Chapter 1: Chapter 1
After the mountain, and finding Ciri, and tracking down Jaskier and Yennefer both, and dragging them up to Kaer Morhen, Geralt had looked forward to a nice, relaxing winter. His brothers and Vesemir would train Ciri, Yennefer, with whom he had come to an entirely platonic understanding, would recover from Sodden, and he had Jaskier back.
His apology had been poor, and he knew it, but Geralt had rescued him from the clutches of Nilfgaard and had bought him new lute strings and a notebook to boot.
The strains of Her Sweet Kiss drifted through Kaer Morhen regularly, because his whole family, and yes, Ciri and Yennefer included, kept requesting that damn song. He hated it, Jaskier’s voice broke singing it and his scent was still sad, although less so than it had been the first few times Geralt had heard it.
Amazingly, the sadness had disappeared for the most part after one time, when Jaskier played the song after dinner, Yennefer had looked up from her book and said, cool as an icicle,
“For Melitele’s sake you melodramatic bastard, I’m not dating Geralt and I never want to again.”
And now everyone seemed to want to hear it. Kaer Morhen’s training had not included music or poetry comprehension, so he was unsure why everyone kept looking at him oddly whenever the song was played. As far as he could tell, it was just another tragic love song. When Ciri started requesting Her Sweet Kiss after supper, and eyeing him while it played, he gave in. He cornered Eskel, the most book smart of the wolves beside Vesemir, who he suspected would be just a bit too acerbic, and asked him what was up.
“He’s in love with you.”
“You’re an idiot,” Eskel said. “And a stubborn one to boot. He didn’t like Yennefer when you two were sleeping together, but they’re the friends now, right?”
“They’re not,” Geralt said, brow wrinkling. This was treading much too far into the realm of human emotions, which Geralt had never been good at, but they snarked at each other all the time still and bickered like children. Eskel rolled his eyes.
“They are, its just sparring, but with words not swords. You see?”
That made sense, words were Jaskier’s weapon, and Yennefer’s too, to some extent, and they did both seem to revel in creative insults.
“They’re friends,” Eskel said. “Now that Jaskier isn’t jealous anymore. Do you see where I’m going with this?” He could apparently tell from Geralt’s expression that, no, he did not know where Eskel was going with this.
“Her Sweet Kiss is about Yennefer, who Jaskier thinks you love, and it’s about you, who Jaskier loves, and it’s about him, when he says ‘I’ as in “I am weak, my love’. My love is you, do you understand?”
It was dawning slowly in Geralt’s mind that he had definitely missed this, rather spectacularly, because now it was very, very obvious. He was glad he hadn’t gone to Vesemir, who would probably have given him a cuff ‘round the ear for being stupid, and it would have been deserved.
Eskel, always so much better at reading emotions said, “Ah, you’ve got it, good. Now, what are you going to do about it.”
“I don’t know.”
Eskel rolled his eyes so hard that Geralt hoped he detached a retina. “Of course you don’t.” His voice softened. Eskel had always been the one Geralt turned to for emotions. He knew Geralt didn’t get them, but wanted to understand and tried so hard that it hurt. Apart from a fair amount of good-natured ribbing, he always helped Geralt with the trickier bits of the human (or mutant) heart.
“Let’s start small, do you love the bard?”
That wasn’t small. That was a very, very big question, but Eskel had settled back in his chair and looked prepared to wait for Geralt to figure out the answer.
Did he love the bard? Geralt didn’t have anything to compare it to except Eskel and Lambert, and it certainly wasn’t like that. Except sometimes it was, like Eskel, Jaskier helped Geralt with reading when his head flipped the letters all around. Like Lambert, Jaskier fought anyone who insulted Geralt. But those were the actions of someone who loved Geralt, that was how Geralt could know (or could have known, if he’d been paying better attention) that Jaskier loved him. But how to know if Geralt loved Jaskier, not as a friend, but like a ballad, like the ‘my love’ in the song. But Geralt did love Jaskier like a ballad, because the songs always compared some lady to a bunch of other things. Geralt did that. He saw bright silks in a market and thought of Jaskier, if there were buttercups on the side of the road he thought of Jaskier, he heard a lute and thought of Jaskier, washed his hair and thought of Jaskier. Everything in his life made him think of Jaskier.
And it wasn’t like seeing a goat headbut a farmer and thinking of Eskel and his goat from hell. It was also not the same as using a bomb and thinking of Lambert. Those were everyday things, as commonplace as thinking of Vesemir’s training.
“I love him.”
“Yes,” Eskel said, “You really, really do. Now you just have to court him.” He sat back as if satisfied with a job well done.
“Right, and how do I do that?”
Eskel looked stumped. “I don’t know,” he said. Courting wasn’t part of the Kaer Morhen curriculum.
“Do we ask Lambert?” Geralt asked, feeling a little panicky because now that he realized he loved the bard he wasn’t about to not court him.
“Of course not, he’s the least romantic bastard in existence,” Eskel said, rubbing a thumb over the scarred part of his lip.
“Not true, he reads romance novels,” Geralt said, proud to introduce this new and frankly hilarious bit of information.
“No.” Eskel’s eyes were wide.
“I found it in his pack last week, when I was looking for a sharpening stone, it had a picture of a lady in a torn dress and a shirtless man almost kissing, and the title said Tortured Hearts.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“I’m not,” Geralt said huffily, “I read a bit of a page too and it mentioned a lot of throbbing.”
Eskel cackled and, over come with mirth, fell from his chair. That set off Geralt and they both howled with laughter, wiping a few stray tears from their eyes when they heard the door creak open.
It was Lambert.
That set Eskel off again, which made Geralt laugh too, and Lambert just stared at them.
“Did you two get into the vodka again?”
“No,” Eskel said, righting himself in his chair, “We were just discussing your reading habits.”
Lambert turned pale, then pink, then pursed his lips and turned up his nose haughtily. “Shows what you two know about literature. It’s a fine way to pass the time.” His cheeks were still a bit pink.
“All jokes aside,” Geralt said, when he’d stopped snorting, “I need to know how to court the bard.”
“Ah, finally pulled your head from your arse then?”
“It was me that did the pulling,” Eskel said. Lambert sprawled onto the couch next to Geralt.
“Of course you did,” he said. “What you gotta do,” he paused. “No that’ll never work.”
Geralt scowled at him.
“No really,” Lambert said, “It’d never work.”
“Lambert, c’mon, we’re really stumped,” said Eskel.
“Yes?” said Geralt, leaning towards him a little.
“In the books the man always writes her a poem, to proclaim his love, you know? Or failing that he writes her a letter, all curly writing, maybe some pressed flowers.”
“Oh,” said Geralt.
“Oh,” said Eskel. “Yeah you’re right that’s really not gonna work.”
“Jaskier’s all courtly,” Geralt said. “So I should do it, you know, courtly.”
“Ciri’s royalty,” Lambert said. “She might know, and Yennefer spends a bunch of time with nobles. They could help.”
“You said his family’s kind of old fashioned,” said Eskel. “Vesemir’s really old too, so he can help.
And that was how everyone in Kaer Morhen, except Jaskier, who had been distracted by Vesemir showing him a room with a nice echo, met in the library to begin plan Court the Bard. Eskel was scribbling ideas onto a sheet of parchment.
“You should kiss his hand,” Ciri said. “And say please and thank you.” She thought of her grandparents. “And tell him how beautiful he looks when he’s covered in blood.”
“Kill things for him,” Lambert chipped in. “Show’s him how big and strong you are, makes him feel safe.” A few curious eyes turned to him. He shifted uncomfortably. “One of the books was about a hunter and and a dairy maid. He killed a bear for her.”
“Always ask before you hold his hand or kiss him,” Vesemir said, seemingly unfazed by Lamberts reading habits. No reason he should be, Geralt thought, we all know he has a stack of romance novels by his bed. “Take it slow, Geralt, be patient, and put in the work, he was patient for twenty years, repay it now.”
Yennefer spoke up. “You don’t have to stop being sarcastic with him, he likes it, but compliment him too. Tell him how much you like his music. He likes music, so you like music because it makes him happy, understood?”
