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The thing was, Jaskier could be proud. He just… hadn’t been for a while. He’d let his desire for Geralt send him simpering after the witcher no matter how many harsh words were thrown his way. But this. This should be the last straw.

Except that it wasn’t that simple.

There were two sides to him. One side was screaming to walk away and keep walking and fuck that white-haired brute. Not in the literal sense. Unfortunately. The other was telling him that it was impossible. He’d chosen. He’d chosen.

It wasn’t fair. He hadn’t done it on purpose. He hadn’t even known he could, not for sure. But the weakness every winter didn’t lie. He’d chosen, like his mother before him. There was no undoing it now.

Still, he walked the treacherous path down the mountain. Felt the tug in his chest and resolutely ignored it. Go back. You chose. He is yours and you are his.

But Geralt had never been his. That was the rub, wasn’t it? That was what was so damn humiliating about the whole thing. He’d spent over two decades following a man who, at best, tolerated him. History repeating itself. Only his fate wasn’t to be the same as his mother’s - foisted off on someone else when he became inconvenient. No, he didn’t have it in him to keep following someone who didn’t want him. He had his pride, after all, even if he hadn’t used it in quite a while. What happened to a leanan sidhe who abandoned their chosen? He didn’t know.

Perhaps being half human would save him. That had to factor in somehow, right? But there were no fae around to offer their input, and he had no other way of knowing. He was far from his kin, and had never been particularly close with them to begin with. He’d chosen a human life, and wasn’t that hilarious now, all things considered? He’d thought he was choosing humanity, but at eighteen years old he’d wandered into a tavern and chosen Geralt instead. Geralt who was, if he was being honest, the most beautifully human creature he’d ever seen. So, there was that.

It wasn’t fair.

He got blackout drunk at the first town he found. And then he did it again. And again. He’d spent the last of his coin paying for his room for one more night and a tankard of ale when Yennefer sat down next to him, looking elegantly out of place on the dirty barstool. Jaskier truly wanted to hate her.

“You’re going to kill yourself,” she said, and he laughed.

 

“I don’t even know how to do that. Do you?” He asked the question like a plea, a prayer.

Yennefer sighed. “Bards. You’re so dramatic.” She ordered an ale and set her chin in her hand, watching him. “How did you hide from him?”

He frowned at her in confusion and she tapped her chest, just under her collarbone, where Geralt’s medallion rested on his own chest. Jaskier rolled his eyes and took her ale as payment as soon as it was deposited in front of her. “I wasn’t hiding. Funny thing about fae,” he said, licking foam from his lips. “Not weak to silver like most other monsters. ‘Iron to bind the fae.’ Surely you know that.”

She tilted her head thoughtfully. “I didn’t. I’ve never encountered any fae before.”

Jaskier raised his glass to toast her first encounter. Of course, it wasn’t really her first. They’d known each other for years. Fucking years of Geralt ditching Jaskier every time he caught a glimpse of dark hair and violet eyes.

“What do you want, Yennefer?”

She pursed her lips. “Can you break the djinn’s curse?”

Jaskier laughed, and she suddenly looked angry, the same anger he’d seen on the mountain. Stormy, dangerous. He hoped she’d do something about it.

“What the hell is so funny?” she demanded. His pride made him sad. Hers made her beautifully murderous.

Jaskier took a long gulp of his drink. “Your fortune is nearly as bad as mine,” he informed her, throwing his arm out and giving her a mock bow, nearly falling off his barstool in the process. “Congratulations on meeting your first fae. You’ve met the wrong one. I’m half human, Yen. I can’t break your curse.”

“You have my Name,” Yennefer pointed out. “That’s powerful magic. It shouldn’t matter--”

“I don’t do that.”

Her eyes were dangerous. “Then start.”

