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The Boy who Ran

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“Where do you think you’re going? Julian, come back here this instant and apologise to your mother!”

His father’s shouts rang through the boy’s ears, made him run faster, gave him wings. He climbed out of the window, squeezed his eyes shut and let go. It hurt as his knees hit the ground and he scraped his hands, trying to lessen the impact, but he couldn’t cry out, couldn’t let his father know where he was. For an agonisingly long moment, Julian held his breath, waiting for his father to find him, but the shouts didn’t come any closer. This was his chance.

Without time to hesitate or catch his breath, Julian bolted away from the estate, towards the forest that spanned over the land.

Twigs hit his face, as he was too slow to brush them away. He stumbled over roots and rocks, but he didn’t slow. He needed to get deeper into the woods. He would be safe here. Always had been. Even as a small child, the threatening sounds of forest creatures had been less frightening than the thought of being with his parents. The forest was safe. He could hide here from he shouts, the disapproving looks the endless list of things he had done wrong.

*

That is, the woods always had been safe for him. Until his parents had decided to take even that away from him. Just this morning, Julian’s father had announced that Julian and his brother were to accompany him on a hunt. Julian had been frozen in place, to shocked to argue, as his father had pressed a crossbow into his trembling hands. He hadn’t said anything, but as soon as he had seen his brother shoot and arrow from his bow, ready to kill an animal, he had run. Ignoring his father’s angry shouts, as he did now, Julian had run back home. The forest hadn’t been safe anymore. Neither was his home.

*

The sound of fabric ripping snapped him out of his thoughts. He froze and looked at his ruined doublet, all blood leaving his face. This was bad. Running away had been a stupid idea. His parents would be mad enough as it was, but now he had made it even worse by ruining his clothes.

His mother would be furious and rightly so. This was his fault. If only he had apologised to her everything would be fine by now. He would sit at dinner with his family, silent and uncomfortable, but he would not have to face their wrath.

Maybe he should return. Maybe Julian should go back and apologise now, before he managed to screw up even more. He could show his parents that he could be good; that he could be what they wanted him to be.

*

But then again, he had tried it before. All of his life, he had tried so hard to be enough for his parents. He never was. Maybe it would have been different, if they hadn’t been nobility. It wasn’t really his parents fault how they treated him, was it? Their subjects had their eyes on them. They had an image to uphold. Maybe it would have been different, if Julian’s younger brother wasn’t so much better at everything.

But as it was, it didn’t matter what Julian did. His accomplishments paled in comparison to his brother’s achievements and his failures seemed so much greater. How could Julian ever be anything but a failure, if he was always compared to the prodigy that was his brother?

*

No, going back would be of no use. Not now. Later, when it had gotten dark, Julian might find the strength to return home, but he couldn’t do it just yet. He wouldn’t be able to bear his father tell him how his brother would never be so foolish to run off. No, his brother wouldn’t be, but Julian was. So he continued running.

He ran, until his lungs burned, ran until his face was covered in scratches, ran unitl –

His foot got caught in a root. Julian let out a startled cry, as he fell forward, unable to catch his fall. He panted heavily, groaning, as sharp rocks dug into his skin. His heart sped up when he realised what he was doing. Immediately he silenced himself and looked over his shoulder. Irrational as it was, he half- expected someone to appear behind him and tell him off for crying. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

*
“Behave, Julian. You are causing a scene.” Far too often had Julian heard his mother tell him so, in that sharp tone that didn’t allow any disagreements, no matter how hurt he had been.

Julian had been three years old when he had heard this sentence for the first time, as far as he could remember. He had fallen down the stairs to the dining hall while playing. He had cried, as he had seen the stable boy or the maid’s daughter do, whenever they were hurt. Like them, he waited for him mother to comfort him, to kiss his bruise better.

Instead his mother looked down at him with disdain.

“Get up, Julian. Stop crying.” Hurt had mixed with confusion. Why wasn’t she kissing him better? Why wasn’t she telling him that he would be alright? “Cut it out. You’re just trying to get attention.”

He hadn’t been. But something had lit up inside of Julian that day. It hadn’t been his intention, but this had been the first time his mother had truly looked at him that day, even if it was to berate him.

Julian had started crying more after this incident. Over the years he had deliberately fallen off a horse during his riding lessons; had ‘accidently’ poured hot tea all over himself; had done anything that might get him attention from his parents, even if it was only to yell at him and give him a disappointed look.

*

Here, in the middle of the forest, no one was there to look at him like that. He was alone, free to cry as much as he wanted, with no one there to tell him off for it. Here, he could be as loud as he wanted to be. Even though no one was around to hear him, here he could show the world that he existed. He could show himself that he existed.

His broken sobs turned into laughter turned into a scream. Some birds flew off, startled by the sudden noise. Julian screamed and screamed until his throat became sore.

Julian listened for the last echo of his screams to fade away. They lasted for longer than he had expected. Was it normal for a forest to have such a strong echo? He strained his ears. There was something off about the sound. The closer he listened, the less it sounded like the remnants of his own voice and more like someone else’s.

Julian’s first instinct was to run. He scrambled backwards on the forest floor, but halted when the cold realisation hit him. He had nowhere to run to. If he left the forest now, where was he supposed to get back to? His parents? Definitely not.

He swallowed thickly. If there was someone here with him, maybe they needed someone to know they existed as well. Maybe Julian could be the one to see them. Or he could die.

His heart was beating rapidly, like a metronome for a jig, though nothing could be more out of place at this moment than a happy song.

Julian followed the strange wails until he reached a clearing. Doing his best to remain unseen, he peeked out from behind a tree. His stomach dropped.

What there lay in the grass, surrounded by wildflowers was no human, despite the undeniable similarities. Almost transparent wings were crushed beneath the weight of the creature’s body. Antlers sprouted from its forehead and the hands that clutched at its chest ended in sharp claws. A Fae.

A startled gasp escaped Julian before he could stop himself. The Fae’s eyes snapped towards him. They seemed to bore into his soul, sending a shiver down Julian’s back, as the creature bared its sharp teeth.

“Human!” The hissed word sounded like the worst insult coming from the Fae. No, not an insult. A warning. It resonated deep inside Julian’s chest, telling him to run. Despite everything screaming that he should get as far away from the creature as possible, he instead moved forwards.

Cautiously, he stepped out of the shadows, watching the Fae’s eyes widen almost unnoticeable. For a long moment, they just stared at each other, both unsure what the other would do. The Fae was the first to break the silence.

“You screamed.” It wasn’t the mockery Julian had expected, nor did it carry the disgust he had braced himself for.

“You heard me.” It wasn’t a question; neither was it a simple statement. It was like a prayer finally being answered. Someone had heard him, acknowledged him without chastising him, even if it was a strange creature in the woods.

The Fae nodded slowly. “I always hear souls in need of an escape.” Something flashed in their eyes, but it wasn’t the threatening gleam from before. “And you ran.”

For some unknown reason, Julian had a creeping feeling that the Fae wasn’t talking about the running he had been doing to get here.

“I saw you this morning,” the Fae continued. “You held a weapon. And then you ran.”

Julian tensed. The Fae had seen him with the hunting party? Did the Fae think him a coward – a fool easy to trick? Approaching the creature would be foolish. It might be his death.

Julian’s heart pounded against his ribcage. His nurses had warned him against the Fae. There weren’t many stories Julian had been told as a child, but the ones about the Fae had stuck to his memories.

*

He remembered lying awake at night, terrified of the fairy-folk. He remembered running to his parents’ bedchamber, because he had heard a scratching at his window and had been sure the Fae had come to take him away.

“Maybe I should let them,” his mother had said, not even turning around in her bed to look at her then five- year old son. “Then at least I’d get a full night of sleep.”

“Mama?” His mother had ignored his small voice, had ignored his pleas to please let him sleep in her bed this night.

“Maybe the Fae have already took my child and you are a changeling. You certainly couldn’t be any worse if you were.”

At first Julian had been scared. He had crawled back under his blanket in his own room, staring at the window until slowly, the fear had left him and turned into hope.

For years to come, he had left his window open in the night, even in the bitter winter, wishing with childish naiveté that maybe one night the Fae would come and take him home, to their people.

*

It was different being face to face with one of these creatures. All of his fears came rushing back to Julian.

He took a step back, but there was something in the Fae’s expression that gave him pause. There was no malice, but something that had it been a human Julian would call hope. And pain.

Julian’s eyes drifted from the creature’s face to its chest that was still clutched tightly by the clawed hands.

“You are hurt!”

Without thinking, Julian rushed to the Fae’s side, hands hovering helplessly over the broken arrow that was stuck deep inside the Fae. He frantically looked around, searching for something, anything that could help.

His eyes landed on the other half of the snapped arrow. His heart stopped. No. No, it couldn’t be.

With trembling fingers, he picked up the broken arrow, touched the blue feathers at the end of it, as though the touch would confirm what his eyes wanted to deny. There had only been one person in their hunting party who had carried blue arrows. His brother. Had the strangled cry Julian had heard as he had run away been the Fae? Had he left, unknowing that it had not been an animal that had fallen prey to his brother?

*

“I don’t want to hunt. I don’t want to kill animals.” His voice had been small, but he had looked his father straight in the eye as he said it, though not out of bravery. Out of fear. If he looked down, he would have to see the bloody trophy his father had brought with him from the hunt. His brother’s doing.

His mother had interjected, before his father could say anything. “Life isn’t about what we want, Julian. Your father and I certainly didn’t want a brat of a son and yet we are stuck with you.” Julian had flinched, but his mother had continued, unrelenting, uncaring. “Do you think it was easy raising you? As a toddler you were always crying, always loud. Even now that you are older, you still haven’t learned to be quiet.”

“If raising me was so horrible then why did you decide to get another child?” He had regretted the words as soon as they had left his mouth, but it had already been too late. His throat had gotten tight, as he had risked a look at his mother’s face, cold fury in her eyes.

“Because maybe we hoped that your brother would become heir instead of you.”

He should have stopped then. He should have bowed his head and promised to do his best to become a worthy heir. Instead he had balled his fists.

“You would rather have me die, so he would become your successor then raise me in a way that would make me want to stay with you? You messed up with your first child, so you just throw me away and get a replacement, is that it? I am to be cast away, because you were terrible parents?”