“Good,” she said. “And dance with him. He’d like that. Also get him flowers.”
“Not just flowers, get him stuff,” Eskel said.
“I bought him lute strings and a notebook,” Geralt said.
Ciri wrinkled her nose. “Yeah but those were apology gifts, these are courting gifts.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Not much,” Yennefer said, “Lute strings and notebooks are good because they’re useful and they show that you know what he needs, but courting gifts should also be more…” she waved a hand vaguely, purple sparks twirling about her fingers.
“Romantic,” Eskel said.
“Pretty,” Ciri said firmly.
“They should be able to show you can provide for him,” Vesemir cut in.
At the end the list was short and confusing, but at least they had a plan. In the spring Ciri would go learn about magic with Yennefer, and Geralt’s heart swelled at the way they both glowed with excitement at the prospect. Geralt would then be back on the path alone with Jaskier and he could court him.
The list said, in Eskel’s simple, neat hand, Number One, kiss his hand. Number Two, use manners. Number Three, compliment him (his music, his features, how he looks after a battle?) Number Four, kill things and bring them to him. Number Five, bring him gifts that aren’t dead things. There was an asterisk by number five and it said, gifts should be useful, romantic, pretty, and provide for him.
It wasn’t much, but it was a plan.
That night at dinner Jaskier wondered why everyone kept looking at him and Geralt. He figured he had stew on his face, there was some in Geralt’s hair. Geralt wondered why Jaskier kept swiping his face with a napkin and why Ciri kept pointedly running fingers through her hair.
He couldn’t figure out all of human emotions, but he was going to defeat courting, once and for all.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
It’s back! Dumb boys in love! Also Grandpa Vesemir gets some feels and Geralt does some math.
Watching Winter at Kaer Morhen melt into early spring was always a beautiful process, but this year brought Geralt trepidation as well. Watching Ciri train had been wonderful, helping her learn the basics kept all the wolves on their toes, for the first time in many years actually thinking about motions that normally came from muscle memory.
Yennefer had flourished into her role as “Aunty Yen,” not sweetly nurturing, the way one often thought about with children, but a clever tongue and tough love that Ciri, granddaughter of the Lioness, seemed completely at home with.
Geralt was doing his best too. Ciri had started calling him dad about halfway through the winter, the first time happening at dinner and he’d very nearly choked on his ale. It sent something warm running through his veins every time, like good brandy that burned all the way down.
He was trying, words still didn’t come naturally, but somehow Ciri always seemed to be able to see exactly what he meant. Maybe it was Destiny, maybe just a hurt, lost child clinging to whoever was consistent in her life, but Geralt hoped it was more. More than anything, he hoped Ciri truly understood how cared for she was, not just by himself, but all the wolves, Jaskier, and Yennefer.
Ciri had whispered to him one day, still panting after training, asking if he thought Yen would mind if she called her mom.
Geralt had replied that he didn’t think Yennefer would mind at all.
Yennefer came to him later, a tender look in her eyes. There was something, not fragile in her eyes, but Jaskier had pointed out in a marketplace once, a beautiful porcelain vase that had been broken and artfully repaired with gold. Yen’s expression reminded him of that.
They sat for a while, then Yennefer said, “Will you be able to let go of her in the spring?”
“Yes,” Geralt said, although he was less than sure that parting from Ciri would be so easy. “She needs you, and time away from me. And to be around women.”
Yennefer nodded, gave Geralt a pat on the shoulder, and left. Geralt stayed, cloak wrapped around him as he sat looking out over the walls.
There was much that would happen in the spring, and his life, which had been pretty stagnant before, was changing more in these past few years than it ever had. He felt like Kaer Morhen itself, built to last and yet crumbling still, the weight of change and time and destiny tearing down walls.
He watched the sun go down.
Vesemir joined him, carrying two bowls of stew. Geralt took a bite of his and winced. It had been Eskel’s turn to cook. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Vesemir’s mustache twitch with a hint of a smile. They ate the oversalted meal in silence.
“You know,” Vesemir said, and in the starlight the crags on his face looked carved in. “I come up here to think too.”
Geralt knew, but Vesemir wasn’t interested in talking about the battlements, he could tell.
“I think, most nights, about the ghosts within these walls. All of the little boys who died so that the School of the Wolf could be.” The wind picked up, howling like, with an excellent sense of the dramatic, a wolf.
“The Trials haunt me, Geralt. More than anything in my life, and it has been a long life indeed.”
“You saved me,” Geralt said. “Saved Eskel.” But he too remembered the still bodies carried out and buried in the night. How few boys remained. Remembered the screaming in the night, unsure how much of the sound was torn from his own throat, and what came from his brothers dying around him.
“I let them put you through it twice. That wasn’t salvation, lad.” Vesemir sighed. “I couldn’t have put a stop to the Trials, don’t know if I would have if it were possible, there have to be Trials to be witchers, and the world needs us, whatever it may believe. But maybe there was a better way. A kinder way. You were boys, little lads who went through so much pain.”
Geralt was startled to see a tear fall down the craggy face, burying in the moustache. Witchers could cry, but it happened rarely, tears could blur vision in a fight, and only very strong emotion, the sort they had been taught to suppress, could override the mutations.
And then Vesemir put an arm around Geralt’s shoulder and gave him an oddly nice hug. It could have cracked a boulder.
“Someone should have held you boys more,” Vesemir said, a touch abashedly. They looked out over the walls some more and Geralt wondered if the conversation was over, but Vesemir didn’t take the arm away.
“Ciri called me Grandpa today.”
Ah. That would explain a lot. Watching Vesemir interact with Ciri over the winter had been a delight and a surprise to the wolves. He’d even sat her on his knee and told her stories of when Lambert, Eskel, and Geralt were young like a, well, like a doting grandfather. Jaskier had been enthralled as well, naturally, but seeing Vesemir so soft, and sometimes looking a little sad, around Ciri, had been an education for the men who would always think of themselves as ‘Vesemir’s Little Lads’.
“She won’t be a witcher,” Vesemir said. “Couldn’t be even if we would want it, and I never would.”
“No,” Geralt said.
No,” agreed Vesemir. They looked out over the darkened landscape.
“I never wanted a family,” Vesemir said after a while where their breaths hung in the air before them. “‘O course, witchers aren’t supposed to, but you’ve built a nice little family for yourself, laddie. It’s not as may be, not like you’d find in villages or in your pet bard’s fancy songs. But you’ve a brave and rather headstrong daughter, and she has a mum, and a dad, and two already very protective uncles.”
“And a grandpa,” Geralt cut in.
“And a grandpa,” Vesemir agreed. “But a family needs a little more than that. There’s gotta be someone to teach the lass how to love.”
Geralt was about to protest that he’d seen plenty of loveless marriages, but then considered the results in the children. Jaskier was one, he knew. The sort of lost way Jaskier sucked up approval, when they’d first met, the way he’d drank up compliments like a man with water in the desert, whenever Geralt thought on it there was a sort of humming ache. He’d consulted with Eskel on the feeling, concerned it was illness. Apparently, it was just what happened when someone you loved was hurting and it wasn’t something you could kill or fix.
“It doesn’t need to be romantic love,” Vesemir said, obviously seeing Geralt’s face. “And she’ll know how to love family fine, and how to love friends, as you and Yennefer figure that out between the two of you. But your bard loves you, and the way you love him can teach her how to love others and herself. And if Ciri has another dad maybe you can worry less.”
Geralt chuckled. Ciri could have fifty parents, and Geralt would still lose sleep worrying. Vesemir smiled back at him, eyes crinkling and moustache lifting like a bristle brush that had learned to fly. Then he slapped Geralt on the back, and Geralt, the White Wolf of Rivia, Butcher of Blaviken, the witcher who had twice survived the Trials, felt his spine compress like a spring and he was sure he felt a rib creak.
“Love Jaskier, lad. Hold tight to him. We rarely get good things.”
