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i'm not going to scream (beat my chest at the wind)

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It feels inevitable, almost. The culmination of something that’s been brewing long enough that, for some time, he had been able to pretend it wouldn’t ever boil over.
Jaskier gets left behind. Jaskier makes his way back to camp, alone. Jaskier does not get the rest of the story from the others. Jaskier packs his things and leaves. It feels like a predictable sort of ending, the kind you scoff at, because it’s so terribly obvious, right from the beginning.

Except that it hadn’t been. Not to him, at least. He thinks back to Posada, back to that tavern, decades ago now, and thinks about what he would’ve done if he’d known how it was going to end. The answer is obvious, because he is nothing if not a fool, for an array of things, but mostly love. Thinking back makes him feel old though, makes him think of Yennefer’s comment, untrue as it may be, so he stops. No point in reminiscing anyway.

He barely registers the nod Téa sends him when he moves away from the camp, towards the path leading down, gives her a smile that feels too much like a grimace. He can hear his name, Borch maybe, and gives a wave over his shoulder, in return, before the path takes a turn and the camp disappears behind his back. No time to linger, not anymore.

On his way down, he tries very desperately not to think about anything at all. The birds sound a little off, but then everything seems sort of off. The air feels too tangible around him, he can taste bile on his tongue, his chest aches with a familiarity that makes him wonder how many times he has felt like this, without truly realising.
The aftermath of the djinn, surely, or maybe any time, really, that he had to watch Geralt step out of his reach, towards the sorceress. The situation is different, though it feels like Yennefer’s been chosen over him, once again, regardless. Gods, he really is pitiful.
His hands are at his sides, clenched into fists, but he doesn’t register the way his nails have drawn blood, not until he moves one hand to cling to his lute strap and it stains the leather red.

He’s tired, somewhere in the back of his mind. Hungry, too. He resolutely ignores both this, and the pain in his right foot that he must’ve strained sometime in the last hour. Must have because he doesn’t remember it happening, which should perhaps concern him in some way, or at least make him want to take a break, wrap and rest the foot, for the remainder of the day. He decides against said concern in favour of getting the hell off the fucking mountain, as quickly as possible.

He’ll stop eventually, when the sun has set and there’s no way to go on without breaking his neck and dying a lonely and pathetic death. He ponders the possibility for a few minutes, all part of the Try-Not-To-Think-About-What-Just-Happened strategy he’s currently employing, of him dying on the mountain, falling to his death maybe or being ripped to shreds by some other, more dangerous monster, animal, thing that he shouldn’t have approached, or gotten close to.

No one would know, or even come looking for him. He’s gained some notoriety, but certainly not enough to justify a search party, once he stops showing up in taverns all over the continent. And he doesn’t really have that many friends, besides Geralt, who has turned out to not actually be a friend, fuck, not any that would go looking for him, anyway. His family might be interested in his death, he’s still a viscount after all, and he knows someone would be interested in inheriting that title, surely, if he were to die. They wouldn’t go looking for him either, though. They’re probably waiting to declare him dead anyway, if they haven’t already.

A lonely, pathetic and, as it turns out, entirely unremarkable death. Perhaps that would be an even more fitting ending to his story. Poetic even, if twisted the right way, embellished a little. The bard, cast away, dies as he had lived. Except who would be left to do the embellishing? Reason enough to stay alive, for now, Jaskier decides. Besides, there’s certain aspects he quite likes about being alive, no matter the pain that is surely to come, once the numbness (that’s what he’s categorised it as, for now) subsides. So much for not thinking about it.

Clarity arrives begrudgingly, after he has finally made it off the mountain, has found himself a room above a tavern, has drunken his weight in ale and wine, has screamed into his pillow, drunk and terribly alone, until his voice died in his throat.
He wakes up to a headache, and the ache still stuck in his chest that, combined with the hangover, makes him feel a little like he might be dying.
He sits up, slowly. The blanket is pooled somewhere around his feet, and the first light of day is trailing into the room through a small window, tucked above an even smaller table, tainting everything in a gentle hue.

Jaskier lets himself fall back against the lone pillow, pulls the blanket up to his shoulders, to shield himself from the cold seeping in through the outer walls.
And slowly, almost cruelly, the numbness subsides.

