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remember me i ask, remember me i sing

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1254 - BIRKE (SPRING SOLSTICE)

Eskel would never let him hear the end of it if he knew how long it was taking him to cut down this grave hag.

Geralt had come to Benek after catching word of a monster stalking the roads up the mountain to the little village, and he’d made the mistake of heading out too late in the day. The spring hasn’t been kind to him, the cold of winter making contracts few and far between. Good for villagers, sure, but bad for a Witcher whose purse is running light. He’s still got the advantage of his stamina, but as the sun starts to set, he can feel the weariness setting in.

It’s making him sloppy. The hag shrieks at him, a horrible wobbly sound, and lashes out with her tongue. He shifts his weight in the soft soil, twisting at the last minute to swing his sword down, slicing through the tongue as it slashes past him. She screams again, her voice pitching high and furious, and Geralt turns his swing into a roll, tumbling forward and bringing his blade up fast.

The shriek cuts off with a gurgle as the grave hag scrabbles uselessly at the sword through her chest, claws clicking against the metal. Geralt stands in one fluid motion, twisting his silver blade viciously and dragging it up until it slices through the gristle of her shoulder and she falls, silent.

He straightens, head tipped back as he waits for his breath to slow. There’s a part of him that misses when he still got a sense of satisfaction out of the job he does, but now, it just feels rote. It takes him a moment to collect the hag’s head for a trophy, her tongue for decoctions, and then he’s gotta figure out what to do with the bodies.

The grave hag’s victims are piled haphazardly behind the gravekeeper’s house, mostly intact, which is a blessing. He drags the hag’s corpse to the wood for the scavengers to pick over, and then he returns to the bodies of her victims, taking in details for the alderman. This one, an older woman, a farmer from the dark tan of her skin and the fine lines around her eyes. This one, a stripling, barely a man. Still has the smell of a leather tannery in his hair.

He stops at the third body, drops to a squat next to it. The man’s bright clothing is quality but threadbare, his leather boots worn thin from wear. The fingers are calloused at the tips, but the skin of his wrists and throat is pale and soft. A bard. Young, too, or just soft living makes him look it. Geralt glances back at the gravekeeper’s hut and spots the man’s lute, broken in pieces. He shifts his weight back and exhales. Not a local, it seems. Just an unfortunate soul, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Geralt fishes in the collar of his jacket, looking for some token that he could perhaps pass on to the alderman, in case someone came looking, and he comes up with a thin necklace with a charm. A flower. Geralt stares down at the man and sighs. He’s about to do something very sentimental.

It’s nearly dark by the time that Geralt finishes the job. He knows necrophages, knows you have to bury a man deep or they’ll dig him up again. He leaves the makeshift grave marked with a rock for the bard’s head, and pockets the dandelion charm. He feels a certain kinship to the man. He’s not the only one who’s lived a lonely life and Geralt expects that when he goes, when a monster finally bests him, he’ll die alone and the animals will pick his bones clean. It just seems - right. To give the bard a bit of care, at least. He’s likely the only one who will.

Roach snorts when he turns to her, dusting the soil from his hands. “I know, I know,” he mutters, and he swings up into the saddle. “I’ve smelled worse.” She tosses her head in disagreement and he chuckles, smoothing a palm across her withers. “C’mon. Let’s go.”

Even with proof of what he’s done, Geralt has to haggle with the alderman to get his pay. He catches sight of the man’s son under his arm, but looks away when the child shrinks from him, stinking of blood and grave dirt. It’s been a long day, but as the sun sets, he’s got a purse of coin and an agreement to sleep in the stable if he’s out of town by dawn. It’s something, at least. Roach is happy, lots of feed to munch on, and Geralt will take what he can get. The winter still clings to the nights, making them colder than he’d like, but tonight, he’s got some walls to cut the wind, and that’s good enough for him.

He’s hunkered next to his oil lamp, bent over his dinner, when he hears a voice. “That was kind of you.” Geralt’s head shoots up, brow furrowed. For one brief moment he’s baffled - how could someone get in here without him hearing? - but when he sees who it is, he stills. The man standing in front of him is the man he buried not two hours ago. “Didn’t think Witchers provided that kind of service. I thought you handled, y’know, making the deaths happen.”

Geralt frowns, considering. The bard looks remarkably solid in the lamplight, and it’s only when he shifts from one foot to the other that Geralt catches the blur around his limbs, a softness in his presence. His medallion is quiet, interestingly enough, though he’s absolutely certain: this man is a ghost. “Who are you?”

A faint smile graces the man’s face. “Julian Alfred Pankrantz, Viscount de Lettenhove.” The smile sours. “Or at least, I was.”

Geralt arches an eyebrow. A noble? Out here? He hadn’t been well-dressed enough for that. “Geralt of Rivia,” he offers.

“The Butcher of Blaviken!” The man’s mouth drops open in recognition and Geralt scowls, looking away. No matter the truth to the name, it still stings, a barb behind his ribs each time. “You can call me Jaskier,” the bard tells him. “And, uh. Thank you. For what you did.” He laughs a little. “Considering the reception my songs garnered when I sang here, I daresay no one else would have taken the initiative.”

“Hmm.” Geralt takes another graceless bite. “Why are you here?”

Jaskier fumbles. “Well, ah, see, I was sort of hoping you would know.” Another tight, bitter smile. “I’m kind of new to the whole ‘ghost’ thing.”

Geralt’s not an expert himself. He’s read about them during training, a few texts on benign ghosts, but nothing in depth. If he doesn’t have to get rid of them, he’s never been particularly concerned. “Never met a ghost,” he admits. “Wraiths, sure. But you’re not one of those. Unless you’re a bride, killed on her wedding day?”

Jaskier plucks at his spectral clothes. “A bit underdressed for that,” he says wryly.

“Unfinished business, then.”

“I’m a bard,” Jaskier says. “Was. What business could I possibly have left?”

Geralt shrugs. “Seems you’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.” He doesn’t envy Jaskier. Geralt has already been walking the Path for longer than the bard was alive. Death would be the first chance he has to rest.

“I wouldn’t - I don’t - no, you’ve got to help me!” Jaskier rushes forward, as though to grab him, and makes a futile, aborted motion when he realizes he can’t. “You’re a Witcher! Aren’t you supposed to help people with these things?”

“I kill monsters for coin,” Geralt reminds him. “I don’t run errands for ghost boys.”

Jaskier draws himself up to his full height. “I’m a man, thank you very much. I’ll have you know that I was cut down in my prime.” The joke falls flat and in the sudden silence, Geralt watches the bard struggle to keep a smile on his lips. He fails.

Geralt drags a hand down his face. The man has been dead for maybe a day or two. From the sight of his body, he’d died badly. This cannot be easy. Geralt turns to his plate, licking gravy from his spoon and frowning. They say that Witchers are emotionless, monsters that feel nothing. Right now, however, Geralt’s feeling sorry for Jaskier. It rankles.

“You’re better off finding a sorceress,” he says, ignoring the pang that thought sets off behind his ribs. Doesn’t matter if the bard is standing in front of him making cow eyes. This isn’t his job.

“How?” Jaskier asks. He’s pacing now, striding from one side of the stable to the other. It makes Roach snort and shift in her stall. “I’m in the middle of nowhere in bloody Velen, and I’m - I’m dead, and my favourite lute is broken - ” He sucks in a whispery breath.

Geralt shrugs a shoulder and scrapes the last spoonful of food from the plate. “Like I said, you’ve a lot of time.” He doesn’t have the time for this. He wouldn’t even know what to do with a ghost.

“Please,” Jaskier says, finally. “Just - ” His eyes are cornflower blue, enormous, and terribly sad. Geralt sighs.

“Shit,” he mutters.

The bard clenches his hands. “Is that a yes?” he says hopefully.

“Shit,” Geralt says again.

Jaskier drops to his knees. He makes no imprint in the dirt floor of the stable. “Oh, thank the gods,” he breathes. Geralt scowls at his plate. He’s already regretting this. What is he going to do with the ghost of a bard? Serenade the dead?

“You had better start thinking about what could be keeping you here,” Geralt warns him. He uses the heel of bread to carefully mop up the last of the gravy, then sets it aside, out of harm’s way. “I ride at dawn tomorrow.” With a nod to Roach, he settles back into his makeshift bed, pulls his heavy woolen blanket over him.

“Wait,” Jaskier says. “Wait, how am I supposed to keep up with a horse?”

“Guess you’ve got two things to figure out,” Geralt says. He reaches out and turns down the oil lamp before he rolls away from the bard.

In the moonlight, Jaskier is pale, translucent, and at a loss.

 

 

-

 

 

The early morning air is crisp as Geralt finishes saddling Roach, and Jaskier is still there. He’s less solid in the sunlight, the village behind him wavering through him in indistinct lines. As the bard walks up to Geralt, he finally notices his medallion vibrating faintly. Strange.

“So!” Jaskier says. He claps his hands together and they make a hollow, muted sound. “Where are we off to?”

“Toderas.” There’s a blacksmith there who’s a decent hand with a blade, and Geralt’s swords need looking after. “Unless you’ve got something to do in the south?”

The bard frowns. “No, I don’t think so,” he says.

“Great,” Geralt says, and he takes one last moment to tidy the space he’d borrowed for the night before climbing on Roach’s back and heading out.

They’re barely out of sight of the village when Jaskier starts up. “Alright,” he says. “What could my unfinished business be?”

“How would I know?” Geralt sighs. He keeps Roach to a walk because, ghost or not, Jaskier seems about as athletic as he looks. He’s as soft as any human, and as resilient. “I know nothing about you.” Except for how much he talks.

“Well, yes, but certainly, with your experience, you’ve got some idea.”

Geralt snorts. The bard is far wide of the mark, asking a Witcher about people. If Geralt was any good at reading people, maybe he wouldn’t have made the mistake he made with Yennefer in Rinde. The thought makes his chest ache. “Hmm,” he says.

“I don’t even know where to start,” Jaskier says, despairingly.

“A few things,” Geralt says, after a moment. “Family, love, money, fame.”

Jaskier laughs, a short, sharp, bitter thing. “It’s not family, that’s for sure. Or money.” There’s a story there, but it’s the kind of story that hurts in the telling, so Geralt says nothing. “And it can’t be love.” It’s a clear topic change, and Geralt allows it. Jaskier leers good-naturedly at him. “I got plenty of that, that’s for certain.”

The bard is handsome enough, Geralt concedes, looking at him sidelong. He supposes some go in for that type. “I’m very happy for you,” he says dryly.

“That leaves fame,” Jaskier muses. “That could be it!” For the first time since he appeared in front of Geralt, his whole face lights up, bright with hope. “I’m a bard! Slain in my prime, I never had the chance to become the voice of my generation, as I was meant to be.”

“Humble,” Geralt notes.

“I am going to write a song,” Jaskier declares, pointing a finger in the air. “A ballad for the ages.” Perfect, Geralt thinks. He’ll write a song, and Geralt will be free of him. Good deed done. “And you will be my muse.”

Geralt almost jerks Roach to a stop, irritation prickling at the back of his neck. “No,” he says immediately.

“It’s perfect!” the bard says. “It must’ve been Destiny that led you to me. You’ll help me write my song, and I’ll - I’ll - ” His eyes widen with inspiration. “I’ll make the masses sing your praises! They’ll love you!”

No,” Geralt says again.

“Come on!” Jaskier says. “You can’t pretend it wouldn’t help.” His tone turns wheedling, his head tipped towards Geralt. “Think of how nice it would be if the villagers were ever so grateful to hand you their coin, instead of spitting on you.”

It would be nice, sure. But it’s not that easy. It never is. “I said no,” Geralt growls, and he digs his heels into Roach’s flanks. She speeds up, tossing her head. “Good luck with your song,” he says, and he leaves Jaskier in the dust.

 

 

-

 

 

In Toderas, once his blades have been sharpened and tended to, and some of his precious coin spent on food to carry him through the next few days, Geralt heads to the coast. There’s a rash of drowners at a nearby fishing spot, and it’s not profitable work, but it’s work. Now that he’s put a fair bit of space between him and his ghostly hanger-on, he’s in no particular hurry. He sets up camp further up the hill from where the drowners were encountered, far enough from the water that they won’t bother him. The skies are clear, he’s trapped a fresh rabbit for dinner, and the night promises to be cold and calm. He’ll take care of the drowners in the morning. They’re not going anywhere.

He’s just gotten the fire to a comfortable blaze when he’s suddenly aware that he’s not alone. “Oh,” Jaskier says, looking astonished. “Well, that’s convenient.”

Geralt scowls at him. “How did you get here?”

Jaskier holds out his hands. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” he admits. “I made it to Toderas, but you weren’t there, and I just - I…” He shakes his head and shrugs helplessly. “It’s like I reached out to you. And then - poof! I’m here!”

Magic. “Hmm,” Geralt says. He clenches his jaw and looks away from the bard, prodding uselessly at the fire in front of him. Great. Now he’s got an annoying bard trailing after him, and he’s inescapable. Fantastic.

“See?” Jaskier says. “Destiny.”

Fuck Destiny, Geralt thinks viciously. She’s had enough flesh from him already. In front of him, a log cracks under the heat, flaring bright and hot in the centre as it crumbles at the edges. Witchers work alone. They don’t have companions and they certainly don’t have bards. It’s ridiculous, and Geralt’s already tired of it.

“And,” Jaskier begins, and he folds himself down on the other side of the camp, his form deceptively solid in the warm firelight. “And, and I was thinking while I was walking, which, by the way, is bizarrely exhausting for someone who no longer has legs. Anyway, I was thinking. Have you heard of Four Maple’s Midsummer festival?” Geralt has been to Bremervoord a handful of times in his life, and he’s only got vague memories of a bustling port with a distaste for Witchers, and a particularly ornery wight in a nobleman’s basement. He says nothing. Jaskier plows on. “Ah. Of course. Well, it’s the biggest gathering of bards in the North, and musicians come from all over the Continent to compete.”

Geralt plants his stick in the dirt next to him and shifts to skin and gut his catch. Jaskier doesn’t seem to care whether or not Geralt speaks, so he doesn’t, just bends himself to the task at hand and lets Jaskier’s words wash over him.

“It’s very prestigious,” Jaskier insists, like it matters to Geralt. “If there’s anywhere I can get the fame I need to find peace, that must be it.” He tips his head back, eyes closed, arms spread, smile on his lips. “Just imagine it, the whole of the North, singing my words.”

Whatever works. Geralt grunts and sets the rabbit to cook.

“Look,” Jaskier says, and Geralt glances over at him. “I’ll make it worth your while.” His smile has faded. “I know this isn’t precisely in the whole Witcher job description.” He talks with his hands, Geralt notes, each word punctuated with a wave or gesture.

“No,” Geralt agrees. “It’s not.” But here he was, all the same. Haunted by a bard. One that wilted so sadly whenever he remembered that he’d died. Geralt frowns. He supposes he can’t blame him.

“Just til midsummer,” Jaskier promises. “That’s not so bad, right?”

“Hmm,” Geralt says, and lifts his cooked rabbit off the fire. Midsummer. He can live with that.

 

 

-

 

 

1254 - THREE DAYS BEFORE BELLETEYN (MAY DAY)

“Is it always this…” Jaskier waves a hand at the tableau in front of him. “Anticlimactic?”

Beneath Geralt’s boot, the last drowner lets out a gurgle and takes a weak swipe at his leg. Geralt knocks its hand away with the tip of his sword before burying it in its throat. “Yes,” he says, and he makes certain he’s gotten the job done by slicing the creature’s head off with one fast motion. “Lot of drowners on the coast. Lot of dead people.”

Jaskier is perched above him on dry land with Roach, staring down at Geralt, who is knee-deep in swampy water. He’ll have to dry his boots before he continues on. “This isn’t very exciting,” Jaskier says. He grimaces as Geralt squats next to the severed head and starts rummaging around in its skull. Drowner brains. Good for Swallow potions, and you can never have enough of those. “Ooh, unless! Are they really the resurrected bodies of those poor unfortunate souls who lost their lives at sea?”

Geralt stashes the brain away carefully in a jar in his bag, and turns to the next corpse. “No,” he says. The body makes a squelch under his hands and Jaskier curls up in a full-body shudder, looking away. “Kind of fish monster. Post-Conjunction.” Another brain out. “Like to eat the dead, though.”

“That’s not very romantic,” Jaskier sighs. Geralt grunts. It’s not his job to make this into a song. Jaskier has to handle that himself.

Once Geralt has gathered all he needs from the drowners and waded up to the shore, shaking slimy swamp water from his boots. “Well, this won’t do,” Jaskier says. “Bit hard to make an epic adventure out of a bunch of swamp men. The smell alone.”

Geralt raises an eyebrow. “You can smell?” he asks, curious.

“Ah, not really,” Jaskier admits. “But I can imagine.” He eyes Geralt, splashed with bog water and drowner blood, his lip still curled in horror. “You know, I thought a Witcher’s life would be more heroic, honestly. Less, um, viscera.”

“Hmm.” He’s surprised anyone would think there’s any glamour in what he does. He’s so used to being treated like a monster himself, being spat on or chased out of town when all he wants is a warm meal or a roof over his head. It’s a pleasant change. “No valour. No heroics. Just death, mostly.” He gathers Roach’s reins and heads back up the hill. If he’s lucky, he’ll be able to get a room for the night back at Toderas and clean himself off. If he’s not, there’s a freshwater stream a half day’s ride past the village.

“That’s rather sad,” Jaskier says, voice soft and Geralt grimaces. He doesn’t need pity. This is his life, even if he never had a choice in it. It would do him no good to feel sorry for himself. He shoots Jaskier a look and Jaskier freezes, holding his hands up in apology. “Sorry, sorry. I still think you are a very scary Witcher, of course.”

Roach huffs and pushes her head against his shoulder. “You don’t agree?” Geralt murmurs, and she snorts.

“Well!” Jaskier says, and Geralt has learned to feel him now, a cool ghostly presence at his side. “What’s next? Nekkers in Nazair? Succubi in Skellige? ...bats, uh, in Brugge?” Geralt glances at him sidelong. “What! I’m trying here.”

Not very hard. “Hmm,” he says.

“Are all Witchers so…” Jaskier makes a sweeping gesture at him, and Geralt is vaguely offended. “Verbose?” Geralt grunts, and lets Roach lead them back up the hill. “I can’t decide if that’s a yes or a no,” Jaskier laments.

While Jaskier theorizes about what they might find in their future endeavours, Geralt thinks about his brothers. Eskel has probably stayed until the thaws really set in up North, to help Vesemir start repairs for the summer. Lambert had left even earlier than Geralt had, cabin fever chasing him out as soon as the pass was clear. The corner of Geralt’s mouth pulls up. He’s certainly more talkative than Geralt is, but he’s not sure that Jaskier would think that’s a good thing.

“Oh!” Jaskier says, and he stops dead. Geralt raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t know you could smile, honestly.”

Geralt’s a little surprised that Jaskier even noticed. “Not everything you hear is true,” he says. He tightens his hands in Roach’s reins and keeps walking.

 

 

-

 

 

1254 - A WEEK BEFORE MIDAËTE (MIDSUMMER)

There are voices nearby. Geralt’s eyes snap open and his brow furrows as he strains his ears to hear. “Gods, that’s unsettling,” Jaskier says. Geralt can just see the wispy edges of his form outlined against the trees in the dark. “Do you ever sleep?”

“Quiet,” Geralt says, with enough urgency that Jaskier listens, this time. He silently sits up, head cocked to catch the whisper of words further into the forest.

After the drowners, they’d headed west, to take care of a bruxa outside of Vizima, then followed a trail of minor contracts through the border and down towards Brugge. When Jaskier had suggested Cintra, waxed rhapsodic about playing music for the courts, Geralt had shut him down, stony-faced. He won’t be returning to Cintra any time soon.

They’d chosen to camp at the edge of Brokilon Forest tonight, a calculated risk. Geralt knew better than to infringe upon their territory, but he also knew that the threat of Brokilon’s dryads and whatever else lurks in the forest would drive away any unsavoury types who might think to take advantage of a man camped alone. He’s not afraid for himself - that would be foolish - but if he has to deal with Jaskier at all times, he’ll take what little distance he can from everyone else.

And yet, here he is, listening to voices not fifty paces away. A woman, and several men. An argument. At this time of night, it’s nothing good. He gathers his swords, unsheathes the steel, and heads into the wood.

“Where are you going?” Jaskier whispers, a faint glowing presence at his elbow. “Do Witchers sleepwalk?”

“I hear voices,” Geralt growls. “Be silent.” Amazingly, Jaskier obeys, and after a moment’s hesitation, he vanishes entirely. Geralt can still feel him there, the cool ghost at his side, but he’s invisible. A useful gift.

As he nears, the voices clarify, and he gets a better sense of the situation. The scent of blood leads him closer. “You murdered our friends!” A man’s voice says. He’s furious and a long way from home, if his Lyrian accent is anything to go by. “And we’re supposed to just let that slide?”

“You tried to kidnap me,” the woman replies. A dryad, from the burr of her tongue and the ferocity of her words. These men are fools. “You put hands on me and you took my things.”

“You gutted them,” the man replies. Geralt’s close now, close enough to count the bodies on the ground, and the ones still standing. Four dead, seven alive. It takes him a moment to place why the dryad hasn’t acted yet - she’s bleeding, badly. The women of Brokilon Forest are famed for their healing, but if she doesn’t get there soon, she’ll be in trouble.

“I’d do it again,” she laughs, and bares her teeth, red with blood. Something about her defiance reminds him of Yennefer. He swallows that thought down. Her eyes flick to Geralt over the men’s shoulders, and he gives her a nod. He watches her eyes travel the length of him and then back up before pausing at his eyes. He holds still, waiting, and then she nods back.

The two of them blur into action together, and Geralt cuts down three men in the same breath that the dryad hurls herself at the man who spoke. She’s ferocious, but it’s a vengeance he’d wager she’s earned, and he looks away from how she presses her thumbs into the man’s throat.

