrils of guilt wrap around his heart.
He desperately wants Jaskier’s everything to be a ploy. He’s gentle with children, kind to beggars, and entirely unflinching in the face of danger. He’s more of a hero than Geralt will ever be, had ever dreamt of being. And isn’t that a cruel thought? That this viscount is a man of bravery and benevolence that the witcher will never be.
The bard is as loud as ever, whining about the heat of the summer, but the whinging isn’t as irritating as it was but three weeks ago. It’s nearly comforting, a buzz of chatter to fill the air instead of the sound of bugs and Roach’s clops.
“Jaskier?” The bard pauses in his chatter.
“What is it, my good witcher? Are we going the wrong way? I thought so, too, the left fork would’ve been a better route to take but alas, it’s all the same, isn’t it? Going forwards on the path and going back, it’s all simply traveling after all, a destination—”
Geralt thinks that Oxenfurt let Jaskier take one philosophy class before banning him from the entire department.
“Jaskier,” he calls again, looking down at him, interrupting the man’s stream of words, “why won’t you go home.”
The careless smile on the bard’s face grows pinched, his shoulders tense.
“I don’t have a home, dear. A house and a home are not the same thing.”
The silence is unsettling, though Jaskier yammers on about nothing and everything in particular.
The tendrils of guilt grow into vines.
Geralt sees why Jaskier’s so trusting. Why he turns his back to strangers, why he lets people touch him, get close to him. He sees why he takes them so easily into confidence, into shared rooms of married men and women.
It feels good to trust someone.
An easy kind of companionship.
The bard’s fingers comb through his hair, not for the first time, pulling out the remnants of a kikimore without second thought, and Geralt can’t help but lean back into him, a soft sight leaving his mouth as calloused fingertips work over his scalp. They’re naught but a night away from Lettenhove and Jaskier seems to be entirely unaware of that fact.
“The traven’s holding a celebration for their twentieth, Geralt,” the witcher hums idly, not sure where Jaskier’s going with this, “they want me to play for them— a full show.” Geralt smiles the briefest of smiles as he hears the excitement in the bard’s voice, filled with energy at the prospect of an adoring audience. “Will you come watch me play? I know you’re usually too tired or too sensitive after a hunt, but it’ll be spectacular, dear friend, you must come—”
“Alright.” Anything to keep that glint of glee in his bard’s eyes, even if it means suffering the patrons of the wretched tavern.
He’s stopped questioning thoughts like that, about wanting to keep Jasksier happy, going from the viscount, to the bard, to his bard. The fact that they’re so close makes his heart flutter, his head spin with guilt. He’s not sure why he’s still carrying on with this, certainly not for the money, some misguided sense of duty, perhaps? He could turn Jaskier away from Lettenhove at any moment and the bard would none the wiser.
But Geralt’s seen how the road treats Jaskier, how weary his bard grows, how he thins when food becomes scarce, losing weight in days with the amount they walk each week. Even with Jaskier by his side, he knows that he’d travel as diligently, The Path constantly calling out to him, he can’t slow. And the matter of how he’s treated in towns where songs of the White Wolf haven’t managed to sway townsfolk into accepting witchers— called the worst of things and beaten. Of course, Jaskier stabs and ducks in equal measure but he doesn’t deserve a life like that, living on the line, pushing his human body to the ends of its limits.
Fuck, he’s going to miss him.
Fuck, fuck him, a bounty was a bounty, but how he hates Jaskier for growing on him, for making it more than a job. Before he realizes it, he’s turned in the tub, drawing Jaskier’s lips to his own in a kiss.
A soft kiss that Jaskier then deepens, long fingers moving to cup Geralt’s jaw only to pull back as the witcher tugs at his chemise.
“Now now, Master Witcher,” he murmurs, pressing another kiss to Geralt’s lips between every other word, “I still have an audience to entertain, and then,” he pulls away with a final kiss and winks at him, a cheery grin on his face, “you can entertain me.” Gods is this the moron he’s managed to fall in lo—
“Hmm. I’ll be there soon.”
Jaskier grins at him, a grin so bright it makes the vines around Geralt’s heart grow thorns sharper than swords.
He soaks in the mucky bathwater for a moment longer before dragging himself out of it and into an old tunic and breeches, knives hidden on his person as usual after he tugs his boots on.
Jaskier’s right, he is exhausted, but rather excited for the performance, though he’d rather die than admit it. And the promise of what’s to come after gives him shivers, anticipation a warm coil in his gut.