He doesn’t cry. He seldom cries, and he won’t allow himself to do so now, after what has already been a spectacularly awful week. Instead he stares up at the ceiling, at the spiderweb woven into the corner. Holds his breath, releases it.
Jaskier feels a little like he might just sink into the mattress and become one with the straw. He feels a little like he made a terrible mistake, walking off that mountain, instead of demanding of Geralt to keep him in his life, instead of refusing to let himself be left behind.

That’s how they’ve always been, and maybe it’s what Geralt had been betting on, when he said what he said. Because Jaskier knows, with close certainty, that it was said in anger, and is probably, maybe, not actually how Geralt truly feels about him.
He knows that if, no, when he and the witcher cross paths once again, he’ll be by his side, trailing him across the continent once more if the man asks as much from him, and apologises. That’s the one thing he won’t give up. He’s owed one, he is.

So Jaskier makes a decision. If Geralt wants him back in his life, he’ll have to say so (realistically, Jaskier does acknowledge that a stiff, grumbled “Sorry” is all he’ll ever get, if even that, and knows, too, that he’d be content with much less. He can dream, though, can imagine himself cold and unyielding in the face of Geralts attempts to mend what lays broken).

And then Jaskier waits. Travels the continent like he’s always done, sings and performs, and it’s almost easy to just be the bard, and pretend he’s not keeping an eye and two ears out for a white haired, golden eyed witcher. He hopes, desperately, that Geralt will be the one to seek him out. He doesn’t know if he’d have the courage to go up to him unprompted and insert himself into his life again. Actually, that’s bullshit. He knows he wouldn’t.

The months pass, seasons come and go, and people ask after Geralt wherever he goes. It’s painful to not be able to provide answers. He doesn’t know how to say ‘Well, last I saw him he was yelling about how I ruined his life and was better off as far away from him as possible’ so he does what he does so well.

He makes up elaborate stories about Geralt’s nobility, his greatness, about adventures that never happened, or that did, years ago. A striga last month, a wraith five towns away, a pack of ghouls not far from Vizima.

It’s lonely, and although he is well acquainted with the feeling, it’s different somehow, all encompassing. It closes around his throat, leaves him aching, leaves him trying hard to get a grip on himself, on his ever-present, overwhelming emotions.
This loneliness feels so terribly like the one he remembers from decades ago, sitting by his mother and father, or alone in his room, unable to stay still, to stop talking, to be a good son, heir, brother, student, no matter how many threats and follow-throughs of said threats his parents threw at him. It feels like days without food, feels like ripped up sheets of notes, feels like beatings and taunting and him, Julian, so young, and so far away from everyone and everything in his reach.

He swallows that boy back down, because he hasn’t been him ever since he left for Oxenfurt, with a few exceptions maybe, along the way.
He’s Jaskier, who doesn’t stop talking even when asked to, who falls in love, quickly and often, even if it’s never returned, who overstays his welcome everywhere he goes, who’s not afraid of not being liked, of being too loud, too much.
He ignores Julian, when he comes crawling to the surface, ignores him when something in him is begging to be wanted, begging to belong.

It’s easy, most of the time, when his home is the open road, when he never stays anywhere long enough to be missed, when he leaves (or is left, in some cases) again and again and again.

And that’s where his mistake lies, although he’s loath to call it that. It wasn’t a mistake, following Geralt, wasn’t a mistake making a home out of the way he made him feel, wasn’t a mistake falling in love with him, even.

It just happened, the way many things just happen in Jaskiers life. Unlike certain characters, his story is not one of Destiny or Fate, he’s always just been along for the ride, just on the outskirts of whatever great happenings were, well, happening. Looking in.

He doesn’t mind, either. He’d been content playing any part in Geralts tumultuous, tragic, heroic life, no matter how small. He’d been content as the bard, the travel companion, the flighty and annoying friend. And if the way Geralt sometimes pressed against him in the night, for warmth, or let him wash his hair, and body, the way he’d haul him up and onto Roach or manoeuvre him out of the way, with strong arms and big hands, if all those things filled a void inside Jaskier that he hadn’t truly realised was there in the first place, then that’s to know and see for him only.

He does mind the loneliness though, and so he tries (and fails) to drown it in drink, and song, in coin, and silk and willing bodies. Life does go on, after all. It does.

