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The Boy who Ran

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Cool air brushed against Geralt’s face, as he stood outside the blacksmith’s shop. It wasn’t enough to ease the burn in his chest.

“Master Witcher?” The burly man, Jakob sounded more timid than anyone had probably ever heard him be. No wonder. He was in the presence of a monster, after all. Two monsters.

Geralt grunted in acknowledgement, but didn’t turn to look at him, eyes fixed at the rising sun, as though he could will it to slow down and delay the inevitable.

“I… what do you want me to do?” Jakob hesitated. “It’s been hours since you brought him. Shouldn’t… forgive me for asking, but why haven’t you done anything?”

Geralt’s fists clenched at his side. It was a question he had tried his best to ignore. Why hadn’t he done anything yet? Whether he did it now or later – it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t change the heaviness of what he had to do. So why couldn’t he do it?

“He isn’t well,” the blacksmith continued. “He doesn’t scream, but he is in pain. I don’t want him in my forgery like this.”

It was only due to his training that Geralt’s heart remained steady. The blacksmith wasn’t alone in not wanting the creature Geralt had captured to be in pain.

The only reason why the blacksmith hadn’t turned Geralt away, was because he had been told to do whatever Geralt told him to. Geralt briefly wondered, whether Jakob regretted whatever he had done that had left him to grant this favour. It was clear that if it weren’t for that burn in his chest, the blacksmith would have been too terrified of Geralt to endure his presence. The air had stunk of his fear, as Geralt had dragged his prey towards the blacksmith’s shop, a wild expression on his face.

Geralt closed his eyes at the memory, the sharp pain in his chest getting worse and worse with every moment he dragged out the inevitable. He wasn’t sure if his hesitation was a mercy or torture for the creature being bound inside of the shop.

“Master witcher?”

“I will go to him.” Geralt said it more to himself than to Jakob. Saying the words was making it real. He couldn’t take it back anymore. “Prepare hot irons. It must be pure iron.”

The man flinched, the stink of fear coming back.

“What are you going to do with it?” There was a tremor in his voice, but Geralt knew he didn’t dare – wouldn’t physically be able to - disobey. Geralt wished he would.

“What I need to do.”

No more words were wasted. Geralt watched the blacksmith disappear into the forgery, before he went after him and into a side-room of the shop.

It was dark, the only light provided by a small window in the back, through which the first rays of the rising sun fell. It was enough to reveal the man – creature! – sitting on the floor, head leaned back to rest against the wall. Bruises covered his skin, where Geralt had grabbed him too tightly, and burns where the iron chains the blacksmith had laid him in, cut into his flesh. Only another reminder for what Jaskier truly was.

Geralt wasn’t sure if Jaskier had even heard him approach. So he remained there, silent and still as a statue, until Jaskier lifted his head and flinched at the sight of him.

An ugly monster reared its head inside of Geralt. This was all wrong. He was supposed to protect Jaskier, not be the reason why his heart was racing with fear, his eyes wide like a fawn trapped by a hunter.

It didn’t hurt any less the second time around seeing that look. The first time he had seen it had been mere hours ago. Finding Jaskier hadn’t been difficult, even after the eternity Geralt had hesitated, naïve enough to think that he could refuse to do what he knew he had no choice in.
Geralt knew Jaskier’s scent, though the sting of fear – and heartbreak? – had been new. So had been the uncertainty and the terrified tears in Jaskier’s eyes when Geralt had finally caught up with him.
He wasn’t sure what had hurt more – the fear or the glimmer of hope in Jaskier’s expression.
Jaskier hadn’t even tried to fight. That had been the worst part.

He hadn’t lifted a finger against Geralt, when he had grabbed him by the arms, rougher than he ever had before, when he had dragged Jaskier to the nearest town and into the blacksmith’s shop, growling instructions at the man who had no choice but obey, and left Jaskier bound and alone in this room to stand outside and try to remind himself that he had no choice in this either– that it might even be the right thing to do.

For an endless moment, they were just staring at each other, neither daring to break the silence. Acknowledging the situation meant that they would have to continue, one way or another.

He saw Jaskier swallow thickly, and Geralt’s heart clenched, as he silently yelled at Jaskier to stay quiet, to not make him do what he had come here to do.
Of course, Jaskier didn’t hear his silent plea. Or, more likely he ignored it.