Jaskier’s already gotten the crowd into a rowdy cheer as Geralt makes his way down the stairs, though he’s into only the first of his set. A story of a prince and his saviour, a forbidden love written in the stars that the audience swallows eagerly, clapping along in beat as they scream-sing the chorus. Geralt takes a seat in the back of the traven, ordering himself an ale that his bard will no doubt steal when his show comes to an end.
He’s playing Toss a Coin (the song will no doubt be repeated multiple times by audience request before the night ends) when the tavern door bursts open. They’re not paid any mind, traveling in groups is not so uncommon, especially for a little town so close to the larger city of Lettenhove. Even Geralt doesn’t notice them, lost in Jaskier’s winks, his expression as he tells his stories, teases the witcher with a cocked hip in some of the more bawdier songs, not till one of the men gets too close to the bard to be unintentional of his position.
Geralt tense as Jaskier bows, too high on glee from his successful performance to notice the man only a little ways behind him. The witcher barely has time to get to Jasksier from his position, much less defend the man as his bard is suddenly pulled against the man’s chest, a short sword against his neck. The people of the traven quiet, turn a blind eye, evidently used to the gang’s rowdy actions.
“Come with us, Julian, don’t put up a fight and we’ll get you home nice and safe, alright?” Another man goes to tie Jasksier’s hands behind his back, only to get a faceful of a witcher’s fist. Jasksier throws his head against the man who holds the sword to his neck, stunning the man enough to turn and kick him in the chest.
The two of them fight the bandits (presumably), having picked up their weapons and slashing through bodies, kicking, dogging, and fighting mercilessly.
Geralt spins just as Jaskier does, a short sword in his hand as the bard holds dual dao swords, panting as he points his swords at the witcher, a victorious grin on his face, though he seems troubled. His hand relaxes, still gripping the swords as Geralt throws his own away onto the bodies of the fallen men.
“Melitele, they threatened to take me back to Lettenhove,” he whispers to Geralt, eyes wide in shock. “Must’ve pissed them off good the last time I was here, gods know why they’d want to take me back—”
“Oh you stupid bard,” the barmaid calls out, not quite looking at him. “The Earl and the Countess have a bounty for your person; and the White Wolf’s taking you straight to them, he’s a hunter, don’t you know?”
His barad laughs, had thrown back, disbelief evident in his expression. “Geralt? No, he’s my friend, and a good man at that, he would never do such thing, would you Geralt?”
Geralt watches as Jaskier’s face falls in realization at the witcher’s silence. “You were— I was just money to you? All this time I thought—”
Vines of guilt turn into rope so thick his heart can’t even beat in its confines.
“Jaskier,” he reaches out, only for his bard’s swords to swing up and point at his neck. He’s made an enemy of the only friend he’s ever known. Agony tears through Geralt’s chest, wreaking havoc as he stares into Jaskier’s blue eyes lined with red, distress, and such abject hurt. He wants to pull his bard into an embrace, tell him it’s for the best, that the road is no place for him, that his life isn’t meant to be lived so slowly.
Instead, all he manages is, “If you cross swords with me, I won’t be able to stop.”
Each clash of their blades is another blow to his soul, each duck is an evasion of his fondness. Jaskier puts up a proper fight and Geralt hates it, more than he could’ve imagined. The bard fights dirty, tricks he’s picked up from on the road, unpredictable and quick, but still, no match for a witcher. He drives his sword between Jaskier’s and pulls up till they fly out of the bard’s hands. The final crack in whatever trust they’d had left between them.
Jaskier’s chin is tilted up, staring at Geralt down the sword’s blade, his adam’s apple bobbing in a slow swallow as he glares at the witcher, a single tear working its way down his face.
Jaskier’s eyes refuse to meet his, his ears refuse to listen to any reason Geralt could give him. Not that Geralt tries, unsure of what to say. The witcher sighs and guides Roach out of her stable, the bard trailing behind her. They grow closer to the villa, grand and rich, bustling with servants and those who require a presence with the Earl. He can smell Jaskier’s hatred, nervousness, perhaps as he stares at the house.
A house is not a home, his voice rings in his ears. His parents are delighted (it seems to be excitement, at least, though Geralt hasn’t seen something more fake love in his entire life. The bard’s taken out his hands, a bag filled with coin and jewels is thrown carelessly to him, though he pays no mind to it.