Between the two of them, they dispatch the bandits with little effort, and finally it’s just them standing in the clearing. The dryad clutches her side, her breath ragged and fast, her eyes shining in the moonlight. “Witcher,” she says. “Why are you here?”

A good thing he doesn’t expect thanks for his help. Geralt shrugs a shoulder. “Luck,” he says. “Heard about a leshen near Brugge. It was on my way.” She makes a disbelieving noise, but doesn’t argue with him. “You need help.”

“Are you a healer?” she sneers.

He ignores it. “You’re bleeding out,” he says. “I can smell it. Is there somewhere you can go, to get treatment?” He’s not fool enough to test her boundaries and step closer.

“What makes you think I want your help?” she asks. She tries to gather her bow and arrows, but her hands are clumsy and slippery with blood. She curses under her breath.

“If I wanted you dead, I would’ve let them finish the job,” he says evenly. “I have no agenda. I’d just rather not watch you suffer.”

She regards him thoughtfully, eyes narrow. Geralt’s never met a dryad before, and he’s surprised by the size of her. She’s tall and wiry, deceptively muscular. Her long brown hair is pulled back out of her face. “Alright,” she says after a moment. “You win.”

Geralt nods. “Let me gather my horse, and my things.” Roach is the important part, of course.

The moon is high in the sky as they make their way to Brokilon. Geralt braces the dryad with one arm around her waist, the other on Roach’s reins. The woman clutches her bow in her bloody hand. “We’ll ford the river here,” she says. Her voice wavers with each step. “Do exactly as I say. Nothing more. Otherwise, you’ll die with an arrow in your throat.”

Geralt knows the stories. “Understood,” he says. He can feel Jaskier behind them, feel the weight of his gaze even if they can’t see him.

They’ve only just crossed the river when an arrow hisses through the air just past his ear. It thunks into the muddy bank with one hell of a shivering impact. “Hold,” the dryad calls, raising her bow. “I vouch for him.” He can feel her blood seep sticky over his hand at her waist.

Three women melt out of the trees to face them. “Senna. You’re late.” The dryad who speaks is respectful, but her eyes on Geralt are not. The injured dryad, Senna, has some sway here, it seems.

“I was ambushed,” Senna tells them wearily. “This Witcher saved my life.”

“Witcher,” the dryad says, like the word leaves a sour taste in her mouth. It’s nothing new for Geralt. “You’re certain you wish to allow this?”

Senna waves her hand. “Let the Queen take it up with me. Right now, I need a healer.”

The dryad steps aside. “Word will be sent ahead,” she says, and at her nod, one of the women at her side vanishes back into the forest. “Be well.”

“I’ll do my best.”

It’s the dead of night, but their path is lit with small lanterns that glow with a soft green. It’s just enough to guide their steps in a forest so thick with trees not even the moonlight can get through. Around them, Geralt can faintly hear the sound of beasts moving through the woods. The dryads aren’t the only dangerous thing Brokilon houses. “What’s your name, Witcher?” the wounded dryad asks. “And why does a ghost trail after you like a lost puppy?”

Jaskier reappears at Senna’s side in a blink, his eyes wide. “You knew I was there?” he goggles.

Senna smirks a little. “A dryad is well familiar with a bit of magic,” she tells him.

“Well!” Jaskier looks past her, at Geralt, and the grin he gives him is wide and pleased. “That’s a pleasant surprise. Even when I’m not trying, most people around us just look right through me. Rather a blow to a man’s ego.”

“Geralt of Rivia,” Geralt says, because after a few week’s travel, he’s learned that Jaskier will continue to talk until someone stops him.

“Ah,” Senna says. “The Butcher of Blaviken.” He clenches his teeth. “I’m in the presence of infamy.”

Jaskier barks out a laugh. “That Butcher just saved your life,” he points out. “I’m not sure that’s in the Witcher handbook.” Geralt is surprised at how strongly his chest lurches at that. He’s certainly not used to his honour being defended. “And I’m Julian Alfred - no, scratch that. I’m Jaskier. I’m a bard. Was a bard. Well - still a bard?”

Senna raises her eyebrows and looks back and forth between the two of them. Her skin is cooling, Geralt notes. He hitches her closer to him and picks up their pace. “And why, exactly, is a Witcher being haunted by the ghost of a bard?” she asks curiously.

“Oh, no, no no no, whatever you’re thinking, it’s wrong.” Jaskier scrambles to keep up. “He’s not the reason I’m in this state. It was some sort of - it was a hag, wasn’t it?” Geralt grunts in agreement. “And she’s long gone, thank the gods. Geralt is helping me find my peace. Finish my unfinished business and whatnot.”

Senna twists to regard Geralt, a soft noise escaping her as they walk. “You’re not what I expected a Witcher to be,” she admits.

“Isn’t he strange?” Jaskier says cheerfully.

“So I’ve been told,” Geralt replies.

Senna is silent by the time they make it to the dryads’ outpost, and Geralt stands respectfully back as the healers take her from him and rush her off to take care of her. “Do you think she’ll be okay?” Jaskier murmurs. He’s got his hands folded behind his back and he’s openly staring. Few men get such a look at the way the dryads live the way they do.

Geralt hums. “The healers of Brokilon Forest are the best,” he says. “And she’s resilient.” They’re being approached by a woman, a leader of some kind. He draws his shoulders up and wipes the worst of the blood off his hands.

The dryad draws up to him. “I’m told we have you to thank for Lady Senna’s return,” she says. “In light of that, we’re allowing you safe passage from our borders.” Her tone says it’s not a boon they’ll grant again.

“Thank you,” Geralt says. Next to him, Jaskier blinks at her, wide-eyed.

“Take your tagalong with you,” she says, and then she turns on her heel.

“Bit insulting,” Jaskier grumbles. “I think I’ll go back to people not seeing me again.” He tips his head. “That invisibility thing is quite interesting, right? I’ve been practicing.” He’s unaffected when Geralt turns to lead Roach back the way they came. “Very heroic, by the way. That’s what I need for my song.”

“I’m so glad to provide,” Geralt rumbles, and Jaskier laughs.

 

 

-

 

 

The leshen is a tough fight, and once Geralt’s picked up his gold, they celebrate their win. “Oh, I do miss a good wine,” Jaskier sighs. Geralt had found an inn that hadn’t been too picky on who rented a room, a tired, worn out little venue in the rough part of town, and now he’s digging into his meal. “Wine, oh, and sweets.” They’ve discovered that it’s mostly folks with a thread of magic in them who can see Jaskier, and just in case anyone looks their way, he’s half invisible at Geralt’s side.

Geralt grunts. “Yeah, it sure seems like you were living the high life in Velen,” he says dryly.

Jaskier clicks his tongue. “I just wanted to spread art to the masses,” he says. “Don’t they deserve to hear the joy of my voice, too?” It occurs to Geralt that he hasn’t heard Jaskier sing yet. “You should drink a fine Fiorano, just for me. I think that’s part of my unfinished business.”

“No,” Geralt says immediately. It’s a waste of coin, for one, and he didn’t get paid that much for the leshen. He is thirsty though. He waves over the bartender for an ale, and when he’s fishing out payment, Jaskier’s necklace comes with it. He looks at it for a moment, rubs his fingers across the pendant, and then pockets it again. When he looks up, he can see Jaskier again, watching him thoughtfully. “I can see you,” he says.

“Oops,” Jaskier says, and slips out of sight again. “But now you’re talking to yourself.”

The bartender trades him a wobbly mug of ale for a few coins and then walks off to serve someone else. “Hmm,” Geralt says. “Do you think it’ll make more people stare?” He’s already being watched from all corners of the tavern. At least some are more discreet than others.

“Alright, fair,” Jaskier concedes. “Although - ooh, I daresay you’d like more of them staring if they looked like that.” Geralt feels the cool breeze of movement next to him, but he doesn’t bother to look. He’s not in the market. “I am simultaneously turned on and terrified.”

At that, however, Geralt stiffens, eyes focusing on his knuckles, white around his mug of ale. He can smell it now - lilac and gooseberries. Yennefer is here. “Fuck,” he says.

“Oh, that’s a first.” Jaskier’s voice is next to his ear, fascinated. “Maybe they didn’t burn the fear out of you Witchers after all, hmm? What’s the story there?”

There’s no story, Geralt thinks. The story is that he met a woman who set his blood on fire, and then he made the absolute worst decision he could, to save her life. He took away her choice. He listens to her heartbeat for a moment, and when he hears it speed up, he knows he has to make a choice. He knocks back the entirety of his ale in one long swallow and then stands.

“Of fucking course,” Yennefer snaps as he approaches the table. She’s not in her typical finery - her gown is made of something expensive but it’s plain, and her cloak is the least ostentatious he’s ever seen her wear. She’s incognito. She looks good. Geralt’s chest aches. “I should have known better than to hope I could escape you.”

“Hello, Yennefer,” Geralt says.

“Get out,” she says, turning away. “I’m meeting a contact here and knowing you, you’ll only ruin it.”

Geralt sighs, and pulls out a chair at her table. She glares absolutely murderously at him. “I’ve got a room here for the night,” he says.

“Did I ask?” she says. “Maybe you can go hire a whore. Spend enough coin and you can have all the control you could ever want.”

Under the sweetness of her perfume, he can smell her rage, her pain. He did that. Geralt takes a moment to order his words before he tries to speak; he knows he’s never been very good at this sort of thing. “Yen, I wanted to apologize,” he says.

She sneers. “Oh, you do? Congratulations. You’ve discovered a heart. Is it his?” She gestures at the empty space at his elbow, and that’s when Geralt notices the chill next to him.

“Jaskier,” he grits out.

“Sorry, sorry,” Jaskier whispers. He sidles into visibility. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but then it was just so fascinating.”

“Another poor soul you’ve tied to your selfish life?” Yennefer asks.

“No,” Geralt says, and he slams a hand down on the rickety table, much harder than he’d intended.

“Ah, no,” Jaskier says. “I’m afraid I’m the one who’s done the tying.” He glances pointedly at the chair next to Geralt and Geralt sighs, pulling it out so that Jaskier can settle next to them. Yennefer watches it all, bemused. “He’s helping me find my peace.”

Yennefer stares at him for a moment, then she dismisses him, rounding on Geralt. “So it’s just me, then,” she says. “I’m the one you dump all of your anger on.”

Geralt grits his teeth and takes a breath. He wants so badly to snap back at her about all of the ways they’ve hurt each other already - but they’ve done that once before, and all it did was cut them both to the core. He has some amends to make. “It was wrong,” he says. “And I’m sorry.” Yennefer’s taken aback, eyes wary, and after a moment she lifts her hand and murmurs something in Elder Speech. Abruptly, the voices around them are muffled and Geralt seizes the opportunity. “I was - afraid. Of losing you. And hurt, by what you said.” He doesn’t know how to explain it - how it had been so long since he’d met someone who incited that sort of passion in him, who understood what he’d gone through because she’d gone through it herself, who reflected so much of himself in her. It made the fight cut all that deeper. Maybe it was why they were so oil and water. They were too alike. “It doesn’t excuse it, but I’m. I’m truly sorry.”

Yennefer is silent for a long, long moment. Her pale eyes search his face and finally she sighs. “I’m sorry, too,” she says, and if Geralt didn’t have enhanced hearing, he probably wouldn’t notice the faint tremble in her voice. “I’m still incredibly angry with you, but.”

“Yeah,” Geralt says.

“Did you look for me?” she asks.

It’s a complicated question. “No,” he admits. “Didn’t think you wanted anything to do with me. But I wanted to. I really did.” He rubs a hand over his face. “When I made that wish, I wasn’t thinking.” Yennefer snorts and rolls her eyes. “I just - I just wanted you to be safe. A djinn can’t harm its master. It seemed like the only option.”

Yennefer hums and turns away. “I wanted it to be real so badly,” she says quietly.

“I know,” he says. “Me too.” It’s been months since they fought on the mountain, months since they screamed at each other and broke their own hearts. Since then, before Jaskier at least, he’s had plenty of time to think about what went wrong. It is real, he thinks, at least on some level. But they’ll never be sure how real with this wish hanging over their heads.

Yennefer doesn’t cry. She doesn’t have the mutagens to excuse it, but sheer force of will, instead. He admires her. He’ll always admire her. “Please leave,” she says, and this time it’s a request, not an order. “I’ve a client to meet, and I’d rather like to be composed.”

This time, Geralt nods, and he stands. “It was good to see you,” he says, and the sincerity in his voice makes her bark out a laugh.

“You too, I suppose,” she sighs. He doesn’t ask her where she’s staying, or what she’s doing, and she doesn’t offer it. That’s fair. “I can banish him, if you’d like,” she says, gesturing vaguely in Jaskier’s direction.

“No,” Geralt says as he reads the alarm in Jaskier’s face, but he speaks too fast, and she arches an eyebrow at him. “No, it’s fine. I don’t mind.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Jaskier says.

“Goodbye, Yen,” Geralt says, and he takes his leave, heads upstairs to his room.

That was terrifying,” Jaskier says as the door closes behind them. His elbow is halfway through the wood, and he frowns, shifting out. “Is that the sorceress you were thinking of, when you told me to find one? Banishing sounds horrible. I’m glad you agreed to help me.”

Geralt is abruptly exhausted and he sits heavily on the cheap bed, rubbing his hands across his face. He feels lighter, at least, like a weight that’s been sitting on his shoulders has been lifted, finally. He’s not sure he and Yen will ever figure out how to be friends, but at least she let him say his piece, and that’s a start. He’s got the feeling that whether he likes it or not, Destiny and the djinn’s wish mean that they’ll meet up once again.

“Geralt?” He looks up, and Jaskier’s brow is furrowed in worry. “Are you alright?” Jaskier asks. “I think that’s the most words I’ve ever heard you say at one time.” He hesitates, like he wants to add something but thinks better of it. Geralt is grateful. Jaskier is glad that Geralt agreed to help him, but Geralt’s a little glad, too. He can’t remember how long it’s been since he had a companion on the Path. He’s surprised to realize that he likes it.

“I’m tired,” Geralt says. He rolls his shoulders and then reaches up to start unfastening his armour. “It’s been a long day.”

“You are not wrong,” Jaskier agrees.

Geralt’s chestplate clatters to the worn wooden floor. “Tomorrow, we can go to the market.” Jaskier frowns, confused. “I’ll need a notebook, won’t I? To write down your song?”

Jaskier lights up, his smile so wide and pleased, and for the first time today, Geralt smiles back. “Oh! Yes! Of course!” His eyes get big. “Wait, do you know how to read sheet music?” At Geralt’s alarm he laughs and waves a hand. “Never mind. We’ll figure it out. Won’t we?”

“Sure,” Geralt says, easy as anything. They will.

 

 

-

 

 

It’s a beautiful day, which is about the only good thing that Geralt can say about it. They left Brugge early, new supplies in hand, and once they hit the outskirts of the city, Geralt led them towards the river to find a quiet place to sit. It turned out to be a good choice.

Geralt growls and pushes the notebook away from him. “This is ridiculous,” he says. The ink has smeared across the page, but it wasn’t all that readable in the first place. He’d be the first to admit that his penmanship is terrible, and it doesn’t seem like his musical writing skills are all that better. He knew this would be a silly prospect but he didn’t expect how inadequate he’d feel.

Jaskier peers over his shoulder. “Honestly, I can’t tell if Witchers have their own language or your writing is just that bad.” When Geralt narrows his eyes at him, he straightens in a rush. “Alright, alright. It’s fine. Don’t worry. We can... work with this?”

“This is horseshit.” They’ve been here for hours, for long enough for the sun to shift high in the sky and the air to warm up. Geralt’s shoulders are stiff with tension and from sitting in the same position, and it’s starting to make his back ache. “Are you sure you don’t want me to find a sorceress?” Geralt asks, a bit helplessly. Jaskier had insisted on teaching him the fundamentals of actually writing music, instead of just teaching him to transpose, and so far, it seems an exercise in futility.

“Considering the last one we met, that will be a hard no,” Jaskier laughs. “If I wasn’t already, well, you know, I’d fear for my life.”

“She might be able to carry a tune, though,” Geralt suggests. He’s never heard Yen sing, but he’s fairly certain that’s not true anyway. He stares down at the smudgy ink, barely able to read it, much less pull a song from it.

“A pity we won’t make it to Four Maples this year,” Jaskier sighs. “I suppose you’re right, though. I do have all the time in the world, now. I can wait until next year.” He hums a snatch of music, a variation on the song he’s been singing to Geralt, and he frowns. “Ah, no. I liked it better the first time.”

“They both sound fine to me,” Geralt shrugs.

Jaskier shoots him a look. “You’re not much help, are you?” he scoffs.

Geralt closes the little notebook with a snap. “Alright,” he says, and Jaskier gasps. “Guess I’ll just stop helping, then.”

There’s a brightness in Jaskier’s eyes that makes Geralt’s chest tight. “Oh no you don’t,” Jaskier says, and his hand makes a cool pass through Geralt’s. “You promised!” He grins broadly at him, before sliding into a dramatically wounded expression. “You can’t abandon me, can you?”

“Hmm,” Geralt says, but Jaskier just smiles at him. He knows that wouldn’t happen, Geralt realizes. He’s not particularly used to someone knowing how to read him like that.

“Ah,” Jaskier sighs, sitting back and tipping his head back in the sun. “I wish I had my lute,” he says. “It’d be so much easier to write with it.” He raises his hands again, as though cradling an instrument, fingers pressing invisible frets. “It’s a pity I - hmm.” His brow furrows. “Where is my lute? Did I - I must’ve lost it, right?”

Geralt snorts. “You wouldn’t be able to play it,” he points out, “and I certainly can’t.” He shifts the notebook from one hand to the other, thumb running across the spine of the book. “Lost it? It’s long gone. Broken.”

“Broken?” Jaskier asks, and when Geralt raises an eyebrow, the smile slides from his lips. “I - I lost it, didn’t I?”

Geralt shakes his head slowly. “It was broken when I found you in the graveyard,” he says, trying to keep his voice gentle. “The hag must’ve done it. Not much of a defensive weapon.”

Jaskier’s big blue eyes are wide with confusion. “The hag. The graveyard. Right.” He swallows hard, looking abruptly lost.

It makes a certain amount of sense, Geralt thinks. It’s been months now, since Geralt found his body and buried him. Maybe the longer he stayed around, the more pieces of himself would slough off, until there was nothing but a shade. Geralt’s stomach lurches unpleasantly at the idea.

“Well,” Jaskier says, and his voice has that brittle edge again. “Maybe I don’t have all the time in the world, after all.” He tries to prop up his smile, and it’s a terrible farce of true happiness. “I didn’t know that I had a deadline for all this.” He blinks rapidly, unable to meet Geralt’s eyes. “Gods, what happens when I don’t remember anything?”

Geralt’s been dealt a shitty hand in life, but he hasn’t yet had to deal with what comes after. He doesn’t envy Jaskier. Instead, he aches for him. “Tell me your story,” he says.

“What?” Jaskier asks. In the bright sunlight, Geralt can see the outline of Brugge’s skyline right through his ribcage.

“How you came to be in Velen. How you became a bard.”

Jaskier’s voice is tight. “Wh - what? Why would - why?”

Geralt hesitates, licks his lips, and then speaks. “Because maybe I can help,” he says. He wants to, he realizes. He wants to help Jaskier, but there’s a part of him that’s growing fond of him, too. There’s a part of him that wants Jaskier to stay. It’s impossible, of course, but maybe if he carries his story, that’ll almost be as good. “If you can’t remember, maybe I can remember for you.”

Jaskier stares at him, his mouth working, something open and terribly vulnerable in his face. “You’d do that?” he says, as though waiting for Geralt to take it back.

“Sure,” Geralt says, even though he doesn’t quite know why. “I said I’d help you find your peace. I mean to do it.”

Jaskier is silent for one long, interminable moment. “And they say Witchers have no sense of honour,” he says. He still looks shaken, unsettled, the transparent set of his face pale even in the sunlight. But now, he wears the ghost of a true smile, too.

 

 

-

 

 

1254 - EVE OF LAMMAS (HARVEST HOLIDAY)

As the summer days get longer and hotter, they skirt around the edge of the Mahakam mountains and end up in Aedirn. Work is light, but where there is water, there are drowners, and Geralt keeps food in his belly, at least. They wind up in a little village called Lapisfelde on the eve before Lammas, when the town is all abuzz with celebration of the harvest. Jaskier is antsy as they stride into town, and though he’s invisible, Geralt can feel the restless shift of his presence from side to side.

“Something wrong?” he murmurs.

“No,” Jaskier says. “Well - yes, but no.” Cold air moves past Geralt’s side in the hot afternoon air, and he almost feels the brush of fingers against his elbow. “I’ve been here before. A year ago.”

Geralt looks around at the village with new eyes. It’s not very big, but it bustles with activity and commerce. There’s a tavern near the town centre, and Geralt turns to head towards it. He needs a good meal, and it’s always the best place to hear what’s going on around the village.

They walk through the door and Jaskier makes a soft sound. “I played here,” he says, and Geralt follows the sound of his voice to a table near the fire. “There was...a wedding, I think?”

The tavern is near empty, and Geralt doesn’t want to catch any more eyes, so he doesn’t answer, just walks over to the innkeeper. “Got a room for the night?” he asks.

The woman eyes him consideringly, for long enough that he starts to consider possible places to camp for the night, but eventually she tips her head. “Aye,” she says. “If you’ve got the coin. It’s a busy season, y’understand.”

Geralt dips his head in acknowledgement. Any festival would make a town like this the busiest it is all year. He’s just lucky that everyone seems to be outside, enjoying the sunshine and the festivities. “Much obliged,” he says, and he slides a more than reasonable amount across the bar top to get a key in return. He knows that renting a room to a Witcher is a risk for any proprietor, and he likes to sweeten the deal.

“This is strange,” Jaskier murmurs in his ear. “Familiar, and somehow not at all.”

Geralt has spent a long time walking the Continent on his own, and most places are like that to him - his memories overlaid with the passage of time. “I know what you mean,” he mumbles.