“Good morning, Geralt.”

It stung. Hundreds of time had Jaskier said those words to him, voice hoarse from sleep as he snuggled into Geralt’s embrace or cheerfully as he told Geralt that it was the perfect morning for an adventure. Now, his voice was guarded, as though he didn’t know how much emotion he was allowed to feel. Or maybe he had realised that there was no need to pretend to have positive emotions towards Geralt any more.

“Good morning, little Fae.”

Jaskier winced, as though Geralt had hit him. He might as well have.

“I don’t… I’m not…” for the first time since Geralt had known Jaskier, he seemed to well and truly at a loss of words. There was no way to deny what Geralt knew was the truth. A stone sank in Geralt’s stomach, as he watched Jaskier helplessly search for a way to talk himself out of this. Finally, Jaskier’s attempts stopped and he sighed instead. “Geralt, please don’t look so hurt. You seem … miserable.”

Geralt scoffed. “I’ve been happier.”

He didn’t say that he had been happier, when he had still been able to hold Jaskier in his arms, blissfully ignorant of his true nature. He didn’’t say that he couldn’t help but being hurt when his companion of years, his best friend, the man who held his heart in his hand, had turned out to only have used him.

Jaskier nodded, as though he could understand what Geralt even wasn’t able to fully comprehend himself. A cracked smile appeared on Jaskier’s face, a hollow imitation of that impish smirk he always wore, when he teased Geralt.

“You know, I somehow feel like I should be the hurt one between the two of us, you know, being a prisoner and all that.” He held up his bound wrists and Geralt’s stomach clenched when the burn marks mocked him. “I didn’t realise how much freedom I had. I could have become a sheep keeper. It would have been boring and dirty, but I still think I would be as happy as the day is long.”

Nothing of what he said made any sense. It was as though Jaskier didn’t even care what he was saying, but he needed words, any words, to cling onto, like a drowning man clinging to rotten wood that would surely break soon, but kept him afloat for the time being.

Jaskier let out a shaky laugh.

“I suppose I could also be happy in this blacksmith shop. We have slept in worse places.” He paused, a shadow passing over his face, cracking the barely- there mask of carefree joyfulness. Geralt wasn’t sure if Jaskier’s next words were ever meant to pass his lips. “That is, if I wasn’t so sure I would die here.”

“You are a Fae.”

Geralt hadn’t meant to say it. Voicing it once had been bad enough, the second time only felt like a knife twisting in his chest. But he needed the reminder, the reassurance of what Jaskier was. If he forgot, for even a second, he wouldn’t be able to do this.

Maybe he shouldn’t?

Jaskier’s eyes glistened and for a brief moment Geralt was sure, it was anger shimmering in them, before the first tear broke free of its prison and ran down Jaskier’s cheek.

“Is it my fault that I am what I am?” Jaskier said, voice thick and almost broken. “No, it isn’t. Fuck, I don’t even know what exactly I am. Geralt, I swear if I could, I would become fully human again, in an instant. I would, if it meant that I could spend the rest of my miserably short human life with you.” His smile came back, wobbly and fragile. “If I could, I would become human, only so you could love me again.”

Geralt staggered backwards, the words hitting him harder than any blow of an opponent’s sword. Irrationally, he longed for what Jaskier said to be true. For as long as he had known Jaskier, he had been so sure that he was human. And oh, he had loved him. Loved him still, though it shattered his heart. Why would Jaskier be any different now than he had been before?

The burn in his chest returned with renewed force, burned the doubt away, and let the bitter certainty creep in. A sweet voice whispered venomous truths into his ear. It didn’t matter what Geralt felt. Jaskier was a liar, he had lied to him from the moment they had met. He shouldn’t let him talk and plant those thoughts in his head that made him hesitate. This was a Fae’s tongue speaking. Geralt had to do what he came here to do, and quickly, before Jaskier’s lies poisoned his heart.

It felt wrong listening to this voice. Though it spoke the truth, everything inside of Geralt rebelled against it.

A new wave of heat pressed against his heart, making Geralt gasp for air.

“Geralt?” Jaskier asked, all false cheerfulness gone. “Are you alright?”