Then Vesemir walked back inside and Geralt stared after him. There weren’t many old witchers, dangers of the job and all that, but Vesemir was proof that witchers, like oak wood, only solidified with age.
Geralt followed him inside.
The next days passed in a flurry of activity. Ciri had been let off of training with the wolves to pack for her journey with Yennefer, and to be quickly given the rundown of the basics of magic. The wolves were packing as well, preparing to leave Kaer Morhen. In between final preparations and weapon repair, Geralt checked over The List.
The List was supposed to help him court Jaskier. It was the combined brainchild of everyone (except Jaskier, of course) at Kaer Morhen. More importantly, his intention to court Jaskier met with Ciri’s approval.
When the day arrived, Geralt felt a curious lump in his throat. He watched Ciri say goodbye to Eskel and Lambert, the latter picking her up and swinging her in an arc, letting her joyful whoop echo about the courtyard. Then she hugged Vesemir, and he crushed her very gently to him. And then she turned to him and Jaskier.
He was thankful that Ciri bade Jaskier goodbye first, watching the bard wipe a surupticious tear away as he held the blonde girl. It was Geralt’s turn and he didn’t know what to do. He cleared his throat.
“Follow Yennefer’s instructions,” he said. That didn’t seem like enough. “And don’t talk to strangers,” he said. It still seemed insufficient but he was out of advice so he stuck out his hand to shake. Ciri laughed and leapt at him, throwing her arms around his neck.
He held her there, reveling in hugging his daughter, his child surprise, who was so full of surprises and he felt, for the first time in many years, the feeling of rather full tear ducts. He blinked them away.
“Good luck,” Ciri whispered in his ear. Jaskier wouldn’t have heard, but the witchers with their enhanced hearing surely had. Geralt nodded and set her down.
He coughed awkwardly and pulled out a little packet wrapped in burlap and some rough twine. Ciri beamed and pulled at the string so that the packaging fell away. A long piece of metal, bent into a thin U shape lay in his palm, the ends were surprisingly sharp. Ciri picked it up and examined it, then looked up at him questioningly.
“Hair pin,” Geralt said gruffly. “For your hair. And stabbing.” He mimed a clumsy, underhanded stab. “Eskel helped me silver plate it. For monsters. But also men, if they’re close enough.” He trailed off, knowing he sounded awkward. Who gave a self defense implement as a gift?
Ciri beamed at him again. “I love it,” she said, also miming a few stabs. He supposed that as a parent he shouldn’t be so proud of the light in his daughter’s eyes when she talked about stabbing, but he was almost certain that she got that trait from Jaskier, who tended to get…pointed about disagreements in pubs.
Yennefer stepped forward and carefully took the hair pin from their daughter, swooping her silver blonde hair back into a twist and sliding it in place. She placed a hand on Ciri’s shoulder and smiled at Geralt, and he was reminded again of that vase, stronger and more beautiful for the cracks in the facade. She then gave him a quick side hug and and even one for Jaskier, and opened a portal.
Geralt stared after his friend and his daughter long after the portal closed, until Jaskier, hand wrapped in a heavy mitten, gently took his wrist. They waved to the other wolves, and left, Roach walking obediently alongside.
And then it was just the two of them. Again. Just like the last twenty years. That thought occupied him as they made it down the Killer. The path down from Kaer Morhen was deadly, but that year Geralt made it down without thinking, keeping half a thought to Jaskier’s ambling form as he went.
How old was Jaskier?
He’d been eighteen or so when they met. Eighteen plus twenty-two was forty. Forty wasn’t that old for a human but Jaskier didn’t look too much different than he had at…Geralt did the math. Twenty-five? But there were signs. A few lines here and there, although Jaskier was insistent about his skincare. A line of silver, just a few hairs, probably unnoticable except to Geralt’s enhanced eyes. He was aging better than a human should.
Or perhaps not. Time was tricky for witchers, never staying in one place, never knowing people long enough to watch them age, he didn’t really know what to compare Jaskier to.
He did know how long humans lived though. And at the base of the mountain he came to a resolution, felt it settle in to his bones as deep as his mutations, deeper, even.
Twenty years, or nearly, where he hadn’t known Jaskier. Twenty more where he hadn’t admitted they were friends, or that he loved him. Eighty years in a human life span. And Geralt would love Jaskier, and make sure he knew he was loved, for the next four decades, give or take. He looked at his companion, paused as they were to give their feet and Roach a rest. The weak, watery sun of the early spring day fell on Jaskier’s face, dappled through the branches, which as of yet held no buds.
He pictured lines appearing, laugh lines, smile lines, crinkles carving themselves into the landscape of the familiar features. He pictured silver through the hair, more, in thicker streaks at the temples. Geralt saw a lifetime, Jaskier’s lifetime, in an instant. Silver covered warm brown, strong legs grew shakey, lines crowned a forehead and swept about clear eyes.
What would happen, Geralt thought, when Jaskier could no longer keep up? But Geralt knew what would happen. He’d take Jaskier to Kaer Morhen, or go with him to Oxenfurt, and spend his days with him. It had been a few short months since he’d realized he was in love with Jaskier, but that was only because Geralt’s skill with emotions was roughly similar to Jaskier’s apparent self preservation. Why had he let the lad talk to him in a pub? Had he loved him then? He remembered the shock of not being feared, of looking into clear, bright eyes and seeing admiration, the fierce protectiveness that had flared when he woke and saw the fool tied to him in an elven lair. Had it been love?
Watching Jaskier whisper softly to Roach as snow melted around him, Geralt was sure it had been. Destiny, Fate, the two bit tart who kept fucking him over, had given him his greatest blessing in a form that Geralt, up until that very second had considered a myth. Love at first sight. Love had brought him Jaskier, and Ciri, and a fast friendship with the most powerful mage on the Continent. Love had brought him a family in the form of a wayward bard with bread in his pants. And Geralt had forty more years to cherish him.
Step One the list had said in Eskel’s clear writing. Kiss his hand. Being mindful of Step Two, to mind his manners, Geralt crossed the clearing to Jaskier and took the thick woolen mitten in his gloved hand.
“May I?” he said. Jaskier gave him a baffled look, but nodded.
Geralt pressed chapped lips to a palm wrapped in knitted wool, and Jaskier smiled, albeit a little confusedly. It didn’t matter. Geralt wanted to spend the next forty years wrapped in that smile.
Then Jaskier asked him if he was feeling well.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
I’m back at it again. Hopeless boys.
Geralt’s first attempt at courting (to kiss Jaskier’s hand) had seemed to only confuse his bard, so he decided to leave that one and try again later.
A few days from Kaer Morhen, as Jaskier was trying to find dry firewood among the snowmelt, Geralt took out the very folded and much handled List. It looked very complicated. This courting stuff was hard. He selected the least intimidating item on the list.
Number Four it said. Kill things and bring them to him. This seemed logical to Geralt. He’d seen cats, which he loved although they seemed to avoid him, drop dead mice at their owners’ feet. It seemed like a sign of affection. Now, the owners generally were disgusted rather than endeared, but Geralt wasn’t too worried. He wasn’t going to bring Jaskier mice, after all. Nor would he, remembering Number Two: Mind your manners, drop them on his boots.
He went off into the woods.
Rather a while later he came back to camp, a bit miffed. The spring was still early and not many animals were about. Too thin for food and of course it didn’t do to kill many in the mating season anyway. Jaskier had a fire going and Geralt brooded by it.
How was he supposed to court Jaskier without killing things for him?
But Lambert had said that killing things showed that Geralt would protect Jaskier, and so Geralt was going to protect Jaskier so completely, and eventually he would kill something for him.
It occurred to Geralt that courting wasn’t really a one-step-at-a-time process, he had to do everything at once. Number Three was compliments.
“You built a nice fire,” he said, a little more gruffly than he’d intended.
Jaskier had been tending to his lute, oiling the wood, but he looked up at that.
“Thanks?” he said. “I always make them the same way, you know.”
“I know,” Geralt said, “But it is done well.” They lapsed into a silence that, although not awkward, was not as comfortable as might have been. Jaskier was giving him a look, but Geralt didn’t know what it meant.
