“Jaskier,” Geralt sighs, exasperated.
Jaskier does his best to look innocent. “Geralt?”
“Put it back.”
Jaskier makes an exaggerated show of looking in a circle at the woods around them, a quizzical expression painted across his face that is just so patently false it makes Geralt’s teeth hurt. “Put what back?” he asks, all wide doe-eyes and mock confusion. “You must be getting a bit senile in your old age, Geralt, because I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.”
Geralt drops Roach’s reins, confident that she, at least, isn’t about to wander off and get herself tangled up in something that she can’t get herself out of. He covers their small camp in a grand total of four strides, stepping around the small campfire that Jaskier had only just finished lighting, and grabs his eternally irritating travelling companion by the wrist. “I can smell that village witch’s charm in your hand,” he says flatly. “It reeks of sage and woodsbane, and I told you to leave it alone.”
Jaskier’s cheeks flush pink, and, lo and behold, when he reluctantly opens his balled fist, there the tiny charm is, a small bundle of dried herbs wrapped in a length of white silk ribbon. “How are we supposed to figure out what it is if you won’t even take it out of your saddlebags?” he protests. “It’s not like I’m doing anything with it, there’s no mysterious incantations to recite or enchanted seals to break. I’m just—”
“Playing with it,” Geralt interrupts.
“You’re playing with it,” Geralt says, and goes to take the charm out of Jaskier’s hand.
He probably should have predicted that Jaskier would clamp his fingers shut around the charm, stubborn as a mule. Or a child, Geralt reflects. A mulish child. “I’m investigating it, Geralt!” Jaskier repeats. “We can’t exactly go on carrying some mysterious magical spell around with us, even if the village hag did say that it would bring us—what was the phrase she used?—oh yes, the blessing of perspective.”
“Me,” Geralt says, trying—not very hard, admittedly—to pry the bard’s fingers open. “Bring me the blessing of perspective. She didn’t give it to you.”
“Details,” Jaskier handwaves, and pulls his hand out of Geralt’s grasp. “I want to know what it is, Geralt! Don’t tell me you don’t – it would have gone in the nearest river if you didn’t.” He waggles the charm in Geralt’s face. “And here it still is, in your bags.”
“Which you ransacked to find it,” Geralt points out.
“I’ve never ransacked a thing in my life,” Jaskier answers snippily.
“You ransacked the mayor’s son in that last town.”
Jaskier scoffs. “What I did to Piotr,” he says, pressing his hand to his heart, “was free him from the pretensions of his loveless marriage and show him that there exists a whole world of pleasure that he had never before even imagined.” He pauses, smirks. “There might have been a bit of ransacking, too, but I couldn’t possibly say. A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.”
Geralt makes a half-hearted grab for the charm in Jaskier’s hand. “You kiss and tell all the time,” he grumbles. “I really wish you wouldn’t.”
Jaskier dances away from him, surprisingly quick on his feet given how much he complains about them hurting. “Now, now, you brute,” he says, putting the fire between them. “Be reasonable. There’s no need—”
At this point, everything happens very quickly.
Geralt grabs Jaskier’s wrist again, his grip like iron. At the same time, Jaskier trips on the uneven ground, yelping as Geralt stops him from falling, and his fingers spasm open. The charm slips from his grasp and goes spinning towards the fire – and Geralt might not know what the damn thing does, but he knows better than to let it be touched by fire. He releases Jaskier’s wrist to grab for the charm, letting Jaskier go stumbling backwards – and into Roach, who seems to have wandered over to see what all the fuss is about. Or possibly she’s just looking for apples, given that Jaskier has taken to sneaking them to her when he thinks Geralt isn’t looking.
The charm lands in the fire and bursts into a bright flare of purple flame.
“Well, that can’t be good,” Jaskier says into the silence, still hanging on to Roach’s mane. He looks up, meets Geralt’s gaze. “Geralt?”
And their little campsite explodes with light.
Geralt stumbles backwards, shielding his eyes, and lets out a sharp cry. Pain sears into his brain, doubly so given the magic that’s currently making his medallion practically dance off his chest, and as the light fades he does his best to squint into the gathering darkness, trying to make out the shapes of his bard and his horse. Horror sears through his heart for a long moment as all he can see is blurry shadows and smoky purple sparks – but then there they are, Roach prancing by the tree line, eyes rolled back in her head, and Jaskier sprawled on his back next to the fire.
Sprawled unmoving next to the fire.