Geralt grunted, unable to answer, the pang he felt at the honest concern in Jaskier’s voice making the burn only worse. When Geralt made no move to ease his worries, but instead clenched his jaw against the pain, Jaskier stood up from where he had cowered before.

“Talk to me, Geralt.” Panic threatened to spill from Jaskier’s words. “Something isn’t right with you. Are you sick? You look so pale.”

Geralt saw him move closer and flinched back. The voice inside of him told him not to let him come any closer. If Geralt felt his loving touch, he would crumble, he wouldn’t be able to do what he had to.

Without thinking, Geralt snatched the crumbled up letter he was carrying with him out of his pocket and thrust it at Jaskier. It was the letter that had started mess. If it hadn’t been for this damned letter, he would have been able to let Jaskier go, to live his life as he was meant to, hunting alone. He would have never had to cross the path of the man who had lied to him ever again. But the letter had made that an impossible fantasy.

Geralt could barely repress the tremble of his hand as Jaskier took it from him, with a confused expression.

Geralt held his breath, as Jaskier smoothed out the paper and read over the words. Jaskier’s eyes widened with every second that passed. It was a short note, Jaskier must be reading it over and over, just as Geralt had done so many times, as though the words would change.

Geralt’s breath got stuck in his throat, as he watched the hated fear once again settle into Jaskier. He wanted to say something, anything, but he couldn’t. Not now that Jaskier knew what Geralt was about to do to him.

“This letter is too nicely written for such a horrible message.” Jaskier finally said, voice forcibly even. It didn’t hide the tremble of fear.

Jaskier held the letter out for Geralt to take back.

He didn’t take it. He never wanted to have anything more to do with this damned piece of paper and the horrors it demanded. He watched it flutter to the ground as Jaskier dropped it in front of his feet. It lay there harmlessly, as though it didn’t contain Jaskier’s damnation.

“Tell me this is a joke, Geralt.”Jaskier licked his cracked lips and Geralt could see the uncertainty clearly written on his face. “ ‘Burn the half-bred Fae’s Jaskier’s eyes out with a hot iron. Blind him as he has been blinded by his delusion’? What the fuck, Geralt? That is sick! Tell me you don’t really have to do that.”

The heat in Geralt’s chest got brighter, hotter.

“I do.” He said as though he was a groom on his wedding day and not the garrotter of the man he loved.

“And will you do it?”

“And I will.”

He kept all emotion out of his voice, trying and failing to make himself believe that he was the emotionless monster that people took him for. Maybe he truly was.

Something flashed in Jaskier’s eyes, a desperation Geralt had only seen once before. When he himself had been bleeding out, almost slain by a griffin and Jaskier had been standing over him, yelling at him not to leave him.

“Don’t say it like that,” Jaskier hissed. “If you tell me that you will hurt me like this, don’t do it as though you don’t feel anything. You cannot pretend, Geralt, not in front of me. I know that you aren’t unfeeling. I know that you feel more than any man could explain and it is breaking your heart.”

The words shot a spike though Geralt. They were just so… Jaskier. For decades he had defended Geralt and not even now would he stop, it seemed. When Geralt had been hurt on a hunt, Jaskier had always been there, wiping the blood away, not even once complaining that the blood was ruining his fancy clothes. When Geralt had shivered in the night from the aftereffects of his potions, Jaskier had held him with the same hands that were now bound with chains specifically made to hurt a Fae, to hurt him. Only moments before, Jaskier had asked him to talk to him, to tell him what was wrong, when he had thought Geralt might be in pain.

All this he had done when no one else would. Jaskier had stood by his side, when everyone else was throwing hateful glares at him.

Maybe Jaskier had sensed his thoughts, or maybe he just knew Geralt well enough to read him like a children’s book.

“You don’t have to pretend that you don’t feel,” he repeated. “I see you. I know you. You might think that my love was only pretend. Call it cunning or a ploy, if that’s what you want. That doesn’t make it any less true. I know what I feel – what I have felt for decades – and you know it too. Pretending that both of our feelings don’t exist won’t change a thing.” He took a shaky breath. “I know you aren’t cruel. Will you truly blind my eyes? Eyes that never so much as frowned at you when everyone else wasn’t even able to look at you without fear?”