Jaskier ordered another ale. He had a feeling they were going to need it, but he didn’t have any more money. Yen could cover it. “Let me clarify: I can’t do that. Not the way you want. Minor curses if I manage to catch the Name of some prick who calls Geralt a monster or insults my singing? Sure. But undoing a djinn’s curse?” He shook his head, and the room spun unpleasantly. “If I could, I’d have done it long ago, Yen.”

Gods help him, he would have. Just to get Geralt to look at him again.

Yennefer cursed and looked away. The bartender set a tankard in front of her and after a moment she grabbed it and took a long drink, downing half of it in one go. Jaskier watched her, vaguely impressed, before asking the question that had been haunting him since their first meeting.

“Why didn’t you tell him?”

The sorceress glanced at him sidelong, her violet eyes considering. She sighed. “Do you want the truth? Or something that will make you feel better?”

“Wh-- the truth!” he squawked indignantly. “I wouldn’t have asked if I wanted to keep my own illusions.”

She finished the rest of her ale and signalled to the barkeep for another. “Because I thought I might be able to use you. Or blackmail you.”

Jaskier barked out a laugh, spilling his ale across the front of his doublet. Didn’t matter - it was already stained beyond repair.

They fucked that night. Jaskier would be lying if he said he’d never thought about it. She was beautiful, dangerous, and treated him like shit. That was apparently his type. But she was different than he’d imagined, gentler, and he realized it was because they’d both experienced the same kind of pain.

They were both cursed.

***
She was gone in the morning. Jaskier was relieved. What do you say to someone in that situation? Thanks? Sorry? Nothing would have felt quite right, and no matter what he’d said, she definitely would have punched him for it. Or turned him into something unpleasant. Probably one and then the other.

The strange part was that Jaskier felt… a bit better. It was as if that part of him that was demanding he return to his chosen, that was pinpointing the place where Geralt was and trying to force Jaskier’s feet to move in that direction had… calmed.

Was it possible for the connection to be satisfied by something so intimately connected to Geralt that it - she - could be considered a part of him? There was a song in there somewhere, but Jaskier was too hungover to parse out the lyrics. And it made him angry, anyway, for reasons he didn’t want to think about.

Yennefer had left coin on the dresser as if he was a whore, and Jaskier took no shame in pocketing it. He left the tavern with nothing but the clothes on his back and his lute (oh, and Yennefer’s money), and it felt like being reborn.

***

He lasted perhaps six months. He was dying. He’d spent the first few months trolling taverns for coin, making quite a good living, really. He was an excellent bard no matter what Geralt said, and he didn’t actually need the witcher to get by.

Then whatever boost Yennefer had given him had worn off and he’d been forced to venture into the wild for energy.

His knees hit soft dirt. Everything was too loud. He ran his fingers into the soil, feeling life. This wasn’t what he wanted for himself. He’d chosen humanity, hadn’t he? But humanity hadn’t chosen him. The trees were reaching for him. At least something was. He melted into it, letting nature retake him. That was the way of things, really, for humans and for fae. And he was both, right?

Jaskier heard the sky split open, and then there was nothing at all.

***

When he woke, everything felt back to normal. His blood wasn’t singing in his veins. The trees outside the window didn’t tell him their stories. So it was quiet, but better. Which could only mean…

There was a man beside his bed. A ridiculously gorgeous man. He looked irritated. That was also normal.

“When were you going to tell me?”

“Never,” Jaskier answered, because it was funny and because it was true.

Although Geralt’s expression didn’t change, not in the slightest, Jaskier could practically feel his irritation. Maybe he’d twitched an eyebrow or something? Sometimes it was hard to tell.

“Yennefer told you,” Jaskier said. It wasn’t a question.

“Only when it became painfully obvious that you were going to die.”

That was surprisingly considerate of her. Jaskier must have been even better in bed than he thought. And he thought he was pretty damn good.

When Jaskier didn’t respond, Geralt leaned closer, golden eyes narrowing.

“Jaskier.”

