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a year and a day

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Geralt runs into Yennefer in the middle of a hunt. Not that it’s that surprising. He’s always in the middle of a hunt these days, so if she’s going to see him then he’s going to be in the middle of one.

“Well,” she says, matching his stride as he cuts his way through the woods. For a moment he wishes he’d brought Roach, but of course it’s a ridiculous thought. There’s nothing to gain from bringing his horse on a hunt this dangerous and it’s not like Yennefer couldn’t keep up just as well if he tried to ride away from her.

She waits, but he doesn’t say anything, eyes still ahead of him, still scanning the trees for whatever the fuck the people seem to be think is waiting for him in these woods. Before, he would have done research, would have interviewed some of the villagers who’d seen it, maybe tried to track the thing down in the bright light of day to get a better idea of its size and strength before hunting it down under moonlight. But that was before.

“It’s been a year and a day,” she says, finally.

He laughs even though it’s not funny. As if he doesn’t know exactly how long it’s been.

“Geralt,” she sighs, something that sounds like the beginning of an admonishment, and that’s enough of that, he’s not going to let her lecture him about this, of all things.

He opens his mouth, unsure of what exactly is going to come out, but neither of them get the chance to find out. It’s a werewolf, which had seemed like an unlikely possibility considering the level of carnage the beast had been leaving in its wake, but then there are more hulking figures emerging from behind the trees, and ah, it’s a pack. That makes more sense.

Harder to kill. Too hard to kill, perhaps, for a single witcher with one silver sword. He’s got a silver ring around his neck, but that won’t do much more than give the werewolves indigestion when they eat him. “You should leave,” he tells Yennefer. He doesn’t wait to hear her reply, sliding the sword out of his sheath and squaring his shoulders.

There were too many of them, he thinks later, on his back and bleeding.

“You idiot,” Yennefer hisses, her healing magic as volatile as the rest of her, burning where it should be soothing, but it’s not like he minds a few burns. Less painful than the chunks of him missing from the werewolf’s claws. Less painful than a lot of things, really. “What were you thinking? If I hadn’t been there then they would have killed you!”

“Hm,” he says.

Her eyes narrow and she pulls back her fist. He sees it coming and is still surprised when it connects with his face, when he hears the bones of her fingers cracking and breaking against his cheekbone. That’s new. She’s never done that before.

She shakes out her hand, the bones straightening and healing with a spark of magic over her hand. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you think he’d do any differently if he was here? Do you think this is what he’d want?”

How dare she – who the fuck does she think she is

He pushes her back, getting to his feet even as the pain that rips through his whole body at the motion, even as Yennefer tries to push him back down. “It doesn’t fucking matter what he’d want, does it? He’s dead.”

~

“Geralt,” Jaskier says, rolling his head against his shoulder and stinking of cheap ale and light, floral perfume that makes his nose twitch. It’s not something Jaskier would ever wear, so it’s something that transferred from touching someone who was wearing it. “Geralt, Geralt, I have to tell you something. It’s important. Are you listening to me?”

Jaskier smells like a lot of people, all the time, and it doesn’t bother him. It’s fine. It’s just that this one makes his nose twitch, which is a great excuse to shove him off from where he’s plastered against his side, a perfectly justifiable reason to tell Jaskier to piss off and go bother someone else, someone who smells like roses and honeysuckles and nothing like the inside of the monster he’d killed last night.

“Yeah,” he says, taking a long sip of the shitty ale when his voice comes out too rough. “I’m listening.”

“You have to listen,” Jaskier says plaintively, reaching out to tug on his wolf amulet, as if he’s trying to get Geralt’s attention, as if there’s any way he couldn’t have his attention when he’s halfway into his lap. “This is important. Really important. The most important thing I’ve ever told you.”

“I’m listening,” he repeats, and he means for it to come out harsh and irritated, but it’s fond, maybe exasperated at best. He hopes Jaskier is too drunk to notice the difference.

Jaskier tilts his head back, huffing out a breath that ghosts over his neck. Geralt looks down, finds him too close. He can barely see anything but the brilliant blue of Jaskier’s eyes and slopes of his cheekbones. “When I die, you need to bring me back to Lettenhove.”

It’s like he’s just jumped into an icy river, the numbness spreading across his skin and all his limbs locking into place.

Jaskier continues talking like he hasn’t noticed, but Geralt can’t see how he couldn’t have, with how much of them is touching. “Oxenfurt already knows to send me back if I die there but if I die with you, I need you to bring me home. Even if my body’s all mangled or rotting or you only have pieces of me, they need to go back to Lettenhove. If I die on the road, and I don’t manage to get there, you have to be friend, be a pal, and dig me up and take home, all right?” He shivers, tucking himself even closer to Geralt like he’s just caught a draft, even though it’s the middle of summer. “No burning. Burning isn’t good. If I – if I die in fire or if someone burns me when you’re not around, you still have to take whatever’s left back. Okay?”

“You’re not going to die,” he grits out, the words coming out muffled from between his clenched teeth.

Jaskier tuts, patting him on the chest. “Oh, my dear witcher, of course I will. What else could I do? I’m no sorcerer or witcher or son of the god of wine and fertility, although I have been accused of the later a time or two. I’ll die. When I do, you have to bring me home.”

“Thought you didn’t get along with your family,” he says, trying to force all his muscles to unclench, to let go of the tankard that he’s dented with his grip. He’s going to have to pay for that now.

“Depends on the year,” he says. “Why, in another life I was verifiable family man, settling down to raise my lovely Lizzie and run the estate as my title requires.” Geralt can’t help but laugh, having trouble imaging Jaskier doing any of that, and Jaskier uses his distraction to pull Geralt’s tankard of ale to his lips. If he notices the fist size dent in the side, he doesn’t say anything about it. “Well? Do you promise? It’s the only promise that really matters. The last promise you’ll ever have to keep to me.”

He laughs, like it’s funny, and Geralt tries to force a smile. He’s pretty sure it comes out as a grimace. “If I promise, can we stop talking about it?”

Jaskier blinks, and that probably came out too honest, too pained, but it doesn’t mean anything. Jaskier’s his friend. Of course he doesn’t want to think of him dying. There’s nothing there to be surprised about at all. “Yes.”

“Fine,” he takes his ale back from Jaskier’s suddenly slack grip, tipping his head back draining the rest of it in one long swallow. “I promise.”

~

Yennefer doesn’t leave. She doesn’t magic up a luxurious tent to mock him and won’t even speak to him after his outburst. But she’s not leaving, she’s still here, and he doesn’t know what to do with that, so he ignores her.

She just sits in front of the fire with her knees pulled to her chest, and she almost looks human like this.

Almost.

~

“Just a friend, I hope?”

The sorceress is inhumanly beautiful, as they all are, as inhumanly beautiful as he is inhumanly monstrous. Geralt has never cared for impossible beauty, for perfection in any form. Nothing is perfect. Anything that appears that way is a trick or a trap.

He gets the impression this sorceress is both.

“Yes,” he says.

He’s too old for this. Too old to let the miasma thick rage of jealousy to flood his veins, too old for the way he’d snapped and pushed at Jaskier just because he was so wound up from his waxing poetic about his countess who didn’t even want him, too wound up from weeks without sleep, all of it Jaskier’s fault. Because while he was being tortured by dreams of Jaskier dead and dying, or his hands in Geralt’s hair and of his mouth on Geralt’s, Jaskier had been in a countess’s bed, in her court, and then he’d been in front of him. Irritated and snappy with comically dark circles around his bright blue eye, with tanned skin and clean hands and his shirt unbuttoned more than it really needed to be, in front of him looking good like he always did. Geralt had been trying to escape him, and then he’d been there, and all Geralt had wanted was some peace, to not be tortured by Jaskier for a single solitary moment.

Now he’s here, one of his worst nightmares coming alive because he can’t keep his fucking mouth shut, and he has to deal with a falsely beautiful sorceress in order to save his stupid fucking bard.

To save the stupid fucking bard.

Lettenhove is on the other side of the continent. Jaskier isn’t dying here, isn’t going to force Geralt to carry his body that far and that long. He won’t survive it. Having to travel that long with Jaskier’s body will kill him as surely as anything else.

He might as well just get into whatever grave they dig for Jaskier in Lettenhove, might as well let the dirt cover him and suffocate him, if he has to travel for so long and so far to keep his promise.