He tries to make a joke out of his misery, because that’s what he does, pens a letter to an old friend in Oxenfurt (“I’ve finally managed to drive him away,” he writes, “ for good this time, who would’ve thought I’d ever see the day?”, and what returns is concern and an offer to stay for a few months, take his mind off things, which he almost accepts), performs songs about silly, foolish birds who never learned how to fly from danger, laughs with countesses and innkeepers, dukes and daughters of butchers and blacksmiths, with stable boys, and artists, as he falls into bed with them, plays bawdy songs in places where perhaps he shouldn’t, grins and flirts and sings until his throat is raw.
It soothes the ache, somewhat, for a few hours, until he’s sober and alone again, and then it hurts the same way it did months (Gods, a year?) ago.

Geralt does not come and find him. He does not grovel or apologise, does not tell him to shut up and follow him, does not sit in the corner (and brood) in any of the inns or taverns or courts Jaskier plays in.

He goes to the coast and then he leaves the coast, when the salt and the sand and the water become too much. He travels far and wide, to places he’s never been, or places he’s been a hundred times over, to places that Geralt wouldn’t have liked, and to places Jaskier wishes he could show him. He lets baths be brought up for none other than himself, rubs chamomile onto his own bottom (tragic, that), patches himself up, on his own, whenever the need arises. Buys needle and colourful thread when he runs out, buys bandages and a dagger and herbs and oils. He’s never felt as alone as he does when haggling with a merchant in a big city, without Geralt to glower over his shoulder, urging him to hurry up, or to shut up about pastries that they don’t have the coin for. He buys candied apples, and strawberries and expensive silk, almost out of spite. But Geralt isn’t here to disapprove.

He’s doing well. He’s terribly lonely. His hands shake some nights, though he doesn’t know why. He looks in mirrors that show him a face that looks just like his did when he’d just met Geralt. He tries not to think about what that might mean. He drinks more than he should, and less than he feels like he needs to. He’s writing songs about himself again. His coin purse is full, most of the time. He wakes up, every couple of weeks, to a numbness in his head, that stays with him for days, before he drowns it out, some way or another. He waits for someone who will never come for him. He tries to live with it.

Time passes and he passes with it. He’d forgotten what it means to belong nowhere. He’s almost hoping for wrinkles, for the crow’s feet, for grey hair, some proof that he’s truly moving through life.

___________________________

Jaskier is in a tavern somewhere in Redania, in a village that might have a name, or might not, but that certainly has a tavern. It’s raining heavily and the atmosphere is rather grim, what with the war and the refugees and all the other awful things. Cintra fell only weeks ago and when he heard the news, he’d almost turned around to run toward the city, thinking about Cirilla, about Pavetta, who has been dead for years, about Calanthe who, from what he’s heard, has joined her daughter at last. And about Geralt, of course, but then he always thinks about Geralt.

He’d stopped himself in time because really, what good would it have done? He’s not a fighter, not a hero, not a rescuer. He’d prayed though, to whatever gods that had been listening in, that the witcher had found his Child Surprise in time.

There’s not much coin to come by, not right now and maybe not for some time to come, but he sings anyway, plays until his fingertips feel numb and his hands are shaking (at least he now knows why, when it happens). He gets payed in smiles and grateful looks, sometimes in stale bread, in cheese and watery stew and even thinner ale and more often than not, in the shape of a roof over his head, for the night, whether it be in some stable, inn, or farmhouse.

He finished his set a couple minutes ago, to reluctant applause, and is sitting slumped against the bar, his head turned towards the door, waiting for a tankard of, hopefully good, probably awful, wine, which is when he sees a child stumble in through the tavern door, wrapped in a dark brown coat, hood pulled low over dirty, short, white hair.

They look around for a second, before turning towards an empty table in the corner, arms wrapped around themselves, shivering. The coat is glistening wet from the rain.
They walk with their head down and sink onto one of the chairs facing the room. They look up towards the bar then, for a second, before turning their head again, but it’s enough time for Jaskier to recognize her. He feels dumbstruck, seeing her here, covered in grime, among the many refugees and workers, the farmers and merchants. She looks out of place, but trying hard to disappear into the masses, he’s sure.

He stares at her for a couple more seconds before making a decision. Whether she’s alone or whether Geralt or someone else is close behind, she certainly looks like she’d appreciate a meal, and something warm to drink perhaps. And if she’s truly alone, there may also be other ways he can help her. He feels some odd sense of obligation, thinks again of the betrothal, so many years ago, her family, now dead. She must be lonelier than he feels.