Sharp pain had spread across his cheek. Gingerly Julian had lifted his hand to touch where his mother had just hit him. It had stung, but not as much as the fact that neither of his parents had disagreed with his accusation. They wouldn’t care if he just disappeared. Hell, they might even rejoice in his death. One problem less.

Without another word, Julian had turned around and left.

“Where do you think you’re going? Julian, come back here this instant and apologise to your mother!”

*

Julian hadn’t thought anything about the trophy had carried. He hadn’t even considered that his brother’s intended prey had gotten away.

Julian dropped the arrow, as if it had burned him and turned back to the Fae, determination steadying his voice.

“How do I help?”

The Fae cocked their head to the side, unreadable expression on their face. “There is nothing you can do, human. Get back to running. The arrowhead is made of iron. Even if you were to get it out somehow, it wouldn’t help. It has already been poisoning me for hours.”

He couldn’t just leave the Fae! The creature had heard him scream. They had not looked at him for longer than anyone ever had. He couldn’t let them die on their own, unseen.

Julian might not be able to save them, but he could make it easier for them. He could comfort the Fae as he had comforted himself so many times before when there had been no one around to do it for him.

He sang.

His voice was rough from screaming, he was out of breath and unsure. But the feral glint in the Fae’s eyes faded and made room for something else, something Julian couldn’t name. He had the Fae’s whole attention as he sang. It felt strange. Suddenly he didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he started plucking the flowers blossoming around them, weaving them into a crown, as he had seen the Fea wear in his story books.

The song ended and Julian didn’t know where to look. It felt like it had been too little. The song hadn’t been any good and the crown of Buttercups looked pathetic compared to what the Fae must be used to.

Julian should leave. He was a human; the Fae didn’t want him around. Being here was stupid and dangerous and it wasn’t helping anyone.

He made to stand up, but was stopped by a surprisingly strong grip on his wrist. He looked down. Though the Fae’s hands were still clawed, they seemed careful not to hurt Julian, as they gently tugged at his wrist.

Julian looked up and was met with a look so open and vulnerable that it felt his heart would start bleeding. It was the same look three-year-old him had given his mother when he had fallen down the stairs, begging her to stay with him and comfort him.

“Sing me another song.”

The Fae’s voice held nothing of the power, his nurse had told him about. It was no threatening command; no chaos was woven into the words. Julian could easily leave.

He stayed.

“What song do you want?”

A tiny smile lit up the Fae’s face, the sun coming out after a rainstorm that had seemed to drown them before.

“A song of my people. Sing of my home.”

Humans shouldn’t sing the Fae songs. Everyone knew it made them angry, vengeful.

And yet, Julian sang. He didn’t have the right melody and he didn’t fully remember the words he had once read in a neglected book, and yet at he sang of flowers and dances in the moonlight, the Fae’s pain seemed to fade. With every verse, mushrooms started to sprout, forming a circle around them. Jaskier’s voice broke, as the world around him shifted. Colours became more vibrant, the wind felt warmer as if kissed his skin and the faint chirping of birds began to harmonise with Jaskier’s song.

His voice trailed off, as he watched the Fae close their eyes, a content sigh on their lips.

It was impulsive and it went against everything Julian had ever been told about what to do when meeting a Fea, but just this once, he wanted to be heard, to be seen, fully with everything that he was, before it was too late.

“My name is Julian.”

The Fae’s eyes snapped open. “Don’t. Don’t give me your name. I don’t want it. Not from you.”

“Julian Alfred Pankratz,” he said firmly, pretending to be calm, though his racing heart betrayed him. Let me stay here. Bind me to the Feywild. Anything would be better than going back.

The Fae’s eyes didn’t leave him. They just stared at him, unmoving. As before, it felt as though the Fae could look inside of him, but this time it wasn’t unsettling. It was strangely comforting, like the embrace he never got.

The Fae was still for so long, that if it weren’t for the rise of their chest, Julian would have thought, they might have already passed over.

Not knowing what else to do, Julian made to place the flower crown in the Fae’s head. Once again, he was stopped, though now the hand was weaker than before, more fitting for someone on their deathbed. Julian didn’t resist, as the crown was gently taken away from him.

“You sang for me. You abandoned the hunt.” The Fae’s eyes softened and they lifted the crown of buttercups to sit atop of Julian’s head. “You are giving me a good death, my friend, one I didn’t think I would get. Let me pay you back in kind.”

Julian’s breath hitched. He didn’t want the Fae to give him a good death. He didn’t want to die at all. Not today. Not when he had wasted his whole life being someone he wasn’t.

Perhaps the Fae had seen his thoughts reflected in his eyes, for they gave him another smile.

“You are giving me a good death. I will offer you a good life in turn. A new one.”

“I- How?” It came out as little more than a breath.

“A new name. This is my gift. You don’t have to take it. You may take on the name whenever you are ready. It is yours.”

The Fae made a motion with their hand, beckoning Julian to lean in closer. With held breath, he complied, letting the Fae whisper his new name in his ear. Goosebumps prickled his skin and his eyes widened. Though he had never heard the name before, it felt right. Like a million possibilities, a million paths for him to choose. No gates to keep him from walking them and finding himself.

“How does it work? How can I take on this name?”

“If you choose to accept this as your name, the humans will forget Julian ever existed. When they look at you, they will see Julian no longer. They will see whoever you chose to become. It is up to you, little songbird.”

One last smile graced the Fae’s lips, before their eyes glazed over. The boy stayed at their side, held their hand and wept. He wept for the Fae he had known for less than an hour, wept for the one who had given him the most precious gift. An escape. A chance at a new life. A chance to be find out who he wanted to be.

As he wept, there was no one there to tell him to stop, to tell him he was an embarrassment for crying. Sobs wracked his body as he sang again, as he would do for the rest of his life. With every tear that found its way down his cheek, he knew more and more who he wanted to be. He would be someone who would run when people expected him to hurt others. He would sing and he would pick flowers and he would comfort those who had no one else to hold them. This was who he wanted to be, who he finally could be.

“Jaskier.”

Chapter Text

Leaving the Feywilds had been scary. Jaskier has had a rough start back in the human world. After spending who knew how much time with the Fae - eating their food, singing their magic-filled songs, living carefree amidst the chaos that swirled through their realm– it had been strange to come back to a world where everything could be a threat. It had been scary, intimidating and oh so exiting.

Eventually, Jaskier had found his footing in the human world. Or rather, he had found Geralt of Rivia, who dragged him back to his feet when he misstepped. The witcher always did so with an annoyed grunt, with threats that the next time he would leave Jaskier to deal with the consequences of his actions alone.

And yet, despite his words, Geralt would always help him and make sure nothing bad happened to him until their paths separated for the winter, when Geralt would go back to Kaer Morhen and Jaskier would once again breathe in the chaos of the Fae court until it was time to find Geralt again.

“Jaskier” a barely noticeable smile tugged at the witcher’s lips, as Jaskier finally caught up to him. “How is it that we keep running into each other?”

Jaskier let out a bright laugh. “A strange coincidence, really.”

Except it was as far from a coincidence as could be. It wasn’t hard for someone who had lived with the Fae to find who they were looking for as long as they knew their name. “It’s good to see you again, my friend.”

Geralt hummed and Jaskier’s smile brightened. So they have finally reached a stage where Geralt wasn’t denying their friendship any longer.

“So where are you going?”

“Hunting.”

“What? I never would have guessed.” Jaskier huffed and bumped into Geralt’s shoulder good-naturedly as he walked alongside of his friend. “But it is very convenient. I desperately need new inspiration.”

“You’re not coming with me” Geralt grunted, but this time it lacked the bite Jaskier had learned to accept in the earlier years of their travels. “It’s too dangerous.”

A sly smirk stole onto Jaskier’s face. “You care about me.”

The grunt was answer enough.

Jaskier didn’t have a problem staying back while Geralt hunted. In fact, he much preferred it. While Jaskier knew that what Geralt did was important work, he still couldn’t find it in him to watch creatures get hurt, no matter how much time had passed.

So no, he didn’t have a problem not having to witness a fight.

He did however have a problem with the boredom. Jaskier had hoped that he could at least spend an evening drinking and exchanging stories with Geralt, before his friend would need to get back to work. He had looked forward to it.

Instead he watched Geralt disappear from his sight to chase some monster.

Jaskier sighed. It was just so boring without him around. What was Jaskier supposed to do while he waited? He had already sung so much that flowers had started to blossom around him.

It was nice to see that he still held some of that chaos he from the Feywilds within him. It wasn’t nearly as much as a born Fae held, but it was a part from the home Jaskier had found.

If only he could share the wonderful things he could do with Geralt. He wanted to show him how his songs could summon sunshine and how flowers could bloom where he danced. He imagined the wonder in Geralt’s eyes when he showed him all he could do.

In his heart of hearts, he knew it was an improbable fantasy. Geralt had no use for flowers and magic songs. Jaskier didn’t need to show him those things for Geralt to like him. The witcher might not ever say it, might even deny that they were friends, but Jaskier knew the witcher liked him as he was.

He sighed once more and stood up. Surely, Geralt must be done with the fighting by now. He should go after him and see if there was anything Geralt needed.

A screech behind him, made him pause. He turned around, a smile parting his lips as he saw the beast. The creature was magnificent. Sharp talons, even sharper teeth and wings that blocked out the sun. Jaskier had never seen such a creature, but he recognised it from Geralt’s descriptions. A forktail.

And it was headed straight for Jaskier.

What had Geralt always told him? If he ever saw a beast that seemed even in the slightest threatening, he should run and call for Geralt.

Now, Jaskier had neither a problem with running, nor with calling for Geralt. But absolutely nothing about this creature seemed threatening. In the Feywilds, children played with draconids, so surely this forktail wasn’t a threat.

“My, you are a beautiful creature!” Jaskier called out with a brilliant smile.

The forktail landed, squashing the flowers Jaskier had summoned before and bared its teeth. Its tail whipped to the side, like a cat readying itself to pounce on a mouse.

Jaskier furrowed his brow.

“That is no way to greet a friend.” If there was a certain power to his voice that no human should be able to possess than that was no one’s business but his own.

The creature let out a deep growl, but it hid its teeth away again and relaxed slightly.