“Hm,” she says, clearly mocking him. His hands flex and he resists the urge to wrap them around her neck.

Later, with Jaskier alive and well and sleeping, he allows himself not to hate her.

When she proves herself to be absolutely insane by trying to harness the djinn’s magic for her own, he should leave her to it, should let it destroy her like he knows it will.

But she saved Jaskier’s life. Letting her die seems a piss poor thanks for that, so he says a wish without thinking about it, just trying to not let her die.

He fucks her, after, because she’s hideous. Because her beautiful face hides an ugly heart, because she’s a greedy desperate thing that’s willing to destroy anything and everything in her path if she thinks it’ll get her what she wants.

She’s just as ugly as him, in her own way, and he fucks her because he’s exhausted and grateful and because she looks nothing like Jaskier, because she’s as far from his loudmouthed, foolish bard as he can get.

From the loudmouthed, foolish bard.

~

It’s a beautiful day and they’ve already stopped for the night even though there’s another hour or so of sunlight, even though they’ve traveled through the dark more than once. But it’s perfectly warm out and the sun feels gentle on his skin and this clearing by a stream is as good a place to stop as any.

Jaskier is lying back in the grass, idly strumming his lute and humming a song that doesn’t sound like anything in particular, or at least not something that he’s sung enough for Geralt to recognize. Geralt’s building a fire, two rabbits waiting at his side ready to be skinned, and he smiles because there’s no one to see him to do it. “You look happy over there, laying in the grass and not helping me.”

“You know me,” Jaskier says cheerfully, “I’m just one with nature.” He laughs at his own joke and Geralt just rolls his eyes.

He’s already dreading leaving this clearing in the morning, but he tries not to think about it, tries not to let it sour the soft contentment he feels now. It’s pathetic, how little it takes, how Geralt could live in this moment forever, with Jaskier happy and singing and close enough to touch if Geralt ever lost his fucking mind and reached for him.

He knows Jaskier finds him attractive. He knows Jaskier finds a lot of people attractive. It doesn’t mean anything. A lightning storm can be beautiful. Doesn’t mean anyone actually wants to get struck by lightning.

“Geralt,” Jaskier sings his name rather then saying it.

He keeps his head ducked so he doesn’t have to pretend to be irritated by it. “Hm?”

“I was wondering if you might make me another promise.” He says it casually, but Geralt flinches all the same.

Jaskier hadn’t mentioned anything the next day, all those months ago when he’d drunkenly given Geralt instructions on how to care for his corpse. He’d thought he’d been too drunk to remember. Hoped he’d been too drunk to remember the way Geralt had reacted to what had been a reasonable thing to talk about. Geralt is almost a hundred and fifty years old. Jaskier is in his early thirties. Geralt will probably outlive his friend if something doesn’t kill him first, so there’s no reason for them not to talk about this. People discuss funeral plans with their friends, and certainly with their travel companions. Just in case.

It doesn’t make it hurt any less, though.

“Bringing me back to Lettenhove is still the most important one,” he says, continuing to pluck cords of his lute. “But if you’d like to do another favor for an old friend, you might come back and visit me after. Just once.”

“What’s the point in visiting a dead man?” he asks. His throat is so tight he has to growl it, because anything else will give too much away.

“A year and a day,” he says, as if Geralt hasn’t spoken. “You can forget me after. But a year a day after you bring me home, come back and say hello. Or, well, goodbye.”

He bites his tongue to keep from speaking, to keep from reacting without thinking, but even as his mouth fills with blood he can’t stop himself from snapping, “I’m not going to forget you.”

There’s a discordant twang and then Jaskier puts his lute aside, pushing himself up so he’s sitting up on the grass. Geralt doesn’t look at him. “Well, that’s very sweet, but it’s probably better if you do. We are friends, Geralt, no matter how snarly you get, I know that you know that.”

“If we’re friends then why do you want me to forget you?” he asks. His voice sounds hollow. He hopes Jaskier doesn’t notice.

“Well,” Jaskier says, drawing the word out so it has several more syllables than it would otherwise, “remembering people who have died seems to hurt you, my dear, and I’d rather not hurt you. Not from the grave, where I can’t do anything about it.”

He’s hurting him now and not doing a damn thing about it besides twisting the knife deeper. “I’m not going to forget you.”

“Alright,” he says, voice softer than it had been a moment ago. “It’s not as if I can make you, after all.” There’s a long moment of silence while Geralt stares into the fire and Jaskier picks up his lute again, plucking at the cords once more. “You don’t have to promise. But I think it would be nice, if you came to see me after I’m gone. Just once, I’m not trying to intrude. It’s alright if you don’t. Not like I’ll know the difference, after all.” He laughs, but, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, Geralt doesn’t get the joke. Usually that doesn’t bother him. Usually it’s enough just to hear Jaskier laughing. Usually it doesn’t hurt.

“I will,” he says. “I promise.”

When he risks a glance up, Jaskier is smiling, something smaller than his usual grin.

Geralt doesn’t want to return it. This isn’t a conversation to fucking smile about. But his lips quirk up at the corners without his permission.

Jaskier’s really quite stunning like this, in a meadow by a stream with the glow of sunset around him.

It’s not a sight he ever wants to forget.

~

“I’m leaving in the morning,” Yennefer tells him, still curled in front of the fire even though it’s far from cold enough for them to need it. It’s the first words she’s said to him in hours. Since she’s punched him. He’d be impressed by the strength of her fists if he was impressed by anything these days.  

He grunts, only because he knows if he says nothing at all then she’ll just get angry again.

“I’m portaling there,” she continues. “You should come with me.”

He doesn’t say anything. It’ll make her angry, he knows, but what does she expect him to say to that, really?

“Geralt.” The plea in her voice is enough to startle him, enough that he actually looks at her.

She’s still a desperate, greedy thing, but she’s not hideous. She never has been. That was his mistake, the first time, looking at her and seeing something like himself there. But she’s nothing like him. She’s just Yennefer, down to her bones, and there’s nothing and no one like her.

“It’s such a small thing,” she continues, “fuck, I – I didn’t even like him,” he knows that’s not true, but it’s not like he’s in any position to call someone out for lying about their feelings, especially about this, “but he – matters. To you.”

“He mattered,” he says. All on his own, completely independent of Geralt, he’d mattered. Just because he’d existed, he’d mattered.

She lets out a slow breath, something to keep a hold of her temper when she’d really prefer not to. He thinks she picked that up from him. “Then why are you being so stubborn about this? Just come with me.”

He shakes his head, but the anger’s gone. He doesn’t have the energy for it, not with how small she looks right now. As always happens when the anger fades, his eyes burn, and he presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, hunched over to dig his elbows into his knees, trying to focus on the physical pain, the kind he can manage.

“He told me to come say goodbye,” he’s far passed the point where he can be embarrassed about the raspiness of his voice, “and I’m not ready to say goodbye yet.”

“Will you ever be?” she asks.

He doesn’t answer.

~

Geralt had thought it might be a monster, a time when he’s not fast enough or good enough to keep Jaskier safe, or an angry ex-lover when Jaskier’s not quite quick enough to get away.

It’s neither.

“I’m fucking freezing,” Jaskier says, huddled beneath a blanket, teeth chattering so loudly that Geralt would be able to hear it from the other side of camp even without his advanced hearing. The fire isn’t helping much, wood just damp enough to keep it small but dry enough to burn. “Couldn’t we have stopped in a town? With an inn? Or even a stable, I’d take a stable right now. I would love a stable right now.”

“Next town’s a day’s ride away,” he says, but Jaskier’s right, it is freezing. It’s spring only on a technicality, snow still blanketing the earth and a crispness to the air that hurts to breathe. Even his hands are stiff with it, and he’s been through worse, it’s not dangerously cold, but it’s far from comfortable. If he’s uncomfortable, Jaskier must be downright miserable. He takes his blanket and drapes it around Jaskier’s shoulders. “Here.”

He startles at the weight of it and his face instantly sets itself into a scowl. “No, absolutely not, are you mad?”

“I don’t feel the cold the way you do,” he says, which is true.

Jaskier scoffs, reaching his hands out of the blanket to grab for Geralt’s hand. Geralt blinks down at him. “You’re just as cold as I am, get down here, this is ridiculous.”