Geralt doesn’t usually move this fast when he’s not dosed up on potions. He’s on his knees next to Jaskier in a fraction of a second, and—thank all the gods that he doesn’t particularly believe in—he’s still breathing, his heartbeat strong and steady. His skin is normal under Geralt’s hands, perhaps a little flushed, although his eyes are a little glassy. “Jaskier,” Geralt says, tipping Jaskier’s chin up, studying his eyes. “You okay?”
Roach neighs loudly, clattering up to Geralt’s side and mouthing at his hair.
Geralt frowns at her, hooks his fingers into her bridle as gently as he can. “Calm down, Roach,” he says, then looks back to Jaskier – who’s now looking up at him with a faint frown, his mouth working like he’s trying to get words out but isn’t sure the best way to do it.
Dread settles dark and heavy over Geralt’s heart. “Jaskier?” he asks. “Can you hear me?”
Roach neighs again, bumping her nose against his shoulder, but Geralt ignores her. He releases her bridle and grips Jaskier by the shoulders, shakes him firmly. “Jaskier,” he says sharply, trying to keep the fear out of his voice. “Say something.”
Roach brays directly in his ear.
“Roach!” Geralt snaps, far too keyed to worry about what the fuck has got into his horse. “Something’s happened to him, and I need you to stop whatever you’re doing and let me help him.”
Roach whinnies, insistent and panicked, spittle frothing around her lips.
“Roach,” Jaskier says, his voice oddly… off?
Geralt spins back to the bard. “Jaskier?” he asks, careful, pausing, fighting the urge to reach out and take his hand because he doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, doesn’t know what the fuck is going on – except they accidentally burned a magic charm and now both Jaskier and Roach are acting strangely.
“Roach,” Jaskier says, a little firmer but still not exactly sounding like himself. “That’s what you call me.”
Geralt freezes. He can’t have heard that right. “I call you Jaskier,” he says, confused.
“No,” Jaskier says, looking up at Geralt with a surprisingly placid smile spreading across his lips. “You call me Roach.”
At his side, Roach folds herself to her knees on the cold ground and nickers plaintively.
“Either you hit your head really hard when you fell, Jaskier,” Geralt says slowly, “or that charm made you…” He trails off, because frankly the thought in his head is too ridiculous even for them.
Jaskier is looking at him expectantly.
“Or it made you swap bodies with my horse,” Geralt says, a little shellshocked.
Roach—Jaskier?!—makes a very Roachlike grunting noise, and headbutts him in the shoulder.
“I think the second one,” Jaskier says with a slow, even cadence that—oh, fuck—for some inexplicable reason reminds Geralt of the rhythm of Roach’s walk. He pauses, looks down at himself. “Where are my legs?”
Geralt stares. “Right there?”
“No, my other legs,” Jaskier—oh no, Geralt can’t call him Roach, he can’t—says, then wiggles his booted feet in the air.
“I think Jaskier has them,” Geralt says faintly, and looks sideways at his horse. His bard. His horse. Fuck.
Roach gazes back at him with big, deep, brown horse-eyes, wickers softly, and nudges her nose against his cheek.
His nose. Because it’s not Roach, it’s Jaskier.
The medallion around his neck is still thrumming like a hummingbird against his chest, practically bouncing from the magic that’s hanging thick and heavy in the air.
“I miss my legs,” Roach-in-Jaskier’s-body says, tries to get to his—her?—feet, then promptly collapses forward, landing face-first in Geralt’s lap. Jaskier-in-Roach’s-body huffs indignantly, snaps his teeth in Roach-in-Jaskier’s-body—fuck, this is going to get confusing—then, Geralt’s guessing, remembers that if he actually bites successfully he’ll hurt his own body, and retreats a little. “Ouch,” Roach says, face-down in Geralt’s lap, and Geralt deliberately ignores the odd feeling in his gut that comes from Jaskier being… there. “How do you walk in this?”
Jaskier makes a horsey but still somehow eminently Jaskier noise that, Geralt knows, signifies extreme offense.
Geralt carefully helps Roach to Jaskier’s feet—fucking bollocking shit—and guides her over to the log that he dragged next to the fire a little while ago. “Sit,” he says gruffly, and sits her down. “Stay there.”
Jaskier neighs plaintively from behind him.
Geralt turns. “What?” he snaps, already nearing the end of his tether after five minutes of this bullshit. Or, more accurately, he supposes, horseshit.
Jaskier huffs, then rolls over onto his side and flops his head down to the grass. He wickers again, almost mournfully, and Geralt is abruptly entirely sure that, if Jaskier could speak right now, he’d be making an extremely melodramatic performance out of all this. Geralt goes to him, awkwardly pats his neck, and says, “I did tell you not to play with the witch’s charm.”