No. No, no, he wouldn’t do it. Not when he had the memories of all the loving glances that couldn’t have been pretend. Not when despite the fear, Jaskier still refused to look at him with hatred.

Still, the burning inside of him spread, gripped not only his heart, but also his tongue, forcing his words.

“I have to. And I will.”

The words sounded foreign, as though they were not his own.

Another tear spilt from Jaskier’s eye. There was no trace of the weak smile on his face left, only a broken expression.

“Anyone could have told me – Melitele herself could have descended and told me that you were capable of doing this and I wouldn’t have believed it. I wouldn’t have believed anyone telling me you were cruel; so don’t think I will believe you.”

His mouth went dry. How could Jaskier still be so foolishly trusting? Maybe it was just the last shrapnel of a cruel hope that he wasn’t ready to see as the danger it was yet.

The silence that stretched out between them was interrupted by footsteps and a nervous cough. Geralt turned around, glad to have a reason not to look at Jaskier anymore.

What he found instead was worse. Jakob held an iron bar with one end hotly glowing and offered it to Geralt.

“It’s ready,” Jakob said, his nervous eyes jumping between Geralt and Jaskier.

Everything inside Geralt screamed at him not to take the iron, but he had no choice. His body moved on its own accord. Despite the protection of his gloves, the iron was hot in his hand, almost painful. How much worse would it be for Jaskier to receive the hot end? He had to do it fast. He couldn’t take the risk of Jaskier struggling and burning more of his face than he had to. The thought left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“Hold him down,” he growled at Jakob, who paled, but complied.

Geralt swallowed hard, as he watched the blacksmith push a struggling Jaskier onto his knees and hold him in place, like an executioner holding a criminal down to face justice. Except Geralt was the executioner and nothing about this had anything to do with justice.

“No, let go of me!” Geralt watched, frozen in place by the heat burning inside him controlling his every move, as Jaskier tried to wind out of the blacksmith’s grip who was bound to obey Geralt’s every command.

“Geralt, please,” Jaskier’s voice was thick with tears. “If it’s only you, I can bare it. But don’t let me be hurt by him.”

The words sounded so terrified and with a sinking feeling Geralt realised that he had no idea what the blacksmith had done to Jaskier, while Geralt had stood outside the shop for hours, unable to go inside and do his duty. Unable to realise that while he was stalling for time he didn’t have, the blacksmith might have hurt Jaskier. ‘Make sure the Fae doesn’t escape. Bind him with iron and use force if you see fit.’ The earlier command came rushing back at him, choking him. Why had he been so vague? He hadn’t meant it. He hadn’t meant for Jaskier to get hurt. Those hadn’t been his words. And still, he had been the one to utter them, the one to sentence Jaskier to agony he didn’t deserve. Just as he had done now.

Every instinct in Geralt screamed at him to help his friend. But he couldn’t move, couldn’t even consciously acknowledge that there ever had been such a thing as friendship between them.

Jaskier cried out, tried to push the rough hands away, but even if he had ever been a fighter, with his hands bound and the iron blocking any magic he could have accessed, he stood no chance.

“Stop it, please!” His voice cracked with panic and he turned his pleading eyes to Geralt. “No more, I beg you! I promise, I won’t struggle. I will be still as a stone. Just please, take off these chains that burn my flesh! Listen, tell him to go and I will be quiet. I will do anything you say. I won’t struggle or wince or even say a single word. I won’t condemn you for what you will be doing to me. I will forgive you, whatever it is you will put me through, but please send him away.”

The unnamed force inside of Geralt burned him. Unbearable agony with every moment he hesitated, only comparable to the witcher trials. But all of the pain was nothing compared to the terror and desperation in Jaskier’s eyes.

“Go,” he said harshly. He shook from the effort of getting his lips to form the word. The fire inside flared up, making him grunt and tighten his grip on the iron. Iron, like the bindings around Jaskier’s wrist that were burning him. “Take off his chains.”

“Witcher?” Jakob looked unsure, as though he hadn’t quite understood.

“Do it!”

Seeing the chains fall to the floor with a clang should have felt like being able to draw breath again after being under water for too long. Instead the fire inside him raged. This was the opposite of what he was supposed to be doing.