He follows Jaskier’s lead, sitting down next to him, because he’s used to that by now, to doing what Jaskier wants rather than arguing with him about it, but pulls away when he starts undoing his armor. “What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to keep us both from freezing to death, and this is just going to get in the way of it.” Jaskier’s done this too many times for him, is too good at it, because his armor’s off and it and the swords are piled in front of them before he’s even finished speaking. Jaskier shoves at his shoulder. “Now lay down and let’s get some sleep. It better be warmer in the morning. Fuck, we’re getting a hot bath at the first inn we see, I don’t care how much it costs.”

Geralt could argue, but what’s the point? They’ll stay warmer, they’ve shared bedrolls and beds before, there’s no reason this should be any different. So he lays down on his side, pulling the blankets over both of them, and thinks that’ll be the end of it.

He should have known better, with Jaskier.

“Honestly, Geralt, you are the absolute worst cuddler I’ve ever shared a bed with,” he huffs. Geralt considers pushing him out into the snow, but then Jaskier pulls him until he rolls over, and Geralt finds himself half draped over Jaskier, his head on his chest and Jaskier’s arm around is back, holding him in place. This close, Jaskier’s heartbeat is the loudest thing in this forest. “There, that’s better isn’t it?”

Geralt doesn’t say anything, knowing he doesn’t have to. It’s a strange sensation, to be on top of someone like this, to be curled into someone else’s side. Even when he finds bedpartners that are willing, it’s usually the other way around. It’s only practical – Geralt is a large man. He’s typically heavier than his bedmates.

If Jaskier notices or has any complaints, he’s hiding it well. His breathing quickly evens out into sleep now that he’s not quite as cold. Geralt tucks his nose against the hollow of Jaskier’s throat and hides a smile there, where no one can see it.

He tries to stay awake, and he doesn’t care that it’s pathetic. He doesn’t want to miss a moment of this, of being in Jaskier’s arms in the only way he’ll ever be allowed to be there. But he’s too comfortable, too exhausted, and he falls asleep with Jaskier’s heartbeat in his ears and breath against his hair.

Geralt wakes up when the sun’s barely started to rise and with  adrenaline thrumming in his veins. He listens, hears four heartbeats that aren’t his and Jaskier’s and the near silent sound of people walking through snow. He takes a deep breath, then rolls to his feet, grabbing his sword off the ground and stepping in front of Jaskier, who’s awake now but only barely, rubbing at his eyes as he pushes himself to his feet.

It’s just bandits.

He doesn’t let himself be relieved, not yet, but he flings himself at them before he can think better of it, and four to one odds aren’t fantastic, but these are not skilled warriors, they’re just men, and they fall easily enough beneath his sword.

“Geralt!” Jaskier yelps and then there’s a gasping, gurgling sound that has him turning so quickly he nearly stumbles.

There’d been five of them. Not four.

Jaskier’s on the ground and his blood is so red against the snow, somehow so much brighter than the bandits’ had been.

The last bandit runs and Geralt throws his sword without looking, hears it hit its target and the thump of the last bandit hitting the ground, but he doesn’t look to check.

“Jaskier!” he shouts, dropping down beside him.

Jaskier tries to speak, but can’t, pale and shaking.

The bandit had slit his throat.

Geralt presses his hands against the wound, trying to stem the bleeding, even as Jaskier’s blood pours hot over Geralt’s fingers, even though he knows it’s too late.

“It’s okay,” he says, and he doesn’t recognize his voice, its sounds too far away, too high pitched. “It’s all right, you’re okay, you’re fine. You’re going to be fine.”

Jaskier’s eye are wide and blue, and Geralt tries to focus on them, tries to focus on the blue rather than the red. He reaches up, grabbing the front of Geralt’s shirt, and he lets Jaskier pull him closer because how can he not? Jaskier can’t speak like this, not when he’s drowning in his own blood, but Geralt can’t tell him that, can’t do anything but let Jaskier pull him closer, tells himself to just try and hear the words Jaskier won’t be able to say.

But Jaskier doesn’t try and speak.

He tilts his head just enough to press his lips to Geralt’s, kissing him with all strength he has left. Geralt gasps into it, means to pull away but doesn’t, and Jaskier only deepens the kiss, all teeth and tongue and his deceptively strong grip on the front of his shirt.

It’s what he’s always wanted in a way he’d never want to have it.

Jaskier breathes his last, stuttering breath into Geralt’s mouth and then goes limp, falling back into the earth, his hand sliding from the front of Geralt’s shirt and falling into the slow.

His blue eyes are sightless and everything around them is red, every inch that Geralt can see of his own skin is red with Jaskier’s blood.

His rage is red too.

He stabs the bandits too many times to count. His screams send the birds hurrying from the trees. He punches the ground just to feel his knuckles split, to see some of his own blood on his hands.

None of it matters. It doesn’t change anything.

Jaskier is still dead.

~

It’s the middle of the night, so late that it’s early. Geralt keeps the fire stoked because Yennefer is still there. He doesn’t know why she’s still here.

He can’t tell if he wants her to leave or not.

She breaks the silence to say, “Don’t make me go alone.”

“You don’t have to go at all,” he says. “It’s not like you made him any promises.”

“Someone should go,” she says. “It should be you. But if you won’t, then it’ll be me, if no one else, and I won’t know what to do or what the fuck to say. I don’t know how to talk to him if we’re not arguing.”

It almost makes him smile. It’s something he would have smiled at, before.

“Because I’m so good at talking,” he says, and it’s supposed to come out wry, to come out soft, because she’s here and she deserves that, but he doesn’t know how to sound like that anymore, and instead it just comes out cold.

“You could tell him what you’ve been up to this past year,” she suggests.

No.

He can’t do that.

She’s right, after all. He wouldn’t be impressed by it. He would be incredibly pissed off about it, probably. The fact that he can’t yell at him from his grave doesn’t matter much.

Geralt had wanted to crawl into that grave, just like he’d thought about when he’d nearly been killed by the djinn. But he couldn’t, because he had one more promise to keep. He wasn’t allowed to lay in the dirt and let death come for him. He had to visit him a year and a day later. He had to be alive to visit him a year and a day later.

Geralt hadn’t thought the promise had been cruel when he’d made it. It had been, though, he sees that now.

He can’t tell Yennefer that. He can’t tell her that if he fulfills this last promise, then he doesn’t know what else he’ll have left. He doesn’t tell her that he’s forgotten how to be alone.

He thinks she might know, anyway.

Yennefer loves him. She’s not in love with him, but she loves him, she wouldn’t be here if she didn’t love him, and he won’t throw that love back in her face by telling her that it’s not enough.

He thinks she might know, anyway.

He hadn’t noticed her moving, but now she’s sitting next to him. It was so cold, this time last year, but now it’s something close to warm. They don’t need the fire, really. He just doesn’t know what he’ll do with himself if he doesn’t have something to do with his hands, if he doesn’t have something to focus on.

“Geralt,” she says quietly. “Please. Don’t do it for me or for you. He asked you to be there.”

“He won’t know the difference,” he says, repeating the words that had been said to him in that sunny meadow.

“You will,” she says. “You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t go.”

He stands, turning away from her so she can’t see his face. He can’t handle her seeing his face right now. “I’ll never forgive myself for lots of things. What’s one more?”

~

The frigid weather ends up being a gift.

They’re about a two week ride to Lettenhove. If it had been in the middle of summer, rather than the beginning of an unusually cold spring, then –

Then it would be worse. Geralt tries to make himself be grateful that it isn’t worse.

He places Jaskier’s body in the blankets they’d slept together under and packs snow around him, trying to keep the rot at bay, trying to keep this from being worse than it already is, wrapping him up and tying the ends.  He rides with Jaskier’s body in front of him, keeping him steady on Roach’s back until they reach next town.

A small cart to hitch to the back of Roach takes all the coin he and Jaskier had left between them. He dismisses the idea of selling Jaskier’s things almost as soon as he has it. Jaskier would never forgive him for selling his lute. As for the rest of it, well. Geralt can barely even look at it, his clothes and his perfumes and his songbooks, how the fuck could he sell it? It’s a ridiculous idea. The cart will add two days to the ride. He doesn’t care. If he has to carry Jaskier in his arms the whole way there, there will be nothing left of him by the time he arrives.