Jaskier neighs, loud and pointed, and swishes at Geralt with his tail.
Geralt knows Jaskier more than well enough to recognise when he’s sulking, and he’s pleasantly surprised to discover that that familiarity applies in equine form, as well. He’s tempted to leave him to it, to let him stew, to let him suffer—this is absolutely his fault, after all—but something twists in Geralt’s heart. Jaskier is annoying and brash and talks too much and sings when he should be silent and touches things he shouldn’t far too often, but right now, he’s probably scared and in need of comfort. Geralt crouches down next to him, runs his fingers through the mane of the horse who is currently apparently his bard. “You’ll be okay,” he says gruffly. “That witch didn’t have any real power, I would have felt it if she did. This will… wear off soon.”
Jaskier cranes his head to stare at Geralt, eyes big and sorrowful – then huffs out a long, horse-smelling breath right in his face.
“Right,” Geralt says, and leaves Jaskier to his equine sulking.
His bard’s body is still sitting next to the fire, now examining his long, calloused fingers. “These,” not-Jaskier-oh-gods-Roach says, “are very interesting.”
Geralt settles himself on the log next to his now abruptly-human horse. “How can you… talk?”
Roach-Jaskier pokes at her throat. “I think this is called a voice box?”
“It is,” Geralt says slowly, “but how do you know that?”
Roach shoots him a look that’s mostly surprising because Geralt’s used to seeing it from brown eyes rather than blue. “I can understand you when you talk to me, you know,” she says, voice kicking up to a steady trot.
“Of course I can,” Roach says in Jaskier’s voice, then turns back to examining Jaskier’s hands. “Do these play that instrument?”
Jaskier neighs in protest from his sulk.
“They do,” Geralt says warily, “but only when Jaskier’s using them.”
Roach huffs—ah fuck, Geralt recognises that fucking huff—and drops Jaskier’s hands. She studies Geralt, and it’s completely bizarre because it’s Jaskier’s face and Jaskier’s body but the stance is all wrong, the poise is all wrong, the particular combination of elegance and solidity that’s definitely not Jaskier but might conceivably somehow be… Roach.
Geralt’s horse has swapped bodies with his bard.
“Is this permanent?” Roach asks.
Geralt feels vaguely sick. “Don’t think so,” he says.
Roach cocks Jaskier’s head. “Do you mean that you hope so?” she asks, her eyes narrowing like Jaskier’s do when he’s sure he’s on the right track.
Geralt shifts, studies his hands, because that’s obviously exactly what he means. “Fucking perceptive for a horse,” he mutters.
“I’m your horse,” Roach says, unperturbed, and flicks at Jaskier’s ear like she’s sweeping flies off her flanks. “I know you. I spend more time with you than anyone else – even him.”
Geralt glances back at horse-Jaskier, still sprawled out across the ground, sulking because, what, he managed to bodyswap himself with a horse? This is not Geralt’s fault, and Geralt isn’t going to put up with any of Jaskier’s stropping over this.
“Don’t glare at him,” Roach says, ratcheting up to a terse trot.
Geralt blinks. “What?”
“Don’t glare at him like that,” Roach says… sternly? Oh, no, Geralt is not about to be lectured by his horse. “You have few enough friends who aren’t me,” Roach says, and apparently he is about to be lectured by his horse. “Stop trying to drive this one away. We both know you like him, and you miss him when he’s not around.”
An excited whinny sounds from behind Geralt, and Jaskier clambers to Roach’s hooves, trots over and tries to forcibly shove himself between them, presumably forgetting that he’s currently a horse and therefore takes up a lot more space than he normally does. He wickers a little, retreats a few steps, then settles for hanging Roach’s head over Geralt’s shoulder.
Roach-in-Jaskier’s-body is staring up at Jaskier-in-Roach’s-body, transfixed. “I’m so big,” she says at an excited canter, and reaches up, runs Jaskier’s hands down her own long nose. “Or maybe,” she continues, a little more reflective, “it’s just that you are so small.”
Jaskier makes another of those offended noises.
Roach pats his nose again. “I don’t mean you, little one,” she says, solid and comforting and steady. “I mean humans in general.”
Geralt squints at her. “I still don’t understand how you can speak so freely,” he says. “You’re… a horse.” He frowns. “Even if you’re currently human.”
Roach rolls Jaskier’s blue eyes, and, well, that’s an expression that Geralt is more than familiar with from both of them. “I have been with you for many years now,” she says, a gentle touch in her voice. “I have carried you through towns and cities, through faery woods and haunted ruins. I have seen all the monsters that you have seen – and I have been exposed to more magic than you realise, my witcher.”