“That isn’t my Name.” He stared up at the ceiling. “I didn’t give you my real Name because that’s a very bad idea. You shouldn’t go around announcing yours, either.” May as well teach his witcher a little something before he died.

“Not usually necessary. Fae are rare. They’re very rare. And they don’t usually interact with humans. Except for one kind, even rarer still. Was it your mother or your father?”

“It?” Jaskier repeated, meeting Geralt’s golden gaze. Because that was really the whole point, wasn’t it? Monsters, and what they were called.

Geralt took a deep breath, as if trying to gather his patience. Jaskier was quite used to that particular mannerism, and it didn’t phase him one bit. “You know what I meant,” Geralt said, long suffering.

“My mother,” Jaskier responded, deciding not to argue the point, “was a leanan sidhe of the ao sí. She chose a count, my father. I have no idea why, because I don’t remember her but I do remember him and he was awful, Geralt, like you wouldn’t believe. And when he got tired of her, he tricked her into accepting another. And then she was gone.”

“I didn’t know.”

Jaskier sighed. “We’ve been over that. Didn’t we just go over that? Geralt, I’m tired. Let’s not do this. Or if we are going to do this, let’s do it better.”

“You were dying.”

Jaskier sat up, suddenly full of strength because the object of his affliction (no, not affection) was right fucking next to him. He glared at Geralt, who appeared taken aback by this sudden turn of events. The bastard. “Yes, I was dying. You told me to leave, so I left. What do you want, Geralt?”

Geralt’s hands clenched and unclenched on the arms of the chair he was sitting in. It creaked ominously. Jaskier prayed to every god he’d ever heard of that the wood would give out under those glorious muscles and he’d get to watch the witcher tumble to the ground in a heap. It didn’t happen. “Why would you leave if you knew it would kill you?” Geralt asked.

“Because you told me I was the cause of everything bad that ever happened to you, you absolute arse,” Jaskier responded, slumping back against the bed. This was not a conversation he wanted to relive. Why was Geralt insisting on doing this?

He knew why. Because Geralt was a godsdamned hero with a heart of fucking gold, which was why Jaskier had chosen him in the first place. And knowing that he’d nearly killed Jaskier, even unintentionally, hurt him. Even if he would never, ever admit it.

What a miserable bastard.

Said miserable bastard watched him silently. Gods, he smoldered. Without even meaning to. How did one smolder unintentionally? What a dick.

Approximately six and a half eternities passed before Geralt spoke. “I didn’t mean it.”

“I know. But you said it.” He had his pride.

Jaskier heard the wood crack. “So you’ll just die, then? Really, Jaskier?”

The bard tilted his head back. He could hear a bird singing outside the window. He remembered sinking into the earth, being reclaimed. Being claimed at all, really. “Is there an alternative, Geralt?” He met the witcher’s gaze, challenging. “What is it? Tell me.”

Geralt was immediately uncomfortable. Jaskier could tell. While his witcher was difficult to read for most people most of the time, he showed discomfort easily, usually by looking vaguely constipated.

This time the silence lasted at least eight or nine eternities.

“You can travel with me again.”

“Oh! Oh!” Jaskier was in rare form, and Geralt was already rolling his eyes. “Thank you, sir witcher, for the opportunity to trod behind your horse again! However shall I repay you for allowing me to bathe you and tend your wounds once more! And might I please, just maybe, write more songs about you so that you may tell me constantly how much you hate them?”

He was, perhaps, being more than a little petty. But Jaskier felt it was well-deserved, at this point. Geralt was outright groaning by the end, head in his hands as if this entire conversation was physically painful for him. The baby.

“You are determined to make this as difficult as possible, aren’t you?” the witcher muttered, voice muffled. Jaskier settled back against the rather fluffy pillows stacked behind him and crossed his arms over his chest, nodding petulantly.

“Yes.” He considered sticking out his bottom lip in a good, old-fashioned pout. Too much? Probably too much.