He’d do it, if he had to. But he doesn’t.

Geralt stops only to let Roach rest. Three days in when he has to let himself sleep, he can’t do it, terrified every moment that something will come for Jaskier’s body while he’s sleeping, some animal or creature looking for an easy meal, and that would be, it would be – worse, to have to bring Jaskier home in pieces.

He doesn’t manage more than a couple minutes of sleep, always lurching to his feet to check on the cart, to make sure he’s still there, bundled in the blankets and packed with snow.

The next night, he ignores the rolling in his stomach and scoops enough snow out of the cart that he can lay in it sideways, pressed right up against the side of the cart, as far from Jaskier’s body as he can get while still being in the cart with him. Every time he opens his eyes, he can see the dark outline of Jaskier’s body wrapped in their blankets, can see that he’s still there.

He’s got the hard, rough side of the cart to his back and snow all down his front. He can already tell he’ll wake up with a painful crick in his neck and his side numb.

He manages to sleep for the first time since Jaskier was killed.

Four days after that, he’s almost halfway to Lettenhove. He’s only slept one night in the past three, because the only way he can sleep is if Jaskier is in his eyeline and the discomfort and horror of it is almost as bad as not sleeping at all. Almost.

If he collapses from exhaustion, he can’t bring Jaskier home. He promised to bring Jaskier home.

He has to walk through a city, because if he doesn’t it’ll add another day to the trip, and he doesn’t think he can take an extra day. He doesn’t think he could stand an extra minute, isn’t completely sure he’ll make it to Lettenhove intact at this rate.

He keeps his head down and urges Roach forward, wanting to get away from all these curious eyes as quickly as he can.

“Geralt!”

He freezes, not sure if it’s hope or dread seizing him, but either way he urges Roach to a halt and twists in the saddle, towards that voice.

Yennefer is coming towards him, in a dress a thousand times too grand for their surroundings, something that could be mistaken for a smile on her lips.

“Didn’t expect to see you here or I would have dressed up.” She’s teasing. She’d never dress up for him, and she’s already so ridiculously overdressed that it would be comical if Yennefer was the type of woman people could laugh at. She leans over the cart, “What’s this? You don’t usually go to this much effort for a trophy.”

She’s reaching inside and Geralt doesn’t realize he’s moved until he’s standing in front of Yennefer, holding her wrist tight enough to break it. “Don’t.”

She doesn’t pull away, doesn’t get angry. Instead she stares at him for a long moment, then glances at Roach, her eyes stopping at the lute attached to the saddlebags. Slowly her violet eyes return to the cart. “Geralt,” she says, voice low, like he would speak to a spooked horse, “where’s Jaskier?”

He takes a deep breath, in through his nose and out through his mouth. He hasn’t cried and he’s not going to. Tears are useless. “I need your help.”

“Geralt,” she says, pale, “I can’t – I’m not – that time of magic is no good, it never turns out right.”

He’s so exhausted that it takes him several long moments to figure out what she’s talking about. He shakes his head, can’t even muster up the outrage that she thinks he would even ask. If he didn’t know better, he would, after all. “I need a portal. I need to bring him home.”

“Home,” she repeats. “Oxenfurt?”

“Lettenhove,” he corrects.

“That’s a week away at your pace, were you planning to drag him all the way there?” she demands. He doesn’t say anything, but something she sees in his face makes her flinch. He’s never seen her flinch before. “When did he,” she stops, giving up on finding the words, because he obviously knows what she means.

He thinks about lying, to make it seem a little bit less awful. He doesn’t. “He died eight days ago.”

Her eyes close and she swallows. “And this whole time you’ve been-”

“I need to bring him home, Yen,” he interrupts her. “Will you help me?”

“You’ll have to leave Roach at the inn,” she says. Normally he’d complain about that but he’s too relieved to argue with her. She must be expecting the argument anyway, because she continues, “I did something tricky earlier today. I don’t want to risk a couple portals draining me, and it’s easier with just us.”

He just nods.

They set Roach up at the stables. Geralt bends over to pick up Jaskier’s body and Yennefer presses a hand against his chest, stopping him. “I can-”

“No,” he says, sharper than he’d intended. Then, because she’s helping him, because she’s done nothing to deserve his sharpness, “Can you carry his things?”

She narrows her eyes. He’ll fight her on this if she makes him. But she doesn’t, only sighing before slinging his lute and his bag over her shoulder. Geralt doesn’t let himself hesitate, lifting Jaskier into his arms. He’s still wrapped in the blanket, his body heavy and cold. It’s harder to ignore the scent of decay when he’s so close. The snow could only do so much, after all, especially to a witcher’s nose.

But this is the last time he’ll ever have Jaskier in his arms, so he ignores it and holds him a little tighter.

Yennefer summons a portal with a wave of her hand. He steps through it and feels her right behind him.

It closes behind them and Geralt thinks he would have smiled at the look on Yennefer’s face if the circumstances were different. “He grew up here?”

The manor isn’t quite a castle, but it’s close, sitting on top of head of rolling grounds overlooking the town and fields. Geralt’s only seen it from afar once before himself.

“He is a viscount,” he says.

“I thought that was a joke,” she hisses.

“You there!”

The turn to see a stern man on horse riding up to them and he comes to a stop further away than Geralt expected him to. He must be smart. “Witch. What are you doing here?”

Yennefer glances at Geralt, and he opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He’d been so focused on getting Jaskier here that he hadn’t though of what he’d say once he arrived.

“We come with bad news,” she says. “The viscount has died.”

The man’s face creases in confusion. “Excuse me?”

Yennefer scowls. “Jaskier, the viscount.”

“Jaskier,” he repeats slowly.

Geralt wishes he had a free hand to cover his face with. He says, “Julian Alfred Pankratz.”

Finally, the man’s face clears. “Ah, yes. The viscount!”

Yennefer’s eyebrow twitches. This would be funny, in other circumstances.

“Come with me,” he orders and leads them up to the manor. He doesn’t ask for Jaskier and Geralt doesn’t offer.

Then they’re just standing in the foyer, waiting. It’s clear that Jaskier’s family has money and that they’ve had money for a long time. Everything is expensive and clean and completely understated, the way only people confident in their place in the world manage to be.

Like a viscount making his living as a bard, wearing silk clothes that only nobility would bother with while spending nights sleeping on the ground and singing for enough coin to buy dinner for two.

There are quick footsteps coming from down the hall and they turn to see a woman with a head of silvery hair expertly curled and piled atop her head and bright blue eyes striding towards them.

Geralt hadn’t thought it would hurt this much, to see Jaskier’s eyes in someone else’s face.

“What’s all this ruckus about?” she demands.

The man who’d brought them in clears his throat, sweeping into a deep bow. “Dowager Countess, terrible news, I’m afraid. Your son has died and these people have come to return his body.”

Geralt is expecting grief. Surprise. Anger. But she just stares at them, then glances up the stairs behind her. “My son…”

“Your younger son, my lady,” the man says hastily. “Julian.”

Yennefer’s face is perfectly, carefully blank. Geralt can’t imagine what his own looks like.

“Oh, yes, Julian!” She nods, then gestures down a hallway. “This way.”

Geralt doesn’t know what the fuck is happening. His promise to Jaskier is all that’s keeping him from telling Yennefer to open a portal and getting them the fuck out of here. Jaskier is dead and they don’t even care. They should care. Even if they didn’t always see eye to eye, Jaskier’s still her son, still this man’s lord.

“Set him down there, thank you,” she says, gesturing to a table in the middle of the room she’d led them to.

Geralt hesitates, but it’s not like he can refuse. If he gives Jaskier one more gentle squeeze before laying him on the table, at the very least no one calls him on it.

The countess starts undoing the knots keeping the blankets together and he barely stops himself from pulling her away. “Dowager Countess,” he says, the formality unfamiliar on his tongue, but this is Jaskier’s mother. “You might not want to – it’s been eight days.”

She barely glances at him, and Jaskier came by his haughty dismissiveness honestly, at least.

It finally comes loose and she lifts the blankets, just enough for her to see and not flinging them off. Geralt can’t tell if he’s grateful for that or not, if he wants one more look at Jaskier of if he doesn’t. She frowns, her eyes going soft, and at least this is – something. At least she’s not completely unmoved by her son’s death.