Jakier doesn’t glance at him. Not once have they spoken since the traven, and Geralt had thought the ba— viscount would give him a goodbye at least, for all their time spent together. It comes as a shock, though it shouldn’t, though he’s been treated without respect for hundreds of years. The absence of even an acknowledgement leaves him empty. He knows he fully well doesn’t deserve it after he’s betrayed his friend.
His chest is empty as he’s led to a bedchamber, told you must stay, Master Witcher, Julian’s coronation shall be tomorrow, you simply must stay.
He settles into bed, silence so loud in his head he feels it could kill him.
He’s awoken from his half-hearted meditation to the sound of whistling air and cracking, though it’s so muffled he can just barely hear it. Geralt sneaks out of his room, ever so quiet, and follows the noise that keeps repeating itself, his ears straining to pick up on it.
He hears shouting as he descends the stairs to the cellar, presumably, only to find a locked room. It’s easy enough to pick, knife driving straight through it as the latch clicks. He cracks it open to find the Earl stood over a pale body collapsed on the floor, breathing shallowly. He can only see the man’s back, bleeding rivers of blood down his skin, the Earl holding a bloody whip in his hand.
“Look at what you’ve brought upon yourself, you embarrassment,” the man snarls, “Made me involve the entire fucking,” the whip cracks over the man’s skin, the body giving healf-hearted flinch and a grunt, “Continent to bring you home, you,” he kick him in the stomach, forcing the man onto his back with the blow.
Jaskier’s bloody face stares up at the ceiling, unseeing, his chest rising in shallow breaths as if it hurts to breathe.
Fuck. Fuck what’s he done, what’s he done, of course he ran away from riches and gold for a perfectly good reason, why hadn’t he trusted him, fuck, fuck, fuck, mistaken nervousness for fear.
The door is pushed open, the Earl knocked out with a punch before he could truly react. Geralt gently picks Jaskier up from the ground. Blue eyes, half lidded look up at him with a cool, even look, blood trickling out the side of his mouth.
Apologies would come later. For now, they had to get out of here.
The healer ushers him in and then promptly shoves him out, forcing him to leave Jaskier be as she heals him. Geralt slides to the floor, head in his hands. Betraying his love was one thing, and to know that the betrayal only caused him such pain? The witcher feels bile fill his mouth, retching as he remembers the bloody whip, the smattering of scars over Jaskier’s body, so old, reopened with new gashes.
Jaskier’d left so he wouldn’t gain any more scars, and Geralt had simply thrown him back into the hands of his abuser. He wishes he could cry, it would beat the guilt clawing at his throat, leaving him raw.
The sun rises. The healer had finished hours ago, invited Geralt in but he can’t, not when he isn’t awake to hear Geralt’s pleas, hear his begging for forgiveness.
When he finally finds the guts to go face him (because that’s what this is, he’s been scared), he’s met with an unconscious bard. His entire torso is wrapped, the barest amounts of red peeking through the linen. Though he breathes easier now, a small furrow in his eyebrows and the rolling of his eyes under his lids signal him to be in a nightmare. Geralt gently takes Jaskier’s hand, the other running over his hair in comfort.
Eventually, blue eyes flutter open to meet his own.
“Geralt?” He hears the confusion in the man’s voice, so lost and small that it makes the witcher’s chest ache. “Where—”
“I’m sorry.” The words burst out of him before Jaskier can continue. “I’m so sorry, Jaskier, you were just money to me at first,” he braves on, “I hated you because you were noble and I am so sorry I didn’t care. And then I did and I thought your life on the road was too hard and—”
His bard’s palm comes to rest on his cheek, linen scratching against his skin.
“You didn’t know, Geralt.”
“It’s no excuse, Jaskier, I—”
“You’re right. It isn’t an excuse, but,” he coughs, his throat aching if the fingerprints bruised into his skin there are anything to go by, “I understand.” His eyes tighten, his voice growing serious. “If you dare ever try to make a decision for me again, Geralt….” the threat goes unfinished as Jaskier bursts into more coughs, hacking as the witcher helps him with water.
“You better not take me back after all this,” he rasps, “it’ll take time for me to trust you again, but upon Melitele’s sagging tits, I’ll try.” Geralt nods as Jasksier settles back into the cot. “Get some rest, we have much to talk about yet, and we need to leave before my father’s men find us.”
Geralt nods, the ropes of guilt around his heart quivering, snapping away with hope and a second chance as he leans back in the chair, Jaskier’s hand securely in his own.