It got colder as they prepared for the night. They were sharing a tent, and the body heat should keep them warm enough, especially in the small tent, but Jaskier crawled onto his bedroll and shivered.
A human wouldn’t have picked it up. The only light was the faint glow of the coals of their fire, filtered through the canvas, but Geralt’s eyes caught the movement.
Protecting Jaskier didn’t just mean from monsters.
He rose from the tent and walked over to Roach, whispering softly to her, wrapped under her own blanket. He took his cloak from where he’d tucked it into his saddle bag.
Back in the tent Jaskier was curled up facing towards the center of the tent. Geralt lay down, facing him, and draped his cloak around Jaskier, tucking it under at the edges so that the cold air couldn’t get in. Jaskier looked up at him with wide eyes, although he probably couldn’t see Geralt’s expression. Geralt gave him a pat on the shoulder.
He wanted more than anything to let his hand linger, to slide it down Jaskier’s back and pull him closer. He wanted to tuck Jaskier into his chest and wrap his arms around him and hear his heartbeat.
But that would mean breaking the rules of Number Two: mind your manners. And if he listened in the dark, between Jaskier’s deep, even breaths, he could hear his heartbeat, steady and faster than Geralt’s own.
He listened to it slow further as Jaskier slipped into sleep.
You look beautiful when you sleep, Geralt thought as he drifted off. He didn’t say it though, waking your sleeping love seemed like a bad way to court. He dropped off too.
He woke to Jaskier turning over, arm falling and slapping Geralt across the face.
“Mmmhp?” Jaskier said, one eye half open. “What’d I h’t?”
Geralt picked Jaskier’s limp hand from his face. “Me.”
“Mmmh tha’s nice, G’mornin’ Geralt,” Jaskier said, and he started to drop back off to sleep.
Number One: kiss his hand.
“May I?” Geralt said.
“Yeah, sure g’a’head,” was the muzzy reply.
Geralt pressed a gentle kiss to the captured hand. Jaskier hummed happly and snuggled closer. That was a good sign.
Geralt kissed the back of the hand, then clumsily kissed the callouses on Jaskier’s ring and middle fingers.
Another happy hum.
A single kiss to the center of the palm. Geralt pictured that hand, the freshly kissed palm caressing the side of his face.
Back in reality the hand drooped limply in Geralt’s hold. Geralt set it down.
Smiling fondly, Geralt crawled out into the grey light of morning. Chilly dew had frozen on the grass, and under the new light the world had been set in silver. He had a momentary spike of indecision. Jaskier was sleeping soundly, but even Geralt could appreciate the beauty of the scene, it was probably poetic. Jaskier would probably be sad if he missed it.
Protect Jaskier from sadness.
“Jaskier,” he whispered, crawling back into the tent, frost melting under his knees leaving uncomfortable, damp patches. “Jaskier wake up.”
Jaskier sat up, muzzy but wary.
“No danger,” Geralt said, taking his hand. “Just something you should see.” Jaskier crawled out towards the opening of the tent, Geralt backing out to give him room, but he paused. He crouched at the entrance of the tent, socked feet hesitant to step on cold grass, but not sure if he wanted to put his boots on.
Inwardly, Geralt smiled. Jaskier was one of those people who needed a lot of sleep, and he was probably hoping he could go back to bed. He very carefully picked Jaskier up, cradling him as the bard sputtered in surprise. Geralt set him down on Roach’s horse blanket, which she’d shaken off in the night.
Jaskier spread it out under him like a picnic blanket, never looking away from the glittering silver world around them. The silver reflected in his eyes, giving them a sparkle like pale gems. Geralt would have trapped the world and put it in a bottle if he could see the wonder on Jaskier’s face every day.
He took Jaskier’s little leather bound journal from the saddlebags, along with the smudgy pencil he used when he couldn’t be bothered with ink. Back in the tent, Geralt grabbed the cloak he’d wrapped Jaskier in last night.
He wrapped it around Jaskier again, draping it over him and slipping pencil and journal into chilly fingers. He watched Jaskier flip almost to the back of his journal. He would need a new one soon. That would be a good gift.
Geralt lit a small fire, behind Jaskier so as not to ruin his view, and wondered if this counted as a gift. He couldn’t package the dawn, but maybe it counted anyway.
When water had boiled he joined Jaskier. They sat on the blanket, eating cold rations downed with hot tea, and watched the sun creep up the horizon, turning silver to gold and melting the frost.
They packed up and left shortly after full dawn. Jaskier was blinking sleepily, so Geralt, who had been leading Roach, paused. He lifted Jaskier, still swaddled in Geralt’s cloak, and sat him gently onto Roach. She nickered reproachfully. She didn’t like riders that weren’t Geralt, and if he hadn’t clearly been giving his permission she would have biten any rider who dared.
Not Jaskier, though, Geralt suspected. She loved him too, and the thought made his chest tight, like he’d swallowed a big bite of food without properly chewing. Jaskier leaned forward on Roach.
“Thank you, lovely lady, for letting me ride,” he said, brushing his fingers sleepily through her mane. She tossed her head, like a human shrugging. Think nothing of it, Geralt imagined her saying.
Jaskier dozed, and Geralt walked them along, one ear listening for danger. Mostly he just thought. He thought about courting Jaskier, and all the time he’d wasted.
He burned with shame as he thought of all the time he’d treated Jaskier like a nuisance. He hadn’t meant it that way, he’d treated Jaskier like one of his brothers, ribbing him, pushing at him, leaving him behind if he took too long getting ready.
It was the only form of solid companionship Geralt knew, but Jaskier didn’t understand that. He didn’t respond the way Geralt was used to because he didn’t know the game. And Geralt didn’t want to love Jaskier the way he loved his brothers, he wanted to love Jaskier the way Eist had loved Calanthe, without the hatred of elves.
The thought of course brought him back to Ciri. It had only been a few days and he missed her terribly. She would have loved the silver dawn, he could picture her sitting on that horse blanket next to Jaskier. Maybe he should get her her own journal to draw and write in, a gift for when he saw her again.
If gifts meant he loved Jaskier, surely they would mean he loved his daughter too, and she had lit up when he’d given her the hair pin. Jaskier could teach her that lovely curly script he wrote in when he needed to be fancy. Geralt couldn’t read it, it made his eyes confuse the letters even worse than normal, but Ciri was still a princess, it seemed like the sort of thing she’d need someday.
Jaskier mumbled something in his sleep, slumped over Roach’s back. His hair was messy and one hand was visible, mittened fingers holding one edge.
There was a feeling, seeing Jaskier bundled in his clothes. Geralt wished Eskel was there to help him, but he had plenty of time to parse it out on his own.
Protective, maybe, Jaskier looked peaceful and he wanted to keep him that way. Proud that Jaskier felt safe enough to sleep like this. It also made Geralt want to hold Jaskier, wrapping himself around the bard instead of the cloak. There were other pieces to the emotion, but Geralt gave up and put it down to loved.
Jaskier was slumped over, drooling a bit, wearing huge, knobbly woolen mittens. Geralt loved him entirely and wholeheartedly.
An hour later Jaskier began to snore like a walrus with a sinus issue, and Geralt loved him even more.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Geralt's trying, but he has some help.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Almost a month after the silver dawn they passed through a lively little river town. It wasn’t so big a city that Geralt’s senses were completely overwhelmed, but also large enough that Jaskier had good, hearty crowds every night. The nature of river towns like this meant that boats stopped through all the time, shipping goods up and down river, so sailors stopped in taverns and moved along. Every night was a fresh crowd.
Geralt decided that they’d stay in the town for a week. Rivers meant plenty of contracts too, drowners and such. There was also a decent shopping district what with all the merchants, and he wanted to tackle Number Five from his courting list.
Give Jaskier Gifts (non dead ones).
It was going to be easy.
Thirty minutes later, it was not easy.
“Ooh I’ll come shopping too,” Jaskier said, rummaging through his bag in their room in the inn. “I need a new notebook.”