“I’ve seen worse,” she says finally, lowering the blanket.

The door opens and someone else steps inside. “Mother, what’s going on? I was told we had visitors.”

Geralt turns and wishes he hadn’t. This man, somewhere in his forties, looks nothing like Jaskier at all, except for the thick brown hair and perfectly blue eyes. The Earl de Lettenhove has the same eyes as his mother, as his younger brother.

“Your brother has died,” she says, gesturing to Jaskier.

If Geralt had been hoping for some evidence of affection, he’s disappointed. The earl blinks, tilting his head to the side. “Ah,” he says finally. “That’s quite unfortunate.”

Geralt’s hands curl into fists.

The earl turns to him, looking him up and down, and he sees Jaskier’s quick intelligence here too. It would be easier to hate these people if the similarities between them and Jaskier weren’t so obvious. “You’re that witcher his songs were about, aren’t you? The White Wolf?”

“Yes,” he says, because he is.

“That his lute, then?” The earl holds out his hand, waiting.

Yennefer smile is more of a snarl, but she passes the lute and the bag over to him.

Watching her hand over Jaskier’s precious lute to a brother that doesn’t even care about him is like watching Jaskier die all over again.

“The witcher,” the countess repeats, looking him over in renewed interest. She lifts the blanket again, tugging at something. Geralt sees the flash of too pale fingers from under the blanket and doesn’t close his eyes, but he wants to. She succeeds in whatever she’s trying to do and lets Jaskier’s arm fall.

It hits the table with a dull thump that no one else seems to notice but is the loudest thing Geralt has ever heard.

“Here.” She tosses him something and Geralt catches it without thinking.

It’s a silver ring, two bands intertwined around each other. It’s the one Jaskier wears on his thumb.

She’d just taken it off Jaskier’s thumb.

“He was fond of you,” the countess says. “Keep it, to remember him by. Or sell it for your trouble, if you don’t care to remember him.”

“I’m not going to forget him,” he says. None of the rage and grief rolling inside him comes out in his voice. He can feel the ring digging into his palm. It’s not as if Jaskier is forgettable, after all.

The countess shrugs, as if it doesn’t matter. As if Jaskier doesn’t matter.

“Thank you for returning him to us,” she says, and that almost sounds genuine. But Jaskier was good at sounding genuine too. Geralt had been able to tell the difference, with him, but he doesn’t know if that skill applies to the rest of his family. “Alfred will show you out.”

Geralt’s confused until the earl opens the door for them.  

Yennefer says what he’s thinking. “You named your younger son after your older?”

“Alfred is a family name,” the earl says smoothly. “This way.”

Geralt looks back at Jaskier one more time. He almost asks to touch his hand one last time, but doesn’t.

He steps through the door and Yennefer follows a step behind him. Alfred closes the door behind them.

Moments later, they’re back where they started, standing in front of the manor. “I could set it on fire,” Yennefer offers, her voice faint like it gets only when she’s truly furious and can’t do anything about it.

He thinks about how Jaskier reacted to the idea of being burned and says, “Don’t.” He focuses on the pain in his palm, on the feeling of Jaskier’s ring digging into his skin. “This is what he wanted.”

Yennefer makes a sound of disgust in the back of her throat, but doesn’t say anything else, just opens a portal with a sharp, angry slice of her hand.

He steps through it. He tells himself not to look back.

He does it anyway.

~

It’s so close to sunrise. The sky is just starting to lighten.

Yennefer is still here.

The fire is still going.

He rubs a hand over his chest, letting his fingers catch on the ring on the same chain as his medallion. Jaskier’s ring.

“He kissed me,” he says. Yennefer looks up so quickly he’s surprised he doesn’t hear something crack. He’d told her so much about Jaskier, about both promises, but he’s never told her that. “It was just the one time. They slit his throat, so he couldn’t speak, but he kissed me. He died kissing me.”

Silence hangs between them, but it doesn’t last, and Geralt hadn’t expected it to. “That,” Yennefer says, as much venom in her voice as he’s ever heard, “was a shitty fucking thing for him to do to you.”

“Yeah,” he says. His hand is still on his chest, over his ring. “I’m glad he did it, though. Wish he’d done it earlier. Wish I’d done it earlier, if he was going to kiss me back.”

He’s not just mourning Jaskier. He’s mourning all the things they could have had and now never will, the things that maybe Jaskier would have let him have, if only Geralt had fought for them.

One, he might have been able to survive. But both? He’s been on borrowed time ever since Jaskier took his last breath.

Yennefer sighs. “Geralt. Come with me to visit Jaskier’s grave. Please. It’s been a year and a day since we brought him home and you promised.”

He looks at her, how pale and tired she looks in the firelight and the milky pre-dawn light. He wants to refuse again.

But she’s stayed here all night, with him, by the fire when she has no reason to be here.

What does he think he’s avoiding, anyway? How much more hurt can he really become just from seeing Jaskier’s grave?

He hadn’t wanted to find out.

But it looks like he will.

“Okay,” he says quietly.

He had promised, after all.

Yennefer doesn’t smile or smirk or say anything, doesn’t show any satisfaction in her triumph. She gets to her feet and puts out the fire with a shove of her hand and opens a portal with the same movement. He doesn’t bother to ask about Roach or his swords or anything else. As if Yennefer would leave the place unwarded.

The manor looks almost exactly the same as it had a year and a day ago. Except the field surrounding it is covered in –

“Dandelions,” Yennefer says, lips parting in surprise.

“Groundskeeper must be slacking,” he says. The grass is barely visible under them, just a sea of bright yellow.

She shoots him a look, but he doesn’t say anything further. Maybe it means something. Maybe Jaskier’s family had cared that he died. Or maybe the groundskeeper had been let go.

They walk to the front of the manor and no one stops them this time. They mean to go around, to go find Jaskier’s grave, sure that no one but maybe the baker is awake this early in the morning.

But the door opens and the dowager countess is standing there, in her sleeping robe and hair loose around her shoulders. She looks angry, but by her white knuckled grip on the door Geralt almost thinks that she might be afraid. “What are you two doing here?”

“We just wanted to pay our respects,” Yennefer says, trying to sound something on the scale of charming and diplomatic.

The countess’s eyes narrow. “No. Leave on your own or I’ll have someone escort you.”

Yennefer drops the fake charm and takes a step forward, chaos heating the air around her. “Listen you-”

Geralt puts an arm out in front of Yennefer, cutting her off, and she lets the chaos around her sizzle away. “Please,” he says quietly. “He asked me to come here a year and a day after. I’m just trying to do what he wanted.”

“He asked you?” she demands. He nods. Her eyes dart down to his hands. “Sell that ring, did you?”

He pulls his medallion from his shirt, lifting it up so she can see the ring settled on top of it.

She presses his lips together, staring at him for a long, tense moment. “Oh, fine,” she says. “If he asked you to be here, then I suppose he wants you here. Come on.” She turns and walks away, but leaves the door open.

They follow her out of a lack of any other option. She leads them quickly though the manor, and something seems strange. There’s the smell of bread rising and pork and beef roasting in the air and the furniture has been rearranged since they were here last, pushed back against the walls.

“Are you having a party, Dowager Countess?” Yennefer asks, frowning.

“Something like that,” she answers. “You might as well drop the title and just call me Elizabeth. Not much point in standing on ceremony if Julian wants you here for this.”

Yennefer startles and looks at him, but Geralt only shrugs. Everything he knows about parties and at least half of what he knows of nobility he’d learned from Jaskier. He’d actively gone out of his way to avoid them for the first century and a half of his life.

“Is this a tradition in your family, then?” Yennefer tries. “To mourn a year and a day after someone is put to rest?”

Elizabeth shoots her a quick, irritated glance that’s a perfect copy of the look Geralt has seen on Jaskier’s face a thousand times. “Not sure there’s anything to mourn yet. We’re about to find out.”

What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

They finally exit the manor through a back door, one that leads directly into the family cemetery. Alfred is there, as underdressed as his mother. He hears the door open and is speaking before he turns around, “There you are, Mother! It’s nearly sunrise, honestly. Marilyn is still asleep with the boys, they wanted to see, of course, but they're a little young, I think.”

He sees them and his mouth snaps shut, his jaw working furiously for a moment. “Mother?”