There’s one other person in the tavern, a young woman sat by the window, a book spread across the table in front of her. It’s unusual for a young person to be inside with everything that’s going on in the village, but Geralt spares her only a glance before determining she’s no threat. The sketchbook she’s flipping through, however, is much more interesting. He catches a glimpse of bright colour and then he’s steering towards her, feet moving almost before he thinks about it.

She looks up as he approaches, and all of a sudden her eyes are wide and her shoulders stiff. “Um,” she says. “Hello?”

He realizes he’s looming, and that’s not conducive to this conversation, so he pulls out a chair and sits. “Greetings,” he says. He gestures at the page she’s left open, and the profile of a man’s face. A familiar one, now. “You know that man?” he asks.

She looks down at the drawing and then up again, brow furrowed in confusion. “Oh, yes,” she says. “Master Jaskier. He’s a bard. He was here for Lammas last year.” She brushes a hand across the paper. “Saved me cousin’s wedding, he did. D’you know him?”

Saved a wedding, hmm? Geralt tips his head, listening to Jaskier’s hushed laughter. “He’s a...friend,” he says.

The young woman leans over the table, her dark, plaited hair falling over one shoulder. “You do, then?” she asks. “Have you seen him? He said he’d be here for the festival this year, but we haven’t seen hide nor hair.”

“Ah,” Jaskier says, voice small.

“I’m sorry,” Geralt says, as much to Jaskier as to the young woman, and her face falls. “He’s dead.”

She presses her fingertips to the drawing, tracing the curve of Jaskier’s smile. It’s a good likeness. He tells her as much. “Thank you,” she says quietly, and then she closes the sketchbook, flattening her hand over the worn cover. “And for telling me, too.”

He nods, and he takes his leave of her. He’s oddly fond of the fact that Jaskier left his mark, memorable in this small town, even a year later. Considering the anonymity of his death, it’s a pleasant surprise.

Geralt isn’t certain that his presence will be welcomed in the town when things really kick into gear tonight, so he settles Roach in the stable and then carries his bags to his room. It’s a small thing, with a worn, creaky bed and a threadbare rug on the floor, but one large window throws late afternoon sunlight across the floorboards. “You saved a wedding, huh?” he asks, letting his saddlebags hit the ground.

“Oh, yes,” Jaskier laughs, shifting into visibility. “But - I remember this. Here, come here.” He gestures at the window, which opens into a small alcove on the roof, tucked above the tavern below. It faces out into the forest beyond the village, and it’s hidden away from sight. At Jaskier’s request, Geralt slides the window open to let in the hot summer air. “Alright,” Jaskier says. “Out we go.”

Geralt stares at him. “You want me to sit on the roof.”

“Sure,” Jaskier says, and he sidles through the wall to the roof. “No one will notice. Come on!”

Geralt isn’t sure what draws him through the window after Jaskier, but it’s probably the way that Jaskier stands at the edge of the roof, head tipped back, basking in the warmth. Obediently, he kicks off his boots and heads outside.

It rained the night before, and the roof is clean and damp beneath him. “You remember this?” Geralt asks.

“Mhmm.” Jaskier folds himself down next to Geralt. “I stayed here last summer. In that room right there, in fact.” He winks. “Had to make a bit of a speedy escape out of that very window. Fathers, you know how it is. Terribly overprotective.” There’s a wry twist to his mouth that says something about his own father, and that resonates in Geralt’s chest.

“Tell me about the wedding,” Geralt says. He leans back against the window frame, his eyes on Jaskier. Jaskier looks at him, even and curious. “Wanna know how you saved the day.”

He wants to know everything, he thinks. He’d said it was to remember, that it was for Jaskier, but the truth is more selfish. He wants to know everything about him. He’s got a long life behind him, and a long life ahead, and he wants to carry this with him. The way that Jaskier smiles at children, his genuine interest in Geralt’s story. The way that he looks at him sometimes, vulnerable and wanting. It’s greedy, but it’s the kind of moment that Geralt knows will keep him going, when the Path stretches long and hard in front of him.

“Oh, well, if you insist,” Jaskier drawls. He’s got his legs folded up against his chest, his arms wrapped around them, and he stares out at the trees. “It’s a good time to have a wedding, the end of a harvest. I wandered into town, hoping for a bit of coin and perhaps, a bit of company, when I heard the dread news: the bard who was meant to perform for the couple’s momentous night had fallen terribly ill.”

“Mmm.” Geralt relaxes, eyes sliding shut, listening to Jaskier’s words wash over him. He’s fallen into his bard’s measure, the ghostly blur of his words softened by his rhythmic cadence. It’s not singing, but there’s a skill to storytelling, too, and Geralt would bet that even if Jaskier never attained the fame he’d wanted, he certainly made the coin he needed to get by.

“Being the generous and selfless individual that I am, I of course offered up my services on the spot. I asked for nothing in payment, save a drink or two, and to steal a kiss from the bride.” Geralt cracks an eye and Jaskier smirks. “And the groom, later on.”

“Naturally,” Geralt rumbles.

“Naturally,” Jaskier agrees.

Geralt wishes he could’ve seen him, when he was alive. He’s charming when he tells stories like this, and though spinning yarns was his profession, Geralt really does believe that Jaskier agreed to perform at the drop of a hat, and for no pay. Jaskier’s a romantic at heart, and it’s just the kind of story that he’d love to tell.

“And?” Geralt says.

“And it was lovely,” Jaskier sighs. “They said their vows as the sun settled below the horizon, surrounded by all of their friends and loved ones, and then they celebrated the plentiful harvest. And I, your charming troubadour, celebrated along with them.”

The corner of Geralt’s mouth pulls up. “How selfless.”

“Truly,” Jaskier says. “And yet, I suffered through.”

Geralt hums. “And they remembered you.”

Even with the warm afternoon light, Geralt can see the flush that creeps up Jaskier’s cheeks. He looks pleased. “I suppose my goal is closer than I’d thought,” he says, and he sounds wistful.

“Maybe it is,” Geralt says, and he stares out at the forest, ignoring the pang behind his ribs.

 

 

-

 

 

1254 - SAOVINE (SAMHAIN)

Ears buzzing, Geralt wobbles, struggling to focus his eyes. His arm, torn open by the basilisk’s teeth, burns with the ache of venom. He ignores it, steadying his silver sword with hands slick with blood and sweat, but it’s not necessary. The basilisk screams unsteadily, paws at the space where its eye used to be, and collapses.

He should get a potion, but the toxicity is already making his blood pound in his ears, and it’ll all be for naught if this beast gets up again. He grits his teeth instead. He has to think about each step he takes, his feet impossibly heavy against the dusty, bloody cave floor. He can do this. Finally close enough, he can see the raise of the basilisk’s chest, too fast and thready, and he wedges the tip of his blade against its throat. Pushing his weight forward, he throws his strength into his arms and cuts the head loose. As the beast’s body relaxes all at once, a foul smell emitting from it, Geralt staggers back and then drops to his knees.

As his chin droops to his chest, he’s vaguely aware of a voice near him, someone urgently calling his name. His head spins with the venom and the Witcher potions and he grunts, tipping forward and landing face down on the cold stone floor, and consciousness slides away.

When he comes to, it’s much later, if the creep of early morning light from the mouth of the cave shows anything. As his awareness returns, the pain comes with it. He hisses, twisting to his uninjured side as he waits for the world to stop spinning around him. The ache behind his eyes has eased, thanks to time, his healing factor, and the Witcher trance he’d dropped into. The venom still burns though. He needs -

“Melitele’s sweet arse,” Jaskier says. “I thought you were dead.”

It takes Geralt a second to find Jaskier, knelt next to him. “You didn’t answer me,” Jaskier continues. His eyes are wide, his brows tipped up in fear. “It’s been hours.”

Geralt grunts, wiggling his good hand beneath him and trying to lever himself up again. It takes him a few tries. “Fuck,” he slurs. It’s been a while since he’s been on the receiving end of a beating like this. He coughs, and his entire mouth is sour and dry. “Fuck,” he says again.

“Geralt,” Jaskier says. Geralt manages to swivel his head to look him in the eye. “There you are. What happened?”

What happened? He slipped up. The contract had only specified missing travelers, and he should’ve been more cautious when he’d followed the trail. It was evening, and he’d thought the basilisk would already be out hunting. He’d been wrong, and that was how he’d caught a vicious bite to his arm with no preparation. “Venom,” he scrapes out. He can smell the toxins he’s sweat out overnight, bitter on his skin. “And toxins.”

It takes him a moment to register what’s thrust under his nose. A small yellow vial. Golden Oriole. Eases poisoning. Geralt’s got it open and down his throat before he even realizes what happened. “Wait,” he says, staring at the hand Jaskier has outstretched. The hand that just held the potion he’d needed. “How…?”

“I don’t know,” Jaskier admits. “I was just - I was so scared for you, and then I tried, and I could touch it.” He reaches out, though, and his fingertips pass right through Geralt’s shoulder. “I don’t know how -” he huffs out a breath and curls his hand up against his chest. “Are you alright?”

He can feel the potion already working its way through his body, easing the burn of the basilisk’s bite. “I will be,” he grunts. It’s not a platitude - the worst is over now. He’s conscious, his body is healing. Give him another hour and he can probably take the basilisk’s head and get out of here.

“Thank the Gods,” Jaskier says. He puts his face in his hands. “I know I’m no help in a sword fight on a good day, but I’ve never felt so useless.”

It’s a thrilling sort of novelty, to have someone care about his well-being. Geralt can’t tell if Jaskier is blurry because of the dim lighting in the cave, or because of the toxins still stewing in his system. “I’ve had worse,” he says, and Jaskier just eyes him darkly. It’s the truth, though. His path hasn’t been easy, and he’s got the scars to prove it. “I’ll be fine.”

“You live a hard life, if this is commonplace,” Jaskier says quietly, and Geralt looks away, focusing insead on pulling off the ruined pieces of his armour to take a proper look at the bite on his arm. It’s nasty, ragged and torn, dark trails of venom still spidering up his veins, away from the wound. He needs fresh water to clean it, but he won’t be getting up any time soon, so unless Jaskier can figure out how to pull off that trick again, he’s out of luck. “How do you do this, without break?”

Geralt pulls a fragment of cloth out of his wound, letting out a little noise as he does. “I didn’t get to volunteer for the job,” he says. He doesn’t want to have this conversation on the best of days, but now? Now, when his tongue still feels too big in his mouth and his head still spins? It’s the last thing he wants to do. “What time is it?”

“Morning,” Jaskier says. “You are unutterably brave.” Geralt frowns, but when he glances at Jaskier, all he sees is his wide blue eyes, soft and sad. “I’m sorry I can’t help.”

“Didn’t figure you could,” Geralt says, and there’s a slow burning warmth filling his gut that he’s fairly certain isn’t the toxins from the potions. Jaskier is so - unexpected. When Geralt thinks he’ll be afraid, he’s fascinated. When he expects pity, he finds only empathy. It’s strange. He shifts and grimaces and is suddenly abruptly aware of how close he is to Jaskier, the cool breeze of his presence, the shadow of his shape. If he leaned in, he could just brush his mouth across Jaskier’s.

And that is...an interesting thought. He pulls away.

“Give me an hour,” he mutters, and his wound throbs with his heartbeat. “An hour and we can go.”

Jaskier’s lips press into a tight line, but he nods. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.” He folds himself down next to Geralt, and he could swear he feels the press of Jaskier’s knee to his, if only for a moment. “Do you want to hear what I’ve been working on?”

Geralt still hasn’t heard Jaskier sing. He’s heard snatches of music from him, humming, a musical murmur under his breath, but not the real deal. He’s tempted, but - “Not yet,” Geralt says, voice hoarse. His head still aches, his senses sharpened from the lingering potions.

“Okay,” Jaskier says. “What if I tell you a story? I bet I’ve a few you’ve never heard.” He offers Geralt a smile, small and crooked and real.

Geralt eases himself onto his knees, long habit settling his body into the position for meditation and healing. “Try me,” he says, and Jaskier’s smile gets wider.

 

 

-

 

 

1255 - ONE MONTH BEFORE MIDINVÁERNE (MIDWINTER)

He’s late through the pass this year, and he’s paying for it. He pulls his cloak in tighter against the biting wind and snow. Roach tosses her head and tugs at the reins, shifting restlessly on the narrow path. “I don’t like this any more than you do,” Geralt tells her.

“Congratulations,” Jaskier says. He strolls next to Geralt, unaffected. His hair doesn’t move, despite the gusts of wind, his feet leave no impression in the snow. He looks incredibly incongruous in his now-familiar bright blue jacket. “I think we have finally discovered the one situation in which I’m glad to be dead.”

There’s less of an edge to it now, when he says it. Geralt hopes it’s time dulling the hurt of what happened instead of peeling away the layers of who he was. “I’m so happy for you,” Geralt growls.

If he’d headed North a few weeks ago, like he’d planned, they would have been able to miss it. The pass to Kaer Morhen is always a tough trek, as a deterrent to visitors, but in winter it becomes downright impassable. He’ll be lucky to make it to the fortress without Roach rolling an ankle.

They’d been delayed because of a job near Loc Muinne, a wily katakan that had taken him longer than he’d wanted to hunt down. This close to the end of the year, he probably could’ve given it a miss, but more coin in his purse is never a bad thing. Now, however, feeling the bitter cold cutting through his thick cloak and leather armour, he has a few regrets.

The snow is starting to build up, thick drifts in the lees of the narrow path that force him to lift his legs high and drag hard on Roach’s reins to keep them moving forward. He knows they’ll reach Kaer Morhen before nightfall, and he focuses on that, on the knowledge of a warm meal and a roaring fire greeting them. He grits his teeth and continues.

After another hour or so of trudging, a figure emerges from the snow. “Geralt?” Jaskier asks, suddenly ducking behind his shoulder, as though he were in any danger. It makes Geralt snort.

“He’s one of ours,” Geralt says, a smile growing on his face as the man approaches.

“You’re late, Wolf,” Eskel calls. He carries a lantern, and it throws shadows across the deep scars raking down his face. “You get lost? I know it’s been a while for you.”

Geralt will never not feel that warm, dawning sense of home when he sees Eskel again each year. “Very funny,” he scoffs, and pulls Eskel into a tight, one-armed hug, burying his face in his shoulder. He smells like iron and hearth. He smells like home. “C’mon. Let’s get out of here.”

They turn to head up the mountain together, and Kaer Morhen looms above. “Saw you coming before the storm blew in,” Eskel says. “Lucky for you, Vesemir’s got stew on the hearth, and I even lit the fireplace in your room before I headed out.”

“Aren’t you a saint?” Geralt says, and Eskel nudges him with his elbow. Geralt spends so much time alone on the Path, it’s as though each year, he forgets what it’s like to be around family. He’s known Eskel for so long, since they were boys, before the mutations had their way with them. It makes everything easier. For the first time since he left Kaer Morhen in the spring, he can truly relax.

“Who’s your friend?” Eskel asks. He points over their shoulders with his thumb.

“Hello!” Jaskier says cheerfully. “Yes, hi, I’m Jaskier. Bard, troubadour, lately a ghost.” Eskel’s eyes flick to Geralt’s, and he raises an eyebrow. “Geralt’s helping me.”

“Huh,” Eskel says. “I dunno if we’ve ever had a ghost come to visit.”

Jaskier’s eyes don’t linger on the heavy scars across Eskel’s face, and Geralt’s surprised by how pleased that makes him. “I’ve never met more than one Witcher,” Jaskier says. “I suppose that makes us even.”

Geralt knows the way that Eskel tips his chin up, considering. He likes him. “I suppose so,” Eskel agrees.

It’s getting dark by the time they make it up the mountain, and the dark silhouette of Kaer Morhen is a welcome respite from the wind. The thick wooden doors creak as they let themselves inside, and the enormous hall is dimly lit. Once, it had been busy with men, tidy and well kept. Now? There are books and weapons scattered everywhere, instruments for making potions, or for sharpening blades stacked everywhere.

At the back, an oversized fireplace throws warm light across a broad table. Lambert calls out to them from his seat at the table when they finally make it inside, stamping their boots and shaking the snow from their shoulders. “Couple of old dogs, can’t even make it up a hill all by themselves.” He scoffs, and puts his feet up on the table. Geralt rolls his eyes.

Kaer Morhen is old, drafty, and full of the kind of history that makes Geralt’s teeth ache if he thinks about it too hard. But it is the closest thing he’s ever had to home, and the other Witchers are the closest thing he’s got to family. “Thanks for the warm welcome,” he says dryly, hanging his cloak over a nearby weapon rack to dry.

“You’ve looked after the horse, I assume?” Vesemir asks. He’s spooning out a bowl of stew for him already. “Good lad.”

Geralt knows his lot in life. He knows that walking the Witcher’s Path means a lot of killing and hardship for very little pay or recognition. But he’s lucky, in a way. Once a year, he gets to be among his people for a few months. He wouldn’t say it makes it all worthwhile, but it does ease it, a little. Lambert raises his glass to him, and Geralt nods in return.

Eskel lets him get halfway through his meal before he asks. “So,” he says. “A ghost.”

“Mmm.” Geralt’s finally getting the warmth back into his limbs along with the warmth of the stew in his belly. “A ghost.”

“A ghost,” Jaskier agrees from next to them. When both Geralt and Eskel both raise an eyebrow, he holds up his hands. “What?” he says. “I thought we were doing a bit.”

Geralt shakes his head. “Jaskier,” he says, not unkindly. “Go explore.”

Jaskier looks vaguely affronted. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“Yes,” Geralt says. He’s certainly gotten used to Jaskier’s presence, his easy stream of words and unending curiosity, but he just needs a break. “Go. Let me breathe.” Eskel is watching this all play out, chin propped up in one hand, mug of mead in the other.

“Oh.”

“Don’t give me that,” Geralt says. “I’m not going to make a run for it.”

Jaskier stands, hands fidgeting at his sides. “I suppose not, in that snow.”

“Jaskier.” It takes a moment, but Jaskier meets his eyes. “You can always find me. You know that. Always.”

Eskel takes a long swallow of mead. “Geralt’s room is in the East Tower,” he says casually.

Well,” Jaskier says, but he doesn’t smile until Geralt does first. “That certainly changes things.”

“Thanks for nothing,” Geralt says darkly, and Eskel chuckles.

“I’m off to go rifle through your things. Don’t stay up too late!” Jaskier breezes past them to the stairs, and for a moment, Geralt can feel the cool ghost of Jaskier’s touch.

When he’s gone, Eskel turns to Geralt. “That’s complicated,” he says, lifting his mead to his lips again. Geralt narrows his eyes, but Eskel just smiles at him. “A ghost, huh? What’s the story there?”

“Grave hag near Benek,” Geralt answers around a mouthful of stew. “Guess he took a detour somewhere and ended up on the wrong end of her claws.” He doesn’t elaborate on the way he’d felt when he’d buried him, or the weight of the dandelion charm in his pocket, but he doesn’t have to. Eskel, at his side since they were boys, sees right through him.

“Uh huh,” Eskel says, and he knocks his boot against Geralt’s under the table. “Looks to me like you’re playing with fire.”

Geralt shakes his head. “No fire here,” Geralt says, like if he says it out loud, it’ll be true. There’s been a tension in the air, since the basilisk in the cave, and even now, Geralt feels a pull behind his ribs, like he’s missing a part of himself. How long has it been since he didn’t have Jaskier at his side? Months, now. Better part of a year. “Just helping him finish whatever’s keeping him here.”

“Sure, sure,” Eskel says. He holds his mead in both big hands, looking steadily at Geralt. “And what happens afterwards?”

Geralt’s eyes slide away, and he busies himself with the last of his meal. “I go back to the Path,” he says. What else would he do? This is a job, albeit an unconventional one, and one he’s not getting paid for. After midsummer, Jaskier will be gone, and Geralt will go back to walking the Continent alone. As he has always done.

Eskel knows his lies for what they are, as he has always done. “I didn’t think there was anything worse than the sorceress,” he says dryly, no edge to his words.

Geralt scrubs a hand over his face. “Fuck,” he says.

“Hey,” Eskel says. “Whatever you need, Wolf. Just say the word.” His boot rests against Geralt’s.

And that’s the thing, Geralt doesn’t know what he needs. He’s too used to the way that Jaskier smiles at him when he cracks a joke and startles Geralt into laughing. Too used to waking up to his cheerful chatter, to the way he talks to Roach like she’s a co-conspirator with him against Geralt.

But what he wants? That’s starting to become clear. Geralt’s fingers tighten around his spoon and Eskel watches the motion and says nothing. Witchers aren’t supposed to have feelings, after all. His life is too dangerous to ask anyone to join it, that would be cruel. A ghost, of course, is safer than most, but Geralt could never ask Jaskier to stay and watch time peel away everything that made him who he was until there was nothing left. So the wanting is futile. It makes him ache to think about it, but it’s for the best.

Eskel heaves a sigh. “That bad, huh?” he says.

“Guess so,” Geralt says helplessly.

When he leaves the great hall for his bed that night, he holds out a hand to Eskel. “You sure?” Eskel asks, and his eyes flick upwards. Up, towards Geralt’s room, where Jaskier waits.

Geralt isn’t looking forward to the hurt in Jaskier’s eyes when he sees them, but he didn’t make any promises. No promises to a dead man, and Geralt’s tired of aching, and tonight he just wants to be held. There’s only one person he can trust to ask for that right now, no expectations, no questions, and he’s looking at him. “Yeah,” he says.

The fire has long since died down, with no one to tend it while they caught up, but the room is still warm when they make it up there. Jaskier is looking out the window when he sees them come in, and Geralt’s chest lurches at how quickly the smile on Jaskier’s face is extinguished. “Ah,” he says, and then he’s got a false smile propped up on his lips in its place. “Well! I suppose I’ll give you some space.”

He disappears too quickly for Geralt to reply, and even if he hadn’t, Geralt has no idea what he’d say. Instead, he feels the loss of Jaskier’s presence keenly as he kicks off his boots and pulls off his armour to climb into bed.

“You could talk to him,” Eskel mumbles into the back of Geralt’s neck, once they’re curled up together under the covers. “Clear the air.”