Geralt panicked a little bit. He wanted to get Jaskier a new notebook, and he didn’t have much idea for other gifts. Then an idea struck.
“Why don’t you and I look around, then after your performance tonight you’ll have more to spend.”
“Good idea Geralt, and who knows, if it goes well maybe I could get us a room with two beds instead of one.”
Jaskier linked his arm with Geralt’s and swanned off down the stairs, leaving Geralt to either follow or have his arm dislocated at the shoulder.
“Pardon me,” Jaskier waved down the grumpy looking innkeeper. She walked over scowling, small toddler on her hip.
“Perhaps later, after I’ve performed in your fine establishment,” Jaskier asked. “We might discuss changing us to a room with two beds?”
She looked at Jaskier. She looked at Geralt, who had paid for their current room with a grunted ‘that’s fine’ when she’d said it had one bed. She looked at their linked arms.
“Too many sailors coming in off the river this time ‘o year,” she said brusquely. “We can talk but ye’d be better off counting on the one you’ve got.”
Jaskier shrugged good naturedly. “Then keep it we shall, my dear lady.” She wasn’t listening, calling out instead to a child, about eight of indeterminate gender.
“Toos, whatever’s in your mouth had better not be for guests.” The child, laughing maniacally around a mouthful of something raced out the back door of the inn, only to be scooped up by his father, a broad, heavy man with a jolly face.
They left the family to their domesticity and ventured out into the merchant district. There was more going on than Geralt preferred, his senses blurring as he tried to be on a swivel to protect against any potential dangers. None appeared though, and he allowed his senses to narrow to the warmth of Jaskier’s arm in his.
Jaskier pulled them over to a potter’s shop. Tiny vases and bottles adorned shelves. There were bigger pieces too, some done in gorgeous colors and outrageous designs, but the little bottles captured Jaskier’s eye.
“Look Geralt, I could keep perfumes in these.”
“You have perfume bottles.”
“Oh I know, but the colors are pretty,” Jaskier said, smiling at the potter and pulling Geralt along.
Leather goods. Very fine work, too, Geralt thought. It was next to a paper goods and bookbinding shop, and the two had obviously done some kind of trade. On a display table between the two stalls sat leather bound books of all sizes and kinds. Jaskier poured over them, exclaiming and running feather light fingers over textured leather bindings. Jaskier sighed longingly and went into the bookbinding stall to see the less expensive journal options.
All of Jaskier’s past journals had been a sort of card cover. They didn’t last well, although Jaskier tore through them so quickly it didn’t matter. Geralt looked at the leather books here, his eye catching on a large, sturdy one in brown leather. It looked good for the road, with a braided leather tie to keep it shut.
He glanced up, but Jaskier was still admiring the paper goods.
What had really been caught by the centerpiece book. It was a mammoth thing, thick and beautifully made in a deep, wine red leather. There were little brass clasps on the side, buffed up to look like gold. In a fairy tale, it would be the master enchanter’s spellbook. A tome.
Jaskier deserved a tome. He’d written so many songs and poems, and he’d mentioned once or twice that he ought to write it all down in one book. This should be the book. Geralt could just picture Jaskier in the library of Kaer Morhen, with the snow coming down outside and ink on his fingertips, carefully transcribing his work.
It was like with the silver dawn, Geralt could see it so clearly, his little family would all be in the library. Ciri and Geralt and Jaskier all together again.
Next to the big red book was a little journal, made of the same color of leather. It had a little shiny brass lock with a tiny key tied on a string. A diary fit for a princess.
He had a plan.
He went into the leather stall and asked about their repair prices, haggled a little, then said he’d be back with his order that evening. Jaskier walked back into the leather goods stall and smiled up at him. Parts of Geralt’s chest went all tingly and golden.
They browsed the other stalls, spending the most time at a metalsmith’s stall. Geralt was impressed with the weapon quality. Jaskier admired the jewelry, trying on various pretty, delicate rings and holding them up in the light.
Geralt watched the way he interacted with people.
When Jaskier had first joined him, he’d thought it was all an act, that Jaskier couldn’t possibly like so many people. He did though, and they loved him for it. From the outside it was clearer to Geralt why. Jaskier was polite of course, and complimentary of the workmanship, but instead of dealing in vauge descriptions, he complimented details. He found and complimented something extraordinary about each piece, drawing conversation from the stall owner’s wife, who apparently did the jewelry part of things. He complimented the delicate artistry of a slim ring, then the clever design of a bracelet catch, asking with truly genuine curiosity about each.
Shopkeepers love curiosity, and anyone would love to have their skill complimented so honestly. Geralt felt himself smiling as he watched.
“Good lad you’ve got there,” the weaponsmith said. “Husband?” Geralt turned to him.
“Not yet,” he said. Then his shoulders slumped a little. “Not even officially a sweetheart yet.”
The burly smith chuckled. “I know that story, you think it was easy for me to woo that goddess there?”
Geralt looked over at the jewelry maker, still locked in conversation with Jaskier. She was middle aged, but beauty doesn’t fade with age as quickly as mortals seemed to think. She was indeed a great beauty. To judge by the way she gestured avidly while speaking, she was also a passionate and firey one too.
“I’m not much for romance,” the smith said, drawing Geralt’s attention back. “But your lad there is yours, heart and soul, you just need the proper instruments to tell him you’re his as well.”
“How did you woo your lady?” Geralt asked.
The smith chuckled again. “I was a much younger man then, but I stood about without a shirt in my smithy and busily hammered and flexed every time she came by.”
Geralt brightened, showing off his muscles was something he could do. “Did it work?”
“Not even a little. She was completely unimpressed.”
Oh. And Jaskier had seen Geralt’s muscles before too.
“So I went to her house one evening,” the smith continued, a glimmer of memory in his eye. “I’d worked for weeks to make her something as lovely as she was. Of course, I wasn’t so good a smith then either, but I’d tired. It was a braided metal band, to push back her hair, she’s wearing it now. Worn it almost every day since, including our wedding day.”
Geralt looked over. Silver and gold did indeed push back her curly hair. With her aquiline nose she looked like a woodcut of some goddess he’d seen once.
“And then I did the hard part,” said the smith. Geralt looked to him. “I talked to her, really spoke with her and told her how I admired her, not just for her beauty. Then she invited me in out of the rain and made me tea.”
Damn. Geralt wasn’t good at talking but he really would need to, it seemed.
“More than fourty years of marriage now,” the smith said.
“I can’t make him something as beautiful as he is,” Geralt said. A potion just wouldn’t work.
“I think any gift to show you care would work,” the smith said.
Geralt looked around at the weapons on display, and the smith went back to shining some of his work. There was a dagger on display.
Jaskier had daggers, and he worked with them well, but this one was beautiful.
“May I?” he said, and the smith gestured obligingly.
It was obviously a piece of combined work between the smith and his wife. It was well made and balanced, but very slim, perfect for slipping up a sleeve or into a boot. It was also a piece of artwork, both the hilt and sheath inlaid with mother of pearl and a mirror-shiny black stone, with silver threads surrounding. The pearl wound about the hilt in a pattern of perfect vines, shining in the black. The sheath was a night sky, a curving crescent moon, fantasy thin, hung in a black sky, lit all around with tiny pearl stars inlaid with painstaking care. The tip of the sheath was sliverwork with more of the pearl, more vines.
“The blade is silver,” Geralt noted.
“Yes,” the smith clearly approved of Geralt’s eye. “Moon silver, never tarnishes, never goes dull.”
Geralt was going to buy it for Jaskier. It was a cerainty. It was probably Destiny. She may be a bitch but maybe she’d decided to help him on this one. The price was extravagant, of course, and Geralt wouldn’t haggle a penny, not for artistry such as that. Moon silver was wildly difficult to work, too. Magic like that made for difficult smithing.
Geralt locked eyes with the smith, who’s mustache-which even Vesemir would have been jealous of-twitched in the direction of Jaskier. He and the jewelry maker were coming over.
“I’ll wrap this shall I?” asked the smith in a whisper.