“Not my idea,” she mutters. “Julian told them to be here, apparently.”

Technically, Jaskier had only told him to be here, and Yennefer is here to guilt him into not backing out of his promise. He doesn’t point that out.

Alfred looks them over, quick and dismissive. Yennefer bristles, but Geralt doesn’t have it in him to be offended. “Really?”

Elizabeth shrugs. “Well, he is his witcher.”

Something moves in his chest at hearing that, at being described as Jaskier’s witcher. He can’t decide if it’s a good feeling or not.

“Doesn’t explain the sorceress,” Alfred mutters. “Fine, okay. It should only be a few minutes more.”

“Who’s Marilyn?” Yennefer asks, instead of asking the obvious question of what the fuck is going on here.

“My wife,” he answers curtly, “the Countess de Lettenhove.”

Yennefer seems genuinely taken back by that answer. “And those boys you mentioned are your sons?”

His eyes narrow. “Yes. Why?”

“You have a wife and sons and yet your younger brother was the viscount?” she presses.

Elizabeth and Alfred look at each other, a private, amused little glance that doesn’t make any sense at all, before Elizabeth says, “Julian is always the viscount.”

Geralt may not have a great grasp of the politics of nobility, but Yennefer certainly does, and she looks as confused as he feels. “What do you mean by that?”

The sky turns from grey to yellow, the sun just starting to peek over the horizon. Alfred and Elizabeth take several steps back, pushing them along with them, then turn, waiting. They’re staring at a gravestone so weathered it takes Geralt a moment to make out the faint markings on it.

Julian Alfred Pankratz, Viscount de Lettenhove.

But the headstone has to be over a hundred years old, and there aren’t even any dates on it. Why would they bury Jaskier there?

Alfred and Elizabeth are holding hands, looking at the little plot with an intensity that Geralt can’t even begin to understand.

“I don’t know if witchers and sorceress’s have gods,” Alfred says, “but I’d pray to them now if you do.”

“Pray for what?” Yennefer demands, but neither of them are paying her any attention.

The first rays of sunlight roll across the land, lighting up the hills of dandelions in a brilliant gold. It’s so beautiful that it almost distracts him from anything else.

Almost.

“Did the ground just move?” Yennefer asks, her voice not quite above a whisper.

It did. The earth in front of the headstone is moving, as if it’s soft, as if there’s something underneath it.

The hand that breaches the surface is tan with several silver rings and a thin strip of pale skin around the thumb.

Geralt reaches for his swords, but of course they’re not there, still back at the campsite.  

Elizabeth hits him in the chest, but she’s not looking at him. “None of that. He has to do it on his own and he didn’t ask you here to kill him, witcher. Just wait.”

A second hand joins the first, clawing up from the earth, scrabbling to get purchase on the soft ground. They hit firmer earth, then they’re pulling and pushing, arms clad in blue silk digging elbows into the earth until a head emerges, then a torso, and it’s easier now, the whole body emerging from the unnaturally soft earth and collapsing next to it, coughing up dirt and then rolling onto his back. “Fuck,” says a familiar voice that Geralt though he’d never hear again. “That never gets any easier.”

Elizabeth lowers her hand, a sunny grin that makes her look years younger stretching across her face. “Go on, witcher. He’d wanted you here for a reason.”

He means to look at Yennefer to check that this isn’t some sort of trick, which is has to be. But he doesn’t. Instead, he stumbles over to the man laying on the ground, collapsing next to him in a way painfully similar to how he’d fallen to his knees a year and nine days ago.

Jaskier’s eyes are a bright, clear blue and even covered in dirt he’s the most beautiful thing Geralt’s seen in one hundred and fifty years.

“Geralt,” he says excitedly, his grin just as wide as Elizabeth’s. “You came! You’re here! I would have found anyway, of course, but I’m glad.” The grins softens. “I’d wanted you to be the first person I saw when I came back.”

“Jaskier,” he says, and doesn’t recognize his own voice, weak and breaking.

Jaskier’s smile is smaller, now, but no less brilliant, no less there. “Oh, darling, I’m sorry. I did mean to tell you, it just never seemed the right time, I always told myself we’d have more time, and it’s rather impossible to prove. And, well, sometimes it doesn’t work. I didn’t want to get your hopes up.”

He opens his mouth to say something – to demand an explanation, to yell at him for not telling him before – but what comes out is a tight, hitching breath that barely holds back a sob.

It’s been a year and nine days since Jaskier died, a year and a day since Geralt touched him for the last time, and he hasn’t cried once. But now that he’s here, somehow impossibly alive in front of him, Geralt can’t make it stop, the tears leaking out of the corner of his eyes even as he tries to squeeze them shut, tries to control them.

Geralt doesn’t realize Jaskier is sitting up until his hands cup his face, Jaskier’s calloused thumbs running across his cheeks. “My dear, my darling, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I never wanted to do this to you. I didn’t know. I didn’t realize – I kissed you because I love you and I didn’t want to die again without knowing what your lips felt like. I figured you’d forgive me the trespass. I didn’t expect you to kiss me back.”

Of course he did, of course he would have, how could he do anything else?  

Jaskier presses his forehead against his. “I didn’t know, I didn’t dare to hope – but you do, don’t you? I wish I’d said something. I do love you, you heard that didn’t you? I am in love with you, and I’ve fallen in love quite a lot, Geralt, but nobody, not a single one, has ever compared to you, not for a moment.”

“Jaskier,” he breathes, and he can’t do words, he’s not good at them, not even at his best, and he’s far from his best right now. So he doesn’t bother, because Jaskier is alive and beautiful and so, so close, and he pulls him that little bit closer and kisses him.

Jaskier’s mouth opens under his eagerly, pressing against him until he’s in Geralt’s lap and Geralt’s hands are gripping his hips. He meets Geralt’s frantic pace then gentles it as his tears dry, as his chest stop heaving, kissing him slowly and thoroughly and like they have all the time in the world.

“Oh yeah,” Geralt distantly hears Alfred grumble, “the boys are way too young to see this.”

“I’m too young to be seeing this, goodness,” Elizabeth mutters and then Jaskier is breaking away, laughing, his bright eyes a perfect brilliant blue in the rising sun, and Geralt can’t make bring himself to mind.

“Come on,” Jaskier murmurs, placing a trail of kisses along his jaw, “let’s get me cleaned up. While kissing you covered in dirt is an upgrade over last time, I dare say we still have room for improvement, darling.”

Geralt lets Jaskier pull him to his feet, but only so he can grab him around the waist, exaggerating the inch difference between their heights and kissing him once more. Jaskier’s smile against his lips is such a wonderful feeling that he almost wishes they could stand there forever.

They pull apart eventually and Jaskier’s face of offended outrage is almost as good. He rounds on Geralt, hands on his hips. “Really? Yennefer? What’s she doing here?”

“Hello, bard,” she says, examining her nails rather than looking at them. She’s clearly had time to get control of any emotions she’d had about Jaskier’s return. “I was so sad that I didn’t get an invitation that I just had to crash the party.”

“Thought you might kill me before I managed to pull myself out, to be honest,” he says, and is he – surely he’s not – not after everything –

Jaskier peaks out over Geralt’s shoulder, very clearly putting Geralt in between him and Yennefer, and Geralt can’t help it, shaking his head to hide his laughter and not doing a very good job of it.

When he looks back up again, Yennefer’s false indifference is gone, replaced by a look of such profound relief that he can’t help but feel guilty over it.

This is the first time he’s laughed in a year and nine days.

Yennefer hadn’t been there for all of them, but he’s sure she knows it just the same.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Yennefer says, “seems like it wouldn’t do much good anyway.”

“There’s a first time for everything, and it’s hardly a quick process,” he retorts, but comes out from behind Geralt, crossing the graveyard. The way he pauses after a couple steps, turning his head to make sure Geralt is following him, is enough pull another smile out of him.

“Lovely Liza,” Jaskier greets Elizabeth, leaning forward to press a quick kiss to her cheek. “You’re looking as radiant as ever. Alfred, is that you? You’ve grown, I barely recognize you.”

“That’s what happens when you’re away from home for so long,” he says dryly. He hesitates, then grabs onto Jaskier, pulling him into a hug even though he’s filthy. “You shouldn’t just come home to die, Julian.”