Geralt grunts. “What does it matter?” he says, and Eskel hears the bitter edge to his words and rubs his nose against Geralt’s skin. “He’ll just be gone in a few months anyway. Why bother him with what could be?”

“Sometimes the risk is worth it,” Eskel says, and Geralt doesn’t have an answer for that, either.

 

 

-

 

 

The next day, Geralt finds Jaskier sitting on the battlements, looking out. Kaer Morhen is high on the mountain, chosen specifically for its line of sight, a tactical decision. On a clear day like today, you can see all the way down the pass into the valley, and further up, into the snowy peaks. “Quite a view,” Jaskier says as he approaches, without turning.

Geralt pauses, startled. The boots he’s wearing are soft and worn, and by habit he’s making no noise as he moves. “How did you know I was here?” he asks.

Jaskier glances back over his shoulder. “I don’t know,” he admits. “But I can feel you there. I always know when it’s you.” A bittersweet look flickers over his face, and then he turns back to the vista in front of them. “It has its uses, I suppose.”

“Mmm.” Geralt sits next to him, his legs dangling over the parapets. He has no fear of heights, and even less here, among the stones where he was raised. He watches Lambert and Eskel saddle up to go hunting, Lambert’s harsh voice loud in the cold air.

“I’m happy for you,” Jaskier says suddenly, and when Geralt turns to raise an eyebrow at him, he flushes and clears his throat. “I - well, it’s just, your life seems so lonely. I’m glad that you have a lover to come home to.”

A ‘lover’. Geralt laughs a little, ducks his head. It’s all more poetic than the truth - no one knows him better than Eskel does, inside and out. He knows that no matter what happens if he reaches out, Eskel will take his hand. It’s rare for Geralt to just touch and be touched, outside of a brothel, and almost never with someone he knows as intimately well as Eskel. But is that romantic? He squints. “We’re not lovers. It’s not like that,” Geralt says, because it’s not, not quite. The Path is long and hard and sometimes, when he returns to Kaer Morhen’s stone walls, he just needs to be held. He loves Eskel, but it’s been a while since they did anything but sleep in a shared bed. “It’s different.”

Jaskier’s eyes are sharp and guarded. “Different from what?” he asks.

Geralt holds his gaze for one long moment, as long as he can stand, and then he looks away. “You wanna see the library?” he asks instead.

Jaskier sounds breathless when he speaks again. “Oh. Yes,” he says. “I need you to turn the pages for me.”

Geralt leads Jaskier into the bowels of Kaer Morhen, where they keep their books. It’s cool and dry down here, and just running a finger down the spine of one of the old leatherbound editions sends shivers of memory through him.

“Is this where you keep all the secrets?” Jaskier says, eyes twinkling.

Geralt doesn’t tell him about the caves where the Trials of the Grasses took place, of the tables with straps to hold boys down. “You caught us,” he says. He heaves out an old book on necrophages and smiles a little, thinking of long nights studying this very volume with Eskel by candlelight, thinking of the great adventures they would go on. “Don’t tell Vesemir I brought you down here.”

Jaskier snorts. “What would a dead man do with your mysteries?”

“You’re more than a dead man,” Geralt mumbles as Jaskier leans in over the old book, examining the diagrams.

He’s never been more glad that his mutations mean that he can’t blush than when Jaskier rounds on him, brow furrowed. “What was that?”

Geralt shakes his head, thankful the bard is just a human, no Witcher. He’d never live it down, if Jaskier had heard. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Shit. “Nothing,” he says. “You wanna see my favourite?”

Jaskier stands with his hands propped on his hips, head cocked. “That’s your last freebie,” he says, and when Geralt frowns at him, confused, he continues: “The next time you say something cryptic, I’m going to make sure you explain yourself.”

Geralt rubs a hand over his face, but he smiles, too. “That’s fair,” he admits. He hates that that hits him right in the gut - he’s been alive for most of a century and he can still count the number of people who can read him on one hand. It cuts him to the core, leaves him feeling exposed.

“Alright,” Jaskier says. “Show me your favourite. Bet it’s the grossest one,” he says, and he wrinkles up his nose at the alghoul on the page in front of him. “Or,” he suggests, “it’s the one with the, ah, nicest assets.”

“You think so little of me.” Geralt shakes his head (though he’s not wrong).

“No,” Jaskier says. “I think you were like any other boy.”

Geralt swallows. “Yeah,” he says hoarsely. He flicks through the book. “Succubus is back here.”

“I knew it!” Jaskier crows. He grins at Geralt, and that tension stretches between them, restless and charged. He thinks of the night in the cave with the basilisk, and again, he remembers the impulse to lean in. To see if they could find that magic that let Jaskier hold the potion out to him.

He knows the danger of wanting things. It’s worse when it’s so far out of reach.

It’s such a strange sense, sitting next to Jaskier and flipping through the old bound books. Everything feels smaller, familiar but wrong. Jaskier tips his head as they look at a picture of a wyvern. “Why did you keep my necklace?” he asks suddenly. Geralt feels pinned under his gaze. “I thought you’d sell it, but when we got to a big enough city, you never even took it out.”

Without thinking, Geralt’s hand slides down to touch his pocket, where the dandelion charm still sits. “I don’t know,” he admits. Jaskier clicks his tongue and frowns and Geralt takes a deep breath. “I - well, I thought I might give it to someone. Figured you’d have someone who would want to know what happened to you. Family, or something.”

Jaskier snorts.

“Yeah,” Geralt says. “And then I just kept it. Didn’t think about it, honestly. Felt right.”

“It’s how I found you, at first,” Jaskier says. “When you rode away, that first day. Like you carried a part of me with you.” Geralt swallows and stares down at the illustrated page.

“And now?” Geralt asks.

When he glances up, Jaskier’s face is so fond. “I don’t need it, now.” You carry another part with me, he doesn’t say, and Geralt’s heart kicks in his chest. “You can sell it, if you want. I don’t mind.”

Geralt considers it, but in the end, he decides. “No,” he says. “Don’t think I will.” It’s a tangible piece of what’s happening here, between them, now. And it turns out, from the very start, he’s always been sentimental about Jaskier.

“Okay,” Jaskier says, and his eyes crease up in a smile. “Now tell me about this one.”

Eventually, he leaves Jaskier peering over the books and heads out of the library. He’s so lost in thought that he almost runs straight into Lambert, who smirks. “Head in the clouds, Geralt? Or just up your ghost pet’s ass?”

Geralt scoffs. “That doesn’t even make sense,” he says. It’s not worth lying to another Witcher, particularly one who knows him so well. Easier to misdirect. He’s doing a lot of that these days.

“You know you can’t fuck a ghost, right?” Lambert laughs, but it tails off when he sees Geralt’s face. “Shit. Seriously?”

“Don’t,” Geralt says, and he pushes past Lambert. “I don’t have time for this right now.” He doesn’t know where he’s heading, but it’s far away from this conversation, and away from Jaskier’s bright eyes. They’re starting to make it hard to breathe.

 

 

-

 

 

Geralt wakes to singing.

The days are growing warmer, and soon the snow will melt, allowing them passage through the mountains back down into Kaedwen. The fire has burned down overnight, and the stone floor is cold under his feet. He doesn’t bother to dress for the day, just throws on a shirt and his boots, and wanders out, following the sound.

He’s got the Keep to himself this morning. Eskel and Vesemir are dealing with the kikimores in the old mine, and Lambert had refused to help, saying he had a whole day of fishing ahead of him. So Geralt moves quietly through the old halls, listening to the way that Jaskier’s voice echoes against the stone. Funny, that, he thinks. His voice has more substance than he does.

He finds Jaskier in the Great Hall, head tipped up, eyes closed. He’s singing a song about a heartbroken bride, and he’s certainly chosen his venue right. The notes soar in the enormous room, echoing, bright. It’s the first time Geralt’s heard him sing.

When he finishes his song, Jaskier stands for a moment, still and smiling. “What do you think?” he asks, finally. Geralt can see the warmth of the fireplace through him, but Jaskier is the most relaxed he’s ever seen him. “It’s an old one, but I daresay I’m a bit rusty.”

“Not bad,” Geralt allows, because he can’t lie, but he thinks if he’s honest, he might choke on it.

Jaskier, familiar with him now, beams at him. “Thank you,” he says. “I, ah, didn’t know you were awake.”

“It’s mid morning,” Geralt says, amused. Decadently late, by Witcher standards.

“Is it?” Jaskier spins to look out the window, surprised. “I guess I lost track of time.” He tugs at the front of his translucent jacket. “It seemed, you know, prudent, to make sure I don’t forget all my skills.” He smiles wanly at Geralt. “I was thinking about my time at Oxenfurt, you see. I can’t remember my graduation.”

Geralt swallows. Not a small detail. That’s a big one. “Hmm,” he says. “Keep’s all ours. Time to work on that song?”

“Yes, please,” Jaskier sighs, a fragile sound, and more than anything, Geralt wishes he could reach out and touch him one more time.

 

 

-

 

 

1255 - BIRKE

Three days outside of Ard Carraigh, and the spring rains have already struck.

It’s pissing down, and Geralt had to set up camp mid afternoon if he was to have any hope of a dry place to sleep. They’re tucked under a broad old tree, and Geralt can hear Roach snort in irritation at the water dripping down on her. It’s the best they’ve got right now, though. The air is damp and cold and Geralt hunches over the small lantern, hopeful for warmth. The light is just enough for him to write by, thanks to his mutations. He’s getting better at transcribing the music, as Jaskier tells him, but it’s still cramped and ugly and smudgy. Well. Witchers don’t retire, but if he did, he wouldn’t have a career in music, it seems.

Across from him, Jaskier holds his hands as though cradling a lute, singing softly as his fingers shift position. “Ah,” he says after a moment. “I wish I had my lute.” He sighs and drops his hands. “It’s a pity it - broke?” He looks at Geralt for confirmation, and Geralt nods, mouth a sour twist. “Did you know, I got it from an elf.”

Geralt hadn’t paid much attention to the lute, but if that’s true, Jaskier was a lucky man. Elven woodworkers were miles above others. “Mmm,” he says. “Because you’re so charming.”

“I am, aren’t I?” Jaskier preens. “But no. Actually, this time, she beat the hell out of me.” It startles a short laugh out of Geralt, and Jaskier grins at him. “Apparently, I’d wandered somewhere I should not have. Have you heard of Filavandrel aén Fidháil?”

Geralt chokes. “What were you doing with the leader of the Free Elves?”

“Singing him a song,” Jaskier says. “And also getting beaten to within an inch of my life.”

Geralt looks down at the book in his lap, the ink slowly drying. “Tell me,” he says.

There’s a look on Jaskier’s face, the same one he gets every time Geralt asks him about himself. Soft, fond, and confused, like he doesn’t quite know why Geralt would ask. “I was young,” he says. “And foolish. I heard a tale in Posada, of the dread elves stalking the village, and I thought it high time to leave the area.” He shakes his head. “But it was storming, and I got myself terribly lost.”

“And you wandered into Dol Blathanna.”

“Very pretty valley,” Jaskier agrees. “Mildly terrifying when you’re bound hand and foot and being threatened at knifepoint by a very angry bunch of elves.” He leans back on his palms. “They thought me a spy. The woman with the knife smashed my lute, and I was very upset.”

“Seems to be a bit of a theme,” Geralt says, amused.

“What does everyone have against me? Or my lute?” The corner of Geralt’s mouth climbs and Jaskier holds a finger out. “No, don’t answer that.” The ink is dull in the lantern life, dry now, and Geralt folds the book closed. They’re getting close, now. He doesn’t like thinking about it, so instead, he thinks about Jaskier’s story. “I insisted that I wasn’t a spy, they argued, forcefully, I might add, with their fists. It took me some time, but I convinced them with my beautiful voice.”

Geralt raises an eyebrow. “You sang your way out of trouble?” It sounds more like a tall tale than anything. A good story, but a half truth.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s true! I started singing, and they realized that it wasn’t a cover. Or maybe I just looked rather pathetic.” Jaskier laughs and touches his nose, like remembering an old wound. “Either way, Filavandrel ordered me freed. I admit, it certainly changed my estimation of the elves.”

“Hmm,” Geralt says.

“Just like you,” Jaskier says, earnestly. The words send a creeping warmth through his chest. “Maybe I just need a touch of death to really learn my lesson.” His gaze on Geralt is heavy and sad. “Anyway! I was on my way out of certain danger, and the woman with the knife handed me her lute! As an apology, she said.” His eyes slide shut, his smile turns dreamy. “And oh, that lute, she was beautiful. I’ve never played such a gorgeous instrument in my life. She served me well. Ah, up until my unfortunate end with the grave hag.”

“Mmm.” Thoughtlessly, Geralt rubs his thumb across the leather cover of the book in his lap. “But your story isn’t over yet.”

Jaskier straightens again, and he folds his hands in his lap. “I suppose not,” he says slowly. “And it’s up to us to make it one hell of a finale.”

“Let you in on a secret,” Geralt says, and Jaskier leans in. “I like a good happy ending.”

Jaskier’s grin is blinding. “Who doesn’t?” he says, and Geralt’s heart stutters behind his ribs. He’s going to miss that smile.

 

 

-

 

 

1255 - TWO WEEKS BEFORE MIDAËTE

“Are you planning on turning that thing in?” Jaskier asks. He gestures at the severed head of the nekker warrior gathering flies next to them in the warm, early summer sun.

“I will,” Geralt says, but he makes no move to do so. It’s still fresh, so the only scent is blood and the grubby, earthy scent still clinging to the little beast’s skin. Nekkers aren’t lucrative contracts, and he’s already cleared the nest, so he’s in no rush to cash in. It won’t make or break their week.

“Charming,” Jaskier says dryly. He’s settled further away from the trophy, his legs folded beneath him, his hands cradled around that invisible lute. There’s something appealing about watching him like that, long fingers moving over invisible frets, humming the notes. “Did you get that?”

“Mmm.” Geralt fans a hand over the wet ink in the notebook in front of him. They’re in the last pages now, but the tune they’ve been working on is turning into a real ballad. He’s doing his best not to think about it, but his mind keeps circling back to it. In two weeks, the competition at Four Maples will commence, and in two weeks, Jaskier will be at peace.

It’s a good thing, he reminds himself. This is what they’re working for.

It still aches.

The song is shaping into something he never expected. Geralt doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with bards, but he’d expected some yarn about a Witcher on the Path, something grisly, or maybe bawdy, meant to appeal. But the song that Jaskier sings to him is something softer, sadder, sweeter. A love song. “I thought you were writing a song about me?” Geralt says.

Jaskier sucks in one long, phantom breath. “I am,” he says, and thought it takes him a moment to raise his eyes to meet Geralt’s, when they do, his gaze is even and wary.

Geralt swallows. He’s so used to holding his cards close to his chest that this feeling of being laid bare is shocking. He doesn’t like feeling vulnerable, especially when there’s no good outcome. There’s no way that this conversation ends without pain. But he’s a Witcher. He was made to withstand pain.

“What are we doing?” he asks.

“I don’t know.” Jaskier laughs a little, and he looks more tired than Geralt has ever seen him. “This is - it’s mad, it’s something out of a story.”

“A song,” Geralt corrects, and Jaskier laughs again.

“Yes,” he says. “A song.” He pushes his face into his hands for a moment, and Geralt watches the rise and fall of his shoulders. “What will you do?” His voice is muffled against his palms. “When I’m gone.”

It’s worse, when Jaskier asks. There’s a strange, foreign part of Geralt that makes him want to make wild promises. He wants to say that he’ll remember him forever, that he’d walk the Continent to find him again. But Geralt doesn’t like empty promises. He doesn’t like to say things he can’t guarantee. So he shakes his head. “Go back to the Path,” he says, just like he told Eskel. It feels as hollow in the repeating. His hand slides into his pocket and curls around the dandelion charm.

Jaskier lifts his head. “Just like that?”

Geralt shrugs. “Gotta keep moving.” It’s the only thing he can think of. Geralt’s throat is tight and he swallows. “Witchers live long lives. Would you want me to stop?”

“I don’t know,” Jaskier says again. “No. Shit.”

“Yeah,” Geralt agrees.

Jaskier tips up his chin, his eyes bright and wet. “I wish I’d met you sooner,” he says, voice wavering.

“So do I,” Geralt says. His voice comes out hoarse and his knuckles are starting to ache from where they grip the dandelion charm in his lap. “I didn’t think I’d ever want a bard on the road with me.”

“A ghost,” Jaskier corrects.

“A man,” Geralt counters.

Jaskier sucks in a shuddery breath, the sound whispery in the warm summer air, and he stares at Geralt, eyes shining. Geralt holds his gaze for as long as he can, before he has to look away.

They’ve got two weeks left.

 

 

-

 

 

1255 - MIDAËTE

It’s a beautiful day, Four Maples is noisy and crowded, and Geralt hates it. Though Jaskier is pressed to his side, cool, silent and invisible, Geralt sees him in everyone around him. It’s the bright colours, the lively smiles. It makes Geralt wish again for things he cannot have.

The little leather notebook weighs heavy in his breast pocket. The song is finished, and the day is here. Geralt is already worn thin by all of this.

“I’m trembling,” Jaskier murmurs. “Gods, shouldn’t I be more excited about this?”

He should be. They both should be. It’s what they’ve been working for, since the moment Geralt found him. Isn’t it? No matter how hard Geralt tries, he always seems to get too involved in his jobs, and this has to be the worst yet. He’s spent the past two weeks looking for too long at Jaskier, like he’s trying to memorize him, imprint him in his head. It’s all a bit fruitless, though. There’s not a lot that could make him forget Jaskier’s long elegant fingers, his easy smile, his bright eyes. The dandelion charm now hangs around his neck, under his armour. Over his heart.

Talking about it just makes it harder, so Geralt changes the subject. “You said you have someone in mind?” Geralt asks.

“I have a few ideas,” Jaskier says. “Must be picky, you know. A lot of bards would just take such a perfect song and claim it for their own, and that would just defeat the whole purpose of this.” Not the end of the world, but as much as Geralt would rather keep Jaskier at his side, he’d never do it at the cost of Jaskier’s memory. “Like, say, him. Damn. The name escapes me. Lovely cock, though.”

“Melitele’s tits,” Geralt grumbles. He feels a hot rush of envy, at the idea that someone else got the chance that he never would.

“I don’t even think I knew it when he was ploughing me. Forgettable man, honestly.” There’s a flicker of movement in Geralt’s peripherals and for a split second, he gets a glimpse of Jaskier’s eyes, sly, amused. He shakes his head.

They move through the crowd, a buffer of space around Geralt that he is, for once, grateful for. The town is not large, and in the square, a wide stage has been set up. A tall, thin man is serenading the throng, a cap with the silliest, most enormous father in it that Geralt has ever seen. “Valdo Marx,” Jaskier hisses.

“Not-so-lovely cock?” Geralt murmurs.

“Like I would lay a single finger on that scrawny, libelous fuck.”

The corners of Geralt’s mouth curl up as he watches the bard on stage. He’s got a fine enough voice, though Geralt’s not the expert in this sort of thing. He likes Jaskier’s better. He’s not sure if that’s his bias speaking, however. “Hmm,” Geralt says.

“Alright, it was one time. And then he stole my song.” Marx finishes his ballad with an unnecessary flourish and a smug smile, and Geralt decides he doesn’t like him much.

“So, not Valdo Marx.”

Gods no. Never him. This way!”

Geralt can feel Jaskier, the way he moves away from him, leading him towards the stage and behind. There’s a sort of staging area for the bards who are preparing for their performances. He’s fairly certain he shouldn’t be here, but when a pompous looking man in bright red pantaloons draws himself up to complain, Geralt just directs a glare in his direction and a growl. The man rescinds his complaint and slinks away.

As he trails after Jaskier’s ghostly presence, he feels a little bit like he’s surrounded by a crowd of noisy peacocks. He wades through a sea of gaudy, silky colours, listening to inane vocal warmups, and he feels distinctly out of place. He always feels uncomfortable around large groups of people, mostly because he can smell their discomfort and fear, but this is different. He truly feels like he’s a different species here.

He pushes past a bearded man furiously strumming his lute with an alarming look on his face and finally comes to a young woman on her own. She’s young, maybe a few years younger than Jaskier was, with long blonde hair and a grace to the way she holds her instrument. “Callonetta,” Jaskier murmurs as they approach. “I think - I think we can trust her.”

He’s still invisible as he returns to Geralt’s side. “Do you want to do this?” Geralt asks as he reaches into his jacket for the notebook. “This is your song. Your work. Your legacy.”

The young woman, Callonetta, looks up as he approaches. She looks curious, but unafraid. He already likes her. “No,” Jaskier says after a moment. “I doubt she’ll even see me. Besides, I’m so nervous, I couldn’t bear it. Will you do it?”

Geralt nods infinitesimally. Of course he will. “Pardon me,” Geralt says politely. Around them, a few bards glance at him, trying to discreetly listen in. “Can I have a moment of your time?”

“Didn’t know I had fans of your calibre.” Her voice is rough with a lower class Kovir accent, and she speaks quickly. “D’you want an autograph? Bet it’ll be worth a penny soon enough.” She smiles with the tip of her tongue between her teeth, teasing.

“Uh, no, thank you,” Geralt says. He fumbles with the notebook, looking for the right page. “Got a favour to ask of you.”

Her eyes fall on the page, and her eyes narrow. “A song?” One eyebrow raises. “Witchers write songs? Now I’ve seen everything.”

Geralt feels a prickle of irritation that reminds him of when he first met Jaskier. “It’s not mine,” he says. “It - it was written by a friend. A bard.”

Callonetta makes a skeptical noise in the back of her throat, but she holds out an impatient hand for the notebook anyway. After a moment, Geralt gives it to her. It seems strange to finally be here. The end of the line. She presses a finger to the page, following the line of music, humming under her breath. “Oh,” she says, after a moment. “That’s lovely.” Next to Geralt, Jaskier lets out a little sigh.

“Will you sing it?” Geralt asks.