Geralt gave a hint of a nod. “I’ll be back for it later,” he said, matching the volume.
“Geralt,” Jaskier exclaimed, throwing an arm around his shoulders. “Let us trouble these good people no longer, at least until I return to clean out this fine lady’s entire stock, I can hear my audience call me.”
It was indeed almost supper time, and they bid their goodbyes to the couple. By the time they got back to the inn, the bar room on the first floor was full. The atmosphere was cheerful in the room, helped along by both the proprietors busily filling tankards of ale and bowls of hot stew. Jaskier ordered two of each for the pair of them.
Somehow he always got served first at a bar. Geralt wasn’t complaining, and the stew was hot and good, with chicken and potatoes and herbs. Geralt and Jaskier both slurped it down. Jaskier slammed his ale too, disappearing up the stairs to their room with a wink.
Geralt knew Jaskier’s pre-performance routine well, and stayed down at their table to give him room. A teen with a face full of pimples picked up the bowls and spoons, as well as Jaskier’s tankard. He looked skittish to Geralt, so he didn’t nod for fear of scaring the lad. Thus far everyone had been fairly kind, Geralt didn’t want to ruin that.
He sat back and sipped his ale appreciatively. Bartending was an art in itself and not a well known one. Geralt had been in too many pubs where bartenders didn’t take proper care, but this one had. He probably put cloth over the barrells over night in this damp weather.
Jaskier clattered down the stairs, lute strung and tuned, and Geralt stood. He’d stay for at least the first few songs, but there were more patrons pouring in and he’d move from the table to a seat at the bar to leave room.
A song and a half into Jaskier’s set he realized his mistake. Jaskier could see him, and often locked eyes on him while singing to send a wink or just a friendly glance. He didn’t have a chance to slip away. Of course, he could leave anyway, but it just felt wrong to have Jaskier watch him leave.
“Now I know,” said a sharp voice from the bar, “that our barstools don’t have splinters, so what’s gotten in to you.” It was the bartender’s wife, the one who tended the rooms upstairs. She was still glowering, but without the child on her hip this time.
“I’ve got errands to run,” Geralt muttered, not fond of sharing his business.
“Pf.” She said. “Just like a man to leave all the errands to the last minute. And you want to sneak out without him noticing for a bit.” It wasn’t a question. Geralt nodded.
“Your lad there’s pretty good, makin’ us money, so I’ll do you a favor,” she looked at him sharply. “When I say go you go, and I’ll thank you to tell your sweetheart you care for him before he goes and tries to buy two beds next time.” She sniffed. “Save you both trouble in the long run.”
She cleaned a spilled spot on the bar and let out a short whistle.
Geralt felt like he’d been hit over the head with a mallet.
In response to the whistle, the child from that morning appeared, Toos, Geralt remembered. The innkeeper gave the kid a penny, “Go ask for that song you like, then hurry back now.” Toos gave a gap toothed grin and dissappeared as quickly as they’d come.
Geralt watched the disturbance at about knee level through the crowd as Toos fought their way through. Jaskier, basking in the applause noticed them immediately and listened carefully to the request, smiling widely at the audience and biting the proffered penny as if it were a gold coin to huge laughter.
The innkeeper snapped her fingers under Geralt’s nose and pointed to the door. He took the cue.
The market was less bustling, but still open, and Geralt took in a breath of cool, evening air. Then he assessed his plan.
He wanted to buy Jaskier lots of gifts over the course of this year, and he surely would, but they would be small things mostly. Quills and ink and lutepicks, that sort of thing. Those could be found in smaller towns and villages, but craft work like he found here was hard to find along the Path. He could buy either the red book or the dagger right now, and with the contracts he’d do this week he’d pay for the other. He’d buy the practical, brown leather book regardless, because right now Jaskier needed a journal and not a tome.
He decided on the dagger first. The smith had shared good advice, and, if someone were to buy the leather tome from the display, there was at least a chance Geralt could find one like it elsewhere. Where but here could he find a moonsilver dagger for Jaskier?
The smith was not surprised to see Geralt, and his wife sent him a friendly wink. Geralt bought the dagger and thanked the smith, complimenting both he and his wife on the work. Then he carried his package, wrapped in two layers, cloth and paper, out into the street.
He dropped a bit of tack off at the leather worker’s shop for repair, to pick it up in two days. Then he took the sensible brown leather journal from the display stand.
The bookbinder and paper merchant was a bent old man, sitting on a stool at the back of the shop, chewing tobacco. There was a greasy twist of it, black as tar, in waxed paper on the counter.
“Excuse me,” Geralt said. The shopkeeper looked up, jaw still working. “We don’t like your kind here,” he said in a voice that cracked like the paper he worked. Well. There it was, there was always someone.
“Please,” he said. “It’s a gift for a-a friend. It’s very important.”
The old shop keeper eyed him and the book in his hand. Then he obviously decided that making a sale was worth serving Geralt. He growled out a price, and Geralt didn’t haggle.
Geralt stood there, the old man staring him down while counting the coins. He figured it was worth a shot.
“Could I ask a favor?”
“Could you keep the journal on your display table, the large red one, back for me? And the little one in the same color beside it? Only for a few more days.”
“Please,” Geralt said, losing hope. “It’s for a good cause.”
The man spat tobacco juice into a can with disgusting accuracy. “What cause do monsters have, comin’ in here and asking favors of me?”
Geralt caught the man’s watery eyes. “Love, true love, please, keep them back just a few days?”
“Didn’t think monsters could feel,” scoffed the man, but he tilted his head. “You mean that nice young man, what came in with you earlier?”
“That’s the one, I want to give him the perfect gift.”
The man scoffed again, but it was less cruel. “I can tell people they’re for display. You’ve got three days.”
Geralt let out a relieved breath. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you very much.”
“Don’t thank me,” growled the man, cutting off another piece of tobacco with a knife. “And don’t darken my door until you have the money.”
Geralt left, feeling very light. He reentered the inn to a round of applause for Jaskier, but thankfully no one looking his way. He slipped up the stairs.
The dagger wasn’t a gift for tonight, he decided. That was a grand gift, for sometime special. He put it in his potion bag, where Jaskier was forbidden to look, for fear he’d get into something deadly. The journal was laid on the bed, just where Jaskier would see it.
Then Geralt went back downstairs to catch the last of Jaskier’s set.
Jaskier practically danced up to Geralt afterwards. He was full of that strange energy he always had after a good performance, like bubbles in champagne. Geralt could feel the muscles around his eyes soften.
“I liked your last song,” he said. Number Three on The List, compliment him.
“Paddy Lay Back?” Jaskier said. “You’ve heard it before.”
“Yes,” Geralt said as they went upstairs. “I like it.”
He chattered about the performance all the way into their room, and managed to pull off his boots before noticing the journal on the bed. He stopped mid sentence.
He looked at the journal, then at Geralt, mouth still half open.
Geralt remembered the smith, talking about how he’d won his wife over, but his mouth felt stuffed with wool.
“It’s for you,” he managed. “For your songs. It’ll last longer than the card bound ones.”
Jaskier picked it up, rubbing his thumb across the smooth leather, then he turned to Geralt. His eyes were shining.
With a speed that even Geralt’s mutated reflexes couldn’t manage, he was enveloped in a hug. Jaskier had his arms around his neck, the journal still in hand.
Then he wrapped his arms around Jaskier’s chest and held him.
Later that night, in the same bed as a snoring bard, he still felt the heat of that hug. Jaskier’s elbow dug into his ribs and he barely felt it, but the hug was still there. He thought of the dagger in his potions bag.
He’d talk to Jaskier then, giving that to him. For now, he’d have time to plan what to say. Before he could try, however, sleep claimed him.
Gifts! Gifts for Jaskier! and a hint of things to come.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
This is the final real plot chapter, chapter 6 is epilogue
They had stayed in the merchant village a few more days, Geralt taking a few contracts, and then they’d left, although not before Geralt could buy the books for Jaskier and Ciri. He kept them wrapped in the brown paper the grumpy old merchant had used and squirreled them away in his pack.
And life more or less went back to normal.