Jaskier smiles, rubbing his back. “I also showed up for your wedding, but you’re right, of course. How’s Marilyn? She still married to you or has she wised up?”

Alfred scoffs, pushing him away and quickly rubbing an arm across his eyes. “She’s here, you ass.”

“Have some respect for your elders,” Jaskier scolds. “Who could you have taught you such ghastly manners?”

He sends an arch look to Elizabeth, but she only rolls her eyes. “Go get cleaned up, Julian. There’s a bath waiting in your room.”

“You’re a treasure and a pearl, dear Liza,” he announces. He turns to Geralt and kisses him again, soft and quick. “Can you survive my family’s tender mercies for twenty minutes?”

He could, of course, but he’s still not entirely sure this isn’t a dream or some sort of poison induced hallucination. He doesn’t want Jaskier out of his sight. “No.”

Jaskier’s lips twitch up at the corners. “Very well. Liza, Yennefer, play nice. She bites.”

Geralt can’t tell which of the women that last part is directed towards, but then Jaskier’s hand is slipping into the crook of his arm, pulling him into the house, and he forgets to care. He leads him to a room on the top floor of the house in the back corner, pushing open the door to reveal a large bed with dark blue velvet blankets, a smattering of instruments leaning up against the wall, including Jaskier’s elven lute that Geralt had last seen in Alfred’s hands a year and a day ago, and more books than Geralt has seen in one place outside of a library.

Jaskier ignores that for the steaming bath in the center, groaning as he strips out of his clothes. “If I didn’t have to worry about Yennefer and Liza coming to blows, I could really enjoy this. But I don’t want to leave them to their own devices for too long, who knows what could happen.”

He steps into the tub, reaching for the cloth on the side and scrubbing himself down, the layer of dirt transferring from his skin to the water, then dunking his head so he can get the dirt from his hair. Geralt almost offers to do it for him, but Jaskier really isn’t lingering, focused on washing off all the dirt and that’s it.

He steps back out once he’s clean, grabbing a towel to dry himself down before stepping over to the armoire and throwing it open. “I’m loath to miss the chance to put on something elaborate around Yennefer, but digging myself out of the earth is really quite exhausting, you know. I’m absolutely going to need a nap before the festivities begin if I’m to be prevented from embarrassing myself.”

Geralt doesn’t know what Jaskier considers elaborate, but the dark green pants and white shirt he puts on look like the same thing he always wore on their travels.

“Ready?” Jaskier asks, his hair still damp and his shirt clinging to the places on his body that haven’t completely dried yet.

“Hm,” he answers, mostly so he can watch the way Jaskier’s throat moves when he laughs.

When they make their way downstairs, Alfred has changed his shirt and they’re in the sitting room, sipping tea out of intricately patterned china. Yennefer and Liza are eyeing each other warily and not saying anything at all. Geralt doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that Alfred is sitting on the other side of the room from the them.

“Jaskier,” Yennefer says, “will you tell us what the fuck is going on? Your mother isn’t being very forthcoming.”

“My mother,” Jaskier repeats, raising an eyebrow. “Surely you’ve figured out by now that Liza isn’t my mother.”

“Yes,” and now it sounds like Yennefer’s clenching her back teeth. “But neither of them will tell me anything, so start talking.”

Jaskier sits on the couch across from them and Geralt sits next to him, even though he feels too large and awkward. It’s better when Jaskier shifts so their thighs are pressed together. “Liza?”

“I wasn’t sure what you wanted her to know,” she says simply. “You didn’t seem to be expecting her.”

He does a poor job of suppressing a smile. “Yennefer of Vengerburg is a surly, disagreeable sorceress who’s rather terrifying on occasion, and very possibly might kill me one day, but we can trust her.”

Yennefer face opens into surprise before she forced it back into a sneer.

“Very well,” Elizabeth says, taking this at face value. “What is it you’d like to know, Yennefer of Vengerburg?”

She waves at Jaskier, incredulous. “How? What is he?”

“Human,” Elizabeth answers.

Yennefer’s laugh is sharp and incredulous.

“It’s true,” Jaskier says earnestly. “I’m – different, when I’m dead. But alive, I’m as human as the rest of my family.” He pauses, “Well, besides the not aging thing. Bit surprised neither of you ever noticed that, honestly.”

“Julian is connected to the land and the land is connected to Julian,” Alfred says, and he says it in the tone of someone repeating something that they’ve been told many times before, like a love worn fairytale. “He returns life to the earth and the earth returns life to him.”

Jaskier is smiling. “You know, Lettenhove hasn’t been affected by a drought or plague in hundreds of years?”

“Hundreds of years,” Yennefer repeats, and now even Geralt is staring. “Jaskier, how old are you?”

The three of them look at each other, trading glances, and it’s Elizabeth who says, “It’s complicated.”

Yennefer glares, but before she can get truly furious, Jaskier continues, “I was born two hundred and fifty three years ago-”

“Two hundred and fifty four,” Alfred interrupts.

“Two hundred and fifty four years ago,” Jaskier corrects. Geralt tries to find some of the indignation and rage that’s blooming across Yennefer’s face within himself, but Jaskier is warm and alive is pressed against him from knee to hip. He’ll rustle up some anger later, maybe. “But to say I’m two hundred and fifty four is rather, well, deceiving, I think. I’ve spent a rather large chunk of that dead, after all.”

“How many times have you died?” Geralt asks, heart quickening in his chest. To be dead often enough that he feels as if it impacts his age –

Jaskier reaches out, squeezing Geralt’s knee. “Easy, my dear. Not that often, truly, a half dozen or so times.” Geralt doesn’t like the sound of that, the lack of specifics. Surely dying can’t be so unremarkable that he’d lose track of how many times it’s happened, especially since the number is small enough to be in the single digits. “But I spoke honestly earlier. It doesn’t work every time. Even when it does, sometimes it takes me a bit to get where I need to be.”

“He needs to be buried in the earth on our land,” Alfred says. “My great-great-grandfather wasn’t a fan of Julian and kept his remains in a box in his room for sixty years.”

Geralt doesn’t realize his hands have curled into fists until Jaskier lifts his hand from his knee to hold onto his wrist, rubbing his thumb against the edge of Geralt’s palm until he loosens his grip enough for Jaskier to slip his hand into his.

“And even then he only buried me when the crop yield dipped too low,” Jaskier grumbles. “Would have happened sooner but I was close enough to the earth that I could still help some, although not much.” Yennefer doesn’t have to do more than open her mouth before he adds, “I – I’m not aware, exactly, when I’m dead. I’m not me. Or I am. But it’s me as like, a spirit, or some sort of nature sprite or something. I don’t know. But I can sense the land and influence it, and it can sense and influence me, and – as long as I’m alive, the land lasts in the state that I left it in. When I’m dead and buried here then I can change it, I can make it better. But when I’m dead and not home, then-”

“Things start to go wrong,” Elizabeth says simply. “Julian is connected to the earth. When he lives, it lives. When he returns to it, he nourishes it. When he is lost, so is it. So are we,” she adds.

Jaskier’s face is soft as he smiles at her before focusing back to Yennefer. “It’s just me. The whole family is buried back there, but I’m the only one who ever comes back. We didn’t know. The first time I died, I thought it was going to be the only time. But I came back. I keep coming back. We don’t know if it’s a gift or a curse or how it happened in the first place. But I’m human, when I’m alive, and something different when I’m dead, and that’s it.”

“What did you mean,” Geralt asks, ignoring everyone else’s eyes on him to focus on Jaskier, “when you said it doesn’t always work?”

“Sometimes it takes more than a year and a day,” he says through a yawn, leaning more of his weight against Geralt’s side, “and since we don’t know how or why, one day it may just not work at all. But it’s always in that increment, at least. Last time was quite long.”

Elizabeth says quietly, “Thirteen years and thirteen days.”

“Everyone had given up on me but you,” Jaskier says to her. “I’m still sorry that I missed Alfred’s birth, he was nearly to my hip when I came back.”

Elizabeth waves a hand, as if sweeping it aside. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me. You promised.”

“Yes,” he says softly, but now he’s looking at Geralt, “I did.”

Geralt doesn’t kiss him again, but he wants to. He’s already kissed him in front of everyone here, but it seems more intimate now, sitting on this couch in the manor, with a china tea set in front of them.