“Sing - what, now?” She blinks at him. “In the festival, you mean? Melitele’s sweet arse, that’s bold of you.” She frowns. “It’s a charming little song, but I’ve been preparing my own for a month now. Why would I do that?”

“Because he’s dead,” Geralt says, and Callonetta isn’t the only one taken aback by the sharp edge to his voice. “Please. Consider it a final wish I’m trying to fulfill.”

She looks down at the notebook again. “I dunno,” she says uncertainly. “I’m good, but I’m not sure I’m ‘spring a new song on me an hour before I go on’ good.” Her thumb brushes across one of the inked lines on the page, and she glances up at him. “What’d you say your friend’s name was?”

“I didn’t,” Geralt says. “His name was Jaskier.”

At this, Callonetta’s mouth falls open, and her shoulders sag. “Ah,” she says, and she sits down in her rickety little chair with a thump. “Jaskier.”

“You knew him?” Geralt asks. It’s not really a question - he has his answer. It’s a prompt. He wants to hear what she has to say.

“I did,” she says. She slumps, staring sightlessly forward. “We met at a poetry tourney in Ellander. I thought ‘im a bloated narcissistic buffoon.” She smiles faintly, and in his ear, Jaskier makes a soft noise of indignation. “And then he came to congratulate me, when I beat ‘im. I never thought Master Jaskier could be so gracious.”

“I don’t remember her,” Jaskier says, words wistful.

“And you remembered him.”

“Yes,” Callonetta says. Abruptly, she focuses again, swinging her head up to face him. “Yes, I’ll do it. I’ll honour him.”

“And you’ll tell everyone it’s his song. His last song.”

Callonetta stands and narrows her eyes at him. “Course I will. Who d’you think I am?” Geralt throws a sidelong glance over her shoulder, where Valdo Marx is marching into the roped off area, strutting like he’s waiting for applause. She follows his gaze and snorts. “Fuck Valdo Marx.” She takes his hands in hers, and Geralt is startled into letting her, letting her squeeze his fingers in hers. “I’ll make it worthy of him,” she vows, and Geralt nods. He believes her.

She drops his hands and he turns to leave. “On in an hour,” she calls after him. “Don’t think you want to miss it. Isn’t that what you came ‘ere for?”

“I’ll be there,” Geralt promises, and then he pushes past Valdo Marx, his shoulder knocking into Marx’s skinny one, leaving him stumbling and sputtering. It’s worth it, for Jaskier’s low laugh in his ear.

While another bard belts out a song about a lusty faun, they retreat to a tavern with a patio, a safe distance away. From here, the crush of people isn’t so bad, and he can still hear well enough that he knows a human could, too. Namely, a specific dead one.

“What do you think?” Geralt asks. “You think she’ll do it justice?”

Jaskier is silent for a long moment, but Geralt knows he’s sitting next to him. “Yes,” he says finally. “I don’t - I know I’ve heard her sing, and I know she’s got a lovely voice. But -” The details are gone. Another piece of his history, peeled away.

“Then you chose well,” Geralt says. He doesn’t want Jaskier to dwell on it, not right now. Kind of a pivotal moment, honestly. “So. Should I get a Fiorano, to celebrate?”

He catches a flash of Jaskier’s smile. “Oh, please,” he sighs. “I must live vicariously through you now, and it’s been so long. I miss so many pleasures of the flesh.”

“Your wish is my command,” Geralt rumbles, and Jaskier laughs in delight as he waves over a nervous looking server and requests the wine. Seems a small enough concession, and today, this is what they’ve been working towards.

When Callonetta takes the stage, the sun is starting to set, throwing a warm, golden glow across the stage and the crowd. She takes her time settling herself in her seat and fussing with her lute. She’s gathering herself, he realizes. She was more affected by the news of Jaskier’s fate than he’d thought.

Next to him, Jaskier shimmers into sight. His edges are blurry in the warm light.

“This song is an original, though it is not mine. I was passed the last song of Master Jaskier of Oxenfurt, and I think there is no more fitting tribute than to sing it now, among a crowd of his peers.” She strums the first few chords, and Geralt leans in and holds his breath.

The White Wolf walks the wood one night,
His ears are pricked for sounds of trouble,
The Witcher’s blade gleams silver underneath the summer moon.
He’s heard a tale of monsters feral,
Of great beasts and demons in the dark,
The man who stands between us all and certain, toothy doom.

But this night no beast he finds, instead
A maiden with the bluest eyes,
And when she looks upon him there is no fear in her gaze.
‘O Witcher, can you help me? My mother’s
Ill, and I need herbs for her,
But I am lost, and must get back to her,’ she proclaims.

The Witcher bends his head and nods yes,
It wouldn’t do to leave her on her own,
The way she looks back at him sets a fire in his breast.
A Witcher’s known for no emotions,
A monster made to fight the other beasts,
Yet, fearless she regards him, he takes her hand at her behest.

He smells no fear upon her skin,
She smiles at him under the pale moonlight,
They say a Witcher has no heart, but she holds his in her hand.
He asks her, ‘Maid, why don’t you fear me?’
She laughs and says, ‘For you are kind.
The only one to help me this night must be a good man.’

The White Wolf protests, ‘You don’t know me.
You don’t know about my teeth and claws.’
The blue-eyed maiden says, ‘You have a good heart under there.’
Struck silent by her outright faith,
By her grip and easy, pretty smile,
The Witcher knows he’d die for her, so monsters should beware.

He watches the maid faithfully,
His sword drawn against beast and man alike,
None will come upon them and spill their blood in this night,
They return her to her village, and
She turns to press a kiss upon his lips,
One hand laid upon his chest and she smiles so wide and bright.

‘I knew you were a good man,’ she says,
‘Thanks to you, I’ve found my final peace.’
And when she steps away from him, the moon shines through her heart.
‘A ghost,’ he sighs. ‘Yes, and so lonely.
‘But tonight, you saw me and you helped.
‘I’m sad to go, but glad I could meet you ’fore I depart.’

The White Wolf walks his lonely Path,
He still raises his sword against the dark,
His twin blades are his companions, against all of the beasts hostile.
He carries the thought of blue lit eyes,
And he hopes that one day, he’ll retire
And perhaps one will await him with that sweet and easy smile.

The last note of her voice carries over the crowd for one long moment, and then the silence is broken by the roar of the crowd. “Seems it went over well,” Geralt says. His heart is hammering in his chest. He’s rarely felt the fear that he feels now. If he turns to look at Jaskier, what will he see?

“I always knew I could do it,” Jaskier sighs, and Geralt finally risks it, glancing over. He’s still there, translucent, teary eyed. “Ah, it was lovely.”

“How do you feel?” Geralt asks gingerly. He seems much the same, same bright blue jacket, same tousled brown hair, same blue eyes.

Jaskier shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he admits. “Shouldn’t I feel accomplished? At peace?” He holds up his hands to examine them, but though they are still translucent and blurry in the evening light, they are still there. “I’m still here, aren’t I?”

Geralt shouldn’t feel so relieved about that. “Hmm. Seems so.” He’s aware, on some level, of the people around them, the eyes on him, talking to himself, but he ignores it. He’s well-used to being stared at by now. He wishes he could touch Jaskier right now. He needs it.

“Ah, shit.” Jaskier buries his face in his hands, sniffing. “Was it not good enough?”

“Jaskier, look around you. Listen.” Jaskier obeys, raising his head. On the stage, Callonetta is shouting for the crowd’s riotous applause to pause, so she can tell the story of how she met Jaskier. “You know the answer to that.” Jaskier swallows, but he smiles a little to himself.

“So, what now?” he asks.

Callonetta is speaking to uproarious laughter, one hand on her lute, the other gesturing in the air. She’s a good performer. He’ll have to thank her for what she’s done. “Maybe it takes some time. Your song has to get around, right? So we keep going,” Geralt says. “What else?”

Jaskier’s gaze hones in on him the moment he says ‘we’. “Do we? I thought - ” Geralt tips his head and raises an eyebrow. A year ago, maybe he would’ve walked away. He’s never worked a job for this long, much less without any pay. But it’s not a job anymore, is it? It’s more. Jaskier is more. “Well, then.” The smile he gives Geralt is tentative, pleased. “I guess we keep going.”

“You did good,” Geralt says quietly, and he raises his glass of Fiorano in a quick salute. Jaskier bites his lip and stares, watching Geralt’s throat work with every swallow as he drains it down.

 

 

-

 

 

1255 - SAOVINE

He’s seen so many wraiths by now that the sight doesn’t unsettle him, like it probably should. The old house is dark, lit only by the sickly green glow that emanates from her lantern and between its bones. He hadn’t expected to find a penitent in the middle of the city of Ellander, but often the people with the most gold do the most heinous things. There’s a temptation, of course, to leave the man to his reward, but the penitent is trapping any poor soul unfortunate to walk into the house, and that includes the innocent staff as well. That, he won’t stand for.

Geralt sketches the sign for Yrden, casts it at his feet, and waits. The howl of a penitent is accusatory, and though he can’t see a face through the mask it wears, he feels the weight of guilt and dread on his shoulders. This is the part that no one sees, the part less heroic. Maybe he doesn’t bear the fault of what summoned her here, but he certainly has guilt of his own. Tightness creeps into his chest and he grits his teeth, sucking in a heavy breath.

The penitent screams its indignation, and Geralt spins his silver sword in his hand, waiting. It’s like any other wraith, he thinks, and he takes another breath, smelling the oil on his blade and the cold of the air, swirling around its rotting form. He can do it. He’s done this before. The wraith vanishes in a cloud of bitter fog, and he lifts his chin to listen to its movements, waiting for her next attack. He hears nothing but the whisper of ‘butcher’. It sets his hair on end, despite himself.

In the dark ahead of him, something shifts. He can just barely make out Jaskier’s form, wide-eyed, watching him. He doesn’t say anything, but the sharpness of his gaze cuts through the guilt, letting Geralt breathe again. It gives him the room he needs to hear the air around the penitent move as it lunges at him from behind.

He spins to stop the swing of its blade as it lashes out from behind him, clanging off the metal of his sword. “Butcher,” it hisses again, and Geralt has to will himself not to flinch. He dodges backwards, luring it into the trap of his Yrden, and it's slowed, the magic of the sign clinging to its body and leaving it just where he needs it.

Geralt takes advantage of the opening to slash at the penitent. He needs to keep its attention while his employer, a charming noble with a penchant for hiring whores who never even made it to the bedroom, searched for his stash of ‘trophies’. The penitent shrieks as his silver blade opens a broad wound across its chest, and its form flickers, attempting to shift into mist. It fails, and Geralt falls upon it, relentless.

By the time the wraith has rattled into its final death, its lantern and blade clattering against the floorboards, Geralt is sweating, his chest heaving. He stands, shivering, as the dread slides slowly from his shoulders. This is only the second penitent he’s faced, and he’s still not used to it, the guilt that settles heavily in his bones. “Geralt?” Jaskier murmurs, and Geralt nods, lifting his sword to wipe the last of the spectre oil from the blade and sheath it. He’ll be fine. He just needs to shake off the memory of its voice.

As he gathers up the ashes the wraith left behind, he hears the rattle of footsteps down the stairs. “I’ve got it!” the noble crows, holding up his hands. Cheap jewelry hangs from his fingers, shiny and tawdry. Geralt narrows his eyes. He hates this man. “I’ve got it! Now what?”

“Penitent’s dead,” Geralt says. “So you pay me.” He doesn’t look up at the man, focuses instead on the job at hand. The ashes glitter, a sure sign of valuable gem dust mixed in with the monster’s remains. He gathers it all to be sifted through later. “Now.”

The noble is a lanky middle-aged man, who could have been handsome, were he not so smug, and also a piece of shit. “Now? But -”

Geralt shakes his head and straightens. “Now. Or I don’t tell you how to prevent it from coming back.” He pockets the ashes, crosses his arms over his chest, and waits. It will come back, he knows. The immediacy of the guilt is gone, but it lingers, making the air in the room heavy. What makes you so different from him? whispers at the back of Geralt’s mind and he shakes his head again, ignoring it.

“Bloody Witchers,” the noble spits, wrestling a bag of gold out of his pockets. “It’s all about the bottom line with you monsters.”

Geralt snatches the bag out of the air and pockets it neatly. “Sure,” he says. “Follow me.” He leads the man, his hands still laden with the cheap jewelry, to the front door, and he throws it open. “After you.”

Waiting in front of the manor is several members of the Ellander guard. “What is this?” the noble blusters.

“Well, well, well,” the guard captain drawls. He tips his head back, taking in the sight of the noble and his trophies, and he nods at Geralt. “Seems our Witcher friend was right after all.” He saunters up to the noble. “You been killing whores, your Grace? Naughty naughty.”

“You can’t possibly -” the noble snaps.

“Your coin, Witcher,” the captain calls, and Geralt catches the second bag of gold with ease. “Prince Herevard thanks you for your service. We been looking for a way to rid ourselves of this pest for a while. This’ll do.”

“They were just whores,” the noble wails, though there must be a part of him that’s guilty. After all, he’s the one who drew the penitent here. A small comfort for the women and men whose lives he ended, however.

“Ain’t nobody going in a haunted house, Witcher,” the captain says. “Why don’t you have a nice luxurious rest, eh?” It’s a ploy to piss off the nobleman, but Geralt thinks it’s not that bad an idea. He’s had a spate of bad luck, a string of weeks without any inn willing to accept a Witcher. It’d be nice to sleep in a real bed, and a fancy one at that.

The noble, fighting feebly as he’s manhandled into a pair of cuffs, gasps. “That’s my house,” he says,

Geralt inclines his head. “Gentlemen,” he says, and then he closes the door on them. He hates politics as a rule, but when it gets a monster off the streets, he’ll allow it.

As he turns back, he sees Jaskier, grinning at him. “A vengeful ghost,” he says, dragging his toe through the dust left behind by the monster on the floor. “And a horrible man gets his just desserts. A perfect Saovine tale.” Geralt doesn’t answer, his eyes fixed on the floor, and Jaskier’s feet. There’s a trail through the dust, where Jaskier’s toe was. “Geralt?”

“Saovine,” Geralt breathes, realizing. A year ago tonight, he’d been bleeding out in a cave beside the body of a basilisk. A year ago, Jaskier gave him a potion. Slowly, hesitantly, he reaches out.

Jaskier’s breath stutters loudly in the empty house as Geralt’s hand curls around his jaw, his thumb tracing the line of his cheekbone. “What is this?” Jaskier whispers, turning his face into the touch like a cat, stepping in towards him. “Geralt?”

“Saovine,” Geralt says again. Jaskier’s skin is cool under his, but he can feel him. He’s incredibly aware of how Jaskier hasn’t been touched in over a year. He wants to make sure he treats him right. “One night a year when the spaces between worlds is thin.”

Jaskier’s hands flutter for a moment before they settle on Geralt’s hips. “Oh,” he says, and then, without breaking eye contact, he twists to press his lips against the palm of Geralt’s hand. “So this…?”

“We have one night,” Geralt says.

When Jaskier pulls him down into a kiss, a real kiss, it’s nothing like what Geralt expected. It’s a lot easier to believe the stories about Jaskier’s conquests when he’s deftly parting Geralt’s lips under his, cool skin and tongue leaving him breathless, head spinning. “I’m going to make it worth it,” Jaskier vows.

Jaskier’s the one who’s been dead for over a year, but Geralt feels out of his depth, one hand still cupped around the back of Jaskier’s skull, the other pressed flat over his heart. It doesn’t beat, but that’s okay, because Jaskier is kissing him like he needs it to breathe, like he’s trying to crawl right under his skin. “Jaskier,” Geralt murmurs, and Jaskier’s throat works, his eyes wide. “I don’t want to fuck in wraith dust.”

“Fair enough,” Jaskier laughs, and then he takes Geralt’s hand. He holds it between them, marveling at the way they fit together. “Melitele’s sweet arse, I’ve wanted to touch you since the day I met you.”

Geralt lets Jaskier pull him up the stairs. It’s hard not to catalogue the details of Jaskier’s body, now that touching him is an option. They’re almost of a height, he notices as they pause at the top of the stairs, and Jaskier’s certainly not a small man. “Since the day we met?” Geralt says, and he raises an eyebrow.

“Well. Maybe not the day, but. A very long time.” The way Jaskier looks at him now is hungry, disbelieving. This is a window they never thought they’d get. It’s been a long time since Geralt was with someone he didn’t pay for it, since he was with someone who truly made him feel like they wanted it. Geralt’s trying to move them towards the nearest bedroom but Jaskier is making it difficult, dragging his cool mouth down the line of Geralt’s neck and biting at his throat. “And this arse -” Geralt makes a startled sound in the back of his throat as Jaskier grabs a healthy handful and grins at him. “It doesn’t disappoint.”

“Hmm,” Geralt says, heat rushing south. “Thank the Gods for that.” He slides a hand into Jaskier’s hair and Jaskier lets him, lets him pull his head back and nip at the hinge of his jaw. It’s - strange. Geralt’s used to reading the body of his partner, listening to their heart, feeling for the pattern of blood, rushing to their skin. This is different, in the best way. It’s Jaskier, after all.

“No, thank you,” Jaskier teases, and he pulls him through the first door they find. It’s not the master bedroom, which, frankly, is a bit of a relief, considering the owner’s propensities, but the bed is still wide and soft looking. “Now. Satisfied?”

Geralt levels his gaze at Jaskier, and watches him shiver pleasingly. “Not nearly yet,” he says.

“Gods,” Jaskier groans, and he throws himself at Geralt, catching him in another of those bone-searing kisses. He steers them backwards, his hands scrabbling at Geralt’s belt. “This fucking armour,” he mutters, frowning, and Geralt laughs, helping Jaskier undress him.

Witchers, as a rule, aren’t shy. There’s only so much privacy in a busy school of monster hunters. This, however, oh. The heat of Jaskier’s gaze, the cool hands he skates across the flexing muscle of Geralt’s belly, it all transpires to make Geralt’s breath come short, his hands unsteady. He wants to touch, so badly. So he does.

He sits down on the bed and pulls Jaskier forward into the bracket of his knees, sliding his palms up under Jaskier’s soft chemise. Jaskier shudders, gripping at Geralt’s shoulders. “Oh, gods,” he murmurs. “I feel like my skin is on fire.”

“Let me help with that,” Geralt says. He smooths his hands down Jaskier’s arms, and then up his belly, pushing his shirt up with it. His skin is cool and unmarked, and Geralt is seized with the desire to follow the trail of hair from his throat to his pelvis. “Get these off.”

There’s a look of wonder on Jaskier’s face as he shrugs out of his jacket and chemise. “I’ve worn these clothes for over a year,” he says, and Geralt bends in close to mouth at his collarbone, soothing the tension he finds there. “I hope I don’t smell.”

“You don’t smell of anything,” Geralt says, and Jaskier’s face falls a little.

“Truly a ghost,” Jaskier sighs, his arms resting on Geralt’s shoulders, and Geralt tugs him in again. The press of their skin together makes Geralt’s head spin. He can’t remember the last time he got to be with someone like this and just touch.

“Hmm.” Geralt noses at his chest, bites at his nipple just to hear him yelp. “But I can feel you.”

Jaskier laughs, pulling at Geralt’s hair until he groans just a little, and Jaskier’s eyes go dark at the sound. “Yes, that is the highlight of the night.”

“No,” Geralt says, and he kisses Jaskier’s throat again. “I always can. Can always feel you near.” He doesn’t know how to put it in words, the sense of Jaskier’s presence, cold and constant, or the comfort he gets from that.

“Oh,” Jaskier says, and his eyes go soft and open. “Like I can find you.” There’s a hopefulness in his expression that Geralt feels reflected in his bones. Maybe it means something, maybe this isn’t the only night they can have together. “Oh, Geralt.” He clambers into Geralt’s lap, his lips on his insistent and heated.

The two of them fall back into the plush bed, Geralt doing his best to peel down his pants despite Jaskier’s hands being absolutely everywhere. He just wants to touch Jaskier, to feel the shift of Jaskier’s ribs under his hands, the way his hips flex and grind against him. He’s hard, and so is Jaskier, but neither of them are particularly focused on doing anything about it. Instead, Jaskier makes a happy sound and flattens himself against Geralt’s body, burying his face in Geralt’s throat. It makes Geralt shudder and groan beneath him.

“Ooh, yes,” Jaskier says, pleased. He sits back on Geralt’s hips, and Geralt gets a full view of his lean muscle and eager smile. “Let’s see if we can’t get you to make that sound again.” He shimmies out of his trousers, grimacing as he stumbles when he gets one foot caught, but eventually, he’s bare. “Now you,” he demands, and he yanks at Geralt’s belt in return.

Once they’re both naked, Jaskier throws himself back into the bed, half on top of Geralt’s chest. “Gods,” he says. “Look at you.” Jaskier doesn’t flinch from touching Geralt’s scars, nor does he linger on them, and that knowledge makes Geralt’s chest tighten. He takes them as they are, just another part of Geralt’s body. “You carry so much strength in you.”

He’s not the only one. He doesn’t know that he’d be able to keep going the way that Jaskier has, knowing that he’s a shade of his former self, that he doesn’t know when this will end. He doesn’t really know how to say that and make Jaskier understand, so he settles for sliding his hand up Jaskier’s flank and pulling him in close.

Kissing Jaskier doesn’t get old. Geralt takes note of the way that he gasps when Geralt uses his teeth, and the way that he digs his nails in just to hear Geralt suck in a breath. Geralt is fairly certain he could spend the whole night like this, Jaskier sprawled across Geralt’s chest, his fingers curled into the chain of his medallion. Jaskier has a thigh wedged between Geralt’s, his cock half hard and pressed against the line of Geralt’s hips, and when he pulls away, his hand is cool as it slides to flatten against his belly. “I never thought -”

“No,” Geralt says immediately. He cups Jaskier’s face in his hand, fixes his gaze on his. “Tonight is us. Just us.” No thinking about the future, about how when morning dawns, his fingers will pass right through Jaskier once again. Or how neither of them know how long they have together ultimately.