Slowly Jaskier approached, hand outstretched and a soothing melody on his lips. With every step he took, the folktail seemed to calm more, until finally, he was touching the creature’s muzzle.

Jaskier’s smile could brighten the darkest night, as the forktail pressed gently against his touch.

“There you go. There is nothing frightening about you, is there?”

The creature’s belly rumbled with a sound that could almost be mistaken for a purr.

“Jaskier, get away!”

Violently, he flinched at the shout and whirled around. His heart skipped a beat.

Geralt was running towards him, the remnants of his last kill still on his armour and sword, which he held ready to strike.

“Geralt, stop!” There was no power behind his words. It would have been so easy. He knew Geralt’s name. If he wanted to, he could use the little chaos he had to make him do anything he wanted. He couldn’t. Not with Geralt. Not with his friend.

Something untameable flashed in Geralt’s eyes and he bared his teeth, eyes locked onto the creature.

The creature which had snapped away from Jaskier’s touch. The gust of wind that made Jaskier stumble was the only warning Jaskier got, before the forktail swung itself up in the air, ready to attack the witcher.

With growing terror Jaskier watched as the beast swooped down on his friend, claws outstretched.

“NO!”

He reacted without thinking. His feet carried him across the grass faster than a human should be able to run, the wind giving his heels wings.

The hard impact as he pushed Geralt out of the way left him breathless, but Geralt was safe. He wasn’t lying on the ground, speared by the forktails talons.

Pain. Why was there pain? It didn’t make sense, but it was unmistakable. It felt like fire racing up his side and something wet made his doublet cling uncomfortably against his skin.

He frowned down at himself. He had been sure that his doublet had been purely blue when he had bought it. So why was there so much red? He didn’t understand.

Panic gripped at Jaskier’s heart, making him unable to breath. Dark splotches blocked his view and his heart was racing.

Through the opal glass that Jaskier seemed to be looking through, he saw a blurry figure, clad in black wielding a sword, fighting a mighty beast.

Jaskier grounded himself in the view. Geralt was safe. Jaskier had protected him, now he only needed to make sure that he himself was alright.

He just needed to breath. He could do this; he could heal himself, he had done it before. Granted, it had always been minor injuries, scratches at the most, but he had healed them.

An unbidden voice fought its way into Jaskier’s mind. Did you though? Did you ever truly heal yourself?

The words sounded suspiciously like the mockery of one of the Fae who had never truly accepted Jaskier in their midst. You are not a real Fae. You are weak. Without the magic given to you by my sibling, you would be dead or still out there living a pathetic mortal life.

Jaskier clenched his teeth, willing the voice to go away.

He wasn’t weak. He had knit his own skin back together numerous times and he would do so again.

Still, the doubt lingered, couldn’t pushed away, try as he might.

He gritted his teeth and pressed his hands tightly against the gashes in his skin. Ever so slowly, a tingle spread across his side, replaced the fire that had been raging there before. He gasped as he felt the edges of the wound begin to close.

His vision swam, the colours of his surrounding blurring together. The sounds of the fight were drowned out by the blood rushing in his ears and the hammers pounding in his head from the inside. Any moment now, his head would split in half or Jaskier would burst from the unbearable exertion it took to grasp at the chaos.

It was too much. He couldn’t do this.

He panted as he felt his hands slip away from the wound.

The treacherous voice in his head had been right. He was weak. He was unable to do anything meaningful without the gifts of the Fae. Whenever he had called upon the Fae powers before, he had been in the Feywilds, where chaos reigned and Jaskier was free to take as much of it as he needed. He had never truly on his own.

Not as he was now.

No, that wasn’t true. He wasn’t on his own. He had a friend here, one who always made sure that Jaskier was safe. He just needed to call for help. That’s what Geralt had told him. He needed to run and to call for help.

“Geralt…” The sound barely made it past his lips. The word was drowned out in the sounds of the fight. They were faint, far away, but Jaskier could make out a voice, calling for… for something. He couldn’t understand. It didn’t matter.

He needed to run. He tried to put one foot forward, but before it had even left the ground, his knees buckled.

Jaskier went to the floor with a strangled gasp, that went unheard. There he was again, that confused three-year old he had once been, crying and not knowing why no one came to comfort him.

He squeezed his eyes shut, as though not seeing the world could protect him from it. As though the exhaustion and pain in his head and side weren’t killing him.

A hand touched his face. Warm. Comforting. Geralt.

With the strength of a hundred men Jaskier pried his eyes back open. His comfort was looking down at him, fear written all over his face. There was something fundamentally wrong about it. It was too open, too vulnerable. Geralt should never have to look so afraid.

Geralt’s lips moved, but the rushing of blood in Jaskier’s ears was too loud to understand him. He concentrated, put all the focus he had on his friend hovering over him.

Slowly, as though through a mist the words gained in clarity.

“You idiot! Why did you do it?” The almost unnoticeable tremble in Geralt’s voice was enough to shake Jaskier fully awake. “I told you to run.”

Jaskier cracked a weak smile. “I did run, didn’t I?”

“You were supposed to run away from the danger.”

Jaskier tried to shrug nonchalantly to ease Geralt’s mind, but it ripped at his wounds, eliciting a gasp from him.

He blinked to vanish the dark spots that came back with a vengeance, obscuring his view of Geralt. Panic once again seized Jaskier’s heart. Seeing Geralt had grounded him, had made the pain slightly more bearable. Seeing him now disappear behind a wall of black turned Jaskier’s blood into ice. Blindly, he reached out for him. He needed to know that Geralt was still there.

Gerlat’s hand found his.

“Am I dying?”

“No.” Geralt’s tone left no room for argument or doubt. “Not while I’m here. I got you, Jaskier. Trust me.”

Something warm settled in Jaskier’s chest at the words, gave him the strength to fight against the darkness and slowly regain his sight. “You know I always trust you, Geralt.”

“Good.” A pause. “I need to look at your injury. It might hurt.”

“I trust you,” Jaskier repeated and squeezed Geralt’s hand. He needed him to know that he meant it.

Carefully, Geralt loosened his fingers from Jaskier’s. Jaskier held his breath as Geralt opened his doublet and lifted his shirt underneath. The fabric was stuck to the gash and ripped the partially dried blood away.

Jaskier couldn’t repress the startled outcry. The little healing he had managed hadn’t been nearly enough to ease the pain away.

“How bad is it?” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear the answer.

“It’s bad.” Geralt gave a small sigh. Cold, steady fingers prodded at Jaskier’s skin and made him hiss. “But not as bad as I had thought. The wound isn’t that deep, actually. It shouldn’t have bleed as it did. How is there so much blood from such a small wound?”

“It’s for dramatic effect.”

Geralt grunted the way he always did, when Jaskier said or did something that some might consider stupid. The sound held fond exasperation. But more than anything, it sounded relieved.

Despite the sharp pain, Jaskier held still as Geralt cleaned and bandaged his wound, talking softly to him to distract him from the pain.

Jaskier might be far away from home, he might not have as much power, as he had gotten used to over the years, but he had Geralt. He had a friend that would take care of him.

The human world was gritty and dangerous, but as long as he had Geralt, it was the most beautiful place Jaskier could imagine.

Chapter Text

The realisation hit Geralt without warning. Jaskier was getting older. He wasn’t old yet, by any means - in fact he looked barely older than the day Geralt had met him - but he would be. Someday Jaskier would be old and he wouldn’t be able to travel with Geralt anymore as he had for the past decade.

They didn’t talk about it. Ignoring the inevitable made it easier to forget. Like a child ignoring their mother’s advice to put on a raincoat, he pushed the thought of Jaskier aging into the far back of his mind.

But every once in a while, he looked at Jaskier and was reminded of the storm that was to come. No matter how insistently he tried to push it away, the treacherous voice of reason always came back, telling him that one day he would lose Jaskier to the one thing Geralt wouldn’t be able to protect him from.

No matter how young he might look or act, Jaskier wasn’t immortal. How long had they travelled together? Not nearly long enough. Geralt had lived for so long that he had lost all concepts of how long it took for humans to age. By the looks of it, Jaskier was still young, but he wouldn’t stay this way. One day, he would turn to dust and the world would forget about him. Eventually his songs would fade and Geralt would bear the burden of his memory alone.

Why couldn’t Geralt have loved a mage instead? After almost losing Jaskier to a djin, he had tried, had done his best to love Yennefer. It would have been easier, safer to love her; someone he could spend the rest of his life with. Someone he wouldn’t have to outlive and bury.

But she wasn’t Jaskier. She wasn’t the bard who had a smile so bright it and boyish that it was hard to imagine him as an old man. Yennefer wasn’t the man with eyes that were of such an unnatural blue that time seemed to slow when you looked into them. Jaskier’s boyish laugh made it easy to forget, that he doesn’t have all the time in the world.

There were things Geralt wanted to tell him, needed to tell him, but he pushed it back, as though ignoring time would make it pass slower. Geralt would wait to say these things until eventually he would run out of time to do so.

Geralt watched the days, weeks, months race past. Telling Jaskier what he meant to him would make it real and so much more painful. So he he let time run out without letting the words he needed Jaskier to hear pass his lips.

*

The griffin’s claws sliced across Geralt’s chest, right in the moment, as his sword plunged into the griffin’s.

Geralt’s breath became shallow, as his sword slipped from his grasp, still buried inside the beast that now lay motionless on the ground. Without having any control over it, Geralt’s knees buckled. He watched with morbid fascination as the ground came closer and closer until he hit it with a painful thud.

He tried to push himself back up, but his fingers slipped on something wet that made the fallen leaves slippery. Blood, his brain provided helpfully. Too much blood. He felt his heart pump it out of his body, heard it rushing in his ears.

How often had he returned to camp, covered in monsterblood to find Jaskier complain about how gross he looked? A broken smile cracked Geralt’s lips. Every time, Jaskier’s eyes would soften and he would take care of Geralt, despite his complains and snarky remarks making sure that none of the blood was Geralt’s. It would be nice, if Jaskier took care of him like that now.

Geralt breath hitched. No, Jaskier couldn’t see him like this. He deserved better. He couldn’t watch Geralt die. It was Geralt who was supposed to outlive Jaskier, who was supposed to live with the burden of his death.