When the barkeep sets the wine down in front of him, he asks for a bowl of their stew and a tankard of warm milk, sets some of the little coin he has left on the counter. The woman nods, and in the time that it takes for her to return with the food and drink, Jaskier watches the girl in the corner. She’s fidgeting, her finger restless on the table’s surface, her eyes flitting around the room, before settling on the table once again. The barkeep clears her throat and he turns back towards the bar with a smile, thanks her.

Jaskier walks over to the girl, the tankards in one hand, careful not to spill anything, the wooden bowl in the other.

She looks up at him, startled, when he sets it all down in front of her, slides into the chair opposite. There’s a fierceness in her eyes, but she looks scared all the same. She’s so young, still. Gods, the last time he saw her she’d been so small, barely able to walk, talking to herself, or her grandmother, excitedly. A decade ago, now, at least.

“Princess”, he whispers, smiles, and she flinches, throwing a panicked look towards the door. He realises his mistake and gives a small shake of his head.

“Do not fear”, he says, which doesn’t seem to help, “I’m a friend! The best friend you could ask for, really, so don’t fret. I don’t mean you any harm.”

She still looks at him warily, her hand somewhere on her waist, which probably holds some sort of weapon, maybe a dagger similar to Jaskiers own. He doesn’t doubt her ability to use it.

“If I may introduce myself”, he tries again, after pushing the stew and milk closer towards her, moves his head briefly, as though he’s trying to bow in his seat, and with a flourish of his hand adds, “My name is Jaskier, master of the Seven Liberal Arts, humble bard and poet, renowned professor at the University of Oxenfurt, creator of continent-famous ballads and former acquaintance of the White Wolf!”

He smiles again, and winks, for good measure, “I’m sure you’ve heard of me!”

She stares at him, before moving her gaze to the bowl in front of her.

“You’re Jaskier?”, she asks. Her voice is quiet, tired, and there’s some form of recognition in her eyes when she says his name. He nods enthusiastically.

“That I am, dearest, that I am!”

She nods then, and tentatively reaches for the spoon.

“I’m Fiona”, she says, and throws him a look that he doesn’t quite know how to interpret.
Jaskier follows her gaze when it moves once more to the tavern door.

“Of course,”, he says, grins, “Fiona.”

She takes a bite of her stew, pulls a face that makes him chuckle, but keeps eating. She takes a sip of her milk as well, and then stares up at him again, as though still unsure what to really make of him.

“Darling, are you traveling alone?”

She shakes her head in response, eats more, before speaking.

“No, my- Geralt, you know him”, she says, “He is outside, still, with the horse.”

“You’ve found each other, then. That’s grand, love, what a wonderful thing. I am so very glad to see you safe.”

The thought of Geralt so close makes him tense up, but he tries to focus on the princess in front of him. He’ll see him again soon, after all this time, but right now Cirilla is smiling at him, over her bowl of stew, a small and tired little smile, but a smile, nonetheless.
He takes a sip of his wine, which, as predicted, tastes pretty terrible, and smiles back.

“If my fingers weren’t already sore, I’d play you a medley of all my greatest works, I assure you, but even a distinguished artist such as myself must rest from time to time. I’m sure you understand.”

He grins once more when her smile widens at his words.

“Oh certainly”, she says, her accent terribly posh and courtly and he laughs into his tankard. She is exactly the princess he’d always imagined her as. And she’s lovely, her eyes bright, already so like her mother. The air around her brims with potential, even he can feel it, almost palpable, as though he could grasp and hold it in his hands if he tried.
She raises her head slightly, still smiling.

“You’ve travelled with Geralt before, haven’t you?”

“Indeed, I have! A rather interesting experience, isn’t it? Although his communication skills are sorely lacking, as is his personal hygiene, if I remember correctly. Of course, some time has passed since I last saw him, but I doubt either of those things have improved much. He does talk to Roach, though I don’t think it really counts, do you? Getting that man to tell me anything was always a terrible ordeal.”

Cirilla snorts and shakes her head, grinning.

“Geralt was right”, she laughs, “You talk a lot!”

The knowledge that Geralt apparently talks about him to his Child Surprise gets stored somewhere in the back of his mind. He’s unwilling to dissect that particular revelation, just yet.

“Well, someone had to!”, he exclaims, and she laughs again, before she catches sight of something behind him. She smiles and waves, making a beckoning motion with her hand.