“Alright,” Jaskier says, and his eyes are so fond it makes Geralt’s heart ache. “Just us.” He cards a hand through Geralt’s hair and kisses him again. It’s so head-spinningly good that Geralt almost misses the fingers trailing down his body to brush feather-light against his cock. “I can work with that.”

Geralt jerks when Jaskier curls his hand around his cock, not tight enough for any real friction, teasing and light. Like he’s trying to map out his body, learn what makes him tick. “There,” Geralt mutters, and he can feel himself stirring to full hardness as Jaskier skates his thumb across the head of his cock.

“Oh, yes,” Jaskier purrs, pleased, and he tips his chin down to watch the way his hand works Geralt. This is the only time Geralt flushes, as his blood stirs and the heat builds in his gut, familiar and not. He pushes his cheek against the top of Jaskier’s head and his hips thrust up almost against his volition, seeking the friction of Jaskier’s palm. “Let me look after you, hmm?”

Geralt’s in over his head, but he nods, and Jaskier’s smile is affectionate and heated. He shifts so he’s hovering above Geralt, seated on his thighs, pinning him down. Geralt could shake him off if he wanted, but he doesn’t. He likes how Jaskier touches him, one hand teasing Geralt’s nipple while the other jerks him off. He pulls away for a moment, and the way that Geralt whines surprises them both. “Don’t worry,” Jaskier says. “I just want to make this more fun for you.”

He stands, and Geralt takes advantage of the moment to admire his body, all lean muscle and long legs. It’s certainly a nice sight. Geralt watches Jaskier hesitate for a heartbeat before he reaches for the vanity, to rifle through the things left there. Not used to being able to touch what he wants, Geralt thinks. “Here,” Jaskier says, and he tosses Geralt a small bottle. “Will that do?”

It takes Geralt a moment to realize - Jaskier can’t smell. He can’t tell what everything is. He pops the stopper on the vial and immediately flinches. “Shit. No. Absolutely not. Cleaner of some kind.” He closes it up and drops it on the floor. He should be more conscientious, maybe, but the man who owned this house was a monster. He didn’t feel guilty.

“Alright,” Jaskier laughs. “And this?”

The next bottle is considerably more fancy, and heavier too. Geralt flicks it open to smell - “Chamomile,” he says. He spills a little on his fingers, and the consistency is pleasingly slick. “Yeah. This will do.”

“Perfect,” Jaskier says, and he turns back. He pauses when he takes in how Geralt is looking up at him, frankly appreciative and hungry. “Oh,” he says, breathless even though he needs no air. “So you like what you see.”

Geralt doesn’t sit up, he just holds his hands out to Jaskier. “Yes,” he says fiercely, and Jaskier lets out a delighted laugh and hurls himself into Geralt’s embrace.

Jaskier’s body is cool against him, a strange contrast, but Gods, if Geralt doesn’t crave it, pulling his knees up to bracket Jaskier’s hips against his. “Mmm, better,” Jaskier sighs, and he grinds down just a little, nosing up at Geralt’s jaw until Geralt tips his head down so they can kiss again. Geralt catches the scent of chamomile in the air and then Jaskier’s hand is around his cock again, cool and slick. He hears him laugh. “What?” Geralt asks, bemused.

“Now this is a lovely cock,” Jaskier says, and his voice is low and a little rough. It makes Geralt’s prick jerk in Jaskier’s hand. “I’d love to get better acquainted.” There’s something about the pace he sets, easy, unhurried, that sets the heat building in Geralt’s gut. Jaskier’s hard too - his cock juts against the crease of Geralt’s thigh, but he just sighs when Geralt shifts his weight against him, gives him something to thrust against.

He’s the one who set the rules - no thinking about tomorrow - but a part of Geralt mourns the fact that the clock is ticking. He wants to learn what makes Jaskier burn, take his time taking him apart slow as anything, but they only have so much time. “So,” Jaskier murmurs. “Do those Witcher mutations apply to stamina?” His mouth is cool and wet against Geralt’s throat.

“Among other things,” Geralt tells him, and Jaskier lets out a pleased noise as he nips at Geralt’s skin.

“Perfect,” Jaskier says. “Let’s test that, shall we?”

Smoothing one hand down the dip of Jaskier’s spine, Geralt holds out the other to him, and Jaskier offers him a splash of oil with a smile. Geralt likes being the subject of Jaskier’s undivided attention, and he loves the heated way he watches the head of Geralt’s cock push through the circle of his fingers. Still, he wants to touch too.

He rubs his fingers together and then wriggles his hand between them, curling around Jaskier’s prick. Jaskier hums approvingly, shifting himself so that their bodies line up, his cock a cool, slick line against Geralt’s. Like this, Geralt can wrap his hand around the both of them, but Jaskier bats his fingers away. “I’m not a Witcher,” he chides, and his smile turns wry. “And I don’t know how the whole ‘dead’ thing works with this. I’d rather not blow it early, so to speak.”

Geralt allows it, lets Jaskier content himself with what little contact he gets from his cock sliding across his own knuckles. “Oh?” he says.

“No,” Jaskier says firmly, and he speeds up, eyes fixed on Geralt’s face as Geralt swallows, trying to keep his composure as the pleasure mounts in him. “I’m going to watch you come, and then I’m going to fuck you and make you feel it tomorrow. Something to remember me by.”

Geralt would scold him for breaking the rules, but the words have him bucking up into Jaskier’s hand. He wants that so badly, something to carry with him. “Yeah,” he groans, and Jaskier laughs again, kissing him messily. Geralt’s too overwhelmed, trying to pull Jaskier closer, to really kiss back, but he loves it. There’s something so intimate about being able to feel the curl of Jaskier’s smile against his lips.

“So, no complaints, then?” Jaskier teases, and he nudges Geralt’s legs further apart, one hand sliding lower.

“None,” Geralt growls, and he shifts his weight, his legs falling open to give Jaskier access. This too, is familiar and not - he’s not used to being vulnerable with the people he sleeps with, not like this. But Jaskier makes it easy.

He pushes two fingers into Geralt and Geralt gasps, back arching as pleasure down his spine. He’s good at this, Geralt thinks dimly. Jaskier’s skilled at reading him, at watching for the way that his thumb across the head of Geralt’s cock makes him jerk and curse. “I wish you could see yourself,” Jaskier says, curling his fingers forward until he finds it, the spot that makes Geralt shout. His other hand is busy dragging his nails down Geralt’s chest, the edge of pain making it more intense. “This is better than I could have ever imagined.”

Geralt is so hard it aches, torn between arching up into Jaskier’s hand on his cock and the perfect stretch of his fingers in his ass. “You do much imagining?” he grunts.

When he manages to crack open an eye, Jaskier is smirking at him. “Oh yes,” he says, and he punctuates it with a vicious twist of his fist. Geralt chokes out a groan, startled at how close to the edge he already is. He’d feel embarrassed, but Jaskier just looks so pleased, delighted at the response of Geralt’s body to his. “And this is better.” His slick hand cups Geralt’s pec and squeezes, palm sliding over his nipple. Geralt grips Jaskier’s hips and pulls him closer, fucking down against the third finger Jaskier adds. Gods, it’s perfect, the stretch making him strain and groan. He’s so close. He tips his chin down and Jaskier finds him, his mouth cool and sweet when he kisses him, and that’s what pulls Geralt over the brink. He comes hard, curling forward against Jaskier as his hips jerk helplessly.

He shivers when Jaskier pulls his fingers out, groaning at the oversensitivity. “Lovely,” Jaskier tells him, smiling against Geralt’s mouth. He goes to move away but Geralt holds him close, refusing to let him go just yet. “Oh?” Jaskier kisses him again. “Who thought the Witcher would be so greedy for kisses.”

“Only yours,” Geralt growls, and Jaskier makes the most pleased noise, licking the spend from his fingers before he kisses Geralt back in earnest. It’s the strangest combination of sensations: too sensitive for the press of Jaskier’s hips just yet, the cool of Jaskier’s body and lips. Jaskier’s ribs rise under his hands, and Geralt’s struck by a sudden pang of loss. One night is all they’ll have, and he’s already thinking about missing this, the way that Jaskier’s mouth feels on his.

But it’s not any different from anything in Geralt’s life. He spends his winters with his brothers so that he can make it through everything else in the rest of the year, the spitting, the shouting, the name-calling. Geralt’s very good at taking the good things he gets and holding them close to his chest for when he needs it, to get by.

“Mmm, you weren’t joking, were you?” Jaskier says approvingly. Geralt’s still hard, his heart still pounding behind his ribs. He wants this. “Seems there are a few perks to those Witcher mutations.” Jaskier is kind enough not to touch Geralt’s cock, but he does sit up, urging Geralt with him. Geralt ends up in Jaskier’s lap, thighs spread around his waist and his arms over his shoulder. “There we go,” Jaskier says. Geralt can feel the sticky wet tip of his cock nudge against the cleft of his ass. He wants this.

Jaskier slides his hands up Geralt’s spine, holding him steady as he mouths at his chest, his nipples, teasing, wet, and biting. He’s taking his time, but Geralt is ready. He lifts up on his knees, reaches behind him to position Jaskier’s prick, and then sinks down. “Gods, Geralt,” Jaskier gasps, startled, and his fingers dig into Geralt’s shoulders as Geralt groans. It’s been a while since he took a cock, and Jaskier’s stretches him perfectly. This close to his orgasm, it’s just on the right side of too much.

“Geralt,” Jaskier says again, desperately, and Geralt cups his face in his hands, kissing him again even as he works his way down Jaskier’s cock, swallowing the little noises Jaskier makes. The brush of Geralt’s prick against Jaskier’s belly makes him shiver, but he’s got no inclination to pull away. He wants nothing but this skin on skin, the cool press of Jaskier’s chest against his, the minute jerks of Jaskier’s cock into him. It’s fucking perfect.

“Okay?” Geralt rumbles, and Jaskier laughs hoarsely, his thumbs pressing against the line of Geralt’s hips.

“More than okay,” Jaskier says. Watching Geralt’s face, he fucks up into him for real, a smile spreading across his lips as Geralt hisses, throwing his head back and riding out the wave of pleasure. Jaskier takes it as his cue, urging Geralt to ride his cock, his hips snapping up to meet him with a resounding slap each time. Geralt’s starting to ache, in that incredible, bonedeep kind of way that means he’ll remember it. And he wants to. Jaskier promised he’d feel it, and he wants to.

As he bends to kiss Jaskier again, he can feel Jaskier beginning to tremble beneath him, his thrusts getting erratic. “Gods, Geralt, you feel so - I can’t last much longer.” He pulls himself away to pant against Geralt’s chest, breath cool and his cock still hard and thick inside Geralt.

“So don’t,” Geralt says. He threads a hand through Jaskier’s hair, pulls a little. He listens to Jaskier sob as he grips Geralt’s hips painfully hard and pulls him down once, twice, and comes. Geralt can feel it, strangely cool and it floods him, and as Jaskier gasps for breath against him he jerks off, desperate, fast, not teasing.

He follows Jaskier after a moment, Jaskier hissing as Geralt clenches around him. Geralt’s head is spinning, and he struggles to slow his heart and catch his breath, still gripping Jaskier tight. “Worth the wait,” Geralt mumbles, shivering through the aftershocks, feeling Jaskier’s come leak wetly down between his legs.

“Hmm?” Jaskier asks, petting mindlessly at Geralt’s flanks and thighs.

“You were worth the wait.”

Jaskier stares up at him, eyes shining, and then he sighs and pulls Geralt down to kiss him. It’s deep and fierce and wanting, and Geralt kisses back, pretending that it’s not the only time they’ll get to touch each other.

In the morning, when the sun’s light creeps across the bedsheets and Jaskier is translucent once more, they stare at each other, saying nothing.

 

 

-

 

 

1255 - MIDINVÁERNE

It’s colder than the usual winter in Kaer Morhen this year.

The snow set in early, and it means that all of them have to pitch in with hunting before the drifts get too deep and what little game there is in the mountains head to hibernate. Geralt spends most of his first month in the fortress heading out as soon as the sun is up with either Eskel or Lambert to check the traps. Once the pass closes, they pull back to Kaer Morhen, focusing on preserving the food they do have and repairing the fortress itself.

Jaskier seems - quiet, almost. Last winter, Jaskier had reveled in being visible, in talking to someone other than Geralt, and had pestered Eskel for embarrassing stories about Geralt’s childhood. Lambert bristled at his presence, but Vesemir had always liked to hear himself talk, and he’d indulged Jaskier with stories of his long time on the Path. It’d been...nice, to see Jaskier in his space, in his home.

This year, though, Jaskier is distant. He drifts from room to room, like a real ghost, humming to himself. It’s harder now, to be around him. Geralt looks at him and he thinks about the way his mouth feels against his, the way that his ribs shift beneath his hands. Geralt knows what it’s like to touch him, and it makes him ache. If he’s lucky, he’ll have to wait an entire year to do it again. If he’s not, it’s all he’ll ever have.

It would almost make him laugh, if it didn’t make his chest tight. Just like everything else in his life, the good things come at the worst times, and they never last. Gods, he wishes this one would.

The morning is cold, but Jaskier is a bright blue splash sitting in the snow in the courtyard. He glances at Geralt as he approaches, smiling wanly. “I thought you went fishing with Lambert.”

Geralt snorts. “Nah,” he says. “I’d rather not have a headache today.” From down in the courtyard, you can’t see the vista of the mountains, but the sky is clear and bright. “Beautiful day,” Geralt says. “Reminds me of when I was training.” When the older Witchers would drag them out of bed as the sun rose, and he and Eskel goaded each other through rough mornings, refusing to let each other give up.

“Hmm,” Jaskier says, and he smiles up at Geralt. “Ever a surprise, you are.” He laughs a little. “Who could have imagined that the White Wolf is a romantic who smiles at the sun?”

“You gave me the name,” Geralt points out, but it’s not a complaint. It certainly doesn’t bear the same sting of ‘Butcher of Blaviken’, though there’s a part of him that embraces that. He has to remember his mistakes. He has to remember the things that he has done. Still, he prefers White Wolf, and he’s not fool enough to deny that part of the reason he does is because Jaskier gave him the name.

“Maybe I’m just rubbing off on you,” Jaskier suggests. His smile turns wistful. “Something to remember me by, I suppose.” His eyes linger on Geralt’s throat, where he’d worn the bruise of Jaskier’s mouth, just until the morning. Just until his body healed. Not the first time Geralt has cursed his mutations.

“You’d let me forget you?” Geralt asks, shaking his head. “Somehow I find that hard to believe.” He’s waiting for Jaskier to stand, to join him, but he doesn’t. He’s not even looking much at Geralt. He just stares aimlessly at the ground. It’s unsettling. “Jaskier.”

“Sorry,” Jaskier says.

Geralt tips his head, crossing his arms over his chest. “You gonna tell me what’s wrong?”

Jaskier hesitates for a long moment, staring down at his hand against the snow. It makes no imprint. He looks up at Geralt. “I don’t remember how I died,” he says. He sounds incredibly weary. “And the more I think, the more I prod at my past, the more holes I discover.” He swallows. “It’s getting worse.”

So, it wasn’t fame. Geralt has had his doubts, as the months stretched since the summer, but the fact is inescapable now. All of their work was for naught, and now they have to start over. “Alright,” Geralt says. “So we fix this.” He wishes he could touch him right now. Jaskier’s a tactile person, it’s obvious from how he spends so much of his time talking with his hands, reaching out with aborted motions when he realizes his fingers will pass right through. He has to imagine it’s hard for him right now.

“How?” Jaskier smiles, shakes his head as it falls from his lips. “I’ve no designs on making amends with my family, and I never had. If I wanted coin, I could’ve just stayed a biddable Viscount’s son.”

“Just leaves love,” Geralt points out.

Jaskier puts his face in his hands. “I don’t have the time,” he says. “And how could someone love me like this? If someone could even see me, all the parts of me that matter are slipping away.” Each word sounds strangled with fear. “It’s - I can’t.”

It’d be easy, Geralt thinks. Jaskier’s charming and kind, persistent and frustrating. He can’t imagine it’d be hard for anyone to fall for that. “I could help,” he says. He licks his lips, begins to speak, but fear stays his tongue. “I could help you with your memories,” he says instead. “I’ve been listening to all of your stories for almost two years. I told you I’d remember for you.”

“That, I remember,” Jaskier says.

“You could try,” Geralt says. He would, if Jaskier asked. It’d be a first for a Witcher to play messenger between a ghost and his lover, but Geralt would. For Jaskier.

“Look at you,” Jaskier says. “There it is, that romantic side.” He doesn’t say yes, though.

The silence stretches between them, and Geralt drops to a squat next to Jaskier. He hates the broken slump of his shoulders, the empty sight of his damp eyes. It reminds him too much of the man he met, days after his death, scared and alone. “Or…”

“Or?” Jaskier asks, meeting Geralt’s gaze.

Geralt’s never been good with words. He swallows. “Or you could start with someone a little closer.”

“Geralt?” Jaskier whispers.

Geralt thinks of what Eskel had told him last year. Sometimes, the risks are worth it. He knows this will hurt in a way he’s never felt before, but he can’t sit and watch Jaskier suffer just because he’s afraid. He’s a Witcher. He knows how to endure. “I think I love you,” he admits.

Jaskier makes a strangled noise, reaching out for Geralt and frowning when his fingers pass through him. “Gods, Geralt,” he gasps, and he’s laughing and wiping at his eyes. “You mean it?”

He does. He knows the truth of it in his bones, behind his ribs, where he’ll carry the memory of their night together until he dies. “I do,” he says. “I love you.” Every inch of him, when he’s talking too much or invading his space, when he’s smiling or scowling. He loves him.

And it makes this agony.

“Oh Geralt,” Jaskier says. “I - no.” It hadn’t taken long. Jaskier’s form is already softening, blurring in the morning light. His fingers, stretched towards Geralt, shift from translucent to just...gone. “No, no, no no nonono,” Jaskier says, jerking backwards. “Not now, this isn’t fair.” He stares up at Geralt, eyes wide and pleading. Geralt wishes he could do something, anything.

“I just wanted you to be free,” Geralt says, and his throat is tight with emotion. More of Jaskier dissolves, melting away against the snow. “Fuck. I’m going to miss you.” It’s easy to be honest when it's your last chance for it.

Jaskier opens his mouth to speak, but then that’s gone too, and all that’s left is his blue eyes. “I love you,” Geralt says again, because it’s all he’s got left, and he watches as the last trace of Jaskier is whisked away with the wind. He can’t sense him anymore. It’s the first time he’s been truly alone in almost two years, and he just feels empty.

Eskel finds him hours later, as he and Vesemir come tromping in after inspecting the mine. “Aren’t you a bit old to be playing in the snow?” Eskel asks, but his smile fades when he takes in the way Geralt stares into nothing, not speaking.

“Jaskier’s gone,” Geralt says.

“And?” Eskel says. “Where’s he gone?” Geralt just glances up at him. “Ah, shit.”

Geralt lets Eskel pull him up, putting a warm arm around his waist. It’s not the temperature that’s making Geralt feel numb right now. “C’mon,” Eskel murmurs. He waves to Vesemir, who nods, moving to put away their horses. “Let’s get you out of the cold.”

Geralt doesn’t have the heart to tell him that the cold’s beneath his ribs, now, and a warm fire won’t do anything about that.

 

 

-

 

 

1256 - IMBAELK

It’s been a long time since Geralt was the first to leave Kaer Morhen. The first clear days they got in the new year, he was gone. Roach had not been pleased, and he did feel guilty, but he’d needed to get the hell out of the fortress. Kaer Morhen itself has felt lonely and desolate since the pogrom emptied its halls, and since Jaskier was gone, it just felt worse.

For their part, his brothers tried to help. Vesemir kept him busy with repairs, but Geralt couldn’t focus on what he was doing. He got wasted one night with Lambert and Eskel, and had to be carried to bed. It didn’t help much. He just woke up to a blinding headache and the awful aftertaste of White Gull on the back of his tongue, and unlike Jaskier, he’s got no problem remembering.

Geralt finally slows his pace in Daevon, and though he doesn’t have much coin with him after the winter, he still heads for the local inn. Roach deserves a bit of pampering after his wild ride down the mountains. The town isn’t large, which is exactly what Geralt wants right now. He ties up Roach outside the door and waves off the stable boy. He’s always preferred to look after her himself, but he’s also not sure if he’ll even be able to stay the night. He doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, and Daevon hasn’t always been kind to him.

It’s early enough in the evening that the tavern itself is fairly empty, and Geralt kicks the snow off his boots before he walks in the door. There’s a broad-shouldered woman behind the bar, drying a glass and eyeballing him with suspicion. Geralt sighs to himself, then straightens his back. He’s not sure how to make himself more non-threatening, but he hopes at least he’s not scowling. “Excuse me,” he says.

“You’re a Witcher, ain’t ye?” she asks, squinting at him.

Geralt braces himself. He really wanted to get Roach looked after tonight. “I am,” he says.

He’s not at all expecting the wide smile that spreads across her face. “Oh, aye, I know ye! You’re the White Wolf!”

Geralt has no idea what to say to that, or even what to think. His chest tightens, and it takes him a minute to realize that he’s clenching his fists at his side. “I am Geralt of Rivia,” he says.

The broad woman sweeps out from behind the bar, suddenly friendly. “Aye, we heard the song just a fortnight ago. The lovely Callonetta, it was, and oh, what a delight. Most bards stop in Ard Carraigh, more coin I s’pose.” She places an old key in his hand. “Have ye a horse, then? I’ll have Bravi look after her. He’s a good boy, with an eye for the beasts. It’ll be in good hands.”

Geralt is almost overwhelmed. It’s the most words he’s heard in weeks, since before - it’s the most he’s heard in a very long time. And it’s certainly the first time he’s ever received such a warm welcome, even in a town well used to the presence of Witchers. “I - thank you,” he says formally. “How much do I owe you?”

“I’ll take a few ducats for the night, and I’m sure young Bravi wouldn’t be mad at a few pennies his way.” The woman smiles up at him, and Geralt blinks. That’s a drastically low price. “It’s a slow time of year, Master Witcher. We’re happy for any trade.”