How could he have been so foolish to allow Jaskier to follow him on his hunts? No, not allowed. Geralt had pushed him to be there after the incident with the forktail, so he would be able to protect the bard.

There had been a reason why Geralt had initially hesitated to let him near him while he fought. Hunting was dangerous. For years, Geralt had been worried that Jaskier might get hurt, but he had always been able to protect him from the worst, from vengeful husbands, from his own damned djin wish, from any monster that had dared attack him.

Not once had Geralt imagined that it was him that would get hurt; that Jaskier would have to witness his death. He hoped with every fibre of his being that Jaskier still wouldn’t have to, now; that he had gotten bored watching Geralt fight and that he had left.

Naturally, destiny wasn’t merciful enough to grant Geralt his dying wish.

He heard Jaskier before he saw him, sliding down the small hillside to where he lay, calling his name. It sounded faint, like it was coming from far away.

Then suddenly there were hands touching him, pressing on his wounds, turning him around so that he lay on his back. Blue eyes filled Geralt’s vision and it felt like time had stopped, like he had an eternity left to live as long as he saw that endless blue. He could look into those eyes forever.

No, not forever. Time had rushed past and Geralt slipped through Geralt’s fingers. He needed the time. Days, weeks, months, years, all wasted.

With sudden clarity, Geralt knew. This was it. He had finally run out of time. He had let time slip by, days, weeks, months, years, until all he had left was this one moment. It wasn’t enough.

It was.

All he needed was one moment to tell Jaskier what he meant to him. He still had time.

But he didn’t have the strength. His mouth moved, but no sound came out.

“Shh, don’t speak. You will be ok. I promise. You’ll be ok. I will – I will safe you. I promise.” Jaskier’s voice cracked. “Save your strength. Breathe.”

No, he needed to tell him. He couldn’t.

Something wet landed on Geralt’s cheek. It took him a moment to realise what it was. A tear. A strangled sob escaped Jaskier.

“You stay with me, you hear me?”

The pressure on Geralt’s wound increased, but somehow Geralt didn’t feel any pain. He didn’t feel anything. Except a strange tingling and the burning need to tell Jaskier what he should have told him years ago and that he now would never be able to say.

Geralt felt his hand getting lifted, felt Jaskier’s trembling hand on his, as he pressed his cheek against it.

“You can’t leave me now, Geralt. I haven’t told you, yet – I need to tell you…” His voice broke off.

No, it didn’t. His lips kept moving, but Geralt couldn’t make out the words. His vision blurred and the only sound he could hear was his own rattling breath.

As darkness took him in its cold embrace, he thought that maybe, just maybe Jaskier’s lips had formed the words he had been too much of a coward to say. What a sweet lie to put him to rest.

*

Everything hurt. Geralt opened his eyes for only a brief moment before he had to squeeze them shut, because of the blinding light. For a terrifying moment he thought he was back at Kaer Morhen, a young boy, waking up from his trials with eyes that were to sensitive.

The thought made it hard to breathe, the memories of the trials flooding back to him. He needed to ground himself, somehow. But the terrifying thought that he might still be in Kaer Morhen bound to the table where the experiments had been performed on him prevented him from opening his eyes just yet.

Instead Geralt felt around with his hands. He left out a shaky breath of relief. He was definitely lying on grass, though it felt dry and broke beneath his fingers.

Carefully, he opened his eyes again. It hurt, but at least it calmed his racing heart. Around him were not the stone walls he had seen after the trials, but trees gently swaying in the wind. But something felt off. It was warm, the air didn’t sting in his lungs like it would in winter. So why did the trees around him look like all life had been drained from them?

He let his gaze wander, hoping that something would jog his memory. The last thing he could remember was fighting a Griffin, falling to the ground and – Jaskier!

Geralt’s head snapped to the side, dreading what he would see.

There he was. Jaskier, without his colourful doublet, lying next to him on the ground. His head was lolled to the side and the way his limbs were splayed out looked as though he had collapsed One arm was stretched out towards Geralt, as if the hand had lain on him and slipped off as Jaskier had fallen. If his chest didn’t rise and fall with a steady breath, he could have been mistaken for dead.

The longer Geralt looked at him, the colder the blood in his veins became. Jaskier was white as the pages he uses to write his songs on and he had dark circles under his eyes like he hadn’t rested in days. Dirt was stuck in his hair and there was a smear of blood under his nose.

 

Geralt’s stomach dropped, as he frantically scanned Jaskier for any injuries. What had happened to him? What had Jaskier endured while Geralt hadn’t been able to help him?

His racing heart only calmed down to its naturally slow rhythm, when he was certain that Jaskier wasn’t injured. At least not outwardly.

Geralt let out a strangled sigh of relief, made harder by something tight that was bound around his chest – the doublet Jaskier had been wearing.

Geralt tried to sit up to make breathing easier, but the movement only served to tug at his injuries. Before he could stop himself, he let out a groan.

He stilled at the movement next to him. The noise must have been enough to stir Jaskier awake. The bard’s eyes shot open and for a moment, he just stared at Geralt, frozen. His eyes lacked their usual twinkle. Instead they were dull, exhausted and bloodshot.

“You look like shit.” Geralt croaked out, throat dry from being unused for who knew how long.

This finally seemed to shake Jaskier out of his stupor. Jaskier scrambled into a sitting position, swaying slightly and wincing.

“Geralt!” he breathed out, relief flooding his features, but there was something shimmering in his eyes. Geralt drew his brows together. Were there tears in Jaskier’s eyes?

“You don’t need to cry over looking like trash.” The joke fell flat even to his own ears.

The smile Jaskier cracked held no humour. It was a pity smile at best and even so it was wobbly and faltered within seconds.

“I thought I had lost you.” His voice was small. Smaller than Geralt had ever heard it. There was nothing left of the confidence performer who had full control over his voice. There was only Jaskier, lost and broken over losing his friend. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to safe you.”

Geralt’s heart clenched painfully. “So what – you dragged me to a healer? Not even in death I can seem to get rid of you.”

“It’s not funny,” Jaskier said, dropping his gaze and avoiding Geralt’s eyes.

“I know.” Geralt’s tone became serious. Though it felt like his limbs were made of lead, he lifted his hand and took Jaskier’s in his. “Thank you, Jaskier.” For not letting me put you through my death. For giving me more time with you.

“Don’t thank me.” Jaskier looked down, at their hands and for a moment Geralt thought he would take his hand away, but instead Jaskier gave a little squeeze.

“But really,” Geralt said, looking around at the dead plants once more. “What happened here and why am I not dead?”

Jaskier winced. “What? Are you complaining?”

“Jaskier…”

“I guess you just got lucky.”

Geralt tightened his hold on Jaskier’s hand the tiniest bit. “You know you can talk to me. If anything happened – if anything hurt you – “

“I am fine.” he interrupted Geralt, but his words sounded hollow. Jaskier was very decidedly not fine. But even Geralt could see that he didn’t want to talk about what had happened, for whatever reason and he wouldn’t put Jaskier through even more distress than he already was in.

Jaskier must have sensed that Geralt wasn’t going to push the subject, for he bit his lip, hesitating before saying “I thought you were dead. I thought I had missed my chance to – “

Jaskier broke off, pressing his lips together. Geralt’s mouth went dry. He had wasted so much time. Life had been merciful enough to give him a second chance. Any yet –

“I remember you saying something, Jaskier. I don’t know what it was.”

Any yet he couldn’t do it. Because it didn’t matter how many monsters he fought, Geralt was a coward when it came to this, when the risk was losing his best friend and all the time he could have spent with him.

Jaskier’s breath hitched and his hand grew frigid around his.

“It was nothing.” he said too quickly and with a little laugh that held no humour. “If I told you, you’d probably go back to letting me think you’re dead just so you don’t have to deal with the emotional baggage. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to hear it.”

“What if I wanted to?” Geralt hesitated, his heart pounding painfully. “What if I would say it back?”

Jaskier’s eyes snapped back up to his face, darting between Geralt’s eyes, as if he was searching for something, maybe the tiniest glimmer that could give him hope.

“Then I would be in love with a fool who would have died without telling me.”

Geralt’s chest felt like it would burst, warmth spreading through him, as he took in Jaskier’s unsure smile.

“And I would be in love with an idiot who needed me to die to tell me.”

The small laugh that left Jaskier was the most beautiful thing Geralt had ever heard.

“Good thing you’re not really dead then. We have eternity left to tell each other.” Jaskier paused, smile brightening impossibly. And then he said it. “I love you.”

Jaskier was right, they had plenty of time. Geralt would not waste a single moment more. He would use every day he was gifted with Jaskier to tell him.

“I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

After day that in the forest, when Jaskier had poured every ounce of chaos he had into Geralt, desperate to keep him alive, his resolve had slowly crumbled. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to tell Geralt that maybe he wasn’t as much of a human as he once used to be? Surely Geralt wouldn’t be angry at him for not telling him. After all, Jaskier wasn’t even sure what exactly he was.

With every hour he had spent in the Feywilds he had felt himself become more other. That didn’t mean he was something that Geralt would despise, did it?

That day when he had thought that he would lose Geralt, he hadn’t been worried about him finding out. He had only wanted to save him. And he had. He had made sure he wouldn’t lose Geralt just yet. There would be decades to come that they would be together – centuries, even, if Jaskier got lucky.

It had taken only a little while to understand that Geralt might not have the same reassurance. When Geralt had looked at him that night and told him how scared he was that he was going to lose Jaskier to old age, he would have almost confessed then and there. He didn’t know how much longer his life would become, but he knew for certain that he would outlive any regular human.

He should tell Geralt. It would ease his mind, make him happy even.

And yet, each night that Geralt held Jaskier close, each time they kissed or shared hushed secrets in the night, he remembered why he couldn’t tell him. Because if there was even the tiniest chance that Jaskier’s confession could break what they had, he couldn’t take it.

Tomorrow, he told himself each night, tomorrow I will tell Geralt. For now I will savour every moment I have with Geralt.
*
“What have you done?” Jaskier’s voice held no emotion. If it did, he would cry, he would scream and break.

He began to tremble, as Geralt looked up from the creature he had just slain.

“Jaskier.” How could Geralt’s voice be so even, as if he didn’t know what horrible crime he had just committed? “I had told you not to come after me.”

There was so much Jaskier wanted to say, but he couldn’t find the right words.