It was worth it, if it meant watching Jakob get up and leave. Geralt didn’t hear if the blacksmith was saying anything as he left, didn’t see him retreat. All he could focus on was Jaskier’s shaking body, as he collapsed forward.

He was mumbling something. His voice trembled so much that Geralt could barely understand what he was saying over and over again.

“Thank you, thank you, Geralt, thank you.”

It was like a punch to the gut.

“Don’t thank me,” he growled. He couldn’t bear the sincerity in the words, knowing that he had no choice but to hurt Jaskier.

“I have to.” Jaskier looked up, tears streaming down his face, but that smile that broke Geralt’s heart was back. “I knew you were still in there. I knew somewhere deep inside, you were still the man I love and who loved me. Despite what I did – what I am.” The smile fell. “Let me go, Geralt. I promise, you won’t ever have to see me again, just please.”

Geralt was not the master of his body, as he said in a cold voice “Prepare yourself, Fae.”

As if not calling him by his name would make it easier. As though Geralt could fool himself into thinking this wasn’t fundamentally wrong.

As if it didn’t break him to see Jaskier’s face falling at his words.

“Please, Geralt, I’ll do anything. I cannot see you be so cruel.” A sob escaped him. “Is there nothing I can do?”

“Nothing but lose your eyes.”

Jaskier could run, run as fast and far away from Geralt and it wouldn’t be enough to safe him. This wouldn’t stop until it was done. Geralt would track him down, hunt him like an animal, no matter where he went. And he wouldn’t regain control over his actions until it was too late. His muscles strained and shook at the effort it took to hold the iron – now almost cold again, as if the weapon refused to do the unthinkable crime - without thrusting it at Jaskier’s face.

“If there is only one speck left of my friend,” Jaskier said as though he was composing his last song in Geralt’s dedication. “One grain that remembered us as we were – what we were to each other…” His voice trailed off, ended in a disbelieving, hopeless laugh as Jaskier’s head sunk down. “Your hate for me must be immeasurable if it is able to outweigh all the good we had together.”

It didn’t. By the gods, nothing, not even Geralt’s initial shock at finding out what Jaskier was could ever be enough to let him forget what Jaskier was to him. Nothing, but that insistent burn that reminded him of what he had to do. He wouldn’t be able to stall for much longer. Every one of Jaskier’s words cut him, made it harder.

“Is this your promise? You said you would be quiet.” As if Jaskier would ever be quiet. Not once had Geralt seen the bard without a song, a quip or aimless chatter on his lips. Or a love confession. Jaskier being silent would be wrong. Just like everything else that was happening.

“Don’t let me be quiet, Geralt. Don’t make us go back to the time where you scoffed at every word I spoke.” He hesitated, head lifting with a newfound foolish hope. “Or better yet, let me be quiet! If you have to hurt me, cut out my tongue and let me keep my eyes! Spare my eyes, if only so I can still look at you.”

Geralt’s stomach twisted. If his body was still his, he would drop the almost cold iron and fall to his knees in front of Jaskier, begging him for forgiveness. His voice was Jaskier’s everything and yet he would give it up – was hopeful at the prospect of giving it up – just so he would still be able to see the man that would hurt him more than anyone.

“I don’t want to do either.” Geralt’s voice shook, the ice in his veins that had appeared with Jaskier’s words the only thing combating the burning heat that forced him to do the unspeakable. “I don’t want to be here.”

Jaskier’s brows drew together. “But then why – You don’t hate me?” The last words were nothing more than a breath, but they sounded loud as thunder in Geralt’s ears.

“Never,” he pressed forth. “This” he pointed at the crumbled up letter still lying between them in its false innocence. “isn’t just some contract I can refuse. This is the fucking favour I owe the Fae. If it were my decision, I would be as far away from you as I can so I can’t hurt you anymore, but I can’t. I can’t move as I want to and I can’t refuse to move and do what that fucking Valdo wants me to do!”

All colour drained from Jaskier’s face and for a moment he seemed unable to speak, an expression of pure horror on his face as the understanding dawned on him.

“They make you do this? You are being forced into this?” His tone was something between fear and wild rage. “It’s all fucking Valdo. Hence the iron. Of course. They use you to prove a fucking point to me?”