Geralt reaches for his purse and pulls out the amount he had expected to pay. This all feels not quite real. “I wouldn’t want to put you out,” he says, and he drops the coin into her hands. She makes to give some of it back, but he shakes his head. Even if a proprietor is kind, it doesn’t mean the rest of a town will be.

“Oh, no, Master Witcher. It’s no trouble at all.” The door opens behind them and a few men come in. Geralt can feel their eyes upon them, but he doesn’t smell fear. This is strange. “Would ye tell me something, though?” The innkeep leans in close, conspiratorial. “Is it true? Did ye really fall in love with a ghost? It’s such a lovely story.”

Geralt offers her a wan smile to cover up the way her words felt like a punch in the gut. “A man has to have a few secrets the bards don’t know,” he tells her, and she laughs, delighted.

As she turns to serve her new customers, Geralt slips out the door to look after Roach. Bravi, the stable hand, is already feeding her a handful of oats. Geralt watches him for a moment, looking at his steady hands, his confident pose. The woman hadn’t lied: the boy had a deft hand with her. He strokes a hand over Roach’s nose and she huffs and nips at his fingers. She’s still grumpy with him. “What do you think, hmm?” he says quietly. “You want a break from me?”

“She’s a right lovely steed,” the boy tells Geralt, and Roach turns back to him, snuffling at his pockets for more oats. “You’re real lucky, sir.”

Sir. Geralt opens his mouth, and then closes it. “She is. Her name is Roach.” He smiles when the boy looks up at him in surprise, brow twisted in distaste. “You wanna let this gentleman look after you tonight, Roach?” Roach snorts out a breath, nibbling at the ends of Geralt’s hair, then turns away from him, dismissing him. “I guess that’s a yes.” He drops a ducat into the boy’s hand. “She’s had a hard few days. She deserves some pampering.”

Bravi’s eyes go huge as he squirrels away the coin. “Yes sir,” he breaths, and then he takes Roach’s reins and leads her to the stable. Geralt watches them go, then heads back out of the snow into the warmth of the inn.

The room the innkeep directs him to is surprisingly large, and situated above the kitchen, where it will get the most heat. She bids him come down for dinner before she bustles away to look after the rest of her patrons, and Geralt closes the door behind her.

At a loss, Geralt kicks off his boots, pulls off his armour, and sits on the bed. He knows why he got all this. Jaskier. He got his fame after all. He’d promised Geralt, when they’d met. He’d make it worth Geralt’s while. He’d make them love him. Geralt smiles a little, pulls at a thread in the heavy quilt on the bed. He might’ve missed his mark a little on that one. It wasn’t the masses who loved Geralt, but Geralt, who - well.

Geralt swallows and presses the heels of his hands to his eyes. Another gift left behind. He should be grateful, and he is, but - his heart aches and aches and aches.

The pain is getting familiar, now. And Geralt’s a Witcher. He’ll endure. He takes a deep breath. He’ll endure.

 

 

-

 

 

1256 - ONE WEEK BEFORE BIRKE

The streak of good fortune sticks with Geralt through spring and the thaws. He makes his way down through Aedirn, following word of a troll outside of Brokilon, and he ends up in Kernow. He’s never been fond of cities, but this seems a year to avoid them entirely. The more people he’s around, the rawer he feels. He’s weary, in a way that has nothing to do with how far he travels and everything to do with the weight he’s bearing.

He can’t decide if it’s a blessing or a curse that he sees traces of Jaskier everywhere. He’s in the child who steps out from behind her mother’s skirts and asks to see his silver blade. He’s in the alderman who hands over the pouch of coin in payment without hesitation, without haggling. It’s like a wound that just keeps opening, no matter what he does.

He’s spending the evening in a rowdy tavern at the edge of town, bent over a plate of mediocre but hot food, when he hears a nearby table talking. They’re loggers, from the scent of fresh wood on them, and the sawdust on their pants and boots. It’s not uncommon to see non-humans in the mix, especially this close to Brokilon Forest. What’s not common is the conversation they’re having.

“It’s child’s play,” a human says. Geralt doesn’t like his tone, so he glances back and takes note of him: tall, weedy, with a distinctive scar twisting his bottom lip. “There’s been a fire in the north end of the forest. My cousin told me hisself. They’ll all be busy whining about their precious trees up there, and we’ll sneak in the south, quiet as you please, and cut ourselves a fine slice of profit.”

“It’s not a good idea to fuck with the dryads,” a dwarf interjects. Geralt nods. At least one of them has sense.

“If I want a subhuman’s opinion, I’ll ask for it,” the first man snarls, and Geralt’s instinct is confirmed. He takes his time finishing the last of his ale, and sopping up the gravy on his plate with a stale heel of bread.

“We won’t have much time, so we head out tonight.” Geralt swallows the last of his bread and stands, handing his empty plate and a few pennies as a tip to the girl waiting tables. As he turns, he takes in the group at the table. Six humans, three dwarves. Some of the humans bear tattoos he recognizes from local bandit gangs. His unease increases. “If you drag your arse, we’ll leave you behind, and you won’t earn a penny.” For a moment, he could swear he feels a familiar cool presence at his side.

Geralt shoulders his swords and pushes out of the crowded tavern. The humans at the table eye him, but he ignores them. Instead, he nods to the dwarves. Outside, the night is cool, and pleasant. He’s got a room for the night at the inn, and the sun has just set, but that doesn’t stop him from stepping into the stable and gathering his horse.

The night darkens as he rides to Brokilon. He knows he won’t be thanked for what he’s doing. The dryads pride themselves on their independence, and he’s certain that a handful of loggers won’t be much of a challenge for them. But Geralt knows he wouldn’t feel right if he doesn’t warn them. They take care of the trees, and they deserve an early warning.

Roach is well-rested, and they make good time. He dismounts once they cross the Ribbon, and he holds his hand in the air as he leads her forward. It’s a smart precaution. He’s barely left the bank before a flurry of arrows thunk into the muddy ground at his feet. Even to his senses, the dryads in the trees are near invisible, silent, waiting. “My name is Geralt of Rivia. I’m a Witcher. I come with a warning,” he calls. He doesn’t move.

A figure steps out of the trees. “Luck smiles on you, Witcher,” the woman calls, and as she emerges into the moonlight, he recognizes Senna walking towards him. “You always seem to be in the right place at the right time.”

“Senna,” Geralt says warmly. He’s pleased to note that she walks without pain, holds her bow with ease. She’s healed well from her wound. “You look well.”

“Aye. And I’ve you to thank for that,” she says. “Why are you here? And in the middle of the night, no less.” She slings her bow over her shoulder and comes to stand in front of him.

“Got some loggers heading for your south border tomorrow night. Figured I’d give you a head’s up.” She raises an eyebrow, so he continues. “Bunch of humans, a few dwarves. Not even a dozen. Thought you should know.”

Senna clicks her tongue. “You thought we needed protection?” she asks.

“It’s a courtesy,” Geralt sighs.

“You’re a strange one, Witcher.” She looks him up and down. “Not usual for a man to help us out, not without asking for something in return. Thought you were supposed to be neutral.”

Geralt shrugs. “I am neutral,” he says. “I’m on the side of the trees.” It’s not a lie, but it’s not the whole truth, either. Geralt’s always had a soft spot for the non-human. He’s one of them, after all.

Another dryad emerges from the trees behind Senna. “Queen Eithné wishes to speak to you,” she says to Geralt, and Senna’s eyebrows just climb higher. “You will come.” The woman waits expectantly, face expressionless. Her bow isn’t lowered.

There’s a wry twist to Senna’s mouth as she gestures for him to follow. You don’t turn down a summons from the Queen of Brokilon Forest, after all. Geralt thinks of Cintra, and Queen Calanthe. Seems he’s always getting himself tangled into politics and royalty. “I guess I will, then,” he says, and Senna’s smile broadens, amused.

He doesn’t bother to try to track the path into the wood. He knows that Brokilon has a mind of its own, and the dryads won’t take kindly to him gathering any sort of tactical knowledge on them, good intentions or no. As before, the trail is lit with small, ornate lanterns, throwing a soft green light to lead the way. This time, though, it’s not the beasts of Brokilon that he hears around them. If Geralt looks closely, he can see figures watching curiously as they walk. They want to see the Witcher that’s caught Eithné’s attention.

“Where’s your friend?” Senna asks. Geralt’s not expecting it, and he flinches. “Ah. I’m sorry then.” She’s genuine enough about it, which is a kindness, and her face shifts into something thoughtful.

Geralt frowns. “What?” he asks.

She turns away. “Nothing yet,” she says, and Geralt narrows his eyes at her but stays silent. He supposes it’s about time someone was cryptic to him for a change. Still, it nags at him as they walk into the forest. Roach tosses her head as they pick their way down narrow paths, unhappy with the cramped space between the thick-trunked trees. Geralt is an excellent tracker by nature, but when the entire forest is against him, shifting subtly and moving, even he is lost.

They end up in a clearing, this one much more grand than the gathering place he carried Senna to a year ago. There are fewer dryads here than he remembers. Maybe those bandits weren’t far off about that fire. In the centre of the clearing, a woman towers over the others, dark-green-skinned and silver-eyed, She wears a diadem of silver and wood, and she turns when he enters, filmy robes shifting with her movement. “Witcher,” she calls, and the dryads at her side part, eyeing him with suspicion. “Approach.”

Senna holds out her hand for Roach’s reins and reluctantly, Geralt hands them off. He’s had his share of royalty by now, and he knows that it’s easier just to listen. Queen Eithné stands a foot taller than him still, elegant and long-limbed, and she regards him deliberately. “Geralt of Rivia,” she says. Her voice is low. “Twice now you have entered our forest, and you have even convinced one of our own to vouch for you, though we have no use for you. You’ve trespassed on our lands, and we’ve allowed you to live. What do you seek?”

Geralt does his best to swallow his sigh. “I just wanted to help,” he says, because it’s the truth. And because now, more than ever, he wants to be the person Jaskier saw in him. The White Wolf, not the Butcher. “Your Majesty.”

Eithné is silent for a long moment. “And you will,” she says finally, and Geralt squares his shoulders in resignation. Here it comes. “We fight a blaze in the north. Viraxas tries to put his grubby hands on our land once more.” She sneers. “I do not wish to waste good women on petty bandits in the South.”

“You want me to take care of them.” Geralt’s jaw works.

“Yes.”

“I hunt monsters,” Geralt says tiredly. “I don’t go after humans.” He doesn’t want to outright tell a Queen no - in his experience, that tends to go poorly for him.

Queen Eithné waves an impatient hand. “Scare them, kill them, it matters not. Rid us of our pests.” Her tone brooks no space for argument, and the dryads beside her do not look at him charitably.

Still, he’s got to argue. “I’m a Witcher,” he tries. “You know the stories. We don’t work for free.”

The Queen clicks her tongue, eyes narrowing. “A Witcher makes demands upon a Queen?”

“I’ve got an idea,” Senna says suddenly. Before them, Queen Eithné raises an eyebrow, but she gestures for Senna to continue. Geralt turns to look at Senna, frowning. She tips a shoulder. “I owe you a life,” she tells him. “Who says it has to be yours?”

Geralt’s voice is rougher than he intends. “What are you saying?” he asks.

Senna’s hands tighten around Roach’s reins and Geralt’s heart hammers in his chest. “Your ghost friend,” Senna says, and Geralt swallows. “There’s an old ceremony, at the full moon. You can bring someone back.”

The Queen’s expression shifts from disdain to intrigue. “It is true,” she allows. “It is not a certainty, but I have seen it done.”

Geralt’s mouth is dry. “There’s a catch,” he says, because there always is. Nothing so great can come without a price. A small voice at the back of the head tells him that he’d pay almost anything for Jaskier back.

“The spirit must wish to return,” Eithné says. “It cannot be forced, or what comes back will not be what you wish to see.” Geralt thinks of Jaskier’s desperate begging as he’d disappeared, and he hopes. “And your lives are bound together, united. Half your life is exchanged for the spirit’s, and when one dies, the other dies too.”

A small enough cost, and Geralt is living on borrowed time anyway. He’ll never know how long a Witcher could live. He reaches up to touch his fingers to the chain around his neck. “Just scare them,” Senna murmurs. “We want them gone. The how isn’t important.” He twists to look at her, but she just looks back, gaze even.

“Your answer, Witcher?” The Queen asks.

It seems that he’ll have no time to consider the proposition. He dislikes taking a job for humans, but this isn’t some School of the Viper assassination job. He can scare off a bunch of bandits. It’s not that far off from some of his monster contracts, if he thinks about it. And he wants - gods, but he wants. “Alright,” he says finally.

Agreement made, Eithné waves him off again, and the dryads close ranks, effectively pushing him away. Senna hands him Roach’s reins, and Roach bumps her head against Geralt’s shoulder. “Yeah,” he mutters to her. “Me too.” He has to struggle to control the racing of his heart, the wide-open feeling of hope, of possibility. He doesn’t like hoping for things. He’s so often disappointed. Still, right now, he can’t help himself. He just wants it to work.

They head south, to the edge of the forest, and Senna walks with him. “I want to know why you helped,” Geralt says after a moment.

Under Senna’s feet, the narrow path clears of foliage and winds further into the dark. “I said it true,” she says, and she shrugs. “I owe you a life.” The most noise they hear now is Roach’s hooves on the dirt, the sound of the dryad village already swallowed by the trees. “You didn’t have to help me a year ago. It would’ve cost you nothing to keep walking. But you did.”

Geralt stares into the night as they walk. “Thought dryads hated humans,” he says.

“You’re not a human, are you?” she says, arching an eyebrow, and he turns away. “And not all of us. Some of us, we remember some things.” He waits for her to elaborate, but she doesn’t.

“Will it work?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” she says honestly. “I’ve never seen it done. But it’s a chance, is it not?”

And he’ll take it. He nods.

They walk in silence through the forest until Geralt can see moonlight as the trees thin. If he listens, he can hear voices, low and male. “I’ll take my leave,” Senna says. “My sisters watch you, but we’re not as many as we’d wish. Get rid of the bandits, then we’ll talk.” Geralt grunts, shifting Roach’s reins to his left hand and reaching for his sword. “And Witcher? Be safe.”

Geralt turns back, surprised. “And you,” he says, and she tips her head in a nod and melts back into the trees.

He pauses for a moment to find Roach a place to wait while he takes care of things. He doesn’t tie her up, but he doesn’t need to. He’s had this Roach since she was a filly, and she’s well-used to waiting for him to return from what he does. If he ties her up, it leaves her in danger should whatever he’s hunting follow his scent to her. He won’t risk that.

The bandits have set up a camp near the edge of the forest, clearly cobbled together in a hurry. They at least seem to have prepared a bit for their plan: several horses stand at the edge of camp, carts ready behind them. The man with the scar is standing at the edge of the clearing, one hand on his hip, the other around a neck of liquor, shouting at the loggers to move faster. Geralt sets his jaw. He really doesn’t like this man.

He approaches the group quietly. Closest to him are the dwarves he’d noticed before, and he can smell their unease. Hard for a non-human to get a job in a human town. He doesn’t blame them. Under the shadow of night, away from the fires they’ve lit, Geralt catches one of the dwarven loggers by the arm. The man startles but claps a hand over his mouth, eyes wide. “You should leave,” Geralt says quietly, as the other dwarves slowly stop and turn to watch him. “The dryads are not pleased.”

“Ach, I knew it.” The dwarf he’d grabbed grimaces, shaking off Geralt’s hand and resting his axe against the soft dirt. “T’was folly to even consider it. Shit.”

Across the camp, the leader has noticed the lack of movement. “Oy!” he shouts. “Get your short arses in gear. We won’t have forever!” He strides towards them.

Geralt ignores him. “Go, now,” he says urgently, and the dwarves don’t need much encouragement. They’re already gathering their things into one of the carts, leaving the wood behind. “Queen Eithné won’t be so merciful.”

The dwarf he’d spoken to thumps a hand against Geralt’s chest. “You Witchers aren’t all bad,” he says, and then he clambers up into the cart after his fellows.

“Hey!” the human hollers. He’s got his hand on his hilt as he runs up. Behind him, the rest of the humans have ceased chopping, watching what’s happening. “I’m paying you good coin to be here! Bloody subhuman trash.”

The dwarf stands in the back of the cart as it rattles away, and makes a rude gesture. “Shove your coin up your arse, you manky gobshite,” he bellows, and the rest of the dwarves erupt in raucous laughter. The fury on the scarred man’s face is gratifying.

As the noise of their cart fades, Geralt can hear one of the dwarves speak again. “Well, fuck,” he says. “Guess we need a new job, boys.”

The scarred man marches up to Geralt and jabs a finger in his face. He’s taller than Geralt is, but weedy. The type of vicious dog that covers up a lack of strength with a lot of talk. “You,” he spits. Geralt doesn’t blink. “Should’ve known you’d be trouble. You animals always are.”

It doesn’t have the same bite that it used to. “Leave,” Geralt says, his voice pitched to carry to the rest of the bandits. They’re watching it all go down, hands on their swords. Geralt evaluates, weighs the odds. He can take them all, if he needs to. He doesn’t want to, though. That feels like too close to the line. Somewhere at the back of his head, he hears a voice whisper ‘butcher’, and he narrows his eyes and pushes it away. “Now, before the dryads decide I’m taking too long and come to finish the job.”

It’s working. The other men shift nervously behind the ringleader, discomfort radiating from them. “Is that a threat, Witcher?” The scarred man leans back, takes in Geralt’s hair, and a mean smile stretches across his lips. “Ah, I know who you are. Butcher of Blaviken. Decided to make a habit of it, have you?”

Geralt doesn’t even flinch anymore. He wishes, inanely, that Jaskier was here. He remembers the house in Ellander, on Samhain, and how the sight of him cut through the guilt and the weight of the penitent. “I only kill monsters.” He’s so weary of this argument. It’s harder still, when he’s struggling to answer those questions himself.

“So what were those villagers, hmm? Dopplers in disguise?”

For a moment, Geralt could swear he feels the cold presence of Jaskier at his side. He knows he must be imagining it, but it bolsters him anyway. “This is not your land,” Geralt says. He looks away from the scarred man, to the bandits behind him. “I’m giving you a chance to go.” He sees one man begin to look back towards the carts, stepping slowly towards escape.

The bandit leader unsheathes his sword, and Geralt sighs. He had been hoping to avoid bloodshed tonight. He hadn’t thought he could, but he’d hoped. “Or what?” the man taunts. “You gonna slice us up, Butcher? You gonna take on a whole gang?”

No, Geralt thinks. Just one. With a swift movement, Geralt lunges forward, grasping the man’s sword hand and driving his own blade up and into the soft flesh of his jaw and into his skull. The man lets out a wet, garbled noise and collapses, dead. The rest of the bandits are stunned into silence and stillness. “I’ll say it again,” Geralt says tiredly. “Leave, now, and you can keep your lives.”

As the hot blood slowly spreads at his feet, the bandits abandon their quarry. Geralt stands and he watches as they gather their things and climb into the remaining carts. When they’re gone, he takes his time to tidy the space left behind, putting out torches, kicking dirt into the firepits. It’s been a dry spring and Brokilon is already dealing with fires. They don’t need more.

There’s a dryad waiting for him at Roach’s side. She strokes a hand down Roach’s flank and looks up as he approaches. He would never fool himself into thinking he could sneak up on a dryad. “You have done well,” she says, inclining her head. She holds something out to him: a wickedly sharp dagger, made of a metal he doesn’t recognize. A deep green jewel is set in the pommel, faint flickers of light visible under the moonlight. When he takes it, his pendant vibrates slightly against his chest. “Queen Eithné says to return on Birke, at the new moon. You will have your reward.”

That great, terrible hope is back. Geralt closes his fingers around the hilt. “Thank you,” he says, but she’s already gone again, slipped back into the forest to watch, and to wait. He’s close enough to the edge of the trees that he could find his way out into the open again. He supposes that with tonight’s action, he’s proven himself a friend to the dryads, and they’ll let him leave alone.

It’s small comfort, though. Geralt is left in the trees with a knife blade and his sleepy horse, and a week to think, and to fear, and to hope. He straightens his shoulders, sucks in a breath, and heads back to town.

 

 

-

 

 

1256 - BIRKE

Geralt is tiring of Kernow, and Kernow is tiring of him. He hasn’t been chased out of his lodgings at the tavern at the edge of town, but each night, the patrons watch him with more unease. It’s not like a Witcher to stay in one place for long, especially without a contract. Still, and this makes his gut ache, there’s no outright malice. The humans avoid him, the dwarves bought him a round when they spotted him, but no one spits on him and tells him to leave. Jaskier’s song, still at work. He got the fame he wanted.

As the moon rises on the evening of Birke, Geralt packs everything up, tips the innkeeper for her troubles, and heads back towards the trees of Brokilon Forest. He’s been tense for days, muscles so tight he aches when he wakes, and he can’t stop his jaw from clenching. If he’s honest, he’s scared as hell. He lives a sparse life, and he’d learned long ago to stop wanting things. It’s too dangerous, too disappointing. Still, here he is, walking headlong into Brokilon on a fool’s errand because he can’t stop himself from hoping. Jaskier did that, he thinks wryly. He hadn’t thought to hope, until now.

A dryad meets him at the border of the forest. He thinks he recognizes her from a week ago. “Come,” she says, beckoning. She regards him with faint interest, much like Queen Eithné. “Moonlight is wasting.”

They’re heading deep into Brokilon, he realizes. Deeper than he’s ever been. The trees stretch high overhead, and the only light comes from the small lanterns that light their way. He makes certain to keep his eyes on the woman’s heels. They’re doing him a favour, he knows. They won’t take kindly to a man wandering off in their woods.

The clearing he’s lead to this time feels like a hollow between trees. It’s no village, no gathering place, and his medallion hums against his chest. There is a great deal of power here. At the very edge of the trees, the dryad who’d lead him snatches Roach’s reins from his hands and pushes him forward. This time, Queen Eithné isn’t surrounded by her entourage. Senna stands with her, a stylized design of rich brown mud stretching across her cheeks. Behind them is a single massive tree, a spring bubbling up from beneath its wide roots. All he smells is clean water, damp earth, and the scent of warm, latent magic of the earth. If he had to guess, they’re in the very centre of Brokilon now, surrounded by its power.