Geralt was trying, though. He was fastidious about giving Jaskier a compliment at least once a day, and he minded his manners. About two weeks after the merchant village, in a different and much less friendly town, Geralt had a new contract.
“You’ve managed to anger a wind spirit,” Geralt said. Sometimes he couldn’t believe the depths of human stupidity.
“Well, we didn’t mean to,” the alderman said. “But that little trilithon has been there for ages, and the boys of the village were playing and...knocked it over.”
Geralt pinched the bridge of his nose. “They knocked over the spirit’s temple,” he said.
“Well, not so much a temple, is it, it’s only about yea high,” the Alderman said, gesturing at about hip height.
“It is still a temple,” Geralt said, speaking slowly so that his words were understood. “And the wind spirit is tied to it’s temple. How would you like it if someone went kicking about inside your soul?”
“Is that why it’s throwing a fit then?”
Throwing a fit? Geralt thought. Having your soul knocked over must be horrible, of course the spirit was ‘throwing a fit’.
“Yes,” he said.
“But you can help us?” the Alderman flapped his hands. “No one can go into the forest to hunt or even get firewood.”
“I’ll go right the trilithon, set it back as it should be,” Geralt said. “For the price we agreed.”
“Yes, yes,” said the man. “And that’ll fix it.”
“Yes,” Geralt said. “But once it’s done I’d recommend lighting some incense by the temple. Air spirits like that sort of thing, show you’re sorry.”
Geralt resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose again. “Yes, really. And if you leave more regular offerings it might even be friendly.”
“Light a candle by it, let the wind blow it out,” Geralt growled, thoroughly done with the conversation. “That’s what wind spirits like, incense and putting out candles. Really, spirits just like being remembered.”
The alderman agreed and Geralt left, buying a small candle from a wax worker on his way out of the town. Jaskier caught up not a meter past the last building in town.
“So,” he said excitedly. “Wind spirit.”
“Yes,” Geralt said. “But you aren’t coming.”
Jaskier pouted, but Geralt didn’t look lest he give in.
“It’s dangerous,” he said. “I don’t know how angry the spirit is, they can be very powerful.”
“I’ll stay behind you.”
“That may not do you much good. Go back to the inn.”
“Jaskier,” Geralt growled low, trying to get his wayward bard to see the point. “It’s not safe.”
“I. Don’t. Care.”
“You could get hurt.”
“I’ll be fine.”
They bickered the whole of the way to the woods where the temple was. Jaskier pulled out his notebook, he’d left his lute at the inn.
The wind picked up, whirling ominously around them, lifting Geralt’s hair from his shoulders and rifling through Jaskier’s notebook.
“Perhaps this shall have to be committed to memory, Jaskier said, tucking the notebook back into his doublet. The wind blew again and Jaskier shivered against the chill, so out of place in the middle of summer.
“Just,” Geralt said. “Stay behind me, and stay close.”
They made their way through the wood, the wind getting steadily stronger. The wood was old, full of venerable oaks with branches twisted with time. Roots seemed to try to trip them at every opportunity and the going was slow. At last, near the center, Geralt saw the little clearing. One shaft of light that made it’s way through the canopy lit on the three stones, collapsed in the center of the clearing.
The toe of Geralt’s boot entered the clearing and suddenly the wind roared. Leaves, twigs, and acorns, lifted from the ground and hurtled past as the gale ripped about them. Jaskier had to press himself to a tree to avoid being blown over and Geralt staggered.
Nevertheless, he took another step into the clearing. “I’m trying to help,” he said into the wind, the sound ripped away as soon as it left his lips.
One more step.
The world exploded around him. He and Jaskier were thrown to the forest floor. The wind whipped like great ropes about them. Tree branches cracked off and splinters flew with deadly speed. Geralt crawled to Jaskier and pressed him to the ground, cradled by the roots of the large oak next to them. A splinter as long as Geralt’s hand embedded itself an inch deep into the tree root beside his head.
He curled around Jaskier as the wind screamed around them. He’d never minded the bard being as tall as he was, it made him feel less out of place, less monstrous, but today he wished he could shrink Jaskier down. He covered as much of him as he could, draping his body of Jaskier’s own. Geralt’s forehead pressed into the dirt next to Jaskier’s head, his shoulders blocking the most of the wind and the shrapnel from Jaskier’s face. Geralt curled his arms around his love, one under his back, wrapping him close, and the other coming up so that his hand could cup the back of Jaskier’s head. He turned Jaskier’s face towards his neck to protect it.
Splinters and chunks of wood attacked them, whipped by the howling wind. Something sliced into the back of Geralt’s neck. He wished he’d worn his armor. He’d been foolish, walking into the woods without it. Thinking he could reason with an angry spirit.
More wood sliced into his back and shoulders, and he felt the trickle of blood seeping into his shirt.
“I wish,” he said in Jaskier’s ear. “That you’d stayed at the inn, I wish you weren’t here, in the midst of all this.”
“I hate being left at the inn,” Jaskier said.
“But then you’d be safe.”
“But then I wouldn’t be with you.”
“If you weren’t with me you’d be safe,” Geralt said, wincing as another splinter embedded itself in his arm.
“When you leave me behind, I wonder if you’ll come back,” Jaskier said quietly. It was barely audible over the wind, but he whispered it almost directly into Geralt’s ear.
“I wouldn’t leave without you,” Geralt said. He hadn’t done that in more than twenty years.
“I don’t mean-Geralt I worry you’ll die. Like a witcher, all alone with some monster and I’ll just sit there in some damn inn and wait. I’ll wait a day, then another, then a third. And eventually I’ll find your body.”
“I wouldn’t leave without you,” Geralt repeated. It seemed like the right thing to say.
“I’d rather be here, right now,” Jaskier said, curling further into Geralt as the wind slammed wood into the ground beside them. “Than live that nightmare.”
The wind screamed again, splinters embedding themselves into Geralt’s flesh again. He grunted in pain but said, “I’ll get us out of this.” He didn’t say the ‘I love you’ that was trembling on his tongue. Now wasn’t the time. Not yet.
He held out one hand, wincing as shrapnel lacerated it, and cast a tiny igni. The wind blew it out immediately, but the howling lessened.
Geralt did it again.
Again the flame blew out, but the wind spirit was calming.
“If you let me get closer, I can put your temple back,” he said.
The wind whistled, but it sounded considering, although maybe that was just Geralt being hopeful.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m coming nearer.” He crept closer to the clearing. The wind picked up again, but it felt more wary than threatening.
He got almost within arms reach of the temple’s fallen stones and the wind howled again. It put Geralt in mind of a pet dog, sick and mad with pain, nipping it’s owners hand. A warning, but not an attack. Not yet.
“Another flame?” He asked. The wind blew some leaves around his feet.
He pulled the candle from his pocket and lit it with a concentrated igni. It was blown out and he could have sworn the accompaning gust sounded like a chuckle.
“Okay,” he said, reaching out. “I’m gonna fix your temple, don’t kill me.” He looked across the clearing. Jaskier was standing, looking cautiously over at him. Geralt nodded. Jaskier smiled.
Geralt balanced the trilithon back into place.
The wind died suddenly and the clearing was surprisingly still.
Geralt brushed off a flat stone just in front of the little temple, half buried beneath the earth. He melted the bottom of the candle and stuck it onto the stone. Jaskier came to kneel beside him and set down a handful of dandelions. They were the ones Geralt had heard him call ‘wish dandelions’, full heads of fluffy seeds ready to spread.
A tiny burst of wind twirled the seeds away, spinning them in whimsical little loops through the air.
Jaskier smiled at the display, but it quickly turned into a frown when he saw Geralt’s lacerated back.
“You’re hurt,” he said, looking guilty.
“Still,” Jaskier, said, standing. “Our business is done here, correct?”
They walked into town and for once, with Geralt sliced and bleeding, the alderman didn’t even argue the payment.
The inn was too small for a bath, but a basin of lukewarm water and a rag was provided. Geralt sat on the floor, shirt off, with Jaskier’s legs bracketing him. The bard was sitting on the narrow bed and running the dap rag over Geralt’s back, pulling splinters when he could.