“Why?” Jaskier whispered instead, the only thing close enough to describe what he felt witnessing this horror.

Geralt stood up. Bile rose in Jakier’s throat as Geralt ripped his sword out of the body with a squelching sound. He had to look away, to shut his eyes, as if it would help. As if the image wasn’t branded into his mind already.

He jerked violently when he felt a hand – a blood-soaked hand, a hand that had just taken a precious life - on his shoulder, his eyes snapping back to Geralt, wide and filled with horror.
Geralt’s frown softened.

“Because it would have been too dangerous for you. If you had come with me, this creature could have manipulated you and I might not have been able to save you. I couldn’t risk that.” Geralt gave his shoulder what was meant to be a reassuring squeeze, but felt like a threat, death-grip he couldn’t escape. “It can’t hurt you now, Jaskier.”

Something coiled inside of Jaskier’s stomach, a grotesque mixture of fear and disgust and anger.

“That’s not what I meant,” he said, unable to look away from Geralt’s eyes. Not out of bravery. Out of fear. If he looked down, he would have to see the bloody body Geralt had slain. “I meant why did you kill a Fae?”

His voice grew thick with the last word and suddenly it was as though a dam had broken inside of him. The words – the accusations – that Jaskier had not been able to find before took a hold of him, couldn’t be stopped now, even if he tried.

“They are sentient beings!” His voice cracked. “Geralt, you always, always said you didn’t kill beings who could think. They have a culture. They have families and names and songs they sing to each other to bring happiness or comfort.” They were my family. They gave me a new name and taught me their songs. “Why did you kill one of them, Geralt? Why?

Would you kill me too, if you knew?

Geralt looked taken aback for a moment, before his eyes grew hard.

“Jaskier, those creatures are not the fairies from children’s storybooks. A Fae’s song isn’t meant for lovers, it’s meant to kill. Don’t talk about them as though they are innocent. They could bewitch even witchers. Despite what your fairytales might have told you, they are vicious killers. They hunt humans for sport. Their sole purpose in life is to manipulate and hurt people. Yes, they are sentient, but they are the worst monster of them all.”

That wasn’t true. Jaskier wanted to say it, but the words were stuck in his throat, the dam holding them back was rebuilt, stronger than before. All he was able to do was stare at Geralt with slightly parted lips.

How could Geralt talk like this about his people? Yes, not all Fae were kind. The gods knew there were plenty of Fae he despised out of the depths of his soul, but even they didn’t warrant the untamed venom that had left Geralt’s mouth with every word.

Finally, the words he had really been meaning to say found their way onto his tongue.

“What if you met a Fae who wasn’t like that?” He swallowed hard, trying not to let the small hope that still somehow lived in his chest die. “What if you ever met one that genuinely liked people? Would you kill them too?”

“Jaskier…” Geralt sighed. As if Jaskier was a child Geralt had to tell that his fantasies weren’t true. Almost gently Geralt plunged the knife into Jaskier’s heart with his next words. “I know you want to believe in your tales, but there are no Fae like that. I wish with all my being that I will never meet another one of those beasts again, but if I ever do, I will kill it, if only to keep you safe.”

The hope flickered and died, a candle blown out before it ever got the chance to light a fireplace.

This was it. No longer would Jaskier lay at night telling himself that he would confess to Geralt the next day. No longer would he imagine Geralt’s smile as he realised that he might have centuries with Jaskier. Instead he would tense and tremble, praying that Geralt never found out, dreading the day that he would.

Because that was the thing. Despite all of Jaskier’s instincts telling him to run, to go back to the Feywilds where he would be safe from Geralt’s inevitable wrath, he wouldn’t. All this life he had run one way or another, but when it came to Geralt, it was impossible. He had to stay.

He let Geralt embrace him, but instead of burying his head in his shoulders like he wanted, Jaskier peeked over them and looked at the twisted body of the Fae that still lay where it had dropped dead, killed by the man who held Jaskier’s body in his arms and his heart in his hands. He owed the Fae that much, to be seen one last time.

Ugly guilt soared inside him and he didn’t push it away. What he was doing was wrong. But he couldn’t stop himself from returning the embrace.

His eyes lifted from the corpse. And found something far more terrifying.

For a split second his fingers clutched tightly at Geralt’s clothes, before he forced himself to loosen the embrace slowly, as though he didn’t want to push Geralt behind him and protect him with his life against the Fae who stared at him from behind some bushes with murderous hatred burning in their eyes.

“I –“ He broke off, mind racing to find an excuse that wouldn’t make Geralt instantly suspicious, but all he could think about was that Geralt was in danger. “This corpse is too disgusting, I think I’m going to throw up.” It wasn’t a lie. Jaskier’s stomach churned as though it wanted to turn itself inside out.

Geralt looked at him in concern. “Can I help somehow?”

Jaskier waved him off, as he stormed over to where he had seen the glowing eyes before. “Don’t worry ‘bout me.”

He brushed the twigs aside, made his way through the undergrowth to where Geralt’s senses wouldn’t reach and came face to face with the last person he wanted to see, less so now than ever before.

The Fae had their arms crossed, a cold sneer on their lips, exposing their sharp teeth.

“So this is the reason you have been gone for so long,” they snarled. “You made friends with the Butcher.”

“Don’t call him that,” Jaskier hissed. Hearing the name from a creature that held names to more importance than anyone, the word sounded even worse than when a human spew it at Geralt.

“Is it not true then?” the Fae asked, unfurling their arms and stepping closer to Jaskier until they stood almost chest to chest. “Look again at what he had done to my sibling and tell me he isn’t a butcher.”

Jaskier’s heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t deny it. He had seen first-hand what Geralt had done.

Jaskier’s silence was answer enough. With a disbelieving shake of his head the Fae stepped back again, as if Jaskier’s closeness was an insult.

“You think so too. You know what he is and yet you stay with him, let him touch you. Traitor!” The words stung, but what hurt even more was the truth of it. “Did you know that not a single Fae had been killed by a human in ages?” They thrust one clawed finger at Jaskier’s chest, almost drawing blood with the force of it. “And then you get born and suddenly two of my family are dead, slain by those who are close to you.”

“That’s not fair,” Jaskier whispered, his quivering voice betraying him.

“No it’s not. But it’s the truth. You have done it again, Julian. You are once again the reason one of my family died.”

Jaskier’s hands clenched into first, a meagre attempt to hide the tremble. “They are my family too.”

“Are they?,” An ugly snarl slit the Fae’s face. “Then how can you watch them get slaughtered and still stay with their murderer.”

“Because I-“ Jaskier broke off, shut his lips as tightly as he could. He couldn’t let the Fae know.

Judging from the slight widen of their eyes, they didn’t need to hear Jaskier say the words. “You love him.” They let out a disbelieving laugh. “You actually love the butcher.”

“So what?” Jaskier looked away, unable to hold the Fae’s eyes.

“So you are betraying your family.” Before Jaskier could open his mouth to defend himself, the Fae added “Don’t deny it. You have always been a half-bred. You said you don’t belong to the human world, but you left the Feywilds. You cannot jump between the realms as you please. It is time you finally choose where your loyalties lie. You say, we Fae are your family, then prove it. Stay with him and look on as we get slaughtered or stay with us and watch us slay him.”

Jaskier’s head jerked up. “What do you mean?”

The Fae’s snarl turned into a smile that turned Jaskier’s blood into ice. For the first time that day Jaskier thought he might understand what Geralt had meant when he had called the Fae monsters.

“I mean that you don’t use your eyes. You are so blinded by the arrogance of being able to run to the next shiny thing, that you can’t see it rusting with the blood it spills. I am saying that you can’t close your eyes for much longer, Julian. Either he dies or we do. And I for one know which side I think is going to win.”

Jaskier mimicked the Fae in baring his teeth. It didn’t look nearly as intimidating with his human teeth, but the message was clear. “You don’t get to make me choose. You hold no power over me.”

“Oh, but you don’t have to take my word for it. I am not the only one who caught wind of the kind of company you keep.” They got closer again, until their mouth was next to Jaskier’s ear and whispered “Word of advice as a friend: Kill him yourself. It will be more merciful. Better make your choice quick. Time passes so inconveniently fast in this world.”

Jaskier’s eyes widened. “No.” It was no more than a horrified breath as the realisation hit him, took his breath away as though he was thrust into a pool of ice water.

The Fae’s sole purpose in life is to manipulate and hurt humans. Geralt’s words echoed in his head, mocking him. Of course this hated Fae would never just appear in the human world to confront Jaskier. Everything done by them was calculated. This confrontation had been a distraction.

Damn it, why had be let himself be lured so far away from Geralt?

Jaskier bolted through the bushes, almost stumbling over his own feet in his haste to get to Geralt in time.

But time passes so inconveniently fast. Too fast.

“We have to go!” he yelled, even before he could see his love. He wanted to call out for him, call his name, but if there was even a slim chance that a Fae could hear him speak the name of his beloved, it would be disastrous. “We have to leave, now!”

When Jaskier arrived at the clearing, panting and covered in scratches, he was too late.

Geralt was surrounded by three Fae. They looked different than Jaskier had ever seen them before, more feral, emanating a dark aura and wielding undeniable power. Geralt stood no chance.

He fought valiantly, slashed at them with his sword, but not even a witcher could overpower three Fae.

“No, wait!” Jaskier cried, trying to pull one of the Fae away. They snarled at him, but hesitated.

“What are you doing here?” they hissed, eyes hard and unforgiving. “He killed one of our own.”

He swallowed, shaking under their gaze. “I know. I know, but it won’t happen again. I promise.”

He looked over his shoulder at Geralt, pleading him with his eyes to relent.

He didn’t. Instead he grabbed Jaskier by the back of his shirt and yanked him back, until Geralt was standing in front of him, shielding him with his body from the Fae that were his family.

“Don’t!” His shout went unheard, as Geralt bolted forward, determined not to let any harm come to Jaskier, while the Fae attacked him, determined to avenge their fallen.

One Fae cried out as they were slashed across the chest. Geralt was thrown to the ground, claw marks and magical burns adding to the painting of his scars.

Unimaginable fear seized Jaskier as one of the Fae touched the ground, singing a haunting melody Jaskier knew all too well. Too often had he sung it himself, summoning mushrooms that sprouted in a circle and took him back to the Feywilds.