“Witcher,” the Queen intones. “Are you ready?”

No. How can he be ready for a thing like this? For an answer to this question? “Yes,” Geralt says. Without thinking, his hand finds the dandelion pendant around his neck.

Senna steps forward. “Always with the impeccable timing,” she says. She holds out her hand and it takes him a moment to realize she wants the dagger back. “Full moon on Birke? The day of rebirth. You couldn’t ask for more power.” He places the blade in her hand and is surprised at how it feels, like she’s taking a piece of him with her. It’s a vessel, he realized. He’d known that it was magic before, but it makes a certain sense. Any ceremony takes tools, and imbuing them with more power can’t hurt. “Armour off. Open yourself to the forest.”

He raises an eyebrow but complies, stripping off his armour and setting it down carefully with his swords. Even in the dead of night, the forest around them is silent, and he knows that even the dumb beasts know to fear Queen Eithné. He’s safe enough for now.

By the time he’s done, he turns to face them once more. The Queen holds the dagger in her hands. “You are an interesting creature, Witcher,” she says. Her filmy dress catches the light of the small lanterns in the trees. “Offering help for no reward. In love with a ghost. Your path is intriguing indeed.”

He blinks, his mouth falling open. “How did you -” He looks at Senna, but she shakes her head.

“He’s all over you,” Queen Eithné tells him, a faint smile on her lips. “He’s left his mark behind.”

I know, Geralt thinks.

“I have seen this ceremony performed only a few times in my life,” the Queen continues. “I am not inclined to give prizes to men who persist in wandering where they should not, but you have aided us and the forest twice, and I am interested to see how this plays out.” She steps delicately forward, until her bare feet are immersed in the clear spring water, her back to the broad trunk of the tree. “Kneel.”

There’s no point now in dragging his feet. He’s come all this way, he’s stripped to his pants and shirt, he’s as ready as he’ll be. He kicks off his boots and steps into the cold water, dropping to his knees.

This is a place of power. He can feel it in the water that runs past him, the mud beneath his knees. This is the best chance he’ll ever have. “Now what?” he asks.

“Head up,” Senna murmurs from behind him. He tips his head back obligingly, and cool mud is spread across his cheeks. The hum of magic around them heightens, and Geralt’s starting to notice that his awareness is...broadening. It’s not his senses, it’s something different. The forest is reaching out to him.

Geralt sits and waits as Senna scatters flower petals in the water around him. “Moleyarrow, for remembering.” He doesn’t expect when she bends over him, winding long stems into his hair. “Arenaria, for understanding and clarity.” She taps his jaw and he opens his mouth. “Blowball, for homecoming.” The flower is sour on his tongue as he holds it there until she gestures for him to chew and swallow.

As the bitter petals travel down his throat, Geralt’s eyes slide shut, and the hair on the back of his neck stands up. He can feel the hum of magic, but also the buzz of life, all around him. Though his eyes are closed, he can sense Eithné before him, the dagger in her hands drawing his focus, and the focus of the moonlight, the spring, the trees. The dagger pulls on his heart, draws his chest up and forward without even meaning to.

“Brokilon will hear your plea,” the queen says, voice strong and quiet in the clearing. “Call out to your ghost. Reach out to him, and he will hear.”

“Jaskier,” Geralt murmurs, and he feels it ripple through the air around them, like a stone dropped in water. Jaskier. He senses that pull again from Eithné and this time he raises his hand to an unheard question. The swipe of the blade across his palm burns, and Geralt feels everything that was stored in the blade rush back in one swoop, filling him with a surge that makes his head swim. The blood drips hot from the open wound, and Geralt opens his eyes and he pushes both hands down into the cool water running around his knees.

His blood runs silver in the spring water. His awareness spreads out, out, out, and he calls again. Jaskier. Jaskier. Jaskier! He can feel something close by, and he reaches for it, blindly. He feels that familiar, cool presence. Jaskier, he begs, but it slips through his fingers and he grits his teeth and tries again.

All night, they try, Queen Eithné gathering Brokilon’s power and funneling it into him as he tries and tries. The sun is rising, and the power ebbing, when he finally straightens and opens his eyes again.

They’ve failed.

Queen Eithné’s eyes are softer than he’s ever seen. “It doesn’t always work,” she says quietly. She looks as drained as he feels.

Geralt feels raw and exhausted, skin aching and his chest tight. “Yeah,” he says finally, and he stands stiffly, his pants soaked through with clear spring water. He’s cold and weary and so ready to be gone from here, from his failure. Jaskier has to want to come back, after all.

Senna steps forward to bind the wound on Geralt’s hand and the queen steps gingerly down from her spot by the tree. “I’m sorry,” the queen says. “I’m sure it’s not worth much to you right now, but he was close. He was here. Perhaps there is still a chance.”

She’s right. He doesn’t really want to hear it. He feels hollowed out and so tired, and he thinks he’s done with hope. “Thanks,” he says.

Queen Eithné takes her leave, sweeping past them out of the clearing, and Geralt is left with Senna, Roach, and his thoughts. “It was worth a try, wasn’t it?” Senna says. Geralt has flower petals stuck to his wet legs. He makes no move to wipe them off. “Hey. Witcher. You in there?”

“Mmm.” The sour taste of blowball sticks to the back of Geralt’s tongue. “Sorry.”

Senna shakes her head. “No,” she says. Geralt flexes his cut hand and looks down at the way the blood seeps through the bandages. It’ll be healed soon enough, but his blood still runs half-silver from the spring and the spell. “I guess I still owe you that life.”

“No, you’ve done enough,” Geralt says. He’s weary in a way he doesn’t usually get without a long contract, a long battle, drained from the pull of the forest and the spell. He didn’t even speak, but his throat is hoarse.

“Alright.”

Geralt pulls his armour back on, grimaces at the raw scrape of leather against his skin. He doesn’t want to talk anymore, he doesn’t want to think. He wants to be far from here, and he wants to stop thinking about the cool familiar presence he could’ve sworn he’d felt.

“When I asked you about him,” Senna says, and Geralt gathers Roach’s reins, gritting his teeth. “The way you looked at me...well. I know that look. I know grief and I know loss.” He glances at her, and she just looks back. It’s an offer to listen, and it’s kind. He can’t take her up on it, though. He nods. “I’m sorry it didn’t work.”

He needs to go. “Yeah,” he says.

“The waters of Brokilon,” Senna begins, then she bites it off. “Have you heard the stories?”

The waters change people. They erase memories. “No,” he snaps out immediately, voice harsh, and Senna holds up a hand in apology and never finishes the thought. He’s grateful. He told Jaskier he would remember for him. He intends to fulfill that promise.

They’re silent as Senna leads him out of the heart of Brokilon. Even the beasts are quiet, as though respectful of what just happened. He stinks of the forest, he knows. The dried mud flakes off his face, and he still has flowers bound in his hair. Maybe they think he’s one of theirs now.

Senna walks with him even past the Ribbon, all the way until Kernow is visible. “Maybe I’ll see you again someday, Witcher,” she says.

“Maybe,” he says. He doesn’t think so. He won’t be returning to Brokilon any time soon. “Be well, Senna. And - thank you.” That she tried counts for something, even if it came to nothing.

“And you, Witcher.”

Geralt listens to her leave and then he just stands at the edge of the forest, head tipped back against the rising sun. He feels cold again.

 

 

-

 

 

1256 - A WEEK AFTER BELLETYNE

The wyvern’s head drips wetly on the wooden floorboards, a counterpoint to the heavy thud of Geralt’s boots. He’s glad it’s evening, because the toxins are still raging through his blood, and the oil lamps make his eyes ache less. He could’ve waited, he knows. Let the potions wear off, wash off the worst of the wyvern blood, make himself respectable. But there’s been another side effect to Jaskier’s song - people no longer treat him as though he’s a nightmare come to life when they see him like this. They see a man dirtied from his job. He supposes that’s a blessing. It certainly makes things faster for him.

The mayor looks up as he approaches. “Oh, my,” the man says, taking in the bloodied head. “I take it the job is done, then?”

Wyvern ichor pools on the floor next to Geralt’s feet. “Mmm.” He rolls a shoulder and grimaces at the stretch. The beast got in a few good bites before he took it down. “Burned the nest, too. You shouldn’t have any more problems.”

“Grand,” the nervous man says. He starts fumbling through his desk before he finally comes up with a sizeable wallet. “Ah, here we go. Your coin, as promised.”

It’s heavy in Geralt’s palm. He thinks it might actually be more than they’d agreed on. “Are you -”

The mayor flaps a hand at him. “We’ve been dealing with this beast for months now,” he says. “I’m just grateful you got rid of it. Besides, when word gets out the White Wolf was in town, it certainly won’t hurt commerce.”

This name aches now too, in a different way from ‘Butcher’. Geralt grunts and tightens his hand around the gold before he pockets it. “Thanks,” he says.

“Of course.” The mayor glances nervously at the wyvern’s head. “Do you mind, ah, disposing of that? I can’t say that I’ll be needing it any longer.”

Geralt nods, and then he turns, and takes his leave. There’s a trail of blood marking his path, and he knows he should probably feel a bit guilty for that, but instead, he just feels tired. He doesn’t feel much of anything these days. Pain and weariness. Seems he’s finally become what they always said Witchers were: emotionless.

He feels too raw to stay in an inn tonight, especially with the toxins still running through his bloodstream, so instead he camps outside of town. He chooses a spot near a stream and viciously scrubs all the blood and viscera out of his clothes and hair. When the task is done, he starts a fire. He should set traps, or at least try to catch some fish, but it all just seems like too much work. He digs out some dried meat instead.

The Path seems much lonelier now than it once did. He got too used to having someone at his side, someone murmuring sly jokes in his ear while he’s trying to handle a contract, someone humming while he falls asleep, someone smiling at him over the fire. There’s a gaping absence left behind Geralt’s ribs where Jaskier once was, and if he ever tries to think about it, he aches.

He’s a Witcher, he reminds himself. He can endure. But it would be easier to endure if he didn’t know what he was missing. There’s a part of him that wishes he could forget what it’s like to love someone, to be loved, but he’d never give it up.

The sun has just set when he hears footsteps approach. They sound oddly familiar. Geralt cocks his head and waits. “There you are, Wolf,” Eskel says warmly, dismounting from his horse and holding his arms wide. “You’re easy to find these days. Just gotta follow the sound of your accolades.”

“Shut up,” Geralt says, but there’s no heat to it. He hauls himself to his feet and lets Eskel fold him into a tight hug, and he gasps into Eskel’s throat. He hadn’t realized how long it’d been, or how badly he needed something like this. His hands tangle in the back of Eskel’s jerkin and he breathes in the scent of home.

“You look like shit,” Eskel says into his hair. He doesn’t let Geralt go.

“You didn’t have to come find me.” He’s not a lost pup, in need of supervision.

When Geralt finally lets him go, Eskel squeezes the back of his neck, smile easy. “No,” he agrees. “I didn’t.” He sets about adding to the camp, unrolling his own bedroll. He’s already gathered a few rabbits, and he grabs them from where they’d hung from his saddle and pushes them into Geralt’s chest. “Skin these,” he says.

Geralt raises an eyebrow, but he settles back next to the fire, pulling out his knife, and gets to work. He knows what Eskel’s doing. He’s giving Geralt something to do with his hands, something to focus on, to pull him out of his head. He hates to admit it, but it’s working. “What are you doing in Temeria?” he asks. “Thought you were headed through Aedirn.”

Eskel shrugs. “Plans change,” he says, which means that he changed his plans, to look after Geralt. Geralt shakes his head, but for the first time in a long time, he smiles faintly. He doesn’t walk the Path often with Eskel, but knowing that his brother is looking out for him does mean a lot to him. It softens the ache in his ribs. “You wanna tell me about this wyvern contract you poached out from under me?”

Geralt scoffs. His hands are steady on the rabbit’s corpse in his hands. “Not poaching if you’re just faster,” he says, and something of the worried tension in Eskel’s eyes fade. He hunkers down at the fire next to Geralt and he smiles easily, ready to listen.

Geralt still has a toxin headache pushing at the back of his eyes, and he’s still got that enormous ache in his chest. But with Eskel here, it seems a little more possible to keep going. He shivers with the cool night air and sighs, thinking of Jaskier. He’ll endure.

 

 

-

 

 

1256 - MIDAËTE

Geralt hadn’t intended to return to Velen this year, especially not with the way the last few months had gone for him. He didn’t need any further reasons to think about Jaskier, and what had happened, and what he’d lost.

Still, his feet had lead him here. Back up the hill to Benek. The alderman’s son had grown taller, and he was no longer afraid of Geralt. He’d asked him to see his swords, asked stories about the monsters he’d fought. Geralt had indulged him for as long as he could, and then continued further up the hill, towards the graveyard.

It was undisturbed, this time. He stops to find Jaskier’s grave, and he aches to see the flowers that have grown around his headstone. He’d be so pleased, Geralt thinks. He plucks a dandelion ready to spread its fluff, and continues further up the hill.

At the top, he’s got a spectacular view down the mountain. He can see Benek and its people, poor, but unbothered by monsters and war this far up. The day is beautiful, the sky is clear, and Geralt imagines Jaskier sitting next to him, head tilted up to the summer sun, smiling. He loved days like this.

It’s been - hard. Geralt’s used to pushing on, to letting the Path dictate his life, his steps, his choices, but it’s been tough to return to alone. Eskel had travelled with him for a week, making certain he was fed and waking him up from nightmares at night, and that had helped, too. Geralt doesn’t have a lot of people in his life, and he feels each loss keenly. Still, he does have a few people left. His brothers, Vesemir. Yennefer, if he’s lucky. He’d like to stay friends.

He twists the flower in his fingers, squinting in the sun. He wishes Jaskier were here, though. It’s easier when he doesn’t dwell on it, but gods, he wishes that Jaskier was at his side once more. He misses his voice, his smile. Geralt stares out across the land and raises the flower to his mouth and blows. I wish Jaskier were here, he thinks, watching the seeds float away in the breeze, and then he laughs a little at himself. Childish things, making wishes on flowers. He’s tried that already, anyway. It didn’t work.

As the last fluffy seed spirals up into the cloudless sky, Geralt feels a sudden tug behind his ribs. He freezes, dropping the stem and pressing his palm flat against his chest. He could swear he feels a second heartbeat, a mirror of his. His head is ringing.

Footsteps approach from behind him. “Finally,” Jaskier says, and warm, solid, real hands settle on Geralt’s shoulders. “I thought you’d never get there.”

Geralt can feel him, but he can sense him too, a hook in his gut, a compass that points only to him. There’s a roaring in his ears. “Jaskier?” he rasps.

There is no doubt in his mind: the Jaskier who folds himself down in the grass next to him is the real deal. “The one and only,” he says, and he takes Geralt’s hand in his. “I would’ve thought you’d know me by now.”

Geralt stares down at Jaskier’s long, strong fingers in his, rubbing across the scar on his palm. The wish. He thinks about Duny and Pavetta, about true love’s power. It needed a wish. He swallows, and his head spins.

“Magic is fickle, dear friend,” Jaskier says, and for the first time, his hand is warm where it smooths over Geralt’s jaw. “I needed that wish.” He leans in, and Geralt’s eyes slide shut as he pulls Jaskier closer. “On a dandelion, no less. You romantic.”

Jaskier kisses just like Geralt remembers: warm and insistent and so affectionate. “You never had expensive taste,” Geralt growls, and his heart surges to hear Jaskier laugh again, into his mouth, against his chest. He’s here, Geralt thinks. He’s here, in my arms. He pulls Jaskier even tighter to him, and the two of them tumble into the grass.

When they finally pull away, Geralt traces the shape of Jaskier’s lips with his thumb. “I don’t remember much,” Jaskier says. “But I heard you call out to me. I felt Brokilon’s pull and I heard you call, and just like before, I could find you wherever you were.” He sighs, and presses his hand flat against Geralt’s chest, over the dandelion medallion, where Geralt’s heart beats for two. “Gods, but it was infuriating. You were so close and I just couldn’t touch you.”

So Geralt hadn’t imagined it. Jaskier was there in Brokilon, he’d been right there. Geralt tries not to think too hard about the time they’ve lost and noses against the line of Jaskier’s throat. “I thought - thought maybe you didn’t want to come back,” he admits.

“Never,” Jaskier says, and he curls a hand into Geralt’s hair. “The moment I heard your voice, the moment you called, I knew I wasn’t leaving you again.” He turns to Geralt and his breath his miraculously, incredibly warm against Geralt’s skin. “I hope you don’t regret it,” Jaskier says after a moment. “You gave up so much -”

“I’d do it again,” Geralt says roughly, and Jaskier’s eyes shine with emotion. “I’d do it every time. I’d give it all up for you.” And he knows Jaskier would, too. The spell would never have worked unless Jaskier wanted to come back. And he did, for him.

“Melitele’s tits, I love you,” Jaskier breathes, and then he rolls them over again. “I never got to say it before. I love you, I love you, I love you.” He kisses a breathlessly trail down Geralt’s throat and then back up again, smiling against his mouth. Geralt laughs, and his heart pounds, and he’s never felt happier, or more alive.

 

 

-

 

 

1256 - LAMMAS

The sun is setting as they approach Lapisfelde, and the little village is noisy with Lammas celebrations. Long tables are set up under brightly coloured tents and covered with foods. It’s been a good year for the little village. Plenty of food, plenty of children, and plenty of townsfolk with round faces and big smiles. They’ve been lucky, certainly.

“Ah, it’s just the same,” Jaskier sighs, and he turns back to grin at Geralt. He hasn’t gotten sick of that yet. In the weeks since he returned, Jaskier has shed the unhappiness he bore as a shade of himself, and Geralt is glad to see it. He’d thought he’d known Jaskier, but he’s delighted to realize that he’s got so much more to learn. “I can’t wait.”

Jaskier’s brighter, too. Now that he is solid before Geralt, his smile sets a warm burning fire in Geralt’s gut. There’s an easy pleasure in knowing that he can reach out, whenever he wants, and Jaskier will be there. He’ll reach back.

And reach back he does. Geralt was right in thinking that being a ghost had taken a fundamental part of Jaskier’s communication away. He talks with his hands, and he touches him, all of the time. Little gestures, a touch to his wrist to catch his attention, a hand on his waist to move past him. Geralt hadn’t realized how much he was missing those physical intimacies until he had them, in the form of Jaskier’s easy affection.

“Come on, Geralt, we’ll miss all the fun!” Jaskier wraps his hand around Geralt’s wrist and pulls him forward with surprising strength. His skin is tanned a warm brown, and his new jacket is a bright red, instead. When Geralt had asked, Jaskier’s smile had been wry. “I’m just sick of blue,” he’d said.

“Like a child at his first festival,” Geralt rolls his eyes, but he lets Jaskier lead the way. Coming back to Lapisfelde had been Geralt’s idea. Jaskier had a whole laundry list of places he wanted to go, people he wanted to see again, but he hadn’t thought of returning to the little village to fulfill his promise. Seeing Jaskier light up as a young woman with a babe in her arms calls out his name makes Geralt decide that it was the right choice.

“Lottie, my love, look at you!” Jaskier scoops the woman into a hug, then coos at the child in her arms. “You’re glowing. Marriage suits you, my dear.”

The woman blushes and laughs, pushing his arm, and then other townsfolk are crowding around him, touching his arm, asking him questions. Geralt hangs back, looking to settle Roach in the stable for the night. Over Lottie’s shoulder, Jaskier notices, but he doesn’t try to call him in. He just smiles at him and throws him a wink.

By the time Geralt has gotten them a room and passed Roach off to the stable hand, night has fallen and the little village is alight with voices and laughter. Geralt finds Jaskier in the centre of it all, of course, cheeks flush with harvest wine as he sings a rousing and filthy song to the laughing villagers. Geralt was right about this too: Jaskier is in his element here. Whatever he was before, Viscount, or ghost, this is exactly where Jaskier is happiest. In front of a crowd, wine in his belly, a song in his mouth.

And from the way he’s looking at Geralt, maybe he’s got a little something to do with it too.

He finishes the song with a rousing flourish, taking a dramatic bow from his perch on the top of a table, and then the band picks up his slack, launching into another jig to keep the momentum going. “Geralt!” Jaskier gasps, hopping down and coming to gather him. He’s got a couple of flowers wound into his hair. “You’ve finally come to join the fun.”

Geralt drags his heels a little as Jaskier tugs him towards an empty spot at the tables. “I just wanted to check on you,” he begins. “I’m not sure a Witcher would be welcome-”

“Nonsense,” Jaskier says, eyes fond. “You’re welcome here. Right, Lessa?” He nudges the girl he’s sitting next to, and Geralt remembers her, the one with the sketchbook.

“Oh, yes,” Lessa replies.

“Besides,” Jaskier continues. “You’re my Witcher.”

Geralt rolls his eyes and heaves out a sigh, but there’s a smile pulling at his lips. He is, isn’t he? It’s his heartbeat matching in Jaskier’s chest, and it’s Jaskier’s presence that orients him, every time he wakes up. “Hmm,” he says instead, and he reaches for Jaskier’s flagon. Jaskier laughs and lets him.

The band kicks into the next song, and it’s lively and fast-paced. “Oh, I love this one,” Jaskier says, and then he’s back on his feet again. “Are you coming?”

Geralt’s never danced in his life. It’s not exactly on the list of skills a Witcher learns before heading out on the Path. “Go ahead,” he says, and he waves Jaskier away. “Have fun.”

This time, Jaskier takes Geralt’s hand and doesn’t let go. “Come on, Witcher.” He leans in close, his lips brushing against the shell of Geralt’s ear. “Live a little.” He presses a biting kiss to the line of Geralt’s throat and then hauls him up, pulling him towards the dance floor. Geralt lets him, of course. He’ll make a fool of himself for Jaskier. He’s already given him his heart. What’s a little more?