Disbelief washed over Geralt. This was Jaskier’s takeaway? He had just heard that he wouldn’t be able to persuade Geralt to have mercy, because it wasn’t his choice and instead of focussing on what that meant for himself, he got angry on Geralt’s behalf? What was wrong with him? He should be worried about his own safety! He should try to flee and get as far away from Geralt and hope that the burn inside of him would get too much and kill him before he could harm Jaskier. That was the only outcome Geralt could hope for. If it didn’t take all of his strength to hold himself back, he would tell Jaskier so. He would tell him to run and safe himself.

“But how? I – that necklace was supposed to keep you safe. Valdo was supposed to never be able to come near you. I thought – Oh.” That little sound held so much vulnerability. Jaskier’s gaze wandered from his face to his chest, where his medallion rested – only his medallion. “Of course. You don’t have it any more.”

He wanted to speak, wanted to ask, what on earth Jaskier meant by that. For the first time since Geralt had found out what Jaskier was, he was glad that he didn’t have the pendant anymore. It would be cruel to Jaskier, if Geralt still carried the reminder of his love with him, as he was about to take away his sight. Still, even without the necklace, Geralt was filled with the certainty again. How could he have ever doubted Jaskier?

Geralt let out a pained groan, almost doubling over as the fire flared up again, trying its hardest to distract him from the knowledge of his love for Jaskier. Suddenly, Jaskier was on his feet again, his cold hands gently touching Geralt’s face. The force telling Geralt to attack Jaskier became unbearably strong.

“You are in pain.” Blue eyes searched his own. A beautiful blue, eternally youthful and usually full of cheer. And Geralt was the one who would end this blue. “Every second you don’t do it, you are hurting. Why?” A thumb stroked over his cheek and Geralt wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and lean into the touch – nothing but look into Jaskier’s eyes for as long as he would still be able to. “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

“Jaskier…” The strangled word was the only thing Geralt could bring himself to say.

“Do it.”

Oh how wrong Geralt had been. He had thought the worst part of this had been Jaskier not fighting against him before. But Jaskier’s passivity had been nothing compared to the eagerness in his voice as he now offered himself up to ease Geralt’s pain.

He wanted to refuse, to tell Jaskier that he shouldn’t sacrifice himself like that. That Geralt wasn’t worth it. That if he could, he would prolong this for long enough that it would kill him instead of hurting Jaskier, but his mouth didn’t move. This was it.

Jaskier took a shaky breath, tried to put on a brave face. He failed miserably.

“I’m scared, Geralt.” He looked so unbearably small and breakable. “I – Do you think you can hold on for just a moment longer?” Geralt couldn’t answer, couldn’t give any indication of his answer. But he could gather all that remained of his resistance to stay still as a stone and give Jaskier one last moment to prepare himself. He didn’t know if it would be more merciful to just get it over with and not prolong Jaskier’s fear, but if that what he needed Geralt would do his damnest to give it to him. “Can you… can I hold your hand while you do it? If I won’t be able to see you afterwards, I want to at least feel that you are still there.”

The last remains of Geralt’s heart shattered. He couldn’t move, but as Jaskier carefully reached out a hand to hold his, he felt a tear slip out of his eye. He hadn’t been sure he even knew how to cry, yet here he was, tears spilling over, as he was about to burn his beloved’s eyes.

By now the iron was cold in his free hand. The metal would burn Jaskier nonetheless, slower, crueller.

Geralt’s jaw twitched and he lifted the hated iron. He hoped with all his heart that Jaskier could see in his eyes that he didn’t want to do this. No. Maybe it would be better, if Jaskier didn’t have to see it. If Geralt had never told him that he had no choice in this, if Jaskier still believed that Geralt took even the slightest pleasure in this, Jaskier would be able to hate him for it. It would be better than Jaskier accepting his fate.

Geralt shut his eyes tightly. He could still feel his arm lift the bar, unable to do anything against it, no matter how hard he strained his muscles.

A sob escaped Jaskier and his hand squeezed Geralt’s. And then Jaskier was pressed tightly against him, hugging him with his free arm as if his life depended on it.