Geralt lowered his hands, taking another slow breath. “Travel with me again,” he said quietly. “Please.” That last bit was squeezed out through gritted teeth, but it was there. It was said, hanging between them in probably the smallest room of a manor that Yennefer had likely stolen from someone.

And for now, it was enough. It was more than Jaskier had ever gotten, after all.

“I didn’t know you knew how to say that word.” He just couldn’t help it. At this point pestering Geralt was basically a personality trait. “Was it difficult? Strain yourself at all?”

“Jaskier.”

“Yes?”

“Stop talking.”

“Right.”

***

They left again the next morning, Yen seeing them off with a cheerful, “Fuck the both of you and don’t bother me again.”

It was sweet, really, how much she cared.

It was also far too easy to fall back into a rhythm with Geralt. That easy sort of companionship that only came with decades of learning each other. But something was different, too. Every now and then, when things were especially quiet, Geralt would ask a question. He’d never been one to start a conversation, and Jaskier had long ago learned how to coax him into one instead, so it was a bit disorienting for the witcher to suddenly ask Jaskier questions, actual personal questions. But a good kind of disorienting. So good that Jaskier decided not to lie on those rare occasions that it happened.

“So could you have helped me all along?”

Jaskier looked up from the venison stew he’d been attempting to force his stomach to accept, all too eager for a distraction. A rowdy crowd had gathered in the tavern when he had started his performance a few hours earlier, but they’d long since dispersed, leaving the bard to gather his coin and ‘enjoy’ a meal on the house for his efforts.

“Help you? Geralt, I don’t know what you mean. Do I not help you every day with companionship and song?” He emphasized this with a dramatic flourish of his spoon that almost splattered Geralt with broth.

Geralt didn’t even flinch. “Helped me with contracts,” he elaborated.

“Ah.” Jaskier stirred his stew, wrinkling his nose at a distasteful lump. A potato, perhaps? Gods, he hoped so. “Maybe? I don’t know. I don’t really do that sort of thing. Besides, I’m meant to be an observer, chronicling your tale for the masses!” He tilted his head thoughtfully. “And I don’t really think you’d have let me help, even if I’d been so inclined.”

Geralt’s lips twitched in amusement and Jaskier’s heart fluttered in his chest. “No,” the witcher agreed. “Probably not.”

“Even if you’d known?”

“Even if I’d known.”

“Good.”

Geralt lifted a brow and Jaskier grinned triumphantly. “Because I still don’t want to help.”

He nearly fell off his chair dodging the wedge of cheese Geralt tossed at his head.

***

Jaskier would help, of course, if Geralt’s life were ever truly in danger. And if Geralt actually let him accompany him on whatever contract was doing the life endangering. But Jaskier was never quite certain that the sort of help he could offer would be all that… helpful, really.

“Have you ever… done anything?”

It had been three weeks since they’d last seen civilization. They were under the stars, the woods were singing, and Jaskier no longer had to pretend that he didn’t enjoy it. Some of his kin were flitting about at the edges of his vision, trying to catch their first glimpse of a witcher.

And Geralt just had to go and ruin it by being rude.

“I’ll have you know I have done many things, though I suppose nothing especially respectable in your opinion. I am a lecturer at Oxenfurt while you’re off wintering at Kaer Morhen, you know, and despite your often scathing criticism I am one of the most well-known bards on the continent--”

“Stop. Stop. That’s not what I meant.”

“Oh.” Jaskier glanced over at Geralt, frowning. He could hear soft giggles echoing through the trees, a sound not quite of this world and therefore out of the range of even Geralt’s sensitive hearing. Thank the gods, because they were definitely laughing at him. “Then what did you mean?”

“You know.”

“Oh,” Jaskier repeated, long-used to having to interpret entire thoughts from two word sentences. “Hm. Not in the way you’re probably thinking.” He pursed his lips, hesitant. There was a time, when they’d first met, that Jaskier had not known whether or not Geralt would kill him if he found out what he was. Well, attempt to kill him. Silver probably wouldn’t work. But it would still hurt, a lot, and Jaskier avoided pain whenever possible - except, of course, where white-haired witchers were concerned. In those instances he apparently ran heart-first into pain and invited it into his life as a permanent resident.