There was only one thought in his mind. He couldn’t let them take Geralt. If the Fae were terrible and powerful enough here to hurt Geralt, there was no telling what they would do to him in their own realm.

There was no time to think of the consequences. He screamed the first name that came to mind, the name of the Fae who had told him to choose. Now he made his choice.

He called their name and made a deal.

“Take me instead of him!” He prayed with all his being that the Fae would bite. Just a simple yes would be all it took and Geralt would be safe. He repeated the name, almost begging “I am trading my life for his.”

“Jaskier, no!”

It was too late. Jaskier felt the burn in his chest, binding him to his word as his deal was accepted.

Geralt’s horror-filled expression and his outstretched hand as he tried to reach Jaskier was the last thing Jaskier saw, before he was swallowed by the mist.

*

Geralt lunged forward, Jaskier’s name on his lips, but he was too late. His hand grasped into nothingness, where Jaskier had been but a moment before.

Gerlalt fell to his knees, looking frantically around for something, for anything that could bring him Jaskier back. It was in vain. Any trace of Jaskier and the Fae had disappeared and had left Geralt with nothing but the terror of not knowing what would happen to Jaskier, what punishment he would receive in Geralt’s stead.

He dragged himself to the fairy-ring, hoping against hope that the Fae magic still lingered and would be enough to take him to wherever Jaskier had been dragged to.

Nothing happened.

For hours Geralt searched for something to bring him Jaskier back until he finally collapsed to the ground. His hair that had gradually been freed from his tie fell into his face, obscuring his blank expression, as the dread finally overtook him. There was nothing he can do.

His hand balled into a fist on his tight. He might not be able to do anything on his own to help Jaskier, but the last thing he could do was give up on him.

The fleeting thought manifested into iron determination.

Jaskier wouldn’t want him to do this. He would tell him he was foolish and a hypocrite and he would be right. But Jaskier wasn’t here to tell him those things.

Without looking up, he whispered the name of the Fae Jaskier had called on before. The gods knew where Jaskier had learned the name. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that stubborn little hope inside of Geralt that refused to be crushed.

The name was but a whisper on Geralt’s lips.

“I want to make a bargain, Valdo.”

“How very curious.” The owner of the voice leaned against a tree, their wings lazily hanging down and he was looking at Geralt with unconcealed mockery. “Now what deal would that be?”

The Fae sauntered closer, pointedly relaxed and taking their time, knowing that as long as Geralt needed them, they had the upper hand.

Geralt gritted his teeth as Valdo crouched down in front of him, and brushed Geralt’s hair out of his face to get a better view of the determination in his eyes. Geralt repressed the instinct to push the hand away. He would do anything to ensure Jaskier’s return and if that meant being observed like a shiny new toy for the Fae and be submissive then that’s what he would do.

“Humour me,” the Fae said, finally letting go of his hair and straightening back up, towering over Geralt. “What could bring a witcher to his knees, begging a Fae for a deal.”

“Jaskier could. I need him back. Cancel the deal you made with him, please, bring him back.”

What if the Fae wouldn’t? What if they left him, told him that this was what he deserved? That he had slain one of their kind and Jaskier would be the one to pay the price for it.

Valdo tilted their head to the side, contemplating. Every second that passed weighed on Geralt’s chest.

“You have killed someone who was important to me,” the Fae finally said and Geralt tensed. This was it. He had wasted his last chance to get him back. “But oh, I do so love a good deal.”

Geralt’s heart skipped a beat.

“You will bring him back?”

Valdo nodded. “If only because I relish in imagining the look in his eyes when you finally figure it out.”

Geralt’s brows drew together. “Figure what out? What game are you playing?”

The Fae laughed and waved a hand through the air dismissively. “Now where would be the fun in me telling you? You need to find out for yourself and make sure to take a good look at our dear Jaskier when you do.”

“Stop these games. Just bring him back,” Geralt growled. He had no way of knowing how much time had passed in the Fae world. Every heartbeat he spent listening to the Fae could be an eternity in which Jaskier got tortured.

“Fine. But my help is not for free. You asked me to make a bargain, here is what I offer: I will bring him back to you, but you will owe me a favour. I will let you know when I have decided to collect it.”

It went against everything Vesemir had ever taught him, but he clenched his jaw and bit out the word. “Deal.”

For a brief moment Geralt wondered whether he had made the right decision, when he saw Valdo’s face split with a smirk and an otherworldly heat branded his chest.

His doubts were pushed far from his mind, when a fog began to rise, just as it had only hours before and the silhouette of a man slowly manifested in it.

Geralt’s scrambled to his feet, as Jaskier tumbled out of the mist. He sprang forward, barely catching him and carefully guiding him to the ground in his arms. He could feel the frail body tremble and the hands desperately clutching at his shirt. Broken sobs wrecked Jaskier as he buried his face in Geralt’s chest, accompanied by the same words over and over.

“You’re alive. You’re safe.”

“Yes, Jaskier, yes I’m safe. You protected me.” He buries his nose in Jaskier’s hair and tightened the embrace, needing to feel Jaskier, needing to know that he wouldn’t disappear into the realm of shadows again.

The sun had long set and the sounds of the forest had turned hushed and secretive, when they finally loosened their embrace, still holding their hands, never breaking contact.

Geralt’s eyes roamed over Jaskier’s body, scanning him for any injuries as he should have done before. He realised a shaky breath when he found none, but then his gaze reached Jaskier’s eyes.

Haunted eyes with a broken look and an eternity of misery in them. Whatever Jaskier had endured in the Fae’s realm it had left him in shatters, even though his skin remained unbroken.

Geralt let go of one of Jaskier’s hands and lifted his own to caress his cheek.

“Don’t worry, Jaskier, I got you. I won’t let anything happen to you again. Do you understand me?”

Jaskier nodded, fainty and pressed his cheek into Geralt’s palm.

As he did so, the echo of a laughter rang through the forest that held no joy but the promise of regret. Valdo’s laugh.

Every muscle in Jaskier’s body tensed. In all the years Geralt had known him, he had never looked more terrified than he did now.

Jaskier’s voice carried all the horror of the world.

“What have you done?”

Chapter Text

“No! Geralt!” Tears streamed down Jaskier’s face. “Let him go! Please, let him go!”

He struggled, needed to get closer to Geralt, but he couldn’t move. He was stuck in place, forced to watch the knives slice into his beloved.

Jaskier screamed his name, begging for his tormentors to stop.

They didn’t.

Only when Geralt had fallen to the ground, having lost too much blood for him to survive, did they finally step away.

“Get up!” he pleaded. “Come on, Geralt, get back up…”

But Jaskier knew it was of no use. Geralt was dead. He had known it would end like this. It always did. Over and over again had Jaskier watched his beloved die, unable to help him and yet bursting with the need to do so.

The image finally changed. Geralt was back up, fighting again, dying again. Over and over, a twisted roundabout of destruction.

“Please stop,” Jaskier said, unable to avert his eyes as Geralt got killed by a monster, human bandits, the Fae, and worst of all by Jaskier himself.

All the while voices whispered in Jaskier’s ears, voices that he had once thought calming in their familiarity. Now the Faes’ words cut him like knives. Physical injuries had never hurt him much in the Feywild. They didn’t last. Unlike the poisonous whispers.

You cannot save him. No, no, it wasn’t true. Jaskier had saved him before. He could do it again. The one time you healed him was luck. It had almost killed you too. It… it was true, but Jaskier would gladly risk his life again if it meant Geralt would be safe. He could learn to use more of the Fae magic. Oh, but he would not be too happy about that, would he? If he ever finds out what you are, half-bred, he will hate you. He will hunt you down and if you want to save your own life, you will have to kill him yourself.

Jaskier screamed. He screamed and screamed as though it would drown out the lies – they must be lies!– as though it would make the images of Geralt’s torment disappear.

It didn’t help, nothing could. Geralt continued hurting, continued dying, continued screaming, shouting Jaskier’s name, begging for help that he was unable to give.

“Jaskier!”

He flinched as his name was whispered in his ear, not poisonous, not the last cry of a man as he was dying. Arms tightened around him.

“Jaskier, you’ll be fine. Everything is fine.” Geralt’s voice was a low rumble, soothing and familiar. Safe. “I’ve got you, Jaskier. You’re not there anymore.”

Slowly, Jaskier opened his eyes.

His head was buried in Geralt’s chest, as he held him close, protecting him from all the threats of the outside world, his voice desperate to protect him from the images in his mind as well.

The cool night air that came through the window of their room made it easier to breathe. He was free. He was free and he was held in Geralt’s embrace. This was fine. Everything was fine. Geralt was alive and safe.

Except that he wasn’t.

“Jaskier.” Geralt’s arms loosened slightly around him and he drew back enough to look Jaskier in the eye. “Whatever you see in your nightmares, it’s over. Those dreams are not real.”

“No they’re not.”

But they could be. Owing a Fae a favour never ended well. Jaskier had known the risk he had taken when he had proposed the deal. He had known what he would get himself into.
It had been worth it, if it had meant Geralt being spared by death, even if Geralt suffering and dying was all that Jaskier had seen for the eternity he had spent in the Feywilds, his life belonging to Valdo for as long as they would leave Geralt alone.

And stupid, reckless, brave Geralt had made sure Valdo wouldn’t leave him alone. Despite everything Jaskier had seen happen to Geralt, the moment he had realised what Geralt had done was the worst moment in his life.

Geralt had killed part of Valdo’s family. Whatever the Fae was planning on using their favour on, it would be bad.

A tremble took hold of Jaskier. Geralt held his shaking body, combing his fingers through his hair in a helpless attempt to calm him. But for all the monsters Geralt could fight, the ones that lurked inside Jaskier’s mind weren’t one of them.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Geralt asked carefully.

Jaskier shook his head. Even if he wanted to tell Geralt, he wouldn’t be able to find the words. How could he, when they would describe him dying over and over again. It had been months since Geralt had made that deal. Months of nights that were filled with terror. Months of throwing glances over his shoulder, and seeing Valdo’s eyes everywhere, ready to strike and take Geralt from him. Every sparrow seemed to have their eyes, every sound of the forest sounded like the echo of their laugh. It had been too much. Even those past weeks that Geralt had insisted on staying in town with Jaskier where the Fae couldn’t just summon their Fairyrings and appear out of nowhere, he didn’t feel safe. The Fae could always find a way to hurt Geralt.