He couldn’t hug him back. He couldn’t reciprocate as Jaskier’s lips brushed against his cheek. He could only let the bitter-sweet pain of it consume him, knowing that his body would push Jaskier away, even as his mind and heart wanted nothing more than hold him close and never let him go.

Jaskier must know it too. He must know that they were running out of time, for he spoke faster than ever. “It’s useless now, it’s too late, but it’s still a reminder.” Geralt felt Jaskier fumble clumsily. He didn’t know what Jaskier was doing, but he soaked up these last words before Jaskier’s voice would turn to broken screams. “I meant what I said when I gave it to you. It should remind you that I love you, always, no matter what.” Finally, Jaskier managed to slip something around his neck. It didn’t weigh much, but Geralt felt it heavy against his chest, next to his medallion, next to his heart where it belonged. “No matter what I am and no matter what you do. Please, love, remember. It’s not your fault and I love you.”

Jaskier’s hand trailed over the Buttercup pendant he had given him back. And like a door being kicked in, his breath came back. The fire retreated with a hiss, like a campfire fighting – and losing! – against rain.

“I love you too.” Geralt still shook with the effort of the words, still fought for control over his own body, but now something else surged inside him, battling the fire. This time, he could win the fight.

The magic that bound him to his deal with the Fae continued urging him on to do it, now! But it couldn’t force him anymore.

There was a thud as the iron bar clattered to the floor. Geralt’s arms twined themselves around Jaskier.

“Geralt?” He sounded uncertain, fear mixed with something sweet. Hope.

“I am here. I…. I don’t know what happened, but I am back.” He kissed the top of Jaskier’s head, felt Jaskier’s tears wet his shirt. “I am sorry. I am so so sorry that you had to go through that.”

Jaskier didn’t answer, just buried his head into Geralt’s chest, as though it was the safest place on earth.

He didn’t know how much time passed as they clung onto each other, neither wanting to let go, like their lives depended on the closeness. As though the nightmare would come back as soon as they let go.

When they finally parted, Jaskier’s eyes were trained on the necklace. A smile danced on his lips, the first real one Geralt had seen since Jaskier had exposed his chaos. It was so unexpected that Geralt’s breath hitched. He hadn’t thought he would ever see this smile again.

“It worked,” Jaskier said with a voice like the sun. “The necklace works!”

Geralt furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”

He took the pendant into his hand to get a better look at it. Jaskier laid his hand in top of his, pressing it gently against his chest.

“I will explain later.” Jaskier bit his lip. “For now, can we please get out of here? I don’t … can we please just leave?”

“Of course.” Geralt stepped back, giving Jaskier the space he needed. “Tell me where I should take you and I will. Is there a place where you will be safe?”

He prayed there was such a place. Thanks to him, Jaskier wouldn’t be able to go home to the Fae world ever again. They had been on the road for so long that Jaskier had no safe place to go back to on the continent either.

“I don’t care. Can we just go somewhere nice? The coast perhaps, just to get away together from all this…”

“Together?” Geralt’s voice was thick from the lump in his throat that had appeared at Jaskier’s words. “You don’t… Jaskier, you don’t have to. I can get you there and then leave. I don’t want you to think for even a moment that I would put you through this – through being in my presence for longer than necessary after what I have almost done.”

“No! I want you to be with me!” Jaskier said hastily and makes to close the space between them again, only to falter. “That is… only if you wanted to. I – I am still less than a human, I know what you said about Fae and after everything I couldn’t blame you if you don’t want to have anything to do with me anymore.”

“Jaskier.” His voice was soft. “You could never be less than anything. Whatever else you might be, you are my everything. I don’t ever want to lose you.”

A new smile broke through the doubt on Jaskier’s face, the sun finally beating the storm. “You won’t. We have all the time in the world.”

All the time in the world. It took a moment for the words to register and then it was like all the pressure inside of him left, like a bird that didn’t took to the sky after not knowing if the opened cage was a trap. Jaskier wasn’t fully human. He wouldn’t lose him to time and for as long as Geralt lived, he would make sure that death would never claim Jaskier for any other reason either.

“We have all the time in the world,” Geralt repeated. And he would spend every day, every minute of it loving Jaskier. “Let’s go to the coast.”