“Are you going to finish that thought?” And how odd for Geralt to actually prod Jaskier into talking. Such things should be rewarded.

“Right. It’s just a complicated subject for me. But yes, I have ‘done things.’ Mostly the occasional curse if someone was particularly anti-witcher with you and I managed to catch their Name.”

Geralt’s expression got more serious suddenly, and Jaskier threw his hands up innocently. “Nothing life threatening! Just a bit of fun. Chronic toe-stubbing. Involuntary celibacy. That sort of thing.”

Geralt laughed, really laughed, and Jaskier remembered all over again why he loved him. “How long?” the witcher asked.

“What?”

“The involuntary celibacy.”

“Never more than a decade, I promise.”

“Serves the fuckers right.”

And they both laughed.

By the end of the night they were leaning back contentedly against a tree, shoulders pressed together, sharing a bottle of wine upon which Jaskier had spent too much of what little coin they had before they’d left the last town. Jaskier rested his head on Geralt’s shoulder and Geralt’s fingers brushed against his.

And Jaskier thought to himself that he could be happy like this.

***

“Is there magic in the songs?”

Jaskier eyed Geralt shrewdly. “You mean to ask if I’m manipulating people.”

“Manipulating them to like me,” Geralt responded with a shrug.

How very like Geralt to think that no one could possibly see his value, his worth, without magic being involved. And yet Jaskier had promised himself that when Geralt asked these questions, he wouldn’t lie.

“Yes, there’s magic in the songs. But it wouldn’t work if they didn’t want it to work. I don’t have the Name of every person who sings along to Toss a Coin. It’s compelling, it’s enticing, but it has to call to a good that’s already there.” Jaskier shrugged, fingering the strap of his lute. “Besides, isn’t there a little bit of magic in all songs, anyway?”

Geralt smiled, really smiled. Jaskier loved him so hard that he thought his chest might burst.

“That’s such a bard thing to say.”

“That’s such a witcher thing to say.”

A playful shove. But Geralt was touching him more. Always touching, now.

***

Autumn cooled to winter, and Geralt still hadn’t said his goodbyes. Jaskier knew the drill, after so long. He knew that Geralt didn’t have much time before it would be impossible to get to Kaer Morhen, before the ice and snow made the mountain too treacherous for travel. Yet they stayed together, and Geralt grew distant, distracted.

They were holed up in a small inn on the outskirts of some nothing town, sharing one ratty blanket for warmth at night while Geralt killed drowners during the day for the paltry coin the town alderman had offered him. Jaskier tried to write while Geralt was gone, but it was so cold his fingers would get stiff. If they were in a better inn at a better town, there would be a fireplace in their room.

But it was there that Geralt kissed him for the first time while they huddled together under that ratty blanket, looking at the stars through a hole in their room’s one dirty window. A soft touch of lips, those golden eyes so cautious, and then it was everything and more while they clutched at each other and tasted and felt.

Geralt whispered to him, “You’re the only thing I’ve ever chosen,” and Jaskier wasn’t sure the witcher knew what those words meant to a leanan sidhe, but it didn’t matter because that didn’t make them any less true.

***

The very next day, Jaskier dragged Geralt into town early in the morning to a small bakery to purchase sweet bread for breakfast. Jaskier had always had a sweet tooth and Geralt had one that he wouldn’t admit to, so it was the perfect way to commemorate choosing each other.

Jaskier was counting out coin for the baker when two men came in, talking about Nilfgaard marching on Cintra. He saw Geralt stiffen out of the corner of his eye and knew the honeymoon was over. Jaskier slid the coin across the counter to the baker and turned to Geralt.

“To Cintra?”

“To Cintra.”