The moment’s broken but Jaskier yawning again, rubbing a hand over his face.

“Enough of this,” Elizabeth says. “Get some sleep, I’m shocked you’re even still awake right now. I’ll wake you before the rest of the family arrives.”

“But,” Jaskier starts to protest.

“I’ll entertain Lady Yennefer,” she says firmly, glancing back over to her. “I can only assume you have more questions. I’ll answer them.”

For some reason, Yennefer hesitates. “If tonight is a family affair, I understand. I won’t intrude.”

Geralt doesn’t have the chance to force himself to make the same offer before Jaskier scoffs. “Really, Yennefer, you can’t properly be considered to be crashing a party if you leave before it starts.” Then, earnestly, “It is a family affair. You should stay.”

“I,” she swallows, “Well, I suppose I don’t have anything better to do.”

“Of course you don’t,” he says, then pushes himself to his feet. He’s still holding Geralt’s hand and he means to let go, but Jaskier just holds it all the tighter and asks, “You coming with me, then? You look as if you could use a nap yourself.”

Geralt doesn’t answer, just gets to his feet, and can’t bring himself to mind the soft sound of the rest of them laughing as he follows Jaskier. If all the laughter at his back was so warm, he doesn’t think he’d mind it very much at all.

Jaskier doesn’t let go of his hand until they’re back in his room and only then so he can start pulling his clothes off. “Sorry about this,” he says, interrupting himself with a yawn, “I’m just always so exhausted after I come back from dying.”

“It’s fine,” he answers. Then, now that they’re alone, he can’t help but ask, “You said once that in another life you were a family man–”

“Who raised my lovely Lizzie,” he finishes, lips twitching. “I didn’t think you remembered that. Elizabeth’s parents died when she was two, and I didn’t care for her uncle, so I took her instead. I stayed here and raised her for the next twenty years, before I died again, which was probably for the best, honestly. People were already getting suspicious about my age, and too many people who still remembered me quite clearly were still around when I came back, even thirteen years later. I taught at Oxenfurt for a while, but I got restless. Also for the best,” he says, grin flashing as bright as the sunlight seeping thought the windows, “seeing as it’s how I met you.”

Saying that it’s a good thing that Jaskier died, even if it’s the reason they met, doesn’t sit right with him, so he doesn’t. “Hm.”

Jaskier pulls back the blankets then look up, tilting his head to the side. “My dear, are you just going to stand there?” Jaskier’s heart speeds up and he licks his lips. “I just – I suppose I did an awful lot of assuming, I didn’t really ask, did I? But you kissed me back before and kissed me when I came back but those were two rather charged situations, weren’t they? I won’t hold it against you if you’ve changed your mind–”

Geralt crosses the distance between them in three long strides, curling an arm around Jaskier’s waist to keep him close enough to kiss, and he doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of this, now that he knows it’s allowed, now that he knows that Jaskier will kiss him back.

“No,” he says against Jaskier’s lips, kissing the corner of his mouth, the side of his nose, then right under his eye, letting his lips rest on the edge of Jaskier’s cheekbone before pulling back.

“Ah,” he says, and Geralt can’t help but be quietly pleased at the dazed look at his eyes. “Fuck, if I was any less tired, Geralt, honestly.”

He rolls his eyes and shoves Jaskier so he falls over onto the bed with a yelp. “It’s fine. We have time.” He pulls his shirt over his head and tosses it to the ground.

“You brute,” he scowls, but obligingly shoves over when Geralt gets into bed next to him, pulling the blanket over both of them.

The bed’s big enough that they don’t have to lie on top of each other but they’re still close, facing each other with barely a foot between them.

The last time Geralt laid down next to Jaskier, he was in the back of a freezing wagon packed with snow. The last time he laid down next to Jaskier, he’d been lying next to his corpse.  

“Geralt,” Jaskier says.

“Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping?” he asks, but he can feel the softness in his face and tries to scowl but can’t.  

Jaskier rolls his eyes, Geralt’s favorite shade of blue, but then he frowns. “Why aren’t you – you should be mad at me,” he says. “Really, I’d be furious, I didn’t tell you anything. I kept telling myself I would, that I’d explain everything, but I didn’t, and because I thought I had more time to tell you I never did and you didn’t know. I didn’t mean to do this to you, you have to know that. But I still did it.”

He’s right. Geralt should be angry. He’s very good at being angry. There’s a lot to be angry about.

“I’m tired too,” he says finally. “You were dead. I couldn’t, I tried to,” he sighs, closing his eyes briefly before opening them again. “I’d forgotten how to live without you. I couldn’t manage. I wasn’t managing. But now you’re here, when I knew I would never have you again. I’m tired, Jaskier. It’s been a long year. I don’t want to be angry at you. You didn’t want to hurt me. It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine,” he says, and Geralt can smell the salt of the tears that Jaskier is blinking away. “You’re right, I didn’t want to hurt you. But I don’t want you to not be able to manage without me, I don’t want you to need me. Not like that.”

His mouth curls into a smile. “Yet here we are.” Jaskier rolls his eyes, shoving at his shoulder. Geralt grabs his hand before he can take it back. He’s not good with words. But these words are important. “I didn’t lose you and now I know that I won’t lose you. I don’t have any room for anger.”

“I’ll die again, Geralt,” he warns. “I always do. And it could be – it could be something worse, if my body isn’t recoverable, if I’m not brought back home, if the magic runs out, or maybe I come back, but it’ll take twenty years. We don’t know.”

He shrugs. He could die killing a monster and there will be no magically bringing him back when he does. When he’s dead, he’s dead. But. His death isn’t inevitable, and Jaskier’s isn’t either. Or, well, maybe it is, he talks as if there’s nothing to prevent him from dying again, but he comes back. He doesn’t age, and he comes back. Losing him isn’t inevitable. “It’s a chance, Jaskier. It’s all I need.”

Jaskier is quiet for a moment, blue eyes wide, before he runs a hand over his face. “Fuck, Geralt, you’re killing me.”

Geralt sees the pale strip of skin on his thumb again and says, “Here, this is yours.”

“What?” Jaskier lowers his hand as Geralt is taking off his medallion, unhooking the chain so he can slide Jaskier’s ring off of it.

“Here,” he says, holding it out. “Elizabeth gave it to me. When I brought you home.”

He’d thought maybe the memory of Jaskier’s pale, dead hand wouldn’t hurt as much with him alive in front of him, but it does.

Jaskier takes the ring, running his fingers over the interlocking strips of silver. “Clever Liza,” he says, mostly to himself, before he looks at him. “Geralt, my love, it’s yours.”

Geralt means to argue, but Jaskier takes his hand and slides the silver band onto the ring finger of his right hand. He expects it to get stuck, but it doesn’t, smoothly going over his knuckle and sitting perfectly at the base of his finger.

“I didn’t think I’d ever give it to you,” he says, his face flushed red. “But I bought it for you, and wore it on my thumb, and when we were parted I looked at it thought of you.” He rubs the pad of his thumb over the ring. “Did you look at it and think of me this past year? The symmetry of that is nice, don’t you think? Very poetic.”

Geralt doesn’t know anything about poetry, but shifts enough so he can kiss Jaskier again, nothing frantic, just soft and slow, just enough to ground himself. “Yes.”

Jaskier smiles again, then rubs at his eyes, biting back another yawn. “Come on, come here, do you mind?”

Geralt’s not sure what Jaskier’s talking about, but lets him pull him closer, goes where Jaskier’s hands push him until he’s lying half on top of him, his head on Jaskier’s chest, just like they were a year and nine days ago.

“Is this okay?” he asks, his voice thick with sleep, his hand lazily running through the ends of Geralt’s hair. “I like you here. I like holding you.”

“Yeah,” he says, closing his eyes at the tears he can feel threatening to spill. He’s cried enough. He reaches out for Jaskier’s hand, because he can, because it’s allowed, and threads their fingers together, letting their joined hands rest on Jaskier’s chest. “I love you.”

Jaskier’s breath catches in his throat and then he shifts just enough to press his lips to the top of Geralt’s head, a gesture of affection that Geralt’s sure he hasn’t received since he was child, if he ever has. “I love you too.”

They fall asleep like that, curled together with the bright morning sun catching on Jaskier’s ring on Geralt’s hand.