***

He breathed in the salty breeze. A smile danced on Jaskier’s lips and he leaned back against Geralt’s chest. Geralt’s arms sneaked around his waist holding him close.

Jaskier closed his eyes. He still couldn’t believe it. It had been years since they had acquired the cosy cabin by the sea, years of travelling the continent together, while knowing that there would always be a home they could come back to, and still it felt unreal. Jaskier didn’t think he would ever get used to it. It was too good. Too perfect. There must be some catch to it. It was impossible that the world would just let them live in peace, let them have their adventures and not bother them.

“What’s on your mind?” Geralt said, nuzzling his face into Jaskier’s hair.

“Nothing, dear.”

A soft kiss was planted in Jaskier’s hair. “You know you can talk to me. I want you to be happy.”

“I am happy. I am with you and it couldn’t be better.” He trailed of, worrying his lip between his teeth.

“But?”

Jaskier hesitated. “But I’m not sure how long it will last. One day I am going to mess up and what we have will break.”

The arms around him tightened. “That won’t happen. What we have isn’t that easy to break.”

“Isn’t it, though?” Jaskier felt the pendant press into his back, where he rested against Geralt’s chest. “You just have to lose the necklace and you won’t be protected anymore.”

“Then I won’t lose it,” Geralt said firmly. “I will protect it with my life, just as I will protect you. I won’t put you through the horrors of what my deal brought with it again.”

For a while, the roaring waves and the seabird’s cries were the only sound, as they both just took in the other’s presence.

Finally, Jaskier broke the silence again.

“There is one other thing I could do.” He hesitated. “That command, that damned Valdo gave you, it was specifically about what you were to do to me, Jaskier.” Geralt tensed behind him. Before he could say anything, Jaskier continued. “So, what if I wasn’t Jaskier anymore?”

“What do you mean?” Jaskier didn’t have to turn around to know that Geralt’s brows were drawn together in confusion.

“I… I have not always been Jaskier. That name - that identity - it was a gift from a Fae.” His throat became tight. “I could try to give it back. I could become fully human again. Become Julian again.” The name tasted bitter on his tongue and his stomach churned at the thought of becoming that scared little boy again, who had run from everything. He didn’t want to run anymore. He wanted to stay here, as he was with the one he loved. But he would do it, if it would free Geralt from the threat of the Fae’s influence for good.

“Would that even work?” Geralt said, the doubt and confusion evident in his voice. “Back when… on that day you said you couldn’t become human again.”

He hesitated. “I am not sure. It hadn’t even crossed my mind then. I have been me for so long that I almost forgot ever being someone else. So, no, I don’t know if it would work. If it did though, it might cancel the deal. You wouldn’t need to wear that necklace anymore-“

“I like that necklace.”

A smile lit Jaskier’s face up at Geralt’s defensive tone, but he continued. It wouldn’t be fair to not tell Geralt about this option. “If it worked, the humans would forget Jaskier ever existed.” He turned slightly, so that he could face Geralt. He lifted his hand to gently lay it on Geralt’s cheek. “Only humans would forget me. We could still be together, far away from everything.”

Geralt leaned into the touch and pressed a quick kiss against his palm. “The world would have lost something precious if it lost you, Jaskier.”

Jaskier paused. “You… you don’t want me to do it? Geralt, this could make life so much easier for you.”

A tiny smile quirked Geralt’s lips. “Since when has a witcher’s life been easy? I would choose a happy life with you over an easy one any day,” he said and his words made Jaskier’s heart speed up. “But it is your choice. Just know that whatever you choose, I will love you for you. If you decide to leave this name behind, you will still be the same person to me. No Fae magic can make you into someone you’re not.” The way Geralt said it hit something inside of Jaskier. He could put down the name he has been given by that Fae in the forest so many years ago, and Geralt wouldn’t care. He wouldn’t even know. It could be Jaskier’s secret and it wouldn’t matter, who anyone else thought Jaskier was. Geralt would know who he truly was. “I love you, Jaskier.”

“I love you too.”

Jaskier leaned towards him, kissing him softly. No matter, what else he might decide on his name, he knew one thing for certain. This was who he wanted to be. The man who didn’t need to run anymore, because he was safe in his beloved’s arms.