Jaskier brays, flicks his mane in what Geralt is pretty sure is excitement. If he had hands right now, Geralt knows, he’d be reaching for his composition notebook.
“So you understand human speech?” Geralt asks. “Because you’ve been… enchanted?”
Roach shrugs. “More like I’ve been affected by enough stray Chaos,” she says, “that I’m a little more unique than your usual mount.” She cocks her head, blinks slowly with eyes that really should be deep and brown rather than bright and blue. “How did you think I was always there when you needed me, whether you’d called for me or not?”
“I just assumed you were a good horse,” Geralt mumbles, a little lost.
“Of course I’m a good horse!” Roach answers, almost offended.
Jaskier huffs out a breath and headbutts Geralt in the shoulder.
Geralt gives him a disbelieving look. “Are you defending her?”
Roach reaches out, runs Jaskier’s long fingers down her own long nose. “He’s a good man, Geralt,” she says, pulling at Jaskier’s ears, scratching between his eyes with the surety of someone who knows exactly what it feels like. “He has so much heart.” She swivels her gaze back to Geralt. “You know that he won’t leave you, my witcher?” she asks, somehow blunt and gentle all at once. “You do everything you can to push him away, sleep in the mud when we both know you don’t need to, tell him he can’t come on contracts, insult him, never tell him how much you care. Nonetheless, he won't leave you.”
If Geralt could blush, he’s pretty sure he’d be blushing right now.
At his side, Jaskier is oddly still.
Roach looks up at Jaskier again, tugs at his ear. “And you, little one,” she says, “need to remember that he is old, and that he has seen more of this world than you. He wants to keep you safe. He needs to keep you safe, because he has seen too many people that he loves slip through his fingers. He cannot do the same with you.”
Jaskier wickers softly, pushing his nose into Roach’s palm.
Geralt’s mouth is a little dry. “Thank you,” he says abruptly, not quite sure why the words are spilling up so quickly from his lips. “For carrying me so far. For being a constant in my life.”
Roach reaches out, presses Jaskier’s calloused hand to Geralt’s cheek. “I know,” she says, lips curling in a soft smile. “And I will carry you as far as you need to go, my witcher, for as long as I can.” She pauses, tilts her head to the side, and smiles, broad and beaming, as bright a smile as Geralt has ever seen on Jaskier’s lips. “I do have one request, though.”
“What?” Geralt asks.
“Apples,” Roach says. “More apples.”
A log shifts and cracks on the fire, and a burst of purple sparks flare up in the darkness of the night. Geralt feels his heart seize in his chest, gut twisting – but there’s no burst of light this time, no explosion of thudding brightness, no, there’s just a final quiet whisper of magic, strong enough to bounce Geralt’s medallion off his chest, and then silence.
“Oh, thank all the fucking gods!” Jaskier’s on his feet, patting himself down, grabbing at his chest, his shoulders, his face, his hair, a look of sheer relief in his face. “Not that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a horse, but I think it’d be pretty difficult to play my godsdamned lute with hooves.”
At Geralt’s shoulder, Roach snorts softly and rubs her velvety-soft nose against his cheek.
Geralt slips his fingers into her bridle, pats her cheek gently. “You okay?” he asks, and it’s strange because it’s exactly the kind of thing that he’s done a hundred times before because, yes, he talks to his horse – but for the first time he knows that, oh, she can understand him.
Roach wickers softly, nuzzles against his shoulder, then wanders back to the treeline, bends her head, and starts casually cropping the grass.
“That,” Jaskier says, “was incredible.”
Geralt studies Roach for a moment longer—she seems, once again, supremely unconcerned—then looks back to Jaskier. “Incredible?” he echoes.
“Incredible,” Jaskier confirms. “Have you ever been a horse, Geralt? Because I have!”
“Because you seemed so happy to be a horse,” Geralt says dryly.
“I was terrified because I thought I was going to be a horse forever,” Jaskier says blithely. “Now I know I’m not – as you can see, fully human again. But fuck, Geralt, I was a horse! I was Roach!” He’s practically beaming, and despite himself, Geralt feels a familiar warmth swelling up in his chest, wrapping its slender fingers around his heart and squeezing, just a little. “Do you have any idea how many songs I’m going to write about this? The realism I’ll be able to bring to it – this is fucking unique, Geralt!”