“Just hold me,” he whispered.

Instead of answering, Geralt tightened his arms around Jaskier, showing him that he was here with him. Always. As he had been for the past months, not even straying from Jaskier’s side for a minute, just so he would feel safe.

Jaskier willed himself to relax. Hours must have passed, before Geralt’s breath took on a different rhythm, slow and steady and peacefully asleep. It was a luxury Jaskier hadn’t had in such a long time.

He brought his hand between them and rested it on Geralt’s chest, feeling his heart thrum steadily, strongly.

For a few blissful moments, Jaskier let it create the bittersweet illusion that everything was alright. Reality and the echoes of Geralt’s screams came back far too quickly, burying the calm under a wave of dread.

Careful not to wake Geralt, Jaskier slipped out of his embrace. His bare feet hit the cold floor and immediately he missed the warmth of the bed and Geralt’s arms.

One last glance at Geralt told him that he was well and truly asleep, even as his hands grasped at the now empty space where Jaskier had lain. With shaking hands, Jaskier went over to his bags and produced what he had been working on each night for a month now.

The necklace he had stolen from a blacksmith for a lack of money, was almost perfect for his cause. He let it glide through his fingers, as he hummed quietly. It had taken an eternity to figure out the melody he needed, but as he now felt the thrumming strings of chaos weave into the necklace with every note he sang, he knew that it had been worth the sleepless hours.

As he sang of a roof over his head in a stormy night, of hot tea in the winter, of Geralt, of all the things that kept him safe, he felt the chain get stronger. He sang of Geralt shielding him from the eyes of an angry monster; he sang of the secret escape route from his parents’ estate, he sang of the forest that had protected him from all harm.

With every moment he held it, the chain of pure iron burned his fingers, but the pain only served to make him more determined. It meant that it was working. If even he, the half- bred, was burned by iron, that meant that a true Fae would not be able to touch it at all. And with Jaskier’s protection woven into it, their magic would not even be able to come near Geralt. Hopefully.

His fingers slid down to the pendant as his song reached its end. The buttercup that was forever captured in glass lit up, before going back to normal. It was done.

Jaskier might not be able to permanently break the deal Geralt had made with Valdo – not for a lack of trying. He had spent many sleepless nights trying to do so, but to no avail – but he would be able to make sure that the Fae wouldn’t be able to come close enough to Geralt to collect their favour.

The smile on Jaskier’s face was quickly replaced by a frown as the exhaustion of the spell washed over him and the familiar pain of a thousand needles prodding at his skill returned.

Swiftly, he put the charm back into his bag and snuck back under the blanket and into Geralt’s embrace, letting sleep engulf him. For the first time in months, he wasn’t worried about the terrors of the night, for he knew that now, they would stay in his dreams.

*

“I have something for you.”

Jaskier was brimming with excitement, as he told Geralt to close his eyes.

Geralt lifted an eyebrow, but obeyed. It had been too long since he had seen Jaskier with this spark in his eyes.

Once Jaskier was sure that Geralt wasn’t looking, he pulled out the necklace. He bit his lip to supress the hiss when he touched the iron and gently laid it around Geralt’s neck.

It looked perfect. The fine chain and flower certainly wasn’t Geralt’s style, but it wasn’t about being pretty. It was about protection, not that Geralt would know about it.

The tension that had choked Jaskier in its suffocating grip finally released its hold on him. Seeing the charm lay atop of Geralt’s heart finally made Jaskier believe the words he whispered to him at night, that they were safe.

“You can open your eyes now.”

For a moment, Geralt didn’t look at his gift, but at Jaskier, studying him with eyes that grew softer with every heartbeat that he took in Jaskier’s smile.

Only at Jaskier’s urging did he finally look at the buttercup pendant that rested next to his witcher medallion. Gently, he held it in between two fingers to study it better.

“It’s… it’s pretty,” he said finally. There was unmistakable confusion in his voice and uncertainty about how to react.

Jaskier huffed, but his smile didn’t disappear.

“I know you don’t really care much for pretty things – “Jaskier began only to be interrupted by Geralt cupping his cheek.

“There is one pretty thing I care about.”

Jaskier swatted at his hand, but his smile widened.

“It’s a reminder,” Jaskier said after a brief pause, in which he just stood there and soaked up the feeling of Geralt’s hand on him. “That I love you. No matter what.”

“I don’t need a reminder for that,” he said, no doubt lacing his words as his thumb brushed over Jaskier’s skin.

“Oh?” Jaskier said, tilting his head to the side and quirking his lips playfully. “If that is so, I guess, I’ll just take it back.”

Geralt’s hand that was still holding the pendant tightened and he growled “Don’t you dare. I am keeping this.”

*

Jaskier had a new skip in his step as he danced through the inn. The air that smelled of alcohol and sweat was easier to breathe and his songs held a happiness they had lacked in recent times. Jaskier was well and truly happy.

How could he not be? Geralt was wearing his necklace day and night, right next to his heartbeat, where it would protect him from Valdo or any other Fae.

Jaskier’s rediscovered joy was obvious and his songs brought more coin than ever – which they were in dire need of, since Jaskier had been the one providing for them both ever since Geralt had refused to go on hunts to protect Jaskier instead.

They had everything they needed. It was a good life. It was a safe life.

“You are happier again, aren’t you?” Geralt said one day, when they were lying on the bed, arms slung around each other.

Jaskier hummed happily, tracing lazy patterns on Geralt’s chest that always brought him back to the buttercup pendant.

Under his hand he felt Geralt’s chest rise as he took a deep breath.

“Jaskier, I’ve been thinking…”

“Realy?” Jaskier said, a teasing twinkle in his eyes. “Must have been hard for you.”

Geralt’s lips twitched, but he quickly became serious again. “You are happy again. You feel safe again.”

“We both are.”

Geralt nodded, even though Geralt must still think that the Fae could come collect their favour at any time. For a brief moment, Jaskier was tempted to tell him the truth, about the necklace, but the memory of what Geralt had said about Fae held him back. With everything that had happened, Jaskier couldn’t blame him for resenting the Fae. He wouldn’t be able to blame him if he would resent Jaskier too if he ever found out.

Geralt’s voice shook him from his musings.

“You are safe,” Geralt repeated. “and I was thinking that maybe… maybe you would be able to be alone for a bit again.” Jaskier grew rigid in Geral’t embrace and Geralt quickly added “Not for long, of course. I wouldn’t do that to you. Only for one contract.”

Jaskier swallowed hard. “Is there… do you have a specific contact in mind?”

He had known it would come to this eventually. Geralt was a witcher. He couldn’t stay holed up for months on end without going outside and hunting. As much as Jaskier knew Geralt loved him, he also needed to hunt. Not only for the money, but for himself. If it hadn’t been for Geralt’s sake that Jaskier had kept him in the town for so long, he would have called himself selfish for doing so. Now, that Geralt was safe from the Fae, he had no such excuse anymore. Geralt needed to hunt again and Jaskier had no right to keep him from it.

Geralt rubbed his face with his free hand and sighed. “Someone approached me while you were performing. There seems to be a griffin near-by. It shouldn’t take long to do the job. If I go early tomorrow, I will be back by dawn. I won’t leave you alone in the night.”

Geralt’s voice sounded so gentle, so reassuring, but Jaskier hadn’t registered any the words meant to comfort him. All he could focus on what was Geralt was risking.

“A griffin?” he said, voice shaking almost as much as his body. “Geralt, do you not remember what happened the last time you fought a griffin? You got hurt Geralt. You almost died

“I was fine.”

“Yes, because I was there!” The words escaped him before he realised what he had said. As soon as the words were out, Jaskier pressed his lips tightly together, praying that Geralt would not question him.

For once in his life, the gods were merciful, for Geralt didn’t seem to have noticed the slip up.

“I am glad you were there, of course, but I wouldn’t force you to come with me. You can stay here where you are safe and I will be back in no time.”

“Oh, hoho, no, my friend.” Jaskier sat up in bed, towering over Geralt who was still lying on his back. “I will sure as hell not be left behind while you fight.”

Geralt simply looked at him for a long moment. “Do you…would you feel safer, if you came with me?”

“Yes!” There was no hesitation in Jaskier’s voice though it couldn’t be further from the truth. Jaskier wouldn’t exactly be safer accompanying Geralt on the hunt. But Geralt would be safer, having Jaskier there.

Geralt’s eyes softened. “I promise I will protect you.”

And I you.

*

There was no skip in Jaskier’s step, no joyful melody on his lips as they walked across the field. The tremble of his hand was only stopped by Geralt holding it.

Despite all of Geralt’s reassurances that everything would be fine – he had done this hundreds of times before after all – Jaskier couldn’t make himself believe it. After all, he had almost died because of a griffin before, hadn’t he? It had taken all of Jaskier’s might to keep him alive. He wasn’t sure he would be able to do it again.

Not that he would ever let it come that far.

The closer they got to where the griffin’s hunting ground, the fast Jaskier’s heart was beating. Geralt must have heard it, for he haltered and turned to Jaskier.

“You don’t have to come closer,” he said softly. “I know you don’t really like watching me fight.”

Jaskier’s grip on Geralt’s hand tightened. “No, no it’s fine. I want to be close to you.”

Geralt searched his face for a moment, but didn’t say anything. Eventually, he sighed. Jaskier watched with growing terror, as Geralt lifted his free hand and took of the pendant. The one thing protecting him from the Fae. Jaskier’s blood ran cold.

“What are you doing?” His voice was shrill. “You have to wear it!”

“I need you to hold onto this for me.” Geralt put the necklace around Jaskier’s head and it burned, burned but not nearly as much as the fear that Geralt wasn’t safe anymore. “I can’t risk it ripping while I fight. I promise I won’t forget your love.”

“You will take it back as soon as you are done, won’t you?”

“Of course.” Geralt paused. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait at a distance?”

“Absolutely,” Jaskier said without hesitation. Now, more than ever, did he need to be close to the fight. Maybe the aura of the magic he had caught in the pendant would be strong enough to reach Geralt if Jaskier was close to him.