Jaskier turns his head and stands abruptly, turning his body towards the man making his way toward their little table.
Geralt looks good, if a little tired, a little weary. There’s a new scar, small, barely noticeable, but of course Jaskier does notice, across his cheekbone.
And there’s a look in his eyes that Jaskier can’t place. Perhaps he’s simply out of practice.

“Jaskier”, he says, voice neutral and flat, expressionless. He nods and Jaskier wishes he could run.

“Geralt”, he responds, though his own voice come out almost breathless, none of Geralts confidence, or apathy, more like. He nods back, but his movement is shaky. His hands flail a little, before he forces them to still at his sides.
He’s staring, but can’t make himself stop, not even when Geralt is suddenly right in front of him, moving to Cirillas side of the table, and stiffly sitting down next to her.
She clears her throat a little awkwardly, which pulls him out of his trance. He slumps back into his chair, grabs his tankard and holds it in both hands, as though it’ll somehow help him get through this interaction. He takes a large sip, resolutely does not look at Geralt.

“What are you doing here?”, the man asks and Jaskier flinches a little. Right.

“Just passing through, really”, he says, his eyes moving to look at Cirilla for a second, before he stares at his hands “I saw her- Fiona in the corner, and thought I’d make sure she is well taken care of, make sure she’s alright.”

“She is”, Geralt says, “As I’m sure you can see.”

Jaskier hears the dismissal in his response, loud and clear, he’s not thick. Geralts tone is still sort of apathetic, more so than he remembers, almost a little cold, or maybe that’s just his mind filling in the blanks.
It doesn’t feel entirely real. He’s imagined this so many times and had somehow convinced himself that Geralt would perhaps be kinder than last time they spoke. It seems as though he’s miscalculated quite dramatically.

He downs the rest of his wine, the taste sour on his tongue, and picks up his lute where he’d set it against the table, slings it over his head.

“Right”, he says, which reminds him of the mountain, and almost makes him cringe. He stands and looks at the girl, staring up at him with another expression he doesn’t quite know what to do with. He smiles, and thinks it almost reaches his eyes.

He could stay, could give Geralt a few more chances, or simply fall back into just following him regardless of whether he wants him to, or not, as though he’s eighteen again, and they just met for the first time half an hour ago.
But some things don’t go without saying and he’s tired of always being the only one talking. He’s so tired of begging people to love him, Geralt especially. He has been doing just that for, Gods, for decades, and it’d be pathetic at this point, he’s quite aware. Has probably been pathetic for quite some time.
He’s still not convinced Geralt hates him like he apparently thinks he does, but if Geralt is so hellbent on not having him near, he’ll just have to cut his losses, for once, and leave well enough alone. It hurts, of course it hurts. He doesn’t know what else to do but hurt.

“It has been most exquisite to make your acquaintance, dear, but I fear that I must leave. Lots to do, you see. Ballads to write, songs to compose. It’s busy work, being a bard”, he smiles a little wider, takes her unoccupied hand in his, bows and presses a quick kiss to her knuckles, “I wish you safety on your journey, wherever you are headed.”

He lets go of her hand, glad to see her smile back up at him.

“May we meet again someday, cub”, he says and winks at her, one more time.

He moves his gaze to Geralt then, the look on his face just as foreign and unreadable as the one before, nods once, and turns, towards the door. Out of the corner of his eyes he can see movement, but it halts, aborted, and so he continues on his way.

The rain has let up some, but it’s still drizzling when he steps out of the tavern. The sky is dark, the moon hidden behind clouds. He sees Roach standing in what he assumes is supposed be a stable, and almost heads towards her, just to say hello maybe, before he thinks better of it. She’s a horse, and more importantly, she’s Geralt’s horse.

Instead he turns to his right, moves somewhat away from the centre of the village, if it can really be described as such, where he’d reluctantly been promised a patch of straw in one of the stables, on the outskirts of wherever he is.
He almost wants to wait, just for a few minutes, to see if Geralt will come running after him, but he’s certain the man can hear his heartbeat even outside the building, can probably smell him, too. His desperation, his reluctance to leave, his disappointment, his tired anger.

So he doesn’t. It’s probably better that way, anyway.

Perhaps it hadn’t been inevitable, after all. Perhaps Geralt had simply made a choice. Perhaps it had just been another one of those things that happen to him. He doesn’t know. He’s never known. And maybe he never will.

He doesn’t look back as he walks away from Geralt, doesn’t wave, doesn’t smile. There's no one there, not this time.