Geralt crouches down next to the fire, retrieves a mostly unburnt twig and uses it to poke around until he finds what’s left of the witch’s charm. The dried herbs are all gone, burned down to ashes, and the white ribbon is much the same, nothing left but embers. “Looks like the charm is destroyed,” he says, nudging the arrayed logs into a better position to keep the fire burning through the night. “That’s why you switched back. The magic has run its course.”
Jaskier sits heavily on the log next to him. “Perspective,” he says. “The blessing of perspective. That’s what the charm does: it gives you perspective. To be more accurate, someone else’s perspective.”
Geralt turns to look at him. “Swapping bodies with a horse is meant to bring you perspective?”
Jaskier snorts. “I imagine it was supposed to swap us,” he says, rich and wry, then pauses, just for a second, just a moment longer than he should. “And it did bring a kind of perspective, didn’t it? Via our lovely Roach – who said that, apparently, you care about me.” He’s quiet for a moment. “I believe,” he says, a little slower, “that the word she used might have been love.”
At the treeline, Roach raises her head and softly neighs.
Geralt shoots her a look, gaze narrowed.
“Geralt?” Jaskier asks, an amused note in his voice. “Is Roach trying to maybe tell you something?” His eyes are bright. He’s smiling. “You talk to her more than you talk to anyone else, maybe even more than you talk to me – so is there maybe something that you’ve told her that she wants you to pass on to me?”
Geralt grits his teeth. “Jaskier…”
Jaskier’s hand settles on his shoulder, just lightly, barely more than a breath of wind. “Geralt?” he asks, a little more tentative.
From the other side of the little clearing, Roach snorts pointedly.
Geralt sighs. Jaskier’s hand is still resting on his shoulder, light as a feather, cautious and careful and not pushing him further than he wants to be pushed, and it would be easy to just shove him away like he always does, to retreat, to hide – but, as always, Roach is right. She’s his godsdamned horse, and she’s always right.
Geralt pulls Jaskier off the log, pulls him down onto the ground next to him, ignores the customary squawk about the expensive silk of his trousers, and kisses him. It’s awkward, the angle off, too much teeth, but then Jaskier lets out a pleased little gasp, fists his hands in Geralt’s shirt, and all of a sudden it’s possibly the best kiss Geralt has ever had. He rumbles low in his throat, wraps his arm around Jaskier’s waist to haul him closer – and Jaskier laughs at that, soft and gentle. “Well,” he whispers between Geralt’s lips, kisses him again. “Looks like I owe Roach a whole bucket of apples.”
Roach whinnies her agreement from the treeline.
Geralt squeezes him around the waist, kisses him again. “You’ll spoil her,” he says, rubbing his cheek against Jaskier’s stubbled jaw, spreading his palm across the small of Jaskier’s back.
Jaskier grins, running his hands through Geralt’s hair. “I intend to spoil her,” he murmurs. “I’m going to shower her with apples and sugar cubes and carrots. She deserves it, because of course you couldn’t tell me about your damn feelings yourself, could you? Your horse had to do the emotional heavy lifting for you.”
“Are you complaining?” Geralt asks, eyebrow raised.
“A bit!” Jaskier says, but there’s laughter in his voice. “You really know how to make a guy feel wanted, you know? I spend all this time keeping you company on your lonely journeying across the Continent, composing you gorgeous melodies and heart-felt lyrics, washing your hair and, of course, there was the chamomile incident – and I have to wait to be bodyswapped with your horse to hear any words of actual affection?” He scoffs, tugs gently at Geralt’s hair. “You, my dear witcher,” he says, rich with amusement, “have some making up to do.”
Geralt hums. “And how do you suggest I do that?”
“I have some suggestions,” Jaskier says, leaning down to kiss him again, “but I’m pretty sure that none of them are Roach-appropriate.”
“Are you saying you don’t want to have sex in front of my horse?” Geralt asks.
“I am absolutely saying that I don’t want to have sex in front of your horse,” Jaskier answers, and laughs. “I think poor Roach has put up with quite enough of your bollocks over the years – she doesn’t need to see your actual bollocks as well.”
Roach makes a snorting noise that Geralt is going to take as confirmation.
Geralt fights the urge to roll his eyes.
Jaskier laughs again, as rich and warm as the fire itself. “Well,” he says, settling himself more comfortably in Geralt’s lap, “I have to say, if nothing else, I’ve learned a valuable lesson out of all of this.”
“What’s that?” Geralt asks warily, getting the distinct feeling that he’s not going to like the answer.
Jaskier’s grin is wicked. “The next time a village witch gives you a mysterious magic charm,” he says, twining a lock of Geralt’s hair around his calloused fingertips, that same expression of faux-fucking-innocence dancing in his eyes, “I’m going to play with it immediately.”