Together they hid behind some trees and waited for the sheep Geralt had brought as bait to catch the griffin’s attention. Jaskier prayed it wouldn’t. If the griffin never showed up, they could just turn around – “too bad that the griffin was a no-show, huh, Geralt? But what can you do?” – and go back to the town where nothing bad could happen.

The tiny glimmer of irrational hope Jaskier had was squashed, as a shadow passed over the sheep and Geralt shot out from behind the trees and towards the beast.

Jaskier held his breath, his heart hammering in his chest.

Geralt would be fine. He had promised Jaskier everything would be fine.

With wide eyes, Jaskier watched Geralt evade attack after attack. The thrill of the fight seemed to radiate around him. This was what he was meant to do. He was good at this. Nothing bad would happen.

And yet ….

Unbidden images crept up on Jaskier, slowly, quietly like a predator in the night. He didn’t even notice they were coming until they hit him with full force. Visions of the Feywild torture and real memories blending together in a twisted picture show of death.

Geralt lying on the ground, bleeding out. Geralt being slain over and over again. Geralt’s glassy, dead eyes staring unseeing into the sky because Jaskier hadn’t been able to protect him. Geralt calling out for Jaskier, but Jaskier couldn’t help him, he couldn’t move. He needed to move, get to Geralt, protect him!

The thought was so all-consuming that Jaskier didn’t even notice that he was no longer hiding. All he could think about was that he had to safe Geralt before it was too late, before his visions would become cruel reality.

He sprinted towards him. Geralt’s shouts rang through his ears, made him run faster, gave him wings. The wind and his blind desperation carried him to his beloved, who would not die today.

He shoved Geralt away with more strength than an ordinary human could possess, standing over him, ready to take on everything the world threw at him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Geralt’s sword flying out of his hand at the impact.

For a split second he caught Geralt’s eye, saw it widen, saw his lips move, but he couldn’t hear.

Whatever Geralt said, it was drowned in the thunder that was Jaskier’s voice. What left his mouth didn’t resemble a melody anymore. It was a battle cry, filled with all the rage and fear and love inside of Jaskier that now finally burst out of him. The iron chain burned around his neck, but it wasn’t enough to hold him back, his own protection magic that he had woven into it strengthening him instead of blocking the erupting chaos.

The griffin swooped down towards him, talons at the ready to tear into him – to take Geralt from him!

Power surged through Jaskier. The screaming and pain in his head became unbearable. Behind his eyes burned a fire, hotter than a dragon’s breath and threatening to rip Jaskier apart. It didn’t. No pain, no fire could ever be enough to stop Jaskier from protecting his loved one.

As the griffin shrieked in pain and disorientation, crashing and wreathing in pain, Jaskier could almost imagine his teeth sharpen, his fingers turn into claws. He could almost feel the weight of antlers and the translucent wings on his back. Here, standing over Geralt, deciding over life and death and defying nature, for the first time, he felt more Fae than human.

“Jaskier.”

The name sounded far away. It sounded strange, as though it had never fully encompassed all that he was, until this moment that Geralt had witness Jaskier become.

Without warning the power left him. It wasn’t the gentle ebbing away that he had expected, it was a damn breaking. The pain in his head returned with a vengeance. Jaskier was forced to his knees. He clutched at his head, desperate to stop the agony that burned, burned, engulfed his whole being in flame.

He tried to focus on the voice that had spoken before. But it was silent. No one was speaking anymore.

With all of his strength and despite the pain, Jaskier opened his eyes. He needed to see Geralt. Needed to know that he was alright, that he had succeeded.

Why wasn’t Geralt saying his name anymore?

He found Geralt’s eyes. There was a foreign expression in them. No, not foreign. Jaskier had seen it before, countless times. But never directed at him. Betrayal, disbelief, unbearable hurt.

“Geralt,” he said and his voice sounded strange even to his own ears. “It’s alright. You are safe.”

Geralt didn’t answer. His lips moved, formed Jaskier’s name, but no sound left him. As though he wasn’t sure if the man before him was still Jaskier. If he had ever been.

Black spots danced in Jaskier’s vision and he blinked them away with vigour. He couldn’t look away from Geralt. Not now. Not until he was certain that he was truly unhurt. He looked so hurt. Why was he hurt? Jaskier had protected him! He had made sure Geralt was safe!

Not knowing what to do and not trusting his voice for the first time in his life, Jaskier reached towards him.

Geralt didn’t flinch. Witchers didn’t flinch. But for a split second his eyes darted away from Jaskier. Jaskier followed his sight and his heart stopped. There lay the sword. The silver one. The one meant for monsters.

Like a stone the realisation sank into Jaskier. Geralt had witness him become other. He knew. He knew and he was … he was afraid of Jaskier.

Geralt’s hand twitched, ready to dart over to the sword and before Jaskier could grasp at what was happening, he fled.

He ran, ran until he couldn’t run anymore. He pushed through and stumbled further away, no matter where, as long as it put distance between him and Geralt. The man who had seen Jaskier and reached for his sword.

Jaskier’s legs shook from the effort as he blindly stumbled towards the uncertain. Everything hurt. His legs, his lungs, his eyes. As long as he focussed on them, he wouldn’t be able to feel the other pain, the one that sat deeper inside him than any physical one ever could, the one that would stay with him long after his exhaustion had passed.

So he continued running. He pushed himself, chasing that hurt, so it would drown out everything else and make thinking – feeling – impossible, knowing that the bliss of the distracting pain wouldn’t last.

*

Geralt didn’t get up until long after Jaskier had disappeared from sight. He didn’t know what he would do once he got up. He was a witcher, there was only one thing to do. Witchers hunted monsters, killed them.

Was that what Jaskier was? A monster?

He couldn’t be. How could the one who had stayed by his side, who had combed through his hair and whispered sweet things that no other witcher had ever heard into his ear, be a monster?

Geralt wasn’t even sure what he had seen. He only knew that he had been lied to. Of course he had. It had been too good to be true. A joyful bard that loved pretty things didn’t fall in love with a witcher.

From the very beginning he had known that Jaskier had not always been with him because he liked him. He had travelled with him for inspiration for his songs. Because Geralt was his chance to see the world. Because Geralt could protect him.

And yet, as the years had passed, Geralt had thought – he had been foolish enough to think that maybe Jaskier had enjoyed his company. That maybe he had actually meant it when he had told him that he loved him. That foolish hope had turned into a certainty. And now it was shattered, exposing itself as the deceit it had always been.

He closed his eyes against the sudden ache in his chest. Without thinking, his hand went to his chest, as though pressing against it until it physically hurt would make it better.

It didn’t. Instead it felt the painful nothingness where his hand should have met something cool and smooth. The pendant. The gift Jaskier had given him. The reminder that Jaskier loved him, no matter what.

A lie. All of it. And now it was gone. How fitting.

Except, Jaskier had never lied, not openly. Not even once had he told Geralt that he was a human. He had probably laughed about it, each time Geralt had been worried about the fragile and breakable human that he had so blindly assumed that he was.

Even more stupid, seen as Geralt had wondered about it. Every once in a while, when Jaskier was singing, his medallion had hummed lightly, as it had when Geralt had woken up thinking he had been on the brink of death. And lately, it had been vibrating constantly. Geralt had assumed it had been because of the deal he had made with the Fae. He had ignored the fact that it had gotten stronger ever since he had started wearing Jaskier’s necklace. Every single time Geralt had pushed the thought that something could be wrong away. Time and time again, he had made up some stupid explanation, everything so he wouldn’t have to confront his fear.

Gods, he had been so gullible. He had noticed how young Jaskier was, how special his eyes were, how strangely captivating his voice. How right it had felt anytime he had said Geralt’s name…

How much of it had only been a game to Jaskier? All this time, had Geralt only been some amusement for the Fae? A challenge, of how long he could keep fooling a witcher? Fucking long, apparently. Years, decades. If it weren’t for today, he would have probably let himself be fooled for a lifetime.

Or had it been more calculated than that? Had it been a ploy to get Geralt to agree to a deal with the Fae? Had Jaskier even been in pain at all, when he had been dragged to the Fae world? There was no way of knowing. The only certainty Geralt had, was that he had jumped to the opportunity to get Jaskier out of there, ready to risk anything. And he had. He owed the Fae and it was his own damn fault for trusting Jaskier.

There was no such a thing as a good Fae. He had said it himself. They were liars, cold-hearted beasts that manipulated people.

It was too much. He couldn’t do this. Couldn’t do anything as he realised that none of it had been true.

A tremble shook his body. He wished he still had the pendant, so that he could feel the satisfaction of crushing it. Of throwing the pieces as far as possible or dropping them right here in the dirt and show the world that he didn’t care.

But oh, he did. He cared so much that his heart felt like it had turned to ice at the thought he had not allowed himself to think just yet, but that lurked in his mind, waiting for the right moment to strike.
It was easier letting himself be drowned in anger. It was easier than to realise that he would never see Jaskier again.

And still he was fooling himself. Even with all the anger he felt, he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to destroy the necklace, even if he still had it. Like the fool that he was, he would keep it as a reminder. A reminder of what exactly, he wasn’t sure.

He went through the motions without truly feeling them as he set the sheep free and watched it take off with a terrified bleat. He was numb as he chopped the head off of the griffin he had not slain himself. He felt nothing as he dragged it back into town and dumped it unceremoniously in front of the man who had given him the contract.
The first thing he felt was an unbearable weight as he pocketed the money he was given. It left a bitter taste in his mouth.
No amount of money would be worth today. If he had never found out – if he had stayed the blind fool, he could have used the money to buy his beloved a gift, to treat him, like he had been convinced he deserved. He would have been happy.

Instead he felt hollow. He would have to return to the room they had shared. The room where all of Jaskier’s things would be waiting for him.

He clenched his jaw and made to leave the man from the contract. He had just left the house when another man stopped him, a blacksmith from the looks of it.

“Master Witcher?”

Geralt grunted. He didn’t care enough to open his mouth.

“Earlier today a man came by, told me to give you this and to he said that I should help you with everything you needed.”

Geralt turned back to him, a frown on his face as he took the letter the man held out to him.

“What is this? Who is it from?” he asked, without truly caring for the answer.

“I don’t know,” the man said hesitantly. “But he said to tell you that it’s time to collect a favour.”

Chapter Text

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.