“You know,” he said after a while. “A few splinters wouldn’t have killed me, you didn’t have to shield me with your own body.”
Geralt turned and gently took the cloth from Jaskier’s hand, then he pressed a kiss to the back of the knuckles.
Jaskier’s breath caught.
“I did have to,” Geralt said. “I can’t stand to see you hurting.”
Jaskier looked at Geralt intently. “Geralt,” he said, voice sincere. “It’s okay, alright? You don’t have to keep doing all this.”
Geralt’s heart dropped. Jaskier loved him, surely, but did he want Geralt to stop courting him?
“Geralt, I forgave you a long time ago. I think I forgave you the second I saw you clutching Ciri like your life depended on it.” Jaskier said.
“This isn’t about the mountain,” Geralt said, taking Jaskier’s hand again. “I know you forgive me, and some days--most days, I think you shouldn’t have. It’s about...Jaskier I don’t know how to say this.”
He fumbled quickly in his bag.
“Here,” he handed Jaskier a bit of paper, by now very crumpled.
“Number One,” Jaskier read. “Kiss his hand...Geralt, what?”
“Number Two, use manners. You have been saying please sometimes lately. Number Three, compliment him (his music, his features, how he looks after a battle) How he looks after a battle?”
“Ciri’s suggestion,” Geralt said.
“Where did Ciri...? Ah, Eist, of course. Number Four, kill things and bring them to him. Is that why you’ve been hunting so much lately?”
“I’m trying to show that, that I can provide for you,” Geralt said sheepishly.
“Oh Geralt,” Jaskier said, leaning in. “You already do so much for me.”
“Number Five,” Geralt said, having long ago memorized the list by heart. “Bring him gifts that aren’t dead.” He offered the knife and sheath he’d bought a few weeks back.
“According to my family, our family, gifts should be useful, romantic, and pretty.”
Jaskier took the moonsilver dagger. There were tears in his eyes. “Geralt, you’ve been courting me?”
“Do you accept?”
Jaskier threw himself off the bed and into Geralt’s arms. “Yes,” he whispered. “A million times yes.” He was crying, but for once Geralt knew what the emotions meant. These were happy tears. They wet his collar as Jaskier held onto him.
“I don’t have any gifts for you,” the bard sniffled.
“You are a gift, Geralt said, pleased that this most important of times, the words worked. “Pretty, romantic, useful.” He looked into Jaskier’s eyes. Even in low light they were so, so blue.
“I love you.”
“You...” Jaskier said. “How long?”
“I didn’t know it until Eskel pulled my head from my ass,” Geralt said ruefully. “But I think I’ve loved you as long as I’ve known you.”
Jaskier chuckled damply and pressed a kiss to the bridge of Geralt’s nose. “I love you too,” he said.
Geralt swallowed back the lump forming quickly in his throat. “And I know,” it was no good, emotion was rising up and clogging his words. He felt his tear ducts resisting the moisture that welled in his eyes. “I know I won’t be able to love you as long as I’d like.”
He began to cry in earnest now, but he held Jaskier’s face in his hands and continued. “But I will love you every day for the rest of your life, and then I’ll love you for every day the rest of mine.”
Jaskier was crying too, and he mimicked Geralt’s position, holding Geralt’s face and rubbing one thumb over the long scar on Geralt’s cheek.
“Darling, dear heart,” he said. “My love, I know we never brought it up, but I thought you knew.”
“I’m a half-elf, dearest. I don’t age. No other chaos as far as I’ve found but you’ll have me forever,” Jaskier said, smiling even as tears rolled down his face.
“Forever,”Jaskier confirmed. “Will that do?”
“Forever couldn’t possibly be long enough,” Geralt said.
Then Jaskier leaned in and kissed him.
It was like fireworks. It was like the first snow of winter and the snowmelt in spring. It was every season rolled into one and somehow more real than any of them. It tasted like mouth and the beeswax mixture Jaskier wore to keep his lips soft and it was perfect.
They kissed on the floor of the dingy inn room until Jaskier’s stomach growled and they had dinner together in the tavern like often did. Jaskier played his lute after dinner like he always did. They slid into bed beside one another like they sometimes did.
This time, though, everything was better. It was peppered with kisses and love. And when they went to bed Geralt didn’t have to resist cuddling Jaskier at all.
Best of all, he got to be the little spoon.
Geralt thought of the two books in his bag and the little list that Jaskier had carefully folded into his notebook. He couldn’t wait for winter to see his whole family again. Courting didn’t work out exactly as they, or he, had thought it would, but it was better than he could have ever imagined.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Epilogue
Ciri slammed into Geralt the moment he and Jaskier stepped into the snowy courtyard in front of Kaer Morhen. She wrapped him in a hug like a kraken and released him just when he was sure his face was going blue.
“Look what I can do now!” she said, scooping a snowball from the ground and patting it into a rough shape. She held it up and began to hum ominously. When she reached a strange, discordant note the snowball began to hover. As she held it the ball began to shiver, then shook violently, and finally it exploded.
“Very cool,” Geralt said, impressed.
“And what about the other thing?” Ciri said in a stage whisper.
Jaskier held out one hand, pulling off his mitten. A silver band glittered on his ring finger. Geralt showed her the match, strung onto the cord of his medallion.
“Good on you,” Lambert said, slapping him heartily between the shoulder blades. “Wasn’t sure you could do it.”
Eskel hugged Geralt briefly and said, “Married then? Is it official?”
“Not really,” Jaskier answered for both of them, accepting a hug from Eskel also. “But it’s as official as it needs to be for now.”
Vesemir, who had been sweeping snow from the steps, clapped a hand on first Geralt’s and then Jaskier’s shoulders. Then he set the broom down in the snow and said, “Whole family’s here, lad, might as well make it official now. Well, as official as we ever get.”
Geralt looked around, indeed, the whole family was there. Ciri was there of course, cheeks red with excitement and cold, Lambert and Eskel were grinning, the former smugly and the latter proudly, Yennefer was there looking coldly beautiful and smiling like her cheeks would burst, and Vesemir stood in front of him, looking as stone faced as ever, but for a twitch of his moustache.
Geralt smiled and offered a hand to Jaskier.
Jaskier took it and together they jumped over the broom, into married life.
Immediately, Eskel and Lambert surged forward to lift Geralt and Jaskier onto their shoulders. Yennefer and Ciri threw handfuls of snow at them, like rice.
“Go on then,” Vesemir said. “You may kiss the groom.”
And the grooms kissed.
They kissed perhaps a little too long, however, because Geralt’s brothers tipped them from their shoulders.
“Oh no,” Lambert said, laughing. “If you’re doing that I don’t want to be around.” With perfect timing, Yennefer pegged him in the back of the head with a snowball.
“Congratulations,” Eskel said. Then he turned to Jaskier and hugged him. “And welcome to the family, brother.”
Jaskier beamed at Geralt as Lambert, brushing snow from his hair, echoed the sentiment and joined the hug.Geralt pushed between his brothers to scoop up his brand new husband and carry him across the threshold to the warmth of the keep.
Later, when the excitement had died down, Geralt looked around the library.
Jaskier was already set up at the desk, ink staining his fingers as he carefully transcribed his work into the red leather tome. The tip of his tongue peaked between his teeth with concentration.
Ciri was laying on the rug in front of the fire. She had a quill pen and was writing her name into the front cover of her new, red journal.
Lambert and Vesemir were sitting on the couch reading. Each had a book with a cover that was distinctly romance-esque. Lambert’s even had a nearly fainting maiden on it.
Yennefer was reading a book with a plain cover in a chair by the fire, but Geralt knew that, plain faced though the book may be, it was of the same genre as Lambert and Vesemirs. She’d borrowed it from Vesemir at lunch and been invested all evening.
He smiled and turned back to taking all Eskel’s money in gwent.
The firelight caught his medallion, silver for monsters and special to men. A wolf, Geralt thought. With a wedding band. And forever in which to wear it.